Christianity 201

September 29, 2021

Letters to the Seven (or more) Churches in Revelation

This is a revisit to an article that was posted here eleven years ago. It’s been rewritten for clarity. It also features a graphic image at the bottom. When I tested the link, I discovered that the original site is no longer available, so I can’t give proper credit. Make sure you spend as much time looking over the chart as you do reading what follows…

(NIV) Rev. 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Seven letters to seven different churches that existed when John received the vision, right?

Zoom out a little. There were a dozen or so well-established churches at the time. Could it be that the choice of “seven” means that these letters have application to the whole church? That the letters, like the rest of scripture, are not written to us but are definitely written for us?

Zoom back in. Some people teach that the seven churches represent different ages of the larger church over different eras. That this is a historical overview of church history. Perhaps. But there may be something more immediate for us to consider.

Zoom in again. Churches like the seven so-described exist today. If you’ve been around different denominations, or have attended a variety of churches, you might be able to put different names next to each letter.

Zoom in more. Even within an individual church, there are often different sub-groups to whom these different letters might apply. Or maybe they represent different stages in the history of that local church over time.

Zoom in tighter. We shouldn’t get caught up in the idea that the letters are a message that someone else needs to hear. That it’s for the church in the Middle Ages. That the message applies to the church down the block. Rather these letters contain a message that’s for me. These letters have application to each one of us. Maybe the message to the church at Laodicia is pertinent to you right now. Or maybe you’re at a Sardis or Ephesus point in your Christian life.

Zoom in!

…Here’s a bonus for you today…

If you didn’t grow up in church before the 1960s, here’s an example of the kind of visual presentation you missed out on when the letters were taught!

We considered the seven letters elsewhere at C201. Here’s a link to Seven Letters: Seven Problem Churches (It’s a short article and uses the same scripture reference, so you’re already halfway through!)


If you’re reading this at the site and not as an email, there’s a formatting problem (depending on what browser you’re using and the size of your monitor) with the last ten or so articles that normally I can fix, but this time it’s not fixing. Thanks for your patience. If you wish the text of a particular article emailed to you, use the submissions and contact tab to request.

May 29, 2021

Before and After: The Veil and the Big Reveal

This week a friend put me on to a 50-minute YouTube podcast of Mike Winger teaching on the prophetic nature of four verses in Proverbs 30 that ended with the passage in 2 Corinthians 3 which follows. I’ve linked to the podcast at the end of today’s reading for those who want to go deeper.

NIV.2.Cor.3.13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

BibleRef.com sets the stage:

Paul has been comparing the glory of the old covenant between God and Israel and the new covenant of God’s grace for all who come to Him through faith in Christ. The glory of the revelation of God through the old covenant was always fading away and being brought to an end. The glory of God’s revelation of Himself through Christ is eternal. Through faith in Christ, God receives Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for sin and gives credit for Jesus’ sinless, righteous life in return.

The result for him, Paul has written, is boldness and confidence while representing God to others. He has nothing to fear, because his standing before God is not based on his own performance. It is all based on Christ’s righteousness.

Moses, on the other hand, could not be so bold in representing God to the Israelites. Paul is referencing Exodus 34. Moses returned to the people after being with God visibly changed in his appearance. His face reflected God’s glory so powerfully that the people were afraid to come near him (Exodus 34:30). The glory of God was painful to them in their sinfulness. Moses covered his face to protect them from God’s glory. He could not boldly reveal it to them as Paul revealed God’s glory in the person of Jesus.

The Bridgeway Bible Commentary suggests that the veil itself is both literal and symbolic:

After Moses had been away from the presence of God for a while, the brightness of his face faded, but the veil over his face prevented Israelites from seeing this fading brightness. To Paul, this fading brightness symbolized the fading away and eventual end of the old covenant. The permanence of the new covenant, by contrast, gives Paul confidence in all that he says and does (12-13).

At Authentic Christianity, Ray Stedman comes closest to the type of approach I heard in the podcast, even going so far as to title his commentary, “Who is This Masked Man?” (He refers to the veil as a mask, which, you gotta admit, is somewhat timely!)

God loves to teach with symbols. His favorite teaching method is to use a visual aid, a kind of symbol of truth which he holds up before us to instruct us. The “mask,” or veil, which Moses wore is a symbol of the old covenant, that is, the Law, the Ten Commandments, with their demand upon us for a certain standard of behavior. Also, it is a symbol of our natural, typical response to the Law — to try to obey it, either to the point of convincing ourselves that we have achieved it, or to the point of giving up and rebelling against it.

Stedman also gets into the possible motivation for Moses’ motivation for wearing the veil. It may not have been because his face was shining with the glory of God, but that the glory was fading. Just stop and think about that for a minute:

Moses, perhaps, did not understand all this when he put the veil over his face. It is somewhat difficult for us to guess what his motive may have been. Some commentators suggest that he felt that if the people saw that the glory was fading away, they would not pay any attention to the Law, they would disregard it and go on living as they wanted. Others have suggested that, perhaps, he was trying to preserve his own status symbol as a special mediator with God. That is the position I have taken in my book, Authentic Christianity, which deals with this passage. I think that Moses, like many of us, was trying to preserve the reputation he had with the people and he did not want them to see that when he came out from God’s presence the glory began to fade — as many of us do not like people to see what is really going on inside of us. We want to preserve an image of being spiritual giants when actually we are not at all. Our family knows it, but we do not want our friends or anyone else to know. That may be what Moses’ motive was.

The Bridgeway Commentary looks at what happens when someone steeped in the old covenant (i.e. the Jews) places themselves under the new covenant:

In a sense there is still a veil that belongs to the old covenant. It is the veil that covers the minds of the Jews, for they read the Old Testament but refuse to see Christ as its fulfilment. Consequently, they cannot properly understand it (14-15). When Moses went in before the Lord he removed the veil. Similarly, when Jews turn to Jesus Christ, the veil is removed. Through the work of the Spirit, Christ sets them free from the bondage of sin and the law (16-17). Christians also must make sure that there is no veil between them and their Lord. The better they know Christ personally, the more they will be changed so that they become increasingly like him (18).

As Stedman continues, we see the challenge of what we’re doing here, going back and forth between two commentaries where the interpretation of what the veil represents, and its practical applications, differs.

Notice what that is saying. The apostle is very clear that the nature of the darkness, the blindness that lay over the minds of the Jews of his day, which he calls a “veil,” is the same veil that Moses put over his face. Now, obviously, the veil on Moses’ face was a material veil; it was made of cloth. Paul is not suggesting that the Jews walk around with cloth veils on their faces.

Stedman sees the fading taking place as “the terrible end of self-effort,”

… They do not see that the end of all their efforts to try to live a righteous life by their own human resources is going to end in death and condemnation and emptiness and a total sense of futility and waste. But yet, that is what happens.

Paul also calls it a “hardening,” by which he means it becomes a continual condition. It is a state of mind that they enter into. Now, the amazing thing is that, in our day, 2000 years after Paul, this is still true. You can see it in the Jews today. In Orthodox Judaism, and much of Reformed Judaism, and certainly in Liberal Judaism, they are still trying to make it before God on the basis of how they behave.

Again, it’s a longer selection, but if you’re going to read one of the links here to better understand the passage, I would choose either taking the 50 minutes to listen to the podcast link, or read Ray Stedman.

BibleRef returns us to the historical context:

Now Paul adds that the minds of the Israelites were hardened by sin. Even as Moses was receiving the commandments from God, Israel built an idol to worship instead of worshipping the Lord. This disobedience and betrayal of God resulted not just in punishment from Him but in a hardening of their minds to see His glory. The glory was revealed in God’s Word to them, but they could not, would not, see it.

Nobody can see God’s glory, Paul adds, because of this veil created by sin. It keeps us from understanding what is true until it is removed through Christ. In other words, only those who come to God through faith in Christ are freed from the veil and given the ability to begin to receive God’s glory. Why? Because in Christ, their sin is forgiven and replaced with Jesus’ righteousness.

On a later page, it adds,

We cannot remove this veil ourselves no matter how sincerely we want to or how diligently we study or how desperately we try to obey.

I held back verse 18 to the end so it might be our final thought:

NLT.2.Cor.3.18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.


Here is the link to the podcast by Mike Winger that got me interested in this text: Jesus is Prophesied in the Book of Proverbs. (The Corinthians passage comes up close to the end.)


Teaching the text — advice to pastors at WorkingPreacher.org from Karl Jacobson:

…[I]t may be necessary to say a quick word about the inter-testamental tension here. There may be a tendency, and perhaps even a temptation, to read this allegory of Paul’s as an outright rejection of the Old Testament. Phrases like “not like Moses,” and “their minds were hardened,” and even simply the “old covenant,” may seem to suggest that Paul is doing exactly this, rejecting “Moses” and his obscured, clouded, veiled word. But for Paul, there is no true disconnect between the Torah and the Testament to Christ. As the second reading from last week showed the gospel (or as 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 has it, the truth) is very much in keeping with the Old Testament, with the scriptures of the tradition.

At stake here are questions of antinomianism, of supersessionism, of simplistic ideas of “Old Testament = Law, bad and New Testament = Gospel, good.” Along with these often goes “Christian believer = good, Jewish believer = bad.” This is not, finally, what Paul is about. Paul does not dismiss the Old Testament.

At the same time the essential claim for Christ is an essential claim, it is particular, and quite uncompromising. While Paul does not reject the Old Testament, the old covenant, he does argue for a particular reading of it, one that is possible only in the Spirit, who brings freedom from blindness, and veiled minds (3:17)…

January 25, 2021

The Tree of Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Ron McKenzie‘s website Blessed Economist is somewhat unique as he writes from a perspective intersecting the worlds of politics and economics, and the worlds of scripture and faith. He is the author of at least seven books, has another teaching blog Kingdom Watcher (KW), and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. We shared an article by him here in June, 2014 and then I’m not sure what happened after that! Earlier today I reconnected with his online work. May I encourage you to click the link in the header which follows and read this article, which appeared just two days ago, at his site.

Thoughts on the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life was at the centre of the garden of Eden. God was present in the garden. The God Yahweh caused to grow trees that would give humans everything that they needed for life. The Tree of Life was in the middle of the garden because it was the source of wisdom for life. Humans had access to this tree as long as they lived by the wisdom of God.

According to Proverbs, the tree of life is the wisdom of God (Prov 13:12; Prov 11:30).

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her (Prov 3:18).

The tree of life is the centre of the garden, because it was the source of the wisdom of God for life.

Adam and Eve had a choice between two trees. They could choose between knowing good and evil (human wisdom) and wisdom for life (God’s wisdom). Prior to the fall, they had access to the tree of life, ie God’s wisdom. They could hear God speak whenever they listened to him.

Adam and Eve chose to be autonomous and have their own wisdom, rather than continuing to rely on the wisdom of God. Once they chose to rely on their own wisdom, they unwittingly placed themselves under the control of the spiritual powers of evil. This blocked their access to the wisdom of God, because their shame prevented them from staying close to God.

God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, so they would experience the consequence of their choice. It would be in this world, that God would eventually rescue them (see God’s Big Strategy).

Humans were already mortal, before they fell from blessing, but they were able to live long lives (up to a thousand years). They gave them immense opportunity to advance themselves.

When God expressed concern that humans would reach out and eat from the tree of life and live forever, the Hebrew word can mean forever, but it can also mean for the full extent of an age/season. God was not concerned about them having eternal life. Rather, he was saying that without his presence and wisdom, they would not be able to live their full lifespan. The consequence of living in a hostile world, vulnerable to the spiritual powers of evil would significantly shorten term their lives.

That is what happened. Since then most humans have lived less than one hundred years.

Restoration of the Tree of Life
According to the book of Revelation, the tree of life was not destroyed when the Garden of Eden was lost. It was transferred into Paradise.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Rev 2:7).

I presume that the tree of life in the Garden of Eden was not the original one. It would have been a copy of the true tree of life in the spiritual realms. Paradise is the place where the people of God live while waiting for the Parousia. The tree of life is waiting there ready for people who put their trust in Jesus. We will have full access to this tree when the spiritual realms are fully opened to us following the parousia of Jesus.

To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life (Rev 21:6).

In the final vision of Revelation, the source of life is a river flowing from the throne of God.

The angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the peoples. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him (Rev 3:1-3).

In this vision, the tree of life draws from the river of life and provides healing for the people of the nations. God will be present with his people, so pain and sickness will disappear.

 

 

January 13, 2021

It is a Time to be Stirred

Again today we have a new writer for you! Alex Steward is the pastor of a rural ELCA congregation in the greater Detroit area. He blogs at A Mysterious Way: A Journey Through the Desert of Life. Click the header which follows to read this in full on his page and then he encourages you to browse the rest of the site for other articles.

He begins with a paragraph describing his family’s downsized Thanksgiving which happened to coincide with the Perseid Meteor shower. In the scripture passage, Jesus talks about the stars falling. That’s where we pick up the devotional…

God Wakes Us

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[a]

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert[c]! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

…Jesus sets out in the gospel lesson to provide an apocalyptic image of his return. He is preparing the disciples for what lays ahead of them. He begins with darkness and the stars falling from the sky. It is quite the image and one that often will generate fear in some people. However, this is not the purpose of apocalyptic literature. The purpose of apocalyptic literature is to inspire hope and not sow fear.

From Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures to Revelation in the New Testament, we read of a promise and hope in the promise which points us to an unflappable God that reigns down with mercy and love.

It may be difficult to find the mercy and love that God promises to all of creation in the past eight months. From a pandemic that seems like a plague, to an election that divided many Americans,  to wars around the world, and civil unrest in our own country, it may seem as though we are living out the last days that much of the apocalyptic literature writes about. Yet, Jesus reminds us to keep awake because we do not know when the master of the house will return.

If we look at the history of Mark’s Gospel, we will find out it was the first gospel written and provided a basis for both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel, thus the similarities. It was written thirty to forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Up to this time everything was shared through stories and word of mouth. It was written around the time of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and was most likely shaped around those events. Mark encouraged his community not to get involved in the revolt of the Jewish people against the Roman Empire.  This is a time of high tension for the followers of Jesus as they witness the destruction of a community in which they grew up. As Mark reflected on Jesus’ words, there is the thought which the day of the Lord must be near and surely not a generation will pass away before seeing that day.

And yet, here we are. Still waiting with an impregnated hope and living in the promise of Jesus Christ. As we enter this Advent season, we come bearing deep wounds of events that have been cancelled and lives turned upside down as we face struggles and challenges which the majority have never had to even think about. God’s creation continues to groan and limp forward as we await something greater to come.

As Christians, we are set apart by our faith, placing our hope in the promise that has echoed throughout the millennia. As we hear these words from Jesus, it is not a time to panic or to be set on edge. It is not a time to fear and bury our heads in the sand or snow depending upon where we live. It is not a time to fret.

It is a time to be stirred. A time to be fully present to the season and contemplate on what Jesus’ birth means not just for us personally, but for all of creation. A time to be alert to those wondrous sightings of God in our world, like viewing a sky full of stars and witnessing meteors streak through the vastness of that sky. This past week in one of my morning devotions was the refrain:

Wake us to your presence, Lord: that we might not waste our times of trial.

The trials we have faced for much of this past year have been debilitating. There are mornings that it is just enough to get out of bed and take a shower. We are in unfamiliar territory and it is easy to get tired when confronted with the unknown. Our bodies are so incredible in telling us what we need, and at times we also need to push ourselves to move forward. Our relationships are more important now than ever before, even if that means we cannot reach out and give someone a personal greeting face to face.

It is times such as this that God invites us into the mystery. A mystery that has shaped our faith for the last two millennia. A mystery of God incarnate. God has come down to us in the form of a newborn baby to lead the way and give us a sign of hope. A sign that shows up in those very same stars that Jesus says will come falling down. A star that shines so brightly announcing the birth of a new reign of God. A time that God in Jesus walks among creation and is one with us in humanity. A time that we are invited to participate in the mystery of Christ’s reign in creation.

As we are awakened and become alert, we learn about ourselves and the place of our community in the greater aspect of creation. The trials that we face today are only a step along the way to that glorious new creation that will come down to earth. We participate by meeting our friends and neighbors where they are. We stare up at the stars together and are reminded of how connected we truly are and how God’s creation is limitless. A creation that invites us to be an active part of the welcoming of a soon to be newborn baby.

I leave you with a prayer from that same devotional I mentioned earlier:

What would you teach us today in our trials, Lord? Make us receptive. Help us to see your victory and compassion rather than look for every answer to our troubles. So make us expectant, Lord, and patient. AMEN


  1. Mark 13:25 Isaiah 13:10; 34:4
  2. Mark 13:29 Or he
  3. Mark 13:33 Some manuscripts alert and pray

January 11, 2021

Why Won’t They Listen?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today’s thoughts are more personal, perhaps more pastoral.

My day began with an email from a friend. I’ve changed some of the wording just slightly.

Whenever I thought about the book of Revelation and end times things, I always thought that when the predicted events started to happen, people would turn to God in droves. Yet here we are, I sit in a bullpen of construction workers and they are ready to believe the most far out conspiracies, but wouldn’t consider for a moment that God is real. The enemy is blinding them. It’s sad.

I sent him two replies. One was from my phone and I don’t have the text of it nearby, but I simply suggested that his contribution to the discussion — his gift to his co-workers if you like — might not be statements or declarations, but some well-placed, well-considered questions.

Using this strategy might re-direct the conversation, and even if it is not well-received by everyone in the group, there’s always the possibility that there’s one person who the question or questions might continue to haunt them until they decide they need to pursue the subject — or pursue God — further.

I consider my friend wise enough to know how to navigate my advice.

An hour later though, I thought of some scriptures I could send him. One he already alluded to in his remarks.

First I looked at I Corinthians 1 in The Voice Bible:

17 The mission given to me by the Anointed One is… about preaching good news. The point is not to impress others by spinning an eloquent, intellectual argument; that type of rhetorical showboating would only nullify the cross of the Anointed.

18 For people who are stumbling toward ruin, the message of the cross is nothing but a tall tale for fools by a fool. But for those of us who are already experiencing the reality of being rescued and made right, it is nothing short of God’s power.

Verse 17 is interesting because if anyone could frame an intellectual argument, it would be the Apostle Paul. But we need to avoid jumping to the conclusion that if the world is “going to hell in a handbasket” we should just stop sharing the good news message altogether. Paul certainly doesn’t do that.

The next passage I shared was from II Timothy 3; this time from The Message. (I know the person to whom I was sending these well-enough that I thought he would benefit more from these more contemporary translations.)

1-5 Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.

14-17 But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.

Peterson’s phrase “They’ll make a show of God;” is better know to many readers here as “Having a form of Godliness, but denying its power.” Is this a summation statement? Is Paul saying that all of the characteristics listed in the previous two verses apply to the outwardly religious, or is this just another category?

(You can do a translation comparison on the verse itself, but this question is more context-driven. Does the em-dash between verses 4 and 5 used by the NIV fit or does it imply something other translations don’t? A compromise solution might be that as the world goes so goes the church. We know that, for example, divorce rates among evangelicals are no longer significantly different than the general population.)

I didn’t send this to my friend, but I consider II Timothy 3 in parallel. (I’ll revert to NIV for this one.)

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Finally, I sent my friend I Corinthians 2 again using The Voice:

12 You must know that we have not received the spirit of this rebellious and broken world but the Spirit that comes from God, so that we may experience and comprehend the gifts that come from God. 13 We do not speak of these gifts of God in words shaped by human wisdom; we speak in words crafted by the Spirit because our collective judgment on spiritual matters is accessible to those who have the Spirit. 14 But a person who denies spiritual realities will not accept the things that come through the Spirit of God; they all sound like foolishness to him. He is incapable of grasping them because they are disseminated, discerned, and valued by the Spirit.

That doesn’t leave us room for much discussion here, but I think what my friend was expressing today was simply all these non-Revelation prophetic words playing out in front of him in real time.

I can only conclude as he did: “It’s sad.”

But again, we can work to make a difference even in those situations. I believe that a few well-placed questions could make the difference in someone’s life.

December 12, 2020

Find Joy in the Story!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today’s writer came recommended. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ United Methodist Church (UMC) in Alliance, Ohio. His website for sermon content and blog articles is PastorPartridge.com. As usual we strongly suggest reading this at source. (You’ll find a tab which takes you to a section of articles about John’s hearing loss; good reading if you know someone considering a cochlear implant.) Click the header below to read at his site.

Passing the Joy Test

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11              1 Thessalonians 5:16-24;       John 1:6-8, 19-28

It is probably no surprise to anyone to hear that we are living in an unusual time in history.  But what I mean in saying such a thing, is that we are living in a time when we can see the freight train coming.  We are as an American society in the twenty-first century, very much in the position of the damsel Nell Fenwick who has been tied to the railroad tracks by Snidely Whiplash and is desperately hoping for the arrival of Dudley Do-Right to come and rescue her.  We can see the freight train of rising virus cases caused by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year gatherings and we can anticipate the terrible consequences but there is little, or nothing that we can do to stop the train.  The only things that we can do… is hope.

But, as unusual as this might be, it is not unique in history.  …The prophet Isaiah lived in just such a time.  In about 700 BC, Isaiah and the people of Israel watched as the Assyrian Empire grew in power, influence, and military might and the Assyrian King Sennacharib had already brought his armies to the gates of Jerusalem.  Through God’s grace, Israel was saved, but Isaiah knew that those armies would be back, that Israel and Judah would be captured, marched to Babylon, and held in captivity for seventy years.  They saw the train coming down the tracks, they could anticipate the terrible consequences, and they were tempted to despair.  But, as difficult as it must have been to hear about God’s judgement and the impending destruction of their nation, because Isaiah also prophecies their eventual return to Israel and proclaims Israel’s rescue and the coming Messiah, Isaiah’s message is ultimately a message… of hope.

Even though they saw the train coming, and they knew that hard times were coming, they knew that God cared about them and that God had a plan to rescue them.  We hear a part this message in Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11:

61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.  They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing.  In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.  Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples.  All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

Isaiah speaks about the coming Messiah, we hear a message that we will hear again from John the Baptist, and we hear a message from a God who loves justice, and who loves and cares for his people.  And that message, given to a people who watched as the freight train of the Assyrian army grew ever closer, shined like a beacon on a dark night and for hundreds of years, through invasions, captivity, destruction, suffering, sorrow, and death, this was a place where they could find hope.

And then, in John 1:6-8, 19-28, Isaiah’s vision becomes reality as John the Baptist announces the imminent arrival of Jesus.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John proclaimed that the time had finally come for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and that while he was not the messiah that God had promised, that messiah was already standing “among” them.  After hundreds of years and many generations, the prayers of Israel’s people were being answered.  God’s rescuer and redeemer had arrived, and the hope of the people was transformed… into joy.

Well, at least it did for some of them.  John rejoiced, as did many of the people, but not everyone.  It was the people that Isaiah had talked about who found joy in the coming of the messiah.  It was the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, prisoners, those in mourning, the grieving, the people who suffered from injustice, robbery, and wrongdoing, it was the outcasts, the least, and the lost who rejoiced.  But the wealthy, and those whom the system served, and whose success had been tied to the success of the system saw the coming of the messiah as a threat to their success and to their way of life.  This disconnect between the haves and the have-nots grew until it exploded into violence, crucifixion, and death in the Easter story as the system struggled to maintain the status quo.

And later, long after the resurrection of Jesus, the church remembered the lesson of joy and in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica and gives them these words of instruction:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Rejoice always.  Find joy in the story, in the message of Good News, and in the prophecies of God.  Give thanks, at all times, for the things that God gives you, even when those times are difficult.  Do not cast aside the prophecies and promises of God just because you think that God is taking too long, or that there is too much pain, or too much suffering, or that your circumstances are too hard.  Instead, test the prophecies of God to find the truth.  Test them against what you know about God.  Hold on to what is good because we know that God is good.  Reject every kind of evil, because we know that God is never found in any kind of evil deeds.  Our God is a god of peace who is always faithful and who always keeps his promises.

In some ways, our joy is a test.  The coming of Jesus was intended to upset the apple cart and to disrupt the status quo.  We are called to rejoice in that disruption and not be so married to our success, to our wealth, our culture, and to the status quo that we become like Israel’s leaders and reject Jesus simply on the basis that his existence will be disruptive and make our lives more complicated.  Secondly, we are invited to test all of God’s prophecies because we know that God is always good and so we know that what God wants for us is good and that we can reject anything that is evil as not being godly.

The coming of Jesus at Christmas is intended to bring good news of great joy.

Let us rejoice.

But let us remember to find joy in the right things.


From the same author, check out Peace in the Present Promise.

November 6, 2020

The Tribe from which Kings Would Come

Today we return to the website ThisIsToday.com which is based on the Today devotional booklets, a daily resource widely circulated in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in the U.S. and Canada. The writer featured this month is Michigan pastor Darrin Compagner. Use the titles in the two devotions we selected to go to the website and then use the left and right arrows to see the entire series on this theme.

Royal Promise

Scripture Reading — Genesis 17:1-8, 15-16

“I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.” — Genesis 17:6

Our story begins with humans called to reflect the rule and reign of God (Genesis 1:26-29). But people turned away, seeking to build their own kingdoms. This quickly turned to violence and oppression, and now humanity lives in rebellion rather than in harmony with God’s rule (Genesis 3-11).

Even so, God called Abraham and Sarah. He came into their lives to make covenant promises, to reestablish them as a people living in harmony with God as King.

Abraham and Sarah were an old and childless couple. The new start God made with them didn’t look very promising. But God makes promises in unpromising situations. God promised to be their God, to bless them, and to make them a blessing on the earth.

Then, tucked in with this packet of promises came a power­ful little seed. God said to Abraham, “Kings will come from you,” and God said about Sarah, “Kings of peoples will come from her.” What would that have been like—to hear God say that your descendants would be kings and queens on the earth?

God is in the business of reestablishing right kingship on the earth. His promises to Abra­ham and Sarah would, in time, bear good fruit for their descendants and for the whole earth.

Looking for a Leader

Scripture Reading — Genesis 49:8-12

10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
    and the obedience of the nations shall be his. Genesis 49:10

Every human organization needs leadership. Schools, businesses, governments, and churches all seek competent and faithful leaders. What makes for a good leader? Strength? Vision? Good looks? Age? Character? Shrewdness?

Families need good leadership too, including the family of God’s people. Yesterday we considered how Abraham and Sarah were chosen, along with their descendants. Through them, God was reestablishing his rule of righteousness in a fallen world.

But the story that follows in Genesis shows a family that gradually descends into chaos. This is what happens in the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel), and his twelve sons: fear leads to unfaithfulness; deception leads to betrayal and broken trust; favoritism leads to envy and hatred. But God spares this family and keeps it together—because God keeps his promises. In our reading today from Genesis 49, Judah, one of Israel’s sons, is named as the main tribe from whom kings would come.

The New Testament also reveals later that Jesus is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5). He is the true King whom God promised would come, and he will restore God’s rule of righteousness forever.

Prayer (Royal Promise)

Lord God, thank you for your promises. Fill us with your Spirit so that your kingdom may come and your will may be done in us this day. Amen.

Prayer (Looking for a Leader)

Almighty Father, we thank you for sending Jesus, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” to save us from chaos and destruction. By his rule, guide us to live for you and to follow your good ways each day of our lives. Amen.

August 10, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: End Times

For three days (here, here and here) we’ve been looking at what are called The Five Discourses of Matthew: the Ethical Discourse (the Sermon on the Mount, which we skipped since it is so often covered), the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

Reading prophecy, people can become obsessed with trying to figure out “the day and the hour” but it’s more about understanding “the time and the season.”

This final teaching block, also called the Eschatological Discourse, is the second longest and spans all of chapters 24 and 25.

■ If you are able, take the time now to read both chapters.

The second of the two chapters (25) is, in many respects, easier for us to deal with as it also contains two parables, and one teaching section couched in the metaphor of sheep and goats.

The Ten Virgins

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegoom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.”  – Matthew 25: 1-4 (parable continues to verse 13)

The purpose of this story is to remind us of the importance of being diligent; of being ready for Christ (the master) to return. However, if time permitted I would argue that this imagery has implications for other things as well, such as the teaching on the rapture.

The Bags of Gold

This is the section header used in the NIV 2011, but most of know this as the Parable of the Talents.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey…”  – Matthew 25: 14-15 (parable continues to verse 30)

Each of us then is like those to whom something valuable — here the modern use of the word talents actually works in our favor — has been given and is both expected and accountable to make the best use of those gifts and resources.

But note the text itself goes far beyond that, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (verse 29)

The Sheep and the Goats

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  – Matthew 25: 32-33 (the metaphor is implied throughout verses 31 – 45)

There is a future time coming when there will be a great separation.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ – Matthew 25: 37-40 (this passage begins further back at verse 34 and is followed by a very similar set of verses which re-positions all of this in the negative sense.)

This contrast of charitable acts of commission and charitable acts of omission is in many ways similar to the teaching in the Ethical Discourse, aka Sermon on the Mount; but with the added judgment that those who failed to act “go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (verse 46)

And that would wrap up the fifth and final teaching block, right?

Not yet. Remember, we skipped chapter 24 just now.

Signs of the End

Chapter 24 is every bit as much entitled to be considered prophecy as is the Book of Revelation and the latter chapters of the Book of Daniel. We don’t always think of Matthew as a prophetic book, but it contains — mostly in this first chapter of this discourse — a number of prophetic descriptions and markers as do passages like chapter 4 of  I Thessalonians (“…caught up to meet him in the air”) or chapter 3 of II Timothy (“In the last days, perilous times will come.”)

Those prophecies include

  • the destruction of the temple
  • the coming of false Messiahs, false Christs
  • wars and threats of wars
  • famines and earthquakes
  • persecution
  • believers betraying other believers
  • an increase of wickedness; lawlessness
  • believers growing cold in their faith
  • the “sacrilegious object that causes desecration” (NLT) in the Holy Place
  • the flight of those heading for the hills
  • “trouble on a scale beyond what the world has ever seen” (The Message)
  • the sun darkened, “the moon turned to blood” (echo of Joel’s prophecy in 2:31)
  • the unmistakable return of Christ on the clouds
  • the gathering of “the chosen ones” (CEB) from around the world

Positive words of encouragement from Jesus:

  • “Watch out that no one deceives you…”
  • “…see to it that you are not alarmed
  • the one who stands firm to the end will be saved
  • this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world
  • “for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened
  • “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
  • “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him”
  • “It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.

What can all this tell us?

Jesus said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (24:36)

But while we may not know the day or hour, we can know the times and seasons. Just a few verses earlier he offers a one-verse mini-parable: Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. (24:32)

We can be prepared, unlike the people he compares to those from the time of Noah for whom life was “business as usual” right up to the time God shut in his faithful, and the raindrops started to fall.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this four part series. I’ve never done anything quite like this in the history of Christianity 201, and I hope these four articles stand as a fairly decent overview of the four (out of the five) discourses we don’t hear as often.

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.

April 9, 2020

Jesus the Leader; The Good Leader

by Clarke Dixon

Click here to watch a 7-minute video of today’s devotional.

We have been seeing world leaders, from Prime Ministers and Presidents, to mayors and health officials, take to tv to lead us in our response to the COVID-19 crisis. As they take centre stage, we see what kind of leaders they are.

These leaders have reminded me of my own leadership journey which began with an excruciatingly shy and extremely quiet boy. Loving airplanes as I did I joined Air Cadets as a young teen. One year in, and having achieved the lowest rank of “leading Air Cadet,” we moved to a new town, which meant joining a new squadron. This was a brand new squadron, with a very successful launch, meaning many new recruits. Despite my one year of experience, and despite being the lowest rank possible, I suddenly found myself as one of the most experienced and highest ranking! I was placed over my own “flight” of cadets and immediately had to start training and teaching these new recruits. This excruciatingly shy, inexperienced and low raking cadet was instantly identified as a leader! And lead I did! I have often said that I would not be a pastor today, if it were not for Air Cadets. However, my quietness and shyness would forever colour the kind of leader I am, sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

When Jesus rides into Jerusalem, he does so in a way that indicates he is a leader. In fact, he is the leader!

This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

Matthew 21:4-5 (NLT)

In entering Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus indicates that he is not just a teacher and miracle worker, he is the king! Pontius Pilate seemed to be in charge, but in fact Jesus is the rightful king.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem in a way which also indicates what kind of king he is. Many leaders throughout history have thought that leadership is about power, and brute force. Where I come from we have an expression, “brute force and ignorance.” Some leaders lead with that! Jesus rides on a donkey and not a war horse. He brings peace, not war. He does not need brute force. There is a gentleness to Jesus, a humility, an approachability. He is a ruler who really cares for the people, as anyone who experienced his teaching and miracles could tell you.

Speaking of miracles, Jesus gives another hint to the kind of king he is:

Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”
But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass.

Mark 6:35-39 (NLT emphasis added)

Does that miracle remind you of another Bible passage?

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures

Psalm 23:2 (KJV)

We are reminded of Psalm 23. In saying “The Lord is my shepherd” king David is saying “God is my king. I might be the leader of the people, but God is my leader.”

David knows what kind of a sovereign God is. God is a great king, a leader that cares for him. The kind of king who . . .

  • provides for my needs (verse 1)
  • makes me lie down in green pastures (verse 2)
  • restores my soul (verse 3)
  • leads me in paths of righteousness (verse 3)
  • is with me, capable of dealing with any enemy (verse 4)
  • cares for me in the face of adversity (verse 5)
  • promises his presence forever (verse 6)

Jesus goes on to say that he, himself is the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep in John 10:11. Jesus is later described as the shepherd who even leads beyond death into eternal life in the Book of Revelation:

They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
For the Lamb on the throne
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:16-17 (NLT)

What kind of leader is Jesus? The leader with authority, even over life and death, yet the leader who is humble enough to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. The kind of leader you can approach. The kind of king who is not just kind and generous to his subjects, but who desires to adopt them into his royal family. The kind of leader willing to forgive.

David said “the Lord is my shepherd” Is the Lord your shepherd?


This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. The full worship expression can be seen here. For now, all Clarke’s sermons are “shrunk sermons”! For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here.

March 16, 2020

Plagues Happened at the Beginning of the Story and Will at the End

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:32 pm
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We tend to consign the word plague to certain Old Testament stories. Of course we also tend to think that with our modern health care, such things could never happen in current times. At least we think that until we find ourselves in the middle of one.

From Bible Study Tools:

The term “plague” is found roughly 100 times in the Bible, primarily in the Old Testament. The most commonly known biblical plagues occurred in Egypt during the time of Moses. Plagues are also mentioned in Revelation of the New Testament when describing the end of days on Earth. Scripture reveals that God sent plagues as a consequence of disobedience and idolatry. Exodus 32:35 gives an example of this, saying “So the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.”

The passage clearly indicates that God sent the plague. I think this goes beyond saying God permitted the plague to happen. We say that most times today — and, I believe, correctly — that things happen because we live in a fallen world, but clearly God Himself, speaking through the prophets, takes a proactive role and reveals Himself as the author of the plagues, as is declared in Amos 4:10.

“I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.

At the website Knowing Jesus, we’re given a number of verses on this subject, and this one, from Jeremiah 14:12 shows God’s deliberate action and provides us with a number of Biblical synonyms to plague:

“When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”

This is of course where so many get the idea of the violent, angry, Old Testament God; the very picture which seems so much at odds to the loving, compassionate, New Testament version of God which the modern church is trying so hard to promote!

But God is the same: yesterday, today and forever, right? We have to be careful of going too far down the road where God has two different masks that he wears. Yes, we live in what some call The Age of Grace, and that grace has been poured out to us through Jesus. But God judges sin as part of his essential character.

So…in the few New Testament references we have to plague, are they part of the fallen world model, or are they going to be sent directly by God as a form of judgement? Mark 13:8 and its parallel passage in Luke 5:11 state respectively,

“For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

“…and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.”

How did you answer that? How do we answer if the present virus outbreak is judgement or natural consequence of the fallen world we live in?

I am sure that, as diverse as the Body of Christ is, there are people with answers on both sides for that question…

One other thought

Before we leave today, it occurred to me about 30 minutes before posting this that people in the broader demographic are looking to see how we, as Christians, are responding to this crisis. Our neighbors. Our co-workers. Our extended family. Our children. Our unsaved spouses. Our fellow-students.

Is our faith strong enough to hold in these times? I ask myself that question, too; because we don’t truly know until we’re in the time of testing how we will fare.


If you’re joining us today for the first time

We’ve been looking at this theme for the past several devotions:

January 27, 2020

These Predictions Were Spot On

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Once or twice each year I return to the devotional page at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. There are many great articles from a variety of writers. I wish more people would attempt to write devotional literature. The author of this piece is Dee Renaud. Click the title below to read it at their site.

Weather Predictions And More

Winter isn’t my favourite season. Although it’s very beautiful after a snowfall — a winter wonderland, as they say — I don’t like it when the wind blows and visibility becomes almost nil, especially if we have to travel somewhere.

We rely on the weather predictions to keep us informed about upcoming snow squall warnings, and then, we decide whether or not we will venture out to get where we need to go or stay home and be safe. Sometimes, the predictions are spot on, and sometimes they are totally wrong.

There are many predictions about Jesus’ life in the Bible as well, and they were always spot on!

We live in an imperfect world. The Bible tells us that we are all sinners and so we need a Saviour. Jesus is that person. God’s plan for each and every one of us from before the creation of the world was for Jesus to save us from our sins. His birth, death, and resurrection were all predicted (foretold) and fulfilled exactly.

■ The birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in Bethlehem:

Micah 5:2The Lord says, “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are one of the smallest towns in Judah, but out of you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times.” (GNT)

■ Jesus’ death on the cross, to pay the penalty for our sins:

Psalm 22:14-16My strength has drained away like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart melts like wax; my strength has dried up like sun-baked clay; my tongue sticks to my mouth, for you have laid me in the dust of death. The enemy, this gang of evil men, circles me like a pack of dogs; they have pierced my hands and feet. (TLB)

Isaiah 53:5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (NIV)

■ Jesus’ resurrection:

Psalm 16:9-10Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. (NIV)

Matthew 17:22-23When they came together in Galilee, [Jesus] said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” (NIV)

■ He was the perfect sacrifice — the One without sin, the only One who could pay the price for our sins.

1 Peter 1:18-20aFor you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world. (NIV)

As the predictions tell us, Jesus was born for us, He died on the cross for us, and He rose from the dead for us. When we acknowledge our sinfulness, confess our sins, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we fulfill God’s plan in our own lives.

Prayer: Father God, we are so grateful that You are in control and that You have had a plan from before the very beginning of time. Thank You for sending Your only Son, Jesus, into this world to be our Saviour. Thank You for Your Word that teaches us what we need to know to have eternal life. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

 

December 27, 2019

The First Christmas. An Ordinary Day?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This week Clarke Dixon posted both his Christmas Sunday message and his Christmas Eve message. We decided to share this second one while it was still closer to the 25th.

by Clarke Dixon

For most of us, Christmas is no ordinary day. We prepare for it, we take time off, we meet with family, we play special music. This is no ordinary day. Yet the first Christmas was actually quite ordinary in many ways. It was not marked on anyone’s calendar as being a holiday, or anything out of the ordinary. Yet there was something extraordinary about that first Christmas. Let us consider the many ways Christmas Day points to both the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Mary. An Ordinary Woman. An Extraordinary Calling!

Mary was an ordinary young woman, like every other young woman. We don’t know too much about her, but we can assume that she had quite an ordinary childhood. Like other young women of her age, she was engaged to be married. Her life was quite ordinary, until she had an extraordinary calling from God.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee,  to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.  Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”
 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.Joseph.

Luke 1:26-38 (NLT)

Joseph. An Ordinary Man. An Extraordinary Family!

Joseph was also quite an ordinary person. He was a descendant of David, but he was also a normal man like any other man. In fact when he learned that Mary was pregnant, he decided to do what any good man would do, he decided to call off the wedding. However, this was no ordinary child Mary was carrying. As it turns out, while Joseph was an ordinary man, he would have an extraordinary family.

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:18-23 (NLT)

Bethlehem. An Ordinary Town. An Extraordinary Fulfillment!

That first Christmas took place in an ordinary town. Bethlehem at that time was probably no bigger than the small town we live in which only has 2000 or so people. It had a rich history, with King David being from Bethlehem. However, living in Bethlehem would feel no different to the locals than living in a small Canadian town does today. Life there was quite ordinary. But something extraordinary did happen there.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. Luke 2:1-7 (NLT)

While being an ordinary town, through the birth of Jesus this town became the site of an extraordinary fulfillment of prophecy.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:1-6 (NLT)

The Shepherds. Ordinary People. An Extraordinary Invitation!

You might think that the birth of a long awaited king would be announced to a long list of important people, like rulers or religious leaders. God chose to announce the birth to quite ordinary people, shepherds working nearby. In doing so, God indicated that ordinary people are important people. They are important to him.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. Luke 2:8-20 (NLT)

Jesus. An Ordinary Baby. An Extraordinary Baby!

Jesus himself was quite ordinary in some very important ways. He was a baby like any other. Despite the claim of a favourite carol, he cried like any other baby would. He needed fed like any other baby. He probably kept his parents awake at night, like any other baby! But he was also extraordinary. He was the incarnation of God. He was “Immanuel,” God with us.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone…
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:1-4,14 (NLT)

Christmas. An Ordinary Day. An Extraordinary Event!

That first Christmas Day was a very ordinary day. It was not marked as special on anyone’s calendar. There were no decorations. There were no Christmas carols. There were no Christmas trees. There were no gifts under the trees. There was no Christmas shopping. It was such an ordinary day, that really the only ones who knew about it were Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and perhaps a few others. The Magi probably didn’t arrive until later. It was actually a very ordinary day with a very ordinary birth.

Yet that first Christmas Day was an extraordinary day. It was a day which would lead to the possibility and opportunity for reconciliation with God. Because of the Son of God, Jesus, who was born on that day, we could become God’s children.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. Galatians 4:4-5 (NLT)

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. John 1:10-12

We could go on to speak about how ordinary people would experience the extraordinary teaching, miracles, and presence of Jesus. We could speak of his crucifixion, unfortunately an all too ordinary event in that time and place. We could speak of God’s extraordinary love expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Although we may feel like we are far far extraordinary people, we can experience that extraordinary love.

My family and I wish you a Merry Christmas!

December 22, 2019

An Advent / Prophecy Mix

Today, an original article from some previously published material invites us to think of ways the second coming of Christ could be similar to the first. But as you read this, remember there will also be dramatic differences…

Consider for a moment two aspects of the advent of Christ as it might relate to his second coming:

  • The timing of His coming
  • The nature of His arrival

The timing of His coming

I’ve heard many sermons about the fact that before the time of Christ, we find what Christians call the “inter-testamental period” wherein the prophets seem to be silent. It’s a kind of ‘calm before the storm’ before Jesus breaks on the scene and teaches like no other rabbi or prophet ever.

Will there be a calm before the storm before Jesus returns a second time? The voices (prophets if you will) of our day are being silenced. In the east because of the rise of militant Islam or religious radicals in places like India. In the west because of the rise of militant atheism or political correctness. Could it be that the second coming of Christ will take place in a time where the voices of the prophets are not heard in the land?

The nature of His arrival

We tend to think of Jesus’ arrival on earth at Bethlehem, but really Jesus arrived so to speak when He began His public ministry. You can date this arrival by His submission to John’s baptism and identification by John as “the lamb of God;” or you can choose the wedding at Cana or the beginning of His teaching ministry.

We tend to think of Jesus’ second arrival as being signaled by the sound of trumpets and his appearance on a white horse.

I am not, in the following paragraphs, suggesting that it’s possible that Christ has already returned and is alive and on earth now; so please don’t write me off as a heretic.

For the next two paragraphs, play a game with me. Not because I personally believe this, but because it stretches our imagination.

What I’m wondering is, if it’s possible for Jesus to embed himself here on earth somehow for a short period of time, and then, suddenly, there is the sound of trumpets, there is the appearance of the conquering King on a white horse (as opposed to the submission symbolized by the donkey the first time around) and every eye sees and every ear hears. I say that only because that was the nature of His first coming. There was a beginning in Bethlehem that preceded — in this case by 30 years — the beginning of His taking up His spiritual office.

Before you jump all over this and find it full of flaws, remember, at the time of His birth, it is the belief of many commentators that nobody understood the “…then a virgin shall conceive…” passage as meaning exactly how we know today the story played out. There wasn’t the “messianic mindset.”

Bruxy Cavey is a pastor and author who maintains the prophecy should be read ‘backwards’ to see how God was in control all along, not ‘forward’ to try to predict the future. We can’t read forward. On the other hand, controversial author and pastor Rob Bell teaches that every Jewish girl envisioned herself as being “the one” who would give birth to the Savior. Though all was quiet on the western eastern front, there was great expectancy. None of this type of speculation discounts the aspect of “being caught up to meet Him in the air;” the idea that the quietly building return should not have its moments of drama. (We can’t edit out verses of scripture just because they don’t fit with our particular model!)

I’m just saying it would be most consistent if, in addition to the timing of His second coming following the pattern of His first coming; that the nature of His arrival should also include something that has an element of ‘process’ to it. That perhaps instead of looking “up” we should be looking to the left and to the right. Scanning the horizon for the Lion of Judah who has massed his forces, or, more likely, will mass his forces, right here prior to that moment when every eye will see and every ear will hear.

Or perhaps it’s something closer to the more traditional view, but there is a physical presence — similar to the angels at Bethlehem singing ‘Glory to God in the highest’ — followed by the taking up of the spiritual office. A period, a moment filled with signs in the skies followed by a dawning of the great significance of what is happening. Only instead of it taking up to a year for the Magi to arrive on the scene bearing gifts, we have CNN carrying the event live.

Either way of course, it will also be a dramatic intervention into world history on a par equal to His first coming; but seen and known by everyone instantaneously.

The point is, ultimately we just don’t know. However, though we don’t know “the day nor the hour,” we can know “the times and seasons.” And we can be prepared. Are you?

My point is to ask, “What if…?” We read scriptures with so many built-in assumptions — as I am sure Old Testament saints did with the writings available to them — and I think we need to be challenged to think outside the box, without tossing out the basic elements necessary for the Grand Story to play out to completion. Is it heretical to ask, “What if…?”? I think the next chapter will be full of surprises on so many levels.

I Cor 2:6 Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. 7 No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8 But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 9 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
for those who love him.” NLT

December 8, 2019

Only One Generation Saw the Promise Fulfilled

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Last year at this time we introduced you to a site where one wouldn’t expect to find devotional insights, at least based on its title. Rebecca LuElla Miller is a freelance writer and editor whose blog has the title, A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She had me from the opening sentence of what follows. Click the header to read this at her page.

And We Wait

There’s only been one generation in all of history that actually waited for the promised Messiah and saw Him come. All the rest of us wait. The people who believed God before Jesus came, waited for the promised Messiah.

We know this from Scripture but also from history. Any number of false messiahs claimed they were the one promised by God, and for a time groups of people believed them. Until Rome killed them.

From the early pages in Genesis, God promised to crush Satan’s head, the very thing Jesus did by defeating death, by freeing us from sin and guilt and the Law.

Many prophecies told the Jewish people to expect a King, but also to expect a suffering Savior. The King, they embraced. The suffering Savior, they overlooked.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem before His last Passover on earth, the people flocked to Him, expecting Him to declare Himself the promised King. They had waited and watched, and many thought Jesus was the One.

People had asked John the Baptist if he was the one. They wanted so much to see the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in their time. They wanted to have a King that would defeat Rome and free Israel once and for all from political tyranny. John said no, he wasn’t the one. But of Jesus he said, Behold, the Lamb of God.

The Lamb? Not, the King?

Not the King, yet.

So many missed the bigger picture. They missed that the Messiah was not just for Israel. They missed that His Kingdom was not an earthly or a political kingdom. Yes, they waited for the Messiah, but in some measure, they didn’t understand what they were waiting for.

A handful of people got the message—pretty much hand delivered to them by God. Mary received the announcement that Messiah would be her son. And the angel Gabriel also told her why the Messiah was coming: “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:33)

Interestingly, her soon-to-be husband received even more information:

She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” (Matt 1:21-23)

Then there were John the Baptist’s parents. And the shepherds and the prophetess Anna and the godly priest Simeon and the magi traveling from the east. All were looking for and expecting the Messiah. And all saw the promise fulfilled. Their wait was over. Sort of.

Some undoubtedly began a new wait, the one we share today—the wait for the Messiah to return.

I know, kind of crazy to talk about the return of the King during Christmas time when we celebrate His first coming. But I think seeing the promise of His first arrival come to fruition gives hope as we wait for His second coming.

We live in a day that was similar to what the first century people waiting for Messiah experienced. There were problems morally, socially, even within the ranks of religion. They wanted a King who would set things right.

And so many people today want the same thing. They are empty, without purpose, filling their lives with pleasures that grow stale, thinking there should be more.

And there is. Waiting for the Suffering Savior to come as the triumphant King, is an awesome joy. It’s like the bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to show in one of the parables. Or for the tenant workers waiting for the landowner to show and evaluate their work. It’s a glory and an honor to be found when the King comes, faithfully carrying out the tasks we’ve been assigned.

That’s why Scripture says over an over to stand firm, to “hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (Heb. 3:6b). It’s why we’re not to grow weary in well-doing. We have the promise that Christ is worth waiting for.

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:4)

So yes, we wait, just like those Jews so long ago waited for the Messiah to come. And because Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the Suffering Servant, because He came as an unblemished Lamb and shed His blood for the sins of the world, we can know with certainty that He will also come again.

God doesn’t do things half way.

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