Christianity 201

October 17, 2021

Even Better Promises

Only a year ago, I looked at the second half of each of the clauses in the section of Matthew 5 known as “the Beatitudes.” It’s the part we don’t spend as much time with, because in its list of ‘who stands to receive what,‘ we get focused on the who, but often miss the what.

In a way, so we should. The shock value of the sermon is that this is further evidence of the ‘upside-down,’ ‘first-shall-be-last; last-shall-be-first’ Kingdom that Jesus is about to usher in. It continues with the ‘you-have-heard-it-said’ section where Jesus takes conventional ideas about how God would have things work and replaces them with ‘but-I-say-to-you’ statements which up-end those conventions.

But back to the ‘whats.‘ Here is just that part of the text from Matthew 5:

  • theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • they will be comforted.
  • they will inherit the earth.
  • they will be filled.
  • they will be shown mercy.
  • they will see God.
  • they will be called children of God.

Let’s look at those:

■ What does it mean to be told that yours is the kingdom of heaven; or to receive the kingdom? Later in Matthew, Jesus reiterates this offer when the disciples try to turn away the children.

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.” 19:14 NLT

Just a few chapters earlier he says,

And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven (16:19a, NKJV)

The possession of the keys implies a sense of ownership; a sense of legitimate belonging.

■ About the next group he says, they will be comforted. What does it mean to receive comfort? Usually it means that someone comes alongside you and places their arm or arms around you. In his final discourse on the way to face the cross, Jesus says this very thing,

and I will ask the Father, and He will give to you another Comforter, that He may remain with you throughout the age. (John 14:16, Literal Standard Version)

The word used is also advocate, helper, and counselor in other translations.

■ Of the next group he says, they shall inherit the earth. If your theology is all about exiting this earth, and heading for ‘heaven,’ this may not be as meaningful as it is if your eschatology covers the concept of ‘the new earth.’ Exiled to Patmos Island, John wrote,

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (Rev. 21:1, NIV) (the word ‘sea’ is well-translated, but can be interpreted as ‘there was no longer any chaos;’ in other words, a re-birthed world.)

This is not the earth as you know it, but one you would want to inherit.

Jesus’ words here echoed a verse in Psalms:

But the meek will inherit the land and delight in abundant prosperity (Psalm 37:11, Berean Study Bible) (watch that word, prosperity however, we’ll get to it in a minute!)

■ Of the next group we are told, they will be filled. This reminds me so much of the words spoken at the climax of one of the most important feast times:

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” (John 7:37, NASB)

What, never thirst again? No, never thirst again! (This is an old gospel song lyric I couldn’t resist including!)

His beatitude here echoes the words spoken prophetically

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55:1-2, NIV)

■ The ones who fit the next category are told they will be shown mercy. Who would not want receive God’s mercy? This conditional promise will be repeated in the same teaching session, just a chapter later when the disciples ask how to pray, he will tell them to say,

Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. (Matthew 6:12, GNT)

and then will amplify this two verses later,

“If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.” (6:14-15 GNT)

■ To the next group is the promise, they will see God. A popular hit song in 1971, based on a prayer by 13th-century English bishop Saint Richard of Chichester, includes the lyric “to see thee more clearly.” This should also be an offer you wouldn’t want to refuse.

This was the prayer of Paul,

I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to Him in His death (Philippians 3:10, Berean Study Bible.)

■ There are eight beatitudes, but the promise in the eighth is the same as the first, so the last of the seven groups we’re looking at are told, they will be called children of God.

This reminded me of the words of John,

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. (I John 3:2, NLT)

Earlier, in his gospel, John wrote,

But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name. (John 1:12, CSB)

But wait, there’s more!

These things are what is on offer for those who follow Christ, but I wanted to take this a step further.

Many today subscribe to what is called “the prosperity gospel,” or “the health and wealth gospel.” They believe that earthly riches await those who will simply believe and trust God and then receive these blessings by faith. We often see these people as having great faith; perhaps we think their faith is greater than ours.

But God’s offer is so much better. Who would want a new house, or a new car, or an expensive vacation when, God is so much more than a game show host giving away cash and fabulous prizes?

His promises include the earth; the kingdom, his comfort, fullness, mercy, intimate relationship, identification with him. Why would you settle for things that perish? In the same teaching passage, he says,

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19, NLT)

So why would he place those short-term, consumable things on offer when he is willing and able to grant you so much more, including the kingdom itself?


The Sermon on the Mount gets the most attention, but it’s but one of four teaching passages or discourses found in Matthew’s gospel. For the other four, use the “Archives” search tab in the blog’s sidebar, and select “August, 2020” and look for four articles appearing August 7, 8, 9, and 10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 23, 2021

Some of Jesus’ Statements We Call Hyperbole Are Still Truth

Can you imagine the crowds listening to some of the more outrageous statements made by Jesus and saying, “Oh, there he goes again!” Despite the sensational nature of some of the things he said, the phrasing is also the reason we remember them, like the one in today’s devotional.

Our online travels today took us to For Christ’s Sake Fellowship which is run by Pastor Daniel Harlow. This online ministry describes their goal as: “We aren’t necessarily looking for a congregation as much as we are trying to help establish a strong, personal, and life long connection between you and Jesus Christ.”

Click the header which follows to read at their site.

Cast Off Your Hand

“And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” – Matthew 5:30

Temptations abound in this world. You can’t turn on the tv or even drive down the road without being bombarded by beckoning sin. Even the smart phones we hold in our hands create an open doorway for all kinds of evils. What is a good person to do?

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said that if your eye or your hand causes you to stumble, it would be better for you to pluck the eye out or cut off your hand and cast them away rather than to have your souls to end up in Hell.

What Jesus is saying there is not about hurting yourself, it’s about being willing to do whatever it takes to keep your eyes and your mind on Heaven. Aim for your righteousness and it will help yourself and others.

I do say “yourself and others” because you have more power and affect on other people than you realize. There is truly no such thing as a personal sin. Sin hurts and people who think much of you will follow your lead. You will take many souls with you wherever you go, either to eternal peace in Heaven or to eternal death.

Jesus mentioned the right hand for a reason. It is an example of your strong side. For most people, you get the greatest benefit from using your strong hand. That being said, even if something is benefiting you, it may also be what is doing the most damage to you in the long run.

There are many things in this world that are OK to do, but are they leading you somewhere good? Has the Holy Spirit been knocking on your door recently about something? Do you pray? Do you spend time in the scriptures? Do you use your tone wisely to help others?

I like to fish and I enjoy watching TV now and then. A few little relaxing pursuits are OK, but not when they consume my time. Even OK things, lawful things that benefit us, can get in the way of our eternal salvation. Moderation is key in many cases, but some things, even small seemingly insignificant things can take you away from the life God has called you too.

Jesus Christ suffered and died so that you can be free from sin. All of those bad things you’ve done are gone when you accept His payment on the cross. He died and rose again to give you an abundant life not only in Heaven for eternity, but here on Earth as well.

Use your abundance, whether it is food or money or strength or whatever, to help other people. Don’t use your time and earthly pursuits to chase sin. And make no mistake about it, if you are not actively chasing Heaven, you are slipping back down farther towards hell.

Jesus said there are only two roads. There is a wide one with a large gate that’s pointed in the wrong direction. Many people are on that road, heading for destruction. However, there is another road, a straight and narrow path that leads to an eternity of love and peace. Few find that road.

Which one are you on right now?

Once again, I’m not telling you to ACTUALLY cut off your hand. Please don’t! But I am telling you that we must be ready and willing to cut things out of our lives to gain God’s kingdom and blessings. Even if those things in our lives are OK and lawful, maybe they even benefit us sometimes, but if they harm us and cause others to stumble, then those things must be done away with in our lives.

If you do this, God has promised blessings and peace for now and forever. So stay on that straight and narrow path. It’s worth it.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:8-9

God’s blessings to you.


Bonus item: Here’s a short devotional from the same author/site. Check out “Refire!”

February 16, 2021

When Forgiveness is True Forgiveness

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

Three times in the past week I’ve found myself closing in on our 5:30 PM EST deadline and today also turned out to be a busy day. So we’re going to do something different.

You may remember many weeks back I shared a question that a cousin of mine had asked, and then my response. That’s the format today as well, and you can decide if I answered this well.

Paul, I have a question for you.  In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us “if you forgive people for stepping out of line, your heavenly Father will forgive you too.  But if you don’t forgive other people, your Father also won’t forgive you for stepping out of line.

Is it acceptable to the Lord just to forgive, (sincerely, mind you) or are we obliged to actually inform the offending person that they are forgiven?    

What’s your take on this?

My answer:

I always appreciate your questions. They are always challenging.

You are sort of asking two questions in one here because at the end you raise the possibility that the person who has committed a transgression against you may not even be aware that they have done something. I think you would need to inform them that’s something they have done has hurt you greatly but that you are prepared to forgive. But there could be a number of factors working against that. It could be a person from your past that you currently have no way of getting in touch with. Or they could even be deceased.

Returning to the text, Jesus does appear to be saying that the forgiveness we receive in some way corresponds to the forgiveness we are prepared to offer. A few verses earlier he stated this again in his model prayer where we are to ask him to forgive us our trespasses even as we forgive those who trespass against us.

To use a phrase I like using because it makes me sound more educated than I am, the obverse also attains. It’s a fancy way of saying that the opposite seems to be true as well. If we don’t have a forgiving nature we cannot expect to receive God’s forgiveness.

Or can we? The biblical model of forgiveness is to forgive 70 times seven. So how much is God prepared to forgive us? I would say a whole lot more. And isn’t the concept of grace that it comes without any strings attached?

So then why does he appear to be saying but God won’t forgive us if we are unforgiving sort of person?

I think there are several possible reasons and below is a link to a website that offers two of them of which the second one is most interesting, especially when you consider the parable of the man who was forgiven a great debt but did not repeat that forgiveness to a person who owed him a much smaller amount. The original forgiveness he received was rescinded. [Readers: See Matthew 18:21-35] Is this a teaching moment for Jesus to cause his hearers to think about grace and forgiveness, or is it a principle of the Kingdom where all forgiveness is subject to terms and conditions?

I think there are also some things in the context we have to keep in mind and that is that a lot of The Sermon on the Mount is stated in the extreme. Jesus was quite fond of using hyperbole to wake up his audience!

Anyway, here is the link which should provide you with more of the type of answer I think you were originally looking for. If you want to find more things like this type “Matthew 6:15” commentary into a search engine.

https://www.gotquestions.org/forgive-forgiven.html

Here are three paragraphs from that website I want to highlight:

Matthew 6 does not teach that our eternal destiny is based on our forgiving other people; however, it does teach that our relationship with God will be damaged if we refuse to pardon those who have offended us. The Bible is clear that God pardons sin by His grace based on Christ’s work on the cross alone, not on man’s actions. Our right standing before Him is established on one thing only—the finished work of Christ (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). The penalty for the sin that is rightly ours is paid by Christ, and we obtain it by grace through faith, not by any righteous deeds of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). No one will be able to stand before God demanding that his sins be forgotten simply because he has forgiven others. Only when we are born again and given a new life through God’s Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ are our sins forgiven…

…To be sure, an unforgiving spirit is a serious sin and should be confessed to God. If we have unforgiveness in our hearts against someone else, then we are acting in a way that is not pleasing to God, making our prayers and a proper living relationship with Him difficult. God will not hear our prayers unless we also show ourselves ready to grant forgiveness…

…A second biblically plausible interpretation of Matthew 6:14-15 is that it is saying anyone who refuses to forgive others is demonstrating that he has not truly received Christ’s forgiveness himself. Any sin committed against us, no matter how terrible, is trivial in comparison to our sins against God. If God has forgiven us of so much, how could we refuse to forgive others of so “little”? Matthew 6:14-15, according to this view, proclaims that anyone who harbors unforgiveness against others has not truly experienced God’s forgiveness. Both interpretations strongly deny that salvation is dependent on our forgiving others…

Ruth Wilkinson, who occasionally contributes to this page, also wanted to respond to my cousin’s inquiry in light of my response. She got back to the original intention of the question when she said,

The forgiveness process isn’t complete until the person has been informed.

Readers, do you agree? I said,

I would add there may be circumstances where doing so could make matters worse, so you need to discern this for yourself.


So how do you think I fared with this?

Do you have someone you can go to for discussions or questions like this? Do you have people who use you as a sounding board?

January 9, 2021

Persecution: A Promise and a Prescription

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

Again today we have another new writer to feature. Bob James has been writing at Daily Enduring Truth since December, 2012. His goal is that the site “will lead people to grow spiritually by encountering the Enduring Truth of God’s word on a daily basis.”

Bob has been doing a series on the Beatitudes and in the two posts which follow looks at persecution — I hadn’t considered that Jesus mentions this one twice —  considering the blessing God promises and the attitude with which we should respond. You need to click on each of the headers which follow to read each at source.

In the Midst of Persecution, Look Forward

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:10

Persecution can take many forms, and it can occur for many reasons. Often persecution happens because of nationality or ethnic origin. While there is never a good reason to persecute people, Jesus was talking about a different kind of persecution: persecution that happened because someone was living as though they’re in a good relationship with God.

It seems strange that in a society that asks us to let people be who they want to be, those who have a relationship with the living God are often singled out for scorn. Perhaps the reason for that is that Christians see absolute right and wrong in a world that has no absolutes. Righteousness begins with our relationship with God, and it’s revealed by a life that honors God by living according to His absolute standards. That goes against the grain when the rest of the world makes the bold claim that the only absolute is that there are no absolutes.

Christianity has always gone against the grain of society, and that has engendered persecution because we’re “not like them.” Our “not like them” lifestyle should happen because we’re living for God and according to His moral standards. While that may bring persecution, the persecution will be nothing compared to the reward of the kingdom of heaven.

Oh Lord, may I always live in a way that honors You. If that life brings persecution allow me to stand strong as Your servant knowing that the kingdom of heaven is a far greater joy than any amount of pain or suffering I may endure.

Rejoicing in Persecution

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5: 11,12

Jesus elaborated on His previous blessing about persecution. Perhaps we see it mentioned twice because He knew persecution would come to His followers. This time, He noted that the blessing comes when any of us are persecuted, as if all His followers should expect persecution as opposed to just those who are persecuted for righteousness sake as mentioned in verse 10. Persecution is coming and it’s coming because of our devotion to Jesus Christ.

One of the hardest parts about going through any difficulty is the belief that we’re going through the problem by ourselves. Jesus made it clear here that not only are we all going to be dealing with persecution, but it’s always happened; God’s prophets have always been persecuted. If we’re joining the prophets’ club of those who have been persecuted, then we’re doing so because we’re being faithful to God.

The early disciples recognized that they went through persecution because of their faithfulness to Christ and that it was a spiritual badge of honor. They rejoiced because they were considered worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41) Perhaps they remembered that Jesus told them to rejoice when they were persecuted. Jesus warned us that trouble is ahead and that we can expect persecution, so when it comes, remember two things: 1) you are not alone in being persecuted, and 2) rejoice that you have become a member of that select group who are persecuted because of faithfulness.

Oh Lord, I have to admit that I would prefer that persecution not come. But if the choice is avoiding persecution or being faithful to You, give me the strength to be faithful to You in all circumstances.

used by permission


Second Helping: Sometimes we introduce a new author and before the six-month window is up, we see another article we wish could share. Michael Wilson has written an interesting study on the differences between the poverty with which Jesus had some acquaintance, and the funding of the ministry supporting himself and his twelve associates. Check out Was Jesus Born Into Poverty?

November 15, 2020

Andrew Murray on the Names of the Holy Spirit

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.
 – John 14:26 NLT

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.
 – John 16:7 NASB

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
 – John 16:13 ESV

 

Ten years ago at this time I was slowly working my way through a classic; Andrew Murray’s book With Christ in the School of Prayer. For the two chapters, he was been looking at the passage that begins,If his son asks for bread will he give him a stone?This is paralleled in Matthew and Luke; and says that if corrupted and sinful parents like ourselves still give good things to their children, how much more will God give…to those who ask.

The Matthew section ends, How much more will your Father give good things…”   But in Luke the ending is different;How much more will you Father give the Holy Spirit.” Murray feels that the highest of the “good things” is “the Holy Spirit.”

He then has a paragraph where he lists the various gifts of the Holy Spirit.   He was writing in an era before bullet points — lapsing into point form or numbered lists wasn’t done in prose back then — but I want to spell these out for us today.   There aren’t cross-references, but you’ll recognize many of these:

  • The Spirit of grace — to reveal and impart all of grace there is in Jesus
  • The Spirit of faith — teaching us to begin and go on and increase in continuously believing
  • The Spirit of adoption and assurance — who witnesses that we are God’s children and inspires us to confidently say, ‘Abba, Father.’
  • The Spirit of truth — to lead into all truth, to make each word of God ours in both principle and action
  • The Spirit of prayer — through whom we speak with the Father; prayer that must be heard
  • The Spirit of judgment and refining — to search the heart and convict of sin
  • The Spirit of holiness — manifesting and communicating the Father’s holy presence within us
  • The Spirit of power — through whom we are strong enough to speak boldly and work effectively in the Father’s service
  • The Spirit of glory — the promise of our inheritance, the preparation and foretaste of the glory to come.

Murray states, “In the variety of gifts which the Spirit has to give out, He meets every need of the believer.  …The child of God needs only one thing to really live as a child:  To be filled with this Spirit.”

With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray (various publishers); taken from lessons 6 and 7; some sentences mildly paraphrased to reflect modern grammar and vocabulary.

October 9, 2020

Everyone Wants to Inherit the Earth, But No One Wants to be Meek

(If you are not familiar with the section of the Bible called The Beatitudes, check out the first 12 verses of Matthew 5.)

This year it seems that more than ever local church pastors — both local and those from megachurches with a wide reach — have done series on The Sermon on the Mount. In many respects it is a perfect response to the racial tension we’ve seen in the United States over the Spring and Summer.

The sermon begins with what we call The Beatitudes. In much of our preaching the focus is on the first half of each phrase, “Blessed are the…” Demographic chunks of the populace are identified in terms of situations which have befallen them — poverty*, loss, persecution, etc. — or their character — purity, kindness, agents of peace — and then there is the promise of a reward. Some of these rewards are possibly meted out in this life — “they will be shown mercy” — while others are clearly indicative of a blessing in a kingdom either in process of becoming, or a kingdom to come to fruition in the future.

In the shorter Luke version, those blessings are contrasted with the “woes” in Luke 6 which are much less the subject of preaching:

²⁴”But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
²⁵Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
²⁶Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Again, the first woe shows an immediate payoff, whereas the second and third show consequences yet to come…

…In reflecting on the “blessings” however, it amazes me how often we focus on those people categories to the detriment of studying the blessings they receive. Here is just that part of the text from Matthew 5:

  • theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • they will be comforted.
  • they will inherit the earth.
  • they will be filled.
  • they will be shown mercy.
  • they will see God.
  • they will be called children of God.

For this list, I’ve omitted the 8th form of blessing as it is identical to the first.

Consider the second one, to know the comfort of God. Who would not want that? But to get there is to mourn, to suffer loss, to be bereaved. That isn’t something that any of use would desire.

In other words to get there is to pay a price. And yet, having said that, Jesus invites us into a relationship with him such that we can in various degrees know his love and comfort each and every day.

To know the mercy of God is to live a life of mercy, forgiveness and lovingkindness toward others. This is going to be a sacrificial lifestyle.

But again, each of us will experience such mercy when we stand before God and, despite the things we have done or omitted to do, because of his grace — because of Calvary — he will welcome us into his eternal kingdom. This is not to mention the smaller graces which he pours out on us each day, many of which we never quite notice.

To see God — the 4th century prayer, “To see thee more clearly” comes to mind — is to live a life of holiness and purity. In the middle of a sinful world, this is going to take a resolute mind, a life of dedication.

But in the smaller everyday acts of saying no to sin and temptation, we can be working out purity in our own lives, and be aware of the smile of God upon just as a walk on a sunny day makes us aware of the warmth of the sun in the sky…

…You can continue to work out the pattern for the other four blessings, for those who work for peace, or those who live a life of humility, etc. These blessings of God are things we should want and desire but at the same time know there may be price to pay in this life in order to achieve them. Sometimes there is a short-term micro blessing, but with others there is a macro blessing only visible when one casts their eyes over an entire life…

…The title of this devotional reminded me of an older saying, “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.” In many respects this applies here. To receive the beatitude blessings is to die to ourselves.


* When looking at the poor in spirit, keep in mind this is simply poor in Luke’s version of these teachings. Hence, I’ve used the term poverty, with which we are familiar. We know it when we see it. What would poverty of spirit look like?

August 6, 2020

More than Our Daily Bread

by Clarke Dixon

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

Matthew 6:11 (NRSV)

Do we really need to pray for daily bread when so many of us have so much in our cupboards, fridges and freezers? It turns out that we do. Jesus is not just teaching us to pray for bread. In addition to praying for the necessities of life there are at least four other things we are praying for when we pray “give us this day our daily bread.” What are they?

Why pray for today’s bread when we have enough for the week ahead? Let us remember that not everyone is so fortunate. Let us also remember that in Biblical times, workers were often paid each day. In ancient times many people were just one day away from being without. Let us also remember a lesson God’s people learned in the wilderness following the exodus out of Egypt:

. . . in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’ ” The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.”

Exodus 16:13-19 (NRSV)

God provided daily “bread” to his people in the form of manna while they were in the wilderness. Apart from special instructions to allow for Sabbath each week, there were strict instructions to only gather enough for each day. Why? God would provide what was needed for the next day on the next day. It was a lesson in trust. When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are not just praying for food, we are praying for growth in trust.

If you are like me, you thank the Lord at the beginning of each meal, but not before a snack. Somehow saying grace before a snack seems a bit odd to me. I love Dairy Queen Blizzards, especially the Skor ones, especially the large ones, especially the ones with extra Skor bits added. The average adult needs 2000 calories a day. A large Skor Blizzard has 1150 calories before adding the extra bits. If we are being honest, we might be consuming more calories between meals than during meals! We thank the Lord at mealtimes for providing the food we need. Perhaps there is something unnatural about thanking the Lord for having too much to eat! This idea is reflected in a Proverb:

. . .give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that I need,
or I shall be full, and deny you,
and say, “Who is the Lord?”

Proverbs 30:8-9 (NRSV)

By teaching us to pray for daily bread, Jesus is not just teaching us to pray for enough, but also for not too much! When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are not just praying for food, we are praying for growth in contentment. 

As mentioned, a large Dairy Queen Skor Blizzard has 1150 calories. When we eat one, we are potentially consuming more calories in one snack than some people do in a week. Lack of food has been a problem throughout history. Actually, lack of food is not the problem. The problem is with uneven distribution of food. Where you and I can go to Dairy Queen for an unnecessary treat then chase it down with water, others do not even have access to the water.

Have you noticed that Jesus did not tell us to pray “give me this day my daily bread?”, but “give us this day our daily bread.” Provision is a community thing. It is not just about me being able to eat, it is about my family, my people, ultimately all people being provided for. Provision for everyone without discrimination is baked right into the Old Testament law:

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

Deuteronomy 24:19-21 (NRSV)

Following the law might hurt the financial bottom-line of the land owner, but it made life possible for many others.

There is a striking lyric in a U2 song called “Crumbs From Your Table”: ”Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die.” Sadly, for many it does, because where you lives affects your access to food, water, health care, rights and freedoms, work, pensions, education and more.

When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are not just praying for food, we are praying for growth in our practical love for everyone.

When we pray for daily bread, it is not really about bread, and bread only. The bread represents all that is necessary for life. I cannot help but think about the Lord’s Table when Jesus,

on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-24 (NRSV)

God has provided everything we need for life. God has also provided everything we need for eternal life. When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are are not just praying for food, we are praying for grace. God has answered that prayer through Jesus.

Jesus said “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 

John 6:35 (NRSV)


Clarke Dixon @clarkdixon is a pastor in south-central Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can also watch the reflection alone here.

July 23, 2020

Hallowed Be Thy Name, Rather Than…

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus teaches us to pray “Hallowed be thy name” in other words, to pray for God to be honoured greatly. There are, however, at least two things that happen instead of the “hallowing” of God’s name. They happen now, and they happened back in Bible times.

Let us go back to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, having just been rescued from Egypt:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

Exodus 32:1-6 (NRSV)

The story of the golden calf is well known, but there is an interesting detail that is easily overlooked. Aaron speaks of a festival to “the LORD.” When English translations capitalize “Lord,” they are following a tradition of not using God’s name as a matter of respect. Therefore LORD is referring not to just some generic God who cannot be known, but to the God who has made himself known within history, the same God the Israelites knew rescued them from Egypt. The golden calf is not a representation of some other god in place of God, but rather is a gross representation of the God who rescued them. It was a misrepresentation.

None of us like to be misrepresented! Neither, of course, does God. The many warnings against fashioning idols in the Bible are not just about substituting other gods for God, but also about misrepresenting God, mixing the Creator with creation. God is to be considered holy, set apart from creation. His name is to be hallowed, not misrepresented.

We might also turn to the book of Job, where following a lengthy theological discussion on why the righteous suffer, God says to Eliphaz,

My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7 (NRSV)

We don’t like it when people speak falsely about us. Neither does God.

Therefore, let us be careful with God’s Word, and handle the Scriptures well. This means being aware of things like context, genres, and how a passage fits with the whole story. Many have dishonoured God rather than greatly honouring him by not being careful in interpreting God’s Word. If we are praying for God’s name to be hallowed, we will want to do our homework and dig deeper than we sometimes do.

One scholar has written about how for many years, centuries in fact, church leaders interpreted certain Bible passages in anti-Semitic ways. The holocaust was a wake-up call and now practically no one goes with those older interpretations. Let us not make the same mistake.

We may also misrepresent Jesus without even being aware it. For example, images of Jesus as a white man with blue eyes are likely not close to reality. Being a Jew from Judea in that time, Jesus would likely have had a darker skin than is often depicted, brown eyes, and short, dark hair. Worse than misrepresentation in physical appearance though, we nourish Jesus when we imagine him as a Republican or Democrat. We want to be careful we don’t re-create Jesus in our own image. For God’s name to be hallowed, let us go to the Bible, especially the Gospels to discover Jesus.

The second way people can fail to honour God can be found in the Book of Deuteronomy, where we find Moses speaking to the people about entering the promised land:

Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,

Deuteronomy 8:11-14 (NRSV)

Once the Israelites settle in the land, there is great danger that God will be forgotten rather than greatly honored. Why? Good times and affluence. It is little wonder that God is largely forgotten here in Canada in our day!

In good times especially, the temptation is to forget God and our need of him. Then in times of difficulty, we can think we have done good without God up until now, why not keep going? In good times and bad, God, far from being highly honored, is forgotten.

We forget God and take his goodness for granted. I am reminded about my first Air Cadet camp when I was put into a specialty flight that was focused on survival. We were to have a weekend in the woods, but it got rained out. Our motto became “we survive, weather permitting!” I did learn however, that the first thing you do if your plane goes down in the deep woods far from anything, is light a fire. This is to help the rescuers find you. The second thing is not to look for food. The average human can live quite some time without it. What you need to do is find a source of water. We cannot live for long without water. We forget that, because we take water and the need for hydration for granted. We are always hydrating without even being aware of the need. We take water for granted, until we crash the plane.

We can be like that with God. We live with the goodness of God in evidence all around us, with his provision of what we need for life. Yet we can forget him. At least until we crash the plane and stand before him facing eternity. Then we will realize how much we have depended on God. Then we will realize, if we have not before, our need of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of a mediator between ourselves and God, for we have created a chasm between ourselves and God that we cannot fix. God has spanned that gap, through coming to us in Jesus. God has done all we need for us to enjoy eternal life beyond this life.

Just as we can enjoy a glass of water, we can enjoy a relationship with God now. Let us not wait until it is too late to receive reconciliation, forgiveness, grace and love. We don’t want to find ourselves in a crashed plane without any water. We don’t want to find ourselves facing death without God in our lives.

We are to pray “hallowed be thy name.” We hallow God’s name when, instead of forgetting God, we trust God, and enter into a relationship with him through Jesus.

Instead of being misrepresented or forgotten, may May God’s name be greatly honoured among us.


(This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced regular services at Clarke’s church during the pandemic. This one was filmed on a hike in the buggy woods so there are bloopers at the end! You can also watch the reflection alone here.)

July 16, 2020

Not “My,” But “Our” – A Refection on the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy. – Matthew 6:9

by Clarke Dixon

Prayer is a very personal thing. If we are being honest, the words “I,” “me,” and “my,” show up a lot in our prayers. Yet when Jesus teaches us to pray, we are to address “our” Father in heaven. Throughout the Lord’s prayer we also encounter “us,” and “our” a lot, but never “me,” nor “my.” This is important and reminds of three important facts as we learn to pray.

First, when we pray our Father, we are reminded that God is Someone we experience together. Faith is personal, but it is not something we create for ourselves, it is not something we possess and control or change for our own purposes.

If we began our prayer with something like “my personal cosmic being” we could then perhaps conjure God up as we desire. However, Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father in heaven.” God is not someone we can change to suit our tastes. God has been experienced by a very large community of faith over a very long time.

If you ask my three boys what I am like, the facts they relate will need to fit with each other, plus fit with what you know about me. They might point to the obvious and say that I have blue eyes and and more grey hair today than yesterday. That would be true. Actually, my eyes were blue long before they came on the scene. We won’t mention my hair colour. You get the point though, that what is true about me is true about me whether you asked my boys or not. They cannot conjure me up, rather they experience me through my presence in their lives.

What is true about God was true about God long before you or I came on the scene. God is God, and that would be true even if there were no Church to speak of Him. God is not “my father, conjured up in my mind to suit my preference,” but “our father,” the one with whom humans have had a relationship for a long time. He is the one who revealed himself to his covenant people. He is the one who has revealed himself in Jesus. He is the one the community of faith has experienced and has spoken about. He is the one we meet in the Bible. He is our father, someone beyond us and experienced together by us.

When we pray “our father,” we are reminded that God is beyond us, experienced by a whole community of faith, and therefore can be discovered by us, but not conjured up.

Second, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we are part of a large family which is part of an even larger family of faith. Faith is personal, but it is not practiced alone.

The local church is a family of believers and so we can properly refer to one another as brothers and sisters.

Within our own church family I feel rather badly for those who have come from a tradition where one is taught to enter the sanctuary with quietness in order to prepare for worship. That simply does not happen at Calvary as there is a lot of chit-chat which goes on before and after the service. But as I like to say, God loves a noisy church for it shows that relationships are happening. Yes, we gather to worship God, however, we gather to worship God together. As a family of believers we do not gather at the church, but as the church.

Of course we have an even bigger family to think about. The believers that would normally gather at the church down the street are also our brothers and sisters. As are the believers across the town. Even if we think they are weird. As are the believers across the world.

We are a huge family brought together not by our efforts at thinking alike, or even by liking each other, but by God loving us alike. We do not need to agree with our brothers and sisters to be family. We just need a relationship with our father. When you enter into relationship with God, you automatically enter into a family relationship with many people you might consider a little odd, or even a lot wrong.

When we pray “our father” we also think of the many generations of Christ followers which have gone before. God was their father too. Actually, God is still their father! The dead don’t cease to be God’s children!

Third, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we share something fundamentally important with all people, for God is the Father of all humankind. Faith is personal, but it does not not cut us off from the public.

I once heard someone make a distinction between Genesis 3 and Genesis 1 Christians. If we are Genesis 3 Christians we tend to see people first-off as fallen, as having suffered the consequence of the Fall. We may not even see people at all, we may just see sinners. Genesis 1 Christians on the other hand see people, first-off as being created in the image of God, for relationship with God. In that sense all humans are children of God. Praying “our” father reminds us of that.

However, we may wonder about those times the Bible speaks of people as being alienated from God, or even enemies of God. Is that not evidence that not all people can be called “children of God,” that from the Christian perspective they cannot be considered part of one big family?

Imagine you can go back to the days of slavery in the Southern States. If you met a slave, would you say “slave is an appropriate term for you for that is what you are, this is where you belong,” or would you say “slave is a tragic term for you for you were created to be free. You were created for something better. Slave fits your current situation, but not your identity. You are not currently where you belong.” So too, with those who would live far from God. There are terms, like stranger, and enemy, which accurately describe their situation due to sin, but those terms are tragic. All people were created in the image of God, for relationship with God. He is calling them to come home. In his grace he is offering forgiveness and a new start through Jesus. They are his children, but children may end up living with zero relationship with their parents. This is tragic. Do our hearts break?

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that God is father to all humanity. We are reminded to have the same kind of love and longing for all people from all peoples as God has. Our hearts will break for those who are far, even as God’s does.

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that family dynamics are always changing. Every person we meet can potentially also desire to pray this prayer too someday. Those far from God can come home. Faith is personal, but it is not private. What we call “evangelism” is often seen as unethical in our day of privacy and individualism, however, evangelism is unavoidable when we pray “our father.” Our father desires that all His children come home. Given that we are family, we would love to see them come home too!

“I,” “me,” and “my” may show up a lot in our prayers and that is fine. Prayer is personal and we approach God as individuals. He relates to each of us on a personal and individual level. However, let us remember that Jesus taught us to pray addressing God as “our” father. Let that be a reminder that,

  • God is a very real Someone that an entire faith community has experienced, and continues to experience.
  • we are part of a big family, in fact a huge and complicated family of faith.
  • We are part of an even bigger and even more complicated family, which includes even those who would rather not be in the family at all, whom God loves and is calling home.

May we ever be mindful that God is not just “my father,” but “our father.”


This reflection comes from the “online worship expression” at Clarke’s church You can also watch the reflection here.)

July 9, 2020

Father in Heaven: How Praying the Lord’s Prayer Can Help us Pray Through the Disconnect

by Clarke Dixon

We may feel a certain disconnect in prayer. Like we are trying to connect with God, but it feels like he is up there, we are down here, and “never the twain shall meet.” We may feel like the Psalmist in Psalm 42:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

Psalms 42:1-3 (NRSV)

Our best, sometimes only, prayer may be like one of my brother’s favourite expressions “beam me up Scotty, this planet sucks!” Lord, just let me escape this world and its problems.

Our prayers are to go much further than that, prayer itself being much deeper than that. Prayer is connecting with God, inviting God to participate in our lives as we seek to participate in God’s.

We are going to take a deep dive into prayer over the summer and we will do so through the core teaching of Jesus on prayer; the Lord’s Prayer. So let us begin, appropriately enough, at the beginning.

The very first word of the Lord’s Prayer, if we are reading the original Greek, is Father. This means that the very first thought, the very first thing we are to expect to experience, is intimacy with God. That is where prayer begins, with a recognition and acknowledgement of intimacy with God.

Prayer begins with the recognition that praying matters, because prayer is heard. We need not pray wondering and worrying if there is some God up there who might hear us. We pray knowing that God has revealed himself to us as the one who does hear, who listens as a good father does.

There are speed bumps on the way to this experience of intimacy.

For starters, religion may have taught us to doubt God’s desire for intimacy. Religion may teach us that God is there, yes, but God is just waiting to punish us.

The story of the prodigal son comes to mind. The story of a son who demands his inheritance even before the death of his father. The story of a son who went away from his family chasing the “good life.” The story of a son who realised that being a servant in his father’s household would be much better than where he ended up.

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

Luke 15:20-24 (NLT)

This is our story. God is not waiting to punish us. God is waiting for us to come home. When we are done with trying to live life on our own, when we recognise that we have separated ourselves from God, when we return to the Lord, he runs to us and embraces us. No matter what religion may tell us, intimacy with God is possible, for it is something God longs for.

The whole story of the Bible comes to mind. God created us for intimacy with Him. We ran away. God kept in relationship with us through the covenants and prophets. We continued to be on the run. Then God came to us in Jesus, and in doing so opened the door to our coming home. When we return, God runs to us with a warm and welcoming embrace.

The second speed bump on the way to intimacy is that our own fathers may have taught us to be frightened of fathers. We may have learned from an early age that intimacy with a father is not possible. Some people have been seriously hurt by the very people that should make them feel safe.

I was trained in seminary to never begin a public prayer with “Father.” This is out of sensitivity to those for whom the image just won’t work. While I’m not inclined to move away from traditional language for God, some people think of “Heavenly parent,” or even “Heavenly mother” instead. Since I don’t know what it is like to live with such wounds, I think holding out some understanding is the “do unto others” thing to do. What we don’t want to lose sight of, though, is the intimacy of God the relational terms provide. Always beginning our prayers with “Creator God,” or “Lord God,” misses the reminder of intimacy which Jesus would have us think of as pray.

A third speed bump on the way to intimacy with God is our own idea that God is far away. We may, in fact, think this is what Jesus has in mind when he teaches us to pray “Father, in heaven.” There is a reason that Jesus teaches us to pray “Father, in the heavens” and it has nothing to do with distance. It has to do with the transcendence of God. Heaven is not far away, it is a completely different realm. God is not far away from us, but He is very different from us.

What we mean by the transcendence of God is that, though we are created in the image of God, God is not like us in fundamental ways. God is God, we are not. God is eternal, we are created. God is Creator, we are created to be creative, but we cannot create out of nothing. God is able to save sinners. I do well to save a document. God knows all truth. We do not, and we would do well to admit that more often than we do.  God is omnipresent, try as we might, we cannot be in two places at once. God is holy, we are often wholly messed up.

As we pray, we begin with the reminder that God, though intimate like a father listening intently beside us, is not limited to sitting beside us, nor prone to the limitations of even the best of fathers. Our Heavenly Father is God, with all the powers and purposes that go along with being God. He is profoundly capable.

In teaching us to pray “Father, who is in the heavens,” our prayers begin with a focus on an absolutely amazing fact: God, who is so not like us, and whom we rebelled against, still wants an intimate relationship with us. God, who could have hit the delete button on us ages ago hit send instead; He sent his son. God came to us Himself, as God the Son. This is the opposite of “beam me up Scotty” we mentioned earlier. Far from taking us out of the world, God enters our world of suffering, to begin the process of making a better world, to help us look forward to an even better world still. God came to us in Jesus so that intimacy with God whom we sinned against could happen.

We may feel a certain disconnect in prayer. The Psalmist is honest about that feeling of discontent in Psalm 42. But the disconnect is a feeling. The Psalmist also knows the fact of the connection:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Psalms 42:11 (NRSV)

The feeling of disconnect we may feel from God is just that, a feeling, and it is temporary. The connection with God through Jesus is a fact, and is permanent.

Jesus teaches us to remember the facts as we begin to pray, praying “Father in heaven.” Let us remember the amazing intimacy we can have with an amazing God, thanks to his amazing grace.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. This reflection comes from the “online worship expression” which has replaced regular church services where he ministers due to COVID-19 precautions.

July 2, 2020

Building for the Storms: A Reflection on Matthew 7:24-29

by Clarke Dixon

What do we do when the storms of life are raging against us, threatening to beat us down and knock us off our feet? The COVID-19 pandemic may feel like that for many while for others it might be concern over health, work, relationships, or stress levels. What do we do when we face the biggest of all storms, the one that really does knock us down, when death draws close? Jesus speaks about storms. Let’s listen in:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NRSV)

If we are wise, we will “hear my words and act on them.” Then we will be like the wise person who built a house upon rock, a house with a solid foundation that could withstand the storms.

That could be the end of the sermon right there. Except that we tend go in one of two directions and so end up as unwise builders.

The first bad turn is to make our lives merely about following the rules. We might hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” then be tempted to go through all the words of Jesus, to write up a comprehensive list of his rules.

Since Jesus is concluding his “Sermon on the Mount” here, let us go back and consider again what Jesus has been saying up to this point.

Let us consider an example from earlier in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment;

Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

We might add to our list of rules, “do not get angry with people” and move on. But that misses the point. Jesus is pushing us into a deeper righteousness here, a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, a righteousness that is of a better kind, a righteousness of the heart.

Instead of merely keeping a rule about anger, we want to become the kind of people who are not angry, the kind of people who are peaceable and gentle, the kind of people who would never murder. Going further in the Sermon on the Mount, instead of merely keeping a rule about looking at others with lust, or a rule about divorce, we want to become the kind of people who are faithful (5:27-32). Instead of merely keeping rules about oaths we want to become the kind of people who have integrity (5:33-37). Instead of merely following the rules about whom we love or hate, we want to become the kind of people who love like God loves (5:38-48). We want to reflect the character of God. It is about Christlike character.

As we read on in the Jesus’ sermon, we don’t want to merely follow rules about piety, about prayer, fasting, and giving. We want to be the kind of people who develop and demonstrate a deep relationship with God (6:1-24). We do not pray to keep a rule about praying, we pray because prayerfulness is part and parcel of a deep and intimate relationship with God. We do not merely follow a rule about not worrying, we become the kind of people who trust in God, who know Him to be a loving, Heavenly Father (6:25-34).

Jesus stands in contrast to the religious types of his day who were all about the religious rules. He still stands in contrast to many of us religious types today. Jesus was leading people to the heart of God in a way that the scribes and Pharisees were not. When we hear the words of Jesus and act on them, we grow in character.

What do we do when the storms of life hit? It is not what we do, but rather who we are becoming in Christ that gives us the solid foundation. We handle a crisis with things like love, integrity, trust, faithfulness, prayer, and a deep relationship with God. That character will be a solid foundation when the storms of life hit.

Let us get into the second way we might take a wrong turn and so not be as prepared for the storms as we might think.

Some Bible scholars think that Jesus is talking about the final judgement when he talks about the great storm that knocks over the foolish man’s house but leaves the wise man’s house standing. Bible teachers are divided on whether that is so, but even if Jesus is not specifically referring to the final judgement here, we can think of that final storm among the many storms we face, the one which really does seem to knock us down for the final time.

We may hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” and think we must be super-obedient to receive eternal life. It’s on us to get this right. We may then begin to worry. We have heard his words, some of us have heard them many, many times, but have we actually acted on them? Have we acted on them well enough? So we worry.

Let us go back and consider again what words Jesus is telling us to hear and act on. One of the things Jesus tells us to do is “do not worry.”

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Matthew 6:25-26 (NRSV)

The reason we are to not worry is because God’s got our backs. God is our Heavenly Father who loves us and knows what we need.

There are many stressed out Christians who wonder “have I done enough to be saved?” No you have not. Neither have I. There are many anxious Christians who wonder “what if I have unconfessed sin when I die?” You will have unconfessed sin when you die. So will I. We all have sin we are not even aware of.

But there is good news!

Having told us to not worry, but instead trust God, and trust that God loves us, Jesus demonstrated God’s love by going to the cross, to take away our sin, all of it. We have not done enough to be saved. God has done enough to save us. We will have unconfessed sin when we die. Jesus died for that sin too.

Hearing the words of Jesus and acting on them puts us on a solid foundation ready to face death. What do we do when that final storm rages against us? Again, it is not about what we do, but who we are becoming. We continue being the kind of people God is calling us to be, the kind of people who trust God, in everything. We know He loves us. That is the best foundation for facing life, and for facing death. Yes, a storm may blow through that really does seem to knock us down for the final time. Do not worry. God will pick us up.

Jesus said that if we hear his words and act on them, we will be wise,
like the man who built his house upon rock. That house was ready for the storms. A Jesus shaped, God formed character provides a solid foundation for all the storms that threaten to knock us down, even death. Are you hearing Jesus? Are his words being acted out in your life?


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Watch today’s teaching portion at this link. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

 

June 25, 2020

Spectacular and Sensational: Are Christians to Be Known Primarily for Working Miracles?

by Clarke Dixon

In these days of a pandemic, should we as followers of Jesus be known for doing spectacular and sensational things? Should we be fearless in the face of infection? We’ve prayed about it, we believe that God can protect us, so should we then act like we are immune? Should we declare the pandemic will be over soon? We keep praying it will be.

Of course, this is not just about the pandemic, but all of life. Is the working of miracles the Christian solution to all problems? Is the spectacular and sensational the defining mark of the Christ follower?

Jesus clarifies the defining mark of his followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

The defining mark of the Christ follower may not seem clearly evident here on first glance. Let us put ourselves, for a moment, in the shoes of the scribes and Pharisees. We have a passion for God’s law. We study it, memorize it, and teach it, hoping that our zeal for pleasing God is contagious.

Along comes Jesus, doing spectacular and sensational things, like casting out demons, healing people, and works of power. Yet he does some surprising things too, like healing on the Sabbath. Have you not read your Bible Jesus? Working on the Sabbath is forbidden.

We are concerned. Jesus is attracting people with the spectacular and the sensational, yet his track record of keeping the law and traditions we teach is suspect. Will the Jesus followers, of which there are now many, be all show, and no substance? Will Jesus be taking people away from righteousness through all the spectacular and sensational things he is doing?

To that Jesus says,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7:21 (NLT emphasis added)

The defining mark of the Christian is not the spectacular and sensational, though those things may happen. The defining mark of the Christian is the doing of the heavenly Father’s will. Jesus’ followers can not be described as “workers of lawlessness” (literal rendition of ‘evildoers’ in verse 23).

In other words, Jesus is not taking people away from God and godliness, Jesus is taking people deeper into God and godliness.

Let us remember what Jesus said near the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount” back in chapter 5

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV emphasis added)

When Jesus speaks of the need for a righteousness that excels that of the scribes and Pharisees, he is pointing out that there’s is a faulty righteousness. There is something missing. They were all about the letter of the law, missing God’s heart.

When Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to teach about character, he is taking us toward a righteousness that captures God’s heart.

Here is the defining mark of a Christ follower; a character that captures God’s heart. In developing a character that captures God’s heart, the Jesus follower develops a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Of course eternal life depends on God’s grace and not our ability. However, salvation to eternal life does not preclude becoming more like our Saviour as we follow.

Yes, Jesus was going about doing spectacular and sensational things. And no, Jesus was not keeping the traditions in ways that would keep the scribes and Pharisees happy. However, Jesus was, and is now, calling people, not to be workers of the spectacular and sensational, nor to a wooden adherence to a set of rules, but to a deep righteousness formed of God.

What about us? What defines our Christian walk? Is it a focus on the spectacular and sensational? Do people know us to be a people who walk about with the expectation that God will hand out miracles like candy? Do we see miracles as the solution to all our, and the world’s, problems?

We should pray for miracles. I believe they happen. But while we pray for miracles, we can recognize how character that captures God’s heart solves many of our, and the world’s problems. We can think of problems in family relationships, marriage, race relations, and so much more. If our character is growing in Christlikeness, many of our problems wouldn’t exist in the first place!

We may think that we would be most like Christ if miracles would happen all around us, and through us. We are most like Christ when we love as Jesus loved, when we sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed, when we serve as Jesus served, when we forgive as Jesus forgave.

Ours is not to make people think we are the second coming of Jesus by the working of miracles every time there is a problem. Ours is to be a people who live in a deep relationship with God through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. We respond to every problem, including every pandemic, with Christlike character. We will be known as Jesus followers, not by our miracles, but by our character.


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. His family are currently riding out both the pandemic and the heat wave next to their pool. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

June 18, 2020

One Credible Voice

by Clarke Dixon

With so many voices claiming to sound out the truth about spiritual and religious matters, how do we ever know to whom we should listen? This has always been a good question, but is especially important in the internet age. Anyone can speak up on the internet, even me!

To make matters worse all kinds of people say all kinds of different things, even when speaking about the same things! So how do we cut through all the noise? How do we find those voices worth listening to?

Jesus said something which helps us cut through the noise:

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act.

Matthew 7:15-16 (NLT)

Beware of false prophets, you will know them by their fruit.

Perhaps anytime a prophet is mentioned, we automatically think of people who predict the future. Sometimes they do, however prophets are not primarily people who predict the future, rather they are people who speak on behalf of God.

If we loosely apply “prophet” to anyone claiming to teach on spiritual truths today, do the people claiming to speak spiritual truths into our lives have any credibility? Do I have any credibility as a teacher of spiritual matters? Do I show good fruit?

What do we mean by fruit in the first place? We might be tempted to think that a religious leader has good fruit if they have a big church, or many followers. In these times pastors can be judged by how many followers they have on Twitter. I don’t have many, but then it does not help that my descriptor says something like, “you may follow me on Twitter, but I never really go far.”

Sometimes, we who speak on spiritual matters can have great leadership skills, we can help build great organizations, and have many followers. However, we can be lacking in what Jesus is referring to here as good fruit.

In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the fruit Jesus mentions is a godly character. If you are asking about my character, don’t ask those who primarily see me preach, teach or visit the sick. If you want to know about my character, don’t ask my fans, ask my family.

How much do we really know about the character of the people we let speak into our hearts and minds? This is one advantage the local church has over television and internet ministries. Not only do I as a pastor get to know the people of my church, importantly, they get to know me. They know my wife and children. They know my character.

Do you know the character of those who speak into your life, especially those who would claim to speak on behalf of God?

Jesus is teaching a much more important lesson here that is easily missed when we make it all about evaluating a spiritual teacher’s credibility.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of someone who was there while Jesus was teaching what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount. We heard him say “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” In other words there is something flawed about their righteousness. We heard Jesus say several times “You have heard it said, [by the scribes and Pharisees], but I say,” then go on to teach about good character. We have heard Jesus teach on how we should love like God loves, which means loving even our enemies. We have heard Jesus say “in all things do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We will soon hear Jesus teach about the importance of listening to him, that by doing so we are like builders building a house upon a rock.

One day we hear that the Romans have crucified Jesus at the instigation of the religious leaders. We remember that time Jesus said “beware of the false prophets, by their fruit you will know them.”

We look at the fruit of the religious leaders. They had an innocent man killed. All kinds of sins are evident through their actions; pride, arrogance, jealousy, and hatred. They strut around like shepherds, they look like sheep, they have been helpful to many people, but in the end we can see their true colours. They are vicious wolves.

Now we look at the fruit of Jesus. His life and teaching has already brought life to many. Now his death and resurrection will bring eternal life to so many more. The evidence is clear.

With so many voices speaking up on religious and spiritual matters today, how do we know to whom we should listen? There is one voice that cuts through, a voice we can trust, the voice of Someone with good fruit. It is the voice of Jesus. Are we listening?


Pastor Clarke Dixon is now a confirmed YouTuber, but still can’t get the thumbnail images he seeks! His wife and family (and dogs and cats) are currently riding out the pandemic in a small town east of Toronto. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. (Warning: May contain organ music. Briefly.) Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

June 12, 2020

How Can Your Righteousness Surpass the Pharisees?

NIV.Matt.5v17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses* that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

by Ruth Wilkinson

In order to know how to “exceed,” we need to first know what the benchmark is that we are exceeding. What is the righteousness of the Pharisees?

Pharisaic righteousness was (and is today for observant Jews) rooted in the Law of Moses which lays out the standards of behaviour that God expects from those with whom He has made a covenant. Over several centuries, the Pharisees preserved and promulgated this intricately detailed Law, desiring to bring God’s people through to the day of its fulfillment when the righteous would be raised up in vindication, ending Israel’s exile and oppression.

Devout Pharisees were community leaders, steeped in learning and in the nuance of God’s will. Faithful Jews would have followed their example, and turned to them for teaching.

How should we understand what it means to exceed the righteousness of such people?

One possible interpretation flows from the common translation of ερισσεύω into the English equivalent “to exceed.” For many English speakers, this word appears most often in contexts like “to exceed the speed limit.” In other words, to go beyond: to find new ways in which to be righteous, to out-righteous the Pharisees, to be holier than they.

This may have been what the rich young man in Luke 18:18-24 had in mind. He approached Jesus asking what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life and, in Jesus’ words, “enter the Kingdom of God.” He asked this in spite of his own belief that he had kept the Law, an assertion that Jesus did not refute.

Neither did Jesus challenge the young man’s adherence to such minutiae as tithing on “mint and dill,”1 or his keeping of the “least commandment,” as opposed to the greater statutes the young man cites.

Instead, Jesus takes the conversation in a completely different direction—one not of greater adherence, or of more detail, but of the unknown and starting over.

Jesus isn’t impressed by his crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s and certainly shows no desire to engage that debate or to add new rules to the existing ones.

A second interpretation could arise from the Pharisees’ temporal understanding of what they were doing. The righteousness of Jesus’ followers could be seen as more enduring in time than that of the Pharisees.
Their persistence in keeping the Law had in mind the goal of bringing Israel to the time of fulfillment: the Day of the Lord, when the righteous would no longer have to strive, but “sit encrowned and enjoy the splendor of the Shekinah.” At that point, the Law would no longer be required.

The righteousness that Jesus endorses seems to have more lasting implications. He points us not only toward a “perfection” like His own, but further forward to our being made “a kingdom and priests” who will actively “reign on the Earth” alongside Christ himself (Revelation 5:10).

In addition, we are no longer waiting for that fulfillment, but we’re taking part in it now. At His baptism, Jesus declares that He is “fulfilling all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). By this, He doesn’t just mean that he’s meeting personal requirements, but that He’s standing in the place of Israel, taking on the burden of her broken covenant.

A third point of comparison is that Jesus calls out the Pharisees for being ὑποκριτής (those who pretend) and σκανδαλίζω (causing to stumble) both indirectly (Matthew 5:19) and in no uncertain terms (Matthew 23:13 ff). He accuses them of attending to external details, making good impressions, and hiding their internal falsity: of doing rather than being.

Jesus extends His standards deeper by pointing to the heart as the seat of murder, adultery, truth-telling, and acts of grace or revenge. This echoes back to Amos 5 and Micah 6 where God rejects the religious observances of people who have lying tongues and deceitful hearts.

Jesus’ righteousness isn’t simply behaviour, but it flows outward from a heart that has been made clean and surrendered to God.

The final option for identifying Jesus’ “exceeding righteousness” is that it is Himself.

The Pharisees pursued righteousness through studying and keeping the Law. But in Christ, the Law is fulfilled and made complete. “But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction” (Romans 3:21, 22, HCSB). The Law cannot provide for righteousness, but faith in Christ can and does. He himself is our righteousness when we live following Him. No matter how we try or for how long, we cannot achieve righteousness. In fact, if we could, then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:19-21, HCSB).

The Pharisees took on themselves the responsibility of living lives of righteousness, setting themselves up as arbiters of what was right. Instead, Jesus sets aside nuance and detail and tells us to enter the Kingdom as a child (Mark 10:13-16): as with the rich young man, dependent and trusting.

Although this last interpretation is the one that carries the most weight in light of the whole New Testament, I think it most applicable in context of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount to focus on the third option: Jesus expects us to allow our righteousness to flow out from hearts that are pure. The Sermon, while it contains some inspirational, encouraging passages and some that promise hard times, provides a very practical foundation for a life lived in imitation of Christ: one of an internal, heart-focused view of oneself and how we are to live with and toward each other.


*exceeds (many translations); is more than (AMP); is greater than (CSB, CEB); do it more faithful (Good News); goes beyond (NET); are more right with God (NLV); more pure and full of integrity (TPT); goes deeper (Voice); do it far better (Message).

June 11, 2020

Do Unto Others

by Clarke Dixon

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:12 (NRSV)

If we all did unto others as we would have them do unto us, the world would be in much better shape. Just imagine how the great toilet paper crisis of 2020 could have been avoided. On a more serious note, just imagine how race relations would be much different now had we been “doing unto others” all along.

“Do unto others” sounds like a simple concept, and it is . But it is not easy. We have a way of turning things around to still be about us. The selfish path is always the easy path.

But can the “Golden Rule” ever be followed in a selfish manner? Yes, let me give an example. Suppose I found that peanut butter squares give me great comfort during this pandemic. Wanting to do a good thing, I may want to do unto others as I would have them do unto me, and send all my neighbours peanut butter squares. But what if my neighbours are allergic to peanuts?

You see, I have just done unto others as I would have them do unto me as if they were me. I have not been sensitive to their situation and needs. I still managed to make it about me and my needs. Instead, I should do unto others as I would have them do unto me, if I were them, walking in their shoes, living their lives.

We can think we are “doing unto others,” yet still be oblivious to the needs of the others. To actually put into practice the teaching of Jesus we need to be sensitive to those needs.

There is therefore a step, which is not explicitly stated, but is necessary to fulfill the spirit of what Jesus is teaching us here. It is taking a step down a path of understanding. This is necessary if we want to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, if we were in their shoes, in their skin, with their history, with their experiences of life.

I don’t know what it is like to grow up in a home with alcohol abuse, or abuse of any kind. Being white, I don’t know what it is like to be man of colour and face racism. Being a man I don’t know what it is like to be a woman and face sexism. Being straight, I don’t know what it is like to be a gay person and face discrimination or bullying. I don’t know, and I can’t pretend to know, but I can set out on a journey of understanding.

With the COVID crisis and church gatherings being cancelled I had the opportunity to deliver the video version of this sermon from somewhere I have never delivered a sermon. I “preached” it while sitting in a pew. Sometimes we preachers need to sit in the pews. We need to grow in our understanding of the Bible, yes. We also need to grow in our understanding of people. People have sat in those pews who understand what it is like to live in a broken home, with an abusive partner, or with an alcoholic parent. People have sat in these pews who understand what it is like to experience racism or sexism, or both. People have sat in these pews who understand what it is like to be attracted to the same sex, and to pray for a change that never comes.

The path of understanding requires a posture of learning. Learning requires listening. Listening requires not speaking. Listening requires that we all get down from our pulpits, for we all preach, and listen intently to the people in the pews, and those who would not dare enter the sanctuary. Listening may require closing our Bibles for a moment, so that we give others our undivided attention as they teach us about themselves. Only then can we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, if we were them, in their shoes, in their skin, living their lives.

Doing unto others is the more difficult road, the “road less travelled,” to borrow an expression. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus says next:

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Matthew 7:12-14 (NRSV)

We are trained to automatically think of salvation in terms of eternal life when we read about the narrow gate and wide road. We then ask if we are on the narrow road that will get us to heaven. But consider if Jesus is telling us about a salvation that includes abundant life as well as eternal life. The question then becomes whether we are on a narrow and difficult road that leads to a greater experience of life in our world, or are we taking the easy road, the self-focused road, the one that leads to harm?

When we travel down that path of understanding others, it leads to greater life, in all areas of life. It lessens our tendencies toward racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. However, when we go down the broad road of self-centredness, an easy road that many take, we find that it leads to destruction within relationships and so much more.

Doing unto others is the more difficult path, the path Jesus took for us:

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.

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)

You could say that in Jesus, God came down from his pulpit, and spent time in the pews. God understands our brokenness, our inability to get back to God. He brings us back to Himself. He took the difficult journey of the cross. He did unto others, He will do unto you.

“Do unto others” is not just a nice platitude we hang on a wall. It is difficult and narrow path, a journey of understanding that requires a posture of learning. It requires getting beyond ourselves. It is loving others as God has loved us.


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the calmest person I know. (I just thought that was worth mentioning!) His wife and three teenage boys are currently riding out the pandemic in a small town east of Toronto. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

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