Christianity 201

March 5, 2017

Jesus Came to Fulfill the Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

January 19, 2017

Lost Love: The Letter of Revelation to Ephesus

gnbnby Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can leave our first love in two ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus shows the way:

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

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

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted


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

December 16, 2016

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

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

by Clarke Dixon

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

Priests point to the coming of Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kings point to the coming of Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prophets point to the coming of Jesus.

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

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

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

In conclusion:

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

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

November 2, 2016

Finding the Place of Joy

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

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

Fighting for Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 27, 2016

Resurrection: The Big Picture

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

•••by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

April 14, 2016

Where Do You Go?

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

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

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

  • walks
  • stands
  • sits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or do I?

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

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

Too much.

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

 

 

March 26, 2016

Jesus Aims Directly Toward Jerusalem

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

Matthew Henry writes:

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

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

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

This reminded me of another passage:

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

Again, Matthew Henry writes:

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

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


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


 

 

December 7, 2015

Have I Committed the Unpardonable Sin?

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

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

Did I Commit the Unpardonable Sin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 31, 2015

Being Light on Dark Days

“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead” (Deuteronomy 18:10,11)

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11)

With today being Halloween, I looked for something appropriate and found a post from Daily Encouragement. Actually I found two. The scriptures above are taken from this post, Go Light Your World, as is the song at the bottom; and what follows is linked from the title below.

Exposing Darkness With Light

“The light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5).

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).

For about 7½ years we served the Lord Jesus Christ in New England, pastoring a church about 35 miles south of Boston in Taunton, Massachusetts. Only once did we drive through Salem which is about 16 miles north of Boston. This historic town is best known for the witch trials held in the late 1600’s. It is still a center for witchcraft and other deeds of darkness. In fact it proudly promotes its reputation as the “witch city”.   I recall sensing the spiritual darkness even as we drove through.

There are several Bible-preaching churches in the city and certainly in the surrounding area. What a mighty job they have in letting the light of Christ shine through them to the darkness that pervades that area. Halloween is a very significant day for witchcraft and other satanic activities in Salem (and elsewhere), and yet the true church will have mission outreaches.

The light of Christ will shine as they expose the fruitless deeds of darkness. May the Lord bless these worthwhile efforts! Thankfully, God has a light shining in the midst of this darkness and the true church has seen many people turn from fruitless deeds of darkness to God’s marvelous light.

The first daily verse fundamentally speaks of Christ. He is the Light and indeed He shines in the darkness. Wherever you live there is darkness, although some places are certainly much more spiritually dark. We noted such a difference in this regard when we moved from Northern Pennsylvania to New England and now to Lancaster County.  But when we compare our Christianized nation to dark places such as Papua New Guinea and other unreached tribal regions the darkness is even more pervasive.  (We do thank God for Bible translators and missionaries who are going into these dark strongholds and reaching these souls for Christ.)

“The light shines in the darkness.”  The verb “shines” is in the present tense and can be understood as “the light keeps on shining.” Jesus teaches His followers. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

In our second daily verse the Apostle Paul makes a very unambiguous statement: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”  It’s a call desperately needed in our culture and increasingly so in the Church but it will subject us to ridicule among many who “love the darkness rather than the light” (John 3:19).  In fact the world wants to silence those who speak out for truth exposing darkness with the Light of His Word.

You see, when we become accustomed to the darkness it just may not seem as dark anymore.  When we were children playing at dusk our moms would call out, “Come into the house.  It’s dark outside.”  But we’d continue to play since we could still see.  A few days ago I was mowing my lawn in the early evening. Afterward I entered the house and looked out the window and it was dark. But while I was mowing my eyes got used to the dark since the dimness was gradual. I believe that can be true of our spiritual eyes as well and all the more reason why we must be on guard.

Today, all over the world serious believers are allowing the light of Christ to shine through them. This light exposes the fruitless deeds of darkness and this is the essence of spiritual warfare. Darkness hates the light. Yet faithful followers of Christ will continue to let their light shine, essentially reflecting the true Light, who is Christ.

May each reader today shine brightly.  As for me and my house we will stand up for the One True God today and seek to let His light shine through us!

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily Prayer: Father, You created us to be people who function and thrive by light.  Your placement of the sun by day and the moon by night is the way You provide for our physical needs enabling us to see as we carry out our multitude of duties.  As important as light is for the eyes to see, it is even more essential that the eyes of our heart see the magnificent light of Your glory.  As we walk in Your light we will be able to discern that which is evil from that which is good.  Jesus, we know that goodness cannot partner with wickedness for there is no harmony between You and the devil. We are one with You as we walk in Your truth and dispel the darkness everywhere we go, for greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. Amen.

 

July 5, 2015

Blessed Are…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3)

Here are two different takes on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. If you are not familiar with the full text, or wish to do some comparison, click here.

Author and theologian Monika Hellwig gives us the following:

  1. The poor in spirit know they are in need and can’t help themselves.
  2. The poor in spirit know not only their dependence on God and on powerful people but also their interdependence with others.
  3. The poor in spirit rest their security not on things but on people.
  4. The poor in spirit have no exaggerated sense of their own importance and no exaggerated need of privacy.
  5. The poor in spirit are less interested in competition and more interested in cooperation.
  6. The poor in spirit instinctively appreciate family, love and relationships over things.
  7. The poor in spirit can wait, because they have learned patience.
  8. The fears of the poor in spirit are more realistic and exaggerate less, because they already know they can survive great suffering and want.
  9. When the poor in spirit have the gospel preached to them, it sounds like good news and not like a threatening or scolding.
  10. The poor in spirit can respond to the call of the gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and are ready for anything.

~found in files; original source unknown; one blog notes a citation in The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey.

The Beatitude Creed:

I believe that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of Heaven.
I believe there will be comfort for those who mourn.
I believe that being meek is a good thing and that those who give everything will inherit the earth.
I believe that those whose heart is set on seeking righteousness will find it.
I believe the merciful will receive more than they think they deserve.
I believe the pure in heart will be blessed and will see God.
I believe that those who long for peace and do more than others think is safe are children of the living God.
I believe in a place of safety for those who are hurt for trying to do the right thing.

I believe that being poor, and ignored and weak, and sick and tired and broken and messed up and kicked around is not as spiritually dangerous as being self-satisfied and clever and well-clothed and well-fed and degreed and creed-ed and important.

~posted July 17th, 2008 at A Life Reviewed blog – Joe and Heather live in Coventry in the English West Midlands

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

May 8, 2015

When You Run Toward God, You Find God Running Toward You

Today we have a bonus article from Clarke Dixon, mostly because the one I posted on Wednesday wasn’t intended for C201. Well, I enjoyed it. As always go to his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon to read this at source.

An Outcast Seeks God

How would you feel if you made a very long journey to see the natural beauty of Niagara Falls, but when you arrived you were told “you must keep your distance.” There you are, close enough to see the mist rising from the falls, but instead of enjoying that wonderful natural beauty you are kept in the highly commercialized part of town. There is something similar happening to an Ethiopian eunuch we meet in Acts 8. He has a desire to worship the God of Israel, and takes a long trek to seek God’s presence at the temple in Jerusalem. But he can only get so close before he is barred from going further. He is a foreigner and a eunuch, a guarantee of always being considered as too unclean to enter the temple. And so he can only go as far as the busy and noisy outer courts of the temple, where people are buying and selling for the sacrifices. Perhaps you feel you have a similar problem, wanting to draw close to God, but not feeling good enough to do so?

When we meet the eunuch, he is already on his way home. He has gone as far as he was allowed to go in his pursuit of God’s presence. Now, on his way home, we find something remarkable. God is pursuing him.

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” Acts 8:26-29 NRSV

Sometimes we fail to see God in the details. We might be ready to affirm that God desires to bring salvation to sinners, but we might fail to appreciate that God desires to work in the life of this or that particular sinner. We might even be that particular person we doubt God could be interested in. Yet God’s work in the life of one individual could not be clearer than we find in His pursuit of the Ethiopian eunuch. Let’s see what happens next:

30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. Acts 8:30-35 NRSV

The good news Phillip has for the eunuch is that Jesus is the one described in that prophecy of Isaiah 53:7,8 and he is now risen from the dead. Jesus is the suffering servant. And you can imagine Phillip pointing out the surrounding verses in that same prophecy of Isaiah to tell why he suffered:

4 Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6 NRSV

9 They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. 11 Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:9-12 NRSV

Jesus suffered to bring salvation to the sinner. But did he suffer for an outcast like the Ethiopian eunuch? “Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.” I wonder if Phillip went on to the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 56:

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
“I am just a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
Isaiah 56:3-8 NRSV

I wonder if Phillip told the eunuch about Jesus quoting from this passage in the outer courtyards of the temple as he rebuked those making profits there. This was to be a house of prayer for all nations, but how could the nations worship among all the buzz of commerce? Did the eunuch’s heart warm as he heard about Jesus’ concern for the outcast, for the foreigner and the eunuch who came to the temple to worship? Did it burn as he heard that Jesus was the servant who suffered even for an outcast like him? Did it rejoice to know that this Jesus was risen from the dead and that God was pursuing him, specifically sending Phillip to tell him the good news? Something did indeed happen in the eunuch’s heart:

36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. Acts 8:36-38 NRSV

As an Ethiopian and a eunuch, there was only so far this man could go in becoming a Jewish convert with full privileges. And yet here he was baptized, symbolizing his complete inclusion into the body of Christ. As an Ethiopian and a eunuch, there was only so far he could go in pursuing the presence of God at the temple before he would be stopped by the religious authorities. But here God pursued him. Now through the Holy Spirit he had become the place of God’s presence. The good news for the Ethiopian eunuch is good news for us. God loves and pursues the outcast. Are you pursuing Him?

March 11, 2015

When You Need to Know He’s Preparing a Place

Today Clarke Dixon returns to the key passage he introduced last week…

A Messy Story with a Good Ending (or Rather a Great New Beginning)

Watching the news we quickly get the sense that the world is in a mess. Pick up the phone and you can quickly find out that a loved one’s life is in a mess. Get out of bed and you can quickly realize that your own life is in a mess. And people can point and ask how you can believe in God from within such a mess? First, we want to recognize His presence through the Holy Spirit. God is in the mess with us. But we also want to remember a promise:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

Here is a promise the disciples would need at the crucifixion of Jesus as they pondered their own failings, and wondered if perhaps Jesus had failed too. And here is a promise they would need to remember once Jesus has risen and ascended to the Father. Troubles plagued the early believers, just as they do believers today. And yes, the early believers and every Christian since has had their share of failures. In the midst of our mess of trouble and failure we remember a promise:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

In other words, this is not the end to this story, there is much to come yet! As the first Christian martyr, Stephen, is killed some could have mockingly asked “where is your God to save you?” But Stephen’s story is not finished yet. The thief crucified along with Jesus was in a real mess, and was a real mess-maker himself. Mighty Rome thought it was putting an end to him and his mess. His story is not finished yet though the mess is now behind him. And your story is not finished, no matter how much of a mess you are in, or how much of a mess you are responsible for, your story does not end here. Even when your loved ones place your remains in their final resting place, there is nothing final about it. For the repentant follower the best is yet to come:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

While the story is not over, your story of experiencing God’s grace is not one you will want to fast forward through. Yes, the best is yet to come, but we want to savor, value, and be good stewards of each moment between now and then.

I have met Christians who seem to be solely and wholly devoted to the end-times and escape from the mess of current times. Their studies are devoted to the end, as are their prayers. In fact their very lives seem devoted to the next life. They have a finger on the fast-forward button with an attitude summed up by my one of my brother’s favorite sayings: “beam me up Scotty. This planet sucks!” That cannot be our prayer, for Jesus teaches us to pray:

  • “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” – our lives are to lead to the honor of his name, right here, right now.
  • “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – while God has an amazing kingdom future for us, we are to start living those realities right here, right now.
  • “Give us this day our daily bread” – this speaks to desire and contentment for today.
  • “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” – this is something we are to do in the here and now
  • “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” – a prayer appropriate for today and every day.

In addition to paying attention to our Lord’s teaching on prayer, living out the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Golden Rule also requires a focus on living in, rather than escaping from, today. This planet may well be in a mess, but that is part of why we are called. We are to be peace makers rather than mess makers. It is not wrong to long for Christ’s Kingdom coming, but we are also to long for God’s Kingdom to be expressed in the here and now.

Then there are others who only value Christianity for how it impacts their future. It is only useful as an assurance of heaven, and is of no earthly relevance to their lives or the messes they live in or create. While Jesus’ promise of eternal life is assuring, your story of experiencing God’s grace is not one you will want to put on hold. You will also want to pay attention to what God can and will do in and through you in the here and now.

It would be interesting to know how many Christians would call themselves Christians if Jesus’ promise, and all other references to heaven and eternal life were not in the Bible. Would people still be Jesus followers? What if the cross was just an example of a Godly life and not a means to an eternal life with God? What if the cross merely pointed us to how to forgive and express grace and love, yet we could expect to die never to live again? Would you still follow Jesus? I hope so, for we do not follow Jesus for reward, but because He is Lord. And when our Lord teaches us how to live in the here and now, full of grace and truth, we should listen. Thankfully, while being an example to follow, Jesus’ death is also an expression and working out of God’s covenant promises to save. Jesus makes the promise, and does what is needed to make it possible:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

The promise is made because this is a love story. The language Jesus uses is reminiscent of a wedding. The groom goes away to prepare the home for the couple to enjoy once they are married. Then he comes back to take his bride to be with him in their home together. This is the kind of love God has for His Church. It goes far beyond that of one person rescuing another from a mess. Heroes are typically strangers. This is love that is focused on relationship. It is a commitment to love in a covenant of love. It is the love of the One who is love. It is love from the One who will keep His promise:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2 NRSV)

March 5, 2015

Have You Lost Your First Love?

A link to this was added as an update to Sunday’s post, but I felt it worth giving full attention to it today. Randy Davis is another author we linked to in the past at Thinking Out Loud. Click the title below to read this at source and look at other articles.

Have You Lost Your First Love?

This is a followup on my sermon from Revelation 2:1-7 titled What’s Love Got to do with It? The theme was, have you lost your first love when it comes to your relationship to Christ?

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:4-5 ESV)

These questions may serve as a diagnostic help as we probe our own hearts and ask this question, have I lost my first love in regard to following Christ as my Lord and Savior? All Christians should take stock of their lives from time to time. We need a spiritual checkup to see if we are spiritually health. These questions are certainly not exhaustive. I’m sure the reader can think of others that need to be asked. However, maybe these will help you and me think about our lives before Christ and ask that question, have I lost my first love?

  1. Have you stopped praying daily?
  2. When you do pray is it out of duty?
  3. When you pray, do you take time to think about God and wait on his reply?
  4. Does your faith influence the way you live your public life?
  5. When you make important decisions, do you consider what Scripture says? Do you pray about it?
  6. Do you use the phrase, “I prayed about it” as an excuse to do what you want to do?
  7. Do you read the Bible often?
  8. When you read Scripture, do you read with understanding?
  9. When you read Scripture, do you find surprising ideas that you have not seen before?
  10. Do you find it hard to go to church?
  11. Do you see “Church”as something you are a part of or something that you just attend?
  12. Do you spend a lot of time being critical of others at church?
  13. Is church attendance something you do when there is nothing else to do?
  14. Do you let hobbies, personal interests, sports, and other lesser matters keep you out of church?
  15. Do you feel close to other church members?
  16. Do you fellowship with church members and consider them your closest friends?
  17. Do you understand that church membership means a close spiritual bond between each other?
  18. Do you feel accountable to your fellow church members?
  19. Do you not attend church because you don’t like someone there?
  20. Do you do the work of the church?
  21. Do you volunteer or do you have to be asked and begged to take a position in the church?
  22. Do you think it is someone else’s responsibility to teach, serve on committees, chaperone at children and youth functions, etc.?
  23. Does your love for God cause you to tithe and give generously to the church?
  24. Do you think that a few dollars every now and then is all that is needed to serve God?
  25. Do you share your faith with others?
  26. Do others know you are a Christian by your behavior, your language, your attitudes?
  27. Do you believe that Christians should carry out a mission endeavor whenever possible?
  28. Would you refuse to go on a mission trip if it were offered to you?
  29. Do you give consideration to the poor and their needs?
  30. Are you put off by someone’s poverty, race, heritage, etc.? Would you refuse to minister to them or to fellowship with them?
  31. Given the chance to witness to someone about Christ, will you refuse?
  32. Do the two great commands, to love God and to love your neighbor, impact the way you live?
  33. As a Christian, do you think there should be limits to things you want or do you think you should buy whatever your heart desires?
  34. Are you proud or are you humble in the way you live and treat others?
  35. Do you think that worldly practices are fine for a Christian to practice?

January 30, 2015

Jerusalem, Judea and the Uttermost Places on Earth

John 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

A few years ago I had an interesting conversation after church.

The pastor had quoted the verse we commonly refer to as “The Great Commission;” the verse which reads,

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The person who spoke to me has a huge compassion for Israel and is willing to share this passion with any who want to know more about the various facets of how modern Israel fits into Old Testament history, New Testament studies, evangelism and missions, eschatology, etc. We’ve had some great interactions, and I’ve learned much about The Holy Land from our conversations and various items she’s given me to read.

She suggested to me that perhaps the passage in Acts 1:8 might actually be taken most literally. That we should be evangelists in Jerusalem.

I told her that neither those we call the “church fathers” nor modern commentators have interpreted this passage that way. I mean, it’s an interesting take on the passage, and certainly in first century context it is correct; but we tend to read their commission into our commission and when we do so, we tend to think of Jerusalem as the place where we’re standing or sitting right now. The place we call home. My Jerusalem is the close family, co-workers, immediate neighbors, etc. who in a sense, only I can reach.

Perhaps you grew up in a church where it was diagrammed something like this:

Jerusalem Judea Samaria traditional interpretation

But people do read scripture differently, and many passages that seem straight-forward are subject to different understandings. So in Acts and Paul’s epistles, my friend at church sees Paul’s consuming drive to bring the Gospel to the Jews; whereas I read Acts and am struck by how Paul was compelled to go to Rome against all odds. (To be fair, both elements are present; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”)

Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends. (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.” Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however. He chose Toronto, a city about an hour from where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world. Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission. In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to. Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea. Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to. Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do. Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you rent DVDs who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically. Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

And perhaps, just to make things interesting, with its heat, humidity and propensity toward violence, perhaps your Samaria actually is modern-day Jerusalem.


  • Some of today’s article appeared previously in October, 2014 incorporated in a look at how this view of Samaria would have influenced the original hearers of The Parable of the Good Samaritan story.  The full article was originally published in January 2011 at Thinking Out Loud.
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