Christianity 201

August 23, 2021

When Our House is Divided

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

NKJV.Matt.12.22 Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 23 And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”

25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.

parallel passage: Mark 3: 20-27

A year ago we introduced you to Willie Riggs who describes himself as an artist, writer, and entrepreneur. This article was written mid-September, 2020 amid the turbulent climate in the United States leading up to the federal election there. Reading between the lines, it’s easy to see that particular pain reflected in his writing. Certainly, the church needs unity more now than ever. Click the header which follows to read this at his blog.

Divided

A House Divided

We’ve all heard the old adage. Most of us know the bible story. When the Pharisees encounter Jesus casting out demons, instead of giving glory to God, they conclude that Jesus’ power to cast out demons must come from Satan himself.

In their thoughts, they accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the prince of demons. Jesus, who always knows our thoughts, responds that every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and every house divided against itself will not stand. Satan isn’t casting out his own minions.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. Jesus said it. I don’t doubt it. That’s what worries me.

A Soul Divided

I’m worried because I’ve never seen a house more divided than my own soul. Everywhere I see things out of balance. My thoughts and actions don’t line up. My expressed desires and how I actually spend my day seem to directly oppose each other.

Sometimes the contradictions are easy to spot.

I want to lose weight and get in shape, until it requires actually working out or skipping that third (OK forth) donut. I want more money, until it requires hours updating my resume and actually applying for jobs.

But sometimes the contradictions run deeper.

I know Jesus tells me I have nothing to fear. I know He tells me not to worry. I believe Jesus will take care of my needs, both physical and spiritual. Yet if that is the case, then why do I worry so much?

I believe half the world is heading straight to hell. Yet if that is the case, I’m certainly not doing much about it. Am I some kind of heartless monster?

Jesus is my lord and savior. I believe He is the most important aspect of my life, bar-none. Yet if that is the case, then why do I spend so little time pursuing Him each day?

More than a checklist

When it comes to spending time with God, I am a master of excuses. Don’t get me wrong. I can check off the list as good as anybody. Maybe even better!

Read the bible every day. Check. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read the bible cover to cover.

Pray every day. Check. Every morning starts on my knees, “consecrating the day to the Lord”. That’s the words I use anyway.

I’ve tithed for decades. I’ve fasted thrice a week for months on end. I’ve attended classes, studied devotions, and read the self-help books. Check check check.

It’s all insignificant when you’re not actually pursuing God.

Seeking God

What does pursuing God really look like? For me it’s one of those “I know it when I see it” things. It’s has to do with the heart, mind, and strength. It’s surrender, submission, and sacrifice. It’s obedience to the one I claim to serve. It’s being broken when I sin. Not broken because of fear or the consequences. Broken because I know how stupid, how just plain WRONG sin is. Broken because I know sinning is spitting into the face of love.

I don’t remember from whom, but I heard a story a long time ago that really stuck with me. It was a message about evangelism, and the speaker was making the point that it is not our job to try and keep people from sinning. It is our job to introduce people to Christ.

Trying to tell people to stop sinning, they explained, is like trying to tell a homeless person to stop eating garbage. “Stay out of the garbage!” “Don’t eat from the garbage!” You can reason with them, scream at them, or spend all night guarding the trash cans, but if a homeless person is hungry enough, they will still eat from the garbage. The garbage is all they know. It is how they survive.

What if, on the other hand, you set up a table in the alley overflowing with delicious food? Just loaded the table with everything from turkeys and pies to pizza and pasta. Then you told the homeless person they could eat whatever they wanted for the rest of the day. What if you also promised to set up an identical table the following day and told them they could invite their friends? What if you told them you would set the table up every day and every night for the rest of their lives? How long before word got out? Would you ever have to tell another homeless person to stop eating garbage ever again?

That is why I hate sin. Because deep down I know it is me on my hands and knees digging through the garbage, when ten feet away God is ready to show me His love.

That is what pursuing God looks like most. Love. Nobody has to remind you to spend time with the people you love. Nobody has to force you to get to know the people you love. Nobody checks off a list for the people they love. The actions flow naturally out of a strong desire to connect and an enthusiastic heart.

Still Divided

I say all of that. I know all of that. Yet tomorrow or maybe even later today, I won’t care. I won’t care when the opportunity to sin presents itself. I won’t care when faced with the decision to pursue God or pursue my own interests. I’ll probably do whatever I want, then try to justify it.

Am I a liar? Am I a hypocrite? Am I just confused? I honestly don’t know.

I don’t know why or how to be more successful in these areas. I only know the end result. A house divided cannot stand. Only one side can be victorious in this war. I pray that God upholds me until the right side wins.

June 21, 2021

Forget That You’ve Heard the Story Before

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today’s devotional by Charles Stanley is an excerpt of a book excerpt, from his new release, Can You Still Trust God? as published by the website and subscription service Devotions Daily. To read the full excerpt, click the header which follows.

The Power of Perspective

…The problem with studying any familiar passage is that we rarely allow ourselves to feel what the characters must have felt. Why should we? We usually know what happens in the end.

Unfortunately, this familiarity with the Scriptures often robs us of their intended results. It is hard to feel the fear David must have felt when he faced Goliath when we know from the outset that he comes out the victor. We miss the sense of isolation Moses must have felt as he fled Egypt for his life. After all, he ends up a hero. So as you approach this familiar narrative in John 11, try to forget the end of the story. Instead, do your best to put yourself in the shoes, or maybe the sandals, of the people involved. If you read what happens but neglect to consider what must have been felt, you lose some of the richest insights of this story.

“HE WHOM YOU LOVE IS SICK”

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. The sisters therefore sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” John 11:1-3

The household of Mary and Martha is one in which Jesus and His disciples had been given hospitality whenever they had been in the area of Judea. Apparently, Lazarus was a wealthy man, and he used his wealth to support the ministry of Christ. The fact that Mary and Martha sent for Jesus as soon as Lazarus became ill is evidence of their faith in His power. No doubt they thought, If Jesus is willing to heal total strangers, certainly He will jump at the opportunity to heal one who has been a friend. But such was not the case.

But when Jesus heard it, He said, This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. John 11:4-6

These verses make absolutely no sense, humanly speaking. That is why I love this story, because most adversity makes about as much sense from our perspective. It is clearly stated that Jesus loves this family; then He makes no move to relieve their suffering. I can relate to that.

Whenever the bottom drops out, I go scrambling to the verses in the Bible that remind me of God’s love — yet at times it seems God is unwilling to follow through with any action.

We need to pause here because at this point in the narrative we have our greatest struggles. I am referring to that time between the point we ask God for help and the point at which He does something. It is so easy to read, “He then stayed two days longer.” But the delay was like an eternity for Mary and Martha. The Scripture informs us that they knew the general area and how long it would take Him to make the trip to Bethany. So they waited. And as the hours dragged on, they watched their brother grow weaker and weaker.

Finally the day arrived when, according to the normal traveling time, Jesus should arrive. No doubt they took turns sitting with Lazarus. That way one of them could go out to the road to look for Jesus. I can imagine Mary or Martha asking all the men and women coming from the direction of Perea if they had seen a group of twelve or so men headed that way. As they would shake their heads no, the sisters’ hope burned a little lower. “Why didn’t He come? Maybe He never got the message? Maybe He left Perea without sending word back to us? Where is He? After all we have done for Him, it is the least He could do.” And yet He failed to come when they expected Him.

Lazarus died. Maybe Mary came in early one morning to check on him and found him dead. Perhaps it was in the afternoon when both Mary and Martha were at his side that he breathed his last breath. Whatever the situation, both women felt that hollow, helpless feeling that always accompanies death. It was over. He was gone. Soon their thoughts turned to Jesus, Why didn’t He come? How could He know what we were going through and yet stay away?

These, no doubt, are some of the questions you have asked as you have cried out to God in the midst of the adversity in your life. How can a God of love stand back and watch my friend and his wife suffer and not do anything about it? How can He watch from the balcony of Heaven as women are physically or sexually abused? How can He watch husbands walk out on their wives and children? Does He know what is going on down here?

Once again, this narrative is helpful. Jesus knew exactly what was going on. He knew what Mary and Martha were going through. He knew His friend’s condition was worsening. And He knew the moment Lazarus died:

And after that He said to them [the disciples], “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” John 11:11

Yet He did nothing! Keep in mind, Lazarus was not some guy off the street. He had invited Jesus into his home. Lazarus had expressed faith in Christ and His ministry. He was a good man. He certainly had more faith than most of the other people Jesus had healed. Some of them did not even know who Christ was (John 9). But Jesus was nowhere to be found when Lazarus needed Him most. To add insult to injury, Jesus had the nerve to say to His disciples,

Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there.John 11:14-15, emphasis added

Jesus was “glad”? How could He say such a thing? Two of his best friends go through emotional turmoil; another friend dies of an illness; and Jesus says He is glad? What could He have possibly been thinking? What was going through His mind?

My friend, the answer to that question is the key to unlocking the mystery of tragedy in this life. To understand what was going on in the mind of Christ and in the economy of God in a situation like this one is to discover the universal principle that puts together and holds together all of life — both now and for eternity.

Christ had a goal in all this, a goal so important that it was worth the emotional agony Mary and Martha had to endure. It was worth risking the destruction of their faith. It was even worth the death of a faithful friend.

What Jesus, in conjunction with His heavenly Father, had in mind was so incredible that even through the pain surrounding the whole event Jesus could say, “I am glad this has happened.” In other words, “Men, what you are about to see is so fantastic that it is worth the pain and death of My beloved friend.” If they were like us, they probably thought, What could be worth all of this?

“IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE”

Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him; but Mary still sat in the house. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” …And when she had said this, she went away, and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she arose quickly, and was coming to Him… Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”John 11:18-21, John 11:28-29, John 11:32

Mary and Martha, for all their time spent with the Son of God, were still human to the core. They wanted to know one thing: “Jesus, where in the world have You been?” They had no doubt that Jesus could have healed their brother; Martha even indicates that she believes there is still hope (John 11:22). But the fact that He had seemingly ignored their plight had left them confused and frustrated. Why did He delay?

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. And so the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!”John 11:33-36

At this juncture any doubt about Jesus’ love and concern for Lazarus is laid to rest. “Jesus wept.” Yet His overt concern about His friend Lazarus adds another layer of mystery to the story.

If Jesus was so concerned, why did He not come to Lazarus’s aid? Why did He let him die?

Once again we are faced with what appears to be an unsolvable mystery. It becomes apparent that whatever Christ had in mind, whatever He was trying to accomplish, it was worth sacrificing the emotions of the ones He loved as well as His own. Jesus wept when He arrived to find Lazarus dead. Think about it.

His knowledge of the future did not keep Him from identifying with the sorrow of those around Him.

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

If anything is clear from this story, it is that some things are so important to God that they are worth interrupting the happiness and health of His children in order to accomplish them. That is an awesome thought…


Learn more about the book at thomasnelson.com

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

Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for the opportunity to reprint these excerpts. Books is ©2021 Thomas Nelson. Used by permission.

 

February 25, 2021

Driven to Tears? Jesus Was Too

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

by Clarke Dixon

Have you been driven to tears yet? Feeling discouraged? We may be driven to tears when we hear how many deaths are being reported around the world due to the pandemic. We think of those who have lost life in other ways, losing connectedness with others, losing work or schooling opportunities. Even where very few are infected, everyone is affected. Everyone has experienced change and loss. Grief is a normal way of dealing with loss and tears are a healthy part of that grief. Of course there are those who are driven to tears even without the pandemic. Life can be hard and when it is, we may be driven to tears.

We may be thinking, “God, you could have done something about all this, if you had been where the COVID-19 virus started, if you had been where the cancer cells started, if you had been where my loved one lost control . . . if you had been here.” We experience things that are life taking, that seem to diminish our lives or the lives of loved ones. We wonder where God was in those moments.

Martha and Mary must have been driven to tears. Jesus was their friend and the friend of their brother Lazarus as well. Jesus was well known for his miracles and healings. Yet now Lazarus is dead and buried:

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

John 11:21 (NRSV)

Word was sent by Martha and Mary to Jesus days before that their brother was ill. Jesus could have made it on time, but he didn’t.

When Mary came to where Jesus was, she saw him and fell down at his feet.
‘Master!’ she said. ‘If only you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!’
When Jesus saw her crying, and the Judaeans who had come with her crying, he was deeply stirred in his spirit, and very troubled.
’Where have you laid him?’ he asked.
‘Master,’ they said, ‘come and see.’
Jesus burst into tears.

John 11:32-25 (translation by N.T. Wright, as found in the “John For Everyone Commentary”)

Jesus was also driven to tears. Was this grief over Lazarus? Was he perhaps thinking that things could have been different if only he made it on time? When we read the whole story we know that this is not the case. Or, is it possible that Jesus could look back, seeing how things could have been different, if only . . .

  • Adam and Eve had chosen life, instead of choosing the one thing that would lead to death.
  • Cain had chosen life instead of choosing death for his brother Abel.
  • humanity had chosen life instead of violence toward one another in the days of Noah.
  • Pharaoh had chosen life instead of ordering Hebrew babies to be killed.
  • the Israelites in the desert had chosen life with GOD instead of longing to go back to slavery in Egypt.
  • the people had chosen life instead of choosing death in neglecting the law that God had given.
  • when God sent the prophets, the people had chosen life and listened to the prophets instead of choosing to remain in the ways that led to death.

The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 KJV). Is it possible that Jesus was driven to tears because he knew how often we chose death? Things could have been different, if only . . .

Is is possible that Jesus was driven to tears by the fact that even as he was planning on raising Lazarus to life, the religious leaders were potting to put Jesus himself to death. Things will be different.

Was Jesus driven to tears because he could look forward to our lives today? How things could be different, if only . . .

  • we would choose to love like God, love that brings life to people, instead of choosing hate that brings death, or apathy that fails to prevent it.
  • we would choose to develop in the fruit of the Spirit, including love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23), instead of choosing to cultivate the weeds of the evil one.
  • we would choose to engage in conversation instead of shutting it down.
  • we would choose a posture of learning, instead of always choosing the same echo chambers where our thinking is never challenged.
  • we would choose to recognize the impact we have on people, instead of ignoring the hurt we may cause.
  • we would choose to get help with an addiction.
  • we would choose to not gossip, but lift others up with our speech.
  • we would choose to do something about racism, poverty, homelessness, and many other issues that plague our world.

We sometimes lament how things might be different if God would show up. Things could be different, if we would show up.

Was Jesus driven to tears when, looking forward, he would see the many who would choose death over life by rejecting the Giver of life?

Jesus was driven to tears, yet Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life,” (John 11:25 NRSV). Mary and Martha could say “if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” Jesus could say “I am here now and because I am, Lazarus will live.”

Jesus told Lazarus to come out of the tomb, and he did. Jesus calls us to come out of our tombs, to choose life over death. Jesus calls us to leave our graves, to listen to him, to do those things that bring life instead of death to us, and others. Jesus calls us to choose life, to choose him. Jesus will someday call us from our tombs to share in everlasting life with him:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:3-4 (NRSV)

Until then we have a lot of opportunities to choose life. If we show up, and keep choosing life, things will be different.


Canadian Pastor Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays. The full video sermon on which this is based is also part of this online weekly worship expression.

June 29, 2020

Jesus and Ritual Hand Washing (Part Two)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

NIV.Mark.7.24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[g] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Yesterday our search for devotional sources to highlight took us to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting. He states that his blog’s main purpose is “to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.”

I wanted to include this article in full, but at nearly 1,500 words, it didn’t fit our format. But as I tried and tried to excerpt from it — knowing that many of you don’t click through for the ending — I decided instead to run this in two parts, yesterday and today. But if you didn’t yesterday, you’re encouraged to click the header below and read it in one sitting.

From Hand Washing to #SyrophoenicianLivesMatter: Mark 7

…Jesus and the Pharisees agreed on ample evidence from the Scriptures that the heart is the underlying problem:

  1. God judges people on the basis of their heart, ‘for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7, NRSV).
  2. The law acknowledges the problem of the uncircumcised heart (Leviticus 26:41).
  3. Proverbs 20:9 puts the issue as a rhetorical question: “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin”?”

Why does he tell them what they already know? The problem is that human effort, via traditions, cannot deal with the sinful heart that we each have. Not even God’s commandments can do this. They might be a helpful bandage or provide palliative care, but they do not deal with a sinful heart. This is a bigger problem than ritual impurity over the lack of hand-washing.

Jesus does not address the problem in this encounter with the Pharisees. Remarkably in the next episode in Mark’s gospel it is a Syrophoenician women—yes, a Gentile—that perceives that Jesus is the at the centre of a game changing solution to this conundrum.

Here we enter someone’s home, the details are left out by Mark. Presumably, this is a house where Jesus has been able to get peace and quiet previously—a safe house. But his effort to get some downtime has not worked. A Syrophoenician woman gate-crashes his rest. This is a bold and desperate move; Gentiles don’t barge into Jewish homes to address a Jewish Rabbi.

It is the hope that Jesus can work a miracle that has driven her to do the unthinkable. She begs Jesus to cast a demon out of her absent daughter, left suffering at home. So far so good, our sensibilities have not been ruffled even if those of polite Jewish society have.

And then we wake up because our Lord and Saviour, our role model for life, the sinless one, the man who has just preached that we are all judged by what comes from our mouths, makes what could be understood as a racial slur. Jesus implies the common label of Gentiles as dogs in what he says to his woman. So offensive is this episode that Luke misses it out of his gospel written to a Gentile audience.

In this tricky saying, Jesus explains that his ministry has been essentially to the Jews, and only in passing to the Gentiles. In this way, Jesus’ ministry is food for the children of Israel, and not food for Gentiles.

Are you feeling uncomfortable? Are we going to have to have take down any statues of Jesus and crosses that commemorate his death and resurrection, in a #SyrophoencianLivesMatter rampage? Is Jesus being racist?

We will of course never know Jesus’ tone, his demeanour, the possible twinkle in his eye when he said these words. What we do know is that despite alluding to the labelling of Gentiles as dogs, standard practice in his culture, his statement elicits the most remarkable response from this woman:

Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

In this brief exchange and based on the knowledge of Jesus that brought her to a strange Jewish house, she has understood what the Pharisees with all their hand-wringing and hand-washing have missed. She has seen that Jesus’ work starts with Jews but is the hope of all humanity. She is pleading that this might begin right here and right now with her daughter. Her faith and courage are rewarded:

Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

This remarkable new understanding of Jesus’ work is the start of Mark’s Gospel revealing that he in his deeds and his person he will address the bigger problem of the heart. Both Jew and Gentile will have the possibility of a circumcised heart as Leviticus puts it.

June 25, 2020

Spectacular and Sensational: Are Christians to Be Known Primarily for Working Miracles?

by Clarke Dixon

In these days of a pandemic, should we as followers of Jesus be known for doing spectacular and sensational things? Should we be fearless in the face of infection? We’ve prayed about it, we believe that God can protect us, so should we then act like we are immune? Should we declare the pandemic will be over soon? We keep praying it will be.

Of course, this is not just about the pandemic, but all of life. Is the working of miracles the Christian solution to all problems? Is the spectacular and sensational the defining mark of the Christ follower?

Jesus clarifies the defining mark of his followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

The defining mark of the Christ follower may not seem clearly evident here on first glance. Let us put ourselves, for a moment, in the shoes of the scribes and Pharisees. We have a passion for God’s law. We study it, memorize it, and teach it, hoping that our zeal for pleasing God is contagious.

Along comes Jesus, doing spectacular and sensational things, like casting out demons, healing people, and works of power. Yet he does some surprising things too, like healing on the Sabbath. Have you not read your Bible Jesus? Working on the Sabbath is forbidden.

We are concerned. Jesus is attracting people with the spectacular and the sensational, yet his track record of keeping the law and traditions we teach is suspect. Will the Jesus followers, of which there are now many, be all show, and no substance? Will Jesus be taking people away from righteousness through all the spectacular and sensational things he is doing?

To that Jesus says,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7:21 (NLT emphasis added)

The defining mark of the Christian is not the spectacular and sensational, though those things may happen. The defining mark of the Christian is the doing of the heavenly Father’s will. Jesus’ followers can not be described as “workers of lawlessness” (literal rendition of ‘evildoers’ in verse 23).

In other words, Jesus is not taking people away from God and godliness, Jesus is taking people deeper into God and godliness.

Let us remember what Jesus said near the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount” back in chapter 5

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, 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. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV emphasis added)

When Jesus speaks of the need for a righteousness that excels that of the scribes and Pharisees, he is pointing out that there’s is a faulty righteousness. There is something missing. They were all about the letter of the law, missing God’s heart.

When Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to teach about character, he is taking us toward a righteousness that captures God’s heart.

Here is the defining mark of a Christ follower; a character that captures God’s heart. In developing a character that captures God’s heart, the Jesus follower develops a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Of course eternal life depends on God’s grace and not our ability. However, salvation to eternal life does not preclude becoming more like our Saviour as we follow.

Yes, Jesus was going about doing spectacular and sensational things. And no, Jesus was not keeping the traditions in ways that would keep the scribes and Pharisees happy. However, Jesus was, and is now, calling people, not to be workers of the spectacular and sensational, nor to a wooden adherence to a set of rules, but to a deep righteousness formed of God.

What about us? What defines our Christian walk? Is it a focus on the spectacular and sensational? Do people know us to be a people who walk about with the expectation that God will hand out miracles like candy? Do we see miracles as the solution to all our, and the world’s, problems?

We should pray for miracles. I believe they happen. But while we pray for miracles, we can recognize how character that captures God’s heart solves many of our, and the world’s problems. We can think of problems in family relationships, marriage, race relations, and so much more. If our character is growing in Christlikeness, many of our problems wouldn’t exist in the first place!

We may think that we would be most like Christ if miracles would happen all around us, and through us. We are most like Christ when we love as Jesus loved, when we sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed, when we serve as Jesus served, when we forgive as Jesus forgave.

Ours is not to make people think we are the second coming of Jesus by the working of miracles every time there is a problem. Ours is to be a people who live in a deep relationship with God through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. We respond to every problem, including every pandemic, with Christlike character. We will be known as Jesus followers, not by our miracles, but by our character.


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. His family are currently riding out both the pandemic and the heat wave next to their pool. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

May 9, 2020

Did Jesus’ First Miracle Echo God’s First Miracle?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Gen 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

John 2:10 “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

Today’s thoughts are adapted from a 2008 newsletter I sent out; a newsletter which became the inspiration for Thinking Out Loud, which begat Christianity 201…

One of the most difficult aspects of the various debates in creationism has to do with the young/earth old earth issue. Some believe that God took his time to make the earth, that the “days” of Genesis 1 are really “ages” and that’s why we can have compatibility between the idea of a creator God and the scientists who say the earth is millions of years old.

Using this reasoning, “theistic evolution” is possible; the more recent blending of an evolutionary creation view with the concept of a God who was overseeing it all; the idea that God used evolution. But today we’ll stick to a simple young/old dichotomy.

If we arrive at the garden of Eden after that first creation week — let’s pretend we arrive on day ten — we see a tree and the tree is mature. It looks like it might be at least 20 years old. (Though counting the rings would be interesting!) Underneath the tree is a rock. The rock appears to be 20,000 years old. Adam himself becomes more problematic. He’s clearly a man, not an infant. Today, Jewish boys become a man at 13; in North America we use 18, though it once was 21; Jesus began his ministry at 30. Any one of those ages denotes the idea of “man” and not “boy.” From the earliest times, our earth seems to have either aged considerably or has some age built into it.

And really, what we see on day ten works with either a young earth or old earth perspective. One person sees the tree and the rock and says, “These items are 20 years and 20,000 years old respectively.” Another says, “This tree and that rock are only a week old.” But the tree is not a sapling, it’s taller than the man, so there would need to be some allowance for apparent age

…I started thinking about Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine. Wine needs fermentation and fermentation takes time. About a year ago, out of curiosity, we drove to one of those places that lets you make up a batch of wine to enjoy or give away to your friends. A batch of homemade brew would need at least six months as I remember it; and further aging only improves the quality, and they did say at the time that the host of the wedding had “saved the best wine until last.” Did Jesus press a “pause” button, and everyone froze in place for a year while the batch brewed, or did he simply do a creative miracle in an instant?

The former suggestion is something I just made up; I’ve never heard it suggested. If you believe in this miracle at all; it’s the latter you believe in; that the ceremonial washing water was water one moment and wine the next. If that’s the case, it’s interesting that Jesus’ first recorded creative act in the New Testament; and God’s first recorded creative act in the Old Testament should involve things that have apparent age; things that seem to have been created outside the constraints of time as we know it.

And if the earth is as young as some believe, then we are still witnessing the miracle of something created with apparent age, for each time the light of a star is seen at night, we know that scientifically, the light of stars that Adam, and Abraham, and Moses saw left those distant suns thousands of years before the earth was created. Which I know doesn’t make sense to many people.

The thing is, you can have a theistic view of creation and say that God did it, but it in terms of our chronological sense, it took decades and millennia to do so. That would make you an old earth creationist.

But you can’t say that Jesus took six months waiting for the wine to ferment.

Next time you’re wrestling with this issue, either personally or in discussion or with someone else, step outside Genesis for a minute and consider the water-into-wine miracle of the New Testament. Fermentation takes time. The wine definitely had an apparent age. Could this principle extend back into Genesis?

There’s definitely some similarities between what Jesus did at the start of his ministry and God did at the start of human history.


Much of the creation aspect of this depends on linear time being the same that first week as it is now. But there are other ways of seeing this. For example, check out this post from April, 2018: When Did Time Begin? (Which in turn is based on a 2012 post, Why Didn’t He Call the Light, “Light?”)

For more on the miracle at Canada, check out this post from September, 2019, Water to Wine: Miracle and Symbol.

April 28, 2020

Coming Alongside a God Who Does Miracles

NIV.Mark.6.35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Today’s thoughts are from the devotional section of the NIV Bible website and are drawn from The Maxwell Leadership Bible, 3rd Edition (available in NIV and NKJV editions) by John Maxwell.

Working Alongside a Miracle-Working God

…The feeding of five thousand story is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. It breaks down how a biblical miracle works: A few sense a need, and each individual takes responsibility and gives his or her all, regardless of the odds, then Jesus works a miracle.

WHEN THERE IS A NEED. . .

Every miracle in the Bible begins with a problem, a need. Before he fed the five thousand, Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw a multitude of people who were like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). The problem posed by this huge crowd of hungry, hurting people was the catalyst for the miracle.

If you have a problem, you are a candidate to work alongside a miracle-working God. That problem in your family, business, church, or community is your ticket to a potential miracle.

SENSED BY A FEW . . .

Jesus taught this crowd all day until the disciples told him it was getting late and the people had nothing to eat (Mark 6:35 – 36). These men were the ones aware there was a problem. Only a few, maybe only you, need to sense a need for a miracle to occur; a majority is not needed.

AND EACH INDIVIDUAL TAKES RESPONSIBILITY . . .

The disciples brought Jesus the problem and a solution. They suggested he send the people away to get something to eat. Jesus responded, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37).

God isn’t interested in our solutions or suggestions. He’s interested in our participation. This is where the miracle can often break down. God wants to involve you in his miracles. When you back away from that involvement, you back away from your influence and miss working alongside a miracle-working God.

AND GIVES HIS OR HER ALL REGARDLESS OF THE ODDS . . .

The disciples searched the crowd and found a boy who had five barley loaves and two small fish (John 6:9). This boy didn’t need a miracle to be able to eat — he already had food. Instead, he was asked to give.

There may be times when you don’t need a miracle, but God needs you to be a channel for a miracle that will bless someone else. You’ll give your all, despite the odds.

The disciples’ request for this boy’s lunch surely made no sense to him. How could his five loaves and two fish feed thousands of people? But he gave it to Jesus anyway.

How many miracles might you have missed because God asked you to do something and you didn’t do it because it didn’t make sense? As a leader, you must obey God even when you’re comfortable and don’t need a miracle, when his commands don’t make sense, when his instructions seem too simple, or when he asks for what seems to be too much. You never will learn to trust God until you learn to obey him. That’s when the miracles happen.

THEN JESUS WORKS A MIRACLE

Jesus took that boy’s small lunch, thanked God for it, and instructed the disciples to distribute the food among that crowd of thousands. Not only did everyone eat until they were full, there were twelve baskets of leftovers (Mark 6:39 – 44). Surely the disciples, the crowd, and the boy were changed forever by this event.

TAKEAWAY

We value the spectacular things God can do, but the greatest miracle when you work alongside a miracle-working God is what happens inside you. Being God’s channel changes your faith and increases your capacity for leadership influence beyond anything you can imagine.


Taken from The Maxwell Leadership Bible, 3rd Edition by John Maxwell Copyright © 2018 (NKJV edition) and Copyright © 2019 (NIV edition) by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

April 23, 2020

Grumpy Prayers: Making Space for Sorrow

by Clarke Dixon

There is an old Sunday school song I grew up with. There are different versions, but this is the one I learned:

I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!
I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!
Since Jesus Christ came in,
And cleansed my heart from sin,
I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!

This wee song was a favourite, and was often requested. I hated it. At a young age I knew Jesus, and I understood that God loved me. But I also knew I was not happy all the time. My faith has been nurtured over the years and I know God’s love better now than ever. But I’m still not happy all the time!

COVID-19 has given rise to great sorrow around the world. So many have been infected. Everyone has been affected. Even without a pandemic, many have profound sorrow in their lives, even Christians. Are we failing as Christians if we are not happy all the time?

Is there a better song that the one we began with? One which rings true to our experience? Let us remind ourselves that the Psalms are actually songs, that the Book of Psalms is a hymnbook. Let us take an example of what God’s people have sung for centuries:

I cry out to God; yes, I shout.
Oh, that God would listen to me!
When I was in deep trouble,
I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
but my soul was not comforted.
I think of God, and I moan,
overwhelmed with longing for his help.

Psalm 77:1-3 NLT

“I think of God, and I moan.” Not too many Christian lyricists are coming up with lyrics like that! The Psalmist goes on;

You don’t let me sleep.
I am too distressed even to pray!
I think of the good old days,
long since ended,
when my nights were filled with joyful songs.
I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
Has the Lord rejected me forever?
Will he never again be kind to me?
Is his unfailing love gone forever?
Have his promises permanently failed?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
And I said, “This is my fate;
the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

Psalm 77:5-10 NLT

There are days where this song from the Bible rings more true for me than the Sunday school song we started with. Perhaps it does for you also.

Here is the point. If the hymn book within the Bible makes space for the expression of sorrow and frustration, we can make space for it in our own lives, in our our walk and expression of faith. Honesty before God is best. Honesty is part of genuine relationship. It would be horrible if my wife and my children only said to me what they thought I wanted to hear, in the way they thought I wanted to hear it, when they thought I wanted to hear it. What kind of relationship would that be? It would be very mechanical. Yet for many people, that is precisely what their prayers look like. Honesty in relationships is best. Honesty before God is best. If we are full of sorrow, let us pray sorrowful prayers. Perhaps Psalms like Psalm 77 can help us find the words.

There is a change tone as the song goes on:

But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
By your strong arm, you redeemed your people, . . .
The earth trembled and shook.
Your road led through the sea,
your pathway through the mighty waters—
a pathway no one knew was there!
You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,
with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.

Psalm 77:11-14,18-20 NLT

Here the Psalmist looks back and remembers what God had done for the people at the exodus, how God led his people to safety like a good shepherd. That would have been a scary time also, with an Egyptian army on one side, and the Red Sea on the other. The Psalmist is thinking here of a time when God made a way, where there seemed to be no way. God helped people who were full of fear, sorrow, and frustration.

We can now remember an even greater miracle. We can think of God’s love expressed in Jesus, his birth, life, death, and resurrection. We can think of God’s love expressed through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Christ God has performed an even greater rescue than done at the Red Sea. He has rescued us from the consequence, impact and power of sin.

We are not told if the Psalmist’s sorrow eased upon reflecting on God’s power and goodness. But his sorrow was reframed. In reflecting on God’s goodness expressed in Christ, we may not become happy, but our sorrows and frustrations will be reframed. Our sorrows are one part of a much bigger, and brighter picture, a much larger, and happier, story.

In reflecting on God’s goodness expressed in Christ, we may not become happy, but our sorrows and frustrations will be reframed. Our sorrows are one part of a much bigger, and brighter picture, a much larger, and happier, story.

A doctor recently called my Dad to tell us that my Mum, who lives in a nursing home, will not be taken to the hospital if she is infected with COVID-19. That makes me sad. However, with regard to my Mum I’m already sad as she is slowly being taken from us by Alzheimer’s disease. There is no sense hiding my feelings from God. I don’t need to. He understands. He is a good and heavenly Father. He came to us in Jesus who of course was no stranger to suffering. We are not allowed to visit my Mum, but this week one of the PSW’s from the nursing home sent us a video of my Mum playing the piano. It just happened to be my favourite hymn! We began with my least favourite song, let’s finish with my favourite:

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And has shed His own blood for my soul

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul!

“It is Well with My Soul” written by Horatio Spafford

I’m not always happy. Sometimes my prayers are grumpy. But it is well with my soul. Is it well with yours?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Canada who appears here most Thursdays. His recently redesigned blog is Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here

February 3, 2020

Who Gets the Credit Can Be a Test of Truthfulness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

Several days ago I was struck by a verse I had previously skipped over, John 7:28. Jesus says,

“Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

He says this at the Festival of Tabernacles as the Jewish scholars are trying to get him to state, for the record, from where his teaching derives, since he did not sit under the tutoring of their rabbis. In context:

NIV.John.7.16-18 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

Some commentaries focus more on the idea that Jesus gives God the Father credit, rather than the particularities of verse 18, which makes a more general statement about how this is can be an example of a test for truth.

For example BibleRef.com:

Rather than being educated in some Rabbinic school, or generating knowledge on His own, Jesus credits His amazing wisdom to God (John 7:16). In context, this is what Jesus means by those speaking on “his own authority.” While Jesus is fully man, and fully God (Colossians 1:19), His earthly mission is to follow the will of God the Father. Since the message Jesus brings is that of God, God is to be given credit for it. Even further, Jesus claims that a person’s willingness to obey God is what determines his or her understanding—rather than the reverse, where understanding enables obedience.

Even Jesus’ critics were forced to take note of His honesty and moral perfection (John 8:46)…

Quoting The Biblical Illustrator commentary at StudyLight.com, there is a closer connection between truth and humility.

1. … The conceited man

(l) Speaks out of himself. He is known everywhere by his ostentatious parade of originality and infallibility. His own opinions evolved from his inner consciousness, in proud independence of other thinkers, are the standard of truth and untruth. His predecessors were all very well in their day; but their teaching is now obsolete. His contemporaries are right according to their light, but their light is only one remove from darkness. To raise the least objection against his ipse dixit is only an evidence of “knowing nothing about it.” How many such original geniuses afflict the Church, the state, halls of science and schools of philosophy!

2. Its aim–“his own glory.” This is the end which the conceited man never loses sight of, and everything he does has as its motive the gratification of his own personal vanity. He dresses and attitudinizes for the purpose of attracting attention; he talks to secure praise for his sagacity or adventures; he schemes and works that he may be talked about, or to obtain gain. And verily he has his reward.

The IVP Bible Commentary at BibleGateway.com continues this theme,

One either speaks from God or one speaks from self, no matter how many external authorities are appealed to. One seeking God, who is caring for God’s glory rather than one’s own, such as Jesus refers to, is able to believe (5:44). Jesus’, “humility and obedience allow him to speak with the authority of God” (Barrett 1978:318), and these are the same qualities that enable a person to recognize God’s word in Jesus’ teaching.

Eugene Peterson renders this verse in The Message as,

A person making things up tries to make himself look good. But someone trying to honor the one who sent him sticks to the facts and doesn’t tamper with reality.

This verse has been percolating in my thoughts for several days now, but it came back again in a service on the weekend, reading the story from Acts 3 of Jesus healing the lame man:

NIV.Acts.3.12b …“Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13a The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.

The goal of The Incarnate One, and the aim of those First Century apostles was the same: To deflect the glory; the credit; the honor; etc., away from themselves and towards God the Father.

The principle of John 7:18 is to tell us that this can be a test for the veracity; the truthfulness of the one speaking.

 

 

December 28, 2019

A Post-Charismatic Looks at Miracles

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

NIV.John.4.23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

This is the second half of an article based partly on a news item from last week which continues to be the center of much discussion as I write this. I try to keep C201 articles somewhat timeless, using the other blog to discuss current events as they arise. But I thought this was well written and worthy of your consideration here. Click the title below to read the article in full. The author is Ethan Renoe who is now serving in Guatemala.

Dear Charismatic Sisters and Brothers

Subtitle: Strive for spirit AND truth; neglecting one will always be damaging

…Take, for instance, the recent tragic episode of a Bethel worship leader trying to raise her daughter from the dead: without going into the details of the story itself, a lot of Bible verses were thrown around out of context in order to prove one side’s point. This is obviously a detrimental way to build arguments and do hermeneutics no matter which side you’re on. This heart-wrenching event served to expose a lot of the beliefs of the charismatic church and the grounds upon which they build their theology.

Many people filled comment sections with Bible verses yanked out of context, not realizing that the other ‘side’ could just as easily yank a different verse to prove another point. Thus, it’s impossible to argue with someone who is throwing little pebbles of individual Bible verses in lieu of a larger structure on which to build their theological arguments.

Think of it like this: before I went to Moody, I had a string of small arguments strung together through various anecdotes or quotes from pastors’ sermons. I didn’t have much of a foundational theology on which I built the core of my beliefs. I had a series of small, adjacent city-states rather than a massive nation to draw resources from. And which is more sturdy—small clusters of thoughts, or massive, deep-rooted, well-established doctrine and belief?

That’s the impression I got reading a lot of comments on this event: People were pitching little verses like Matthew 10:8, where Jesus tells His disciples to raise the dead…all the while neglecting that in the same paragraph, He instructed them not to go among the gentiles. Clearly that imperative was meant for only that specific group at that time.

Others would talk about how, when Jesus died, many dead people got out of their graves, and use this as justification for why people can be raised no matter how long they’ve been dead. However, they left out the part that Jesus died when this happened. Clearly it wasn’t a regular thing. There’s a difference between prescriptive and descriptive passages of scripture and it’s important to delineate between the two.

Someone from the other side could just as easily have quoted Isaiah (“Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness”), or Ecclesiastes (“The dead know nothing; they have no further reward…never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.”)

My point is not to argue for one side or the other, but to show that this method of building an argument is fundamentally flawed and it actually proves a lack of larger biblical/theological understanding. If one’s theology is pieced together with scraps of scripture apropos to the situation, that structure cannot stand when stronger, more robust arguments are presented, arguments which are not as dependent on the current situation.

The issue with building your beliefs on the foundation of miracles and supernatural occurrences—as I did for years—is that when they don’t happen, you are left with some anemic view of God. A better view of miracles would be thinking of them as sprinkles on the cake: they are not the substance or the core of my belief, but if they happen, they are sweet and we get to rejoice and praise God together. 

Of course, no charismatic person would say that they’ve built their system on top of miracles, but to be honest, that really was the driving force of my faith for many years. And movies like Finger of God and Furious Love—favorites among pentecostals—only serve to reinforce this culture of ‘miracle hunters.’ It almost felt like my faith wasn’t good enough because I didn’t see healings left and right as people like Todd White claim to. Again, I don’t think their hearts are insidious, or that they’re intentionally trying to mislead people; but this pursuit of spirit needs to be balanced out by a pursuit of truth. 

Perhaps a deeper understanding of miracles and scripture would help round out the times God doesn’t heal the leg, or eradicate the cancer. A sound theology of suffering will help comfort us in times of suffering. After all, it’s tempting to bypass passages about ‘taking up our cross daily’ in favor of those promising God giving us what we ask for, building anemic theologies of ‘open heavens’ and other false hopes for salvation in this life. Much of this, I eventually realized, was flat-out denial of reality. I can’t count the number of times my sinuses were ‘declared’ healed before I actually had surgery on them.

Perhaps charismatic brothers and sisters need to balance out their doctrine of resurrection with a healthy cruciformity: seeing life through the lens of the cross. After all, we are still in the Golgotha phase of our existence. It hurts and we suffer and die. Resurrection has yet to happen to us.

(There needs to be a balanced notion of “already but not yet” when thinking about the kingdom. Many preachers emphasize the “already” portion of the kingdom, leading them into over-realizing their eschatology which inevitably leads to health and wealth gospels contrary to the Bible. It needs to be balanced out with “not yet”: the kingdom is not here in its fullness and we live in a very broken world. But again, that’s a post for another day.)

After all, if we hope for miracles in this life, even if they come, we will ultimately be let down. One speaker at Moody once shifted my perspective when he said:

“You know what the greatest miracle of all is? Salvation. All other miracles are temporary. If your knee gets healed, it will eventually break down again. Even Lazarus died again.”

Neglecting this as the center of Christian faith and hope will always disappoint us. What good is rejoicing at a miracle if it will one day inevitably be undone? This is why the core of our faith must always continue to be unio Cristi, knowing Christ as He is and introducing others to Him. This means explaining that their life won’t get better just because they know Him. In many cases, it will get much worse, yet Jesus did not leave His followers unprepared for this. “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Our hope is not that this world will bring healing, or that it will satisfy us. Our hope is that Christ is with us, that He has us in His mighty hand, and will not let us go. May we not get sidetracked by focusing on temporary miracles, but continually focus on the one that will not end: knowing Christ and Him crucified, joining Him in His suffering that we may one day, somehow, join Him in His resurrection.

May 13, 2019

Signs and Wonders: A Note of Caution

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder,  and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,”you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you. – Deuteronomy 13:1-5 NIV

I was really struck by this passage last week listening to a podcast.

So how could this happen?

What follows is from Matthew Henry. I’ve modernized the text in some places, and items in square brackets and lighter typeface are added by myself.

A Strange Premise

How is it possible that any who had so much knowledge of the methods of divine revelation as to be able to impersonate a prophet should yet have so little knowledge of the divine nature and will as to go himself and entice his neighbours after other gods? Could an Israelite ever be guilty of such impiety? Could a man of sense ever be guilty of such absurdity?

We see it in our own day, and therefore may think it the less strange; multitudes that profess both learning and religion yet exciting both themselves and others, not only to worship God by images, but to give divine honor to saints and angels, which is no better than going after other gods to serve them; such is the power of strong delusions.

It is yet more strange that the sign or wonder given for the confirmation of this false doctrine should come to pass. [i.e. that the prayer is answered, or the miracle takes place.] Can it be thought that God himself should give any countenance to such a vile proceeding? Did ever a false prophet work a true miracle?

It is only supposed here for two reasons:

1. To strengthen [could he mean exaggerate?] the warning here given against following such a person. “Though it were possible that he should work a true miracle, yet you must not believe him if he tell you that you must serve other gods, for the divine law against that is certainly perpetual and unalterable.’’ The supposition is like that in Gal. 1:8 , If we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you —which does not prove it possible that an angel should preach another gospel, but strongly expresses the certainty and perpetuity of that which we have received.

 2. It is to fortify them against the danger of impostures and lying wonders (2 Th. 2:9 ): “Suppose the credentials he produces be so artfully counterfeited that you cannot discern the cheat, nor disprove them, yet, if they are intended to draw you to the service of other gods, that alone is sufficient to disprove them; no evidence can be admitted against so clear a truth as that of the unity of the Godhead, and so plain a law as that of worshipping the one only living and true God.’’ We cannot suppose that the God of truth should set his seal of miracles to a lie, to so gross a lie as is supposed in that temptation, Let us go after other gods.

But if it be asked [and it must be asked]: Why is this false prophet permitted to counterfeit this sign/wonder? [why did the miracle work?] then it is answered here (v. 3): The Lord you God is testing you. He allows you to be faced by such a temptation to test the quality of  your faith, that both those that are perfect and those that are false and corrupt may be made made obvious. It is to test [and shape] you; therefore see that you pass the test, and stand your ground.’’

A Necessary Warning

1. Not to yield to the temptation: you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer.

Not only must you not do the thing he [or she] tempts you to, but you should not so much as patiently hear the temptation, but reject it with the utmost disdain and detestation. [i.e. walk away before they are finished talking!] Such a suggestion as this is not open to negotiation, but you should cover your ears! “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Some temptations are so grossly vile that they will not bear a debate, nor may we so much as give them the hearing. What follows (v. 4),

Some temptations are so grossly vile that a discussion isn’t necessary, nor may we so much as give them the time of day. What follows (v. 4), You shall walk after the Lord, may be looked upon,

(a) As prescribing a preservative from the temptation: “Stay focused on your work [sacred and secular], and you keep out of harm’s way. God never leaves us till we leave him.’’ Or,

(b) As providing us with answer to the temptation; by responding, “It is written, Thou shalt walk after the Lord, and cleave unto him; and therefore what have I to do with idols?’’

2. Not to spare the tempter, v. 5. That prophet shall be put to death, both to punish him for the attempt he has made (the seducer must die, though none were seduced by him—a design upon the crown is treason) and to prevent them from doing further mischief. This is called putting away the evil. There is no way of removing the guilt but by removing the guilty; if such a criminal be not punished, those that should punish him make themselves responsible. And you must purge the evil from among you [KJV: “mischief must be put away”] the infection must be kept from spreading by cutting off the gangrened limb, and putting away the mischief-makers. Such dangerous diseases as these must be taken in time.


Matthew Henry as sourced at BibleStudyTools.com

January 21, 2019

Miracles in the Bible

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

“a noteworthy miracle has taken place through [Peter and John] is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it (emphasis added) (Acts 4:16; see also vv. 13-14; John 3:2; 11:47-48).

Today we’re back visiting what I last called a “wealth of articles” at the blog of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, Michigan. This is part one of a two part series, you need to click the link at the bottom to finish this study.

Miracles: Then and Now (Part One)

On occasion through the years one reads or hears of a great revival somewhere in the world, a sudden outburst of the power of the Holy Spirit. It usually includes the testimony of many souls saved as well as miracles of all sorts that seem to parallel those of the Bible. Fantastic accounts of healings, resurrections from the dead, walking over red-hot burning coals, exorcisms of the devil and demons and the like are reported. What is an earnest Bible-believer to make of all this?

The subject of biblical miracles in the main has suffered disagreement over two factors–their nature and their purpose. Critical scholarship long ago consigned miracles to the ashcan of superstition, ignorance and mythical notions. More sophisticated critical studies have routinely denied the validity of miracles by means of the principles of modern science. It is asserted that divine intrusions simply do not occur in the closed time-space-mass universe of strictly uniform processes.

Bible-believing Christians have disagreed somewhat over the nature of biblical miracles but have had enduring differences of opinion concerning their purpose and longevity. My conclusion in summary is: The true nature of biblical miracles defined their purpose, and their purpose defined their continuance.

The point in this writing is to analyze in general the subject of miracles, mainly New Testament miracles, including those of the launching of the church. The church is the new body of God’s witness and work in the present stage of His overarching purpose of receiving the maximum self-glory from His creation. “Creation” in this sense entails everything that is not God. Some call this complex the world, the cosmos, the universe and the like. In any case this sharp division (between what is God and what is not God) preserves the Creator-creature distinction that is fundamental to the whole of the Bible and Christian Theology (Rom 1:25). Nothing exists in man as it exists in God.

The purpose of God getting glory to Himself means for Him to magnify His own infinitely unique person and cause it to be exclusively and universally enhanced, honored, esteemed and worshipped by rational beings. Since God exists by himself, i.e., he is self-existent, Scripture declares He exists for himself. His personal testimony, e.g., is “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no god” (Isa 45:5. Cf., Isa 47:8, 10; Hos 13:4; Zeph 2:15; Deut 4:35; 32:39; et. al.). And, “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isa 42:8).

MIRACLES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

First there will be a preliminary sketch of divine miraculous activity in the Old Testament, miracles of various sizes and shapes. However, there were times when clusters of miracles surrounded an important event or person. Some of those occasions were: (1) the Creation of the universe including mankind [Gen 1-2]; (2) the great Exodus from Egypt and the formation of the tribes of Israel into a theocratic kingdom via the giving of the Law at Sinai [Exod 1-15]; (3) the choice of Moses as the leader or king-in-effect of the theocracy [Exodus 3-4]; (4) the accreditation, to Egypt and Pharaoh, of the nation Israel as God’s favored, protected  people [Exod 5:1-2; 6:1-8; 7:1-6; 8:10, 22; 9:14-16, 29; 10:1-2; 11:7; 14:4, 18]; (5) the ensuing Sojourn in the wilderness [Exod 16-40, Numbers and Deuteronomy]; and (6) the Conquest and Settlement of Canaan [Joshua and Judges].

The Law of Moses was the charter, constitution or governing legal instrument of the new nation, and it included the provision of ongoing miraculous activity for some of its functions. Examples would include health and healing (Exod 23:25), food (Exod 16:35), water (Exod 15:23-25), clothing and shoes (Deut 29:5), fertility (Deut 7:12-16) and a direct revelation from God when evidence of an unlawful act was not certain (Num 5:11-31; 15:32-36).

During the United Monarchy (kings Saul, David and Solomon) notice of the occurrence of miracles was nil. In the Divided Monarchy (kingdoms of Israel and Judah) there was an outburst of miraculous activity in the Ninth Century BC. This was during the apostasy and political decline of the northern kingdom of Samaria/Israel. The miraculous activities of Elisha and especially Elijah were used by God to rid the nation of the pernicious debauchery of the Baal-Asherah fertility cult and to call the people back to Himself. This false religion had been established by Ahab and Jezebel as the semi-official, state-supported civil religion rivaling if not practically supplanting true Yahweh worship (850 of the cult’s clergy “ate at Jezebel’s table,” 1 Kings 18:19). The great confrontation between Elijah and the Baal-Asherah priests on Mount Carmel vividly illustrated what was at stake (1 Kings 18:20-40, especially v. 39, “When the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”). The daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, Queen Athaliah, brought Baalism into Judah, building a Baal temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 11:18).

The writing prophets spoke sparingly of miracles occurring in their days, the exceptions being Jonah and Daniel and the incident of Hezekiah in Isaiah 38. The prophets spoke often of the future golden Messianic Age when miracles would return as God crushed all temporal powers and set up His kingdom on the earth. See Isaiah 35 and 40.

THE INTERTESTAMENT PERIOD

The historical interlude between the testaments (ca 400-4 BC) was a barren wasteland as far as miracles, prophetism and other revelatory vehicles were concerned. The temple, the Levitical system and the nation’s political fortunes were deplorable. Even the prior Restoration Period (538-400 BC) with Ezra, Nehemiah, Mordecai, Zerubbabel, Joshua the High Priest, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi was not much of a restoration of Israel’s politics and spirituality. The return from the Exile did not fulfill the prophecies of a future golden age. Prophets and people knew fully that Israel was not free and independent but was subservient to the Persian domination.

This arrangement changed to the Hellenistic, Alexander the Great era (ca 334-166 BC) that included the ravages of the Egyptian Ptolemies and the Syrian Seleucids. The Jews had a bob-tailed form of independence under the Hasmonean priests (166-63 BC) after which transpired the harsh rule of the Roman Empire, beginning in 63 BC. Into the Roman milieu the New Testament opens with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (ca. 4 BC).

By this time the nation was in a deeply apostate condition but still possessed a very small believing remnant such as Zacharias (Luke 1:67-80), Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38), and the two from Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).

►►Click here to continue with part two


Rolland McCune served as Professor of Systematic Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary from 1981-2009, during which he also served as President of the Seminary for ten years and Dean of the Faculty for six years.

January 27, 2018

Belief in the Miraculous

mir·a·cle \ ˈmir-i-kəl \

(noun) An extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency. (Oxford Dictionary)

(noun) an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs  (Miriam Webster Dictionary)

Each year we pay a visit to the devotional page at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. Click the title below to read at source. The author of this piece is J.J. Ollerenshaw. We read about six different devotions there this morning, so clicking the title below will allow you to navigate using the “previous post” and “next post” tabs.

It’s A Miracle!

Mark 14:13-15a – [Jesus] sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and you will meet a man carrying a jug of water. Follow him. When he goes into a house, say to its owner that the Teacher asks, ‘Where is my room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ Then he will show you a large upstairs room that is furnished and ready.” (ISV)

Do you believe in miracles? When you awoke this morning, did you consciously realize that you were breathing and your heart was beating? Our blood circulates; we blink and swallow instinctively; our hair and nails grow. We’re alive! It’s a miracle!

Doctors are given knowledge and skill, and scientists invent amazing machines, but no one except God has ever been able to create life.

When you looked outside, was the sun shining? Was it snowing or raining? Do you ever think about how each season follows along, year after year, right on time? Flowers bloom in the same sequence every year. Birds migrate thousands of miles. How do they know when to come and go? It just wouldn’t work if spring occurred before winter! Humans can move the clock hands, but no one’s ever changed an entire season. It’s a miracle!

In the Smithsonian Institute, Thomas Jefferson’s Bible is on display, the one that he read every day. It consists of the four gospels, and it’s his own cut-and-paste version — he cut out every single miracle. One wonders how much is left. Take today’s verses from Mark, for instance. In a city teeming with people, Jesus knew that there would be a man carrying a water jug — that was then usually women’s work — and that the owner of the house had a spare room. The owner may have shrugged it off and just thought that it was a lucky coincidence, thinking, “Good thing that room was just cleaned — and I need some extra cash.” He may not have realized that God was at work.

Three small verses, easily overlooked, but little things like that happen every day. So often we hear of “Mother Nature”, “Lady Luck”, or “coincidence”, and we never give them a second thought. God doesn’t get much credit.

Jefferson was rejecting God Himself, not just miracles. When we invite Jesus into our heart and ask Him to take over our lives, the Bible shows us that we can expect Him to take control. God is alive, and the Holy Spirit opens our eyes so that we can see God at work around us — and not only in the big things. His timing is perfect. He cares about everything that concerns us. We can talk to Him about every detail of our lives. He desires to have a personal relationship with each one of us.

Today, I challenge you to stay alert. Keep watch for the miracles. Write them down, and praise God for them before you go to sleep. There’s another one: sleep. It’s a miracle!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we believe that You are who You say You are because of the miracles that You perform. Open our eyes as You reveal Yourself to us today. Amen.


Miracles in the Bible

Typing in the key word “miracle” at TopVerses.com produces 18 examples of people seeking for a “sign.” Click here to see them all.


The Miracle of Salvation

I was lost when it seems that you found me, Lord
I was blind now it seems I can see
Once I lived in a state of confusion
Then a miracle happened to me
I was out of my mind when you took me in
I was nothing of value to be
But through all that I was you saw something there
So a miracle happened to me

December 1, 2015

If You Feel You Missed the Spirit’s Moving

Prolific Christian author Max Lucado recently wrote a book titled Glory Days which he feels describes the particular time in Israel’s history described in the first 14 chapters of Joshua and centered on the time leading up to entering the promised land. (I covered that book very briefly in this review.)  He begins the book:

For seven years they were virtually untouchable.  Seven nations conquered.  At least 31 kings defeated.  Approximately 10,000 square miles of choice property claimed.

Seven years of unbridled success.

They were outnumbered but not out powered.   Under equipped but not overwhelmed.  They were the unlikely but unquestionable conquerors of some of the most barbaric armies in history.  Had the campaign been a prize fight, the referee would have called it in the first round.

The Hebrew people were unstoppable…

On the timeline of your Bible, the era glistens between the difficult days of Exodus and the dark ages of the Judges.  Moses had just died and the Hebrews were beginning their fifth decade as Bedouin in the badlands and sometime around 1400 BC, God spoke, Joshua listened, and the glory days began.  The Jordan river opened up. The Jericho walls fell down.  The sun stood still, and the kings of Canaan were forced into early retirement.  Evil was booted and hope rebooted.  By the end of the campaign, the homeless wanderers became hope filled homesteaders.  A nation of shepherds began to quarry a future out of the Canaanite hills.  They built farms, villages and vineyards.  The accomplishments were so complete, that the historian wrote,

NLT Johsua 21:43 So the Lord gave to Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had solemnly promised their ancestors. None of their enemies could stand against them, for the Lord helped them conquer all their enemies. 45 Not a single one of all the good promises the Lord had given to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; everything he had spoken came true.

But what do you do if the Passover has already passed over, the Red Sea has already parted, and the son has already stood still?

Years later, Habakkuk no doubt felt like he’d missed Israel’s “glory days.”

Habakkuk 3:2(NIV) LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

We do the same thing. It’s easy to wish that we could see the miracles. Maybe you missed the “third wave” of the charismatic movement in the 1970s; or missed the ocean baptisms of the Jesus movement, also in the ’70s. Maybe you missed the moment at a Creation Festival; or couldn’t attend a particular year of Promise Keepers. Perhaps you weren’t there when that church doubled its attendance in six months; or when that individual was dramatically healed, or another delivered from a particular addiction.

Or maybe you didn’t miss a thing, but feel like nothing compares to Old Testament signs and wonders or first century miracles. Like Habakkuk you say:

Habakkuk 3:2(NIV) LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

But always remember how he ends this particular chapter. Even if life appears to be the opposite of all that you’d like to see, even if, as the Brits say, it’s all gone pear shaped; our faith is not shaken. It doesn’t negate the prayer of verse 2, but in 17-19 the prophet puts things in a larger perspective:

Habakkuk 3:17-19a (NLT) Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

…By all means, keep praying “Lord, repeat them in our day;” but as Eugene Peterson renders this, he reminds us that we may not plant olives, but…

Though the cherry trees don’t blossom
    and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
    and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless
    and the cattle barns empty,

… at those times keep rejoicing in the Lord. Remember,

NIV 2 Cor. 4:8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.


If you decide to reblog this, you’re welcome to the title “Sheepless in Seattle.”

March 15, 2013

When Jesus’ Miracles Stopped

Welcome! No, today isn’t about dispensationalism. I believe God is still in the miracle business. This is a teaching from Felipe at the blog AboutJesusChrist.net titled When Jesus Couldn’t Perform Any Miracles.

Jesus performed many miracles during his ministry.  He gave sight to the blind, fed thousands with only two loaves and five fish and he even walked on water.  So how can it be that there was a time when he couldn’t perform any miracles?  The gospel of Matthew tells us that when he was in his home town of Nazareth teaching in the synagogue they doubted him.

“When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?’ So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.’ Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” – Matthew 13:54-58

He Didn’t Perform Miracles There

Yes, it is true, there was a time when Jesus didn’t perform miracles but it wasn’t because he couldn’t; it was because the people didn’t believe in him. It was because of their lack of faith. They knew he was wise in what he taught but they were blinded by their belief of whom he was. They saw him as, “the carpenter’s son”, and not as the Son of God. They saw him as only one member of a local family. They didn’t see him as the disciples saw him. They didn’t see him as a teacher or as someone they should follow and learn from.

Faith

Jesus was looking for faith. Time and time again we see Jesus heal someone because of the faith they have.

  • “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith had made you well.’” – Mark 10:52.
  • “Then He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.’” – Luke 7:50.

Jesus looks at the heart and sees what we cannot see. He knows if someone has true faith on the inside and not just a false veil of faith as the Pharisees did. He knows faith is not something we can just throw on to show others but it is something that grows deep within us where no man can see but only God can see.

Today

The same can be said today about us. If we lack faith in Jesus then how can he perform miracles in our lives? He has always said to trust in him to provide for all our needs and we need to accept that he can do all things. He can and will do miracles for us if we truly believe. Faith is what he asks of us. Faith can move mountains if we only believe.

Next Page »