Christianity 201

July 24, 2021

Death, The Intruder

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted. – Ps. 23:4 (The Voice)

This is our third time visiting the writing of Jake Hunt at his blog Wiser Time. Though he doesn’t write frequently, we wanted to share this more recent article here. Jake writes from Prague in the Czech Republic.

Now ye need not fear the grave

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

All our fear is ultimately the fear of death. It is, as Paul says, “the last enemy.” It is the ultimate worst case scenario.

My grandmother died this year. She was 92. She lived a beautiful life, passed her final days in my parents’ home being cared for by those she loved the most, and died trusting in Christ. This is the way to go. Having seen her decline, and knowing she was tired and ready, I had even prayed that God would take her before too long.

And yet, this was the toughest blow of a tough year for me. I think of her daily. I miss her terribly. It hasn’t fully set in that I can’t pick her up and take her to dinner the next time I’m in Georgia.

This is because death, even a good death, is awful. It’s an intrusion into the good world God created. And we pass our entire lives under its shadow, knowing it awaits us all, awaits those we love. Death is inevitable. The fear of this makes us subject to life-long slavery.

Jesus stepped into time and space, became human with all that entails, in order to change this. He was acquainted with death, more so than many of us. He lived in a time when death was much more a part of everyday life than it is for us. People didn’t get taken to the hospital and then the funeral home; they typically died at home, were mourned at home, and were buried by the family and community.

Jesus seems to have lost his earthly father at a fairly early age, as Joseph departs the narrative between his adolescence and young adulthood. He saw children die– doubtless more than just the few he raised from the dead. He wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. But more than all this, he passed his entire life on earth in the shadow of the cross. He knew it was coming. He knew what he was here to do. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.”

The fact that he also knew the Resurrection was coming didn’t change the fact that the suffering was coming as well.

Hebrews 2:14 and following is one of my favorite passages, and especially my favorite passage for Advent. One thing that always strikes me: The author doesn’t say that Jesus delivers us from death. Of course, in the greatest sense he does, but unless we are alive at his return, knowing Christ does not deliver us from the physical experience of death. He does, however release us from slavery to the fear of death.

This is not just about knowing that heaven is coming, though it is that. It is about knowing that because Jesus’ humanity is so genuine, his becoming one of us in every way so complete, we are united with him in every stage of our life, including the final one. How has he destroyed the power of death, and the work of the devil? Through death itself. He didn’t pretend to die, or seem to die. He died. His death destroyed death forever. And he accomplished this for us– for “the children” of whom he is unashamed, who share in the flesh and blood that he willingly adopted.

“Now ye need not fear the grave.” Because Jesus has been there already. And so we will not go there alone.


Here’s how Eugene Peterson renders today’s key text:

MSG.Heb.2.14-15 Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.

July 23, 2021

Christ’s Ultimate Authority at the End of Time

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Once again we’re back at the website of The Superior Word Community Fellowship in Sarasota, Florida and pastor Charlie Garrett. Last time, they were studying 3 John, and today, a year later, they are heading to the final two chapters of Revelation. It’s hard to jump into the middle of this, but hopefully it whets your appetite and if you want to get into deep detail on the New Testament’s last book, this is a great website to check out. Clicking the header which follows gets you to today’s piece.

Revelation 20:1

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. Revelation 20:1

With the introduction of Chapter 20, a new vision is also introduced. John begins it by saying, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven.” There is no reason to assume that this is not the Lord. He is coming down from heaven with a set purpose. As such, it is another aspect of the many roles of what Christ has come to do. Just as heaven opened and He came riding on a white horse in verse 19:11 in order to fulfill His role as the returning Lord and the conquering King, here, (assuming it is the Lord) He is coming down from heaven “having the key to the bottomless pit.”

The Lord is the One who has final authority over the bottomless pit. In Revelation 9:1, it said John saw “a star fallen from heaven to earth.” He then noted that “to him was given the key to the bottomless pit.” Being given a key means another gave him the key. Nothing is said about that now. Thus, the key is already in the possession of this angel. Along with the key, it says, “and a great chain in his hand.”

The Greek reads “upon his hand.” It signifies that in His hand rests the authority of binding with this chain. What will be done with it demonstrates that this is most probably Christ Jesus who bears it. Without taking the symbolism too far, one can almost imagine it is as if the chain is held upon His hand and, without words, hinting, “Here is the implement of your confinement, and it is I who have the authority to use it to bind you.”

Life application: So far, the bottomless pit has been mentioned in Chapter 9 in connection with locusts which were sent to harm men and who had over them the destroyer – Abaddon (Apollyon). It was also noted in Chapter 11 when speaking of the beast that would come from it and kill the two witnesses. Finally, the bottomless pit was mentioned in 17:8, again referring to the beast that would come out of it.

This pit, or abyss, then is not the place of final destruction, but a place which is under God’s control to which, or from which, these evil beings are directed to meet God’s sovereign plans for humanity. As He directs, these beings follow that direction. This is a good lesson for readers of the Bible to understand, and it is one that is also understood from the book of Job.

There is no wickedness, evil, or producer of evil that can thwart God’s plan. Anything which occurs does so to meet God’s overall good purposes and He is in control of all things. If we can truly grasp this and believe it, then no matter what happens, we know that it is being worked out for our good and for God’s glory. This should be an immensely comforting thought for us as we walk in a world that often contains difficulties, trials, and sadness. God is in control, and He has His great hand upon you – even when it doesn’t seem so.

Be of good cheer, God has your back. He has proved it through the redemptive narrative, and it is summed up in the incarnation. Everything ultimately points to what God is doing through His Son, JESUS!

Prayer: What a great comfort it is to know that You truly are in control. Despite the evil that surrounds us, the troubles that come our way, the terrible choices our leaders make, and also in the forces of evil that constantly try to mislead us, You are still there taking care of us and tending to us. You are working it all out for our good. You are great, O God! Amen.

July 18, 2021

The Triune God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Last year at this time, we briefly connected with the writing of Michael Battle at his site Rooted and Grounded in Christ. We thought he deserved more than a few paragraphs this time! To red this at source, click the header which follows. Michael uses the King James text in this post, but references are provided.

The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit

According to the Bible there is only one God and he has a Son, Jesus Christ.

In John 17, Jesus prayed the following words:

Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. ~ v.1-5

When the New Testament is surveyed, the overarching truth which comes up again and again is that the One true God is that the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Christ is his Son in the fullest sense of the word, having the same divine and eternal nature as the Father. In the text above, Jesus prays to the Father to be glorified with the Father’s own self which is glory he had before the world was. Christ came from God and has always existed with God and in God. The apostle Paul refers to the deity of Christ as the mystery of godliness.

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. ~1 Timothy 3:16 

Christ is one with the Father in spirit, being divine, and in his eternal existence having always been with the Father. Jesus came into the world from the Father, who is God.

In 1 Corinthians 8, the apostle Paul declares, For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. ~ 1 Corinthians 8:5-6

Notice the language Paul uses: One God, the Father of whom are all things… and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things. This is consistent with Paul’s words elsewhere, that God created all things by Jesus Christ.

Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ… ~ Ephesians 3:8-9

According to Paul, the unsearchable riches of Christ were hidden in God from the beginning of the world. Christ is indeed the revelation of God’s person who dwells in unapproachable light and whom no man has seen (1 Timothy 6:16). Christ is the revelation of God’s person to fallen humanity.

The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as the Son by whom God has spoken to us, by whom also God made the worlds. He then declares that Jesus is the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person. ~ Hebrews 1:3

In creation we see God’s outward handiwork, In Christ we see his inward glory and beauty – his love, his grace, his kindness, and his mercy. Christ brings us into fellowship with God and reveals to us his glory by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the One true God who gave his only begotten Son.

But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. ~ Matthew 10:19-20

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance… But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy… ~Acts 2:1-4; 14-18

In the texts above Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of your Father (God), and Peter interprets the Holy Spirit coming on the Day of Pentecost as God pouring out his Spirit. Over and over again, the Holy Spirit is referred to as God’s Spirit.

For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

He is also referred to as the Spirit of Christ.

But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. ~ Romans 8:9

Consider Paul’s words to the Ephesians:

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. ~Ephesians 3:14-19

Paul bows in prayer before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for it is the Father to whom we pray through Christ. Paul says the whole family in Heaven and in earth are named from the Father. He then refers to the Holy Spirit as the Father’s Spirit: that he (the Father)  would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man…

Notice Paul’s expectation of the Father granting strength in our inner man by his Spirit is to this end – that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith, that we be rooted and grounded in love, that we comprehend the love of Christ in all its vastness, and thus be filled with all the fullness of God.

In Christ the fullness of God is revealed. Through the Spirit Christ dwells in our hearts drawing us close to the glorious God who sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. In Christ, God is revealed to us. Through the Holy Spirit Christ lives in us. This is the fellowship of the mystery we are called into, and thus we come to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, except the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ. ~ 1 Corinthians 2:9-16

July 15, 2021

Parallels Between the Ethiopian Eunuch’s Story And Ours

NIV.Acts.8.30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31a “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”

This article is based on a sermon that was a sequel to the one which presented here last week and appeared under the title below. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in one of several Canadian denominations of Baptist.  We hope some of the good things he has to say about his faith family apply to yours as well. The scripture focus today is the story of the eunuch who was some type of government official as well, so I’m not sure why we focus on his eunuchicity. (Like that word?) He was riding in a chariot when the encounter took place. Clarke has linked the scripture text in the article.

What I Love About Being a Baptist Despite My Misgivings About Baptists

by Clarke Dixon

Yes, I am a Baptist pastor, but no I don’t always like Baptists.

First off, I don’t like being a Baptist when people think they know what you are like and what you believe. This happens for people from every Christian tradition I’m sure, but when you are a Baptist, you face things like “you can’t dance.” True enough in my case, but that is not a theological thing, I’m just not good at it.

People hear you are a Baptist and think Westboro Baptist, they think Republican party. They don’t think Tommy Douglas, an NDP politician voted the Greatest Canadian in a national poll by the CBC not too long ago. Oh, and he was also a Baptist pastor.

People think “Bible thumpers.” They don’t think of people who put a lot of thought into reading and understanding the Bible.

We also have a reputation for not getting along with others, including each other! When it comes to the churches we officially associate with, the sentiment is often expressed, “if they are in, we are out.”

Worldwide, Baptists are one massive dysfunctional, disorganized, and often estranged-from-each-other kind of family.

What I love about being a Baptist, despite my misgivings.

In reading the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-39 we can find some of the reasons I love being a Baptist.

I love being a Baptist because freedom is important.

The Ethiopian Eunuch came to trust in Jesus freely and of his own accord. Phillip did not force him, in fact being baptized was the Ethiopian’s idea. He would also have been free to reject what Phillip told him about Jesus. If my sons express faith and are baptized, it will be their decision, their faith, not mine.

We promote the freedom to worship God according to our own conscience and not under compulsion from any government or church hierarchy telling us what to believe and how to live as followers of Jesus.

We also believe in the importance of freedom for others to worship God, or not, according to their own conscience. Religious freedom, within reason, for all people is important to us.

We do not think of the Christian Church as being a community of people who ought to be Christian because they are born in a certain nation, but rather a community of people who have freely chosen to follow Jesus, no matter where they are from.

I love being a Baptist because our main creed is ‘Jesus is Lord.’

Jesus was the focus for Phillip when the Ethiopian asked about the suffering servant in the scroll of Isaiah he was reading. We see no effort on Phillip’s part in trying to get the the Ethiopian to start practicing a certain kind of religion, or buy into a certain tradition, but rather he introduces him to Jesus. As Baptists, we are all about Jesus.

Jesus is Lord, and therefore the head of the church, not a king or queen, or a pope. This is why congregational voting is so important to us. The hierarchy of the church is not Lord, nor is the pastor, but Jesus. Since Jesus is Lord, we believe finding out what our Lord desires is very important. Since we believe that the Lord speaks through the entire body of believers, we ask the entire congregation. The way we discern what the Lord desires is through every member. Our congregational votes are not about the preference of the members, but the discernment of the mind of Christ, even when that may be contrary to one’s own preference.

I love being a Baptist because the Bible is our authority.

The Scriptures played an important role in the Ethiopian’s embrace of Jesus. We are a people for whom the Bible is very important, it is our authority.

We should note that Jesus is Lord and the Bible is our authority. The way we talk about it, however, may cause some people to think our belief is that the Bible is Lord and our particular understanding of it is the authority.

Since the Bible is our authority, we keep going back to it in every generation. While confessions of faith have been drawn up by different Baptist groups over the years, we often push against the idea of having such. We can learn from what those in former generations have learned and taught from the Bible, but they are not the authority. The Bible is our authority and not a statement of faith. Therefore, the teaching of the Bible can come alive for every generation and in every context.

I was once asked for a statement of faith by an organization wanting to partner with our church. I asked if they would like a pdf of the Bible!

I love being a Baptist because there is a focus on each person relating to Jesus directly.

When the Ethiopian Eunuch trusted in Jesus, he did not need to go find an official priest back at the temple in order to experience the forgiveness of sin. His sin was forgiven at the cross. He was free to come before the throne of God without any need for a priest as a “go-between.”

We call this the priesthood of all believers, each person relating directly to God through Jesus. We also have the role of priests, of being “go-betweens,” presenting God to people through witness and conversation, and people to God, through prayer.

I love being a Baptist because it is a grass roots, keep-it-simple-like-the-early-Christians-did kind of movement.

The baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch was not very formal at all. If this Ethiopian came to faith in Jesus today and said “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?(Acts 8:36 NRSV), we would come up with reasons! We would make it complicated. Some churches, and entire denominations, have such complications formalized in the rules of how things are to be done, on baptism, in fact on everything. We Baptists don’t always keep it simple, but the opportunity is there to do so.

Conclusion

If people are turned off by organized religion, then we can tell them not to worry, for we are highly disorganized religion! Seriously though, our goal is not to help people move towards organized religion, but relationships and connections starting with a vital relationship and connection with Jesus. This is what Phillip did in the life of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

People today do not like organized religion but they do like authenticity. We have space, as Baptists, for authenticity. We do not say; “here are our traditions and rules developed in another time and place, which you all need to conform to,” but, “here is the Bible, how does it speak into how we walk with Christ in our day, in ways that are authentic to our time and place?”

At the end of the day, it is all about helping people know Jesus and walk with Jesus, like Phillip did with the Ethiopian Eunuch. May we, who are Baptists, be like Phillip, but even more so may we be like Jesus.

July 12, 2021

What if Our “Sabbath” Isn’t a “Day?”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In our continuing quest to discover new devotional writers to feature, I came upon the writing of Nathan Nass who writes at Upside-Down Savior. Nathan is Pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I found this approach to a recurring question rather refreshing. Click the header which appears below to read this at his blog.

Rest in Christ

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
 – Colossians 2:17 NIV

“Why don’t you have your church services on Saturdays?” A conscientious Christian woman asked me that recently. It’s a great question! The 3rd Commandment says, Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (Exodus 20:8). The “Sabbath day” is Saturday. Jesus worshiped in Jewish synagogues on Saturdays during his ministry on earth. Some Christian churches today insist that true worship of God must take place on Saturday. Why don’t we? Don’t we have to worship God on the Sabbath—Saturday?

No! Here’s why: The word “Sabbath” means “rest.” God did command the Israelites in the Old Testament to rest and worship him on Saturdays. The Sabbath day was one of God’s special commands to the Israelites that set them apart from the nations around them and pointed them ahead to the coming Savior, like God’s commands to sacrifice animals daily and give a tithe—or 10%—as their offerings to God. Those were good commands from God that God wanted the Israelites to follow.

But they’re not meant for you and me today. Know why? Because Jesus has come! We no longer need those rituals to point us ahead to Jesus, because Jesus has come, and we now have the real thing. The New Testament explains:These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Colossians 2:17). Like a shadow gives you a picture of the real person or object, the Sabbath day and all those sacrifices were shadows that pointed ahead to Jesus. Someday, a Savior would give God’s people true rest. Someday, the Lamb of God would take away the sins of the world.

And Jesus did! That’s why we’re not commanded to offer sacrifices anymore or observe the Sabbath day. We have the real thing in Jesus. The Bible says, Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).

You and I still need rest. We need rest for our souls. Our “Sabbath rest” is found in Jesus, who says, Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Every day we find forgiveness and rest in Jesus. That means that Christian churches are free to worship God on any day of the week, and Sundays make a good choice because that’s the day that Jesus rose from the dead to give us eternal life. Whether it’s Saturday or Sunday or any other day, I pray you find rest in Jesus!


Bonus Devotional: Because his writings are shorter than what we usually present, here’s another devotional from Nathan.

Famine of the Word

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.
 – Amos 8:11 NIV

The worst thing imaginable was about to happen in Israel. Do you know what it was? Not a pandemic or a plague. Not war or death. Something far worse than all those disasters. Listen: The days are coming, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it (Amos 8:11-12). Because God’s people had rejected him and his prophets over and over again, there was going to be a famine of the Word of God. What a judgment! People were not going to be able to find God’s Word anywhere.

Can you imagine how awful that would be? A famine of the Word of God? No word of forgiveness for your guilty conscience. No word of eternal life in the face of death. No word of comfort in the midst of strife. No Jesus. No peace. Wouldn’t it be awful to not have the Word of God? To walk through the valley of the shadow of death—alone… To deal with your sin—alone… To face everything—alone…

“God, may that never happen to us! God, may that never happen in our country!” May you and I take advantage of this incredible blessing that God has given us—the Word of God! Open you Bible each day and hear God himself speak to you. Memorize Jesus’ words of comfort, so that no one can ever take them away from you. Gather together with other Christians as often as you can. Who knows how long we’ll be able to worship openly together? These words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31). There is life in the Word of God, because God’s Word tells us about Jesus. There is no greater blessing in life.

July 8, 2021

What I Love About Being a Christian, Despite the Shenanigans of Christianity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV John 13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

NRSV Acts 5:31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

by Clarke Dixon

It may surprise some of you, but sometimes I, a Baptist pastor, don’t like being a Christian. There are aspects of Christianity that I don’t like. In fact there are aspects of Christianity I hate.

For one thing, I don’t like quite a bit of our history, especially where we have done things to others, and one another, which go well beyond the “shenanigans” spoken of in the title. Atrocities is a better word.

In our day we can point to residential schools here in Canada, all seemingly staffed and run by Christians from various denominations. These are only the tip of the iceberg on Christians doing things that would cause any atheist to say ‘you Christians make a good case for believing that evil exists, but not God.’

We Christians have done and still do bad things. We used to put one another to death for thinking differently. So much for “they will know we are Christians by our love” (see John 13:35). Many shady characters throughout history have identified as Christians. We have used the Bible to support the suppression of human rights, slavery and sexism coming to mind.

So why I am a Christian?

Despite all the things that I hate about Christianity, there are things I love about being a Christian.

I love being a Christian because following Jesus brings beauty.

The way the Jesus centered life works out in life is beautiful. While yes, we Christians have had our share of atrocities, there have been so many beautiful moments because people have followed Jesus in the way of love. This is a sermon in itself, actually many, so I will refer you to a series from a couple of years ago called “Believable and Beautiful. Why Christianity is Compelling.”

I love being a Christian because I don’t have to stop thinking to follow Jesus.

As I have often said, I don’t ever leave my brain at the front door of the church, and neither did I leave my faith in the parking lot of the university. Critical thinking (in the best sense of the phrase) is well integrated into my faith. Again, here is a series touching on this.

I love being a Christian because I am part of a movement of Jesus followers that is worldwide and enduring.

Despite efforts to stamp it out, the movement centered in Jesus continues on. Despite all the stupid and sinful things we have done, the movement has brought and continues to bring a positive impact in peoples lives.

I love being a Christian because the facts about Jesus answer my deepest questions.

The Bible’s storyline focused on Jesus answers my deepest questions about existence. That God is, and that Jesus is the self-revelation of God, makes the best sense of everything; the existence of the world, the existence of humanity as a unique species, the existence of the Bible as a unique collection of writings, and yes, even the existence of suffering.

It answers my deepest questions about the past, present, and future. Looking to the past, there is healing and forgiveness in Jesus, there is change from all that is ugly to all that is beautiful. As one songwriter has put it, we trade our ashes in for beauty. Looking to the present, there is the potential for growth and continual renewal in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. We trade our ashes in for beauty on a daily basis. Looking to the future, there is assurance of life through Jesus. We will trade our ashes in for beauty, quite literally, when even the ashes of our deceased bodies will be traded in for beauty.

I love being a Christian because of Christ.

Though there are things I actually hate about Christianity, Jesus resonates. In speaking before the religious leaders who wanted to squash the nascent Christian movement, Peter calls Jesus “Leader and Saviour” (Acts 5:31). If there is any person in the history of the world that I would want as my leader, it is Jesus. If there is any person in the history of the world that I could consider has any claim to be Saviour, it is Jesus. There is not even a close second. There is not even a distant second. There is no other. There is no other person in the history of the world where we see that God is, that God is love, and that God is for us and not against us.

There have been many inspiring people throughout history, but none as inspiring as Jesus. There have been many revolutionaries, but none as revolutionary as Jesus. There have been many who have had a lasting impact, but none have had as great and lasting an impact as Jesus. Looking to the future, none will have the impact on world, and on our lives, as Jesus.

Many people have inspired me, have brought revolution to my thinking, and have had lasting impact on me, but none like Jesus. No one rescues me from all that separates me from God like Jesus. No one else can.

In conclusion, there are reasons that I don’t like being a Christian. There are aspects of Christianity I actually hate. But I love being a Christian mainly because I love Jesus. Jesus loved me first.


Clarke Dixon appears here weekly. Videos for this and other messages on which his blog posts are based are available at this link.

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.

July 1, 2021

Ready to Meet Your Maker?

Thinking Through 1st John 5:6-21

by Clarke Dixon

So you have become a Christian trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. But are you sure you are ready to meet your Maker? Should I be bringing you a “Shrunk Sermon” right now on how you need to try harder and do better so that you will be okay on the day you meet your Maker?

In our day it seems there is an epidemic of doubt among Christians. Not doubt in God’s existence, but in our standing with God. In the apostle John’s day it seems there was an epidemic of doubt thanks to a certain group of false teachers.

So John wrote a letter. What John said to the Christians of his day in addressing their doubt is going to help us with ours in ours.

Here near the end of John’s letter we find the main point:

And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

1 John 5:11-13 (NRSV)

What is the main point? You can have confidence!

Since you have the Son, you have life! John does not say “Whoever has kept all the rules has life, or whoever has been religious enough, or knows enough, so that when you meet the Son, you will perhaps get life,” but “Whoever has the Son has life.” It is clear that John believes his readers have the Son. He says that he wrote the letter “so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Note the tone of confidence! John knows they have life, they should too!

The word “know” shows up a lot in the final paragraphs of John’s letter:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. . . . We know that we are God’s children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

1 John 5:13,19-20 (NRSV emphasis added)

John did not say “you need to know,” but you know already. Note the confidence! Reading between the lines, and knowing that the false teachers were, according to Bible scholars, spreading an early form of Gnosticism where you are saved through increasing your knowledge, John was in effect saying “don’t let the false teachers tell you that you need something more, that you are lacking knowledge, that you need to learn from them.” Whoever has the Son has life.

In our day, many Christians have doubts, through false teaching, but also through incomplete teaching.

For example, God is thought of by many primarily, and sometimes only, as a judge. While that is to be taken seriously, Jesus taught us to also think of God as our Heavenly Father, as we see, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus also said “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). Want to know what God looks like? Jesus is the best picture we have!

There are two very different kinds of relationships we can experience, egg shell relationships and solid rock relationships.

In egg shell relationships you are not sure where you stand. You think it could all fall apart at any moment. You start each day knowing that you need to be the right kind of person, doing the right things in order to be accepted, to be loved, to still be in the relationship at the end of the day. In this kind of relationship, the phrase “suffer the consequences” is important. You try, and try, and try harder, and keep trying. You live in fear.

In solid rock relationships you are sure where you stand. You have confidence that you are loved. You are able to lean into that love, you are able to live out of that love. You live in confidence.

People often portray God as the God of egg shell relationships. It is a “suffer the consequences of your actions, and even your thoughts,” kind of relationship.

In Jesus we see that God is the God of solid rock relationships. He suffered the consequences of what we have done so that we might enjoy the consequences of what He has done. God is faithful, not fickle. That solid ground allows us to lean into God’s love, to live out God’s love in all our relationships and in all of life. Yes, we can always be growing and doing better at living out the Christian life. But that is a walk of confidence, not fear.

So are you ready to meet your Maker? If you trust in Jesus, you already have.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario and articles here appear first at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

June 29, 2021

Unanswered Prayer for Healing and God’s Sovereignty

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Romans 11:33

Our daily search for good devotional studies takes us back to previously featured writers, and others who, as with today’s piece, we are discovering for the first time. Author and speaker Reagan K. Reynolds lives in North Carolina (USA) has been blogging at her eponymous site since April, 2015. As always, support these writers by reading their work at the source webpages; just click the header which follows.

Wrestling with The Sovereignty of God in Delayed Healing

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 

Romans 8:26-29

She sobbed into the phone, “It’s just so confusing. Does God heal people or not? Jesus healed everyone who asked him, so where is the healing I’m asking for?”

My heart ached for my friend, as she has found herself in a whirlwind of despair while also riding a fast train of newly devoted faith in Jesus.

“I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, and I just want to know how this all works.”

The issue of healing is confusing in the Bible Belt where main streets in every small town are dotted with Bible thumpers and prosperity preachers arguing about the rights and wrongs of healing faith. I know, I grew up here. I grew up confused.

As we talked, I prayed for wisdom. I’ve personally experienced very miraculous healing. I’ve also experienced long seasons of deep suffering. In some ways, I am still waiting on the Father. I sometimes catch myself observing that although Jesus has conquered sin and death, all things continue to die around me.

As I prayed I kept thinking about the Garden of Eden. Maybe you know the story, but maybe you don’t.

God creates a beautiful garden and then He places the first humans in that garden. We call those humans Adam and Eve. The Lord places two trees in the middle of the garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil He deems off-limits––it is His one rule. He commands Adam (and Eve through Adam) not to eat of that tree with a warning that by doing so they will die. But a cunning serpent suggests to Eve that God is a liar and that if they eat from the fruit of the forbidden tree they will not die, but will be like God knowing both good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Eve disobeys God and takes the first step towards trusting her own understanding of what is good and what is evil by claiming the forbidden knowledge as her own. Adam also joins her and their eyes are opened to their nakedness. They feel shame for the first time. The Lord clothes them, curses them, and sends them out into the wilderness with a promise that the longer narrative would not end in tragedy.

Before they eat of the fruit, Adam and Eve live deferring to the God of Creation. When eating the fruit, they follow their own understanding of what is right and permissible for them. As a result, death and suffering enter the human story. The next generations recorded in the Old Testament prove that very real result of sin with a gradual, but drastic, decline in the life span of humanity.

And then another story from scripture came to my mind.

Job is a man who, although righteous before God, is allowed to endure great great suffering for a long time––great, great suffering. In his cries to the Lord he advocates for himself based on his righteousness (read: his faith) in the Lord.  He is desperate to understand why he is being forced to endure great despair. His friends suggest all sorts of things, including that he might be suffering as a result of sin––but he’s not. When God finally responds to Job’s myriad of questions and pleas and laments, He says, “Who is this who questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them,” and then He goes on to end in the most epic rap battle of all time showing Job a panoramic view of how great and mighty and sovereign He is. Summary: He is the Lord. Who are we to question His wisdom, even in our suffering?

In remembering this history, it occurs to me that the knowledge of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’ belongs to the Lord, whether we have access to it or not. Living with Jesus as Lord means we follow His example and defer to the Father. The knowledge of what we should do and how the Lord should respond to us is His to determine completely––after all, He is infinitely greater in wisdom than our finite beings (Rom. 11:33).

Jesus understands this firsthand. He pleads, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). He goes forward and endures the greatest suffering known to man to free us from our sins. The perfect Son of Man responds in obedience and endures His unrighteous suffering, but we––in our weakness––sometimes demand results, and if not results––an explanation, in exchange for our allegiance.

God is not formulaic. God is not transactional. He is relational. And He is beholden to no one.

Yes, not even to you––dearly loved Christian.

Does your skin crawl a little bit and your soul get defensive when you read that? Does something inside you proclaim it is your right to know and determine what the ‘good’ outcome to your suffering should be?

When we demand a formulaic approach to miraculous healing, it’s as if we are holding the bitten forbidden fruit demanding the God of the Universe conform to our understanding of the knowledge He first forbade.

I gently and humbly suggest that if our faith is shaken when God doesn’t respond the way we think He ought to, then perhaps we’ve sized God to our own limited definition of ‘good’ and that perhaps in doing so, we are missing out on the larger blessings––the epic wins––as a result.

“Where is my healing?” is a permissible question to ask the Lord, He can handle all of our questions. But it just might not be the best one. I think the question I am hearing from the cry of the heart of my suffering friend (and so many others) is

“Can I trust Him in my suffering?”

One sure way I know to offer comfort to a believer is to remind them who the God of the Bible is…

He is sovereign. (Colossians 1:16-17)
He is good. (Mark 10:18)
He is righteous. (Psalm 11:7)
He is loving. (1 John 4:19)
He is merciful. (Deuteronomy 4:31_
He is miraculous. (Acts 3:16)
He is present. (Zephaniah 3:17)
He is active. (Romans 8:38-39)
He is powerful. (Job 26:14)
He is gentle. (Matthew 11:29)
He is humble. (Philippians 2:8)
He is a restorer. (Acts 3:21)
He is trustworthy. (Psalm 9:10)
He moves towards the broken. (Psalm 34:18)
He is our refuge. (Psalm 46:1-3)
He sees you. (Genesis 16:13)

He is the perfect embodiment of ‘love’ (1 John 4:7-8). He is the very definition of ‘good’ (Psalm 100:5). He created those words and ordained their original meaning (John 1:3).

Knowing what we know about our God, can we defer to Him in all the other unknowns?

My limited view values this life too much. My ego sometimes demands immediate relief from my suffering. But His view stretches beyond the scope of time, eternity, life, and death––and He holds for my life and His glory the perfect plan. And, yes, although everything in this life does die, (who can deny this?) I know that the God of all Creation has promised a new life with no suffering in the end (Revelation 21:1-4). And if you are living under the loving mercy of our mighty Savior, Jesus, then this knowledge is for you as well.

Friend, asking the Lord for healing is in no way undermined by our submission to His sovereignty in all things. We fear an all-powerful God who is out for our ultimate good. He has given a spirit that intercedes for us according to the will of God. Be encouraged that, even when it’s so very hard and none of it makes sense, we have a God that works all things together for our good (Romans 8:26-29)

June 28, 2021

Spiritual Formation is Becoming Like Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Jesus: “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” – John 14:12 NLT

Today we’re again highlighting the writing of a new-to-us author. Jamin Bradley is an author and a pastor in the Free Methodist Church denomination in Michigan.  You can read more at his eponymous blog, or click the header below to read this one there.

Yes, You Can Be Like Jesus

Because Jesus is God-in-flesh, we often act as though it’s impossible to live up to his example whatsoever and so we should all just get used to living in grace. This seems to be the feeling of many Christians as Barna Group has found that, “Among people who believe Jesus was a real person, 16 percent claim they make the ‘greatest possible effort’ to follow His example; 10 percent claim they come ‘very close’ to following His example.” (Barna, George. America at the Crossroads. p. 67.)

The theological difficulty for many is that Jesus feels, as Paul Wallace says,

a lot like Superman: he’s an alien, an immigrant from an unearthly realm sent to us—yes, by his father—from the heavens. He looks like one of us but is not really one of us. Like Clark Kent, his humble exterior is merely a cover for out-of-this-world powers. He’s essentially distinct from the general run of earthly creatures. He is the Messiah of Steel.

Paul Wallace (Stars Beneath Us: Finding God in the Evolving Cosmos. p. 114.)

When I was younger, Jesus was unrelatable to me because of his miracles. I thought I could never be like him in that regard. But the more the Holy Spirit revealed himself to me over the years, the more I started to see miracles happen through the church, my friends, and even myself at times. I was now confronted with the fact that people I knew could prophesy, heal, perform miracles, cast out demons and much, much more. And in that revelation, I learned that Jesus didn’t do miracles simply because he was God-in-flesh—he did miracles because He was empowered by the Holy Spirit, just like we are.

Yes, of course, there are some things Jesus did that we’ll never be able to do. We’re not God-in-flesh, nor are we the Messiah and we’re not going to save the world from sin. We’re also not going to die without ever having sinned, but we certainly can be more like Jesus than our standard Christian upbringing taught us.

And we can be like Jesus not just in the supernatural ways of the Holy Spirit, but in human ways as well. For when we memorize Jesus, we realize that we’re a lot more like him than we thought we were. After all, he had friends and siblings; he had parents he obeyed; he grew and learned, asked questions and didn’t even know a few things; he fasted and was hungry; he was tempted; he worked a job; he paid taxes; he celebrated holidays; he got angry and frustrated; he was troubled in soul and spirit, cried, and was sorrowful; he had friends die and go back on their word; he was mocked; he was rejected, denied, betrayed, abandoned, and even felt abandoned by God; and he even died.

We can relate to Jesus in all of these characteristics and we must learn how to handle such human experiences in the ways that he did. He is the ultimate example of what humanity can be like when empowered by the Holy Spirit and he is therefore the ultimate role model of the Christian faith. Said another way, he is the true image of God that humanity is to image themselves.

The idea that it’s impossible to be anything like Jesus and so we shouldn’t even try is antithetical to the gospel; for when the resurrection comes, we will be made exactly like him. Being like Jesus is, indeed, the ultimate goal to which we are headed. And since resurrection life has already begun now in the “already, but not yet,” we should (by the grace and growth of the Holy Spirit) start becoming more and more like Christ everyday, here and now.

June 21, 2021

Forget That You’ve Heard the Story Before

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today’s devotional by Charles Stanley is an excerpt of a book excerpt, from his new release, Can You Still Trust God? as published by the website and subscription service Devotions Daily. To read the full excerpt, click the header which follows.

The Power of Perspective

…The problem with studying any familiar passage is that we rarely allow ourselves to feel what the characters must have felt. Why should we? We usually know what happens in the end.

Unfortunately, this familiarity with the Scriptures often robs us of their intended results. It is hard to feel the fear David must have felt when he faced Goliath when we know from the outset that he comes out the victor. We miss the sense of isolation Moses must have felt as he fled Egypt for his life. After all, he ends up a hero. So as you approach this familiar narrative in John 11, try to forget the end of the story. Instead, do your best to put yourself in the shoes, or maybe the sandals, of the people involved. If you read what happens but neglect to consider what must have been felt, you lose some of the richest insights of this story.

“HE WHOM YOU LOVE IS SICK”

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. The sisters therefore sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” John 11:1-3

The household of Mary and Martha is one in which Jesus and His disciples had been given hospitality whenever they had been in the area of Judea. Apparently, Lazarus was a wealthy man, and he used his wealth to support the ministry of Christ. The fact that Mary and Martha sent for Jesus as soon as Lazarus became ill is evidence of their faith in His power. No doubt they thought, If Jesus is willing to heal total strangers, certainly He will jump at the opportunity to heal one who has been a friend. But such was not the case.

But when Jesus heard it, He said, This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. John 11:4-6

These verses make absolutely no sense, humanly speaking. That is why I love this story, because most adversity makes about as much sense from our perspective. It is clearly stated that Jesus loves this family; then He makes no move to relieve their suffering. I can relate to that.

Whenever the bottom drops out, I go scrambling to the verses in the Bible that remind me of God’s love — yet at times it seems God is unwilling to follow through with any action.

We need to pause here because at this point in the narrative we have our greatest struggles. I am referring to that time between the point we ask God for help and the point at which He does something. It is so easy to read, “He then stayed two days longer.” But the delay was like an eternity for Mary and Martha. The Scripture informs us that they knew the general area and how long it would take Him to make the trip to Bethany. So they waited. And as the hours dragged on, they watched their brother grow weaker and weaker.

Finally the day arrived when, according to the normal traveling time, Jesus should arrive. No doubt they took turns sitting with Lazarus. That way one of them could go out to the road to look for Jesus. I can imagine Mary or Martha asking all the men and women coming from the direction of Perea if they had seen a group of twelve or so men headed that way. As they would shake their heads no, the sisters’ hope burned a little lower. “Why didn’t He come? Maybe He never got the message? Maybe He left Perea without sending word back to us? Where is He? After all we have done for Him, it is the least He could do.” And yet He failed to come when they expected Him.

Lazarus died. Maybe Mary came in early one morning to check on him and found him dead. Perhaps it was in the afternoon when both Mary and Martha were at his side that he breathed his last breath. Whatever the situation, both women felt that hollow, helpless feeling that always accompanies death. It was over. He was gone. Soon their thoughts turned to Jesus, Why didn’t He come? How could He know what we were going through and yet stay away?

These, no doubt, are some of the questions you have asked as you have cried out to God in the midst of the adversity in your life. How can a God of love stand back and watch my friend and his wife suffer and not do anything about it? How can He watch from the balcony of Heaven as women are physically or sexually abused? How can He watch husbands walk out on their wives and children? Does He know what is going on down here?

Once again, this narrative is helpful. Jesus knew exactly what was going on. He knew what Mary and Martha were going through. He knew His friend’s condition was worsening. And He knew the moment Lazarus died:

And after that He said to them [the disciples], “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” John 11:11

Yet He did nothing! Keep in mind, Lazarus was not some guy off the street. He had invited Jesus into his home. Lazarus had expressed faith in Christ and His ministry. He was a good man. He certainly had more faith than most of the other people Jesus had healed. Some of them did not even know who Christ was (John 9). But Jesus was nowhere to be found when Lazarus needed Him most. To add insult to injury, Jesus had the nerve to say to His disciples,

Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there.John 11:14-15, emphasis added

Jesus was “glad”? How could He say such a thing? Two of his best friends go through emotional turmoil; another friend dies of an illness; and Jesus says He is glad? What could He have possibly been thinking? What was going through His mind?

My friend, the answer to that question is the key to unlocking the mystery of tragedy in this life. To understand what was going on in the mind of Christ and in the economy of God in a situation like this one is to discover the universal principle that puts together and holds together all of life — both now and for eternity.

Christ had a goal in all this, a goal so important that it was worth the emotional agony Mary and Martha had to endure. It was worth risking the destruction of their faith. It was even worth the death of a faithful friend.

What Jesus, in conjunction with His heavenly Father, had in mind was so incredible that even through the pain surrounding the whole event Jesus could say, “I am glad this has happened.” In other words, “Men, what you are about to see is so fantastic that it is worth the pain and death of My beloved friend.” If they were like us, they probably thought, What could be worth all of this?

“IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE”

Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him; but Mary still sat in the house. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” …And when she had said this, she went away, and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she arose quickly, and was coming to Him… Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”John 11:18-21, John 11:28-29, John 11:32

Mary and Martha, for all their time spent with the Son of God, were still human to the core. They wanted to know one thing: “Jesus, where in the world have You been?” They had no doubt that Jesus could have healed their brother; Martha even indicates that she believes there is still hope (John 11:22). But the fact that He had seemingly ignored their plight had left them confused and frustrated. Why did He delay?

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. And so the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!”John 11:33-36

At this juncture any doubt about Jesus’ love and concern for Lazarus is laid to rest. “Jesus wept.” Yet His overt concern about His friend Lazarus adds another layer of mystery to the story.

If Jesus was so concerned, why did He not come to Lazarus’s aid? Why did He let him die?

Once again we are faced with what appears to be an unsolvable mystery. It becomes apparent that whatever Christ had in mind, whatever He was trying to accomplish, it was worth sacrificing the emotions of the ones He loved as well as His own. Jesus wept when He arrived to find Lazarus dead. Think about it.

His knowledge of the future did not keep Him from identifying with the sorrow of those around Him.

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

If anything is clear from this story, it is that some things are so important to God that they are worth interrupting the happiness and health of His children in order to accomplish them. That is an awesome thought…


Learn more about the book at thomasnelson.com

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

 

June 11, 2021

Nicodemus First Saw, Then Listened

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we’re featuring a writer who is new to us. Pastor Dick Woodward’s writing appears at the blog The Four Spiritual Secrets. He passed away in 2013, however new material is posted regularly excerpted from a variety of sources of his teaching. Click the header below to read this at his page.

Sharing the Gospel

“I want to remind you of the gospel…which you received and on which you have taken your stand… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day.” (I Corinthians 15:1-4)

It is imperative we understand how to articulate the Gospel. A first step in that direction is realizing the Holy Spirit is the Evangelist and we are merely conduits through whom the Holy Spirit works…

When Jesus stayed up late with Nicodemus, the first words of Nicodemus were: “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do the works that You do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2)

Jesus earned His hearing with Nicodemus by what he had seen Him do. Likewise, we must also earn our hearing with people. This begins with our understanding that what we do demonstrates what we believe. All the rest is just religious talk.

People are not interested in our religious talk unless they are impressed by what they see us do. Nicodemus was impressed with what he saw Jesus do, so he went to hear Jesus talk. We deceive ourselves if we think it’s not that way today.

What I call religious talk is our lengthy theological explanations of what we believe. Many secular people don’t understand the simplest theological terms. They will not be interested if they are not impressed with who and what we are and the things we do.

When we earn our hearing by the grace of God, the Gospel is simply two facts about Jesus Christ: He died for our sins and He rose again from the dead, just as the Old Testament Scriptures said He would and the New Testament Scriptures tell us He did.

There is something to believe and Someone to receive.


Because his articles are shorter, we have a bonus item from the same author:

God’s Stewards

“Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful… And what do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4: 2, 7)

The biblical word “steward” is not fully understood or appreciated. It is actually one of the most important words in the New Testament. A synonym for this word is “manager.” Many people believe this word primarily relates to a person’s money, but that application falls far short of the essential meaning of this word.

When Paul asks the probing question: “And what do you have that you did not receive?” he is telling us that our stewardship applies to everything we receive from God. This means our time, energy, gifts and talents, our health, and all the things that make up the essence of our very life including all of our money and possessions.

At the age of 65 one of my friends had what he refers to as a “halftime” experience when he came to fully appreciate the word “steward.” His regular custom was to draw a line down the middle of a legal pad page. On the left side he wrote “My business” while on the right side he wrote “God’s business.” When he fully appreciated the word “steward” he erased that line because, as a very successful wealthy businessman, he realized it was all God’s business.

Remember, the important thing about a steward is that we are found to be faithful. Do you realize there is nothing in your life you did not receive from God? Do you know that you are to faithfully manage everything you have received from God? Are you willing to have a halftime experience and erase the line between what is yours and what is God’s?


Now that you’ve read two of Dick Woodward’s articles, you might be asking, ‘What are the four spiritual secrets?’ His answer only takes 63 words, but you’ll need to click here to read them!

June 10, 2021

Test the Spirits… Wait, What Spirits?

Thinking Through 1st John 4:1-3

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever been in conversation with a spirit and asked “spirit, do you confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh?”

No, neither have I. What is John talking about then when he says “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,” then goes on to give us the test?:

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:1-3 (NRSV)

At first glance we might think we are to be asking spirit beings to clarify their theological positions for us. Perhaps in thinking through these verses we may hope to learn more about angels and demons. While I believe such exist, we won’t be talking about them here. Why? Because John is not talking about them here.

What is John talking about?

John is continuing to talk about what he has already been talking about in this letter, namely, the false teachers who were trying to influence the early Christian communities. Let us read what John has written again, and as we do so, let us recognize that he is not changing topics when he moves from ‘spirits’ to ‘prophets’:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:1-3 (NRSV emphasis added)

John was giving the recipients of his letter a simple test, a question they could ask to discern if a someone was one of those false teachers who had hijacked Jesus to promote a more Gnostic way of thinking. In this way of thinking, anything spiritual is good, anything material is bad. Therefore the false teachers would have claimed that Jesus is from God, yes, but he just seemed to be in the flesh. Surely God would not become flesh and dwell among us, right? From a Gnostic way of thinking, God certainly would not. But John knew better.

John knew better because John knew Jesus. He spent time with him, and knew he was no phantom ghost, no mere spirit being. John saw Jesus die, in the flesh. John knew Jesus raised from the dead with a resurrection body. That resurrection body seemed to be a different kind of body, but was no mere spirit. John knew Jesus and could say,

. . . the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (NRSV)

Therefore in telling the early Christians to test the spirits, John was encouraging them to stick with what they had learned from the apostles who were with Jesus, including John himself. They should stay away from the false teachers who had the “spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).

So, what does this have to do with us now?

I can think of three things.

First, it gives us a foundation stone which is part of a robust foundation for our Christian thinking and belief.

If you think that Jesus was a spirit, and not a man, as many false teachers in John’s day thought, then you are lacking a key foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. You are missing what John, and the other apostles who spent time with Jesus, knew about him. They knew that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

However, if you think, as is more common in our day, that Jesus was just a moral teacher, and nothing more, then you are lacking a key foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. You are missing what John, and the other apostles who spent time with Jesus, knew about him. They knew that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

We are reminded of this foundation stone when we participate in The Lord’s Table. His flesh was broken for us, his blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. He was no mere spirit being as the Gnostic teachers were claiming. But neither was he a mere teacher of morality as is more commonly held in our day, but rather Saviour, and Lord. The bread and the cup remind us of these things.

Second, it helps us sort out the foundation stones from the wallpaper, it helps us understand how to read the Bible.

As you read through 1st John 4:1-3 and following, you may hope to learn something about angels and demons, or even the antichrist. John mentions these, but not to satisfy our curiosity about them. Rather he mentions them to make a point. John is not really talking about spirits and demons here. He is speaking about Jesus, and an important fact about Jesus the false teachers were getting wrong.

As we read the Bible, let us not attempt to force it to answer our questions, to satisfy our curiosity. Let us allow the Bible writers to speak what needed to be said in their day. Let us wrestle with what it means for us in ours.

Third, we remember the importance of reading more than just a few verses of the Bible.

When we read 1st John 4:1-3 in the context of the entire letter of First John, the entire New Testament, and the entire Bible, we will realize that it just gives us just one foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. Immediately before, and immediately after, we have another foundation stone, the life of love patterned after God’s love.

Recently the bodies of 215 children have been discovered in a residential school set up to educate indigenous children. These are not just unmarked graves, these have been unknown graves. How many others are there? What happened, and how? Who could have allowed this to happen? As we ask these questions, let us remember that this was not just a Canadian school, but a school representing Christianity.

If we could go back and ask those who were responsible if they believed that Jesus is the Messiah come in the flesh, they would likely have passed that test. That foundation stone was probably in place. But was the foundation stone of love in place? From where we stand, it sounds like “love” was not the word of the day, but “colonialism.”

Would we have done better if we were there at that time?

We must do better now. Being able to pass a theological exam from a few verses of the Bible is not enough.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor who appears here most Thursdays. You can read more devotions like this by clicking the header which appears just above his name. Video of the full sermon on which this devotional is based can be seen on its own, or as part of this “online worship expression

June 7, 2021

Jesus Reconfigured Law and Sin

As a child, I was taught that thunder and lightning happened when hot air met cold air. It was a simple explanation, but after spending ten minutes just now reading more detailed answers, it doesn’t describe what’s really happening.

Similarly, we can speak of what happens when the good news of Jesus, showing us the grace of God, meets a culture steeped in religious law. That produced the equivalent of thunder and lightning — the guardians of the law were livid — but also doesn’t give us the technical detail to describe what was taking place.

As arbiters of the law, the Pharisees meted out constant judgment to their people, so while Jesus appeared to be drawing a red line through parts of it and writing in other parts he was totally disrupting their reason for getting up in the morning. But there’s more, the words of Jesus were cutting through to their hearts, putting a lump in their throats, and leaving them wondering how much he really knew about their innermost thoughts.

Jesus simplified the law

When asked which of the (Exodus) commandments is the greatest, Jesus responded with an overarching summary as found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus:

CEB.Matt.22.37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

In a 2017 post here, I talked about the difference between principles and rules and mentioned Donald DeGraaf’s definition. “A rule applies to one group of people, or people in one particular place, or at one particular time. A principle applies to all people in all places at all times. Rules derive from principles.” (Having said that, I think there are foundational principles in the Exodus commandments.) Paul reaffirms the second overarching principle in Galatians 5:2, “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  (NLT)

From my perspective, one ought to look for the principle behind the rule. Ask yourself why God is making certain requirements of his people. One time when I read Leviticus through consecutively, I asked God to do just that; help me see the why behind the what. Jesus tries to get his followers to do the same.

Here’s the catch: Once you’ve reduced the law to its core principles, those principles can reverberate down the line of history in ways the early church could never have imagined. Should a Christian smoke cigarettes? Own a $200K car? Spend three hours a day playing video games? If you interpret these situations as having core principles at stake, then Jesus has added to the law, not subtracted from it. He is setting a standard of holiness that is more stringent:

ESV.Matt.5.17-20 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus extended the law

In his teaching, Jesus goes beyond the simple actions of a person to the motivations behind them, and further again, to the things we think about doing if we thought we would not get thought. So the male who looks at a female lustfully is as guilty as though he had done the deed.

(Tangent: This is usually understood with the presupposition that men are particularly visually driven in the area of sexual sin. Men are about sight, women are about touch. So goes the stereotype. But increasingly we’re hearing that women are equally visually driven. So the patriarchal language of the words of Jesus here does not exempt women from the principle.)

NIV.Matt.5.27-28 “You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

This is foreshadowed in Proverbs:

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the Lord. (NIV)

People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives. (NLT)

As we said in a 2019 post here, not only does motivation matter but can bring consequences. James

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – NLT

The 613 laws thereby multiply into a potential infinity, or at the very least, after Jesus appears, the possibilities for grieving the heart of God with our acts of commission or omission jumps from 613 to 6132.

Jesus calls out pretense

This is a big one. It’s not a question of performance; a wish that you were either hot nor cold. Love for God certainly matters. Turning in a lackluster performance, or settling for spiritual mediocrity isn’t good, but there’s a kind of performance which is clearly worse: Pretending, or to use another word hypocrisy.

Three words: Jesus hates it!

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” — Matthew 15: 7-9 ESV

Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. — 2 Timothy 3:5

They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. — Titus 1:6

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. — Galatians 6:3 –NIV

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’— Matthew 7: 21-23 ESV

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. — Luke 12:2 NIV

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. — Matthew 23:27 ESV

So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. — James 2:24 NLT

If you think the best acting anywhere is on Broadway in New York, forget it. Some of the best acting takes place in the church lobby after the Sunday morning service. People pretending to me more spiritually than they are.

Knowing the heart of a rich, young law-keeper, he says,

Matt.19.21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

He doesn’t require this of everyone, but in this case, the young man’s heart isn’t into it; he’s not all-in.

Thankfully, our relationship to God is not about trying to measure up.

It’s expressed in joyful devotion to him, his presence, and his word.

 

June 2, 2021

Equip Yourself in Order to Equip Others

Today we have a brand new writer to highlight. Ron Braley is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at both Equipping Believers and Finding Discipleship. This is adapted from parts III and IV of a series on Loving Your Neighbor. You need to love yourself before you can spread that love to others and so as we prepared to post the fourth part as our sample of Ron’s writing today, we realized we needed to reach back to the previous message where he defined some of these elements more fully. Pleeeze encourage the writers we feature by reading their work at their pages, not ours. Click the headers which follow.

Love Yourself… How??

…[B]eing Christian carries the responsibility of remaining healthy in body, mind, spirit, etc., to the best of our ability in obedience to the Father and Son so that we can honor them and help bring the Kingdom of God to others. The good news is that the Bible gives us much of what we need to figure this out in two distinct areas: spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual formation. Once we say, “I do!” in response to God’s call through Jesus, we’re to embark on a journey of transformation—in all areas of life, which is possible with the Spirit of God. Our change matures and forms several areas:

  • Relationships. If we remember that we’re to treat others with the love of Christ and consider them better than ourselves, our relationships will likely flourish (Philippians 2:3-4). Don’t go to bed angry (Ephesians 4:26) and be sure to ‘turn the other cheek’ to allow reconciliation (Luke 6:29). Finally, remember the ‘golden rule’ (Matthew 7:12).
  • Finances. The Bible has a LOT to say about sound money management. Be cautious about borrowing money and be content with what you have (Hebrews 3:5).
  • Physical health. Eat and drink (if applicable) in moderation. Get off the couch and put your body to work, even if just a bit at first. Remember that God desires to move you to action in His plans.
  • Intellect. Stimulate the brain by reading, studying something interesting, playing games, or assembling puzzles, etc. Say “No!” to the electronic stuff more often!
  • Emotional and mental health. Do what you can to keep your emotions and mind healthy by tending to the body, relationships, finances, and intellect. But, again, do what’s within your control.

Spiritual disciplines.

  • Prayer. It is our communications with (not just at!) God. Use Jesus’ model (Matthew 5:6-13) and Adore God, Confess sins, offer Thanksgiving, and Intercede for others (healing, finances, salvation, etc.).
  • Study. Engage God’s words in the Bible and meditate on them—it’s how we ‘put on Christ’ and become spiritually mature.
  • Accountability. We must bear each other’s burdens and confess sins, at least to one person we trust.
  • Giving (money, time, talents, etc.). The Bible demands it (e.g., Matthew 6:1-4 and 25:31-40; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Not only is it a necessary outcome of the Christian faith, but it can also help emotional health too. Giving stimulates the brain and makes us feel better physically and emotionally. It’s also a great way to take our eyes and minds off our troubles.

So, move toward emotional, physical, relational, financial, and spiritual health one baby step at a time in God’s direction as you love yourself. Next… we’ll put self-love to work as we dive into how to love our ‘neighbor.’

Love Yourself, Love Your Neighbor

…As we’ve learned, loving yourself positions you to love others. With healthy relationships (especially with God), finances, mind, emotions, and spirit, you’re armed to help others do the same. But, how does that look? We’ll learn that our love falls into similar categories as the spiritual formation I recently addressed. So, let’s frame my input like that.

Relationships. Our connections are vital! The Bible says much about interacting with others in a godly way to maintain and deepen those connections used to present God’s Kingdom to others. Here are several biblical tips for keeping those connections alive:

  • … be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to angerJames 1:19.
  • BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger Ephesians 4:26.
  • … but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:39-42.

Finances. You cannot help others financially without money! But, once you get your finances under control, you may have resources with which to help clothe, feed, or house others—things on which Jesus said He’ll judge us (Matthew 25:31-46).

Physical health. Jesus told us to ‘go.’ The ‘going’ is necessary to establish new relationships with which to be and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Our healthy relationships also allow us to ‘go’ and help others.

Emotional and mental health. This area affects relationships. When we’re healthy emotionally and mentally, we’ll be positioned to mentor others, listen to them in their pain, aid in healing, etc.

Spiritual. Once healthy, we can be godly models of spiritual practices, including Bible study, prayer, accountability, and discipleship. That’s how others can grow spiritually; spiritual growth positively affects all others!

In summary, loving your neighbor can happen when we love ourselves. Being healthy relationally, spiritually, financially, etc., sets us up to aid others by being godly models, helping physically, ‘being there’ emotionally, and assisting in feeding, housing, and clothing the less fortunate. Here’s the good news: you can still love others even while you’re becoming healthy. Just do what you can, give to others as you can.

 

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