Christianity 201

August 30, 2020

What’s In Your Hand?

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt…

“The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. “And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed…

Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”  Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it…

“This,” said the LORD, “is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has appeared to you.” Exodus 3: 15-17a, 18-21, 4:1-3, 5

Earlier this week, I was thinking about the people whose Christian identity is defined by the things they do in terms of Christian service, and how much of this service revolved around church activities which ceased after the lockdown. Preparing the Communion table. Handing out bulletins. Singing on a worship team. Greeting visitors. Serving coffee.

If your entire realm of Christian service consisted of areas of ministry activity at a weekend church gathering, and you didn’t find anything to replace it, then you clearly haven’t been serving God much lately, have you? No wonder you’re anxious to return to live, in-person worship.

My wife, on the other hand, has been busier now than ever. She stepped up from her worship-leading focus to create a media-focus in a smaller church where none had existed previously.

For me, I’ve gone from feeling immobilized for the first six weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, to a return to greater activity, including preparing these devotionals on a daily basis at a time we had previously announced we would be cutting back the frequency from its current 24/7 schedule.

As I thought about wanting to do more earlier this morning, I was reminded of God’s word to Moses.

Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

If you’ve found yourself wanting to find new ways to offer service — assuming that your personal spiritual development through prayer and scripture hasn’t waned during this period — you might want to ask yourself the same question, “What is that in your hand?”

In other words, what do you already possess that God can use, if you will allow it to be used.

[At risk of going off on a tangent — which I’m about to do anyway — I should say that when this verse was impressed on me, I was actually holding my toothbrush in my hand. There are people who take things like this quite literally, but I’m sorry to say I don’t have a wonderful toothbrush analogy to share, or a vision of how the toothbrush represented something significant. You can feel free to leave a comment. Or maybe not.]

The thing in your hand might be:

  • an email address you can use to get in contact with someone you haven’t heard from in a long time
  • a conversation you can start with the person(s) walking their dog by your house each night after supper
  • a bank balance that’s been untouched by restaurants and recreation that can be used to make a donation to a needy individual or a smaller, underfunded charity
  • a talent for sewing, woodworking, baking, automotive-tinkering, etc., that can be used to bless someone with a physical gift or the gift of your time
  • a Christian book, novel, study resource, sermon audio, DVD, etc., that can be passed on to someone who might enjoy it

and so many other things I could list here.

The writer of Ecclesiastes offers this (9:10)

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

BibleHub.com notes that Paul echoes this in two passages,

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters – Colossians 3:23

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. – Romans 12:1

Again, what have you got at your immediate disposal?

We’ll continue this thought tomorrow with a re-broadcast of an article which looks at this verse:

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.
– Eph 5:16 KJV, NLT

all other scriptures NIV

May 9, 2020

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

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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.

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)

January 28, 2011

Introducing the Ministry of Ann Voskamp

We’re going to take a break today from the regular format to introduce daily devotional and Bible study readers to the ministry of Ann Voskamp, author of the just-published One Thousand Gifts.

First, you might want to get to know Ann’s website, A Holy Experience.  Make sure your speakers are turned on, as music plays underneath.  Or not.  I read one reviewer who valued Ann’s words so much, readers were advised to make sure their speakers were turned off!  I guess we each process things differently.

Second, read Ann’s story.  Some of you have blogs of your own and you’ve had that experience of creating an “about” page where you try to sum up your life journey in a few words for people who you’ve never met.  If not, open a word processing program or open a blank e-mail and take about fifteen minutes to craft your own personal “about” page.  (If you like the result, you can post it here as a comment!)

Finally, watch and listen to an excerpt from the book in this video.  Usually on days like this I embed a Christian worship video, but this time we’re going for a different kind of video that is so suited to Ann’s ministry. I realize not all of you are into poetry, but consider the following:

  1. The Bible devotes five books to wisdom literature, much of which is poetic in form.
  2. In many places that we don’t think of as poetry, the simple repetition of words (i.e. “Holy, Holy, Holy”) is following Hebrew poetic forms familiar to the audience.  There is a beauty to the language of scripture that our language, English, causes us to overlook.
  3. The Bible is filled with Psalms in places other than the book that bears that name.  Mary greets the angel’s news that she is the one chosen to bear the Messiah with the song we know as The Magnificat.  While it is largely a reiteration of various scripture; combined it becomes poetic.  The passage in Philippians about Christ’s humility (“Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus…”) is indented in most modern Bibles because it’s recognized as an early Church hymn.

So watch, listen and enjoy…