Christianity 201

November 10, 2021

Recognizing Sin, Trusting God’s Assurance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Today, after a four-year break, we’re returning for the fourth time to The River Walk, produced by Two Rivers Church in New York State.

The Weight Of The Story

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.
Romans 3:22-24

Read: 1 Chronicles 22:1-23:32, Romans 3:9-31, Psalm 12:1-8, Proverbs 19:13-14

Relate: In Islam, right behind Muhammad in importance, is a group of people called the Companions. In many ways, they are like the Islamic version of the Apostles found in the gospels and Acts. One of the first of these companions, and many would say the most important of them, was a man named Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr was one of the first men to come to believe Muhammad’s message. He had been a very wealthy man, but he contributed much of that to Muhammad and to the cause. Beyond that, he gave his six year old daughter to become Muhammad’s third wife. He accompanied Muhammad on his famous flight to Medina (the date by which Islamic calendars measure time). He also succeeded as the first Caliph after Muhammad’s death. If ever there was a man who, under Islam, should be confident of entering Paradise, it would be Abu Bakr. But Abu Bakr knew better than that. He said, “I would not rest assured and feel safe from the judgment of Allah, even if I had one foot in paradise.”

Growing up, I was taught something called the Romans Road. Perhaps you might have heard of it, perhaps not. The Romans Road takes five verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans and uses them as a “road map” to explain the gospel. There might be different versions of this, but the way I learned it is as follows.

Step 1: We are all sinners – Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Step 2: Because of sin we all die and deserve hell – Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Step 3: Jesus died for our sins – Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Step 4: All we have to do to be saved is believe – Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Step 5: Because we are saved, we have peace with God – Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

React: Taken as a whole, the Romans Road is a beautiful and simple way to present the truth of the gospel. Unfortunately, it has always seemed to me that the first two steps seem to get nearly all the time and focus. Maybe my perception has been skewed, but I feel like I hear far more people talking all about how we are all sinners and we are all going to hell than I do about the confidence we can have in the grace of God.

Sometimes I feel as though we are talking, perhaps unintentionally, just like Abu Bakr did. Even if we’ve got one foot in the grave and the other in heaven, we better watch ourselves and not step out of line or we might backslide. (Or, if it is a Calvinist talking, prove that we were never truly saved.)

This is especially true when I hear people talking about the doctrine of original sin. One of the key texts on which this doctrine is based is Romans 3:23. The other is Psalm 51 where David, in poetically expressing his sorrow says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful since my mother conceived me.” Even if we are to take David’s lament literally, it should be balanced against Psalm 139 where David speaks at much greater length of his birth. He says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts concerning me, God! How vast is the sum of them!” Before getting too caught up in original sin let us not also forget these three truths: 1. God is good (Psalms 100:5). 2. God made us (Psalm 139:13). 3. Everything God makes is beautiful (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

So, yes, all have sinned. Sin is a willful choosing to do evil. We are not born as sin, but we all commit sin, and this sin causes us to fall short of the glory of God. There is no denying that truth, but even in conveying it, Paul sets it between two far greater truths. First, he leads it with, ” We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.” Then he follows it with, ” Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”

Most people do not need to be convinced they are sinners. In fact, I do not think I have ever met a single person when they were honest with themselves and me, that was not already absolutely convinced that they were sinners. So perhaps, instead of spending 90% of our time and energy ranting about this, perhaps we should use it as our brief intro so that we can get to the heart of the gospel. God loves us. Because He loves us, He came, He died, He rose, and He saves. That is the gospel. That is the weight of Paul’s true Roman’s Road. And that is what people really need to hear.

Respond:

Dear God,
Let me never forget the heart of the gospel. I am loved by You. You fearfully and wonderfully knit me together in my mother’s womb and from that moment of Creation, I have held a special place in your heart. Because of that love, You came. You pursued me long before I was ever aware of You. Yes, I have sinned and turned from You, but you loved me even still. You came and You died, taking on Yourself the weight of my sin. But that weight did not hold You down. On the third day, You rose from the grave proving Your power over both sin and its consequences. Now the offer of salvation is freely open to me. I believe it. I believe that Your love, Your mercy, and Your grace have made a way for me to come home. So I do.
Amen


Second Helping: From the same source, check out A Passing Shadow.

October 24, 2021

Conviction vs. Condemnation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1 NLT

If anyone hears My teachings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. – John 12:47 NASB

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. – John 3:17 NET

When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment – John 16:8 CSB

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT

This morning our pastor made this observation on the difference between guilt and shame:

Guilt leads to conviction while shame leads to condemnation.

Over lunch, I told him that I thought there was a whole sermon in that thought alone, and decided to see what others have written on this. Here are some page-one search results:

The website Campus Ministry Today offered this distinction:

Conviction and condemnation can feel similar for a Christian. Conviction is from God and is necessary for joy. It should be cultivated. Condemnation is from Satan. It is a lie and should be resisted and thrown off.

The definition there actually contrasted shame with condemnation:

Condemnation is usually hazy, hateful and hopeless. Usually when Satan brings feelings of condemnation to a Christian they are vague. There is a general thought that “Something is wrong with me!” It often has to do with shame. Some say shame means feeling bad about who I am. Guilt means feeling bad about what I did. I wouldn’t die on a hill for that definition, but it can be a helpful distinction. Condemnation often traffics in hazy, vague shame.

Conviction in most ways is the opposite of condemnation. Conviction is high-definition clarity, helpful and hopeful. Condemnation can feel like a cloud of shame hanging over your whole being that you can’t even explain. Conviction is usually very specific. It may be a precise thought in your mind…

Conviction is rooted in love not hate. God loves you and wants the best for you. He brings conviction in your life to convince you of a better way.

The website Great Bible Study continues this

Condemnation comes from Satan and is meant to tear you down. Condemnation continually points out what a failure you are, and how badly you’ve messed up. Condemnation is showing you the problem, but avoiding the solution.

Jesus did NOT come to condemn the world (John 12:47). There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)…

…Conviction is known in the Bible as Godly sorrow. God’s Word tells us that Godly sorrow is what leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4)

On conviction specifically Charles Stanley writes:

Conviction is God’s loving hand steering us back to the path that leads to life…

Conviction begins even before salvation. The Holy Spirit reveals our wrongs to help us recognize that we need forgiveness. When we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and choose to follow Him, we are born again. Only then are we free from the penalty of sin. At the same time, we are still human and will make some poor choices. So, even after we are His children, God continues to redirect us.

Conviction is different from condemnation…

The website Healing Streams places the distinctions in a chart form, and also offers two questions you can ask to determine the difference:

Finally, there is an excellent article at the site of Mark Ballenger. I encourage you to click through to read this in full. I’ve included his three main points and a very brief excerpt from each [note the second section may appear at first to disagree with some of the above authors]:

Condemnation Leads to Death. Conviction Leads to Life

…In love, God makes Christians aware of sin (conviction) without giving us the sentence (condemnation) for that sin. He sent his Holy Spirit to bring conviction and to allow humans to escape condemnation…

Condemnation Is for the Unbeliever. Conviction Is for the Believer

…While God is love and desires every human to repent of sin to be saved… and while God does save people from condemnation when they put their faith in Jesus Christ and repent of sin, God does actually condemn people. God is a loving God. But God is also a condemning God. If God did not condemn people for their sin, there would be no reason for him to have sent Christ…

…What is true is that once you become a Christian you will never be condemned by God ever again…

All Christians Will Experience Regular, Healthy Times of Conviction

One of the primary jobs of the Holy Spirit is to bring conviction to the Christian. When we are veering from God’s path, our conscience will convict us because the Holy Spirit now lives within our hearts…

…[C]onviction focuses on your behavior while condemnation focuses on your identity. Conviction leads you towards repentance and a stronger relationship with God. Condemnation leads you towards hiding, shame, and a weaker relationship with God…

Humans Bring Condemnation. The Holy Spirit Brings Conviction

We must leave the work of the Holy Spirit to him…

…Often times the harder you try to convict someone, the more condemning you will be.

Again this article is best read in full. He concludes:

…In short, conviction differs from condemnation because it leads to life for the believer. We must never ignore the Holy Spirits loving discipline. Conviction may hurt in the moment, but unlike condemnation, it will lead to more joy in the end.

 

 

October 22, 2021

Jesus: Inside or Outside the City?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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It’s been nearly a year since we last connected with veteran Christian musician and author John Fischer who is still writing faithfully at The Catch. This time around, there were two consecutive devotionals which were somewhat related, so I’ve taken the liberty of including both. Click on the headers which follow to read these where they originated.

Note: We usually offer bonus devotionals from some authors after you’ve finished reading, but if you want some earlier posts based on these same verses in Hebrews before you get started, click here and here.

Where grace meets disgrace

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. Hebrews 13:12-13

What happened?

According to this verse there is something disgraceful about meeting Jesus outside the camp. Did we miss something? Do you feel like you are walking around in a state of disgrace? I think we are trying everything we can to avoid disgrace.

Have we so bought into the American myth of success that we are attempting to “market” Christianity as helping make you wealthy, healthy, and successful, when none of that is guaranteed in the Bible? In fact, the truth is more likely to call us into failure in order to learn how to depend on Him. Failure is a far better teacher than success.

I think some of this grows out of our culture. We’ve tried to make Christianity cool thinking we could attract people to Christ. I remember in the early years of my ministry I used to like making Christianity cool because then I could be cool, too. But Jesus was never cool, and following Him guaranteed nothing except a wild ride and eternity.

But ultimately, following Him was all about disgrace. Why is that? Because of the way it ended. He took on my sin, and when I meet Him there outside the camp, I realize it was my sin that did it. So a large part of my disgrace is my sin that crucified Christ, but if I continue through the cross to the other side, I am met with His grace. Jesus meets my disgrace with His grace, and nothing can take that away.

So this is where we live, where grace meets disgrace. A guarantee that grace remains fresh. It’s not that my story is: 20 years ago, Jesus saved me. It’s more like 20 minutes ago, or 20 seconds ago. I live and walk in my deliverance. And my disgrace — His disgrace — plays an important part in that. And believe me, when you’ve been met on the other side of the cross by His grace, you have to tell the whole world about it!

No enduring city

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14

Outside. Everything happens outside. Jesus died outside the camp. We go to meet Him outside the camp where He meets our disgrace with His grace. Once that’s happened and that grace has turned us outward toward others, why would we want to go back inside? Everybody’s out here. People inside already know, and they’re pretty much just sitting there. Outside is where the action is.

Jesus is outside the camp, but most people who don’t know Him don’t know that. They think He’s inside some building because that’s what we’ve told them (“This is God’s house”); we’ve even invited them into the building to meet Him. Now of course that isn’t necessary because He is already outside the camp. We only need to introduce Him to people. But it’s important that we know how to do this. Positioning is everything. Are we looking down on people when we introduce them to Jesus? No. Are we looking across at them? No. We are looking up to them. We are looking up to them because that’s what grace does to us. It puts us with the lowest of the low. Like the publican on his knees crying out for God’s mercy, while the Pharisee is thanking God he is not like that poor miserable man. Until I realize that I am that poor miserable man, I do not know what grace is.

But once you know, how beautiful is this? You look up to everybody! Everybody looks good to you. No matter who they are, you’re looking up to them and telling them about God’s grace that’s bound to reach them because, lo and behold, it reached all the way down to you. So, as Marti says, you love them like no other.

And so the reason for our existence is not to stay inside and win some spiritual look-alike contest, but to turn grace outward to all those within our sphere of influence who have yet to know who Jesus is and what He has done for them. Otherwise, why are we here? We’re not here to set up camp, but to go outside the camp. That is why the writer of Hebrews says, “For here we do not have an enduring city.”

Your city — the city you are living in right now — will not endure. Everything here is temporary. That isn’t to say we abandon all responsibilities here on earth and wait for eternity. It’s really all about perspective. We have responsibilities to our address here in our city, but we need to remember this is not an enduring city. Our life does not end here. Turn up the fire under us! We are preparing for and helping prepare others for the enduring city that is to come.

October 4, 2021

Truly Recognizing Sin and Guilt

Off and on the last few days, I’ve been looking at material from C201’s first year, and while the length, formatting, and sometimes lack of scripture content rendered those early articles ineligible for re-using today, I’ve used them as “blog prompts” to direct my thoughts on the same subjects in the context of what we now do here daily.

On one of the devotionals, I began with a story that was playing out where a military official was found guilty of murdering two women. Because the story was so significant in Canada, the media broadcast his confession, which ran 9.5 hours, and begins more in denial territory, and then over time he realizes that his guilt has been established. It’s a foregone conclusion.

The interrogator is very skillful in bringing the accused from thinking he is just being brought in for background information to the realization that his criminal actions are, in the minds of the police, an established fact.

If you’ve ever been involved in leading a person into that process we sometimes call ‘crossing the line of faith,’ you know that there are various steps a person needs to go through in order to have the fullest understanding of both our part and Christ’s part in the salvation of men and women.

One of the more simplistic devices — and there is always discussion about the danger of using “simple steps” devices — is called “The ABCs of Salvation.” Acknowledge, Believe, Confess.

Step one is acknowledging your sin and guilt as seen through the eye of a holy God. Those of us who have already crossed the line of faith often don’t think twice about this, but for those outside the fold, this is actually a fairly big step, because many see themselves as fairly good people. (This one of the major takeaways from Brant Hansen’s book The Truth About Us; we tend to grade ourselves as better than we are.)

To say this another way, we who have chosen to follow Christ recognize that before granting him lordship of our lives, we were positionally in a condition we call dead in sin. But for some who genuinely want to experience the peace and purpose we have, an admission of our natural fallen state is akin to suddenly changing the topic.

I wondered watching the news coverage of the story how people in the broader marketplace would fare if they were brought into a room with a “spiritual interrogator” not fully thinking that their guilt had been established, and how they would move through the process from innocence (think Adam and Eve just after they ate the fruit and nothing bad happened) to concern (think Adam and Eve covering themselves, even though nobody had ever suggested the idea of clothing) to being face to face with God (think Adam and Eve not responding at all once they are found out).

This is not an easy process. It was agonizing to watch the once giant of the Canadian military realizing the game was up.

Genesis 3:9 (NIV) But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

God wasn’t playing hide-and-seek and asking Adam for his physical location; he was asking him where he was in relationship to Himself.

It’s possible that the difficulty we experience in ‘making progress’ in terms of ‘reaching’ our neighbors and friends and coworkers with an understanding of the Christian message of redemption is that they can’t bring themselves to the place where they admit their guilt. They’re “good.” They’re “nice.”

But similar to the case of the televised confession I watched, the evidence has been weighed in the court of heaven, and the guilt has already been established: All have sinned and missed the mark of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3: 21-24 (The Message) But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:22-23 (The Message) Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

We can only live in denial of our sinful condition for so long. Eventually we need to do a self-assessment. We have to realize that in order to get to where we want to be, we need to look in the spiritual mirror and fully realize where we are.

Perhaps you are reading this and God is asking, “Where are you?” It’s not because he doesn’t know.

Or if you have a friend who truly desires to join you on the journey of faith, but no matter how good and nice they are, it begins with an acknowledgement of where all of us are when we start that journey: Sinners in need of mercy and forgiveness.

That’s not a concession to one particular doctrinal system’s soteriology, it’s just the way, with God, that things work.

September 19, 2021

The Enemy’s Most Effective Weapon

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Last year at this time we first used an article here at C201 from a site we’d often referred to at Thinking Out Loud. The Daily Article at The Denison Forum is distributed via email, social media, and podcast to hundreds of thousands of culture-changing Christians daily. They employ eleven full-time employees who produce and distribute content worldwide which usually begins with a “teaser” item from news media, and then continues with a spiritual application.

To read this one (which begins with a story of freak accident killing a man outside a Vancouver McDonald’s) you need to click the link in the header which follows. For those who stay here, we begin halfway through.

The devil’s most destructive tool

by Jim Denison

We are focusing this week on ways to experience transforming intimacy with Jesus. Yesterday we discussed the temptation of so-called private sin and its danger to our spiritual health. Today, let’s focus on a second enemy of spiritual intimacy.

I often state that God redeems all he allows. One way I believe he would redeem the demonstrations of human finitude and fallenness we encounter each day is to show us our constant need for resources only he can supply.

Here’s the reason we need such reminders: as C. S. Lewis noted, “It is pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.” Thomas A. Tarrants of the C. S. Lewis Institute adds: “Lewis is not simply giving us his private opinion but summarizing the thinking of great saints through the ages. Augustine and Aquinas both taught that pride was the root of sin. Likewise, Calvin, Luther, and many others.

“Make no mistake about it: pride is the great sin. It is the devil’s most effective and destructive tool.”

Consider three ways pride manifests itself in our lives today.

1: Time

In Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, Tish Harrison Warren quotes Dorothy Bass, who warns us of “a false theology: we come to believe that we, not God, are the masters of time. We come to believe that our worth must be proved by the way we spend our hours and that our ultimate safety depends on our own good management.”

Warren confesses that Bass described her “with stinging accuracy.” I must make the same confession today. That’s why we should proclaim, This is the day the Lᴏʀᴅ has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, my emphasis).

2: Prosperity

In 2013, Margaret Loughrey won $37 million in Ireland’s EuroMillions lottery. However, she said in 2019, “Money has brought me nothing but grief. It has destroyed my life. I have had six years of this. I don’t believe in religion, but if there is a hell, I have been in it. It has been that bad.” She was recently found dead in her home.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that the “will to power” is the basic drive in human nature. He was especially right with regard to prosperity. The more we have, the more we want. If money is a means to power, we can never have enough. That’s why “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10).

3: Adversity

Conversely, adversity can promote pride. We think we can solve our problems, so we double down on ourselves by trying harder to do better.

Artist Winslow Homer spoke for many in our self-reliant culture when he stated, “There’s no such thing as talent. What they call talent is nothing but the capacity for doing continuous work in the right way.” Psychologist Carl Rogers added: “What I am is good enough if I would only be it openly.”

To the contrary, when Paul faced a “thorn in the flesh” he could not remove in his strength, he heard God say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Tomorrow I plan to close our week with practical ways to defeat pride and to experience transforming intimacy with Jesus each day. For today, let’s make David’s prayer ours:

“O Lᴏʀᴅ, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lᴏʀᴅ
From this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 131).

Is your heart “lifted up” in self-reliant pride, or would God say you are as dependent on him as a child on its mother?

There is not a third option.

August 31, 2021

Remorse for Past Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. 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.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he 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.

Our service ended in a time of confession, and then I sought someone to pray with me individually. I admitted that I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas.

If you’re a guy, maybe you are tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt. That’s now how my brain operates. 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.

About six years ago we looked at a quotation by Jerry Bridges where he says, “We never see sin aright until we see it as against God.”

In Psalm 51, David writes:

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight. (v.4a)

but he realizes he needs help to get back to the standard:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you. (v.12)

If I were truly, truly sorry for past sins, I would never repeat them.

In the linked piece above, we included this graphic image:

We have to be truly sorry for our sin. Not the collective our, but the individual our.

I have to be truly sorry for my sin.

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.

 

 

July 28, 2021

Are You an Outlaw, A Lawyer, or a Lover?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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At Christianity 201, we’ve had a long relationship with Rev. Kevin Rogers, a pastor in Western Ontario, Canada whose writing appears at The Orphan Age. This is excerpts from a 4-part series. To read the introduction, where he sets up the distinction click this link. He says,

I see three categories of people when it comes to the acceptance and application of God’s law—we are all outlaws, lawyers or lovers.

To read the individual parts in full, click the headers which follow.

Outlaws

Outlaw culture is often glorified, and we all learned it early in life…So what does it mean to be an outlaw?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary says:

1 : a person excluded from the benefit or protection of the law

2a : a lawless person or a fugitive from the law

b : a person or organization under a ban or restriction

c : one that is unconventional or rebellious

Some perceived Jesus to be an outlaw based on his application of God’s Law. He and the disciples picked grain to eat on the Sabbath, brought healing to many on the Sabbath, did not always wash their hands before eating, association with people deemed unclean and a daily myriad of offenses drummed up by the faultfinders.

In spite of what the authorized experts had to say, Jesus was not an outlaw.

Matthew 5:

17 “Do not think I have come to get rid of what is written in the Law or in the Prophets. I have not come to do this. Instead, I have come to fulfill what is written. 18 What I’m about to tell you is true. Heaven and earth will disappear before the smallest letter disappears from the Law. Not even the smallest mark of a pen will disappear from the Law until everything is completed.

It is when we determine that laws are unfair, unattainable or illegitimate that we are tempted by outlawry. It’s easy enough to find reasons to minimize or defy human laws, but what about God’s Law? There are many outlaws that choose to live in opposition or resignation to what they perceive to be an unrealistic or impossible standard.

The Greek word for sin is hamartia. It is an archery term that means your arrow did not land on the target. When we recognize that we are sinners, we admit that our arrow went astray or dropped to the ground before the ideal target that God gives us to aim for.

Jesus came to hit the bullseye and inspire us to have an improved aim. We are to learn from the ways that fall short and allow God to perfect our aim. You may have given up on basketball or piano lessons, but the reason to learn God’s ways are not trivial options. God’s ways are a matter of life and death in a very real cosmic and earthly sense.

Every outlaw must live by a code that supports their values and will be deemed heroic by those sharing those values. But you cannot love God and at the same time have a complete disregard for the things God says. To know and disregard the law of God is to be truly lawless.

1 John 3:

Everyone who sins breaks the law. In fact, breaking the law is sin. But you know that Christ came to take our sins away. And there is no sin in him. No one who remains joined to him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has seen him or known him.

Dear children, don’t let anyone lead you astray. The person who does what is right is holy, just as Christ is holy. The person who does what is sinful belongs to the devil. That’s because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the devil’s work.

In recognizing that your aim is off, the key remedy is remaining joined to Jesus. As we  understand what Christ is doing, we find that he is taking away our lawless instincts. He is mending our broken bow and showing us how to aim true and hit the target. It is in our mimicry and imitation of Christ’s ways that we see through the fog and shoot for the bullseye. The apostle Paul understood this implicitly when he said,

1 Corinthians 11:

Follow my example, just as I follow the example of Christ.

Lawyers

If the outlaw faces judgment, he is going to need a good defence lawyer. A lawyer will endeavour to prove that his client is not guilty, or at least not maliciously intent on breaking a law. The problem is that there will also be a prosecuting lawyer whose aim it is to prove that you are guilty.

There is an interesting phenomenon that happens to people trying to live up to God’s standards. If they are not rightly motivated inwardly, they will get obsessive about hacking their aim and telling others that they are the masters that can teach others how to achieve their spiritual aims.

It’s exactly the old adage that those who can’t, teach.

Matthew 23:

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples. “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” he said. “So you must be careful to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do. They don’t practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry. Then they put them on other people’s shoulders. But they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.

Watch out for people that try to load you down with high expectations but don’t offer any understanding or relief for the burden they lay on you. They may be legalistic in their passion for definition, but inwardly lack the law of God. They may have the authority to wield the law, but are more interested in winning their case than being personally answerable for the consequences that ensue.

Matthew 7:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Lawyers are often great communicators and can weave a story line that will either condemn or excuse a lawbreaker.

Watch my life carefully. I may appear to be a masterful persuader and still have a lawless heart. Fortunately, you will not have to answer for me. I stand before the one true judge that can truly condemn me or save me. Don’t be naïve and do look out for the Pharisaical lawyer in me and for the one in you.

Fortunately, God has mercy for outlaws and for self-righteous lawyers. Otherwise, we would be surely doomed.

Romans 9:

30 What should we say then? Gentiles did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 The people of Israel tried to obey the law to make themselves right with God. But they didn’t reach their goal of being right with God. 32 Why not? Because they tried to do it without faith. They tried to be right with God by what they did. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall. 33 It is written,

“Look! In Zion I am laying a stone that causes people to trip.
    It is a rock that makes them fall.
    The one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

Imagine that. Your faith in the goodness and mercy of God is the bullseye. Jesus died to save outlaws and lawyers and we are both.

Lovers

In essence, you become what you love. When it comes to the Law of God, are you a lover of His Law? You will not become Christlike if you do not love God.

If it’s true that we all fail to hit the target, there must be something that Jesus wants to teach us. When you are being coached in some ability, it is easy to get overwhelmed and distracted. So what will keep us in the game, so to speak? What is it about God’s Law that we can learn to keep us from becoming an outlaw or a lawyer?

That is a great question and one asked by an expert in law.

Mark 12:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard the Sadducees arguing. He noticed that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer. So he asked him, “Which is the most important of all the commandments?”

29 Jesus answered, “Here is the most important one. Moses said, ‘Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 And here is the second one. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no commandment more important than these.”

32 “You have spoken well, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one. There is no other God but him. 33 To love God with all your heart and mind and strength is very important. So is loving your neighbor as you love yourself. These things are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely. He said to him, “You are not far from God’s kingdom.” From then on, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.     NIRV

Your aim always improves when you love from the core of your being. Loving God means loving the wisdom and perfection of what he is teaching us. Loving your neighbour and loving yourself flows from the love you find in God.

Jesus says that all law is grounded in love. Until you know that and agree to it, you will resist the true nature of God. Jesus is the highest expression of God’s Law. He fulfills the law of God.

Are you convinced by the Holy Spirit that the ways of God are desirable? Listen to this ancient song of praise for the ways of God. Listen to effect that the love of God has on the fabric of our life.

Psalm 19:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
NKJV

Talk about exactly hitting the target… love will do all of these things to establish your heart, mind and soul. We are taught by perfect love and changed from outlaws and lawyers. We are lovers of God’s Law.

June 13, 2021

Sins? What Sins?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Col.2.14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.

Ever tried to complete a spiritual scorecard for yourself, just to see how you’re doing? It might surprise you to know that God himself doesn’t do that.

Today we’re introducing a new writer. Esau Moraes is a Brazilian currently serving at a YWAM base in England. He writes in Portuguese and then produces an English translation of each devotional. Click the headers for each of these to read there, and if you have Spanish-speaking friends, tell them about his website.

[This devotional in Portuguese: Click here.]

My List of Sins

The other day, I thought I’d list the wrong attitudes I was still committing to remind myself that I needed to correct myself.

Immediately, that thought was countered by another: “You know who doesn’t keep a list of my sins? God!”. On the contrary, the Bible states in Hebrews 8:11,12 that:

“No one else will teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more”.”

Once we acknowledge and confess our sins before God, he does not keep them in a heavenly file. He’s not waiting to throw our past failures in our face as soon as we make a slip. That, in fact, is the role of our Accuser, the Devil.

For “if we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

In Christ, our sin debt was cancelled and removed by being nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). And the proof of payment no longer brings the list of faults committed, but declares that we are forgiven of all our transgressions.

And we do not need a piece of paper to tell us this, for the Spirit of God who now dwells in us testifies that we are washed and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. He testifies that we are children of God and no longer slaves to sin.

Therefore, we no longer need to cling to the list of our sins, being constantly accused in our memory. Rather, let all our thoughts be led captive to the obedience of Christ. He – who forgives our sins – must be the center of our attention and not our past.

“As you therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, established in the faith, as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude.”(Colossians 2:6-7)


When frustration comes

[This devotional in Portuguese: Click here.]

“Sing for joy to the Lord, you who are righteous; it is good for those who are upright to praise him.” (Psalm 33:1 NIV)

After two years living in the missionary field, the time had come to return to Brazil and, in my heart, I was more than ready for it. However, hearing the news that my flight had been canceled and there was no new date available filled me with frustration.

Weeks before, I had been meditating on Psalm 33. But on that day, the first verses of this passage struck my heart in a totally different and much more genuine way.

What would my response be in the face of frustration? Would I still choose to sing and praise the Lord?

The psalmist declares that this is the attitude that fits the righteous and upright of heart. He does not give us a list of circumstances that tell us when it is fitting for us to give praise to God. Praising the Lord is simply part of our new identity as righteous in Christ.

Our emotions vary according to circumstances and they will never be truer than the truth of God’s Word.

I remember that night, before I went to sleep, I put on some worship songs and I started singing. I knew that wasn’t what I felt like doing, given the situation. But that was my choice, knowing that the Word of God remained the same: “Sing for joy to the Lord, you who are righteous; it is good for those who are upright to praise him” (Psalm 33:1).

“For the word of the Lord is true; he is faithful in all that he does.” (Psalm 33:4)

What I was feeling at that time or perhaps I am still feeling now does not alter the veracity of God’s Word. He has not changed and neither has His Word.

On the other hand, our feelings are constantly changing. Our emotions vary according to circumstances and they will never be truer than the truth of God’s Word. But we sing and give praise to our “Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

So I would like to leave a challenge here for you and me. Regardless of the circumstance or what you are feeling, decide to sing and give praise to the Lord. For it is fitting for the upright of heart to praise him!

June 8, 2021

The Weight of Joy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Romans.6  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,that we should no longer be slaves to sin… 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

So what does today’s title mean? Stay tuned!

Today we are highlighting a writer who is new to us, Victoria Moll. Her blog is titled, Notes About Glory. Before we get into today’s devotional, here’s a little introduction to her writing. In both cases, you’re encouraged to click the headers to read each piece at her site.

In Jesus Christ, For His Glory

In Jesus Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

The phrase “in Jesus Christ” simply means to be a believer in Christ, having accepted him as your Lord and Savior.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the price for human sin by his blood, granting us forgiveness. Jesus is the reason that we are declared righteous when we stand before God, and are justified in His sight. Eternal life is not earned, but freely given to everybody who declares the name of Jesus because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Anyone who is a believer is “in Christ”.

For His Glory.

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

Philippians 2:9-11

We serve a God who is truly worthy of our praise! Giving praise to the Lord is more than singing songs during a praise and worship service. Worship is a lifestyle of obedience and working for the glory of God through our spiritual disciplines and missional mindset. Giving glory to God looks like thanking Him and recognizing Him as the source of everything good. The practice of giving glory to God is rewarding in that the more you practice a life of worship, the more you will see how worthy He is! This joy in realizing the fullness of God brings about celebration and adoration.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Joy is Weighty

I have been thinking a lot about joy lately, and I’ve noticed that in order for there to be joy, there must always be a sacrifice.

As believers, we experience joy as a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) as a product of the continual transformation brought on by the Holy Spirit. This joy is free and accessible to us, but it came at the price of Christ’s death on the cross for our sake.

Because of the weight of sin in our fallen world and the perpetual death that comes with it, in order for us to feel the joy of the Lord, it comes at a cost. Yet God was so merciful that He paid it for is, giving us access to that joy.

What does all this mean?

That there is baggage in joy. Not necessarily the kind that we wallow in or the kind that keeps us from rejoicing, but the kind that convicts our hearts and draws us near to the Father in thankfulness and praise.

I believe that the glory of the Father can be found in our joy, as a product of what the spirit produces in us, because of the Son.

Joy is a lovely state of being, yet a necessary reminder that without Christ, there once was not.

I think about the year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee, which came every 50th year, was a time commanded by God for the releasing  of people from their debts, releasing all slaves, and returning property to those who originally owned it (Leviticus 25:1-13). The year of Jubilee was precisely its namesake: a season of celebration. There was so much joy that came from the lifting of the yoke of slavery and the shame that came with debt. Jubilee was joyous for those who could not find freedom by their own means- but the catch is that this joy is not so easily recognized until there is first the taint of slavery. For those who did not experience loss or debt, they had a much harder time rejoicing, because they had nothing to be returned to them.

In the same way, Paul says in Romans that although we should not continue sinning, the memory of sin should bring us joy in our salvation, and compel us to offer ourselves to the Father as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6).

This is the Christian joy: to not live as though we were still dead in our sins, but to rejoice in the freedom we have found in Christ, using our knowledge of salvation and thankfulness to compel us to glorify the Father.

Yes friends, this is a weighty joy.


Keep going: Get to know Victoria better in this recent, heartfelt article about what Jesus means to her. Check out Why Jesus.

June 1, 2021

God’s Wrath in the Penitential Psalms

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A year ago, in a debut that ran for two days, we introduced you to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting whose “blog’s central aim is to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.” When we returned for a visit, Mark had wrapped up a series of different features of the Psalms in alphabetical order, hence the name of today’s article, below.

As he points out, the wrath of God has become the object of more debate recently whenever salvation or atonement is discussed. Did God pour out his wrath on Jesus or did he pour out his wrath on sin? Or is He a loving God who would never do anything wrathful to anyone? Perhaps you’ve found yourself in one of those discussions. In character with the rest of his writing, Mark looks at the Old Testament and in particular what the Psalms say about the wrath of God.

W is for Wrath

The subject of God’s wrath is a challenging one at a number of levels. It connects with how we understand the atonement and the relationship between the two testaments to name just two. A starting point for any theological reflection and understanding of God’s wrath recognises that the Bible—in both testaments—speaks of God’s wrath, or anger, towards sin.

Two of the areas of the Bible where this theme is to the fore are Paul’s Letter to the Romans and the Book of Psalms. It is likely that whoever created the grouping of Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143 as the penitential psalms was very aware of this. The evidence of this is that these seven psalms each mention God’s wrath and/or feature in Paul’s discussion of the problem of sin in Romans, see Nasuti (1999).

Before we get to Psalm 51, we will present the explicit mentions of wrath in the other six penitential psalms. Psalm 6 and Psalm 38 both open in the same way, with this very concern:

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Psalm 6:1, NRSV

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
Psalm 38:1, NRSV

Psalm 102 speaks of God’s anger too:

For I eat ashes like bread,
and mingle tears with my drink,
because of your indignation and anger;
for you have lifted me up and thrown me aside.
Psalm 102:9–10, NRSV

Other verses in the penitential psalms speak of God’s action against the psalmist which we might read as a consequence of anger:

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up[a] as by the heat of summer
Selah
Psalm 32:4, NRSV

Psalm 51 makes no direct mention of God’s anger or wrath, although if we read this psalm with a penitential lens, we can understand this lying behind the judgement that the psalmist seeks to avoid. Whether we read it with this lens, or in isolation, we see an expectation, a hope, even a celebration, that God’s mercy will eclipse God’s judgment. Psalm 51 challenges any argument that suggests a bipolar distinction between a wrathful God of the Old Testament and a Loving God of the New. Psalm 51 breaks any such simplistic notions. It points to the need of an understanding of God that resists such false dichotomies. This is not the time or place to explore the atonement or the relationship between the testaments in depth. We can, however, be grateful that both testaments testify to the truth of Psalm 51:

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17, NRSV

 

Reference
Harry P. Nasuti, Defining the Sacred Songs: Genre, Tradition, and the Post-Critical Interpretation of the Psalms, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999, p.33.


While not directly related to today’s devotional, while looking for something else I found this song, which was new to me. It takes 5½ minutes and the lyrics are on-screen. Sit back and enjoy.

 

May 27, 2021

Does Any and Every Sin Cancel You Out as a Christian?

Thinking Through 1st John 2:29-3:10

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever felt like you just don’t measure up as a Christian? You believe in Jesus, but you don’t believe you have achieved the kind of sinless perfection you think a Christian should have?

Perhaps a church or a Christian has made you feel that way. I remember well having coffee with a student from a certain Bible college while I was at seminary. It felt like an interrogation and I’m not sure I passed the test of “good enough” to be a Christian in his mind.

Perhaps you don’t need any help in feeling you don’t measure up. You get there all on your own.

Perhaps the Bible sometimes makes you feel like you don’t measure up. For example,

2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.

3:1-10 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him . . .  Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

1 John 2:29 – 3:1,4-10 (NRSV emphasis added)

Discouraged yet? Actually, as we dig into what John has written here, we will find great encouragement.

Let us keep in mind what we learned last week, that John had been speaking about false teachers who tried to change the facts about Jesus to fit their thinking, when they should have changed their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus. They were missing the mark on their teaching on who Jesus was and is. But here is what is important for us to know in understanding our passage today; they were also missing the mark on what it looks like to follow Jesus.

The false teachers got the identity of Jesus wrong, but they also missed the teaching of Jesus on loving God, neighbour, and one’s enemies. In getting the identity of Jesus wrong, they also missed the example of Jesus on loving God, neighbour, and one’s enemies, namely, the incarnation, death and resurrection.

John’s point here in 1st John 2:29-3:10 is that these false teachers are easy to spot. Not only do they try to change Jesus, they don’t live Jesus focused lives:

  • They don’t do what is right (see 2:29 and 3:7 above).
  • They have no concern for sin (see 3:4-6 above).
  • They have no concern for destroying the works of the devil, for overturning evil (see 3:8 above).
  • They have no conscience (see 3:9 above).

The false teachers were easy to spot, and in our passage John gave the early readers the way to notice them easily:

Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: The one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister. A simple test.

1 John 3:10 (The Message)

John’s intention was not to discourage the Christians he was writing to. He was not writing to make them doubt their salvation over each and every sin they might commit. Nor was he writing to discourage us today. He was writing to discourage them, and us, from following false teachers, who were, and are, easy to spot by their lack of Jesus-focused lives. In fact he is very encouraging when he highlights the identity of the readers:

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.

1st John 3:1 (The Message)

There is no hint here of “be sure to never, ever, ever sin, and if you do, then you are a child of the devil!” No, rather you are the children of God, but watch out for the false teachers who are the children of the devil.

Jesus spends quite some time teaching us to think of ourselves as God’s children. He teaches us to pray “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer. In fact Jesus gives many references to thinking of God as our father throughout the Sermon on the Mount where we find that prayer in Matthew’s Gospel.

John had also highlighted the opportunity to become children of God in his Gospel account:

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

John 1:11-13 (NLT)

As children of God, we are those whose lives are being transformed by Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit. We may not be perfect, but we live Jesus-focused lives:

  • We have a concern for righteousness (see 2:29 and 3:7 above).
  • we have joined and are actively playing for “Team Jesus” (see 3:4-6 above, plus an eariler “Shrunk Sermon” on 1st John 2:1-6. Yes, we make mistakes and the other team may score because of those mistakes, but there is forgiveness, we are still on the team, and the other team scoring is never what we want).
  • We are those who participate apte in God’s plan of destroying the works of the devil, of dealing with evil (see 3:8 above).
  • We have a conscience (see 3:9 above).

Though John does not mention the Holy Spirit in our passage, the Holy Spirit is here, the Holy Spirit is involved:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:15-16 (NLT)

There is a spiritual rebirth that happens, a transformation as we begin to show a family resemblance to our heavenly Father, even though we are still children.

Jesus teaches us to come to God like a small child:

I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Mark 10:15 (NLT)

When a small child is called to the dinner table, does the child ask “do I deserve dinner tonight?” When we are sitting at dinner with God, we are not worried about our standing before God. But we will have a natural desire to be “just like Dad.”

We belong, we are a children of God. Let us not fret about whether we measure up, anxious that any and every sin will cancel us out as Christians, but instead let us continue to take our place at God’s table, growing into this beautiful relationship with our heavenly Father.


The full message on which this is based may be viewed on its own, or as part of this “online worship expression

May 24, 2021

The Blood that Speaks of a Better Covenant

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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It’s been six months and we are happy to return to the writers at Our Living Hope. If you’ve got the time, click the link to the blog and spend some time with some really well-written devotions. The blood of Christ is a theme worth exploring. As central as this theme is to our atonement and redemption, sometimes it’s hard to find material, so you’re encouraged to read this type of writing every time the opportunity presents.

The Blood of Jesus

“to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”. Hebrews 12:24.

Abel’s blood spoke for Justice, Christ’s blood spoke Justification. Abel’s blood cried out in the pain of injustice of sin, the blood of Jesus cried out for the forgiveness of sins. Abel’s blood said one’s right and the other is wrong, Christ’s blood testifies all sinned and fell short of the glory of God, Abel’s blood brought in condemnation, the blood of Jesus brought in salvation. The blood of Jesus speaks a better word says the scriptures, since the new covenant with Jesus as the mediator offered much better sacrifice than that of Abel, a perfect sacrifice for the righteousness of many.

Forgiveness is the higher form of justice and love is the core of the law, showing the other cheek is not a choice to be insensitive to truth, it is giving space for transformation, since truth tolerates better than lies do. Jesus said ‘Love your enemies’, and ‘Pray for those who persecute you’. He knew that ‘Eye for an Eye can make the whole world blind’, somebody must forgive and accept, so that all might see. One man’s justice can be other man’s injustice, but forgiveness doesn’t have alternatives. Love can cover multitudes of sin, even the sins of others, the one’s who have willfully sinned against us. It is the reason Jesus cried out from the cross when the greatest injustice was committed by mankind, the highest form of justice was mightily shown, he responded ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’. It was the heart of God revealed to prophet Jonah ‘How can I destroy the one’s who do not know the difference between the right hand and the left’.

“And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar”. Matthew 23:35.

Does the righteous blood which cries out for justice matters still ? Yes, it does. It shows the presence of sin and injustice and the need for transformation. What is the role of justice under the new covenant of justification? The cry of justice under the blood of Jesus is not to condemn but to convict the world of sin and righteousness, and inspire to seek the truth (John 16:8,13). It prompts and directs humanity of it’s higher call. Justification doesn’t undermine justice, but inspires all towards more perfect justice and truth, it demands accountability by offering credibility. But even when justice fails, love and forgiveness will never fail, since even through pain it has the possibility of peace, as it agrees with the blood of Jesus and the spirit of Christ. It gives a vision to walk towards a better future, it gives hope of a better tomorrow. It shows the need for also seeking forgiveness.

As much as the new covenant asks us to forgive, it also reminds us to seek forgiveness. The demands of justice is to inspire not only to seek forgiveness from God, but also towards fellowman, and create pathway towards a higher conscience in the community. It is the reason even though Justification is free through faith, it has the demands of seeking forgiveness! The blood of Jesus not only washes us from sin, but also seeks the acceptance of the presence of sin, and leads us in to the paths of righteousness offering us the spirit of truth. Righteousness is not possible apart from being sensitive to justice. Holiness is greater than righteousness, and Holiness is the righteousness of God.

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”. Amos 5:24.

The Lord’s coming is called the day of judgment for a reason. And how important is that day. The one who justifies all, will sit and seek justice. Even when the justice is denied through human systems, no one can escape the final judge. He cannot be bribed, threatened or wooed. He will judge fairly according to everyone’s deeds. We also fear him and act justly.

“For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” Hebrews 10:30.

Today conflicts are arising across, and it arises because everyone feel there is presence of injustice. There can be peace if forgiveness goes before and justice follows it. Forgiving the past and seeking a just and fair call for the future. No human system can offer perfect justice, but it cannot be an excuse if only all are willing to seek the truth.

The greater hope is that the blood of Jesus still intercedes for our forgiveness and transformation, and Abel’s blood looks on with hope.

“The incentive to peacemaking is love, but it degenerates into appeasement whenever justice is ignored. To forgive and to ask for forgiveness are both costly exercises. All authentic Christian peacemaking exhibits the love and justice – and so the pain – of the cross.”. -John Stott

Prayer : Heavenly Father, we pray for those who persecute us and help us to love and bless our enemies. May we forgive as well seek forgiveness. Let your spirit keep the lantern of justice and righteousness in our souls. Amen.

Bible Reading: Amos 4

May 21, 2021

Reconciled to God Through Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Col.1.21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Today we’re featuring Matthew Breeden and a sermon outline from 2018 for the above passage, posted at the website of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas. Click the header which follows below to read at their site.

The Message of Reconciliation

Introduction

As Paul writes to this young church, this gathering of new believers in Colossae he wants them to understand the centrality of Christ and their need for Him. As we considered verses 15-20 we answered the question, “Who is Jesus?” We made the observation that one of the greatest errors of all time is denial and minimizing of who Jesus really is.

As we come to verses 21-23 it is important to acknowledge another point of error: many (if not most) people believe that we are born basically good and that our default position is right standing with God. This, however, is not the teaching of Scripture and as Paul writes to the Colossians he wants them to know their need for reconciliation as well as the significance of what Jesus has done to make reconciliation of sinful men to God available.

Our Need for Reconciliation (1:21)

Paul is writing this letter to people who are now in Christ, they have received the Gospel, but he wants them to have a very clear understanding of who they were before Jesus. He describes their pre-Christ condition in three ways:

  • Alienated – Before we are reconciled to God we are separated or estranged from Him by our sin (Ephesians 2:12).
  • Hostile in Mind – Before we are reconciled to God we have minds that are hateful toward Him. So, our “alienation” isn’t passive separation – we are active in our enmity toward Him.

The Source of Reconciliation (1:22a)

While we were born as enemies and haters of God, separated from Him, God took the initiative to reconcile our relationship to Him. That reconciliation, however, came at a price. The mending of this broken relationship took a sacrifice, it was made possible only by the broken body of Jesus (Colossians 1:20; Romans 5:10-11; Ephesians 2:12-16).

The Goal of Reconciliation (1:22b)

In the first part of verse 22 Paul reminds the Colossians of their completed reconciliation. While reconciliation is complete in Jesus, there is also an on-going process – there is an ultimate goal of our reconciliation that is still being worked out.

The goal of our reconciliation is to move us from being people who are marked by evil deeds to being people who are holy and blameless and above reproach. This is something God does in us, but we are also called to strive for it in our daily lives (Ephesians 1:4; Philippians 2:12-13).

The Condition of Final Reconciliation (1:23)

Paul is writing to a people who he fears are being tempted to trust other things, besides Christ, for their salvation. And so he wants to make this clear: The only way that you can have the hope of reconciliation is if you have a faith that is certain to the end.

What we know from other parts of Scripture is that for those who have true saving faith, that kind of faith will never fail and it will never falter. True faith is God given and will never fail. But nevertheless, while those who are in Christ are secure in Him, our aim should always be to remain steadfast and stable in faith (Philippians 1:6; 2:1-13).

Application:

  • Do you understand the position you were in without Christ? If we don’t understand who we were we will never understand the magnitude of our salvation.
  • Do you understand the source of reconciliation? If we don’t understand the price that was paid in order to reconcile us to God, then we will never have the proper level of appreciation and gratitude for our salvation.
  • Do you understand the goal of your reconciliation? If you don’t understand the aim or the goal of your salvation then you will never grow or mature in your faith the way God intends.
  • Do you understand the ongoing nature of salvation? If you don’t understand that salvation is an ongoing process then it’s possible that you have not fully understood the work of God in your life.
  • Do you understand your call to be an ambassador? If you don’t understand the call to share the message of salvation with others then you are forsaking one of the greatest gifts that God has given – thejoy of helping others experience reconciliation with God (2 Cor. 5:17-21).

May 6, 2021

Team Jesus

1st John 2:1-6

by Clarke Dixon

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (NRSV)

Good news! Our sins are forgiven!

But then, if we read ahead in John’s letter, we may feel like we encounter bad news, especially when we get to statements like these:

No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. . . . Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil;. . . Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God.

Selections from 1 John 3:6-9 (NRSV)

What if the good news is that our past sins are forgiven and only our past sins? What if we are given a fresh start, but we had better not ever sin after that? Maybe we will be relieved to know that God’s Spirit indwells us and will keep us from sin? Most of us, however, would still have great anxiety since we know from experience that we still sin. Or am I the only one? In fact our anxiety may grow if we think that perhaps we have chased God’s Holy Spirit away somehow.

As a way to think through this, let us think of ourselves as being hockey players, perhaps we can think of ourselves as playing for the Boston Bruins. Now let us think of God as having a hockey team, that our Lord is the owner, general manager, and coach. Of course we can think of the Toronto Maple Leafs as being that team!

Given this analogy, what would forgiveness from God look like? We may think that God comes to us and says that any goal we have ever scored, or helped our team to score against his team is forgiven. We might say “well thank you for letting bygones be bygones.” But then we keep playing for the Bruins, and keep trying to score on the Leafs. John is telling us in his letter that this is not how faith in Jesus works. It is not just about the forgiveness of sins.

The words of Jesus were really important to John, they should be to us too. So let us take a moment to look at the last words of Jesus recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke:

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Luke 24:45-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

Let us note here that it is not just forgiveness of sins that is to be proclaimed, but also repentance, meaning a change of mind, a change of path.

Now let us consider the last words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV emphasis added)

Forgiveness of sins is not even mentioned here in Matthew! Following Jesus is, paying attention to the commandments of Jesus is.

Jesus would have said a lot of things once risen form the dead, so Luke and John are not recording the very last words of Jesus so much as emphasizing the elements of Jesus’ teaching they thought they should pass on to us. Where we might emphasize forgiveness, they both emphasize a new life in Jesus.

Now let us go back to John’s letter:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:1-6 (NRSV)

John is pushing us to think of a much bigger change in our lives than just experiencing forgivenesses. We are not just forgiven, we are set on a new path. To go back to the hockey analogy, God is not just offering forgiveness for the goals we have scored against his team, God is offering us a place on the team!

We don’t deserve it, we don’t play like the star players on his team. We might not even know how to skate yet. But we are invited to join the team!

Now just because we join the team, this does not mean we instantly become great players. Hockey players sometimes make mistakes. A bad pass can be intercepted and lead to the other team scoring. This does not lead to an instant expulsion from the team. This is a problem we often have as Christians. We assume that we should instantly become the Wayne Gretzky of Christians. But we still miss the mark. When we do,

. . . if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 2:1 (NRSV)

We are not booted off the team. Everything that is necessary for us to be on the team has been accomplished.

What if, however, having moved from the Bruins to the Maple Leafs, during a playoff series against the Bruins, we continually pass the puck to the Bruins, and sometimes we even take a shot on our own net? The natural conclusion reached by the coach and fans alike, is that we have not really changed teams. We are still playing for the Bruins, we want the Bruins to win. This is what John is getting at in verses 3-6:

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:3-6 (NRSV)

If we really are in Jesus, then it will be evident that we are on team Jesus. When John says later in 3:6-9, that we will not sin, that we cannot sin, it is like a coach saying to a hockey player, “you will not pass to a player on the opposing team, indeed you cannot.” Well the hockey player might have a bad pass that goes to a member on the other team, which might lead them to score a goal. But the player will not pass it with the hope, “oh boy, I hope the other team wins.” He will not do that, and given his desire to win the Stanley Cup, he cannot do that.

If hockey players never wore a jersey, you would still be able to know who is playing for what team. When John says we don’t sin as Christ followers, what he means is that it should be obvious that we are on team Jesus, that we don’t play for the opposing team. We might still be learning to skate, and we might be awful at handling the puck, which might lead the other team to score from time to time, nevertheless, it is evident we are are on team Jesus.

As we read through 1st John, and especially here in 1:3-6 and later 3:6-9, we might ask, am I in deep trouble if I commit even one sin after coming to faith in Jesus? That is not a question that would have come to John’s mind. The question John is asking is: does your life show that you are on team Jesus? That you are in Christ?

Yes, we are going to mess up, there are forgivenesses when we do. But if we are on team Jesus, it will be obvious that we are on team Jesus, jerseys and Jesus fish not required. Those who are on team Jesus are easy to spot, even if they are not spotless. We may may not be superstar players, at least not yet, but let us commit to being on team Jesus! And let us enjoy that honor.


The full sermon can also be seen as part of this longer “online worship expressionClarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and doesn’t get the usual 1-2 paragraph intro! He’s a pastor in Ontario, Canada; and a good friend to have. Clarke and his wife have three boys, but I don’t know if any of them share his love of motorcycles.

April 22, 2021

No Other Gods

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Yesterday morning, the wife of an American journalist tweeted this scripture:

Joshua 23:16 “if you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

I was immediately struck by the principle — which we’ve shared here before — that while God’s dealings with people have changed between the First Covenant and the New Covenant, his essential nature; his character have not changed. He is, as scripture reminds us, the same.

While he may not drive us off our land — at least in a literal sense — he is angered; he is grieved when he are tempted and distracted by other lifestyles; other worldviews; other voices telling us how we should live. The times we wander off from his plan “A” are the times we are sinning. We’ve missed the mark; we’ve accepted less than his perfect way; we’ve trusted our own instincts or desires above his stated will for our lives.

The verse is part of the concluding two chapters of Joshua, his famous last words to the people of Israel. Chapter 23 in particular contains three exhortations. The first one:

2b [Joshua:]“I am very old. You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you. Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain—the nations I conquered—between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. The Lord your God himself will push them out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you.

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.

The second follows immediately after:

“The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. 10 One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. 11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God.

12 “But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, 13 then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.

And the third and last, immediately after that:

14 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

While commentators divide these accordingly, there is a common theme throughout: Don’t chase after (follow) other Gods.

It is a reiteration of the first of a set of commandments given by God to Moses to give to the people that we call “The Ten…” though some scholars see as many as 14 instructions.

Joshua says some other final things in chapter 24, and while that chapter is beyond the scope of this devotional, I do want to remind us of a verse 15, where not one, but two well-known sections of scripture are found in a single verse:

24.15 (italics added) But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The website Precept Austin offers an insight into our key passage today which it calls “To Chase or Be Chased.” Pause and consider that for a moment. The battle in which we find ourselves doesn’t offer moments of neutrality in the action. (For my Canadian readers, think of a hockey game as the play quickly moves from one end of the rink to another.)

The Lord has also equipped His children so we can be courageous in a hostile world. Although the foes we face may seem to be more powerful, we can resist them because of God’s special provision. This doesn’t mean He always protects His children from physical injury or even death. But when a child of God works together with God and does His will, he is unconquerable until his work on earth is done.

How do we find the protection that helps us “chase away” the enemy? By trusting and obeying God. Joshua told God’s people that if they would obey the Lord, no one could stand against them (Josh. 23:10). The same God who fought for them will also fight for us. He will strengthen us to meet any challenge when we are doing what He wants us to do in the way He wants us to do it (Phil. 4:13).

Yes, the Lord will give us courage as we draw strength from Him each day.

In a sermon on this passage, Canadian pastor Hilmer Jagersma reminds us where the courage comes from in a New Covenant sense; quoting Acts 4:13

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

Returning to the covenant aspect of this passage, Hilmer adds that,

Whether you’re young or whether you’re old, God has called you has and set you apart for service, and you have promises that are extended to you and you enjoy the good things of the Lord… If you think about it… we grow up in a community that worships the Lord, and we part of a community where the word of God is preached, and many of you grew up in homes where the word of God is taught.

And that’s how God works. Through his Spirit. By his Word. God is working. We sing the promises of God. We teach the promises of God. As parents you’re trying to demonstrate and live out the promises of God.

But the warning that Joshua gives stands: Don’t take God’s grace for granted. The promises must be received in faith. And they have always needed to be received in faith.


Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon returns next week.

All scriptures today taken from the NIV.

Watch the complete sermon on Joshua 23 by Hilmer Jagersma at this link.

 

 

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