Christianity 201

April 19, 2020

Jonah and the Psalm

by Ruth Wilkinson

I recently posed this question as an informal Facebook poll: “Did the story of Jonah happen literally as it appears in the Bible?” The majority said yes. No surprise. The Church has been defending the story’s miraculous nature since the early Church Fathers. For many, it’s even a test of faith in God’s sovereignty; can you believe God didn’t do it, without believing God couldn’t do it?

JonahintheWhale_RuePeople often say that it “must have happened—Jesus says it did.” Fair statement, but one that needs some thought. What is the relationship between Jesus and Jonah?

Let’s assume that the event literally happened to Jonah, son of Amittai, prophet to King Jeroboam. That Jonah’s psalm in chapter 2 was his prayer, recorded as he prayed it.

Why would Jonah sing his gratitude to God in the middle of this mess? Why does Jonah never expresses remorse?

And where does Jesus fit in?

Now the Lord had appointed a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights. Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish.

Matthew records Jesus saying: “…For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” Matthew 12:40 (HCSB)

Both events involve a prophetic man who comes back after three days of being given up for dead, but in all other respects, narrative contrasts are greater than similarities.

  • Jesus is in conversation with God all through his approach to the grave: Jonah is silent until he can’t stand it any more.
  • Jesus laments God’s turning His face away; Jonah is the one who turns his back.
  • Jesus enters his grave as an act of submission: Jonah embraces death as part of his rebellion.
  • Jesus, as God, returns by an act of power and of will: Jonah as vomit.

I called to the Lord in my distress, and He answered me.
I cried out for help in the belly of Sheol; You heard my voice.

Jonah finally breaks his silence. Some suggest he’d been unconscious, others that Jonah physically died and was resurrected, based on Matthew’s “sign of Jonah,” and the reference to Sheol.

For Christians, “Sheol” can bring to mind medieval pictures of Hell, but to Jonah the image is very different. Sheol was beneath the earth, the farthest place from Heaven, where the dead descended to (or were raised from if God opened the gate). Those who entered it became silent shadows, without knowledge, passion, or hope. Yet God ruled there, and in the Messiah’s day the righteous would be released to joyously participate in His kingdom.

Some see a connection here with 1 Peter 3:18-20 and Ephesians 4:9 but there’s no real support in scripture for the idea of Jesus “descending to Hell.” Peter speaks of earth, and Paul of the past, not of metaphysics. Instead, they drive home for us the understanding that Jesus overcame time and space to walk in the dust, and “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.”1

You threw me into the depths, into the heart of the seas,
and the current overcame me. All Your breakers and Your billows swept over me.

For modern songwriters, switching ‘voice’ mid-song is a no-no. Not true for the Psalmists who switch from addressing God, to His people, to the writer’s own soul and back again. Jonah moves from speaking about God, to direct, dramatic accusation.

Jesus also recognizes God’s hand in directing his path, but He does it with an attitude of humility and submission that culminates in His prayer, “If this cannot pass… Your will be done,”2 modelling not blame but trust and obedience.

But I said: I have been banished from Your sight,
yet I will look once more toward Your holy temple.
The waters engulfed me up to the neck;
the watery depths overcame me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.

Jonah has what he wanted—to be far from the face of God—and realizes he should have been more careful in his wishing.

He’s bound and suffocating, tangled in something beyond his strength. He echoes Psalm 88: drowning, God’s wrath, an innocent sufferer, accusation, demands for rescue, loneliness.

At His loneliest moment, Jesus draws instead from Psalm 22 and its anticipation of praise in better days. Like Jonah, Jesus grieves God’s absence. Like Jonah, He identifies Himself as an innocent. Unlike Jonah, He actually is one.

At least Jonah is looking in the right direction—back where he came from.

I sank to the foundations of the mountains;
the earth with its prison bars closed behind me forever!
But You raised my life from the Pit, Lord my God!
As my life was fading away, I remembered Yahweh.
My prayer came to You, to Your holy temple.

Jonah continues to deny the cause of his trouble—his own choices. But something has changed.

He’s run as far as he can but still has a connection to the One from whom He ran. He knows to whom he speaks, how he will sound in those ears and what the response is likely to be.

In the darkest place possible, his heart and mind turn to the brightest. In the grip of the worst monster, he looks toward the most loving Father. At his farthest from home, his mind turns to the Holy of Holies, the centre of all Creation.

To “remember” is not just to recall, but to be intentionally mindful. Of the past—what God has done. Of the present—where He meets us. Of the future—in which he awaits.

This is where Jonah comes closest to Jesus, who in His own climactic moment on the cross contradicted His own sense of abandonment and declared the words of Psalm 31:5, “Into Your hand I entrust my spirit…” trusting God to “…redeem me, Lord, God of truth.

Jonah, weakened and lost, cannot save himself but Yahweh-remembered can and will. Jonah is freed from the pit.

Those who cling to worthless idols forsake faithful love

Has Jonah learned anything? Has he changed? He hasn’t admitted his guilt. We see no contrition. Instead, he condemns “those” who forsake faithful love which comes from the God that Jonah fled. So who is he talking about?

Those” sailors whose misfortune it was to give Jonah a ride? They’d been pagan until they met with Yahweh. Afterward they’d sacrificed and made vows to the LORD, a step toward becoming “Hebrews.” But Jonah didn’t see that happen. He was already underwater and sinking. All Jonah knew of them was that they were “those who cling to worthless idols.” Perhaps he assumes they’ve lost their chance.

Those” Ninevites, violent and cruel people? He’s endangered his own life to scuttle their chance at receiving the faithful love of God. Is he hoping that this proverb is a promise?

All that’s left is himself—the prophet who clung to the idol of his nationalistic hatred, forsaking the faithful love of God. Jonah’s not the only prophet to object to his assignment. So did Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. He is, however, the only one who upped sticks and ran. The others spoke honestly to God and received His response. Jonah built a wall of silence and refusal between himself and God.

Jonah and Jesus again part ways. Jesus didn’t only accept His role, He chose it. “…He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.”

One rabbinic writer said:

Jeremiah sought the honor of God and the honor of Israel;

Elijah sought the honor of God and not the honor of Israel;

Jonah sought the honor of Israel and not the honor of God.”

One might even substitute “Jonah sought the honor of himself…” Jesus sought the honor of the Father through obedience, pursuing and rescuing those who clung to their idols and could not, on their own, find the freedom of letting go.

…but as for me, I will sacrifice to You with a voice of thanksgiving.
I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation is from the Lord!

Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

The fish has been carrying around 180 extra pounds of ballast. Enough is enough. The LORD lets her off the hook. It’s time for Jonah to head inland.

Three days of silence, a burst of eloquent gratitude, and either hypocritical self-righteousness, or an excuse to head to Jerusalem instead of Nineveh. No wonder she was sick.

Jonah heads reluctantly to Nineveh, wanders around—in silence for three days—before delivering his message.

But Jesus spent His ministry reaching out and being available to not only men like Himself, but to enemies and invaders, strangers and rejects, women and children, heretics and hypocrites. After His resurrection, He allowed only moments to pass before reconnecting with the people he’d come to save.

****

However… what if instead of Matthew’s rendering, we look at Luke’s record of the same statement: For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. Luke 11:30 (HCSB)

Despite the fact that Luke wouldn’t have heard it first hand, his understanding of the Jonah/Jesus parallel seems better grounded: just as Jonah’s message of God’s grace toward Nineveh had “overturned” the city, so would Jesus’ overturn the world.

The verb in Jonah’s message to Nineveh seems intentionally ambiguous. Throughout Scripture, it’s translated as demolished, overturned, overthrown, transformed or turned around. Those who (eventually) heard it inferred a threat of destruction, creating fearful repentance. But was this true prophet of Israel not also used to point to an alternative fulfillment?

Nineveh was beautifully, life-givingly “overturned.”

So, yes. Jesus wanted us to remember this story. He wanted us to learn from it.

I’d argue that the least important question about this story is whether it “happened.” What matters is that we learn from Jonah’s mistakes and are free to not repeat them. That we learn from Jesus’ example and are free to make it real in our lives.


1 Philippians 2:8 HCSB

2 Matthew 26:42

April 13, 2020

On the Cusp of the Four Cups

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:23 pm
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Okay, I don’t know why I chose that title for today’s devotional, but there is definitely something afoot in Luke 22: 13-23 about cups. We join the Passover meal (aka The Last Supper) in the middle of the story, where Jesus takes the second of four cups. Then the third. Bread in between. Only Luke offers this sequence.

That there are two cups in this story probably confuses new Christians who are accustomed to the Communion or Eucharist where there is one instance of bread and one instance of cup. The cup-bread-sequence needs to be understood.

I was thinking about this reading Devotions by Chris by Chris Hendrix in a post entitled The Promise of Redemption.

A traditional Passover meal, called a Seder, is a meal to commemorate the Israelites leaving Egypt. They recline to eat instead of sitting in a chair, eat matza (unleavened bread), bitter herbs and four cups of wine. The first cup of wine represents sanctification, which is the process of being made holy. It’s to remember that God’s people are to be set apart. The second cup represents the joy of Deliverance, a reminder that we are no longer under the yoke of slavery. The third cup is the cup of redemption. It was after eating the lamb as a reminder of the price paid for redemption. The fourth cup is the cup of restoration, a reminder that God would make His people a nation.

Think back to the night Jesus was betrayed (Good Friday). The disciples prepared the Passover meal where Jesus had told them to (Matthew 26:19). There’s no recording of the first cup of wine, but in Luke 22:17 we see the second cup where Jesus says He won’t drink it again until the Kingdom has come. We then read where Jesus broke the matza and blessed it. In verse 20 it says He lifted up another cup (third – redemption) and told them that He was making a new covenant confirmed with His blood as the Passover lamb. Matthew and Mark then say the went to the garden after this cup. While Jesus was on the cross, John 19 records that Jesus said He was thirsty. They lifted up sour wine to Him (fourth cup). Verse 30 says when He drank it, He said, “It is finished” and died. He finished the Passover meal and the fulfillment of it in that moment to redeem us and to restore us to God.

This drove me deeper into tracking down the cups in a Jewish context which took me to Chabad.org and this article which states,

G‑d uses four expressions of redemption in describing our Exodus from Egypt and our birth as a nation:

1. “I will take you out…”

2. “I will save you…”

3. “I will redeem you…”

4. “I will take you as a nation…”

Our sages instituted that we should drink a cup of wine, a toast if you will, for each one of these expressions. We recite the Kiddush over the first cup, we read the Exodus story from the Haggadah over the second cup, we recite the Grace after Meals over the third cup, and we sing the “big Hallel” (Psalms and hymns of praises to G‑d) over the fourth cup.

 There are a number of explanations as to the significance of the various stages of redemption conveyed through each of these expressions. Here is one:

1. Salvation from harsh labor—this began as soon as the plagues were introduced.

2. Salvation from servitude; or the day the Jews left Egypt geographically and arrived at Ramses.

3. The splitting of the sea, after which the Jews felt completely redeemed, without fear of the Egyptians recapturing them.

4. Becoming a nation at Sinai.

During the Seder we can experience these elements of redemption in a spiritual sense.

Another article by a different author at the same website offers various interpretations of the four cups.

We were liberated from Pharaoh’s four evil decrees: a) Slavery. b) The ordered murder of all male progeny by the Hebrew midwives. c) The drowning of all Hebrew boys in the Nile by Egyptian thugs. d) The decree ordering the Israelites to collect their own straw for use in their brick production.


The four cups symbolize our freedom from our four exiles: The Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek exiles, and our current exile which we hope to be rid of very soon with the coming of Moshiach.


The words “cup of wine” are mentioned four times in Pharaoh’s butler‘s dream (Genesis 40:11-13). According to the Midrash, these cups of wine alluded to the Israelites’ liberation.

The website of Chosen People Ministries shows each of these fulfilled in Christ:

The ministry of Messiah speaks to each of these four promises:

Messiah sanctifies us – “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:19).

Messiah delivers us – “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Messiah redeems us – “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Messiah is our joy – “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

But the view suggested at the top of today`s devotional, that Jesus completes the Passover meal with the wine mixed with vinegar on the cross is occasionally challenged. Religion professor Jonathan Klawans states,

Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples did not take place on the first night of Passover. There is a real difference between John and the synoptics on this question, and John’s chronology continues to make much more sense to me: Jesus was tried and killed before the holiday began. By Seder time, he was buried.

Which begs the question, was this truly a ‘second cup, bread, third cup’ scenario? I would argue that it was a Passover meal. The notes in most Evangelical study Bibles would argue that it was, indeed a Passover meal, but suggest that the completion takes place at The Marriage Supper of the Lamb. (Notice the parallel lamb reference.)

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.”
 – Rev. 19:9 NLT

Back to Luke, I believe this ‘third’ cup is indeed Jesus of Nazareth saying, “I will redeem you.” He redefines both the bread and the wine, and most importantly, becomes our Passover lamb.

But that doesn’t dismiss Chris’ idea quoted at the outset, because you could accept that the wine/vinegar mix is cup number four if you are still anticipating cup number five. Yes, five.

You see, I didn’t give you the entirety of the first quotation from Chabad.org and I’m going to give them the last word, because I think the imagery from a Christian perspective is rather obvious!

There is actually a fifth expression in the above mentioned verses: “And I will bring you to the land which I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you as an inheritance.

While the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation were permanent, we have yet to be brought to Israel on a permanent basis.

In honor of this verse we have a fifth cup at the Seder: the Cup of Elijah. This cup is set up for Elijah during the second half of the Seder, but we do not drink it. Elijah will announce the arrival of Moshiach1, who will bring all Jews to Israel, for good.


1(lit. “the anointed one”) the Messiah. One of the 13 principles of the Jewish faith is that G-d will send the Messiah to return the Jews to the land of Israel, rebuild the Holy Temple and usher in the utopian Messianic Era.

 

April 10, 2020

For Me He Died: A Good Friday Collection

 

Wounded for me, wounded for me,
There on the cross He was wounded for me;
Gone my transgressions, and now I am free,
All because Jesus was wounded for me.

Dying for me, dying for me,
There on the cross He was dying for me;
Now in His death my redemption I see,
All because Jesus was dying for me.

– early 20th Century hymn; vs 1, William Ovens, vs. 2, Gladys Toberts


…It’s like sitting in church and hearing a great sermon and then deciding that someone else that we know has to hear it; the idea that this time of year is a great opportunity for the benefit of somebody else. But this time of year comes around in the Christian calendar not so much for anyone else but for me. This is my time to sit and contemplate that it was my sin that led Christ to the cross to die in my place. This is why Jesus came; because we needed a savior.

-Early Christianity 201 post


Christ died. He left a will in which He gave His soul to His Father, His body to Joseph of Arimathea, His clothes to the soldiers, and His mother to John. But to His disciples, who had left all to follow Him, He left not silver or gold, but something far better – His PEACE!

– Matthew Henry


For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

-Colossians 1:19


The Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin.

~ Watchman Nee


It must have been agonizing for Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – to acknowledge that in what was about to happen – the powers of darkness, which He could have no doubt thrown back with a single word – had been given free reign.

– Grant Gunnink; quoted at Daily Encouragement (C201 link)


For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

– I Cor. 1:18


My hope is in the Lord
Who gave Himself for me,
And paid the price of all my sin
at Calvary.

For me He died,
For me He lives;
And everlasting life and light
He freely gives.

Hymn, My Hope is in the Lord, © 1945 Norman J. Clayton Publishing © Renewed 1973


May I never put anything above the cross of our Lord Jesus the Anointed. Through Him, the world has been crucified to me and I to this world.

– Galatians 6:14


The Jews thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being the Messiah, the Greeks thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being God, people today think that in being crucified Jesus failed at doing anything relevant – but if God can be spoken of as failing at anything when Jesus was crucified – God failed to treat us as our sins deserve.

-Clarke Dixon (C201 link)


Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

-Ephesians 5:1,2


It was our sin and guilt that bruised and wounded Him.
It was our sin that brought Him down.
When we like sheep had gone astray our Shepherd came,
And on His shoulders He bore our shame.

Meek as a lamb, that’s led out to the slaughterhouse,
Dumb as a sheep, before it’s shearer;
His life ran down upon the ground like pouring rain,
That we might be born-again!

Our God Reigns, verses 3 and 4


But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

-Hebrews 2:9


The problem of sin is that it is a contagion and a captivity, which involves our complicity.

As a stain, sin is like a contagion that must be cleansed— as a virus must be eradicated from the body.

As blame, sin involves our complicity and thus blame must be borne.

As a power which leads to the penalty of death, sin is a captivity from which we must be freed.

In His death on the cross, Jesus purifies us from the stain of guilt, removes from us and bears in Himself the blame, and frees us from the power of Sin and Death.

Good Friday, indeed.

-Glenn Packiam (C201 link)


And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God

-Hebrews 10:11-12


Into the cross of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Following through the garden,
Facing the dreaded foe;
Drinking the cup of sorrow,
Sobbing with broken heart,
“O Savior, help! Dear Savior, help!
Grace for my weakness impart.”

-Oswald J. Smith, Deeper and Deeper (C201 link)


It is true that I deserved death for sin just as do all of humankind. I had been caught in Satan’s deceits and those practices that were offensive to my creator and sovereign. Had justice been served neither I nor anyone else would have survived. Satan would have won. There would not have been a single person suitable for God’s presence.

– Russell Young (C201 link)


■ Here is the embedded link to the Good Friday (and Communion Service) playlist we’ve been promoting all week. This will play continuously as long as you leave this page open, or you can click through to YouTube and watch it (some of the songs are lyric videos) there. Unlike the hymns quoted above, these are all modern worship cross-centered songs.

 

November 3, 2019

Rebirth for the Reborn

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We’re back again with Melody who writes devotional material at In Pleasant Places.  To read today’s article at her blog, click the title below.

Making the Dead Alive – Galatians

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.
But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise…
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.”

Galatians 4:22-23,28

If those of us who are in Christ are children of promise, born again into eternal life out of the promise of God and through His decided, gracious, miraculous work, is there anything He will not do for us, for our good, for our building up and strengthening, for our being made in Christ’s likeness? If we are children of promise, born of His will and purpose and delight, is there any faithfulness or provision He would withhold or miss?

This is significant. Because it highlights that God is not passive in making us His own. He is not passive in making us alive in Him. We have been born again. Born into a new existence, a new creation, life breathed into our spiritual nature that was dead. Not sick or struggling or confused. Dead.

We don’t just see things differently. We don’t just try to live a different way because it’s healthier or nicer to others or makes sense. This isn’t some realization we finally came to or were convinced of.

This is an act of God.

Only an act of God can do this.

How often do I miss that truth?

If we see beauty in the glory of God and desire it over ourselves, it is because God acted to cause that in us. If we see wisdom and power and grace and mercy and wonder and true reality in the cross of Jesus Christ and His amazing resurrection from the dead, if we see our own sin and depravity and know He is our only hope and how astounding it is that God would send His Son to save us, if we see this and surrender in humble praise because Jesus willingly gave Himself up for our sake, choosing to save us and not Himself because there was no other way for us – if we see this, it is because God Himself spoke powerful light into our hearts and made our dead soul alive to see Him.

This is why things that seem so clear to those who have been made alive are so baffling and ridiculous to those who are still dead (1 Corinthians 1:18). The dead cannot see it. It is true that God can work through conversations and reasoned arguments, and we are commanded to be ready at all times to give reason for the hope that we have with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). But let us never forget that the Lord must act for anyone to see Him as He is, to see salvation and the cross and even their own captivity in darkness.

This is why prayer is essential, always. That God will provide opportunities to share our hope, that He will act in power and great mercy to open their eyes, that they will not harden their hearts and neglect such a great salvation at a devastating cost.

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” 1 Timothy 2:1-6

“And you were once dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:1-10

“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’…So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:13-17

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart…And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

We are ambassadors of Christ, given the ministry to implore those around us to be reconciled to God and to know the hope that we have in this mighty God who is faithful and true and who saves us and seals us forever (2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 1:13-14). Living this out in weakness as jars of clay to show the surpassing power and glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:7), let us always point to our Savior and Lord, rejoicing humbly at what He has done in us and believing firmly in what He is able to do in others.

Our God is mighty to save. He makes the dead come alive, exchanging a heart of stone and giving one of flesh and life in its place – He has already done this in us, and His power reaches to those who do not know Him yet. Our God does this, and may all blessing and honor and glory and power and praise be His for His mighty works done to ransom us and show us the wonder of His glory.

July 11, 2019

In a Precarious Position

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever felt a sense of desperation? Like you are having, not just a bad day, but a bad year, or even a rotten season of life? You will be able to relate to Ruth and Naomi, who at the beginning of Ruth, chapter two, are in a precarious position.

Naomi is a widow, who not only lost her husband and sons, but therefore also lost the rights to the family land. Ruth is a foreigner, and a Moabite at that! The Moabites did not a great reputation among the Israelites. Neither Naomi nor Ruth had a livelihood. These were desperate times for them.

Despite their precarious position, Ruth chapter two is all about hope. Where we can find hope when we are in a precarious position?

Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. Ruth 2:1 (NLT)

This book is full of hints, and chapter two begins with one; though Naomi and Ruth are destitute, there is a rich man in the family! Now, back to poverty:

One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”
Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.”Ruth 2:2 (NLT)

Poverty was the reality for Naomi and Ruth. Picking up the leftovers from the harvesting was what the poor did in ancient Israel. In fact the Old Testament law instructed that leftovers ought to always be left over for the relief of the poor. We should also note the danger that Ruth is in. She planned on sticking close enough to the women labourers for the sake of safety.

So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech. Ruth 2:3 (NLT)

The keys words here are “as it happened.” Remember the well-off family member from verse 1? Ruth unknowingly just happened to pick his field.

Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you! ”
“The Lord bless you! ” they answered. Ruth 2:4 (NIV)

Remember that well-off family member from verse 1? He just happened to be drop by. Talk about Ruth being in the right place at the right time! But what kind of man is he? Is he kind, or blind to the needs of the poor? We will soon find out.

Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”
 And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”
 Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field.  See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”
Ruth 2:5-9 (NLT)

As it turns out, Boaz is a kind man, a godly man. Talk about Ruth being in the right place, a the right time, with the right kind of person! Coincidence? No, the reader is to clue in that God is working unseen in the background on behalf of Ruth and Naomi. Despite their precarious position, there is hope!

God is working, unseen, in the background of your life in surprising ways. God is caring for you, even when you are not aware. 

Let us take a moment to see things from the perspective of Boaz. First, consider the blessing Boaz speaks over Ruth:

May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” Ruth 2:12 (NLT emphasis added)

Keep that in mind as we continue on with the story.

Ruth heads back to Naomi at the end of the day with a good haul of food, and the happy news that the owner of the field was a very kind man. Naomi asks for his name and upon hearing the name, Boaz, says,

“The Lord bless him! ” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers. ” Ruth 2:20 (NIV)

Here is another hint. Help will come! Boaz is not just a kind man, he is a ‘guardian-redeemer’ to Naomi, and therefore, Ruth. An NIV footnote describes the Hebrew word behind ‘guardian-redeemer’ as “a legal term for one who has the obligation to redeem a relative in serious difficulty.”

Talk about Ruth being in the right place, at the right time, with the right kind of man, with the right kind of relationship to her. He is one who has a potential obligation to help. In fact, he may have an obligation to marry Ruth in order to restore the land to the family. Let us skip ahead to the next chapter where Ruth carries out instructions from Naomi on how to approach Boaz with a marriage request.

 When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” Ruth 3:7-9 (NIV)

Most translations focus in on a request to be covered by Boaz’s cloak. However, there is something profound about the Hebrew word that gets lost in translation. The English Standard Version brings out well that a word we have seen earlier is used again:

He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” Ruth 3:9 (ESV emphasis added)

Boaz spoke in verse 12 of Ruth seeking refuge under the wing of God, not knowing that Boaz himself would be asked to take Naomi and Ruth under his wing. God was working through Boaz on behalf of Ruth and Naomi. God may care for someone through us. You may be the person God uses to bring hope to someone in a desperate situation, you may become the answer to someone’s prayer for refuge.

There is something bigger hinted at here in Ruth, chapter 2. This is the first we hear of Boaz being a ‘guardian-redeemer,’ the one who can help family members in desperate situations. There is a desperate situation that we all face. We experience separation from God, an incredible loss of relationship with God due to sin. As Naomi had lost the rights to the land, land that was originally a gift from God, so we have lost our right to eternal life, life that was originally a gift from God. We need a redeemer, to restore what has been lost. There is a story of redemption in the Book of Ruth that hints at a bigger story of redemption. In the Book of Ruth we learn how God cared for Naomi and Ruth through Boaz. In the Bible, in its entirety, we learn how God cares for us through Christ. There is a redeemer, and his name is Jesus.

God cared for Ruth and Naomi. God cares for us. God cared for Ruth and Naomi through Boaz. God cares for others through us. God is our refuge when we find ourselves in a desperate and precarious situation. He is our redeemer.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario; a small(er) town about an hour east of Toronto, Canada whose writings appear at C201 most Thursdays. Read more here or at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

 

 

February 11, 2019

Redeeming the Irredeemable

Today we’re back for the second time at across Awakened to Grace, which features the writing of Joy Bollinger. Click the title below to read at source and then explore other articles on her site.

July 15, 2018

Unashamed of the Blood

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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It’s been six months, and we’re back at the website Before the Cross. The writer today is . Click the title below to read at source.

Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

Outside of blood drives, I’m sure it’s not common to hear gratitude and blood thrown together in the same sentence. We sing a worship song in church on occasion with the lyric “We thank You for the blood.” This refers to the good news that Jesus Christ, being the very Son of God, was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, was crucified on a cross for all the sins of man past, present and future and was raised again to life so that anyone believing in Him would live an eternity with Him. We are thanking Jesus for His blood spilt on our behalf. Every time we sing it, I wonder what a person unfamiliar with the gospel must think as they give church a try. Here are some of my guesses:

  • That’s gross.
  • Did I come to the wrong place?
  • Why are these people singing about blood?
  • Of all things, why are they thankful for blood?

If those are the questions, I hope they don’t leave without getting them answered and I certainly hope they come back.

Let’s face it. The lyrics aren’t exactly “seeker” friendly and some churches might treat this song like any blood-related incident, to keep the lyrics sanitary and removed from the scene, out of mind and out of sight for believer and non-believer alike. Blood evokes a strong mental image and unless you’ve been desensitized by horror movies, it usually isn’t an image someone likes to think about. There are certainly other worship songs we could sing that would bring about more peaceful, calming and relaxing images of God’s saving grace without mentioning blood.

And that’s the very reason why I think we need to sing about it. Without the blood shed by Jesus Christ, there is no cross. If there is no cross, there is no resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there is no resurrection, we are doomed.

The Blood Is Necessary

Since the first sin of man in the Garden of Eden, blood was required. Animals were sacrificed for their skins to cover up the nakedness of Adam and Eve. The sacrifice of animals for atonement of sin was still present in the time of Jesus.

And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”Exodus 24:8

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”Hebrews 9:22

The Blood Protects

The Israelites are instructed to place animal blood over the door of their dwellings to avoid God’s plague on Egypt.

“The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”Exodus 12:13

Jesus, before His crucifixion refers to his shed blood as that which would forgive sins.

“for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”Matthew 26:28

The Blood Cleanses 

Redemption, fellowship and cleansing are benefits we as Christians who believe in Jesus Christ get to enjoy as a result of His shed blood.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.”Ephesians 1:7-9

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7

We often see what we prize most in light of what we pay for it. In the case of our salvation, it is we who were purchased with blood that ran through the body of our savior, the same body broken on our behalf to allow God and His creation to have a restored relationship. If you are a Christian, you are in this restored relationship.

We can sing it out unashamed. Thank you Jesus. Thank you for the blood!


.

April 19, 2018

Utter Mess, Utter Grace

by Clarke Dixon

1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– Ephesians 2:1-8 NRSV

According to the apostle Paul we were all once in an utter mess, and in fact some people still are. While events around the world may confirm for us that yes, some people are in an utter mess, methinks there are many would say “others yes, but not me.”

Imagine, for example reading Ephesians 2:1-3 and then saying to a non-Christian friend that you just learned that they are ’dead in their sins’ (verse 1), or a follower of Satan (verse 2), or ’children of wrath’ (verse 3). Many fine folk would, I think, say something like “well that does not sound like me, I feel quite alive thank you, I have never been involved in Satan worship, and if there is a God I should not be judged by such a God for I am basically a good person.” How do we reconcile what we learn from scripture about our fallen nature with what a lot of what people think and feel?

First, you don’t need to feel dead to be dead. This mention of being dead takes us back to the story of the fall in Genesis. God said to Adam “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16b,17 ESV). Now we know that on the day Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit they did not die, but on that day we can say that death entered into the world, death becoming their inescapable future and a sure bet. In this sense when we are without God today we are “dead in our sins,” it only being a matter of time before death catches up to us.

Nor do you need to worship Satan to be listening to his voice. Again we go back to the story of the fall where we find the serpent tempts Eve, not to worship him, but to stop trusting God. Most people would never admit to worshipping Satan, but when pressed, might admit to not trusting God.

But what about the unbeliever who seems to be perfectly moral, in fact more moral perhaps than most believers; can we really say they are “children of wrath” deserving of what is commonly known as hell? According to the Bible you are either a child of wrath (Ephesians 1:3), or a child of God (see John 1:12). Many would like to say that by their moral actions they show themselves to be closer to being a child of God than a child of wrath. But this is like saying that a pregnant woman is a little bit pregnant, or very pregnant. I have heard and used such expressions but of course one is either pregnant or not. You are either a child of wrath or you are a child of God, you cannot be somewhere in between. Further, the symptoms may not be a good indication of truth.

There was once a show on TV chronicling the stories of women who gave birth despite not noticing any indications or “symptoms” of pregnancy until the last minute. You could say that with my middle-aged-spread — which began in my 20’s! — I have more symptoms of being pregnant than what some of those women experienced! What matters is not the symptoms, but the truth. And it does not matter how righteous or moral a person appears to beall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

Consider the righteousness of Adam and Eve. When they were convicted of sin and banished from Eden they had no prior history of sin, and in sinning had not harmed anyone directly, nor done anything that most people might consider “immoral.” What they did was fall short of the glory of God, trusting the words of Satan over God, and so became children of wrath.

However, verses 1-3 are not the main point of our passage. They are verses that some will not get past in their denial of their need for a Saviour, but they are not the main point. Here is the main point: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, 5 NIV). This passage is not really about sin or death or hell, but is about God’s grace, mercy, and love. No one need fear hell for anyone can trade in their status as a child of wrath for a new family tree, becoming a child of God and recipient of his grace though faith. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV).

We can imagine God’s grace and our faith like this: we are stuck in quicksand and there is no way out. However, God reaches down and lifts us out in the palm of his hand. God’s love, initiative, and reach to rescue is the grace by which we are saved – we would be sunk without that. Our trust which keeps us in his hand is the faith through which we are saved – we’d jump back into the quicksand without that. What most people do not realize is that while we are alive we all, everyone included, experience a measure of God’s grace. That we can live at all, breathing, relating, enjoying life is a sign that we are experiencing God’s grace. God is under no obligation to grant us life but he does so as a sign of grace. This should help us to understand what we know of as hell. We tend to think of hell as punishment reserved for those who have done evil things to other people, making salvation and hell a matter of morality. Many naturally consider murderers as deserving of hell, but regular law abiding folk as not for example. But in the Bible, separation from God (hell) does not come just because one deserves it. It also comes because one desires it. Having experienced God’s grace by breathing some will curse the God who gave them breath and say “I don’t need you.” Having experienced the grace of God through loving and being loved, some will curse the One who has loved them the most and say “I don’t want you.” And so some choose to jump out of the hand that has been holding them, the hand that is ready to save them if only they will turn to in repentance, and not away from, the Giver of Life.

We have all at some point been in an utter mess, dead in sins, under Satan’s influence, and children of wrath, but utter grace is there for anyone who will take and trust that nail-scarred hand reaching for us in grace.!


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Today’s post is from Clarke’s archives and was originally written in April, 2013.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 10, 2018

Death and the Body

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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by Russell Young

The body, or the flesh, presents a big problem for humankind. It functions well and can accomplish many amazing things; however, it also imposes many desires and wants. It can cause the body to entertain and be tempted to sin, and sin destroys. (Rom 8:13; Gal 6:8) All are familiar with the body’s need for comfort and protection, for sexual gratification, for elevation or prominence in the sight of peers, and for general acceptance. All want to be valued and to feel comfortable ‘in their own skin.’

The issue of concern is the tendency for people to take excessive interest in the things of the flesh, to give the body more prominence in life than the LORD has allowed. Pleasing the body through excesses can result in an ungodly focus and a denial of the purpose and place of God in a person’s life.

Paul calls the flesh “the body of death.” (Rom 7:24 NIV) That is, he refers to it as the body that brings about death. He states, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of death might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” (Rom 6:6 NIV) To find God’s eternal kingdom the interest of the body to entertain sin must be “overcome”. (Rev 7:21) Concerning the nature of his body, Paul lamented, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24 NIV)

Paul made it clear that deliverance from the death imposed by bodily interests was gained through Jesus Christ our Lord. But how? Deliverance seems to remain a matter of great confusion, but it is really the means of eternal salvation. When the believer is liberated from the “body of death,” he or she will have met God’s righteous requirements and will enjoy an eternal hope. (Rom 8:23) There have been many different postulations as to how Christ rescues a person from the death brought on by the flesh; many provide an understanding that is more philosophically than scripturally based. However, Paul has presented a clear theological understanding to the Romans in Chapter 8.

According to him, “the law of the Spirit of life set [people] free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2 NIV) It is the “law of the Spirit of life” that has freed the believer from death. Many understand that the crucifixion of Christ has met their need when it is “the Spirit of life” who must do it. The sacrificial offering of Christ was made to cleanse the sin accumulated by the confessor from his or her consequent death, and to provide the Holy Spirit so that he might set the believer free from the “law of sin and death.” Paul has made it clear that the confessor’s redemption was to make the Spirit of life available to the confessor. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:14 NIV Italics added) He is not saying that believers have received the fullness of the Spirit’s cleansing, but that we might receive the promised Spirit. The writer of Hebrews has stated that Christ died so that the confessor might be set “free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15 NIV)

Deliverance from the body that brings death is accomplished through obedience to the Spirit. “And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:4) Living according to the Spirit requires that believers hear and obey the call of the Spirit concerning their life practices. (Jn 14:15) This theme is presented in many places in the Scriptures and the believer would do well to understand it.

Earlier in his book to the Romans, Paul had addressed the need to “count” the flesh to have been crucified or to reckon that it has been put to death and has revealed that baptism is a proclamation of the believer to that effect. Chapter 6 goes on to develop and to explain this point. Death to the flesh is a matter of a person’s will and is proven by his or her choices. Paul told King Agrippa that he had preached that people “should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV)

Further, Paul wrote, “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8: 1011 NIV Italics added) It is the Spirit who delivers the body of the believer–the obedient confessor—from its interest in sinful activities and gives it life, the life pleasing to God. Because of the saving power of the Spirit, Christ admonished that those who “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” (Mk 3:29; Lk 12:10) The LORD had defined blasphemy to the Israelites. “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.” (Num 15:3031 NIV Italics added) The Spirit must actively “live” (Rom 8: 9, 11) in the believer; he cannot be denied, quenched, or thwarted.

Paul has reminded his readers that they have an obligation to live according to the Spirit, if they are to be a son of God (Rom 8:14)—they are to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh. (Rom 8:13) They are to do something! The death that the flesh would bring is to be avoided or overcome. It is for this reason that he calls the Spirit, the “Spirit of sonship.” (Rom 8:15) Death to the flesh allows Christ to live his life in the believer and so to become like him.

Many have accepted the idea that they have been adopted into the family of God, however Paul taught that the believer’s adoption is being “eagerly awaited”. (Rom 8:23 NIV) Adoption into the family will occur when the body has been redeemed (Rom 8:23) from its sinful practices and from death.

Even Paul recognized that he had more to do in order “somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:11 NIV) He wanted to suffer as Christ did to overcome temptations (Heb 2:18). Although his conscience bore witness that he was progressing well, his life had not been completed. Christ requires that the believer remain firm in his or her faith to the end. (Mt 10:22, 24:13; Mk 13:13)

Because Christ has provided everything that is needed for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3), and because he indwells the believer as Spirit (Col 1:27), judgment remains for all concerning the things done in the flesh, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10)

Paul knew that Christ could rescue him from his body of death, but he also knew that his needed deliverance was being awaited (Gal 5:5) and that it came through obedience. (Heb 5:9) Christ has admonished believers “to make every effort” to enter through the narrow door, because many would try but would not be able to enter. (Lk 13:24)

 


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.

April 8, 2017

Psalm 130

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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Twice in the last week I noticed someone referred to Psalm 130 in something I was reading and last week I attended a concert in a church which had one of the old “hymn board” signs at the front indicating that their reading that morning had been this same text. (Talk about ‘the writing on the wall!’) I decided to check out what one online writer called “The gospel in a Psalm.”

Psalm 130 (NLT)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

From the depths of despair, O Lord,
    I call for your help.
Hear my cry, O Lord.
    Pay attention to my prayer.

Lord, if you kept a record of our sins,
    who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
    that we might learn to fear you.

I am counting on the Lord;
    yes, I am counting on him.
    I have put my hope in his word.
I long for the Lord
    more than sentries long for the dawn,
    yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
    for with the Lord there is unfailing love.
    His redemption overflows.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from every kind of sin.

At Redeemer.com we find some general advice from Eugene Peterson for studying the Psalms as a whole:

  1. The Psalms teach us to pray through imitation and response. … Real prayer is always an answer to God’s revelation. The Psalms are both prayer and revelations about God — the perfect ideal soil for learning prayer.
  2. The Psalms take us deep into our own hearts 1,000 times faster than we would ever go if left to ourselves. … Religious/moral people tend to want to deny the rawness and reality of their own feelings, especially the darkness of them. … The secular world has almost made an idol of emotional self-expression. … But the Psalmists neither “stuff” their feelings nor “ventilate” them. They pray them — they take them into the presence of God until they change or understand them.
  3. Most importantly, the Psalms force us to deal with God as he is, not as we wish he was. “Left to ourselves, we will pray to some god who speaks what we like hearing, or to the part of God we manage to understand. But what is critical is that we speak to the God who speaks to us, and to everything he speaks to us … the Psalms train us in that conversation” (from Eugene Peterson’s Answering God).

At Daily Doorstep Devotional (Trinity Bible Church) we read:

…Even though we are not to be of this world, we do know that we are in this world and the things of this life do require our attention. Just as we are to rejoice always and pray without ceasing, so too are we to continually set the Lord before us. All of these are to be regular daily facets of our lives. We are to be so conscious of God, His presence, and His working that it shapes our view of the world and it becomes second nature to us to turn to God in all things. When we do, the Lord will be the center of attention and our affections, especially in those times when He is to be set before us without distraction. [W]hat times, circumstances, or occasions are necessary for our total attention to be placed upon God?

One such time is seen in Psalm 130. In this Psalm the Lord is mentioned in every verse either by name or personal pronoun. The Psalmist is clearly focused upon God without distraction. What has brought him to this? Verse 3 tells us it is his iniquities. The sin of the Psalmist has caused him to sink to the depths and it is from here that he cries out to the Lord and makes his supplication before Him. He knows he is a sinner and confesses it before God, acknowledging that he cannot stand before a holy, righteous, and just God. The sinner acknowledges that if God were to judge him based upon his deeds that he could not bear to stand before God and would be utterly consumed by God’s righteous wrath against his sin.

Yet the Psalmist knows the Lord. He knows He is a merciful God that forgives, and he comes before Him in confidence, waiting upon Him and trusting in the promises of His Word that He will forgive (Psalm 103:3). The sin of the Psalmist has left him in dire straits; he mourns over his sin, and he knows that apart from the Lord there is no deliverance. He knows that his only hope is in the Lord. Desperate men will give full attention to the One upon whom they know their very lives depend…

At Devotional Reflections from the Bible we read:

Psalm 130 is one of the most encouraging and compelling Psalms regarding our true estate before God and the perfect redemption that He alone provides. The Psalmist is calling to God out of the depths. Don’t you find that we are more often likely to cry out to God when we are laid low than when everything is great and we seem to be living on the mountain top? Don’t ever be sorry for that, because that is exactly what we should do when surrounded by obstacles that seem to crush us lower and lower.

There is no other help available; no one else has the power and love to pull us out from the depths. Why does God do this; is it because we are more worthy than others? No, the Psalmist says that if the Lord should mark iniquities who could stand? That’s a love we know little about; a love that is there even though there is nothing within us that deserves such love. Knowing this, the Psalmist waits for the Lord more than the watchman waits for the morning.

The message of the Gospel to everyone is: Hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. I will never understand that, but I am so incredibly thankful to God for the complete redemption He provides, and the daily help to get through the circumstances of life.

Pray today that you would hope in the Lord and experience His steadfast love and plentiful redemption.

 

March 2, 2017

Scripture, Tradition, Experience, Reason

Do an image search for Wesleyan Quadrilateral and you'll find various attempts to explain it.

Do an image search for Wesleyan Quadrilateral and you’ll find various attempts to explain it. I’m not sure the one on the bottom left is what Wesley had in mind.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace – Eph 1:17 ESV

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.Colossians 1:13-14

And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:24-26 ESV

With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. – Hebrews 9:12 NIV

Capt. Michael Simpson is an officer in The Salvation Army in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. He wrote this originally for the local newspaper there as part of a rotation where area pastors and church leaders contribute a weekly article.

Some days I just have to pinch myself

There have been moments over the past few months when I have suddenly had the feeling I exist in an alternate reality. I won’t use this space to talk about “Red vs. Blue” or “The Left vs. The Right,” or even about “facts.” What does concern me? What does cause me to pinch myself at times; the concepts of critical thought, truth and its reverse…“post-truth.”

Back in November of 2002 I had the task of writing a paper for my very first theology class in seminary. The title of this paper was simply, God as Redeemer. With the birthing of The Salvation Army in Victorian England and its grounding in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, it only made sense that I would apply a new-found tool of my critical thought/theological tool box in approaching and writing the paper; the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This is a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century. In this method, tradition, experience, and reason are employed, while being subject always to scripture, when forming and applying our theology. Each of the “legs” of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral must be taken in balance, and none of the other three apart from scripture should be viewed as being of equal value or authority with scripture. None of these should be taken in isolation without the balancing effect of the others, and always Scripture should have the central place of authority.

The purpose of that essay was to look at the redemptive nature of God, specifically the idea of God as redeemer, working through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and what that means for humanity in this present age. First of all, what did the biblical story, and especially its focus on Christ, have to say concerning redemption? Secondly, how has the church throughout its history understood Christ as its redeemer? How is the notion of redemption viewed in our present context, both personally and communally? Lastly, what difference does the idea of redemption make in the personal and corporate life of Salvationists, or all those who identify with the Church.

While I will refrain from answering these questions in my remaining words I will put forth a challenge. That challenge is to think critically. Think critically regarding all that goes on around you in these days. When you read a news article or listen to a radio program… think critically. Apply these 4 “lenses”, if you will, in how you view and then respond. What does scripture say? What about tradition? Experience? What does reason have to say? At times I am guilty of allowing myself to get caught up in popular thought without really thinking for myself; without basing my response in truth. Ah, there it is… truth! My dislike of a truth does not make it less truthful. We understood this in grade school… but today… this is why I need to pinch myself sometimes.


After checking our archives, I realized we haven’t discussed the quadrilateral here and only briefly at my other blog. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, or Methodist Quadrilateral, is a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century. The term itself was coined by 20th century American Methodist scholar Albert C. Outler.

This method based its teaching on four sources as the basis of theological and doctrinal development. These four sources are scripture, tradition, reason, and Christian experience.

Upon examination of Wesley’s work, Outler theorized that Wesley used four different sources in coming to theological conclusions. Wesley believed, first of all, that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in “scripture” as the sole foundational source. The centrality of scripture was so important for Wesley that he called himself “a man of one book”. However, doctrine had to be in keeping with Christian orthodox “tradition.” So, tradition became in his view the second aspect of the so-called Quadrilateral. Furthermore, believing, as he did, that faith is more than merely an acknowledgment of ideas, Wesley as a practical theologian, contended that a part of the theological method would involve “experiential” faith. In other words, truth would be vivified in personal experience of Christians (overall, not individually), if it were really truth. And every doctrine must be able to be defended “rationally.” He did not divorce faith from reason. Tradition, experience, and reason, however, are subject always to scripture, which is primary.

Each of the “legs” of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral must be taken in balance, and none of the other three apart from scripture should be viewed as being of equal value or authority with scripture. None of these should be taken in isolation without the balancing effect of the others, and always Scripture should have the central place of authority.


wesleys-quadrilateralFurther reading: Travel back to 2009 and explore the elements of the quadrilateral as flour, milk and shortening, baking powder and salt. The author contends that like the recipe for baking powder biscuits, the elements are combined in different amounts.

January 31, 2017

As Moses Lifted up the Serpent

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is one of my favorite Old Testament passages and one which I think is strongly tied to New Testament salvation. We’ve discussed it before here in the context of the idea of an invisible transaction; that there’s nothing tangible or quantifiable that one does at the moment of crossing the line of faith. Today’s thoughts are more directed to the source of our salvation.

We’re paying a return visit to the blog, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. Please click the link below and read this at source.

4 Lessons from the Bronze Serpent

The book of Numbers contains the account of a strange event which took place during Israel’s time of wandering in the wilderness. It is most often referred to as Moses and the bronze serpent. Let’s take a few minutes to think about this unusual biblical story, see its significance to Israel, and then learn from Jesus’ interpretation and application in the Gospel of John. First, read the original account.

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

There are four truths God wants us to understand and embrace.

Saving faith realizes the guilt of one’s sin and the justice of God to punish the sinner (Num. 21:7a).

Just as personal admission of one’s sickness is a prerequisite to being helped by a physician, personal admission of sin is a prerequisite to receiving forgiveness from God. Before the sinning people could be forgiven they had to admit “we have sinned.” The snake bites brought them to the place of personal conviction and then they were ready to make a plea for forgiveness.

One of the two guilty thieves hanging next to Jesus had a similar response. While one thief joined the crowd in launching accusations at Jesus, the other realized his sinfulness—he knew he deserved to die for his sin. So, before he died he looked to Jesus with the look of faith (Luke 23:39-42). As a result, he joined Jesus in Paradise that very same day. When we honestly face our sin and guilt then, and only then, our heart is prepared to confess to God and look to the Savior for mercy.

Saving faith recognizes the need for an intercessor between the guilty sinner and God (Num. 21:7b).

When the people realized the guilt of their sin they immediately turned to Moses saying, “Pray for us.” Instinctively, every guilty sinner knows he cannot simply waltz into God’s presence on his own. He must have a representative, an intercessor, a mediator. The sacrificial laws and prescribed rituals found in the book of Leviticus made this clear to God’s people.

Thankfully, God has provided the one and only perfect priest to intercede for us, to reconcile us back to Himself. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6). When we confess our sins to God, while at the same time looking to Jesus, we have an advocate with the Father (1 John 1:8-2:1).

Saving faith looks to God alone to provide the necessary remedy (Num. 21:8-9).

The bronze serpent could not save the people. Only God could provide the remedy. In looking to the brazen serpent on a pole their eyes of faith looked to God. Sadly, the bronze serpent eventually became an idol that was worshiped during the time of Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18:4). But true saving faith does not look to religion, statues, or human priests. It looks to God as the only one who can rescue us. We are desperate sinners who cannot save ourselves; we must be saved by God’s grace, as the apostle makes clear in Romans 5:6-10.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Saving faith looks to Jesus to be the Mediator, propitiation for sin, and the entrance into eternal life (John 3:14-18).

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it crystal clear that the bronze serpent was a type of Himself. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15). The word “as” indicates that Jesus was making a comparison. As God provided the means whereby the bitten people could be healed through faith, so He has provided the only means by which our souls may find healing and restoration—through faith. When we turn in faith to look to Jesus, as the only one who can intercede for us before a holy God, we are redeemed from sin and receive the gift of eternal life.

Saving faith looks to God alone. It does not look to self. It does not look to any goodness in one’s own heart, nor to the works of religion. There is only one way for the soul to find its healing—and that is in its return to God. To be reconciled to God we must first see our sin for what it really is—an offense to God’s holiness. Because our sin is offensive, God must punish it. But thanks be to God that He has already punished His sinless Son in our place. Are you looking to Jesus to save you?

[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church in Cleveland, OH, Look to Jesus]


Related: Story in Numbers Foreshadows the Crucifixion

December 10, 2016

Your Smell – Part Two

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. He recently did a series of four posts, two titled “What Do You Smell Like?” and two titled “Your Smell Affects Others.” The following is an edited version of the second two.

Your smell affects others

2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NIV
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

The fragrance that comes from your life affects three people, according to Corinthians. Let’s look at the first of these three this morning.

First of all, God smells you
“We are to God the aroma of Christ”. How awesome is that – when God leans over and sniffs us living our everyday lives, He smells the incredible fragrance of the beauty and righteousness of His Son, Jesus. You may say, “But you do not know what I did this week”. My response is that you need to know that, according to God’s word, your life is hidden (positioned in) Christ and when God smells you, He smells the fragrance of Jesus and of His finished perfect work of redemption.

A great comparison is found in Genesis 27:27, in the account of when Isaac blesses his son Jacob instead of Esau. Isaac was blind by this time, and knew His sons by touch and their distinctive smells. Jacob, acting on the plan of His mother, wore the smell of His brother to get his father’s blessing, and it was because of that smell that Isaac was convinced he was with Esau, not Jacob, and blessed him. (Read the account. It is a good read.)

Genesis 27:27, NKJV
And he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his clothing, and blessed him and said: “Surely, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed”.

The smell that is upon your life is the smell of the Son He loves and the field (life of His Son) that He has blessed. How awesome is that! When you approach God you smell like Jesus. Also, you need to know that, unlike Jacob, this is not a con but rather an intention of God, because it is He who positioned you in Christ. Don’t feel like a fraud, like Jacob did, because you’re not. Your scent is the result of His intent and it is He that coated you in the Son of His delight.

Because of this you can again today approach the Father, knowing that His approval of you is established in Jesus. You can, as it invites us in Hebrews, “approach Him with boldness of faith.”

Know that the Lord your God loves the smell of you…

…Two groups of people are mentioned in the above verses, and two distinctive smells. If we let them follow their natural order I think we may be able to see that God intended both smells to exist and play their part.

Those who are being saved
Corinthians says that we are the smell of death among this group. Death? One way of looking at it could be that our lives should smell of the death we have experienced in Christ. When people (church folk) get to experience our aroma they should smell the scent of the death we have died in Christ on us. It is that divine death that separated us from everything we used to be and so liberating and enabling us to be the brand new creations we now are. They should smell the death of such things as selfishness, pride and other scents that were once common to us and also that there is a new creation smell to us now.

• Those who are perishing
Our aroma among the unsaved should be one of extreme life. When unsaved people get a whiff of us they should be overwhelmed by the scent of resurrection and new life that comes from every pore of who we are. Remember that through new birth (death, burial and resurrection) we have been made alive together with Him and so our lives should smell of life, not like the musty corridors of religion. Let’s face it, the smell of life is so much better than the smell of death. Life is more likely to attract followers than that of death. What would you follow?

As we move forward to possess our day let us be conscious of the aroma our life is giving out to the world God has called us to change.

December 9, 2016

Your Smell – Part One

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. He recently did a series of four posts, two titled “What Do You Smell Like?” and two more titled “Your Smell Affects Others.” The following is an edited version of the first two.

What do you smell like?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NIV
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

A better way of saying ‘smell’ would be to use the word ‘fragrance’, or ‘aroma’. Paul’s challenge to us is this: What aroma or fragrance is coming from our lives as we live them out daily?

God’s plan was that our lives would “spread everywhere the fragrance of Him”. Is that what your life smells like today? When people get a whiff of your life do they smell the scent of grace, and the aroma of someone who knows Jesus?

This is a good challenge for each of us to consider and, as with many things, there is a natural and a spiritual reality to smells and people. We can compare them both to make a point.

All of us have experienced, or been exposed to, at one time or another, a person passing us with a nice scent – maybe an expensive perfume or after shave. It’s also very likely you have experienced the smell of someone passing near to you with bad BO (body odor). Have you ever sat in the same room or enclosed place with someone who removes their shoes and they have really unpleasantly cheesy-smelling feet? Yep, we have all experienced both.

Naturally, our lives can release a smell or a fragrance that is either pleasing or not-so-pleasing to the senses of others, and spiritually this is a reality too. What does your Christianity smell of today. Smells are very interesting things. They can attract people or repel them depending on what type of smell they are. When people encounter you do they smell the sweet perfume of knowing Jesus or the odor of religion, with all its various scents of law and legalism – or worse, the pungent stench of hypocrisy?

We shouldn’t have to struggle to daily release the sweet scent of Christ from our lives, but simply remember that it is the natural reaction of His life resident within us.

Again, look at the natural body as an example. The reality is that whatever is in you, or put into you, can play a large part concerning the odor that comes from you. One of the times that I took Gina out to eat, I ate a very large chunk of garlic without realizing it was raw. By the end of the night it was manifesting its odor nicely from every pore in my skin and, by the next morning, had contaminated every inch of who I was – especially to my family who sadly had to experience my breath.

The fragrance of your life should be Christ-like in its scent simply because of two things:

• Jesus now lives in you. You are not a hotel He visits but rather His home (place of residence). He does not pop in and pop out when He feels like it but never leaves according to His promise. Christ in you is the hope of Glory but also so the source of the pleasing fragrance that comes from your life.

• You realize and accept that your life is now His home and, as you do, you daily yield and submit everything you are to Him. The fragrance of His life comes from every part or through every pore of who you are.

Also, while we talk about the principle of “what goes in affects what comes out”, it is important that you be daily feeding your life the stuff that you want your life to be smelling of. For example, if you keep feeding your life the law of Moses then it will be the law of Moses that you smell of. Feed your life daily the truth and grace that comes through Jesus and you will love the way your life starts smelling, and so will others.

Bless you and consider again the One who has now become the very contents of your life. Let His life flow out of you again today.

May our lives today release wherever we go that sweet aroma of Christ in us. May that smell attract people to follow Him.

Be smelly, in the right way!

 

December 4, 2016

Did Christ Have to Be Redeemed?

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

Did Christ have to be redeemed?  The simple answer to this question is that he did. This might sound absurd since he was God and the Son of God.  However, he was also man and the son of man and he had to meet all the requirements of God’s government to accomplish his own eternal life.

The writer of Hebrews states that “[Christ] entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb 9:12 NIV) His own blood was required for him to enter the Most Holy Place. That is, his blood was applied to his own state or to fit him for entry into the Most Holy Place. The earthly tabernacle, an exact copy of the heavenly sanctuary, was entered “once a year, and never without blood, which [the high priest] offered for himself and for the sins that the people had committed in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7 NIV) If Christ had been without sin, he would not have had to offer a sacrifice for himself; however, he was numbered with the transgressors. (Lk 22:37; Isa 53:12)

Did Jesus sin? Absolutely not!  The writer of Hebrews states that our high priest (Christ) was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Heb 5:15 NIV) Although Jesus did not sin, he became the most sinful person who ever walked the earth by taking on the sins of humankind.  He had become a transgressor of the law and his own blood was required to cleanse him or to redeem him from the sins that he bore so that he could enter the Most Holy Place. (The reader needs to be mindful that his ministry there is to cover the sins committed “in ignorance” by those in him.)

Why is it important to recognize that Christ needed to be redeemed? The KJV has inserted the words “for us” after “having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb 9:12) This phrase was not in the original Greek and should not be in the text.  Because of it an understanding has developed that a person’s redemption from the law is eternal, that he has been eternally and securely delivered from the righteous requirements of the law. Christ had obtained eternal redemption for himself only.

There are teachings that reveal that although a person might have been redeemed once from the law, he or she can make themselves subject to it once more.

Paul has written, “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18 NIV) This is a conditional statement and if a person is not led by the Spirit, he or she will remain under the law.  Either a person can accomplish the righteous requirements of the law as led by the Spirit or it remains for them to accomplish their righteousness through the law using their own resources as in the manner of the house of Israel as they lived subject to the Old or first Covenant.

Paul admonished the Galatians not to re-engage life under the persuasions of their evil nature because if they became sinners while they were seeking to be justified they will have rebuilt that which they had destroyed and have become lawbreakers. (Gal 2:17─20) By their crucifixion –a pledge of death to self–they had brought to completion life under the law since a deceased person is no longer subject to rule by the law, but through their desire to re-engage their own life they are once more subject to the law.  Escape from the law only comes with obedience to the Spirit and the realization of their own crucifixion.  He also wrote, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature…the righteous requirements of the law [will] be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:2…4 NIV)

Further, the Lord taught that “everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son [one led by the Spirit, Rom 8: 14] belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:35 NIV) A lack of “permanence” in the family speaks against the concept of having been eternally redeemed.

Those who have confessed Christ’s lordship have been redeemed by his blood.  They have been purchased from the law and from the consequences of sins committed while under it so that they might enjoy the New Covenant. (Heb 9:15) This redemption is not direct.  It came about as Christ took their sins and bore them himself.  His blood then redeemed him from the sins that he bore for them.  The writer of Hebrews states that “if we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10: 26─27 NIV) The cleansing and freedom from past sins will only happen once. Redemption for Christ was eternal for those who walk this earth it has been provided once; unfortunately that occasion will not be sufficient for many.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


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