Christianity 201

August 14, 2019

Temptation, Humility and God’s Open Invitation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we have a trio of short devotionals for you from The Bare Soul Daily Devotional by Rick Roeber (aka The Barefoot Runner) which we first linked to back in 2014. I hope you’ll read them all, and then focus on one of them in particular for something personal from God today for you. Or link through to read more; these are all from August, 2019. Each title is a link to the reading.

Temptation is Optional

Matthew 26:41 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 

God knows we are weak. Truly, we are but dust. That is why it is of paramount importance to continually be watchful over our hearts since we are but mortal flesh while upon earth. Temptations can and should be avoided as Jesus warns. He tells His disciples (and us) that watching and praying safeguards us against temptation. Jesus also tells us in The Lord’s Prayer that temptation is not necessary. We must ask God not to lead us in a direction where we would wrestle with the possibility of sinning (Matthew 6:13). This is one of the outworkings of the fear of the Lord and His wisdom.

The Holy Spirit within will always speak wisdom within if we are listening. We often no longer listen when the flesh begins to rule and we allow temptation to tantalize and woo us by its siren call. However, when we feel that devilish wooing, we must quickly turn to God and repent, allowing the willingness of His Spirit to once again lead us away from the destruction that seeks to overwhelm us.

Right-sized

Matthew 23:12 – “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

In context with this verse, we must constantly be on guard against all forms of self-righteous Phariseeism. When we judge others without humility, not first looking to ourselves and our faults and failures, we exalt ourselves. This is a setup for a fall. Instead of doing someone good, we have done or spoke evil into their lives and also ours. Humility – the understanding of who we are in God — ensures that when we do speak into another’s life, it is with both grace and truth.

Self-righteousness is not only a deception, but it can become an addiction not unlike any other substance. It feeds the need of the flesh to feel empowered and significant. We should all heed James’ words when he states that where there is jealousy and selfish ambition, every evil thing exists (James 3:16). May we all understand who we are in God and “right size” ourselves in humility so God can exalt us in due season.

God’s Welcome

Acts 10:34-35 – “Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.'”

God’s welcome is to anyone who will observe His criteria to accept Him. The first criterion is the fear of the Lord which means to look to God in reverence and humility, knowing ultimately we are not God. Too often people attempt to come to the Lord by just doing “what is right.” This is the trick of the enemy to lull us into believing we are gods and merely good works will save us.

There is salvation in no other than Jesus Christ, as Peter proclaimed to Cornelius in this passage. The centurion was a God-fearing man which allowed Him the rudimentary basics for God to welcome him into His kingdom (Acts 10:2). We must likewise understand that without our surrender of self and thinking that God is lucky to have our “good works,” that God cannot welcome us. Instead, we make Him our enemy. May we all surrender in the fear of the Lord and seek to do what is right in His eyes so we may all one day hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.” (Matthew 25:23)
 

August 6, 2019

“Just Believe In Yourself” — Really?

Today I returned to visit the website title Biblical Diagnosis and while it’s been inactive since April, this article, the most recent posted, resonated with much of what we often hear these days.

No Confidence in the Flesh

…Friends, it is astonishing to see just how anti-biblical some of the deeply held beliefs in our societies are. And it is even more troubling when we see that they are deeply held even by our own Christian brothers.

Take for instance, the notion that we need to believe in ourselves.

This commonly accepted belief takes many forms: We need to have faith in ourselves. We can do anything that we put our minds to. We have amazing potential that just needs to be unleashed. These are just some of the ways this belief is expressed.

We see this belief applied in every domain of our lives, all geared toward some “betterment” of ourselves, our loved ones or our community, whether it be physical fitness, career advancement, or wealth generation.

But look at how the Apostle Paul expresses one of the defining characteristics of Christ’s followers:

Philippians 3:3 – we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh

The statement…do not put confidence in the flesh…refers to the fact that Christians should believe that they are incapable of doing anything worthy of anything by themselves, through some form of inner ability that – as being widely believed today – all of us may possess (what the Scripture calls the flesh).

Romans 7:18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.

This statement is perhaps even more troubling and echoes the sentiment of Philippians 3. Paul said that nothing good lives in him. It is incongruent to both believe that nothing good lives in you and at the same time believe that you have within you what it takes to accomplish anything worthy.

Now, you may at this point read these and call to mind the countless stories of success (your own, or of others) which attest to the contrary: Evidences which prove that indeed we have within ourselves the ability to accomplish whatever we put our minds into.

Romans 3:4…Let God be true, even though everyone is a liar

Man does indeed have an inner ability, but it is not to do anything good

How we do reconcile what the scripture says with the countless evidences which seem to affirm the opposite of what God says?

I submit to you that one may find the answer – among other places – in Romans 7:18 we just read.

Romans 7:18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.

Whatever we can accomplish through the strength of our will, our inner strength (however that ability is labeled) is not good.

But what is “good”?

GOD defines what is good (unless we want to define for ourselves what is good, at which point we have made of ourselves our own God). And only things that can be accomplished through Him and Him alone are considered good. Everything else is not good.

Hence we may say, that if one desires to satisfy the passions of his flesh, he indeed has the ability to do so within himself, for his flesh is inside him. But the one who desires to do anything that is good – and hence, pleasing to God – is incapable to do so but with the help of God Himself.

Should we therefore hold onto the belief that we can do anything we put our minds to?

No, we run away from it, for that mentality only promotes the flesh, and its sinful desires, no matter how holy those desires may portray themselves. Just think of the Galatians who thought it a good thing to circumcise themselves (Galatians 3:1-5).

And this applies to ALL of our aspirations in life. No matter how noble and right they might appear. If we are able to attain to them through our own strength, then we ought to know that they were nothing more than the sinful desires of our flesh.

In me dwells no good thing. I place no confidence in my flesh. I am incapable of doing anything that is good, for myself, my children or my community. I am wretched and miserable, destitute.  

Romans 7:24What a wretched man I am!

We should truly believe in our utter destitution so that we may truly believe in our utter dependence on God.

Only with the profound belief that we are destitute and incapable of doing anything good for ourselves or anyone will we cherish and hold onto our dependence on GOD, THROUGH WHOM WE CAN DO EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD.

Philippians 4:13I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.

May the Spirit of Christ ministers to you the Word of Truth, for the glory of His own Name.

July 23, 2019

The God Who Desires My Trust Through Obedience

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit with John Curtis at the Exchange Ministry Blog. Click the header below to read this at source.

One Act of Righteousness

Romans 3:18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

It was only one piece of fruit.  One time.  “How bad could that be?” asks all of humanity.  Well, it was an act of rebellion that led to the condemnation of all men.  If I would deny God a central attribute of holiness, I would certainly insist on the primacy of my own ethics, rules and perspectives.  If God does not conform to my compromises and indulge my pleasurable tastes, however they progress and escalate, then I want nothing to do with that God.  For it is not only one piece of fruit.  It is an endless orgy of fruit, and one that I delight in discovering, uncovering and feasting on, my mouth dripping with juice.

Why does this condemn?  Isn’t fruit good?  If I entertain there is a Creator, wasn’t it then created for my enjoyment?  What kind of spoil-sport God would show me a tree and its fruit then deny its consumption?

The kind of God whose limits and boundaries are for my good, not my harm. The kind of God who desires my trust through obedience.

It is a chief fault of mine if I fail to see the reason in this verse. I made choices. They were NOT good, no matter how I revel in them and point to other factors in making them. And Holy God does not endorse rebellion or rebels like me. I have separated myself deliberately, even exuberantly. God finds me hiding behind a tree in the garden and I decide to miss out on the most pleasurable walk in the company of One so intimate and loving. I leave behind the most precious time I have ever known and could ever know, in the cool of the day with God. Oh, what I’ve traded for my indulgence!

It was only one man, perhaps erroneously killed by oppressive authorities who were jealous of his persuasion over the people. That injustice was scarcely unique, and is not unique to this day. Yet the dying man had said prior that his death was voluntary, that there is no greater love than someone who dies for his friends. He called himself the Good Shepherd and his sheep were people. He taught denial and lived it and died it. His proposition was that in giving up his life he was purchasing mine. And even in that, granting me the volition to say yes or no to him.

That “one act of righteousness” speaks through time. Hallelujah! God did not leave me this way. Blood drips from the veins of the crucified One, not any man but the dying Messiah. The pleasure fruit and its effects die with him, along with the shame that I bore and curse I swore.

My rebellion is justified, paid for and I am reconciled to take that walk through the garden in the cool of the day again. My obedience doesn’t come at once, salvation is progressive and my depravity deep and pervasive. Yet his cleansing deeper still.

My life is his; there is no one else.

 

June 23, 2019

The Various Idols We Worship

For today’s Sunday Worship column, we’re featuring an author who is new to us. Jack Garrott is what is termed a “Third Culture Kid.” That’s what it means when the country you think of as home is not the same as the country on your passport! He writes, “Raised in a missionary family, I’ve been steeped in the Bible from infancy, and my life has been a journey of learning to apply it. I’m far from perfect, but it is a joy to me to share with you some of the things God shows me day by day.” His website is Virtual Vitamins. Click the title below to read today’s article at source.

Idols

1 John 5:21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

I’m sure I’ve never written on this verse, but I was drawn to it by the very fact that it’s not underlined in my Bible! Why would this be the final word in a letter from “the Apostle of Love?”

I think it comes from the broader definition of “idol” that we use today, rather than the stone, wood, or metal sculptures that were widely worshiped at the time John wrote this. That is to say, an idol is anything the devil uses to distract you from God, to steal your devotion away from Him. Defined that way, modern society is absolutely rife with idols. We even have the honesty to call popular entertainment figures “idols.”

For some people, computer games are idols. For many people, their smartphones are idols. Actually, in both those cases and in a lot of others, the real idol is being entertained, that is, self. Countless people worship sex, in one way or another. Money, prestige, security, the list goes on and on.

Almost none of these things are originally or fundamentally bad in themselves, but the moment they become a distraction from God, they become an idol. It indeed comes back to lordship, which is an issue I’ve touched on a great deal recently. We must constantly be on our guard to be sure that Jesus is Lord in all our decisions and activities.

That certainly doesn’t mean we aren’t to relax and have a good time; Jesus Himself went to dinner parties, not to mention taking His disciples away from the crowds from time to time to relax. However, our goal should be a constant and growing awareness of God, our place in Him and His place in us. Idols are anything that distracts from that.

My understanding of this has been weak at times, but has grown greatly in recent years. I am interested in a vast number of different things, from physics to electronics to biology to history to geography to many more, and often enough I have allowed those interests to distract me from the One who creates all that.

I’ve never been particularly taken by the “entertainment industry,” but recently politics has been quite a distraction. I need to keep my focus on the “God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6) At the same time, since I deal with so many distractions myself, I need to have grace and mercy on those around me who are likewise distracted. I need to keep Christ in focus myself, and seek to help those around me do likewise.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for directing my attention to a verse that wasn’t underlined. Help me not set up expectations that cause me to miss what You are saying to me, but rather listen always for Your still, small, voice, to obey You with all I have and am, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

 

June 15, 2019

Light and Darkness

This is our third time highlighting the site Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales. Choosing a devotional (or two smaller ones) for today was a tough process; there’s so much good material. Click the header below to read this at source.

Learning to walk in the light

Psalm 89:15

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You,
who walk in the light of Your presence, LORD.”

What is it like to know God? The people who get to know Him develop an attitude to life that is full of confidence and gratitude. They are not merely drifting through life; they know what they are doing and where they are going. They are ‘walking in the light’.

This sounds deceptively easy, but it doesn’t come naturally even to Christians. In fact, it’s something that we have to learn to do.

The pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21)

Ex.13.21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.

When we start out on our Christian journey, God often seems especially close, because He makes things easy for us during our spiritual ‘babyhood’. It was like this on Israel’s first crucial journey out of Egypt: His unseen presence was made visible as a pillar of fiery cloud, and all they had to do was follow it.

In the desert, it’s easier to travel at night (when it’s cooler) – but in the darkness it’s all the more vital to know where you are going! And in a world that is spiritually dark, we need to know which road to take. Whenever we come to a moral decision-point, it’s to God that we must look for direction. We don’t have a convenient pillar of fire (or an audible voice from heaven) to lead us; we must learn to discover God’s will by reading the Bible and by discussion with other believers.

The light of the world (John 8:12)

In Jesus’ time, the four great candelabra in the Temple courtyard were lit during the Feast of Tabernacles to remind the people of the pillar of fire that had led their ancestors through the wilderness. John tells us that at the end of the festival, when the lights were being extinguished, Jesus declared Himself to be the Reality behind the symbol:

“I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Decision (Isaiah 2:5)

Walking in darkness is the ‘default option’. We have to make a positive decision to become followers of Jesus in the first place; and thereafter we must make a conscious effort to reject the ways of the world and keep following His light.

Is.2.5 “Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

But if we stop paying attention to where we are heading, we will gradually drift off course and back into the darkness again!

Walking together (I John 1:7)

1Jn.1.7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Walking in darkness includes such things as having bad relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters (I John 2:9). We cannot have full fellowship with God while refusing to join and work together with other believers!

Walking in the light is also by its very nature a communal activity; for everyone who is following close to Jesus must also be close to one another. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” And that fellowship also helps to keep us together on the right path.

Our destination (Proverbs 4:18)

Prov.4.18 The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
    shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

The path of light is one of safety and growing certainty. As we grow in our faith, and diligently put it into practice, we come further and further into God’s light – and it actually becomes easier to make the right decisions.


Bonus devotional: If you have time, here’s another from the same author…

The Gospel: Some Questions Answered

25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— Romans 3:25,26

Our sins could not be forgiven without atonement being made. So what about those, like David, whose sins were forgiven before Christ came?

2.Sam.12.13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.

Paul’s answer is that the cross is a ‘once-for-all’ method of dealing with sin, effective both retrospectively and prospectively

Heb.9.26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Before Christ came, God had refrained from executing full judgement on sin because of His mercy.

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10)

But this was not because of moral indifference; rather, judgement was withheld until it could fall upon Jesus.

The cross also answers the question of how a righteous God can remain righteous while forgiving our sins – which seems to overturn the whole concept of justice. Justification is not an amnesty; our sins are not being ignored or ‘swept under the carpet’. In fact, justice has been done – and seen to have been done – in the public execution of Jesus Christ. Because His sacrificial death fully satisfies the demands of justice, God can justify sinners without compromising His own righteousness.

June 3, 2019

Sinning Against Another, Sinning Against Yourself, Sinning Against God

NLT Ps. 51:3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.

In the title of today’s article, the first two categories don’t exist. It’s a topic we’ve covered here several times, but all sin is sin against God. It’s his holy standards that we miss, not those of our neighbor or ourselves.

It’s easy to believe your own press, or as some would say today, believe the picture you paint on Facebook. You can buy into the image that people have of you. You can decide that nine-out-of-ten is good enough. You can rationalize that the ministry is still happening, people are still getting saved, money is still being raised, the teaching is still being distributed. You don’t admit weakness, that would be letting people down.

I can only imagine what it’s like when you’re the king, especially when your nation or state is somewhat theocratic in nature. Like King David.

Psalm 51 is his particular prayer of confession. In the KJV the words are iconic,

…my sin is ever before me.

David admits he can’t run and he can’t hide from the thing he has done, or the person he has become. It’s what he sees when looks in the mirror. He owns up to it. I believe that whatever sin we give into, no matter how private, no matter how secret; it will manifest itself at some point in some more open way. Bathsheba presented a tremendous opportunity — her husband was away at the time — but it wasn’t the first time David had looked at a woman. Or perhaps not even the first time David had hatched a scheme.

You don’t become an adulterer overnight. It happens when you have failed to pre-book your choices. It happens when you’ve never recognized your susceptibility. It happens when pride gives you spiritual over-confidence.

Then, again using the KJV, he says,

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned

Jerry Bridges says, “We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.”

  • When you maligned your co-worker, you sinned not against them, but against God
  • When you cheated on that test, you sinned not against the school or the teacher, but against God
  • When you falsified that document, you sinned not against the organization or the government, but against God
  • When you flirted with the girl in the grocery store, you sinned not against them or against your wife, but against God

You get the pattern.

Some of the resolutions people made at the start of the year are long broken. If they carried with them moral or spiritual significance, it isn’t just a personal letdown, you don’t just fail yourself, but rather it’s sin against God.

A key verse on this topic is,

I Sam. 2:25a If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”

The preceding verses provide the context; here’s how The Message expresses this:

22-25 By this time Eli was very old. He kept getting reports on how his sons were ripping off the people and sleeping with the women who helped out at the sanctuary. Eli took them to task: “What’s going on here? Why are you doing these things? I hear story after story of your corrupt and evil carrying on. Oh, my sons, this is not right! These are terrible reports I’m getting, stories spreading right and left among God’s people! If you sin against another person, there’s help—God’s help. But if you sin against God, who is around to help?”

Perhaps you find the meaning of this rather self-evident. Several of the study Bibles and commentaries I consulted seem to gloss over it without adding detail. The Reformation Study Bible says,

Eli’s point is that while there may be some mediation of disputes between people, when someone offends God there is no one who can intervene.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary noted:

When a man has a complaint against another, the matter can be decided by God through his representative, the judge (Ps. 82:3), or by the sacred lot in the hand of the priest. But in a case in which God is the plaintiff, there can be no reference to a disinterested party the crime incurs the direct vengeance of heaven.  (p.277)

Although the context is quite different, the language of that verse to me is always similar to Acts 5:39, “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” What I get is there is a sense of God’s vested interest in certain affairs (though the verse means far more than that); it conveys the image of sitting across the table in direct confrontation with God.  You don’t want that.

Heb. 10:25 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Prov. 15:10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

5 …But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. 6 We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.

I can’t help but think as I read this that what he prays collectively has to begin individually, it has to begin with me. This is often contrary to our nature. We think ourselves righteous. It’s harder to pray:

But I have sinned and done wrong. I have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. I have refused to listen to your servants…

And yet, each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

A pastor once said “you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward.” He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon.

I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas. If you’re a guy, are you tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt? For me it’s ideas and concepts. One single phrase or sentence in an online article can be as devastating to me as the girl at the mall is to you. My worldview warps; my mindset skews.

Psalm 139 ends with the type of mind inventory I need constantly:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.


Psalm 51 – Worship Liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

Show me your grace, Yahweh, according to Your faithful love;
erase my rebellion, according to Your overflowing compassion.

Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.

I know what I’ve done wrong.
I remember where I’ve missed the path.

I’ve done wrong against You – the only one who has the right to judge and to pass sentence.

But I’ve been going wrong my whole life, when what You want for me is integrity for my inner self.
And from within, You teach me deep wisdom.
You purify me.
You make me clean.

Fill my ears with gladness; fill my broken bones with joy.

Yahweh, create in me a willing heart,
an unwavering spirit,
the joy of Your salvation,
the presence of Your Spirit.

Open my mouth to teach the other rebels,
to sing Your righteousness
and to call the other sinners home to You.

Lord, break my heart and humble my spirit.
Because You don’t want just my stuff, or I’d give it.

What pleases You is the offering of a broken and humbled heart,
and what flows from there.

When my spirit is right with You, then You’ll delight in what I bring.
And You can have it all.


Today’s article includes excerpts from When You Hit Bottom, Jerry Bridges Quotations, Owning It, Sins Against Another; Against God,

June 1, 2019

Declaring Christ as Lord

Phil.2.9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Today we are back at re|knew the blog of Woodland Hills Church pastor, author and theologian Greg Boyd.

“Christ is Lord”: What Does it Mean?

We enter the domain of God’s reign when we enthrone Christ as Lord of our life. This seems simple enough. But actually, I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding of what this means.

The Bible says that if we “declare with our mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,” we “will be saved” (Rom.10:9). To the thinking of many consumeristic-minded people today, this is simply a cheap deal that is too good to pass up.

What does it mean to confess that “Jesus is Lord”? According to Wester’s Dictionary, a “lord” is one who “has power and authority over others.” I don’t think the Greek concept of “lord” (kurios) as applied to Jesus Christ is very far from this.

So, when a person confesses that “Jesus is Lord, ” they are confessing that Jesus “has power and authority” or them. And for a person to confess that someone “has power and authority” over them means they submit to them. What else could it possibly mean for someone to have “power and authority” over another?

If someone confesses “Jesus is Lord” but doesn’t actually submit to his “power and authority,” they are contradicting themselves. Their confession is meaningless. It’s like confessing “milk flats tire poke” or “round square” or “nikbo jip slupe” – or (better), just remaining silent.

No wonder Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not the things that I say?” He’s pointing out that people who do this are simply saying “nikbo jip slupe.”

The simple truth is that when Paul tells us that if we confess “Jesus is Lord “ we will be saved, he’s not giving us a magical salvation verbal formula. Rather, he’s stipulating what kind of relationship we need to have with Jesus to be “saved.” This relationship, by definition, must be one of submission. We are saved when we authentically surrender our life over to Christ. This not only changes our eternal destiny, but it begins to bring wholeness into our life, as the Jewish concept of salvation (shalom, soteria) implies.

This leads to a rather sobering conclusion. Folks who confess “Jesus is Lord “ as a magical formula to invoke a supposed legal transaction in heaven without actually submitting their lives to Christ are kidding themselves. I know that may sound harsh. But I don’t see any way of avoiding this conclusion.

Now, I can immediately hear someone wondering, “Well, how submitted do I have to be to be saved?” When I first became a Christian, I belonged to a church that basically said any and every sin un-saves you. You’re only as saved as your last sinless moment. So, they would say only 100% submission saves you.

I didn’t last long in that church.

But the funny thing was, the people of this congregation seemed to me to be serious sinners. They didn’t smoke or drink or go to movies or dance or a million other things. But they were packed full of religious self-righteousness, gossiped like it was nobody’s business, and didn’t share much of what they had with the poor (though most seemed pretty well off).

Now, this meant to be a slam on my first church, because the truth is that all churches are packed full of sinners – because we’re in them. So if 100% submission is required, then we’re all lost.

So then, what percentage “gets us in”?

May I suggest that this is the exact wrong question to be asking?   It’s still operating with a legal-transaction mentality, treating God like a cosmic attorney who relates to us in a court of law rather than a cosmic lover who simply wants our hearts so he can dance with us throughout eternity.

It’d be a pretty sick marriage if one spouse were to ask the other spouse, “What’s the minimal level I can be committed to my marriage vows without you divorcing me?” Well, this is basically what we’re doing when we ask, “How submitted do I have to be to the Lord to be saved?”

To confess Christ as Lord isn’t a pledge that one will at all times be perfectly submitted to Christ. But it is a pledge of commitment that one will seek to cultivate a life of submission to Christ. And if this pledge isn’t present, the confession is devoid of meaning.

May 24, 2019

Urgently Wanting Something May Be a Sign of Bitterness

We’ve previously run some devotional articles by Jay Mankus who writes at Express Yourself 4 Him, and for today’s selection, I wrestled with three equally interesting pieces. The one below I read three times and each time through I was impressed by how the Biblical text weaved in and out of the application, and how the paragraph that one might expect to come first came at the end.

But more than the writing, I wondered if there were times in my life when I was like the character in the Biblical narrative. As always, click the title below to read this at source. There’s also a bonus article and each one is accompanied by a Christian music video at his site.

Provoked by Bitterness and Bound by Sin

If you blessed to be around a newborn baby or infant eager to start crawling, you will witness periodical tantrums. Some will signal moms that it’s time to breast feed or change a dirty diaper. Prior to being able to speak, crying, fussing and screaming are signs of displeasure and unhappiness. When you examine these fits of rage from a biblical perspective, knee jerk reactions from any human being are often provoked by bitterness.

18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this authority and power too, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit,” Acts 8:18-19.

There is where parenting will influence and shape the character of a child. If parents allow children to get everything they want as soon as he or she cries, the more spoiled this individual will become over time. This display of bitterness is a sign that the human flesh, known as the sinful nature is alive and well. Anyone not trained or taught to resist this urge, will be provoked by bitterness and bound to sin.

20 But Peter said to him, “May your money be destroyed along with you, because you thought you could buy the [free] gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart (motive, purpose) is not right before God. 22 So repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, this thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are provoked by bitterness and bound by sin,” Acts 8:20-23.

During a trip to Samaria, Luke records an interesting conversation between Peter and a magician called Simon. Based upon the passage above, Simon appears to have been spoiled in his younger years, normally getting whatever he wants. Subsequently, Simon offers Peter a bribe, attempting to receive the Holy Spirit through a cash exchange. However, this isn’t how God works. When motives are impure, prayer is necessary to get yourself right before God. Yet, unless you deal with bitterness and sin in a biblical manner, healing won’t occur. Fasting, prayer and seeking godly counsel are steps on the road to recovery. The best therapy to overcome the root of bitterness is meditating on the Word of God. Exercising spiritual disciplines will release you from the bondage of sin.


Here’s a bonus article by the same author:

The Synagogue of the Freedmen

A synagogue is the building or location where a Jewish assembly meets for religious worship and instruction. In biblical times, small towns and villages with less than ten men met out in the open, often along the banks of a river or sea. One of these places of worship was known as the Synagogue of the Freedmen. These individuals were of collection of freed Jewish slaves from Alexandria, Asia, Cilicia and Cyrene. Past experiences as slaves created an instant bond for these men.

However, some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (freed Jewish slaves), both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [the province of] Asia, rose up and questioned and argued with Stephen, Acts 6:9.

Based upon the passage above, the members of this synagogue felt threatened by Jesus. Perhaps this community of believers was afraid of change, especially to Jewish traditions that they embraced. Thus, their reaction to Jesus being the long awaited Messiah was similar to the chief priest and Pharisees who crucified Jesus. Subsequently, the Synagogue of the Freedmen began a smear campaign against Stephen. This newly appointed apostle was bombarded by a character assassination provoked and incited by the people.

51 “You stiff-necked and stubborn people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are always actively resisting the Holy Spirit. You are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained and delivered to you by angels, and yet you did not obey it!” – Acts 7:51-53

Stephen was put on trial, forced to give an account of the false accusations made against him. It’s unclear whether or not the Synagogue of the Freedmen were pawns urged by religious leaders or willing participants. Regardless of the motives, Stephen blames this behavior on resisting the Holy Spirit. Any type of change is difficult. However, when you make a decision to dedicate your life to Jesus, this means living by a new set of standards, the Bible. Stephen was stoned to death and other Christians were persecuted. As modern souls wrestle to make spiritual decisions today, the fear of change remains. For anyone still on the fence, may your hearts and minds embrace the Holy Spirit.

May 17, 2019

Don’t Allow it to Grow and Develop: Cut it Down

NIV.John.8.34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.


NLT.Heb.10.26 Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. 27 There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies. 28 For anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to us. 30 For we know the one who said,

“I will take revenge.
    I will pay them back.”

He also said,

“The Lord will judge his own people.”


NLT.Rom.6.1. Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?

We’re back once again with pastor and counselor Josh Ketchum who writes at Life in the Kingdom. Click the header below to read at source. (Scriptures cited in today’s reading are quoted above.)

Letting Trees Grow

I have one small tree that grows on my pond bank. I have cut it down before, but because the roots are still there it comes back and grows quickly. It doesn’t really bother me that it is growing. It is not in a place where the roots will damage the pond and I have just let it grow. I know I have a chain saw! In fact, I let numerous undesirable trees and branches grow on my farm.

I don’t look at those trees and worry about how I am going to get rid of them, which was a former concern of mine. If I had access to a saw, I would vigorously cut any tree or branch I thought I may ever want down. But now, I am empowered because of my saw. I brazenly say to the tree, “Grow if you want, I can cut you down whenever I am good and ready!”

My little power trip may sound silly to you. But I bet you have something that is similar. Some issue you used to feel pressure to deal with, but now because you can easily handle it you just let it go for now.

I think we often do the same thing in our lives with sin. We know, it should be cut down. We know, we shouldn’t allow it to continue to grow and develop. It is undesirable and isn’t going to produce anything good in our lives, but we feel empowered. We feel like we are in control. We can handle it! So we let it grow, thinking we can whip out a chainsaw and wack it down anytime we want.

Unfortunately sin doesn’t work that way. There are some real dangers and problems with letting sin just grow and hang around in your life.

First, it will deceive you. You don’t really really have control over sin, you are really a slave to it (John 8:34). If you don’t cut it down when it is small, it will grow and overtake you so that you will have great difficulty cutting it down.

Second, even though sin can always be cut out by the power of Christ, it will forever leave a stump. It will leave a permanent scar in your life. It leaves shame, regret, and consequences.

Third, if you know the tree is sin and you are letting it grow in your life, then you are insulting the grace of God (Heb. 10:26-30). The blood of Christ is not a chainsaw to be left in our garage and pulled out when we need it to forgive our sins. God forbid! (Rom. 6:1-2). Christians should hate sin! When we know of sin in our lives, we should want to get it out of our lives as quickly as possible.

Do you have some trees growing in your life that you are neglecting to cut down? Are you thinking you don’t really have to quit those sins, because anytime you want you can turn to Jesus for forgiveness? Don’t be foolish! Repent today.

May 12, 2019

A Worship Sunday Trio

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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First, from the blog Alicia J’s Space, this repost of Psalm 112 in the CEV. (Click the link for the audio of the KJV.)

Psalm 112 Contemporary English Version (CEV)🕊

God Blesses His Worshipers🕊

112:1 Shout praises to the Lord!
    The Lord blesses everyone
    who worships him and gladly
    obeys his teachings.
Their descendants will have
    great power in the land,
    because the Lord blesses
    all who do right.
They will get rich and prosper
    and will always be remembered
    for their fairness.
They will be so kind
    and merciful and good,
that they will be a light
in the dark
    for others
    who do the right thing.

Life will go well for those
who freely lend
    and are honest in business.
They won’t ever be troubled,
    and the kind things they do
    will never be forgotten.
Bad news won’t bother them;
    they have decided
    to trust the Lord.
They are dependable
    and not afraid,
    and they will live to see
    their enemies defeated.
They will always be remembered
    and greatly praised,
    because they were kind
    and freely gave to the poor.
10 When evil people see this,
    they angrily bite their tongues
    and disappear.
They will never get
    what they really want.🕊


From the newsletter of popular Christian author Frank Viola, a reminder that we need to cleanse ourselves before we come to God in worship:

When Jesus seems distant

When Jesus seems distant, the antidote is not to run away from Him. Ignore Him. Or throw your hands up and decide to become a practical atheist.

It’s to act as if He’s near. That’s called faith. You can’t see Him, but you believe that He is with you (as He promised) and act accordingly.

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6

Now if you’re tolerating a particular sin in your life, drawing near to God means dealing with that sin and eliminating it from your life by the power of the Holy Spirit. (I’ve explained how elsewhere.)

This is how James puts it:

“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:8-10


In light of what Frank wrote, we end today’s trio of articles with this piece from John Curtis at the Exchange Ministry Blog.

Crucifying the Flesh

Galatians 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Observation:

In his defense of salvation by faith and not works, it was important to cite that salvation by faith is not a prescription for an unbridled lifestyle with a goal of fulfilling every base passion and desire.  Paul made a list of behaviors that are inconsistent with Kingdom living – sinful practices that his critics would identify easily from the Law of Moses.  And yet they were practices that they also indulged in, which Paul knew from his earlier life.

Contrasting those were the nine-fold fruits of the Holy Spirit.  They didn’t just contrast behavior – they contrasted behavior with attitude.  And then came the punch line above.  It is a crucifixion of passions and desires that the believer does.  THAT is the action that overcomes all the foul outworking of the flesh.  So sin is cut off at inception.  It is not allowed to fester into action since its core – the flesh, that which gratifies but does not satisfy – is to be nailed to the cross to die a slow death.

And a slow death it is, for long have people learned to lean into passions and desires, to coddle and entertain like toys.  These diversions are to be crucified by the believer, put on open display where they were formerly covered as they achieved their clandestine destruction.  This is the stuff of testimony, the glory of overcoming.  For God has so saved his children that they arm themselves with battle gear that they wield as guided tactically and strategically.  But the core work is that of replaced passion.

Application:

How does my group of flesh toys look on the cross?  Is it growing in number?  Am I leaving it there?  And it’s not just deeds I put up there, but the passions and desires that produced them.  Are those seen on the cross as well?  Have I crucified selfishness, malice, pride and anger?  Again, not just angry deeds, but anger.  I must concede it is an ongoing task.  Let me not be discouraged by the tense of the verb – “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified…” – for certainly there are passions and desires that are well-crucified and no longer reign in my heart.  And let me not lose heart in the battle against learned responses – for no one comes to Christ without a former straying from the truth.

Also, no one who would serve Christ in this world is immune from temptation.  Only let me identify such a lure by its core desire – what is it that would draw me down?  What is lacking?  What is being falsely promised?  Why is this passion so alluring to me?  Those questions deal less with the action of sin than they do with its intent.  For it is that intent that brings out the crucifying hammer in me.  Finding it, rooting it out, making its lies an open display.  THAT is the work of crucifying the flesh, for when I allow the Spirit I do that, it is a solid work of redemption.  May it be my regular and progressive spiritual exercise.

Prayer:

Father, it is your work of grace that brings me to awe and wonder.  Continue your work in me for I open myself to you.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

April 26, 2019

Thinking We’re Playing it Safe

For the first time this month, we’re introducing a blog which is new to us, Just Thinkin’. The site uses several different writers, this piece is by Crystal Brashear. As always, click the header below to read the complete article at source.

Love Over Rules

… It was a rude awakening to realize that I could do what I believed was right and still be hurt. Still grieve. Still be taken off guard.

I wonder if that’s what Jesus’ disciples thought, staring up at him as he hung on the cross. “I did what I thought was right. I left my job, my family and friends, to follow this man. I thought he was the One. I thought he was the Christ. How could I have missed it? How could I have been so wrong?”

How could they have missed it? They saw more than most. They saw Jesus heal people nobody else could help. They saw him teach as one who had a direct line to the Father. They saw him calm storms, walk on water and raise dead people. They saw more than most.

But somehow, they missed what was right in front of them. Isaiah had prophesied:

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. — Isaiah 53:10–12

Many years earlier, a prophet had predicted exactly what would happen to their Christ. Isaiah had revealed not only the purpose of the crucifixion, but also the glorious end to the story! By the inspiration of God, Isaiah had written, “He shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days.” Before Jesus was ever born as a human baby, he was destined not only to die, but also to be raised to life again. But they missed it.

I can relate. Sometimes I look for what will make me feel safe and protected, and I miss what is right in front of me. Maybe we are all guilty of that when we are young and naive.

Now I know differently. Playing by the rules doesn’t keep me safe. Following Jesus didn’t keep his disciples safe. In fact, it put them in mortal danger. It caused them immense pain. Their friend suffered, even though he had never done anything wrong. The bravest of them stood paralyzed in confusion. The most fearful of them denied they even knew him.

And yet…

The God we love is not confined by man-made rules. He does not keep himself safe by them. Instead, Jesus suffered loneliness, betrayal, embarrassment, abandonment and excruciating pain, all because of his great love. This love, this all-consuming love, surpassed human understanding on its way to ultimate sacrifice.

Nothing in this world will keep me safe from hurt. But Love, true Love, will risk everything to ensure my salvation. Jesus Christ broke even the rule of death on his quest to save what was lost.

If you have been playing by man-made rules hoping to be safe, I have beautifully devastating news. Following all the rules won’t protect you from hurt. But you are truly, dearly, deeply loved by Jesus. The God of the universe gave his life to make you his own. Today, in this moment, he is calling you to what is next. His victory over sin and the grave is yours too. Take hold of it, and live!

 

April 25, 2019

A Compelling God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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How the Justice and Mercy of God Point to the Reality of God

by Clarke Dixon

Is the God we meet in the Bible a God of justice? In being gracious and merciful, does God turn a blind eye to sin and injustice, and say “I don’t care”? We often care about justice and have concern for those who experience injustice. Shouldn’t God? If a worldview or religion is to be compelling, then won’t it point to the importance of justice? Indeed a God that has no concern for justice is a God that does not love. If God is love, we will expect God to be perfect in his justice.

So is the God of the Bible a God of justice?

We are introduced to the theme of justice very early in the Bible;

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know, ” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Genesis 4:9-10 (NIV)

We can assume that the blood of Abel was crying out, metaphorically speaking, to God for justice. Not too further along in the Old Testament we hear another cry for justice;

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. Exodus 2:23-25

Someone has pointed out that the Hebrew for the last part simply says “God saw the Israelites. He knew.” He knew they were experiencing injustice. Justice for Israel meant judgement for Egypt. In the plagues the Egyptians found out what it was like to be picked on. The death of the firstborn males in the final plague mirrors the deaths of the Israelite male infants at the hands of the Egyptians. One is reminded of the Biblical “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Justice is held up as important.

We also find in the Book of Exodus a concern for God’s people becoming a just society. The Book of Exodus moves at a very quick pace until the people reach Mount Sinai and everyone, and everything, comes to a stop. The fast paced action ends and suddenly we find ourselves reading about various legal matters, such as, what should happen if your ox gores someone. It is often said that as Christians, we are not under the old covenant, we are under the new covenant. This is true, but we should also point out that as Canadians we are not under the old covenant law, we are under Canadian law. So if your neighbour’s ox gores your friend, do not wave a Bible in their face, call the police! In these civic laws, given to a specific people at a specific time, God is ensuring that the people He just rescued from the injustices of Egypt can themselves become a just society. If those laws seem like a tedious read, try reading the Canadian law books! Both are important for the existence of a just society.

In many ways, the laws given to Israel signalled a step forward from other ancient societies with regards to justice. There were laws to ensure that no one goes hungry, that the vulnerable were taken care of, that foreigners were treated fairly, and that no child was sacrificed for religious purposes as was happening in surrounding societies. Indeed, the justice of God rings throughout the entire Bible.

While I originally planned on the title of this to be “Compelling Justice,” I had to go with “Compelling God” instead. Why? Because in Jesus the justice of God and the mercy of God come together in a beautiful and compelling way. Consider:

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
  But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
  We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6 (NIV)

For God to be considered just, sin must be punished. Sin cannot simply be wafted away as being unimportant. Yet for God to be considered merciful, our sin must be lifted from us somehow, for no one is without sin. There can be no future in God’s presence for us without mercy. In Christ, God has taken away our sin and yet punished it at the same time. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Keeping in mind that Jesus is God the Son, God Himself has been both merciful and just by bearing the punishment we deserve.

In this bringing together of justice and mercy, Christianity is unique among all the religions of the world. As Peter points out in a sermon in Acts,

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12 (NIV)

Salvation is found in no one else because there is no one else who could bring justice and mercy together as God has done in Christ. There is no one else who could have done for us what God Himself has done for us.

God is consistent in his justice and mercy. The Old Testament is a record of people experiencing the justice and mercy of God. The New Testament is a record of people experiencing the justice and mercy of God. God will be experienced as a God of both perfect justice and mercy in the future.

What will be the focus in your future? Will you experience the justice of a merciful God? He will not force you to spend eternity with Him if that is not something you want. He will do the right thing, the just thing. No one will say “that is not fair” when He sends those who reject Him away from His presence. Of course, God is merciful and it does not need to end that way. Will you experience the mercy of a just God? On our own merit, we do not deserve to spend eternity with God. Yet “by his bruises we are healed.” God will do a really good thing. He will show mercy, yet it will be consistent with his just nature.

Any religion that presents God as either all justice, and no mercy, or all mercy and no justice, is not compelling. Any religion that presents God as either lacking justice, or lacking mercy, is not compelling. The God we meet in the Bible, in revealing Himself supremely  in Jesus, shows Himself to be the God of perfect justice and perfect mercy. This is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

April 15, 2019

A Conscious Choice to Use What We Have for Good

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This marks seven times we’ve featured the writing of Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. The blog isn’t currently as active as it was, but I felt this deserved to be shared with you today.

Two Ways to Live

Have you ever had a truth penetrate your mind that was so simple that you wondered why it took you so long to figure out?

I have.

One of the reasons for this reality is because the Holy Spirit holds back a teaching for the moment it will make the biggest impact in our lives. It has less to do with our IQ and more to do with timing.

One of the times I have experienced this happened several years ago while I read James 3:1-12, particularly verses 9 through 12:

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (James 3:9-12; ESV).

James wrote that there are two uses for our tongues.

  1. We can bless God and others with our words. Our tongues can be an instrument of worship to God and an instrument of encouragement to those around us.
  2. We can curse God and others with our words. Our tongues can be an instrument to misuse the holy of God and an instrument to abuse those around us.

Think about how you use your tongue. Are people blessed by what you say or are they hurt by the words that come out of your mouth?

As I pondered this passage, the Holy Spirit showed me that the application encompasses more than our tongues.

Ultimately, what James taught in this passage applies to the way we live.

We can use our bodies to either sin and rebel against God, or we can use them to obey and worship God.

It is true that our actions fall on a spectrum between those two realities, but in the end we are either living in obedience or we are living in sin.

In his book Surprised by Hope, N. T. Wright devoted a whole chapter to the idea of “building for the kingdom.”

“But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom” (p. 208).

This leads us to ask the question, “How do we build for the kingdom?”

In light of the passage from James, I would argue that we build for the kingdom when we devote our lives to doing good works in the name of Christ Jesus.

This is the point I want us to get today: just as our tongues can curse or praise God, our lives can either work for His kingdom or they can work against His kingdom.

I believe that sin is rebellion against God, and it has a corrupting nature, not only in our lives, but in the world.

Remember, this world was created good, and it has been corrupted through Satan, sin, and death.

For us to build for God’s kingdom requires us to leave sin behind through repentance, and join our lives to Jesus.

It is not enough just to leave a life of sin, but we also need to pursue what is right.

God called us to a life of obedience and good works. This is the practical side of how we join Him in His effort to redeem all of creation.

It is crucial to remember that our good works are not what makes us right with God, that only happens through faith in Jesus. Rather, our good works are our effort to partner with God in bringing His Kingdom to earth.

The implication of this thought is that the more we devote our lives to God’s kingdom the less we will be involved with sin. In other words, the best way to live out our repentance is to spend our lives doing good.

When we devote our lives to doing good, we are no longer participating in what brings corruption and injustice into God’s good creation.  Just as salt corrupts fresh water, sin corrupts good works.

Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:7-10, ESV).

Here we discover the key to good works: being led by the Spirit.

The best way I know to be led by the Spirit is to be students of Scripture, to be involved in a church family, and to be devoted to prayer. If we care about doing what God has called us to do, if we desire to be led by the Spirit, then we will make these things a priority in our lives.

There are two ways we can live our lives. We can lives our lives in rebellion against God, or we can live our lives building for His kingdom.

Make the right choice.

April 4, 2019

Compelling Evil

Compelling Evil: How Suffering Points to a Loving God

by Clarke Dixon

If the Bible is correct about God, that God is, and God is love, then why is the world in a mess? Why is there suffering? Yes, the Bible teaches that God is love, but the Bible also teaches that the world is, indeed, in a mess. First of, notice that humanity’s relationship with God is destroyed by sin. Adam and Eve were free to enjoy the Garden of Eden, except that there was one thing they ought not do:

“You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:15-17 (NLT)

Of course they did that one thing and death became an eventuality. Sin separates us from God. However, the Bible tells us that human sin affects more than just humanity:

And to the man he said,
“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
Genesis 3:17 (NLT)

Adam is affected by his own sin, he will die, but so too is the ground affected. Sin messes up everything. We see this theme carried on in the very next story:

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. Genesis 4:6-8 (NLT emphasis added)

Sin was “eager to control” Cain, but Abel, and Adam, and Eve, were the ones to suffer. Before there was ever a death by the natural consequence of one’s own sin, there was violent death from another’s. Sin makes a mess of everything! It still does. Consider a particularly cruel and selfish man whose attitudes and actions make life miserable for his family. He spreads the misery into his workplace like a bad virus. He then either gets fired, or his business runs down. Soon the money runs out, and the house falls into ruin also. Sin messes everything up for everyone and everything, not just the person who sins.

The Bible teaches that sin even makes a mess of creation:

For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse [as a result of the sin of humanity]. But with eager hope,  the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. Romans 8:19-21 (NLT)

Creation is not waiting for God to wipe out humanity, so it can flourish on its own, but to rescue humanity. Brokenness in all creation is tied to human sinfulness. Restoration of creation is tied to the healing of humanity’s sin problem.

So if the Bible is accurate, then we should expect to live in a world where relationship with God is destroyed, where death is the expected and normal end, and where everything is messed up. This is the world we live in! There is suffering because there is evil & sin, there is sin because there is freedom, there is freedom because God is love. It turns out that the world is exactly as we would expect if God is love. Therefore the presence of evil and suffering lends support to the Bible being accurate about the way things are.

But if God is love, would we not expect God to rescue us from evil and suffering? Indeed. The Bible teaches, from Genesis through to Revelation, that God is not content to leave humanity in a mess. God continued to work with humans. He did not just walk away.

God rescued a particular people from a messy situation, then gave them the law so that they would learn to not make a big mess of everything. For example, the Israelites were forbidden from practicing child-sacrifice. If they kept that law, there would be less evil and suffering in the world, for that practice was too common in that day. The law was given to lead God’s particular people out of evil so they could be an example to the other nations. However, they kept tripping on the way out.

All of this was part of a bigger plan for a bigger rescue. God sent his Son and Spirit to rescue us from sin. The two problems of sin are solved. First, we are personally, and individually, reconciled to God. Death, and separation from God is no longer our final end. Second, when it comes to sin making a mess of everything, we are enabled to be part of Spirit-led solutions rather than part of sin-wrecked problems.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

Just think of how much less suffering and evil there would be in the world if all lives were marked by these “fruit” of the Holy Spirit! As people participate in God’s great rescue, our dark world gets brighter.

God’s rescue is not limited to the possibility of individuals being reconciled to God and making less mess along the way. God will rescue all of creation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
  I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”  And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.   All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. Revelation 21:1-7 (NLT)

Christianity provides a reasonable accounting of why evil and suffering exist in a world created by a loving God. There is suffering because there is sin, there is sin because there is freedom, there is freedom because God is love. Our sin messes up everything. God knows, and since God is love, He has a rescue underway. Christianity speaks of God’s revealed love solution to evil and suffering in Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and a future with God. The presence of evil and suffering in the world does not prove God does not exist or does not care. It confirms what the Bible teaches. People sin, God is, and God is love.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here. All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

February 25, 2019

The Blind Leading the Blind

The blog of K.W. Leslie never ceases to captivate me. I’ve been reading it for the past half hour; there is so much to choose from. Click the title below, read this at source, and then click the header to navigate to other pieces. (Translations are his own.)

Can’t see? Pretty Sure They Can

Matthew 15.12-14 • Luke 6.39-40 • John 9.39-41.

Jesus’s saying about “the blind leading the blind” is pretty famous. So much so, people don’t remember who originally said it. I once had someone tell me it comes from the Upanishads. And it is actually in there; Yama the death god compares the foolish to the blind leading the blind. Katha Upanishad 2.6 But ancient, medieval, and modern westerners didn’t read the Upanishads! They read the gospels. They got it from Jesus.

But Jesus didn’t use the idea only once, in only one context. We see it thrice in the gospels. It appears in Matthew after Jesus critiqued Pharisees for their loopholes; it appears in Luke as part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain; and in John it appropriate comes after the story where Jesus cures a blind man.

So let’s deal with the context of each instance. Matthew first.

Matthew 15.12-14 KWL

12 Coming to Jesus, his students then told him, “You know the Pharisees who heard the word are outraged?”
13 In reply Jesus said, “Every plant will be uprooted which my heavenly Father didn’t plant.
14 Forgive them; they’re blind guides.
When blind people guide the blind, the both fall into a hole.”

Not every Jew in Jesus’s day was religious. Of the few who were, one sect was the Pharisees—and Jesus taught in their schools, or synagogues. Problem is, Pharisee teachers had created customs which permitted them to bend God’s commands, or even break them outright. And after one Pharisee objected when Jesus and his students skipped their handwashing custom. first Jesus brought up how their customs were frequently hypocrisy… then he went outside and told everyone that being ritually clean or unclean comes from within, not without.

You think this behavior might offend Pharisees? You’d be correct. That’s what Jesus’s kids came to tell him about. In response he called ’em blind guides. Well they were.

Most interpreters of Matthew 15.14 tend to treat ἄφετε αὐτούς/áfete aftús, “forgive them,” as “dismiss them” (or KJV “let them be”) —when we’re being kind. More often than we oughta, we’re not. Too often we interpret it as “To hell with them.” As if Jesus had all he could stand of Pharisees and their nitpicking, Law-bending, phoniness, intolerance, you name it. Screw grace; Jesus doesn’t have infinite patience and compassion for just anyone.

Yeah, it’s an interpretation which violates Jesus’s character. Sounds more like a typical grace-deficient Christian than Christ.

Yes, Judgment Day is our deadline for getting our respective acts together. And we don’t know whether our individual judgment days will fall at the End, or in the next several seconds once that runaway truck plows into us. But Jesus didn’t come to earth to judge, but save. Jn 3.17 The Pharisees still had time to repent. Many did.

Blind Pharisees.

The bit where Jesus used the adjective τυφλοί/tyflí, “blind [people],” a lot is in Matthew 23, when he denounced Pharisees who couldn’t fathom how their loophole-ridden teachings were ruining their relationships with God. If you wanna see what a blind guide looks like, this would be the passage which explains just what Jesus is thinking.

Matthew 23.13-24 KWL
13 “Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how awful for you: You shut off heaven’s kingdom to your people.
You don’t go in—nor permit others to enter.
[14 Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how awful for you: You eat up single mothers’ homes.
And while praying huge prayers? This is why you’ll receive an extreme judgment.]
15 Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how awful for you: You travel sea and land to make one proselyte—
and whenever you can, make them twice a child of ge-Henna as you.
16 How awful for you blind guides, who say,
‘Swearing by the temple is nothing. Swearing by the temple gold is binding.’
17 Stupid and blind. What’s greater, the gold? Or the temple sanctifying the gold?
18 And ‘Swearing by the altar is nothing. Swearing by the gift on it is binding.’
19 Blind. What’s greater, the gift? Or the altar sanctifying the gift?
20 Swearing by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it.
21 Swearing by the temple, swears by it and by the Spirit who dwells in it.
22 Swearing by heaven, swears by God’s throne and by the One sitting on it.
23 Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how awful for you: You tithe mint, dill, and cumin.
You dismiss the Law’s central ideas: Justice, mercy, and faith.
You should do the one—and not dismiss the other!
24 Blind guides. You’re filtering out gnats and swallowing camels.”

“Filtering out gnats and swallowing camels” describes Pharisees perfectly. Either they were nitpicking fine details in the Law, much as one would try to make absolutely sure there were no bugs in their tea; or they found a loophole which let ’em break the Law altogether, much as one would gorge oneself on a ritually unclean animal if it were tasty enough.

Yet the Pharisees imagined themselves experts in the Law. Experts on God. Experts on how to have a proper, righteous relationship with him. People who could pressure others—for their own good!—into following God exactly the same as they; hence the proselytism instead of simply sharing. Mt 23.15 But once they get their hooks into such a person… well, they made ’em Pharisee. Their brand of Pharisee. Hillel’s disciples would make Hillelites; Shammai’s disciples would make Shammaites. And each would bend, fold, spindle, or mutilate the Law same as their teachers. “Once fully trained,” Jesus said, “everyone is like their teacher.” Lk 6.40

So in other words… just as bullheaded, fruitless, heretic, and so unfit for God’s kingdom they’ll never inherit it. Hence Jesus’s “child of ge-Henna” statement. Mt 23.15

Let’s be fair. Not all Pharisees were this type of dense hypocrite. The ones Jesus addressed in Matthew 23 were, but others studied with the Pharisees because they really did seek God—and knew the Sadducees weren’t gonna be any help. Pharisees like Nicodemus and Paul, who sought God with all their hearts (even though Paul made a lousy start of it); Pharisees who went to synagogue just to hear Jesus, who chased Jesus to the far side of the Galilee’s lake to hear him, who realized Jesus is Messiah: Some of ’em were earnest.

Those Pharisees harassing Jesus definitely weren’t. Because they should’ve quickly realized who Jesus is, and followed him. But they were blind.

And a blind guide isn’t on the path to God. Isn’t on any path. Basically they’re going nowhere. Round in circles; round like a loophole. Maybe they know it, but they really don’t appreciate you saying so. ’Cause they’re pretty sure they can see enough. Better than you, anyway.

Blind teachers.

In Luke the saying is right in the middle of Jesus’s lesson about judging by double standards. ’Cause if you have one standard for yourself, and another for others, what kind of standards are you demonstrating? You certainly aren’t teaching consistency. Or you’re teaching hypocrisy. Either way, you’re a bit of a blind guide.

Luke 6.39-40 KWL

39 Jesus also said this analogy to them: “Can a blind person guide the blind
without the both falling into a hole?”
40 A student doesn’t exceed the teacher;
once fully trained, everyone is like their teacher.”

To a degree, the idea of one blind person guiding another is ridiculous. Like Jesus said, they’ll both fall into a βόθυνον/vóthynon, “hole.” We don’t know if Jesus had a specific depth in mind for this hole, which is why some bibles go with “ditch” and others with “pit”; it depends on how badly the interpreter wants retribution on people. Still, tripping over or into any hole might seriously injure people.

Thing is, blind people are often the best guides for other blind people. They know how to advise ’em on how to get around, and do things despite their impaired vision or sightlessness. They know from experience. No, they can’t always navigate others around holes. But if they’re particularly good with their canes, they can. Commonsense will tell you whose guidance to trust. Much like commonsense makes it clear Jesus’s comment is generally true: Blind guides aren’t ideal when you’re trying to walk unfamiliar ground… full of holes.

Blind judges.

Now John 9. First Jesus cured a blind man on Sabbath, ’cause he does that. No, this doesn’t mean Jesus changed the Law and now we can work on Sabbath. We’re still meant to stop and rest. But Jesus points out doing good deeds is a totally valid exception. Mt 12.11-12 Problem was, Pharisees didn’t agree. Most insisted there were fewer exceptions than Jesus permitted; some graceless Pharisees might go so far as to say there were no exceptions at all.

Either way, Pharisees were so hidebound in their insistence Jesus was sinning, Jn 9.24 they refused to recognize him as a valid prophet, and wouldn’t listen to a thing he taught. And tossed this poor formerly-blind guy out of their synagogue because he dared state the obvious: “If this man isn’t from God, he hasn’t the power to do anything!” Jn 9.33 KWL

Jesus’s response to the whole sorry mess:

John 9.39-41 KWL

39 Jesus said, “I came into this world to provoke judgment.
Thus those who can’t see may see—and those who see may become blind.”
40 Some of the Pharisees with Jesus heard this and told him, “Surely we’re not also blind?”
41 Jesus told them, “If you’re blind, you didn’t sin!
But now you say ‘We see!’—so your sin stays on you.”

Now since Jesus was speaking with Pharisees, and suggesting they might possibly be blind, Christians tend to leap to the conclusion he was condemning them same as he did the Pharisees who opposed him in Matthew 23. Is that valid? Yes.

We don’t know if these were the same Pharisees as went to the formerly-blind guy’s synagogue. Maybe so. Maybe they’re the ones who told Jesus what had happened, and provoked Jesus to go find the blind guy. Jn 9.35 Since they assumed Jesus’s statement might apply to them, it’s a good bet they identified with the Pharisees in synagogue.

This blind guy hadn’t even seen Jesus. Couldn’t identify Jesus by sight till Jesus identified himself. Jn 9.37 But he knew since Jesus cured him, Jesus must be from God, and believed in him. Whereas the Pharisees in synagogue had seen Jesus, but because their customs identified Jesus as a sinner, they couldn’t imagine he was from God. Their eyes might work just fine, or not. But their ability to interpret spiritual things—their “vision,” so to speak—was kaput.

That’s what Jesus’s answer means. “If you’re blind”—like this man—“you didn’t sin!” You used your noggin; you figured Jesus out. “But now you say ‘We see!’ ”—like the Pharisees in synagogue—“your sin stays,” because you’re just as stubborn. Just as grace-deficient.

Blind means you can’t see past yourself to follow Jesus. And if you think you’re following God without Jesus, it’s not possible. Jn 14.6

Blindness doesn’t just apply to Pharisees, of course. It’s true of any person, Christian or not, who figure “We see!”—that they’re right and Jesus isn’t. That they know best, and Jesus… well, he can’t mean what he appears to mean, and they’re gonna have to reinterpret him till he means what they prefer he mean. Jesus gets in their way sometimes. Keeps closing their loopholes, or kicking down their legalism.

What to do? Well, realize we’re wrong and Jesus is right, and follow him. It’s not that complicated.

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