Christianity 201

August 29, 2022

We’re A Small (Important) Part of a Larger Masterpiece

If you leave a comment here, and include the URL for your own devotional blog, don’t be surprised if we take a look and your writing finds its way to Christianity 201. That’s what happened on the weekend, and that introduced us to her blog Echoes of Heart: Reviving Righteousness. Click the header which follows to see where today’s sample of her writing first appeared.

Puzzle pieces

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about puzzles. More specifically a 40,000 piece puzzle that is the Guinness book of world records largest puzzle in the world. This puzzle is the largest in both the amount of pieces and its overall size. The part of this puzzle that has me thinking though, is the number of pieces. 40,000 pieces needing to find their place in the big picture.

With that many pieces one might entertain the thought that one or two pieces aren’t such a big deal if they happened to go missing.. keeping track of 40,000 pieces sounds almost overtime payish.

One piece of a puzzle won’t even give someone an idea of what the picture will be once all the pieces are put together.  Having just one piece of the whole puzzle is useless really as it cannot be the whole puzzle even if it wanted to be.  That piece has its one place within the whole, where it is vital to the whole.  If that one piece decided to go its own way getting lost, thinking it’s no big deal or unimportant, would ruin the masterpiece for without it the whole would be void in the spot that piece was to take up. Furthermore that piece is not replaceable either. No other piece can or will fit into it’s rightful place.

As I ponder this I am drawn to the idea, what if life was like this. What if God has this masterpiece in mind as He creates each and every piece to fit together, each having its own unique shape and each being equally important to the finished project. He’s skillfully and masterfully knit every single human together while in the womb, giving to each a uniqueness that only they can contribute and nobody can take the place of.

We are all just pieces to the whole puzzle. We are meant to fit together, each in our own unique way.

This is not really a new thought, in scripture Paul puts it this way,

1 Corinthians 12:14-27 NLT — Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care.

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

Selfishness, self-pity, self-righteousness, all focus on self.  So long as the focus is on self, it cannot also be on service.

The world has made popular the idea that we should be focused on self, like self improvement, self-confidence, self-help, self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-love, etc. All examples of the worldly idea that we need to focus on ourselves.

All around us are the messages, feeding into our minds and hearts, causing us to believe this concentration on self is right.   We are all searching for inner peace, love, and a place to just rest. When focus is on self, no matter what side of the scale, from self-pity to self-righteousness, we are in a constant state of restlessness, anxiety, always standing ready to defend.  We build up walls inside ourselves as part of our defense readiness, having no idea, the walls, once built, won’t allow the bad in, but won’t allow the good in either.   We starve ourselves of the very thing we are seeking, all because we have given into the feel-good, worldly, idea that we should concentrate on ourselves.

The problem is, we were not created for this.   Self, is lonely, isolating, non-community, it’s all take and little to no give.  We were created in the image of  All Mighty God, to be parts of a whole, to fit like puzzle pieces together.

The enemy doesn’t want us to know we are but one simple piece.  He wants to destroy the puzzle, of course he will most deceptively, by the use of our emotions and lack of true wisdom, give us every reason to continue believing we, individually, are the whole.

We seem to all try to fit ourselves into spots that make us like those we admire or like those we respect. We work hard to prove ourselves worthy of the spots we desire to fit into. The truth is only one might actually fit in that spot. The rest are faking, camouflaged, mimicking, etc.

We all go through this life trying to find our place, a place with people like us, where we feel like we fit in. We look for like-mindedness, hobbies in common, similar interests and ways of living.

We then pass judgement in one form or another upon those who are not living up to our standards. Some may try to use religion or Christian principles as justification for being able to point out wrong doing in others.

We try to hide our true selves just in case we won’t be accepted.

The truth is instead of searching for what makes us the same as, or at least makes us resemble others, we should search for what makes us unique, different, special. We should be looking for our place in the big picture. At the same time we should be encouraging others to find their uniqueness also.

Instead of shunning people that may be different we should be accepting, learning, encouraging, celebrating what makes us individuals.

If we are to mimic Jesus, we need to learn how to serve and accept others regardless of what society and the world try to tell us.

We are all just one piece to the whole puzzle. All equal in significance, all having our own special, uniqueness to contribute to the whole.

Find your unique, be it, own it, show it off because you are special, important, fearfully and wonderfully made, most of all, you are dearly loved by your Creator!

June 29, 2022

Second-Half-of-the-Year’s Resolutions

June 30th marks the end of the first half of 2022. With half the year to go, what are your half-year’s resolutions? We mined the archives of Christianity 201 to locate some thoughts that might direct us in the second half.

Keeping Up the Energy

It’s a known fact that many sports team lose their momentum in the second half of the game. It’s easy to get tired, weary and discouraged. The Bible doesn’t use the term energy for this, as much as it talks about zeal. Spiritual zeal and spiritual passion simply keeps going, even in the face of challenges.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Romans 12:11

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…
Ecclesiastes 9:10a

In May, 2015, Michael Donohoe reminded us that the particulars of your passion — especially in areas of mission and service — might be different than that of your church friends and colleagues in ministry.

The only trouble I see with passion is that it can sometimes become an obsession with the ones involved, and they can begin to expect everyone to have the same passion they have for the same thing. This is where we have to realize that God designed each of us with different gifts, abilities and passions, and they are displayed differently in each of us.

I think each of us has a passion for what God designed us to be. We may not be as outspoken or even act the same way as others with passion, but God works through us in a way that is effective according to the personality and gifts with which he designed us. We may not even realize the passion that shows through us to others, but rest assured, God will work through us to touch others with his love.

We are all designed differently, and we all act and respond in our uniqueness. I think it wrong to think we are not useful to God because we do not act like someone else. God works in us and through us based on the way he created us, each unique temples of the Holy Spirit, each making an impact on those we have contact with, through the power and love of God within us.

In August, 2020, we continued this theme:

The writer of Ecclesiastes offers this (9:10)

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

BibleHub.com notes that Paul echoes this,

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters – Colossians 3:23

Make Good Use of the Days You’ve Got

When I was just in my teens (or perhaps even pre-teens) I first heard the scripture verse below expressed in an original song for choir and orchestra and it stuck with me for life.

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.
– Eph 5:16 KJV, NLT

The words of that song began, “Redeem the time, the night is drawing fast…”  A Google Translate iteration of Ephesians 5:16 from Dios Habla Hoy, a Spanish Bible (below) could also be “this decisive moment.”

Well seize this critical moment, because the days are evil.

We looked at this verse in August, 2016 and wrote the following:

…As Christians, the stewardship of our time is important. In the old KJV rendering of Ephesians 5:16, they used the phrase, Redeeming the time…” More recent translators went with:

  • Make every minute count. (CEV, NASB, and others)
  • Make the best use of your time. (J. B. Phillips)
  • Don’t waste your time on useless work. (Eugene Peterson)
  • Make the most of every living and breathing moment. (The Voice)

Other verses come to mind, such as Psalm 90:12

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (ESV)

Other translations render this;

  • Teach us how short our lives are so that we can become wise.  (ERV)
  • Teach us to use wisely all the time we have. (CEV)

Some verses remind us of the brevity of life, such as James 4:13-15

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (ESV; some translations use vapor instead of mist.)

and Proverbs 27:1

Do not boast about tomorrow,
    for you do not know what a day may bring.  (NIV)

Don’t Let the Past Dictate the Present

In January, 2017, Valarie Dunn reminded us of Abraham and Sarah.

I am reminded of the story of Abraham, who was told that his ninety-year-old wife Sarah would have a son.

Genesis 18:13-14 – Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” (NIV)

Indeed, nothing is too hard for the Lord. We are not too old, too young, too inadequate, if it is the Lord’s idea. The Lord knows what gifts we have to offer, and like the wise men, He will direct us to the place where we need to give them.

You’re Not On Your Own

Living our lives in partnership with the Holy Spirit means we’re not abandoned and having to operate by ourselves. Furthermore, coming up with plans isn’t a solo project either. In December, 2013, Enoch Anti from Ghana wrote:

Plans are good. Strategies are needed. Clear cut smart (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) goals are very necessary. But human wisdom, skill and talent is not enough to live a victorious life: “…This is the word of the LORD … Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.”  (Zechariah 4:6). On top of our plans and strategies, we also need the direction and leading of the Holy Spirit.

By Spirit-controlled living, I mean a life that is controlled by the Holy Spirit. He leads and we follow. We cannot live a Spirit-controlled life and still have control over our lives so to speak. There must be a place for the leading of the Holy Spirit of God in the life of every child of God, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the [children] of God.“ (Romans 8:14).

In January, 2014, Clay Smith echoed this idea:

There is a different way. Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Another translation would be, “Put God in charge and follow His way of thinking, and He will take care of everything else.”


For our Canadian readers, we wish you a Happy Canada Day on Friday, and for our U.S. readers, we wish you a Happy Independence Day on Monday. We hope you found this “½-New-Year’s” devotional helpful.


Our regular Thursday columnist, Clarke Dixon is a few weeks into a 14-week sabbatical, but just days in he announced the completion of a book. You can read more about what’s inside Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope, by clicking this link.

May 17, 2022

When the Pieces of the Body Fit Together

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we have another new writer to highlight for you here, who blogs under the name Daily Echoes at Echoes of Heart. Many days the posts are poetry, but this one, which appeared on Monday was ideal for what readers expect here. Clicking the header which follows will let you read this where it first appeared.

Puzzle pieces

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about puzzles. More specifically a 40,000 piece puzzle that is the Guinness book of world records largest puzzle in the world. This puzzle is the largest in both the amount of pieces and its overall size. The part of this puzzle that has me thinking though, is the number of pieces. 40,000 pieces needing to find their place in the big picture.

With that many pieces one might entertain the thought that one or two pieces aren’t such a big deal if they happened to go missing… keeping track of 40,000 pieces sounds almost overtime payish.

One piece of a puzzle won’t even give someone an idea of what the picture will be once all the pieces are put together.  Having just one piece of the whole puzzle is useless really as it cannot be the whole puzzle even if it wanted to be.  That piece has its one place within the whole, where it is vital to the whole.  If that one piece decided to go it’s own way getting lost, thinking it’s no big deal or unimportant, would ruin the masterpiece for without it the whole would be void in the spot that piece was to take up. Furthermore that piece is not replaceable either. No other piece can or will fit into it’s rightful place.

As I ponder this I am drawn to the idea, what if life was like this. What if God has this masterpiece in mind as He creates each and every piece to fit together, each having it’s own unique shape and each being equally important to the finished project. He’s skillfully and masterfully knit every single human together while in the womb, giving to each a uniqueness that only they can contribute and nobody can take the place of.

We are all just pieces to the whole puzzle. We are meant to fit together, each in our own unique way.

This is not really a new thought, in scripture Paul puts it this way,

1 Corinthians 12:14-27 NLT — Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care.

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

Selfishness, self-pity, self-righteousness, all focus on self.  So long as the focus is on self, it cannot also be on service.

The world has made popular the idea that we should be focused on self, like self improvement, self-confidence, self-help, self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-love, etc. All examples of the worldly idea that we need to focus on ourselves.

All around us are the messages, feeding into our minds and hearts, causing us to believe this concentration on self is right.   We are all searching for inner peace, love, and a place to just rest. When focus is on self, no matter what side of the scale, from self-pity to self-righteousness, we are in a constant state of restlessness, anxiety, always standing ready to defend.  We build up walls inside ourselves as part of our defense readiness, having no idea, the walls, once built, won’t allow the bad in, but won’t allow the good in either.   We starve ourselves of the very thing we are seeking, all because we have given into the feel-good, worldly, idea that we should concentrate on ourselves.

The problem is, we were not created for this.   Self, is lonely, isolating, non-community, it’s all take and little to no give.  We were created in the image of  All Mighty God, to be parts of a whole, to fit like puzzle pieces together.

The enemy doesn’t want us to know we are but one simple piece.  He wants to destroy the puzzle, of course he will most deceptively, by the use of our emotions and lack of true wisdom, give us every reason to continue believing we, individually, are the whole.

We seem to all try to fit ourselves into spots that make us like those we admire or like those we respect. We work hard to prove ourselves worthy of the spots we desire to fit into. The truth is only one might actually fit in that spot. The rest are faking, camouflaged, mimicking, etc.

We all go through this life trying to find our place, a place with people like us, where we feel like we fit in. We look for like-mindedness, hobbies in common, similar interests and ways of living.

We then pass judgement in one form or another upon those who are not living up to our standards. Some may try to use religion or Christian principles as justification for being able to point out wrong doing in others.

We try to hide our true selves just in case we won’t be accepted.

The truth is instead of searching for what makes us the same as, or at least makes us resemble others, we should search for what makes us unique, different, special. We should be looking for our place in the big picture. At the same time we should be encouraging others to find their uniqueness also.

Instead of shunning people that may be different we should be accepting, learning, encouraging, celebrating what makes us individuals.

If we are to mimic Jesus, we need to learn how to serve and accept others regardless of what society and the world try to tell us.

We are all just one piece to the whole puzzle. All equal in significance, all having our own special, uniqueness to contribute to the whole.

Find your unique, be it, own it, show it off because you are special, important, fearfully and wonderfully made, most of all, you are dearly loved by your Creator!

April 5, 2022

Next Steps: Me? A Leader?

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me …Then the God of peace will be with you.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.

Jesus said: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

(Philippians 4:9 NLT, James 1:22 NLT, Matthew 7:24 NIV)

When I think each day of posting something to Christianity 201, I focus mostly on the “201” part.  The blog’s tag line is “digging a little deeper.”  However, I try not to post things that would only be of interest to pastors and church leaders, simply because there are sooooooo very many pastor blogs and Christian leadership blogs out there.

However, the time has come to reconcile the two.

As much as many of you want to go deep each day, God is looking for people who are willing to step up.

Put otherwise, much has been given to you, but now much is going to be required of you; or, if you prefer, it’s time to find some application for all the good stuff you’re learning.  It’s time to give back something.

Where to begin?

I think first of all, you have to see yourself as a Christian leader.  If it’s your desire to continue to walk in Christian maturity, you have to redefine yourself as someone who is striving toward being the “go to” person for others not so far along in their faith. The Biblical model of “Paul/Timothy” relationships necessitates forming mentoring relationships, but first, some of you may need to cultivate the desire to be a mentor to others. This may not place you in a visible position — what we called “the front of the room” a few days ago — but may just mean having friends over for coffee more frequently, or having that one person over for coffee; but doing it as intentional ministry.

Second, you need to make an assessment of what the needs are around you.  This is going to begin with developing critical faculties; though you need to remember that this is not the same as having a critical spirit.  You want the former, you don’t want the latter. If this seems like a big deal, don’t worry, some pastors have faced this before and decided to just ask around. They went door-to-door and asked people what the greatest needs were in their community. You can also approach existing leadership and ask what the greatest needs are within the church community. Or you can do a gift assessment and see where your particular gift-set intersects the needs in your church.

Thirdly, you need to vocalize your desire to make a difference to both your faith community and your surrounding (larger) community. As you see yourself differently and begin to look at what’s happening where you live and serve, God will give you a vision, an idea, an expression of a need; and you need to share what God is showing you or giving. “This is what I believe God is showing me,” can be the first nine words of a longer sentence where you make a declaration of your willingness to lead.

The fear is always that people will say, “Who do you think you are?” but I believe that more times than not, you will find God has already prepared people to hear what you are saying.

However, having said all of the above, the leadership role which God wants to see you taking may not be visible in your local congregation at all. Rather, it might involve not leading as we usually think of it, but being able to lead and share both the scriptures and God’s love with an authority in the life of someone else. In other words, it may not involve being a leader to the many, but being a leader to one person at a time.

This is in fact the theme of Kyle Ildeman’s new book One at a Time. While we think of Jesus teaching and then feeding the 5,000+ people, his ministry often involved on person at a time.

And the leadership that God is calling you to might equally not involve crowds, but happen in quiet places.

 

January 23, 2022

Baby Steps: Carrying Out Christ’s Most Basic Command

Some will think today’s “baby steps” devotional isn’t very 201-ish. It’s more like 101, or pre-101. But over and over again this weekend it has been impressed on me that the pastors and leaders I’m watching or listening to online are concerned that the church in North America, Western Europe and Australia/New Zealand is missing out on Christ’s elementary teaching that we reflect love in all we do and say. Or to put it another way, our orthopraxy matters as much if not more than our orthodoxy. Especially in these times of dissension and division.

Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7 reminds us here that much of what passes for spiritual activity doesn’t ultimately guarantee us standing before God. I was thinking of this today in reference to a very familiar passage in I Corinthians 13. This is often referred to as “The Love Chapter” though it falls into the middle of a larger passage on spiritual gifts. The actual “Love is patient, love is kind…” section has more affinity with Paul’s teaching on the fruit of the spirit than it does with things he says elsewhere about Christian marriage. Someday in the future, I hope to walk up to Paul and say, “Hey, you know that stuff about how ‘love is patient, love is kind…;’ did you know that used that as part of our wedding ceremonies?” And he’s gonna be like, “Weddings? Wow! I didn’t see that coming.” But I digress.

The set-up to the classic love reading is three verses that are not as well known:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

The principle here applies to many other dynamics of the Christian life. Using the second part of verse 2 as an example:

  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but lack humility, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but am prone to anger, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but ignore the marginalized, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but cause controversy and division, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have stopped hungering and thirsting after God, I am nothing.

I can be so very spiritual in so many ways but also so very lacking spiritually. It’s interesting to look at the various ways these outward manifestations of great faith are articulated in different translations: (NIV unless indicated)

  • speak in the tongues of men or of angels
  • speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy (Message)
  • speak in different languages (NCV)
  • have the gift of prophecy
  • I have prophetic powers (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose) (Amp)
  • can fathom all mysteries
  • understood all of God’s secret plans (NLT)
  • understand all the secret things of God (NCV)
  • have the gift to speak what God has revealed (NOG*)
  • can fathom all knowledge
  • speak God’s Word … making everything plain as day (Message)
  • can move mountains
  • my faith is strong enough to scoop a mountain from its bedrock (The Voice)
  • give all I possess to the poor
  • give over my body to hardship
  • go to the stake to be burned as a martyr (Message)

[A more complete list of the supernatural gifts can be found in I Cor. 12: 8-10.]

The Voice Bible bookends this first section of chapter 13 with this commentary:

Gifts of the Spirit, which are intended to strengthen the church body, often divide the body because members of the church elevate those who possess the more visible gifts over those whose gifts function in the background. In fact, this is the very problem facing the Corinthians. So while talking about the importance and function of these gifts in chapters 12 and 14, Paul shifts his focus to the central role love plays in a believer’s life in chapter 13. Love is essential for the body to be unified and for members to work together. Members of the body that are very different, with little in common, are able to appreciate and even enjoy others because of the love that comes when a life is submitted to God.

Paul boils it all down for the believers in Corinth. Religious people often spend their time practicing rituals, projecting dogma, and going through routines that might look like Christianity on the outside but that lack the essential ingredient that brings all of it together—love! It is a loving God who birthed creation and now pursues a broken people in the most spectacular way. That same love must guide believers, so faith doesn’t appear to be meaningless noise.

Often, non-believers look at us and merely see religious people busy doing religious things; church people running to and fro with church activities. Or, more specific to today’s passage, they hear of spectacular miracles or visions or healings, but don’t see anything tangible manifested in how we live our daily lives in the neighborhood, the workplace, at the school committee meeting, or at family occasions.

Decades ago, in a book titled The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer exhorted, “Love — and the unity it attests to — is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.”

I’ll admit the third-to-last one in the list, giving all my money to the poor, sounds impressive, but even that can be done in the wrong way or with the wrong motives. (Flip back a few weeks to this devotional.)

In certain Christian quarters, supernatural gifts are treated 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 to their felt needs.


*Names of God Bible, a 2011 edition from Baker Book House just added at Bible Gateway.

January 12, 2022

A Powerful Church

Four years ago we introduced you to the writing of Bert M. Farias, who like another author frequently featured here, J. Lee Grady, has a blog at Charisma Magazine’s website. This time however, we’re featuring some writing from his own site, at Holy Fire Ministries. Bert has a number of published books, as well as two new ones due this month.

His primary audience is Pentecostal and Charismatic readers. Note that as you read. Click the header which follows and read today’s devotional at his site.

Christ’s True Church is One of Power

The Church began as a pure and powerful free flowing river in Acts 2, but through the centuries of time that river has picked up much dirt and debris (sin, man’s traditions, doctrines of demons, carnality, and compromise, etc.) until it became so muddied and diluted of its former character, power, and authority that it devolved into a shell of its former glory and such a phantom of the original. But in the last few centuries a glorious restoration has begun in its character, power, and authority until now we stand on the precipice of the greatest awakening and move of God this world has ever seen.

The early Church was birthed in Jerusalem where Jesus commanded them to wait for His POWER (Acts 1:8), and through the early apostles this POWER was carried forth to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth at the time. Then years later the “work” that Saul and Barnabas were separated unto added to the expansion of this gospel of POWER very quickly (Acts 13).

“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the HOLY Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the WORK to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus” (Acts 13:2-4).

Most church members and saints, however, are not called to the “WORK” but specifically called locally. They have jobs, families, and relationships in their Jerusalem. Others’ sphere of influence will extend out to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world etc. This is the Lord’s divine design to add to the local churches and multiply the number of disciples and the obedience to the faith of many (Acts 6:7). It is to be the Church’s primary focus and commission.

UNITY IN THE BODY WHEN EACH FINDS THEIR PLACE

This is a simple word but profound and will create greater unity in the body when everyone finds their place. We cannot think of ourselves higher than we ought to, but at the same time, we cannot lightly esteem the lesser or weaker members either.

“But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (1 Cor. 12:18).

We often forget that this verse was written to the church at Corinth. It is in a local church setting and context. Here is another verse from another chapter:

“Do you not discern and understand that you [the whole church at Corinth] are God’s temple (His sanctuary), and that God’s Spirit has His permanent dwelling in you [to be at home in you, [collectively as a church and also individually]” (2 Cor. 3:16 — AMP)? We need more collective movement in the body and less independent movement. I’ll say more about that at another time.

THE WORK VS. THE LOCAL CHURCH

Saul and Barnabas along with three other prophets and teachers were ministering to the Lord and fasting at Antioch (Acts 13:1-2), when the Lord separated them to a WORK whose sphere of influence would be far beyond the local church in Antioch. Not everyone is called, separated, and sent that way. You can’t make yourself a prophet or a teacher, or an apostle, or choose it like you would choose a secular profession, as many self appointed Facebook and social media individuals do. I’d rather hear a donkey bray in a barn at midnight than listen to some of these pseudo “apostles” and “prophets” tout their latest revelations on social media. A true apostolic anointing has Power attached to it. It is God who appoints, anoints, sets and sends.

We see the immediate impact and results of this separation and sending. Saul (Paul) immediately begins to operate in a greater POWER and authority (Acts 13:8-12).

A TRANSFER OF POWER: STEPHEN AND PHILIP

In the early church at Jerusalem we see the same principle in operation as Stephen and Philip move from serving as deacons and tending to windows into a ministry of POWER and greater supernatural influence ( Acts 6-8). What often happens, though, is Christians get excited about Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth, and they lightly esteem Jerusalem. Spirit-filled leadership will recognize callings and anointings but it’s the Holy Spirit who does the “setting apart”. You can’t just lay hands on people to receive gifts and mantles, as is so common today, without the authorization of heaven and the direction of the Spirit. That’s just treating the things of the Spirit as common and playing with them as if they’re toys. It’s childish and irreverent to make so base that which is holy. Immaturity should not be a leader of God’s people.

LAYING ON OF HANDS WITH PRAYER AND FASTING

Honestly, so much of the laying on of hands today is done in the flesh. Often there is no leading of the Spirit to do it. No faith. No reverence. No POWER.

I remember being a part of a full gospel but still traditional church that would lay hands on the sick nearly every Sunday. The pastor would call up the elders, most of whom had no anointing, give each of them a bottle of oil, and just lay hands on people with no faith, no unction, and no POWER. Never did I see anyone healed. Never was there a testimony of such. You might as well just have laid hands on a piece of wood.

Friends, these things are holy. The laying on of hands is holy whether it be for healing or setting someone apart for ministry. There is supposed to be active faith and/or a transfer of POWER with it. There should be believing effectual prayer and at times fasting attached to it.

Notice that it wasn’t until the apostles laid hands on the seven that Philip and Stephen began to move out and preach the gospel in great miracle POWER (Acts 6:8). They received a great impartation and transfer of Power from the apostles when they hands on them.

STEPHEN

“… whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:6,8).

PHILIP

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed” (Acts 8:5-7).

This is not for everyone. We have no record of the other five deacons receiving the same impartation or transfer of POWER Philip and Stephen did. Yes, we are all commissioned to preach and to lay hands on the sick and cast out devils (*Mark 16:15-18), but some are called, especially anointed, and appointed to a ministry office or function.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:27-28).

God sets in the body whomever He wills and appoints various ministry gifts. Some are called to work locally all their lives. Others will mature into greater callings of greater influence. Stay content in that and don’t push for ministry beyond the scope of what the Lord has ordained. Even John the beloved, an apostle, appears to have limited himself to mainly Jerusalem for sometime to care for Jesus’s mother Mary and help oversee the local church before ending up at Ephesus, and then confined to the island of Patmos in his later years. But he lived longer than the rest of the original apostles and became known as the apostle of love from what we glean from the gospel and epistle that bears his name.

Not every minister has an international ministry. I believe some ministries are confined to their present locale and region. The same could hold true with apostolic and prophetic ministries. Be faithful to your local church family and community as Philip and Stephen were, and if God sees fit to increase your sphere of influence let Him do it. Don’t initiate it on your own. Your overseers, if they are Spirit-filled men, will know it.

Find your place in your grace. Function in your unction. Remain in your lane.

In conclusion, read the following portion of Scripture very slowly and carefully:

“They compare themselves to one another and make up their own standards to measure themselves by, and then they judge themselves by their own standards. What self-delusion! But we are those who choose to limit our boasting to only the measure of the work to which God has appointed us—a measure that, by the way, has reached as far as you. And since you are within our assigned limits, we didn’t overstep our boundaries of authority by being the first to announce to you the wonderful news of the Anointed One. We’re not trying to take credit for the ministry done by others, going beyond the limits God set for us. Instead, our hope soars as your faith continues to grow, causing a great expansion of our ministry among you” (2 Cor. 12:12-15 — TPT).

I could say so much about these verses, but that will have to be for another time.

Stay tuned or buy the book (s) when it’s published.

August 5, 2021

Many, Many, Many Words

When I’m looking for articles to use here, I have to confess I do look for a certain length of each piece of writing. I don’t want to shortchange readers, and when I find something that’s only one- or two-hundred words, I usually dismiss it, no matter how insightful it might be. This isn’t Twitter, and I’m not composing memes here. I want to know that the writers put some effort into it.

I will admit that’s an incredibly superficial criterion.

There are people whose 200 word posts are formed out of the crucible of a life situation unimaginable to some of us. There’s a lot more to a devotional blog post than the words actually typed on a keyboard.

But I also want to give my readers good value for their money, even if Christianity 201 is always free!

A verse which came to mind was Matthew 6:7b

“…do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words…”
 (NIV)

God clearly isn’t interested in quantity.

(That brings us to 173 words so far… see the problem of being absorbed with numbers, data, stats?)

Contextually, Matthew 6:7 is about prayer, not the crafting of sermons, homilies, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc. The first part, verse 7a reads,

“And when you pray…”

But I do see a general principle here. We don’t have to be wordy when we talk to God (especially falling into the repeated use of the word ‘just’ or the phrase ‘Father God,’ as if we might forget who we’re speaking to, or he might stop listening), so why should we be verbose when we speak about God?

You’ve heard people say, “God doesn’t want your ability he needs your availability.” To that we could add, God doesn’t want you eloquency. (For the record, that’s not an actual word, but it fits the pattern. The word is eloquence.)

The English Standard Version uses the phrase, “heaping up empty phrases.”

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

We do that. Especially in the Evangelical church where extemporaneous prayers are the norm, and more concise, crafted prayers are often looked down on, though that stereotype is changing, as many Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics are seeing the value of manuscripted prayers and classical prayers from previous centuries. (Again, for the record, there’s no such word as manuscripted, but hey, I was on a roll.)

Back in 2014, we quoted author Christopher Smith on this,

When he warns in the Sermon on the Mount against “heaping up empty phrases,” he’s specifically saying that we shouldn’t expect God to hear us and grant our requests based on how many words we’ve said—that is, how much time and energy we’ve put into saying long and repetitive prayers.  This is really a form of “works,” of trying to earn something from God by our own efforts.  Jesus directs us instead towards grace:  “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  What we receive from God in prayer is an expression of His love and goodness towards us, not our efforts.

Again, remembering that the context is prayer, I still think Smith has hit the nail on the head when it comes to a possible wider context, namely that any attempt to try to meet a minimum number of words, or preach for a preset number of minutes, or have our book contain a certain number of pages is just allowing us to fall into a works category; of believing our standing our acceptance before God is going to based on the length of our dissertation or sermon or book, instead of the depth.

At the end of the day, perhaps the wisest thing, the best thing, the most fruitful thing, and the most God-honoring thing you can do today might be to create a 20-words-or-less meme and post it on social media; rather than believe that God is impressed with your verbosity. (Surprise, that one actually is a word!)

Furthermore, your eloquence may not compare to those who don’t have the gift of public speaking, or those for whom English is a second language.

In Luke 18, we see that a six-word prayer by a tax collector leaves its speaker “justified before God” and not the Pharisee who majored in public speaking. Again, the context is prayer, but I see a wider context.

NIV.Luke.18.10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”


For those who do write, preach, teach, podcast, etc., here’s a 2017 article from our sister blog on learning to be concise: The Essential Art of Concision. (Yes, that one’s an actual word also!)

August 1, 2021

Is There a Connection Between Illness and Demon Possession?

A friend asked this question on Friday afternoon. He had some good, scripture-based reasons why we might see a link, but I decided to dig into the topic on my own. I picked a search engine that I don’t use as often, selected six page-one results that seemed on-topic, and chose two of them for my response. I decided to share them here with you. One was apologist J. Warner Wallace, whose books I have excerpted here before. (There’s a new one coming soon!) The other was a more Charismatic/Pentecostal perspective from Eric Hill.

■ Wallace stated:

Although there are several examples of demon possession in the Bible, the Scripture does not attribute all illness to demons. Skeptics often characterize Christians as superstitious people who attribute all physical ailments to the existence and influence of demons. But this is neither the Biblical record, nor what Christians believe. There are several New Testament passages describing the demon possessed and the sick as two different groups (joined by the word “and”):

Luke 13:31-32
Just at that time some Pharisees came up, saying to Him, “Go away and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.

Luke 9:1-2
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Acts 5:15-16
Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.

In addition, Jesus healed many people who were sick and the Scriptures describe these healings clearly. None of the following illnesses were attributed to demons:

The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant (Matthew 8:5-13)
The Healing of the Woman Bleeding (Matthew 9:19-20)
The Healing of the Blind Men (Matthew 9:27-30)
The Healing of the Man with the Withered Hand (Matthew 12:9-14)
The Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-Law (Luke 4:38, 39)
The Healing of the Leper (Luke 5:12-16)
The Healing of the Paralyzed Man (Luke 5:17-26)
The Healing of the Immobile Man (John 5:1-16)
The Healing of Daughter of the Phoenician Woman (Mark 7:24-30)
The Healing of the Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19)
The Healing of the Woman with the Spirit of Infirmity (Luke 13:10-17)

Christians do not attribute all illnesses to demon possession, but it is clear demons are continually doing what they can to keep God’s chosen from a relationship with Him, and this often takes the form of some sort of bodily attack. Demons are focused. They are trying to stop God’s work, stop the growth of the Kingdom, and stop men and women from hearing the Good News. One thing is certain, however. Those of us who have already placed our trust in Christ (and have been filled with God’s Spirit) cannot be demon possessed. Demons are mere creations of God, and as such, they do not possess His power. God is strong enough to reach us, transform us and keep us:

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

1 Peter 1:18–19
knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

2 Corinthians 6:15-16
What harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people”

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Are demons the cause of all human illness? No. we live in a fallen, imperfect world suffering the consequence of sin and rebellion. We experience moral evil, natural evil and pain for a variety of reasons. The influence of angelic beings is certainly a part of the equation, but we cannot attribute all evil (nor all illnesses) to the activity of demons.

■ Eric Hill wrote,

Demons Cause Some Sickness, But Not All Sickness

The Bible is explicit in its examples of Satan or his demons directly causing sickness and disease. But I think it is also clear in Scripture and human experience that not all sickness and disease is caused by Satan.

We are presently in the Covid-19 pandemic. There is nothing necessarily demonic about one person being infected by another with the virus. I could say the same of the flu, a sexually transmitted disease, or smoking one’s self into lung cancer.

These physical bodies are born dying and susceptible to degraded physical and mental conditions. Of course, there are many variables that may make one more susceptible than another to any particular condition.

So, we have a coin with two different sides. One side is the reality that demons can and do cause sickness and disease. The other is the reality that demons do not cause all sickness and disease.

This means we must see sickness and disease as possible attacks by Satan. Consequently, we should vigorously resist him in faith with the word of God. Perhaps our earliest response in prayer should be to command the attack on our body or mind to stop.

Commanding a condition to leave our body, however, is not an admission that all sickness is caused by Satan. It is not even certain that when we rebuke a “demon of sickness” from our body that a demon is even present. I know how this sounds. So let me explain.

The Scripture says, we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). This truth can be applied to our lives across the board to include our prayers and warfare against Satan.

None of us knows everything. Unless the Holy Spirit reveals to us the deepest source of our trouble, we can only respond to it with the knowledge we have.

One fact we know is demons can cause sickness. Knowing this, it would be wise to initially and routinely resist the sickness as though it were a demon even though we know it may not be one.

This is not dissimilar to what is often done when we employ the services of an automotive mechanic or a doctor.

You hear an odd sound from your car. You take it to a mechanic and he tries this and that until, hopefully, he finds the source of the odd sound.

You feel something odd in your body. You go to a doctor and explain what happened. The doctor asks a bunch of questions, poke and prod here and there, draws blood, and has tests done.

Why doesn’t the mechanic or doctor simply perform or prescribe a fix after thirty seconds? It’s because they “know in part.” So they use their experience to track down the source of the problem.

This is the same process I use when I’m ministering deliverance and healing to people. It often produces startling answers to prayer as demons are exposed as the problem and cast out.


Links to article excerpts in opening paragraph.

As I researched this further, I realized that in the Body of Christ, opinions on this topic vary greatly; scriptures are interpreted through the particular lens of the other doctrines to which a person might hold.

If you find yourself in a related situation, the gift you need in the moment is not the gift of healing (though that may come into play shortly) but rather the gift of discernment to know what’s really taking place in the physical body.

July 29, 2021

When Prophets Get it Wrong

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Pursue love, yet earnestly desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
 – 1 Cor. 14:1 NASB

This time last year, a number of Charismatic Christian leaders issued prophecies that the incumbent U.S. President would be re-elected for a second term. For those who follow those leaders and teachers, it must have been a confusing time when the prophecy did not come to pass.

Dr. R. T. Kendall is a writer who some readers I know quite well have come to greatly respect. He is the author of dozens and dozens of books, a few of which are also in my personal collection. This is our fifth time featuring his writing here.

This excerpt is from a larger article, so I encourage you strongly to click the link in the header which follows.

Speaking for God?

Getting it wrong

…When a word does not come to pass which was introduced by “the Lord told me”, obviously something has gone wrong. It dishonors the name of the Lord. It brings discredit upon the gift of prophecy.

Should we not apologize? Nathan did and humbly climbed down for jumping the gun by telling David he could build the temple (2 Samuel 7:4ff). Surely if the Lord says something it is going to be exactly right.

If somebody’s word does not come to pass, that does not necessarily make them a ‘false prophet’. Luke portrays Agabus as a true prophet in Acts 11:28 and yet an objective scrutiny of Agabus’s word in Acts 21:11 will lead you to ask, “Is that really what happened?” Not exactly. The subsequent events were not precisely the way Agabus predicted…

6 Levels of Prophecy

Prophecy is a word from God unfiltered by personal wish or human embellishment whether it pertains to the past, present or future.

Not all prophecy is of the same caliber. There are at least six levels of prophecy – as in a pyramid, starting from the bottom:

6. General exhortation – Whether to a congregation or a personal encouragement to someone, Dr. Michael Eaton calls this “low level prophecy”. The kind of prophecy Paul encouraged in 1 Corinthians 14:1 was almost certainly of this sort. I don’t think he was motivating you or me to become the next Elijah. Someone may claim to have a “word”. We are not to despise such prophesying. But it needs to be tested (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). In any case, we don’t need to say “the Lord told me” – even if we may feel it is from the Lord. Do not claim that all you feel is from the Lord. You can always say, “I think I am supposed to share this with you”.

5. Specific warnings -Certain disciples urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Some think that Luke sides with them since he says they warned Paul “through the Spirit” (Acts 21:4). Agabus similarly warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem, saying “the Holy Spirit says” (Acts 21:11). And yet Paul refused to heed any of their warnings! Who got it right? Was Paul wrong to ignore them? Could Agabus have got it wrong? One thing is for sure: their warnings did not keep Paul from going to Jerusalem. All he would say later is that it served to advance the gospel (Philippians 1:12).

4. Prophetic preaching -Peter said one should speak as if their words were the “very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11). This is what all pastors, vicars and preachers wish for. Nothing thrills me more than when someone says to me, “How did you know I was there today? That is exactly what I needed”. Expository preaching can be prophetic without the preacher being conscious of this. Even if he or she is conscious of the Lord’s enabling, one should be humble about it and, in my opinion, not say “thus says the Lord”.

3. When forced to testify during persecution – Jesus said, “When they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19-20).

2. Non-canonical prophecy -A canonical prophet had a book named after him – like Jeremiah or Isaiah. Nathan, Gad, Elijah and Elisha are examples of non-canonical prophets. Could there be non-canonical prophets of this magnitude and stature today? Perhaps, but they are exceedingly rare. What they say must cohere with scripture – and prove to be true. So should these people say, “the Lord told me”? My response to that questions is: Why would that be necessary? If one will keep the name of the Lord out – but simply say “I feel I must say this to you” (or something like that), they might maintain their integrity, credibility and anointing – even if they get it wrong. Many a modern prophetic person could be saved incalculable embarrassment had they been more modest in their claims.

1. Holy Scripture. This is the highest level of prophecy. It includes all of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament. Scripture is God’s final revelation. No one will ever have authority to speak at this level. If any of us claims to speak on the same level as Holy Scripture we have gone too far and will be found out sooner or later.

Limits of prophecy

Remember that each of us has but a “measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). This means there is a limit to our faith. Only Jesus had a perfect faith because he alone had the Holy Spirit without limit (John 4:34).

For those who prophesy it should surely be done in two ways: (a) in “proportion” to their faith (Romans 12:6) – not going beyond their limit of faith – and (b) according to the analogy of faith. The Greek word translated “proportion” is analogia. This means comparing scripture with scripture, making sure we are within the bounds of sound theology.

There are seasons of the prophetic. The word of the Lord was “rare” at one time in ancient Israel (1 Samuel 3:1). Amos spoke of a famine of hearing the word of the Lord (Amos 8:11). This means that sometimes God chooses to say nothing. 

God may choose not to speak for a generation. If so, how foolish to pretend to speak for him.

Paul said that we know in part and we prophecy in part (1 Corinthians 13:9). This means that not even the best of prophets know everything…

July 5, 2021

Gifts Used to Bless Others Can Also Edify Yourself

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:44 pm
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A year ago we introduced Mutsawashe Chipuriro who writes at Grace Unmatched. Her articles are often inspired by videos she sees on YouTube or conversations with friends. Great devotional writing finds its themes in real life living! Click the header which appears next to read this one at her page.

Working in ministry

One morning, after I completed my chores, I started singing a song. Mid-way through the first stanza I stopped and just thought, “wow.” The way I had been singing just really blended in with the lyrics and it was beautiful. It had quite the healing effect because I was tired from the chores.

God blessed me with the gift of singing, among the many other gifts He bestowed upon me. Whenever I share the voice with others, they indicate that the voice has a certain presence to it. I never believed it until a few years back when I truly started listening my voice.

The Holy Spirit gives gifts according to how He sees fit, so that they are used well to minister to the world and, in turn God is glorified :

Now there are [distinctive] varieties of spiritual gifts [special abilities given by the grace and extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit operating in believers], but it is the same Spirit [who grants them and empowers believers]. And there are [distinctive] varieties of ministries and service, but it is the same Lord [who is served]. And there are [distinctive] ways of working [to accomplish things], but it is the same God who produces all things in all believers [inspiring, energizing, and empowering them]. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit [the spiritual illumination and the enabling of the Holy Spirit] for the common good.

To one is given through the [Holy] Spirit [the power to speak] the message of wisdom, and to another [the power to express] the word of knowledge and understanding according to the same Spirit; to another [wonder-working] faith [is given] by the same [Holy] Spirit, and to another the [extraordinary] gifts of healings by the one Spirit; and to another the working of miracles, and to another prophecy [foretelling the future, speaking a new message from God to the people], and to another discernment of spirits [the ability to distinguish sound, godly doctrine from the deceptive doctrine of man-made religions and cults], to another various kinds of [unknown] tongues, and to another interpretation of tongues.

All these things [the gifts, the achievements, the abilities, the empowering] are brought about by one and the same [Holy] Spirit, distributing to each one individually just as He chooses.

1 Corinthians 12:4‭-‬11 AMP

I’ve noticed, however, that many who posses gifts, use them to edify others but don’t believe that these gifts can in turn edify themselves as well, because at the end of the day it is actually not the person at work but, the Holy Spirit. The person is just a vessel. Therefore, if the individual is just a messenger, even the message they carry can also be delivered to themselves!

There are many people out there who are laboring for God’s kingdom. They pray for others, preach, teach, motivate and encourage, among other things yet they’re overwhelmed and troubled within. I believe that, this is why:

When you minister to others, you are pouring out. As with any vessel that empties out its contents, it has to be filled up again. Yet we’re not doing that. We go on to edify others and that’s the end! Very few go back to their tools for edification to understand why it had the power to edify.

The Holy Spirit’s gifts are for edification of the body of Christ. The parts of the body of Christ are you and I, among countless others :

For just as the body is one and yet has many parts, and all the parts, though many, form [only] one body, so it is with Christ. For by one [Holy] Spirit we were all baptized into one body, [spiritually transformed—united together] whether Jews or Greeks (Gentiles), slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one [Holy] Spirit [since the same Holy Spirit fills each life]. For the [human] body does not consist of one part, but of many [limbs and organs].

1 Corinthians 12:12‭-‬14 AMP

If you believe that your neighbor, your friend, your colleague or any other person deserves to be edified through your use of your gifts, why do you think that you are exempt?

Next time you edify someone, take time to revisit that situation. You will be amazed just how much you can be ministered unto as well!

May 26, 2021

God is Sovereign over Popularity, Status, Platform, and Likes

Years ago, for Christian bands and solo artists, getting radio airplay was everything. Since most stations were programmed locally, it represented a concerted effort each time there was a new single, or a new album.  I attended a seminar for Christian musicians on the subject of promotion, taught by veteran CCM artist Scott Wesley Brown. He began with, “Did you know promotion is mentioned in the Bible?” Then he proceded to read Psalm 75:6,7 in the KJV:

6For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.

7But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

A few years later I sat in a camp staff training seminar where the speaker said,

“If you see a turtle on a fence-post, you know it didn’t get there by itself.”

That little phrase is used to cover a wide range of applications, but certainly we’ve all met people who have “achieved” but only through the guidance and support of many others, and certainly some by the grace of God Himself. (Though the analogy breaks down quickly… What does the turtle do next?)

We often have the tendency to look at someone who has — for the time being — earned the attention and accolades of a large number of people, and say, “Why him?” Perhaps we compare that person’s talents to our own and say, “Why her?”

Psalm 75 seems to basically be saying that no one advances but that God has allowed it. Theololgically, people wrestle with things they think that God caused, but while God may not be directly causing everything he gets blamed for, he is definitely permitting things to happen, and I believe, he is constantly orchestrating things in our lives and the lives of others which we often do not realize.

This sovereignty (rule) is certainly reinforced by the appearance of Jesus before Pilate in John 19 (NIV).

10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…

But the Psalm passage has an entirely different spin in the NLT:

6 For no one on earth—from east or west,
or even from the wilderness—
should raise a defiant fist.
7 It is God alone who judges;
he decides who will rise and who will fall.

And also in The Message:

He’s the One from east to west;
from desert to mountains, he’s the One.

God rules: he brings this one down to his knees,
pulls that one up on her feet.

The NASB is closer to the King James:

6 For not from the east, nor from the west,
Nor from the desert comes exaltation;
7 But God is the Judge;
He puts down one and exalts another.

So I’m not sure why the translations seem to differ in emphasis in verse six, though they both resolve the same way in verse seven. Perhaps the key is found in the verse which precedes six and seven, verse five, best represented by the NIV:

Do not lift your horns against heaven;
do not speak so defiantly.’”

It’s possible that when I question God’s decision to use someone who I might not have chosen, I am in fact speaking defiantly. Or in arrogance (NLT). Perhaps questioning why him or her is a road I should not want to go down. Have you ever questioned why God allows a certain author’s books to sell so well; a certain pastor to become so widely known; a certain individual in your church to gain such a key position of leadership? That might be speaking defiantly.

Now this is where it gets interesting: The “rock stars” of David’s time were kings. We might not hold politicians in the same regard today, but back then it was a different story. Recently, in our time, people questioned why God allowed a certain leader to come to power. I don’t wish to debate that here, but it’s important to say, regardless of which side of that issue you find yourself, that God is sovereign. He never stopped being God.

The same could be said for the pandemic. We can’t assert the sovereignty of God in some areas and suppress its applicability in other areas of life. If Psalm 75 is true in terms of leaders, it has to be true in terms of other aspects of life.

In his commentary on this package, Matthew Henry suggests that we, to put it in modern language, don’t try to be over analytical over why someone has come to power, prestige, popularity, etc.  Our objective should be to live in the present, not try to dissect the past.

I originally wrote these thoughts down ten years ago. What follows helps you understand why.

That weekend I watched an interview with an individual about whom I might have, at one time awhile back, asked the “Why him?” question. But as I watched him taking live questions I realized four things were present: (a) natural intellectual gifts; (b) natural speaking gifts; (c) an obvious command of scripture or what we sometimes call Bible knowledge; and (d) an understanding of the ways of God, which is different from the third point. While I never had major questions, some of my minor misgivings were alleviated.

God knows what He’s doing. He is the judge. He promotes some and holds back others. Richard Ritenbaugh points out that verse 6 mentions the east, the west, the south, but not the north. Why not the north? Because, he says, that’s where God’s throne is; that’s the truth of the next verse; that he loves everyone equally, and may have a “promotion” in some other arena of life just waiting for you.

~Paul

January 16, 2021

APEPT People: You May Have Them, You May Need Them

Ephesians 4:11-13

New International Version (NIV)

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

It’s sometimes called “The Five-Fold Ministry of the Church.” Sometimes it’s just abbreviated as APEPT: Apostle, Pastor, Evangelist, Prophet, Teacher. We mentioned it briefly yesterday and there was a link which possibly should have been to the content which follows, though the article linked is also interesting. This appeared here in 2012, and for some reason was never repeated.

The term APEPT is often applied as helping a church determine its vision and the particular models that church should utilize to fulfill the five-fold mission.

Many times it is presented in terms of “finding your spiritual gift” types of sermons. You are asked to look at your abilities and gifts and determine if you see yourself as an Apostle (literally ‘sent one,’ missionary, church planter) or Pastor (literally ‘shepherd,’ caregiver, prayer warrior, etc.) or Evangelist (or ‘proclaimer,’ one who spreads the ‘evangel’ or good news of salvation, or a Christian apologist) or Prophet (not one who ‘foretells’ but one who ‘forth-tells’ who speaks into peoples’ lives often utilizing gifts of knowledge and utterance) or Teacher (one who searches the scriptures and opens understanding of doctrine and application.)

You’ve been to places where this was explained, and perhaps you’ve tried to look at your own potential areas of Christian service in this context.

Some people, like Australia’s Michael Frost for example, believe that each church currently has all five of these giftings operating in different people. He would say it’s necessary to identify these people and then come alongside them and resource them and support them.

Today, I want to look at it differently.

I want to consider what your church needs.

I want to ask you what type of gifted person you need right now personally.

(Be sure to click the linked verses in each section.)

I/We Need an Apostle

This means, that we’re looking for a “sent one” to come into our community who wants to do ministry or just shake things up. Right now, where I live, I often speak about “watching the horizon for some young buck to appear over the horizon with a guitar slung over his shoulder, who is interested in doing a church plant, so that we can support them in what they want to accomplish.” Maybe you need someone to help you with an existing ministry project. Maybe you’re a pastor who needs help. Maybe you need someone with an expanded vision who can give you the extra kick you need to get something done for The Kingdom. (See Romans 10:14)

I/We Need a Pastor

I know this applies to so many of you reading this. You need someone to put their arm around your shoulder, or give you a good hug. Someone who will pray with you. Someone who will walk with you through a tough time. Maybe you’re in a church led by a rancher, but you really need a shepherd right now. Maybe you’re alone and just need to know that someone cares. In a megachurch world, we tend to focus on great preaching at the expense of great pastoring. You need someone to pray with you for help, for wholeness, for healing. (see I Peter 5:2)

I/We Need an Evangelist

Maybe someone you know hasn’t crossed the line of faith, and you’re praying for someone to step into the picture who can help close the sale. Maybe you’re having a tough time defending the faith with people who are closed or apathetic to the Christian message. Maybe it’s you, yourself, who isn’t clear on how salvation happens, or maybe you’re a seasoned veteran of this whole church thing, but suddenly riddled with doubts and needing assurance of salvation. You need to connect with someone with the heart of an evangelist. (See Romans 10:14)

I/We Need a Prophet

Either individually or as a church, you know you need someone who will speak into your life or the life of your congregation; someone not afraid to tell it like it is; someone possessing insights that can only come through supernatural words of knowledge and wisdom; someone willing to identify sin. (See I Corinthians 12: 7-11)

I/We Need a Teacher

You know when you’re hungry. You know when you’re thirsty. Sadly, many individuals and churches are dying of thirst and dying of hunger; ironically, at a time when more Bible study resources, courses and Christian colleges are available than have ever existed at any time in history. There are, to be sure, some great Bible teachers out there, but in many local churches, there has been a weakening in the richness and substance of Bible teaching. You know when you’re getting milk when your body craves meat. (See Hebrews 5:12-14 also Luke 24:27)

God gave these gifts to Christian leaders — and the rest of them — because he knew that we needed them individually and collectively. Seeing the available list of gifts can help us identify what particular needs should presently be met in the hours, days and weeks to come. Perhaps now, you’re clearer on what specifically to pray for.

~Paul Wilkinson


I want to invite our Christianity 201 readers to share in a 97-minute livestream presentation from The Jesus Collective which happened earlier this week with Andy Stanley and Bruxy Cavey discussing How Centering on Jesus Changes Everything. To watch on YouTube: Click this link.

January 6, 2020

The Word of Knowledge in Action

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The situation described in the story below is probably beyond the experience of many readers here. But because Christianity 201 describes itself as a “melting pot” or a “potpourri” of the various expressions of Christian faith, I wanted you to have exposure to this one. For those who are new, cessationism is a belief in Protestant theology that the supernatural gifts (such as described in I Cor. with speaking in tongues receiving most frequent mention) ceased when the original apostles died off. It’s opposite is continuationism which believes that those gifts are still operative today. Today’s article would be written from the latter perspective.

Tim Halverson blogs at The Lion’s Head Café. Click the header below to read this there.

No Risk, No Reward

“For to one is given . . . the word of knowledge by the same Spirit” (I Cor. 12:8).

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are found in the Bible in I Corinthians 12: 4-11. They are the super-natural work of the Holy Spirit through the Body of Christ. These nine gifts could be classified in three groupings of three gifts each: 1) The Word Gifts: prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues. 2) The Revelation Gifts: the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom, the discernment of spirits. 3) The Power Gifts: faith, healings, the working of miracles. Remember this factor: faith is spelled r-i-s-k.

It is my observation that to flow or operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit will involve risk-taking. I’ve been sputtering and misfiring (to use an auto mechanic’s terms, which I are one) with these for decades now but am seeing a big increase in my function in them lately. This seems to be chiefly due to watching on-line since February Catch the Fire – Toronto, where the revival went through my screen and into me somehow. I want to relate a short story to tell you what I’m learning, and that is about risk.

Last night I attended a Bible study with about ten people. Before it even began I had a feeling that God was up to something more than just the study of Acts 14, which is sufficient for me in itself. At the end we prayed about some things. I was sitting in the back and couldn’t really see many faces. As we prayed I really tuned in to God and he showed me in a word of knowledge something only he could know. This impression took several minutes, a basic thought that grew as I considered it. It was this:

“There is someone here who is still suffering because of persecution that happened to them when they were testifying of Christ (I know this is vague but it’s none of my business to know the details of what happened in this case). The devil took advantage of you in this vulnerable moment to say, If you ever speak of Jesus again something worse is going to happen. Plus, we all know you don’t have the courage to do it anyway. The person feels whipped, condemned, and stuck.”

It was a risk to say it but somehow I did. And after I said that with trembling, there came some more to the message:

“But Jesus is healing you right now of that awful experience, the Holy Spirit is upon you here and now, and from this moment on I am making you Lion-hearted. Take courage!”

There was a sort of hubbub for a moment that happened but I couldn’t see anything, and then the prayers went on. A minute later I was wondering if I had missed the Lord in this, so I determined to get to the bottom of the matter, and said, Excuse me, but could we re-visit that word I just had? Is that person even here? A short pause happened, and then a lady in front of me turned around and said, “You were describing me exactly, and God is working on me right now.” She was all red in the face, tears still streaming down, Kleenex in hand and radiant with joy as could be! I was ecstatic to put it mildly, though I covered it up pretty well by trying to blend into the curtains behind me, not wanting to be a spectacle. Too late. What a privilege to work with God. And yet I could have said no to the whole thing. But I took the risk instead which freed a woman of something she felt too embarrassed to talk about. Praise God.

October 29, 2019

Holiness and Being Who You Are

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
 – Romans 12:3 NLT

Today once again we’re featuring Jim Thornber, who’s website we refer to as the “other” Thinking Out Loud. Click the header below to read this article there.

Holy Transparent

For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at the Little Portion Hermitage. This is an excerpt from my book called Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes.

Blaise Pascal said, “We must learn our limits. We are all something, but none of us are everything.” Or, as that wise 20th century philosopher Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) said in the movie Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

A key component in being transparent with who you are involves acknowledging what you are not. Admitting your strengths as well as your weaknesses will allow you to be true to yourself, live the life God created you to live, and enable you to say no to those things that are not your calling.

I acknowledge that I am not an apostle, prophet, evangelist, worship leader, business entrepreneur, engineer, chef or bank president; I’m a teacher of Scripture. I also know I thrive teaching the 18-30 year old group, so I can easily say “No” to any request to teach children’s church. At the same time, there are people in the church who love to work with children but would be scared spitless if asked to teach the Tabernacle of Moses to a group of twenty-somethings for twelve weeks, an assignment I would relish with only one regret — we couldn’t stretch it to twenty-four.

Furthermore, I understand that God has given me a certain amount of musical ability, and I’ve played piano on numerous worship teams. However, I also know there are many men and women who are better musicians than I am. Although I enjoy playing piano, I know teaching Scripture and equipping people to be better ministers, not leading worship, is my primary avenue for ministry. The problem for many of us, especially church leaders, begins when we forget Pascal said, “None of us are everything.”

Even while I lived at the Little Portion, my heart’s desire was to teach the Word. Hospitality and service were not my primary virtues, and I had to be taught to be nice to people and look to another person’s needs before my own. Fortunately, my wife tells me I’m gaining in this area. But she has a servant’s heart and rates higher in the area of “pastor” on a spiritual gifts test than I do.

Everybody has a part to play in God’s Church, but nobody, especially the pastor, is required to play every part. I encourage you to acknowledge your gifts, admit your limitations, and focus on your strengths.  What a relief it is when you learned to say “no” to those areas that were not your gifts.

“But,” some have argued to my face, “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.” This is true, but God did not strengthen me to be a children’s pastor, throw a ninety-five mile an hour fastball, invent a cure for cancer or write a symphony like Mozart. He did strengthen me to have faith (Rom. 12:3), love and take care of my family (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:8) , consider others better than myself (Phil. 2:3-4), teach the Word (Rom. 12:7) and prepare God’s people for works of service (Eph. 4:12).

Holiness is not being an expert at everything you put your mind to; it is being truthful and transparent with who you are while not trying to be something you are not. Furthermore, I’m discovering that transparency and holiness is a gift of getting older, because pride and the need to prove myself successful isn’t the precious commodity it once was.

August 5, 2019

Our Un-mined, Greater Capacities

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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When I was setting up devotional posts for while we would be away during the last two weeks in July, I never considered how much attention would be focused on the 50th anniversary of the manned landing on the moon.

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 blasted off from Florida and would land on the moon just four days later. While the spacecraft had a very sophisticated computer navigation system, this was the 1960s after all and today, I’m told that I have more processing power and functionality in the small smartphone which fits in my pocket.

Similarly, on the day that I trusted Christ as my savior and promised to make him my Lord, I had only limited knowledge of scripture and awareness of the gifts God had given me, but today, as I endeavor to mature in Christ, hopefully I have much more potential spiritual power and ability to be his witness in the world.

Unfortunately, I will never understand everything that my phone is capable of doing. There are things wired into it (even though I realize there are no actual wires anymore) that are beyond my understanding.

Similarly, there are are things that God has wired me for, so to speak, that I can choose to apply or use, or allow those gifts to atrophy. Sometimes, only as I step out in faith will I know the resident potential that exists.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. -Ephesians 2:10 NLT

In a world before time, God “planned” us for “good things” and the resident potential within us is great.

but the people who know their God will display strength and take action. -Daniel 11:32b NASB

Other translations have

  • shall do exploits (KJV)
  • will stand strong and will act (CEB)
  • shall stand firm and take action (ESV)
  • will act valiantly (NET)
  • stand strong and prevail (TLV)
  • carry out great exploits (NKJV)

…he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him… -Ephesians 1:4 ESV

Esther 4.14The challenge of course is that few of us know exactly or entirely what God has wired into us. The story of Esther is a story of someone who finds herself suddenly placed into a position which is really the turning point for the entire nation of Israel. Should she step up and take action or act valiantly? Mordecai says to her,

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
– Esther 4:14 NIV

So she takes action, but not the way I might have done it. I would have walked into the king’s chamber and said, “We need to talk.” But instead she proposes a banquet and then another. Her nation is in peril of extinction and she throws a party! Her internal wiring and predisposition is such that she is able to devise a plan and make a difference.

We will never know what we’re wired for and what potential we have until we put ourselves out there and take action.

It’s also good to remember that we are image bearers of a creator God whose attributes we only scratch the surface of understanding.

For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. -Isaiah 55:9 NLT

But as it is written, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” -1 Corinthians 2:9 ISV

I don’t believe that we should start claiming a false promise that we can do what only God can do, nor should we buy into the idea of unlimited human potential, but we need to take the encouragement that we were created by a God of infinite capacity.

Are there things in your internal wiring that you haven’t discovered or haven’t used? A gift God has given you which you haven’t tapped into?

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