Christianity 201

March 31, 2022

Are We Christians Ungodly Toward the “Ungodly”?

Thinking Through Luke 15:1-32

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

So what happened?

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

Luke 15:1-3 (NLT)

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

So what is the point?

The lost sheep:

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

Luke 15:4-7 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

The lost coin:

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

Luke 15:8-10 (NLT)

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

The prodigal son.

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

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

Luke 15:28-32 (NLT)

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

The main point.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

March 30, 2022

Do We Really Want to Change?

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

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

Will you take up your mat and walk?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

March 11, 2022

The First Thing People See is Our Fruits

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Missing Fruit of the Christian Church

“And you will know them by their fruits”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

February 18, 2022

A Life of Calm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep In Heavenly Peace

But Jesus Himself was asleep.  Matthew 8:24

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

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

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

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


Bonus link:

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

February 17, 2022

When Everyone Is So Certain

Thinking Through Luke 6:17-26

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 3:1-2 (HCSB)

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

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

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

John 3:16 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

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

Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)


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

February 15, 2022

Reviewing a Long List of Unspoken Grievances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

February 3, 2022

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

Thinking Through Luke 4:31-44

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

The Authority of Jesus

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

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

Luke 4:31-32 (NLT)

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

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

Luke 4:35-36 (NLT)

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

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

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

Luke 4:38-40 (NLT)

The authority of Jesus pointed to the Kingdom of God:

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

Luke 4:42-43 (NLT)

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

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

What made the difference?

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

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

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

What about today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

October 18, 2021

The Greatest Gift God Gave was Passive, Not Active

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Then Tyler continues…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Searching for Enough, pp 155-156)


Learn more about the book at zondervan.com

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

October 10, 2021

Jesus and the Rich Young Yuppie

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

Jesus And The Yuppie

Mark 10.17

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

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

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

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

But he wants more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 14, 2021

The Source of Peace, Love and Joy Lives Within Us

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

Love, Joy, and Peace; The Greatest is Love

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

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

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

Galatians 5:22-23

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

Galatians 5:22

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

1 Peter 4:8

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

Colossians 3:14

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

1 Corinthians 13:13

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

1 John 4:8

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

1 John 4:7

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

Romans 13:10

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

John 3:16

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

Bible quotes from English Standard Version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 4:7

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

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

August 4, 2021

Making a Difference by Being Different

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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In the last few days, I’ve been reading a short book by Michael Frost, titled Keep Christianity Weird: Embracing the Discipline of Being Different (NavPress, 2018). My wife and I have been influenced by Frost’s writings and got to hear him in person twice in the early 2000s.

As you might guess from the title, there’s a lot of energy in this book, but for our purposes today I shared one of the more tame sections! Earlier in the chapter he’s been examining Nicodemus having a late evening Q&A with Jesus.

Renewing the Mind

The renewal of your mind is more than the appropriation of more information about certain matters. And it’s more than the abandonment of certain social inhibitions. It is a supernatural work that can only be done by the Holy Spirit.

When Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind (italics added), he uses a Greek term only rarely found in the New Testament. It appears only two other times in the Bible. One of those usages was also by Paul, where he says in Titus 3:5, “[God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (italics added). Being saved by God involves this curious combination of washing and renewal. But then it makes sense when we consider Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3:5: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”

Conversion or salvation is accepted as a free gift from God and experienced as both outward washing and inward renewal. Compare Jesus’ and Paul’s words in this beautiful passage in Ezekiel:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Ezekiel 36:25-27

Clearly, Jesus fulfills this prophecy from Ezekiel. It is only through Jesus we can be washed clean and given a new spirit. What Paul does in Romans 12 is take this idea of renewal or regeneration by the Holy Spirit and apply it to our minds. According to Paul, the Spirit renews the mind.

And, as Ezekiel says, the Spirit will enable us “to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Paul echoes this belief in Titus 3. After referring to the renewal by the Holy Spirit, he goes on to say, “This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good” (Titus 3:8).

Remember, in Paul’s understanding, doing what is good wasn’t the same as doing what is conventional. Doing good, according to Paul, involved bizarre behaviour (for the time), like temperance, respect, self-control, loyalty, love, honesty, and trustworthiness (see the full list in Titus 2). This was a time when drunkenness, misogyny, theft, disrespect, dishonesty, and worse was the norm. The only way the earliest Christians could avoid conforming to the patterns of their world–where men treated women as property, where masters mistreated slaves, where slaves stole from masters, where drunkenness and debauchery were commonplace–was to submit to the renewal of their minds by the Holy Spirit.

How does the Spirit do this? It’s a mystery, really. When Nicodemus expressed surprise and confusion about Jesus’ insistence that he must be born again, Jesus admitted he was speaking of “heavenly things” beyond the Pharisee’s ability to understand.

June 9, 2021

The Three Identities of Christ

I want to say at the outset that this is not about “the names of Jesus,” or “the names of Christ,” though it certainly overlaps that discussion greatly. Furthermore, it’s not so much about specific titles or names at all, as two of the three categories here offers multiple options.

The two times I attended Young Life meetings, the speaker said it’s quite important when looking at the Jesus narrative to see the different people taking place in each scene; even to imagine yourself as part of the action. In one story, there’s a blind man, his parents, the Pharisees, Jesus, the disciples, the crowd, etc. You can read the story through the eyes of the crowd, and then go back to the beginning reading the story through the eyes (no pun intended) of the blind man.

We see that even generalizations about ‘the crowd’ are difficult. In one scene they are throwing down palm branches to welcome his unusual entrance into Jerusalem; in the next scene they are shouting, “Crucify, Crucify.” But is the ‘they’ the same in both cases? Many a sermon has been preached about how fickle the masses can be, and how when the tide of opinion about Jesus shifted after his arrest, they turned against him. However, this is important: Were those the same people?

There’s a lot more going on in that story. Why did the people just happen to be lined up along the road? Why did they just happen to be carrying palm branches? Do you see the problem? The complexities in the Jesus narrative are huge and this is what makes his life so captivating, and why, if you’re willing to put some effort into it, you can never stop studying him without learning something new each time.

So what are the identities referred to in today’s title?

Last night I watched a short education video about how the 50 American states got their names. There, I learned two new terms: endonym and exonym. The first term is the insider name that a particular place, group, or linguistic community uses as their self-designated name for themselves, their homeland, or their language. Insider terminology. The second is the designation that everyone outside the group or place uses. Wikipedia’s example is that “Deutschland is the endonym for the country that is also known by the exonym Germany in English and Allemagne in French.” The differences aren’t always simply translation. In these racially sensitive times, one would be advised to carefully consider the terms their using for people of a specific ethnicity. In reference to one term, I once heard someone say, “We can say that to each other, but you can’t say that about us.” That’s the endonym/exonym distinction.

I mentioned this to my youngest son in an email last night, and he quickly came back with the terms emic and etic. The former refers to research done on a particular group (their norms, folklore, opinions) from the perspective of someone within the group, or a behaviorist or social scientist who has embedded themself within the group. The latter term is a perspective or conclusions based on research conducted among people outside the group as to how they perceive the group or the group’s involvement in a particular situation.

So naturally, I couldn’t help think of this exchange.

NLT.Matt.16.13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

So first, Jesus asks his closest followers, ‘What’s the word on the street about me?’

Next he gets a rather diplomatic answer. “Some say…” (italics added). Were the Pharisees and Saducees included in that opinion poll? Or were they out when the pollster called? What about those who had been followers in the past, but left after the “hard sayings” or were earlier part of the “he is out of his mind” persuasion? (John 6:60 and Mark 3:31 respectively.) Verse 14b, if it existed might say something like, ‘…and others say your teaching is too stringent, your standards are impossible; and some think you’re either deceived or plain nuts; and the Pharisees are writing blog posts about how they are sure you’re a false teacher.’

So if we look at the crowd identity that Jesus has, there are multiple answers.

Then he asks them, ‘So what about you guys?’

I would expect there might have been some silence between verse 15 and verse 16. They’d seen the miracles, they’d heard the teaching. If the timeline in Matthew is correct, none of them had witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. That happens one chapter and six days later. But we know from the fuller story that Judas isn’t all in and Thomas has a bent to skepticism.

Peter’s response reminds me of the kid in Sunday School who always knows the right answer. In the days that follow, Peter’s declaration will be put to the ultimate stress test. If Peter really believes Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, then what does that mean when the heat is on him personally and the opportunity to distance himself from that messiah presents itself?

So with the crowd and with the disciples we see the potential for a variety of answers.

But what’s the third identity, if we’re saying there are three?

Well, we’ve already covered it. It’s the identity that Jesus has when he speaks of himself. Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

The dichotomy of endonym and exonym or emic and etic breaks down here because there is another party to this analysis, Jesus himself; the one who is so “other;” which leads to a discussion of how he is so holy; what he knows about himself, who he is, how he was with God and was God, how he is before all things and in him all things hold together, and how he is about to show three of them some of his glory in the mountain transfiguration which follows in the next chapter.

But instead of titles and names that might terrify those first century followers, he chooses a less threatening-sounding and prophetically significant reference to the Book of Daniel, the Son of Man.

For more on that, you need to check out this 5½ minute video from The Bible Project. (See below.)

So who do you say Jesus is?

The Son of Man


Make it personal: About an hour after creating this, I realized its similarity to another teaching I heard when I was younger. Each of us also has three identities. There is how we see ourselves; how others sees us; and how God sees us. What God thinks of us is singular, but our self-analysis and that of our friends may include a multiple of adjectives depending on how we present ourselves in different situations to different people.

 

May 14, 2021

The Gift or the Altar on Which it is Placed?

Matthew 23:19, NLT: “How blind! For which is more important–the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred?”

Two devotional sources for you today; and three readings in total. First…

My investigation into Matthew 23:19 began in March with a devotional from Magnficent Life Ministries which I had bookmarked to return to. They post insightful thoughts on a daily basis from their offices in California. Click the next line to read this at their site.

Which is More Important?

“Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?” Mathew 23:19

Jesus threw a question at the scribes and Pharisees for their misconception about the altar and the gift on the altar. Have you thought about such a question for a moment? Or have you ever related this to your life? If yes, then I would like to invite you to read today’s devotion with full attention. It is a great opportunity to learn who we are and how to present ourselves to God.

The same way the altar is important, so also the gift, but not as much. About ourselves, it means we are the carrier of the altar, and the gift is God’s riches in our possession. When the gifts are presented to God, they might be rejected or accepted not because the gift is bad or good, but the presenter of the gift that serves as the altar’s carrier is more important than the gift itself.

Genesis 4:7 says, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you refuse to do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires you, but you must master it.”

We can see from the scriptures how God accepted Abel and his offering but rejected Cain and his offering. Genesis 4: (Read the middle verse of today’s devotion Gen. 4:7 as God’s response to Cain). The bible also clarifies this in Romans 12:1, the more we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, the more our relationship with him becomes deeper than before.

Beloved, thousands and millions present their case before God every second, but it has always been rejected. The creator has not found them worthy of acceptance, not to talk of accepting their gifts, because their life does not reflect the true altar, Christ Jesus. Therefore, we must present our body as a living sacrifice for the sake of God. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own”

Prayer
1. Psalm 19:14-Father, I present my body as a living sacrifice unto you, making it acceptable in thy sight O lord
2. I receive the grace to set priorities towards the weightiest matters of this kingdom in Jesus’ name. Amen


I decided to check out one more source for you. BibleRef.com is unique in that in addition to providing commentary on the verse in question, each page displays an overview of the verse context, along with an overview of the whole chapter. You need to click the header that follows to see what I mean.

What does Matthew 23:19 mean?

Jesus has called the scribes and Pharisees blind guides (Matthew 23:16), blind fools (Matthew 23:17), and now simply calls them blind. Their ranking of some oaths as binding and others as non-binding shows their complete lack of understanding about what belongs to God and what it means to swear an oath (Matthew 23:13–15).

Using a traditional scheme of loopholes and technicalities, these religious leaders have declared that swearing by the gold of the temple or swearing by the sacrifice on an altar requires a person to keep their word. In contrast, they say, swearing by the temple or altar themselves is somehow non-binding. Jesus has pointed out that the temple that makes the gold sacred, just as the altar makes the sacrifice sacred. The scribes and Pharisees, of all people, should understand that all these things come from God and belong to God. These supposedly learned men don’t have any basis to declare one sacred and another not.

While not stated directly, this “woe” also underscores Jesus’ prior criticism of using oaths to enhance a promise. Why encourage anyone to take an oath, to swear by something sacred, for any reason? Why not just teach people to keep their plain word when they say “yes” or “no.” Anything more than that, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, comes from evil (Matthew 5:33–37).


Bonus Devotional

I decided to share today’s item from Magnificent Life Ministries with you as well, even though it’s a different topic. I hope you’ll bookmark this site and visit often, or if you want a shorter devotional (than what we do here) for another part of your day, subscribe. Click the header below to read at source.

Contentment!

“Of course, godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6

More is never enough, seeming to be the motto for life in this world. You have seen it and probably felt it too. The world philosophy as related to things is, “If I can afford it, get it; and if I can’t afford it, charge it!” This craving for possessions (especially things we don’t need) has resulted in too many ruined lives, devastated families, and a vulnerable nation.

God has a better idea. He calls His people to godly lifestyles. In this passage, Paul coupled the call to live in godliness with the spirit of contentment. Ultimate satisfaction and sufficiency can only be attained by abiding in Christ. He alone is the all-sufficient One. When godliness and contentment are wedded in the hearts of God’s people, blessings abound. However, godliness without contention is dangerous to our health, happiness, and well-being.

Proverbs 28:25 says, “The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the LORD will prosper.”

Do not seek what the world has to offer, for it is never enough—and it will never lead to true contentment. All of those things are not real as they were; the devil has just made it seems genuine in people’s sight. Until we recognize that true riches and inheritance are not in this world, humankind might not stop chasing the world and won’t be contended.

Seek the God of heaven, and seek to further His kingdom on earth. Allow Him to develop His character inside you as you find your sufficiency in Him. Focus your attention on the pursuit of the “mystery of godliness” that Paul described (1 Tim. 3:16) rather than on the pursuit of all the “stuff” that the world holds valuable. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He, Himself, has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Prayer:
1. Father, help me truly know who You are and find true contentment in my relationship with You.
2. Psalm 119:36: Oh Lord, “Turn my heart to Your testimonies and not to covetous gain.” in Jesus’ name.

 

April 30, 2021

The Bible’s Divine Symmetries Exceed Literary Beauty

There’s a quotation that is now widely attributed to Philip Yancey, but I’m sure he said he got it from someone else:

If Jesus had never lived, we never would have been able to invent him.

Although I Corinthians 2:9’s context is different, our New Testament begins with the life of One that no human mind has conceived (NIV) or that never entered into the heart of man (KJV). Each of the gospel writers could have ended with the phrase, ‘Seriously! This all happened! We’re not making this up!’

The story of Jesus is simply incredibly complex. It seems simple enough and for just a little money you can purchase any one of hundreds of Bible books which will provide the primary narrative to children. But as you dig deeper, it reveals layers of significance you never considered.

When I was a university student there was a course offered called “The Bible as Literature.” Knowing where my life ended up, part of me wishes I’d taken this course, but another part of me wonders if it may have caused me to reduce the Bible to only literature; to deny its “living, active… sharper than any two-edged sword” power.

Eight years ago at this time, I was reading Jesus, A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. The use of theography is to suggest that while most stories of Jesus are simple biographies that is, they narrate “from womb to tomb,” this one is attempting to begin with “Christ before the manger,” and then move into eternity. I don’t know that the book lived up to its goals entirely, but I value it as a resource — I’d place it in my top ten — and it’s still in print. 

I’ve mentioned before that the ancients viewed scripture as a multi faceted jewel that revealed more and more with each slight turn; capturing and reflecting and refracting light in infinite combinations. To Sweet and Viola, the preferred image is that of a constellation with phrases from various sections combining to form images.

In the case of John’s gospel, the birth narrative is paralleled to the “I am” statements which are unique to that book.

Jesus A TheographyThe seven I AM metaphorical statements of Jesus in the gospel  of John are followed by their corresponding circumstances in the story of Jesus’ birth:

“I am the bread of life.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means  “house of bread.”

“I am the light of the world.”
Jesus was born under the light of the star of Bethlehem.

I am the door of the sheep.”
The doors of the guest house were closed to Mary and Joseph, but the gate to the stable was open.

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
The infant Jesus was sought by shepherds looking for a baby wrapped in swaddling bands (used for birth or burial) and lying in a manger.

“I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus survived King Herod’s attempt to kill him.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.”
Wise men found their way to him, recognized the truth about him and defied King Herod’s evil plot.

“I am the true vine.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, which means ‘fruitful.’

The example above, while not the strongest of the parallels introduced, is fairly typical, and the reader must decide if the this information is significant spiritually or merely reflective of the Bible’s literary value. To the believer and Christ-follower, the Bible has to be more than great literature.

The book is well crafted and well researched and on average, each of the sixteen chapters has about a hundred footnotes. Still, I find a good filter is needed when reading this; each reader has to determine what they want their ‘take away’ to be from each chapter.

For me, more than anything else, the book highlights the issue of reading of Christian books versus only reading the Bible. I am where I am today spiritually because of the influence that Christian writers have had on me. If anything their words have drawn me into a deeper examination of scripture.

But the Bible’s complexities can be distracting to some people. It’s easy to get “lost in the weeds” of its intricate details and miss out on what God is saying to you and me through any given passage.

For example … Go back to the quoted section above. Beyond things like the significance of the name of His birthplace, or the ways in which His life mirrors the “I Am” statements, what does it speak to you and me?

[Instead of just throwing the question out there; let me offer a personal response: I think that often the amazing life of Jesus compels me to worship. Not in the ‘bursting into song’ sense, but just an awe for the narrative that leaves no loose ends. For an earthly, incarnate life that is so whole, so full, so rich.]

Can we know too much? On the one hand, in terms of Bible study is there such a thing as too much information? I believe Jesus: A Theography is on one hand a valuable addition to my library, but on the other hand, it’s important that I not stray too far from the simplicity found in those children’s Bible study books.

Matthew 11:25-26 (NIV)

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Matthew 18:2-4 (NIV)

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

But on the other hand, making discoveries in books like these is like suddenly reading those narratives we heard has children with a pair of 3-D glasses, and seeing dimensions unfold we never knew previously; filled with ‘ah-ha’ and ‘Wow!’ moments.

Luke 24:31-32 (NIV)

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Again, sheer awe.

April 28, 2021

Everyone Should Have Samaritan Friends

Four years ago we introduced you to Mel Wild who is senior pastor at Cornerstone Church and director of Radiant School of Ministry, both based in Wisconsin USA. He’s in the middle of a series of writings on Jesus and the Samaritan woman and the question of “Who is my neighbor?” Reading this on his site by clicking the header which follows gets you pictures and the opportunity to explore his other writing, and is greatly encouraged.

Loving our Samaritans

Jesus loves the people we hate. He also loves the people who hate us. As you probably can tell, I think that the neo-Marxist ideologies of the radical left are evil and cancerous. But I don’t feel that way at all about the people who embrace these ideologies.  I actually have a soft spot in my heart for them. Growing up, one of my best friends was a tree-hugging, card-carrying Marxist activist. I think everyone should have “Samaritan” friends.

My Marxist friend was older than me, so when he went to college, I got to visit him several times while I was still in high school. It was an exciting adventure for me. His dorm room was plastered with Che Guevara and Black Panther posters. I got to read the Communist Manifesto as a teenager for the first time because that was his “Bible.” I got to go some of his campus protests. I knew nothing about the dangers of this Western brand of neo-Marxism on college campuses at the time, and it didn’t matter.

Years later, when I became a born-again Christian, and he stayed a radical Marxist activist, we remained close friends. This was because our friendship was not based on ideology or politics; it was based on something much more important. When I became a pastor, he would ask me about God and Jesus, and he was always especially open to the love of Jesus. He passed away a few years ago, so I am grateful for those conversations.

And that brings me to the story about Jesus and the original Samaritans.

51 Jesus let nothing distract him from departing for Jerusalem because the time for him to be lifted up drew near, and he was full of passion to complete his mission there. 52 So he sent messengers ahead of him as envoys to a village of the Samaritans. 53 But as they approached the village, the people turned them away. They would not allow Jesus to enter, for he was on his way to worship in Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51-53 TPT*)

First, let’s think about how we would honestly respond to such rejection. Of course, no response happens in a vacuum. In this case, it’s in context of generations of prejudicial hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews.

I want us to think about this because I really do believe that Jesus is calling His church to go to Samaria, to those people who we think are our enemies. Because of all that’s gone on over the last year, I believe people are more ready to hear the message of the Kingdom of God than ever before. But the problem is…us. Before we can change the world, we may have to change.

We’re a lot like Jesus’ disciples in this story, not being able to heal people like Jesus, but jealous of others who weren’t even following Him but were doing the “stuff,”  and preoccupied with arguing over who’s the greatest (see Luke 9:37-43; 46-50). This is Jesus’ A-team! They were the ones He was investing in to change the world. But, like us, they still had a lot to learn. To see that, let’s continue the story…

54 When the disciples Jacob and John realized what was happening, they returned to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you wanted to, you could command fire to fall down from heaven, just as Elijah did and destroy all these wicked people.”

55 Jesus rebuked them sharply, saying, Don’t you realize what spews from your hearts when you say that? The Son of Man did not come to destroy life, but to bring life to the earth.” (Luke 9:54-55 TPT*)

If we’re going to learn anything at all from this passage, we  must first ask ourselves honestly, “Who are my Samaritans?” Who do I want God to rain fire down on? For me, because of my experience growing up, I actually have more grace for radical neo-Marxist leftists than I do obnoxiously legalistic Christians! That’s an area where I needed to change my heart.

What’s interesting about the disciple’s response was that they were using Scripture to justify their violent response to the Samaritan’s rejection of Jesus. Beloved, whenever we use the phrase, “But the Bible says…” when justifying hatred and revenge, you can be sure you need to realize what spews from your hearts when you say that?” Or, as the NKJV puts it,You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” I hope you do understand that you could be biblically correct yet be on the wrong side of God.

Now, you and I may say we love those who hate us, persecute us, cancel us, lie about us, but do we? Here’s the passage we have a hard time believing:

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, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matt.5:43-46 NKJV*)

It makes me wonder, do I have a “tax-collector” kind of love, or Jesus’ kind of love?

You see, you and I will never learn to see people like God sees them until we learn to love our Samaritans. As I hope to show next time, seeing people the way Jesus sees them opens up something wonderful and amazing to behold.


Published on his site as licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License.

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