Christianity 201

September 19, 2021

The Enemy’s Most Effective Weapon

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Last year at this time we first used an article here at C201 from a site we’d often referred to at Thinking Out Loud. The Daily Article at The Denison Forum is distributed via email, social media, and podcast to hundreds of thousands of culture-changing Christians daily. They employ eleven full-time employees who produce and distribute content worldwide which usually begins with a “teaser” item from news media, and then continues with a spiritual application.

To read this one (which begins with a story of freak accident killing a man outside a Vancouver McDonald’s) you need to click the link in the header which follows. For those who stay here, we begin halfway through.

The devil’s most destructive tool

by Jim Denison

We are focusing this week on ways to experience transforming intimacy with Jesus. Yesterday we discussed the temptation of so-called private sin and its danger to our spiritual health. Today, let’s focus on a second enemy of spiritual intimacy.

I often state that God redeems all he allows. One way I believe he would redeem the demonstrations of human finitude and fallenness we encounter each day is to show us our constant need for resources only he can supply.

Here’s the reason we need such reminders: as C. S. Lewis noted, “It is pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.” Thomas A. Tarrants of the C. S. Lewis Institute adds: “Lewis is not simply giving us his private opinion but summarizing the thinking of great saints through the ages. Augustine and Aquinas both taught that pride was the root of sin. Likewise, Calvin, Luther, and many others.

“Make no mistake about it: pride is the great sin. It is the devil’s most effective and destructive tool.”

Consider three ways pride manifests itself in our lives today.

1: Time

In Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, Tish Harrison Warren quotes Dorothy Bass, who warns us of “a false theology: we come to believe that we, not God, are the masters of time. We come to believe that our worth must be proved by the way we spend our hours and that our ultimate safety depends on our own good management.”

Warren confesses that Bass described her “with stinging accuracy.” I must make the same confession today. That’s why we should proclaim, This is the day the Lᴏʀᴅ has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, my emphasis).

2: Prosperity

In 2013, Margaret Loughrey won $37 million in Ireland’s EuroMillions lottery. However, she said in 2019, “Money has brought me nothing but grief. It has destroyed my life. I have had six years of this. I don’t believe in religion, but if there is a hell, I have been in it. It has been that bad.” She was recently found dead in her home.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that the “will to power” is the basic drive in human nature. He was especially right with regard to prosperity. The more we have, the more we want. If money is a means to power, we can never have enough. That’s why “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10).

3: Adversity

Conversely, adversity can promote pride. We think we can solve our problems, so we double down on ourselves by trying harder to do better.

Artist Winslow Homer spoke for many in our self-reliant culture when he stated, “There’s no such thing as talent. What they call talent is nothing but the capacity for doing continuous work in the right way.” Psychologist Carl Rogers added: “What I am is good enough if I would only be it openly.”

To the contrary, when Paul faced a “thorn in the flesh” he could not remove in his strength, he heard God say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Tomorrow I plan to close our week with practical ways to defeat pride and to experience transforming intimacy with Jesus each day. For today, let’s make David’s prayer ours:

“O Lᴏʀᴅ, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lᴏʀᴅ
From this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 131).

Is your heart “lifted up” in self-reliant pride, or would God say you are as dependent on him as a child on its mother?

There is not a third option.

July 4, 2021

Prayer Scripture Medley

With our U.S. readers pre-occupied today with their big national holiday, I thought we’d keep today’s devotional shorter.

If you’re open to it, sometimes people who have left us can still speak to us. Before you panic as to what that means, let me explain. Although it’s been 18 years since my father died, I often find his words speaking to me through notes left in various books and notebooks. When my son asked if I had a copy of Practice of the Presence of God, I found a two-in one edition containing With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray, with these scripture references tucked inside, which probably are verses on which Murray based his text.

Today I share them with you.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
 – Luke 11:1 NIV

But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
 – John 4:23,24 NLT

But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
– Matthew 6:6 CSB

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
 – Matthew 6:9 ESV

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
– Matthew 7:7,8 NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
– James 4:3 NLT

Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
– Matthew 7:9-11 NKJV

Give us day by day our daily bread.
– Luke 11:13 KJV

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “My Rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
– Mark 10:51 NLT

Jesus replied to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, everything you pray and ask for —believe that you have received it and it will be yours.
-Mark 11:24 CSB

Next to each verse some key words were highlighted. I want to share these as a separate list, extrapolating a little from the notes:

  1. Ask God to help teach you to pray
  2. Pray in spirit and in truth
  3. Don’t make your prayers a public spectacle, pray in secret and let God provide the answer in public
  4. Pray to God as a father and use the principles from what we call The Lord’s Prayer as a guide
  5. You only get what you’ve asked for. If you don’t ask you don’t receive.
  6. God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to give you good gifts.
  7. At the absolute minimum, pray daily and ask God to meet daily needs; don’t take that provision for granted.
  8. Check your motives. Ask with right intentions.
  9. Prayer should be definite. Make your requests specific where possible.
  10. Pray with faith anticipating an answer.

This is based on my father’s notes. I believe that Murray has twelve major points or lessons and I encourage you to read the book, is available everywhere and doesn’t take long to read.

 

June 30, 2021

Prayer: Have You Reached the Stage of Saying “What’s the Point?”

Today we have two alternative articles for you, but this one, while perhaps seeming elementary to some of you, is a good review and as we reach the end of the month and the halfway point in the year; I sense someone needs to read this.

The U.K. blog author, who we’re featuring for the first time, simply goes by “The Godly Lady” and the blog has the title, Christian Lady After God’s Own Heart. Click the header below to read at source, and then explore!

What’s the use of praying?

Ever found yourself in a place where you feel angry, annoyed, frustrated, downhearted, and feel a little bitter towards God? Well I have, and I’m sure that several other Christians have also felt this way too. It’s not abnormal to express emotions of annoyance over why God let a specific circumstance, pan out the way it did. My encouragement to you today is that you’re not alone in your feelings of frustration, although our experiences are different we all encounter pain, joy, and happiness in our lives.

So what’s the use in praying or striving to live a life of righteousness? If God has already determined my future, and there’s no changing what has been predetermined, why bother to pray, and pursue holiness? I can confirm that I’ve asked myself these questions, and God has recently brought two major points to my attention.

First point being an analogy. I know that my parents would do whatever they can to help me live a great and fulfilling life, and I’m also aware that if I desire something within their means to obtain, they will not hesitate to give me that thing. Now just because I know my parents will help support me doesn’t mean that I should stop speaking with them altogether, because they’ve done their job as my earthly guardians. What my parents desire most, is to have a deep, loving, and meaningful relationship with me. And we all know that a key ingredient to maintaining a good relationship is GOOD COMMUNICATION.

Now even if an answer to prayer seems delayed, it doesn’t mean that we should stop praying to God, because God desires intimacy with us, and wants us to pour out our hearts to Him. He desires for us to speak with Him! We mustn’t forget that prayer is a form of communication. Be honest and real with God, and pour out all your complaints before Him. God cares about everything that bothers your mind, no matter how small or big your concerns may be, God cares! So what’s the use in praying? It’s about building a better relationship with God, and enhancing our level of closeness with Him.

Psalm 27:8 ~ My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Psalm 55:22 ~ “Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.”

Secondly one should not do good (pursue to live righteously) in order to get from God, or to be seen by others. Remember God freely gives to us, not based upon our works or performance, but simply because that’s part of His loving nature! We should pursue to live godly lives, and mustn’t give up on doing good, purely because of our love for The Lord. The great act of love which God showed us through His death on Calvary, should motivate us to love Him through our actions, because He first loved us!

Galatians 6:9 ~ “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”

So let us not give up on praying, and let’s not throw in the towel because of challenging circumstances. And let us not forget that when the going gets tough, we should strive to use it as an opportunity to build a better relationship with God!

Luke 18:1 ~ “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.”


Bonus items for today:

Today we have two suggested articles. These are opinion pieces, not Bible studies, but ones we would carry here if the format were different.

The first is by Michael Frost and just published today, If Jesus Planted a Church, What Would it Look Like? Highly recommended.

The other is by Chris Tiegreen and deals with the online disputes often carried out in the name of doctrinal purity; Disagreement or Heresy?

Both of these are respected Christian authors. Enjoy.

December 31, 2020

Bible Verse of the Year 2020; Four Ways to Handle 2021

by Clarke Dixon

For the past two years I have used the verse of the year, as determined by a very popular Bible app, YouVersion, for the sermon on the last Sunday of the year. This year I asked our church family to send in what would be their pick for verse or passage of the year. Below you will read their picks, which not only help us reflect on 2020, they point out four ways to handle 2021. So let us read them and reflect on four strategies for handling 2021:

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31 NRSV

There are wonderful truths about God and wonderful promises here, but we don’t want to gloss over the pain that is also represented in this passage. This passage was originally written to a people who would feel beaten down, that God was distant. Perhaps you feel that way too?

The first way of handling 2021 is to be honest about the pain.

Likewise, we have this passage from the Psalms:

But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors

Psalm 31:14,15 NRSV

In context, the Psalm is about facing death because of enemies. Perhaps we live in the kind of society where we cannot name a single person we could think would want to take our lives. We are fortunate. But there are diseases and infections that we can think of. We can be honest with God about our anxiety over the things that threaten and impact our lives.

We do well to be honest, even vulnerable, in our relationship with God, but sometimes with trusted people as well. Lament has a place in the Bible. Does it have a place in our lives, in our prayers, in our relationships, and in our churches?

Let us move on:

“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:7 NRSV

Come, behold the works of the LORD;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Psalm 46:8-11 NRSV

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Psalm 91:1-6 NRSV

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 NRSV

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV

What do these all have in common? Trust in God.

The second way of handling 2021 is to nurture trust in God.

We can put our hope in God’s love and power. God is, God is for us, and God is able. A couple of the passages sent to me further define it as trust in God, rather than ourselves:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5,6 NRSV

The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way.

Proverbs 20:24 NLT

Are we okay with not having all the answers? Can we trust God, even when we are in a deep fog?

The next few passages may seem quite different from one another, but there is a common thread:

. . . for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 NRSV

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31 NRSV

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NRSV

do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

Isaiah 41:10 NRSV

What is the common thread that holds these passages together? Rise to the challenge.

The third way of handling 2021 is to rise to the challenge of living out life as Christ followers, whatever the circumstances may be.

We continue thinking, meditating, praying, loving, doing, and facing fears. These are all activities that we do. Yes, there are things we cannot change. But yes, there are things we can. We don’t just let 2021 happen to us, we give shape to it as it unfolds. We are active, not passive.

Here is the last verse shared with me as someone’s pick for “verse of the year 2020.”

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—

Ephesians 2:8 NRSV

However our circumstances might affect our choice of verse for the year, there is a circumstance that affects us all; separation from God because of sin and the need for grace. We can get flustered by situations we may be in, but if we have not been reconciled to God, then whatever dire circumstance we face pales in comparison to this much bigger problem. It is not a problem we can fix. It is a problem, however, that God fixes for us, in Jesus. When we look at the big picture, we see God’s love for us.

The fourth way of handling 2021 is to look at the big picture.

2020 was a hard year. How might we capture 2020 in a painting? We might use a lot of dark colours for one thing. 2021 may be a challenging year. How might we capture 2021 in a painting as we look forward? Perhaps a lot of grey tones, painting a foggy scene ahead. Now how might we capture our relationship with God in a painting? Our relationship with God is something that will never fade into history. Let us remember that 2020 and 2021 will both someday fade into history. Our relationship with God is something we enjoy now, and every day in the future. We may want a much larger canvas to paint on to reflect the fact that this is a big picture. As we reflect on God’s love we may want to use bright colours, painting a much more joyful scene.

As we face 2021, let us be honest about our pain, nurture our trust in God, rise to the challenge of the Christian life, and look at the big picture.

Many thanks to those who read these “Shrunk Sermons” over the year. May you have a Happy New Year!

 


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, a small town one hour from Toronto. The full reflection (sermon content) can be seen as part of this “online worship expression

May 25, 2020

God Directs Our Paths | Keeping Our First Love

This is our eighth time highlighting the writing of Mark McIntyre at Attempts at Honesty. I love his tag line, “Reflections on the interplay of the Bible and Culture.” That should be where most of us live!

Because these pieces are shorter, today you’re getting a 2-for-1 special! As always, you’re asked to click the article headers below and read these at his site.

Along the right paths

One of the advantages of reading a different version of the Bible, one that you are not familiar with, is that a different reading can trigger an insight that you never saw before.

This happened to me this morning as I read Psalm 23 in the Christian Standard Bible. In that translation the verse 3 reads:

He renews my life;
he leads me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:3 (CSB)

I’m not enough of a Hebrew scholar to know if “right paths” or “paths of righteousness” is the better translation. But I am encouraged by the CSB translation.

It is easy to wonder sometimes if we missed a sign post along the way. Things don’t turn out the way we thought they would when we were in high school or college. The actuality may look very different than what we envisioned.

But, David reminds us in this Psalm that God remains the Good Shepherd who guides us and provides for us. If we continue to look to him, especially when circumstances are difficult, we can be assured that he will lead us onto the right path.

From Psalm 23:3, I surmise that the path that we’ve been on has been the right path. We may have needed rescuing after getting lost, but we can trust that God knew about it before hand and despite our foibles has kept us on the correct path.

I will again share my favorite verse in Scripture, Philippians 1:6:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

If we follow the Good Shepherd we can’t get lost.


You have left your first love

The haunting words of the title of this post are taken from Revelation 2:4 in the middle of Jesus’ message to the Church in Ephesus. The full verse says,

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

Revelation 2:4 (NASB)

The message to this church starts off so well. I can visualize the faces of the Ephesians as they first heard the message. I see the barely suppressed smiles as they heard their toil and perseverance praised by their Lord. Image the sense of satisfaction as their diligence in keeping the teaching pure was highlighted along with their willingness and ability to combat error.

There was much good that was going on in this church. But then their satisfaction turned to horror as they heard, “But I have this against you . . .”

They had lost their first love.

How could this happen? How could they be so on track theologically and be so wrong relationally? It is not just an academic question. This is a question that church leaders should be asking in every culture and in every generation because we are prone to repeat this error.

We all have an inner Pharisee that can reshape our thinking and behavior and cause us to repeat the Ephesians’ error. We need to be vigilant to monitor what we do and also be vigilant to know when our motives for doing the right thing become wrong.

There is another danger for us. We are also prone to over correcting and swinging too far the other way. We can be so relational that we don’t offer the confrontation that is necessary to keep the church grounded in a solid understanding of “what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man” (WSC Question 3).

I have been in churches that were so focused on being loving that they allowed error to propagate within the members and did little or nothing to correct it. Lives were damaged as a result of the leaders’ negligence.

Those who over-correct in this way, while claiming love as their motivation have also lost their first love because that love should be focused on the one who is the Truth (John 14:6). Jesus was able to speak the truth at all times and to every person with whom he had contact. He also had the ability to make them feel loved as he did it.

By allowing either extreme to flourish in our churches, we are demonstrating that we have lost our first Love. If we love the one who gives the perfect example of unapologetically standing for the truth of Scripture while at the same time demonstrating love for those he encountered, then we will constantly seek to follow his example and “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

I feel led to point out that the “sinners” were the ones that loved Jesus and were permanently changed by that love. The truth was both relational and confrontational.

 

April 23, 2020

Grumpy Prayers: Making Space for Sorrow

by Clarke Dixon

There is an old Sunday school song I grew up with. There are different versions, but this is the one I learned:

I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!
I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!
Since Jesus Christ came in,
And cleansed my heart from sin,
I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!

This wee song was a favourite, and was often requested. I hated it. At a young age I knew Jesus, and I understood that God loved me. But I also knew I was not happy all the time. My faith has been nurtured over the years and I know God’s love better now than ever. But I’m still not happy all the time!

COVID-19 has given rise to great sorrow around the world. So many have been infected. Everyone has been affected. Even without a pandemic, many have profound sorrow in their lives, even Christians. Are we failing as Christians if we are not happy all the time?

Is there a better song that the one we began with? One which rings true to our experience? Let us remind ourselves that the Psalms are actually songs, that the Book of Psalms is a hymnbook. Let us take an example of what God’s people have sung for centuries:

I cry out to God; yes, I shout.
Oh, that God would listen to me!
When I was in deep trouble,
I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
but my soul was not comforted.
I think of God, and I moan,
overwhelmed with longing for his help.

Psalm 77:1-3 NLT

“I think of God, and I moan.” Not too many Christian lyricists are coming up with lyrics like that! The Psalmist goes on;

You don’t let me sleep.
I am too distressed even to pray!
I think of the good old days,
long since ended,
when my nights were filled with joyful songs.
I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
Has the Lord rejected me forever?
Will he never again be kind to me?
Is his unfailing love gone forever?
Have his promises permanently failed?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
And I said, “This is my fate;
the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

Psalm 77:5-10 NLT

There are days where this song from the Bible rings more true for me than the Sunday school song we started with. Perhaps it does for you also.

Here is the point. If the hymn book within the Bible makes space for the expression of sorrow and frustration, we can make space for it in our own lives, in our our walk and expression of faith. Honesty before God is best. Honesty is part of genuine relationship. It would be horrible if my wife and my children only said to me what they thought I wanted to hear, in the way they thought I wanted to hear it, when they thought I wanted to hear it. What kind of relationship would that be? It would be very mechanical. Yet for many people, that is precisely what their prayers look like. Honesty in relationships is best. Honesty before God is best. If we are full of sorrow, let us pray sorrowful prayers. Perhaps Psalms like Psalm 77 can help us find the words.

There is a change tone as the song goes on:

But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
By your strong arm, you redeemed your people, . . .
The earth trembled and shook.
Your road led through the sea,
your pathway through the mighty waters—
a pathway no one knew was there!
You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,
with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.

Psalm 77:11-14,18-20 NLT

Here the Psalmist looks back and remembers what God had done for the people at the exodus, how God led his people to safety like a good shepherd. That would have been a scary time also, with an Egyptian army on one side, and the Red Sea on the other. The Psalmist is thinking here of a time when God made a way, where there seemed to be no way. God helped people who were full of fear, sorrow, and frustration.

We can now remember an even greater miracle. We can think of God’s love expressed in Jesus, his birth, life, death, and resurrection. We can think of God’s love expressed through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Christ God has performed an even greater rescue than done at the Red Sea. He has rescued us from the consequence, impact and power of sin.

We are not told if the Psalmist’s sorrow eased upon reflecting on God’s power and goodness. But his sorrow was reframed. In reflecting on God’s goodness expressed in Christ, we may not become happy, but our sorrows and frustrations will be reframed. Our sorrows are one part of a much bigger, and brighter picture, a much larger, and happier, story.

In reflecting on God’s goodness expressed in Christ, we may not become happy, but our sorrows and frustrations will be reframed. Our sorrows are one part of a much bigger, and brighter picture, a much larger, and happier, story.

A doctor recently called my Dad to tell us that my Mum, who lives in a nursing home, will not be taken to the hospital if she is infected with COVID-19. That makes me sad. However, with regard to my Mum I’m already sad as she is slowly being taken from us by Alzheimer’s disease. There is no sense hiding my feelings from God. I don’t need to. He understands. He is a good and heavenly Father. He came to us in Jesus who of course was no stranger to suffering. We are not allowed to visit my Mum, but this week one of the PSW’s from the nursing home sent us a video of my Mum playing the piano. It just happened to be my favourite hymn! We began with my least favourite song, let’s finish with my favourite:

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And has shed His own blood for my soul

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul!

“It is Well with My Soul” written by Horatio Spafford

I’m not always happy. Sometimes my prayers are grumpy. But it is well with my soul. Is it well with yours?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Canada who appears here most Thursdays. His recently redesigned blog is Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here

July 18, 2019

Distraction-Free Devotion

A year ago at this time we introduced you to Marlene Limgo at Life Walk With Marlene. Click the header below to read this post with some additional graphics.

The One Thing

The One Thing… necessary and good… which shall not be taken away… what is it?

Luke 10:38-42:

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

We often think that ministry is about being busy… about activities… about serving others… about preparations and distractions… about hospitality… about ‘doing’ the serving… about not doing it all alone…. Martha was like that. She was a hospitable host. She was concerned to serve Jesus the best of food and to treat Him as an honoured guest should be treated. She believed that loving Jesus is about doing her best to be a good host in the kitchen.

I am reminded of how my mother-in-law often busy and hurrying to take out the tea cups, the tea and sweets to serve the visitors while leaving them all alone sitting on the sofa. And the guest(s) sometimes would call out: “No need… come and sit with me/us to talk.”

So with Martha except that she had a sister, Mary who had the initiative to sit with their guest. What was Mary doing? Nothing? She’s just seated on the floor. Nope! She’s doing something. She’s listening to Jesus.

Jesus did not side with Martha to rebuke Mary for not helping. Instead, Jesus said:

1) Martha Martha… (calling her name twice) This shows that Jesus was concerned with Martha. It’s like when you’re concerned with your child, you call his/her name twice for emphasis and attention.

2) You are worried and bothered about so many things. (Jesus knew her inner thoughts. Her anxiety and frustrations… and they were many.)

3) BUT only One thing is Necessary. Mary chose that One thing and it’s the GOOD part, which shall not be taken away from her.

a. Living the life pleasing to God is about ONE necessary thing… it is sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to his words.

b. It is GOOD… to worship the Lord, to be in His presence – to put him more important than all the activities of doing and doing.. It is about being.. being with Jesus, in His company, being His friend, companion, follower, audience.

c. It is permanent… it will not be taken away. Nothing and nobody can take away the time I spent with my Lord… the memories of experiencing His love, joy, peace, comfort and awe of being at His feet and listening to His Words. This One necessary and good thing lasts, it stays, it will never be taken from me.

The world offers so many distractions. Social media, ads, our jobs, responsibilities, our pursuits of happiness and success all taking a piece of us – our attention, our mind and heart, our time and energy.

It seems that quiet time in the presence of God – reading His Word, listening and talking to the Spirit in prayer, all these are becoming less and less a priority.

What does God want me to do today? How can I live today that will please Him? How can I love my neighbour? Do I hear the still small voice calling me to forgive? Am I kind and compassionate to the needy? Do I speak the truth in love?

Do I walk my talk? Am I a submissive wife? Do I respect my husband? Am I training my children in the way that they should go? Do they know the Lord?

Do I present my body as a living sacrifice as my spiritual worship to God? Am I conformed to the world or am I being transformed and renewed in mind – seeking to know the perfect will of God – that which pleases my Lord?

The one thing that is necessary – the one good thing that lasts, this thing called Presence… to be present at the feet of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus. Let me remember today and always. Amen.

July 12, 2019

God Is Not Playing Us

Today we return to Gary Henry at WordPoints. Pray for Gary as he deals with what he calls a “trifecta” of health problems right now. Click the title below to read at source:

God Has Never Trifled with Us

“. . . I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:3).

WHEN WE SEEK GOD, WE CAN BE SURE THAT HE HAS ALWAYS BEEN SEEKING US, AND IT IS WITH DILIGENCE THAT HE HAS DONE SO.

Knowing of God’s earnestness toward us, we should turn toward Him with all the more gratitude and carefulness. “If God is diligent, surely we ought to be diligent in doing our duty to him. Think how patient and how diligent God has been with us!” (Oswald Chambers).

Lest there be any misunderstanding, it needs to be emphasized that we can never reciprocate God’s love in any way that would be complete or even adequate. Our best efforts to respond to God’s diligence are broken and marred. Even if we were sinless, as creatures we would still not be able to attend to our Creator in the same way that He attends to us. And having sinned, we surely cannot deserve the earnestness of the love He has shown to us. In one sense, all of our human deeds are trifles.

Yet the frailty of our condition should not keep us from doing what we can do, and that is to be moved by God’s love. We can choose to be responsive rather than unresponsive. We can hear His voice. We can answer His call. And knowing that God has never trifled with us ought to make us determine, out of sheer gratitude, to take Him seriously. Knowing what our atonement cost Him, how can we simply dabble in religion? Trifling with God is the most horrible form of ingratitude.

Words are interesting things, and we can often be enlightened by their history. Originally the word “trifle” meant trickery or deceit. To trifle was to say or do something that one did not really mean, pretending to be serious. Today the verb “trifle” means

(1) to deal with something as if it were of little significance or value,
(2) to speak or act with little seriousness or purpose, or
(3) to play or toy with something.

When we trifle with God, is there not a bit of the old meaning of the word in our actions? When we pretend to love Him dearly but give Him no more than our leftovers, is it some trick we are trying to play on God? Do we think He does not notice our lack of seriousness?

“God is earnest with you. Why are you not so with Him? Why trifle with God?” (Oswald Chambers).


Because that was shorter one, here’s a bonus article by the same author…


You’ll Have to Let Go

Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33).

TO FOLLOW JESUS IN THIS LIFE, WE MAY HAVE TO FORSAKE SOME THINGS, BUT TO FOLLOW HIM ALL THE WAY TO HEAVEN, WE’LL HAVE TO FORSAKE EVERYTHING.

Nothing is ours to keep. There is nothing — nothing — we won’t have to let go of, except God.

Most people would say the rich, wonderful love that can exist between a husband and a wife is the highest of the temporal blessings available to us. In the midst of enjoying a good marriage, most people would say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” But without denigrating the joys of marriage, it must be said that marriage is earthly. It won’t be in heaven. It must be let go of.

I want to share with you one of the starkest statements that I have ever come across, considering who made it. This is James Dobson talking, the man who, for many folks, is the foremost family authority in America:

“Nothing is really important in [this] life, not even the relationships that blossom in a healthy home. In time, we must release our grip on everything we hold dear.”

I suggest that if James Dobson, a man who has devoted his life to the importance of the home, sees that marriage and family life are not “really important,” the rest of us had better sit up and take notice.

Most of us, I suppose, would say that we love the Lord more than anything else and that heaven is going to be better than anything we have here. But do you really believe that? Do you love God more than you love your spouse? Would you give up marriage for the Lord? Is the spiritual life better than sex? If the Lord gave you a choice between going to heaven right now and staying in the world with your grandchildren for ten more years, which would you choose? Now certainly, we may enjoy these things right now and then have the Lord in heaven later on. But even now, the Lord had better be more important to us than these things. And the main measure of whether we have a proper attitude toward temporal joys is how ready we are to let go of them. And I don’t mean “someday” — I mean today, if the need should arise.

What it comes down to is this: anything we can’t let go of is an idol that will destroy our souls, however good that thing may be.

“Learn to hold loosely all that is not eternal” (Agnes Maude Royden).

 

June 1, 2019

Declaring Christ as Lord

Phil.2.9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Today we are back at re|knew the blog of Woodland Hills Church pastor, author and theologian Greg Boyd.

“Christ is Lord”: What Does it Mean?

We enter the domain of God’s reign when we enthrone Christ as Lord of our life. This seems simple enough. But actually, I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding of what this means.

The Bible says that if we “declare with our mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,” we “will be saved” (Rom.10:9). To the thinking of many consumeristic-minded people today, this is simply a cheap deal that is too good to pass up.

What does it mean to confess that “Jesus is Lord”? According to Wester’s Dictionary, a “lord” is one who “has power and authority over others.” I don’t think the Greek concept of “lord” (kurios) as applied to Jesus Christ is very far from this.

So, when a person confesses that “Jesus is Lord, ” they are confessing that Jesus “has power and authority” or them. And for a person to confess that someone “has power and authority” over them means they submit to them. What else could it possibly mean for someone to have “power and authority” over another?

If someone confesses “Jesus is Lord” but doesn’t actually submit to his “power and authority,” they are contradicting themselves. Their confession is meaningless. It’s like confessing “milk flats tire poke” or “round square” or “nikbo jip slupe” – or (better), just remaining silent.

No wonder Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not the things that I say?” He’s pointing out that people who do this are simply saying “nikbo jip slupe.”

The simple truth is that when Paul tells us that if we confess “Jesus is Lord “ we will be saved, he’s not giving us a magical salvation verbal formula. Rather, he’s stipulating what kind of relationship we need to have with Jesus to be “saved.” This relationship, by definition, must be one of submission. We are saved when we authentically surrender our life over to Christ. This not only changes our eternal destiny, but it begins to bring wholeness into our life, as the Jewish concept of salvation (shalom, soteria) implies.

This leads to a rather sobering conclusion. Folks who confess “Jesus is Lord “ as a magical formula to invoke a supposed legal transaction in heaven without actually submitting their lives to Christ are kidding themselves. I know that may sound harsh. But I don’t see any way of avoiding this conclusion.

Now, I can immediately hear someone wondering, “Well, how submitted do I have to be to be saved?” When I first became a Christian, I belonged to a church that basically said any and every sin un-saves you. You’re only as saved as your last sinless moment. So, they would say only 100% submission saves you.

I didn’t last long in that church.

But the funny thing was, the people of this congregation seemed to me to be serious sinners. They didn’t smoke or drink or go to movies or dance or a million other things. But they were packed full of religious self-righteousness, gossiped like it was nobody’s business, and didn’t share much of what they had with the poor (though most seemed pretty well off).

Now, this meant to be a slam on my first church, because the truth is that all churches are packed full of sinners – because we’re in them. So if 100% submission is required, then we’re all lost.

So then, what percentage “gets us in”?

May I suggest that this is the exact wrong question to be asking?   It’s still operating with a legal-transaction mentality, treating God like a cosmic attorney who relates to us in a court of law rather than a cosmic lover who simply wants our hearts so he can dance with us throughout eternity.

It’d be a pretty sick marriage if one spouse were to ask the other spouse, “What’s the minimal level I can be committed to my marriage vows without you divorcing me?” Well, this is basically what we’re doing when we ask, “How submitted do I have to be to the Lord to be saved?”

To confess Christ as Lord isn’t a pledge that one will at all times be perfectly submitted to Christ. But it is a pledge of commitment that one will seek to cultivate a life of submission to Christ. And if this pledge isn’t present, the confession is devoid of meaning.

March 26, 2019

The Folly of Complacency

by Russell Young

The Lord and the gospel writers have addressed the need for believers to be participants in the accomplishment (completion) of their own salvation (Phil 2:12), active in kingdom building (Eph 2:10; 1 Cor 3:14), and true to Christ through the representation of his likeness within them. (Mt 9:16; 1 Pet 2:12) They have also revealed consequences for those who are complacent or “lukewarm” in their walk.

The Lord chastised the church in Ephesus because they had forsaken their first love (Rev 2:4) and cautioned the Laodiceans for being “lukewarm.” (Rev 3:16) In the parable of the sheep and the goats the Lord presented that the goats would suffer eternal punishment for failing to provide for the needy (Mt 25:45−46) and in the parable of the ten minas he revealed that while the faithful servant would be put in charge of ten cities, the servant who had done nothing with his single mina would have it taken away. (Lk 19:26) He also admonished his servants to be dressed, ready for service and to keep their lamps burning and stated, “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.” Lk 12:47−48) Paul spoke of the fire that will test the quality each person’s work and that although a person’s contribution to the kingdom may be burned up, he or she would be saved but only as one “escaping through the flames.” (1 Cor 3:15)

Confessors may not only be complacent regarding service but may be indifferent concerning righteous practices. Believers have been called to “put to death the misdeeds of the body” in order to have life. (Rom 8:13) Paul has presented that confessors should not be deceived because those who are immoral or impure will have no inheritance in the kingdom of God (Eph 5:5), that those who sow to please the sinful nature instead of the Holy Spirit will reap destruction (Gal 6: 8), and that believers have become “slaves to righteousness”. (Rom 6:18)

The hope of every believer rests in a loving and committed relationship with Christ. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30) Relationships need nurturing and attention. Believers must “know” God—know his heart, mind, and will—if they are to avoid destruction. “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thess 1:8−9) They are confessors who did not commit to “knowing”—assuming his heart and mind–and obeying Christ as their lord. They had allowed themselves to be complacent in their walk and relationship while the Lord’s intent was for them to be far from that state. Eternal salvation comes through obedience (Heb 5:9) and love for God requires obeying his commands. (Jn 14:21)

Unfortunately, the gospel that is often presented does not speak of obedience or faithfulness. It doesn’t mention judgment or accountability. It doesn’t require commitment to love and faithfulness. The consequence of the modern gospel is the birthing of weak and anemic babies who are being permitted to remain babies without having to undergo the often-painful measures needed to attain maturity. (Heb 5:14)

Christ did not come with the limited purpose of offering himself as a sacrifice for sin. He also came to transform hearts and lives so that those “in him” would be enabled to do the “good works that he had prepared in advance for [them] to do.” (Eph 2:10) His life is to be evident in all who claim his name. They are to be his hands, feet, mouth, and heart to the people around them. They have been called to be righteous in their actions (Rom 6:18) and productive in their lives—to be found honoring his call for obedience. As Son of man, the Lord was active and driven to honor his Father, and as Christ, the Holy Spirit, he determinedly pursues personal righteousness in his own. He was not complacent as he walked this earth and will not accept complacency from his brothers and sisters.

Pastors and teachers often strain to convince their congregants to become more active in ministry while at the same time offering assurance that their hope has been secured with a place waiting for them in God’s heavenly kingdom. Confession of faith may save the confessor from his or her pasts sins (Heb 9:15; 2 Pet 1:9) but it will not gain them eternal salvation which comes from a committed and obedient walk with the Lord (Heb 5:9) and through a humble and loving relationship. There will be no room in God’s kingdom for those who entertain a life of complacency. At the final judgment all will be accountable for things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10), and their fate will depend on that which is written in the books (Rev 20:12−13), the testimony of their lives.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

March 14, 2019

Compelling Religion

Why Christianity Provides a Compelling Account of, and Vision for, Religion

by Clarke Dixon

Religion often gets a bad rap. From the infamous saying by Christopher Hitchens “religion poisons everything,” to my own disdain for religion and anything religious. Yes, I am a Baptist pastor, and yes, I sometimes agree with Christopher Hitchens that religion can poison everything. Religion has destroyed many lives.

However, when it comes to the topic of religion, Christianity is compelling for two reasons.

Christianity provides a compelling account for why there is religion in the first place. While walking through Athens, Paul was impressed and disturbed by the amount of religious devotion he saw:

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. . . .

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” Acts 16,17:22-23 NIV

Walking through Athens is much like taking a walk through all the world throughout history; being religious has been the default for humanity. There is a religious impulse, a desire, a reaching to grasp hold of something greater than ourselves. You might think otherwise if you are a Westerner, but even here in secular Canada, spiritualities and religions are still very popular despite an education that is very much slanted toward scientism.

Why is there such a religious impulse among people? Why do we seem to be different from animals in this respect? C.S. Lewis, in his book “Mere Christianity,” points out that we have desires that correspond to things that exist. So for example, we desire food, and food exists. We desire sex, and there is such a thing as sex. So too with our spiritual longings. Our longings for something greater than ourselves point to there being something, or Someone greater than ourselves, namely God. If we evolved from a purely natural process and there is no God, then why do we have any spiritual inclination at all? Christianity provides a compelling reason as to why religion exists; because God exists and He created us for relationship with Him.

Christianity provides a compelling vision for religion. Not all religion is created equal. Again, Christopher Hitchens is sometimes correct in saying that “religion poisons everything.” But only sometimes!

Among various world-views there are different visions for religion, that is, what religion is supposed to do or accomplish.  Some religious people are focused on escape. The purpose of religion is to help you escape the troubles of this world and enter Nirvana, or heaven. Other religious people, however, are focused on rules, regulations, and the consequences of obedience or disobedience. Sometimes those rules and regulations make no sense, but if a deity has given them, they must be obeyed, no matter who gets hurt. The purpose of religion is to keep people in line and ensure everyone gets their just deserts whether through bad karma or divine punishment. So where do Christians find themselves in these two differing visions for religion?

Some will point to the apostle Paul’s famous expression, “salvation by grace through faith” (see Ephesians 2:8) and say that escape is the vision for the Christian religion. The Christian will therefore say “I’ve got my golden ticket gotta here, I’m forgiven!”. Others will point to the famous expression of James, “faith without works is dead” (see James 2:17) and say the vision for the Christian religion is rules, obedience, and punishment. The Christian will therefore either say “I have failed yet again,” or, “look at how good I am.” Why do Paul and James have differing visions for religion? Which is correct?

Actually those two visions for religion we outlined miss the mark for what Christianity is about. Paul and James are not giving competing visions for religion, they are looking at two different aspects of our relationship with God. Let me give the example of a marriage relationship. When Paul says of our relationship with God that “salvation is by grace through faith,” it would be like Paul saying to me “you are married, not because you deserve Sandra, nor because you chose to be married, but because she said ‘yes.’ She chose to be married to you!”. When James says of our relationship with God that “faith without works is dead,” it would be like James saying to me “a marriage with no time spent together, no communication, and no serving of one another, is dead.” It is as if Paul is speaking about the marriage covenant signed on the wedding day and how we got to that place, while James is focused on how marriage is lived out every day since.

Now consider the two competing visions for religion we spoke of earlier. Suppose my wife said to me on our wedding day, “I love you and want to be married to you today, but on the day in which you are less than perfect, we are done.” I would not be married for very long! So too, a relationship with God that is focused on our performance would not last long at all. Now suppose I said to my wife on our wedding day, “go on the honeymoon without me,” then on her return said “good, I’m glad you are back, I now need to go on a fifty year mission trip and will not be able to be in touch too often. See you on our 50th!” That would not be a marriage, that would be an arrangement. So too, a relationship with God that is focused only on one’s technical standing before Him, one that is focused only on escape and getting to heaven. Being forgiven so as to get to heaven without an ongoing relationship with God is not a covenant relationship so much as an arrangement. Marriage is life-changing and is to be for life. The vision for religion as expressed by Christianity is a life-changing relationship with God that extends into eternity. This is neither escape, nor performance.

Paul and James are not promoting different visions for Christianity, they are speaking about different aspects of our relationship with God. What is the Christian vision for religion, then? An everlasting relationship with God that changes everything. We experience God’s love in Christ. We learn to love like Christ. We experience God’s life-changing presence through His Spirit. We learn to keep in step with the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25 NIV

So much religion is about our reaching God. Christianity is about God reaching us, in fact reaching right into our hearts and massaging them back to life.

Many translations use the word religion in James 1:27:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27 NIV

Here the Christian religion is not poison, but a solid example of the expression of love, the fruit of the Spirit. It is what happens through a relationship with God. This is a very positive thing in our lives, and in our world. The Christian vision for religion is compelling. It is more compelling than religion that is focused merely on escape or obedience. It is more compelling than a vision of no religion which recognizes the need for goodness in our world, but cannot provide an anchor for such. Religion certainly can poison everything. Atheism can poison everything too. A life-changing relationship with God, however, can heal anything.

The yearnings for a higher power point to the reality of God. The love of God enables us to enter into a life-changing, society-changing, world-changing covenant relationship with Him. Christianity provides a compelling account of, and vision for, religion.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

September 24, 2018

Living Out the Law Where it is Really Important

It’s six months later and we’re paying a return visit to the website called More Than Useless, written by Thom Fowler who pastors two churches and also works full-time in retail. Each of his recent articles is written in a vertical orientation as prayer. (It’s especially helpful to note the time of day when he wrote/prayed each.) Click the title below to read at source, and check out some of the more recent articles as well.

Love and Law

Thank You, Father, for a wonderfully productive day! You have been with me all the way and all the physical things are ready for worship. May I continue to prepare spiritually so that I may say, be and do exactly what You need. Praise Your holy name!

NLT.Matt.5.20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”

When we first read this verse Lord I think we are a little shocked – even if we know who the “teachers of the religious law and Pharisees” were. Maybe I’m just not enough of a rebel but I was brought up to respect leaders in all walks of life. But regardless of how high someone is in any organization – even the church – lines can be crossed. And evil cannot be tolerated…and it must be dealt with. I’m sure there were good men among this nefarious crew of religiosity but they may have been few and far between, as well.

You have just proclaimed Your intent to fulfill the law as given to Moses and we are also called to be obedient to it. My study Bible* helps a great deal in understanding this law.

First of all, “there were three categories of law: ceremonial, civil and moral.” Ceremonial law dealt with Israel’s worship and it all pointed to You. Your death and resurrection fulfilled it all! So we “are no longer bound by” them but the “principles behind them – to worship and love a holy God – still apply.”

Our world is a “radically different” place from when the civil law was given to Israel for daily living. We don’t follow them specifically but Your example showed us that the “principles behind the commands are timeless and should guide our conduct.”

Lastly, the moral law (i.e. the Ten Commandments) “is the direct command of God” and we are accountable to abide by it. Lord, You abided by it in its entirety.

And that is the rub with the religious leaders of the time You walked this earth. They were so busy splitting hairs that they didn’t really take time to live out the law where it was really important. Lord, Your desire was and still most assuredly is for us to live in a loving, intimate relationship with You. We can strive to abide by every rule and regulation but unless there is relationship…it is worthless.

Lord, help me (and I know You do) to love You more every day. May there be a burning in my heart to spend time with You regularly. The more time I conscientiously spend with You the closer our relationship will be. Amen – so be it!

*Life Application Bible New Living Translation

September 10, 2018

Just As You Is

A few months ago we introduced you to a new source of devotional material. First 15 is designed for the first 15 minutes of your day, and can be delivered direct to your phone or tablet. The devotional’s main partners are: All Shores Wesleyan Church, First Baptist Church Universal City and Mississippi College.

Each day’s devotional is divided into six parts including a worship music video. The one that follows is kicking off a series for this week on the nearness of God and our awareness of his presence. We’re featuring just the text content, so you’re strongly encouraged to click the title below for the full experience.

God Cares About the Present

Scripture

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:34

Devotional

I used to view my relationship with God as a straight line of spiritual progress. My goal in spending time in the secret place with fellow believers at church and at work was to try and make the movement across this line of spiritual growth as quickly and painlessly as possible. I would get frustrated any time I got hung up on some issue or sin and couldn’t experience freedom quickly enough. My time spent with Jesus was more about how he could change me than how deeply he already loves me.

We unfortunately live in a day and age where speed and progress is everything. We lose our patience as soon as a waiter takes too long to get us our check, a light takes an extra thirty seconds than we want it to, a driver holds us back five minutes from our destination, or a conversation interrupts the jam-packed schedule of our day. And painfully, we have allowed our culture to shape our perspective of God’s heart for us rather than allowing his word and Spirit to reveal how incredibly patient he is.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says, Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Every one of these aspects of love finds its perfect fulfillment in the heart of our Father. Our God is patient and kind. He bears our imperfections with love and grace, believes wholeheartedly in us, is filled with hope over who we are, and joyfully endures our process of sanctification.

You see, our heavenly Father cares deeply about you presently. He isn’t waiting until you get a little holier to pour out the full depths of his love and joy over you. He isn’t holding back the satisfaction he feels in simply living in relationship with you until you finally get over a certain sin. He loves and longs for unveiled communion with you right now.

If we wait until we have it all together to settle into the pace of this life, find peace, and fully enjoy God, we will never experience the wealth of abundant life available to us this side of heaven. Matthew 6:34 says, Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Have patience for yourself and others the way your heavenly Father does. Take time to receive his perfect perspective for today. Give your relationship with him all the energy you have and waste nothing on the frivolous cares of tomorrow.

Take time in guided prayer to allow your Father to overwhelm you with the love he feels for you right now, as you are. Experience today the peace and joy that can only be found when you surrender the entirety of your life, spiritual development, and future plans to your faithful Shepherd and simply follow him to green pastures and still waters. He promises there will be more green pastures tomorrow. He promises to guide you faithfully every day to the fullness of life he died to give you. Your only job as his sheep is to trust him, let him love and care for you, and follow his perfect leadership. May you drink deeply of the living waters of God’s love today as you rest in the presence of your loving Shepherd.

Prayer

1. Meditate on God’s patience and love for you in the present. Allow Scripture to guide you to a desire to encounter God fully and openly just as you are.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:31-34

2. What burden are you carrying that is grounded in the future instead of the present? What are you striving toward that is not found in the green pastures Jesus desires to lead you to today?

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. James 5:8

3. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into a lifestyle of living presently. Ask him what it looks like to cast off fear over tomorrow and experience the abundant life meant for you in the present. Take time to rest in the presence of God and discover his patience over you.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James 1:4

Go…

Your heavenly Father is most definitely molding and shaping you to look more like Jesus through a process of spiritual development. He has perfect plans for your sanctification that you might have a greater sense of his love at the end of every day. But that process is defined by daily living in the present and engaging with him fully in each moment. Leave the planning and leadership up to him, and simply follow him to green pastures and still waters every day. Seek relationship with him and allow daily, consistent encounters with him to mold and fashion you into a greater reflection of your Good Shepherd. May you find peace, joy, and patience by living in the present today.


Extended Reading: James 1

May 8, 2018

Jesus’ Love Saved Him

by Russell Young

All believers accept Jesus as the God-Man. Care must be taken to distinguish these two aspects of our Lord as he walked this earth, however. Before the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him, he was made in every aspect as we are. “For this reason (to help Abraham’s descendants) he had to be made like his brothers in every way.” (Heb 2:17) That is, he was created in the womb just as you and I are created with the same possibilities and limitations. No special consideration or privilege had been granted him, although he had inherited the soul of his Father.

This reality should give us pause. The writer of Hebrews states, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15) He suffered the same temptations that are presented to all humans and was able to overcome them. His victory should not be taken as being availed through supernatural provision. Again, we are told, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he I able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18) Why is it that Jesus prevailed while humankind fall prey to temptations and sin?

The answer rests in the love relationship that Christ practiced and enjoyed with his Father. He was committed to obedience and to maintaining the relationship. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (Jn 6:38) He came to “finish [God’s] work” (Jn 4:34) which was to “destroy the devil’s work.” (1 Jn 3:8 ) He did not come to destroy the devil’s power—which existed in the law, but to destroy his work in this world, the manifestation of evil, of unrighteousness.

Could Christ have died? Yes! If he had died, so would have hope for all humankind. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7) Christ was fully committed to the task given him and suffered through temptations just as you and I might. He was heard because of his prayers and petitions and because of his reverent submission to his Father. Through singleness of mind and heart he overcame temptations and death.

I am doing just what the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” (Jn 14:31 NET) Jesus clearly made it known that his obedience was due to his love for his Father. It has also been revealed that those who seek his kingdom are to love Christ, and he defines love in the same manner, the practice of obedience. Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey what I command” (Jn 14:15) and promised that “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (Jn 15:10)

The Lord (sovereign authority) spoke much of the need for a love relationship with him, with the Father, and with others. His kingdom will be comprised of those who have reverently submitted to him, not with those who have made an empty pledge to do so. Unless the attitude of reverent submission based on a love relationship is the nature of those who would be in the kingdom of heaven, strife turmoil, and friction would remain a constant presence, even in his eternal kingdom. Peace would not exist, and the Lord’s work would never be completed. Believers are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29), having the same heart, committed to love through obedience.

Some promise the realization of an eternal hope by allowing that God’s grace will cover their sinful practices. However, Christ said, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41) Their having been weeded out will be because of their practices–defiance of the Lord’s commands. Christ did not sin, and he will not sin while present in the believer (Col 1:27). John has recorded, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” (1 Jn 3:6) They do not appreciate who he is or what he is about. Further, john has written, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:56)

The love of Christ for the Father saved him from death and the love of people for Christ will also save them from death. As in Jesus’ case, that love is expressed through obedience. “[W]ork out (finish) your own salvation through fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:1213) Love brings victory over death.

All scriptures NIV except as noted


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.

 

September 16, 2017

God Doesn’t Owe You

Nine years ago, in what was probably one of the shortest posts at Thinking Out Loud, I wrote this:

After walking a couple of dogs for a half-hour each, and cleaning out 14 cat cages, my son draws this conclusion about his first day helping out at the shelter:

“I volunteered for 90 minutes today at the animal shelter.   Somebody owes me.”

Is this a misunderstanding of the concept affecting his generation, or have we failed as parents?   Do we ever feel that way when we do things for God?

I thought about when reading this article by Jonathan Parrish who writes at Walking With Christ Daily, now in its 6th year. To read this at source and then check out their archives, click the title below.

God Reminded Me What He Owes Me

Tonight while doing my devotional God took the time to remind me what He owes me or any other person. God owes me nothing. There is nothing that I can give or do for God that would require God to owe me a favor or something in return. Lets take a look a single moment in the book of Job.

“Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?
    Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” Job 41:11 ESV

That is God speaking directly to Job.  Job has had a pretty rough time, He has lost everything. He lost his children, home, servants, flocks, and even his own health. He is complaining to God wanting to know why. God reminds him who is God. That he owes Job nothing but his grace. I know its hard to see grace in the beginning of Job when all that bad stuff is happening, but God showed Job grace when He told Satan, do what you will but you can’t kill him. He chose to save Job’s life, we see that grace in our own in the cross, when God chose to save our lives from sin, instead of condemning us to a second death. God is reminding him that He is God. That he created everything he had and would have. In Romans and Psalms this thought is mentioned again

“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
Romans 11:35 ESV

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

Psalms 24:1-2 ESV

God owns everything. We forget that so often when things don’t go our way. Everything around us, belongs to God. God is allowing us to be stewards of His stuff while we are here on earth. We are stewards of his money, we are stewards of the Gospel, we are stewards of our families and what ever else you can think of.  God has given us everything including our salvation and His mercy.

So the next time you think God owes you something just remember he has already given you everything.


Because we often get first time readers, every few months we like to review our purpose statement:

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. 

Usage: Items written by Paul Wilkinson contain no links and you are free to use the material provided you link back to C201 and don’t change the wording of quoted sections. For other writers, follow the link in the title and then see if their policies apply to what your planning.

Scriptures: This year we had several trees cut down on our property. Ever broken up a small tree or sticks and been aware of the green color inside? Green shows that there is (or at least was!) life inside. That’s why we highlight scripture here in green. To show that while the words of the various writers whose material we borrow are helpful and instructive, it’s God’s Word that brings life. Individual verses are sourced at BibleHub.com; multiple verse passages are sourced at BibleGateway.com

Writers: We’re always looking for contributions. Check out the ‘submissions’ page.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
 -Galatians 6:9 NIV

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