Christianity 201

September 8, 2017

God is Not a Force

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16: 13-14 ESV

God replied: “I am who am. Thus shall you say to the children of Israel: He Who is has sent me to you.” Exodus 3: 13-15

This may seem like more of a 101 type of topic to many of you, rather than a 201 type of discussion you expect here. But I think it’s important not only to have this matter settled for ourselves, but to have our ears tuned to hear it when spoken by people inside or on the periphery of our Christian community in order that we can offer correction and clarification.

Today we’re returning to the writing of Jeff Loach, who we often referenced in the early days of Thinking Out Loud, and have included here at C201 before. He blogs at Passionately His. Recently we caught up with about a dozen of his most recent topics. Click the title below to read this at source.

Force or Person?

God is not a force.

Many people talk about various forces in the universe, or even about certain forces that may hold divine power.  But let’s not be mistaken:  the God of the Bible – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – is not a force.  God is one, yet three persons.

That gets confusing for some folks, because when we think of a person we think of someone with flesh and bones who walks the earth like we do.  In that sense, we can wrap our heads around the idea that Jesus is, or was, a person, but God the Father?  Not so much.

To make it more confusing, because the Holy Spirit is invisible, many people – even well-meaning followers of Christ – will refer to the Holy Spirit as a force.  But the Holy Spirit is not a force.  The Holy Spirit is a person.

The dictionary generally defines a person in human terms, but the best dictionaries will acknowledge that in Christian theology, a person is defined as one of the three members of the Godhead, i.e., the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each is a person.  Not a force, a person.

While this can get into deep philosophy and theology, for the purposes of a brief devotional, let’s understand this:  the fact that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are persons means that God is personal, and we can be in personal relationship with God.

Lots of folks think of God as very far off, unreachable, even unknowable.  But the fact that God is not a force, but is personal, means that God is near, reachable, and knowable.  God showed his great love for us in sending Jesus as the incarnation – God with skin on, literally.  As an old song says, “He’s as close as the mention of his name.”

Forces are impersonal.  God is personal.  Let’s get personal with the God who made us, who loves us with an everlasting love, and who longs to live his life in and through us.

“God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4.9, NLT).

August 25, 2017

Even the Weather Obeys Him

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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We’re paying a return visit today to Bryan Lowe and his blog, Broken Believers. Click the title below to read this at source. We had several good articles to choose from, so click through and look around.

Here Be Giants!

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”  Deuteronomy 31:8, NLT

There is an ancient map in London, England dated from 1525, that has some interesting notations written on it. At one edge someone wrote, “From this point there are fiery scorpions.’  And also written, was “Here be dragons.” On the other margin somebody else noted, ‘Here be giants.” But a believer named Sir John Franklin wrote on this same map, “Here is God.”

Certainly cartographic scorpions, dragons and giants seem to be bit quaint. We certainly don’t really believe in such things anymore. Yet the presence of God is true and quite real. He is present, and is quite active in the lives of everyone who has ever used a map of any sort.

35 “As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”  Mark 4:25-41, NLT

The Sea of Galilee actually has four names, and it actually isn’t a sea, but a lake with sweet and good water. The lake is over 13 miles long and 7 miles at its widest point. The way the hills surround the lake can produce waves over 20 feet, due to unique weather pattern that exists today.

The disciples were seasoned fishermen. They had each seen tough times, but what is going to be unleashed on them is far and above anything they have ever seen. They were frightened.

Jesus was pretty much exhausted. He had been ministering for several days. This was a stretch. A trip across the lake would give Him a definite break. He is so tired, He falls asleep, using a “boat cushion” as a pillow. He is soon sound asleep.

The disciples seem to respect Jesus’ need for rest. But it all gets chaotic and confused quite quickly. None of them had experienced such a terrible storm. They woke Jesus up, and strongly suggested that He do something decisive. Otherwise, they would all be lost.

Jesus was awakened to another need. My guess is that He needed more sleep, but the present moment He needed to speak boldly into this ugly storm. The waves are quite nasty, but at His Word spoken, everything becomes quite serene.

His disciples are undone. They simply draw different conclusions. What they have just seen strips them down to a basic level. The deep presence of Him takes apart of all they understand. God takes them apart, and they end up in a very interesting position.

Our perceptions shouldn’t alter the presence of God. He is our steady rock in our ‘quicksand world.’ He shuts down our storms. You can truly rest with Him in your boat, controlling the storms.


Related: If you grew up in your church you know the song which follows, which is based on today’s scripture text. But if you didn’t give this a listen even if it’s not your usual musical genre.

 

July 22, 2017

The Scandal of the Cross

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Think Theology. This time around the author Michael Sterns. This was published originally approaching Good Friday. Click the title below to read at source.

The Wisdom of God

1st Corinthians 1:18-25 (NRSV)

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 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?  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. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

img 071216Anyone that I’ve spoken to in the past few months might already know that I’ve taken a special interest in the cross. I have always been fascinated with the cross of Christ, as any good Christian should be, but I’m currently working through different atonement theories. Many have written on Think Theology on the cross, and I’ll agree that there are many different metaphors and images for understanding what exactly happened on the cross. There’s the victory of Christ. There’s the suffering of Christ. There’s the ransom. There’s substitution. There’s moral example. Each of these theories are necessary for understanding what happened on the cross. But how can we really understand what was going on? What makes this Friday such a Good Friday? What’s so good about death on a cross? (I don’t know if I have to say this, but I will anyways. I’m not going to be able to write an exhaustive summary on the doctrine of atonement. I’ve chosen specifically to look at the wisdom of God in the foolishness of the cross.)

Here in 1st Corinthians, Paul lays out one of the most beautiful passages in his corpus. He argues with Old Testament support that what God has done through the cross was beyond any human understanding. This is the wisdom of God: through the crucified Messiah, God has shown his plan for redemption.

The Romans famously put crosses on busy roads or by the entrance to a city to make statements to anyone who saw the person hanging there. People would walk past these terrible scenes of slaves and rebels on crosses, and it would convince them to never join any movement against the Roman government. Crucifixions were humiliating.

It wasn’t something that anyone wanted.

Jesus was probably crucified in AD 33. About thirty years before Jesus’ death, there was a huge rebellion recorded by Josephus after the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC. Varus, the Roman general in charge in the province of Syria at that time, did what Romans did best: he destroyed the rebellion by crucifying almost 2000 rebels. Jesus was probably a little boy hearing about these horrible deaths on crosses. And thirty years after Jesus’ crucifixion, the Roman general Vespasian and his son Titus closed in on Jerusalem during the great war. They overran the city, and they crucified so many Jews outside the city walls that they almost ran out of wood.

Jesus’ crucifixion happened between these two brutal mass crucifixions, but this is how God showed his plan for redemption. This was his statement. He took the scandalous cross and displayed his love for the world. It was the greatest contradiction (like a Starburst…).

Karl Barth in his commentary on Romans says, “The life of Jesus, on the other hand, is perfect obedience to the will of this faithful God. He gives himself up to sinners as a sinner. He places himself completely under the judgment which rests upon the world. He places himself there, where God can only still be present as the question of God. He takes the form of a servant. He goes to the cross and dies there. At the high point, at the goal of his way, he is a purely negative magnitude; not a genius, not the bearer of manifest or hidden psychic powers, not a hero, a leader, a poet or thinker and precisely in this negation (“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”), precisely in that he sacrifices every brilliant, psychic, heroic, aesthetic, philosophical, every thinkable human possibility whatsoever to an impossible more, to an unintuitable Other, he is the One who fulfills to the uttermost those mounting human possibilities born witness to in the law and the prophets. Therefore, God exalted him, therein is he recognized as the Christ, thereby he becomes the light of the last things which shines forth above everyone and everything. Truly we see in him God’s faithfulness in the depths of hell. The Messiah is the end of the human. There too, precisely there, God is faithful. The new day of the righteousness of God wants to dawn with the day of the ‘sublated’ human.

The cross was the only way for Jesus; there were no other possibilities. This was God’s plan.

Paul has not told us here exactly how the cross is salvific, but the whole story of Jesus makes it plain. In the death of Jesus, God has taken judgment upon himself. He uses the cross as the ultimate declaration to the world of his covenantal (and sacrificial) love. It shows the lengths to which God will go to bring about redemption, even death on a cross. When we look at Jesus on the cross, we see the face of God.

Christians see the cross as the greatest paradox. It absolutely is scandalous. What does it mean that the Son of God died upon the cross? On this Good Friday, let’s not immediately move towards the resurrection, towards the joys of Easter morning. Let us look at the cross. Let us look at our crucified Savior. It might look foolish, but it is the wisdom of God.


For further reading: Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. . William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, MI: 1987.

Wright, N.T. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion. HarperOne. New York, 2016.

 

July 8, 2017

The Sender and the Sent

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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As You sent Me into the world, I have also sent them into the world. – John 17:18

Again Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so also I am sending you.” – John 20:22

Today, a brief article which appeared on Fred Sanders’ website, The Scriptorium Daily on May 1st. Click the title below to read this there, and then navigate around the site to look at other articles.

So Send I You

At the end of John’s Gospel, the risen Christ says to the disciples: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

It’s such a stark statement that, when I get to preach on this text, I usually spend about half the sermon explaining what Jesus didn’t mean by it. Our sending-out from Jesus can’t be like the Son’s sending-out from the Father in every way, can it? Or at least we shouldn’t presume that every wild thought that rushes into our heads automatically corresponds to the thought Jesus was thinking when he spoke these words. It’s an incomparable sending that Jesus compares our sending to.

But eventually you have to get around saying what Jesus did mean by these clear and simple words. My favorite way to answer that is to cast the net wide to see what John’s Gospel tells us about the relation of the sent Son and the sending Father:

Jesus didn’t do his own will, but the will of his Sender (4:34; 5:30; 6:38).

Jesus didn’t please Himself, but his Sender (8:29).

Jesus didn’t seek His own glory, but the glory of His Sender (7:18).

Jesus was the visible representation of the invisible Sender (5:37; cf. 1:18).

Jesus lived by his Sender (6:57).

Jesus taught the words of his Sender. (3:34; 7:16; 12:49-50).

Jesus could do nothing apart from his Sender (5:30).

Jesus was not alone; his Sender was with Him (8:16,29).

Jesus was busy doing the work of his Sender (4:34; 9:4) and when his work was done, He went home to be with his Sender (7:33; 16:5).

All of these, I think, describe not only the relation of the sent Son to his sending Father, and also our relationship to our sending savior.

And if it’s not Trinitarian enough for you: With his next breath, Jesus said “receive the Holy Spirit.”

 

May 6, 2017

The One Who Never Sinned, Became Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. 5:21

Six months ago we introduced you to bestselling author and teacher Richard Rohr. His writing is posted at The Center for Action and Contemplation.

Jesus as Scapegoat

Practice: Standing at the Cross

Picture yourself before the crucified Jesus; recognize that he became what you fear: nakedness, exposure, vulnerability, and failure. He became sin to free you from sin. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21.) He became what we do to one another in order to free us from the lie of punishing and scapegoating each other. He became the crucified so we would stop crucifying. He refused to transmit his pain onto others.

In your imagination, receive these words as Jesus’ invitation to you from the cross:

My beloved, I am your self. I am your beauty. I am your goodness, which you are destroying. I am what you do to what you should love. I am what you are afraid of: your deepest and best and most naked self—your soul. Your sin largely consists in what you do to harm goodness—your own and others’. You are afraid of the good; you are afraid of me. You kill what you should love; you hate what could transform you. I am Jesus crucified. I am yourself, and I am all of humanity.

And now respond to Jesus on the cross, hanging at the center of human history, turning history around:

Jesus, Crucified, you are my life and you are also my death. You are my beauty, you are my possibility, and you are my full self. You are everything I want, and you are everything I am afraid of. You are everything I desire, and you are everything I deny. You are my outrageously ignored and neglected soul.

Jesus, your love is what I most fear. I can’t let anybody love me for nothing. Intimacy with you or anyone terrifies me.

I am beginning to see that I, in my own body, am an image of what is happening everywhere, and I want it to stop today. I want to stop the violence toward myself, toward the world, toward you. I don’t need ever again to create any victim, even in my mind.

You alone, Jesus, refused to be crucifier, even at the cost of being crucified. You never asked for sympathy. You never played the victim or asked for vengeance. You breathed forgiveness.

We humans mistrust, murder, attack. Now I see that it is not you that humanity hates. We hate ourselves, but we mistakenly kill you. I must stop crucifying your blessed flesh on this earth and in my brothers and sisters.

Now I see that you live in me and I live in you. You are inviting me out of this endless cycle of illusion and violence. You are Jesus crucified. You are saving me. In your perfect love, you have chosen to enter into union with me, and I am slowly learning to trust that this could be true.

Gateway to Silence:
Father, forgive them.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Jesus: Forgiving Victim, Transforming Savior,” Richard Rohr on Transformation, Collected Talks, Vol. 1, disc 1 (Franciscan Media: 1997).

April 13, 2017

Feeling Nervous? Romans 8: 31-39

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Feeling nervous? If you are one of the disciples entering into Jerusalem with Jesus then you probably should be. Yes there is the excitement of the crowds waving their palm branches and shouting “Hosanna,” but there is also the danger that exists when revolution is in the air. Jerusalem at the time is the home of powerful people with powerful ideas. Some have the idea that Rome should get lost and the occupying Roman army should take a hike. Others think that every hint of revolution should be squashed. These are dangerous times. Within a few decades there will be a revolution and Jerusalem will be destroyed. But right now, revolution is in the air and there’s a miracle worker entering Jerusalem on a donkey, which means he may as well wave a banner saying “I am the Messiah, I will rescue you.” To most minds this means “I will kick the Romans out.” Revolution is in the air, blood will be spilled. If you are one of the disciples entering Jerusalem with Jesus, you should be nervous.

What does the “triumphal entry” of Jesus and the events we celebrate on Palm Sunday have to do with our sermon series on Romans chapter 8? The connection is found in Paul’s quotation from Psalm 44:

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:36

Psalm 44 is a “Psalm of complaint” where the Psalmist complains that God’s righteous people are suffering and need to be rescued. Implied in the appeal for a rescue is also, of course, that God would deal with the enemy. This is an appeal to the justice of God, that He would do the right thing and rescue His people. In Jesus’ day you could think of the Jews of Jerusalem being the righteous sufferers while the Gentiles from Rome are the evil oppressors. Surely when the Messiah comes he will rescue Jerusalem and destroy the Romans! However, the facts are set straight at the cross.

By the end of the week, blood has been spilled. It is not the blood of Jewish revolutionaries, nor of occupying Roman forces. It is the blood of one man, Jesus. He is the one accounted as a sheep to be slaughtered. He is the one who can appeal to innocence and the injustice of his death as the righteous sufferer of Psalm 44. He is the one who can appeal to God the Father for a rescue, and the destruction of the enemy.

Therein lies the problem. Everyone is included in that enemy; the Roman authorities granting the final word, the Roman army carrying out the deed, the Jewish authorities instigating the whole rotten affair, and the Jewish crowds shouting “crucify him, crucify him.” The saying is spot on: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) Well almost, there is one who is righteous, the one being crucified on trumped up charges, the one experiencing the culmination of hatred, the one experiencing injustice.

This is the moment in which God the Son, as the innocent sufferer, could call upon God the Father to do “the right thing,” to rescue him and destroy the enemy. Problem is, of course, that destroying the enemy would mean destroying everyone. If there is ever one moment that stands out as the moment for God to unleash his righteous anger at the world, this is it; at the cross. If there is ever a moment proving God’s righteousness in sending a flood, this is it. The flood in Noah’s day was due to man’s violence against humanity. Now at the cross humanity’s violence is turned to God Himself. Rebellion against Rome hung in the air, but we sank to our lowest low when, in our rebellion against God, Jesus hung on a cross.

Perhaps we should be nervous? The blood of Jesus is on our hands too. Would we have acted any different than the disciples in abandoning Jesus? Than Peter in denying Jesus? Than the religious leaders in seeking the death of Jesus? Than the crowds in demanding the crucifixion of Jesus? Than Pilate in acquiescing? Than the Roman solider in carrying out orders? We are no different.

So should we be nervous knowing that we are complicit in crimes against God Himself? Let us turn again to Romans 8:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Romans 8:31

But is God for us?

When we ask if God is for us, we may think of the crucifixion as overwhelming evidence of our rebellion against God. However the cross was not just our great act of rebellion, it was also God’s great act of love. Consider:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19-20

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

Satan, the accuser, may have a lot of dirt on us. Actually, not just may, he does have a lot of dirt on us. We have given him a long list of things to choose from as to why we do not deserve to be in the presence of God. However:

If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Romans 8:31-34

Satan may argue forcefully about all the reasons we do not deserve to be in the presence of God. God says in effect “I already know about all that, in fact I already paid for it.” When we are in Christ, the dirt does not stick.

When we ask if God is for us, some may point to our own suffering as evidence that maybe He is not. Paul brings us back to the facts. We measure God’s love for us, not on our suffering, but on His. We suffer because we are humans living in a broken world. He suffered because of His love for broken people.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39

Our suffering is not evidence that God does not love us. The suffering of Jesus is evidence that He does.

Feeling nervous? Because of sin, you should be. Many a person in this world should be quaking in their boots right now. However, in Christ, you needn’t. Which brings us back to where we began in Romans 8:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read more at Clarke’s blog: Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

April 1, 2017

Only One Plan

Bruxy’s book releases in May. Click the image for more details.

While I’m a huge fan of Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor of The Meeting House in Oakville just west of Toronto, Canada we’ve never included his writing here beyond a few quotations. So with the new book re(Union) due out in May, we thought this would be a good time to share his ministry with you. Click the link in the title below to read this at its source, and then take a few minutes to look around the rest of his website.

The scandal of particularity

When I was young, I wondered why Jesus didn’t come to earth as a woman (they seemed smarter to me). I also wondered why Jesus hadn’t come as an Irishman (our family is part Irish), or even as a three-toed sloth (my favorite animal). And why had he come only once, so long ago, instead of coming today and every day for a visit? Jesus coming only once, in one place, as one person, at one point in history—that just didn’t seem “fair” to me.

My dad was a gentle, gracious, and wise man. I often peppered him with my weird and wonder-full questions, and he would patiently help me think through possible answers.

“Why did Jesus not come as a woman?” I’d ask him.

“He could have,” my dad would say. “God can do anything. But men were the powerful people in that culture, as in most, and maybe Jesus came in that form in order to teach the people with power how to lay it down. Remember him teaching his disciples to wash feet? In that culture, a job like that was reserved for servants or women, who had no power. But as Jesus washed his all-male disciples’ feet, he told them they needed to learn how to wash feet too!”

“Why not an Irishman?” I’d probe.

“He could have. God can do anything. But he had already been patiently working with a group of people, the Jewish people, to teach them how to be the light of the world together. When they weren’t lighting up the world the way God wanted, Jesus came specifically to them, as one of them.”

“Why not a three-toed sloth?” I’d ask.

“He could have,” my dad would say, somehow still patient. “God can do anything. Back in the days of Moses, God became a fire in a bush and a pillar of cloud, so I’m sure he could become a three-toed sloth if he wanted to. But remember, of all creatures, we alone are made in the image and likeness of God. We were put in charge of the planet in order to take care of creation. Just think of it—through our choices, we can take care of three-toed sloths, or harm them by harming their environment. Our choices affect them in ways their choices will never affect us, just as our environmental decisions affect the lives of every species in ways that their decisions do not. We are the powerful ones in nature. But as we learned from Spider-Man, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ We are made like God, which means that we need to learn from God how to use power to love, to care, and to cultivate.”

“But why then and not now?” I’d say.

“He could have. God can do anything. But his timing does seem perfect. Back then, Roman roads had only recently made it possible for the gospel to travel far and wide with new directness. The Pax Romana (Roman peace) made it possible to travel those roads with reasonable safety. And a common language, Greek, started to be spoken among different people groups, allowing them to communicate with each other as never before. And the Romans executed people in a very bloody way—crucifixion—which would allow God to demonstrate the coming of the New Covenant and the end of all religious sacrifice to a people who saw blood as the centre of religious sacrifice. Once that was all in place, why wait another day?”

“Why not just come every day?”

“He could do that,” my dad would say, still with a patient grin. “God can do anything. In fact, he does that every day and every moment through his Holy Spirit. But Brux, if God was really going to become one of us through Jesus—I mean, really become human—then that means he doesn’t get to come every day in every place. Humans don’t live that way. Humans live one life in one place at a time. And God decided to become human just like us.”

My dad and my mom and my older sisters and Sunday school teachers and youth pastors—all of them had to put up with my many questions. And their patience paid off. I finally got it: God came to us as one of us. That’s the incarnation, and it’s central to the gospel. This idea of incarnation has profound implications. Theologians call this “the scandal of particularity.”

In becoming human, God became particular, a specific human, not just humanity as some generalized concept. And that creates particularity in time and space, gender and race. God became this and not that. God became a man and not a woman. God became a Jew and not a Gentile. God became an Israelite and not a Canadian. God became a poor person and not a rich person. God became a first-century person and not a twenty-first-century person.

The apostle Paul wrote:

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4-7).

When the time had fully come. That’s when Jesus came. As one “born under the law,” Jesus came as part of one of the world’s rule-enforcing, ritual-observing, temple-building, animal-sacrificing, blood-spilling religions—to bring an end to it all, from the inside out. Through Jesus, God came to us at just the right time, in just the right way, to say everything God had to say. Now, with religion out of the way, God pulls us close, as his children. (We are called “sons,” not to exclude women but to emphasize the equal status women have in God’s family. See, at that time, daughters had no rights. So God says, to men and women,  you are all my “sons,” to emphasize that all of us, male and female, are heirs to the love and blessing God has for his kids.)

We are no longer slaves. Before Jesus, and even now apart from Jesus, we can all end up as slaves to something, to some system of belonging, even and especially the system of religion. But we are no longer slaves. We no longer have to serve our own fragile egos, always subconsciously clamouring for the affirmation and acceptance we so desperately desire. We are now God’s children. Let it sink in: we are God’s children. And, alongside Jesus, we share in our inheritance: God’s great love for his kids, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Yes, Jesus came “once upon a time” and “once upon a place.” But today, through the Holy Spirit, we not only have God with us, but within us, at all times, and in every place. Now that you’re done reading this post, take a moment to be aware—God is with you, within you, and all around you. Take a deep breath, and receive the infinite love that is your inheritance.

s

March 5, 2017

Jesus Came to Fulfill the Law

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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by Russell Young

In speaking to those gathered at the Sermon on the Mount Jesus plainly stated, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come to fulfill them.” (Mt 5:17 NIV)

Thought needs to be given to this pronouncement since it is understood differently by different people. Some accept that Christ lived the law perfectly and having fulfilled it for himself he also fulfilled it for them. If this perception is true, confessors can rest secure that the matter of the law has been resolved. However, later in his dialogue he presented that the person who breaks the least of these laws will be least in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:19) There must remain opportunity for “believers” to break the law because no others will be in the kingdom of heaven–those who break it will suffer consequence. His teaching is that the law remains in force for people, including believers, to address. The prophet Isaiah revealed that at the end the world all humankind would be destroyed because [its people] have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. (Isa 24:5 NIV) The Lord has revealed that even at the end his commands and righteous requirements will not have ben relaxed.

Christ ‘s pronouncement was that he had come to fulfil the law. How is he to accomplish this? In the completion of the law rests God’s grace and the fulfilment of the New Covenant. The Lord was resurrected following his sacrificial offering and gave his Spirit –whom he “poured out on us generously” (Titus 3:6 NIV)–so that the law might be kept. Paul has confirmed that Christ is the Spirit. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” (2 Cor 3:17 NIV) The Lord is the Spirit and as Spirit he will fulfil the law and the prophets. It is not a fulfilment that that is achieved vicariously through the life that he lived while in the body that the Father had prepared in the womb of Mary; it is the fulfilment that comes through obedience to the Spirit as the Lord lives through the believer with that one’s consent. It is for this reason that Christ taught the necessity of obedience (Heb 5:9) and that to the end of the believer’s life. (Mt 10:22)

The freedom of which Paul spoke is from the jurisdiction of the Old Covenant (Heb 9:15) and from sins committed while under its domain. The believing one is now subject to “the law of the Spirit of life.” (Rom 8:2 NIV) The believer does not have to accomplish the law and the prophets by himself he has the enlightenment, leading, and empowerment of Christ, the Spirit, to accomplish them as he lives in the believer. Those who rebel against him, as Spirit, will be considered least in the kingdom of heaven, if indeed, they are allowed entry.

Paul taught that it is those who are led by the Spirit who are sons of God (Rom 8:14) and that those who are led by the Spirit are no longer under the law. (Gal 5:18) He also presented that “the righteous requirements of the law [are fully met] in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4) Christ came to defeat the works of Satan and is prepared to live individually and specifically for each person (believer) who will permit his life. The gospel is the provision of Christ so that humankind can “become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16 NIV)

There are implications for all of those who seek God’s eternal kingdom. They are to “[m]ake every effort to enter through the narrow door” (Lk 13:24 NIV) because many will not be able to find the kingdom of God. There is much rejoicing concerning the confessor’s redemption from the law and the eternal hope that is often presented as secured, however, redemption from the law does offer assurance of heaven but is limited to the gifting of the Spirit. (Gal 3:13─14) Redemption is release from the law and from a person’s past sins. Christ must not only indwell the believer but his life is to be lived in the one seeking to experience an eternal hope.

Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (Jn 14:6 NIV) His “life” is expressed through his sacrificial offering and through his Spirit. Sonship and freedom from the law are only the blessings of those who are prepared to allow his life. Caution has been given for the believer to commit to living death to self in order that Christ might have right to his life. That is, the worldly interests of the believer are to be cast aside and he is to cling to the Lord, to walk humbly in his sight, and to obey regardless of the demands the Lord–his sovereign-might make.

Much teaching concerning the gospel fails to honour the ministry of Christ through his Spirit; consequently, for many he will not be able to fulfill the law and their end will be destruction. Paul taught: “Do not be deceived: God will not be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8 NIV)

The fulfilment of the law and of God’s righteous requirements is to be completed through the Spirit’s ministry. “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 213 NIV) The truth of the gospel and of the fullness of the ministry of Christ needs to be proclaimed loudly in a day when the misrepresentation of God’s grace has allowed many to live as they wish, leading them into a false hope. “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 NIV; See also Rev 12:17)

Christ came to fulfill the law. His sacrificial offering, the Father’s gift of the Spirit of Christ along with his ministry, and his ministry as high priest are all expressions of God’s grace, but eternal life itself, is not. The believer’s hope rests in the ministry of Christ in him and the Lord’s fulfilment of the law for him.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young is a weekly contributor to Christianity 201 and the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

 

 

January 19, 2017

Lost Love: The Letter of Revelation to Ephesus

gnbnby Clarke Dixon

“I have some good news and I have some bad news.” Such is how we could summarize the words of Jesus to the Christians of Ephesus in the Book of Revelation. So let us begin with the good news:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. . . . this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Revelation 2:2,3,6

Works, toil, endurance, standing up to false teaching and also to bad practices. Sounds like a good report. However,there is a ‘but,’ coming. And it is a really big ‘but.’ It is something very serious, so serious that here are the consequences:

Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Revelation 2:5

What does it mean to lose the lampstand? We are told in John’s vision that “the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). In other words, the Christian community will cease to be relevant in Ephesus, there will be no church there. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

If the Christians in Ephesus do not change course there will be no lampstand in Ephesus which means no Christian witness which means no glory to God.

So what is the ‘but,’ the bad news that needs fixing?

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4 (NASB)

What does this mean exactly? At first reading, it certainly seems as if the Christians in Ephesus are good at expressing their love for God. Remember they are commended for their works, toil, endurance, and standing up to false prophets and bad practices alike. On the surface of it, it looks as if they are expressing a great love for God. In fact it seems they are very religious about expressing their devotion to God. And maybe that is the clue. 

The Christian journey can sometimes look like this: We fall in love with God. In fact we become religious about expressing our LOVE for God. Then we become RELIGIOUS about expressing our LOVE for God. Then we can become VERY RELIGIOUS about expressing our love for God. Then we just become VERY RELIGIOUS. And we have left our first love. We have replaced it with religion.

We can leave our first love in two ways:

The first way we can leave our first love: by replacing love with religion as the basis of our relationship with God.

There is an easy way to tell when this is happening. We enter a church, or enter into prayer, and say, “look at me, Lord. Look at how good I am. Look at my works, toil, endurance, and how I stand up to false prophets and bad practices.” We know religion has replaced love when we find ourselves at the center of it all. We have no capacity to impress God. Nor do we need to. When God’s love is at the center rather than our religiosity, we are free to enter into church, or into prayer, and say, “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.” We enter into church, or into prayer, not because we have a chance of impressing Him, but because He loves us. After all, does it not say in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosever is really religious shall not perish but shall have eternal life?” You know that is not how it goes! It is “whoseover believeth in Him, or better, whosoever trusts in Him.

The basis of our relationship with God rests first of all on His love and the fact that He gave Himself for us. We leave our first love and trade it in for mere religion when we trust, not in the love of Jesus, but in our own efforts. If the Christians in Ephesus don’t get this right, they cannot be a lampstand, and their Christian witness will be lost to the misfortune of the people of Ephesus. It will be to the misfortune of our towns and cities today if we replace love with religion as the basis of our relationship with God.

The second way we can leave our first love: by replacing love with religion as the basis of our relationship with others.

You can see the challenge the Christians in Ephesus faced. They were in a very Roman world with very Roman practices, which were very far from Christian practices. There were huge pressures to cave. It is commendable that they have not. They are to be commended for enduring, and standing up to false teaching and bad practices. However, the easiest way to endure when all the world around you is putting pressure on you to cave is to crawl into one.  Crawl into a cave and disconnect yourself from all that pressure. Hunker in a bunker. There is such at thing today as “hunker in a bunker” Christians. There we are free from pressure and temptation. We are free in a bunker, sheltered from the world around us to excel in being religious. Religion becomes the main point of connection with our friends, and the main point of disconnection from everyone else. We can excel at being religious in, but we cannot love the world around us from, a bunker. We are called to love!

Study the life of Paul and you will see that despite all the pressures on him, he never hunkered down in a bunker. He rubbed shoulders with anyone and everyone, letting his light shine. Jesus rubbed shoulders with anyone and everyone, letting His light shine. It is good to do those commendable things the Christians in Ephesus were doing; not countenancing evil, weeding out the false prophets, enduring. But it is not good to become isolated and a closed community. If the Christians in Ephesus do not get this right, they cannot be a lampstand, and their Christian witness will be lost to the misfortune of the people of Ephesus. It will be to the misfortune of our towns and cities today if we don’t keep love as the basis of our relationship with others.

Jesus shows the way:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: Revelation 2:1

Jesus is the example of love, walking among the the seven gold lampstands, a living presence of love. In everything he has done and everything he does, he gives us an example, not of what religion looks like, but love. May we be more like Jesus, and not so much like the Ephesians.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted


Read today’s and other writing by Clarke Dixon at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

December 16, 2016

Priests, Kings, & Prophets: How the Old Testament Points to Christmas

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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bible-story-arc

by Clarke Dixon

From the series “The Christmas Story From Beginning to End,” we have thus far seen how Creation and The Fall both point to Christmas. After two weeks we are still no further than Genesis chapter 3! To speed things up let us consider the rest of the Old Testament. The presence of three different types of people within the Old Testament point to the advent of Jesus. These are priests, kings, and prophets.

Priests point to the coming of Jesus.

Though we sometimes hear of priests in Genesis, it is really in Exodus that we have the priesthood formally established along with instructions for the Tabernacle and ritual holiness. So what was the priesthood for? Hebrews 5:1 gives a useful summary:

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Hebrews 5:1

Because God is holy and people are not, the priests were to be the “go-betweens” between God and His people. Through sacrifices they would point to rescue from sin. However, there were two problems. First, the priests themselves were sinful. There were all kinds of ritual regulations to help the priests be holy people, set apart from the rest. However, no matter how holy they made themselves, they could always still relate more fully to sinful humanity than to holy God. The second problem was that they kept dying. In other words, the problem of sin kept persisting through every generation. Then Jesus is born:

and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21.

Jesus can truly deal with sin in a way that no priest ever could. He had the credentials including being sinless. This was in contrast to all priests, but especially the High Priest who would be involved in his execution. Jesus also offered the only sacrifice that could be truly effective. He offered himself.

For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. Hebrews 7:26-27

The priests of the Old Testament filled many important functions, but the greatest was to point to the coming into the world of a better High Priest. And an effective sacrifice for sin.

Kings point to the coming of Jesus.

God’s people did not always have a king. But they asked for one:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 1 Samuel 8:4-7

Up to this point, Israel had enjoyed something that no other nation could boast of; God was their king. However they wanted a king “like other nations.” This would be be like a teenager of a well-to-do family who, in wanting a flip phone like what their friends have, is willing to trade in their iPhone, MacBook Pro, Ferrari, parent’s home, and their parents to get one. It would be a ridiculous trade. God gives the go-ahead but with the warning that having a human king is not always going to be rosy. Though an imperfect man, David was a good king who was promised by God to have his descendants on the throne forever. As you look at the history of God’s people, you see that this does not go very well as so many of the kings, even when descended from David, were so incredibly awful. Perhaps the worst king of all was Herod, the king at the time of Jesus’ birth. He was ruthless and to make matters worse, was not even a legitimate king, not being a descendant of David.

You can imagine how Herod must have felt when the Magi came to him and asked  “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) This must have stung as Herod was not legitimately born king of the Jews, but was propped up as a puppet king by the Romans. He was furious and ordered that all the infants of Bethlehem be killed. A rotten king indeed. At Christmas, God in being incarnate is effectively saying “You asked for a king, but I love you to much to leave you at the mercy of ruthless kings. I am and will be your king, a merciful king, a good king.”

6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Jesus went on to be that good king, that good shepherd who, far from destroying lives like Herod, lays down his life for the sake of his sheep. The kings of Israel had a spotty history of sometimes being good and sometimes being downright atrocious. Whether good or bad, their very existence pointed to the coming into the world of a better king, the true King of kings and Lord of lords, God Himself.

Prophets point to the coming of Jesus.

You cannot read the story of Christmas in the Gospel of Matthew without noticing that Matthew really wants you to understand how Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus.

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Matthew 1:22)  . . . for so it has been written by the prophet (Matthew 2:4)  . . . Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah (Matthew 2:17) . . . so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled. (Matthew 2:23)

But does Matthew just want us to think of these specific prophecies being fulfilled at Christmas? No, he mentions these as a way of alerting us that something far greater is going on. The great hope that God would keep His covenant promises, that God would intervene, is at hand. This is not just the fulfillment of a few scattered prophecies, but rather the hope of the entire Old Testament. As the writer put it in “O Little Town of Bethlehem;” “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

In conclusion:

  • The presence of priests in the Old Testament points to the need for a rescue from sin. The advent of Jesus marks the coming of the great Rescuer. Are you being rescued? Do you know Jesus as Saviour?
  • The presence of kings in the history of God’s people points to the need for godly leadership. The advent of Jesus marks the coming of the most godly leader you can think of, God Himself! Are you following Him? Do you know Jesus as Lord?
  • The prophets of the Old Testament shine a spotlight on the future. The advent of Jesus marks the beginning of that future. Does your future shine brightly?

Get Clarke’s posts as they appear on his blog before they appear here. Follow @clarkedixon for updates

November 2, 2016

Finding the Place of Joy

Having just gone through a season of intense stress and anxiety, there were a few times awhile back when I would have been heard to say, “I want my joy back.” This past weekend, someone prayed for me and not knowing that specifically, prayed for joy to return.

Today we’re paying a return visit to Morgan Murphy who blogs at Look Upon The Light and just returned to writing after a long absence. Click the title below to read all of this at its source.

Fighting for Joy

At face value, this fallen world we live in is difficult. Every morning we wake up to more tragedy, trauma, and terrorism than we care to ever really hear about…especially when it becomes personal. Abiding in joy is obfuscated when we are hurt, broken, and rattled to our core. But the solution lies in doing some foundation work. Allow me to bring up an old Sunday school lesson about the wise man. We’re going back to the last parable of the Sermon on the Mount:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” Matthew 24-25, emphasis mine

Jesus essentially draws a dividing line between himself and any other foundation we might choose for ourselves. Though this parable is at its core about the proving evidence of true belief, I’m digging a little deeper and allowing it to teach me about joy.

The basic premise of joy is that it is not based on circumstance. It’s a deep confidence that, as Donald Campbell says, rests in God’s sovereign control of all things. I don’t know about you but when I read about pouring rain, rising flood waters, and beating winds…I see some pretty deleterious circumstances. I don’t see joy. But then I go back to the words “and does them” and ponder what this means to me in this fight. Where is joy in all of this?

Recall James 5:22 which says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” If the Word is Jesus (see John 1:1), and Jesus has and is giving me daily instruction, then I infer joy is found in obedience. Stay with me on this because I believe it’s the strategy we need for success in this fight.

Biblical joy comes from the Greek word “chara” which is a feeling of inner gladness, delight, or rejoicing. And it’s worth noting that pretty much every time it’s mentioned in the New Testament, the joy is based not on what happens but what is. In other words, like we said before, joy is not based on circumstance. It’s rooted in spiritual realities. Our world around us can literally can be crumbling, but that can never change the fact that Jesus left his throne to come save us, and in doing so, conquered death, hell, and His grave. The exact Spirit that did this is the exact Spirit that roots itself in the hearts of all believers. That, my friends, is where we find joy. We find it in the confidence of Jesus and in living out our stories–as messy, broken, and tragic as they may be. It’s why we have to know that this world is definitely not our home.

I encourage you in your fight for joy to go straight to this source of Joy that we have identified: Jesus and His Word. Read it, study it, meditate on it…take it all in. That’s the best practical advice that I can give you. One of the best quotes I have come across in my research is from John Piper:

When the powers of darkness are arrayed against you, and aim to destroy your joy forever, nothing is more precious than to have the Word of God ready for the battle. The fight for joy is not for the unarmed.

We can now see why this really is a battle. The enemy will do whatever he can to steal joy from our hearts. Just look at Ephesians 6:11: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” That particular section of Ephesians 6 is about putting on the whole armor of God…and without that armor, we are setting ourselves up for failure. He really is our only chance at victory.

My verse to memorize for October was Romans 15:13. It says, “May the God of all hope fill you with joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Did you get that it’s not by our own power? Stop fighting on your own. The enemy has really been trying to steal my joy lately, but I’ve determined to make it part of my story that I didn’t give up the fight. Even on the days I wanted to give up! As I told my friend recently, I think it really just all comes down to when our feet hit the floor first thing in the morning, who are going to believe? We make the choice. The world, our self, the enemy, or the King? Because as I’ve found, He is joy.

So where is joy in this broken world? It can only be found in Jesus. Don’t rely on emotion. Happiness is fleeting. It’s temporary and superficial. But joy? It sustains you. It roots you. It frees you…

Faced with terrifying and unwanted change? Seek Jesus.
Stressed because of a situation that won’t go away? Seek Jesus.
Lost someone or something and don’t know how to go on? Seek Jesus.
Faced with an unexpected tragedy? Seek Jesus.
Or just simply overwhelmed by the struggles of daily life? Seek Jesus.

…because Beloved, He really is our only way to get off the hook. He is always worth it, and He will never leave you out to dry. He promises that we find Him when we seek with all of our heart (Jeremiah 29:13). And in the search, in the fight, in the battle, He gifts us Himself–and in turn, Joy. Abiding, comforting, invigorating Joy. There is so much more to be said about joy–only the surface has been skimmed. But it’s enough to get you going in the right direction. So rest assured in these foundational truths today. In the mean time? Don’t give up. Fight on. Be obedient. Hang in there: Joy is to be found, and you just might be surprised by it.

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit… 1 Thessalonians 1:6 

April 27, 2016

Resurrection: The Big Picture

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:58 pm
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Clarke Dixon continues his Resurrection Facts series. To read them all, go to April 2016 entries at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, or for this post at source, click here.

•••by Clarke Dixon

When we are being honest, we may be more easily identified as Canadians than Christians. The passion of the typical Christian in Canada just does not seem to be of the same caliber as that of the apostles we meet in the pages of the New Testament. And if the Christians in Corinth in New Testament times were being honest, they would seem to be more easily identified as being Greek than Christian. As we learn in 1st Corinthians 15 their theology was influenced by Greek thinking, especially with regards to the afterlife. Their lacking theology could and would cause a lack in living for Christ:

Do not be deceived:
“Bad company ruins good morals.”
Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more; for some people have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:33-34)

In contrast, there is no doubt about Paul’s allegiance, passion, and priority: “And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:30-31a) How is it Paul is so recognizably representing Christ than his birthplace,Tarsus, his religion, Jewish, or his citizenship, Roman, while the Christians at Corinth seem more Greek than anything? How is it Paul is passionate and we are often not? One reason is that he, and others like him, have a bigger and better picture of reality. They have a solid knowledge that Jesus is risen from the dead and that there will be a resurrection to life of anyone who is in Christ. That hope drives Paul to choose the dangerous and difficult path rather than an easier one:

If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)

Paul, the other apostles, and many, many Christians down through the centuries have risked their lives, given their lives, lived their lives for Jesus, and shared the Gospel everywhere they went because they had a bigger and better picture of the reality of God’s love and eternal life. Paul in 1st Corinthians 15 was encouraging the Christians at Corinth to see this bigger picture and if we feel more Canadian than Christian, perhaps we ought to see it also. Here are a few things to think about:

Our vision of the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of eternal life. Paul’s vision of eternal life put his experiences of life in perspective: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) The notion of glory here is not to be missed. Paul speaks of this glory in what he says immediately before:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17)

Some people think the afterlife of the Christian consists of being a disembodied immortal soul sitting in clouds playing a harp, which of course sounds kind of boring and lacking in glory. That concept is not Biblical. The Bible points us to relationship. We are children of God, and remarkably co-heirs with Christ. We deserve to be neither. All attempts to describe what God has prepared for His children invariably fall short. We simply do not have the language yet to describe glory. Sadly most attempts to describe eternal life are missing God Himself, as if being home for Christmas is more about enjoying the view from the front porch than in enjoying the presence of loved ones.

Our vision of God with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. The picture of disembodied souls flying around captures neither the capability nor desire of God. Indeed such a picture does not even require thinking of God’s presence, many people believing in their souls flying away to some sort of afterlife at death with no idea of God being a part of it. And it does not capture the grand span of Biblical theology. We can make it sound like God is on some sort of plan B, disembodied souls in eternity, because He could not pull off plan A spoken of in the first two chapters of Genesis. He is still on plan A and we look forward to bodily existence in the presence of God following our resurrection.

There is a wonderful thought of being reunited with loved ones in the afterlife. I once heard a pastor powerfully give an illustration of the death of a loved one being like a person taking a journey across a river. We are sad as we say our goodbyes, but upon arriving on the other shore, there is joy as loved ones are reunited. A beautiful illustration but with one problem. God was missing! And at funerals, even Christian ones, God is often is left out of the picture. We need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. To be in His presence will be astounding, more astounding, in fact, than being reunited with loved ones.

Our vision of Jesus with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of who Jesus is. Some who would call themselves Christian would qualify that by saying that Jesus was a great teacher, but just that, and being a Christian means being inspired by his great example and teaching. Jesus therefore has nothing to do with any kind of afterlife we might experience. The New Testament points to a far more divine picture of who Jesus is and what he accomplished. However, skeptics say this results from an evolving picture in the minds of Christians between the events of Easter and the writing of the New Testament documents. People’s memories would have changed they say. Indeed I recently heard a podcast where this was claimed along with appeals to an experiment where people had poor memories of the speeches of American Presidents. I was surprised at the comparison. There is no comparison! Jesus was unforgettable. His teaching astonished. His miracles astounded. His death and resurrection caused people, sinners and skeptics alike, to pick up their crosses and follow. He was unforgettable. The apostles were not changing their stories about Jesus, they were changing their lives for Jesus. They were willing to die, having a bigger and better picture of eternal life, having a bigger and better picture of Jesus and his role in the hope of eternal life.

Our vision of salvation may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God’s grace. Some think there will be no salvation. Some think that salvation can be earned, as if it is an easy thing for us to span the gulf that exists between a sinful creature and Holy Creator. Some think salvation is a right: “You created me, you owe eternal life to me.” Because of our sin, God does not owe us another minute of life either now or in the future. Salvation is God doing something for us we could never do for ourselves, something we do not deserve. There is far more to say about it, but when we truly understand God’s amazing grace, we sing the hymns of the faith with far more passion than than we can muster for our national anthem. When we grasp the depth of His grace, we will want to be known first as Christians, second as Canadians.

If we are lacking passion, it may be because we do not have a clear enough picture of eternal life, God, Jesus, and salvation. Like the Christians of Corinth we may want to trade in a theology shaped by society for the bigger and better picture we get in the Bible.

 

 

April 14, 2016

Where Do You Go?

Just a few weeks ago we looked at Psalm 1. I may have mentioned before that it’s one of several passages I use when I wake up in the middle of the night and want to empty my thoughts of all other distractions so I can get back to sleep.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The first four lines above form verse 1. In the language of the King James (and a few other versions) we see three different physical postures:

  • walks
  • stands
  • sits

While the language is metaphorical, as I thought about this, it occurred to me that there were three pieces of advice I could take away from this in terms of my relationship to the ungodly:

  • I don’t want to go where they go (the path that sinners tread, NRSV)
  • I don’t want to know what they know (follow their advice, NLT; or their ridiculing of Christ, AMP)
  • I don’t want my life to show what they show (living like sinners, ERV)

I couldn’t help at this point be reminded of a song we sang when I was a child, that was based on John 14:6

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

We would sing the first sentence of the song twice (adding ‘that’s what Jesus said.’) and then a short bridge:

Without the way there is no going
Without the truth there is no knowing
Without the life there is no showing.

The similarity to me was striking. In the Psalms verse, keeping bad company shows itself in a life by following the wicked (or ungodly, or evil ones, or sinners; various translations); while following Jesus also shows itself in ways we can express in physical action verbs: going, knowing and showing. (Full disclosure: We would sing ‘living’ on the last line, but later on I heard it done with ‘showing’ to complete the rhyme scheme.)

Now in my own life, I don’t physically follow the path of the wicked. My feet don’t take me into places I shouldn’t be. I don’t take the counsel of the wicked.

Or do I?

It occurred to me as I considered this that the physical act of “going where they go” isn’t all this verse is saying to us in 2016, because while we live in the physical world, we spend a lot of our time in the virtual world.

How much of time is spent online, and once there, how much is my values system being shaped by the broader culture?

Too much.

At the Together for the Gospel conference this morning (while I was watching the live stream) one of the speakers spoke about how much of the church’s value system and definition of what’s right and what’s wrong is being shaped by the dominant culture. This is true of the church as a whole, as well as local churches.

By the way, the phrase “standing in the way of…” which the older translations use has shifted in meaning today, where it has more the sense of “standing in someone’s way” i.e. blocking or preventing from what they want to do.

I would argue that today we do actually need to “stand in the way” of sinners, in the sense we need to put our hands up and declare their philosophy and values aren’t welcome in our spiritual community or even in our thoughts. We need to — perhaps even physically — have a sign on our computer that says, “No Access;” which is directed to the forces of this world that desire to control our attitudes and actions.

Some of the best teaching moments Jesus had with his disciples happened while they were “on the way” to some next destination. That’s the way we want to be found in, the way of Jesus.


For all translations of Psalm 1:1, click this link.

 

 

 

 

March 26, 2016

Jesus Aims Directly Toward Jerusalem

When the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.
~Luke 9:51

Matthew Henry writes:

1. There was a time fixed for the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus, and he knew well enough when it was, and had a clear and certain foresight of it, and yet was so far from keeping out of the way that then he appeared most publicly of all, and was most busy, knowing that his time was short.

2. When he saw his death and sufferings approaching, he looked through them and beyond them, to the glory that should follow; he looked upon it as the time when he should be received upinto glory (1 Tim. 3:16), received up into the highest heavens, to be enthroned there. Moses and Elias spoke of his death as his departure out of this world, which made it not formidable; but he went further, and looked upon it as his translation to a better world, which made it very desirable. All good Christians may frame to themselves the same notion of death, and may call it their being received up, to be with Christ where he is; and, when the time of their being received up is at hand, let them lift up their heads, knowing that their redemption draws nigh.

3. On this prospect of the joy set before him, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem the place where he was to suffer and die. He was fully determined to go, and would not be dissuaded; he went directly to Jerusalem, because there now his business lay, and he did not go about to other towns, or fetch a compass, which if he had done, as commonly he did, he might have avoided going through Samaria. He went cheerfully and courageously there, though he knew the things that should happen to him there. He did not fail nor was discouraged, but set his face as a flint, knowing that he should be not only justified, but glorified (Isa. 50:7), not only not run down, but received up. How should this shame us for, and shame us out of, our backwardness to do and suffer for Christ! We draw back, and turn our faces another way from his service who steadfastly set his face against all opposition, to go through with the work of our salvation.

This reminded me of another passage:

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
~Hebrews 12:2

Again, Matthew Henry writes:

What it was that supported the human soul of Christ under these unparalleled sufferings; and that was the joy that was set before him. He had something in view under all his sufferings, which was pleasant to him; he rejoiced to see that by his sufferings he should make satisfaction to the injured justice of God and give security to his honor and government, that he should make peace between God and man, that he should seal the covenant of grace and be the Mediator of it, that he should open a way of salvation to the chief of sinners, and that he should effectually save all those whom the Father had given him, and himself be the first-born among many brethren. This was the joy that was set before him.

While there are so many theological depths in this idea of Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem, I have often found on a very practical level that this concept — and that exact phrase — has helped me when I must face an unpleasant situation.


If you’d like to go deeper today, there is much exposition and application in this 1985 article by Ray Stedman; check out He Endured The Cross.


 

 

December 7, 2015

Have I Committed the Unpardonable Sin?

The question of “What is ‘the unpardonable sin?'” comes up often in church life. Many of you reading this have complete peace on this issue and don’t really feel you have anything to worry about, but would be at an absolute loss to explain it to someone who asked you. In part, we really don’t have a view of sin that goes beyond simple definitions, to see it from the point of view of a God who is full of both justice and grace; to see the things that grieve the heart of God.

This article by Patrick Hawthorne came recommended; it’s from his blog Serving Grace Ministries. Click the title below to read it at source (with comments) and then click “home” to view other articles.

Did I Commit the Unpardonable Sin?

The unpardonable sin!  Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit…  We read about it, but do we honestly understand it?  Is the unpardonable sin, a single sin by which there is no forgiveness?  Or is it, in actuality, a collection of sins stemming from an overall attitude, a willful blindness to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit?

The argument might be made, in my case anyways, that if the unpardonable sin were a onetime with no means of forgiveness sin then I should be found guilty.  In my younger and more stupid days, I had quite a few conversations with God in which I questioned His very existence.  In anger, I spoke harsh things to Him; I vilified Him which is exactly what blasphemy means.  Yet, here I am writing to you as a testimony to his His goodness and faithfulness.  Had I committed the unpardonable sin, I feel confident that I would be as the devil, completely void of any feelings of love towards my Heavenly Father.  Even so, what does the Word say about the subject?

In Mark chapter 3 we have the account of Scribes coming out of Jerusalem and confronting Jesus.  Seeing, yet belittling the miracles done before their very eyes, they mocked Jesus claiming that His healing powers were from Beelzebub.  Out of ignorance for their religious views, they made the claim that the power by which Jesus performed the miracles was unclean.  In other words, they likened the Holy Spirit to Satan. Notice the response of Jesus to their ignorance.

“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation.”  (Mark 3:28-29)

By mocking Jesus and claiming that the miracles He performed were through the power of the devil, they were in essence mocking the Holy Spirit whom Jesus received real power.  But, did they commit the unpardonable sin? To answer this, look back at verse 29.  Jesus says, “But he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, BUT IS SUBJECT to eternal condemnation.  Jesus did not condemn them at that moment but let them know they were on very shaky grounds if they continued on their current path.

So, what can we make of the unpardonable sin?  Is it a onetime ordeal, or is it a progressive attitude?  It is my personal belief that the unpardonable sin is a progressive attitude whereby the offender grieves the Holy Spirit to such a degree that He forever withdraws His convicting power.  Without His convicting power, there can be neither forgiveness nor repentance.

If you are reading this and have been concerned that you have committed the unpardonable sin, rest assured that you have not.  The mere fact that you are concerned indicates that the Holy Spirit is very active in your life and He is trying to maneuver you to a closer relationship with the Father.  Be blessed.

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