Christianity 201

July 2, 2020

Building for the Storms: A Reflection on Matthew 7:24-29

by Clarke Dixon

What do we do when the storms of life are raging against us, threatening to beat us down and knock us off our feet? The COVID-19 pandemic may feel like that for many while for others it might be concern over health, work, relationships, or stress levels. What do we do when we face the biggest of all storms, the one that really does knock us down, when death draws close? Jesus speaks about storms. Let’s listen in:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NRSV)

If we are wise, we will “hear my words and act on them.” Then we will be like the wise person who built a house upon rock, a house with a solid foundation that could withstand the storms.

That could be the end of the sermon right there. Except that we tend go in one of two directions and so end up as unwise builders.

The first bad turn is to make our lives merely about following the rules. We might hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” then be tempted to go through all the words of Jesus, to write up a comprehensive list of his rules.

Since Jesus is concluding his “Sermon on the Mount” here, let us go back and consider again what Jesus has been saying up to this point.

Let us consider an example from earlier in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment;

Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

We might add to our list of rules, “do not get angry with people” and move on. But that misses the point. Jesus is pushing us into a deeper righteousness here, a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, a righteousness that is of a better kind, a righteousness of the heart.

Instead of merely keeping a rule about anger, we want to become the kind of people who are not angry, the kind of people who are peaceable and gentle, the kind of people who would never murder. Going further in the Sermon on the Mount, instead of merely keeping a rule about looking at others with lust, or a rule about divorce, we want to become the kind of people who are faithful (5:27-32). Instead of merely keeping rules about oaths we want to become the kind of people who have integrity (5:33-37). Instead of merely following the rules about whom we love or hate, we want to become the kind of people who love like God loves (5:38-48). We want to reflect the character of God. It is about Christlike character.

As we read on in the Jesus’ sermon, we don’t want to merely follow rules about piety, about prayer, fasting, and giving. We want to be the kind of people who develop and demonstrate a deep relationship with God (6:1-24). We do not pray to keep a rule about praying, we pray because prayerfulness is part and parcel of a deep and intimate relationship with God. We do not merely follow a rule about not worrying, we become the kind of people who trust in God, who know Him to be a loving, Heavenly Father (6:25-34).

Jesus stands in contrast to the religious types of his day who were all about the religious rules. He still stands in contrast to many of us religious types today. Jesus was leading people to the heart of God in a way that the scribes and Pharisees were not. When we hear the words of Jesus and act on them, we grow in character.

What do we do when the storms of life hit? It is not what we do, but rather who we are becoming in Christ that gives us the solid foundation. We handle a crisis with things like love, integrity, trust, faithfulness, prayer, and a deep relationship with God. That character will be a solid foundation when the storms of life hit.

Let us get into the second way we might take a wrong turn and so not be as prepared for the storms as we might think.

Some Bible scholars think that Jesus is talking about the final judgement when he talks about the great storm that knocks over the foolish man’s house but leaves the wise man’s house standing. Bible teachers are divided on whether that is so, but even if Jesus is not specifically referring to the final judgement here, we can think of that final storm among the many storms we face, the one which really does seem to knock us down for the final time.

We may hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” and think we must be super-obedient to receive eternal life. It’s on us to get this right. We may then begin to worry. We have heard his words, some of us have heard them many, many times, but have we actually acted on them? Have we acted on them well enough? So we worry.

Let us go back and consider again what words Jesus is telling us to hear and act on. One of the things Jesus tells us to do is “do not worry.”

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Matthew 6:25-26 (NRSV)

The reason we are to not worry is because God’s got our backs. God is our Heavenly Father who loves us and knows what we need.

There are many stressed out Christians who wonder “have I done enough to be saved?” No you have not. Neither have I. There are many anxious Christians who wonder “what if I have unconfessed sin when I die?” You will have unconfessed sin when you die. So will I. We all have sin we are not even aware of.

But there is good news!

Having told us to not worry, but instead trust God, and trust that God loves us, Jesus demonstrated God’s love by going to the cross, to take away our sin, all of it. We have not done enough to be saved. God has done enough to save us. We will have unconfessed sin when we die. Jesus died for that sin too.

Hearing the words of Jesus and acting on them puts us on a solid foundation ready to face death. What do we do when that final storm rages against us? Again, it is not about what we do, but who we are becoming. We continue being the kind of people God is calling us to be, the kind of people who trust God, in everything. We know He loves us. That is the best foundation for facing life, and for facing death. Yes, a storm may blow through that really does seem to knock us down for the final time. Do not worry. God will pick us up.

Jesus said that if we hear his words and act on them, we will be wise,
like the man who built his house upon rock. That house was ready for the storms. A Jesus shaped, God formed character provides a solid foundation for all the storms that threaten to knock us down, even death. Are you hearing Jesus? Are his words being acted out in your life?


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Watch today’s teaching portion at this link. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

 

May 8, 2020

Imagine There’s No Truth

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Over the years at our other blog, Thinking Out Loud, we’ve found Sacred Sandwich to be a treasure trove for sourcing cartoons and images and satirical articles. But they have a serious side as well.

Today I want to share the middle section of a longer article and if you have time, I want to strongly recommend reading the full context. As usual, click the header below to read in full. The author is C. R. Carmichael.

Where Would We Be Without Truth?

“The church has lost her testimony! She has no longer anything to say to the world. Her once robust declaration of TRUTH has faded away to an apologetic whisper.” — A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)

…In light of humanity’s desperate need for God’s peace, can you imagine if truth were completely erased from our midst? It is too dreadful to contemplate! Yet think of the catastrophic condition of humanity if the world existed without the revelation of God’s truth. Like wayward Israel, the people would be “destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6), and would soon cry out in anguish like Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am lost!” (Isaiah 6:5).

Imagining A World Void Of Truth

According to the Scriptures, a world void of truth would be a desolate place. Fallen mankind would have no avenue of promise to find redemption and reconciliation with God. Without truth, there would be no regeneration; for it is by “the word of truth” that we are begotten and born again (James 1:18; I Peter 1:23). Without truth, there would be no justification; for we are justified by faith, which faith consists in crediting God’s truth, and so gives peace with God (Romans 5:1). Without the truth, there would be no sanctification; for the Lord himself says, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Without the truth, there would be no salvation; for “God hath chosen us to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (II Thessalonians 2:13).

In such an unsound world, where would you find the threefold graces of the Spirit: Faith, Hope, and Love? Without truth, there would be no faith; for the work of faith is to believe the truth (II Thessalonians 2:13). As the Bible teaches us, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ,” which is truth in all its power (Romans 10:17). The difference between true faith and the world’s delusion is striking: Faith believes God’s truth, and delusion credits Satan’s lies (II Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Without truth, there would be no hope; for the province of hope is to anchor in the truth of God’s word (Hebrews 6:18-19). This led David to say in Psalm 119:74, “I have hoped in Your word.” Indeed, it is “through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures that we have hope” (Romans 15:4). And where do we most clearly hear of this hope? It is heard in the word of truth, the Gospel (Colossians 1:5), which fixes our hope on the living God, even Jesus Christ, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10).

And finally, without truth, there would be no love; for it is “the love of the truth” which separates the saved from the unsaved (II Thessalonians 2:11-12). Indeed this love of truth transforms believers into Christ-bearers who are then compelled to speak the truth in love to those who are perishing, for they now know that “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Thus we see the tragic consequences of abandoning truth. Without truth, all the people on the earth would be lost in a stormy tempest of lies without a lighthouse to guide them to safe harbor. They would have no faith to chart their course, no hope in which to anchor their souls to God, and no love to fill their sails. Is this not the dire situation we are beginning to witness in the world today? How many poor souls are now living in fear instead of faith, anguish instead of hope, and anger instead of love?

The Bible teaches us that truth brings faith, hope, and love to full flower, but emphasizes that above all, love is the greatest of the three (I Corinthians 13:13). In I Corinthians 13:6, we learn: “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” In other words, love is delighted when truth is spoken, and therefore love is eternally married to truth. Love adores and promotes truth, just as those who bear God’s love in their hearts adore and promote truth. Truth, then, is firmly fixed upon the only love that has the power to destroy the depraved business of this world…

[…continue reading here…]


Some “Without Truth” passages taken and expanded upon from J. C. Philpot’s “Through Baca’s Vale”


By the same author: Why the World’s Dark Business is Booming

April 18, 2020

Finding Hope in Spring Rebirth

The Cove is a multi-site church in Mooresville, NC (Greater Charlotte) which posts weekday devotions on their website. The ones for this week were by Jenna Worsham. This was the Monday devotional in a series on the subject of new birth. I’ve also added an image below.

He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”’ Revelation 21:5 (NIV)

I’ve seen a number of pictures like this, where new life springs out of old. This one was in my files. These pictures are usually accompanied by verses such as Isaiah 43:19;
“Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.”
or Revelation 21:5a
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

The Bible contains many prophesies. The ones about Jesus’ life as a Man on earth were fulfilled in the details of His birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection. We know God keeps His promises and the prophesies are fulfilled because we can see it in His Word.

The Israelites and Jesus’ disciples lived in specific cultures and times. Because of their perspective, they may not have been able to understand all the ways prophesy was coming true during their lives. However, they were able to see some things. Jesus was born in the line of David, in Bethlehem. He fulfilled all of the prophesy in the Old Testament, and the disciples would have seen and understood some of those fulfillments.

Earlier in history, God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt, fed them manna, taken them through the desert, and eventually gave them the Promised Land. Limited perspective didn’t leave either the disciples or the Israelites without hope. We read that they saw God’s character and how He had been faithful before. They chose to remember and trust His promises. They chose to live with hope and belief that what God promised would one day come to pass.

We haven’t yet seen all of the prophesy in the Bible come true. At the end of the Bible, the book of Revelation shows us some things that will happen. Sometimes we shy away from the Revelation because we don’t understand it all, or we don’t want to misinterpret it. Yet, God’s promises are for our good. They give us hope. Even if we don’t understand every detail, we know Him and how He has moved on behalf of His people in the past. We can trust that prophesy will come true and it will be for us, not against us. “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 21:5, NIV).

We live in a culture and time where this prophesy hasn’t come to pass yet, not entirely, but things are definitely changing. The Man seated on the throne is in charge of the new heaven and new earth. He is making it new in that moment! There is no more death, pain, crying, or mourning anymore! We know that Jesus’ body rose from the dead and was made brand new.

Every spring, we see dead things come back to life. This is that season. We are seeing those flowers, buds, and births now! In seasons of pain, suffering, isolation, and fear, we are not without hope. We have promises. This prophesy will be complete in the future. In a way, it has already started coming true. God is already in the business of making things new. He shows us how birth, coming alive, renewing, reviving, awakening, and remaking are His specialties.

God’s actions in my life, the rebirth I’ve seen in my friends and family, the new life in nature–all point to the truth. Our God is “making everything new.” His words are always “trustworthy and true.” We have hope now because God is in the redemption business. We have hope for the day when this verse in Revelation is absolutely, completely fulfilled.

Read: Revelation 21:1-5;  Exodus 6:7, 12:51;  Luke 4:16-21


…Later on in the week (on Thursday), Jenna posted something I want to share a brief excerpt from:

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:21-22, ESV).

The earth is like a pregnant woman. She is capable of so much more than she can accomplish right now. Her limitations are temporary. The life she carries brings much joy now and will bring more joy soon. Nearer to the time when Jesus returns, the earth will suffer; it will be like labor for her and all who live on her. It will be hard. It will seem like it may never end. But when labor is over, Jesus will make everything new.

April 4, 2020

A Psalm We Need Right Now

Today we’re back with Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. This is very transparent, and very timely. Click the header below and read this at source.

My Shelter

Only God could have prepared me for the coronavirus pandemic like he has. Had I known ten years ago, five years ago, even this time last year that this world crisis would come, I would have lived in total fear and tried in my own wisdom and power to prepare.

But in the midst of planning and worrying and preparing, I would not have learned all I have about God. I would not have learned how good he is. I would not have learned how deeply he loves me. I would not have learned of his faithfulness and power. I would’ve ended up living in a panic, ultimately doing it all without him. And when the crisis came, I would not have known him.

Instead, I am living through this with anticipation for all he’s about to do, and in wonder of all the ways he’s already provided. Looking back even over the last three months, I see how he’s made me ready for this.

Over the last week and a half, since this pandemic came to the US, I keep hearing over and over again from different people the reference to Psalm 91. It seems to be the hallmark passage for this crisis. Today more than ever, it means so much to me.

My take away today is that I don’t have to live in fear of what the future holds. I just need to always, in all things, trust the Lord my God. He will direct my steps and set me on the right path.

Psalm 91 NLT

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes,
and see how the wicked are punished.
If you make the Lord your refuge,
if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life
and give them my salvation.”


Back in January, 2011 we featured this SonicFlood song which is based on Psalm 91.


Speaking of songs which have been featured here at C201, I’ve put together a playlist of some of the ones I’ve featured here related to Good Friday (or Communion Services). It runs 90+ minutes (at the moment) and contains 21 songs. To get started with the first song, click this link.


To read Psalm 91 as a metrical psalm (poem) go to the second half of this 2014 Christianity 201 article.


For six promises from Psalm 91, go to this 2012 C201 article.

March 23, 2020

Missing Each Other

Yesterday at The Meeting House family of churches in Ontario, Canada, pastor Bruxy Cavey began with this passage in I Thess. 2:

17 Dear brothers and sisters, after we were separated from you for a little while (though our hearts never left you), we tried very hard to come back because of our intense longing to see you again. 18 We wanted very much to come to you, and I, Paul, tried again and again…

In the opening scriptures, they couldn’t resist adding the first part of John 16:32

“A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home…”

I guess it helps to keep a sense of humor.

The verse that follows that one (verse 33) is instructive for us however,

“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.”

In the sermon, Bruxy turned next to Judges 6. Gideon is speaking is verse 13:

“…if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about”

Gideon then references the dramatic deliverance from Egypt. But in the next verse, God replies.

Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”

God entrusts Gideon and his people to enact a similar deliverance but not with the dramatic intervention Israel experienced from Egypt, but rather, “with the strength you have.”

There was then a reference to Esther 4:14. You know this story. You know this verse. This is Esther’s uncle Mordecai speaking:

If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

Bruxy said, “When God wants to do something, people are always his ‘Plan A.”

…On a recent podcast, Brant Hansen quoted the full text of The Serenity Prayer which includes these words:

…Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will…

Again, “trusting that He will make all things right.”

Brant and co-host Sherri-Lynn also asked the question that needs to be asked of anyone out there who feels they have a belief system or a philosophy of life that is different from ours; that question is, “How does your faith stand up to a pandemic?”

Let’s take that question and make it more personal. Most people reading here at C201 are believers, right? So, how does your faith stand up to a pandemic?

When I met my wife she was a traveling soloist who did music ministry in a variety of churches in various parts of our province. One of the songs she did is by Twila Paris, titled The Warrior is a Child. This song epitomizes the feelings we have as Christ-followers where one minute we are on the mountain, but the next minute we are in the valley; one moment we feel great spiritual triumph and victory, and the next moment we feel great defeat.

Lately I’ve been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I’m amazing
Strong beyond my years
But they don’t see inside of me
I’m hiding all the tears

They don’t know that I go running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child

Unafraid because His armor is the best
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest
People say that I’m amazing
Never face retreat
But they don’t see the enemies
That lay me at His feet

They don’t know that I go running home when I fall down…

Sometimes I think we have more fight in us when we together than we are alone. This alone time really shakes us and also causes us to look inside and see our weaknesses; uncover our spiritual vulnerabilities.

Perhaps in times past you’ve been living on Victory Street, but are finding the events of the past few weeks crushing you mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. That happens. Be honest. Confess that to our Father.

We’re separated from one another as local churches. We may not see the Egypt-style dramatic deliverance from this we’d like.

Take the message Gideon received, “Go in the strength you have.”


March 1, 2020

Courage to Face Fear

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A year ago, I introduced you to Rev. Tonia Slimm’s blog Growing with God nothing that, “Not to many writers use The Voice Bible as their base text.” Actually, in today’s selection, she uses a variety of the more modern translations, which is a sentiment I share. She’s working her way through Proverbs 30, and I encourage you click through and read other devotionals in the series. To start, click the header below to read this on her site.

Take Courage – Proverbs 30:29-31

Proverbs 30:29-31 (NIV)
“There are three things that are stately in their stride, four that move with stately bearing: a lion, mighty among beasts, who retreats before nothing; a strutting rooster, a he-goat, and a king secure against revolt.

(MSG)
There are three solemn dignitaries, four that are impressive in their bearing—a lion, king of the beasts, deferring to none; a rooster, proud and strutting; a billy goat; a head of state in stately procession.

(AMP)
“There are three things which are stately in step, even four which are stately in their stride: the lion, which is mighty among beasts and does not turn back before any; the strutting rooster, the male goat also, and the king when his army is with him.” 


“So don’t be afraid. I am here, with you; don’t be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, help you. I am here with My right hand to make right and to hold you up.” ~GOD (Isaiah 41:10 VOICE)

We now find Agur listing four things that he feels are quite stately and majestic. He points out the lion, king of the beasts, the rooster, king of the farmyard, the male goat, in that time used to lead and guide sheep, and the king, leader of country and great armies.

“As always, the Bible uses many natural illustrations so that we can gain spiritual truths. What causes an animal like the lion to walk in such a stately step? He is known as one of the strongest beasts, but it is not just his strength that causes him to stride confidently. It is his lack of fear. He is known as “King of the Beasts” and his strength and prowess give him this advantage; however, his confidence comes because he is not afraid of any other animal and does not turn away for any of them. The spiritual truth that we can glean from this observation is that we also can be strong and unafraid if we walk with God and claim His strength and His confidence.” ~Ronald Nordman

“There are three creatures with majesty in their stride, no, make it four that move with grace: the lion, which is the strongest of the animals, does not back down from any other creature; the strutting rooster, the male goat, and a king as he goes out with his army.” -(VOICE)

We may wonder what the connection is between these four entities; what makes them stately and set apart? Each of these entities is courageous, tenacious, forceful and commands respect. Agur saw wisdom in their examples.

“There are three stately monarchs in the earth—no, four: the lion, king of the animals. He won’t turn aside for anyone. The peacock. The male goat. A king as he leads his army.” -(TLB)

What is it that Agur is trying to teach us in this passage? What bit of wisdom is there for us to learn?

It is this, that just as the lion, the rooster, the goat and the king; we too can have courage and confidence through the Lord. It is God Almighty that will help us to be strong and of good courage. Is that not what God instructed Joshua to do?

“This is My command: be strong and courageous. Never be afraid or discouraged because I am your God, the Eternal One, and I will remain with you wherever you go.” -Joshua 1:9 (VOICE)

David knew what fear was and he knew who to turn to when he was feeling it too. In his time of panic and fear, David was fleeing from Saul, he wrote these words:

“Show mercy to me, O God, because people are crushing me—grinding me down like dirt underfoot—all day long. No matter what I do, I can’t get myself out from under them. My enemies are crushing me, yes all day long, O Highest of High, for many come proud and raise their hands against me.When struck by fear, I let go, depending securely upon You alone. In God—whose word I praise—in God I place my trust. I shall not let fear come in, for what can measly men do to me?

All day long they warp my words; all their thoughts against me are mangled by evil. They conspire, then lurk about. They eye my every move, waiting to steal my very life. Because they are wicked through and through, drag them out. In Your just anger, O God, cast them down! You have taken note of my journey through life, caught each of my tears in Your bottle. But God, are they not also blots on Your book? Then my enemies shall turn back and scatter on the day I call out to You. This I know for certain: God is on my side. In God whose word I praise and in the Eternal whose word I praise—In God I have placed my trust. I shall not let fear come in, for what can measly men do to me? I am bound by Your promise, O God. My life is my offering of thanksgiving to You, for You have saved my soul from the darkness of death, steadied my feet from stumbling so I might continue to walk before God, embraced in the light of the living.” -Psalm 5 (VOICE)

Remember, this strength and courage does not come through our own abilities, but through the Lord. Paul told the Ephesians:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God.” -Ephesians 6:10 (VOICE)

Paul then goes on to instruct them about what their job was in this mutual relationship with God. Yes, God was going to be their strength and might, but they had something to do as well. Paul told them:

“Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes. We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood alone. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places.” -Ephesians 6:11-12 (VOICE)

My friend, learn from the lion, rooster, goat and king; do not let fear rob you of what God wants to do through you. Take courage! Do not be afraid! God will be your strength. He will use you for His glory, beyond your wildest dreams, if you will allow Him to.

“Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.” ~Moses (Deuteronomy 31:6 MSG)

My Prayer:
Almighty God, I need your strength to help me; especially in those times when I am afraid. Please, give me courage to face those challenges that come my way. Remind me that you are always with me and I have nothing to fear. Please bring to my mind your promises; so that I may grab hold of them. When I hear those whispers in my ear from the Enemy of my soul help me to speak forth a rebuke and speak your words of TRUTH. He is a liar and I do not want to fall into his traps. Fill me, Lord, with your wisdom and help me to walk in your ways. Thank you, Lord.

December 20, 2019

The Anointed One Who Was To Come

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Jn.4.26 Then Jesus told her, I am the Messiah!”

NLV.Phil2.10-11 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.

Almost exactly one year ago, we introduced you to Michael James Schwab who has lived in Oaxaca, Mexico since March, 2005; “cooperating with God” at a home for needy children called Cristo Por Su Mundo (Christ for the World) operated by Foundation For His Ministry.  He blogs at ToEnjoyGod.com. Click the header below to read this one at his blog.

Advent – Waiting for the Messiah

I recently read the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I’ve read it many times. It is one of my favorite books of the Bible. Every time I read it, something new stands out. This time I was struck by Paul’s use of the word Christ. He uses that title for Jesus over and over. 38 Times in this short, four chapter book. He uses the word Christ more than he uses the name Jesus.  When we study the Bible, one of the first questions we should ask ourselves is “What did these words mean to the person that wrote them?” So, what did Paul have in mind when he wrote the word Christ? What is his concept of Christ?

We have to remember that Paul was thoroughly Jewish. His concept of almost everything was informed and shaped by what we call the Old Testament or, more accurately, the First Testament. The word we read as Christ, comes from the Greek word Khristos, which comes from the Hebrew word khriein, which means to anoint, translating the Hebrew masiah or Messiah. Paul was totally steeped in the Hebrew language, and every time he wrote the word Christ, he was probably thinking of the Hebrew word khriein or masiah.

The picture of someone being anointed in the O.T. is someone having olive oil poured on their head. This was a sacred rite reserved for three types of people: prophets, priests and kings.

The prophet Elisha was anointed by Elijah (1Kings 19:16).

The first priest, Aaron, was anointed by Moses (Exodus 29:7).

King David was anointed by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:1,13)

Most of the O.T. Prophets spoke and wrote about an anointed One that was to come. One that would restore peace, prosperity and wholeness to his people, his Chosen Ones. This person was commonly referred as the Messiah.  This Messiah was sometimes referred to as a great prophet, or a priest, or king, like King David.

Most of the post exilic Jews longingly looked for, prayed for, and hoped for this Messiah. Paul was no exception. He fervently and zealously awaited the Messiah and did everything in his power to bring about the soon return of this exalted Prophet, Priest and King.

There was always the questions among the Jews, “When would the Messiah come? ” “What was taking him so long?” What was the cause of his delay? “

The more zealous of the Jews, like Paul, thought they had the answer.  It was the Jews own fault. The Jews that didn’t take the law of God, or the Torah, seriously enough. They failed in so many areas of keeping the Law.  They were lax in their commitment to and obedience of the Law.  If only these slackers could be convinced or coerced to do better, that would surely hasten the Messiahs  appearance and rule and liberate the people from the despised Roman oppression.

And then there was The Way.  The Way was a group of Jews who proclaimed that the Messiah had come in the person of a man named Jesus. Not only was he the Messiah, but they claimed he was the Son of God.  Blasphemy! Obvious blasphemy!  This Jesus was shown to be a fraud and a heretic and hung up on a cross to die.  The Law said, “Cursed is any man hung on a tree!” This man Jesus was not the blessed Messiah, but a man cursed by God to die a humiliating death. Perhaps if there was one main reason the true Messiah would not come soon, it was due to the rabble called the Way, and Paul set out to do something about it!

He set out toward Damascus to persecute, jail, and maybe kill some of The Way, as those zealous for the Torah did to Stephen, one of the Way’s leader’s.  On the road to Damascus, a strong light and a voice from heaven caused Paul to fall to the ground. The voice called out to Paul, “Why are you persecuting me!”

Paul said, “Who are you?”

The voice from heaven basically said, “I am Jesus, the Messiah.”

After that, Paul’s world was never the same.  It was turned upside down and inside out. Indeed, the Messiah had come. Paul had to admit it. And he was glad. The long foretold  and divinely sent Prophet, Priest and King had truly come.  That fact totally transformed and revolutionized Paul’s outlook and worldview.

Paul’s new mission in life would be to proclaim the Good News that the Messiah, the Christ, had really come to earth to set up a new kind of kingdom, one that gave sight to the blind and set the captives free! Paul could now see the truth and live in true freedom! He was now living in right relationship with God and was filled with joy and peace.  And it was all due to the Messiah, Christ Jesus!

We are in the Advent season. Advent is a time of hopeful expectation. Paul spent the first part of his life in hopeful expectation, waiting for the Messiah to come. He spent the rest of his life rejoicing that the Messiah had come. In this period of Advent, we too can rejoice with Paul and be glad that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, has come, and because of that we are a new creation, living in His love and loving others.

Advent is also a time to remember that we are living in the Already, but Not Yet. We already are experiencing the blessings of being Kingdom dwellers, but the Kingdom is still growing and not yet complete. We already have that peace that surpasses all understanding, but we do not yet have world peace. We already have a new life within, but we are not yet free from pain and suffering; we have not yet had every tear wiped away by the gentle hand of Jesus.

We are still waiting for the Messiah. We are waiting for his return. When he comes he will not come as a baby in a manger, but as King of kings and Lord of lords, coming with the blast of a trumpet on clouds of glory. This time he will not be humiliated and crucified, but will rule with justice and righteousness and every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.

 

December 11, 2019

The Early Christian Writings Bring Hope

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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I was surprised yesterday when one of the devotionals I subscribe to included a brief excerpt from The New Testament in Its World by N.T. Wright and Michael Bird. Taking a course with N.T. Wright this summer, I am beginning to form a much clearer picture of the context in which the gospels and epistles were written.

The New Testament in Its World:An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians (Zondervan) is a rather large book (992 pages) which probably exceeds the price range of many readers here. But I thought I’d bring you an excerpt of the excerpt.

Receiving Hope and Sharing Hope

by N. T. Wright and Michael F. Bird
from The New Testament in Its World

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God…
 
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:5-7, Romans 15:13

The purpose of Scripture, Paul says in Romans 15:4, is so that “we might have hope.” He was speaking, of course, of Israel’s scriptures [the Old Testament], but with hindsight the same applies to the early Christian writings [the New Testament].

If that is so, then a prominent purpose of New Testament study ought to be to explain and illuminate the substance of that hope. In fact, we could even say that the mission of the Church is to share and reflect the future hope as the New Testament presents it.

Hope is, in fact, the foundation for the daily workings of a church.

Where the Church Can Spread Hope

Faithful Christian ministry will often take Jesus’ followers to places where hope is in short supply:

  • places where a sense of hopelessness hangs over a community
  • where the effects of global financial chaos are still in effect
  • where there is unemployment and family breakdown
  • where refugees feel alienated and despised in their adopted homes
  • where racial injustice is regarded as a kind of ugly normality that we have to put up with, and xenophobia is part of normal political rhetoric

We are called to work with, and for:

  • people who are one illness away from financial ruin
  • people who fear for their children’s safety when walking down the street
  • people who find that cultural elites mock and attack them because they do not signal “progressive virtues”
  • communities where politics means partisan policies on the one hand and acute apathy on the other
  • a world in which, while all this is going on, the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer

To such places, and the sad people who live in them, as well as to those who find themselves battered by circumstances beyond their control, the message of Jesus and His death and resurrection comes as good news from a far country, news of surprising hope.

The Church, in the power of the Spirit, must signal in its life and teaching that there is:

  • more to being human than mere survival
  • more than hedonism and power
  • more than ambition and entertainment

Life… does have purpose; there is comfort for those weighed down by moral injury; narcissism is not the true “normal;” there is something more powerful than economics and bombs.

There really is a different way to be human, and it has been decisively launched with Jesus.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

 

July 4, 2019

A Bitter Beginning, A Bitter Woman: Senseless Suffering and the Book of Ruth

  • Listen to the 34-minute sermon on which this devotional is based at this link.

by Clarke Dixon

19 So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.
20 “Don’t call me Naomi, [which means ‘pleasant’]” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara [which means ‘bitter’], for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” Ruth 1:19-21 (NLT)

The Book of Ruth begins horribly. Naomi and their family flee their homeland to escape famine. Then Naomi’s husband and children died. Naomi’s story begins with grief upon grief. It may have helped Naomi if there were some reason for the deaths. A chain-smoking husband, a dedicated older son dying in the line of duty, a reckless younger son dying in a motorcycle accident. Naomi might then have at least made some sense of their deaths. She could connect the dots. However, there is no reason Naomi can give. All she can say is “the Lord caused me to suffer.” The dots cannot be connected. This is senseless suffering.

Perhaps you have experienced loss and grief that cannot be explained. Perhaps you have experienced senseless suffering yourself, or watched a loved one go through it. The Book of Ruth can help.

Notice first, that in the Book of Ruth, no effort is made to explain Naomi’s suffering.

The townspeople make no attempt to make sense of her loss. There are no platitudes. The writer of the book offers no theological insights at this point. We may need to the resist the desire to explain away senseless suffering.

This is true when we see others suffering. Job’s friends could not resist explaining why Job was suffering. After pages and pages of argument, we eventually discover that they were wrong. Words and arguments can lead, not to a healed heart, but to a hurting head. Our presence can be of greater comfort to someone living though senseless suffering than our words. We may need to accept that our suffering makes no sense, and may never do so.

Notice second, that Naomi holds nothing back in her lament.

Let us read it again:

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” Ruth 1:20-21 (NLT)

Naomi is honest in her assessment of God. She may not be correct, but she is honest. She may not be in touch with good theology, but she is in touch with her feelings. There is no effort to correct her assessment of God, or her theology. The writer of the book sees no need to defend God at this point. There is no explanation of the fallenness of humanity, the corresponding fallenness of creation, and that sometimes bad things happen. God’s goodness will be seen later, but for now, God gets the blame. For now, Naomi expresses how she really feels. We do well to make space for honest sharing. We do well to be honest in our sharing, and in our prayers. Sometimes it is best to sit with someone in their emotions, than try to correct their thinking. Sometimes we need the space to lament and experience the depths of our souls, even when our heads can’t figure it all out.

Notice third, that suffering is at the beginning of Naomi’s story.

Let us jump to the end of the book to see how it turns out:

14 Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. 15 May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!” 16 Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. 17 The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David. Ruth 4:14-17 (NLT)

In the book of Ruth, suffering is at the beginning of Naomi’s story. There are better days ahead. We can put suffering and loss at the beginning of a new chapter in our lives, rather than the end of our stories. Better days are ahead. When we think of suffering and loss as “where we have ended up,” we can get stuck. Our lives become for us a road that has led to tragedy. When we think of suffering as the beginning of a new chapter of our lives, we put ourselves on a road which includes tragedy, but does not end there. Tragedy is part of our experience, but is not our destination.

Putting suffering at the beginning is something we can do as Christians, because all suffering, indeed your entire life, is the beginning chapter of a really long book:

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. Romans 8:18 (NLT)

Sometimes we need to jump to the end to see how it all turns out. In Christ and by the grace of God, in being reconciled to God, it turns out well.

Notice fourth, that baby steps are taken.

Naomi returns home. Ruth, in a beautiful step of commitment and care, goes with her. There is connection. If we read ahead into chapters two and three, we will find Ruth doing what the poor people of the land did in that time and place. She followed along the reapers and gleaned the leftovers. There is connection, and there is survival. Naomi and Ruth take steps to make life work. When faced with senseless suffering, we can take the next step. We can take the next best step, however small a step that might be. We can turn the page. We can get further into this new chapter. Is there a step you need to take today?

The Book of Ruth begins with horrible and senseless suffering for Naomi and her daughter-in-laws. If you are a human being, chances are good that senseless suffering will happen in your life at some point. When it does, don’t dwell on explanations, make, or take space for honest sharing, put the suffering at the beginning a new chapter, and turn the page, taking your next best step into the future. With God, whom we may blame for the time being, the story will go on.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario; a small(er) town about an hour east of Toronto, Canada whose writings appear at C201 most Thursdays. Read more here or at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

December 21, 2017

The Rescuer Has Come! Don’t Be Surprised By Weeds

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Some people can’t wait for Christmas to come. Others can wait for it to be over. Unfortunately there are many in the world who are waiting for something much deeper. Many are waiting for something good to happen. Many are waiting for something bad to stop happening. Many are waiting for a rescue. Having recently watched the latest Star Wars movie I couldn’t help but wonder if its release was timed for Advent. The theme of waiting for a rescue during a time of struggle is key to the season of Advent, and is also the theme of Isaiah 61:

1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. Isaiah 61:1-3

While the news is good, the situation leading up to announcement has not been. The words describing the desperation of God’s people pile up; “oppressed . . . brokenhearted . . . captives . . . prisoners . . . mourning . . . faint spirit.” Perhaps some of these describe how you might feel sometimes. Further,

4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations. Isaiah 61:4

“Ruins” and “devastations”. Perhaps there are moments that it feels like your life, health, finances, or relationships are in ruins. Or that your experiences have been devastating. Like God’s people in the prophecy, significant changes are needed. You need a rescue.

Good news does come. And the coming of Jesus into the world is good news indeed. In the first teaching of Jesus that Luke focused on, Jesus read the words quoted above from Isaiah 61:1. What happens next is significant:

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:20-21

God’s people were waiting for the Messiah, and here is Jesus saying “your wait is over, Here I am!” Good news indeed, and as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus would teach us, this is not just good news regarding the relationship between God’s people and the Romans, but good news regarding the relationship between all peoples and God. This was not just release from captivity to a stronger nation, but release from something darker and more sinister, release from the captivity of sin itself. The waiting of Advent is over, the good news has been announced. The Messiah has come! This is a large part of what we are celebrating at Christmas. The Rescuer has been born!

However, when we come down from all our Christmas celebrations, life goes on, and we still find ourselves waiting. Waiting for bad things to stop happening, and good things to start happening. If Jesus came to rescue us, then why do we find ourselves in the same boat as God’s people waiting for a rescue? Part of the answer lay in the fact that while the Rescuer has come, the rescue itself is still underway. Let me illustrate with a story:

When I was younger I would often take my friends sailing on Lake Chemong. Now Lake Chemong is famous for being very weedy. It is a terrible lake for swimming unless you go for a swim in the middle where it is not so weedy. So I would sometimes drop the sails, throw out the anchor and go for a swim in the middle of the lake. On one particular day I took a young lady sailing (no, not the young lady who would become my wife – that is another story!). Being a very gentle breeze we decided to go for a swim. Time was getting on and so I got back into the boat. My friend didn’t. She couldn’t. She tried, and I tried to help, but to no avail. So I sailed and she swam. At least until she got tired. What to do? Being the hero of this story I knew what to do. I threw a line out the back of the boat and I towed her in. Now you remember all those weeds around the edge of the lake I was telling you about? You should have heard the screams as I towed her through the weeds.

What has this to do with our rescue? God’s people in waiting for the Messiah, were like people stuck in the middle of the lake with the promise of a rescue. Advent is about waiting for the Rescuer. We live in a moment of time where the Rescuer has come. Jesus’ hand is stretched out to us. Don’t hesitate to take hold of his hand, for He will grasp your arm and not let go. However, we are still in the water so don’t be surprised by the weeds. The rescue is underway, we will get to the shore, but there are still weeds. Peter has a word of encouragement for us when we get to the weeds:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9

While some people can’t wait for Christmas and others can’t wait for it to be over, the Christian is waiting for Jesus. But we don’t just wait, we make progress, we point others to the outreached hand of the Rescuer, we encourage those who are feeling overwhelmed by the weeds. The rescue has come, but don’t be surprised by the weeds. May you have a Merry Christmas, and a hope filled Advent no matter how weedy life gets.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read more at ClarkeDixon.WordPress.com

November 16, 2017

More than a glimmer of hope

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:26 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

“I lift up my head, the world is on fire”. This is a lyric from a song that struck me as being all too true these days. It seems every time you look up, something bad is happening in the world or to your loved ones. The lyric is from a song called “Pray“, by Sam Smith, which captures a tension that many people feel today. Here is a selection of the lyrics:

I lift up my head and the world is on fire
There’s dread in my heart and fear in my bones
And I just don’t know what to say

Maybe I’ll pray, pray
 Maybe I’ll pray
I have never believed in you, no
But I’m gonna pray . . . .

You won’t find me in church (no)
 Reading the Bible (no) 
I am still here and I’m still your disciple
I’m down on my knees, I’m beggin’ you, please
I’m broken, alone, and afraid . . . .

And I’m gonna pray (Lord), pray (Lord), maybe I’ll pray
Pray for a glimmer of hope

On the one hand, where is God when the world “is on fire”? On the other hand, what else can people do but pray for a glimmer of hope? Here is another take on hope from another man whose world was on fire:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

What a contrast. From prayer out of desperation, to a prayer of confidence. From a glimmer of hope, to hope shining brightly. What is the path to having hope, to more than just a glimmer of hope? Let us go back to where Paul’s discussion of hope began:

7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,
9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, …
Romans 15:7-13

Hope is found in the promises of God.  Jesus is the evidence that God keeps His promises. The phrase “the truth of God” refers to the fact that God will do what God says He will do. He is honest. Jesus is the confirmation that God is making good on all His promises. The apostle Paul goes on to give a sampling of some of these promises from the Old Testament Scriptures. Let us make some observations on them.

First, there will be praise:

. . . and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”; Romans 15:9

. . . and again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”; Romans 15:11

Far from questioning the existence of God, the goodness of God, or the love of God; when we come to realize He has fulfilled His promises in Jesus, we instead praise the Lord for who He is, what He is like, and for His amazing love. As we grow in our relationship with Him, lingering doubts are replaced with confidence. We should not think of this praise as being dutiful and forced, but spontaneous and joyful. When we see God keeping His promises, how could we do anything but joyfully praise Him?

. . . and again he says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; Romans 15:10

Second, those who are oppressive rulers over us now will be replaced by Christ and His rule:

. . . and again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.” Romans 15:12

The emperor was the ruler at the time Paul quotes these Old Testament verses. Something we should know about the emperors in those days, that whatever you may think of Donald Trump, they all made President Trump look like an angel! Hope is dashed when our leaders fail to lead well. Hope shines brightly when we have good leadership. There is no better shepherd than Jesus!

When we think of people that have oppressive rule over others, we should also think of things that can rule over us. Things like poverty, addiction, disease, toxic relationships, discrimination, abuse, bullying and the like. Whatever things seem to rule over you now, gets the boot. Jesus is Lord and He shall reign. We begin seeing this in the here and now. We will see it fully in the days to come.

Third, God’s promises are accessible. The word that shows up through all the Scriptures quoted by Paul is “Gentile”, i.e. non-Jew. Though God had chosen a specific family to be the people through whom He would work out His promises, His promises went far beyond them:

2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Genesis 12:2-3 (emphasis mine)

In the first three chapters of Romans Paul speaks about the Jews and non-Jews alike. There was an advantage to being Jewish in that the Jews had a much fuller revelation of God and a closer relationship to God. However, that advantage was similar to the advantage of someone stuck on a  Caribbean island without drinking water compared to someone stuck in a desert lacking drinking water. I think we would all agree, that the person on the island has the preferable situation. Yet without water, they both face the same outcome. So, in conclusion, “both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin” (Romans 3:9). They will both pay the penalty of sin, which is death. However, Jesus is the water. Both can come and drink and live. The invitation is open to anyone who thirsts. Including you. The words of Jesus:

37 “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” John 7:37-38

When we look at the world around us, when we lift up our heads and see the world on fire, we may wonder if there will ever be a glimmer of hope. When we look back at the promises of God, promises confirmed by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, hope shines brightly.

(All Scriptures are taken from the NRSV)

 

 


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

May 3, 2017

Alive in a New Way

Luke 24: On the Emmaus Road

…As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” …

Luke 24: The appearance to the disciples

…They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement…

John 20: The appearance to Thomas

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Today we feature a new writer. Rev. Jesse Parker is the Incumbent at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Port Hope, Ontario. I saw this article when it appeared in a local newspaper there and asked if we could share it with you here.

Alive in a New Way

In Japan when a piece of pottery breaks it might go to a craftsman who specializes in the art of Kintsugi, which translates to “golden binding.” This is the art of mending broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with precious metal. Kintsugi treats breakage as part of the history of an object, as something beautiful to be displayed rather than something to be disguised.

In all of the resurrection stories in the gospels there is something different about the risen Jesus, something has changed. It is still him, but he is different. At the seashore, his disciples do not know him right away. On the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion do not know their Lord until he breaks bread with them. In the upper room, Thomas is incredulous until Jesus invites him to touch the wounds of his crucifixion. There is something different, something has changed. The encounter with Thomas tells us something important, the risen Lord still bears the wounds of the cross. The risen Lord, whose body was broken on the cross, still bears the marks of that brokenness, and makes no attempt to disguise them, indeed he displays them for all to see. There’s no missing them.

The resurrection does not make the crucifixion moot, it does not mean that Jesus’s body wasn’t broken on the cross, it certainly does not mean that Jesus never really died. Instead the resurrection means that death did not have the last say. The resurrection restored Jesus to life, but to a new kind of life. Something had changed. Like a badly broken vessel repaired with precious metal, Jesus was given new life, but in a new way, not hiding that his body had been broken, not disguising his wounds, but displaying them.

Jesus shows us that resurrection means being alive in a new way. And in this is the full weight and measure of the Christian hope, that resurrection is something that we have a share in. At the last day, yes, when God will establish his Kingdom fully among us, we have hope of new life. But we also have hope to live as resurrection people right now. We have the hope of new life right now. In Christ’s resurrection is the hope that God can and will take all of the brokenness of our lives and redeem it.

That does not mean that our brokenness, our wounds, our cracks, will be gone as though they had never been there in the first place, but rather, that they will be changed into something new, something different, something beautiful even, a part of our history, not to be disguised, but to be displayed as the exquisite beauty of God’s own craftsmanship, working to make something new where previously there had only been fragments. Resurrection is possible for us right now, and it is the Risen Christ, still bearing the wounds of the cross even today, who shows us this.

April 8, 2017

Psalm 130

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Twice in the last week I noticed someone referred to Psalm 130 in something I was reading and last week I attended a concert in a church which had one of the old “hymn board” signs at the front indicating that their reading that morning had been this same text. (Talk about ‘the writing on the wall!’) I decided to check out what one online writer called “The gospel in a Psalm.”

Psalm 130 (NLT)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

From the depths of despair, O Lord,
    I call for your help.
Hear my cry, O Lord.
    Pay attention to my prayer.

Lord, if you kept a record of our sins,
    who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
    that we might learn to fear you.

I am counting on the Lord;
    yes, I am counting on him.
    I have put my hope in his word.
I long for the Lord
    more than sentries long for the dawn,
    yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
    for with the Lord there is unfailing love.
    His redemption overflows.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from every kind of sin.

At Redeemer.com we find some general advice from Eugene Peterson for studying the Psalms as a whole:

  1. The Psalms teach us to pray through imitation and response. … Real prayer is always an answer to God’s revelation. The Psalms are both prayer and revelations about God — the perfect ideal soil for learning prayer.
  2. The Psalms take us deep into our own hearts 1,000 times faster than we would ever go if left to ourselves. … Religious/moral people tend to want to deny the rawness and reality of their own feelings, especially the darkness of them. … The secular world has almost made an idol of emotional self-expression. … But the Psalmists neither “stuff” their feelings nor “ventilate” them. They pray them — they take them into the presence of God until they change or understand them.
  3. Most importantly, the Psalms force us to deal with God as he is, not as we wish he was. “Left to ourselves, we will pray to some god who speaks what we like hearing, or to the part of God we manage to understand. But what is critical is that we speak to the God who speaks to us, and to everything he speaks to us … the Psalms train us in that conversation” (from Eugene Peterson’s Answering God).

At Daily Doorstep Devotional (Trinity Bible Church) we read:

…Even though we are not to be of this world, we do know that we are in this world and the things of this life do require our attention. Just as we are to rejoice always and pray without ceasing, so too are we to continually set the Lord before us. All of these are to be regular daily facets of our lives. We are to be so conscious of God, His presence, and His working that it shapes our view of the world and it becomes second nature to us to turn to God in all things. When we do, the Lord will be the center of attention and our affections, especially in those times when He is to be set before us without distraction. [W]hat times, circumstances, or occasions are necessary for our total attention to be placed upon God?

One such time is seen in Psalm 130. In this Psalm the Lord is mentioned in every verse either by name or personal pronoun. The Psalmist is clearly focused upon God without distraction. What has brought him to this? Verse 3 tells us it is his iniquities. The sin of the Psalmist has caused him to sink to the depths and it is from here that he cries out to the Lord and makes his supplication before Him. He knows he is a sinner and confesses it before God, acknowledging that he cannot stand before a holy, righteous, and just God. The sinner acknowledges that if God were to judge him based upon his deeds that he could not bear to stand before God and would be utterly consumed by God’s righteous wrath against his sin.

Yet the Psalmist knows the Lord. He knows He is a merciful God that forgives, and he comes before Him in confidence, waiting upon Him and trusting in the promises of His Word that He will forgive (Psalm 103:3). The sin of the Psalmist has left him in dire straits; he mourns over his sin, and he knows that apart from the Lord there is no deliverance. He knows that his only hope is in the Lord. Desperate men will give full attention to the One upon whom they know their very lives depend…

At Devotional Reflections from the Bible we read:

Psalm 130 is one of the most encouraging and compelling Psalms regarding our true estate before God and the perfect redemption that He alone provides. The Psalmist is calling to God out of the depths. Don’t you find that we are more often likely to cry out to God when we are laid low than when everything is great and we seem to be living on the mountain top? Don’t ever be sorry for that, because that is exactly what we should do when surrounded by obstacles that seem to crush us lower and lower.

There is no other help available; no one else has the power and love to pull us out from the depths. Why does God do this; is it because we are more worthy than others? No, the Psalmist says that if the Lord should mark iniquities who could stand? That’s a love we know little about; a love that is there even though there is nothing within us that deserves such love. Knowing this, the Psalmist waits for the Lord more than the watchman waits for the morning.

The message of the Gospel to everyone is: Hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. I will never understand that, but I am so incredibly thankful to God for the complete redemption He provides, and the daily help to get through the circumstances of life.

Pray today that you would hope in the Lord and experience His steadfast love and plentiful redemption.

 

December 3, 2015

When Current Events Crowd Our Thoughts

I’ve pre-empted the devotional that was scheduled here today in order to share something that Gene Appel posted on Facebook earlier today.

San Bernadino mass killing

Like many of you, I woke up this morning grieving. While radios and iTunes are playing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” it sure doesn’t feel that way. Especially for those grieving from the San Bernadino tragedy and so many others. Some of you, like my sister Gail, have buried your spouse this year or someone you couldn’t have imagined living without. Many of us are burdened by the increase of violence and terrorism in our world. I was reminded as I was reading from Matthew 2 this morning that while the first Christmas on the one hand was a time of great joy and Jesus came to bring peace to all, on the other hand it was also a time of great weeping, and violence, and terror, and grief. Matthew 2:16 says,

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under….”

First Christmas - Gene AppelJust imagine you’re a parent in Bethlehem with a baby boy, or maybe even a couple of boys under the age of 2. Imagine the terror you feel as Herod’s soldiers are going from house to house, tearing babies out of the arms of mothers screaming in anguish. Imagine watching these little ones being pierced with swords until they are all dead. You see, even the first Christmas was not only a time of great joy, but it was also a time of great weeping and mourning and pain…..and there were parents and families whose lives were forever shattered.

So what’s our appropriate response today? How does a follower of Jesus process these tragedies? Eccl. 3:4 says,

“There is a time to laugh and there is a time to cry.”

And I can picture Jesus saying to each of us right now, “Hey, this is crying time.” This is a time to give permission to grieving people to let it rip and express the pain without burying anything, or editing anything, or sanitizing a single emotion or feeling. Let it out in it’s raw uncensored form. The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV),

“You do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

And the implication is…but certainly go ahead and grieve! Don’t grieve like those who think God is dead and heaven isn’t real and Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and He’s not in heaven preparing a place that defies the imagination….but grieve. Weeping is the language of the soul and it’s a critical part of healing.

This morning I’ve been thinking about these words from Lamentations 3:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.”

Today, I’m choosing to trust the faithful God who promises the love and mercies I need for this new morning and day. He’s there for all of us if we will just take His hand and trust Him. Great is his faithfulness!


Gene Appel, is the senior pastor of Eastside Christian Church, a multi-site church in Anaheim, CA and Park Rapids, MN.  Follow him on Twitter @GeneAppel

July 13, 2013

Longing for Restoration

Today’s post is from author and Cross Point pastor Pete Wilson who posted this at his blog under the title Inconsolable Emptiness.

Pete Wilson on Cross Point LiveThis morning I read the following passage in the Voice translation:

Romans 8:19-22 “For all of creation is waiting, yearning for the time when the children of God will be revealed. You see, all of creation has collapsed into emptiness, not by its own choosing, but by God’s. Still He placed within it a deep and abiding hope that creation would one day be liberated from its slavery to corruption and experience the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that all creation groans in unison with birthing pains up until now.”

There is a temptation we all face and it’s to being to think that this current life is it. When we fall into that temptation we begin trying to have all our desires for purpose and satisfaction and significance met in a sin stained world we were never really created for. And ultimately this leaves us flat empty.

I think we’ve done a lot of disservice in our churches by telling people there are seven easy steps to a completely satisfying life and not warned them of what I call the “inconsolable emptiness”.

CS Lewis said it this way, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

So true! I was made for another world. Even my relationship with God here on this earth is not what it’s intended to be. No matter how hard I try there is no relationship with God in this present world that will ever be as rich, fulfilling, or freeing as it will be in heaven.

We all know something is wrong. Even creation itself longs to be restored.

I think we often miss this. We think what we want is a bigger title, better looks, more popularity, larger sums of money, or the perfect spouse. However, what we really want is the person we were made for: Jesus, and the place we were made for: heaven.

Today I’m so incredibly thankful for the future inheritance I have in Christ. Life is great…but I was made for eternity with Him.

~Pete Wilson

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