Christianity 201

June 3, 2021

One Word to Capture the Essence of Christianity?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through 1st John 3:11-24

by Clarke Dixon

What one word would you use to convey the essence of Christianity?

■ For some it might be heaven, as in how to get to heaven when you die.

■ For some it might be law, as in how to live, what rules to follow.

■ For some it might be tradition, as in the Christian tradition is good for our society.

■ For some it might be theology, as in knowing all the right things about God.

■ For some it might be politics, meaning if you are a Christian, you will vote this way and not that.

■ For some it might be the word belief. Just believe in Jesus, and all will go well.

There is a word that John uses a lot in the letter we now know as 1st John. It was a word John knew the early Christian communities in his day needed to hear as they faced false teaching from a specific group of people. It is a word that maybe we need to hear in our day as we face all kinds of teaching from all kinds of people.

One Word to Describe the False Teaching, and the Word John Uses to Describe the True Teaching

Let us think first about what one word would capture the kind of Christianity the false teachers were trying to promote.

We have already seen how they were trying to change the facts about Jesus to fit their thinking rather than change their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus. We have also already seen that they missed the mark on what it means to follow Jesus, how to live as a Christians.

Bible scholars tend to agree that these false teachers were trying to advance an early form of Gnosticism. In this kind of thinking, anything spiritual is good, anything material is bad. For the Gnostics the one word that might sum up the essence of their thinking, and what they thought Christianity should be about, is escape, meaning an escape into the good spirit world while leaving the awful material world behind. And by the way, on your way there it doesn’t really matter what you do because the material world means nothing. So just do what you want while you are waiting for your escape from the body.

To this John says, and I paraphrase, “no, as Christ followers, as God’s children, we don’t just do what we want”:

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

1 John 3:11 (NRSV)

There it is, the word, love. As John points out, this word was there from the beginning. As the apostles first taught people about Jesus, they didn’t tell them that Jesus was Lord, and that was all there was to know. Nope, loving one another was an integral part of the message from the beginnning too. It was not considered an option that might be nice to have at some point in the future. It was essential. It still is!

Love Explored

John goes on to say more about love, first, what it does not look like:

We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.

1 John 3:12 (NRSV)

Someone who loves, who is not self-centred and jealous, will be unlike Cain, and will not murder. John continues:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.

1 John 3:14 (NRSV)

It turns out that love is so important that it is the test of whether we are following Jesus! Speaking of Jesus:

All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.

1 John 3:15 (NRSV)

In writing this John is echoing the teaching of Jesus who said:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment . . .

Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

Love is the better way as Jesus goes on to say in that Sermon on the Mount.

In addition to being reminded of the teaching of Jesus, We are also reminded of his example:

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

1 John 3:16 (NRSV)

Jesus is the opposite of Cain here. Instead of taking the life of another, he lays down his own. Cain is the first example of a life taker. Jesus is the first and best example of a life giver, and of love.

We have the teaching and example of Jesus on love. We are changed by the love of God:

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action

1 John 3:17-18 (NRSV)

The Christian Faith is Grounded in Love.

This word ‘love’ was an important focus when facing the false teachers in John’s day. The false teachers wanted to change the facts about Jesus to fit their way of thinking. But the facts about Jesus speak of the love of God. The incarnation, the teaching, the example, the death and resurrection of Jesus, these all speak to the love of God. Change the facts about Jesus to suit yourself and you lose the greatest love that has ever been known.

Also, you don’t just do what you want as the false teachers were claiming. You become a person of love. The word is not escape, but love.

This word ‘love’ is an important focus when we face all kinds of teaching in our day.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about getting to heaven. Are you becoming a person of love here on earth? In fact, merely becoming a Christian so that you can get to heaven someday can actually be a self-centred thing. It is all about me and what I get. It should also be about picking up our cross and following Jesus in the way of generous love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about keeping law. We can keep the rules and yet somehow not become a person of love. Jesus has a lot to say about that in his teaching as found in the Gospels.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about tradition. We can keep the traditions and yet somehow not become a person of love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about theology. We can know all the right things about God, yet not become a person of love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about politics. Politics is so often about power. Jesus has a lot to say about serving others with love, giving the example of washing the disciples’ feet, giving the example of the cross. A Christian does not avoid politics. A Christian is to express love through politics, loving others through serving them.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about belief:

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

1 John 3:23 (NRSV)

John just can’t help but mention love along with belief!

Conclusion

At the beginning I asked which one word you might use to describe the essence of Christianity. Of course, we should never just reduce Christianity to just one word. But perhaps Paul is onto something when in writing to the Christians in Corinth he says,

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)


The full video of the sermon on which this is based can be seen as part of this “online worship expression Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada and appears here most Thursdays.

June 2, 2021

Equip Yourself in Order to Equip Others

Today we have a brand new writer to highlight. Ron Braley is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at both Equipping Believers and Finding Discipleship. This is adapted from parts III and IV of a series on Loving Your Neighbor. You need to love yourself before you can spread that love to others and so as we prepared to post the fourth part as our sample of Ron’s writing today, we realized we needed to reach back to the previous message where he defined some of these elements more fully. Pleeeze encourage the writers we feature by reading their work at their pages, not ours. Click the headers which follow.

Love Yourself… How??

…[B]eing Christian carries the responsibility of remaining healthy in body, mind, spirit, etc., to the best of our ability in obedience to the Father and Son so that we can honor them and help bring the Kingdom of God to others. The good news is that the Bible gives us much of what we need to figure this out in two distinct areas: spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual formation. Once we say, “I do!” in response to God’s call through Jesus, we’re to embark on a journey of transformation—in all areas of life, which is possible with the Spirit of God. Our change matures and forms several areas:

  • Relationships. If we remember that we’re to treat others with the love of Christ and consider them better than ourselves, our relationships will likely flourish (Philippians 2:3-4). Don’t go to bed angry (Ephesians 4:26) and be sure to ‘turn the other cheek’ to allow reconciliation (Luke 6:29). Finally, remember the ‘golden rule’ (Matthew 7:12).
  • Finances. The Bible has a LOT to say about sound money management. Be cautious about borrowing money and be content with what you have (Hebrews 3:5).
  • Physical health. Eat and drink (if applicable) in moderation. Get off the couch and put your body to work, even if just a bit at first. Remember that God desires to move you to action in His plans.
  • Intellect. Stimulate the brain by reading, studying something interesting, playing games, or assembling puzzles, etc. Say “No!” to the electronic stuff more often!
  • Emotional and mental health. Do what you can to keep your emotions and mind healthy by tending to the body, relationships, finances, and intellect. But, again, do what’s within your control.

Spiritual disciplines.

  • Prayer. It is our communications with (not just at!) God. Use Jesus’ model (Matthew 5:6-13) and Adore God, Confess sins, offer Thanksgiving, and Intercede for others (healing, finances, salvation, etc.).
  • Study. Engage God’s words in the Bible and meditate on them—it’s how we ‘put on Christ’ and become spiritually mature.
  • Accountability. We must bear each other’s burdens and confess sins, at least to one person we trust.
  • Giving (money, time, talents, etc.). The Bible demands it (e.g., Matthew 6:1-4 and 25:31-40; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Not only is it a necessary outcome of the Christian faith, but it can also help emotional health too. Giving stimulates the brain and makes us feel better physically and emotionally. It’s also a great way to take our eyes and minds off our troubles.

So, move toward emotional, physical, relational, financial, and spiritual health one baby step at a time in God’s direction as you love yourself. Next… we’ll put self-love to work as we dive into how to love our ‘neighbor.’

Love Yourself, Love Your Neighbor

…As we’ve learned, loving yourself positions you to love others. With healthy relationships (especially with God), finances, mind, emotions, and spirit, you’re armed to help others do the same. But, how does that look? We’ll learn that our love falls into similar categories as the spiritual formation I recently addressed. So, let’s frame my input like that.

Relationships. Our connections are vital! The Bible says much about interacting with others in a godly way to maintain and deepen those connections used to present God’s Kingdom to others. Here are several biblical tips for keeping those connections alive:

  • … be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to angerJames 1:19.
  • BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger Ephesians 4:26.
  • … but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:39-42.

Finances. You cannot help others financially without money! But, once you get your finances under control, you may have resources with which to help clothe, feed, or house others—things on which Jesus said He’ll judge us (Matthew 25:31-46).

Physical health. Jesus told us to ‘go.’ The ‘going’ is necessary to establish new relationships with which to be and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Our healthy relationships also allow us to ‘go’ and help others.

Emotional and mental health. This area affects relationships. When we’re healthy emotionally and mentally, we’ll be positioned to mentor others, listen to them in their pain, aid in healing, etc.

Spiritual. Once healthy, we can be godly models of spiritual practices, including Bible study, prayer, accountability, and discipleship. That’s how others can grow spiritually; spiritual growth positively affects all others!

In summary, loving your neighbor can happen when we love ourselves. Being healthy relationally, spiritually, financially, etc., sets us up to aid others by being godly models, helping physically, ‘being there’ emotionally, and assisting in feeding, housing, and clothing the less fortunate. Here’s the good news: you can still love others even while you’re becoming healthy. Just do what you can, give to others as you can.

 

May 25, 2021

Choosing the Better Part

NIV.Luke.10.38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I spent a long time today trying to locate just the right devotional reading for us. This one is from Nehemiah Zion and the blog Raising Zion. This looks like a good resource, and you can start discovering more by clicking the header which follows.

How To Get Far Better In Life?

What does it mean to get far better? There are two kinds of Christians, one that seeks God more, another that seeks everything else more than God. Mary chose a far better thing by sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha was loving too, but her concern was carnal rather than spiritual. (Luke 10:42)

We get far better in life at the feet of Jesus

What do we get at the feet of Jesus that makes us far better in life? I’d like to share five things we receive which makes us live a far better life in Christ.

Word of God (Deuteronomy 33:3) (Hebrews 4:12) (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

“Yea, he loved the people; All his saints are in thy hand: And they sat down at thy feet; Every one shall receive of thy words.” (‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭33:3‬)

Forgiveness of sins (Luke 7:47)

“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭7:47‬)

Deliverance from bondage (Luke 17:12-14) (Luke 8:35,36)

“And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭17:12-14‬)

Exposed self (Revelation 1:17)

“And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:” Revelation‬ ‭1:17‬

John beheld the glory of Jesus and fell flat as dead. It reveals how frail and undeserving we are of even being in His presence. Isaiah reveals how he was exposed of his unholy natures in the presence of God.

Rejoicing = worshipping (Matthew 28:9)

“And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.”(Matthew‬ ‭28:9‬)

There is adoration, and freedom at the feet of Jesus. Mary and the other Mary’s immediate response was worship as they saw their loving Saviour. As I write this my heart leaps in joy trying to visualize the scene. The very presence of Jesus is one of great peace, rest, joy and love.

As believers we live in the utmost joy that can come only from heaven. Believers who are unable to enjoy God’s presence are often found focused on carnal thinking and outward displays. So many are busy bodies (spiritually) but have zero fruit. Constantly quarrelsome and bitter in their hearts. Such can never begin to understand the joy of God’s presence.

Get down, let your tears wash the feet of Jesus. Spirit baptized believers are betrothed to Christ, eagerly awaiting His coming. Maranatha, Praise God and Amen!



Bonus item: This from Wisconsin writer Glenn Hager at his self-titled blog. He is the author of two books about his own journey An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.

Christianity in 100 Words

Saw this somewhere and decided to take the challenge.

Jesus. Christianity is based on Jesus, not a church or a prescribed set of beliefs.

Love. Christianity is based on love, loving God, loving others (especially those we do not understand), and loving ourselves (in a healthy, non-arrogant sort of way, since he loves us).

Life. Christianity is woven into our lifestyle, not something tacked on, not something to sign off on, not something that happens on a special day or in a special place.

Grace. Christianity is based on grace, grace that always gives us hope, even in our darkest hours and deepest failures, and is extended to others.

May 13, 2021

Imagine If We Loved Like Jesus

1st John 2:7-11

by Clarke Dixon

Imagine if Cain had walked a path of love. Imagine if Cain had loved Abel instead of hating him. Imagine how things would have been different, for Abel, for Cain, and for Adam and Eve.

Imagine if the people of Noah’s day had walked a path of love. They were known for their violence and that violence led to the flood. Imagine if they had love for each other instead of hatred. Imagine how things would have turned out different.

Imagine if Pharaoh had walked a path of love, loving the Hebrew people instead of making them slaves. Imagine how the exodus story may have turned out differently.

Imagine if the inhabitants of the promised land had walked a path of love. They were in the habit of sacrificing their children among other atrocities. Imagine if they had more love for their children than their false gods.

Imagine if the people of God in the Old Testament had walked the path of love, loving God and each other. They were called to be a light shining in darkness. Imagine if they had kept God’s commandments and had taken care of the poor, sought justice for the oppressed, and had refrained from following the practices of the former inhabitants, like worshipping other gods by sacrificing their children. Imagine how things would have have turned out differently in so many ways including the avoidance of the consequence of their behaviour, the fall of Jerusalem and the exile.

Imagine if Herod had walked the path of love. Imagine if he had love instead of fear and hatred when he had the infants of Bethlehem killed in an attempt to delete Jesus. Imagine the difference that would have made.

Imagine if the religious leaders who sought to destroy Jesus, had walked in the path of love and loved him rather than hated him. Now imagine if Jesus had practiced hatred instead of love! Imagine if Jesus had lashed out in vengeance rather than reach out in love at the cross. Imagine the darkness.

In his letter, John speaks of love, light and darkness:

Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining.

If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. But anyone who hates a fellow believer is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.

1 John 2:7-11 (NLT)

The commandment to love is old, in that it goes back farther than even the Ten Commandments. Let’s go back much further than the Ten Commandments and visit Cain:

“Why are you so angry?” the LORD asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

Genesis 4:6-7 (NLT)

We think of sin as disobedience to God, and that is part of it. But if Cain had loved his brother, he would not have killed him, and he would not have had a disobedience problem. In fact if Adam and Eve had loved God, they would not have had a disobedience problem either. As Jesus tells us, the commandments are all summed up in love:

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-40 (NLT)

Jesus goes beyond calling us to love God, each other, and ourselves:

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies!

Matthew 5:43-44 (NLT)

Jesus not only told us to love our enemies, he set the example! And so now John, in reminding us of this really old commandment, made new in Jesus, is inviting us to walk as Jesus walked:

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.

1 John 2:6 (NLT)

We began by considering how things would have been different if the people we meet in the Bible had walked in the way of love. Now let us imagine how things could be different now, if we all walk as Jesus walked, in the way of love. . . with friends, and within families . . . within churches . . . within communities . . . and across the world.

If we commit this day to walking as Jesus walked, in a path of love, is there anything we need to change about our day?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Clicking the header above his name at the top of the page will take you to his collection of Sunday’s Shrunk Sermons.

January 1, 2021

Easy Steps to Being an Unloving Person in the New Year

Nobody sets out to be an unloving person, but if you know how it’s done, then you know what to avoid, right?

I want to take a different look at I Corinthians 13, aka ‘The Love Chapter.’

I know what you’re thinking. Can’t we do something a little deeper? Or look at a passage we haven’t heard hundreds of times? Well, hear me out.

But first a diversion. Did you know the word love doesn’t appear in this chapter in the KJV? I found this out the hard way trying to demonstrate to a pastor how a Bible concordance works. (The fact that I was not a pastor and he was, yet he had never seen a concordance speaks volumes to the type of Biblical education he received; but alas, time doesn’t permit me to share that story.) Anyway, I randomly selected “Love is patient” as my demonstration point but Strong didn’t include that because the KJV uses the word charity instead. So if “love is patient, love is kind” sounds old to you, remember it’s not that old.

The chapter begins,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

So you’re thinking, if we want to know what it means to be unloving, we just take each descriptor and frame it in the negative. So, “love is patient, love is kind” becomes ‘un-love is impatient, un-love is unkind.’ (And it would get easier, since many of the traits are stated in the negative, so you would just drop the “not.”)

That would make for a simple exercise, and I was in a church study where we did that as an exercise; but keeping the above verse in mind, let’s go adjective-by-adjective but drill down deeper.

STEP ONE: The person without love would need to crave instant gratification, in other words, no room for delayed gratification. In the tech revolution of the 1950s (don’t look it up, there really wasn’t one) the talk was that in the future, everything would be yours at the push of a button; at the flick of a switch. As a more congested transport system leaves us waiting for what seems (but isn’t) forever to board a train, or for a traffic light to change; and as we desire faster download times for internet content, we reflect our hunger for getting everything NOW. Paul taught the Romans that “…endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:4)

STEP TWO: The person without love would need to have a lack of empathy. You never know kindness until you’ve been shown kindness; and you never know the absence of kindness until you’ve had to experience it, but without empathy, you can’t connect the dots between what you’ve felt and what you’re doing or saying feels like to someone else. Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12)

STEP THREE: This one is central. To not be the person of love Paul is describing to the Corinthians you have to be guilty of constant comparison. Some Bible expositors go so far as to speak of “the sin of comparison.” And I don’t need to give you the reference to remind us all that the 10th commandment is “do not covet which is applied equally to your neighbor’s (marital, in this case) situation, as well as your neighbor’s possessions.

STEP FOUR: Not being boastful begins by not being self promoting. This is critical in our present times, because social media somewhat implores us to put our best face forward on social media. (And tools like Photoshop allow us to edit how that face looks!) We are now even able to quantify our popularity by counting likes or followers.  Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.” (Jeremiah 9:23)

STEP FIVE: I’ll keep this one really brief since I’ve written about passages such as Philippians 2 so many times here. You would need to have a complete absence of humility. Pride isn’t the issue here, pride is more of a manifestation (or symptom) of a larger problem. Rather, the overarching need for humility is part of a lifestyle that needs to cultivated. Jesus did not see his equality with God as something to be leveraged but chose the path of humility and the role of a servant. (My own take on Phil. 2) “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” (Proverbs 22:4)

Let’s look at the next verse:

It [love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

STEP SIX: The unloving person would have no problem committing defamation of character. You could be absolutely right about someone, but still dishonor them by not keeping silent. Or you could be exacting revenge against someone and seek to destroy their character for that reason. Or you may just have a callous disregard for others. Romans 12:10 reads, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” The setup for the often quoted Philippians 2 passage begins “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (The CEB offers a gender-neutral expression for brotherly love: “Love each other like the members of your family.”)

STEP SEVEN: Because the previous already covered not boasting and not being proud, when we reach not self-seeking it may seem almost redundant. Could we say the unloving person is status-seeking? Or are they all about building their own empire? I would argue that with some it’s actually lacking transparency. We could also say they have a hidden agenda. They are perceived to be outwardly doing something altruistic, but like a skillful chess player, what outwardly appears a seemingly sacrificial move is coldly calculated to be of personal benefit. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

STEP EIGHT: The unloving person would undoubtedly be prone to knee-jerk reactions. And when have we ever seen this more than in the political climate of 2020? “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James 1:19

STEP NINE: An unloving acquaintance hangs on to hurts. They’re making a list and checking it twice, and going to remember how many times you’ve stepped on their toes or damaged their feelings. Being forgetful can be a human failing. But it’s also a divine attribute. If we want to be God-like we need to learn how to forget! “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.” – Jeremiah 31:34b

The final verse of this micro-passage ends

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

STEP TEN: I wanted to combine these into a single step to bring the list to ten items. Ten items to avoid. The final one, in being an unloving person, you’d probably be seen a troublemaker. The person who delights in evil has their values turned upside-down and is glorifying wickedness instead of righteousness. Isaiah 5:20 nails this possibility: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” This verse wouldn’t be in our scriptures unless people had done this in Isaiah’s time; unless it were possible for us to be equally value-shifted.

None of these things are outside the realm of possibility. It’s easy to think of people we have known who were self-aggrandizing, deceitful, over-reactive, or just plain troublemakers. But it’s also not impossible to remember times in our own lives where we entered into those categories, or at least skated dangerously close.

In the new year, we want to be loving not unloving.

With God’s help, we can do this.



■ This is not the first time we’ve taken a backwards approach to I Corinthians 13. Check out, from March, 2016, A Personal Character Checklist.

■ Paul does as much himself — telling us what not love looks like — in the setup to the verses we examined. From January, 2014 check out Religious Activity versus Abiding in Christ.

Remembering that the whole Love Chapter is sandwiched between two chapters discussing spiritual gifts; from the 2nd of those articles:

In certain Christian quarters, we tend to treat supernatural gifts as the gold standard of faith, but without humility or love, we come up empty; and all our co-workers, neighbors, or extended family see is a preoccupation with religious things that really don’t appeal…

November 13, 2020

What He’s Promised; What He’s Already Given

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We’re grateful to our friends at HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Zondervan and Thomas Nelson) for allowing us to occasionally share content from their authors (and explaining to us how and when we can do this). This one actually appeared today at Devotions Daily (see link below to sign up; it’s free and you may unsubscribe at any time).

This is an excerpt from a newly-published resource, The Weekly Gratitude Project: A Challenge to Reflect, Journal and Grow a Grateful Heart. The book is described as, “a 52-week guided gratitude journal that offers a life-changing journey through reflection prompts and inviting questions to guide you into a deeper relationship with God. This yearly gratitude journal features beautifully illustrated journaling pages that will help you discover more intimacy and joy in your spiritual life.”

Gifts: What He’s Given

Looking ahead to what He has promised can help us. It can center us in the good to come, no matter the bleakness that sometimes darkens our hearts or fills our days. But we don’t have to look ahead.

Good things are all around you right now!

What He’s already given is more than what He’s promised to give in the future.

Consider, for instance, the gift of grace, which Paul said “is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This grace is already yours in Christ. You are already a new creation because of it, able to live a better life and make better choices than you’ve ever made before.

Consider the gift of hope. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he said we could “rejoice in hope” (Romans 12:12). This reason to rejoice is not yours to come. It’s yours now. It’s why you can open your eyes right now — in this day — with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.

Consider what Paul described as “the greatest” gift of all (1 Corinthians 13:13). If God’s love is already — and always — for us, what other gifts could we possibly need?

When packing your bags for a vacation, you’re likely to include a camera, or at least, you’re sure to pack a phone. This is because you anticipate seeing something worth capturing, something worth turning into a memory because of its uniqueness or beauty or both.

What if we approached every day this way?

But, instead of with a camera, what if we approached each day with a focused heart? What if we adjusted our lens so we could see the gifts God has placed all around us — little and big, invisible and visible, spiritual and physical, recurring and unique to today?

We have countless reasons to be thankful — but do start counting! Open your eyes to all He has given and give thanks.

Grace

In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. — Ephesians 1:7 NIV

Grace — it’s the best gift we have and maybe the hardest gift to understand because it’s so unlike anything else. It never wears out. It never quits working. It’s ours, even though we don’t deserve it. It’s ours, even when we forget we have it. It’s the ultimate reason to be grateful.

Describe “God’s rich grace.” What is it? What has it done for you? What does it continue to do?

Is God’s rich grace a gift you can share with others? How?

Hope

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Hope is fuel. It’s what keeps us going when the days are hard. It’s what keeps us believing when valleys are long. It’s why we get back up, pushing on in faith, expecting better days to come. And they will. Because our hope is anchored in the One whom hard days and long valleys can’t touch:

In Christ we have hope. — 1 Corinthians 15:19

The book of Hebrews talks about all the “better” things Christ brings to life — both here and in heaven. How has Christ already made your life better?

What’s something in your life that you hope is made better in the future?

We don’t know how some things will turn out, but we do know about others. What do you hope for that’s “sure and steadfast,” promised to come about in Jesus (Hebrews 6:19)?

Love

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Hope is fuel to carry us to tomorrow; love is a gift to carry us through today. Whatever we’re facing, whatever we wish we had or wish we didn’t have, whatever trouble or pain comes today, love comes too. It’s higher, wider, and deeper than any other thing.

And it’s here to stay (Romans 8:38–39).

Why do you think Paul said love is “the greatest” in 1 Corinthians 13:13?

What are you facing today that’s troubling you? Write about it, and then on top of what you’ve written, around and all over it, write the words “I am loved.”


Taken from The Weekly Gratitude Project, copyright © 2020 Zondervan. Used by permission.  www.zondervan.com


…to sign up for Devotions Daily, click this link. (But don’t leave C201, we love you, too!)

August 13, 2020

Forgive Us Our Debts (What Debts?)

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

As we pray the Lord’s Prayer we pray “forgive us our debts.” Do we really need to pray that? With so many North Americans in debt, many would say yes, it would be great to experience loan forgiveness, to be released from the obligation to pay all that money back. Jesus is not talking about that kind of debt. So what does “forgive us our debts” even mean? Do we owe God something?

Where we find the Greek word “debt” in the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, we find the Greek word for “sin” in the Gospel of Luke. The term used by Luke has the the idea of missing the mark, like an archer missing the target. With Matthew and Luke each recording different words here, which word did Jesus actually use when he taught his disciples to pray?

According to Bible scholars, Jesus likely taught in Aramaic, so it is possible Jesus used neither of the Greek terms! There is an Aramaic term for debt which includes the idea of sin. Jesus possibly used that word, with both Matthew and Luke translating in ways that bring out the full meaning of the term. The full idea is that just as one who cannot pay back a debt needs to be released from the consequence of not paying back that debt, we need to be released from the consequence of sin, of missing the mark.

When we hear that word sin, however, we might think “I am not a sinner. I have never murdered anyone, or stolen from anyone, I am a good and decent person.” After all, I’m sorry to have to say it, but we Canadians are typically very nice decent people, eh?!

We may hear of people coming to faith in Jesus who made a real mess of their lives and the lives of everyone around them through drugs, theft, and sinful living. We might think they really needed Jesus, they really needed forgiveness because they really were sinners. Thankfully they found religion and now they are well behaved, more like us!

My own story is nothing like that, of addictions or loose living then a big change when Jesus stepped in. For me, Jesus seems to have always been around. But there was a big adjustment. Driving to university one day I needed to take a detour due to a car accident. On seeing the wreck at the end of the detour the thought struck me that the driver must surely have been killed. When I got home from school, my best friend’s mom came flying out of our house to greet me. Indeed the driver of the car had been killed. It was my best friend.

That was a very hard day for all of us. I am not sure why, but that evening I read 1st Corinthians 13 which includes these words:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (NIV)

This passage is often described as a beautiful hymn about love. For me that night, however, it wasn’t about love, it was about me. I could have been a better best friend. I had missed the mark in what friendship looks like. There was a burden of guilt that I needed to be released from. Before that day I knew in my head that I was a sinner who needed God’s grace. But I was a decent, well behaved young man, so it was a theological thought without much heartfelt conviction. With the death of my friend, however, my faith dropped from my head to my heart. I knew I needed forgiveness. I had missed the mark. I had fallen short of the glory of God. If I needed forgiveness, everyone else did too, because out of all the kids in high school, I was one of the few friends my friend had. Kids can be cruel.

We all need grace, even those of us who are so self-controlled that we minimise our sins by keeping the rules well, even those of us who have had a brilliant start in life with great teaching along the way so that we become the epitome of decent folk: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV)

Through the death of my friend, I saw that my sin was not really in the usual list of rules we think of, it was love that missed the mark of God’s love.

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:14 NRSV

God is love

1 John 4:8 NRSV

We miss the mark when we fail in love. In fact the greatest commandments are all about love. Therefore the greatest sin is to lack love. God is love. Being created in the image of God we are to be characterised by love. When we are not, we show how far we have fallen from the glory of God.

There is good news; Jesus taught us to pray “forgive us our debts,” then he went on to pay off our debts!

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

1 John 4:7-11 (NRSV)

When we pray “forgive us our debts,” the idea is of needing to be released from the consequence of our sin. There is a recognition that we are stuck. Stuck in patterns of living that alienate us from God. Stuck in patterns of living that alienate us from others. Stuck in patterns of living that make a mess in our own lives. Stuck in patterns of living that make a mess in the lives of others. Stuck in sin. Through sin we have all become unglued. Jesus came to get us unstuck.

When we pray “forgive us our debts,” we also learn to pray “thank you for answering that prayer through Jesus.”


Clarke (with an ‘e’) Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can also watch the message alone here.

May 14, 2020

Judge Not!

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

Although I’m not a betting man, I bet that if you went into our local high school and polled the students (thinking back to the good ole’ days a few months ago when students could be found in schools), and asked “who are the most judgemental people you know?” They would say “Christians.”
How can that be? Jesus very clearly said:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.

Matthew 7:1 (NRSV)

Perhaps we Christians don’t need to hear a sermon on judgement, but instead we just need to listen to Jesus!

If we are being honest, most of us struggle with judgemental attitudes. Not me, of course. I’m not judgemental, I just have superior discernment about how other people should live! I hope you realize I am joking, this being an area I can struggle in also.

Jesus tells us to not judge, but does he give us any help in learning how to live without judging others? Let us look at Jesus’ words again:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

Matthew 7:1-2 (NRSV)

Very often we read this to mean that if we judge someone, God will judge us in the same way. However, through Jesus we learn about the grace of God, and how God does not treat us as our sins deserve. Being judgemental is not an unforgivable sin. Also, Jesus does not mention God here at all.

Here is another way to think of it. Suppose I come at you with judgement, something like “you are stupid because you did this.” Will you respond with “Oh, good thought Clarke, thank you for that,” or will you not more likely respond with, “Who does Clarke think he is?”? See what happened there? I judged you, which led to you judging me.

If I come at you with a lot of judgement in a really harsh tone, you will likely respond with a lot more judgement. “Clarke said this, that, and the other thing to me – well, let me tell you this, that, and the other thing about Clarke!” The measure we give will be the measure we get.

The words of Jesus here are neither a promise, nor a theological premise, but rather a proverb. This is how judgement and judgementalism usually goes. Judgement is usually a two way street. The path of judgement is not a path you want to go down. It does not lead to a good place. There is a better way of handling our relationships. What is that better way?

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5 (NRSV)

The better way is to focus on tidying up our own house.

We now have a vegetable garden in our yard, or at least space allocated for one. We could look over the fence and be judgemental about the neighbours’ vegetable gardens, except we don’t know what we are doing and have much to learn. Likewise, we can’t go picking on people for their lack of spiritual growth and life skills if we are lacking in spiritual growth and life skills ourselves.

However, do we have the right, perhaps even the obligation to judge others once we have achieved spiritual maturity? Perhaps we feel justified in saying “I am not judgemental, I just have great discernment about how other people should live”? Let us turn again to the words of Jesus:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:10-14 (NRSV)

Our garden is never that great. Just when we think we are doing well in spiritual maturity, pride kicks in. After all, we are not just doing well in our spiritual maturity, we are doing better than others. In fact, thank the Lord we are not like others! How quickly we become the Pharisee.

But what if we actually do have discernment about other people’s situations? I know how that feels. We have three teenage boys, so my discernment is through the roof as to how they should live! Surely we have an obligation to help people steer a good course if they are headed for rocks and we know where those rocks are?

We go back to what Jesus has already taught in the Sermon on the Mount, namely, that it is not about rules, but about character. If we have a rules-based way of looking at life and spirituality then we may jump all over people for breaking the rules, especially the rules we keep well, or more likely, only the rules we keep well. However, if we are focused on walking with Jesus on a journey of character formation, then we will offer to walk with others on their journey of character formation. We are aware that we ourselves still have some distance to go.

Those who seem to have farther to travel along that path may actually be further along than we are in some respects. Walking together along a path of mutual growth is far better than running down the two-way street of judgmentalism.

We want to minimize the roadblocks on the journey toward maturity. One’s sinful nature is a speed-bump which becomes a roadblock through judgement. It does not matter how amazing my neighbor’s garden might be, if he pops his head over the fence and starts coming at me in a judgemental way for my gardening, I am probably not going to listen. He does know better, but the judgemental way he expresses it leaves the gate wide open for me in my pride to reject his discernment. But if he is simply a friendly and helpful neighbour who has a great garden, I might go to him and ask “how’d you do that?”

Are we good neighbours? Are we progressing down that path of character formation? What fruit is growing in our lives? Have we been nurturing judgemental attitudes which can grow like weeds, or “love, peace, kindness, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23). Developing such fruit of the Spirit is done by walking with Jesus. That is how we tidy our gardens. That is what will enable us to help others with theirs. We want to be helpful, not hurtful. To quote Carey Nieuwhof “very few people get judged into life change. Far more get loved into it.”

Are you judgemental? Or just highly discerning like me? Ahem. The best way to get a handle on our judgemental attitudes is not by fixing everyone around us so there is no-one left to judge, but by sticking close to Jesus on a journey of growth. We have a long way to go, but we have a lot of help along the way, from God through the Holy Spirit, but potentially even from those we might want to judge.

The best way to get a handle on our judgemental attitudes is not by fixing everyone around us so there is no-one left to judge, but by sticking close to Jesus on a journey of growth.



Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

May 8, 2020

Imagine There’s No Truth

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Over the years at our other blog, Thinking Out Loud, we’ve found Sacred Sandwich to be a treasure trove for sourcing cartoons and images and satirical articles. But they have a serious side as well.

Today I want to share the middle section of a longer article and if you have time, I want to strongly recommend reading the full context. As usual, click the header below to read in full. The author is C. R. Carmichael.

Where Would We Be Without Truth?

“The church has lost her testimony! She has no longer anything to say to the world. Her once robust declaration of TRUTH has faded away to an apologetic whisper.” — A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)

…In light of humanity’s desperate need for God’s peace, can you imagine if truth were completely erased from our midst? It is too dreadful to contemplate! Yet think of the catastrophic condition of humanity if the world existed without the revelation of God’s truth. Like wayward Israel, the people would be “destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6), and would soon cry out in anguish like Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am lost!” (Isaiah 6:5).

Imagining A World Void Of Truth

According to the Scriptures, a world void of truth would be a desolate place. Fallen mankind would have no avenue of promise to find redemption and reconciliation with God. Without truth, there would be no regeneration; for it is by “the word of truth” that we are begotten and born again (James 1:18; I Peter 1:23). Without truth, there would be no justification; for we are justified by faith, which faith consists in crediting God’s truth, and so gives peace with God (Romans 5:1). Without the truth, there would be no sanctification; for the Lord himself says, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Without the truth, there would be no salvation; for “God hath chosen us to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (II Thessalonians 2:13).

In such an unsound world, where would you find the threefold graces of the Spirit: Faith, Hope, and Love? Without truth, there would be no faith; for the work of faith is to believe the truth (II Thessalonians 2:13). As the Bible teaches us, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ,” which is truth in all its power (Romans 10:17). The difference between true faith and the world’s delusion is striking: Faith believes God’s truth, and delusion credits Satan’s lies (II Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Without truth, there would be no hope; for the province of hope is to anchor in the truth of God’s word (Hebrews 6:18-19). This led David to say in Psalm 119:74, “I have hoped in Your word.” Indeed, it is “through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures that we have hope” (Romans 15:4). And where do we most clearly hear of this hope? It is heard in the word of truth, the Gospel (Colossians 1:5), which fixes our hope on the living God, even Jesus Christ, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10).

And finally, without truth, there would be no love; for it is “the love of the truth” which separates the saved from the unsaved (II Thessalonians 2:11-12). Indeed this love of truth transforms believers into Christ-bearers who are then compelled to speak the truth in love to those who are perishing, for they now know that “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Thus we see the tragic consequences of abandoning truth. Without truth, all the people on the earth would be lost in a stormy tempest of lies without a lighthouse to guide them to safe harbor. They would have no faith to chart their course, no hope in which to anchor their souls to God, and no love to fill their sails. Is this not the dire situation we are beginning to witness in the world today? How many poor souls are now living in fear instead of faith, anguish instead of hope, and anger instead of love?

The Bible teaches us that truth brings faith, hope, and love to full flower, but emphasizes that above all, love is the greatest of the three (I Corinthians 13:13). In I Corinthians 13:6, we learn: “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” In other words, love is delighted when truth is spoken, and therefore love is eternally married to truth. Love adores and promotes truth, just as those who bear God’s love in their hearts adore and promote truth. Truth, then, is firmly fixed upon the only love that has the power to destroy the depraved business of this world…

[…continue reading here…]


Some “Without Truth” passages taken and expanded upon from J. C. Philpot’s “Through Baca’s Vale”


By the same author: Why the World’s Dark Business is Booming

April 21, 2020

We Live Our Lives Both as Offended and Offender

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is our third time visiting The Serener Bright written by Ian Graham, pastor of the church Ecclesia, located in West Trenton, New Jersey. As always, bless our contributors with some traffic by clicking the headers which appear below these introductions to read at source.

Psalm 35: Enemy Intelligence

If you’ve ever felt like the world is aligned in a conspiracy against you, Psalm 35 is for you. David doesn’t so much write as he shouts protests:

They hid their net for me without cause
    and without cause dug a pit for me,
may ruin overtake them by surprise—
    may the net they hid entangle them,
    may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.   (7-8)

For many of us, we read Psalm 35 and feel like telling David, “Look, man, you’re just having a bad day, the lady who told you you need two forms of verified ID at the DMV is not a cosmic enemy plotting alongside Satan to ruin your life.” Our modern way of naming enemies is by establishing who’s in our camp and who’s not. The people on the other side of the spectrum are the bad, nefarious people while those within our state borders are given the benefit of good faith and good intentions.

Psalm 35 affirms our suspicions that enemies are a part of life. David doesn’t call role, naming these individuals but he identifies them by their injustice and their glee when troubles befall him:

Ruthless witnesses come forward;
    they question me on things I know nothing about.
 They repay me evil for good
    and leave me like one bereaved.   (11-12)

David promises that he will delight in the Lord and rejoice in his salvation (v. 9), but these unnamed enemies glean their joy from sorrow in David’s life (v. 15). They are mockers, slanderers, engaging in the verbal pornography of gossip and secretly fist-pumping when they get a report that something ill or painful has befallen David (vv.15-16).

You may or may not be able to name people in your life who fit this description. Psalm 35 is acknowledging that this is the way of the world, a way of conflict and alienation. This leads us to the second way that Psalm 35 bears witness to us in how we are to live and move in a world fraught with enemies.

Notice how David responds to the presence of his enemies. He does not lash out in anger and righteous retribution. He goes to great length to describe his own innocence, even noting how when he got updates on those who now mock him, when he heard that they were in anguish, he mourned alongside them, as if he were grieving the loss of his own mother (vv. 13-14). We love nothing more in our society and in our stories than when a person, a people, or an entity get what’s coming to them. We say yes and amen to vindicating vengeance either by the law or other means. But David doesn’t become a vigilante for his own victimhood.

Rather, David prays to God. He acknowledges that God is his judge and deliverer. David opens with the plea:

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me. 
Take up shield and armor;
    arise and come to my aid. 
Brandish spear and javelin
    against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
    “I am your salvation.”   (1-3)

David knows that he is imperiled because of his enemies but he also knows that only the Lord can release him from their snares. He foreshadows what the apostle Paul will instruct the Roman church to do in Romans 12vv17-19:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Jesus will tell those listening that they are not simply to refrain from vengeance, they are to love their enemies. Psalm 35 is a long way from the way Jesus will unmask our true enemies (sin and death) but it gives us a way to live in the world that is often contentious, where people wittingly and unwittingly often live as our enemies.

But in light of Jesus’ teachings, Psalm 35 leaves us with a much more haunting question. Jesus says, don’t look at the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye while ignoring that there is a 2 X 4 sticking out of your own eye (Matthew 7). Jesus compels us to reread Psalm 35 asking ourselves not simply how have we been wronged by others, but how have we, ourselves, been an enemy to others? You see, we live our lives as both offended and offender, and the witness of Jesus declares to all, there is grace for both—forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us (also, providentially, Matthew 7).

August 19, 2018

Creator: A Worship Liturgy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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a worship liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

An hour is coming, and is already here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and Truth…
~ Jesus

Brothers and sisters, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.
This is your spiritual worship.
~ Paul

…Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit? He is in you and He is from God.
You are not your own.
~ Paul


Who is this God we worship?

He‘s the great God, creator of Heaven and Earth.

He’s the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and all that surrounds them, and of time itself.

He’s the one who calls us to Himself, and calls us to each other, and calls us to worship.


Give thanks to the Lord of Lords.
His love endures forever.
He alone does great wonders.
His love endures forever.
He made the heavens with unsurpassed skill.
His love endures forever.
He spread the land on the waters.
His love endures forever.
He made the great lights:
His love endures forever.
the sun to rule by day,
His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to rule by night.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven!
His love endures forever.


Not only is He the creator of all, but He is especially the creator of the human heart.

Of our hearts, our bodies, our imaginations.

Patterned after Himself.  Lived in by Himself.  Perfected by Himself.

Shaped of earth dust, breathed to life with His own Breath.


For it was You who created my inward parts;
Your love endures forever.
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
Your love endures forever.
I will praise You because I am wonderfully made.
Your love endures forever.
My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret,
Your love endures forever.
All my days were written in Your book before a single one of them began.
Your love endures forever.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
Your love endures forever.
See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.
Your love is the everlasting way.
Your love endures forever.



To see all of Ruth’s readings here at C201, click this link.

August 9, 2018

Shall We Make Alterations to Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

Does what the Bible say about Jesus fit you or would you like to make alterations? You love Jesus but perhaps you would rather he did not make such exclusive statements like “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)? We might prefer that he had said “I am a way, one truth among many, one road to life, and people can come to the Father in various ways”. In our pluralistic day we might be tempted by a view of Jesus that seems more inclusive of other religions.

In New Testament times, Christians were being tempted by an early form of teaching later known as Gnosticism. This teaching speaks of Jesus, but does concur with what the Bible teaches about him. The apostle John deals with this temptation in a letter known as 2nd John. In John’s letter we discover three reasons to resist the temptation to make alterations to Jesus.

First, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then truth falls off a cliff. John uses the word “truth” four times in the opening verses, then in verse seven he warns against deception:

Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! 2 John 1:7

The Gnostics were making alterations to Jesus to fit their worldview, rather than making alterations to their worldview to fit Jesus. They were messing with truth.

Why are you a Christian? Is it because you were raised a Christian? This can be a great introduction to Christianity, but is not, in fact, a reason to embrace it. Why was John a Christian? It was not because he was raised a Christian. He gives us some clues in 1st John:

1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:1-3 (emphasis mine)

John was a follower of Jesus because he met Jesus, learned from Jesus, saw Jesus crucified and then risen from the dead. John was an eyewitness, he knew these things to be true. John does not write a warning against heresy because he is concerned about religion, but because he is concerned about truth. If we do not follow a Biblical view of Jesus, then truth falls off a cliff.

Second, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then love falls off a cliff. Love is a prominent theme in John’s letter:

4 It has given me great joy to find that children of yours have been living the life of truth as we were commanded by the Father. 5 And now I am asking you — dear lady, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but only the one which we have had from the beginning — that we should love one another. 6 To love is to live according to his commandments: this is the commandment which you have heard since the beginning, to live a life of love.

7 There are many deceivers at large in the world, refusing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in human nature. They are the Deceiver; they are the Antichrist.  2nd John 1:4-7 (NJB)

You might think it strange that I would include verse seven, about deception, along with verses five and six, which speak about love, but in fact John connects them. Verse seven begins with a rarely translated connecting word ‘for’. We might give a rough summary of the line of thought like this: “It is great to find your children living according to truth. Now you, yourself, must double down on living a life according to truth, a life of love, because false teachers are coming, and they have a very different ethic than the love ethic you learned from the teaching and example of Jesus.”

Love is important to the Christian because Jesus, in his existence, life, teaching, death, and resurrection, is an expression of God’s love. If Jesus is something other than that, then love is no longer the main thing. Under the gnostic teaching facing the Christians in John’s day, the main thing was the separation of the body from the spirit. This led to an ethic of either extreme asceticism, because you must care less about your body, or extreme indulgence, since you could care less about your body. Either way, a life of love was no longer the main thing.

There is a popular notion that all religions lead to a very similar ethic. However, some religions in the history of the world have required human sacrifice. Not all religions lead to the same ethic and not all religions are equal. Christianity offers love as the main ethic, for Christianity was born out of God’s love. We won’t be strongly pursuing a love ethic if we are listening to an alternate views of Jesus. If all religions lead to God, then who are we to condemn human sacrifice as an unloving practice? If it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then love falls off a cliff.

Third, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then souls will fall off a cliff. John speaks of this in verse 9:

Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 2 John 1:9

If Jesus was not executed then raised, we still have a separation from God problem.

But isn’t Jesus being too exclusive when he says “no one comes to the Father but by me”? A specific problem calls for a specific solution. Suppose my motorcycle stops running and a mechanic tells me that I need new ignition coils. Will I then say, that sounds too exclusive, perhaps we should replace the carburetors, tires, wheel bearings, and piston rings? A specific problem calls for a specific solution and nothing else will help. Our sin problem calls for a God’s grace solution. When Jesus says he is the way the truth and the life and that no one can come to the Father except through him, he is not being arrogant, but accurate. Greater effort can not deal with our separation from God problem. More religion just makes things worse. Only the grace of God will help us, and that grace has been expressed through Jesus. If we are not sharing a Biblical view of Jesus, then souls will fall off a cliff.

Accurate teaching about Jesus is important enough that we should not allow false teachers to set up shop:

10 Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; 11 for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person. 2 John 1:10-11

In other words, when heresy knocks, don’t send Jesus out to make room for the heretic.

We may be tempted to run after alternative views of Jesus, but truth, love, and souls are in danger of being destroyed if we do. While it might sound tempting, if Biblical teaching about Jesus is not at the heart of our Christian faith, then our Christian faith has lost its heart.


(The full sermon can be heard here or through iTunes podcast here, while available. Unless stated otherwise, Scriptures are taken from NRSV)

March 5, 2015

Have You Lost Your First Love?

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

Have You Lost Your First Love?

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

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

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

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

October 19, 2010

Prodigal Son: Seeing Yourself in the Story

It seems lately, every time I turn on the computer or pick up a book or magazine, I’m reading someone’s take on the story of the wayward son.   This simple narrative is multi-dimensional; a richness and depth bubbles under the surface awaiting discovery.

Here’s blogger Michael Krahn‘s take on it which he titled:

8 Traits Of An Older Brother

In our haste to name things, we often call the parable found in Luke 15 “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” but the parable is as much about the older brother as it is the younger. In fact some (like Tim Keller) would argue that it is actually MORE about the older brother.

If you grew up in the church – like I did – you are probably more like the older brother. Here is a list of traits that I can certainly identify with.

1. We think highly of ourselves

We think so highly of ourselves that we expect God to think like us instead of the other way around. Grace doesn’t work according to our logic. It doesn’t make sense to us that it does two things simultaneously:

1.     It overlooks wrong
2.    While it transforms repentant sinners

“It can’t do both – it’s not fair!  Prodigals can come back but we should never forget what they’ve done. If we do they’ll think they can do it again without consequence!”

2. We have a “good reputation”

We’re thought of (by others and ourselves) as “good”… not having major faults… not really struggling with sin. The reality is that we’re just better at hiding these things.

3. We take pride in our consistency

We’ve been here the whole time, going to church! We’ve had to sit through all the poorly performed worship songs, all the badly delivered sermons. Those prodigals need to do the same before we can see them as equals!

4. We save our freedom for future reward

Prodigals use their freedom to experience and consume. This is the path of self-discovery. Their thinking is that unused freedom is wasted freedom.

Older brothers resist using their freedom.  Instead we save it up, thinking of it as an investment that will compound like money saved inside a mutual fund, doubling in size every 10 years or so. Our thinking is that freedom used NOW is freedom wasted and that by saving and sacrificing now we’ll have more and will be able to get more later than we ever could now. Self-denial now in exchange for lavish self-indulgence later.

5. We need prodigals to make us look better

Older brothers need prodigals because they provide us with an easy comparison to rise above. “Your extravagant sin makes me look better – it takes the attention off my minor faults. Thank you!”

When the father says, “He was dead but now he’s alive!” we mutter, “I wish he was still dead. It was better for me that way.”

6. We harbor unacknowledged envy

When the prodigal returns, his life is turned upside-down because he discovers that his father loves by different rules than he does. He has been out doing all the things that the older brother, in truth, would also love to be doing but doesn’t because he believes he is storing up extra grace for himself.

Is this perhaps one reason why we too react badly when a prodigal returns? Do we harbor some envy at the life of wine, women, and song (or “wine coolers, firemen, and dance music” for the ladies) they’ve experienced?

It causes us to question: What has all my self-denial been good for?!?!

7. We think God owes us

Because of this we sometimes see grace as a bit of a rip-off. Partly because we don’t think we need very much of it, but also because grace dictates that obedience can never be a way to obtain rights.

If your perception of your relationship with God is that you think you’ve earned something or that you’ve done so much good that God owes you something, you are in danger. This is typical older brother thinking.

8. We are likely to be punitive

We take a punitive position on prodigals. We say that they need to pay for what they’ve done – in essence to pay their way up to our status level. But that’s not the way grace works. If it did it wouldn’t be grace.

On the rare occasion that a prodigal returns, do they see in you a father waiting with open arms or the scowling face of an older brother?

by Michael Krahn.

April 8, 2010

Love Means You *Always* Have To Say “I’m Sorry”

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:48 pm
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Forgiveness.

I’ve had a number of people lately ask me for a good resource book on the subject of forgiveness.   It’s a popular theme in Christian books:

  • Total Forgiveness by R. T. Kendall
  • Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman
  • The Gift of Forgiveness by Charles Stanley
  • Choosing Forgiveness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
  • Choosing Forgiveness by John and Paul Sandford
  • The Revolutionary Guide to Forgiveness by Eric Wright
  • The Power of Forgiveness by Joyce Meyer
  • The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness by John McArthur
  • Forgiveness: Breaking the Power of The Past by Kay Arthur et al
  • How to Forgive When You Don’t Feel Like It by June Hunt

The title of this post alludes to the phrase

Love means you never have to say you’re sorry

which is taken from the 1970s movie Love Story and a hit song of that era.  You can read more about that here.    The song went:

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Love means without a word you understand
Hold me and let the pressures disappear
Kiss me I only need to know you`re here

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Touch me the love I felt is everywhere
I know I`ll never be alone again
Love means we`ll never really say goodbye

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Touch me the love I felt is everywhere
I know I`ll never be alone again
Love means we`ll never really say goodbye

Ahh… Isn’t that just sooooooooo romantic?  (Bonus points if you can name the artist.   Answer in the comments section.)

But life isn’t like that.  Sometimes you want to hear that apology.  You want to hear the words.   You want to sense that the other person has a sense of regret, of contrition.

And sometimes all of us have a way of dancing around actually having to say those words, “I’m sorry.   I’m so very, very sorry.”

Christ followers are forgiven people.    Freely we have received; now freely we need to give.

Here’s Matthew 6:12 —

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. (Message)

and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us. (NLT)

Pardon our offenses as we also ourselves pardon such that offend us.  (rough translation from the French Louis Segond version)

Forgiveness:   Easy to discuss.   Hard to do.

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