Christianity 201

May 6, 2021

Team Jesus

1st John 2:1-6

by Clarke Dixon

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (NRSV)

Good news! Our sins are forgiven!

But then, if we read ahead in John’s letter, we may feel like we encounter bad news, especially when we get to statements like these:

No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. . . . Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil;. . . Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God.

Selections from 1 John 3:6-9 (NRSV)

What if the good news is that our past sins are forgiven and only our past sins? What if we are given a fresh start, but we had better not ever sin after that? Maybe we will be relieved to know that God’s Spirit indwells us and will keep us from sin? Most of us, however, would still have great anxiety since we know from experience that we still sin. Or am I the only one? In fact our anxiety may grow if we think that perhaps we have chased God’s Holy Spirit away somehow.

As a way to think through this, let us think of ourselves as being hockey players, perhaps we can think of ourselves as playing for the Boston Bruins. Now let us think of God as having a hockey team, that our Lord is the owner, general manager, and coach. Of course we can think of the Toronto Maple Leafs as being that team!

Given this analogy, what would forgiveness from God look like? We may think that God comes to us and says that any goal we have ever scored, or helped our team to score against his team is forgiven. We might say “well thank you for letting bygones be bygones.” But then we keep playing for the Bruins, and keep trying to score on the Leafs. John is telling us in his letter that this is not how faith in Jesus works. It is not just about the forgiveness of sins.

The words of Jesus were really important to John, they should be to us too. So let us take a moment to look at the last words of Jesus recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke:

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Luke 24:45-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

Let us note here that it is not just forgiveness of sins that is to be proclaimed, but also repentance, meaning a change of mind, a change of path.

Now let us consider the last words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV emphasis added)

Forgiveness of sins is not even mentioned here in Matthew! Following Jesus is, paying attention to the commandments of Jesus is.

Jesus would have said a lot of things once risen form the dead, so Luke and John are not recording the very last words of Jesus so much as emphasizing the elements of Jesus’ teaching they thought they should pass on to us. Where we might emphasize forgiveness, they both emphasize a new life in Jesus.

Now let us go back to John’s letter:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:1-6 (NRSV)

John is pushing us to think of a much bigger change in our lives than just experiencing forgivenesses. We are not just forgiven, we are set on a new path. To go back to the hockey analogy, God is not just offering forgiveness for the goals we have scored against his team, God is offering us a place on the team!

We don’t deserve it, we don’t play like the star players on his team. We might not even know how to skate yet. But we are invited to join the team!

Now just because we join the team, this does not mean we instantly become great players. Hockey players sometimes make mistakes. A bad pass can be intercepted and lead to the other team scoring. This does not lead to an instant expulsion from the team. This is a problem we often have as Christians. We assume that we should instantly become the Wayne Gretzky of Christians. But we still miss the mark. When we do,

. . . if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 2:1 (NRSV)

We are not booted off the team. Everything that is necessary for us to be on the team has been accomplished.

What if, however, having moved from the Bruins to the Maple Leafs, during a playoff series against the Bruins, we continually pass the puck to the Bruins, and sometimes we even take a shot on our own net? The natural conclusion reached by the coach and fans alike, is that we have not really changed teams. We are still playing for the Bruins, we want the Bruins to win. This is what John is getting at in verses 3-6:

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:3-6 (NRSV)

If we really are in Jesus, then it will be evident that we are on team Jesus. When John says later in 3:6-9, that we will not sin, that we cannot sin, it is like a coach saying to a hockey player, “you will not pass to a player on the opposing team, indeed you cannot.” Well the hockey player might have a bad pass that goes to a member on the other team, which might lead them to score a goal. But the player will not pass it with the hope, “oh boy, I hope the other team wins.” He will not do that, and given his desire to win the Stanley Cup, he cannot do that.

If hockey players never wore a jersey, you would still be able to know who is playing for what team. When John says we don’t sin as Christ followers, what he means is that it should be obvious that we are on team Jesus, that we don’t play for the opposing team. We might still be learning to skate, and we might be awful at handling the puck, which might lead the other team to score from time to time, nevertheless, it is evident we are are on team Jesus.

As we read through 1st John, and especially here in 1:3-6 and later 3:6-9, we might ask, am I in deep trouble if I commit even one sin after coming to faith in Jesus? That is not a question that would have come to John’s mind. The question John is asking is: does your life show that you are on team Jesus? That you are in Christ?

Yes, we are going to mess up, there are forgivenesses when we do. But if we are on team Jesus, it will be obvious that we are on team Jesus, jerseys and Jesus fish not required. Those who are on team Jesus are easy to spot, even if they are not spotless. We may may not be superstar players, at least not yet, but let us commit to being on team Jesus! And let us enjoy that honor.


The full sermon can also be seen as part of this longer “online worship expressionClarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and doesn’t get the usual 1-2 paragraph intro! He’s a pastor in Ontario, Canada; and a good friend to have. Clarke and his wife have three boys, but I don’t know if any of them share his love of motorcycles.

April 7, 2021

A Morning Like That

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Last year we introduced you to The Cove, a multi-site church in Mooresville, NC (Greater Charlotte) which posts weekday devotions on their website. This time around, the writer we’re featuring is Noelle McDermott. This was the Tuesday devotional in a series on the resurrection. Please support and encourage the writers we feature by reading these devotionals at the source site where we found them. Click the header which follows.

As the Sun Breaks Through

Today’s Scripture: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3, ESV

Theme: The Resurrection gives us hope for today and for eternity.

AS THE SUN BREAKS THROUGH…

Growing up in North Carolina, with its predominately sunny weather, I have come to strongly dislike the rain. When clouds roll over and begin to drizzle, I immediately miss the sun. I’ll complain about how sad I feel or how I can’t wait until the sun comes back. During a persistent period of rain, I was surprised—not because the sky finally cleared up—but because the sun was out, though it was still raining.

I stepped outside and marveled at two different types of weather colliding. I felt the warmth of the sun as the rain drizzled down and watched puddles of water slowly transforming into steam that the wind swept away. The sun eventually withdrew behind the clouds once more, but that brief moment of sunshine, even while standing in the rain, had lifted my spirits.

IN THE MIDST OF STORMS…

Mary Magdalene is initially introduced to us in Luke 8 in a list of women “who provided for [Jesus and the twelve disciples] out of their means” (Luke 8:2-3). The passage specifically notes that seven demons had been cast out of her. She also witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 15:40) and visited His tomb on the day of His Resurrection (John 20:1). Although other Gospels mention two other women accompanying her and telling the disciples of the open tomb with her, Scripture does not mention their staying afterwards. Even Peter and John, who visited the empty tomb at the women’s urging, left almost immediately also. Mary Magdalene is the only one who remained at the tomb.

Overwhelmed by her grief, she wept. I cannot imagine what went through her head as she sat in the garden, nor the hopelessness she must have felt. Not only had her Savior died, but she could not even find Him and anoint His body. What would have been next for Mary? How else could she serve Him if she could not even find Him? As she wept, she encountered two angels and a Man she did not recognize, even after speaking to Him. But as soon as He simply said her name, Mary realized that Jesus was standing before her. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus resurrected and was entrusted to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

SO DOES HOPE!

The Resurrection renewed hope within Mary Magdalene and it can renew hope within us. How often do we weep and search for answers as Mary did? Distracted with questions and doubt, we sometimes fail to realize that the Lord stands before us until the very moment He calls us by name. We succumb to hopelessness and discouragement because we forget the “living hope” granted to us thorough Jesus’ Resurrection. He has already overcome, and in light of that truth, we have the assurance of hope. This living hope gives us the strength to keep the faith and persevere in difficult seasons, for we are being prepared for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17) in this life and in eternity.

Make It Personal: As you reflect upon the Resurrection this week, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal where you have lost hope in the Lord’s promises. Where have you begun to doubt and despair? Let Him renew hope in you.

Pray: God, thank You that You sent Your Son and resurrected Him. Thank You for the confident hope given to us by Jesus’ Resurrection. Through each season, remind me of the hope I have in You through the Resurrection. Amen.

Weekly Memory Verse: “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 1:19-20, NLT

Read: John 20:1-18; Luke 8:2-3; Mark 15:40; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

January 28, 2021

Stuck As We Are? (Starting Over with Jesus)

by Clarke Dixon

We can feel quite stuck, with ourselves, as ourselves. We may lament our personality quirks, our habits and addictions, and our situations. Of course some of us may feel quite happy with ourselves, and perhaps we shouldn’t. What are we like to live with, be friends with, be married to, be a child of, or be a parent of? Whether our own self-perception, or how others perceive us, we may be stuck.

We often blame it on our past. “If you only knew what I have been through you would understand why I am the way I am!” We look to the past and we see events, and people, who have had a big influence on what we have become and what we are like. Having had such big influences and influencers on our lives, is there any hope for change?

There is good news. Jesus speaks of a change in us, a change so big he uses the idea of birth to refer to it:

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

John 3:3 (NLT)

In speaking with Nicodemus Jesus speaks about being “born again,” or as the phrase also means, “born from above.” Whichever way you translate it, and I think both meanings are in view here, Jesus is speaking of being in relationship with God in terms of being born. In other words, it is a big change. It is like a night and day difference. It is like coming out into the light having been stuck in the dark. It is like seeing things for the first time. It is like starting over.

Let’s take a look at what this means for us.

First, there is a big change in what influences us.

The family we grow up in, the society we grow up in, and the experiences we live through, all have a huge influence on us. In being a relationship with God through Jesus, in being a member of His Kingdom, we are born again, born from above. We start over, but this time God is to be our main influence and Influencer. It is starting over with God’s nurture.

We can think of some examples of how this can make a difference:

  • If growing up you were constantly put down, now you start over with God telling you that you are created in His image, that he went to the cross for you in Jesus, that He has called, and is calling you, to follow Him.
  • If you grew up with parents who were not there for you, you start over with God who is always there and always just a prayer away.
  • If you grew up learning that you respond to the hatred with even more hatred, you now start over with a God who responds to hatred with love and grace in Jesus and calls us to do the same.
  • If you grew up learning that it is every man, woman, and child for themselves, you now start over with a God who is for us and not against us, a Saviour who came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).
  • If you grew up with an alcoholic parent, now you start over with God Who is always level-headed, always responsible, always wise.

These are just some examples of what it looks like to have a fresh start, I’m sure you can think of others.

Who we have been is not who we are becoming in Jesus. We have been born again. We have a new influence that is forming us. We are born from above. We are under the influence of the teaching and example of Jesus, we are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Second, while there is a big change, there is more change to come.

When a baby is born, there is a big change for the baby. None of us can remember the day of our birth and personally, I am glad for that. I’m sure the experience was traumatic! But if we could experience birth and think about it, we might think, “wow this is all new! I can see!” Except that it is not all new. “These wee arms and legs still don’t work that great, and I’m so small compared to everyone else in the room.” There is a lot of growth to come.

Birth is a great analogy for the change God brings to us. There is a huge change, yet there is so much more change to come. Some people experience big changes in very specific ways. I can think of a friend who lost all desire to drink or do drugs the very day he turned to Jesus. Others still struggle. This should lead us to have patience with ourselves, and with others. Do we expect everyone to become a mature Christian the day of their rebirth? I’ve been born again for many years now and still have much growing up to do!

Third, the change in us will make us stand out as different.

When we are born again, we start over with a different upbringing in a very different culture. I grew up in British and Canadian culture, but in being born again, I’m now growing up in the Kingdom of God.

Where we grow up can cause us to; speak with a different accent, have different habits, customs, and tastes, plus hold a different perspective.

I spent my the first 6 years of my life in Scotland, but even when we came to Canada, we were still a very British family. That made me stick out like a sore thumb in grade 2. I was quite a bit more Canadianish by grade 3, but in grade 2 I was a wee bit different from everyone else.

If we have a fresh start with God as the main influence on us, we will end up being different. But where I was glad to change over the years to become more and more like a typical Canadian, in being born again we want to become more and more like a typical Kingdom person, to stand out as being odd in this world. While Canada was to become my home, likely for the rest of my life, the Kingdom of God is to become my home forevermore. That is were we want to fit in!

Which brings us to our last point.

Fourth, there is, and will be, a big change in our situation.

We may think, great, so far all the change spoken of is in me, but look at my situation. Yes, I have a fresh start in many ways, but I’m still facing financial ruin, or a difficult marriage, or loneliness, or mental illness or whatever challenge we might be living with. Perhaps we feel like we are changing, but our situation isn’t. We are still stuck.

Consider again a newborn baby. There are big changes upon birth, yes. But very often when that baby leaves the hospital they go back to the same home, to be with with the same people the baby has been with for the last nine months or so. The situation has changed drastically, except that it hasn’t. But it will. Usually, and eventually, the baby grows up and moves on.

So too with us. We may be born again, but we still face the same situations. We do grow. And as we do, some situations will begin to change because we are learning to handle things in a different manner. For example big changes may come to our relationships, beginning with small steps in learning to forgive, or developing a servant heart. But not only do our current circumstances often change while we grow, some day we will move on. Even if the immediate situation is dire, and getting worse each day, the prevailing situation is not. We are sitting pretty. We live as Kingdom people now, as family of the king. The Kingdom is our future. Big changes are on the way.

There is something else we should note here. For some people the current situation is life with mental illness. We might assume that when we are born from above, with a fresh start, that mental illness is cleared away. We might put it in the same category as something we have picked up growing up, something learned from our experiences in the past. So a fresh start clears it, right? So, for example, if someone struggles with depression, being born again makes it go away, right?

Not necessarily. And this is important, because it might lead us to look down on those with mental illness as somehow failing at following Jesus. Perhaps we may think of ourselves as failures. Paul speaks about a “thorn in the flesh” that God would not take away:

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NLT)

Thistles in the mind are no different than thorns in the flesh. When we speak of a fresh start we are talking about growth in our character, not a perfection of our health.

Mental illness may be the reality on the ground for many Christians. If that is you, be patient with yourself and seek the appropriate help. There will be healing for all illness, including mental illness. In the meantime, we do the best we can with the level of health we’ve got.

In conclusion.

If we find ourselves really stuck, that “I am the way I am because of my upbringing or early experiences in life,” perhaps we have not let the words of Jesus sink in. Jesus uses the strongest possible language to describe what happens to us when we are in relationship with him. We are born again, we get a fresh start with a much better influence and the greatest possible Influencer in our lives. We are born from above, God is working in us through His Holy Spirit.

Let’s not let the past dictate who we are and what we are like. Let’s let the One Who is Lord over the past, present and future shape us into who we are becoming.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. You can watch the video for this message or watch it in the context of this online service presentation. This was our second devotional from Clarke this week, if you missed it, the other appeared yesterday.

November 22, 2020

Radical, Dramatic Change Can Occur When Least Expected

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Can people change? Of course they can. The why and how is often more predictable than the when and where.

Today we’re featuring a writer here for the first time. writes at Our Living Hope. If you’ve got the time, click the link to the blog and spend some time with some really well-written devotions. Click the title below to read this one at source.

U-Turn

“As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day”. 1 Samuel 10:9.

An instantaneous change in a person’s life is possible with God. Many people in the Bible experienced a U- turn in their lives, when they least expected it, because God intervened in their paths. King Saul was searching for his father’s donkey when he was anointed the king of Israel by Prophet Samuel. When he left him, God changed Saul’s heart to become a new person. A new purpose was given to his life. We might be be searching and going after things which doesn’t cause transformation in our lives. We got to turn to God.

God intervenes in a person’s life, in the most unexpected ways. Even in our ordinary days God can work in extraordinary ways, since he always seeks to change us, transform us, make his own, and fulfill his plans through us. Sometimes the transformation is gradual, but a turn towards the right direction starts the change. When a person turns to God, their Saviour, everything is possible in that person’s life.

The following lines were written about George Muller, the man of great faith, who impacted many for Christ through his life and service,

His own brief account of his boyhood shows a very bad boy and he attempts no disguise. Before he was ten years old he was a habitual thief and an expert at cheating. In time, card-playing and even strong drink got hold of him. The night when his mother lay dying, her boy of fourteen was reeling through the streets, drunk; and even her death failed to arrest his wicked course or to arouse his sleeping conscience. And—as must always be the case when such solemn reminders make one no better—he only grew worse”.

“Of course a man that had been so profligate and prodigal must at least begin at conversion to live a changed life. Not that all at once the old sins were abandoned, for such total transformation demands deeper knowledge of the word and will of God than George Müller yet had. But within him a new separating and sanctifying Power was at work. There was a distaste for wicked joys and former companions; the frequenting of taverns entirely ceased, and a lying tongue felt new and strange bands around it.”

At private meetings at Halle University, God touched George Muller’s life and caused a complete turn around. Everything that was holding his life for the bad came to an end when he decided to hold on to God. He went on to change the life of others through the Gospel of Jesus. If he can do to him, he change your life too!

In the Bible, Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, Zaccheus on a sycamore tree, the other thief on the cross, Moses before the burning bush, and Peter by the seashore everyone experienced this U-turn when they met God personally, he changed their hearts and gave a new direction and purpose to their lives. Even today Jesus is able to change your life upside down, he is able to give you a new start, new heart, a spirit, a new direction and purpose, so that you will live for him. There is nothing impossible with God.

Do you believe an U-turn is possible in your life?

Confess your sins, and ask God to change your life today.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I seek a change, and only you can provide it. I turn to you. In your Name. Amen.

Bible Reading: Isaiah 9.


Second Helping:

…We all have experienced this in our school or college days, when the teacher or professor enters the classroom there will be a different atmosphere. Till then there will be noise, and a continuous buzz because of much chatter , but when they enter, suddenly the class would become silent. Yes, the presence of the teacher can make a difference.

God’s presence in our life should make a difference to our nature and actions…

By the same author, click to read He Watches Over.

April 18, 2020

Finding Hope in Spring Rebirth

The Cove is a multi-site church in Mooresville, NC (Greater Charlotte) which posts weekday devotions on their website. The ones for this week were by Jenna Worsham. This was the Monday devotional in a series on the subject of new birth. I’ve also added an image below.

He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”’ Revelation 21:5 (NIV)

I’ve seen a number of pictures like this, where new life springs out of old. This one was in my files. These pictures are usually accompanied by verses such as Isaiah 43:19;
“Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.”
or Revelation 21:5a
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

The Bible contains many prophesies. The ones about Jesus’ life as a Man on earth were fulfilled in the details of His birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection. We know God keeps His promises and the prophesies are fulfilled because we can see it in His Word.

The Israelites and Jesus’ disciples lived in specific cultures and times. Because of their perspective, they may not have been able to understand all the ways prophesy was coming true during their lives. However, they were able to see some things. Jesus was born in the line of David, in Bethlehem. He fulfilled all of the prophesy in the Old Testament, and the disciples would have seen and understood some of those fulfillments.

Earlier in history, God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt, fed them manna, taken them through the desert, and eventually gave them the Promised Land. Limited perspective didn’t leave either the disciples or the Israelites without hope. We read that they saw God’s character and how He had been faithful before. They chose to remember and trust His promises. They chose to live with hope and belief that what God promised would one day come to pass.

We haven’t yet seen all of the prophesy in the Bible come true. At the end of the Bible, the book of Revelation shows us some things that will happen. Sometimes we shy away from the Revelation because we don’t understand it all, or we don’t want to misinterpret it. Yet, God’s promises are for our good. They give us hope. Even if we don’t understand every detail, we know Him and how He has moved on behalf of His people in the past. We can trust that prophesy will come true and it will be for us, not against us. “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 21:5, NIV).

We live in a culture and time where this prophesy hasn’t come to pass yet, not entirely, but things are definitely changing. The Man seated on the throne is in charge of the new heaven and new earth. He is making it new in that moment! There is no more death, pain, crying, or mourning anymore! We know that Jesus’ body rose from the dead and was made brand new.

Every spring, we see dead things come back to life. This is that season. We are seeing those flowers, buds, and births now! In seasons of pain, suffering, isolation, and fear, we are not without hope. We have promises. This prophesy will be complete in the future. In a way, it has already started coming true. God is already in the business of making things new. He shows us how birth, coming alive, renewing, reviving, awakening, and remaking are His specialties.

God’s actions in my life, the rebirth I’ve seen in my friends and family, the new life in nature–all point to the truth. Our God is “making everything new.” His words are always “trustworthy and true.” We have hope now because God is in the redemption business. We have hope for the day when this verse in Revelation is absolutely, completely fulfilled.

Read: Revelation 21:1-5;  Exodus 6:7, 12:51;  Luke 4:16-21


…Later on in the week (on Thursday), Jenna posted something I want to share a brief excerpt from:

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:21-22, ESV).

The earth is like a pregnant woman. She is capable of so much more than she can accomplish right now. Her limitations are temporary. The life she carries brings much joy now and will bring more joy soon. Nearer to the time when Jesus returns, the earth will suffer; it will be like labor for her and all who live on her. It will be hard. It will seem like it may never end. But when labor is over, Jesus will make everything new.

November 25, 2019

Making Dead Things Live: Only God Can Do This

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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This is our fourth time sharing with you the writing of melody Melody at In Pleasant Places. Click that link to read more, or click on the header below to read this one at her blog first, and then select from among other great devotionals.

Making the Dead Alive

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.
But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise…
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.”
Galatians 4:22-23,28

If those of us who are in Christ are children of promise, born again into eternal life out of the promise of God and through His decided, gracious, miraculous work, is there anything He will not do for us, for our good, for our building up and strengthening, for our being made in Christ’s likeness? If we are children of promise, born of His will and purpose and delight, is there any faithfulness or provision He would withhold or miss?

This is significant. Because it highlights that God is not passive in making us His own. He is not passive in making us alive in Him. We have been born again. Born into a new existence, a new creation, life breathed into our spiritual nature that was dead. Not sick or struggling or confused. Dead.

We don’t just see things differently. We don’t just try to live a different way because it’s healthier or nicer to others or makes sense. This isn’t some realization we finally came to or were convinced of.

This is an act of God.

Only an act of God can do this.

How often do I miss that truth?

If we see beauty in the glory of God and desire it over ourselves, it is because God acted to cause that in us. If we see wisdom and power and grace and mercy and wonder and true reality in the cross of Jesus Christ and His amazing resurrection from the dead, if we see our own sin and depravity and know He is our only hope and how astounding it is that God would send His Son to save us, if we see this and surrender in humble praise because Jesus willingly gave Himself up for our sake, choosing to save us and not Himself because there was no other way for us – if we see this, it is because God Himself spoke powerful light into our hearts and made our dead soul alive to see Him.

This is why things that seem so clear to those who have been made alive are so baffling and ridiculous to those who are still dead (1 Corinthians 1:18). The dead cannot see it. It is true that God can work through conversations and reasoned arguments, and we are commanded to be ready at all times to give reason for the hope that we have with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). But let us never forget that the Lord must act for anyone to see Him as He is, to see salvation and the cross and even their own captivity in darkness.

This is why prayer is essential, always. That God will provide opportunities to share our hope, that He will act in power and great mercy to open their eyes, that they will not harden their hearts and neglect such a great salvation at a devastating cost.

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” 1 Timothy 2:1-6

“And you were once dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:1-10

“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’…So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:13-17

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart…And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

We are ambassadors of Christ, given the ministry to implore those around us to be reconciled to God and to know the hope that we have in this mighty God who is faithful and true and who saves us and seals us forever (2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 1:13-14). Living this out in weakness as jars of clay to show the surpassing power and glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:7), let us always point to our Savior and Lord, rejoicing humbly at what He has done in us and believing firmly in what He is able to do in others.

Our God is mighty to save. He makes the dead come alive, exchanging a heart of stone and giving one of flesh and life in its place – He has already done this in us, and His power reaches to those who do not know Him yet. Our God does this, and may all blessing and honor and glory and power and praise be His for His mighty works done to ransom us and show us the wonder of His glory.

December 31, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Last day of the year; first day of the week…

…An ending and a beginning all at the same time. If that’s not a metaphor for the Christian faith in terms of living and dying, then I don’t know a better one! The idea that strikes me is that the end of this life is the beginning of the next chapter; the chapter we call eternity.

As a generation raised on Science Fiction, we’re probably more attuned than previous generations to the dimension of time. Biblical scholars tell us that the New Testament scriptures are less preoccupied about future concerns and more focused on living the Christ-follower life in their here and now.

Paul was a bi-vocational pastor, teacher and missionary. His “day job” if you want to call it that, was making tents. So when he does look at afterlife, he uses a work analogy to express the end of life:

Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.

2 Cor 4:16b – 2 Cor 5:2 (NLT)

I was also thinking of this in terms of prayer. God exists outside of linear time as we know it, but when we pray, we have an inter-dimensional communication channel from the constraints of time to a creator who exists in eternity. Each time you pray, the one you are speaking to is in a entirely different world (to put it mildly) and yet, although in Jesus “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens;” at the same time, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are…” (Hebrews 4:14b – 15a; HCSB)

We launch our prayers into eternity, but as we pray in Jesus’ name we have an intermediary who has lived under the same temporal and spatial limitations as we.

That eternity will soon be our home.

How would Paul say it if he were a contemporary writer? Perhaps he’d think in terms of a video game where you move on to the next level. Or maybe a rocket ship. When we jettison this space capsule, we will have arrived at a destination where we will breathe new air and have a new body. (It needs work, but you get the idea, right?)

‘Last day of the year; first day of the week?’ He might say, ‘Last day on earth, first day in eternity.’ (I would have liked it better if had been, ‘Last day of the week, first day of the year;’ but we’ll have to wait and see if a future calendar arrangement permits that one.)

When we keep eternity in view — and when we pray into eternity — I think we have a reason to worship.

 

 

 

May 5, 2017

Gardening With God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to the ministry of Mustard Seed Associates and the website Godspace, but this time a different writer. Click the title below to enjoy this at source.

Life as a Gardener

by Andy Wade

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed… The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:8,15

God was the first gardener. Creating and establishing the first trees, shrubs, and other forms of vegetation, then placing humankind into the garden, God establishes what a healthy relationship between humankind and the rest of creation is to look like. The most literal translations have God charging us not to exploit, but to care for and tend the creation God called “very good”.

Jump forward to Resurrection Day. Mary mistakes the risen Jesus for a gardener and that, he was! All those references he made to seed and death and life are now embodied in his resurrection.

Of course, none of this is new, but it did get me thinking. As I plan for this year’s garden, start seeds in our little sunroom, and prepare the garden beds for planting, I can’t help but reflect on how these simple acts relate to God’s profound acts of love and grace as God walks with creation throughout history.

Take a moment to reflect on Genesis chapter 2:

  • Do you see your relationship with creation as one of a caretaker?
  • Are there ways you might change how you live to better reflect God’s command to nurture and care for creation?
    • List three practices to begin this week to move closer to God’s design for us as caretakers.

Now imagine all of your life experiences and actions as those of a gardener:

  • What are your favorite things to “plant”?
  • What things do you spend most of your time “tending and nurturing”?
  • When looking at your life-garden, what do you “water”?
    • What things could benefit from more water?
  • Are there things that need “pruning”?
    • What are they, and how might you begin this week to approach them?
  • Are there “plants” that are invasive, taking over, and need to be eliminated?

Finally, imagine your garden as a place of hospitality and sharing:

  • How do you share your “harvest”?
    • Are there things you just make available for others to glean?
  • Are there “garden beds” you help prepare for others to plant in?
    • What are they, and how do you nurture the best soil possible for others?

Using the language of gardening is a thought-provoking way to look at our lives and the choices we make. For me, the metaphor gives me a creative way to evaluate my choices and actions and frees me to see new ways of approaching areas where I’ve previously been stuck. It also helps to expose attitudes and actions I hadn’t even considered, blind spots that really don’t line up with the faith I profess.

[At this point Andy invites comments; this is a recent article; click the title above to add yours]

May 3, 2017

Alive in a New Way

Luke 24: On the Emmaus Road

…As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” …

Luke 24: The appearance to the disciples

…They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement…

John 20: The appearance to Thomas

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Today we feature a new writer. Rev. Jesse Parker is the Incumbent at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Port Hope, Ontario. I saw this article when it appeared in a local newspaper there and asked if we could share it with you here.

Alive in a New Way

In Japan when a piece of pottery breaks it might go to a craftsman who specializes in the art of Kintsugi, which translates to “golden binding.” This is the art of mending broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with precious metal. Kintsugi treats breakage as part of the history of an object, as something beautiful to be displayed rather than something to be disguised.

In all of the resurrection stories in the gospels there is something different about the risen Jesus, something has changed. It is still him, but he is different. At the seashore, his disciples do not know him right away. On the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion do not know their Lord until he breaks bread with them. In the upper room, Thomas is incredulous until Jesus invites him to touch the wounds of his crucifixion. There is something different, something has changed. The encounter with Thomas tells us something important, the risen Lord still bears the wounds of the cross. The risen Lord, whose body was broken on the cross, still bears the marks of that brokenness, and makes no attempt to disguise them, indeed he displays them for all to see. There’s no missing them.

The resurrection does not make the crucifixion moot, it does not mean that Jesus’s body wasn’t broken on the cross, it certainly does not mean that Jesus never really died. Instead the resurrection means that death did not have the last say. The resurrection restored Jesus to life, but to a new kind of life. Something had changed. Like a badly broken vessel repaired with precious metal, Jesus was given new life, but in a new way, not hiding that his body had been broken, not disguising his wounds, but displaying them.

Jesus shows us that resurrection means being alive in a new way. And in this is the full weight and measure of the Christian hope, that resurrection is something that we have a share in. At the last day, yes, when God will establish his Kingdom fully among us, we have hope of new life. But we also have hope to live as resurrection people right now. We have the hope of new life right now. In Christ’s resurrection is the hope that God can and will take all of the brokenness of our lives and redeem it.

That does not mean that our brokenness, our wounds, our cracks, will be gone as though they had never been there in the first place, but rather, that they will be changed into something new, something different, something beautiful even, a part of our history, not to be disguised, but to be displayed as the exquisite beauty of God’s own craftsmanship, working to make something new where previously there had only been fragments. Resurrection is possible for us right now, and it is the Risen Christ, still bearing the wounds of the cross even today, who shows us this.