Christianity 201

June 16, 2021

God is Always Up to Something!

Do you agree with today’s title? I believe God is always active and orchestrating things behind the scenes, but we often frame this type of discussion in terms of our subjective experience of unanswered prayer(s). Or we dismiss key passages in Isaiah such as the one which follows today as no longer applying to us, or only claimed by Pentecostals and Charismatics with a penchant for signs and wonders.

But the popular worship song Waymaker reminds us,

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working
Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working
You never stop, You never stop working

We sing those words on Sunday mornings, but do we believe it? I know my own faith can falter in a season like the one we’ve been through this past year.

Today we’re back with a mash-up of three devotionals from “Breakfast of Champions” by Andy and Gina Elmes. To get these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

Don’t dwell on the past

Isaiah 43:18-20, NIV
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

Forget former things! It will cost you your future to live in the past, and that is a far too expensive a price to pay. If those former things you need to forget were negative it is time to forget and move on. If those former things were positive it is time to give thanks for them and move on to what God has for you next.

Make sure that you spend your life living for what God is doing now, not forever wandering down memory lane; memory lane is great to visit every now and then but it is not where we live! To live there would cost you the ‘weekly rental payments’ of your present and your future…

Trade in your old moments for His new ones

Isaiah 43:16-21, The Message
This is what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves, the God who summons horses and chariots and armies — they lie down and then can’t get up; they’re snuffed out like so many candles, “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”

…We need to daily resolve that we will not live our lives desiring to be in moments that have passed but rather to be a part of the moment that now is. Ever had a postcard from somewhere real nice that had the classic message written on it, “Wish you were here”? It is great that the sender thought of you, but the truth is you are not there and you will never be there for the sunset captured in the photo on the postcard. But the good news is you can be a part of the “what God is doing” postcard of today.

The Bible and the history books are like catalogues of great moments that happened, that you were neither at or a part of. Plus, you don’t own a Tardis or converted DeLorean time machine, so you cannot be in them. If God had wanted you there then He would have put you there – but the good news is, He had something even better in mind for you. The truth is God wants you alive today, to live for what He is doing today.

These verses say, “Look, I am doing a new thing”. So trade in your desires to be back in a moment that has been and gone for the honour and excitement of being in a moment that, like an artist, God is still painting.

If you “make the trade” then, in the future, when people say, “Did you hear what God did in 2021?”, you will be able to say, “I know because I was there when it happened!” If you keep your heart set on moving with the God who does new things you can say that about every year of the rest of your life, because our God is always doing a new thing somewhere.

Perceive, know and give heed

Isaiah 43:18-19, AMP
Do not [earnestly] remember the former things; neither consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Concerning the new thing that God is doing and “causing to spring forth”, He asks us to do three things to relate to it:

• Perceive it
• Know it
• Give heed to it

Perceive it

According to the dictionary, to perceive is to “recognize, discern, envision, or understand”. We need to make sure that we are at a point in our daily spirituality that we are able to sense and perceive what God is doing in a person’s life or any given situation.

It would be a shame to miss the wave of something God was doing because our senses, or ability to discern “new things”, were numb – maybe numbed from carnality or distraction. Make sure your “taste buds” for spiritual things are sharp and able to know the flavour of our God doing something new in your day.

We need to know it

Know when God is bringing a change of season. Jesus said to a crowd, mentioned in the Scripture below, that they knew how to discern natural changes like the weather and then He rebuked them for not being able to sense or know when a spiritual change of season was at hand. Let’s make sure we do not fall into the category of the ignorant, but stand with those who can feel the wind of change when it blows.

Luke 12:54, NKJV
He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

Give heed

Finally, He wants us to give heed to it – another way of putting that would be to be aware of it or live in accordance with it. Let’s make sure we understand when God is doing something new and that we are passionate to be a part of it, and not bound to a previous moment. Choose to live in accordance with what He is doing today and not just what He has done.

May you know God doing something new in your life today.

December 28, 2019

A Post-Charismatic Looks at Miracles

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.John.4.23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

This is the second half of an article based partly on a news item from last week which continues to be the center of much discussion as I write this. I try to keep C201 articles somewhat timeless, using the other blog to discuss current events as they arise. But I thought this was well written and worthy of your consideration here. Click the title below to read the article in full. The author is Ethan Renoe who is now serving in Guatemala.

Dear Charismatic Sisters and Brothers

Subtitle: Strive for spirit AND truth; neglecting one will always be damaging

…Take, for instance, the recent tragic episode of a Bethel worship leader trying to raise her daughter from the dead: without going into the details of the story itself, a lot of Bible verses were thrown around out of context in order to prove one side’s point. This is obviously a detrimental way to build arguments and do hermeneutics no matter which side you’re on. This heart-wrenching event served to expose a lot of the beliefs of the charismatic church and the grounds upon which they build their theology.

Many people filled comment sections with Bible verses yanked out of context, not realizing that the other ‘side’ could just as easily yank a different verse to prove another point. Thus, it’s impossible to argue with someone who is throwing little pebbles of individual Bible verses in lieu of a larger structure on which to build their theological arguments.

Think of it like this: before I went to Moody, I had a string of small arguments strung together through various anecdotes or quotes from pastors’ sermons. I didn’t have much of a foundational theology on which I built the core of my beliefs. I had a series of small, adjacent city-states rather than a massive nation to draw resources from. And which is more sturdy—small clusters of thoughts, or massive, deep-rooted, well-established doctrine and belief?

That’s the impression I got reading a lot of comments on this event: People were pitching little verses like Matthew 10:8, where Jesus tells His disciples to raise the dead…all the while neglecting that in the same paragraph, He instructed them not to go among the gentiles. Clearly that imperative was meant for only that specific group at that time.

Others would talk about how, when Jesus died, many dead people got out of their graves, and use this as justification for why people can be raised no matter how long they’ve been dead. However, they left out the part that Jesus died when this happened. Clearly it wasn’t a regular thing. There’s a difference between prescriptive and descriptive passages of scripture and it’s important to delineate between the two.

Someone from the other side could just as easily have quoted Isaiah (“Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness”), or Ecclesiastes (“The dead know nothing; they have no further reward…never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.”)

My point is not to argue for one side or the other, but to show that this method of building an argument is fundamentally flawed and it actually proves a lack of larger biblical/theological understanding. If one’s theology is pieced together with scraps of scripture apropos to the situation, that structure cannot stand when stronger, more robust arguments are presented, arguments which are not as dependent on the current situation.

The issue with building your beliefs on the foundation of miracles and supernatural occurrences—as I did for years—is that when they don’t happen, you are left with some anemic view of God. A better view of miracles would be thinking of them as sprinkles on the cake: they are not the substance or the core of my belief, but if they happen, they are sweet and we get to rejoice and praise God together. 

Of course, no charismatic person would say that they’ve built their system on top of miracles, but to be honest, that really was the driving force of my faith for many years. And movies like Finger of God and Furious Love—favorites among pentecostals—only serve to reinforce this culture of ‘miracle hunters.’ It almost felt like my faith wasn’t good enough because I didn’t see healings left and right as people like Todd White claim to. Again, I don’t think their hearts are insidious, or that they’re intentionally trying to mislead people; but this pursuit of spirit needs to be balanced out by a pursuit of truth. 

Perhaps a deeper understanding of miracles and scripture would help round out the times God doesn’t heal the leg, or eradicate the cancer. A sound theology of suffering will help comfort us in times of suffering. After all, it’s tempting to bypass passages about ‘taking up our cross daily’ in favor of those promising God giving us what we ask for, building anemic theologies of ‘open heavens’ and other false hopes for salvation in this life. Much of this, I eventually realized, was flat-out denial of reality. I can’t count the number of times my sinuses were ‘declared’ healed before I actually had surgery on them.

Perhaps charismatic brothers and sisters need to balance out their doctrine of resurrection with a healthy cruciformity: seeing life through the lens of the cross. After all, we are still in the Golgotha phase of our existence. It hurts and we suffer and die. Resurrection has yet to happen to us.

(There needs to be a balanced notion of “already but not yet” when thinking about the kingdom. Many preachers emphasize the “already” portion of the kingdom, leading them into over-realizing their eschatology which inevitably leads to health and wealth gospels contrary to the Bible. It needs to be balanced out with “not yet”: the kingdom is not here in its fullness and we live in a very broken world. But again, that’s a post for another day.)

After all, if we hope for miracles in this life, even if they come, we will ultimately be let down. One speaker at Moody once shifted my perspective when he said:

“You know what the greatest miracle of all is? Salvation. All other miracles are temporary. If your knee gets healed, it will eventually break down again. Even Lazarus died again.”

Neglecting this as the center of Christian faith and hope will always disappoint us. What good is rejoicing at a miracle if it will one day inevitably be undone? This is why the core of our faith must always continue to be unio Cristi, knowing Christ as He is and introducing others to Him. This means explaining that their life won’t get better just because they know Him. In many cases, it will get much worse, yet Jesus did not leave His followers unprepared for this. “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Our hope is not that this world will bring healing, or that it will satisfy us. Our hope is that Christ is with us, that He has us in His mighty hand, and will not let us go. May we not get sidetracked by focusing on temporary miracles, but continually focus on the one that will not end: knowing Christ and Him crucified, joining Him in His suffering that we may one day, somehow, join Him in His resurrection.

May 14, 2018

Having a Revival in the Parking Lot of Another Church

Today we’re back at Dust Off The Bible, a website I first introduced you to at the time last year and this entry features the writing of Justin and Lydia who are working their way through the Revised Common Lectionary.

Apostles Do Many Signs and Wonders

Text: Acts 5: 12-16

Apostles Do Many Signs and Wonders


12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.


Observations and Reflections


It appears that the apostles are continuing to preach and heal people and what’s even more impressive is that it’s happening in Solomon’s Portico, right inside of the Temple walls. This would be the equivalent of having a revival in the parking lot of another church. I would imagine that most pastors would not be impressed with people trying to steal the attention of church-goers as they entered into the church. It’s likely that this enraged the religious leaders and the temple guard even more so than before.

However, since Peter was healing people and displaying great signs, a renewed interest in traveling to the Temple in Jerusalem was revived, as people would travel from afar to seek healing. It would seems as though Peter’s ministry was mimicking Jesus’, right in the face of the Jewish leaders. But, many of those same people would have likely also participated in the temple services so there is a possibility that it was not all negative for the Jewish leaders. Is it possible that the ministry of Peter and the apostles could have provided a side benefit to the Jews? It’s is possible but the religious leaders would have still been bothered at the notion that Jesus was being preached and the narrative that the religious leaders killed the messiah. Any side benefits would have been negated by such preaching.

The only answer to this problem is to get rid of the apostles, which will be the subject of the next passage.

– Justin


The Church is on the move to spread the Gospel and serve others. Peter and the rest of the apostles are standing strong despite the previous attempts to stop them and scare them from speaking the name of Jesus Christ. It is a beautiful display we see of faith and devotion to doing God’s work. The Holy Spirit is pricking at the hearts of many believers and lost souls are being saved.

Preaching the Gospel is so much more then just using words. It is absolutely necessary to speak the truth and yet is still just as important to follow up with action. Peter and His apostles are putting their words of Jesus’s love on fully display. In healing the sick and freeing those of unclean spirits, they are showcasing the truth of God’s power and love at work.

Their actions are not of their own doing and accord. It is what God has called them to do and it is by His power alone that they are able to do these things.

Being bold for the name of Jesus Christ can create and amazing ripple affect. The healing of the crippled man in the previous chapter set off a widespread eagerness to many who sought to follow after Jesus Christ. It stirred up a hunger in those who were seeking to know more about Jesus and the price He paid on the cross for our sins.

The only way in which the disciples were able to do this successfully was through faith and prayer. As the Church it was their role to continually seek God’s hand in all that they do and here we are witnessing faith and prayer at work.

– Lydia


Apologies to subscribers for the confusion on the weekend. Saturday and Sunday’s devotions got posted 2-minutes apart. Not noticing this until Sunday morning, I re-released Sunday’s devotional at the regular time. I’m just curious if any of you received it twice. Let me know.

 

April 11, 2013

Watch for Burning Bushes

Exodus 3 New International Version (NIV)

 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Someone I recently met is the product of a burning bush experience.  God is definitely getting his attention. But I didn’t draw that comparison until a friend pointed it out.  He also mentioned another God-attention-getting moment, from the New Testament.

Acts 9 New International Version (NIV)

9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

I’ve deliberately cut off both off both of these stores before the “what happens next” moment. It’s very easy to have a dramatic, supernatural experience, and then just live in the excitement of what happened without considering the why behind God trying to get your attention.

Physically blinded, Saul was more than a little inclined to be obedient to what God had for him to do next.  The story continues,

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah…

28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

The calling of Moses was initially less persuasive, as Moses doubted his ability to convey God’s message.  In the next chapter, Moses gets another sign, his staff turns into a snake, but still he says,

4:13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

How many signs is it gonna take? Moses agrees to a tag-team ministry with Aaron, and in Exodus 5 the story really gets rolling.

In either case, both with Saul (Paul) and Moses the story could come to a screeching halt if neither acted on the thing for which God was getting their attention. Or worse, the experience could be idolized.

Fortunately, there is no “Church of the Burning Bush.” (Well, not many.) There’s no “Church of the Blinding Light.” (Maybe a few fringe ones.) There are however many churches “…Of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  It’s all about who is trying to get our attention and what He wants us to do. Not about the how, or the means he uses to do get us focused.

June 29, 2010

I Cor. 1 (sort of)

This morning I began the day reading the first half of I Corinthians.   In the first chapter, I paused at verses 22-23:

22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (NIV)

I noticed again the recurring conflict in scripture between grace and knowledge or between word and spirit; only in this case it’s between signs and wisdom.  The Jews expect to see signs and miracles, while the Greek mindset is to look for a philosophy that satisfies the rational mind.

I couldn’t resist a potential contemporary paraphrase:

People with a Charismatic leaning look for signs and wonders, and those with a Calvinist leaning look for great preaching and teaching; but we’re just sticking to the simple story of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Okay, it was stereotypes.   I’ll try to do better tomorrow.   Here’s how Eugene Peterson translates those two verses (plus a couple extra):

22-25While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”