Christianity 201

June 8, 2019

Falling Prey to the Lies that Lead to Failure to Trust

Today we’re making a return visit with Ted Gosard who blogs at Jesus Community.

leaving (instead of living) the lie

Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.
You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death,
with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
and falsehood our hiding place.”

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.
I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line;
hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie,
and water will overflow your hiding place.
Your covenant with death will be annulled;
your agreement with the realm of the dead will not stand.
When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
you will be beaten down by it.
As often as it comes it will carry you away;
morning after morning, by day and by night,
it will sweep through.”

Isaiah 28:14-19

I think it’s far more common than we imagine, just how we live in lies. And I’m thinking of Christians, too. Specifically I’m thinking of myself, included. Part of what got me thinking this way were two posts quoting Dallas Willard who says it quite eloquently in the details spelled out in Scripture (here and here).

We live lies in a multitude of ways. Essentially living in the truth is “truth in Jesus” and an important aspect of that is living in the Father’s care, so that we’re free to seek his kingdom and righteousness, not encumbered with any of the cares common to humanity, or part of our culture. That is so much more easier said than done.

When one is weighed down, maybe nearly stricken with panic, that’s a sure sign one is not living in the Father’s provision, or as it’s been called, his providential care. We’re failing to trust in God, at least not to the extent needed. We need to take our hands off so to speak, but through prayer, find our way into that peace that frees us up to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

Patterns in our lives will have to be broken, and that can be hard. It will require effort by us, but an effort essentially to let go, and let God take over. We need to find his peace. Part of this is not just to be freed up to put first things first, but with the prior commitment to that.

As the text above tells us, life simply doesn’t work well when we make a lie our refuge. And God won’t let it work well for those who name his name, who profess faith in him.

This is something we need to strive to enter and remain, come what may. God has us, as we seek first of all to live in his care and love and will. Part and parcel of being followers of Jesus in and through him.


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► The articles go deeper than many devotionals
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April 15, 2019

A Conscious Choice to Use What We Have for Good

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This marks seven times we’ve featured the writing of Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. The blog isn’t currently as active as it was, but I felt this deserved to be shared with you today.

Two Ways to Live

Have you ever had a truth penetrate your mind that was so simple that you wondered why it took you so long to figure out?

I have.

One of the reasons for this reality is because the Holy Spirit holds back a teaching for the moment it will make the biggest impact in our lives. It has less to do with our IQ and more to do with timing.

One of the times I have experienced this happened several years ago while I read James 3:1-12, particularly verses 9 through 12:

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (James 3:9-12; ESV).

James wrote that there are two uses for our tongues.

  1. We can bless God and others with our words. Our tongues can be an instrument of worship to God and an instrument of encouragement to those around us.
  2. We can curse God and others with our words. Our tongues can be an instrument to misuse the holy of God and an instrument to abuse those around us.

Think about how you use your tongue. Are people blessed by what you say or are they hurt by the words that come out of your mouth?

As I pondered this passage, the Holy Spirit showed me that the application encompasses more than our tongues.

Ultimately, what James taught in this passage applies to the way we live.

We can use our bodies to either sin and rebel against God, or we can use them to obey and worship God.

It is true that our actions fall on a spectrum between those two realities, but in the end we are either living in obedience or we are living in sin.

In his book Surprised by Hope, N. T. Wright devoted a whole chapter to the idea of “building for the kingdom.”

“But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom” (p. 208).

This leads us to ask the question, “How do we build for the kingdom?”

In light of the passage from James, I would argue that we build for the kingdom when we devote our lives to doing good works in the name of Christ Jesus.

This is the point I want us to get today: just as our tongues can curse or praise God, our lives can either work for His kingdom or they can work against His kingdom.

I believe that sin is rebellion against God, and it has a corrupting nature, not only in our lives, but in the world.

Remember, this world was created good, and it has been corrupted through Satan, sin, and death.

For us to build for God’s kingdom requires us to leave sin behind through repentance, and join our lives to Jesus.

It is not enough just to leave a life of sin, but we also need to pursue what is right.

God called us to a life of obedience and good works. This is the practical side of how we join Him in His effort to redeem all of creation.

It is crucial to remember that our good works are not what makes us right with God, that only happens through faith in Jesus. Rather, our good works are our effort to partner with God in bringing His Kingdom to earth.

The implication of this thought is that the more we devote our lives to God’s kingdom the less we will be involved with sin. In other words, the best way to live out our repentance is to spend our lives doing good.

When we devote our lives to doing good, we are no longer participating in what brings corruption and injustice into God’s good creation.  Just as salt corrupts fresh water, sin corrupts good works.

Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:7-10, ESV).

Here we discover the key to good works: being led by the Spirit.

The best way I know to be led by the Spirit is to be students of Scripture, to be involved in a church family, and to be devoted to prayer. If we care about doing what God has called us to do, if we desire to be led by the Spirit, then we will make these things a priority in our lives.

There are two ways we can live our lives. We can lives our lives in rebellion against God, or we can live our lives building for His kingdom.

Make the right choice.

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December 18, 2018

God’s Creation Plan Is Completed Through a Baby

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Russell Young

Christians enjoy the hope that has been availed through a baby, but God has instituted the incarnation of Christ for a purpose that may not be fully appreciated. It is through Christ that God is completing his creation plan. It is easy to accept that God created, but he is still creating. His original plan has not been brought to fruition but when it is finished, he will have the kingdom that he had envisioned from the beginning.

In the beginning was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all men.” (Jn 1:14) That “life” that was the light of all men came to bring the light that will accomplish God’s creation plan; it will penetrate the darkness that shrouds the human heart, mind, and soul.

Paul has written, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Rom 8:22) The King James Version states this passage as, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” All of creation, including humankind, has been suffering. That pain continues because the light has yet to over-take the darkness. The “light of men” or as Jesus has identified himself “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12, 9:5), must reveal truth so that all of creation can be freed from the darkness that brings pain.

Paul has also addressed the eager anticipation that exists in creation for the revelation of God’s true or adopted sons. (Rom 8:19) Creation is eagerly waiting to be completed as the light of Christ penetrates the darkness in humankind. When this is accomplished, it will be completed as God had intended.

God loves his workmanship, all of it (Jn 3:16), to the extent that he gave his Son for its recovery. The restorative work of Christ must not be seen as limited to that of people but includes all things. God created humankind in their (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) own image (Gen 1: 27) and had declared his final product to be very good. People had been created with special attributes. They can absorb and process information and can store it to make reasoned, informed decisions. Although originally created to know “good” only, with the Fall they also came to know evil. God had ordained people to have free-will and it is this aspect of humankind that allows a freely chosen, loving and committed relationship with him. The LORD presented the nature of the relationship with him that was acceptable. “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees…” (Deut 10:12) Matthew, Mark, and Luke have recorded the same expectation. Love is chosen, it is an act of the will; consequently, freedom to choose is highly regarded and honored by the Lord.

Some would take the value of free-will away from humankind, but God requires a heart transformed by the Spirit of light so that people can choose the humble and holy and loving relationship that will bring glory to God. Paul has written, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”, (Rom 12:2) and that, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) The needed transformation will result in a new creation; it does not result at confession of faith. “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal 6:15)

Becoming a new creation conformed to the likeness of Christ requires his life to be lived in the believer through the Spirit. As the believer is led and obeys, death is brought to the “misdeeds of the body.” (Rom 8:13) making him or her “an offering acceptable to God.” (Rom 15:16) The Lord needs to be honored as the “light of men” so that he can penetrate the darkness of the human heart.

Those who comply with the leading of the Spirit, “Christ’s law” (1 Cor 9:21) or the “law of the Spirit of life” (Rom 8:2) will become God’s adopted children. (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:23) Those who have freely chosen to honor the Lord will dwell in his eternal kingdom which will be on earth. Once God’s sons have been revealed, “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21) Creation will be liberated when Christ has defeated the devil and his schemes. “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox…” (Isa 65:25)

Zion’s deserts, on the liberated new earth, will be made like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. (Isa 51:3) Through Christ all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made and through him hearts will be transformed to meet God’s purposes while maintaining in humankind the freedom to love him by choice, thus bringing to fullness God’s creation plan. Christ will achieve their (Father, Son, Holy spirit) purpose with the selection (election) of a people conformed to the likeness of the Son of God (Rom 8:29) freeing all creation from decay and corruption. The devil’s work will be fully defeated (1 Jn 3:8) and all things made new. “Then the end will come, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24)

God chose to create all things through Christ, including the holy priesthood through the refinement of the human heart and the preservation of free-will. It is through the baby, Jesus Christ, that according to God’s plan, creation will be fully achieved, a state freed from decay where he can dwell with his people. In it “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” (1 Jn 4:14)

Merry Christmas!


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

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September 6, 2018

When the King is Rejected

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Editor’s Note: Clarke is away this week. This post was taken from the large number available at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, which includes many which have never been published here at C201.

In the beginning we see the King. God created it all and clearly was ruler of all. But a few pages into the Bible and already the serpent is looking to take God’s place not to mention Adam and Eve looking for more than just tasty fruit. And the King is rejected.

At the exodus we see the King. God rescues His people and though Moses and Aaron are the spokesmen, God clearly is the King. His authority as King is proven with the awful plagues and the awesome parting of the Sea. But the people begin to whine that Moses is taking too long and before you know it, a golden calf is presented for worship. And the King is rejected.

In the early days of Israel, we see the King. Though things are not always rosy as the young nation of Israel becomes established among bigger, nastier, and more powerful peoples, God protects His people through raising up judges to deliver them. But the people of God see how the other nations have a king and so they want one too and go to God’s servant Samuel “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 8:6-7 NRSV) And so the King is rejected.

In the presence of the prophets we see the King. The prophets warned the rulers and people when repentance needed to burn, and encouraged when hope needed kindled. Though the people got their wish for human kings, God remained in their lives as the true King showing real concern through the prophets. But the words of the prophets often fell on deaf ears: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37 NRSV) The prophets were often killed and the King is rejected.

And standing before Pilate, bloodied and bruised with a crown of thorns and a makeshift robe we see the King. What shall be done with Jesus? “Away with him! Crucify him!” (John 19:15). What shall I do with your king asks Pilate? The chief priest respond with the most tragic words in all of history: “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15)

This is already a dark moment in history with Jesus mocked by Rome and rejected by his own people. But here we see the depth of the darkness that has descended on humanity as the chief priests affirm that the Roman emperor is their real king. “We have no king but Caesar!” These are the chief priests, the very ones who should have been leading the people of God to know that God Himself was the true King of the world and of history. These are the very priests who should have been teaching that this King had promised and covenanted to bless His people, and through His people, to bless the world. And this was the festival of Passover, the very time they were to look back and see God, like a true and benevolent ruler, delivering His people from the enemy at the Exodus. But no, according to the chief priests, Caesar is king, and Caesar’s power will deliver us from the pest called Jesus. And so the King is rejected.

We have dark moments also. We have no king but Caesar when:

► Fear controls us.
► Emotions overpower us.
► Our logical minds overpower us.
► Drama, whether our own or not, consumes us.
► Situations determine our fate for us.
► Addictions ruin us.
► Religion enslaves us.
► World-views fail us.
► The people we want to please, own us.
► We try to be king or queen.

And in all this the King is rejected. We demonstrate that have no king but Caesar.

We see the King in the beginning and He is rejected. We see the King delivering His people at the Exodus and He is rejected. We see the King delivering His people through the judges and He is rejected. We see the King in the presence of the prophets and He is rejected. And we see the King standing before Pilate and the people in a crown of thorns and mock robe. And “He was despised and rejected; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 NRSV) What happens next?

Easter happens next and the rejected King becomes the welcoming Saviour on the cross. Easter happens and the rejected King takes His place as the King of kings and Lord of lords. As we have seen, so often the King was rejected. Now you get to write a part of the story. By you the King is _________.


originally published in 2014 as “We Have No King But Caesar! – Ouch! (John 19)

 

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June 28, 2018

Empire, or Kingdom?

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

Will we ever wake up in a world with no violence or conflict? We see it on the news, we hear about it in the lives of people around us, maybe we experience it personally. Yes, there will be a day there will be no more conflict. Christ will return and there will be

a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:1,5 NRSV)

But are we to just wait for that day, putting up with all this conflict until then? The prophet Nahum will help us find our way.

Nahum points us in the right direction by pointing out what happens when we get on the wrong track. Nahum is a prophecy to a people who had been on the wrong track. The Assyrians were on the track to empire. Nahum had the task of telling them that they had reached the end of the line. There are three problems with the track to empire.

First problem with the empire track; empire is temporary. Much of the history of the world is a history of the empire after empire seeking to become the biggest and best. The history of the world teaches us that they all fall in the end. Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, it doesn’t matter, empire is always temporary.

There is a better track; the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is eternal. We may struggle to understand the book of Revelation, but the main message is really quite simple; empires rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God is eternal.

So are we building towards empire, or Kingdom? Are we building for things that are temporary? Are our time, talents, and treasures going toward things that last?

Second problem with the empire track: empire destroys relationships. In empire living, there are only allies or enemies. The peoples within and around an empire are either going to help the empire get bigger, or they are going to get in the way and be a threat.

There is a better track, one that leads to the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, there are only neighbours. Jesus taught us to “love thy neighbour as thyself and then went on to define our neighbour as anyone and everyone.

When we meet people, do we see them as either allies of enemies? Do we see them as either being useful to us, or in our way, and even a threat? Or do we simply see them as neighbours to be loved?

Third problem with the empire track; empires are built through brute force and brutality. Nahum tells of this, for example:

Ah! City of bloodshed,
utterly deceitful, full of booty—
no end to the plunder!
 The crack of whip and rumble of wheel,
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
 Horsemen charging,
flashing sword and glittering spear,
piles of dead,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
they stumble over the bodies! Nahum 3:1-3 (NRSV)

Yet she became an exile,
she went into captivity;
even her infants were dashed in pieces
at the head of every street;
lots were cast for her nobles,
all her dignitaries were bound in fetters. Nahum 3:10 (NRSV)

In building empires, countless of people were killed. For those who lived, eyes were often gouged out, tongues cut off, people sold off and removed far from home. So brutal were some empires that even unborn babies were ripped from their mother’s wombs, and orphaned infants dashed to the ground. This is how empires struck fear in their enemies. Better to surrender to the power of a “better” empire, than experience it firsthand. Nahum’s prophecy is about the Assyrian empire experiencing what it dished out to others.

All who hear the news about you
clap their hands over you.
For who has ever escaped
your endless cruelty? Nahum 3:19 (NRSV)

There is, thankfully, a better track, the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is built with a different kind of force: “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” Zechariah. 4:9 (NKJV).

Jesus said “those who draw the sword, will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:62-54 NRSV). Jesus was doing two things when he refused to use violence at his arrest in Gethsemane. He was taking the Kingdom track for our sake, so that we might be forgiven rather than destroyed. But he was also giving us an example to follow, an example of Kingdom thinking, Kingdom living, Kingdom dying. Jesus call us to pick up the cross and follow, which means to trade empire for Kingdom. We are to become Kingdom people, good news people.

We are empire people when we show up with swords and guns and bombs. We are Kingdom people when we show up with the Spirit of God: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22,23 (NRSV). Do we show up to our relationships with swords or the Spirit? Do we show up on Facebook, Twitter and other social media with swords or Spirit? Do we show up ready ready to fight people? Or to fight with people against the evil in their lives? Do we show up as empire people or Kingdom people?

You might perceive a problem with the Kingdom track. It does not seem to take into account your suffering at the hands of another. It is unfair. You deserve vengeance. And perhaps you are right. It is unfair. However, the prophecy of Nahum, though addressed to the Assyrians, was for the encouragement of Israel when they experienced what seemed to be very unfair treatment. Having been on the wrong track for a long time, Assyria has reached the end of the line. However, nowhere in the prophecy of Nahum is there a call for Israel to take up arms. There is no need. We can think of Paul’s word to the Christians in Rome who also knew a thing or two about being treated unfairly:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 (NRSV)

Every day we wake up to violence and conflict. Every day is an opportunity to live as God’s good news people. Every day is an opportunity for Kingdom rather than empire. While we may not feel we have much influence in conflicts around the globe, the ones close to home are opportunities for Kingdom building.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (33 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com


This weekend we continue the theme of empire vs. kingdom with two posts from a well-known and often controversial writer! Stay tuned on Friday and Saturday.

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June 17, 2018

His Present Kingdom

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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But he said to them, “It is necessary for me to proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.”
 – Luke 4:43 (Christian Standard Bible)

“Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in.
 – Luke 16:16 (NLT)

For today’s Sunday Worship column we’re returning to visit with Paul Burleson. Click the title below to read this at his blog.

Some Thoughts About Kingdom Living

What do we mean when we say “Kingdom Living?”

It might be good to know because it is clear from scripture [Luke 4:43] that Jesus came preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. His life and message were all about what the Kingdom was like. So to be “Jesus followers,” and more importantly, when we have Him as the very SOURCE of our very LIFE, we will have our feet firmly planted in “Kingdom living.”

So, what is the Kingdom of God? It is, in simple language, living life where what God wants done [His Will] is being done. That’s what the simple phrase in the Lord’s Prayer is addressing. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” It will be a “future Kingdom, of course! But until He comes with that “Future Kingdom” the “Present Kingdom” is ANYONE’S life in which the King truly rules and reigns right now.

The “Present Kingdom” looks like your life, whatever that entails.

It’s experiencing any and all of these things with OTHER things that could be listed. It’s being a person, right in the middle of all of it, in whom God is real and is being responded to, in faith, while living out our unique journey with our eyes on Him and His Word, trusting His Spirit for life and strength, knowing His Son intimately and knowing that what He accomplished in His Cross and empty tomb experience is the “SOURCE” for what makes life, in any of the aforementioned circumstances, absolutely worth living and celebrating.

Add to all that knowing some truths that are ABSOLUTE for us as well, and you have THE KINGDOM OF GOD!.

Those truths are these! As we live in His “Present Kingdom” He is available to us and we hunger to know Him better. [Matthew 6:13/Luke 16:16] We keep on trusting that GOOD will come out of all kinds of things happening, GOOD or BAD. [Romans 8:28] And that NOTHING can separate us from His unconditional love and effective care. [Romans 8:35-39] Then, finally, knowing that one day HE WILL RETURN and the “Future Kingdom” will come with Him. We then will be found living in a new dimension, involving a New Heaven and a New Earth, called “Eternity.”

THAT’S what is meant by “Kingdom Living” IMHO.


Coming tomorrow: Christianity 201 Blog Post #3,000

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January 30, 2018

Forcing a Way Into the Kingdom

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Russell Young

By Russell’s count this is his 100th post here at Christianity 201. We thank him for his faithfulness to this project.

The Lord said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Lk 16: 1617 NIV)

It is apparent that even during the Lord’s days on earth false teaching concerning entrance to God’s kingdom was being presented, probably through the promotion of Jewish customs and Old Covenant theology. Other teachings were presented to the seven churches following his crucifixion which permitted breaching the wall and these were unacceptable to God, as well. Entrance to his kingdom is only availed to those who “overcome” their misconceptions and evil practices, overcome the hindrances revealed to the churches through Christ’s revelation. (Rev 21:7)

  1. To the church in Ephesus Christ addressed the need to maintain “[their] first love” (Rev 2:40; to continue doing the things that they had done when their love was fresh.
  2. Those in the church in Smyrna he encouraged resistance to fear and to be strong in suffering persecution even to the point of death.
  3. The teachings of the Nicolaitan were being promoted in the church of Pergamum. It remains unclear concerning the nature of those teachings, however, the Lord has connected them to the teaching of Balaam who enticed the Israelites to sin by committing immoral acts. Perhaps the teachings being referenced allowed for the freedom to engage immorality without consequence.
  4. Some in the church of Thyatira had learned “Satan’s so-called deep secrets” and were practicing idolatry and adultery. Their love for Christ had been lavished on Satan’s interests and on his deceptions.
  5. The church in Sardis was tolerating unrighteous practices. They had a reputation (outward appearance) of being alive but were dead according to the Lord’s revelation.
  6. The church of Philadelphia was being challenged by the teachings of the Jews and the imposition of Jewish customs, probably through the need for circumcision and obedience to the Law.
  7. Those in Laodicea attended church but were “lukewarm” and indifferent. They enjoyed wealth but were shamefully naked when it came to righteousness.

Unrighteous practices and lawlessness were the issues of concern, and teaching did not promote the requirement for victorious living. As stated at the beginning, the Lord taught the need to fulfil the Law. He stated that “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Mt 5:18 NIV) The law of the New Covenant is the law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21), the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2), and not that of the Old Covenant. 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.” (Romans 8:4 NIV) This teaching does not allow that the righteous life of Christ is his imputed righteousness other than is provided at confession of faith, but that the life of Christ lived in them (Col 1:27) is their source of righteousness and of eternal salvation. (Heb 5:9) The presence of the Spirit is not sufficient since he may be denied, thwarted, or quenched; the believer must live according to the Spirit’s leading.

John the Baptist told the Pharisees that they were to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Mt 3:8) and cautioned that “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Mt 3:10 NIV) (Christ repeated this admonition. (Jn 15: 6) Paul told King Agrippa he “preached that [his listeners] should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds,” (Acts 26:20 NIV)

The Lord admonished listeners, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes (transforms, disciplines and punishes) so that it will be even more fruitful…Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (Jn 15:12… 4 NIV) The responsibility remained theirs to remain in him.

The Lord spoke of the necessity of applying serious effort to enter the kingdom. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV) This “effort” should not be confused with salvation by works.

Much of western theological teaching is presented to “force” or to find easy entry into the kingdom of God. It cannot be gained in any other way than through Christ and the righteousness that he is able to provide as the believer lives obediently through the Spirit. Such a life demands death to self-interest (Lk 17:33) and a whole-hearted commitment to God. (Mk 12:30) Only through such dedication can the requirements of the law be fully met, and the kingdom legitimately entered. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12 NIV); there will be no forcing and there is no other means. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and the confession, promise, and covenant of his lordship (Rom 10: 9:10) as he lives righteously in the believer is the life availed through his death, that provides legitimate entry into the kingdom of God. He is the narrow gate.


Author Russell Young lives in Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here on alternate Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.


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October 25, 2017

The Householder

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we conclude our midweek series with teaching on The Kingdom Parables from the devotional Living Truth, a ministry of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada, where for many years Charles Price was the Senior Pastor.

The Householder

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
-Matthew 13:52

This brief parable begins with a question Jesus asks His disciples. “Have you understood all these things?” “Yes,” they replied (Matthew 13:51). They heard these parables and could possibly recount each one of them, but did they understand them?

Did they understand that some of the seed sown in the field will ultimately come to nothing? Did they understand that alongside the good seed, there will be weeds sown by an enemy, which will threaten to choke the good? Did they understand that the mustard seed, though small in its beginnings, will grow into a tree that may appear impressive, but is a distortion harbouring evil? And just as yeast permeates a loaf, did they understand the kingdom of heaven on earth will be contaminated on every level by sin?

The first four parables teach the reality of human failure within the kingdom, and the disciples needed to understand that this is what will be true. Despite the discouraging images as the world will see the kingdom of God, there is an understanding from God’s perspective that is very different. Do the disciples realize that regardless of setbacks, hardships and difficulties, the treasure is going to be obtained, and that the pearl is purchased by Christ? Did they know that the wheat and the weeds, the good and the bad fish will be separated at the end of the age?

Their reply was, “Yes.” If they have fully understood these things, Jesus said they will be like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old. They will never give up, for despite the difficulties and opposition, they know there are always new and old treasures to bring out. If treasure here is equal to the treasure of the fifth parable in the hidden treasure, then there will always be new and old treasures coming forth; new people for whom Christ died to be brought to Him as Saviour and also established believers to be nurtured and brought to maturity in their walk with Christ.

There are no grounds for disillusionment or disappointment if we see things from the perspective of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is always confidence, always hope, always new treasures and always something to do. If we see the kingdom of heaven, not through the eyes of the world, but through the eyes of God, and submit to the Lordship of Christ, we are going to shine like the sun in our Father’s kingdom.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for these wonderful teachings. I pray the kingdom of heaven is seen through Your eyes, drawing new treasures to you and strengthening established believers. Thank You, Lord.

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October 18, 2017

The Fishnet

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We’re continuing our midweek series with teaching on The Kingdom Parables from the devotional Living Truth, a ministry of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada, where for many years Charles Price was the Senior Pastor. We have just one left after today!

The Fishnet

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous. – Matthew 13:47-49

Andrew, Peter, James and John were fishermen who had dropped everything when Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19 NKJV). The symbolism used in the above parable would naturally be very familiar to them.

The casting of the net into the sea would seem to represent the evangelistic ministry of the church. The net is the large dragnet, drawn along by two boats or with ropes from the shore. All kinds of fish and creatures of the sea, good and bad, are caught in the net and hauled up together. This picture may be particularly apt in forms of mass evangelism where crowds are confronted with the Gospel and invited to receive Jesus Christ.  It becomes easy for people to make the same outward response to this invitation, but for varying motives. Hence, the good and bad become mingled together in the one net. True as that picture of evangelism may be, the catching of the fish is not the main point.

Jesus gave an interpretation which focused entirely on the separation of the good and bad fish. “The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:49-50).  This is similar to what Jesus said of the weeds and the wheat. “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and… there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father.” (13:41-43). The final image is of the good seed stored safely in the barn where they will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. In this parable, addressed to the disciples, the final image is throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (13:49-50).”

To the crowds, Jesus emphasized the prospect of heaven, but to the disciples he gave a vision of hell.  The prospect of hell is unambiguous in Jesus’ teaching and we dare not belittle the reality and seriousness of it. However, Jesus is not primarily teaching about hell, but showing that ultimately the separation of the good from the bad will take place. No matter how compromised the earthly expression of the kingdom of God appears, the day will come when there will be a separation of the good from the bad, and an in-gathering of the true kingdom of heaven.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I am grateful that there is no deceiving You, and look forward to the day when Your kingdom will be made righteous and pure. Amen.

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October 11, 2017

The Pearl of Great Price

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We’re continuing our midweek series with teaching on The Kingdom Parables from the devotional Living Truth, a ministry of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada, where for many years Charles Price was the Senior Pastor.

The Pearl of Great Price

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. – Matthew 13: 45-46 NIV

The parable is very similar to the last one.  The main difference is in the treasure, specified as a pearl. Jesus did not give an explanation, so again we tread carefully. As the pearl is the distinguishing feature, it is a key to our understanding of this parable.

A pearl is the only precious stone that is produced by a living organism. A grain of sand or other irritants get under the skin of the oyster, hurting and injuring it. The oyster responds by covering the injury with a substance called “nacre,” known as “mother of pearl.” The oyster pours layer after layer of nacre on the injury until the pearl is formed as a beautiful jewel.

The common interpretation sees Jesus Christ as the pearl of great price, but again, this is a misconception, for no price can be put on Jesus, nor do we have to pay for Him!  It is true that to be a disciple of Christ a person must surrender everything to Him, but by no stretch of the imagination is that a purchase. We are to give up everything because Christ comes to be everything in us, and there must be no competition for His place in our lives.  There is no purchase of Christ or of our salvation. As in the last parable, we are the treasure, and it is Christ who purchases us at great cost to Himself.

The image of the pearl holds a beautiful aspect of the Gospel.  By our sin, we have offended God, yet we are being changed by the One we have offended into something beautiful.  Paul writes, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory…”  (2 Corinthians 3:18)  This is like the formation of a pearl. Our injury of God is the means by which He turns us into something beautiful.    The pearl is the response of the injured to the injury done.

Another important distinction from the last parable is that the treasure in the first parable is described very generally as hidden treasure, but in the second, it is described specifically as a pearl. If the field is the world, it is true to say Christ died for the whole world, and His work has general application to the entire human race. In this parable, however, the merchant finds only one pearl of great value and sells everything he has to buy it.  It is wonderfully true that Christ died for the whole world, but it is also true He died for us individually. As such he singles us out individually and draws us to Himself.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I pray for a great gathering of new pearls added to Your kingdom.  May Your Holy Spirit draw them and their lives become a precious jewel in Your sight.

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October 4, 2017

The Hidden Treasure

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We’re continuing our Wednesday series (sorry about the delay last week!) with Charles Price on The Kingdom Parables. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth, a ministry of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada.

The Hidden Treasure

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
 – Matthew 13:44 NIV

We now turn to the Good News of the kingdom of heaven.  After speaking to the crowds, Jesus entered a house with His disciples and conveyed these next four parables to them in private.  They represent the kingdom of heaven from God’s perspective.

A very common interpretation of this parable sees the hidden treasure as being Christ or salvation, and the person who sells everything to obtain the treasure is the penitent sinner who comes to Christ. In light of the entire picture given by Jesus in the eight parables, this would be a wrong  assumption. If we interpret it according to the symbols already used, the man who sells everything to purchase the field is the Son of Man who finds treasure in the world and gives up everything He has in order to purchase it.  Rather than being a picture of how the sinner obtains Christ, it is a picture of how Christ obtains the sinner.  It is Christ finding treasure in the world, and giving up everything in order to purchase it for His own.

What can be described as God’s treasure in the world? On what has He set His heart to the extent He gives up everything to purchase it?  The answer is that God’s treasure is people.  The Psalmist asks, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you visit him?” (Psalm 8:4-5 NKJV)  Job asks, “What is mankind that you make so much of them, that you give them so much attention?”  (Job 7:17)

If the treasure is human beings, the parable states, “When a man found it…” which implies he was looking.  Jesus said of Himself, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”  (Luke 19:10)   It is a wonderful thing to be described as lost, because it means we are wanted and every human being is of value and precious to Christ. To obtain the treasure, he gave all He had to make our salvation possible.  Jesus did not only die for us, but with His blood, He purchased us outright. To be a Christian is to acknowledge we are not our own. Our salvation may be free, but it is not cheap.  It came at great cost and suffering to Jesus Christ.

The man in the parable did not begrudge the purchase. On the contrary, “…in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought the field.”  This fits what is said of Christ — “…who for the joy  set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame”  (Hebrews 12:2).  It was in joy Christ made the transaction and purchased us for Himself with His blood shed on the cross.

PRAYER:  As sinful as I am, Lord, thank You for looking upon me as Your treasure, for purchasing me with Your blood and making me Yours. You are my life! Thank you, Lord.

 

 

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September 28, 2017

The Leaven and the Loaf

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We continue our midweek series looking at a few of the Kingdom parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard or thought. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

The Leaven and the Loaf

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:33

This is the final brief parable that sums up to the crowd the picture given by Jesus of the kingdom of heaven so far. It is also known as the parable of “The Yeast”, and is often understood as the yeast being a picture of the spread of the goodness of God throughout the world, but it is more likely the complete opposite.

Yeast in Scripture is a consistent picture of evil. From the time of the Passover when God brought Israel out of Egypt, bread eaten in celebration of God’s goodness was to be without yeast. Jesus speaks of the “yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees”, which the disciples understood Him to mean guarding against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6 & 12). Paul exhorted the Corinthian church, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast… not with the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

If yeast is consistently used to depict evil in Scripture, this parable is unlikely to be an exception. It is not that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast, but that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast mixed into a large amount of flour until it works through the dough. It is the whole picture, all of the dough that is likened to the kingdom of heaven. Evil is contagious; righteousness is not. Cleanliness does not spread; dirt does. The yeast permeates to every part of the dough, which is why we are not given hope on earth of perfection in our personal lives or in the corporate life of the church. As long as we live within a fallen environment we are vulnerable to contamination by sin and subject to failure. Only in heaven is there the prospect of being free from the contamination of sin.

This is not to put a pessimistic view of the kingdom of heaven in its expression on earth, but to be utterly realistic as history and contemporary experience have served to confirm.

This is the view of the kingdom given to the crowds. It is the perspective from outside the kingdom and is neither attractive nor appealing. It is unlikely to be held up as the ideal of society, and will not draw people in its natural state. There will always be reason to criticize and disregard it, which is how the kingdom of God is seen by the world at large.

PRAYER: : I pray for the world, Lord, and ask for a deeper work of Your Spirit so that Your goodness prevails over evil, both in our lives and in the church. Thank You, Lord.
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September 20, 2017

The Mustard Seed

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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We continue our September Wednesday series looking at a few of the Kingdom parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard or thought. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

The Mustard Seed

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.” Matthew 13:31

Though the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, “so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” Jesus gives no explanation of this parable, so we must tread carefully. If we remain consistent in our interpretation with the first two parables, which also include a sower sowing seed in a field, then it is a picture of the Son of Man sowing seed into the world, but this time specified as mustard seed.

The popular interpretation is that the kingdom grows from humble beginnings into something good and great, which provides a refuge for the birds. This is not a proper understanding. The key to this parable is in the seed being specifically stated as mustard seed. Mustard is a herb and not a tree. It normally grows to about four feet and would not be a place you would expect to find a bird’s nest. This is not a picture of natural growth but of something unnatural, portraying a false greatness. The birds nesting in the branches are not something good, but evil. In the first parable, the birds came and ate up the seed on the path. Jesus described them as representing “the evil one”.

There is a similar image in a vision given to the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, in which a tree, representing himself, grows large and strong, “with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth… and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air” (Daniel 4:20-21). The tree demonstrated Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance, and in due time, a messenger of God came and chopped the tree down and Nebuchadnezzar was greatly humbled and reduced to poverty.

It would seem what Jesus is saying here is that instead of being characterized by humility and gentleness, the kingdom of heaven in its manifestation on earth has become rich, powerful and, in some instances, authoritative and arrogant. Its strategies are in danger of not deriving from obedience to Jesus Christ, dependency on the Holy Spirit and child-like trust in a heavenly Father, but from marketing tactics, high profiled publicity, public relations expertise and the attempt to woo others with our bigness and noise. It has become a nesting place for the birds!

This parable does not teach the failure of the church as a manifestation of the kingdom of God, but it does predict its distortion and corruption, which history and current experiences have shown to be true. This is how those outside of Christ will perceive the kingdom of God in our world today.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, grant me a humbled heart that remains in submission to You, and keep me from falling prey to arrogance in those who falsely represent Your kingdom. Thank You, Lord.

 

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September 13, 2017

The Wheat and the Weeds

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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On the Wednesdays in September, we’re going to look at a few of The Kingdom Parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard or thought. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

The Wheat and the Weeds

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in the field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.” Matthew 13:24-25

This second parable tells us that if the Son of Man is sowing His seed in the world, an enemy is also sowing his seed in the same field. Jesus explains to His disciples, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil” (Matthew 13:37-39).

Wherever God is at work in this world we can be sure the devil is also at work. His purpose is to counterfeit the work of God, tempting us with something that looks real but is unreal. Within the kingdom of God, the devil will offer an attractive alternative to Jesus Christ, and it is not always easy to distinguish between the real and the counterfeit. This is conveyed by Jesus when the servant asked the owner about the weeds, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” His answer was: “No, because while you are pulling the weeds you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:29-30).

Jesus tells us there is going to be a harvest time at the end of the age, and there will be harvesters, the angels whom Jesus will send to sort the weeds from the wheat. This parable is not about false teaching so much as it is about false Christians, people who present themselves as part of the real thing but are counterfeit. False Christianity will inevitably lead to false teaching, but at the harvest when the fruit is evident, it will be easier to identify and handle. This means we are not to set out on a crusade to purify the church of any false ingredient, because if we attempt to do so, we may disrupt the good.

On the day of separation of the wheat from the weeds, the real from the false, the bad seed will face the prospect of a fiery furnace where all will be lost and destroyed. The good seed, the righteous, will face the prospect of shining like the sun in the kingdom of the Father (Matthew 13:41-43). In the end, the kingdom will be pure, but in the meantime, it is infiltrated with false Christians. Were we to look over a fence to the field where weeds were growing among the wheat, we would not be impressed. This is the picture of the kingdom of heaven as the world perceives it.

PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, for these parables that teach us the importance of being genuine in our Christian faith, so that at harvest time we will be among the wheat.

 

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September 6, 2017

Sown Into The World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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On the Wednesdays in September, we’re going to look at a few of the parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

Sown Into The World

“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13:8

The Shallow Seed: This seed is sown along the path and the birds come and snatch it away. This is the person who hears the Word of God but does not digest it, understand it or appropriate it. He or she is vulnerable to losing it all as “the evil one snatches away what was sown in their heart.” Truth has to be combined with faith in order to become experience, but this seed has never taken truth into the realm of experience. This person is shallow and their being planted in the world comes to nothing.

The Superficial Seed: This seed is sown among rocks and is the person who hears the Word of God and receives it with joy, but since they have no root, “they last only a short time.” When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, they quickly fall away. In the right atmosphere they can coast along, but will blow with the prevailing wind. This person is superficial and their planting in the world comes to nothing.

The Secular Seed: This seed is sown among thorns that choke the plants. This is the person who hears the Word of God and starts off well, but “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” He or she has never been weaned from secular world views. They are deceived by wealth and seduced by worldly things. This person is secular and their planting in the world also comes to nothing.

The Successful Seed: This is the seed sown on good soil and is the person who “produces a crop yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Like the first seed, they hear the Word of God, like the second seed, get excited by it, and like the third seed, live in a secular world subject to all its temptations, but their roots are deep. They survive and are successful. Their planting in the world accomplishes its purpose.

The intention of this parable is not to show how some people respond to the Word of God and are converted while others are not, but it is to show how the kingdom of God is to be advanced. Each of us who belongs to Jesus Christ is planted by Him for the purpose of producing fruit. If we were to look over the fence to the fields in the first, second and third planting of seed, we would not be impressed. This is a true picture of the church of Christ, the physical manifestation of the kingdom on earth as seen from the vantage point of those yet outside of the kingdom.

PRAYER: : Dear Lord, I pray that I not only retain, digest and understand Your word, but that it grows and flourishes in me so that I may be used in producing fruit for You.

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