Christianity 201

June 21, 2022

Calming Words

Between 2012 and 2014, Stephen Altrogge appeared here four times. We decided to look at what he posted more recently at The Blazing Center and found this scripture medley from March of this year. Click the header below to read this where it first appeared.

22 Scriptures About Peace To Calm Your Soul

The world can be a really tough place sometimes. It seems like every day there is another difficult circumstance or trial can send us into a tailspin. It’s also easy to become overwhelmed by the news and all of the bad things happening in the world. But we don’t have to live in fear!

The Bible has many verses about peace that can help us find calm in the midst of chaos. In this blog post, we will explore some of those verses and learn how to apply them to our lives.

Bible Verses For Peace

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

The peace that God gives is supernatural. It transcends the difficult circumstances we are faced with and guards our hearts and minds. God doesn’t want us to be anxious about anything! Instead, we are to lift prayers to him in every situation and we will receive his peace.

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2)

We can put our trust in God and not be afraid. He is our salvation and our strength! When we are feeling anxious or stressed, we can remember that the Lord is on our side. We don’t have to live in fear when we know that God is with us.

Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. (Isaiah 43:14)

This verse is a beautiful promise from God that he will never leave us or forsake us. He will be with us always, even when we are going through difficult times. We can take comfort in knowing that we are never alone.

Bible Verses For Anxiety and Worry

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 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 8:38-39)

No matter what we are facing in this world, we can rest assured that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing we’re experiencing now and nothing that may come our way in the future. Nothing in the entire creation. Not even death itself can separate us from the love of God.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

This verse is a reminder that God will provide for us, even when it seems like everything is falling apart. He is a good father who knows our needs and wants to bless us abundantly. We can trust him to take care of us and meet our needs, no matter where we find ourselves.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:16)

In this verse, God promises that he will be with us even when life seems to be trying to drag us under like an angry river. He will be with us even when the flames of trials burn around us on every side.

Verses About Peace In Hard Times

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Isaiah 40:29)

God is the giver of strength! When we are feeling weary from life’s journey, he will give us the power to keep going. When we are weak, he will make us strong. When we have no strength, it forces us to rely on him, the only one who can give us strength.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. (Psalm 23:1-3)

This is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible, and for good reason! It is a reminder that when we put our trust in God, he will take care of us, just as a shepherd cares for his sheep. We will lack nothing because he is our shepherd and he knows what we need. He will lead us to green pastures and quiet waters where we can rest and be refreshed.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:16)

If we want to have peace in our lives, we need to keep our minds focused on God. When our minds are stayed on him, we will be able to trust him and have perfect peace, even during a storm.

Comforting Bible Verses About Peace and Strength

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

Jesus himself left us with a gift of peace when he went back to heaven. His peace is different from the kind of peace the world offers. It is a lasting peace that can only come from him. When we have his peace in our hearts, we don’t need to be afraid or anxious about anything.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (I Peter 16)

This verse is a reminder that we can cast all our anxiety on God because he cares for us. We don’t need to try to carry the burden of our worries and fears by ourselves. We can give them to God and trust that he will handle our anxieties, even if we can’t understand how.

Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us. (Isaiah 26:12)

This verse is a reminder that it is God who gives us peace and everything we have accomplished, we have only been able to do because of him. We can’t take credit for any of the good things in our lives, because they all come from him.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

This verse reminds us that no matter where we are in life, God has a plan for us. His plans are always good, even when we can’t see how they could possibly work out. He wants to prosper us and give us hope for the future.

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

This is an invitation from Jesus to come to him when we are feeling weary. He doesn’t want us to try to carry our burdens by ourselves. He wants to give us rest. We can find a peace in him that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:17)

Even when we are walking through the darkest times in our lives, God is still with us. He will comfort us and give us the strength to keep going. The only reason we can be free from fear is that we know God is walking alongside us in the dark.

Scriptures To Help You Trust God

The Lord is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life–of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:14)

We don’t need to be afraid of anything because we have the Lord on our side. He is our light and salvation. He is the stronghold of our lives. There is nothing that can come against us that he can’t protect us from.

You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. (Psalm 18:28)

No matter how dark our lives may seem, God can always turn it into light. He is the one who keeps our lamps burning. We can trust him to lead us out of the darkness and into his perfect light.

He will not let your foot slip–he who watches over you will not slumber; (Psalm 121:11)

We can trust God to watch over us and protect us. He is always awake and aware of what is going on in our lives. We can rest assured that he will never let us slip and fall. Even if it feels like we are slipping, God has a firm grip on us.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:14)

When we make God our dwelling place, we can find a peace and rest that can only come from him. He is our refuge and fortress, a shield that cannot be shaken or overpowered. We can trust him to keep us safe and protected from the evils of this world.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:17)

When we seek the Lord, he will answer us. He will deliver us from our fears and give us the peace that we need. The key is that we need to seek him. We can’t be passive when we experience fear. We must run to him.

God’s Word For Fear

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:12)

In the midst of our chaos, we need to remember that God is still on his throne. He is in control and everything is going according to his plan. We can find peace in knowing that he is sovereign and will be exalted in the end.

He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. (Isaiah 40:28)

God is never tired or weary. He knows everything and there is nothing that he doesn’t understand. We can find peace in knowing that we have a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing.

 

June 17, 2022

Christ’s Sufferings Were for the Benefit of Others

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to Esau Moraes, a Brazilian currently who has served with Youth With A Mission. He writes in Portuguese and then produces an English translation of each devotional. Click the header which follows to see where this first appeared, and if you have friends who speak Portuguese, tell them about his website.

[For this devotional in Portuguese, click here.]

Stand Firm!

Longsuffering.

According to the dictionary, it is the virtue of firmly supporting setbacks for the benefit of others. Patience and resignation with which the difficulties of life are endured.

The Bible narrates, in Luke 23, the painful process of condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus. He was falsely accused, ridiculed, mocked, punished, surrendered to the will of men, insulted, and finally executed.

It is impressive, however, the longsuffering with which Christ endured all these sufferings. Being innocent, he patiently went through each stage with firmness for the benefit of others. And who were these others? You and I!

I wonder where Jesus got the strength to endure such adversity. I find the answer in the very words of the crucified Christ.

When they came to the place called Skull, there they crucified him with the criminals, one on his right hand and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:33,34)

In the hour of agony, Jesus cried out to the Father to forgive His executors. And the same He did in His last breath on the cross, when He no longer had human strength.

Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. When he had said this, he expired. (Luke 23:46)

Until the last moment, we see Christ turning to the Father. What, then, will be our response to the setbacks and difficulties of life?

I invite you today to look to the example of Jesus and cry out to the Father to love and forgive those who have hurt you; to overcome the challenges in your marriage; to pursue that job that seems to require more than you are able to do.

In the midst of hardship, stand firm! Exercise longsuffering, which is also part of the fruit of the spirit. And, remember, you don’t have to do it alone. You have a Father ready to hear your cry, you just need to call Him!

June 10, 2022

“The Savior of All… Especially Believers”

For many months now I’ve tried to be extremely faithful in making the NIV Bible App on my phone the first thing my eyes read each morning. Yesterday morning however, the wording in 1 Timothy 4:10 stopped me in my tracks.

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

In my waking state, I thought perhaps that this was a verse that shows preference to the members of God’s family. For example consider, Galatians 6:10.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

In our business, which deals more than most with Christian commercial enterprises — in this case Christian publishers and book distributors — this is been the guiding policy of our bill-paying (accounts payable) strategy. We try to prioritize our brothers and sisters based on the above words in Galatians.

But clearly the verse in 1 Timothy was more loaded than that. Comparing the many English translations of this verse on BibleGateway.com there was an almost 100% consistency.

  • God is the savior of all people
  • Especially those who believe

I’m sure this verse is in the toolkit of those who believe in unlimited atonement, which is the doctrine that when Jesus died, his sacrifice was high enough, wide enough, deep enough, big enough, etc., to cover the sin of all the world, including those who might not ultimately choose to accept his offer of salvation. This doctrine stands in contrast to limited atonement which is the doctrine that the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary was sufficient only for those who are ultimately chosen, or who are called the elect and who, presented with the offer of salvation, cannot refuse.

The difference in those two doctrines is like a cord which runs down the center of Christianity placing people in one of the two tribes, although, as I type this, I realize there might be readers who are thinking, ‘What’s the big deal.’ If that’s you, God bless you!

Only one translation on Bible Gateway offered a significantly different rendering, and that was the classic Living Bible (not to be confused with the NLT) which reads,

…for our hope is in the living God who died for all, and particularly for those who have accepted his salvation.

Different wording (in a verse where all others are so uniform) but the same impact, and the same implications regarding unlimited atonement.

The website BibleRef.com offers two important insights. Rather than quote it directly, I’ll just highlight:

  • Paul’s words to Timothy are not promoting the idea of what we today call universalism. This is the idea that in the end, everyone inherits eternal life.
  • Rather, he might be said to be contrasting those redeemed under the Old Covenant (or simply “the law”) and those receiving atonement through Christ’s death on the cross (and the resurrection). But having made the distinction, he draws the two groups together.

The website KnowingJesus.com offers this:

…Because God provided adequate provision for the salvation of every single man, woman and child, by faith.. Paul can legitimately call the Lord Jesus Christ, “the Saviour of all men.’ Christ’s death on the cross paid the redemption price for the sin of the whole of humanity – so that whosoever believes on Him will not perish but have everlasting life…

…Paul tells us that: Jesus is the Saviour of all men – especially those who believe. But how sobering to realise that although His death had the capability to save everyone, not all will accept His offer of free salvation. Although Christ is the POTENTIAL Saviour for all men, He is the ACTUAL Saviour for those who truly trust in Him alone, by grace through faith…

[You’re encouraged to click the above link and read the full article.]

That’s two commentaries. I should say that there was another one, which we have actually used here on previous occasions, which dared to say that the phrase, “Savior of all…” was simply not true in practice. Yes, they used the phrase, “not true.” Another one suggested that it meant that he is the Savior of all people in the sense of people of all nations. I’m not sure how they arrived at that.

Curiously, The NET Bible with Notes seems to prefer the idea that “Savior of all” simply means “both men and women,” an idea I did not see expressed in the other commentaries I examined…

…This verse is challenging, and the lack of alternative renderings in other English translations suggest that we must accept it and, with fear and trembling, try to work out its meaning. I make no declaration that we’ve resolved this today, but encourage you to “search the scriptures” for yourself, and if you have any thoughts, feel free to leave a comment on the blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 8, 2022

As Sure as Tribulation Arrives, Restoration Will Come

George Whitten is the editor of Worthy Devotions which is part of a multi-media ministry to which we paying a return visit today. Click the title to read this where it first appeared, and then take a few minutes to browse the site.

Seek Him now, and Don’t Forget about the Restoration!

Deut 4:30-31 When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice;(For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.

We’re hearing a lot of talk lately, on the internet and elsewhere, about the “End of Days”. The Hebrew phrase, “acharit hayamim”, often translated, “latter days” refers to the “end of days, or “last days”, mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, and refers to a critical period late in human history which is characterized by a great “pandemic” crisis and an ensuing panoramic recovery.

First used in Deuteronomy 4:30, quoted above, “acharit hayamim” entails a prophecy of “tribulation” which eventuates in God’s people turning back to seek Him with all their hearts, bringing about their restoration.

This theme of “tribulation” and “restoration” may be the most significant in all of scripture. The above passage, written to the people of Israel, prophetically encompasses their entire history and eventual recovery, salvation, and Kingdom restoration.

At the present moment, we may well be focused on the “tribulation” part of “acharit hayamim”. Yeshua (Jesus) prophesied specifically that famines, pestilences, and earthquakes would precede His coming, and were but the “beginnings of sorrows” [Matthew 24].

At this very moment many of us may be trembling at these developments and the “doom and gloom” which they portend…yet might we miss the significant fact that both testaments predicted exactly what we are seeing? The sovereignty, omniscience, and revelation of the Creator have been downloaded to humanity through the Scriptures, clearly pointing to His existence and redemptive purpose.

There lies our opportunity and blessing. Yeshua, who knows all things from the beginning to the end, revealed all the relevant details of the “acharit hayamim” (Last Days). Why?… so that we might quake in terror as they begin to transpire? But He says, “…likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” [Matthew 24:33]…the promise of His return!

And, that is where our focus must remain. Our God will restore all things, both for Israel and for us according to the covenants He has made….when He returns! Restoration is the unequivocal promise of Heaven. The “tribulation”, “beginning of sorrows”, famine, pestilence, earthquakes, WHATEVER!…. All these are signs, portents, and even promises, that our God is real, true, and utterly faithful, and we must declare, encourage, and stand in the knowledge of Him. The troubles themselves are a powerful testimony of the Messiah’s identity, His redemption, and His promises. So, if the days are evil, make the most of the time! These are days of tremendous opportunity. Remember His promise of restoration!

June 7, 2022

Eyes on the Problem or Eyes on the Master?

Today it’s a delight to introduce you to Lisa, a mother of four who became a widow far too soon, who has been writing since 2013 at the colorful website I Am Trusting God. Clicking the devotional title which follows next will take you to where these thoughts first appeared.

What if walking on water wasn’t the point of the story… What if it was….

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

-Luke 8:22–25, ESV

When I was reading Luke 8:22–25, this morning, two verses stood out:

  1. “They were filling with water and were in danger” (v23).
  2. “Where is your faith” (v25).

It is interesting how you can read the same passage many times, and never notice a particular verse. And then suddenly it will jump out at you, like you’ve never seen it before.

I have read Luke 8:22–25 many times. I have also listened to it preached about, watched a movie depicting it, and sang a song about it. I have also almost, as I talk about below, read a book about it. And yet, I don’t ever remember seeing or hearing the words “they were in danger.”

My impression was always that even though they saw the storm they were never in any real danger because Jesus was in the boat. But it says, “they were filling with water and were in danger.” I don’t know about you, but even thinking about the word sends my heart, and mind racing.

But there’s Jesus sleeping. The exact opposite of what you would think somebody would do when a boat is filling with water.

Why was he doing this? Warren Wiersbe answers this question, before asking another, Jesus certainly knew that the storm was coming, yet He went to sleep in the ship. This fact alone should have encouraged the disciples not to be afraid. What was their problem? [1]

Usually the teachings about this passage focuses on the actions of the disciples. They were afraid. They went to wake Jesus. They didn’t get out of the boat.

But let’s think about what Mr. Wiersbe said, Jesus certainly knew the storm was coming, and he went to sleep in this ship.

Jesus knew the storm was coming and he knew what their response would be, but that did not cause him to lose any sleep.

I remember hearing about a popular book, written about this passage, titled If you want to walk on water you’ve got to get out of the boat. I loved the title, and immediately wanted to buy it. Though somehow, I never got around to it.

In thinking about this passage today I’m starting to wonder if walking on water is the point of the story.

I hear a few intakes of breaths… but just go with me on this.

They were the disciples of Jesus, the one who slept in the face of danger. They were the disciples of Jesus, who himself, said of them, “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher” (Matthew 10:25).

They were to be like Jesus, but in the face of danger they forgot.

But what if they didn’t?

Just imagine how impactful the story would have been if instead of trying to do something about their problem, they kept their gaze on Jesus? What about if instead of coming to him in a panic, yelling at him, they went to him and stood at his feet and remembered who He was?

Jesus was sleeping and, I contend, so were they. In all their panic they were asleep to the truth of who they were with.

What was their problem? Warren says it is,

The same problem God’s people face today: we know the Word of God, but we do not believe it when we face the tests of life. It is one thing to learn the truth and quite something else to live it. “Where is your faith?” is still the key question. Are we trusting God’s promises, or are we trusting ourselves or our circumstances?[2]

Is this world scary sometimes?

Yes!

Are we in danger of having the waters rise above our heads at times?

Most definitely!

We don’t need to worry that we are going to drown.

But we don’t need to yell at Jesus to wake up.

Neither did the disciples.

I truly believe that if they would have come to Jesus and waited on him, instead of yelling at him, when he did wake, and they finally turned around, they would have seen that the storm, and danger had passed.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed
Hebrews 12:2-3 (The Message)

If you are now facing danger and are yelling at God to wake up and help you

God is saying to you….

Dear Sweet Child of Mine

I see you. and I see the full situation that you are in. I am in control, and I will not let you drown. keep your eyes fixed on me and not your problem. Bring to me all of your concern and your worries. and then look at me, continue to really look at me, and trust that I will be calming the storm around you as you do so. I love you and I will not let you down. You are loved.

Peace be unto you.


[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1992), 166.

[2] Ibid.

June 5, 2022

The Blessing and the Gift: Sabbath and Communion

In many of our churches today was Communion Sunday. In the church where I grew up, it was the 2nd Sunday of the month, but increasingly it’s the first Sunday. And if your church observes The Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis, all the better!

There is so much to commend Susan Barnes’ blog, who we feature here for the fifth time. It’s a mix of shorter devotionals, longer ones, and, even though she is a writer herself, a review of books by other authors.

Without trying to be analytical, another thing that struck me today was that many devotional writers end each piece with a short prayer, but here the prayer she leads us in is much longer compared to the balance of the article. Maybe it’s because I read and edit such things daily, but it gave me pause for thought. Could my thoughts be better expressed if, instead of teaching them to my readers, I simply guided us in a more extended time of thoughts offered to God instead? Or, if someone comes to me for help, instead of spending words on trying to fix the situation, I simply spent the time pouring out my heart to God on their behalf? [Okay, end of analytical section!]

Clicking the header below will take you to where this one first appeared.

Communion : A gift of rest

One day the elders of Israel came to see Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord. Amongst other things, the Lord gave this message to his people. “I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord, made them holy” (Ezekiel 20:12).

In the Old Testament God gave his people the Sabbath as a gift. It was meant to be a blessing—a whole day to do whatever was restful. God gave his people the Sabbath so they would know it wasn’t their work that made them holy, rather it was the Lord. Every week, on the Sabbath, God was reminding them salvation wasn’t achieved by their works. In the New Testament, the Pharisees complicated the Sabbath with a whole bunch of rules, and it became a burden, but this was never God’s intention. It was always meant to be a gift of rest.

Likewise, every time we gather for communion, we remember salvation isn’t by our work. Maybe that’s why God told us to share communion regularly because it reminds us salvation is a gift. It’s a gift of rest because we don’t work for our salvation. We partake often because we so quickly forget. We fall into the trap of the Pharisees and turn the gift of salvation into a burden or a way of catching up because we have been too busy.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

This “once for all” sacrifice means that Jesus’ one-time sacrifice of his life on the cross was sufficient to deal with all sin, past, present and future. It is an all-sufficient sacrifice. Once was enough because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice.

We are made holy because of the work Jesus did on the cross … not by our efforts.

Let’s pray …

Thank you Lord that you give us the gift of rest. Thank you that we don’t work for our salvation but rather we rest in the finished work of Christ on the cross.

Thank you for the bread, a reminder of your body broken for us, the sacrifice for our sin. No matter how hard we work, we cannot repay the debt of our sin so you took it all upon yourself and gave us the gift of rest. May we truly enter into your rest and know we have peace with God.

Thank you for the cup, a reminder of your spilt blood, shed for us so we could live a life of rest, without having to strive to please you, since you are pleased when we accept your gift of rest.

Thank you, Lord.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen


Bonus link:

Wondering what Susan might have written about a verse or short passage for which you know the reference? Click on this link, then scroll down and click the applicable passage.

June 2, 2022

The People We Christians Have the Hardest Time Loving

Longtime regular Thursday devotional columnist Clarke Dixon has been granted a sabbatical by his church this summer. We look forward to his return in September.

Thinking Through John 13:34-35

by Clarke Dixon

There is a group of people that throughout history Christians have had great difficulty loving. We Christians have shunned them, demonized them, jailed them, and have even put them to death. In our day common notions of decency do not keep us from being on the attack, in books and over the internet, through social media, in blogs, podcasts, and in chat forums.

What is that one group? It is the group Jesus speaks about in John 13:34,35:

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

John 13:34-35 (NLT)

The group we Christians have the hardest time loving? Other Christians.

We have a long history of not treating Christians who think differently from us well. We have hated, feared, mistreated, maligned, and tried to destroy one another.

Loving one another is super-important!

Jesus gave the disciples a kind of “pep talk” at the Last Supper. Jesus had spent three years with his disciples and was now preparing them to be a Jesus following community without him, at least without him in the way they had become accustomed to. First thing out of the gate? Love each other!

Why is loving one another so important?

If we can’t love one another, then how can we expect people to take seriously our good news message of love? Jesus said love for each other would prove that the disciples really were his followers. It is interesting that though Jesus taught and modeled love for all people, including those on the fringes of society, and even including one’s enemies, it is love for one another that is evidence of being a Jesus follower.

A watching world will not be impressed by our lack of love for each other. We Christians can do all kinds of loving things in the world and for the world, but when we don’t love one another, our message that God’s love changes everything, is lost.

What does loving one another look like in our day?

There is the idea that if you love someone you will rescue them from their wrong thinking. Loving one another therefore means fixing other Christians, pointing out their errors.

There are two problems with this.

First, Christians are not cars that can simply be fixed. They are people, with history, experiences, and reasons why they think the way they do.

Second, the Bible is not like the Haynes repair manual I have for my motorcycle, with step-by-step instructions and photographs to make everything as clear as possible. The Bible is brilliant, but convoluted. The Bible is sometimes hard to understand, and it is sometimes easy to misunderstand.

There is a better path forward than trying to fix one another.

Loving one another means having conversations with one another.

Conversation means talking with and to one another rafter than talking about one another. In our day there is so much talking about one another in books, on social media, podcasts, blogs, and perhaps worst of all, online comments.

Conversation means listening as well as speaking. Listening is an important part of love. We each have our blind spots that others may be able to speak to. We each believe things and hold to things that may cause harm if we are not aware. Blind spots are nasty that way.

Conversation means seeking truth together. Author Soong-Chan Rah has written an article about the difference between truth possessed and truth pursued. Truth possessed can be summed up as “I know the truth and everyone should listen to me.” Truth pursued can be summed up as “there is such a thing as truth and let’s work together on finding it.”

Loving one another means learning the skill of disagreeing with one another without dismissing or demonizing one another.

It means learning to disagree with others while honouring them for doing their best to honor God. Those who think differently than we do may never have been exposed to reasons to think otherwise. They might be doing the best they can. Maybe the blind spot is ours and we are the ones who need to rethink things. Humble people are listeners.

Loving one another means taking a posture of gentleness toward one another.

Gentleness might be the most neglected fruit of the Spirit in our day.

If everyone around the world learned gentleness, wars would cease, and wars would cease to begin. Imagine too, if people would be gentle with themselves. Therapists may find they have more free time.

We can not, of course, make that happen, but we can model gentleness in our own lives, in the life of our our own church family, and in our own family of churches.

You may think differently about many issues and theological ideas than I do. I will be gentle with you. Will you be gentle with me?

But isn’t diversity of thinking among Christians a problem? Don’t we need to get everyone on the same page?

I have heard it said that we have a diversity problem in our day in the convention of churches within which I serve. It has been said that our tent is too big as a Baptist Convention.

I don’t think we have a diversity problem. We have a diversity opportunity.

We have the opportunity to demonstrate to a polarized world, how to live in a polarized world. It is through loving one another. It is through conversation, speaking and listening, talking with and to rather than about, disagreeing without dismissing or demonizing, and through being gentle.

When we allow our differences to become reasons for erecting walls and starting wars we are reflecting the world’s ways, not the way of Jesus.

We Christians have had a hard time loving one another. Jesus said we must do it. So let’s do it.

 

May 31, 2022

Willing to Die for The Other

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In deference to the various writers we feature, to avoid search engine confusion, we give each devotional a unique title here, and then include the author’s original title in the link which follows. I was going to call this “Willing to die for another;” but it occurred to me the writer also gets at the idea of what has been recently termed “the other;” the person who is not from our tribe, our ethnicity, our political persuasion. Certainly the efforts we make on behalf of the homeless and the refugees represent doing something for the other.

But there’s more going on in this article, which you’ll see has to do with the day it was written. The writer we’re featuring today, April Bumgardner, writes at Loving Every Leaf, and by clicking the header which follows, you can read this where it first appeared.

The Hard Grace of John 15:13

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” – John 15:13-14

Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, his friends, as they left the upper room after the Passover meal. He had washed their feet and was imparting his final memorable words to them as they made their way to the garden. What would our final words have been to friends at such a time? Jesus and his closest friends were on their way to pray, where he knew he would be betrayed and had already been betrayed. He knew he would eventually lay down his life, not only for them, but for all nations at all times, including, but certainly not exclusively, for ours.

He spoke to them not only as their Rabbi, but as their friend with great love and care. His impending sacrifice was not to be the first, for he had lived a life full of tiny deaths, full of service, compassion, and love for them all.

These famous words of Jesus were not only an extension of his “farewell speech” before his death, but an extension of his directive to remember him as he washed their feet and as he broke the bread and passed the cup (John 13, Luke 22:14-20). He was asking them to honor him by imitating him.

In reading this passage, and every passage about Jesus, we not only marvel at the beauty of his divinity and humanity, but also marvel at how we are called to the task of imitation. In every way, Jesus is our example. If we want to know what God looks like, God looks like Jesus. If we are left wondering who God is, we look to see who Jesus is.

Jesus, in the greater context of this passage, is reminding his friends it is costly to follow him. Yet, he invites them into an abundant life through abiding and resting in him. This passage follows a discussion of Jesus as the vine. In this analogy, we are branches which derive our sustenance from his richness and life. Without our obedience, we wither. Jesus leaves his friends new commands. His command is love. His command is peace.

Yesterday was an American holiday. It is what has inspired me to write this post. In the last few days I have read the above verse from the Gospel of John pasted over red, white, and blue standards with helmets or bald eagles or praying hands in the background. To be consistent with Jesus’ intentions, however, this verse cannot be applied to those who die in battle for their country, although it is ubiquitously misused in this way. Engaging in war is agreeing to play by the rules of the empires of this world. This is not the way of Jesus. Whether or not pacifism resonates with us, however we read the Sermon on the Mount, and in whatever way we interpret America’s presence in the world, we must understand that when Jesus lays down his life, he does so without being embroiled in battle against the Roman government or military. His sacrifice was a complete submission to the loving plan of the Trinity.

I make this point not to discredit anyone who has fought in a war, and certainly not to disrespect anyone who has lost a friend or a loved one in this way. But if we are to quote Jesus, we must hear him as he intended his words to be heard. We must apply them faithfully as hard words of grace delivered by the Christ who refuses to fight back. And so, we must deeply consider: what does it look like to follow Jesus?

Our identity is part of the problem. If we see ourselves essentially as American, Japanese, Canadian, German, Kenyan, etc., we will be blind to the teachings of Jesus that assume we are citizens of a “better country” (Hebrews 11:16). If we are honest with our nations’ history and military entanglements, we will recognize that countries do not consistently fight on the side of altruism and justice, that we are easily deceived by our national agendas. Regardless of how we view America’s military involvement on the international stage, one thing is clear from this passage: Jesus has no expectations for his friends to take the world by force.

To help us remember and focus on this truth, I am grateful for the vision of the Cosmic Christ who supersedes all nations and identities, yet lovingly embraces them as his own. This notion of the Cosmic Christ is found in the earliest creeds of the Christian faith, proclaimed among the earliest churches, naming Jesus as co-equal with God and Creator of all worlds.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17

If we belong to this Jesus who is “before all things,” we will not laud those who promulgate killing in the name of democracy or sovereignty or economic welfare or any other politically deemed good. Our ideology may have noble purposes, but we look to the Lion who is a slain Lamb and who proffers us the tree of life with leaves for the healing of the nations (Revelation 5:5-6, 22:2). The Creator, this Cosmic Christ, is not in need of our national defense.

If we follow Jesus, we will not recognize or participate in the ways of power and coercion. We will not try to rationalize the need for violence. Instead, we agree with Jesus that God’s way of peace is mightier than our insistence on force.

Bearing our cross (Luke 9:23) and dying for our friends are hard tasks, but we often dismiss these commands of Jesus by putting a false faith in the military, the factious, those walking in the ways of violence or power. Peter’s intention was good when he slashed at Malchus’ ear (John 18:10), but both the Jewish Rabbi and the Cosmic Christ condemns it.

“Put your sword back” (John 18:11).

We cannot follow Jesus and conflate our gratitude for his sacrifice with those who die in battle. He has called us to follow by a very different path. We may not all be called to stand in the place of physical death for a friend, but daily we are called to die little deaths in the way of humility, compassion, selfless love, and devotion to the Christ who walks in the way of peace.

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 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

 

May 30, 2022

Jesus Ascends into Heaven

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NKJV.Acts.1.9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

NLT.Luke.24.50 Then Jesus led them to Bethany, and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. 52 So they worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy.

Yesterday was Ascension Sunday, so that is our theme today. I found it interesting that, in posting the two scriptures above, we think of Acts as a continuation of the Gospel of Luke, since Luke wrote both, but the Acts passage is actually a recap of what is stated in Acts 1.

Today we again introduce a new writer. Ken Ratcliffe is a member of The Salvation Army in Lockerbie, Scotland, and writes at Christian Devotions, Music and Poems and you’ll also find him on Twitter. To read this where it first appeared, click the header which follows.

Ascension Sunday

What is Ascension Day?

According to the biblical story, after appearing for 40 days the risen Jesus led his disciples to the Mount of Olive in Jerusalem, telling them that the time had come for him to be returned to God.

A passage in the Acts of the Apostles recounts the tale: “Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’

“He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”

Encyclopedia Britannica says: “According to the first chapter of The Acts of the Apostles, after appearing to the Apostles on various occasions during a period of 40 days, Jesus was taken up in their presence and was then hidden from them by a cloud, a frequent biblical image signifying the presence of God.”

How important is Ascension Day?

It is thought that Ascension Day was being marked as early as the fourth century, and it remains a significant observance in the Catholic Church, as well as other Christian Churches.

Encyclopedia Britannica says: “The Feast of the Ascension ranks with Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost in the universality of its observance among Christians.

“The meaning of the Ascension for Christians is derived from their belief in the glorification and exaltation of Jesus following his death and Resurrection, as well as from the theme of his return to God the Father.

“Thus, the Gospel According to John uses both the sayings of Jesus and his post-Resurrection appearances to indicate a new relationship between Jesus and his Father and between him and his followers, rather than a simple physical relocation from earth to heaven.”

In countries where it is not marked as a public holiday, it has become common to move its commemoration to the following Sunday (a week before Pentecost) to allow more worshippers to attend mass.

Where is Ascension Day a public holiday?

Ascension Day is a public holiday in France, Germany, Austria, Indonesia, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the South Pacific island nation Vanuatu.

The day after Pentecost (which falls 10 days later) was marked as the “Whit Monday” bank holiday in the UK until 1971, when it was replaced by a bank holiday on the final Monday in May.

However, Pentecost Monday is still a public holiday in various European countries, including France, Germany and Belgium.

What is Pentecost?

Pentecost always falls exactly seven weeks after Easter Sunday, which means this year it is on 5 June.

The festival commemorates the arrival of the Holy Spirit to the disciples following the death of Jesus in the traditional Easter story.

Its name comes from the Greek word “Pentekostos”, meaning 50, which reflects its origins in the Jewish holiday of Shavuot (marked on the 50th day after Passover).

Pentecost is also known as “Whitsun” or “Whitsunday” in the UK and Ireland, which is variously believed to be a shortening of “White Sunday” or to have its origins in the Anglo-Saxon word “wit”, which means “understanding”.


NIV.John.14.3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

NLT.John.14.28 Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am.

May 29, 2022

Contentment: The Daily Process of Being Thankful

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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On five previous occasions here we’ve shared devotional material from Floyd McClung, best known as the founder of Youth With A Mission. With his passing exactly one year ago today, his wife, Sally McClung continues to write online at the website they shared. Clicking the header below will take you to where this first appeared.

Day by Day Contentment

During the 5+ years on our unexpected journey, one of the things I felt continually challenged by was to “learn to be content” in whatever situation I was in.  And it was challenging!  Being content while I was sick, while my husband was lying in silence on a hospital bed, while I continually faced financial challenges, and while every way I looked there was so much I needed to deal with……it was not a simple matter to be “content.”  And yet, God helped me to do just that.  His loving grace enabled me to find peace and rest, to find a place of contentment day by day.  I’m so grateful.

I wish that contentment, once achieved, could just become permanent.  But the very challenge to “learn to be content in whatever state I am in” makes it clear that it’s a continual challenge.  I daily face new barriers to contentment.  I find myself coming back to the Lord again and again asking for His fresh help and grace to be content.  He is patient and faithful – He helps me over and over come to a rest, a peace, and yes a true contentment in each situation.

One recent day when I was dealing with some physical issues, I was finding it hard to be “content.”  I wanted change.  I wanted healing.  I read a devotional about a 64 year old lady who had been bedridden for more than 16 years.  She was in constant pain and unable to move.  The only thing she could use was her thumb on her right hand.  But everyone who was with her talked about how joyful and thankful she was.  She used a 2 pronged fork with that thumb to put on her glasses, feed herself, sip tea through a tube, and turn pages of her large Bible.  Everything she did was with the use of that right thumb.  She thanked the Lord continually for the use of that thumb, for His goodness to her, and for His saving grace. (Shared from “Our Daily Bread” May 1993).

Contentment isn’t learned all at once and it’s over with.  It’s a daily process of being thankful for whatever blessings we have.  I’m still on the journey of learning contentment!

“In everything give thanks.”  1 Thessalonians 5:18

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:11-13

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment.”  1 Timothy 6:6

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:10

Each morning as I thank the Lord for a new day, I ask Him to help me have a heart of contentment.  I’m so grateful for His mercy and grace to me.  He is so faithful!

I have been challenged in my pursuit of contentment because it has been a hard week.  One thing after another seems to have “plagued” me.  As I was needing to make some decisions, this verse came to my mind:

“This is what the Lord says, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ ”  Jeremiah 6:16

I took time to bring each matter to the Lord and ask Him for the “good way.”  As I’ve waited in His presence and listened, I feel I’m getting some help and clarity.  I’ve also received His peace which brings “rest for my soul.”  Oh how I need that rest – that soul-rest.  I have had to remind myself to bring each thought, each worry, each concern, each need to Him.  I can’t carry them, but He can!  I’m so grateful that for every crossroads that I come to, He can show me the ancient path, the good way.  He is faithful!

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”  Deuteronomy 33:27

“Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.”  Psalm 105:4

“In anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free.”  Psalm 118:5

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.”  Psalm 143:8

May 28, 2022

The Bible in One Short Sentence

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today we want to return to an author that we featured only once here, in 2012, and share for the first time an archived post from his blog from 2016. David P. Kreklau blogged at For the Glory of God, which you can also reach by clicking the header which follows.

I Am God: The Point of the Bible

Listening to a seminary lesson years ago, the professor asked what the central theme of Scripture was for the whole Bible.  What would you say?  Well, he entertained several opinions and he eventually offered that it’s hard to settle on one.  I thought at the time, “Seriously? It’s redemption… right? RIGHT?”  But thinking about it now, even the events that stand inside God’s great redemptive historical narrative are all meant for a very specific purpose: to glorify God.  This glorification of God is all for the purpose of Him demonstrating His greatness… more than that, His holiness, which means His “set apart” self.  I.e. He is the only God, the one true God.

His whole point of Scripture is to demonstrate that “I Am God.”

Redemptive History

The Bible, as a whole, is about how God preexisted creation, God spoke into existence that creation of all things (including us and our world), God entered into creation to redeem what we destroyed, and God is making and will ultimately finish making new that creation.

Recall that in the Garden of Eden, He had one rule: do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17)… the basic gist of this command: “You can do anything but be God because I am God.  Do not try to be God!”

So naturally… we tried to be God (Genesis 3).

And then He spent the rest of the Old Testament describing how despite our treason of trying to be God (when only He is God), He would find a way to rescue us…

And then He begins the New Testament revealing how God, at great personal sacrifice, made a way through Jesus Christ to redeem us from our treason.  He continues the New Testament by revealing how God, through the Holy Spirit, picks up the mantle of redemption in the Church Age, and He finishes the New Testament with a glimpse of the close of history and what it looks like when God’s plan has come to fruition.

Scriptural Pronouncements

When Moses first meets God in the burning bush in Exodus 3, God tells him His name is “I AM WHO I AM (written about previously here).”

The intro to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 start with “I am the Lord your God,” which pretty clearly states the thesis of this blog.  He goes on to spend the next three commandments basically saying “do not try to be God or make any other gods because I am God.”

In the Gospel of John, we see Jesus make several pronouncements of His divinity, statements of “I Am” followed by supporting clarifications:

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst (John 6:35).”

I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).”

I am the door.  If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture (John 10:9).”

I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).”

I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die (John 11:25-26).”

I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).”

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (John 15:1-2).”

And one additional statement that speaks to Christ’s preexistence of Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish faith (but I would argue is also indicative of His preexistence to all creation as a whole), is John 8:58, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am.’ ”

In fact, the beautiful irony is that we could never make ourselves God.  Yet out of love when we least deserved it, He made us one with God through His Son, and gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to live in us.  We are now one with Him, and at the end of all things, everything will be renewed… including our perspective where we will no longer have a mutinous desire to be God, but will joyously spend the rest of eternity proclaiming the breath-taking glory of He who is the one and only God (Cf: Revelation 4).

A Final Word

One final thought to drive home this thesis: at the beginning of Scripture, He gives us the one rule that basically says, “Don’t be God because I am God.”  And I already spelled out above how the Ten Commandments and the whole of Scripture underline this message that “I Am God.”  So when we come to the consummate kingdom, one may notice that there are no longer any rules… and one might say, “Well why not?  Can’t we break that one rule again like we did before?”  But this time, the difference is that God has come to live in the lives of believers and we are now one with Him.  We are no longer alone in our wretched selves, but, as 2 Peter 1:4 says, we have become partakers in His divine nature.

Thus, so it is that the only thing that will keep us from usurping God… is FROM God.  Left to ourselves, we cannot coexist with Him without trying to usurp Him.  The only answer is for Him to come to us and help us let Him be God… which is what he did through Christ Jesus… the one and only God… the one and only way to God.

He Is God.

May 26, 2022

Parable Shatters “Equal Pay for Equal Work”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Matt.20.8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

[click here to read the full story starting with verse 1]

Today we’re back for a second time with Brian Lothridge who writes at On The Way. You can read this where it first appeared by clicking the link below.

Called to Freely Give Grace

Everyone got paid the same. This story should mess with our notions of what is fair. Imagine if you were without a steady job, got up early to go to the market in order to be seen by someone hiring laborers, got picked at 6 a.m. and worked until 6 p.m. When it came time to get paid you stood at the end of the line and waited for your fair share. Those who worked one hour got paid the amount that you agreed to get paid earlier that day. So did those who worked three hours, six hours, and nine hours. But surely you should get paid more than all of them. That’s only right. And yet, here is the landowner giving you the wage you negotiated in the morning.

It’s not fair. Equal pay for equal work sounds fair. Equal pay for unequal work sounds unfair. And this is what the kingdom of heaven is like? Everyone gets an equal reward no matter when they come to the vineyard? What do we do with this?

Consider this: A day laborer did not have a steady job. Those who showed up at the marketplace seeking a job didn’t already have a job. However, they needed money. They had families to support just like anyone else. They needed the work. Hanging out in the marketplace all day would mean returning home that night to disappointed faces because you came with no food. Those who were chosen early were lucky. With each passing hour, the likelihood of finding work diminishes and so does your pay. So when someone shows up at noon, or three, or five and says, “I’ll pay you whatever is fair,” you take it because you need to feed your family. A denarius would have been a day’s wages, but if you get a late start you might expect to get paid less. However, you’d be willing to take what you could get later in the day.

How would you feel if you were the day laborer hired at noon, or three, or five and the employer paid you a full day’s wage? You’d be very happy. You’d be thankful for the generosity that means your family gets to eat for another day. You might feel a little awkward about the complaining that the workers hired first are doing. You might wonder if you really should accept this money. However, it’s not your place to refuse the generosity of the landowner and your family really needs to eat.

Some might object at this point and say this kind of practice disincentivizes workers to work hard. The workers hired first would learn the lesson that they can show up to the job late and earn the same amount of money. But do you not think the workers hired at 5 p.m. would have loved to have been hired earlier in the day? Do you not think they may have worked twice as hard in their hour because they were grateful about the work? And while it may not seem fair, the workers hired first got paid the wage upon which they agreed.

There are 140 million poor and low-income people in our country. In a nation that prides itself on being the best in the world and a nation that has some people saying it is a Christian nation, we often find that we are like those who cry out, “That’s unfair!” when poor people receive benefits. We don’t cry out when rich folk get bailouts and tax breaks or make out like bandits during a pandemic that has many of us reeling. We say, “They deserve it!” And to the poor, “Earn your keep and don’t complain.” Can you imagine Jesus holding such views?

I can’t. Especially given the nearly 2,000 verses in the Bible that talk about caring for the poor and downtrodden. Especially when Jesus says in his first sermon that he came to to preach good news to the poor and free the oppressed. Especially when right before our parable was told in Matthew Jesus tells a rich man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

A truly Christian nation would figure out how to create an economy that shows love of God and love of neighbor instead of a love of money. A truly Christian nation wouldn’t have 140 million poor or low-income people because it would have figured out how to truly care for people. A truly Christian nation would understand that we all belong to each other and that we have been commanded to love God and neighbor. Instead, we have people in power trying to scare people away from the example and teaching of Jesus by using scary words like “socialism” and “radical left.” Instead, we have people trying to incite culture wars and say their beliefs are being persecuted.

It’s time for the Church to reclaim the radical teachings of Jesus and demand more just systems that will contribute to the common welfare of everyone. Remember, we call ourselves Christians. We may forget this at times but calling ourselves Christians doesn’t simply point to the club we belong to or the side for which we cheer. Calling ourselves Christians means that we are calling ourselves “little Christs.” That’s a big name with a big responsibility to act as little Christs both individually and collectively. The responsibility leads us to read the words of Jesus and figure out how we are to truly follow him in our time and place. It’s not to get caught up in the culture war or align ourselves with any one nation or political party. It’s to give allegiance to Christ and to the kingdom of God for which he gave his life.

Whether we identify with the laborers hired first, last, or somewhere in between, the exemplar in the story is the landowner, who is seen as generous or unfair, depending on your perspective. The landowner has made all the laborers equal. Even though they all put in different amounts of work, they all had to put bread on the table. That was their great equalizer. The landowner met the need they all had.

Isn’t that what God does for us? There is no earning our way into the kingdom of God. It’s all grace; it’s all a gift. There may be some people we see in the next life and wonder how fair it is that they are there when we did more and were faithful longer. And God will say, “Are you mad at my generosity? I gave you what we agreed upon, and I didn’t have to hire you at all.”

And if Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is near, and Paul says we are temples of the Holy Spirit, living stones of the temple that is Jesus’ body, should we not work for the kingdom of heaven here and now? Should we not strive to make a more just and equal society? Should we not grumble when the poor receive help but instead advocate for policies and advances that would lift them from poverty? Would that not bring us closer to a Godly nation?

What would it be like if we truly imagined the kingdom of God was among us? That is how Jesus lived his life. He hung out with tax collectors and sinners, healed the sick, spoke truth to power, and encouraged people to be who they were created to be. He lived as though the kingdom of heaven was here, even amidst the brokenness of our current reality. This is the task at hand for the church. If we truly want to be the church we are called to be, if we truly want to advocate for a nation that served as Christ served then we must be brave enough to be little Christs, treat the last as the first and the first as the last (making all equal), and speak truth to the powers that be in Washington, D.C. and in Albany and all the halls of power.

We are essentially called to be the managers of the vineyard. The landowner hired the workers and set the wage of grace and we get to dole it out. We are called to make sure everyone receives grace, whether they deserve it or not.

I challenge us to read this story anew this week as well as the chapter before it. Read the sermon on the mount in chapter 5-7. Spend some time in prayer with God and hear where God is calling you to act in the realm of creating the kingdom of heaven here on earth. What action can you take? Can you donate money or goods to charity? Can you volunteer with a charitable organization? Can you get to know the poor and advocate on their behalf? Can you write to your local, state, and federal representatives about a policy that will help people? Use the authority God has given you to spread the grace of God to all.

 

May 20, 2022

Everything is Temporary … Except for One Thing

NIV.Acts.19.23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”

28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.

[…continue reading here…]

Today we have another first time writer to highlight here. Alistair Chalmers who writes at Chalmers Blog. Clicking the link in the header below will take to where this first appeared.

You can build but it will crumble

A couple weeks ago my wife and I were on holiday and we did a day trip to the ancient city of Ephesus. We walked the streets where Paul and Timothy would have preached. We stood in the amphitheater where Paul probably spoke at times. One thing that you can’t help but notice in these ancient cities is the amount of shrines and temples to pagan gods that they had. Some big and some small, but all for the same purpose, worshipping a pagan false idol.

If you remember from Acts 19, Demetrius a silversmith of the shrines for Artemis began an uproar that lead to a riot. The riot continued and people gathered in the court and for 2 hours they shouted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Ephesus was the place of one of the biggest temples to Artemis, it’s actually one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. So what does it look like now? A temple that once housed thousands of worshippers on a daily basis. A city in its shadow that believed it was safe because the goddess looked over them. What happened?

Well this once prominent temple is now a pile of rubble. Stones lay strewn in a field, it’s marked by a tiny road sign that you could clearly miss and there remains one pillar standing (it’s actually just been out together to help visitors imagine the height of the temple).

Such a prominent pagan temple, reduced to nothing sand forgotten by most of the world, why? Because you can build, even the most grandiose things, but all things temporary will crumble. What was once a temple is nothing more than a pile of stones. Temporary trimmings paying homage to a fake god that didn’t last very long.

As I stood underneath that pillar and imagined what it would have originally looked like I remembered two things;

1. That the things of this world are temporary and will pass away (1 Cor. 7:31, etc.)

2. That nothing will defeat the Church (Matt. 16:18, etc.)

There will always be things that are built oppose the gospel. There will always be people, institutions and religions who set themselves against God and His people. It was be frightening at times, it may feel like the local church is insignificant and weak, it may even seem that there is no chance that Christianity can survive at some points.

But the truth is that all attempts to rob people of the knowledge of Jesus, all brick and mortar will fall and all the voices that mock Christ and His people will one day be silenced.

Everything that is build against God has the same ending, it is futile and it will fail. Investing time and energy in something that you know will ultimately fail and be reduced to crumble is pointless.

Like the temple of Artemis, you can build your structure (physical or not) but it will fail. God is the only one who has always been and will always be. Remember that as your pick up a stone to build your next idol.


Scriptures in today’s devotional:

NLT.1 Cor.7.30 Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. 31 Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.

The Voice. Matt.16.18 This is why I have called you Peter (rock): for on this rock I will build My church. The church will reign triumphant even at the gates of hell.

 

May 19, 2022

Truth-Telling in a World of Lies

Today we’re back for a second time with Rev. Taylor Mertins  who blogs at Think and Let Think, has co-authored three books, and hosts the Strangely Warmed Podcast and the Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast. Clicking the header which follows will take you to today’s devotional where it first appeared.

A Dangerous Adventure

John 14.27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

“Christians are people who tell the truth. And, if we cannot tell the truth, then at least we should not lie.” I have those sentences scratched in a notebook that I carried with me during seminary. And, if my notes are correct, I heard those words from a professor named Stanley Hauerwas during a hallway conversation after morning prayer.

His conviction about our truthfulness is nothing new. Martin Luther famously said that a theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil whereas a theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is.

Translation: tell the truth.

But telling the truth is no easy endeavor, particularly because we live in a world that runs on lies. Every ad we consume presents a false vision of reality so long as we purchase a particular product. The nightly news is designed to terrify us so that we will keep watching until we know what side we are supposed to be on for every subject. And even in our domestic dramas we often lie because we are trying to be good: we don’t want to tell our spouses how we really feel, we don’t want to upset the applecart at a family get together, we’d rather brush something under the rug than bring it to the surface.

All the while, as Christians, we worship the one who not only tells the truth, but is, himself, truth incarnate.

When Pontius Pilate was told that Jesus was the one who had come into the world to testify to the truth, he asked, “What is truth?” Jesus gave no response because Pilate was literally looking at the answer to his question. Therefore, should we truly desire to be a community of the truth and by the truth then we need not look further than Jesus Christ and him crucified.

The “and him crucified” is crucial. For, truth-telling is a dangerous adventure. But without an example of a truth telling community, the world has no alternative but to continue to run by lies.

Jesus leaves peace with his disciples and the peace Jesus leaves runs counter to the peace of the world. The peace of the world is achieved, kept, and maintained by violence. Whereas the peace of Jesus comes through vulnerability, sacrifice, and even suffering.

Part of the hard truth that the church has to speak into the world today is this: we have a problem with violence.

Mass shootings have become so commonplace that it’s hard to keep track of what happened and where. And yet we, as Christians, can advocate for a new peace, a peace given to us by Jesus, a peace that means we have to fundamentally reshape how we understand what it means to be in the world. Or, we can simply avoid going to churches, malls, supermarkets, concerts, cinemas, parks, pre-schools, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, college campuses, mass transportation, and any other place where a mass shooting has taken place.

We’ve become so accustomed to the war torn images of Ukraine (and war in general) that it leaves us feeling apathetic. And yet we, as Christians, can advocate for a new peace, a peace given to us by Jesus, a peace that means we have to fundamentally reshape how we understand what it means to be in the world. Or, we can let things continue on their merry way while more and more people are displaced, separated, and killed.

Speaking truth to power is no easy thing. But until we’re willing to call a thing what it is, we are doomed to call evil good and good evil. Or, put simply, the beginning of a faithful imagination comes with telling the truth.


Flashback link: From 2014, scripture verses which reference truth.

May 18, 2022

They Trusted in the Lord With All Their Hearts

Today we’re back for a second time with a writer we introduced to you in September. Beth Madison writes at Soul Scientist, and is also the author of the book Good Ground, Volume 1 from National Baptist Press. Clicking the header below will take you to today’s article where it first appeared.

Making Lists

■ This devotional is also available as a podcast. Click this link to listen.

Proverbs 3:5-8 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do; and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom, instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones.

Since I devoured books when I was growing up, Mother always made sure I had a good supply of good reading materials. She described my love for reading as “she’ll read anything that isn’t tied down” (similar to how my boys used to eat when they were teenagers!). I loved them all – be they periodicals like National Geographic or my father’s scientific academic journals or those Christian comic books popular in the late 1970’s to a plethora of books from Little House on the Prairie to Jane Austen to Nancy Drew and oh so many other friends who I dreamed with there on the page.

But Mother’s favorite choice for my reading material (other than Scripture, of course) was missionary biographies. I fell in love with them all – be they Lottie Moon to Elisabeth Elliot to Annie Armstrong or Hudson Taylor to Adoniram Judson to David Brainerd and oh so many other friends with whom I learned to trust God with there on the page. I can still remember dreaming about when I grew up and was living and working in Africa or China or whatever country I’d just read about.

Similarly, these verses from Proverbs 3:5-8 were some of the first verses I learned as a child. Mother and Daddy didn’t just let me sit in the corner and read after my chores were done. They were also very careful to teach me Bible verses at all times and in all ways just like we are commanded to do with our children in Deuteronomy 4:9-10.

Only be on your guard and diligently watch yourselves, so that you don’t forget the things your eyes have seen and so that they don’t slip from your mind as long as you live. Teach them to your children and your grandchildren. The day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people before me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days they live on the earth and may instruct their children.’ (CSB)

And now, these stories and verses are still shaping my life in the dust of today.

Yet even now, my faith needs a lot more growing up to reflect the truth found in the stories and especially in the verses…

For example, a few weeks ago, when an unimagined opportunity popped into my email, my first thought was “no way, I can’t do this, because I don’t have ________”. Then my next thought was “just how can I make this work anyway?”. (note the emphasis on the “I” in that sentence) And there I went – straight into the quicksand of searching, calculating, and all the things (without any praying) until I ended up frustrated, disappointed, and exhausted without any progress towards my goal (note the emphasis on the “my” in that sentence).

Oh yes, I ran that gopher wheel to nowhere a few more times until two days ago when I told God, “I’m done!” and “if You want this to happen, here’s what I need for this opportunity”. I wrote out the full list with all the details and put the list away in my office. And then I started praying those verses from Proverbs and meaning it.

Well, here am I in tears watching as my triumphal God is checking off every piece of that list in ways that show me He not only heard my cry, He put the pieces into motion before the words came out of my mouth and heart. And just like God, He’s using other people to bring the resources for that list and increasing their faith along with mine in the details and directions of how He’s providing for them.

As I’m marveling in His working today, I am reminded of those missionary biographies from my childhood. Those missionaries modeled faith in their prayers and their lists. Their pages-long lists of known needs that exceeded available resources were checked off one by one in ways that only God could and did engineer for His plans to be completed. And He did it so that these plans would be completed in ways that not only increased the faith of those missionaries but the faith of those in their world who didn’t know or want to know God. No one who knew the stories or saw the results could deny God’s unmistakable, unshakable, unstoppable power at work.

That power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at God’s right hand is the same power available to us as Christians today (see Ephesians 1:19-20). Nothing has changed with God. His power is still unstoppable like it was with waters, lions, giants, and fire in the Old Testament; with famine, persecution, deserts, and orphans in missionary stories; and with us in the details, dust, disease, and doubts of today.

So if you’re tired of your gopher wheel of trying to figure out all the things or you’re up to your neck in a quicksand of exhaustion, stress, denial, or disappointment, now is the time to stop fighting and simply tell our powerful God all about it (dear friend, please don’t be afraid. God already knows the ins and outs, of all of it, even better than you do). Then, make that list with all the things and all their details. Next, put the list away, start praying Proverbs 3:5-8, and pull up a chair to watch things happen. Trust me, the story’s gonna be far bigger and more beautiful than you can imagine!

The fulfillment of your story may take far longer than two days and might not happen in ways that you’d choose, but trust me, that story will be good. Because good is what our Good God promises to those who love Him and are called according to His promise (see Romans 8:38). And He always keeps all of His promises, all of the time.

Ephesians 1:19-20 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms

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