Christianity 201

January 19, 2019

Some Analogies from Photography

Today we’re paying a return visit to the website Truth or Tradition, sponsored by Spirit and Truth Fellowship International. The first article is more elementary, but is a good setup for the second. Both are so very well written.

Where is Your Focus?

If you have time and have never thought about the analogies in scripture to light and lenses click the title above and read this devotional first. Click the title below to read the second article at source.

Why focus is Important

…In a good photograph, the subject is in focus and the viewer’s eyes are drawn to that spot in the picture, seeing the statement the photographer is trying to make. In our Christian walk, we have to make sure we are focused on the right subject so that our life reflects the image of Christ that dwells in us. A camera records an image by the light reflected off the subject, back through the lens where it is captured on film or a digital sensor; it records the subject we focus on. Jesus stayed focused on his Heavenly Father so well that Colossians 1:15 says that He is the image of the invisible God.”  

The Importance of Lighting 

For good focus to be achieved, you need good light. Modern cameras have auto-focus, but if there is insufficient light, the camera will not focus correctly. One of the ways the word “light” is used in scripture is as an idiom to represent the knowledge and wisdom from God. Psalm 119:105 says Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Jesus was a man who was well-versed in the Old Testament scriptures. When he was being tempted in the desert by the Devil, he countered each temptation with it is written (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus hadn’t eaten for forty days during this account, and was tired and hungry. If anyone had an excuse to become unfocused, Jesus did. This is a great example of how using the light of God’s word allowed Jesus to stay focused and achieve victory over the temptations the Devil had set before him.  

Hebrews 12:2 

…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the leader and finisher of our trust, who, because of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, thinking nothing of the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

What Do We Focus On? 

With all the distractions in life, it’s easy to get focused on the wrong thing. Jesus Christ is the subject of God’s word from Genesis to Revelation, and that should be a clear message of “what” we need to focus on. Subsequently Christ, in his life and ministry, stayed focused on God’s will, which was to conquer sin and death and make life right again just as He intended it when He first created mankind in Eden. Jesus is our example of how to stay focused on the right thing, we can focus on him by studying his life as it is recorded in Scripture. 

The “joy” that was set before Christ was a picture of a Kingdom here on earth that he would rule in peace and justice—a kingdom where there is plenty of food, safety, health, and ultimately, no more death. Because Christ was so focused on this picture, he was able to endure the torturous death of the cross along with the shame and pain that he suffered. God asks us to stay focused by “fixing our eyes on Jesus. Christ is the epitome, or that perfect example, of a particular quality or type; he is the subject of our focus in our walk of trust.  

Quality of Light 

The quality of light is also important. Photographers know about the “golden hours,” that time of day just after sunrise and just before sunset when the sun is low in the sky and the quality of light is at its best. They also use flashes and studio lights with their camera to eliminate harsh shadows and to illuminate the subject so that the image is the best representation of who or what that subject is. Sadly, much of Christianity today presents God in poor light—such as with the common saying that “all things happen for a reason.” When many Christians make that statement, what they mean is that “God is in control of everything that happens.” That presents God as a shadowy figure who is very arbitrary, who can bless us one minute and destroy us the next. That is not the God of Scripture.  

1 John 1:5 says that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. And 1 John 4:16 says that God is love. One of Satan’s strategies is to “shoot” God in poor light, as a shadowy figure who is untrustworthy. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says that the Adversary disguises himself as an angel of light. His purpose is to keep us from “shining forth the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, which represents the true image of God to the unsaved world. 

2 Corinthians 4:4 

…in whom the god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, to keep them from seeing and shining forth the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

1 John 3:8 says that The Son of God appeared for this purpose: to destroy the works of the Slanderer.1 Timothy 2:4 teaches that God, wants everyone to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of the truth. That “full knowledge of the truth” is the quality light that reveals the true nature of God.   

The Depth of Field 

Another element in photography is the f-stop. The “f” stands for focal ratio. This setting controls the pupil in the lens of a camera and determines how much is in focus in a picture. Portrait photographers are very aware of this setting because it controls what is called “depth of field.” If all the objects in a picture are in focus, this can make for a confusing picture. The subject can get lost in all the background details. Using a shallow depth of field blurs out the distracting details in the background and brings the true subject forward in a picture.  

There is a great example in the Gospel of Luke 8:40-48 of Jesus doing this very thing. The fame of Jesus Christ had spread throughout Israel by this time. Many believed he was the promised Messiah and in this account, a crowd surrounded him and his disciples and were pressing in to see and touch him. At one point, Jesus said, Someone touched me.” Peter turned to him and replied, “Thank you, Captain Obvious. We’re in the middle of a crowd. Of course someone touched you!” But Jesus was not distracted by the crowd. He focused in on the real subject: a woman who was suffering from menstrual issues and had been bleeding for twelve years. She had also spent all of her income on doctors, but they were unable to help her. This woman knew the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. She believed that if she touched the folds of his robe, she would be healed. In the middle of all this confusion, Jesus stopped and said, Daughter, your trust has made you whole. Go in peace. It’s easy to become unfocused by all the background distractions that life presents, but staying focused by zooming in on the real issues, just as Jesus did in this instance, will keep us centered in our walk of trust in God and His Son.   

Producing a Good Image 

We all project an image. We do it with words and deeds in our interactions with others. For the most part that image depends on what we focus on. Mankind was created in the image of God, but we have the freedom of will to project that image or not. As His children, God asks us to put off the old sin nature and put on the new one that is created in us through the gift of holy spirit. That new nature bears the image of the One who created it in us. 

Colossians 3:9-10 

Never lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self that is being renewed to a true knowledge that is in accord with the image of the one who created it.  

Photography is a learned craft. It takes consideration of all the elements involved to produce a good image. With digital photography, an image is further developed with software in what is called “post processing.” With film, it takes time and skill to develop a quality image. It’s taken me years to hone my photography skills, but over time my ratio of good photos to bad ones has improved. This is also true when developing the image of God that we project. It’s something we have to practice every day, but by staying focused on our Lord Jesus Christ, that image should develop and become clearer as we progress in our walk of trust. 

2 Corinthians 3:18 

And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same appearance, from glory into glory, even as from the Lord who is the Spirit. 

 The final glory we will be transformed into will occur when our Lord appears at the Rapture, and as 1 John 3:1 says, Beloved, we are children of God now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when it is revealed, we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is.” Our focus should not be limited to the Jesus of the Four Gospels; it should also include the risen Lord who is seated at the right hand of God, far above all might and dominion, and who some day in the future will transform us into that “same appearance.” 

We will never perfect the image of Christ in us in this lifetime because of the sin nature we struggle against. But as we stay focused on the subject, who is Jesus Christ, and as we illuminate the “subject” with the true light of God’s word, and as we use the proper depth of field to eliminate distractions, we will reflect the glory of Christ who is the image of the true God.

 

 

January 9, 2019

The One Who Has Faith is Never Insignificant

Each year we revisit the devotional page at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. There are many great insights here from a variety of writers. The author of this piece is Don Lipsett. Click the title below to read at source.

(In)significant

Luke 8:42b-45aAs Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. (NIV)

Imagine the scene that day: Jesus, the Man who did miracles and spoke powerfully — unlike any other — was making His way down the street, surrounded by His disciples and a noisy, jostling crowd. Everyone was trying to get close to Him, to be seen with Him, to hear His words, or ask a question. In the dust and commotion, the woman just hoped to touch the outer hem of His robe. She was seemingly so insignificant in that whole chaotic scene, unnoticed — except by Jesus.

Do you remember about the day when the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, met Jesus?

Mark 10:46-52Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (NIV)

Here also we find weakness, faith, and hope, face to face with the Saviour.

These incidents touch us, I believe, in their revealing how Jesus responds to faith, and to those who humbly seek. No one is insignificant to Him.

Perhaps for many of us, our contributions to and work for God’s kingdom may seem to be insignificant in the big scheme of things, or in the monotony of daily life. However, Jesus’ call to us is to be faithful. Even if our circumstances may be limiting, we can pray, and maybe, there are yet little ways that we can share God’s love and the gospel with family, friends, neighbours, strangers, or even enemies. In little things and details, people can see, and wonder, and be moved by the Holy Spirit.

As the Lord said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.(Matthew 25:40 NIV)

Prayer: God of grace and mercy, fill our weakness with Your strength, and give us faithful hearts that we may “not grow weary while doing good” (Galatians 6:9a NKJV). We ask this in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

January 7, 2019

Scripture and the Road to God

NIV Ex. 21.23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

NIV Lev.24.19 Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.

NIV Mat.5.38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

Today’s thoughts are from author Richard Rohr. It was forwarded to us by someone who I believe subscribes to Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation. Because he is a Franciscan, is very ecumenical, and leans heavily into meditative and contemplative practices, he is considered controversial by conservative Evangelical standards. Nonetheless, I’ve made a deliberate choice to share this short devotional with you today which both I, and the person who sent it to us, found helpful.*

Midrash

More than telling us exactly what to see in the Scriptures, Jesus taught us how to see, what to emphasize, and also what could be de-emphasized or ignored. Beyond fundamentalism or literalism, Jesus practiced a form that the Jewish people called midrash, consistently using questions to keep spiritual meanings open, often reflecting on a text or returning people’s questions with more questions. It is a real shame that we did not imitate Jesus in this approach. It could have saved us from so many centuries of righteousness, religious violence, and even single-issue voting.

Rather than seeking always certain and unchanging answers, the Jewish practice of midrash allows many possibilities, many levels of faith-filled meaning—meaning that is relevant and applicable to you, the reader, and puts you in the subject’s shoes to build empathy, understanding, and relationship. It lets the passage first challenge you before it challenges anyone else. To use the text in a spiritual way—as Jesus did—is to allow it to convert you, to change you, to grow you up as you respond: What does this ask of me? How might this apply to my life, to my family, to my church, to my neighborhood, to my country?

While biblical messages often proceed from historical incidents, the actual message does not depend upon communicating those events with perfect factual accuracy. Spiritual writers are not primarily journalists. Hebrew rabbis and scholars sometime use the approach of midrash to reflect on a story and communicate all of its underlying message. Scripture can be understood on at least four levels: literal meaning, deep meaning, comparative meaning, and hidden meaning.

The literal level of meaning doesn’t get to the root and, in fact, is the least helpful to the soul and the most dangerous for history. Deep meaning offers symbolic or allegorical applications. Comparative study combines different texts to explore an entirely new meaning. Finally, in traditional Jewish exegesis, hidden meaning gets at the Mystery itself. Midrash allows and encourages each listener to grow with a text and not to settle for mere literalism, which, of itself, bears little spiritual fruit. It is just a starting point.

Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver. [1]

This statement from Aquinas was drilled into me during seminary. People at different levels of maturity will interpret the same text in different ways. There is no one right way to interpret sacred texts. How you see is what you see; the who that you bring to your reading of the Scriptures matters. Who are you when you read the Bible? Defensive, offensive, power-hungry, righteous? Or humble, receptive, and honest? Surely, this is why we need to pray before reading a sacred text!

Jesus consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalist texts in his own inspired Hebrew Bible in favor of passages that emphasized inclusion, mercy, and honesty. For example, referencing two passages from Exodus (21:24) and Leviticus (24:20), Jesus suggested the opposite: “You have heard it said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you . . . turn the other cheek” (see Matthew 5:38-39). He read the Scriptures in a spiritual, selective, and questioning way. Jesus had a deeper and wider eye that knew which passages were creating a path for God and which passages were merely cultural, self-serving, and legalistic additions.


References:
[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, 75, 5. Original sentence: Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . .: Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media: 2013), x-xi; and

Hierarchy of Truths: Jesus’ Use of Scripture (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), CD, MP3 download.


* This is actually the third time Fr. Richard Rohr’s writings have appeared here; the other two being:

October 30, 2018

Andrew Murray on Humility

Today I was led to consider publishing an excerpt from the writing of Andrew Murray, and in preparation for this, I read several different excerpts on several different websites. I settled on this one. It appears at the website Soul Shepherding with a longer introduction, so again, you’re encouraged to click the title below and read this at source.

Jesus’ Humility: The Beauty of Holiness

Humility in the Life of Jesus

An Excerpt from Humility: The Beauty of Holiness by Andrew Murray (written in 1896).

In the Gospel of John we have the inner life of our Lord laid open to us. Jesus speaks frequently of his relation to the Father, of the motives by which he is guided, of his consciousness of the power in which he acts. Though the word humble does not occur, we shall nowhere in Scripture see so clearly where his humility consisted…

In Jesus we shall see how both as the Son of God in heaven, and as man upon earth, he took the place of entire subordination, and gave God the honor and the glory which is due to him. And what he taught so often was made true to himself: “He who humbles himself shall be exalted.” As it is written [of Jesus], “He humbled himself! therefore God highly exalted him.”

Jesus Said, “I Am Nothing, the Father is Everything.”

Listen to the words in which our Lord speaks of his relation to the Father, and see how unceasingly he uses the words not, and nothing, of himself. The not I, in which Paul expresses his relation to Christ [“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Gal. 2:20], is the very spirit of what Christ says of his relation to the Father. [In the words of Paul, Jesus’ attitude is, “I live, yet not I, but the Father lives in me.”]

  • The Son can do nothing of himself” (John 5:19).
  • I can of my own self do nothing; My judgment is just, because I seek not my own will” (John 5:30).
  • I receive not glory from men” (John 5:31).
  • I have come not to do my own will” (John 6:38).
  • My teaching is not mine” (John 7:16).
  • I have not come of myself” (John 7:28).
  • I do nothing of myself” (John 8:28).
  • I have not  come of myself, but He sent me” (John 8:42).
  • I seek not my own glory” (John 8:50).
  • The words that I say, I speak not from myself” (John 14:10).
  • The word which you hear is not mine” (John 14:24).

These words open to us the deepest roots of Christ’s life and work. They tell us how it was that the Almighty God was able to work his mighty redemption work through him. They show what Christ counted the state of heart which [fit] him as the Son of the Father… He was nothing, that God might be all… Of his own power… will… glory… mission… works… teaching… he said, It is not I; I am nothing; I have given myself to the Father to work; I am nothing, the Father is all.

Jesus’ Humility Before God Made Him Humble Before People Too

This life of entire [self-relinquishment], of absolute submission and dependence upon his Father’s will, Christ found to be one of perfect peace and joy. He lost nothing by giving all to God. God honored his trust, and did all for him, and then exalted him to his own right hand in glory.

And because Christ had thus humbled himself before God, and God was ever before him, he found it possible to humble himself before people too, and to be the Servant of all. His humility was simply the surrender of himself to God, to allow him to do in him what he pleased, whatever people around him might say of him or do to him…

The Indwelling Christ Makes us Humble

We must learn of Jesus, how he is meek and lowly if heart. He teaches us where true humility takes its rise and finds its strength — in the knowledge that it is God who works all in all, that our place is to yield to him in perfect resignation and dependence, in full consent to be and to do nothing of ourselves. This is the life Christ came to reveal and to impart — a life to God that came through death to sin and self. If we feel that this life is too high for us and beyond our reach, it must but the more urge us to seek it in him; it is the indwelling Christ who will live in us this life, meek and lowly…

Every child of God… is nothing but a vessel, a channel, through which the living God can manifest the riches of his wisdom, power, and goodness. The root of all virtue and grace, all faith and acceptable worship, is that we know that we have nothing but what we receive, and bow in deepest humility to wait upon God for it.

It was because this humility was not only a temporary sentiment, wakened up and brought into exercise when he thought of God, but was the very spirit of his whole life, that Jesus was just as humble in his intercourse with people as with God… He never for a moment thought of seeking his own honor, or asserting his power to vindicate himself. His whole spirit was that of a life yielded to God to work in…

Study the Humility of Jesus

Study the humility of Jesus as the very essence of his redemption, as the very blessedness of the life of the Son of God, as the only true relation to the Father, and therefore as that which Jesus must give us if we are to have any part with him…

Friend, are you clothed with humility? Ask your daily life. Ask Jesus. Ask your friends. Ask the world. And begin to praise God that there is opened up to you in Jesus a heavenly humility of which you have hardly known, and through which a heavenly blessedness you possibly have never yet tasted can come into you.

 

October 21, 2018

The Ten Commandments in the New Testament

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Ruth Wilkinson

A group of us decided recently to read Andy Stanley’s book Irresistible, which is the focus of some controversy right now. And, yeah, I found it somewhat challenging.

Challenge accepted. If my life is not to be governed by, for example, the Ten Commandments, but I know that they were there for a reason at the time, I needed to find out for myself how those principles and taboos turned up in the teachings of Jesus and in the letters to the early church.

Whether, and if so how, they were taught and exemplified by my brothers and sisters in The Way.

Here’s what I found:

***

You have heard it said:

Do not have other gods besides Me.

And?

  • Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

John 14:6

  •  From that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him. Therefore Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.”

 John 6:66-68

So?

I look only to Jesus, and through Him to the Father.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.

And?

  •  “If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Matthew 19:21, 22

  • The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things.

Acts 17:24, 25

So?

I’m called to avoid worshipping things I can touch and shape, things that are created by the One who created me. Even when those things are in my bank account.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name.

And?

  • Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in My name welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me, but Him who sent Me.”

Mark 9:37

  • “I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.”

John 15:16

So?

If I am called by His name, I act in His name. And in His name I welcome, embrace, grow and bear fruit.

***

You have heard it said:

 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labour six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work.

And?

  • Then He told them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27

  • Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

So?

I’m not obliged to sit idle on a particular day, but a day has been carved out for me to be free to rest. And the greatest rest of all is to be found in following the one who calls me.

***

You have heard it said:

Honour your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

And?

  • Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honour.

Romans 10:12

  • Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:27

So?

The family I find myself in, the family of the Church, is one in which I have the joy and the challenge of stepping back from my own self importance, and learning to serve, to honour, to elevate those around me. Especially the vulnerable.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not murder.

And?

  • “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, ‘Do not murder,and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

Matthew 5:21-22

  • None of you, however, should suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler. But if anyone suffers as a “Christian,” he should not be ashamed but should glorify God in having that name.

1 Peter 4:15

So?

To indulge in the luxury of hatred not only wounds those around us, it wounds us. We carry the name of Christ. And His love is our standard.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not commit adultery.

And?

  •  “But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

Mark 10:6-9

  •  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:27-28

So?

Adultery is a broken covenant. A tearing of flesh. A death of the heart. I have no right to kill a living promise.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not steal.

And?

  • The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.

Ephesians 4:28

  • But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much!”

Luke 19:8

So?

Honest work is an opportunity to share my time, my ability and my earnings. A chance to err on the side of relationship and generosity.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not give false testimony against your neighbour.

And?

  • You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:43

  • Since you put away lying, speak the truth, each one to his neighbour, because we are members of one another.

Ephesians 4:25

So?

I put away dishonesty and speak truth, because my job is, as far as I am able, to love and to live in peace with my ‘neighbour’, which means everybody.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not covet your neighbour’s house…. or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

And?

  • Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them.

Mark 11:24

  • I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.

Philippians 4:12

So?

I stop looking around to see what I might be missing out on, and start looking up to the Father for what I actually need.

***

October 7, 2018

The Heavens Announce: “God’s Got This!”

This is the first time featuring the author of “A Contemplative Heart” who we think (maybe?) is from Canada!

Click the title below to read at source.

Of the sky and my gaze

I’m not always good with surprises. Gift surprises – great. Shifting plans surprises – much less great. My mind starts whirling. What could happen? What could go wrong? How come my mind never asks “What could go right?” At heart, am I really a pessimist with regards to my plans and change? 

The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. Psalm 97:6 (NIV)

The heavens announce that he’ll set everything right, And everyone will see it happen – glorious! Psalm 97:6 (MSG)

 The author of Psalm 97 had a much better view than I usually do. His eyes weren’t on himself. If he was noticing the heavens, then his eyes were not fixed on the present. They weren’t fixed on circumstances – the rightness or wrongness of the moment. They weren’t fixed on how excited or nervous, joyful or angry he felt.

His eyes were focused upward. Gaze fixed on the heavens above him.

I wonder what he saw? Was it the morning and he had just gotten up and was wondering what the day had for him? He watched the sun make its way up over the horizon. The sky a wash of reds, oranges and yellows. Was it the middle of the day and he needed a break from his work? He looked up and the sky was clear. Majestic blue spreading out to the horizon. Or was the sky filled with clouds, the premonition of rain and a storm waiting to be unleashed. Was it evening and the meal’s residue was being cleared away and he happened to glance out the window? The sky speckled with millions of stars all twinkling down. Regardless of the kind of sky he saw, God’s glory was on display. It could not be missed.

Sometimes, I let the sky dictate my mood. Grey and overcast – somewhat grumpy and gloomy. Brilliant blue – joyful and fun. Stormy – uncertain and unsettled. Rain or snow – wanting to stay home with a cup of tea and a good book.

That’s not God’s intention for me. Instead, the sky is the canvas of reminders that God’s got this! He knows the sun that is needed for life to be sustained, plants to grow, people to thrive. He knows the rain needed for plants to bring forth their crop and the earth to be watered. He knows that snow provides the perfect carpet to cover the ground and give it a rest even as I anxiously await the melting of spring. He knows. He’s not surprised. He’s not mistaken or confused. The sky is another reminder of His beauty on display. A testament of His care for all He has made.

God, make me a sky watcher. I want my gaze fixed on You. I want to notice how you provide for each detail of my life. I want to be focused on You and what You are doing. Your plan is better and more wonderful than I can imagine. You are the one to “set everything right.” Thank you! Amen.


Behind the Scenes at Christianity 201

Hunting and gathering material for C201 is always interesting, especially on the days we seek out writers to highlight here for the first time; as often happens with the Sunday Worship feature.

This week we discovered the blog SamSword, written by Jori Sams; and the article Commentary: God-Inspired Music.

She had this paragraph:

In the Bible where we see music and song taking place, it is always full of the love and praise of God. Look at Deborah’s song in Judges. Or the songs sung in the book of Revelation. In 1 Chronicles 16. The New Testament reveals Jesus breaking into songs of praise with His disciples. In modern times we can look at songs like, “I Can Only Imagine,” for inspiration.

which got me wondering what she meant about “Jesus breaking into songs…”

The first search result took me to the article, Jesus Sings at the Desiring God website.

…In four places in Scripture we read that Jesus, the Son of God himself, raised his voice in worship.1

Which is immediately confusing on one level. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with singing, just that I imagine our Savior much better suited as the silent recipient of adoration and worship (Revelation 5:6–14). But he also sings. And the only way to understand why Jesus sings is to briefly walk through all four passages…

Two of the passages were parallel reference to the hymn at the end of The Last Supper; the other two require connection to the Old Testament passages alluded to. You can read the article yourself and decide how much can be inferred.

Personally, I believe that Jesus would have sung at the synagogue services he attended, but there are no explicit references beyond the Upper Room meal. Apparently the gospel writers didn’t attach a lot of importance to it.

 

September 29, 2018

The Reciprocation Requirement

This is another one of those “today we’re returning to visit the blog…” type of things, but with a twist. On three previous occasions we’ve taken you to the blog Rhetorical Jesus by Jack Wellman. Our policy is not to ‘borrow’ the graphics which go with the original pieces because often we can’t trace their origin and people get somewhat testy when you use their graphics.

However, the whole point of Rhetorical Jesus — and one which we only directly addressed in one of three previous instances of featuring their material here — is that there are some great looking memes which you can use to promote these devotionals on your social media page, and then link your friends and contacts to the devotional teaching. (Never just take in valuable Christian teaching to absorb for yourself; always be looking for creative ways to share and spread the message.)

So today we’re using the picture to help you get the idea of how this works. Click the title below to read at source. And remember to love people without a reciprocation requirement!

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.

Matthew 5:44

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

When We Were God’s Enemies

Jesus tells us to not only love our enemies but actually pray for our persecutors. Easy to say but so very hard to do it, isn’t it? I know that we were once enemies of God (Rom. 5:10) and wicked sinners (Rom. 5:8), but God saved us through faith in Christ. Our enemies are not really our enemies but enemies of Christ. They may not actually hate us as much as they hate Him Who is in us (Matt. 10:22; John 15:18). If we love only those who love us, what makes us any different from those in the world since even sinners love their own family? To make us more like the sons and daughters of God, we are commanded to love our enemies so that we might be more like the children of God (Matt. 5:45).

Loving the Unlovable

Since God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us, which is truly something we didn’t deserve, should we not also love and pray for those who are persecuting us and those who are our enemies? We are giving them what they don’t deserve, just as God gave us what we didn’t deserve–we call that grace. What we truly did deserve we didn’t actually get–that’s what I call mercy. How many of us were living in sexual immorality and were greedy, slanderers, adulterers, thieves, drunkards, and swindlers (1 Cor. 6:9-10)? I would imagine that most of us were some, if not most, of these things at one time, but by God’s good grace, that is all now behind us because we’ve been washed in the blood, sanctified by God’s Spirit, and justified by the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:11). We now have the righteousness of Christ through Jesus’ work on the cross, and the Father sees us as having Jesus’ own righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). We should have the same compassion on those who are not yet saved as God had for us.

Being Different

Since we have now been justified by God in Christ and have been saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-9), we should be witnessing to the lost, loving those who are our enemies, and praying for them because God doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Pet. 3;9), and neither should we. If we respond in like manner to the way we are treated, we’re no better than the unsaved tax collector in Jesus’ time (Matt. 5:46). If we only receive our own brothers and sisters, aren’t we the same as those in the world (Matt. 5:47)? The answer to that rhetorical question is no, we are no different than the unsaved. Christ calls us to better things than that and to strive for perfection (Matt. 5:48) and not live like the world.

A Closing Prayer

God, I truly need help in praying for my enemies because it is not natural for me to do so. Please empower me by Your Spirit to have the ability to love my enemies and pray for those who are my persecutors because I cannot do it in my own strength, and I pray for these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen

 

August 27, 2018

Is Sin a Condition or a State of Being?

Today we’re introducing you to a new (to us) website, Faith, Fiction and Fatherhood. The writer holds a law degree from Baylor and attends a United Methodist Church in Texas. Click the title below and then check out other articles.

Is Sin Phenomenal or Existential?

In Matthew 5:28, in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’”

That’s a tough statement, especially given the following advice that if a body part is causing us to sin we ought to cut it off.

But let’s take a step back and think about this on a level deeper than the surface–and the shock that goes along with it. I’m a firm believer that many times when Jesus says something that seems very condemning, what he’s doing is simply laying out for us how the world works and what the natural consequences of a thing are. For instance, when Jesus tells us that, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” in Matthew 19:24, he’s not saying “God condemns rich people for being rich and no one should be.” Rather, I think, he’s saying, “The money and power that go along with wealth–and the accompanying desire to hold onto that money and power–make it very difficult to focus on what is good and true and righteous, because the love of power is seductive and addictive. Be wary that such things do not make you see the world in the wrong way, but keep focused on the way that I have told you to see the world.”

Likewise, in Matthew 5:28, while Jesus does say something that, if we’re being honest with ourselves, reminds us all of our sins, I think that his purpose is less about shaming us and more about telling us about the very nature of sin.

And that’s why this post is titled, “Is sin phenomonal or existential?” If you’ve read many of my other posts, you already know where I fall on this issue, but I’d like to develop the idea a bit more specifically.

When I ask if sin is phenomenal, what I mean to ask is whether sin is a matter of discrete and observable actions, specific behaviors violative of what is righteous. When I ask if sin is existential, I’m asking if, rather than being a matter of specific and easily-identifiable behaviors, sin is a condition or state of being.

The real answer, of course, is that it’s both of these things at once. What the question(s) really seek to answer is whether it is particular actions that lead to a particular state of sin or whether particular actions are the result of a state of being. Again, the best argument is likely that there’s a dialectic between these two things–bad acts make it easier to choose bad acts in the future, deepening a state of sinfulness, but without some existentially sinful condition, there would never be any sinful action, so the influence of one on the other must be mutually reinforcing. So, what should we focus on as primary when dealing with and discussing sin–actions or a state of being.

In Matthew 5:28, Jesus appears to be arguing against the legalism of the Old Testament law (here making specific allusion to the Ten Commandments) and instead showing us that sinfulness is a matter of mindset, perspective (compared to the objective, I mean to intimate no relativistic thought here), paradigm.

There are two quotations I prefer (and have used on the blog before) to encapsulate this idea, which is central and fundamental to existential thought. Having been a professional student and scholar of the Renaissance and early modern periods, both quotations are derived from that most elevated and rarified literary era.

First, some John Milton, from Book I of Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and in itself/Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Second, Shakespeare: “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.

Following existential thought in general, and Paul Tillich (my favorite theologian) in particular, we argue that humans, as a matter of course and necessity, make meaning in the world. We do this by relating things to one another in their existential aspects and phenomena, creating those relationships through storytelling. The “secular” existentialists see this as the fundamental cause of “existential angst”–we fail to detect any inherent and objective meaning in the things which we observe and with which we interact. But the Christian existentialist takes this farther, first positing that there is ultimate and objective meaning that comes from God, though we may detect such only through divine revelation; and, second, marvelling at the great opportunity, pleasure, power and responsibility we have been given in co-creating with God by establishing meaning through our own narratives, big and small. This process, as a fundamental aspect of man’s existence, is clear from the beginning of Creation–is not Adam creating meaning and relationships by naming the creatures of the Earth?

Upon recognition of this divinely-granted human power, we must immediately recognize the source of sin–the creation of meanings and relationships that are not in line with God’s plan and intentions. Put bluntly, seeing and thinking about the world in the wrong way.

And this is what Jesus warns about in Matthew 5:28–it’s not sin only when you take action to commit adultery; if you have created a mental concept of existence that sees women merely as objects of your lust, that permits infidelity and betrayal for the most fleeting of passions, you’re doing it wrong and you’re already in a state of sinfulness. It’s not enough to refrain from the commission of the action; you must change the way you think about and see the world and how all the things in it relate to one another.

When we compare this concept to other moral teachings of Jesus, we find great support for it. Jesus usually seems to be less concerned about specific actions and more concerned with the ideologies, social structures, theologies and existential states that lead to those actions: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” When we think about sin existentially, sin becomes about relationships, results and intents, not arbitrary restrictions. This comports perfectly with the Greatest Commandments.

Just as the plain language of Jesus’s words make clear, this is a higher standard of morality than avoiding the consummation of unrighteous intents; it is war on unrighteous intent itself. And it makes perfect sense; if you fall into the trap of lusting after people in your mind, that objectification likely affects more than just the questions of adultery and fidelity. In many ways, such thought is about a reduction of the humanity of a person into a personification of of desire and temptation, an indulgence of the self by the self that only needs the other person as a tool of that self-indulgence. Once we’ve stripped such a person of their humanity, however small a slice we may cut away at a time, we will treat them differently, and not in a better way, though the injury to the person may be so subtle as to go generally unnoticed without deep introspection or close observation.

But to focus on just how fallen the idea that sin is existential and caused by our own ordering of our idea of Creation makes us is to miss the point. The strong implication, as Milton shows us, is that just as unrighteous narrative and mental/idealist/ideological relationships make us sinful, righteous ones bring us closer to God. Every time we shift our conception of the world closer to God’s intention for those relationships as demonstrated in Jesus, we are both personally participating in the Kingdom of God and, as we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, working to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth.

In simpler terms, Jesus is implicating here that we create our own reality. Again, not in some relativistic way, because God’s intention for Creation establishes objective truth, but in the way we personally interact with the world and believe it to be. We have been given an astounding power of sub-creation inherent to our free will, but we are also called to use that power to seek righteousness, to become, as Jesus later calls us to become in the Sermon on the Mount: Perfect, as our Father in Heaven is perfect.

The scope of the Sermon on the Mount is not a collection of warnings and prohibitions; it is a call to participate in the infinite joy of existence as a child of God by seeking to create the kinds of narratives and mental conceptions that God would have us create.

 

 

 

August 15, 2018

His Words or His Works?

Jenny writes at Covered in His Dust. This is her first time showcased here at C201, and there are a number of other great posts on her site. This one appeared in February; click the title below to read it there.

What I learned from an unclean spirit

I started a study through the book of Mark a little over a week ago.  In true form, I’m only three days in, but they’ve been a good three days.  It’s interesting what things stand out when you read scripture slowly and really sink your teeth in.

In Mark chapter 1, starting in verse 21, it says Jesus went to Capernaum and started teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath.

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

~ Mar 1:21-22 NIV

Evidently these people had never heard anyone teach like Jesus before.  There was something different about Him.  He taught with authority and it was enough to make the people take pause.

But the enemy wasn’t having it.  Immediately following this verse, there’s a distraction.

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”

~ Mar 1:23-24 NIV

Jesus is right in the middle of teaching and the people are finding themselves being drawn to Him and boom…the enemy sends an interruption.  But here’s a couple of things I thought were interesting about this scene.

First, I wonder how long this guy with the unclean spirit had been hanging around the synagogue.  Like, who was he? And what was his influence on the people around him before now?  Did they know already that he was possessed or was it only in the presence of Jesus that he was forced to reveal himself?

Either way, I think it’s worth noting here how important it is that we stay connected to Christ and in constant fellowship with Him.  That we stay in the scriptures.  That we stay aware of what’s going on around us.  That we are in the habit of renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).  Because Satan is sneaky.  Who knows where he’s hanging around or how long he’s been there?  And if we are counting on our own eyes to see his schemes, we’re in trouble.

Second, it’s interesting how this unclean spirit decided to out himself.  There’s Jesus teaching like nobody ever and all of a sudden there’s this guy crying out and detracting from the moment, but he’s doing it by addressing Jesus as the Holy One of God.  It would seem like this demon is working against the enemy by confirming Jesus’ identity.  And while that might be a little true, the fact is that even sometimes things we think are God things can be distractions from the main thing.

Jesus wasn’t having any nonsense and immediately cast the demon out, but then in the next verse it says,

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”

~ Mar 1:27 NIV

Only a couple of verses before, the people were astonished by Jesus’ teaching.  They were listening to the Son of God talking about His father and they were enthralled.  Now it says they were amazed by His authority over demons and immediately His fame spread throughout the region.  I can’t help but wonder what spread the most from that occasion?  His words or His works?  Is it possible that the enemy thought that using a miracle would take the focus off what Jesus was teaching?  That people would be more interested in what Jesus could do for them than what He had to say to them?  Sorta like, fix their bodies, but stay away from their hearts?  Because the heart change was really the point, right?

Sometimes even things that seem good or right might not be best.  Sometimes the things we do for God can start to overshadow our walk with God.  Like it starts to be more about the doing than the being.  It’s like something Noelle said the Pursue the Passion conference this past weekend.

Walking with God is far better than walking for Him. 

It might seem like semantics, but think of it like this.  If I’m walking beside someone, conversation is easier.  Eye contact is easier.  But following along behind or getting ahead  can break the connection.  It’s easy to miss part of the conversation or even the direction the other person is going.

It’s not to say that doing God’s work is a bad thing.  But when our relationship with God gets off track because we’re fixed on this thing or that thing, God’s work really isn’t God’s work anymore.  Now it’s our work.  And I’ve come to realize more and more that if I’m going to stay in line with God’s will for me, then I’m going to have to stay in line with Him.

God, help me keep my focus.  When my eyes wander to great and mighty things instead of the Great and Almighty God, draw me back.

August 3, 2018

Lessons from the Searchlights

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Regular readers know that the philosophy here at C201 is to avoid example-based or illustration-based devotionals and studies, and to simply cut to the chase of Bible exposition or topical study.

Today, however, I had a strong impression that this simple devotional is what someone out there needs today…

Some of you know that while I’m not writing on a number of online platforms, I spend a few days a week at a Christian bookstore which we own. The shop is named “Searchlight” and it’s registered as a business although we don’t draw a salary. Some years it makes money, and some years it loses.

So what was I thinking when I named the company?

On one level, I was thinking of a song by Christian artist Nancy Honeytree from the 1970s.

On a higher level however, I had in mind the two definitions of the word.

The first type of searchlight is the type you see mounted on the back of a large truck. The lens is at least a metre across and the light pivots, pointed to the nighttime sky to attract people from a wide area to see what’s happening, whether it’s the opening of a new store or restaurant or the premiere of a new movie.

It’s saying, “There’s something happening here.”

The Apostle Paul is standing before Governor Festus…

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.
”  – Acts 26:24-26 NIV

The Passion Translation states the last phrase as, “After all, it’s not like it was a secret!” while The Message renders it as, “You must realize that this wasn’t done behind the scenes.”

There’s something happening here. The Good News is changing hearts and lives. The message of Jesus is raising people to new life.

The prophet Habakkuk is told to write God’s message in a way that no one can miss it:

And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. – Habakkuk 2:2 ESV

I love how The Living Bible (the predecessor of today’s NLT) renders this:

And the Lord said to me, “Write my answer on a billboard, large and clear, so that anyone can read it at a glance and rush to tell the others.

The word of the Lord is larger than life; not done in a remote corner, and certainly not about something distant, or ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far away.’

This is the best news ever.

The second type of searchlight is smaller, but much more important. It’s the type of light is mounted on a vehicle, a boat or a small plane.

It’s saying, “Someone out there is lost.”

It’s meant not to draw people in to a location, but rather to go out from a location to look for a missing person or persons.

Jesus is concluding his meeting with Zacchaeus:

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:9-10 NIV

(Jesus says the same words in Matthew 18:11, in a different context.)

This mirrors Ezekiel 34:11-12:

“For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. – NLT

This has led many to refer to “The God who pursues.”  (We’ll look at that tomorrow!)

Part one of the Gospel is “come and see” and part two is “go and tell.”

Something is happening that compels us; draws us; then like Andrew (who on meeting Jesus went to get his brother Peter) we go out and search out more who need to hear.


It turns out I mentioned Searchlight once before in this August, 2015 article.


The meaning of Searchlight in the Honeytree song is different yet again, asking God to shine his light into our hearts and souls.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139: 23-24 NLT

July 23, 2018

Seeing Jesus in Those Around Us

A year ago we introduced you to Ed Cyzewski who we’ve mentioned many times at Thinking Out Loud, but that was his first appearance at C201. We recently paid another visit and found an article we hope connects with people here. Click the title below to read at source.

Do I See Jesus in the People Around Me?

Why don’t I help people who are in need?

The possible reasons are plentiful:

Am I in a hurry? Are financial concerns making me less generous? Do I have other priorities for my time and resources? Do I think someone isn’t worthy of help and needs to be more responsible? Do I believe the other person is just looking for a way to take advantage of me? Do I feel unsafe because the person in need may be high or intoxicated?

Depending on the situation, I’ve been all over the map when it comes to helping others. Sometimes I’ve initiated help, sometimes I’ve responded positively, sometimes I’ve offered limited help, and sometimes I have not offered any help at all. Perhaps money really is tight during that month, but other times I just don’t want to be a sucker. Thoughts of self-preservation can be legitimate at times, but often it’s just a convenient way to sound reasonable in my own selfishness.

When I refuse to help others, the focus is often myself. I’m considering my needs and my personal comfort. I don’t identify with them. That is what makes a passage like Matthew 25 so striking. Jesus identifies with those in need to the point that any generous act toward others is considered a generous act toward Jesus.

Am I able see Jesus in other people?

More importantly, do I see Jesus in the people I am most likely to overlook or to dismiss?

That is the whole crux of how Jesus judged those who helped or neglected to help the sick, immigrant, poorly clothed, imprisoned, and hungry. Those who cared for these people were the ones who, perhaps unexpectedly, served Jesus by serving the overlooked people of this world. Those who neglected them had neglected Jesus himself.

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
Matthew 25:40, NRSV

“Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”
Matthew 25:45, NRSV

It’s as if Jesus is trying to snap us out of our self-centered daily outlooks in order to perceive the God-given worth and dignity of each person.  He wants us to imagine that we are serving Jesus himself so that we don’t get lost in the situation or the worthiness of the other person.

And if imagining such a thing remains a stretch for us when we serve others, perhaps we have a clue to consider the state of our own hearts and our awareness of God’s love for us. If we are even uninclined to serve Jesus himself, then we know we have a focus on self that must be addressed.

The hope is that the generous love of God in our lives transforms us, reminds us daily of how great God’s mercy has been for us, and prompts us to show the same love and mercy to others.

 

June 3, 2018

I Am

A worship liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

In the gospel of Matthew, we read of Jesus asking his followers, “Who do you say that I am?

In the gospel of Mark, we read of Jesus asking his followers, “Who do you say that I am?

In the gospel of Luke, we read of Jesus asking his followers, “Who do you say that I am?

In the gospel of John, we read of Jesus giving us vocabulary to help us answer this question. To understand who he is.

Jesus told them, “I am the bread of life.
Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry, and anyone who believes in me will never be thirsty again.

Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world.
Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.

Jesus said again, “I assure you: I am the door.
Anyone who enters by me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture.

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth and the life.
Anyone who comes to the Father comes through me.

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.
Anyone who abides in Me, and I in him, produces much fruit.
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers.

Jesus told them, “I am the good shepherd.
Anyone who knows me knows my voice. I know My own sheep, and they know Me. I lay down My life for the sheep.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.
Anyone who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die — ever.
Do you believe this?

✞ ✞ ✞

He tells us to see him:

As the good bread, and the living water: the one who satisfies the most fundamental needs of our souls;
As the light of life: the one who makes our path visible, who gives us understanding, who kills our fear;
As the door: the only way in – to shelter – and the only way out – to freedom;
As the way, the truth, the life: the one who gives us access to the Father;
As the vine: the one who gives us roots and certainty, identity and provision, growth and fruit;
As the shepherd: the one who provides protection and gives guidance;
As the resurrection: the one who gives us hope, not only in the forever, but today and next Monday and right now.

But as with all of God’s promises, there’s a flip-side.

His promises come with the expectation, the demand, that we choose to receive. That we choose to say yes.

Yes, I will hear your voice.
Yes, I will come.
Yes, I will enter.
Yes, I will abide.
Yes, I will produce your fruit.
Yes, I will live.
Yes, I will die.
Yes, I will live again.
Yes, I will believe.

May 31, 2018

John 3:16: Should God Send People to Hell for Not Believing Certain Things?

Should God send people to hell for failing to believe certain things? Some will point to John 3:16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NRSV)

Some object that God cannot be very loving if failure to believe results in punishment. Does the punishment fit the crime? However, John 3:16 will help us respond to the objection.

Before we get to 3:16, it helps to look at verses 1-15 where we are introduced to Nicodemus. Being a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus would have believed certain things about the way things are. He was no doubt well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and was looking forward to the coming Kingdom of God. He would have held onto certain beliefs about who would enter the Kingdom and how. You enter this kingdom by being born into the right family, the Jewish family, and doing the right thing, keeping the Jewish law.

Jesus challenges Nicodemus on his beliefs about these things:

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” John 3:3 (NRSV)

Being born into the right family is not what is important for the Kingdom, but rather “being born from above”, or “born again”.  Nicodemus takes the latter meaning of the term but Jesus is referring to the same idea we were introduced to in John 1:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  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 1:10-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

To boil this down to essentials, you will see God’s Kingdom, not because you were born into the right family, but because of God’s work in you no matter what family you were originally born into. Jesus continues:

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’   The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8 (NRSV)

Nicodemus would have known where he, as a Jewish person ,came from; Jewish parents. However, with Kingdom people, you do not know where they come from. In other words,  a Kingdom person can be from any background or nation, as long as God is working in them. Nicodemus had certain beliefs about the Kingdom, but Jesus challenged him on them.

Jesus goes on to challenge Nicodemus on his beliefs about who he, Jesus himself, really is. Nicodemus already believes certain things about Jesus:

He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” John 3:2 (NRSV)

Jesus challenges Nicodemus to go deeper than that:

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:13-15 (NRSV)

Jesus is not just a prophet with God’s presence, but the Son of Man coming from God. Nicodemus would likely have had Daniel 7 going through his mind at this point. He also would have been thinking of the passage of Scripture from Numbers where Moses is instructed to lift up a serpent so that everyone who looked to it could be healed from the consequence of their sin. The inference here is subtle, but important; namely, that Jesus is not like Moses, but greater than Moses. While Moses lifted up the serpent, Jesus is the One lifted up, meaning that he was to be crucified as a means of healing. Jesus is the One through whom healing comes, the One through whom we receive forgiveness for our rebellion against God. Which brings us to verse 16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NRSV)

Jesus is challenging Nicodemus to move from belief that something is true, to trust in Someone. Nicodemus believed certain things, namely that you enter into the Kingdom first by being born into the right family. Jesus tells him that anyone can enter the Kingdom by trusting that God has done the best thing.

What does this have to do with our objection: “should people go to hell for not believing certain things”?

Even when I know where I am going, I like using my iPhone’s Maps voice guidance on Highway 401. It shows me the traffic and has occasionally led me off the highway in order to rescue me from an upcoming traffic mess.

Now suppose I don’t listen to the voice guidance thinking that I know better. When I slow to a stop, would I then ask my phone why it sent me into a traffic jam? I chose that route, and I chose to trust my own judgement rather than trust my phone which offered a better path.

God does not send people to hell for failing to believe certain things. People choose a path that leads to death and separation from God. When God offers forgiveness and a better path, they choose to not trust Him. Being separated from God for eternity is not punishment for disbelief. It is the natural consequence of a life of walking away from God. It is sin, not disbelief, that separates us from God. Eternal life is not about believing certain things, it is about trusting God. It is about trusting that God has dealt with our separation from Him through Jesus at the cross. It is trusting that through His grace, we are welcomed as children, born from above.


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

 

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

May 11, 2018

Jesus Redefines Success

I’m currently reading and enjoying the newly-released book Evangelism in a Skeptical World by Sam Chan. What follows is not from the book, but I went hunting around online to see if I could find some other writing by him to share with you and found this at City Bible Forum.  As always, click the title below to read this at source.

How to be rich and successful without losing your soul

The road to success comes with much uncertainty – am I good enough? Can I stay successful?

I spent a large chunk of my life studying for exams. So why do we do exams? Because they are a gateway to success. If we can pass our exams, we get a qualification. If we get a qualification, we get a job. If we get a job, we’re successful.

We can define success as getting what we’re looking for. Maybe it’s wealth. Or respect. Or a trophy family. But if we can find it, then we’re finally successful.

According to our modern Western narrative, we have to earn our success. It’s not given to us. We have to gain it by being smarter, faster and better than those around us.

But this will lead ultimately to fear and insecurity. Because there are so many factors that are out of our control. For example, what if I get sick on the day of my exam? What if a GFC comes and wipes out my profits? What if one of my children is born with a learning disability?

And we’ll never know if we’ve done enough. How much do I have to study? How much money do I have to make? How much tutoring will my children need?

We will always fear falling behind. Because there will always be someone else who is smarter, faster and better than us.

In Jesus’ story about a rich fool (Luke 12:13-21), he teaches us how to re-define “success”. First, success is a gift from God, rather than something we gain. The hint is in verse 16 where the ground produced a good harvest for the rich man.

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.” (verse 16)

For us it’s the same. God controls the factors that determine whether we will be “successful.”

So we need to re-define “success.” If I get what I’m working for, I need to be humble and thank God for my success. But if I don’t get what I work for, then I need to trust that God has a better plan for me.

Second, true success is to be “rich toward God” (v. 21).

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (verse 21)

In the end, the most important thing is that we’re in a rich and flourishing relationship with God.

This also is a gift from God, rather than something we gain. Jesus dies for us and now lives for us. This new life is something we receive from God. I can never gain it by my own effort.

A man once told me his sad story. He said his dad never spent time with him. Instead, his dad would give him lots of money. But the man said, “My dad never got it. I didn’t want his money, I wanted him.”

It’s the same with us. God doesn’t want our riches. In the end, he wants us to be rich to him.


Sam Chan also blogs at his EspressoTheology.com

May 2, 2018

Extreme Love

While preparing an article for a book industry blog I edit, I came across the name of Pastor Ray Bentley, founder of Maranatha Chapel in San Diego, California. The two devotions which follow are from his blog. Click the titles to read each at source, and then if you have time, navigate to other devotionals posted there.

Extreme Love, Extreme Living

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”— 1 Peter 4:8

Extreme love. Love so great that it makes up for not just a few sins—but a multitude! And you know, we are not forced to live in this extreme stratosphere of love. We are invited.

Jesus initiated extreme love.

First He taught His followers, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15: 13); then He did it.

As He hung on the cross, He had few friends left to witness His suffering.

But He hung there anyway. He died for his friends, and for those who hated Him, who misunderstood His purpose, and who were lost in sin and hardness of heart. “While we were still sinners,” He died for us, so that we can know love. We are invited to experience it, to live it, to demonstrate it in our own lives.

Love is the most potent emotion and power in all of creation.Love motivated Creation, forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life for mankind. Abundant love, when accepted gratefully, gives us abundant lives, full of purpose, meaning, sacrifice, and ultimate love.

Hebrews chapter eleven is a partial list of daring individuals who chose to live in extreme love. They are as varied a group of people as you will ever encounter, and they laid the foundation for our faith.  

They were judges and farmers, rulers and prostitutes, prophets, and parents.

They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of flames, escaped the edge of the sword; their weaknesses were turned to strength; they fought battles, and saw their dead raised to life.

Some were tortured, some faced jeers and flogging, others were chained in prison.

They were stoned; they were tortured; they were put to death by the sword.

They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated. They lived in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

They were commended for their faith…and God declared that the world was not worthy of them.

Now that’s extreme living.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” —Amy Carmichael


Love Experienced

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” —1 John 4:8

The apostle John simplified everything when he stated, “God is love.”

But we can misunderstand that love. You might regard your relationship with God as an invitation you once answered when He knocked on the door of your life and you let Him in. Now you’re a Christian. Simple.

But don’t let that be enough. We’re not supposed to just start going to church, put a Bible on the coffee table, and figure, OK, took care of that. I’m right with God.

That’s not love experienced!

A life that knows true love is filled with a multitude of invitations, because of the nature of love. Love is a living relationship that never remains exactly the same, but grows deeper, more intimate, more secure. We can never get enough of it, and we will never come to the end of it, because God Himself, the Author of love, is infinite and His love knows no limits.

Every day, in a variety of ways, the Lord comes knocking on the door of your heart. Through circumstances, people, new opportunities, a change of venue, the beauty of nature, and sometimes heartache and tragedy—God gives us the chance to experience and live with His love in a new way, everyday.

Don’t miss your daily invitation to grow deeper in God’s love.

Seek Him in His Word.

Look for Him in the faces of the people around you.

Accept the hard things, as part of what makes you a deeper, more compassionate person.

Give the love God gives to you away freely, abundantly, wisely, and with a grateful heart.

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