Christianity 201

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

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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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!

 

 

August 25, 2020

The One Who Saves the World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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On the days we introduce you to outside sources here, I sometimes find a blog or website which is so good, and so similar to what we do in terms of depth, article length, daily content, etc.; that I wonder how we never discovered it before! I want to introduce you today to Virginia pastor Chuck Griffin who is the LifeTalk editor of Methodist Life. Click the header below to read today’s devotional. If you decide to read some other recent articles — which is encouraged — use this devotional link and be sure to click the link for the scripture readings as they’re often not showing. Again, I highly recommend this one!

Prayer of Ascent

I try not to dwell on Covid-19 day after day in these devotionals. The pandemic is serious and it is often on our minds, but I hope to keep the message of Jesus Christ ahead of all other messages, regardless of our circumstances.

If you follow the daily lectionary, however, you might notice that the readings for [last] Tuesday and Wednesday use the same psalm reading, Psalm 130. I’m hoping we can join together and pray this psalm over three days as a cry for relief from this disease.

Covid-19 is not as devastating as many plagues and famines experienced through history, but its effects are certainly bad enough, and it is wise to root ourselves in the same prayerful attitude as our spiritual ancestors.

As you read through this psalm, along with a little commentary I’m providing, hold in your hearts a request for a miracle. We seek a powerful, global sign from God as Covid-19 is driven out of our lives globally.

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

The psalm’s heading places us on a spiritual journey. I know we have work, school, doctors’ appointments and such—even with our world partially shut down, we remain such busy people. But can we adopt the pilgrim mindset for just a few days? Can we make our own ascent toward a holy place, toward a shared memory of Christ on the cross?

All three days, let’s take a few extra moments to settle into a time of quiet, saying to ourselves, “Right now, even if it’s only in my imagination, I’m going up to see the one who saves the world.”

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

This is a fervent petition, one lifted by a broken people, a people who have seen the troubling effects of their own sins and the broad effects of sin on the world. As we pray, we should be like the Canaanite woman in Sunday’s Gospel reading, desperately persistent, trusting that the tiniest crumbs of grace will make all the difference.

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

As Christians, we have a particular understanding of how this forgiveness is granted. See that cross; see the weight of the world’s sins on Christ’s shoulders. The record of our sins is expunged, and we undeservedly are found to be holy and worthy of eternal life with God. The stone is rolled away from the tomb, the resurrection is proof! Sin and death are defeated! Finding ourselves in a renewed relationship with God, we know all kinds of restoration are possible now.

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

Knowing what has been done for us, we should experience a deep longing for the Lord. In his word, recorded in his Scripture, we are able to discern right from wrong, and we simultaneously begin to see a bare outline of what a remarkable experience it must be to live in the full light of God.

Let’s root our longing for healing from Covid-19 in that deeper longing to be in the full presence of the risen Savior. And let us trust that dawn is coming—that the long night will end.

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

Lord, Covid-19 is a sign of the world’s brokenness. As you drive it away, may we also see a clear sign of your unfailing love and your desire for our redemption, and may we have the courage to declare what we see. Amen.

August 24, 2020

Instead of Wiping us Out; He Sends His Only Begotten Son

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.
 – Nehemiah 9:6

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
– Colossians 1:16-17

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, upholding all things by His powerful word…
– Hebrews 1:3a

Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made...He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.
 – John 1:3, 10

 

Today we have a quoted passage from A. W. Tozer, which we located at Driven (DrivenToChrist.com) the blog of Minnesota pastor Bart Whitman. Click the header below to read this at his site, and then take some time to look around at his other writing.

A guy smarter than me: Tozer on the universe

The following is an excerpt from “Experiencing The Presence of God”, written by A.W. Tozer and edited by James L. Snyder.

The Bible…teaches that this universe, this “uni” (meaning “one”), this one great interlocking system has a central control. And that control is called the throne of God. The universe is controlled from that center…

If any organism has to have a head, if a machine has to have a head, an organization has to have a head, is it not logical to believe that somewhere in this vast universe, there is a throne where somebody runs it?…

And I believe that the one on the throne is God, the Majesty in the heavens. The Bible refers to this center of control as the throne of God. And from that throne, God governs His universe according to an eternal purpose. That eternal purpose embraces all things. “All things” are two little words used often in Scriptures, yet they are bigger than the sky above. They are bigger than the entire world. They are big because they take in all things.

So, we have the Majesty in the heavens, sitting upon His throne. Then someone is sitting on the right hand of that throne. Why? And who is He? He is Jesus, the minister of the sanctuary, which God made, not man. The reason for His being there, in brief, is this: A province revolted in what we call the universe. In all this interrelated, interdependence, interlocking universe, one province revolted and said, “We don’t want to be ruled by the head. We will not be ruled from the throne. We will rule ourselves. We will build this great Babylon up to heaven. We will not have God rule over us.” That province we call “mankind.” And mankind inhabits the little rolling sphere we called “the earth.”…

I think the earth belongs to man. They have not done much with it, and they have not done a very good job, but it belongs to the sons of men.

That province is now in revolt against the Majesty of the heavens. What is God going to do? God could, with a wave of His hand, sweep that province out of existence. But what did He do? God sent His only begotten Son that He might redeem that province and bring it back into the sphere of the throne again, back into the sphere of the Kingdom. And that Kingdom is called “the kingdom of God.” When a man is converted, he is born again into the kingdom of God. What does that mean? It means that he is born out of the old rebellious province into a new Kingdom, and admits that there is a throne, which he did not admit before…

You cannot get there by being baptized, though we all ought to be baptized, according to the teaching of Jesus. We do not get there by joining a church, although we all ought to join a church. We do not get there by praying; you can pray to the end of your life, 24 hours a day, and not get there. It is coming into the Kingdom by an act of the will, through Jesus Christ the Lord, that gets me out of the old, revolted province and into the kingdom of God and under the rule of the throne of God again.

 

August 12, 2020

A Man Who Was Seeking God; A God Who Was Seeking Men

Once again we are back at the blog My Morning Meal, written by Peter Corak.

The Bible is so rich in detail. You can return to a story you’ve known since childhood and see something you missed before. Peter has brilliantly done this with a so-familiar story. Click the header below to read at source.

Seeking the Seeker

They were both seeking that day. One, desperately. While the other, however, was just “passing through.”

The desperate one could barely see above the crowd for he was “small in stature.” But the Other saw everyone, and everything, clearly — even knowing the thoughts and intents of the heart. The small guy was a chief tax collector, a sinner, AND was rich — a triple whammy when it came to the pursuit of righteousness. The One who seemingly was about to pass by was the King of kings, the Savior of sinners, the God with whom nothing was impossible, even ushering a rich man into the kingdom of heaven (Lk. 18:24-27). Very different men.

But what Zacchaeus and Jesus had in common is that they were both seeking.

And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, . . . And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

(Luke 19:2-3a, 9-10 ESV)

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. The reputation which had preceded the Teacher from Galilee had rooted itself in the heart of this Roman-serving, countrymen-oppressing, little rich man. Whatever he had heard about Jesus, it compelled him to know more. Even if it meant scurrying amidst the crowd, bumping into butts so that he might wind his way towards the tree which would help him rise above the crowd. He was seeking the Seeker.

But when Jesus looked up and saw this “big man” tax collector humbling himself as he precariously balanced above the crowd, putting himself literally out on a limb, Jesus said, “Come down, for I must stay at your house”, as if it had been His plan all along. As if passing through Jericho had always been with the intent of a rest stop at a sinner’s house. For Jesus, too, was seeking the seeker.

I’m sure there’s some theological term or explanation for how someone who is dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1) comes alive enough to seek the Author of life (Acts. 3:15). But, to me, it’s a mystery. The wonder of the Seeker seeking the seeker. Even stirring his, or her heart such that he, or she would find themselves seeking the Seeker.

What so compellingly prompts a proud, little man to so humble himself in order to rise above the crowd, and climb a tree in front of those who despise him? What makes the Son of God humble Himself, take on flesh, be hanged on a tree, and be lifted up before a mob set on deriding Him? Both were seekers. Both were seeking. Both were seeking the seeker.

Amazing! The actions of both men defy comprehension, really. But that the One who was in the beginning (Jn. 1:1), and made everything that was ever made (Jn. 1:3), and holds together everything that is being held together (Col. 1:17), would Himself come to seek and save the lost? Jaw-dropping.

Pretty familiar Sunday School story. Kind of easy to blow by it. But pause, be still, and noodle on it a bit, and it’s enough to send the awe-o-meter off the scale.

Because of His amazing grace. For His soul-seeking glory.


Bonus link: Here’s another article — from this very morning — where Peter finds riches in another familiar story, this one the story of Esther.

August 3, 2020

The Work He Began: Our Part

Readers at Thinking Out Loud have met Jeff Snow previously on a few occasions, including a book review, a story about his day-to-day ministry on a university campus, and his 3-part series on divorce, which we ran twice. But he’s only appeared once before here in 2012. Jeff is a half-time pastor in Canada, and spends the other half of his week as a campus worker with Mission Canada, for which he depends upon donations. He’s also a longtime friend who has been incredibly faithful to doing ministry mostly in one particular small town in Ontario.

I attended his church on Sunday. (Full disclosure: My wife is on staff.) His sermon was based on Philippians 1:6

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (NLT)

For the first part of the sermon, he talked about what God has done for us in beginning this work, through the process we call salvation. And then…

by Jeff Snow

…Which brings us to the question, what part do we have to play in accomplishing the work that God has for us. We are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We are told that faith without works is dead. We talk in church about the importance of committing ourselves to times of prayer, times of reading and studying God’s Word. We talk about the importance of coming to church, of worshipping and fellowshipping together. Is the completion of the work God wants to do in us dependent on our success in doing all these things?

Well, yes and no. We can’t earn our salvation. And any of these things listed done without a heart of surrender and obedience to God simply becomes an intellectual exercise or an act of earthly community rather than divine community. Our verse tells us that HE, God, will complete the good work done in us.

Neil Anderson, in his devotional Who I Am In Christ, writes using a boating analogy, “If we think getting to the other side is a question of how hard we row, we may never get there. We must never forget that it is He who began the work in us, and it is He who will carry it to completion.”

So does that mean we do nothing? Going to church and reading the Bible and praying don’t matter? Well, if they are seen as ends in themselves, probably not. But when we see them as a means to an end–placing ourselves within reach of God so that he can finish the work in us–then they do matter. These spiritual disciplines in our lives put us in a place where God can complete the work He has begun in our lives…

…Continuing with his boating analogy, Neil Anderson asks, “Are you running against the wind? Is a storm about to swamp your boat? Have you failed in the past? Do you believe God has given up on you? I don’t believe He has!” Later in the book of Philippians Paul, confident in God’s desire to complete His work in our lives, makes this statement of determination. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” God through Jesus Christ has taken hold of your life. He has called you for a purpose. The challenge this morning is to be confident in that fact. The challenge is to realize that God has a hold of your life. The challenge is to press on and reach out to grab hold of Him, grab hold of His purposes. As you do, know that you will be pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus.

For the promise is that God will bring the work to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. This day of Christ Jesus is the day when He returns, the day that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. This tells me two things. One is that the work God is doing in us is a lifelong process, only completed at the end of our days. And second, that the work that God has planned for us transcends even beyond our time here in this life.

The work of God in us through Jesus Christ begins at our salvation: Justification. It continues through our lifetime as God accomplishes His purposes in us and molds us into the image of Christ: Sanctification. And it comes to full completion when we see our Saviour face to face in eternity: Glorification. The work is complete when he brings us Home to be with Him.

So know that God has begun a good work in you by saving you. Know that he will never abandon you, that he has a good purpose for your life, plans to give you a hope and a future. He will mould you until you are brought to that day of completion in the arms of Jesus in heaven.

So stop struggling. Stop trying to be self-sufficient. Stop believing that you don’t matter to God. Stop crawling off the potter’s wheel. Be confident of this very thing. That He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

August 1, 2020

The Joy in Enjoying God

Today we returned to the site, Already Not Yet, edited by Dr. Peter Cockrell and today featuring the writing of Sinclair Ferguson. Please consider clicking the header below to read this at its source.

 

Enjoying God Is a Command

While shaking hands at the church door, ministers are sometimes greeted with a spontaneous, “I really enjoyed that!”—which is immediately followed by, “Oh! I shouldn’t really say that, should I?” I usually grip tighter, hold the handshake a little longer, and say with a smile, “Doesn’t the catechism’s first question encourage us to do that? If we are to enjoy Him forever, why not begin now?”

Of course, we cannot enjoy God apart from glorifying Him. And the Westminster Shorter Catechism wisely goes on to ask, “What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?” But notice that Scripture contains the “rule” for enjoying God as well as glorifying Him. We know it abounds in instructions for glorifying Him, but how does it instruct us to “enjoy him”?

Enjoying God is a command, not an optional extra: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). But how? We cannot “rejoice to order,” can we?

True. Yet, Scripture shows that well-instructed believers develop a determination to rejoice. They will rejoice in the Lord. Habakkuk exemplified this in difficult days (see Hab. 3:17–18). He exercised what our forefathers called “acting faith”—a vigorous determination to experience whatever the Lord commands, including joy, and to use the God-given means to do so. Here are four of these means—in which, it should be noted, we also glorify God.

Joy in Salvation

Enjoying God means relishing the salvation He gives us in Jesus Christ. “I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18). God takes joy in our salvation (Luke 15:6–79–1032). So should we. Here, Ephesians 1:3–14 provides a masterly delineation of this salvation in Christ. It is a gospel bath in which we should often luxuriate, rungs on a ladder we should frequently climb, in order to experience the joy of the Lord as our strength (Neh. 8:10). While we are commanded to have joy, the resources to do so are outside of ourselves, known only through union with Christ.

Joy in Revelation

Joy issues from devouring inscripturated revelation. Psalm 119 bears repeated witness to this. The psalmist “delights” in God’s testimonies “as much as in all riches” (Ps. 119:14; see also vv. 35, 47, 70, 77, 103, 162, 174). Think of Jesus’ words, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Does He mean He will find His joy in us, so that our joy may be full, or that His joy will be in us so that our joy may be full? Both, surely, are true. We find full joy in the Lord only when we know He finds His joy in us. The pathway to joy, then, is to give ourselves maximum exposure to His Word and to let it dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). It is joy-food for the joy-hungry soul.

Joy in Communion

There is joy in the Lord to be tasted in the worship we enjoy in church communion. The church is the new Jerusalem, the city that cannot be hidden, the joy of the whole earth (Ps. 48:2). In the Spirit-led communion of praise and petition; soul pastoring; Word preaching; psalm, hymn, and spiritual song singing; and water, bread, and wine receiving, abundant joy is to be found. The Lord sings over us with joy (Zeph. 3:17). Our hearts sing for joy in return.

Joy in Tribulation

Here, indeed, is a divine paradox. There is joy to be known in the midst of and through affliction. Viewed biblically, tribulation is the Father’s chastising hand using life’s pain and darkness to mold us into the image of the One who endured for the sake of the joy set before Him (Heb. 12: 1–25–11; see Rom. 8:29). We exult and rejoice in our sufferings, Paul says, because “suffering produces . . . hope” in us (Rom. 5:3–4). Peter and James echo the same principle (1 Peter 1:3–8James 1:2–4). The knowledge of the sure hand of God in providence not only brings stability; it is also a joy-producer.

All of this adds up to exultation in God Himself. In Romans 5:1–11, Paul leads us from rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God (v. 2) to joy that comes in tribulation (v. 3) to exulting in God Himself (v. 11; see Ps. 43:4). The unbeliever finds this incredible, because he has been blinded by the joy-depriving lie of Satan that to glorify God is the high road to joylessness. Thankfully, Christ reveals that the reverse takes place in Him—because of our salvation, through His revelation, in worship’s blessed communion, and by means of tribulation.

Enjoy! Yes, indeed, may “everlasting joy . . . be upon [your] heads” (Isa. 51:11).

July 14, 2020

The Warnings in the Book of Hebrews

 

Hebrews 2:1-4 New Living Translation (NLT)

So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.


Hebrews 4:12-13 Common English Bible (CEB)

12 because God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. 13 No creature is hidden from it, but rather everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we have to give an answer.


Hebrews 6:4-8 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, who shared in the Holy Spirit, who tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age, and who have fallen away. This is because, to their own harm, they are recrucifying the Son of God and holding him up to contempt. For the ground that drinks the rain that often falls on it and that produces vegetation useful to those for whom it is cultivated receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and about to be cursed, and at the end will be burned.


Hebrews 10:26-31 New International Version (NIV)

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


Hebrews 12:25-29 New Living Translation (NLT)

25 Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven! 26 When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: “Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.” 27 This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain.

28 Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. 29 For our God is a devouring fire.


Space didn’t permit much further discussion of these passages, but after using a different base source, we discovered Michael Battle has an excellent collection of the texts with some short commentary at his site Rooted and Grounded in Christ. To read that in full, click this link. After the fifth warning he notes:

…The fifth warning…sums up all the other warnings – beware of sin and rejection of Jesus.

Many of you recognize the words “our God is a consuming fire” but do you know the context of these words? Many quote this in connection with God’s love, but the scriptures do not use it that way. These words, in both the Old and New Testament, are used in connection with God’s holiness and righteous judgment against sin (i.e. His jealously expressed in anger which results in the punishment of our sins).

Here is how Moses used the words:

But the LORD was angry with me because of you. He vowed that I would not cross the Jordan River into the good land the LORD your God is giving you as your special possession. You will cross the Jordan to occupy the land, but I will not. Instead, I will die here on the east side of the river. So be careful not to break the covenant the LORD your God has made with you. Do not make idols of any shape or form, for the LORD your God has forbidden this. The LORD your God is a DEVORING FIRE; he is a jealous God. “In the future, when you have children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time, do not corrupt yourselves by making idols of any kind. This is evil in the sight of the LORD your God and will arouse his anger. (Deuteronomy 4:21-25 TNLT)


As I searched online many websites offered teaching on the five warnings in Hebrews, but one stood out offering what the writer called The Seven Alarms of Hebrews. What were the two extra passages, I wondered. Here they are:

Hebrews 3:7-4:2 New Living Translation (NLT)

12 Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13 You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. 14 For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. 15 Remember what it says:

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
    as Israel did when they rebelled.”

16 And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness? 18 And to whom was God speaking when he took an oath that they would never enter his rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed him? 19 So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest.

God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God.

and

Hebrews 5:11-14 Common English Bible (CEB)

11 We have a lot to say about this topic, and it’s difficult to explain, because you have been lazy and you haven’t been listening. 12 Although you should have been teachers by now, you need someone to teach you an introduction to the basics about God’s message. You have come to the place where you need milk instead of solid food. 13 Everyone who lives on milk is not used to the word of righteousness, because they are babies. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between good and evil.

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