Christianity 201

May 19, 2021

Walking the Path of the Rhythms of Jesus

Last year we uncovered the devotional page of Veterans United Home Loans (VU). Although a business — with over 3,000 employees in 28 locations — VU has a Faith & Community “department,” “formed in 2013 to allow people opportunities to have their lives enhanced through deepening faith and improving community—hopefully experiencing greater peace on both vertical and horizontal relational planes.” This time around the author is Brock Bondurant.

Go Back to Go Forward

Jeremiah 6:16 – Thus says Yahweh: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. …”.

Around the end of 2020, a friend of mine wrote a post on taking a slightly different approach to the New Year with a Scripture focus to guide her throughout the year instead of the usual setting of goals and resolutions. This really resonated with me. After reading her post, I set out to find that which would enliven me to personal renewal in 2021. So, when I read the sweet words of Matthew 11:28-30 on the eve of 2021, I found what would be my focus.

Come to me, Jesus said (Matt 11:28). I was extended an invitation to rest, to the renewal that my soul had been longing for. The question still echoes: What if I started from a place of rest? Thus my year began.

My mind and heart have long been captured by the essence of practicing the way of Jesus. In a culture of busy and hurry, practices or habits of Jesus provide rest and renewal through the ways of old instead of the anxiety that we’ve become accustomed to. The spiritual disciplines of the early Church seemed to provide that which my soul was thirsting for – rest and nearness to God – as I began to participate in habits that stir my affections for Jesus. Through the ancient practice of flipping your bible open to read whatever your finger lands on, I found this verse in Jeremiah:

Stand by the roads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.

I set out on my personal study of the way of Jesus and invited my church small group along for the ride, adding a new practice every couple of months. We asked for the ancient paths, where the good way is and found our answer in Jesus. Now, we simply need to walk in it – to practice the way of Jesus – to find rest for [our] souls. Because to accept Jesus’ invitation to come to him, to take his easy yoke upon us means to change our ways. We cannot continue in the way of the world and expect to find the rest that we long for. We must look back, to Jesus himself and live lives renewed by following his life rhythm. We have to go back to these ancient paths to go forward.

Jesus – God in the form of man – walked these ancient paths. He came to not only grant us salvation, but to show us a new way to live. He came as a human to show us the way that we were intended to be human. To become like Jesus, bearing all the fruits of the spirit, we must commit our lives to this way. To be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, and so on, we must walk in His way. But what does that look like? Practices like prayer, Scripture study, time in silence & solitude, Sabbath, and worship with a community of believers. This is the new way – the easy yoke – that Jesus establishes and invites us into. These practices are, as Eugene Peterson describes them, unforced rhythms of grace (Matt 11-28-30 MSG).

I invite you to receive Jesus’ invitation to the new way. I invite you to stand, and look; to ask for the ancient paths – the ones where the good way is – and walk in it with me, with others – together. Looking to Jesus, let us go back to go forward.


Bonus devotional: At the same site, the same author looks at the prodigal son parable and that older son who, “although he was near in proximity, his heart was bent more towards earning his inheritance than it was towards loving the father.” Check out Homecoming.

February 14, 2021

As We Search Our Hearts

Two days ago we looked at our susceptibility to sin. There are a few verses I realized could have also been included, one of which follows in the excerpt from something by Elsie Montgomery we ran in September:

…Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “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 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

I decided to continue tracing back the history of the particular scripture appearing here.

Just over a year ago, we shared a devotional from Gary Henry:

…We are hurt far more by the malignancies in our character than by the illnesses in our body. And it is the removal of these sins in the heart that God is concerned with. The Great Physician desires to restore our spiritual health and wholeness.

If we want to improve, we must be honest and open to the truth about our character right now. Not even the Great Physician can help us if we’re not willing to be examined. Trying to hide our symptoms and pretending that nothing very serious is wrong will only result in our getting worse. An accurate diagnosis will be humbling, to be sure, but we should still want to know the whole truth. David’s prayer is that of an honest man: Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . see if there is any wicked way in me (Psalm 139:23,24). We must desire to see ourselves as God sees us…

In December, 2017, Colin Sedgwick included this same verse, but looked at the life of Asa in both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles and used the analogy of someone having what we call a Jekyll and Hyde character. More than anything else, God hates hypocrisy. Think of the word duplicity and the image is clear of a person who presents a double character. Colin also introduced the idea of a Asa as having an Achilles heel, a weak spot or vulnerability to certain types of sin. He wrote,

…I have to admit, that’s where his story strikes uncomfortably at my heart… Yours too, perhaps. As you search your heart and examine your life, do you see there a big, ugly “But”? Yes, you’re a genuine, sincere Christian. Yes, you want to please and serve God. Yes, you are happy to worship, pray and evangelise. But

If we fail to deal with that “but”, I’m not suggesting that we will lose our salvation. But there are, I think, two things we will lose.

First, our peace of mind. Like Paul in Romans 7:14-25 we will feel ourselves to be “wretched” because we are torn in two.

And second, we will lose our effectiveness for God. Putting it another way, our cutting edge will be blunted.

In August, 2017, I wrote a devotional based on a sermon I had recently heard, that was based on this passage:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Daniel 9:4-6

I added,

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

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon

In November, 2015, Rev. Gregory Crofford raised the dramatic account of Ananias and Sapphira whose duplicity cost them both their lives. He introduced this verse to the discussion:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added

Way back in July, 2012, a writer we used several times but knew only as “Cloudwatcher” also touched on the Psalm 51 verse, but introduced this from James 3:11 as well:

Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they?

I read that verse today and marvel at the duplicity that seems to spring forth from the accounts of fallen Christian leaders; how their words and their actions did not line up. There was, as one person voiced earlier this weekend, apparently a lack of “a congruent life.”

Going back to December, 2011; we come full circle with Elsie Montgomery who noted Spurgeon brought up this scripture in the context of taking a personal spiritual inventory:

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds. -Proverbs 27:23

[Spurgeon] points out that a wise merchant occasionally takes stock. He opens his accounts, examines what is on hand, and determines whether his trade is prosperous or declining. This practice is easily transferred to those who belong to Jesus Christ. Those who are wise will often take stock to make sure that our hearts are right with God. We ask Him to reveal sin and life-patterns that need attention.

That’s all for today; I hope this leaves all of us with much to consider.


For those of you who read the tags which appear after the title, this devotional is tagged with an assortment of search terms from all the devotionals used!

Looking for more content? This weekend I listened to the second part in a recent sermon series, Unleashed by Kyle Idleman based on the Book of Acts. If you’ve got time, sit back and listen to Complacent to Committed.

 

 

 

 

February 10, 2021

Scriptures for Dawn and Dusk

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.
 – Joshua 1:8 NLT, emphasis added

I knew I was getting confused when I had to turn to Wikipedia.

I was looking at a book titled Daily Light on the Daily Path by Samuel Bagster. I thought it would be helpful to include an entry here because in nearly eleven years, I’ve never mentioned this devotional and it has been so helpful to so many. (It would be like publishing an overview of devotional literature and never mentioning Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, which fortunately we’ve done at least three times.)

I decided to save myself some typing by finding the material online, since I was pretty sure that Daily Light… was public domain. But what I found wasn’t the same as the book I was holding, hence the trip to everyone’s favorite online encyclopedia, which stated:

Daily Light on the Daily Path or Daily Light is a Christian daily devotional scripture reading published by Bagster & Sons about 1875. It has been reprinted continually since then. It consists of brief groupings of scripture passages which speak to prominent Biblical themes—two themes (morning and evening) for each day of the year. It appends no commentary, but simply allows scripture to speak for itself.

It’s not the only one to do this. Many have found great benefit by starting the day and ending the day with God’s Word; having it be the first thing their mind considers in the morning, and the last thing to enter their minds when the lights go out. (Hence, several devotional books are available which use a “split shift” format for readings as you wake and as you prepare to sleep.)

Apparently, if you see an edition published by Barbour in 2012, it doesn’t have the morning and evening readings set out, which is what I believe Samuel Bagster was intending.

Here are the readings for today, February 10th, as posted at this website. I’ve decided to leave the scriptures as they appear in the KJV. If you struggle with that version — perhaps English isn’t your first language — the links take you to the NKJV.

You can also find a single daily scripture compilation (similar to what I saw in the Barbour print edition) at this UK website where the verses appear in NIV. There you’ll find a tab you can click to receive them daily by email.

As you read, look for the common theme in each grouping.

February 10

MORNING

The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light. Luke 11:34

The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. I Cor. 2:14

Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. Psa. 119:18

I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. John 8:12

We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image … even as by the Spirit of the Lord. II Cor. 3:18

God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. II Cor. 4:6

The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory… give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: … that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. Eph. 1:17, 18

EVENING

He smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed. Psa. 78:20

All our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that rock was Christ. I Cor. 10:1-4

One of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. John 19:34

He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. Isa. 53:5

Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. John 5:40

My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. Jer. 2:13

If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. John 7:3

Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. Rev. 22:17

 

 

February 5, 2021

Care for the Soul

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we were introduced to, and are now introducing you to Elisha who is a former school teacher and now a homeschool mom. Her blog is titled Mindful Heart and Home. I do love that she transparently shares the challenges of life with her readers.

In November, after a stressful day, she wrote:

…Have you ever had days like this?
How do you reset?
Do you throw in the towel and wait for the next day?

…I decided to stop and embrace a pause.

In that pause I felt God’s gentle reminder that I am enough. I’m not a failure because my plans did not get accomplished. I could hear Him tell me that out of all the mishaps, I loved my kids well today…

Several days later, she continued this theme:

May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD.” – Psalm 103:34

…Cue autoimmune flare ups. The thing about autoimmune diseases, at least the one I am diagnosed with, is that stress is a major catalyst for flare ups. Refusing to pause, and ignoring the signs my body is screaming for me to STOP sends me to bed for days. I feel as though I am hit with a terrible flu bug, my body feeling completely exhausted, migraines, and pain from neck down my spine. These episodes where I am unable to take care of myself and family is my reminder to embrace a PAUSE.

The best way I have been able to embrace my pause is through meditation. Instead of filling my mind and body with the stress of to-do lists, playing my fears and failures on repeat, or comparing myself to others on social media. I begin pouring bible verses, uplifting songs, helpful podcasts, and soaking up the sounds of baby giggles into my heart. I cling to these joys and truths in my moment of pause. It allows my heart to meditate on the comfort and promise of God’s word. This grounds me, calms my nervous system, and allows my body to feel at peace instead of a flare up…

The post by Elisha we actually chose to share today appeared just hours ago. I invite you to send her some “link love” by reading this at her site, and I’ve closed comments here so that you can leave some encouragement there instead. Click the header which follows.

Self Care is Spiritual Care

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”– Mark 1:35

When you hear the term self care do you immediately think what a selfish thing to want or do you think spa day, shopping spree, and Starbucks?

Self care shouldn’t be a term that makes you cringe or feel guilt. It should be a term that you should embrace in your daily life as act of loving the person God created you to be and giving thanks to your creator.

God took six days to create the beauty all around us and then rested on the seventh. He commanded his people of Israel to take sabbath on the seventh day to do nothing but wait and trust in Him. Jesus took time to be alone in order to spend time with his Father in prayer.

These are spiritual acts of self care and a daily practice we should incorporate into our lives in order to refuel and find our grounding. This allows us to come closer to God. It helps us to embrace a much needed pause in our busy day to praise God for his blessings. It helps us to realign our expectations by asking God to show us what needs to be done and where our focus needs to be that day. It takes our focus off us and puts it on God.

So as a hardworking, on the go, busy mama that you are; you may be wondering how do you possibly implement this act of spiritual self care?

⁃ On your drive to work talk with God or turn up that praise and worship music and sing your heart out.

⁃ while you’re watching your kids play, give thanks to God for these amazing little humans that he trusted you to raise up.

⁃ Instead of reaching for your phone in the morning reach for your bible and fill your heart with His truths

⁃ Have a dinner or game night free of distractions and talk about things you’re thankful for or what God is doing in your lives.

⁃ Find a few minutes each day to retreat in a quiet place to connect with God.

This act of spiritual self care gives us the opportunity to be intentional with God. Through our act of pause, prayer, and worship we are putting aside our pride and self sufficiency and admitting we can’t do it all.

How will you begin practicing this act of spiritual self care? Leave a comment.

 

 

January 23, 2021

Telling God We’re Serious About Him

This is our fifth visit to Truth or Tradition, sponsored by Spirit and Truth Fellowship International. We appreciate their grace in allowing us to use this material, and each of you can help us reciprocate by reading today’s article at their website. Click the header which comes next.

Obedient and Free

I was thinking to myself one evening recently, I really want a tattoo of God’s name “Yahweh” on me. It instantly reminded me of how in Isaiah, God says, “Behold! I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”. Which in turn got me thinking, “Ouch!” Imagine a tattoo on the palm of your hand!? One of the most sensitive areas of the body, containing dozens of nerves. Safe to say…it would really hurt! Something would have to hold a lot of value for you to choose that specific area. I wondered whether that was why God chose the imagery of palms—to bring home how much His people mean to Him?

Still contemplating the idea of a tattoo, I thought, it would be so great to have something so permanent of my faith. I very quickly heard God remind me, “Nothing is more permanent than your salvation.” His tender and true answer made me smile; I answered Him, “But it would be such a cool way to show my dedication to you, how else could I show that?” And I heard Him softly say, “Obey.”

So gentle and loving, yet so loud and profound to my heart. May God’s still small voice always be louder to us than anything the enemy shouts at us. Humbled by my Heavenly Father’s soft and succinct answer, I pondered – I guess we can do all sorts of things outwardly to try to prove and show we’re committed to God, but if we are not obeying, then are we really committed? Have we really dedicated our life to God, and made His Son, Jesus, Lord of our whole heart and life?

It reminded me of how in John 14:23, Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him”. The phrase “keep my word” stands out. We keep things that are important to us; that have meaning to us; that can benefit us. So how do we “keep” and obey God’s Word?

With love. We’re called to love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. Second to this, we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. If we truly love God, and our Lord Jesus, we will have a sincere and deep desire to obey them. I truly believe the instruction in John 3:18 to not just love in word, but in action and truth also, is not only direction for how we treat other people in our lives, but also how we walk with our God, and Saviour; we are not just to say we love them, but live like we do, with our actions in line with and “keeping in step with the spirit” (Gal. 5:25).

Nevertheless, we must not confuse obedience with empty works of the flesh—either acting out of fear that they won’t love us if we don’t obey, or that maintaining our salvation is determined by how “good” we are. Christ has already accomplished everything on our behalf, and the thankfulness that overflows from that should mean we can’t help but express our love through willing obedience—not obligation—and an abandonment of our own fleshly impulses and desires, replaced with an enthusiasm and determination to do the Will of God and know that God’s will is for our good and His glory.

In exchange for Christlike obedience, surprisingly, comes freedom. You wouldn’t necessarily consider that being in obedience means you are free. However, as Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, then you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Not my truth, not your truth, not your best friend’s, aunt’s, or cousin’s truth, but THE Truth—the one and only Truth that breaks strongholds and sets captives of sin free! Free from condemnation, free from the wages of sin, free from the enemy’s grasp, free from people’s opinions, free from shame or the pressure of perfectionism. Free to love without man-made conditions and rules.

For “if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a sounding bronze, or clanging cymbal. And if I prophesy and know all the sacred secrets and all the knowledge, and if I have all trust so that I can move mountains, but I do not have love, I am nothing.” We are nothing if we are not loving, and we cannot love the way we are called to if we are not in obedience to God and His word. So much good comes from obedience to our Heavenly Father, but obedience is not always easy, and it likely at times takes sacrifice, even suffering in this life. Nevertheless, if we give it our best shot at being faithful to our God and the Lord through word and action, no doubt we will be witnesses to that good—and even moreso in the ages to come. We may not reap all the blessings this side of eternity, but we know there is a day coming where we will be rewarded if we do not give up.

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”

Luke 11:28

Just like a parent who loves their children regardless of obedience, but whose heart sings when their child heeds their words and direction, how much more must God love us regardless of our downfalls but His heart rejoices all the more when we have a willingness to obey Him and actually do.

Maybe I’ll get a tattoo, maybe I won’t, but something more important resulted from that simple musing; a sweet exchange between me and my Heavenly Father, and a renewed desire to follow Him and obey His Word whatever the cost, just as Christ exemplified so perfectly.

How can we show God we are serious about Him in our lives? We obey. And how do we do it? With love.

December 14, 2020

Things to Think About

Wrapping up his letter to the Philippians, Paul ends with a verse that will be familiar to most of you:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (4:8 NLT)

Years ago, when attending a large youth event, a speaker talked about making his mind a gatekeeper. He envisioned animals passing through an “L”-shaped gate that would swing allowing some things to go one direction and others to go the other. He compared this to allowing certain thoughts to come into our minds as opposed to quickly and simply tossing others out.

I thought at the time he was referring to a particular scripture reference, but when I tried to find it I couldn’t, although the Bible has a lot to say about gatekeepers.

Frequently, the subject of our “thought life” has appeared at C201’s sister blog, Thinking Out Loud. In April of this year, with some extra time on my hands, I summarized the best elements of these into a single article.  See below for two excerpts.

For our verse today, I compared translations. Some of the Bibles listed the “things” to think about in a different order, and I took the liberty of arranging them so they would line up:

The Amplified Bible, as you might expect, takes this one step further and suggests where those “things” to think about might be defined:

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].

I wanted to include some very practical ways we can start thinking about responding to this issue. Here’s how the Thinking Out Loud article began:

Media to fill your home:

  • Bible teaching
  • Christian books
  • Christian movies
  • Christian music
  • Hearing God’s voice

This list may remind you of this verse:

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

Dealing with online addiction – the issues involved:

  • Self Control
  • Mind, Thoughts and Heart
  • Shifting Values
  • The Stewardship of Our Time
  • Misdirected Worship

It also included links to the individual articles, but here’s one in more detail:

Recipe for a healthy media diet:

  • True, Not False:”Whatever things are true”
  • Noble, Not Base: “Whatever things are noble”
  • Right, Not Wrong: “Whatever things are just”
  • Purity, Not Filth: “Whatever things are pure”
  • Beautiful, Not Ugly: “Whatever things are lovely”
  • Praise, Not Complaint: “Whatever things are of good report

…Imagine me having written all this only to discover I’ve done this before with the exact same title and a very similar Bible translation chart. Well, it’s true. I did this in June, 2014. At that time I made a few personal observations:

  1. Holiness does not get easier as you get older. Don’t believe the myth that as you age, you will automatically take on the character of the elder saints at your local church. To be very blunt, it can go either way. Age can ‘mellow’ your spiritual character, or it can ‘harden’ that character.
  2. Thinking on “these things” is a matter of effort. Even working in a ministry environment, I find that my thoughts can go off the rails several times a day or even several times an hour. It takes constant focus.
  3. Past thought life failures should not be a barometer of what to expect in the future. Each moment is a created period of accountability. You have to keep hitting the ‘reset’ button.
  4. Our lives simply run better when our thoughts are focused on the good and beautiful. We were not designed to have our mind crowded by things that are impure or dishonorable.

 

March 5, 2020

Surpassing Righteousness in Spiritual Disciplines

by Clarke Dixon

People who pray are righteous, right? People who give to people in need are good people, correct? We will be considered righteous if people see us fasting, worshipping in church every Sunday, reading the Bible regularly, and practicing all the spiritual disciplines, correct? According to Jesus, not necessarily:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1 ESV

We have previously considered a deeper kind of righteousness, a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness Jesus saw in the scribes and Pharisees:

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 NIV

We do not reach this deeper righteousness by merely being meticulous about the rules, a skill the scribes and Pharisees excelled at, but through a transformation of our character.  It is not so much “do this, don’t do that,” but rather “become the kind of person who . . .” Previously, we looked at examples Jesus used for morality and love in Matthew 5:21-46, which we might summarize as; become the kind of person who does not harm others, gives their spouse and marriage their best effort, is honest and has integrity, handles offence with grace, and who extends grace and love to everyone. Whereas in these things Jesus was teaching about the kind of people we should become in our ethics, in Chapter 6 Jesus is now speaking to the kind of people we should become in our spiritual disciplines:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standingc in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-6 NIV

Jesus is not giving us new rules here to get all legalistic about. We are not to be Christian versions of the scribes and Pharisees and so apply these rules in a legalistic manner. If we did there should be no more prayers during church services, and prayer meetings would all be cancelled. I think we would benefit from more prayer in worship, not less, more prayer meetings, not fewer! Instead, we are to become “the kind of people” who do spiritual and religious activities in a way that honours God. What is that way which honours God?

Jesus calls us to be a people who engage in spiritual disciplines for the right reasons. Drawing attention to ourselves is not the right reason and does not honour God! Jesus calls those who do this “hypocrites” which is a term for “actors” who put on masks in order to appear to be one thing while actually being another. Jesus is picking on the scribes and Pharisees here who were the prime examples of those who loved to flaunt their righteous activity in front of others to be seen and praised by them. Jesus calls us to have a righteousness that surpasses theirs. According to Jesus, their reward was the praise they received from others. They did not look forward to reward from God. In contrast, God rewards those whose religious activity is done in secret.

What about the idea of reward? Isn’t reward still the wrong reason to practice spiritual disciplines? For example, should we not give alms for the sake of people in need rather than for our own reward? Perhaps we don’t have the best idea of reward here. Our minds may jump to a final judgement-seat scenario when we hear the word “reward.” However, the idea here is more “wages” for your work, the consequence of your efforts. If our purpose in practicing spiritual disciplines is to receive praise from others, we will get that. If our is purpose is to draw closer to God and grow in character, that will happen. If our focus is on God, the practice of spiritual disciplines will be rewarding indeed and we will be happy to practice them quietly without drawing attention to ourselves. Others may not be impressed, but will benefit.

In conclusion, let’s not be that guy; the person who has a need to appear religious, spiritual, righteous, or better than everyone else. That person is like the scribes and Pharisees who often put on a good show. We are to be a people who practice a better kind of righteousness in our spiritual disciplines. The spiritual life in Christ is not a show, it is an opportunity to grow in Christ and become a difference maker in the world.


Clarke Dixon is a minister with the Canadian Baptists denomination. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

August 7, 2019

Praying for God to Open Doors

The Voice.Col.4.2 Pray, and keep praying. Be alert and thankful when you pray. And while you are at it, add us to your prayers. Pray that God would open doors and windows and minds and eyes and hearts for the word so we can go on telling the mystery of the Anointed, for this is exactly why I am currently imprisoned. Pray that I will proclaim this message clearly and fearlessly as I should.

Dilgence and Inclusivity

Ray Stedman writes:

…The apostle has two things to say about prayer. The first is: “Keep at it” — “continue steadfastly in prayer.” The reason, obviously, is that prayer is essential to your Christian life. Prayer is dependence on God, and that is the name of the game! If you don’t pray, then you are not expressing any dependence on him at all.But, though it may seem so at first glance, he doesn’t mean, “Now, set aside a certain part of your day for prayer; set a schedule, and be sure to keep it.” I am not demeaning that; some people are able to do it, and it is an excellent practice, but that is not what he is really saying.

The Greek word the apostle chooses for steadfastly means “to be ready at all times.” In Mark’s Gospel, there is an incident which illustrates this. In the third chapter, Verse 9, we read that Jesus told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him. The word for ready is the same word translated steadfastly in Colossians. That is, “Always be ready to pray, because prayer is such a vital link with the Heavenly Father, whose life is available to us continually, that in every circumstance you need to pray.” That is what Paul is saying. “Be ready to break into prayer — in your thought life — instantaneously, at all times, because that is the way we ought to live.”…

…The second thing Paul says about prayer is, “Include others in it.” “Keep at it, and include others in it — especially me,” he says. “Pray for us also that God may open to us a door for the word.” Here he recognizes the body of Christ and the fact that we are members one of another. We need each other. This great apostle says that the opportunity for him to declare the message of Christ will be given to him by others: “You pray for me,” he says, “and that will open a door. God will open a door when you pray for me.” The opportunity of opening doors for each others’ ministry is given to every one of us. You can open a door for me; I can open a door for you — if we pray for one another…

Setting Aside the Time

Charles Stanley writes,

No matter where we are in our Christian walk, most of us will admit that our prayer life isn’t what we’d like it to be. Our attempts to make room for prayer in our busy schedules are often short-lived. And when we do manage to spend time with the Lord, we find ourselves easily distracted by random thoughts, our own desires, and the demands of the day.

Instead of giving up in frustration and settling for a sporadic devotional experience, we need to realize that prayer was essential to Christ and should be to us also. The road to a deepening prayer life begins with a commitment to make it a top priority in our day.

We follow through by setting aside a daily time to pray and read from God’s Word. Then we need to find a location that minimizes interruptions. Since we’re already busy, sacrifice may be necessary to make this happen. We might have to wake up earlier, give up a favorite activity, or use our lunch hour.

Scripture is a key factor because it teaches us about our Father’s character, promises, and priorities. The Word of God shifts our thoughts from worldly cares and pleasures to a focus on Him. Through it, we are reminded of His importance to us and our desire to please Him. Then we become ready to ask in accordance with His will and hear what He has to say.

Developing a habit of prayer may require sacrifice, but it’s worth the cost and effort. Spending time in the Lord’s presence is the best way for us to know Him better and love Him more.

Paul Prays for Quality of His Delivery

Warren Berkley notes a specific aspect of Paul’s request,

…But observe further this meaningful phrase: “as I ought to speak.” Paul wanted them to pray to God that he would speak effectively. In addition to content, Paul wanted God’s help in delivery. It is one thing to give the facts as they are. It is another to give them in good order, with appropriate passion and with challenge to the hearer to act. Paul had an interests in everything about the process of preaching. He wanted God’s help to open the door, and he wanted God’s help in effectively delivering the gospel.

Everything in this passage highlights the value of prayer in association with preaching the gospel. If we ask God to help us in various earth-limited endeavors, how much more should we ask Him to guide and direct our efforts to get the gospel into the doors around the world…

 

May 5, 2019

A Look at Fasting

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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As some missionary friends reminded me earlier, “The evening of May 5 is the start of Ram*adan, the Mus*lim month of fasting (from sunrise to sundown) and prayer.” I thought we’d look at the topic from a Christian perspective today, and if you arrived here via a search engine and are not a Christian, take a minute to get a very short glimpse as to how we interpret the practice.

We haven’t covered this subject much here at C201. Everything below, but above the double line was sourced one way or another via this page at BibleStudyTools.org. which begins by telling us that:

Fasting is essentially giving up food (or something else) for a period of time in order to focus your thoughts on God. While fasting, many people read the Bible, pray, or worship. Fasting is found throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, over fifty times!

Let’s start with a longer definition from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary:

Fast, Fasting

Abstinence from food and/or drink as an element of private or public religious devotion. Fasting is nowhere commanded in the Torah and, in fact, is never attested earlier than the time of the judges of Israel (cf. Judges 20:26 ). The fact that Jesus and the disciples sanctioned it by their own example ( Matt 4:2 ; Acts 13:2-3 ), however, is sufficient justification for its practice in biblical times and, in fact, in modern times as well…

…As a whole, however, fasting appears to be a private matter in the Bible, an expression of personal devotion linked to three major kinds of crisis in life: lamentation/penitence, mourning, and petition. Without exception it has to do with a sense of need and dependence, of abject helplessness in the face of actual or anticipated calamity. It is in examining these situations that the theological meaning and value of fasting are to be discovered.

Next, some key scriptures: (the link takes you to 40 verses)

Acts 14:23: “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.”

Daniel 10:3: “I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.”

Esther 4:16: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

Exodus 34:28: “Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.”

Joel 2:12: “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Luke 2:37: “and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”

Luke 4:2-4[Referring to Jesus] “where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

In his article, What Christians Need to Know about Fasting, Sam Storms talks about the different ways Christians fast from food or drink:

There is a regular fast which consists of abstaining from all food and drink except for water (Matthew 4:2–3; Luke 4:2). Apart from supernatural enablement, the body can function only three days without water.

partial fast is when one abstains from some particular kind of food as in the case of Daniel while in Babylon (Daniel 10:3; cf. 1:8, 12).

As noted above, a liquid fast means that you abstain only from solid foods. Again, most who choose this path are sustained by fruit juices and the like.

A complete or absolute fast that entails no food or liquid of any kind (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9) should only be for a very short period of time. For anything longer than three to five days, seek medical advice.

There is also what can only be called a supernatural fast, as in the case of Moses (Deuteronomy 9:9), who abstained from both food and water for forty days (enabled to do so only by a miraculous enabling from God).

You may also wish to fast from all food for only a particular meal each day. In other words, you may choose to skip lunch for a day or two or a week, or dinner, or even breakfast. All such forms of partial fasting are entirely appropriate.

There are also different types of fasts. This may be determined by a length of time, or a fast which is intermittent, for example, on a particular day of the week.



There’s a particular passage that is worth a longer look today:

This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

You might recognize that as KJV English, the words are from Matthew 17 and the story is repeated in Mark 9. But some translations recognize that Matthew 17:21 isn’t found in earlier manuscripts and the Mark 9 passage is usually rendered without the words ‘and fasting.’

Rather than toss out the passage entirely, back in the day when Bible commentaries were based on the KJV (because there were fewer other options, and earlier manuscripts had not been found) some, like Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, contained words similar to what follows. The principle certainly applies.

—The words imply degrees in the intensity of the forms of evil ascribed to demons amounting to a generic difference. Some might yield before the energy of a human will, and the power of the divine Name, and the prayers even of a weak faith. Some, like that which comes before us here, required a greater intensity of the spiritual life, to be gained by the “prayer and fasting” of which our Lord speaks. The circumstances of the case render it probable that our Lord himself had vouchsafed to fulfil both the conditions. The disciples, we know, did not as yet fast (Matthew 9:14-15), and the facts imply that they had been weak and remiss in prayer.



We only really covered fasting here once, and it was half of an article on Devotional Poetry. That article contained a link to a passage from Isaiah 58, which we’ll include here for the first time, since we didn’t quote it at the time.

1 Shout loudly; don’t hold back;
    raise your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their crime,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
    desiring knowledge of my ways
    like a nation that acted righteously,
    that didn’t abandon their God.
They ask me for righteous judgments,
    wanting to be close to God.
“Why do we fast and you don’t see;
    why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?”
Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want,
    and oppress all your workers.
You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast;
    you hit each other violently with your fists.
You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today
    if you want to make your voice heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I choose,
    a day of self-affliction,
    of bending one’s head like a reed
    and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes?
    Is this what you call a fast,
        a day acceptable to the Lord?

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
    releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
    setting free the mistreated,
    and breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
    and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
    covering the naked when you see them,
    and not hiding from your own family?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
    and you will be healed quickly.
Your own righteousness will walk before you,
    and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.
9a Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.”

 

March 2, 2018

Pursuing Solitude, Silence, Prayer

This is an excerpt from the Prologue to The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom and Silence (1981 edition, pages 1-5) by Henri Nouwen.


…As we reflect on the increasing poverty and hunger, the rapidly spreading hatred and violence with as well as between countries, and the frightening buildup of nuclear weapons systems, we come to realize that our world has embarked on a suicidal journey. We are painfully reminded of the words of John the Evangelist:

The Word…the true light…was coming into the world…that had its being through him and the world did not know him. He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him. (John 1:9-11)

It seems that the darkness is thicker than ever, that the powers of evil are more blatantly visible than ever, and that the children of God are being tested more severely than ever.

During the last few years I have been wondering what it means to be a minister in such a situation. What is required of men and women who want to bring light into the darkness,

“to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor” (Luke 4:18-19)?

What is required of a man or a woman who is called to enter fully into the turmoil and agony of the times and speak a word of hope?

It is not difficult to see that in this fearful and painful period of our history we who minister in parishes, schools, universities, hospitals, and prisons are having a difficult time fulfilling our task of making the light of Christ shine into the darkness. Many of us have adapted ourselves too well to the the general mood of lethargy. Others among us have become tired, exhausted, disappointed, bitter, resentful, or simply bored. Still others have remained active and involved – but have ended up living more in their own name than in the Name of Jesus Christ. This is not so strange. The pressures in the ministry are enormous, the demands are increasing, and the satisfactions diminishing. How can we expect to remain full of creative vitality, of zeal for the Word of God, of desire to serve, and of motivation to inspire our often numbed congregations? Where are we supposed to find nurture and strength? How can we alleviate our own spiritual hunger and thirst? …

…But where shall we turn? To Jacques Ellul, William Stringfellow, Thomas Merton, Teilhard de Chardin? They all have much to say, but I am interested in a  more primitive source of inspiration, which by its directness, simplicity, and concreteness, can lead us without any byways to the core of our struggle. This source is the Apophthegmata Patrum, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

The Desert Fathers, who lived in the Egyptian desert during the fourth and fifth centuries, can offer us a very important perspective on our life as ministers living at the end of the twentieth century. The Desert Fathers – and there were Mothers, too – were Christians who searched for a new form of martyrdom. Once the persecutions had ceased, it was no longer possible to witness for Christ by following him as a blood witness. Yet the end of the persecutions did not mean that the world had accepted the ideals of Christ and altered its ways; the world continued to prefer the darkness to the light (John 3:19). But it the world was no longer the enemy of the Christian, then the Christian had to become the enemy of the dark world. The flight to the desert was the way to escape a tempting conformity to the world. Anthony, Agathon, Macarius, Poemen, Theodora, Sarah, and Syncletica became spiritual leaders in the desert. Here they became a new kind of martyr: witnesses against the destructive powers of evil, witnesses for the saving power of Jesus Christ.

Their spiritual commentaries, their counsel to visitors, and their very concrete ascetical practices form the basis of my reflections about the spiritual life of the minister in our day. Like the Desert Fathers and Mothers, we have to find a practical and workable response to Paul’s exhortation:

“Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do” (Romans 12:2)…

…The words flee, be silent, and pray summarize the spirituality of the desert. They indicate the three ways of preventing the world from shaping us in its image and thus the three ways to life in the Spirit.

 

 

September 30, 2017

7 Habits of Highly Successful Christians

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re returning to the blog Disciple All Nations. The author is teacher, administrator, pastor, missionary, researcher, college professor and writer Russ Mitchell. Click the title below to read this at source.

Seven Habits of People who Accomplish Great Things for God

Who does not want to be successful? My tenth grade Bible class is beginning to study the Old Testament book of Joshua. In the first nine verses, we were surprised to discover seven habits that lead to prosperity and success. Considering that these may interest a broader audience, I will outline seven habits, which enable anyone who practices them to be successful. But first, an important perspective on what constitutes success.

A Biblical Perspective on Success

A biblical perspective on success differs significantly from the popular understanding of success, which seems to be associated with fame, fortune and a large social media following. In contrast, let us consider Jesus, the New Testament Joshua. In John 17:4 Jesus prays to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” Having this in mind, Jesus may have defined success as accomplishing the work that God has given a person to do. This perspective certainly contrasted with how people in Jesus’ day viewed success. In eyes of his generation, Jesus had no fortune; he was infamous – a liar or worse, and most of his followers abandoned him. They would have given Jesus a big “F” for failure. But this is not what God thought. God exalted him and gave him a name above every other name (Philippians 2:9). Why? Because Jesus accomplished the work God gave him to do.  This understanding of success, defined as accomplishing the work God has given a person to do, frames the practice of the seven habits of people who accomplish great things for God.

With this biblical understanding of success in mind, let’s return to Joshua 1:1-9 and look at the first habit of people who accomplish great things for God.

1. Hear what God says. The Book of Joshua begins,

“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant…”

and the next eight verses continue God’s message to Joshua. So we will start our seven habits of people who accomplish great things for God with the observation that anyone who accomplishes great things for God must first hear what God says.

2. Go where God sends you. Verses 2-5 record God’s first instruction to Joshua.

“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.  Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life.” (ESV)

God’s command to Joshua was “arise, go….”  Reading on we see that God was sending Joshua and the people into the Promised Land, which God was giving to them.  God promised Abraham that he would give this land to his descendants (Genesis 12:7). The time had now come. God was at work fulfilling his promise. We too can accomplish great things for God when we go where God is at work and join Him in what he is doing.

3. Be strong and courageous. Three times in this passage God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous. However this command was preceded by a great promise (v. 5)

“Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.“ God’s presence was secret of Joshua’s success and it continues to be the secret of the Church’s success (Matthew 28:18-19).

Today we might say that God had Joshua’s back. And he continues to be with those who follow his call to make disciples of all nations. We might think of courage as “holy boldness”, inspired by God’s presence and commission. Courage is the choice to act boldly in the face of great risk. Without a doubt, courage is needed to accomplish great things for God.

4. Be careful to obey all God’s Word. Habit Number. 4 is at the heart of our list and is probably the most essential of them all:

“Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you” (v.7a NIV).

This same phrase is repeated in verse 8, and I also hear an echo of this verse in the Great Commission. “Make disciples of all nations….teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). People who accomplish great things for God must be careful to obey all of God’s word.

5. Do not turn to the right or left.

“Do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go” (v. 7b NIV). 

Joshua was to have a singular focus on his mission. Tuning to the right or the left would simply involve pursuing other things outside his calling. Jesus shares a similar comment in the parable of the sower. He notes that some “hear the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:18b,19 NASB). Reflecting on both examples, we learn that maintaining a singular focus leads to success.

6. Memorize God’s word.

Verse 8 “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips.”

The only way to keep God’s word on your lips is to first memorize it. This sets the stage for the final habit, which is…

7. Meditate on God’s word. Joshua 1:8 is considered the golden verse of the entire book and highlights the final key to success: Meditating on God’s word.

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (v. 8 NIV)

People who accomplish great things for God memorize and meditate on God’s Word.  This is not an end in itself as the intended outcome is to “be careful to do everything written in it.” This leads to success.

Success follows practicing these seven habits

William Carey, the Father of the Modern Missions Movement (1761-1834), exhorted his generation to “Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God!” Joshua was certainly a person who not only attempted great things for God but accomplished great things for God. The remainder of the book of Joshua tells how he led the people into the Promised Land and possessed it, fulfilling a promise God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob centuries prior. Throughout his life Joshua practiced the seven habits outlined here, and the people of Israel served the Lord too (cf. Joshua 24:31).  It seems reasonable that those who faithfully practice all seven habits outlined here will accomplish great things for God too. What about you?

Questions for Further Reflection:

  1. How do you view success?
  2. What surprises you about these seven habits?
  3. What challenges you about these habits?
  4. What will you do to practice all seven of these habits?

 

September 12, 2017

Appointments with God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NET 1 Timothy 4:8 For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” 9 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. 10 In fact this is why we work hard and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of believers. ©NET

If my schedule permits, I do prefer writing these devotional studies myself rather than importing than from the various sources we use in the course of a year. I find doing so forces me to spend time in scripture, immersed in a particular theme.

If you’re at a small group meeting and you contribute something verbally, it’s much easier to just say it than to have to commit to print. Knowing the words will be here for successive hours, days, months and years means fine tuning what it is you really intend to express.

But regular readers here will notice a disconnect between the words “forces me” and what we talked about in the last Sunday Worship column, which involves doing things wholeheartedly out of joy and delight. If you missed, you can read that article here. Just because I love to do something doesn’t mean I do not face the busyness and distractions common to us all.

However doing something joyfully can also mean that, while I see the benefit which occurs in my life by spending time in God’s word (versus the days I don’t get to do this) it doesn’t mean I have organized my life to the point where this flows naturally into my daily schedule. For you that might mean blocking out the time in your daily schedule; for me that means facing a 5:31 PM deadline each day knowing that subscribers are expecting something in their in-box.

And so it is we speak of spiritual disciplines. This term really grates on some people because of childhood memories of what constitutes discipline, namely punishment. (Often this intersects with the category of people who have problems with seeing God as Father, again because of painful memories.) I much prefer the term spiritual practices.

Another verse which evokes negative images for people is 2 Timothy 2:15, at least in the way many of us learned it as children: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (KJV) Besides “shew” and “needeth,” the issue is actually the choice of the word “study” which is not used by other translations that are not derivatives of the KJV. “Study” tends to remind us of cramming for an exam. It’s not a positive image for many people, especially people who didn’t do well in school! Again, since we’re using the NET Bible today, better to go with, “Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.” It’s talking about diligence; applying ourselves to present our best to God.

⊕⊕⊕⊕⊕⊕⊕⊕

The term “spiritual discipline” is a frequently used tag on this site, but though it’s often covered here, I wanted to end with this list, posted in 2012 at the website Soul Shepherding for those less familiar with the concept. The author is .

Disciplines of Abstinence (Self-Denial)

These are ways of denying ourselves something we want or need in order to make space to focus on and connect with God.

Solitude: Refraining from interacting with other people in order to be alone with God and be found by him. (Solitude is completed by silence.)

Silence: Not speaking in a quiet place in order to quiet our minds and whole self and attend to God’s presence. Also, not speaking so that we can listen to others and bless them.

Fasting: Going without food (or something else like media) for a period of intensive prayer — the fast may be complete or partial.

Sabbath: Doing no work to rest in God’s person and provision; praying and playing with God and others. (God designed this for one day a week. We can practice it for shorter periods too.)

Secrecy: Not making our good deeds or qualities known to let God or others receive attention and to find our sufficiency in God alone (e.g., see Matthew 6).

Submission: Not asserting ourselves in order to come under the authority, wisdom, and power of Jesus Christ as our Lord, King, and Master. (If you think of this as submitting to a person as unto Christ then it’s a discipline of engagement.)

Disciplines of Engagement (Christ in Community)

These are ways of connecting with God and other people, conversing honestly with them in order to love and be loved.

Bible Reading: Trusting the Holy Spirit-inspired words of Scripture as our guide, wisdom, and strength for life. (Related disciplines include Bible study, Scripture meditation, and praying God’s Word.)

Worship: Praising God’s greatness, goodness, and beauty in words, music, ritual, or silence. (We can worship God privately or in community.)

Prayer: Conversing with God about what we’re experiencing and doing together. (As we see in the Lord’s Prayer the main thing we do in prayer is to make requests or intercessions to our Father for one another.)

Soul Friendship: Engaging fellow disciples of Jesus in prayerful conversation or other spiritual practices. (Related spiritual disciplines or practices include small groups, spiritual direction, and mentoring relationships.)

Personal Reflection: Paying attention to our inner self in order to grow in love for God, others, and self. (The Psalms in the Bible model this.)

Service: Humbly serving God by overflowing with his love and compassion to others, especially those in need. (Also tithing and giving.)

 

 

September 1, 2017

Working Out My Salvation

Philippians 2:12

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;  (NASB)

Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. (NLT)

We’re back with our annual visit to the blog Christians in Context by J. Mark Fox. Click the title below to read it on his blog, and then navigate from there to some other great articles. (We read several preparing this!)

Work out, not for, your own salvation

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. This command in Paul’s letter to the Philippians has caused many to stumble, to make an argument for works-righteousness, and even to believe that what Jesus did was not enough. That he needs my help to save me. We know that’s nonsense, and the plain meaning of this text makes perfect sense. Paul says work out your salvation. He doesn’t say work in your salvation. Or work up your salvation. Or work for your salvation! No, we are to work it out. In other words, what God has secured in you through His grace given on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, work it out in every way and on every day. It’s what we do in our marriages, right? Were you done when you said, “I do”? No, you were just getting started. And for the rest of your life, you are working out your marriage in fear. And sometimes with trembling!

If you are working out your salvation as a father, it means you are learning to bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. You cannot learn that without starting to do it badly. But you have to start. When my children were very young, they each had trouble learning to ride a bike. They fell. They scraped their knees. They cried. But they kept getting back on the bike until it became second nature to them. Get back on the bike, Dad, and lead your family in the things that are most important. If you are working out your salvation as a student, it means you study. You work hard. If you are working out your salvation as a brother or sister in Christ in your church family, it means that when you are offended, you don’t hold onto that. You let it go quickly, and if you can’t let it go, you go to the one who offended you and you work it out. And yes, it will require work, sacrifice, and discipline. Tim Challies had a good word on this recently:

“I want to have 10 percent body fat. I set that goal a while ago and even managed to get really close to reaching it. But eventually I found out that I want to have 10 percent body fat just a bit less than I want to have 13 percent. There’s a key difference between the two: While 13 percent requires moderate effort to gain and retain, 10 percent requires strict discipline. I soon learned I just didn’t want the goal enough to put in the effort to achieve it. I didn’t meet my desire with discipline.” Then he adds, “I often consider the people I’ve known who set an example of unusual godliness. I think of well-known Christian men who lived godly lives in the public eye and who carried out unblemished ministries. I think of unknown and unnoticed women who lived equally godly lives far outside the public eye. What did they have in common? What was the key to their holiness? I believe it was their discipline. They disciplined themselves for the highest godliness. They were spiritual athletes who ensured their highest desires supplanted their baser desires. They achieved godliness because they aimed at godliness.”

We all have work to do if we are to aim at God’s best for us. Thankfully, we are never alone. Paul adds, “for it is God who works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” That is the gift that keeps on giving.

January 22, 2017

Who Do You Follow?

It was exactly a year ago that I first introduced readers here to Russell Young’s writing. When I first met him, he was already very prolific and I felt that offering him an already-existing outlet for his thoughts would be good for him and a good fit for us. I am so appreciative of his contribution and the quality and consistency of his writing.  ~PW


by Russell Young

The issue of following is just as relevant in the church today as it was in Paul’s day. All confessing Christians would affirm that they follow Christ but it isn’t that simple.  Many take their instruction from others–pastors, teachers, or well-known authors. In fact, research shows that most do.

Paul ran into the dilemma concerning believers selecting teachers when addressing the Corinthian church and castigated them for their attitudes.  He wrote, “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men?” (1 Cor 3:4 NIV) On looking back at that church, it is easy to be critical of their thinking, but the very same practice is rampant today.  Many in Bible teaching can readily state the names of their favorite authors or speakers and take their instruction from them. The doctrinal positions within a church often reflect by proxy, the position of a favorite teacher. Paul found a problem with this and so should we.

It was not Paul or Apollos who was to be the source of truth. Paul confessed to his readers that he had “planted the seed,” while Apollos watered and that each had been given his own task by God. The problem that exists, of course, is the discernment of the task given each person by God and how dedicated are they to it. Perhaps, the issue of discernment is the greatest challenge facing today’s church.  There are a myriad of churches teaching a myriad of understandings; however, there is only one truth. The isolation of that truth is eternally important to each of us and Satan has been trying to confuse it from the beginning.

To whom do you attribute the possession of truth?  It is easier to accept the understanding of another than it is to ferret it out for ourselves.  It has become common to avoid the challenges of study, meditation, and prayer and to assume the teachings and beliefs of another.  Christianity Today published a study concluding “that while 90 percent ‘desire to please and honor Jesus in all I do, ’only 19 percent personally read the Bible every day.’” Another poll stated that 57% of people who claimed the Christian faith only read their Bibles 4 times a year or less. (Caleb Bell in Religious News Service, April 4, 2013)

If the Word is not being personally read and studied, those who claim the name of Christ, must be accepting as their truths the teachings of another.  This practice can be dangerous. A number of years ago, a pastor told me, “We teach what we have been taught.” Is it no wonder that the church is weakening? “Believers” are not putting sufficient investment into establishing their own faith system.

Pastors, teachers, and parishioners must be more discerning and more ready to challenge teachings that are in dissonance with their own reading of the Scriptures.  Those who are being taught should not be intimidated by their instructors, regardless of their credentials. Believers in the twenty-first century are working with scriptures that have been translated many times and which have been placed in imperfect minds. The Lord still informs people, they need not rest the truths of faith in another.

1 Kings 13 relates the story of “a man of God” who had been sent to prophesy to evil king Jeroboam concerning his impending fate.  The man of God had been told by God not to eat or drink in that place and to leave on a different route than taken upon arrival. Having given his message to the king the man of God left. Another man who claimed to be a prophet persuaded the man of God, since they were both prophets, to dine with him and although this was a lie he claimed that God had sent him.  The man of God returned to the prophet’s house and enjoyed a good meal, whereupon the prophet relayed the death sentence that rested on the man of God for his disobedience.

When God speaks, his words are to be obeyed.  He is the authority that is to be accepted.  The man of God felt that he had been released from his command because the other was a prophet.  God is God and he will not excuse our disobedience because of spiritual confusion even though manifested through someone esteemed and whose opinion might be highly valued. We are to be led by the Word and by the Spirit. Christ said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and I will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn 14:26 NIV)

In the last days, many will be deceived. Consider this warning by Paul: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7-8 NIV) How well does this passage conform to your understanding? What questions does it raise that need answering?

There are many erroneous teachings in the Christian community as the presence of many denominations testifies. Christ said that he would teach you and remind you of his truths. This does not mean that pastors and teachers intentionally mislead; it means that we are to study and to let God teach us truth and righteous practices. If reliance is placed upon another, true discernment concerning the truth of his or her teaching should take place.  Your eternal hope may very well rest in your diligence of study, meditation, and prayer. To default to another may reap destruction to your soul.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young is a weekly contributor to Christianity 201 and the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

 

May 5, 2016

The Time for Boasting

This wasn’t planned, or I would have run them back-to-back, but today’s devotional pairs well with the one from May 2nd, Lest Anyone Should Boast. The writer is Mark McIntyre at the blog Attempts at Honesty who has appeared here previously. To read this at source, click the title below.

A reason for boasting

For the most part, I really don’t enjoy listening to postgame, on-field interviews of athletes. If the interviewee is on the winning side, too often the interview amounts to boasting about how he is faster, stronger or smarter than his opponent. We live in a day where self-promotion is encouraged and expected. This is an aspect of our society with which I am not comfortable. Perhaps this is why these two verses in Jeremiah jumped out at me when I read them this morning:

“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”” (Jeremiah 9:23–24, ESV)

For believers, if we are to boast at all, let it be boasting about the God we serve. Let us boast about that God makes himself understandable to us. Let us boast that God allows us to know him and be in relationship with him.

We have a reason for boasting, but that reason is not us. Let us boast about God’s character.

If we understand God’s character and boast about it, some of that character is bound to rub off on us. Please look at the list that is given in the verses above.

  • Steadfast love
  • Justice
  • Righteousness

If ware know God and are in relationship with him, it seems to me that these traits should be increasingly operational in our lives both individually and collectively. If we are seeking hard after God, it should be these traits that define the church.

Ask yourself these questions,

  • Are visitors to my church enveloped by a sense of God’s steadfast love (lovingkindness in the NASB)?
  • Is my congregations known for pursuing justice in the local community and around the world?
  • Do I convey an accurate portrayal of true righteousness, that which is granted by God through a relationship with Jesus Christ?

Not only is this a corporate challenge for us as we gather on Sundays, this is a challenge to us as individuals. We should be in prayer to God and give him permission to work these traits into the fabric of our lives. Paul tells us:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV)

Notice that there is effort required on our part. We need to extend effort toward becoming what God wants us to be. But ultimately it is God who works these traits into us. We need to allow Scripture to shape our desires and submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is a good news, bad news situation.

The bad news is that we fall short in love, justice and righteousness. The good news is that God is not done with us.

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