Christianity 201

September 14, 2022

Remembrance

by Ruth Wilkinson

Exodus 20:8-11 (NIV)

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

________________ 

 Being a worship leader entails leading congregations in prayer, choosing songs and prayers and scriptures that we will sing and read together to help us in our gathered worship as we focus on and hear from the God who we serve. Over the years it has very much been the case that my favourite kind of service is a communion service, when we share the bread and we share the cup in remembrance of Jesus. 

As a worship leader, they’re my favourite services just for the music. Throughout the history of the church there’s a tremendous, wonderful body of powerful, rich music that has been written around the idea of Christ’s death and resurrection. Those songs and musical pieces are among the most creative and the most lyrical, the most skilled, beautiful music. 

As a believer, as someone who just follows Jesus to the best of my ability, I love communion services because they help to bring me back. They help to bring me back to where my faith began: at the cross. 

And as a teacher, I love communion services and those scriptures that were written around those events of those days, those hours, those people: how everybody responded and everything that people said and what happened next. There’s so much there that is theologically rich, humanly relatable, and personally challenging. 

I want to start by reading together a passage that is read in conjunction with communion services.  

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you—the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed prayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks He broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this whenever you drink it in remembrance of me.” – 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 

These words, written by the apostle Paul, are spoken by pastors around the world, Sunday after Sunday, and in many languages, in many traditions by millions of people sharing communion.  

These words are powerful. They are important. And they are unifying. 

Earlier this year I was planning the worship for a Good Friday service and this idea of remembrance really jumped out at me off the page. This passage was written by the apostle Paul, and in it he is emphasizing the idea of remembrance–remembering Jesus—and I find that really interesting for a few different reasons.  

First of all, Paul is writing about an event at which he wasn’t present. He wasn’t in the room at the Last Supper. He personally can’t “remember” what happened, but he is urging us (who were not there either) to “remember.” Because Paul wasn’t there, he’s drawing from other sources, and the one source that we can identify is Luke 22:7-38. Luke is one of the gospel writers, and that’s where we find the idea of Remembrance connected to the Last Supper. 

The second thing that I find interesting is that the other gospels don’t make that connection. The other gospel writers don’t connect the idea of remembering to the Last Supper. Their focus is on other things that are happening, other important ideas, but not specifically remembrance. 

The last thing that’s interesting is that Luke himself only quotes Jesus as talking about remembrance once—in conjunction with the bread. He does not quote Jesus saying it in conjunction with the cup. 

So what’s happening in 1 Corinthians, as best I can understand it, is that Paul is identifying something in Luke’s writing that is really, really important and really, really big. And Paul is expanding on it. He’s running with it, and he’s turning it into something that we can recognize and use as a liturgy in our worship together. 

A liturgy is an established formula. It’s a set of words or actions that we can follow like a trail of bread-crumbs to help us walk together through Truth. 

Why was this idea of remembering so important for the apostle Paul? 

When you do a word search for the word “remember” in the Old Testament and in the New Testament what you find is that most of the remembering that happens in the Bible is the kind of remembering that is very relatable to us. It’s the kind of thing where we bring back to the present tense, bring back to the front of our mind something from the past, something that somebody said, something that happened, or a person. 

It is entirely right and good for us to bring back to the front of our minds the fact that Jesus willingly suffered. He willingly died and came back to share with us the power of resurrection and of eternal hope and of new life. When a family of believers come together at this table in an intentional and heartfelt way, it is the most beautiful exercise that a faith family can undertake: to cherish the shared memory of someone who means that much to us. 

But there’s another kind of remembering in the Bible.

In the above passage from Exodus Chapter 20, God expresses this other kind of remembering in a very effective way. He says, “Remember the Sabbath.” 

Remember the Sabbath. God is commanding his people–as part of his covenant, as part of their relationship together, as part of the journey that has just begun when these words are spoken—to remember the Sabbath. 

The Sabbath was the last day of the week. It was set aside as special.  

People were not to work. You worked six days, you rested on the Sabbath, and the Sabbath became a tremendously important, central, unique covenant characteristic of Israel. It was a part of their individual identities. It was a part of their corporate and national identity. They took it so seriously that a huge body of teaching rose up over the centuries about how to remember the Sabbath and the idea of “don’t work.” It sounds simple, but what does it mean? 

I did a little bit of research on this and it’s kind of amazing. 

There are 39 identified categories of work that are to be avoided on the Sabbath, and I have a list of a few of them here. The first one is carrying and then it goes on to burning, extinguishing, finishing, writing, erasing, cooking, washing, sewing (and all the women said Amen!), tearing, tying, untying, shaping, ploughing, planting, reaping and it goes on up to #39. 

As an interesting aside, I found this quote on a website called OU.org. It provides an insight into the observance of Sabbath and what it means. 

The definition of such work is of any act where man demonstrates his mastery over nature. 

But the first act by which men demonstrate such mastery is taking things from nature and carrying them where he needs them. In a sense, by not carrying, we also relinquish our ownership of everything in the world. 

A main sign of ownership is that we may take something where we please. On the Sabbath we give up something of this ownership, and nothing may be removed from the house. When a man leaves his house, he may carry nothing but the clothing on his back. It is G-d, not man, who owns all things. 

This is the kind of depth and sincerity and integrity that goes into understanding how to observe, and remember Sabbath. 

What I find most important–where I find the most significance–is that I would argue that by remembering Sabbath, Israel made Sabbath happen. 

By remembering Sabbath, that day became something new. Israel created what would become. 

By remembering Sabbath, they carved out space among themselves and among the nations around them, and they created a footprint where eternity could stand. 

That idea of remembering Sabbath is consistent with what it means when God himself remembers. There are a few places in Scripture where we are told, “Then God remembered…” 

Now, God doesn’t forget the way we do. He doesn’t have those couch cushions in the back of his head where he has to go rummaging for stuff, because ‘it’s got to be there somewhere.’ That’s not how God’s mind works. 

Rather, when God remembers in Scripture, it is an indication that something is about to happen. 

When God remembers, the world gets changed. 

  • In Genesis 8, God remembered Noah, and in that moment the destructive flood waters began to recede. And it was the beginning of the beginning of a new beginning. 
  • In Genesis 18, God remembers Abraham, and Lot is saved from the destruction of Sodom. 
  • In Genesis 30, God remembers Rachel. In 1 Samuel, God remembers Hannah and these women who had been unable to conceive a child give birth to children who become men who, for centuries affect the destiny of their people. 
  • In Judges 16, God is asked by Samson, “Please remember me.” And for that moment, Samson’s strength returns. And God’s enemies fall. 
  • In Exodus 2, God remembers Abraham and Jacob and Israel, and he begins to open the door for Israel to be freed. To become a nation. 
  • In Luke 23 (my favourite) God remembers a dying thief hanging on the cross beside him. And that dying thief is forgiven, and embraced into an eternity of life. “Today. With me. In Paradise.” 

When God remembers, things happen. When God remembers, the world is changed. 

My husband Paul and I were talking about this message and he asked me, “Do you have a ‘So What’?” Whenever either of us is preaching somewhere, we ask, “So what’s the ‘So What’?” The ‘So What’ is the moment in the sermon when the speaker ties together the loose ends and helps us get a big picture understanding of what we’ve been talking about and says, “This is an appropriate way to respond. This is something that we need to do.” 

But I don’t so much have a ‘So What?’ as a ‘What If?’ 

This is not the kind of thing where the loose ends neatly connect. It is the kind of thing where we can continue to debate and discuss and ask questions and to look things up and I hope you go for it! 

This study of the idea of remembering leaves me with a question, not with an answer. It is a question that I am not in a position to even try to answer. But it is one that I will humbly ask myself more than anyone else. 

My question is this: 

What if Paul (who understood the old covenant, who understood Sabbath and its impact on the consciousness of the nation of Israel, a highly educated Jewish scholar, zealous for the God of Israel);

What if Paul (who, even though they never met in the flesh, came to a passionate understanding of who Jesus was—that he was in very nature God, who chose to humble himself, but who will ultimately be raised up when we acknowledge that he is Lord);

What if, when that Paul encountered those words of Jesus, “Remember me,” the voice that Paul heard saying that phrase was not simply the voice of a man who was leaving his friends behind and wanted to not be forgotten, a human being who wanted to be remembered? 

What if, in addition to that human voice, Paul also heard the voice of Yahweh in Israel’s history of Covenant? 

What if, Paul heard an echo in those words of a Sabbath kind of remembering?

The kind of remembering that becomes a unique, indelible characteristic of Christ’s Church on Earth. 

The kind of remembering that is an inseparable part of our individual and corporate identities. 

A kind of remembering that carves out a footprint among us and among the nations around us, shaping a space where eternity can stand?  

What if, by taking that one mention in Luke’s writing and turning it into something greater for us all to share, Paul is pointing us towards a remembrance of Jesus—the Christ, the Lord—the kind of remembrance that makes things happen? 

The kind of remembrance that changes the world. 

In John 14 the apostle John writes a record of Jesus final sermon, his final message to his followers, which includes us. John records Jesus commanding them,  

  • Believe in God,  
  • If you can’t believe in God because of what I’ve said, believe because of what I’ve done. 
  • Trust that there is a place prepared for you and that you will see me again there. 
  • If you love me, obey me.  
  • Don’t look to the world for your approval, because you’re not going to find it there. Find your identity in me. 
  • Live in the peace that I leave, the peace that no one can take away. 
  • You are not slaves anymore. I chose you. 
  • You will have suffering, but I have conquered. 

This is the Jesus who commands us to remember him. 

He is commanding us to live him into the world: to act, to speak, to live him, to share him, to give him, to forgive the way he forgave. 

To be perfect as he is perfect, to love as he loved, to serve as he served, to take up the cross as he took up the cross. 

To be one as he and the father were one. 

This is the Jesus we are commanded to remember, and (I would argue) to remember in a way that changes the world. 

So, my question is… 

What if Jesus is calling us to remember, as God remembers?
To make things happen. To change the world.
And what if we actually did?

 

 

August 23, 2022

The Ten Commandments’ Appearance in the New Testament

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Ruth Wilkinson

For years ago, a group of us decided recently to read Andy Stanley’s book Irresistible, which was the focus of some controversy in 2018. 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 worshiping 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:

Honor 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 honor.

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 honor, 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 neighbor’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.

***

August 3, 2022

Grace Isn’t How the World Works

NIV.Matt.20.8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

[If you’re unfamiliar with the section which precedes these verses, click here to start at verse one.]

A year ago we briefly visited the blog, Running to Him for the first time. Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared.

The Grace of the Parable

The parable Jesus used in Matthew 20:1-16 shows God’s outlandish grace towards us. People who follow Christ get the same reward for following Christ, the gift of eternal life with and of knowing Christ. In the parable that Jesus uses, the Kingdom of God is compared to workers in a field. Some worked all day and others were found later in the day, but they all got paid the same wage. Sounds a bit unfair, right?

Well let’s look at it in context, this story isn’t about workers in a field. It’s about the Kingdom of God. The fact is that if you’ve been a Christian your whole life or if you just started following Jesus today, you will be getting the same reward as the person who started following Jesus today.

Does that still sound unfair? If so, let’s take our scarcity mindset and throw it out the window for any conversation related to the presence of Jesus. Why? It’s because Jesus is not like us. Jesus is fully man, fully God. God operates outside of time and space. The presence of the Holy Spirit is INFINITE. Time and the limit of being present in only one place are not limits for Jesus. THERE IS ENOUGH JESUS TO GO AROUND!!

The Kingdom of God is not like the business or company you work for. The Kingdom of God is not bound by restraints of money or time limits. The Kingdom of God is bigger than all of those things. So much bigger that it’s hard for our minds to wrap around the reality of that statement.

With that being established, why would God give more of Himself to some people than to others? Those who believe in Jesus have FULL ACCESS to ALL of who He is. Not just partial access, there are no visiting hours. We can reach out at ANY TIME and ANY PLACE.

How unfair would it be for there to be levels of Christianity? Imagine Jesus saying, “Sorry, you’ve only been a Christian for a day. You can’t enter my Kingdom until you’ve been following me for at least a year.” That’s insane. The Jesus of Scripture, the Jesus I know, would NEVER do that.

The more that I think about it, Matthew 20:1-16 may not make sense when you think of it in regards to how this world works. However, having Kingdom context changes EVERYTHING. Kingdom context puts pride away. Kingdom context makes us realize that we are all on the same playing field before God. None of us are more Spiritual or Holy than the other. We are just blessed to have been called by God.


Our regular Thursday columnist, Clarke Dixon is now more than halfway through a 14-week sabbatical, but just days in he announced the completion of a book. You can read more about what’s inside Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope, by clicking this link. This would be a great book to give to someone who is considering Christianity but hasn’t made a decision. It contains material adapted from Clarke’s “Compelling” series which ran here a few years back.

July 28, 2022

With the Words “I Am,” Jesus Places Himself as Israel’s God

This our third time in the archives of the site of Jonathan Richard Wright. While the site is no longer as active, I felt strongly that this was the article to share with readers today. Clicking the header takes you to where the original is located.

Jesus The I AM

“I am.” Those two small words don’t initially pack a huge punch. They could be used by someone agreeing to something—“sure, I am going!” Or, they can be way of affirming a question—“are you the owner of this car?” “I am.” On top of that, they could be the beginning of how someone communicates something about themselves—“I am really bad at being on time!”

But, when Jesus uses these two words, something else happens: He is claiming to be Israel’s God, Yahweh.

Take a look at the three times that Mark records Jesus saying “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι, pronounced: ego eimi)—on a boat, on a mountain, and on trial.

First, one night Jesus’ disciples were on a boat without Him. Then, Jesus decided to come to them, and, “He came toward them walking on the sea and wanted to pass by them. When they saw Him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out, because they all saw Him and were terrified. Immediately He spoke with them and said, ‘Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid’” (Mark 6:48-50). This story is soaked in Israel’s story. Just like when Moses asked to see God’s glory, and Yahweh “passed before him” (Exodus 34:6), Jesus begins to “pass by” the disciples. That’s our first clue. Then when Jesus gets on the boat He says “It is I.” In Greek, Jesus simply says two words: “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι). Recalling the events from the same book in Jewish Scripture, Mark connects Jesus’ words with Yahweh’s revelation of His name: “God replied to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’” (Exodus 3:14). This name is אֶהְיֶה (ʾehyeh – where we get the name “Yahweh”) which is translated in the Old Greek translation of Exodus 3:14 as ἐγώ εἰμι.

Second, while sitting on a mountain, Jesus prepped His disciples for future hardships that they will suffer as His followers. He tells them “watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many” (Mark 13:5-6). Those who will try to deceive Jesus-followers will come bearing Jesus’ name. And how will they try to assume the identity of God? Jesus gives us their two-word claim: “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι). So, according to Jesus, if someone is trying to steal God’s identity, all they need to do is say: “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι).

Last, on trial before Jewish authorities, Jesus is questioned about who He is. The High Priest asks “are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mark 14:61). How does Jesus affirm that He truly is the promised Jewish Messiah—Yahweh become human? He plainly, yet profoundly responds with “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι) (Mark 14:62).

Being the nerd that I am, I looked through every occurrence of ἐγώ εἰμι that appears in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (LXX) in order to see if there were other key moments when Yahweh says “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι). Here are some of the highlights (and these are all of them, by my count: Genesis 17:1, 26:24; 31:13; 46:3, Exodus 3:6, 14; 7:5, 8:22; 14:4, 18; 15:26; 20:2, 5; 29:46; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 25, 28, 30, 31, 32, 34, 36, 37; 21:23; 22:30; 24:22; 25:17; 26:1, 2, 13, 44, 45; Numbers 35:34; Deuteronomy 5:9; 32:39; Judges 6:8; Psalms 45:10/11; 80:10/11; Hosea 1:9; 11:9; Joel 2:27; Zephaniah 3:1/2:15; Haggai 1:13; 2:4; Malachi 1:14; Isaiah 41:4, 10; 43:10; 43:25; 45:8, 18, 18; 46:4, 9; 47:8, 10; 48:12; 48:17; 51:12; 52:6; 61:8; Jeremiah 1:17, 19; 3:12; 23:23; 24:7; Ezekiel 7:6/9; 28:22, 23, 24, 26; 29:6, 16, 21; 30:8, 19, 25, 26; 32:15; 33:29; 34:15, 27, 30; 35:4, 9, 12, 15; 36:11, 23; 37:6, 13, 28; 38:23; 39:6, 7, 22, 28):

  • Genesis 17:1-2: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him, saying, “I am God Almighty. Live in my presence and be blameless. I will set up my covenant between me and you, and I will multiply you greatly.” 
  • Exodus 20:1-2: “Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.”
  • Leviticus 11:44-45: “For I am the Lord your God, so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy. Do not defile yourselves by any swarming creature that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God, so you must be holy because I am holy.”
  • Joel 2:27: “You will know that I am present in Israel and that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other. My people will never again be put to shame.”
  • Isaiah 48:17: “This is what the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel says: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your benefit, who leads you in the way you should go.”
  • Ezekiel 36:11: “I will fill you with people and animals, and they will increase and be fruitful. I will make you inhabited as you once were and make you better off than you were before. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

While much more could be said (and has, by others) about these two little words, it is sufficient to see what storyline and background Jesus draws from when He says “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι). By using these words, Jesus is uniquely putting Himself in the spot of Israel’s God, Yahweh. He’s saying “you’ve heard that Yahweh is the great I AM, and that’s exactly who I am.”

June 28, 2022

Synoptic Gospels Ask the Questions; John Lists the Answers

Today’s devotional first appeared four years ago as part of our Sunday Worship series.

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.


Update for regular readers:

Our regular Thursday columnist, Clarke Dixon is a few weeks into a 14-week sabbatical, but just days in he announced the completion of a book. You can read more about what’s inside Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope, by clicking this link.

March 31, 2022

Are We Christians Ungodly Toward the “Ungodly”?

Thinking Through Luke 15:1-32

by Clarke Dixon

What sermon would you preach if you were to preach on Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son?

Perhaps you might preach to lost souls about the love of God, encouraging them to come to faith in him. Far from God is never too far to turn around. Or perhaps you might preach to found souls about the love of God, on how we should be inspired to help the lost become found. God’s love for people “out there” is a great motivator to reach out.

Whichever you would choose, you are in good company for many such sermons have been preached from these parables. However, today we will consider these parables in light of the event that inspired Jesus to tell them.

So what happened?

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
So Jesus told them this story:…

Luke 15:1-3 (NLT)

Actually, Jesus told three stories, all of which hang together to make a very important point that we can easily miss.

So what is the point?

The lost sheep:

If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

Luke 15:4-7 (NLT)

There are a few things for us to take note of:

First, the lost sheep is neither a goat, nor a wolf, but a sheep. Being sheep, they already belong with the flock. They are not different, they are lost. The religious leaders were treating the lost sheep as if they were skunks. Jesus treated them like sheep.

Second, where the religious leaders saw people that should be kept at a distance, Jesus saw people with potential. The desire of the religious leaders to exclude contrasted sharply with the desire of Jesus to include.

Third, the grumbling of the religious types was in contrast with the rejoicing of heaven, which likely stands for the rejoicing of God.

The lost coin:

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

Luke 15:8-10 (NLT)

We can take note of the same things as with the parable of the lost sheep, but perhaps more explicit here is the idea of value. The lost coin is valuable. People have worth, even though, and even while, lost.

The prodigal son.

The parable of the prodigal son is so well loved, we might actually miss the main point Jesus was making by telling it. It would be easy for us to become fixated on the opportunity for the son to be reconciled, or the extravagant love of the father. We might stop thinking through this parable with the party thrown for the lost son for there is already so much to learn about God and ourselves by that point. But Jesus didn’t stop there in telling the story:

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

Luke 15:28-32 (NLT)

While the main point may be lost on us as we focus on the younger son or the father, it would not have been lost on the religious leaders who had attitudes just like the older brother.

The main point.

Taken together these three parables make the point that God has beautiful longings over people the religious leaders had ugly reactions against. In fact the ugly reactions against those considered ungodly, made the religious leaders themselves ungodly.

Does our attitude toward people reflect God’s attitude? Do we have beautiful longings for people? Or does our attitude toward people we consider “ungodly” make us ungodly? is it time for an attitude adjustment?

Perhaps the question is not what you would preach if you were to preach on these parables. Perhaps the question is what sermon do you need to hear?

Do you need to hear the call to draw closer to God? You belong, you are of great worth, God has a beautiful longing over you and for you. God opens the door to reconciliation.

Do you need to hear the call to go out and help people connect with God? God has a beautiful longing for people, they belong, they are of great worth.

Or perhaps today you need to hear the call to an attitude adjustment, to watch out for ugly reactions against people God has beautiful longings for. Is your attitude toward those you consider “ungodly” making you ungodly?


■ This sermon can be seen being “preached” here or heard through podcast for a limited time here. Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor who appears here most Thursdays.


Today completes 12 years of devotional studies here at Christianity 201. Tomorrow we celebrate our 12th Birthday!

March 30, 2022

Do We Really Want to Change?

NLT.John.5.1. Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”   [click here to read the full account]

Today’s featured writer was recommended to us by a writer who has already appeared here a few times. The blog is called It’s a God Thing. Clicking the header below will take you to where we sourced it. There are also a number of other recent articles you might want to explore.

Will you take up your mat and walk?

I love this re-telling of Jesus healing the paralytic in John 5. It is by author John Eldredge, and appears in his book Desire:

“The shriveled figure lay in the sun like a pile of rags dumped there by accident. It hardly appeared to be human. But those who used the gate to go in and out of Jerusalem recognized him. He was disabled, dropped off there every morning by someone in his family, and picked up again at the end of the day.

A rumor was going around that sometimes (no one really knew when) an angel would stir the waters, and the first one in would be healed. Sort of a lottery, if you will. And as with every lottery, the desperate gathered round, hoping for a miracle. It had been so long since anyone had actually spoken to him, he thought the question was meant for someone else.

Squinting upward into the sun, he didn’t recognize the figure standing above him. The misshapen man asked the fellow to repeat himself; perhaps he had misheard. Although the voice was kind, the question felt harsh, even cruel. “Do you want to get well?”

He sat speechless, blinking into the sun. Slowly, the words seeped into his consciousness, like a voice calling him out of a dream. Do I want to get well? Slowly, like a wheel long rusted, his mind began to turn over. What kind of question is that? Why else would I be lying here? Why else would I have spent every day for the past thirty-eight seasons lying here? He is mocking me.

But now that his vision had adjusted to the glare, he could see the inquisitor’s face, his eyes. The face was as kind as the voice he heard. Apparently, the man meant what he said, and he was waiting for an answer. “Do you want to get well? What is it that you want?”

It was Jesus who posed the question, so there must be something we’re missing here. He is love incarnate. Why did he ask the paraplegic such an embarrassing question?”


And it does seem an obvious, strange question. But I think what Jesus is doing here, as John Eldredge draws out in the book – is asking the man to take ownership. Does he want to get well… or does he want to stay as he is?

You might say, ‘Of course he wants to get well!’ But sometimes we are so accustomed to living a certain way that we become set in our ways. We take on the identity of a self-sacrificial mum or a wounded soldier or a perpetual procrastinator… We become comfortable in our jail cell, so to speak. We talk so much about our struggles that they almost become who we are. Instead of seeking change or growth, or following our dreams… we maintain the status quo.

Do I want to get ‘well’? What areas in my life do I really want Jesus to help me with? May I never stop asking him for his leading in my life, his shaping of my plans. He is more than able to heal (while he may not choose to in the way we might think). He is also able to change, to guide, and transform, no matter how old or whatever life situation we are in… We are always part of his plan. But he does want us to ask. To be participators in the process.

After Jesus asks the paralyzed man if he wants to get well, he offers excuses and complaints about his life. But Jesus simply says to him: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” He was cured straight away, and he did – he picked up his mat and walked. And later, he told other people about what Jesus had done.

Perhaps all God asks of me right now is willingness. Willingness to trust him with what I have, and follow. To be open to his calling, even if it’s different to what I had in mind. His plans. His promises. His joy and peace! To simply pick up my mat and walk.


There’s another article by the same writer that I think some of you might appreciate. It’s not a Bible study per se, but if the title intrigues you, check out The Morning I Became a World Changer, an essay on human trafficking.


Here at Christianity 201, Friday marks our 12th Birthday! That’s 12 years of providing a daily devotional, 7 days a week, 12 months of the year. I don’t get a lot of feedback, and can only trust that these are beneficial for those of you who continue to subscribe and those who drop by periodically to see what we’ve been up to!


If you need some lighter reading, feel free to check out page one of Ruth’s advanced essay in theological graduate studies, Cats in the Bible.

March 11, 2022

The First Thing People See is Our Fruits

 

“Either make the tree good and its fruit will be good, or make the tree bad and its fruit will be bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. – Matthew 12:33 CSB

A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. – Luke 6:44 NLT

“As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness’ but my hand shall not be against you.‘” 1 Samuel 24:13 NASB

Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right. –  Proverbs 20:11 NLT

Today we have another first time writer to feature here, whose name is not immediately identified on their page, but who has a number of good articles on a number of topics. I’m fairly confident his name is David Patton. The blog is called Becoming Christian and I encourage you to click the header which follows and take the time to read this at its original source.

The Missing Fruit of the Christian Church

“And you will know them by their fruits”

If we as Christians meditated on this quote by Jesus found in Matthew, would we have a different world view, would we see pastors and church elders differently, would we judge our local political leaders differently, would we see ourselves differently?  But here is the thing, knowing and being able to judge a person based on their fruits is one of those teachings of Jesus that has been ignored, and has not been given room to breathe and be developed. It is on the surface a simple truism, and in context Jesus is talking about false teachers. But the more someone is willing to meditate on this saying this the more power it has.

Growing up in an evangelical fundamentalist cultural there is a feeling that that “he who is without sin cast the first stone” so there is the idea that we can’t, or maybe just shouldn’t, talk about the fact that someone is not bringing forth good fruit. Yet when the average person looks out across the visible manifestation of the church, I’m not convinced that they see a difference in the behavior and mannerisms then of people outside of the church, because they do make judgment calls based upon the fruit they see. And I know that there are going to be many people who are going to church who say, “that is not our church” or “that is not a real church”. but that is the thing that so many Christians don’t realize and fail to understand, and that is most people outside of the church judge the church by its fruits, and they don’t like what they see.

My feeling is that the church in America in no ways wants to be judge or criticized on its lack of fruit. In fact, if criticism is leveled against it, Christians have a complex ecosystem which they use to minimize and deflect the fact that they are in no way baring the good fruits of Jesus. Time and time again the Mark Driscolls and Hillsongs are put forth as examples that we as followers of Jesus should look to, but time and time again when they are tested it is revealed they in no way embody the actions of Jesus, they do not produce good fruit, even though some will make the excuse that they do.

But to be true to the teachings of Jesus, and to rightly call ourselves Christian, it is imperative that we give and receive criticism when our actions do not bring forth or reflect the good fruits that Jesus Christ desires of those who follow him. This should not, in any way shape or form, be considered a controversial opinion.

The reality is that criticism is downplayed or deflected because it’s clear that the Christian church in America is not producing good fruit, and the world can see this. The deeper, and in fact sadder, truth is that it does not have a framework by which it can say a person is demonstrating actions that is in keeping with producing the good fruits of salvation. Unfortunately, the church has been corrupted by the thinking of the world and uses the frameworks of the world to measures itself.

How big is your church? How many regular attenders do you have? How much money do you bring in each week? How many missionaries does your church support? How famous is your pastor? Has your pastor written and published books? How many people in your church have written and published books? These standards of the world can go on and on, and to most people they are seen as, not necessarily bad, or evil, more neutral.  Yet it is a simple fact none of these standards are in keeping with baring the good fruit found in the Holy Scripture.

The questions then must be asked, and answered, what does good fruit look like in a person who is a follower of Jesus, and how do they get to producing good fruit? This of course this is not an easy answer, but it will start us down the path of looking at the teaching of Jesus and how they apply to the context and world that we live in today.

It is a given that for the vast majority of us we can simply go to our local supermarket and buy whatever fruit we want. But in truth fruit just doesn’t appear in our supermarket it needs time to grow and become fruit. Plant the seed, water the seed, maybe fertilize the growing sprout, and then only when it reaches maturity will the tree, it is hoped, produce fruit. Though for American Christianity this idea of taking time to either develop a person or to just take the time to judge if the person produces good fruit is not something that done.

Most churches in America have more of a country club mentality in which a person who joins is given the bylaws and constitution and simply expected to read and abide by them, if cannot, or don’t want to, they can leave.  Churches need to start taking the time to develop people taking the teachings of Jesus as the foundation for what right Christianity looks like. Is a person showing compassion, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, to the stranger, the poor, and the outcast? If not, do we have a something in place so a person can start developing these fruits?

If someone wants to become a leader have they consistently, over time, shown the fruits of Christ consistent with salvation? We live in a world that is rushed and sees time as nothing more than a commodity it is therefore important to be slowly taking time to not only develop fruit in a person but also to see if a person has fruit that is consistent with the teaching of Jesus.

 It is also true that in order to develop these fruits a person needs a community of people, yet what is seen as community in the modern world is nothing more than a gathering of like-minded people around a dogmatic political or religious identity. Unfortunately, this kind of “community” is not a community that brings forth good fruits in a person, it is only an echo chamber that brings forth the absolute worst in humanity.

The development of a community that brings forth the good fruit of Jesus Christ is a very messy community that does not conform to a certain theological or dogmatic construct that are in vogue or happen to be “just what we do”. What it is, is a group of people on a journey of faith trying to emulate the life and teachings of Jesus.

We see a lot of this messiness reflected in the pages of the New Testament the conflicts with who can be considered as a Christian do, they must conform to the traditions of the past or are we making a new path, who gets feed and in what order, Paul verses Peter, Paul and Silas, or basically Paul in general. But for the American church this messiness gets papered over with statement of faith, and doctrinal statement that prevents us from entering in too true community. We assume that because a congregation has a faith statement that everyone in that congregation believes everything within that statement. Now while we know this is not true of everybody who shows up on a Sunday it is shared assumption that most people have that has led to a homogeneity that does not allow for the truly messy nature of Christian community.

The sad reality is that the fruit that Jesus Christ wants to be present in those who follow him are not fruit that a modern Christian particular enjoys. It is fruit of a bygone era. Fruit for those who want to live out of step with the world, live in the past and not the present.

If Christians today truly wanted to emulate Jesus, they would not only pursue the fruits of Christ but also provide a way for others to walk that path as well. Yet it is all too clear that the fruits of Christ, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control are not present in the church today, and a simple blog post pointing out these problems, and providing a couple of ways forward is not enough. It’s going to take a collective effort by those who truly want to follow Jesus to build the Church based on Christ’s teachings.

 

February 18, 2022

A Life of Calm

NIV.Matt.8.23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24a Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat…

So many times here we begin with, “Today we have a new writer to introduce;” and this is no exception. But before we start, I want to really highlight something brilliant I’d never considered before. The title the author gave her post — see below — is borrowed from a familiar Christmas carol.

Speaking concerning the birth narrative of Jesus, some preachers will describe a chaotic barn with animal noises and the baby — Jesus — crying. Did Jesus cry? I think we can get lost in questions like that which don’t really advance the major highlights of the story, but if you look at the larger story arc of the Bible, such as the passage she considers below, you could make a point that perhaps he did not.

Also, often a writer includes scripture references at the end of a devotional which aren’t directly quoted, but here again there is that element of a larger story. In Matthew 7 we read

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

The house built on a solid foundation stands strong in the storm.

But let’s get back to that Christmas lyric and its connection to the actual text in today’s devotional. The writer we’re featuring is Wynter Kettlewell who blogs at Faith Inspired Tenacity. Click the header below to read this there.

Sleep In Heavenly Peace

But Jesus Himself was asleep.  Matthew 8:24

During the storm, Jesus was sleeping.  His rest was not disturbed by the rising winds and waves.  However, His disciple friends were not nearly as relaxed.  Unlike Jesus, they panicked and believed they were going to die.  They were afraid that this storm was going to be the end of them.  They were so distressed and afraid that they woke Jesus up to help!

What a drastic difference between Jesus and His disciples.  Jesus, unlike His disciples, was able to sleep and rest during the storm because Jesus was the Word, the Word that became flesh.  His life was built on the Word.  A storm is unable to destroy or disrupt the rest of a person whose life is built on the Word because they know the truth that God is over all things.  He could sleep in peace because He knew God was in control.  So in life, when the storms come and the pressure begins to increase and you see the waves rising and you think you are going to die, think of Jesus sleeping in the boat.  Be still and know that God is in control of it all.  And if you have to, do what the disciples did and turn to the Word for help.

Bottomline: A life built on the Word can sleep in peace during even the fiercest storms.

Matthew 7:24-27, John 1:14, Psalm 46:10


Bonus link:

So what happened next in the story? Wynter continues the Matthew 8 story in this devotional, titled How to Save a Life.

February 17, 2022

When Everyone Is So Certain

Thinking Through Luke 6:17-26

by Clarke Dixon

Is it just me, or is everyone convinced they are right and everyone else is wrong? For uncertain times there sure is a lot of certitude. How are we supposed to be sure of anything when everyone seems so sure of everything yet can agree on nothing? Our Scripture Focus today will help us find our way.

In today’s Scripture Focus Jesus challenged two things that many people were certain about.

First, Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about about how God works.

Then looking up at His disciples, He said:
You who are poor are blessed,
because the kingdom of God is yours.
You who are now hungry are blessed,
because you will be filled.
You who now weep are blessed,
because you will laugh…

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your comfort.
Woe to you who are now full,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are now laughing,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:20,21,24,25 (HCSB)

It was well known in those days that if you obeyed God, things would go well for you and you would be blessed. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t. Therefore the assumption was that the rich, the well-fed, the happy were obviously those who were well deserving of God’s blessings. The poor, the hungry, the unhappy, were obviously those who didn’t deserve God’s blessings. Many people think this way today.

Jesus challenged all that; “Blessed are the poor.” Discerning who is blessed by God and who is not goes way beyond merely looking at who seems to be doing well in life right now. There is something much deeper going on. That is not how God works.

So how did everyone get it wrong and could they have have done better?

The prevailing understanding seems to lean heavily on the Book of Deuteronomy where we find lists of blessings and curses for God’s people. If the people as a nation obeyed God, they would be blessed, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t. When Jesus spoke about blessings and woes he was probably intending for people to make that connection with Deuteronomy. Yet what he said was very different, and challenged their assumptions.

Assumptions could have been challenged earlier if people paid more attention to other parts of the Bible, like the Book of Job. The Book of Job is a rather long drama that asks the question, why do good people suffer while bad people flourish? The Book of Job is not really about the about the answer to that question but rather the validity of that question. It challenges the notion that you can tell if a person is blessed by God by looking at whether they are winning in life or not. Look around, good people sometimes do suffer, evil people sometimes do flourish. Perhaps the conclusions people jumped to by reading Deuteronomy could have been challenged by looking wider and being challenged by Job before being challenged by Jesus.

Looking wider and becoming aware of other viewpoints is key for us today as we navigate this era of certitude.

We can dig deep on any given topic, but we also must look around. As we do so, we are not seeking more reasons to stick to our guns, but greater wisdom, insight, and understanding, allowing our assumptions to be challenged. Doing so may or may not lead us to change our minds, but either way it will allow us to better understand the minds of others.

Some people think they are digging deep, doing research on a topic, but what that looks like is reading article after article that are written from the same perspective, that start from the same assumptions, that support the same conclusions. We call this being in an echo chamber where every voice is echoing the same thing. Sometimes our choice of echo chamber is based on wanting to hear from “experts” what we would want to say if we were the experts. Sometimes digging deeper just gets you into a bigger hole that is harder to get out of. We also need to look around. Other voices are important. We need the conclusions we jump to by reading Deuteronomy to be challenged by reading Job.

Think of how much better this world would be if we all let our assumptions be challenged, if we all sought wisdom, insight, and deep understanding rather than simply seeking confirmation of what we think we know.

Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about about how God works, about how life works. As a matter of prayer we might want to pause and ask the Lord to challenge us about our assumptions and whatever false conclusions we may have arrived at, or been pushed into.

Second, Jesus challenged the assumption that he, Jesus, was not from God.

You are blessed when people hate you,
when they exclude you, insult you,
and slander your name as evil
because of the Son of Man. [i.e. Jesus]
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note — your reward is great in heaven, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets…

Woe to you
when all people speak well of you,
for this is the way their ancestors
used to treat the false prophets.

Luke 6:22,23,26 (HCSB emphasis, clarification added)

Here Jesus pointed out how former generations had got it wrong. They often persecuted the true prophets who were from God, and rewarded the false prophets who were not.

When the religious leaders heard Jesus they were operating with a big assumption, namely, that anyone coming from God would live, teach, and act according to their understanding of the Scriptures. So, anyone healing on a Sabbath, something Jesus was prone to do, was obviously not from God. Jesus said and did many other things that got under their skin. Their attitude was: “Jesus can’t possibly be from God if he does not look, act, and think, just like we do.”

There was at least one religious leader who managed to challenge that assumption:

There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Him at night and said, “ Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.”

John 3:1-2 (HCSB)

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, likely in secret because his openness to Jesus would not have gone over well with the other Pharisees. How many of us keep our thoughts secret out of fear of people jumping all over us for challenging assumptions?

Nicodemus was willing to allow his assumptions, as a Pharisee, to be challenged. And it was to Nicodemus that those most famous of words were said:

“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 scholars see this verse, and those that follow, not as the words of Jesus, but as the writer’s comment on the important things Jesus said to Nicodemus. Nevertheless, do our assumptions keep us from hearing about God’s love for the world and for us? Assumptions like “miracles don’t happen,” “Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead because people don’t rise from the dead,” or “The Bible is just all made up stories.”

Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths about Jesus, God, God’s grace and love, and God’s kingdom? Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths that lead us to life, to the Giver of life? Might assumptions keep those of us who follow Jesus from following more closely?

Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths about people and the way things work? It might be assumptions around mental health, race relations, viruses and vaccines. We might have assumptions about Muslims, atheists, Christians, truckers, health care workers, youth, seniors, people who are LGBTQ+, politicians, and yes, pastors. If I had a penny for every time someone has said to me “you are a pastor and you ride a motorcycle?”!

Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about their beliefs about whether or not he, Jesus, was from God. Perhaps we should pause and ask if Jesus would challenge our assumptions about who he is and he is about. While we are at it, perhaps we should challenge the assumptions we make about everyone else too. And then there are the assumptions we make about ourselves.

In Summary

In our society today there are many deeply held convictions. Deeply held convictions are no guarantee of deep insight. As we allow our assumptions to be challenged, as we listen to other voices, it will make a big difference. Let us be wise, seeking insight, knowledge, and understanding, on anything and everything, and of everyone, including ourselves. Let us especially seek insight where it matters most, about God and God’s love for us in Christ.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)


In addition to formatting Clarke’s “Shrunk Sermon” notes for several years, for the past 24 months I’ve also been tuned into his church’s online “Worship Expression.” For the sermon portion of this week’s, on which this article was based, click this link.

February 15, 2022

Reviewing a Long List of Unspoken Grievances

NIV.Luke.15.25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

Today we uncovered a special treat for you. Let me introduce the author first, and then set the stage for what you’re about to read. Fr. Aiden Kimel has been blogging for nearly ten years at Eclectic Orthodoxy and describes himself as “an eclectic Christian believer” who has “been on a spiritual journey–from Anglicanism to Catholicism and finally to Eastern Orthodoxy.”

This is actually the second part of a look at what we usually call The Parable of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15). The first part is longer than what we run here, but if you wish to dive in, I encourage you to read The Prodigal Son and his Festival of Death. In both that and what follows, he draws heavily on the writing of Robert Farrar Capon. For today’s, you’re encouraged to read it at its source by clicking the header which appears in the title which follows.

The Elder Son and His Refusal to Die and Join the Party

The music is playing. Singing and riotous laughter can be heard for miles. Gaiety abounds. The aroma of roast veal fills the house. Finally (dum, dum, dum, dum-da dum, dum-da dum) the elder son arrives.

But his older son was in a field; and as he came and drew near the house he heard music and dancing, And calling one of the servants over he asked what all this might be. And he told him that ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has got him back in good health.’ But in his response he was indignant and did not wish to go in; and his father came out and pleaded with him. But in reply he said to the father, ‘Look, for so many years I am slaving for you, and I have never disobeyed a command of yours, and you never gave me a goat so that I could make merry with my friends, But when this son of yours came, he who has devoured your livelihood with whores, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Child, you are always with me, and all my things are yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and came to life, and was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:25-32)

So far the parable has been a festival of death, but now the “only live character” of the story, as Capon puts it, appears on the stage. “The Elder Brother. Mr. Respectability. Herr Buchhalter. Monsieur Comptabilité. The man with volumes and volumes of the records he has kept on himself and everyone else” (Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, p. 299). What is the meaning of all this merriment and tomfoolery?

He makes a stagey contrapposto: nostrils flared, eyes closed, back of right hand placed against his forehead. He gasps: Music! Dancing! Levity! Expense! And on a working day, yet! “And he called one of the servants, and asked him what these things meant.” He is not happy: Why this frivolity? What about the shipments that our customers wanted yesterday? Who’s minding the store? “And he [the servant] said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.” He rants: The fatted calf! Doesn’t the old fool know I’ve been saving that for next week’s sales promotion when we show our new line of turnips? How am I supposed to run a business when he blows the entertainment budget on that loser of a son? “And he was angry, and would not go in.” Finally, therefore, he makes a proclamation: I will not dignify this waste with my presence! Someone has to exercise a little responsibility around here! (p. 299)

Talk about a killjoy . . . but even worse, talk about a self-righteous prig. “I’m going to stay right here and stew in my anger.” We can imagine the miserable man silently reviewing his long list of unspoken grievances. “Dad has never acknowledged all the hard work I have put into the farm over the years nor shown one sign of appreciation of my loyalty to him. I’ve always obeyed his commands. I’ve never brought shame upon our family. My behavior has always been impeccable. And now he throws a goddamn party for that profligate, irresponsible, wastrel of a son of his. What the hell is going on here? I’ll die first before joining the party.”

Upon hearing that his eldest is refusing to join the festivities, the father goes out to him and entreats him to come inside. The son launches into his screed: “Look, for so many years I am slaving for you . . .”

The words of the father’s reply are well known to us, but what of its tone? “The temptation—since the father has been grace personified to the prodigal,” Capon remarks, “—is to read his reply to the elder brother’s next words as more of the same tender concern” (p. 299). Tender concern. Yep, that’s the tone I have always imagined. But Capon suggests that we should instead hear the father’s reply as a rebuke, with a bit of irritation behind it. “Grace works only on the dead,” and that is the elder son’s problem—“he refuses to be dead” (p. 299). He’s a moralist who believes that life is gained by following the rules. His worldview has no place for life through death. It is ruled by legalism and merit. A word of judgment is therefore in order.

Here’s Capon’s hilarious translation of the father’s response. I tried to cut it down, but it really needs to be read in its entirety:

You little creep! his father says. What do you mean, my living? I’ve been dead since the beginning of this parable! What your brother wasted was his, not mine. And what you’ve been so smug about not wasting has actually been yours all along. Don’t bellyache to me. You’re in charge here; so cut out the phoney-baloney. If you were really dying for veal, you could have killed the fatted calf for yourself any day of the week. And if you really wanted to be ready to entertain customers at all hours of the day and night, you would have kept a dozen fatted calves on hand, not just a single measly one you have to have a fit over every time it gets cooked. And as far as your brother’s sexual behavior is concerned, listen, Mr. Immaculate Twinkletoes, you’ve got a lot to learn. I have no idea how much fun he had getting himself laid, drunk, and strung out, but even if it was only marginal, it was probably more than you’ve had sitting here thinking.

But see? the father continues, you even get me off the track. The only thing that matters is that fun or no fun, your brother finally died to all that and now he’s alive again—whereas you, unfortunately, were hardly alive even the first time around. Look. We’re all dead here and we’re having a terrific time. We’re all lost here and we feel right at home. You, on the other hand, are alive and miserable—and worse yet, you’re standing out here in the yard as if you were some kind of beggar. Why can’t you see? You own this place, Morris. And the only reason you’re not enjoying it is because you refuse to be dead to your dumb rules about how it should be enjoyed. So do yourself and everybody else a favor: drop dead. Shut up, forget about your stupid life, go inside, and pour yourself a drink. (pp. 300-301)

After being subjected to this rebuke, I think I’d need a drink too. But we would be missing the point if we were to take the paternal rebuke as merely wise counsel to lighten up and have some fun. As with all the parables, Capon is interpreting the story of the father and his two sons through the death and resurrection of Jesus. There is only one way to life with God. We must join the living dead:

The classic parable of grace, therefore, turns out by anticipation to be a classic parable of judgment as well. It proclaims clearly that grace operates only by raising the dead: those who think they can make their lives the basis of their acceptance by God need not apply. But it proclaims just as clearly that the judgment finally pronounced will be based only on our acceptance or rejection of our resurrection from the dead. The last judgment will vindicate everybody, for the simple reason that everybody will have passed the only test God has, namely, that they are all dead and risen in Jesus. Nobody will be kicked out for having a rotten life, because nobody there will have any life but the life of Jesus. God will say to everybody, “You were dead and are alive again; you were lost and are found: put on a funny hat and step inside.” (p. 301)

In the end we all end up dead, but in this broken world we are already dead. The only question is whether we will allow the risen Jesus to inhabit our death. “For you have died and your life has been hidden in the Anointed in God” (Col. 3:3).


For further discussion: Read Fr. Kimel’s story of his journey.

February 3, 2022

Responding To, or Reacting Against, the Authority of Jesus?

Thinking Through Luke 4:31-44

by Clarke Dixon

Does the idea of someone having authority over you bring out a positive response from you, or a negative reaction?

There is a kind of authority that we might dread, because after all, authorities can be dreadful. Some have had experiences with authorities that leave them scarred and scared. We can think of those who grow up under evil regimes or in abusive homes. We may distrust authority or feel compelled to protect others from it.

But there is another kind of authority, one which compels us to draw closer. I can think back to my favourite professor from seminary. He had authority based on his depth of knowledge on the Bible and history, plus the depth of his experience of life, plus the depth of his relationships with the students. His authority was not just by virtue of his appointment and title, but an authority based on who he was. Maybe you can think of an authority figure in your life, a person whose authority is a matter of celebration and not alarm.

There are authorities we want to run from and condemn. There are authorities we want to draw closer to and follow. Now which is Jesus in your life?

Looking around our society, there are many who celebrate the authority of Jesus in their lives. But then there are also many who would say “no way!” It was the same in Jesus day.

The Authority of Jesus

The authority of Jesus comes up a lot in our Scripture Focus for today. There was something compelling about the authority of Jesus with regard to his teaching:

Then Jesus went to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and taught there in the synagogue every Sabbath day. There, too, the people were amazed at his teaching, for he spoke with authority.

Luke 4:31-32 (NLT)

There was something compelling about the authority of Jesus over the spiritual realm:

…Jesus reprimanded him. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered. At that, the demon threw the man to the floor as the crowd watched; then it came out of him without hurting him further.
Amazed, the people exclaimed, “What authority and power this man’s words possess! Even evil spirits obey him, and they flee at his command!”

Luke 4:35-36 (NLT)

There was something compelling about the authority of Jesus over illness and disease:

After leaving the synagogue that day, Jesus went to Simon’s home, where he found Simon’s mother-in-law very sick with a high fever. “Please heal her,” everyone begged. Standing at her bedside, he rebuked the fever, and it left her. And she got up at once and prepared a meal for them.

As the sun went down that evening, people throughout the village brought sick family members to Jesus. No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one.

Luke 4:38-40 (NLT)

The authority of Jesus pointed to the Kingdom of God:

Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.”

Luke 4:42-43 (NLT)

By virtue of his position and title, of course Jesus has authority; He is the King of that Good News Kingdom! However, the authority of Jesus was perceived and well received by those who did not know his true identity. How Jesus was experienced by people was enough for them to find his authority remarkable and desirable.

But not everyone found the authority of Jesus to be compelling.  For certain people, Jesus was one to run from, and protect people from. They leveled criticism at him at every turn. They eventually had him executed.

What made the difference?

Why did some feel compelled to follow and celebrate Jesus while others felt compelled to condemn him?

Those who found the authority of Jesus compelling, who were they? They were those being healed, those willing to go deeper into his teaching, those willing to listen, learn, and change.

Those who found the authority of Jesus to be distasteful, who were they? They were those who thought they had everything to teach and nothing to learn. They were those who made claim to having authority themselves. Those who had a negative reaction to the authority of Jesus were those who had an inflated sense of their own authority. Reading more broadly in the Gospels, they also had an inflated sense of the authority of their own traditions.

What about today?

There are those who have met Jesus, who have experienced healing and change in their lives, who have gone deep into the teaching of Jesus. They have experienced the authority of Jesus and found it compelling.

There are those who refuse to meet Jesus, perhaps from inflated views of their own authority, or traditions they subscribe to. They do not find the authority of Jesus compelling because they refuse to experience it. They already think they know what they need to know.

But there are many who think they have met Jesus and have not found his authority compelling, but maybe they have not met him. It may be that some say “no thanks” to Christianity, and “don’t force your religion down my throat”, but if they were there with Jesus, to experience his teaching, his presence, and his works, would find his authority compelling and would willingly follow. They have not met Jesus but they have met Christians, and maybe our authority as Christians has not been as compelling.

Perhaps this should make us wonder if we are representing Jesus well in our day, if Jesus is so compelling, yet we Christians are not.

There are lessons here for those of us in authority, whether parents, teachers, coaches, or leaders of any sort. Never mind our positions and titles, how do people experience us?

How do people experience Christians who represent Jesus? Does it compare to how people experienced Jesus? Do people experience depth when we speak? Do people experience healing through our presence? There is a long line-up of people willing to express how their experience of Christianity has been one of harm and not healing. The Internet has given such folk an unprecedented opportunity to tell the world about that.

As Christians we claim a sort of authority with regard to truth and spirituality. We know Jesus is alive, we know about God’s love and grace, we know we meet God in the pages of the Scriptures. We are eager to share the good news! But if our authority does not come across as compelling, perhaps we have some soul searching to do. Are we submitting to the authority of Jesus? Like the Pharisees perhaps we have an inflated sense of our own authority, or an inflated sense of the authority of a specific tradition over and against our Lord.

Let us draw closer to Jesus, and experience the change, the joy, and the excitement, his authority brings.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. He appears here most Thursdays, or you can find past “shrunk sermons” at his blog which links through the title above his name at the top of this article. You may watch the 22-minute sermon on which this devotional is based at this link.

October 18, 2021

The Greatest Gift God Gave was Passive, Not Active

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. – I John 3:16

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” – John 10: 17a-18

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:13

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! – Philippians 2:8; all references NIV

 

Six months ago, I shared an excerpt from the debut release of a new author, Tyler Staton, titled Searching for Enough: The High-Wire Walk Between Faith and Doubt (Zondervan, 2021.) I was finally able to get a copy for myself, and recently posted a review at Thinking Out Loud.

Here is another excerpt from the book which really got me thinking. He begins with a quote from Ronald Rolheiser:

Jesus gave his life for us in one way, through his activity; he gave his death for us in another way, through his passivity, his passion.

Then Tyler continues…

Typically, when people speak of the “passion of Jesus Christ,” they are intending to make much of the brutal suffering. They’re making a summary reference to whips that bring one to the brink of death but stop just short, forcing breath to keep flowing through a body that can no longer be called human. They’re peaking of a body that can no longer be called human. They’re speaking of ruthless soldiers making evening plans while forcing thick iron nails through the wrists and feet of an innocent man. They’re speaking of a spear just under the rib cage when the dying is dragging on so long that boredom is setting in. Make no mistake, Jesus’ death was brutal, but the brutality of the way he died was not his passion; the passion of Jesus Christ was his free choice to die.

Rolheiser explains: “The English word passion takes its root in the Latin passio, meaning ‘passivity,’ and that is its primary connotation here: what the passion narratives describe for us is Jesus’ passivity. He gives his death to us through his passivity, just as he had previously given his life to us through his activity.”

For thirty-three years, Jesus gave us his activity, his life. He was always active, always doing–teaching, healing, advocating, feeding, freeing, including, comforting, noticing, inviting, hoping, instructing, loving.

His final twenty-four hours represented a distinct shift, obvious to every close observer. Beginning with his arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus gave us his passivity, his death. Every gospel author’s description of Jesus takes an obvious grammatical turn at that point–all the verbs become passive. He is led away. His questioned. He is tortured. He is whipped. He is mocked. He is provided help in carrying his cross. He is nailed to it.

He is no longer doing; he is allowing to be done. He is no longer acting; he is being acted upon.

When people question God, it’s always related to his activity. What was God doing when that happened to me? Where was God when I really needed help? How could a loving God willingly allow this in my life [or her life or his life or our lives]? Why did God act in this way? Why didn’t God act in this way?

As people who often demand more action, more doing from God, this simple fact is worth consideration: The greatest gift God ever gave us was his passivity, not his activity; his restraint, not his action. It was his willingness to be acted on without intervention. It was his chosen powerlessness, not his power. It was not his doing, but his allowing. It is the passivity of God that is most revealing of his character. In Jesus’ passion he gave us a gift we could not receive by his action.

Mark’s account includes the reaction of the centurion, the Roman army commander who oversaw the execution. When the last breath left Jesus’ body, when the gift of love was completely given through divine restraint, the centurion said aloud, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

This Jewish rabbi had walked all over the Roman Empire for three years, healing the sick, causing the paralyzed to stand, giving sight to the blind, straightening the backs of the disfigured, cleansing the skin of lepers, restoring the minds of the insane, and even raising the dead, but none of that looked like God to those in power. Somehow what they had missed in his power they saw in his restraint.

The centurion recognized the divine bloodline in Jesus by his weakness, not his strength; his surrender, not his victory; his death, not his life; his love, not his power. There was something otherworldly, something wondrous, about the way he willingly gave up his life.

(Searching for Enough, pp 155-156)


Learn more about the book at zondervan.com

Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for the opportunity to reprint these excerpts. Books is ©2021 by Tyler Staton. Used by permission.

October 10, 2021

Jesus and the Rich Young Yuppie

Today we’re introducing you to Rev. Taylor Mertins  who writes at Think and Let Think, has co-authored three books, and hosts the Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast. Clicking the header which follows will get you direct access to today’s devotional, along with a Lego image of the ‘sorrowful’ young man who walks away from Jesus.

Jesus And The Yuppie

Mark 10.17

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

Jesus is doing his Jesus-thing, teaching about the upside down nature of the kingdom, when a yuppie shows up and asks about the requirements for salvation.

We only know what we know about this particular character based on what scripture tells us, and his story is a cautionary tale (and a beloved one among preachers).

Notice – the rich young man is already a success story in the eyes of the world: he’s a winner.

But he wants more.

What could drive someone to such a desire? Surely none of us know of such thirst and such hunger for more.

Robert Farrar Capon, in his seminal work on the parables, imagines the innermost thoughts of this yuppie with Jesus like this:

“Oh yes, I have had what once I would have called success. I moved the vices out of the city into a chain of reconditioned lighthouses. I introduced statistical methods in the Liberal Arts. I revived the country dances and installed electric stoves in the mountain cottages. I saved democracy by buying steel… But the world is not better and it is now quite clear to me that there is nothing to be done with such a ship of fools adrift on a sugarloaf sea in which it is going very soon and suitably to founder. Deliver me, dear Teacher, from the tantrums of my telephones and the whisper of my secretaries… deliver me from these helpless agglomerations of disheveled creatures with their bed-wetting, vomiting, weeping bodies, their giggling, fugitive, disappointing hearts, and their scrawling, blotted, misspelled minds, to whom I have so foolishly tried to bring the light they do not want… translate me, bright Angel, from this hell of inert and ailing matter, growing steadily senile in a time forever immature, to that blessed realm, so far above the twelve impertinent winds and the four unreliable seasons, that Heaven of the Really General Case where, tortured no longer by three dimensions and immune to temporal vertigo, Life turns into Light, absorbed for good into the permanently stationary, completely self-sufficient, absolutely reasonable One.” (Capon, The Parables of Judgment, 42).

The yuppie certainly has a problem: he is a winner who cannot fathom, whatsoever, the end of his winning. He is positively bewitched by the idea that there are no limits to what he can achieve by his own power.

Jesus responds by adding insult to injury and gives the man an impossible list of goals to achieve, namely the Ten Commandments. But the yuppie assures the Good Lord that he is, was, and forever will be perfect in the eyes of the Law.

And then, as Mark puts it, Jesus looks at the young man, loves him, and says something like, “Okay hotshot. There’s only one thing left for you to do: sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Hopefully removing all your winnings will free you to see that the only real way to win is by losing, the only way to be great is to be the least, the only way to live is to die.”

But the yuppie walks away sad, because he has many possessions.

And yet, here’s the really sad part: the yuppie walked away from the only really good news he would ever hear. Because all of that winning, in whatever form it took (material, moral, or even spiritual success) would eventually pass away like the wind in his death.

Or, as Jesus puts it, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

The rich young man couldn’t stand the thought of being a loser. But Jesus saves sinners (losers) and only sinners.

In the strange new world of the Bible, only the winners lose because only the losers can win – that’s how reconciliation works. If winning could’ve saved the world we would’ve done it a long time ago. Evil cannot be destroyed by moral score-keeping. The only way to save the world is to do what God did – by taking evil out of the world by taking it into himself in Jesus, nailing it to the cross, and leaving it there forever.

What must we do to inherit eternal life? Well, nothing. Nothing because, we can’t save ourselves.

But, thankfully, Jesus is in the business of making something of our nothing.

August 14, 2021

The Source of Peace, Love and Joy Lives Within Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:34 pm
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Today we’re looking at the Fruit of the Spirit and in particular, peace, joy and love. God gives us these things and if we’ve given him our lives, we simply need to access what we already have. We’re featuring the writing of Jim who writes at Jesus Gives Life. This is an older piece, but I encourage you to click the title below or the link in the previous sentence to discover his more recent writing.

Love, Joy, and Peace; The Greatest is Love

I saw a birthday card that had the following three keywords on it; Joy, Peace, and Love. It was not meant to be a religious card, but those words reminded me of what eternally is at the heart of what true Christianity is all about. The gift of God to us is Jesus, God our savior.

I know I will not be doing these words the ultimate justice they deserve, especially from a biblical text standpoint, but with the help of God, hopefully it will put things in the proper context.

We have all heard the words, or the various quoted biblical texts about the fruit of the Spirit. The quoted texts below have been used by many folks both in the Christian and secular worlds, and even those words have been used in many songs throughout the ages. I have to say though, the words have lost their true meaning, because we as a world, fail to realize of “who” the words are actually talking about.

Galatians 5:22-23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

1 Peter 4:8

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

Colossians 3:14

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

1 Corinthians 13:13

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 John 4:8

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:7

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

Romans 13:10

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Bible quotes from English Standard Version

What I really want to point out here, is each and everyone of these attributes are of God, or should I say is how God displays himself to us through Jesus Christ.

Some folks might be thinking that you are able to outwardly perform one or two of those attributes described above sometimes, and even you might say to yourself you can do some of them most of the time, but inwardly they can not be attained not even close to 100% of the time, nor can you display those fruits to all people all the time.

What is Love? This is the question that has been asked down through the ages. Until we understand what God’s love has been, and is for us, we can not love the way God loves us.

Love is forgiveness; not as the world forgives, but as God has forgiven us. Before we ever asked for forgiveness, God forgave us all (the whole world) of all our sins. Yes, read that a second time, God forgave you of all your sins before you ever asked for forgiveness. He forgave you of all your sins before you even committed them. He forgave you of all your sins before you were even born. God in Christ Jesus, sacrificed himself for all of us on the cross. God is not upset with you. Love is Jesus and Jesus is love.

Once we understand true forgiveness from God’s perspective, then we can start to forgive others as God has forgiven us.

Joy in my heart, because he has done it all for me. There is nothing more I need to do to have God love me. I am forgiven for all time. I am loved for all time. Nothing separates me from his love.

Peace that passes all understanding. Jesus gives us the peace that passes all understanding. His peace is the greatest, because in spite of our circumstances, in spite of what we do, in spite of what others do to us; he will never leave us or forsake us, and totally loves us.

Philippians 4:7

And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Now is the time to receive his forgiveness, receive his love, receive his joy, receive his peace, and receive his life giving Holy Spirit today.

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