Christianity 201

September 16, 2022

Taking the Bypass Around the Valley of the Shadow

Lately when I’m on YouTube or watching television, I’ve been more aware of references to the Interstate Highway system in the United States. Many of these pass directly through the downtown sections of major cities, and since many drivers will prefer to avoid the congestion, there are also ‘bypass’ routes, sometimes called ‘spurs.’ So with I-75 there might be a I-275, or I-475 offered to you as you approach a metropolitan area. Basically, these help you avoid the pain.

Which brings us to today’s devotional…

NLT II Tim 3: 12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

It was one of those big outdoor festivals in the late ’70s. The speaker was an up-and-coming youth evangelist, and for the purpose of making a point that day he was deliberately misquoting scripture:

“Yes, and some who endeavor to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 

Some?

No, it doesn’t say that. And people started yelling up what it does say from the crowd: “All, all, it says ‘all.’”

We got the message. Or did we?

Years later, I had to be somewhere, but I had a few minutes in the car, and I immediately fell into a familiar pattern, “Lord, I pray for the people suffering under religious oppression right now that you would deliver — “

And then I stopped.

Deliver them? That’s the typical North American or Western European response. Get me the heck out of here.

But when you talk to people who have dealt with religious persecution that can mean torture, imprisonment or death, they never ask that we pray for deliverance, but that God would give them the grace to endure it and the presence of His Holy Spirit in the middle of it.

Psalm 23 talks about going through tough circumstances:

MSG Ps. 23: 4a Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.

Our interpretation is often

“Even though I walk around the valley of the shadow of death…” 

To which the crowd should yell out, “Through, through, it says ‘go through.’

How you feel about such things will affect how you pray. I posted some of these thoughts nearly a decade ago, and at the time the title was, “Pray For Them, Yes; But Pray What Specifically?”

We want to pray for the persecuted. We want to pray for the suffering. But do we have a theology of persecution? Have we ever examined ourselves to see what is our personal theology of suffering?

For the record, if I am dealing with physical, mental or emotional suffering, probably every part of me will cry out for you to please pray that I will see relief from it. But should you pray that for me if God is teaching me something through it? Or should you pray that I experience God’s presence in the middle of it and learn the lesson he is teaching me?

That would be a difficult question. Especially if I’m asking you to pray for healing and you say, “Lord, I pray that our brother will learn the lessons you’re teaching him through this illness.” Huh? That isn’t what I asked you.

With persecution it’s more difficult. We want to see the end of political and social regimes that block justice and oppress people. We want them to see relief from it. We want it to end.

On the flip side, we also want to avoid questioning God’s presence in the middle of suffering and persecution; the line of reasoning that asks, ‘Where was God when __________ was happening?’

While you’re pondering that, let’s throw one more spice into the soup.

What about your theology of end times or what’s called eschatology? If you believe in a rapture doctrine, is it consistent with scripture to believe that the church will be removed from the suffering association with the period called ‘the tribulation,’ or is it more consistent to believe that the church will be faced with enduring it?

I’m not saying one way or another right now, I’m just saying that if we begin to understand a theology of suffering and a theology of persecution then we may want to think about our theology of tribulation.


We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.
– 2 Cor. 4: 8-11 NLT

 

May 2, 2022

Paul’s Encouragement: A Reforming Process

This is our fourth time with , who writes at Our Living Hope. We often think of Paul’s letters as being encouraging, but in this article he uses the language that they are part of a reformation process for the churches which heard them read and applied them in the situation they were facing or would face. Click the link which follows to visit the site in person.

A Letter of Encouragement

“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you….” 1 Thessalonians 1:4.

Recently I was reading an interesting article on reformation, and it was the story of English reformer William Tyndale but with a fresh insight, and it was good to know how God used him in his time in a unique way. The Holyspirit is the greatest reformer of the Church, time and again he raises and inspires people to voice out his reform whenever it is needed. Apostle Paul who was once persecuting the Church became the torch bearer of the Gospel, he not only planted churches but also reformed the churches time and again through his letters. His letters spoke reform to the upcoming churches in the Greco-Roman world and still speaks reform and transformation even in our times. This is one such letter to a growing Thessalonian Church which was influenced by many issues. He carefully lays out his heart and his burden with all humility to strengthen them in the truth.

Apostle Paul writes to the Church at Thessaloniki encouraging them in their faith to face challenges, reminding them about the acts God performed among them when Paul and his team approached and preached them the Gospel of Jesus for the first time and how they received it with great joy. Apostle Paul takes them on a journey back to remind them of their strong faith in the Lord, God’s faithfulness in their lives and their own ministry among them. Reformation means growth and change towards the truth, and Paul sought growth in them by speaking out the truth in various dimensions.

In Power and of the Holyspirit :

“Because our Gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction”. 1 Thessalonians 1:4.

First and foremost A. Paul reminds them that their message didn’t come with just words but was attested by the power of God. It came with the conviction of the Holy Spirit which transformed their lives and made them believe in the midst of suffering. The Holyspirit acted powerfully through their ministry and the heart of the Thessalonians got convicted by the Gospel and there were signs and miracles resulting in people being delivered and coming to the knowledge of God. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), the kingdom of God is not just talk but of power (1 Corinthians 4:20) and the Holyspirit brings conviction in people’s lives through the Gospel (John 16:8). A. Paul underscores in authenticity that their message was accompanied by God’s power, which was evident by their changed lives and that a community of faithful was raised among them.

Amidst Persecution and challenges:

“We had previously suffered in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his Gospel inspite of strong opposition”. 1 Thessalonians 2:2.

A. Paul then reminds them of the manner in which they brought the message of truth to them. It was not an easy journey to them, they had to go through suffering and opposition in order to reach them. It tested their faith and commitment to their call but it also became a witness and testament to the church at Thessaloniki that they were indeed servants of God. Truth will be tested but it has the power to remain till the end ( 1 Thessalonians 3: 3-4, 2 Timothy 3:11-12, John 15:19-20, Revelation 2:10-11, 1 Peter 4:12). As Paul reminds them of his sufferings, the Church were reminded them about their responsibility to care for those who serve them and be an encouragement to them by growing in faith and commitment to the Lord who suffered for their salvation.

With Authority and Good intentions:

“On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness”. 1 Thessalonians 2:4-5.

The Gospel preached by Apostle Paul came with authority as the one approved by God. Their intent was to please God than men, they called upon God as their witness and their accountability partner. They didn’t deceive them with carefully constructed stories but their motives were true, and they sought the wellbeing and growth of the Church at Thessaloniki. They served God with pure hearts and clean hands for the Glory of his Holy Name ( Psalm 2:11-12, Matthew 3:17, 25:23). They didn’t do anything to exploit them but their intention was to fulfill God’s plan for them.

In Love and Care :

“..But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us”. 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8.

Like Christ gave himself to the Church, A. Paul reminds and encourages the Church at Thessaloniki that their message came with care and love that they shared themselves with them. He carefully shows them that they not only shared the message, but they have a relationship with them in the Lord. ‘We were gentle to care for you as a mother cares for her own children’ he states (Isaiah 44:3, 66:13). He lived among them and fed them with spiritual milk so that they may be nourished and grow in the Lord. It was out of love and care the ministry was built among them (Philippians 1:8, Galatians 4:19, Philippians 2:1-2). Paul taught that the spirituality of our Faith hinges not only on the divinity of God but also from the support of the community of God.

In Example and in Truth :

“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children….”. 1 Thessalonians 2:10-11.

If Apostle Paul’s work for the Lord can face criticism then it’s a gurantee that everyone else’s will be. But he also patiently reminds them about the exemplary life he lived before them (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). He was like a Father to them without any partiality teaching them the truth and disciplined them in the ways of the Lord ( Hebrews 12:6). He lived a life of such faith when he lived among them which made the Gospel message relevant to the fellowship there, his life became the most important message. He was able to say follow me as I follow Christ, and that he is a father to the Lord’s flock (1 Corinthians 4:15). His life itself became an encouragement to the Church at Thessaloniki.

One of the early letters of A.Paul to the church in Macedonian province serves as an encouragement even now. It was a letter of mutual encouragement and reformation. A. Paul was encouraged looking back at his own ministry in Thessaloniki and the believers were encouraged and refreshed by being reminded of their commitment to the Lord and was comforted to stay firm in their faith. The steadfast work of A.Paul for the Lord not only comes because of his call, anointing and the grace over his life but also his willingness to learn and grow (Philippians 3:12). In Paul’s appeal to the Church at Thessaloniki we behold one of the finest and powerful torch bearers of the Gospel.

There is always refreshing when your spirit flows
There is power as it overflows
May it reform us to incessantly grow
By the light of your gentle glow…

April 12, 2022

Bearing the Marks of Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In some Roman Catholic communities, it believed to be possible for someone today to bear the “Stigmata” which Wikipedia defines as, “the appearance of bodily wounds, scars and pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet.”

So a person reading the title of today’s devotional might be forgiven for thinking that’s what we’re looking at today; or that Stigmata was what the Apostle Paul had in mind in today’s key verse. To complicate things, some translations have Paul saying that he bears “branding marks,” and removing the context from his remarks, and taking the passage too literally could result in creating a church ritual which makes foot-washing seem rather tame.

Rather, he’s talking about the physical scars resulting from hardship, imprisonment and beatings for the sake of the gospel…

…Today we’re introducing a new author, who posts weekly at Grace of the King. You can continue here, but you’re encouraged to click the header which follows and read this at its source.

Do We Bear the Marks of Christ?

From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
Galatians 6:17 ESV

This verse struck my cords deep with in me. I have read it over and over again pondering my life, while looking at the life of Paul. Now I am no means the Apostle Paul, none of us are or ever will be. As in scripture when we study it, we are to look at it in different perspectives. Who and when is God speaking to in this passage, then what does it mean to us today.

Paul at this time was in prison. He had years of traveling and evangelism. He also had years of beatings, stoning, hardships that you and I could not imagine. The good thing and by the grace of God we don’t have to. Saints before us have paved the way, they were hung on crosses and burned as candles so we can live the life we have. We are blessed beyond reasoning, but yet so we bear the marks of Christ?

I look at this and I am undone. I am nowhere deserving of the marks of Christ as Paul had. I am not sure I could take the lashings, or the beatings as Paul did. My faith I believe lacks in that department. God knows though I will die for him, I will not fail in this race.

I look at Paul who preached the Gospel everywhere he went, and was hunted down. Paul was hated by the gentiles and the Jews. The cross is offensive to the world, and Paul knew the cost he would bear. He knew chains awaited him in Jerusalem but yet he still went. This to me is a mark many of us here in the West will soon bear. As the church’s voice gets louder and more pure in its boldness persecution will come. Will we be sought out by authorities?

Paul was known to be argumentative at times. He pressed into the worldly views and man made religious laws. But he did it with love and grace. Paul started in the synagogue then worked his was to the streets. His life was marked by the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was the name he preached that made Paul the enemy. Christ crucified was it, and the cross that Paul bore everyday.

The marks of Christ in our lives, should be seen by all. When we have scars those scars have stories. And we tell those stories with passion and vigor. But yet we hold back on the cross and the redemption he has done in our lives. Oh how beautiful is the healing of those scars. How glorious is the hearts made whole, the marriages renewed, the shattered minds pieced back together. These are the marks of Christ. This is the mark of Jesus in out lives that people see.

Let us bear the marks of Christ proudly and boldly. For the Apostle Paul said it best,

“far be it for me to boast except in the cross of Jesus Christ”. (Galatians 6:14)


BibleHub.com cross-references for today’s key verse:

Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. – 2 Cor. 11:23 NLT

always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body. – 2 Cor. 4:10 NET

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, – Phil. 3:10 NIV


Second Helping: By the same author, Are We Living Two Lives.


We want to remind you again about a YouTube playlist which is very appropriate for this week leading to Good Friday and Easter. There are 29 songs. This time, we’ve embedded the playlist here as part of today’s devotional. It will continue playing as long as you keep the email open (subscribers) or keep this page on screen (website visitors).

August 9, 2021

Getting Rid of Resentment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This week I discovered a book by Nathan Foster, the son of Richard Foster, who wrote extensively about spiritual disciplines. I decided to see if Nathan had any writing online and came across a very applicable and helpful article about dealing with resentment, at the website Renovaré, founded by his father. What appears below is part one of the article, for the practical steps it’s recommended you click the article’s title, which follows and read everything there.

How to Release Resentment: Steps for Forgiving Others

On my thirty-fifth birthday I wrote the following phrase:

If you make it through life without becoming bitter and resentful, then you’ve done pretty well. To spend your life keeping your heart open to others and relationships is a great accomplishment. Resentment is the human default.

Sometimes I wonder why God laid claim to vengeance. It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35).

Woven deep in our DNA is a desire for justice. We ache for things to be turned right and good. Yet the anger, wounding, and intensity of retribution is so dangerous and potentially damaging to the human soul that I almost think God’s insistence on letting him handle affairs of judgment is a gift, a freedom of sorts. The truth is I’m not sure I have the capacity to rightly deal with those who have hurt me.

Learning to trust that he’s in control is not an easy task, but I believe it’s safe to assume that God is fully aware of human affairs and the evil we produce.

But I like my resentments

My resentments and me, we have a special relationship. Late at night when the house is quiet, I like to bring them out. I talk to them and they to me. I replay old words over and over again, like a pebble in my shoe. I squeeze my toes, turning, turning, never satisfied, always thinking one more shift and it will find its home. And the more I adjust, the worse things become. My heart races, my mind is on fire.

I line up my offenders like a child with little toy soldiers and compose detailed, articulate responses to all the wrongs they have done me. And, as I imagine the replay, I create new scenarios and new speeches. After months of conversations together, my resentments have taken on a life of their own. I fear the truth and reality of the offense becomes buried in the vengeful rush of my imaginative court.

I have no business holding onto resentments. They are just too powerful.

The old proverb rings so true: Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill someone else.

If my own misery wasn’t enough motivation to deal with my resentments, Jesus had some helpful things to say: ​How many times should I forgive? Up to seven times?” Jesus’ answer almost sounds playful, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18: 21 – 22).

He was so serious about the business of humans forgiving each other that he even instructed people not to give offerings until their grudges were dealt with: ​Leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23 – 24).

And then a series of difficult verses: ​For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14 – 15).

Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

I don’t quite know what to do with those words other than to try to obey. It certainly seems practicing forgiveness as a discipline is of extreme importance.

The recordings of the words of Jesus reveal that he was not only knowledgeable and kind, but he was practical as well. Therefore, I assume Jesus would not ask us to do something that was beyond our capacity to do. With that information, I’m of the opinion we start where we are. For some it’s as simple as making our unforgiveness a prayer. ​Father, I want to forgive. I don’t know how. Teach me.” I’ve found God is ever so open to meet us where we are, and not where we want or think we should be.

Now I’m not an expert on forgiving others, although I’ve had my share of practice. I’d like to use this space to share a few things I’ve picked up through the years in my work as a counselor and how I personally practice forgiveness as a discipline.

I realize that for some this is an extremely difficult matter to deal with, so please don’t let my short teaching feel trite. I should note that I’m not intending these ideas to replace working with a trained professional or clergy. Some matters just should not be undertaken alone.

I have come to conceptualize my resentments as primarily a debt that I’m rightfully owed. Someone has offended me and I am justly entitled to recompense. Consequently, it is this debt and the collection of its payment that I offer to God. I say something to this effect: ​This person wronged me. God you take it. I’m not holding this debt any longer. I’m releasing retribution to you for you to do with as you please. If you would like to go after them and punish them, that is none of my business. If you have some other arrangement in mind that involves some sort of forgiveness, that is up to you. I no longer hold this debt. It is yours. Take it and do as you please.” …

…continue reading here


Nathan Foster’s 2014 book  which I mentioned above is titled, The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines. It’s available in print and audio (read by Nathan himself).

August 19, 2019

Pain Makes Your Voice Louder

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I subscribe to an email devotional called Devotions Daily. It’s a promotional vehicle for HarperCollins Christian Publishing under the name Faith Gateway. The devotions are always book excerpts, and as you’d expect, they try to sell readers a copy of the book at the end. There are always devotions I want to use here, but many of them are too long, and that raises the issue of copyright on longer excerpts.

This one is an excerpt from an excerpt, with Pastor Levi Lusko writing about pain and suffering from his book, Through the Eyes of a Lion. He’s also the author of Swipe Right and I Declare War. He is the lead pastor of Fresh Life Church with multi-site locations in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and Utah.

🎤 Pain is a Microphone

Pain is a microphone. And the more it hurts, the louder you get.

Suffering isn’t an obstacle to being used by God. It is an opportunity to be used like never before.

This truth leaps off the pages of Scripture again and again and again. Joseph suffered for years as a prisoner for crimes he didn’t commit, but it only made him louder. In the end he was raised to the right hand of Pharaoh and put in a position to save the lives of his brothers, who had tried to kill him (Genesis 45:5).

Esther went through the unspeakably difficult trial of becoming an orphan when both her parents died (Esther 2:7). Yet her adoption by Mordecai set into motion the events by which she would become queen of Persia and prevent a holocaust.

David was forced to go on the run, like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, while he was hunted by his lunatic of a father-in-law, Saul. David was homeless, living in and out of caves in the wilderness of Israel, and yet it was in those caves he poured out his heart to God in worship (1 Samuel 23–24, 1 Samuel 26). His greatest praise came from his darkest days.

When the apostle Paul was saved, a prophecy was given to Ananias, who had the unique challenge of discipling this recently converted terrorist. God told him that Paul would stand before kings, gentiles, and the nation of Israel and that he would suffer many things for Jesus’ sake (Acts 9:15–16). There are two elements there that we must not miss: (1) Paul would be used powerfully, and (2) Paul would suffer greatly. But I believe those are actually two sides of the same coin that exists within every calling. It would be while he was suffering for Jesus that he would do the great things (speaking to the Jews, speaking to the children of Israel, and speaking to kings).

Here’s where this concept comes to your front door. Just as Ananias was to tell Paul that he was a chosen vessel, so you are part of a chosen generation. No ordinary child. You are royalty, remember? A unique part of God’s forever family. But there’s a catch: just like Paul, you will suffer many things on the way to your destiny being fulfilled.

Pain is guaranteed. The Bible says that the rain falls on the evil and the good alike (Matthew 5:45). Part of living on this fallen planet cursed by sin is that trials are inherent. That’s just the way it is.

What about for the child of God? What happens when you give your life to Jesus Christ? The difficulties ramp up to a whole other level.

Jesus said that He wants us to shine brightly. He didn’t just say,

I am the light of the world. — John 8:12;

He also said,

You are the light of the world. — Matthew 5:14, emphasis added

Daniel said that those who turn many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever and ever (Daniel 12:3). Guess what? God wants to make a star out of you. That’s wonderful — but as the great theologian Spider-Man said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The enemy is not going to let you capture his flag without some serious flak. When you stand up as a Christian, attempt to share your faith, and live to see lost people won, you’ll invite suffering, persecution, and opposition your way. This is why Paul told Timothy,

All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. — 2 Timothy 3:12

Adversity is going to happen. In fact, it’s part of your calling. We’re told in 1 Thessalonians 3:3,

No one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. (emphasis added)

Jesus warned His followers that the world hates Him, and if you’re trying to follow Him, the world’s going to hate you too…


…to continue reading this devotional, click this link.

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October 15, 2018

No More Fence Sitting

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our third time featuring the writing of Ronnie Dauber, a Christian author who lives in Canada. She has written several young adult novels and seven Inspirational books. Click the title below to read at source.

The Days of Fence Sitting R Over!

There was a time when Christians kept to themselves, followed Jesus and were still able to live in a society with respect. Many would sit on the fence, not sure what to believe because their minds were still partial to the things and ways of this world. However, as the days roll faster towards the return of Christ our King, there is now an obvious difference between those who truly love and follow Jesus, and those who call themselves Christians but are still part of this world. The days of fence sitting are over!  

Many laws have been changed to make legal things that God calls sin, and it’s mandatory for everyone to accept them, whether they are for them or against them. The new age “Christians” are congenial to the changes, but the real Christians can’t accept them and take a stand against them for Christ’ sake and are ridiculed, persecuted and punished.

  • We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.—2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NKJV

The issue with the gays and transgenders, and with the right to abortion are no longer ones that we can speak against without being heavily penalized. We are forced to accept this…regardless of our beliefs. These political issues are really spiritual war zones that are dividing the people and using their emotions to do it. God is no longer part of most government equations for most people.

We are living in the days before the return of our King, and it’s a time when we either stand up for the truth or deny it. The days of fence sitting are over!

  • Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
    And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” — Isaiah 6:8

Sin is spreading faster now than ever before and it’s almost mind-boggling to see how far into it people are daring to go. The world is filled with anger and deluded with a hate for the things of God. Yet, for the Christians—that is the born-again, Spirit-filled believers in Jesus—it’s a time of redemption and revival because we know that Jesus is about to return.

  • Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.—Luke 21:28

How do we deal with sin? The Bible says that we are to hate sin just as God hates sin. We don’t accept it, ignore it, or pretend that we don’t care. If Jesus is alive in us, we won’t be able to hide it! And we’ll have many chances to speak the truth to those caught up in its deception.

  • But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.—1 Peter 3:15

We don’t hate the people; they are victims caught in the devil’s clutches and their future is bleak unless we show them the path to Jesus. God wants us to love them and be willing to speak about the joy that’s in our heart.

  • But I say unto you, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”—Matthew 5:44

Many people will come against us and speak badly about us and even break life-long friendships with us because we won’t accept the sinful things of this world. This persecution is growing and it hurts when loved ones turn on us. But it’s not us that they hate; it’s Jesus.

  • [Jesus said,] “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”—John 15:18

This is when we must leave our emotions out of it and not take offense.  Jesus told us to preach the gospel to the world. He didn’t tell us to judge, condemn or hate the people. He told us to live peaceably with all men.

  • If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.—Romans 12:18 NKJV

When we stand for truth, we will be noticed! So, we need to build up our relationship with Jesus by spending time with Him and by studying the Scriptures to know His truth. His Holy Spirit in us will lead us and give us the words to speak out at the right time so that we can speak against sin and tell others about the salvation of Jesus.

  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding.—Proverbs 3:5

If we love Jesus and are living for Him, it will be impossible to hide who we are in this sinful world. We won’t be able to sit on the fence because the truth in our heart will blatantly reveal the sin in this world. And this is good because the people around us will see our light shine a whole lot better when we get off the fence and let it shine for Jesus!

October 11, 2018

The Road of Thanksgiving (Leads Through Enemy Territory)

by Clarke Dixon  [returning to a study in the book of Esther where we left off a few weeks ago.]
What happened to our “happily ever after”? Jesus came to rescue the world, yet it still seems to need a rescue. You came to Jesus for salvation, yet life still feels messy. At the end of chapter 7 in the Book of Esther, we may have expected a “happily ever after” summary. Haman’s evils plots have been exposed, Haman himself hanged, and we expect  God’s people should now be able to live happily ever after. Indeed there is great celebration:

For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor. 17 In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday. Esther 8:16-17

While thanksgiving is not specifically mentioned, it could hardly be missing from the celebrations.

However, the story is not done. There are battles ahead. There will still be fighting, there will still be violence:

The king’s secretaries were summoned at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day; and an edict was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded, to the Jews and to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces from India to Ethiopia,  . . . . By these letters the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to assemble and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, with their children and women, and to plunder their goods on a single day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. Esther 8:9-12

Bible scholars point out that chapter 8 reflects chapter 3, even using the same language in parts, to demonstrate a great reversal. There is the giving of a ring (3:10; 8:2), the summoning of secretaries (3:12; 8:9), the writing and sealing of letters (3:12; 8:10), the instruction to kill people including women and children (3:13; 8:11), the publishing of a decree (3:14; 8:13), the speed of couriers (3:15; 8:14), the response of the city of Susa (3:15; 8:15), and the clothing of Mordecai (4:1; 8:15).

With a wonderful reversal, there is much for God’s people to be thankful for. However, this is no “happily ever after”. The road ahead would not be easy. The former edict to wipe the Jews out could not be simply undone. That is not how things were done in Persia. As foolish as it seems, what the king writes is final. Instead, a new edict was provided to allow the Jews to assemble an army together, to give them the right to defend themselves. Their road of thanksgiving would lead through enemy territory.

As Christians we celebrate a great reversal, we have the greatest reasons for celebration and thanksgiving. Instead of heading toward death, we are headed toward eternal life. We celebrate God’s grace. But like God’s people in Esther’s day, the road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory. In Esther’s day God’s people were not simply removed from the Persian empire with all its quirks. The Christian today is not simply removed from a broken world with all its troubles. There is great thanksgiving, but the road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory.

The teaching of the New Testament encourages us to be ready for this road.

Jesus teaches us to rejoice in the midst of trouble:

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12

Jesus teaches us to pray for deliverance:

And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13

Paul teaches us to put on the full armour of God:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:10-17

James tells us that the devil will be tempting and inviting us:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. . . James 4:7-8

Peter tells us that troubles will come:

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7

Peter further tells us that we the devil will come at us:

6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:6-11

Anyone who tells you that God will lift you out of all troubles when you follow Jesus is being selective in their reading of the Bible. The road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory. Expect trouble. Prepare for it.

There was great celebration for God’s people in the Book of Esther, they knew all would be well, it was a time for thanksgiving. But it was also time to prepare for battle. In Christ we have a great salvation to celebrate, all shall be well, it is a time for thanksgiving. But it is not a time to let our guard down. It is time to prepare for battle, to prepare for the road that leads through enemy territory. The road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory, but God leads us through it.

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Read Clarke Dixon’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

October 1, 2018

God’s People Suffer; Worldly People Prosper; Is That Fair?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Once again we’re back with pastor, author and Bible translator Christopher R. Smith at the blog Good Question. (You can get lost in some of these discussion questions; I strongly recommend a visit!) Click the title below to read this one at its source.

Why does God allow his people to suffer while worldly people prosper?

Q. Why does God allow his people to suffer while worldly people prosper?

Your question is exactly the same one that’s asked in Psalm 73:

I envied the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles;
    their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens;
    they are not plagued by human ills.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.

The psalmist eventually gets an answer to this difficulty, and I’ll discuss it in a moment. But first I’d like to observe that the perception that God’s people suffer while worldly people prosper actually represents a snapshot from a particular moment in life. If we think back over our whole lives, and if we look at the people all around us, we realize that God’s people actually go through seasons of prosperity and seasons of suffering over the course of their whole lives, and so do people who live without any particular devotion for God. If we took the snapshot at a different time, it might show the godly people we know prospering and the worldly people we know suffering.

But I think the perception nevertheless points to an important issue. We would expect, everything else being equal, that God would bless those who live in devotion to him, that God would protect them from misfortunes, and for that matter that they wouldn’t create so much suffering for themselves as those who live without regard to God. In other words, we would expect a positive correlation between godliness and prosperity, and a positive correlation between ungodliness and suffering. But we don’t see this in our world. I think that’s the real concern, and it is indeed borne out by experience.

So what’s the explanation? The author of Psalm 73 finds one part of it by taking a longer-term view. He sees that in the end, the wicked will not prosper. “How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!” People who pursue a path of ruthless selfishness in this life are sowing the seeds of their own destruction. God has set up the moral universe that way. And even if these consequences are not experienced in this life, they will be experienced ultimately, when God finally judges the world. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.

However, even this assurance may be small consolation to a person who’s faithfully trying to serve God in this life but who is struggling with suffering, persecution, and failure. The psalmist has a further insight that addresses this concern. He describes going into the temple, encountering God there, receiving reassuring insights, and finally saying to God,

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing I desire on earth besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

The psalmist realizes that what matters most, in this life and the next, is knowing God and loving God. In a mysterious way that we cannot understand, God works through all of the events and circumstances of our lives to help us know and love Him better. This includes allowing suffering at times. In those times, we need to trust God and cling to him all the more.

I’ve written another post that you might find helpful. It’s entitled, “Why do some people seem to suffer more than others?” In that post I observe that Amy Carmichael often said, “The love of God is very courageous.” She meant that God will courageously trust us to accept difficult situations as a part of His plan that we will only understand in the end, when we can see everything clearly. I think we have a hint of this in the middle of Psalm 73:

When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

It may not be until we enter the heavenly sanctuary of God that we are no longer troubled deeply by the problem of human suffering and the fact that it seems to affect godly people as well as ungodly ones. But when we do come into that sanctuary, we will understand not only the final destiny of the wicked, but the glorious destiny that God has been preparing us for all along, even through suffering.

This,” as the book of Revelation says, “calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.


By today’s author: Ever wondered about descriptions in the gospel in terms of how things appeared, or what the dimensions are with buildings, or the layout of the surrounding territory? Read how a graphic novel helped Christopher Smith better understand physical locations and perspective in the Gospel of Mark.

July 2, 2018

The Enemy Targets Spiritual Play-Makers

The website Dust Off the Bible has been running a detailed series of posts on Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Specifically these include:

 

Acts Devotional Commentary [Acts 6:8-15] Stephen Seized

Acts 6:8-15

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.


Reflections & Commentary


The seizing of Saint Stephen is a story that Luke tells with enough detail that one needs to read slowly through the passage, as to not miss an important facet of the story.

The first detail that Luke provides is that Stephen was not just another ordinary member of the Christian community. He was known throughout the people.

“a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people”

So, the Jewish leaders were not picking people indiscriminately to harass. They were looking to take out the play makers. Like dealing with the disciples, they assume that taking out the leaders of a movement will help dissolve it. This tactic thus far has not proven to be effective. Why they think it will work still, even after they’ve seen it fail, is difficult to know.

Luke’s second area of detail is about the people who rose up to complain about Stephen. Luke refers to them as “members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen“. Who exactly was Luke referring to? Were these Roman slaves that were now free? Were they Jews who believed in hedonism? Were they prisoners set free? Luke gives a little help to answering this question in the next sentence; “Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia“. These Freedmen were part of the North African and Western Asian Jewish diaspora. The people named by Luke are two different synagogues, as they are thousands of miles apart, yet they both contained Jewish Freedmen. The diasporic Freedmen existed in both synagogues, as they were the natural product of the diaspora.

Philo speaks of these Jews as former slaved brought into Rome who lived near the Tiber River.

How then did he look upon the great division of Rome which is on the other side of the river Tiber, which he was well aware was occupied and inhabited by the Jews? And they were mostly Roman citizens, having been emancipated; for, having been brought as captives into Italy, they were manumitted by those who had bought them for slaves, without ever having been compelled to alter any of their hereditary or national observances. (156) Therefore, he knew that they had synagogues, and that they were in the habit of visiting them, and most especially on the sacred sabbath days, when they publicly cultivate their national philosophy. He knew also that they were in the habit of contributing sacred sums of money from their first fruits and sending them to Jerusalem by the hands of those who were to conduct the sacrifices. (157) But he never removed them from Rome, nor did he ever deprive them of their rights as Roman citizens, because he had a regard for Judaea…. (Philo, Legato ad Gaium 13:155-156)

These Jews were likely part of the Jewish expulsion from Rome that took place under Tiberius, in 19 CE. Tacitus describes them as being “tainted with superstition” which was a reference to their religion. They were expelled to Sardinia.

There was a debate too about expelling the Egyptian and Jewish worship, and a resolution of the Senate was passed that four thousand of the freedmen class who were infected with those superstitions and were of military age should be transported to the island of Sardinia, to quell the brigandage of the place, a cheap sacrifice should they die from the pestilential climate. The rest were to quit Italy, unless before a certain day they repudiated their impious rites. (Tacitus 2.85)

The Island of Sardinia was west of Italy, nowhere near near Northern Africa or Western Asia. So were the Freedmen of this island the same as the Freedmen that rose up against Stephen? It’s quite possible that Luke is referring to 3 groups of people, or that the Freedmen from Sardinia migrated after being expelled to the island. Some of the Jews were also later expelled from Rome who were partly made up of Freedmen. Where they ended up in the diaspora is hard to know except that it appears that some ended up in Northern Africa and South West Asia (Turkey).

But why would these Freedmen start a quarrel with Stephen? I think the answer is more obvious than it might first appear. They were already enslaved by Rome. They wanted no beef with the leaders that had set them free. The preaching of Jesus in any location near the Jewish Freedmen would have set off alarm bells, and aroused fear that another Roman crackdown was coming. So, they did what anyone would do in that situation; they took Stephen to the Sanhedrin for court.

However, Stephen uses his platform (despite it being in captivity) to preach the gospel (yet again) to the men in the Sanhedrin council. A gospel they surely are tired of hearing about.

January 12, 2018

Fearing Man More than Fearing God

This is our first time visiting the wealth of articles at the blog of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, Michigan. Today’s main text is linked in the 3rd paragraph and takes you to a parallel of the NIV and The Message for these twelve verses. Click the title below to read this at source.

The Paralysis of the Fear of Man

 By  
 “I do not know this Man that you are talking about” (Peter in Mark 14:71).

It’s easy for us to stand at a distance and throw stones at Peter for denying Christ, and to claim that we would do better than he. But have you ever squandered a clear opportunity to testify about Jesus? Truthfully, I can relate to Peter, because I too have confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, but at times, I am paralyzed by the fear of man.

The Bible has a lot to say about our fear of man, giving numerous examples of people (both believers and unbelievers) who at times were driven by this fear: Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Lot, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Samson, Saul, David, the Pharisees, Peter, Ananias and Sapphira, etc. Why is the fear of man such a strong motivation for us? Why are we driven by what other people think about us? Why are our choices motivated by the danger that might come from other people?

Jesus offers three answers in Luke 12:1-12. Before we consider the text, a definition of the fear of man might be helpful. Fear of man can be described as a heightened awareness of self that comes because of a possible threat. When we fear man, we are most worried about what someone may do to us.

In Luke 12:1-12, Jesus identifies the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Scribes and exhorts believers to fear God most of all. Prior to His teaching, two important events set the context: 1) The Pharisees and Scribes attacked Jesus with their words, in an attempt to trap Him (cf. 11:53-54); 2) An ambitious crowd formed to hear Jesus speak (12:1).

It is in this setting that Jesus speaks to the crowd in order to calibrate their thinking regarding their fears. Jesus makes His point with 6 verbs that take the force of a command:

  • Watch out for hypocrisy, v. 1
  • Don’t fear man most of all, v. 4
  • Fear God most of all, v. 5 (2x)
  • Don’t fear that you’ll be forgotten, v. 7
  • Don’t fear that you’ll be abandoned, v. 11

These verbs can be summarized into three main reasons why we fear man more than God:

We Focus on the Temporal

The first reason that we fear man more than God is that we have our eyes fixed on that which is passing away (vv. 1-5). The hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Scribes was motivated by their fear of man. They looked and acted as if they were strong, when in fact, they were weak. Consider John 12:41-44,

These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.

Their external piety covered the wickedness of their hearts (cf. Matt 23:27). The disciples would do well to avoid that same hypocrisy by being less concerned about what man could do to them, and more concerned about what God could do.

Specifically, in verses 1-3, disciples of Jesus must be motivated by God’s final judgment, There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and [nothing] hidden that will not be known (v. 2). The religious leaders lived as if this life was all that there were to live for. We disciples must not fall into the same trap. God will expose the sin of hypocrites.

Relatedly in verses 4-5, disciples of Jesus must recognize that there is a greater death than physical death. One of the reasons that we fail to testify about Jesus is because of what man can do to us. But Jesus wants us to consider these threats in their proper perspective. What is the worst that people can to do us when we testify about Jesus? They can kill our body. Anticipating that fear, Jesus says, “after that [they] have no more that they can do” (v. 4). In contrast, there is Someone whom we should fear more than man. There is a God who can destroy both our body and our soul in hell forever. Therefore, we should fear Him most of all, “Fear the One…yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (v. 5). Following Jesus demands that we have an eternal perspective.

We Ignore our Value Before God

The second reason that we fear man more than God is because we forget God’s care of us (vv. 6-7). God does not forget His children; they are precious in His sight (cf. 1 Pet 3:4; Isa 43:1-4). Jesus wants us to know that no one cares for us more than God. In order to prove this, Jesus uses an argument of lesser to greater. Humans sell sparrows for next to nothing. And yet God knows and cares about objects that we virtually discard. In comparison to sparrows, we are His image-bearers and the objects of His redemption. If God’s eye is on the sparrow, we can be certain that He knows and cares for us (cf. v. 7). Our heightened fear of man often rises out of our failure to remember our identity as a child of God. Following Jesus demands that we remember our value before God.

We Fundamentally Deny the Work of the Spirit

The third reason that we fear man more than God is because we fundamentally deny the work of the Spirit, either by mocking His work (vv. 8-10) or by ignoring His power to come to our aid (vv. 11-12). I would argue that these two promises are not meant for us directly. They were meant for Jesus’ immediate audience. However, we certainly can discern implications for how we should respond to the work of the Spirit.

Those who turn away from Jesus and mock the Spirit of God evidence the reality of their rejection. The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day had the very Son of God in their presence. They heard His teaching and saw His miracles, and yet they clearly denied His deity. In doing so, they blasphemed the Holy Spirit and abandoned every possibility of being forgiven by God. Jesus promised them that because of their clear rejection, they should not be surprised when the Son denies them before the Father. Like them, in the midst of persecution, we too are tempted to reject the work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God will not be mocked.

Jesus also promised that the Spirit would help the disciples by giving them special revelation in the midst of persecution (vv. 11-12). Therefore, the disciples should not despair in those times. While this promise was not directed at believers today, we do have the guarantee of the Spirit’s abiding presence within us (Eph 1:13-14). And we must not ignore His power at work.

To reject the Son is to reject the Father. To mock the Spirit is to mock the Father. Following Jesus demands that we commit ourselves to Jesus and embrace the work of the Spirit.

So how will we do the next time that we are given the opportunity to testify about Jesus? Will we crumble under the pressure of our improperly placed fears (“I do not know this Man”)? Or will we consider ourselves in light of who God is and fear Him most of all? He is our final Judge, our loving Companion, and our immanent Helper.

The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted” (Proverbs 29:25).

November 14, 2017

“I Have Lost Everything!”

by Russell Young

I recently heard a committed believer lament, “I have lost everything!”  Perhaps as someone endeavoring to walk “in the light,” as John puts it (1 Jn1: 5─7), you are struggling through a valley experience; you feel that you are being attacked from all sides. The committed believer does not need be overwhelmed with loss, the only things that those “in Christ” can lose are sin, sin’s practices, right to self-determination, and your status “in Christ.”

The greatest fear that any believer can have is his or her failure to remain “in Christ.” Many teach that such a fear is unbiblical, that a person cannot lose his or her position in Christ. However, Christ presents this change in status as a very clear possibility. “[My Father] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” (Jn 15:1; Italics added.) Further, the Lord spoke about the blessings that arise “If [a person] remains in him” (Jn 15:5, 7, 10), and promises that he will remain in the person who remains in him. (Jn 15:4) A person remains in him if he or she obeys his commands. (Jn 15:10) The believer—a believer is one who obeys him—need not fear loss, but all who claim his name need to be believing–belief must be ongoing. In another place Christ also spoke of the possibility of impermanence in the family. (Jn 8:35)

It is important for the believer, the person “in Christ,” to understand the reality of what is transpiring in his or her life. Valley experiences require that time be committed to prayer and meditation. Truth must be separated from feelings and losses from gains. Certainly, disappointment, the thwarting of dreams, and even the loss of “friends” or financial security can weigh down a sensitive spirit, but these may not be losses from the Lord’s perspective; consequently, they should not be considered losses from the believer’s perspective. This is easy to say for someone not involved, but reflection will reveal that losses, in fact, may not have been losses at all.  “Losses” bring a person up short. They greatly impact the progress of life and call for an alteration in some sense. However, the Lord is looking out for the good of those “in him.”  Paul encouraged, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28 NIV) It is easy to become distracted and to stray from the Lord’s will and it can hurt to become re-oriented, to have ungodly interests chipped away, and to be maintained on the narrow path.

The Word never taught that all things would go painlessly for the believer. In fact, he promised persecution (2 Tim 3:12) and trials (1 Thess 3:3; 1 Pet 1:6) and even discipline (1 Cor 11:32; Heb 12:5-7; Rev 3:19) and punishment. (Heb 12:6) Discipline and punishment apply to those he loves.  (Heb 12:5) “God disciplines us for our good that we might share in his holiness.” (Heb 12:10 NIV)

God tests hearts. He did it for the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex 12:25, 16:4, 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16, 13:3;) He tested Abraham (Gen 22:1), Job (Job 23:10), and Jeremiah (Jer 12:3). He even tested the heart of his Son (Mt 4:1; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:1) Those who claim the name of Christ will be tested also. (Job 7:18; 1 Chr 29:17; 1 Thess 2:4; Jas 1:12) God tests hearts and the faithful will be found walking obediently with him.

The only way a believer can “lose everything” is for him or her to abandon the Lord and the position that was provided for them. Trials must be faced for what they are…trials. This life is not easy. Imperfections must be cut away; holiness must be built through righteousness practices. (Rom 6: 19, 22) All those who want to remain in Christ and attain to the resurrection must live as he did. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6)

When you are counting your loses, it is important to consider them from an eternal perspective.  Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Mt 16:25 NIV) Loss is often a very good thing.


Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. He is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

April 30, 2017

Joy in Testing

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

James taught that believers should “consider it pure joy” when they face trials. (James 1:2 NIV) “Trials” in this passage is derived from the Greek peirasmos which means “a putting to proof (by experiment (of good), experience (of evil), solicitation, discipline or provocation); by implication, adversity: -temptation, X try.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary) In essence he is saying that Christ-followers are to take calm delight in the opportunity given to prove their faith because through proving their faith they develop perseverance and perseverance produces maturity. That is, working through trials engenders maturity.

At first glance the thought of having to face testing is something that is not welcome. Who wants their peace and comfort removed, even temporarily? The truth is, however, that testing develops spiritual strength and confidence in the Lord. It also refines the skills needed to gain victory over temptations, provided that the one being tested perseveres to the end.

There is a challenge to the concept of eternal salvation present in James’ proclamation. That is, if a person’s eternal salvation was accomplished at confession of faith, how could faithfully persevering through trials benefit him or her, and if benefit could not be derived, how can joy be found in needless discomfort or pain?

Jesus taught that you must be born again if you are to have any hope of gaining God’s eternal Kingdom. (Jn 3:3) New birth is the production of a baby, not a mature adult. Being “born again” means a new beginning with the indwelling presence of Christ as the Holy Spirit. It is Christ in the believer that is his hope of glory (Col 1:27), but the born-again believer is still a spiritual baby. There are many basic or foundational teachings (Heb 6:1─2) that are needed to nourish the infant, however the writer of Hebrews has recorded: “Anyone who lives on milk (the foundational teachings) is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5: 13─14 NIV) Teachings about righteousness are the ‘meat’ of the gospel and strengthen those who use them because they help believers learn to distinguish good from evil and through perseverance prove, demonstrate, or reveal their faith through righteous practices.

Why are trials considered to be “pure joy”? Why should the person undergoing trials accept them with an attitude of calm delight? Faith is not proven to God or to oneself through easy living. It is not developed in times of peace and comfort. Peter spoke of the inheritance to come for the faithful but states that “though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come to prove your faith-of greater value than gold, which even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6─7 NIV) Faithfulness, having been proven, will result in a person’s glorification. Those who do not faithfully persevere will not be found in God’s eternal kingdom. (Mt 10:22)

“Faith” means ‘persuasion’ and although most come to Christ having been persuaded of God’s reality, their need, and his life-saving ministry for them, their persuasion is often not sufficient to enable perseverance through difficult trials and the proving of his faithfulness. Persuasion in these regards is gradually built or put on through experience and trials.

After releasing the Israelites from captivity in Egypt, the LORD took them on a circuitous route to the Promised Land through the desert “to test their faithfulness to him.” (Ex 15:25 NLT) Given their inexperience with him the Lord was not about to put them under trial or testing early in their journey. He said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” (Ex 13:17 NIV) They needed to be victorious in trials and to learn of him if they were to become strong and committed to honoring him. The journey to the Promised Land could have been completed in eleven days but took forty years. Moses reminded his people, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your hearts, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8:2 NIV) The life journey of the believer, even today, is a testing of his or her faith so that the Lord might know what is in their hearts. The reader is reminded of Jesus’ proclamation as recorded by Matthew: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name and drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you (was not sure of, you had not proven faithful) Away from me you evildoers!’” (Mt 7:21-23 NIV)

A life lived free of concern for evil and lacking repentance concerning its practice will have eternal consequences regardless of deceptive teachings that promote otherwise. God will not be mocked! The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament and the believer’s understanding needs to reflect that reality. It is through his mercy and grace that the Father through his Son has provided means for accomplishing his righteous requirements. (2 Pet 1:3) The believer should count perseverance through tribulations as opportunity to prove his or her faithfulness and commitment and should find joy as they gain victory through the trial of the moment by relying on the enlightenment, leading and power of their Savior. So, count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds.



Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

February 12, 2017

“God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life”

by Russell Young

Consider the cliché: “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”  This pronouncement is often given by those trying to evangelize.   This cliché is easy to accept at first glance.  It is encouraging to the one going through one of life’s struggles; it offers promise.  Those who accept that there is a god would esteem him to know all things and to be all powerful. They also accept that he is all loving.  Consequently, the message is given and taken as if the person being addressed would only confess faith, his or her life would be wonderful, richly blessed and filled with joy. Although these descriptors are true, they are not true according to the world’s understanding.

What was “God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the apostles? They all, but one, experienced horrible deaths. Think of God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the many faithful today who are being martyred for their faith in Christ. What are people to think when they suffer through disease and poverty? How are they to interpret God’s “wonderful plan”?

God does have a plan for our lives. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ may be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1: 11─12 NIV)

The plan is not “for us” directed; it is “for the praise of [God’s] glory.” Later in that book Paul wrote, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10 NIV) This is also the declaration of a plan.

God’s plan is “wonderful” but will not necessarily bring the worldly blessings that many infer. Paul wrote: “The Lord will reward everyone for the good he does whether slave or free.” (Eph 6:8 NIV) The rewards of God are not trivial nor are they necessarily temporal and their accomplishment requires suffering.  “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12 NIV) Despite the trials, persecution, pain, and poverty that true believers endure in this world, they will reap a harvest of blessings and eternal life, if they remain faithful to the end. (Mt 10:22)

The walk of truth and obedience brings glory to God and eternal rewards.  This is his wonderful plan.  It does not include ease, riches, and the pleasures of this world, and those who present clichés need to take care concerning the impressions that they leave others.  They can mislead and be destructive to furthering the gospel. Weak faith based on misrepresented truths can give way to disillusionment and destruction and the spreading of a false gospel. Should the one being evangelized know the truth about what is before him or her?  Absolutely!  They must count the cost if they are to become strong and useful. Perseverance to the end is the only way that God’s plan can become wonderful. True believers know this and have committed themselves to victory over all sorts of trials through the presence and power of Christ. It is for the fulfilment of God’s plan in one’s life that his people have been called for the praise of his glory and it is in that fulfilment that they bring him glory. His plan is to conform the faithful to the likeness of his Son and to assist in the building of his kingdom.

It should never be accepted that God has ordained a moment by moment strategy for the way a believer is to live, that his moments have been pre-destined and firmly established.  The manner in which believers are led will depend upon how well they listen and how closely they follow.  Paul wrote, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom 8:27 NIV) It is God who searches our hearts and from his search determines a strategy to affect the Spirit’s purpose.  Sometimes God will discipline, and at other times he will punish.  “Do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5─6 NIV) God’s plan is wonderful because he has a personal interest in accomplishing those things in our lives that will give opportunity for transformation of heart and practice so that a person might become acceptable to him. (Rom 15:16)  It is wonderful because it leads to eternal life, but most of the ‘wonderfulness’ will come in glory, not as we walk this earth.


Russell Young has been a regular Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 for the past year and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

January 26, 2017

Keep Calm and Carry On: The Letter to Smyrna

by Clarke Dixon

Convert to another religion, pay a heavy tax, or die? Which would you choose? This is a choice which many Christians have had to make as ISIS spread its evil. We do not face that kind of pressure in North America, but we do face subtle pressures that can gnaw away at our passion for Jesus. There is the pressure to choose materialism as a worldview. This is not materialism meaning a love of things, but a way of looking at the world that will not admit the supernatural. And if we will not be materialists, well then there is a pressure to affirm every religion as equally valid. Such pressures are subtle, but they are there.

Pressure on Christians is nothing new. In fact in our second letter of Revelation chapter two we read of a Christian community under pressure.

8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:
9 “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death. Revelation 2:8-11

What pressures are the Christians in Smyrna under? In the Roman way of doing things, emperor worship was expected, as was fitting into a society which had many beliefs and practices that went against the Christian way of life. Stick to your, or rather Christ’s, principles, and you could find yourself estranged from the majority, shunned as odd and stupid, and your business boycotted. This may be behind the reference to the Christians in Smyrna being in poverty in verse 9. As an aside, whenever we Christians are the majority, we do well to remember the “Golden Rule” of Jesus in the area of economic opportunities.

Due to some wise decisions from Rome, some religions could get a pass and be lawfully different, as happened at times for the Jews. But here is another side from which there is pressure against the Christians. The Roman officials often thought of Christians as being a sect of Judaism, and hence Christians could also enjoy some peace. However, if the Jews turned on the Christians, they could be out in the cold and would need to fend for themselves. That will not be easy when they consistently claim that “Jesus is Lord,” which means of course that Caesar is not. You can think of it this way; it is as if the Jews are travelling through Roman territory on a bus. They are allowed to do this safely so long as they remain on the bus and don’t disturb the locals. Some of the Jews on the bus realize that the driver of this bus is, and has been all along, Jesus, and so become Christ followers. Some don’t like that and throw the Christ followers off the bus. Actually they throw the Christ followers under the bus. This explains why at least some of the Jews in Smyrna are referred to in a not-so-nice way in verse 9: “I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” These particular Jews are actively working against the God they profess to love and serve. So with pressure from Jews and Romans alike, what are the Christians to do? What are we to do with the pressures we might face today?

First, do not fear: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” (verse 10). Fear has its tightest grip on us when we do not know what to expect. But we know what to expect.

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you. . .” John 15:20

“Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Tim3:12

It should never surprise a Jesus follower when pressures come. It does not surprise God. He knows about it: “I know your affliction and your poverty” (verse 9)

Second, remain faithful: “Be faithful until death” (verse 10). Jesus gives us the example:

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.  Philippians 2:5-8

Third, look to Jesus. He is described as “the first and the last” (verse 8). What a contrast between He who has all eternity in His hands and those who have their hands on the Christians for only “ten days” (verse 10). Whether we are to take those as being ten literal days or as symbolic of a set time, it is a limited, and very short time in comparison to eternity.

Looking to Jesus, we are also to know that He “was dead and came to life” (verse 8). If the Christians in Smyrna face death, they can know that Jesus faced it first. And remember how that turned out in the end!

Fourth, look to what lasts into eternity. “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (verse 10). This is not the crown of a king or queen here, but the crown given in ancient times to victors in athletic games. Being killed for following Jesus is not the end of life, but the completion of a race. Celebrations come next.

Further: “Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death” (verse 11). The second death refers to complete removal from the presence of God and the removal of all the blessings that come from His presence. While the Christians in Smyrna ought to be full of hope, their persecutors ought to be full of fear. We are reminded of the words of Jesus:

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 

Fifth, be ready to die, not kill. While this is not stated explicitly, we should note that there is not a hint in this letter to Smyrna of “you will face incredible pressure, so get ready to fight.” In fact there is not a hint of this attitude anywhere in the New Testament. Being faithful to Jesus means dying, not killing. You might justify killing in the name of a nation; for example, killing for the common defence of people who could happen to be from all kinds of religious backgrounds. But violence in the name of Jesus, or for the sake of Christianity is not an option for the follower of Jesus. Where it has happened, there have been complexities around the forces of history and confusion around the separation of Church and State, or lack thereof. Jesus carried a cross and not a sword. He encourages the Christians in Smyrna to do likewise.

Is there an increasing pressure on Christians in Canada to be less passionate about Jesus? It is not the first time Christians have faced pressure. May we not fear, but instead remain faithful, looking to Jesus, looking to what lasts into eternity, and resisting every urge toward violence.

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)


Weekly C201 contributor Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Read today’s and other sermon summaries at his blog, or go directly to this article via this link.

April 8, 2013

We Do Not Lose Heart

Heartlight is a website offering both daily devotionals and longer articles. This one  from the articles page by Tom Norvell appeared in February. You’re encouraged to read this at source, and then visit the rest of the site.

I suspect there are some reading these words might take exception to the title: “We Do Not Lose Heart”! You do not mean to lose heart. You do not want to lose heart. You know that you should not lose heart. But, that’s where you find yourself: losing heart… or at least you feel like you may be losing heart.

You have dreams that seem to be fading. You think about opportunities that have passed by or never ever came to fruition. You see obstacles that are too big and too powerful to overcome. You are faced with problems that seem to have no solution. You feel the pressure, you are perplexed, you feel you are being attacked on every side and from the most surprising people, and are afraid that if you are knocked down one more time you may not be able to get back up. You feel weak, tired, and defeated.

What are you going to do?

What can you do?

Start here. Read what Paul wrote:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (2 Corinthians 4:7-12 NIV).

Does that sound like you? At least does this part sound like you?

  • hard pressed
  • perplexed
  • in despair
  • persecuted
  • abandoned
  • struck down

Do those parts of Paul’s words sound familiar? And the other things — the positive things, the things of faith — not so much right now.

Read what he wrote at the end of the chapter:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Feel any better?

Does it help to know you are not alone in your struggles?

Do you find any comfort in hearing that others have experienced the same difficulties?

Maybe? Maybe not? I know. I have been there.

Before you quit, take a deep breath. Before you slump off into depression and hopelessness because you still cannot figure out how to fix all the stuff that is wrong in your world, read this third paragraph that fits between the other two. This is where Paul reveals the reason he does not lose heart:

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:13-15).

Did you see it?

It is right there in the middle of the paragraph. One sentence:

…because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.

That is the secret. That is the key. That is what can keep us from losing heart. Look up. Look at Jesus. Rely on the fact that He will raise us up. Our struggles show that the Gospel is at work in us. Our difficulties will be turned into His glory. There is a lot we cannot see if we stay focused only on what we can see. This is temporary stuff. We are about the eternal.

I pray that through our faith in Jesus Christ who will raise us up we will not lose heart.

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