Christianity 201

June 7, 2018

Is God a Cosmic Tyrant?

by Clarke Dixon

Is God a cosmic tyrant?
Is God in control of absolutely everything?
Are natural disasters a matter of his choice for the world?
Are your personal disasters a result of his decisions for your life?
Are our own decisions merely illusion, that in fact, God has foreordained even what we think we have decided, even when we choose actions that are sinful and cause incredible harm to ourselves and others?

Or perhaps God is not in control at all and just set everything going? All that happens is a matter of our free choice and what happens naturally.

The Bible pushes us toward belief in the sovereignty of God. Consider, for example Psalm 139 especially the latter part of verse 16:

In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:16 NRSV)

So then God is a cosmic tyrant? Our favourite prayer might become that of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: “yet not my will but yours” (Mark 14:36), prayed with a tone of resignation: “Whatever you come up with, Lord, I will put up with.”

There are problems with this line of thinking:

First; the Bible does not present the sovereignty of God as something to be resigned to, but something to be excited about and find encouragement in. If you were an actor tasked with portraying Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, how would you perform his prayer as he faces arrest and execution? Would it be with resignation, or with determination? Would you say the lines in a way that communicates “I think Your will is terrible, but I will if I must”, or “I know Your will is best, and yes, let’s do this”? Whatever the tone of Jesus as he prayed it, the hours that followed were not moments of resignation, but of determination and decisions that reflected his knowledge that good things were truly ahead. And good things did come! Jesus was raised from the dead and our sins were dealt with. Knowing that God’s will is good we can find encouragement that our future is not determined by chance, or even by our own poor choices, but by the good purposes of God:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NRSV)

“All things” includes things that happen naturally within Creation and human decision. We can be excited about how God is shaping things that would otherwise cause fear and panic.

Second; The sovereignty of God is not a cold philosophical proposition, but rather a comforting reality. Sometimes we take something written for our encouragement and imagine it is written for our theological curiosity. The Psalmist in Psalm 139 is not a professor trying to work out the details of life from the comfort of a Lazyboy in preparation for a lecture. The Psalmist is someone going through real life struggles. We might summarize the whole of Psalm 139 like this: “I can hide nothing from you, nor flee from your presence. See that I am innocent, and the person threatening my life is not. I need justice to prevail and for you to reward the innocent party (me), not the guilty (them).” Perhaps we can relate to this Psalm. Yes, we all sin, but sometimes there really is nothing we have done to deserve this cancer, or that Parkinson’s, or that ill treatment from someone we thought was a friend. We can relate to the Psalmist and say something very similar, “Lord, I am your child, yet I am under siege by people or circumstances”. In those moments, we don’t need a theology textbook. We need God and we need the outcome to be in His hands.

Third: The sovereignty of God is not something we can fully grasp. Sometimes we take something that is true and try to turn in into something that is understandable. No professor or Bible teacher, no matter how smart and knowledgeable, could ever really understand everything there is to know about God anyway.

While we often might long for the “patience of Job”, the Book of Job is really about humility in the face of deep questions. After so many words were spilled on trying to make sense of Job’s suffering, God finally speaks near the end of the book. But in speaking he does not give answers. He only asks questions. And what was Job supposed to learn from that? That he, Job himself, is not God, neither are his friends, and that God’s ways may be beyond understanding.

We are not always going to have the answers. We learn to live with the questions. We learn to trust God despite our lack of understanding. God has the future in His hands, even if we cannot understand how.

So what do we mean by saying that God is sovereign? Has he already decided what all our decisions will be? I am reminded of the expression, “when I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you”. Or, does God in his sovereignty allow things to unfold, naturally, and as consequences of our decisions, but only according to his purposes. Let us consider Psalm 139:16 again:

In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:16 NRSV)

This verse does not tell us if what is written is prescriptive or descriptive, or somehow, both. Is God’s “book” a to do list as God unfolds history? Or, is it a book in which God writes down how history unfolds as he foresees it, as a historian might, but before the events rather than after?  Or does God in his omniscience and omnipotence see what unfolds, but makes the necessary adjustments to ensure the story turns out well?

We can think of a manager of a hockey team who might like the ability to see ahead of time which players will excel in the future, then being able to adjust the rosters based on that foreknowledge. The team could be massaged into a Stanley Cup win.

Perhaps sometimes we think of God as a thing to be studied and understood, rather than a Father, to be in relationship with and enjoyed. As parents, we sometimes allow our boys to experience the consequences of their own decisions. And sometimes we make the decisions that will help them flourish. None of this is done according to a formula, and our boys may never understand us. It is done in relationship, it is a matter of love.

So is God a tyrant? No, God is a loving Heavenly Father. But what if I cannot figure out how the Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereignty squares with my experience of free-will? You can trust God in real life circumstances much sooner than you will be able to fully comprehend Him in a classroom. That is much better anyway!


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (35 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

May 17, 2018

Can Science and Religion Be Anchors for the Soul?

by Clarke Dixon

We threw out the anchor, but nothing changed. At the age of thirteen it was my first year as a sailor in an old wooden sailboat which we bought with everything needed including an anchor. Except that it wasn’t really an anchor. More of a tin of beans filled with concrete and a hook. We threw it out as a last attempt in too strong a breeze for inexperienced sailors. It didn’t help. Yes, we remembered to tie a rope to it, but it didn’t help. It was not a good anchor.

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . ” Hebrews 6:19 (NRSV)

The Bible describes hope in Jesus as a good anchor. But is it? Are there other anchors, or even better anchors, for our souls?

Can science be an anchor for the soul? On the one hand science provides good reason for hope. Having a son with Type 1 diabetes, I am very hopeful that a cure will be found someday. I am also hopeful that the technology will get better while scientists work toward that cure. My hope in both these things won’t be realized without scientists doing their thing! On the other hand, hope in science cannot be an anchor for our souls for at least two reasons.

First, nothing kills hope like what we learn from scientific discovery. Centuries of scientific observation tells us that we will not be alive for very long. Even as we attempt to extend our lives through better medical care, scientists tell us that the universe will not always be life permitting. Ultimately there is no hope for humanity if science is all you can base your hope on.

But more importantly, science cannot tell us everything about everything. Science has its limits. For example, scientists cannot teach us the facts of history. As a scientist, if you knew nothing about airplanes, you could, by observation, figure out how they work. However, you will never know about the many people, engineers, designers, and test pilots for example, who were behind the evolution of the airplane. Scientists can tell us a lot about how things work, but we rely on historians to teach us about the who behind things, the creators throughout history.

Science cannot teach us about things beyond the reach of the telescope, microscope, or any other instrument used to “observe” things. It cannot discover spiritual realities. Going to a scientist to learn about spiritual realities is like going to an auto-mechanic for heart surgery. Sure, the mechanic may know something about the heart, but heart surgery is not her or his expertise. Going to science to learn everything about reality is like buying a house off the internet based only on photos of the outside. There is much that can be learned from those photos, but there is so much more to learn. Science provides too narrow a view. There is so much more that cannot be seen or measured. Science cannot be a good anchor for the soul, for it is far too limited in the truths it can discover.

So religion is the anchor for our souls, right? Well, not so fast. Perhaps I might start my own religion. Let me begin with the promise that you will live forever if you give me $1000. Will you buy in? Why not? You know you will die and I will be $1000 richer! Placing your hope in my made-up religion is unreasonable. Placing our hope in any made-up religion is unreasonable. Every man-made religion, even though it may contain elements of truth, is not going to be reliably true in the things that really matter. The religious leader may point to things the scientist could never discover. But the religious leader may be far from the truth in what he thinks and says. Mere religion cannot be a good anchor for our souls, for it can be unglued from reality.

In what can we anchor our souls if neither religion, nor science, provide good anchors? The question turns out to be not “in what” but “in Whom?” Hope in Jesus Christ provides a good anchor for our souls for it is grounded in realities that science cannot discover, and reality religion cannot reasonably point to.

Hope in Christ is grounded in realities that cannot be observed, and which therefore scientists could never discover through science alone. There is no hope of finding just the right camera or instrument to be able to see God. But God has revealed Himself to us throughout history, to the patriarchs, people, and prophets of Israel, then supremely though Jesus. Through scientific discovery we may infer the presence of a creator, but we cannot discover the truth about the fall of humanity and God’s rescue operation. However, God can reveal it.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. John 1:18 (NLT)

But how do we know that all this Jesus-talk is not just more made-up religion divorced from reality? Unlike man-made religion, hope in Christ is grounded in realities that have been observed. It is based on real events experienced and observed by real people, many people. For example;

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,  and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NRSV)

The call to trust in Jesus is not a call to believe what one man claims to be true without providing any evidence for its truthfulness. It is a call to trust what many eyewitnesses were testifying to and willing to die for. It is a call to trust that the New Testament exists for good reason, not because a few people were trying to create a religion that would get them killed, but because so many people were responding to the events around Jesus, including his resurrection. It is a call to trust the reality of God as experienced through His presence as recorded in the Bible. It is a call to study history. There is a long history of God revealing Himself and people experiencing Him.

Our hope in Christ is also a hope that neither science nor religion could provide:

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever . . . Hebrews 6:19-20 (NRSV)

The talk about a curtain, inner shrine, and high priest relates to Old Testament symbolism around the presence of God. The temple, the “Most Holy Place” within the temple, and priesthood all symbolized God’s desire to be with people, but also the impossibility of a sinful people being able to approach, and so be fully with, a holy God. So there was a sacred space and a whole lot of rigmarole to teach people about holiness and the Holy One. Enter Jesus, who being God the Son, is the only One Who could dwell fully in the presence of the Father. He became our “high priest”, meaning that He is the mediator between ourselves and God. Through His death and resurrection Jesus did what religion could never do. He also did for us what we will never be able to do despite the wonderful advancements being made through science. He reconciled sinful people to a holy God. Neither science, nor religion, can do that.

As a church we are called to help people walk with Jesus in hope. We do that best by living as people of hope, anchoring our hope in Jesus while always being ready to say why:

. . . you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.  But do this in a gentle and respectful way. 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT)

This is part five in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (31 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

 

 

November 8, 2016

Praying for America

Today we’re paying a return visit to Carol Hatcher whose site has the name Sheep to the Right. Honestly, I don’t know how many people will read this today, as the U.S. (and the entire world) are preoccupied with something else, which was also the starting point for Carol’s writing. We’re joining this devotional already in process, so if you want to read it in full, click the title below.

Note to Regular Readers
To facilitate faster loading times for both PC and mobile readers, all the links in “Index of Worship Songs Here at C201” have been removed from the sidebar and are now accessible through a page, “Worship Songs Posted at C201” linked halfway down the sidebar; and the archives here, instead of showing each of the individual months, are now accessed through a drop-down menu. Also, moving forward, if I can remember to do it each time, we’re going to start linking authors’ Twitter account names in the introductions.

What if America Really is Going to Hell in a Hand Basket?

…This morning I was praying for America – begging God to heal our broken nation. I asked Him to help both Hillary and Trump to recognize Truth and be changed by it. And as I prayed, a story from the Bible came to mind. You can call it what you will – but I know the Lord placed it there.

It was the story of Jesus predicting His death to His disciples. He laid out the entire event before it happened. Jesus told them He would go Jerusalem, and once there, He would suffer at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law. Then Christ explained He would be killed but would come back to life on the third day.

Imagine your close friend, your mentor, just told you something like that. How would you respond? I’m sure I would’ve responded the same way Peter did.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Matthew 16:22 NIV

Jesus didn’t say, “It’s okay buddy. God has a plan in all of this.” No. He reply was much stronger!

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Matthew 16:23 NIV

That’s pretty harsh. But, you see, Christ’s death and resurrection was God’s greatest gift to humanity. Through that death and new life, we – you and me – can have eternal life. So, when Peter suggested to Jesus that it wasn’t going to happen, Jesus wasn’t having any part of that. He was saying, “You are just concerned about yourself. This is a God thing. Don’t get in my way.”

So as I was praying for America today, God brought this story to mind and how it relates to our situation. You see, if the worst happens – if Hillary gets in office and inadvertently shares state secrets and continues the gut-wrenching horror of late term abortions – or if Trump gets into office and mouths off to Vladimir Putin and causes Russia to drop an atomic bomb – the end result is people will be looking for hope. And the only Hope to be found is in Christ. You see, our only purpose here is to bring Christ glory. So if it takes the world getting more wicked and vile to make people turn to God, then that is what He will allow.

If that seems cruel to you, remember He allowed His only Son to die for the same reason – to bring you life. God desperately wants this world to know Him and experience His saving grace. So while I’ve been praying for things to get better when the election is over – for the newly elected president to make positive change – things are going to get worse. There may be some positive change. I’m not trying to be doom and gloom. But God is pointing out that things have to get bad, really bad, for people to turn from their wicked ways and come to know Him.

So, fellow Christian, the time is now. First, we have to stop getting so distracted over things that divide us – political parties, movements, the need to weigh in on things where we need to keep our mouths shut. Satan is using those things to destroy us.

We also need to be plugged in to God’s Word, and then let the power of the Holy Spirit that fills us change those around us. In other words, stop being so shy about sharing your faith. Let Christ empower you.

For those of you who don’t know God, or you know of Him but you don’t talk to Him and you really aren’t sure where you are going when you die, the time is now. The same God who created this entire universe is all knowing and all-powerful. He has the power to save you if you just admit you are a sinner who desperately needs Him. Ask Him to save you. He will fill you with hope you never thought possible.

So friends, America may get worse before it gets better. But do not fear. You may weep and wail. You will see things you never thought would happen. But don’t lose hope – Jesus will return. So if our worst fears come to reality, have hope and know that God is and forever will be on the throne.

Psalm 47

1 Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.

2 For the Lord Most High is awesome,
the great King over all the earth.
3 He subdued nations under us,
peoples under our feet.
4 He chose our inheritance for us,
the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.

5 God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.

8 God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on his holy throne.
9 The nobles of the nations assemble
as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God;
he is greatly exalted.

August 6, 2016

Times of Personal and National Darkness

We’re always learning about new (or in this case, new to us) websites and blogs containing great devotional and study material. A few days ago we discovered Exceptional Christian. After looking at newer articles, we discovered this not-so-recent piece* by Jason Lautzenheiser in the archives. Click the title below, or the one at the bottom of today’s entry, to see the rest of his blog.

times of darknessThe Darkness is Receding

I heard someone say not too long ago that “From deepest darkness, shines the brightest light.”  I’ve heard it before in different variations and I’m not really sure where it originated.  But regardless, think about that for a moment.  I’ll wait……

…. So here we sit, in one of the darkest times, at least in my estimation, in the history of this nation (at least perhaps in my generation).  I won’t turn this into a political debate or commentary on one party or the other.  Anyone who knows me, knows my opinions on those matters.  But the last two years have been dark for many people.  So many have lost jobs and lost their businesses.  They are struggling to pay the bills. Struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head.  Yet between government taxes, school levies, and rising costs of just about everything (food and fuel most notably), it seems that the hole is getting deeper and the world is getting darker.

Let’s look at some quotes from the Bible about darkness.

Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains, because they rebelled against God’s commands and despised the plans of the Most High.”  -Psalm 107:10,11

But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”  -Matthew 6:23

Wisdom will save you from the ways of the wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways”  -Proverbs 2:12-13

But in all things the best way to destroy the darkness is to create a light.  Again let’s look at some Bible verses on light.

And God said, let there be light and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.”  -Genesis 1:3-4

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”  -1 John 1:5

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” -Psalm 27:1

I could go on and on, but my point is…We all go through our dark times, some darker than others, some last longer than others and some seem so deep and dark that it appears hopeless that we can ever come out.  But, the best way to defeat the darkness is to find the light.  Create it if you have too.  Strike a match, build a huge fire.  No matter how small the light, darkness always runs away from it.

Look at the darkness that is in your life right now.  What are your struggles?

Out of a job?  Take the opportunity to find a better job or learn a new skill.  Start your own business.  Create the light of hope that you will be better off in the near future.

In debt up to your ears?  Take the opportunity to learn to budget.  Learn to live within your means.  Find ways to increase your income to better your situation.

Health not what it should be?  Take the opportunity to start exercising, eat healthier.

About 10 years ago I went through a period of darkness.  I had a great job and then boom it was gone.  I once had plenty of money, now I had none.  I stressed and felt sorry for myself for a time…I lived in the darkness.  But then I created a light, I was determined to start my own business.  I created Malachi Computer.  I struggled for a time as any fledgling business will.  But it slowly grew and over a period of two years, I built it into something that I could support myself with.  Those two years were rough but we made it through it.  During that growing period, I created other business opportunities to supplement my main income.  Mainly I sold stuff on eBay.  I did OK with it, it got us through the lean times.  In fact that bit of light spread to others who started selling and helped to bring a little light to their darkness as well.

Now we face another period of darkness brought on by the poor economy.  Again, I wallowed in my darkness, forgetting those lessons of years ago.  But the light is brightening, the darkness is receding.  This bit of darkness has made me work that much harder to take my business to the next level.  Again, I’ve created other business opportunities with new found friends that are going to increase the light and spread it too others.  Exciting things are coming.  The darkness is receding.

Yes there will be tough times ahead, but God promises to never give us more than we can handle.

… And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  – 1 Corinthians 10:13

There will be better times than these, you can make them happen with God’s help.  Strive to take the darkness that surrounds us, learn from it, grow from it and let that light of passion, innovation and excitement be that spark that ignites the blaze in your life that chases away your darkness.

The darkness is receding!!


* It’s interesting reading the introduction to this and then consider that it was written in 2010.  Most recently Jason wrote:

Look, you mockers be amazed and die! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it. – Acts 13:41

With all that is going on in the news these days, between the attacks around the world to the politics here in the US, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people say, “Where is God?” or “Why would God let something like this happen?” or “God must have abandoned us because of our falling away from him.” But, my friends, I fully believe that God is as active as he was yesterday and as he was the day before that.

But these questions still abound. Where is God and why isn’t he doing something. The verse above from Acts was something Paul said in response to those people who mocked and persecuted him and the other early Christians. Here he quoted the book of Habakkuk;

The Lord replied, “Look at the nations and be amazed! Watch and be astounded at what I will do! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.” – Habakkuk 1:5

…continue reading the article, Awakening at Exceptional Christian

June 19, 2016

Being “In Christ”

•••by Russell Young

Being “in Christ” is the designation given to a position of comfort through confidence in a person’s eternal hope.  Being in Christ also means that all of the attributes of Christ are accessible to the believer; he is the believer’s means of being kept and of being delivered.

Being in Christ does not mean that the believer is in the body of Christ but that he or she has a connection through relationship with Christ from which they can take on the personality and heart of Christ through his enlightenment, leading and divine power.  The believer is so linked with him through the Spirit, that Christ is his or her life. After all, through baptism he or she has declared themselves to have died to all nourishment outside of him and of all interests outside of his.

Those privileged to be in Christ should not assume it to be their fixed place of residence, however.  Before his crucifixion, Christ said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (Jn 15:1-2, NIV) Vines can become wild and fruitless and of little value.  Further to this teaching, Christ has revealed understanding about the nature of a person’s relationship with him.  “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” (Jn 15:4, NIV) “If a man remains in me and I in him he will produce much fruit.” (Jn 15:5) And, “If you obey my commands, you remain in my love, just as I have obeyed the Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (Jn 15:10, NIV) The Lord used the conditional word “if” in these statements implying that the permanence of remaining in him rested on the believer doing or obeying his commands.  In fact, he directly taught that a person’s position in his family was dependent upon the manner in which he or she dealt with sin, and according to their practice of obedience (Heb 5:9) “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son [one who obeys, Rom 8:14, 6:16], belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:34-35, NIV)

God is faithful to those who remain faithful to him.  It is written: “The Lord is with you when you are with him.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” (2 Chr 15:2, NIV) He will, however, forsake the unfaithful.

Abiding in ChristThose in him get all that is needed through him, and in turn produce the fruit for which the root grows and provides nourishment.  Christ who is the Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. (Gal 5:22) Those who do not produce these will be “cut off.”

It is just as important to consider who is not in Christ. The person who claimed through profession of faith that Jesus is his or her Lord and who is living or walking in spiritual darkness has no fellowship with God. “So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness.  But if we are living in the light [obeying his commandments or being led] as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:6, NIV) This is another conditional statement concerning fellowship and cleansing.

John summed up his portrayal of who is “in Christ” and who is not.  “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are:  Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” (1 Jn 3:10, NIV) And, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him:  Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:5-6, NIV)

A person’s position in Christ depends upon his or her willingness to allow Christ to live through him or her by practicing obedience to the Spirit.  When someone looks at a person in Christ, they should see Christ.  The Lord did not sin while in the flesh and those in him will not sin.  When sin is practiced, that person is not in him on that occasion but has taken nourishment from Adam or Eve, his or her sinful nature.  When a person reverts to their old nature they once again become subject to destruction. “Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction. (Gal 6:5, NIV)

Whether or not a person remains “in Christ” depends upon his or her will.  It is a person’s doing or their walk that reveals his or her position and will determine their eternal outcome.   Christ told His disciples, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21, NIV) A person’s “doing” is important to his or her eternal state and to their remaining in Christ.  Many promises are made to those in Christ, including the promise of freedom from condemnation (Rom 8:1) and of resurrection. (1 Thess 4:16)

May 11, 2016

Resurrection: Concluding Thoughts, A New Beginning

We continue with #5 in a series of Resurrection Facts. Read here or at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, or for this post at source, click here.

•••by Clarke Dixon

54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

Thanks be to God! What a fitting conclusion to this chapter on the resurrection of dead. Only this is not the conclusion as Paul, being the typical preacher that he is, goes on to say more. What more could he possibly have to say about it? Let’s take a look. . . .

 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

“Therefore”

This is a deeply significant word that could easily be missed since it is a rather simple word. The significance lies in the fact it is a ‘therefore‘ and not an ‘if‘. It is not “the dead in Christ are raised if you excel in the Lord’s work,” but rather “the dead in Christ will be raised, therefore excel in the Lord’s work.” So often people think that God will love them if they work harder. God has already shown His love:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures . . . Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 20-22)

The cross and the promise of resurrection is evidence of God’s love. We do not excel in the Lord’s work to earn that love, we excel in the Lord’s work because He loves us.

“My beloved”

While most English translations translate this as Paul’s expression of his love for the Corinthians, the Greek is a little more vague being something like “brothers of mine, loved ones.” Given the whole discussion of the resurrection of the dead in Christ in this chapter, perhaps we ought to be thinking of God’s love here and not just Paul’s?

Furthermore, the fact that he addresses the “brothers” (meaning brothers and sisters) is significant in that we ought not to think this chapter is saying all people will be raised to eternal life with Christ. This chapter only speaks about the dead in Christ. Those who die without Christ are spoken of elsewhere in the Bible, but not here. This promise of resurrection to eternal life is for sisters and brothers in Christ.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

“Be steadfast, immovable”

We might think these two words mean basically the same thing, however as one Bible teacher points out, being ‘steadfast’ means that you do not take the initiative to move, being ‘immovable’ refers to not allowing other people or circumstances to move you. In what are we to remain steadfast and immovable? The very things Paul has been teaching, the truth of the Gospel including the death and resurrection of Christ and the hope of resurrection of the dead in Christ.

“Always excelling in the work of the Lord”

To excel could be translated “work enthusiastically” as one translation puts it. But how do we define the work of the Lord? It is the work God wills. It is anything the Lord calls and enables us to do in answer to the prayer “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I once heard someone say that the work of the Church is much bigger than church work. It is the work of the Church to be available and willing for God’s call in everything; work, play, relationships, parenting, learning, teaching, following, leading, in anything and everything in life the Lord can use us for impact that has eternal significance. Which brings us to our next point about “the work of the Lord.” To define what Paul means by it, we need only see how Paul is working:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

What was Paul working hard at doing? Helping people know Jesus! Anything that points people to Jesus is work that has eternal significance which is what the last part of the verse wants us to think about.

“Because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain”

We can tend to focus, as we often do, on ourselves here and think something to the effect that “oh good, my excelling in the work of the Lord will lead me to extra rewards for it is all about me.” Or we can remember that Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and that the apostle Paul was helping people know Jesus for their benefit, not his own. Our labour in the Lord is not in vain, because it has lasting impact for others.

 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:10)

I had a moment of rejoicing recently when I stood on the weigh scales and realized I had lost another pound. Will I be rejoicing over that fact five years from now? Or even five weeks from now? How long will the rejoicing in the presence of angels last when a sinner repents and becomes a child of God? For that sinner who becomes a son or daughter, that joy will be eternal. The dead in Christ will be raised to eternal life with God, therefore let us devote ourselves to helping people know Jesus, a work God calls and enables us to do, a work has lasting value and is never in vain.

A Concluding Thought

Since in verse 58 Paul adds a concluding thought to this chapter about the resurrection, perhaps I can add a concluding thought to this sermon series. Given how we normally use 1st Corinthians 15, and given where we normally hear it quoted, at the bedside of a dying person, or at a funeral for example, we might think Paul’s conclusion ought to be “the dead in Christ shall be raised to eternal life, therefore be comforted in the face of death.” While this is certainly a good conclusion, Paul does not go there. Instead he ends with something that could be summarized more like “in the face of life, be encouraged.” The Biblical teaching on the resurrection can give us comfort in the face of death, but let it also give us encouragement in the face of life, to carry on in the Lord’s work, to keep in step with His Spirit, to live as Kingdom people anticipating the coming Kingdom of God, and to keep reaching out to others with the love of Christ.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

(All Bible references are taken from the NRSV)

April 2, 2016

Unmitigated Faith

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we pay a return visit to the blog Forward Progress, written by Michael Kelley. I spent several minutes reading different things he has posted lately and encourage you to do the same by clicking the title below and then clicking the “blog” tab at the top of his page. I found this one very powerful.

One Phrase That Clarifies the Nature of Faith

What is faith?

Is it a feeling? Is it based in intellect? Is it a gift? Is it a choice? “Faith” is one of those words that we use frequently, but it’s often difficult to actually define. Fortunately, the Bible does that defining for us:

“Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

That’s the definition. But couched in that definition is the recognition that faith is only as good as the object of that faith. I read at one point Tim Keller describing a scenario like this:

“The faith that changes the life and connects to God is best conveyed by the word “trust.” Imagine you are on a high cliff and you lose your footing and begin to fall. Just beside you as you fall is a branch sticking out of the very edge of the cliff. It is your only hope and it is more than strong enough to support your weight. How can it save you? If your mind is filled with intellectual certainty that the branch can support you, but you don’t actually reach out and grab it, you are lost. If your mind is instead filled with doubts and uncertainty that the branch can hold you, but you reach out and grab it anyway, you will be saved.

Why?

It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.”

This quote clarifies the nature of faith. Faith does not guarantee a certain outcome in a given situation, because ultimately faith is dependent on the object of that faith. For the Christian, faith is about trusting God and His character to do what is good and right and true, even if that outcome does not appear to be good and right and true to us.

There is a phrase, from a story in the Bible, that further clarifies the nature of faith. This single phrase moves us past thinking of faith as triumphalism where if we believe strongly enough then we will get the outcome we desire.

Here’s the phrase:

“Even if He does not…”

Remember the story? Let me take you back to the scene where thousands upon thousands of loyal subjects bowed before a golden statue, either because they revered their leader, or they feared the proclamation he had made – that anyone who did not bow before his idol would be thrown into a furnace.

Three figures stood apart, starkly visible in the midst of the crowd of those who has prostrated themselves. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bow, and they were called on the carpet for it. After being given one more chance to change their minds, and knowing the consequences of their stand (literally), they responded with that statement:

“Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).

“Even if He does not,” they said. And with those 5 words, the three faithful Hebrews pointed out that ultimately, our faith is not dependent on our circumstances; it’s dependent on the character of God. That we trust not so that we can achieve a certain desirable outcome, but because we believe God is trustworthy and will do the right thing on our, and His, behalf.

This phrase reminds me of another moment in time, with another faithful Hebrew, who also knew that faith was grounded in God’s character. This Faithful One knelt before His Father, knowing that He, too, would soon face His own circumstance of pain. And kneeling there in the garden, He prayed for deliverance – that the same God who allowed not one hair on the heads of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be singed would once again intervene. But at the same time, He expressed His unwavering faith in the God who does what is right, all the time, knowing that even if He does not, the outcome would still be the best. So Jesus, too, prayed:

“Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

And so it was that God, once again, did what was right. Jesus went to the cross. In so doing, He showed us that faith is founded in God’s character, not our preference, and that He always does what is good and right and true, even “if He does not…”

 

December 16, 2015

The Leader We Long For

We’re so grateful for Clarke Dixon’s weekly contributions here at C201. Click the title below to read at source.

Toward Good Leadership

There is something that has stood between joy and far too many people in far too many places far too often: Lousy leadership by lost leaders. They say that cream always rises to the top, but throughout the world, and throughout the history of the world, the cream seems to have been sitting out in the sun for days on end. Bad decisions by people of influence have plunged people into suffering and darkness. Because of dreadful leadership oppression has poured out on countless millions. We need world leaders who have a heart for the people, a capacity to bring real change, and who bring effective solutions to problems. Is there a leader who can rise to that challenge?

From the Gospel of Luke, enter an angel announcing a birth:

Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

From the Book of Revelation, enter another angel and another announcement:

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

Could these announcements point us to a leader who can rise to the challenge of good leadership? Let us consider three points:

Because this is a hurting world, we need a leader who knows how to be a shepherd. Rulers can rule indiscriminately, but shepherds do at least three things: they find lost sheep, they have compassion on hurting sheep, and they provide protection for threatened sheep. We have had enough oppressive rulers in our world. We don’t need oppressors, we need shepherds. In Jesus we have a shepherd. Consider the following:

First, there is a connection between Jesus and David, the “shepherd-king.” Though David was originally a shepherd from Bethlehem, he became the favorite king of Israel. God promised David that one of his descendants would reign forever. That Jesus was born in Bethlehem and that shepherds from Bethlehem were invited to see Him, make plain that we are to make a connection between Jesus and David; the shepherd-king.

Second, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who “lays his life down for the sheep” (John 10:11). This is a very different kind of leadership than those rulers who take out as many sheep as it takes to remain in power.

Third, Jesus is the shepherd spoken of in Revelation 7:17:

“for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This is a shepherd leader who is also a sacrificial lamb. He leads from a place of love, giving his life for the sake of the sheep in contrast to many rulers who rule from a place of insecurity and fear.

Fourth, the birth of Jesus is mentioned in Revelation 12:5:

“And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.”

The word for “rule” here is actually the word for “shepherd,” as in “he will shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron.” The 23rd Psalm is in view with “The LORD is my shepherd . . . your rod and your staff – they comfort me.” The rod and staff were used by shepherds to protect and guide the sheep.

Indeed, the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign as the Good-Shepherd-King forever and ever.

Because this is a darkening world we need a leader who has the capacity to bring sunny ways. As Canadians we cannot miss the reference to our new Prime Minister in that statement. No matter our political stripe, we should always hope that our current prime minister will be the best one yet. But whether or not sunny days may be ahead for Canada, Mr. Trudeau is limited in the world by one simple fact. He is only human. Even if we experience superb leadership here in Canada, Mr. Trudeau will have limited impact in other nations around the world, nations which are in greater need of good leadership than we are! Jesus has the capacity to bring sunny ways. Consider the following:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

Not only is Jesus described as light, but being involved in Creation, He is the Creator of light. That sounds like someone who has the capacity to bring about real change! While we look to political leaders to make promises, Jesus is far more able to keep His. Speaking of promises:

22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. (Revelation 21:22-25)

While world leaders have often plunged their people into darkness, Jesus is the light of the world. Indeed the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign as the Light-of-the-World forever and ever.

Lastly, Because this is a broken world we need a leader who can fix problems with real solutions. What is the biggest problem the world faces today? Climate change? Terrorism? The announcement of the loud voices from Revelation 11 provides us with a clue:

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord.” (Revelation 11:15)

“Kingdoms” are not handed over as we might expect, but rather a singular “kingdom.” Satan is the “ruler of this world” as Jesus makes clear in John 14:30. The evil one has had plenty of practice in being the greatest threat to society beginning with Adam and Eve. The problems of this world have never been just Hitler, or Stalin, or Bin Laden, or Herod. The problems of this world have been the sin that infects and affects such people, not to mention people like you and me. The evil one has even tried to tempt Jesus:

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. ’” (Matthew 4:8-10)

The temptation was to take the world by force. Jesus would have succeeded in that venture where many have tried and failed. But there was a better way, the way of the cross. Rather than use violence and force to rule over all the kingdoms, Jesus suffered violence and force at the cross. His is the way of love. His kingdom is marked by love, not brute force. Indeed, the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and the King-of-love will reign forever and ever.

So will we ever have good leadership in our world? We already have a good leader in our world; Jesus. What we really need are good followers. We do not need to wait for the seventh trumpet to sound to know that Jesus is Lord, to live as His Kingdom people. The leaders of this world would do well to figure out how to follow the leader before leading the followers. So would we.

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

November 23, 2015

The Suffering Church

Today’s thoughts are from a North Carolina author who came recommended to us. Matt Capps posted this sermon excerpt in September, but it seems even more timely with each passing day. There is a link to watch the sermon in full; click the image to read at source. (This is one of a series on The Church in Exile.)

Matt CappsThe Suffering of the Church (1 Peter 3:13-4:6)

This is an excerpt from a sermon I recently preached at Fairview Baptist Church. You can watch the whole thing online.

In John 17, Jesus prayed that the Father would protect his own from the evil one. But, he did not pray that we would be removed from this world, and by implication – the suffering of this world.

We will suffer in this life. Suffering is comprehensive, and is a no respecter of persons. While the Bible covers various ways to suffer in this life, this passage is specifically concerned with distinctively Christian suffering. In other words, suffering that may come to us precisely because we are Christians.

Suffering will drive us to our knees, and at the same time it can be a powerful reminder that Jesus is King. Through suffering God brings us to Himself. Consider the words of 1 Peter 3:13-15

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”

Peter is preparing the church, not just to endure suffering – but to find in their suffering an opportunity for witness.

You can imagine that some of the Christians in which this letter was first directed to had seen the suffering of their fellow believers, and fear of that suffering had the potential of halting their desire to publicly live out their faith.

But Peter responds with strange wording – “suffering brings about blessing”. When the world sees that you are – to use the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9:

  • Afflicted in every way, but not crushed.
  • Perplexed, but not driven to despair.
  • Persecuted, but not forsaken.
  • Struck down, but not destroyed.

They think, what is it with these people? What is this hope that is within them? This hope is a frame of mind achieved by setting apart – literally, sanctifying – Christ as Lord.

Our courage is born out of a belief that Christ is king even when things look hopeless. Moreover, in Christ we have a sure hope in the coming blessing. Hope is not wishful thinking, but true faith under pressure. Assurance of our future resurrection in Christ will not only give us courage and comfort, but will also put those who revile us to shame.

When you suffer, suffer with hope. This is the Blessing of Suffering for Christ. In suffering, we can find an opportunity for witness. In suffering, we also realize that God is bringing you to himself.

November 22, 2014

Translation Nuances in 1 Thessalonians

The third verse of the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians apparently offered translators a variety of options.  In the NIV, the verse reads:

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Before we look at three distinct pairings in this passage, I want to point out that from my perspective, the words work and labor suggest the same thing. In some the second word is service. But even that is very similar, though not all work is an act of service, all acts of service certainly involve some effort.

The NIV would seem to say that faith, love and hope are the motivators or inspiration for work, labor and endurance.  Thus,

  • faith gives way to work (something James would agree with)
  • love gives way to labor (see this September post on compassion)
  • hope gives way to endurance (we would not endure if there were no hope, right?)

But in the ESV, we see the motivating characteristic embedded in the fruit that it produces:

  • work of faith
  • labor of love
  • steadfastness of hope

To some of you it may be a minor nuance in the translation, but it certainly reads differently.

The GNT (Good News) expresses it yet differently again perhaps putting more emphasis on the motivation than the fruit:

  • you put your faith into practice
  • your love made you work so hard
  • your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ is firm

The ISV (still not in print) provides a more descriptive picture combining the motivation and the effect:

  • your faith is active
  • your love is hard at work
  • your hope in our Lord Jesus the Messiah is enduring

I think it’s a real blessing that certain passages can be read different ways, but also it challenges me to see the intertwining of the action and the motivator. Some people believe that as long as certain results are attained it doesn’t matter why. Paul certainly saw this as a distinct possibility:

ESV Phil 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

But what a greater beauty awaits you when you see both the purity of the motive and the fruitfulness of the result; when you see them intertwined.

ESV Prov. 16:2 All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the spirit.

 

 

 

November 9, 2014

Rejoicing in Persecution

 NIV I Peter 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

This morning at church we observed the International Day of Persecution. When we think of some of the news stories we’ve been tracking in the last few years, even more so the last few months, and especially even in the last few weeks, it may seem odd that IDOP organizers chose the theme “Rejoicing in Hope.”  Rejoicing?  Here’s an explanation:

Rejoicing in Hope

Romans 5:1 – 5 

Through him, we have also obtained access by faith
into this grace in which we stand,
and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Today, Christians in regions of the world face some of the worst persecution in history. It is difficult for Canadians to imagine the day-to-day sufferings of those who live in countries where religious freedom is not regarded by their governments or neighbours. Imagine facing threats of false accusation and imprisonment, injury and harm to you or your family, attacks on businesses and homes, and even threats of death–all because of your faith in Christ?

Rejoicing in Hope IDOPHow do our brothers and sisters cope with such conditions? How can their faith remain strong when it costs them so much? God alone empowers them to do so. We are humbled and encouraged as we witness their courage and obedience.

Often we ask, “What can we do to help them?” What does God call us to do? We can be the tool He uses to encourage them through our prayers. Many are the testimonies from persecuted believers who say they find hope knowing that their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world raise a voice of prayer for them—praying that God give them strength and protect them. They find hope knowing that we have not forgotten them.

This year’s theme for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is: Rejoicing in Hope based on Romans 5:1-5.

“… We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

For every Christian, regardless of our circumstances, hope is found in the promise that one day we shall see Christ face-to-face. Knowing that death will not be the final word gives us great “Hope.” Ultimately, we shall see suffering replaced with rejoicing, and receive our greatest reward when Christ ushers us into eternal life with Him and says “Welcome home, my faithful servant.” For many of our persecuted brothers and sisters who are imprisoned or who constantly live under the threat of death this is their one focus—this is their “Hope.”

“… We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.”

The world does not understand suffering the way a Christian believer does. “How can you rejoice?” they ask when faced with difficulty, hardship and persecution. We know that it is through our suffering that Christ promises to create in us his likeness—his traits of endurance, character and hope through the work of the Holy Spirit. Hearts honed and refined in the fire of suffering are deeply imprinted with his likeness, and understand how suffering is used in its development.

“… Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

The persecuted often ask that we pray for one thing specifically: that their hearts be filled with love for their persecutors. Loving our enemy as Christ loved us leaves a lasting testimony with those who hate the Christ in us and seek to harm us. Many have come to Christ in the face of this kind of inexplicable, undeniable, selfless Love. It is the stamp of the Holy Spirit on the heart of a believer, to love those who hate us, just as Christ loved us.

This year, we remember and identify with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering because of their devotion to him. We ask God to protect them and give them courage and perseverance in the face of harm or attack. And we open our hearts and dedicate ourselves to follow their example—to “Rejoice in Hope” in the midst of suffering. We ask that God’s Holy Spirit will do his work in the hearts of his children, to make us more like Christ.

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

 

May 10, 2014

Devotional Double Header

This week C201 joined another blog aggregator, The Fellowship of Christian bloggers. I hope to introduce a few of the bloggers here as I encounter material that fits our vision of devotional writing. To start, I was intrigued with the title of this first one: Done With Religion by Michael Donohoe. Click the title below to link.

Colossians 3:5, 9-11 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry…Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him, a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all…

As followers of Christ, our old nature has been killed and buried. We are new creatures in Christ. We no longer have to serve sin because Christ has set us free.

Our old sinful nature was crucified with Christ. It was dead and buried and now a new, holy and righteous creature has risen and is alive in Christ.

We have Christ living in us and we can rely on His power to overcome temptation by His strength. Because of Him we can live a life free from the guilt and punishment of sin. The sinful nature is still in the ground and a new person now lives as one with God. He put His Spirit within us and made us His dwelling place.

When God looks at us, He sees His child that has been changed by the grace of Christ. We are now holy and righteous in His sight. Not because of anything we have done, but because of the work Christ did. We no longer have to work to earn salvation. After accepting the grace of God, we no longer have to strive to keep the law. The law was good in that it was a tutor to lead us to Christ. The law was fulfilled by Christ and now that we are His, we live by faith in the grace He provided.

In Christ, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no upper level or lower level child of God. The is no Jew or Greek, male or female, clergy or laity. Each one of us make up an equally important and functioning part of the body. We are all saved by grace and living under the headship of Christ. Christ is our all in all.

May we continue to grow in Grace and let Him have the preeminence.

The second of our devotional double-header today was also from a blog with a title that grabbed me: Finding the Holy in the Mundane by Rachel Stephenson.  Click the title below to link.

 

Confident Hope

Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, 16 I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. 18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope He has given to those He called—His holy people who are His rich and glorious inheritance.Ephesians 1:15-18 (NLT)

Paul begins his letter with a prayer that spills out in gratitude and praise. He writes of God’s greatness, grace and glorious purpose. Why did Paul begin with such resounding praise? So you can know.

Heavenly Wisdom

Paul continues his prayer asking God to give us wisdom—spiritual, God given understanding. It’s not the kind of understanding that is simply factual. Paul’s prayer is that we would know Him better. God reveals Himself in all creation; He wants to be known. God imparts on the believer a supernatural understanding of Himself. It’s a divine and glorious honor, reserved only for the believer.

Confident Hope

When I am trying a new recipe, I hope the finished product is yummy.  When I am learning a new skill, I hope I am able to produce the desired outcome. When I write, I hope you understand what I am trying to convey. There is an element of uncertainty in the hope I have in my skills and abilities. I may or may not be able to accomplish what I set out to do.

Paul prays that we may understand the confident hope we have in Christ. Christ is THE factor that turns a wish into a confident hope, a sure thing, and an absolute truth. Paul prays for our understanding of that hope.

The Inheritance

What is that confident hope? Read verse 18 closely.

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope He has given to those He called—His holy people who are His rich and glorious inheritance.

God considers YOU an inheritance—prized, valued and purchased. Knowledge and understanding is what Paul prays for you and me. Can you begin to fathom that? The God of the universe, pure and holy, considers frail, sin-sick humanity as a valued inheritance.

To understand that you must understand the value God places on humanity. God sent His Son to die to reconcile us. That is value! Jesus’ blood purchased our redemption. That is confident hope—there is power in the blood of Christ—power to redeem and purify the sinful heart.

God invested Himself in His own inheritance—US!

Father, may I come to know You better! Illuminate my understanding of the hope I have in Christ. Let me come to understand the love You have for me and the desire You have for me to know and love you more.

 


What the Bible Speaks To

In addition to Bible Gateway and Bible Hub, devotions here are sometimes prepared using TopVerses.com   I found it interesting to see their topical index; these are the things that the Bible teaches and speaks to, and it’s interesting to see these collected together in a single list:

Top Verses by Topic (The links are all live!)

May 6, 2014

When You’re Surrounded by Darkness

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. (PS 112.4)

I know how it feels to be in the darkness. Literally and spiritually. I remember touring Onandaga Cave in Missouri as a kid. At one point the tour guide turned out the lights. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I also remember when I walked in spiritual darkness and the Lord shone his light into my darkened heart. And I remember many times since believing that Jesus has taken me through dark and dismal valleys where all I could do is trust him until his light broke through.

When we’re in the darkness of affliction, our temptation is to circle the wagons and turn inward. We’re tempted to self-pity and self-focus. To withdraw. We don’t feel like being around others. But God tells us to do the opposite. When we’re in the darkness we should seek his grace to be others-oriented. To be gracious, merciful, generous. And Psalm 112 emphasizes being generous to the poor.

While we wait for God’s light to dawn in our darkness, we should:

Fear the Lord and delight in his commands (PS 112:1)
Be gracious and merciful (4)
“Deal generously” and lend (5)
Continue to steadfastly trust the Lord (7-8)
“Distribute freely” and give to the poor (9)

So as you pray and wait for God to save a loved one or break through in your own night, keep trusting in the Lord. Give to the poor. Give to Compassion or Samaritan’s Purse. Wire some money to a pastor in a poor nation. Bless someone in need in your church.

And remember, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, hung in the darkness of God’s wrath for 3 hours for you, so that his light could pierce the darkness of your sin and lostness. If he did the greater thing – opening your blind eyes and bringing you into his glorious light – then surely he will do the lesser thing now that you are his beloved child – to answer your prayers for your loved one or meet your need.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (PR 4:18)

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday. PS 37:3-6

Keep trusting Jesus. He has not abandoned you. He is just waiting for the perfect moment for his light to dawn in your darkness.

December 6, 2013

Temptation Always Follows a Predictable Pattern

Our blog discovery today was one very similar to what we do here at C201.  Thoughts about God provides two thoughts for the day; based on the links in the right margin, and the pieces I looked at, one is male-authored and the other is female-authored. This is a unique devotional premise, don’t you think?  (I wish I’d thought of it !!)

This one appeared first today, and is by Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church.

Change the Way You Think
We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ.”
2 Corinthians 10:5 (NCV)

Here’s the secret to temptation: Don’t fight it. Just refocus. Whatever you resist persists.

Did you know that in the Bible, not once are you told to resist temptation? We are told to resist the Devil, and that’s a whole different issue. But the key to overcoming temptation is not to push back. It’s to change your focus.

Whatever gets your attention gets you. The battle for sin always starts in the mind. That’s why the Bible says in Psalm 119:6, “Thinking about your commands will keep me from doing some foolish thing” (CEV). Why? Because if you’re thinking about God’s truth, you’re not thinking about the dumb stuff you could be doing.

Have you ever looked over a cliff and felt like you were being drawn to jump off? Not like a temptation, but like there was this force that was pulling you. It’s because whatever you focus on pulls you.

It’s true in every single area of life — good or bad. If you focus on godly things, it’s going to pull you that direction. If you focus on the stuff that’s at the movies and in magazines, it’s going to pull you that direction. Whatever you focus on gets your attention. Whatever gets your attention is going to get you.

The key is to just change your mind.

Temptation always follows a predictable pattern: attention, arousal, and action. Your mind gets hooked, your mind kicks in, and then you act on it.

So you don’t fight a temptation; you just turn your mind to something else. “We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NCV).

The thing is, we’re not very good at capturing every thought and turning it to Christ, because it takes lots of practice. You can’t always control your circumstances, and you can’t even always control the way you feel. But you can control what you think about. That’s always your choice. And if you change the way you think, it changes the way you feel, and that will change the way you act.

Talk It Over
– What do you spend your time thinking about? Where does your mind wander when you’re not focused on something specific?
– How can you train yourself so that it is more natural for you to focus on God’s Word and truths instead of the things of this world?

You can comment on this devotional online at:
http://thoughts-about-god.com/blog/2013/12/06/rw_change-the-way-you-think/

Their women’s voice for the day was Claire Colvin:

God Will Not Waste Your Life
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” 1 Peter 1:3-4

What strikes me about this verse is the phrase “a living hope.” It’s not a future hope; it’s a hope that is with us right now. We were utterly lost, condemned to die, and through Jesus we’re reborn to hope and life eternal.

I lose sight of that sometimes. In the midst of an ordinary day I forget that I have this incredible hope. When I feel weak, forgotten, worn out or left behind it’s often because I’ve taken my eyes off of the hope that Jesus bought for me on the cross.

I love the chorus in Chris Tomlin’s version of “Amazing Grace.”

My chains are gone,
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me.
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace.”

What a picture of hope! This is a big part of the “life to the full” that Jesus talks about in John 10:10. It’s not a life we just hope might somehow count for something. It’s life as a forgiven child of God, fashioned for a purpose. It’s the assurance that God will not waste your life. How will you live in this hope today?

Thank you God for giving me a living hope. Whatever has happened in the past, whatever might lie ahead in the future, Your hope will be there to redeem and renew. You are the reason for the joy that I have. You are my peace and my portion and my shield forever. Help me to cling to Your hope and not to my own understanding. In Your name I pray, amen.

Take Action: Take a close look at the thoughts that are running through your head today. Are they thoughts of hope or worry? comfort or sadness? Take these thoughts to God. Thank Him for ransoming you and ask Him to focus your mind on the living hope that is yours today.

You can comment on this devotional online at:
http://thoughts-about-god.com/blog/2013/12/06/cc_god-will-not-waste-your-life/

July 30, 2013

Your Heart Will Live: Hope After a Suicide

On Sunday, Rick Warren returned to the pulpit of Saddleback Community Church in Orange County, California, for the first time following the suicide of his son Matthew. As both he and his wife Kay shared speaking duties, he made it clear that Saddleback is going to be devoting resources and attention to mental health issues in the weeks to come.

As I went through the process of looking for new sources for Bible study and devotional material, I came across the blog Love Truth: Hope After Suicide, written by Jean Ann Williams, and knew that I had to post something from that blog. If this issue has touched your life at some point, there are over 130 blog posts similar to this one available to read. I simply chose one of the recent ones. You are encouraged to click the link to read Your Heart Shall Live.

Dear readers,

King David writes:

“The humble shall see this, and be glad: and your heart shall live that seek God.”

What is David saying here?

First we must take into account that King James (my version of Bible) added words and those words are italicized. So, the word “this” can be taken out and it reads, “The humble shall see, and be glad: and your heart shall live that seek God”.

We  can’t see what God wants us to see and do with no humility in our lives. Dear readers, prideful, boastful thinking can’t live inside of our hearts. Be humble. Do not take revenge.

Example: take those hurtful words someone just now spewed at you and give them to God to take care of.

You will know glad, in another word: peace. :))

What does “your heart shall live” mean? I believe this means eternal life in heaven with our Lord God. How do we seek God to attain this? Studying His Word (the Bible) every day and pray, pray, pray. Ask God’s Holy Spirit to guide you on personal issues. He will, and you’ll see changes like never before.

Of course at some point, we must do the acts of being saved and to walk with God as directed in the Bible: confession that we are sinners, accepting Christ as our Savior and immersion in water to spiritually wash away our sins.

Already a saved child of God helped me after Joshua died, for I had accepted Christ as my Savior at age eighteen. God had proven His power to me for decades. Even at that, in my darkest days, weeks and months after Joshua’s death by suicide, I had to work hard to seek God.

Let me tell you, it’s exhausting to seek God when you don’t feel like it.

I learned to wake in the mornings and say good morning to God to begin my day on a spiritual foundation.

I assure you, dear readers, there is never any calm like what the Lord can give. I also assure you, I would not still be alive if it were not for my Lord. He saved me from myself. How? I kept reading encouraging scriptures, but I also read the book of Job in the Old Testament. That made me feel better that someone else had not only lost a child, but all of his children.

In my search for scriptures, I found two verses, Philippians 4:8 & 9, and memorized them to ease my torment over losing my youngest child to such a horrific death. God’s Word made me humble and glad. He gave me rest from my own misery. I was in misery, but with God I sensed His peace.

Dear readers, I tell you the truth. What I write in each post has happened to me, and God did save me from my own self. Today, I am healthier in mind, body and spirit, because of my spiritual Father in Heaven.

Lord, I am grateful for Your loving comfort of Your holy Word. In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.

Until next time . . . read the Bible and live.

 

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