Christianity 201

June 4, 2019

Knowing God

by Russell Young

The importance of “knowing” God, and of being known by God, is revealed in the Scriptures. In his condemnation of “many” who thought that their hope was secure, the Lord claimed that he did not know them. “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers.’” (Mt 7:22−23) He is not presenting that he wasn’t aware of them; he knows the heart of all people and he was aware that these had ministered in his name. The issue is that he was never sure of their commitment. Although they had claimed to represent him, he classified them as “evil-doers” who had not followed his commandments and who had not conformed to his moral standards; they did not characterize him. They were hypocrites or were ignorant of his nature. He could not identify with them, did not know them. Christ’s knowledge of a person’s commitment comes from an intimate relationship with him or her through his indwelling Spirit. (In this passage “know” is translated from the Greek ginosko which means ‘to know with certainty.’)

All people have acquaintances, those about whom they are aware but don’t really “know.” They also have relationships with a few others whom they know more intimately, with whom they share their heart and life’s blessings and trials. The meaning ascribed to “know” has great significance when it comes to relationship with God. Paul taught that God requires absolute assurance of the confessor’s commitment to righteousness and to him. God’s children are to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph 1:4) and they “must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6) This requires knowing his heart.

In his epistle to Titus, Paul wrote that even though some claimed to know him their actions denied that knowledge, consequently their disobedience made them unfit for doing anything good (Titus 1:16); they lacked awareness of his holiness and of his sovereignty.

John has written, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8) He is presenting that knowing God compels loving him and others. He is not suggesting an “acquaintance” relationship, but an understanding and appreciation of the nature of God–his heart and the things that please and hurt him and others. Knowing God is evidenced by a heart fully given to him.

The parable of the twelve virgins reveals that those who know Christ and who love him are fixed on anticipating his return. They wait anxiously. Six of the virgins were not anticipating his call to the feast and their indifference left them unprepared when the call came. The door was closed when they had finally made themselves ready. He also admonished all to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door” (Lk 13:24) by avoiding any “evil-doing.” because “many” will claim to have fellowshipped with him and that he had taught in their streets but they would be cast away. He did not know them and apparently, they did not know him.

The Lord knows “his sheep” and they know him. Their knowledge will be like that which existed in the relationship between Christ and his Father. His sheep listen to his voice and they follow just as he listened to and obeyed his Father. (Jn 10:14…27)

The knowledge about which the Lord speaks is absolute certainty of commitment and is evidenced through a person’s actions. Knowledge develops as the Lord observes those who hear his voice and obediently follow. He is not talking about the sheep that have heard his call and who go their own way. These will become lost.

The man who loves God is known by God.” (1 Cor 8:3) The Lord knows his own because their love for him is revealed through honor, respect, and obedience.

What a person thinks about another dictates his or her feelings. Knowing God and his expansive love and provision will compel love. The most important commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30) Knowing God will result in loving him with all that a person has. When knowledge is lacking or when truth is distorted, so may be knowledge of God’s holiness, of his heart and of his love commitment to them. Love must be learned and earned.

The Lord is more than a worldly friend; he indwells confessors as Holy Spirit enabling the obedient to gain victory over temptations and unrighteousness, making them acceptable offerings. The “one who searches our hearts” (Rom 8:27) knows our needs and enables the obedient to be conformed to Christ’s likeness, assisting the Spirit to accomplish God’s will in the transformation of souls. Knowing God means appreciating the fullness of his commitment, provision, and heart.

Some teach that God’s love is “unconditional.” Implying no need for the appreciation of his nature, but Christ said, “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 confessor’s knowledge of God will dictate how he or she feels about him, and how they feel about him will determine how they respond to him and to his call upon their life.

Paul’s admonition should be taken to heart. “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thess 1:8−9) Those who desire to dwell with him must understand his heart. His complaint from the beginning was that the constant evil imaginations of people brought pain to his heart. (Gen 6:5−6).



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 an extended article at this link

May 28, 2019

Three Years With Jesus… and He Still Didn’t Get It

Six months ago we featured an article which had appeared on the website The Ministry Wire. We went back this week to see what else is there. This article is by Will Berry who the site describes as passionate about ministry to children and teens. He’s one of three regular contributors to the site. Click the title to read at source.

Growing Pains

Have you ever been embarrassed by how little you know about someone that you should know a lot about? Maybe you forgot a church members name, and have been calling them “sir” or “brother” for years now, and you’re too caught up in the charade to come clean and just ask for their name? Maybe you’ve forgotten an important date like an anniversary or birthday and felt the wrath thereby incurred by your forgetfulness? It probably wasn’t as bad as Phillip’s blunder in John 14:8.

Jesus had more patience and temperance than I can fathom. He spent years with the disciples and, though He was the greatest teacher to ever walk the earth, they did not seem to “get it.” He taught them over and over again what His purpose on earth was, and they still assumed He was there to overthrow the Romans in a blaze of glory. He taught and taught about humility and service to others and yet, up until the last supper, they still viciously bickered about who would sit at Jesus’ right hand. He told them bluntly and often that He would die and rise again, but when the day came, His disciples were hiding, confused, scared, and doubting. They just did not seem to be the best listeners.

One prime example of this being played out is in John 14:1-9. Jesus is trying to comfort the disciples and explain to them that He is not only the Messiah but God incarnate. In verse seven, Jesus practically spells it out for them and basically said “I am God, the Father and I are one and the same”. I can just imagine Him pointing to Himself when He said, “and have seen Him”.

But Phillip proved for all time that there are indeed stupid questions when, in verse eight, he said, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” He wanted Jesus to show them the Father because he did not understand what Jesus had been teaching them for ages. It hadn’t clicked. He had not been able to see who Jesus actually was, because he was too busy seeing Jesus as who he wanted Jesus to be.

Verse nine has got to be one of the most stinging rebukes of the entire Bible.

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Basically Jesus is asking, “After all this time you have still don’t understood this?” Despite years of walking with Jesus, Phillip had not grown to the level he should have. He still had the same view of Christ as before. He had not matured in his faith like you would imagine a disciple sitting at the feet of Christ would have.

Now it can be easy to make fun of Phillip and point out his flaws because they are spelled out for us. But the thought that really took hold of my heart was, “Would Jesus ask me the same question?” I have been saved for eleven years, but have I grown as much as I should have in that time? Are there lessons that I still have not gotten down despite numerous sermons, devotions, trials, and tests? Do I have greater faith in Jesus and His grace than I did last year? Am I closer to Him now than before? Or have I grown complacent in my walk with Christ? Am I content with where I am?

This thought really gripped me, because I think we often lose sight of who Jesus really is and only see Him as what we desire Him to be. Like Phillip, we try to fit Him into a box so that He matches our narrative. But He should be our friend and God who we walk with daily and learn from constantly.

My simple question for you, reader, is this: are you growing in your walk with God? Or are you stuck in a rut of failing tests over and over again where you are not experiencing the joys and benefits of yielding to God and growing? I have known plenty of Christians over the years who have not experienced the joy of having faith in God in every area, because they refuse to trust Him in areas like finances or with the lives of those around them. I have known Christians who have not experienced the peace of God because they still let little things offend them greatly. God wants to use the time we have and experiences we go through to teach and sanctify us. Is there an area of your life that you are not letting Him use?

Would Jesus have to ask you the same question He asked Phillip? Maybe you’ve been saved a year or maybe 50 years. Have you grown to the level God wants you to be at? Are you still growing? Strive for “Well done” not “Yet hast thou not known me?”

April 14, 2019

Immersive Worship

Six months ago we introduced you to The Serener Bright. Ian Graham describes himself as “a pastor, church planter, musician, songwriter, reader, and writer.” His church, Ecclesia, is located in West Trenton, New Jersey. Although the blog has not been very active, I wanted to share this one (which followed the one we shared here earlier by only a few days and was included then as a bonus link) as it fits well with our Sunday theme.

Psalm 27: Worldly Hope

Fearless Trust

Psalm 27 invites us to a glimpse of a well-worn, mature faith. These words are not those of one freshly afoot on the road of life with God. These words are the embodiment of the image of the tree in Psalm 1, a life firmly rooted in God, watered by past experiences of God’s salvation, by the promises and hope of what the Lord has said. David writes as one well-schooled in the art of trusting God.

Perhaps most striking about David’s assurance is that chaos seems to be the vantage point from which he prays. He describes his circumstances with images of vandal hordes descending and all hell breaking loose (vv.2-3). David’s increased depth of trust and hope in God has not resulted in a diminishing of the very real threats that plague him. But David’s trust has reframed everything. In the midst of this anarchy, David is “calm as a baby, collected and cool” (vv.2-3).

There is something so radically this-worldly about the shape the hope Psalm 27 invites us into. The pain and the danger are real but so is the reality that God is inviting us into counter-rhythms that syncopate the cadences of chaos with order and beauty. Two important practices stand out within the context of the psalm. He writes in vv.4-5:

I’m asking God for one thing,
only one thing:
To live with him in his house
my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate his beauty;
I’ll study at his feet.

1. Contemplative Prayer

First, David invites us to the disciplines of contemplative prayer, silence and solitude. David’s world much, much like our own, moves at a frenzied pace. We are constantly being discipled by the antichrist rhythms of noise, notifications, news, and the normalization of violence. David knows that the only response is to retreat. A retreat not away from this world but a retreat into the refuge of God’s presence. Thomas Merton writes that when Christians forsake contemplation they substitute the “truth of life” for “fiction and mythology” bringing about the “alienation of the believer, so that his [sic] religious zeal becomes political fanaticism.”  David instead of leaning into the madness, embraces silence and solitude. He writes of the presence of God:

 That’s the only quiet, secure place
in a noisy world,
The perfect getaway,
far from the buzz of traffic.

2. Immersive Worship

Second, David immerses himself in worship both private and communal. Even on the way to church, he’s already singing his own songs:

I’m headed for his place to offer anthems
that will raise the roof!
Already I’m singing God-songs;
I’m making music to God.

Worship is the eruption of joy and gratitude, not a response fueled by emotivism, but a quiet resolve to contemplate what God has done and to voice heartfelt thanksgiving for it. Worship is the antidote to our own poisonous obsession with self, our propensity to live at the mercy of our circumstances and our ever-changing whims. Worship in the face of great trial is not a denial of our situation. Rather it is God’s invitation to to view the world from his own vantage point, to be with God and find that in all things he is drawing near to us.

This Exuberant Earth

David expresses one final plea, “You’ve always been right there for me; don’t turn your back on me now. Don’t throw me out, don’t abandon me; you’ve always kept the door open” (vv. 9-10). He asks for guidance, he needs God to show him the way. He writes:

Point me down your highway, God;
direct me along a well-lighted street;

And he ends his prayer in one final, resolved, steadfast, radically hopeful expression of trust. Again, what’s remarkable about this ending stanza is that this resolution is not reserved for another life. He finds hope right here in the midst of the confines of this world, this place, amongst these people and these circumstances. He knows that God won’t quit on him and so, grizzled veteran of faith and trust in God that he is, he won’t quit on God. He holds fast to the hope that God’s goodness will reveal itself again, right here in this “exuberant earth.” Don’t quit. God is faithful. In the beautiful translation of Eugene Peterson:

I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
Stay with God.

 

April 7, 2019

Set Free By Worship

Today we’re back with Ronnie Dauber who is a Christian author who lives in Canada with her family. She has written several young adult novels and Inspirational books. Click the header below to read this one at source.

Worship Breaks the Shackles

As exciting as worship can be on Sunday mornings at church, it should never be limited to just Sunday. It should be part of our daily lifestyle that bursts forth because the heart can’t stop singing praises to God. We need to worship continuously because it’s the fuel that keeps us going. As it says in Psalm 22:3, God dwells in the center of our praises, and when we worship God, His presence breaks all the shackles that bind us.

When we only worship God once a week, that is the only time we spend with God to give Him thanks for all He’s done for us, and one hour just isn’t enough time. If we could see all that He’s done to keep us alive and healthy, most of us would fall on our faces and worship Him around the clock. We have so much to be thankful to God for, and it all begins with our salvation. God sent His own Son to come to earth and die on that gruesome cross for our sins. We need to close our eyes and imagine what it was like for Jesus to be beaten and nailed to that cross for you and for me. Then maybe we can get a glimpse of the love that He has for us.

  • But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.—Psalm 13:5

When we worship, the bonds of evil literally break and the evil one flees from us. This is because worship brings God’s presence, and as it says in James 4:7, when we resist the devil—which means we don’t focus on him or the problem he’s brought to us but instead, we focus on God—then that evil one flees from us as fast as he can. So we come to God in worship because with the enemy gone from us, we are free to receive God’s peace and whatever instruction or words God has for us.

We don’t praise God for the problem, nor do we thank Him for giving it to us, but rather, we praise God that He is greater than our problem. As we seek His presence, we ask God if He has allowed this for a particular reason, and if so, to reveal that reason to us. We praise Him for loving us and for saving us, and we praise Him for hearing and answering our prayers. We praise Him for the joy and freedom of being able to praise Him. Then we praise Him again.

  • To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.—Psalm 30:12

We should make time each day to focus on God and praise Him for His goodness and His mercy towards us, for all the blessings in our life, and for our family and friends. It’s good to have a designated time to worship God but this is more for our own sake so that we don’t “forget” to do it. But God is loving and merciful, and He understands the life we live and how it’s not always possible to do the things we set out to do at the time we plan to do them. So we can get around that issue by coming to worship any time during the day or night. It doesn’t really matter, as long as we spend time in worship.

Even so, we can worship God all day long in everything we do. When we eat our meal, we give thanks and praise to God. When we arrive at work safely, we thank God for His hand of protection. When we see someone in need, we help them and pray for them and give God praise for hearing and answering our prayers. When we see a beautiful rose in a garden, we can rejoice in our heart and praise God for His wonderful creation. As believers, we should have our thoughts and mind always directed towards God so that throughout the day we are rejoicing in our heart and praising God.  We don’t need to shout it out for God to hear us. He sees our heart and He knows that we are worshiping Him in Spirit and in truth, and that it’s personal and not done for show. There is no end to praising God throughout the day because He is literally in everything we see!

  • But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”—John 4:23-24

However, there are times when we can’t just stop everything and worship God, but it’s during these times that we especially should worship Him and bring in His presence. We can overcome this, though, by having worship music always playing in the background of our home and car.  The music fills the air with God’s praises so even the stresses we sense are stifled because of the peace that flows from it. It’s good to have worship music playing in the background throughout the day (and night) so that the peace of God is always present, and so that we can be steadily reminded of His love for us.

Most of us can’t listen to music at work but we can listen to it before and after so that we are steadily refilled with God’s peace and joy. The stresses of the world fall off when our spirit is renewed with praise music. Let’s resist the devil! Let’s fill our heart with the peace of God as often as we can so that when we go to bed at night, we know that even though we had jobs to do during the day, we were able to praise God in everything we did. Life is so much better when we celebrate the joy of the Lord whenever we can and let His peace flow through us so that bonds of shackles fall away.

  • But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You.—Psalm 5:11

 


This message was taken from the soon to be released book, The ABC’s for Believers. This book is a devotional that will encourage believers to know God and His amazing love for them. It’s easy to read and understand and will help young and new believers alike to understand what it means to love and follow Jesus and know Him in a very personal way.

March 17, 2019

God and the Human Race

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we feature a first-time writer here. Nick Fisher has been writing at Fuel for Faith since January, 2011. Click the header below to read this at source.

What God Wants

Watching the news; observing people and the affairs of humanity; looking in the mirror and thinking of what I’ve done with my own life, I had to ask my God why He would care at all about the human race…

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4).

Those of us who are Bible believers know that we’re not worthy of God’s love: He gives it because He wants to. He did, after all, send His son to die for us while we were in our fallen state. But why? What could he, an infinite, omnipotent, incredible, beautiful God possibly want that we have or that we are?

I have to say that the answer, humanly speaking, is beyond me. If I were God I would probably just give up on the world and start all over. But as I thought the matter over this morning, for the umpteenth time, what came to mind quite apart from some relevant scriptural statements, were the few souls I’ve known in my life who were genuinely wonderful people-people who were consistently different to everyone else in a good way.

I realized that these people all had certain things in common. They were humble, warm, selfless, kind, loving and thoughtful, and lived a life of service. While no human “deserves” God’s love, humans were designed and made in His image. And perhaps in those divine qualities which a few somehow manage to exhibit there’s a glimpse of that image of God, and a strong indicator of what God through his son Jesus Christ seeks to foster in us, and to fill his heaven with for all eternity.

Worship doesn’t just consist of singing or raising hands, it’s more to do with how we live our lives:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1-2).

Yes, we’re saved by faith in the son of God, because of God’s mercy and grace. But it’s when we consciously live out our faith in truth and genuine love and praise, that we please our Creator, and become the kind of people He wants in his kingdom. How many of us are studying the will of our Father in our lives? Jesus said:

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks(John 4:23 NIV).




Today is also St. Patrick’s Day.

If you would like to read the Prayer of St. Patrick which we featured here in 2013,

click this link

To learn about ten other Irish saints you should know,

click this link.

February 13, 2019

Prayer Attention Deficit

A few months ago we introduced you to whose site is called Feeding on Jesus. The title of this one really caught my eye. Ever tried to start out on a serious prayer quest only to find yourself chasing squirrels?

As usual, click the header below to read this at source.

Overcoming Prayer ADHD

I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me… (Hab. 2:1, ESV).

The other day, I saw a Facebook post that made me smile. It went something along the lines of, “Does anyone else have prayer ADHD? I’m trying to talk to God, my mind wanders, and then I’m like, ‘I’m sorry God, where was I?’”

I am absolutely certain that every single one of us working on growing in spiritual disciplines has experienced this. It can be quite frustrating when our spirit is hungry for God, but our mind seems to have a mind of its own! Daddy God is exceedingly patient with our frailty as beings made from dust. However, if we yearn to hear from Him more regularly, training our mind to focus will be an essential component of our growth towards this goal.

Our verse today from Habakkuk reveals a vital key as we move forward in our listening journey. Here the prophet shares with us his approach to leaning in for God’s voice. We can gather from his description how important our spiritual posture is for maximizing our listening focus. Stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower depicts the attitude of a watchman. The person in this position is alert and on the lookout. He or she is scanning the horizon, watchful. All senses are sharpened in anticipation of some expected sign.

This is how we are to wait on the Lord. With anticipation. Alert. Focused. Leaning in. Eager and expectant. Our spirit says, “I will look out… to see what he will say to me.” Not, “Maybe He’ll feel like communicating with me today. Maybe not. We’ll see.” This kind of biblical posture is not wistful wishing. Rather, it’s full-on expectancy.

Every day of our lives, Daddy wants to impart something to our spirit. What delights His soul the most is to be with us, to commune with us. When we deeply internalize this truth, we will draw near to Him accordingly. The eager willingness of a beloved child who knows she is wanted and welcomed will mark our approach and our listening posture.

This, in turn, will enhance our focus and aid us in our efforts to grow in prayer and concentration. For this reason, Hebrews 11:6 expresses, Anyone who comes to God must believe that he is real and that he rewards those who truly want to find him” (NCV). Daddy wants to gift us with profound conviction of His longing to reward our seeking with more and more of Him.

As you press into His presence, I want to share with you two exercises that have aided me in the process of sharpening and training my listening focus:

  • Ten minutes of silence. You set a timer for the allotted time. Close your eyes. Work on focusing in on the truth that He is real, He is intimately close, and He loves to reward those who yearn to find Him. Ask Him for heightened awareness of His presence. Don’t spend the minutes going through requests or even saying much. Just focus on Him being there with you. On Him as a beautifully attentive Person, as an intimately present Friend. Enjoy Him. Drink Him in. (Sometimes when I do this, I curl up against a back support pillow on my bed, visualizing myself cuddling into His embrace.)
  • Worship song on repeat. Pick a worship song that Holy Spirit is currently using to speak to your heart. Maybe something from the service on Sunday that you really connected with. Or one that you “randomly” woke up hearing in your head (hint: it’s not actually random. It’s Holy Spirit). Put it on and settle into your listening posture. Intentionally push all the noise in your head aside. Aggressively focus into every single word being sung. Oftentimes, joining in with the music and singing along will help you focus. So sing with your entire being to Him. Imagine His eyes gazing on you with deep love as you sing your adoration right to Him.

I find many times that when I am starting out my quiet time, my mind resists coming into focus. This last exercise helps me force it to get into gear. If the whole song went by and I wasn’t able to focus much, I don’t get down on myself. I simply put it on again, and repeat the effort.

Sometimes I will play the same song five or six times, for two possible reasons: One, because I just needed that much help getting focused. Or two, because once I do get focused, Holy Spirit comes in powerfully on that song. It begins to go so deeply inside of me, that I don’t want to stop. His intimacy shows up in a breathtaking way that gets more and more intense with each repetition.

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What about you? What have been some strategies that have helped bring your mind back to center from its wandering ways?


Tomorrow’s blog post doesn’t acknowledge February 14th, so for those of you who are new and may have missed these, here’s a recap of previous Valentine’s Day Devotionals:

November 30, 2018

Delighting in the Way God Works

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Back in May we introduced you to the writing of Melody who has been writing devotions at In Pleasant Places for almost six years. Her blog started from correspondence she was sharing with a friend, as she explained in her story. To read today’s article at her blog, click the title below.

To See More of Our God – Psalm 119:16

“I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.”

Psalm 119:16

This verse compelled a specific prayer of my heart: Lord, may I delight in Your statutes.

Not just obeying them because I know I’m supposed to – although we are to exercise discipline to obey even when we don’t “feel” like it – but seeking to delight in them.

Including the very difficult ones. Those we don’t understand. Those that seem impossible. Those that quite honestly can hurt to follow.

Like forgiving someone who appears unapologetic and unrepentant, with no indication of turning. Who has cut so deeply. May I delight to forgive, even under these circumstances.

Delight not because it is fun or easy, and not because of pride or self-righteousness (which would be sin on my part) – but because it shows me more of the Lord.

Delight because as I feel the deep hurt and wrestle with the decision to forgive, to love, I gain a deeper understanding of my God’s character.

Because this is who our God is. And isn’t that amazing? This is what the Living God, Creator and Ruler of all things – this is what He does. This is what He chooses.

He forgives. He loves. Even at great personal cost. He went through such pain, such suffering, to forgive sinners who had rejected Him and given Him no reason to show mercy. Let alone to show favor, to offer to bring them in as beloved children.

When I am hurt and offended, when I am faced with the command to forgive, to bless, to show compassion, I gain a glimpse of my Savior. Of His choice. Of His greatness and the greatness of His love. The power of it to overcome any desire for retaliation. That He would desire forgiveness and restoration, that He would choose patience in order to give so many the choice to reconcile instead of delivering the justice so rightfully due to them – so rightfully due to me (2 Peter 3:9, 15).

What great, powerful love. What astounding character. What strength to choose forgiveness when it demands so much. This is our God. This is the Savior by whose name we are called. The name above all names, because of what He accomplished on the cross.

We grasp that more deeply when we walk through a situation that brings us even an inkling of His suffering.

This is the delight I see within the statutes of our God, within the commands of how we are to walk through this life…it isn’t just some list of rules. He didn’t outline them in order to make our life difficult. It is insight into who our God is. There is purpose in each command, and it is all for our good and to display His goodness and glory and salvation to the world. So they will see Him.

O Lord, may I delight in Your statutes, delight to follow them, because they show me more of who You are. More of Your character, which is holy, righteous, blameless, faithful, pure, steadfast, and filled with powerful love. May I delight to see You here, and delight to know more deeply how holy and wonderful You are as I follow in Your footsteps. Requiring Your strength to walk in Your ways, because they are so far above my broken, fallen capabilities. Highlighting the great beauty of You and stirring renewed wonder at how You are molding me into Your character, to reflect that beauty in this vessel of clay. So may I delight. Delight to see You. Delight to walk with You in the light, experiencing You in the process, realizing the choices Jesus made as one who was fully human and fully God, and delight to know You more as a result.

March 5, 2018

Vertical Devotionals

There’s a story here. My other blog runs a feature every week where we do a news and opinion roundup called Wednesday Link List. This week, we’re running edition #400, so we went looking to find #1. We located it in early January, 2010, and decided to try the links. One of them was to a blog called More Than Useless, written by Thom Fowler who pastors two churches and also works full-time in retail. There we found he has continued to be faithfully writing ever since, even though we’d lost contact over the years.

So we emailed him (which we don’t usually do) and told him how it all came about and asked if we could use his material here at C201 and asked him to select a few pieces. Today we present you with two of them which are vertical in orientation, in other words, prayer-like in their composition. He describes his process as, “Basically, my blogs are taken from my journal, typed just as I have written them. I open with a short prayer and then read a passage of scripture. After that I usually write whatever I feel the Lord saying to me about the passage.” Click the titles to read at source.

I Have a Tree

Father, thank You for getting me up this morning. It was very tempting to remain in bed but I cannot, my spiritual fitness suffers if I do not take time to regularly meet with You. Thank You for caring so much about my spiritual health, not just this morning but for everything You have done so I can find salvation in You.

20 Timothy, guard what God has entrusted to you. Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. 21 Some people have wandered from the faith by following such foolishness.

1 Timothy 6:20-21

I would ask, Lord that you would help me to guard what You have entrusted to me. Please give me the strength and the courage and the wisdom and the love to proclaim Your Good News to everyone I can.

Our world is replete with “godless, foolish” notions and there is so much banter back and forth. Help me to invest my time, thoughts and efforts wisely – putting my efforts into things worthy of eternity and Your kingdom.

In my mind’s eye, I see an orchard. I have my tree and everyone else has a tree, too. Each of our trees bears a regular harvest and that harvest is impacted by those things with which we feed and nurture our tree. We water and fertilize our trees but we can also graft in branches from other trees as well. All of these contribute to the kind of fruit we will glean from our trees and for that matter, the kind of fruit others will glean as well from our trees.

Lord, my tree is a gift from You – it is my life. I have done good and bad things to my tree but it is what it is. I have freely chosen to do with it as I will. First of all, I am grateful that I have given my tree back to You. You know what is best for its growth. You have trimmed out dead and diseased patches. You have grafted in branches that strengthen me and help me to produce better fruit. I still, quite often, have to interject things that hinder my growth. But You are patient and help me little by little rid them from my life. Lord, help me to guard what You have entrusted to me. Help me to be very careful with what I nurture my tree. My greatest desire is for the Master Gardener to use my tree as He sees fit and that its fruit will nourish others for years to come.

Swept Up into Your Arms

When I call You, Father, that denotes that I am Your child…and there is no better place to be. Life is a big thing. It is full of good things. It is full of bad things. As a child needs a parent to navigate through all the good and the bad in life, I need You.

Prior to writing this morning, I have already processed many things, good and bad. I’ve read of people’s love for each other, the joy of welcoming children into this world and the anticipation of the same. I’ve also read of people’s disregard for the preciousness of life and the audacity they have of expressing that mentality to others…and unfortunately the pain that such words can bring.

As I sit here, I need You Father. Not to just to hold my hand or to pat me on the head but I feel the need to be swept up into Your arms and to bury my face in Your strong shoulder. To be held tight. To feel Your strength…and Your love…Your understanding…Your comfort. Those are the things we so often need. These are the things we crave.

So many of us go through life and we never experience these things. The last part of James 4:2 states,

“You do not have because you do not ask God.”

Father, I am asking and I want to encourage others to ask, as well. You are willing and You are more than able. You can meet every single one of our needs. You can strengthen us for the paths we must tread. And much of that strength is in knowing that You are by our side. May we never forget what a great and awesome Father we have. Amen.

February 15, 2018

Seeing Jesus: Time to Clean Our Glasses?

The effect of seeing Jesus clearly makes a dramatic difference and clears up partial misunderstandings or complete misunderstandings as to who he is and why he came.

by Clarke Dixon

Reading through the Gospel of Mark you may notice a reticence on the part of Jesus to fully reveal his identity. For example:

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Mark 8:27-30 (emphasis added)

Peter gets it right, Jesus is the Messiah! But the disciples are to keep that fact to themselves. We also see the reticence of Jesus to reveal his identity at his “transfiguration” on the mountain. There Jesus’ identity is made even more clear:

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. . . 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. Mark 9:2-4;7,8

Jesus here is confirmed as being more than just the promised Messiah. He is also in some way superior to the law, as represented by Moses, and the prophets, as represented by Elijah. You can imagine the excitement of Peter, James, and John who I’m sure couldn’t wait to tell the others about what they had just seen! But then . . .

9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Mark 9:9-10 (emphasis added)

Why the secrecy? Why didn’t Jesus just tell everyone who he really was on the first day of his ministry? The reason is quite straightforward. Jesus kept his identity quiet because partial understanding can lead to misunderstanding. People had a partial understanding of what to expect from the coming Messiah. Such a partial understanding of the Messiah could quickly turn into misunderstandings about Jesus.

It may have escaped our notice, but is surprising nonetheless, that “Messiah” was not at the top of the list for the identity of Jesus in the mind of the public. Let us read again:

27 [Jesus] asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Mark 8:27,28

While Peter gets it correct, “the Messiah” was not even on the list for people generally, never mind at the top. Why? Because in expecting the Messiah, the people were expecting something different than Jesus. They were expecting a focus on the Kingdom of Israel along with a message of doom for the Romans. Jesus was instead teaching about the Kingdom of God along with a message of repentance for Israel.

Even Peter, immediately following his confession of Jesus as the Messiah, displays this partial understanding:

Mark 8:31-33 (NRSV) 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter is thinking on human things, like the Kingdom of Israel and taking back the land from the Romans. A suffering then dead Messiah is not going to help with that! If Peter is going to misunderstand Jesus’ role as Messiah, everyone else is too.  Jesus immediately tells the people to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow” (v.34) The Messiah was expected to tell them to “pick up the sword and follow”.  A cross meant death by Romans rather than death to Romans. What kind of Messiah would lead us toward our deaths?! Only following the resurrection of Jesus would it all start to make sense.

Since a partial understanding of the Messiah would lead to terrible misunderstandings about Jesus, he keeps quiet publicly about his identity until less than a week before his death.

So what does this have to do with us today? Most people you rub shoulders with know something about Jesus. However, it may be a partial understanding, which can lead to a misunderstanding. Let us consider a few examples:

Partial understanding: Jesus was a great teacher. True!
Misunderstanding: We should only go to Jesus for wisdom.
Full understanding: Jesus is also God the Son, the Saviour. We go to him not just for wisdom, but for salvation.

Partial understanding: Jesus was a prophet. True!
Misunderstanding: Jesus was just one prophet among many.
Full understanding: Jesus is also God the Son, unique in his teaching, his miracles, his claims. He is the only one who could reconcile us to God, and the only one who did.

Partial understanding: Jesus was a man. True!
Misunderstanding: Jesus was only a man.
Full understanding: Jesus is fully man, but also fully God.

Partial understanding: Through Jesus we are saved from hell, from separation from God. True!
Misunderstanding: Salvation from hell is all we need to think about, care about, or sing about.
Full understanding: We are not just saved from the consequence of sin; separation from God, we are also saved from its power as we walk in the Spirit.

This last one is an insight from John Stonestreet and Brett Kunckle in their book A Practical Guide to Culture.
Partial understanding: In Jesus we are “saved from . . . “ True!
Misunderstanding: Now that we have been saved from something, there is nothing for us to do.
Full understanding: We are also “saved for”. We are saved for for relationship with God, and for good works in our relationship with the world and everyone in it.

Do we allow a partial understanding of Jesus lead to misunderstanding? Do we see clearly who Jesus is? Perhaps it is time to clean our glasses.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

The full sermon can be heard here.

See other sermons in this series at Clarke’s blog; look for entries in January and February, 2018

July 17, 2017

Walking with Jesus

NLT Gen 3:8a When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden…

Gen 5:23-24a Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God.

Gen. 6:9b Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.

Sometimes preparation for articles on the other blog result in finding articles that are well suited for use here at C201. That was the case with this piece by Joanna Pierce, writing for the blog of Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Bloomington, Illinois. Each day when we include an article here, we ask you to click through to the original page. To further encourage that, we usually don’t borrow the graphic images the author created for that piece, so your reward is greater when you click through. With this one, we simply had to include their graphic, only to find that it was used on every page of their articles/blog section. It fit this theme so well.

Just a Little Walk with Jesus

There are those perfect days when the sun is shining, the temperature is at a balmy 73° degrees, and the wind is flowing through the atmosphere, providing a cool and pleasant touch to the day. Whether we’re an outdoor or indoor type of person, we all develop an inkling to get outside to enjoy the beautiful weather.

There’s something about taking a stroll down the sidewalk that helps us drink in the day. We can appreciate the warmth of the sun on our skin, the agreeable breeze whisking around our cheeks, and the soft, rhythmic pitter-patter of our footsteps in our ears—an inviting, constant sound in the chaotic melodies of life.

Regardless of if the weather cooperates, it’s still nice to get out and walk! Walking helps us maintain a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally. Wonderful things happen when we walk—our stress is relieved, the release of endorphins makes us emotionally happier, our self-confidence is improved, and we get to enjoy the great outdoors! Even walking with certain people will help improve our mood.

Where we walk, who we walk with, and how we walk, all affect the true benefit of walking. And, while these factors help with our physical life, they also provide spiritual benefits as well.

How does walking help? Just look in the Scriptures!

Genesis tells us about 3 men who walked with the Lord: Adam (3:8), Enoch (5:24), and Noah (6:9). We’re even told that Adam typically walked with God in the cool of the day—he capitalized on the time and temperature of the day to maximize the benefit of walking!

Scripture tells us that these men not only walked physically with the Lord, but they also walked spiritually with the Lord. The word walked is the same Hebrew word in all settings of Scripture in Genesis. Walked literally means to come near and continue with.

Remember when I said where we walk and who we walk with all affect the true benefit of walking? Walking with the devil, or following our own flesh/desires is going to get us into a lot of trouble. I can guarantee this walking isn’t going to have any benefit in our spiritual life. But, when we draw close to God and come near to Him, the benefits are endless.

Coming near to God helps us to develop a close, intimate relationship with Him. Not only will He know us, but we’ll know Him! We’ll cultivate a friendship and love for Him that can’t be found in this world. Enoch walked so closely with God that God took him from this earth (Genesis 5:24). He may have walked right up to heaven with the Lord—we’ll have to wait until Heaven to find out!

When we stay close to someone, they start to rub off on us. We act like they do. When we continue in the presence of God, His Spirit will dwell in our life. That Spirit will help us live a life that’s pleasing to Him; we’ll be able to imitate Christ! Noah was considered perfect in the eyes of the Lord because he walked with Him (Genesis 6:9).

Today, let’s start our daily walks with the Lord. Physical walks may eventually wear out the body, but continued spiritual walking with the Lord will help rejuvenate us for the road ahead. All it takes is just a little walk with Jesus. I promise you’ll quickly see the benefit in your life.


Read more articles at this link

 

 

November 10, 2016

When Jesus Meets Skeptical Minds . . .

pharisees-and-sadducees

by Clarke Dixon

“Get over your skepticism and just have faith.” This might be what we would have expected Jesus to say to the Sadducees regarding their disbelief. They had come to him with an intellectual challenge to the prevalent Jewish belief that the dead would someday be raised to life. They were very conservative in their thinking, preferring the scriptures handed down from Moses, and not paying attention to the revolutionary “wishful thinking” of the later prophets and writers. Moses, they figured, did not have much to say about a resurrection of the dead. So an intellectual challenge is issued to Jesus. What does Jesus say? “Get over your skepticism and just have faith”? Actually, no. Since this might be something we are tempted to say today to someone who demonstrates a skepticism toward Jesus, we should really pay attention to what he does say.

Before we do, let us recognize that skepticism is a necessary and important gift. We all ought to be skeptics. In fact we all tend to be. For example, if I were to tell you that you can fly and that all you need to do is run down the middle of the street shouting “I can fly! I can fly!” would you? Of course not. Why not? Because you are a skeptical person and your skepticism has kept you from doing something foolish. Skepticism often keeps us safe from physical harm, not to mention from delusion and the potential for intellectual harm. A skeptical mind is a gift.

So what does Jesus say instead?

24 Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” Mark 12:24 (NRSV)

According to Jesus, the Sadducees do not have a skepticism problem, they have a knowledge problem. Specifically, they do not know the scriptures or the power of God. This gives us some important insight as to why people reject Jesus today. A skeptical mind may not be the problem. Let’s take a closer look.

The Sadducees do not know the scriptures. As the Sadducees revere the writings from Moses more than any other, Jesus asks them to consider what God said to Moses at the burning bush where God first revealed Himself to Moses:

26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.” Mark 12:26-27 (NRSV)

God did not say “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before they turned back to dust,” but rather “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” that is, “I still am. . . “ So they have not disappeared never to be seen again as the Sadducees assume. Jesus is telling the Sadducees that with their assumptions in place they are not doing a very good job of reading the scriptures. This kind of thing can be said today. There are people who have rejected Jesus because they have not handled the scriptures very well.

Consider, as one example, a common objection I hear to Christianity: “Where did Cain’s wife come from?” A good question, but when you know the scriptures, the wrong question. Consider what we learn from Genesis:

  • Chapters 1 and 2 – God created everything including humanity which he marked out for a special relationship.
  • Chapter 3 – Humanity sinned, breaking that relationship.
  • Chapters 4 through 11 – Though God would have been right to, He has not shut the door on humanity.
  • Chapter 12 – God has a plan to bless humanity and it will be worked through a special people.
  • Chapters 13 through 50 – Hang on, this plan may take a while, but God is involved along the way!

Through Genesis God has communicated exactly the things we need to know. As the Bible says about itself elsewhere, the scriptures “are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2nd Timothy 3:15 NRSV). To expect God to tell us everything and to expect Genesis to read like some super-sized cosmic Twitter feed is to not know the scriptures.

Additionally, many have rejected Jesus without knowing much at all about Him. Many think they have rejected Jesus when they have rejected a caricature of Jesus. This is not skepticism, but a lack of knowledge, specifically, knowledge of the scriptures. When we encounter deep skepticism toward Christianity, a skeptical mind may not be the root problem, but rather a lack of knowing the scriptures.

The Sadducees do not know the power of God. They are stuck in the rut of “we have seen people die and turn to dust.” They do not know the amazing things God can do with dust. Their minds are not open to the activity and potential activity of God the Creator. Again, the problem is not with skepticism, but with knowledge. There are people today who reject Jesus, not because they have skeptical minds, but because they don’t know the power of God; Virgin birth? Impossible! The resurrection of the dead? Can’t happen! A genuine record of revelation? How could we ever trust it hasn’t changed? But if God, Who created everything from nothing, exists, then then these things are possible. Consider the love of God and these things become more than mere possibilities. Keep in mind that no one has ever given good evidence that God does not exist. And of course miracles are a matter of history, not science. When we encounter deep skepticism toward Christianity, a skeptical mind may not be the root problem, but rather a lack of knowing, or being open to, the power of God.

There is something else here which Jesus does not say, but which is implied.

The Sadducees do not know the thrill of a Jesus revolution. The Sadducees do not know the power of God to make the dead live, but they do know the power of Rome to make the living dead. They like the Status quo of Roman power, in fact a revolution could threaten their own power. And here is another reason people reject Jesus; they are not ready for a revolution. A God honouring, Jesus following, Spirit filled life is revolutionary. Anyone can sin. It takes courage to be righteous. Anyone can follow the crowd along a broad path. It takes courage to think different and stay on a narrow path. Anyone can live the status quo. It takes decisiveness to make a change. While most parents hope and pray their teenagers are not rebellious, I hope and pray that mine are. Jesus loving teenagers are the most rebellious and courageous teenagers out there today. When we encounter a deep skepticism toward Christianity, a skeptical mind may not be the root of the problem, but fear of a revolution.

In not knowing the scriptures, the power of God, and the thrill of a revolution,

The Sadducees also miss out on knowing the love of God. The resurrection of the dead will not just be a display of the power of God in fulfillment of the promises of scripture. It will also be a display of the amazing love of God. We do not want anyone to miss out on that love so we will want to always be ready to point people to Jesus. When we encounter skepticism our role is not to tell people to stop thinking and just have faith. Our role is to help people know the scriptures, the power of God, and the necessity and thrill of the revolution, and so to point them to the love of God.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor with Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec. Read today’s entry at source at this link.

August 24, 2016

How Idols Take Us Out of the Race

by Clarke Dixon

What is the harm in a few idols? As long as you keeping coming back to do “the God thing” from time to time, right? Some church attendance, some Bible reading, some prayer, some sort of religious something. As long as we do that a little idol worship in our lives is not a bad thing, right? In Ezekiel chapter 14 we learn of some idol worshipping leaders who come to Ezekiel to “do the God thing.” We can paraphrase God’s response with one word: “really?” Said with a very sarcastic tone of course. Idolatry  is a ridiculous thing to do and in Ezekiel chapters 14 and 15 we learn of three reasons why God’s people in Ezekiel’s day should commit themselves fully to the Lord. These three reasons still hold true for us today. So what are they?

First, idolatry creates distance in our relationship with God. Consider:

Therefore speak to them, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any of those of the house of Israel who take their idols into their hearts and place their iniquity as a stumbling block before them, and yet come to the prophet—I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols,  in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, all of whom are estranged from me through their idols.
  Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For any of those of the house of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who separate themselves from me, taking their idols into their hearts. . .  (Ezekiel 14:4-7 emphasis mine)

Keep in mind that as Christians we are under a covenant of grace, and so no matter what kind of distance we may put between ourselves and the Lord, we can no more change our child-of-God status any more than a spat with my Dad would make my Dad no longer my father. Through Jesus God has given us the right to become children of God. But estranged children we can surely become through idolatry.

Distance between ourselves and the Lord is most unfortunate. The way many Christians treat their relationship with God is like an athlete, a runner, who goes to a newly assigned coach and says “can you give me money for new running shoes please? That is all I want from you.” We do this when we have an attitude of “Lord, just get me to heaven please, Oh, and make life perfect until then too.” The coach responds with “I have something far greater for you: my time, my attention, my attentiveness to how you are running, my expertise in training and running, my wisdom, indeed I offer you me. I offer you a relationship with me.” The Lord offers us a relationship and all the while we cry out “just get us the shoes.” Idolatry makes us content with the hope of heaven as we miss the fact that we are missing out on God.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. (John 15:9)

Second, idolatry leads us down a path of evil. Consider:

Mortal, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and placed their iniquity as a stumbling block before them; shall I let myself be consulted by them?  Therefore speak to them, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any of those of the house of Israel who take their idols into their hearts and place their iniquity as a stumbling block before them, and yet come to the prophet—I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols,  in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, all of whom are estranged from me through their idols.
  Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.  For any of those of the house of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who separate themselves from me, taking their idols into their hearts and placing their iniquity as a stumbling block before them, and yet come to a prophet to inquire of me by him, I the Lord will answer them myself. (Ezekiel 14:3-7 emphasis mine)

IdolsIdolatry makes us comfortable with the abominable. It makes what is awfully wrong seem OK, or even good. Like, an athlete that cheats. Cheating through drugs seems OK, good even, if winning is the only thing. But if winning with integrity is important, then that is a different story. Idols kill our perspective on sin. Consider how the idol of Social Darwinism makes the elimination of a particular race seem OK, good even if you are Hitler. People become comfortable with the abominable. Consider how the idolatry of sex makes some comfortable with adultery or even rape. Consider how the idolatry of people can make a person comfortable with stalking. Though we need sensitivity here, consider how the idolatry of personal rights makes people comfortable with terminating life in the womb.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . . . (Hebrews 12:1)

Third, idolatry makes us useless. Consider:

The word of the Lord came to me:

 O mortal, how does the wood of the vine surpass all other wood—
the vine branch that is among the trees of the forest?
  Is wood taken from it to make anything?
Does one take a peg from it on which to hang any object?
  It is put in the fire for fuel;
when the fire has consumed both ends of it
and the middle of it is charred,
is it useful for anything?
  When it was whole it was used for nothing;
how much less—when the fire has consumed it,
and it is charred—
can it ever be used for anything! (Ezekiel 15:1-5)

While I am enjoying the pre-teen and teen stages my boys are in I must admit to missing certain things from their younger years, like Thomas the Tank Engine. I do not, however, miss the Teletubbies. Thomas was not a fast engine, or a big engine, or even a pretty engine, but he was a useful engine. Practically every episode had some reference to Thomas being or becoming “a very useful engine.” As Christians we are called to be useful, to be fruitful:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4,5)

Idolatry keeps us from fully abiding in the vine, in Christ. Idolatry makes us fruitless, and useless. Idolatry would be like Usain Bolt running his competition in dress shoes, or Michael Phelps competing with water wings. It does not help get the job done.

So what if we find ourselves more like spiritual couch potatoes than spiritual Olympians? Is there any hope for us when idolatry has sidelined us form the race? Yes, there is opportunity to get back on track. God wants us on track:

I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols,  in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel (Ezekiel 14:4-5 emphasis mine)

When we are on the wrong track the opportunity is given to “turn around”, a Hebrew word in the Old Testament often translated as “repent”. Consider:

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. (Ezekiel 14:6 emphasis mine)

When some people hear that word “repent” they automatically  respond with something like “how dare you tell me I need to repent! How dare you not accept me as I am!” In fact the call to repentance has nothing to do here with acceptance of who you are. It has to do with you not accepting the horrible situation you are in, not accepting that you are estranged form God, not accepting that idolatry has led you down a path of evil, and not accepting that being useless has become your status quo. Repentance is a very positive opportunity to re-evaluate and make positive changes. Athletes do it all the time as a matter of getting back on track. When idolatry takes hold, perhaps you and I should listen to God’s Holy Spirit and do likewise?

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. (1 Cor 9:24)

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Source for this article
Link to Clarke’s website

May 25, 2015

When Love Output Exceeds Love Input

Matt. 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

We make a point to try to revisit writers who have appeared here before. Such is the case with Mark McIntyre at the blog Attempts at Honesty. To read this at source, click the title below.

water pumpLove, duty and honor

When a pump tries to put out more water than it takes in, it experiences a condition called cavitation. The end result is that the internal turbulence caused by the cavitation tears up the pump and eventually renders the pump useless. The pump only works well when it takes in as much as it tries to put out.

I find a cavitating pump a fitting metaphor for what I’ve observed in churches over the years. The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:19 that we love because God loved us first. John also tells us in John 13:35 that love is to be the distinguishing mark of the church. Jesus himself told us that the two great commands are to love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40).

We are commanded to love, but the source of that love must be God himself. I have firsthand experience of what happens when the church tries to convey love without relying on God as the source of that love.

Without reliance upon God as the source of love, the church (and the individuals that make up the church) tends to replace love with duty or honor. Duty is a sense of responsibility to others. Honor is an attempt at maintaining a reputation. One is focused outward the other is focused inward.

Both duty and honor are good things in themselves. There is nothing wrong with having a proper sense of responsibility to our fellow man. I see the connection between duty and fulfillment of the second command to love your neighbor. There is also nothing wrong with wanting to have a good reputation. One of the qualifications that the Apostle Paul gives us for a church leader is that he is to be a man of good reputation (1 Timothy 3:2).

The problem is that even these good things are no substitute for experiencing and conveying the love that God has for us. Duty without love becomes a hard, unyielding taskmaster. How many times have I seen people “serving” in church with little joy and even less fruit? Duty without love produces zombie Christians who lurch around but are not fully alive.

Honor without love becomes narcissistic or forces one into very superficial relationships. I cannot let you too near to me if I want to maintain the illusion that I have everything under control. Therein lies the pressure to be superficial. The narcissistic tendency manifests itself in the “look at me” aspect that rears it’s head in churches. People want to be seen “doing ministry” and get hooked on the affirmation that it provides. The smiling face may hide an ugly heart.

Perhaps we all have an inclination toward these false foundations. But I find that when I am properly connected with the love of God, I want to serve those around me because I want them to experience the same sense of God that I have. When I am properly connected with the love of God, I don’t have to worry about my reputation. If I am following God, my reputation will take care of itself. Also, if I am experiencing the love of God, I don’t have to worry that you will see my failures and weaknesses. God knows all about my failures and loves me anyway.

As with the cavitating pump, failure to allow the love of God to be the driving force and the content of our message will cause a life to eventually fall apart. If you have any doubts about this, I point you toward the most chilling words that Jesus ever uttered in Matthew 7:21-23. In this passage Jesus tells us that many who worked for duty and honor will not find entry into Heaven. It is only those who have been in relationship with him and have experienced his love and forgiveness will gain entry.

The stakes are very, very high.

 

December 8, 2014

How We Think About God

Peter Enns is a renown theologian and Biblical scholar who has experienced both accolades and controversy. In this simple article he published last week — click the title below to read at his blog — he presents ten scripture passages that he feels have informed his picture of God. What verses would you add to the list?

10 New Testament passages that shape how I think about God

1. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his suffering by becoming like him in his death… (Phil 3:10). Both suffering and resurrection—times of great difficulty and times of triumph—are expected and normal parts of the Christian life.

2. …unless you change and become like children… (Matt 18:3). As children trust their parents with no thought of an alternative, Christians are called to trust God—which is both comforting and challenging.

3. …do not worry about your life…look at the birds…consider the lilies… (Matt 7:25-34). Worry should be as impossible for followers of Christ as it is for birds and plants, which by definition are incapable of worry.

4. …the truth will make you free… (John 8:32). The truth—knowing Christ—will make you free, namely free from yourself to be free toward God.

5. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us… (1 John 4:12). The difficult and often counter-intuitive act of loving one another is the closest we get to seeing God.

6. But while he was still far off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran… (Luke 15:20). The parable of the lost (or, mistakenly, “prodigal”) son. The father has no thought of judgment toward the son, only welcome…and he can’t wait to get started.

7. …your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). Intimacy (union) with God is the present reality and hoped for goal of the Christian life.

8. …there is no longer Jew or Gentile…slave or free…male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). What humans use to divide between each other for power and control—ethnicity, economy, gender—mean nothing to God.

9. Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? (John 8:10). Whereas our tendency is to punish and exact holy retribution, Jesus shows us that God’s default mode is to forgive and encourage us to move on and begin anew.

10. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… on either side of the river is the tree of life… Rev 21:1; 22:2). The entire biblical story is summed up. The Bible ends where it begins; creation is restored. Everything else in between, God’s story as a whole from Abraham to Christ, is about how God makes that happen.

November 13, 2014

Are Your Prayers Too Polite?

Today’s post is by Christel Humfrey and appeared at the blog True Woman a few days ago. To read this at source, click the title below and then take some time to look around the rest of the blog.

Is Politeness Killing Your Prayer Life?

Christians in North America are generally polite pray-ers. We tend to pray correct, respectful words that we think God wants to hear. But let’s be honest, many of our prayers are tentative, repetitive, and somewhat boring.

prayer requestsI’m all for politeness with acquaintances. But real relationships require more. If my husband only spoke distant and polite words to me, our relationship would wither and die. I want to hear his struggles, his fears, his anger, and his joys. I want to process with him, not just hear his conclusions. I want him to trust me.

Intimate relationships require authentic feelings. Our innermost thoughts—however wrong or immature—are shared in trust. So why do we keep God at arm’s length? Are we trying to be something we are not? Are we afraid to trouble Him? God is our Father, yet we often treat Him like a distant relative.

Be Authentic in Prayer

Recently, I was reading through Jeremiah, and I was struck by how real his prayers were. He didn’t pretty up his words. He prayed heartfelt words. He brought his complaints to God and pleaded with Him.

“Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jer. 12:1)

“Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” (Jer. 20:18)

“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved” (Jer. 17:4).

What if we prayed what we really felt? Our words would come as no surprise to God, but we may be humbled when our foolish thoughts become words. Sometimes we feel things but can’t really define or understand them until we speak them out loud. So we vent them to friends or shove them down deep not wanting to trouble God with our “little” cares. We make a critical mistake when we don’t bring our troubles immediately to God. Not only does He care, but He also has the power to change things.

Prayer brings us to a vulnerable place. We lay bare our hearts to God in prayer. Our carefully created persona is peeled back until we stand naked and exposed before a holy God. This is an uncomfortable—no, terrifying—thought without Christ’s blood shed on our behalf. There is no pretending with God. He knows our thoughts before we speak them (Ps. 139:4). Every hair on our head is numbered (Matt. 10:30). He knows us. The real us.

But the Christian can approach the Father with boldness (Heb. 4:16, Rom. 5:2). We are beloved children, not distant employees. We don’t need to fear Him because the cross happened. Christ paid the penalty for our sin and clothed us in His own righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). So we take an uncomfortable leap of faith, not because we have confidence in ourselves, but because Christ is trustworthy, and God has adopted us as His own.

Expect to Be Changed

When we bring our complaints and requests before our heavenly Father, something unexpected happens. We come to Him hoping for a change of circumstances and leave with a new perspective. We are changed by prayer. We see this pattern often in the Psalms. A complaint turns to praise through the course of prayer. If we apply this template to our own prayer lives, we may be surprised by the fruit it bears.

When it’s just you and God in private prayer, why not be brutally honest? You can trust Him with your heart because He cares for you. Authentic prayer deepens communion. It grows assurance and inflames love. Go ahead and jump in the deep end with God. Polite prayer may be more comfortable, but authentic prayer transforms hearts.

Do you feel free to be honest with God in prayer? If you stopped being polite, what would you say to God?

True Woman blog is a ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Written by Christel Humfrey. Used with permission. Copyright © 2008-2012. All Rights Reserved http://www.truewoman.com

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