Christianity 201

January 16, 2022

Crucified in the Flesh

Gal.2.20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Gal.5.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Rom.6.6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

Eph.4.22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Col.3.5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

Mark.8.34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Rom.8.13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

At the website, The Jesus Question, Victoria Emily Jones starts us off*:

… These…verses seem to suggest that self-execution is a one-time thing that happens when you first come to know Christ. But when read in light of other Bible passages, we see that dying to self is actually an ongoing task.

In 1 Corinthians 15:31, Paul says, “I die daily.” Although he was referring to the physical threats on his life, Christians often receive this verse as a reminder of the importance of daily self-denial. This application, however, is more accurately gleaned from exhortative passages like Matthew 5:29-30, in which Jesus tells his listeners in graphic metaphor to cut off any part of themselves that keeps them away from God. Or Ephesians 4:22-25, in which Paul counsels the Christians in Ephesus against sins such as lying, stealing, and bitterness by telling them to put off their old sinful habits and to put on new ones. 

Once you become a Christian, it doesn’t mean that all sin will automatically disappear from your life. It has to be excised, bit by bit. Then after you remove it, it often comes back, and you have to take out the scalpel again. It’s a painful process. That’s why Paul compares it to surgery. And to crucifixion…

…So how do we crucify the flesh? By living in the Spirit…

At the website, Daily Manna, it’s noted that in the KJV, the Romans passage (above) uses the phrase, “mortify the deeds of the body.”

…The word mortify means to kill or to make dead. Galatians chapter 5 list out the fruits, or characteristics,  of those who act upon the flesh, and the fruits of those that walk in the spirit. We can not walk in both, we are either being ruled by our flesh (the sin nature), or we are being ruled by our spirit (the God nature). So how then do we mortify the flesh? We crucify it…

Though death is assured in a crucifixion it is rarely instant. It’s a constant barrage of assaults that the body does not like, until it finally gives up. So how does this apply? It’s simple. If you are being ruled by your flesh (carnal wants and desires that oppose the will and word of God) you have to kill it, but it won’t usually die instantly or easily.

The best way to crucify the flesh is simply to starve it out. If you starve the flesh while feeding the spirit, the spirit will begin to overpower the flesh. This is the essence and power of fasting, you are literally starving the flash while feeding the spirit with prayer, Word, submission, humility, and obedience. You are training your spirit to tell the flesh, “no.” …

Click the link to explore more about the relationship between fasting and crucifying the flesh.

What about those who might say that various applications of crucifying the flesh is slowly drifting us toward a more works-based Christian life? BibleRef.com offers a concise response:

…Those who truly understand what it means to trust in Christ’s death on the cross to pay for their sins understand how destructive their sins truly are. After all, our sins were the reason we stood condemned to die by the curse of the law. That’s why Paul writes that those who belong to Christ gave up trying to defeat their sin on their own. Instead, with gratitude, we performed a kind an execution of our sinful desires when we trusted Christ to die for them. We gave up the right to keep holding on to our sin and indulging in it and enjoying it.

There’s a fine line here, though. In most cases, those who trust in Christ do not immediately and completely lose our desire or instinct to do sinful things. The “want” to sin is not entirely gone. Paul has written, though, that two significant things do change when we are saved. First, by definition, we recognize that sin is eternally fatal. By trusting in Christ, we reject sin as a path leading to death. Second, God gives us the power in His Spirit to win the battle against our sinful desires (Galatians 5:16–17)…


*You’re encouraged to click the three links in today’s devotional and read the articles in full.

 

 

 

January 9, 2022

The Gospel is our Starting Point, and Then…

NIV.1 Cor.15.3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

ISV.Mark.16.15 Then he told them, “As you go into all the world, proclaim the gospel to everyone.

For today’s devotional, we have another new author to introduce to you. Chandler Moore blogs at Moore Thinking. Click the header below to read this at his site.

Should Christians “Just Preach the Gospel”?

In certain circles, the phrase “Just preach the Gospel,” functions more as a conversation stopper rather than any kind of genuine appeal. “We need to talk about racial justice.” Just preach the Gospel. “Have we considered if our message and evangelism is contextualized to our culture while remaining faithful?” Just preach the Gospel. “I’m concerned that we are not doing enough to serve the poor.” Just preach the Gospel.

You get the point. Now, to be fair, utilizing the phrase this way, doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is saying those items don’t matter. The most generous interpretation that can be given to it is that an individual is saying that those items, while important, will all be fixed if we only focus on Gospel preaching.

I find even this charitable interpretation far too simplistic of a methodology to walking faithfully, and holistically, as disciples of Christ. While the Gospel is of “first importance” (I Cor. 15), the Christian Scriptures are overflowing with teachings that are not directly teaching or preaching the Gospel.

To be clear, I believe that the Gospel, that is that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and raised from the dead for the forgiveness of sins to all who put their trust in Him and confess Him as Lord, is the centerpiece and cornerstone for properly understanding every aspect of the Christian life. With that said, we must understand that we have a wealth of teachings within the Scriptures that relate to pursuing justice, serving the poor, defending the weak, items that may be called “social justice issues.” These matters must be understood in light of the Gospel and fleshed out through the lens of the Gospel, but they also must be taught as distinct teachings of Christ and the Apostles that need careful thought, charitable dialogue, and prayerful reflection.

When Jesus gave the Great Commission, he told his disciples to “make disciples” (presumably by preaching the Gospel), and to teach those converts all that He has commanded. Yes Christians must preach the Gospel, but we must not stop there. We must teach all that Jesus commanded as well. Yes the Gospel never loses its relevance nor its power in the Christian life. Yes we need to be reminded of it and live from it daily. But as we do, we are then working off of the proper foundation for being the salt and light of the world, being all of what Christ taught us to be.


Notes:

Thanks to Rebecca McLaughlin for inspiring this post in: Rebecca McLaughlin, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims (Austin TX: The Gospel Coalition, 2021), 19

January 8, 2022

Bible Imagery: Rock and Stars

Today we’re back with Nancy Ruegg who is now into her tenth year writing at From the Inside Out | Impressions Becoming Expressions. Please don’t read this here. Nancy has some photographic images which accompany this devotional, so click the header which follows immediately below.

From Earth and Sky

The psalmists of old seemed to have a favorite metaphor for God: Rock. You’ll find the imagery used twenty-nine times.  Sometimes the writers included reasons why this was a meaningful comparison for them; sometimes they included synonyms:

  • “The Lord is my rock, my fortress” (18:2)
  • “My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield . . . my  stronghold” (also 18:2)
  • “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (61:2)
  • “God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe” (62:2 CEV)
  • “Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come” (71:3 NASB)

Later when he became king, David composed Psalm 18, probably after the numerous battle victories summarized in 2 Samuel 8.  Four times in that psalm he extolled God as his Rock.

In the New Testament we find Jesus’ parable about a foolish man building his house on sand, and a wise man building his house on rock. The point is clear: God is a reliable foundation-Rock on which to build our lives.  He provides:

  • solid, trustworthy wisdom for decisions
  • strength and power for life’s challenges
  • protection from our arch enemy, Satan
  • unchanging reliability, faithfulness, and love—to name a few unfailing attributes

One of my favorite examples of Bible imagery is found in Philippians 2:15.  To understand the context though, we have to start reading at verse fourteen:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing,
so that you may become blameless and pure,
children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.
Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky
as you hold firmly to the word of life.

–Philippians 2:14-15 NIV

Isn’t that a glorious statement in the fourth line above?  We can shine into the darkness of the world like stars as we allow the Spirit to foster purity within us!

Now why would letter-writer Paul choose stars to make his point? Perhaps their beauty reminded him: with kindness, patience, joy, and more we can bring beauty to the world around us–a world darkened by selfishness, greed, and hatred.

Paul would also have known about using stars for navigation. As far back as 3000 B.C. ancient Minoans were using constellations to navigate the Mediterranean Sea (1). Perhaps Paul connected the starlight to God’s wisdom shining in mature believers, enabling them to provide guidance to those around them.

But now, centuries later, we know more about stars than Paul did and further comparisons can be drawn:

Stars shine by burning hydrogen into helium in their cores. We shine as the Holy Spirit burns away the dross in our lives—those unbecoming traits like pride, negativity, and ingratitude. That’s when we can become radiant.

NIV.2.Cor.3.18 And we all,
who with unveiled faces
contemplate the Lord’s glory,
are being transformed into his image
with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord,
who is the Spirit.

One prominent star in the evening sky of Fall and Winter is Deneb in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan), which is 19 quadrillion miles from earth.  The gleam we see left Deneb about 1500 light years ago in 521 A.D (2). The gleam of our lives can also achieve far-reaching effect as one life touches another which touches another, and then another . . . ad infinitum.

Stars not only create beauty but fulfill function.  They manufacture and distribute into the universe such elements as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen (3). As we shine like stars in our circles of influence, we too fulfill function, manufacturing and distributing such elements as goodness, encouragement, and helpfulness.

From earth and sky come these two insightful examples of biblical imagery:  rock and stars.

Do you see the connection between the two? As you plant yourself on the firm Rock of Almighty God and shine for him like a star . . .

. . . YOU are a Rock star!


Notes:

  1. https://nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/navigation/
  2. https://earthsky.org/space/ten-things-you-may-not-know-about-stars/
  3. https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/how-do-stars-from-and-evolve

By the same author:

God of the Unexpected

 

 

January 7, 2022

Romans 12 as a List

Years ago I sat in a youth rally where a popular national speaker had been flown in to share his personal story and a challenge to the high school and college age students.

At one point he said, “Some say that Christianity is a list of don’ts. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. But Christianity is a list of ‘dos’ and if you do the ‘dos’ you don’t have time to do the don’ts.”

Okay. I think there might have been applause at that point. Here was Christian living in a nutshell: Stay busy and you won’t sin.

But yesterday in my reading I came across such a list of ‘dos.’ Romans 12 starts out with the familiar words,

NIV.Rom.12.1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Then in verses 3-8, there is a short teaching on spiritual gifts, the ones mentioned being prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement,  giving, leadership, and showing mercy.

He then shares an ethic of Christian living. It’s interesting that this falls right after listing spiritual gifts, just as in I Corinthians, chapter 12 (and chapter 14) deal with spiritual gifts, but the “love chapter” presents the model ethics and character of the Christ-follower.

To be fair, the special speaker of my youth might have mentioned that there are indeed some ‘don’ts’ in the Bible, and frankly, it would have also been great if he had mentioned some of the ‘dos’ instead of moving on to the next punchline.

Even in Romans 12 we have:

  • [Do not] be lacking in zeal
  • Do not curse
  • Do not be proud
  • Do not be conceited
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
  • Do not take revenge
  • Do not be overcome by evil

but in the interest of “doing the ‘do‘s'” here is the text of the prescriptive phrases in this part of Romans 12. I’ve capitalized each one, and I’ve left the verse numbers in, but left the ellipses out to make it more readable

9b Cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in love.
Honor one another above yourselves.
11b  Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
12 Be joyful in hope,
[Be] patient in affliction,
[Be] faithful in prayer.
13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.
14a Bless those who persecute you
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice
Mourn with those who mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another.
Be willing to associate with people of low position.
17Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19b Leave room for God’s wrath
21 Overcome evil with good.

There are 18 “dos” in the section and only 7 “don’ts.” When you read the list, you can see how doing these things involves a life of sacrifice, and probably a good place to repeat the opening instruction from verse 1:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

That spirit of sacrificial living is going to be necessary to what he next says. In the first 7 verses of chapter 13, he talks about being submissive to governmental authorities. Not easy in his day. Not always easy in ours.

I’d encourage you read chapters 13-15, and to make it easy, here’s a single link to all 3 chapters. The minutes you spend reading them is more time you won’t have to “do the ‘don’ts.'”

January 2, 2022

Doctrinal Humility

I have to confess I’ve not read John Stackhouse’s book Humble Apologetics, but I do resonate with the title. The publisher blurb in 2006 seemed to indicate that he was writing more about evangelistic, or conversion-focused discussions.

Stackhouse argues that the crucial experience of conversion cannot be compelled; all the apologist can do is lead another to the point where an actual encounter with Jesus can take place. Finally, he shows how displaying an attitude of humility, instead of merely trying to win religious arguments, will help believers offer their neighbors the gift of Christ’s love.

Sometimes the discussions we have are with fellow-Christians, a first-time confession of faith is not the focus, and the topics can become rather thorny.

Last week I stood in a light rain in a grocery store parking lot speaking with two people who had left their church when both the number and degree of differences became too much for them to bear. Much of it focused on a single issue, a second one contributed to it, and a third was mentioned in passing, though I know it’s high on their list of concerns.

The thing is, when it was all said and done, all I really took away from it was their cockiness; their arrogance. They were not at all impressed that the weight of church history is not on their side. Neither is the support of present-day churches in our community. You can only get to their position through misunderstanding the context of certain scriptural passages; through proof-texting; and through a belief that some poor translation work done in the past on key words outranks Biblical scholarship.

The Apostle Paul would be the first to admit that the waters are sometimes muddy. In the oft-quoted “Love Chapter” of his first letter to the church at Corinth he writes,

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.  (13:12 NLT)

Two chapters later, as he speaks of the resurrection of the church, he says something with great clarity, but it’s still, to him at least, part of the realm of what he calls mystery:

Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, (15:51 CSB)

At other times there is no doubt at all in his mind or the readers’ minds:

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. (Phil. 3:13 NLT)

In other words, he hadn’t mastered this in his own life, but there was absolute conviction about the spiritual destination in front of him.

If the phrase “one thing I do” sounds familiar, it’s a lot like, “one thing I know,” the phrase uttered by the man born blind after receiving sight. Referring first to their charges against Jesus,

He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  (John 9:25 NASB)

It was, quite literally, black and white; and today we use the blind man’s confession as a model for the conversion experience

I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

This type of certainty stands in contrast to “seeing through a glass darkly” (KJV) or “seeing things imperfectly” (NLT, as above). But here’s a truth

We don’t have to know and understand everything to know and understand the things that count.

Paul writing to the Philippians said,

I am convinced and confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will [continue to] perfect and complete it until the day of Christ Jesus [the time of His return]. (1:6 Amplified Bible)

Other translations use the word confident. Obviously, some things were not seen imperfectly to Paul. He could say some things with confidence.

There is a book by Peter Enns called The Sin of Certainty. Having followed Enns online for years and read several of his books, I have no doubt (ironic use of phrase here, don’t you think?) that he is certain when it comes to the deity of Christ and the fact of the resurrection.

Rather, the book was a response to what was a growing body of people who expressed their intransigence online; the type of people who will defend to the death some sacred pet doctrine on social media. Unintentionally — and I am being gracious here, perhaps it was intentional — they are modeling for new believers a stance where one must be absolutely certain of everything. That’s just not possible when you haven’t had time to work out your salvation and it forces people to simply parrot rote responses or take ownership of parts of a catechism not through life experiences, or Holy Spirit leading, but because of their ability to call up key words and phrases.

Eventually, this can lead to a spiritual arrogance. When reviewing Enns’ 2016 book, I wrote;

Peter Enns basically catalogs some of the various less-certain elements one might find in the sphere of Christianity, and rather than resolve all of these necessarily, creates a climate where the reader can say, ‘Oh yeah! That’s me! At last someone who gets it.’ Some of the book draws from his personal experiences of dealing with the doubt/certainty continuum, either internally or in his family or academic life.

There is however value in creeds. When we remind ourselves that Christ was

…conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried.

and that

He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of God the Father almighty…

Those times, we are discussing the things that are non-negotiable and these are things which the body of Christ around the world should agree.

But what if your faith is in that creed and not in the one to whom the creed points?

A book similar to The Sin of Certainty released three years earlier. About that one I wrote,

With… Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (Baker Books), Gregory Boyd presents the thesis that far too many Christians — at least in North America and western Europe — are committed to a set of spiritual propositions more than they are committed to Christ; and that in fact the thing they worship and place their faith in are these ‘certainties,’ far more than they worship and have their faith secured in “Christ, and Him crucified.”

…While the book clearly intends to shatter the idol of theological over-confidence, its equal purpose is to give some peace and comfort to people who, although they are long on the journey with Jesus, still don’t feel they have all the details of the contract worked out. He is writing to those of us who perhaps know people for whom all doctrinal and theological matters are settled once and for all…

What is the ultimate expression of God’s position and power? What words does he say? What doctrine does he clear up for all time?

Nothing. Just as the orchestra builds to a crescendo we get this:

John 13:3-5Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… … 12-14 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

Utter, absolute humility.

Six months before reading the Boyd book I wrote,

…each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change…

This devotional is messy because our attempts to do theology are often messy. There is a balance between the things on which we can place our trust — think of the hymn “Standing on the Promises” if that helps — and the things which we will never see with perfect clarity.

To the person in the parking lot last week, I would say, “You lack a humble apologetic, and that may be your spiritual downfall.”


“…it is a mark of imbecility of mind, rather than of strength; of folly, rather than of wisdom; for any one to dogmatize with an air of infallibility, or to assume the attitude of perfect intelligence on any one subject of human thought, without an intimate knowledge of the whole universe...”

– Alexander Campbell in The Christian System

 

 

 

December 15, 2021

Sin: The Great Separator

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. – Isaiah 59:2 NIV

Every so often I discover a writer online and wonder why we didn’t encounter them earlier. Doug Eaton lives in greater Los Angeles, and writes at Flight of Faith, and is also Director of Admissions at Trinity Law School, which upholds Judeo-Christian principles in legal training. (He’s also periodically writes about early CCM, Contemporary Christian Music.) The article below was a perfect fit for what we do here at C201, so we’re thankful to be able to highlight his writing. Click the header which follows to read this where we sourced it, and then take a few minutes to look around his site using the menu.

The Four Separations of Sin

Right now, you and I are experiencing the effects of sin, even if we are not conscious of it. When Adam fell and sin entered this world, it wreaked all kinds of havoc. One of sin’s most detrimental effects is that it causes separation, specifically, four types of separation. Francis Schaeffer once laid these out in his book, Genesis in Space and Time. Though all four separations are devastating, I will work from the least to most significant.

1. Separation from Nature

At this moment, nature is not at rest. As beautiful as it is and declaring the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), scripture says it is currently in the pangs of childbirth, waiting for all things to be set right (Romans 8:22). Sometimes referred to as natural evil, this world is filled with hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and many other natural disasters. Even animal life is red in tooth and claw. Humanity was created to live in harmony and dominion over nature. The creation mandate was to be fruitful and multiply and work the land as good stewards, Adam’s sin, along with our own, has perverted this work, and even nature is crying out for redemption. We must now work the land with the sweat of our brow, fighting against thorns and thistles which remind us that things are not the way they should be (Genesis 3:18). God is using nature to reveal his judgment against sin.

2. Separation of Mankind from Himself

We are also experiencing separation within ourselves. This is sometimes called psychological separation, but there is more to it than psychology. We are no longer at peace with ourselves. We have psychological issues. We deal with fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and many other issues. In our attempts to cover our internal conflict, we deceive ourselves and others. The truth we know about God we attempt to suppress to clear our consciences (Romans 1:18), but it will never work. In relation to the separation of sin in nature, even our bodies rebel against us; we must fight aging and decay. If that is not enough, we must also contend with disease and disorder. In the end, something will cause our bodies to die, which separates our souls from our bodies. The only reason this separation occurs is because of sin.

3. Separation from Each Other

Not only has sin caused separation within ourselves, but it also leads to separation from each other. We were created to live in unity, but sin made us skeptical of ourselves and therefore skeptical of each other. It did not take long after Adam and Eve fell for them to begin blaming each other (Genesis 3:12). And it was not much later the first murder took place, and that was between brothers (Genesis 4:8). All wars, racism, political hatred, to name a few social pathologies, grow from this root.

4. Separation from God

The fourth separation is the one most frequently cited. Sin has separated us from God; this is sometimes called theological separation. It is the most significant because the other three flow from this one. Instead of being in a right relationship with him, we come into this world at enmity with our creator (James 4:4). Not only do our sinful desires drive us to rebel against him, seek autonomy, and suppress the knowledge we do have of him, since God is just, it causes us to be under his wrath. A just God cannot simply ignore sin. A god who does not take sin seriously is not just; he is evil. For God to end our separation from him, he must be both just and the justifier of sinners (Romans 3:26). Though this may seem like an unsolvable logical problem, God speaks to us through scripture and says, “Come let us reason together, though your sins are as scarlet they will be white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).”

The Answer

One day, in the city of Bethlehem, a child was born: Christ the Lord. God himself, the second person of the Trinity, took on flesh and walked amongst us. His name was Jesus, and he came to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He lived the perfect life we could not, then died on the cross, taking the wrath our sins deserved, making a way for us to be in a right relationship with him again. Those who place their faith in him will find forgiveness and become sons and daughters of God, no longer at enmity with him.

All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 1:13). We can live with him the rest of our days, finding peace with God, until he returns to set all things right. Eventually, all four separations caused by sin will be reconciled. Even death itself will be no more, for he defeated it on the cross and resurrected, never to die again. He is the firstborn of the dead, and all who believe in him will rise as well and live eternally with him (Colossian 1:18). Eventually, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, where the lion will lay down with the lamb, wars will cease (Revelation 21). Every effect of sin will be no more because Jesus conquered it on the cross.


Second Helping: We often leave you with another suggested article by the same writer, but this time we want to alert you to a sub-section of Doug’s website containing articles on the theme of apologetics. Or just go directly to this one.

November 25, 2021

Five Faith Journey Lessons

Today we have a special treat for regular readers of Christianity 201, as longtime Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon share his personal testimony. Hearing about God’s work in the lives of others can be both instructive and inspiring.

Three Important Years and Five Important Lessons in My Faith Journey

by Clarke Dixon

Rather than invite a guest speaker for our anniversary service, I invited two members to share about an important season of their journey of faith. The following is what I shared about an important season in mine.

Looking back there were five lessons in three years which set the course for my faith, but also my work as a pastor for the last twenty-four years.

You may assume I am referring to my three years at seminary. While my three years at McMaster Divinity College were indeed very important, I am actually referring to the three years prior in which I attended Trent University in pursuit of a Bachelor of Arts. Here are the five important lessons of faith impressed on me in those three years:

My Christian faith is about God’s grace, and not my attempts to impress God.

Two gentlemen from another faith tradition, which I’ll not name, knocked on our door. What followed was an interesting conversation, or rather a challenging conversation where one of the men in particular dismissed the Christian notion of grace. According to him, we had to earn a good standing before God. Immediately following that conversation I opened the Scriptures to Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians and began reading.

While the whole of Paul’s teaching in Romans was helpful, here is one quote to catch the gist of it:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.

Romans 3:23-25 (NLT)

While I already believed that our good standing before God was by God’s grace and not our effort, a deeper dive into Romans solidified this for me. Good teaching can help us learn things, but sometimes a challenge to what we are taught, or a seed of doubt, can really help us go deeper in our search for truth.

To some the teaching of God’s grace may seem like something that should be settled in Sunday school. However, I meet people, both within and beyond the Church, who think that Christianity is all about trying to impress God. When some people say “God is good,” they think mainly of God’s holiness. Grace is a very important part of God’s goodness, and holiness.

My Christian faith is about love, and I don’t mean love for rules.

One day while driving to Trent I was forced to take a detour because of a car accident. In turning back onto the street I saw the wrecked car and thought how tragic, that the driver was probably killed given the state of the car. I thought nothing more about it until I got home and discovered that the driver was my best friend from my last years at high school.

It is a normal response to the death of a loved one, especially an unexpected death, to consider your last words together, your last weeks, months, even years, and to reflect on your relationship. That evening, I’m not sure why, but I read 1st Corinthians, chapter 13. Let me quote a few verses:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)

Prior to this moment I always thought of this famous chapter on love to be precisely that, a hymn about love. But this time in reading it, it became a chapter about me, about what I was, and what I wasn’t. By the normal Christian yardstick I was quite a righteous young man, not into drinking, pornography, drugs, and the like. But by the yardstick of love, I had a long way to go. Looking back, I hadn’t been the best of friends to someone who was the best of friends. This was the moment that my faith dropped from my head to my heart. Yes, I had known for a long time, or rather assented to the theological proposition that I had fallen short of the glory of God. But now I knew in a much deeper way that this was no mere thought, but a sad reality. While I was good at keeping rules, I was not doing so well with the greatest commandments which focus on love. Thankfully, there is grace and forgiveness and an experience of God’s love.

There was also a new way forward, of a life and faith focused on love. No longer would I would focus on keeping rules in order to be a good Christian. The focus was now on loving in order to be like Christ. The rules we tend to love so much in Baptist circles are not there to help us get to heaven, as some people suppose. The rules are there to help us express love.

My Christian faith makes sense, even when I can’t makes sense of everything.

While majoring in English Literature and Classical Studies, I took different kinds of courses and was exposed to challenges to religion in general, and my Christian faith specifically. What dawned on me, however, was how Christianity could stand up to scrutiny and critical inquiry. Christianity was reasonable and made sense.

This of course didn’t mean that I could make sense of everything. Who can really understand God? Who can really understand one’s loved ones? God is not an equation to be figured out, but a Person to be in relationship with. Sometimes it feels like God used artists, those familiar with mystery, to write the Scriptures, while we ask lawyers and engineers, those familiar with precision, to interpret them.

Yes, there are things best described as mystery, things hidden from our eyes and understanding. During those three years I learned that while there is mystery, there is nothing nonsensical or unreasonable about faith in Jesus.

In those three years I learned that I did not need to leave my faith in the parking lot of the university. Nor do I need to leave my brain at the door of the church.

My Christian faith leads to a mix of conviction about some things and humility about other things, but not certitude about everything.

The motto of Trent University is “nunc cognosco ex parte” which is a Latin translation from 1st Corinthians 13:9 meaning “now I know in part.” Here the apostle Paul demonstrates both conviction and humility. Paul came to know some very important things, but not everything. He knew that.

Some may assume that one attends a university to learn everything. Actually one attends university to learn how to learn, and the more you know the more you learn just how little you know! The same can be said of seminary. Some may assume that you go to seminary to learn everything there is to know about God, the Bible, and the life of faith. Rather seminary prepares one for a lifetime of learning, thinking, and rethinking. All theology is an exercise in deconstruction and reconstruction.

Sometimes Christianity is presented in a way that makes it seem that a Christian, especially a pastor, can and should have certitude about everything. Yet, if the Apostle Paul could say “now I know in part,” so can I. There are things to have conviction about. There are things it is better to have humility about. It takes wisdom and learning to know which is appropriate when.

My Christian faith is really about Jesus, and not Paul.

When choosing courses in my first year of Trent, one particular course struck me as particularly relevant: New Testament Greek. Problem was that I needed Classical Greek fist, so I ended up taking two courses in Classical Greek and one in New Testament Greek. This began a lifelong pursuit of, and love for, learning the Biblical languages. This also planted an important seed that would blossom later.

If you were to ask me in the early years of my growing faith what my favourite books of the Bible were, I would have said the letters of Paul. They seemed the most “theological” which appealed to me greatly. However, I had a problem; Paul’s letters are harder to read in Greek than the Gospels. So I began reading the Gospels more, which meant I was reading about the life and teaching of Jesus more. I came to realize that I had made Christianity about Paul when really it is about Jesus. I used to read Paul to understand Paul. I now read Paul to understand Jesus. This is a subtle, but important change.

Paul and the other apostles, in their letters, were working out the implications of the life, teaching, example, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the Christian communities of their day. We read them now to help us work out the implications of the life, teaching, example, death, and resurrection of Jesus for us in ours. It is about Jesus.

That Christianity is about Christ might seem like an obvious thing. However, I wonder if many Christians live a kind of Christian life that is really more about a certain expression of Christianity than about Jesus. I fear that some people live a kind of Christianity that is centered and focused on Paul, Luther, Calvin, Joel Olsteen, or anyone other than Jesus. My love of Greek brought me back to Jesus.

Conclusion

While my three years at McMaster Divinity College were very important for my growth as a Christian, God used the three years prior to help ground me in these five insights that set the course for my future.

Have you had a similar season that has been significant in your growth as a person and Jesus follower? Perhaps this next season will be it!

November 24, 2021

How Did They Miss That Sermon Reference?

The Voice – II Cor. 3:18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.

The Amplified Bible – II Cor. 3:18 And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.

With the pandemic, it’s been awhile since some readers here have been physically present in a worship service, but for a moment, imagine you there and the pastor is preaching and after awhile it occurs to you that the whole sermon seems to be directed at one particular person’s situation. It’s almost embarrassing. It’s like everyone knows the minister is referring to Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, imagine that mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin a few weeks later, and you get the distinct impression that the sermon hasn’t changed a thing in their life; that whatever it was that made it so blatant to you and everyone else that it was about them, seems to have misfired or otherwise not taken root.

I suppose there could be a number of possibilities here, of which four are:

  • They were tuned out for most of the sermon; not paying attention
  • The pastor’s remarks registered, but they assumed it applied to someone else, never considering it might be them to whom the sermon was most directly speaking
  • The application and needed next steps registered, but were eventually dismissed or forgotten
  • The cost of change or the price of obedience was simply too high

The Bible tells us we’re not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word; but sometimes we mess up the hearing part which cancels out the rest.

James 1:22-24 (The Message) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

People do this everyday however. The middle aged man steps into his souped up sports car, turns the music on the sound system up high, and believes he is still 18. He starts flirting with his assistant at work and with the receptionist at the dentist’s office, and forgets he’s graying; that he has a wife and kids.

He needs a mirror.

The woman who goes out to lunch to with four friends and then spontaneously offers to pick the tab for everyone’s meal before they embark on an afternoon of shopping, slapping down the credit card at store after store, forgetting that the bank has already canceled her other credit card because of too many missed payments, and her income prospects for the foreseeable future are rather dim.

She needs a mirror.

We all need a mirror. An accurate one. One that doesn’t distort the truth. The clearest, most focused mirror is God’s word. It shows us what right living looks like. It tells us where we’ve messed up. What we can do to get back on track. What it will take for us to stay on track. You can read more about this four-fold purpose of scripture by clicking here.

…Sometimes however, the sermon is about you. It’s like there’s no one else there. Imagine the same scenario, but it’s more like a bad dream. The pastor preaches a similar sermon, but everyone turns around stares directly at you.

But weeks later your life is unchanged. That would be a bigger nightmare.

What would your excuse be?


Want to further wrestle with the issue of how we see ourselves vs. how we really are? Consider the book by Brant Hansen, The Truth About Us. Here’s a link to a review of the book.

November 14, 2021

How Much Fruit are You Producing?

Today’s search to highlight new (to us) devotional authors took us to Following Jesus Today, and the writing of David W. Palmer, who with his wife Rosanna are involved in itinerant ministry in Melbourne, Australia. As winter makes it way into the northern hemisphere, Australia sounds like the ideal place, but even more so when you consider that they were previously involved with something called Surfcity Christian Church, as in “Surf City, here we come.” (Coveting is still a sin, right?)

Clicking the header which follows will take you direct to their page, rather than reading here. If you live an area like we do where there’s a chance of snow in tonight’s forecast, perhaps some of the warmth will flow through your internet cable.

The Living Word Produces the Fruit Father Seeks

(John 15:4 NKJV) “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

In John 15, Jesus is addressing his apprentices on the night he was denied, betrayed, and arrested. While he had this final opportunity, he was imparting to them truths and values of ultimate importance.

In this chapter, the Master begins with a parable about a grapevine, a vinedresser, and branches. Our wonderful Lord is emphasizing the need to remain in him and to be fruitful. So far, he has mentioned removal of fruitless branches and pruning of the fruitful ones. Today, we are looking at him urging all of his devoted followers to remain in him:

(John 15:3–4 NLT) “You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. (4) Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

Yesterday, we saw that Jesus alerted all of us who are “in” him to focus on bearing copious fruit. The consequences of being in him—drawing on his life and nutrition—but not producing any fruit, is catastrophic:

(John 15:2 NLT) He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

Even the branches of Jesus that do produce fruit, he prunes and cleans so they can increase their yield. Clearly, Father wants us to produce copious supernatural fruit for his kingdom. To emphasize this, Jesus earlier gave some focused parables:

(Luke 13:6–9 NLT) Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’  “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer.  If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’” (See also: Mat. 25:14–30)

In John 15, Jesus is addressing those who are “in me.” And because he is fully aware of Father’s desire for fruitfulness from the branches of his ministry, he urges us to “remain” in him:

(John 15:4 NLT) “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

Only as we continue in close connectedness with Jesus, the living word, will we be able to be productive at the level Father wants. Being connected without fruit is serious enough, but if we pull away from him—severing ourselves from his life-giving living words altogether—we are bringing disaster on ourselves:

(John 15:5–6 NLT) “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.”

Without the water of life flowing into us from Jesus continually, we will soon wither. Jesus explained that sadly, the only possible outcome for isolated, withered branches is to be “gathered” and “burned.” That does not sound like a joy-filled eternity. So, let’s remain well and truly connected to Jesus, his words, and his life.

Jesus continued this impartation session to his apprentices by assuring them of a particular stream of approved fruitfulness if they continue to “abide” in him:

(John 15:7 NKJV) “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”

Here, Jesus specified the fruit that comes from successful prayer and faith. To double the emphasis of what we need to do to produce the type and quantity of fruit Father seeks, our Lord said both to abide in him and have his words abiding in us. He is the living word, so for us to abide in him, we need constantly to be in the word. To have his word abiding in us, we need to know it, understand it, believe it, and do it. Then, as his word comes to life in us, it is literally Jesus himself living in and through us. If he does, then he can continue his fruitful ministry here on earth.

Through the apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit put it like this:

(Galatians 2:20 NKJV) “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

The fruit of prayer and faith is supernatural. When we experience God’s supernatural work—which demonstrates his goodness, love, and majesty—we know we cannot take the credit for it; we give him the glory. When others see it, they too—given the right explanation—give him glory. Thus, the fruit of answered prayer and successful faith will glorify our heavenly Father:

(John 15:8 NKJV) “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

By saying, “You will be my disciples,” Jesus is saying that they would be doing things his way. In other words, he was showing them how he operated; this was exactly the way he had operated throughout his ministry on earth. He remained connected closely to his Father, drawing life from him through hearing, believing, receiving, obeying, and releasing Father’s words. As a result, God’s supernatural intervention was witnessed by all who encountered him: people received healing, saw miracles, heard the truth in love, understood mysteries, and felt God’s compassion and acceptance. Hence, God was glorified.

Today, let’s heed Jesus’s urgent plea to abide in him continually, and to have his word living in us. Then, along with this single-minded focus, we need humbly to accept his pruning while we live in abandoned obedience. This is the way to avoid withering, removal, and burning. This is the way to yield much fruit—fruit that remains, including the fruit of answered prayer and actualized decrees in Jesus’s name.


Second Helping: Abiding in Christ is a necessity to bearing fruit, but another part of the process, alluded to above, is the pruning process. (Sometimes as Christians, we don’t want to hear about that one!) The author of the above piece actually covered that two days before in a piece entitled Yield to the Father’s Pruning for a Fabulous Upgrade (click to link).

November 12, 2021

Wash. Cleanse. Repeat.

This is our third time with Mark Stephenson who writes at Fire and Light who is co-pastor of Horizon Church in Towson, Maryland. After we’ve confessed our sin nature to God and recognized only He can save us from it, we still need to confess the subsequent times we “miss the mark.” Someone has described this as “keeping short accounts with God;” or what Mark describes below as “the ongoing need for forgiveness, repentance, and cleansing from the muck of the world.”

Click the header below to read this where we sourced it.

Washing Feet – Revisited

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 

John 13:6-15

I love when the Lord shows me something new in a passage of scripture I’ve read a hundred times. I read the above passage the other day and felt like the Lord showed me something new. We tend to think of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet as an act of humble service whereby He then instructs His disciple to do the same for each other (that is, serve each other). But consider that there’s more that Jesus is addressing here.

We know that Jesus isn’t just talking about personal hygiene. And I believe He’s talking about more than just service. When He’s talking about taking a bath, He’s really talking about baptism/salvation. He’s talking about the cleansing of the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus says, Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.

And when Jesus is talking about washing feet, He’s talking about the regular cleansing that we need even after we are saved. Jesus said, Those who have had a bath (been saved) need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.” Meaning, we who are followers of Jesus have already been forgiven of all of our sin, and yet we still need a regular kind of cleansing because of our regular contact with sin and the contaminants of the world. We’ve been cleansed by the Holy Spirit from the inside out (our spiritual bath), yet we still get the muck and grime of the world on us simply by walking daily in the world. After we have had a “bath” we don’t need to get saved over and over again, but we do need a different kind of cleansing. We do need a foot washing.

We see this same kind of “dual cleansing” demonstrated by the priests at the Temple. First, they offered the sacrifices of animals to account for their sin. The spilling of blood addressed their guilt from sin. Yet, the priests also had to wash in the wash basin before entering the Holy Place. The washing with water addressed anything they may have had contact with that made them “unclean.” And these wash basins were made from bronze mirrors. They would have literally seen a reflection of themselves as they washed away the contaminants of the world with water. I don’t think it was an accident that a time of reflection accompanied this time of cleansing.

Jesus introduces a new kind of “dual cleansing” for the new priesthood of believers. First, baptism represents the full and total cleansing of our life from sin. Jesus’s blood is what would enable the Holy Spirit to come and bathe us in righteousness from the inside out. Then, a foot washing, which represents the ongoing need for forgiveness, repentance, and cleansing from the muck of the world.

Not only do we need a spiritual “foot washing,” a regular kind of repentance and cleansing, but this cleansing is something we believers can offer to each other. Jesus commands, “…you also should wash one another’s feet.” We not only are called to serve each other humbly, but we are called to participate in helping each other stay clean. The cleansing water is the Holy Spirit, and He does what only the Spirit can do. Yet, we can participate in this by metaphorically washing each other’s feet.

I have seen the reality of this kind of cleansing happen over and over in the prayer ministry we have at our church. People come in for prayer with the muck of sin and the muck of the world caked on them. They feel ashamed and defeated. They feel oppressed and depressed. They know there is more to this Christian life than what they are experiencing but they just can’t seem to tap into it. They are followers of Jesus who have been bathed in the waters of baptism, but they still need a foot washing for their soul.

Then we start praying, and the increased Presence of the Holy Spirit begins to be poured out. We as prayer ministers bend low to wash feet and the cleansing power of the Spirit does His work. I watch as time and again people get set free from sin, free from shame, free from unforgiveness and hurt, free from the heavy weight pressing down on their shoulders, free from the heaviness on their chest that keeps them from taking a full breath. As the cleansing water of the Spirit is poured out, the Light comes, lightness is felt, freedom is experienced, hope returns, and a cleansing takes place right in front of us.

When Jesus taught us to wash each other’s feet, I do think he had in mind humble service. But I also think He had in mind ministry that brings freedom and cleansing, ministry that one believer can offer to another. We have the honor of ushering in the cleansing power of the Spirit for each other if we are willing to bend low. This ministry of cleansing is the ministry of washing feet and inviting the Holy Spirit to come and wash souls.


Second Helping: Here’s an invitation to read more from the same author, this time on a very different subject. Mark writes, “People are dabbling in the spirit realm and then finding themselves bound by darkness and harassed by demons. They don’t need convincing that the spirit realm and the supernatural are real. They are fully convinced that the spirit realm is real because they experience the dark side of it daily.” Click here to read more.


What have others written about “keeping short accounts with God?” We looked at that in this article from February, 2013.

October 19, 2021

Deep Roots

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Col.2.6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

NIV.Ps.1.3. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.

NIV.Jer.17.8. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

This is our fifth time visiting the website Preacher Pollard but only the first time it has dawned on me that the Pollards are a bit of a dynasty, with five sharing writing responsibilities. This is our first time with Carl Pollard.

Clicking the header below will take you direct to today’s devotional on their page. You can then navigate around (click the blog banner at the top) and read other articles by each of them. They are shorter devotionals so you can read a half dozen of them, as I just did, in quick time.

Tap Root

There’s a tree in the Sonoran Desert called the Mesquite. This is a very hardy, drought-tolerant tree. It survives the harsh climate by drawing water up from the water table through its taproot. This root has been measured to reach upwards of 190 feet long.

How does a desert tree with a tap root apply to us? In Colossians 2:6, 7 there is a command to walk in Christ. How do we walk in Christ? Paul through inspiration explains that the one who walks in Christ is:

  • Firmly rooted
  • Built up in Him
  • Established in faith
  • Overflowing with gratitude, and
  • Rejects false doctrine

Being firmly rooted (I’m talking a super-long taproot) in what you believe is an important part of how to walk in Christ. How would we know how to walk in Christ if we didn’t believe in what we…believe?

Being built up in Christ, is like finishing a building that already has a foundation. If we are firmly rooted, then we must continue to build. It’s like buying a night at a hotel, and trying to stay a week. You can’t do that. We either keep paying the fee, or we’re kicked out. Or, applying it to Colossians two, keep studying and growing closer to Christ.

Being established in faith, we have the faith that the sacrifice of Jesus will keep us holy and blameless before God.

Overflowing with gratitude is a very important part of this. There is a saying that goes, “Some Christians don’t want to pray in the cafe. Dogs wag their tails when they get food, and pigs grunt. But what does man do?” Are we showing gratitude for what God has done for us? Can people see it in us?

Making sure no one takes you captive with false doctrine can be very hard. 2 Peter 3:17 warns, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.” False doctrines can be tempting because they appeal to what we want, and not what God wants. Rejecting these teachings takes a knowledge of the word, and a desire to do what God wills.

Today and every day, let’s practice walking in Christ using these principles from God’s inspired word.

 

October 3, 2021

Getting Younger with Each New Day

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
 – Isaiah 40:29 NIV

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
 – Isaiah 40:31 NLT

Years ago I had an interesting conversation with a guy who I figured to be at least a decade older than myself. When the conversation ended he left, but then he returned and said he just wanted to share a verse with me. He then quoted II Cor 4:16 to me from the KJV:

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward [man] is renewed day by day.

Most of you would know this better from the NIV:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

He then went on to tell me that he has been told, and has felt that he is “getting younger.” He said he felt more rejuvenated, and more energetic than at any time in his life.

This is not the first time an older follower of Christ has told me something like this. A woman told me that she’d noticed that the new hair growth on her head was coming in darker, replacing the grey hairs.

Looking for a way to respond somehow, I told him — and I hope this didn’t sound too new age — that he was simply filled with fresh passion about his faith and that he was drawing on the energy from that passion. He didn’t argue that point.

That’s the kind of faith to aim for; a faith that is vibrant and exciting and informs the other areas that make up the four parts of you: your mind, your social interactions, your emotions; and even your physical body. (See this four-part division in Luke 2:52.)

Renewal Means Being Made New

There was once an SNL skit by the comedian who played a priest in which he talked about a planet where people reached a certain age and then started getting younger. The punchline was something to the effect that “you didn’t know if someone was coming or going.” It’s not applicable here except insofar as it introduces “outside the box” thinking. Renewal — if you really think about it — is just that; being made new.

Paul tells the Corinthians,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (II-5:7)

I once heard someone say that the Greek on this passage is not talking about a metamorphosis like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but more like a caterpillar turning into a “winged elephant.” In other words, anyone in Christ becomes (his words): “a species of being that never existed before.” So we are all not who we were, we are changed and are being changed.

The idea of “getting younger” goes against the basic rules of science, but with God anything is possible. In John 3:3, Jesus introduces Nicodemus to the idea of being “born again.” In the next verse Nick asks the obvious question,

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
 – NIV

In the upside-down kingdom Jesus brings, the new birth isn’t quite that dramatic, but it’s just as significant. The man I met said he is “getting younger” and frankly, I have no reason to believe he is not.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
 – Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Renewal Means the Dead are Made Alive

A parallel comparison can be constructed from the more central idea of scripture that, rather than looking at the aged recovering youthful vigor, we should be looking at those who are spiritual dead — which was all of us at one time — being given new life.

This is the message of 1 Corinthians 15:22

Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. (NLT)

A new energy. A fresh start. A clean slate.

How can anyone walk way from that offer?

 

September 1, 2021

I Am Peter

NIV.Luke.22.54b Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”

57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.

58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”

“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.

59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

60a Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Katie Davis Majors is an American missionary and author who established a mission in Uganda in 2007, and tells her story in the books, Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption (2011) and Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful (2017).

Two days ago a Facebook friend took the time to copy what follows from Katie’s journal, though I was unable to source where that journal was located. This might be a transcription of one of the books.

You can read more about Katie’s work at Amazima Ministries, where you will also find her blog.

I Am Peter

Peter is the rock on which God built his church. But first, Peter was probably the worst disciple ever.

I am Peter.

Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him 3 times; Peter says, “No! I love you, I could never deny you, Lord.” Yet we all know that Peter does in fact deny Jesus three times. I know in my heart and my soul and the core of my being that I love the Lord, that I would do anything for Him, go to the ends of the earth for him, but how often do I forget to give the glory to his name? How often do I take the compliments without giving him the credit?

Do I, like Peter, deny Jesus the glory that is his?

Jesus told his disciples that it was God’s will for him to be arrested. He went willingly when the soldiers came to take him, but enthusiastically, loving Peter raised his sword and cut off a soldiers ear. “Put your sword away,” Jesus commanded. “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

I am Peter.

I have my own time frame. When I don’t see things happening, I try to make them happen. And Jesus says “Put away your sword, put away your plans. Shall we not do what the Father has asked of us?” So like Peter, I put away my plans, my defenses, and watch as everything happens perfectly, in God’s own timing.

After Jesus had risen, he appeared to his disciples while they were fishing. When Peter saw his beloved Saviour, he excitedly jumped out of the boat and began swimming to where Jesus stood. Needless to say, the boat probably reached the shore long before Peter.

I am Peter- excitedly jumping into things and then standing, sopping wet, at the feet of the Lord, smiling at my stupidity.

I am Peter who made many mistakes, but I am Peter for whom God had great plans, whom God established to do his work.

That very night when Peter jumped out of the boat, Jesus reinstated him in the presence of the other disciples.

“Do you truly love me?” He asked. “Then feed my lambs.”

“Do you really love me? Take care of my lambs.”

“Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep, and come follow me.”

For each time I deny God the glory that is his, for each time I follow my will instead of listening to his, for each time I jump ahead without first consulting my Lord, he asks, “Daughter, do you truly love me?”

And I do.

‘I am Peter. I mess up. I make mistakes, I am far from perfect, and God will use me. God will establish great things through me.

You are Peter. God already knows that you will make a mess, but his plan for you is great. Go feed his sheep.

August 11, 2021

Do Bible Principles Need to be Stated Twice to Matter?

It began with a conversation I had four years ago at the local Christian bookstore concerning Bible features. As the guy was looking at one in particular, he said, “Oh good, it’s got the precepts.”

The first time, it didn’t really register. Then he looked at another and said something like, “Does it have the precepts?”

Huh?

It turned out he was talking about what most of us would call cross references; the notations of other passages either in a center column, the bottom of the page, or at the end of the verse itself where something related may be found.

The idea of ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ is taken from Isaiah 28:, 9-10 in the KJV. The NASB expresses it as:

To whom would He teach knowledge, And to whom would He interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast?  “For He says, ‘Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there.’”

The NLT is really contradictory to this idea on its rendering of this:

He tells us everything over and over–one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there!”

implying that the learning or teaching or knowledge is linear, but not necessarily cumulative. In other words, one line at a time, doesn’t mean that line B is necessarily building on line A, but to say upon is to imply that it is or does.

(In case you’re wondering if there’s any irony to be found, you’re wrong; the verse itself is reiterated in scripture, albeit 3 verses later in verse 13.)

As we discussed this the idea of “Out of the mouth of two [or three] witnesses was brought into the conversation. This is found in the Old Testament twice.

The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6, HCSB)

A solitary witness against someone in any crime, wrongdoing, or in any sort of misdeed that might be done is not sufficient. The decision must stand by two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15, CEB)

Those OT passages are cited in the NT by Jesus and by Paul.

But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:16, NIV)

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  (2 Corinthians 13:1, ESV)

In the Corinthian example, you have to go back to the previous chapter to get the context. Paul is speaking about sorting out matters concerning people who have been found in sinful practices.

Capital crime. Wrongdoing. Sin. Denial of Sin. Nowhere do these passages suggest something related to “the establishing of doctrine.” But don’t get me wrong:

I believe the Bible always corroborates itself on matters of important doctrine.

In other words, it’s internally consistent. I’m just not sure that we need to force it [scripture] into a situation where everything has to be said twice or three times in order to establish a doctrinal pattern, or make it conform to an overarching systematic theology. Or, to come at it differently, it may reinforce something but in an entirely different way than our Western way of thinking can process too simply.

I think to do so is to doubt the value of what we read the first time. It’s saying to God, ‘Now, if you’ll just show me one more time where you say this, then I’ll obey.’ I think that undermines the text somehow. That doesn’t mean to imply that at a crossroads of life we don’t ask God for confirmation of what we are to do. There is the example of Gideon, who put out a second fleece.

So what are precepts? Yourdictionary.com says

precept pre·cept. … The definition of a precept is a guiding principle or rule that is used to control, influence or regulate conduct. An example of a precept is a commandment found in the Ten Commandments.

At that we would need to get into the differences between a rule and a principle. Principles are timeless, never location-specific, widely applicable. Rules apply to one group of people in one particular situation at one unique point in time. The rest of that we need to save for another day.

A cross-reference is simply:

•noun: cross reference; plural noun: cross references
–a reference to another text or part of a text, typically given in order to elaborate on a point.

Anyone who has been reading the Bible for any length of time knows that sometimes the Bible editors have chosen to take us to a reference to a rather obscure part of the verse, not something which indicates its overall meaning. There are times when I have been completely mystified as to the inclusion of a particular reference. Many of you know the danger of over-spiritualizing things, and I don’t want to be guilty of under-spiritualizing something, but… They’re. Just. Cross-references.

And at risk of stating the obvious, there’s 2 Timothy 3:16, which reminds us that all scripture is inspired. (Italics added; four expressions of this verse may be found at this link.)

Here’s my concluding statements on this:

We read scripture not so much because we’re trying to learn precepts as we are recognizing the importance of understanding the ways of God.

and

If God is saying something to us with unmistakable clarity through a scripture passage, we don’t need to start hunting around looking for a second verse.

August 7, 2021

Lessons from Peter

Another new source for you! The blog By Leaps and Bounds  is an outreach of Arise Ministries, which is based in West Virginia. The author of today’s thoughts is Dave Snyder, a retired Church of God pastor who now serves in prison ministry.

Faith, Failure, and Good Sense

And when he had sent the multitude away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased (Matthew 14:23-32).

The Christian life is a journey. It is like a marathon and is so different from a sprint. Always, it is a walk of faith.

Sometimes along this journey, we fail. Anything from failing to pray to struggling with sin hinders us and feels like it will defeat us.

During these times of failure, good sense has to kick in. We remember that we cannot and do not have to do this alone. Then we call out to the One who desires to help us.

Faith, failure, and good sense are all necessary components of the Christian walk. Let us briefly examine each one.

Faith is the key ingredient to the Christian life. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). We must have faith to do three important things.

Look at the call given to Peter and Andrew.

And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he said unto them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20).

These men left their nets to follow Jesus — without knowing where that path would lead them. It takes faith to simply answer the call to follow Jesus.

Obviously, if we are going to follow Jesus, we must have faith to believe He is who He says he is. Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered with an emphatic statement of faith, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” There is so much power in declaring to our Savior, “You are the Son of God.”

Finally, it takes faith to leave our comfortable place. Peter was a man used to the sea- including times of turbulence. Surely, he had encountered stormy seas previously. It would seem to be more comfortable in the ship than out of the ship. When he stepped out onto the water, he left what comfort there was at the time. So it is with us. Faith requires stepping out of the ship to experience the greatness of God.

Down through the years, I have heard people criticize Peter for failing to complete his walk on the water. However, his failure is a reflection of the failure we all experience during our lives. Like Peter, we look at the storm around us and take our eyes off of Jesus. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…” When we become distracted by all that surrounds us, failure is inevitable. This is when good sense has to come to the forefront.

When Peter began to sink, he did the most sensible thing he could have done. He cried out to Jesus — the One who had the power to save him. The Psalmist was so correct when he wrote, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” We should be so glad that our Lord hears us above all the noise that is around us. One other use of good sense is repentance.

When our actions deny that we know the Lord, repentance is in order. After denying Jesus three times, Peter remembered that Jesus warned him of this great failure. He had boasted that he would never fail in this way; now his heart was broken. Again, good sense was exercised. Peter went out and wept bitter tears of repentance. There are times when we must do likewise.

Matthew 14:23-32 definitely links faith, failure, and good sense together. It takes faith to step out in the first place. Once we step out, our human frailties get in the way and failure shows itself. This is when good sense tells us to cry out to the Lord who can help us. Good sense also tells us to make things right so our journey of faith can continue.

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