Christianity 201

July 11, 2018

The Heat is On!

Today’s article is by Robby McAlpine and first appeared at the website Think Theology. Click the title below to read at source.

The Crucible (Messy Revival)

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.“(Proverbs 17:3)

Purify my heart, let me be as gold and precious silver
Refiner’s fire; my heart’s one desire is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
(Refiner’s Fire ~ Brian Doerksen)

The process of refining silver, in the era when the book of Proverbs was written, is an evocative picture of how our hearts are refined. It’s a “made for sermon illustration” metaphor that I really like.

Silver is purified by the refiner, who brings increasing heat to bear on the unrefined metal. As the heat increases, all the impurities rise to the surface, and the refiner skims them off. The process is repeated until the desired result is achieved: a clear reflection of the refiner’s face in the silver.

The spiritual parallel is stunning; God refining our character until He sees a clear reflection of Jesus in us.

But as anyone who has experienced the refining process can tell you, when the heat gets turned up, it’s uncomfortable. (That’s an understatement of, shall we say, ‘biblical proportions’.)

At the same time, achieving the desired result makes the uncomfortable process worth it in the end. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)

Whenever we pray for more of the Spirit’s power and presence in our lives, we should not be surprised that the heat gets turned up, and some of our “schtuff” flares up in our face.

That’s how it works, after all. More of the Spirit’s work in our lives means more refining as part of the overall package. There are ‘mountain top’ moments that are exhilarating, but there are also difficult ‘valleys’ — both are part of the Spirit’s work in our lives.

Which is why things can get wild and woolly during times of revival. The Holy Spirit is poured out in ways that go beyond ‘typical’ — the ‘omni’ presence of God becomes the ‘manifest’ presence — and there are a wide range of responses from people.

Some sin will be stirred up by the Enemy, trying his darndest to discredit what the Spirit is doing. And the critics of renewal movements delight in pointing this out, as if the presence of sinful activity ‘proves’ that God is not involved.

And some sin will be stirred up by the presence of the Holy Spirit, so it can be dealt with. That’s what a good Refiner does.

‘Revival’ is always connected to repentance. Whether it’s people coming to faith for the first time, or believers having the low-burning embers of their faith fanned into flame once again, repentance unto a holy life is normal.

There should be nothing shocking about sinful patterns being forced to the surface during times of revival/renewal. That’s how the Refiner’s fire works. The heat is on.

If you find yourself crying out for more of the Spirit, and sin & the temptation to sin seems to flare up — don’t rebuke the devil (except where appropriate) and don’t allow yourself to become discouraged. Instead, recognize the hand of the Refiner, and co-operate with the Spirit’s purifying work.

The heat is on. And the end result will be worth it.

Purify my heart; cleanse me from my sin, deep within
I choose to be holy, set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will
(Refiner’s Fire ~ Brian Doerksen)

 

June 16, 2018

From Offended to Offensive

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Each time I visit the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case, I end up reading 3 or 4 articles; the writing itself and the message are both well presented. As usual, click the title to read at source.

The Airing of Grievances

“I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!” – Frank Costanza

Hopefully you all are old enough and refined enough to remember the celebration of Festivus, the fictional secular holiday that took place on the TV show Seinfeld as an alternative to on overly-commercialized Christmas holiday. After an awkward dinner, the family gathered around to lament the ways in which they were disappointed by one another over the past year.

Speaking of grievances, the is certainly no shortage of them going around lately. Big ones, small ones, accusations, denials, apologies… you name it. Since privacy is a thing of the past, we all have a ringside seat to the public ‘airing’ of these grievances. So-and-so pens an “open letter” to such-and-such… he or she responds with an apology or retort, to which five other people respond with their own open letters or dissenting opinions. It’s truly a sight to behold.

It’s an interesting thing watching a secular culture address issues of wrongdoing, repentance, and justice. There are very real, very grievous sins that need dealing with, while other troubles would be better left out of the public eye. The world has constructed a kind of system in which it’s easy to accuse and imperative to apologize if you know whats best for you. But does this system satisfy victims? Does it lead to genuine repentance on the part of the accused?

Sin is a very serious thing, and as Christians, we should take repentance and forgiveness just as seriously, both individually and corporately. The devil has a field day though, when we get so mixed up in the emotionalism of the latest outrage that we fail to see the proverbial forest through the trees. Accusations and apologies must never be weaponized, for when they are, the beauty and freedom of what Jesus did for us is whitewashed.

The secular world has no basis for their demands other than what is popular at the time. They are a mob that rides a cresting wave of opinion that will soon change. We must not believe that the world holds more truth than scriptures. True freedom and liberation come when we address sin Gods way. I read a blog yesterday that put it this way:

“This is where the devil hijacks our repentance — on both ends of this transaction. If he can get the perpetrators to confess vague sins, he can keep sinners shackled in the ambiguity of sorrow and regret without any real confidence of forgiveness and freedom. And if he can get the victims to traffic in the vague confessions, the devil can keep victims in the ambiguity of sorrow and shame without any real confidence of resolution and freedom. And tenderhearted Christians can get sucked into this black hole because it can feel very spiritual and brokenhearted. But there is a massive difference between the broken and contrite heart that God loves and leads to true freedom, and the emotional death camp of vague guilt and shame. Another way to say all of this is that Christian repentance must be obedient to God’s Word, not merely an emotional dumpster dive. And this means that when the world around us is demanding submission to their false gods, Christian apologies must be even more careful, especially for those who would be leaders or teachers. We have an even greater responsibility.

What sticks out to me is the repetition of the word freedom. The goal, the endgame, the purpose for us in all this is for us to have freedom through what Christ has accomplished. The secular way offers no resolution, and it doesn’t want one. The enemy wants us to spin in circles in a vicious cycle of offense that never ends. So again, we don’t ignore sin, but we must be extremely careful about what the world is demanding we bow to. Throughout the Old Testament, Israelites were told to bow to false gods, and it’s no different today. Often these gods come in the form of ideas and ideologies the world demands we embrace. The waters have become muddied with false choices about race, gender roles and privilege. It’s not that we don’t owe apologies at times, it’s that we must be very careful about what we are submitting to.

Timothy warned about this:

“But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:23-26

The point is not that we be ‘right’ all the time. We are to point people to the truth, that they too can escape sin and its consequences. The purpose of Christian leadership is not to demonstrate how fantastically ‘in tune’ you are with the current trends or how ‘woke’ you may be to everyones offenses:

“What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

 This isn’t a Bible verse, it’s from the Westminster Catechism, but it sums it up nicely. We are not here to bask in offense or victimhood any more than we are here to dominate or put ourselves on a pedestal showing off how compassionate we are. We forgive because we are forgiven, we confess our sins to God and to one another for the purpose of reconciliation and freedom. The “emotional death camps of vague guilt and shame” are not our dwelling place, no matter how important we may feel there. We are called to deal with sin differently, in a way that allows for true healing and freedom.

“A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city. And contentions are like the bars of a castle.” Proverbs 18:19

An offended Christian will usually turn into an offensive Christian, and we aren’t meant to carry that burden. Abiding in Jesus allows us to deal with the truth of real sin and not pick up needless offense at every turn.

January 6, 2018

The Steps to Decision (C201 Version)

If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved. For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  (Romans 10:14)

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. (Psalm 37:5-6)

Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.  (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NLT)

One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see! (John 9:25b)

…also…

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you…” (Matthew 7: 21-23a)

Earlier today at Thinking Out Loud I shared that at home we had been discussing the process by which people ‘cross the line of faith’ and identify as Christians. It reminded me of a graphic image I had in my files, but then discovered some people had improved on the one we posted there in March, 2014.

One of the challenges we face comes when we try to make things into a formula or try to over-analyze what God is doing by the Holy Spirit in human hearts. As someone once described it, “The problem of trying to figure out how a cat works is that once you dissect it, it no longer works.” Furthermore, God is working in different ways in different peoples’ lives.

So where did the graphic come from? Here’s what I wrote about this at the time,

A long time ago, a pre-internet generation of Christians were as excited about the latest books as today’s host of internet bloggers. While we might think the universe didn’t exist until we were born, there was the same mix of academic writers as well as popular writers.  One of the latter was Emory Griffin who wrote a paperback about evangelism called The Mind Changers, and in that book, he frequently quoted James F. Engel, who wrote the textbook Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice

Engel dissected the conversion process as only a late 20th Century academic could, breaking it down piece-by-piece. I’ve always kept a copy of this particular little chart handy, because it reminds me that making disciples (or what a previous generation called soul-winning) doesn’t happen overnight (though it can) but often involves the careful processing through of ideas and thoughts. Yes, some people encounter Jesus and the transformation can be instantaneous, but often it has to be reasoned through (or even emoted through; I don’t know if there’s a word for that) and it usually involves some other person whose gift is apologetics or just being there with love or perhaps some combination of the two.

Today, people still discuss whether or not salvation happens as a crisis experience (in a moment, in an instant) or whether it is a process experience (as C. S. Lewis defined so well in the train analogy in Mere Christianity) but if it’s a process, it might look something like Engel describes in the graphic.

Why does it matter?

I suspect that many of us, in our interactions with people expect them to move more rapidly to the point of decision. We’re aware of imperatives like “Choose today whom you will serve;” and “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” We’ve heard the story of D. L. Moody opting not to give an invitation at the end of a message, only to have many hundreds who were there that day perish that week in the Chicago Fire. We long for instantaneous results.

While a crisis experience can definitely spark conversion, I think it’s more likely to be a process. Furthermore, we know statistically that guilt and fear may result in short-term decisions, it definitely is detrimental to the making of long-term converts. The attrition rate for those guilted in or scared in is quite high.

Discipleship is also a process involving much followup post-decision. There’s a second part to Engel’s graphic that we didn’t share this morning at Thinking Out Loud that I want to share here:

Today’s thoughts began with some verses on the subject of salvation. To my mind, they seem much more simple compared with the complexity of the upper graphic. But I am aware that as God is a work the lives of our friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers; it may be that a change in the heart needs to be accompanied by a change of mind on various aspects of the gospel, and this might move forward in stages, rather than all at once.

Read the verses again in the light of the chart, and read the chart again through the lens of the verses. Is there someone in your sphere of influence who God is telling you might want to progress on the journey to decision and discipleship?

 

November 13, 2017

Your Sin: Your Enemies’ Opportunity

NIV Ps. 38.4 My guilt has overwhelmed me
    like a burden too heavy to bear.

My wounds fester and are loathsome
    because of my sinful folly.
I am bowed down and brought very low;
    all day long I go about mourning.
My back is filled with searing pain;
    there is no health in my body.
I am feeble and utterly crushed;
    I groan in anguish of heart.

All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
    my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
    even the light has gone from my eyes.
11 My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds;
    my neighbors stay far away.
12 Those who want to kill me set their traps,
    those who would harm me talk of my ruin;
    all day long they scheme and lie.

13 I am like the deaf, who cannot hear,
    like the mute, who cannot speak;
14 I have become like one who does not hear,
    whose mouth can offer no reply.
15 Lord, I wait for you;
    you will answer, Lord my God.
16 For I said, “Do not let them gloat
    or exalt themselves over me when my feet slip.”

17 For I am about to fall,
    and my pain is ever with me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
    I am troubled by my sin…

Today for the sixth time, we return to Mike Leake at the website Borrowed Light. Click the title below to read this at source.

What to Do When Your Sin Makes Your Enemies Pounce

“It is a marvel that any man escapes ruin, the dangers which beset even the best being many and terrible.” –W.S. Plumer

Have you noticed 90% of news stories necessitate a person being ruined? Occasionally the ruin is not a result of a bone-headed decision or immoral choice. But more often than not, it is because sin has caught up with someone. And if you and I are being honest we’d have to admit that our absence from the front page isn’t for lack of opportunity but rather because of grace.

Psalm 38 is a painful Psalm. David is the guy on the front page whose life is ruined because of a personal transgression. And his whole world is coming apart. His relationship with God feels strained, his friends are keeping him at a distance, and his enemies are using this as an opportunity to pounce. The worst part is that David isn’t an innocent victim, he’s a guilty sinner. His conscience is not on his side.

Thankfully, I have not had an experience which totally fits King David’s scenario. I have said and done things which are dumb and/or sinful. I have had to endure consequences of my mistakes, but I do not believe I have experienced fully what David is going through in Psalm 38, at least not to this depth. And I hope I never do.

Of the many lessons we could learn from Psalm 38, one I’d like to consider is what to do when you’ve legitimately blown it as a leader and now your enemies are using this to pounce on you. This could be applied when you’ve front-page-of-the-paper blown it and when you’ve messed up and you’ve given those who are enemies a bit of fodder for their cannons. I see at least five things to take from this passage on that topic:

  1. Don’t try to spin your sin, own it. David’s response in verses 13-14 is the correct posture for being in this position. He doesn’t give excuses. He doesn’t, at least at this stage, try to plead his cause against those who “seek his heart” and “speak of ruin”. He doesn’t attempt to save face or launch a PR campaign. He becomes as one who is mute, even while his enemies are laying snares for him.
  2. Repent where necessary. Not all the accusations the enemy threw at David had merit. But some of them did. Where he was actually guilty David pleaded with God for mercy. He confessed his sin (v18). It’s tempting when folks are lying about us to move from the position of sinner to that of victim and ignore our very real guilt and sin. Let the Lord deal with the lies and repent of the truth in their fodder.
  3. Acknowledge you are overwhelmed and cannot get yourself out. David’s sin was over his head. His friends weren’t able to help, and his enemies certainly weren’t going to be there for him. Dealing with actual sin is difficult enough, when those who are against you pile on unreasonable accusations, and often with violence, it becomes too much to bear. David became as a “deaf and mute man”. He was so overwhelmed that words escaped him, so he turned to prayer. When you’ve dug a hole you cannot get yourself out of it’s time to cry out for a hand of rescue.
  4. Wait upon the Lord to vindicate you. It’s generally a good principle to let the Lord plead your cause. How much more is this the case when your sin has brought reproach upon you? You’ll sound like a real schmuck if you say, “I’m guilty of this, but I’m hurt that you’d accuse me of that”. Pray that God will allow the full truth to come out.
  5. Rest in God’s character. In verse 9, David takes great comfort in the fact that God knows every bit of his crying. Though God also knows the depth of his sin, David is comforted by the truth of God’s omniscience. It also helps to know that God is merciful. As one has said, “It is both an affliction and a comfort to a good man to see the hand of God in all his troubles—an affliction, inasmuch as it shows us how vile we must be to need such sore corrections from the loving One:—a comfort, because we may be assured that mercy shall order everything.

I pray that I’m never in the depth of a Psalm 38 situation, but I know I’m not above it. Though our situation might not rise to the magnitude of Psalm 38 we can find help for our lesser trials. Because of the gospel we know that even if our sin puts us on the front page, the greater news story is that Jesus washes us clean.

November 1, 2017

Faith Alone

Yesterday was Reformation Day, and today is All Saints Day. With the former, yesterday was the 500th anniversary of The Reformation and there was no escaping the many articles which were written online concerning this.

Paul writes to the Ephesians (2:8-9)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.

To Timothy (2:5-6) he writes,

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

As did others, we devoted a column yesterday at Thinking Out Loud to discussing Luther’s treatise, often referred to as The 95 Theses (or you could say propositions) which were contrary to the dominant teaching of the day by the Roman Catholic Church with regard to an added (non-Biblical) doctrine whereby the purchase of indulgences (literally certificates of indulgence) could exempt someone from purgatory.

C. N. Trueman has translated these into modern English, and we listed some of the central ones yesterday at the other blog:

1. When Jesus said “repent” he meant that believers should live a whole life repenting
2. Only God can give salvation – not a priest.
3. Inwards penitence must be accompanied with a suitable change in lifestyle.
6. Only God can forgive -the pope can only reassure people that God will do this.
20. Even the pope – who can offer forgiveness – cannot totally forgive sins held within.
27. It is nonsense to teach that a dead soul in Purgatory can be saved by money.
29. Do we know if the souls in Purgatory want to be saved ?
43. A Christian who gives to the poor or lends to those in need is doing better in God’s eyes than one who buys ‘forgiveness’.
45. A person who passes by a beggar but buys an indulgence will gain the anger and disappointment of God.
46. A Christian should buy what is necessary for life not waste money on an indulgence.
54. It is blasphemy that the word of God is preached less than that of indulgences.
58. Relics are not the relics of Christ, although they may seem to be. They are, in fact, evil in concept.
60. Salvation can be sought for through the church as it has been granted this by Christ.
61. It is clear that the power of the church is adequate, by itself, for the forgiveness of sins.
62. The main treasure of the church should be the Gospels and the grace of God.
77. Not even St. Peter could remove guilt.
79. It is blasphemy to say that the insignia of the cross is of equal value with the cross of Christ.
84. Evil men must not buy their salvation when a poor man, who is a friend of God, cannot.
86. The pope should re-build St. Peter’s with his own money.
94. Christians must follow Christ at all cost.
95. Let Christians experience problems if they must – and overcome them – rather than live a false life based on present Catholic teaching.

Our prayer today would be that anyone reading this would not be bound by a salvation of works, or the expectation that it is the church that saves, rather than Christ.

We have through Christ direct access to God the Father. This includes coming to him with our needs, confessing sins which only he can forgive, and simply communing with him in his presence.


Scriptures: NIV sourced at BibleHub.com

September 11, 2017

Jesus: Opening Move

Jesus Commences His Ministry

Compare the four gospels and see how Jesus begins his public ministry. At the outset some of the narration involves activities that are somewhat passive on His part. He was visited by the Magi. He is presented to Simeon in the temple by His parents. He is baptized by John. He is tempted by Satan. But the change from passive to active ministry involves the following:

It takes Matthew four chapters to get to this:

Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Then He calls The Twelve.

In Mark the story is similar:

Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Luke also takes four chapters to get to the commencement of Jesus’ ministry:

Luke 4:16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

John’s perspective, ever unique, involves Jesus at the wedding at Cana:

John 2:6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

John follows this with Jesus clearing the temple courts.
After the calling of the disciples, Matthew follows with the healing of the sick.
Mark also follows with the choosing of The Twelve, followed by the healing of a man possessed by an unclean spirit.
Luke follows with the same story of the man with the demonic spirit who is healed.

So why does all this matter?

First of all, in the synoptic gospels Jesus begins with a proclamation of His purpose and then moves to action; mostly ministry to individuals. Being a minister of the Good News involves both proclaiming (preaching, teaching, speaking) and also dealing one-on-one with people.

Is John an exception? Not at all. In John’s gospel, Jesus begins with a sign, and then ministers to the needs of those who are being disenfranchised by the profiteering that is going on in the temple courts and also taking up space in the one part of the temple that was open to everyone, the court of the Gentiles. (This explains, “My house shall be a house of prayer for the nations.)

Secondly, we can’t say we don’t know why Jesus came. But neither can we expect to be able to answer this question with a single answer. We might say,

  • Jesus came to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and then to triumph over death.

But Jesus doesn’t start His ministry that way. He doesn’t say, “I’ve come to die;” even though John the Baptist foreshadows this with “Behold, the Lamb of God…”

Rather, in the above scripture texts, Jesus says of His ministry:

  • To preach “repent”
  • To announce “the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (or, “at hand”)
  • To proclaim good news to the poor
  • To proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • To give sight to the blind
  • To set the oppressed free
  • To declare “the year of the Lord” *

* – “the day when salvation and the free favors of God profusely abound” (Amplified Bible)
– “the year the Lord has chosen” (CEV)
– to announce “This is God’s year to act!” (Message)
– “the year when he will set his people free.” (NIrV)
– “the jubilee season of the Eternal One’s grace.” (The Voice)

As Jesus makes His opening moves, he sets out his initial purpose and plan plainly.

September 5, 2017

The Issue of Forgiving

by Russell Young

(scripture verses italics added for emphasis)

All of those who have come to know God have recognized their sinful state. They know that their wickedness has separated them from his holy nature and being. What a blessing it is to know that despite our rebellion, the Lord forgives the transgressions of those who call upon him and has paid the cost of sin through the offering of his life on the tree. “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him.”  (Ps 32:1─2 NIV) Not only did he forgive our sins, he forgot them. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Heb 8:12 NIV)

The writer of Hebrews has provided additional insight into the benefit of God’s forgiveness. “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.” (Heb 9:14 NIV) The conscience of the believer has been cleansed. He or she does not have to carry the dark burden of guilt that beleaguers the conscience concerning the acts that would have brought about his or her death.  The conscience must be clear and clean since God uses it to direct his people in pursuit of righteous living. When the conscience is troubled by many things, the leading of the Spirit becomes obscured and difficult. It is through knowledge of the Lord’s will, his leading, that the living God may be served. It is only the clean heart, a holy person, that God can use for noble purposes. (2 Tim 2:20─21)

What does the Lord require of the believer concerning the practice of forgiveness? The familiar words in the Lord’s prayer read, “Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.” (Mt 6:12 NIV) That is, our sins will be forgiven according to the measure that we forgive those of others. A few verses later the Lord clarified, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Mt 6:14─15 NIV) Judgment will remain for those who maintain hard and unmalleable hearts concerning a wrong once suffered.

A lot has been written about forgiveness and yet few people seem to understand its demands. Experience has revealed that many suppose forgiveness has been granted by making a pronouncement to that effect. Proclaiming forgiveness is easy; forgiving is difficult and a challenge to a person’s soul.  The practice of forgiving requires a poor memory.  The LORD said that he “would remember their sins no more.” Willingness to forget an offence, to never allow it to come to memory or to allow others to bring it to memory, is very difficult. It is easy to claim that a wrong has been forgiven but much harder to refuse to let it enter the mind further. In fact, forgiveness is a process not an event. When the wrong that has been forgiven wants to rouse itself in the mind, it must be blocked and dismissed. Wrongs can be painful and their effects even long-lasting.  To forgive demands commitment and perseverance to that end. Victory must be gained through battle.  The proclamation of forgiveness to an offender should not be repeated or need repeating (It is to have been forgotten after all.); however, reliance on the Spirit to produce the heart that truly forgives may need to be repeatedly sought. It is not a person’s words that testify of true forgiveness, but his or her heart attitude concerning the issue and it is the heart that the LORD will consider.

If the “forgiven” offence is ever raised again, the proclamation of forgiveness has been false.  Hurts are easy to remember. They can be used and repeated to gain the favor and sympathy of others or to infer an obligation from the forgiven one. They can be used to promote an attitude of personal righteousness. When the offence is repeated to others the motivation for “forgiveness” has not been to release the other from his or her sin, or to humbly honor the Lord, but for personal and selfish gain. Once an offence is forgiven it should never be allowed to resurface in mind or in word.

True forgiveness leads to the cleansing of the offender’s conscience. In fact, failure to forgive requires the offender to carry and to be subject to the penalty of his or her transgression. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven, (Jn 20:23 NIV) but neither will yours be. A clean conscience is very valuable. As stated, the conscience is the instrument that Christ uses to guide a person in the path of righteousness.

The offender must repent to enjoy forgiveness. The Lord stated, “Unless you repent (of your sins) you will all perish,” (Lk 13:3, 5 NIV) and he still requires repentance for unrighteousness acts. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9 NIV) Concerning the practice of forgiveness towards our brothers, the Lord admonished, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Lk 17:3 NIV) The Lord demands those who offend to repent. He also demands something of the one sinned against. He or she is to rebuke the offender, to make known the offence. Sin is not permitted to fester and engender malice. An offence that is unknown cannot be treated. Repentance acknowledges that a hurt has occurred and the offender’s sorrow for it. Where there is acknowledgement there is hope of a changed attitude and altered soul.  The one who offends and whose heart is hard and inflexible must remain in his sin as must the one who will not forgive; God knows the heart of both. (Ps 139)

The acts of true repentance and forgiveness should leave all parties with a cleansed conscience so that the hurt might not lead to death and might allow for noble service for the kingdom of the Lord. The offence is to be forgotten and never allowed to surface again, nor permitted to surface through the mouths of others. Offering true forgiveness is never easy; forgetting can be difficult. True forgiveness may require a struggle and power through the Spirit of life to accomplish. Only in the manner that we forgive others will we be forgiven. It was easy for those in the world to sin against God; the forgiveness that he offered was not so easy; his pardon cost the life of his Son and as he has forgotten your sins, you are to forget those of others.


Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. He is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

August 14, 2017

Owning It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.

I can’t help but think as I read this that what he prays collectively has to begin individually, it has to begin with me. This is often contrary to our nature. We think ourselves righteous. It’s harder to pray:

But I have sinned and done wrong. I have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. I have refused to listen to your servants…

And yet, each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon.

Our service ended in a time of confession, and then I sought someone to pray with me individually. I admitted that I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas. If you’re a guy, are you tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt? For me it’s ideas and concepts. One single phrase or sentence in an online article can be as devastating to me as the girl at the mall is to you. My worldview warps; my mindset skews.

Psalm 139 ends with the type of mind inventory I need constantly:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

About two and a half years ago we looked at a quotation by Jerry Bridges where he says, “We never see sin aright until we see it as against God.”

In Psalm 51, David writes:

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight. (v.4a)

but he realizes he needs help to get back to the standard:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you. (v.12)

If I were truly, truly sorry for past sins, I would never repeat them.

In the linked piece above, we included this graphic image:

We have to be truly sorry for our sin. Not the collective our, but the individual our.

I have to be truly sorry for my sin.

Heb. 10:25 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Prov. 15:10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

 

 

 

 

 

July 20, 2017

Finding Hope in the Judgement of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:09 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations. I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries; I will destroy you. (Ezekiel 25:7 NRSV)

Thus says the Lord with regards to the people of Ammon in Ezekiel chapter 25. Messages of judgement like this carry on for seven chapters to various nations. I suspect these chapters are rarely preached upon, nor mined for a fitting verse to quote in a “Thinking of You” card. Perhaps we tend to skip over these doom and gloom judgement kinds of chapters because we fail to find any hope in them. However, they are full of hope! How so? Somewhere close to the middle we find these verses:

Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall settle on their own soil that I gave to my servant Jacob.  They shall live in safety in it, and shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall live in safety, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God. Ezekiel 28:25-26 (NRSV)

Do you notice what is so important that it is repeated? “They shall live in safety.” We have difficulty reading the Old Testament without visualizing what we know, such as our peaceable neighbours in our day. The peoples of the Old Testament, however, could be brutal and barbaric. The rise of the so-called Islamic State has given us a glimpse of what the Old Testament peoples were capable of. God’s messages of judgement to the nations in Ezekiel chapters 25-32 were the flip side of the message of safety for the people of God. God’s people could only be safe if the nasty neighbours were subdued. Thus the judgement of God is part and parcel of the love of God. Consider a father who removes an untrainable and vicious dog from a home for the sake of the safety of his infant child. The judgement and removal of the dog is an expression of love for the child.

These messages of judgement against the nations conclude with the interesting passage of Ezekiel 32:17-32. I encourage you to read it in full. In this passage Egypt and Pharaoh are to go down to the place of the dead. Notice what it is that gets repeated again and again, the thing that all the peoples who are there have in common (see verses 23,24,25,26,27,30,& 32); they “spread terror in the land of the living.”

We can all think of people who in our day spread terror in the land of the living. For example, a recent news article suggested that the leader of Boko Haram, previously thought killed, is still alive and is vowing to kill Christians and bomb every church in Nigeria. Does such anti-Christian sentiment remind you of anyone?

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” Acts 9:13-14 (NRSV)

This man who was bent on destroying the Christian movement was Saul, better known to us the apostle Paul who confessed he was “least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1st Corinthians 15:8 NRSV). From Paul’s experience we learn a valuable lesson about those who would spread terror in the land of the living. They have the opportunity to repent. Upon learning of the atrocities of Boko Haram we might cry out for the destruction of the key leaders. However, consider the greater impact if they turned from their sin to Christ. Dead leaders are easily replaced by people equally fanatical about spreading terror in the land of the living. On the other hand, transformed leaders can be the start of a transformed society. Those who remain unrepentant may think they are getting away with it, but they will not. They will stand before the judgement seat of Christ whose justice is perfect, and whose judgements are well informed.

Let us choose three specific areas to bring this into focus:

Women: Around the world women are not given equal opportunities for education. Female babies are more likely to be aborted than male babies. Too many widows have shared with me how they stood by their men while their men stood by the bottle. We could say much more, but suffice it to say here that women and girls are suffering around the world because people are sinful. Sinful people have the opportunity to repent. Those who are unrepentant and continue to spread terror in the land of the living will face judgement.

The LGBTQ+ community: When our hearts broke for Christians who were suffering the violence of the Islamic State, did our hearts also break for gay men who were thrown to their deaths from towers? No one has the right to tell God what marriage is supposed to look like, but all peaceable people should have the right to live free from harassment and threat of violence. While debate rages in churches as to whether or not homosexuality is sinful, there ought to be no debate or doubt that homosexuals are suffering around the word because people are sinful. Sinful people have the opportunity to repent. Those who continue to spread terror in the land of the living will face judgement.

Refugees: We have tended to focus our prayers on our Western response to the refugee crisis and the refugees themselves. Do we pray for the people refugees are fleeing from? Leaders who would rather use violence to take or keep power, than seek peace? We have a refugee crisis because people are sinful. Sinful people have the opportunity to repent. Those who continue to spread terror in the land of the living will face judgement.

One question remains: Are we sometimes the ones who spread terror in the land of the living? If so, opportunity knocks.

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.  To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Revelation 3:20-21 (NRSV)


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

June 27, 2017

The Waterfall of Grace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Living by Faith blog by Steve Fuller. This is their all-time most popular post, from 2013. Click the title to read this on the blog itself, and then check out the right-hand column for other popular posts.

Can I Deliberately Keep Sinning And Still Be Forgiven?

A Waterfall Of Grace

Imagine that it’s 120 degrees outside.  Hot.

But then imagine that you are standing under a waterfall — cool, clear, and refreshing.  Aaaah.

Through trusting Jesus Christ you are standing under a waterfall of grace —

  • All your sins are forgiven — past, present, and future.
  • You are seen by God as clothed in Jesus’ perfect righteousness.
  • God is your Father — loving you, guiding you, providing for you, satisfying you in Himself.
  • God continues to forgive your sins day after day, year after year — forgiven, forgiven, forgiven, forgiven.
  • God will keep you persevering in faith so you will surely enter heaven.
  • God will supply everything you need for the rest of your life.
  • God will ordain everything in your future to bring you the greatest joy in Him.

A waterfall of grace.

But This Raises A Question

Does grace mean someone can deliberately keep sinning and still end up in heaven?

One passage that speaks directly to this question is Hebrews 10:26-31.

Verse 26 is sobering —

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

What Does That Mean?

What does it mean to go on sinning deliberately?

“Sinning” means disobeying clear commands of Scripture — which would include unforgiveness, sexual immorality, and love of money.

So — if yesterday you harbored unforgiveness against someone, does that mean you can never be forgiven?  Not at all.

Notice that the author is not just talking about “sinning.”  He’s talking about “going on sinning deliberately.”

The words “going on” and “deliberately” mean that you are continuing in this sin without confessing it, without sorrowing over it, without battling it.

So if yesterday you harbored unforgiveness against someone, but today confessed that to the Lord and by faith fought to overcome it — then you are NOT “going on sinning deliberately.”

But — if yesterday you harbored unforgiveness against someone, and today you are continuing in that unforgiveness without confessing it and without fighting by faith to forgive them — then you ARE “going on sinning deliberately.”

Which means that unless something changes, there no longer remains a sacrifice for your sins.

What Does That Mean?

The author explains in the rest of the passage.  If, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, you go on sinning deliberately, then —

  • V.27 says you would face “a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire.”
  • V.29 says you would face a “worse punishment” than death.
  • V.30 says you would face God’s “vengeance,” and that He would “judge” you.
  • And v.31 says “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

I don’t see any way around it.  If, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, you go on sinning deliberately, then you will not end up in heaven.  You will face God’s judgment forever.

But Be Careful

At this point you could draw a very wrong, and very dangerous, conclusion.

Let’s say you are NOT going on sinning deliberately.  Not that you are perfect, but you are trusting Christ, which includes fighting sin by faith.  You often overcome sin.  And when you do sin, you turn back to Christ, confess your sin, and return to the fight.

So you are NOT going on sinning deliberately.  But you could let this passage make you fear that someday you might start going on sinning deliberately, which would mean facing God’s judgment forever.

But I’ve got good news for you.  If today you are trusting Christ — then YOU WILL NEVER FACE THIS JUDGMENT.

Because if today you are trusting Christ, which includes fighting sin by faith, that shows that God has saved you. And because God has saved you, He will —

  • complete the good work He started in you (Phil 1:6),
  • keep you from stumbling so far that you face eternal judgment (Jude 1:24-25),
  • not let anything (not even you) snatch you from His hand (John 10:28-29).

So no one who is saved by God will experience the judgment described in Heb 10:26-31.

But you might wonder — hadn’t the people described in Heb 10:26-31 been saved?

Hadn’t they “received the knowledge of the truth” (Heb 10:26)?  Yes, but that does not mean they were saved.  Because the parable of the four soils shows that there is a shallow way to receive the word that does not include faith in Christ (Mark 4:1-20).

And hadn’t they been “sanctified” (Heb 20:29)?  Yes, but that also does not mean they were saved.  Because the word “sanctified” can mean something less than salvation (see 1Cor 7:14-16).

So how can anyone know for sure they have been saved?  We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone (Eph 2:8-9).  So, to be assured of salvation, turn from whatever else you have been trusting to satisfy you, and trust Jesus Christ to forgive you, strengthen your weak faith, help you battle sin, and satisfy you in Himself.

If your trust is sincere, then you will want to fight sin by faith, and you can be fully assured that God has saved you.  Which means He will keep you persevering in faith to the end.  Which means you will never face the judgment described in Heb 10:26-31Never.

But What If You Are Not?

What if you are not fighting sin by faith?  What if you are going on sinning deliberately?

Lord willing, I’ll talk about this more in my next blog post.

But for now, understand that if you are going on sinning deliberately, then unless something changes, you will face God’s judgment forever.

But — if you will turn to Jesus now and confess your sin, admit your helplessness, ask His forgiveness, and trust Him to forgive you, strengthen you, help and satisfy you — He will.

And you’ll be under the waterfall of His grace — and kept there — forever.

April 23, 2017

Unless You Repent

by Russell Young

Unless you repent you too will all perish.” (Lk 13:5 NIV) Jesus spoke these words while addressing the people of Jerusalem. The words sound very much like those that John the Baptist would have proclaimed. The need of God for repentance is very clear. Repentance requires a person to recognize an attitude or an act as being offensive to God, to seek forgiveness, and to discontinue its practice. Paul told King Agrippa, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove (perform repeatedly) their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV) Paul did not teach that a single act of repentance was acceptable, but that a person’s life practices were to change.

In truth, there is not much preaching today concerning the need for repentance. One is more apt to hear proclaim the need to invite Jesus into his or her heart, following which he will meet their need for eternal salvation and a blessed life. The call to repentance during the “camp meetings” of past years has been displaced by the overarching love of God. Rather than admonishing “believers” to walk circumspectly, to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), to be humble before God, to honour and obey the Lord, believers are being told that they are to trust God because they are loved by him.

Repentance requires that the believer walk closely with his or her Lord so that his voice can be heard and his heart known. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice.” (Jn 10:27 NIV) He also said, “When [the Spirit] comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:8 NIV) It is easy to restrict the Lord’s teaching of repentance to those who are acknowledged as not knowing him, who have not “invited him into their heart,” but the world includes those who have made a confession of faith as well. Sin is sin, it is rebellion against God’s government and those who do not repent of their evil deeds will one day do so on their knees before him. Sin is to be acknowledged as the Spirit leads to its awareness; it is to be acknowledged and humbly confessed. “John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9 NIV) Repentance is not conveyed merely by the mouth but is demonstrated by the deeds that follow.

In spite of teaching that negates a walk of righteousness or of “walking in the light” (1 Jn 1:7 NIV), the Lord requires righteousness leading to holiness. (Rom 6:19) The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New. The God that punished sin in the Old is the same God who will punish it even at the end. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7-8 NIV) Christ’s admonition was that unless a person repents, they too will die. Do not be deceived!

Christ also revealed that “[The brothers] have overcome [their accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11 NIV) Overcoming Satan requires the word of their testimony as well as the blood of Christ. The testimony of their lives, their deeds, loudly proclaimed the word of God. (Note that he did not say, ‘the testimony of their word,’ but “the word of their testimony.”) The righteous manner in which the believer lives his or her life is important.

When asked if only a few people were going to be saved, Christ replied, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV) Note that the Lord required an “effort” to enter his Kingdom. Some will not put forth the required “effort” an will be left outside. The effort requires a victorious walk using all that the Lord has provided, especially his indwelling presence as Spirit. “He who overcomes will inherit all of this (life in the New Jerusalem), and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Rev 21:7 NIV) Victory can only be accomplished by defeating those practices and by disposing of those attitudes that are offensive to God through repentance and the demonstration of that repentance through a person’s deeds. God’s love does not cover defiance and rebellion which is blasphemy of the Spirit. In the end the believer is to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29) by walking as Jesus walked. (1 Jn 2:6)


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

April 2, 2017

Sin Separates

by Russell Young

David wrote of the agony of his soul and pleaded for the Lord’s mercy to be restored after his adultery with Bathsheba. He knew that he had transgressed God’s law. He knew that God desired righteousness. He wanted joy and gladness to be restored to him through a pure and cleansed heart. (Ps 51) His sin had brought him unrest, sleepless nights, and separation from the closeness that he had enjoyed with his God. Sin separates; it did then and it does today.

Many suffer from the same discomfort that plagued David. Their lives have become empty and unfruitful for the kingdom. They even find it difficult to bless their families or their friends. It is easy to get caught up in disillusionment and loss of hope when God seems quite distant and prayers are left unanswered.

Modern teaching would dismiss the possibility of a spiritual separation from God. Those teaching would cover sin with God’s grace and “unconditional love.” However, the Word reveals that destruction can come from sinful practices. Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God will not be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction. The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8 NIV) And, “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 NIV) God expects his people to walk fearfully before him, to be righteous in his sight. The believer is a slave to God. (Rom 6:22) Righteousness must be lived.

James wrote, “The prayers of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (Jas 5:16 NIV) James did not say that the prayers of “Christians” are powerful and effective but that their efficacy rests with the righteous. John taught, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV) The grace of God provides all that is needed for life and godliness and the Lord’s blessings rest on those who are seeking his kingdom and his righteousness through an obedient walk.

The Lord has made many promises to the righteous. Matthew has recorded his words: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33 NIV) These things are food and clothing. They are fruits of seeking to live righteously and of seeking God’s kingdom. Some do not consider that their favorite sins are keeping them from enjoying the fullness and richness of God. Believers are cautioned against loving the world and the things in it. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:15 NIV) Those who are surrounded by riches feel entitled to pursue them. In God’s sight such interest is sin. Believers are to perceive the world as from mountaintop to mountaintop with the world in the valley below. The Lord does not bless the one who craves the things of this world or their pursuit, but honours the person whose heart is established on righteousness, on him, and on kingdom purposes.

This truth needs to be taken seriously. God does not bless those who defy him. “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Pet 3:12 NIV) David had felt abandoned following his act of disobedience. His bones felt dry. Although we would not like to admit it believers can be too ready to excuse ungodly thoughts and actions especially considering the wickedness about them. God is not so generous, however. That lesson will be learned through his punishment and discipline either today or at his judgment seat. Distress in life is not caused by sin alone; however, those who are walking with Christ, even though suffering through tribulations will never feel abandoned but will recognize his presence and peace.

David repented and could find joy again. In fact, God described him as, “a man after [his] own heart.” (Acts 13:22 NIV) Believers are to be men and women after God’s own heart. They are to enjoy fellowship with him, never feeling the dryness in spiritual life that comes from separation. The point is that God does not bless wickedness regardless of the utterances of those who would profess otherwise. He demands righteous practices from his people and blesses those who forgo sin and pursue his kingdom purposes.


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

March 29, 2017

The Three ‘R’s of Baptism

NLT Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.[1] So John agreed to baptize him.

16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened[2] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

[1.] 3:15 Or for we must fulfill all righteousness.
[2.] 3:16 Some manuscripts read opened to him.

One of the ideals we’re committed to here is allowing what I call next generation voices to be heard. Katie calls her blog The Hipster Ginger, and I loved her take on what her denomination teaches about baptism. Click the title below to read the full article at source.

Renounce, Reject, Repent

I love baptisms. I love the stories, the memories that are made, and the amazing promises that happen at a baptism.

I am a United Methodist through and through. My experiences are pretty freaking Methodist, so this post will be mostly Methodist.

When we make our initial vow in front of the body of Christ when we are presented for Holy Baptism, to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin,” (Standard Book of Worship) we are not just renouncing the spiritual forces that we struggle with as individuals. We are also rejecting the evil powers that are loose in the world. Likewise, we are not just repenting of our sins as individuals.

We are also repenting of the sins of humankind as a whole.

Today we are going to have a VERY brief review of the three promises we make in baptism; renouncing, rejecting, and repenting.

To RENOUNCE is a fundamental act of treason. It is to break allegiance to a power or authority to which one had previously given allegiance and service. From the earliest examples of baptismal questions we have, renunciation of Satan or the devil (spiritual forces of wickedness, we say) always comes first. Because you cannot make new alliances until your old ones are broken.

This step follows biblical precedent. The very first story we hear of Jesus after his baptism in the wilderness is his renunciation of Satan. Jesus makes it clear where his allegiances lie, and he shows the way for all who would follow him. (Luke 4:1-13)

It also follows the pattern of centuries of practice when you seek citizenship in a new realm or country. You first breaks allegiance to the realm or sovereign of the people from which you have come from and only then you pledge allegiance to the new realm or sovereign.

To REJECT the evil powers of this world is a phrase that kinda makes me think I’m watching the exorcist. The English word “reject” comes from the Latin “reicere,” which means “to throw out”– and so translates the Greek verb “ekballein,” which is often used to describe what Jesus does to demons (to cast out, to throw out). When we pledge to reject evil, we are promising to do more than just not do evil things. We are promising to throw out, to cast out, to shut the door behind any evil powers that seek to control with us or use us in anyway. So we not only break allegiances, we also commit not to allow evil any sway in our lives. (Psalm 51:10) John Wesley’s first two simple rules cover this when he says “do good” and “do no harm.”

To REPENT of our sin (yeah, SIN. I did it on purpose) means more than feeling sorry or guilty for bad things we have done in the past. The Hebrew verb behind repent (shuv) means “to turn from.” The promise we make is not just to turn from “sins” (actions that bring harm) but “sin” itself.

The singular points less to individual actions and more toward whole patterns of life. So we here commit to turn and walk away from those patterns of life, habits, and behaviors that damage others and/or our relationships with God, with the earth, and with our neighbors. (Luke 5:31-32)


A few days later, Katie’s friend Melissa weighed in on a topic that often trips up Christians: Why should Jesus need to be baptized? We join that article in progress; click the title below to read it in full.

Jesus Got Dunked

…It is important to note that baptism is not exclusively a Christian ritual. Jesus and John were Jews, after all. Christianity gets the ritual from the Jewish cleansing rite, which symbolized a person’s changed nature – a new identification, new status, new creation.

People got baptized as a way to symbolize their repentance, or turning away from sin, and to be symbolically cleansed. So why did Jesus get baptized if John was only preparing the way for him?  Did Jesus need to repent and be cleansed from his sin?

Nah.

My suspicion is that Jesus was not baptized because he needed to repent, but because he was eager to show his devotion to God through baptism. He also was affirming the truth that John was preaching: The Kingdom of God is near, and Jesus would be the one to establish that Kingdom on earth.

After Jesus was baptized, the sky ripped open, God the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove, and God the Father spoke, affirming Jesus as God the Son. This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth.

Because Jesus was baptized, we get baptized today as a way of following him and to remind us that when we live in the kingdom of God. We have a new identity, and that identity is in Jesus Christ. It is through the water that we experience God’s grace and enter into the Body of Christ.

The beautiful thing about the Kingdom of God is that all are welcome to this new identity. Our identity in Christ defines us more than what we look like, smell like, dress like, or talk like. God uses people as wild-looking as John the Baptist–the dirty, matted, smelly man with a weird diet.

How will you remember your identity in Christ today? How will you celebrate God’s grace in your life, and how will you offer that grace to others, regardless of what they look like?

March 26, 2017

The Prodigal Son and God’s Love for the Repentant Sinner

by Russell Young

Luke relates the parable of the lost or prodigal son. (Lk 15:11─31) The story is quite well known. According to its presentation, a wealthy father had two sons and the younger wanted his inheritance even while the father lived. Having been given it, he squandered it in “riotous living” until he had nothing left. Starvation caused him to humbly return home where he was compassionately and enthusiastically greeted by his anxious father. The older son had remained home and had worked the remaining part of the estate for his father. Seeing his father’s delight in the return of the reckless son and the celebration that was taking place, the older son became upset since his faithfulness to his father had never been recognized.

This parable is often presented to show the “forgiveness” and love of the father and/or the hard-heartedness of the brother who had faithfully toiled for so long. Regardless, the revelation of God’s heart concerning the repentance of a sinner is highlighted within the parable. The verse leading to the parable (Luke 15:10) reads that “there is much rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Repentance shows humility rather than pride. It indicates that the sinner has recognized the sovereignty of God and his laws and that he or she is subject to them. God loves the repentant person who is prepared to honour him and his creation.

Perhaps writings that have attempted to apply meaning to all aspects of this parable are confusing the issue. The father’s joy at the return of his son has been made clear. He loved his son and wanted fellowship with him. Without doubt, he had misused his inheritance and had done many foolish things, but he had learned some valuable lessons. His misadventure had taught him a great deal. From the parable, it seems that he had returned ready to be a committed and faithful son. Does our heavenly Father want anything less? Could he expect anything more?

Jesus had engaged his earthly ministry to redeem a lost people and was amid a people who had rejected God’s righteous requirements for thousands of years. His sorrow for Jerusalem was expressed as follows: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate.” (Lk 13:34─35) His heart was breaking because of the bleakness that sin had brought upon God’s chosen people. In this parable he is bringing the need for repentance to the lost sons of Israel and expressing to them the joy that the Father feels when truth is finally recognized and appreciated.

The issue of repentance applies to humankind today. God’s lamentation over the state of wickedness that exists in the hearts of his created people was expressed early following the tenure of people upon the earth. “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:5─6 NIV) God loves his creation and it was for his pleasure that he had created in the first place. Hearts have become thoroughly evil in his estimation and there is no good thing in them. God wants repentance! He wants hearts committed to him and to doing good. Perhaps, like the father in the parable, the church of Christ should rejoice more exuberantly with God when a repentant sinner acknowledges hurt to humankind and to God and returns humbly to meet the heart of God.

For those who want to direct the parable to address the father’s rejoicing over the wayward “believer’s” return it needs to be appreciated that the prodigal had no inheritance and no recourse to attaining any. He had returned home having wasted it. The inheritance that belongs to the believer is the same inheritance that Christ will receive since the believer is a co-heir with Christ. (Rom 8:17) God will not be mocked, the “believer” cannot truthfully be repentant and act otherwise. Concerning the nature of his preaching, Paul told King Agrippa that his preaching to the Gentiles was that “they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV) The writer of Hebrews has recorded: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:26─27 NIV) God will not be mocked and “believers” who repent after deliberately continuing to sin will not enjoy the celebration that the prodigal received.

Those who want to find meaning in the parable through reflecting on the attitude of the elder son through his hesitancy to rejoice at the return of the lost son need to understand that the elder has been presented as having been fully obedient to his father and the father did not chastise him but conveyed his heart over the return of his lost son. He desired the son to rejoice, as well. The elder son was to get all his father’s inheritance and was to be with him always. (Lk 15:31)

This parable was an attempt to reach out to the children of Israel to encourage repentance and a return to the family and perhaps it should not be considered beyond this point. There is great rejoicing in heaven when a sinner has been convinced of the pain he has brought to the heart of God and returns contritely and committed to live a life of humility and obedience. As depicted in this presentation by Christ, believers can cause rejoicing in heaven and can “shine like the brightness of the heavens” (Dan 12:3 NIV) through encouraging repentance and a walk of righteousness by believers. The father shared his heart that you might bless him.


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

February 17, 2017

Dead Churches, Like Sardis

by Clarke Dixon

Dead and dying churches. They are everywhere in our nation along with opinions as to why and what to do. A lack of vision. Failure to keep up with the times in music. Too much politicking. Boring services and coma-inducing sermons. A changing culture that could care less. These are some of the reasons people give for the death of churches, with no shortage of advice on staying alive. Perhaps now is a good time to read this letter from Jesus to a dead church:

 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:
“I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. 3 Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. 4 Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. 6 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.  Revelation 3:1-6 (NRSV emphasis mine)

Is there anything here that can help our dying churches in Canada? Jesus gives them six imperatives:

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. Revelation 3:2-3a (emphasis mine)

Let us take a look at each.

Wake up!

To wake up is to leave dreamland and dwell again in the real world. It is to give up appearances and get back to reality. The church at Sardis appeared to be alive, but needed to grasp the reality that in God’s eyes they were quite dead. Every church needs to pinch itself from time to time to ensure it is awake and has a good grasp on reality.

The original language behind “wake up” is more literally “become watching” (Young’s Literal Translation). We are reminded of Jesus’ teaching:

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. (Lk. 12:35-36 NRS)

Churches, more than any other group of people on earth, should live in such a manner that the return of Jesus tonight would cause rejoicing and not embarrassment or regret. Sadly, many churches in our nation do not even think Jesus is returning.

Strengthen what remains and is on the point of death!

What remains, yet could disappear? A community of people gathered around a cause. Let us consider another time Jesus spoke of the potential for death:

John 15:5-6 (NRSV) I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

To strengthen what remains, the Christian community needs to gather, not just around a cause, but around a person, the Person, Jesus Christ.

Remember then what you received and heard!

What was received and heard, that is now forgotten? Consider the following example:

13 We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers. (1 Thess. 2:13 emphasis mine)

The Christians in Sardis are to remember the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is the message of reconciliation with God. It is the truth that such reconciliation is made possible by the grace of God through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Is it possible for a Christian community to forget the Gospel? Here are three ways the Gospel is forgotten among the churches of our nation.

  1. The Good News is forgotten where the reality of the supernatural is denied.
  2. The Good News is forgotten where confidence wanes in what the Bible teaches about Jesus.
  3. The Good News is forgotten where sentimentality becomes an idol.

This last one perhaps needs more explanation. Suppose you had to make a choice between a) having your church just as it is, with the building and the weekly services, but no possibility of anyone coming to Jesus through its ministry, and, b) a person coming to Jesus through the ministry of your church, but you must lose your building and the way you do things. What would you choose? If you chose option a, sentimentality may have become an idol. It can and does happen that the message of the church is seen of less importance than the institution of the church. Such churches need to “remember then what you received and heard.”

Obey it!

The word “obey” has the connotation of the mere keeping of rules. However the word in Greek is much more nuanced than that. Some of the definitions include: “keep in view, watch over, guard, keep, preserve, maintain, protect, observe.” Here is encouragement to keep, guard, and maintain the Gospel teaching. This is more than just keeping the right doctrinal teaching, for the Good News of Jesus Christ is not just good news. It is life changing good News. When we grasp the Good News fully, we will find ourselves grasped fully. Yes, churches are for sinners like you and me, and should be places where we can be transparent about our struggles. Yet, the Church is the people who live by the Holy Spirit. The statistics should reflect that people are bearing the fruit of the Spirit. If things look no different between the church and society, then chances are good that the church is dead. There is a need to guard the Gospel, not just in the sense of being able to recite a catechism, but in being changed people, a people who reflect the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Repent!

To “repent” means to have a “change of mind.” The church in Sardis is told to repent, to have a change of mind about what is important. In our day, there are many voices calling for churches to change. Change the music, change the morality, change the doctrines, change the traditions, change the preaching, change the preacher. Some churches try to change nothing. Many churches try to change everything. The change that really matters is the kind of change Jesus calls a dead church to make; a call to change the mind, to repent and focus on the life changing Good News of Jesus Christ. 

There may be many reasons that churches die. But there is one reason that is inexcusable, one that Jesus speaks to; forgetting the life-changing Good News of Jesus Christ. Neglecting the Gospel is a sure-fire way to kill a church. Does your church need to pinch itself?

(All Scripture references are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted)


Clarke’s articles appear first on his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

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