Christianity 201

July 25, 2020

Being Saved vs. Being Safe

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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At least once a year I like to highlight the writing of pastor, author and evangelist Greg Laurie, of Harvest Church in Riverside, California; Harvest.org. Here are two shorter devotions for you today. If you click through (on the titles below), you’ll see an option where you can have Greg’s devotions delivered to your mobile device each day.

Hold on Tight!

Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

—Jude 1:21

I don’t keep myself saved, but I keep myself safe.

God saves me. That’s established. But I keep myself safe, which means that I keep myself in the love of God.

Though God’s love is unsought, undeserved, and unconditional, it’s possible for me to be out of sync with His love.

Jude wrote, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (1:21 NKJV). He was basically saying, ‘Keep yourself away from those things that are unlike Him. Keep yourself from any influence that violates His love or brings sorrow to God’s heart. And keep yourself in a place where God can actively show His love to you.’

In John 17 Jesus prayed to the Father, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (verse 15 NKJV).

In this context “the world” refers to a mentality. It’s talking about a culture, a way of thinking, and the world system under the control of Satan. That’s why the Bible calls the devil “the god of this world” (see 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT).

There is God’s part and our part. If you were on a diet, for example, you wouldn’t hang around donut stores, would you?

Just as donuts aren’t good for diets, there are things that feed sin. That’s what Jesus meant when He taught us to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13 NLT).

Basically, that’s saying, “Lord, help me not to put myself in a place where I could fall into sin.”

So, God will keep you, but if you’re yanking your hand out of His hand, that’s a problem. God is holding on to you. But the question is this: Are you holding on to Him?


What Jesus Wants for Us

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
—John 17:21

Before I heard the gospel message, the love that Christians had for each other won me over. I watched them on my high school campus and thought, “Is this for real, or are they making this up? Is this an act? Do these people really love each other?”

After all, I was used to hanging around with people that I liked. Certain kids hung around certain kids. But as I watched the Christians, I realized they were from every kind of background imaginable, yet they obviously had something in common.

When Christians are unified and when they love one another, it’s a powerful witness to a lost and divided world. And that is just what Jesus wants for us.

In John’s gospel we find His prayer for us: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (17:21 NLT).

Now, I’m not calling for unity at any cost because the most important thing is truth. But sometimes Christians divide over ridiculous things. They’ll get upset over some minor thing, so they decide to leave fellowship altogether.

It reminds me of a story I heard about a man who had been stranded on a desert island. When rescuers finally found him, they noticed he’d built three huts on the island.

“I built those huts myself,” he told them.

“Wow! What is this hut here?”

“That’s my house.”

“How about this one?”

“That’s my church.”

“That’s fantastic! And what’s the third hut?”

“Well,” he said, “that’s the church I used to go to.”

As Christians, we should seek to live in unity and love one another as Christ has loved us.


Hi again, this is Paul, the editor and publisher of Christianity 201. Today I’d like to ask readers for prayer concerning some yet-undiagnosed health issues. Thanks.

June 12, 2020

How Can Your Righteousness Surpass the Pharisees?

NIV.Matt.5v17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses* that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

by Ruth Wilkinson

In order to know how to “exceed,” we need to first know what the benchmark is that we are exceeding. What is the righteousness of the Pharisees?

Pharisaic righteousness was (and is today for observant Jews) rooted in the Law of Moses which lays out the standards of behaviour that God expects from those with whom He has made a covenant. Over several centuries, the Pharisees preserved and promulgated this intricately detailed Law, desiring to bring God’s people through to the day of its fulfillment when the righteous would be raised up in vindication, ending Israel’s exile and oppression.

Devout Pharisees were community leaders, steeped in learning and in the nuance of God’s will. Faithful Jews would have followed their example, and turned to them for teaching.

How should we understand what it means to exceed the righteousness of such people?

One possible interpretation flows from the common translation of ερισσεύω into the English equivalent “to exceed.” For many English speakers, this word appears most often in contexts like “to exceed the speed limit.” In other words, to go beyond: to find new ways in which to be righteous, to out-righteous the Pharisees, to be holier than they.

This may have been what the rich young man in Luke 18:18-24 had in mind. He approached Jesus asking what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life and, in Jesus’ words, “enter the Kingdom of God.” He asked this in spite of his own belief that he had kept the Law, an assertion that Jesus did not refute.

Neither did Jesus challenge the young man’s adherence to such minutiae as tithing on “mint and dill,”1 or his keeping of the “least commandment,” as opposed to the greater statutes the young man cites.

Instead, Jesus takes the conversation in a completely different direction—one not of greater adherence, or of more detail, but of the unknown and starting over.

Jesus isn’t impressed by his crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s and certainly shows no desire to engage that debate or to add new rules to the existing ones.

A second interpretation could arise from the Pharisees’ temporal understanding of what they were doing. The righteousness of Jesus’ followers could be seen as more enduring in time than that of the Pharisees.
Their persistence in keeping the Law had in mind the goal of bringing Israel to the time of fulfillment: the Day of the Lord, when the righteous would no longer have to strive, but “sit encrowned and enjoy the splendor of the Shekinah.” At that point, the Law would no longer be required.

The righteousness that Jesus endorses seems to have more lasting implications. He points us not only toward a “perfection” like His own, but further forward to our being made “a kingdom and priests” who will actively “reign on the Earth” alongside Christ himself (Revelation 5:10).

In addition, we are no longer waiting for that fulfillment, but we’re taking part in it now. At His baptism, Jesus declares that He is “fulfilling all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). By this, He doesn’t just mean that he’s meeting personal requirements, but that He’s standing in the place of Israel, taking on the burden of her broken covenant.

A third point of comparison is that Jesus calls out the Pharisees for being ὑποκριτής (those who pretend) and σκανδαλίζω (causing to stumble) both indirectly (Matthew 5:19) and in no uncertain terms (Matthew 23:13 ff). He accuses them of attending to external details, making good impressions, and hiding their internal falsity: of doing rather than being.

Jesus extends His standards deeper by pointing to the heart as the seat of murder, adultery, truth-telling, and acts of grace or revenge. This echoes back to Amos 5 and Micah 6 where God rejects the religious observances of people who have lying tongues and deceitful hearts.

Jesus’ righteousness isn’t simply behaviour, but it flows outward from a heart that has been made clean and surrendered to God.

The final option for identifying Jesus’ “exceeding righteousness” is that it is Himself.

The Pharisees pursued righteousness through studying and keeping the Law. But in Christ, the Law is fulfilled and made complete. “But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction” (Romans 3:21, 22, HCSB). The Law cannot provide for righteousness, but faith in Christ can and does. He himself is our righteousness when we live following Him. No matter how we try or for how long, we cannot achieve righteousness. In fact, if we could, then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:19-21, HCSB).

The Pharisees took on themselves the responsibility of living lives of righteousness, setting themselves up as arbiters of what was right. Instead, Jesus sets aside nuance and detail and tells us to enter the Kingdom as a child (Mark 10:13-16): as with the rich young man, dependent and trusting.

Although this last interpretation is the one that carries the most weight in light of the whole New Testament, I think it most applicable in context of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount to focus on the third option: Jesus expects us to allow our righteousness to flow out from hearts that are pure. The Sermon, while it contains some inspirational, encouraging passages and some that promise hard times, provides a very practical foundation for a life lived in imitation of Christ: one of an internal, heart-focused view of oneself and how we are to live with and toward each other.


*exceeds (many translations); is more than (AMP); is greater than (CSB, CEB); do it more faithful (Good News); goes beyond (NET); are more right with God (NLV); more pure and full of integrity (TPT); goes deeper (Voice); do it far better (Message).

February 9, 2020

Keeping Moral Purity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
 – Jeremiah 17:9

For from within the hearts of men come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolishness.
– Mark 7:22-23

For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts.
 – Romans 1:21

Once again we’re back with Arnold Reimer, for many years the pastor of Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto, and his blog titled Finishing Well.

Moral Purity

The news and the courts seem crowded with disturbing cases of sexual impropriety involving people of all social levels of wealth, fame, power and commonality. The number of women who have been violated is staggering. One wonders how so many have been so vulnerable, and where their parents, siblings, friends and associates were while all this was happening? It is not a happy commentary on family and social responsibility. After all, we really are our brothers’ (sisters’) keeper!

One thing is very clear: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” Jesus spelled it out bluntly, “The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man (or woman), for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile . . .

Painful is the number of clergy and those of Christian profession who are found among the reprobates. Nothing reveals the depths of human depravity more than a person who proclaims the Word of God with its clear commands, calls for obedience to its truths, and warns of the consequences of disobedience, while living in moral hypocrisy. Great harm has been done to the cause of Christ because of it. No place on earth should be safer to be, nor persons safer to be with, than the church and its leaders. Thankfully, for the most part that remains true; but that is little comfort to the abused.

…I wish to underline some Scriptural/spiritual principles that bless and protect one’s moral purity. In a world that is increasingly becoming a cesspool of moral failure, misinformation, indecent dress and selfish unrestraint, we need biblical disciplines with boundaries strong and true. So . . .

1. KEEP YOUR HEART – with all diligence for out of it come the issues of life. Our Creator has set the standards and fixed the values governing sexual behaviour. Moral purity is suppose to be the norm. To aid and abet that, marriage is a sacred and exclusive relationship between one man and one woman. Sexual acts outside that bond are wrong. It is critical that we fill and guard our mind with truth. Learn the biblical principles and illustrations that teach and enable purity, loyalty and faithfulness. Meditate on them day and night. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and obey Him, while making no provision for the flesh. The Word of God, the work of Christ and the voice of the Holy Spirit are sufficient protection and guidance for every temptation we face.

2. KEEP YOUR EYES – Our eyes feed the thoughts which motivate our body. What and who we allow our eyes to look at indiscriminately will make a huge difference in how we think and what we do. A life informed by Scripture and yielded to the Spirit bears the fruit that starts with genuine love and ends with the strong disciplines of self-control. God wants us to see others as those He values and loves. No one is a commodity.

3. KEEP YOUR SPOUSE – Next to God, Himself, our relationship with our spouse is critical to all we are. There is a reason why God has instructed us to leave father and mother and to cling to our wife/husband in order to become one flesh. That takes time, love, togetherness, forgiveness, communication, trust, commitment, wisdom and understanding – a lot more, but nothing less! No one else is half as valuable to our well-being, and certainly not to the maintenance of moral purity. Nurture, build, protect, value and reward the spousal relationship.

To a large degree we are living with the consequences of a society that places little value on purity. Our laws, educational systems and social values have increasingly looked the other way as immorality infiltrates behaviour, especially among vulnerable youth. It is taken for granted in sex education that immorality will occur, to the point of aiding it in the hopes of limiting pregnancies or STDs. Little emphasis or consideration is given to the serious physical, psychological and social consequences of unleashed sexuality. The acceptance of homosexuality as normal behaviour has hugely complicated the issue. Its influence and demands are spreading at an alarming rate

Only a profound revival of biblical influence into our culture will save us from the devastating consequences of rampant, moral impurity. Critical to that will be strong, godly marriages and faithful churches committed to teaching and living the whole counsel of God. We desperately need to put on the whole armour of God, holding firmly the shield of faith to protect us from every flaming missile hurled at us. Sorely needed are prophetic voices warning of the consequences of moral impurity, and a multitude of saints demonstrating what it looks like.

April 30, 2019

If You’re Pure, You’re Blameless

NIV.Ps.66.18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened

Today we’re again highlighting a new writer, Pastor MaryAnn Nguyen-Kwok.  The articles I read before posting this were very insightful and very transparent. As always, click the title below to read this at her blog, Searching for Treasures.

Pursuing Purity

I’ve just been thinking today that there are never any regrets for pursuing purity.

This morning, I came across, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord…The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3-4).

How do we get to hear God?

By pursuing purity in our lives.

Reading this verse reminded me of the time years ago when God really convicted me with it. At that time, I saw an image of a child walking on a path with Papa God, holding his hand. It was a leisurely walk down Sawyer Camp Trail next to Crystal Springs Reservoir. And I thought about how that was such a picture of peace. How incredible it would be to walk with God like that! And I recognized that I need to have the innocence of a child to walk with God in that way. How could I hold the hand of the Holy One with unclean hands? If I cherished sin in my heart, then the Lord would not hear me (Ps. 66:18), and I would not hear the Lord. Choosing purity would mean confidence of getting to hear God and confidence that God will hear me. It means having the confidence of a close and intimate relationship with God.

I have been really feeling convicted by this desire this week to seek purity and blamelessness before God, so that nothing would hinder me from hearing his voice and going his way.

Purity, to me, means blamelessness. Blamelessness looks like proactively seeking to follow God’s ways, proactively refraining from doing things that displeases God, proactively seeking to live and act in ways that honor God (e.g. if you know it’s wrong to steal, don’t steal; if you know you should forgive, then seek to forgive; if you’re prone to lusting, make a plan for how you’ll refrain from a “second look”, etc.).

We sometimes tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter if we don’t pursue blamelessness in our lives. God doesn’t see. God doesn’t know. God will forgive me anyway. But it does matter. It impacts our bond with God. He will forgive us, that is certain, but there’s a break in our communion with him all all the while that we are seeking our own way. When we seek HIS way, we have close and intimate relationship with him.

There is also something about seeking blamelessness that results in freedom. If I am doing what is right, I am free. If I’m not speeding down the road, I don’t have to keep looking in the rear-view mirror with anxiety that a cop will get me. My heart doesn’t have to race with nervousness about getting caught. I will get to live in freedom because I’m seeking to do what is right. This is where I want to be.

Though I know I can’t be perfect in my striving to be pure, I don’t want to give up on it before I’ve begun. I know it’s a worthy pursuit, because what I will get out of it is a deep and intimate relationship with God. I’ll get God out of it. And how could I ever regret that?


Secret Sauce Reveal: We discover new writers through a variety of means, but today’s author was discovered on WordPress Reader, using the tag “devotional.” Feel free to explore, but be discerning.

July 30, 2018

The Lord’s Refining Ministry

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Russell Young

There is great neglect in the church when it comes to recognizing both the need for transformation through personal refinement and of its means. Many see their acquisition of an eternal hope having been accomplished by Christ on the cross with this being the end of the matter; however, Paul spoke of something more. “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:9─10 Italics added.) “More” than justification through the blood of Christ is needed to avoid the wrath of God. That “more” is accomplished through Christ’s life in, and on behalf of, the believer. Paul taught of a great mystery that had been kept hidden, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col1:27) Apparently, the “mystery” remains a mystery to many. Perhaps this is so because teachers want to attribute the believer’s eternal salvation to Christ’s sacrificial offering alone. Christ, however, rose from the dead, has been given to the confessor as Spirit (2 Cor 3:17, 18), and is continuing his life in those who have covenanted his lordship. (Rom 10:9) Through his presence in the believer, he offers himself so that they, too, might live a righteous life and might be refined and conformed to his likeness.

The prophet Daniel spoke of the believer’s refining. “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand but the wise will understand.” (Dan 12:10 Italics added) Because a person has been pardoned for sin does not mean that all dross or impurity has been removed from his or her person and practices. Redemption from existing sin (Heb 9:15), resulting in justification, has been provided so that the Spirit might be given (Gal 3:14), enabling refinement. (Gal 5:5) Paul wrote that redemption of the body allows the believer to become adopted by God. (Rom 8:23) Only by such purification can a person be conformed to the likeness of Christ. The Word often equates the application of great heat to gold as the means of burning off the dross and impurities within it and applies this metaphor to believers.

In their blindness many do not see their impurities or their need. The Lord admonished, “Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21) Paul wrote that he was given the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16) In addressing the church of Laodicea the Lord required of those who thought that they were wealthy, but who were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked because of their “lukewarm” deeds, “to buy from him gold refined in the fire, so that they could become rich.” (Rev 3:18) Many in in the church of Laodicea were under the impression that they were wealthy when it came to their spiritual position. They were in the church, doing church things but their commitment to righteousness was “lukewarm.” His admonition was “to buy” from him gold refined in the fire so that they might actually become rich, and white clothes (righteousness) to wear to cover their shame, and salve for their eyes so they could truthfully see him. It is purity in heart–being refined–that has great value.

How does a person “buy” gold from Christ? To “buy” means that a transaction needs to take place where one item is traded for another. What did the Lord expect of these people? The only thing that they had to offer was themselves and their acts. The Lord followed his condemnation by stating, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” (v 19) They needed more. They needed to be “earnest” in their walk, to pursue cleansing from impurities, to accept discipline, to repent of their sinful attitudes and ways.
Daniel has revealed that at the time of the end a two-step purification process would take place. People would be made spotless and then refined. The sacrificial offering of Christ made them spotless but did not refine their hearts, attitudes, and practices.

Paul told the Corinthians, “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body,” (2 Cor 4:11) and went on to say, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor 4:16) A need exists to be renewed inwardly.

According to Paul, slavery to righteous practices leads to holiness. “Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness,” (Rom 6:19) and added, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (Rom 6:22) He also taught, “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope,” (Gal 5:5) and stated, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom 8:13) Slavery is not passive; a slave must obey, and eternal salvation comes through obedience (Heb 5:9) for the refinement of the body and for service. All who do evil will be weeded out of his kingdom. (Mt 13:41)

Eternal salvation requires both redemption and refinement, the “more” that Paul spoke about to the Romans. The church has come to understand the blessed ministry of Christ through the redemption offered by his blood, but it has had difficulty discerning the need for purging sinful practices as accomplished through the Lord as Spirit, the need for engaging the Lord’s refining processes.


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

April 14, 2018

Clear Them Out … Completely

Back in October we introduced you to Peter Corak who has been very faithfully writing devotionals at My Morning Meal since November, 2009.  In this devotional from a few days ago, he combines two articles from a scripture passage he finds himself returning to. Click the title below to read at source.

Drive Them Out . . . Again

Looking back through my journal, it’s been a reading that I’ve spent extra time “chewing on” seven of the past ten years. The opening chapters of Judges have repeatedly served as a fresh warning against the propensity to compromise. The Israelites failure to drive out the inhabitants of the land an ominous reminder of what happens when we get comfortable with the sin in our lives, or try to buddy up with the world around us.

They thought they were strong enough to live over their enemies and were confident that they would continue to submit them to forced labor–their arrogance blinding them to the real danger of their enemies’ gods gaining the upper hand and having dominion over them. Thorns that festered in their sides, snares that would eventually entrap them, that’s what they would become (Judges 2:1-3).

If for no other reason then the a regular reminder of these types of ageless warnings, having a plan to read repeatedly through the whole Bible on a regular basis has been of great value for me.

This morning, I’m rerunning some thoughts from 2013 that I remixed from some thoughts in 2008. The message unchanging, Drive Them Out!

————————–

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!”

So goes the old western movie cliche. So sets up the confrontation at high noon. If one ain’t leavin’ peaceably-like, then the other’s gonna make him git! So what’s got me thinking of old western re-runs? (Or was it a Bugs Bunny cartoon? . . . whatever.)  It’s the opening chapter of Judges and the ominous foreshadowing of a phrase repeated nine times. The land wasn’t big enough for the Israelites and the Canaanites . . . but the Israelites did not “drive them out.”

Through Moses, God had made the game plan clear. He was going to give them the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They were to go up in the power of His might and possess the land.  And they were to rid the land of its previous inhabitants . . . completely!  The warning had been clear:

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.  (Numbers 33:55 ESV)

Any Canaanite remnant would tempt the Israelites away from their God.  Their worship would contaminate true worship.  Their world-view would obscure heaven’s view. And so the charge was unambiguous, “Drive them out!”

Looking at the original word, it looks like it has the idea of possessing or inheriting by the means of dispossessing or impoverishing. Moving into the promised land of God was dependent on completely evicting the previous owners.

But they did not completely drive out the inhabitants of the land.  They allowed them to live among them or they pressed them into forced labor. Bottom line is that God said they needed to be gone, and the people settled for “mostly gone” or “kinda’ gone”.

And Judges 2 says that within just a few decades the result was disastrous. Within a generation, “the people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals” (Judges 2:11).

These pagan nations left to live among them became a snare to them in subsequent generations. In particular, their gods and pagan religions became an alluring trap. The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, but, as the next generation grew up, those who didn’t have this first hand knowledge started being attracted to other gods. And our God, who is a jealous God and will not share His glory with another, dealt with this infidelity quickly and harshly.

Thus the vicious cycle of Judges: the people serve other gods . . . God judges them by allowing the nations around them to oppress them . . . the people cry out to God for deliverance . . . God raises up a judge to deliver the people . . . there’s a time of peace . . . and then the people slip back into serving other gods . . . and so it goes.

And so the warning is pretty clear to me . . . Drive them out!

By the abiding grace of God and the indwelling power of His Spirit, I need to put away that which is temptation and can become a snare. I need to renounce that which is of the world and would fester as a thorn. As much as lies in me, I need to leave no fuel to feed the old nature’s fire. I need to dispossess the things of the old man and the old way, that I might fully possess that which God has promised for the believer.

Drive them out!

By His grace . . . for His glory . . .

This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!

February 4, 2018

Sunday Worship

Psalm 24.NIV.3 Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god.

Psalm 24.The Voice.3 Who can possibly ascend the mountain of the Eternal?
    Who can stand before Him in sacred spaces?
Only those whose hands have been washed and hearts made pure,
    men and women who are not given to lies or deception.

It is not he who sings so well or so many Psalms, nor he who fasts or watches so many days, nor he who divides his own among the poor, nor he who preaches to others, nor he who lives quietly, kindly, and friendly; nor, in fine, is it he who knows all sciences and languages, nor he who works all virtuous and all good works that ever any man spoke or read of, but it is he alone, who is pure within and without.” – Martin Luther

Jim Grant is a graduate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with an MDiv in Biblical languages and a DMin in Church Revitalization from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His doctoral dissertation was about “implementing principles of intercessory prayer as a means of revitalizing a Plateaued Church.” We discovered his blog, Preach Between the Lines yesterday and thought this would be a great fit for our Sunday Worship series. In 2018 he is working his way through the poetic/wisdom books. Click the title below to read at source.

Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

Psalm 24 – … The author asks us some questions – Who may ascend to the hill of the LORD? – in other words who can come to the LORD’s Temple? – thinking of Jerusalem and Temple Mount. The Jews had a very rigid practice of ceremonially “washing” in large vats to cleanse themselves before worship. Coming to the Temple – more importantly before the LORD’s sanctuary, people did not nonchalantly rush into the presence of the LORD. “Who may stand in His holy place?” The second question makes us evaluate if we are worthy to stand in his presence. Thinking of God on His throne; who is worthy and righteous, holy or without guile to stand before the Holiness of God Almighty [El Shaddai]?

Of course the rhetorical questions have the same answer: No one. I believe that we have made worship all about us, rather than about God and His majestic power and love. I hear too much about people wanting to “feel” the Spirit. If a person knows the Lord Jesus Christ – they should already KNOW the Spirit and not need to “feel” the Spirit. Feelings lie all the time to us; they cannot be trusted to verify a godly experience. If we are to “approach the House of the LORD; if we are to come into His presence,” we must be cleansed and pure.

I am not sure how many believers think about what they are doing when they “go to church.” Usually there has been a lot of activity and emotions in trying to get the family ready on time. We come sliding into the pew and are no more ready to worship than the man on the moon. Then the music guy is trying to pump us up to “sing louder.” Truthfully I’m not ready to sing many times until after the song service is over. As a pastor I love hearing the wonderful worship songs and the genuine praise of people toward God – I’m just not sure it is accomplished by strobe lights and fog machines!

We must have clean hands – I never was allowed to “come to the dinner table” with dirty hands. I hand to “get ready to eat.” Washing my face and hands was my responsibility. Of course I got inspected and if I was not clean I had to do it over. The Holy Spirit is our guide to us, letting us know whether we are really cleansed for worship [dining with the Father]. I have noticed that my hand naturally get dirty when I walk around in this world. I don’t have to handle dirty or mud to get dirty. When I do have “dirt” [sin] that i must deal with, well it takes more than running water over my hands!

The second requirement to WORSHIP the LORD is to have a “pure heart.” I take this to mean that I am right with God and mankind. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. God knows our motives and attitude – If I regard iniquity in my HEART, He [God] will not hear me. Verse 4 gets more specific – one who has not lifted his soul to falsehood – in other words not a hypocrite, not a liar! I have witnessed people who intentionally lied about who they are, pretending to be something they are not. We can be liars by the way we behave, our actions will tell whether we are pure or not. There is work to be done before coming before the Holy God of our salvation. If we do the work of “getting ready” the dinner/presence of the LORD will be most enjoyable!

If we are honest with ourselves, and come clean with the Lord our God, there is great mercy and forgiveness in His love. The Pharisees made Temple worship about them; pretending to be religious and holy – Jesus knew better. His response was Woes pronounced on them, and a warning to us not to be taken in by their hypocrisy. Let’s get ready for TRUE WORSHIP of the KING OF KINGS!


Who may ascend to the hill/mountain of the Lord?

Four conditions requisite to render such an ascent possible.

  1. The one who abstains from evil doing: He that hath clean hands.
  2. The one who abstains from evil thought: and a pure heart.
  3. The one who does the duty which he is sent into the world to do: That has not lifted up his mind unto vanity (or, as it is in the Vulgate, Who hath no received his soul in vain.) And,
  4. The one who remembers the vows by which he is bound to God: nor sworn to deceive. And in the fullest sense, there was but One in whom all these things were fulfilled; so that in reply to the question, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?” He might well answer, “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” John 3:13 . “Therefore it is well written,” says St. Bernard, “that such an High Priest became us, because he knows the difficulty of that ascent to the celestial mountain, he knows the weakness of us that have to ascend.” Lorinus and Bernard, quoted by J. M. Neale (paraphrased; sourced)

Worship song: King of Glory by Chris Tomlin

 

October 22, 2017

Sunday Worship

In the modern church we go through periods where different types of things are emphasized and in the current climate, one of these is the idea that you can come as you are to church. I think that on the surface, this is a very valid proposition. There are people who due to habitual sin or lifestyle choices feel that they need to clean up before they can come back to church. Or that at some point in the future they will settle down and return to the faith of their youth. Or that they have simply gone too far and can never receive the love of God.

This of course totally contradicts what scripture teaches. Jesus himself did not hang out with the good people, much to the chagrin of the religious set.

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:19 NIV

and again

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, there is a man who is overfond of eating and drinking–he is a friend of tax-gatherers and notorious sinners!’  – Luke 7:34 Weymouth

If you have a son or a daughter; or a brother or sister; and they have wandered away from their faith because of sin, it’s really important to encourage them to continue to keep the dialog going between themselves and God, even in times of brokenness.

In that spirit, we want to be a church that welcomes people — all people — even if that means people caught in addictions, same-sex couples, people covered head to toe with tattoos.

…However…

It’s easy to let a more relaxed feel toward doing church — whether it’s what’s noted above or just a casual approach toward clothing, music, or drinking coffee during the service — spill over into those of us who are committed; those of us who lead.

The scripture is clear that the persons giving leadership are to cleanse themselves; to purify themselves before serving God. This is true of all of us who come to worship services:

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. – Matthew 5:23-24 NLT

However, I think it especially true of those who direct us in a worship service or lead us in a worship service.

Take the Levites from among the sons of Israel and cleanse them. Thus you shall do to them, for their cleansing: sprinkle purifying water on them, and let them use a razor over their whole body and wash their clothes, and they will be clean.  – Numbers 8:7 NASB

I am sure that some will say, ‘Yes, but those laws are for the people of the First Testament, we are no longer bound by those rules.’ As sure as that is true, I believe it’s easy to lose the spirit of the regulation which is the idea of being pure before the Lord before offering worship to Him on behalf of the congregation.

Personally, I like the idea that I am no longer ‘required’ to wear a suit and tie to church. I grew up under those constraints. I like being able to take a water bottle or cup of coffee to my seat. I like a lot of the contemporary worship songs. I like that the kids feel comfortable in church.

I am also thrilled that we can recognize that people are welcomed into many of our churches even as their journey toward the cross is far from complete; even as their spiritual development is a work in process.

But those of us giving leadership still need to have clean hands. We need to confess our sin long before arriving at the place of meeting. We need to have a sense of reverence as we enter God’s presence. We need to see ourselves as set apart for service.


Some of you may be interested in reading today’s blog post at Thinking Out Loud: Who I Am.



 

 

March 24, 2017

Examine Yourself

Last year at this time I introduced you to a new online resource, Start2Finish.org which includes various blogs, podcasts and Bible study materials materials available on everything from a phone app to print. This weekend we’re going to share two other authors from the site. Click the title below to read today’s article at its source, and then use the navigation bar to check out the rest of the website.

The Man in the Mirror

by Billy Alexander

Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the Lord (Lamentations 3:40).”

Bucknell University did something interesting recently. They covered all of the mirrors in the residence hall with construction paper to block reflections in what they called, “No Mirror Monday,” as part of a program to promote “body positivity” and “self-love.” (1)

At a surface level, the idea is to ignore the body shaming of the world and to promote positive self-esteem among the student body. However, in essence it is an effort to cover up the truth and confronting the truth of the image we are presenting to the world. In a spiritual sense this is a daily practice of many in the world. They do not merely go out unaware of their physical appearance but they ignore that their character is spotted by many stains (Psalm 73:6, Romans 1:28-32).

Men are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) but because of sin and “self-love” that image has been marred and disfigured grossly. To be certain, we must all have a proper love of self (Matthew 22:39) but to promote this without looking in the metaphorical mirror is dangerous. The Scribes and Pharisees dressed themselves up in false humility and appeared to be the most religious and righteous men on earth. But Jesus rebuked them for not examining their inner flaws, saying that they “cleanse the outside of the cup and dish but inside were full of extortion and self-indulgence (Matthew 23:25-28).” Jesus told them that they were blind to truth or their actual appearance before God. The Lord cautioned that on Judgement Day “many” will be shocked to find that they will be cast away from Him forever (Matthew 7:21-23). How else could they be unaware of their unsightly appearance to the righteous Judge unless they ignored their visible spots and blemishes?

Jesus continued on to tell us that the wise are those who “Hear and Do” what He instructs (Matthew 7:24). James expands on this notion by saying, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was (James 1:23-24).” This is the state of those who hear the Bible and do not put the precepts into practice. What of those who fail to hear what the Bible says (John 12:48)? They have covered up the mirror of the soul (Hebrews 4:12) and go about blind to their true condition. We must all seek to see ourselves as God sees us.

Imagine failing to look in the mirror and going in for a job interview with a stained and untucked shirt, disheveled hair, and spinach in your teeth. Would you really ever dare such thing before a person who could determine whether or not you gain a job? Yet so many are heading into a much more fateful appointment (Hebrews 9:27) without ever laundering their garments and preparing properly (2 Corinthians 13:5).

If we allow Him to do so, God seeks to restore all of us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). “The Bible itself functions as spiritual direction, for as we read it prayerfully we are being formed more and more into the image of Christ. (2) Jesus is Himself the image of God (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3) and has made God visible to us all (John 1:18). As we examine His character and model and follow Him we become partakers of the divine nature forsaking the habits of the self-seeking world (2 Peter 1:4). Look deeply into the perfect law of liberty Christian. Day by day the wrinkles, stains, and scars are fading and the high definition image of God is being perfected in you. As we look into that mirror and see His image there is no shame in that.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV).”


  1. http://libertyunyielding.com/2017/02/27/bucknell-u-promotes-positive-self-image-covering-mirrors/
  2. Richard J. Foster, A Celebration of Discipline, HarperCollins, 1978, p.187

December 8, 2015

Holiness is Unapologetically Severe

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Isaiah 64:6  We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Like today’s title? It’s a line from today’s devotional which really stood out to me. We’re paying a return visit to the website Blogos which features a variety of writers. Today’s author is Beth Hyduke. Click the title below to read at source, and then click the banner at the top to see other recent articles. Many of the scriptures for today’s reading are linked in the text; be sure to click through.

Earning God’s Favor

Understanding our total inadequacy to please God and the futility of attempting to earn His favor based on our own actions is foundational to a proper understanding of God, ourselves, and Jesus Christ. Not only is it normal or okay for a Christian to realize their own personal unworthiness before God, it is absolutely crucial that we do so, integral to establishing and maintaining a right relationship with God and others.

Contrary to popular opinion, Christianity is not a self-help system where you identify problem areas in your life and then start to fix themtweet The Bible gives us the bad news up-front; that all men are born into sin (Romans 3:23) and therefore unable to ever attain God’s standard of moral perfection (Jeremiah 13:23, Romans 8:7-9, Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13). Additionally, we are told that the sin state robs us of any desire to please God, making us enemies with Him from the time we are born (Romans 5:6-10, Colossians 1:21). Without the capacity or even the desire to please God, we are unable to do anything to improve our situation or win back God’s approval. Any attempt to work for God’s favor is useless. The Bible tells us that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Pretty strong words, right? But it shows us two important things.

The first concerns God and His character. God is holy (1 Samuel 2:2, Isaiah 40:25, Hosea 11:9) and holiness is unapologetically severe; it requires unswerving submission and obedience to God in every area of our lives. God’s standard is absolute perfection, demanding total obedience from us in every thought, every motivation, every word, and every deed. The second you stray from that in the slightest sense, you have botched it, and the entire relationship comes crashing down. That is why even our best attempts to please God are unacceptable to Him; our sin-tainted hearts and minds can never produce the purely holy thoughts, words, or actions that God requires from us. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14, our deeds may appear outwardly right but inwardly we harbor selfish motivations or impure thoughts or worldly desires. With such a bleak outlook, we would be absolutely right to doubt our worthiness before the holy God. We’d be foolish not to.

The second thing concerns us and our character. It tells us here in Isaiah 64:6 that mankind’s solution to the problem of his inability to please God commonly revolves around man’s efforts to reform his actions — his attempts to do better, to live better, to think better, etc. But we already know that this is a doomed effort; partial holiness is not holiness at all, and therefore as worthless in God’s eyes as dirty rags. Since God, who is perfect, requires perfection, we don’t just need to be better, we need to be perfect. This is our conundrum, because who can be perfect, all the time, in every matter, from birth to death?

One verse earlier, Isaiah says, “You [God] are indeed angry, for we have sinned — in these ways we continue; and we need to be saved” (Isaiah 64:5). Isaiah recognized that working for God’s approval was futile because we simply cannot stop sinning. If we cannot satisfy God’s righteous requirement due to our ongoing sinfulness, then our only hope is for another to satisfy it for us due to His unswerving obedience and submission to God’s holy will.

It is only by understanding the complete hopelessness of our efforts to escape our doomed situation that we can see the good news of the Gospel, Jesus Christ, for who He is. Christ is the only door (Luke 11:9, Matthew 7:13, John 14:6) that leads to reconciliation with God — not any other, and certainly not our best attempts to improve ourselves.

Because Christ lived a sinless life and died on the cross in place of each believer, He has accomplished something extraordinary that nobody else has ever accomplished, or ever will, or ever could. By taking upon Himself the judgment each of us deserves for past, present, and future sins we commit, He acts as our substitute, meaning our sins have been paid for by His death and that His sinless life of perfect obedience to God becomes our sinless life of perfect obedience in God’s sight.

We do good works, then, not as a means of obtaining or keeping salvation but as a way of showing gratitude for all the blessings God has given us (Proverbs 3:1-4, Colossians 3:1-17, Ephesians 5:15-20). The Bible tells us we were created to do good works through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10) and that through them, we serve as a witness to the world (John 14:21, 1 John 2:3-6).

 

August 30, 2015

Keeping Your Thought Life Pure

This weekend at Thinking Out Loud we’ve been running two articles which deal with your thought life. (They are each double articles, so really we’ve run four over Saturday and Sunday.) You can connect with those articles here and here. In going through my files I discovered I also covered something similar at C201 — perhaps it’s a different type of purity of thoughts — and while we rarely repeat a devotional here…

Purity of Thought = Purity of Heart

Love Believes The Best

James 3:17 (NIV) But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

James 3:17(Message)Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.

I Cor. 13:7(Amplified) Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].

I Cor.13:7 (CEB)Love is always supportive,
loyal, hopeful, and trusting.

I Cor 13:7(TLB) If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.

Matt. 5:8(KJV) Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

We live in a time where when we think of purity we think in terms of moral purity. Surrounded as we are by images and ideas that are sexually licentious, we tend to characterize purity as the absence of those influences.

Surely no one would argue the importance of this, and I have written many times here and at Thinking Out Loud on the importance of controlling our thought life and endeavoring to cultivate a healthy mind.

But purity in scripture can mean so much more than abstinence from thoughts about sex or not engaging in immoral behavior. It can also mean a wholesome outlook, and a wholesome attitude.

When we look at the character of Christ, Philippians 2:5-7 does not say

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,who did not think lustful thoughts or look covetously at women.

Yes, the scriptures are careful to tell us he did not sin:

Heb.4:15(NASB)For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Rather, the Philippians passage talks about his servant heart. His life is characterized by the things he did do, he humbled himself, he took a servant role, he submitted himself to death.

From our opening scriptures, we see that purity of thought, or purity of heart will involve things like:

  • working for peace
  • consideration of others
  • a submissive (teachable) spirit
  • acts of mercy
  • impartiality
  • sincerity
  • getting along with others
  • gentleness
  • consistent character
  • possessing an enduring hope
  • supportive and loyal
  • trusting
  • always expecting the best

It is the last characteristic (and the verse in James) that launched this study today in my own heart. The pure in heart have a positive, non-critical spirit. Love may critique, but it doesn’t criticize. Murphy’s Law may suggest that things are going to go wrong. The Peter Principle may suggest you’re going to get reassigned to a job you can’t do well. But the Christ-follower is buoyed not by a blind optimism, but by an attitude that believes the best and expects the best.

Their outworking of spiritual wisdom begins in holiness and righteousness; that’s what makes their advice, their counsel, their entire comportment pure.

Image: WalkGood (click image to source)


The second link in the introductory paragraph is to an article which ends with this story…

We are all fighting a battle within ourselves… The illustration goes like this: There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

November 21, 2014

Changed to a Pure Speech

NIV Zeph. 3:8 Therefore wait for me,”
    declares the Lord,
    “for the day I will stand up to testify.
I have decided to assemble the nations,
    to gather the kingdoms
and to pour out my wrath on them—
    all my fierce anger.
The whole world will be consumed
    by the fire of my jealous anger.

“Then I will purify the lips of the peoples,
    that all of them may call on the name of the Lord
    and serve him shoulder to shoulder.

Recently, I encountered verse nine in the ESV and I was especially struck by the wording of the first line, underlined below:

“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples
    to a pure speech,
that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord
    and serve him with one accord.

Some other translations offer:

  • For then [changing their impure language] I will give to the people a clear and pure speech from pure lips (AMP)
  • I will purify each language
    and make those languages
        acceptable for praising me.  (CEV)
  • In the end I will turn things around for the people.
        I’ll give them a language undistorted, unpolluted,
    Words to address God in worship
        and, united, to serve me… (The Message)
  • Know for sure that I will then enable
    the nations to give me acceptable praise.  (NET)
  •  And then I will transform the words spoken by the nations to pure words,
            and the people will finally hear My truth.
        Then all the people will be able to pray to and serve the Eternal One,
            standing together as part of the same people. (The Voice)

The Reformation Study Bible considers this phrase:

To purify the lips is either to cleanse from sin in general

Is. 6:5  And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

or to remove the names of foreign gods from the lips of a worshiper

Hos. 2:17  For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more.

One of the resources on BibleGateway.com is the Asbury Bible Commentary which covers verses 9-20.

Zephaniah closes with a joyful note of redemption. Jerusalem, the city of God, will be cleansed from the arrogant so that Yahweh himself might dwell among his people. They also will be cleansed so that their language and their deeds might reflect the moral nature of the God they serve. With Yahweh, the Mighty Warrior, dwelling among them, the people will not fear their enemies but will rejoice in the care he will provide.

There is no distinctive break between vv. 8 and 9. They are linked by the concept of fire, which on the one hand consumes the world but on the other purifies God’s people. The prophet, in vv. 9 and 10, draws upon the imagery of the Tower of Babel incident (Ge 11:1-9) to portray a once-scattered but soon to be united people whose lips (speech) have been purified. This reestablished community will be characterized by worship, the natural activity of a redeemed people.

The theme of purification continues in v. 11 in that the proud will be removed from their midst. The holy habitation of God (“holy hill”) is in the midst of the meek and humble (v. 12). He will not dwell with the arrogant but must first humble and purify the people of all that is contrary to his nature. Because he will purify them of their sin and dwell among his people Israel, they will be free from wrong, lies, and deceit (v. 13) The ethical character of the people of God will reflect the nature of Yahweh himself. Thus these verses teach the normative paradigm of redemption: Yahweh removes sin and arrogance from the midst of his people and then comes to occupy that vacated throne of values, filling it with his holy presence and shaping their lives to conform to his own righteous nature.

In a brief hymn of salvation (vv. 14-17), the people of God are summoned to rejoice in the presence of Yahweh. The recurring word qirbek, “your midst” (NIV “within you,” v. 12; “with you,” vv. 15, 17), contains the central theological idea of the passage, Yahweh dwells among his people. They may rejoice and not be afraid, for they will be protected from any harm. Yahweh will be their God, a warrior of salvation. His people will rest securely in his covenantal love (v. 17).

The final verses of the book (vv. 18-20) are spoken by Yahweh himself as he promises to reverse the fortunes of his people who must go through the destruction measured out to the nations in the Day of Yahweh. For them judgment becomes remedial, not final. Strong emphasis lies in the repeated “I will.” All that they will gain—relief from burdens, salvation from oppression, return from exile, honor and praise—will be due to the direct action of Yahweh. Salvation belongs to him alone.

November 11, 2013

Purity of Thought = Purity of Heart

Love Believes The Best

James 3:17 (NIV) But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

James 3:17(Message)Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.

I Cor. 13:7(Amplified) Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].

I Cor.13:7 (CEB)Love is always supportive,
loyal, hopeful,  and trusting.

I Cor 13:7(TLB) If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.

Matt. 5:8(KJV) Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

We live in a time where when we think of purity we think in terms of moral purity. Surrounded as we are by images and ideas that are sexually licentious, we tend to characterize purity as the absence of those influences.

Surely no one would argue the importance of this, and I have written many times here and at Thinking Out Loud on the importance of controlling our thought life and endeavoring to cultivate a healthy mind.

But purity in scripture can mean so much more than abstinence from thoughts about sex or not engaging in immoral behavior. It can also mean a wholesome outlook, and a wholesome attitude.

When we look at the character of Christ, Philippians 2:5-7 does not say

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,who did not think lustful thoughts or look covetously at women.

Yes, the scriptures are careful to tell us he did not sin:

Heb.4:15(NASB)For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Rather, the Philippians passage talks about his servant heart. His life is characterized by the things he did do, he humbled himself, he took a servant role, he submitted himself to death.

From our opening scriptures, we see that purity of thought, or purity of heart will involve things like:

  • working for peace
  • consideration of others
  • a submissive (teachable) spirit
  • acts of mercy
  • impartiality
  • sincerity
  • getting along with others
  • gentleness
  • consistent character
  • possessing an enduring hope
  • supportive and loyal
  • trusting
  • always expecting the best

It is the last characteristic (and the verse in James) that launched this study today in my own heart. The pure in heart have a positive, non-critical spirit. Love may critique, but it doesn’t criticize. Murphy’s Law may suggest that things are going to go wrong. The Peter Principle may suggest you’re going to get reassigned to a job you can’t do well. But the Christ-follower is buoyed not by a blind optimism, but by an attitude that believes the best and expects the best.

Their outworking of spiritual wisdom begins in holiness and righteousness; that’s what makes their advice, their counsel, their entire comportment pure.

Image: WalkGood (click image to source)

October 6, 2013

Did I Say That Out Loud?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:23 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Speak No Evil

Yesterday, just before we closed, we included a link to a related post by Dianne Guthmuller. Today, I want to feature her writing here. This topic seems to come around here rather frequently; maybe God is trying to tell us something!  It appeared at her blog under the title Pass Me The Duct Tape. You’re encouraged to click through and discover other excellent articles on her blog, which is a daily Bible study similar to what we do here.

Today’s Scripture Reading:  Luke 8:1-3, Mark 3:20-230, Matthew 12:22-45, Mark 3:31-35, Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21, Mark 4:1-9, Matthew 13:1-9, Luke 8:4-8, Mark 4:10-20

And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.  The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you. Matthew 12:36-37

Every idle word…

Lord help me!  I’m in trouble.  Where’s the duct tape?

I looked up the word “idle” in Word Studies in the New Testament hoping for a reprieve, but none was to be found…

Idle (ἀργὸν). The word is compounded of ἀ, not, and ἔργον, work. An idle word is a nonworking word; an inoperative word. It has no legitimate work, no office, no business, but is morally useless and unprofitable.

Friends, Jesus wasn’t just talking about profanity, He was talking about gossip, criticism, whining, complaining, etc; anything that isn’t adding value to people’s lives.

Let’s look at the context in which this verse is written (Matthew 12:22-37).

Jesus was getting it from all sides:

  • The crowds were following Him everywhere; He couldn’t get enough time to Himself to grab a bite to eat
  • His family was trying to pull Him away from the crowds saying, “He’s out of his mind”
  • The teachers of religious law were saying He was possessed by Satan

When the teachers accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan He took great offense, not because they were doubting Him, but because they were speaking against the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit; which the religious leaders should have recognized.  Jesus gave a timeless warning that had grave consequences against speaking against the power of the Holy Spirit.

It was in this serious setting that Jesus warned us about idle words.  He prefaced His warning with a word picture, which was the common way to communicate in Jewish culture.

A tree is identified by its fruit.  If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. –Matthew 12:33

If our heart is good our words will be good.  If our heart is bad our words will be bad.

In Jesus’ day the only words they dealt with were spoken words; very few people could write. Fast forward 2,000 years…how many words to you speak, write, type, or text in a 24 hour period?

Before you run to the garage and get your duct tape, remember Jesus sees and know our heart, so even if we keep our “idle” words from coming out, we’re still accountable for them.

What can we do about our idle words?

Don’t focus on the words…

Focus on getting your heart tuned into the Holy Spirit; ask Him to create in you a clean heart (Psalm 51:10) and your words will follow.

Heavenly Father, we want our words and our heart to be pleasing to You.  Lord, You made us, You know our human failings. Please forgive us when we fail; speak loudly to us when we do.  We say with David, create in us a clean heart.  Jesus, make us like You!

In Your Holy Name.  Amen and Amen!

July 31, 2013

Able to Keep You from Falling

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:43 pm
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jude24-25

Last night I ended the day listening to a recording of The Jude Benediction. There are several different musical settings for this passage; although this one had some variances, it was closest to the song I remembered.

As I thought of approaching this verse today with excerpts from various sources, my search results first led me to something that was posted only days ago by Deryk on the blog, Becoming Less. As I tried editing this at various points, I felt that I really should run all of it. I hope you resonate with the author’s raw honesty and transparency. And as always, you’re encouraged to read blog posts here at their source; this one was originally titled On Being Kept from Stumbling.

The contents of my heart and mind are kind of raw and disorganized right now. I spend a good deal of time in conversation with other Christians, as well as perusing the internet, to hear and process where the Church is at on a variety of issues and topics and what not. And it can be discouraging.

So many Christians who fight what they understand to be sin in their lives eventually grow weary. That’s nothing new. But when they do, they may glance over to the World, who is waiting with open arms to embrace them in whatever they may be fighting. See, the World won’t condemn, or judge, or even call it “sin.” The World is “tolerant,” and truth can bend and flex to not only accept whatever you might be fighting – the World might even call it a good thing, something to celebrate!

I see Christians doing a lot of bending and flexing and doing a dangerous dance with the World. Some people end up radically reforming their theology, not in a “Reformed” sense but trying to put the pieces back together in such a way that says God’s down with sin that for thousands of years Christians have understood him not to be. At different points throughout history, this may have been more difficult, because the World may not have embraced such change as culturally acceptable, even outside a “religious” sphere – but today, it’s an epidemic.

So in our struggle against sin, we look to a church of redeemed sinners for strength (though we’ve always been crippled and desperately dependent on Christ), and if that’s not enough, the World is waiting with open arms for us to give up and fall completely… only to tell us that we never really fell after all, we just threw off the misguided, oppressive chains of religion to experience enlightenment. What a tricky situation we find ourselves in.

I cling to the hope of this benediction from the epistle of Jude:

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:24-25

I read stories of Christians responding to the life-long struggle with our sinful nature that we all face by re-forming their theology to tolerate their sin, or by ditching their faith altogether to try embracing their sin without the pretense of reconciling the two. This is scary. It scares me to see older Christians give up when I’m facing who knows how many more years on this earth, pursuing sanctification but knowing that until I stand before Jesus I’ll always be battling sin. It’s intimidating, not knowing how God will or won’t change me, or how fast, or how radically. What will I do with that in a year? In 5, or 10 or 50?

But Jude reminds me that it’s “him who is able” to keep me from stumbling, and to present me blameless, to himself.

I look at my life and see certain struggles with sin that have greatly diminished, to a point where I pretty much don’t experience them or, at least, not nearly as significantly as when I was in a place of lesser maturity. By the grace of Jesus and the power of his holy spirit in me I have grown in discipline and holiness, and I can testify to him being so good to me in that. But what about the parts of me that aren’t changing like I want? What do I do when I see sin so deep in me, and know that I’m not guaranteed any particular outcome with that short of the day I stand before Jesus?

These words just came to mind as I’m writing… Paul said that he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). I’ve prayed in similar confidence in God’s work in other people so many times, but so often forget about these words when I need hope.

I guess I’m trying to be OK with God’s work in me. I’m trying to be OK with the speed and trajectory that it’s taking, even though I’m, well, not. However I have been skewed, flawed, jacked up by living in a sinful world, and however Jesus decides to heal and free me – or not yet, or not right now – I’m trying to trust him in that. If I’m having to realize that I may not experience the kind of change I long for on this earth, if I’m not a person whose heart and life is characterized by the freedom and holiness I want on the timeline I want it – God is still good. I have to trust in his coming kingdom and present redemption and stay confident that one day I’ll stand before him completely healed and whole.

I deeply desire to be able to joyfully and honestly believe and speak the words of the Doxology in Jude. I want to look at my life and affirm that God is to be praised for keeping me from stumbling, and that I’m headed towards being presented blameless in his glorious presence. I know my sin is paid for, and it doesn’t stick to me, in his eyes; I’m just so sick of the ways it’s so near to me on this earth. I don’t want to grow weary, I don’t want to compromise like so many do.

Please pray for me. Pray for whatever healing and freedom God will grant me, and for holiness and strength in whatever ways I need to bear a cross, including the scars of sin.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

(Psalm 51:10-12)

 

 

 

Image: Agape Ministries

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