Christianity 201

June 7, 2014

All My Springs of Joy Are In You

Revelation 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.

Ezekiel47:1 Tn my vision, the man brought me back to the entrance of the Temple. There I saw a stream flowing east from beneath the door of the Temple and passing to the right of the altar on its south side. The man brought me outside the wall through the north gateway and led me around to the eastern entrance. There I could see the water flowing out through the south side of the east gateway… He asked me, “Have you been watching, son of man?” Then he led me back along the riverbank. When I returned, I was surprised by the sight of many trees growing on both sides of the river. Then he said to me, “This river flows east through the desert into the valley of the Dead Sea. The waters of this stream will make the salty waters of the Dead Sea fresh and pure. There will be swarms of living things wherever the water of this river flows. Fish will abound in the Dead Sea, for its waters will become fresh. Life will flourish wherever this water flows. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shores of the Dead Sea. All the way from En-gedi to En-eglaim, the shores will be covered with nets drying in the sun. Fish of every kind will fill the Dead Sea, just as they fill the Mediterranean. 11 But the marshes and swamps will not be purified; they will still be salty. 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow along both sides of the river. The leaves of these trees will never turn brown and fall, and there will always be fruit on their branches. There will be a new crop every month, for they are watered by the river flowing from the Temple. The fruit will be for food and the leaves for healing.

Jeremiah 2:13 “My people have done two things wrong.
    They have abandoned me,
        the fountain of life-giving water.
    They have also dug their own cisterns,
        broken cisterns that can’t hold water.

Joel 3:18 “On that day the mountains will drip with sweet wine.
    The hills will flow with milk,
    and water will flow through all the empty rivers of Judah.
A fountain will come from the Lord’s Temple.
    It will give water to Acacia Valley.

(NIV, NLT, NOG, ERB)

Key verse: Psalm 87:7

 And in the festivals they’ll sing, “All my heart is in Jerusalem.”

 As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there: all my springs are in thee.

And while they dance, people sing:
    “The source of my life comes from you.”

(TLB, KJV, CEB)

Today is a sort of do-it-yourself study. As you consider the key verse and the other scriptures for the day, and meditate on the worship songs, remember that the God is our source, our river of life, our stream of life, our fountain of life. This water can also represent a place of cleansing (spiritually) and a place of healing.

 Psalm 46:4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.

(NIV)

May 31, 2014

God: Even His Names are Holy

I Peter 1:15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

I think I’ve shared this before, but…

I once asked my sons if when we’re having family devotions and the devotional material moves from the author’s commentary to actual scripture text if they’re able to detect the change as I’m reading.  They can’t see the page, after all, and I don’t say “quote” at the beginning of every quotation.

As I expected, they said that often they can tell, and it’s not always a familiar passage for them.

That’s how I feel when I listen to a song that begins with scripture, in today’s case, the names of God. God’s names are holy. Spoken, read, or sung, they have a white-hot intensity to them that you don’t find simply listening to someone read a sermon transcript or comment on a passage.

Years ago, there was a movement based in New Zealand called Scripture-In-Song. I don’t know how David and Dale Garrett would fit into today’s commercialized modern worship movement, but there are times I wish that the worship we have now contained more actual text.

Also years ago, a popular Christian singer named Andrae Crouch said that he grew up with a stuttering problem, but discovered that when we sang passage of scripture, they flowed off his tongue without hesitation.

Psalm 19:14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

I realize today’s remarks may seem somewhat tangential both to the text and the song which follows, which prompted my thoughts today, but I hope that it serves as a reminder of the need to immerse ourselves in Bible text, and not be distracted to things which, although helpful, are always secondary.

May 20, 2014

Only By Grace

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So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel by the power of God who has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time who has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. II Tim. 1:8-10 NIV

Today’s devotional is another in our series of worship songs. You’re encouraged to use the menu in the left margin to explore other songs we’ve considered here.

The song highlights that not only does the grace of God save us, but it is by the grace of God that we are acceptable to enter into his presence. A 1949 text, Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhoff (accessed at Bible Researcher) states:

The word “grace” is not always used in the same sense in Scripture, but has a variety of meanings. In the Old Testament we have the word chen (adj. chanun), from the root chanan. The noun may denote gracefulness or beauty, Prov. 22:11; 31:30, but most generally means favour or good-will. The Old Testament repeatedly speaks of finding favour in the eyes of God or of man. The favour so found carries with it the bestowal of favours or blessings. This means that grace is not an abstract quality, but is an active, working principle, manifesting itself in beneficent acts, Gen. 6:8; 19:19; 33:15; Ex. 33:12; 34:9; I Sam 1:18; 27:5; Esth. 2:7. The fundamental idea is, that the blessings graciously bestowed are freely given, and not in consideration of any claim or merit.

The New Testament word charis, from chairein, “to rejoice,” denotes first of all a pleasant external appearance, “loveliness,” “agreeableness,” “acceptableness,” and has some such meaning in Luke 4:22; Col. 4:6. A more prominent meaning of the word, however, is favour or good-will, Luke 1:30; 2:40, 52; Acts 2:47; 7:46; 24:27; 25:9. It may denote the kindness of beneficence of our Lord, II Cor. 8:9, or the favour manifested or bestowed by God, II Cor. 9:8 (referring to material blessings); I Pet. 5:10. Furthermore, the word is expressive of the emotion awakened in the heart of the recipient of such favour, and thus acquires the meaning “gratitude” or “thankfulness,” Luke 4:22; I Cor. 10:30; 15:57; II Cor. 2:14; 8:16; I Tim. 1:12.

In most of the passages, however, in which the word charis is used in the New Testament, it signifies the unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, affected through the agency of the Holy Spirit. While we sometimes speak of grace as an inherent quality, it is in reality the active communication of divine blessings by the inworking of the Holy Spirit, out of the fulness of Him who is “full of grace and truth,” Rom. 3:24; 5:2, 15; 17:20; 6:1; I Cor. 1:4; II Cor. 6:1; 8:9; Eph. 1:7; 2:5, 8; 3:7; I Pet. 3:7; 5:12.

More resources on the topic of grace are available at Bible Study Tools.

The verse I opened with echos in the song lyric, “Not by our human endeavor.”  Although we’ve studied it before, I want to end with a similar sentiment that Paul writes to Titus, and  to preserve the phrase that occurs in the first verse, I want to use the KJV:

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;

That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.   Titus 3:5-7

 

song lyrics by Gerrit Gustafson, music by Don Moen; another version on this video.

 

September 1, 2013

God’s People Always Have a Song

In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life. (John 3: 14-15, The Message)

Over a week ago, we arrived at the summer camp where me met to pick up our two sons; one of whom had been working there for 17 weeks, the other who was there just over 13 weeks. I love Christian camping and its mammoth potential in the life of a child or teen. If you are one of the ‘givers’ and you’re looking to invest in ministry for maximum lasting impact, I encourage you to seek out an interdenominational camping ministry — they’re the ones that don’t have a source of automatic funding — and ask what their current capital needs are.

Anyway, the staff were having a wrap-up lunch, and even though I hadn’t been there, I got the same lump in my throat that I would have gotten having spent the 13 or 17 weeks there myself. I looked at one young man who was fighting back some tears and I just about lost it.

The staff watched a slide presentation that included four of the songs they had come to love over the summer, one of which clearly engaged them more than the rest, Let it Be Known by Worship Central. It’s not just that the song has a catchy rhythm and physical actions. I believe that God always has a song; that a song gets raised up in every time and place and season.

Let it be known
That our God saves
Our God reigns
We lift You up up
Let it be known
That love has come
Love has won
We lift You up up up oh

Some of the staff are returning to school, others to jobs, others to an uncertain fall season. Some will go back to Christian homes where they’ll be taken to churches on Sunday that sing the same songs; others to non-Christian families that beg the question, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137).

But on that day, in that dining hall, the power of their corporate worship and the sheer volume the soundtrack pumping through the speakers, would empower any of them to say, “With God, nothing is impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

Come on let’s turn it up
We’re gonna sing it out
For all the world to hear…

…Nothing can stop us now
No one can keep us down
We’ve found our voice again…

…No need for fear and shame
There’s power in His name
Come on let freedom reign…

My prayer for them would be that after the energy has faded and they are back home — perhaps with other Christian friends, or perhaps feeling very alone — the power of the Holy Spirit would continue to be as strong in their lives.

God has new songs he is waiting to birth in the hearts of people in different locations, situations and junctures of personal and corporate ministry. Perhaps one of the young people in that dining hall will write one of them.  In the meantime, turn it up loud — really loud — and make their end-of-summer anthem yours as well:

June 30, 2013

Heretofore God Has Helped Us

 

1 Samuel 7

New International Version (NIV)

So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord. They brought it to Abinadab’s house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the Lord. The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all.

Samuel Subdues the Philistines at Mizpah

Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord. So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.

Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will intercede with the Lord for you.” When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as leader[a] of Israel at Mizpah.

When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. When the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord answered him.

10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.

12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer,  saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

Wow! It’s hard to believe it but 2013 is half over already. The passage today ends with the classic words in the KJV, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” though I much prefer the NCV’s and CEB’s “The Lord helped us to this very point.”

I know this has been a rough year for many of you, as it has for us, but I believe that you believe that God has been with you “up to this point” this year, or you probably wouldn’t be reading this. I have to believe you would have deleted all the bookmarks in your computer and cancelled all your blog subscriptions to this and other resources like it if you thought for one minute that you were totally abandoned by God.

But no, you have persevered and are persevering. And you’ve made it halfway through 2013.

This passage is also the source of a line in a hymn that some find most awkward and archaic, “Here I raise my Ebenezer;” in the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. These are the original lyrics:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Some people would like to remove the more obsolete phrases and words from the catalog of songs we sing today, but it’s interesting that the “Ebenezer” phrase is retained in David Crowder’s contemporary version of this hymn.

Yes, sometimes we should update the lyrics so that a new generation can understand, but other times we need to explain the phrasing we have: Samuel was so thankful for God’s provision that he took a stone and raised it as a monument to God’s help.

We’ve all seen historical plaques on roads and in cities which signify that something important once happened here. In Samuel’s day the technology and money wasn’t available for that type of remembrance. I don’t know what he did that distinguished this stone from any one of a number of rocks that were lying around, but the people knew. There was something that made this distinct, and we know from other scripture passages — such as when Israel crossed the Jordan river — that when God provided, the people expressed thanksgiving by making a physical representation of their gratitude.

How do you show gratitude for how the Lord has helped you “hitherto” in 2013?

March 24, 2013

The Power of the Cross

God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, “I love you.” ~ Billy Graham


All God’s plans have the mark of the cross on them, and all His plans have death to self in them. –E. M Bounds


The Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin. ~ Watchman Nee


Today Jesus Christ is being dispatched as the Figurehead of a Religion, a mere example. He is that, but he is infinitely more; He is salvation itself, He is the Gospel of God. –Oswald Chambers


The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. ~ John Stott

As we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I wanted to include this worship song by Stuart Townend which can be part of your Holy Week service or used as a communion song throughout the year. If you can’t play the video in your region, take some time to read the lyrics.

Col 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the power of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath-
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Every bitter thought,
Every evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
“Finished!” the victory cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the power of the cross:
Son of God-slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Two other songs also posted here fit well with this theme and have been posted here previously:

Quotes: Tentmaker, Christian Quotes

March 16, 2013

What it Means to be a Chosen Generation

This particular article worked for me on a number of levels. It’s from The Thought Just Occurred to Me, the blog of Mary Argusa. There indeed some good thoughts, and I hope you’ll click through and look around her blog. She titled this Generation Chosen.

But you are a chosen generation,
1 Peter 2:9

Several weeks ago, a group of young, ministerial students visited the regular Saturday night prayer meeting I attend. The house was packed. People sat on chairs, stairs and the floor. Others stood shoulder to shoulder. Everyone participated in about an hour and a half of full throttle praise and worship, assisted by a multi-generational band. Later, a time of one-on-one ministry began. The young prayed for the old and vice versa. Each group eagerly and freely received from the other without any sense of competition or superiority.

Much ado has been made about different generations: The Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Generations “X” & “Y” and in Christian-ese, the Joshua and Joseph Generations. These definitions are limited to specific age groups to the exclusion of all others. When the church categorizes the new agents of change to a certain generation, it marginalizes those outside that demographic. If Peter’s reference was only to those alive at the time he wrote this letter, most Christians could only read his words and wish they could have been included. That’s not the case.

The prayer meeting that night was a contemporary example of the “chosen generation” that Peter made note of. In the original Greek, the word chosen means: best in its class, excellence or pre-eminence. What made the people there chosen wasn’t anything they had done, but what Jesus did for them. He made them the best of the best, a distinction available to anyone who chooses to receive it. Rather than an age group, the word generation describes a group of people of the same nature, kind or sort. Regardless of their differences, the attendees’ single-minded devotion to God molded them into a cohesive unit.

The English language adds two more meanings to the word generation. First, the process of coming or bringing into being; second, the origination by a generation process, i.e. power generation. The group that evening was part of the process of bringing the kingdom of God into manifestation on the earth. That night a power surge was generated and released into the spirit realm which impacted the natural world.

No single age group or time frame has the monopoly on being Peter’s chosen generation. That would be exclusionary and too limiting. One is never too young, old or anything else to be useless to God for His purposes. Let’s use wisdom and restraint when tempted to label any group as the next “movers and shakers” in the kingdom. God’s chosen generation cuts a wide swath across age, race and denominational lines. The choice is ours, so don’t be left out.

February 14, 2013

Set Apart

“Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today…” —Exodus 32:29

Today, as yesterday, we begin with Dr. Charles Price, pastor of Peoples Church in Toronto.  Though Charles was never my pastor, this was the church I grew up in, at a time when it was Canada’s only megachurch.  This was titled, On Being Set Apart.

To be holy does not mean to be perfect, but to be ‘set apart’. That is the meaning of the word. It does not equal being perfect.

In my wedding service, I said to my bride as part of my vows: “Forsaking all others, I take you only unto me.” What I meant was, “I’ll never look at a girl again the way I look at you. I’ll never develop a relationship with another woman in the way that I have a relationship with you.” I had become ‘set apart’ exclusively to her. I was entering into a ‘holy’ relationship with her, one in which we are set apart exclusively to each other. That did not make me a perfect husband overnight!! (I think that took a week!) No, I will never be a perfect husband, and that was not the expectation on my wedding day (certainly not my wife’s!), nor was it the meaning of setting myself apart to her. I am repeatedly needing to say ‘I am sorry’. We are always learning new things about each other, and the journey of growth will never end – ‘till death do us part’.

Being called to be ‘holy’ is to be set apart to Christ, and involves no expectation of perfection – for that is neither offered nor promised to us in this life. Rather, in our frailty and the everyday fumbling of our lives to walk in harmony with the Lord Jesus, there is a fundamental attitude that says, “I am set apart to the Lord Jesus”. That is what it means to be holy.

The alternative to holiness is that we are available to anything that happens to attract our attention at the time. To be available to whatever is convenient, comfortable and compatible with our own selfishness is to live an unholy life. We are called to holiness, called to live in step with Jesus, called to unite our interests with His and our agendas with His. As Peter wrote, ‘In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord’ (1 Peter 3:15).

~Charles Price

I never really thought in terms of holiness meaning being “set apart” until I got deep into the lyrics of the Brian Doerksen song, Refiner’s Fire.

I choose to be Holy
Set apart for you, my master
Ready to do your will.

A few years ago here, I wrote about being separated from the world, and compared it to how the Amish people live among us, but are very much set apart from the rest of the world. In the world but not of it.

Our key verses in that devotional were Romans 12:2

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (TNIV)

1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (The Message)

and because for some of us, this will involve a transformation, II Cor 5: 17:

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (NLT)

Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! (The Message)

Let me end by reiterating a line from Charles Price, above.

Being called to be ‘holy’ is to be set apart to Christ, and involves no expectation of perfection – for that is neither offered nor promised to us in this life. Rather, in our frailty and the everyday fumbling of our lives to walk in harmony with the Lord Jesus, there is a fundamental attitude that says, “I am set apart to the Lord Jesus”. That is what it means to be holy.

January 24, 2013

With One Desire We Come: That You Would Reign in Us

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multi faceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others. So we find as we read God’s word that many passages are connected to other passages, and that many others, even on their own, offer depths and riches of meaning and application.

But there is also the aspect that many verses are links in a chain, offering part of a whole larger imparting of God’s ways and God’s instructions on a variety of subjects. To fully grasp the mind of God — to see what is called the whole counsel of God — we need to dig deeper.

For example, what is the mark of our work and witness in the world? The first answer we would expect is love.

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  ~John 13:35 NKJV

But we all know people who, because they are created in God’s image, are very loving people, do good works, are benevolent and charitable; but they have never acknowledged Christ’s deity or given him lordship over their lives.

So we go deeper. The mark of the true Christian is the fruit of the spirit.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!~Gal 5: 22,23 (NLT)

But in addition to growing in love (and joy and peace, etc.) we are to grow in the knowledge of God.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. ~II Peter 3:18 (ESV)

But clearly there is more, as we see in Paul’s prayer — and expectations — for the Colossian church:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.  ~Col 1: 9-12 (NIV)

(We looked at this passage here.)

But clearly there is another dimension to there being evidence of Christ’s lordship over our lives — our possessions, our thought-lives, our decision making, our priorities and yes, our anxieties) and this is the idea of Christ’s rule and reign in our lives as we work toward becoming more conformed to his image.

I have no specific verse for this because there are so many. Someone once told me that the word Saviour appears 37 times in the KJV, and the word Lord appears over 7,000 times. That Jesus Christ is Lord is among the great themes of the Bible. The sovereignty of God, his ‘King-ship’ and Lordship over all creation is mirrored in the expectation that he will have rule and reign in our individual lives.

But if you want a specific reference, you do no better than the book of Romans which talks about whereas once sin ruled over us, the believer is now ruled by Christ.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— ~Rom. 6:6 (NIV)

I’ve led this progression of thoughts in this direction for two reasons. One, as you can see below is to introduce the song, Reign in Us by the band Starfield. This song has really been on my mind all week since encountering it again in a weekend service. More importantly, the other reason is that I believe that Christ leading us and captivating all that we think and do is going to impact the world in ways we can’t imagine.

Yes, the world will know we are Christians by our love, but they will also know it because we have submitted all to Christ. I’m not there yet — I have a long way to go — but as I write this, I make this my desire.

For those of you without high speed internet, the video is a static image; this is primarily an audio file that will load in seconds.

 

You thought of us before the world began to breathe
You knew our names before we came to be
You saw the very day we fall away from you
And how desperately we need to be redeemed

Lord Jesus
Come lead us
We’re desperate for your touch

Oh great and mighty one
With one desire we come
That you would reign that you would reign in us
We’re offering up our lives
A living sacrifice
That you would reign that you would reign in us

Spirit of the living God fall fresh again
Come search our hearts and purify our lives
We need your perfect love we need your discipline
We’re lost unless you guide us with your light

Lord Jesus
Come lead us
We’re desperate for your touch

Oh great and mighty one …

We cry out for your life to revive us cry out
For your love to define us cry out
For your mercy to keep us
Blameless until you return

Oh great and mighty one

So reign please reign in us
Come purify our hearts
We need your touch
Come cleanse us like a flood
And set us out
So the world may know you reign you reign in us

writers: Tim Neufeld, Jon Neufeld, Ben Glover

January 9, 2013

Nothing Formed Against Me Shall Stand

Isaiah 54: 17

Weapons made to attack you
    won’t be successful;
words spoken against you
    won’t hurt at all.

My servants, Jerusalem is yours!
I, the Lord, promise
    to bless you with victory. (CEV)


“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper;
And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And their vindication is from Me,” declares the Lord. (NASB)


 No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
    and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
    and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.”  (ESV)

God's Got My Back

Time and time again, scripture records instances where forces came against God’s people bent on their destruction, and the odds against them seemed incredible, but God’s people triumphed.  One blogger has created a scripture medley of such instances here. (I was going to leave it to you to link, but many don’t and I really wanted to record these here; the text is King James.)

David and Goliath

I Samuel 17: 48-51: “And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David. Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled.”

Samson Slays a Thousand Philistines

Judges 15: 14-17: “And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands. And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith. And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men. And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramath-lehi.”

King Hezekiah and 185,000 Assyrians

II Kings 19: 35-37: “And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia. And Esar- haddon his son reigned in his stead.”

Mordecai and Haman

Esther 7: 9-10: “And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him thereon. So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified.”

Elijah

II Kings 1: 9-10: “Then the king sent unto him a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he went up to him: and, behold, he sat on the top of an hill. And he spake unto him, Thou man of God, the king hath said, Come down. And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.”

Ahitophel

II Samuel 17: 21-23: “And it came to pass, after they were departed, that they came up out of the well, and went and told king David, and said unto David, Arise, and pass quickly over the water: for thus hath Ahithophel counselled against you. Then David arose, and all the people that were with him, and they passed over Jordan: by the morning light there lacked not one of them that was not gone over Jordan. And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.”

Paul on the Island of Melita

Acts 28: 3-6: “And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. 5 And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.”

King Saul

I Samuel 31: 1-6: “Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa. And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Melchi-shua, Saul’s sons. And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers. Then said Saul unto his armour bearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armour bearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it. And when his armour bearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him. So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armour bearer, and all his men, that same day together.”

Daniel in the Lion’s Den

Daniel 6: 22-24: “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocence was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. Then was the king exceeding glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God. And the king commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den.”

The Cross at Calvary

Luke 24: 6-7: “He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”

Be Strong in the Lord

All of this today is serving as introduction to a new song from Chris Tomlin’s new album, Burning Lights; the song is called Whom Shall I Fear but is also known as God of Angel Armies.   (Static images alternative video here.)  This is a faith-building song that is really easy to learn.  We are not promised protection from every hard thing a fallen world can bring, but when forces arise to destroy us we have the promise that greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. (I John 4:4)

December 18, 2012

Diversity of the Body

CEB Romans 12:3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.

CEB I Cor. 12:12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink…

…19 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? 20 But as it is, there are many parts but one body. 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

Christmas gatherings bring about the diversity of people who make up our extended families. If I am honest, I often find myself among people with whom I feel I have very little in common, and your family reunions are probably similar.

But full disclosure compels me to admit that my spiritual family is not much different. Even within the confines of a particular church, there is often the same dynamic at work: People have very different spiritual emphases and interests, not to mention varying degrees of spiritual depth.

Last week we had some fun with this at Thinking Out Loud that I thought would bear repeating here; to see the full breadth of the God’s family reflected in the way we interpret what we think are distinctions, using terminology that often leaves people in a fog.

When you say you’re a Bible & Science ministry, does that mean

  • you believe in a literal six-day creation and a young earth?
  • you believe in an old earth; that Genesis is allegorical, that evolution is probable
  • you focus on intelligent design and try to skip the subjects above ?

When you say you have a prophetic gift, does that mean

  • you speak forth with a prophetic voice concerning issues facing the church and/or the world in general
  • your ministry almost exclusively revolves around end-time predictions
  • you counsel people and help them find where they are to live, what should be their vocation, who they should marry, etc. ?

When you say your church is charismatic, do you mean

  • the music is loud and lively, and people clap and rejoice during worship
  • your church emphasizes belief in the limitless power of God and has an active desire for a manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ?

When you say you’re a ministry to Christians struggling with homosexuality, does that mean

  • you try to assist gay Christians out of that lifestyle through prayer and/or reparative therapy
  • you try to support gays who are struggling with faith issues and/or acceptance by the church ?

When you say you’re an apostolic ministry does that mean

  • you work with church-planters and missional communities to encourage people who have the gift of apostle
  • you are frequently addressed as “Apostle _______” as you see yourself as part of a line of apostolic succession and/or feel there is a special anointing on your ministry ?

When you say you have a ministry to worship leaders, does that mean

  • you assist worship leaders in the personal spiritual development and in building the tools they need to build their teams
  • you help worship leaders navigate areas such as song selection, instrumentation, arrangements, sound systems, etc.
  • you exist to advance an agenda of a specific sub-genre of worship: hymns, modern hymns, ‘soaking’ music, prophetic worship, etc. ?

When you say you’re a ministry to the Jewish community do you mean

  • you stand in the Messianic tradition and want to keep as much of the Jewish ethnic and cultural flavor, while recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah
  • you stand in the Hebrew Christian tradition which involves assimilating Jewish believers into western evangelical culture
  • your ministry is more concerned with both the political and prophetic ramifications of the state of Israel ?

When you say you are a ‘progressive’ Christian do you mean

  • you prefer contemporary churches which don’t make a major issue out of some of the traditions and taboos which defined Christianity in the mid-20th-century
  • you have a more liberal position on Christian doctrine and theology and Biblical inerrancy ?

When the bottom of your church sign reads, “Everyone welcome,” do you mean

  • you regularly interact with people from the wider community and while it may be a foreign environment in some respects, they would feel relaxed attending services and sense you’re genuinely glad they came
  • people are welcome as long as they dress like you, believe the same doctrines, read the same Bible translation, vote for the same party, and conform to the church’s position on social issues ?

The bottom line however is that we emphasize our unity in Christ.  If you click back to this song, it’s a good way to end today’s thoughts, focused on the things in which we’re all in agreement.

(NIV) I Cor 9:10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

November 5, 2012

Peace… Be Still

If I’m really honest — and I’m going to be today —  I would have to admit that I approached last Monday night’s storm with a great deal of apprehension. Part of it was due to the media buildup and part of it was due to general anxieties being brought on by a variety of circumstances.

As it turned out, the media’s anticipation of the storm was not hype, and people in New York City who failed to heed the warnings to evacuate ended up needing rescue.  If September 11th, 2001 represented the day that war came to America, then October 29th, 2012 was the day catastrophe came to New York City.

Stephen and Brooksyne Weber have had storm-themed devotions at Daily Encouragement all last week, though it’s interesting that the Friday before (26th) they chose this verse:

 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

The day after (30th) they chose this passage,

“And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’” (Mark 4:37,38).

The passage continues,

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

We sleep at night with a fan on in the room (for the white noise background), but even with that the winds were howling. I’m sure that we’ve had worse winds in several Canadian winters, but this time around I entertained the possibility of the top half of the house blowing away.

So I laid there and in my heart prayed “Peace, be still.” My lips didn’t move and my vocal cords didn’t engage, but inside, the prayer was a scream. I wasn’t expecting the storm to stop so much as I was praying for a stillness of the winds of anxiety and the rains of adversity.

I was praying for a stillness, a calm to inhabit my heart and mind.

And while that was going on, I thought of a song that’s based on the same passage in Mark, Master the Tempest is Raging. There are a few versions of it online, but nothing that matches the passion and intensity that I remember when, in my teen years, I heard it performed by the 120-voice choir at my home church in Toronto.

These are the lyrics, though I had no memory of the 2nd or 3rd verses until I looked them up today:

Master, the tempest is raging!
The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o’ershadowed with blackness,
No shelter or help is nigh;
Carest Thou not that we perish?
How canst Thou lie asleep,
When each moment so madly is threat’ning
A grave in the angry deep?

The winds and the waves shall obey Thy will,
Peace, be still!
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea,
Or demons or men, or whatever it be,
No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean, and earth, and skies;
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will,
Peace, be still! Peace, be still!
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will,
Peace, peace, be still!

Master, with anguish of spirit
I bow in my grief today;
The depths of my sad heart are troubled—
Oh, waken and save, I pray!
Torrents of sin and of anguish
Sweep o’er my sinking soul;
And I perish! I perish! dear Master—
Oh, hasten, and take control.

Master, the terror is over,
The elements sweetly rest;
Earth’s sun in the calm lake is mirrored,
And heaven’s within my breast;
Linger, O blessed Redeemer!
Leave me alone no more;
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor,
And rest on the blissful shore.

I think it is significant that in 1874, the writer, Mary A. Baker, chose to take the direction in the second verse that most likely applies to us today, and most certainly applies to me. The winds of fear and the rains of troubles and trials really never stop, but “no water can swallow the ship.”

As I did Monday night, and several times in the days since, reach out your hand toward your circumstances and whisper, ‘Peace … be still.’

~Paul Wilkinson


A more contemporary song that came to me this week was posted here previously, check out Psalm 91 by SonicFlood.

Hurricane Sandy devastated Cuba, Haiti, The Dominican Republic; but all we tend to hear about is New York City. Here’s an examination of the inequities of media reporting.

September 10, 2012

The Wonder of the Cross

Today for the first time, a worship song repeat.  But first, a poem:

The Ironies of the Cross

 o

On that wretched day the soldiers mocked him
Raucous laughter in a barracks room
Hail the king they sneered while spitting on him
Brutal beatings on this day of doom
Though his crown was thorn, he was born a king
Holy brilliance bathed in bleeding loss
All the soldiers blind to this stunning theme
Jesus reigning from a bloody cross

o

Awful weakness marks the battered god-man
Far too broken now to heist the beam
Soldiers strip him bare and pound the nails in
Watch him hanging on the cruel tree
God’s own temple’s down he has been destroyed
Death’s remains are laid in rock and sod
But the temple rises in god’s wise ploy
Our great temple is the Son of God

o

Here’s the one who said he cares for others
One who said he came to save the lost
How can we believe he saves others
When he can’t get off that bloody cross
Let him save himself, let him come down now
Savage jeering at the king’s disgrace
But by hanging there is precisely how
Christ saves others as the king of grace

o

Draped in darkness utterly rejected
Crying why have you forsaken me
Jesus bore God’s wroth alone dejected
Wept the bitterest tears instead of me
And the mockers cried he has lost his trust
He is defeated by hypocrisy
But with faith’s resolve Jesus knows he must
Do God’s will and swallow death for me

o

The preceding poem is a transcript made from a recording of an excellent D.A. Carson sermon called the Ironies of the Cross. (from a D.A. Carson sermon archivesourced at a 2007 post at Homeward Bound.

And now the song, from Robin Mark, The Wonder of Your Cross

Learn more about the song from its first appearance here one year ago.

August 14, 2012

King of Heaven Come Down

NIV Daniel 4:37
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Including periodic worship songs here was part of the plan from the beginning. I’m a strong believer in “worship and the word.” I can publishes pages and pages of Bible study here, but a simple worship song may connect more with some individuals on certain days than all the paragraphs of text I could have used.

I usually like to feature worship songs that offer “rich text” or songs which are being widely used in many of our churches, like this new one. Today we feature the writing of composer/musician Paul Baloche with King of Heaven. Lyrics appear onscreen, though there are not a lot of words, so I also invite you to close your eyes, turn up the volume and let this prayer saturate where you are today.


Blog Update:

While Thinking Out Loud continues to be my most visible blog project, Christianity 201 is fast becoming the more active franchise. Each day more people sign on for this potpourri of Bible study discussion and devotional thoughts culled from the widest variety of the Christian blogosphere.

At the same time, going on a daily “hunting and gathering” routine can be exhausting, so I’m looking for someone who is already familiar with the WordPress platform who might want to eventually have editing privileges here. To start, needed is someone who has been blogging regularly for at least a year themselves, so I can see where they are coming from, and then they need to be able to source out material suitable for C201 subject to the guidelines posted in the sidebar.You also need to be able to generate appropriate post tags; and need to work with HTML in terms of setting blockquotes within quotes and adding color to scripture passages and subheadings and adding to superscripts on Bible references. (Note: This particular theme is not H1, H2 responsive so you have to change font sizes.) Initially, submissions would be emailed in coded text.

A needle in a haystack person, basically; but if you feel that’s you, start by contacting me at the address on the “Submissions” page. Anyone who does not feel up to this task, but wants to send a particularly strong C201 guest post is welcomed to do that anytime by email.

August 13, 2012

Funeral Worship: Worship When Singing is Impossible

It’s been awhile since we had a worship song here, and the post for tomorrow featuring a Paul Baloche song was written before this one.  But while looking at Paul’s website, I found this article. Since many C201 readers are in ministry themselves, or offer ministry at times of need, I thought this might connect with some of you.

Worship in times of sorrow
by Paul Baloche

 Some of the hardest yet most inspiring times of worship occur during funerals. The raw emotions of sadness and loss are mixed with a sense of hope and eternal perspective.

The book of Ecclesiastes says,

“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart” (7:2 NIV).

In our fast-paced culture, funerals give us the rare occasion to reflect on the brevity of life and how each of our days are numbered. There is a sense of “coming to terms” with reality that our life on this earth will end. As Christians we find assurance in the promise of God’s Word that Jesus Christ did indeed die for the remission of our sins and rose again with the invitation to live forever through Him and with Him.

Songs of worship can be the most encouraging aspect of a funeral service or a time of intense grief. Part of my role as a worship pastor is to show up and “pastor” those who are grieving. Several times last year I was called upon to lead worship during memorial or graveside services. Silence can be powerful. Stillness consoling. Yet when a simple chorus or hymn begins with a guitar or human voice, you can feel something change in the air. Timely words sung at the right moment can bring a wave of comfort and release His faithful presence.

“Blessed be Your name when the road’s marked with suffering, when there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name.” “Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you.” “I can only imagine …..I will rise when He calls my name, no more sorrow, no more pain.” These are just a few of the songs that have served the moment and brought hope to those who have lost loved ones.

Sometimes we aren’t sure how to bring comfort in situations where someone is fighting an illness or recovering in some way. Often my wife and I have gone to someone’s bedside in the hospital or at their home and simply sang over them. With sensitivity to the moment, we pray for them and ask if they mind if we sing quietly and worship in their room. Some of my most profound moments with God have been during these times as tears flow and faith is released in prayer and song.

Scripture is filled with passages that exemplify praise in the midst of pain, promises of joy as we walk through profound sorrow.

“Why are you so downcast, oh my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God,” (Ps 42:5-6a).

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me … my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Ps 23).

Shortly before a crazed gunman murdered her, Virginia Tech student Lauren McCain wrote in her diary, “Show me Your purpose for me at Tech, and on this earth. But, if You choose not to, I will still praise you and walk where You lead, not because I am selfless, or holy, or determined to sacrifice myself for what is right but because You are the delight of my heart; and I cannot live without You.”

Lord, give us all that same heart as we seek to console others in their time of mourning. For one day we will wish for someone to sing over us and help us to worship in the midst of our sorrow.

This article appeared in Worship Leader Magazine.

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