Christianity 201

June 4, 2019

Knowing God

by Russell Young

The importance of “knowing” God, and of being known by God, is revealed in the Scriptures. In his condemnation of “many” who thought that their hope was secure, the Lord claimed that he did not know them. “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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers.’” (Mt 7:22−23) He is not presenting that he wasn’t aware of them; he knows the heart of all people and he was aware that these had ministered in his name. The issue is that he was never sure of their commitment. Although they had claimed to represent him, he classified them as “evil-doers” who had not followed his commandments and who had not conformed to his moral standards; they did not characterize him. They were hypocrites or were ignorant of his nature. He could not identify with them, did not know them. Christ’s knowledge of a person’s commitment comes from an intimate relationship with him or her through his indwelling Spirit. (In this passage “know” is translated from the Greek ginosko which means ‘to know with certainty.’)

All people have acquaintances, those about whom they are aware but don’t really “know.” They also have relationships with a few others whom they know more intimately, with whom they share their heart and life’s blessings and trials. The meaning ascribed to “know” has great significance when it comes to relationship with God. Paul taught that God requires absolute assurance of the confessor’s commitment to righteousness and to him. God’s children are to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph 1:4) and they “must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6) This requires knowing his heart.

In his epistle to Titus, Paul wrote that even though some claimed to know him their actions denied that knowledge, consequently their disobedience made them unfit for doing anything good (Titus 1:16); they lacked awareness of his holiness and of his sovereignty.

John has written, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8) He is presenting that knowing God compels loving him and others. He is not suggesting an “acquaintance” relationship, but an understanding and appreciation of the nature of God–his heart and the things that please and hurt him and others. Knowing God is evidenced by a heart fully given to him.

The parable of the twelve virgins reveals that those who know Christ and who love him are fixed on anticipating his return. They wait anxiously. Six of the virgins were not anticipating his call to the feast and their indifference left them unprepared when the call came. The door was closed when they had finally made themselves ready. He also admonished all to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door” (Lk 13:24) by avoiding any “evil-doing.” because “many” will claim to have fellowshipped with him and that he had taught in their streets but they would be cast away. He did not know them and apparently, they did not know him.

The Lord knows “his sheep” and they know him. Their knowledge will be like that which existed in the relationship between Christ and his Father. His sheep listen to his voice and they follow just as he listened to and obeyed his Father. (Jn 10:14…27)

The knowledge about which the Lord speaks is absolute certainty of commitment and is evidenced through a person’s actions. Knowledge develops as the Lord observes those who hear his voice and obediently follow. He is not talking about the sheep that have heard his call and who go their own way. These will become lost.

The man who loves God is known by God.” (1 Cor 8:3) The Lord knows his own because their love for him is revealed through honor, respect, and obedience.

What a person thinks about another dictates his or her feelings. Knowing God and his expansive love and provision will compel love. The most important commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30) Knowing God will result in loving him with all that a person has. When knowledge is lacking or when truth is distorted, so may be knowledge of God’s holiness, of his heart and of his love commitment to them. Love must be learned and earned.

The Lord is more than a worldly friend; he indwells confessors as Holy Spirit enabling the obedient to gain victory over temptations and unrighteousness, making them acceptable offerings. The “one who searches our hearts” (Rom 8:27) knows our needs and enables the obedient to be conformed to Christ’s likeness, assisting the Spirit to accomplish God’s will in the transformation of souls. Knowing God means appreciating the fullness of his commitment, provision, and heart.

Some teach that God’s love is “unconditional.” Implying no need for the appreciation of his nature, but Christ said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (Jn 15:10) The confessor’s knowledge of God will dictate how he or she feels about him, and how they feel about him will determine how they respond to him and to his call upon their life.

Paul’s admonition should be taken to heart. “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thess 1:8−9) Those who desire to dwell with him must understand his heart. His complaint from the beginning was that the constant evil imaginations of people brought pain to his heart. (Gen 6:5−6).



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link

May 1, 2019

Emerging as Solid Gold

NIV.1Peter.17 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

NIV.Rev.3.14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

One of the longest running sources for material we’ve used here at Christianity 201 has been John Fischer who writes at The Catch. Today’s blog post is actually by his wife Marti who has been experiencing some health challenges lately. I ask you to join with us in praying for her. (More details on the blog; click the link in this paragraph.) Otherwise click the title below to read this piece, with an introduction from John that’s not seen here.

Guaranteed Gold

by Marti Fischer

One of the more important messages for us today as believers can be found in the words of Jesus to the seven churches that take up the first few chapters of the book of Revelation. They are words of warning and instruction.

One of the churches, the one in Laodicea, Jesus describes as being “warm,” meaning comfortable — a comfortable state of mind with false securities. And Jesus warns that since these believers are neither hot nor cold, He will “spew” them out of His mouth. What a harsh description of rejection and abandonment.

Jesus goes on to explain why He says this. He is basically saying this body thinks it doesn’t need Him. They are doing just find on their own.  These people are lukewarm and very comfortable in their walk with the Lord. They have food to eat, places to stay, and clothes to wear. Life is good. And Jesus says that their thinking is a lie. He says the truth is that these people are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. They are people who think they are doing good in their own lives and for the Lord.  Jesus says they have it all backwards.

Jesus goes on to make a few recommendations for these Laodicean believers:  I counsel you to be gold tried in the fire.”  And then He offers them a new outfit. They will no longer be living in the shame of their nakedness … and then, He says, they will be able to see.

I thought to myself, “Hurray! At last. Jesus is encouraging prosperity thinking. I am going to be gold.  I always wanted to believe in prosperity. I love pretty things. Too bad for me — He is not talking about having the financial means to have what it takes to buy lots of gold. He is talking about gold as referenced in 1 Peter 1:7 — a faith being more precious than gold that is tried with fire. Jesus is telling us He wants to make our faith perfect – tried by the fire of trials – the faith that is far more precious than gold. For this reason, He warns us not to seek what makes us comfortable.  Rather He suggests that those He loves He corrects and causes suffering; anything to make us pursue Him and His desire to purify our faith. He will do just about anything to get us out of our comfort zone.

Jesus then tells us that He is at the door knocking (He’s been there all along), and if we open the door, he will come in and sit down to dinner with us. You might remember He did this with the disciples and at that dinner he also told the disciples that they, too, would indeed drink from His cup — the cup of suffering and death Jesus was ordained to drink from.  Soon thereafter, Jesus was begging the Father to take that very cup from Him, “but either way your will not mine be done.” This is a beautiful demonstration of Jesus relating to the most horrific moments in our lives, when we ask the Lord to remove us from a situation and deliver us from having to walk through troubles and pain, and instead, He asks to submit to His will and not the will we would prefer to hold so closely to our chest. His will is to follow Jesus Christ, which is the complete opposite of our comfort driven will.

He ends this message by delivering a promise to those in this church who “overcome” comfort to follow His will. The promise is knowing Him and believing with the kind of evidence that moves mountains in not only our lives but in the lives of many others … and there’s nothing comfortable about that.

So like the Laodiceans, Jesus wants us to wake up.  We are insisting on making ourselves comfortable and warm (the kind of warm that is like a dog peeing on your leg). We are not hot or even cold.

We have many Catch Citizens [Ed. note: readers of their blog] who are affected and suffering from very difficult circumstances that are causing their hearts to cry out to God.  They do not know why. Did they do something wrong? They are seeking His presence, wanting to receive His revelation and understand what on earth He is up to.

And for those of us Laodiceans who are stepping out of our places of comfort on a daily basis, they are asking us to pray with them as we both seek His strength, His  truth — the truth that can only be known when He opens our eyes and causes us to surrender to Him and all of His ways that our minds can’t grasp.  No longer warm, we are very hot indeed.


NIV.Rev.3.20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

 

 

April 9, 2019

Judging Others

by Russell Young

The Lord cautioned, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others you will be judged, and with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Mt 7:1−2) Similar sentiments have been presented elsewhere. (Rom 2:1, 14:4) In this passage “judge” means to distinguish as to condemn in some sense, to call into question or to think negatively about another.

Judging others may be more prevalent in our lives that we would like to admit. Condemning thoughts that are not so frequently voiced are judgments concerning another and the Lord will judge the thoughts of the heart as well as the spoken word. “This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Rom 2:16) Every person has “planks in his or her eyes” and needs to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12); careful attention needs to be given to one’s own issues. The Lord desires for his brothers to have hearts like his own, committed to care and concern for others.

The first problem with judging is an attitude of pride and superiority concerning the issue at hand. That is, those who judge condemn the other for not reaching their standard. Christ is the standard and his conviction in the believer’s life is to address their righteous requirements. The second problem is that all believers are a work in progress. It is the Lord who is making his brothers the product that he would have them be. (Eph 2:10) He is conforming those who will dwell with him into his own likeness. (Rom 8:29) To accomplish this transformation he works individually in the lives of his own concerning specific issues that according to his determination need to be addressed. While he is changing a practice in one person’s life, he may be working on a different one in another’s, however in the end the obedient will have fully achieved God’s righteous requirements (Rom 8:4) and they will have been made offerings suitable for his kingdom. (Rom 15:16)

To judge another is to judge the Lord himself, to contest his wisdom. That is, in effect the person judging is saying that the other’s inappropriate behavior is the one that the Lord should be addressing. He knows the heart and the need of each of his own better than they even know their own hearts and needs. Rather than being focussed on the issues of the other, it would be more glorifying to praise God for the spiritual progress that is seen being made in the lives of others and to pray that the Lord will forgive them when a sin is seen being committed. (1 Jn 5:16) The admonition of Paul is to “build up” one another (Rom 15:2; 1 Thess 5:11) and everyone needs encouragement.

Paul wrote, “Who are you to judge someone else ’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Rom 14:4) Every believer is a servant of Christ. He or she was purchased by him and has been redeemed for his good pleasure and service. Judgment comes from a hard heart and the Lord has made it clear that the same manner and measure used to judge others will be applied to those who practice judging.

Paul presented some words that seem to contradict the Lord’s teaching. He wrote, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” (1 Cor 5:12) Paul is presenting this teaching as their spiritual leader and he is expanding on his teaching concerning associating with those who are living apart from truth while claiming to be brothers. For the preservation of the integrity of the Lord’s teachings and of the church body those who are deliberately defying truth need to be confronted so that their influence is not felt and so that correction can take place, and this does require personal judgment and wisdom. Even in this, caution needs to be taken and the one defying the Lord needs to be admonished by those who are humble and spiritually mature and those exercising this responsibility need to appreciate that they too will be judged with the same measure.

Motivation of the heart is important, and it is according to a person’s motivation in relation to the other that he or she will be judged. (1 Cor 4:5) The Lord is building a righteous kingdom and believers are to assist in that process as they attend to their own needs and humbly appreciate that others are on the same journey and need assistance in their walk, free from judgment and condemnation. Prayer for those in need should never be neglected. It is easier to judge than to assist.

All believers living on this earth are on a similar journey. They are leaving the place of defilement and disobedience, with evil hearts and minds, to become conformed to the likeness of the Son of God attaining his heart of holiness and love.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Rom 2:1) Pray for and encourage the weak and needy. Perhaps they are praying for you on another issue.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

March 27, 2019

Living in Distracting Times

Biblical writers never knew the degree of distraction which we face in the 21st Century. We are bombarded with input of all types: advertising, road signs, warning lights, notifications, etc.; even as we must remember PINs and user names and passwords.

However, their world was not as different as we might think. They were still aware that all manner of things could appear before them and prove not only distracting, but also destructive.

When our oldest son was 21, he became convinced he was spending too much time watching videos on YouTube. So he simply uninstalled Flash player in his computer. (Yes. Seriously, he really did that.)

In Matthew 5:29 we read Jesus words:

29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (NIV)

but Jesus apparently repeated these words, as Matthew records them again at 18:9

9 If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. (NASB)

…To which we might add the following paraphrase:

If part of your computer causes you to waste time, disable it.

Some would argue that the words of Jesus were never intended to be taken literally, but the radical degree of his teaching was fully intentional. Call it hyberbole if you will, but Jesus was saying that it’s going to take doing something extreme in order to be where he wants us to be.

In the past I’ve written many times about controlling our thought life. You can read those at this link. One of my favorite graphic images (that we’ve used in the sidebar of this blog in the past) is this “eye chart” version of some words of Jesus from Luke:

Luke 11:34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy,your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”

There is certainly a “garbage in / garbage out” effect that takes place depending on what we allow our eyes to see. Jesus also said, “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.” (Matthew 15:11)

Contextually, I know Jesus was making a whole other point, but if we can take some liberty here, we could also follow the pattern and say “It’s not what goes into your eyes that defiles you; you are defiled by the images you allow to dwell there.”

In other words, you may not have the luxury of editing or filtering every image. There may be times when you say,

“It’s too late, I can’t un-see that.”

However you can decide which images are going to stay with you and which you are work diligently to forget. Martin Luther put it this way:

“You cannot keep birds from flying over your head
but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair”

Or, to use another graphic image we’ve used here before:

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. (Phil 4:8 NLT)

…The point is that scripture speaks to these issues. What is very real to us in a world of distraction was very real to them.

Do what you need to do. It may require something like disabling a part of your computer. But if that is what it takes, don’t ignore the possibility!

~PW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 15, 2018

Increasing Your Measure of Faith

We’re paying our third annual visit to radio preacher, pastor and author James MacDonald and their devotional from the radio show Walk In The Word titled Our Journey. The devotional is also available as an online resource. Click the title below to read at source.

Growing Faith

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5, ESV)!

Ever feel like your faith is small? Perhaps you wish you could do more or be more. Maybe when you look around you, it seems as if everyone else has BIG BOLD FAITH, while yours is just . . . tiny.

If that’s you, then consider these three things you can do that will immediately begin to grow your faith.

1. Believe that your faith can increase.

Every Christian has been given a measure of faith (Romans 12:3). While each of us has been given a certain capacity to believe, it can increase. Isn’t that great news? Exhibit A for growing faith is the Apostle Peter. Remember what Peter was like in the Gospels? He tried hard but failed, said the wrong thing at the wrong time, and kept messing up at critical moments. Peter was the one who swore loyalty to Jesus then denied even knowing Him (Mark 14:26–31, 66–72). Peter was the one who followed Jesus after His arrest but only from a safe distance (Mark 14:54). When Peter tried walking on the water, he sank, and Jesus called him, O you of little faith (Matthew 14:31). Ouch.

Yes, Peter had little faith and a lot of growing to do, but he made one good decision: He followed Jesus’ instructions, went to that upper room, and waited for the Holy Spirit to come and fill him. When the Spirit of God filled Peter in response to his faith, he was transformed. He preached boldly, and three thousand people were saved. Peter became such a powerful, faith-filled man that Acts 5:15 reports that people even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.

Peter was a changed man, transformed by the power of the Spirit through faith. Do you want Peter-size faith? Believe that your faith can increase, and then . . .

2. Expose your mind to God’s Word.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Faith can’t grow without the soil of God’s Word.

Have you learned yet to love the Word of God? Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts (Jeremiah 15:16). Is your mind steeped in God’s Word? Have you gotten past the discipline stage of reading the Bible (gutting it out because you know you should) to the delighted stage (actually wanting to read it, even craving it)?

The more we wash our minds with God’s Word, the more our faith can grow. When we fill our minds with trash—or with everything but God’s Word—what happens to our faith? It falters and even withers. According to Romans 12:2, your transformation comes by the renewal of your mind. So what are you putting into your mind?

We must read the Word, study it, memorize it, meditate on it. Human words don’t build faith; God’s do. And as you immerse yourself in God’s Word, you’ll also learn to . . .

3. Practice genuine prayer.

Faith comes through genuine prayer. Not rote repetition of empty words but genuine, on-your-knees, heartfelt prayer, laying hold of God by faith.

“Hmmm,” you might say, “I’m not very good at that. Where’s the seminar on genuine prayer?” The seminar is conducted in your home daily in a private place where you can kneel down. The seminar is given by the Holy Spirit Himself and is available 24/7. If you want to learn how to pray, get on your knees, open your heart, and ask, “Lord, teach me to pray.”

Prayer has incredible power to build your faith. When you are filled with anxiety, concerns, or burdens, pray. Get by yourself, kneel in humility before God, and in the simplest language you know, talk to your Father about it. Through genuine, heartfelt prayer, you can exchange your anxiety for faith.

So for all those who want their faith to keep growing—believe that your faith can increase, expose your mind to God’s Word, and genuinely pray.

And ask the Lord—as the apostles did—Increase our faith (Luke 17:5)!

Journal

  • Have you gotten past the discipline stage of reading the Bible (gutting it out because you know you should) to the delighted stage (actually wanting to read it, even craving it)?
  • What are you putting into your mind? Survey the scene; what is your “dose” of God’s Word vs. entertainment, social media, etc.?

Pray
Lord God, I know that You are wholly faithful and worthy of all my trust. Thank You for patiently growing me. I confess that my faith can be weak and my heart is prone to give way to fear and anxiety. I do believe, and I humbly ask You to help my unbelief. Thank You for the precious gift of Your Word and the privilege of prayer. Please help me to fix my eyes on You, and stir my heart to get and stay in the Scriptures. Grow in me genuine delight and deep faith in You. Lord, teach me to pray. I admit that I am dependent upon You for these gifts, and I trust You for them, praying this in the worthy name of Your Son, Jesus. Amen.

September 1, 2017

Working Out My Salvation

Philippians 2:12

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

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

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

Work out, not for, your own salvation

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

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

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

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

August 31, 2017

The Story of Us

by Clarke Dixon

Now suppose you were to ask me to tell you about my marriage. I might say something like “well, it is my task to put out the garbage on a Sunday night ready for Monday morning, and Sandra’s tasks are to keep the pantry and fridge stocked, buy the clothes for the boys (yes, that includes me), take the lead on the medical concerns of our children, . . . well, pretty much everything but get the garbage out. Now of course I am exaggerating but I hope that you find it odd that a question about my marriage would end up with a list of duties and expectations. Yet we do this all the time with matters of faith. A question about our faith may well lead us to speak about our duties and expectations as a Christian. Or as I fear, many in trying to pass on the faith to the next generation will focus almost solely on passing on that list of duties and expectations. This can be described as the “it is good for you” kind of faith.

Problem is, the next generation normally has no problem coming up with a set of values and ethics on their own, especially with culture and society so eager to help. If that is all the Christian faith is about, then why bother, especially as Christian duties and expectations will seem quite a bit more bothersome than what might come up with ourselves. I needn’t tell you that many in the next generations (including my own) haven’t bothered.

The Psalmist in Psalm 78 has a heart for the coming generations and is eager to pass on the faith:

My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done. (Psalm 78:1-4 NIV)

We will want to notice right from the start that the Psalmist has a much bigger sense of faith than the duties and expectations. Yes, the Psalmist will go on to speak of God’s law as part of the “praiseworthy deeds” of the Lord, but there is something greater here than being grateful for a mere list of ethics. The Psalmist wants to pass on the knowledge of the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He wants to pass on, not just the rules of a religion, but better the knowledge of the living, interacting, and intervening God.

This of course assumes that the Psalmist knows the praiseworthy deeds, the might, and wonders of the Lord. If we are to be effective in passing the faith on to a new generation (and this is a key desire of mine within my own family!), step one is to be sure we know it and enjoy it well ourselves first!! Do you know the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord? Have you seen his power at work? Are you able to articulate the wonders he has done? Can you point to where these can be found in the Bible? Can you point to where these can be found in your own life story?

Furthermore, in the rest of the Psalm (and it is a long one, rather like some of my sermons!), the Psalmist tells us a story, or better, stories. These focus on God’s people, their rebellion, God’s covering them with grace and forgiveness, God’s drawing them forward with discipline and instruction, and finally God’s preparation for the future. The story ends with Israel’s final rebellion against God, his purposes being carried forward with Judah and King David. In fact the ending has kind of an ‘unfinished’ feel to it as one suspects the story will go on. And we know it does. But the thing for us to notice is this: the Psalmist in having a heart for the next generation, spends much of his time telling the stories of God’s relationship with God’s people, or the story of us. This is more like what you might expect to hear if you asked about my marriage. How we met. How we fell in love with each other. How we fell in love with our children. You don’t expect a list of duties and expectations, but the story of us. Can you articulate the story of God’s love for his creation and humanity?

Can you tell the story of how you fell in love with God? Will you? The story goes on . . .

Read more from Clarke Dixon at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

June 2, 2017

The Difference Between Singing Songs and Singing to the Lord

Today we’re back with Susan Barnes at A Book Look. In addition to book reviews, she’s currently blogging some devotional thoughts on the book of 2 Chronicles. As we did last year, we’re giving you a two-for-one special, with another devotional on another subject! Click the titles to read the individual devotions, or for more click this link, and look for the articles headed “Devotional Thought.”

Devotional Thought: II Chronicles 5:13

The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud. 2 Chronicles 5:13

I’ve met some Christians who don’t like to sing, which has puzzled me greatly. Some even want to have gatherings where there is no singing.

However, the Bible contains a good deal of singing. The longest book in the Bible, Psalms, is a song book. When it was first put together many would have memorized it, because they sang it. I once thought this was amazing, until I considered that I probably know 150 songs by heart.

There is a major difference between singing songs and singing to the Lord. I hope those who don’t like to sing are those who think they are just singing songs.

In this verse we have an example of singing to the Lord. As their songs of praise rose from the temple, God’s presence filled it. We experience God’s presence when we lift up his name with praise, music and song. This is not always consciously felt, but we know that God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3 KJV).

Singing to the Lord, focuses our attention on God and changes our perspective. When we consider God’s love and his almightiness, our difficulties shrink, our complaints fade and our worries diminish. It is a spiritual discipline to call to mind God’s attributes and to express them to him. It builds up our faith and honours the Lord.

We aren’t going to like every Christian song we sing, nevertheless, let’s use songs as vehicles to focus on the Lord.


Devotional Thought: I Chronicles 29:22

They ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the Lord that day. 1 Chronicles 29:22

Such joy in this chapter and David wanted it to go on forever – he prayed: “Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided” (v. 18-19)

David prayed that God would keep the people’s hearts loyal to himself, but it didn’t happen. He prayed that Solomon would have wholehearted devotion to keep God’s commands but that didn’t happen either.

God doesn’t override free will. We choose the desires and thoughts we keep in our hearts, we choose to be loyal or not, and we choose our level of devotion. God doesn’t take our choices from us.

Perhaps Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9-11 is a better model. He prays for the Colossians to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in order to live a life pleasing to him, to grow in the knowledge of God and to be strengthened so they may have great endurance and patience. Paul saw the Colossians’ greatest necessity as continually growing in understanding God and his ways, and to have perseverance.

Even then, the Colossians would still have to choose. Christian leaders can provide opportunities for growth and recommend spiritual disciplines to encourage growth, but ultimately it’s our decision if we engage in these practices.

Perseverance is part of the growth process, and seems to be sadly lacking in David’s time. However, the ability to keep going when things get difficult will greatly enhance our spiritual lives.

May 2, 2017

The Cup of Sorrows and The Worth of a Soul

It’s been a year since we last visited with Jack Wellman at the website Rhetorical Jesus. His devotional posts are shorter than what we normally do here, so we’re giving you a double feature. Titles for each are also links back to his site, and there you’ll also find a graphic for each day which you can use to introduce a link to one of his articles on your own social media. (I haven’t borrowed those here to give you another reason to click through.) The topics are most engaging, so choose one that you think might apply to the people in your online social circle.

Can you drink from the same cup that I am going to drink from?

Matthew 20:22

Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.

Who Is the Greatest?

The mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John, came up to Jesus, knelt before Him, and asked Him if her two sons could sit at Jesus’ right hand (Matt 22:20-21). Can you imagine that? The disciples’ mother came up to Jesus asking Him if her sons could be chief rulers in the kingdom, which is what is meant by sitting at Jesus’ right hand. Jesus then asked the men if they’re able to drink from the same cup that He was about to drink from, and with no hesitation, James and John said, “Yes.” (Matt 20:22). Jesus did agree about their eventually drinking from His cup, but as for whether or not they would sit at Jesus’ right hand is up to the Father (Matt 20:23).

What Is the Cup?

This cup that Jesus was about to partake in was Calvary, and this included His drinking the cup of all the sins of all humanity of all time: past, present, and future. This the disciples could not do, nor could they drink of the cup of His illegal trial, His scourging by the Roman guards, or His torture on the cross. However, they would eventually go through suffering for their faith, but, of course, not to the same extent and measure that Christ did. Indeed, no one has (Isaiah 53). All believers, if they are living out their faith in public, such as at home, school, or work, will suffer at least some degree of persecution for what they believe. It might be behind their back, but they, too, will have a cup of persecution that they’ll drink from, at least if they are living out their faith publically and are bearing fruit of the Holy Spirit (John 15).

Anger and Jealousy

When the other disciples heard what James’ and John’s mother had asked, they were angry (Matt 20:24). Maybe they were angry because they didn’t think of it first or that James’ and John’s mother was trying to cull some favor from Jesus, which made them mad. Jesus saw their anger and called them over to speak with them. He said that the Gentile kings love to sit in places of power and rule over others and to be served (Matt 20:25-28). Jesus said that this is not how believers are to operate. We are to be servants, and just as Jesus said, He came to be a servant and die, giving His life as a ransom for others (like you and me). He came to serve and not be served, and He gave more than all by His dying for us (Matt 20:28).

A Closing Prayer

Father God, You are so kind to me and patient with me for the many times that I try to place myself above others. Please forgive me when I do that, and help me to realize that the greatest of Your people are not striving to sit at Your right hand, but to serve people in humility. I ask for Your help in this area, and in the name above all names, Jesus Christ, I pray.

What is your own soul worth?

Matthew 16:26

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Denying the Self but Not Christ

For much of my Christian walk, I did just the opposite. Instead of denying myself but not Christ, I denied Christ and didn’t deny myself much of anything. This, of course, is not walking with Christ as a disciple. Instead of dying to self, I put Christ to death in my life. I have tried to do better and not deny Christ in public before others, but deny myself before others and not Christ. Jesus said one little powerful word, and it was “if.” If we want to follow Christ, we must deny ourselves (Matt 16:24). If we want to save our life, ironically, we’ll lose it. If we desire to lose our life, we will find it (Matt 16:25). Once more, I tend to do just the opposite.

What Does It Profit?

If we can gain all that we can for a temporary life that is like a vapor (James 4:14), we have gained nothing because life is short, but eternity is a very, very long time. Can you put a value on a soul that is lost for all eternity? A man and a woman’s soul is priceless, and nothing can compare to its worth, but how worthless will it be if that life is forever banished from the presence of God with no hope of ever being reconciled (Rev 20:12-15)? The soul’s value cannot be estimated. Jesus’ point is that we can gain all that there is, but lose or forfeit our very soul for this life. If we do that, then we’ve lost everything because you can’t take anything in this life into the next, unless it is done for Christ. Those rewards that are done in His name are going with us to heaven. You can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead and have it waiting there for you. In other words, the good we do for Jesus and for God’s glory will remain. Nothing else really matters.

Take Up Your Cross

If we are to take up our cross as Jesus said, what does that mean? Today’s equivalent would be to take up the electric chair or take up the lethal injection and die to ourselves. We must crucify the flesh in order to please God, Who is Spirit (Gal 5:24). That basically means nailing our desires and passions–that sinful nature of ours–to the cross, slaying our own desires for the desire to serve Christ and others, and doing it with the express purpose of glorifying God (Gal 2:20). If we are walking by the Holy Spirit’s leading, we’ll be putting to death earthly desires and passions (Gal 5:16). It is only those being led by God’s Spirit who are the children of God (Rom 8:14), and to live by the flesh will be dying in the flesh, but the Spirit will put the deeds of the flesh to death (Rom 8:12-13). In this way, your own soul will have infinite value, but if you’re living only in the flesh, you forfeit everything.

A Closing Prayer

Great God in heaven, I am so far short of Your glory (Rom 3:23), and there is nothing good in me (Rom 3:10) except your Spirit. Please help me yield to Your Spirit and to slay the flesh so that I might strive to not gain the whole world and lose my soul, but rather help me deny myself, take up my cross, die to self, and live for you. In Jesus’ name I pray.

 

March 13, 2017

Spiritual Drift

This article appears at BibleStudyTools.com. To read it there and read the comments simply click the title below. Chris Russell is an Ohio pastor whose biography states, “He believes that ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is one of his ‘spiritual gifts.'” You can also read it on his blog Sensible Faith.

5 Things That Cause Us to Drift Spiritually

Several years ago a friend of mine took his wife and kids to the ocean for a week of R&R. While they were there, they purchased a small, inflatable boat for recreational use on the beach. One day the wife jumped in the boat and launched out into the water to just lie back and soak in some sunshine. After what seemed like a short span of time, she opened her eyes and realized that she was several hundred yards away from the shore. In a panic, she screamed for help.

Only one person on the shore seemed to hear her call, and that was her husband. When he realized her predicament, he immediately attempted to swim out to rescue her. That did not turn out well, because he was soon in need of being rescued as well!

Fortunately the lifeguard was doing his job well that day, and he was successful in rescuing the husband and the wife. By the time he was able to get to the wife in the raft, they were nearly a half mile from the shore.

As I have thought about that experience over the years, it has often made me think about how Christians often drift away from the Lord spiritually. It really doesn’t take much time at all to drift so far from the shore spiritually that one can scarcely even see the land anymore.

As a pastor for the past couple decades, I have noted several key things that tend to cause Christians to drift away from God. Here are five of them:

1)  An Out-of-Control Schedule.

Ephesians 5:16
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

One of Satan’s greatest weapons against our generation seems to be his ability to make good people busier than ever before. We so often sacrifice the best things in life by spending time doing things that are just “pretty good.”

If you desire to walk closely with God, you will absolutely, necessarily have to begin by taking a close look at your calendar. It is likely that you are currently doing too much. And it is also likely that your overly hectic schedule is affecting your relationship with God. So take out your pruning shears and begin to cut out any activities you can that will allow you to focus more time on your relationship with your Creator.

2)  Misplaced Affections

1 John 2:15
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Be careful not to set your heart on things that really don’t matter. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen good people lured away from church life because they have fallen in love with things or activities that have no eternal merit. For example, children’s sports can certainly be a thrilling activity for your kids to pursue. But if those sports begin to adversely affect the spiritual involvement and development of your family, then pull the plug immediately.

3)  Discouragement

1 Peter 1:6,7 1
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

During the past couple decades that I have served as a pastor, I have often watched Satan using his weapon of discouragement to drag people away from spiritual activities. I have seen it many more times than I can number.

When the trials of life cause a person to become discouraged, he often begins focusing on those problems and takes his eyes off of Christ. It reminds me of when Peter walked on the water. He did great until he took his eyes off of Jesus and began looking at the waves beneath him and the clouds above him.

It is important for you to know that when life’s clouds grow dark and your trials become fierce, that is the time to run TO Jesus and not FROM Him.

4)  Abundance

1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

We Americans are so fat with our own prosperity that we often make wealth our god and not the true King of heaven. This has also been a recurring theme throughout the entire Bible. People struggle, God blesses them, they become prosperous, and then they depart from God. Ironic, isn’t it?

The chances are great that you probably do not feel like you are prosperous. But the reality is that nearly all Americans are extremely blessed and have more abundance than the vast majority of the population of the planet. If you are an American, you are most likely already a “One-Percenter” (wealthier than 99% of the world’s population).

People of abundance often choose recreation over worship. Why go to church if you could be out golfing, boating, camping, or going to movies or sporting events?

Satan wants us to be prosperous, because our prosperity and abundance often lure us away from our Creator.

5)  Parasitic Sins

Hebrews 12:1
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,

Many people begin to drift away from God, because they have sins in their lives that cause them to feel guilt when they show up at church. And they feel reluctant to pray or read their Bible when they know they have these issues in their lives.

Recently, I stumbled upon the most revolting video I’ve ever seen (through my Facebook news feed). The video showed an eye surgeon removing a parasite from a human eye. I won’t go into detail. That brief description alone is enough to send chills down the spines of many. All I can say is that the video was even worse than what you’re thinking right now!

When I watched that video, it dawned on me that many people have sins in their lives that are damaging them just like parasites in one’s body. And those sins will almost certainly affect your spiritual vision.

The solution here is not to run/drift from God. The key is to confess your sin to God who will restore you and make you whole again (1 John 1:9)!

How have you done in your journey with God over the past year or the past few months? Have you drifted? Now is the time to return. Call out to God before you are so far from the shore than you lose all sense of spiritual direction.


1 In both versions of the original article Chris did not have a reference on his third point. We took the liberty of adding one. See A Diligent Heart or OpenBible.info for other related verses.

 

 

March 12, 2017

A Fractured Gospel

by Russell Young
Although the gospel message has been around for about two thousand years, its understanding remains muddled. The Word has presented that eternal salvation comes through a person’s “doings,” through obedience, and through belief. It seems that many have selected from these the option that appeals to them and have concluded a means of meeting God’s condition so that they might rest their hope in him. The truth is that all three are components of the same gospel truth and they need to be appreciated as such. Belief (faith) motivates obedience and obedience compels the believer to act in ways that are pleasing and acceptable to God.
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It gets tiresome to attend to debates, written or verbal, about the validity of one component while disregarding the others. The disputes are endless and where eternal salvation continues to be perceived as through a single factor the debates will continue to persist and will achieve nothing except division and lost souls. Time and energy are wasted and confusion is produced as many self-righteously defend their position. Unfortunately, after two thousand years, church practitioners have often become entrenched in reliance upon a singular aspect of the gospel and objectivity has been lost. Consequently, many who now claim to be called to present the gospel cannot even clearly define it. This ought not to be so. Too many people are being left stillborn in churches while others are dying in the deserts of their communities.
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Jesus taught: “Do not be amazed at this (the Son of Man having authority as judge), for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (JN 5:28─29 NIV; See also 1 Pet 1:17; Mt 7:2; 12:36; Jn 5:28─29; 2 Cor 5:10) A person’s doings or practices should not be confused with the issue of “works” which applies to salvation through the works of the law. The Lord taught that evidence of faith, a person’s testimony through his or her practices, matters.
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In Hebrews it is recorded: “he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) Christ also presented the need for obedience-Mt 7:21; 2 Thess 1:8─9; Rev 12:17, 14:12, Rev 22:14 (KJV), etc. The Lord is the Spirit and one purpose of his indwelling presence is to sanctify the obedient believer and to fit him or her for God’s heavenly kingdom. The believer must be made into the likeness of God’s Son (Rom 8:29) if he is to enter God’s kingdom.
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Many times the Lord has proclaimed that salvation comes through belief or faith in his person and ministry. However, belief is revealed through the practice of obedience. It is recorded: “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Heb 3:18─19 NIV) Those who do not obey Christ, the Spirit, lack saving faith and will not dwell with him.
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Faith/Belief resulting in obedience and “doing good” is what saves a person from judgment and into God’s glorious kingdom and presence. Without righteousness, which is the result of God’s “handiwork” (Eph 2:10) and is achieved through the Spirit (Gal 5:5), the confessor must remain forever separated from the Lord. (Heb 12:14)
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The truth of the gospel needs to be appreciated and clearly proclaimed if the dead are to be brought to life. Confusion is destroying the church of God and making it powerless is a depraved generation. Those who loudly proclaim a component of the gospel as being the necessary and full truth will be accountable for much one day. Those who are confident that they have brought many into the kingdom may find that they, like their sheep, will be shut out from the wedding feast and from God’s holy kingdom. Many false promises through a fractured gospel are being persuasively proclaimed to win the lost to church communities. In the end, many are presenting no gospel at all.


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

 

January 25, 2017

Agony: A Sermon Excerpt by Leonard Ravenhill

There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now.  -John 16:12 NLT

Then Samuel said, “Does the LORD take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as he does in obedience? Certainly, obedience is better than sacrifice  – I Samuel 15:22a NASB

 

Today we have something different, an audio sermon with full on-screen text.


Leonard Ravenhill (June 18, 1907 – November 27, 1994) was an English Christian evangelist and author who focused on the subjects of prayer and revival. He is best known for challenging western evangelicalism (through his books and sermons) to compare itself to the early Christian Church as chronicled in the Book of Acts. His most notable book is Why Revival Tarries which has sold over a million copies worldwide.  (Wikipedia)

 

October 30, 2016

Living in the Desert

spiritual-desertby Russell Young

The desert is a dry lifeless place.  It is uncomfortable and fails to yield fruit. Not many would choose to live there and yet the LORD led the Israelites through the wilderness for forty years to humble and to test them concerning obedience to his commands. (Deut 8:2).  They had proclaimed their right to his blessings when they applied the blood of the Passover lamb to the lintel of their doorposts in Egypt.  They had made the proclamation that they belonged to Israel and that Yahweh was their God.  Of the 600,000 men who had left Egypt all except for two were to die in the desert. Because of their disobedience and rebellion God had said, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.” (Num 14:20─23 NIV)

The Israelites began the journey with the intent of finding God’s “rest” but were unable to find the land of plenty. Those who call themselves “believers” should recognize that they, too, are on a very similar journey.   They have left Egypt—this world—and have begun the journey to find rest from their labors.  God’s rest can be entered today, (Heb 4:7), although few would acknowledge that they are living in a state of rest; their situation might more fully be depicted as a desert.

Many struggle with their faith. They know deep down in their hearts that God is there.  They have heard many promises from his Word, yet the life promised them has escaped their experience.  Disillusionment creeps in, followed by doubt.  Is God real? Is the Bible truth? Does God care for me? Why am I not enjoying him? Yet they clutch to the assurance of their “saving faith” and dare not let go. Life continues to be a struggle.  The realities of providing food, shelter, and clothing for family, and the pressure to meet wants causes stress, frustration, and conflict. Pressure is increased by requests to contribute in some way to the church.  Their life has become busier and even less fulfilling.  Not only is peace lacking but guilt has become their constant companion. They dutifully journey to church each week and seek some confidence in their belonging by taking on responsibilities as time and opportunity permit. The source of power and freedom, however, has yet to be learned and that power and freedom has yet to be appropriated. Their experience does not measure up to the “truths” promoted by those more informed in God’s Word.

On the outside, all looks in order, but on the inside they feel empty. Many “believers” live this life of dissatisfaction. Although they would dearly like it otherwise, they know the futility of their efforts and may even feel that they have been abandoned by God, the one they desire to please above all else. They know that God has promised peace and rest for the faithful. Why has such a life evaded them?  They are living in the desert!

Like the Israelites, believers today are on the great journey to Canaan.  The journey, if they are trusting and obedient, will take them from where they are to where God wants them to be. It demands the faith and trust of a child, faith that is beyond a person’s common understanding of faith.  It demands faith that has been learned by experience to trust that God knows what is good for them.  It demands contentment with provision that is often less than that which is the common experience in today’s affluent western culture.  God was not happy about the complaints that the Israelites had made concerning lack of water and food and he is not happy about our complaints, voiced or otherwise, concerning lack of the things we feel are deserved or needed.

Completing the journey demands recognition that those who claim the name of Christ do not reside in this world and its interests have not hold on them. They do not have time for them or need of them.  They are merely passing through this world as aliens. (1 Pet 2:11) The journey demands the willingness and trust to allow God to be on the throne of their lives to find enjoyment in him.

Those who are caught up in the desert will live a dry fruitless life.  Like the Israelites they will yearn for the vegetables of Egypt and for what they see as their food–the wants of everyday life—being met through slavery to the world.

Faith demands that, for the most part, we depart from the known and the demands of the flesh, and live by promise in the unknown. It demands that the priorities of our lives change, and it sees wealth as being eternal rather than temporal.  It requires a transformation of focus to obedience and contentment in the blessings granted through righteous living and an understanding and a recognition of the sovereignty of God. Decisions are no longer the believers to make; their path is no longer theirs to direct.

The Israelites grumbled and complained.  Their minds went back to Egypt and all that was available in that evil country and they died with corrupted hearts and in discontentment.  Believers today have been commanded to learn a lesson from them.  There is only one way to escape the desert and that is to prove the faithfulness of Christ in their lives so that they might follow him and be lead to the place of rest. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (Hen 5:11 NIV)

The desert cannot be left without a heart that is obedient to Christ and is content with his determination of its needs, the situations which would shape and form the believer’s heart and soul for eternity. “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:15 NIV)

The desert is a place of testing. Those who left Egypt except for two failed the test.  Their hearts were fixed on that place of slavery.  Like them, many of this generation will never leave it but will find their end in that dry, fruitless place, discontented and disillusioned.


Further reading: Today’s graphic image comes from an article What To Do When I Am Spiritually Dry? at the blog, The Reluctant Skeptic.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is in stores and available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

October 7, 2016

Pruning Time

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Donna Wood at the blog Food For the Journey. Click the title below to read this at source and then look around.

Pruning needed?

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. ~ John 15:2

Today, I gave Kailua a blessing because I wanted to and it seemed the right thing to do.  Also, because she is beautiful and she is teaching me a lesson.

hoyaKailua is a house plant – a Hoya (sometimes called a wax plant) – and that is what we usually called her (The Hoya is blooming…).  When we moved, we decided to give her a name so we named her after a city in Hawaii because we thought that was where she originated. Not so, but oh well.

Kailua was given to me 36 years ago by a friend when we came home from making our Cursillo.  It was a cutting from her plant and was in a teeny tiny pot.  The thing about Hoyas is that they like to be pot bound in order to bloom. It will usually take a couple of years before they do and they do not like to be moved around.  They like light as well.  If you mess with them, they just might not bloom at all.  They like to be grounded in one place and they don’t like changes.

We have moved several times in the 36 years.  Some places she loved, some she tolerated, and in a few she pouted in serious dislike.  I moved her to bigger pots twice bringing on the pouting, but she got over it.  So, before we moved into this new house she wasn’t doing well.  I decided she needed a new pot and a serious haircut on some straggly vines and on her root ball. I hoped she would come out of it someday and talk to me again.  I saved some cuttings, now named Junior, rooted them and put them in a new teeny, tiny pot just in case Kailua decided that this was all too much to deal with. Surprise of all surprises, she loves the whole thing – the haircuts, the new pot, the sunny window – and she is putting on new shiny leaves daily.  Junior is, too.

And so……what’s the lesson?  You might ask. You could have your own meditation regarding Kailua’s story if you set with it for a time but this is mine.

I am so like Kailua.  I like to be grounded in one spot.  Moving, along with other issues, has been stressful. I really don’t like change though I’m getting used to it. Many times my haircuts are hard to manage (Can you tell?). It takes me a while to settle in and let blooming begin. In the meantime, there may be weeping and pouting.

God does not worry about that for which I am grateful after a time.  He knows how beautiful we can become after pruning, cutting out our dead wood, much of which we don’t know we have, and put in a larger pot.  He, unlike me, can see a long way down the road to where he wants me to go, what he wants me to do, what tangled up root ball he wishes to dismantle and what beautiful gifts of abundant new leaves will be able to grow after the pruning.  If we allow it, he will begin that transformational process.  It is easier with our active consent.

These last 18 months have been a challenge.  They have been stressful and I’ve had to struggle to keep balance in my life.  I know God is working deep in me because I’ve had similar times before.  Not quite so many issues at once but very stressful times, anyway.  I’ve always, so far, come out the other side of these with more inner healing, more understanding of the workings of God in my life, more compassion and more love – sometimes a new ministry. I expect that will be the case this time as well.  Thanks for the object lesson, Kailua. I’m grateful.

Thank you, God.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

Image: Wikipedia

 

September 27, 2016

The Target: Perfect Obedience

James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

Today we pay a return visit to the blog Christians in Context, this time around the writer is J. Mark Fox. Click the title below to see other thoughts from the Epistle of James.

We grow according to our obedience

The late poet Archibald Rutledge told of meeting a man whose dog had just been killed. Heartbroken, the man explained to Rutledge how it happened. Because he worked outdoors, he often took his dog with him. That morning, he left the animal in a clearing and gave him a command to stay and watch his backpack that had his lunch in it, while he went into the forest. His faithful friend understood, for that’s exactly what he did. Then a fire started in the woods, and soon the blaze spread to the spot where the dog had been left. He stayed right where he was, in perfect obedience to his master’s word. With tears, the dog’s owner said, “I always had to be careful what I told him to do, because I knew he would do it.” That’s the kind of obedience that Jesus demonstrated to the Father. He went through the fires of suffering and death to accomplish God’s purpose, to win our pardon, pay for our sin and invite us into a relationship with Him. For His glory and for our great good, He also calls us into obedience to the Father’s will, no matter the cost.

In James’ powerfully practical book, he says the key to obedience to God is found in looking intently into the perfect law of liberty, God’s Word, and then doing what it says. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Why then do most of us struggle with this? James said a person who hears the Word and doesn’t do it is like a man who looks in a mirror and walks away, forgetting at once what he looks like. Most scholars believe the man forgets what he looks like not because he has short-term memory loss, but because he chooses to forget. He looks at himself in the mirror and sees the ravages of sin, the scars of lifestyle choices, the marks of laziness or lust, bitterness or gluttony. And he hurries away to the rest of his day, because he doesn’t even want to think of what changes he would have to make if he really took the image in the mirror seriously.

Isn’t that what Sunday morning can become, and has for many? We hear the Word and know that God is speaking to us, but as soon as the last amen is uttered we are out the door and on our way and whatever rumblings we were feeling in our soul during the sermon are gone. I have been in the movie theater, and so have you, where the credits are rolling and no one is moving. Everybody is sitting speechless, powerfully moved by what they have just seen and heard. There’s not a whisper in the place and if there is, it seems unholy. Everyone is stunned by what just happened, and no one wants to leave. That begs the question: when was the last time you responded to the Word like that? When was the last time you heard the message of truth from the Scripture and could not move from your seat until you had dealt with what God was speaking into your soul? Those times are much too rare, friends, but they don’t have to be. They increase at the same rate with which we take the truth of God’s Word for what it is.

Do you ever wonder why some Christians grow to maturity with rocket-like speed, and others seem to plod along in the same place for years? This is a key. We grow up in proportion to our obedience.

 

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