Christianity 201

January 1, 2020

A Year of Vision

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Just face it. You’re going to see many, many references over the next 366 days connecting the year 2020 to the idea of 20/20 vision. So vision seemed like a good place to start.

We kick off the year with an article from a site that is relatively new and offering resources for the whole family, Minno Life brings us this brief devotional by Carlie Kercheval.

What Does the Bible Say About Vision?

As we enter into a new year, many people are searching for a fresh, new start and a new vision of what God has for their life. And with it being 2020, this seems like the perfect year for vision and clarity.

In the world of optometry 20/20 vision refers to a person’s visual acuity. More specifically, 20/20 vision measures how clearly a person can see objects 20 feet away. There are limits to what we can see clearly with the naked eye.

Yet, isn’t it amazing to know that there are no limits on the vision and clarity that God brings into our lives? His omnipotence means that there are no limits or constraints to His vision, and His truth stands the test of time.

Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about vision and lean into His Word for wisdom to enter into this new decade and beyond.

What Does the Bible Say About Vision?

Without a Vision People Perish

Where there is no vision, the people perish . . . Proverbs 29:18 KJV

One of the things that this verse makes very clear is that a vision is vital to carrying out God’s will for our lives. And without any revelation of His will, we have no way of creating a Christ-fueled vision for our family. However, when we are actively seeking God, we not only download His vision for our lives, we are able to teach our children to do the same. Our children watch everything we do and by modeling a life of seeking God, we are sowing an eternal legacy that will bless our children’s children.

God Has a Good Plan

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

The words of Jeremiah 29:11 bring a confident peace in knowing our good Father has a good plan for our lives. He promises us that we have hope and a future. Knowing this gives us a great understanding of what our future with Christ holds, and it is always good. This is so comforting as a parent as we seek to teach our children about God’s love and goodness. This verse is a wonderful way to keep God’s vision for us at the forefront of our minds, especially when circumstances are leading us to believe otherwise. It is important that we hold fast to the vision of God’s plans to guide and protect us as we raise our children unto Him.

The Holy Spirit Shows Us Things to Come

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. John 16:13 NIV

I don’t know about you, but this verse gets me really excited. Why? Because Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit will show us His truth and things to come. This is especially helpful through the different stages of parenting so we can continue to trust in Jesus for our children’s future. That means when we position ourselves to hear God speaking to us through prayer, reading the Bible, and worship, that He will give us wisdom about His vision for our future. I am so thankful for this promise!

The beautiful thing about serving a mighty God like ours is that He is all-seeing and all-knowing. There are no limits to the wisdom and vision that He gives as He shows us things to come through His Word and His Holy Spirit. Be sure to keep this truth at the forefront of your heart as you enter into this new year!


Go Deeper: The website Bible in One Year offers an article on the importance of vision, the power of vision and the fulfillment of vision. Check out From Vision to Action.

December 28, 2019

A Post-Charismatic Looks at Miracles

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

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

Dear Charismatic Sisters and Brothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 18, 2019

Without the Spirit’s Help, There Will Be No Self-Control

Six months ago we introduced you to the website Generosity Monk. Author and teacher Gary Hoag has curated an amazing collection of excerpts from scholarly books and commentaries — including some obscure sources — and runs the excerpt followed by some observations on what makes this personal to him. What follows was posted last week as one of three fresh readings from the three Cappadocian Fathers. Click the header below to read this particular post at source.

Basil of Caesarea: Self-Control, Obsessions and Despondency

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Galatians 5:22-23

“Anyone who is truly self-controlled does not desire human glory, but restrains himself from vices such as wrath and despondency and all those obsessions which untaught and incautious souls are wont to cling to. One might go so far as to say that among all the commandments of God we find that the one is so linked with the other that it is impossible to accomplish one in isolation from another. This is found especially the case with self-control itself, in that the humble person is judged to be one who has restrained himself from pride and one who has renounced all his property and, according to the Gospel, sold all his possessions and distributed them to all (cf. Matthew 19:21) is without doubt one who has restrained himself from the desire of money. And the meek too will be one who has mastered his wrath and checked his rage. And the wandering looks of the eye, the listening of the ear, and the looseness of the tongue – what else but self-control can subdue and check them?”

Basil the Great (330-379) Bishop of Caesarea, one of the three Cappadocian Fathers, and doctor of the Eastern Church, Question 8, Response 20-25, in Rule of St. Basil in Latin and English: A Revised Critical Edition, ed. Anna M. Silvas (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013) 95… He was an influential theologian whose writings always shape me when I read them.

In this section of his rule Basil expounds on self-control so that “untaught and incautious souls” may avoid being overcome by obsessions and despondency in trying to sort life on their own. It’s the last in the list of the fruit of the Spirit for a reason. It’s really important! If we have self-control, it saves us from a host of vices, including pride and the desire of money.

We live in a day when even Christians tell us to hold on to money. Many (wrongly!) call it wise stewardship. Don’t be fooled. Holding back money for ourselves positions us to indulge in a host of other sins and shifts where we place our trust. In telling us to let go of property in the Gospels, Jesus was not trying to rob us but to help us.

So what’s the key to self-control and how does it relate to generosity?

Without the Spirit’s help, there will be no self-control and no generosity in our lives. None! Either the self guides our lives or the Spirit does. When we submit to the Spirit, it frees us from obsessions and despondency, from the desire for anything other than God to sustain us and all the fear, worry, and vices that go with it.

Father, show us any areas of our lives dominated by self rather than the Spirit. As you do, teach us to submit those areas of our lives to You, so that our obedience delivers us from obsessions and despondency that seek to overcome us. Make us people that exhibit the fruit of generosity and self-control. Hear our prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

August 29, 2019

Don’t Focus on What You’ve Been Told You Can’t Do

Today we’re back for a third time with Craig Greenfield, founder and director of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Jesus: An Adventure in Justice and Mercy in a Broken World. Clicking the header below will take you to the original article with a longer introduction.

She did what she could

In Mark 14, Jesus is in a place called Bethany, which some scholars suggest actually means, “House of Misery” or “House of Affliction and Poverty”. So, it may have been a place where the poor congregated and received handouts.

This might explain why Jesus was chilling out at the home of the unfortunately-named “Simon the Leper”.

Maybe Bethany, this place of struggle and affliction, was a place where men like Simon and other outcasts made their home.

Maybe you’re in your own kind of Bethany.

Perhaps you feel like you’re in a place of misery, sickness, or poverty right now. Maybe you are living in the midst of a broken neighbourhood, or going through a season of affliction. Whatever that looks like.

If so, pay attention. Because what happens next is quite mind-blowing and cool.

Jesus is having dinner around the table with Simon and a bunch of his crew. And a woman (John suggests it is Mary, the sister of Martha) slips in with a bottle of expensive perfume.

She makes her way quietly through the small gathering. No-one knows what she is about to do. As Mary draws nearer to Jesus, she adjusts the pint jar in her hands. She’s shaking a little. But she’s determined to do what she came here to do.

Jesus is mid-sentence, reclining. Mary steps forward and breaks the seal. She tilts the jar. The perfume flows out, thick and fragrant, enough to drench Jesus’ head, drip down his beard, and even reach his feet. A pungent aroma fills the room. It’s overwhelming. Faaaaaaaaaar too much perfume.

The crowd turns. “What the heck have you done, Mary!?!”

John says that Mary kneels now, as mouths drop open in surprise and shock, and she wipes Jesus’ feet with her long hair. An act of devotion.

And then Jesus praises her with these poignant words:

“She did what she could.” (Mk 14:8)

It’s a dramatic scene. Here’s this woman, lacking in almost every way that the world deems important. Small. Vulnerable. Fragile. But she carries out an act so brazen, so incongruous, that the whole party is buzzing with surprise and indignation.

Notice who she is, who God uses, and see if it resonates with your situation today:


1. She lacks power.

Like any woman in that time, Mary was considered a second-class citizen, of no status or authority. Respectable women were expected to stay mostly within the confines of the home. If a woman was ever in the streets, she was heavily veiled and was prohibited from conversing with men.

The women Jesus knew were very likely illiterate, since the rabbis did not consider it important for women to learn to read. (On a side note, most of us don’t experience illiteracy – except when we move to a new country. Perhaps you’re struggling with the language in the place where you live? Or in some other way you feel you don’t measure up educationally. That’s Mary.)

And yet she steps forward. She dares to push through the crowd. Mary holds her head high. She does what she can.


2. She lacks permission.

No-one saw Mary coming, or realized what she was going to do. And it’s probably wise that she didn’t ask for advice from the established religious leaders first, because as soon as she acts, everyone is up in arms. The crowd of critics erupts in grumbling and furor. What a dumb thing to do! So unstrategic! Those resources could have been used better elsewhere.

And yet she acts anyway. A small, seemingly insignificant and unimportant act. She does what she can.


3. She lacks support.

No-one is on board with Mary’s strange action. It seems out of place, incongruous, lacking in purpose or objective. You wouldn’t write this in your newsletter home. You wouldn’t submit it in a monthly report to your manager. You probably wouldn’t even post it on Instagram.

And frankly, in the context of a place of poverty, like Bethel, it’s not surprising to me that there is some critique of her extravagance. The grumbling actually makes sense on a human level.

But Mary is compelled by something beyond human reason. She has left space for the Spirit to lead. And she does what she can.


We do need worldly knowledge and wisdom. There are times when it is appropriate to strategize about how to best reach the poor. We need big thinkers. We need to reflect on best practice and critique models of mission that are broken. We need to think beyond emotional acts of mercy and consider the larger structural justice issues.

I do that a lot, in my blog and in my books.

But we also need to leave room for the mystical, the beautiful, and the small.

We need to leave room for the Spirit.

There are plenty of critics out there. The room is filled with finger-pointers.

On the left, the progressive movement is overflowing with critique. Everything is “problematic”. Everyone with privilege is complicit. Anyone who dares to go overseas must be a ‘White Savior’. No-one is radical enough.

There is little room for grace.

On the right, conservative evangelicals are often just as bad. They want reports back with numbers of salvations, and to know whether the “gospel was preached” verbally in every situation. They want to know our theological position on this and that.

There is little room for grace.

Many of these critiques are valid and useful. Like I said, there is a time and place for critical thinking and strategic initiatives.

But not all the time.

Sometimes, we just do what we can. Especially when we are in Bethany.

Sometimes we walk in the footsteps of Mary, who didn’t have power, permission or support.

She took what little she had. And she did what she was able to do. Without paying attention to the armchair critics.

Nothing less. Nothing more.

And that was enough. More than enough. Because she was open to the weird and wonderful leading of the Spirit.

And Jesus said, “She did what she could.”

With a smile on his face.

Perhaps you need to hear that encouragement today.

Go ahead. Do what you can. It might not be much. It might be weird or insignificant or unstrategic. But listen to the still small voice of the Spirit. Step out. And do what you can with what you have.

I promise you. It is enough.

 

April 15, 2019

A Conscious Choice to Use What We Have for Good

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

Two Ways to Live

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

I have.

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

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

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

James wrote that there are two uses for our tongues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians:

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

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

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

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

Make the right choice.

December 3, 2018

What Controls Your Mind?

Today we’re back with Colin Sedgwick at Welcome to Sedgonline, and in the course of preparing today’s item, I read several more of his devotionals, every one of which would be a good fit here. In his bio, Colin mentions that he is a Baptist minister and then adds, ” My wife is a teacher and I have two large sons.” Hmmm. Be sure to click the title below to read this at source and then take a few minutes to look around at other recent articles.

Something to have in mind…

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6

What sort of mind do you have?

I don’t mean by that, Are you a really high-powered intellectual – someone who can speak fifteen languages fluently, or understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity? (Or even understand Brexit?)

No. I’m not asking how clever you are; I’m asking about what we might call the shape, the basic character or essence, of your mind. Lazy or active? Open or closed? Teachable or dull? Selective or gullible? Stubborn or flexible? That sort of thing…

As Christians we often talk about our “hearts” – as in “giving our heart to Jesus”, perhaps, or “loving God with all our heart”. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But do we tend to relegate our mind to a back seat, and treat it as if it doesn’t really matter? When did you last consciously think about your mind? Do you value it? Do you do everything you can to keep it, so to speak, in a good state of repair?

Sorry to bombard you with questions. But in the Bible the mind is treated as extremely important. Indeed, when Jesus speaks about the “heart”, often it’s what today we would call the mind that he is really talking about.

Paul too has some very challenging things to say: for example, that we are to be “transformed by the renewal of our minds” (Romans 12:2), and to “set our minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). Perhaps most striking of all: We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).

In Romans 8:5-7 – just three verses – he refers to the mind five times. Verse 6 sums up well what he is driving at: “the mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace”. (By “the flesh” he doesn’t simply mean our physical bodies, and sex in particular, but the whole of our human nature which has been poisoned and corrupted by sin.)

It seems that having a new, strong, clean, efficiently functioning mind matters!

So we can add to that earlier list of opposites – lazy or active, stubborn or flexible and the rest – another pair: “according to the flesh” or “according to the Spirit”? Are our minds still groping about in the darkness of this fallen world’s values? Or are they indeed being “renewed” through the power and purity of the Holy Spirit?

This wonderful “renewal of the mind” is the work of the Holy Spirit. But that doesn’t mean we can leave it all up to him. No: we too have a part to play, and it can be hard work. Above all, it involves that most difficult task of all: resisting temptation.

You will almost certainly know people who strike you as being particularly gracious and Christlike. There is, well, something about them that impresses you; you can’t quite put your finger on it or put it into words, but it’s just there.

If you ask, “How did he/she come to be like this?”, the answer is that it isn’t just a matter of luck, or upbringing, or good genes, but that, probably for many years, that person has been taking the character of their mind seriously and making a conscious effort to mould it to a Christlike shape.

They’re tempted to be gossipy or bitchy? – then they will clamp their mouths shut as quickly as possible. They find themselves feeling jealous? – all right, they will give themselves a telling-off. They do something good which stirs up in them feelings of pride? – they will immediately remind themselves that, no, it is God alone who deserves any credit or praise. They hear something a bit questionable or doubtful? – all right, they will set their mind to think about it, not just swallow it whole. And if they feel their temper beginning to flare up because of somebody’s stupidity or selfishness, they will breathe a silent prayer under their breath.

All of which involves putting their mind to work.

Always before their eyes they will hold a mental picture of Jesus, and remember that it is he, and not some passing fashion or opinion, who is to dictate the workings of their mind.

Putting it simply, such a person will develop the discipline of censoring their own mind in order to keep it “according to the Spirit.” They will always remember that just as we need to watch the kind of food we feed our bodies with, even more do we need to watch the kind of “food” we feed our minds with. Rubbish in, rubbish out, remember…

They won’t always succeed, of course; no, there will be times when they fail. But when that happens, instead of letting themselves feel crushed and useless, they will claim from God the forgiveness which he promises  to those who are truly sorry (1 John 1:9).

There’s a lot more that could be said. But perhaps it’s time to go back to the question we started with: What kind of mind do I have…?

May the mind of Christ my Saviour
Live in me from day to day.
By his love and power controlling
All I do or say. Amen.

~ Kate B Wilkinson (1859-1928)


Read more: In this article, Colin Shares his experiences with his Muslim barber.

July 1, 2017

God’s Direction for the Rest of Your Year

Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30: 20-21 (NLT)

The year is half over. What’s next? Ever wish you could see God’s entire plan for your life like a giant road map?

Back in the day, if you were heading on a vacation trip to a place in the U.S. or Canada where you’d never been before, if you were a member of AAA (or CAA) you could request a trip guidebook. Using previously printed pages representing different highway sections, someone would assemble a series of these ‘strip maps’ into a booklet that also provided commentary on places of interest, restaurants and motels.

Hard to imagine in a world of MapQuest and GPS tracking.

These ‘strip maps’ are a closer representation as to how life presents itself to us. We’re given direction that is sufficient for the day, but don’t always know how the pieces of the journey are going to form an overall story. It’s not unlike walking across a stream using stepping stones, and stopping on each to determine where to put your feet next.

Chuck Smith says of our key verse: “How glorious to be led of the Spirit and having God say, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’ What is the way? The way of waiting upon God and trusting in Him.”

As C.S. Lewis once suggested, to understand how God sees time, draw a line with two ends in a blank sheet of paper, then look at the entire paper. We see the line as a progression, but God sees it as a whole. We live within time, but God is eternal and separate.

Another way to say this is that the difference between our perception of time and God’s might be compared to having a travel atlas where the journey across a country or a continent reveals the beginning and the end. This is the type of “big picture” that God has. Our perception would be more flipping through the strip map, getting the journey in small bite size pieces.

I’m told Lewis also compares our perception and God’s perception to the difference between sitting at a level crossing waiting for a long train to pass by. Each car passes sequentially, one after the other. But miles above, as seen from an airplane, the entire train is visible from beginning to end, and as it slowly snakes its way through the mountains and valleys, seems to almost be standing still.

The problem is, we want the big picture. We want to know where the story is going. But often information is supplied on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour and even minute-by-minute basis.

And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there. Isaiah 35:8 NLT


I heard a story once from someone who was unimpressed with the Christian bumper stickers which proclaimed, “God is my Co-Pilot.” He proposed this amendment: “If God is your Co-Pilot, you need to switch seats.”

If anyone can find a link to the Lewis/train story, or knows an equally good time analogy, feel free to add it in the comments.

June 12, 2016

The Conscience: God’s Operative Tool

•••by Russell Young

The Word of God often speaks of the need to be led by the Spirit in order for a person to be eternally saved.  How does the Spirit lead?  The answer is that God uses a person’s conscience to guide him or her.  The conscience is really God consciousness within the believer.  Where the conscious is strong, that person has a strong awareness of the presence of God.  Where it is weak, the bearer has only a weak or limited knowledge of God’s presence.

Following the believer’s confession of faith and of Christ’s lordship, the new believer is given the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead in obedience to the Word and will of God.  Regarding the Spirit Christ said, “But I tell you the truth:  It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:7-8, NIV) Conviction takes place through a person’s conscience, and the conviction of the world of sin applies to all sinful activity-its practice in the lost and its practice in God’s children.

Christian conscienceA person’s conscience is his moral consciousness. And the writer of Hebrews has recorded that it is the Spirit that cleanses our conscience or moral consciousness from interest in performing those acts which lead to death. (Heb 9:14)  The result should be that a person’s awareness or consciousness of those immoral acts which might tempt him or her should alert them concerning the danger before them.  The Old Covenant Israelites did not enjoy the privilege of the Counselor to guide them but had to rely upon the law and their own sinful nature in order to live righteously.  They could not do it.  The conscience not only alerts the believer of dangerous temptations but also disturbs him or her when sin has occurred so that the sinner, including the believer, might repent and seek forgiveness for cleansing by the blood of Christ. (1 Jn 1:9)

The Holy Spirit uses the conscience to reveal dissonance between God’s Word and will and the believer’s heart and practices.  Paul was able to boast that he kept his conscience clear. “Now this is our boast:  Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in holiness and sincerity that are from God.  We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.” (2 Cor 1:12, NIV) John stated, “If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God…because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (1 Jn 3:21-22, NIV)

The Holy Spirit is active in the lives of believers.  He enlightens them to sin and alarms them when it occurs.  Without his ministry in this regard, transformation into a holy mind and the development of righteous practices could not occur.  When the conscience is troubled a person can know that he or she is acting outside, or about to act outside, the will of God.  The conscience is the warning bell.

The Spirit, or warning bell, can be quenched, however. (1 Thess 5:19) That is, by consciously and repeatedly ignoring the Spirit’s alerts the heart will become hardened to the issue involved and the alert will no longer be heard.  The development of a sensitive Spirit or strong God consciousness is the most important tool the believer has to aid in living a righteous life.

Repeated quenching of the Spirit can lead to the conscience becoming seared; that is, a person’s conscience will no longer work to reveal sin and he or she will a become hypocritical liar.  “The Spirit clearly says that in the later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  Such teaching comes through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as by a hot iron.” (1 Tim 4:1-2, NIV) A seared conscience leads to powerlessness, and to an unholy walk and possibly to the abandonment of faith. Special care should be taken not to sear the conscience concerning “pet” sins. The sins that a person has a tendency to rationalize or excuse.  The believer is to be careful to follow the Spirit’s leading if he or she is to remain faithful and develop the holiness that leads to eternal salvation. (Heb. 12:14)

In respect to the Spirit’s leading, it must be remembered that each person is God’s masterpiece or workmanship. (Eph 2:10) He is working to make them a sacrifice acceptable for God’s kingdom. (Rom 15:16) Christ said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.” (Jn 10:27, NIV) The Lord’s sheep or children will listen to and follow him, and when they do they will be conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29)

The Spirit uses the Word of God to enlighten the believer in regard to sin and righteous living and the Spirit instructs the conscience.  Those who neglect to bathe themselves in God’s Word will be unable to effectively fight the battle against sin and to achieve his or her necessary transformation.  In his study the believer has a responsibility and the privilege of knowing the heart of God on all manner of issues.  The conscience is God’s operative tool consequently, the believer should develop and protect it.

April 29, 2013

When Computers Set Ministry Agenda

Romans 8:14 (NIV)

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.

Most of you probably have some type of agenda/organizer that came with your computer. There are also programs available to pastors and churches that are more specialized; more specific. They are capable of setting the agenda for all sorts of things from a one-year preaching arc to visitation to church finances and everything in between.

In A. W. Tozer’s day the personal computer or laptop had never been envisioned, let alone the smart phone. Instead, he wrote about the most progressive office organizing tool of his day, what we know now as the Rolodex. The article he wrote was titled, “Beware the File-Card Mentality.”

It is part of human nature to want to organize, to put things in boxes and people into categories. It’s part of our DNA to compose lists, make charts and have a diagram for just about everything. Our ability to visually simplify things is not all bad; where would we be without maps? But there are dangers implicit in doing this in a church or ministry environment.

A W TozerTozer wrote:

  • The essence of true religion is spontaneity, the sovereign movings of the Holy Spirit upon and in the free spirit of redeemed men.
  • When religion loses its sovereign character and becomes mere form, this spontaneity is lost also, and its place comes precedent, propriety, system — and the file-card mentality.
  • Behind the file-card mentality is the belief that spirituality can be organized. Then is introduced into religion those ideas which never belong there — numbers, statistics, the law of averages, and other such natural and human things. And creeping death always follows.
  • The danger comes from the well-known human tendency to depend on external helps in dealing with internal things.
  • [This mentality] divides the Bible into sections fitted to the days of the year and compels the Christian to read according to rule.
  • From the road in, it looks like a good idea to work out a system of sermon coverage, mapping out the doctrines of the Bible as a farmer divides his acres, allowing a certain amount of time during the year for sermons on the various Bible truths so that at the end of a given period, proper attention will have been paid to each one. Theoretically, this should be fine, but it will kill any man who follows it, and it will kill his church as well and one characteristic of this kind of death is that neither pastor nor people are aware that it is come
  • It is a deadly thing and works to quench the spontaneous operation of the Spirit.
  • The glory of the gospel is its freedom. The Pharisees, who were slaves, hated Christ because He was free. The battle for spiritual freedom did not end when our Lord had risen from the dead. It still goes on…

All of the above is mostly word-for-word, but for Tozer’s final paragraph, I have to paraphrase this to make it relevant to our century:

  • It will indeed be a cause for mourning when the work of God is entrusted wholly to the webmaster, the ‘tech pastor,’ and the IT department.

April 15, 2013

God Through Us

Keith Brenton posted this a few days ago, even as he is in the middle of a very challenging season of life. So I wanted to post this partly to encourage you to pray for Keith and his family as they deal with Angi, his wife, as she battles cancer.  To learn more go to his blog and scroll back to February 19th and then read forward.  To read today’s post at source, click here.  


God works through us.

It’s not that He can’t work in other ways; obviously He can and does. But because He believes in us — that astounding fact of scripture which simply cannot be denied or dismissed — He wants to work through us.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. ~ Philippians 1:3-6

Can you conclude anything from this that there is a partnership in the gospel? That “he who began a good work in you” can be anyone other than God? So is this partnership just between Paul and the folks at Philippi?

(for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), ~ Galatians 2:8

No! It’s God working through Peter to the circumcised and through Paul to the Gentiles! How does He do that?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~ Ephesians 2:8-10

Is it just to Peter and Paul? Does He just makes work for us? No! It’s for all, and for every:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. ~ 2 Corinthians 9:8

Does He just give us the grace to prepare ourselves for the work? Not by a long shot! There are gifts attached to those grace:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. ~ Romans 12:3-8

So He gives us specific gifts to prepare us for the work He has prepared for us to do. But prepared us in what way?

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

He empowers us. The Spirit, the Lord, God. How much power are we talking about?

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. ~ Ephesians 3:20-22

That’s a lot of power! Does He do it long-distance?

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. ~ Colossians 1:24-29

No; from within! Christ in us. It’s His energy working powerfully within us. That makes us partners in the gospel with God, through Christ!

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. ~ 2 Corinthians 6:1

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:20

How does Christ dwell in us? Through His Holy Spirit:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. ~ Romans 8:9-11

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

The Spirit of God! The Spirit of Christ! Without His Spirit within us, we have no hope of resurrection! We have no chance of escaping destruction! Without His Spirit, we have no way to partner with God in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

We can know scripture forward and backward and think we know everything it means, and if we do not have the Spirit dwelling within us, we are pointless and powerless in our attempts to minister. By the Spirit, God speaks through us:

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:3

And the One who knows how best to prepare and empower each of us does so at His own discretion, not ours:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:7-11

Therefore we work for the common good, Paul says, in partnership with God to build His building, sow and water and tend His field:

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:9

So how do we respond to this offer of powerful, dwell-within partnership?

Do we say, “Well thanks, God, but I’ve got my Bible and I understand it completely and perfectly; that’s all I need and I don’t really want your help”?

Or, “I’m just not sure about all that miraculous stuff or being a part of that; it’s not that I believe You can’t do it, but it scares me a little bit and I’d rather just believe that You don’t work that way anymore because it’s too likely to be perceived as fake and I don’t want to have my credibility damaged”?

Perhaps just: “Oh, You don’t need me, Lord. Use my brother; he talks better than I do”?

Maybe: “I’m catching the next outbound boat for the other direction.”

Do any of those sound familiar?

Too familiar?