Christianity 201

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
Tags: , , , , ,

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

 

July 11, 2018

The Heat is On!

Today’s article is by Robby McAlpine and first appeared at the website Think Theology. Click the title below to read at source.

The Crucible (Messy Revival)

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.“(Proverbs 17:3)

Purify my heart, let me be as gold and precious silver
Refiner’s fire; my heart’s one desire is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
(Refiner’s Fire ~ Brian Doerksen)

The process of refining silver, in the era when the book of Proverbs was written, is an evocative picture of how our hearts are refined. It’s a “made for sermon illustration” metaphor that I really like.

Silver is purified by the refiner, who brings increasing heat to bear on the unrefined metal. As the heat increases, all the impurities rise to the surface, and the refiner skims them off. The process is repeated until the desired result is achieved: a clear reflection of the refiner’s face in the silver.

The spiritual parallel is stunning; God refining our character until He sees a clear reflection of Jesus in us.

But as anyone who has experienced the refining process can tell you, when the heat gets turned up, it’s uncomfortable. (That’s an understatement of, shall we say, ‘biblical proportions’.)

At the same time, achieving the desired result makes the uncomfortable process worth it in the end. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)

Whenever we pray for more of the Spirit’s power and presence in our lives, we should not be surprised that the heat gets turned up, and some of our “schtuff” flares up in our face.

That’s how it works, after all. More of the Spirit’s work in our lives means more refining as part of the overall package. There are ‘mountain top’ moments that are exhilarating, but there are also difficult ‘valleys’ — both are part of the Spirit’s work in our lives.

Which is why things can get wild and woolly during times of revival. The Holy Spirit is poured out in ways that go beyond ‘typical’ — the ‘omni’ presence of God becomes the ‘manifest’ presence — and there are a wide range of responses from people.

Some sin will be stirred up by the Enemy, trying his darndest to discredit what the Spirit is doing. And the critics of renewal movements delight in pointing this out, as if the presence of sinful activity ‘proves’ that God is not involved.

And some sin will be stirred up by the presence of the Holy Spirit, so it can be dealt with. That’s what a good Refiner does.

‘Revival’ is always connected to repentance. Whether it’s people coming to faith for the first time, or believers having the low-burning embers of their faith fanned into flame once again, repentance unto a holy life is normal.

There should be nothing shocking about sinful patterns being forced to the surface during times of revival/renewal. That’s how the Refiner’s fire works. The heat is on.

If you find yourself crying out for more of the Spirit, and sin & the temptation to sin seems to flare up — don’t rebuke the devil (except where appropriate) and don’t allow yourself to become discouraged. Instead, recognize the hand of the Refiner, and co-operate with the Spirit’s purifying work.

The heat is on. And the end result will be worth it.

Purify my heart; cleanse me from my sin, deep within
I choose to be holy, set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will
(Refiner’s Fire ~ Brian Doerksen)

 

July 2, 2018

The Enemy Targets Spiritual Play-Makers

The website Dust Off the Bible has been running a detailed series of posts on Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Specifically these include:

 

Acts Devotional Commentary [Acts 6:8-15] Stephen Seized

Acts 6:8-15

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.


Reflections & Commentary


The seizing of Saint Stephen is a story that Luke tells with enough detail that one needs to read slowly through the passage, as to not miss an important facet of the story.

The first detail that Luke provides is that Stephen was not just another ordinary member of the Christian community. He was known throughout the people.

“a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people”

So, the Jewish leaders were not picking people indiscriminately to harass. They were looking to take out the play makers. Like dealing with the disciples, they assume that taking out the leaders of a movement will help dissolve it. This tactic thus far has not proven to be effective. Why they think it will work still, even after they’ve seen it fail, is difficult to know.

Luke’s second area of detail is about the people who rose up to complain about Stephen. Luke refers to them as “members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen“. Who exactly was Luke referring to? Were these Roman slaves that were now free? Were they Jews who believed in hedonism? Were they prisoners set free? Luke gives a little help to answering this question in the next sentence; “Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia“. These Freedmen were part of the North African and Western Asian Jewish diaspora. The people named by Luke are two different synagogues, as they are thousands of miles apart, yet they both contained Jewish Freedmen. The diasporic Freedmen existed in both synagogues, as they were the natural product of the diaspora.

Philo speaks of these Jews as former slaved brought into Rome who lived near the Tiber River.

How then did he look upon the great division of Rome which is on the other side of the river Tiber, which he was well aware was occupied and inhabited by the Jews? And they were mostly Roman citizens, having been emancipated; for, having been brought as captives into Italy, they were manumitted by those who had bought them for slaves, without ever having been compelled to alter any of their hereditary or national observances. (156) Therefore, he knew that they had synagogues, and that they were in the habit of visiting them, and most especially on the sacred sabbath days, when they publicly cultivate their national philosophy. He knew also that they were in the habit of contributing sacred sums of money from their first fruits and sending them to Jerusalem by the hands of those who were to conduct the sacrifices. (157) But he never removed them from Rome, nor did he ever deprive them of their rights as Roman citizens, because he had a regard for Judaea…. (Philo, Legato ad Gaium 13:155-156)

These Jews were likely part of the Jewish expulsion from Rome that took place under Tiberius, in 19 CE. Tacitus describes them as being “tainted with superstition” which was a reference to their religion. They were expelled to Sardinia.

There was a debate too about expelling the Egyptian and Jewish worship, and a resolution of the Senate was passed that four thousand of the freedmen class who were infected with those superstitions and were of military age should be transported to the island of Sardinia, to quell the brigandage of the place, a cheap sacrifice should they die from the pestilential climate. The rest were to quit Italy, unless before a certain day they repudiated their impious rites. (Tacitus 2.85)

The Island of Sardinia was west of Italy, nowhere near near Northern Africa or Western Asia. So were the Freedmen of this island the same as the Freedmen that rose up against Stephen? It’s quite possible that Luke is referring to 3 groups of people, or that the Freedmen from Sardinia migrated after being expelled to the island. Some of the Jews were also later expelled from Rome who were partly made up of Freedmen. Where they ended up in the diaspora is hard to know except that it appears that some ended up in Northern Africa and South West Asia (Turkey).

But why would these Freedmen start a quarrel with Stephen? I think the answer is more obvious than it might first appear. They were already enslaved by Rome. They wanted no beef with the leaders that had set them free. The preaching of Jesus in any location near the Jewish Freedmen would have set off alarm bells, and aroused fear that another Roman crackdown was coming. So, they did what anyone would do in that situation; they took Stephen to the Sanhedrin for court.

However, Stephen uses his platform (despite it being in captivity) to preach the gospel (yet again) to the men in the Sanhedrin council. A gospel they surely are tired of hearing about.

May 19, 2018

Identifying the Source of Our Opposition

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
 – Eph 6:12 NLT

The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out.
 – John 12:31 NLT

For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
 – 2 Cor. 11:13-14 NIV

We’re back again at Done With Religion by Jim Gordon. If you click the title below and then click the banner at the top of their page, you’ll see that this is a blog written from the perspective of ones who left the institutional church, a numerically significant group. He is able to make contact with people that other blogs, including this one, might not. To see some of that dialog, click this link and read the comments.

Fight Evil Not People

Growing up in church we have always been told that God was a god of love. In fact, it is stated in the bible that God IS love. Yet so often we have seen more of a judgmental and condemning God by the actions of many christian people over the years.

Take for instance a popular song I remember singing while growing up in the church: Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war. Now I know the intent was to show we are in a battle, but the battle is a spiritual one. Our battle is not against flesh and blood but so often we fight people rather than spiritual forces and principalities. We turn people into enemies rather than the spiritual forces of evil.

SpiritualWarfare

To often these days we seem to live in a spirit of war rather than love. We spend more time arguing over doctrine and interpretation with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We argue so much over sin that we become judgmental and condemning toward those who see things differently or are not of faith or belief in God.

Over the years many churches have taught that although God is a god of love, he was also judgmental, mean and condemning. We are told that we better do our best to please him or we will be in danger of judgment.

Yet Jesus came to show us what the Father was really like. He showed love, compassion, acceptance and forgiveness to everyone, especially to those most of the religious world would have no contact.

Even though Jesus showed us that God loves us, we still turn the cross of Jesus into a weapon for our personal cause or belief rather than a symbol of love and good news.

If we are going to be Christian soldiers let it be against spiritual forces and not against our fellow human beings. Rather than fight and argue, let the love of God touch everyone you meet throughout each day.

March 27, 2018

Salvation through the Resurrection of Christ

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

by Russell Young

Salvation into God’s eternal kingdom is accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ. Concerning baptism, Peter wrote, “the resurrection of Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Pet 3:22) saves you or delivers you from danger and possible death through your response to your cleansing with a good conscience or the maintenance of a good conscience.

The struggle for eternal salvation is not completed by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Paul has stated that he–the main expositor of God’s truths on the matter–had to continue to work out or to finish his perfection to gain the hope of resurrection (Phil 2:12), and acknowledged that he had not yet been made perfect (Phil 3:12). The writer of Hebrews has stated that perfection applies to “those who are being made holy.” (Heb 10:14 NIV) In his letter to the Ephesians Paul cautioned that believers were to put on the armor of God and to stand against the devil’s schemes. He reminded Christ-followers, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) A struggle remains simply because life and opportunity for sinning remains follow the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

Although the confessor may have been rescued from the consequences of past sins through the Lord’s blood offering, he or she must still contend with the devil for victory over the demons, powers, and evil authorities in the heavenly realms that could devour them. It is through Christ’s resurrection that such victory can be gained. Christ has not defeated the devil to the point that he cannot and does not influence, and even destroy, lives. That will not happen until the era of the millennial years when he has been bound and is unable to deceive any longer. Peter admonished, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet 5:8 NIV) The fight has not been finished, nor has the victory been won. The keys to death and Hades have been taken from Satan and belong to Christ (Rev 1:18); the allocation for death and Hades has become Christ’s determination. Satan has not yet been prevented from exercising his evil schemes and from devouring the unwary. Through his death and resurrection Christ has gained authority over angels, authorities, and powers in the heavenly realms. That is, he can use them according to his own desires for the accomplishment of God’s eternal purpose. (Eph 3: 1011) He is in charge.

Paul has revealed that Christ “disarmed” the powers and authorities making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:15) Although Christ triumphed over them, confessors have not. His triumph through the cross completed the law and removed the power of death that Satan had used to accomplish his own purposes. His power rested in lies and deceits enticing people to defy God’s laws since breaking the law brought death and destruction and would have brought humankind to an end. The termination of the law robbed Satan of his instrument of death. However, terminating the law does not accomplish God’s righteous requirements either; the needed righteousness must be accomplished through the Holy Spirit. (Rom 8:4; Gal 5:5)

Satan is very much alive and active but the angels, powers, and authorities in the heavens are under Christ’s administration. Believers will be tested to discern their commitment and to reveal their heart-state. Certainly, eternal salvation can be gained, but it requires the believer to walk humbly in obedience to Christ. (Heb 5:9) He will discern those who love him as evidenced through their submission to him, as opposed to those who claim to love him but who are willing to live under the influence and control of the evil one. Paul wrote, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness?” (Rom 6:15─16 NIV) The Lord has said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son (those led by the Spirit, Rom 8:14) belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:35 NIV) The evil one can still bring about destruction, but God’s eternal purpose can and will be fulfilled through the Lord’s intervention in lives to the extent that he chooses, in those who have been called according to his purpose.

A mere pardon for sin does not provide for the accomplishment of God’s purpose for creation. He desires a kingdom of priests, a holy nation with inhabitants conformed to the likeness of his Son. The Lord’s authority over the heavenly beings is available to the called according to his purpose to enable them to live righteously and to fit them for his eternal kingdom. (Rom 15:16) Those who will dwell with him will have freely and committedly chosen to listen to his voice and to follow. His grace is available to those with a humble heart, those who are “poor in spirit” (Mt 5:3 NIV; Ps 34:18), and who recognize the need for his help and seek to gain it. The Lord (the Holy Spirit) works with the Father (the one who searches our hearts) (Rom 8:2627) to accomplish God’s purpose and he uses his authority over the heavenly beings for that purpose.

It is often presented that having been pardoned for sin provides eternal salvation, but the pardon does not provide for the accomplishment of God’s purpose. He desires a kingdom of priest, a holy nation with inhabitants conformed to the likeness of his Son. His authority is available to enable all confessors to accomplish his desired state, but not all will listen and follow. The Lord always allows the expression of free-will because that is also his desired state for humankind. He works with those who truly believe to accomplish their eternal salvation. He will provide a place in the kingdom of heaven After all, he has authority and possession of the keys of death and Hades. His authority over the heavenly powers as enabled through his resurrected life can accomplish God’s eternal purpose and fit believers (Rom 15:16) for his holy kingdom.

 


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

March 3, 2018

Can Any Christian Do Deliverance Ministry or is it a Specialized Gifting?

This is a question which came up today and I thought I’d share it with you, as this is a topic which, outside of Charismatic and Pentecostal environments, is not discussed among Evangelicals.

The issue is whether or not ‘the average Christian’ when in a situation of spiritual confrontation can move in the power of the Holy Spirit, or if they need to retreat and defer to ‘the experts’ in this area of ministry. An analogy to the movie Ghostbusters, while rather distracting, is not entirely out of place here. Who are you gonna call?

Before we begin, an important question to ask is, ‘Does the person seek healing and deliverance?’ If the person who needs Christ doesn’t particular want Christ’s help — and I’ve met people on both sides of this equation — then you’re possible going to proceed differently.

Another clarification needs to be made between deliverance ministry and spiritual warfare, something we looked at here in January, 2014:

The difference between deliverance and spiritual warfare is that deliverance is dealing with demonic bondages, and getting a person set free, whereas spiritual warfare is resisting, overcoming and defeating the enemy’s lies (in the form of deception, temptations and accusations) that he sends our way. Deliverance involves the breaking up of legal grounds, the tearing down of strongholds (offensive spiritual warfare), and the casting out of demons. Spiritual warfare on the other hand, is dealing with three key things the enemy sends at us: temptations, deception and accusations.

So we need to keep that distinction in mind as we proceed.

Deliverance is certainly similar to the supernatural gifts of the spirit in 1 Cor. 12, yet it is not one of them; of the nine listed, see especially these:

The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles… (12:9-10a)

This certainly gives the believer confidence that part of our ministry can include operating in the supernatural realm. Also, bringing relief to those in need was part of Christ’s mandate as shown in Luke 4:18 (AMP):

The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon Me, because He has anointed Me [the Anointed One, the Messiah] to preach the good news (the Gospel) to the poor; He has sent Me to announce release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send forth as delivered those who are oppressed [who are downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity]

and then he tells us (John 14:12-13)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.

In Luke chapter 10, Jesus sends out the 72 disciples and then we read in vs. 17:

When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”

The tone of the verse suggests a bit of surprise on the part of these short-term missionaries, but also implies something which came naturally or organically because of their connection to Jesus. We get this sense two verses later in 19-20:

[Jesus:] “Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you. But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.”

While the last half of the 16th chapter of Mark has been disputed because of manuscript corroboration, it is there we find a ‘spiritual power package’ of instructions including verse 17:

These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages.

You have the authority. So why have we relegated deliverance ministry to being a the purview of a very select few?

It might be that this passage brings with it the potential for deliverance ministry failure:

Mark 9.17 One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. 18 And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”

19a Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you?…

25 When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil  spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”…

28 Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?”

29 Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.

The Pulpit Commentary elaborates:

Though all things are possible to faith, some works are more difficult of accomplishment than others. This kind can mean only this kind of evil spirit, or demons generally. But the latter interpretation is excluded by the fact that the apostles had already exercised successfully their power over devils without special prayer or fasting. The words point to a truth in the spiritual world, that there are different degrees in the Satanic hierarchy (comp. Matthew 12:45); some demons are more malignant than others, and have greater power over the souls of men. In the present case the possession was of long standing; it revolved a terrible bodily malady; it was of an intense and unusual character. The mere word of exorcism, or the name of Jesus, spoken with little spiritual faith, could net overcome the mighty enemy. The exorcist needed special preparation; he must inspire and augment his faith by prayer and self-discipline. Prayer invokes the aid of God, and puts one’s self unreservedly in his hands; fasting subdues the flesh, arouses the soul’s energies, brings into exercise the higher parts of man’s nature. Thus equipped, a man is open to receive power from on high, and can quell the assaults of the evil one. (emphasis added)

Elliott’s Commentary adds:

The disciples, we know, did not as yet fast (Matthew 9:14-15), and the facts imply that they had been weak and remiss in prayer. The words are noticeable as testifying to the real ground and motive for “fasting,” and to the gain for the higher life to be obtained, when it was accompanied by true prayer, by this act of conquest over the lower nature.

or perhaps this passage from Matthew is in the back of someone’s mind:

17.14b A man came and knelt before Jesus and said, 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 So I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”

17 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.

19 Afterward the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?”

20 “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.

We often refer to the website, GotQuestions.org. Some non-Pentecostals or non-Charismatics downplay the need for this as a specialized ministry. Since you’ll find this thinking online in various places, here is a sample from their site:

…The Gospels and Acts relate that Jesus and the disciples cast out demons. The teaching portions of the New Testament (Romans through Jude) refer to demonic activity yet do not discuss the method of casting them out, nor are believers exhorted to do so. We are told to put on the whole armor of God…

…The Gospels and Acts relate that Jesus and the disciples cast out demons. The teaching portions of the New Testament (Romans through Jude) refer to demonic activity yet do not discuss the method of casting them out, nor are believers exhorted to do so…

…It is interesting that we have no record of Jesus’ instructions to His disciples on how to cast out demons…[and then the commentary goes on to list a rather significant number of ‘exceptions.’ Hmmm…]

Did we answer the question at the top of the page?

I think the issue here is not the office or title of the person rebuking the evil spirits, but rather the preparation of the person entering into such a ministry.

Of course, some situations are extremely short notice. We don’t know exactly when we might find ourselves seeing or being part of a direct demonic confrontation. I believe in those situations, a person who has heard God’s word on this subject, and is thereby aware of the powers that exist should resolve to act in whatever timely opportunity is available. (But I also believe God will give you some foreknowledge to be prepared to do so.)

In other parts of the world, I’m told that demonic activity is much more acute; much more visible. People in those situations don’t need to be told what they’re dealing with, they see its effects.

So the answer is both: It is a ministry that is the specialty of some pastors and Christian leaders, but it is also within the reach of any Christ-follower who has prepared themselves for the task.

Do you want to take this on?

It’s definitely worth remembering that the seventy-two were sent out in pairs. That might be a better way to apprentice in this type of ministry.


In any deliverance situation, there’s also the issue of providing ‘filling’ to someone whose ‘casting out’ of something has created a void or a whole. In Matthew we read the words of Jesus,

12.43 “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. 45 Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.”

There are some good resources online on this topic, be discerning as you search however, and recognize that there are differences of opinion on this issues from different theological traditions.


Scriptures today were all NLT (just because) except where indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

February 25, 2018

Sunday Worship

You are holy; you sit as king receiving the praises of Israel.
– Psalm 22:3 NET

Today we feature the writing of singer, composer, recording artist and worship leader Tommy Walker. Today’s writing is part testimony, part teaching.

Understanding the Breakthrough Power of Worship

I can’t remember how many times I have felt like God was a million miles away and then, in an instant, I recognized that He was closer than the air I breathe.

The Bible says in Psalm 22:3 that He actually lives and dwells in our praises. This is the mystery and the miracle of the breakthrough power and presence of God when we worship! When we worship, we affirm the truth of God’s Word, and it is being rooted deep in our hearts.

When I was 11 years old, the Jesus Movement was taking hold in my hometown of El Paso, Texas. The church I attended began to be filled with long-haired, barefoot hippies. We sang acapella songs like “Hallelujah” over and over again. It really was an authentic, powerful move of God, but I was very young, so most of the time I was bored and distracted. However, I do remember watching the Holy Spirit move on people’s lives in a special way. I remember seeing high school kids worshiping and weeping at the mention of God’s love. There was such an amazing sense of grace and unity among everyone.

One Friday night as a Christian band was playing “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know,” it happened – for the first time, while observing everyone worshiping God, I began to sense God’s presence. I’ve heard it said that worship is a picture of the Gospel in motion, and it certainly was for me that night. I saw people displaying a kind of personal, intimate relationship with God that I wanted and needed. A relationship that I knew was made possible only by the blood of Jesus.

One of my earliest memories is of my parents gathering us around my mom’s baby grand piano and having us sing the old hymns of the church for what felt like hours. At 5, I would end up lying under the piano and eventually falling asleep. I didn’t think much about Jesus and the Gospel then, but on that Friday night as the Christian band performed, the God we had sung about became my own personal God. I sensed Him saying to me for the first time “Tommy, I love you and I have called you to do great things for Me.” I wept at the thought that the God of heaven wanted to save and use a young boy like me. I surrendered my life to Jesus that night. One of my life verses has been Psalm 40:3, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (NIV).

Every person is created to be a worshiper. God dwells and, I believe, manifests Himself in the praises of His people. It has always been my prayer when I write songs and lead worship that the breakthrough power of God would bring the lost to Him–just like it happened for me.

After graduating from high school, I went to Bible college, and one of the areas I learned about was spiritual warfare. At first I resisted the training because I met people who spent so much time rebuking the devil. I thought they were giving the devil too much attention. To this day, I don’t agree with everything I saw there, but over time I have recognized that we are in a battle and there truly is an enemy that is out to destroy us.

Several years ago when I was doing a worship event in a poor neighborhood in Zambia, I sensed a darkness all around us–poverty, violence, abuse, hopelessness, hunger. We worshiped the Lord every night for more than an hour before we felt we could even begin to present the Gospel. Only then did we sense a real breakthrough in the spirit, and we saw hundreds come to Christ.

Through that event and others like it, I came to realize that worship is how we allow God to fight our battles for us. You may be familiar with the story of Jehoshaphat. Second Chronicles 20:22 says, “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (NIV). What a strange battle plan–but the result was that the Lord won the battle for them! There is something inherent in the act of worship that enables us to encounter the power of God like nothing else. It is not effective to simply tell someone to stop worrying; stop being proud; stop being self-consumed, distracted, insecure, bound and materialistic. But it is effective to tell them to start worshiping. When we make that decision to fix our eyes on Jesus, we quickly realize that God has already begun to release the grip these tendencies can have on our lives.

Worship is a declaration of our weakness and God’s strength. I challenge you in your next point of need to make that hard choice to be a worshiper and let the breakthrough God fight your battle for you.

When we worship, the invisible God is at work doing invisible and powerful things. We get realigned, refreshed and refueled; we find unspeakable joy and indescribable peace. We discover the breakthrough strength of God, which enables us to walk in the truth, live in His presence and see Him fight our battles for us. It is how we can put the beauty of the Gospel on display, receive His many blessings and at the same time be a blessing to the world.


If you’re not familiar with Tommy Walker’s music, here is one of his best-known songs, He Knows My Name

 

February 13, 2018

Being Prepared: The Armor of God

by Russell Young

Paul admonished the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God. (Eph 6:1017) Armor is not needed when the battle has been fought and the victory has been won. There is nothing left to fight or to resist. Armor is needed to offer protection so that injury or death can be escaped. It was needed for the person engaged in battle and was prepared before the event. The implication is that believers must do battle and that they need to be properly prepared for it. The armor that Paul depicted was not that needed to fight against another person, however. It was meant to enable the believer to stand strong against “the devil’s schemes when the day of evil comes.” For some that could be today. The confessor is not invincible and unless he or she is fitted for proper defence, destruction may result.

Paul referenced his vulnerability and that of the Corinthians when he sated, “If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” (2 Cor 2:10─11 NIV) He did not want to be “outwitted.”

Peter also addressed the need to resist the devil. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1 Pet 5:89 NIV) If Peter was admonishing believers of his day to be self-controlled and alert and to endure the suffering caused by Satan, his caution applies to believers today if they are to avoid being “devoured.”

Before his crucifixion, Jesus had to fight against the devil and his own desires because he knew the pain that was coming. (Lk 22:4246) If he had not gained victory over his flesh committing to its death, humankind would remain dead in their sins; Satan would have won. However, the Lord did not only suffer at his crucifixion, but also during the days of his life on earth. The writer of Hebrews has recorded, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18 NIV) “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7 NIV) This “death” does not refer to his petition before his crucifixion, but the death that submission to sin would have brought him during his life on earth. He was human and sin would have resulted in death.

Some proclaim that the battle has been completed and that the victory has been won. Such teaching has lulled the church into a state of apathy, failing in personal and corporate discipline. Victory comes through faith (1 Jn 5:4) in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:57); however, faith is not just a possession but a practice. It is for this reason that armor must be worn. Practicing faith when being attacked demands a firm stand. Satan is deceptive, a liar and a murderer (Jn 8:44), and is yet able to bring about a confessor’s destruction. (Gal 6:8; Phil 3:19; 2 Thess 1:9)

Many have been deceived into laying down their armor. Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature reaps destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit reaps eternal life.” (Gal 6:78 NIV) The Lord cautioned his listeners not to be deceived by those who will come in his name, claiming to be him (Lk 21:8), and Paul cautioned about the hollow and deceptive philosophy that depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Col 2:8)

The Lord taught that only those who do the will of his Father would enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 7:21), and Paul taught that all would face judgment for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10) From the time of Eve, the devil has endeavored to deceive the children of God and to bring about separation from their Lord.

The full armor of God needs to be put on in order to resist the devil’s evil schemes. The belt of “truth” girds the believer from deception, the breastplate of righteousness covers and protects his or her heart, the gospel of peace allows a person to flee from antagonistic situations, while the shield of faith–persuasion concerning God and his Word—allows the believer to deflect Satan’s lies and schemes shielding him or her from injury or death. As well, the hope of salvation (1 Thess 5:8) is the helmet that motivates for perseverance through the trials and persecutions that might otherwise weaken and lead the believer to his or her defeat and destruction. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God which can keep the believer strong in the face of deceptive teaching and evil temptations. While the full armor of God protects, strength depends on the enabling power of the Spirit and the believer Is reminded to be constant in prayer seeking the Lord’s help when it is needed.

The battle is still being fought and the believer needs to enter the fray fully equipped and ready to fight if he or she is to overcome and find a place in the New Jerusalem. (Rev 21:7)


Author Russell Young lives in Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here on alternate Tuesdays.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.


 


 

January 31, 2018

Filling the Overall Void in Our Lives and Filling the First Hour of the Day

Today’s title is a bit longer because we’re playing a six-month catch-up with two different blogs that we last featured in July of last year; each one offering a short article on a significant theme. I hope, as our own title suggests you see the connection between the two.

The first one is from Partners in Hope Today, a website we first connected with five years ago. The devotionals posted there — in print and in audio — are especially focused for readers who are in a recovery program. This is something that is also part of my own personal story. Don’t skip past the first sentence too quickly…it’s SO important.

Running on Empty

When we get rid of something bad in our lives, we need to fill the vacancy with something good.  Failure to fill the vacancy with something good can lead to relapse and even cause a person to be worse off than they were before.

For it was I, the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt.  Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things. (Psalm 81:10 NLT)

In the past, bad habits and negative attitudes played a significant role in our lives.  When we felt vulnerable we used our substance of choice to help cope with the emptiness, the pain, and the loneliness we were experiencing.  In addiction our daily agenda was entirely focused on meeting and fulfilling the demands our substance of choice made on us.  In recovery we have become aware that God has promised to meet all our needs.  Are we entirely willing to let Him do so?

This same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:19 NLT)

Life in recovery is about living in truth, and the truth is that on our own our hearts are unfulfilled.  We struggle with anxiety and fear when we feel vulnerable and powerless.  God, through His word in the Bible, and trusted people in recovery around us, assure us that there is a sure way forward.  Step by step we can come to know and believe in a Power greater than ourselves who can restore us to sanity.  We are encouraged to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this powerful God.  When we choose to do so, God fills our dead hearts with His Holy Spirit, the power greater than ourselves, who enables us to do the things that please God.

It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us.  (2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT)

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, When I am afraid and feel vulnerable, help me to trust that You are always with me and will meet all my needs.  Amen. 


Our second piece today is from Gary Henry at WordPoints. For people battling the issue in the first article, this — the way we start each day — is probably the very best place to begin.

Now Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before the LORD (Gen 19:27)

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. (Mark 1:35)

In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch. (Psalm 5:3) (all verses NASB sourced at Knowing Jesus)

Giving God the First Hour

I have found that giving God the first hour of every day is an excellent practice. Not only does it honor God by giving Him the “firstfruits” of the day, but it is the most helpful thing I’ve ever done in regard to my own spiritual growth.

Before I do anything else, I spend an hour in prayer, Bible study, singing, and meditation on God. In order to do this, of course, I have to get up an hour earlier than my schedule would otherwise require. I do this seven days a week. I don’t always get up at the same time every day, but on any given day, whatever time I would “have to get up,” I get up an hour earlier than that — and give that hour to the Lord.

Not being a “morning person,” this is a very difficult thing for me to do. Even so, I have made it a matter of commitment that I will not allow myself to do anything else until I have devoted myself to the Lord for an hour or more.

Some individuals might practice a similar discipline at the end of the day, staying up an hour later than they normally would and giving that hour to the Lord. Either way, there is a great benefit in making the sacrifices necessary to devote a certain time exclusively to the Lord.

Personally, I believe the beginning of the day is preferable because it gets the day started off in the right manner. It puts into practice our preaching about what should come first. It says, “Lord, I thank you for this new day. I will not embark on any of this day’s activities until I have worshiped You and learned from Your word. Lord, I give this day to You.”

December 11, 2017

Temptation: Who Leads Us Into It?

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

While we sometimes cross-post items from here to my topical blog, Thinking Out Loud, we don’t usually cross-post items from there to here, nor do we do newsy, time-specific items here. However this one raises something that we think is of interest to readers here at Christianity 201.

Matthew 6:13a

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (KJV)
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  (HCSB)
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one  (NLT)
Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil. (J. B. Phillips)
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. (The Message)
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one (NRSV)
Do not put us in temptation, but deliver us from evil, (Spanish RV1975, Google translated)
Do not expose us to temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.  (Spanish Dios Habla Hoy, Google translated)

Last week Pope Francis raised a theological point which wasn’t exactly new, but made headlines.  The New York Times article explains:

…In a new television interview, Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in [The Lord’s Prayer] — “lead us not into temptation” — was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.

“A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”

In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”

French Catholics adopted such a linguistic change this week, and the pope suggested that Italian Catholics might want to follow suit…

Then followed some reactions, including Southern Baptist Rev. Al. Mohler, who not surprisingly was horrified. Then the article continued.

…A commentary on the website of TV2000, the ecclesiastical television station in Rome that interviewed the pope, acknowledged that the pope’s words had stirred controversy. But it said, “it is worth recalling that this question is not new.”

“This is not a mere whim for Francis,” it added.

The basic question, the commentary said, is whether God brings humans into temptation or whether “it is human weakness to surrender to the blandishments of the evil one.”

Francis recently took the controversial step of changing church law to give local bishops’ conferences more authority over translations of the liturgy. He was responding, in part, to widespread discontent with English translations that were literally correct but awkward and unfamiliar for worshipers.

On Sunday, French churches began using a version of the Lord’s Prayer in which the line “Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation” (roughly, “do not expose us to temptation”) was replaced with “Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation” (“do not let us give in to temptation”)…

Saturday morning, Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk — who prefers the type of rendering in the NRSV above — offers a different type of response from New Testament scholar Andrew Perriman:

The Catholic Church is unhappy with the line “lead us not into temptation” (mē eisenenkēs hēmas eis peirasmon) in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:13; Lk. 11:4). The problem is that it appears to attribute responsibility for a person falling into temptation to God. Pope Francis has said: “It’s not a good translation…. I am the one who falls. It’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that, a father helps you to get up immediately.” If anyone leads us into temptation, he suggests, it is Satan. So an alternative translation is being considered, something along the lines of “Do not let us enter into temptation”.

What Jesus has in view is not general moral failure (the modern theological assumption) but the “testing” of the faith of his followers by persecution. The word peirasmos in this context refers to an “evil” or painful situation that tests the validity of a person’s faith.

The Lord’s prayer is not a piece of routine liturgical supplication. It is an urgent missional prayer, best illustrated by the parable of the widow who prayed for justice against her adversary. Jesus concludes: “ And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk. 18:7–8).

The petition not to be led into a time of testing has a very specific eschatological purpose—to keep suffering to a minimum. When it came, as it inevitably would, testing was the work of the devil, aided and abetted by sinful desires. But even then it had a positive value: it proved the genuineness of their faith, and if they passed the test, they would gain the crown of life, which is a reference to martyrdom and vindication at the parousia.

 

 

December 9, 2017

Unpacking 666

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

Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.– Rev 13:18

Today we’re paying yet another visit to the blog of BibleStudyMagazine.com and a short article on a topic that you’ve probably encountered. You’re encouraged to read this at source, and then take some time to look at other articles on the site. The author is Michael S. Heiser.

666: What Theories Add up?

If there’s one part of the Bible virtually everyone has heard of, it’s 666—the “number of Beast.” And if there’s one thing no one can agree upon, it’s what that number stands for. We find the number in Revelation 13:18: “let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” The wording here is important: John tells readers that the number needs to be “calculated,” which means there must be a hidden meaning behind it. But how do we calculate it?

Calculating Symbolism

One option for solving this biblical riddle is gematria, the idea that numbers have symbolic meaning. While some have called gematria a tool for speculation, it actually derives from an ancient convention in languages like Greek and Hebrew where letters of the alphabet are used to represent numbers.

But gematria is not limited to just Revelation; the New Testament contains several other symbolic figures. The 153 fish of John 21:11 could be interpreted as ancient symbolism for the Church, the body of Christ, and the Old Testament sons of God as analogous to believers in the Church. The Greek word for “dove,” like the dove that descends on Jesus at His baptism, has a numerical value equivalent to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, thus symbolizing the Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:8).

Calculating 666

When it comes to 666, one gematria explanation is that the number represents Nero Caesar. The Greek Neron Kaisar adds up to 1,005, but when the name is transliterated into the Hebrew letters nrwn qsr, the sum is 666. Nero Caesar also would explain the variant number of the Beast (616) found in some New Testament manuscripts. Transliterating the Latin Nero Caesar into Hebrew, nrw qsr, yields 616, suggesting John may have been thinking of the well-known Nero Redivivus myth when writing about the Beast (i.e., that Nero would rise from the dead to destroy Christians).

The gematria solution presents three major problems: it could be viewed as cheating with the spellings (the usual Hebrew spelling for Caesar is q’st, not qsr, although the qsr form does exist). It assumes that readers knew Hebrew well enough to do the transliteration from Greek back into Hebrew. And, perhaps most tellingly, the early Christian commentators who knew of the Nero Redivivus myth never identified 666 with Nero.

Ancient Sudoku

There is another possibility: 666 is a magic square. From very ancient times, philosophers and mathematicians were fascinated that the numbers 1–36 could be arranged in squares so that each row and diagonal would add up to the same sum (the same principle as modern Sudoku). One magic square has four rows and two diagonals that each add up to 111. The six lines of 111 = 666. Each magic square in ancient Jewish and Greek tradition was also associated with a celestial body. In the case of the 666 square that body was the sun, which was associated with Zeus, the highest god in the Greek pantheon.

Zeus was often associated with Baal and the mythological north (tsaphon) of Canaanite religion. Most relevant to the Beast of Revelation is Baal’s (and Zeus’) title, “lord of heaven” (Baal-shamem). It is possible that the “abomination of desolation” (shiqquts-shamem) in Daniel 9:27 is a play on Baal-shamem, since the Old Testament writers sometimes substituted words that meant “shame” or “abomination” into proper names that formerly contained “Baal” (e.g., Mephibosheth, Ish-Bosheth). This would mean 666 is a symbol for the abominable Baal, the dark lord of the Old Testament world—satanic power in New Testament thinking.


Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 5

August 17, 2017

Neither Magic Nor Rocket Science, Ephesians 6:12

by Clarke Dixon

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

You can imagine the first readers of Paul’’s letter becoming excited with these words as many of them would have been new believers who had previously worshiped pagan deities. They had known all along that there were spiritual realities beyond what could be seen, that there were spiritual forces at work, and indeed this had always been a part of their pagan world-view. You can imagine also the ideas creeping back as to what to do about these forces of evil in the heavenly realms. What libations can we pour out? What oracles must be consulted? What offerings must be brought? Tell us, Paul, what to do that we can influence these spiritual forces!? What does Paul come up with?

13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish 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. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:13-18 (NIV)

In other words: Be honest. Be good. Be ready to forgive and make peace, showing others the way to God’s forgiveness and peace. Keep the faith. Trust in God’s power and love. Trust in God’’s Word. Communicate with the Lord. Do we notice how down-to-earth this list of things to do in the face of evil spiritual forces really is? There is no magic to be performed here, no rituals that will protect from evil or influence the spirits as those coming out of pagan religions would be used to. Rather there is the encouragement to be godly, to be becoming more like God. The reference to the armor of God is a reference to His character traits and His resources as the Old Testament references make clear (see post on Ephesians 6:1-20). Tap into that, not magic or ritual.

Sometimes in our attempts to be spiritual today we can unwittingly introduce pagan-style superstition into our faith. My wife once worked at a Christian bookstore not far from an army base, and as preparations were made for a deployment of soldiers, suddenly crosses and Saint Michael medallions became hot sellers. While wearing a cross can serve as a powerful reminder of God’s love, and for Roman Catholics the Saint Michael medal can be a reminder of God’s protection, I have no doubt that there are those that think that actually wearing such increase your chances of being protected. This kind of thing is pure superstition. Sought after items too, were St Joseph statues as some believe you will sell your home faster if you bury the poor fella in your yard. Even better if he is upside down! This too is superstition. Our prayers themselves can also become superstitious. Some think that if we just say the right words, or keep up with some regimen, our prayers are more likely to be answered. Do we do this kind of thing in our communications with our loved ones? Of course not, then why would we with our Lord? When it comes to prayer, He wants to engage with us, not our superstitions.

In Ephesians Paul is encouraging us to be aware of spiritual realities and spiritual forces, but our faith, in both belief and practice, turns out to be a really down-to-earth thing. Let’’s watch out for superstition creeping in.

At this point we need to consider an objection. Some will respond with: ‘Well is not the whole Christian faith one big superstition?’

We do not have the time to go into detail here, but no. Belief that God exists has much to commend itself. Let us not forget the likes of C.S. Lewis who came to Christ, not through a preacher’s appeal like at a Billy Graham crusade, but through thinking about it for a long time. In fact, the Christian faith is tied to a historical, or perhaps we might say “down-to-earth” event, namely the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Look at the beginning of Christianity and you will not find the spreading of a superstition or philosophy or the like, but rather knowledge of a historical event. You will not find the making public of ideas hatched in private. You will find the making more public something that had happened in public, the meaning of which was being worked out in public. (I forget the name of the blogger who should get credit for much of the last two sentences.) Christianity from day one was a very down-to-earth kind of thing; spiritual realities based in historical realities. In fact so ’down-to-earth’ was their faith that the early Christians were accused of spreading atheism since they encouraged skepticism towards all superstitious belief.

This brings us to the other extreme our passage will guard against. If some tend towards believing anything, even that which smacks of the superstitious, there are those who will believe nothing. Our verse is an affirmation that there are “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Some want to believe that there are neither spiritual forces, nor heavenly realms, that all that you can see, is all that there is, or at least all that is worth knowing about.

But is that a good way to look at things? There are many things that can not be seen, but are known. For example, though some may have seen a brain, no one has ever seen a mind. You cannot examine a mind under a microscope. We know the two are connected somehow, but we have no idea how. There are now about eight billion people in the world which works out to about eight million minds. That is eight billion bits of evidence that things exist which cannot be seen. A mind, however, can be experienced. So can God.

Also, history proves that hidden things can become apparent. There is much that could not be seen in the past which we now know about. Many of the things we believe about our planet and universe would not be believed by the ancients as they did not have the same access to such knowledge. Travel back in time and share what you know, and you will be faced with many sceptics. Travel forward in time and you will find realities like judgement and salvation being very much observed and experienced. The Bible gives us a window on truths that have been observed in the past, such as the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but also a window on truths that can not yet be seen.

The teaching of the Bible is clear: There are spiritual realities around us that we should not expect to see. However, the existence of spiritual forces does not invite us into a world of superstition, but rather deeper into living for Jesus.

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

July 7, 2017

Knowing Your Spiritual Weak Links

So the one who thinks he is standing firm should be careful not to fall.” – 1 Cor. 10:12 Berean Study Bible.

Note: Some may find this article is built on a rather pessimistic or negative premise, but I hope you’ll buy in and see the lesson in this.

If you’ve read The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel you’ve seen a reference in the first chapter to Charles Templeton, once a leading Canadian pastor whose faith was suddenly shattered and he spent his prime years in agnosticism. There is a story that Billy Graham was once asked about his calling and said something to the effect, ‘I’m only doing what Charles Templeton started and didn’t finish.’

My father was a big part of the music ministry surrounding Templeton’s work, and said he felt that the trigger for Templeton’s atheism was a massive fire that took place at his Toronto church. (Parenthetically, my father was constantly reminding me that you can’t fix your eyes on an individual leader; the focus has to be on Christ.)

As I started thinking about that, I realized that a fire is a rather superficial reason for abandoning the faith, though I can’t say what bitterness could steal my heart in similar circumstances. I have often said to close friends that I become an atheist every night around 4:00 AM when after several hours of tossing and turning I can’t get into some deep sleep. I hope they know what I’m saying and don’t take it too literally. Again, superficial things.

Last month I started thinking what superficial factors could plunge me into a cycle of questioning the reality of the Christ story. I don’t mean this in the sense that I’m having a faith crisis, or that any such factors would be successful in knocking my faith off its moorings, but I wanted to better understand my own vulnerabilities. Here are two I came up with.

1. Natural disasters. This is of course a reason often used by non-believers for not embracing the idea of deity. “How could a loving God allow this to happen?” But as I watch World News Tonight with David Muir each evening and see peoples’ homes washed away, it does seem a great moment for divine intervention that didn’t take place. (Remember, we’re talking about potential vulnerabilities here.)

2. The actions of fellow Christians. This was the one C.S. Lewis said could prevent just about anyone from becoming a Christian. When I think of the hurt I’ve endured at the hands of fellow believers, I can very easily imagine a person of weaker faith abandoning ship.

So…what about you? Have you ever looked toward the horizon and imagined the proverbial straw that could break the proverbial camel’s back. As I said at the outset, some of you are perhaps reading this at the outset of the workday and it may seem like a very negative thing to consider, but I think it’s important to be aware of our vulnerabilities. I think it’s implicit in the warning of Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (NLT)

What personal circumstances or things in your life have the potential to eat at your core faith? What is the weak link in your faith chain?

Next Page »