Christianity 201

August 4, 2021

Making a Difference by Being Different

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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In the last few days, I’ve been reading a short book by Michael Frost, titled Keep Christianity Weird: Embracing the Discipline of Being Different (NavPress, 2018). My wife and I have been influenced by Frost’s writings and got to hear him in person twice in the early 2000s.

As you might guess from the title, there’s a lot of energy in this book, but for our purposes today I shared one of the more tame sections! Earlier in the chapter he’s been examining Nicodemus having a late evening Q&A with Jesus.

Renewing the Mind

The renewal of your mind is more than the appropriation of more information about certain matters. And it’s more than the abandonment of certain social inhibitions. It is a supernatural work that can only be done by the Holy Spirit.

When Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind (italics added), he uses a Greek term only rarely found in the New Testament. It appears only two other times in the Bible. One of those usages was also by Paul, where he says in Titus 3:5, “[God] 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” (italics added). Being saved by God involves this curious combination of washing and renewal. But then it makes sense when we consider Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3:5: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”

Conversion or salvation is accepted as a free gift from God and experienced as both outward washing and inward renewal. Compare Jesus’ and Paul’s words in this beautiful passage in Ezekiel:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Ezekiel 36:25-27

Clearly, Jesus fulfills this prophecy from Ezekiel. It is only through Jesus we can be washed clean and given a new spirit. What Paul does in Romans 12 is take this idea of renewal or regeneration by the Holy Spirit and apply it to our minds. According to Paul, the Spirit renews the mind.

And, as Ezekiel says, the Spirit will enable us “to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Paul echoes this belief in Titus 3. After referring to the renewal by the Holy Spirit, he goes on to say, “This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good” (Titus 3:8).

Remember, in Paul’s understanding, doing what is good wasn’t the same as doing what is conventional. Doing good, according to Paul, involved bizarre behaviour (for the time), like temperance, respect, self-control, loyalty, love, honesty, and trustworthiness (see the full list in Titus 2). This was a time when drunkenness, misogyny, theft, disrespect, dishonesty, and worse was the norm. The only way the earliest Christians could avoid conforming to the patterns of their world–where men treated women as property, where masters mistreated slaves, where slaves stole from masters, where drunkenness and debauchery were commonplace–was to submit to the renewal of their minds by the Holy Spirit.

How does the Spirit do this? It’s a mystery, really. When Nicodemus expressed surprise and confusion about Jesus’ insistence that he must be born again, Jesus admitted he was speaking of “heavenly things” beyond the Pharisee’s ability to understand.

July 20, 2021

Christianity’s Exclusivity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today again we get to highlight a new voice. Dave Lowe writes at The Lowedown (and his articles are DAVEotionals!) He has spent his life in service with Cru (along with his wife Jen) and currently heads up Cru City’s Millennial ministry in California, reaching out to one of the least evangelized groups in the western world. As always, you’re strongly encouraged to click the header which follows and read these articles where we found them.

Is Christianity an Exclusive Religion?

1 Timothy 2

1I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God’s mercy upon them, and give thanks. 2Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. 3This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4for he wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. 6He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message that God gave to the world at the proper time. 7And I have been chosen—this is the absolute truth—as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles about faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-7, NLT)

DAVEotional

One of the criticisms I often hear when talking to others about Christ is that Christianity claims to be exclusive. These claims of exclusivity are seen as a negative in our culture, which values freedom of thought, and in the name of tolerance, often validates any and all views, no matter how outlandish or illogical.

It’s absolutely true that Christianity claims to be true and  on certain doctrinal matters it is exclusive.

In this passage of 1 Timothy 2, Paul is urging his audience to pray for everyone, including kings and those in authority. I previously wrote about the need to pray for our political rivals here.

Paul gives the reason why we should pray for others, even those who are in authority over us and with whom we might disagree – God wants everyone to be saved and understand the truth.

Two questions naturally follow: what does it mean “to be saved” and “what is the truth that people need to understand?”

When the Bible talks about being saved, it’s referring to being rescued from punishment. The picture is that we are on a trajectory that will lead to disaster but because of God’s help, our crisis is averted.

One of the questions that every religion seeks to answer is “how can people be reconciled to God?” Or another way of putting it is, “what must a person do in order to be accepted by God and enter into His presence?”

To be reconciled means to be brought back into a favorable relational status. What must I do to please God, to earn His favor and gain His acceptance?

Nearly every religion answers this question by providing a list of actions one must complete or avoid in order to gain favor. These actions form the basis for evaluating a person’s devotion to God and the quality or “goodness” of a person’s life, which in turn is used to determine their worthiness for entering God’s presence in the afterlife.

But here lies the problem. Nobody can follow all the rules that any religion might establish. These “rules” create a legal system for following God which people inevitably violate. One doesn’t have to read very far into the Old Testament to see that the Israelites were constantly abandoning God’s laws and rebelling against His statutes.

So what is the “truth” that God wants everyone to understand?

The truth is outlined in verses 5 and 6, which state:

For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message that God gave to the world at the proper time.

The truth is that the ONLY way to be reconciled to God is through Christ Jesus. His death on the cross purchased freedom for everyone.

So reconciliation to God does NOT occur by keeping a list of religious requirements. Instead, it comes by placing one’s faith in Jesus to make the payment for us.

Is it exclusive? YES and NO!

It’s exclusive in that Jesus is the ONLY one who has made a payment for sin. No other religious system even offers a solution to how imperfect people can make themselves righteous enough to enter into the presence of an infinitely holy God. Every other religious system keeps people trapped in the religious hamster wheel of endlessly attempting to make oneself “worthy” before God, only to experience moral failure through everyday sins.

Fortunately for us, Jesus rescues us from this religious trap and provides a way for us to actually be reconciled.

But it’s NOT exclusive in the sense that the freedom Jesus offers is available to EVERYONE, not just some select group. ANYONE can access God by coming to Jesus!

This is the truth that God wants EVERYONE to understand, which is why Paul urges us to pray for all people to ultimately understand this truth so that they might experience God’s mercy.

Reflection

What is your view on how a person is “saved”? In other words, in your view, what does a person need to do in order to make it to heaven and live with God for eternity?

What is the basis for your answer in the previous question? In other words, what is the source of the views that you hold? 

People often say that Christians are too exclusive in their views. Do you agree that Christianity is exclusive? If so, why is this seen as a negative to people? Does being exclusive mean that it is automatically wrong? Why or why not?

The essence of Christianity’s exclusive claims is found in verse 6, which says, “He [Jesus] gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.” How would you explain this concept to someone else? What does it mean that Jesus gave his life? What does it mean that he purchased freedom?


Because of the nature of today’s article, it may be that a search engine brought you here and you’ve not yet crossed the line of faith. I want to invite you to read another one of Dave’s articles which touches on things you might be considering; check out Follow the Science.

June 8, 2021

The Weight of Joy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Romans.6  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,that we should no longer be slaves to sin… 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

So what does today’s title mean? Stay tuned!

Today we are highlighting a writer who is new to us, Victoria Moll. Her blog is titled, Notes About Glory. Before we get into today’s devotional, here’s a little introduction to her writing. In both cases, you’re encouraged to click the headers to read each piece at her site.

In Jesus Christ, For His Glory

In Jesus Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

The phrase “in Jesus Christ” simply means to be a believer in Christ, having accepted him as your Lord and Savior.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the price for human sin by his blood, granting us forgiveness. Jesus is the reason that we are declared righteous when we stand before God, and are justified in His sight. Eternal life is not earned, but freely given to everybody who declares the name of Jesus because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Anyone who is a believer is “in Christ”.

For His Glory.

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

Philippians 2:9-11

We serve a God who is truly worthy of our praise! Giving praise to the Lord is more than singing songs during a praise and worship service. Worship is a lifestyle of obedience and working for the glory of God through our spiritual disciplines and missional mindset. Giving glory to God looks like thanking Him and recognizing Him as the source of everything good. The practice of giving glory to God is rewarding in that the more you practice a life of worship, the more you will see how worthy He is! This joy in realizing the fullness of God brings about celebration and adoration.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Joy is Weighty

I have been thinking a lot about joy lately, and I’ve noticed that in order for there to be joy, there must always be a sacrifice.

As believers, we experience joy as a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) as a product of the continual transformation brought on by the Holy Spirit. This joy is free and accessible to us, but it came at the price of Christ’s death on the cross for our sake.

Because of the weight of sin in our fallen world and the perpetual death that comes with it, in order for us to feel the joy of the Lord, it comes at a cost. Yet God was so merciful that He paid it for is, giving us access to that joy.

What does all this mean?

That there is baggage in joy. Not necessarily the kind that we wallow in or the kind that keeps us from rejoicing, but the kind that convicts our hearts and draws us near to the Father in thankfulness and praise.

I believe that the glory of the Father can be found in our joy, as a product of what the spirit produces in us, because of the Son.

Joy is a lovely state of being, yet a necessary reminder that without Christ, there once was not.

I think about the year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee, which came every 50th year, was a time commanded by God for the releasing  of people from their debts, releasing all slaves, and returning property to those who originally owned it (Leviticus 25:1-13). The year of Jubilee was precisely its namesake: a season of celebration. There was so much joy that came from the lifting of the yoke of slavery and the shame that came with debt. Jubilee was joyous for those who could not find freedom by their own means- but the catch is that this joy is not so easily recognized until there is first the taint of slavery. For those who did not experience loss or debt, they had a much harder time rejoicing, because they had nothing to be returned to them.

In the same way, Paul says in Romans that although we should not continue sinning, the memory of sin should bring us joy in our salvation, and compel us to offer ourselves to the Father as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6).

This is the Christian joy: to not live as though we were still dead in our sins, but to rejoice in the freedom we have found in Christ, using our knowledge of salvation and thankfulness to compel us to glorify the Father.

Yes friends, this is a weighty joy.


Keep going: Get to know Victoria better in this recent, heartfelt article about what Jesus means to her. Check out Why Jesus.

June 1, 2021

God’s Wrath in the Penitential Psalms

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A year ago, in a debut that ran for two days, we introduced you to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting whose “blog’s central aim is to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.” When we returned for a visit, Mark had wrapped up a series of different features of the Psalms in alphabetical order, hence the name of today’s article, below.

As he points out, the wrath of God has become the object of more debate recently whenever salvation or atonement is discussed. Did God pour out his wrath on Jesus or did he pour out his wrath on sin? Or is He a loving God who would never do anything wrathful to anyone? Perhaps you’ve found yourself in one of those discussions. In character with the rest of his writing, Mark looks at the Old Testament and in particular what the Psalms say about the wrath of God.

W is for Wrath

The subject of God’s wrath is a challenging one at a number of levels. It connects with how we understand the atonement and the relationship between the two testaments to name just two. A starting point for any theological reflection and understanding of God’s wrath recognises that the Bible—in both testaments—speaks of God’s wrath, or anger, towards sin.

Two of the areas of the Bible where this theme is to the fore are Paul’s Letter to the Romans and the Book of Psalms. It is likely that whoever created the grouping of Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143 as the penitential psalms was very aware of this. The evidence of this is that these seven psalms each mention God’s wrath and/or feature in Paul’s discussion of the problem of sin in Romans, see Nasuti (1999).

Before we get to Psalm 51, we will present the explicit mentions of wrath in the other six penitential psalms. Psalm 6 and Psalm 38 both open in the same way, with this very concern:

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Psalm 6:1, NRSV

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
Psalm 38:1, NRSV

Psalm 102 speaks of God’s anger too:

For I eat ashes like bread,
and mingle tears with my drink,
because of your indignation and anger;
for you have lifted me up and thrown me aside.
Psalm 102:9–10, NRSV

Other verses in the penitential psalms speak of God’s action against the psalmist which we might read as a consequence of anger:

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up[a] as by the heat of summer
Selah
Psalm 32:4, NRSV

Psalm 51 makes no direct mention of God’s anger or wrath, although if we read this psalm with a penitential lens, we can understand this lying behind the judgement that the psalmist seeks to avoid. Whether we read it with this lens, or in isolation, we see an expectation, a hope, even a celebration, that God’s mercy will eclipse God’s judgment. Psalm 51 challenges any argument that suggests a bipolar distinction between a wrathful God of the Old Testament and a Loving God of the New. Psalm 51 breaks any such simplistic notions. It points to the need of an understanding of God that resists such false dichotomies. This is not the time or place to explore the atonement or the relationship between the testaments in depth. We can, however, be grateful that both testaments testify to the truth of Psalm 51:

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17, NRSV

 

Reference
Harry P. Nasuti, Defining the Sacred Songs: Genre, Tradition, and the Post-Critical Interpretation of the Psalms, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999, p.33.


While not directly related to today’s devotional, while looking for something else I found this song, which was new to me. It takes 5½ minutes and the lyrics are on-screen. Sit back and enjoy.

 

May 21, 2021

Reconciled to God Through Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Col.1.21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Today we’re featuring Matthew Breeden and a sermon outline from 2018 for the above passage, posted at the website of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas. Click the header which follows below to read at their site.

The Message of Reconciliation

Introduction

As Paul writes to this young church, this gathering of new believers in Colossae he wants them to understand the centrality of Christ and their need for Him. As we considered verses 15-20 we answered the question, “Who is Jesus?” We made the observation that one of the greatest errors of all time is denial and minimizing of who Jesus really is.

As we come to verses 21-23 it is important to acknowledge another point of error: many (if not most) people believe that we are born basically good and that our default position is right standing with God. This, however, is not the teaching of Scripture and as Paul writes to the Colossians he wants them to know their need for reconciliation as well as the significance of what Jesus has done to make reconciliation of sinful men to God available.

Our Need for Reconciliation (1:21)

Paul is writing this letter to people who are now in Christ, they have received the Gospel, but he wants them to have a very clear understanding of who they were before Jesus. He describes their pre-Christ condition in three ways:

  • Alienated – Before we are reconciled to God we are separated or estranged from Him by our sin (Ephesians 2:12).
  • Hostile in Mind – Before we are reconciled to God we have minds that are hateful toward Him. So, our “alienation” isn’t passive separation – we are active in our enmity toward Him.

The Source of Reconciliation (1:22a)

While we were born as enemies and haters of God, separated from Him, God took the initiative to reconcile our relationship to Him. That reconciliation, however, came at a price. The mending of this broken relationship took a sacrifice, it was made possible only by the broken body of Jesus (Colossians 1:20; Romans 5:10-11; Ephesians 2:12-16).

The Goal of Reconciliation (1:22b)

In the first part of verse 22 Paul reminds the Colossians of their completed reconciliation. While reconciliation is complete in Jesus, there is also an on-going process – there is an ultimate goal of our reconciliation that is still being worked out.

The goal of our reconciliation is to move us from being people who are marked by evil deeds to being people who are holy and blameless and above reproach. This is something God does in us, but we are also called to strive for it in our daily lives (Ephesians 1:4; Philippians 2:12-13).

The Condition of Final Reconciliation (1:23)

Paul is writing to a people who he fears are being tempted to trust other things, besides Christ, for their salvation. And so he wants to make this clear: The only way that you can have the hope of reconciliation is if you have a faith that is certain to the end.

What we know from other parts of Scripture is that for those who have true saving faith, that kind of faith will never fail and it will never falter. True faith is God given and will never fail. But nevertheless, while those who are in Christ are secure in Him, our aim should always be to remain steadfast and stable in faith (Philippians 1:6; 2:1-13).

Application:

  • Do you understand the position you were in without Christ? If we don’t understand who we were we will never understand the magnitude of our salvation.
  • Do you understand the source of reconciliation? If we don’t understand the price that was paid in order to reconcile us to God, then we will never have the proper level of appreciation and gratitude for our salvation.
  • Do you understand the goal of your reconciliation? If you don’t understand the aim or the goal of your salvation then you will never grow or mature in your faith the way God intends.
  • Do you understand the ongoing nature of salvation? If you don’t understand that salvation is an ongoing process then it’s possible that you have not fully understood the work of God in your life.
  • Do you understand your call to be an ambassador? If you don’t understand the call to share the message of salvation with others then you are forsaking one of the greatest gifts that God has given – thejoy of helping others experience reconciliation with God (2 Cor. 5:17-21).

April 29, 2021

Walking in the Light, Right Here, Right Now

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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1st John 1:5-10

by Clarke Dixon

Bad things can happen when we walk in the dark. We don’t see the dangers around us, plus we can lose the path. Don’t we often think “if only I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently”? We make decisions in the dark which come back to haunt us. We don’t know the path ahead.

In life and in relationships bad things happen when we are in the dark. We need light! There is good news:

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.

1 John 1:5 (NLT)

First off, let us be sure to affirm that this is not about colour.

There are very clear reasons for anti-racism given in the Bible, starting at the beginning with all of us being created in the image of God. Jesus likely had darker skin, darker hair and darker eyes than we normally envision. The Holy Spirit is poured out upon all different kinds of peoples without discrimination. The vision for the future given in the Book of Revelation has all different kinds of peoples together as one, yet unique, in the presence of God.

“God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” is not about colour. It is about illumination. It is about light that helps us see and appreciate colour, all colours including light and dark colours. It is the light that enables us to see where we are going. It is the light that enables us to see how things really are. It is the light that enables things to grow and gives life.

So if God is light, what difference does that make for us?

First, when God illuminates our way we see the better path to walk:

So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:6-7 (NLT)

We often talk about salvation in terms of past and future. You may have been asked “have you trusted in Jesus so that you can be with God when you die?” That is a good question, but it is not one John is asking here in his letter. That question is focused on the past and future. If we were to turn John’s words here into a question it would be, “are you walking with God now, and are you seeing the difference that makes now?”

If we are walking with God now, walking in his light now, that will play out in our relationships with one another. We will have “fellowship with each other.” The word “fellowship” if often used to translate the Greek term here “koinonia,” which no English term captures perfectly. It is the idea of true community, of authentic and good relationships among a group of people.

When we read John’s words, we may in our minds go to very ‘spiritualised’ understanding, that having trusted in Jesus, we will experience complete unity as Christians someday in the future. Again we are thinking of salvation as a past and future thing. John here, however, is focused on the present. If we are walking in the light now, if we walking with others the way God calls and enables us to walk with others now, then good things happen in our relationships in the here and now.

Consider the fruit of the Spirit;

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. . .

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

As we grow in these “fruit of the Spirit” there is a significant impact or our relationships now! When we are walking in God’s light, our relationships are transformed, because we are being transformed. The path of God’s work within us is the better path to take.

Further, if we are walking with God now, walking in the light now, then “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

Here again in our minds we might go to a highly theological past and future understanding, that having trusted in Jesus in the past, we will blameless on the day of judgement that is in our future. True, but here John is also speaking about practical matters in the present. There is a cleaning up that can happen in the here and now when we pay attention to “the blood of Jesus” and what it means.

If we live now according to the example of Jesus, in the way of the cross, of sacrificial and undeserved love, of forgiveness and grace rather than retaliation and violence, then our messes will start getting cleaned up. Everything plays out differently when we walk in the way of love as Jesus loved. Good things happen, in the here and now, when we walk in the light. When we see that path and walk in it, we see the difference God makes.

Second, when God illuminates our way we see things as they really are:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

1 John 1:8-10 (NLT)

Here is the way things really are: we each have sin, we each “miss the mark,” and that sin separates us from our Creator. But our Creator is also our Rescuer. God offers forgiveness through Jesus so that we can stand in right relationship with God, now and forevermore.

When we are walking with the Lord, and the Lord is shining a light on the way things really are, we will see our need for God’s love, and we will see God’s love in Jesus. That is how things really are.

What does our relationship with God look like? Do we look back to the past, to the moment that we trusted in Jesus and then turn our focus to the future, to the moment we meet Jesus in glory? In the meantime we might have the occasional dip into spirituality, sort of like the occasional Zoom call with family members during a pandemic. Or do we think of our walk with the Lord as a very present reality?

John calls us to walk in the light every day, moment by moment. When we do we will see God shaping our lives in the here and now. When we are walking with the Lord, it changes us, it changes all our relationships, it can begin to change the world around us.

God is light, when we walk in the light the path ahead comes clearer to see. God is light, when we walk in the light the way things really are comes into focus. God is light, His presence leads to life.

Let us walk in the light every day by pursuing God, pursuing Jesus every day. Let us watch for the difference that makes in us, and all around us.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario. The full sermon on which this is based can also be seen as part of this “online worship expression

March 3, 2021

Accepting Our Acceptance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Another day to highlight a writer here for the first time. Melissa Neeb lives in Minnesota in the U.S. and has written for a variety of publications. Her blog is Faith in the Mess where she writes about mental health, addiction, parenting and marriage. As usual, we urge you to click the header which follows to read this at source. Because this particular article was published just hours ago, we’re going to close comments here so you can leave a comment there.

Accepting Jesus May Be Easier Than Accepting Ourselves

I accepted Jesus into my heart at a very young age. I knew I was precious to Him and always had a seat at His table as His beloved child and daughter. The unconditional love and forgiveness and grace of God was a gift I could easily accept.

What took much longer to accept, decades perhaps, was myself.

I couldn’t accept my fearfulness. My over-sensitivity. How easily I was embarrassed and cried.

I couldn’t accept my shyness, or my depression and anxiety, or my body.

I couldn’t accept my inability to put on weight, or my awkwardness around guys, or my terror of public speaking.

I couldn’t accept my indecision, my passivity, or my lack of boundaries.

I couldn’t accept that the traumas I had endured had permanently left scars and changed me.

Decades after accepting Jesus into my heart, I was still having a difficult time accepting myself and all my obvious (to me) flaws. I floundered and failed, doubted and rebelled until I reached the very end of myself.

That is when God took over.

He whispered into the recesses of my desensitized heart until I started to feel Him working again and transforming me into who He created me to be. He kept working, challenging my perceptions, and reminding me who HE said I was.

I started repeating His promises to myself all day long. That I am the daughter of the King. That I was loved into being. That Jesus left the 99 to chase down and bring me back into His strong arms. That I was created with a purpose, with a divine calling on my life.

I had to learn how to accept myself and let Him use my weakness to showcase His power.

Friend, if you are unable to accept yourself, please meditate on these affirmations. Say them out loud. Write them down. Put them on your mirror. Insert your name into these verses. Start believing it.

I AM CHOSEN.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

GOD COVERS ME WITH HIS SHELTER AND PROTECTION.

He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Psalm 91:4 (NLT)

I AM WONDERFULLY MADE.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.
Psalm 139:14 (NKJV)

GOD IS WORKING IT OUT FOR MY GOOD.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NIV)

GOD IS FOR ME.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Romans 8:31 (NLT)

Let me remind you, precious one, of this truth. If you can accept Jesus into your heart, if you can accept Him as your Savior and Protector and Healer and Friend, if you can accept His boundless grace and mercy, then surely you can accept the being that was created in the image of God, whose body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is beloved beyond measure.

Yourself.

January 28, 2021

Stuck As We Are? (Starting Over with Jesus)

by Clarke Dixon

We can feel quite stuck, with ourselves, as ourselves. We may lament our personality quirks, our habits and addictions, and our situations. Of course some of us may feel quite happy with ourselves, and perhaps we shouldn’t. What are we like to live with, be friends with, be married to, be a child of, or be a parent of? Whether our own self-perception, or how others perceive us, we may be stuck.

We often blame it on our past. “If you only knew what I have been through you would understand why I am the way I am!” We look to the past and we see events, and people, who have had a big influence on what we have become and what we are like. Having had such big influences and influencers on our lives, is there any hope for change?

There is good news. Jesus speaks of a change in us, a change so big he uses the idea of birth to refer to it:

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

John 3:3 (NLT)

In speaking with Nicodemus Jesus speaks about being “born again,” or as the phrase also means, “born from above.” Whichever way you translate it, and I think both meanings are in view here, Jesus is speaking of being in relationship with God in terms of being born. In other words, it is a big change. It is like a night and day difference. It is like coming out into the light having been stuck in the dark. It is like seeing things for the first time. It is like starting over.

Let’s take a look at what this means for us.

First, there is a big change in what influences us.

The family we grow up in, the society we grow up in, and the experiences we live through, all have a huge influence on us. In being a relationship with God through Jesus, in being a member of His Kingdom, we are born again, born from above. We start over, but this time God is to be our main influence and Influencer. It is starting over with God’s nurture.

We can think of some examples of how this can make a difference:

  • If growing up you were constantly put down, now you start over with God telling you that you are created in His image, that he went to the cross for you in Jesus, that He has called, and is calling you, to follow Him.
  • If you grew up with parents who were not there for you, you start over with God who is always there and always just a prayer away.
  • If you grew up learning that you respond to the hatred with even more hatred, you now start over with a God who responds to hatred with love and grace in Jesus and calls us to do the same.
  • If you grew up learning that it is every man, woman, and child for themselves, you now start over with a God who is for us and not against us, a Saviour who came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).
  • If you grew up with an alcoholic parent, now you start over with God Who is always level-headed, always responsible, always wise.

These are just some examples of what it looks like to have a fresh start, I’m sure you can think of others.

Who we have been is not who we are becoming in Jesus. We have been born again. We have a new influence that is forming us. We are born from above. We are under the influence of the teaching and example of Jesus, we are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Second, while there is a big change, there is more change to come.

When a baby is born, there is a big change for the baby. None of us can remember the day of our birth and personally, I am glad for that. I’m sure the experience was traumatic! But if we could experience birth and think about it, we might think, “wow this is all new! I can see!” Except that it is not all new. “These wee arms and legs still don’t work that great, and I’m so small compared to everyone else in the room.” There is a lot of growth to come.

Birth is a great analogy for the change God brings to us. There is a huge change, yet there is so much more change to come. Some people experience big changes in very specific ways. I can think of a friend who lost all desire to drink or do drugs the very day he turned to Jesus. Others still struggle. This should lead us to have patience with ourselves, and with others. Do we expect everyone to become a mature Christian the day of their rebirth? I’ve been born again for many years now and still have much growing up to do!

Third, the change in us will make us stand out as different.

When we are born again, we start over with a different upbringing in a very different culture. I grew up in British and Canadian culture, but in being born again, I’m now growing up in the Kingdom of God.

Where we grow up can cause us to; speak with a different accent, have different habits, customs, and tastes, plus hold a different perspective.

I spent my the first 6 years of my life in Scotland, but even when we came to Canada, we were still a very British family. That made me stick out like a sore thumb in grade 2. I was quite a bit more Canadianish by grade 3, but in grade 2 I was a wee bit different from everyone else.

If we have a fresh start with God as the main influence on us, we will end up being different. But where I was glad to change over the years to become more and more like a typical Canadian, in being born again we want to become more and more like a typical Kingdom person, to stand out as being odd in this world. While Canada was to become my home, likely for the rest of my life, the Kingdom of God is to become my home forevermore. That is were we want to fit in!

Which brings us to our last point.

Fourth, there is, and will be, a big change in our situation.

We may think, great, so far all the change spoken of is in me, but look at my situation. Yes, I have a fresh start in many ways, but I’m still facing financial ruin, or a difficult marriage, or loneliness, or mental illness or whatever challenge we might be living with. Perhaps we feel like we are changing, but our situation isn’t. We are still stuck.

Consider again a newborn baby. There are big changes upon birth, yes. But very often when that baby leaves the hospital they go back to the same home, to be with with the same people the baby has been with for the last nine months or so. The situation has changed drastically, except that it hasn’t. But it will. Usually, and eventually, the baby grows up and moves on.

So too with us. We may be born again, but we still face the same situations. We do grow. And as we do, some situations will begin to change because we are learning to handle things in a different manner. For example big changes may come to our relationships, beginning with small steps in learning to forgive, or developing a servant heart. But not only do our current circumstances often change while we grow, some day we will move on. Even if the immediate situation is dire, and getting worse each day, the prevailing situation is not. We are sitting pretty. We live as Kingdom people now, as family of the king. The Kingdom is our future. Big changes are on the way.

There is something else we should note here. For some people the current situation is life with mental illness. We might assume that when we are born from above, with a fresh start, that mental illness is cleared away. We might put it in the same category as something we have picked up growing up, something learned from our experiences in the past. So a fresh start clears it, right? So, for example, if someone struggles with depression, being born again makes it go away, right?

Not necessarily. And this is important, because it might lead us to look down on those with mental illness as somehow failing at following Jesus. Perhaps we may think of ourselves as failures. Paul speaks about a “thorn in the flesh” that God would not take away:

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NLT)

Thistles in the mind are no different than thorns in the flesh. When we speak of a fresh start we are talking about growth in our character, not a perfection of our health.

Mental illness may be the reality on the ground for many Christians. If that is you, be patient with yourself and seek the appropriate help. There will be healing for all illness, including mental illness. In the meantime, we do the best we can with the level of health we’ve got.

In conclusion.

If we find ourselves really stuck, that “I am the way I am because of my upbringing or early experiences in life,” perhaps we have not let the words of Jesus sink in. Jesus uses the strongest possible language to describe what happens to us when we are in relationship with him. We are born again, we get a fresh start with a much better influence and the greatest possible Influencer in our lives. We are born from above, God is working in us through His Holy Spirit.

Let’s not let the past dictate who we are and what we are like. Let’s let the One Who is Lord over the past, present and future shape us into who we are becoming.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. You can watch the video for this message or watch it in the context of this online service presentation. This was our second devotional from Clarke this week, if you missed it, the other appeared yesterday.

January 2, 2021

Moving People Toward Belief

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:30,31 NIV

I just finished reading (in one day!) the history of InterVarsity Press (IVP). I would hope that anyone reading a blog called Christianity 201 would have at some point in their life consumed several of their books and have them still on their shelves. They produce thoughtful books for Christians who think.

J. I. Packer said of the organization, “Some publishers tell you what to believe. Other publishers tell you what you already believe. But InterVarsity Press helps you to believe.”

It’s easy to tell people what to believe: ‘Here’s what you need to know.’ In the medium you’re reading (blogging) a popular type of article is a genre called listicles. These lists begin with phrases like “7 Things About…;” or “5 Reasons You Should…;” or “8 Most Important Lessons…” As someone who likes systematically organized information, I need to confess that I tend to gravitate to articles like this. It’s so easy to tell people the bullet points, or the talking points. And there is some value in informing people that the death and resurrection of Christ is key to beginning a faith journey.

But the Apostle Paul famously says in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that knowledge puffs up. It’s amazing how many modern translations retain that phrase with the runner-up being makes people arrogant. The context is about eating meat which has been offered to idols. I often wondered how someone could do this, but after learning more about the intricacies surrounding the interconnectedness of what I’ve called elsewhere “the sacrifice industry” with the manner of food distribution at the time, it’s easier to see why this is a moral, ethical and spiritual issue that would resonate with people and actually have more practical application than we realize.

Eugene Peterson goes well beyond translation into commentary rendering this passage:

The question keeps coming up regarding meat that has been offered up to an idol: Should you attend meals where such meat is served, or not? We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know to answer these kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognize that God alone knows it all.

We can also, as Packer noted, tell people what they already believe. Again, in this (blogging) medium, we’ve seen over the years that online Christian community can become a vast echo chamber with people imagining they receive more points by quoting or re-publishing the most recent columns by prominent Bible teachers. It is often called, preaching to the choir. In yesterday’s look at an extremely popular passage, I tried to state at the outset that we would be taking a fresh approach, mapping the positive character qualities Paul was listing to negative character traits which show up in our modern world.

Some truths are profound however and cannot be stated enough. For example, God is love; but that reality often doesn’t challenge the intellect of some readers who immediately tune out. But when you go beyond the surface, you find that:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.*

But what our aim should be is to help people believe; to inspire them to come to know Jesus in a personal way which makes their faith their own and isn’t just an adoption of our beliefs, our positions, our doctrine, our systematic theology.

A phrase you don’t hear often anymore — and one that only produced a mere eight results on Google — is “Making Jesus Mine.” I’ve often told my own salvation story in these terms, “Taking ownership of my faith.” It’s not hereditary. It’s not something you do as a community. It’s definitely not something you do with your spouse.** Rather, the Bible teaches a personal accountability for salvation (in an eternal sense) and stewardship of the life we’ve been given (in the present tense.)

In our opening verse John states that the purpose of his gospel all along has been, But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

In other words, John isn’t saying ‘Here’s what you need to know.’ Rather, he’s creating a spark and trusting that the fire will spread.

Similarly, we can play a role in pointing others to a belief that they own. We can disciple people, but we’re not the arbiters of their faith. Nor is any church body. Everyone needs their own direct line to God. We simply point them to Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to work on their hearts.

 


*Frederick M. Lehman (1868-1953) “The Love of God” vs. 3 quoted
**There are many passages that apply to community, to actions taken by a community, and even the concept of household salvation; but we do eventually stand before God alone. In the past year, I’ve observed several cases where married couples have acted as though spiritual decisions are taken collectively, but this is an area where marital disagreement (i.e. on the deity and lordship of Christ) is not only healthy, but it’s positionally necessary.

 

November 24, 2020

Coming to God with Child-like Faith

The basic offer of Jesus to redeem us is so simple that even a child can understand it and act on it. But it’s part of a narrative that is so wonderfully, beautifully complex that theologians have never stopped marveling about it.

We come individually to God with a child-like faith; a child-like trust; but the good news of the gospel can never be considered childish. Notice how much this theme is repeated:

“Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
 – Matthew 18:3 CSB

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”
 – Matthew 19:14 NLT

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
 – Mark 10:15 NIV

Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”
– Luke 18:17 MSG

I wasn’t familiar with Lacey Strum until I tuned in for a live feed of one of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Celebration events. I was electrified as she started to share her personal testimony. She is a Christian musician who was in the band Flyleaf, and is the author of three books.

Her blog posts are no longer part of her website, but this one survives on GoodReads. This is a bit different than our usual devotionals here, but I felt there might be someone out there who needs this, or would benefit from her story, which I’ve included below.

Eyes of a child

My son is three. He is currently obsessed with taking pictures. The other night I was falling into a deep sleep in our dark hotel room when I heard his tiny voice from the other bed break the silence. “Daddy. Can I have da phone?” “No,” sighed my sleepy husband. “It’s not time to play.” “But daddy, I gotta take a peetchur!” As an artist himself, my husband sympathized with our sons urgency to seize a moment of inspiration and make it count. So he handed him the phone. My son slid off the bed, took the phone aimed it at the air conditioning unit and snapped. Satisfied he handed the phone back to his father, got back into bed and fell right to sleep.

It’s funny how many times I feel deeply about something right before I fall asleep or early in the morning before I’m ready to wake up. But instead of creating art to express those depths, like my soul is aching to, I turn over and fall back asleep. There are times when I know I should skip lunch to spend more time with my friend. Or times when I should skip working so I can help find dinosaur bones in the back yard like my imaginative boy keeps asking me to. Or times when I should turn off my phone cause I know I’m going to be with loved ones and they are a precious gift. But so often I know what I should do and I roll over and do the predictable, less heroic, self centered grown up thing.

But my beautiful little boy on the other hand… He will never willingly let sleepiness keep him from a moment of inspired creative exploration. His three year old heart would never willingly interrupt the laughter of playtime with friends in order to eat lunch! And when he is around the people he loves, they have his full attention and he is always competing for theirs. “Watch this Granna! Papa look what I can do!”

I love looking at the pictures my three year old takes. It reminds me to pay attention. And it reminds me to seize every moment for what’s most important. It challenges me to see the world with childlike wonder. I think we miss the “on earth as it is in heaven” perspective we need in order to experience life the way God intends for us to. But. I think children rarely miss it. Maybe we should pay more attention to them and learn what’s most important. And (Jesus) said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 18:3



I did an article about Lacey at Thinking Out Loud in October, 2014. Here’s the link.

October 26, 2020

Sickness Follows Us from Birth to Death: This is Temporary

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:40 pm
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Today we’re introducing to you another writer just discovered. Most days Michael Wilson does several shorter posts at Jesus Quotes and God Thoughts. I thought this one on healing was a balanced look at the subject. Click the header below, read the article there, and then explore some of the other topics recently covered.

Is God’s plan for us one of healing and restoration?

Jesus didn’t cause anyone to be lame. It was never about character building. There was no lesson to be learned. No patience needed.

People came to Jesus. All the time. Jesus always healed them.

Jesus didn’t give crutches to the lame. Jesus commanded them to stand.

They did at His word. Now that is stunning.

His goal for us is that we be whole and complete. He wants us to walk. He doesn’t give us crutches and wheelchairs.

What an amazing God we serve. He makes us whole again. God is great.

         the lame came to Him in the temple , and He healed them. Matthew 21:14

God has a plan for us. What is it? Healing and restoration.

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Hebrews 12:12-13

We go through a lot as a part of our human existence. I get sick. Sickness follows me from birth to death. One day I will die. Sickness will cause that to happen. God gives the courage to go through it all. I have been healed of a number of things. Others I have not.

The good news is that this is temporary. Our years here are just a sliver of our eternal lives. A billion years from now we will have a hard time remembering it even happened.

There is no pain or suffering in heaven. We are a people of hope.

Thank God for His amazing plan for our eternal life in Jesus.

  • Revelation 21:4 (NASB) —And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
  • Romans 8:18 —For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
  • Revelation 22:2 — In the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

For more clarity, check out this author’s post from September, Does Jesus Bring Healing and Wholeness Into Our Lives?


Michael divides his writing into several sections. Readers here should check out the section of Teachings.



It was customary at the church in the country to have a time for people to “come forward” at the conclusion of the evening service to mark their decision to follow Christ. The Pastor’s wife was not feeling well so she had stayed home at the parsonage next door to the church. When her husband returns she asked if anyone had walked forward for the invitation at the end of the service.

“Yes;” he said; “We had 2½ responses.”

She looked at him strangely. “You mean 2 adults and one child?”

He said, “No, one adult and two children.”

The investment that you make this Christmas in a child can change the trajectory — spiritually and in other spin-off ways — of their life. Do the kids in your sphere of influence have an age-appropriate Bible?  Don’t risk this important purchase with an uninformed online buy. Check out the Bible carefully before you decide.

October 24, 2020

Salvation Happens Only When We Say ‘Yes’

NIV.Luke.23.39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Today we introduce a new writer. Milly tells you a lot about her journey to faith in the first sentence and throughout her blog, Gracious Way, where this appeared in July. Click the header to read at source and check out other articles.

Love Saves Us When We Accept It

A few years ago, shortly after my conversion from atheist to believer, I joined a group of believers trying to plant a church in a very, very atheist Canadian city: Vancouver. One night a man joins us and the pastor, as well as some of the others, who were always so welcoming, seemed uneasy about him. He was a Christian universalist and, back then, I had no clue what that meant.

Now, friends, there are a lot of differences across religions. And we know that a relationship with God has nothing to do with any religion, but we are called to be patient with fellow believers who are blindsided by religious beliefs.

Christianity itself is a religion: Jesus did not found it and does not belong to it. He was always very critical of religion and if he would show up today, he would not be any less critical of Christian denominations.

But believing that we are all saved regardless of believing into God. Without making the decision to do his will. And without being willing to know what that will is. That is not just a difference. That’s a different story.

I completely understand the complexity of separating a relationship with God from religion. But while God will raise anything, and anyone, as a means to reach out to us, a relationship with him does not happen while we continue to pursue the things of the world and live by its standards.

What saves us is precisely our belief into God. This belief allows us to share his divinity and live a forgiven, peaceful and joyful life in a world of struggles.

The thief on the cross who believed and repented at the very last moment is an example of how God does not give up easily on us. Instead he gives us every single opportunity to leave death behind.

But ultimately we are free, and if we choose this world instead, we have to live with the consequences: death in the physical and spiritual sense.

This is all to say that when God calls us, we have the choice to answer or not. And it is only when we do answer that he can save us.


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

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

October 22, 2020

Working Out Our Salvation, or Working For Our Salvation?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling . . .

Philippians 2:12 (NRSV emphasis added)

This is a verse we can take in a wrong direction, and if we do that, it just might take us in the wrong direction. The idea that we must work for our salvation can have dire consequences in our relationship with God. To give an example, what would it be like for be a young child to wonder each day if she had earned a place at the family dinner table? Does she belong? What does it feel like to constantly wonder if we have earned a spot at God’s table? Do we belong? Is that how love works?

This statement from Paul to the Christians in Philippi is a much more positive statement than “work for your own salvation.” It can help us get to a far more positive place.

The first thing we want to do is read these words in the context of the entire Bible;

  • where we see that life is a gift in the first place. Adam and Eve did not earn their spot in the Garden of Eden. God placed them there out of his desire for relationship.
  • where we see that life continued to be given, not because of the perfection of humanity, but because of God’s desire and promise. The story of Noah and the rainbow come to mind.
  • where we see that the patriarchs were called, not because they had earned it, but according to God’s desire and promise. Jacob being chosen over Esau comes to mind.
  • where we see that the Israelites were rescued from Egypt, not because they earned a rescue, but according to God’s desire and promise.
  • where we see that the Israelites settled in the promised land, not because they earned it, but according to God’s promise.
  • where we see that though God let the consequences fall on his rebellious covenant people, there was always to be a future, not because they deserved it, but according to God’s desire and promise.

We are not even into the New Testament yet, and already we are seeing that people do not earn their place in God’s presence, but rather it is out of God’s desire, God’s promise, God’s love.

Now we get to the New Testament where we see that God came to us in Jesus, and died for the forgiveness of sin, not because we earned it, but because of his desire and promise.

The entire Bible teaches us that salvation, rescue from death and reconciliation with God so that we can live in relationship with God, is not something we work for, but something God works for us. That is one of the great themes of the Bible from beginning to end. Therefore “work out your own salvation” does not mean “work for your own salvation.”

The second thing we want to do is read theses words in context of what Paul is saying to the Christians in Philippi. We can note the “therefore” of “Therefore . . . work out for yourselves,” and we can look back to see what it refers to:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

Philippians 2:5-12 (NRSV)

Since we are to have the mind of Christ, and since Christ died for our salvation, and since Christ is risen and is now Lord, therefore, figure out what it looks like to have the mind of Christ, figure out what it looks like to be in relationship with Christ as Lord and Saviour. We are saved, not by works, but by the grace of God, so now we can get on with it, living out the being-saved life, the being-rescued life.

To give an illustration, sometime ago I bought my dream bike which I thought I would have for the rest of my life. But then I got married, we started having children, so I did what mature people do and sold it. Fast forward fifteen years and I just happened to come across it in Kijiji. My wife just happened to buy it back for me.

I didn’t earn the privilege of having the bike back, it was a gift. Sandra did not say to me, I will buy you this motorcycle if you always keep the grass cut short, always put out the garbage, do your fair share of the cooking, which I do not do much to the relief of our children, and so on. There were no conditions. I found it, Sandra made sure I had it.

But now that I have that gift, however, I need to work out how life looks with that gift. I have a motorcycle, now I need to ride it. I also need to maintain it, to not hesitate in getting my hands dirty for routine maintenance. Since I have a motorcycle, I now get on with being a motorcyclist. Really it is about leaning into and living out a new identity.

This helps us get at what Paul is saying. Since we are to have the mind of Christ, and since God has given us salvation as a gift, and since Jesus is Lord, we now live as people for whom all that is true. We lean into and live out a new identity. We are not to be afraid to get our hands dirty, making the adjustments necessary along the way, checking where our minds are at. Do we have the mind of Christ when it comes to our attitudes, our goals and aspirations, our relationships, our sexuality, and everything else in life?

That might seem like a big task, but we have God’s help along the way:

. . . for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:13 (NRSV)

As we figure out what it looks like to have the mind of Christ, as we lean into our salvation, our lives will reflect a new reality:

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.

Philippians 2:14-15 (NRSV)

Here is an allusion to the Israelites, who murmured and argued in the wilderness after being rescued from Egypt. Remember that they were rescued, not because they earned it, but because of the desire of God. Having been rescued, instead of murmuring and arguing they should have spent that time in getting to know God, in getting to know what it looked like to be in relationship with God. The same holds true for us today now that we have been rescued.

As we work out our salvation, as we work out what it looks like to have the mind of Christ, we will be different and “shine like stars in the world.”

The early Christians were different, noticeably so, and positively so. It was a beautiful difference. The early Christians did not look like they were straight out of the novel and tv series “A Handmaid’s Tale,” that is, under a very oppressive religious system. Indeed they looked like people who were freed from oppressive systems and ways of thinking. They looked like people who were rescued from the things that plagued society.

Are we noticeably different in our day? Does it look like we have been freed from gossip, lies, hatred, apathy, faithlessness, greed, and the like?

As Christ followers we do not earn our salvation, our rescue from death and sin, our reconciliation to, and relationship with, God. We never could, and in Christ it is accomplished for us as a gift of God, as the working out of his will. Our salvation is what God desires. He wants us at his table.

We have the wonderful opportunity to get on with the life of a rescued-from-sin-and-death-and-now-in-relationship-with-God person. God has offered us a covenant of love, now let’s lean into it. God has given us the motorcycle, now let’s take it for a ride. God has prepared a seat for us at his table, now let’s sit in his presence.


The full reflection can be seen as part of Clarke’s church’s “online worship expression” from October 4th.

September 23, 2020

It’s About Grace, Not Works

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Today we’re introducing a new writer to you who we discovered through a WordPress feed. Mathew Simon lives in North Carolina with his wife and three children and has written several articles on the subject of works (trying to achieve standing with God based on what we do for him.) Back in July he wrote:

If we are judging others based on our good deeds, length of prayers, the donations we give, or the number of times we go to Church, then we are boasting in our own self-righteousness. But Jesus said that the sinner who comes to Him with sincere repentance and faith is the one who is justified (made righteous).

Today we’re highlighting his writing with two shorter, more recent articles. Click the titles below of each of these to read at his page.

Making Jesus Lord by works? The false gospel of Lordship salvation

There are some Churches that say that unless you “surrender” your life and make Jesus your Lord and do the works, then you cannot be saved.

They say that a “saving” faith needs good works to prove that Jesus is your Lord and not just Savior.

They use these scriptures:

Matthew 7 “21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. “

James 2 ’17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself.”

Ok, let me ask you this, how many works do you need to prove that Jesus is your “LORD” ?

According to Jesus’ own words, He said this:

Luke 14 “26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…..33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up EVERYTHING you have cannot be my disciples.

So Jesus said to FORSAKE EVERYTHING and SELL EVERYTHING to the poor to be His disciples!

Luke 12 “31 But seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you. 32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. 33 Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys.

OK how many Christians are disciples of Christ according to those verses? ZERO.

That shows that no Christians are doing the “works” of the Law commanded by Jesus to Israel.So then how do we really make Jesus the LORD.

It is not by anything we DO.

Jesus is ALREADY LORD.

He is the CREATOR of all things.

He does not need your works to become LORD of your life.

He created you and is GOD already.

This is how we ACCEPT Jesus as LORD – that you BELIEVE that He is LORD and GOD who died for your sins and rose from the dead!

Romans 10 ” 9 that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart, one believes resulting in righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made resulting in salvation.”

John 20 “28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

This is the WORK that you need to do to be SAVED – SIMPLY BELIEVE in Jesus for your own salvation. So simple.

John 6 “28 They said therefore to him, “What must we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

The work of faith is when we stop doing the actual works to attain salvation and simply TRUST in what Jesus has done for us.

Romans 4 “5 But to him who doesn’t work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…..who believe in him who raised Jesus, our Lord, from the dead, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.”

Jesus carried the cross for believers so we don’t have to!

Before the cross, when Israel was still under the Law, our Lord Jesus Christ told the 12 apostles to carry the cross.

Matthew 16 24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.”

So then Peter and all the apostles promised to be with Christ even unto death.

Luke 22 33He said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!” 34He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will by no means crow today until you deny that you know me three times.”

Mark 14 29But Peter said to him, “Although all will be offended, yet I will not.” 30Jesus said to him, “Most certainly I tell you, that you today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31But he spoke all the more, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” They all said the same thing.

The disciples promised great things for the LORD but they could not even stay awake with Him while He prayed!!

Matthew 26 40He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What, couldn’t you watch with me for one hour?

But as we know, all the disciples ran away and Peter denied Christ three times.

Matthew 26 ” 56But all this has happened that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”Then all the disciples left him and fled.

The truth is that none of us can carry the cross or follow Jesus – because in our flesh we are not righteous at all – But we need Jesus to die for our sins!

At the cross, we see that there was a thief on the cross who did nothing good at all. He did not promise to follow Jesus or do any big works! He was a sinner condemned but then He believed in Christ to be saved by GRACE through faith without any works!

Luke 23 “42He said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”43Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Everyone who believes in Christ without trusting in their works is forgiven ALL sin and given the free gift of His righteousness to go to heaven forever! AMEN.

September 15, 2020

Salvation: A Continuous Imperative

If I were to leave you to keep an eye on my office, and just before walking out the door, I pointed to the back and said, “Shut the door;” what would I expect? Namely that you would shut the door. That’s it.

But if I were to turn around and say, “And answer the phone;” what does that imply? It implies that if the phone rings, answer it, and if it rings again, answer it, and if it keeps ringing, keep answering it. It’s what is called a continuous imperative.


Today we’re back with a visit to the blog Brothers of the Book, written by Bill Hood. While the column is directed at men, there is application here for everyone. (Also, with so many printed devotional resources directed toward women, here is a site you can recommend to a male friend or relative.) As always, click the header below and read this there instead of here.

You Are Being Saved

1 Corinthians 15:1–11

God’s work of salvation pre-dates your existence, is on-going in your life, and will be witnessed again in eternity. You are saved; you are being saved; you will be saved.

Today’s reading is a re-presentment of the Gospel.  Paul shares the facts of salvation with the Corinthians.  It is important for us to remember what we believe.  It is so easy to be led astray.  A little twisting of the truth produces a lie – not an alternate truth.

Changing subjects, I found the comparison of various translations of the following verse to be rather interesting.

1 Corinthians 15:2

ESV
“and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”

NIV
“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

KJ
“By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.”

Most translations refer to the Gospel as something by which they “were saved” while the English Standard Version (ESV) refers to the Gospel as something by which they were “being saved”.  Did the ESV get this wrong?  I don’t think so.  I went back and did a word study in the original Greek, and the word translated “you are being saved” by the ESV does give a sense of something that is on-going; at least it gave me that sense.  My pastor, several times, has said from the pulpit “you are saved, you are being saved, you will be saved”.

This sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it?  Try this on for size.  God chose to save you before He even created the World.  Moving forward in time, if you are a Christian, there was a moment in your past when you submitted your life to Christ, and at that moment you were saved as God had already determined you would.  Can you lose your salvation?  Christ says He will lose no one whom God places in His hand.  Did the Son of God get this wrong?  Can He lose you due to your own choices?  No brothers, it is His grace and presence in your life that keeps saving you every moment of every day.  God doesn’t save you and walk away hoping you’ll make the right choices so you can keep what He gave you.  Your salvation is a complete work of grace on the part of God Himself.  You had nothing to do with it.  God saved you and He is saving you.

One day, you will stand before the righteousness of God.  Jesus will step forward and say “Abba, he is with me.  I paid for his sin.”  You will be allowed to pass in to eternal fellowship with God. At that moment, you are saved anew.  You will be saved.

Salvation is an amazing thing.  It is beyond miraculous.  It is beyond comprehension.  Brothers, you are not alone in your wanderings in this desert called life.  If you truly submitted your life to Christ, Jesus goes with you in the form of His Holy Spirit.  He lifts you up.  He carries you through.  In the Good News of Jesus Christ, you are being saved!

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

 

 

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