Christianity 201

January 26, 2023

What Jesus Said About Our Biggest Influencers

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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How What Jesus Said Has Helped Me As a Father of a Gay Child

by Clarke Dixon

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…

Matthew 10:34-37 (NRSV)

These may be the most surprising words of Jesus. It seems out of character, not Christlike. However, when read with everything else, of course Jesus said it.

Let us remember that Matthew in presenting Jesus to us has already pointed out that the current leadership, both political and religious, is lacking. Jesus is the better leader. Matthew has told us that Jesus faced opposition from those other leaders, and his disciples will face the same. Which leads to the next point Matthew makes as he continues to introduce Jesus to us, namely, we face a choice. Given the leadership credentials of Jesus, will we follow him? Given that we may face opposition, will we follow him?

We can follow the status quo leadership and experience the status quo, or we can follow Jesus and experience big disruption in our lives. To paraphrase Jesus as he speaks about the division that following him brings, even to families: “Follow me and it is going to get messy!”

Thinking of what Jesus said about our love for him being greater than for our families, when we see the word love we may jump to the idea of “having affection for,” or “having compassion and concern for.” Is Jesus asking us to have greater affection for him, or concern for him? It seems to me that Jesus can take care of himself. As for our sons, when they were younger, not so much.

Family relationships and love within family relationships are about more than affection, compassion, and concern. They are about being formed, influenced, and affected by. Our families probably have greater influence on us than anyone or anything else. My Mum had an expression which I often heard growing up, “you get like the people you live with.” If we are not careful we will pick up attitudes and habits without even knowing it, which can include judgemental attitudes, overly pessimistic or overly optimistic attitudes, misuse of alcohol, and bad financial habits to name a few.

When Jesus says love me more than your family, he does not mean have more compassion and concern for him than your family, but allow your relationship with him to have greater impact on you. What he is in effect saying is “Don’t fall into being just like your family, lean into me and be more like me instead.” We tend to have a deep relationship of influence within our families, even when we don’t think we do. Jesus wants us to have a deeper relationship of influence with him and experience a greater impact from him. He is the wiser and greater authority on life than our family members. The way of Jesus is way better than the ways of your family.

Some will read these verses about disruption coming to family and will think “see we are following Jesus well because my devotion to Christianity has brought division to my family.” There is no more obvious example of this than when a child comes out as gay. Some well meaning Christian leaders call upon parents of gay children to try to get them to change their minds, to straighten them out. If that does not happen, don’t allow a significant other into you home for that will send the wrong signal. If they get married, don’t attend the wedding because that will send the wrong signal. If they do get married, don’t allow your child to bring their partner for Christmas dinner, again because it will send the wrong signal. Following this kind of advice will obviously bring disruption to family relationships and indeed one’s child will pick up the signals and will likely not want to show up for Christmas dinner thank you very much. This family disruption is proof, for some, that one is following Jesus well. “See I love Jesus more than my child!”

Moving further along in Matthew we come across some words of Jesus that have been very meaningful for me:

He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Matthew 12:9-14 (NRSV emphasis added)

The religious teachers were quite adamant that to be godly one must never work on a sabbath. Yet Jesus points out that even they knew that sometimes it is better to ignore their own teaching on righteousness in order to do the right thing. The sheep needs rescued. The religious rules just don’t work in this instance. Following the religious rules is unwise when there is a sheep in a pit.

There are a whole group of people in a pit. They hide, sometimes for years, sometimes forever, something very important about themselves from religious parents. They try to change themselves and despair when they can’t. Some are kicked out of their homes. Some take their own lives. The religious rules make gay children, teens and adults alike, feel not at home at home, not at home in their home church, and not at home with themselves.

I know what the Bible says about same-gender sex (which happens to be way less than what it says about the Sabbath), but people in a pit need our help, and I know what Jesus said about that.

It has been important for my wife and I that our gay son feels at home at home. Being the father of a gay child has not been difficult. Being the father of a gay child and being a Baptist has. Having a gay child has not led me to have all the answers, but it has led me to good questions, and to a greater awareness of some really bad answers. With so much being said among Baptists in our day on such matters perhaps part of the solution going forward is for less pontification from religious leaders like me, which ends up sounding like Pharisees pontificating about the Sabbath, and more giving parents and those who are gay alike the resources and space to figure it out. When it is your sheep that falls in a pit you have the eyes to see the wise thing to do. The Bible says that sometimes the religious rules just don’t work. Or at least Jesus pointed it out.

The way of Jesus is way better than the ways of our religion. Let us put Jesus and the way of Jesus at the centre. Sometimes religion doesn’t and sometimes religious leaders don’t. Let us not unthinkingly fall into religion and the religion of the religious leaders but let us lean into Jesus.

So in introducing us to Jesus, Matthew begins to present us with a choice; to put Jesus at the centre of our lives or not. We may think we do, but family and/or religious leaders may be there instead.


Note from Clarke: Some time ago I put together a series of videos on my experience of being a pastor and the father of an openly gay child. The project is unfinished, and in hindsight could be better, but it is what it is, I did what I could, and if it helps anyone, it can be found here. The full sermon from which this bog post has been taken can be seen here.

January 21, 2023

Problems, Pain and Heartache

This is our third time with Rolain Peterson in Zimbabwe and his blog called Kingspeech. Two of his recent blog posts were related, the first is presented below in full, the second was originally Christmas-themed, but there was some content related to the other article that we felt fit perfectly and we slightly edited it for year-round application. Better yet, click the blog’s link above or the titles linked below and read these where they first appeared.

Big Problems, Bigger God!

There will always be giants to fight, trials and difficult times that come our way but we must always remember that no matter how big the giants are, or how threatening the trials and problems seem, that God is bigger than ALL the problems we face.

In the midst of the problems you face remember that God is bigger.

There is NO problem that you are facing right now that is bigger than God.

And it’s especially important where you are focused. Make sure that you are not focused on the problem alone.

Focus on the Lord in the midst of what you are going through.

The enemy wants you to focus on the problems, and the giants that are in your way so much that they seem bigger and stronger than God. That’s what happened to Israel when they faced Goliath.

Goliath stood and shouted a taunt across to the Israelites. “Why are you all coming out to fight?” he called. “I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul. Choose one man to come down here and fight me! If he kills me, then we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, you will be our slaves! I defy the armies of Israel today! Send me a man who will fight me!” When Saul and the Israelites heard this, they were terrified and deeply shaken.

1 Samuel 17:8-11 NLT

And this happened for 40 days and nights. (1 Samuel 17:16)

They were so focused on the GIANT problem in front of them that they forgot that God was bigger and much stronger than Goliath. But that was not the case with David. He knew God was bigger than Goliath. He was confident that God would destroy Goliath. (1 Samuel 17:34-37)

Friends, I want to encourage you to look to God in the midst of the difficult things you are going through today.

He is bigger than EVERY problem you will ever face.

No matter what you are going through call on Him.

You don’t need to go at it alone. You are not alone in the fire.

God is with you and He will deliver you!

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.”

Psalm 18:2 NLT

You Are Not Alone

(excerpt)

… The reality [is] that there are a lot of people facing depression, people who are contemplating suicide, people who are facing mental health issues and so many other negative things.

But there is an answer to all the pain and difficult things we go through… throughout the year.

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

Isaiah 53:3 ASV

I love this scripture because it’s talking about JESUS. He was despised and rejected by men. He was acquainted with grief.

He was a man of sorrows! What a title.

If there is anyone who knows the pain you are going through it’s JESUS. He knows exactly what you are going through?

He knows the darkness you are in and the chains that are suffocating you.

He knows the hopelessness you are feeling at the moment and that is why you should call on Him immediately.

Whatever you are going through at the moment I want you to know that you are not alone. He is with you. He wants to help you and bring you out of the darkness. He wants to break the chains that are suffocating you right now.

Whatever pain and heartache you are going through remember that Jesus went through it. He was the man of sorrows.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”

Isaiah 53:4 ASV

Give Him your grief. He will carry your sorrow.

So cry out to Him for help. He loves you and wants to be there for you.

He knows your every pain that you are going through right now.

There is hope for you… And His name is JESUS!

January 17, 2023

God Doesn’t Share His Lordship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. – Matthew 26:49

Today’s devotional is shorter, but I loved the story at the beginning which sets us up for what follows. (There’s an artist’s depiction of the event if you click on the title which follows.)

Last year at this time we introduced you to Hope who writes at Patiently Hopeful. Clicking the individual post titles like the one below sends the writers traffic, which in turn sends encouragement.

Crowning Himself King

“As the pope approached Napoleon with the crown, Napoleon took the crown and placed it on his own head. Napoleon did not want to answer to anyone.” Ray Notgrass, Exploring World History part 2, 2014, p. 580

He crowned himself king.

As arrogant as this action speaks to us of the pride of Napoleon, we dare not pass it off as merely one man’s error.

For arrogance is simply the offspring of self being allowed to rule within one’s heart.

We might fool ourselves or others, as to the extent we allow self to rule.

But God is never fooled.

Not only is He always aware of the complete standing of one’s heart, He is also seeking to teach us what is there as well.

Our teachability comes from who sits upon the throne of our heart.

“While Judas called Jesus ‘Rabbi’ (Matt. 26:49), there is no record that he used the term ‘Lord’. It has always been possible to claim allegiance to God without ever handling over the soul’s title deed…How many attend church regularly and give Jesus intellectual assent, but not their hearts? How many call Him King, only to assume their own thrones?” – Charles Stanley, The Life Principles Bible, Nelson Bibles, 2005, page 1257

Have I crowned myself king?

Or do I allow God to rule my heart?

The Lord knows the truth and we should be honest within ourselves as to that truth as well.

Because God doesn’t share lordship.

Either we grant Him the place He deserves our we don’t, it’s never a partial thing.

Luke 16:13 KJV — No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

“That faith alone is true which rests on God alone, that confidence which relies but partly on the Lord is vain confidence.” C. H. Spurgeon

Dear Lord Jesus,

Thank You for Your faithfulness. Thank You for Your Word. Lord, please continue to show me my heart and the motivations there. Lord, I want You to rule and reign. I want my life to bring You glory. I want my actions, attitudes, and words to be honorable before You. Lord, I know You have everything in Your hands. Your ways are perfect and blessing comes from You. Please continue to teach me how to walk in today letting You be King, for You are the King of all kings. I love You, Jesus. Amen.


Second Helping:

In another piece of writing, Hope weaved together some scripture passages concerning the arrest of Jesus. It contained this quotation from David Guzik for your consideration:

“A sinless Man in an appointed garden was about to do battle with Satan’s representative (Luke 22:3). The first time this happened, the sinless man failed. The Second Adam would not fail.”

Click to read, When Surrender Was Victory.

January 12, 2023

A Better Leader for a Messy World

Thinking Through the Early Chapters of Matthew

by Clarke Dixon

Things seem to be in a mess around the world and perhaps we should blame leadership. Political leaders make decisions that hurt people. Are regular Russians living their daily grind to be blamed for a war waged against the people of Ukraine? Spiritual leaders also can make decisions that hurt people. In fact there is growing talk of the need for recovering from religion. While I myself am religious, depending on how you define “religious,” I do understand that some people need to move out from what can be called spiritual abuse. We who are spiritual leaders, even if we think our hearts are in the right place, can and do inflict harm on people when our heads are not in the right place. While the experience of religion provides great hope and comfort for many, including myself, it brings trauma to many also. That does not happen without leaders.

Political and spiritual leaders can mess with people’s lives each in their own way but perhaps worst of all are those times political leaders and spiritual leaders work their mess making wonders together. Think Taliban. Think the war on Ukraine where the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church has been publicly supportive of the war. When political leadership works hand in hand with spiritual leadership, truth and well being can take a hit. Normal people suffer.

This is not far removed from the world Jesus was born into. As we begin reading the Gospel of Matthew we might miss what is happening in the background. So what was happening in the background? Matthew lets us in on it.

The political leadership was awful.

We are barely into Matthew’s account of Jesus when we are introduced to Herod. History records that Herod the Great was not really that great. He was great at building things, like the temple, but he was also quite accomplished at ruining people’s lives. Matthew tells us about all the infants of Bethlehem being killed. What kind of leader does that? Matthew also reports that Herod’s son was not much better. Near the end of Matthew we are introduced to another political leader, Pilate. What Herod was incapable of doing, namely killing Jesus, Pilate carried out. Whether Romans, or one of their own, the political leadership standing over the people of God in that day was dreadful. At least being Jewish the people could depend on good spiritual leadership, right? Well…

The spiritual leadership also left much to be desired.

Let us consider a few examples.

In Matthew’s Christmas story, in contrast to the magi who were foreigners, and in contrast to Herod, the spiritual leaders took no initiative to find the one who could potentially be the Messiah. They were not even curious.

Matthew also tells us about how the spiritual leaders received harsh words from John the Baptist:

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 3:7-10 (NLT)

Hardly a commendation of good leadership!

Matthew also tells us about how Jesus did not call rabbis, scribes, priests, or Pharisees to follow him closely, but fisherman. If Jesus had been born in our day it would be akin to Jesus bypassing Baptist pastors like myself and calling truck drivers like my brother instead.

We are not far into Matthew when we also get into Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in chapters 5-7. Here we read:

But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

Matthew 5:20 (NLT)

Some point out the very high standards of the teachers and Pharisees and so call upon Christians today to have super high standards in keeping the rules of our religion. However it is better to understand Jesus here to be taking a dig at the spiritual leaders of the day. Yes, they have high standards in following rules but they are missing the point. They are not becoming good people, nor are they helping others become good people. Jesus teaches us to reach for a better righteousness than what the spiritual leaders exemplify. The rest of the Sermon on the Mount could be summarized as teaching us how to catch the spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law, of how to have a good character that flows from a good heart than mere obedience to rules.

The Sermon on the Mount finishes with this:

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.

Matthew 7:24-29 (NLT)

Reading between the lines; “listen to my teaching, not that of your spiritual leaders.” People were eager to do so as they recognized that he taught “with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.”

We are not very far into the Gospel of Matthew when we realize that both the political and spiritual leadership were lacking.

Enter Jesus!

Matthew introduces the one who leads well.

There are hints and allusions, perhaps hard for us to see today, but which would have stood out to the readers in Matthew’s day, that Jesus is to be compared to a great leader of the past, Moses. Matthew alone records for us the flight of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to, and return from, Egypt. According to Bible scholars some of the language used in one particular sentence, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead” (Matthew 2:20 NRSV) is identical to the language used in a then popular Greek translation of Moses’ flight from, and return to, Egypt: “Go back to Egypt; for all those who were seeking your life are dead” (Exodus 4:19). Jesus is like Moses, a leader who brought about God’s purpose of leading the people to freedom.

Also, at the baptism of Jesus Matthew records a voice from heaven saying “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 NRSV). This is a reminder of a thought that shows up a few times in Exodus:

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD: Israel is my firstborn son. I said to you, ‘Let my son go that he may worship me.’”

Exodus 4:22-23 NRSV

What was said of Jesus, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” is something that ought to have been said of God’s people as a whole but their history was spotty, thanks in large part to their leadership. That Jesus identifies strongly with God’s people is further enhanced with the temptation of Jesus in the desert for forty days which is a bit like God’s people wandering in the wilderness for forty years, only Jesus does it better.

Then there is the first mention of the teaching of Jesus according to Matthew: “From then on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’” (Matthew 4:17 NLT). The Kingdom of heaven was near because the true king is here!

Matthew then goes on to write about the healings and miracles of Jesus. Where political and spiritual leadership could often be described as life taking, Jesus was always life giving.

To sum up the opening chapters of Matthew, the political and spiritual leaders could not hold a candle next to Jesus. The end of the Matthew reflects this:

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

Much of the mess the world is in today is a result of poor political and spiritual leadership. Jesus is Lord, the leader who is leading us to a much better tomorrow. Jesus is Lord, who leads us to being better people today.


Before they appear here, Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon’s condensed sermons appear at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

January 11, 2023

God is Always on the Side of the Marginalized

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NRSVUE.Luke.18.1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my accuser.’ For a while he refused, but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”  And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

We’re grateful for permission to occasionally share some of the excellent material crafted by Rev. David Eck, pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in North Carolina, at the website Jesus Unboxed.

This passage of scripture is always interesting to study, and I like the way David breaks down various layers of meaning. As always, click the title which follows to read this where it first appeared.

Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8)

Today’s gospel lesson is known as the Parable of the Unjust Judge. If it seems a little weird to you, go with that feeling. If it seems a bit schizophrenic in what it’s trying to teach us, go with that, too! This is one of those parables that needs a bit of deconstruction in order to discover what it’s trying to teach us. One of the easiest ways to do this, that works with any parable, is to treat it like an onion. Not in terms of scent, but in terms of layers!

Every parable has three layers. The outer layer is what I call the EVANGELIST LAYER. It asks the question “How did the evangelist understand the parable? What information did he put before it and after it that might give us clues regarding how he understands its meaning?”

The second layer is the JESUS LAYER. It asks the question “Who did Jesus intend to hear this parable? What situation or question was he trying to address?”

Finally, the third layer is the ROOT PARABLE. This is the pure story stripped of all layers of interpretation or context. We try to listen to it without prejudice or preconceived notions regarding its meaning.

The reason why today’s parable seems a bit weird or schizophrenic is because each of these layers is trying to teach us something slightly different. They are connected in some way, but they are sending a bit of a mixed message.

If I were doing a Bible study on this parable, we would look at all three layers in detail. But we don’t have that kind of time in the context of a sermon. So my plan is to jump to the root parable, and explore it thoroughly. Once we’ve done that, I’m going to go out a bit because there’s something in the Jesus layer that enhances this parable’s central meaning.

So, let’s begin with the story. Luke says once upon a time “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.”

Just to make sure we heard this less than flattering description, Luke repeats it a second time, using the voice of the judge, who begins his sentence with “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone…”

Wow, needless to say Jesus is Not trying to say that God is like this judge. In fact, the opposite is true. This judge has horrible moral character. The only person he is interested in is himself.

To reinforce this description of the judge, Jesus introduces the character of a widow, who appears before the judge and asks for justice against those who are oppressing her. The assumption made here, is that her cause is just. She is, indeed, being oppressed.

Since Judaic law makes provisions for helping those most vulnerable in society, such as widows, orphans and resident aliens, it should be a no brainier for this judge to grant her the justice she seeks. However, as the story continues she comes before to this judge multiple times and he refuses to grant her the justice she seeks.

There is no doubt many of us can relate to this widow’s sense of powerlessness and desperation. Even if we haven’t experienced this personally, we’ve read story after story of people around the globe who are being marginalized and oppressed by those in power. I’m not going to list them all, because we would be here for a very long time.

Perhaps this parable is here to remind us, that this issue is nothing new. People in power are always tempted to abuse that power. Marginalization and oppression of the weak and vulnerable have always been with us as a species, and they always will be.

If we read the Bible from cover to cover, we will find countless stories of oppressed people who long for justice. Sometimes they get it. Sometimes they don’t. If we have ever been in this situation in life, These stories speak strongly to us. Their main point is to give us hope.

Believe it or not, there is some hope in this parable. The unjust judge finally gives the widow justice. But it’s not because he has a change of heart and becomes a good guy. He grants her justice because, to put it bluntly, she’s a pain in his backside. She is relentless in her appeals for justice. She refuses to give up hope that one day her pleas will be heard.

The unjust judge is very clear on this matter, as he says to himself, “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” That’s hardly a transformative victory. The unjust judge is still a scoundrel, but he gives in because this oppressed widow does not give up. Did you hear what I said? He gives in because this oppressed widow does not give up.

Unfortunately, the English translation of this parable misses a humorous image in the story that helps us to appreciate it even more. In the original Greek, the unjust judge says “Because this widow causes trouble for me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not, in the end, give me a black eye by her coming.”

What Luke cleverly does is place this parable in the context of a boxing metaphor. His audience would picture this scrappy little widow coming at the judge with her dukes up, refusing to yield or be defeated. This humorous image is meant to inspire the audience. If we hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people, it’s the message that we should never give up when we are fighting for a cause that is just and true. We should fight oppressive powers with every fiber of our being and refuse to give up in the face of injustice.

If that’s the meaning of this parable, then I do believe that will preach! It is the good news of Scripture that is reflected in the lives  of countless justice seekers throughout the world, including Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Harvey Milk, Susan B. Anthony and Nelson Mandela.

If we look to Jesus to set the example for us, we see many stories in the gospels of rejected and marginalized people whom Jesus welcomes with open arms. Yet, we also know that his sense of kingdom justice made the unjust judges of his world very nervous and angry. It ultimately cost him his life.

That is the price that some of us have paid, and will pay, when fighting for what is just and right in our world. This is the sobering truth. But the overall message of the root parable is to encourage us to put on our boxing gloves and keep coming at the oppressive powers of our world until they do what it right. We may not change their minds, but we can wear them down. Amen?

But now it’s time to expand the parable at bit and look at some of the Jesus layer. In the Jesus layer, he says something about the nature and character of God that those who fight for justice need to hear. If we go back to Matthew 17:22, we learn that Jesus is telling this parable to his disciples. Therefore, it’s meant for us. It’s an insider story. It’s meant to encourage and uplift.

What he says that we need to hear is “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to the chosen ones who cry to God day and night? Will God delay long in helping them? I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to them.”

The reason why this is important for us to hear is that it’s telling us God is always, ALWAYS on the side of the marginalized and oppressed. God hears our cries, God feels our pain, and is working behind the scenes to tip the scales toward justice each and every day.

We need to hear this because our default button when something goes wrong in our lives, is to wonder what we did to deserve this? “Why is God punishing me?” is a question I’ve heard more times than I care to recount. It’s a view of God as a punitive deity, who is ready to strike us down for the smallest of mistakes. It’s a view of God that tells us we’re oppressed because we’re lazy and we’re not fighting hard enough for what is rightfully ours. It equates God with the behavior of the unjust judge, and I’M NOT HAVING ANY OF THIS! And you should NOT HAVE ANY OF THIS!

To put it another way, God is more for us than we are for or against ourselves. God ALWAYS fights for justice. God ALWAYS stands in solitarily with the marginalized and oppressed. This, THIS should give us the inspiration we need to do the same. THIS should give us the moxie we need to keep putting on our boxing gloves, and going toe-to-toe with the unjust judges of our world.

Pick a battle, any battle, my dear friends! There are lots of causes to fight for these days. May we have the conviction to stand up to oppressive powers wherever they may be and demand that justice be served. AMEN!

Copyright ©2022 by David Eck – Used by Permission

January 9, 2023

Justifying Placing Self-Interest Above God’s Work

Today I am really seriously breaking our six-month rule, because of this excellent article by Doug Eaton at his blog Flight of Faith.  Doug is the Executive Director of Admissions for Trinity International University, which consists of four schools: Trinity College, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Trinity Law School, and Trinity Graduate School. Clicking the title below will take you to where this first appeared earlier today.

Misreading Providence for Personal Gain

Matthew Henry once suggested we can sometimes neglect to obey God because we misinterpret trials and challenges as if they are permission to shirk our responsibility when, instead, God allowed these hardships to test and exercise our courage and faith. Let me give you an example.

Imagine you are a pastor the Holy Spirit has called to preach the whole counsel of God. As you are expositing a book of scripture over several months, you come to a difficult passage that goes against the cultural zeitgeist. Not only does the culture not want you to speak the truth plainly, but some church elders also start to counsel you against it.

Your church and ministry have a large online following, and to preach these truths and post them in the usual outlets could lead to big tech taking away your platforms. This conflict with big tech could arise because this teaching of scripture violates their standards of conduct.

The church’s ministry is doing wonderful things, reaching hundreds of thousands of people. You begin to rationalize that it is better to bypass this passage or gloss over it because the benefits of doing so far outweigh the costs for your ministry. Not to mention, scripture calls you to listen to the counsel of the elders. Ultimately, you use YouTube and social media’s standards of conduct to discharge yourself from your duty.

Similarly, Israel once misinterpreted opposition as a reason to neglect their duty to God. They had returned from captivity, set up an altar, and laid the foundation for the temple. God had told them to build it, but a legal prohibition was issued, which stopped the work.

Instead of continuing, the leaders misread providence and said, “God must not want us to build it right now. The time has not yet come” (Haggai 1:2). However, something selfish burned in them and helped them make this decision. They preferred to focus on building their own homes first.

God speaks to them through the prophet Haggai and says, in essence, “Why are you focusing on yourselves and your fancy houses when the House of God lies in ruins” (Haggai 1:4). The Lord pointed out to them that they were left empty because they neglected God and focused on themselves (Haggai 1:9). They were unsatisfied no matter how much they had worked to please themselves.

Jesus told us to seek first the Kingdom of God, and the rest would be added (Matthew 6:33). There are no exemptions to this. Even if life has you busy with your job, family, school, or other pressures, these things never exempt us from our duty (and pleasure) to seek God first. Misreading providence for personal gain never works because the personal gain never comes.

Putting self first always leads to discontentment. Instead of seeing these providences as reasons to put ourselves first, we should view them as trials and tests God has given us to prove that the faith he has provided us has the power to overcome the world.


Second Helping: Read another devotional post and watch a 3-minute excerpt of Doug Eaton teaching on The War Against Your Soul.

January 8, 2023

Jesus Enters as a Warrior Behind Enemy Lines

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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“I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

In our quest to bring writers from the broadest spectrum of Christianity, our devotional author today is Benedictine writer Fr. Becket Franks, who writes at Becketmonk. Click the title below to read this where it originated.

And Yet…

In the words of C.S. Lewis,

“Jesus entered the world so anonymously and clandestinely- as a baby born to insignificant parents in an out-of-the-way corner of the Roman Empire- because he was a warrior compelled to slip quietly behind enemy lines.”

Why would he say this?  It is because of mercy.  In the world of Caesar Augustus, God sends down his mercy behind in quiet and in secret.  And who is the first to receive such mercy?  Our Christmas cards and our Christmas creches depict cute scenes of shepherds and Magi adoring the new born babe.  In the words of Bishop Robert Barron,

“We ought not to be romantic about shepherds…they were considered rather shady characters, ne’er do wells unable to hold down a steady job, unreliable and dishonest.”

AND, YET, God the Almighty chooses these people to announce the birth of The One who will sit and eat with sinners, and, die between two criminals.

In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Tell the people whom God frequents, salvation is upon you.”  According to this prophet of comfort, God never forgets.  God never forsakes.  God always brings reward. However, how will anyone know of the abundant mercy of God unless one of us shares this message with a waiting world?  Or, better, maybe it is you and me that need that merciful word today, right now.

To illustrate, a few years ago in the New York Times, Doctor of New Testament at Wheaton College, Esau McCaulley, writes,

“Christmas is Weird…it never promises to soothe every pain or cure every ill.  Instead, [it] gives us enough hope to walk a little farther;  [it] suggests that God has not forgotten anyone. He came as a child, weak and vulnerable…so that the weak and broken things might feel comfortable approaching the divine…”

like the shepherds, the “common workers.”

Now, of course we are not shady shepherds on the fringe.  But we are people who are in pain, physically, or mentally, or psychologically, or even existentially.  Just last week two of our residents lost a daughter suddenly.  In the last two years, we lost friends to Covid.  Last year, one of my brothers told me that Christmas lacks joy because he has to take his wife to kidney dialysis.  The people of the Ukraine fear for their lives and in America we continue to witness attacks upon our democracy.

Not to be a Donny Downer…this is what the Gospel means when the angels announce news to the shepherds:  mercy given is mercy received.  This is why St. Titus says,

“when the kindness and generous love of God appeared…because of his mercy…he saved us and renewed us by the grace and words of the Holy Spirit.”

AND YET, in the middle of the quiet night, the angels of the Lord speak the Good News to the common workers.  These unexpected everyday people become the first evangelists of the Gospel. Why God decides to come to us this way, I don’t know.  What I do know is that the Spirit speaks all the time to common workers in times of unbearable pain, unrest, and injustice.  When Christ speaks that same word of glorifying hope to you…, share it…  Please.  I promise to do the same.

December 27, 2022

The Son of God Incarnate: Jesus or Yeshua?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” – Luke 1:31 NIV

For behold, you shall conceive and you shall give birth to a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua. – Luke 1:31 Aramaic Bible in Plain English

And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21 NLT

She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Yeshua, [which means ‘Adonai saves,’] because he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21 Complete Jewish Bible

For our reading today, I found something which on the surface appeared rather lighthearted, but the more I considered it, the more I realized there was an underlying significant observation, even it goes down the complicated rabbit hole of the Anglicizing of the Greek and Hebrew that make up our scripture texts.

Today we’re introducing you to a new writer, Christine Gabriélle who lives in Florida. Clicking her name in that last sentence will take you to her blog, and clicking the title which follows will take you where this article first appeared.

On Names

I’ve been struggling with names for the past couple of days.

How it started: Christmas Eve I was on Google doing Googley things and somehow found myself in the middle of an article about the transliteration of “Yeshua” and how it changed from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to Swedish (I think) to English and became “Jesus” when a more literal Hebrew-to-English translation of “Yeshua” should be “Joshua.”

So, here I am—on Christmas Day—watching movies with my brother and falling down a spiral of “Dear Josh” jokes and telling him I hope his future wife has a sense of humor because my future niece(s) and/or nephew(s) will be taught by their auntie that the Son of God’s name is Joshua and not Jesus and we start our prayers with “Dear Josh” because He’s kind of like our heavenly brother and we don’t need to call Him by His full name.

Today, I’m sitting in the bathroom—where I tend to dig out my most intelligent (or rebellious) thoughts—and I say out loud to myself, “we shouldn’t even be translating names!” I understand translating the Bible into languages more people can understand, but names are names and don’t need translation.

Like, my name is “Christine” no matter what language you speak.

And then this thought spun me around to a memory of middle school when we would have Asian foreign exchange students come hang out with us for part of the school year, and instead of us being taught their actual names, they were given ridiculous English names like “Cutie” and “Sweety” (though some had less ridiculous English names like “Mary”).

Imagine being eleven, going to a new country, and instead of people calling you by your name, you get stuck with “Strawberry” or “Purple” for your entire stay because it’s easier for the locals to pronounce. Now, we’re not talking about nicknames or shortening a name (Christine > Chris, Michael > Mike, etc.), we’re talking about completely different names here.

It’s stupid. And I’m angry about it.

A person’s name should not be translated into something that isn’t their name just to make it easier for someone else to say.

Calling me “Christina” because it’s easier for you or because you like the way it sounds better (yes, I have actually been told that as an adult by an adult) is a sure-fire way to make me hate you just a little.

So, I swing back to the Yeshua/Jesus/Joshua thing and I’m sitting there like, “Yeshua” doesn’t need to be “Joshua” either. Yeshua is Yeshua. Period.

Now, full disclosure, I was one of those people who thought Christians who called Jesus “Yeshua” were being pretentious and annoying, but I get it now and I’m a little piffed it took me this long.

So, no, we will not be calling the Son of God “Josh”, nor will we be calling Him “Jesus”. His name is Yeshua. My name is Christine.

The point is, call people by their actual name (the one they give you) and not some version of their name that makes more sense to you.

 

December 25, 2022

After a Time of Silence, A Prophet Speaks

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Whether you prefer to think of the time leading up to John the Baptist as a period of absolute silence, or a period of relative silence, there is a ‘calm before the storm’ that ends when the prophet John announces the coming of the Messiah, and the day after directly points him out.

NIV.John.1.26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” …

…29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

But there’s a small microcosm of the time of silence vs. speaking when John’s father, Zechariah, goes mute for a period of several months, culminating in the naming of John. In December, 2019, Clarke Dixon wrote, “We might expect Zechariah to gush over this new baby boy, and he does gush, but not over his own child. He gushes over someone else’s, a child yet to be born.” These are his words:

NIV.Luke1.67b “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

This passage is often skipped over in our reading — some people just want to cut to chapter two, the birth of Jesus — and several times I’ve shown it to people without the chapter of verse references to see if they can guess what’s being cited. Try it some time, the answers you get are often interesting.

For me, the distillation of the gospel in this passage is clearest in verses 69 and 70

He has sent us a mighty Savior
from the royal line of his servant David,
 just as he promised
through his holy prophets long ago. (NLT)

The writer of Hebrews mentions the prophetic line as well:

The Message.Hebrews.1.1-3 Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son. By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what he says—powerful words! 4 After he finished the sacrifice for sins, the Son took his honored place high in the heavens right alongside God, far higher than any angel in rank and rule.

The wording of verse 4 is similar to one of my favorite scriptures, Hebrews 10: 11 and 12.

CSB.Hebrews.10.11-12 Every priest goes to work at the altar each day, offers the same old sacrifices year in, year out, and never makes a dent in the sin problem. As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in.

My point is that you don’t have the incarnation of Christ without a look forward to the atoning work of Christ that in our church calendar, we observe just a few months later.

I can’t think of these passages without leaving you with another of my favorites, also about the “fullness of time” when the Messiah appeared, from Titus:

NASB.Titus.3.4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…

This is the message of Christmas, and of the gospel.

 

 

December 24, 2022

The First Christmas Eve and Ours

What brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem? Was it a census or was it a tax?

Older readers here grew up with Luke 2:1 in the KJV:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

However, the NIV, NLT, NASB prefer it was that the world — their immediate world — should report for the “census;” while the NKJV, CSB and ESV prefer “to be registered.”

The Pulpit Commentary blends the two meanings: “…more accurately, that there should be a registration, etc.; that is, with a view to the assessment of a tax.”  Ellicott’s Bible Commentary offers a different solution to the translation differences, in reference to our understanding of the key word: “The word ‘taxed’ is used in its older English sense of simple “registration,” and in that sense is a true equivalent for the Greek word. The corresponding verb appears in Hebrews 12:23. It does not involve, as to modern ears it seems to do, the payment of taxes.”

Some pastors have referred to what was happening as a “poll tax.” Wikipedia defines this,, “A poll tax, also known as head tax or capitation, is a tax levied as a fixed sum on every liable individual (typically every adult), without reference to income or resources. Head taxes were important sources of revenue for many governments from ancient times until the 19th century.”

In any event, online registration wasn’t an option, and it required travel to one’s birthplace. People with even a superficial awareness of the narrative know that this resulted in a lack of available guest space for Mary and Joseph, and the resultant childbirth taking place under inauspicious circumstances.

The travel crush is similar to what we see each year at this time, and the lack of available sleeping space is amplified this year in North America by the number of people being stranded in airports, forced to sleep in chairs and on blankets in waiting areas. I haven’t heard of any babies being born in airline terminals, but it’s still early in the story as I type this.

In a word then, chaos.

Jesus is born into a less than pleasant, less than ideal situation on the domestic front, and on the broader political front, the tax/census is a reminder of the Roman occupation. Further, looming on the horizon is the possibility that part of the census/registration is compiling updated listings of able-bodied people available for military conscription.

In several words then, inconvenience, taxation, foreboding (in terms of future military draft.)

This is the world to which Christ enters.

And it completely contrasts with the world that he vacated in order to be incarnate; in order to be Immanuel, God with us.

The Christmas carol, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” begins,

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room.
For Thy holy nativity

The song, “If That Isn’t Love” begins in the same place, but immediately cuts to the reason for His coming,

He left the splendor of heaven.
Knowing His destiny.
Was the lonely hill of Golgotha
There to lay down His life for me.

The cross is always in view, from the initial announcement to Mary that she is “with child” to Simeon’s prophetic word (Luke 2) that in Jesus, he (Simeon) has seen the salvation of God (or we could amplify, knowing the trajectory of the story, that he has seen the means of salvation.)

And Jesus himself takes on this role, looking past the chaos. With the narrow lens of our 2022 Christmas in North America, we could talk about looking past the canceled flights and the closed freeways. Or broader, looking past a situation where Christianity being increasingly marginalized each year at this time, and looking past the disappointment of canceled Christmas Eve services.

Historically we could say, he looks past the people who despise him, and even close friends who will betray him (Judas), deny him (Peter) or doubt his ability to have brought about the salvation promised (Thomas).

But he does all this awaiting a future promise, a future hope.

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2b NIV

Jesus enters our world in the place of chaos and inconvenience, and our similar circumstances this year should remind us of his.

 

 

 

 

December 22, 2022

The Grinch that Stole Love (Consumerism)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

We light the candle of love, snuff it out, go home and then it might seem like Christmas is not about love at all. Everything everywhere is designed to sell us stuff, to drive down our bank accounts or rack up our debt. Even charitable organizations get in on the act with a year end push. I know this because we do that too as a church!

It is not just the Grinch that can steal Christmas. We have already looked at how conflict can steal our peace, expectations can steal our hope, and grief can steal our joy. Today we are thinking through how the consumerism of Christmas can steal our vision of love.

We can’t escape it, there are signs everywhere; buy this, buy that. It can feel like Christmas is a celebration of consumerism rather than a celebration of God’s gift of love. Is Christmas really about love, or is it all about money? Consumerism can make us cynical about Christmas.

So what can we do when consumerism steals our vision of love?

Isaiah has a helpful word for us. As we go there, let’s actually go there, back to the days the prophet was originally addressing. Let us think of it as if we were the first people hearing it, long before Jesus was born:

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). By the time this child is old enough to choose what is right and reject what is wrong, he will be eating yogurt and honey. For before the child is that old, the lands of the two kings you fear so much will both be deserted.

Isaiah 7:14-16 (NLT emphasis added)

We Christians have a tendency of thinking everyone was waiting for a virgin to conceive, and when that happened, we would know the child was the Messiah. That is what we understand the sign to be. However, before the time of Jesus no one would really have thought that. Rather the sign in Isaiah’s prophecy was one that was fulfilled in the days the prophecy was given. The king of Judah could expect God would do something about the pressure he was under in his day. By the time a soon to be born child is old enough to eat solid food and make decisions, two kings putting pressure on King Ahaz to side with them against Assyria will be gone and their lands “deserted.”

But what about the virgin conceiving? While translations often go with “virgin,” the Hebrew word in this prophecy can be translated “young woman.”

But what about the child being “God with us”? That the child was to be called Emmanuel does not mean he would actually be “God with us,” Indeed I met a man name Emmanuel recently and I assumed he was not the incarnation of God, but rather that he had simply been given a meaningful name. The child was to be called Emmanuel as a reminder that God is indeed with the king and his people if they remained faithful.

So to summarize this prophecy as understood before Jesus was born, we could paraphrase; “King Ahaz, you don’t need to bow to pressure, instead know that God is with you and that God cares about your people.” No one was expecting a virgin-born-Messiah in Isaiah’s day, but a sign, that God cared, that God loved them and was watching out for them.

Now let’s go to the story of Jesus’ birth:

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”

Matthew 1:18-23 (NLT emphasis added)

When a woman is pregnant, and her fiancé knows he is not the father, this is a sign of something going on, right? Mary’s pregnancy was indeed a sign, but not of what Joseph thought. This baby was a sign of the same thing the baby from Isaiah was a sign of, namely that God cares and is going to do something about the enemies threatening us. In this case there is a much bigger and badder enemy in mind than in Isaiah’s day; anything that disrupts harmonious relationship between God and God’s creation including humanity.

Early Christians saw in Isaiah 7 a prophecy that really fit the Messiah that came even though it originally was not about a coming Messiah at all. Jesus is God with us in a profound way that no one in the history of the world has ever been. Jesus is the biggest sign ever given that God cares. Not even the prophet Isaiah saw this coming.

When all the signs point to Christmas being about consumerism, let us remember the sign of Jesus’ birth. God is with us. God cares. When all the signs point to the commercialization of Christmas, we can put up our own signs of God’s love. We care, because God cares.

We Christians have been good at being known for what we are against rather than what we are for. We can be known for being against the commercialization of Christmas and the holidays being driven by consumerism. There is something to be said for that, but we may be sending the wrong signals, putting up the wrong signs. Some people’s livelihood depend on Christmas! If we are to be known for what we are for, let us be known for love. Let’s respond to the signs of the times with signs of our own. Let the signs not point to our disgust, but to God’s love.

I confess it; I can get really cynical about Christmas. However, instead of hammering away at what we don’t like about Christmas, let us live out what we do like, that love is what the season is all about, especially God’s love, but all love, even love for those who are trying hard to get us to spend more money.

December 21, 2022

We’re God’s Unique Creation

Although it’s no longer as active, this week I worked on updating the blogroll at Thinking Out Loud. Blogrolls — links to other online writers — were once quite common, whereas today everyone seems to wish to keep their readers to themselves! In doing so, I came across Practical Theology Today writer Curt Hinkle, and although we linked to him back in March, I thought these thoughts bore repeating here at C201.

Clicking the link in the title below will also take you to his site, where more articles await you.

Woodworking and God’s Poiema

A surprising advantage of woodworking using hand tools – one can quietly prep boards and layout dovetails during a church service. A dozen or so years ago I got to do just that. My friend Sonja preached a sermon focused on Ephesians 2, specifically, For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do (Eph. 2:10, CSB). She asked me if I would relocate my workbench and some tools to the church sanctuary stage and then do some woodworking stuff as she gave her message.

As I prepared boards to cut dovetails that Sunday morning, I contemplated the significance that I, Curt Hinkle, am God’s workmanship. What does it mean to be God’s workmanship? And what does it mean that I am his workmanship with purpose? And what are those good works for which God has prepared for me? Some thoughts…

I notice that the Apostle Paul said we are God’s workmanship, not you (or Curt Hinkle, for that matter). In our western, American individualistic approach to faith, it’s an easy miss. I don’t doubt that this is a truism applicable to the individual, but we need to remember that Paul is addressing the Church in Ephesus. It seems that he is saying that Christ-followers as a whole unit are his workmanship, created for good works – individually and corporately.

So, let’s look at what Paul might be saying both individually and corporately. The root Greek word for workmanship is poiema (ποίημα). It describes God’s creative activity. It’s the word from which poem and poetry are derived. It has also been translated as accomplishment, masterpiece, handiwork, or a product of his hand. The Jerusalem Bible’s translation of Ephesians 2:10:

We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.

God’s work of art! In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis describes us as “Divine work(s) of art, something that God is making…” Or, as Timothy Keller has been oft quoted…

Do you know what it means that you are God’s workmanship? What is art? Art is beautiful, art is valuable, and art is an expression of the inner being of the maker, of the artist. Imagine what that means. You’re beautiful … you’re valuable … and you’re an expression of the very inner being of the Artist, the divine Artist, God Himself.

As a woodworker, I know the reality that every project I work on is a unique creation. Every year I try to make gifts for each of our four kids (i.e. charcuterie boards). On the surface, they all appear to be the same but they are not. They each have nuances related to things like wood types, grain orientation, blemishes, and, of course, operator error. What they do have in common that cannot be taken away from them: They are each a unique creation of mine, an expression of my creative activity.

The Apostle Paul used poiema only one other time in his writings that are included in the New Testament canon. In Romans 1:20 he states…

For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and all the things that make him God [his divine nature] – have been clearly seen [perceived], understood through what God has made (poiema). (EXB)

To be God’s poiema is a big deal! It’s right up there with all of creation (which we discussed in The Theology of Woodworking). We are visible expressions of the invisible God. As a higher schooler once said to me, “We get to be walking billboards.” It’s the “good works” we were created for. What a privilege!

With woodworking, there is a point where I, the artist, say “good enough.” It’s not a statement of shoddiness. It’s more of a comment about return on investment. At some point, I deem a project complete enough for its intended purpose. Satisfied with my poiema, I move on to the next project.

I am aware that not all of us consider it a privilege to be “walking billboards” due to real or perceived warts. But Paul didn’t say “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works someday.” There is a present tense implication. God’s creative activity is ongoing in the form of transformation into the likeness of his Son (For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his SonRomans 8:29). He doesn’t say “good enough.” As we continue to follow him, the warts (real and perceived) begin to fade.

Transformation. We’ve talked about that in previous blog posts (cf. Metamorfoo). We must remember that it’s not our job to transform ourselves. Our job is to follow Jesus, positioning ourselves so God can accomplish the transformation – For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants (Philippians 2:13, TLB). This is the entirety of C.S. Lewis’ quote from The Problem of Pain

“We are a Divine work of art, something that God is making and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.”

December 20, 2022

Everything Eagerly Expecting

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Every once in awhile I encounter a blog or website which, although we linked to it often at Thinking Out Loud, never made it to Christianity 201 (or in this case, almost never, with the exception of May, 2017). Such is the case with Don’t Ask The Fish, written by Dr. Tommy Kiedis and today we remedy that.

Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared.

Are you standing on tiptoe?

The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.

— Romans 8:19 J.B. Phillips Translation

I have celebrated sixty-three birthdays, but only longed for one gift.

At twelve, I was adventuresome, tough, and ready to take on Everest. Can anything stop a boy in early adolescence?  I set my sights on the perfect gift to complement my venturesome spirit – a mountain tent.  Not a pup tent mind you, a “Mountain Tent!”  What is a mountain tent?  Perhaps just a pup tent with a little bravado, but for a boy in search of manhood it sounded rugged – and I wanted it!

I announced my desires to my mom and dad. I begged, pleaded, and pouted. Actually, I only pouted around Mom—Dad didn’t put up with whining.  By the time the big B-Day came my mom had me convinced that I would be sleeping tent-less under the open stars, but that was just her attempt to surprise me. I got the tent!

Waiting on that gift taught me the meaning of longing early in life. Today, that inward ache I call longing looks a little different. Now, I long for a day off after a difficult week of work. I long for a Dolphins Super Bowl victory (hey, even a playoff victory would be nice!). I long for bodies to be healed, health restored, and broken hearts mended, and . . . my latest hot rod project to get out of the garage and on the road.

God gives me another lesson on longing in Romans 8. He paints a picture and then points me toward it. On the cross, Jesus took the punishment that was mine. Through faith in Him, I have life. In fact, God adopts me! I am his. “And all that Christ claims as his will be ours as well.” Grace upon grace!

Right now, I am living between two worlds: earth and heaven. Because He has me, I’ve got it great. But oh what’s coming is literally “out of this world.” Right now, it will be tough here and there, but God has so much more in store for us then. I appreciate the way JB Phillips paraphrases these words of Paul:

In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God [and daughters!] coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God! Romans 8:18-21 J.B. Phillips Translation

God has been on a rescue mission from the beginning of time. He is going to set the world right! Paul pictures all of creation anxiously awaiting God’s final victory. J.B. Phillips’ translation of verse nineteen is picturesque, “The whole creation is on tiptoe.” 

That’s longing.

So let me ask you, “This Advent season, are you standing on tiptoe?” And if so, what are you longing for? For my part, there’s nothing wrong with putting that hot rod out on the street, but that pavement pounding longing is only pointing to a deeper longing that can only be satisfied with heaven’s Christ.

As we enter this season of advent, I am asking God to rekindle within me a holy sense of longing. I want him to renew the inward ache for the Messiah – God’s greatest gift – who alone will right every wrong. I invite you to pray this prayer with me . . .

“Father, help the affections of my heart to stand on tiptoe for Jesus the Messiah, who alone can right every wrong and satisfy every aching heart. 

December 18, 2022

Peter’s Alternative Gospel

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“Get thee behind me, Satan.”

At least, that’s how the old King James Version has it.

Seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? Especially to say that to your supposedly “team leader” disciple, and presumably in front of everyone else. (Matthew, one of the two disciples who wrote a gospel account, must have got the story somewhere if he wasn’t there in person.)

So what led up to that moment?

It was actually a study in contrasts, for just moments ago (as we have it recorded) Peter received a gold star and was named Disciple of the Week:

NIV.Matthew.16.13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.

This is a bold and clear declaration of the divinity of Christ. Another time we get something as unmistakably clear is at the beginning of the gospels:

NIV.Mark.1.23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The man is undoubtedly interrupting the teaching session Jesus is doing (see the previous verse, 1:22) but most commentators agree that Jesus doesn’t want this full and complete revelation to be stated so early on in his ministry. It’s too soon for this type of preemptive announcement. Rather, Jesus wants people to discover his Messianic identity. (Even today, people we share our faith with might respond better if instead of just telling them who Jesus is, we let them meet Jesus in the pages of the gospels and see his divinity for themselves.)

Back to Peter.

In the very next scene in Matthew’s gospel it all ‘goes south’ for him.

NIV.Matthew.16.21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Peter wants a storyline that doesn’t involve Jesus having to “suffer many things” or “be killed.” Do you blame him? That’s not how the whole Messiah thing is supposed to work, a few hints in Isaiah and Psalms notwithstanding. The words of Jesus would have been shocking and I can picture any of us blurting out something similar.

The “Satan” part seems rather strong, though, doesn’t it?

Not when you consider something that Matthew recorded much earlier, in Chapter 4.

Besides the cross, the greatest physical endurance challenge Jesus faced was the 40-day time in the wilderness, just before he commenced his public ministry. So we can say that his ministry is bookended by suffering.

We see in the text of Matthew 4 that Satan, referred to this time as “the devil” confronts Jesus with three specific temptations. It is the third and final one which of interest here:

NIV.Matthew.4.8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’

There are many avenues of exploration we could follow with this text, but what we wish to note is that Satan’s offer would thwart plan of God, a plan set in place “before the foundation of the earth.” The devil’s apparent concern for Christ’s hunger, physical safety, and the building of the Kingdom; are also instruments to undo God’s plan.

Just as Peter doesn’t want to see Christ suffering, the devil also envisions a Christ without the cross. In both cases the response is “Away from me!” or “Get behind me!” (The NLT, CEV, and others simply echo “away from me,” alluding to the wilderness temptation scene.)

Is there a Christ without a cross?

It’s an alternative gospel, but a gospel without the atoning sacrifice of Christ for our sin is hardly good news, is it?

December 16, 2022

The Gadarene Missionary

Because of the graciousness of the writers whose content appears here, we give our articles a different post title than the original, so as to differentiate if someone is using a search engine to find the original. The first thing you’ll notice when you read the title which follows, is how it’s different — if not completely opposite — to the title we’ve given it. However (spoiler alert!) both descriptions are true. This man has a before-and-after story. Isn’t that the essential element of salvation? ‘I once was ________, but now I’m ________.’

Today’s devotional uses the King James Version of the Bible. If you’re a fairly new Christian, a person for whom English is a second language, or you just struggle with KJV texts, read the story first at this link.

Randy Livingston is a police chaplain in Florida who writes at From the Chaplain. You’re encouraged to click his title, to read this where it first appeared. This is his second time appearing at C201.

The Gadarene Demoniac

In Mark 5:1-20, the gospel writer records for us Christ’s encounter with “a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5:2-5). The magnitude of this man’s evil predicament is that a multitude of demonic spirits had taken residence in him. We know this because when Christ had commanded the evil spirit to come out, he answered “My name is Legion: for we are many” (Mark 5:9).

The fact that a multitude of demons possessed this poor man was inconsequential to the Lord. They knew who Christ was and submitted immediately to his authority. “And all the devils besought him [Christ], saying, send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea…and were choked in the sea” (Mark 5:12-13).

Those in the region having heard the news of the swine came out to see what had become of the man. They found “him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15). After his great deliverance, the man sought to go with Christ back across the sea to Galilee. But the Lord gave him this command. “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (Mark 5:19).

There are two important points for believers to take away from this record when it comes to our witness for Christ. The first is the sphere of our witness. We are to “go home to thy friends.” Our primary sphere of intended witness is right where we live day to day and among those whom we know and see most frequently. Each one of us has a unique sphere of encounter and influence. God intends for us to “bloom” where he has planted us and “brighten the corner where we are.”

The second point is the content of our witness. We are not required to give some deep theological testimony of Christ’s great salvation. Rather, we are to “tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.” Note the words “for thee” and “on thee.” We are to tell what Christ has done for us! Yes, we declare that he can save. But, more importantly, he saved me. He died for me. He forgave my sins. Consequently, he can do the same for those to whom we testify.

Do you struggle with telling others about Christ? Begin by telling them what he has done for you. God will use every earnest testimony from a grateful child for his glory.

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