Christianity 201

February 17, 2022

When Everyone Is So Certain

Thinking Through Luke 6:17-26

by Clarke Dixon

Is it just me, or is everyone convinced they are right and everyone else is wrong? For uncertain times there sure is a lot of certitude. How are we supposed to be sure of anything when everyone seems so sure of everything yet can agree on nothing? Our Scripture Focus today will help us find our way.

In today’s Scripture Focus Jesus challenged two things that many people were certain about.

First, Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about about how God works.

Then looking up at His disciples, He said:
You who are poor are blessed,
because the kingdom of God is yours.
You who are now hungry are blessed,
because you will be filled.
You who now weep are blessed,
because you will laugh…

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your comfort.
Woe to you who are now full,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are now laughing,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:20,21,24,25 (HCSB)

It was well known in those days that if you obeyed God, things would go well for you and you would be blessed. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t. Therefore the assumption was that the rich, the well-fed, the happy were obviously those who were well deserving of God’s blessings. The poor, the hungry, the unhappy, were obviously those who didn’t deserve God’s blessings. Many people think this way today.

Jesus challenged all that; “Blessed are the poor.” Discerning who is blessed by God and who is not goes way beyond merely looking at who seems to be doing well in life right now. There is something much deeper going on. That is not how God works.

So how did everyone get it wrong and could they have have done better?

The prevailing understanding seems to lean heavily on the Book of Deuteronomy where we find lists of blessings and curses for God’s people. If the people as a nation obeyed God, they would be blessed, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t. When Jesus spoke about blessings and woes he was probably intending for people to make that connection with Deuteronomy. Yet what he said was very different, and challenged their assumptions.

Assumptions could have been challenged earlier if people paid more attention to other parts of the Bible, like the Book of Job. The Book of Job is a rather long drama that asks the question, why do good people suffer while bad people flourish? The Book of Job is not really about the about the answer to that question but rather the validity of that question. It challenges the notion that you can tell if a person is blessed by God by looking at whether they are winning in life or not. Look around, good people sometimes do suffer, evil people sometimes do flourish. Perhaps the conclusions people jumped to by reading Deuteronomy could have been challenged by looking wider and being challenged by Job before being challenged by Jesus.

Looking wider and becoming aware of other viewpoints is key for us today as we navigate this era of certitude.

We can dig deep on any given topic, but we also must look around. As we do so, we are not seeking more reasons to stick to our guns, but greater wisdom, insight, and understanding, allowing our assumptions to be challenged. Doing so may or may not lead us to change our minds, but either way it will allow us to better understand the minds of others.

Some people think they are digging deep, doing research on a topic, but what that looks like is reading article after article that are written from the same perspective, that start from the same assumptions, that support the same conclusions. We call this being in an echo chamber where every voice is echoing the same thing. Sometimes our choice of echo chamber is based on wanting to hear from “experts” what we would want to say if we were the experts. Sometimes digging deeper just gets you into a bigger hole that is harder to get out of. We also need to look around. Other voices are important. We need the conclusions we jump to by reading Deuteronomy to be challenged by reading Job.

Think of how much better this world would be if we all let our assumptions be challenged, if we all sought wisdom, insight, and deep understanding rather than simply seeking confirmation of what we think we know.

Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about about how God works, about how life works. As a matter of prayer we might want to pause and ask the Lord to challenge us about our assumptions and whatever false conclusions we may have arrived at, or been pushed into.

Second, Jesus challenged the assumption that he, Jesus, was not from God.

You are blessed when people hate you,
when they exclude you, insult you,
and slander your name as evil
because of the Son of Man. [i.e. Jesus]
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note — your reward is great in heaven, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets…

Woe to you
when all people speak well of you,
for this is the way their ancestors
used to treat the false prophets.

Luke 6:22,23,26 (HCSB emphasis, clarification added)

Here Jesus pointed out how former generations had got it wrong. They often persecuted the true prophets who were from God, and rewarded the false prophets who were not.

When the religious leaders heard Jesus they were operating with a big assumption, namely, that anyone coming from God would live, teach, and act according to their understanding of the Scriptures. So, anyone healing on a Sabbath, something Jesus was prone to do, was obviously not from God. Jesus said and did many other things that got under their skin. Their attitude was: “Jesus can’t possibly be from God if he does not look, act, and think, just like we do.”

There was at least one religious leader who managed to challenge that assumption:

There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Him at night and said, “ Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.”

John 3:1-2 (HCSB)

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, likely in secret because his openness to Jesus would not have gone over well with the other Pharisees. How many of us keep our thoughts secret out of fear of people jumping all over us for challenging assumptions?

Nicodemus was willing to allow his assumptions, as a Pharisee, to be challenged. And it was to Nicodemus that those most famous of words were said:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NRSV)

Some scholars see this verse, and those that follow, not as the words of Jesus, but as the writer’s comment on the important things Jesus said to Nicodemus. Nevertheless, do our assumptions keep us from hearing about God’s love for the world and for us? Assumptions like “miracles don’t happen,” “Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead because people don’t rise from the dead,” or “The Bible is just all made up stories.”

Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths about Jesus, God, God’s grace and love, and God’s kingdom? Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths that lead us to life, to the Giver of life? Might assumptions keep those of us who follow Jesus from following more closely?

Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths about people and the way things work? It might be assumptions around mental health, race relations, viruses and vaccines. We might have assumptions about Muslims, atheists, Christians, truckers, health care workers, youth, seniors, people who are LGBTQ+, politicians, and yes, pastors. If I had a penny for every time someone has said to me “you are a pastor and you ride a motorcycle?”!

Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about their beliefs about whether or not he, Jesus, was from God. Perhaps we should pause and ask if Jesus would challenge our assumptions about who he is and he is about. While we are at it, perhaps we should challenge the assumptions we make about everyone else too. And then there are the assumptions we make about ourselves.

In Summary

In our society today there are many deeply held convictions. Deeply held convictions are no guarantee of deep insight. As we allow our assumptions to be challenged, as we listen to other voices, it will make a big difference. Let us be wise, seeking insight, knowledge, and understanding, on anything and everything, and of everyone, including ourselves. Let us especially seek insight where it matters most, about God and God’s love for us in Christ.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)


In addition to formatting Clarke’s “Shrunk Sermon” notes for several years, for the past 24 months I’ve also been tuned into his church’s online “Worship Expression.” For the sermon portion of this week’s, on which this article was based, click this link.

January 12, 2022

A Powerful Church

Four years ago we introduced you to the writing of Bert M. Farias, who like another author frequently featured here, J. Lee Grady, has a blog at Charisma Magazine’s website. This time however, we’re featuring some writing from his own site, at Holy Fire Ministries. Bert has a number of published books, as well as two new ones due this month.

His primary audience is Pentecostal and Charismatic readers. Note that as you read. Click the header which follows and read today’s devotional at his site.

Christ’s True Church is One of Power

The Church began as a pure and powerful free flowing river in Acts 2, but through the centuries of time that river has picked up much dirt and debris (sin, man’s traditions, doctrines of demons, carnality, and compromise, etc.) until it became so muddied and diluted of its former character, power, and authority that it devolved into a shell of its former glory and such a phantom of the original. But in the last few centuries a glorious restoration has begun in its character, power, and authority until now we stand on the precipice of the greatest awakening and move of God this world has ever seen.

The early Church was birthed in Jerusalem where Jesus commanded them to wait for His POWER (Acts 1:8), and through the early apostles this POWER was carried forth to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth at the time. Then years later the “work” that Saul and Barnabas were separated unto added to the expansion of this gospel of POWER very quickly (Acts 13).

“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the HOLY Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the WORK to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus” (Acts 13:2-4).

Most church members and saints, however, are not called to the “WORK” but specifically called locally. They have jobs, families, and relationships in their Jerusalem. Others’ sphere of influence will extend out to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world etc. This is the Lord’s divine design to add to the local churches and multiply the number of disciples and the obedience to the faith of many (Acts 6:7). It is to be the Church’s primary focus and commission.

UNITY IN THE BODY WHEN EACH FINDS THEIR PLACE

This is a simple word but profound and will create greater unity in the body when everyone finds their place. We cannot think of ourselves higher than we ought to, but at the same time, we cannot lightly esteem the lesser or weaker members either.

“But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (1 Cor. 12:18).

We often forget that this verse was written to the church at Corinth. It is in a local church setting and context. Here is another verse from another chapter:

“Do you not discern and understand that you [the whole church at Corinth] are God’s temple (His sanctuary), and that God’s Spirit has His permanent dwelling in you [to be at home in you, [collectively as a church and also individually]” (2 Cor. 3:16 — AMP)? We need more collective movement in the body and less independent movement. I’ll say more about that at another time.

THE WORK VS. THE LOCAL CHURCH

Saul and Barnabas along with three other prophets and teachers were ministering to the Lord and fasting at Antioch (Acts 13:1-2), when the Lord separated them to a WORK whose sphere of influence would be far beyond the local church in Antioch. Not everyone is called, separated, and sent that way. You can’t make yourself a prophet or a teacher, or an apostle, or choose it like you would choose a secular profession, as many self appointed Facebook and social media individuals do. I’d rather hear a donkey bray in a barn at midnight than listen to some of these pseudo “apostles” and “prophets” tout their latest revelations on social media. A true apostolic anointing has Power attached to it. It is God who appoints, anoints, sets and sends.

We see the immediate impact and results of this separation and sending. Saul (Paul) immediately begins to operate in a greater POWER and authority (Acts 13:8-12).

A TRANSFER OF POWER: STEPHEN AND PHILIP

In the early church at Jerusalem we see the same principle in operation as Stephen and Philip move from serving as deacons and tending to windows into a ministry of POWER and greater supernatural influence ( Acts 6-8). What often happens, though, is Christians get excited about Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth, and they lightly esteem Jerusalem. Spirit-filled leadership will recognize callings and anointings but it’s the Holy Spirit who does the “setting apart”. You can’t just lay hands on people to receive gifts and mantles, as is so common today, without the authorization of heaven and the direction of the Spirit. That’s just treating the things of the Spirit as common and playing with them as if they’re toys. It’s childish and irreverent to make so base that which is holy. Immaturity should not be a leader of God’s people.

LAYING ON OF HANDS WITH PRAYER AND FASTING

Honestly, so much of the laying on of hands today is done in the flesh. Often there is no leading of the Spirit to do it. No faith. No reverence. No POWER.

I remember being a part of a full gospel but still traditional church that would lay hands on the sick nearly every Sunday. The pastor would call up the elders, most of whom had no anointing, give each of them a bottle of oil, and just lay hands on people with no faith, no unction, and no POWER. Never did I see anyone healed. Never was there a testimony of such. You might as well just have laid hands on a piece of wood.

Friends, these things are holy. The laying on of hands is holy whether it be for healing or setting someone apart for ministry. There is supposed to be active faith and/or a transfer of POWER with it. There should be believing effectual prayer and at times fasting attached to it.

Notice that it wasn’t until the apostles laid hands on the seven that Philip and Stephen began to move out and preach the gospel in great miracle POWER (Acts 6:8). They received a great impartation and transfer of Power from the apostles when they hands on them.

STEPHEN

“… whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:6,8).

PHILIP

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed” (Acts 8:5-7).

This is not for everyone. We have no record of the other five deacons receiving the same impartation or transfer of POWER Philip and Stephen did. Yes, we are all commissioned to preach and to lay hands on the sick and cast out devils (*Mark 16:15-18), but some are called, especially anointed, and appointed to a ministry office or function.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:27-28).

God sets in the body whomever He wills and appoints various ministry gifts. Some are called to work locally all their lives. Others will mature into greater callings of greater influence. Stay content in that and don’t push for ministry beyond the scope of what the Lord has ordained. Even John the beloved, an apostle, appears to have limited himself to mainly Jerusalem for sometime to care for Jesus’s mother Mary and help oversee the local church before ending up at Ephesus, and then confined to the island of Patmos in his later years. But he lived longer than the rest of the original apostles and became known as the apostle of love from what we glean from the gospel and epistle that bears his name.

Not every minister has an international ministry. I believe some ministries are confined to their present locale and region. The same could hold true with apostolic and prophetic ministries. Be faithful to your local church family and community as Philip and Stephen were, and if God sees fit to increase your sphere of influence let Him do it. Don’t initiate it on your own. Your overseers, if they are Spirit-filled men, will know it.

Find your place in your grace. Function in your unction. Remain in your lane.

In conclusion, read the following portion of Scripture very slowly and carefully:

“They compare themselves to one another and make up their own standards to measure themselves by, and then they judge themselves by their own standards. What self-delusion! But we are those who choose to limit our boasting to only the measure of the work to which God has appointed us—a measure that, by the way, has reached as far as you. And since you are within our assigned limits, we didn’t overstep our boundaries of authority by being the first to announce to you the wonderful news of the Anointed One. We’re not trying to take credit for the ministry done by others, going beyond the limits God set for us. Instead, our hope soars as your faith continues to grow, causing a great expansion of our ministry among you” (2 Cor. 12:12-15 — TPT).

I could say so much about these verses, but that will have to be for another time.

Stay tuned or buy the book (s) when it’s published.

October 26, 2021

A Story of Compounded Tragedy

When I first started blogging, a popular destination was Internet Monk, a site founded by Michael Spencer. After Michael’s untimely death, the iMonk community continued to keep it alive, but in January it was decided to suspend new posting, and many in the iMonk community migrated to a new site, Mystery and Meaning. The new site is a combination of serious articles and reviews, and Saturday silliness. It was there we found today’s article, and you’re encouraged to read this at its point of origin there, by clicking the header which follows. The author of this piece is Paul Mitchell.

The Tragedy of Jehoiada and Joash

When studying Scripture, one of the things I enjoy most is rediscovering the small stories, the overlooked details, the passages that rarely get attention. This past week, my reading led me to a section of 2 Chronicles that is, frankly, heartbreaking. 2 Chronicles is not terribly optimistic to begin with. Israel and Judah are in a downward spiral, both spiritually and culturally, and that spiral continues to accelerate throughout the book.

Our story begins in 2 Chronicles 22 with the death of Ahaziah, king of Judah. Upon Ahaziah’s death, we are introduced to Athaliah, Ahaziah’s mother. Athaliah is from Israel, of the house of Ahab. She married into the Judean royal family. Now, we know the house of Ahab is bad news. A pretty easy case could be made for Ahab being one of the worst kings of Israel. So knowing Athaliah is a descendant of Ahab should already make us nervous for what comes next, and we are not disappointed. Seeing an opportunity to seize power, Athaliah makes a move to kill all the heirs of the royal family of Judah.

One of Ahaziah’s sons escapes: a young boy, only a year old, by the name of Joash. He is rescued by his aunt Jehoshabeath, who is married to a priest named Jehoiada. They hide Joash in the temple for six years. Jehoiada the priest, the young boy’s uncle, eventually allies with military leaders and the Levites to place Joash on the throne, deposing Athaliah, the boy’s grandmother.

This is where things get interesting. In 2 Chronicles 24:2, it says that Joash “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” Jehoiada not only hides and protects Joash, he helps place him on the throne, and continues to advise him. As long as Joash has this mentor, this spiritual figure, he is just and Israel prospers.

When Jehoiada dies at 130 years old, he is given a special honor. He is buried among the kings of Judah because, as verse sixteen records, “he had done good in Israel, and toward God and his house.”

Soon after the death of Jehoiada the priest, other advisors step into his place and turn Joash to idol worship. The Spirit of God comes on Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, and he confronts Joash and the people of Judah, saying in verse 20, “Why do you break the commands of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper?” In response, Zechariah is killed, stoned to death by command of the king.

While reading, this was the part that left me shocked. Joash was saved by Jehoshabeath and Jehoiada, his aunt and uncle. His uncle helped put him on the throne. Together, they worked to repair the temple. But soon after Jehoiada’s death, Joash has Jehoiada’s son, his own cousin, killed. As it says in verse twenty-two, “Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, had shown him, but killed his son.”

Joash dies not long after. Those who conspire against him and bring about his death do so specifically because of the murder of Zechariah. And as the story closes, in one last bit of irony, Joash, because of his evil, is not buried in the tombs of the kings, where Jehoiada the priest was buried.

So why has this passage stayed with me over the last few days?

Part of what stands out is the symmetry of the whole story. Jehoiada the priest saves Joash’s life, then Joash turns around and kills his son. The priest in his righteousness is buried with kings, while the king in his wickedness is not.

Part of what stands out is the tragedy of the whole story. There was a chance for things to go well, even after the atrocities committed by Joash’s grandmother. Part of what stands out is how little agency Joash seems to have in the whole story. As long as Johoiada is around, Joash follows God. As soon as the priest is gone, others lead Joash into idol worship.

It is interesting how much of what we think of as “our character” may be the influence of others, for good or ill. No overarching moral or lesson today. Simply a sad story that has stuck with me, making me think.


Second Helping: Read another thoughtful article at Mystery and Meaning by Paul Mitchell: Cultural Divides and the Kingdom of God.

July 29, 2021

When Prophets Get it Wrong

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Pursue love, yet earnestly desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
 – 1 Cor. 14:1 NASB

This time last year, a number of Charismatic Christian leaders issued prophecies that the incumbent U.S. President would be re-elected for a second term. For those who follow those leaders and teachers, it must have been a confusing time when the prophecy did not come to pass.

Dr. R. T. Kendall is a writer who some readers I know quite well have come to greatly respect. He is the author of dozens and dozens of books, a few of which are also in my personal collection. This is our fifth time featuring his writing here.

This excerpt is from a larger article, so I encourage you strongly to click the link in the header which follows.

Speaking for God?

Getting it wrong

…When a word does not come to pass which was introduced by “the Lord told me”, obviously something has gone wrong. It dishonors the name of the Lord. It brings discredit upon the gift of prophecy.

Should we not apologize? Nathan did and humbly climbed down for jumping the gun by telling David he could build the temple (2 Samuel 7:4ff). Surely if the Lord says something it is going to be exactly right.

If somebody’s word does not come to pass, that does not necessarily make them a ‘false prophet’. Luke portrays Agabus as a true prophet in Acts 11:28 and yet an objective scrutiny of Agabus’s word in Acts 21:11 will lead you to ask, “Is that really what happened?” Not exactly. The subsequent events were not precisely the way Agabus predicted…

6 Levels of Prophecy

Prophecy is a word from God unfiltered by personal wish or human embellishment whether it pertains to the past, present or future.

Not all prophecy is of the same caliber. There are at least six levels of prophecy – as in a pyramid, starting from the bottom:

6. General exhortation – Whether to a congregation or a personal encouragement to someone, Dr. Michael Eaton calls this “low level prophecy”. The kind of prophecy Paul encouraged in 1 Corinthians 14:1 was almost certainly of this sort. I don’t think he was motivating you or me to become the next Elijah. Someone may claim to have a “word”. We are not to despise such prophesying. But it needs to be tested (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). In any case, we don’t need to say “the Lord told me” – even if we may feel it is from the Lord. Do not claim that all you feel is from the Lord. You can always say, “I think I am supposed to share this with you”.

5. Specific warnings -Certain disciples urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Some think that Luke sides with them since he says they warned Paul “through the Spirit” (Acts 21:4). Agabus similarly warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem, saying “the Holy Spirit says” (Acts 21:11). And yet Paul refused to heed any of their warnings! Who got it right? Was Paul wrong to ignore them? Could Agabus have got it wrong? One thing is for sure: their warnings did not keep Paul from going to Jerusalem. All he would say later is that it served to advance the gospel (Philippians 1:12).

4. Prophetic preaching -Peter said one should speak as if their words were the “very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11). This is what all pastors, vicars and preachers wish for. Nothing thrills me more than when someone says to me, “How did you know I was there today? That is exactly what I needed”. Expository preaching can be prophetic without the preacher being conscious of this. Even if he or she is conscious of the Lord’s enabling, one should be humble about it and, in my opinion, not say “thus says the Lord”.

3. When forced to testify during persecution – Jesus said, “When they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19-20).

2. Non-canonical prophecy -A canonical prophet had a book named after him – like Jeremiah or Isaiah. Nathan, Gad, Elijah and Elisha are examples of non-canonical prophets. Could there be non-canonical prophets of this magnitude and stature today? Perhaps, but they are exceedingly rare. What they say must cohere with scripture – and prove to be true. So should these people say, “the Lord told me”? My response to that questions is: Why would that be necessary? If one will keep the name of the Lord out – but simply say “I feel I must say this to you” (or something like that), they might maintain their integrity, credibility and anointing – even if they get it wrong. Many a modern prophetic person could be saved incalculable embarrassment had they been more modest in their claims.

1. Holy Scripture. This is the highest level of prophecy. It includes all of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament. Scripture is God’s final revelation. No one will ever have authority to speak at this level. If any of us claims to speak on the same level as Holy Scripture we have gone too far and will be found out sooner or later.

Limits of prophecy

Remember that each of us has but a “measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). This means there is a limit to our faith. Only Jesus had a perfect faith because he alone had the Holy Spirit without limit (John 4:34).

For those who prophesy it should surely be done in two ways: (a) in “proportion” to their faith (Romans 12:6) – not going beyond their limit of faith – and (b) according to the analogy of faith. The Greek word translated “proportion” is analogia. This means comparing scripture with scripture, making sure we are within the bounds of sound theology.

There are seasons of the prophetic. The word of the Lord was “rare” at one time in ancient Israel (1 Samuel 3:1). Amos spoke of a famine of hearing the word of the Lord (Amos 8:11). This means that sometimes God chooses to say nothing. 

God may choose not to speak for a generation. If so, how foolish to pretend to speak for him.

Paul said that we know in part and we prophecy in part (1 Corinthians 13:9). This means that not even the best of prophets know everything…

January 16, 2021

APEPT People: You May Have Them, You May Need Them

Ephesians 4:11-13

New International Version (NIV)

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

It’s sometimes called “The Five-Fold Ministry of the Church.” Sometimes it’s just abbreviated as APEPT: Apostle, Pastor, Evangelist, Prophet, Teacher. We mentioned it briefly yesterday and there was a link which possibly should have been to the content which follows, though the article linked is also interesting. This appeared here in 2012, and for some reason was never repeated.

The term APEPT is often applied as helping a church determine its vision and the particular models that church should utilize to fulfill the five-fold mission.

Many times it is presented in terms of “finding your spiritual gift” types of sermons. You are asked to look at your abilities and gifts and determine if you see yourself as an Apostle (literally ‘sent one,’ missionary, church planter) or Pastor (literally ‘shepherd,’ caregiver, prayer warrior, etc.) or Evangelist (or ‘proclaimer,’ one who spreads the ‘evangel’ or good news of salvation, or a Christian apologist) or Prophet (not one who ‘foretells’ but one who ‘forth-tells’ who speaks into peoples’ lives often utilizing gifts of knowledge and utterance) or Teacher (one who searches the scriptures and opens understanding of doctrine and application.)

You’ve been to places where this was explained, and perhaps you’ve tried to look at your own potential areas of Christian service in this context.

Some people, like Australia’s Michael Frost for example, believe that each church currently has all five of these giftings operating in different people. He would say it’s necessary to identify these people and then come alongside them and resource them and support them.

Today, I want to look at it differently.

I want to consider what your church needs.

I want to ask you what type of gifted person you need right now personally.

(Be sure to click the linked verses in each section.)

I/We Need an Apostle

This means, that we’re looking for a “sent one” to come into our community who wants to do ministry or just shake things up. Right now, where I live, I often speak about “watching the horizon for some young buck to appear over the horizon with a guitar slung over his shoulder, who is interested in doing a church plant, so that we can support them in what they want to accomplish.” Maybe you need someone to help you with an existing ministry project. Maybe you’re a pastor who needs help. Maybe you need someone with an expanded vision who can give you the extra kick you need to get something done for The Kingdom. (See Romans 10:14)

I/We Need a Pastor

I know this applies to so many of you reading this. You need someone to put their arm around your shoulder, or give you a good hug. Someone who will pray with you. Someone who will walk with you through a tough time. Maybe you’re in a church led by a rancher, but you really need a shepherd right now. Maybe you’re alone and just need to know that someone cares. In a megachurch world, we tend to focus on great preaching at the expense of great pastoring. You need someone to pray with you for help, for wholeness, for healing. (see I Peter 5:2)

I/We Need an Evangelist

Maybe someone you know hasn’t crossed the line of faith, and you’re praying for someone to step into the picture who can help close the sale. Maybe you’re having a tough time defending the faith with people who are closed or apathetic to the Christian message. Maybe it’s you, yourself, who isn’t clear on how salvation happens, or maybe you’re a seasoned veteran of this whole church thing, but suddenly riddled with doubts and needing assurance of salvation. You need to connect with someone with the heart of an evangelist. (See Romans 10:14)

I/We Need a Prophet

Either individually or as a church, you know you need someone who will speak into your life or the life of your congregation; someone not afraid to tell it like it is; someone possessing insights that can only come through supernatural words of knowledge and wisdom; someone willing to identify sin. (See I Corinthians 12: 7-11)

I/We Need a Teacher

You know when you’re hungry. You know when you’re thirsty. Sadly, many individuals and churches are dying of thirst and dying of hunger; ironically, at a time when more Bible study resources, courses and Christian colleges are available than have ever existed at any time in history. There are, to be sure, some great Bible teachers out there, but in many local churches, there has been a weakening in the richness and substance of Bible teaching. You know when you’re getting milk when your body craves meat. (See Hebrews 5:12-14 also Luke 24:27)

God gave these gifts to Christian leaders — and the rest of them — because he knew that we needed them individually and collectively. Seeing the available list of gifts can help us identify what particular needs should presently be met in the hours, days and weeks to come. Perhaps now, you’re clearer on what specifically to pray for.

~Paul Wilkinson


I want to invite our Christianity 201 readers to share in a 97-minute livestream presentation from The Jesus Collective which happened earlier this week with Andy Stanley and Bruxy Cavey discussing How Centering on Jesus Changes Everything. To watch on YouTube: Click this link.

December 6, 2019

Anna The Prophetess

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This appeared originally as a Twitter thread. On our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, I’ve taken threads from Twitter and grouped them into a single article on about eight occasions, believing that they need to be seen by more people. It’s in that spirit I’m highlighting these thoughts here today.

Rich Perez is the author of Mi Casa Uptown; a memoir of his experiences growing up in the inner city of New York and the intersection between faith, family, identity and the significance of place. He’s also the lead pastor of Christ Crucified Fellowship in New York City. The link below takes you to the original thread.

Anna: Going Deep in Three Verses

In the Bible, only 3 verses are dedicated to Anna the prophetess. Because most Christians lack imagination, they’ll miss how deep those 3 verses go….

NIV.Luke.2:36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[*] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

* Or then had been a widow for eighty-four years.

Something worth noticing about Anna: before she’s the daughter of Phanuel; before she’s known to be of the tribe of Asher, Anna is identified as a prophet.

Being part of a society that disregarded women, esp. an old widow like Anna, God shows us that his world is upside down. Women were identified by the men they were connected to. But God is making a different connection. God’s saying that the most important thing about Anna is not the man she’s connected to but the God that she’s connected to.

Anna also teaches us quite a bit about waiting and aging well. she was 105 years old when she finally saw what she was waiting for: Jesus. Eight-four of those years were alone after her husband died.

I think the real value of these verses is how waiting has the potential to change us.

In my life, waiting has often made me frustrated, hurt and then bitter. Then it’s made me distrusting, hopeless and sometimes, unbelieving.

As young people, we need Anna. she shows us how to grow old well.

God uses Anna to show us that waiting for God isn’t passive, but active. That waiting doesn’t have to mean we grow older and bitter. That waiting doesn’t have to mean we grow stale and skeptical, but waiting can mean we grow to be more present and expectant.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Anna had many moments where she doubted God’s promise. Many nights where her bitterness got the best of her. Many nights where trusting God may have seemed impossible. But whether it was her doubt, her bitterness or her distrust, it all happened in the temple with God.

“She did not leave the temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers.”

Waiting, with all of its frustrations and darkness, is welcomed in the presence of God.

Anna shows that her life of waiting— most of it in the dark and alone— is not possible without prayer. Anna discovered a kind of prayer that doesn’t simply speak to God, but more importantly hears from God and is present with God.

One-way prayers assume that what we have to say is of greater importance than what God has to reveal to us.

I can only imagine Anna’s days and nights in the temple with God to be filled with a lot of silence; waiting to hear from God.

More reflections on Anna…

God’s three short verses on her show us the power of names. In just the first verse we get three of them: Anna, Phanuel and Asher.

Anna means “grace from God.”

Phanuel means “the face of God.”

Asher means “good fortune.” And it was to the tribe of Asher that God said: “…May the bolts of your gate be iron and bronze, and your strength last as long as you live.

Throughout the decades of her life; of her waiting – filled with what I imagine were many lonely moments, Anna waited for “the good fortune” of seeing “the face of God,” and at the temple 40 days after Jesus’ birth, by “the grace of God” she did!

Did you know that patience comes from the same Latin root as passion, which means “to suffer”? In other words, patience ain’t easy.

It all makes me wonder how Jesus waited. How did knowing what he came to do shape HOW Jesus waited?

Jesus waited knowing the the end from the beginning. He waited knowing at least part of the outcome of his waiting. Jesus waited knowing that part of waiting involved disappointment. He waited knowing that part of waiting involved his own suffering and his death.

Yet he waited knowing that his waiting would lead to life… quite literally, revival. Not simply for himself but for all who would trust his work and wait for his finally fulfillment.

September 13, 2019

Water to Wine: Miracle, but also Symbol

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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This is our tenth time with Ben Nelson at the site Another Red Letter Day. This is a much shorter devotional, but I really liked the insight. Click the title below to read at source.

Then I’ll be back after with an additional comment.

Water to Wine

In John 2, the writer tells us about a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Mary, Jesus’ mother attended and brought Jesus and the boys.

You know the story – if not check it out here.

One of the striking statements in this story comes from the head waiter.

… “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”John 2:10

I’ve heard this interpreted a bunch of different ways, but today the Lord put in my heart a simple idea.

From the beginning of creation, God wanted companionship from us.

Isaiah tells us

“For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth.Isaiah 54:5

So God gave the law to Moses and invited Israel to be His people, His bride. But the law was inferior wine. God invited folks to a wedding, but there was no joy. The bride couldn’t keep her garments clean and the whole thing went bust.

The law was inferior wine.

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,Romans 8:3

So God took water and turned it into the best wine.

God through His Spirit, put His seed into the womb of a woman and filled a human water pot with a new kind of wine. Wine filled with the Spirit of God. He put His own Son into flesh and blood man and brought joy unspeakable to the wedding feast of the ages.

Anyway–just a thought.


…As I read this I was reminded of an analogy that N.T. Wright introduced when we were taking a course with him in July at Regent College. The study was on the book of Galatians and how Paul was trying to teach the people at Galatia that the law was good for a time, but it was a precursor to something greater that was yet to come.

It was the week of the 50th anniversary of the American lunar landing, and he pointed out that the law was like the booster rocket needed to get the space capsule out from the pull of earth’s gravity, but once it escapes that, the booster rocket is jettisoned an no longer needed.

It’s interesting that the phrase we often use is “the law and the prophets.” Neither Ben nor myself mentioned prophets to this point, but I wanted to end with Hebrews 1:1-2a

In the past God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son. (GNT)

The coming of Christ brought an end to both law and prophets.

If you’re thinking that means that I mean the end of the gift of prophecy, I am not saying that, just as the coming of Christ didn’t mean an end to the prohibitions regarding lying, stealing, adultery, idol worship or taking God’s name in vain.

It was instead, as Ben said above, “a new wine.”


 

 

October 20, 2017

The Troubler of Israel

NIV 1 Kings 18.21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

Today we are back paying a return visit to Neal Pollard who is in pastoral ministry in Colorado. Click the title below to read at Preacher Pollard’s Blog.  The passage under consideration immediately precedes one of my favorite Bible narratives, Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.

Who Is The “Troubler Of Israel”?

Ahab was the most wicked king in Israel’s history (1 Kings 16:30). To top it off, he was married to perhaps the most immoral woman revealed to us during the time of the divided kingdom in the Old Testament. Her name, Jezebel, is still somewhat infamous today. She destroyed the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4). The prophets who survived feared for their lives because of Ahab (18:9). Instead, Jezebel kept a stable of false prophets, 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (18:19). Read this section of 1 Kings and the first nine chapters of 2 Kings to get the full flavor of who this notorious couple was.

How ironic that when Elijah appears to Ahab before the prophet’s infamous confrontation with the false prophets on Mount Carmel, Ahab’s first words to him were, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?” (18:17). There was controversy, division, problems, and trouble in the land, but Ahab’s narrative was distorted. Ahab was like a reckless drunk driver weaving in and out of traffic and blaming a law-abiding pedestrian for being in his way on the sidewalk. Elijah was not the troubler of Israel for daring to oppose the false ways of Ahab and Jezebel. He was doing exactly what God wanted him to do!

In our present, lawless age, there are so many “prophets” who come along with a message appealing to right ideas like peace, grace, unity, and love. Many of them package themselves in the garments of relevance, using our culture as their props and stage. The causes célèbre which our age reveres, some of which are diametrically opposed to the doctrine, ethics, and morality outlined in Scripture, are pushed at God’s people—who are shamed and made to feel unrighteous if they dare protest what is said. In some circles, it is asserted that anyone teaching that the Bible is authoritative, contains a pattern, and is God’s objective truth for all times, is Pharisaical, consumed with self-righteousness, hateful, mean-spirited, and divisive. In short, that they are “troublers of Israel.”

As a quick side-note, there are some who do press their personal proclivities, traditions, and convictions as divine truth. This is as accursed a thing as seeking to nullify what God has bound in heaven (cf. Mat. 16:19; Rev. 22:18-19). Such folks manufacture trouble rather than trouble people by faithfully sharing God’s Word. These occupy unenviable ground, in view of the end of all things.

Yet, anyone who conscientiously tries to follow God’s blueprint for how to share His truth (Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Col. 4:6), who takes care to handle Scripture accurately (2 Tim. 2:15), is going to invariably encounter the Ahabs, Jezebels, Baalites, and Asherahists. Teach the singular, undenominational nature of the church (Eph. 4:4), the role of women in the church (1 Tim. 2:9-12), the essentiality of baptism in God’s saving plan (Acts 2:38), God’s plan for marriage and sexuality (Mat. 19:1-9; Heb. 13:4; Rom. 1:26-27), and the like, and it will come. The Ahabs will label you the troublemaker and the source of the problem.

In what may sound dark and grim, Paul warns Timothy that difficult times will come (2 Tim. 3:1). He speaks of men immoral in nature and inaccurate in message who succeed with the weak and impulsive (3:6), who themselves are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (3:7), who in fact “oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith” (3:8). Ultimately, they will not carry the day (3:9). But they will always have their eager followers who “accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (4:3-4).

Suppress the victim mentality if you are trying to be an Elijah in this Ahab society. On the job, at home, in the community, within the religious community at large, and even at times within the church, “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). Do it with great patience and instruction, as Paul counsels. Don’t be a troubler in God’s eyes, but know that you will be seen as one in the eyes of some in this world. Keeping company with Elijah is not a bad thing.

August 10, 2017

Jeremiah and the Popularity Contest

by Clarke Dixon

“Your popularity has gone down 25%!” Such was a new expression one of my boys brought home from school as a way of expressing annoyance. I suppose I should have been happy that my son was learning percentages, or that my popularity was not dropping near as fast as my other sons. What I was not so happy about was the lifting up of popularity as something of great importance.

As prophets go, Jeremiah was not popular, indeed he went beyond being unpopular to being hated. And little wonder, Jeremiah 1:10 gives a nice summary of what Jeremiah was expected to do:

See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
(Jeremiah 1:10 NRSV)

You may have noticed that the description of Jeremiah’s call has twice the amount of negative sounding items as positive. Read the entire book of Jeremiah and you will notice that Jeremiah spends most of his time prophesying destruction and hard times. Such messages would not help his popularity rating! Jeremiah’s contemporaries preferred a kinder, gentler, and of course, more popular message, but Jeremiah remained faithful. Had he cared more for his own popularity than God’s truth, he would have faded into obscurity as a prophet not worth remembering. Like most of his contemporaries he would have become irrelevant.

There is a great effort in the Church today to try to be relevant, to regain some of the popularity we perceive ourselves to have lost. There are those who think the Church can be relevant if it pays attention to the shifts in society in world-view and ethics and make similar shifts, “keeping up with the times” as it were. However, the opposite is true. It is by maintaining the distinctive teaching from God’s Word that we become relevant. It is when we play the popularity game that we become irrelevant.

Jeremiah lived in a time and place where his message was necessarily negative. The time had come for judgement, for which there was no sugar coating, and about which Jeremiah could do nothing. As Christians we live in a time and place where our message will necessarily be unpopular.

Let’s consider one of the most unpopular teachings of the Church in our day. Consider our message regarding sexuality. The message of the Church that sex belongs within marriage sounds antiquated to many, judgemental and negative. Should we play the popularity game and change our views? While viewed negatively by society, there is much to commend a Biblical view of sexuality. Sexually transmitted diseases are not transmitted by God fearing people. Marriages are not ripped apart by adultery among God fearing people. The Canadian definition of marriage today may as well be “the relationship among the many we have had that we hope lasts the longest.” Among God fearing people marriage is a fundamentally different relationship from any other relationship ever had, not just the longest lasting among many. “Being faithful so long as we both shall live” rings deep and true when a person can speak of “being faithful so long as I have already lived.” Faithfulness to one’s spouse can and should begin long before the wedding day. But even if there was nothing practical to commend our message, faithfulness to it would still demonstrate our faithfulness to God, and that ought to matter. The message of the Church with regards to sexuality is not popular today. But that should matter to us about as much as the popularity of the message of judgement mattered to Jeremiah. What matters is faithfulness to God, and it is by remaining faithful to Him we remain relevant to our society.

There are many other examples of Christian teaching that will be unpopular; belief in the supernatural, belief that abortion is wrong, belief in the importance of sobriety, belief that Jesus is the only Saviour, belief that other world-views are wrong. We can not expect the Church to win a popularity contest while it holds to these teachings. But neither do we need to enter a popularity contest. God calls us, like he called Jeremiah, not to popularity, but to faithfulness to Him, and to true and lasting relevance.


Read more at Clarke’s sermon blog: clarkedixon.wordpress.com

August 3, 2017

Ezekiel and the Glory Days

by Clarke Dixon

We may feel like our glory days are well behind us. Some look back to when one hundred sit-ups were an easy thing, others look back to when they could simply sit up without help. Some look back to better paychecks. Some look back to when children were home and a spouse was still alive. Some look back to a time when loved ones were not suffering. When the aches and pains of life settle in, we can long for the “glory days” we see in the rear-view mirror.

God’s people in Ezekiel’s day would have felt that their glory days were behind them. They could look back to the days of David and Solomon, and see how things had never been quite as good as they were then. And now that they are in exile, Jerusalem is destroyed, and the temple lay in ruins, there would be a strong temptation to keep their eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror in search of the “glory days”.

The prophecies in Ezekiel chapters 36 through 39 spoke to God’s people about their glory days. They speak to us today about ours. Let’s take a bird’s eye view.

Chapter 36. The first prophecy is directed toward the land itself. For example,

. . . and I will multiply human beings and animals upon you. They shall increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you shall know that I am the Lord. Ezekiel 36:11 (NRSV)

The wording of this alludes to “Be fruitful and multiply” from Genesis 1:28 which recalls Eden before the ground was cursed thanks to Adam (see Genesis 3:17). The promise is for a future even better than the glory days!

The second prophecy of chapter 36 is directed at the people. Among the promises are the following:

I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Ezekiel 36:24-27 (NRSV)

The promise goes well beyond a mere return to the land and the status quo. God promises to clean His people up and give them His Spirit. This is a far better situation than what they enjoyed in the “glory days” of David and Solomon.

Chapter 37. The first prophecy is the infamous “dry bones” vision where Ezekiel sees dry bones come together, and then come alive when life is breathed into them. This is another allusion to Genesis when God breathed life into Adam (see Genesis 2:7). There is a tension in this vision between a metaphorical interpretation, meaning a promise of return from exile, and a more literal interpretation, meaning an anticipated resurrection from the dead. We feel this tension in verse 12:

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Ezekiel 37:12 (NRSV)

We should probably see both here, with a return from exile made even better by the fact that all past generations will be able to participate as well. This would be far better than the past glory days.

The second prophecy speaks of there being one king again, like the glory days of David and Solomon. But watch for what is repeated again and again in the following:

 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. . . . They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children’s children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore Ezekiel 37:22-26 (NRSV)

Words like “never again” and “forever” are important, whereas in the glory days of the past, the big word was “if”. That is, “if you are faithful to me things will go well”. Here in Ezekiel’s prophecy there is no “if”, just God’s people enjoying God forevermore. This is much better than the glory days of the past.

Chapters 38 and 39. These are prophecies against a land called Gog. There has been much conjecture as to the identity of Gog. For now, let us notice that the enemies assemble to the north (see Ezekiel 38:1-6). The Assyrians invaded from the north when they destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. The Babylonians invaded from the north when they destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah. The point is that such destruction will never happen again! The safety and security of God’s people will be much better than in the glory days of the past.

Concluding chapter 39, we can sum up Ezekiel 39:21-29 this way: “God hid His face from His people and they went into exile because they sinned against Him. But now God, for the sake of His glory, will be generous with His Spirit and never hide His face from them again.”

Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God because I sent them into exile among the nations, and then gathered them into their own land. I will leave none of them behind; 29 and I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 39:28-29 (NRSV)

This is not just restoration of the former status quo. This is restoration to God! This is much better than in the glory days of the past!

History records that God’s people did, in fact, return from exile in Babylon to their own land. However, there was a problem. Not only were things not better than the glory days of David and Solomon, they were not even as good. Roman occupation made sure that Israel’s glory days remained firmly in the past. However, this seeming lack of prophetic fulfillment points us to the the greater fulfillment in Christ. The fulfillment of these promises lies not in the flourishing of an empire-like kingdom called Israel, but in a greater Kingdom brought through Jesus Christ. There is a much bigger exile in view here; separation from the presence of God. Through Jesus we have:

  • Cleansing from sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit, as in Ezekiel 36.
  • Resurrection from the dead, and the inclusion of all generations in the promise, as in Ezekiel 37:1-14.
  • The Messiah as the Lord of a united and holy people, as in Ezekiel 37:15-28.
  • A future, safe and secure from every enemy, as in Ezekiel 38 and 39:1-20.
  • Restoration, not just to a land, but to God Himself, as in 39:21-29.

The days of David and Solomon never really were the glory days. The days of Adam and Eve before the fall are a better fit for the title “glory days”. According to Ezekiel chapters 36 through 39, the glory days are ahead. When we find ourselves wishing we could be restored to the so-called glory days of our past, in Christ we have something far better; restoration to God Himself. In Christ our glory days are ahead! As Randy Bachman famously sang “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”


Read more at Clarke’s sermon blog: clarkedixon.wordpress.com

January 2, 2017

“Skip the Truth and Make Us Feel Good”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today’s title is from the NCV rendering of Isaiah 30:10

They tell the seers,
    “Don’t see any more visions!”
They say to the prophets,
    Don’t tell us the truth!
Say things that will make us feel good;
    see only good things for us.

The pastor in the church we visited on New Year’s Day started 2017 with a message on sin. Although he used literally dozens of scripture references — many from Romans — this passage in Isaiah 30 (12-14 in particular) was the only verse for which he prepared a slide for us to read. Many people just want to hear things that will make them feel good. Elsewhere, we read about people having “itching ears.”

Today, we’re going to contrast the contemporary language of The Message with the more formal commentary of Matthew Henry. However, where you see italics, I’ve used more modern expressions. Everything from this point on is Matthew Henry.

So, go now and write all this down.
    Put it in a book
So that the record will be there
    to instruct the coming generations,
Because this is a rebel generation,
    a people who lie,
A people unwilling to listen
    to anything God tells them.
They tell their spiritual leaders,
    “Don’t bother us with irrelevancies.”
They tell their preachers,
    “Don’t waste our time on impracticalities.
Tell us what makes us feel better.
    Don’t bore us with obsolete religion.
That stuff means nothing to us.
    Quit hounding us with The Holy of Israel.”  – Isaiah 30: 8-11 (MSG)

They forbade the prophets to speak to them in God’s name, and to deal faithfully with them.

They set themselves so violently against the prophets to hinder them from preaching, or at least from dealing plainly with them in their preaching, did so banter them and browbeat them, that they did in effect say to the seers, See not. They had the light, but they loved darkness rather. It was their privilege that they had seers among them, but they did what they could to put out their eyes — that they had prophets among them, but they did what they could to stop their mouths; for they tormented them in their wicked ways, Rev. 11:10.

Those that silence good ministers, and discountenance good preaching, are justly counted, and called, rebels against God. See what it was in the prophets’ preaching with which they found themselves aggrieved.

  1.  The prophets told them of their faults, and warned them of their misery and danger by reason of sin, and they couldn’t take it. They must speak to them warm and fuzzy things, must flatter them in their sins, and say that they did well, and there was no harm, no danger, in the course of life they lived in. No matter how true something is, if it be not easy to listen to, they will not hear it. But if it be agrees with the good opinion they have of themselves, and will confirm them in that, even though it be very false and ever so undeserved, they will have it prophesied to them. Those deserve to be deceived that desire to be so.
  2.  The prophets stopped them in their sinful pursuits, and stood in their way like the angel in Balaam’s road, with the sword of God’s wrath drawn in their hand; so that they could not proceed without terror. And this they took as a great insult. When they continued to desire the opposite of what the prophets were saying they in effect said to the prophets, “Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the paths. What do you do in our way? Cannot you leave us alone to do as we please?” Those have their hearts fully set in them to do evil that bid these accountability monitors to get out of their way. Be quiet now before I have you killed! 2 Chron. 25:16.
  3.  The prophets were continually telling them of the Holy One of Israel, what an enemy he is to sin ad how severely he will judge sinners; and this they couldn’t listen to. Both the thing itself and the expression of it were too serious for them; and therefore, if the prophets will speak to them, they will determine that they will not call God the Holy One of Israel; for God’s holiness is that attribute which wicked people most of all dread.

Now what is the doom passed upon them for this?

Therefore, The Holy of Israel says this:
    “Because you scorn this Message,
Preferring to live by injustice
    and shape your lives on lies,
This perverse way of life
    will be like a towering, badly built wall
That slowly, slowly tilts and shifts,
    and then one day, without warning, collapses—
Smashed to bits like a piece of pottery,
    smashed beyond recognition or repair,
Useless, a pile of debris
    to be swept up and thrown in the trash.”

Observe,

  1. Who it is that gives judgment upon them? This is what the Holy One of Israel says. The prophet uses the very title they find so objectionable. Faithful ministers will not be driven from using such expressions as are needed to awaken sinners, though they be displeasing. We must tell men that God is the Holy One of Israel, and so they will find him, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.
  2.  What is the basis of the judgment? Because they despise this word—whether, in general, every word that the prophets said to them, or this word in particular, which declares God to be the Holy One of Israel: “they despise this, and will neither make it their fear, to respect it, nor make it their hope, to put any confidence in it; but, rather than they will submit to the Holy One of Israel, they will continue in oppression and perverseness, in the wealth they have collected and the interest they have made by fraud and violence, or in the sinful methods they have taken for their own security, in contradiction to God and his will. On these they depend, and therefore it is just that they should fall.”
  3.  What is the judgment is that is passed on them? “This sinfulness will be to you as a wall ready to fall. This confidence of yours will be like a house built upon the sand, which will fall in the storm and bury the builder in the ruins of it. Your contempt of that word of God which you might build upon will make every thing else you trust like a wall that bulges out, which, if any weight be laid upon it, comes down, nay, which often sinks with its own weight.”

The ruin they are bringing upon themselves is,

  1. Surprising: The breaking shall come suddenly, at an instant, when they do not expect it, which will make it the more frightful, and when they are not prepared or provided for it, which will make it the more fatal.
  2. Total and irreversible: “Your and all you hold dear shall be not only weak as the potter’s clay (Isa. 29:16), but broken to pieces as the potter’s vessel. He that has the rod of iron shall break it (Ps. 2:9) and he will not spare, will not have any regard to it, nor be in care to preserve or keep whole any part of it. But, when once it is broken so as to be unfit for use, let it be destroyed, let it be crushed, all to pieces, so that there may not remain one shred big enough to take up a little fire or water”—two things we have daily need of, and which poor people commonly get in a piece of a broken pitcher. They shall not only be as a leaning fence (Ps. 62:3), but as a broken mug or glass, which is good for nothing, nor can ever be made whole again.

December 16, 2016

Priests, Kings, & Prophets: How the Old Testament Points to Christmas

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bible-story-arc

by Clarke Dixon

From the series “The Christmas Story From Beginning to End,” we have thus far seen how Creation and The Fall both point to Christmas. After two weeks we are still no further than Genesis chapter 3! To speed things up let us consider the rest of the Old Testament. The presence of three different types of people within the Old Testament point to the advent of Jesus. These are priests, kings, and prophets.

Priests point to the coming of Jesus.

Though we sometimes hear of priests in Genesis, it is really in Exodus that we have the priesthood formally established along with instructions for the Tabernacle and ritual holiness. So what was the priesthood for? Hebrews 5:1 gives a useful summary:

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Hebrews 5:1

Because God is holy and people are not, the priests were to be the “go-betweens” between God and His people. Through sacrifices they would point to rescue from sin. However, there were two problems. First, the priests themselves were sinful. There were all kinds of ritual regulations to help the priests be holy people, set apart from the rest. However, no matter how holy they made themselves, they could always still relate more fully to sinful humanity than to holy God. The second problem was that they kept dying. In other words, the problem of sin kept persisting through every generation. Then Jesus is born:

and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21.

Jesus can truly deal with sin in a way that no priest ever could. He had the credentials including being sinless. This was in contrast to all priests, but especially the High Priest who would be involved in his execution. Jesus also offered the only sacrifice that could be truly effective. He offered himself.

For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. Hebrews 7:26-27

The priests of the Old Testament filled many important functions, but the greatest was to point to the coming into the world of a better High Priest. And an effective sacrifice for sin.

Kings point to the coming of Jesus.

God’s people did not always have a king. But they asked for one:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 1 Samuel 8:4-7

Up to this point, Israel had enjoyed something that no other nation could boast of; God was their king. However they wanted a king “like other nations.” This would be be like a teenager of a well-to-do family who, in wanting a flip phone like what their friends have, is willing to trade in their iPhone, MacBook Pro, Ferrari, parent’s home, and their parents to get one. It would be a ridiculous trade. God gives the go-ahead but with the warning that having a human king is not always going to be rosy. Though an imperfect man, David was a good king who was promised by God to have his descendants on the throne forever. As you look at the history of God’s people, you see that this does not go very well as so many of the kings, even when descended from David, were so incredibly awful. Perhaps the worst king of all was Herod, the king at the time of Jesus’ birth. He was ruthless and to make matters worse, was not even a legitimate king, not being a descendant of David.

You can imagine how Herod must have felt when the Magi came to him and asked  “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) This must have stung as Herod was not legitimately born king of the Jews, but was propped up as a puppet king by the Romans. He was furious and ordered that all the infants of Bethlehem be killed. A rotten king indeed. At Christmas, God in being incarnate is effectively saying “You asked for a king, but I love you to much to leave you at the mercy of ruthless kings. I am and will be your king, a merciful king, a good king.”

6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Jesus went on to be that good king, that good shepherd who, far from destroying lives like Herod, lays down his life for the sake of his sheep. The kings of Israel had a spotty history of sometimes being good and sometimes being downright atrocious. Whether good or bad, their very existence pointed to the coming into the world of a better king, the true King of kings and Lord of lords, God Himself.

Prophets point to the coming of Jesus.

You cannot read the story of Christmas in the Gospel of Matthew without noticing that Matthew really wants you to understand how Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus.

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Matthew 1:22)  . . . for so it has been written by the prophet (Matthew 2:4)  . . . Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah (Matthew 2:17) . . . so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled. (Matthew 2:23)

But does Matthew just want us to think of these specific prophecies being fulfilled at Christmas? No, he mentions these as a way of alerting us that something far greater is going on. The great hope that God would keep His covenant promises, that God would intervene, is at hand. This is not just the fulfillment of a few scattered prophecies, but rather the hope of the entire Old Testament. As the writer put it in “O Little Town of Bethlehem;” “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

In conclusion:

  • The presence of priests in the Old Testament points to the need for a rescue from sin. The advent of Jesus marks the coming of the great Rescuer. Are you being rescued? Do you know Jesus as Saviour?
  • The presence of kings in the history of God’s people points to the need for godly leadership. The advent of Jesus marks the coming of the most godly leader you can think of, God Himself! Are you following Him? Do you know Jesus as Lord?
  • The prophets of the Old Testament shine a spotlight on the future. The advent of Jesus marks the beginning of that future. Does your future shine brightly?

Get Clarke’s posts as they appear on his blog before they appear here. Follow @clarkedixon for updates

December 11, 2014

We Are That Voice

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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Today’s devotional came recommended; it’s from the blog of a young writer, Aaron J. Smith, Cultural Savage. To read this at source, click the title below, and then take a few minutes to look around his blog. You might even know someone you want to recommend it to.

The Voice In The Wild

There is always a voice.

There is always something shouting in the wilderness, protesting the status quo. There is always a voice declaring the coming kingdom of God, challenging the powers and principalities of this world, and speaking welcome to all that will come. There is always a voice that lives in the margins, away from the centers of power and prestige, among the oppressed, the down trodden, the broken. There is always a voice announcing that Jesus is on his way here.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
`Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:1-8

John was the voice of his time, calling people to make way for Jesus, to embrace him when he showed up, to not hinder his arrival. John was that voice in the wilderness, speaking before the footsteps of Jesus. John was that voice calling people away from sin, self-justification, religious oppression, classism, racism, sexism, calling people away from their small hearts into the big love of the righteous God.

John was the voice before Christ’s first coming. Where is the voice before the Second Advent?

Where is the voice now calling us out of moralistic darkness into the light of a Spirit led life? Where is the voice now crying out against injustice? Where is the voice shouting for equality of all people? Where is the voice now speaking against religious self-justification? Where is the voice now, in this day, among this people?

It should be the church.

It isn’t the church.

We have grown mute, silent in our waiting for the second coming. We have become silent because we have become blind. We don’t see that we now sit at the table with the empires of the world, eating and drinking while others starve and wither away. We don’t see that we are the ones self-justifying our inaction while protesters cry for justice. We don’t see that we have lost our prophetic voice, and instead speak of false peace.

We have lost our voice in the wild.

We have left the wild and settled into the lap of empires and powers of this world.

We have become that which obstructs the coming of our Lord.

Instead of making straight the paths of the Lord, we have become the gate keepers and toll booths along the highway of the king. Instead of calling all to come, repent, and be baptized we sit in judgment on the marginalized and oppressed, speaking out about how they should change and behave. Instead of speaking life death spews forth in our silence.

We have lost our voice.

But is the voice in the wild silent?

No! May it never be.

The voice still resounds for those with ears to hear. The voice still cries out for justice for the blood spilled in the streets. The voice still calls out to God to come and set all things right. It is the voice of the oppressed, the voice of the poor, the trodden down masses, the marginalized. It is the voice of the new civil rights movements. It is the voice shattering the stigma of mental illness. It is the voice of justice judging the wealthy who do nothing to ease the burdens of the poor.

The voice now speaks out, but it is no longer the voice of the church.

Oh that it would be again though. If the church could give up its luxury and corrupt power plays, if the church could get out of bed with politics and corporations, if the church would repent of its racism, sexism, classism, if the church would work towards reconciliation, justice, and peace, if the church would return to the wild, we could again hear the call of God.

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”

See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Isaiah 40:1-11

May 25, 2014

Communication Cutoff Ends; Transmission Restored

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…Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.   I Samuel 3:1b NLT

…And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.  I Samuel 3:1b KJV

It was like the cable carrying messages from God had been cut. The wires had been severed. The obvious question we want to ask is, Why were visions infrequent and messages rare? Perhaps it was necessary to set the stage for the calling of Samuel in this same chapter.

Matthew Henry writes:

The word of the Lord was precious in those days. Now and then a man of God was employed as a messenger upon an extraordinary occasion (as 1 Sam. 2:27), but there were no settled prophets, to whom the people might have recourse for counsel, nor from whom they might expect the discoveries of the divine will. And the rarity of prophecy made it the more precious in the account of all those that knew how to put a right value upon it. It was precious, for what there was (it seems) was private: There was no open vision, that is, there were none that were publicly known to have visions. Perhaps the impiety and impurity that prevailed in the tabernacle, and no doubt corrupted the whole nation, had provoked God, as a token of his displeasure, to withdraw the Spirit of prophecy, till the decree had gone forth for the raising up of a more faithful priest, and then, as an earnest of that, this faithful prophet was raised up.

A few verses later (7) more of this background comes clear:

Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before. NLT

Well of course that was true, the text says that really nobody was having messages from the Lord.

Rick Morley writes:

What I find so very interesting here though is that God was calling upon Samuel before Samuel was a man of faith.

It is, of course, why Samuel didn’t know what was going on when God was calling to him in the night. But, isn’t it strange that God was calling upon him before Samuel knew God?

Isn’t it strange when there was in fact a faithful priest, and follower of God, right there?

I’ve marveled for quite sometime now that God calls the strangest people to do His work, and to spread His Word. He’ll call an old man like Abraham, and a young girl like Mary. He’ll call a man who killed a guy like Moses, or a someone who was complicit in the death of a Christian like Paul. He’ll call someone who is so morally compromised like David, and God will even call pagan-Zoroastrian-astrologers from the east by sending them a star.

And here, in First Samuel, God calls someone who is not yet a person of faith.

So often in the  modern church we can get preoccupied with qualifications, status, education, and rank. We’ll want to see a resume and a few letters after someone’s name before we issue a call—or we’ll deny someone a position because they aren’t technically “a member” or been through confirmation yet.

But, if the call of Samuel says anything—amidst all the calls of the Scriptures—it’s that God calls whomever God decides to call, and oftentimes God calls the most unlikely of people.

In fact that’s not even the exception to the rule, it seems to be the rule.

And, the gem that’s buried in this text is that Eli knows this. Eli could have sent the boy off to bed, chiding him for his lack of faith, or his immaturity.

I mean really, what kind of God would call someone like Samuel?

…Or David, or Moses, or Mary, or Paul, or Peter…

…or me?

May we, the People of God, be granted the wisdom of Eli, AND the willingness of Samuel, when we draw the “least-likely-candidate” straw.

And God comes calling in the night.

 

 

 

 

October 3, 2013

God Lets Us In On His Plans and Purposes

Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. Amos 3:7 (NIV)

The Reformation Study Bible says that God acts, God reveals himself and God interprets his actions through the prophets. In the first such instance,

God revealed His plans for Sodom and Gomorrah to Abraham, the first “prophet” so designated in Scripture (Gen 18:17, 20:7) Moses, the supreme Old Testament prophet, was called “the servant of the Lord” (Deut. 34:5). Subsequent prophets were characterized by the similar phrase, “my servants the prophets”

On this passage, Matthew Henry writes:

The secret of God is with them [the prophets]; it is in some sense with all the righteous (Prov. 3:32), with all that fear God (Ps. 25:14), but in a peculiar manner with the prophets, to whom the Spirit of prophecy is a Spirit of revelation. It would have put honour enough upon prophets if it had been only said that sometimes God is pleased to reveal to his prophets what he designs to do, but it speaks something very great to say that he does nothing but what he reveals to them, as if they were the men of his counsel. Shall I hide from Abraham, who is a prophet, the thing which I do? Gen. 18:17. God will therefore be sure to reckon with those that put contempt on the prophets, whom he puts this honour upon.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  John 15:15 (NIV)

There is a connection between this New Covenant verse and the Old Covenant verse quoted from Amos. Although we refer to Jesus’ closest followers as “The Twelve,” “disciples,” or even “apostles,” there is a real sense in which we could describe them as “prophets,” since they received considerable revelation of God Himself, even if we don’t speak of ‘the prophet Matthew,’ or ‘the prophet Nathaniel.’

However, at the same time, this verse breaks the connection between “prophets” and “servants,” because in this New Covenant, the relationship between God the Son and The Twelve is going to be more relational, hence “friends.” Again, the Reformation Study Bible states,

No longer do I call you servants There is no previous record of Jesus Christ calling the disciples “servants,” except possibly 12:26; yet Jesus had a right to do this, as He had the right to be called “Lord” (13:13). “Friend” suggests a close relation, and the language of brotherhood is closer still (Heb. 2:10, 11).

all . . . I have made known Christ did not have a higher revelation reserved for an inner group; He revealed Himself to the disciples unstintingly.

If the U.S. President wants to let people know about some plan or scheme or program the government is initiating, he can choose to make it known through his Press Secretary. We often see this man standing in the Press Briefing Room, and clearly he is speaking for the President. However, he is doing this as a servant.

But imagine if you knew the President as a friend. He might let you in on the same information, but he would be confiding in you as a friend. Then, when the information can be released, you would share it with your friends as you heard it, not under orders, or under a requirement to do so, but out of the overflow of your heart from what the head of state shared with you.

From the first days of creation, God asked Adam to name the animals, making him a partner in creation. In the New Testament we are called friends of God.

Click the link to read a previous post here containing the video for the song Friend of God.