Christianity 201

August 13, 2019

The Flesh, The Flesh!

by Russell Young

Much of the Word deals with the flesh. Although its power for good is limited, it’s attraction to evil is great. To live in the flesh is to live according to its persuasions and interests. Those who honor its demands are appeasing a dying animal since life is in the spirit, not in the flesh which will go to the destruction of the grave.

The flesh is the greatest weakness of humanity. To accommodate its desires, people steal, live in sexual immorality, are pretentious, exhibit anger and hatred, and are enticed to lie, to cheat, and to take advantage of the weak. Paul calls it “the body of (that brings about) death,” (Rom 7:24)

The attractions of the flesh caused Adam and Eve to fall into sin according to the appeal of the forbidden fruit and the flesh is the sole cause of the ruination of those who live on this earth. John has written, “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:16) Those who have a worldly interest and a desire for its things, have fallen prey to the demands and temptations of the flesh and, from God’s perspective, are idolatrous (Col 3:5) and his love for them has departed. “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) God will not be mocked!

People interact with their surroundings through the senses of the flesh—taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight. The Lord taught that it was better to cut off a hand or a foot, or to pluck out an eye if they cause a person to sin than to go into hell. (Mk 5:43−47) Trying to appease the flesh, as tempted through the senses, produces sin. As understanding that pleasure can be derived through the senses develops, that knowledge feeds the soul and stimulates the mind and the natural spirit to submit to temptations and to seek the unlawful pleasures before them.

The flesh, if allowed to be gratified, will destroy the soul and with it a person’s hope of glory. The “evil inclination” of the thoughts of the human heart grieves God and pain his heart. (Gen 6:5−6) Because of this pain he has determined to eliminate humankind except for those who would, through the leading and power of the Spirit, be conformed to the likeness of his Son. The Lord taught, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (mt 13:41) Sin should remain an issue of concern.

Paul taught that salvation could not be gained by the works of the law because the law had been weakened by the sinful nature that plagued humankind. God’s righteous requirements had to be accomplished in another way if his creation was to be preserved.

God has provided an effective solution; the presence and help of the Holy Spirit. “[God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met by those who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3−4) Paul had agonized about his wretched state which his body produced and found that the solution to righteousness came through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17, 18)

The interests of the flesh have destroyed God’s creation. They have caused wars that pit nation against nation, and anger that destroys relationships among neighbors, acquaintances, and family members, but when the soul has been transformed and the perishable has become imperishable righteousness will reign forever bringing peace, love, and the absence of pain.

We have not been left without a caution. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet 5:8) Believers have been told to put on the full armour of God so that Satan might be defeated. (Eph 6:10−18) Where the flesh is weak and will bring about the confessor’s downfall, the Word and the Spirit provide all that is necessary to gain victory over the flesh and over Satan’s tactics to bring destruction through it. Faith in Christ, obedience to his leading, will allow the believer to overcome all that can be hurled at him or her.

Paul’s encouragement that “there is no condemnation for those in Christ,” (Rom 8:1) is often misrepresented. Freedom from condemnation applies to those “in Christ” and it is dependent on their willingness to live according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:4) Accordingly, Paul remained conscious of his need. He wrote, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor 9:27) While the flesh is weak, the Spirit is strong. Justification through the blood of Christ frees the believer from slavery to the law of sin by giving him or her the promised Spirit (Gal 3:14) who can provide victory over all that Satan can entice through the flesh. Victory is not a gift of the Spirit, however; the believer must live in obedience to him (Heb 5:9) and must choose to contend for victory. Be on guard! The flesh is your enemy when its interests prevail over the convictions of the Spirit. Believers have been called to “count” themselves dead to the flesh as pledged through baptism and they have been reminded to carry their cross so they can commit the body to death when it takes on life and its interests re-emerge.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first 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.

August 2, 2019

De-Mystifying Spiritual Warfare

Eph 6:12 For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.


“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.”  Luke 10:19

About a year ago we borrowed an item here from the the New Wineskins blog at Patheos by Josh Draffern, and yesterday I decided to see what he’s been writing lately, where I came across this article. I really felt this opened a frequently-discussed topic in a new way, and I hope you’ll agree. Click the title below to read this at source, and bookmark the site so you can make return visits.

What If You Could Take the Mystery Out of Spiritual Warfare?

What if you could take the mystery out of spiritual warfare? Growing up as a church kid, there were several Bible passages that continually fascinated me. Whenever the story of David and Goliath was told (1 Samuel 17), I would imagine that I was there in the crowd, watching history unfold. I loved imagining that like Peter I might have had enough faith to walk on water when Jesus gave the invitation (Matthew 14:22-33). Right up near the top was Paul’s picture of spiritual warfare and the description of the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18. The imagery of swords and shields was very compelling for a middle school boy, and the thought of fighting demons seemed like the real life version of all those fairytales I heard growing up where the hero slayed the dragon and saved the princess. For years, that’s where my understanding of spiritual warfare remained: medieval sword fights and imaginary battles with demons.

What if you could take the mystery out of spiritual warfare? When I finished high school and went off to a Christian college I continued to be interested in the topic of spiritual warfare and for the first time was exposed to books outside my narrow field of evangelical teaching. The good news was that there was a whole spectrum of teaching on spiritual warfare out there, especially from the pentecostal and charismatic stripe of Christianity, that claimed to know all sorts of fascinating information about spiritual warfare. The bad news was that too often these books left any semblance of biblical grounding behind and relied on supernatural revelations that changed from book to book. In the end, I was left with little I could trust and less I could understand.

What if you could take the mystery out of spiritual warfare? After college I spent two years overseas in Africa as a missionary through the International Mission Board, the missions agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. There in Africa I saw two distinct demonic manifestations happen with my first month of being there, moments that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. Finally, this seemed like what I had always expected spiritual warfare to be like! But as quickly as they appeared, they dissipated. No more demonic manifestations after that, nothing that fit the stereotypical episode of spiritual warfare. Just normal, mundane, everyday life. Could spiritual warfare exist if nothing extraordinary appeared to be happening?

What if you could take the mystery out of spiritual warfare? Once I came back to the United States and began working full-time in local churches as a youth pastor, I began to see the evidence of spiritual warfare all around me. Good Christian marriages were falling apart left and right, entirely preventable divorces were being filed, and kids were left with emotional scars from a broken childhood that would threaten to haunt them for generations. Good kids from good homes were making bad decisions that left life-long consequences. Division and strife riled through churches as the enemy seemingly went unchecked in our midst. Like a dull ache in the back of my head, I knew we were being defeated in spiritual warfare, but I didn’t know how to fight back. Should I purchase a sword and shield? Did I need to go demon hunting or go searching for territorial powers like the books I read in college suggested? Should I wait for an undeniable demonic manifestation and deal with it then? Even after decades following Jesus and reading the Bible, the mystery of spiritual warfare remained simply that: a mystery.

What if you could take the mystery out of spiritual warfare? As the years went by and I became a senior pastor of a local church, I had the opportunity to teach through the armor of God in Ephesians 6 on a number of occasions. In preparation for a message, trying to grasp the armor of God in a way that could help my congregation (and myself) better understand Paul’s teaching on spiritual warfare, I tried a different approach, one I ultimately believe was prompted by the Holy Spirit. Instead of focusing on the pieces of armor, as I had always done and as commentaries always did, I ignored the pieces of armor completely and simply focused on what was attached to the pieces of armor. That small shift changed everything.

When you think of a marriage, if you had to settle on one image or one event that best encapsulates a marriage it would most likely be the wedding day. A wedding is a beautifully scripted ceremony that visually captures and celebrates the love and commitment between a husband and wife. From the flowers and the cake to the wedding dress and corsages, the beauty and elegance of the wedding ceremony celebrates the finest of what a marriage should be. Yet no one would try and make the argument that the only way to properly be married is to dress up every day in your tuxedo or wedding dress and walk down a rose petal strewn church aisle. In fact, if someone made a routine of putting on their wedding dress or tux so they could be married that day, he or she would be missing the whole point. Marriage isn’t the tuxedo or wedding dress, those are merely symbols. It’s the love and commitment represented by the wedding ceremony that’s the key.

When Paul writes to first century Christians to instruct them on the basics of spiritual warfare, he gives them a metaphor to hold onto, a symbol. He describes spiritual warfare in terms that mirrored the physical warfare every reader would have been familiar with. Every first-century believer reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians would have been painfully aware of the power of the Roman soldier. And just as the Roman army conquered the known world of the time, Paul instructed early Christians on how to be just as victorious in the spiritual battles that raged around them. But the pieces of armor have always been a metaphor. It doesn’t make any more sense to think the key to spiritual warfare is putting on pieces of armor than to think that the key to a successful marriage is to wear your wedding dress or wedding tux every single day. The key isn’t the pieces of armor, but what’s attached to the pieces armor. Right there, hiding in plain sight, we discover the steps we need to begin to win the war in the spiritual.

 

This is an excerpt from (hopefully) an upcoming book to be published on spiritual warfare. [For meaningful conversations on this and all my other content, join my Facebook Group: Josh Daffern Digital]

 

June 8, 2019

Falling Prey to the Lies that Lead to Failure to Trust

Today we’re making a return visit with Ted Gosard who blogs at Jesus Community.

leaving (instead of living) the lie

Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.
You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death,
with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
and falsehood our hiding place.”

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.
I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line;
hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie,
and water will overflow your hiding place.
Your covenant with death will be annulled;
your agreement with the realm of the dead will not stand.
When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
you will be beaten down by it.
As often as it comes it will carry you away;
morning after morning, by day and by night,
it will sweep through.”

Isaiah 28:14-19

I think it’s far more common than we imagine, just how we live in lies. And I’m thinking of Christians, too. Specifically I’m thinking of myself, included. Part of what got me thinking this way were two posts quoting Dallas Willard who says it quite eloquently in the details spelled out in Scripture (here and here).

We live lies in a multitude of ways. Essentially living in the truth is “truth in Jesus” and an important aspect of that is living in the Father’s care, so that we’re free to seek his kingdom and righteousness, not encumbered with any of the cares common to humanity, or part of our culture. That is so much more easier said than done.

When one is weighed down, maybe nearly stricken with panic, that’s a sure sign one is not living in the Father’s provision, or as it’s been called, his providential care. We’re failing to trust in God, at least not to the extent needed. We need to take our hands off so to speak, but through prayer, find our way into that peace that frees us up to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

Patterns in our lives will have to be broken, and that can be hard. It will require effort by us, but an effort essentially to let go, and let God take over. We need to find his peace. Part of this is not just to be freed up to put first things first, but with the prior commitment to that.

As the text above tells us, life simply doesn’t work well when we make a lie our refuge. And God won’t let it work well for those who name his name, who profess faith in him.

This is something we need to strive to enter and remain, come what may. God has us, as we seek first of all to live in his care and love and will. Part and parcel of being followers of Jesus in and through him.

May 17, 2019

Don’t Allow it to Grow and Develop: Cut it Down

NIV.John.8.34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.


NLT.Heb.10.26 Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. 27 There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies. 28 For anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to us. 30 For we know the one who said,

“I will take revenge.
    I will pay them back.”

He also said,

“The Lord will judge his own people.”


NLT.Rom.6.1. Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?

We’re back once again with pastor and counselor Josh Ketchum who writes at Life in the Kingdom. Click the header below to read at source. (Scriptures cited in today’s reading are quoted above.)

Letting Trees Grow

I have one small tree that grows on my pond bank. I have cut it down before, but because the roots are still there it comes back and grows quickly. It doesn’t really bother me that it is growing. It is not in a place where the roots will damage the pond and I have just let it grow. I know I have a chain saw! In fact, I let numerous undesirable trees and branches grow on my farm.

I don’t look at those trees and worry about how I am going to get rid of them, which was a former concern of mine. If I had access to a saw, I would vigorously cut any tree or branch I thought I may ever want down. But now, I am empowered because of my saw. I brazenly say to the tree, “Grow if you want, I can cut you down whenever I am good and ready!”

My little power trip may sound silly to you. But I bet you have something that is similar. Some issue you used to feel pressure to deal with, but now because you can easily handle it you just let it go for now.

I think we often do the same thing in our lives with sin. We know, it should be cut down. We know, we shouldn’t allow it to continue to grow and develop. It is undesirable and isn’t going to produce anything good in our lives, but we feel empowered. We feel like we are in control. We can handle it! So we let it grow, thinking we can whip out a chainsaw and wack it down anytime we want.

Unfortunately sin doesn’t work that way. There are some real dangers and problems with letting sin just grow and hang around in your life.

First, it will deceive you. You don’t really really have control over sin, you are really a slave to it (John 8:34). If you don’t cut it down when it is small, it will grow and overtake you so that you will have great difficulty cutting it down.

Second, even though sin can always be cut out by the power of Christ, it will forever leave a stump. It will leave a permanent scar in your life. It leaves shame, regret, and consequences.

Third, if you know the tree is sin and you are letting it grow in your life, then you are insulting the grace of God (Heb. 10:26-30). The blood of Christ is not a chainsaw to be left in our garage and pulled out when we need it to forgive our sins. God forbid! (Rom. 6:1-2). Christians should hate sin! When we know of sin in our lives, we should want to get it out of our lives as quickly as possible.

Do you have some trees growing in your life that you are neglecting to cut down? Are you thinking you don’t really have to quit those sins, because anytime you want you can turn to Jesus for forgiveness? Don’t be foolish! Repent today.

May 13, 2019

Signs and Wonders: A Note of Caution

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder,  and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,”you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you. – Deuteronomy 13:1-5 NIV

I was really struck by this passage last week listening to a podcast.

So how could this happen?

What follows is from Matthew Henry. I’ve modernized the text in some places, and items in square brackets and lighter typeface are added by myself.

A Strange Premise

How is it possible that any who had so much knowledge of the methods of divine revelation as to be able to impersonate a prophet should yet have so little knowledge of the divine nature and will as to go himself and entice his neighbours after other gods? Could an Israelite ever be guilty of such impiety? Could a man of sense ever be guilty of such absurdity?

We see it in our own day, and therefore may think it the less strange; multitudes that profess both learning and religion yet exciting both themselves and others, not only to worship God by images, but to give divine honor to saints and angels, which is no better than going after other gods to serve them; such is the power of strong delusions.

It is yet more strange that the sign or wonder given for the confirmation of this false doctrine should come to pass. [i.e. that the prayer is answered, or the miracle takes place.] Can it be thought that God himself should give any countenance to such a vile proceeding? Did ever a false prophet work a true miracle?

It is only supposed here for two reasons:

1. To strengthen [could he mean exaggerate?] the warning here given against following such a person. “Though it were possible that he should work a true miracle, yet you must not believe him if he tell you that you must serve other gods, for the divine law against that is certainly perpetual and unalterable.’’ The supposition is like that in Gal. 1:8 , If we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you —which does not prove it possible that an angel should preach another gospel, but strongly expresses the certainty and perpetuity of that which we have received.

 2. It is to fortify them against the danger of impostures and lying wonders (2 Th. 2:9 ): “Suppose the credentials he produces be so artfully counterfeited that you cannot discern the cheat, nor disprove them, yet, if they are intended to draw you to the service of other gods, that alone is sufficient to disprove them; no evidence can be admitted against so clear a truth as that of the unity of the Godhead, and so plain a law as that of worshipping the one only living and true God.’’ We cannot suppose that the God of truth should set his seal of miracles to a lie, to so gross a lie as is supposed in that temptation, Let us go after other gods.

But if it be asked [and it must be asked]: Why is this false prophet permitted to counterfeit this sign/wonder? [why did the miracle work?] then it is answered here (v. 3): The Lord you God is testing you. He allows you to be faced by such a temptation to test the quality of  your faith, that both those that are perfect and those that are false and corrupt may be made made obvious. It is to test [and shape] you; therefore see that you pass the test, and stand your ground.’’

A Necessary Warning

1. Not to yield to the temptation: you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer.

Not only must you not do the thing he [or she] tempts you to, but you should not so much as patiently hear the temptation, but reject it with the utmost disdain and detestation. [i.e. walk away before they are finished talking!] Such a suggestion as this is not open to negotiation, but you should cover your ears! “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Some temptations are so grossly vile that they will not bear a debate, nor may we so much as give them the hearing. What follows (v. 4),

Some temptations are so grossly vile that a discussion isn’t necessary, nor may we so much as give them the time of day. What follows (v. 4), You shall walk after the Lord, may be looked upon,

(a) As prescribing a preservative from the temptation: “Stay focused on your work [sacred and secular], and you keep out of harm’s way. God never leaves us till we leave him.’’ Or,

(b) As providing us with answer to the temptation; by responding, “It is written, Thou shalt walk after the Lord, and cleave unto him; and therefore what have I to do with idols?’’

2. Not to spare the tempter, v. 5. That prophet shall be put to death, both to punish him for the attempt he has made (the seducer must die, though none were seduced by him—a design upon the crown is treason) and to prevent them from doing further mischief. This is called putting away the evil. There is no way of removing the guilt but by removing the guilty; if such a criminal be not punished, those that should punish him make themselves responsible. And you must purge the evil from among you [KJV: “mischief must be put away”] the infection must be kept from spreading by cutting off the gangrened limb, and putting away the mischief-makers. Such dangerous diseases as these must be taken in time.


Matthew Henry as sourced at BibleStudyTools.com

March 6, 2019

The Power Against Us vs. The Power Within Us

Today again we’re back with the writing of Don Merritt at The Life Project. He’s currently in the middle of a study of 1 John.

A Warning and a Helper

Text: 1 John 2:18-27

So far in this letter, John has given us a reminder of the supremacy of Jesus Christ; who He is, what He is and His nature. John gave us a comparison and contrast of what the “Light” is, and who is and who is not “in the light.” Then John reminded us of who we are in Christ and how amazing that is.  In the previous section, John warns us not to love this world, and now John is taking us to the front lines on a battlefield, where it becomes plain why he has taken us on this journey to show us just who we are, and just who “they” are.

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

1 John 2:18-19

This is the first mention of the term “antichrist” in the Bible. It means someone who is against or in place of the Messiah.  In these verses, John mentions twice that we are in the “last hour,” which is interesting when you consider that many will suggest today that there are more hours to come.  Whoever these antichrists were, or are, they appear to have been hanging around us, and then to have gone rogue. If nothing else, in these two verses, we can be sure that these rogues were hanging around, but they were never “in the light.”  Recall the descriptions of “in the light” and “in the darkness” in vv. 1:5-2:11… These characters were the ones in darkness.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

1 John 2:20-23

Now we have a little more information: The rogues John is talking about deny that Jesus is the Messiah.  That is a bald-faced lie, and those who are in the truth would never make such an assertion, so these guys were not in the light. No person who denies that Jesus is the Messiah is in the Son, and if a person is not in the Son, they are also not in the Father:  They are antichrist, and there are many of those in the world.

As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

1 John 2:24-25

These two verses are the warming: Make sure that you hang on to what you know about Jesus Christ.  If you do, you will remain in Him and inherit eternal life. Do not listen to the rogues. By the way, this is why I said above that John has taken us to the front lines on a battlefield.  It is a spiritual battlefield in a spiritual war, where the antichrists in our midst will attempt to pry you away from the Truth.  Resist, and do not listen to their lies:

 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

1 John 2:26-27

John invokes the anointing of the indwelling Holy Spirit in urging us to remain in Christ in these verses.  Consider this: Here is a warning that there are those who try to lead us astray, to turn our backs on our Lord.  They are fighting against us in a spiritual war, and this can sound really scary.  Oh it’s great in the movies, when their innocent victims are lured into evil by magical powers, having no way to resist.  Take heart! John is pointing out to you and me that we have within us, at our disposal greater firepower by tenfold!  He is the very Holy Spirit of God, the third Person of the Godhead; if we are focused on our relationship with our Lord, and we take these “battles” to Him, there isn’t even a contest, for “greater is He who is in me, than he who is in the world.”

One final thought and that’ll be it for now… You know all those stories and books and movies about evil forces that lead the righteous astray?  “The Exorcist” “The Omen” etc., etc…? They really freak people out, which is why they make so much money, right?  People become afraid, and being afraid becomes a distraction for some.  At the same time, you have in these verses a very simple way to discern who the liars and antichrists are; a third grader can understand it.  You also have a solution to defeat the lie that a third grader can understand: stand on the truth of the Word of God, and reject outright the lie.

As simple as this is, many will become so uncomfortable because of the stories and the idea of spiritual warfare, that it almost makes me wonder if these stories of myth, legend and popular fiction are actually part of the lie itself, so that we won’t fight back, and our superior firepower will never be brought to bear on our foe.  Hmmm… do you think we need to have a healthy relationship with the Lord?

I do!

 

January 16, 2019

Five Practices Needed to Ward Off Lack of Faith

The major takeaway I took from today’s devotional is that spiritual warfare is not always an external battle; it may begin with an inner fight.

Today we’re paying a return visit to the devotional page at Daily Paradigm Shift. We visit these blogs either annually or every six months in the hope that at some of them you’ll see writing which resonates and want to bookmark or subscribe to their sites.

Today’s writer is Brian Maisch.

5 Tactics for Fighting Unbelief

It could be argued that the greatest enemy in our spiritual walk is unbelief. Someone might say, “No, it’s Satan.” However, as one of my favorite Christian teachers likes to say, “The bible doesn’t say, ‘pick up your cross, deny the devil, and follow Jesus.’ It says, ‘Deny yourself, and follow Jesus‘ (Matthew 16:24 NIV emphasis added.)

In Mark Chapter 9, Jesus’ disciples are unable to cast a demon out of a boy. Then Jesus shows up on the scene and is able to cast it out. When they get alone with Jesus, the disciples ask Him why they couldn’t cast out the demon, and Jesus tells them that it is because of their unbelief. Jesus’ exact answer to the disciples is, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 NIV).

Related Post: 4 Ways to Remain Grounded and Steadfast in Your Faith

Brothers and sisters, we live under an open heaven! Satan has already been defeated. Jesus has given us the authority in the heavenly realms to unlock any door that needs to be unlocked in order to carry out His will on this earth. Matthew 18:18 NIV says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The only battle left to fight is the one we fight with ourselves to dispel unbelief and to trust God!

If the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in us, then there is absolutely nothing the enemy can put in front of us that is more powerful than that Spirit. It’s not even a competition! Therefore, the enemy’s main tactic is to get us to doubt. He is constantly trying to instill unbelief, while the Holy Spirit is constantly working to instill faith. The enemy’s main tactic is to twist the truth in such a way that we begin believing things that are incorrect about God and incorrect about ourselves. Sometimes it seems like the enemy’s main weapon is the Bible itself! He twists and distorts scripture to confuse people and keep their lives from bearing fruit for the Kingdom.

So how do we practically fight? I wanted to provide a quick list of things that have helped me experience victories in fighting unbelief:

#1. Spending intimate and meaningful time in the presence of God.

Spending intimate and meaningful time in the presence of God is the most important activity in our lives. It helps us to establish a relationship with our creator. It is where we learn His nature, His voice, His touch and His will. This is how we practically allow Jesus to teach us and guide us in every step of our lives.

#2. Reading God’s word.

Maybe it would be better to say falling in love with God’s word. This goes right along with the first point. God’s word brings clarity and insight into the things that God is saying to us. It shows us God’s nature, and helps us to understand His will.

#3. Guarding our hearts and minds.

The enemy has set up the world system to fight for our affection. It will constantly try to turn us away from Jesus, and towards our own selfish desires. Therefore, we have to draw lines in the sand. We have to protect ourselves from destructive mindsets and behaviors. Part of that process is controlling what we allow into our minds. Over the years, I have had to stop watching certain television shows that I knew were destructive, distance myself from certain friends who were pulling me in the wrong direction, and surround myself with people who would hold me accountable in my areas of struggle.

#4. Hanging around people with outrageous faith.

Bill Johnson, senior pastor of Bethel Church, always says, “If you want to slay giants, then hang around a giant slayer.” We all need people in our lives who stretch our faith and compel us to deeper levels of reality in the Kingdom!

#5. Fasting.

There have been so many times where I could feel the snares of the world getting a hold of me and smothering the faith in my life. Declaring a fast is a way to draw a strict line in the sand, and to separate ourselves from the worldly things that have become louder than heavenly things. Whether it is food, social media, television, or all the above, fasting is great way to unplug from the world and get plugged back into God.

These are just a few tools that have helped me in my journey. The bible provides many weapons for fighting unbelief. No matter what weapon you choose, the most important thing is engaging in the fight! Instead of rolling over and giving in to yourself, make the choice to proactively fight to dispel unbelief!

December 15, 2018

The Garment of Praise

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Almost exactly a year ago we introduced you to homeschool curriculum writer Anne Elliott . At that time we had discovered a much older article by her, and decided this time around to feature something more recent. Click the title below to read on her site, and then navigate from there to check out other articles.

The Garment of Praise for the Spirit of Heaviness

Sometimes we start to feel very sad. Circumstances seem overwhelming, and promises from God take too long to come to pass. Tears flow when we don’t want them to. We lose our desire to work, to eat, to be with our loved ones. We just want to crawl into bed. The Bible calls this a spirit of heaviness.

“To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3, NKJV).

Other times we start to feel very hurt. People accuse us of things we didn’t do. Our hearts feel bruised, and we react in anger when our thoughts merely turn to the words said. We struggle to be with them, and to restrain unkind words, and our faces turn red with passion when they aren’t even in the room. The Bible calls this a spirit of bitterness.

“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 7:11, NKJV).

Other times we feel paralyzed with worry. We know God loves us and has done good for us in the past, but this time feels different. The giants look bigger, and we feel deserted. Our hearts pound, our stomachs hurt, our eyes widen. We can’t think of anything else. The Bible calls this a spirit of fear.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV).

As the Scripture clearly says, these spirits do not come from God! I’ve been pondering this. How do thoughts like these ever enter our minds, causing emotions and reactions in my body, when they do not come from God? They originate from the deceiver, who plants them in our hearts and minds.

“And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him…” (John 13:2, NKJV).

So let me give you a picture of something I’ve been pondering. My husband has been teaching about how the Spirit of God has been given to us as a down payment and a guarantee of the promises to come, especially of the resurrection.

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

“Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:5, NKJV).

The Spirit of God sets up His residence within our hearts, so that His presence can go before us, giving us strength, guarding us, empowering us, and leading us each day.

This reminds me of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. They received the covenant at Sinai, but shortly after, they sinned terribly by building the golden calf. Shortly after, YHVH told them that He would send a messenger before them to lead them to the Promised Land, but that His own presence could not go with them because they were stiff-necked and He would destroy them (Exodus 33). Moses interceded on their behalf, and YHVH relented.

“Then Moses said to [YHVH], ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’

“And YHVH said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name’” (Exodus 33:15-17).

Right after this, YHVH gave the plans for a Tabernacle to Moses, along with all the regulations for the worship of YHVH in the Tabernacle. The basic premise was that YHVH would dwell in the midst of His people, but they would need to be very clean in order for Him to remain there. Any uncleanness would separate them from His presence.

In the same way, the Spirit of God wants to dwell in our hearts and minds, but if His presence is to guide us, we have to get rid of any uncleanness.

We have to cast out the spirits of heaviness, bitterness, and fear.

It makes so much sense, then, why the Enemy wishes to attack us in our minds. If he can plant anxiety and anger and panic — and if we allow him to do this — then we will not be guided by the presence of God!

If we wish to hear His voice, then we have to cast out the voice of the Enemy.

If we wish to be distinguished from all the other people on the face of the earth, we must stop listening to their advice and counsel, heeding only the voice of the Presence of God.

If we wish to please Him, we must keep the outer courts of our hearts clean.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Faith is an action. Here are some actions we can take when we identify that the thoughts in our minds are not from God:

  • To cast out the spirit of heaviness, we must gird ourselves with a garment of praise.
  • To cast out the spirit of bitterness, we must bless others and not curse.
  • To cast out the spirit of fear, we must remember what God has done for us in the past, and how He has shown Himself strong on our behalf.

For myself, these things are easier when I set up some simple disciplines for my life. Just as the Tabernacle was to be maintained daily, always staying clean, we must maintain our hearts daily. It’s not enough to just passively wait for the Enemy to arrive.

  • Start the Day with Scripture. Write down some key verses, then speak those verses all day long. The Word is truth, and when we speak it, the angels of God do His bidding and both guard our “tabernacles” and go before us to destroy the enemy.

“So is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

“Praise YHVH, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word” (Psalm 103:20).

  • Pray in the Spirit. As we come into His presence with our requests and petitions, reminding Him of His promises by praying the very Scriptures themselves, then our own faith is built up and renewed.

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

  • Sing and Praise. This is one of the hardest points for me, even though I love to sing. My flesh tends toward grumbling and complaining, and I often tend to focus on my problems rather than all the ways in which He has delivered me. It seems that I have to trick my body by singing aloud with a smile, with my foot tapping and even with dancing. If I am with other believers (even my kids or husband), then it can be easier.

“I will greatly praise YHVH with my mouth;
Yes, I will praise Him among the multitude.
For He shall stand at the right hand of the poor,
To save him from those who condemn him” (Psalm 109:30-31).

  • Bless and Not Curse. Our Master Yeshua told us to bless others, especially when they try to harm us. This breeds a spirit of forgiveness, of understanding, of empathy. My desire to see harm come upon others is replaced with genuine concern for their well-being. The key is to remember that our true enemy is Satan himself, never another person created by God.

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

  • Give Thanks. This discipline is something that needs to be done all day long, so that we can stay in a place of rejoicing. Boy, this one really takes discipline, doesn’t it? However, like all exercise, the more we do it, the easier it becomes.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Messiah Yeshua for you. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19).

Our adversary will certainly try to plant thoughts of evil in our hearts, but with these strategies, we can cast him out and instead see the fruit of living in communion with God Himself, His Spirit guiding us and empowering us.

“You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

 

November 5, 2018

Seeking the Kingdom When It’s Convenient

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back with Mark DuPré who is an associate pastor, a film professor, a writer and a musician. He lives in Rochester, NY.

How He Gives Us What We Need

Luke 12:29-32 “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

A good deal of the 12th chapter of Luke deals with the foolishness of pursuing riches before all else, and is an encouragement to us that God knows what we need and will supply. We all need to get it down deep in our hearts that “your Father knows that you need these things.”

Yet there is a different perspective we are to take to those things that we need. The Lord doesn’t say, “Seek after these things and I will make sure they shall be added to you.” The Word says “But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” That’s a whole different emphasis. Phrased different, God promises to meet our needs as we put Him first. That’s the order: Him first, then our needs are met.

Many of us serve God in our spare time, in effect seeking the kingdom when it’s convenient. What is locked down for many of us are a solid job and a “good life,” and then in that context, we serve Him as time and energy allow. But that is not how He promises to provide. He promises to provide as we put His kingdom first. Yes, that takes faith, and it doesn’t look like anything the world has ever known or modeled for us. God is gracious and full of blessing, and “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). He may have allowed you many a material blessing, but that doesn’t mean that you are putting His kingdom first.

What often gets lost here in our fear of letting go and seeking His kingdom first is the promise of v. 32: “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Unlike in the world, where we often have to swim upstream, fighting the “sharks” and burning the midnight oil to get ahead, God shows us His heart: He not only is willing to give us the kingdom, it is His good pleasure. He’s not only inclined to give us the kingdom; it brings Him joy to do so.

It can be greatly challenging to live a life of faith, where we put His kingdom first and believe that He knows our needs and will supply them. But some of the pain we encounter in trying to live this way is from not fully believing that He wants to give us His kingdom. We sometimes think that He is like the world, and that we have to strive against great odds for spiritual success, as we often have to do for success in the kingdom of this world.

We will always face spiritual warfare as we seek to put His kingdom first. But may we never forget that He has promised us victory in Christ. And before, during and after any struggle, it is always His good pleasure to give us the kingdom. As we keep putting His kingdom first, we come to see how very much He wants to give it to us.

Prayer: Father, help me to see this principle of Your kingdom more clearly than I ever have. Help me to make the spiritual leap to putting Your kingdom first and trusting You for the rest. Give me eyes to see how You give me Your kingdom.


If you enjoyed this article, check out another by Mark, Can You Hear Me Now?


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October 12, 2018

The Enemy Wants to Destroy You From Within

Lori Thomason at Pure Devotion is being highlighted here today for the 4th time.  Click here to read her story.

Lori lives in Tallahassee, Florida; a state which has been on the top of the news reports this week in view of the weather. What appears below is quite timely. Click the title below to read at source.

Storm Within

Matthew 7:24-25 (MSG) “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

A week ago, my dad was talking about hurricane preparation and my mom scoffed it off that “hurricane season is over.” I remember thinking “oh boy, here we go” though I am not very superstitious and choose to call it caution. Sure enough, just like that, a hurricane is bearing down on us. The storm developed quickly and is now in the Gulf of Mexico headed straight for us. The community is chaos. Businesses shutting down. People evacuating. Gas pumps running dry. Store shelves emptied. Frantic pleas for fuel, food and water goes on social media for those unable to beat the stampede. It would be easy to get overtaken by the fear and anxiety of it all.

Preparing for evacuation this morning, I am thankful. Yes, thankful. The Lord has blessed us with a beautiful home and more material things that I could ever have imagined I would own. I have a closet and drawers overflowing with clothing and a thrift store bag that hasn’t made it there yet. The refrigerator is full of food minus the expired things that needed to go anyway. The pantry has plenty of non-perishable items. I even found the hurricane things I ordered last year that arrived two days after the storm. Plenty of water and batteries on hand yet I didn’t step foot in a grocery or discount superstore in the last 24 hours. I am grateful to God for the nice house that collects all these things. I appreciate His Goodness that is clearly evident as I take pictures for the insurance company in case of loss. I will load my family into a very nice, gas-filled vehicle and head to the safety of my parent’s home while my husband stays here with our pets. He also has many options should he need to find higher ground. Why? Because friends, we built our life on the rock.

Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

Where do you live today? Brothers and sisters in California have been fighting wildfires. To the north of us, the Carolinas are still overcoming the devastation of the last hurricane that made landfall. Rain caused tremendous flooding in the area. The enemy wants panic to ensure and chaos to break out. He want people to turn against each other fighting over cases of water that is already free-flowing from their sink. The enemy wants to destroy you from the inside out with fear, worry, anxiety and stress. It all eats away at faith that is the foundation of our life as believers. He wants us to stop being kind, loving, gracious and good to one another and instead become those we strive to reach and change every other day with His Love and Light. Lord, please calm the storm within even if it must still rage all around.

Psalm18:31-36 (MSG) Is there any god like God? Are we not at bedrock? Is not this the God who armed me, then aimed me in the right direction? Now I run like a deer; I’m king of the mountain. He shows me how to fight; I can bend a bronze bow! You protect me with salvation-armor; you hold me up with a firm hand, caress me with your gentle ways. You cleared the ground under me so my footing was firm.

Oh, I get it my friend, the storm is definitely raging in my life. Today it is external but internally I have perfect peace. Everything I have was provided by God and every blessing has His Name on it. If the storm wipes out our home and all the material things that have been accumulated – the crazy thing is that the best is yet to come. God cannot do miracles without impossibles. He can’t pour out His Goodness on those with no place to receive it. Sometimes God uses natural catastrophes to get the attention of His People so they will return to the Rock and experience the greatness of His Kingdom. So let the storm rage around you, but be sure to stand firm on the bedrock of faith laid by Jesus. He will be your Peace. He controls the natural and supernatural occurrences of your life when you yoke everything to Him. Whether tomorrow I wake to devastation or the peace after the storm – I will not be moved. The Lord is my rock and my foundation. I have nothing to fear.

Matthew 8:23-27 (MSG) Then he got in the boat, his disciples with him. The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat—and he was sound asleep! They roused him, pleading, “Master, save us! We’re going down!” Jesus reprimanded them. “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: “Silence!” The sea became smooth as glass. The men rubbed their eyes, astonished. “What’s going on here? Wind and sea come to heel at his command!”

October 11, 2018

The Road of Thanksgiving (Leads Through Enemy Territory)

by Clarke Dixon  [returning to a study in the book of Esther where we left off a few weeks ago.]
What happened to our “happily ever after”? Jesus came to rescue the world, yet it still seems to need a rescue. You came to Jesus for salvation, yet life still feels messy. At the end of chapter 7 in the Book of Esther, we may have expected a “happily ever after” summary. Haman’s evils plots have been exposed, Haman himself hanged, and we expect  God’s people should now be able to live happily ever after. Indeed there is great celebration:

For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor. 17 In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday. Esther 8:16-17

While thanksgiving is not specifically mentioned, it could hardly be missing from the celebrations.

However, the story is not done. There are battles ahead. There will still be fighting, there will still be violence:

The king’s secretaries were summoned at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day; and an edict was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded, to the Jews and to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces from India to Ethiopia,  . . . . By these letters the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to assemble and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, with their children and women, and to plunder their goods on a single day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. Esther 8:9-12

Bible scholars point out that chapter 8 reflects chapter 3, even using the same language in parts, to demonstrate a great reversal. There is the giving of a ring (3:10; 8:2), the summoning of secretaries (3:12; 8:9), the writing and sealing of letters (3:12; 8:10), the instruction to kill people including women and children (3:13; 8:11), the publishing of a decree (3:14; 8:13), the speed of couriers (3:15; 8:14), the response of the city of Susa (3:15; 8:15), and the clothing of Mordecai (4:1; 8:15).

With a wonderful reversal, there is much for God’s people to be thankful for. However, this is no “happily ever after”. The road ahead would not be easy. The former edict to wipe the Jews out could not be simply undone. That is not how things were done in Persia. As foolish as it seems, what the king writes is final. Instead, a new edict was provided to allow the Jews to assemble an army together, to give them the right to defend themselves. Their road of thanksgiving would lead through enemy territory.

As Christians we celebrate a great reversal, we have the greatest reasons for celebration and thanksgiving. Instead of heading toward death, we are headed toward eternal life. We celebrate God’s grace. But like God’s people in Esther’s day, the road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory. In Esther’s day God’s people were not simply removed from the Persian empire with all its quirks. The Christian today is not simply removed from a broken world with all its troubles. There is great thanksgiving, but the road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory.

The teaching of the New Testament encourages us to be ready for this road.

Jesus teaches us to rejoice in the midst of trouble:

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12

Jesus teaches us to pray for deliverance:

And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13

Paul teaches us to put on the full armour of God:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:10-17

James tells us that the devil will be tempting and inviting us:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. . . James 4:7-8

Peter tells us that troubles will come:

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7

Peter further tells us that we the devil will come at us:

6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:6-11

Anyone who tells you that God will lift you out of all troubles when you follow Jesus is being selective in their reading of the Bible. The road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory. Expect trouble. Prepare for it.

There was great celebration for God’s people in the Book of Esther, they knew all would be well, it was a time for thanksgiving. But it was also time to prepare for battle. In Christ we have a great salvation to celebrate, all shall be well, it is a time for thanksgiving. But it is not a time to let our guard down. It is time to prepare for battle, to prepare for the road that leads through enemy territory. The road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory, but God leads us through it.

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Read Clarke Dixon’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

October 6, 2018

What Comes Out of Your Heart?

For the third time, we’re highlighting the writing of the man with the unusual name, Smith Wigglesworth, a Pentecostal evangelist who died in 1947. In 2013, we did an entry on him in our quotations series which you can find at this link. The following is the April 14 entry in Smith Wigglesworth Devotional (Whitaker House).

What Is In Your Heart?

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.
(Matthew 12:35 NLT)

Scripture reading: Matthew 12:25-45 (click here for NIV passage)

God’s mercy never fails. When Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, he set his face to go to the cross for you and me. When He came down from the mountain, there was a man there who had a son whom the Devil had taken and thrown down and bruised. The man cried out, saying, “Lord come and help me. Here is my son; the Devil takes him and tears at him until he foams at the mouth. I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not help him.” (See Mark 9:17-18.)

May God strengthen our hands and take away all our unbelief. Jesus said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you?…Bring him to Me(v. 19), and they brought him to Jesus, who cast out the evil spirit. But even in the presence of Jesus, those evil spirits tore the boy and left him as one dead until Christ lifted him up. (See verses 20-27.)

Just think of that satanic power. The Devil goes about to kill, “seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8), but Christ said, “I came to give life, and life more abundantly” (John 10:10). May God keep us in the place where the Devil will have no power and no victory. I pray God that the demon powers that come out of people in today’s churches will never return again.

Oh, if I could only show you what it means to be delivered by the power of Jesus and what it means to lose your deliverance through your own foolishness! I know of a case like this. A man possessed by demonic power and sickness and weakness came to Jesus, and He cast the evil spirit out. The man was made whole. Then, instead of the man seeking the Holy Spirit and the light of God, he afterward went to the races. God save us! The healing power is for the glory of God, and it appears that this man was like the teaching that Jesus gave in Matthew 12. His house was “empty, swept, and put in order” (Matt. 12:44), but he did not receive Christ and the power of the Spirit. So the evil spirit went back and found he could gain an entrance again because the man had no other inhabitant in him. He took with him other evil spirits, and the man’s case was worse than before. (See verses 43-45.)

We must make sure that the power of God comes to inhabit us. Are you willing to so surrender yourself to God today that Satan will have no dominion over you?

► Thought for today: If you want to be healed by the power of God, it means that your life has to be filled with God.



Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian sources. 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. 

September 8, 2018

Don’t Even Think About It

A few years ago I was speaking with someone who was heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects. Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, but it turned out to be something I found challenging and want to share here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage. That got me thinking. Instead of “Thou shalt nots” it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

Feel free to refine what I’ve written, or take the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Before we conclude, another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5. These are in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

This translation also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus

August 15, 2018

His Words or His Works?

Jenny writes at Covered in His Dust. This is her first time showcased here at C201, and there are a number of other great posts on her site. This one appeared in February; click the title below to read it there.

What I learned from an unclean spirit

I started a study through the book of Mark a little over a week ago.  In true form, I’m only three days in, but they’ve been a good three days.  It’s interesting what things stand out when you read scripture slowly and really sink your teeth in.

In Mark chapter 1, starting in verse 21, it says Jesus went to Capernaum and started teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath.

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

~ Mar 1:21-22 NIV

Evidently these people had never heard anyone teach like Jesus before.  There was something different about Him.  He taught with authority and it was enough to make the people take pause.

But the enemy wasn’t having it.  Immediately following this verse, there’s a distraction.

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”

~ Mar 1:23-24 NIV

Jesus is right in the middle of teaching and the people are finding themselves being drawn to Him and boom…the enemy sends an interruption.  But here’s a couple of things I thought were interesting about this scene.

First, I wonder how long this guy with the unclean spirit had been hanging around the synagogue.  Like, who was he? And what was his influence on the people around him before now?  Did they know already that he was possessed or was it only in the presence of Jesus that he was forced to reveal himself?

Either way, I think it’s worth noting here how important it is that we stay connected to Christ and in constant fellowship with Him.  That we stay in the scriptures.  That we stay aware of what’s going on around us.  That we are in the habit of renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).  Because Satan is sneaky.  Who knows where he’s hanging around or how long he’s been there?  And if we are counting on our own eyes to see his schemes, we’re in trouble.

Second, it’s interesting how this unclean spirit decided to out himself.  There’s Jesus teaching like nobody ever and all of a sudden there’s this guy crying out and detracting from the moment, but he’s doing it by addressing Jesus as the Holy One of God.  It would seem like this demon is working against the enemy by confirming Jesus’ identity.  And while that might be a little true, the fact is that even sometimes things we think are God things can be distractions from the main thing.

Jesus wasn’t having any nonsense and immediately cast the demon out, but then in the next verse it says,

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”

~ Mar 1:27 NIV

Only a couple of verses before, the people were astonished by Jesus’ teaching.  They were listening to the Son of God talking about His father and they were enthralled.  Now it says they were amazed by His authority over demons and immediately His fame spread throughout the region.  I can’t help but wonder what spread the most from that occasion?  His words or His works?  Is it possible that the enemy thought that using a miracle would take the focus off what Jesus was teaching?  That people would be more interested in what Jesus could do for them than what He had to say to them?  Sorta like, fix their bodies, but stay away from their hearts?  Because the heart change was really the point, right?

Sometimes even things that seem good or right might not be best.  Sometimes the things we do for God can start to overshadow our walk with God.  Like it starts to be more about the doing than the being.  It’s like something Noelle said the Pursue the Passion conference this past weekend.

Walking with God is far better than walking for Him. 

It might seem like semantics, but think of it like this.  If I’m walking beside someone, conversation is easier.  Eye contact is easier.  But following along behind or getting ahead  can break the connection.  It’s easy to miss part of the conversation or even the direction the other person is going.

It’s not to say that doing God’s work is a bad thing.  But when our relationship with God gets off track because we’re fixed on this thing or that thing, God’s work really isn’t God’s work anymore.  Now it’s our work.  And I’ve come to realize more and more that if I’m going to stay in line with God’s will for me, then I’m going to have to stay in line with Him.

God, help me keep my focus.  When my eyes wander to great and mighty things instead of the Great and Almighty God, draw me back.

July 24, 2018

Strengthening Our Minds

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to the Canadian devotional blog, Partners in Hope Today.

I Will Strengthen My Mind

Just for today I will strengthen my mind. I will take a few minutes to read and meditate on God’s word, seeking God’s perspective for my life today. I will take note of one helpful thing God is saying to me and seek to behave accordingly.

There are many ways we can interact with God’s word on a regular basis. Most individuals in recovery start their day early with a bit of quiet time and read a selection from the Bible, from the Big Book, or from a meditation book – often a combination. It doesn’t matter if the words are from a traditional book or from an app on our smart phone, these truths can help us focus on a positive agenda for the day.

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me …Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9 NLT)

Our minds have long been patterned on the negative and the self-centered. By starting the day with a desire to hear from God we give ourselves fresh eyes with which to see and understand life in us and around us. God has plans for us to have a meaningful day and have a positive influence on every person and situation we encounter. We read God’s Word to get to know God and to know these good plans. Spending time with God also helps us learn His principles for life and relationship and understand how He acts on our behalf.

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.”

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

Real change happens for us when we don’t just get to know God’s will but actually put it into practice. Each time we read God’s Word it’s important to ask Him to show us what He wants us to know and what He wants us to do with what He is teaching us.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank you for taking time to meet with me today as I read Your Word.   Help me to understand what You are saying to me. Fill me with courage and power to put what I read into practice. Amen

Audio for JUST FOR TODAY – I Will Strengthen My Mind


Here’s a bonus devotional from the same blog:

The Exact Nature of our Wrongs

The exact nature of our wrongs is rooted in the lie that our problems are caused by what is around us rather than what is within us. It’s time to admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being that our way of dealing with problems does not solve them. Doing things our way creates greater problems for us and for those around us.  It’s time to confess that we cannot do life on our own and to seek God to help us change our ways.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. I’ve promised it once, and I’ll promise it again: I will obey your righteous regulations. I have suffered much, O Lord; restore my life again as you promised. (Psalm 119:105-107 NLT)

God’s instructions should be our first choice every time rather than our “choice of last resort.” We need to learn from God’s word and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit within us. We need to heed the advice of mentors and others who have faithfully walked with God for some time. With God’s help we can put into practice all that we have learned.

It’s time to agree with God about the exact nature of our wrongs. It’s time to admit that we are guilty of wrong thinking and wrong behaving.

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:8-9 NLT).

When we finally face the reality of our sins it is helpful to recall God’s loving and merciful nature. No sin is too great to be forgiven. Jesus has already paid the price for sin with his death on the cross.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I admit that I cannot do life on my own. I need Your help. I turn away from my independent and self-centered way of living. I choose to trust and follow Your way to a purposeful life. Amen

Audio for THE EXACT NATURE OF OUR WRONGS

 

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