Christianity 201

February 16, 2022

When We’re Not Walking in Faith

One year ago we introduced you to the writing of Doreen Eager who lives in North Carolina. Her blog is Doreen Eager’s Blog   . In two recent blog posts, she spoke about times in her life when she was not walking in faith, or in God’s word, and the consequences. Click the headers which follow to read this at her site. Once there, other great content awaits you.

Resemblance of Faith

As a teenager I did not have a strong faith walk; the resemblance of my faith was scant. I knew from my Catechism classes that I was made in the image of God, He loved and resided in me through the Holy Spirit. This I knew to be true but outside of my confirmation classes I did not seek the Lord or His ways. If anything I was walking in the complete opposite direction of where He was leading me.

In high school I had a small group of friends that I would roam around with, mostly to drink and listen to rock music in our cars until the wee hours of the morning. I was not of drinking age and can affirm there is no reason to be drinking before the age of 21. This was what all the cool kids did and of course I desperately wanted to fit in. The friendships I had were shallow and they cared little about others or the consequences of their actions. Myself included. Had I been walking in faith and not in the flesh I would have realized this behavior only leads you down a cold and lonely road with no life giving purpose.

Therefore, we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So, we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:6-10

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Romans 8:5-7

It took many years before I realized that I needed to turn my internal focus outward and upward. To the one who created me and everything around me. To be grateful for all that God provided and start listening to that still small voice telling me to put that drink down and pickup my bible.

Paul had to go through a conversion, after he persecuted those who followed Christ. Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and blinded him. This was done so in the end Saul could see the true the light of the world and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. See Acts 9.

I am forever grateful for God’s intervention in my life, which allowed me to dig into His word and know whose I am. This provided me with direction, to reach out to others who are hurting, to listen more, and lend a hand to those in need. Ultimately it gave me the identity that I was searching for through people in my life, who could not provide it to me. That identity can only be found in and through God.

“Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.” C.S. Lewis

As I grow closer to God, through His word and listening to the Holy Spirit, I find myself resembling Him more and more. I pray you do too!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22

Hibernation of Faith

Hibernate has two main definitions; (1) to pass the winter in a resting state or (2) to become inactive or dormant. When I think of the word hibernate, I always think of a bear hibernating for the winter. The second definition lends more toward a non-active state, like placing your computer in hibernation mode.

We can become neglectful in our faith walk and at times it can seem like we are hibernating in our faith. If you get into a routine of not spending time with God, rarely reading the word, or infrequently listening to a good sermon, you can feel it in your soul. I find myself having less patients with people or situations and I neglect serving others in the way Jesus taught me to. When we neglect our relationship with our gracious, redeeming, loving Father, we become inactive in our faith.

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:15-17

When my children where young and I was working full time, I was not in the word at all. I felt like a good Christian when I attended service on Sunday but the rest of the week my mind was far from God and so were my actions.

Looking back, I can see how the hibernation of my faith caused me to lack empathy or to be tolerant of another person’s behavior. Even the slightest things would throw me off; my husband didn’t pick up the kids toys before he went to work, or the dog needed to go out immediately after I walked in the door from work. These instances should not cause someone to get really upset but for me they did.

In my late 30s I finally did find a relationship with God through Joyce Meyer’s teachings and books. Since then, I have read countless books about God and how to build your relationship with Him alongside reading the bible. This has opened my eyes and showed me what I need to work on. It has brought me out of my hibernation of faith.

I am in no way perfect now; just today, while walking the dog, I had to pause and listen to the Spirit moving me to calm my thoughts and focus on His peace and not the dog pulling me to pick up a stick. I have learned how to stop and listen to the Holy Spirit speak to me when tensions run high.

Continue seeking God in each day, in each instance of your life, and you will work toward becoming more and more like Him. Coming out of hibernation, into His glorious light!

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matthew 6:33

February 12, 2022

Should You “Follow Your Heart?”

Today I discovered a short devotional which has a truth worth sharing, however the article didn’t specifically reference a scripture passage which is usually de reigeur for us, so let’s begin our thoughts with these verses.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. – John 16:13 NLT

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:15 NLT

Today’s thoughts are from James Young, who is being highlighted here for the first time. He writes at Keeper of the King’s Light. Click the link which follows to read this there.

Emotional Reaction ≠ God’s Will

 
Easily, one of the most over used and Hallmarked concepts is: “Follow your heart and it will never steer you wrong.” Disney has made an entire empire out of the idea of following your heart and dreams as your guiding stars. Such a mindset could not be further from the truth.
 
Our hearts are naturally deceptive and wicked. If we have a strong desire to sin and listen to our flesh, then our heart and dreams will always be to follow the path of things that are wicked I’m the sight of the Lord. A thief and a con-artist has no desire for charity or selfless giving. A liar has will never tell the truth in a court system. An individual who loves in fleshly desires will never stay pure and wait until marriage.
 
Well, what about the idea of “letting Jesus into your heart”? How can a heart be wicked if Jesus resides there?
 
Simple: the expression, like many others we pull from sources such as Benjamin Franklin, is not Biblical in origin. While may be used as a way to explain accepting Christ as your Saviour; the expression itself does not give the true meaning of coming to Christ justice. Believe me when I say I’m shocked to be typing this as much as you are reading this. This was a Sunday school question for years and until just a few minutes ago: I never questioned it. If you are interested in looking into it further; here is an article I found that is actually very compelling in explaining it further: https://www.christianity.com/wiki/salvation/is-asking-jesus-into-your-heart-in-the-bible.html
 
So, how do we discern what is the Holy Spirit and what is our own will and wanting? It sounds like a church answer, but it is so true: stick close to the scripture and be in complete openness to God when you pray. He already knows what you want and He wants you to talk to Him about it. When He answers; it will come in 3 ways: yes, no, not yet. Like a loving Father; God has our best interest in mind. He may not be after making millionaires out of us, but He wants us to live in such a way that honors Him.
 
The last website you were on? The last video you watched? The last song you sang? The last thought you had? Do any of them point to God or to yourself? When Christ left us to return to Heaven; He left in His place the Holy Spirit to guide us and to lead us. But how can The Spirit lead if our hearts are wicked and unyielding to God?
 
So, how do we know what’s right and in God’s will? Stay close to His word, stay in constant and open communication with Him, and learn to wait on Him. His timing is perfect in all His ways. As Jesus tells us, if the birds of the air don’t worry: why should we?
 


 
One of the earliest posts here at C201 very briefly looked at the 2 Timothy passage (above) with some imagery at the end of the verse describing walking along a path. Check out All Scripture Had Its Point of Origin in God’s Mind.

 

 

January 2, 2022

Doctrinal Humility

I have to confess I’ve not read John Stackhouse’s book Humble Apologetics, but I do resonate with the title. The publisher blurb in 2006 seemed to indicate that he was writing more about evangelistic, or conversion-focused discussions.

Stackhouse argues that the crucial experience of conversion cannot be compelled; all the apologist can do is lead another to the point where an actual encounter with Jesus can take place. Finally, he shows how displaying an attitude of humility, instead of merely trying to win religious arguments, will help believers offer their neighbors the gift of Christ’s love.

Sometimes the discussions we have are with fellow-Christians, a first-time confession of faith is not the focus, and the topics can become rather thorny.

Last week I stood in a light rain in a grocery store parking lot speaking with two people who had left their church when both the number and degree of differences became too much for them to bear. Much of it focused on a single issue, a second one contributed to it, and a third was mentioned in passing, though I know it’s high on their list of concerns.

The thing is, when it was all said and done, all I really took away from it was their cockiness; their arrogance. They were not at all impressed that the weight of church history is not on their side. Neither is the support of present-day churches in our community. You can only get to their position through misunderstanding the context of certain scriptural passages; through proof-texting; and through a belief that some poor translation work done in the past on key words outranks Biblical scholarship.

The Apostle Paul would be the first to admit that the waters are sometimes muddy. In the oft-quoted “Love Chapter” of his first letter to the church at Corinth he writes,

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.  (13:12 NLT)

Two chapters later, as he speaks of the resurrection of the church, he says something with great clarity, but it’s still, to him at least, part of the realm of what he calls mystery:

Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, (15:51 CSB)

At other times there is no doubt at all in his mind or the readers’ minds:

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. (Phil. 3:13 NLT)

In other words, he hadn’t mastered this in his own life, but there was absolute conviction about the spiritual destination in front of him.

If the phrase “one thing I do” sounds familiar, it’s a lot like, “one thing I know,” the phrase uttered by the man born blind after receiving sight. Referring first to their charges against Jesus,

He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  (John 9:25 NASB)

It was, quite literally, black and white; and today we use the blind man’s confession as a model for the conversion experience

I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

This type of certainty stands in contrast to “seeing through a glass darkly” (KJV) or “seeing things imperfectly” (NLT, as above). But here’s a truth

We don’t have to know and understand everything to know and understand the things that count.

Paul writing to the Philippians said,

I am convinced and confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will [continue to] perfect and complete it until the day of Christ Jesus [the time of His return]. (1:6 Amplified Bible)

Other translations use the word confident. Obviously, some things were not seen imperfectly to Paul. He could say some things with confidence.

There is a book by Peter Enns called The Sin of Certainty. Having followed Enns online for years and read several of his books, I have no doubt (ironic use of phrase here, don’t you think?) that he is certain when it comes to the deity of Christ and the fact of the resurrection.

Rather, the book was a response to what was a growing body of people who expressed their intransigence online; the type of people who will defend to the death some sacred pet doctrine on social media. Unintentionally — and I am being gracious here, perhaps it was intentional — they are modeling for new believers a stance where one must be absolutely certain of everything. That’s just not possible when you haven’t had time to work out your salvation and it forces people to simply parrot rote responses or take ownership of parts of a catechism not through life experiences, or Holy Spirit leading, but because of their ability to call up key words and phrases.

Eventually, this can lead to a spiritual arrogance. When reviewing Enns’ 2016 book, I wrote;

Peter Enns basically catalogs some of the various less-certain elements one might find in the sphere of Christianity, and rather than resolve all of these necessarily, creates a climate where the reader can say, ‘Oh yeah! That’s me! At last someone who gets it.’ Some of the book draws from his personal experiences of dealing with the doubt/certainty continuum, either internally or in his family or academic life.

There is however value in creeds. When we remind ourselves that Christ was

…conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried.

and that

He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of God the Father almighty…

Those times, we are discussing the things that are non-negotiable and these are things which the body of Christ around the world should agree.

But what if your faith is in that creed and not in the one to whom the creed points?

A book similar to The Sin of Certainty released three years earlier. About that one I wrote,

With… Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (Baker Books), Gregory Boyd presents the thesis that far too many Christians — at least in North America and western Europe — are committed to a set of spiritual propositions more than they are committed to Christ; and that in fact the thing they worship and place their faith in are these ‘certainties,’ far more than they worship and have their faith secured in “Christ, and Him crucified.”

…While the book clearly intends to shatter the idol of theological over-confidence, its equal purpose is to give some peace and comfort to people who, although they are long on the journey with Jesus, still don’t feel they have all the details of the contract worked out. He is writing to those of us who perhaps know people for whom all doctrinal and theological matters are settled once and for all…

What is the ultimate expression of God’s position and power? What words does he say? What doctrine does he clear up for all time?

Nothing. Just as the orchestra builds to a crescendo we get this:

John 13:3-5Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… … 12-14 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

Utter, absolute humility.

Six months before reading the Boyd book I wrote,

…each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change…

This devotional is messy because our attempts to do theology are often messy. There is a balance between the things on which we can place our trust — think of the hymn “Standing on the Promises” if that helps — and the things which we will never see with perfect clarity.

To the person in the parking lot last week, I would say, “You lack a humble apologetic, and that may be your spiritual downfall.”


“…it is a mark of imbecility of mind, rather than of strength; of folly, rather than of wisdom; for any one to dogmatize with an air of infallibility, or to assume the attitude of perfect intelligence on any one subject of human thought, without an intimate knowledge of the whole universe...”

– Alexander Campbell in The Christian System

 

 

 

December 29, 2021

Persons Claiming They Don’t Have Need for Bible Teaching

This is our fifth full-length post from Bill Muehlenberg at the website Culture Watch and it’s only the first part of a longer article. You’ll need to click through to continue reading some of the reactions he had when he posted this. It’s a very timely topic right now, especially as people have used Covid-19 as an excuse to sever themselves from local churches. Click the header which follows.

Difficult Bible Passages: 1 John 2:27

This is another passage that is so often abused and misused. That is the main reason it can be so difficult or problematic. A subtitle to this article might be: “This Is How Cults Arise”. That is because those who mangle this verse are prime candidates for the cults or may well already be in one.

The verse says this:

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

This verse, and John 14:16-17, 26 and John 16:13, are so often wrongly appropriated by some believers. The texts in John’s gospel are a bit different: they refer to the fact that Jesus will soon be leaving his disciples, and he wants to assure them that he is not abandoning them, but he is leaving the Holy Spirit with them to assist and guide them.

These verses are often used by those who claim that they have no need of “human” anything: human learning, human teaching, human counsel, human books, human study, etc. They imply that they have a direct pipeline to God, so are totally self-sufficient in and of themselves. They have no need of anyone else.

I just wrote about these “Holy Spirit-only” believers. At the end of the day what we have are not super-spiritual believers, but usually arrogant and fleshly Christians: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/01/26/holy-spirit-only-christians/

In a moment I will give a concrete example of this sort of twisted thinking. But first, how might we answer this? It is quite easy actually. If we simply run with the two most basic rules of biblical interpretation, we will have no problems here at all:
1) study every text in its context
2) compare scripture with scripture

As to the first, the context shows that John is dealing with some heretical, Gnostic, and/or secessionist teachers who were claiming special spiritual insights and revelations. It is THOSE sorts of false teachers that these Christians have no need of, and need to avoid.

Concerning the second, it is clear from numerous biblical passages that we DO need teachers, counsellors, advisors, overseers, etc. – all of them “mere” humans. The New Testament everywhere speaks of how God has given teachers and others to the Body of Christ to help it grow and develop.

Simply based on all these other texts, there is absolutely NO way anyone could believe that John is saying we should not have teachers. Indeed, the letters of John are ALL ABOUT teaching, instruction and helpful information to believers. Throughout the New Testament human teaching – properly understood – is NOT being downplayed, but extolled and encouraged.

I realize that these hyper-spiritual types especially dislike things like biblical commentaries, but let me quote from just a few of them anyway. While they may despise and look down upon these godly biblical teachers, I am happy to run with their Spirit-directed wisdom and insights.

One of these great Spirit-endowed men of God was John Stott. He said this about the passage in his commentary:

True, in the last resort the Holy Spirit is our absolutely adequate Teacher, and we maintain our right of private judgment by His illumination of the Word of God. But we must see this verse in the context of an Epistle in which John is, in fact, teaching those who, he says, have no need of human teachers! And other passages of the New Testament refer not only to the general ministry of teaching in the Church (e.g. Acts 4:18, 5:28, 42; 2 Tim. 2:24) but also to specially gifted ‘teachers’ (1 Cor. 12:29; Eph 4:11).

Obviously John’s epistles are full of teaching and instruction. As James Montgomery Boice puts it:

When John says that the Christians of his day “do not need anyone to teach” them, the statement must be understood in its context. It does not mean, for instance, that there is no value at all in teaching or that there is no such thing as a teaching ministry in the church. In fact, as Bruce observes, “What is John himself doing in this letter if he is not ‘teaching’ his readers?

Or as Marianne Meye Thompson comments:

While ultimately the Spirit “will teach you all things” (Jn 14:26), the Spirit does so through human beings. Thus, when the Elder writes you do not need anyone to teach you, he does not mean that they have never needed any teachers—for he himself was and continues to be their teacher! But they do not now suddenly need new teaching about Jesus, such as the secessionists are offering.

Let me now turn to some recent remarks that came my way on all this…

[…continue reading here]

November 24, 2021

How Did They Miss That Sermon Reference?

The Voice – II Cor. 3:18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.

The Amplified Bible – II Cor. 3:18 And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.

With the pandemic, it’s been awhile since some readers here have been physically present in a worship service, but for a moment, imagine you there and the pastor is preaching and after awhile it occurs to you that the whole sermon seems to be directed at one particular person’s situation. It’s almost embarrassing. It’s like everyone knows the minister is referring to Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, imagine that mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin a few weeks later, and you get the distinct impression that the sermon hasn’t changed a thing in their life; that whatever it was that made it so blatant to you and everyone else that it was about them, seems to have misfired or otherwise not taken root.

I suppose there could be a number of possibilities here, of which four are:

  • They were tuned out for most of the sermon; not paying attention
  • The pastor’s remarks registered, but they assumed it applied to someone else, never considering it might be them to whom the sermon was most directly speaking
  • The application and needed next steps registered, but were eventually dismissed or forgotten
  • The cost of change or the price of obedience was simply too high

The Bible tells us we’re not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word; but sometimes we mess up the hearing part which cancels out the rest.

James 1:22-24 (The Message) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

People do this everyday however. The middle aged man steps into his souped up sports car, turns the music on the sound system up high, and believes he is still 18. He starts flirting with his assistant at work and with the receptionist at the dentist’s office, and forgets he’s graying; that he has a wife and kids.

He needs a mirror.

The woman who goes out to lunch to with four friends and then spontaneously offers to pick the tab for everyone’s meal before they embark on an afternoon of shopping, slapping down the credit card at store after store, forgetting that the bank has already canceled her other credit card because of too many missed payments, and her income prospects for the foreseeable future are rather dim.

She needs a mirror.

We all need a mirror. An accurate one. One that doesn’t distort the truth. The clearest, most focused mirror is God’s word. It shows us what right living looks like. It tells us where we’ve messed up. What we can do to get back on track. What it will take for us to stay on track. You can read more about this four-fold purpose of scripture by clicking here.

…Sometimes however, the sermon is about you. It’s like there’s no one else there. Imagine the same scenario, but it’s more like a bad dream. The pastor preaches a similar sermon, but everyone turns around stares directly at you.

But weeks later your life is unchanged. That would be a bigger nightmare.

What would your excuse be?


Want to further wrestle with the issue of how we see ourselves vs. how we really are? Consider the book by Brant Hansen, The Truth About Us. Here’s a link to a review of the book.

August 11, 2021

Do Bible Principles Need to be Stated Twice to Matter?

It began with a conversation I had four years ago at the local Christian bookstore concerning Bible features. As the guy was looking at one in particular, he said, “Oh good, it’s got the precepts.”

The first time, it didn’t really register. Then he looked at another and said something like, “Does it have the precepts?”

Huh?

It turned out he was talking about what most of us would call cross references; the notations of other passages either in a center column, the bottom of the page, or at the end of the verse itself where something related may be found.

The idea of ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ is taken from Isaiah 28:, 9-10 in the KJV. The NASB expresses it as:

To whom would He teach knowledge, And to whom would He interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast?  “For He says, ‘Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there.’”

The NLT is really contradictory to this idea on its rendering of this:

He tells us everything over and over–one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there!”

implying that the learning or teaching or knowledge is linear, but not necessarily cumulative. In other words, one line at a time, doesn’t mean that line B is necessarily building on line A, but to say upon is to imply that it is or does.

(In case you’re wondering if there’s any irony to be found, you’re wrong; the verse itself is reiterated in scripture, albeit 3 verses later in verse 13.)

As we discussed this the idea of “Out of the mouth of two [or three] witnesses was brought into the conversation. This is found in the Old Testament twice.

The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6, HCSB)

A solitary witness against someone in any crime, wrongdoing, or in any sort of misdeed that might be done is not sufficient. The decision must stand by two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15, CEB)

Those OT passages are cited in the NT by Jesus and by Paul.

But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:16, NIV)

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  (2 Corinthians 13:1, ESV)

In the Corinthian example, you have to go back to the previous chapter to get the context. Paul is speaking about sorting out matters concerning people who have been found in sinful practices.

Capital crime. Wrongdoing. Sin. Denial of Sin. Nowhere do these passages suggest something related to “the establishing of doctrine.” But don’t get me wrong:

I believe the Bible always corroborates itself on matters of important doctrine.

In other words, it’s internally consistent. I’m just not sure that we need to force it [scripture] into a situation where everything has to be said twice or three times in order to establish a doctrinal pattern, or make it conform to an overarching systematic theology. Or, to come at it differently, it may reinforce something but in an entirely different way than our Western way of thinking can process too simply.

I think to do so is to doubt the value of what we read the first time. It’s saying to God, ‘Now, if you’ll just show me one more time where you say this, then I’ll obey.’ I think that undermines the text somehow. That doesn’t mean to imply that at a crossroads of life we don’t ask God for confirmation of what we are to do. There is the example of Gideon, who put out a second fleece.

So what are precepts? Yourdictionary.com says

precept pre·cept. … The definition of a precept is a guiding principle or rule that is used to control, influence or regulate conduct. An example of a precept is a commandment found in the Ten Commandments.

At that we would need to get into the differences between a rule and a principle. Principles are timeless, never location-specific, widely applicable. Rules apply to one group of people in one particular situation at one unique point in time. The rest of that we need to save for another day.

A cross-reference is simply:

•noun: cross reference; plural noun: cross references
–a reference to another text or part of a text, typically given in order to elaborate on a point.

Anyone who has been reading the Bible for any length of time knows that sometimes the Bible editors have chosen to take us to a reference to a rather obscure part of the verse, not something which indicates its overall meaning. There are times when I have been completely mystified as to the inclusion of a particular reference. Many of you know the danger of over-spiritualizing things, and I don’t want to be guilty of under-spiritualizing something, but… They’re. Just. Cross-references.

And at risk of stating the obvious, there’s 2 Timothy 3:16, which reminds us that all scripture is inspired. (Italics added; four expressions of this verse may be found at this link.)

Here’s my concluding statements on this:

We read scripture not so much because we’re trying to learn precepts as we are recognizing the importance of understanding the ways of God.

and

If God is saying something to us with unmistakable clarity through a scripture passage, we don’t need to start hunting around looking for a second verse.

July 30, 2021

His Word; Our Light

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Our quest to highlight and support people writing quality devotional/study material took us today to the site of Jonathan Richard Wright. He serves as Youth and Family Pastor at a church in Florida and is working on a PhD. As always, you are strongly encouraged to read C201 posts at their source; this is a great encouragement to the writers and you may find other articles on their blogs you would enjoy.

God’s Light

Have you ever tried to get somewhere while in the pitch-black dark? When you can’t even see a hand in front of your face, the darkness isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s frightening. In those moments, we crave rescue by the light. A simple flashlight makes the darkest places better.

Our need for light is a deep spiritual metaphor used in the pages of Scripture. Light shines in the first few sentences of the Bible as God’s good creation (Genesis 1:3–4). Instead of the celestial sources of light being gods who need to be appeased (like the Egyptian god “Re” or the Semitic god “Shamash”), light is created by Yahweh the God who is above every power on heaven and earth. Yahweh is the source of light as the creator of all things.

But the light of God’s presence didn’t stay with humanity. Seeking to define good and evil on their own terms, Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden, and their descendants continued to live out the resulting darkness (Genesis 6:5). Eventually God’s people ended up in the darkness of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 10:23). And how does Yahweh lead his people out of this bondage? Israel is led by a pillar of illuminating fire by night (Exodus 13:21). That light God provided continually stood as a reminder of his rescue through the never-extinguished lamps of the tabernacle (Leviticus 24:2).

Light is connected to something else in Jewish Scripture, too. God’s word is called a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). In Proverbs, a similar statement appears: “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). Much like in Genesis 1–2, God’s word is connected to light; it functions to reveal exactly what we need.

In these ways, light is understood from the Bible as a good and needed gift that comes from God in order to rescue people who are in their own created darkness.

That foundation adds to the impact of the words of John 1:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1–5).

Jesus, the “light of the world” (John 8:12), comes to a dark world and brings light. Since light reveals and guides, Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s light (1 John 1:5). Truly, in his light, “do we see light” (Psalm 36:9). By following Jesus, believers have all the light we need to “shine before others” so that the world can see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). And as people who were once blind, Christians are entrusted with a mission of light to lead others who can’t see to Jesus (Romans 2:19). That’s our calling until Jesus comes again and fully restores the world into a place where we won’t need the sun—that “city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Revelation 21:2–24).

In this life, we’ve only experienced tastes of God’s light. But in the new heavens and new earth, God will forever be our light, unhidden from our eyes (Revelation 22:5). Until then, “let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:5).


Second Helping: Did you wake up this morning saying, “I’m a temple?” Check out a second article from Jonathan, Jesus, The Temple and You.

May 18, 2021

Watch Out for Misplaced Bible Verses!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Tim. 2:15 NIV

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. – Acts 17:11 NLT

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness – 2 Tim. 3:16 ESV

A year ago we introduced you to Lily Pierce and her blog Retrospective Lily and mentioned that she is a great writer despite a physical challenge. This time around she shares a warning about people who quote scripture verses in contexts which would horrify the original writers, and adds a principle that I heard growing up, namely that you need to look for other passages which corroborate the one in question.

Click the line which follows to link to this at her site.

The Bible Can Justify Anything, So Weigh Scripture Against Scripture

You read that title right! So, how can we discern the heart and will of God–if His Word can be twisted to fit any narrative? Well, I won’t pretend for a moment to have all the answers–as if all the answers could be had. But looking at scripture as a whole is a good suggestion.

People have gotten upset in the past when I’ve spoken against fixating on one tree within a whole forest. I think some Christians are so wary of “progressivism” that their blasphemy radar is waaay too sensitive. Viewing scripture holistically is the only sensible way to approach the Bible. The alternative is pulling verses out of context and building a doctrine out of them.

In the book Oliver Twist, the orphanage director, who serves as the parish beadle, is a mean, selfish man. When he meets nine-year-old Oliver, he gives him a cold, stern lecture (because why be kind to a CHILD WHO IS ALONE IN THE WORLD, right?) and quotes 1 Cor 13:11: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. Hey, man, ever read the one where Jesus says that we should become humble like children? Or the one where Jesus insists His disciples let the children come to Him? Guess not.

This fictional example reflects the contradictions that lie within so many Christians who are condescending, rude, and unempathetic–in the name of Jesus. Pride and righteous indignation reign even more supremely than God in many of our hearts. Have we forgotten that Jesus said the first would be last? Or how Paul wrote that none of us have cause to boast because we are only saved by faith, not our own works? Or, like, the other countless ways we are told in the Bible that arrogance is condemned? I think the man who went out to eat after church that’s screaming at a waitress because the chef messed up his order missed the memo. The town gossip who happens to hold several “power positions” on church committees just doesn’t get it. [SN: I’ve literally heard the term “power positions” used in reference to church committees. Hmm…ever heard of “servant leadership?”]

In a totally different instance, I once wrote a post in which I said that followers of Jesus should be active in helping their neighbors. A reader pointed out the sentence fragment of 1 Thess 4:11 (and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you) as a way to negate what I’d said. I replied that, perhaps in that particular scenario, the Thessalonians–Christians in Greece–needed to keep a low profile to avoid persecution (confirmed by a Google search). But it’s clear when one reads the entire New Testament that we are called to really love our neighbors, and biblical love is an action verb. We must take up our crosses and follow Jesus, being His hands, feet, and face in the world, because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

The Bible has been used to justify so many things–slavery, bigotry, political agendas, etc. I don’t want to delve into it all because ain’t nobody got time for that here; countless others have written articles, essays, and even whole books on these subjects. And people disagree.

But here’s the point: weigh scripture against scripture. And always stay humble enough to learn and take direction from the Spirit.

Have you ever seen a Bible verse taken out of context?  Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

March 24, 2021

Scripture Medley: The General Epistles

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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It’s been a long time since we’ve done anything like this, so today we’re back using the services of TopVerses.com to check out some of the most sought-after verses in the general epistles, those books lying between Paul’s writing to Philemon and the book of Revelation. The number which appears next to “Bible Rank” is its overall position in searches. Note that I did skip some verses in order to select others, so refer to TopVerses for actual ranking. All quotations are NIV.

This may seem like such a random exercise. Why do this? Don’t treat this a throwaway devotional. My hope is that something will jump off the page for application to your situation today. Or that you’ll be reminded of a scripture that has settled in the recesses of your memory and now returns to the foreground. Or that you’ll see something which perhaps you’re meant to share with someone in the hours or days to follow.

See also the notes at the bottom for more ways to engage with today’s verses.

Hebrews:

Hebrews 11:1
Bible Rank: 44
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 4:12
Bible Rank: 58
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 12:1
Bible Rank: 67
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us

Hebrews 11:6
Bible Rank: 87
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 4:15
Bible Rank: 251
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.

Hebrews 1:3
Bible Rank: 252
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

James

James 5:16
Bible Rank: 59
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 1:2
Bible Rank: 92
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds

James 1:5
Bible Rank: 111
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1:17
Bible Rank: 149
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows

I Peter

1 Peter 3:15
Bible Rank: 122
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

1 Peter 2:9
Bible Rank: 131
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 3:18
Bible Rank: 213
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

II Peter

2 Peter 3:9
Bible Rank: 153
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance

2 Peter 3:4
Bible Rank: 189
They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

2 Peter 1:21
Bible Rank: 276
For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 3:18
Bible Rank: 677
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

I John

1 John 1:9
Bible Rank: 41
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 4:1
Bible Rank: 148
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

1 John 1:7
Bible Rank: 194
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

II John

2 John 1:6
Bible Rank: 1,757
And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

III John

3 John 1:4
Bible Rank: 1,192
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

3 John 1:11
Bible Rank: 1,436
Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.

Jude

Jude 1:3
Bible Rank: 1,228
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that the Lord has once for all entrusted to us, his people.

Jude 1:5
Bible Rank: 1,352
Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe

Jude 1:24
Bible Rank: 2,474
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy –

[a verse to which we have to add the 2nd half]

Jude 1:25
Bible Rank: 17,451
To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.


What’s next? – I remember when The Navigator’s scripture memory system was more popular, you might see people on public transit with index cards memorizing key verses, or what we might call rehearsing these truths. I encourage you to do the same here. Choose one or two verses on which to meditate, or simply start at the top again and, more slowly, read through the list one more time.

Option 2 – Go back to TopVerses.com, and instead of working your way through particular Bible books, use the topical index — it appears first — to explore texts which resonate with where you are today.

With both options – Find a Bible or Bible online and read beyond individual verses to get the full context of what’s being said.

January 25, 2021

The Tree of Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Ron McKenzie‘s website Blessed Economist is somewhat unique as he writes from a perspective intersecting the worlds of politics and economics, and the worlds of scripture and faith. He is the author of at least seven books, has another teaching blog Kingdom Watcher (KW), and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. We shared an article by him here in June, 2014 and then I’m not sure what happened after that! Earlier today I reconnected with his online work. May I encourage you to click the link in the header which follows and read this article, which appeared just two days ago, at his site.

Thoughts on the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life was at the centre of the garden of Eden. God was present in the garden. The God Yahweh caused to grow trees that would give humans everything that they needed for life. The Tree of Life was in the middle of the garden because it was the source of wisdom for life. Humans had access to this tree as long as they lived by the wisdom of God.

According to Proverbs, the tree of life is the wisdom of God (Prov 13:12; Prov 11:30).

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her (Prov 3:18).

The tree of life is the centre of the garden, because it was the source of the wisdom of God for life.

Adam and Eve had a choice between two trees. They could choose between knowing good and evil (human wisdom) and wisdom for life (God’s wisdom). Prior to the fall, they had access to the tree of life, ie God’s wisdom. They could hear God speak whenever they listened to him.

Adam and Eve chose to be autonomous and have their own wisdom, rather than continuing to rely on the wisdom of God. Once they chose to rely on their own wisdom, they unwittingly placed themselves under the control of the spiritual powers of evil. This blocked their access to the wisdom of God, because their shame prevented them from staying close to God.

God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, so they would experience the consequence of their choice. It would be in this world, that God would eventually rescue them (see God’s Big Strategy).

Humans were already mortal, before they fell from blessing, but they were able to live long lives (up to a thousand years). They gave them immense opportunity to advance themselves.

When God expressed concern that humans would reach out and eat from the tree of life and live forever, the Hebrew word can mean forever, but it can also mean for the full extent of an age/season. God was not concerned about them having eternal life. Rather, he was saying that without his presence and wisdom, they would not be able to live their full lifespan. The consequence of living in a hostile world, vulnerable to the spiritual powers of evil would significantly shorten term their lives.

That is what happened. Since then most humans have lived less than one hundred years.

Restoration of the Tree of Life
According to the book of Revelation, the tree of life was not destroyed when the Garden of Eden was lost. It was transferred into Paradise.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Rev 2:7).

I presume that the tree of life in the Garden of Eden was not the original one. It would have been a copy of the true tree of life in the spiritual realms. Paradise is the place where the people of God live while waiting for the Parousia. The tree of life is waiting there ready for people who put their trust in Jesus. We will have full access to this tree when the spiritual realms are fully opened to us following the parousia of Jesus.

To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life (Rev 21:6).

In the final vision of Revelation, the source of life is a river flowing from the throne of God.

The angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the peoples. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him (Rev 3:1-3).

In this vision, the tree of life draws from the river of life and provides healing for the people of the nations. God will be present with his people, so pain and sickness will disappear.

 

 

January 6, 2021

Breath Prayers

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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The author of today’s piece doesn’t actually use the term Breath Prayers, but I know it’s one many of you are familiar with, so I chose it as today’s headline.

It’s difficult for me to imagine that we’ve never included the writing of Lutheran author Gene Veith here. He writes at a Patheos blog called Cranach — you’ll have to read this page to learn why — and has books published with Concordia and Crossway under the fuller name Gene Edward Veith, Jr.

To read December article, you are urged to click the link in the header below.

The Bible’s Super-Short & Always Useful Prayers

When we pray God’s Word back to Him, the Holy Spirit is praying with us and for us.  Praying the Psalms is a profound devotional activity.  But the Bible also has many profound prayers that are extremely short, yet applicable for much of what we need to pray for.  They are so short that they can constantly be in our hearts and on our lips.

I realized this while reading a wonderful Advent devotion by Peter Leithart, in which he reflects on the last prayer in the Bible (Revelation 22:20).  He says this:

The Bible ends with a small Advent liturgy. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” All who hear echo the prayer and say, “Come.” Jesus assures his people, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” The response to that assurance is another prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus.” Maranatha—an Aramaic word meaning “Come, Lord”—is the last of the Spirit’s prayers, harmonized by the Bride. Scripture leaves us eager for the Lord’s arrival.

This last prayer of the Bible is the core of the Table Prayer so popular among Lutherans:  “Come, Lord Jesus,/Be Our Guest/And Let Thy Gifts to Us be Blest.”  For a long time after I had become a Lutheran I didn’t think much of this, considering it to be just a child’s prayer.  Later, though, I came to appreciate it and use it for its apocalyptic meaning and for its theme of vocation (God really is present as He gives us our daily bread through all of the vocations involved as we sit around our tables).

But this short prayer from the Bible has wide applicability, and it called to mind a number of others.

Come, Lord Jesus  [Revelation 22:20].  I’ve heard my daughter say this–actually, I realize now, pray this–many times in this trouble-filled year of 2020.  It’s good to pray when we are overcome with how messed up this world is.  We are asking for Christ to come back to end this fallen world of sin and tragedy and to bring about the resurrection of the dead and the New Heaven and New Earth.

Lord, have mercy.  [Matthew 20:30]  This prayer of the two blind men whom Jesus healed may be the one we need most often and in the most circumstances.  We can pray it when we need forgiveness, when we need help, and when other people need forgiveness and help.

This Biblical prayer has been expanded into the Jesus Prayer used in Eastern Orthodoxy: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  This has become a staple of Orthodox spirituality and meditation.  See also how it features in my favorite novel by J. D. Salinger, Franny & Zooey.  It’s also the “Kyrie” (the Greek word for “Lord”) in the liturgy:  “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”

Praise the Lord.  [Psalm 106:1, among many others]  To “praise” God does not just mean telling Him how good He is, though this often happens in praising.  The term derives from a word for “shine,” so that it connotes responding to the great light of God.  Thus, praising the Lord involves celebrating God and reveling in Him.  Nor is this phrase, as it seems in the English imperative, to be just an exhortation for other people that they should praise Him.  This is one of those linguistic curiosities in which to use the word is to perform the action.

This is good to pray when you are thankful to Him, when you are conscious of both His benefits and who He is in Himself.  If you want to pray in tongues–that is, in a foreign language–you can use the original Hebrew for this phrase:  Hallelujah!

“Come, Lord Jesus” is one of those super-short prayers that is always appropriate, like “Lord, have mercy,” “Forgive me, Lord,” and “Thank you, Lord.” (in Bible?) “Praise the Lord.”  “Bless the Lord”  (what does that mean, exactly?) “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

I give you thanks, O Lord.  [Psalm 138:1, and others]  For when we feel gratitude for God and for His gifts.  I think of the line about how one of the worst things about being an atheist is when you feel grateful but have no one to thank.

“I believe; help my unbelief! [Mark 9:24]  The prayer of the father of the boy with the unclean spirit who brought him to Jesus in the hope that he might be healed.  Jesus said that all things are possible for one who believes.  The father sort of believed.  His was a mixture of belief and unbelief.  He asked Jesus to give him belief.  And He did as He healed the man’s son.  This is good to pray in times of doubt or spiritual struggle.  It’s striking how well the Word of God understands us.

Can you think of other prayers from the Bible like these?

Having these on the tips of our tongue can help us to “pray without ceasing.”  And to fulfill the rest of that passage:  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).


If you wish to pursue the idea of breath prayers there are other examples at this link. If you want to consider what might be called breathing prayers check out this article.

November 9, 2020

Using the Scriptures as a Model for Prayer

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:38 pm
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For today’s thoughts, we have some very short excerpts from a 2019 book, A Genesis to Revelation Guide to Prayer by Pamela L. McQuade (Barbour Books). I’ve chosen a few that were perhaps not as obvious as others to give you a sense of how the book works. There are also some longer articles about prayer as well but for me the centerpiece is section 4, which consists of 144 references to prayer. This 224-page book comes in a smaller size that can be carried with you in a pocket or purse or lunchbox.

Prayer in the Middle of Disaster

As judgment fell upon the land because of Judah’s unfaithfulness, Joel called out to God, the creator of the earth, to intervene and stop the destruction of the pastures, fields, and woodlands — All the elements of the earth that supported people’s needs. Only God could end the disaster and lift his judgment from his unfaithful people.

Lord help us! The fire has consumed the wilderness pastures and flames have burned up all the trees. Joel 1:19 NLT

Prayer for Sanctuary

In a vision, Ezekiel saw the people of Judah destroyed by God’s command, and the prophet cried out to God for them. Though they had fallen far from God, Ezekiel still had compassion. Though God did not seem inclined to ease their plight, in Ezekiel 11:16 he promised that even though the people would go to foreign lands, he would be their sanctuary.

When they were killing and I was left alone, I fell face down, crying out, “Alas, sovereign Lord! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?” Ezekiel 9:8 NIV

Prayer for God’s Workers

Anyone who works in ministry will come to recognize that more workers are essential. Jesus told the disciples to ask God to provide workers in order to bring in the harvest of human souls. He will answer this prayer.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38 NIV

A Prayer that God Overhears

Concerned about the state of their nation, a remnant of faithful Jews spoke to one another about their failings in God’s eyes. Even though they weren’t really praying, God heard their concerns. He honored them with a scroll of remembrance and promised to spare them.

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. The scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. Malachi 3:16.

God Hears Short Prayers, Too

Hezekiah heard from the prophet Isaiah that God was prepared to take his life. The faithful King prayed a fervent, short prayer, and before Isaiah could leave the palace, God turned him around with a new, hope-filled message for the king. God hears every prayer, even our shortest, most desperate ones.

When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember oh Lord how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly. 2 Kings 20: 2-3 NLT

June 23, 2020

Critical Elements of the Jesus Story Supported Without a Bible

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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One of the things that drives seekers and skeptics nuts is when we use the Bible to prove the Bible. To borrow a 2-word phrase from Wikipedia, “citation needed!” They’re looking for outside corroboration of the Bible’s facts.

Many have written on this subject, and I always thought it would be good to have a record of some of those arguments here at C201. This is part of the field known as Christian apologetics.

Branches of this include:

  • experiential arguments
  • evidential arguments
  • arguments for the reliability of scripture
  • arguments for the resurrection
  • reasoning from morality (the problem of good and evil)
  • philosophical arguments for deism (pre-suppositional arguments)
    • cosmological argument
    • teleological argument (aka intelligent design)
    • ontological argument
  • argument from fulfilled prophecy
  • creationism
  • theodicy (explaining the ways of God to humankind)

You find these fleshed out in detail at Wikipedia.

I started thinking about this yesterday when a friend introduced me to Alisa Childers at alisachilders.com. She describes herself on her YouTube page:

I’m a life-long Jesus follower and former CCM recording artist who experienced a period of profound doubt in my mid-thirties. I discovered apologetics, which helped navigate me out of unreasoned doubt and into a vibrant, intellectually informed faith. Now my passion is to read, study, and worship with all that I am!

She has a post entitled:

10 Historical Facts About Jesus From Non-Christian Sources

but in this particular case, I didn’t want to steal search engine results here from her blog, as much as I would have loved to copy and paste it as a reference. So if an internet search brought you here, click the header above and read it on her site.

Rather, I decided to break down what she had written into a few key sources. But you need to read her summary as you’re following this one.

Josephus: A Jewish historian who wrote The Antiquities of the Jews. (It was a First Century bestseller.) He is usually the first go-to source for confirmation of the Jesus narrative. As Alisa notes, he records the life of Jesus who he describes as “wise” and that “his conduct was good.” He also records the stoning of James, and mentions that he was the brother of Jesus.

Celsus: He gets the story wrong, believing that during some time spent in  Egypt Jesus got his miraculous powers, but in saying this, he is acknowledging that Jesus was able to perform miracles.

Tacitus: A respected governmental leader, the statement which follows sounds like it was ripped directly out of The Apostles Creed: “suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”

Thallus: This First Century author’s works no longer exist, but fortunately for our sake, he was quoted by another writer when he stated that, “there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down.”

Phlegon: The same author who quoted Thallus, Julius Africanus, quotes Phlegon as verifying Luke’s date-stamp that these events took place “in the time of Tiberius Caesar,” and also records the crucifixion day darkness as an eclipse which is a reasonable explanation.

The Disciples: Let’s face it, we know from outside sources that they were willing to die for their beliefs. Can’t overlook that. (Staying on the purpose of the list, which we would also call ‘extra-Biblical sources,’ Alisa didn’t add the Bible’s own claim that the resurrected Jesus was seen by over 500 people before the ascension.)

Pliny the Younger: He records Christian worship — Book of Acts style — and notes the personal ethical integrity of the early Christians. They were people you could count on.

Lucian of Samosata: You know you’ve arrived when you turn up in the late night talk show monologues. Lucian was a satirist. Think “The Onion.” But in a more sober moment he notes that, “it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.”

I’ve greatly shortened Alisa’s material here in order to ENCOURAGE you again to read it on her website. Click here to read 10 Historical Facts… You’ll find fuller quotations, source footnotes for everything cited here, and over 70 reader comments.

…So, for my regular devotional readers, I know what you’re thinking today, “Where’s the green?” (We always put scripture verses in green here, to show that the scriptures contain a life that our own words do not.)

Well, that’s just the point. Sometimes you have go beyond the Bible to impress on someone the historical veracity and reliability of the Jesus narrative. Which brings me to one last extra-Biblical source that wasn’t in her list:

You. I want to avoid the cliché that “you are the only Bible some people will ever read;” but don’t minimize the power of your own testimony; the story of your own life-change. In apologetics, you can argue with a proposition, but it’s hard to argue with a story when the person is standing right there sharing it.

 

 

March 3, 2020

What Was Mary Thinking? It’s Obvious.

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
 -Psalm 119:11

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
 – Luke 2:19

It’s several months past the Christmas season, but we were considering these two verses on the weekend and how they are related. I have to confess that in my younger days, I figured Mary simply held on to an angel’s promise as her only hope against the rumors that would circulate when she was visibly pregnant outside of marriage.

In later years, I figured that Mary’s thoughts would go toward the implications of having been chosen to bear Israel’s Messiah both in terms of what it would mean for herself and what it would mean for the baby Jesus, the infant Jesus, the adolescent Jesus and the mature Jesus.

But these would not be random thoughts. The scriptures would be clear.

In her outburst of praise to God that we call “The Magnificat” Mary directly quotes from or alludes to as few as seven or as many of 22 scriptures. We covered this back in 2013, quoting from K. W. Leslie:

Those who don’t understand how prophecy and inspiration work, tend to think of the Magnificat as something the Holy Spirit said through Mary, rather than something Mary said, empowered by the Spirit. They see her as some illiterate, uneducated peasant girl. In reality, the Spirit takes our innate abilities—the ones we have all the time, not just when we’re inspired—and points them at God. The Magnificat isn’t just a one-time freak of nature. Turns out Mary was a poet. Perhaps even a musician. Maybe untrained, with strong natural talents God put in her long before she said this. But maybe someone had trained her; we don’t know. All we have is her poem.

Her knowledge and ability didn’t show up overnight. K. W. Leslie continues,

Synagogues had a women’s section. That’s right: The Pharisees permitted women’s education. They didn’t expect (nor did they want) women to become scholars. But they did expect them to know the Law, same as the men: “A man is required to teach the Law to his daughter.” (Mishna, Sota 3.4e) You can’t obey it, or pass it down to your kids, if you don’t yourself know it. And throughout the Magnificat, Mary demonstrated she did know it. ’Cause, you know, all the quotes.

In a 2018 article here, Ruth Wilkinson wrote,

Luke records that she burst out in what is essentially a mash-up of Old Testament verses and phrases that she had memorized; verses from the books of Psalms, Job, 1 Samuel, Genesis, Deuteronomy, Isaiah… Poetry and prophecy. Truths that she’d been steeped in all her life and which suddenly, joyously, tumbled out in a hymn of praise to the God who had set her on an unprecedented path.

In 2017, I wrote,

But there is no arrogance in this. Rather it is preceded by a statement of great humility:

  • He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave (HCSB)
  • he has shown his concern for his humble servant girl (New Century Version)
  • he hath beheld the meekness of his handmaiden (Wycliffe)
  • he took notice of his lowly servant girl (New Living Translation)

Similarly, later verses have given rise to this being called a “song of reversals.” A new order is about to take place; a new paradigm is about to be introduced.

Did she get all the implications immediately? Maybe not. Clarke Dixon covered this here in 2018.

Did Mary really “get it”? Would Mary have been aware that “Son of the Most High” meant much more than that her baby would have a special relationship with God? That the “Son of God” she was to carry was actually “God the Son”? Keeping in mind the age and education of Mary, would she have been thinking “this must be what future theologians will call the incarnation”? Not likely.

To some extent, I agree with Clarke. If we, in the year 2020 don’t fully understand all the implications of the incarnation, I don’t think it’s fair to heap all that expectation on Mary.

At least at the beginning of the story. In those early days.

But as she ‘ponders in her heart’ the words she has ‘hidden in her heart’ I believe it crystallized for her clearer than to anyone else living at that time.

We’re told that Luke (at least and perhaps other gospel writers) would have interviewed Mary in composing their gospel accounts. I would expect that by that point, Mary’s take on the life of Christ would be more than names, dates and places; her contribution would be more than facts and figures.

I believe by that point, having pondered these things out of urgency (in the beginning) and reflection (after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension) that Mary was in fact the greatest theologian of her day. The gospel accounts are richer because they contain, to varying degrees, her input.

Next Steps: So…let’s start with basics. Using this checklist, how many of these scriptures do you know from memory? Click here to read the list.

 

 

November 23, 2019

God and You: Growing the Relationship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1: 10-13 ESV

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. – James 4:8 ESV

Three years ago Charles Stanley’s In Touch Ministries posted this short book excerpt from chapter 3 of his book, Courageous Faith: My Story From a Life of Obedience.

Developing Your Relationship With God

by Charles Stanley

My grandfather taught me how crucial it is to be rightly related to God through His Son Jesus. He confided that as a young man he started his ministry feeling very inadequate because he didn’t have much education— he’d only made it to the sixth grade. In fact, he learned to read by studying the Bible. And he’d picked up how to preach by crying out to the Father and asking Him what to say.

This was extremely encouraging to me because of the inadequacies and fears I was struggling with. To think that such a great man of God had them as well gave me hope that the Lord could make something out of my life, too. And what this ultimately showed me was the amazing way the Savior can work through any simple but willing servant who is completely committed to Him. As 2 Chronicles 16:9 reminds us, “The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”

This is why I often say: Our intimacy with God is His highest priority for our lives because it determines the impact of our lives. The more profound our fellowship with the Father, the more powerful our lives will be—regardless of whether we’re educated, attractive, wealthy, or of prominent social standing. We don’t have to be perfect, not by any means. No, it is our relationship with God that makes all the difference in our lives— our love for Him, our willingness to serve Him, and our dependence upon His Holy Spirit.

So how did my grandfather achieve such a deep and transformative relationship with the Lord? Much like my mother did:

  1. He spent a great deal of time meditating on Scripture. He didn’t just read the Word, but he would ask questions such as: God, what are You saying to me? How does this apply to my life? What are You trying to correct? How do You want me to respond to You in obedience?
  2. He was a person of prayer. Grandfather didn’t just go before the throne of grace at night before he went to bed or when he was in trouble. Instead, he took the apostle Paul’s commands to heart: “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Col. 4:2) and “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). This meant that his life was one long conversation with God—one in which he shared all the joys as well as the sorrows.
  3. He actively listened to the Savior. Granddad was keenly aware that he was the servant of God—not the other way around. If he wanted a deep relationship with the Lord that would bring him into unified oneness with Him, he would have to train his ears to hear Him. And if he truly desired to have God’s direction, wisdom, and power, he would have to pay close attention to what the Father was saying.

Of course, this led me to ask Granddad, “How do you know for certain when God has spoken to you?” He told me that I would have a profound awareness in my heart of how He was leading me. Then he said, “But Charles, always remember this: You obey God no matter what.”

My Grandfather was an incredible example in regard to absolute obedience and this principle has become a foundational cornerstone and anchor for my life: Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him. It’s a phrase you’ve undoubtedly heard me repeat often. You do what the Lord tells you to do regardless of the circumstances or dangers you face, and you trust Him to make a path for you where there appears to be no way through.

 

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