Christianity 201

August 22, 2022

As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter

There’s a bad Sunday School joke that goes something like, “Who in the Bible broke all ten commandments?” The answer is Moses, when he returned from the mountain and exasperated over the sin of the people sent the tablets crashing to the ground.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

First of all, the giving of the commandments in a physical form does not mean that this is the first time God establishes moral and behavioral boundaries of the people of Israel. The website Life Hope and Truth states,

…The answer is found in a fascinating statement God made about Abraham, recorded in Genesis 26:5: “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

This is significant because Abraham was born hundreds of years before Moses received the law on Mount Sinai!

In order for Abraham to obey God’s commandments, statutes and laws, he had to know what they were. This means that Abraham was taught the laws directly from God or from others (or possibly both). God was not giving Moses a brand-new law on Mount Sinai. He was merely giving a codified, or formal, version of His law so that it could be used to govern the emerging nation of Israel…

The article then goes on to illustrate instances of such laws existing prior to Moses.

Let’s pick up the store in Exodus 19 and Exodus 20

NIV.Ex.19.20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”  …

NIV.Ex.20.1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  …

It’s verses 4-6, which we call the second commandment — see the post from last month where we break them up into commandment 2a and 2b — where we want to focus. It’s reiterated in verse 22

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

Then, for nearly a dozen chapters, God gives Moses instructions for worship, and also some amplification of the “big ten” commandments given. But then he tells Moses it’s time “get down to earth” because there’s trouble stirring.

NIV.Ex.32.1  When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”…

…7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt…

…15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”

18 Moses replied:

“It is not the sound of victory,
    it is not the sound of defeat;
    it is the sound of singing that I hear.”

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

Moses returns to see the people breaking the second commandment which was cited above. And he is livid. In his anger and frustration he shatters the “big ten,” which we’re told God Himself engraved.

It’s a very Moses thing to do. In his anger he will later strike a rock he is told to simply speak to, and that particular act of anger costs him entry into the promised land.

But here’s my point.

Before I started writing this, I gave it the title, “As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter.” I was thinking about Moses and what the people did in his absence. But I was also thinking about pastors and church leaders today.

Depending on whose statistics you read, in North America 1,200 or 1,500 pastors resign (quit) from ministry each month. While conservatives are busy arguing about women in ministry, it’s probably a good thing some of those women are in place, because the mostly-men pastoral workforce is abandoning ministry in droves.

There are a number of reasons, but I’m sure one of them is frustration over the lack of spiritual dedication among the parishioners. Or, as Moses observed, a flagrant disregard for the will of God.

So figuratively, over a thousand each month are throwing the tablets up in the air and letting them crash to the ground while literally, they pack up of their church office library and dust off their resumés and begin to look for another career path.

Vocational ministry life can be frustrating. I write that even as a member of my immediate family prepares to enter into a greater level of vocational pastoral commitment. I am sure that like Moses, I would get exasperated by what I would see and would want to toss the tablets up in the air as well.

In North America, October is designated as “Pastor Appreciation Month,” however if people were serious about appreciating their pastor, they would, to use an archaic word, “harken” more to the things about the ways of God that he or she is trying to teach the congregation. Yes, they should live a certain way because it’s what God desires and what God requires, but there should also be a recognition that the very reason this person has been set apart for career ministry is to teach them such things with the expectation that they will follow.

Otherwise it’s all just empty words and meaningless worship.

Are there “ten commandments” violations that you see that would cause your pastor/rector/priest to want to toss the stone tablets in the air?


Related:

 

 

August 1, 2022

No Prayer Request Too Small | Valuing God

Where I live today is a holiday Monday, and so we’re offering two shorter devotions today. We’re returning to an author we introduced eleven months ago, Pastor John Jakes who writes at Calvary Baptist Church in Indianola, Iowa. Clicking the two headers which follow will take you to the source of both articles.

Both of these writings are two sides of the same coin. The first is about how God values us; that we can bring even the smallest request to him. The second is about how we value God, our passion and excitement at his presence.

God Loves Us More Than We Understand

I have a bad habit in my prayer life. It isn’t that I don’t bring my requests to God. It isn’t that I don’t believe that God can answer my prayers. My habit is that I routinely decide which needs are too small to bring to God.

1 Peter 5:6 — 7  Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

This encouragement from Peter always catches me. It doesn’t catch me because of the call to humility. Anyone who has heard the teachings of Jesus knows His opinion on pride. However, here in 1 Peter he connects it to how we pray in a profound way. In the midst of talking about prayer and exaltation, Peter urges us to cast all our anxiety upon God. He doesn’t tell us to bring God just the big stuff. He doesn’t say to take to God just the “spiritual” stuff. Peter tells us to bring all our anxiety to Him – every single thing.

I know the usual response. It usually goes something like this: “I pray for others. I pray for the needs of my church and community. I pray for my family. But, I don’t pray for myself much because my needs are little compared to others. God needs to take care of those bigger needs. I can manage these small things.” I don’t want to be too hard on us for trying to be humble in our prayers, however I think we have missed the point. We have missed that we aren’t actually expressing humility when we say such things. We are making the love and expansiveness of God smaller. We are missing that He loves us so much that He wants to know what is on our heart. We are losing sight of what it means for God to be omnipotent = He is so powerful that He can work in the smallest of our problems!

So, instead of shielding God from our little needs I propose we do something truly humble – bring Him every single one of them! Let’s acknowledge our complete dependency upon Him. Let’s embrace a love that wants to know every need of our heart. Let’s marvel in a God like Him. He is so great that He loves you and me. He loves us in our smallness. He loves us in our brokenness. He is always faithful. So, when you think of humility don’t try to make yourself smaller. Make Him bigger. Make Him your everything. Make Him your strength. Make Him your confidence. Make Him your answer. He is big enough for even the little things.

God’s Value to Us

There are a couple of ways to measure what we value. The first way to measure what we value is what we are willing to pay or sacrifice to get it. The other way is how does what we value stack up to other similar items. Consider those that love Apple devices. The average iPad is between 200-300 dollars. The similar Android device is half that price. The new iPhone 13 is just under 1000 dollars. The comparable Android device is a third of the price. Now, ask that Apple user if they are willing to pay that amount. The answer will be yes. Then ask them if they would take a free Android device. Can you guess the answer? It will probably be a snarky, “Yeah, I can use it as a brick to lift up the corner of my bed – it’s a little low.” That’s value. They love their device. They will pay the price and they won’t give it up.

Psalm 84:10 For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

That’s God to us. The Psalmist declares that He would be willing to be a door keeper at God’s house than dwell in the tents of wickedness. That’s quite a cost – stand outside the house of God as a ceremonial guard rather than enjoy the party! Wow. What value! He also says that he would rather spend one day in God’s courts than a thousand outside. No exchanges. Nothing else is acceptable. When compared with all other opportunities, God is worth more. That is value.

God’s people are clear in their declaration: God is worth it. He is worth any sacrifice. He is worth giving our heart solely to. Because of that worth, giving and sacrificing for Him is joy. It is the joy of value. We get to be with Him. We get to walk with Him. We get to follow Him. He makes it joy. Do you know this joy? Do you know His value? How do you show it? He is worth it.

July 22, 2022

Honor and Contentment

The person who follows Christ might look to the “household codes” in Paul’s writing or the Sermon on the Mount when seeking a better understanding of the ethical or moral standards implicit in living a Christian life. However, lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the primary behavioral standards in the First Testament, namely the Ten Commandments.

As a friend pointed out to me a few years back, it’s really the Fourteen Commandments, especially if you write them out that way:

1. No other gods except Yahweh
2a. Don’t manufacture objects of worship
2b. If you see such objects, don’t worship them
3. Honor God’s name
4a. Honor God’s day; don’t work
4b. Don’t compel your family, servants (employees), animals to work it, either
4c. For the other six days, you will work
5. Honor your parents (grandparents, heritage, legacy you’ve received)
6. No murder
7. Honor your marriage vows (and those of another)
8. No theft
9. Honor the value of truth
10a. Don’t crave the things that aren’t yours
10b. Don’t crave the spouse that isn’t yours

In addition to the redistribution of the various clauses, you’ll notice that I’ve also picked up on the traditional English rendering of the 5th commandment and imported the word honor (or honour for my UK/Canadian/Aussie readers) into a few other lines. I could have done this with the first one as well, ‘Honor Yahweh above all others.’

The 4th one is interesting in that there is much discussion in Evangelicalism right now about the discipline of Sabbath, but 4c clearly states “Six days shalt thou work.” (KJV) There is a command to get a job. In our world that might be a 5-day week or it might be a combination of two part-time positions, or even several in today’s ‘gig economy.’ Is see commandment 4c as often overlooked, and it’s hard for a pastor to lean into this knowing that there are people listening to the sermon who have been trying to obtain work for many weeks or months, but without success.

I do think that even if one is basically unemployed, there are ways to be productive, through volunteer work or perhaps self-improvement through taking a few courses. I’d argue that in our 5-day work week world, the Christian has an interesting responsibility in terms of what they do with that 6th day. Some might say, well that’s a day to play and relax and enjoy some recreation. But I believe that it’s possible to see recreation as ‘re-creation’ that is perfectly fitting within a view of Sabbath.

Unfortunately, some denominations clouded that viewpoint with rules that prohibited Christians from playing sports or going swimming on Sunday. I realize that organized sports (particularly for children and teens) is contributing to serious attendance losses by churches, but I would want to be convinced that there’s a greater value in simply doing nothing. (Okay, you can read a Christian book; you can pray as a family; you can attend a second church service, but then what?) And how is watching movies on Netflix any more spiritual than a friendly game of baseball or soccer?

I digressed there.
Let’s get back to work.
(Pun intended.)

As I looked at the commandments closer, I saw how integrated three of them were.

4c. For six days you should work
8. Don’t take what belongs to others
10a. Don’t crave what others have.

If you work, you don’t need to steal and you don’t need to be consumed with desire for what other people own.

So finally, at the very end, we come to the verse which motivated me to spell all this out today; a verse that appeared on my NIV Bible App two days ago:

NIV.Deut.8.18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

Thanking the Lord that we have the means to produce wealth, really brings us back to that first commandment about honoring God.

The commandments can all be written in terms of honor and the life that honors God is a life that will be content in whatever situation. (Phil 4:11)


Elsewhere at Christianity 201:

*This one does what we did today expressing the ten in terms of honor, and does it expressing the ten in terms of stealing. There’s a graphic image on this you might want to save, or use on your social media.


Supplement:

If you wish some review, here’s God’s top ten as rendered by Eugene Peterson in The Message Bible.

Ex. 20.1-2 God spoke all these words:

I am God, your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of a life of slavery.

No other gods, only me.

4-6 No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.

No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.

8-11 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.

12 Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you.

13 No murder.

14 No adultery.

15 No stealing.

16 No lies about your neighbor.

17 No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.


Fun evangelism exercise:

The next time someone says to you, “I’m a good person, I keep the Ten Commandments;” reply, “Okay … name them.”

Most people will start with the “second tablet” of commandments (don’t kill; don’t steal) and may not consider the ones about putting God first.

July 2, 2022

Pleasing God: It’s the Only Thing

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. – Hebrews 11:5 (NIV)
When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus. – Acts 4:13 (CSB)

Christianity 201’s tag line is “digging a little deeper.” We’re looking today at something that arises periodically as an issue when people are considering ministry, either vocationally or as part of what’s called the laity. You may find yourself on the other side of this debate, but I hope you’ll catch the spirit of the article as I believe it’s worthy of our time together.

Today we’re again featuring the writing and ministry of R.T. Kendall, who despite the fact his 87th birthday is approaching in a few days, has had two books release this spring; Double Anointing (Charisma House) and Prophetic Integrity (Zondervan). This blog post appeared at his website exactly six months ago. Click the link below to read it there.

What Pleases the Lord

“Find out what pleases the Lord” – Ephesians 5:10 (NIV).

Two Scriptures have gripped me in recent months: (1) Hebrews 11:5, referring to Enoch who had the testimony before his translation to Heaven that he “pleased God”; and (2) Acts 4:13, which speaks of Peter and John having “boldness” and who were “uneducated” but had “been with Jesus”. Next to being ready to go to Heaven, the greatest accomplishment for any human being is to have pleased God – which is possible to do.

When asked what was his secret to winning so many football games, Coach Vince Lombardi replied: “Winning isn’t the main thing; it is the only thing”. So with pleasing God. It is the only thing that ultimately matters in this life. Paul’s admonishment was that we find out what pleases the Lord. Not what pleases people. Pleasing your friends can be hard to do. Pleasing your relatives can be hard to do. Pleasing your enemies is impossible to do. But pleasing God – although costly – is possible to do. If you like, Google “R T Kendall sermon Pleasing God”. I would urge all who read these lines to set as your goal for 2022: find out what pleases God and follow through with this.

Second, if you follow my tweets you will have noticed recently how gripped I have been with this thought: the danger of theological education for ministers. Strange as this may seem to some, I am coming to the conclusion that theological education does more harm than good for those in the ministry and those who plan to go into the ministry. What seminaries don’t teach students is how they might personally please God. They pass on intellectual knowledge rather than experiential knowledge by the Holy Spirit. They teach about God but one doesn’t get to know God by merely learning things about Him. Knowing about Him might even put you off Him! But knowing Him – as Moses (Exod.33:13) and Paul (Phil.3:10) aspired to do will bring you great peace, joy and incalculable satisfaction – and usefulness – whether you are in the ministry or are seen as a lay person.

I feel like a fraud writing like this. I have had a good education. By the sheer grace of God I somehow avoided falling into the trap Satan sets for those who aspire to please God. My chief mentor Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones had no theological education and often warned against going to seminary. C.H. Spurgeon had no theological education. Uncle Buddy Robinson was the greatest evangelist in the history of the Church of the Nazarene – winning some 200,000 souls to Christ – did not learn how to read until he was twenty. He was utterly uneducated. David Wilkerson, who founded Times Square Church, had minimal education in a Bible college. The man he chose to follow him – Carter Conlon – was a policeman with no theological education. Tim Dilena, chosen by Carter to be the present pastor of Times Square Church, had a secular degree from Baylor University but comparatively little theological training. The last sermon preached by Dr. Michael Eaton, probably the most learned man I have known, urged people going into the ministry not to go to seminary!

My heart is burning unlike any burden I have felt since the day I had the vision in April 1982 to begin our Pilot Light ministry at Westminster Chapel.

At age 86 I must be realistic about how many years I have left. Oh yes, I could live to be 100! But even if I thought I would live that long, I want to spend my time urging people to do two things: (1) know the Bible backwards and forwards and (2) spend much time alone with God. Read good books too – yes, of course, but be careful!

That is how Peter and John got their boldness. The Greek word parresia in Acts 4:13 is variously translated as “boldness”, “confidence”, “courage” or “without fear”. What gives that boldness and fearlessness? Time with Jesus. They were of course filled with the Holy Spirit. One more thing: “they” (meaning the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders) were “astonished”, “amazed” at Peter and John. How could uneducated men astonish people like that? Time with Jesus. Mind you, they had three years to be taught by Jesus! They were ready for ministry when Jesus went to Heaven.

I’m afraid no one nowadays – in a wicked world and a sleeping church – is astonished by any of us. So sad. But let us all do our best to find out what pleases the Lord…

 

R. T. Ephesians 5:10.

June 3, 2022

What We Were Made For

(For the grammar purists cringing over today’s title, yes, you’re right, one doesn’t end a sentence with a preposition!)

Today we return to a devotional that I personally receive by email each day, “Breakfast of Champions” by Andy and Gina Elmes. To get these sent to you, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions. (Oh, no! There’s that hanging preposition again!) This is two devotionals which were meant to go together.

Created By, Created For

by Gina Elmes

 Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

These verses are fundamental and foundational to understanding real Christianity. They speak of who we are and how we came into existence as new creations, and also what we were created for, our purpose. Within these verses we see two important components; when kept together they produce effective Christian living but if divided can produce spiritual laziness and ineffective living in the life of the believer.

The first and most important thing we discover is that we are the produce of His grace (verse 9-10); we did not bring ourselves into salvation, justification and righteousness, rather it was all God outside of our help or assistance. When we were dead in our sins He saved us (made us alive) by His grace, and we enter into all He has given us and achieved for us by faith alone.

In this we can compare ourselves to Adam, the first man God created. There are many great practical and spiritual parallels to us and him, especially that his first day was God’s last day. When we read the beginnings of Genesis we see God make everything and do everything that was needed for life and existence, then finally He creates man and positions him in His finished, completed work. It’s the same with us in our new-creation standing: God completed everything He needed to do to save us and restore us and then through Christ brought us into being and positioned us in His finished work.

As Adam was so are we; we are God’s workmanship, not finding our origins in our ability but rather in His grace, that which He did of His own potential outside of our assistance. An understanding of grace must leave you looking at God alone without any boasting of things added or achieved by you. We are indeed His workmanship, created naturally by Him (we did not come from monkeys or explosions, rather we all find our ancestry in that first man and woman, Adam and Eve), but also spiritually we have been recreated by Him in Christ.

If this is all Ephesians offered us it would be more than enough – we are left created by God and restored and re-positioned by the perfect work of His Son as a gift of His goodness and mercy. But the truth is it does not end there. The apostle Paul takes a breath and continues with the same storyline as He announces in verse 10 that, “We are God’s workmanship, created for good works, and these having been prepared for us in advance”. Wow! Created by God for a purpose – that’s true destiny. This means that there is a proper response to grace and this response is not laziness or sitting on our ‘blessed assurance’ rather Good works.

He Has Always Been A God of Grace

“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” Genesis 6:8 NKJV

God has always been a God of grace. Grace is God doing for us what we could never do for ourselves and giving us blessings that we don’t deserve. This is not a new thing that we see only in the New Testament. God says that His character never changes so the grace-filled God we have come to know through Christ has always been grace-filled. The sacrifice of Jesus did not change God into a ‘nice guy.’ He has always been the gracious God of His people who has been helping them and looking out for them.

The first place in the Bible where the word grace is mentioned is way back in the book of Genesis where Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord in a time when the culture around him was so evil that God was going to destroy them. Noah was by no means a perfect man and still did wrong at times but he was considered righteous by God because he had faith in Him and God saved him and his family.

You can even see God’s grace directly written into the law!! In Deuteronomy 15 all financial debt was to be cancelled in Israel every 7 years. In the same chapter we read that all slaves were to be released every 7 years. Also, farmers were told not to glean all the way to the edges of a field during a harvest but some was to be left for the poor to collect so they would have food for themselves and their families. Foreigners living among the Israelites were commanded by God to be treated with kindness. It’s quite easy to see the kindness, compassion, and grace God had on the vulnerable; those who were struggling and those held in bondage and could not be freed by their own strength or ability.

We all have weaknesses in our lives in some area. Maybe you struggle with health issues, lack of finances, loneliness, addictions, etc, God wants you to trust Him and remember His gracious nature and know He desires to extend grace toward you. He knows you cannot face your problems on your own with success and that you need Him. When we put our trust in Him we don’t consider our weakness but rather His strength that will enable us to succeed.

January 4, 2022

Let Your Praises Multiply Each Day

Back in May of 2020, we introduced you to Chad Reisig, who is a pastor, podcaster and author of two books. Today he takes us to a scripture which I had rushed past in previous readings of the Psalms. Clicking the heading which follows will take you to his site.

Praise Multiplier

I will praise you seven times a day because all your regulations are just.

Psalm 119:164 (NLT)

I have a pastor friend who was relaying a story to me some time ago. He was talking about how discouraged he was at his church. He had been at the church for several years, yet had never received a thank you note, or so much as a “thanks,” for anything that he had done. He felt like a failure. He felt like none of his church members actually cared for, trusted, or loved him. One day, in a moment of pure truthfulness, he asked his head elder if the church members actually appreciated him as their pastor. (The pastor was thinking perhaps it was time to move on if they didn’t.) The elder responded with, “Oh, yeah, we all love you pastor! We didn’t want you to get prideful.” In other words, the church members never showed any appreciation because they didn’t want their pastor to develop an ego problem.

Of course, this story has nothing to do with pastors, really. It is starting to become a global norm that giving thanks is becoming less and less of a thing. We may nod or smile at someone who has done something nice, but actually showing gratitude seems to be dying out in this world. It’s sad, really. Gratitude goes a long way in helping people feel valued.

Unfortunately, in our faith life, this lack of appreciation can spread from our human relationships to our relationship with God. How often do we spend time actually just thanking God for who He is, what He has done, and what He promises to do? Is it only in song at church? Is it just when we pray before a meal? Does our gratitude only express itself during ceremonies, or do we let it pour out in our everyday life?

As the psalmist wrote, I will praise you seven times a day because all your regulations are just.” I think it’s a bit weird to have a set number of times to offer praise and thanks to God, but let’s look at it this way. Doing so at that level would refocus us on the thankfulness we need to show to God. At this pace, we’d offer praises forty-nine times per week, 196 times per month, 2,352 times per year. (Not including the songs at church) It’s a good start, but I think we can do even better. We need to let our praises multiply with each passing day.

Today, and every day, when you remember God, see beauty, experience love, observe forgiveness, or a million other things to be thankful for. Stop, pause, and give thanks. After all, Jesus gave up His life to save you and me. We have everything to be thankful for.

Bonus devotional:

Because Chad’s devotionals are shorter, here’s another!

Tuning In

Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.

Proverbs 2:2 (NLT)

Growing up, we didn’t have Ipods, Androids, MP3 players, tablets, laptops, portable DVD players, Switch, or a million different handheld devices to keep us entertained on long road trips. We couldn’t just play a game on our device, Facetime a friend, stream Netflix, or livestream how bored we were. We just sat there in the car. Hour after hour would crawl by.

However, there was one thing that perhaps helped to save our sanity. If you were lucky enough, you had a Walkman. For those who have no clue what that is, it is a battery-powered radio the size of a cellphone. Plug in some headphones and you got to listen to the radio rather than your annoying brother or sister. Back then, you couldn’t just punch in a radio station number, like 102.3. There was no scan or seek button that would magically scan the airwaves and stop when it found a station. Nope. There was a dial that you would turn which would move a vertical orange line across a bunch of numbers. You would move it very slowly, listening for the faintest sounds. When you started to hear something, you would then begin the process of tuning in the station, which was generally moving the dial very slowly back and forth until the station came in strong. You just prayed that it was the type of music you wanted to listen to.

In our completely digital word, we’ve lost most of our knowledge of how to tune things in. The computer chips do that for us now. But, when it comes to our spiritual life, it’s still very much analog. Tuning in the voice of God requires some work on our part.

When we are seeking God’s wisdom, direction, calling, whatever you want to call it, are we moving the dial slowly or racing through life? You see, when it comes to hearing God, you’ve got to slow things down and listen for Him. You’ve got to make the effort to tune Him in. That means focusing on Him. That means focusing on listening for His voice. That means when you start to hear Him, you focus even more intently so that you make sure you hear Him loud and clear. As King Solomon tells us in our verse today, Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.

Each day, spend time in prayer tuning into God’s wisdom. Spend time listening for His voice. You’ve asked something of Him, He’ll answer. But, you’ve got to be paying close attention to hear it. Spend time tuning Him in until you can hear Him loud and clear.


To listen to this Daily Dose episode, go the the Podcasts Page and click on your favorite podcast platform.

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.

June 23, 2021

We’re Christians, We Sing

Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.
 – Eph 5:19 NLT

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
– Ps. 96:1 NIV

A year ago we introduced a new writer, A.K. Francis who has been writing fiction for more than ten years, but more recently started writing faith-focused articles during the time of pandemic, in a series titled In The Valley of Fear and Solitude. Click the header which follows to read today’s article at source.

Singing in Church

…[T]here has been something that I have been thinking about doing a blog on for a while now – kind of since the beginning of lockdown. But I’ve always been a little worried it might turn into a rant…or a science paper.

You see, it is about one of my favourite things, which happens to be illegal at the moment.

No, NOT raves – I’m not remotely interested in those.

Or Hugging, which I can live with or without.

What I am going to talk about today is…

Congregational singing 😀

Or, to be less posh, singing in church.

‘But you sing in church now’ I hear you say, ‘And you sang in church last week, and like twice at Easter.’ Yes…But…the church I went to where we sang was outdoors, and the other times I was in a band or a choir…and no one was singing back.

Normally, in the kind of church I go to (Slightly towards the evangelical end of middle of the road Anglican) there is a group of people who lead the singing (a choir, a band, or a dude with a beard and a guitar) and then everyone else joins in, following their lead.

One of the things I have always felt is great about church is getting to worship – in the form of singing – together.

But right now, we can’t do that. Unless we are not actually with the others in the service (e.g we are on zoom or youtube) we cannot join them in worship.

This might seem like a small complaint, and it is when the case load is as high as it was in January. But my fear is that as we return to ‘normal’ this key part of church might not be allowed to return or might be forgotten. And that its importance may be overlooked.

Of course, not all Christians share my views about this. There have been bans on singing in church during points in our history that have nothing to do with illness. Battle also continue to range over exactly what kind and style of songs should be sung in church.

But here is the thing…

I think there are two aims to our singing in church. The first one is probably most obvious, and probably doesn’t require each one of us to be in the same building to sing the words.

We sing to worship God.

Throughout the Bible, people sing to God – most of the longest ‘book’ in the bible – the Psalms – are poems put to music – and singing in large groups features in old testament celebrations and in visions of the end times. In these visions, people of every race, tribe and people gather together to praise God for eternity. There is a suggestion here that, on the place with no sickness, sorrow, or death, people listen to the singing – very much the whole multitude sing to God together.

While it has been wise, out of love for one another, not to sing while covid risk was high, it is harder to justify the prevention of collective praise of God as the risk decreases. To lose this opportunity to point towards our hope – that eternity we will spend praising God together – is deeply painful.

There is evidence that actually, speaking and singing at the same volume gives the same level of risk. So why the reduction to only a choir for singing, when we can also recite the words of a service together?

Although helpful for reflection and prayer as worship, it is perhaps difficult to fully worship as a group without being able to lift our voices together – an echo of that future day when we join together in one voice.

Some churches have been so fixed on this point that they have refused to meet until singing in church is fully permitted. They are worried perhaps that it will become a performance, rather than an act of worship, shared as a family/community in Christ. I am less sure on this total ban, as I think it removes any chance to meet with others to worship in prayer and to do the other major role of the church – to pray for the needs of the world, and to encourage one another.

And here we reach the second purpose of prayer in the church:

We sing to encourage one another.

In singing to God, we also spur each other onward. One of my pet peeves of modern church is that it can feel very robotic and detached. People come along and sing in their own bubble, but never build a community, never aim to ask about one another’s lives. It can also often feel rather like the music is a performance. The band or choir stand up and play and sing beautifully – or at least very loudly – and at the end people clap.

But the congregation don’t tend to sing as loudly – and the words don’t necessarily make sense of this easier. There are a lot of modern songs which use the first person – I – far more than is useful. (they have sometimes been nicknamed ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ songs). They talk about faith as an individual journey, perhaps suggesting a path independent of everyone else. When, actually, this is a walk we go on together as a church. If lockdown has shown us anything, it is that we need one another. I hope we can take that into our churches, and remember to encourage one another in the faith.

Older hymns speak of the wonder of God, but also encourage others in their journey. We should join in to encourage others that our experience is the same. We sing to be a community.

In the secular world, most of us can remember a song which was connected to a community we were involved in. Be it songs we learnt in cubs, scouts, or brownies, ‘the school song’ (in english or sometimes Latin), songs of a particular social justice movement such as spirituals in the civil rights campaigns, or even a national anthem. These songs speak of our collective goals, aims and desires in that community. We know them by heart, and we sing them to one another with pride (or at least hum the tune because the Latin is unpronounceable and the tune sounds like a merry-go-round)

Singing builds us up as a community, encouraging us that we are not alone.

Christian hymns, psalms and spiritual songs should not be any different – they should be a major part of both our worship and the holding together of our community.

In the Old testament, the Israelites travelling to Jerusalem for the festivals at the temple sang what were called the songs of ascent (because they went up the hill) a number of which are recorded in the Psalms. These are songs of praise to God, listing all that he had done for them. They also include confession of sins, and calling out to God with verses of praise following, reminding the Israelites of all that their God had done for them, and all that he promised still to do.

They include several psalms I have featured in previous blogs. Including 130, and perhaps most famously, Psalm 121 which begins:

I lift my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep

Psalm 121 v 1-4

The Israelites were encouraging one another that their belief was true and God’s love and promises certain – even as they praised Him collectively for His love and promise. They were songs to build one another up in the faith.

This is, I fear, what we lose when we cannot sing together. Yes, we can praise God, and I am sure that being back together as one people in church in silence has developed our reflection, focus and prayer lives.

But, there is a lack of singing together, or being able to build one another up, which begins to chafe as we get to this stage of the pandemic where we so want to be able to heal and build one another back up after the months of hardship. When the case rate was high, this sacrifice made sense. As we come out, we need to look at how we can get singing again.

It is something that does not make sense to those outside of the church – it just seems like a sing song add on to a religious event – nice to look at and listen to, but not something which brings sustenance to the people involved. But this is something which builds us up – and speaks to those coming in to church from outside.

It has been brilliant to focus on the words as we hear them sung to us. It has been a time to strengthen prayer in our lives and our churches.

And now, I think it is time to hold one another up again in song as we praise God together for bringing us through the long night of the pandemic.

That is certainly my prayer for the future.

God willing.

 

 

November 18, 2020

Christians Should Make a Lot of Noise, Right?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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The NIV provides a header for the first part of I Thess. 4, and that is “Living to Please God.” Here’s the portion of that we’re focusing in on today:

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

We’re back again with Josh Ketchum, a Church of Christ pastor in Mayfield, Kentucky, who writes at Life in the Kingdom. Click the link below to read.

A Quiet Life

Noise! We are used to it every day; our world is chaotic and busy. In the midst of this chaos, Paul gives us an unusual command, “aspire to live quietly” (1 Thes. 4:11). Does Paul want us to quit talking so much? While that is a part of the idea, it seems the concept is more of serenity, rest, peace, and contentment.

Isn’t that the life you want to live? Paul will tell the church at Thessalonica that the quiet life involves three aspects. I would call these tried and true principles your grandparents taught you.

First, a quiet life means loving one another (1 Thess. 4:9-10). Christians have been taught by God how to love. We emulate his love. People of the world don’t truly understand about love, making it all about romance or emotional feelings, but God through his actions teaches us true love. A quiet life is focused on loving others like God has loved us (1 John 4:11).

Second, a quiet life means minding our own affairs (1 Thess. 4:11). The church there had become idle waiting on the return of Christ. This idleness led to the sin of gossip. They were likely meddling in the affairs of their church leaders, rather than submitting to them (1 Thes. 5:12-13). Living the quiet life means you focus on keeping your own house in order, rather than trying to discover the dirt in other people’s homes.

Third, a quiet life means working with our own hands (1 Thess. 4:11-12). Paul was esteeming manual labor and hard work. He is elevating the need to be independent and self-sustaining when you are capable of such. Once again their idleness was getting them into trouble and they needed to be encouraged to find productive tasks to put their minds and hands to work.

We have to aspire to live this quiet life, because it takes focus to keep out all the noise and worldly pursuits. These are things that if we did them our peace and happiness would be greater. Our world would look so different if all of us lived this quiet life. These are not radical principles, these are the traits our country was built upon and we need them now. Will you live the quiet life?

 


From the same writer:

What Type of Tents Did Paul Make?

The Danger of an Idle Mind (timely for 2020)

 

October 27, 2020

What Motivates You Not To Sin?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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“We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.” – Jerry Bridges


Yesterday I was scrolling through blog posts here from 2011 and came across the name Clay Gentry whose writing was highlighted three times in total. It was nice to go back to his blog and find it still active; find him still writing. His blog at claygentry.com is called Sharing the Good News of the Lord.

Click the header below to read this online, including contact information there for Clay if you want to reach out to him.

The #1 Reason Not To Sin

What motivates you to not give into temptation? Now, I realize, depending on the situation several different reasons might be cited. For example, an unhappily-married couple facing the temptation of divorce might stay together for the sake of the kids. Or, an employee may not steal because he or she is afraid of getting caught. Or, a teenage couple may abstain from sex because of the fear of pregnancy. These reasons are all well and good, however, there is one fatal flaw they all share… the motivation for not sinning is temporal in nature.

When the kids get older or leave for college, the marriage ends. When the employee figures out how not to get caught, he or she steals. When the teenagers no longer fear pregnancy, they will have sex. In essence, so long as our reasons for not sinning are solely based on our ever-changing circumstances, we will eventually yield to temptation and thus sin.

However, there is another approach to overcoming temptations; a motivation that will keep us from sinning. What is this reason you ask, well consider with me the example of young Joseph from Genesis 39:6b-10. In this reading, we find Joseph as a slave in the house of an Egyptian named Potiphar. But trouble is at hand in the form of Potiphar’s wife.

“Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Come sleep with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to go to bed with her.” (Genesis 39:6-10 ESV)

Did you notice what motivated Joseph to resist what must have been an intense time of temptation? It was not merely his position or the kindness of his master; but more importantly, it was his relationship with God. Read it again, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” For Joseph, his relationship with God was the #1 reason not to sin. He would do nothing to compromise that relationship.

Consequently, if we want to overcome temptation then we have to see our relationship with our Heavenly Father as the #1 reason not to sin. He has saved us and thus calls for us as His children to live lives of holiness before Him (cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16). Therefore, may our prayer echo that of the Psalmist, “[Lord] may [we] store up Your words in [our] heart, that [we] might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).


The quotation from Jerry Bridges appeared most recently in this June, 2019 article here, Sinning Against Another, Against Yourself, Against God.


The last time Clay Gentry appeared here was in a 2014 piece on the danger of over-contextualizing which we were only able to use in part. The article is still online; check out The Contextual Meaning of Romans 15:4.

October 4, 2020

‘Leave’ a Legacy; ‘Live’ A Legacy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today again we’re back with Sam Williamson, author of two books I’ve reviewed at my other blog, Is Sunday School Destroying our Kids? and Hearing God in Conversation. His website is Beliefs of the Heart. You’re encouraged to read today’s post at his site by clicking the title which follows.

Living A Legacy Life

A few years ago I published, Mission Idolatry. My point was that our deepest worship is not expressed by the twenty minutes of Sunday morning singing, and that the object of worship is whatever brings us most life (whatever we dream about as we wait on hold with Comcast). Our source of life can be career, romance, or money. The most devious is our devotion to mission.

I was surprised by a reader who emailed me saying, “Our biggest purpose on earth is impact; we are created for one thing, and one thing only: to live a legacy life and to leave a heritage of impact. My worship is the impact I leave.” Never mind that his “one thing only” included two things; in his rush to impact, he missed the Jonathan Edwards’ quote:

It is true that by doing great things, something is worshipped, but it is not God.

I’ve read dozens of articles on impact. The modern twist shifts the focus from “leaving” a legacy to “living” a legacy. It emphasizes impact before death.

But doesn’t that “living-a-legacy-life” idea reek of self-praise? You never see Jesus crying, “Go ye forth and make a name for yourself! Bust your butt so that everyone will forever remember the legend of your great legacy” (3 Samuel 13.13). Scripture is counter-cultural when it says,

Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it! (Jer. 45:5a NLT)

The Only Influence that Counts

“Living a legacy life” has a long pedigree with many prominent ancestors:

  • The people in the Plain of Shinar loved the idea. They cried, “We must make an impression; let’s make a name for ourselves,” and they began the tower of Babel. (While they didn’t leave the legacy they wanted, they did leave a legacy, of sorts.)
  • King Saul begins very humbly, and God commends him for it. But after a military victory, Saul decides his military prowess must be memorialized, so he builds a monument in his own honor. And God takes his kingdom away.

On the other hand, John the Baptist left an impact so great that Jesus says, “Of those born of women, none is greater than John.” Greater even than Abraham, Job, Moses, and David.

What was John’s legacy? That he never built a monument to his legacy. When his followers left him to follow Jesus, John approved, saying, “I’m just the friend of the groom; he is the real deal.” John’s greatest effect is his worship: “I must decrease and he must increase.”

Of all the forms of worship, none is more addictive than our quest for significance.

Legacy is Worship

God’s sees through the self-glorifying, self-deceptions concerning our legacy-lives:

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me.” (Jer. 9:23-24 KJV)

The Hebrew word for “boast” is the same Hebrew word used in “hallelujah.” Hallelujah literally means, “Glory to Yahweh” while “boast” in these verses literally means, “Glory to me.”

Christianity has always taught that our purpose on earth is worship. It is in our DNA. Unfortunately,  we always worship the wrong thing. If it isn’t a golden calf, it’s our golden name. We want to do great things for the Lord. Why? We sing the 21st Century Handel’s Hallelu Chorus: All glory to me!

God can do everything without us, but he loves connection, the partnership. Jesus uses a boy’s fish and loaves to feed 5,000. He could have rained down meat and manna (a Biblical version of “it’s cloudy with a chance of meatballs”), but he chose to partner.

God invites us into companionship with him, and that partnership is an incredible honor, but only when we forget ourselves and point the glory to him.

If his legacy-life is friendship with us, maybe we can leave our best impact by letting our legacy go.

 

September 3, 2020

For Thine is the Kingdom… But Mine is the Driver’s Seat

by Clarke Dixon

Wouldn’t everything be better if we were in the driver’s seat? If we were in control and called the shots? This thought may cross our minds as we watch the news. Who thought it was a good idea to . . . ? Why don’t they . . . ? We might think it when we watch loved ones make foolish decisions, at least foolish in our eyes. What are they thinking?!

If only everyone would ask us, everything would run better. But we sit at the phone and world leaders never phone to ask our advice. Neither, it seems, do our friends and family members. We would love to be in the driver’s seat and make the all the important decisions but we don’t even feel like we are in the car.

And then we pray, and we might pray as if God has called us looking for our advice. Sometimes, perhaps often, we don’t just pray to God, we tell him how to answer our prayers. We want to be in the driver’s seat, even with God in the car.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, especially the last lines, we will be caused to consider and reconsider just who should be in the driver’s seat of our lives:

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen

The Lord’s Prayer (traditional)

The traditional ending to the Lord’s Prayer is not actually part of the prayer Jesus taught. But it is Biblical, the language being very similar to a prayer of David:

Thine, O Lord is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29:11 KJV

David prayed this prayer while God’s people were experiencing their “glory days” as a nation. David was a good king, a loyal king, who though not perfect, had led the nation well. Under his leadership the twelve tribes gelled together into one nation, he led many military victories, built a grand palace for the royal family, and now was preparing for Solomon to take over as king including the provision of all Solomon would need to build a temple for the LORD. Solomon had already been declared king as well, so this was a time of transition from a great king to his son.

As we read about this time of transition, what might we expect from David? We might expect David to gloat, “look what I’ve done, look at my power, my victories, my majesty, my kingdom that I have built, and how I am exalted over it all. Look now at my son who is ready to take my place as your king.”

Does David gloat? No, David prays:

Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29:11 NRSV (emphasis added)

David was a great king, but God is preeminent, the true and greater king. David knew it. David knew that it was far better to be a servant of the true king than to be a king.

This focus of God as king is found throughout the chapter. Where we might expect the word for temple in the first verse, we find the word meaning palace or fortress instead, as in the LORD is not just God who will reside in a temple as gods do, but is also the king who will reside in a fortress as kings do.

Also within Chapter 29, which is focused on preparations for the building of the temple, Bible scholars see allusions to Moses and the building of the original tabernacle. In other words, though we now have a king instead of a prophet as leader, nothing has really changed. The LORD is still our God, our leader and protector, our true king.

David could gloat, and the people could praise him. The focus, however, is on God the true king. God is preeminent. David knew that it was better to be a servant of the king than to be a king. David knew that it was a privilege to serve the Lord as a passenger and not as the one in the driver’s seat.

When we pray, we may be tempted to take the driver’s seat, to tell God what should be done, and how it should be done. As we pray “thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever,” we are reminded that we are not in the driver’s seat. We will gladly take the passenger seat and let God take the wheel.

If David knew that God was preeminent, Peter, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, James, and so many others we read of in the New Testament knew that Jesus is preeminent:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11 NIV

When we pray “thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever” we are not just thinking of and praying to some generic idea of God, a God that cannot be known. We are praying to God who has revealed himself to us supremely through Jesus Christ. We are speaking, not just to our king, but to the one who has given us the right to call upon him as our Heavenly Father.

The Lord’s Prayer begins “Our father.” May prayer be for us an experience of being a child of God. It ends with “thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.” May prayer be for us an experience of being his servant who seeks his glory. Being a child and servant of the one true king is far better than being a king. May prayer become for us an experience of letting God take the driver’s seat in our lives.


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 pandemic precautions. The teaching segment alone can be seen here.

July 23, 2020

Hallowed Be Thy Name, Rather Than…

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus teaches us to pray “Hallowed be thy name” in other words, to pray for God to be honoured greatly. There are, however, at least two things that happen instead of the “hallowing” of God’s name. They happen now, and they happened back in Bible times.

Let us go back to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, having just been rescued from Egypt:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

Exodus 32:1-6 (NRSV)

The story of the golden calf is well known, but there is an interesting detail that is easily overlooked. Aaron speaks of a festival to “the LORD.” When English translations capitalize “Lord,” they are following a tradition of not using God’s name as a matter of respect. Therefore LORD is referring not to just some generic God who cannot be known, but to the God who has made himself known within history, the same God the Israelites knew rescued them from Egypt. The golden calf is not a representation of some other god in place of God, but rather is a gross representation of the God who rescued them. It was a misrepresentation.

None of us like to be misrepresented! Neither, of course, does God. The many warnings against fashioning idols in the Bible are not just about substituting other gods for God, but also about misrepresenting God, mixing the Creator with creation. God is to be considered holy, set apart from creation. His name is to be hallowed, not misrepresented.

We might also turn to the book of Job, where following a lengthy theological discussion on why the righteous suffer, God says to Eliphaz,

My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7 (NRSV)

We don’t like it when people speak falsely about us. Neither does God.

Therefore, let us be careful with God’s Word, and handle the Scriptures well. This means being aware of things like context, genres, and how a passage fits with the whole story. Many have dishonoured God rather than greatly honouring him by not being careful in interpreting God’s Word. If we are praying for God’s name to be hallowed, we will want to do our homework and dig deeper than we sometimes do.

One scholar has written about how for many years, centuries in fact, church leaders interpreted certain Bible passages in anti-Semitic ways. The holocaust was a wake-up call and now practically no one goes with those older interpretations. Let us not make the same mistake.

We may also misrepresent Jesus without even being aware it. For example, images of Jesus as a white man with blue eyes are likely not close to reality. Being a Jew from Judea in that time, Jesus would likely have had a darker skin than is often depicted, brown eyes, and short, dark hair. Worse than misrepresentation in physical appearance though, we nourish Jesus when we imagine him as a Republican or Democrat. We want to be careful we don’t re-create Jesus in our own image. For God’s name to be hallowed, let us go to the Bible, especially the Gospels to discover Jesus.

The second way people can fail to honour God can be found in the Book of Deuteronomy, where we find Moses speaking to the people about entering the promised land:

Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,

Deuteronomy 8:11-14 (NRSV)

Once the Israelites settle in the land, there is great danger that God will be forgotten rather than greatly honored. Why? Good times and affluence. It is little wonder that God is largely forgotten here in Canada in our day!

In good times especially, the temptation is to forget God and our need of him. Then in times of difficulty, we can think we have done good without God up until now, why not keep going? In good times and bad, God, far from being highly honored, is forgotten.

We forget God and take his goodness for granted. I am reminded about my first Air Cadet camp when I was put into a specialty flight that was focused on survival. We were to have a weekend in the woods, but it got rained out. Our motto became “we survive, weather permitting!” I did learn however, that the first thing you do if your plane goes down in the deep woods far from anything, is light a fire. This is to help the rescuers find you. The second thing is not to look for food. The average human can live quite some time without it. What you need to do is find a source of water. We cannot live for long without water. We forget that, because we take water and the need for hydration for granted. We are always hydrating without even being aware of the need. We take water for granted, until we crash the plane.

We can be like that with God. We live with the goodness of God in evidence all around us, with his provision of what we need for life. Yet we can forget him. At least until we crash the plane and stand before him facing eternity. Then we will realize how much we have depended on God. Then we will realize, if we have not before, our need of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of a mediator between ourselves and God, for we have created a chasm between ourselves and God that we cannot fix. God has spanned that gap, through coming to us in Jesus. God has done all we need for us to enjoy eternal life beyond this life.

Just as we can enjoy a glass of water, we can enjoy a relationship with God now. Let us not wait until it is too late to receive reconciliation, forgiveness, grace and love. We don’t want to find ourselves in a crashed plane without any water. We don’t want to find ourselves facing death without God in our lives.

We are to pray “hallowed be thy name.” We hallow God’s name when, instead of forgetting God, we trust God, and enter into a relationship with him through Jesus.

Instead of being misrepresented or forgotten, may May God’s name be greatly honoured among us.


(This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced regular services at Clarke’s church during the pandemic. This one was filmed on a hike in the buggy woods so there are bloopers at the end! You can also watch the reflection alone here.)

March 5, 2020

Surpassing Righteousness in Spiritual Disciplines

by Clarke Dixon

People who pray are righteous, right? People who give to people in need are good people, correct? We will be considered righteous if people see us fasting, worshipping in church every Sunday, reading the Bible regularly, and practicing all the spiritual disciplines, correct? According to Jesus, not necessarily:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1 ESV

We have previously considered a deeper kind of righteousness, a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness Jesus saw in the scribes and Pharisees:

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 NIV

We do not reach this deeper righteousness by merely being meticulous about the rules, a skill the scribes and Pharisees excelled at, but through a transformation of our character.  It is not so much “do this, don’t do that,” but rather “become the kind of person who . . .” Previously, we looked at examples Jesus used for morality and love in Matthew 5:21-46, which we might summarize as; become the kind of person who does not harm others, gives their spouse and marriage their best effort, is honest and has integrity, handles offence with grace, and who extends grace and love to everyone. Whereas in these things Jesus was teaching about the kind of people we should become in our ethics, in Chapter 6 Jesus is now speaking to the kind of people we should become in our spiritual disciplines:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standingc in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-6 NIV

Jesus is not giving us new rules here to get all legalistic about. We are not to be Christian versions of the scribes and Pharisees and so apply these rules in a legalistic manner. If we did there should be no more prayers during church services, and prayer meetings would all be cancelled. I think we would benefit from more prayer in worship, not less, more prayer meetings, not fewer! Instead, we are to become “the kind of people” who do spiritual and religious activities in a way that honours God. What is that way which honours God?

Jesus calls us to be a people who engage in spiritual disciplines for the right reasons. Drawing attention to ourselves is not the right reason and does not honour God! Jesus calls those who do this “hypocrites” which is a term for “actors” who put on masks in order to appear to be one thing while actually being another. Jesus is picking on the scribes and Pharisees here who were the prime examples of those who loved to flaunt their righteous activity in front of others to be seen and praised by them. Jesus calls us to have a righteousness that surpasses theirs. According to Jesus, their reward was the praise they received from others. They did not look forward to reward from God. In contrast, God rewards those whose religious activity is done in secret.

What about the idea of reward? Isn’t reward still the wrong reason to practice spiritual disciplines? For example, should we not give alms for the sake of people in need rather than for our own reward? Perhaps we don’t have the best idea of reward here. Our minds may jump to a final judgement-seat scenario when we hear the word “reward.” However, the idea here is more “wages” for your work, the consequence of your efforts. If our purpose in practicing spiritual disciplines is to receive praise from others, we will get that. If our is purpose is to draw closer to God and grow in character, that will happen. If our focus is on God, the practice of spiritual disciplines will be rewarding indeed and we will be happy to practice them quietly without drawing attention to ourselves. Others may not be impressed, but will benefit.

In conclusion, let’s not be that guy; the person who has a need to appear religious, spiritual, righteous, or better than everyone else. That person is like the scribes and Pharisees who often put on a good show. We are to be a people who practice a better kind of righteousness in our spiritual disciplines. The spiritual life in Christ is not a show, it is an opportunity to grow in Christ and become a difference maker in the world.


Clarke Dixon is a minister with the Canadian Baptists denomination. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

August 25, 2019

Seeing God Accurately

It’s been several weeks since we introduced a new author here, but on the weekend we discovered Geno Pyse, who describes himself as “an author, poet, musician, ordained minister, and avid animal lover.”

This is part two of a two-part (so far) series. If you wish to read the first part first, click this link.

The Importance of Correct Perception of Him

In his book, Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer writes how modern man tends to think of idolatry in terms of people bowing to figures carved of stone, metal, or wood. However, idolatry begins in the mind, even if no overt worship takes place. Tozer goes on to explain that idolatry is any entertaining of thoughts about God not worthy of Him, not only worshipping something other than Him.

This has great relevance in our society that views God in so many different ways other than what He reveals in the Scriptures, and that tries to use Him for political and financial gain. This also has great relevance within modern Christendom where many of its adherents often seem to stress more as to whether or not they like the worship services, rather than truly considering if He likes them.

Nearly across the board people believe in God’s love. Certainly love is part of God’s character. The Scriptures declare, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8 [ESV]). However, it is imperative we understand His overarching attribute—holiness! This attribute is the umbrella to every other one. Holy means “set apart; other; extraordinary; transcendent.” It is the only attribute of His mentioned to the third degree—and in both the Old and New Testaments:

And [the seraphim] called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” (Isaiah 6:3)

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)

God’s love is a pure, holy love. His love will never be separated or go against His holiness. Jesus says the Father desires worshipers who worship Him in spirit and in truth (see John 4:23-24). So, to profess God’s love while disregarding His holiness is to make a mockery of true worship and to plummet heart first into idolatry, which leads to holy judgment.

One of the tragic cycles we read of in the Old Testament is the Israelites’ regression into idolatry. Integrating the customs, behaviors, and beliefs of the people around them into the worship of God, only to drift away from Him without even realizing it. Perplexed and angered by the prophets rebukes and confrontations, all the while indulging in the immorality of the cult religions of Baal and Astarte, and the child sacrifice of Moloch (something God declares that never even entered His mind [see Jeremiah 7:31]).

One of my great concerns for many churches today is the adapting of customs, behaviors, and beliefs of the secular and pagan society around us, trying to integrate these into the Christian faith, dismissing the very attributes and ways of God He reveals to us in the Scriptures.

Jesus said of some of the religious people of the day, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me’” (Mark 7:6-7).

And one of the most haunting things He says is, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

God is holy, but He is also loving. Although He is loving, may we remember He is also holy, holy, holy, and His love is a holy love. If we try to tweak these to accommodate our desires or to condone or justify our beloved sins, we are guilty of idolatry. To not desire God as He is is merely to desire a god of our own making.

 

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