Christianity 201

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.

February 6, 2019

Why We’re Not Hearing Each Other

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re back once again sharing the thoughts of Pastor Kevin Rogers who is, one of the longest running and perhaps the most frequently cited devotional writer/blogger here at C201.

Why Can’t We Hear Each Other?

When I have talked to couples or family members that are struggling with understanding each other, there is often a failure to have communication at that deeper level. It is possible to have lots of words or nearly none and be at an impasse with each other.

I have relationships like that. There are those that I would like to have more understanding and meaningful conversation with, but somehow lack the right words or the right connection. If you are on a cell phone and the signal is breaking up, you eventually give up and try again. You disconnect and dial again. That is assuming that you want to have the conversation.

In face-to-face encounters, we may have some people that we do not want to talk with. Why is that? We can choose to avoid them, but that is not always satisfactory. Sometimes we know that there are good reasons to be connected to them and there is a communication breakdown repeatedly.

Sometimes you cannot hear the voice of the other because the voice inside you is hurt, angry and insecure. The voice competing with real communication is telling you it’s time for fight, flight or freeze. This not only happens in human relationships, but also with the Divine. We cannot communicate with God when something else is interfering.

Would you like to have better communications? I know that I would. Let’s pull back the curtain and see what is going on behind the scenes.

James 1.19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James identifies a core problem that affects all of our relationships. He says to get rid of everything that is sinful. Get rid of the evil that is all around us. Human anger does not produce the holy (healthy and fulfilled) life that God wants for us.

There are lying, hurtful, selfish things that lie at the heart of our failure to communicate. (Either in myself or in you—likely in both of us). I cannot start to connect with another until I first see what barrier is preventing that closeness.

I would like to blame you for the ways you are not meeting my needs or how you are insensitive toward me; but, that world of resentment and hurt inside me has a way of convincing me that it’s all you or that I am incapable of real meaningful connection. And so, my sin becomes unworthiness, self-pity and angry frustration.

Guess what? I will not breakthrough until I am willing to see the barriers that exist in me. By acknowledging my distorted perception, I can find God’s help to deal with my stuff. Maybe that will include me making amends, confessing my faults and relieving you of the awkward tension that comes from my fuzzy thinking. If it does nothing for you, I still need to get right in my understanding and live in God’s grace.

Let’s look at ways that we can move toward healthy communication and connectedness.


Kevin continued in these same verses in James in three consecutive posts:


For today’s text in The Passion Translation, click this link.

January 5, 2019

Relationship Imperfections Remind Us of What Only God Can Fill

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re back with Gary Henry at WordPoints. After a long internal debate as to which of these I should run, I decided to use both of them — Gary presented them both the same day — as I felt that the subjects were integrated. Click the title to read either at source and then navigate from there to check out the other great topics on the site.

Our Need for Relationship

“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

A NEED FOR RICH PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP IS DEEPLY EMBEDDED IN OUR CREATED NATURE

We owe our existence not to impersonal forces, but to a personal Creator, and it was the Creator Himself who said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We are personal beings, and we were designed for full, vibrant relationship.

But sin destroys relationship. It severs us from God and from others, cutting us off from this thing that is so necessary to our na­ture. So there is perhaps no sy­mptom of sin any more obvious than the deep, gnawing pain of isolation. And in sin, there is no groaning more desperate than to be freed from our loneliness.

But however much we need relationship in general, our most vital need, the only one we can’t survive without, is our need for relationship with God.

“In every man there is a loneliness, an inner chamber of peculiar life into which God only can enter.”
(George MacDonald)

Our craving for God is a dependency we were meant to have. It is a profound need for perfect relationship, and to try to fill this need with our flawed connection to other human beings is not only wrong; it is hopeless.

If we fail to let God fill our need for love — if it is not in Him that our loneliness is taken away — then we will force an impossible mandate on the imperfect people around us. We will demand from others a satisfaction they aren’t capable of providing for us in this broken world. Only the infinite God is able to relate to us perfectly. And even with God, what we can have in this life is only a foretaste of the perfect union that heaven will provide.

When we find that even our most intimate earthly companions can’t provide the depth of relationship for which we were created, bitterness may be the tempting reaction. Yet there is a healthier response. We can see the imperfections in our own relationships as a salutary reminder. God alone is the One to whom we must look for life and unfailing love. To forget that is to lose the path that leads back home.

“Didst thou give me this inescapable loneliness so that it would be easier for me to give thee all?”
(Dag Hammarskjöld)

Refuge

“It was a dark and stormy night.”
(Edward Bulwer-Lytton)

TWO DIFFERENT TIMES COME AROUND SOONER OR LATER: (1) TIMES WHEN WE NEED A REFUGE, AND (2) TIMES WHEN SOMEONE ELSE NEEDS A REFUGE WE CAN PROVIDE

“Dark and stormy nights” are a fact of life, and when we find ourselves in the middle of one, our hearts need a safe place in which to shelter. It’s important to appreciate the shelter that others have given us in the past, and even more important to make our hearts a place where they’ll find a welcome when they’re the ones who are scared of the storm.

Having a heart that provides refuge for others takes some learning. Not many of us have such a heart naturally. Caring perhaps comes naturally, but showing compassion in ways that actually do some good is a skill that has to be learned. It’s not rocket science, maybe, but it does take a little education in the school of caregiving. We have to watch and listen. We have to apply good judgment. We have to learn from well-intentioned mistakes that we’ve made. In short, we have to grow in the quality of the mercy that we extend.

Men, especially, have to learn how to be a refuge to others. Since the simple gift of “nurturance” is not normally our strong suit, we have to exert extra effort to learn it. The strong masculine tendency to “fix” whatever’s wrong has to be reined in. To have hearts in which others find refuge, we must learn to see when a safe harbor is all that’s needed — and not a dry-dock facility for ship repair.

Who are those that need from you the gift of refuge? The answer would probably surprise you. If you knew the hurts that those around you carry with them every day, you would be astonished. You may never know those hurts. Your friends may never choose to confide in you about them. But you would do well to assume that most of the people you deal with are hurting. Be ready. Be prepared for the time when they might consider seeking some safety in their relationship with you. If that time ever comes, you will have bestowed on you one of life’s greatest privileges: the privilege of showing compassion.

“Discouraged people don’t need critics. They hurt enough already. They don’t need more guilt or piled-on distress. They need encouragement. They need a refuge. A willing, caring, available someone.”
(Charles R. Swindoll)


Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
  Colossians 3:12 NIV

We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love.
 2 Corinthians 6:6 NLT

November 16, 2018

Just Because it Took Courage, Doesn’t Mean it was Good or Right

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we return to pastor and counselor Josh Ketchum who writes at the site Life in the Kingdom. Click the title below to read at source.

Don’t Equate Courage with Righteousness!

Christians value courage.  Americans esteem courage.  We seek to be courageous and teach our kids to be courageous.

So this has formed a natural link in our minds that courage is always right and good.

Being courageous isn’t necessarily right or good.  Just because someone has courage, in the sense that they do something that takes guts and bravado to stand up against a majority or perceived enemy, doesn’t mean it is a praiseworthy act.  Christians must not fall to the trap of branding every courageous deed a right and good action.  We live in a culture that is quick to praise courage.  Standing up against societal taboos or “going against the flow” is praised as courage, no matter whether the action is morally right or wrong.

For example, I can list numerous acts in the Bible and in history that required courage on the person’s part, but were not righteous or good acts.

Here are a few biblical examples:

  • Jacob deceiving his father Isaac when he was old and poor of sight.
  • Aaron leading the people to give their gold to build a golden calf to be worshipped while Moses was on Mount Sinai.
  • Samson visiting a harlot in a Philistine city leading to a trap, which required him to tear down the gates to free himself.
  • Absalom’s rebellion against David.
  • Paul’s persecution of Christians.
  • The actions of Diotrephes in opposing John the Apostle and putting people out of the church so he could have preeminence in the church.

Here are a couple from history.

  • John Wilkes Booth actions of shooting President Lincoln where viewed by many in the south as a courageous act.
  • The terrorist who commandeered the airplanes on 911 and flew them into various targets were courageous in deed.

Christians need to understand this truth.  We don’t need to just throw every supposedly courageous act in as being righteous and good.  We also don’t need to go into foolishness by saying it doesn’t take courage to stand up against the crowd.  But standing up for what is wrong is still wrong!

Let me give you a few examples from our current culture.

  • A young woman courageously decides to abort her unborn child.  She goes public with this decision and uses it as an opportunity to argue for the rights of women.  While it may be courageous, abortion is still morally wrong!
  • A person comes out with family and friends on social media as being  homosexual.  He or she describes their life as trying to live a lie, but now, they finally have the courage to come out and be who God made them to be.  While certainly courageous, homosexuality is still a sexual sin and lifestyle opposed to Scripture.
  • A celebrity chooses to pose nude for a magazine, or appear in filthy love scene in a movie, and is described as courageous for stepping out of her typical role and pushing the envelope.  Immodesty and lewd behavior is still sinful behavior, even if it takes courage to take your clothes off!

Each of these, and more, could illustrate the truth that Christian people must always openly consider the righteousness and holiness of an act by itself.  Just because it required courage or fortitude for someone to do the act, doesn’t make it a righteous act.  It may still be a sinful act, that is wrong in the eyes of God.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”  (Isaiah 5:20)

November 6, 2018

Have You Been Deceived?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Russell Young

Paul cautioned about deception. (Gal 6:78; 1 Cor 6:9) Having been deceived is being led into believing something that is not true or accurate. It means having been led astray, to err, to be seduced, or to wander from the way. Paul cautioned the Galatians not to be deceived. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature, from that nature reaps destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8) To deny God’s provision and requirement of living righteously through the Spirit is “mocking” him. “He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4 Italics added) The nature of a person’s “sowing” or living will determine his or her eternal outcome. No wonder Paul taught of the necessity to “work out (complete, finish) your own salvation with fear (terror) and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)

The necessity for righteous living has not been annulled by Christ. He came to fulfill the law through his life in the believer. (Rom 5:10; Jn 6:63) All humankind have been called to repent of their sin and the hurt that it has caused the heart of their Creator (Gen 6:6) and it must be avoided in the lives of believers. He commanded them to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Mt 3:8; Lk 3:8) Paul described his ministry in the same manner. “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20) “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14)

The Spirit saves by enabling victory over sinful practices, thereby accomplishing the righteousness for which we hope (Gal 5:5) and producing fruit that is acceptable to God in the life of believers. This can only be achieved through a humble and obedient walk with God, the Spirit, who is the Lord. “Believers” are believers because they have been convinced that Christ is their means of righteousness and of their eternal salvation and consequently cling to him because of their faith (trust) in his ability to meet their need. Avoiding the deceptions of the evil one requires a committed and intentional walk. “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor 6:9─10)

Many deceptive teachings permeate modern theological thought and the person seeking an eternal hope would be wise to consider without bias and to verify the doctrines that he or she accepts as truth. Although it is true that teachers will be judged “more strictly” (Jas 3:1), all will be held accountable for the way they have treated the Word of God. Believers have been cautioned to stand firm with the belt of truth bucked around their waist (Eph 6:14) and the husband has been instructed to “cleanse his wife by making her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Eph 5:26)

While many teach that eternal salvation is a “gift,” (see a previous writing: The Nature of “Gift” Concerning Eternal Salvation) Paul has revealed that something is required of the person seeking eternal life. Believers have to sow to please the Spirit. It is often repeated that eternal salvation is accomplished solely by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross; however, Paul has taught

  • that it is achieved through the Spirit (2 Thess 2:13; Jn 6:63),
  • that the believer must be led by the Spirit (Rom 8:4, 14; Gal 5:18),
  • that it comes through obedience (Heb 5:9),
  • that the believer must be a slave to God (Rom 6:22) and to righteousness (Rom 6:18), and
  • that judgment awaits all people for what they have done in the flesh (2 Cor 5:10).

He has also presented that “If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14) These requirements do not indicate a “gift.”

Some promote that all sin has been forgiven allowing the belief that for the confessor the nature of his or her walk will bring no eternal consequences. Those who claim the name of Christ and who walk in sinful, rebellious ways thinking that God’s grace has covered their sins, have been deceived. Old Covenant law did not give freedom to sin; neither does the New Covenant. (1 Jn 3:9) God has not changed nor will he ever. He is building a holy nation. The “old” or first covenant was a “covenant of the letter”; the second, or “new”, is a covenant of the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:6) The first was engraved in stone; the second is entrenched in the heart which is dynamically informed by the Spirit. As the Spirit enabled Jesus to live righteously during his time on earth in the body prepared for him in the womb of Mary, he can do so in the body of each person willing to submit to his authority. Claiming right to self is having been deceived.

Although freedom has been given from Old Covenant law, Christ’s law (1 Cor 9:21) or the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2) must still be honored. That “law” exists in the recognition of the Lord’s sovereignty as displayed through conformity to his commands. (Heb 5:9) Believers are to be transformed into his likeness (Rom 8:29) becoming “an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16) “Living according to the Spirit” requires obeying the Spirit. (Rom 8:14; Gal 5:18) Unfortunately, many have been deceived and are not aware of this need.

Effort is needed to enter through the narrow door, and although many will try, not all will gain the kingdom. (Lk 13:24) Many will be “thrown out” because they were “evildoers” (Lk 13:27; Mt 7:23) or because they are “lukewarm” (Rev 3:16), lacking commitment or conviction. Making an effort is not a passive act; it requires energy, action, and determination.

In the end, all will be judged for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10) and everything that causes sin and all who do evil will be weeded out of his kingdom. (Mt 13:41) As Malachi has recorded, “And you will see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Malachi 3:18)

When a proclamation is made that benefits a person, it is easy to accept it as truth. The more the falsehood is repeated and the more the speaker is esteemed, the more valid the declaration appears. The Word even prophesies that “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim 4:3) Deception will be rampant.

People readily accept as truth proclamations that appear to benefit them but submitting to the evil nature will bring destruction. Satan is always ready to encourage the flesh in pursuit of its comfort and satisfaction. Those who love and practice falsehood, who deny Christ’s God-given authority as their Sovereign and Lord, and who live contrary to the will of God, will be found forever separated from their God. In the end many will have been deceived. Be wise! Carefully examine the Scriptures for their truths.


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

October 20, 2018

Seared Conscience | Revealed Truth

Having many years of archives to draw on, we get to know certain authors and offer their latest writing here on a regular basis; but I also like to keep adding new devotional writers as I discover them. Paula Maillet has been blogging at Along Emaus Road since 2005. Her pieces are shorter than some we include here, so I’ve posted two below which couldn’t be more different.

Or are they?

Don’t most of us wrestle with a sinful nature on one hand but also a sincere to see God reveal himself? The dichotomy of being in the world but not of the world? Realizing the weakness of being easily enticed into sinful thought patterns or actions, but at the same time longing for a greater revelation of God? (Maybe it’s just me!)

I placed these in the order I did so we could see our problem, and then its cure.

It Starts With Just Flirting With Sin

“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord,
that you should no longer walk
as the rest off the Gentiles walk,
in the futility of their mind,
having their understanding darkened,
being alienated from the life of God
because of the ignorance that is in them,
because of the blindness of their heart;
who, being past feeling,
have given themselves over to lewdness,
to work all uncleanness with greediness.”
Ephesians 4:17-19

“who being past feeling…”

I once had a married friend who was beginning an affair with another man, and I spoke to her about it, asking how she could do such a thing. Her response was that she felt a lot of guilt the first time, but that afterwards she felt less and less guilt as time went on and now just didn’t feel guilty at all.

She was “past feeling.” Her conscience became seared. I saw it with my own eyes.

“…having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…”
1 Timothy 4:2

This was an example to me as I watched as she was given over to a debased mind.

“…and even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge,
God gave them over to a debased mind…”
Romans 1:28

Don’t think it can’t happen to you if you’re flirting with sin, any sin. Eventually it won’t hurt your conscience any more – when the Holy Spirit has left you. Don’t try it. Don’t flirt with it.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.”
Psalm 51:10-11

Take heed that you be not deceived and lured into something you would not have wanted to be attached to.

“Repent therefore and be converted,
that your sins may be blotted out,
so that times of REFRESHING
may come from the presence of the Lord…”
Acts 3:19


It’s All About Revelation

“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of glory,
may give to you the spirit of wisdom
and REVELATION in the knowledge of Him,
the eyes of your understanding being ENLIGHTENED,
that you may know what is the hope of His calling,
what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints…”
Ephesians 1:17-18

It all comes by revelation, and NOT by human reasoning. If you’ve tried to understand God or to understand his Word and find you cannot, there is a reason for that. You are trying to do with your human resources what only the Spirit of God can do.

It’s all about REVELATION.

“Jesus answered and said to him,
‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah,
FOR FLESH AND BLOOD HAS NOT REVEALED THIS TO YOU
but my Father who is in heaven.’”
Matthew 16:17

ASK the Lord to REVEAL his Word to you. What you do not understand, set aside for now. Let him reveal himself and his Word to you as you read it (the Bible) prayerfully. He WILL reveal it, gradually more and more, as you sit before him. Put the time in. It’s worth it. It’s beyond worth it.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ASK of God,
who gives to all liberally and without reproach,
and it WILL be given to him.”
James 1:5

These are great promises in the Word of God. Receive them, meditate on them, believe them, and he will do the rest.

 

October 4, 2018

Genesis 4: How Not to Celebrate Thanksgiving

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Clarke Dixon took a break from writing this week, but we found this 2012 article which had never been published here. This week is Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada and it’s not that many weeks away in the U.S…

by Clarke Dixon

Thanksgiving is often thought of as a time to focus on family but it is especially also thought of as a time to come before God with special gratitude for the fall harvest. Being a big fan of family and food this is something I am keen on doing. I was a bit concerned, however, that Thanksgiving would interrupt the flow of our sermon series on Genesis. Not to worry, turns out that Genesis chapter 4 brings together the themes of family and a harvest offering quite nicely. However, Cain kinda threw a spanner into the works with a murder on this first ever Thanksgiving, so I decided I had better entitle this “How Not to Celebrate Thanksgiving.”

So where did it all go wrong? Two brothers take the time to celebrate God’s goodness with offerings from their work; grain from Cain and a lamb from Abel. How does a seemingly good thing turn so sour? Some might blame God voicing his favor and disfavor toward the brothers. Had God just kept his thoughts to himself perhaps Abel would have lived to see a second Thanksgiving and beyond. But God didn’t keep his remarks to himself, there must have been something remarkable.

So the question becomes what is so remarkable about Cain’s offering that God had to express his displeasure? Was it that God prefers animal sacrifice to grain offerings? Was it that blood needed to be spilled for it to be a true offering? Was Cain’s offering not up to snuff in being of lesser value, being either not of sufficient amount or of quality? Each of these possibilities have been suggested, but I think the passage speaks to the what the problem is, it lets us in on what God found remarkable.

Let’s look at the passage and I’ll ask you to focus in on the character of Cain for a moment;

3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.  4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.  6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.  9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”  13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear.  14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:3-14 NIV)

So what can we say about Cain? He has anger issues (verse 4), he does not listen or heed instruction (as given in verse 7), He is deceitful (verse 8), He is violent to the point of murder (verse 8), he is apathetic to the concerns of another, especially one he should take responsibility for (verse 9), he is snarky towards One who commands respect (verse 9), and finally he is self-centered in showing no remorse but only concern for his own future (verse 13). In short, his character is just plain pathetic. We might be tempted to assume that the brothers were alike until Cain’s anger was aroused, but we should think rather of Cain’s actions as being rooted in the kind of man he had become.

The problem is not with Cain’s offering, the problem is with Cain. Notice that God does not just look at the offering the brothers are bringing, he looks at the brothers also: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor” (Genesis 4:4b-5a NIV my italics). If Adam and Eve sinned by trying too hard to be like God, then Cain sinned by not trying hard enough. God is love, Cain is filled with hatred. God is gracious, Cain is selfish. God serves, Cain is self-serving. God is honest, Cain is a liar. Though created in the image of the Creator, Cain fails to live up to that image in any way.

What a contrast Cain is to Jesus. The offering at the cross goes far beyond what any other offering ever could. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV). But more than the perfect and supreme offering, Jesus is the one who bears the image of God like no one else. “This is my Son . . . with Him I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17 NIV and elsewhere). We might say that God looked upon Jesus and his offering with favor.

How does God look upon you and your offering this Thanksgiving? We’ve already seen how not to celebrate Thanksgiving; as one with a character that displeases God, a character that will lead to all kinds of behaviors that displease God and make life miserable for others at the same time. Of course we are grateful for the grace of God, and the gift of forgiveness in Christ. But that grace does not stop us from taking a good solid look at our character.

Wherever we may be in our character formation, are we moving in the right direction? Are we becoming more and more like Jesus, or more and more like Cain? I trust that you and I are moving in the right direction with the power of the Holy Spirit. And for that opportunity there can be much thanksgiving.

To be forgiven, and to be growing in Christian maturity, now that’s a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Read Clarke Dixon’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

September 28, 2018

“That Convicts Me” vs. “That Offends Me”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is another post from Daily Encouragement by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber. Their online ministry reaches around the world (probably several times around!) and for local ministry they are workplace chaplains in central Pennsylvania.

The Blessing Of Conviction Of Sin

“When He [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8).

About ten years ago I served as an interim pastor of a small country church. One Sunday I preached a sermon and the next week was informed that a college student who had come with a friend was very upset with me and would not be returning to the church. She told her mom, a regular attendee, that my subject matter had offended her and a friend she had brought, both of whom attended a “Christian” college in our area that is severely compromised.

The offensive point was on marriage and sexual morality and both had bought in to Satan’s lies regarding the subject. A message proclaiming Biblical truth was offensive to them. Amazingly, illustrating the hastening departure from a Biblical worldview and standards that follow, this message would not have even been controversial ten years earlier!*

I just read an interesting quote that describes this well: “One of the greatest downfalls of the Modern Church is we’ve replaced ‘that convicts me’ with ‘that offends me’.”

We tend to use the word conviction in a theological context in two ways:

  1. Your convictions are your core set of beliefs; that which you will not compromise. Sadly there are many who at one time spoke of having a conviction on a black and white matter dealt with in Scripture but, due to the trends of the world and political correctness, forsook their conviction.
  2. The other sense is the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting us of sin; He makes us aware, remorseful, and leads us to repentance. In this sense we use the phrase, “being under conviction”. This is the type of conviction we are using in this message.
When confronted with sin we have two choices:
  1. Being Convicted: When David was boldly approached by the prophet, Nathan, concerning his adulterous sin with Bathsheba he said, “I have sinned against the Lord”. He was convicted of his sin and repented, though he still faced serious consequences the rest of his life.
  2. Being offended: Herod, on the other hand, when approached by John the Baptist concerning his sin, was offended and had him beheaded. Herod attempted to silence the voice of the prophet whom God was using as a conviction from the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, in His final teaching before He went to the cross, spoke of the coming Holy Spirit. “When He comes, He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8).

Conviction of sin is a blessing. It may be uncomfortable, it may be politically incorrect, it may cost us, and it will humble us. But when we acknowledge sin we place ourselves on a path of blessing.

Daily prayer: Father, in the Scriptures we know that obedience brings blessing and disobedience bring discipline and eventual judgment. The writer of Hebrews tells us that You are treating us as Your children when we undergo discipline, that You are showing Your love to us. You want to bless us and make us a blessing as we live out our lives here on earth. Therefore You convict us of that which dishonors You and the kingdom of God. Your desire is that we enter the eternal dwelling place You are preparing for those who walk in Your ways. With the help of the Holy Spirit we will not turn away from conviction of sin, but instead we will turn away from that which is sin. Enable us to do so in the powerful name of Jesus we pray. Amen.


* It occurs to me that sadly, now some ten years later after I preached that message, that it would be rare to hear this type of message in many churches since so many preachers have been muzzled in fear of offending someone. Furthermore at the direction we’re heading in ten more years (or likely sooner) such a message will be “hate speech” and will subject the preacher to a different type of conviction. (See 2 Timothy 3)


The Webers recommend this article for additional reading on this topic:

September 25, 2018

The “Life” of Christ: The Mystery that Gives Hope for Eternal Salvation

by Russell Young

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6) This is a profound statement that presents the means to eternal salvation. The “way” and the “truth” are very straight-forward but understanding “life” has been confused and this understanding makes all the difference.

It is readily accepted by believers that Christ lived the sinless or perfect life and met God’s righteous requirements as outlined in the law. Although this is true, the Lord’s accomplishment of the law in the body of Jesus is not the fullness of “the life” that is needed to complete the believer’s eternal salvation. The Lord’s sacrificial offering is only the beginning of “the life” of Christ that saves. By faith or persuasion, believers must appropriate his life as the Holy Spirit which is Christ in them. (The category of “believer” applies to those who believe to the extent that they obey. See Heb 3: 18─19.) The nature of our service through the law has changed to service through the Spirit. “But now, by dying to what once bound us (the sinful passions aroused by the flesh), we have been released from the law and serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom 7:6)

The sinless life of Christ is imputed for righteousness (Rom 4: 11, 24) that the confessor might be redeemed from his or her burden of sin and its accompanying death. Those who remain in Christ (Jn 15:4, 10) will enjoy the promised hope, however to remain in him his “life” must be lived by those who call him Lord. The state gained at redemption does not meet God’s righteous requirements in full, nor does the life he lived in his flesh fully represent “the life.” The sinless life of Christ provided propitiation for sin bringing the old or first covenant to an end by meeting its requirements. It justified the believer and made provision for the New Covenant, however, Paul taught that “more” was needed to avoid God’s wrath. (Rom 5:9─10)

The life of Christ makes the believer competent to satisfy the New Covenant through his living indwelling presence. This is the life that provides “eternal” salvation. Many confessors are going to suffer judgement for failing to have grasped this truth. Paul wrote: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) Note that the believer’s hope is Christ’s indwelling presence. Paul also made the relationship between “the Lord” and “the Spirit” clear to the Corinthians. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (from the law). And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:1718 Italics added) The Lord is the Spirit! It is the resurrected life of Christ as Spirit that is “the life” of which he spoke, the life that provides hope and the life that fully meets God’s righteous requirements. This truth must not be confused.

Paul addressed the importance of being Spirit-led. He stated that the righteous requirements of the law are fully met, not by the life of Christ in the body of Jesus, but by those who live according to the Spirit and not according to the sinful nature. (Rom 8:4) A person who has the Spirit can either live the life of Christ in him or her through obedience to the Spirit or they can deny his life and live according to their sinful nature. To further establish the importance of this life, Paul told the Romans, “For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:1314) Hear this! The believer needs to do something to live. He or she must quench the body’s sinful practices through the Spirit of Christ. A person’s escape from the first covenant and the promise of sonship depends upon honoring the life of Christ as Spirit. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18)

The atonement that justified and redeemed the believer upon confession of faith was precisely so that past sins could be cleansed and he or she could be gifted with the Spirit to make available “the life” of Christ. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:13…14)

Once redeemed the believer must still meet God’s righteous requirements. “The law of the Spirit of life” sets people free from “the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2) Although the Old Covenant Law no longer applies to those living in obedience (Heb 5:9) to the law of the Spirit of life, the law of Christ still applies. Paul stated that having been freed from the law (Old Covenant) he was “not free from God’s law but [was] under Christ’s law.” (1 Cor 9:21) Christ’s law is dynamic and living and requires ears to hear the Spirit’s call. Many are unaware of God’s requirement or of their need. Those who thwart, deny, or quench the Spirit are preventing Christ’s ministry on their behalf. Through his life as indwelling Spirit he has come to enlighten, lead, and empower for victory over temptations and unrighteousness making them “an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16). Paul admonished the Philippians to “continue to work out (katergazomai– “to work fully”, “to finish”) your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12─13)

All will be subject to judgment or reward (2 Cor 5:10) at the judgment seat of Christ for the way they have allowed his life to manifest itself in them. “[H]ow much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.” (Rom 5:10) Eternal salvation belongs to the faithful, and obedience is the practice of faith as allowance is made for the exercise of his life in the believer.


Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here alternate Tuesdays.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

September 23, 2018

A Worship Liturgy and Word Study: Sin, Forgive

by Ruth Wilkinson

Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said,
“Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins…”
Matthew 26:27‭-‬28 HCSB

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “sin.”

Different words that paint different pictures of different behaviours, but that all have one thing in common — they describe things in our lives that come between us and the God who loves us.

Things like:

  • Missing the target (hamartano) – because sometimes we really do try our best, and still fail;
  • Wandering, going off the path (planay) – because sometimes we stop paying attention, and suddenly realize we’ve gone off course;
  • Defiance, Rebellion (parabaino) – because sometimes we just choose say no to God. Or to say yes to something that is not for our best.

As we take some time to pray through this prayer for forgiveness either out loud or silently,
listen for His still, small voice and what He might want you to see in yourself.

Then take a moment of silence and talk to Him about it.

Lord, forgive me.
For the things I’ve done impulsively, without thinking.
For the things I’ve done gradually, over time.
For the places I’ve gone that I had no business going.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve held tightly that I should have dropped or given away,
For the things I’ve given away that I should have held sacred.
For the things I’ve let go that I should have fought to keep.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve said or typed, the links I shouldn’t have clicked.
For the times I’ve kept silent or stood off to the side when I should have spoken up.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the ways I’ve used or put down other people, or held myself more highly than I ought.
For the things I’ve taken that were not mine to take.
Forgive me.
Forgive me.
Forgive me, Lord.

This leads to our second word…

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “forgive.”

Different words that paint different word pictures of how God responds when we ask what we have just asked.

Pictures like:

  • Drop, send away (aphiemi) – because He promises to send our sin to the bottom of the ocean, to the depths of the wilderness, never to be even remembered;
  • Cover, make peace (kaphar) – because He reaches his hand to shelter us from the justice we’ve earned and to reconcile us to himself;
  • Pick up and carry (nasa) – because he takes our burden, pays our debt and sets us free.

And says… “You are forgiven. Let’s start fresh.”

September 17, 2018

“You Are Not Far From the Kingdom of God”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV Mark 12.28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Today, something completely different: I’ve copied and paraphrased and updated notes on the passage from Alexander MacLaren’s Exposition of Holy Scripture as found at this website. I’ve tried to make minimal changes in the flow (except where noted) except for changes in vocabulary, formatting and paragraphing.

Not Far and Not In

This is a special case of a man who appears to have fully discerned the spirituality and inwardness of law, and to have felt that the one bond between God and man was love. He needed only to have followed out the former thought to have been smitten by the conviction of his own sinfulness, and to have reflected on the latter to have discovered that he needed some one who could certify and commend God’s love to him, and thereby to kindle his to God. Christ recognizes such beginnings and encourages him to persevere: but warns him against the danger of supposing himself in the kingdom, and against the prolongation of what is only good as a transition state.

This Scribe in this story is an interesting study as being one who recognized the Law in its spiritual meaning, in opposition to forms and ceremonies. His intellectual convictions needed to be led on from recognition of the spirituality of the Law to recognition of his own failures. ‘By law is the knowledge of sin.’ His intellectual convictions needed to pass over into and influence his heart and life. He recognized true piety, and was earnestly striving after it, but entrance into the kingdom is by faith in the Saviour, who is ‘the Way.’ So Jesus’ praise of him is but measured. For in him there was separation between knowing and doing.

I. Who are near?

Christ’s kingdom is near us all, whether we are heathen, infidel, profligate or not.

Here is a distinct recognition of two things to keep in mind:

  1. The varying degrees of proximity to the Kingdom found in different people, and
  2. The place or standard where you draw the line between those in the Kingdom and those outside it.

This Scribe was near, and yet not in, the kingdom, because, like so many in all ages, he had an intellectual hold of principles which he had never followed out to their intellectual issues, nor ever enthroned as, in their practical issues, the guides of his life.

How constantly we find characters of similar incompleteness among ourselves!

How many of us have true thoughts concerning God’s law and what it requires, which ought, in all reason, to have brought us to the consciousness of our own sin, and yet are untouched by one pang of penitence!

How many of us have lying in our heads, like disused furniture in a lumber-room, what we suppose to be personal beliefs, which only need to be followed out to their conclusion to refurnish with a new equipment the whole of our religious thinking!

How few of us do really take pains to bring our beliefs into clear sunlight, and to follow them wherever they lead us! There is no error more common, and no greater foe, than the hazy, lazy half-belief, of which the individual neither knows the basics nor perceives the intellectual or  practical issues.

There are multitudes who have, or have had, convictions of which the only rational outcome is practical surrender to Jesus Christ by faith and love. Such persons abound in Christian congregations and in Christian homes. They are on the verge of ‘the great surrender,’ but they do not go beyond the verge, and so they perpetrate ‘the great refusal.’ And to all such the word of our text should sound as a warning note, which has also hope in its bone. ‘Not far from’ is still ‘outside.’

II. Why they are only near.

The reason is not because of anything apart from themselves. The Christian gospel offers immediate entrance into the Kingdom, and all the gifts which its King can bestow, to all and every one who will. So that the sole cause of any man’s non-entrance lies with himself.

We have spoken of failure to follow out truths partially grasped, and that constitutes a reason which affects the intellect mainly, and plays its part in keeping men out of the Kingdom.

[This is my own addition: A vaccination is a very small dose of the disease it is intended to prevent. Many people have had just enough church, just enough preaching, or just enough religion that they have become immune to the real thing. Or to change up the analogy, they’ve stuck their big toe into the water and decided they’ve had enough of swimming.]

But there are other, perhaps more common, reasons, which intervene to prevent convictions being followed out into their properly consequent acts.

The two most familiar and fatal of these are:-

  1. Procrastination.
  2. Lingering love of the world.

III. Such people cannot continue near.

The state is necessarily transitional.

[This is my own addition] Some people are just sitting on the fence. But there’s not such thing as totally perfect balance there. You’re leaning ever so slightly one way or the other. And when the ground shakes, or the fence weakens,  you’ll fall in the direction you’re leaning. Which might be either:

  • Continuing on toward the Kingdom
  • Moving further away from the Kingdom

Christ warns here, and would stimulate to action — the need to do something — because

  1. Convictions not acted on simply die
  2. Truths not followed out simply fade
  3. Impressions resisted are difficult to be formed again
  4. Barriers and obstacles increase with time
  5. The habit of lingering, procrastinating, or being undecided strengthens over time.

IV. Unless you are in, you are finally shut out.

You’ve heard of ‘Cities of refuge.’ It was of no avail to have been near. One needed to stive to enter in.

If you know someone who is in this in-between, transitional stage; appeal to them to cross the line of faith.

September 8, 2018

Don’t Even Think About It

A few years ago I was speaking with someone who was heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects. Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, but it turned out to be something I found challenging and want to share here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

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

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

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

Feel free to refine what I’ve written, or take the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

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

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

This translation also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

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

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

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

August 14, 2018

Enter the Most Holy Place

by Russell Young

The writer of Hebrews taught about the activities of the Most Holy Place. The heavenly system of worship was represented by the tabernacle practices. God had revealed to Moses that the sanctuary was “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” (Heb 8:5) Moses had been commanded to make everything according to the pattern that had been revealed to him on the mountain. Consequently, the functioning of heavenly operations is revealed in tabernacle worship.

Priests regularly entered the outer room to carry on ministry. They offered animal sacrifices to provide atonement for sin on behalf of the people as they came forth and made their needs known. “But only the high priest entered the inner room (the Most Holy Place), and that only once a year and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7) Christ is the believer’s high priest.

Since we have been given confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through our dwelling in Christ availed by his body, we can draw near to God with a sincere heart and in the full assurance of our faith. Our hearts have been sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and we have had our bodies washed with pure water. Not only should we have the confidence to enter the Most Holy Place, we ought to enter. It is in the Most Holy Place that Christ ministers and believers have been invited into his presence. The writer has encouraged, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.” (Heb 5:16) He recorded these words after reminding his readers that nothing in creation is hidden from the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The “time of need” is when we are facing or have given in to temptations; when we need strength for victory or when we have sinned. He is able to sympathize with our weakness (v 15) because he faced all the temptations to which we are subjected and did not sin. He knows all about the body that brings death and will be merciful to the contrite in heart because he understands the attractions of the flesh.

Christ is the believer’s helper and advocate; however, the one seeking him must “approach,” or be active in the pursuit of forgiveness. John has written, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) Christ is for us but failure to confess and repent shows disregard for the holiness of God and deliberately continuing to sin is disrespect and defiance. Deliberate sinning will not be forgiven (Heb 10:26); it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. (Num 15:30)

All sin is offensive to God. Paul taught, “For the wages of sin is death…” (Rom 6:23) Although many think that this does not apply to confessors, preceding this statement Paul addressed the need of those seeking holiness and eternal life (Rom 6:22) to be slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:18) and slaves to God. (Rom 6:22) Sinning is being a slave to sin (Jn 8:34) which leads to death. (Rom 6:16) John has written that, “no one who lives in him keeps on sinning,” and the Lord taught that being a slave to sin results in removal from the family. (Jn 8:35)

The encouraging truth is that sins committed in ignorance will be mediated by Christ as high priest. Just as in Jewish tabernacle worship, a person cannot offer a sacrifice or seek forgiveness regarding a sin about which he is unaware. The Most Holy Place can be entered by those needing to be cleansed from known sin. In relation to the need for continued cleansing, before his crucifixion the Lord washed the disciples’ feet. When Peter objected the Lord cautioned him that without feet washing Peter would have no part with him and further explained that “the person who has had a bath [been washed in the blood and cleansed] needs only to wash his feet. The whole body is clean.” (Jn 13:10) The feet are the part of the body that became dirty or soiled throughout the day; just as the feet become dirty, the body may give in to sinful temptations in the course of the day. The Most Holy Place can be entered to accomplish needed cleansing in the pursuit of holiness.

Christ is our mediator, he knows the weaknesses of the flesh, but he also knows the heart attitude of those who are “lukewarm” or rebellious and who are unwilling to engage the battle for righteousness. His mercy and grace will not apply to those who defiantly continue to sin and who defy his sovereignty and lordship. Everything that is needed for life and godliness has been provided (2 Pet 1:3) and a godly life is expected. The Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17, 18) indwells believers and leads and empowers for righteousness. He also knows the commitment each has made to honor the one whom they had covenanted to be their Lord. (Rom 10:9) In the end, he holds the keys to death and Hades (Rev 1:18) and his judgments will prevail.

Those going before the throne of grace in the Most Holy Place need to appreciate that the only offering acceptable to God is one without blemish. Peter admonished, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to [a new heaven and a new earth], make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with [God].” (2 Pet 3:14) Peter was requiring something of believers. They were to walk circumspectly. They were also to confidently enter the Most Holy Place as needed for purification. Paul said that we are to “continue to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12) Believers are to walk humbly before the Lord and to pursue righteousness. Paul admonished his readers to “do everything without complaining or arguing, so that [they] may become blameless and pure children of God without fault…” (Phil 2:14)

Believers need to appreciate that Christ ministers in the Most Holy Place and that he desires for them to enter and to have their feet washed; however, they must humbly and confidently enter that most sacred realm. As he told Peter, those who reject the washing of their feet will have no part with him.


Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

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