Christianity 201

August 26, 2022

Behold! He Comes with Clouds

Today another new author to introduce to you. Lisa Berg writes at Professing Christians. She goes in-depth on various topics, and in the last few months has been writing much about the Book of Revelation. Today’s devotional study first appeared in March. Clicking the title header below will take you to where we found her writing. [Note: Lisa uses the KJV. You can look these up on BibleHub.com or BibleGateway.com in a version that reads better for you.]

The Clouds of Heaven

When I was growing up, we were taught in science class that there are three types of clouds: cirrus (short, detached hair-like), cumulus (cauliflower shaped), and stratus (low-level layers). Somewhere along the line nimbus was added.

According to metoffice.gov.uk, “Nimbostratus clouds are dark, grey, featureless layers of cloud, thick enough to block out the sun. Producing persistent rain, these clouds are often associated with frontal systems provided by mid-latitude cyclones.”

These seem to be the clouds that are often associated with the clouds of heaven on the Day of the Lord. Look at Joel 2:1-2a –

“Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand; A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains…”

“a day of clouds and of thick darkness…” When you look at the Strong’s for “clouds” in this verse it is H6051 – “עָנָן ʻânân, aw-nawn’; from H6049; a cloud (as covering the sky), i.e. the nimbus or thundercloud:—cloud(-y).” It’s a THUNDER CLOUD.

The first use of this “thundercloud” is in Genesis 9:13 where the Lord set His rainbow in the cloud as a covenant after the flood. That would have been a storm cloud, right? That’s where rainbows come out after a storm is over.

In Exodus, this cloud was the cloud by day that led the Israelites through the desert. This is also the incense cloud that He appeared in above the mercy seat in the Most Holy Place. It also describes the clouds (with thick darkness) that was on the mount when He gave Moses the Law. And David says H6051 thunderclouds surround Him at His throne (Psalm 97:2).

The prophets, however, take a different note on these thundercloud structures. They liken them to what Joel saw: storm clouds in the Day of the Lord:

  • Jeremiah 4:13 – He comes as clouds with chariots as a whirlwind and horses as eagles;
  • Ezekiel (various) – a whirlwind out of a great cloud with fire infolding itself; as the appearance of a rainbow in a rain cloud; with the brightness of the glory of the Lord; as the Day of the Lord is near; blotting out the sun…
  • Nahum 1:3 – The Lord has His way in the whirlwind and the storm, clouds are the dust of His feet;
  • Zephaniah 1:15 – The Day of His wrath is a day of darkness, gloominess, clouds, and thick darkness…

I think we get the picture. But (as usual) I think there is more to this than His coming in a mere thunderstorm.

Jesus said in Matthew 24:30 “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

This is right after Jesus describes a scenario in which the sun is darkened, the moon does not give her light, and the stars fall from heaven. These things are described by the prophets as well in Joel ch. 2&3, Isaiah 13, Amos 8, Ezekiel 32, Mark 13, Acts 2, which all describe the 6th Seal in Revelation! That’s a lot of witnesses! In fact, is that part of the “Cloud of Witnesses”?? (Just another thought.)

Back to these nimbus thunder clouds… As we know, thunder clouds come in storms. God euphemistically uses storms to describe how He is going to wipe out the wicked in the Day of the Lord. I ran across these:

Isaiah 28:2 Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.

Isaiah 29:6 Thou shalt be visited of the Lord of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire.

Isaiah 30:30 And the Lord shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and shall shew the lighting down of his arm, with the indignation of his anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and tempest, and hailstones.

Ezekiel 38:9 Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee.

These are verses that sound like He is coming WITH these storm clouds. Oh wait:

Revelation 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.

So here’s my last thought on this: Jesus comes back in and with “clouds”. Out of the throne comes lightnings, thunderings, and voices (Rev. 4:5). Only the elders and the beasts (living creatures from Ezekiel 1) are allowed at the throne. This is when, in Revelation 5, the Lamb (Jesus) is handed the scroll with the seven seals.

When Jesus opened the first seal, what do we hear? The noise of thunder and one of the four beasts (living creatures with four faces) saying, “come and see.” (Okay, was THAT his voice that sounded like thunder?)

Now in Revelation 6:12 we see what all those prophets were talking about – the sun darkened, the moon blood red, the stars falling, and an earthquake. Then we have the last seal in Revelation 8… and what happens at the throne? Voices, thunderings, lightnings, and another earthquake.

We know that when God speaks all these things happen. But He is a God that includes His sons (and daughters) in what He purposes in the earth. These are written about in His Word and include judgment and ruling and reigning with Him. I believe when God has had enough (which I think is in this generation) and enough of His people are ready to go to war with Him (He IS the Lord of “hosts”, this doesn’t mean stars), He will take His army with Him and they will descend with a great shout as in the days of Jericho.

I think the enemy doesn’t even know what is about to come upon them. I think they have greatly underestimated God’s army and the power of His tempest, storm, whirlwind, thunder, and lightning of us, His outstretched arm. But that’s just me.

August 17, 2022

Godless World Leaders

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back with Arnold Reimer, who is a former pastor of one of the Christian and Missionary Alliance’s flagship churches, Bayview Glen Church in Toronto. His blog is called Finishing Well. Click the title which appears next to read this where it first appeared, along with other articles.

Godless

It is not always easy for us to understand the fierce judgment of God upon others, or upon an entire nation, even nations. But both Old and New Testaments have some strong things to say about the harsh dealings of the God upon those who perpetrate evil – the godless. Much of it has to do with protecting or punishing His people for disobedience, but sometimes it goes beyond that, due to the godlessness of a person or nation. There are numerous incidents of judgment in Scripture. Some Psalms especially speak to this, as do Peter’s letters and, most starkly, John’s The Revelation. In dangerous times like these it behooves us to think, pray, expect and act with understanding and wisdom.

Not since Hitler has there been a world leader as evil and heartless as is Russia’s Putin and his counselors. Under Stalin, many of the Russian people accepted atheism, the denial of God’s existence and rule. Millions of people died under his wicked regime. Now Putin is walking in Stalin’s shoes and the Ukraine people, and even some Russian people, are suffering unimaginable devastation and death. Putin is not the Anti-Christ we shall one day encounter, but he may well be the one who sets the stage for this winsome, but evil, peace-maker. He will first bring order out of chaos, and political solutions to global problems. But, once accepted and in power he will show his ugly side, and, as bad as Putin is, it will be even worse!

As followers of Christ Jesus how do we think, pray and act in times like these. Psalm 94 gives us some clear and important guidance:

“O Lord , God of vengeance; God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O Judge of the earth; render recompense to the proud. How long shall the wicked, O Lord, how long shall the wicked exult? They pour forth words, they speak arrogantly; all who do wickedness vaunt themselves. They crush Your people, O Lord, and afflict Your heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the orphans. And they have said, ‘The Lord does not see, nor does the God of Jacob pay heed.’

Pay heed, you senseless among the people; and when will you understand, stupid ones? He who planted the ear, does He not hear? He who formed the eye, does He not see? He who chastens the nations, will He not rebuke, even He who teaches man knowledge? The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath. Blessed is the man You discipline, O Lord, the man You teach from Your law; You grant him relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked. For the Lord will not reject His people; He will never forsake His inheritance. Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it. . .

(Read the rest of Psalm 94, and with it, Psalm 46.)

We are right to pray for the elimination of Putin, for an end to the destruction of the Ukraine, protection and provision for the displaced, and for peace in Europe. … We are right to examine our own political leaders, their rules and behavior, in the light of Scripture. They, too, for the common good need to be held accountable to the laws of a holy and righteous God, ruler of heaven and earth. “Righteousness exalts a nation, sin is a reproach to any people.”

It has been a long time since world affairs have been so troubled and uncertain. The voice of the Church must be heard with the clarity of truth, in humble repentance, and in exemplary talk and walk in righteousness. We must prepare ourselves to withstand the wrath of the ungodly. We must learn what it means to shine as lights in a dark world where pressure to be silent abounds. Increasingly evil reigns and, temporarily, seems to be winning. But, study again Ephesians 6 and put on the whole armor of God. Stand firm, dear saints, and remain standing! Fill your heart and mind with that blessed hope that encourages when all seems lost: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

 

 

June 13, 2022

Fashioning Weapons into Agricultural Tools

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we have another new author to introduce to you, although he has been writing online for a long time. Chuck Larsen is a U.S. pastor, and we discovered him when looking at search results for the phrase “they will beat their swords into ploughshares.” It seemed like a timely search in view of the grassroots desire for gun reform in that country, and I couldn’t help but think of social activist Shane Claiborne, who literally takes guns and fashions them into garden tools.

Chuck’s articles are shorter than some we run here, so there is also a bonus devotional for you as well. Clicking the headers (titles) below will take you to where they first appeared. The first is from 2011, the second is from last week and is part of a series in Genesis. If you’re reading this June 2022, simply visit the blog and read through.

Beat Their Swords Into Ploughshares

God has not only given us His absolute truth to guide our life by, but also has promised us a king who will one day apply that truth across the board for all mankind. This King and judge of all will be recognized by the entire world. He will come! He will establish His Kingdom and we will finally have peace. Micah 4:3-4 is a famous passage. Every soldier that’s ever walked a rice patty or stormed a beach, or pointed a rifle, or pushed a button longs for the fulfillment of this passage. Every mother who lost a son, every wife, every child whose husband or father didn’t return from battle gets goose bumps when they read this.

It says,

“He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.”

This passage is also found in Isaiah Chapter two. It is inscribed on a stone wall facing the United Nations building in New York. Khrushchev saw a figurative fulfillment of the prophecy when he visited the John Deere factory near Des Moines, Iowa: The plant was built early in World War II for manufacture of machine-gun bullets. Today it produces farm implements.

Micah 5:2-4 is another famous passage. We often sing about it at Christmas time. It tells us about the Prince of Peace who will end war for all time.

It says,

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, …And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

The next time I sing, “O little town of Bethlehem,” I’ll sing it with more meaning. “The Hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight!”

Chuck

“…his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Dust Thou Art!

In Genesis 2:7 we see more detail in God’s creation of our first ancestors. It says, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

Picking up on what Wenham said in his commentary that I quoted earlier, he adds to his comments on verses 5 and 6 and says more, “The writer flashes back to the situation before mankind was created on the sixth day (1:26–28) and describes a typical middle-eastern desert, which requires human effort to irrigate and make it bloom. It was from the clay of such an area that God, the great Potter, moulded the first man and breathed into him the breath of life. Through this traditional image Genesis implies that people are by nature more than material; they have a spiritual, God-breathed, element too.”[1]

Referring to the material aspect of man, “clay” or “earth” or more often “the ground,” Adam, the man, and Adamah the ground have an intimate relationship. Mangun says, “The word for man is adam, while ground is adamah, so the verse says that God formed adam from the dust of adamah.”[2] He then points out that other commentators insist that both Akkadian and Egyptian texts depict God forming man from clay like a potter. This is a familiar comparison in the Bible as well. One commentator even argues that this relationship is intentional. “God forming man here is intentionally evoking the image of a potter and clay.” Then he points out “The Hebrew word used three times in Gen 2 for ‘formed’ is the same word that describes the potter and his activity in Isa 29:16.”[3]

I love that verse. The English Standard Version follows the traditional translation and says, “Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’”? I like the New Living Translation better. It says, “How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, ‘He didn’t make me’? Does a jar ever say, ‘The potter who made me is stupid’’?

It was a common practice for man, in repenting, to cover themselves with dust and ashes. I think the “dust” was symbolic of the acknowledgement of being the clay who has not right to question the potter. It took Job 40 chapters to wrestle with why bad things happen in the world to good people. After he and his friends exhausted all their puny ideas, God confronts them with questions they cannot answer. Job finally gets the point in Job 42:2-6 and says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak.” Sometimes it’s good to remember that we are but dust.


[1] Wenham, Gordon J. 1994. “Genesis.” In New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, 4th ed., 62. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[2] Mangum, Douglas, Miles Custis, and Wendy Widder. 2012. Genesis 1–11. Lexham Research Commentaries. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Mangum, Douglas, Miles Custis, and Wendy Widder. 2012. Genesis 1–11. Lexham Research Commentaries. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

January 27, 2022

When Relationships Get Ugly

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Luke 4:14-21

by Clarke Dixon

Relationships can get very ugly very quickly. Whether between people groups or among family and friends, things can turn sour fast. I’m sure I don’t need to give examples as you probably have first-hand experience. Don’t we all!?

We have an example of relationships getting ugly fast when Jesus made a positive first impression on his hometown crowd and then that same crowd attempted to throw him off a cliff! Digging into this event will help us with our ugly relationships.

So what happened? Let’s see where it begins:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:16-21 (NRSV)

We will see why things got ugly when we compare what Jesus went on to say, and not say, with what Isaiah went on to say in Isaiah 61 had Jesus just kept reading.

The first thing we notice is that Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah at a significant moment. He stopped mid-sentence. Had he gone on to read further, he would have read:

…to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,

Isaiah 61:2 (NIV emphasis added)

Jesus stopped short of talking about vengeance. Maybe that is our first clue on handling ugly relationships?

To understand what is going on here more fully, it will help us to realize that Isaiah had prophesied to God’s people about the Babylonian invasion of the promised land, the exile of many to Babylon, and then here in the passage quoted by Jesus, their subsequent return. Isaiah was looking forward to the day God’s people would be set free from the Babylonians, a day of “release to the captives” when “the oppressed go free.”

According to Isaiah, not only could God’s people look forward to freedom from these foreign oppressors, the tables would be turned on the enemy. For example,

Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;
but you shall be called priests of the LORD,
you shall be named ministers of our God;
you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory.

Isaiah 61:5-6 (NRSV)

According to Isaiah’s prophecy God’s people would no longer be slave-laborers for the Babylonians but instead the foreign enemies would be laborers in the promised land. Also, the wealth of God’s people would no longer belong to Babylon, but instead the wealth of nations would be brought to God’s people. This is a reversal of fortunes.

Those in Jesus’ day would have latched onto this reversal of fortunes, especially when Jesus said “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What those listening to Jesus would have been thinking is, “great, just as we needed rescue from Babylon, we now need rescue from these Romans who have invaded our land! This miracle worker may just be the one who will lead the rebellion!”

However, Jesus neither went on to read that part of Isaiah 61 nor to apply it to the current situation, making no insinuation that the tables would be turned and the Romans would become subject to the Jews. As much as the crowd would have loved to have heard that, he said this instead:

Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.

Luke 4:24-27 (NRSV)

Instead of speaking about the tables being turned against the foreigners, Jesus gave two examples from the Old Testament of foreigners receiving a greater blessing from God than God’s people. This is not what the crowd wanted to hear, and this is the point things got ugly and they took Jesus out to throw him off a cliff. This is also the point that helps us with ugly relationships.

Jesus did indeed come to set the prisoners free, but God’s people had bigger enemies than the Romans to worry about. Sin was the greater enemy. The Romans themselves were captive to that same enemy, and in fact, without Christ, so are we. The Romans, though being the oppressors, were themselves prisoners. They were captive to sin, captive to thinking that brute force was the way toward a better world, captive to life without God.

Indeed the brute force of Rome combined with the ignorance of the Jewish religious leaders in the execution of Jesus. Here again, Jesus stopped short of vengeance. Rising from the dead Jesus did not call for immediate destruction of his enemies, but instead sent out his disciples to tell people the good news of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that is entered through the receiving of God’s forgiveness and grace. That forgiveness was, and is still, offered to all God’s enemies.

Our Ugly Relationships

Do you have ugly relationships with others? We have bigger enemies to worry about, enemies that all humans face, like hatred, grudges, gossip, and dangerous ideologies or theologies. Let us seek release from these enemies. Perhaps we should put more of our focus and energy on battling these sins than on doing battle with the people we have ugly relationships with. That battle may begin with our own hearts.

When relationships get ugly let us begin by stopping short of seeking vengeance. We might need to learn the art of stopping our thoughts and words mid-sentence, before things go too far. The thought of justice comes naturally to us. The jump from justice to vengeance is a short hop that comes naturally to us. The way of the cross does not. We have God’s Spirit to help!

When our relationships get ugly, let us be like Jesus and remember love first.

Our relationships, our world, could be different if we become enthused by the grace of God, whose first response to His enemies, and ours, is love.


  • To watch a 20-minute sermon on which today’s devotional is based, click this link.

January 25, 2022

To Make Up His Jewels

When I was a kid in Sunday School, we sang a little chorus, complete with King James era lyrics:

When He cometh, when He cometh
To make up His jewels,
All His jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own:

Like the stars of the morning,
His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

I had forgotten all about this song until I found the devotional which appears below. It’s based on older versions (KJV and NKJV) of Malachi 3:17a. Here’s the NASB:

“‘And they will be Mine,’ says the LORD of armies, ‘on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will have compassion for them just as a man has compassion for his own son who serves him.'”

I went to BibleRef.com for some commentary, but was especially struck by this summary statement of chapters 3 and 4:

The final message, completed in chapter 4, is an appeal for God’s chosen people to return. God would prefer to see them redeemed, than to be destroyed, when the end finally comes. (emphasis added)

Remember that, as I believe verse 17 is a microcosm of both chapters, as fleshed out in today’s devotional.

We periodically pay a visit to the devotional page at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. Click the title below to read at source. The author of this piece is Martin Wiles.

Junking For Jewels

Romans 8:29For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (NLT)

Jewels can sometimes be found among the junk.

My wife calls it “junking”, and she does it quite often. When possible, I usually tag along. We don’t actually visit junkyards or stores, but we call what we do junking because we do it among a lot of discarded stuff — stuff that many term junk. However, we adhere to the old cliché, “One’s man trash is another man’s treasure.”

Our junking takes place occasionally at yard sales, but more often in thrift stores. Any time when we go to a conference or on vacation, she searches for thrift stores, maps them out, and visits each one. Once our jewels are discovered, we take them home and make them look more like the treasures they once were. We place them in the dishwasher or washing machine, splatter them with lemon oil, or tighten their loose joints with a screwdriver or hammer.

Once our jewels are cleaned and repaired, we decide. Some we choose to keep in our home. Most we resell, sometimes for a handsome profit. One person’s junk has helped us to make ends meet.

When God gazes down from heaven, He sees discarded people littering the shelves of the earth — people whom others have rejected, abused, and scorned. These are people whom He created and loves, but many of them have rejected Him. Sin has duped them, causing them to think that they no longer need God in their lives. Sin has led them in directions that are slowly killing them emotionally, spiritually, and physically. But God keeps junking.

Those who allow God to purchase them through repentance, forgiveness, and salvation, He cleans up. The blood of Christ washes them, the grace of God changes their perceived purpose, and the strength of God allows them to enjoy life once again. As God molds them into the likeness of His Son, they are transformed from junk into jewels.

Malachi 3:17a“They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels.” (NKJV)

God is in the business of making jewels of what many consider junk. Are you one of the ones whom He’s cleaning up and restoring?

Prayer: Father, thank You for Your amazing grace that makes us more than we could ever be in and of ourselves. Amen.


Here’s the second of the three verses of When He Cometh at Hymnary.org.

He will gather, He will gather
The gems for His kingdom;
All the pure ones, all the bright ones,
His loved and His own.

Like the stars of the morning,
His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

January 22, 2022

Simeon Scanning the Horizon

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back again with Rev. Kevin Rogers, a pastor in Western Ontario, Canada whose writing appears at The Orphan Age. This week Pastor Kevin was still in one concluding scene from the Christmas story in the two blog posts which follow. Click the headers below to read each one.

The Advantage of Old Age

We may have our personal thrill bucket list, but what about the fulfillment of a dream that will reshape the world as we know it? Part of the Christmas story involves an aged man who was given something that would be accomplished before his departure.

Luke 2:25-26

In Jerusalem There Was A Man Named Simeon. He Was A Good And Godly Man. He Was Waiting For God’s Promise To Israel To Come True. The Holy Spirit Was With Him. The Spirit Had Told Simeon That He Would Not Die Before He Had Seen The Lord’s Messiah.

Simeon is a reminder to us that God speaks to individuals, not just nations, churches, or tribes. The promise to Israel is personalized for Simeon. You will see the Messiah in your lifetime. It’s noteworthy here that Simeon was a devout man that longed for God to break into the world and restore hope.

There is something to be said for older men and women that live in devotion to God. When you are younger you may be pulled in many directions, but the godly saint has resigned to prioritizing intimacy with God. Joel prophesied that old people would dream dreams. What dream has God put into your heart as you get older?

Whereas the shepherds symbolized the average person on the street, Simeon represents the testimony of a wise elder who has walked with God. Part of his wisdom is seen in that he is looking for the hope of the nation, the consummation of God’s promise — “the consolation of Israel”. Saints in touch with God’s heart often await expectantly the completion of God’s promises. This revered saint is led to see what the arrival of this child means.[1]

What dream or vision has God put into your heart? Perhaps the voice of the Spirit is most heard when we pay attention to what God has promised to do.

Simeon’s raison d’être

What do people mean when they say they are being led by the Spirit or following the Spirit’s leading?

The concept of walking in the Spirit is all about God helping you to be in the right place at the right time. This was certainly a factor in Simeon’s encounter with the infant child Jesus. For a long arc of time, Simeon had been awaiting the consolation of Israel. Isaiah chapter 40 prophesied that God would comfort his people and now it had been personalized for Simeon. Sometimes the voice of the Spirit speaks and the message hangs in the air for centuries before a promise is fulfilled.

We must learn to be patient in waiting on the things that God plans and promises. But then,  there are times when something happens spontaneously, and you recognize that this is what God had promised.

For Simeon, God’s promise was linked to his own raison d’être – reason for being.

Luke 2:27-29

The Spirit Led Him Into The Temple Courtyard. Then Jesus’ Parents Brought The Child In. They Came To Do For Him What The Law Required. Simeon Took Jesus In His Arms And Praised God. He Said,
“Lord, You Are The King Over All.
Now Let Me, Your Servant, Go In Peace.
That Is What You Promised…”

The old man likens himself to a slave whose duty it has been to scan the horizon for a long-awaited visitor. Now he reports to the slave-master that his trust has been fulfilled, and he claims the privilege, his long watch being over, of going off duty.[1]

God’s salvation was not an impersonal idea, but a person. How intimate that Simeon would hold Jesus literally in his arms. That’s the thing about God’s promises—they are tangible, personal and physical.

What needs to be fulfilled in your lifetime before you can tell God that you are ready to go home?

In the Latin liturgies, verse twenty-nine is the beginning of Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis. The Latin words mean, ‘Now let your servant depart’.


[1] Zondervan Bible Commentary


Read more: 4+ years ago we shared another devotional about Simeon by Gordon Rumford.

January 3, 2022

Delta and Omicron: An Opportunity to Consider Alpha and Omega

A year ago at this time we introduced you to Alec Zacaroli, a former lawyer and former journalist, who was writing at the website Burke Missions, which is now at Burke Community. Often, I tend to dismiss articles which I think will become dated over time, but this one was so good on so many levels I decided to share it. Click through using the heading which follows to read this where we sourced it.

Delta? Omicron? How about Alpha and Omega?

Once again, our world has been thrown into turmoil by a tiny virus.  The emergence of Omicron, the latest variant of the COVID-19 virus, has resulted in renewed fears of illness and death, closed borders, financial turmoil, and new rounds of restrictions intended to curb its spread.

This is the second “variant of concern” on the Center for Disease Control’s list, the first being the Delta variant.  But CDC also is tracking “variants being monitored” by the names of Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Epsilon, Eta, Iota, Kappa, Mu and Zeta.

Are you thinking what I am thinking?

Right about now, what we really need is the Alpha and Omega!

I am not joking.  The timing of Omicron and Advent is more than a coincidence, at least in my view. It’s an opportunity (likely intended).

The latest iteration of the COVID-19 pandemic, once again, serves as a reminder that the world in which we live is out of our control and can inflict destruction at will, regardless of our human attempts to prevent it. And yet, the latest wave comes at a time when we also are reminded we have nothing to fear if we accept a few truths. Let’s revisit some of those:

“The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains…”– Psalm 24:1

“For by Him all things were created, both in heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. For He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” – Col. 1:16-17.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.”Isaiah 45:6-7

We could proof text God’s power over creation all day long, but I’ll spare you. Except for just this one more:

“‘I am the Alpha and Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” – Rev. 1:8

Depending on where you stand in relation to God, this truth of this verse is either the absolute greatest comfort you currently have or the greatest terror you may one day experience.  Either way, it renders Omicron yet another temporary minor disturbance. The only question is when you will come to terms with that reality.

Five verses before this one, the apostle John shares this: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it, for the time is near.” – Rev. 1:3.  In other words, blessed is he who believes!

The prophecy, of course, is spelled out in overwhelming detail in the remainder of the book. (It’s a critical prophecy for every Christian to understand – I invite you to view Dr. Marty Baker’s series on Revelation, which you can find HERE.)  Ultimately, however, the prophecy is about one truth – the return of Jesus Christ.

He is coming… again!

He is coming to judge and destroy wickedness in the world (Rev. 17-18). He is coming to bind Satan and his followers, before casting them into an eternity of torment (Rev. 20:1-10). He is coming to judge the living and the dead (Rev. 20:11-15).

But He is also coming to redeem the faithful (Rev. 7), and to usher in a new heaven and earth – where He will dwell with His believers in peace, love and joy (Rev. 21).  Take a moment and reflect on the words from heaven that John so faithfully recorded:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’” – Rev. 21:3-4

As I write this, the day is Dec. 1, 2021.  We are just 24 days from the day in which we remember, reflect upon and celebrate the moment Jesus first came into the world to save us.  But if you believe in Him, do you also believe in the totality of His salvific work? Do you believe not only in your personal salvation, but also in the fact that Jesus is “making all things new”, as He Himself told us? (Rev. 21:5)

I truly pray that the sheer joy of that truth will reside deeply in your heart this season, and every day beyond – because that is the true gift we’ve been given.

If you happened upon this post and have not accepted – or even thought about – the fact that Jesus is God, I hope you might.  The gift He offers is to redeem you to Himself and free you from the bondage of sin and the brokenness of this world.  When the Alpha and Omega reigns in your heart, the Delta and Omicron have no lasting consequence. I pray you will accept this gift even this very day…

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
Tags: , , , , ,

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.

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