Christianity 201

May 31, 2020

Currently, Where is Your Church Located?

Six months ago, we introduced you to Wes Barry, the pastor of Waypoint in North Carolina. It was the quotation at the beginning of today’s article which got my attention! Clicking the header below will take to this article at his website, where you can navigate to other helpful articles for church leaders.

The Church is Not Best Buy

The Church has not been closed; it is public worship that has been suspended.

I am reminded of one of my favorite stories about Dr. Halverson, the pastor of a large Presbyterian church in D.C.

One of the students asked, “Dr. Halverson, where is your church?” This seemed like a perfectly reasonable question to me, but Dr. Halverson looked quite perplexed and hesitated to answer. Then he glanced at his watch.

“Well, it’s three o’clock in Washington, D.C. The church I pastor is all over the city. It’s driving buses, serving meals in restaurants, having discussions in the Pentagon, deliberating in the Congress.” He knew exactly where his church was, and he went on and on with his lengthy listing.

Then he added, “Periodically, we get together at a building on Fourth Street, but we don’t spend much time there. We’re mostly in the city.”

A bomb went off in my head. All of my out-of-joint ideas about the church suddenly snapped into place. The church is people!

Jerry Cook, The Monday Morning Church, Howard Publishing Company, 2006, p. 12-13.

Though I do not have a practical solution to the issue of reopening, I want to challenge the church to consider how it needs to approach this next phase with a Biblical mindset not a consumeristic one.

Recently I came across the recommendations that churches should restart public worship with these protocols: staggered seating 6 feet apart and temperature scans as people come in while limiting capacity to 50 people. The politician recommending these measures then said, “The sick and vulnerable should not be allowed in church.”

Immediately, I was struck by how anathema that is to specifically why Jesus came into this world: “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Mark 2:17.

The sick and vulnerable should not be excluded from public worship–again I do not have a practical solution to this problem–but I am perturbed by this attitude that public worship should be “for me” while we exclude others. As the Christ Hymn reminds us, we should look “not to our own interests but to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4). Even in public worship attendance, are you going for your sake or for the sake of the person sitting next to you?

Take for example the suggestion that worship be limited to 50 people. How is a church supposed to monitor that? Suppose you are number 47 in the parking lot are you going to out sprint ahead of that young family who is struggling to get their kid into the stroller? Suddenly church is only available for those who are on time and have their acts together. This, too, seems counter to Christ’s command that: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16).

Perhaps you would recommend that people could register online. Therefore, it excludes the marginalized who would not have internet access or those who are disorganized, depressed, and the ones so busy trying to keep their family afloat they cannot “register” to go to church. Jesus, however, did not wait for people to register online to be one of his disciples–He inserted Himself into their lives; He entered their homes: “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.‘” Jesus tells Zacchaeus that He is coming over to Zacchaeus’ home because His mission was a rescue mission: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10).

Also I heard of one church that is assigning numbers to members alphabetically so that they can attend when it is their turn. While that is very effective for people on the list, what about the one not on a list? In fact, Jesus had a whole parable about rejoicing over that one:

Then Jesus told them this parable: “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the pasture and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders,comes home, and calls together his friends and neighbors to tell them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep!’ In the same way, I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones who do not need to repent.” [Luke 15: 4-7]

So, as you prepare for worship, how can you make sure to leave room for the one who is missing?

There are two streams emerging in this drive for public worship. One is the desire for the community to gather again. It is a living out of the word “ecclesia.” This is the Greek word used to describe the church and means: “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place.” It is the bringing out into the public square what is being done in our personal homes. It is God calling us to publicly demonstrate what He is doing personally in our hearts. It is a longing for our private lives to engage with others in praise of God.

The longing and drive we feel for this is good. And this season of shutdown should be a season of lament. We are sad that we cannot get together. Lament is good because it shows what our hearts desire: we need to publicly demonstrate our faith. However, this desire is in response to what we are doing on our own terms, in our own homes, in our private worship. This longing is good, and this desire needs to be cultivated. Cultivating this attitude can forestall public worship, however, through intentional private worship and relational connection with one’s neighbors.

The other drive–and the main one in our American church–is the selling of religious commodities. Like Best Buy needing to reopen, the church has been so heavily built upon the production of Sunday worship that the shutdown has stalled our religious economy. This desire for public worship is because we have an anemic understanding of private worship and an individualistic nature of worship being done amidst a crowd; We want the Church to do it for us so we can spectate.

In speaking to a fellow church planter, I appreciated his attitude when he said, “We want to be the third to last church to reopen in our city.” His intentional and thoughtful delay will place the emphasis upon a continued lament for the loss of community. His philosophy of ministry has an emphasis upon community groups, so this phased approach to reopening will allow him to place the focus back upon the gathering of people in their homes.

This season hopefully will cause us to consider why do we publicly worship in the first place? How can we be the Ecclesia by bringing into the public square what God is doing in our private hearts?

As your church considers restarting public worship, I would challenge you to make sure you consider how can you include the sick and vulnerable into the community? How can the last and lost be first and found?

May 21, 2020

Conflict and Casting Our Pearls to Pigs

by Clarke Dixon

Needless to say, conflict is a huge problem for relationships and COVID-19 may be making things worse for many. Spouses and family members are not used to spending so much time together! Add in fear on top of stress over jobs, finances, and loved ones, and conflict can lie just below the surface. Conflict can take a lot out of us. Does Jesus say anything that can help us deal with potential conflict? Perhaps this:

Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

Matthew 7:6 (NRSV)

What does this have to do with conflict? This saying of Jesus is often interpreted as meaning either, “don’t be flip with the sacred” to quote Eugene Peterson’s the Message, or, more commonly, the idea of don’t waste your time presenting the good news of Jesus to people who will not listen.

Having just said “do not judge,” it would be rather strange for Jesus to immediately require a judgement, a rather severe judgement, that some people may not be worth the effort. Might there be another way to understand these words of Jesus?

We can get tripped up by the word ‘holy’ and assume that Jesus must be talking about the Gospel, or something like that. What if Jesus uses ‘holy’ here, not as the main focus, but in the same way he uses ‘pearls.’ That is, there is something really, really precious and of great value, something which ought not to be wasted. What is that precious thing Jesus is talking about? What is the focus?

Jesus has been speaking about judgement and inter-personal relationships, which we can read in verses 1-5, so let us continue that line of thought. Just as something that is holy should not be thrown to dogs, and just as pearls should not be thrown to pigs, our best should not be thrown into the judgement of others. Our best includes our time, our effort, our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

As we learned last week, judgement is a two way street. If I come against you in judgement, you wIll judge me in return. The next thing you know two people have taken a stand against each other and conflict is brewing. It is like a stand off between two nations headed for war. All their best resources are called upon to make that stand. People will get hurt if no one stands down.

Likewise, those who take a stand in judgement against another will throw all their resources at the brewing conflict, including time, energy, and huge amounts of space in their hearts and minds. People will get hurt. This is like throwing something holy to dogs, or pearls to pigs. It is worse that useless. They may be torn apart by it all.

Our time and energy is important. Our hearts and minds are important. Why waste them on judgement and conflict? What can we do instead? We look back to what Jesus has just said:

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-6 (NRSV)

First, we take care of the log in our own eyes before judging our neighbours for the specks in theirs. Before we go trying to fix others, we focus on your own hearts and minds. We get our own lives in order. We look for God to do a work in us, to develop and grow our character through the Holy Spirit.

Second, we realize that we are on a journey just like everyone else. So rather than taking a stand of judgement against someone, we look take a step forward in relationship. We can grow together, helping each other with our logs and specks.

There are moments where for our own safety, we may need to take a step back from a relationship. Boundaries can be important. While we will always want to take a step forward with people, sometimes we will need to take a step back. What we do not want to do is take a stand against. The conflict that follows a stand of judgement is going to take too much out of us. It is like throwing what is holy to dogs, or like casting pearls before swine. It is a terrible waste and may end up destroying us.

While we will always want to take a step forward with people, sometimes we will need to take a step back. What we do not want to do is take a stand against.

God shows us how it is done. God wants to move forward in relationship with us:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. . . . God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Romans 5:6, 8-11 (NLT)

That does not sound like someone taking a stand against us! God could be against us, we have given Him plenty of reasons to do so, however, God is for us and not against us. Throughout the Bible God shows that He wants to walk with us. Through Jesus and the forgiveness of sin, God makes walking with us a reality. Through the Holy Spirit we experience God walking with us.

Do you want to take those steps forward with God? Perhaps you have decided instead to take a stand in judgement against God. God does not want to stand in judgement against you. He wants to walk in relationship with you. We can walk with Him, and learn from Him how to walk with others, in faith, hope, and love. This is much better than giving our best to judgement and conflict, than throwing what is holy to dogs, and pearls to pigs.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

May 14, 2020

Judge Not!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Although I’m not a betting man, I bet that if you went into our local high school and polled the students (thinking back to the good ole’ days a few months ago when students could be found in schools), and asked “who are the most judgemental people you know?” They would say “Christians.”
How can that be? Jesus very clearly said:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.

Matthew 7:1 (NRSV)

Perhaps we Christians don’t need to hear a sermon on judgement, but instead we just need to listen to Jesus!

If we are being honest, most of us struggle with judgemental attitudes. Not me, of course. I’m not judgemental, I just have superior discernment about how other people should live! I hope you realize I am joking, this being an area I can struggle in also.

Jesus tells us to not judge, but does he give us any help in learning how to live without judging others? Let us look at Jesus’ words again:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

Matthew 7:1-2 (NRSV)

Very often we read this to mean that if we judge someone, God will judge us in the same way. However, through Jesus we learn about the grace of God, and how God does not treat us as our sins deserve. Being judgemental is not an unforgivable sin. Also, Jesus does not mention God here at all.

Here is another way to think of it. Suppose I come at you with judgement, something like “you are stupid because you did this.” Will you respond with “Oh, good thought Clarke, thank you for that,” or will you not more likely respond with, “Who does Clarke think he is?”? See what happened there? I judged you, which led to you judging me.

If I come at you with a lot of judgement in a really harsh tone, you will likely respond with a lot more judgement. “Clarke said this, that, and the other thing to me – well, let me tell you this, that, and the other thing about Clarke!” The measure we give will be the measure we get.

The words of Jesus here are neither a promise, nor a theological premise, but rather a proverb. This is how judgement and judgementalism usually goes. Judgement is usually a two way street. The path of judgement is not a path you want to go down. It does not lead to a good place. There is a better way of handling our relationships. What is that better way?

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5 (NRSV)

The better way is to focus on tidying up our own house.

We now have a vegetable garden in our yard, or at least space allocated for one. We could look over the fence and be judgemental about the neighbours’ vegetable gardens, except we don’t know what we are doing and have much to learn. Likewise, we can’t go picking on people for their lack of spiritual growth and life skills if we are lacking in spiritual growth and life skills ourselves.

However, do we have the right, perhaps even the obligation to judge others once we have achieved spiritual maturity? Perhaps we feel justified in saying “I am not judgemental, I just have great discernment about how other people should live”? Let us turn again to the words of Jesus:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:10-14 (NRSV)

Our garden is never that great. Just when we think we are doing well in spiritual maturity, pride kicks in. After all, we are not just doing well in our spiritual maturity, we are doing better than others. In fact, thank the Lord we are not like others! How quickly we become the Pharisee.

But what if we actually do have discernment about other people’s situations? I know how that feels. We have three teenage boys, so my discernment is through the roof as to how they should live! Surely we have an obligation to help people steer a good course if they are headed for rocks and we know where those rocks are?

We go back to what Jesus has already taught in the Sermon on the Mount, namely, that it is not about rules, but about character. If we have a rules-based way of looking at life and spirituality then we may jump all over people for breaking the rules, especially the rules we keep well, or more likely, only the rules we keep well. However, if we are focused on walking with Jesus on a journey of character formation, then we will offer to walk with others on their journey of character formation. We are aware that we ourselves still have some distance to go.

Those who seem to have farther to travel along that path may actually be further along than we are in some respects. Walking together along a path of mutual growth is far better than running down the two-way street of judgmentalism.

We want to minimize the roadblocks on the journey toward maturity. One’s sinful nature is a speed-bump which becomes a roadblock through judgement. It does not matter how amazing my neighbor’s garden might be, if he pops his head over the fence and starts coming at me in a judgemental way for my gardening, I am probably not going to listen. He does know better, but the judgemental way he expresses it leaves the gate wide open for me in my pride to reject his discernment. But if he is simply a friendly and helpful neighbour who has a great garden, I might go to him and ask “how’d you do that?”

Are we good neighbours? Are we progressing down that path of character formation? What fruit is growing in our lives? Have we been nurturing judgemental attitudes which can grow like weeds, or “love, peace, kindness, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23). Developing such fruit of the Spirit is done by walking with Jesus. That is how we tidy our gardens. That is what will enable us to help others with theirs. We want to be helpful, not hurtful. To quote Carey Nieuwhof “very few people get judged into life change. Far more get loved into it.”

Are you judgemental? Or just highly discerning like me? Ahem. The best way to get a handle on our judgemental attitudes is not by fixing everyone around us so there is no-one left to judge, but by sticking close to Jesus on a journey of growth. We have a long way to go, but we have a lot of help along the way, from God through the Holy Spirit, but potentially even from those we might want to judge.

The best way to get a handle on our judgemental attitudes is not by fixing everyone around us so there is no-one left to judge, but by sticking close to Jesus on a journey of growth.



Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

April 28, 2020

Coming Alongside a God Who Does Miracles

NIV.Mark.6.35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Today’s thoughts are from the devotional section of the NIV Bible website and are drawn from The Maxwell Leadership Bible, 3rd Edition (available in NIV and NKJV editions) by John Maxwell.

Working Alongside a Miracle-Working God

…The feeding of five thousand story is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. It breaks down how a biblical miracle works: A few sense a need, and each individual takes responsibility and gives his or her all, regardless of the odds, then Jesus works a miracle.

WHEN THERE IS A NEED. . .

Every miracle in the Bible begins with a problem, a need. Before he fed the five thousand, Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw a multitude of people who were like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). The problem posed by this huge crowd of hungry, hurting people was the catalyst for the miracle.

If you have a problem, you are a candidate to work alongside a miracle-working God. That problem in your family, business, church, or community is your ticket to a potential miracle.

SENSED BY A FEW . . .

Jesus taught this crowd all day until the disciples told him it was getting late and the people had nothing to eat (Mark 6:35 – 36). These men were the ones aware there was a problem. Only a few, maybe only you, need to sense a need for a miracle to occur; a majority is not needed.

AND EACH INDIVIDUAL TAKES RESPONSIBILITY . . .

The disciples brought Jesus the problem and a solution. They suggested he send the people away to get something to eat. Jesus responded, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37).

God isn’t interested in our solutions or suggestions. He’s interested in our participation. This is where the miracle can often break down. God wants to involve you in his miracles. When you back away from that involvement, you back away from your influence and miss working alongside a miracle-working God.

AND GIVES HIS OR HER ALL REGARDLESS OF THE ODDS . . .

The disciples searched the crowd and found a boy who had five barley loaves and two small fish (John 6:9). This boy didn’t need a miracle to be able to eat — he already had food. Instead, he was asked to give.

There may be times when you don’t need a miracle, but God needs you to be a channel for a miracle that will bless someone else. You’ll give your all, despite the odds.

The disciples’ request for this boy’s lunch surely made no sense to him. How could his five loaves and two fish feed thousands of people? But he gave it to Jesus anyway.

How many miracles might you have missed because God asked you to do something and you didn’t do it because it didn’t make sense? As a leader, you must obey God even when you’re comfortable and don’t need a miracle, when his commands don’t make sense, when his instructions seem too simple, or when he asks for what seems to be too much. You never will learn to trust God until you learn to obey him. That’s when the miracles happen.

THEN JESUS WORKS A MIRACLE

Jesus took that boy’s small lunch, thanked God for it, and instructed the disciples to distribute the food among that crowd of thousands. Not only did everyone eat until they were full, there were twelve baskets of leftovers (Mark 6:39 – 44). Surely the disciples, the crowd, and the boy were changed forever by this event.

TAKEAWAY

We value the spectacular things God can do, but the greatest miracle when you work alongside a miracle-working God is what happens inside you. Being God’s channel changes your faith and increases your capacity for leadership influence beyond anything you can imagine.


Taken from The Maxwell Leadership Bible, 3rd Edition by John Maxwell Copyright © 2018 (NKJV edition) and Copyright © 2019 (NIV edition) by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

April 25, 2020

The Profit from Persistence

Over the years a consistent source of material for us here has been Jim Thornber, who we originally discovered because his website is called Thinking Out Loud. This story of the woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer is included in scripture to increase our faith. Jesus gives her a rather odd answer at first, and she is quick with a response. If you don’t know this story, click here to read Matthew 15: 21-28. Otherwise, I again encourage you to send some direct traffic to our contributing writers by clicking the headers like the one which appears next.

The Crumbs of Faith and Hope

“Jesus said to the woman, ‘I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.’ But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, ‘Lord, help me!’”­ Matthew 15:24-25

As I write this, the world is in turmoil because of coronavirus, or COVID-19. In response to this pandemic, prayers all over the world are ascending to God’s throne, and many pastors, like myself, are searching for ways to comfort and guide our people. Is God judging the world? Is He trying to remind us there is only one race on earth, the human race, and we need to work together as companions instead of apart as competitors?

I’ll let better minds than my own try to figure out what God is doing on a global scale, for I’ve got my hands full praying for and touching (not literally!) the lives I come in contact with (not literally!) every day. What I do know is God is not the silent type, and even when He is, He is leading us into a life of faith and hope.

All of this has me thinking about the very persistent mother in Matthew 15:21-28. The story finds Jesus leaving Galilee and going north into Tyre and Sidon, which was Gentile territory. A Canaanite (enemies of the Jews) woman who lived there came to Him and pleaded for Jesus to heal her daughter, who was being tormented by a demon. As a response to this request, Jesus remained silent.

Today, silence is a most hated concept. With smartphones, the internet, radio and television blaring everywhere we go, we’ve learned to distrust the sound of silence. Silence is wrong. Silence means something is broke. Silence from our political leaders means they are not working on our behalf. Silence from our religious leaders means they don’t have the comforting answers we seek. Silence makes us nervous. Silence makes us wonder if we’re still alive if all we hear is the sound of our own breathing.

Add to that silence of Jesus the complete lack of compassion from the Disciples. Sure, they want Jesus to heal her, but only because “she is bothering us with all her begging” (15:23). In other words, if healing her daughter will get her to shut up, then DO IT! So, couple the silence of Jesus with the fact the people hanging out with Jesus urge Him to send her away, in most instances you’d have an emotional breakdown in the making. This woman is facing rejection on all sides and she knows it, but she still doesn’t go away. She just stands there and waits for the Son of David to answer her request, and when Jesus does speak, it is not as the meek and mild Jesus we sing about in church.

“I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel,” He replies. Great. Not only is Jesus treating her with silence, now He says he wasn’t sent for her. Apparently, there are people whose needs are greater or better or more deserving than a mother whose child is possessed by a demon.

At this point in the story, I’d be ready to tell the Son of David what He can do with His Messiah complex. I mean, if God is going to be so callused as to tell me that others are more deserving of His mercy and grace, then it’s time to find another god.

But, what this woman does next just astounds me. Verse 25 says, “she came and worshiped him.” Is that what I would do? Would I worship God after He has been silent? Would I worship God after His church board has suggested He heal me just so I wouldn’t upset their precious fellowship? Would I worship this God after He tells me He’s not here for me?  Honestly, I’d be more tempted to whine about how life is all against me than to worship a God who intends to ignore me.

However, this persistent mom challenges me again, for in her humility she acknowledges that everything Jesus said was true. She was not an Israelite, Jesus was not here for her first, and she shouldn’t get the meat from the table. All true. It’s only the proud people like me who think Jesus’ arrival on earth was all about meeting my personal needs according to my personal comfort and timing. When will I learn that even the scraps from God’s table are richer fare than any five-star meal the world has to offer? Isn’t it better to be a dog in God’s kingdom than a king in the realm of Satan? This woman has seen how demons treat people like her daughter, and she knows there is more compassion in the crumbs of God than in the lies of the loftiest fallen angel.

Now, let’s look at this passage from another angle. Yes, Jesus was silent, but He was there. He was in her presence and He didn’t leave. In fact, He came to her Gentile town; she didn’t travel to find Him in Israel. There is always hope when God is present, and God is always present. While most of the world lacks the awareness of His presence, this racially, geographically and theologically distanced enemy of Jesus was more aware of His mercy and compassion than were His Disciples.

Next, we see that silence isn’t a refusal. He was silent but He didn’t say no. He was silent but He didn’t leave. In silence there also is hope. Don’t let the silence of God or the quick answers of the critics send you away from what you need most.

When Jesus replied He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel (and I can’t help but think He said that with a twinkle in His eye, just to test her faith), He was indicating there is still hope. If there wasn’t hope, what was Jesus doing in Gentile territory? Sometimes we think God is only going to help the good people who are worthy. But this scene reminds us that God came to save the world, because the entire world is as unworthy as this Gentile woman. God is increasing her faith, and we could all use a bit more faith.

Therefore, the next time God is silent regarding our requests, we need to remember His silence doesn’t mean “No.” We need to remember that Jesus came to us before we came to Jesus, for that reminds us how important we are to Him. We, I, need to remember that the critics who want me to disappear have forgotten that Jesus chose to be with me, and I’ll stand in His presence as long as He’ll have me.

Finally, when God tells me the truth about who I am, I need to remember that even a mutt like me has a place at the banquet table of God. Sure, life may not always go as I’d like it, but Jesus has entered the room and where He is, there is hope.

So, during this time of quarantine, shut-ins, social distancing, job loss and financial uncertainty, we all have a choice—we can worship or we can whine. Granted, my first response has not always been as persistent as the mommy in the story. However, I’m learning wherever I am and in whatever circumstances I find myself, there is always room for more worship, for more conversation with God and for more faith, for “through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).

 

 

 

 

 

April 19, 2020

Jonah and the Psalm

by Ruth Wilkinson

I recently posed this question as an informal Facebook poll: “Did the story of Jonah happen literally as it appears in the Bible?” The majority said yes. No surprise. The Church has been defending the story’s miraculous nature since the early Church Fathers. For many, it’s even a test of faith in God’s sovereignty; can you believe God didn’t do it, without believing God couldn’t do it?

JonahintheWhale_RuePeople often say that it “must have happened—Jesus says it did.” Fair statement, but one that needs some thought. What is the relationship between Jesus and Jonah?

Let’s assume that the event literally happened to Jonah, son of Amittai, prophet to King Jeroboam. That Jonah’s psalm in chapter 2 was his prayer, recorded as he prayed it.

Why would Jonah sing his gratitude to God in the middle of this mess? Why does Jonah never expresses remorse?

And where does Jesus fit in?

Now the Lord had appointed a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights. Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish.

Matthew records Jesus saying: “…For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” Matthew 12:40 (HCSB)

Both events involve a prophetic man who comes back after three days of being given up for dead, but in all other respects, narrative contrasts are greater than similarities.

  • Jesus is in conversation with God all through his approach to the grave: Jonah is silent until he can’t stand it any more.
  • Jesus laments God’s turning His face away; Jonah is the one who turns his back.
  • Jesus enters his grave as an act of submission: Jonah embraces death as part of his rebellion.
  • Jesus, as God, returns by an act of power and of will: Jonah as vomit.

I called to the Lord in my distress, and He answered me.
I cried out for help in the belly of Sheol; You heard my voice.

Jonah finally breaks his silence. Some suggest he’d been unconscious, others that Jonah physically died and was resurrected, based on Matthew’s “sign of Jonah,” and the reference to Sheol.

For Christians, “Sheol” can bring to mind medieval pictures of Hell, but to Jonah the image is very different. Sheol was beneath the earth, the farthest place from Heaven, where the dead descended to (or were raised from if God opened the gate). Those who entered it became silent shadows, without knowledge, passion, or hope. Yet God ruled there, and in the Messiah’s day the righteous would be released to joyously participate in His kingdom.

Some see a connection here with 1 Peter 3:18-20 and Ephesians 4:9 but there’s no real support in scripture for the idea of Jesus “descending to Hell.” Peter speaks of earth, and Paul of the past, not of metaphysics. Instead, they drive home for us the understanding that Jesus overcame time and space to walk in the dust, and “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.”1

You threw me into the depths, into the heart of the seas,
and the current overcame me. All Your breakers and Your billows swept over me.

For modern songwriters, switching ‘voice’ mid-song is a no-no. Not true for the Psalmists who switch from addressing God, to His people, to the writer’s own soul and back again. Jonah moves from speaking about God, to direct, dramatic accusation.

Jesus also recognizes God’s hand in directing his path, but He does it with an attitude of humility and submission that culminates in His prayer, “If this cannot pass… Your will be done,”2 modelling not blame but trust and obedience.

But I said: I have been banished from Your sight,
yet I will look once more toward Your holy temple.
The waters engulfed me up to the neck;
the watery depths overcame me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.

Jonah has what he wanted—to be far from the face of God—and realizes he should have been more careful in his wishing.

He’s bound and suffocating, tangled in something beyond his strength. He echoes Psalm 88: drowning, God’s wrath, an innocent sufferer, accusation, demands for rescue, loneliness.

At His loneliest moment, Jesus draws instead from Psalm 22 and its anticipation of praise in better days. Like Jonah, Jesus grieves God’s absence. Like Jonah, He identifies Himself as an innocent. Unlike Jonah, He actually is one.

At least Jonah is looking in the right direction—back where he came from.

I sank to the foundations of the mountains;
the earth with its prison bars closed behind me forever!
But You raised my life from the Pit, Lord my God!
As my life was fading away, I remembered Yahweh.
My prayer came to You, to Your holy temple.

Jonah continues to deny the cause of his trouble—his own choices. But something has changed.

He’s run as far as he can but still has a connection to the One from whom He ran. He knows to whom he speaks, how he will sound in those ears and what the response is likely to be.

In the darkest place possible, his heart and mind turn to the brightest. In the grip of the worst monster, he looks toward the most loving Father. At his farthest from home, his mind turns to the Holy of Holies, the centre of all Creation.

To “remember” is not just to recall, but to be intentionally mindful. Of the past—what God has done. Of the present—where He meets us. Of the future—in which he awaits.

This is where Jonah comes closest to Jesus, who in His own climactic moment on the cross contradicted His own sense of abandonment and declared the words of Psalm 31:5, “Into Your hand I entrust my spirit…” trusting God to “…redeem me, Lord, God of truth.

Jonah, weakened and lost, cannot save himself but Yahweh-remembered can and will. Jonah is freed from the pit.

Those who cling to worthless idols forsake faithful love

Has Jonah learned anything? Has he changed? He hasn’t admitted his guilt. We see no contrition. Instead, he condemns “those” who forsake faithful love which comes from the God that Jonah fled. So who is he talking about?

Those” sailors whose misfortune it was to give Jonah a ride? They’d been pagan until they met with Yahweh. Afterward they’d sacrificed and made vows to the LORD, a step toward becoming “Hebrews.” But Jonah didn’t see that happen. He was already underwater and sinking. All Jonah knew of them was that they were “those who cling to worthless idols.” Perhaps he assumes they’ve lost their chance.

Those” Ninevites, violent and cruel people? He’s endangered his own life to scuttle their chance at receiving the faithful love of God. Is he hoping that this proverb is a promise?

All that’s left is himself—the prophet who clung to the idol of his nationalistic hatred, forsaking the faithful love of God. Jonah’s not the only prophet to object to his assignment. So did Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. He is, however, the only one who upped sticks and ran. The others spoke honestly to God and received His response. Jonah built a wall of silence and refusal between himself and God.

Jonah and Jesus again part ways. Jesus didn’t only accept His role, He chose it. “…He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.”

One rabbinic writer said:

Jeremiah sought the honor of God and the honor of Israel;

Elijah sought the honor of God and not the honor of Israel;

Jonah sought the honor of Israel and not the honor of God.”

One might even substitute “Jonah sought the honor of himself…” Jesus sought the honor of the Father through obedience, pursuing and rescuing those who clung to their idols and could not, on their own, find the freedom of letting go.

…but as for me, I will sacrifice to You with a voice of thanksgiving.
I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation is from the Lord!

Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

The fish has been carrying around 180 extra pounds of ballast. Enough is enough. The LORD lets her off the hook. It’s time for Jonah to head inland.

Three days of silence, a burst of eloquent gratitude, and either hypocritical self-righteousness, or an excuse to head to Jerusalem instead of Nineveh. No wonder she was sick.

Jonah heads reluctantly to Nineveh, wanders around—in silence for three days—before delivering his message.

But Jesus spent His ministry reaching out and being available to not only men like Himself, but to enemies and invaders, strangers and rejects, women and children, heretics and hypocrites. After His resurrection, He allowed only moments to pass before reconnecting with the people he’d come to save.

****

However… what if instead of Matthew’s rendering, we look at Luke’s record of the same statement: For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. Luke 11:30 (HCSB)

Despite the fact that Luke wouldn’t have heard it first hand, his understanding of the Jonah/Jesus parallel seems better grounded: just as Jonah’s message of God’s grace toward Nineveh had “overturned” the city, so would Jesus’ overturn the world.

The verb in Jonah’s message to Nineveh seems intentionally ambiguous. Throughout Scripture, it’s translated as demolished, overturned, overthrown, transformed or turned around. Those who (eventually) heard it inferred a threat of destruction, creating fearful repentance. But was this true prophet of Israel not also used to point to an alternative fulfillment?

Nineveh was beautifully, life-givingly “overturned.”

So, yes. Jesus wanted us to remember this story. He wanted us to learn from it.

I’d argue that the least important question about this story is whether it “happened.” What matters is that we learn from Jonah’s mistakes and are free to not repeat them. That we learn from Jesus’ example and are free to make it real in our lives.


1 Philippians 2:8 HCSB

2 Matthew 26:42

April 9, 2020

Jesus the Leader; The Good Leader

by Clarke Dixon

Click here to watch a 7-minute video of today’s devotional.

We have been seeing world leaders, from Prime Ministers and Presidents, to mayors and health officials, take to tv to lead us in our response to the COVID-19 crisis. As they take centre stage, we see what kind of leaders they are.

These leaders have reminded me of my own leadership journey which began with an excruciatingly shy and extremely quiet boy. Loving airplanes as I did I joined Air Cadets as a young teen. One year in, and having achieved the lowest rank of “leading Air Cadet,” we moved to a new town, which meant joining a new squadron. This was a brand new squadron, with a very successful launch, meaning many new recruits. Despite my one year of experience, and despite being the lowest rank possible, I suddenly found myself as one of the most experienced and highest ranking! I was placed over my own “flight” of cadets and immediately had to start training and teaching these new recruits. This excruciatingly shy, inexperienced and low raking cadet was instantly identified as a leader! And lead I did! I have often said that I would not be a pastor today, if it were not for Air Cadets. However, my quietness and shyness would forever colour the kind of leader I am, sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

When Jesus rides into Jerusalem, he does so in a way that indicates he is a leader. In fact, he is the leader!

This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

Matthew 21:4-5 (NLT)

In entering Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus indicates that he is not just a teacher and miracle worker, he is the king! Pontius Pilate seemed to be in charge, but in fact Jesus is the rightful king.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem in a way which also indicates what kind of king he is. Many leaders throughout history have thought that leadership is about power, and brute force. Where I come from we have an expression, “brute force and ignorance.” Some leaders lead with that! Jesus rides on a donkey and not a war horse. He brings peace, not war. He does not need brute force. There is a gentleness to Jesus, a humility, an approachability. He is a ruler who really cares for the people, as anyone who experienced his teaching and miracles could tell you.

Speaking of miracles, Jesus gives another hint to the kind of king he is:

Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”
But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass.

Mark 6:35-39 (NLT emphasis added)

Does that miracle remind you of another Bible passage?

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures

Psalm 23:2 (KJV)

We are reminded of Psalm 23. In saying “The Lord is my shepherd” king David is saying “God is my king. I might be the leader of the people, but God is my leader.”

David knows what kind of a sovereign God is. God is a great king, a leader that cares for him. The kind of king who . . .

  • provides for my needs (verse 1)
  • makes me lie down in green pastures (verse 2)
  • restores my soul (verse 3)
  • leads me in paths of righteousness (verse 3)
  • is with me, capable of dealing with any enemy (verse 4)
  • cares for me in the face of adversity (verse 5)
  • promises his presence forever (verse 6)

Jesus goes on to say that he, himself is the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep in John 10:11. Jesus is later described as the shepherd who even leads beyond death into eternal life in the Book of Revelation:

They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
For the Lamb on the throne
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:16-17 (NLT)

What kind of leader is Jesus? The leader with authority, even over life and death, yet the leader who is humble enough to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. The kind of leader you can approach. The kind of king who is not just kind and generous to his subjects, but who desires to adopt them into his royal family. The kind of leader willing to forgive.

David said “the Lord is my shepherd” Is the Lord your shepherd?


This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. The full worship expression can be seen here. For now, all Clarke’s sermons are “shrunk sermons”! For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here.

March 12, 2020

Lord’s Prayer? Disciple’s Prayer? Is There a Better Title?

by Clarke Dixon

It is often said that “the Lord’s Prayer,” really ought to be called “the Disciple’s Prayer.” Is that the best title? In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gave us a template for, and teaching about, our prayers as his disciples. Yet I don’t think “The Disciple’s Prayer” is the best title either. Read on to find out why.

We have considered Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and recognized that Jesus was not really giving new rules to add to the old ones, but rather was teaching us about becoming a certain kind of people. Here too, with prayer, it is not so much about techniques, or practices, or even words, but about the kind of people we are as we pray.

We have already looked at not being a people who pray to put on a show in Matthew 6:5,6. Let’s move on to verses 7 and 8:

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:7-8 (NRSV)

“Do not be like them.” The people who were practicing pagan religions are not the kind of people we are to be when we pray. They could be very superstitious about prayer, thinking the gods need to be manipulated through certain words and prayers. We are not to be superstitious people when we pray.

As Christians we can fall into superstition. For example, while some people may find it a meaningful and symbolic experience, the idea of burying a statue of St. Joseph upside-down in one’s front yard, then praying to St. Joseph in order to sell a home, is basically superstitious. Look again at what Jesus said in verse 8; “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (italics added). We don’t need superstition in our prayers when we have a relationship with God. We are not to be a superstitious people, but a people who know and trust that God is a caring, and helpful heavenly Father who knows us well. Prayer is not about manipulating the divine, which is what superstition is about. Rather, prayer is about relationship.

To give an example; imagine if I was not already a motorcyclist, but now wanted a motorcycle. However, I am married, so I am aware that my wife may not be pleased. I know what to do, I will put a St. Christopher, the patron saint of travel, on a toy motorcycle in the garage, and boom, my wife will come up with the idea! Will that work? Obviously not. Wouldn’t it just be better to talk with my wife? Superstition does not work. Conversation does. This is also true with God. Superstition in prayer does not work. Honest conversation does. God is not a smartphone, that we use, that we manipulate, that we poke in certain ways to get certain results. God is personal, he is a Person we relate to, he is our heavenly Father. Likewise, we are not smartphone apps, that we hope God will find useful and not delete. We are His children, in a relationship with a good Father. We pray as people who are in a love fuelled relationship with a devoted and committed heavenly Father.

In teaching us the Lord’s Prayer Jesus goes on to teach us more about the kind of people we are to become as his disciples. As we pray;

  • “Our Father” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, a father-child relationship with God.
  • “Our Father” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, a family relationship with others.
  • in heaven” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of the transcendence of God, and who desire of the presence of God.
  • Hallowed be Your Name” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, the glory of God.
  • Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, God’s Kingdom in the world. Therefore we are to be the kind of people who value servanthood over power, justice over injustice, and good over evil, to give some examples.
  • Give us this day our daily bread” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of God’s provision, and who desire to grow in contentment and trust.
  • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” – we are to be the kind of people who desire and are aware of the need for reconciliation and forgiveness, both to receive and give.  We recognize where reconciliation is needed, between ourselves and God, and between ourselves and others.
  • And do not bring us to the time of trial” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of God’s help, who desire God’s presence, in the time of trouble.
  • but rescue us from the evil one” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of evil in the world, and who desire something far greater.

In a recent email I received from “The FOR Company,” pastor Jeff Henderson highlighted how pivotal a moment in history it was when Jesus taught us to pray. God’s people would never pronounce the actual name of God when they came across it in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed we continue that tradition when our English translations use “LORD,” all in capitals, instead of using God’s name, “Yahweh.” Jeff points out that when Jesus taught us to pray, we went from not even daring to use the name of God, to calling him “Dad.”

What kind of people are we to be when we pray? We pray neither as people who are performers, nor superstitious, but as people who know God as a Father who is for us and not against us. We pray with an awareness of being, and a desire to be, God’s child.

So what is the best title, “The Lord’s Prayer” or “The Disciple’s Prayer.” I think it should be “The Much Loved Child-of-God’s Prayer.”


Clarke Dixon is a motorcycle enthusiast, a musician, and a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Today’s article continues a series on The Sermon on the Mount. He appears here most Thursdays.

February 27, 2020

Be Perfect As God is Perfect: So, Are You a Perfectionist?

by Clarke Dixon

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (NRSV)

Be perfect, as God is perfect. So, are you a perfectionist, doing everything perfectly all the time? Do you keep the rules perfectly? Is that what Jesus means?

Perfectionism can affect the culture within a workplace, a family, a church family, an organization, or even within one’s own soul. Perfectionism can lead to a culture of excellence, with high standards coming from high expectations. However, perfectionism can also lead to a culture of judgement, a culture of fear, a culture of exclusion. We can be hard on others. We might be hardest on ourselves.

Is that what Jesus is calling us to? To be perfectionists? Let us look again at the words of Jesus in the context in which they are spoken.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV)

In the immediate context, Jesus is telling us to be perfect in love. Nowhere in the Old Testament does it actually say “love your neighbour and hate your enemy,” (verse 43) but some Jewish groups were indeed saying that. In contrast, Jesus tells us to love our enemies (verse 44), and in so doing we will demonstrate a family resemblance to God (verse 45). After all, God provides graciously for all people without distinction (verse 45). The original hearers could reflect on the fact that Roman, or “enemy,” farmers would receive the same amount of sun and rain as the Jewish farmer. Since God loves the enemy, we all should. In the immediate context, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” is not so much “follow all the rules perfectly, keeping a perfect spirituality, while being a perfect person,” as “love like God does.” To quote the Common English Bible translation:

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” Matthew 5:48 (CEB)

In the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is leading us to become the kind of people who reflect the goodness of God, in love, and in everything else. We looked last week at how the scribes and the Pharisees were meticulous in studying and keeping the rules, yet were not the kind of people God was calling them to be. Jesus said that we must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees (5:20). In pointing to a better kind of righteousness, Jesus was pointing out that those who were merely focused on the rules were no different from anyone else, no matter how perfectly they kept them:

46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:47-48 (NRSV)

As we pointed out last week, it is not about the rules, it is about you and me, the kind of people we are becoming in Christ, the kind of people who show a family resemblance with God in love, and in everything else.

In the even larger context of the whole Bible, Jesus is leading us toward a goal that God has brought within reach. God has a goal for us. What is that goal?

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. Romans 8:29 (NRSV emphasis added)

21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him. Colossians 1:21-22 (NRSV emphasis added)

Being just like Jesus, made holy, blameless, and irreproachable before God; these are lofty goals which we could never attain on our own. God makes it possible.

In speaking of the goal of perfection, there are two big theological words that are worth learning: justification & sanctification. To explain them, let me use an illustration. Suppose your driving instructor is the devil himself. You learn terrible driving habits, and indeed you rack up so many speeding and dangerous driving tickets, you cannot afford to pay them. You are to have your day in court, the evidence is overwhelming, you expect to be in jail for the rest of your life. Judgement day comes. The judge sets the fine, and indeed you cannot pay it. You are headed to jail for sure. The judge gets off his judgement seat, comes down to your level, gets out his chequebook and pays the fine on your behalf. That is justification. You are free to drive. There may be an accuser in the gallery shouting about how guilty you are, how strong the evidence is, and why you deserve to be in jail. However, while you could never justify why you belong on the roads, the judge who just paid your fine can. So what is sanctification? You get back into your car to drive off, and there sitting beside you in the passenger seat is your new driving instructor, the Holy Spirit. You begin driving, you become a better driver. You are not instantly a good driver, but you are improving with every mile. That is sanctification.

Bible scholar Michael Wilkins talks of a “restful dissatisfaction.” We rest in the fact of God’s love and what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Christ to enable us to reach the goal of perfection. Yet, we are dissatisfied if we do not experience movement towards that goal in the here and now. We are not concerned with how our lingering imperfections might disqualify us from belonging to God as His children. We are concerned with how our lingering imperfections can have a negative impact on our children, or anyone in relationships with us.

Are you perfect? If that is a question on an entrance exam for eternal life, then the answer can be yes; God offers to make you perfect in Jesus Christ. If that is a question we ask the people in our lives based on their experience of us, then no, we can likely make some improvements.

Are you a perfectionist? If you are the kind of person who loves like God loves, then you will not be. You will walk with imperfect people along a journey, putting up with their imperfections along the way. You may even learn to put up with your own imperfections. If you are a perfectionist, you may be hard on other people. You may be hardest on yourself. Perfectionism is not a part of love. God walks alongside us, not as a perfectionist judging our imperfections, ready to ditch us when we stumble, but as a Heavenly Father Who helps us walk better on our way to a wonderful goal.


Clarke Dixon is a minister with the Canadian Baptists denomination. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

February 15, 2020

Jesus Shows His Authority

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV.Matt.4.18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Today meet another writer who is new to us. Paul T. Reynolds lives in the Cayman Islands, and you can read more of his writing (and his recipes) at his blog. Click the header below for this one to read at source.

Jesus flexes his authority

Matthew 4:13-22 (AD 27)

…Jesus walked through a crowd of people who were trying to throw him off a cliff…with them failing miserably to throw him off the cliff. That scene has always blown my mind. What did it look like? What did it sound like? Did God paralize the would-be murderers? Blind them? Force a temporary change of mind? Chalk that up as another of those ‘God isn’t telling you because you don’t need to know’ passages.

Whatever the reason, that was it for Jesus in Nazareth (just as he prophesied in Luke 4:24). He moved to Capernaum (just as Isaiah prophesied); further north and on the shores of  the Sea of Galilee.

Once there, Jesus began his preaching ministry (v.17), which is summarized in precisely the same words as John the Baptist’s ministry (John 3:2): “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”. In John 3:6 it is further noted that the people responded to that message by “Confessing their sins” and being baptized.

Jesus then called his first disciples, Peter and Andrew, with nothing more than a cryptic message about making them fishers not merely of fish, but of people. As we know, Jesus had gained a certain notoriety by this point, but he was by no means a celebrity. And with his recent past including a failed murder attempt against him, rejection by his entire local religious community and having to forge a new life away from his home town…he wasn’t in a good place to be attracting followers.

It was his authority, and Holy Spirit, who inspired these men to follow him. Busy men with families and mouths to feed, who knew that they had to be where he was, and to listen to what he said, and to learn from what he did. That authority came from the same place as the authority to walk through a murderous crowd unmolested.

Same deal with James and John. No explanation. Just a command. And they obeyed.

Jesus’ commands to us are the same:

Repent and believe the good news.

Follow Jesus.

That’s it.

February 13, 2020

Starving to Do God’s Will

Today we’re returning to Biblical Diagnosis which today reminds us that we will never feel satisfied if we are not living in the will of God and doing the will of God; it will be something we hunger for. Click the header below to read this at its original site.

The Hunger of Doing God’s Will

May the Lord open our spiritual eyes, that we may understand His Will. Allow me to dig into the well-known story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob, as it relates to God’s children being spiritually fed by carrying the Will of God through good works.

We understand indeed from the scriptures that we have been created to do good works, as the Apostles, and most notably Jesus Himself have expressed in so many different ways. Doing good works is our purpose, our very reason for existing:

Ephesians 2:10 …we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

Matthew 5:13You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

Matthew 5:14You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.”

But arguably the most expressive and forceful way of conveying this truth is by labeling the performance of good works as our food!

John 4:34,35“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work”

Now, our life itself is tied to doing the will of God. Food is not optional. One must eat. While we may choose not to eat, the consequences – the discomfort of hunger – are anything but a choice. And if left to persist, starvation will ensue.

This truth was vividly displayed at the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Jesus was desperate to eat…He was desperate to do the Will of God: to save souls, to recover the lost sheep.

1. Jesus and the Samaritan woman

As recorded in John 4, Jesus, was resting at Jacob’s well from his travel to Galilee from Judea, when a Samaritan woman came to draw some water. Jesus was exhausted, thirsty and hungry from the trip, and His disciples had gone into town to buy some food.

When they came back, they found Him right in the middle of something: He just had an exchange with the woman in which He showed her that He was the Christ, and that He could offer her the living water that leads to eternal life.

John 4:27-29Just then his disciples arrived, and they were amazed that he was talking with a woman. Yet no one said, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

2. The hunger to do God’s Will

Note that the disciples were already amazed to see Jesus speaking with a Samaritan woman. That alone was peculiar, but what followed was far more disturbing for the disciples: they were about to witness the extent of Jesus’ hunger to do the Will of God, in ways they had never seen before. Although He was hungry, He refused to eat!

John 4:28-33Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”  They left the town and made their way to him. In the meantime the disciples kept urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.”  The disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?”

Although His disciples insisted, Jesus refused to eat. And the reason He gave was that He already had food to eat…

John 4:34My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work,” Jesus told them.

Jesus was starving to do God’s Will, and the disciples found Him right in the midst of having this hunger satisfied.

Please note that the woman left the jar. She was to return, and she did indeed return, and this time, with many people!

This is the meal Jesus was waiting for. One soul (the Samaritan woman) and many more with her about to be saved. He saw a harvest, and that was an opportunity He could not pass.

3. But why was Jesus starving to do God’s Will in the first place?

While we could simply say that Jesus always did the Will of His Father, the reason Jesus was traveling in the first place is revealing.

John 4:1-3When Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard he was making and baptizing more disciples than John (though Jesus himself was not baptizing, but his disciples were), he left Judea and went again to Galilee.

Jesus was traveling by constraint, because the Pharisees had learned about the expansion of His ministry, and that He was even making more disciples than John the Baptist. He had to stop doing the Will of God in Judea and leave town.

Then, just like an oasis in the middle of the desert, he saw a single person, even if it was just a woman, and a Samaritan at that. Everyone would have passed by, but Jesus was hungry, Jesus was starving to do the Will of God. While his disciples contemplated his physical hunger, He was eagerly waiting the return of the woman, and not just herself, but an entire crowd…a true feast!!

John 4:39Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.”

No wonder Jesus had said to His disciples…

John 4:32“I have food to eat that you don’t know about.”

4. Our discomfort when we do not do His Will

This state of discomfort resulting from not doing God’s Will is akin to the discomfort one feels when hungry. It is not a choice, it just is, because just as it is a basic necessity to eat, it is a basic necessity for God’s children to do His Will.

This discomfort may manifest itself in various ways. But one of the common ways is for us to feel unfulfilled. Christians who habitually resist the Will of the Spirit carry with them the heavy burden of feeling unfulfilled.

Another way is when feels saturated, when one keeps learning but does not release that Spiritual water erupting from their inner spring.

Your prayers are not like what they used to be, they lack intensity, connection, and passion. Your learning makes little progress, you open the Bible but you are unsettled, the drive to devour the scriptures is nowhere to be found, and no matter what you do, and how many times you pray, that overall discomfort is there and it grows…

…until you start releasing…until you start “doing” – not just learning – the Will of God…until you start eating!

John 4:34,35“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” 

My friends; I exhort you to recognize when you are hungry, when you are starving. Release, Release, Release! Do the Will of God, believe in Jesus and do not resist His Will.

February 6, 2020

“Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds That of the Scribes and Pharisees.” Should We Be Worried?

by Clarke Dixon

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 (NRSV)

Should we be worried? Is it even possible that our righteousness can exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? Keep in mind how meticulous they were at keeping the Old Testament laws. Jesus’ words here can stress us out. Are we good enough?

Let’s leave aside whether we are good enough for a moment. The scribes and Pharisees were certain, that Jesus was not good enough:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. . . . Matthew 5:17 (NRSV)

That is exactly what the scribes and Pharisees were thinking! Jesus often seemed to be very un-Jewish in not keeping the laws and customs as expected. Healing on the Sabbath was considered work and so Jesus was obviously a lawbreaker! Further, for his first miracle, Jesus used jars that had been set apart for religious purposes to turn water into wine at a party. Not only did Jesus seem to be un-Jewish, he even seemed to be irreligious. Therefore the scribes and Pharisees were obviously exceedingly more righteous than Jesus. Or so they thought.

Jesus set the record straight:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18 (NRSV)

Though the actions of Jesus seemed to indicate that he didn’t care about the law, he declares that it is very important. The law and the prophets, a short-hand way of referring to all the writings of the Hebrew Bible, reveal the heart of God, and point to Jesus himself. Far from ditching the Old Testament, Jesus was the focus of the Old Testament!

In setting the record straight, it turns out the the scribes and the Pharisees were the ones who were not good enough:

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19 (NRSV)

Ironically, despite how meticulous the scribes and Pharisees were at keeping the rules, Jesus, in what he would go on to say, insinuated that they were the ones breaking the commandments and teaching others to do the same. They kept the letter of the law, but they missed the intent of the law, the purpose of the law. They might have been meticulous with regards to the rules, but they were heartless. It is possible to keep all the rules and yet be an awful person. In calling the people of Israel into existence, God was looking to establish a good people, not an awful people who kept the rules. If “love the Lord” and “love your neighbour” sum up the law, then the scribes and Pharisees were not keeping it well at all. They needed to have a better kind of righteousness if they wanted to impress God. They needed a deeper righteousness, a heart righteousness, a righteousness expressed through good character.

We can now ask, is anyone righteous enough?

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul spends some time in chapters one and two establishing the fact that non-Jews have no right to a relationship with God. They are not righteous enough. Then he spends some time in chapters two and three establishing the fact that Jews also should have no right to a relationship with God. Though they have the law and the prophets, they also are not righteous enough. In conclusion,

. . . we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; Romans 3:9-10 (NRSV)

However, there is good news:

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26 (NRSV)

Though the Scribes & Pharisees were thinking Jesus was not righteous, actually Jesus is the only righteous one. Are any of us righteous enough? No, but God is good, and offers to make us good. God makes this offer because of His love for us, not because we make a good impression on Him.

God came to us in Jesus so that we could be forgiven of all sin. We will stand before the judgement seat of God with a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. It is Christ’s righteousness placed on us. God comes to us in the Holy Spirit to change our hearts for the better. We grow into a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. That transformation of character is Holy Spirit work. Though we might not feel good enough for God, and really, we are not good enough, God is good and wants to do good for us, and in us.

Jesus says “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Should we be worried? Should we be concerned that we will not “make the cut?” Without Jesus, if you want to impress God, then surpassing righteousness is an obligation. Good luck with that. Even the scribes and Pharisees, with all their meticulous law-keeping, failed to make a good impression. However, with Jesus, and with the gift of the Spirit, surpassing righteousness is an opportunity, through which God will make an impression on the world. Changed hearts, hearts in tune with God’s heart, lead to a changed world. “Surpassing righteousness” should not be a source of stress, but a source of great hope, not only for ourselves, but for the people around us.


Clarke Dixon blogs his messages weekly at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

February 3, 2020

Who Gets the Credit Can Be a Test of Truthfulness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Several days ago I was struck by a verse I had previously skipped over, John 7:28. Jesus says,

“Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

He says this at the Festival of Tabernacles as the Jewish scholars are trying to get him to state, for the record, from where his teaching derives, since he did not sit under the tutoring of their rabbis. In context:

NIV.John.7.16-18 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

Some commentaries focus more on the idea that Jesus gives God the Father credit, rather than the particularities of verse 18, which makes a more general statement about how this is can be an example of a test for truth.

For example BibleRef.com:

Rather than being educated in some Rabbinic school, or generating knowledge on His own, Jesus credits His amazing wisdom to God (John 7:16). In context, this is what Jesus means by those speaking on “his own authority.” While Jesus is fully man, and fully God (Colossians 1:19), His earthly mission is to follow the will of God the Father. Since the message Jesus brings is that of God, God is to be given credit for it. Even further, Jesus claims that a person’s willingness to obey God is what determines his or her understanding—rather than the reverse, where understanding enables obedience.

Even Jesus’ critics were forced to take note of His honesty and moral perfection (John 8:46)…

Quoting The Biblical Illustrator commentary at StudyLight.com, there is a closer connection between truth and humility.

1. … The conceited man

(l) Speaks out of himself. He is known everywhere by his ostentatious parade of originality and infallibility. His own opinions evolved from his inner consciousness, in proud independence of other thinkers, are the standard of truth and untruth. His predecessors were all very well in their day; but their teaching is now obsolete. His contemporaries are right according to their light, but their light is only one remove from darkness. To raise the least objection against his ipse dixit is only an evidence of “knowing nothing about it.” How many such original geniuses afflict the Church, the state, halls of science and schools of philosophy!

2. Its aim–“his own glory.” This is the end which the conceited man never loses sight of, and everything he does has as its motive the gratification of his own personal vanity. He dresses and attitudinizes for the purpose of attracting attention; he talks to secure praise for his sagacity or adventures; he schemes and works that he may be talked about, or to obtain gain. And verily he has his reward.

The IVP Bible Commentary at BibleGateway.com continues this theme,

One either speaks from God or one speaks from self, no matter how many external authorities are appealed to. One seeking God, who is caring for God’s glory rather than one’s own, such as Jesus refers to, is able to believe (5:44). Jesus’, “humility and obedience allow him to speak with the authority of God” (Barrett 1978:318), and these are the same qualities that enable a person to recognize God’s word in Jesus’ teaching.

Eugene Peterson renders this verse in The Message as,

A person making things up tries to make himself look good. But someone trying to honor the one who sent him sticks to the facts and doesn’t tamper with reality.

This verse has been percolating in my thoughts for several days now, but it came back again in a service on the weekend, reading the story from Acts 3 of Jesus healing the lame man:

NIV.Acts.3.12b …“Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13a The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.

The goal of The Incarnate One, and the aim of those First Century apostles was the same: To deflect the glory; the credit; the honor; etc., away from themselves and towards God the Father.

The principle of John 7:18 is to tell us that this can be a test for the veracity; the truthfulness of the one speaking.

 

 

January 31, 2020

Where are our ‘mansions;’ where is He taking us?

Like many of you, I’ve been greatly persuaded by the “New Earth” teaching of people like Randy Alcorn in the book Heaven. This idea somewhat refutes the idea of our next life being “up there, somewhere” but instead the idea of God establishing a new earth right here. Someone has tried to summarize it by saying, “God has too much invested in this piece of real estate to simply walk away from it.”

I’m not sure that argument is valid in and of itself, but Alcorn makes a strong case that God’s desire is to establish here the earth he always wanted us to have; the paradise he designed with the Garden of Eden, until our propensity to go our own way necessitated certain consequences, but also a masterful plan of redemption.

Again, for many, this means un-learning what we were taught in Sunday School about heaven being “up there.”

Yesterday I started digging into a passage which I feel is an exception that points more toward a distant heaven than a present new earth, John 14: 2-3.

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (NKJV)

It seemed to make the most sense to, instead of selecting some random commentaries online, see what Alcorn himself had to say about these verses. In his 1999 book, Perspectives on Heaven [excerpted here] he wrote something that made me wonder if his interpretation was less developed then before he published Heaven in 2004:

When we arrive there, Heaven will immediately feel like home because we’ll instinctively connect it to all we longed for and occasionally caught magical glimpses of while on earth. But in Heaven we won’t just look back; we’ll look forward to and anticipate all that’s ahead of us there. The longer we’re in Heaven, the more memories we’ll make and the more our home will be…home. It won’t lose its homeyness—it will always gain more. [Page 8]

He also wrote,

Apparently it’s within the vast and beautiful New Jerusalem we’ll find the personal dwelling places Jesus has prepared for us (John 14:2; Luke 16:9; Revelation 21:2). Like the current earthly Jerusalem, the city will be a melting pot of ethnic diversity, with those of “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9; see 5:9). But unlike today’s Jerusalem, all these people will be united by their common worship of King Jesus. [Page 30]

Our home is being built for us by the Carpenter from Nazareth. Building is his trade. A good carpenter envisions what he wants to build. He plans and designs. Then he does his work carefully and skillfully fashioning it to exact specifications. He takes pride in the work he’s done and delights to show it to others. And when it’s his own children or his bride he’s made it for he takes special delight.

Jesus didn’t say to his disciples, “I’ve already prepared a place for you in Heaven,” but, “I am going there to prepare a place for you.” This means Heaven has undergone some remodeling between the time he spoke and the time we join him there. [Page 36]

In a 2018 blog post, he appears to use the terms Heaven and New Earth somewhat interchangeably:

Perhaps you’re familiar with Christ’s promise in John 14: “In my Father’s house are many mansions. . . . I go to prepare a place for you” (v. 2, KJV). The Vulgate, the Latin Bible, used the word mansiones in that verse, and the King James Version followed by using mansions. Unfortunately, that rendering is misleading if it makes us envision having massive lodgings on separate estates. The intended meaning seems to be that we’ll have separate dwelling places on a single estate or even separate rooms within the same house.

New Testament scholar D. A. Carson says, “Since heaven is here pictured as the Father’s house, it is more natural to think of ‘dwelling-places’ within a house as rooms or suites. . . . The simplest explanation is best: my Father’s house refers to heaven, and in heaven are many rooms, many dwelling-places. The point is not the lavishness of each apartment, but the fact that such ample provision has been made that there is more than enough space for every one of Jesus’ disciples to join him in his Father’s home.” [1]

The New International Version rendering of John 14:2 is this: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you.” Place is singular, but rooms is plural. This suggests Jesus has in mind for each of us an individual dwelling that’s a smaller part of the larger place. This place will be home to us in the most unique sense.

The term room is cozy and intimate. The terms house or estate suggest spaciousness. That’s Heaven: a place both spacious and intimate. Some of us enjoy coziness, being in a private space. Others enjoy a large, wide-open space. Most of us enjoy both—and the New Earth will offer both.

But in this 2010 post he’s more clear:

The Bible teaches that our eternal home will be a place we’ve already been—earth. It will be a New Earth, a transformed earth. But just as I will be able to remember my friend Steve, who will be a resurrected Steve, so I will be able to remember my home world earth, which will be a resurrected earth. So, as Steve will be a person I already know, earth will be a place I already know. Then—and only then—does it make sense to think of Heaven as my true home, realizing that Heaven will ultimately be on the New Earth.

Human beings were made from earth, have always lived on earth, are geared to find pleasure in the things of earth. If we think of Heaven only as the realm where angels live, there’s a real problem. We were not made from the angelic realm, nor for it. We haven’t lived in that realm. It’s unfamiliar and undesirable to us. It doesn’t resonate as “home.” There’s one place that qualifies as the only home we’ve ever known—earth. It’s the home God made for us.

Do you picture yourself inviting friends to your heavenly home the way you entertain people in your earthly one? Alcorn sees it as a possibility in this 2019 blog post:

When we are in Heaven, we will welcome others into our dwelling places. Jesus speaks of the shrewd servant’s desire to use earthly resources so that “people will welcome me into their houses.” Then Jesus tells his followers to use “worldly wealth” (earthly resources) to “gain friends” (by making a difference in their lives on earth), “so that when it is gone [when life on earth is over] you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). Our “friends” in heaven appear to be those who we’ve touched in a significant way on earth. They will apparently have their own “eternal dwellings.” Luke 16:9 suggests these eternal dwelling places of friends could be places to fellowship and stay in as we move about the heavenly kingdom.

…What matters most

In Perspectives on Heaven he wrote,

What’s the most important fact about our future home? This is it: Heaven is the place God lives (Deuteronomy 26:15; Matthew 6:9). [Page 39]

In a 2004 blog post he wrote that heaven satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart:

“God has set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

People are made for the eternal and therefore cannot be ultimately satisfied by the temporal. We long for a future world of justice, purity and joy—and a King who will bring all of those. We therefore cannot be happy with the present world of injustice, impurity and suffering. True joy comes in anticipating, and living now in light of, the world yet to come and that world’s King, who made us for Himself. He who made us for another world is making that other world for us.

For more from Alcorn in much greater detail, consider this 2010 blog post.

January 30, 2020

Are We the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World?

You are the salt of the earth. . . You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:13-14 (NLT)

by Clarke Dixon

Are salt and light good descriptions of Christians in our Western world today? Salt is helpful. What would McDonald’s fries be without it? Light is also helpful. Don’t drive without some! Salt is also essential. Salt was used extensively as a preservative in the days of Jesus. Additionally, our bodies need a certain amount of salt to survive. Light, of course, is also essential for life. Are we essential?

Does anyone consider the Church to be essential in today’s society? Would people notice if our church closed, or indeed all churches closed? Would anyone notice if Christians kept their Christianity to themselves? There are those who would prefer that be the case. Christians are non-essential in their eyes.

Jesus followers were not considered to be essential when Jesus first spoke those words “you are the salt of the earth, . . .  you are light of the world.” “You,” as in “As for you, who are persecuted on my account” from a previous verse. Jesus followers in the early days were considered to be disposable, even dangerous by the authorities. To such maligned and disposable people Jesus says “you are salt, you are light.” You are essential.

However, though essential, there is a danger of becoming tasteless salt, or perhaps a better way of putting it, foolish salt:

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? . . . Matthew 5:13 (NLT)

The Greek word behind “lost its flavour” is a word used in antiquity for “being foolish.” Indeed, it seems that only here in this verse might it mean “tasteless.” Perhaps, therefore, we should not lose the original meaning behind the word as we hear the words of Jesus. Something like, “You are the salt of the earth, but you can be foolish salt.” Indeed, Jesus would go on to talk about doing something foolish:

No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:15-16 (NLT)

The religious authorities in Jesus day could certainly be described as “foolish salt”, their deeds were not shining in a way that would bring glory to God. They tried to make Jesus out to be the one who was a fool. After all, Jesus did terrible nasty things like heal people on a Sabbath:

Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) Matthew 12:9-10 (NLT)

Jesus then made it plain who the fools were.

And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus. Matthew 12:11-14 (NLT)

The religious authorities were supposed to be salt and light, but they were being foolish by being lawyers instead of lovers. They were often full of condemnation rather than being helpful. Though they would condemn Jesus for breaking a law on a Sabbath, they were plotting, on that very same Sabbath day, to kill. How foolish! In the religious leaders the salt had lost its taste, it had become foolish.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. Matthew 5:13 (NRSV)

Jesus asks how salt that has lost its saltiness can be made salty again. Technically, salt can not lose its saltiness and that is the point. It should be an impossible thing, such a foolish thing, for the people of God, having been called to be God’s people, having been rescued from Egypt, having been brought into a land they could call home, having been given the law to give them a better way, and having been given the privilege of walking with God Who remained faithful despite their failings – it should be impossible for them to not be salt and light. Why then, are the religious leaders, who should be leading the way in being salt and light, so filled with spite and condemnation when they are the people of God who have experienced such love and grace? That should be impossible.

It should be impossible for us, who are Christ followers, who benefit from the example and teaching of Jesus, who benefit from the death and resurrection of Jesus, who benefit from gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of God’s Word, who have experienced forgiveness, who have experienced the love and grace of God – it should be impossible for us to not live love filled, grace filled lives. It should be impossible for us to not be good salt and shining light.

So what does it look like to be good salt and shining light? Jesus will go on tell us in the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount. There we will learn what it looks like to let our  “good deeds shine out for all to see” (verse 16). As we look to the Sermon on the Mount in the weeks to come, it is important that we recognize that we are put in a right relationship with God, not by our own efforts to be salty enough salt, or bright enough lights, but by the grace of God. But as salt and light, we can become ineffective, we can be foolish. In the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, we will learn, not what followers of Jesus must do to impress God, but what followers of Jesus look like when God uses them to make an impression on the world.

Society may think that Jesus followers are not essential. But Jesus does! Society may say that Jesus followers are disposable, perhaps even dangerous. Jesus says we are salt and light, we are essential. If people don’t agree with Jesus on that, perhaps we are either being foolish salt, or we are stuck in the saltshaker.


Clarke Dixon blogs his messages weekly at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

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