Christianity 201

October 14, 2021

Are You Glass Half-Full or Glass Half-Empty?

Thinking Through Exodus 15

by Clarke Dixon

Are you a glass half-full kind of person or a glass half-empty kind of person? If you are not sure, your friends and family can probably tell you! In the Bible we come across a people who could be described as neither, but in a manner which might describe us even better.

Let us consider God’s people in the moments after they had just crossed the Sea and escaped the Egyptians:

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD:
“I will sing to the LORD,
for he has triumphed gloriously;
he has hurled both horse and rider
into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him—
my father’s God, and I will exalt him!
The LORD is a warrior;
Yahweh is his name! . . . .

Exodus 15:1-3 (NLT)

And on the song continues with praise to God for the incredible rescue. And of course this is entirely appropriate, for God has pulled through for a tiny people in the face of a large powerful oppressor. Let us remember that they had been slaves for hundreds of years, they were not trained for battle, they were not prepared for battle, and yet here they were, with their backs up against the wall, or rather a sea, with a big trained professional army eager to follow orders to destroy them. Any bystander would know how this is going to pan out. Except that they wouldn’t, for God’s people had a secret weapon; God.

“The enemy boasted, ‘I will chase them
and catch up with them.
I will plunder them
and consume them.
I will flash my sword;
my powerful hand will destroy them.’
But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.
“Who is like you among the gods, O LORD—
glorious in holiness,
awesome in splendor,
performing great wonders?
You raised your right hand,
and the earth swallowed our enemies.

Exodus 15:9-12 (NLT)

The Hebrew people walked safely through the Sea, young and old alike, while the big bad army on the other hand, were sunk. This song was a “WOW” moment for God’s people, a moment of praise and thanksgiving for what God had just done.

While they stood and reflected on the miracle they had just experienced, they also looked forward:

“With your unfailing love you lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your might, you guide them
to your sacred home.
The peoples hear and tremble;
anguish grips those who live in Philistia.
The leaders of Edom are terrified;
the nobles of Moab tremble.
All who live in Canaan melt away;
terror and dread fall upon them.
The power of your arm
makes them lifeless as stone
until your people pass by, O LORD,
until the people you purchased pass by.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain—
the place, O LORD, reserved for your own dwelling,
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.

Exodus 15:13-17 (NLT)

The song began with what God had just done, but closes looking forward to what God promised to do. The miracle at the Sea was a “WOW” moment, and the promises are “WOW” promises.

So are God’s people glass half-empty kind of people, or glass half-full kind of people? God’s people as we find them in Exodus 15 are something else altogether, they are a glass quite-full kind of people!

For three days . . .

Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).
Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded

Exodus 15:22-24 (NLT)

Then a little later, and a little further into the wilderness,

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
“If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”

Exodus 16:1-3 (NLT)

In no time at all, God’s people went from glass quite-full kind of people to glass knocked-over kind of people.

Perhaps that might be a good description for us. We may be neither glass half-full nor glass half-empty kind of people, but glass knocked-over kind of people. Our moods, thoughts, and attitudes may be all over the place and depend on situations and circumstances. We might be going along quite well with our glasses quite-full, life being good, then we get focused on the problems at hand, or the people in our face, and over the glass goes. We go from hopeful about the future to anxious, from confident in the present to nervous, from relaxed about life to stressed out, from ready to take on the world to unprepared to even get out of bed. From glass quite-full to glass quite-empty in the time it takes for a glass to fall over.

Is there a better way?

How might things have turned out if God’s people kept singing that song from chapter 15 while in the wilderness? What if that song was not a top-of-the-pop-charts-for-just-one-day kind of song, but one they sang every day in the wilderness?

When they ran out of water, if they were singing about how God helped them in the past despite the odds being seemingly stacked against them, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. If God can deal with the army problem, God can do something about the water problem.

When they ran out of food, if they were singing about God’s promises for the future, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. Since God had rescued them in the past and made promises about their future, then just maybe they could trust him with today instead of assuming the worst?

What about us?

Are we singing songs of praise and thanksgiving enough? Are we remembering God in our lives, that when trouble hits, God is our first thought and not our last resort, that when life gets rough, trust in God is something we just do, and not something we must try to muster up? Are we continually getting our hearts and minds in tune, ready for what is next, whether good or bad?

If God’s people could sing of being rescued from Egypt in Exodus 15, we have an even greater rescue to sing about. The Lord has rescued us from all that separates us from Him. The Lord has rescued us from death, though Jesus.

If God’s people could sing about the promised land, we can sing about even bigger promises now. The Lord has promised to be present with us. The Lord has promised eternal life with Him through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Lord has promised us His Kingdom coming, and leads us to move toward it in the here and now.

Thinking of our tag-line at Calvary Baptist Church of “helping people walk with Jesus,” it can feel like an uphill battle trying to get people excited about the possibility of walking with Jesus. It should be harder to convince Jesus to want to walk with us. But Jesus takes no convincing, on the contrary, Jesus “took the nails”. That’s God’s love, that’s God doing what God does because God is love.

That’s a song worth singing, a tune to get stuck in our heads! So when trouble strikes, and it will, we know God is going to get us through it, because God is not some idea we contemplate from time to time, but One with Whom we walk every day in a trust relationship.

Thanksgiving may be just one day in the year, but gratitude is a song we can sing daily, bringing focus on the reality of God walking with us in the past, future, and present, bringing focus to the reality of God and the reality of God’s love. Praise and thanksgiving remind us that we can trust God. When we live a life of gratitude to God, trust will be something we do daily and will not be something we must muster up when hard times hit.

Perhaps this is worth an experiment. What if for a week, or a month, each morning we think of something God has done for us in the past, plus something God has promised for our future? We might want a Bible and a notebook handy! What if we start each day with a “song” of praise and gratitude?

A life lived in praise and gratitude is a life anchored to the reality of God’s love for us. When we are anchored to the reality of God’s love for us we won’t be glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of people, we won’t be full glass-knocked-over kind of people, we will be cup-runneth-over kind of people.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This devotional is based on a sermon which can be seen here.

October 12, 2021

The True Measurement of Holiness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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For the past month I’ve been revisiting the first year of C201. Eleven years ago we connected with Lori Ettel at the blog A Display of His Splendor. Her most recent post was last summer, but it was so good I wanted to share it with you.

Jesus Came to Her

 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” (Luke 13:12)

Here we are, in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus looks over the crowd and one person catches his eye. One woman, among all the others, moves him to act. So, he calls her over. And after 18 years of being hunched over, she is healed. Amazing! She wasn’t there to be healed yet Jesus came to her.

and she glorified God. (Luke 13:13b)

I’ve been reading this story for a few days. I’ve looked at commentaries because I think there’s something I’ve missed. The story continues with the synagogue ruler and his buddies condemning Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. They argue there are six days a week to heal but the seventh is for worship, not work.

And this is how Jesus replies,

You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? (vs. 15).

Look at what he says. On the Sabbath you untie, (loosen, set free) an ox or donkey. You not only untie it; you lead it to water. You take an animal and set it free so it can drink. And yet you condemn me for offering the same freedom to a person.

The ruler becomes indignant. How interesting. He was a ruler of the place people came to worship. And yet, he missed the very heart of God. To him, holiness was keeping the law. To Jesus, it was looking after the needs of the people. Jesus points out, the ruler has more care and concern for his animals than he does for the people surrounding him.

It’s easy to condemn the ruler in this story but I have to ask myself, have I done the same? Do I consider people holy based on their actions? Do I hold some people higher than others? Surely, I align myself with those who think like I do. But wouldn’t it be better if I stepped out of my comfort zone and listened to someone else’s point of view? Maybe I’m not right. And listening to a different point of view will expand my understanding of God.

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. – Romans 12:10

Jesus didn’t see the woman as the others did. They saw her as a sinner. They believed her transgression had caused her ailment. It wasn’t hidden. Rather, it was like a flashing red light for all to see and judge. She had learned to live with the pain. Maybe, she didn’t believe she should be healed. Or perhaps, she had asked for healing and it didn’t happen for her. Yet, Jesus went to HER!

If Jesus looks at the heart, shouldn’t we? He shows us over and over how we should treat those around us. God is love. There are no exceptions.

all scriptures ESV

Bonus devotional from the same author

A Friend

Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:4-5 NIV)

There once was a man who couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t work. A life sentence for a man like him was simply to ask. Day in and day out he would ask for enough to get by. He wasn’t going to get wealthy from his begging. He simply needed to provide enough for himself. I imagine he didn’t have a family but this man had friends. He had people who cared for him and wanted the best for him. They stopped at nothing to get him where he needed to go.

This story is a beautiful depiction of true friendship. This man could not get himself the help he needed but his friends could. They brought him and were met with crowds of people. There were too many people and no room to get in. So his friends tore the roof apart so they could lower their lame friend down. They didn’t give up, they found a way. You see, their friend would only be cured if he saw Jesus.

Sometimes, we are met with circumstances that are beyond us. They seem unfair, even wrong. We wonder if God has forgotten about us. We feel abandoned. And we find ourselves unable to pray. But God is always at work. He understands we are struggling. He knows our hurt. He recognizes that we are simply overwhelmed. That’s when He calls on someone to pray for us.

When God sees us unable to help ourselves, He brings in others to help. He calls in someone who will pray. When we can’t get to Jesus alone because the obstacles are too numerous, He provides a friend who will offer support. God brings in those who are willing to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. They lay us at the feet of Jesus because they know this is where we need to be.

Be encouraged today. God has not forgotten about you. He remains faithful, working out every single detail. And when you cannot pray, He will provide someone to do that for you too. He loves you and He knows what you need. When He calls upon you to pray for someone else, be honored. He is at work in the life of someone else and allows you to be a part of it.

September 24, 2021

New Testament Authors Had Different Approaches

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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It’s been five years since we last highlighted the writing of author and college president John Mark Reynolds who appears at Eidos, a Patheos blog. Click the title below to read at source, and then browse the site to see other things he’s written.

Peter and Paul and Difficult Questions

Paul and Peter are often portrayed together: two apostles with contrasting, but not conflicting messages. They were very different, a rabbi and a fisherman. Peter became the Prince of the Apostles, the first amongst apostolic equals. Paul wrote epistles that remain some of the most profound expressions of Christian truth ever written.

The powerful did not want to hear what they were saying. The Empire beheaded Paul and crucified Peter. Before martyrdom, both could see the way things seemed to be going and so both faced mental difficulties: how could Jesus be Lord, but Caesar seem to have all the power? Where was the promise of His coming?

Peter and Paul thought, prayed, and lived within the new Kingdom. They did so the best they could, but both came to see the limits of what they could know.

Despite limits, think we must. 

Life can get tedious. The world is not as the world should be, broken by sin, and so can be hard to understand. In fact, there are, most probably, problems that we will never solve to our own satisfaction. The answers may be beyond the capacity of the human intellect!

We have to accept a reasonable uncertainty, the just live by faith. We have faith seeking understanding continuously. 

The Christian does not have the option of not thinking, of doing the best reasoning possible. The Second Person of the Divine Trinity is called the Logos, the Word, a term strongly related to thinking well in New Testament times. The Bible calls us to study, to love God with our minds, and God allows Job to make his case. If the case fails, that is not God’s fault and God condemns those false friends who would stop Job from pressing his case.

Our reason has limits, but reason we must. Peter and Paul kept the faith and kept seeking understanding. Their contrasting comments on the process give me hope.

Peter and Paul 

Peter had three years with Jesus: a profound experience. We cannot be sure if he was fully literate. Nothing about his job or life would have required much formal education. Paul had, and often displayed, at least some classical and a first-rate Jewish education. He too had a profound experience of the Risen Lord, but not as Peter had. Peter saw Jesus eat and drink. He heard him teach and saw the miracles himself. Peter went to the empty tomb and ate breakfast made by the Risen Lord. Paul was confronted by the ascended Christ in a vision. He experienced healing and heard the testimony of those who had known the Lord. To a great extent, Paul knew Jesus as the rest of us after the first generation of Christian have known Jesus- through the witness of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, and the testimony of witnesses.

Peter comments on Paul’s writings:

14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.

Peter accepts Paul’s wisdom, but also points to the dangers of difficult answers. There is almost nothing so simple people cannot misunderstand it. Look at what has been done with Christ’s command to love enemies! Wrestling with the deeper things of God  provides room for twisting words. Despite this, Peter commends Paul’s writings to the attention of his readers!

Peter could not write like Paul or perhaps think as Paul thought, but he valued the wisdom given him.

Intellectual types might stop there, feeling smug, but Paul stands in the icon with Peter. While Peter, who was no intellectual, merely a saint, affirms the value of intellectually difficult writing. Saint Paul, who was one of history’s great intellectuals, looked at the limits of credentials and reason:

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

People do the best we can, but we often confuse credentials with real wisdom. We become “scribes” in the system of our own age and opine. Our opinions can prevail when all there are only words, but then reality comes. There is no negotiating, no debating, reality. Jesus comes, is crucified, and raised from the dead. He is the power and the wisdom of God and against that reality, the one true Word, Greek words failed.

We keep thinking, reality keeps making us modify what we think. Our words must fail, but the Word endures. This gives us a heavy dose of intellectual humility. Intellectual humility was the beginning of science, philosophy, and true theology.

This much endures:  Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and the gospel that Paul preached. They endure because however we might try to deface that hard won realization and profound teaching, their works were icons to Christ and Christ is immortal truth.

September 18, 2021

Ever Been Called, “Spiritual?”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we are highlighting and featuring the writing of Michael Pircio who is appearing here for the first time. Michael’s life took a strange turn about two years ago, and while he doesn’t give us all the details, you can read a quick summary here. His blog is named Something Extraordinary. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Christian Apologetics.

The article we chose was the first of two (so far) in a series called “Society’s Assumptions.” Send some traffic his way by clicking the header which follows and reading today’s devotional there.

Society’s Assumptions: Christianity = Spiritualism?

NIV.Eph.2.8a For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith

I was sitting with a friend the other day, whom many may define as a good person.  He told me “You know Mike, I’m not sure I could have gone through what you’ve gone through without your Spirituality, It’s a good thing you have it.” This is interesting, simply because I don’t consider myself a spiritual person. I don’t consider Christianity, God, Christ, good or evil spiritual things. I consider them just as tangible as you or I. The reason I believe in God is the same reason I believe in trees, or water, or the sky, no I can’t touch him, but I can see His work. I can’t hear Him, yet I can read His words. I can’t see him, but He knows where I go.

Likewise, Christ was a real man. He is still God. Many of historians from antiquity have written about Christ and the Christians or “followers of Christ”, so I know He isn’t just a myth. The same can be said for good and evil. Human beings, since the beginning of time, have considered whether there is good and evil, and what that looks like. They question such things as “Are humans substantially more evil than good?”, “Can people choose good without a benefit?”, or my favorite “Why is there evil if there is a benevolent, all-powerful, deity?”.

Dictionary.com gives us more modern interpretations of words and how they are used colloquially or in other words, as common words in  conversation. The site defines “Spiritual” in definition 6 as “of or relating to the spirit as the seat of the moral or religious nature.” And I would have to agree in this use of the word, as many people, especially my age may define themselves as “Spiritual, but not religious”. As a Christian, I should be neither spiritual nor religious in my beliefs. If I define Christianity as a tangible faith, then how could either of those (religious or spiritual) bring me closer to my Creator?

Neither of them can. Religion, is a system made of rituals and practices associated with worship. Christians should not practice religion. God doesn’t require us to sing or do anything except love him. As I went over in my love series, that means being the best ambassador of Heaven on Earth. We are to study about Him and read His word. We are to pray and talk to Him, just like any relationship, and we can embark on artistic ventures about Him if we want to, in order to worship him, such as music or artwork; however, if we aren’t talented like that, we should worship Him with diligence in doing “all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:13)

God doesn’t even require us to have corporate worship, we however are commanded to gather with like-minded believers as that encourages us in our faith, but that doesn’t mean we have to go to church. God requires a personal relationship with us first, and then by that relationship we will want to spend time worshipping and fellowshipping with other like minded individuals.

So what’s the issue with someone calling us Spiritual? It seems harmless doesn’t it? It’s all about pluralism. Pluralism allows someone to serve two masters. It separates innate curiosity of the divine from the animalistic instincts that keep us from perfection. It allows us to follow man-made principles in satisfactory fashion allowing for our superficial concern over eternity to be quenched, but also allows for humanity to continue indulging in vices, questionable morals, and blatant rebellion without much consequence if any. People who are spiritual may believe in “God” as a higher power, but also subject themselves to eastern ideas such as karma and nirvana. They may even call themselves Christian, but when tasked with explaining their faith they can’t expound on it much more than being raised in a church.

People who are Spiritual consider themselves good people, and they have a morality that they believe to be right; Christians on the other hand cannot consider themselves to be good people, because we know we aren’t deserving of the title as sinners.

The whole point of this blog is to pierce right through what the church has neglected in so many years. Churches have gotten hung up on being “Spiritual” focusing on music, worship teams, and nice messages about how being good will please God, and following God’s rules make you a good Christian. As Christians we really need to take a stand against what society thinks of us and correct them. We are not spiritual, we simply serve a very real being who cannot be seen because of His holiness, who cannot be touched but can change lives in a very real way, and cannot be heard but has written down His word in a guidebook for our lives.

We are Christians, because we follow the Son of the being, known as God, who was sent to tell us exactly how His Father thinks, as He and the Father are one. We don’t follow Him because of His good ideas, or His compassion, or His Death. We follow Him because He is God.

Out of all this, the takeaway is Christianity isn’t spiritual, it’s not religious, it’s faith; a faith that is very real based on personal experience with a divine being who reached out to choose us to love Him and follow His plan on this Earth. While other religions espouse that they received their words from angels or men, we and our Jewish brethren are the only ones who can say we’ve received word directly from God himself.

September 15, 2021

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

A popular scripture verse right now is “Be still and know that I am God;” and sometimes, walking through the giftware section of a store you’ll see it rendered simply as “Be still.” A currently popular Christian book is titled, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.

Our world is in a frantic rush all the time. The classic pop song admonition to “Slow down, you move to fast / You’ve got to make a moment last;” was apparently decades ahead of its time.

Today we’re returning to the blog we introduced you to last year, Wattsup with Kids written by Tracy Watts. She’s put together a beautiful scripture medley here, and I invite you to read this on her site by clicking the header which follows, and then slow down to meditate on each verse.

The Unharried (and Unhurried) Jesus

Reading through the gospels we see a purposeful and unharried Jesus. He was not involved in the rat race of competition and human busyness, though he was very effective with how he used his time. He was intentional, for he was not working for his own purposes but the Lord’s. And when I see His example, I have much to learn. What then are some ways He slowed down instead of rushing about? Here are some thoughts:

Jesus noticed his disciples’ weariness and urged them to rest

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. ~ Mark 6:31

Jesus slept himself when he needed to

 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him ~ Matthew 8:24-25

Jesus was not too busy to be with children.

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. ~ Mark 10:13-16

Jesus stopped to listen to those who called out to him

And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” ~ Mark 10:46-49

Jesus took time to eat with those he taught

So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table ~ John 12:2

And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  ~ Mark 2:15

Jesus also took time to feed others

 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way….” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. ~ Matthew 15:32, 35-37

Jesus took time purposefully to go off and pray

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.  ~Mark 1:35

We often are pulled by the pressures of the world – where efficiency, busyness and money are valued over compassion, patience, and love. But when we take time to slow down, as Christ did, we find that our lives begin to be changed for the better. Instead of my life being characterized by the whims of fickle humans or society or my own false expectations, I can begin to steward what the Lord Himself has placed in my hands.

Lord, grant us wisdom to slow down and walk with Your purposes!


More from Tracy Watts on a somewhat similar theme:

“Keep silence” is a hard phrase because it means that I must stop. I must pull to a halt all that I am juggling and pushing and speaking. And I am often uninclined to do so…

[continue reading this short devotional at this link]

September 5, 2021

Calvary Opened the Door to Intimacy with God

A year ago we introduced you to author K.K. Hodge, who describes herself as “a family nurse practitioner, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, Sunday School teacher, church treasurer, and crazy critter farmer.” She writes devotions at Inspirations from the Funny Farm and you can read this one at source by clicking the header which follows.

All Access Pass

Exodus 26:31-34 Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker.  Hang it with gold hooks on four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and standing on four silver bases. Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the covenant law behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. Put the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law in the Most Holy Place.

Mark 15:37-38 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

Part of my Bible study this week was the Holy of Holies. I read the scripture above as well as Leviticus chapter 16, and I couldn’t help but continually rejoice all week over the fact that Jesus gave us an all access pass to God Almighty! For real, Peeps. We have an all access pass. Ponder on that for a moment and what a true treasure this is.

When going to concerts, one occasionally purchases the “all access pass.” This pass gives that person privileges to not only enjoy the concert close up and personal, but that person also gets backstage access and a personal meet and greet with the star attraction. That’s pretty cool! But all access to God is so much better than an all access concert pass.

Way back in Moses’ day, God’s presence was in the Holy of Holies, and God gave Moses very specific instructions in order for Aaron to enter the Holy of Holies.

Aaron wasn’t allowed to enter anytime he pleased. He had to bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He had to put on his sacred linen tunic with linen undergarments, tie a linen sash around him, and put on a linen tunic. He had to bathe prior to putting on the sacred attire. He also had to take 2 male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering from the Israelite community. He then had to offer the young bull for his own sin offering, and then cast lots for the two goats. One lot was for the Lord and one for the scapegoat. The goat whose lot was for the Lord would then be sacrificed for a sin offering, and the scapegoat would be presented alive to make atonement.

After making the sacrifices, he then had to remove his clothing and bathe in water in the sanctuary. All of this had to be done any time Aaron entered the Holy of Holies. If he failed to perform these steps, he would surely die.

Consider that regimen. What great effort Aaron had to go through each time he went before God. Jesus changed everything. The temple curtain was torn, ripped apart, when our Savior became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. When that curtain was ripped in half, the barriers where removed. No more bull or goat sacrifices.

The ultimate sacrificial Lamb paid the price for our sins. He made the final atonement needed. Jesus gave us an all access pass to God Almighty! All we have to do is approach Him in prayer…any time of the day or night…in any clothes we are wearing…at any location on this planet! We have an unlimited, total, all access pass to the Father! Isn’t that encouraging?

Are you taking full advantage of your all access pass? Give God a holler today. He’s been waiting to hear from you.

September 1, 2021

I Am Peter

NIV.Luke.22.54b Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”

57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.

58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”

“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.

59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

60a Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Katie Davis Majors is an American missionary and author who established a mission in Uganda in 2007, and tells her story in the books, Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption (2011) and Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful (2017).

Two days ago a Facebook friend took the time to copy what follows from Katie’s journal, though I was unable to source where that journal was located. This might be a transcription of one of the books.

You can read more about Katie’s work at Amazima Ministries, where you will also find her blog.

I Am Peter

Peter is the rock on which God built his church. But first, Peter was probably the worst disciple ever.

I am Peter.

Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him 3 times; Peter says, “No! I love you, I could never deny you, Lord.” Yet we all know that Peter does in fact deny Jesus three times. I know in my heart and my soul and the core of my being that I love the Lord, that I would do anything for Him, go to the ends of the earth for him, but how often do I forget to give the glory to his name? How often do I take the compliments without giving him the credit?

Do I, like Peter, deny Jesus the glory that is his?

Jesus told his disciples that it was God’s will for him to be arrested. He went willingly when the soldiers came to take him, but enthusiastically, loving Peter raised his sword and cut off a soldiers ear. “Put your sword away,” Jesus commanded. “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

I am Peter.

I have my own time frame. When I don’t see things happening, I try to make them happen. And Jesus says “Put away your sword, put away your plans. Shall we not do what the Father has asked of us?” So like Peter, I put away my plans, my defenses, and watch as everything happens perfectly, in God’s own timing.

After Jesus had risen, he appeared to his disciples while they were fishing. When Peter saw his beloved Saviour, he excitedly jumped out of the boat and began swimming to where Jesus stood. Needless to say, the boat probably reached the shore long before Peter.

I am Peter- excitedly jumping into things and then standing, sopping wet, at the feet of the Lord, smiling at my stupidity.

I am Peter who made many mistakes, but I am Peter for whom God had great plans, whom God established to do his work.

That very night when Peter jumped out of the boat, Jesus reinstated him in the presence of the other disciples.

“Do you truly love me?” He asked. “Then feed my lambs.”

“Do you really love me? Take care of my lambs.”

“Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep, and come follow me.”

For each time I deny God the glory that is his, for each time I follow my will instead of listening to his, for each time I jump ahead without first consulting my Lord, he asks, “Daughter, do you truly love me?”

And I do.

‘I am Peter. I mess up. I make mistakes, I am far from perfect, and God will use me. God will establish great things through me.

You are Peter. God already knows that you will make a mess, but his plan for you is great. Go feed his sheep.

August 26, 2021

Making a Fall Commitment Reset

With regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon still on holidays, we mined his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon for something we had not presented before. This one appeared on the Labor Day weekend of 2021. Clicking the link in the header below takes you there directly.

When We Feel Not So Into It

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1st Corinthians 15:58 NIV)

Here is a verse we may read and think “I could not be described as a person who gives myself fully to the work of the Lord.” And of course this does not mean we should all quit our jobs and become pastors or full time missionaries or ministers of some sort. If we all did that I’d have to wonder where my salary was coming from. I depend on people committing, or in the case of the retired, having committed, themselves to regular jobs. We all do! And we should not make the mistake of thinking that Paul here is only speaking to the full-time professional minister. All Christians are called and invited ‘excel’ in the Lord’s work as another translation puts it. This means serving the Lord with passion in everything we do, including our ‘secular’ jobs, or put another way, serving the Lord as sacred people in the midst of a secular world. So what happens we find ourselves lacking in Christian spunk and fervor? What might we do as we read this verse and find ourselves faithfully serving ourselves and our own ambitions, or those of another person rather than our Lord?

First thing is to check your faith in the resurrection of Jesus. We do well to read the rest of 1st Corinthians where we find it all begins with teaching on the resurrection of Jesus. The ‘therefore’ that introduces verse 58 is key, as is the concluding reminder that the resurrection hope means our service to the Lord is not in vain. We serve a risen Saviour, to quote a familiar hymn, precisely because He is risen.

The 20th century was a time when many church goers got quite vague on what the resurrection was all about. Many turned their backs on anything sounding supernatural in the Gospel accounts right up to and including the resurrection of Jesus.

This leads naturally to a very vague kind of faith where one might say “I believe there is perhaps some sort of God, who I guess loves us”. Theology becomes very vague as the Bible fades into the background (taking Jesus with it) and faith is built only on reason, tradition, and experience, becoming a “build your own” kind of thing. And how easy it is for the Christian today to forget that our faith, our theology, and therefore our ethics are all founded upon and center around the resurrection of Jesus.

If Jesus was not raised from the dead, Christianity is dead. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, I wouldn’t bother being a pastor, indeed I wouldn’t even bother with being a Christian. Many in my own generation think likewise, and some, not having a solid sense of the resurrection of Jesus, are leaving the pews empty today. All the contemporary music in the world won’t help a church that has forgotten that Jesus lives.

So if you find your dedication waning, or your commitment lacking, check the place the resurrection of Jesus takes in your faith. Paul could always be described as giving himself “fully to the work of the Lord”, and little wonder when you consider his experience of meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. The fact that Jesus is risen changes everything, and for Paul, and millions since, everything changed.

If you find you are not “fully giving yourself to the work of the Lord”, perhaps it is time for a fresh encounter with our risen Saviour.


Bonus scriptures for today’s theme:

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
 – Galatians 6:9 NLT

But those who trust the LORD will find new strength. They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings; they will walk and run without getting tired.
 – Isaiah 40:31 CEV

Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged… Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day.
– 2 Corinthians 4:1,16 NET

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
 – Romans 12:11 NIV

 

August 23, 2021

When Our House is Divided

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NKJV.Matt.12.22 Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 23 And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”

25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.

parallel passage: Mark 3: 20-27

A year ago we introduced you to Willie Riggs who describes himself as an artist, writer, and entrepreneur. This article was written mid-September, 2020 amid the turbulent climate in the United States leading up to the federal election there. Reading between the lines, it’s easy to see that particular pain reflected in his writing. Certainly, the church needs unity more now than ever. Click the header which follows to read this at his blog.

Divided

A House Divided

We’ve all heard the old adage. Most of us know the bible story. When the Pharisees encounter Jesus casting out demons, instead of giving glory to God, they conclude that Jesus’ power to cast out demons must come from Satan himself.

In their thoughts, they accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the prince of demons. Jesus, who always knows our thoughts, responds that every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and every house divided against itself will not stand. Satan isn’t casting out his own minions.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. Jesus said it. I don’t doubt it. That’s what worries me.

A Soul Divided

I’m worried because I’ve never seen a house more divided than my own soul. Everywhere I see things out of balance. My thoughts and actions don’t line up. My expressed desires and how I actually spend my day seem to directly oppose each other.

Sometimes the contradictions are easy to spot.

I want to lose weight and get in shape, until it requires actually working out or skipping that third (OK forth) donut. I want more money, until it requires hours updating my resume and actually applying for jobs.

But sometimes the contradictions run deeper.

I know Jesus tells me I have nothing to fear. I know He tells me not to worry. I believe Jesus will take care of my needs, both physical and spiritual. Yet if that is the case, then why do I worry so much?

I believe half the world is heading straight to hell. Yet if that is the case, I’m certainly not doing much about it. Am I some kind of heartless monster?

Jesus is my lord and savior. I believe He is the most important aspect of my life, bar-none. Yet if that is the case, then why do I spend so little time pursuing Him each day?

More than a checklist

When it comes to spending time with God, I am a master of excuses. Don’t get me wrong. I can check off the list as good as anybody. Maybe even better!

Read the bible every day. Check. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read the bible cover to cover.

Pray every day. Check. Every morning starts on my knees, “consecrating the day to the Lord”. That’s the words I use anyway.

I’ve tithed for decades. I’ve fasted thrice a week for months on end. I’ve attended classes, studied devotions, and read the self-help books. Check check check.

It’s all insignificant when you’re not actually pursuing God.

Seeking God

What does pursuing God really look like? For me it’s one of those “I know it when I see it” things. It’s has to do with the heart, mind, and strength. It’s surrender, submission, and sacrifice. It’s obedience to the one I claim to serve. It’s being broken when I sin. Not broken because of fear or the consequences. Broken because I know how stupid, how just plain WRONG sin is. Broken because I know sinning is spitting into the face of love.

I don’t remember from whom, but I heard a story a long time ago that really stuck with me. It was a message about evangelism, and the speaker was making the point that it is not our job to try and keep people from sinning. It is our job to introduce people to Christ.

Trying to tell people to stop sinning, they explained, is like trying to tell a homeless person to stop eating garbage. “Stay out of the garbage!” “Don’t eat from the garbage!” You can reason with them, scream at them, or spend all night guarding the trash cans, but if a homeless person is hungry enough, they will still eat from the garbage. The garbage is all they know. It is how they survive.

What if, on the other hand, you set up a table in the alley overflowing with delicious food? Just loaded the table with everything from turkeys and pies to pizza and pasta. Then you told the homeless person they could eat whatever they wanted for the rest of the day. What if you also promised to set up an identical table the following day and told them they could invite their friends? What if you told them you would set the table up every day and every night for the rest of their lives? How long before word got out? Would you ever have to tell another homeless person to stop eating garbage ever again?

That is why I hate sin. Because deep down I know it is me on my hands and knees digging through the garbage, when ten feet away God is ready to show me His love.

That is what pursuing God looks like most. Love. Nobody has to remind you to spend time with the people you love. Nobody has to force you to get to know the people you love. Nobody checks off a list for the people they love. The actions flow naturally out of a strong desire to connect and an enthusiastic heart.

Still Divided

I say all of that. I know all of that. Yet tomorrow or maybe even later today, I won’t care. I won’t care when the opportunity to sin presents itself. I won’t care when faced with the decision to pursue God or pursue my own interests. I’ll probably do whatever I want, then try to justify it.

Am I a liar? Am I a hypocrite? Am I just confused? I honestly don’t know.

I don’t know why or how to be more successful in these areas. I only know the end result. A house divided cannot stand. Only one side can be victorious in this war. I pray that God upholds me until the right side wins.

August 20, 2021

Time Apart

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back again at Devotions by Chris and a short devotional by Chris Hendrix. Clicking the header which follows will get you there directly.

Alone With God

I was talking with a friend recently about how technology has been both a blessing and a curse. On the blessing side, we have so much information, entertainment and communication in the palm of our hand. Never before in the history of the world have we had such access, but along with that comes the curse. We’ve lost the ability to be alone to think deeply and to pray. We’re constantly interrupted by it going off, lighting up or us using it out of habit. In times past, people had the ability to process, break down and understand the information they had because they had the ability to truly be alone with their thoughts. That ability also provided them with opportunities to be alone with God.

Exodus 3:1 says, “Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro (Reuel) his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb (Sinai), the mountain of God” (AMP). Notice how Moses was in the wilderness alone. It was then that he noticed the burning bush. Verse 3-4 says, “So Moses said, ‘I must turn away [from the flock] and see this great sight—why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he turned away [from the flock] to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” Moses turned away from his distraction, and when he did, God called out to him and met with him.

You will even find this pattern with Jesus. Luke 5:16 says, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray [in seclusion].” How often do you slip away into seclusion, away from all distractions, and pray? It’s difficult in today’s world.

We must be intentional about it. Our minds will give us the fear of missing out or of being out of connection with others, but the truth is that those fears have made us miss out on encounters with God and out of connection with Him. Jesus made it a practice to break away from the crowd and noise of life to be alone with God. With all of our connectedness today, we must be even more intentional about it.

God is waiting to meet you, but you must turn away from the things that distract you first and get alone with Him.


On a similar theme:

This a short excerpt taken from a larger look at spiritual disciplines from the blog, Running to Him. The author’s name is not listed. Clicking the header which follows will take you there directly.

All In – Spiritual Disciplines

…[L]et’s bring Solitude into the picture. This one is often overlooked among the Spiritual Disciplines, even in my own life. There’s so much noise in the world around us that we don’t take time to be silent with no background noise. A book titled The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry has a whole chapter on Silence and Solitude.

The big question is how can we expect to hear from God if we don’t put in the time to listen to Him? How can we say He’s not speaking if we’re not actively listening to Him? A great way to start putting solitude in your life is to start with one minute of silence. Try not to think about anything. Try not to say anything. Most importantly, try not to have any background noise. Just silence and see how God speaks!

The next spiritual disciple that I want to highlight is another often overlooked discipline. In a world of burnout, stress, anxiety, and overworking, Rest has become increasingly countercultural. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus calls the weary souls to come to Him for rest. Jesus wants us to have rest! He doesn’t want us to be burnt out and stressed all of the time.

A great (and incredibly counter cultural) way to have rest and take Jesus’ light yoke upon us is to have a Sabbath, this was another chapter from The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. Sabbath is a day of rest and stopping. In the creation story, God worked for six days and stopped on the Sabbath. If God took a day of rest, how much more do we need rest?

This has been a hard truth for me to realize and a hard discipline to put into place… A key way to fight back against this is to see the Sabbath as a gift and not a limitation. Instead of seeing it as “I have to rest today,” view the Sabbath as “I get to rest today.” In Mark 2:27, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath wasn’t made to limit us, it was made as a gift FOR us…

August 18, 2021

Guarding Your Heart by Not Loving the World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Each week we try to introduce two or three writers appearing here for the first time, both to highlight or showcase their work, and to encourage them in their writing. This time around, unfortunately, I didn’t see an author’s name, but wanted to share the content with you. They call themselves The Center City Christian. There’s a reference here to the NHEB. I had to look that one up, and it’s the New Heart English Bible. As always, you are strongly encouraged to click the header which appears next, and read this at its source. (I don’t just suggest you do that, I do it myself and read three articles in choosing this one.)

Real Talk – The Wellspring of Life

Each time I return to 1 John, I get punched. God’s Word “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV) But the Good News is “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV)!

While reading, I came across these verses:


1 John 2:15-16 KJV

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.


These verses are crucial because the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life constitute the golden rule of satanism—”Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” in other words, “Do what you want”—developed by Aleister Crowley.

These are the three areas used when the serpent tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-6), and Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). Do you know how Jesus rebuked the devil? He used Scripture! Isn’t that interesting?

These are attitudes of the heart:

The lust of the flesh—do I have the mind of Christ (Philippians 4:8), or is my mind preoccupied with gratifying my physical desires?
The lust of the eyes—does the amount of material possessions I crave or accumulate figuratively outweigh the amount I give?
The pride of life—is how important I am what is most important to me?

Proverbs 4:23 NHEB

Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it is the wellspring of life.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our hearts. How can we do that? In this post, we’re going to focus on knowledge of Scripture. We began by saying that God’s Word “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” By reading the Bible, we can understand what God values—in this case, self-control, generosity, and humility. 1 John 2:15-16 speaks on what “is of the world.”

Lastly, Jesus was able to resist the devil’s temptations not only because He knew Scripture but also because He obeyed it—the devil knows Scripture too. The apostle Paul wrote Ephesians 6:10-17 about the armor of God; think of these verses as steps—equipping yourself with each piece of armor to walk in each day; to wear as protection against the enemy’s attacks. Ephesians 6:17 tells us that God’s Word is the sword of the Spirit.


 

August 16, 2021

Philippians: Packed with Strong Doctrine and Theology

NIV.Phil.2.6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

We’re back for our fifth annual visit highlighting the writing of Jim Grant at Preach Between the Lines.  Jim is Executive Director of the Galveston Baptist Association, a conference speaker and contributing writer for the National Revitalization organization called Renovate. Clicking the header which follows will take you to his site and other articles, some written for pastors and leaders.

As preparation for today’s thoughts, take a few minutes to read Philippians 1-4.

Philippians 1-4; The Koinonia Church

I think the book of Philippians may be the most often quoted book. I think of this because it has so many uplifting verses. In Paul’s other epistles he always has a nice opening paragraph then he dives into the issues the particular church has. This is not the case with the Philippians.

The church at Philippi was started in Acts 16. Paul wanting to go to other regions but was directed by the Holy Spirit to wait. While he was waiting, the Macedonian Vision came to him. As was Paul’s custom he goes to the Jewish synagogues and seeks out God-fearers. I must have been such a joy to minister to the people of the Macedonian region. We find that they are a loving church and a giving church. When Paul asks the gentile churches to give an offering to the Jerusalem church in harsh persecution and a deep famine; the Philippian church not only gave generously, but first gave themselves to the call. They were probably the very opposite of the Corinthian Church, who seemed to be very self-centered, childish, and carnal. Yes, the great Apostle Paul had to deal with bad churches!

This short book if filled with strong doctrine and theology. Looking at the “Kenotic passage” Philippians 2:5-11; we are confronted with the humanity and deity of Jesus. Now there have been Councils in the Early Church to debate whether Jesus was human and/or deity. Our minds cannot conceive how someone can be fully both. Jesus never ceases to be God. It took me a long time to understand how this could be. Jesus being God, “Set aside” His deity so as to be fully obedient to the Father, not on the basis of His own power, but the power of the Father working in and through him. I believe that Jesus is the perfect man. As we know from 1 Corinthians 15:45, the second Adam was a living spirit. Jesus was what the original Adam was supposed to be had sin not entered in him.

There is several verses that admonish the believers to conduct themselves as the Children of God that they are called to be. Particularly Philippians 1:27-30. Unity comes out of this book; which Paul has repeated before in Ephesians 4:1-6.

When we think about Paul writing this letter while in prison, I am amazed at his upbeat tone. Obviously, the Philippian church is very dear to him. Of course, they have ministered to him directly. Even though Paul is in a Roman prison, awaiting sentencing – he can speak joyfully “for him to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Phil. 1:21]

Paul knows that death is near, yet he is so intense about serving and being found faithful with his remaining days. In chapter 3, we find the wonderful testimony of Paul. He could have boasted about both of his lives, his pre-salvation and apostleship. Paul was already a successful man in the Jewish religion. He had the right schooling and blood lines. He has ascended the “success ladder.” But when Jesus comes to him on the Damascus road – Paul considered everything prior to his salvation worthless!

Paul had known pain and agony. He did have an unknown “thorn in the flesh” that kept him humbled. Yet, in his last days, he says that he is a “drink offering” already being poured out before God. He had an amazing missionary ministry, yet his desire is to “know Christ and the fellowship if His suffering, being conformed to His death.” [Phil. 3:7-10]

Paul is writing this heart-felt letter to his dear friends in Macedonia. They have supported him when no other church would even identify with him. [Phil. 4:15-18] Paul, it seems is reliving his life through the letter. He does not know his future, yet still he is encouraging and complimenting the Philippian church. I have always thought the Philippian church was sort of a church that lived “in the trenches” of culture. It was not like Rome or Ephesus or even Corinth. Yet it was a strong, mature church.

I wonder how we would write our memoirs. What would we focus on? If this were our last will and testament, what would we think was most important to say to those we love? Paul pours his heart out to this group of believers. Yet his focus was not “oh, look at me, pity me for being in prison.” No, Paul energizes and encourages the church to “Press On to the high calling in Christ” as he has.

Oh, that pastors and congregations would have this mutual loving relationship. No struggle for who is in authority, but a clear focus of Kingdom building and living. May it be so!

 

July 28, 2021

Are You an Outlaw, A Lawyer, or a Lover?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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At Christianity 201, we’ve had a long relationship with Rev. Kevin Rogers, a pastor in Western Ontario, Canada whose writing appears at The Orphan Age. This is excerpts from a 4-part series. To read the introduction, where he sets up the distinction click this link. He says,

I see three categories of people when it comes to the acceptance and application of God’s law—we are all outlaws, lawyers or lovers.

To read the individual parts in full, click the headers which follow.

Outlaws

Outlaw culture is often glorified, and we all learned it early in life…So what does it mean to be an outlaw?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary says:

1 : a person excluded from the benefit or protection of the law

2a : a lawless person or a fugitive from the law

b : a person or organization under a ban or restriction

c : one that is unconventional or rebellious

Some perceived Jesus to be an outlaw based on his application of God’s Law. He and the disciples picked grain to eat on the Sabbath, brought healing to many on the Sabbath, did not always wash their hands before eating, association with people deemed unclean and a daily myriad of offenses drummed up by the faultfinders.

In spite of what the authorized experts had to say, Jesus was not an outlaw.

Matthew 5:

17 “Do not think I have come to get rid of what is written in the Law or in the Prophets. I have not come to do this. Instead, I have come to fulfill what is written. 18 What I’m about to tell you is true. Heaven and earth will disappear before the smallest letter disappears from the Law. Not even the smallest mark of a pen will disappear from the Law until everything is completed.

It is when we determine that laws are unfair, unattainable or illegitimate that we are tempted by outlawry. It’s easy enough to find reasons to minimize or defy human laws, but what about God’s Law? There are many outlaws that choose to live in opposition or resignation to what they perceive to be an unrealistic or impossible standard.

The Greek word for sin is hamartia. It is an archery term that means your arrow did not land on the target. When we recognize that we are sinners, we admit that our arrow went astray or dropped to the ground before the ideal target that God gives us to aim for.

Jesus came to hit the bullseye and inspire us to have an improved aim. We are to learn from the ways that fall short and allow God to perfect our aim. You may have given up on basketball or piano lessons, but the reason to learn God’s ways are not trivial options. God’s ways are a matter of life and death in a very real cosmic and earthly sense.

Every outlaw must live by a code that supports their values and will be deemed heroic by those sharing those values. But you cannot love God and at the same time have a complete disregard for the things God says. To know and disregard the law of God is to be truly lawless.

1 John 3:

Everyone who sins breaks the law. In fact, breaking the law is sin. But you know that Christ came to take our sins away. And there is no sin in him. No one who remains joined to him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has seen him or known him.

Dear children, don’t let anyone lead you astray. The person who does what is right is holy, just as Christ is holy. The person who does what is sinful belongs to the devil. That’s because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the devil’s work.

In recognizing that your aim is off, the key remedy is remaining joined to Jesus. As we  understand what Christ is doing, we find that he is taking away our lawless instincts. He is mending our broken bow and showing us how to aim true and hit the target. It is in our mimicry and imitation of Christ’s ways that we see through the fog and shoot for the bullseye. The apostle Paul understood this implicitly when he said,

1 Corinthians 11:

Follow my example, just as I follow the example of Christ.

Lawyers

If the outlaw faces judgment, he is going to need a good defence lawyer. A lawyer will endeavour to prove that his client is not guilty, or at least not maliciously intent on breaking a law. The problem is that there will also be a prosecuting lawyer whose aim it is to prove that you are guilty.

There is an interesting phenomenon that happens to people trying to live up to God’s standards. If they are not rightly motivated inwardly, they will get obsessive about hacking their aim and telling others that they are the masters that can teach others how to achieve their spiritual aims.

It’s exactly the old adage that those who can’t, teach.

Matthew 23:

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples. “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” he said. “So you must be careful to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do. They don’t practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry. Then they put them on other people’s shoulders. But they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.

Watch out for people that try to load you down with high expectations but don’t offer any understanding or relief for the burden they lay on you. They may be legalistic in their passion for definition, but inwardly lack the law of God. They may have the authority to wield the law, but are more interested in winning their case than being personally answerable for the consequences that ensue.

Matthew 7:

21 “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. 22 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?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Lawyers are often great communicators and can weave a story line that will either condemn or excuse a lawbreaker.

Watch my life carefully. I may appear to be a masterful persuader and still have a lawless heart. Fortunately, you will not have to answer for me. I stand before the one true judge that can truly condemn me or save me. Don’t be naïve and do look out for the Pharisaical lawyer in me and for the one in you.

Fortunately, God has mercy for outlaws and for self-righteous lawyers. Otherwise, we would be surely doomed.

Romans 9:

30 What should we say then? Gentiles did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 The people of Israel tried to obey the law to make themselves right with God. But they didn’t reach their goal of being right with God. 32 Why not? Because they tried to do it without faith. They tried to be right with God by what they did. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall. 33 It is written,

“Look! In Zion I am laying a stone that causes people to trip.
    It is a rock that makes them fall.
    The one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

Imagine that. Your faith in the goodness and mercy of God is the bullseye. Jesus died to save outlaws and lawyers and we are both.

Lovers

In essence, you become what you love. When it comes to the Law of God, are you a lover of His Law? You will not become Christlike if you do not love God.

If it’s true that we all fail to hit the target, there must be something that Jesus wants to teach us. When you are being coached in some ability, it is easy to get overwhelmed and distracted. So what will keep us in the game, so to speak? What is it about God’s Law that we can learn to keep us from becoming an outlaw or a lawyer?

That is a great question and one asked by an expert in law.

Mark 12:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard the Sadducees arguing. He noticed that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer. So he asked him, “Which is the most important of all the commandments?”

29 Jesus answered, “Here is the most important one. Moses said, ‘Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 And here is the second one. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no commandment more important than these.”

32 “You have spoken well, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one. There is no other God but him. 33 To love God with all your heart and mind and strength is very important. So is loving your neighbor as you love yourself. These things are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely. He said to him, “You are not far from God’s kingdom.” From then on, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.     NIRV

Your aim always improves when you love from the core of your being. Loving God means loving the wisdom and perfection of what he is teaching us. Loving your neighbour and loving yourself flows from the love you find in God.

Jesus says that all law is grounded in love. Until you know that and agree to it, you will resist the true nature of God. Jesus is the highest expression of God’s Law. He fulfills the law of God.

Are you convinced by the Holy Spirit that the ways of God are desirable? Listen to this ancient song of praise for the ways of God. Listen to effect that the love of God has on the fabric of our life.

Psalm 19:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
NKJV

Talk about exactly hitting the target… love will do all of these things to establish your heart, mind and soul. We are taught by perfect love and changed from outlaws and lawyers. We are lovers of God’s Law.

July 26, 2021

Besides Sheep, Jesus Used the Analogy of Fish and Fishing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Luke.5.3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.


ESV.Matt.13.47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.

Our 11-year journey takes us to interesting places to find devotional material, and today’s no exception. Stephen Bernard writes at Mouse Squeak (the computer type of mouse) and shares this personal reflection. Click to read this at source, and take some time to read some of this other recent essays.

When You Can See The Fish But They Won’t Bite

I went out fishing during the hours when the moon was down and they’d be out feeding. I wasn’t wrong either. Upon arrival the tide was high, the river was flowing and the weather was nice and warm. Under the bridge I could see crowds of fish. They were of all sizes big and small. They looked so good I could taste them. In my district I’m only allowed to use barbless hooks and no live bait so I use golden and silver spinners/spoons most of the time.

When I first arrived I started casting and did not see the crowd of fish until later when I actually began to look. As usual I casually began casting the line here nor there. Quite content I began to relax. But when I saw the horde of fish all nicely piled together I began to get excited. Try as I may, for more than one hour I cast that rod in their direction and none of them would bite. . . Not one.

I had the best gear, spinner and even though I changed my spinner from gold to silver (assuming it was overcast and would help) nothing happened. I almost fired the rod into the river to stab one of them with it that’s how frustrated I became. When I cast my line in their direction I only further complicated matters as it simply scared them away. You see? I got too excited and my enthusiasm ended up dispersing them.

I can see why Jesus uses the theme of catching fish for souls in the Gospels. It’s incredibly similar. Sometimes we can arrive at the seemingly right time. There’s plenty of people to introduce the Gospel to. We’ve got what we think is the right bait and all the best of gear available to us, but nothing ever gets them biting, right? You think fishing is hard? Try evangelism.

As Christians we often change our bait according to the fish we are trying to catch. One method of evangelism gets replaced for this method depending on the size, personality and location of the fish. We use the kind of food they’re used to according to their local customs. Even so, none of them seem to catch on. What are we to do in these cases?

Today I threw in the towel and walked away. I think sometimes that’s what we need to do with souls. It can be very easy to get frustrated with people. When they’re not interested or willing to listen sometimes you’ve no choice but to wave the white flag of surrender and go home.

If you hang around and keep shouting in their direction like I did with the fish, you end up scaring them away altogether. There are moments when we get too enthusiastic and such overtly religious attitudes can make them run a mile. Sometimes it’s enough that they’re there in Church sitting in the pew. They’ve all these bizarre ideas about their faith and their hearts are not totally into what you’re preaching, but at least they’re there. You can sermonize and drop lots of the sweet corn of good advice into the ocean but they won’t be interested.

By simply being present these souls give us the opportunity to come back another day, maybe with different bait or other methods and try again. It really is after that down to the Lord to catch them for you. I’m thinking of the bit in the Gospel where the apostles have been fishing all night and caught nothing. Then Jesus tells them to cast their nets again. They do as they’re told and loads of fish come in. Jesus teaches us that by our own efforts no fish is ever reeled in. The Grace of the Lord is always required on any expedition we undergo to evangelize the world.

Today the Lord was not with me.* Why? Because he wanted me to write this article that’s why. He allowed me to go out and waste my absolute time and effort to teach me a valuable lesson which is to say I can do nothing without him. . . nothing. In my ignorance I didn’t even pray. Maybe next time in addition to bringing the best of fishing gear I should bring along the greatest form of bait one can find. . . Jesus.


*Editor’s note: Maybe the Lord was with Stephen all along, or we wouldn’t be enjoying today’s meditation!

…Where he lands the plane today is neither about sheep nor fish, but comes from a passage where Jesus uses another analogy, about vines and branches.

TLB.John.15.5b For apart from me you can’t do a thing.

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.

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