Christianity 201

May 18, 2021

Watch Out for Misplaced Bible Verses!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Tim. 2:15 NIV

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. – Acts 17:11 NLT

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness – 2 Tim. 3:16 ESV

A year ago we introduced you to Lily Pierce and her blog Retrospective Lily and mentioned that she is a great writer despite a physical challenge. This time around she shares a warning about people who quote scripture verses in contexts which would horrify the original writers, and adds a principle that I heard growing up, namely that you need to look for other passages which corroborate the one in question.

Click the line which follows to link to this at her site.

The Bible Can Justify Anything, So Weigh Scripture Against Scripture

You read that title right! So, how can we discern the heart and will of God–if His Word can be twisted to fit any narrative? Well, I won’t pretend for a moment to have all the answers–as if all the answers could be had. But looking at scripture as a whole is a good suggestion.

People have gotten upset in the past when I’ve spoken against fixating on one tree within a whole forest. I think some Christians are so wary of “progressivism” that their blasphemy radar is waaay too sensitive. Viewing scripture holistically is the only sensible way to approach the Bible. The alternative is pulling verses out of context and building a doctrine out of them.

In the book Oliver Twist, the orphanage director, who serves as the parish beadle, is a mean, selfish man. When he meets nine-year-old Oliver, he gives him a cold, stern lecture (because why be kind to a CHILD WHO IS ALONE IN THE WORLD, right?) and quotes 1 Cor 13:11: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. Hey, man, ever read the one where Jesus says that we should become humble like children? Or the one where Jesus insists His disciples let the children come to Him? Guess not.

This fictional example reflects the contradictions that lie within so many Christians who are condescending, rude, and unempathetic–in the name of Jesus. Pride and righteous indignation reign even more supremely than God in many of our hearts. Have we forgotten that Jesus said the first would be last? Or how Paul wrote that none of us have cause to boast because we are only saved by faith, not our own works? Or, like, the other countless ways we are told in the Bible that arrogance is condemned? I think the man who went out to eat after church that’s screaming at a waitress because the chef messed up his order missed the memo. The town gossip who happens to hold several “power positions” on church committees just doesn’t get it. [SN: I’ve literally heard the term “power positions” used in reference to church committees. Hmm…ever heard of “servant leadership?”]

In a totally different instance, I once wrote a post in which I said that followers of Jesus should be active in helping their neighbors. A reader pointed out the sentence fragment of 1 Thess 4:11 (and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you) as a way to negate what I’d said. I replied that, perhaps in that particular scenario, the Thessalonians–Christians in Greece–needed to keep a low profile to avoid persecution (confirmed by a Google search). But it’s clear when one reads the entire New Testament that we are called to really love our neighbors, and biblical love is an action verb. We must take up our crosses and follow Jesus, being His hands, feet, and face in the world, because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

The Bible has been used to justify so many things–slavery, bigotry, political agendas, etc. I don’t want to delve into it all because ain’t nobody got time for that here; countless others have written articles, essays, and even whole books on these subjects. And people disagree.

But here’s the point: weigh scripture against scripture. And always stay humble enough to learn and take direction from the Spirit.

Have you ever seen a Bible verse taken out of context?  Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

April 30, 2021

The Bible’s Divine Symmetries Exceed Literary Beauty

There’s a quotation that is now widely attributed to Philip Yancey, but I’m sure he said he got it from someone else:

If Jesus had never lived, we never would have been able to invent him.

Although I Corinthians 2:9’s context is different, our New Testament begins with the life of One that no human mind has conceived (NIV) or that never entered into the heart of man (KJV). Each of the gospel writers could have ended with the phrase, ‘Seriously! This all happened! We’re not making this up!’

The story of Jesus is simply incredibly complex. It seems simple enough and for just a little money you can purchase any one of hundreds of Bible books which will provide the primary narrative to children. But as you dig deeper, it reveals layers of significance you never considered.

When I was a university student there was a course offered called “The Bible as Literature.” Knowing where my life ended up, part of me wishes I’d taken this course, but another part of me wonders if it may have caused me to reduce the Bible to only literature; to deny its “living, active… sharper than any two-edged sword” power.

Eight years ago at this time, I was reading Jesus, A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. The use of theography is to suggest that while most stories of Jesus are simple biographies that is, they narrate “from womb to tomb,” this one is attempting to begin with “Christ before the manger,” and then move into eternity. I don’t know that the book lived up to its goals entirely, but I value it as a resource — I’d place it in my top ten — and it’s still in print. 

I’ve mentioned before that the ancients viewed scripture as a multi faceted jewel that revealed more and more with each slight turn; capturing and reflecting and refracting light in infinite combinations. To Sweet and Viola, the preferred image is that of a constellation with phrases from various sections combining to form images.

In the case of John’s gospel, the birth narrative is paralleled to the “I am” statements which are unique to that book.

Jesus A TheographyThe seven I AM metaphorical statements of Jesus in the gospel  of John are followed by their corresponding circumstances in the story of Jesus’ birth:

“I am the bread of life.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means  “house of bread.”

“I am the light of the world.”
Jesus was born under the light of the star of Bethlehem.

I am the door of the sheep.”
The doors of the guest house were closed to Mary and Joseph, but the gate to the stable was open.

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
The infant Jesus was sought by shepherds looking for a baby wrapped in swaddling bands (used for birth or burial) and lying in a manger.

“I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus survived King Herod’s attempt to kill him.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.”
Wise men found their way to him, recognized the truth about him and defied King Herod’s evil plot.

“I am the true vine.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, which means ‘fruitful.’

The example above, while not the strongest of the parallels introduced, is fairly typical, and the reader must decide if the this information is significant spiritually or merely reflective of the Bible’s literary value. To the believer and Christ-follower, the Bible has to be more than great literature.

The book is well crafted and well researched and on average, each of the sixteen chapters has about a hundred footnotes. Still, I find a good filter is needed when reading this; each reader has to determine what they want their ‘take away’ to be from each chapter.

For me, more than anything else, the book highlights the issue of reading of Christian books versus only reading the Bible. I am where I am today spiritually because of the influence that Christian writers have had on me. If anything their words have drawn me into a deeper examination of scripture.

But the Bible’s complexities can be distracting to some people. It’s easy to get “lost in the weeds” of its intricate details and miss out on what God is saying to you and me through any given passage.

For example … Go back to the quoted section above. Beyond things like the significance of the name of His birthplace, or the ways in which His life mirrors the “I Am” statements, what does it speak to you and me?

[Instead of just throwing the question out there; let me offer a personal response: I think that often the amazing life of Jesus compels me to worship. Not in the ‘bursting into song’ sense, but just an awe for the narrative that leaves no loose ends. For an earthly, incarnate life that is so whole, so full, so rich.]

Can we know too much? On the one hand, in terms of Bible study is there such a thing as too much information? I believe Jesus: A Theography is on one hand a valuable addition to my library, but on the other hand, it’s important that I not stray too far from the simplicity found in those children’s Bible study books.

Matthew 11:25-26 (NIV)

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Matthew 18:2-4 (NIV)

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

But on the other hand, making discoveries in books like these is like suddenly reading those narratives we heard has children with a pair of 3-D glasses, and seeing dimensions unfold we never knew previously; filled with ‘ah-ha’ and ‘Wow!’ moments.

Luke 24:31-32 (NIV)

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Again, sheer awe.

February 6, 2021

When There Were No “Mega” Churches, But Many “Super” Apostles

The construction of vast, cavernous auditoriums in which congregations could worship would be such a foreign concept to the people in the Apostle Paul’s day, where they met “from house to house” and everything was “small group” based. How ironic now that during the Covid-19 pandemic, so many of these same large buildings sit empty, which parishioners fellowship in their homes, or in Zoom groups.

The macro has become micro.

But while they didn’t have “megachurches” there is this interesting reference in 2nd Corinthians 11 to “super-apostles.” First, the context, and I’m using the CEB today:

If a person comes and preaches some other Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different Spirit than the one you had received, or a different gospel than the one you embraced, you put up with it so easily!

So like so much of the content in the New Testament epistles, this is going to be about false teachers. This is a theme that runs through these letters to the point that you cannot escape noting the problem this was for the early church. Remember, you didn’t have to look back far to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, so everything was in its infancy; there weren’t hundred of years of Christian tradition.

Then our key verse emerges:

I don’t consider myself as second-rate in any way compared to the “super-apostles.”

While knowing the Greek usually helps with literal translation, you could still miss the sarcasm. That the phrase is in quotation marks ought to give us a clue.  Some translations use “chiefest apostles,” or “most eminent…apostles,” or “superlative apostles;” but even there many add the quotation marks to help the reader get the intended snark. Paul is not impressed, not by the number of books they have published or the size of their television audience.

Okay, they didn’t have those metrics, but there’s no great imagination needed to picture there being teachers who were the most-talked-about “flavor of the month” with the people. They gravitated to these people in the same manner in which people today gravitate to the larger churches, the ones led by small-c charismatic personalities.

I must confess personally that in the days when we traveled to the United States, if we were seeking out a church for weekend worship, we always chose the well-known large congregations. Seeking out a medium-sized assembly where God is really doing great things through the congregation probably would have required some research.

Furthermore, such medium-sized congregations will attest to the truth that the megachurches, by their great influence, are setting the agenda for all churches in North America. The pressure to conform to the programs and ministry philosophy which is so obviously working is immense.

Additionally, these are often the churches and church leaders which fail spectacularly. A few weeks ago, on our other blog, I took the time to list all of the churches, pastors, authors and Christian leaders who had suffered damage to their brand in 2020. It’s a very long list.

Some of the translations for verse 5 are more obvious with Paul’s intended remarks: “big-shot ‘apostles,”'” or “grandiose apostles,” the latter which makes me wondering if they’ve spent too much time at the all-you-can-eat buffet; which is a suggestion that could be supported by empirical evidence.

Later in the chapter, Paul makes his use of satire completely obvious; not the phrase in parenthesis at the end:

20 You put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone places themselves over you, or if someone hits you in the face. 21 I’m ashamed to say that we have been weak in comparison! But in whatever they challenge me, I challenge them (I’m speaking foolishly).

What comes next? Paul defines his own “super apostleship” and it’s not a job description that would have prospective apostles lining up:

23 Are they ministers of Christ? I’m speaking like a crazy person. What I’ve done goes well beyond what they’ve done. I’ve worked much harder. I’ve been imprisoned much more often. I’ve been beaten more times than I can count. I’ve faced death many times. 24 I received the “forty lashes minus one” from the Jews five times. 25 I was beaten with rods three times. I was stoned once. I was shipwrecked three times. I spent a day and a night on the open sea. 26 I’ve been on many journeys. I faced dangers from rivers, robbers, my people, and Gentiles. I faced dangers in the city, in the desert, on the sea, and from false brothers and sisters. 27 I faced these dangers with hard work and heavy labor, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, and in the cold without enough clothes.

What led me to this passage, and the whole chapter today, is something that John Stackhouse wrote just a week ago in a piece titled Expectations for Christian Leadership:

Here, Paul says, is what genuine apostolic ministry entails. You can expect to be beaten—beaten hard, beaten often.

From Nigeria to China today, pastors are being beaten. Even rank-and-file believers live under the shadow of imminent physical danger of the worst sorts.

I wonder how many pretty-boy pastors would sign up for that job if instead of looking forward to affording excellent sneakers they could look forward to a beating. And then another. And another after that.

Likewise, I wonder how many students would aspire to become public teachers of Christianity—theologians and such—when such a position would require being punched, not just disagreed with or even maybe (horrors!) disrespected.

We live in crazy, mixed-up times, and while the people in Paul’s day didn’t have to deal with the dominance of enormous (and currently empty) megachurch buildings, they certainly faced the related cult of personality.


Dig Deeper: I encourage you today to take an extra few minutes to read the whole chapter.

January 15, 2021

How to Start a Christian Cult

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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There are many [versions of Jesus] proclaimed today. There is Jesus the liberator and Jesus the revolutionary. There is Jesus the teacher and Jesus the example. There is Jesus the healer and Jesus the burden-bearer. Homosexuals and adulterers point to “an unconditionally accepting Jesus,” seeking to show that Jesus is on their side. Even the demons are willing to accept certain aspects of our Lord’s identity, but not His authority.  – Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh, in today’s linked article

When I first began to think about this topic earlier today, I had in mind two specific areas where groups which perhaps started out in mainstream Christian orthodoxy end up drifting away from their moorings.

  1. Adding to the gospel message
  2. Subtracting from the gospel message

If it were all that simple it might be easier to identify such teaching at a greater distance, but sometimes the approach can be more subtle.

As to adding to the message, this is much of the core of the book of Galatians. It appears in our Bible after Romans and 1&2 Corinthians, but is considered Paul’s earliest work. It is addressed to those who are surrounded with “Judaiizers,” that is people for whom the laws of the first covenant, i.e. circumcision of males, still applies. He writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (5:1 NIV)

At the council of Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15, Peter stands up and addresses this issue, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…” and then James continues, “…It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” (15: 10,19,20 NIV)

Of course, if you were numbered among the Pharisees who were raising these issues, you would see Peter, Paul, James and Barnabas as subtracting from the requirements.

Thomas Jefferson was notorious for his physically removing passages of the Bible with which he disagreed.

When we think of these concepts, we easily remember the book of Revelation’s final warning, “…and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (22:19 NASB) This echoes the Old Testament words in Deuteronomy 4: “Do not add a thing to what I command you nor subtract from it, so that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I am delivering to you.” (v2 NET)

…The concept of addition and subtraction merely scratches the surface in looking at how false teachers arise. In the article I quoted at the outset of today’s thoughts, the writer marks a number of characteristics which are worth studying in greater detail. I’ve reduced his nine points to five for us today:

  1. Claiming to be a prophet. (I know this will grate with those for whose practice emphasizes being a prophet as one of the five-fold ministry gifts — sometimes called APEPT — but generally the prophet does not say this of himself.)
  2. They can come from both inside and outside the church.
  3. At some point, their teaching attracts rebuke from the world at large (and harms not only the place where they do their teaching, but the capital “C” Church in general.)
  4. They start out subtle. (Here the author quotes Matthew 7:15-23 and says you will know them by their fruit. I think it’s interesting that as a non-agriculturally-aware person, I can look at a tree and not be able to identify it until the fruit appears. This then, is a process of time.)
  5. Apart from the message, there may be flaws in the false teacher’s personal morality. This will be seen in their motivation (money, power, success, fame) and their methods (deception, secrecy, smooth-talking).

There was also a reference to the book of Jude, which is very instructive on this subject:

NIV.4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith…

The book of Jude ends with a doxology to “him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…

This is Jude’s highest aim for the readers of his letter; that they be kept from falling.

Here is the link to the full article at Bible.org concerning false teachers.

 

 

July 18, 2020

J. I. Packer Quotations

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Yesterday the Christian world learned of the passing of the man Wikipedia describes as an “English-born Canadian theologian;” J. I. Packer. His books — numbering over 50 — have been staples in Christian bookstores for decades. But his name may appear elsewhere in your library, as John Stackhouse noted a few years ago, “Perhaps no one in history has written more endorsements and prefaces to the books of others than Packer did.” He was 93.

One tribute noted, “In Knowing God, he quoted Jeremiah 6:16, with its image of the ‘ancient paths…where the good way is,’ claiming that his book was a call to follow those old paths.

ESV.Jer.16v6a Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.

Read these slowly and allow each to percolate inside you!


“In the New Testament, grace means God’s love in action toward people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending his only Son to the cross to descend into hell so that we guilty ones might be reconciled to God and received into heaven.”


“A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of Himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image, and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all.”


“Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are.”


“I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, One who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted for me, and no moment, therefore, when His care falters.”


“To know that nothing happens in God’s world apart from God’s will may frighten the godless, but it stabilizes the saints.”


“Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”


“Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep.”


“Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.”


“The healthy Christian is not necessarily the extrovert, ebullient Christian, but the Christian who has a sense of God’s presence stamped deep on his soul, who trembles at God’s word, who lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and who tests and reforms his life daily in response to it.”


“Not until we have become humble and teachable, standing in awe of God’s holiness and sovereignty…acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts and willing to have our minds turned upside down can divine wisdom become ours.”


“Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.”


“‘Wait on the Lord’ is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.”


“Martin Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling. By this he meant that when this doctrine is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New-Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, … the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death.”


“Historical exegesis is only the preliminary part of interpretation. Application is its essence. Exegesis without application should not be called interpretation at all.”


“All true theology has an evangelistic thrust, and all true evangelism is theology in action.”


“God uses chronic pain and weakness, along with other afflictions, as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependence on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away. To live with your ‘thorn’ uncomplainingly—that is, sweet, patient, and free in heart to love and help others, even though every day you feel weak—is true sanctification. It is true healing for the spirit. It is a supreme victory of grace.”


Sources: GoodReads, Gospel Coalition, AZ Quotes, Inspiriting Quotes, Logos Talk, Heartlight, Quote Tab.

July 10, 2020

Formula-Based Thinking About God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today’s devotional lands here from a search I was doing following a conversation yesterday. When I looked for “Transactional Christianity” this was the first result, but while first results aren’t always best, this one turned out to be an excellent article.

The article is Rob Grayson who was raised Pentecostal and is now Anglican. His blog is Faith Meets World. To read today’s article at its source — which we always recommend — click the header which follows.

Transactional Christianity

There’s a brand of Christianity I’ve often come across in churches and around the interwebs. I’m going to call it Transactional Christianity.

When you enter into a transaction, you pay an agreed amount and receive a predetermined item or service in return. It’s a fixed equation, backed by terms and conditions: if you pay A, you get B. And if what you get isn’t to your satisfaction, you can usually get your money back.

Many people apply this kind of formula-based thinking to God.

  • If I pray the sinner’s prayer, I’m home free for all eternity.
  • If I read the Bible dutifully and have regular “quiet times”, I can expect God to look after me.
  • If I attend church regularly, I’ll feel like I’m right with God.
  • If I give my ten percent, I’ll reap a harvest of material blessing.
  • If I regularly pray for protection over my family, I can expect perfect health.

Now this is all well and good when everything’s going according to plan and all the transactions are proceeding smoothly. But this kind of thinking has a flip side: when things don’t work out the way they’re supposed to – when something goes wrong with the transaction – we’re forced to look for an explanation. When we pray fervently for a friend to be healed but they still succumb to cancer, we’re left with questions like “Did I pray hard enough?” or “Did I have enough faith?”   Or when, in spite of our efforts to spend regular time in prayer and Bible study, we still find ourselves dry and thirsty and unable to hear God, we begin to wonder what we’ve done wrong, what sin or issue in our life is blocking our direct line to heaven.

And so it is that this very common breed of Christianity often leads to guilt and an unspoken feeling that we must be missing the mark and somehow need to do better. We know that God can be relied upon to keep his part of the bargain – that’s what it says in the terms and conditions, right? – so the problem must lie with us.

The basic problem with a transactional approach to Christianity is this: God does not conform to our notions of how He should behave, who He should bless and how, and what He should do to reward us for honouring our end of the deal. If you’re not convinced of this, read the book of Job. Allow me to summarize: in a kind of cosmic bet, God allows satan to afflict his faithful servant Job, destroying his livelihood, his family and his health. This is surely enough to cause anyone to question what they’ve done to deserve such an accumulation of ill fortune. While Job sits in the dust lamenting his fate, three of His friends attempt to comfort him by offering explanations as to why all this has happened. They become increasingly insistent that Job must have sinned, and that he needs to identify and confess his sin – for in their transactional view of the world, God always punishes the sinful and rewards the righteous, no exceptions allowed. Job remains perplexed; he’s confident that he hasn’t sinned, and he can’t understand why God would punish him so.

After 35 chapters of questions and attempted explanations, God finally answers Job “from the whirlwind”:

“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.

Where were you when I lay the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.”

(Job 38:2-4, New Living Translation)

For the next two chapters (and, following a brief response from Job, another chapter after that), God continues with a spectacular account of His unfathomable power and wisdom, all in the form of pointed questions directed at Job. At the end of this divine onslaught, and with the benefit of all the well-intentioned advice from his friends, what conclusion does Job reach?

“I am nothing – how could I ever find the answers? I will cover my mouth with my hand. I have said too much already. I have nothing more to say.” (Job 40:4-5)

Simply put, our attempts to fit God into a transactional mould will not work. The God who spoke the universe into being, who knows the stars and the sparrows by name, and who upholds the universe by the word of His power will not be reduced to an equation or a formula. If your concept of God tells you that He will always deliver A as long as you do B, then I humbly suggest you need to go back to the Bible with an open mind and ask yourself whether the magnificent, untameable God you find in its pages is really so easy to fit into such a small, well-constructed and tidy box.

I think C. S. Lewis says it best in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Mr. Beaver is telling young Lucy and Susan about Aslan, the great lion:

“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

[…]

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver. […] “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

I don’t want a God who is at my beck and call and who can safely be relied upon to return the right result as long as I keep my part of the bargain. I want the lion, the great “I am”, the alpha and the omega, the God who is wild and free and who does whatever He pleases. That’s the God I find in the pages of the Bible. When I try to force God into a box, the god I end up with is no greater than my own logic. No: give me the God who can’t be pinned down. He may not always feel safe, but I certainly know I can trust in His goodness.


You’re also encouraged to click the link in the article title to read the comments this generated when first published in 2013. Or here.



Unrelated extra:

A friend of ours has launched a new project. The blog, Charismatic Scholarship, exists to promote the teachings of Christian academics and scholars who believe that the gifts of Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament have continued to this day; that those gifts have not ceased. The blog launched with a six-part interview with Craig Keener.

May 9, 2020

Did Jesus’ First Miracle Echo God’s First Miracle?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Gen 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

John 2:10 “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

Today’s thoughts are adapted from a 2008 newsletter I sent out; a newsletter which became the inspiration for Thinking Out Loud, which begat Christianity 201…

One of the most difficult aspects of the various debates in creationism has to do with the young/earth old earth issue. Some believe that God took his time to make the earth, that the “days” of Genesis 1 are really “ages” and that’s why we can have compatibility between the idea of a creator God and the scientists who say the earth is millions of years old.

Using this reasoning, “theistic evolution” is possible; the more recent blending of an evolutionary creation view with the concept of a God who was overseeing it all; the idea that God used evolution. But today we’ll stick to a simple young/old dichotomy.

If we arrive at the garden of Eden after that first creation week — let’s pretend we arrive on day ten — we see a tree and the tree is mature. It looks like it might be at least 20 years old. (Though counting the rings would be interesting!) Underneath the tree is a rock. The rock appears to be 20,000 years old. Adam himself becomes more problematic. He’s clearly a man, not an infant. Today, Jewish boys become a man at 13; in North America we use 18, though it once was 21; Jesus began his ministry at 30. Any one of those ages denotes the idea of “man” and not “boy.” From the earliest times, our earth seems to have either aged considerably or has some age built into it.

And really, what we see on day ten works with either a young earth or old earth perspective. One person sees the tree and the rock and says, “These items are 20 years and 20,000 years old respectively.” Another says, “This tree and that rock are only a week old.” But the tree is not a sapling, it’s taller than the man, so there would need to be some allowance for apparent age

…I started thinking about Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine. Wine needs fermentation and fermentation takes time. About a year ago, out of curiosity, we drove to one of those places that lets you make up a batch of wine to enjoy or give away to your friends. A batch of homemade brew would need at least six months as I remember it; and further aging only improves the quality, and they did say at the time that the host of the wedding had “saved the best wine until last.” Did Jesus press a “pause” button, and everyone froze in place for a year while the batch brewed, or did he simply do a creative miracle in an instant?

The former suggestion is something I just made up; I’ve never heard it suggested. If you believe in this miracle at all; it’s the latter you believe in; that the ceremonial washing water was water one moment and wine the next. If that’s the case, it’s interesting that Jesus’ first recorded creative act in the New Testament; and God’s first recorded creative act in the Old Testament should involve things that have apparent age; things that seem to have been created outside the constraints of time as we know it.

And if the earth is as young as some believe, then we are still witnessing the miracle of something created with apparent age, for each time the light of a star is seen at night, we know that scientifically, the light of stars that Adam, and Abraham, and Moses saw left those distant suns thousands of years before the earth was created. Which I know doesn’t make sense to many people.

The thing is, you can have a theistic view of creation and say that God did it, but it in terms of our chronological sense, it took decades and millennia to do so. That would make you an old earth creationist.

But you can’t say that Jesus took six months waiting for the wine to ferment.

Next time you’re wrestling with this issue, either personally or in discussion or with someone else, step outside Genesis for a minute and consider the water-into-wine miracle of the New Testament. Fermentation takes time. The wine definitely had an apparent age. Could this principle extend back into Genesis?

There’s definitely some similarities between what Jesus did at the start of his ministry and God did at the start of human history.


Much of the creation aspect of this depends on linear time being the same that first week as it is now. But there are other ways of seeing this. For example, check out this post from April, 2018: When Did Time Begin? (Which in turn is based on a 2012 post, Why Didn’t He Call the Light, “Light?”)

For more on the miracle at Canada, check out this post from September, 2019, Water to Wine: Miracle and Symbol.

February 29, 2020

Moving to a 201-Level Christianity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Earlier today I did a Google search for “Christianity 201” and found an article of which a very small excerpt appears below. (I hope it’s enough of a teaser that you truly desire to read the whole piece.) Greg has been writing at Inappropriate Conversations for ten years now and more recently podcasting.

Again, I encourage you to click the link in the header which follows, and read this complete.

Christianity 201: Time for Solid Food

It’s embarrassing to consider this possibility, but one of the differences between a 101-level and 201-level understanding of scripture is the answer to a couple of simple questions.  Did Jesus accomplish his mission and fulfill the law?  And when?

Matthew 5:17 – “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

John 19:30 – Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

I call the questions I raised embarrassing because they should reflect an elementary level of comprehension.  Jesus finished his work on the cross.  As Christians, we’ve -heard and said that phrase countless times.  Or, do we somehow doubt that Jesus truly is “Abraham’s seed” as specifically described by Paul (and, if you are a Christian, by Moses)?

Galatians 3:15-26 – Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.  Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.  What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.  For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.  Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.  Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?  May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.  But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.  Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Jesus fulfilled all of The Law.  Period.  Christianity teaches that we are justified by faith in Christ alone, and not by obedience to laws.  One line between heroes of the faith and heretics was drawn on precisely this point.  As human leadership perverted this doctrine, reformers throughout history have laid down their lives to restate Biblical truth.  Some were hanged.  Others were burned at the stake.  Shame on us for forgetting or feigning confusion.

I understand.  This can seem like a challenging concept.  So many believers who have specialized in Christianity 101 – taking the beginner’s course over and over again – have learned to rely upon The Law.  We erect statues of the Ten Commandments on the public square like graven images, in fact.  We’re willing to accept that Jesus fulfilled some of the laws.  It’s no trouble to walk away from dietary restrictions or guidelines about menstruation and participation in worship.  We’re failing at theology if we claim that Jesus did not fulfill them all…

…again, click the link in the title to continue reading…

October 13, 2019

Jehovah Names of God

Today I’m repeating something from nine years ago, before we made it a house rule that posts here would generally be rooted in a particular scripture passage. So while we’re not addressing this passage directly — we have elsewhere — but it does tie in.

ESV.Ex.34.5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

I have to confess, I’m not deeply absorbed in the statistics for this particular blog. Today I decided to see what the all-time most clicked things were, and this one came in 2nd. The blog is still available, but has been inactive for a couple of years.

Here it is as it appeared in November, 2010:


I’m always amazed at the number of people who haven’t — somewhere — encountered teaching on the various names given to God beginning with Jehovah and followed by a word which describes an aspect of God’s character and nature.

Pastor Mike Stone of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia posted these on his blog, and I thought it would be good to reproduce them here as well. For those who want to dig a little deeper; the second-last one is also the title of a very old hymn, which is how I came to learn of these names while still a teenager.

Genesis 22 – Jehovah Jireh – The Lord, my Provider

Exodus 15 – Jehovah Rapha – The Lord who heals

Exodus 17 – Jehovah Nissi – The Lord, my banner

Exodus 31 – Jehovah M’Kaddesh – The Lord who sanctifies

Deuteronomy 33 – Jehovah Chereb – The Lord, my Sword

Deuteronomy 33 – Jehovah Magen – The Lord, my Shield

Judges 6 – Jehovah Shalom – The Lord, my Peace

1 Samuel 1 – Jehovah Sabaoth – Lord of the hosts of heaven

Psalm 3 – Jehovah Kahbodi – The Lord, my Glory

Psalm 10 – Jehovah Malech-Olam – The Lord who is king forever

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Chezeq – The Lord, my strength

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Misqabbi – The Lord, my strong tower

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Naheh – The Lord who smites the enemy

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Seli – The Lord, my Rock

Psalm 20 – Jehovah Hoshea – The Lord, my Savior

Psalm 23 – Jehovah Rohi – The Lord, my Shepherd

Psalm 24 – Jehovah Milchamma – The Lord, mighty in battle

Psalm 27 – Jehovah Ori – The Lord, my Light

Psalm 89 – Jehovah Gannan – The Lord who is my defense

Psalm 91 – Jehovah Machsi – The Lord my Refuge

Psalm 98 – Jehovah Hamelech – The Lord, my King

Isaiah 40 – Jehovah Bara – The Lord, my Creator

Isaiah 49 – Jehovah Goel – The Lord, my Redeemer

Jeremiah 16 – Jehovah Ma’oz – The Lord, my Fortress

Jeremiah 23 – Jehovah Tsidkenu – The Lord, my righteousness

Ezekiel 48 – Jehovah Shammah – The Lord who is present


Did you read the list? You’re not done yet.

Take a moment to really consider these aspects of God’s nature: Provider, healer, battle flag, sanctifier, sword, shield, peace, Lord of heaven, glory, king forever, strength, strong tower, victor over enemies, rock, savior, shepherd, great in battle, light, defense, refuge, King, creator redeemer, fortress, righteousness, always present.

Lastly repeat this list — out loud if you’re in a place that’s possible — with the word my in front of each adjective: My provider, my healer, my battle flag… etc.

December 31, 2018

Starting Another Chapter

Col 4: 5 KJVWalk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Eph 516 KJVRedeeming the time, because the days are evil.

The KJV uses the term “redeeming the time” in these two verses.   The second verse appears in the NASB as,

making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

The other verse appears in the NASB as

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

The question I ask myself is this:  Did I make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2018?   And then:  Will I endeavor to make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2019?

While some current Christian writers emphasize the importance of rest, others talk about the “stewardship of our time.”   Time management is considered enough in scripture that it is not a stretch to say that scripture introduces a “doctrine of time usage.”

But like everything else in scripture, there is a place for balance in doctrine.   Think of a pendulum swinging back and forth.   Only when it stops swinging does it find the place of balance in the middle. There are two aspects to the Bible’s teaching on time management; time stewardship.

There is a time for action — The one who knows to do something right and doesn’t do it; that’s a sin.   But there’s a time for restBe still and know that He is God.

Time management by Biblical standards involves more than a simple “resting” or “action” theory.   It requires skill and wisdom to find the balance.

So more questions:   Did I learn to rest in God in 2018?   Will I learn more about resting in God in 2019?

Nobody said this was easy.


Each of us is about to write another chapter of our lives. The turning of the pages of the calendar may be more significant to some people than it is to others, but the start of a new year is always a time to both look back and look forward. For that reason, I think Steve Green’s song is such a great way to end 2018.

This isn’t my all-time favorite song, or style, but when Steve Green or anyone else is taking their lyrics directly from scripture it creates something bigger than the song itself. When they were much younger I asked my kids if they can tell when, in the middle of devotional book we’re reading, the paragraph moves into a Bible quotation, and they both understood exactly where I was going with this question. There’s something about the power of God’s word that is so easily identified; it stands out from what the devotional writer is saying as though it was underlined, in bold face type, in giant print, or printed in bright orange.

The song’s key verse source is Philippians 1:6, but I’ll give you the verses that precede and follow for full context:

Phil 1:5(NIV) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

I don’t what you or I are facing in 2019, but we are each, in God’s eyes, a work in progress. And he doesn’t abandon his projects.

All God’s best for the new year.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

October 10, 2018

Hardened Hearts and God’s Master Plan

I’ve been doing some casual editing for a local writer who is considering the idea of a book which currently has the working title, “Melting a Heart of Stone;” taking a different approach to the idea of predestination.

What follows is a draft version of Chapter two which I thought would be a good fit for readers here. Many of the scripture passages are alluded to, but not typed out, so be sure to keep your Bible software open as you read.

Historical Precedence in the Forming of a Heart of Stone

by Carol McMurray

In the first millennium, from the time of creation, humankind had every opportunity to enjoy creation, to worship God the Creator, and to submit to His will. However, when faced with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life as offered by Satan, (1 John 2:16) almost every individual freely elected to walk away from a loving God.  In exchange they invariably chose to lust after Satan’s enticing secrets, such as the invention of musical instruments, massive construction projects, the establishment of the first cities, the technology of brass and iron smelting, (Genesis 4: 21-22), and sadly, the participation in forbidden and blasphemous sexual liaisons with the fallen immortals. (Genesis 6: 1-4)

These forbidden affairs produced giants called Nephilim, who did great exploits, but also competed viciously for dominance, becoming increasingly wicked, corrupt, and hardened to the point where their hearts were only evil continually and full of violence! (Gen 4:5)

Fortunately, one man, Noah, found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Subsequently, God used this one man to save future humanity from the devastation of a world-wide flood. It is interesting to note, however, that because of the favour shown to Noah, God saved his entire family, though evidence shows that his triplet sons were not as devoted to God as was their father, especially Ham. (Genesis 9) And so, after many generations, we again see evidence of humans hardening their hearts, and spiraling ever downward, particularly Nimrod, who lusted for power and advanced knowledge, planting numerous cities including Babel and Nineveh, and ultimately desiring to usurp God’s throne. (Gen 10:10)

After the destruction of the Tower of Babel, and the subsequent confusion of language, the descendants of Noah scattered to all parts of the known world: Ham (and his son Canaan) to the Middle East, Japheth to Europe and Russia, and Shem to the Fertile Crescent; that is, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Most of these, however, quickly succumbed to Satanic pagan religions, and vicious competitions for power and selfish gain.

Abram (Abraham) on the other hand, like his predecessor Noah, found grace in the eyes of the Lord. He was willing to leave the home of his ancestors, and by faith, to follow the leading of the Lord, believing that He was the true God who rewarded the faithfulness and obedience of those who deliberately chose to shun evil. God subsequently initiated a covenant with Abraham pledging to bless not only himself, but also his descendants, and to use them to eventually to bless the whole earth.

Indeed, though it took many years of trying faith, God did eventually bless Abraham with a beloved son Isaac, even in his old age, and Isaac, in turn, delighted in the birth of his own twin sons, Jacob and Esau. These two boys, born from the same parents under the same circumstances, surprisingly chose very different paths. Interestingly, Paul argues in Romans 9:10, that even before the boys were born, and before their personalities were developed, God chose to bless Jacob (the younger twin), and to reject Esau, “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him who calls”. (Romans 9:11) Herein lies the dilemma. If God in His sovereignty chose to curse Esau before he was even born, should we assume that Esau had no say in the matter? On the other hand, did God, who existed beyond time and space, know what sort of flawed character Esau would turn out to be? This would suggest that Esau, in fact, freely made his own bad choices (though surely these would have been known by an omniscient and omnipotent God).

It’s rather difficult to come to a definitive conclusion regarding the matter. We see that Jacob, though loved by God, did not always make the wisest decisions himself, nor did his personal relationship with Jehovah reflect positively in the lives of his twelve sons; that is, with the exception of Joseph, first-born of his beloved wife Rachel. Joseph was clearly gifted with a prophetic vision, and a wisdom beyond his years. In fact, in his adult life, Joseph was strategically used to save the entire country of Egypt from a devastating and prolonged drought, and subsequently, to provide a very comfortable home for his family in the preferred neighbourhood of Goshen. This outcome, however, did not come about without a very high personal cost to Joseph, including betrayal, and years of undeserved imprisonment. However, Joseph’s years of suffering resulted, not in bitterness as one might suppose, but rather in the softening of his heart towards his cruel and ruthless brothers, and his false accusers. This positive attitude resulted in Jacob’s family enjoying many fruitful years in Egypt, a situation that lasted throughout Joseph’s lifetime.

Over the course of time, (about 400 years) this entitled situation no longer sat well with the new Pharaohs, who had no loyalty or gratitude towards the family of Joseph.  No longer did these new generations of Egyptians even remember that Joseph had once blessed the entire nation, resulting in Egypt’s prosperity beyond all other nations of this era.

The built-up jealousy and resentment of the Egyptians resulted in a gradual hardening of their hearts toward the children of Israel. Before long the Israelites found themselves living in Egypt, but now, as slaves under cruel bondage. Not only were they subject to forced labour, but they had to endure cruel mandatory infanticide.

Though the children of Israel felt abandoned by God, we must be cognizant of the fact that God was there, if only they could have recognized it. Unknown to them, their cries indeed did rise up and touch the heart of God, and the Lord said “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So, I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land.” (Exodus 3:7-8)

This leads us to ponder… Is anyone beyond touching the heart of a compassionate God even today? Isaiah replies, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save, nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear”. (Isaiah 59:1-2) Isaiah reminds us that it is our unrepented sins and iniquities that restrain the hand of God to deliver. We must reap the consequences of our multiple unrepented sins; therefore, “justice is turned back, and righteousness is afar off”. (v 14)

There is hope, however! God himself provided a way for us to escape condemnation. Isaiah describes that plan; that is, God would lay on His own son the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53) We can be restored! In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul describes Christ as our ‘Mediator of a better covenant’, declaring,  “I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”, (Hebrews 8:10) Titus affirms this, reminding us that God’s kindness and love are always ready to be poured out to us through the Lord Jesus, declaring, … “according to His mercy, He saved us through the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (Titus 3:4-6)

June 25, 2018

Compelling People to Become Christians: Can a Parable Contain a Commandment?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV Luke 14:12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The Parable of the Great Banquet

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses…

…21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

If today’s title seems long, it’s because, in a very, very short comment on a Religion Forum, a writer opened not one, but two different cans of worms. First let’s read what they wrote:

Luke 14:23 says: The master said: “go out to the highways and country lanes and force people to come in, to make sure my house is full”. This verse is not a command of Jesus, but, rather is at the end of the parable

“A man once gave a feast”. In the parable a man gave a feast and invited many guests. At the time for the feast he sent the servants out to tell those he had invited to come because everything was ready. None of those people came, they all had other things to do. The man sent the servants to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Then the servants came to him and said there is still some room left in the banquet room. The man said go out and find people and force them to come so my house will be full.

This verse was used centuries ago by Catholics and Protestants in Europe to support forcing people to go to the one officially approved church in a nation. Today Christians generally don’t favor forcing people to go to church, so what do Christians do with this verse now? I can’t think of any way to get around it except to ignore it. How do Christians soft pedal this verse today?

Parables exist to compare and contrast. When “foolish virgins” run out of oil for their midnight lamps, the message is a warning to be prepared. In other words, don’t do what you see happening in the story.

In this story, there’s room at the table. There are still empty seats. The host of the party desires a full house. In other words, you’re supposed to do what you see playing out in the story.

We’re expected to go out

  • i.e. “Go into all the world”
  • i.e. “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria;” etc.
  • i.e. Search for the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son; etc.

and invite people to the great banquet God is preparing.

In a devotional we posted in March 2017, we noted:

C. S. Lewis wrote, “The symbols under which heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.”

The banquet in Luke 23 could be either the dinner party or the wedding reception. It’s pointing us to something for which God is preparing us.

But the writer of our opening comment correctly notes that this verse has been used to create forced conversions. Even J. B. Phillips, in his translation, says, “make them come.” The Message says, “drag them in.” “Compel” and “Constrain” are frequently used.

Other translations however offer, “Urge them,” “Persuade them,” etc. (This is considered more consistent with the original Greek, as a later response in the same article points out.)  A respondent to the comment says, “This in Luke is, to me, the same as the wedding story in Matthew 22. There it states to “bid” them to come which is no more than to ask or invite them.”

So: Which is it?

The comment writer is correct in noting that this is a parable, and some aspects of the story may be very similar while the story is slightly different. Not everything in a parable has a perfect 1:1 mapping.  This is because the major point is that God’s desire is for the banquet to be filled. “God is not willing that any should perish.” (John 3:17a.)  In some schools of doctrine, this may grate a little since those who are chosen shouldn’t need to be ‘dragged in’ because of the irresistible grace presenting itself. (This is part of the larger question, ‘If unconditional election is a given, why evangelize?’)

I think the other can of worms is where the comment writer misses out.

The end of the parable is indeed a commandment; one that is consistent with the Great Commission, and all of (a), (b), and (c) above.

The parable represents the heart of God.

It’s a call to “come to the table” that in its broader context is being said in the home of a Pharisee and not strictly about who gets in but who is honored and given a place of prominence.

Make it your goal to invite others to the table.

PW

Come to the table
Come join the sinners
You have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table.


Bonus content:

…There are so many people in this world who are lost and lonely and hurting, people who have nowhere to turn and no idea how to escape Satan’s evil grip. Jesus is the only one who can help them. All they need is someone to point them toward the Cross, someone to care enough to take them by the hand and lead them into the arms of their Creator, someone to hold them and love them into the kingdom…

…There is something about staring into the eyes of hopelessness, despair, and absolute grief that brings the gospel message home to you in a way that nothing else can. Your life takes on a renewed sense of purpose and urgency and you want to spend every waking moment of your life sharing your faith and setting captive souls free.

Reaching people for Jesus is what my life is about. “Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled’” (Luke 14:23). I challenge you to join me and ask yourself this question: If I don’t help them, who will?

~Nicky Cruz, sourced at World Challenge.

 

May 21, 2018

The Unsaved Aren’t Afraid of a Hell They Don’t Believe Exists

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re featuring, for the first time, the writing of Kaleb Tillman who calls his blog The Controversial Christian. Kaleb has an extensive background in Christian music and broadcast media. Click the title below to read this at source.

Can a Fear of Hell Save?

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭1:6-12‬ (ESV)

Very, very rarely are salvation and hell mentioned in the same sentence in the Bible. Any call to Jesus, you will find, often avoids the subject of hell entirely. Hell is obviously a thing, and it’s obviously what people are being saved from, but it doesn’t seem so important when the apostles are trying to convince people to follow Jesus.

Now think of every evangelist you’ve seen with a sign during a sporting event, or the televangelists who present the gospel, or the hellfire and brimstone preachers of old, or the people that come and preach on your college campus even though everyone is more interested in yelling at them than taking what they say to heart. What do they have in common?

Well, in most cases, their main selling points are either getting to heaven or not going to hell. They appeal to your fear. And, of course, it’s not just them. Plenty of pastors, evangelists and everyday Christians trying to reach out will bring up the idea that if you don’t accept this idea of Jesus, you are going to hell.

But we never see that approach taken from the apostles in the Bible. Jesus will mention hell, but mainly to people who are already following him, or at least people who claim to be religious leaders. Never is that line of logic used to convert someone in the Bible. Why?

Well, because it doesn’t work.

There are some major problems with using the fear of hell to evangelize:

1) The people who actually need the evangelizing don’t believe in hell.

Here lies a major practical problem. We evangelize to people who don’t believe Christianity. That means they don’t believe in God, the Bible or the concept of heaven and hell, or at least not the Christian versions of those things. Tell them your Bible says they’ll go to hell and they laugh. They don’t think hell exists, so they have nothing to be afraid of. This is why it also doesn’t work to tell people who don’t believe in Jesus that they need to stop sleeping around, for instance. They don’t believe in the concept of sin and don’t hold themselves to Christian standards, so why should they? You have to lead them to Jesus BEFORE they’ll accept the rest of the Bible.

2) It’s viewed by non-Christians as intentionally judgmental and offensive.

Yes, Christians are supposed to be extremely difficult to offend, but we can’t apply those standards to non-Christians while we’re evangelizing. Have you ever been in a discussion about, say, Star Wars with someone who has a different opinion on it than you? What if you were talking about how good the prequel movies are and the person you’re discussing with suddenly says “Well, if you like the prequels, you must hate children.” This guy is now attacking your character for seemingly no reason, and you likely won’t respond well.

To a non-Christian, hellfire and brimstone evangelism feels like that. This random person is attacking your lifestyle when he doesn’t even know you. Everything the person is saying may be factually true, but they hear it as an attack only designed to incite anger and start an argument. And when you see someone like that, you don’t want to listen, but you may listen to someone who’s telling you there’s a God who loves you for who you are, which is also true.

3) Fear doesn’t save people.

By far more important than any other reasoning I could give, fear of hell doesn’t work as a path to salvation. As the passage at the top says “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ”

Salvation comes from a knowledge of who Jesus is, what He did and His love for us, along with us giving our love in return. No one has ever been scared into honestly loving someone. “Love me or die” does not usually get actual love in response. People may act better, go to church, read their Bibles, preach, anything out of fear of going to hell, but without love there is still no salvation.

Now, I’m not in favor of changing the Bible to appeal to people. Hell is still there, and we can’t pretend otherwise. If someone we’re speaking to asks about it, we should absolutely tell them the biblical truth. We as Christians should acknowledge it, and we can even use it as motivation to lead the ones we love to Jesus.

But that’s not the pitch. If our goal is for people to understand the gospel so they may accept the salvation of Christ, especially if we only have a short window to do it, then we need to tell them the information that actually matters: God loves you, Jesus died for you, and if you love Him, He will forgive you. If we can convince people of that, they can come to understand the rest in time. Just something to think about.

April 11, 2018

When Did Time Begin?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV John 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

NIV Col 1:15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

This topic came into greater focus for me back in 2012, when Wheaton College professor John Walton, author of The Lost World of Genesis One (and now a number of other “Lost World” books in a series) was a guest on the Phil Vischer Podcast. I wrote about that here at this article.

Another topic, which is of course quite related is studies into what theologians refer to as “the pre-incarnate Christ.” A book I always wanted to read on this topic is Ron Rhodes’ Christ Before the Manger: The Life and Times of the Preincarnate Christ (Baker, 1992). I recently got my hands on a copy and this short introduction turns up in chapter two.

When Did Time Begin?

Related to the issue of the preexistence and eternality of Christ is this question: When did time begin? Scripture is not clear about the relationship between time and eternity. Some prefer to think of eternity as time – a succession of moments – without beginning or ending. However, there are indications in Scripture that time itself may be a created reality, a reality that began when God created the universe.

The book of Hebrews contains some hints regarding the relationship between time and eternity. Hebrews 1:2 tells us that the Father “has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe(italics added). The last part of this verse is rendered more literally from the Greek, “through whom he made the ages.Likewise, Hebrews 11:3 tells us that “by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command” (italics added). This is more literally from the Greek, “By faith we understand that the ages were formed at God’s command.”

Scholars have grappled with what may be meant here by the term “ages.” Lutheran scholar R. C. H. Lenski says the term means “not merely vast periods of time as mere time, but ‘eons’ with all that exists as well as all that transpires in them.” New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce says that “the whole created universe of space and time is meant.” From this verse, theologian John MacArthur concludes that “Jesus Christ is responsible for creating not only the physical earth but also time, space, force, action and matter. The writer of Hebrews does not restrict Christ’s creation to this earth; he shows us that Christ is the Creator of the entire universe and of existence itself. And Christ made it all without effort.”

Church father and philosopher Augustine (A.D. 354-430) held that the universe was not created in time, but that time itself was created along with the universe. Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof agrees, and concludes: “It would not be correct to assume that time was already in existence when God created the world, and that He at some point in that existing time, called ‘the beginning,’ brought forth the universe. The world was created with time rather than in time. Back of the beginning mentioned in Genesis 1:1 lied a beginningless eternity.”

In view of the above, we may conclude that when the apostle John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1), the phrase in the beginning has specific reference to the beginning of time when the universe was created. When the time-space universe came into being, Christ the divine Word was already existing in a loving, intimate relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

(pp 36-37)

February 26, 2018

What We Think About When We Think About God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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This is a much-condensed sample of the full text of chapter one from one of my favorite books recently available, God Has a Name by John Mark Comer (Zondervan). (My review of the book is at this link.) To read the full chapter instead — which I strongly recommend — click the title below.

The God on top of the mountain

by John Mark Comer

The twentieth-century writer A. W. Tozer made a stunning claim: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Really?

The most important thing?

More than our gender or sexuality or ethnicity or family of origin or the town we grew up in or where we went to college or our tax bracket or whether our sport is American football or futbol football?

Absolutely.

Here’s a truth that cuts across the whole of the universe: we become like what we worship.

Tozer went on to write,

“We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God . . . Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ‘What comes to mind when you think about God?’ we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man.”

Put another way, what you think about God will shape your destiny in life…

…Often what we believe about God says more about us than it does about God. Our theology is like a mirror to the soul. It shows us what’s deep inside.

Maybe the truth is that we want a God who is controllable because we want to be God. We want to be the authority on who God is or isn’t and what’s right or wrong, but we want the mask of religion or spirituality to cover up the I-wanna-be-God reality.

The most ancient, primal temptation, going all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden, is to decide for ourselves what God is like, and whether we should live into his vision of human flourishing or come up with our own. All so we “will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

This is why theology is so incredibly important.

The word theology comes from two Greek words—theo, meaning “God,” and logos, meaning “word.” Simply put, theology is a word about God. It’s what comes to mind when we think about God.

It’s not like some of us are into theology and others aren’t. We all have a theology. We all have thoughts and opinions and convictions about God. Good, bad, right, wrong, brilliant, dangerous—we all theologize.

But the problem is that much of what we think about God is simply wrong…

…For Jesus and all the writers of Scripture, the starting point for all theology is the realization that:

we don’t know what God is like, but we can learn.

But to learn, we have to go to the source.

And that means we need revelation. Otherwise we end up with all sorts of erroneous and goofy and untrue and maybe even toxic ideas about God.

By “revelation,” I don’t mean the last book of the Bible or foldout charts from the 1970s about the end of the world. I mean, God himself has to reveal to us what he’s like. He has to pull back the curtain of the universe and let you and me look inside. But here’s the thing: revelation, by definition, is usually a surprise. A twist in the story. A break from the status quo. So when God reveals himself, it’s almost always different from what we expect.

All of which leads us to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai…

…[T]here are climactic moments when the door swings open and we get a brand-new, compelling, and at times terrifying vision of who God is.

Often these moments take place on a mountain.

If you’ve ever read the Bible, you know that the second book is called Exodus. The setting for the book is Israel in the desert, en route from slavery in Egypt to freedom in a new land. But it’s a bumpy ride, to say the least.

At the head of the people of God is the prophet Moses, who has a totally unique relationship with the Creator. We read that God “would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”

In Exodus 33, we get to eavesdrop on a conversation between Moses and God. Moses is asking for God to go with the Israelites every step of the way, and at one point he asks, “Now show me your glory.”

In ancient Hebrew literature like Exodus, to speak of God’s glory was to speak of his presence and beauty. Moses is asking to see God for who he really is. To see God in person.

For Moses, head knowledge isn’t enough. He wants to experience God.

God graciously tells Moses that he can’t see his face or he will die, “for no one may see me and live.” But he’ll do him one better. God tells him, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord [Yahweh], in your presence.”

So God
has a name.

The next morning, Moses gets up early and climbs to the top of Mount Sinai. Then we read one of the most staggering paragraphs in the entire Bible.

“The Lord [Yahweh] came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord [Yahweh]. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord [Yahweh], the Lord [Yahweh], the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’”

This is one of those watershed moments when everything changes. It’s one of the few places in the entire Bible where God describes himself. Where he essentially says, “This is what I’m like.” Think of it as God’s self-disclosure statement, his press release to the world.

Because of that, it’s quite possibly the most quoted passage in the Bible, by the Bible.

The writers of the Bible circle back to this passage over and over and over again. Dozens of times. Moses and David and Jeremiah and Jonah—they quote it and allude to it and pray it and sing it and claim it and complain about it, but above all, they believe it.

This is ground zero for a theology of God.

But what’s striking to me is how very different this passage is from what you would expect.

For those of us who live in the West, we tend to think of God in the categories of philosophy. Pick up a book about God, and it’ll often start with the omnis . . .

  • God is omnipotent (he’s all-powerful).
  • God is omniscient (he’s all-knowing).
  • God is omnipresent (he’s everywhere at once).

And all of that is true. I believe it. But here’s my hang-up: when God describes himself, he doesn’t start with how powerful he is or how he knows everything there is to know or how he’s been around since before time and space and there’s no one else like him in the universe.

That’s all true, but apparently, to God, it’s not the most important thing.

When God describes himself, he starts with his name. Then he talks about what we call character. He’s compassionate and gracious; he’s slow to anger; he’s abounding in love and faithfulness, and on down the list.

Which makes sense. Starting with the omnis is kind of like somebody asking about my wife, and me saying she’s thirty-three years old, five foot one, 120 pounds, black hair, brown eyes, Latin American ancestry . . .

That’s all true, but if you sat there as I was spouting off all these facts about my wife, my guess is that at some point, you would interrupt me and ask, “Yes, but what is she like? Tell me about her. What’s her personality? Is she laid-back or type A? Social or shy? What is she passionate about? What made you fall in love with her? What makes her, her?”

Most of the time, this is how we talk about God—we rattle off a bunch of stuff about God that is true; it’s just not the stuff that makes him, him.

That’s why this passage in Exodus is such a breath of fresh air. It turns out that God is better than any of us could imagine…

 

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