Christianity 201

June 2, 2023

Serving Others; Serving Christ

The titles given to posts here are meant to provide a framework from which you’re invited to view the entire article. They’re sometimes similar to what the author chose for their own website, and sometimes different in some way.

We don’t change the preferred translation of post authors. Today’s uses the KJV, but you’re invited to pursue the texts in the version you are best able to understand.

Today we’re introducing a new author to you, who goes by Humbled Overcomer. The idea of humility or humbled is important to today’s reading. The blog is titled It Starts Small. You’ll find today’s article there or by clicking the link in the title below.

The Heart of a Servant

The word servant is used hundreds of times in both the Old and New Testaments. What does it mean to be a servant of Christ? or a servant to the Lord?

Many people do not like the word servant. It means to have a life that inferior. In today’s world, the ultimate goal is to be king of the universe. To be the top dog in all of life. A servant is someone who is the complete opposite. The Bible, however, gives us a different picture of what being a servant is.

21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. John 20:21

This is one of my most favorite things Jesus spoke. Jesus says, my Heavenly Father sent me to start a good work, and I am asking you to come, be my partner, and join with me to continue my work. We have been appointed and called by Christ to serve his will and his ways, in order to live a better life. That better life is full of God’s goodness and blessing. Our contentment is not related to what we have, but who we have and who we serve.

In Matthew and Mark, we find the story of the disciples arguing with each other. They were trying to boast who was the best and who was going to come first. They did not understand Jesus’ teaching about his coming agony. When Jesus hears them arguing, he says,

43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: 44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. 45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Mark 10:43-45

28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28

Jesus did not come unto this earth as a heavenly being. He came in flesh and blood. He did not come surrounded by angels ministering to his every need. No, our Savior was flesh and blood. He did not come so that others would fall all over themselves to serve his every need. He came to serve the people.

Jesus teaches us by His example, how to have a pure heart of servitude. Throughout the New Testament we learn about a servant’s heart, how to be faithful servants, and the meaning of being a servant. Jesus taught us what we needed in order to have a heart of a servant.


Compassion is not completely defined in God’s Word, rather there are example after example of compassion. We define the word as to empathize with someone who is suffering and to feel compelled to reduce the suffering. The spiritual definition is the act of being moved to do something. Jesus was moved with compassion for the people he encountered. Compassion is not feeling sorry for people. Compassion is being moved by the Holy Spirit to not give people what they want, but to allow Christ to work through you to give them what they need.


To be a faithful servant, there can be no pride in your heart. From the heart we act and speak. A prideful heart seeks only selfish ambition, motive, and desires. Jesus served with humility. This was not a posture of weakness, but a posture of meekness. He put the needs of others above his own need. Humility in our world is misunderstood. Humility is an attitude, not a behavior. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, rather it is thinking less about yourself. Instead of thinking what can Christ do for you, it is submitting to what can Christ do through me. I love the song by Zach Williams that says Lord, let em be a little less like me and more like you.

Your will, not my will.

This aligns with unselfishness. The heart of a servant does what it master asks. He does not seek to do his own desires. His heart is motivated by pleasing his master and being obedient to his master. When we walk the road of discipleship, our heart is motivated by the will of our Heavenly Father. His purpose and desire for our life becomes our purpose and desire. As Christ transform us into a new creature, our thoughts, words and actions change to match in step with his. Our desires turn from our inward, to the outward. What were once weaknesses, are now our strengths.


No one can serve without a heart filled with God’s love. What you love most is what you serve. Love is what we give and do, it is not what we feel. The world wants us to think love is a gushy feel good emotion. Joy is a byproduct of love, but love is an action. Love is what motivates us. As God fills our hearts with His love, we are moved with compassion to fulfill his purpose in our lives. Jesus, with the full power of heaven in him, loved all of us so much he paid our debt of sin we owed. His love built a bridge of redemption between us and our Heavenly Father. He calls us into partnership with him, that through him we serve to carry on his work. No work of Christ can be done without love.


Jesus never quit. Jesus never gave up. Jesus never threw his hands up and walked away. We tend to think Jesus walked this earth in sheer perfection. We get blinded to the idea that Jesus and His disciples encountered many serious situations. They were on a ship in the middle of a storm that threatened to take them down. They encountered demon possessed people. The Pharisees sought to kill them. They went days without food. They slept outside. Jesus encountered every single situation we encounter in our lives. He encountered death. He encountered life. He encountered the sick and suffering. He encountered temptation of the devil. Jesus did not walk around and everything suddenly become perfect and uneventful.

The difference between Jesus and us, he never faltered in his faith. He remained faithful, and remains faithful to his Heavenly Father. He never stopped looking up. He never stopped getting by himself to seek and pray to his father. He never grew discouraged or bitter at the situations of hardship they encounter. He trusted His heavenly Father in ALL things. He trusted His Heavenly Father and that trust never grew thin.

A servant’s heart is fully reliant on our Heavenly Father. We give Him all we have knowing he will never fail us! He will always be with us, provide for us, and protect us!

Listening and Obeying

Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, has taught me the importance of solitude. To not just put God first out of ritual, but to really put Him first in all things I do. Listening is so important! We need ears that hear. Ears that are in tune to listening more than speaking. A servant is someone who train and tune their ears to listen to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is what makes God’s Word jump off the page. It is who brings us the will of God in our lives. You would laugh at me for something of the things I have asked my Heavenly Father, but he said in ALL things, come to me. We need to listen to the Holy Spirit so that we can obey. Obedience is the reaction to the Word of God. It can be in scripture or the speaking of the Holy Spirit. If we want to be obedient we need to learn to listen.

Worship and Thanksgiving

Jesus had a heart of worship and thanksgiving. In all he did he gave glory, honor, and praise to His Heavenly Father. He never took credit for the works he did. He humbly gave credit where credit was due. It was not by His hand miracles were done, but by the power of the Lord God Almighty. The Pharisees and people were shocked by this man named Jesus who did not boast of his own power to perform miracles. The pharisees were the exact opposite. They demanded credit be given to them. They sought to have a following of the people. Jesus was the complete opposite. He was not here to amass a following, for fame, or to be a celebrity. He came to bring his Heavenly Father glory and honor in all he did. He worshiped and praised his father. He had a heart of worship and thanksgiving. We need a heart that in all things, all circumstances, we praise and worship God with a heart of thanksgiving.

Paul said, life is Christ.

If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, 2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:1-8

Is there any sort of life that can outdo a life of servitude to Christ? What can honestly be better than a life of purpose where all your needs are met, you are protected, you are never alone? What has ever brought you pure joy and peace outside the joy and peace of God?

What stops you from being a servant of Christ? A partner to Christ in continuing His good works?

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: Philippians 1:6

May 29, 2023

The Time Jesus Knocked Them off Their Feet

Today’s thoughts take place at the moment of the arrest of Jesus prior to the crucifixion.

NIV.John.18.1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.

The particular focus today is these words:

“…they drew back and fell to the ground.” ~John 18:6

The quotation above is from John’s account of Jesus’ arrest. Judas leads a group of soldiers and Pharisees to a grove of olives and Jesus steps out from his group and asks who they are seeking. They said, “Jesus of Nazareth;” and he answered, “I am he.” And then John tells us that at the words, ‘I am he;’ they fell to the ground. I’ve quoted the NIV (or ESV) above; The Message version adds a different dimension, “He said, ‘That’s me.’ The soldiers recoiled, totally taken aback. Judas, his betrayer, stood out like a sore thumb.”

This detail about the soldiers is singular to John’s gospel. (He doesn’t mention the betrayal with a kiss at all.) I’ve often wondered what caused this particular reaction.

  • The Life Application Bible suggests that they were startled by the boldness of his response
  • The Wycliffe Bible Commentary suggests he unnerved his captors, some of whom may have been the ones previously unable to lay hands on him (John 7:43-46);
  • Though the Pharisees had seen Jesus teaching in the temple, it’s possible the soldiers had never seen him up close and personal. As they came into proximity with him he was either not what they expected, or they sensed something “wholly other” about him. (Matthew Henry adds that the term ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was used derisively, and that Jesus could have simply answered “No” for technically he was ‘Jesus of Bethlehem.’)
  • The Life App. and various other commentaries tell us that his “I am he” answer used the “I AM” form of God’s name; it indicated his claim of divinity. There are many pivotal turning points in John’s text, but this is one where we often miss the full impact;
  • The above, combined with what they where about to do; they suddenly felt the impact of their own actions. Were they arresting an innocent man? Were they arresting God?
  • If the full force of his answer registered at all; Matthew Henry points out they would realize that he could simply strike them dead at that point. Was there any limit to his potential response?

Without taking away from any of these explanations, I want to introduce a new dimension to the narrative that had never struck me before in this context. I picked this up reading Michael Card writing in an older issue of the Our Journey devotional booklet.

“When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He was already bloody before anyone laid a hand on him. He had been fighting a battle that would make certain the final outcome on Calvary. The blood and water that flowed from his wounds on the cross were preceded by bloody sweat that poured from His pores as He suffered the agony of a death more painful than the physical death of the cross, the death of the will... The painful crushing began appropriately enough, in the garden…” ~ Michael Card (Italics added)

What do you do if you are the soldiers, sent to arrest someone, who looks more like a victim than a criminal? What do you do if the plan calls for flogging or torture and the person seems to be already spent? What if you have a fragment of insight into the bigger picture and realize that the “I Am” is standing before you,  bloodied and bruised?

Could that be part of what caused them to draw back and fall to the ground?

May 27, 2023

Delay is not Denial

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we have a new author to introduce, Brianna Ngarambe. She writes at Joy-Full, only she likes lower case letters, so joy-full. Clicking the link in the title which comes next will take you to where this first appeared.

at the right time

Lazarus was dead for four days.

Jesus was in the tomb before He rose.

Sometimes a situation has to die for it to be raised again.

In the life of every believer, there was a time where you realized that God is and has been your only hope of restoration and abundant life. You died to yourself, and became alive in Christ.

No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.

Psalm 25:3 NLT

We as believers had faith enough for God to cleanse us from unrighteousness and forgive us of our sins, past, present, and future. God doesn’t want to save you just to save you, He wants you to partake in His love, in His blessings, and also in His suffering as well, with an understanding that it is all doing a good work within us.

But remember– any faithlessness will not allow you to see His hand in the midst of your mourning.

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT

Do you want to miss the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end? If your answer is no, which I pray it is, then understand this:

Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?”

John 11:40 NLT

Don’t just believe that God can do it. Believe that He would do it for you. He is Our Heavenly Father, and He wouldn’t withhold anything good from us (Psalm 84:11). It is time to move from believing to seeing. From believing in His Glory to seeing His glory. To believing in the scope of God’s work, to seeing prayer points fulfilled before your eyes.

When a situation looks dead, when it looks hopeless, my friend, this is the perfect time to look up to where your help comes from (Psalm 121). Our God has resurrecting power. He actually rose with all power (Matthew 28:18)! And it is by this power that He will come through for you at the perfect time.

To you, God may seem late. To Mary and Martha, they just couldn’t understand why Jesus took so long.

 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.

John 11:4 NLT

There are certain situations where the delay is not from God, which is where we fight in the Spirit against every enemy of progress with the full armor of God!! (Eph. 6). But let me tell you, when God delays, it is never a denial. It is not a setback, but an opportunity for your faith to grow and for everyone to see God’s glory and promises come to pass over your life.

Lord, I thank You that all power is in Your hands. You have the power to resurrect every dead situation back to life.
I pray that You give me an understanding of this season that I’m in. Thank You for directing my steps, and I pray for divine alignment for the purposes and plans that You have for me, that will give me a hope and a future. I pray for those even around me who may be going through difficult seasons, walk with them to their victory in Jesus Mighty Name I pray

By the same author: The story about a Lyft driver at the beginning of this devotional will bring you much encouragement. Read When God Interrupts You.

May 23, 2023

God Calls us His Children

Last year at this time we introduced you to Darrell Koop who is the Lead Pastor of Upwards Church (which is also the name of their blog) with two locations in Texas. As we said the first time, there is a wealth of Bible commentary available at this page including a recently concluded series in Matthew. (Today’s post has a great introduction to the Book of Job.) To read the devotional we selected for today, click the header which follows.

The Example of a Child – Matthew 18:1-4

What name does God use most often to describe His people? The Bible identifies the people of God by many names. But more frequently than anything else we are called “children;” “children of promise, children of the day, children of the light, beloved children, dear children, and children of God.

As believers we can rejoice in the wonderful truth that, through Christ, we have become God’s own children, adopted through grace. We bear the image of God’s family and are joint heirs with Jesus Christ of everything God possesses. We enjoy God’s love, care, protection, power, and other resources in abundance for all eternity.

But there is another side to our being children, and in Scripture believers are also referred to as children in the sense that we are incomplete, weak, dependent, undeveloped, unskilled, vulnerable, and immature.

Matthew 18 focuses on those immature, unperfected, childlike qualities that believers demonstrate as they mutually develop into conformity to the fullness of the stature of Jesus Christ.

Jesus teaches on the specific theme of the childlikeness of the believer, speaking directly to the reality that we are spiritual children with all the weaknesses that childhood implies. It is also essential to see that the chapter teaches the church, as a group of spiritually unperfected children how to get along with each other.

The context for the sermon is indicated by the phrase at that time, which refers to a period the disciples came to Jesus, possibly at Peter’s house in Capernaum.

The Lord’s teaching was prompted by the disciples themselves, who asked Him a very selfish question that betrayed their sinful ambitions. We learn from Mark and Luke that the question, Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? resulted from an argument the Twelve had been having among themselves as to which of them might be the greatest (Luke 9:46; cf. Mark 9:34). Although Jesus omnisciently knew what had happened, He asked, “What were you discussing on the way?” The disciples were so ashamed of their attitude and conversation that they kept silent” (Mark 9:33-34).

Their embarrassed silence shows they knew that what they had been doing was inconsistent with what their Master had been teaching on humility. But the fact that they nevertheless were arguing about their relative ranks in the kingdom shows they were making little effort to apply what they had been taught. They were as proud, self-seeking, self-sufficient, and ambitious as ever. In light of what they had been discussing and the way they phrased the question to Jesus, it is obvious they expected Him to name one of them as the greatest.

Leonard Bernstein, the late conductor of the New York Philharmonic orchestra, was once asked to name the most difficult instrument to play. Without hesitation, he replied, “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm—that’s a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.”

This is the failure of the Disciples. Just as they had heard but not really accepted what Jesus had been teaching about humility they also had heard but not really accepted what He had been teaching about the kingdom. They obviously still expected Jesus soon to set up an earthly kingdom, and each of them was hoping to have a high rank in that dominion. They were especially competitive about being number one.

Earlier that same day (see 17:22-23) that Jesus had told them (for the third time) about His impending suffering and death. Although they did not fully understand what He was saying to them (Mark 9:32), they should have sensed its gravity And even though they were afraid to ask Jesus what He meant, it would seem they would have been discussing that issue rather than which of them was to be the greatest.

The Disciples demonstrated no concept of humility, very little compassion, and certainly no willingness to take up their own crosses and follow Christ. (Matt. 10:38-39; 16:24-26).

Several months after this lesson in Capernaum, their selfish ambition was still very much evident. Probably at her sons’ instigation, the mother of James and John asked Jesus, Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left” (Matt. 20:20-21). The other disciples were indignant at the two brothers, but their indignation was not righteous but envious (v. 24).

It must have been especially painful to Jesus that, just as on the occasion recorded in chapter 18, this self-seeking request came immediately after He had predicted His suffering and death (20:19). There is no indication of sympathy, consolation, or grief concerning what their Lord was about to endure on their behalf and on the behalf of His elect. And on the night before He died, while He was eating the Last Supper with them, they were still arguing about their own greatness (Luke 22:24).

Like all of us, the disciples needed repeated lessons in humility, and here Jesus used a child as His illustration.

In verse two: calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them

The word used for child “Paidion” identifies a very young child, sometimes even an infant. This particular child was perhaps a toddler, just old enough to run to Jesus when He called him to Himself. Because the group was likely in Peter’s house, the child may have belonged to Peter’s family and already been well known to Jesus. In any case, the child readily responded and allowed himself to be taken up into Jesus’ arms (Mark 9:36). Jesus loved children and they loved Him, and as He sat before the disciples holding this small child in His arms, He had a beautiful setting in which to teach them profound lessons about the childlikeness of believers. In taking the child up into his arms, Jesus put Himself on the same level as the child and the other adults around him.

The essence of the first lesson is in verse three, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn from your sins and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

That is an absolute and far-reaching requirement of ultimate importance. Entrance into Christ’s kingdom demands childlikeness.

The “Kingdom of Heaven,” a phrase Matthew uses 32 times, is synonymous with the kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of Heaven emphasizes the sphere and character of His rule, and kingdom of God emphatically pointing to the ruler Himself. God rules His kingdom with heavenly principles and heavenly blessings and in heavenly power, majesty, and glory. Entering the kingdom means coming under the sovereign rule of God.

Jesus is talking directly about entering God’s kingdom by faith, through salvation that will result in eternal glory. The phrase “enter the kingdom of heaven” is used three times in the book of Matthew (see also 7:21; 19:23-24) and in each case refers to personal salvation. It is the same experience as entering into life (18:8) and entering into the joy of the Lord (25:21).

The fact that a person must enter the kingdom assumes he is born outside of it under the rule of Satan and that he is not naturally a heavenly citizen under the rule of God. The purpose of the gospel is to show men how they may enter the kingdom and become its citizens:

Colossians 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,

The purpose of Christ’s ministry and the ministries of John the Baptist and the apostles was to call people to the kingdom. That is still the supreme task of the church.

The first component presented for entering the kingdom is repentance.

The message of John the Baptist was:

Matthew 3:2 Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

It was with that identical message that the Lord began His own ministry (4:17). The initial call for ending the kingdom was a call for people to recognize and repent of their sin, which involves genuine desire to turn away from it.

A second component of the faith that grants entrance to the kingdom is the recognition of spiritual bankruptcy. Beatitudes begin with a call to humility, expressed there as poverty of spirit (Matt. 5:3).

Matthew 5:3-8 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The Greek word “poor in spirit” refers to a beggar who has absolutely no resources of his own. Because the repentant and bankrupt person is deeply aware of his sin, he mourns over it (v. 4); because he has no righteousness of his own, he hungers and thirsts for God’s righteousness (v. 6); and because he cannot himself cleanse his sin, he longs for the purity of heart (v. 8) that only God can provide.

The person who genuinely wants to enter God’s kingdom sees himself as utterly unworthy and undeserving. His awareness of his sin brings guilt and frustration over his inadequacy to remove it. He knows that he cannot himself cleanse his sin and that he has nothing to offer God that could merit forgiveness for it.

As Jesus took the young child in His arms and held him up before the disciples, the Lord gathered up all those elements of salvation explaining the beginning of verse three:

Matthew 18:3 Truly, I say to you, unless you repent and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus explained. A little child is simple, dependent, helpless, unaffected, unpretentious, unambitious. Children are not sinless or naturally unselfish, and they display their fallen nature from the earliest age. But they are nevertheless naive and unassuming, trusting of others and without ambition for grandeur and greatness.

Children trust their parents to take care of them. They do not lie awake wondering where the next meal is coming from. They are anxiety free and confident that everything they need will be provided.

The conclusion is then in verse four:

Matthew 18:4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Who is this message for? The first word of verse four tells us: Whoever.

The nature of humility pictured with a child shows the end to the desire for power, status, self-sufficiency, rights and control.

A little child makes no claims of worthiness or greatness. He knows he cannot meet his own needs and has no resources to stay alive. That is the kind of humble submissiveness that results in greatness in God’s eyes and in His kingdom.

The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one who is humble, unaffected, genuinely sincere, undemanding, not self-centered, receptive to whatever God offers, and eagerly obedient to whatever He commands.

The disciples had become so preoccupied with the organization of Jesus’ earthly kingdom that they had lost sight of its divine purpose. Instead of seeking a place of service, they sought positions of advantage. It is easy to lose our eternal perspective and compete for promotions or status. It is difficult, but healthy, to identify with “children” weak and dependent upon Jesus.

In what ways are you making progress with childlikeness?

Today’s devotional marks 4,800 posts here at Christianity 201.

May 21, 2023

For Ascension Sunday

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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In the Christian calendar, Thursday was Ascension Day, but in many of our traditions it’s not observed and perhaps you’ve not heard of it at all.

For the occasion, we’re back once again with Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who had an excellent article on Thursday at If you click through today, you’ll also find a very helpful appendix to this article which contains some important additional teaching. Click the title which follows.

Taken Up In Glory

Listen to our message on your audio player.

“And He (Jesus) led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God” (Luke 24:50-53).

“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory (1 Timothy 3:16).

Yesterday Brooksyne talked with our Amish neighbor to see if their older daughters could come over sometime this week to help her spread mulch. As Annie was reviewing their schedule she reminded Brooksyne that on Thursday (today) they take off work since it is Ascension Day, which for some reason receives little notice among many branches of Christianity.

The girls made plans to come over Saturday morning. They are good workers and as we age some routine  household and outdoor chores have gotten a bit harder, and it’s an opportunity for the young ladies to earn some spending money! Our neighbors grow vegetables for the Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op along with field corn, wheat, etc. While Brooksyne was visiting their home yesterday their dad came in a bit upset after a piece of equipment broke down that was needed to finish baling the hay in their field. Typical of farmers, who work with a lot of heavy duty equipment, machinery breaks down and repairs can be very costly and the crop won’t wait!

Ascension Day is commemorated in the Amish tradition by families getting together for fellowship, games, and potluck meals. There are several very specific events in the life of Christ and the church that we commemorate. At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation and birth of Christ. On Good Friday we focus on His sacrificial death and on Easter His glorious resurrection. On Sunday, May 28, we will observe Pentecost.

But for some reason Ascension Day doesn’t get nearly as much attention in most church traditions, including those of which we have been a part. How many of you awakened today with Ascension Day on your mind. before reading this message?

Ascension is defined as “the act of rising to an important position or a higher level”. Theologically it is the ascent of Christ into heaven on the fortieth day after the Resurrection.

Today’s Scripture portion gives us the account of the Ascension found in Luke’s Gospel although the more well-known account is found in Acts 1.

This account describes the place of the Ascension: He led them out as far as Bethany. John 11:18 informs us that “Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off”. So during the period following His resurrection Christ traveled to Galilee but was now back near Jerusalem for His great departure from earth.

“He lifted up His hands and blessed them.”  That must have been a remarkable experience! I can think of several deeply memorable blessings I have received through life. Bill Shibilo and his wife Veda, both now with the Lord, were a great encouragement to us during our years in New England. They were steady and loyal, which any pastor will tell you is a tremendous blessing.

Over twenty years ago as Bill’s time of departure neared we gathered in his hospital room at New England Medical Center in Boston and sang hymns, read Scripture and prayed. Bill had a respiratory illness and had great difficulty speaking but I will never forget when he mustered enough physical strength to look directly at Brooksyne and me and proclaim, “God bless your ministry”. We still stay in touch with their son Greg, who carries the esteemed position of being Ester’s favorite Sunday School teacher.

Likewise I am sure each of the disciples remembered this special blessing all through the remainder of their lives. But I wonder if they had any idea what would happen next?

“While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” An ancient creedal statement of the early church is found in 1 Timothy 3:16, “He was taken up in glory.”

The account in Acts 1 states, “He was taken up before their very eyes”. This was important for the disciples to witness and is an essential part of the Biblical record. It reinforces that Jesus Christ is God and that He returned to His home in heaven 40 days after He was resurrected from the dead.

“And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.” This worship experience sets a pattern for the Church. Christ was no longer visible nor was He in their midst physically. At this point their worship was similar to ours.

Peter expressed it this way many years later in his epistle, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

The Acts account provides this additional detail, “He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”

These two angels of the Lord dressed in white assured those early disciples that “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”

The angels’ promise of His return is reinforced and elaborated on throughout the New Testament. Paul calls it the “blessed hope”. One day, perhaps even today, this glorious event will take place. In the meantime let us faithfully serve the Lord who was taken up in glory. Let us look to Him who now sits at the right hand of the Father, until that great day is fully realized!

Daily prayer: Father, Scripture teaches us that even as Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after His resurrection He will come again, but this time we have the blessed hope of ascending with Him and joining with those of like precious faith. Thank You for loved ones and witnesses of the truth who have repeated this glorious life-transforming message to us over the years preparing our hearts for this major event. May it be the resounding message from our own lips as we anticipate the glorious moment when we will all be changed in the twinkling of an eye. Help us to be faithful and watching eagerly for the blessed hope of Your second coming where those of us on earth will take up eternal residency in heaven. In Your name, Jesus, we pray to You as we also look for Your reappearing. Amen.

May 20, 2023

Timothy Keller Quotations

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:26 pm
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Yesterday the world lost author, apologist, church planter and pastor Tim Keller. Although his many books have been very influential, his first was published only 15 years ago. Someone suggested that before getting involved with publishing, he waited to better express the message he wished to share with the world.

The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.

I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: “If I was saved by my good works — then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace — at God’s infinite cost — then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.”

If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.

To find God we must repent of the things we have done wrong, but if that is all you do you may remain just an elder brother. To truly become Christians we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right. Pharisees only repent of their sins, but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness, too. We must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness — the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord. We must admit that we’ve put our ultimate hope and trust in things other than God, and that in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of these things.”

God’s grace and forgiveness, while free to the recipient, are always costly for the giver…. From the earliest parts of the Bible, it was understood that God could not forgive without sacrifice. No one who is seriously wronged can “just forgive” the perpetrator…. But when you forgive, that means you absorb the loss and the debt. You bear it yourself. All forgiveness, then, is costly.

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.

Christians will not, interestingly, benefit society if they’re just like everybody else in society. We’re not going to benefit a society filled with self-actualizers unless we really are different, unless we do believe Jesus died for us, unless we do believe that we live through the self-sacrifice of the great Jesus Christ, and therefore we’re going to live by self-sacrifice. You see, unless we are shaped deeply by that, then we’re really not going to be of any kind of benefit.

An idol is anything more important to you than God. Anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God. Anything you seek to give you what only God can give. Anything that is so central and essential to your life, that should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.

The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you.

Most of all the psalms, read in light of the entire Bible, bring us to Jesus. The psalms were Jesus’s songbook. The hymn that Jesus  sang at the Passover meal (Matthew  26:30; Mark 14:26) would have been the Great Hallel, Psalms 113–118. Indeed, there is every reason to assume that  Jesus  would have sung all the psalms, constantly, throughout  his life, so that he knew them by heart. It is the book of the Bible that he quotes more than any other. But the psalms were not simply sung by Jesus; they also are about him, as we will see throughout this volume.

God directs his people not simply to worship but to sing his praises “before the nations.” We are called not simply to communicate the gospel to nonbelievers; we must also intentionally celebrate the gospel before them

If a person has grasped the meaning of God’s grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn’t live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God’s grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn’t care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn’t understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.

It’s not that you think less of yourself, it’s that you think of yourself less.

When pain and suffering come upon us, we finally see not only that we are not in control of our lives but that we never were.

It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances.

Human beings are so integral to the fabric of things that when human beings turned from God, the entire warp and woof of the world unraveled …We have lost God’s shalom — physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, culturally. Things now fall apart.

The irony is that many conservative Christians, most concerned about conserving true and sound doctrine, neglect the importance of prayer and make no effort to experience God, and this can lead to the eventual loss of sound doctrine… Christianity without real experience of God will eventually be no Christianity at all.

Tim Keller on Romans 8:28

Romans 8 is all about living in a suffering world marked by brokenness… Verse 28 says: For those loving him, God works together all things for good. …Earlier in Romans 8, Paul discusses how things fall apart because the world is burdened with evil and sin. Things are subject to decay. Everyone will eventually experience the decay of their bodies; that’s the nature of things. The little grains of sand on the beach used to be a mountain. Everything falls apart; things do not come together.

This verse tells Christians to get rid of the saccharine, sentimental idea that things ought to go right, that things do go right, and that it’s normal for things to go right. Modern, Western people believe that if things go wrong, we should sue, because things ought to go right. But Christians have to discard that idea completely.

Christians have to recognize that if our health remains intact, it is simply because God is holding it up. If people love us, if someone is there to hug us or squeeze our hand, if someone loves us in spite of all our flaws—if someone loves us at all—it’s because God is bringing all things together. God is holding it up. Everything that goes well is a miracle of grace.

Previously at Christianity 201:

sources: Care (UK), Good Reads, Anchored in Christ, Crosswalk, Prayer Coach, Church Leaders, The Blazing Center, and Christianity 201

May 17, 2023

Truth in Love

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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But this is what you must do: Tell the truth to each other. Render verdicts in your courts that are just and that lead to peace. – Zechariah 8:16 NLT

Since you put away lying, Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. – Ephesians 4:25 CSB

Elsie Montgomery is in the top five most-quoted devotional writers here at C201. I have great respect for what she faithfully produces at Practical Faith, since 2006. Clicking the title which immediately follows will take you to her site and a treasure trove of devotional articles.

Love that speaks

Some say truth hurts. Some say there is no truth, only opinions. Some say love is a feeling and if the feeling is not there, love is gone. The Bible says, “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Ephesians 4:14–15)

Jesus also says, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free . . . . So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” meaning free from bondage to sin and its result of spiritual death. (John 8:31–36) Obviously human interpretations fall short of God’s definitions of both truth and love.

Jesus describes truth as the key to freedom from the tyranny of always needing to have my own way. He describes love as giving up selfish-desires to serve Him and others. That means that the truth only hurts those who insist on running their own life apart from God and truth is opinion only to those who reject God as having all wisdom and authority. This also means that love is a mere whim and only expressed when ‘I feel like it’ which, for a self-centered person, is more miss than hit.

This puts speaking the truth in love into a very narrow definition. Truth is the Word of God, what He says is true. Love is saying it without concern for myself, thinking only for the spiritual well-being of others. Love isn’t concerned about opinions, rejections, or being popular, only about the eternal destiny of those who do not know Jesus, and about the joy and freedom they can have if truth and love rule their lives.

So why is speaking the truth in love such a challenge? I know that my spiritual enemy does not want it to happen. He will do whatever he can to bring doubt, fear, confusion, and all sorts of sin my way so I’m mixed up, cowardly, uncertain, and more concerned about me than about others. He works on my conscience with accusations, temptations, and distractions. He tells me if I am bold with the truth, others will reject me or think I am ‘touched in the head’ or worse. He tells me if I love like Jesus loves, people will use me, walk all over me, rip me off and laugh at me behind my back.

Speaking the truth in love is serious business. Jesus did it — and died because of it. The early disciples, all but one, were martyrs because they did it. Today, hundreds of Christians will die for their faith, and if not death, be tortured or put in prison, or at best, ridiculed for speaking the truth in love. In North America, we have laws that protect severe persecution yet in subtle ways our freedom to speak truth is being limited and the love of God is interpreted to mean that He wants everyone to be comfortable.

PRAY: Jesus, in these confusing times, enable clarity of thought, words of truth, and a heart full of Your love for Your people. This is not only serious but difficult. In myself, I cannot do it but I can do all things through You, as Paul prayed, and “May my love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9). Thank You for the joy that comes with both truth and love in my life.

READ: Revelation 2:1–7 noting the strengths in this church and the one thing it lacked. What is God’s answer to what was missing?

Watch for a bonus item from Elsie later this week!

May 16, 2023

Obedience Happens if our Love is Real

This is our third time highlighting the writing of Nathan Nass who writes at Upside-Down Savior. Nathan is a Lutheran Pastor in Oklahoma. Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared where you may also scroll down to watch it on video.

Love Obeys

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:15-24 NIV)

[edited: References to the day on which this was presented being Mother’s Day]

Over the past three months—since the beginning of Lent—we’ve been hearing about how Jesus suffered for us and how Jesus died for us and how Jesus rose from the dead for us. He gave up everything for us. To forgive our sins and give us eternal life and proclaim to every single one of us that we are loved. That we are forgiven. That we are saved. You too! There’s one person who’s done even more for you than your mom: Jesus.

So how can we show our love for Jesus? … Here’s what Jesus says: If you love me, keep my commands.” Sound familiar? Just like with mom, if you love Jesus, do what he says. Love obeys. Jesus says that three times in our lesson: If you love me, keep my commands.” “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” Clearly, Jesus thinks this is a really big deal. What can we do to show our love for Jesus? Do what he says! Love obeys.

We really need to hear this. Our society has taken the word “love” and twisted it beyond recognition—especially when it comes to love for God. According to what we hear today, love means that I get to do whatever I want. Isn’t that the case? “I can love whomever I want and love whatever I want and God better love it. Love means I can do whatever I want!” How would that work with your mother? “Mom, I love you so much that today I’m going to do whatever I want to do and you’d better like it.” Isn’t that what we say to God? “God, I love you, so I’m going to live however I want and you better like it. Okay?” What on earth? What planet are we from?

This is such a temptation for us as Christians. To say we love Jesus and to be content with our sin at the same time. “I can believe in Jesus and love my money. Who doesn’t?” “I can believe in Jesus and be a jerk to some people. They deserve it!” “I can believe in Jesus and express my sexuality the way I want to. It’s natural.” “Since I love Jesus, it’s okay that I sin, because Jesus forgives me. It’s all good, right?” “No, it isn’t,” Jesus says. “That’s not love!” If you love me, keep my commands.” The good works you do don’t make you a Christian. We get to heaven by faith in Jesus. But the good works you do are the proof that you’re a Christian. Love is an action.

“But Pastor,” people say, “it’s complicated. I know what Jesus says. I just can’t do that right now. It would be too hard. You don’t understand. It’s complicated!” There are lots of things in life that are complicated. Love for Jesus is not one of those things. He makes it simple. If we love Jesus, we will obey what he commands. If Jesus is first, we will put him first. Jesus doesn’t ask us for excuses for why we’ve decided to put something else above him in our lives. He makes a very simple request as our loving Savior, “If you love me, keep my commands.”

So what are Jesus’ commands? The Bible has lots of commands. Maybe that’s why God gives us a summary: The Ten Commandments. Remember those? God wants you to remember the Ten Commandments. Why? If you love me, keep my commands.” The first three commandments are about our relationship with God. That comes first. Remember them? You shall have no other gods.” We love God more than everything else. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Don’t let “oh my God” slip out of your mouth. “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Make time for God and his word. Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commands.

The other seven commandments are about our relationships with other people. Honor your father and mother.” Not just on Mother’s Day! You shall not murder.” Love people. Protect life. You shall not commit adultery.” Sex is God’s gift for a married husband and wife. Protect marriage. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Tell the truth, even when it hurts. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.” “You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse, workers, animals, or anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20). Be content with what God has given you. Jesus says, If you love me, keep my commands.”

What if we don’t? What if we refuse? What if we choose one or two of those commandments and say, “This one isn’t a big deal to me. I don’t like it. I’m not going to follow it.” Well, it’s not complicated. Jesus tells us. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” If I refuse to follow God’s commands, what does that mean? I don’t love Jesus. If I don’t love Jesus, where will I end up? Apart from Jesus forever in hell. Jesus says, If you love me, keep my commands.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear all of this, there’s a word that comes to mind: “Help!” “Jesus, if I am going to keep your commands—any of your commands—help!” Jesus knows. Jesus knows how sinful we are. Jesus knows that on our own we are incapable of keeping his commands. So notice what Jesus immediately promises: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.” There’s help—the biggest help imaginable: Jesus has put the Holy Spirit in you. That’s not a small thing! You have God inside you. Everywhere you go, in every decision you make, God is there with you.

We maybe don’t think enough about the Holy Spirit. I’ve had two people just in the past two weeks talk with me about the joy of understanding the Holy Spirit’s work. The Holy Spirit empowers our spiritual lives from beginning to end. Some Christians today say, “God gets things started, and then it’s up to you to keep it going.” Other Christians today say, “You need to take the first step, you need to invite God in, and then God will take over from there.” Which is right? Neither! It’s all God from beginning to end. The Holy Spirit is the One who brings us to faith.No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). And the Holy Spirit is also the One who keeps us in the faith. And the Holy Spirit is the One who empowers us to follow God’s commands. Our life with God is all God and his grace from beginning to end.

The Bible tells us what the Holy Spirit uses to do his work in us: The Gospel in God’s Word and the Sacraments. We call those the “Means of Grace”—the ways that God gives us his grace. Through the sacrament of Baptism, you were born again of water and the Spirit (John 3:6). The Holy Spirit forgave all your sins and gave you new life. But he doesn’t stop there. Through the sacrament of Holy Communion, you receive again and again the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And every time you hear God’s Word, the Holy Spirit is working his strength and his power in your heart. None of our life of faith is on our own. None of it relies on our own strength or power. The Father will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.” It is a wonderful blessing to have the gift of the Holy Spirit!

But it’s not just the Holy Spirit. Did you hear what else Jesus promises? My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” It’s not just the Spirit who is inside you. Who else has made their home with you? The Father and the Son. The whole Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit—make their home in you. What an amazing thought! You are the house of God. Sometimes people think that God lives at church. That’s not true! Where does God live? In you. You are not alone. Maybe your mother is gone. Maybe your father is gone. But you are not alone. You are not an orphan. God lives in you. God empowers you.

Do you see how this works?It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:13). If we do anything good, who does it? God! Jesus doesn’t say, “If you love me, I will love you.” We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Jesus doesn’t say, “If you forgive, I will forgive you.” No. We forgive, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32). Jesus doesn’t say, “If you live the right way, you will live in heaven.” He says, Because I live, you also will live.” Jesus loves you. Jesus forgives you. Jesus lives for you. So we forgive because he forgave. We live because he lived for us. We love because he loved us.

How? How do we show love for Jesus? If you love me, keep my commands.” Whichever commands of Jesus you’ve been rejecting, confess them. Don’t get comfortable in your sins. Take those sins to Jesus’ cross. See how he died to forgive you. Then look to the Holy Spirit in the Word and the Sacraments to give you strength to live for Jesus. The Spirit is that voice that calms your anger before you explode. The Spirit is the voice that says “No” to that sin even when the rest of you says yes. The Spirit is the hand that picks up the Bible. The Spirit is in you.

In our FaithBuilders class this past week, someone asked an excellent question: “This faith thing sounds really simple, and yet it seems impossible. Which is it?” Do you know the answer? It’s “yes!” It’s both! There is nothing complicated about being a Christian. Believe in Jesus and show your love for him by keeping his commands. It’s simple! Yet, who can do that? No one. Except by the Holy Spirit. May Jesus give us his Spirit through the Word and the Sacraments so that we show our love for him in our lives. How? If you love me, keep my commands.” Love obeys.

May 9, 2023

Non-Stop Talk about Sharing in God’s Glory

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I was once in a young adults meeting where the leader asked, “What do you talk about when it’s your chance to control the conversation?” Opportunities to give credit (honor) to God don’t happen all the time, but we should be taking advantages of them when they do.

This is our third time highlighting the writing of 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.

What Is Jesus Doing In Your Life?

Romans 5.1-2

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

“How is it with your soul?”

That’s a Wesleyan question that we Methodists still throw around occasionally. It comes from John Wesley himself and was the central question for historic Methodist class meetings, these small and intimate gatherings of Christians who were concerned with what it actually meant to be Christian. The question confronts us in our faith such that we must reckon with what God’s grace is doing to us.

And yet, we don’t ask that question, or questions like it, anymore. Sure, in the context of a Bible study or a small group ostensibly gathering in the name of Christ, you might hear a question like it but in our day to day discipleship, it’s nowhere to be found.

The relativization of the faith to the private sphere has resulted in a form of discipleship that is largely divorced from Christ’s call to take up our cross and follow. Put another way, if our faith is merely something we do on Sundays then it doesn’t really have anything to do with the One who makes our faith intelligible.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome he confronts the embodied nature of the faith with physical language about “standing in grace” and “boasting in our hope.” Something has been done to us and, as such, we have an assurance that we can live differently because of it. And that something has a name: Jesus.

Frederick Buechner, author/pastor/theologian once said:

“Nice people don’t talk about religion. Or so the thinking goes. That’s why, when I taught at Wheaton College, it was so refreshing. There were people there who talked about it ALL THE TIME. It was almost too much and hard to take. It was as if they had Jesus in their hip pocket, and all they had to do was take him out and he would tell them where to find a parking space. But, on the other hand, they were able to ask, “What is Jesus doing in your life this week?” Marvelous! I believe God is doing something in everyone’s life every moment!

But the idea of asking that question in certain places with certain people, it’s like the sky would fall in, the house would catch fire, and I would never be asked out again. In other words, people don’t ask about our experiences of grace, but perhaps they should.”

I wonder, therefore, how differently the church would look were we willing to ask that all too important question, “What is Jesus doing in your life this week?” If the faith we proclaim on Sundays is indeed the faith revealed to us in the person of Christ, then there are manifold implications for how Christ is guiding, shaping, and moving in our midst. Particularly since worship isn’t as much about what we do, but more about what we do in response to all that God has done, is doing, and will do.

Basically, it comes down to a matter of agency: Do we believe that God is active in our lives, or do we consider ourselves the primary movers and shakers?

Perhaps asking the question is the way in which we can open our eyes and ears to Christ’s actions in our lives. And maybe, being able to ask the question at all is what makes faith, faith.

And so, what is Jesus doing in your life this week?

May 3, 2023

Don’t Stop Praying

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we’re back again at the daily devotional page at Magnficent Life Ministries, a ministry based near Riverside, California.

This was a two-part devotional, and as we post this, there may be more, so you’re encouraged to click the headers which follow and then click on the home page to see new material. Also at the bottom of each of the linked pages you can connect to related devotionals on the subject of prayer.

(These devotions use the King James text. If you’re new at all this and struggle with understanding, use the references to look up verses in your personal Bible.)

Continue in Prayer! Part One

“Continue in prayer, and watch in it with thanksgiving.” Colossians 4.2

Yes, the Bible, especially the epistles, is a book that teaches believers about all that Christ has done. It tells of His redemptive work. It explains in detail all that happened from the cross to the throne. Yet in it are instructions for the New Testament believer. As it speaks of who we are, it also speaks of what we can do because of who we are. We derive our identity and our conduct from the same. A mere purview of Paul’s letter, for instance, shows you the manner in which the apostles wrote.

They wrote the first part of the letter to tell of all Christ has done for you, who you are in Him, and what you have because of Him, and now ends with instructions on how to live the Christian life. One of those many instructions in the scriptures is the instruction to pray. Prayer is so evidently taught in the scriptures; it will take sheer disobedience not to do the same. Some places where they instructed prayers include Matthew 9.38 “Pray you, therefore, the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.”

Matthew 26.41 says, “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Romans 15:30-31 also said, “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints.” It is evident that prayer is emphatically taught in the scriptures. We had not even cited an example from Jesus’ prayer life or how they prayed in the book of Acts. You will also clearly note the object of prayers in the epistle. Prayer for things was almost not mentioned.

They basically prayed for a revelation of the Spirit of knowledge, strength, utterances, and boldness for the preacher of the gospel; and their deliverance. But much, note that prayer was continuous. It was what was done night and day. It was instructed to be done at all times. There are treasures in the place of prayer that a believer is yet to unlock, a depth of fellowship with the Father, wisdom to be gleaned from Him, revelation, and insight to be received as we pray. Let us cultivate the habit of praying continuously; it is not because we need to pray but a commandment from above. Romans 12:12 says, “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.”

Father Lord, please give me the grace to be persistent in prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Continue with Prayer! Part Two

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” James 1:5

If we are to take 1 Thessalonians 5:17 seriously, then prayer is not just an occasional indulgence but a way of life. It is how we communicate with God and should be as practical and consistent as our daily routine. However, it’s not always easy to keep up with this commandment, especially when faced with the challenges and distractions of everyday life.

In evaluating our prayer lives, we must ask ourselves how practical and consistent they are. For example, are we only praying when things go wrong, or do we make time for prayer even in times of peace? Do we pray just for ourselves, or do we also intercede for others? How much effort do we put into our prayers – is it just a casual mention, or do we really pour out our hearts to God? Whatever you do, I want you to choose a person in your local church or Pastor to pray for today, using the examples of prayer focus in part one of the daily devotion.

Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.”

As Christians, our faith in God is the cornerstone of our lives. We turn to Him in times of joy and in times of sorrow. However, it’s important to remember that we don’t need to wait for a special season or occasion to pray. Our prayers should be constant and unwavering, just as God’s love for us is. Prayer should not be seen as a religious obligation but rather as an intimate conversation between us and our Creator. Maintaining consistency in our prayer life makes it easier to hear from God and understand His will for our lives.

In James 1:5-8, we’re reminded that if we lack wisdom, all we need to do is ask God, and He will give it to us generously without finding fault. But this request must be made with faith and without a doubt because those who doubt are like waves on the sea tossed by the wind. Therefore, when we make our requests known to God through prayer, let’s do so confidently, knowing He hears us and will answer according to His will. John 14:13-14 says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Amen.

1. Oh Lord Jesus, thank you for your mercy and grace.
2. Holy Spirit, help me to be consistent in the spiritual realm of prayer with God through Christ Jesus. Amen.

April 30, 2023

Together, You and Me and He

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Last year at this time we introduced you to Gary Moore, who for five years has been writing at Rock Excavation Service. The blog’s theme verse is “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:4. Click the title below to read this where it first appeared, and don’t miss today’s bonus article from the same author, shared here in full.

Not Pharisee or Sadducee but You and Me

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves.
Hebrews 10:1 NLT

From the law of Moses, God established laws that showed humanity two things. First, no one can be good enough to enter heaven. Secondly, it has been God’s intent from before Creation to have a Champion for His created people.

An exciting and vitally important aspect of Christianity is that of Jesus being the 1st, making the way for us to follow Him. Rather than being nagged by my grammar checker for writing a convoluted and difficult-to-read sentence, let me first provide a few examples.

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps..”1 Peter 2:21 ESV

The Firsts of Jesus

Jesus is the first fruit of God’s resurrection1, but all who have put their faith in Him will also be resurrected2. Jesus is the 1st to receive a glorified body, but we, too, will receive one3 at our resurrection. Jesus ascended into heaven and “is seated in the place of honor next to God4” God, too, “raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.5.”

You and Me’s

The Messiah, Jesus, was always the answer, was always our hope, always the “way, truth, and life” for the children of Adam. To have God “in” us would only happen when “God was with us” came into the world. Clothed in flesh6, Jesus made the Pharisees and Sadducees obsolete. He became the eternal “first,” and as followers, we became the object of His love; His Church, His Bride. Jesus replaced the Pharisees and Sadducees with you and me’s.

Good News

Jesus uses you and me. Together with all people that belong to Jesus, we tell the world of His Good News and minister to people’s spiritual and physical needs. And we to go into all the world and make disciples in every nation.

Since we only discovered Gary’s blog last year, we mined his archives and found this article from 2018.

Axioms of God

You may remember from your high school math class that an axiom is “a statement of truth that does not require a proof. The dictionary definition is a statement or proposition that is regarded as being established, accepted, or self-evidently true.”

There are a set of axioms about God. Every Christian needs to know these and understand that everything in the Bible and everything about your life, now and in the future, are predicated on these axioms of God.

Everything about the gospel of Jesus Christ rests on top of these axioms. Steven Lawson in his article on Divine Sovereignty does a great job with listing these fundamental truths. Here’s what he wrote:

From its opening verse, the Bible asserts in no uncertain terms that God is and that God reigns. In other words, He is God—not merely in name, but in full reality. God does as He pleases, when He pleases, where He pleases, how He pleases, and with whom He pleases in saving undeserving sinners. All other doctrines of the Christian faith must be brought into alignment with this keystone truth.

Divine Sovereignty
from Steven Lawson Jul 06, 2018 Category: Articles

Let me bullet-point Steven Lawson’s statement and back these axioms up with Scriptures from the Bible.

  • God is – Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
  • God reigns, not merely in name, but in full reality – Psalms 103:19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.
  • God does as He pleases – Philippians 2:13 (ESV) for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Ezekiel 1:12 (ESV) And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.
  • God does when He pleases – Romans 5:6  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Deuteronomy 1:6 (ESV) “The Lord our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain..’”.
  • God does how He pleases – Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Romans 12:2 (ESV) Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV) Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
  • God does with whom He pleases in saving undeserving sinners – Jeremiah 1:5 (ESV) “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Mark 1:1-5 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:“ I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

All other doctrines of the Christian faith must be brought into alignment with this keystone truth.

If I may expound on this statement, if you believe anything that does not agree with these axioms of God then you need to re-examine that belief. And, if you present your wrong belief to anyone as “truth” then you are teaching hearsay and that is a very dangerous thing for you, for God said in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

These self-evident truths need to be ingrained within us so we have God’s most fundamental truths at hand to measure and decide, with the help of the Holy Spirit, what is of God and what is a lie.

Footnotes for the first article:

[1]: 1 Corinthians 15:20
[2]: 1 Corinthians 6:14 ESV
[3]: Philippians 3:21 ESV
[4]: Hebrews 1:3 NLT
[5]: Ephesians 2:6 NLT
[6]: John 1:14 ESV

April 29, 2023

Hatred Dissolves at the Cross

This is our fourth time highlighting the writing of Mel Wild, senior pastor at Cornerstone Church and director of Radiant School of Ministry, both based in Wisconsin USA. Clicking the title which follows takes you to where this first appeared.

Hatred Died

Eph.2:14-16 TPT
Our reconciling “Peace” is Jesus! He has made Jew and non-Jew one in Christ. By dying as our sacrifice, he has broken down every wall of prejudice that separated us and has now made us equal through our union with Christ. Ethnic hatred has been dissolved by the crucifixion of his precious body on the cross. The legal code that stood condemning every one of us has now been repealed by his command. His triune essence has made peace between us by starting over—forming one new race of humanity, Jews and non-Jews fused together in himself!
Two have now become one, and we live restored to God and reconciled in the body of Christ. Through his crucifixion, hatred died.

Hatred died with Christ. This is good news!

This reality always blows my mind in light of our human experience.  Yes, the immediate context here is about Jews and Gentiles, but that includes all non-Jews….in other words, the rest of humanity.

Two things strike me here. The first I already mentioned, that all ethnic prejudice, racial differences, and hatred have been dissolved by the Cross.

Think about that for a moment.

The second is that the “legal code,” or the Law, condemned everyone. So our moralizing and virtue-signaling only shows how ignorant we truly are.

We’ll talk about that another time.

“His triune essence has made peace between us by starting over—forming one new race of humanity…”, meaning all old ways of describing ourselves are irrelevant and obsolete in light of Christ.

I think it was Bernard of Clairvaux who said, “To know God is to love Him.” Of course, he was just saying what John said:

NIV.I John.4.7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  

Indeed, it cannot be any other way. As John clarified in the negative, to not love God only means that, while you may have experienced some form of Christian religion,  you’ve never actually encountered Him.

To say it another way, there’s no such thing as knowing Christ and not loving Him…and not loving others.

So, for a Jesus follower to make a distinction between ethnicity, or race, or just to hate any human being, is to be suffering from a serious identity dysfunction.

And in loving others, you begin to see the infinite value in all people, and that’s a staggering thought, as  C.S. Lewis pointed out so well in his book, “The Weight of Glory”:

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.

You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.

We must play.

But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” – C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (reprint, HarperOne, 2001), pp. 45-46.

Two things here…

“Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.” Yes, there are petty things like ethnic hatred and prejudice in nations and cultures, but that’s not who you are.

“All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.” This point haunts me daily. Do I see my interactions with people in this light?

I think when we stand before God, He will ask us one critical question: “Did you learn how to love?” That will be the only thing that will matter then.

I want to be able to answer that question in the affirmative now. That’s my mission, but I must confess, I fail at it considerably.

Beloved, there is no other version of Christianity; only man-fabricated religions created by people who have not known Love.

NIV.1 John.4.19 We love because he first loved us. 20Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

April 24, 2023

Worship without Music

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , ,

One of things I try to do each day here is make sure that any guest post (or ‘borrowed post’) we use contains scripture. Depending on your perspective, today’s either does not, or it contains over a hundred! But I couldn’t not run this as today’s featured reading here at C201.

I should also say that the writer of this devotional probably didn’t intend this, but it occurred to me that simply reading the list of 70 aspects of Jesus out loud would be a powerful worship moment. (I wish I’d seen this in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when local health units were advising churches not to have singing!) If you’re in a room by yourself, consider doing just that, or reading it aloud as part of your family devotional time today or tomorrow. It can be a powerful declaration.

The author is Tom Smith who writes at the blog, “Holding to Truth in Love.” Click the title below to read this at source. Also, if you click through, each one of the many scriptures listed below is linked to the full text in the author’s preferred version, the King James.

70 Aspects of Christ as Everything for Your Enjoyment

Here are 70 aspects of Christ as everything for your appreciation, experience and enjoyment!

I found them while singing and musing on this hymn by Witness Lee entitled: “I’ve found the One of peerless worth.”

This hymn expresses God’s desire for us! He wants us to experience and enjoy Christ as everything.

However, to adequately experience Christ in a certain aspect, we first need to see Him, to appreciate Him in that aspect from God’s word.

Once we see an aspect of Christ we should lay hold of it by praying and musing on those Scripture verses that reveal  Him as such a One.

A Hymn on The Experience of Christ as Everything: “I’ve Found the One of Peerless Worth”

Stanza one of the hymn I enjoyed says:

I’ve found the One of peerless worth,
My heart doth sing for joy;
And sing I must, for Christ I have:
Oh, what a Christ have I!

May we all make such a discovery! May we find “the One of peerless worth.”

Since this hymn has fifteen stanzas, I won’t attempt to cover each stanza individually. I will simply list the seventy wonderful items of Christ I discovered with related Bible verses that reveal such an aspect.

I encourage you to follow the Scripture links for each aspect of Christ. Pause to pray and muse over them a little at a time until your appreciation for Christ grows and you experience Christ in that particular aspect.

70 Aspects of Christ as Everything for Your Experience

Christ is…

  1. The Lamb of God—John 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:19; Exo. 12:3-4
  2. The Sun of Righteousness—Mal. 4:2; Psa. 84:11; Luke 1:78
  3. The Tree of Life (also the Bread of life)—John 15:1; 1:4; 6:35, 57; Rev. 22:14
  4. The smitten Rock, whence living waters burst—1 Cor. 10:4; Exo. 17:6
  5. The fountain in my heart—John 7:37-39
  6. My life—Col. 3:4; John 1:4a;
  7. My light—John 1:4b; 8:12
  8. My way—John 14:6
  9. My comfort—Psa. 23:4; Matt. 5:4; 2 Cor. 1:5
  10. My health—Luke 5:31-32
  11. My peace—Eph. 1:2; 2:15
  12. My rest—Matt. 11:28
  13. My joy—John 15:11
  14. My hope—Col. 1:27
  15. My glory—Col. 1:27; 3:4; 2 Thes. 1:10
  16. My wealth—Eph. 3:8; Col. 2:3 6
  17. My wisdom—1 Cor. 1:24b, 30
  18. My power—1 Cor. 1:24a
  19. My boast—Rom. 5:2, 11; 15:17; 1 Cor. 1:31
  20. My righteousness—1 Cor. 1:30
  21. My victory—1 Cor. 15:57
  22. My redemption—1 Cor. 1:30
  23. My truth—2 Cor. 11:10
  24. My holiness—1 Thes. 3:13
  25. My Savior—John 4:42; Acts 13:23; Tit. 2:13
  26. My Shepherd—Psa.23:1; John 10:11; Rev. 7:17
  27. My Lord—John 20:28; Phil. 2:11
  28. My Advocate above—1 John 2:1
  29. My Counsellor—Isa. 9:6
  30. My Father—Isa. 9:6
  31. My God—Isa. 9:6
  32. My Brother—Matt. 12:49; Luke 8:21; John 20:17; Rom. 8:29
  33. My Friend—John 15:14-15
  34. My Love—S.S. 2:9-10
  35. My Captain—Heb. 2:10 (alternate translation for “Author”)
  36. My Guard—Phil. 4:7
  37. My Teacher—Matt. 10:24
  38. My Guide—Exo. 15:13; Psa. 23:3; Luke 1:79; Rev. 7:17
  39. My Bridegroom—Matt. 9:15; John 3:29
  40. My Master—Matt. 10:25; 24:45
  41. My Head—1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 1:22
  42. Who “In me doth He reside”— Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 13:5; Col. 1:27
  43. My Prophet—Matt. 21:11, 46; Luke 7:16; John 6:14; Deut. 18: 18
  44. My Priest—Heb. 7:26; 8:1
  45. My King—Luke 19:38; Matt. 25:34; Rev. 17:14; 19:16
  46. The Author of my faith—Heb. 12:2
  47. The Perfecter of my faith—Heb. 12:2
  48. My Mediator—1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8:6
  49. My Guarantee (surety)—Heb. 7:22
  50. My faithful Witness—Rev. 1:5; 3:14
  51. My everlasting home—John 14:23; 15:4-5
  52. My all-sufficient land—Col. 2:6-7; Deut. 8:7-8
  53. My fortress—2 Sam. 22:2; Psa. 18:2
  54. My tower—Psa. 61:3; 94:22; Prov. 18:10
  55. My hiding-place—Psa. 32:7; 119:114
  56. My eternal stand—Eph. 6:11, 13; Rom. 5:2; Gal. 5:1
  57. My sabbath—Col. 2:16-17
  58. My new moon—Col. 2:16-17
  59. My morning—Lam. 3:22-24
  60. My day—2 Pet. 3:8; 2 Cor. 4:16
  61. My age—2 Pet. 3:8; 2 Cor. 5:17
  62. My eternity—John 3:15-16
  63. My trust—Psa. 28:7; 40:3; Isa. 12:2; Jer. 17:7
  64. My desire—Psa. 73:25
  65. My satisfaction—Isa. 58:11
  66. My delight— Matt. 3:17; 17:5
  67. The all-inclusive One—Col. 1:14-19
  68. The first—Rev. 22:13
  69. The last—Rev. 22:13
  70. All in all—Col. 3:11

Make these 70 items of Christ as everything your subjective reality

In the final stanza (s. 15) the author exclaims:

Since such a treasure I possess,
My heart doth sing for joy;
And I must sing, and sing again;
Oh, what a Christ have I!

God desires that we make His unsearchably rich Christ, “my Christ!” Make such a Christ your Christ by calling on His name to partake of all His riches bit by bit, even bite by bite.

Romans 10:13 says, that the same Lord is Lord of all and rich to all who call on Him. As you muse on this list of aspects of Christ, call on His name, “Lord Jesus!” Then thank and praise Him for being these items to you and ask Him to make these aspects of Christ as everything your personal experience.

April 20, 2023

The Kingdom of God is Closer Than We Think!

Thinking Through Luke 17:20-37

by Clarke Dixon

Do you ever wonder when God is going to do the next big thing? We might wonder when we get to celebrate the Lord’s return, the end of the world, a new beginning.

If so, we are not alone:

One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”

Luke 17:(NLT)

Bible scholars tells us that when anyone asked about the coming Kingdom of God in that time and place, they were asking about a return to the glory days of political independence and of God’s people shining as a world power. So when will that happen according to Jesus? How did he respond?

Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”

Luke 17:20-21 (NLT)

Jesus responded with what the Kingdom is not, and what the Kingdom is.

What the Kingdom is not.

“The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’” (NRSV). That is, the Kingdom of God coming would not be a single world event that you could someday read about in world news. Someone in Egypt wouldn’t pick up the daily news and read about Judah, under a new king, kicking the Romans out on the way to becoming a powerful kingdom, more powerful even than the Roman Empire.

Jesus went on tell the disciples that there would be a showdown between Rome and God’s people in Judah, and that people would think it was the Kingdom coming, with this or that leader being named the Messiah, but it wouldn’t be. In fact the showdown would go the other way:

Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see the day when the Son of Man returns, but you won’t see it. People will tell you, ‘Look, there is the Son of Man,’ or ‘Here he is,’ but don’t go out and follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other, so it will be on the day when the Son of Man comes. But first the Son of Man must suffer terribly and be rejected by this generation.

“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days, the people enjoyed banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat and the flood came and destroyed them all.
“And the world will be as it was in the days of Lot. People went about their daily business—eating and drinking, buying and selling, farming and building—until the morning Lot left Sodom. Then fire and burning sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Yes, it will be ‘business as usual’ right up to the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day a person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return home. Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it.”

Luke 17:22-33 (NLT)

The next big thing would not be a good thing!

Next are two verses that if you have ever heard about the rapture, you would think refer to it. If you have not you would not:

That night two people will be asleep in one bed; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour together at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.”

Luke 17:34-35 (NLT)

Given that the disciples would never have heard of the rapture, what would they have thought Jesus meant?

A person being snatched away is the kind of thing that happened when a foreign army invaded. Many people are snatched up and taken as slaves. Again, Jesus was pointing out that a showdown was coming, and it was not going to go well for God’s people. It would not be the Kingdom of Israel restored to former glory.

“Where will this happen, Lord?” the disciples asked.
Jesus replied, “Just as the gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near.”

Luke 17:37 (NLT)

Bible scholars point out that the Greek word here for vulture also refers to an eagle. The eagle was the symbol of Rome. We could paraphrase, “where something is dead (perhaps referring to the religion of Jerusalem), there the Roman armies will attack.” Jerusalem was indeed besieged and destroyed by Roman armies within a generation of Jesus saying it would happen.

Jesus told the Pharisees and the disciples that the Kingdom of God is not as they expected. It is not bound up with a political entity, a nation, even such a special nation as Israel, being more powerful than the rest. It is not the empire of Rome being replaced by a new and improved Kingdom of Judah.

So what is it then?

What the Kingdom of God is.

For the Kingdom of God is already among you.

Luke 17:21 (NLT)

This verse has often been translated as “the Kingdom of God is…” “among you,” “within you,” or as the NET translation notes put it, along with N.T. Wright, “within your grasp.”

This is one of those moments where how you translate the words may depend on your theology and what you think Jesus was saying. Let’s think through what Jesus means here given the context of a showdown with Rome not being the Kingdom coming. To do so, we will want to remember everything that Jesus taught and modeled about love for one’s neighbour, which didn’t require a big final showdown between good and evil, about love for one’s enemies, which didn’t require a big final showdown between good and evil, and about picking up our cross and following in the way of Jesus, preferring to be crucified over crucifying, which didn’t require a big final showdown between good and evil. We could paraphrase Jesus here: “Don’t wait for God to do the next big thing – seek God’s Kingdom in everything.” The Kingdom of God is here when people live out that vision of love. That is possible here and now. It is within grasp. It is not something reserved for the future.

The apostle Paul gets at the kind of person that reflects the teaching and example of Jesus, the kind of person that reflects the Kingdom of God having come in their lives:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NET)

When it comes to the Kingdom of God, the question is not when, but how. How can I get involved? How can I reflect the Kingdom of God though my decisions?

When it comes to the Kingdom of God, the question is not when, but what. Not when do we get to take over this land,
but what does it look like when Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom life takes over my life?

None of this is to say that God is not going to do a next big thing in world history. It is to say that Jesus was not talking about that here.

The Kingdom of God is closer than we think. It is not a day, the Lord knows when, in the future when God changes everything in one extraordinary event. It is here when we lives as Kingdom people in everyday, ordinary decisions. When that happens, everything changes.

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec denomination. Previous sermon summaries can all be found at Thinking Through Scripture.

April 17, 2023

Desperate for Jesus

NIV.Luke.8.42b As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

* see also parallel account in Mark 5 25-34

The popular modern worship song “Breathe” ends with these words,

And I I’m desperate for you
And I I’m lost without you.

But how many times do we acknowledge our desperate need for God?

This is the fifth occasion we’ve shared the writing of Matt Tullos. Clicking the link which follows will connect you to his site where this first appeared.

Call Me Desperate

As I read the Gospel, there’s something that stands out in so many narratives and backstories. Jesus loves desperate people. Whether it’s the pleading father, the paralyzed man whose friends tore the roof off a house, or the sufferings of the entire nation of Israel, desperate people always get His attention.

I can remember times when I was so preoccupied with my work, the game, or a task, that my five-year-old son would grab my face with both his hands to assure I was listening. That’s just how absurdly one-track minded I can get. But that was never the case with Jesus. Nobody had to grab Him by the face. The moment the tassels of his prayer garment were touched, He felt her faith connect with His sufficiency. There is absolute power in the faith of a desperate person.

I’ve spent lots of time trying not to appear desperate, while knowing the deep chasm of my own insufficiency. And there is power in desperation. It’s clumsy at times. When I’m desperate, there’s no telling what might come out of my mouth. My prayers are fragmented. Sometimes all I can pray is the oldest one: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me.” In fact, that’s how I start every morning. It centers me on the truth that I have to cry out for mercy. Every morning. Every evening. And a baker’s dozen times a day. “Lord Jesus, Son of God have mercy.” I’m sure there are those who don’t need his mercy as much as I do, but it’s my broken bread and butter.

It brings me back to the woman reaching for the tassels of Jesus. (Luke 8, Mark 5)

A desperate, sick, bankrupt woman fights her way through the crowd to touch Jesus’ cloak. In Mark, we read that she spent everything she had on doctors but things only got worse. I have been there. It’s when you throw money at a problem and the problem’s appetite for money only grows. No one wants “money pit” problems. They’ll bring you to the end of yourself. Who wants that? There comes a time when you aren’t worried about how humiliating you look. You just lay yourself out there in front of God and everybody because you don’t care what anybody thinks. “In front of” is none of your concern.

As soon as she made contact with Him, He knew it and focused all his attention on her. In one moment, we can agree on a number of things about Jesus. He’s never too late, He’s never too busy, and He’s never too burdened to step into the pain of our desperation. Sometimes, He has to bring us into desperation in order for us to diligently seek Him. That’s the whole point of this life and yet we are often too consumed with the crowd to really stop and focus on our ultimate and preeminent King. That’s too bad, because when it comes down to it, every solution for brokenness, our pain and neediness is no more than a touch away.

Lord Jesus, Son of God have mercy. I have so often wanted a self-instigated salvation without the mess and grit of desperation. There is only one hero in my story. Have mercy in my desperation, so that I can more fully revel in your rescue.

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