Christianity 201

February 11, 2020

Praying on Behalf of Others

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Part of our mission here is to introduce you to new writers, but a subset of that includes highlighting the work of younger writers. Karsten Harrison is still in high school, but I recently enjoyed reading three different articles on his blog, For the Disciple, which were part of a series on prayer. (See January entries.) sClick the header below to read this one at source, and then take a few minutes to look around at other articles.

How to Pray: Supplication

Prayer is the unifying act between God and man. This beautiful action marks the covenetial communion between Lord and His image bearers. In the Spirit, we pray to the Father and through His mediating Son. This truth is absolutely precious: we are intimately interacting with all three persons of the trinity in the act of covenential prayer. Prayer is intimacy with the Father, and a healthy prayer life reveals a true, meaningful connection to the Lord of all creation. Furthermore, prayer is not to be taken lightly; rather, it is a delicate procedure that requires intentionality. When we pray, we are to adore the Father, confess our sinfulness, give thanks to the Father, and finally, supplicate our prayer for others.

Continuing the theme, Nehemiah 1 depicts a true, intimate prayer. In Nehemiah’s prayer, he demonstrates adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and even supplication on behalf of his fellow Israelites.

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, ‘O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.’

Now I was cupbearer to the king.”

Nehemiah 1:4-11 ESV

All prayer must conclude with a ministerial mindset: praying on behalf of others. Jesus was sent by the Father to redeem all of humanity; not just you. Because of this truth, it is important that urgent requests are made on behalf of those that are lost. Furthermore, believers are to pray for other believers. The church is one, unique body of people who share in the common faith in Christ. This means that believers must, be fervent in praying for one another: in fleeing from sin, in receiving wisdom, in pursuing Christ more, in reading more, or whatever else a fellow believer may be in dire, spiritual need for.

Jesus, likewise, demonstrated this act of prayer in John 17. This entire piece of Scripture emphasizes the prayer Jesus makes on behalf of His disciples.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

John 17:9 ESV

Christ prayed specifically for you: that you would be filled with joy in Christ, kept in the Father’s hands, sanctified in the truth of the gospel, unified as one body, that you may be glorified. As believers, we are to pray on behalf of others. We are to make supplication to the Father for those around us.

Scripture Reading

“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

‘I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

‘I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’”

John 17 ESV

Application

  • How can you come to God and pray for others?
  • What are some needs in your community that you can specifically be praying for?
  • Who is someone you can pray for today?

February 10, 2020

When Jesus ‘Turned the Tables,’ It Wasn’t About Money

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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“And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.
-Acts 15:19

The verse above comes later than the story we’re looking at today, but in many ways reflects the same principle. I added it here to help focus our thoughts on the general theme of today’s devotional…

This time again we have another new writer to feature here. Paul O’Brien has been in pastoral ministry for nearly a dozen years and lives in Ohio. His blog is New Creation in X. Click the header below to read this one at source.

Why did Jesus flip over tables?

“And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And He would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple” (Mark 11:15-16).

Why did Jesus drive out those who sold and bought in the temple? Why did He flip over tables? That seems pretty extreme. Why was He so worked up? What was such a big deal? I mean in some ways the moneychangers actually helped people it would seem.

When I was in Germany, for instance, I had to go to the “moneychangers” to get euros. Without the moneychangers, after all, I would have had no schnitzel. Further, pigeons were sold. That is actually pretty convenient. Because who wants to have to haul a pigeon halfway across the known world? Not me. So, what was the deal with Jesus getting upset?

It seems that money was not the only issue. In fact, maybe not the biggest issue. Though, Jesus does mention that the moneychangers were essentially robbers (again, reminds me of the bank in Germany where I got my euros). But I think the bigger issue is what the Temple was intended to be and what it had become. It clearly was never meant to be “a den of robbers” but “a house of prayer.” A house of prayer “for all peoples,” it says.

The moneychangers were in the “Court of the Gentiles,” that’s basically equivalent to where Gentiles (non-Jews/”the nations”) would worship. As you can imagine that would obstruct worship. It would be a hindrance from Gentiles, “the nations,” from worshiping the Lord. This is the converse, as Jesus pointed out, of what Isaiah said: “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:7).

Jesus brings blessing and salvation to all peoples but at the temple people were hindered from worshiping. That is why Jesus was furious. And rightly so. May we never be worthy of Jesus’ wrath for that same sin.

May we never prevent or hinder people from coming to the LORD, even if they are convenient or important things that we don’t want to give up. May we work to destroy unnecessary stumbling blocks. And may the church be a house and family that welcomes all people in!

50 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday, but not necessarily daily. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

February 5, 2020

When Jesus Was Suprised

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I have only two devotionals which I personally subscribe to, and one which I read online. One of the daily emails is titled “Breakfast of Champions” by Andy and Gina Elmes. To get these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

In view of more recent discussions we’ve had here and elsewhere about open theology there is the question of Jesus being genuinely surprised at the faith of the man in the story. The various translations however, seem to support the idea of Jesus in wonder, being taken aback, being amazed, or being truly surprised.

How can we amaze Jesus?

Matthew 8:9-10, NIV
For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.

The answer to today’s titular question is found in today’s scripture, and is very simple: ‘understand authority’. I love this simple account of a centurion approaching Jesus and asking Him for a miracle for one of his servants. Notice what he says to Jesus: ‘For I myself am a man under authority.’ What was it about this statement that amazed Jesus in such a way that He would then boast about this man? Let’s have a look.

It was not the first part, where he states his gender: ‘I myself am a man.’ This would not have impressed Jesus as He dealt daily with many men. Yes, as a centurion, he was probably a strong man, maybe even a real ‘man’s man’! But it was not this that turned the head of the Lord.

It was when he said the next bit: ‘a man under authority.’ What was he saying in this statement? Simply that he was a man who acknowledged, respected and understood what authority looked like and how it worked.

Maybe it was good parenting, or the fact that he was in the military, that had taught him these things? Whatever it was that had been his classroom, he had certainly learned well. He then begins to relate his understanding on how authority worked in a simple yet profound way. ‘I have people under me, I ask them to go and they go, to do and they do.’ Then he says, ‘Just say the word, Jesus.’ It was this that impressed Jesus the most – that the man knew that the word of Jesus, and the authority it contained, was enough that he did not even need the person with authority to be present at the place of need to get what he desired!

This man’s understanding of authority notably impressed Jesus. He commended him even to the point of saying, ‘I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.’ What a huge commendation for this man! They had never met before, and Jesus was not a person that He would exaggerate or say things just for the sake of it. He always meant what He said, even when He compared this man to a whole nation. Wow!

Again, let me underline – Jesus was not impressed by the fact he was a man or that he was a centurion; He was impressed by the man’s understanding of what true authority looks like in a person’s life and how it works.

May this simple account today get us thinking about authority. What is our understanding concerning it? Would how we see authority be enough to amaze Jesus? All authority comes from God and is set into position by God, and how we respond to authority dramatically determines the boundary lines of our life and what we will experience.


Optional further reading: The next day, Andy continued the theme of authority…


God sets authority in the home

Ephesians 5:22-26, NIV
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.

…So if we want to fully understand faith and the working dynamics of His kingdom, we must be able to understand, and be able to submit to, authority.

We may not always like it but it is vital that we understand that it is God who sets authority into position in our lives. It is He who watches how we respond to it, whether we will choose the healthy road of submission or the destructive roads of rebellion and pride. It is God who sets correct authority in the home, and society seems to be ever trying to remove it. I don’t know about you but I have made up my mind, as for me and my house we are going to do marriage and family God’s way!

As we see in today’s text, He sets a clear authority within marriage. This is not so a man can rule over his wife in some authoritarian way, but rather that he can lead, guide and protect her as the co-heir of the gift of life that she is. Call me old school, I really don’t mind, but I still believe that, in a marriage, the man is set in position by God to be the priest of the household. Let me say again, not to dictate, dominate or abuse but rather to lift his spiritual arms and natural arms to protect, nourish and bless. Every godly husband needs to realise that God has called them to be the priest of the household. In the same way, I believe that it’s God who positions parents in the household to have authority over the children – again, not to be abusive and mean but rather to raise, nurture, protect and lead in a God-fearing way.

I fully understand that as I speak about marriage, home life and parenting, other people’s personal experiences or preferences may be different to mine. and that’s okay. I just want to encourage you, wherever you may be at, to be ever making God’s Word the guiding light in your home concerning who has authority. Today, take time to think about what godly authority looks like in your home, whether you are a husband, wife, parent, single parent or child. God has a perfect way for how your household should function. Let’s not lay this aside for the cheaper, non-effective ways of a fickle society that is totally out of control. God’s ways, when lived out properly, still work; they still produce strong, lasting marriages and families…

January 27, 2020

These Predictions Were Spot On

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Once or twice each year I return to the devotional page at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. There are many great articles from a variety of writers. I wish more people would attempt to write devotional literature. The author of this piece is Dee Renaud. Click the title below to read it at their site.

Weather Predictions And More

Winter isn’t my favourite season. Although it’s very beautiful after a snowfall — a winter wonderland, as they say — I don’t like it when the wind blows and visibility becomes almost nil, especially if we have to travel somewhere.

We rely on the weather predictions to keep us informed about upcoming snow squall warnings, and then, we decide whether or not we will venture out to get where we need to go or stay home and be safe. Sometimes, the predictions are spot on, and sometimes they are totally wrong.

There are many predictions about Jesus’ life in the Bible as well, and they were always spot on!

We live in an imperfect world. The Bible tells us that we are all sinners and so we need a Saviour. Jesus is that person. God’s plan for each and every one of us from before the creation of the world was for Jesus to save us from our sins. His birth, death, and resurrection were all predicted (foretold) and fulfilled exactly.

■ The birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in Bethlehem:

Micah 5:2The Lord says, “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are one of the smallest towns in Judah, but out of you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times.” (GNT)

■ Jesus’ death on the cross, to pay the penalty for our sins:

Psalm 22:14-16My strength has drained away like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart melts like wax; my strength has dried up like sun-baked clay; my tongue sticks to my mouth, for you have laid me in the dust of death. The enemy, this gang of evil men, circles me like a pack of dogs; they have pierced my hands and feet. (TLB)

Isaiah 53:5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (NIV)

■ Jesus’ resurrection:

Psalm 16:9-10Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. (NIV)

Matthew 17:22-23When they came together in Galilee, [Jesus] said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” (NIV)

■ He was the perfect sacrifice — the One without sin, the only One who could pay the price for our sins.

1 Peter 1:18-20aFor you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world. (NIV)

As the predictions tell us, Jesus was born for us, He died on the cross for us, and He rose from the dead for us. When we acknowledge our sinfulness, confess our sins, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we fulfill God’s plan in our own lives.

Prayer: Father God, we are so grateful that You are in control and that You have had a plan from before the very beginning of time. Thank You for sending Your only Son, Jesus, into this world to be our Saviour. Thank You for Your Word that teaches us what we need to know to have eternal life. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

 

January 11, 2020

Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions

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.

Perhaps that has some appeal. As I write this, the forecast for tomorrow (Sunday) in Jerusalem is cloudy with sunny breaks and a high of 10°C (about 50°F for our U.S. readers.) Certainly milder than what’s predicted where I live.

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: City, then state (province), country, entire world.

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 buy milk 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.

So perhaps you’re thinking, okay, I am going to be a missionary to Jerusalem (so to speak) and I’ll let you be a missionary to Judea. I don’t think it’s that simple. True, in a church setting people may find themselves specializing in different mission fields, but I believe each of us, over the course of our lives, is to be open to be finding ourselves in ‘Samaria situations.’

All David was doing was delivering a ‘care package’ of food to his older brothers, but he found himself on the front line of the battle against the Philistines, and in particular, their MVP, Goliath.

I believe a Christian life, lived to the full, will involve all four types of battle: On the home front, further afield, to the place we don’t necessarily want to go, and to those in places involving 30-hour flights or multiple airport connections.

At the very least, let’s be open to all of these.


  • 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.

December 31, 2019

A Quiet Servant

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. — Isaiah 58:10-11 NASB

As the year ends, one thing I’m looking forward to in 2020 is the release of the new Max Lucado book, Jesus: The God Who Knows Your Name. Reading an advance copy of it has reminded me why he is such a popular, gifted writer. What follows is a short excerpt from what is his is currently newest book, How Happiness Happens. Clicking the header below will take you to a site where you may learn more and purchase the book.

Service With A Smile

…I’ve seen thousands like him. Quiet servants. The supporting cast of the kingdom of God. They seek to do what is right. They show up. Open doors. Cook dinners. Visit the sick. You seldom see them in front of an audience. That’s the last place most of them want to be. They don’t stand behind a pulpit; they make sure the pulpit is there. They don’t wear a microphone but make certain it’s turned on.

They embody this verse:

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. — Galatians 5:13

These words appear toward the end of a document on liberation. For five chapters the apostle Paul proclaimed, “You are free! Free from sin. Free from guilt. Free from rules. Free from regulations. The yoke of slavery is off, and the liberation has begun.”

Our freedom, however, is not an excuse for us to do whatever we want. Just the opposite.

    Because we are free, we can serve.

We voluntarily indenture ourselves to others. In a society that seeks to be served, we seek opportunities to serve others.

Andrew was such a servant. He was the brother of Peter. He came from the same town as James and John. Yet when we discuss the inner circle of Peter, James, and John, we don’t mention Andrew. His name never appears at the top of the list of leaders. He lived in the shadow of the others. In the group photo he stood at the side, hands in pockets. Then again, he probably held the camera.

Quiet, however, does not mean complacent. Just because Andrew avoided the limelight, that doesn’t mean he lacked fire. He led his brother Peter to Jesus. Peter went on to preach the first sermon. Peter led the Jerusalem church. Peter took the Gospel to Gentiles. He wrote epistles that we still read. He defended the apostle Paul. Anyone who appreciates Paul’s epistles owes a debt of gratitude to Peter. And anyone who has benefited from the rocklike faith of Peter owes a debt to the servant spirit of Andrew.

And it was the servant spirit of Mary that led God to select her to be the mother of Jesus. She wasn’t a scholar or a sophisticated socialite. She was simple. Plain. A peasant. She blended into the crowd. She hailed from Nazareth, a dusty village in an oppressed district in Galilee.

In the social strata of her day, Mary occupied the lowest step. As a Jew she answered to the Romans. As a female she was subservient to males. As a young girl she was second to older women. She was poor, so she was beneath the upper class.

Mary was extraordinarily ordinary. Yet this virtue set her apart:

I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!
— Luke 1:38 NCV

When God wants to bring Christ into the world, He looks for servants. No diploma required. No bloodline specified. Bank accounts are not a factor. Place of birth doesn’t matter. Let all unassuming people of the world be reminded: God can use you.

____

Jesus came to serve.

In one of His appearances to His followers, they were on the Sea of Galilee when they heard Him call out from the shore. When He told them where to find fish, they realized it was Jesus. Peter plunged into the water and swam to shore. The other disciples grabbed their oars and paddled. When they reached the beach, they saw the most extraordinary sight. Jesus was cooking! He told them,

Come and eat breakfast.John 21:12

Shouldn’t the roles be reversed? Jesus had just ripped the gates of hell off their hinges. He’d disemboweled the devil. He’d made a deposit of grace that forever offsets our debt of sin. He’d sentenced the demons to death row and set free every sinner since Adam. He, the unrivaled Commander of the Universe, wore the apron?

Even more, He has yet to remove it. He promises a feast in Heaven at which

He will gird Himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. — Luke 12:37

Can you imagine the sight? Row after row of food-laden tables. The redeemed of the ages celebrating and singing, and someone asks, “Has anyone seen Jesus?”

“Yes,” another replies. “He’s on the other side of the banquet room serving ice tea.”

Christ Himself was like God in everything. But He did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit. But He gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing. He was born as a man and became like a servant. — Philippians 2:6-7 NCV

He was content with the humblest of titles. He was content to be called a servant.

December 22, 2019

The Tower of Flock and the Birth of Jesus

Recently I reconnected with a longtime friend who is now working for Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. While checking out their website earlier today, I discovered their blog and the article below. Its author Bruce Scott is the director of Program Ministries at The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry and is the author of The Feasts of Israel: Seasons of the Messiah. Click the header below to see the article in full — which deals with context, cultural conditions and historical background in interpreting this type of text — of the following is a portion:

The Jewish Life of Jesus

What Is the Tower of Flock?

We read in Genesis 35:19-21, “So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

The phrase “tower of Eder” literally means “tower of flock.” In those days when a flock of animals, particularly sheep, were being cared for and watched, the shepherd would oftentimes be in a tower overlooking his flock, keeping an eye out for bandits or wild animals. This particular tower of the flock was near Bethlehem of Judea, and it was here that Jacob pitched his tent after Rachel died.

The only other place in the Old Testament where the Hebrew phrase “tower of flock” is found is Micah 4:8:

And you, O tower of the flock,
The stronghold of the daughter of Zion,
To you shall it come,
Even the former dominion shall come,
The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.

Targum Jonathan (an ancient Aramaic translation) sees the word “tower” in this verse as referring to the Messiah, and the word “flock” as referring to Israel. It therefore translates the beginning of the verse as, “And you, O Messiah of Israel . . . .”

Based on these verses, therefore, later Jewish tradition taught that when the Messiah would come, He would be revealed from Migdal Eder, the tower of the flock (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Gen. 35:21).

No Ordinary Shepherds

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, the Scriptures say, “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Lk. 2:8). What is interesting about these shepherds is that according to Jewish law, small animals from herds and flocks were not allowed to be raised in the land of Israel because they could damage people’s fields (Mishnah, Baba Kamma 7.7; Demai 2.3; Talmud, Sukkah 29a; Midrash, Exodus Rabbah 2.3). They were, however, allowed to be raised “in Syria or in the wildernesses that are in the Land of Israel” (Mishnah, Baba Kamma 7.7).

But in Luke 2:8 it states “in the same country,” meaning the same region of Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching their flock. If there was a prohibition against keeping flocks so near a community with cultivated fields, why were these shepherds in the same region as Bethlehem?

When you learn the value of these [Jewish] contexts, they will richly enhance your understanding of the Scriptures.

One explanation could be that by the phrase “in the same country” Luke meant a wider territory than first thought, a territory that included a nearby wilderness area used for keeping sheep.

Another explanation could be this. The rabbis taught that if a male sheep, one year old or younger, had strayed and was found one month before Passover roaming around in the area between Jerusalem and Migdal Eder, or the area equidistant from Jerusalem to Migdal Eder in any direction, then the sheep could be used for sacrifice at Passover (Mishnah, Shekalim 7:4). The inference is that sheep found anywhere from Migdal Eder near Bethlehem to Jerusalem were most likely used for Temple sacrifices.

Therefore, could it be that the shepherds watching over their flock by night when Jesus was born were not ordinary shepherds? Instead, could it be they were shepherds specifically hired to watch sheep that were destined for sacrifice?

If so, then how appropriate it would be that God should first reveal the arrival of the Messiah to those particular shepherds near the tower of the flock not far from Bethlehem. And how appropriate that these shepherds wanted to go to Bethlehem and watch over the baby Jesus, lying in a manger, who was destined to be, as the Lamb of God, the ultimate, once-for-all sacrifice that would take away the sin of the world.

100 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday, but not necessarily daily. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! If you’re already a WordPress blogger and want to consider being an editor here, let me know. In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

 

December 20, 2019

The Anointed One Who Was To Come

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Jn.4.26 Then Jesus told her, I am the Messiah!”

NLV.Phil2.10-11 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Almost exactly one year ago, we introduced you to Michael James Schwab who has lived in Oaxaca, Mexico since March, 2005; “cooperating with God” at a home for needy children called Cristo Por Su Mundo (Christ for the World) operated by Foundation For His Ministry.  He blogs at ToEnjoyGod.com. Click the header below to read this one at his blog.

Advent – Waiting for the Messiah

I recently read the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I’ve read it many times. It is one of my favorite books of the Bible. Every time I read it, something new stands out. This time I was struck by Paul’s use of the word Christ. He uses that title for Jesus over and over. 38 Times in this short, four chapter book. He uses the word Christ more than he uses the name Jesus.  When we study the Bible, one of the first questions we should ask ourselves is “What did these words mean to the person that wrote them?” So, what did Paul have in mind when he wrote the word Christ? What is his concept of Christ?

We have to remember that Paul was thoroughly Jewish. His concept of almost everything was informed and shaped by what we call the Old Testament or, more accurately, the First Testament. The word we read as Christ, comes from the Greek word Khristos, which comes from the Hebrew word khriein, which means to anoint, translating the Hebrew masiah or Messiah. Paul was totally steeped in the Hebrew language, and every time he wrote the word Christ, he was probably thinking of the Hebrew word khriein or masiah.

The picture of someone being anointed in the O.T. is someone having olive oil poured on their head. This was a sacred rite reserved for three types of people: prophets, priests and kings.

The prophet Elisha was anointed by Elijah (1Kings 19:16).

The first priest, Aaron, was anointed by Moses (Exodus 29:7).

King David was anointed by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:1,13)

Most of the O.T. Prophets spoke and wrote about an anointed One that was to come. One that would restore peace, prosperity and wholeness to his people, his Chosen Ones. This person was commonly referred as the Messiah.  This Messiah was sometimes referred to as a great prophet, or a priest, or king, like King David.

Most of the post exilic Jews longingly looked for, prayed for, and hoped for this Messiah. Paul was no exception. He fervently and zealously awaited the Messiah and did everything in his power to bring about the soon return of this exalted Prophet, Priest and King.

There was always the questions among the Jews, “When would the Messiah come? ” “What was taking him so long?” What was the cause of his delay? “

The more zealous of the Jews, like Paul, thought they had the answer.  It was the Jews own fault. The Jews that didn’t take the law of God, or the Torah, seriously enough. They failed in so many areas of keeping the Law.  They were lax in their commitment to and obedience of the Law.  If only these slackers could be convinced or coerced to do better, that would surely hasten the Messiahs  appearance and rule and liberate the people from the despised Roman oppression.

And then there was The Way.  The Way was a group of Jews who proclaimed that the Messiah had come in the person of a man named Jesus. Not only was he the Messiah, but they claimed he was the Son of God.  Blasphemy! Obvious blasphemy!  This Jesus was shown to be a fraud and a heretic and hung up on a cross to die.  The Law said, “Cursed is any man hung on a tree!” This man Jesus was not the blessed Messiah, but a man cursed by God to die a humiliating death. Perhaps if there was one main reason the true Messiah would not come soon, it was due to the rabble called the Way, and Paul set out to do something about it!

He set out toward Damascus to persecute, jail, and maybe kill some of The Way, as those zealous for the Torah did to Stephen, one of the Way’s leader’s.  On the road to Damascus, a strong light and a voice from heaven caused Paul to fall to the ground. The voice called out to Paul, “Why are you persecuting me!”

Paul said, “Who are you?”

The voice from heaven basically said, “I am Jesus, the Messiah.”

After that, Paul’s world was never the same.  It was turned upside down and inside out. Indeed, the Messiah had come. Paul had to admit it. And he was glad. The long foretold  and divinely sent Prophet, Priest and King had truly come.  That fact totally transformed and revolutionized Paul’s outlook and worldview.

Paul’s new mission in life would be to proclaim the Good News that the Messiah, the Christ, had really come to earth to set up a new kind of kingdom, one that gave sight to the blind and set the captives free! Paul could now see the truth and live in true freedom! He was now living in right relationship with God and was filled with joy and peace.  And it was all due to the Messiah, Christ Jesus!

We are in the Advent season. Advent is a time of hopeful expectation. Paul spent the first part of his life in hopeful expectation, waiting for the Messiah to come. He spent the rest of his life rejoicing that the Messiah had come. In this period of Advent, we too can rejoice with Paul and be glad that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, has come, and because of that we are a new creation, living in His love and loving others.

Advent is also a time to remember that we are living in the Already, but Not Yet. We already are experiencing the blessings of being Kingdom dwellers, but the Kingdom is still growing and not yet complete. We already have that peace that surpasses all understanding, but we do not yet have world peace. We already have a new life within, but we are not yet free from pain and suffering; we have not yet had every tear wiped away by the gentle hand of Jesus.

We are still waiting for the Messiah. We are waiting for his return. When he comes he will not come as a baby in a manger, but as King of kings and Lord of lords, coming with the blast of a trumpet on clouds of glory. This time he will not be humiliated and crucified, but will rule with justice and righteousness and every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.

 

December 11, 2019

The Early Christian Writings Bring Hope

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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I was surprised yesterday when one of the devotionals I subscribe to included a brief excerpt from The New Testament in Its World by N.T. Wright and Michael Bird. Taking a course with N.T. Wright this summer, I am beginning to form a much clearer picture of the context in which the gospels and epistles were written.

The New Testament in Its World:An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians (Zondervan) is a rather large book (992 pages) which probably exceeds the price range of many readers here. But I thought I’d bring you an excerpt of the excerpt.

Receiving Hope and Sharing Hope

by N. T. Wright and Michael F. Bird
from The New Testament in Its World

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God…
 
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:5-7, Romans 15:13

The purpose of Scripture, Paul says in Romans 15:4, is so that “we might have hope.” He was speaking, of course, of Israel’s scriptures [the Old Testament], but with hindsight the same applies to the early Christian writings [the New Testament].

If that is so, then a prominent purpose of New Testament study ought to be to explain and illuminate the substance of that hope. In fact, we could even say that the mission of the Church is to share and reflect the future hope as the New Testament presents it.

Hope is, in fact, the foundation for the daily workings of a church.

Where the Church Can Spread Hope

Faithful Christian ministry will often take Jesus’ followers to places where hope is in short supply:

  • places where a sense of hopelessness hangs over a community
  • where the effects of global financial chaos are still in effect
  • where there is unemployment and family breakdown
  • where refugees feel alienated and despised in their adopted homes
  • where racial injustice is regarded as a kind of ugly normality that we have to put up with, and xenophobia is part of normal political rhetoric

We are called to work with, and for:

  • people who are one illness away from financial ruin
  • people who fear for their children’s safety when walking down the street
  • people who find that cultural elites mock and attack them because they do not signal “progressive virtues”
  • communities where politics means partisan policies on the one hand and acute apathy on the other
  • a world in which, while all this is going on, the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer

To such places, and the sad people who live in them, as well as to those who find themselves battered by circumstances beyond their control, the message of Jesus and His death and resurrection comes as good news from a far country, news of surprising hope.

The Church, in the power of the Spirit, must signal in its life and teaching that there is:

  • more to being human than mere survival
  • more than hedonism and power
  • more than ambition and entertainment

Life… does have purpose; there is comfort for those weighed down by moral injury; narcissism is not the true “normal;” there is something more powerful than economics and bombs.

There really is a different way to be human, and it has been decisively launched with Jesus.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

 

December 2, 2019

In The Fullness of Time

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:57 pm
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Today it’s a joy to once again highlight the writing of Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement.

Lessons From A Blank Page

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son” (Galatians 4:4).

Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent when we especially give attention to the first advent (coming) of Christ.

There’s a page in each of our Bibles we don’t read and probably have never given any consideration to. It’s the blank page found in many Bibles separating the Old and New Testaments. Now to be sure there may be another reason printers use this blank page and as more and more people read their Bibles on devices the concept of this blank page may not be apparent.

Today let us consider this wordless blank page and what it represents. There was a 400 year period that separated the final record in the Old Testament (Malachi) from the events in the New Testament beginning with Matthew’s Gospel. In secular history this was when Alexander the Great lived during the Greek Empire and the ascent of the Roman Empire. There are also some extra-Biblical records during this period recorded in the Apocrypha.

The blank page represents several things I can think of such as silence, hope and waiting, which we will consider today.

Do you have a hard time waiting? Are delays difficult to deal with causing you stress and anxiety? For most of us the answer is “yes.” God had first promised the Messiah after Adam and Eve’s transgression in the garden. Over the next several millenniums there was a growing body of Messianic promises that the Jewish people were given. But they waited and waited and waited.

At the time of Christ’s birth two elderly Jewish people are mentioned in Luke who had waited for the Messiah’s coming. Simeon had been waiting for the consolation of Israel, and Anna spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

In the daily text the Apostle Paul is reflecting on the events of Christ’s incarnation. He uses an intriguing phrase “But when the fullness of the time came” to describe that wonderful moment in space and time when God acted on our behalf in sending His Son for our redemption. The long wait was over. The faith of devout people like Simeon and Anna and others like them was now reality. God kept His promise.

And God still keeps His promises. He always will. He’ll keep everyone of them. We have the perspective of looking back and seeing the fulfillment of the greatest of God’s promises when “God sent forth His Son”. This occurred after a long wait and not until the fullness of the time came.

We must recognize that it’s the fullness of God’s time, not ours. Many of us are waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled in our lives. The wait is very trying. Many are living with an ongoing burden for spiritually wayward family members, others have a long-standing physical ailment in their lives or in someone they love. And on my heart this morning are so many of our dear brothers and sisters living in very oppressive conditions. And we all wait for that next great cosmic event when Jesus again keeps His last word to us when He declared, “Yes, I am coming soon”.

God has fulfilled the biggest promise. Let us wait with faith and assurance that “in His time” He will also take care of the scores of other matters we all deal with. He is faithful!

In His time, in His time;
He makes all things beautiful in His time.
Lord, please show me every day
As You’re teaching me Your way
That You do just what You say in Your time.

Daily prayer: Father, we know that Your time table is pre-ordained in the events that make an eternal difference in our lives. Thank you that when the fullness of the time came, You sent forth Your Son in the first advent. In this age help us to patiently wait for Your will to be fulfilled in our personal lives, in the lives of our loved ones, and in the world around us. May we be found steadfast, sober, expectant and alert awaiting the day of your second advent, your promised return. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen.

July 21, 2019

Why Jesus Died

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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My wife and I are currently reading Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice (Baker Books, 2019) by Sylvia Keesmatt and Brian Walsh. I got curious if Sylvia had anything online we could poach for C201 (!) and found this beautiful 2011 article from a denominational magazine. While it doesn’t have the usual scripture content we look for, I thought it was a great fit for the liturgical type of pieces I often post here for our Sunday Worship column.

Why Did Jesus Die?

by Sylvia Keesmaat

Was it because of the chief priests and the officers of the temple police and the elders? They were the ones who came out with swords into the dark of the garden. They were the ones who provided the thirty pieces of silver, who plotted day by day as Jesus spoke in the temple. They were full of fear: fear of a revolt by the people, fear of losing their own privileged positions in the Jerusalem hierarchy, fear of God’s kingdom of righteousness and justice and peace breaking in. Did Jesus die because of their fear and jealousy and ambition?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of Judas, the keeper of the money, who had followed Jesus almost from the beginning? Judas had heard him teach, seen him bring healing and hope, and watched forgiveness flow from his fingertips. Judas had been full of hopes for Jesus, keyed up on the walk to Jerusalem, waiting for the revolution to come. Was he disappointed that Jesus did not start gathering an army? Was he disappointed that this great leader was ignoring the only sure path to power? Is that why he slipped away in the night to whisper Jesus’ whereabouts to the officers of the temple for 30 pieces of silver? Is that why he betrayed his master with a kiss? Did Jesus die because of Judas’s disappointed hopes?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of the soldiers who were in charge of him overnight? They blindfolded him and beat him, saying, “Prophesy! Tell us who hit you!” Was it their glee in having someone new to torture that carried Jesus through the night? When he arrived before the assembly of elders in the morning, he was no longer the Jewish teacher from Nazareth but a prisoner—bruised and bloody, beaten up and tortured. Did Jesus die because of the soldiers’ joy in violence?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of Herod? Herod had wanted to meet Jesus for a long time. Herod had hoped to see a miracle or two, perhaps even be forgiven. Herod, whose father had murdered all the boys Jesus’s age in Bethlehem, now hoped that the one who got away would entertain him. Herod, who had beheaded John the Baptist for the sake of a dance, now wished for John’s cousin to perform for him. But Jesus did nothing. Said nothing. Is that why Herod’s soldiers put the robe on him, punched him a few more times, shouted their insults in his face? Did they hope to provoke him to some sign, some wonder? Did Jesus die because he would not do signs and wonders for the king?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of Pilate? Pilate had ruled the Jews for a few years. He knew that at the feast of Passover, rebellious feelings ran high as Jerusalem filled with Jews from far and wide hoping for a new exodus and a new Moses.

Though Pilate could find no grounds for Jesus’ death, he became increasingly afraid of the violent crowd. Pilate had all the power and control—and no power and control. And so he had Jesus beaten and handed him over. Did Jesus die because Pilate was afraid of a revolt?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of the assembly of elders, both chief priest and scribes, who tried him that morning? Was it because they didn’t believe he was the Son of Man? Was it because they didn’t believe he was the Son of God? Did they think that when he said he was the Son of God that he was claiming to be the king? Or the Messiah? Or both?

They were the ones who brought him before Pilate and accused him of treason, of refusing to pay taxes to Rome. They were the ones who said that Jesus had called himself a king and who insisted that they had no king but Caesar. They were the ones who demanded that Jesus be crucified, no matter how many times Pilate tried to release him. Did Jesus die because of the hatred of the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes?

Why did Jesus die?

Did Jesus die because we shouted “Crucify him, crucify him!”? Did Jesus die because of us?

Was it because of the crowds? The people he had healed, the people he had forgiven? The people he had freed from demons, the people he had fed? The ones who had listened to his stories, the ones with whom he had eaten? The people who wanted to make Jesus king waved palms as he approached Jerusalem. Had they drawn too much attention to him at the start?

Later, when they saw him, beaten up and tortured, it was the crowd who shouted, “Crucify him, crucify him!” It was the crowd who called for the release of Barabbas. Who cared if he had murdered someone? At least he knew how to resist the Romans! Did Jesus die because the crowd wanted him to be a different kind of king?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of us? Was it because of the way we share in this story? Was it because we share the fear and jealousy and ambition of the chief priests and the officers of the temple police? Was it because we share the disappointed hopes of Judas when it comes to the plan of God? Was it because we take joy in the violence the soldiers demonstrated? Did Jesus die because, like Herod, we favor entertainment over justice? Or did he die because, like Pilate, we prefer to keep the peace rather than do what we know to be right? Did Jesus die because of our hatred? Because we too want a different kind of king to rule over this world? Did Jesus die because we shouted “Crucify him, crucify him!”? Did Jesus die because of us?

Why did Jesus die?

Was it because of God? God, who made a covenant with a sinful and broken world. God, who promised that someday blessing would come to all people through the offspring of Abraham. God, who refused to give up on people, coming in love again and again to woo them back to himself. God, whose heart had broken over the sin and brokenness and despair that filled the creation.

God knew there was no way his wayward people could ever bring about healing and wholeness on their own. He knew there was no way they could get rid of the evil in their midst; he knew there was just one way: to offer himself up in love. Did Jesus die because of the love of God?

Why did Jesus die?

Maybe Jesus died because of it all: the hatred, the jealousy, the disappointment, the fear, the love of violence and entertainment. Because of us all: soldiers, rulers, elders, disciples, followers, mothers, fathers, children—sinners all.

But most of all, Jesus died because of God’s deep, deep love for the world—a love so deep that he gave his life to bring peace to us and to all creation.

Why did Jesus die?

Because of love. Because of love.



Originally published in The Banner – the official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church.

Link here for information about Romans Disarmed.

July 5, 2019

Was Jesus Caucasian?

NIV.Gal.3.8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

I thought we’d end the work week with a topic which may seem trivial to many of you, but often arises unforseen in discussions. This is one of many interesting topics at GotQuestions.org. and I try to highlight them here every six months. This is a great site to know about if you’ve… got questions. Here’s a link to their archive page which categorizes their different topics covered. Click the header below to read this one at source.

Was Jesus White?

In much of Western art, Jesus is portrayed as having white skin and light hair. Is that what Jesus really looked like? If not, why is He so often portrayed that way?

First, it is important to remember that the Bible nowhere gives a physical description of Jesus. The Bible does not say anything about Jesus’ height, weight, skin color, hair color, or eye color. Such things are not important to understanding who Jesus is. The closest the Bible comes to describing what Jesus looked like is a non-detailed sketch of what Jesus was not like in Isaiah 53:2: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (ESV). Essentially, Isaiah 53:2 is saying that Jesus was ordinary-looking. The description of the glorified Jesus having white hair and bronze skin in Revelation 1:14–15 should not be understood literally unless you also believe Jesus has seven stars in his right hand, a sword in His mouth, and a face as bright as the sun (Revelation 1:16).

According to the Bible, Jesus was a Jew, a.k.a., a Hebrew or Israelite. Jesus lived in the Middle East and was of Semitic descent. As a result, He very likely would have had light- to medium-brown skin, brown eyes, and dark-brown to black hair. While Middle Easterners occasionally have light skin, comparable to that of Europeans, such skin tones are rare in that part of the world. Was Jesus white? The answer is that He was very likely not white.

So, if Jesus likely was not white, why is He so often portrayed that way? If you examine artists’ portrayals of Jesus from around the world, you find that they often portray Jesus in a way similar to what people look like in that particular culture. Europeans portray Jesus as a European. Africans paint Jesus as an African. Asians illustrate Jesus in a way that makes Him look Asian. People prefer to picture Jesus as looking somewhat like them, or at least like people they are familiar with.

Is it wrong to do this? Not necessarily. As long as we do not allow our preferred image of Jesus to become an idol, there is nothing in the Bible that speaks against imagining Jesus looking a certain way. Jesus is the Savior for “all nations” (Matthew 28:19; Galatians 3:8). No matter a person’s skin color, race, ethnicity, or nationality, he or she can experience forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God through the crucified and risen Christ. The love of Jesus transcends skin color. Having no physical description of Jesus, people naturally imagine the Son of Man to be like themselves.

So, we should not be dogmatic in our preferred image of Jesus. The fact that the Bible nowhere gives a physical description should serve as a caution against arrogance and presumption on this subject. What Jesus looked like does not really matter. His physical appearance has absolutely nothing to do with His being the Savior of the world (John 3:16).

Please also read our article on “Was Jesus black?
 

June 27, 2019

Compelling: Believable and Beautiful

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’ ” Luke 14:23-24

Editor’s note: This is the final installment in Clarke Dixon’s Compelling series and summarizes the entire series.

NIV.I Peter.3.13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

1 John.1.1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

Believable and Beautiful: Why Christianity is Compelling

by Clarke Dixon

Can we really believe what we read in books written so long ago? With so many world-views and so many religions, how could we ever pick just one? Does it really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere, and don’t bother others with it? Don’t people need to leave their brains at the door of a Christian church? Many people are reluctant to consider Christianity. However, in our series we have considered how Christianity is compelling, both in being believable, and beautiful.

First let us review why Christianity is believable, why one need neither leave their brain at the door of the church, nor their faith in the university parking lot. (Click on the links to read the corresponding “Shrunk Sermon.”)

BELIEVABLE

  • Compelling Truth. People who are “relativists” when it comes to faith and religion suddenly become “modernists” when they need surgery. Truth can be known and does matter. We consistently live as people who know truth can be known and does matter. The truth about Jesus can be known and does matter.
  • A Compelling Cosmos. We considered that the universe had a beginning, the “fine-tuning” of the universe to be life-permitting, and the fact that anything exists at all. What we learn from studying the universe points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Morality. Very few people will say that there are not certain behaviours that ought to be considered evil for all people at all times in all places. The reality of objective morality points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Life. Life began and now flourishes in a world that seems ideally suited for it. The realities of life point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Minds. Thinking people point to the reality of a thinking God.
  • Compelling Religion. The appetite for the spiritual points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Evil. The existence of suffering and evil is consistent with what the Bible teaches about our experience. Suffering and evil point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Holy Books. What caused each of the books of the Bible to be written? The documents that make up the Bible point to the reality of God whose interaction with the world stirred up much writing.
  • The Compelling Man. The most compelling man in history, compelling in his activity, his teaching, his ethics, his presence, his good works, his love, and his impact, points to the reality of God.
  • A Compelling Turn of Events. The tomb was empty and disciples were going about telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. They were willing to die for that testimony. Naysayers like James and Paul, changed their minds. Devoted Jews took radical shifts in their theology. The events of, and following, Easter, point to the reality of God.

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace speaks of a cold-case trial as being a cumulative case. That is, the best explanation of the evidence is the one that explains all the evidence. With regards to religion and faith, certain world-views may explain some of the evidence. For example, with regards to suffering, Eastern religions have a nice tidy explanation. If you suffer, it is because you deserve it. Your karma is catching up to you. There is a cosmic justice and suffering makes sense. However, there are still many things that don’t makes sense. If Eastern religions are correct, then how did the Bible come into being? Why was the tomb of Jesus empty, why did the disciples go around telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead and why were they willing to die for that? Why did naysayers like James and Paul change their tune about who Jesus is and what he is about? Likewise, atheism also gives a good explanation as to why there is suffering. However, again, atheism can not explain all the evidence. Christianity explains all the evidence! Therefore, not only are the truth claims of Christianity believable, there are compelling reasons why we can see them as being the best depiction of reality. God is for real, and in Christ, God is for us.

We can further ask if each worldview is consistent in where it leads. It would be strange if, while the evidence points to the existence of a good and loving God, belief in, and devotion to, that God led to a terrible way to live, and a horrible society. We have used the example of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have read the novel, or watched the tv series, you will see the dominance of a worldview which leads to ugliness and not beauty. Does Christianity lead to ugliness, or to beauty? In our series we considered how Christianity leads to beauty.

BEAUTIFUL

  • Compelling Evidence. Science and Christianity point in the same direction. Christianity helped science get started. A perspective which denigrates science is ugly. That Christianity can work with science is beautiful!
  • Compelling Religion. While religion can, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “poison everything,” a Biblical Spirit-led Christianity leads to healing. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace. The love of God for people is beautiful. God’s grace and forgiveness is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace, Part 2. The call to grace, forgiveness, and wisdom in human relationships is beautiful!
  • The Compelling God. The perfect justice and wonderful mercy of God is beautiful. Only at the cross do we see God being perfectly just while also being merciful. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Mission. The sharing of good news is always beautiful. That we share the good news through words, rather than by force, and give people the space and freedom to choose for themselves, is beautiful!
  • Compelling Family. The Christian vision for parenting and marriage is beautiful. Yet the flexibility that no one is forced to fit the mold of “married with children” is also beautiful!
  • A Compelling Life. The Jesus-centred, Spirit-filled, life lived in wisdom is beautiful. That we don’t just follow rules, but grow in character, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Society. Christians are not called to takeover the government and set up a society that enforces Christian living. That Christians are called to be salt and light is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Perspective on Humanity. No one has greater value than anyone else. That all people are created in the image of God, without exception, and without exception Christ bore the cross for all people, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling People. That the Church is to be a people who do good works in Jesus’ name, in allegiance to Jesus, under the influence of the Spirit, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Future. The future of every single person, whether they receive Jesus or not, is reasonable & consistent with a good and loving God. This is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Invitation. Everyone is invited! You are invited! This is beautiful!

The outworking of the Christian faith is consistent with the good and loving God the evidence points to. There are many aspects of Christianity that make us say “of course that is how a good and loving God would do it.” However, Christians have often made a mess of things and been the cause of ugliness rather than beauty. When this happens, it results from a disconnect from Jesus, and often, an unfortunate understanding of God’s Word. The inconsistency is ours. The ugliness is ours. But there is beauty. There is beauty, because there is God.

Perhaps you still have questions. I do. We don’t need all the answers. I have long thought of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. As we are figuring out our view of the world, our spirituality, and the way things are, pieces come together. Some people start with the most difficult of questions and give up. But for many of us, the puzzle pieces come together in such a way that the picture begins to form. It is a beautiful picture. So beautiful, in fact, that we cannot help but keep working on it. Sometimes there are pieces that we cannot yet place. Sometimes we have the sense that we are forcing certain pieces together that don’t fit. Sometimes we need to take pieces out that we thought fit, and fit them in where they really belong. This is all a normal part of growing and maturing in our understanding. The picture that comes together as we grow in our understanding is beautiful, and well worth the effort. It is a picture of the cross, of God’s love in Christ.

My prayer throughout this whole series is that you would find the Christian faith to be believable and beautiful, that you would find Christ to be compelling.


June 9, 2019

Jesus in the Psalms

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:48 pm
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John 5:39:

You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me (BSB)

You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!   (NLT)

■ Worship liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson:

The Son of God
Comes in name of the Lord
Praised by children
Delights in God’s Word

Mocked by enemies
Accused by liars
Hated without cause
Betrayed by friend
Prays for enemies

Lots cast for clothes
Given vinegar & gall

Hands & feet pierced
Bones unbroken
Forsaken by God

His betrayer replaced
Rises from death
Ascends to heaven

A priest forever
The Chief Cornerstone
Ruler of all
The Eternal King
Rules over His enemies with justice

■ From Nick Batzig at The Place for Truth

Athanasius once made the following statement about the book of Psalms: “While the entire Holy Scripture is a teacher of virtues and of the truths of faith, the book of Psalms possesses somehow the perfect image for the soul’s course of life.” The Psalter has a unique place in Old Testament revelation in that it really is a sort of miniature Bible. Every systematic and biblical-theological truth of Scripture is found, in seed form, in the Psalms. It should not, therefore, surprise us that the New Testament writers cite the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament. Neither should it surprise us that, in each citation, Jesus and the Apostles teach us that the Psalms are Messianic in nature. In so doing, they teach us the principles that we must follow as we seek to discover Christ in all the rest of the Psalms.

■ Timothy Keller at Crosswalk

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

■ Nicholas Davis at Core Christianity

…At first glance, Psalm 1 doesnt look like a Messianic psalm. Theres no mention of a king or of a kingdom like we see in Psalm 2 or Psalm 110. There is nothing that ties the psalm directly to the suffering work of Jesus Christ as in Psalm 22. Psalm 1 looks like its just about any Israelite who is given the basic instruction to follow the Torah (the Law). But if we look at it again, we see something else. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus taught his disciples how to read the Bible. In Luke 24:44, he claimed that the whole Bible is about himself. This means that even all of the Psalms are ultimately about him.

■ Jeffrey Kranz at Biblia (Noting that the connection runs both ways; the Psalms point to Jesus and Jesus points to the psalms.)

…People didn’t follow Jesus only because of his miracles—they also followed him because he knew how to handle the Old Testament…

…Psalms is the most-read book of the Bible, and it’s the one Jesus quotes most often.

The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 songs and poems written to God. David penned half of them, and the rest were written by temple worship leaders (like the sons of Asaph), wise men (like Solomon), and some unknown poets (like . . . well, I don’t know).

Jesus quotes the Psalms on 11 occasions:

 


Go Deeper: Click the individual links to read more of each article by each author.

June 5, 2019

On People Coming and Going from Death

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to Graham and Amaryllis, a retired couple living in Trimsaran, West Wales, UK who have worked in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Yesterday I revisited their blog and found this article on a topic we had been discussing the day before. Click the title below to read this at their site.

Once to Die!

There is a most interesting verse in Matt 27:52, 53 – The earth shook, and rocks split apart.  Graves opened, and many of God’s people were raised to life. Then after Jesus had risen to life, they came out of their graves and went into the holy city, where they were seen by many people – but I have never heard anyone explain this satisfactorily.

The sequence is important, at the Friday earthquake when Jesus died and the veil was torn in half, these ‘many’ Old Testament saints were raised up and must have been with Jesus in spirit until Sunday.  On Sunday, these people were seen in Jerusalem by many people, so, we must assume that they then were united with their bodies.  But what happened to them afterwards?

This is a fascinating and again we can assume that the purpose of it was two-fold, encouragement for God’s people in Jerusalem and also a demonstration of power against the Dark Kingdom – death, hell and the grave were thoroughly defeated.  But was there something more?

Now, another interesting verse – As the Scriptures say, “When he went up to the highest place, he led away many prisoners and gave gifts to people. Eph 4:8 – who were the prisoners Jesus ‘led away’ at the ascension?  Can we put these verses together?  We cannot be dogmatic about this, for there is too little information given, but we can read between the lines, as long as we don’t contradict any other verses.

So, were the prisoners that were ‘led away’, the risen Old Testament saints of Matt 27:52?  Their bodies had been prisoners in the grave and the spirits had been ‘in heaven’ waiting for resurrection, [Abraham’s bosom, paradise, sheol, where-ever!  There’s no need to get into a debate over those terms, they all suggest shades of meaning of the same thing for various people.  Every righteous person in any age who dies, goes to be with God in spirit!  They had passed their test and God would reward them, with His presence at the very least].

It is unthinkable to me that these raised people could die again, in any circumstances, besides the important verse – it is appointed to man once to die, after that the judgment, Heb 9:27 – those saints had been at the Judgment Seat of Christ as one cannot be in God’s presence without that; I’m sure there was something similar for Old Testament saints.  So, is it impossible that any one should go through death twice?  Certainly not judgment twice!

If this blessedness was for those Old Testament saints of being with Jesus as He ascended back to heaven, could it also be the same for Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the widow of Nain’s son?  Surely, God would not want them to go through the horrors of death twice?  Could Heb 9:27 refer to them as well as the Old Testament saints?

There might be one difference, especially for Jairus’ daughter who had not long died, perhaps her spirit had been held ‘in limbo’; even science is now aware of ‘out of body experiences’ where people were clinically dead, but revived once their spirit returned to the body.  American doctors researched this and are convinced these experiences are real and that the term ‘clinically dead’ has limitations!  Even the widow’s son, it might be reasonable to think that his spirit could be in limbo for a few hours, but surely it is stretching it for 4 days, for Lazarus.  These 3 are rather speculative, so I would be inclined to discount it, but it remains a problem, does God really want people to die twice which is contrary to Heb 9:27?

There is one more possible ‘candidate’ for this ‘captive ascension’, the dying Thief, who was told by Jesus – today, you will be with me in paradise – it is possible that he too enjoyed being one of the ‘prisoners led away’, a border line case?

Now, with Eph 4:8, also think of Col 2:15 – having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them – we assume this to be the Ascension of Jesus.  Now imagine the Risen and glorified Christ taking that band of risen Old Testament saints, at least, and going up slowly through the skies, right through Satan’s new sphere of authority.  Remember, in the Old Testament, he was the Ruler of this World, but Calvary’s victory demoted him to be Prince and Power of the Air and ex-occultists state that there is a dark spiritual cloud completely encircling the world like a mantle.  Jesus and His ‘new’ friends broke right through that mantle and -the Ascension was the final scene of Satan’s defeat!

Some claim that it was defeated demons that were ‘led away captive’, but I don’t think that is the sense.  Why should only some be led away, and where to, and what about the gifts distributed?  All demons were defeated along with Satan and they all still await their final judgment; dreading it.

Can you imagine the great joy of those saints as they rose up through Satan’s territory?  I’m sure the demons slunk away as far as possible!  It was yet another reminder for Satan that he is a defeated foe and the day is surely coming when the full harvest that those ‘firstfruits’ are a promise of, will be completely gathered in, the Rapture!

There is another ponderable, fascinating issue – the risen saints in Jerusalem the 50 days up the resurrection!  Amazing what God will do!

I hope this is helpful for you; to me it is very encouraging.  We must always remember that God always seeks ways to bless people and to demonstrate to Satan that he is a defeated foe, think of Job 1&2; after all – Jesus Christ was manifest to defeat the works of Satan, 1Jn 3:8 – this is our challenge today, the Dark Kingdom is rampant and causing so much suffering, globally; our hospitals can’t cope, in most areas of life are now, there is much angst, stress and pressure that are intolerable so that mental health is the huge problem and doctors cannot deal with it; for it is a spiritual problem.  Many preachers also appear not to have the answers, they can’t even help themselves so how can they help others?  We need to understand that, even for God’s people, even we are perishing if we are not in the enjoyment of the abundant life, not walking that Narrow Way.

So, the Kingdom of God is diminished for want of more Overcomers to walk that wonderful pathway; these few are the disciples of Jesus, the worshippers Father seeks; the problem being is that there are very few that find that Straight Gate to the Narrow Way that is the Life Abundant, Mat 7:13,14, Jn 10:10.

Pray dear friends that our churches will be led, by faithful men, real overseers, elders full of the Spirit, into great fruitfulness so that the Dark Kingdom can be set back until after the Rapture; that is what God wants to do!  Yes, that pre-Rapture Revival is coming, let’s hasten it with our passionate intercession.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian sites and blogs. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

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