Christianity 201

July 30, 2021

His Word; Our Light

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Our quest to highlight and support people writing quality devotional/study material took us today to the site of Jonathan Richard Wright. He serves as Youth and Family Pastor at a church in Florida and is working on a PhD. As always, you are strongly encouraged to read C201 posts at their source; this is a great encouragement to the writers and you may find other articles on their blogs you would enjoy.

God’s Light

Have you ever tried to get somewhere while in the pitch-black dark? When you can’t even see a hand in front of your face, the darkness isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s frightening. In those moments, we crave rescue by the light. A simple flashlight makes the darkest places better.

Our need for light is a deep spiritual metaphor used in the pages of Scripture. Light shines in the first few sentences of the Bible as God’s good creation (Genesis 1:3–4). Instead of the celestial sources of light being gods who need to be appeased (like the Egyptian god “Re” or the Semitic god “Shamash”), light is created by Yahweh the God who is above every power on heaven and earth. Yahweh is the source of light as the creator of all things.

But the light of God’s presence didn’t stay with humanity. Seeking to define good and evil on their own terms, Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden, and their descendants continued to live out the resulting darkness (Genesis 6:5). Eventually God’s people ended up in the darkness of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 10:23). And how does Yahweh lead his people out of this bondage? Israel is led by a pillar of illuminating fire by night (Exodus 13:21). That light God provided continually stood as a reminder of his rescue through the never-extinguished lamps of the tabernacle (Leviticus 24:2).

Light is connected to something else in Jewish Scripture, too. God’s word is called a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). In Proverbs, a similar statement appears: “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). Much like in Genesis 1–2, God’s word is connected to light; it functions to reveal exactly what we need.

In these ways, light is understood from the Bible as a good and needed gift that comes from God in order to rescue people who are in their own created darkness.

That foundation adds to the impact of the words of John 1:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1–5).

Jesus, the “light of the world” (John 8:12), comes to a dark world and brings light. Since light reveals and guides, Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s light (1 John 1:5). Truly, in his light, “do we see light” (Psalm 36:9). By following Jesus, believers have all the light we need to “shine before others” so that the world can see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). And as people who were once blind, Christians are entrusted with a mission of light to lead others who can’t see to Jesus (Romans 2:19). That’s our calling until Jesus comes again and fully restores the world into a place where we won’t need the sun—that “city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Revelation 21:2–24).

In this life, we’ve only experienced tastes of God’s light. But in the new heavens and new earth, God will forever be our light, unhidden from our eyes (Revelation 22:5). Until then, “let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:5).


Second Helping: Did you wake up this morning saying, “I’m a temple?” Check out a second article from Jonathan, Jesus, The Temple and You.

February 15, 2021

The Two Temples

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

We have another first-time writer here to introduce: Irm Brown.  She describes herself as a “librarian, writer, blogger, follower of Christ.” Her blog is called Meditations from Zion where she has been writing since March, 2007. (How have we not met up with here before?) This article appeared in January. Click the header which follows and enjoy this on the site where it first appeared.

Look From the Temple Within

In recent days, I have been practicing Lectio Divina again** with some regularity and have found it profoundly illuminating. Partly, I believe it’s because of the familiarity of the Christmas season scripture passages. Most of us know them well, and it’s often difficult to hear/read something new from them. This practice is perfect for a renewal and discovery in God’s Word.

I found a lovely app for my phone called “Ritual” and on it, a daily Lectio podcast presented by theologian, Kathleen Cahalan. The other day, she read a passage about Simeon and Anna from Luke 2. The part about Anna struck me the deepest [Luke 2:36-38]:

“There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” [emphasis mine]

In the past, I simply found her devotion admirable albeit somewhat extreme, and moved on. Or, how lovely for Mary and Joseph to have received two prophetic utterances on the same day, etc. But on this day, I was captured by the Temple itself and the conundrum of the temple within and the temple without. After all, scripture is clear, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” [I Corinthians 3:16, NKJV] And all I could think about was the wonder of never leaving the Temple within. If I could really remain in the holy place, dwell there, and from that vantage point, look out, wouldn’t my view of others and the world around me be transformed?

So, with the help of my “Monk Manual” [MonkManual.com], I was drawn to this idea and have embraced it as my theme for the month of January. There’s no real “doing” in this theme, there’s no success or failure, no comparison, no wrong or right. It’s a small globe of thought on which I want to rest each day and allow myself to wonder again and again: I am in the temple of God and the temple is in me; I am not alone there.


**Lectio Divina is a contemplative way of reading the Bible. It dates back to the early centuries of the Christian Church and was established as a monastic practice by Benedict in the 6th century. It is a way of praying the scriptures that leads us deeper into God’s word. We slow down. We read a short passage more than once. We chew it over slowly and carefully. We savor it. Scripture begins to speak to us in a new way. It speaks to us personally, and aids that union we have with God through Christ who is himself the Living Word.  –From the Anglican Communion.org


Read more from this author: Ever tried to tell a child not to do something? Maybe that’s how it is with us when we’re told to “Fear not.” Check out: Fear Not? I Don’t Think So.

 

February 10, 2020

When Jesus ‘Turned the Tables,’ It Wasn’t About Money

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

“And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.
-Acts 15:19

The verse above comes later than the story we’re looking at today, but in many ways reflects the same principle. I added it here to help focus our thoughts on the general theme of today’s devotional…

This time again we have another new writer to feature here. Paul O’Brien has been in pastoral ministry for nearly a dozen years and lives in Ohio. His blog is New Creation in X. Click the header below to read this one at source.

Why did Jesus flip over tables?

“And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And He would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple” (Mark 11:15-16).

Why did Jesus drive out those who sold and bought in the temple? Why did He flip over tables? That seems pretty extreme. Why was He so worked up? What was such a big deal? I mean in some ways the moneychangers actually helped people it would seem.

When I was in Germany, for instance, I had to go to the “moneychangers” to get euros. Without the moneychangers, after all, I would have had no schnitzel. Further, pigeons were sold. That is actually pretty convenient. Because who wants to have to haul a pigeon halfway across the known world? Not me. So, what was the deal with Jesus getting upset?

It seems that money was not the only issue. In fact, maybe not the biggest issue. Though, Jesus does mention that the moneychangers were essentially robbers (again, reminds me of the bank in Germany where I got my euros). But I think the bigger issue is what the Temple was intended to be and what it had become. It clearly was never meant to be “a den of robbers” but “a house of prayer.” A house of prayer “for all peoples,” it says.

The moneychangers were in the “Court of the Gentiles,” that’s basically equivalent to where Gentiles (non-Jews/”the nations”) would worship. As you can imagine that would obstruct worship. It would be a hindrance from Gentiles, “the nations,” from worshiping the Lord. This is the converse, as Jesus pointed out, of what Isaiah said: “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:7).

Jesus brings blessing and salvation to all peoples but at the temple people were hindered from worshiping. That is why Jesus was furious. And rightly so. May we never be worthy of Jesus’ wrath for that same sin.

May we never prevent or hinder people from coming to the LORD, even if they are convenient or important things that we don’t want to give up. May we work to destroy unnecessary stumbling blocks. And may the church be a house and family that welcomes all people in!

50 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday, but not necessarily daily. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

October 26, 2018

God Did Not Abandon His People

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

This is our third visit with Peter Corak who writes devotionals at My Morning Meal. Click the title below to read this at source.

A Sanctuary

“Elvis has left the building.” That’s the phrase once used at the end of an Elvis Presley concert to indicate that the concert was done–like, really done . . . as in, “It’s over, folks. No more music, tonight.”  The people could disperse because the king of rock and roll wasn’t coming back for an encore.

And reading in Ezekiel this morning there’s a sense of similar finality. The glory had the left the building.

From the house to the threshold (10:4), then out from the threshold to the court (10:18), and finally up from the midst of the once holy city to a mountain to the east (11:22-23), the cloud that once filled the holy of holies, the brightness that once emitted the very presence of God, the glory of God, had, quite literally, left the building.

The glory had departed and the people were dispersed. They would be scattered among the nations. The land of their promised possession in ruin, they would be sent away for an extended “timeout” to consider their ways that they might repent of their rebellion. Heavy sigh!

But here’s the thing that I’m chewing on this morning, though the glory had departed, and though they would be the dispersed, yet God would not abandon His people. In fact, they would come to know His glory in a different way, a way not dependent upon a brick and mortar temple, but through a new type of relationship.

“Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.’”

(Ezekiel 11:16)

While in exile, while trying to make it in a foreign land, though far from the holy temple site which was no longer so holy because the glory was gone, the Lord GOD says, “I will be their sanctuary for a while.”

God, through Ezekiel, reaffirmed His promise: “I will gather you from the peoples . . . and give you the land of Israel” (11:17).

God then expanded the promise: I will put a new spirit in them. Give them a new heart, a heart of flesh ready, willing, and able to obey (11:19-20).

And until the full realization of the promise, God says I will be a sanctuary. I will be the temple and will tabernacle directly with them.

For a little while, though far from home, God’s people would come to know and be satisfied with God’s abiding presence as they waited until the day of their full and complete restoration and return to the land of promise.

The glory had left the building, but the God of glory had not turned His back to His people. He would draw near to His remnant in the place of their sojourning and would be their portion, their protection, and their power. All the while, drawing out their hearts toward Him in obedient worship.

We also are people in a foreign land waiting to go home and know afresh the glory of God in all its fullness. But until then, His abiding presence through His Holy Spirit is our sanctuary, the means by which we encounter the glory, though “in a mirror dimly” (1Cor. 13:12).

What’s more, He is making us part of that sanctuary. As, in Christ, we are “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22).

Though often, as we look around us, it may seem the glory has left the building, yet within us, through redeemed and regenerated hearts, we can know God as a sanctuary. His glory abiding with us and in us.

By His grace. For His glory.

June 29, 2017

Good Grief! And a Lack Thereof

by Clarke Dixon

Expressing emotion during a time of grief is a very natural thing to do. To not grieve, and to suppress emotion, is a very unnatural thing to do. If we understand that, then we are well on our way to understanding why God told Ezekiel to show no grief over the death of his wife:

Ezekiel 24:15-18 (NRSV) The word of the Lord came to me: 16 Mortal, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. 17 Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your upper lip or eat the bread of mourners. 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

So why is Ezekiel told not to grieve? Ezekiel’s lack of grief becomes a lesson in grief for God’s people during the exile. They have been demonstrating a lack of grief over something very important. We find the clue as to what in these following verses:

Thus says the Lord God: I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and your heart’s desire . . . . And you, mortal, on the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes and their heart’s affection, . . . Ezekiel 24:21-25 (NRSV)

Do you notice something about the loss God’s people are experiencing? Where is the mention of the presence and glory of God? Remembering that the temple was to be known as the place of God’s presence, and remembering the need for humility in approaching God’s glory and presence, it is strange that the temple should be called “the pride of your power”. The temple has become “the delight of your eyes, and your heart’s desire,” and their “joy and glory.” The temple has taken the place of God in the lives of His people. The temple itself has become for God’s people nothing more than another idol. Yet there has been no grief over the fact that God has already “left the building.”

When God’s people lose the temple they are told they ought not to grieve, for all along they have not shown any grief over losing what should have been most important to them, the presence and glory of God. In fact God’s people have been actively doing the very things that take them away from the presence and glory of God: “you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another” (Ezekiel 24:23 ESV). In other words, this is the status quo. God’s people have not been grieving over the sin that has led them away from the presence and glory of God.

What are we to learn from this for our day?

There are two things:

First, we learn about what ought to elicit deep emotions in us. When you have an understanding of the reality of the presence and glory of God, then anything that would take you in the opposite direction should make you feel sick. What are those things? We learn them from God’s Word, but let Jesus summarize for us:

Matthew 22:34-40 (NRSV) 34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

When we know the Lord, when we have a mature understanding of His greatness and glory, we will naturally grieve when we see a lack of love, both for God and for neighbour. When we see God mocked, and when we see people suffer injustice, we ought to grieve.

Second, is it possible that our grief as God’s people is misplaced in very much the same way it was misplaced in Ezekiel’s day? We grieve over the loss of churches and church buildings. A recent local newspaper article lamented the closure of churches in the rural areas. To quote one church member: “When I was a kid, there would be square dances and community meals here” (Northumberland News, Thursday, June 22nd 2017). What about the prayer there, the digging into the Word of God there, the care of the soul there, the presence of God among God’s people there, the worship of God there? To quote a clergy person from the same article: “When I was a child everyone went to church – why do people go to church? For the community. It was the only game in town for some communities.” Again, does no one go to church for prayer, for the Word of God, for the presence of God, for the worship of God, for the glory of God?

The sentimentality around losing churches and church buildings is completely natural and understandable. But are we grieving more over the apathy towards Christ, and active pushing away from God in our day? Are we getting emotional over God’s presence and glory? To do otherwise is unnatural and we may be lacking in good grief.


Read more from Clarke at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

March 17, 2017

Peace for Jerusalem

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

This is our second visit in six months to the writing of Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious. You may learn more about her books at this link. To read today’s post on her blog (with an appropriate picture) you are encouraged to click the title below:

A Prayer that Will Change Your Perspective

“I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’
And now here we are,
standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is a well-built city;
its seamless walls cannot be breached.
All the tribes of Israel—the Lord’s people—
make their pilgrimage here.
They come to give thanks to the name of the Lord,
as the law requires of Israel.
Here stand the thrones where judgment is given,
the thrones of the dynasty of David.
Pray for peace in Jerusalem.
May all who love this city prosper.
O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls
and prosperity in your palaces.
For the sake of my family and friends, I will say,
‘May you have peace.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem.”
Psalm 122

This psalm is one of David’s songs of ascent, probably written to be sung as God’s people ascended on their trip to Jerusalem for worship. Jerusalem, after all, is on a high hill, and there is no way to approach the city without ascending. This fact, and this psalm, never meant a whole lot to me until I actually visited Jerusalem. I had valued these pieces of Scripture, like all of God’s Word, but I had not truly understood the meaning and significance of a song meant for ascent.

On visiting Jerusalem, I came to understand so much more about that beautiful city’s significance to God’s people from before David’s time to the present. During my trip to Israel several years ago, I was looking forward to visiting Jerusalem, and I knew it would be a powerful experience. I also knew about the importance and sacredness of this city to so many around the world. But honestly, I was not prepared for the incredible experience of walking its streets. I was overwhelmed by the beauty, history, and passion present there. The sense of culture is incredibly rich; history greeted me at every turn; and nearly every corner features an expression of faith.

And at the center of it all is the site of the ancient temple: lovingly built, destroyed, rebuilt, reviled, revered, mocked, contested, and excavated for more than 3000 years. Seeing the temple within the city walls helped me understand so much about significance of this site in Scripture. The temple that stood there was high atop a mountain, towering over valleys below. It was huge, visible to everyone, and infused with the indwelling presence of God. It gave hope, guidance, purpose, a sense of unity, and faith to God’s people. A holy place, indeed!

It’s truly impossible to describe the experience of seeing the remains of that temple and the city that surrounded it. Jerusalem is a capsule of much of human history—and God’s ongoing work among people—packed into a larger dose than I could swallow at once, much less communicate. But as our group ascended the temple steps—many of which are the same steps Jesus and his disciples walked on—our devotion leader read Psalm 122. And I understood a bit of why God’s people were and are drawn to the place where his presence was made manifest. I felt small in the presence of a holy God who has reached down to people and lovingly called them to himself throughout all ages.

Turning around and looking down from that spot, I realized it’s no wonder David focused on Jerusalem in this song. All pilgrims would have passed through its gates, then its narrow streets, to reach the temple. Then, looking down from that holy place, they would have seen the city flowing around them, houses hugging the hillsides.

It’s no wonder David prayed for the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem “for the sake of the house of the Lord our God” and “for the sake of my family and friends.” The security of the city meant the security of the temple, and peace in its spiritual center meant peace for everyone in the nation.

They say that after you visit Israel, you’ll never be the same. It was true for me, and one of the many ways that visit challenged me was in hearing this Psalm of ascent as I climbed the ancient temple steps and prayed for peace in Jerusalem, this spiritual microcosm of the world. A prayer without answers, prescriptions, or solutions. A prayer without the arrogance of believing I know what is best. A simple prayer for peace and the best from God’s hand.

Do you pray a similar prayer for the well-being of our nation, our churches, and our global community? I can’t wait to see the day when God truly does bring lasting peace to Jerusalem–and to the whole world. In the meantime, we don’t always know what’s best for the world around us, and conflicting priorities can make peaceful resolution seem impossible. But as God’s people, for the sake of God’s glory and the well-being of all the people God loves, it’s always appropriate to pray for peace and desire what is best in God’s eyes.

Like everyone, we are tempted to limit our vision for the good life to what would make our own lives better (or more comfortable or easier or more apparently successful). Our prayers might change if, instead of wanting just what seems best for us and to us, we were to truly seek the peace and well-being of everyone. We don’t have to know what that means. We don’t have to have all the answers or stop grieving over the fact that people can, do, and will turn their backs on God. We simply have to agree with what God wants. And he will change our hearts when we do. He will help us see the world a little more like the way he does. The closer we get to God’s holiness, the more we long for peace and well-being within the city that surrounds us.

From where we stand right now, if we open our eyes, we can see the whole world. And we are in the house of the Lord.

December 5, 2015

Could This Be Another Reason The Samaritan Returned to Give Thanks?

Jewish Temple vs Samaritan Temple location

Today we return to the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. Click the title to read at source, and take a few minutes to look around other recent articles there as well. I was really struck by an insight on a most familiar story as I looked at this. I hope you see also why I chose this reading for our consideration.

Healed but not Whole

“Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and wit a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner? And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.” (saved you) Luke 17:12-19

Ten outcasts, healed and made well. They cried out for help and Jesus was quick to heal them. His compassion and mercy extended to each one in the same way. They were healed “as they went” to the temple. It must have been astounding – the word “cleansed” implies that they were made clean, emptied of any trace of disease inside. As they walked away, they were healed. Nine of these men were Jews, and in order to reenter society, the law said they must go see a priest to verify that they were in good health. They became first-hand witnesses, as did the priests, to the power and truth of who Jesus really was. Imagine the conflict this posed for the Jews and the priests alike – people who lived according to Old Testament law, who rejected everything Jesus did and who He was. Their ‘laws’ were falling apart right before their eyes, but Jesus sent them anyway. He sent them off to be a testimony to His power.

But one of these men couldn’t go to the temple. One of these men was a Samaritan, and the only thing that bound them all together was their disease, for “Jews and Samaritans had no dealings with one another” (John 4:9). He was an outcast among outcasts. While the nine headed for their temple to fulfill the law requirements, this foreigner turned back. The text implies that he was walking away, and when he realized he had been healed, he turned back “with a loud voice” and glorified God.

How could he not?! What an amazing miracle to witness! While the Jews were focused on what they had to do at the temple, this Samaritan turned his focus to the living temple. I’m sure the other nine were grateful and thankful and amazed, but they were heading in the wrong direction. In their eyes, God dwelt in the temple. They were Jews, God’s chosen people. They would connect with Him at the temple, in ceremonial fashion, and move on.

But this Samaritan… he was wrecked. The magnitude of what just occurred had him face down in the dirt at Jesus’ feet. His gratefulness could be seen and felt. Imagine the story he would tell his family and friends whom he hadn’t seen in probably some time. Imagine him returning to his life, a new and healed man.

He had no temple to go to, but in the end he had the one true Temple, Jesus Himself. The Jews were heading to a lifeless building and they had no interest in anything else. They received their healing, but they weren’t made whole the way the Samaritan man was. When Jesus tells him “your faith has made you well” He wasn’t talking about a physical healing, he was using the word for saved. This outcast received a second miracle. He knew he was face-to-face with the living God. He was healed in body and in spirit.

God’s goodness is extended to us all, He has compassion on all He has made (Psalm 145:9). He calls us to Himself through things like this, and if we just turn and walk away, we miss the true miracle. We are content to take what He gives and keep on going. To be made truly whole though, we need to stop and turn around and see Him for who He is, not just what He does for us. The Jews had no desire to press in any deeper after they received what they wanted.

When nine people walk away, be the one who remains with Him. He resides with us now, no longer confined to a temple. Be the one who turns around and receives the better, lasting gift. He is eager to heal and meet our needs, we should be just as eager to stay with Him after He does.