Christianity 201

April 2, 2020

Help! I’m Sinking! (Like Peter)

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

When I was a young lad of thirteen years of age or so, my parents bought me a sailboat. It was an old wooden boat that leaked like a sieve, but it did float, mostly, and was a lot of fun to sail. Initially my Dad helped me sail it, however he did not know how to sail a boat any more than I did! One thing I remember from my early days as a sailor was my growing disdain for “stink-pots.” That is how some sailors refer to motorboats. They are noisy, they pollute, they do not have the same sense of challenge as the sailboats. I did not like them. I was a sailor, and proud of it!

For the most part I did quite well in sailing, but one day strong winds caught my Dad and I off guard. Thinking we were being smart, we took one of the sails down. Except that in this particular boat, that was not very smart. We had trouble heading in the desired direction after that. We were headed toward the shore, the wrong shore, where rocks awaited. The boat leaked enough as it was without adding some new damage. Also, overhanging trees would not be good for the mast and rigging.

We made our next smart move. We threw out the anchor. This particular anchor came with the boat and was a homemade affair being made from what was likely a tin of beans with the beans replaced by cement and a hook for a rope. It may as well have just been a tin of beans on the end of a rope, for it was useless. Actually, we may as well have just thrown a tin of beans out of the boat with no rope. It was worse than useless. We were in trouble.

Except there was this awful noise. A friend in a stink-pot saw that we were in trouble and came to the rescue. A stink-pot never sounded so good. I quickly got over my disdain for powerboats and accepted the help. We were towed in.

Sometimes we need to get over our disdain of others, or institutions, and accept help. Sometimes we need to get over our pride, and accept help. Sometimes we need to get over our need to be independent, and accept help. Sometimes we need to get over ourselves. Sometimes we need help.

Peter was doing well, walking on water toward Jesus who was also walking on the water. But then he was in trouble:

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:28-31 (NRSV)

Peter had the humility to ask for help. He knew he was in over his head, or at least soon would be. He knew that there was nothing he could do. Whatever pride he may have felt for being the one disciple to walk on the water, he now needed the humility to admit that he was the one disciple who needed help!

Do we have the humility to ask for help? We may need help in these strange days brought about by a pandemic. Some may need help with something as simple as getting groceries. Of course you are capable of getting your own groceries. But maybe right now, you shouldn’t. Some may need help with facing loneliness. Some may need prayer. Some may need to talk through their thoughts and feelings. Do we have the humility to request and/or receive help?

In these strange and scary days, some will realize the need of help that only God can give. They may think to themselves, how hypocritical, to only go to God now when troubles come. Remember that Peter only cried out to Jesus for help when he started sinking. Jesus was willing to help.

If we were acting this story out for a movie, how would we say the words of Jesus; “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”? Would we say those words with scorn? “How could you be so foolish as to take your eyes off me, and start doubting?! Look at how that led you to sinking, you fool!” Or would we read them with compassion; “Peter, don’t you know how much I love you, and would not let you drown?”

It should be the latter. Why? Based on the story Jesus told of the prodigal son. A son asked his father for his inheritance and went off to a foreign place and blew it all on partying and the like. Coming upon hard times, he decided to go back:

But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:17-24 (NRSV)

If you sense that you should call to God for help, but are reticent because you have not been in a relationship before now, take courage from the prodigal son story. You may even have had disdain in your heart for God in the past. Do you have the humility to accept the help He offers now? He has the love and grace to help:

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10 (NRSV)

Here is how that story of Peter walking on the water ends;

When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:32-33 (NRSV)

May we have the humility to accept the help the Son of God offers us. We also will be able to say “truly you are the son of God.”


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced his regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. This worship expression can be seen hereFor a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here). Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

December 31, 2019

A Quiet Servant

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. — Isaiah 58:10-11 NASB

As the year ends, one thing I’m looking forward to in 2020 is the release of the new Max Lucado book, Jesus: The God Who Knows Your Name. Reading an advance copy of it has reminded me why he is such a popular, gifted writer. What follows is a short excerpt from what is his is currently newest book, How Happiness Happens. Clicking the header below will take you to a site where you may learn more and purchase the book.

Service With A Smile

…I’ve seen thousands like him. Quiet servants. The supporting cast of the kingdom of God. They seek to do what is right. They show up. Open doors. Cook dinners. Visit the sick. You seldom see them in front of an audience. That’s the last place most of them want to be. They don’t stand behind a pulpit; they make sure the pulpit is there. They don’t wear a microphone but make certain it’s turned on.

They embody this verse:

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. — Galatians 5:13

These words appear toward the end of a document on liberation. For five chapters the apostle Paul proclaimed, “You are free! Free from sin. Free from guilt. Free from rules. Free from regulations. The yoke of slavery is off, and the liberation has begun.”

Our freedom, however, is not an excuse for us to do whatever we want. Just the opposite.

    Because we are free, we can serve.

We voluntarily indenture ourselves to others. In a society that seeks to be served, we seek opportunities to serve others.

Andrew was such a servant. He was the brother of Peter. He came from the same town as James and John. Yet when we discuss the inner circle of Peter, James, and John, we don’t mention Andrew. His name never appears at the top of the list of leaders. He lived in the shadow of the others. In the group photo he stood at the side, hands in pockets. Then again, he probably held the camera.

Quiet, however, does not mean complacent. Just because Andrew avoided the limelight, that doesn’t mean he lacked fire. He led his brother Peter to Jesus. Peter went on to preach the first sermon. Peter led the Jerusalem church. Peter took the Gospel to Gentiles. He wrote epistles that we still read. He defended the apostle Paul. Anyone who appreciates Paul’s epistles owes a debt of gratitude to Peter. And anyone who has benefited from the rocklike faith of Peter owes a debt to the servant spirit of Andrew.

And it was the servant spirit of Mary that led God to select her to be the mother of Jesus. She wasn’t a scholar or a sophisticated socialite. She was simple. Plain. A peasant. She blended into the crowd. She hailed from Nazareth, a dusty village in an oppressed district in Galilee.

In the social strata of her day, Mary occupied the lowest step. As a Jew she answered to the Romans. As a female she was subservient to males. As a young girl she was second to older women. She was poor, so she was beneath the upper class.

Mary was extraordinarily ordinary. Yet this virtue set her apart:

I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!
— Luke 1:38 NCV

When God wants to bring Christ into the world, He looks for servants. No diploma required. No bloodline specified. Bank accounts are not a factor. Place of birth doesn’t matter. Let all unassuming people of the world be reminded: God can use you.

____

Jesus came to serve.

In one of His appearances to His followers, they were on the Sea of Galilee when they heard Him call out from the shore. When He told them where to find fish, they realized it was Jesus. Peter plunged into the water and swam to shore. The other disciples grabbed their oars and paddled. When they reached the beach, they saw the most extraordinary sight. Jesus was cooking! He told them,

Come and eat breakfast.John 21:12

Shouldn’t the roles be reversed? Jesus had just ripped the gates of hell off their hinges. He’d disemboweled the devil. He’d made a deposit of grace that forever offsets our debt of sin. He’d sentenced the demons to death row and set free every sinner since Adam. He, the unrivaled Commander of the Universe, wore the apron?

Even more, He has yet to remove it. He promises a feast in Heaven at which

He will gird Himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. — Luke 12:37

Can you imagine the sight? Row after row of food-laden tables. The redeemed of the ages celebrating and singing, and someone asks, “Has anyone seen Jesus?”

“Yes,” another replies. “He’s on the other side of the banquet room serving ice tea.”

Christ Himself was like God in everything. But He did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit. But He gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing. He was born as a man and became like a servant. — Philippians 2:6-7 NCV

He was content with the humblest of titles. He was content to be called a servant.

December 12, 2019

Did Elizabeth and Mary Earn their Special Place in the Christmas Story? Do We Earn Our Place in God’s Story?

by Clarke Dixon

God was up to something big at Christmas. Elizabeth and Mary were chosen to participate in very important ways. Why were they chosen?

We might write a sermon on how they earned their special place in the Christmas story. Elizabeth has a fine resumé:

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. Luke 1:5-6 (NRSV)

Elizabeth is a descendant of Aaron, so has a good family lineage. She is righteous and blameless according to the Old Covenant law. She is also married to a priest, which as anyone married to a pastor will know, means she must be a saint. Elizabeth is a very good woman. She ticks all the boxes for being top of the list for earning God’s favour.

What about Mary? Mary does not get the same build-up from Luke in his Gospel account as Elizabeth, but we can point to her humble character and her willingness to follow God’s lead:

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38 (NRSV)

We might therefore write a sermon about both Elizabeth and Mary earning their special place in the Christmas story and encourage everyone to earn divine favour. But I won’t. Why? The message “we are good, therefore God was good,” was not a sermon Elizabeth or Mary would preach.

Consider Elizabeth’s response when she conceived:

“This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Luke 1:25 (NRSV)

Notice what she did not say; “being good has paid off. I was good, so God was good.” Elizabeth does not put the spotlight of her own goodness, she highlights God’s goodness. Notice further her response when Mary comes to visit:

She exclaimed with a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb! 43 And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me? Luke 1:42-43 (NET)

Elizabeth’s attitude is not, “I have earned this privilege,” but “who am I that I should have such a privilege?”

Let us also consider what Mary has to say:

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Mary praises God, not herself. She does not say “he looked on the goodness of his servant,” but “he looked on the lowliness of his servant.” Throughout the song, God is spoken of as doing great things for others, especially the “lowly” and the “hungry.” He acts according to His promise, and not according to Mary’s perfection. In this song, Mary sees herself as being an example, not of perfect obedience and righteousness, but of weakness. In this song God does something special, not because people are perfect and deserve better, but because people have needs and God is good.

Neither Elizabeth nor Mary get overly religious. We are being very religious when we think that our own goodness leads directly to the experience of God’s goodness. When we experience blessing, we think it is because we earned it. When we don’t experience blessing, we think we have failed to earn it. Mere religion puts the focus on us, and what we do or don’t do. Truth is more important than religion. Truth is, God is good. His goodness to us does not flow from the building up of our merit, but the outpouring of His love. Our goodness follows from the goodness of God, it does not lead to it.

Religion has a nasty habit of putting the spotlight on us. We humans have a nasty habit of enjoying that spotlight. Christmas puts the spotlight on God. God has done something amazing, regardless of the goodness of the people involved. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary focus on their own goodness, or their lack thereof. Both point instead, to the goodness of God. Christmas causes us to stop thinking of ourselves for a moment, of how good we are, and instead to focus on God, how good He is.

A spirit of entitlement comes from one’s religiosity. “I am so good, therefore God must be good to me.” Elizabeth and Mary don’t say that.  A spirit of humility comes from one’s grasp of reality.  “God is so good! Who am I to receive a blessing?” Elizabeth and Mary do say that. Do we, through our goodness, earn a place in the story of God? A spirit of truth will bring our focus where Elizabeth and Mary’s was; on the goodness of God. God makes us a place for us in His story because God is good.


Listen to the sermon on which this article is based. Look for the December 8th message.


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in a town located about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. Click here for his WordPress blog.

 

December 10, 2019

Devotional Thoughts When You Don’t Expect Them

I had this article as a link for our weekly news roundup at our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud. I thought this was a rather provocative teaser: Lessons in replacing toilet seals and the Corinthian church.

Much later in the hour it occurred to me it would also make a good fit here. This from the blog The Cripplegate, which we linked to in 2012, but not since! The author is Eric Davis.

Plumbing, Self-Esteem, & the Great Love of God

I recently noticed that the floor around my toilet looked stained with water. Knowing very little about plumbing, I contacted my trusty father-in-law. He knew what to do right away. “The wax seal is broken.” When he was in town for Thanksgiving, he held my hand through changing the seal. This was a first for me. In addition to saving $300 in plumber costs, many things about the experience were memorable; one in particular.

But first, a brief detour.

One of the first epistles I preached through as a pastor was 1 Corinthians. It was a good challenge.

Paul writes the letter to help this beloved church make some spiritual adjustments to their lives. Many in the Corinthian church were full of pride. They lusted after significance. They craved the praise of men. Likely they didn’t want to hear any “bad” news about things like sin, hell, and the need for repentance. They liked the more “positive” things. They were too sophisticated to talk about sin. It was all too fire and brimstone for them. Thus, the message that salvation is exclusively through an unflashy, unfashionable Jewish guy nailed to a cross was too offensive for their self-esteeming sensibilities. They wanted to feel important and esteemed. They lusted after recognition. They jockeyed with one another for popularity and praise. If a relationship or ministry association did not help them get notoriety and spotlight, then it wasn’t worth their time. In other words, they were self-worshipers.

And the apostle Paul loved this wrecked church. So, to shepherd them, he says things like this:

“[W]hen we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (1 Cor. 4:13).

Their founding pastor shepherds them here to understand how the world views Christians, and apostles in particular. He does so to corral them away from their craving of praise and esteem. And it’s good shepherding.

Let’s consider two words he uses, translated “scum” and “dregs.”

The word translated, “scum,” is the Greek word περικαθάρματα (TDNT, 3:430-431), and, “dregs,” is περίψημα (TDNT, 6:84-85). They are rich, colorful words, being synonymous in Greek.

The word, “scum,” meant, “to clean around,” and “dregs,” literally meant, “to wipe around” or “rub.” Sometimes they referred to a sweat rag or bath towel, used to wipe away those less noble areas of the body. Also, they referred to something of no value that had to be scraped off and thrown away, particularly sewage and refuse. In ancient times, human waste would sometimes be carried out in pots and disposed of. As one can imagine, “build-up” would accumulate in these pots. In order to effectively love one another in a household, the “build-up” would have to be scraped off and diligently disposed of.

Back to my recent plumbing inauguration. So, after undoing a few bolts and draining the water from the toilet, the enlightening moment came: we lifted the toilet off of the seal in the floor. And for those of you who haven’t done this, let me tell you. Actually, let me show you (see the pic above, taken after I had scraped most of it off, to spare you all). There it was. The dregs. The scum. The “build-up.” The scrapings. And I had the privilege of scraping. It was necessary character building. Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 4:13 will never be the same to me.

So, how does the apostle of grace help people struggling a bit with the love of significance and a lust for mattering? How does he come alongside those battling a tad with self-exaltation syndrome? How did this exemplary church leader love those who did not have much of a pallet for those unfashionable, negative things like sin and a bloody cross?

It’s as if he says, “So, you want to be praised and popular in the world. I understand. Ok, so, you know the sweat rags people use at the bath houses and gymnasiums? And you know the excrement pots in your house? And how you have to scrape them often? That’s what we are. We are nothing more than sweat wipe and sewage scrapings. Glory to God.”

“Scum” and “dregs.” Scrapings. Wiping-around. These are the words that our good and loving God decided to preserve for the ages in Holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit could have spoken many words here. He chose these. And we shouldn’t try to soften this. Beware of being too sophisticated for God and his word. And beware of using the Bible to shield the Bible.

Glory and praise be to Almighty God. The Lord Jesus Christ bore our wrath on the cross. He loves the scrapings and the sweat-rags. He loves us! He loves us! And by faith in Christ, we will bask and rejoice in his love for all eternity!

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

 

November 27, 2019

Don’t Say What You’ll Never Do

Today’s article comes from a blog I’ve linked to at Thinking Out Loud, but not here. “Gospel Taboo is a contributor-based platform that provides articles as resources and biblical counseling opportunities.” The author of this piece is Rebekah Hannah. The header below is a link to the article at its original source.

Never Say Never

The older I get, the less I have to say. I find words and phrases get eliminated from my vocabulary over time. God slowly and kindly shrinks my words with his Spirit, wisdom and small bits of experience. Whether it’s particular, embarrassing things I’ve said that can’t be erased from memory or just my regular, daily idiotic thoughts, the Lord slowly morphs and renews my thinking. Recently, there’s a common phrase that’s been utterly and completely taken out of my lexicon.

I will never. 

There. I admit it. Only problem now is I’m saying, “I will never say ‘I will never.”

Right now, I’m living with two giant “I will nevers.” But God is using these “nevers” to change me in very specific ways. He’s showing me that my “nevers” are a form of boasting that I must repent over. In this process of transferring my “nevers” over to “Lord, help me trust you,” God is leveraging my old “nevers” for my now good.

When God changes our proclamations to supplications, he teaches us several things.

He teaches humility. 

When we’re corrected and have to go back on things we’ve said, humility grows. It teaches us that we don’t know everything. We can’t predict the future, but there’s One who can. He teaches meekness through our lack of control over our own futures. I can honestly and wholeheartedly mean “I will never” do this or that, but 10 years later I may indeed find myself doing that very thing. I’m unable to determine my future self’s ultimate well-being (Prov 16:9). I can’t know where I’m going to be 10 minutes from now, much less 10 days, 10 months or 10 years from now. But God can.

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. Proverbs 27:1

He teaches human limits. 

Of course, humility is about me knowing my finite limits. I was not at the beginning of the world nor do I have control over the air I breathe. I rely solely on the One who created me, gave me air and knows the number of my days. How dare I declare “I will never.” To do so is to proclaim a foolish likeness to God in his timelessness. Of course, this is irrational. To know I have limits causes me to cast my eyes on the One who has none.

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:14-15)

He teaches grace.

Saying “I will never” and later having to shove those words back into my mouth teaches me about the gaping hole only grace can fill. Because God shows me how little I know and control, there’s a deeper understanding of my need for grace. Grace says God gives me everything I need. He provides help for my small capacities and inabilities, my misunderstandings and shortcomings. This kindness is then available for me to give to others. If I know God leads, guides and allows us all to do and be different, how does this change how I react to others? It teaches me to withhold judgement on things I cannot know everything about, because I’m not God.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Heb 4:16

He teaches his preeminence. 

Anytime I’ve proclaimed, “I will never,” God was sitting on his throne. And guess what . . . he knew I absolutely would do whatever my never was. When we say I will never do this or I will never go there, we are displaying foolishness as God preeminently resides in greatness. He is infinite. He has no boundaries in knowledge. He is all-wise. He sees all things. He is the beginning and the end. To say, “I will never,” is to have a small reverence for a God who easily says, “Yes you will.”

God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. Psalm 47:8 

He teaches eternity. 

God teaching about eternity is his love on display for us. To teach an eternal perspective is to teach how to survive in a world that is not my forever home. It gives me something to cling to, to look forward to when things go haywire here. God knows that to persevere in our insufferable world, I must know and believe what he promises will come. Enter eternity. I can’t tell you where I’ll live, what I’ll be doing or what my life will look like, but I can acknowledge my certain hope in God’s eternal plan. Refraining from “will nevers” makes me look for what I can know. Eternal good with Jesus, my Savior, my Joy, my Hope is an absolute certainty (Heb 6:19).

. . . for the sake of the faith of God’s elect . . . in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began . . . Titus 1:1b-2

We have a good Father who loves to give good things (Matt 7:11). For me, he’s leveraged my “nevers” to teach me some of these good things. He gives me exactly what I need, puts me exactly where I need to be and plans my life better than I do. Our God is always faithful, even in our foolish “nevers.”

Questions for Reflection: 

1.    What have you said “never” about?

2.    How can you acknowledge your smallness before God so as to worship his greatness?

3.    What are some ways to give up your illusion of control in your life?

4.    Do you worry about today more than you think on eternity with Jesus?

5.    What are some practical ways you can spend more time thinking God for having control over your life?

November 2, 2019

God’s Kind of People

This is our 3,500th post! A special thanks to our subscribers, web visitors, and also the authors who faithfully write devotional material at their own sites on a regular basis.

Today’s devotional is a scripture medley based on a tweet by Matt Smethurst.

What kind of people does God

see?

Is.66.2b “These are the ones I look on with favor:
    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
    and who tremble at my word.

save?

Ps.76.9 when you, God, rose up to judge,
    to save all the afflicted of the land.

accept?

Ps.51.17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise

pardon?

IIChron.7.14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

live with?

Is.57.15a For this is what the high and exalted One says—
    he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
    but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit…

regard? 

Job.37.24 Therefore, people revere him,
    for does he not have regard for all the wise in heart?

lead?

Ps.25.9a He guides the humble in what is right..   

teach?

Ps.25.9 He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.

revive?

Is.57.15b “I live in a high and holy place,
    but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit…
to revive the spirit of the lowly
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.

uplift?

Ps.147.6 The Lord sustains the humble
    but casts the wicked to the ground.

gladden?

Ps.34.2 I will glory in the Lord;
    let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

grace?

James.4.6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

exalt?

James.4.10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Answer: The humble.


Related devotionals at C201 on the subject of humility:


C201 New LinkMission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

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

 

 

October 29, 2019

Holiness and Being Who You Are

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
 – Romans 12:3 NLT

Today once again we’re featuring Jim Thornber, who’s website we refer to as the “other” Thinking Out Loud. Click the header below to read this article there.

Holy Transparent

For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at the Little Portion Hermitage. This is an excerpt from my book called Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes.

Blaise Pascal said, “We must learn our limits. We are all something, but none of us are everything.” Or, as that wise 20th century philosopher Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) said in the movie Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

A key component in being transparent with who you are involves acknowledging what you are not. Admitting your strengths as well as your weaknesses will allow you to be true to yourself, live the life God created you to live, and enable you to say no to those things that are not your calling.

I acknowledge that I am not an apostle, prophet, evangelist, worship leader, business entrepreneur, engineer, chef or bank president; I’m a teacher of Scripture. I also know I thrive teaching the 18-30 year old group, so I can easily say “No” to any request to teach children’s church. At the same time, there are people in the church who love to work with children but would be scared spitless if asked to teach the Tabernacle of Moses to a group of twenty-somethings for twelve weeks, an assignment I would relish with only one regret — we couldn’t stretch it to twenty-four.

Furthermore, I understand that God has given me a certain amount of musical ability, and I’ve played piano on numerous worship teams. However, I also know there are many men and women who are better musicians than I am. Although I enjoy playing piano, I know teaching Scripture and equipping people to be better ministers, not leading worship, is my primary avenue for ministry. The problem for many of us, especially church leaders, begins when we forget Pascal said, “None of us are everything.”

Even while I lived at the Little Portion, my heart’s desire was to teach the Word. Hospitality and service were not my primary virtues, and I had to be taught to be nice to people and look to another person’s needs before my own. Fortunately, my wife tells me I’m gaining in this area. But she has a servant’s heart and rates higher in the area of “pastor” on a spiritual gifts test than I do.

Everybody has a part to play in God’s Church, but nobody, especially the pastor, is required to play every part. I encourage you to acknowledge your gifts, admit your limitations, and focus on your strengths.  What a relief it is when you learned to say “no” to those areas that were not your gifts.

“But,” some have argued to my face, “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.” This is true, but God did not strengthen me to be a children’s pastor, throw a ninety-five mile an hour fastball, invent a cure for cancer or write a symphony like Mozart. He did strengthen me to have faith (Rom. 12:3), love and take care of my family (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:8) , consider others better than myself (Phil. 2:3-4), teach the Word (Rom. 12:7) and prepare God’s people for works of service (Eph. 4:12).

Holiness is not being an expert at everything you put your mind to; it is being truthful and transparent with who you are while not trying to be something you are not. Furthermore, I’m discovering that transparency and holiness is a gift of getting older, because pride and the need to prove myself successful isn’t the precious commodity it once was.

August 24, 2019

The Honor Due Christ

Tomorrow, Lord willing, I’m speaking about the Philippian Hymn, the passage in Philippians 2: 5-11.

NIV.Phil.2.5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

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

I thought it was interesting to notice a synergy between the concluding phrases of this passage and the Ten Commandments. Here are some notes from my teaching points outline.

That at the mention of his name

  • A whole study can be done on the scriptural significance of names, their meaning and what it means to do something under the authority of someone’s name, i.e. praying ‘In Jesus’ name.’

Every knee will bow (in physical submission)

And every voice announce (in verbal proclamation/declaration)

  • This passage is also in Romans 14:11, “It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” where you also see a reference to words spoken prophetically in Isaiah 45:23:
    By myself I have sworn,
    my mouth has uttered in all integrity
    a word that will not be revoked:
    Before me every knee will bow;
    by me every tongue will swear.
  • So what would be the opposite of “Every knee shall bow?” Not bowing? Yes, but also bowing to some other God. This is expressed in the second commandment: Exodus.20:4-5“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.”
  • So what would be the opposite of “Every tongue confess?” Not proclaiming? yes but also misusing, trivializing, or profaning his name. That is expressed in the 3rd commandment: 7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
  • So where is the 1st commandment? Wouldn’t it be nice to tie it all up with a bow and have all three covered? I believe that “You shall have no other gods before me” is implicit in Christ being Lord, of having supreme rule over our lives. That’s the phrase that follows next.

That Jesus Christ is Lord.

  • The early church adopts “Jesus is Lord” after the style of “Caeser is Lord” (Earlier, Jesus asks, ‘Whose image is on this coin?’)
  • In The Lord’s Prayer: Kingdom is repeated twice; Jesus came to set up God’s kingdom over which God is sovereign ruler
  • “that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. – John 5:23
  • If you want a verse that goes full circle on this, look at Jesus prayer in John 17:5 “And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world existed. Jesus returns to the father to the glory that he had, but based on what we see, with greater honor, because,
    “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

►►So what do we do with all this in our world?

While we often name pride as the culprit that undermines a humble spirit, ambition can be equally deadly. Being able to name the players in the spiritual battle that’s always ongoing really helps us see the root of the problem.

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing About Grace wrote about how the larger society operates by the rules of un-grace. Probably most people equally operate by the laws of un-humility; the laws of selfishness.

Timothy spoke of the last days being characterized by people who were “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…”

We certainly do see a lot of that. When I remember how contagious these attitudes are I recognize the need to guard myself from such things and keep a humble spirit.

I’ll post the full teaching notes tomorrow at Thinking Out Loud.

 

August 14, 2019

Temptation, Humility and God’s Open Invitation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we have a trio of short devotionals for you from The Bare Soul Daily Devotional by Rick Roeber (aka The Barefoot Runner) which we first linked to back in 2014. I hope you’ll read them all, and then focus on one of them in particular for something personal from God today for you. Or link through to read more; these are all from August, 2019. Each title is a link to the reading.

Temptation is Optional

Matthew 26:41 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 

God knows we are weak. Truly, we are but dust. That is why it is of paramount importance to continually be watchful over our hearts since we are but mortal flesh while upon earth. Temptations can and should be avoided as Jesus warns. He tells His disciples (and us) that watching and praying safeguards us against temptation. Jesus also tells us in The Lord’s Prayer that temptation is not necessary. We must ask God not to lead us in a direction where we would wrestle with the possibility of sinning (Matthew 6:13). This is one of the outworkings of the fear of the Lord and His wisdom.

The Holy Spirit within will always speak wisdom within if we are listening. We often no longer listen when the flesh begins to rule and we allow temptation to tantalize and woo us by its siren call. However, when we feel that devilish wooing, we must quickly turn to God and repent, allowing the willingness of His Spirit to once again lead us away from the destruction that seeks to overwhelm us.

Right-sized

Matthew 23:12 – “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

In context with this verse, we must constantly be on guard against all forms of self-righteous Phariseeism. When we judge others without humility, not first looking to ourselves and our faults and failures, we exalt ourselves. This is a setup for a fall. Instead of doing someone good, we have done or spoke evil into their lives and also ours. Humility – the understanding of who we are in God — ensures that when we do speak into another’s life, it is with both grace and truth.

Self-righteousness is not only a deception, but it can become an addiction not unlike any other substance. It feeds the need of the flesh to feel empowered and significant. We should all heed James’ words when he states that where there is jealousy and selfish ambition, every evil thing exists (James 3:16). May we all understand who we are in God and “right size” ourselves in humility so God can exalt us in due season.

God’s Welcome

Acts 10:34-35 – “Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.'”

God’s welcome is to anyone who will observe His criteria to accept Him. The first criterion is the fear of the Lord which means to look to God in reverence and humility, knowing ultimately we are not God. Too often people attempt to come to the Lord by just doing “what is right.” This is the trick of the enemy to lull us into believing we are gods and merely good works will save us.

There is salvation in no other than Jesus Christ, as Peter proclaimed to Cornelius in this passage. The centurion was a God-fearing man which allowed Him the rudimentary basics for God to welcome him into His kingdom (Acts 10:2). We must likewise understand that without our surrender of self and thinking that God is lucky to have our “good works,” that God cannot welcome us. Instead, we make Him our enemy. May we all surrender in the fear of the Lord and seek to do what is right in His eyes so we may all one day hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.” (Matthew 25:23)
 

July 31, 2019

The Opposite of Humility

If you have read this website for any length of time, you know that I often return to the “hymn” in Philippians 2. The one that begins, “Let this mindset [attitude] be in you that was also found in Christ;” and then goes a few sentences before defining that mindset, “He humbled himself.”

The cross is the place where we changed.
Above all fruit of that change is the fruit of love.
The attitude we then adopt is humility.

So what is the opposite of humility? What is the thing we have to “put off” before we can “put on” a humble, gentle spirit?

If you asked me that question 24 hours ago, I would have said pride. Pride and humility are opposites, right?

But this morning, after starting in Philippians 2, I kept reading to the end, and then decided I should backtrack to chapter 1 so could say I had read the whole book this morning. (Maybe that was pride!!)

Anyway, midway through that chapter I think Paul gives us a clue as to what feeds humility’s counter-attitude. It just so happened I was reading in The Message translation.

15-17 It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.

18-21 So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

Paul is in prison at this point, hence the reference to “out of the way.” He has apparently gained some popularity at this point and obviously that is enviable to the point where others would like to step into the limelight. In the above translation they are called “greedy” as having “bad motives.” In the NIV it reads,

17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

adding the extra dimension that perhaps they simply want to cause trouble for Paul while he is not at liberty to respond. Imagine though, someone preaching the gospel, the good news about Jesus to make someone else look bad.

Some of this is human nature. Paul was not part of the original group of apostles that Jesus taught or among the early disciples who were present on the day of Pentecost. As Saul, he greatly opposed the movement Jesus had begun. Then, in a very short period, he becomes Paul the Apostle. Can you see the problem some might have with this?

Sometimes someone new will come into one of our churches and be given a ministry position and the church’s “old guard,” the “elder brothers” can get very irate. I know. I was the new person in a rural church. A woman got up at the annual meeting and asked, “So what’s the deal here? Can anybody just walk in off the street and get a job?” If I had doctrinal quirks or theological errors it might have been a valid question. But clearly, her question wasn’t rooted in that concern, it was rooted in envy. Just a few short months later she left the church.

But I think The Message translation gets more clearly at the humility’s opposite in chapter one, with chapter two in view.

The opposite of humility is ambition.

Being driven, taking proactive steps, or being a type-A personality is not a bad thing. But to be consumed with ambition strikes at the very heart of the humble attitudes we are supposed to reflect. The Voice translation reflects this in Psalm 75:

6 There is no one on earth who can raise up another to grant honor,
not from the east or the west, not from the desert.
There is no one. God is the only One.
7 God is the only Judge.
He is the only One who can ruin or redeem a man.

It is God who grants promotions and give raises. We shouldn’t seek these things; we shouldn’t strive to get somewhere that isn’t in God’s plans or not currently in God’s timing.

We can’t even claim that healthy ambition in doing things for God, because there is a flaw if we think we do things for God. (This becomes especially vital in a church culture where pastors are preoccupied with metrics and church growth.)

Above, verses 18-21 reveal that Paul doesn’t allow himself to get perturbed at whatever motivates such people. As long as the gospel is presented clearly, he actually rejoices. The messenger may be flawed, but the message is what matters. As I replied to a comment last week, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, so while we should consider the source, we shouldn’t discount everything the source writes or says.

Right now, even as you read this, there are people using the ministry to build their own empires. Yes, that concerns me, but it doesn’t concern Paul if the message is being clearly transmitted. Of course, in a social media and internet world, everybody knows everybody else’s backstory. That is unfortunate, but it doesn’t minimize the power of the message itself.

Response: God, I know I need to guard my heart. Help me to see things I’m doing for wrong reasons; wrong motives. Help me not to be consumed with ambition.


Previously on C201:

July 27, 2019

A Humble Self-Opinion

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A few weeks ago someone asked me online if it was appropriate to ‘like’ their own social media posts. I suggested that it seemed a bit narcissistic. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines narcissism as, “extremely self-centered with an exaggerated sense of self-importance : marked by or characteristic of excessive admiration of or infatuation with oneself.”

In contrast, Paul reminds us in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” NIV.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is quoted in Matthew 6:2, “When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” NLT

Back in March we introduced you to a reading drawn from a posting of seven chapters of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, posted by Random House at the link in the title below, where you can read all 7 chapters. This book is an all-time Christian classic if you haven’t read it. I have made only one editing change, taking out the use of numbered paragraphs (which I believe cause readers to rush through the material) and substituting each new section with the first sentence in bold type.

Having a Humble Opinion of One’s Self

Thomas à Kempis; 1380-1471; Wikipedia

Everyone has a natural desire for knowledge but what good is knowledge without the fear of God? Surely a humble peasant who serves God is better than the proud astronomer who knows how to chart the heavens’ stars but lacks all knowledge of himself.

If I truly knew myself I would look upon myself as insignificant and would not find joy in hearing others praise me. If I knew everything in the world and were still without charity, what advantage would I have in the eyes of God who is to judge me according to my deeds?

Curb all undue desire for knowledge, for in it you will find many distractions and much delusion. Those who are learned strive to give the appearance of being wise and desire to be recognized as such; but there is much knowledge that is of little or no benefit to the soul.

Whoever sets his mind on anything other than what serves his salvation is a senseless fool. A barrage of words does not make the soul happy, but a good life gladdens the mind and a pure conscience generates a bountiful confidence in God.

The more things you know and the better you know them, the more severe will your judgment be, unless you have also lived a holier life. Do not boast about the learning and skills that are yours; rather, be cautious since you do possess such knowledge.

If it seems to you that you know many things and thoroughly understand them all, realize that there are countless other things of which you are ignorant. Be not haughty, but admit your ignorance. Why should you prefer yourself to another, when there are many who are more learned and better trained in God’s law than you are? If you are looking for knowledge and a learning that is useful to you, then love to be unknown and be esteemed as nothing.

This is the most important and most salutary lesson: to know and to despise ourselves. It is great wisdom and perfection to consider ourselves as nothing and always to judge well and highly of others. If you should see someone commit a sin or some grievous wrong, do not think of yourself as someone better, for you know not how long you will remain in your good state.

We are all frail; but think of yourself as one who is more frail than others.

 

 

July 20, 2019

On Ranking Worship Songs, Handing Out Awards to Worship Singers

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your lord”.

This may seem more topical — more suited to my other blog, Thinking Out Loud, than this one — but I think it’s something that’s often on the minds of people who write the songs and/or lead us in worship each week, and since it’s is our Sunday Worship column…

This was written by Chuck Girard in 2012, just after his original group Love Song received a Gospel Music Hall of Fame (GMHOF) award the night before. I’ve edited some of the introduction, so click the link if you wish to read this in full…

The Difference Between Honor and Glory

…Back in the early days at Calvary Chapel, it was common practice to not applaud musical artists after they had performed a song. This stemmed from the idea that we did not want to “rob God of his glory”. Instead the whole audience would lift the pointing finger upwards as unto the Lord, making what we called the “one-way sign, and that was the expression of appreciation to the artist, ascribing the credit to God. This was horrible for the artist. You just finished a rocking song with a big ending, and it would be greeted with silence, with all the people pointing their fingers heavenward.

I actually produced the very first Maranatha album. It was called the “Everlasting Living Jesus Music Concert”. I was not given producers credit, because I was told that would be giving the glory to man, not God. (They changed the policy on the next album, and Pete Jacobs did get credit as a producer.) This thinking would probably be considered old-fashioned today, but did reflect the humble values of the early days of the 70s and the Jesus movement.

It took a while but these incidents and life situations began to show me that there was a difference between giving honor to man and glory to God. I honor Billy Graham, but I give the glory for his ministry to God. If I were able to deliver that sentiment personally, I believe Billy Graham to be a man of God enough to receive my honor, and give that honor to the Lord for his glory.

But that still differs from charts, bad reviews and top 10 lists. I suppose we can be practical, and just say it’s a way to measure the business of music for purposes of being more efficient in promotion and distribution. I’m sure these arguments have been made and have some validity. It has undoubtedly been argued that these are “necessary evils”, collateral damage, the cost of doing business. But when measured against the purity and simplicity of the gospel, it seems very trivial in the light of the sacrifices made by the apostles in Jesus’ time. And all the saints and martyrs to come after them, who gave property, family, citizenship, and even lives to further the cause of the gospel. Which brings me around to land on a point here.

The event last night was wonderfully produced. It was professional and not too flashy, the perfect tone for the event.. The organizers were wonderful people who only wanted to show us the respect and honor they felt was due. Several of the inductees were personal friends, so I know their lives, and how deserving they are. The event was very spiritual, it truly honored Christ. Dallas Holm gave an acceptance speech which in all my years I have never heard anyone so succinctly articulate the motives, commitment and intent of most every Christian artist I know. If there was a top 10 for acceptance speeches, his would be #1 in my book.

But I’m sure there are many deserving artists out there who will never be recognized. After all, it is largely a human endeavor and the process is fraught with error. As with most award shows and such, it is often more about fame than achievement. After all, people don’t vote for that of which they are unaware. But we as a human species delight in “seeing who will win”, it’s in our DNA. So these kinds of events will probably never go away.

But still, what really matters is the heavenly Hall of Fame. Whether or not such a thing would actually be a way that God would honor the greatest of His servants, if it did exist, we would probably be very surprised to see who might be on it and how they would be ranked. “#25, Billy Graham, #15, the apostle Paul, #3 Mildred Jones” Wait a minute, Mildred Jones? Who is she? God might say, “Mildred, because you prayed without ceasing, fasted once a month, and continued to lift up Billy Graham in intercession, you are #3”. Silly? Probably. But you get my point. The real treasure is in Heaven. The real rewards will not be determined by outward achievement alone but by inner qualities, integrity, truthfulness, obedience. At the end of the day, what do we have that God did not give us?…

…I pray that we will all be in Heaven’s Hall of Fame someday and hear the most amazing words we will probably ever hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your lord”.


The songs of the early CCM era — which later birthed today’s modern worship movement — were mostly evangelistic, not vertical worship. This has always been one of my favorites.

Later, Chuck Girard’s music would move in a much more worship-centered direction. This song is one of my favorites from that era.

April 12, 2019

An Abandonment of Reputation and An Outpouring of Love

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.
 -Philippians 3:7 (NIV), 8 (NLT).

Today we’re returning to Jon Swanson’s site, 300 Words a Day, and I’m taking two different devotionals and combining them into one, as he connected the dots earlier for his readers.

Being known

…Paul was an amazing scholar. Paul was a remarkably religious person. Paul was passionate about his devotion to protecting the true obedience to God. He was so devoted that he arrested people who were disobedient. He was working so hard to make God happy, to satisfy God’s expectations, God’s obligations. To defend God’s dignity and reputation.

Until it became clear to him that he was the one who was disobedient. Jesus appeared to him and said, “Why are you persecuting me.?”

I sometimes talk with people who say, “God couldn’t forgive what I’ve done.” I say, “Have you killed Christians?” That usually stops them. “No,” they say. “I haven’t.” “Paul did,” I tell them, “And he was forgiven and embraced by God and lived a life of service and devotion.”

Paul realized that his success had come working against God. Paul realized that God didn’t want his hard work. Paul realized that God wanted him. Relationship with him. Conversation with him. Reconciliation to him.

God wanted Paul to know him. To know that the love of God isn’t measured out in scoops the size of our prayers, one act of God for each 100 or 1000 or million words from us. Paul realized that the love of God was measured out, poured out really, in the resurrection and the death of Christ. That love drew Paul in.

Paul made it his life’s work to abandon his own reputation-seeking. Paul made it his life to live in the middle of God’s love for him, God’s love for us, God’s work for us.

He was devoted to God, like a baby is devoted to her mother. But unlike a whining, helpless baby. Like a person rescued from death is devoted to the rescuer. Wanting to know how to help, how to serve, how to care. But unlike a rescuer who is called to be a rescuer, like an EMT. A friend and mentor and provider and lover who rescues you at great personal cost, for the sake of having you close, helping you grow, drawing you into the family.

If we understood the graciousness, the opportunity, the gift, to be more than nothing, to be a pauper welcomed as royalty, to be a reject welcomed as family, we might, like Paul, reject what we thought mattered and do everything possible to learn about the new house, the new kingdom, the new relationship, the rescuer.

Wasteful love

…I talked about Paul’s abandonment of reputation-seeking in response to Jesus’ invitation to relationship. It’s a story related to an act of devotion that happened less than a decade before Paul’s decision.

There was a party to celebrate the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus was the special guest. Martha was hosting. Lazarus was there, talking to Jesus.

In the part of the dinner when people were talking and listening to Jesus and having a good time, Mary got up from her place and got a container of perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet and, rather than using a towel to clean it up, got so low to the ground that she used her hair.

Judas gave voice to the thoughts of at least some others: “Is this the best use of money?”

Because it wasn’t. Even if you weren’t an embezzler, this was a poor use of money. The perfume could have been sold. Mary could have earned a million points for serving.

If the use of money is to earn points.

But what if Mary was grateful to the only man who ever treated her with respect, treated her as a person, listened to her, wept with her, defended her, and then raised her brother from the dead. What if she was so grateful that being reasonable and earning points was the last thing on her mind. What if showing her love in the most extravagant way she could think of was to go to her room, get the perfume, and pour it out?

Her savings. Her assets. Her treasure. As Judas said, this was a year’s wages, poured out in service of Jesus.

A remarkable action of love.

Here’s what I’m thinking. I’m thinking God loves our extravagant imperfect devotion more than he expects our hesitant attempts at perfection.

Rather than worrying about how much we should pray or read or help the poor, what if we forgot what we did and what we had to appease God for. And what if we loved extravagantly right now.

What if.


NLT Mark 14:6-9 But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”

 

December 17, 2018

Looking Outside Your Own Self-Interest

It’s been six months already, so today we’re back at the blog of BibleStudyMagazine.com and an article rooted in one of my own favorite Bible passages. But this isn’t all about me, as you’ll see in today’s reading. You’re encouraged to read this at source, and then take some time to look at other articles on the site. The author this time around is Jessi Strong.

Our (In)Significance

For most of my childhood, I didn’t know I was weird. I grew up homeschooled, and most of my friends came from conservative Christian households similar to my own. When I finally figured it out, I embarked on a series of attempts to fit in. Often that meant repeating jokes I didn’t understand, quoting movies other people liked, or pretending to be familiar with music I didn’t listen to.

I became an expert on a topic overnight in an effort to create a niche for myself. My contributions to conversation always began with things like, “That’s nothing. One time, I …” And while there was nothing inherently wrong with my desire to have friends and fit in, my attempts at belonging became unhealthy when my goal changed from finding human connection to establishing my own importance.

My mother was the first to suggest that seeking to be the center of attention was not the best way to make new friends. Instead, she suggested, “Find someone at the party who doesn’t have anyone to talk to. If you can make their night better, you’ll end up having fun too.”

Mom’s advice to look outside my own self-interest was a practical application of Paul’s instructions for the Philippian church:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:3–4).

Earlier in his letter, Paul warns the Philippians that some men were preaching the gospel to inflate their own self-worth (1:15–17). When discussing those who were not preaching the true gospel, Paul appeals to Christ’s example of humility.

In my search for approval, I was trying to fulfill my own needs, but I had little motivation to look out for others’ interests. Feeling well-liked inflated my conceit—it didn’t teach me to elevate others above myself or to sacrifice for them.

Little by little, I changed my approach. I began to look for the new person in the room. Instead of dominating the conversation, I learned to ask questions. On the surface, I was practicing useful friend-making strategies, but underneath I was undergoing a change of heart. In his letter, Paul goes on to admonish the Philippians to take their example from Jesus Christ:

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (2:6–8).

This call to imitate Christ’s humility can be hard for us to hear. It turns our working model of social class on its head. We like knowing our place—especially if it’s a good one. But the gospel levels the playing field. We are all sinners. And if we are all equally in need of God’s grace, how can we evaluate our worth by comparing ourselves with others?


Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 4

September 26, 2018

What it Means to be a Godly Man

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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After a break of a couple of years, we’re paying a return visit to the blog Brothers of the Book, written by Bill Hood. While the column is directed at men, I hope that 50% of our readers don’t simply tune out today’s devotional, but rather, see what God is showing you as you read. As you’ll see, they’re wrapping a series on the Book of Daniel.

The Godly Man Shines Like The Stars

The book of Daniel tells us that the godly man shines like the stars. Are you a godly man? Do you humble yourself before God seeking to understand? Do you share the Gospel?

[Suggested reading: Daniel 10-12]

Today we finish Daniel. I love what these final chapters have to say about those who belong to God. I have always intended this blog to look at how God defines a godly man. Take a look at this verse.

Daniel 10:12 ESV
“Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.”

A godly man humbles himself before God and sets his heart to understand. Our prayers are heard and answered when they are offered in the right spirit and are consistent with His will. Remember that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup He was to drink be taken away. He also prayed that even though He did not want the cup, His desire was for God’s will to be done nonetheless. Did God take the cup away? No. It is good to bring your cares and desires before God; just don’t expect to get what you want. God may have other plans. If you are humble before Him, and seek to understand, your prayers will grow to be consistent with His will. In these verses, I see the need to grow in our prayer life and in our Bible study, for these are the tools needed to search for understanding.

Daniel 10:18-19 ESV
“Again one having the appearance of a man touched me and strengthened me.  And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”

Greatly loved by whom? Those who submit their life to the authority of Christ are greatly loved by God. What does this love mean? It means that we need not fear. It means that we have a peace surpassing understanding. It means we are strong and can have good courage for the touch of the Lord God in our life revives and strengthens us. How precious is His saving grace!

Daniel 11:32-35 ESV
“… but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.   And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder.  When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time.”

Do you know your God? Will you stand firm and take action? Will you make many understand even though you suffer for it from time to time? This is what it means to be wise – to be a child of the King. Here we see that the trouble that comes in our life is intended to refine and purify us. This is what it means to be His! Godly men stand firm and take action as directed by Christ Himself.

Daniel 12:1-3 ESV
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.   And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

Is your name found in the Book of Life? Will you awake to everlasting life or shame and everlasting contempt? We saw in Daniel 11:32-35 what it means to be wise. The result of faithfully taking action in the name of Christ in His work of building the Kingdom, is the great honor of shining like the brightness of the sky above. To turn others toward Christ is to become like the stars forever and ever! When was the last time you told someone about the love of Jesus Christ? If you love Christ, you should have a burning desire to tell others of His love.

All of these things are what it means to be a godly man.

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

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