Christianity 201

November 21, 2021

Four Snapshots of Gratitude…Or a Lack Thereof

 

As the United States gets ready for its annual Thanksgiving holiday, it seemed appropriate to share today’s devotional thoughts with everyone. The writer, appearing here for the first time, goes by the online name S. Joiner and their blog is called Basic Bible Thoughts. Clicking the header which follows will allow you to read this direct from the source.

Gratefulness

As I did a quick online Google search for the meaning of thankfulness and gratefulness here is the slight but important difference I found. Thankful is being pleased and relieved, whereas Grateful is showing an appreciate of kindness. Being pleased, is an inner emotion whereas showing appreciate takes some action on our part.

Gratefulness must start at contentment, (a feeling of happiness and satisfaction). Many of us may view contentment as giving up, having no desire or passion, or maybe deciding to settle. Together we will see how contentment is so much more and how gratefulness is to be shown.

Luke 12: 16-21            NIV

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.

His first barn was plenty large enough to care for him and his family (if he had any). Why not share the overflow, give to those in need? Some might say that we should all prepare for a rainy day and for retirement. I would be one of those people, I prepare for just those events in my life. Then how much is enough, where is the line of overflow. The challenge centers more on the statement made by the farmer, “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry”. He is missing a very important ingredient, “being rich toward God”. Finding contentment begins with understanding you are no longer yours, but His. You see He has created you with a plan, our role is to find the plan by finding Him. Seek first the kingdom and all these things will be given to you.

Jonah 4: 5-8    NIV

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” 

Jonah had just preached to Nineveh, and they were changing their ways. He wanted more, he wanted God to destroy them. Jonah makes himself a shelter, but he doesn’t seem to be very pleased, nor does it completely shelter him. It had created it with his own hands and yet that creation did not bring contentment nor gratitude. God creates a plant that towers over his shelter and provides the needed shade. Jonah did nothing for his current state of happiness, God did. I don’t see where Jonah even offered a thank you for God’s wonderful creation, yet he sat there waiting for God to destroy a city. When the plant, Jonah had not lifted a finger to build, was eaten by worms, he was angry yet again.

Luke 17: 11-17            NIV

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?

These ten men, lived outside the cities. They who were diagnosed with leprosy and were sent away with strict rules of conduct. When talking with Jesus they stayed at a distance. Jesus tells them to go visit the priest. As they walked, they felt and saw the healing power of Jesus create them anew. All they did was listen, walk, and obey. The joy and happiness of that healing moment was huge. Nine of them kept walking but one, just one, came back to Jesus. His voice could be heard as he praised God all the way back. Arriving at Jesus there is no distance between them, he throws himself at His feet. He was pleased, happy, and relieved. But don’t you see something more here, he was grateful, unashamedly grateful, change had come, but not through his power but the power of Jesus.

It’s just far to easy to walk though this life seeing only the hurt, the difficulties, maybe the heat of the day, or lack of room for all our overflow of stuff. The burden of life can become overwhelming, and I stop myself and ask, did I build this shelter or this barn, with my own hands? Can I find contentment inside myself, the answer is a resounding NO! Contentment is only found in the arms of our Savior Jesus Christ. As we are blessed, share it. When our life is not the way we planned it out, look toward Jesus because He can grow plants that cover you and offer shade from the heat of this life.

How grateful are you during this season of life? Are you angry, or is your voice wide open in praise? Hopefully this thought comes to mind, “how do we look beyond the challenges of life and develop that spirit of Gratefulness?”

Philippians 4: 4-8 NIV

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Paul encourages us to have joy always, become a gentle person. Gentleness is found in contentment, be satisfied with what you have in Christ, stop trying to build your own shelter. He is near and His ears are tuned to our praise of thanksgiving. When we fall at His feet there is peace. I love that Paul let’s us know that even he believes that this peace is beyond our understanding. But he knows that it will guard our heart and mind. Train you mind and your emotions, have them find the good, have them locate Jesus in every situation. All that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy – think on those things and be grateful to God that he provides them.


Second Helping: This month we’ve been featuring links to read a second devotional study by the featured author. We don’t mind “edgy” topics, but even we have our limits! I say that to warn you that the second helping today (which didn’t become the featured article) is about spit. Yes, that kind of spit. (I warned you!) And it figures into scripture several times. Check out the article titled, Redeemed Saliva. (Before you click, can you guess a few of the passages referenced?)

July 3, 2021

Called to Foreign and Fear-Filled Places

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today we’re returning to Jesus Unboxed, written by Rev. David Eck, pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital.  All his devotionals are also available on video, the one for today is at this link. Click the header which follows to read this at source.

Calming the Storm (Mark 4:35-41)

“On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’”

For those of us who may be a little bit geographically challenged, the “other side” of Lake Galilee was the land of the Gerasenes which, roughly translated, means “over against Galilee.” This was Gentile territory, the land of the so-called “heathens.” It was the place where Jews did not want to travel. It was the place where “those kinds of people” lived. And so, I’m sure the disciples looked at Jesus a bit perplexed when he told them he desired to travel there.

But isn’t that like Jesus? He calls us to go to places that sometimes make us feel uncomfortable. He calls us to leave behind the security and safety of the church and go out into a world filled with desperate people. A world that is in need of healing and hope. A world that has often felt rejected by the church and treated as “heathen territory.”

God’s people often hesitate to go to the other side, whether it’s a call to minister to the homeless, victims of domestic violence, the poor, those without the benefit of health care insurance, immigrants or the LGBT+ community. Typically, we like to surround ourselves with those who agree with us; those who look like us and think like us. We even select our newspapers and televisions stations based upon our beliefs and rarely consult those whom we view as being from the other side.

However, if I’ve learned one thing about Jesus in thirty-three years of ministry (Beside the fact that he passionately loves ALL his children), it’s the fact that Jesus rarely allows us to remain in places that are comfortable and secure. He often calls us to places that challenge us and help us to grow. He calls us to places that are out of our personal comfort zones. Because this is where he went while we has here on earth; smashing through barriers of culture, class, sex and race in order to transform everyone with the radical, inclusive love of God. And so, Jesus invites us to get into the boat and travel to the other side. We must make a decision as to whether or not we will accept his invitation.

The story continues: “And leaving the crowd behind, they took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.” This is certainly an unusual detail in the story. Mark is the only gospel that contains the phrase “Other boats went with him.” To be honest with you, I’m not exactly sure why it is there. But I do know that it means we’re not alone. Others have also accepted Jesus’ invitation to cross over to the other side.

It has been my experience that some of these boats come from other Christian denominations, Some of whom believe very different things about God than we Lutherans do. But they have answered the call just as we have. Some of these boats bear names such as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and the like. They, too, have answered the call to cross over to the other side. I’ve worked side by side with these “other boats.” We’ve entered the so-called “heathen territory” together and ministered to the most helpless and hopeless among us. I know this makes some Christians uncomfortable. They would like to be the only boat on the sea. But our gospel lesson tells us there are other boats. I’ll leave you to ponder the meaning of this unusual detail.

The story continues: “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” Storms come in many forms. Some of them are the diagnosis of a terminal illness, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. Our nation has been experiencing a great windstorm” this past year as we’ve faced a global pandemic, political unrest and conversations regarding systemic racism. Storms have raged, and continue to rage, all around us. They rock the boats of our personal lives, our families and friends, our church, our community and our world. This reminds us that no one is safe from the storms of life. We will all experience times of smooth sailing, as well as times when the waves crash into our boats and threaten to sink us.

The story continues: “But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” It’s what I call the “Big God Question.” The “Big God Question” sounds something like this “God why are you punishing me?” “Jesus, why did you let this happen to me, to my family, to my church?”

We all ask the “Big God Question” from time to time. It’s human nature to do so. When the storms of life rage all around us, it’s natural to wonder where God is in the midst of our suffering, fear and loss. Our gospel implies that we are tempted to think Jesus doesn’t care about our plight. He’s asleep at the wheel, or in the stern of the boat, as the case may be!

During these times of fear and uncertainty it’s easy for us to try and blame God or blame someone else in the boat as the cause of the storm. I don’t know why this is the case. But it’s hard for us to accept the fact that storms are a part of life. They are unavoidable. Some of them result from us making bad decisions. Others have no great evil behind them. They are simply part of the cycle of life that goes between periods of calm and storm.

The story continues: “Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’”

The good news of our gospel lesson is that Jesus is NOT the cause of the storms that rage in our lives. Jesus is the one who is able to calm them. It has been my experience that the kind of calm Jesus offers us is not always smooth sailing and waveless seas. The kind of calm Jesus offers us is in here. In our hearts and minds and spirits. It is, as St. Paul calls it, “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” It’s the kind of peace that recognizes we are in God’s capable hands no matter what kind of sea we find ourselves in.

Perhaps Jesus’ sleeping in the midst of storm is not a sign of his indifference as the disciples indicated. Perhaps Jesus’ sleeping means he knew whether he survived the storm or not he was in God’s capable hands. Nothing, not even death, could change this truth. Therefore he slept, not as a sign of apathy; he slept because his heart and soul were resting peacefully in God’s hands. Nothing could alter this truth.

Now there is something to ponder! The challenge is for us to grow in our faith to the point where the storms of life don’t faze us in the least. This doesn’t mean we’ll never be fearful. It means we will remain confident that God is with us in the boat no matter how rough the seas get.

Jesus’ response to the disciples in our story is interesting. After they accuse him of being apathetic, he says to them “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Some people may take this to mean that faith means WE have to be the strong ones. I think the opposite is true. Faith means we trust GOD to be the strong one in the midst of our fear and doubt.

You see, I don’t think Jesus was chastising the disciples because of their fear of the wind and waves. He was disappointed because of their lack of trust in him. They doubted his ability to protect them and see them through the storm. We’re not supposed to be the strong ones. We’re supposed to trust that God is the strong one. These two things are completely different. Which one we choose makes a BIG difference in how we understand the meaning of the story.

The kind of faith Jesus expects of us is beautifully defined by one of my all-time favorite authors, Frederich Buechner, who wrote the following about faith: “Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. A journey without maps. Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”

So, my dear friends, there is so much we can learn from our gospel lesson for today. There is much to think about, pray about and apply to our lives. It is my hope that today’s story will challenge us to have the kind of faith to get in the boat with Jesus and sail to wherever he wants us to sail. To have the kind of faith that trusts his guidance through calm seas and rough. May Jesus be the captain of our boat, both now and forever. AMEN

Copyright ©2020 by David Eck; used by permission


Bonus article: Here’s another by the same writer, Growing the Kingdom.


Related: Reading the first part of today’s devotional, where Jesus takes his ‘guys’ to a place they might have referred to avoid reminded me of a study we did last year on the “Jersualem, Judea and Samaria” passage in John, and how the reference to Samaria is less geographic and more symbolic: Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions.

April 20, 2021

“Don’t Be Afraid” – Not Comforting Words; It’s a Request

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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The title I gave our version of today’s devotional is my reaction to how this impacted me. It reminded me that the request Jesus made bordered on inappropriate, at least in terms of what you say to someone who has suffered great loss…

Today we return to Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. Click her title for it which follows and read this at her site.

Just Have Faith

But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”
Mark 5:36

I have been putting off writing about this for a while, because the truth is I just don’t understand it half as well as I’d like to. I don’t understand how Jesus could tell Jairus don’t be afraid. Especially given the news Jairus had just received.

Let me set the stage…

Jesus had just arrived in Capernaum after being on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and a large crowed had already gathered around him by the time Jairus arrived. Jairus was the leader at a local synagogue whose daughter, only 12 years old, was at home dying. Having heard that Jesus was in the area, he found the crowd and fought his way through it to reach Jesus. He then fell at his feet, pleading with him to come and lay hands on her so she might live.

Can you imagine the relief Jairus must have felt when Jesus, the man who worked miracles, agreed to go with him to his home?

But on the way there, a woman interrupted the procession by reaching out to touch Jesus’s robe. This in itself is an amazing story, but for now I want to focus on the fact that Jarius was forced to wait while this other woman took precious time away from Jesus getting to his little girl. And as he was watching Jesus speak to this woman, the terrible news he feared arrived: his daughter had died.

This is where my faith is challenged. Because Jesus didn’t weep with Jairus. He didn’t console him. He simply said, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” But the thing was…his daughter had died. She was gone. In that single moment, the fear of her death became a horrible reality.

This is where I struggle. Because I can’t help but put myself in the shoes of Jairus. What if I had gotten news that my husband died and Jesus told me, don’t be afraid. Just have faith? I feel like I’d want to slap him. My grief would be more than I could bear. How could I not be afraid? How could I possibly have faith? This is a hypothetical situation for me, but it wasn’t for Jairus. And it isn’t for many people I know. So the big question is, how can this be encouraging? How can this be what Jesus tells Jairus? How can it put to rest my own fears of the future?

I don’t know. But I do know that Jesus said it – and it was recorded for us for a reason. And I also know that Colossians 1:15 says that “[Jesus] Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” If I believe that, and I do, I have to believe that even in the face of death and worst fears come true…we’re to trust Him.

Even though I don’t understand this and it feels like an impossible thing to ask of someone, the fact that Jesus said it means it warrants my time thinking about it and praying about it.

There is so much of God I do not understand. But I really do want to be a person who’s first instinct is to trust His word and act on it, find comfort in it, and discover His heart through it. I believe that good things lie on the other side of our obedience – especially when we obey without fully understanding.

My hope is that in the face of fear, both life threatening and none, my knee-jerk reaction will not be panic, but trust. I want my heart to be ruled by Him alone. I want his peace, which passes understanding. I want to be less like the people of the world, and more like the heroes of the bible – who took God seriously.

The bible doesn’t tell us how Jairus responded to what Jesus said. So I don’t know if he was full of faith or if he fell apart. But Jesus went to his house and healed that little girl – she lived again.

I know this isn’t the way all our stories end. How I wish it was. But I do wonder what is on the other side of our faith when we face these kind of horrifying situations. It encourages me to think about how much stock I put into what God asks of me.

This kind of soul searching and asking these kinds of questions is hard…but I think it’s well worth the undertaking.

 

April 3, 2021

Below the Surface: Look for the Symbol in the Miracle

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.John.2.3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons…

…11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The most miraculous thing Jesus ever did was to conquer death, which we celebrate this Easter weekend. At the other end of the narrative, we have his first miracle at a wedding. These bookend that aspect of his life and they have much in common.

Today we have a book excerpt for you from The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus (Zondervan, 2021) by Canadian pastor Mark Clark. (A sequel to The Problem of God.)


Bringing about revelation of God that leads to saving faith is one of the stated purposes of miracles the gospel writers tell us about. Jesus did miracles to reveal to the world what he came to do. Again, we see this in the miracle mentioned earlier, the turning of water into wine. John 2:6 tells us that there were six stone jars filled with water and then gives their purpose, which is the key to uncovering the meaning of the miracle: they were “for the Jewish rites of purification.” Why did John include this detail? Because John’s larger purpose was to show us through this miracle that the Jewish observance and ritual of purification was being upstaged and superseded by Jesus. This phase of history, where humankind connected with God through religious observance of rituals, was coming to an end. It was being fulfilled by Jesus and what he was doing in the world. Jesus was doing something new, and he was saying, “I am the new wine.” Religion was giving way to relationship.

Here we find the scandal of Jesus’ miracles, the real problem Jesus was creating. What he was saying was like a cultural hand grenade, upending centuries of tradition and belief. this would have been extremely offensive and controversial to John’s audience. How do I know? When I was in Israel a few years ago, I had the unique privilege of preaching in front of one of these big stone water jars at Cana in Galilee, where this miracle took place historically. The jar was up to my waist and must have been two or three feet wide at the mouth. My audience was a collection of tourists standing around as well as our Jewish tour guide, Abraham.

I explained what the story of the water being turned to wine was about, and later Abraham pulled me aside and asked, “Are you serious about what you said back there?” I said, Yes, of course,” He said, “I’ve done this tour with two hundred Christian groups, and I’ve never heard any of them get up and say what you just said. Do you really think that that’s what Jesus was trying to say?”

Here was a man who was religiously living under the idea that purification jars were still necessary in relating to God, and I was able to clarify what Jesus was saying. he began to grasp the idea that one phase of God’s work was over and a new had begun, and it hit him hard. As it should hit all of us. You can see why the miracles Jesus did were powerful, not only for the activity itself, but for what it meant about God and God’s work in the world. Jesus was not just healing people or doing marvellous things. He was more than a doctor or a magician. In every miracle, he was reinforcing what he taught: “I’m replacing everything the temple and all of the purification rituals ever meant or were used for. I’m here–and I’m shutting it all down.”

You can understand why Jesus’ audience often got angry with him. Jesus claimed to be bringing about a new era, or as John said, “The law was giving through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). With Jesus came a cosmic shift in how God related to the world, for Jesus was bringing creation back to what it was intended to be before sin and death.

What does this mean for you and me? It means that miracles are an invitation to all of us, God’s invitation to enter in and experience restoration at a personal level.

pp167-169


Excerpted from The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus ©2021 by Mark Clark and used by permission of Zondervan Publishing.  Learn more at  zondervan.com


Watch a 90-second video with Mark introducing the book:

 

 

March 8, 2021

Jesus Changes Everything

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” – Luke 8:25b

Today we’re paying a return visit to Practical Theology Today. The writer is Curt Hinkle.

Get Used to Different

If you haven’t watched The Chosen yet, I highly recommend it. The developers of the project hoped to create a “binge-worthy” series and they seem to have accomplished their intent. I had a fever several weeks ago, was self-quarantined for a few days, and I binge-watched the entire first season (eight episodes). It is well done! They really do a good job of depicting the humanity of Jesus as well as his likely interactions with the people, especially his followers.

The creators did an especially nice job of surmising the interactions between the disciples themselves. Of particular interest was the interplay of the fishermen (Simon, Andrew, James, and John) with Matthew (Levi), the Israelite, turned traitor, tax collector for the occupying Romans. There was no love loss. When Jesus invited Matthew to follow him, Simon questioned the action, “What are you doing? Do you have any idea what this guy has done?” Simon, after reminding Jesus what this guy was a tax collector, said, “I don’t get it” to which Jesus responded, “You didn’t get it when I chose you, either.” Simon’s response: “But this is different. He’s a tax collector.” Jesus’ retort has become my favorite line in the series so far – “Get used to different.”

 Get used to different – an understatement to say the least. As I read through the gospels, I try to imagine what was going through the minds of those first-century followers. Almost everything Jesus did and said was different. I picture them huddled together, collectively trying to make sense of what was happening.

I recently read Luke’s account of Jesus calming the storm prior to a visit to the Gentile region on the East side of the Sea of Galilee (Luke 8:22-39). To this point, the disciples suspected they might be following the Messiah, the anointed one of God that would rescue the nation of Israel from the Roman Gentile dogs. But Jesus seemed to do things differently than they expected of a messiah and the trip across the lake didn’t ease their confusion. When Jesus said, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake,” I could picture the disciples discussing among themselves, “Serious? The other side? That’s Gentile country. They are different over there.” Get used to different!

As they crossed the lake (about the size of Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota), Jesus fell asleep and a storm blew in. After being abruptly awakened by the disciples, Jesus calmed the raging storm and they continued their journey across the lake. Though the disciples marveled at what they had just witnessed, it left them fearfully asking, “Who then is this…?” We think he might be the Messiah, but messiahs don’t calm storms. Messiahs position themselves to overthrow pagan kingdoms. This is different. Get used to different!

Landing on the the other side of the lake, Jesus and his disciples were immediately met by a naked man who lived among the tombs and was possessed by a Legion of demons (Who, by the way, knew exactly who Jesus was – “Son of the Most High God.”). Cleanliness was core to the first century Jewish religious customs. What we see in this narrative is uncleanliness at every turn – an unclean (naked) man, with unclean spirits who lived among unclean tombs in an unclean territory where they raised unclean hogs. Any respectable rabbi (and presumably a messiah) would have gotten back in the boat and left. I picture the disciples huddled on the shoreline next to the boat, again asking “Who then is this…? This is really different than we expected.” Get used to different! *

In what ways might we need to get used to different? As Christ followers, I think we need to be OK with different. I think we need to learn to expect different. In fact, as Christ-followers, I suspect that God wants us to step into different. The late Howard Hendricks used to suggest that we should always be involved in something that stretches our thinking and comfort – something different than we are used to. Different drives us to God and causes us to rely on the Holy Spirit. Different leads to transformation. If we are serious about following Jesus, I suspect we need to…

Get Used to Different!

* If you know the story, you know that Jesus drove the legion of demons from the man. Jesus was not defiled by the unclean man in his unclean setting. Instead “the holy contagion of Jesus rescued and transformed the man,” borrowing from Jim Edwards (Edwards, J. R. (2015). The gospel according to Luke, p. 249).


From Thinking Out Loud:

What if the books of the New Testament were arranged somewhat differently? If people can have fantasy sports teams, I figured I could imagine an edition of the NT with the books in a different order. Click here to read.

February 13, 2021

Filled with Awe

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs;
You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy. – Psalm 65:8

“Who is like You among the gods, O Lord?
Who is like You, majestic in holiness,
Awesome in praises, working wonders? – Exodus 15:11

They were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today.” – Luke 5:26

Today our quest for new bloggers to highlight and encourage took us to the writing of Doreen Eager who lives in North Carolina. Her blog is Doreen Eager’s Blog, but she also reviews podcasts at The Godly Pod Review, about which she writes,  “My mission … is to help a weary Mom or Dad, who is hungry for God’s word, and wants to find Him in their daily lives but cannot find the time.”

Because what follows appeared just today, I’ve closed comments here so that by clicking the header which follows you can read this at her page and comment.

Awestruck by Jesus

The definition of Awestruck, according to Merriam Webster dictionary, is the state of being in awe. Awe, is an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred.

We all have things in this world that we enjoy, most would consider entertainment, or perhaps educational. Some love movies or TV, others prefer books or You Tube videos. I enjoy listening to Christian podcasts, it is one way that I can learn from other Christian leaders how they walk out their faith and interpret God’s will in their lives. It gives me context and at times allows me to ponder another way of looking at scripture.

When our outlook on people, who are considered to have a platform or are influential, becomes more than just respectful and moves toward being in awe, are we then turning these people into idols?

I follow many different Christian leaders; Beth Moore, Christine Caine, Annie Downs, Carey Neiuwhof, to name a few. If I am honest, which I am trying to be, if I ever had an instance where I could meet one of them in person, I would probably be nervous and a little fan girlish. I wonder if this is considered being in awe and if so I need to reexamine my thoughts of these people?

Jesus is worthy of being in awe of and we should be amazed at what He did for us some 2000 years ago. In Luke chapter 7 we see Jesus heal a widow’s son who died.

Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.  As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. Luke 7:11-17

We are so blessed to have a high priest that came down from heaven, that has feelings as we do, and took pity on this mother. What a glorious and amazing day for that mother. To this day Jesus does wonderful miracles; a new day arrives, a baby is born, an answered prayer for a new job, and the Holy Spirit in us to guide our decisions on this journey.

I am in awe anytime I sit and ponder what Jesus did for our sins. The suffering He endured, and the level of restraint He displayed while He was being tormented. He could have taken out all of the Romans and Pilate with one word but He chose to be obedient to God’s will. “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Matthew 26:42

Doreen’s definition of awestruck is: Jesus.

January 19, 2021

There are No Hometown Prophets

Today I was delighted when my quest to find new writers to highlight took me to Let’s Talk About Jesus, the blog of Aaron Irlbacher, who is a Baptist pastor in Roy (that’s the name of the place!) in the state of Washington. I know I’m always telling you guys to click the links and read these articles where I found them, but today there’s a double reason for doing so, as I enjoyed reading Aaron and Jayme’s story of how they met and their early days of criss-crossing the U.S. for school and ministry positions.

So again, click the header below to read this at source. Aaron is currently in the middle of a devotional series from the Gospel of Luke. Because this was posted just hours ago, I’ve closed comments here today so that if you wish to add something you can interact with him directly.

A Prophet Has No Home

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.

And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb,’ “Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ “

And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.  But passing through their midst, he went away.

Luke 4:20-30, ESV

The Pattern for Jesus’ Life and Ministry

This scene effectively foreshadows Jesus’ entire ministry.

► First, Jesus arrives to teach the way of God (Acts 18:26) perfectly. He is welcomed early on and acclaimed as a teacher sent from God by all who hear Him.

► Second, His teaching creates faith in some and anger in others. Jesus’ sermons are not for tickling people’s ears (1 Tim 4:3). His words divide, but not because they are divisive. The dividing happens naturally as the result of truth-telling. Jesus came to seek and to save (Luke 19:10), but men love darkness rather than light (John 3:19).

► Third, those who reject His identity as the Christ become infuriated and endeavor to destroy Him.

► Fourth, some of the same people who praised Him initially would join the angry mob, and the masses decide to put Him to death (Matt 27:20).

► Fifth, He survives their murderous plot but leaves them without any more revelation (Luke 24:6).

Do you see it? Jesus’ interaction in Nazareth is like His entire life in miniature.

There are no hometown prophets

When Jesus closed the Isaiah scroll, the entire congregation must have stared with mouths hung open while they thought to themselves, “did he just say what I think he said?” Some of them were so impacted by His gracious words and clear self-identification as the Messiah they asked, “isn’t this Joeseph’s boy?” The toothpaste was out of the tube. You can’t put it back in now. Jesus’ declaration was clear, and his audience did understand him. He knew their thoughts of doubt, and He knew their next question. All good teachers try to answer objections before they are raised, and Jesus is the perfect teacher. He tells the unbelieving what they would say next. You all are thinking, “What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well (Luke 4:23).” After Jesus tells them what they are thinking, He moves on to tell them why they are thinking wrongly. They had become so comfortable with who they assumed Jesus was that they could no longer objectively hear from Him. Jesus’ childhood friends and neighbors still saw a simple and relatively unimportant carpenter’s son, and therefore they could not recognize the true prophet. Their knowledge of Him as a lad was apparently so loud they couldn’t hear Him as the true prophet. That is why Jesus’ critique was “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown (Luke 4:24).”

If you had to choose between Jesus and a million dollars

It’s no secret that Americans are infamously materialistic. I wouldn’t consider myself materialistic, but what materialistic person would? We all can be distracted by stuff. While material things are not sinful to have or enjoy, the problem arises when our hearts become singularly focused upon something we have, or even worse, something we don’t have but wished we did.

Jesus acutely identified this problem in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Matt 6:24).” I prefer the King James translation that replaces the word “money” with “mammon.” Mammon was an old Semitic word that indicated more than simply money. Mammon was more like our word materialism than our word money, and Jesus was using the concept of materialism as a competitor against God for our hearts. Materialism easily turns into idolatry if our hearts crave something rather than God.

In Nazareth, though extremely poor by our modern standards, many of them fell prey to this temptation. Jesus addressed this sin within the hearts of His first audience. They wanted Jesus to do in Nazareth what He had done in other Galilean towns. On the surface, that is not a bad request. There’s certainly nothing wrong with petitioning the Saviour. Jesus often rewarded faith with compassion and gracious gifts of healing. What then was the problem? These Nazarites were wanting something from Jesus without wanting Him. This is a subtle distinction that we must learn and guard our own hearts against the temptation of idolatry. Idolatry may be described as adoring anything or anyone in a way that rivals our adoration for God. Natalie Grant sings this truth,

“Help me want the Healer, more than the healing,
help me want the Savior, more than the saving,
help me want the Giver, more than the giving.
Oh, help me want You, Jesus, more than anything.”

Amen Natalie.

Christian, we must open our eyes and unplug our ears to see Jesus rightly and hear Him truly. There is nothing that we need more in all the world than Him. We must learn from Mary, the sister of Martha (Luke 10:42). She chose to stay in Jesus’ presence to directly hear the Words of life from the very Giver of life. I have two hopes for you today. First, I hope you will day by day faithfully come to hear Jesus for yourself in the Scripture and not just hear from me after I have spent time in His presence. Second, I hope you will continually grow in your desire for Christ above all else. May God’s Spirit works in us all.

for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 

Philippians 2:13, ESV

November 3, 2020

Seeking Knowledge When We Want Power

John 9.1(TPT) Afterward, as Jesus walked down the street, he noticed a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused this guy’s blindness, his own, or the sin of his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither. It happened to him so that you could watch him experience God’s miracle.

John 9.3(NKJV) Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

If you’re unfamiliar with this story, check out all 41 verses of John’s gospel, chapter 9.

A year ago this month we introduced Wes Barry who is the pastor of Waypoint in North Carolina, a church he planted seven years ago. Today’s article is actually older than a second piece by him we shared six months ago, but one I wanted to share with readers here. Clicking the header below will take to this article at its source.

The Wrong Questions

Perhaps you have heard the acronym that the Bible is “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” to imply that the Bible is life’s instruction manual. Or, if you were like me and involved in FCA, you heard the analogy that the Bible is God’s Playbook. When I received Davidson’s football playbook, I received detailed descriptions of what was expected of me and how I was supposed to run a play. Though I rarely actually read instruction manuals when putting together a project, an instruction manual gives us specific step-by-step how-tos. As I have read scripture I have come to see how both of those are wrong. And they cause us to ask the wrong questions.

The ultimate problem we face is that through Adam and Eve’s eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we have knowledge but lack power. For example: We know the impact of this virus, but we lack the power to control it. Knowledge without power is an extremely painful position to be in. Therefore, we try to minimize that pain through scientific questions of “How” and “What,” that give us a false sense of power. Yet, this causes us to fail to ask the spiritual questions of “Who” and “Why.”

Our industrial and mechanical minds ask “How” and “What” questions. Scripture, however, is answering “Who” and “Why” questions. If we approach scripture with a What/How mindset then we are asking the wrong questions and will entirely miss the purpose of scripture.

While the question in John 9 is translated into a “who sinned”—the heart of what they are asking is “what caused this man to be born blind?” They are seeking to capture the cause of this man’s difficulty in life—probably in an effort to avoid their own peril, or the peril of their children. They are seeking a rational explanation.

Jesus, however, re-frames the question. He tells them they are asking the wrong question—the question we should be asking is not “what caused this” but “why.” Why would God allow this to happen?”

Who and Why questions ask relational and purpose questions. They draw us closer to God, and once we discover who God is, we become aware of who we are and are not.

As John Calvin states in the opening part of his Institutes: “The whole sum of our wisdom is…the knowledge of God and of ourselves…the first ought to show us not only one God whom all must worship and honor, but also that the same One is the fountain of all truth, wisdom, goodness, righteousness, judgment, mercy, power and holiness…The second part, by showing us our weakness, wretchedness, futility, and greed, leads us to feel cast down about and to distrust and hate ourselves; and then kindles in us a desire to seek for God, since in Him lies all the good of which we are empty and naked.”

Once we realize who God is and who we are, then the only logical question becomes, “why.” If God is good, and I am not, then why is God allowing this to happen?

For this man born blind, Jesus is saying that the purpose of this man’s blindness was so that one day the glory of Christ might be revealed. His blindness revealed the futility of his efforts and his parents’. The man’s entire life—all the limitations that he felt due to his blindness, his parents’ worry that they may have caused this malady—was necessary so that on that particular day during that particular encounter Jesus could demonstrate his power to give sight to the blind. Due to this man’s life and testimony, one of the greatest hymns was written: “I once was blind but now I see.”

Now, finally, notice that this man’s healing required active engagement on his part. He was not a passive recipient but an actor in the healing story. While other healings occurred immediately, this man was commanded to go and wash. So once we understand who and why, it does not mean we become mere observers of God’s plan, but we must become participants in His mission.

 

 

September 8, 2020

Looking for Lepers

Today we’re highlighting a new author, Lydia Shearin, who writes at Soli Deo Gloria. Because this was slightly edited for length, you’re encouraged to click the title below and read this excellent article at her site.

Just one Touch

I have heard people say that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the hardest on extroverts, who have been forced into social isolation by quarantine, and I know many introverts who would debate that statement, but I think we can all agree that there is one group of people who have been hit especially hard by all of the social distancing and safety measures:

Huggers.

We all know at least one of these people who thrive off of physical touch, and will hug anyone and everyone, from their friends and family to the grocery store clerk. To these people, hugs are the best way to communicate greeting, farewell, joy, empathy, sadness, and many more emotions…

…I can’t deny that there is something special about our sense of touch. Have you ever noticed how many different emotions we can communicate through a simple touch on the arm, or a squeeze of the hand? As humans, I don’t think that God intended for us to live 6ft apart from each other. We were meant to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically connected to one another.

As I was pondering these things this morning, I was reminded of a powerful story found in three of the Gospels (Mark 1:40-45, Matthew 8:1-4, and Luke 5:12-16); The story of a leper that Jesus healed. Here is Luke’s version of the story:

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Luke 5:12-16

I believe this is such a powerful story because it shows us the character of Jesus, and gives us insight into how he reacts to us when we bring him our brokenness.

At first glance, this my seem like just one of the many healing stories in the Bible, but for the Jews, Jesus’ response to the leper carries a whole different meaning. For him to reach out and touch a leper would have been shocking, to say the least, and ungodly, to say the worst. To understand this, we have to understand how serious having leprosy was in Jewish times. In those days, leprosy had no cure. You could not just grab some prescription anti-itch cream and put it on. People did not realize that the disease was caused by a bacterial infection that could be easily spread, but they did know that it was very contagious, and so lepers were avoided at all costs. Because leprosy seemed to appear out of the blue, a person who had leprosy was often considered to be stricken and punished by God himself.

If you go back to the Old Testament and read Leviticus 13, you will see that there was a rigorous process to figure out if someone had leprosy, and the chapter lists some of the symptoms to watch out for. I will spare you the nauseating details in case some of you are eating lunch, but trust me when I say that it was bad. Regardless, at the end of that chapter, we get a picture of what life would have been like for a leper:

 “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.”

Leviticus 13:45-46

If a person was found to have a skin disease, they were to be isolated outside of normal society. They couldn’t work, no one could visit them, and no one could touch them. Because of the nature of the disease, they were either in pain or in an unbearable state of numbness all the time, and they had to depend on the generosity of others for their daily food and money. Not only that, their appearance was a badge of shame, as they were required to tear their clothes, wear their hair unkempt and call out that they were ill so that no one would come near them. Imagine if we did that today with other ailments. Imagine having to walk into a grocery store shouting, “Move everybody, lady with cancer coming through!” or “Don’t come near me, I have Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicavolcanoconiosis!” (yes, that is a real disease)   Imagine not being able to see your loved ones or hug your children for years.

In this context, Jesus’ choice to touch the leper was unimaginably shocking, but also so loving. Imagine, after not being able to touch anyone for years, the first touch you feel is that of your savior. that’s powerful. You can be sure that that leper never forgot Jesus’s touch.

But that is not all. There is another deeper, spiritual level to the story. Not only did Jesus heal the man’s body, I believe he forgave the man’s sin and healed his soul as well. That’s a big statement; let me explain. You may have noticed that after Jesus proclaimed the words, “Be clean” over the leper, he commanded the man to go and offer the sacrifices commanded by Moses for cleansing. Why? Not to receive spiritual or physical cleansing (he had already received that), but as “a testimony to them [the priests, scribes and pharisees]”…

…So when Jesus touched the man, he brought him ceremonial cleansing as well as physical cleansing. Yay! But there is one caveat: Anyone who touched a leper was considered to be defiled. In Leviticus 5:3-6 it says:

3 or if they touch human uncleanness (anything that would make them unclean) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt; 4 or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— 5 when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. 6 As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.” 

According to the law of Moses, If a Jew touches someone who is unclean, he defiles himself and must offer a sin offering to the Lord to be right with him. So when Jesus touched this leper, he literally took upon himself the man’s uncleanliness. Now, although the man has become ceremonially clean from Jesus’ healing touch, Jesus would be considered by the priests and other Jews to be ceremonially unclean. He would not be able to have full communion with God in the temple until he had made the correct sacrifices for sin. But we know something that the Jews of that time didn’t know: Jesus didn’t need to make sacrifices to be reconciled with God after touching the man’s uncleanliness, because he was the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world! Nevertheless, bearing all these factors in mind, it was a deliberate and conscious choice by Jesus to touch this man!

How easy would it have been for Jesus to simply call out to the man from a distance, “You are healed”? He had healed people from a distance before; he would later heal the centurion’s slave from a different part of the city. No one would have thought anything if Jesus stood back at a safe distance and spoke healing over him. The man would have still rejoiced, and the people would have still been amazed. But for this man, love meant reaching out and touching him. Love meant taking the man’s filth onto himself.

How often does God treat us the same way? When we bring ourselves to him, with all of our filth and sin and shame, does God turn away in horror? Does he stand at a safe distance from us and shout “Be Clean”? No. When we fall before his feet with nothing but lust, pride, envy and all the other infectious sins that we bear, he reaches out and pulls us close. He touches us, and takes all of our uncleanliness upon himself so that we can be clean before God.

Praise God we have a savior who is not afraid to get his hands dirty!

Yet we as Christians are often so unlike our Savior. We are quick to judge, but loath to lift a finger to help. When we encounter broken people with messy lives we say, “I don’t want to get into all of that.” We hide behind the walls of our church buildings and proclaim a gospel of radical love that we don’t live, while outside our doors there are hurting people who need the touch of a Savior. When God brings hurting, messy, unbeleivers into our lives, we try to love them from a distance, secretly worrying that their ways will rub off on us and our children.

Well guess what, Christians: Real love is messy.

If you want the Lord to use you to touch people, you must first get close enough to them to touch them yourself. And I don’t mean just physically close enough- I’m talking about removing some of the emotional “protection” barriers we put up and really loving people. And yes, they might curse a lot. And yes, they might have a drinking problem. And yes, you might loose some money, or “waste” some time, or get a little hurt, but love always costs something and if we want to be like Jesus we need to learn to accept the cost.

So my question for you today is this: Who is the leper in your life?

July 3, 2020

Communal Faith

NIV.Mark.2v1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Today I want to highlight and recommend a book that I just received in yesterday’s mail, and I’m already halfway through. Why Would Anyone Go To Church: A Young Community’s Quest to Reclaim Church for Good by Kevin Makins (Baker Books, 2020) is the story of Kevin and his wife Meg and a team of volunteers who planted Eucharist Church in the urban core of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. It’s full of insight and practical lessons for anyone who wants to do ministry in the inner-city. Learn more from the publisher about the book at this link. Follow Kevin on Twitter at this link.


…When the word gets out that Jesus is back in town, the entire region comes to see him. Before long, the house he’s in is so packed that no one can even get on the property. People are poking their heads through windows and climbing on shoulders just to hear one of his stories. Those outside the home notice a small group in the distance, carrying something between them and moving quickly despite the heat. “You should have come earlier if you wanted a seat,” someone shouts to them as they get closer. “Unless you’re carrying a pile of gold on that mat, you ain’t gettin’ in!” But the truth is that they had started scrambling as soon as they’d heard Jesus was back in town–the four friends working to track one another down before heading to the fifth, who is always at the same place: the city gate.

The men are carrying their friend, who has been unable to walk for as long as they have known him. To be paralyzed in any culture is to face unique challenges, but in the ancient world, without social assistance or accessibility laws, it was difficult to even survive. Unless you had people who cared for you. Being resourceful fellows, they decide to bypass the front door entirely, instead boosting one another onto the roof of the clay house and carefully hoisting their friend up as well. Inside, the people try to ignore the sound of footsteps on the roof, but when dirt begins to fall onto their heads, it proves impossible. Looking up, they see cracks forming as chunks of clay begin to fall, and before they can even piece together what’s happening, a human hand has burst through. The ceiling is quickly being replaced by daylight which is then interrupted by a large shadow. Something is being carefully lowered down…

…Jesus looks up to the four friends whose heads are now peeking in from the corners of his new sunroof and, having witnessed their faith, he heals the paralyzed man.

But, wait, that can’ be right.

The author must have meant that when Jesus saw the paralyzed man’s faith, he healed him. But that’s not what the text says. It says that Jesus saw their faith. Plural. The faith of the paralyzed man’s friends made him well. The Gospel accounts are filled with stories of people helping one another experience Jesus’ healing. A Roman centurion has enough faith to heal–not himself but his servant. A woman has faith to heal her daughter. Faith is never an individual exercise. There’s a reason Jesus didn’t select one good student but instead called twelve apostles and seventy-two disciples. It’s the same reason the early Christians clustered together and formed the church. It’s why the Nicene Creed doesn’t begin with “I believe” but “We believe.” Why the Lord’s Prayer begins with “Our Father who is in heaven,” not “My Father who is in heaven.”

Faith is a communal endeavour…

…Once we rediscover this side of church, so much begins to fall into place. Many of us were taught that we needed to believe the right things to belong in the church, but maybe we don’t need to have all our intellectual opinions sorted out before we start to follow Jesus. If church is a community of people called by God to move toward Jesus, then it’s perfectly acceptable to walk with others in that direction, even if you don’t know what you personally believe.

Eucharist Church celebrates Communion every Sunday afternoon, and we are quick to remind people that this table does not belong to our church. It’s Jesus’ table, and he welcomes all who desire to come to him, whether they have a lot of faith or just a tiny mustard seed of belief. What’s important is that we come to Jesus’ table together and bring him what we have. Feelings and intellectual opinions will come and go; they aren’t a good foundation for a life of discipleship. But when we bind ourselves to a group of people who have committed to move toward Jesus together, we no longer have to be anxious about what we feel or think in any given moment. We can trust that those around us will help us get to Christ, and as we grow and mature, we’ll even be able to help others.

(excerpt from pages 61-64)

June 22, 2020

Prayers that Bring Healing of Another Kind

Today another new author for you! We’re highlighting Penny Gadd who writes at Seeking the Light. She is currently working her way through the Gospel of Luke. As always, click the header below to read this at her site.

Jesus heals a man with leprosy

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him.

Then Jesus ordered him, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

The NIV translation that I use has a footnote to this passage that says: “The Greek word traditionally translated ‘leprosy’ was used for various diseases affecting the skin”. I see no reason to doubt that statement. As the NIV continues to use the description leprosy I shall follow their example.

Leviticus 13 describes the symptoms, and the actions that had to be taken when a case was discovered. If you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to live alone outside a centre of population (Leviticus 13: 45 – 46), and you were ritually unclean.

It was a horrible diagnosis to receive because you could no longer participate in community life, and above all you couldn’t take part in worship. Nevertheless, the Law of Moses recognized that some people did recover, and Leviticus 14 explains what they needed to do to be accepted back into the community.

When the leper of this story in St Luke’s gospel met Jesus, he threw himself full length with his face to the ground, and begged to be healed. There was no doubting his faith that Jesus could heal him, but he obviously felt unworthy. Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. He may have felt that he had sinned badly to have deserved the punishment of leprosy; that would have been a common point of view at that time.

For Jesus, though, what mattered was the man’s faith. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’

Jesus healed the leper. Not merely did he cleanse him, but he reminded him of what he still needed to do to be accepted back into the worshipping community of Israel: … go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them. Jesus had dealt with the physical cleansing, but, because the now-healed leper still lived under the Law of Moses he had to take the correct actions to be made ritually clean.

For Jesus, though, what mattered was the man’s faith.

I find myself wondering whether that’s the whole story. Many times, I and my friends have prayed earnestly for the healing of people we know. We have faith that Jesus can and does heal, and yet it is only rarely that we see physical healing. What about all those occasions when people are not healed?

I suggest, tentatively, that there is always some form of healing, often spiritual and at a level that we can’t easily see. On those rare occasions when there is a miraculous healing, it seems usually to be when it will build faith in Jesus. In other words, it’s a sign like the healings carried out by Jesus. If we are to understand when God heals physically and when he doesn’t, we need to understand his will better, and listen to how he wants us to pray for individuals.

Perhaps that’s a message we could take from the last verse of today’s study.

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Even Jesus, whose ability to hear the Father’s voice was unrivaled, finds that he can only pray properly by withdrawing to solitude. He needs to avoid the crowds. What do we need to avoid? Do we need to go to a lonely place, or just a quiet place? I don’t think it matters very much provided we make the opportunity to listen.

And, if we listen carefully to God, perhaps we will be better able to know how to pray effectively.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
Please help my heart to be still and silent when I pray so that I can hear your voice.
In Jesus’ name, Amen

April 9, 2020

Jesus the Leader; The Good Leader

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 21:4-5 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

Mark 6:35-39 (NLT emphasis added)

Does that miracle remind you of another Bible passage?

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures

Psalm 23:2 (KJV)

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

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

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

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

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

Revelation 7:16-17 (NLT)

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

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


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

February 5, 2020

When Jesus Was Suprised

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I have only two devotionals which I personally subscribe to, and one which I read online. One of the daily emails is titled “Breakfast of Champions” by Andy and Gina Elmes. To get these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

In view of more recent discussions we’ve had here and elsewhere about open theology there is the question of Jesus being genuinely surprised at the faith of the man in the story. The various translations however, seem to support the idea of Jesus in wonder, being taken aback, being amazed, or being truly surprised.

How can we amaze Jesus?

Matthew 8:9-10, NIV
For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.

The answer to today’s titular question is found in today’s scripture, and is very simple: ‘understand authority’. I love this simple account of a centurion approaching Jesus and asking Him for a miracle for one of his servants. Notice what he says to Jesus: ‘For I myself am a man under authority.’ What was it about this statement that amazed Jesus in such a way that He would then boast about this man? Let’s have a look.

It was not the first part, where he states his gender: ‘I myself am a man.’ This would not have impressed Jesus as He dealt daily with many men. Yes, as a centurion, he was probably a strong man, maybe even a real ‘man’s man’! But it was not this that turned the head of the Lord.

It was when he said the next bit: ‘a man under authority.’ What was he saying in this statement? Simply that he was a man who acknowledged, respected and understood what authority looked like and how it worked.

Maybe it was good parenting, or the fact that he was in the military, that had taught him these things? Whatever it was that had been his classroom, he had certainly learned well. He then begins to relate his understanding on how authority worked in a simple yet profound way. ‘I have people under me, I ask them to go and they go, to do and they do.’ Then he says, ‘Just say the word, Jesus.’ It was this that impressed Jesus the most – that the man knew that the word of Jesus, and the authority it contained, was enough that he did not even need the person with authority to be present at the place of need to get what he desired!

This man’s understanding of authority notably impressed Jesus. He commended him even to the point of saying, ‘I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.’ What a huge commendation for this man! They had never met before, and Jesus was not a person that He would exaggerate or say things just for the sake of it. He always meant what He said, even when He compared this man to a whole nation. Wow!

Again, let me underline – Jesus was not impressed by the fact he was a man or that he was a centurion; He was impressed by the man’s understanding of what true authority looks like in a person’s life and how it works.

May this simple account today get us thinking about authority. What is our understanding concerning it? Would how we see authority be enough to amaze Jesus? All authority comes from God and is set into position by God, and how we respond to authority dramatically determines the boundary lines of our life and what we will experience.


Optional further reading: The next day, Andy continued the theme of authority…


God sets authority in the home

Ephesians 5:22-26, NIV
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.

…So if we want to fully understand faith and the working dynamics of His kingdom, we must be able to understand, and be able to submit to, authority.

We may not always like it but it is vital that we understand that it is God who sets authority into position in our lives. It is He who watches how we respond to it, whether we will choose the healthy road of submission or the destructive roads of rebellion and pride. It is God who sets correct authority in the home, and society seems to be ever trying to remove it. I don’t know about you but I have made up my mind, as for me and my house we are going to do marriage and family God’s way!

As we see in today’s text, He sets a clear authority within marriage. This is not so a man can rule over his wife in some authoritarian way, but rather that he can lead, guide and protect her as the co-heir of the gift of life that she is. Call me old school, I really don’t mind, but I still believe that, in a marriage, the man is set in position by God to be the priest of the household. Let me say again, not to dictate, dominate or abuse but rather to lift his spiritual arms and natural arms to protect, nourish and bless. Every godly husband needs to realise that God has called them to be the priest of the household. In the same way, I believe that it’s God who positions parents in the household to have authority over the children – again, not to be abusive and mean but rather to raise, nurture, protect and lead in a God-fearing way.

I fully understand that as I speak about marriage, home life and parenting, other people’s personal experiences or preferences may be different to mine. and that’s okay. I just want to encourage you, wherever you may be at, to be ever making God’s Word the guiding light in your home concerning who has authority. Today, take time to think about what godly authority looks like in your home, whether you are a husband, wife, parent, single parent or child. God has a perfect way for how your household should function. Let’s not lay this aside for the cheaper, non-effective ways of a fickle society that is totally out of control. God’s ways, when lived out properly, still work; they still produce strong, lasting marriages and families…

November 16, 2019

Nature Obeys Him!

 

Matthew 8:23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

26 He replied, You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Today’s devotional is from the website ThisIsToday.com which is based on the Today devotional booklets, a daily resource widely circulated in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) that “helps God’s people refresh, refocus and renew their faith through Bible reading, reflection, and prayer.”

Some of my readers I know will wonder about Matthew’s description in the last phrase of verse 24: Jesus was sleeping. Was he? If so, it demonstrates a tremendous calm in the middle of chaos. If not, it means he was waiting for the right time to reveal his power. Either interpretation works!

Who is This?

by Norman Brown

Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” — Mark 4:41

The new teacher, Jesus, has been surprising crowds of peo­ple with his healing of the sick and his amazing preaching. After a long, tiring day, he gets into a boat with his fishermen-turned-followers to cross the Sea of Galilee, a 13-mile-long (21 km) lake. Being human, Jesus is weary from a day of preach­ing, teaching, and healing. They set sail, and Jesus falls asleep on a cushion in the stern.

Sleeping on a modern ship in a storm isn’t comfortable; it must have been rough on that small fishing boat. The boat was probably about 30 feet long and eight feet wide; it rode low in the water so the fishermen could haul in their nets.

A “furious squall came up,” and the boat began to swamp. Everyone needed to help with bailing water to keep them afloat! The disciples also woke Jesus and said, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Sometimes we wonder if Jesus cares about us in our peril and distress, but we can trust that he does. Though it may seem everything is going wrong in our work for him, he will show us we have no need to fear.

Jesus calms the wind and the waves, showing that he is not only an amazing preacher and healer but also the Lord over creation. His disciples are astonished and rightly terrified. Who has power over nature but the Creator himself? Is this human teacher, Jesus, also the Lord of heaven and earth? Yes—and today we know him as our great God and Savior!

Prayer

Lord of all, even the wind and waves obey you! May we serve you and bring glory to your name! Amen.

September 13, 2019

Water to Wine: Miracle, but also Symbol

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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This is our tenth time with Ben Nelson at the site Another Red Letter Day. This is a much shorter devotional, but I really liked the insight. Click the title below to read at source.

Then I’ll be back after with an additional comment.

Water to Wine

In John 2, the writer tells us about a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Mary, Jesus’ mother attended and brought Jesus and the boys.

You know the story – if not check it out here.

One of the striking statements in this story comes from the head waiter.

… “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”John 2:10

I’ve heard this interpreted a bunch of different ways, but today the Lord put in my heart a simple idea.

From the beginning of creation, God wanted companionship from us.

Isaiah tells us

“For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth.Isaiah 54:5

So God gave the law to Moses and invited Israel to be His people, His bride. But the law was inferior wine. God invited folks to a wedding, but there was no joy. The bride couldn’t keep her garments clean and the whole thing went bust.

The law was inferior wine.

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,Romans 8:3

So God took water and turned it into the best wine.

God through His Spirit, put His seed into the womb of a woman and filled a human water pot with a new kind of wine. Wine filled with the Spirit of God. He put His own Son into flesh and blood man and brought joy unspeakable to the wedding feast of the ages.

Anyway–just a thought.


…As I read this I was reminded of an analogy that N.T. Wright introduced when we were taking a course with him in July at Regent College. The study was on the book of Galatians and how Paul was trying to teach the people at Galatia that the law was good for a time, but it was a precursor to something greater that was yet to come.

It was the week of the 50th anniversary of the American lunar landing, and he pointed out that the law was like the booster rocket needed to get the space capsule out from the pull of earth’s gravity, but once it escapes that, the booster rocket is jettisoned an no longer needed.

It’s interesting that the phrase we often use is “the law and the prophets.” Neither Ben nor myself mentioned prophets to this point, but I wanted to end with Hebrews 1:1-2a

In the past God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son. (GNT)

The coming of Christ brought an end to both law and prophets.

If you’re thinking that means that I mean the end of the gift of prophecy, I am not saying that, just as the coming of Christ didn’t mean an end to the prohibitions regarding lying, stealing, adultery, idol worship or taking God’s name in vain.

It was instead, as Ben said above, “a new wine.”


 

 

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