Christianity 201

May 14, 2022

Healing as the Reversal of Sickness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Is it “health and wealth gospel” or “prosperity gospel” to believe that God never wants you to be sick, even for a day? How you answer that question says as much about your belief about God than it does about your take on particular doctrines. I am well aware that the realities of life come crowding in on us constantly, but I also find it helpful, hopeful and inspiring to be reminded of the spiritual realities of various infirmities, and the way scripture views sickness in an overall, general sense.

So while this may be a bit too Charismatic for some of you, I hope you’ll take the time to let it speak to you. Oshea Davis is today’s writer, and clicking the header which follows will take you to where it first appeared.

Think On These Things: Think on Healing & Miracles

“Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are right, whatever things are pure, whatever things are pleasing, whatever things are commendable, if there is any excellence of character and if anything, praiseworthy, think about these things. And the things which you have learned and received and heard about and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you,”
Philippians 4:8-9 LEB.

Thoughts of sickness are a lie against the promise of God; thoughts of sickness are not honorable, not right and they are not pure of heart. Thoughts of sickness are not pleasing, and not commendable. They are not excellence of character and or praiseworthy.

Thoughts of Healing are an agreement that the promises of God are true. They are honorable. Thoughts of healing are right, are pure and pleasing. Thoughts of healing are commendable, and they are excellence of character. Thoughts of healing are praiseworthy.

Does this sound strange to you? If it does you are out of touch with reality; you do not know God, the gospel or scripture.

Healing is part of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, (Isaiah 53:4, Matthew 8:17); it is by biblical definition part of the gospel. The gospel is good, it is trustworthy, praiseworthy, excellent, and so forth.

Sin is not good, not praiseworthy, not excellent and so forth. For a Christian forgiveness of all their sins by Jesus’ finished work is a stepping stone; a doorway into the next life. To stay at this doorway, means you do not believe you are forgiven, which is why you never enter into or believe the gospel. The only correct way for a Christian to think of sin, is being already judged and buried in Jesus’ death. Sin, death and judgment are behind the Christian. Value, unmerited favor and joy is before the Christian.

Hebrews 10:2-3 says that the Old Testament yearly sacrifices reminded the minds and thoughts of the practitioners of their sin. The writer of Hebrews says this was not a good thing for the mind to be reminded of our sins. To be reminded of ones sins, if you are indeed forgiven, is not excellent or praiseworthy. They were reminded of their sins, because Christ had not yet come. Hebrews later states that Jesus once and for all removes our sins from us. The pragmatic implication is that our minds and thoughts are not reminded about or sins; rather, we are reminded of our new identity in Christ.

We are the righteousness of God and co-heirs with Jesus. By His great love we are children of God.  Thus, it is not a good thing to be mindful and dwell on your sins. You are to be renewed by thinking about Jesus, and who are “presently” in Him. This is praiseworthy and excellent.

Paul says in Romans 6 we are to assent that we were buried in Jesus’ death. Our sin, by His atonement, was dealt with and buried. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, that we at one time knew Jesus from a human point of view, but we do NOT know Him this way any longer.  He is on the throne, ruling and pouring out the baptism of the Spirit. Our thoughts are to be on this present reality of Jesus. Paul extends this to us. The old man is gone, with all our sin and judgment for that sin. Our new creation is our present reality, and this is where our thoughts ought to be. Thus to “think on these things,” is not thinking about our sin, but how righteous God sees us as. God interacts with us, as the righteousness of God.

The pragmatic application is if your circumstances or Satan tries to remind you of your sins, you are not indulge this temptation by thinking about your sins; rather, you are put off this old-man way of thinking, and put on the new-man, who thinks about how completely forgiven he is and how boldly he can march into the throne room of God and ask and receive.

The same is true for healing and sickness. Sickness is part of curses of Adam and of the Law (Deut. 28). Jesus, by substitutionary atonement, became our curses. Jesus was nailed to our curses of sickness. Even when leapers who needed to be healed, under the Law, a blood sacrifice was given. Healing is shown under the Law, that a substitutionary sacrifice is needed. Jesus was our substitutionary sacrifice to redeem us from all sickness.  Isaiah 53:4 says Jesus “bore” (same word for the substitution atonement for the escape goat in Lev. 16) sickness and pains.[1]

Curses are not honorable, excellence, praiseworthy, etc. And yet, sickness is a curse.

Sickness is a curse; it is not excellent.
Sickness is a curse; it is not praiseworthy.
Sickness is a curse; it is not honorable.
Sickness is a curse; it is not “true” regarding what God has promised.

When tempted by circumstances and the devil to keep rehearsing your sickness over and over in your mind, do not sin by doing this; rather, be obedient and put on the new-man who thinks on the finished work of Jesus who bore all your sickness and pains, who was nailed to your sickness and how these died with Him, on His body, so that you are freed and released from all of them. God is for your body, so much so, He made it part of the gospel. He is the God who heals you.

To indulge on thoughts of your sins or sickness is in direct disobedience of the Scripture commanding us to “think on these things.” Rejoice! You are commanded to think on righteousness, healing, blessings, miracles, peace with God, Joy and unending unmerited favor upon you.  Rejoice.


[1] For more see, Christ our Healer. FF Bosworth.

May 11, 2022

Hate What is Evil, Hold Tightly The Good

We are — once again — breaking the six-month rule to share an extra devotion with you from our online friends at DailyEncouragement.net. I would hold up Stephen and Brooksyne Weber as an example to anyone who wants to create a devotional/Bible-study blog. Click the header below to read this where it first appeared.

Calling Good An Abomination

Listen to this message on your audio player.

“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).

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Today’s message is written concerning current events here in the USA but the teaching is applicable wherever you may live.

For nearly 50 years among the most contested cultural and moral issues here in America has been the legalization of abortion, more specifically the killing of innocent life. In 1973 the Supreme Court decision asserted that abortion is a “constitutional right”. Two days ago a leaked report indicated that this decision may be overturned which has reignited simmering coals to a blazing hot fire in what has been called the culture war.

The report resulted in an emotionally strong reaction from both sides reinforcing the reality that there is a deep, deep division on this subject matter. But I was especially struck each time a statement played over and over on the news made by a prominent senator. He used a word from the Bible that describes what God strongly hates and abhors when he asserted that the decision to overturn Roe V. Wade would be “an abomination” (see here).

That immediately caught my attention since one of the abominations mentioned in the Bible is child sacrifice. “They built the high places of Baal that are in the Valley of Ben-hinnom to make their sons and their daughters pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them, nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to mislead Judah to sin” (Jeremiah 32:35). Essentially he was calling an abomination the opposite of what God calls an abomination!

“An abomination is something that causes hate or disgust. In biblical usage, an abomination is something that God loathes or hates because it is offensive to Him and His character.”(gotquestions.com)

Today let us examine timeless truths from the Holy Scriptures that address this matter as we seek insight and needed discernment.

We have used the first daily text many times in the course of writing these messages over the last 25 years, especially the first part, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil”. Evil is increasingly called good and good is increasingly called evil. Evil has existed during every generation after the fall but there are certain periods of time it increases and other periods, such as revival, when it’s tamped down a bit. You can see this in Israel’s history during the period of the Judges with the ebb and flow of good kings and evil kings.

In the 1960’s the church, whether liberal or conservative branches, was practically unanimous in its understanding of life, marriage, family and sexuality:

1) Life begins at conception.
2) Marriage is a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman.
3) The family is the fundamental unit in society.
4) The moral understanding that sexual relations were reserved for marriage.
5) God created male and female.

For that matter even society at large had these moral underpinnings. Hollywood used to have Biblical standards which was reflected in the Hays Code in the 1930’s regarding the movies they produced to be viewed by the public!

But throughout my lifetime there’s been a steady erosion of morality and subsequently so much “calling evil good”. This has brought about the inevitable corollary; good is called evil, even abominable. And with a deep fog of spiritual blindness enveloping our country (and many other countries) people are frustrated and confused. There seems to be a huge lack of discernment.

Several years ago a nationally known preacher made a statement concerning our present moral condition that is imminently Biblical and sensible regarding the obvious consequences to children being raised without a father’s influence. He was excoriated by the national media with the typical charges of being intolerant, narrow-minded and of course hateful.

Among the signs of our culture’s moral downfall is the failure to uphold the Creator’s standards, which has led to great confusion as to what even constitutes evil.

What a powerful message in our first daily text. “Woe” is a literal transliteration of the Hebrew. In other words it’s an expression that sounds the same in Hebrew, English or any language (similar to the word, “hallelujah”). Woe is also an onomatopoeia, which is when the formation of a word imitates the natural sound associated with the object or action involved. Consider the sounds of deep, painful wailing. Isaiah’s “woe” is timeless.

“Woe” is an exclamation of pain and grief. As our culture drifts farther and farther from its Biblical moorings we see the truth of Isaiah’s proclamation. Do we also feel his exclamation of woe as well?

What is the subject of this woe? Three are listed in the daily text.

Those:

1) who call evil good and good evil,
2) who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
3) who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Biblical morality is being turned on its head, not only in Isaiah’s cultural setting but also in our own lifetime. Sometimes I am stunned by that which is so contrary to the right and wrong I was taught as a child now being accepted by non-believers and sadly even some professed believers. Today much of what is evil is called good and what is good is called evil.

The second daily text is a zinger of truth that we all need to hearken: “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Today let us remain faithful to the perspective that God gives us through the inspiration of Scripture. As unpopular, “intolerant”, socially insensitive, and politically incorrect as it may be described, let us continue to call evil “evil” and to call good “good”. For sure, let us not call a good decision an abomination!

As God’s children let us hear the words of the apostle Paul and “hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9).

 

May 7, 2022

Eliminating Hinderances

I’m breaking our six month rule here, because I was already committed to introducing a new author here, only to be reminded we did this in January. However, that post was one that Pastor Will wrote in October of last year, and this one is from May, so in my convoluted logic, it does represent a gap of more than six months.

Besides, I think someone needs this today. He’s in a series in Hebrews and if you want more just click: Today’s Scripture. If you check the sidebar, you’ll discover that he’s been writing online longer than we’ve been here. Clicking the header below takes you today’s reading.

When We Listen

Hebrews 12:1-3 (HCSB)
Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart.

The greatest danger that the Jewish Christians faced was giving up in the midst of the struggles they were going through and in the face of the disapproval of their family, and turning away from Jesus and back to the rituals of Judaism. The writer of Hebrews had already pointed out the mortal dangers of such turning back (3:12-19; 6:4-8; 10:26-39). And in the Hall of Faith, he gave us a long list of those who did not turn back, but who persevered even when their goal was far off and seeming unattainable.

Now the writer encourages his readers to use those examples as models for their own lives, to persevere and stay faithful and thus stay on the path that leads to the promised reward. This perseverance includes two negative actions, things to be eliminated, and two positive actions, things to be done and embraced.

The negative actions are first to throw off everything that could hinder us in our spiritual journey. This is not talking about sin, which is next on the list. Instead, the focus of this negative action is on things that could pull us away from single-hearted devotion to God and single-minded pursuit of His calling and mission. This includes associations and partnerships that weaken our resolve or our faith, distractions that draw our minds and hearts away from God and His priorities, and any other focuses that take time and energy away from us becoming the person God has called each of us to become and from the job that He has called each of us to do.

The second negative action is to eliminate from our life sin. To many this has been deemed impossible, unattainable by human effort, and it is. However, through the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, reshaping and transforming our hearts, it is possible and essential for the man or woman of God to live without being entangled in sin which saps our spiritual vitality, and which cuts us off from God’s power to do through us all that He has called us to do. But to get to that place of victory requires acceptance of both the need to eliminate sin from our lives and faith in God’s ability to do it. It then requires focused effort on our part to ruthlessly eliminate from our lives everything that drags us down into sin, and to conscientiously avoid those situations in which we tend to compromise.

The two positive actions we are encouraged to take are both closely related. The first is to persevere in running the race, to not give up, to not allow ourselves to be sidelined by troubles, trials and persecutions, but to keep pressing forward toward the goal. In doing this, we must do the second positive action and keep our focus, not on the trials, but on Jesus, who is both our model, and our goal. Jesus Himself endured great suffering for us, and He stayed on track by keeping His focus on the goal at all times, on the prize of salvation for all humanity, and on His ultimate goal of returning to God’s side and the glory He had had with the Father when everything was accomplished.

Father, it does seem a bit strange how so many of us think about our walk with You. We believe that since You love us, we can simply breeze through our days compromising, sinning, and not giving Your agenda any but the most casual attention, and that it will all work out in the end. But the writer of Hebrews shows that for the lie that it is. You are passionate about Your agenda to save not just us, but all humanity. And our calling is not simply to get to heaven, but to live out the mission of Jesus and to pursue You agenda every waking moment with the help of the Holy Spirit and in His power. It is only as we actively pursue Your agenda that we can be empowered to run the course successfully. And it is only as we keep our focus on the goal, and on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, that we will be able to shed the distractions that cluster around us and the sins that try to weigh us down and entangle us, and to live victoriously all the way to the finish line. Thank you, Lord, for helping me to see this all so clearly. Amen.

May 1, 2022

Sin is Waiting for You

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Rebecca Brand is from New Zealand and has blogged for years at RebeccaBrand.org, in addition to speaking nationally and internationally and writing the book, Life’s Greatest Battles. Last year when we shared her writing here, we presented two different blog posts. The one today is connected to three different ones from Genesis (and a larger series from Genesis) which I’m going to link first this time. To read today’s click the large header which follows below.

Preceding articles:

Is Sin Crouching?

Watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. – Gen. 4:7

Our Motives

Yesterday, we talked through how Cain and Abel knew how they were to worship the Father and that ultimately, in our fallen state, God still wants a relationship with us

I also mentioned that the Bible does not say why God rejected Cain’s sacrifice, but perhaps it was Cain’s attitude or perhaps his offering wasn’t what God desired from him

If we think of Proverbs 21:27, it says:

The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable / how much more so when brought with evil intent

God always sees our motives and why we offer what we do to Him. This is because He sees our hearts behind everything, and when we give to God and others, we should not worry about how much we need to give up, but instead, joyfully give to God our best in things like time, money, possessions, and talents

How Do We React?

When someone suggests that we have done something wrong, how do we react?

Do we correct the mistake or deny that we need to correct anything?

After Cain’s sacrifice was rejected, God gave Him the chance to right His wrong and try again – God even went one step further and encouraged him to do this! Yet, Cain refused, and the rest of his life is a startling example of what happens to those of us who refuse to admit their mistakes

Friends, the next time someone suggests that we are wrong (especially when it is God) take an honest look at yourself and choose God’s way instead of what Cain did!

Giving Up Footholds

How incredible was it that God tried to make Cain see sense before he not only became the first human to be born but then the one to commit murder?

For Cain to master the sin that was lurking, he would have to give up his jealous anger so that sin would not have had a foothold in his life

Just like Cain, sin is lurking, and we become victims of it if we do not master it. Of course, sin cannot be conquered by our own strength, and therefore, let us turn to God to receive faith for not only ourselves but the faith and strength from others to help support us

Sin is a lifelong battle, but by walking with the Holy Spirit daily, this daily battle will not be over until Christ returns, and so, even though we might not win every battle in our lives, when we are face-to-face with Christ, He will show us exactly how He won the victory

“Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected. “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.”

Genesis 4:4-7


Second Helping:

This is unrelated, but something I heard in a sermon this morning that seems timely.

“When God wants to sort out the world, as the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount make clear, he doesn’t send in the tanks. He sends in the meek, the broken, the justice hungry, the peacemakers, the pure-hearted and so on.”
~ NT Wright

April 28, 2022

Has Fear or Fighting Stolen Your Peace?

Thinking Through John 20:19-23

by Clarke Dixon

Has either fear or fighting stolen your peace? You might wonder how you could have peace right now with this scary situation, or that horrible relationship. It might be a nasty virus or a nasty war that is stealing your peace. Jesus speaks to themes of fear, fighting, and peace.

Let us begin with how fear steals our peace

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said.

John 20:19 (NLT)

The disciples knew all about fear. They were holed up in a room with the doors locked out of the fear that they would end up crucified and dead like their leader. They knew they had targets on their backs, so locked doors it was. Until Jesus showed up.

Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

John 20:21 (NLT)

While there was rejoicing over seeing Jesus alive, the fear was still real, if not heightened by what Jesus had just said. No more hiding behind locked doors, go out into that scary world where you may well get killed! According to tradition, most of them were.

Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

John 20:22 (NLT)

Breathing on the disciples might seem odd, but as often happens the odd things in the Bible are a clue that something symbolic is happening. Here the breathing on the disciples points back to Genesis:

Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.

Genesis 2:7 (NLT)

God breathed life into humanity at Creation. Now here in Jesus God was doing it again. The Giver of life is with you, even in the face of death. Even though the fear of death was real for the disciples, their peace about life, death, and life after death could be real also.

Our fears can be legitimate. We may well end up wounded, emotionally from relationships, or physically from disease. We will likely face death at some point. Fear helps us seek wisdom, on how to stay alive and healthy. Fear is not all bad. But while fear may be helpful, even necessary at times, fear need not steal our peace. While the worst thing that we imagine might happen, could happen, in Christ the best thing that could happen, even beyond our imagination, shall definitely happen.

Let us continue with how fighting steals our peace

When Jesus says “peace be with you,” it is important that we recognize the word used for peace. Jesus would have spoken mostly in Aramaic and used a word related to the Hebrew word for peace; shalom. While our word peace may be used to describe situations where there is no fighting, the word shalom goes deeper to describe a situation where there is harmony. Two nations may be said to be at peace if they are not lobbing bombs as each other, but they may not be experiencing shalom if the relationship is not good. Likewise, you may experience peace in your relationships, but not shalom.

When Jesus told the disciples he was sending them out, he was sending them out among people with whom they did not have shalom. Their enemies were real, the enmity was real.

Jesus said, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” How did the Father send Jesus?

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17 (NLT)

The Father sent the son with the agenda of offering forgiveness, of bringing love in the face of hatred. The disciples were to go out among their enemies with the intention of bringing love in the face of hatred.

As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side.

John 20:20 (NLT)

When Jesus showed the disciples his wounds he could have said “where were you when this happened? Why didn’t you stand by me?” But instead he said “Peace be with you.” Jesus showed them his wounds, not as evidence of their wrongdoing, or anyone else’s wrongdoing, but as a sign that he was real, and that his love for them and his forgiveness of them was real. Having experienced that love, they were now sent out to live it. So are we.

If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

John 20:23 (NLT)

We might automatically think Jesus is speaking of the forgiveness from God that leads to eternal life here. We might therefore smell power, our power. But is that necessary? I like Eugene Peterson’s take on what Jesus said:

If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?

John 20:23 (MSG)

Good question! If we don’t forgive people’s sins against us, we will let those sins fester in our lives and in our relationships. We will let them steal our peace, our shalom.

Jesus is speaking here about the opportunity of experiencing peace in our relationships, and of bringing shalom to others. In breathing on the disciples, Jesus breathed a breath of fresh air into their relationship with him. Gone was any thought of experiencing judgement and condemnation. We can breathe new life into our relationships through forgiveness.

We enjoy shalom with God because God in Jesus has taken the path of the cross with us. Jesus said “As the father has sent me, I’m sending you,” meaning we are now sent on that same path of the cross, of love and forgiveness.

In Conclusion

Has fear stolen your peace? Jesus stands before us today and says “peace be with you.” Our fears may be real, but they need not steal our peace.

Has fighting stolen your peace? Jesus stands before us today and says “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Fighting can end in peace and enmity in friendship when we follow Jesus in the way of the cross.

“Peace be with you.”


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario and appears here most Thursdays.

April 23, 2022

Misplaced Blame

The Message, Job 40:3-5 Job answered:

“I’m speechless, in awe—words fail me.
    I should never have opened my mouth!
I’ve talked too much, way too much.
    I’m ready to shut up and listen.”

We’re back for a fourth time with Matt Tullos who has been writing dramatic, devotionals, sermons, videos, poems and humor since 1985. Click the link in the header which follows to read this online, and to discover more.

I put my hand over my mouth

It’s something in the core of most people: a desire to find out what or who causes messes. And no one likes to get the blame for a mess. As children we blamed our brother or sister for the broken vase and when we’re older we blame our self-sworn enemies for the broken world. And it is broken. The world is a mess and many just can’t do mess.

Cal Jarrett, the father in the 1981 movie, “Ordinary People” said to his emotionally distant wife:

“We would have been alright, if there hadn’t been any mess. But you can’t handle mess. You need everything neat and easy. I don’t know. Maybe you can’t love anybody. It was so much Buck. When Buck died, it was as if you buried all your love with him, and I don’t understand that, I just don’t know, I don’t… maybe it wasn’t even Buck; maybe it was just you. Maybe, finally, it was the best of you that you buried. But, whatever it was… I don’t know who you are.”

I’ve heard many explanations at the graveside, where people tried to explain or theologize accidents, cancer, or covid. These philosophical expeditions are fool’s errands. Others don’t blame, they just disconnect.

We’ve lived through a season of blame. Some blame the mandates, immune systems, fake news, Facebook, critical race theory, politicians, presidents, doctors, the masked, the unmasked, antifa, news outlets, millennials, boomers, China, political parties, and mandates. Blaming is what we do to make ourselves feel better. We feel more in control when we have an enemy we can attach to the post office walls of our souls. But that feeling becomes eventually void, brief and ephemeral. We dig into our own feeble logic and construct belief systems that tie neat little bows over our limited and inadequate world view. Our nature is to forward blame to others so that we can feel better about ourselves and rationalize the root of anger that grows beyond the borders of our personal lives. This is Springsteen’s darkness on the edge of town. We live in the shadows and snipe at our enemies from Twitter accounts and snarky memes.

One thing is certain: Blame keeps us in safe little bubbles where we don’t have to engage. It works until we realize that the bubble is an eternally dangerous place to be. That bubble of isolation and stagnation leads to an insidious rot of the soul.

I’ve witnessed the birthing process. It’s messy. There’s pain, blood, sweat, snot, cries, and danger. I’ve also experienced graveyards. There’s organization, specific dates, symmetry, and nice, tidy rows. But, I’d rather be in the labor room. You learn so much more.

Throughout the book of Job, we see men doing postmortems of tragedies that come in bunches. We’ve all had cascades of crises which appear together out of nowhere. The baby is sick, the car blows up and we get passed over for the promotion- all in one day. It’s easy to ask the wrong questions when life gets dark and messy. The default is often, “Why?” “What did I do?”  Or, perhaps, an even more insidious question, “Why is God doing this to me?” More often than not, these questions are pointless.

The meaning of the book of Job is found late in the fourth quarter after all the armchair quarterbacking is completed. God finally speaks. A lot. Finally. God asks him forty-six answerless questions about the mysteries of His purpose. Forty-six! How would you like that divine interrogation? I can relate to Job’s response: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.”

When God speaks all I can do is put my hand over my mouth.

When God speaks I get tired of my own opinions.

When God speaks I realize that maybe I should shut up about my theories for once.

When God speaks I realize that I’ll never understand the world on this side of eternity.

I say like Job: I have spoken once, but I have no answer— twice, but I have nothing to add.”

It brings Job to a majestic response: Only God knows. His plans are much higher than my mind can fathom.

There’s a joy in not having to explain God, and simply trusting Him when troubles come in bunches. There’s serenity when you hand the gavel over to the Almighty Judge of the universe. You don’t understand? Well, guess what. You aren’t God. How can I add anything to what God has already decreed and ordered in the timeline of His sovereign grace?  I ask about injustice and He replies, “Go look at the elephant. I made that.” I worry about the future, and He tells me to look at the birds.

I give up.

I put my hand over my mouth.

April 22, 2022

The Unspoken Lie of Genesis 3

For those of you who became subscribers of C201 because of previous contact with my other blog, Thinking Out Loud, you may remember that we occasionally linked to Kuya Kevin, an American living in the Philippines. His real name is Kevin Sanders. We somewhat lost contact with him (my fault, not his) here after running three of his articles here at C201, but this week he landed back on my radar.

His blog is simply titled Pastor Kevin Sanders, and he’s been a pastor in El Paso, Texas (for our Brit friends, it’s right on the border with Mexico) for over 15 years and recently completed his DMin from Gateway Seminary. Clicking the header which follows will take you to his site to read this, which is encouraged.

The Lie Beneath the Lie

Most of us are familiar with the Genesis account of sin entering into the world. The serpent approached Eve and convinced her that the forbidden fruit was the key to realizing her own divine potential:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:4-5

We know that was a lie: the act of disobedience brought death, not divinity.

But it seems to me there was a lie underneath that lie. It was just as subtle as the serpent that delivered it. This is a lie that assaults the very character of God. Here it is:

“God is holding out on you.”

Believing this lie can lead to at least two terrible outcomes.

The first is outright disobedience. Eve, then Adam took this route. They instantaneously learned a harsh lesson: God’s prohibitions are ultimately for our protection. They exchanged fruit for thorns, paradise for pain, life for death, and glory for dust. Consequence is a cruel teacher for those who disobey God.

The second is bitterness. This may not be outright, external rebellion against God, but it’s just as toxic for the soul. Perhaps the inward, hidden nature of bitterness makes it even worse (or at least harder to recognize) than outward rebellion. The older son’s heart, after all, seemed just as far from his father as those swine his prodigal brother had fed (Luke 15:11-32). Grace and bitterness do not tend to peacefully coexist in the same heart.

I feel I should expound on this second outcome because it is one I am more familiar with than I care to admit. There have been times I have entertained the lie beneath the lie and experienced the bitterness that follows.

Life disappoints us all at some point. Here are just a few examples that come to mind:

  • That attractive man or woman that won’t pay any attention to you.
  • That job or job promotion which should have been yours.
  • That narcissist who has been blessed with so much talent and/or treasure (you, of course, would have used it all selflessly).
  • That hardship or tragedy that your neighbor deserved more than you.

Sometimes we choose to interpret some of these disappointments as God holding out on us. We often look back and see how silly we were to think this way. We realize that God was, indeed, working for our good (Romans 8:28).

We should know better. I should know better–especially when I consider that God “did not spare His own Son” for my sake (Romans 8:32).

Lord, you have loved me perfectly and blessed me more than I will ever deserve. Forgive me for those times I have failed to trust You. May I always guard my heart against lies and bitterness.


Second Helping: By the same author, The Advance of the Gospel in an Evil World

April 11, 2022

Telling Others: A Prime Week for Ministry

One year ago, we introduced you to Bernie Lyle who writes at Musings from an Idle Mind. Although it was posted yesterday for Palm Sunday, it encourages us to invest ourselves in looking for ministry opportunities that could present themselves naturally to us in this week. Clicking the title below gets you to Bernie’s site to read this directly.

Appointment with Destiny

“Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: “ ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭19:37-38‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Appointment with destiny

In the human life there are many appointments, some of them are of our choosing, others are ordained for us as unavoidable, such as our eventual death. In the case of our Lord Jesus, His appointment with destiny was both of His choosing, and ordained, as it was determined from the foundation of the earth, that He would come and die for our sins.

On a morning long ago, a morning that we have come to know as Palm Sunday, our Lord entered the Jerusalem to great rejoicing. He came in as a King, with much fanfare, as the public cheered His coming.

“And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!””
Matthew 21:8-9 NKJV

As Jesus approached, I can imagine His conflicted emotions, as the all knowing God, He knew that the very same voices that heralded His arrival, would later be crying “crucify Him!” But still Jesus continued on, on mission to reconcile God with man, and defeat the evil one.

Through the entirety of the coming week, each courageous step toward Calvary was planted in the surety of what was to come after the cross. Even so, I am sure He battled the flesh that He had humbled Himself to dwell in, as He felt everything that we feel.

I try and think of some of the moments of destiny in my life. I think of all the humiliations of going through cancer many years, an experience I walked through accompanied by the Lord alone. Through the journey, the Lord was with me, guiding me, reminding me of His presence in the Scriptures I read, and the worship music in which I listened.

The Father was surely with Jesus as He went through His week.

As we come into this Palm Sunday, there is no certainty that there will be another, as our world appears of its own perilous path to its appointment with destiny. Regardless, we have today, and we too have the surety that there is something beyond the uncertainty before us, as we look to the soon coming of the Lord Jesus.

May this day be a beginning point, a marker that we stand on as the starting point of a week of ministry. Holy Week is a great opportunity to go out and tell of Jesus, for many have a consciousness of God and the work of Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, pray for opportunities to share the Good News, to tell of Jesus who came to earth, clothed in human flesh, lived as one of us, lived a sinless life, died the sinners death that we deserved. Tell your own story, of how He forgave you, and changed you, of how He changed your destiny from Hell to Heaven.

Tell also of the new life, brought by His resurrection. The world is full of people who need to hear all of this, for there are many whose lives are filled with struggles and consequences.

Many of the people that we will encounter will have their own appointments with destiny, and more than likely, some of them might even have that appointment with eternity, and yours might be the voice that guides them to heaven.

Let us be sure to cry out and rejoice of all that the Lord has done for us, for we would be ashamed if the stones drowned out our praise.

“And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.””
Luke 19:39-40 NKJV


#prayforukraine

April 10, 2022

The Underlying Tensions of Palm Sunday

First, before we begin, as we were discussing possible “call to worship” or as some call it “opening sentence” material for Palm Sunday, I found myself reading the original prophecy in Zachariah 9:9 which is fulfilled on this day in the life of Jesus.

Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is righteous and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

That’s the NASB. In The Message, Eugene Peterson renders it as,

“Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion! Raise your voice, Daughter Jerusalem! Your king is coming! a good king who makes all things right, a humble king riding a donkey, a mere colt of a donkey.”

Second, the original material that I write here is occasionally prone to be repeated after four years, but the guest writers are never repeated. In looking for some thoughts for yesterday, I also considered, but didn’t use, excerpts from previous C201 devotions, but in the 24 hours that followed I kept thinking I wanted to repeat something we’d used previously — exactly five years ago — from Clarke Dixon. And Clarke is like family. So here, for the first (or possibly second) time is an encore performance from a pastor who practically lives in my backyard. (It’s an expression; he really lives about 20 miles away.) The direct link is in the title below.

Feeling Nervous? Romans 8:31-39

by Clarke Dixon

Feeling nervous? If you are one of the disciples entering into Jerusalem with Jesus then you probably should be. Yes there is the excitement of the crowds waving their palm branches and shouting “Hosanna,” but there is also the danger that exists when revolution is in the air. Jerusalem at the time is the home of powerful people with powerful ideas. Some have the idea that Rome should get lost and the occupying Roman army should take a hike. Others think that every hint of revolution should be squashed. These are dangerous times. Within a few decades there will be a revolution and Jerusalem will be destroyed. But right now, revolution is in the air and there’s a miracle worker entering Jerusalem on a donkey, which means he may as well wave a banner saying “I am the Messiah, I will rescue you.” To most minds this means “I will kick the Romans out.” Revolution is in the air, blood will be spilled. If you are one of the disciples entering Jerusalem with Jesus, you should be nervous.

What does the “triumphal entry” of Jesus and the events we celebrate on Palm Sunday have to do with Romans chapter 8? The connection is found in Paul’s quotation from Psalm 44:

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:36

Psalm 44 is a “Psalm of complaint” where the Psalmist complains that God’s righteous people are suffering and need to be rescued. Implied in the appeal for a rescue is also, of course, that God would deal with the enemy. This is an appeal to the justice of God, that He would do the right thing and rescue His people. In Jesus’ day you could think of the Jews of Jerusalem being the righteous sufferers while the Gentiles from Rome are the evil oppressors. Surely when the Messiah comes he will rescue Jerusalem and destroy the Romans! However, the facts are set straight at the cross.

By the end of the week, blood has been spilled. It is not the blood of Jewish revolutionaries, nor of occupying Roman forces. It is the blood of one man, Jesus. He is the one accounted as a sheep to be slaughtered. He is the one who can appeal to innocence and the injustice of his death as the righteous sufferer of Psalm 44. He is the one who can appeal to God the Father for a rescue, and the destruction of the enemy.

Therein lies the problem. Everyone is included in that enemy; the Roman authorities granting the final word, the Roman army carrying out the deed, the Jewish authorities instigating the whole rotten affair, and the Jewish crowds shouting “crucify him, crucify him.” The saying is spot on: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) Well almost, there is one who is righteous, the one being crucified on trumped up charges, the one experiencing the culmination of hatred, the one experiencing injustice.

This is the moment in which God the Son, as the innocent sufferer, could call upon God the Father to do “the right thing,” to rescue him and destroy the enemy. Problem is, of course, that destroying the enemy would mean destroying everyone. If there is ever one moment that stands out as the moment for God to unleash his righteous anger at the world, this is it; at the cross. If there is ever a moment proving God’s righteousness in sending a flood, this is it. The flood in Noah’s day was due to man’s violence against humanity. Now at the cross humanity’s violence is turned to God Himself. Rebellion against Rome hung in the air, but we sank to our lowest low when, in our rebellion against God, Jesus hung on a cross.

Perhaps we should be nervous? The blood of Jesus is on our hands too. Would we have acted any different than the disciples in abandoning Jesus? Than Peter in denying Jesus? Than the religious leaders in seeking the death of Jesus? Than the crowds in demanding the crucifixion of Jesus? Than Pilate in acquiescing? Than the Roman solider in carrying out orders? We are no different.

So should we be nervous knowing that we are complicit in crimes against God Himself? Let us turn again to Romans 8:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Romans 8:31

But is God for us?

When we ask if God is for us, we may think of the crucifixion as overwhelming evidence of our rebellion against God. However the cross was not just our great act of rebellion, it was also God’s great act of love. Consider:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19-20

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

Satan, the accuser, may have a lot of dirt on us. Actually, not just may, he does have a lot of dirt on us. We have given him a long list of things to choose from as to why we do not deserve to be in the presence of God. However:

If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Romans 8:31-34

Satan may argue forcefully about all the reasons we do not deserve to be in the presence of God. God says in effect “I already know about all that, in fact I already paid for it.” When we are in Christ, the dirt does not stick.

When we ask if God is for us, some may point to our own suffering as evidence that maybe He is not. Paul brings us back to the facts. We measure God’s love for us, not on our suffering, but on His. We suffer because we are humans living in a broken world. He suffered because of His love for broken people.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

Our suffering is not evidence that God does not love us. The suffering of Jesus is evidence that He does.

Feeling nervous? Because of sin, you should be. Many a person in this world should be quaking in their boots right now. However, in Christ, you needn’t. Which brings us back to where we began in Romans 8:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV


Read more at Clarke’s blog: Thinking Through Scripture

April 3, 2022

His Mission, Your Mission

This is our third time with Mel Wild, senior pastor at Cornerstone Church and director of Radiant School of Ministry, both based in Wisconsin USA. Clicking the header which follows takes you to where we sourced it, along with pictures and the opportunity to explore other articles.

The Mission

What has always struck me when I first encountered God is that, in those life-changing interactions, my sins never came up. This was long before I knew Him as a Father. I found that He never deals in shame or condemnation. Now, He is a father, so He has corrected me many times, to help me mature as a son. But never with shame or by rubbing my sin in my face.

Then, after these encounters with God, I began to understand the theology behind what I was experiencing in real time. Apparently, God does not count our sins against us.

that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor.5:19 NIV*)

This is remarkable when I think about how much Christians seem to obsess over sin…. especially everybody else’s sin.

What I’ve found is that to encounter God is to encounter Love—pure, unadulterated, other-centered, self-giving love—for God IS love. If we simply replace the word “love” with God in the following familiar passage, we can see what God’s love looks like:

GOD is patient, GOD is kind. GOD does not envy, HE does not boast, GOD is not proud. GOD does not dishonor others, HE is not self-seeking, HE is not easily angered, GOD keeps no record of wrongs. GOD does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. GOD always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor.13:4-7 NIV*)

The Passion Translations renders the first part of verse 5, Love does not traffic in shame….”

So, it’s true. God does not traffic in shame.

This is the true character of God, not the religious nonsense we make up about Him. God looks like Jesus, and Jesus looks like love.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us of the following New Covenant promise that Jesus fulfilled on the Cross:

“Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.” (Heb.10:17 NIV)

Beloved, if God is remembering our sins no more, why are we?

Still, to this day, I have trouble convincing people—especially believers—that when we personally encounter God, our sins will not be the subject of our conversation. If it is, we are probably projecting our own guilt and shame on God.

This may be the biggest reason why people, including believers, hide from Him.

We tend to prefer hiding behind religious activity instead letting God love us, which is quite sad when you think about it.

Beloved, our sin is not the problem; it’s that we put more faith in the power of our sin than in the power of the Cross.

I bring all this up because our inability to accept this reality ourselves may be one big reason why we’re not very effective at convincing others to accept it.

We don’t seem to understand the mission.

On that subject, just this week I was reading about our mission in 2 Corinthians from the Passion Translation:

And God has made all things new,  and reconciled  us to himself, and given us the ministry of reconciling others to God. In other words, it was through the Anointed One that God was shepherding the world, not even keeping records of their transgressions, and he has entrusted to us the ministry of opening the door of reconciliation to God.  (2 Cor. 5:18-19 TPT*)

What first struck me here was the Aramaic rendering of the Greek “reconciliation” as “shepherding.” God was shepherding the world through Christ on the cross.

A shepherd is one who herds sheep. And he doesn’t turn his back on his sheep, or ever abandon them; he protects them, even laying his life down for them.

And, likewise, our heavenly Father is a good shepherd. He doesn’t do abandonment either. He didn’t turn His back on His Son on the cross. He was shepherding US through His Son.

This is why the Cross was not about an angry God having to kill His Son so He could forgive us. That’s absurd when you think it through.

No, the Cross was a rescue mission. It was the loving act of a Shepherd.

Think about it. Jesus was the Good Shepherd because His Father was a Good Shepherd.

Then Paul goes on to say….

We are ambassadors  of the Anointed One who carry the message of Christ to the world, as though God were tenderly pleading  with them directly through our lips. So we tenderly plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Turn back to God and be reconciled to him.”  (2 Cor 5:20 TPT*)

Looking at the last line first, you could say that God is pleading with us all to “be shepherded by Him.”

But also notice that He’s now pleading through us, which describes OUR mission. Which, save dying on the Cross, is the same mission as Jesus’ mission.

In light of all these things, my question is this: what kind of God are we projecting to those who don’t know Him? Are we like good Pharisees, rubbing people’s sin in their faces? Or, are we offering our lips to be used by Him to “shepherd” them, so that they can finally know Him as He truly is?

It’s not that sin isn’t important. It’s just that God seems to think He nailed it to the cross and buried it with Jesus’ death 2,000 years ago. And He also seems to have forgotten about our sins ever since.

What God IS remembering is that His Son removed EVERYTHING that would hinder us from knowing Him, so that we could know and experience Love.

And Love wants to use our lips, if we’re willing, to proclaim this crazy good news that brings great joy, to everyone we know.

That’s our mission….if WE decide to accept it. And if we accept it, they may too.

* All emphasis added.

 

March 26, 2022

Holiness Makes Some People Squirm

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

This is our fourth time with Eric Wright, a retired pastor and missionary that I have had the privilege of knowing personally. Eric is the author of several books in different genres, including inspirational, doctrinal and (especially) fiction. You can learn more at Country Inspiration. To read this on his site (with pictures) click the header which immediately follows.

Does Talk of Holiness Make You Uncomfortable?

In times past, Christians have been called holy-rollers or holy-joes. Downright weird. Generally, those who openly profess Christ are assumed to think of themselves as holier than thou. The very term, holiness¸ seems not only archaic but a word that makes people feel uncomfortable.

But in this 16th in my series about celebrating redemption, we come to holiness, a vital aspect of sanctification. According to 2 Corinthians 7:1 if we are to progress in sanctification, we must grow in holiness. “Dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” According to Hebrews 12:14; ”Without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” And in Hebrews 10:14, sanctification is “being made holy.”

In essence, holiness is separation from all sin, from everything that morally contaminates, from everything that would anger the thrice-holy God of Isaiah 6. In a vision Isaiah saw two seraphs crying to each other as they flew; “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty” (Is. 6:3). This vision of God’s holiness made Isaiah cry out “Woe is me…I am a man of unclean lips” (6:5).

In a non-moral sense, God, is in essence, holy in being completely separate from all His creation. In a moral sense, he is holy in being separate from all that is evil. The laws he has given us define evil negatively and holiness positively. Disobedience to God’s laws either in act or thought makes us unholy.

It is crystal clear that the goal of every follower of this Holy God, is to perfect holiness in the fear of God. Having been born again, we are to put off the old sinful self and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).

“Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD…Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees…I seek you with all my heart, do not let me stray from your commands” (Ps. 119:1, 5,10) Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.”

If holiness is our goal, we won’t go around projecting an image that we are “holier than thou”, for holiness is an attitude as well as an action. The beatitudes define holiness as humility, meekness, mercy, compassion, etc. (See. Matt. 5:3-12) Galatians 5 defines holiness as love, joy, peace, longsuffering… (Gal. 5:22,23). Or in the Jesus’ response to a lawyer’s question, the essence of the law is love for God and love for one’s neighbour. Clearly, then, holiness is not a one-dimensional quality, it is not just the absence of sin but the presence of those qualities of life that reflect love.

But how to we grow in holiness? For grow we must. The very essence of sanctification is growth. No growth—no life. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [the holy one]” (2 Peter 3:18).


Further articles, books, and stories by Eric are at: http://www.countrywindow.ca

March 21, 2022

Confession: God Reveals Sin in our Lives

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

We’re invoking our “six month rule” instead the usual 12 months in order to again share something from Geno Pyse, who writes at Geno Pyse and the Proclamation. He is the author of 16 books (!) including Christian Reflections in a Deflecting World.

Click the header (title) below to read this there, where this is one among several recommended articles.

The Importance of Confession

How easily we can camouflage pseudo-spirituality and religious pretenses with religious activities and rhetoric. We can fool others, and astonishingly, we can even deceive ourselves! But we cannot fool or pull one over on God, the omniscient One. We can twist God’s Word in a way to fool ourselves and others, but this is only to our own harm. Truth remains truth regardless of twisting, rhetoric, or smoke and mirrors.

The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins,” (7:20). We can (and do) go around patting ourselves on the backs, thinking, “You’re okay and I’m okay.” But the truth of the matter is we’re not always okay. If we’re not careful, we can ignore the flowerbeds of our hearts and allow the weeds of anger, pride, lust, covetousness, worry, and the like to take root and begin choking the flowers of virtue and grace. We can begin to deny God’s perspective on attitudes and behaviors He declares  as sin. We can erect various forms of idolatry in our lives and churches and truly believe everything is alright when everything is all wrong.

Sin is never neutral. Even if a person is truly redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, sin still has consequences. And the more one ignores and dismisses the warnings of God’s Word, faithful believers, and the convictions of the Holy Spirit, the more severe the consequences will be.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. ~ 1 John 1:5-6

God is light. There is no darkness—not even shadows—in Him. He is completely holy, Truth to the utmost absolute, and pure in the highest caliber. We, on the other hand, are not. And while God, indeed, is very lovingly long suffering with us, He does not at all condone our walking and wallowing in sin like kids jumping in puddles and pigs rolling in mire. What we sometimes fail to understand is when we try to harbor our sins we begin to walk in darkness. The longer we are in darkness, the further we can stray from the Lord and lose our way. This, in turn, causes us to become more vulnerable to other deceptions and various forms of bondage (even religious kinds).

We read a truth in the Old Testament that remains true in the lives of true believers:

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. ~ Isaiah 59:1-3

In Christ, the issue is not whether one can be forgiven, because all sin is forgivable through Him. Rather, are we willing to let His light expose our sins, and are we willing to agree with Him for what He says about them? Our sins do disrupt our fellowship with Him. And Jesus says of those who reject Him and the reason they stand condemned:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. ~ John 3:19-20

For God’s people, in the midst of our struggle with sin, the apostle writes,

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 8-9

The word confess doesn’t simply mean to admit. Rather, it’s taken from the Greek word, homoiogeo, which means to agree and consent to. Thus, confession has to do with agreeing with God concerning the way He sees our thoughts, behaviors, attitudes, and motives, then changing these accordingly.

Today, we are in dire need to confess—to agree, to consent—with God and His perception on things. It is easy to look at the world and see what a mess it’s in; however, as Christians we can be ever so guilty of wanting to take the specks out of unbelievers’ eyes, while being oblivious to the forests in our own. The church in the West (especially in the United States) harbors all kinds of pride, anger, envy, and partialities. We’ve allowed all kinds of “back talking” and casting doubt on God’s Word—even in many of our seminaries. Furthermore, we’ve erected all kinds of idols (especially in the areas of entertainment and comfortable living) in our hearts and churches.

How can we see if we are walking and stumbling in darkness? How can we really be walking with God if we are not willing to agree and consent to what He says about things? An essential part of prayer is asking the Lord to reveal sin in our lives. The psalmist writes,

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! ~ Psalm 139:24-24

This, my friend, is a continual and life long endeavor. But we are promised that as we do, God is both faithful and just to not only forgive us of sin but to also cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

 

February 17, 2022

When Everyone Is So Certain

Thinking Through Luke 6:17-26

by Clarke Dixon

Is it just me, or is everyone convinced they are right and everyone else is wrong? For uncertain times there sure is a lot of certitude. How are we supposed to be sure of anything when everyone seems so sure of everything yet can agree on nothing? Our Scripture Focus today will help us find our way.

In today’s Scripture Focus Jesus challenged two things that many people were certain about.

First, Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about about how God works.

Then looking up at His disciples, He said:
You who are poor are blessed,
because the kingdom of God is yours.
You who are now hungry are blessed,
because you will be filled.
You who now weep are blessed,
because you will laugh…

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your comfort.
Woe to you who are now full,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are now laughing,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:20,21,24,25 (HCSB)

It was well known in those days that if you obeyed God, things would go well for you and you would be blessed. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t. Therefore the assumption was that the rich, the well-fed, the happy were obviously those who were well deserving of God’s blessings. The poor, the hungry, the unhappy, were obviously those who didn’t deserve God’s blessings. Many people think this way today.

Jesus challenged all that; “Blessed are the poor.” Discerning who is blessed by God and who is not goes way beyond merely looking at who seems to be doing well in life right now. There is something much deeper going on. That is not how God works.

So how did everyone get it wrong and could they have have done better?

The prevailing understanding seems to lean heavily on the Book of Deuteronomy where we find lists of blessings and curses for God’s people. If the people as a nation obeyed God, they would be blessed, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t. When Jesus spoke about blessings and woes he was probably intending for people to make that connection with Deuteronomy. Yet what he said was very different, and challenged their assumptions.

Assumptions could have been challenged earlier if people paid more attention to other parts of the Bible, like the Book of Job. The Book of Job is a rather long drama that asks the question, why do good people suffer while bad people flourish? The Book of Job is not really about the about the answer to that question but rather the validity of that question. It challenges the notion that you can tell if a person is blessed by God by looking at whether they are winning in life or not. Look around, good people sometimes do suffer, evil people sometimes do flourish. Perhaps the conclusions people jumped to by reading Deuteronomy could have been challenged by looking wider and being challenged by Job before being challenged by Jesus.

Looking wider and becoming aware of other viewpoints is key for us today as we navigate this era of certitude.

We can dig deep on any given topic, but we also must look around. As we do so, we are not seeking more reasons to stick to our guns, but greater wisdom, insight, and understanding, allowing our assumptions to be challenged. Doing so may or may not lead us to change our minds, but either way it will allow us to better understand the minds of others.

Some people think they are digging deep, doing research on a topic, but what that looks like is reading article after article that are written from the same perspective, that start from the same assumptions, that support the same conclusions. We call this being in an echo chamber where every voice is echoing the same thing. Sometimes our choice of echo chamber is based on wanting to hear from “experts” what we would want to say if we were the experts. Sometimes digging deeper just gets you into a bigger hole that is harder to get out of. We also need to look around. Other voices are important. We need the conclusions we jump to by reading Deuteronomy to be challenged by reading Job.

Think of how much better this world would be if we all let our assumptions be challenged, if we all sought wisdom, insight, and deep understanding rather than simply seeking confirmation of what we think we know.

Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about about how God works, about how life works. As a matter of prayer we might want to pause and ask the Lord to challenge us about our assumptions and whatever false conclusions we may have arrived at, or been pushed into.

Second, Jesus challenged the assumption that he, Jesus, was not from God.

You are blessed when people hate you,
when they exclude you, insult you,
and slander your name as evil
because of the Son of Man. [i.e. Jesus]
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note — your reward is great in heaven, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets…

Woe to you
when all people speak well of you,
for this is the way their ancestors
used to treat the false prophets.

Luke 6:22,23,26 (HCSB emphasis, clarification added)

Here Jesus pointed out how former generations had got it wrong. They often persecuted the true prophets who were from God, and rewarded the false prophets who were not.

When the religious leaders heard Jesus they were operating with a big assumption, namely, that anyone coming from God would live, teach, and act according to their understanding of the Scriptures. So, anyone healing on a Sabbath, something Jesus was prone to do, was obviously not from God. Jesus said and did many other things that got under their skin. Their attitude was: “Jesus can’t possibly be from God if he does not look, act, and think, just like we do.”

There was at least one religious leader who managed to challenge that assumption:

There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Him at night and said, “ Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.”

John 3:1-2 (HCSB)

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, likely in secret because his openness to Jesus would not have gone over well with the other Pharisees. How many of us keep our thoughts secret out of fear of people jumping all over us for challenging assumptions?

Nicodemus was willing to allow his assumptions, as a Pharisee, to be challenged. And it was to Nicodemus that those most famous of words were said:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NRSV)

Some scholars see this verse, and those that follow, not as the words of Jesus, but as the writer’s comment on the important things Jesus said to Nicodemus. Nevertheless, do our assumptions keep us from hearing about God’s love for the world and for us? Assumptions like “miracles don’t happen,” “Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead because people don’t rise from the dead,” or “The Bible is just all made up stories.”

Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths about Jesus, God, God’s grace and love, and God’s kingdom? Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths that lead us to life, to the Giver of life? Might assumptions keep those of us who follow Jesus from following more closely?

Might assumptions keep us from learning important truths about people and the way things work? It might be assumptions around mental health, race relations, viruses and vaccines. We might have assumptions about Muslims, atheists, Christians, truckers, health care workers, youth, seniors, people who are LGBTQ+, politicians, and yes, pastors. If I had a penny for every time someone has said to me “you are a pastor and you ride a motorcycle?”!

Jesus challenged people’s assumptions about their beliefs about whether or not he, Jesus, was from God. Perhaps we should pause and ask if Jesus would challenge our assumptions about who he is and he is about. While we are at it, perhaps we should challenge the assumptions we make about everyone else too. And then there are the assumptions we make about ourselves.

In Summary

In our society today there are many deeply held convictions. Deeply held convictions are no guarantee of deep insight. As we allow our assumptions to be challenged, as we listen to other voices, it will make a big difference. Let us be wise, seeking insight, knowledge, and understanding, on anything and everything, and of everyone, including ourselves. Let us especially seek insight where it matters most, about God and God’s love for us in Christ.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)


In addition to formatting Clarke’s “Shrunk Sermon” notes for several years, for the past 24 months I’ve also been tuned into his church’s online “Worship Expression.” For the sermon portion of this week’s, on which this article was based, click this link.

February 5, 2022

Unsurrendered Places of the Heart

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

A year ago at this time we introduced you to Bernie Lyle who writes faithfully at Musings from an Idle Mind. Click the header which follows immediately to read this where we located it.

Contrition

“Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:4‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

“For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭51:16-17‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Contrition

The closer I get to my end, the more I behold the holiness of Jesus, the One I will one day meet face to face. As I draw closer, I am also more aware of my own uncleanness, of the places in me that have not been surrendered to the admonitions and convictions of the Holy Spirit.

The more I behold God’s glory, and its infinite brightness, the more my sin stands out. In my flesh I seek to hide for Him, much like Adam before me, but He knows all. There is no hiding from Him.

After the stumble, the fall, I find myself sitting in devastation, mourning over the sin that has momentarily separated me from my Lord. It is in those moments of separation, mine, not His, when I feel like Jesus is so far away, that I am filled with contrition.

“Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.”
Psalms 51:1-4 NKJV

I marvel at the grace of God, always plentiful, and more than enough to deal with my sin. I am also amazed at how His grace and love has, over time, transformed my heart, and the things that I desire. As the Holy Spirit has worked in me, I have seen those instances when sin draws my attention, dwindle, as its power over me has faded the closer I get to glory.

The Lord is faithful to forgive and He is also able to change me, cleansing me of sin, and the desire for more sin. That is the power of the Gospel. It saves us, and it makes us holy by freeing us from the need to sin.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
I John 1:9-10 NKJV

Brothers and sisters, we are in a time of testing. The evil one, the devil, knows that his time is short, and he is ratcheting up his war on the saints exponentially. I know that many of you are feeling this pressure like never before. I am reeling at the reports of some of things those who call upon the name of Lord are doing, such as giving into sins that are unprecedented for them.

It is time to draw closer to Jesus, to bask in His glory, that we see the true state of our lives in contrast to the pure light of His holiness. There are many today who will tell you that God is okay with your sin, that His grace will cover, or that He has crazy love for you that He overlooks it. The talk of a gray god, so soft and forgiving.

When Jesus returns, and He will soon, be will be very black and white and he will bring reward for those who have been steadfast in remaking holy.

Jesus loves. Jesus is also just.

As His ambassadors we are called to be holy, representing Him as He is.

“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.””
I Peter 1:13-16 NKJV

“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
II Corinthians 5:20-21 NKJV

Approach this life as if today is the last day you will live, and next you stand before the Lord. Is what you are doing, saying, thinking, what you want to be the last things before you see Jesus?

Read you bibles pray, and confess your sins. Establish a heart of repentance, being filled with mourning and contrition over your sins. Remember always, that God is faithful to forgive and establish you.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”
Psalms 51:10-12 NKJV


Second Helping: I want to recommend another devotional from Musings of an Idle Mind. Check out this look at a narrative from the book of Numbers in the life of Moses and Miriam, titled Crying Out.

January 27, 2022

When Relationships Get Ugly

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Thinking Through Luke 4:14-21

by Clarke Dixon

Relationships can get very ugly very quickly. Whether between people groups or among family and friends, things can turn sour fast. I’m sure I don’t need to give examples as you probably have first-hand experience. Don’t we all!?

We have an example of relationships getting ugly fast when Jesus made a positive first impression on his hometown crowd and then that same crowd attempted to throw him off a cliff! Digging into this event will help us with our ugly relationships.

So what happened? Let’s see where it begins:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:16-21 (NRSV)

We will see why things got ugly when we compare what Jesus went on to say, and not say, with what Isaiah went on to say in Isaiah 61 had Jesus just kept reading.

The first thing we notice is that Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah at a significant moment. He stopped mid-sentence. Had he gone on to read further, he would have read:

…to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,

Isaiah 61:2 (NIV emphasis added)

Jesus stopped short of talking about vengeance. Maybe that is our first clue on handling ugly relationships?

To understand what is going on here more fully, it will help us to realize that Isaiah had prophesied to God’s people about the Babylonian invasion of the promised land, the exile of many to Babylon, and then here in the passage quoted by Jesus, their subsequent return. Isaiah was looking forward to the day God’s people would be set free from the Babylonians, a day of “release to the captives” when “the oppressed go free.”

According to Isaiah, not only could God’s people look forward to freedom from these foreign oppressors, the tables would be turned on the enemy. For example,

Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;
but you shall be called priests of the LORD,
you shall be named ministers of our God;
you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory.

Isaiah 61:5-6 (NRSV)

According to Isaiah’s prophecy God’s people would no longer be slave-laborers for the Babylonians but instead the foreign enemies would be laborers in the promised land. Also, the wealth of God’s people would no longer belong to Babylon, but instead the wealth of nations would be brought to God’s people. This is a reversal of fortunes.

Those in Jesus’ day would have latched onto this reversal of fortunes, especially when Jesus said “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What those listening to Jesus would have been thinking is, “great, just as we needed rescue from Babylon, we now need rescue from these Romans who have invaded our land! This miracle worker may just be the one who will lead the rebellion!”

However, Jesus neither went on to read that part of Isaiah 61 nor to apply it to the current situation, making no insinuation that the tables would be turned and the Romans would become subject to the Jews. As much as the crowd would have loved to have heard that, he said this instead:

Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.

Luke 4:24-27 (NRSV)

Instead of speaking about the tables being turned against the foreigners, Jesus gave two examples from the Old Testament of foreigners receiving a greater blessing from God than God’s people. This is not what the crowd wanted to hear, and this is the point things got ugly and they took Jesus out to throw him off a cliff. This is also the point that helps us with ugly relationships.

Jesus did indeed come to set the prisoners free, but God’s people had bigger enemies than the Romans to worry about. Sin was the greater enemy. The Romans themselves were captive to that same enemy, and in fact, without Christ, so are we. The Romans, though being the oppressors, were themselves prisoners. They were captive to sin, captive to thinking that brute force was the way toward a better world, captive to life without God.

Indeed the brute force of Rome combined with the ignorance of the Jewish religious leaders in the execution of Jesus. Here again, Jesus stopped short of vengeance. Rising from the dead Jesus did not call for immediate destruction of his enemies, but instead sent out his disciples to tell people the good news of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that is entered through the receiving of God’s forgiveness and grace. That forgiveness was, and is still, offered to all God’s enemies.

Our Ugly Relationships

Do you have ugly relationships with others? We have bigger enemies to worry about, enemies that all humans face, like hatred, grudges, gossip, and dangerous ideologies or theologies. Let us seek release from these enemies. Perhaps we should put more of our focus and energy on battling these sins than on doing battle with the people we have ugly relationships with. That battle may begin with our own hearts.

When relationships get ugly let us begin by stopping short of seeking vengeance. We might need to learn the art of stopping our thoughts and words mid-sentence, before things go too far. The thought of justice comes naturally to us. The jump from justice to vengeance is a short hop that comes naturally to us. The way of the cross does not. We have God’s Spirit to help!

When our relationships get ugly, let us be like Jesus and remember love first.

Our relationships, our world, could be different if we become enthused by the grace of God, whose first response to His enemies, and ours, is love.


  • To watch a 20-minute sermon on which today’s devotional is based, click this link.
Next Page »