Christianity 201

December 24, 2018

Despite the Festivity, Many are Suffering; Many are Broken

This is a shorter excerpt from a longer piece at the site Lake Ridge Student Ministries, which we are featuring here for the first time. Click the title below to read the full article.

Christ Our Comforter at Christmas

During Christmas time we all seem to become even more sensitive to the suffering of others around us. It is a lesson in contrasts. Christmas is a time set aside for joy and gladness, light and spectacle, celebration and community, laughter and gift-giving, peace and goodwill. Yet because of the nature of our world, we quickly see all the ways that the season does not live up to its promise. Instead of gladness we see sorrow, instead of joy we see despair, instead of light, darkness; instead of spectacle, poverty; instead of celebration, mourning; instead of community, division; instead of laughter, tears; instead of gift-giving, selfishness, instead of goodwill, bitterness; instead of peace, suffering.

I think this is one reason why the character of Tiny Tim shines forth so brightly in everyone’s minds when we think of Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol. He stands in stark contrast to the festive nature of the season. With his wooden crutch and metal braces on his legs, he is a hard reminder that all is not right in the world, that despite the festivity of the season, sin, brokenness, and suffering remain. They do not disappear at the stroke of midnight after Thanksgiving, nor should we act as though they have. In fact, Tiny Tim himself meditates well on the necessity of acknowledging suffering during the Christmas season, telling his father as he carried him home from church, “he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

Tiny Tim, like all those who face various challenges in life are more than their disability, but his perspective is instructive. So we will take the time, on his recommendation, not only to acknowledge the presence of suffering during this festive season, but more importantly to see how Jesus uniquely ministers to us in our suffering.

We begin in Hebrews 4:14, Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (Heb 4:14) Here the author of Hebrews reminds us that since Jesus has now ascended (passed through the heavens) to the very presence of God the Father, we can hold on tight to the confession of faith that he taught us to believe, specifically that by belief and repentance, we have forgiveness of sins and new eternal life in his name. But often Christians struggle in holding fast to the faith exactly because of Jesus’ current position. We know that it is good that Christ is in heaven now before the Father because he is able to act as our High Priest, always interceding on our behalf and pleading our cause (Heb 7:25). But somehow the remoteness is discouraging. We fear that this high and exalted Jesus might be disconnected from us, might see our world, so full of suffering with the indifference that comes from distance. Yet this fear is quickly pushed away.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:15-16) Jesus is not a remote heavenly being, utterly detached from our human experience. This is Jesus we are talking about! This is the fully God, fully man, incarnate God. This is the guy who ate with tax collectors and sinners. This is the guy who hung out with fishermen, and preached the gospel among the poor. This is the guy who made the lame walk, the blind see, and raised widow’s sons back to life. This Jesus suffered in agony in the Garden as he submitted himself to the will of his Father even when it meant death on a cross and the weight of the sins of the world. Jesus is thoroughly aware of our sufferings and weaknesses.

Not only is he aware, but he experienced them. He was tempted in the wilderness by the devil to misuse his divine power when he was really hungry, and his belly ached after forty days without food. He was tempted to display his Messianic identity by throwing himself off the temple to be caught by angels. That would certainly silence those nagging Pharisees! Yet he knew that God was not one to be tested, and that the way to show himself to the world would take a different path. He was tempted with power, prestige, and even a chance to gain the whole world without having to go to the cross (Matt 4:8). If anyone knows anything about being truly tempted, it is Jesus…

…[The book of Hebrews] continues, In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 5:7-10)

When you see “made perfect” think “brought to completion”. Jesus had to go through what he did in order to be for us what he is. Jesus went through his suffering so that he might save us from our suffering. He experienced the consequences of our sinfulness so that we might not experience them. Jesus became a human being for the purpose of suffering, so that he could walk alongside us in our own suffering, and one day deliver us from it forever. Because the good news is when he “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death”, “he was heard”. His grave was borrowed, he needed it only for a little while. Since Christ has experienced our suffering, he is able to offer us the grace and strength we need in the midst of it, and the hope we need for the day our suffering will be brought to an end.

Starting in verse three of 2 Corinthians 1, Paul gives us a way to understand what Christ does for us as our High Priest, and how we should respond.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Cor 1:3-4)

click here to read the entire article

 

 

December 22, 2018

Christmas: The Birth Story is a Death Story

Today’s thoughts are from a writer who is new to us. (Thanks for those of you who send recommendations.) Michael James Schwab 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.

December 18, 2018

God’s Creation Plan Is Completed Through a Baby

by Russell Young

Christians enjoy the hope that has been availed through a baby, but God has instituted the incarnation of Christ for a purpose that may not be fully appreciated. It is through Christ that God is completing his creation plan. It is easy to accept that God created, but he is still creating. His original plan has not been brought to fruition but when it is finished, he will have the kingdom that he had envisioned from the beginning.

In the beginning was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all men.” (Jn 1:14) That “life” that was the light of all men came to bring the light that will accomplish God’s creation plan; it will penetrate the darkness that shrouds the human heart, mind, and soul.

Paul has written, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Rom 8:22) The King James Version states this passage as, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” All of creation, including humankind, has been suffering. That pain continues because the light has yet to over-take the darkness. The “light of men” or as Jesus has identified himself “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12, 9:5), must reveal truth so that all of creation can be freed from the darkness that brings pain.

Paul has also addressed the eager anticipation that exists in creation for the revelation of God’s true or adopted sons. (Rom 8:19) Creation is eagerly waiting to be completed as the light of Christ penetrates the darkness in humankind. When this is accomplished, it will be completed as God had intended.

God loves his workmanship, all of it (Jn 3:16), to the extent that he gave his Son for its recovery. The restorative work of Christ must not be seen as limited to that of people but includes all things. God created humankind in their (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) own image (Gen 1: 27) and had declared his final product to be very good. People had been created with special attributes. They can absorb and process information and can store it to make reasoned, informed decisions. Although originally created to know “good” only, with the Fall they also came to know evil. God had ordained people to have free-will and it is this aspect of humankind that allows a freely chosen, loving and committed relationship with him. The LORD presented the nature of the relationship with him that was acceptable. “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees…” (Deut 10:12) Matthew, Mark, and Luke have recorded the same expectation. Love is chosen, it is an act of the will; consequently, freedom to choose is highly regarded and honored by the Lord.

Some would take the value of free-will away from humankind, but God requires a heart transformed by the Spirit of light so that people can choose the humble and holy and loving relationship that will bring glory to God. Paul has written, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”, (Rom 12:2) and that, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) The needed transformation will result in a new creation; it does not result at confession of faith. “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal 6:15)

Becoming a new creation conformed to the likeness of Christ requires his life to be lived in the believer through the Spirit. As the believer is led and obeys, death is brought to the “misdeeds of the body.” (Rom 8:13) making him or her “an offering acceptable to God.” (Rom 15:16) The Lord needs to be honored as the “light of men” so that he can penetrate the darkness of the human heart.

Those who comply with the leading of the Spirit, “Christ’s law” (1 Cor 9:21) or the “law of the Spirit of life” (Rom 8:2) will become God’s adopted children. (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:23) Those who have freely chosen to honor the Lord will dwell in his eternal kingdom which will be on earth. Once God’s sons have been revealed, “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21) Creation will be liberated when Christ has defeated the devil and his schemes. “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox…” (Isa 65:25)

Zion’s deserts, on the liberated new earth, will be made like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. (Isa 51:3) Through Christ all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made and through him hearts will be transformed to meet God’s purposes while maintaining in humankind the freedom to love him by choice, thus bringing to fullness God’s creation plan. Christ will achieve their (Father, Son, Holy spirit) purpose with the selection (election) of a people conformed to the likeness of the Son of God (Rom 8:29) freeing all creation from decay and corruption. The devil’s work will be fully defeated (1 Jn 3:8) and all things made new. “Then the end will come, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24)

God chose to create all things through Christ, including the holy priesthood through the refinement of the human heart and the preservation of free-will. It is through the baby, Jesus Christ, that according to God’s plan, creation will be fully achieved, a state freed from decay where he can dwell with his people. In it “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” (1 Jn 4:14)

Merry Christmas!


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

December 16, 2018

Mary’s Burst of Worship

by Ruth Wilkinson

Magnificat. It’s a wonderful Christmas word.

I must confess, though, that when I hear it what springs to mind is an image of a feline superhero. “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…. MagnifiCat!”

But that’s not what it means. Magnificat is simply the first word of the Latin translation of the passage we’re looking at today. And it just means, “I magnify.”

It’s a big, flashing arrow pointing at something. It means, “Pay attention! This is important!

It’s a magnifying glass held up to a fingerprint, allowing us to see all of the detail we’d otherwise miss. It’s a big, fat, stinky magic marker writing out a message, so it can be seen from a distance. It’s a melody played on a great, honking tuba, so you can’t possibly miss it.

I magnify!

When Mary, Jesus’ mother, realized what was happening — what she was in the middle of; what she had become instrumental to — Luke records that she burst out in what is essentially a mash-up of Old Testament verses and phrases that she had memorized; verses from the books of Psalms, Job, 1 Samuel, Genesis, Deuteronomy, Isaiah… Poetry and prophecy. Truths that she’d been steeped in all her life and which suddenly, joyously, tumbled out in a hymn of praise to the God who had set her on an unprecedented path.

And in this moment of irrepressible, inexpressible joy, she not only magnified God, she magnified something in particular about him. Something that was profoundly, thrillingly relevant.

As we read together these, her words, pay attention to what it is about her God that she magnifies.

Look for the details. Read the message. Listen for the melody.

And rejoice!

“My soul shouts the greatness of the Lord.
My spirit sings the joy I’ve found in God my Saviour.

Because He has looked on ordinary me
and now I, His servant, will be known in every generation
as happy and blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and His very name is unlike any other name.

For those who stand in awe of Him,
His mercy flows from
generation to generation,
wave after wave.

He has shown the strength of His arm against those with prideful hearts,
as He scatters them,
as He topples the powerful from their thrones.

He lifts up the lowly and the humble.
He has filled and satisfied the hungry with good things.
The rich He has sent away empty and empty handed.

He has helped His chosen, Israel,
keeping His kindness in mind.

And faithfully remembering His promises,
from day one, through Abraham,
and to eternity.”

Luke 1:46‭-‬55

 

December 13, 2018

Is the Story of Christmas Believable?

by Clarke Dixon

Can you blame Joseph for doubting Mary? If a woman said she was pregnant and no man was involved in any way, would you believe her? Sometimes a person’s claim may be surprising, but believable. At other times they go beyond surprising to being unbelievable.

We are not explicitly told what Mary said to Joseph, but it is unimaginable that she would not have shared about the angel visitation we read about in the Gospel of Luke. We do learn how Joseph responds to the surprising pregnancy:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. Matthew 1:18-19

Joseph was a righteous man, and the right thing to do was get out of the betrothal. Joseph was also a good man, and the good thing to do was to get out of the betrothal quietly so that Mary would not be exposed to scorn and disgrace. Joseph is also a reasonable man, and the reasonable thing to think is that Mary is covering up a lack of faithfulness with an angel story. That is the most reasonable explanation. At least until an angel shows up:

But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21

So Joseph believes the surprising news, with some help. But what about us? Why would we trust this one account of a virgin conception, and no other? Joseph, so we are told, had the evidence of an angel to help him believe. Is there anything that will help us know that the Christmas story does not cross the line from surprising to unbelievable?

History helps us believe the Christmas miracle is true and reasonable.

Can anything make the surprising story of Christmas believable in our scientific age?
Doesn’t science tell us that belief in such a conception is unreasonable? First, we should recognize that science is limited in its subject matter to what can be seen and observed in some way. Therefore, there are two kinds of facts not available to science; spiritual and historical. You will never be able to “see” God out in space no matter how powerful your telescope. God simply is not in our realm that we should see Him. Also, you cannot “observe” events that have already happened. When we want to know about history we turn to historians, not scientists.

Knowing that science does not specialize in spiritual or historical facts, let us now consider the Bible. The Bible primarily speaks not about science, but about spiritual and historical truths.

The Bible records for us historical events that speak about the relationship of God with people. Now let us consider that history very briefly. God created a world of great order and beauty. God created humanity for relationship. Humanity fell out of relationship with God having rebelled against Him. However, God did not give up on a relationship with humanity, rather He made loving promises which we find throughout the Old Testament. The only way God could keep those promises was through dealing with the sin that separates us from Him. The only way to deal with sin while maintaining both perfect justice and grace, is through becoming the suitable sacrifice Himself.  The only way to become that sacrifice is for God to be “killable,” to be “crucifiable.” The only way to do that is to become incarnate:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8 (emphasis added)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:4-6 (emphasis added)

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (emphasis added)

This is what we celebrate at Christmas. God Himself was “born in human likeness,” “born of a woman,” through God the Son, Jesus. When you follow the history of humanity’s relationship with God, then of course there would be a virgin conception. How else could  the events of Easter be effective in reconciling us to God except by the event of Christmas? And of course, such historical events, both Christmas and Easter, would only happen once. So yes, virgins do not conceive, and dead men are not raised from the dead (yet). But these things did happen this one time. The history between God and humanity, as recorded by many different people, over many centuries, leads us to consider that the virgin conception is not just believable, it is not even that surprising!

Jesus helps us believe the Christmas miracle is true and reasonable.

Look at the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is all unique. Look at the impact of Jesus on the world and individual lives. He is unique. He is widely held to be the greatest figure in history. If your Mum told you one day that that you were conceived without a man, is there anything about you or your life that would make you believe her? Are you unique in some way, or in many ways, that such an announcement would suddenly make sense of everything else about you? Of course not! But ask the same question about Jesus.

Consider what the apostles were saying about Jesus following the events of Easter. To give a summary, “Jesus rose from the dead, we knew him, we heard his teaching, we saw his miracles, we experienced him as being someone, or rather Someone unique. He is both the promised Messiah and Lord.” They were not going around talking primarily about the virgin both, and oh, by the way, he also died and rose again. Rather, he, as the impressive and unique figure that we experienced him to be, died and rose again, oh, and as you might expect, even his birth was unique. Too many people dismiss the story of Christmas without really considering the whole story of Jesus.

What makes a unique conception believable is the fact that Jesus himself is unique in every way. What makes Jesus believable, is the fact that he fits with what God had promised to do. The good news of Jesus, though surprising in some ways, fits the fact that “God is love.” Therefore the Christmas story is not only believable, it is not that surprising after all.

For Joseph the news of the baby was surprising, even unbelievable. But Joseph, with some help, trusted and good things happened. When we trust God good things happen. We might not have an angel appearance in a dream, but we do have history and Jesus as evidence that the story of Christmas is reasonable and true.



Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. All scripture references are NRSV.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

December 6, 2018

Mary, Did You Know

Editor’s Note: During the next few days articles here will weave in and out of the Christmas theme.

by Clarke Dixon

How would you have responded to such surprising news? Or even the shock of an angel speaking to you in the first place? A baby will be on the way, a little baby, but a huge surprise! Even more surprising, a man will not be involved in conception! Keep in mind Mary was possibly somewhere between thirteen to fifteen years of age according to Bible scholars. How would you have responded to this news at that age? How would you have responded if you were her Mum or Dad? Perhaps there is a reason she “set out and went with haste” (Luke 1:39) to see Elizabeth. Perhaps she would understand. Who else could Mary turn to with such a big and crazy sounding surprise?

Did Mary even grasp grasp what was really going on? Did she really understand what the angel was saying to her?

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. Luke 1:30-31

No mention of a virgin conception just yet, however the name “Jesus” would have set off bells for Mary. The name “Jesus” is the equivalent of the Hebrew name “Joshua” which means “God rescues.” Perhaps this child will be involved in a rescue somehow. Perhaps this child will be like Moses. Would Mary have grasped how much greater a rescue would happen through Jesus than the rescue of Israel through Moses? The angel continues:

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, . . . Luke 1:32

Could Mary have known just how great Jesus would become? Would she have been able to guess the profound impact of Jesus? “He will be great” would turn out to be the understatement of the ages.

. . . and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:32-33

This must have set Mary’s heart racing, although I’m sure it was beating fast enough by this point. God had been promising that someone would sit on the throne of David, the Messiah, the Christ to use the Greek term. Could it be that Mary has been chosen to give birth to the promised Messiah?! What a surprise!

But there is an even bigger surprise to come:

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34

“Joseph is on his way to marry you sooner than you thought” would be surprising but not unreasonable. But no, there is a much bigger surprise in store for Mary:

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Luke 1:34-35

This will be a virgin conception, in fact something better, a God-conception! This has never happened before! This child must be something, or rather, someOne special indeed. This is the idea behind “holy” which means “set apart, different.” Was Mary aware of just how holy her child would be?

We should note here that the people of God were expecting God to return, and for God to send them a messiah. They were expecting it to be much like God coming to rescue Israel from Egypt, using Moses. They were not expecting God Himself to be the Messiah. This, however, is what the God-conception was pointing to. This was a huge surprise for everyone! While Isaiah 7:14 seems to prophesy a virgin birth, Biblical scholars point out that the original Hebrew often simply means “young woman” and that no one was really expecting a virgin birth to occur based on this prophecy, certainly not Mary.

Did Mary really “get it”? Would Mary have been aware that “Son of the Most High” meant much more than that her baby would have a special relationship with God? That the “Son of God” she was to carry was actually “God the Son”? Keeping in mind the age and education of Mary, would she have been thinking “this must be what future theologians will call the incarnation”? Not likely.

You have likely heard the song “Mary, Did You Know?” written by Mark Lowry. Here is the final stanza:

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know
That your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding
Is the Great I Am

Oh Mary did you know?

Did Mary really know Who her son really was? Did she get it? Do we? Do we get the big surprise God has for us?

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

The Bible uses the same language here for the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit, as it does for Mary conceiving Jesus. Mary had the awesome privilege of carrying God the Son. We have the awesome privilege of carrying God the Holy Spirit:

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Cor 3:16

Mary had the surprising privilege of being the mother of the Son of God. We have a surprise privilege too, of becoming the children of God:

And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6

Do we really know? Do we really know the amazing wonderful and surprising privilege that is ours in Christ?

How did Mary respond to God’s little BIG surprise?

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

Mary submitted and committed to the surprise from God. We can too.

This last verse has often been used to preach on obedience, which leads us to think of rules of course. But the focus here is on the promise of God. Mary’s obedience was to say “yes” to the promises of God. Are we obedient like Mary? Have you and are you saying “yes” to God’s promises? When we say “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word” what we are submitting to is:

  • the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
  • the promise of the Holy Spirit coming upon us birthing something new in is!
  • the promise of God’s presence.
  • the promise that we will be God’s witnesses.
  • the promise of eternal life.

How would you have responded to the surprising news if you were in Mary’s shoes? How do you respond to the surprising news in your own?



Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. All scripture references are NRSV.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. Portions of today’s devotional were pre-recorded! Listen to the original 23 minute sermon.

May 8, 2018

Jesus’ Love Saved Him

by Russell Young

All believers accept Jesus as the God-Man. Care must be taken to distinguish these two aspects of our Lord as he walked this earth, however. Before the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him, he was made in every aspect as we are. “For this reason (to help Abraham’s descendants) he had to be made like his brothers in every way.” (Heb 2:17) That is, he was created in the womb just as you and I are created with the same possibilities and limitations. No special consideration or privilege had been granted him, although he had inherited the soul of his Father.

This reality should give us pause. The writer of Hebrews states, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15) He suffered the same temptations that are presented to all humans and was able to overcome them. His victory should not be taken as being availed through supernatural provision. Again, we are told, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he I able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18) Why is it that Jesus prevailed while humankind fall prey to temptations and sin?

The answer rests in the love relationship that Christ practiced and enjoyed with his Father. He was committed to obedience and to maintaining the relationship. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (Jn 6:38) He came to “finish [God’s] work” (Jn 4:34) which was to “destroy the devil’s work.” (1 Jn 3:8 ) He did not come to destroy the devil’s power—which existed in the law, but to destroy his work in this world, the manifestation of evil, of unrighteousness.

Could Christ have died? Yes! If he had died, so would have hope for all humankind. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7) Christ was fully committed to the task given him and suffered through temptations just as you and I might. He was heard because of his prayers and petitions and because of his reverent submission to his Father. Through singleness of mind and heart he overcame temptations and death.

I am doing just what the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” (Jn 14:31 NET) Jesus clearly made it known that his obedience was due to his love for his Father. It has also been revealed that those who seek his kingdom are to love Christ, and he defines love in the same manner, the practice of obedience. Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey what I command” (Jn 14:15) and promised that “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (Jn 15:10)

The Lord (sovereign authority) spoke much of the need for a love relationship with him, with the Father, and with others. His kingdom will be comprised of those who have reverently submitted to him, not with those who have made an empty pledge to do so. Unless the attitude of reverent submission based on a love relationship is the nature of those who would be in the kingdom of heaven, strife turmoil, and friction would remain a constant presence, even in his eternal kingdom. Peace would not exist, and the Lord’s work would never be completed. Believers are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29), having the same heart, committed to love through obedience.

Some promise the realization of an eternal hope by allowing that God’s grace will cover their sinful practices. However, Christ said, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41) Their having been weeded out will be because of their practices–defiance of the Lord’s commands. Christ did not sin, and he will not sin while present in the believer (Col 1:27). John has recorded, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” (1 Jn 3:6) They do not appreciate who he is or what he is about. Further, john has written, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:56)

The love of Christ for the Father saved him from death and the love of people for Christ will also save them from death. As in Jesus’ case, that love is expressed through obedience. “[W]ork out (finish) your own salvation through fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:1213) Love brings victory over death.

All scriptures NIV except as noted


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

 

January 11, 2018

Jesus. An Ordinary Person?

by Clarke Dixon

Who is Jesus? This question is the most important question we could ever face. It is a much more significant question than; “Do you like organized religion? Do you like Christianity? Do you like church and find it relevant?”

Many suggestions are put forward, but they fall into only three categories:

  1. Jesus is fictional. He is a figment of someone’s imagination.
  2. Jesus was an ordinary person. He became extraordinary in people’s minds sometime after his death.
  3. Jesus is no ordinary person. In Christian thinking, he was, is, and always will be extraordinary, being God incarnate.

Out of these three options, this question is really only a choice between two of them. If you think that Jesus is pure fiction, then most of history, and especially all of ancient history must be seen as pure fiction also. People who really want Jesus to go away may be comfortable with that, but most historians are not. If you are being consistent in matters of history, there is really only one question: Is Jesus an ordinary person, or an extraordinary person?

The first chapter of Mark will help us know how Mark, at least, would answer that. Consider:

  • In the very first verse Jesus is no ordinary person, but is the Messiah (Christ) plus the Son of God:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1

  • In verses 2 and 3, the prophecies quoted refer to the coming, not just of a prophet, or king, but of God Himself. These are understood to be pointing to Jesus:

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ” Mark 1:2-3

  • In verse 7, John the baptizer knows he is not worthy of Jesus, stating that he is not even worthy to do the task of a slave. Jesus is on another level entirely:

He proclaimed, The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” Mark 1:7

  • Continuing on with John the baptizer, in verse 8 we need to ask who can baptize with the Holy Spirit except God Himself?

I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:8

  • In verse 11 Jesus is referred to with a title that would only previously be applied to the king of Israel, or the nation as a whole. We are to understand that Jesus is king, and in some way representative of all Israel. Also, where the kings and and the nation were prone to failure, Jesus gets it right:

And a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11

  • In verse 13 when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days we are to think of the 40 years God’s people spent in the wilderness before entering the promised Land. They spent that long in the wilderness because, unlike Jesus, they fell to temptation and sinned:

He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1:13

  • In verse 18 Jesus is the one who is worth immediately leaving everything to follow:

17 And Jesus said to them,Follow me and I will make you fish for people.18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:17-18

  • In verses 21 and 22 the teaching of Jesus was extraordinary:

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Mark 1:21-22

  • In verse 24 Jesus is identified by an unclean spirit as “the Holy One of God”.  The spirit knows that Jesus is extraordinary and has power over evil:

23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out,What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Mark 1:23-24

  • In verses 25 and 26 the spirit is under Jesus’ authority:

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, Be silent, and come out of him!26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. Mark 1:25-26

  • In verse 27 the people recognize that not only does Jesus teach with authority, his word has authority. This reminds us of Someone else Who spoke with authority and had extraordinary results (see Genesis 1):

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another,What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Mark 1:27

  • In verses 40 and following the compassion of Jesus is extraordinary. Notice how Jesus touches the leper before healing him. Something no ordinary person would do!

40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him,If you choose, you can make me clean.41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him,I do choose. Be made clean!” Mark 1:40-41

Is Jesus an ordinary person or an extraordinary person? Mark certainly knows him to be extraordinary!

Mark was not one of the 12 disciples, so we might ask how would he know? As a Christian I can point to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but I wouldn’t expect a non-Christian to be convinced by that. However, we can appeal to history. Mark was known to be a close companion of Peter and to have written down the Gospel based on Peter’s testimony and preaching. Peter, of course, knew Jesus very well. Mark’s interest in Jesus may have been stirred prior to Jesus’ crucifixion as some scholars think that he may be the young man who fled naked at the arrest of Jesus in Mark chapter 14. Further, in the process of settling on which books were authoritative for the Church, the early Christians only considered writings that were known to be closely associated with eyewitnesses, the apostles. Mark wrote his Gospel account while eyewitnesses were still alive, so his facts could be checked. All the New Testament documents, dating from closer to the events than make grand fictions possible, say the same thing as Mark chapter 1. Jesus is no ordinary person.

The eyewitnesses to Jesus were all saying the same things: The teaching of Jesus was extraordinary, the miracles of Jesus were extraordinary, and the resurrection of Jesus was extraordinary. Also, the fulfillment of the promises, given to the people who have a long testimony of God’s involvement with them, is extraordinary. We have the advantage that 2,000 years later, we can say that the legacy of Jesus has been extraordinary. The positive impact of Jesus, on individuals and society alike, has been profound! To summarize, Jesus was no ordinary man, but is extraordinary. That God loves us enough to do what He has done for us in Jesus is extraordinary!

At the centre of Mark chapter one is this:

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying,The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:14-15

Such an extraordinary person, such extraordinary love, demands a life that is anything but ordinary.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)


Visit Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

December 14, 2017

Here Is Your God. A Comforting Thought?

by Clarke Dixon

Suppose someone who knows you very well, based on your habits, intentions, thoughts, use of time, money, and giftedness says “Here is your god!”. To whom or to what would they be pointing? In Isaiah 40:9 there is an important announcement:

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!” Isaiah 40:9 (emphasis mine)

This announcement is the central thought of a prophecy that looks forward to the time God’s people would be brought back to their own land from exile. When the nation had fallen to the Babylonians and the people taken away to other lands, God himself “left the building” so to speak, and the symbol of God’s presence, the temple, was destroyed. So when the announcement is made “Here is your God!” not only have God’s people been brought back from exile, most importantly, God Himself has also returned! This is great news, comforting news:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God. Isaiah 40:1

What do we learn from this message of comfort in Isaiah 40:1-11?

First, God’s arrival is comforting because the penalty has been paid:

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins. Isaiah 40:2

When our children were young we would give them “time-outs” according to their age. So, for example, when they were each three, they had to sit quiet in one spot for three minutes. When they were four, they had to serve four minutes and so on. Now that I am forty-five, I just wish someone would give me a forty-five minute time-out! For the children, it was always good news when Mum or Dad announced that the sentence had been served, the time-out was completed.

In being exiled, God’s people were on a time-out. Now the penalty was paid, the time-out was over, they could return home, and God Himself would also arrive. That was a very comforting thought.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news; “Here is your God” . It is good news, it is comforting news for likewise, a penalty has been paid:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24

Second, God’s arrival is worth preparing for and getting excited about.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain. Isaiah 40:3-4

The image here is of preparing for the arrival of a ruler. The appropriate preparation for a ruler was to make sure the road was in really good shape. The appropriate preparation for a divine ruler is repentance. Now before you think something like “I hate it when preachers preach on repentance, it seems like such a negative thing”, let us consider that there is very positive aspect to it. The most exciting moments of my life have been my wedding day and the birth of our three boys. These were moments worth preparing for. Your wedding day is a day when getting “cleaned up” is not a chore, but part of the anticipation. Putting together a crib is no easy task (I speak from experience), but something done willingly in anticipation of the arrival of someone very important.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news “Here is your God”. He will arrive again, an arrival worth getting excited about and preparing for.

Third, when God arrives, his glory will be seen by all. It will be a world-changing event:

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:5

However, it felt like the return from exile never really lived up to this promise. It was not world changing. God’s glory was not evident in the way it was in the past. But it was part and parcel of world changing events that were yet to come.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news “Here is your God”. In Jesus God’s glory has been seen:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Historians and scholars debate many things, but there is no argument about the fact that the arrival of Jesus has been world-changing. His return will also be world-changing and God’s glory will be seen by all!

Fourth, God’s arrival is comforting news because God keeps His promises:

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:6-8

That God keeps His promises is in contrast to people who can and do fail us. God can be trusted. However, in Jesus’ day some may have doubted that God had kept all His promises. The Romans are in charge, this can’t be what it is supposed to look like.

The promises to Israel were part of a much bigger promise to the world which we can read about in Genesis chapter 12: “. . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).  It is not that God had kept all His promises in the return from exile, but that He was keeping His promises and the exile was part of that. The rest is yet to come.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news “Here is your God”. It is not that God has already kept all His promises through the birth, life, death, and resurrection ofJesus, but that He is keeping His promises and Jesus’ arrival 2000 or so years ago was part of that. He will arrive again. The announcement will be made “Here is your God”. The rest is yet to come. The promises will be kept.

Fifth, God’s arrival is comforting news because He comes with responsible power.

See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep. Isaiah 40:10-11

The Lord comes as one who is both mighty (verse 10) and compassionate (verse 11). If God were mighty but not compassionate, that would be scary. If God were compassionate but not mighty, that would be disappointing. God is both, and that is comforting.

At Christmas we celebrate the same news “Here is your God”.  In Jesus we see both the power of God to deal with sin, and the Good Shepherd who deals kindly with us.

We return to the original question:  if someone who knew you well could say “here is your god”, to whom or to what would they be pointing? If it is to the LORD who has revealed Himself to us through Jesus, then there is great comfort. If it refers to anything or anyone else, comfort will not be the appropriate word. No one else, and nothing else . . .

  • Can pay the penalty God has already paid for you.
  • Could cause such excitement, worth getting ready for.
  • Will have an arrival that is such a world changing event.
  • Keeps promises like God does, or can even make the kinds of promises God makes in the first place.
  • Has both the might and the shepherd’s heart to be able to take care of you, now and for eternity.

Here is your God. To whom or to what am I pointing?

All Bible references are taken from the NRSV

Read more at ClarkeDixon.WordPress.com

September 26, 2017

Humility We Must Sing to Imagine

Today’s thoughts are from Chaplain Mike Mercer at the website Internet Monk. I chose a passage in the online series; Philippians: Friends in the Gospel. At the bottom you’ll see the most up-to-date links I have to other installments in the series. Out of necessity today, in addition to stealing the article, we had to steal a graphic! So please click through and read this at its source page.

Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians — Friends in the Gospel (10)

There are some things that can, perhaps, only be said in poetry, and perhaps this [Phil 2:5-11] is one of them. 
• Tom Wright

PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became humanHaving become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

As we mentioned last week, this is one of the most discussed theological texts in the New Testament is Philippians 2:5-11, the “Christ-hymn” that describes the “kenosis” of Jesus.

Gerald F. Hawthorne’s interpretation of Phil. 2:5-11 is one of my favorite commentary passages that I have read in biblical studies.

He first describes the near universal agreement that “vv 6-11 constitute a beautiful example of a very early hymn of the Christian church.” Scholars, however, have a number of different ideas about how the hymn might have been structured. Whatever the versification of the hymn might have been, it is clear that it has two basic parts. There are four main verbs: the first two have Jesus as the subject, the second two have God. The hymn then naturally falls into the story of (1) Jesus’ acts of humbling himself, and (2) God’s act of exalting Jesus.

Hawthorne notes that Paul himself may be the author of the hymn or it may come from another source. The striking insight that I learned many years ago from him when considering this passage is that it appears to be a meditation on an event recorded in the Gospel of John.

“…may be the result of deep meditation…on one particular event from the life of Christ as recorded in the gospel tradition — Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:3-17). Although verbal parallels between John 13:3-17 and Phil 2:6-11 are few, but nonetheless significant, the parallels in thought and in the progression of action are startling. So precise in fact are these parallels that it is difficult to consider them the result of mere coincidence.

Hawthorne uses the following diagram to portray these parallels:

This hymn, whether Paul wrote it or not, emphasizes Jesus’ act of humility using an “descent-ascent motif that is prominent in the Johannine story.”

Gerald Hawthorne also notes another important parallel between the way both John and this epistle reflect on the foot-washing story:

It is also interesting and instructive to note that the purpose of each pericope is similar. The Johannine account is an acted parable to summarize the essence of Jesus’ teaching: “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to hold the first place among you must be everybody’s slave” (Mark 10:43-44), while the Philippian text is a hymn to illustrate powerfully Paul’s teaching, which at this point is identical with that of Jesus:  humble, self-sacrificing service to one another done in love is a must for a Christian disciple who would live as a Christian disciple should (Phil 2:3-4).

• • •

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel

July 23, 2017

The Humanity of Jesus, the Christ, and Eternal Salvation

by Russell Young

Before the sacrificial ministry of Christ can be understood, the fullness of his ministry as man must be appreciated since it is as man that he lived among humankind and that he died. It is easy to allow one’s mind to miss the extent of the Lord’s ministry on behalf of people and to fail to perceive the extent of his love, and even the means of eternal salvation without knowledge of his humanness.

Jesus was born from the womb of Mary possessing the human characteristics of all humankind. He had the same limitations and suffered the same temptations.  He came to help humankind, and to be effective in doing so he had to endure the flesh and its trials just as must all people. “For this reason [to help people] he had to be made like his brothers in every way in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” (Heb 2:16─17 NIV. Italics added.) There was nothing about the humanity of Christ that would distinguish him from anyone else. He was fully human. He hurt when his flesh was wounded and agonized over the death of friends.  He went hungry and became tired. His body exerted the same desires and demands as does that of all men.

The above passage goes on to say, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18 NIV) The temptations that afflicted the Lord caused him distress and suffering. A temptation is something that has a draw on the flesh and motivates for its appeasement. The writer of Hebrews has revealed the effect of temptations on Christ. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7 NIV) The Lord fought his flesh and its draws; his interest in living a holy life and in pleasing his Father was greater than interest in his body.

Christ experienced the humanity of people and he understands it. His experience was necessary so that he could become our merciful and faithful high priest.  A high priest offers sacrifices for sins committed “in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7) Known sin is to be confessed in order to be cleansed (1 Jn 1:9); however, unknown sin, that not recognized as sin by the sinner, must also be cleansed.  According to his knowledge of the flesh and his mercy, Christ offers his blood to meet one’s need in this regard.

The human body and its interests are so prone to evil that Paul calls it “the body of death.” (Rom 7:24) The Lord’s experiential understanding is a blessing for those who seek righteousness, but is a curse for those who are willing to submit to carnal interests.  Paul wrote, “Now if we are children [of God] then we are heirs—if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may share in his glory.” (Rom 8:17 NIV Italics added.) The requirement for sharing in his glory is that people must suffer to gain victory over those unrighteous practices and thoughts that tempt the body and soul.  Paul taught, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (! Cor 10:13 NIV) John taught, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV) The Lord triumphed over temptations so he knows that victory can be gained and the redeemed need to appreciate that he knows their commitment, or lack of it, to defeat sin.

The Spirit of Christ is there to help during times of temptation (Heb 2:18), but they, like the Lord, must seek it.  “Let us then approach the 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 NIV) Believers are not called to live a passive life. They are to contend for victory, just as Christ did, and they are to help one another in that battle.

Jesus came to defeat the Old Covenant requirements for righteousness’ sake and he had to accomplish these in his own flesh to be an acceptable sacrifice. The Lord now dwells in the bodies of those who have professed his lordship. The secret that had been kept hidden for so long is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) Just as he gained victory over the temptations that afflicted the body that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary, a body like our own, he is able to accomplish such in the bodies of the remainder of humankind provided they are willing to listen and to obediently follow his leading. He has provided all that is necessary for victory (2 Pet 1:3) but just as he had to suffer to gain it, so must those in whom he indwells.  He does not over-rule a person’s will. Those who truly desire to dwell in his presence throughout eternity will strive with him. They are to put forth every effort (Lk 13:24), are to die to self-interest (Lk 17:33; Gal 6:7─8), and are to follow him. (Jn 10:27)

It was the humanity of the Lord that enabled him to be an acceptable sacrifice for humankind and it was his humanity that allowed him to appreciate the trials of the flesh arousing his mercy and grace so that he might intercede for those seeking to walk in the light and to pursue righteousness. Many accept that his ministry for them was completed at the cross, however, it is on-going and will only be completed when his life in the confessor is quenched, thwarted, or denied or when death occurs. He is the second Adam, the victorious one, and the one that enables victory.


After next week, Russell Young’s articles will appear here on alternative Tuesdays. We’re introducing a recurring feature starting August 6th with all articles appearing under the title Sunday Worship. Feel free to recommend any writers or articles you think would fit here.



Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

April 1, 2017

Only One Plan

Bruxy’s book releases in May. Click the image for more details.

While I’m a huge fan of Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor of The Meeting House in Oakville just west of Toronto, Canada we’ve never included his writing here beyond a few quotations. So with the new book re(Union) due out in May, we thought this would be a good time to share his ministry with you. Click the link in the title below to read this at its source, and then take a few minutes to look around the rest of his website.

The scandal of particularity

When I was young, I wondered why Jesus didn’t come to earth as a woman (they seemed smarter to me). I also wondered why Jesus hadn’t come as an Irishman (our family is part Irish), or even as a three-toed sloth (my favorite animal). And why had he come only once, so long ago, instead of coming today and every day for a visit? Jesus coming only once, in one place, as one person, at one point in history—that just didn’t seem “fair” to me.

My dad was a gentle, gracious, and wise man. I often peppered him with my weird and wonder-full questions, and he would patiently help me think through possible answers.

“Why did Jesus not come as a woman?” I’d ask him.

“He could have,” my dad would say. “God can do anything. But men were the powerful people in that culture, as in most, and maybe Jesus came in that form in order to teach the people with power how to lay it down. Remember him teaching his disciples to wash feet? In that culture, a job like that was reserved for servants or women, who had no power. But as Jesus washed his all-male disciples’ feet, he told them they needed to learn how to wash feet too!”

“Why not an Irishman?” I’d probe.

“He could have. God can do anything. But he had already been patiently working with a group of people, the Jewish people, to teach them how to be the light of the world together. When they weren’t lighting up the world the way God wanted, Jesus came specifically to them, as one of them.”

“Why not a three-toed sloth?” I’d ask.

“He could have,” my dad would say, somehow still patient. “God can do anything. Back in the days of Moses, God became a fire in a bush and a pillar of cloud, so I’m sure he could become a three-toed sloth if he wanted to. But remember, of all creatures, we alone are made in the image and likeness of God. We were put in charge of the planet in order to take care of creation. Just think of it—through our choices, we can take care of three-toed sloths, or harm them by harming their environment. Our choices affect them in ways their choices will never affect us, just as our environmental decisions affect the lives of every species in ways that their decisions do not. We are the powerful ones in nature. But as we learned from Spider-Man, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ We are made like God, which means that we need to learn from God how to use power to love, to care, and to cultivate.”

“But why then and not now?” I’d say.

“He could have. God can do anything. But his timing does seem perfect. Back then, Roman roads had only recently made it possible for the gospel to travel far and wide with new directness. The Pax Romana (Roman peace) made it possible to travel those roads with reasonable safety. And a common language, Greek, started to be spoken among different people groups, allowing them to communicate with each other as never before. And the Romans executed people in a very bloody way—crucifixion—which would allow God to demonstrate the coming of the New Covenant and the end of all religious sacrifice to a people who saw blood as the centre of religious sacrifice. Once that was all in place, why wait another day?”

“Why not just come every day?”

“He could do that,” my dad would say, still with a patient grin. “God can do anything. In fact, he does that every day and every moment through his Holy Spirit. But Brux, if God was really going to become one of us through Jesus—I mean, really become human—then that means he doesn’t get to come every day in every place. Humans don’t live that way. Humans live one life in one place at a time. And God decided to become human just like us.”

My dad and my mom and my older sisters and Sunday school teachers and youth pastors—all of them had to put up with my many questions. And their patience paid off. I finally got it: God came to us as one of us. That’s the incarnation, and it’s central to the gospel. This idea of incarnation has profound implications. Theologians call this “the scandal of particularity.”

In becoming human, God became particular, a specific human, not just humanity as some generalized concept. And that creates particularity in time and space, gender and race. God became this and not that. God became a man and not a woman. God became a Jew and not a Gentile. God became an Israelite and not a Canadian. God became a poor person and not a rich person. God became a first-century person and not a twenty-first-century person.

The apostle Paul wrote:

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4-7).

When the time had fully come. That’s when Jesus came. As one “born under the law,” Jesus came as part of one of the world’s rule-enforcing, ritual-observing, temple-building, animal-sacrificing, blood-spilling religions—to bring an end to it all, from the inside out. Through Jesus, God came to us at just the right time, in just the right way, to say everything God had to say. Now, with religion out of the way, God pulls us close, as his children. (We are called “sons,” not to exclude women but to emphasize the equal status women have in God’s family. See, at that time, daughters had no rights. So God says, to men and women,  you are all my “sons,” to emphasize that all of us, male and female, are heirs to the love and blessing God has for his kids.)

We are no longer slaves. Before Jesus, and even now apart from Jesus, we can all end up as slaves to something, to some system of belonging, even and especially the system of religion. But we are no longer slaves. We no longer have to serve our own fragile egos, always subconsciously clamouring for the affirmation and acceptance we so desperately desire. We are now God’s children. Let it sink in: we are God’s children. And, alongside Jesus, we share in our inheritance: God’s great love for his kids, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Yes, Jesus came “once upon a time” and “once upon a place.” But today, through the Holy Spirit, we not only have God with us, but within us, at all times, and in every place. Now that you’re done reading this post, take a moment to be aware—God is with you, within you, and all around you. Take a deep breath, and receive the infinite love that is your inheritance.

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January 27, 2017

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4:15 NLT

He was despised and rejected by others, and a man of sorrows, intimately familiar with suffering; and like one from whom people hide their faces; and we despised him and did not value him.  – Isaiah 53:3 ISV

…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!Philippians 2: 7,8 NIV

This essay predates email forwards or even the internet itself, but as I found it in a stack of papers yesterday, I couldn’t help think that while it wasn’t the usual type of thing we share here, it certainly provides food for thought. Immediate the above scripture passages came to mind.

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a
great plain before God’s throne. Some of the groups near the
front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame before God’s
throne, but with embittered belligerence.

“How can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?” snapped
a brunette, jerking back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number
from a Nazi concentration camp.” “We endured terror, beatings,
torture, and death!”

In another group, a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?”
he demanded, showing the rope burns. “Lynched for no crime but being
black! We’ve suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones,
and toiled ’til only death gave release.”

Hundreds of such groups were visible across the plain. Each had
a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in
His world. How lucky God was, they all seemed to agree, able to
live in heaven where all is sweetness and light, without weeping,
fear hunger or hatred. Indeed, what does God know about man? What
does He know about being forced to endure the trials of life?
After all, God leads pretty sheltered life.

So each group sent out a leader, chosen because he had suffered
the most. There was a Jew, a black, an untouchable from India,
a person who was illegitimate, a person from Hiroshima and others
who had tasted life’s bitterest dregs. At last they were ready to
present their case. It was rather simple: Before God would be qualified
to be their judge; He must endure what they had endured.

Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth
as a man. But because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be
sure He would not use His divine powers to help himself.

* Let Him be a Jew.
* Let the legitimacy of His birth be questioned.
* Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical, it brings
upon Him the hate, condemnation and destructive attacks of political
and religious authorities.
* Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced
jury and convicted by a cowardly judge.
* Let Him see what it is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned
by every living being.
* Let Him be tortured and … let Him die.
* And let His death be humiliating; let it take place beside
common criminals, while He is jeered at, mocked, and spit on.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs
of approval went up from the great throng of people. But suddenly,
after the last one had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a
long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly,
all recognized the stark reality; God had already served his sentence.

– Author unknown


From Handel’s Messiah: He was despised.

January 12, 2017

The Final Page of the Final Chapter of the Christmas Story

by Clarke Dixon

Now that Christmas is over we might ask, where does the Christmas story actually end? Nativity plays often finish off with the visit of the magi. Some may think the story of Christmas concludes  with Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt, or coming home to Nazareth. Actually, the Christmas story points far beyond itself as it is part of a much larger story. The magi point beyond themselves to that larger story. Consider how the presence of the magi alludes to this prophecy spoken many years prior:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Isaiah 60:1-3

Though not kings, the magi are not Jewish and travel from afar, indicating that it is beginning; The nations are drawn to the light. It continues:

Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you,
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall be acceptable on my altar,
and I will glorify my glorious house.Isaiah 60:5-7

We cannot help but notice the gold and frankincense along with the possibility of camels. The visit of the magi is not the full fulfillment of Isaiah 60, but it is the beginning of the fulfillment. This is also pointing more generally to a greater fulfillment of a greater promise: all peoples of the earth worshipping the God of Israel.

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations. Psalms 22:27-28

Herod figures prominently in the account of the magi and he also points to the future when he says “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:8 NIV) Of course Herod has no intention of worshipping Jesus. Herod would rather have Jesus destroyed. Herod would rather be in charge. Herod would rather attempt to grasp at a throne that truly belonged to another. Herod did not worship Jesus. But he will:

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him. Psalms 22:29

The Old Testament points to even the dead bowing down to the true king, the Creator God. The New Testament makes this even more explicit:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

Every knee and every tongue includes even the knees and tongues of the dead. Even Herod. So ironically, Herod was speaking truthfully about the future when he said he would worship Jesus. He will. So will you and I. The question is not if you will bend the knee to Jesus, or if you will confess that He is Lord, but when

Does the fact that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord mean that every person will experience eternal life with God? No.

Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15

You and I have the wonderful opportunity to be among those who bend the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord sooner rather than later. The sooner we do, the greater the opportunity to live with the hope, peace, joy, and love, that we celebrate during Advent.

So where does the Christmas story end? With Mary and Joseph going home with Jesus? Or is the end of the story yet to come, with you and I going home?

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13

If you are a child of God, you will feel right at home in the presence of God. If you are like Herod and would rather stay in charge, rejecting God and the possibility of a relationship with Him, then you will feel right at home being separated from God. The final words on the final page of the final chapter of the Christmas story will not be you or I saying “You are unfair, Lord” but “I’m home.”


Read today’s column online at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermons.

Be aware of new blog posts by Clarke by following him on Twitter.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless noted otherwise

January 9, 2017

Where God Dwells There are No Clocks

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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And He Shall Reign Forever

Today we pay a return visit to the Lutheran pastor Paul Willweber at the website, The Three Taverns. Click the title to read at source.

The Timelessness of Eternity

NLT John 16:15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’

16 “In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.”

17 Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? 18 And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.”

19 Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again. 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. 21 It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. 23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name.

What do you think heaven is going to be like? We know heaven is perfect, but what will it feel like? What will you do for all eternity? Will you get bored? Will you be aware that you are in heaven forever? Will it seem like it’s taking a long time? Can eternity take a long time?

Heaven is what God wants for you for eternity but it’s impossible to comprehend eternity. You can only think in terms of time. You know when events begin and when they end. Sometimes they fly by, sometimes they drag on. If someone tells you not to think in terms of time, you can’t do it. You are bound by time. You cannot remove yourself from time. The closest to it is being asleep or in a coma. But even so, when you wake up you are aware that time has elapsed. Time continues when you are not in a conscious state.

God, however, is not bound by time. He is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. Things don’t go slow for Him or take a long time. He is outside of time. He created it.

But He did something remarkable, perhaps even strange. He placed Himself into time. He bound Himself to it. He became a man, a human being. He was born in a specific moment in time. He lived in a particular era of history; He lived for a certain amount of years. He who is not bound by time was now having to wait 365 days to turn a year older.

We know God did this to save us. But did He have to save us in this way? Why would God submit Himself to what we endure in this life? He’s God, He can do anything. What moved Him to bind Himself to time?

Jesus shows us with His words to the disciples in the Gospel reading. He told them He would be leaving them. But then He would return to them. They had no idea what He was talking about. They were trying to figure it out.

He was referring to the fact that He would be going to the cross where He would die. He would be leaving them. But then He would come back to life and so He would be with them again. This is what He was talking about. They didn’t get it. And they continued to not get it until He rose from the dead.

He said they would fall into deep sorrow. They wouldn’t come out of it until they saw Him again and they would rejoice in seeing Him alive. They weren’t getting it when He was telling them, but afterward they would remember that He had told them beforehand. And that was a comfort to them.

But the apostle John was not writing this down out of historical interest. The apostle John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this down for you. What Jesus told His disciples has meaning for you. It applies to you because what He said to the disciples shows you why God saved us in the way He did, humbling Himself to become a human being, to be bound by time, to suffer and die.

He is showing you how He uses time to save you. Jesus wasn’t just telling His disciples what would happen. He was saying that He would be leaving them in a little while. And then it would be a little while when He would return to them.

When you are experiencing sorrow it doesn’t seem like a little while. It seems like it won’t end. Jesus uses the example of a woman giving birth. She’s not thinking that this is a brief moment of difficulty. She must endure it because her baby is not coming right away.

But Jesus’ words are what determines what is. When Jesus was gone the disciples despaired in sorrow. But in the light of eternity it truly was a little while.

And now you experience a similar thing to the disciples. Jesus went away from them when He died, but then He returned to them when He rose. But then He left again, ascending into heaven. The disciples were left without Him but then He returned. You are left without Him and it seems anything but a little while until He returns to you.

And you know why this is? No, it’s not because two thousand years since Jesus ascended is a really long time. You are bound by time. You are viewing what Jesus says through your limited understanding. You need to see time from His perspective, not yours. You need to view your life the way He views your life, not in a way that makes sense to you. You need to see your life not as your own but as what God has given you to live and to see yourself not as who you are but who you are in Christ.

As a Christian you are not bound by time. You are not waiting around for God to save you. You aren’t in a holding pattern until God brings you to heaven. As a Christian you have eternal life. That’s life outside of time. It’s without end. It is life with God whether you are awake or asleep. You are not in a state of grace one moment and then apart from Christ the next if you have an evil thought. You are either in Christ or you’re not. If you’re in Christ you have eternal life, not salvation that will be given at some future point.

Jesus speaks of a little while because there is no long while with Him. Time is at His disposal. You can’t make time do what you want. You have only so much of it and it’s the same as what everybody else has. But Jesus? He uses time, something He is not bound by, to bring eternity to you. Since you cannot bring yourself out of time, He comes to you, in your life, in time, to give you eternal life. You now have life that is timeless, it is not here and then not, not flying by or dragging on interminably. It is life with God in Christ, forever.

Now, if you’re thinking, Okay, I have eternal life but I’m still here, aren’t I? I still have to set an alarm clock and be at meetings and appointments on time, don’t I? If I tell my boss that I have eternal life and so am not bound by time, he’ll tell me that if I’m late again I’ll be fired. Right?

Yes. You live in time and you should. God has given this to you to do. Having eternal life doesn’t remove you from your life here; your time, your vocations, your duties and responsibilities. The beauty of God giving you eternal life now is that it frees you up. And what Peter says about that in the Epistle reading is, Live as people who are free. You are a Christian, live like one. Don’t use your being freedom to just live as everyone else does, where they are constricted by time and cannot see beyond it.

Live, as Peter says, as one who freely gives of your time, because you are not subjugated to it. It’s not your time. You have eternal life! What is using your time to help someone when you’re tempted to think that you’ll be inconvenienced. Jesus freed you up from such a shortsighted and constricting view. You are freed up to help others. To serve them. To give of yourself to them. Your time, your resources. What are these in eternity? They are nothing more than as Jesus describes, a little while.

In a moment of time Jesus took in Himself the sin if the world. In that moment there was no time, Jesus brought eternity to earth. In Him God was reconciling the world to Himself. When you are reconciled to God, there is no time, only eternity. Time is momentary. Eternity is forever.

That’s why you need to stop thinking of God and what He does for you in terms of time. In a moment of time you were Baptized and you were no longer bound by time as you were brought into eternal life with God, you were and are now in Christ, who is above time. When He gives you His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, it is in a moment of time but there is no time. You are feasting with the angels and the archangels and the whole company of heaven. This is the Eternal Feast, the Feast of the Lamb. It has no ending; you are brought into this eternal Feast as you commune at this altar.

Heaven is not a place. It does not start and go on for a period of time. Heaven is being with God, without time, forever. He gives you heaven, eternity, in Jesus. He gives you Jesus right here, in this place, in this moment, at this altar. No time, no ending, just eternity. Amen.

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