Christianity 201

September 24, 2022

Don’t Let Your Mind Go There!

Nearly a decade ago I was speaking with someone who was heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects.

Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, but it turned out to be something I found challenging and in fact, if you’re a longtime C201 reader, you’re seeing it here today for the third time.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage.

That got me thinking. Instead of “Thou shalt nots” and I took some liberties with the text here, but at the time, I thought it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

I realize we’ve spent quite a few days over the past month looking at “God’s Big Ten,” and before we move to the section below, I want to invite you take some paper, or sit at our keyboard and refine what I’ve written, or better yet, start with the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Before we conclude, another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5. These are in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

The Voice Bible also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.


Click this link for a devotional from last month which, at the bottom, links to other Ten Commandments-related posts here at C201.

September 11, 2022

Laser Beam Eyes

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Matthew 6:19-24 NIV:

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Today we have a writer we first featured in June of last year. We again happened upon Jamin Bradley a few days ago, and his writing led us to the excerpt we did from CommonPrayer.net although we made a note to circle back to his own writing. A Free Methodist pastor, he has written eight books, recorded a number of albums, and started three alternative churches. His blog features AI-generated images. Clicking the header which follows will let you read this where we found it.

Guard Your Eyeball Lightbeams

Up until the 1500s, it was thought that eyes actually emitted or projected something like light or energy. This energy wasn’t as extravagant as an X-Men superpower, but ancient people certainly believed there was a power of sorts in the eyes. Indeed, they believed that you could basically curse someone by casting an “Evil Eye” on them—a glance to which pregnant mothers, newborn babies, and children were especially susceptible. This kind of look was thought to be widespread enough that some Jewish teachers in the early first centuries claimed that, “Out of one hundred persons, ninety-nine die of an Evil Eye.”

Throughout the Bible, there are at least 24 references to the evil eye, with a few of those references coming from Jesus himself. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, he says something that often confuses us: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Many modern readers are taken aback by this teaching. How is the eye a lamp? How can eyes be evil? The answer is found in the ancient conception of the eyes, as they were thought to emanate what’s inside of us and project it out, kind of like a lamp or a lighthouse. I know it sounds odd to us, but just as your tongue exclaims the good or evil and blessings or curses that live inside of you, so would ancient people say that your eyes emit the light or darkness inside of you.

While we know that this is not scientifically how eyes work, maybe you can still admit that you’ve fallen under the good or evil glances of another person (or even given such glances yourself). We’ve all noticed throughout the pandemic that we don’t need to see the bottom half of someone’s face to know how they feel about us. We can feel all kinds of good and evil expressions through the eyes of others: kindness, enjoyment, judgment, sensitivity, seduction, rage, and much more. How little we would be able to comprehend someone’s full feelings without their eyes. Though our eyes may only scientifically be receptacles, we must admit that we’ve felt their spiritual-like emissions one way or another.

I’ve had one friend strangely mention several times that I have “kind-Jesus-eyes,” which they sometimes struggle to look at when kindness is not what they think they should receive. But the eyes of Jesus are the exact kind of eyes we Christians are to strive for. For if Jesus was the light of the world, then the kind of light that emanated from his glance is the same kind of light we should pour out on other people—and that’s a teaching that our angry and judgmental world could probably use more of.

So in conclusion: In ancient thinking, your eye is a lamp, so it should naturally pour out the light that is within you, blessing those around you. But if you instead are filled with evil, you will emit darkness instead. Erase the darkness and be like Jesus—be light. You already know that as a Christian you are to guard your tongue—now guard what you say with your eyes as well.


*This devotional was created out of the themes of Matthew 6:19-24 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net. My research on the “Evil Eye” here is taken from John H. Elliot’s book, Beware the Evil Eye: The Evil Eye in the Bible and the Ancient World. Volume 1. “Introduction, Mesopotamia, and Egypt.”

July 16, 2022

The Reverberated Section of The Lord’s Prayer

For several days this week on his radio program — they’re an audio thing that existed before podcasts — Bible teacher David Jeremiah spoke about the need to see our forgiving of others operating in tandem with the forgiveness we ask of God. I wasn’t able to catch the full length of each broadcast but a few things remained with me.

First, there is an “echo” of the petition for forgiveness in The Lord’s Prayer occuring just two verses later. Using the Matthew 6 (NIV) version, verse 12 is most familiar to us:

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

but seconds later, in verses 14 and we read,

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

I want to come back to that in a moment, but let’s look at another familiar passage, also from the same discourse in Matthew which also contains a “reverberation.”

In 5:10, we’re familiar with the final promise of blessing:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Most of the versions of these beatitudes you see on a wall plaque or a coffee mug cut off at this point, but in verses 11 and 12 Jesus continues,

“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.”

We should probably pay extra attention to these passages which are immediately spoken twice, for added emphasis.

Back to forgiveness.

David Jeremiah compared the person who will not themselves be a “forgiver” to the person Jesus is speaking about in Matthew 18, what the NIV calls “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.” This follows Peter’s question as to possible limits on forgiveness. Since the NIV is very familiar to us, let’s drop in on Eugene Peterson’s rendering of it in The Message:

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

“The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.” (18: 23-35)

Can a person die in a state where they have not provided forgiveness to someone else, and cannot therefore expect it from God? That’s a sobering question, and if David Jeremiah addressed it, I wasn’t around for that part of the broadcast. But let’s play with that for a moment: If the idea of ‘keeping short accounts with God’ is all about returning to God to ask forgiveness, is God not also expecting us to keep ‘short accounts’ with one another?

This relationship between how we forgive on a human level, and God’s forgiveness on a divine level is also intertwined in one other passage David Jeremiah referenced on two of the radio programs, and these verses are also from the same discourse in Matthew’s gospel. Following the admonition not to call your brother ‘fool’ (or ‘raca’) Jesus says,

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” (5:23-24 NLT)

This wasn’t said on the Turning Point broadcast, but I think there’s a bit of a chicken and egg relationship happening here. Perhaps there’s a better way to state this but let’s try these two statements.

To know God’s forgiveness is to desire to forgive others.
To be a person who knows what forgiveness entails is to fully appreciate God’s forgiveness.

But we’ve also seen that, beyond simple appreciation, perhaps forgiven people experience a greater depth or degree of God’s forgiveness.

Who do you need to forgive today?


If you’re reading this in July, 2022, audio copies of the programs I heard are available at DavidJeremiah.org on this archives page. Check out JL/14 and JL/15 for the two part, “Prayer and Personal Relationships” messages.

Quoting the preview descriptions:

► [Forgiveness is] one of the most challenging parts of being a Christian, but it helps you experience a bit of what God has done for you.

► Nothing feels more liberating than your sin being forgiven by God. But a close second is the feeling of freedom you experience by forgiving others.

June 20, 2022

January 6, 2022

Worried? 2021’s “Bible Verse of the Year” Will Help

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Matthew 6:33

by Clarke Dixon

  • Click here to watch the sermon on which this is based.

Are you worried? Stressed? Anxious? Who isn’t these days?!

For the past few years we have looked at the “verse of the year,” “the verse shared, bookmarked, and highlighted most often throughout the year” by those who use the YouVersion Bible app, which is a lot of people.

This year’s verse of the year is a great one for anyone who is worried. What is it?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

When we first read this verse on its own, we may become even more worried. We might jump to the conclusion that Jesus is making a promise, namely, that if we are righteous according to God’s standards, then life will be perfect. We may think Jesus is speaking of a transaction, namely his blessings for our obedience. And so in addition to everything else we worry about, we may worry that we are not keeping our end of the transaction, living up to God’s standards. More stress.

We may also worry that we might not have found the correct standards. Are we to be striving for God’s standards according to Baptists, Roman Catholics, or those in United churches? These, and many more, present some different standards of what “the kingdom of God and his righteousness” look like. More stress.

Yet when we read this verse along with what Jesus said before and after, we will be worrying less, not more:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV, emphasis added)

Jesus’ main point is, do not worry. Look at the birds, Consider the flowers. Life happens. Life keeps happening. There is a lot of beauty as life happens and keeps happening. God’s got this, for this is God’s world. God’s got you. Therefore, we can stop trying so hard to get and secure all the things we think we need. God’s got that covered, so rather than allow all that stuff to overwhelm and consume our minds, we are to “seek first” the Kingdom of God. To seek first the kingdom of God is to give our minds first to the reality of God’s kingdom and our part in it, rather than the things we are worried about.

We seek first, God’s kingdom. This world is God’s kingdom. This is God’s world. There are bullies and tyrants here and there, not just people, but diseases and viruses, but what are they compared to God? This is God’s world, and while there is ugliness in the evil around us and in us, there is much that is beautiful. Yes, we pray “thy kingdom come,” but yes, this already is God’s world, God’s kingdom. To seek first the kingdom of God is to consider what God’s kingdom is like, to turn our minds first to the fact that God takes care of it.

We seek first, God’s righteousness. We might assume that this means we are to strive to be righteous as God is righteous. That is a good thing to do, yes, but part of the point Jesus is making here is that we are to fill our minds with the fact that God does the right thing, God does the good thing. This is God’s world and God takes care of it. Consider the birds of the air, and the lilies. God takes care of them. To seek first God’s righteousness is to consider what God is like, to turn our minds first to the fact that God cares.

When Jesus says to us “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” he is not making a promise that life will be perfect if we are, nor is he saying that we should not show appropriate concern for the troubles we face, or make proper preparations for situations ahead. This verse is not a promise to be claimed in every specific situation, but is more like a proverb, a general truth that with God caring for us, it will all be alright. If it is a promise, it is a promise that God loves us. Consider the birds of the air. Consider the lilies. Consider Jesus, his teaching, life, death, and resurrection. Consider the reconciliation we have because of the cross. God takes care of us.

When I hop on a motorcycle, I still wear a helmet. Something bad could still happen while I ride a motorcycle. If it did, it would not be proof that I had not sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Nor would it be proof that God does not care about me. God cares, is involved, and because God is involved, it will ultimately be alright.

When we put God’s Kingdom and His righteousness uppermost in our minds we are overwhelmed with the goodness and love of God. Given that life happens, beauty happens, this world is God’s kingdom, God does the right thing, the good thing, and that God loves us, we can know it will all be okay.

There will be things to worry about in 2022. But let’s be overwhelmed by the love of God, and not those worries. The best way to not let anxiety and concern overwhelm our hearts and minds is to allow God to overwhelm our hearts and minds first.


More sermon recaps from Clarke Dixon are available at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

December 31, 2021

God’s Blessings Package Kicks in Immediately

Mid-October, we looked at the actual promises embedded in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. At the time we began with the notion that so much attention is paid to who the “winners” are in the scheme of God’s upside-down Kingdom, but when we look at God’s version of “cash and fabulous prizes,” we discover they are so much more valuable than anything the world has to offer.

I can’t imagine any true Christ-follower who wouldn’t want to have their hunger filled; to be called God’s children; to receive God’s mercy; to know God’s comfort; to inherit the earth; to partake of the Kingdom of heaven; to see God face-to-face.

If you missed that devotional, you can read it at this link.

So when do we collect?

The passage isn’t saying that we will be blessed, it’s saying that we are.

Without looking at the text, what would you say is the primary outcome of living out The Beatitudes as presented in the opening of The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5?

A simple answer would be, “If you do these things you will be blessed.”

Now when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountain (as Moses had done before Him) and He sat down (as Jewish teachers of His day usually did). His disciples gathered around Him.

There on the mountain Jesus teaches them all. And as He is teaching, crowds gather around and overhear His teachings, listen in, and are captivated. This, the Sermon on the Mount, is the first of the five Mosaic-like sermons in Matthew.*

And He began to teach them.

Jesus: Blessed are the spiritually poor—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
    Blessed are those who mourn—they will be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek and gentle—they will inherit the earth.
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—they will be filled.
    Blessed are the merciful—they will be shown mercy.
    Blessed are those who are pure in heart—they will see God.
    Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God.
10     Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

11 And blessed are you, blessed are all of you, when people persecute you or denigrate you or despise you or tell lies about you on My account. 12 But when this happens, rejoice. Be glad. Remember that God’s prophets have been persecuted in the past. And know that in heaven, you have a great reward.  (The Voice translation*)

Now first of all, I want to address that doing things because you will be (at some point in the near or distant future) is misreading the text, because Jesus is saying that the people who do or are these things (show mercy, work for peace) are already blessed. (In a parallel passage in Luke, there are also a number of woes offered, in that case, they could be seen as portends of the future, not a present state.)

But the matter of blessing is not the whole of today’s focus.

A few verses down we read,

14 And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. 15 Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. 16 You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it.   (The Voice translation*)

If God’s people live out The Beatitudes, we shine like lights, like a city on a hill. Yes, God is light but we are also lights. We’re lights in the sense that that our only major satellite — the moon — is our planet’s nightlight. God is the source, but we reflect that light to a world that needs illumination. (In the early days of the Jesus People movement, a band recorded a song called, “I’m Happy to be the Moon.” Sadly, it doesn’t show up on YouTube!)

Matthew Henry writes:

As the lights of the world, they are illustrious and conspicuous, and have many eyes upon them. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. The disciples of Christ, especially those who are forward and zealous in his service, become remarkable, and are taken notice of as beacons. They are for signs (Isa. 7:18), men wondered at (Zech. 3:8); all their neighbours have any eye upon them. Some admire them, commend them, rejoice in them, and study to imitate them; others envy them, hate them, censure them, and study to blast them…

…As the lights of the world, they are intended to illuminate and give light to others…

It’s interesting that elsewhere Jesus instructs us not to do our good works in order to be seen by other people, yet in this teaching it is central:

Henry continues,

See here, First, How our light must shine—by doing such good works as men may see, and may approve of; such works as are of good report among them that are without, and as will therefore give them cause to think well of Christianity. We must do good works that may be seen to the edification of others, but not that they may be seen to our own ostentation; we are bid to pray in secret, and what lies between God and our souls, must be kept to ourselves; but that which is of itself open and obvious to the sight of men, we must study to make congruous to our profession, and praiseworthy, Phil. 4:8. Those about us must not only hear our good words, but see our good works; that they may be convinced that religion is more than a bare name, and that we do not only make a profession of it, but abide under the power of it.

Secondly, For what end our light must shine—“That those who see your good works may be brought, not to glorify you (which was the things the Pharisees aimed at, and it spoiled all their performances), but to glorify your Father which is in heaven.” …

Of course, we can blend the two foci of this passage and say that the light that shines is really the light of Christ, that “Blessed are…” is to be recipients of that heavenly light shining in and through us and reflected for the world to see. We get that from Isaiah 60:

See truly; look carefully—darkness blankets the earth;
    people all over are cloaked in darkness.
But God will rise and shine on you;
    the Eternal’s bright glory will shine on you, a light for all to see.
Nations north and south, peoples east and west, will be drawn to your light,
    will find purpose and direction by your light.
In the radiance of your rising, you will enlighten the leaders of nations. (The Voice translation*)

So here’s a song which links the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 to the idea of being lights; of being a City on Hill. The group is The City Harmonic.


*In The Voice translation, narrative sections are embedded in the text, and words or phrases are often amplified with additional text shown in italics.


For our daily readers, we wish God’s best to you in the new year.


Articles showcased here belong to their respective authors/blogs/websites, not Christianity 201. However, where you see an article that doesn’t begin with a link or the name of a writer or his or her source blog; or that is more of research article citing multiple sources, those are written by Paul Wilkinson and for those, you are free to use them on your own blog in their entirety provided no changes are made and there is a link back to C201. I believe that as freely as we have received, so we should freely give. Everything we have is on loan from God, and that includes what some hold so tightly to as intellectual property. Yes, I do work sometimes as a paid writer, but that’s not the motivation or purpose of C201. Bear in mind however that despite our best efforts, the photographs or graphic images that accompany articles here may have ownership we’re unaware of. If you see an image here that’s yours, let us know and we’ll remove it.

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.)

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