Christianity 201

August 2, 2017

Christianity is a Singing Faith

We’ve frequently mentioned, quoted and linked to Mark and Stephen Altrogge at Thinking Out Loud. This is his fifth time here at C201, but it’s been nearly 3 years.

Christianity is a singing faith. It sets us apart from many other belief systems. As an old hymn, noting God’s care and protection put it, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.” Another hymn writer wished for “a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise.” More recently, a popular worship writer wrote:

…We will sing, sing, sing
Grateful that You hear us
When we shout your praise
Lift high the name of Jesus.

Click the title below to read this at source. Though Mark and Stephen Altrogge and I are from different doctrinal streams, there usually isn’t an article on their blog, The Blazing Center that isn’t top-notch reading. This one is by Mark.

7 Reasons God Commands Us To Sing To Him

Have you ever wondered why God commands us to sing to him?

Does he need our songs somehow? Does he get some kind of sick pleasure out of commanding us to sing his praises?

First of all, God doesn’t need anything from us. He doesn’t need our worship or our songs or our money or our obedience. He is infinite and lacks nothing. Everything he commands us is for our joy and benefit. If God commands us to sing, then it is to bless us and add to our joy in him.

What are some reasons God commands us to sing?

First, we should sing to God because he saved us

We have so many incredible things to be thankful for and sing about – we’ve been forgiven, justified, and adopted as God’s own children and made joint-heirs with Christ. We’ve been rescued from eternal destruction. We’ve been given eternal life. Jesus SAVED us! That’s something to sing about. When God led Israel through the Red Sea with the Egyptians hot on their tail, then closed the sea over the Egyptians, and saved the Israelites from certain death, and the Israelites saw the chariots and horses washed up on the beach they began to sing and dance. Can you imagine them shrugging their shoulders and saying, “That’s nice”? No, they wrote a song for the occasion. And Jesus saved us from something far worse than death – God’s eternal wrath. How can we not sing and rejoice?

Secondly, we should sing because we are loved.

God’s love is too marvelous and amazing to simply talk about. Think of all the love songs people sing. If we sing love songs about our love for human beings, how much more should we sing songs to the One who so loved us he gave his Son for us? How much more should we sing to Jesus who bore the wrath of God to redeem us?

Third, we should sing because Jesus has filled us with joy.

Singing is an expression of joy. We sing for joy at birthdays, weddings, ballgames. God has given us unspeakable everlasting joy in Christ. We just have to sing about it. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of joy. Someday Jesus will wipe away every tear and sorrow and sadness will flee away. For all eternity we will celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb. If earthly weddings have music and songs, how much more will the marriage supper of the Lamb?

Fourth, we should sing because Jesus sings over us

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zeph 3.17

Jesus rejoices and exults over his people with loud singing. How can we not rejoice in our King and Savior?

Fifth, because singing is a wonderful way to meditate on the gospel

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. CO 3.16

Our songs should be filled with “the word of Christ” – the gospel. And as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God, the gospel dwells in us richly. Singing usually involves repetition, rhyming and easily remembered phrases– it is a wonderful way to soak in and remember God’s truth.

Sixth, singing allows us to express our emotions to God in a way we couldn’t by mere talking.

What an incredible gift from God music is. How much color, joy and depth it adds to our lives. The band Cream sang a song called “I’m So Glad” in which they sang, “I’m so glad, I’m so glad, I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad!” (I know, not the most creative lyrics in the world). But it just wouldn’t be the same to merely speak these words. When you’re really happy you want to sing.

Seven, when we sing and rejoice in our God it honors him.

Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
All the earth worships you
and sings praises to you;
they sing praises to your name.” Ps 66:1-4

Singing is a way for us to glorify God – to “sing the glory of his name.” God created and saved us and gave us gifts, talents, intelligence, minds and bodies that we might glorify him. Not only are we to seek to glorify him by our lives, but with our tongues. And singing is such an easy way to glorify Jesus! It’s not like when we glorify him by suffering for him. How hard is it to sing?

Our God is so great, and so good and so glorious, he’s worthy of all of our praise. And one of the easiest ways to praise him is by singing. Let’s “sing the glory of his name!”

April 12, 2017

Is it Gratitude or Is it Love?

Ronnie Dauber is a Christian author who lives in Canada with her family. She has written several young adult novels and six Inspirational books. We’re introducing here today at C201 for the first time.

When I started reading this article, I thought it was rather elementary, but then I looked at the central question — gratitude vs. love — and I started to really examine my own heart. In what follows she says love isn’t an automatic response, “like sending out Christmas cards where we receive one from somebody and then send one back out of response because it’s the right thing to do.” We have to get past that and know that “we are only able to praise Him and worship Him from our heart—and we can only do that when we truly love Him.”

Click the title below to read at source — it’s more visually interesting that way — and look around the rest of her website.

Gratitude or Love

As Christians, we are supposed to love God, but how many of us actually know why we love God? Sometimes we get confused between the gift and the giver and we tend to value the gifts and the promises more than we value the actual One who gives them to us. So we need to know our own heart and what our response is to God: is it gratitude for the blessings or love because He is our Father?

Many of us have been at a store at some time or another and found ourselves to be slightly short in cash when we’re paying for our purchase. We fret and get embarrassed and then a total stranger will step in and give us that bit of money and not want anything in return. They were being very kind and understanding in our situation and they acted in a totally Christian way. But do we love them for their gift or are we just very grateful for their kindness?

It’s very easy in this materialistic world to confuse gratitude with love, and we need to understand what love is and why we love God. And we need to know the difference because if what we feel for God is not love, then we could be deceiving ourselves.

We love God because He first loved us! But this love is not an auto response—it’s a heartfelt commitment. This isn’t like sending out Christmas cards where we receive one from somebody and then send one back out of response because it’s the right thing to do. And it isn’t like an offering plate where we see others putting bills into the offering and then decide that we really should do the same. Loving God is not an auto-response and it’s not an obligation.

When God says that He loved us first, He means that He really loved us first! He loved us when we were so deep into sin that we mocked Him and cursed Him. He loved us because He created us and He knows that sin has distorted our heart and that there is deathly punishment for that sin. But—because He loves us—He is willing to forgive us for everything we’ve done against Him when we accept His salvation. Jesus actually died that horrific death on the cross because He loves us. He didn’t do it just to be a recognized hero. He wanted us to live! He wanted to take upon Himself all of our sins so that we wouldn’t have to stand in judgment and be punished for them one day.

Salvation is personal; it’s not an automatic pardon for everyone. Jesus died for everyone, but not everyone is saved. To receive His salvation, we need to accept and believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross and then rose again on the third day and now sits on the right hand of God in Heaven. Salvation requires repentance and submission to Christ. It’s not automatic. We must receive it and when we do, we will feel His love for us in our heart and we will want to love Him back.

  • We love him, because He first loved us.—1 John 4:19

Jesus became the atonement for the sins of every single person ever born, which means that He died for everyone’s sins, but not everyone will receive it. The Inclusion religion says that everyone is automatically saved and that God accepts us just as we are, sin and all, but the Bible says that we must repent and accept Jesus as Lord and be born again into the Kingdom of God.

  • For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.—Matthew 26:28

Jesus is the only way for any of us to get to God, our Father. He provided salvation out of love for His Father and out of love for those who the Father loves. That’s you and me! And all we have to do is receive it and accept it and no longer want to belong to this world. We become part of His elect family and we wait for Jesus to return as King. But as we wait, we share the love with others and we treat them with the same love and compassion that God has extended to us.

  • Jesus saith unto him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.”—John 14:6

This is God’s amazing love for us! And there is no one more deserving of our praise and worship than God! And we are only able to praise Him and worship Him from our heart—and we can only do that when we truly love Him. And our praise and worship to Him is our heartfelt response to His love for us, and so in our heart we become one with Him and His love lives in us. God did what He promised He would do; He took our sins away at the cross and finished His plan of redemption for us.

Confusion comes when preachers focus on what God will do for us now that we’re saved, rather than on what He did for us so we could be saved. We are grateful for the blessings that God gives us, but we don’t love Him only because of the blessings. Our love for God is true when we can love Him even without the blessings because He is our Heavenly Father and He loves us.

When we get saved we realize in our heart all that God went through to save us from sin, and so we are able to love God because of this love that He has always had for us. We are moved with compassion! Our hearts are filled with gratitude for this gift of life that He has given to us through Jesus. And then we can also realize that He wants to bless us and we can receive the blessings as a child. We read the Bible and know what His promises to His children are, and we can expect and trust that God will take care of us just as He promised He would. All these things are given to us because God loves us and we now belong to Him.

But how can we be sure that we really love God and are not just seeking the blessings? When we really love God, we crave to study the Bible so we can know Him, and then we obey His instructions for us and we don’t try to change any part of His law to suit ourselves. We are totally sold out to God and follow Him all the way, and we’ll see that our heart becomes filled with the same passion for the lost souls of this world as His heart was for us when we were still lost. We will want to share the gospel with others, and we’ll want to help people, and we’ll want to be part of the ministries of God that go out into the world and preach the gospel of Christ. We will love people with the same passion as God loves us and we’ll know that’s what in our heart is a true love for God!

  • If you love Me, keep My commandments.—John 14:15

 

January 5, 2016

The Sauls Around Us

NIV Acts 9:10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17a Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.

Sometimes we return to a blog that we’ve sourced content from before, only to find that the author is no longer posting new material. Still, some of what is there is so good, we want to keep it alive through sharing it with our audience here. That’s the case at the blog Commissionary (Great Commission + Missionary).

This appears to be the second-last post from Greg Wilton on the blog, from May, 2014. Click the title to read at source.

Can God Save Anyone?

The Conversion of Ananias – Acts 9:1-18

The story of the conversion of Saul tests our faith because it causes us to wonder if we really believe that God can save anyone. Saul, the one who watched people’s garments while they stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58) and the one who was breathing threats against believers (Acts 9:1), was dramatically converted on the road to Damascus. When we read this in Acts 9, we are immediately confronted with our own faith. God radically saved Saul, but can God radically do the same for my family, my friends, my coworkers, and my neighbors? All of us know people who are very worldly, very apathetic, or very devoted to another faith. All of us have been guilty of thinking that God couldn’t save that person. We sometimes think, “They just don’t care about spiritual matters…there’s no way,” “She’s too devoted to her own religion…there’s no way,” “He loves living like the world so much…there’s no way.” Our preconceived or initial judgments condemn us. Our spirit testifies to this because we know there are times when we don’t speak to someone about Jesus because we have already convinced ourselves that they wouldn’t believe in Jesus regardless. We are very quick to affirm cognitively that God can save anyone, but we are very reluctant to affirm that God can save anyone through our obedience in bringing God’s good news to that person. This is why Ananias is so important to those of us who struggle with this. Acts 9 describes the conversion of Saul, but equally important is how Acts 9 describes the conversion of Ananias.

Who is Ananias? Scripture only speaks about Ananias in reference to the conversion of Saul. Ananias is a disciple in Damascus (Acts 9:10), a devout man according to the law (Acts 22:12), and is well spoken of by all the Jews who lived in Damascus (Acts 22:12). This is an honorable description that most believers strive for. We all want to be known as a follower of Jesus in our community. We want to be known as people who are guided by a moral code. We all want to have a good reputation in our community because we know that a good reputation is a good witness for Christ. How Ananias is described is how most of us want to be described. As a relatively obscure, moral, reputable disciple of Jesus, Ananias represents us in this story of Saul’s conversion.

AnaniasBut why does Ananias need to be converted? He does not need a salvation conversion, but rather Ananias needed a belief conversion about salvation. Just like us, Ananias doubted if God could really save anyone. In a vision, God tells Ananias to go find Saul of Tarsus. Ananias’ response reveals his doubts about Saul, “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name’” (Acts 9:13,14). Notice the doubt, the fear, and the apprehension in his reply. This does not sound like a man who believes that God can save anyone. Ananias sounds like most of us, believing in our heads that God can save anyone but doubting that in our hearts. Despite his doubts about Saul, Ananias obeys the Lord and goes to visit Saul. His fear of God was greater than his fear of Saul, and for this reason we witness in Acts a very important kind of conversion. Ananias was converted from believing in “a God of possibilities” to believing in “a God of impossibilities.” Saul’s conversion challenged Ananias faith because Ananias had to decide if he truly believed that God could save anyone.

Jesus once said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Jesus said this because his disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” This popular phrase, “All things are possible with God” was initially related to Jesus’ statement about who can be saved. Jesus himself wanted his followers to believe that no one is beyond hope. Without question, the most impossible task we will ever face in life is trying to save ourselves. On our own, salvation cannot be obtained through being good or doing good. Be absolutely certain about this: apart from God salvation is impossible. Yet this most impossible task becomes possible because of Jesus Christ. He alone makes the impossible possible. Jesus lived perfectly, sacrificed himself for us by dying on the cross, and defeated Satan, sin, and death by resurrecting three days later. Because of this, we can have confidence that God did the impossible. Jesus saved us when we could not save ourselves. Ananias came to believe this through his involvement in the conversion of Saul. Ananias too was dramatically converted.

So what can we learn from Ananias’ example? Knowing that we want to believe wholeheartedly that God can save anyone, and knowing that we struggle at times to believe wholeheartedly that God can save anyone, what can we learn from Ananias?

  1. Say, “Here I am Lord.” Ananias responded to God by saying, “Here I am Lord.” This is reminiscent of Isaiah 6:8, “Here I am Lord, send me.” It’s a simple response, but it’s always the right response. Do you want to live your life as though you truly believe that God can save anyone that you might encounter today? Don’t get caught up in the details. Let it be sufficient to start by saying, “Here I am Lord.”
  2. Acknowledge your fears, but don’t embrace them. Ananias admitted his fears to God about Saul. He was aware of the evil Saul had already done and was capable of doing. Be honest with the Lord. In prayer, tell the Lord why you struggle with believing this person can be saved. But don’t embrace that doubt, that fear. Never. Leave the impossible to God.
  3. Embrace obedience. After Ananias confessed his concerns to the Lord, he listened to the Lord’s reply and responded in obedience. Go when God says go.
  4. Lay your hands on Saul. Ananias didn’t just pray for Saul from a distance. He got personal. He got involved. Ananias obeyed God and got so close to notorious Saul that he put his hands of him. If you believe God can save anyone, don’t be a witness from a distance. Have them in your home. Go to their home. Become friends with them. Learn what it means to rub shoulders with the people you once thought were beyond hope. You’ll likely be surprised how they have been crying out for truth, grace, and people from God all along.
  5. Speak Jesus to Saul. Ananias came to Saul as an ambassador of Jesus. He shared Jesus with Saul. That’s what people need to hear. Give them Jesus. No matter what, make sure you give them Jesus because Jesus is their only hope.
  6. Disciple Saul. Ananias played a role in baptizing Saul. We must not only be ready to believe that God can save anyone, we must be prepared for that reality. Be ready to disciple. Believe that God can save them, and be ready to show them the Christ-filled life.

There are Sauls all around us, people we thought would never believe, yet God disagrees. God is asking us to be Ananias. We must go get God’s Sauls. Believe that God can save anyone.

January 13, 2015

Our Death is not God’s Desire

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This week we got to hear author Mark Buchanan, and he shed some light on a particular scripture verse I had previously rushed through.

2 Samuel 14:14 Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him. (NIV)

The whole chapter is more than interesting. Basically, Joab finds a woman to deliver a prophetic word to King David in a situation that somewhat parallels David’s encounter with the prophet Nathan. (At one point David basically says, “Did Joab put you up to this?)

The MacLaren Commentary:

David’s good-for-nothing son Absalom had brought about the murder of one of his brothers, and had fled the country. His father weakly loved the brilliant blackguard, and would fain have had him back, but was restrained by a sense of kingly duty. Joab, the astute Commander-in-chief, a devoted friend of David, saw how the land lay, and formed a plan to give the king an excuse for doing what he wished to do. So he got hold of a person who is called ‘a wise woman’ from the country, dressed her as a mourner, and sent her with an ingeniously made-up story of how she was a widow with two sons, one of whom had killed the other, and of how the relatives insisted on their right of avenging blood, and demanded the surrender of the murderer; by which, as she pathetically said, ‘the coal’ that was left her would be ‘quenched.’ The king’s sympathy was quickly roused-as was natural in so impulsive and poetic a nature-and he pledged his word, and finally his oath, that the offender should be safe.

So the woman has him in a trap, having induced him to waive justice and to absolve the guilty by an arbitrary act. Then she turns upon him with an application to his own case, and bids him free himself from the guilt of double measures and inconsistency by doing with his banished son the same thing-viz. abrogating law and bringing back the offender. In our text she urges still higher considerations-viz. those of God’s way of treating criminals against His law, of whom she says that He spares their lives, and devises means-or, as the words might perhaps be rendered, ‘plans plannings’-by which He may bring them back. She would imply that human power and sovereignty are then noblest and likest God’s when they remit penalties and restore wanderers.

Mark Buchanan pointed out that verse 14 is richer, that the woman breaks into a commentary here on the purpose of God for mankind. Outside the realm of Bible commentary, someone might say that verse 14 is more philosophical.

Matthew Henry writes:

Here are two great instances of the mercy of God to sinners, properly urged as reasons for showing mercy:

First, The patience he exercises towards them. His law is broken, yet he does not immediately take away the life of those that break it, does not strike sinners dead, as justly he might, in the act of sin, but bears with them, and waits to be gracious. God’s vengeance had suffered Absalom to live; why then should not David’s justice suffer him?

Secondly, The provision he has made for their restoration to his favor, that though by sin they have banished themselves from him, yet they might not be expelled, or cast off, for ever. Atonement might be made for sinners by sacrifice. Lepers, and others ceremonially unclean, were banished, but provision was made for their cleansing, that, though for a time excluded, they might not be finally expelled. The state of sinners is a state of banishment from God. Poor banished sinners are likely to be for ever expelled from God if some course be not taken to prevent it. It is against the mind of God that they should be so, for he is not willing that any should perish. Infinite wisdom has devised proper means to prevent it; so that it is the sinners’ own fault if they be cast off. This instance of God’s good-will toward us all should incline us to be merciful and compassionate one towards another, Matt. 18:32, 33.

For more depth on this verse, check out The Biblical Illustrator commentary at this link. It can be a bit overwhelming. Most of the print commentaries I own tended to skip over it, and much of the online discussion has to do with challenges to the translation itself.  Still, I find something in this passage that I think can speak to us, and to end, I’ll leave us with a few other renderings of it:

14 We are all going to die; we are all like water that is poured on the ground and can’t be gathered up. But doesn’t God forgive a person? He never plans to keep a banished person in exile. (GW)

14 We all die sometime. Water spilled on the ground can’t be gathered up again. But God does not take away life. He works out ways to get the exile back. (Peterson)

14 All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him. (NLT)

14 Everyone dies—we are like water spilled in the dust that can’t be reclaimed. But God will not waste a life—He won’t allow the banished one to be exiled permanently from His presence. (The Voice*)


 

*Here, I think The Voice may go beyond what the other versions are saying; it might be thought to presuppose universalism; whereas the NIV and GW speaks of God’s ideal intention, and Peterson and the NLT seem to leave it open to us to respond, which was also in keeping with Buchanan’s sermon about saying ‘yes’ to God.

June 14, 2014

What Constitutes Success in the Christian Life?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:16 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to the blog Journey to the Center of the Soul.  This post appeared a few days under the title below; click to read at source.

The Successful Christian Life

How do we define “success” when it comes to Christian ministry? For some it might be by the size of the church congregation or by being an internationally known conference speaker or by the number of music albums recorded. Perhaps we should count the number of healings attributed to our ministry or responses to our altar call. But these measures only apply to the professional ministry, what about the vast majority of ordinary, everyday Christians? How do we define a successful Christian ministry for the stay-at-home mom or the single dad who only sees his kids every other weekend or the college student trying to resist the pull of the world around them? What does success mean to them? What does “ministry’ even mean to them? We look up from our corner and think, “if I was a really good Christian, then I should be doing more.” And the full-time pastor looks at the bigger church down the street and thinks, “If I were more spiritual, I could have a bigger church.” We’ve based our value and idea of success on some vague concept of accomplishment that has more to do with the world’s values than Christ’s values.

Jesus dealt head on with this concept of “successful ministry” and totally flipped it on its head. The story is found in the Gospel of Luke. After sending seventy-two of his followers on a “ministry trip” they return ecstatic, flushed with success. Here’s what happens next.

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  (Luke 10:17-20)

They had been out traveling throughout the area preaching the good news of the Kingdom, healing and casting out demons. Even the demons had to do what they said. If that isn’t successful ministry I don’t know what is. But Jesus stops them short, “do NOT rejoice that the spirits are subject to you…” What? What could be better, more exciting than that? “…but rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” He goes on to say. For Jesus, it wasn’t about all our “doings” or even how well we did them. For Him, the most important thing is our “being.” Having our names written in heaven means that we are known, intimately, individually, personally, deeply; it means being included and accepted. Now THAT is a successful Christian life. And the most beautiful part is that the great book has the names of the little child who simply understands that “Jesus loves me this I know” and the mega-church pastor, both their names are written in the same column on page 127,284 in the same size font, not because they did something special but because they are equally loved. All the names are there because of His incomprehensible love for us, not because of any impressive deeds we think we have done.

So let me ask you a question. Is it enough? Is it enough for you simply to know that your name is in that book or do you still strive to “do something great for God?”   Are you delighting in being known or are you chasing some other measure of success? I honestly don’t know what the successful Christian life looks like, it will be different for each of us, but I do know that right now He is reading my name in His book and smiling. It doesn’t get better than that. This is me – rejoicing.


Verse 18 is often seen as a strange interjection in this context, although it does clarify some of what we know about Satan. Both The Message translation and The Voice Bible add the words “I know” at the beginning to make a smoother transition between the verse before and what Jesus is about to say. The Voice acknowledges that the addition is not supported by the original text by adding italics, the same technique as used by the KJV.

The Message v.18 Jesus said, “I know. I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky.

The Voice v.18 I know. I saw Satan falling from above like a lightning bolt.

The NLT simply adds, “Yes.”

November 7, 2013

Whoever Has Will Be Given More…

One of the blessings of preparing this daily devotional is the ‘macro’ view I get of all the great people doing great devotional writing. I get so excited to be able to share each new writer I discover. Jeremy Binns has an excellent, multi-faceted blog; this appeared in May under the same title as we used above; in fact, in a rare move, we also ‘borrowed’ the graphic associated with the blog post. However, we’d like you guys to give Jeremy some link love and read this well-written piece at source.

Matthew 13 12

Music People

I’ve often been somewhat mesmerized by people with exceptional musical abilities. One of the skills that I’ve always found particularly interesting is the ability for some people to hear and distinguish the unique parts within a musical piece.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy music to be sure, but for me, it’s mostly an experience as a whole. For others though, they hear the often overlooked bass line, or they pick out the unique percussion elements, and they hear the variations within the rhythm instruments. They hear them all.

While some of this is obviously a skill, I think that it is mostly a great deal of training themselves to hear and listen. I’ve sat with people like this, and they can point out a part, and suddenly I can hear it too. It wasn’t that my ears suddenly became super human, it’s just that I began listening for a sound that I had never been receptive to hearing to before.

Melodies From Heaven

Jesus had a unique ability to hear a melody of a different kind. He had the ability to hear the voice of the Father in an unobstructed and non-distorted manner. He heard each nuance of emotion, each letter of precision, and every heartbeat of passion in those words.

Throughout His life on earth, He walked among humanity with purpose. He functioned as a divine translator between the invisible image of God, and the vision of mortal eyes.

Like the skilled musician, He stopped people in their routines and asked them to listen to a rhythm that they never noticed before. He asked them to tune their ears to the always proceeding voice of their Creator.

He Who Has Ears to Hear…

It all came down to whether or not that individual was willing to listen to the silent song echoing throughout the ages and reverberating within the deepest constructs of our beings. If you’re willing to listen, you’ll hear it, or he who has ears to hear, let him hear.

He used the story in Matthew 13 about the sower who threw seed on 4 types of soil. Only one of them was receptive enough for that seed to take root and produce fruit. The illustration was about the voice of God and mankind’s receptivity to it.

He followed the parable with an often misunderstood verse that is remarkably profound and relevant to each of us when read within the context and understanding that Jesus is speaking about our willingness to hear the Divine Melody.

Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. – Matthew 13:12

The Crossroads

Jesus wasn’t much for sugar-coating things, and this verse says it all. Whoever has (a willingness to hear) will be given more (to hear)… Whoever does not have (a willingness to hear), even what they have will be taken from them…

Throughout life, we come to crossroads that will have eternal impact, not only on ourselves, but also those we are connected to. We come to moments when Christ stops by our life and asks us to listen that heavenly sound of God’s voice speaking.

This may be through Bible reading, it may be through a sermon, or it may even be through that still small voice of the Holy Spirit. We have a choice then. Will we stop and listen to what He is saying and apply it to our lives, or will we choose to ignore it and continue on our self-chosen path.

Know this today, every time you stop and are willing to listen, you increase your capacity to hear that voice and it’s influence within your life. Every time, you choose not to hear, you diminish your ability to hear and push His influence further and further from your life.

Do You Hear it Today?

I believe that if you’re reading this, God is whispering to you, even right now. He is calling out to you and asking you to listen to His melody, His purpose, and His plan for your life. Will you have the ears to hear, or will you choose an eternal deafness? Whoever has will be given more…

November 18, 2012

Worship in the Psalms

The blog Fresh Read is working through a study of The Psalms and provides some excellent online devotional commentary. Here are two recent posts, one dealing with Psalm 146 and the other with the first verse of Psalm 147. Click the title for each to link directly and locate other entries.

Together & Alone – Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live

Psalm 146:1-2 (NIV_84)

Hallelujah is a Hebrew word.  It is a verb that calls us to Praise the Lord.  It is possible in Hebrew to have verbs for an individual or for a group.  This word is for a group.  It means, “Let us, together, praise the Lord.”

While Israel lived in tents, before they entered the Promised Land.  They would put the Tent of God in the middle of all their tents.  Each tribe was arranged around the tent of worship.  God was at the center of their community.  (Numbers 2)

When they enter the Promised Land they put the tent of worship in one place.  Later Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem.  The people would come from all over to worship God in this one place.  They worshiped together in Jerusalem.  (Psalm 48)

Worshiping God is something that we do together.  Hallelujah is a command. It calls us to get together, and to worship God together.  You could watch a church meeting on TV or on the Computer.  You could stay at home with a cup of tea and be part of a church service.  You could go to TV church in my pajamas.  It would be much easier when it snows here in Wisconsin?

“Hallelujah” is a call to meet together.  His people honor the Lord when they meet together.  They show that God loves many people and many kinds of people when we meet together.  They give each other encouragement when they meet together and say “Welcome.”  And when they say, “Praise the Lord.”

It is also important to praise the Lord alone.

In verse 1 the Psalmist speaks to his own soul.  He says, “Praise the Lord, O my soul.”

In verse 2 he says, “I will praise the Lord as long as I live.”

These verses are for the individual.  The bible has stories about how God looks on the heart, not on the outside.  David was chosen to be king, even though he was the youngest in his family, because his heart was strong for the Lord.  Isaiah spoke in warning of those whose lips offered praise, but their hearts were not in it. (Is 29:13)

It is important to Praise God together. It is also important to  praise God from the heart.

There is balance in the pronouns.


Why Worship? Psalm 147:1

Praise the Lord.

How good it is to sing praises to our God,

    how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

We gather to praise the Lord together.  Have you ever wondered why?  Maybe it is a tradition – your parents and their parents did this.  But there are better reasons than simple repetition and tradition.

This psalm says that praising the Lord is good, pleasant and fitting.

It is good in many ways.  Only the ungrateful do not give thanks for a gift.  We all think it good to thanks our parents, to thank a vet, to thank a neighbor who lends a hand.  It is good because there is not harm in it, not sin.  It is good because Praise realigns our hearts from despair or doubt – when we praise we remember what God has done.

It is pleasant. Isn’t it delightful to hear good music?  Don’t you enjoy singing a great old hymn, even if you have more enthusiasm than skill?  God desires that our walk with him is delightful and pleasant.  We are not called to be grim, sour legalists.  We are called to live in delight.

It is fitting.   Sooner or later you will run into someone who says that this is all a waste of time.  Why are we here praising God when we could be doing something useful?  During the Civil War the army wanted to close churches and turn them into hospitals.  Lincoln stopped this idea because he said that a nation has to have a place to pray, especially in times of distress and danger.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and 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.

Scripture portions quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green because the Scriptures have LIFE!

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September 17, 2012

Working Out Your Salvation With Fear and Trembling

Two days ago we looked at the operation of grace, so this may seem a little bit of a contradiction but we are now looking at our response to God in light of the grace we have received.  This is also from the book 101 Most Puzzling Bible Verses (Harvest House)

Keep on Keeping On

NIV Phil 2:12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling

When Paul told the Philippians to work out their salvation, he did not mean they were to work for it or acquire it through their own efforts. In fact, they were already secure in their belief and salvation. (Phil 1:1) No one, ourselves included, can work for salvation because it is a gift from God (Eph 2:8-9). Salvation involves deliverance from the penalty and eternal consequences of sin, but every Christian is responsible for his or her own spiritual development and struggles with the daily consequences of the sin nature. While the Holy Spirit actively works in our lives, success or failure is up to us (Rom. 8:9,14,16).

Paul command the Philippians to put into practice through the aid of the Holy Spirit the results of the salvation they received from God. God would enable them to do it, (Phil 2:13) but they needed to actively pursue the ramifications of having eternal life and the benefits of living Godly lives. Spiritual progress is a cooperative effort between the Christian and the Holy Spirit. It is an outworking of a person’s rebirth as a Christian.

Paul was certain that just as God worked in his life and through him, so too would God work in the Philippians’ lives (Phil 1:6; 4:9). Because of this they were to be joyful in daily life (as should be all Christians), but they were also to understand the enormous responsibility and obligation of serving Jesus Christ. They were (and we are) to serve with “fear and trembling.” Being joyful and being fearful might seem to be contradictions, but they are not.

Paul uses the phrase “fear and trembling” several times to indicate a positive emotional response to understanding God’s desires for those He loves (I Cor 2:3; II Cor 7:15; Eph. 6:5). It is an attitude of obedience and awe rather than freight. To experience God’s best in our lives, we must have complete trust in Him and in the unique plan he has for each of us. As we journey with God, we work out our salvation, fully realizing the magnitude of the gift He has given us. In much the same way that the gift of luxury automobile is fully understood  and appreciated only as the new owner drives it, so too is salvation more fully comprehended as a person daily lives according to God’s plan and God’s word. Fine automobiles are not meant to stay in the garage, and salvation is not meant to be dormant or static.

~ Tim Demy in 101 Most Puzzling Bible Verses, chapter 77

emphasis added

June 20, 2011

Faithful Devotion and Prayer

Found this EM Bounds classic piece today at the blog of N.R. Johnson, which I suspect I will be visiting many times again…

“St. Teresa rose off her deathbed to finish her work. She inspected, with all her quickness of eye and love of order the whole of the house in which she had been carried to die. She saw everything put into its proper place, and every one answering to their proper order, after which she attended the divine offices of the day. She then went back to her bed, summoned her daughters around her . . . and, with the most penitential of David’s penitential prayers upon her tongue, Teresa of Jesus went forth to meet her Bridegroom.” — ALEXANDER WHYTE.

PRAYER, without fervor, stakes nothing on the issue, because it has nothing to stake. It comes with empty hands. Hands, too, which are listless, as well as empty, which have never learned the lesson of clinging to the Cross.

Fervorless prayer has no heart in it; it is an empty thing, an unfit vessel. Heart, soul, and life, must find place in all real praying. Heaven must be made to feel the force of this crying unto God.

Paul was a notable example of the man who possessed a fervent spirit of prayer. His petitioning was all-consuming, centered immovably upon the object of his desire, and the God who was able to meet it.

Prayers must be red hot. It is the fervent prayer that is effectual and that availeth. Coldness of spirit hinders praying; prayer cannot live in a wintry atmosphere. Chilly surroundings freeze out petitioning; and dry up the springs of supplication. It takes fire to make prayers go. Warmth of soul creates an atmosphere favorable to prayer, because it is favorable to fervency. By flame, prayer ascends to heaven. Yet fire is not fuss, nor heat, noise. Heat is intensity — something that glows and burns. Heaven is a mighty poor market for ice.

God wants warmhearted servants. The Holy Spirit comes as a fire, to dwell in us; we are to be baptized, with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Fervency is warmth of soul. A phlegmatic temperament is abhorrent to vital experience. If our religion does not set us on fire, it is because we have frozen hearts. God dwells in a flame; the Holy Ghost descends in fire. To be absorbed in God’s will, to be so greatly in earnest about doing it that our whole being takes fire, is the qualifying condition of the man who would engage in effectual prayer.

Our Lord warns us against feeble praying. “Men ought always to pray,” He declares, “and not to faint.” That means, that we are to possess sufficient fervency to carry us through the severe and long periods of pleading prayer. Fire makes one alert and vigilant, and brings him off, more than conqueror. The atmosphere about us is too heavily charged with resisting forces for limp or languid prayers to make headway. It takes heat, and fervency and meteoric fire, to push through, to the upper heavens, where God dwells with His saints, in light.

Many of the great Bible characters were notable examples of fervency of spirit when seeking God. The Psalmist declares with great earnestness:

“My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto Thy judgments at all times.”

What strong desires of heart are here! What earnest soul longings for the Word of the living God!

An even greater fervency is expressed by him in another place:

“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?”

That is the word of a man who lived in a state of grace, which had been deeply and supernaturally wrought in his soul.

Fervency before God counts in the hour of prayer, and finds a speedy and rich reward at His hands. The Psalmist gives us this statement of what God had done for the king, as his heart turned toward his Lord:

“Thou hast given him his heart’s desire, and hast not withholden the request of his lips.”

At another time, he thus expresses himself directly to God in preferring his request:

“Lord, all my desire is before Thee; and my groaning is not hid from Thee.”

What a cheering thought! Our inward groanings, our secret desires, our heart-longings, are not hidden from the eyes of Him with whom we have to deal in prayer.

The incentive to fervency of spirit before God, is precisely the same as it is for continued and earnest prayer. While fervency is not prayer, yet it derives from an earnest soul, and is precious in the sight of God. Fervency in prayer is the precursor of what God will do by way of answer. God stands pledged to give us the desire of our hearts in proportion to the fervency of spirit we exhibit, when seeking His face in prayer.

Fervency has its seat in the heart, not in the brain, nor in the intellectual faculties of the mind. Fervency therefore, is not an expression of the intellect. Fervency of spirit is something far transcending poetical fancy or sentimental imagery. It is something else besides mere preference, the contrasting of like with dislike. Fervency is the throb and gesture of the emotional nature.

It is not in our power, perhaps, to create fervency of spirit at will, but we can pray God to implant it. It is ours, then, to nourish and cherish it, to guard it against extinction, to prevent its abatement or decline. The process of personal salvation is not only to pray, to express our desires to God, but to acquire a fervent spirit and seek, by all proper means, to cultivate it. It is never out of place to pray God to beget within us, and to keep alive the spirit of fervent prayer.

Fervency has to do with God, just as prayer has to do with Him. Desire has always an objective. If we desire at all, we desire something. The degree of fervency with which we fashion our spiritual desires, will always serve to determine the earnestness of our praying. In this relation, Adoniram Judson says:

“A travailing spirit, the throes of a great burdened desire, belongs to prayer. A fervency strong enough to drive away sleep, which devotes and inflames the spirit, and which retires all earthly ties, all this belongs to wrestling, prevailing prayer. The Spirit, the power, the air, and food of prayer is in such a spirit.”

Prayer must be clothed with fervency, strength and power. It is the force which, centered on God, determines the outlay of Himself for earthly good. Men who are fervent in spirit are bent on attaining to righteousness, truth, grace, and all other sublime and powerful graces which adorn the character of the authentic, unquestioned child of God.

God once declared, by the mouth of a brave prophet, to a king who, at one time, had been true to God, but, by the incoming of success and material prosperity, had lost his faith, the following message:

“The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him. Herein hast thou done foolishly; therefore, from henceforth thou shalt have wars.”

God had heard Asa’s prayer in early life, but disaster came and trouble was sent, because he had given up the life of prayer and simple faith.

In Romans 15:30, we have the word, “strive,” occurring, in the request which Paul made for prayerful cooperation.

In Colossians 4:12, we have the same word, but translated differently: “Epaphras always laboring fervently for you in prayer.” Paul charged the Romans to “strive together with him in prayer,” that is, to help him in his struggle of prayer. The word means to enter into a contest, to fight against adversaries. It means, moreover, to engage with fervent zeal to endeavor to obtain.

These recorded instances of the exercise and reward of faith, give us easily to see that, in almost every instance, faith was blended with trust until it is not too much to say that the former was swallowed up in the latter. It is hard to properly distinguish the specific activities of these two qualities, faith and trust. But there is a point, beyond all peradventure, at which faith is relieved of its burden, so to speak; where trust comes along and says: “You have done your part, the rest is mine!”

In the incident of the barren fig tree, our Lord transfers the marvelous power of faith to His disciples. To their exclamation, “How soon is the fig tree withered alway!” He said:

“If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

When a Christian believer attains to faith of such magnificent proportions as these, he steps into the realm of implicit trust. He stands without a tremor of the apex of his spiritual outreaching. He has attained faith’s veritable top stone which is unswerving, unalterable, unalienable trust in the power of the living God.

– by EM Bounds (from “The Necessity of Prayer”)

January 9, 2011

The People That You Meet

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working my way through a copy of the DVD Curriculum, The Truth Project from Focus on the Family featuring Dr. Del Tackett.   I’m watching some of the episodes out of sequence, so yesterday I watched the conclusion to the series; in which one of the participants in the series paraphrases C. S. Lewis:

Every person you meet is an eternal being.   You have never met a mere mortal.  Everyone you’ve ever come into contact with, argued with, traded with is either an immortal horror or an everlasting splendor.

“You have never met a mere mortal.” Wow. Strong words. But certainly consistent with the idea that God created us as spiritual beings made to respond to Him, or made for eternity.

Something to consider.

But when you think about it, that’s what new life and new birth have bought us and brought us: Transition from being on the road to immortal horror, to the way of being everlasting splendor.

At his blog, Dr. Tackett considers this in greater depth:

I don’t know what it is within the heart of man that loves a new beginning, but we do. Yes, there are times when a new beginning carries some fear because of the unknown that lies ahead or because we don’t like change and are just very comfortable with the old. But, in most cases, we like the fresh beginning.

The new year often stirs within us a motivation to start anew with goals and objectives that, in many cases, have gone unmet in years past. It almost gives us the privilege of “closing the book” on the failures and disappointments of the past and setting out with no bricks in our backpack. We almost feel lighter!

Of course, the reality is that just because the second hand sweeps past the 12 at midnight on December 31st, there isn’t some magical wand that brings fairy dust down upon your life. No genie appears to undo your past or miraculously change your circumstances. If you have a boatload of debt on New Year’s Eve, you will wake up to that same debt on January 1st.

Ugh! The reality of reality!

Wouldn’t it be grand if all things bad went away when the clock struck midnight at the end of the year? Can you imagine what your sleep would be like that night? Can you imagine what it would be like waking up the next morning, knowing that all the debt was gone, all the regrets and failures of the past were gone, all the ugliness and pain and grief and misery…gone!

Wow! Wouldn’t that be something!

But, alas, there are no magic wands and there are no genies.

But there is One who is in the business of making things “new”. For those who are His, there will come a day when we will go to sleep and awake to a true New Beginning.

But even in this life, He makes things new.

Millions have experienced the joy of a new creation, when the sins of the past are truly forgiven.

He creates us anew.

He gives us…
…a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26)
…a new birth (1 Peter 1:3)
…a new spirit (Ezekiel 11:19)
…a new song (Psalm 40:3)
…a new name (Isaiah 62:2; Revelation 2:17)
…a new life (Acts 5:20)
…a new self (Ephesians 4:24)
…a new way into the holy place (Hebrews 10:20)
…a new covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)
…and He creates a new heaven and earth (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13)

The Scriptures close out with the great declaration from Jesus, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

That is a New Years Day that will make all our new years pale in comparison!

But there is a continual “newness” that God gives to us:

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Every day, there is a newness for those who are in Christ. If that reality were understood by our faint hearts, we would arise each morning with the joy and “freshness” that befits the child of the King who is in the business of taking old things and making them new.

May your New Year truly be a New Day every day.