Christianity 201

April 8, 2021

What’s Included In Romans 8’s “All Things?”

Regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon will appear tomorrow.

Today we’re again back at the website Forward >> Progress, the personal website of Michael Kelley who is an in-house curriculum develolper for LifeWay. Because he does what he does as his vocation, you know his daily devotionals are going to be good, and the one we selected for today is no exception. Click the header below to read this at his site, and then take a few minutes to look around at his books and other writings.

What “All Things” Should We Expect from God?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32).

If you read these verses in isolation, there are a number of questions that ought to come to mind. You might, for example, ask, “What things?” Paul the apostle has some pretty audacious promises to make here, and he does so in response to “these things.” So what things lay the background for his rhetorical claims here?

Well, the “these things” are the weighty truths Paul has written about in the first 7 chapters of Romans. They’re the truths of sinful humanity’s desperate situation, whether Jew or Greek, from Romans 1-3. They’re the truths of the necessity of faith from Romans 4 and the peace we can have with God from Romans 5. They’re the truths of our ongoing battle with sin and the only power to overcome it from Romans 6-7. And they’re the truths of the indwelling Spirit, the fatherhood of God, and our adoption as sons and daughters from Romans 8. Those are “these things.”

In response to the ocean of grace given to us in Christ, Paul asked the rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” For surely God is for us. How could we conclude otherwise in light of everything we’ve just read? Yes, God is most certainly for us. But not stopping there, Paul asked another rhetorical question:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

And this is where we ought to ask a second question of our own. We know what “these things” are, but what about “all things?” What are the “all things” we can and should expect from God, in light of the fact that He has already given us so much?

This is a big question. It is, after all, a question that relates deeply to our expectations and our future. It has bearing on how equipped and fortified we will be through life. It matters to both what is happening right now and what will happen in the future. But it’s also a big question because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know our tendency toward dissatisfaction.

Let’s face it – we are not a very content culture. If we order cheeseburger, we wonder if we could have a few strips of bacon. If we buy a new TV, we wonder just how big the screen could be and still fit on our wall. If we go on a vacation, we wonder what it would have been like if we had paid a little more for the hotel. We are always pushing for more. More food, more entertainment, more prosperity, more of everything.

So when we come to this promise in Romans 8 – that God will give us “all things”, there is at least a part of us that looks around at everything the world has to offer and rubs our hands together. Does “all things” mean money? Power? Prestige? Constant good health?

Interestingly, this is not the first time in Romans 8 a question like this comes up. If you look back just a few verses to one of the most widely quoted verses in the Bible, you find this:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Here, again, we find ourselves drifting into the same thought pattern. God works all things together for our good. So what exactly does that mean? Does it mean we will face no troubles? No difficulties? No sickness? And the answer here is no. You only have to keep reading in Romans 8 to find that there will be all kinds of things that might threaten to separate us from God’s love – things like tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword (v. 35). Clearly, then, Paul doesn’t mean that we won’t ever suffer in this life.

Back, then, to our question – what are the “all things” we can expect from God?

The answer to both of these issues is in God’s intent for us. His intent is emphatically not that we never have difficulty, but instead that we become more and more like Jesus. This is what God is moving us toward in this life – to be be conformed to the image of His Son. It is not a life without difficulty; it is a life that looks more and more like Jesus. The “all things” God will give us are those things which equip and form us in this pursuit.

Maybe a little illustration here – when our family goes camping, we go to the back of the garage and get two plastic tubs and put them in the car. Over the years, we have accumulated everything we need in those tubs. There are lanterns, cooking supplies, matches, s’more sticks, bug spray, flashlights – you name it. And when we run out of one of those things on the trip, we make it a point to refresh the supply before we put the tubs away. That way, when it’s time to go, we don’t have to do another inventory – we know we have “all things” we need.

For camping.

We do not have “all things” we need to go another kind of vacation. Or the movies. Or to school or work. For the specific purpose of camping, though, we have everything we need.

Here is the answer to the question. God has outfitted us with “all things” we need for us to live His highest purpose for our lives, which is to become more like this. Of this we can be absolutely sure – no matter what else happens, He has given us all we need for this specific journey. For this specific purpose. In light of that, the new question is whether our purpose for our lives is the same as His.

April 5, 2021

The One Where You Tell God to Take the Easy Way Out

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29 NLT)

For years we’ve shared the writing of Jim Thornber, always pausing to remark at how our blogs have the same name. When it came time to revisit his page today, I was reminded that in 2020 he had suffered the loss of his wife due to complications from Coronavirus. He posted this item in November, and it’s timeliness to Easter cannot be overlooked. Click the header which follows to read at source.

Comfort Is Not The Agenda

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” (Luke 23:39)

One of the highlights of my week is meeting with pastors from other churches for coffee on Friday mornings. There is no plan or schedule to these meetings other than friendship, but we also gather knowing we have a unique position in our town and only other pastors will understand our victories and struggles.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the pastors referenced the thief on the cross who scoffed at Jesus, saying, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

After he quoted the thief I said, “And here we are today, still trying to tell God how to be God!”

As soon as I said this it struck me how often I have done the same thing as the thief. “If you were really THIS kind of God,” I would think, “then you would do THIS for me.” And, of course, this makes me a thief who is trying to steal the true character of God and replace it with a god of my making.

It’s a good thing our society no longer hangs thieves.

If anyone is wondering, I have plenty of suggestions on how God can make me comfortable and answer my prayers. But then, I think about Jesus. As He hung upon the cross, Jesus wasn’t concerned with His comfort. Instead, He was concerned with obeying God’s agenda for His life.

Furthermore, it’s easy for me to admit I’ve lived a comfortable life. I’ve never known the type of suffering that took place in Europe during World War II. I’ve never battled cancer or been kidnapped. I’ve never faced homelessness or starvation, never been in a car crash or lost a limb in an accident, and for those things I am grateful.

The worst pain I have ever experienced is the loss of my wife, Barbara, who died on September 12, 2020 from complications of COVID-19. I can find no words that adequately describe the pain of losing a soul mate, a best friend, the one God created to be my equal in life.

Still, I trust God will continue to work in my life as I go forward, the same way He worked in our life as I look back at the amazing twenty-six years I had with Barbara.

After years of wanting God to fulfill my will, I’ve finally come to accept that God’s agenda for my life is not to make me comfortable, but to help conform me into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Therefore, I cannot honestly say, “LORD, your will be done in me,” then complain when His will makes me uncomfortable.

Losing a spouse is devastating, but losing my perspective on God’s magnificent goodness and love would be worse. Therefore, I’ve decided keep these words of Habakkuk constantly on my mind:

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength!” (Hab. 3:18-19).

February 27, 2021

Our Actions and Activity Count

Last year at this time we introduced Paul O’Brien is in pastoral ministry in Ohio. His blog is New Creation in X. Click the headers which follow — this a mash-up of a two-part article — to read these on his site.

The Bible teaches that what we do matters

The Bible teaches that what we do matters.

“For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27).

“The Son of Man is going to come.” That’s going to happen. Just as surely as Jesus came, He’s coming back. And He’s coming in glory.

No stable, no mere star. All of the world will see His utter glory. That’s going to happen. And Scripture repeatedly reminds us to be ready because it’s going to happen soon.

The One who took His cross and beckons us to take up ours will soon take His full rightful glory. All the world will be awed by His power. All the world will bow and acknowledge the reality that He is Lord (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10-11).

And as the Lord, He will dish out what’s deserved. The Just One will measure out justice. All will meet their deserved fate. There will be grace and wrath in abundance. And there will be peace.

A takeaway for all Christians: we must see the utter importance of our actions. Just because one is saved by grace through faith does not at all mean that what one does doesn’t matter.* Christians should be people of faith-filled sacrificial love. Because…

The Lord Jesus will repay each person according to what they have done.

What we do and don’t do matters. It matters a lot. Our lives and our actions have significance. They have significance because there is a Savior who reigns who will enforce His loving rule.

*Christians are saved by faith alone but the faith that saves is never alone. Those who are made new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), are to live as new creations in Christ. They are to live holy lives because they are holy (1 Cor. 1:2).

What we do matters: And that’s good news

Matthew 16:27 which says “the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done.”

For a lot of people that may seem very heavy and discouraging. For me, it’s good news. It’s good news because it means there’s meaning. What we do matters.

It makes me think of Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus.” In “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Sisyphus has to carry a huge rock up a hill and you know what happens once he does? It rolls right back down the hill… And again and again and again… Basically, Camus is saying life is meaningless and absurd.

And that reminds me of another philosophical work, the book of Ecclesiastes from the Bible. One of the reoccurring phrases in that book is “vanity of vanities.” Is all meaningless? Does what we do matter?

The Bible answers with a resounding “Yes!”

For someone who has wrestled with depression because of perceived purposelessness, it’s good news that what we do matters. It adds pep and purpose to my life… Even if it’s a heavy truth, I’ll take it because it means our lives have weight.

The fact that Jesus will repay each person according to what they have done adds huge significance to our lives. “We’re playing for keeps,” so to speak. Life is the real thing. We should live and enjoy it and we should love God and others. That’s what Ecclesiastes concludes with.

So, I’m thankful for the good news that what we do in life matters. I’m especially mindful of that on the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Martin and the Million Man March mattered. It mattered and racism matters.

It matters that MLK was killed. It matters that MLK peacefully fought for the sanctity of blacks and all people. It matters for a lot of reasons. But for one, it matters because people will give an account for their racism, acts of violence, and even every careless word (Matthew 12:36).

So, as I said, this is heavy and hard. It’s not an easy pill to swallow but it is the medicine we need. We can’t lash out and attack and think it doesn’t matter. Our every action is riddled with significance. That truth, however, shouldn’t cripple us, it should cause us to fly to Jesus who is both our Savior and Sanctifier.

When the options are laid out in front of me, I’ll take actual meaning and significance every time. I don’t want the poisoned sugar pill that says what we do doesn’t really matter. I’ll take the truth even if it’s bitter.

What we do totally matters. It’s hard in some ways to hear that but the alternative is to say it doesn’t matter. And that would be saying nothing matters, there is no meaning.

To close, it seems there are three options:

1) Be crushed by the utter meaninglessness of life (e.g. give up, don’t care) or…

2) Be crushed by the utter meaning of life (e.g. try to own everything, try to be the great rescue yourself) or…

3) Trust Christ. Christ says there’s meaning and He says there’s hope. What we do matters and we’ve all failed. He, however, didn’t throw in the towel on us. He took up a towel and lived as a servant. He did all the good we should’ve done and didn’t do the bad. And yet He was crushed for us but not under the weight of meaning or meaninglessness but on a cross.

Jesus finished where we bailed, He succeeded where we failed. He’s always right and we’re often wrong. He has a perfect record and He offers it to us.

February 26, 2021

Running to Spread the Word

Today another new author whose writing we’ve chosen to highlight for you. Bernie Lyle writes at Musings from an Idle Mind. I encourage you to click through and read some of his devotionals at their source, or click the header which follows to read today’s.

Run

“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you.”
‭‭II Thessalonians‬ ‭3:1-4‬ ‭NKJV

Even in the time of the writing of this passage in II Thessalonians, Paul was dealing with people in the church who were not quite what they seemed. In that letter, Paul was cautioning the church, then and now, of things that were and things to come, as people were falling away. We are seeing this in our world today, as the evil one is attacking assemblies and driving wedges between people.

There are disrupters amongst us, people bent on drawing others after sin, and causing havoc to the faith. I have heard of pastors attacked over petty things, of people being accosted over matters of faith. There are families in turmoil, and marriages crumbling. People are enduring a multi-tiered assault.

It is tough being an intercessor in these perilous times, as I hear of the struggles of others, and am horrified by the attacks of the evil one on families. I pray fervently for many.

I have learned that prayer is the most needed thing today, as many of us are facing challenges to our ability to share the Gospel. We are often distracted by inner struggles, and the mission is put on the back burner.

Just as Paul called upon the Thessalonians to pray for him, I implore you to pray for me, and others who have taken on the ministry of prayer. We are dealing with supernatural pressures and there is no natural remedy.

Opposition is making it difficult to do the work, slowing the spread to a crawl. I pray over all those on my list, that they have opportunities to share the Good News, that they would do so with no inhibition, with boldness, that the message would indeed run swiftly to the ears of all who need to believe.

If ever there was a time to take up the full armor of God, it is now.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:12-13‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Often the opposition that we encounter comes from with in the church, and the family, as people whose god is the flesh have crept in and seek to disrupt the work of God. The attacks are personal and intimate.

Great care is needed in dealing with those in opposition, as we are on mission to lead people to Jesus, whether they be friend or foe. Most of those in opposition have no idea that they are pawns being used by the evil one. Great damage can be done with a single word.

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭2:24-26‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Brothers and sisters, pray that we keep our hearts open to those around us. The people who go against us have no idea of what the future holds, and no idea how much danger they are in. They are driven by raw emotions, and find themselves propelled to strike out against others they blame for damage brought on by their own sin.

I am willing to suffer all things if it means someone comes to know Jesus. God has built into me long suffering, as I have been chosen as one who prays. Pray for me. Pray for your pastors, for they are the essential, frontline workers in this rescue mission. Pray that we all remember that we are here to rescue people bound for hell.

My people, let us bear each others burdens, let us lift each other up, as the these times are draining. We all need endurance as time is short. We are nearing the end of a long, long race, and there is a great tendency to slow down, to ease up, to coast into the tape. We have so many saints who have gone before us, so many who gave of themselves with the fullest measure of devotion. Let us run, that the Gospel run swiftly and reach as many as possible.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12:1-2‬ ‭NKJV‬‬


How to become a Christian:

Bernie ended his devotional with a link to a page called The Roman Road. (No, it’s not about the Catholic Church!) If you’d like to read more about following Jesus, click this link.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

January 7, 2021

Before He Wants us to Do, God Wants Us to Be

NIV.James.3.17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

NIV.Phil.1.15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16a The latter do so out of love…

NIV.Rom.12.2 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.

Today we’re paying a return visit to The Lion’s Head Café. This is an article written by the proprietor of the site, Terry Everroad. Click the header below to read it there.

How Do You Bear Fruit?

In the year of our conversion, Esa and I worked at a radio station where I was part owner and manager. She was an announcer and salesperson. The local chapter of the American Cancer Society asked if our station would help raise money in their annual fundraiser held in cities all across the state. Esa had the idea of producing a festival on the county fairgrounds with contests and games and musicians, singers and dancers. It was a huge success and we raised more money than any other chapter in the state and we lived in a town of fewer than 5,000 people. We did a really good thing for the Cancer Society and for the community.

But our motives were selfish. We wanted everyone to know what a wonderful thing we did. It was all about us. We didn’t really care much about cancer victims. We wanted public recognition. We were new in the Lord and wanted to do something good so we would be admired.

Jesus speaks many times in the Gospel of John about bearing fruit. He says, “He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me, you can do nothing (John 15).” It could be easy to think he means we should do something spiritual like exercising the gifts of the Spirit. Doing good things sounds honorable but that’s not what he’s talking about here. God’s ways are higher than ours. Many times they are exactly opposite. We often think in terms of taking action and being productive in order to please God or to be rewarded. It’s the American way. We’re number one! But we can’t buy entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Then there’s also the matter of the first becoming last.

In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord tells us not to be deceived by false prophets. He says the way to do that is by taking note of their fruit. What kind of fruit is he talking about? Is it demonstrated in a notable ministry or building a successful business or being good at making money? Not at all. The Greek word for fruit is karpos and is predominately used in the New Testament figuratively and defined as “being the physical expression of power working inwardly and invisibly; the character of the fruit being evidence of the character of the power producing it.” (Vine’s Dictionary of NT Words)

Bearing fruit is not a performance-based activity. God first wants us to be so that what we do reflects who we are, that is, His children. As Paul says in Romans 8, “we are being conformed to the image of His son.” When we are shaped into that image, what we do doesn’t really matter because whatever we do is an expression of the kingdom. We live in Jesus and he in us. We are led by the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit is a package deal: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22). Being unfruitful is to lack these qualities. Instead of love, there is hate, instead of joy, sadness, instead of peace, strife, instead of longsuffering, irritation, instead of kindness, meanness, instead of goodness, vindictiveness, instead of faithfulness, carelessness, instead of gentleness, disrespect, instead of self-control, instability.

The fruit of the Spirit is a love package. You can’t have love and not have all the other qualities on the list. You can do a lot of good things, but they mean nothing if they’re not coming out of a genuine, heart-felt love for people, the good, the bad and the ugly. In the day of judgment, Jesus spoke of those who expected to inherit the kingdom of heaven, standing on their good works, which included casting out demons, prophesying and performing miracles in his name, to which he said, “I never knew you.” They missed the point. They had not done the Father’s will which is that His children love others as themselves. It’s the narrow gate (Matthew 7). It’s hard to do. It’s hard for everybody. It’s hard for us. That’s why God continually makes it an issue. It is something we grow into, a transformational process in renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).

Paul said there were those who preached the gospel out of selfish ambition (Philippians 1), and to purposely hinder his own work. But he went on to say he was delighted that Christ was preached even though it was done in pretense, not sincerely. That is a perfect illustration of how we ought to love. He exposed the false teachers without bad-mouthing them, but rejoiced that Christ was preached, that the gospel was an issue regardless of the messenger’s motivation. Jesus will judge the false prophets in the end. He wants us to identify them so we aren’t drawn into deception, yet not be condemning. The goodness of God leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). We will join the Lord in judgment at the last day, but that time is not now. He came, and we are here today, to minister reconciliation to the world. We are called to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. God does the heavy lifting.

The Colossians were exhorted to be fruitful in every good work (1:10). We do good work because we’re fruitful, because we love the world the way God does. We don’t do good work in order to be fruitful. Good work is the demonstration of fruitfulness. If I give away all I have to feed the poor, it doesn’t mean a thing if love is not the motivator (1 Corinthians 13). James said our works are a product of faith, evidence of good fruit. He said that wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits….that the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:17-18). We are peacemakers. It’s about the way we treat people.

At the beginning of time, when Adam and Eve fell from their first estate, they were separated from God in a way they had not been previously, and the tree of life was made inaccessible to them and, as a result, to us as well. At the end of time, in the new Jerusalem, we find the tree of life accessible to man again (Revelation 22). It bears a different fruit each month. There is a lot of conjecture about what those fruits are, but we’re also told that the leaves are for healing the nations. On any bush or tree, leaves are the initial part of the fruit-producing process. They might be like herbs with medicinal qualities. Who knows? What we do know is that they have healing properties.

Since there is no sickness and death in the new creation, those leaves could be more preventive than curative. Esa says she gets healed when she holds a baby. She doesn’t mean that the baby cures her sickness but that there’s something deep down in her soul that responds wondrously to the innocence of a newborn. The baby does nothing but be a baby, just being its pure self. It’s not conscious of sin. It’s totally dependent on its mother. In the same way, we are totally dependent on Jesus without whom we can do nothing. In the end, it’s not about fruitfulness. It’s about abiding. We don’t grow the fruit. The fruit springs forth on its own. It’s effortless, mysterious, and marvelous.

 

 

January 1, 2021

Easy Steps to Being an Unloving Person in the New Year

Nobody sets out to be an unloving person, but if you know how it’s done, then you know what to avoid, right?

I want to take a different look at I Corinthians 13, aka ‘The Love Chapter.’

I know what you’re thinking. Can’t we do something a little deeper? Or look at a passage we haven’t heard hundreds of times? Well, hear me out.

But first a diversion. Did you know the word love doesn’t appear in this chapter in the KJV? I found this out the hard way trying to demonstrate to a pastor how a Bible concordance works. (The fact that I was not a pastor and he was, yet he had never seen a concordance speaks volumes to the type of Biblical education he received; but alas, time doesn’t permit me to share that story.) Anyway, I randomly selected “Love is patient” as my demonstration point but Strong didn’t include that because the KJV uses the word charity instead. So if “love is patient, love is kind” sounds old to you, remember it’s not that old.

The chapter begins,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

So you’re thinking, if we want to know what it means to be unloving, we just take each descriptor and frame it in the negative. So, “love is patient, love is kind” becomes ‘un-love is impatient, un-love is unkind.’ (And it would get easier, since many of the traits are stated in the negative, so you would just drop the “not.”)

That would make for a simple exercise, and I was in a church study where we did that as an exercise; but keeping the above verse in mind, let’s go adjective-by-adjective but drill down deeper.

STEP ONE: The person without love would need to crave instant gratification, in other words, no room for delayed gratification. In the tech revolution of the 1950s (don’t look it up, there really wasn’t one) the talk was that in the future, everything would be yours at the push of a button; at the flick of a switch. As a more congested transport system leaves us waiting for what seems (but isn’t) forever to board a train, or for a traffic light to change; and as we desire faster download times for internet content, we reflect our hunger for getting everything NOW. Paul taught the Romans that “…endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:4)

STEP TWO: The person without love would need to have a lack of empathy. You never know kindness until you’ve been shown kindness; and you never know the absence of kindness until you’ve had to experience it, but without empathy, you can’t connect the dots between what you’ve felt and what you’re doing or saying feels like to someone else. Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12)

STEP THREE: This one is central. To not be the person of love Paul is describing to the Corinthians you have to be guilty of constant comparison. Some Bible expositors go so far as to speak of “the sin of comparison.” And I don’t need to give you the reference to remind us all that the 10th commandment is “do not covet which is applied equally to your neighbor’s (marital, in this case) situation, as well as your neighbor’s possessions.

STEP FOUR: Not being boastful begins by not being self promoting. This is critical in our present times, because social media somewhat implores us to put our best face forward on social media. (And tools like Photoshop allow us to edit how that face looks!) We are now even able to quantify our popularity by counting likes or followers.  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.” (Jeremiah 9:23)

STEP FIVE: I’ll keep this one really brief since I’ve written about passages such as Philippians 2 so many times here. You would need to have a complete absence of humility. Pride isn’t the issue here, pride is more of a manifestation (or symptom) of a larger problem. Rather, the overarching need for humility is part of a lifestyle that needs to cultivated. Jesus did not see his equality with God as something to be leveraged but chose the path of humility and the role of a servant. (My own take on Phil. 2) “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” (Proverbs 22:4)

Let’s look at the next verse:

It [love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

STEP SIX: The unloving person would have no problem committing defamation of character. You could be absolutely right about someone, but still dishonor them by not keeping silent. Or you could be exacting revenge against someone and seek to destroy their character for that reason. Or you may just have a callous disregard for others. Romans 12:10 reads, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” The setup for the often quoted Philippians 2 passage begins “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (The CEB offers a gender-neutral expression for brotherly love: “Love each other like the members of your family.”)

STEP SEVEN: Because the previous already covered not boasting and not being proud, when we reach not self-seeking it may seem almost redundant. Could we say the unloving person is status-seeking? Or are they all about building their own empire? I would argue that with some it’s actually lacking transparency. We could also say they have a hidden agenda. They are perceived to be outwardly doing something altruistic, but like a skillful chess player, what outwardly appears a seemingly sacrificial move is coldly calculated to be of personal benefit. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

STEP EIGHT: The unloving person would undoubtedly be prone to knee-jerk reactions. And when have we ever seen this more than in the political climate of 2020? “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James 1:19

STEP NINE: An unloving acquaintance hangs on to hurts. They’re making a list and checking it twice, and going to remember how many times you’ve stepped on their toes or damaged their feelings. Being forgetful can be a human failing. But it’s also a divine attribute. If we want to be God-like we need to learn how to forget! “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.” – Jeremiah 31:34b

The final verse of this micro-passage ends

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

STEP TEN: I wanted to combine these into a single step to bring the list to ten items. Ten items to avoid. The final one, in being an unloving person, you’d probably be seen a troublemaker. The person who delights in evil has their values turned upside-down and is glorifying wickedness instead of righteousness. Isaiah 5:20 nails this possibility: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” This verse wouldn’t be in our scriptures unless people had done this in Isaiah’s time; unless it were possible for us to be equally value-shifted.

None of these things are outside the realm of possibility. It’s easy to think of people we have known who were self-aggrandizing, deceitful, over-reactive, or just plain troublemakers. But it’s also not impossible to remember times in our own lives where we entered into those categories, or at least skated dangerously close.

In the new year, we want to be loving not unloving.

With God’s help, we can do this.



■ This is not the first time we’ve taken a backwards approach to I Corinthians 13. Check out, from March, 2016, A Personal Character Checklist.

■ Paul does as much himself — telling us what not love looks like — in the setup to the verses we examined. From January, 2014 check out Religious Activity versus Abiding in Christ.

Remembering that the whole Love Chapter is sandwiched between two chapters discussing spiritual gifts; from the 2nd of those articles:

In certain Christian quarters, we tend to treat supernatural gifts as the gold standard of faith, but without humility or love, we come up empty; and all our co-workers, neighbors, or extended family see is a preoccupation with religious things that really don’t appeal…

December 29, 2020

Leaving Behind Shallowness, Fear, Self-Centeredness

In yesterday’s thoughts here we quoted from a source which was new to us. Daisy Logan is from London and writes devotions and book reviews at Walking With My Savior. This article appeared in August. Click the title below to read this on her site.

The Faith-Hope-Love Cure

Do you find it hard (or even impossible) to be spirit-filled when things are going terribly wrong and everything we see on television, read in books and even hear from good friends points us toward skepticism, bitterness and self-absorption?

Yes, times have changed.  We need a paradigm shift.

THE NEED FOR A PARADIGM SHIFT

All our specific struggles can be traced back to one of these:

  1. Shallowness
  2. Fear, anxiety, and shame
  3. Self-centeredness

Breaking free from the grip of these three mega-patterns involves transferring our spiritual energy away from fixing our failures and toward our divine calling and destiny: resting in the heart of God through participation in his divine life. 

The spiritual journey would be:

  1. Shallowness to living faith by a healing of our intellect 
  2. Fear, anxiety, and shame to living hope by a healing of our memory 
  3. Self-centeredness to living love by a healing of our will

So now, I am inviting you to confront your self-limiting and self-destructive patterns and contrast them to the patterns of spirit-filled people who have come to live out their faith, hope and love.

Faith by which we freely commit our entire lives to God, who invites us to believe in Him by stirring our hearts in various ways. Faith is a decision of the will to believe, real faith is not blind. Faith heals our intellect. Study Hebrews 11:1 and Ephesians 6:16.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
– Hebrews 11:1 NIV

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
 – Ephesians 6:16 ESV

Hope by which we desire and count on the blessings of God in our lives, no matter the trial of the moment. The hopeful person has an eminently positive perspective on life because we know that an all-loving and all-powerful God is by our side, and in control – if we decide to let him be God for us. Hope, heals our memory and allows us to move forward in confidence, despite our remembering our own many failings of the past, and how others have failed us in the past because we know that God is all-powerful, all-loving and will be faithful to his promises. Study Hebrews 10:23 and Romans 12:12.

We must hold tightly to the hope we say is ours. After all, we can trust the one who made the agreement with us.
– Hebrews 10:23 CEV

rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,
 – Romans 12:12 NASB

Love by which we give ourselves to God above all things and to our neighbours as ourselves. Study John 15;12-13 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Love heals our will by ordering our interests and actions toward giving ourselves to God and others, for their own sake.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
 – John 15:12,13 NIV

Love is patient, love is kind.
Love does not envy,
is not boastful, is not conceited,
does not act improperly,
is not selfish, is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs.
Love finds no joy in unrighteousness
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things. – I Cor. 13 HCSB

The healing of our mind, memory and will through the Divine Cure of faith, hope and love is not magical but it is MIRACULOUS.

So, let’s our start our journey from self-help to God’s help by specifying where and how we need to let go and let GOD work in us. For the Divine Cure to take root in our hearts and in our daily lives, we have to show God that we want HIM to act.

December 28, 2020

A Quiet Place

We often end the devotional with a related music video, but today we want to the song to be the springboard for what follows…

For most readers here, the content would be described as devotionals or devotional readings. I have always taken the meaning to refer to this practice or spiritual discipline that we do out of devotion to God.

Working in the world of Christian publishing however, I frequently encounter people — a large number from a Catholic background or people who have had exposure to recovery programs — who refer to devotional books as meditations or meditational readings. I do like the idea that one doesn’t just read the words and close the book and walk away. Rather one ruminates or chews the text in their mind.

There is however a third term which, although I am very familiar with it, isn’t something we’ve used here: quiet time.

This song, written by Ralph Carmichael, was part of a collection* that for many people mark the beginning of what we call Contemporary Christian Music. But we’re here to look at the lyrics.

There is a quiet place
Far from the rapid pace
Where God can soothe my troubled mind

Sheltered by tree and flower
There in that quiet hour
With him my cares are left behind

Whether a garden small
Or on a mountain tall
New strength and courage there I find

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

A search for scripture verses about having a quiet time takes us to these:

…he delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night. – Psalm 1:2 GW

But 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 6:6 NIV

…Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. – Mathew 14:22-23 NLT

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. – Mark 1:35 CEB

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. – Joshua 1:8a NLT

and finally

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16 NIV

UK writer Daisy Logan has offered sixteen different ways we can improve our quiet time. Not all of these may work for you, but I encourage you to click here to read her suggestions.

The website for CRU (formerly Campus Crusade) looks at several different elements your quiet time can contain, including opening your Bible and methodically studying a section of text, followed by four types of prayer. Click here to read their template for quiet times.

The website GotQuestions.org reminds us that,

Every believer needs a quiet time with the Lord. If Jesus Himself needed it, how much more do we? Jesus frequently moved away from the others in order to commune with His Father regularly…

The length of the quiet time does not matter, but it should be enough time to meditate on what was read and then pray about it or anything else that comes to mind. Drawing near to God is a rewarding experience, and once a regular habit of quiet time is created, a specific time for study and prayer is eagerly looked forward to. If our schedules are so full and pressing that we feel we cannot carve out some time daily to meet with our heavenly Father, then a revision of our schedules to weed out the “busyness” is in order.

I realize that for some people, the thought of pausing at a certain time each day, or even the use of the word meditation triggers thoughts of Eastern religions. Got Questions addresses this:

A note of caution: some Eastern religions that teach the principles of meditation include instructions on “emptying the mind” by concentrating on repeating a sound or a particular word over and over. Doing so leaves room for Satan to enter and to wreak havoc in our minds. Instead, Christians should follow the advice of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Filling one’s mind with these beautiful thoughts cannot help but bring peace and please God. Our quiet time should be a time of transformation through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), not through the emptying of them.

I want to invite you to listen to the short song one more time. This time think about what ought to be the result of our quiet time with God:

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

The fruit or benefit of time spent in study and prayer will come out in our lives in ways that will affect others as well as ourselves.


The original version of the song was posted at this link. (There’s also a “big band” version for those who like that style at this link.)

*Listen to the full album at this link.

 

 

 

 

December 16, 2020

Five Greek Words You Should Know

I know. Some of you are thinking, ‘Let’s not get into Greek here; this is Christianity 201 not 301.” Okay. We won’t do this again. At least this month. And there are no actual Greek alphabet letters in what follows.

A year ago we shared a devotional by Dr. Ed Searcy, a retired minister in Vancouver  who writes at Holy Scribbler. Dropping by earlier today, we saw a reference to the website of University Hill Congregation. That took us to this article which I knew right away needed to be shared here.

Who We Are: The Five Marks of the Church

Liturgia (Worship): Every Sunday morning we gather to worship God, through singing and prayer, the reading of Scripture and preaching, as well as fellowship with one another, in God’s presence. Symbolically, gathering in the morning, on the first day of the week, reminds us that our proper first commitment is to God, made known to us in Jesus Christ, present by the Holy Spirit.

Our worship includes many voices, as members of our congregation lead in prayer, music, Scripture reading, and presiding, reminding us of the importance of the “priesthood of all believers.” Liturgia is a Greek word that means “a public work, undertaken by some, on behalf of all.” In worship, we turn to God, on behalf of this God-beloved world.

Koinonia (Community): From the earliest days of the Church, it is clear that the Christian life is not meant to be a solitary existence. In the book of Acts, we hear that this new community of Jesus followers–members of the Way–“spent much time together” worshiping, eating, baptizing and teaching, praying and learning the rhythms of a new way of life. The community that took shape in response to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead–confirmation that his will and way really is the Divine will and way in the world–sought to live lives appropriate to this new resurrection reality.

This reality we call, as Jesus did, the Kingdom of Heaven: the in-breaking of God’s world-renewing hope, peace, joy, and love, here and now–God’s will on earth as in heaven. When we gather together, learning to love and forgive, worship and work, pray and play in the wide space of God’s grace and love, we seek to align ourselves with the resurrection community through the centuries. Made one in Christ and one with each other, we are called to be a beacon of God’s work to reconcile all things in Jesus, crucified, risen, and reigning. In his name, all are welcome!

Diakonia (Service): Scripture tells us that Jesus, “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited [or grasped at], but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant.” (see Philippians 2:5-11) On the evening before he was crucified, John’s gospel (Ch. 13) tells us that Jesus stripped down, wrapped a towel around himself, and washed his disciples’ feet, like a first-century servant would.

Following his example, and his command to serve and love one another, Christians are expected to offer loving service to the world around us. We seek to do that through the ministries of our congregation, but we are also sent out, like seeds scattered by the Sower and blown by the winds of the Spirit, to love and serve beyond our church community, wherever we find ourselves in the world. The goal as we seek to “grow up in Christ” is to do everything, in word or deed, in the name of Jesus, to the glory of the One he calls Father (see I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3: 17).

Didache (Training): Pronounced “did-a-kay” this is the mark of a Christian community in which members are being trained in the way of Jesus. Followers of Jesus are often called “disciples,” which means something like “apprentice.” At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples, to go and make disciples themselves, teaching others to walk in the world as he did. The Christian way of life is not always intuitive; we need to learn the rhythms of mercy and grace, of radical love and extravagant generosity, of justice and righteous aligned with God’s dream and work for this broken and beloved world.

We know there are many voices and idols vying for our attention; the goal of Christian maturity is to center our attention, and our lives, on Jesus, and to walk in his Way. We are called to “be doers of the word, not merely hearers” (James 1:22); we are called to embody and live out the good news (gospel) of Jesus, the Word made flesh. As a congregation the “training” to do so happens in a number of ways, including: regular worship, through our Church School (for children, during worship), through weekly Bible study, bi-annual book/Bible studies, preparation for baptism or marriage, personal and pastoral care (with clergy and one another).

Kerygma (Proclamation): The Church has good news to share. Gospel means “good news.” It’s from the Greek word euangelion, a word that was first used to describe a royal announcement, often about the most recent military victory. When Christians adopted the term (see Mark 1:1) it was at least in part a reminder of a different kind of victory, by a different kind of king. The Christian witness is that in Jesus, God who made and loves all creation, has come into this world in a unique and revolutionary way–a way of self-giving love, mercy, and grace–a way that ultimately proved too much of a challenge to “the way things are,” and for which he was put to death by the authorities of his day. The Scriptures tell us that three days later, he was raised from the dead, vindicating his way in the world. Christians came to believe and know that through his death and resurrection, God was keeping his promise to Abraham, that the whole world would be blessed, restored and made whole.

After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to be witnesses of repentance (a new way of life, re-oriented to God and God’s way of lavish love) and forgiveness of sins (freedom from and healing for brokenness and guilt; and the restoration and renewal of our relationships with God, ourselves, each other, and all creation). The Church is called to continue in that witness, proclaiming in our words and actions, a different, Christ-centered way of living in the world, and of relating to one another, as we grow in the hope, peace, joy and love of God for us and all things.

 

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.

 

November 19, 2020

Christian Maturity: Arrived, or Just Way Too Far Behind?

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever thought, “I’m just not where I am want to be, or feel I am supposed to be as a Christian”? The most dominant feelings in your life may be of guilt, a feeling of dissatisfaction with yourself, of feeling stuck.

Or perhaps quite the opposite you think “I have arrived.” You have a dominant feeling of satisfaction, of being satisfied with yourself as a person, and as a Christ follower.

Whether we are feeling satisfied or dissatisfied with ourselves, something Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi will help us:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3:12 (NRSV)

Paul is well aware that despite his extensive experience of walking with Jesus, he has not arrived. This speaks to us when we think we have arrived.

There are two different ways that we may think we have arrived.

First, we may think we have progressed so far in Christian maturity, that there is nowhere left to grow. There are no changes left to be made. There is nothing more to learn about God, or ourselves. When we think that, let Paul’s words come as a challenge. If the apostle Paul knew that he had not yet arrived, how much more should we realise the need, and opportunity, for further growth?

Second, we may think that the only goal of Christianity is to get people to heaven and since we know that we are saved by the love of God and not our own righteousness, well the goal has been reached. We have been saved. We will go to heaven when we die. All is good.

However, is that the only goal? It may sound like the only goal in certain variations of Christianity, but we won’t find that it is in Biblical Christianity. Consider what Paul goes on to say:

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14 (NRSV)

The Christian life is described here as a race. There is motion, there is direction, there is an effort expended in reaching toward a goal, there is a sense of progression, of movement. We could sum it up with “yes, by God’s grace you will reach the finish line, but you are now in the race, so get running!”

The goal of Christianity is not just getting people to heaven instead of hell, of ensuring life forevermore as opposed to separation from God at the end. The goal is experiencing God’s presence in our lives forevermore, beginning now, and affecting us now. The goal is not just resurrection to eternal life when Christ returns, but new life now made possible through the Holy Spirit’s presence within us now. There is a maturing process, touching our character, our motives, our ethics, our attitudes, affecting everything about us. This race is not a sprint, but a marathon, a long journey. Of course we have not arrived.

This brings us to those times we beat ourselves up because we have not yet arrived. If that describes us today, there are three things to take note of from Paul’s words.

First, be comforted by the fact that God’s got this, even if we don’t:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3:12 (NRSV emphasis added)

We belong, even though we have not arrived. We belong because of the faithfulness of Jesus, because of the love and grace of God. Our Christian maturity does not make God love us more. So be comforted by the fact that you belong.

Second, if you feel you have some distance to go, you are not alone. Paul makes no claim on being the perfect Christian either. None of the heroes of the faith that we find in the Bible were perfect. None of the heroes of the faith we find through the history of Christianity were perfect. Why do we beat ourselves up for not being perfect? So let us be comforted by the fact that we are not alone in our imperfection. God is not surprised.

Third, let us be challenged. There is a road to travel, there is a race to run:

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14 (NRSV)

Are we challenged by those verbs of action: “straining forward,” “I press on.” Do we hear the challenge to put some effort in?

To run a race, it is best we not spend all our time looking behind us. When we spend a lot of time looking back we might end up thinking things like “I experienced this, my family of origin was like that, I have never been able to . . . , I have always . . . ” If we look at how things have been, why would we expect anything to ever be different? But if we look forward . . .

In an effort to more healthy I have lost 50 lbs. If I only looked back I would see nothing but a steady rise in weight. An app forced me to look forward. At the close of each day it would say “if every day was like today, in five weeks you will weigh . . .” Looking back I would always feel defeated. Looking forward I felt inspired.

If we feel stuck, let us hear the challenge to look forward. In motorcycle safety courses they teach you that where you look, you go. So don’t spend all your time looking back, and don’t look down! In life, if we keep looking back we will continue to get hung up over the same old things. Let’s not keep looking back at events and decisions we think define us. Instead let’s look forward to what God has for us. Let the future God has in store for us define us.

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6 (NRSV)

Let us not look back at a history of failures, whether our own or how others have failed us, but let us look forward to where God is leading us, to what kind of character we will have, what kind of people we will be.

Growth is possible, especially given the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the upward calling in Christ. We can grow in our character. We can grow in our depth of relationship with God in Christ. We can grow in our awareness and knowledge of God. We can grow in our awareness and knowledge of ourselves, where we have come from, but more importantly, where we are going.

Whether we feel we have far to go, or nowhere left to go in the journey of Christian maturity, God will help get us moving on our way.

Are you growing?


The full reflection can be seen as part of this “online worship expression.Read more from Clarke at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

November 17, 2020

On Recommitting or Rededicating Your Life to Christ

The large church I attended had a room off a hallway which was used for counseling people who responded (or came forward) to the appeal (or invitation) at the end of the Sunday evening service. Sometimes the chairs were arranged in pairs so that a counselor (or personal worker) could talk to and pray with an individual and a small pre-printed index card was on one of the chairs that could be filled in with a name, address, phone number for further ministry contact (or follow-up).

There were a number of boxes on those index cards that could be checked if the person was seeking salvation, or desiring to be baptized, but there were often boxes that said assurance or re-dedication.

I’ve talked before about the fact we don’t hear much about assurance anymore. We covered it here in 2013 and also in 2015. The same could be said for recommitting or rededicating. In the ebb and flow of topical trends in the church, some things get said at the expense of other things.

For some, the concept treads on a narrower, more-Calvinistic view of the salvation process (or soteriology.) One particular site which I’m not going to link to (for many reasons) is dismissive of the need to recommit or rededicate oneself to God; to Christ; to Christ’s cause. But they did get one sentence right: “Repentance is not re-dedication.” The world may offer that ‘confession is good for the soul,’ but confession of sin is a necessary part of following after Jesus, honoring God and not grieving the Holy Spirit.

But having said that, are there times in the life of a believer when, not over specific sin, he or she needs to reset, refocus and renew?* Of course there are.

CompellingTruth.org is an outreach of GotQuestions.org who we often cite here. They offer this teaching:

The idea of “rededicating your life to Christ” is not named in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. In fact, it can be an effective way to help people realize that Jesus’ forgiveness is for all of us.

There are two common scenarios in which people rededicate their lives to Christ. The most common is that of an older child or young adult who accepted Christ at a young age. After years of going to church and living through the influence of his parents’ faith, he may realize his own faith is stagnant and underdeveloped. He may have never taken responsibility for his relationship with Jesus, or he may actually be living a sinful lifestyle. He comes to the realization that despite the fact he is a Christian, he wants a stronger Christian life. So he rededicates his life to Christ, taking a leap in maturity and restarting His Christian growth.

The second scenario is not strictly a re-dedication, but a realization. It involves someone who heard the gospel and thought she accepted Christ, but didn’t understand the implications well enough to have a saving relationship with Jesus. She may have gone to church the whole time, even served, but at some point she comes to know and accept the true nature of salvation. If she doesn’t realize that she was not a Christian before, she may call the transformation a re-dedication, even though it is technically a conversion.

Of course, it is not God’s intent for any young Christian to fall into a sinful lifestyle. Romans 12:1-2 says that a believer is meant to reject sin and experience continual spiritual growth. Likewise, it’s not God’s plan for anyone to misunderstand the gospel, going through the motions of a Christian life for years, before really understanding saving grace.

But re-dedication as a concept is a powerful tool. It clearly demonstrates that God forgives. He forgives old Christians who sin, and new Christians who were deceived for years. It is a spiritual deep breath, wherein a believer can refocus her relationship with Christ. Like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and Peter in John 21, it shows that Jesus will always take us back…

Their parent website, Got Questions looks at this from a different angle:

…In a desire to consciously choose to adhere to a newfound, deeper understanding of the gospel, believers may “rededicate” themselves to Christ.

However, falling away and returning to God is not how the Christian walk is supposed to look. Romans 12:1–2 explains that spiritual maturity is a gradual, ongoing process. Jesus said that to follow Him we should take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). And 1 Corinthians 9:24 and Hebrews 12:1 speak of the Christian life as a race, meant to be run every day. Many people rededicate after every sin. It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of rededicating, striving to follow Jesus closely, failing, and rededicating again. But habitual sin is not a problem solved by rededicating. It’s a deeper issue that can only be solved with a greater understanding of the grace and love of God.

Still, re-dedication is a useful tool. It’s a way to deliberately reject sin and renew a love for Christ. The disciples went through a re-dedication of sorts when they saw the risen Jesus. Their half-hearted devotion turned into a desire to pour out their lives for His service. In the same way, whether because of a conviction about a sinful lifestyle or a greater understanding of the gift of Christ, we can choose to abandon our shallow devotion to Christ and devote ourselves to Him more fully…

Here are today’s key scriptures:

Lord, [earnestly] remember now how I have walked before You in faithfulness and truth and with a whole heart [entirely devoted to You] and have done what is good in Your sight (2 Kings 20:3 Amplifed).

Remember from where you have come out and do the former works (Revelation 2:5a Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

Though You have shown me many troubles and misfortunes, You will revive me once again. Even from the depths of the earth You will bring me back up.  (Psalm 71:20 Berean Study Bible)

Do you need to, in computer language, “reset to factory settings?” That is to say, do a reset back to the days when you first followed Jesus? Or a time when your level of commitment was more wholehearted?

Then recommit. Rededicate.

This prayer is from the website ThreeDimensionalVitality.com:

Dear God,

I confess that I have strayed from my first love – Jesus – and I want to recommit my life to You. Please help me to become the person You created me to be. Enable me to always live a life that is pleasing to You.

I want to be a witness to others of Your saving grace and power. Forgive me when I take back the control of my life. I want You to be Lord of my life.

Renew my passion to walk more closely with You. You know all my desires and plans. Help me to fulfill Your unique call and purpose in my life.

Renew my heart, restore the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Lord, thank You for this hope I have in You. Use my life to bring You glory, honor and praise.

Thank You, Lord, Jesus for hearing and answering my prayer. In Your Name. Amen.


*In our list of ‘re’ words, there is a great crossover between re dedication and repentance but there is also one word I didn’t touch because it offers us two different paths. That word is revival. The two paths are quite distinct, but one deals with personal revival, and other deals with the collective revival of a family or a church (or in Old-Testament terms, an entire nation.)

But at this point, we can also work backwards and say that perhaps there are times when a whole family or a whole church needs to re-dedicate or re-commit. And that may be a path to consider. But start with me and then look outside to we.

November 13, 2020

What He’s Promised; What He’s Already Given

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

We’re grateful to our friends at HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Zondervan and Thomas Nelson) for allowing us to occasionally share content from their authors (and explaining to us how and when we can do this). This one actually appeared today at Devotions Daily (see link below to sign up; it’s free and you may unsubscribe at any time).

This is an excerpt from a newly-published resource, The Weekly Gratitude Project: A Challenge to Reflect, Journal and Grow a Grateful Heart. The book is described as, “a 52-week guided gratitude journal that offers a life-changing journey through reflection prompts and inviting questions to guide you into a deeper relationship with God. This yearly gratitude journal features beautifully illustrated journaling pages that will help you discover more intimacy and joy in your spiritual life.”

Gifts: What He’s Given

Looking ahead to what He has promised can help us. It can center us in the good to come, no matter the bleakness that sometimes darkens our hearts or fills our days. But we don’t have to look ahead.

Good things are all around you right now!

What He’s already given is more than what He’s promised to give in the future.

Consider, for instance, the gift of grace, which Paul said “is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This grace is already yours in Christ. You are already a new creation because of it, able to live a better life and make better choices than you’ve ever made before.

Consider the gift of hope. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he said we could “rejoice in hope” (Romans 12:12). This reason to rejoice is not yours to come. It’s yours now. It’s why you can open your eyes right now — in this day — with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.

Consider what Paul described as “the greatest” gift of all (1 Corinthians 13:13). If God’s love is already — and always — for us, what other gifts could we possibly need?

When packing your bags for a vacation, you’re likely to include a camera, or at least, you’re sure to pack a phone. This is because you anticipate seeing something worth capturing, something worth turning into a memory because of its uniqueness or beauty or both.

What if we approached every day this way?

But, instead of with a camera, what if we approached each day with a focused heart? What if we adjusted our lens so we could see the gifts God has placed all around us — little and big, invisible and visible, spiritual and physical, recurring and unique to today?

We have countless reasons to be thankful — but do start counting! Open your eyes to all He has given and give thanks.

Grace

In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. — Ephesians 1:7 NIV

Grace — it’s the best gift we have and maybe the hardest gift to understand because it’s so unlike anything else. It never wears out. It never quits working. It’s ours, even though we don’t deserve it. It’s ours, even when we forget we have it. It’s the ultimate reason to be grateful.

Describe “God’s rich grace.” What is it? What has it done for you? What does it continue to do?

Is God’s rich grace a gift you can share with others? How?

Hope

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Hope is fuel. It’s what keeps us going when the days are hard. It’s what keeps us believing when valleys are long. It’s why we get back up, pushing on in faith, expecting better days to come. And they will. Because our hope is anchored in the One whom hard days and long valleys can’t touch:

In Christ we have hope. — 1 Corinthians 15:19

The book of Hebrews talks about all the “better” things Christ brings to life — both here and in heaven. How has Christ already made your life better?

What’s something in your life that you hope is made better in the future?

We don’t know how some things will turn out, but we do know about others. What do you hope for that’s “sure and steadfast,” promised to come about in Jesus (Hebrews 6:19)?

Love

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Hope is fuel to carry us to tomorrow; love is a gift to carry us through today. Whatever we’re facing, whatever we wish we had or wish we didn’t have, whatever trouble or pain comes today, love comes too. It’s higher, wider, and deeper than any other thing.

And it’s here to stay (Romans 8:38–39).

Why do you think Paul said love is “the greatest” in 1 Corinthians 13:13?

What are you facing today that’s troubling you? Write about it, and then on top of what you’ve written, around and all over it, write the words “I am loved.”


Taken from The Weekly Gratitude Project, copyright © 2020 Zondervan. Used by permission.  www.zondervan.com


…to sign up for Devotions Daily, click this link. (But don’t leave C201, we love you, too!)

Next Page »