Christianity 201

July 18, 2018

God’s Perfect Timing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We periodically visit the devotional website of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, which features a different writer each day. This devotional reminds us three “timing” passages in scripture and was written by Dee Renaud.

The Right Place At The Right Time

When my husband and I were asked to lead an Alpha small group at our church a few years ago, we were in the right place at the right time. Thus began many Bible studies and many special relationships with so many wonderful people in our congregation.

When Esther saved her people from certain death, she was in the right place at the right time.

Esther 4:14 – For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (NIV)

Have you ever looked back on your life and realized that God’s timing was perfect in one or more situations? We can always trust in God’s timing. We are impatient people, and we want everything now. Too often, we forget that God knows what is best for us and that He wants what is best for us. His timing is always perfect.

At exactly the right time, God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to earth.

Galatians 4:4 – But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law. (NIV)

Some may think that when Jesus was crucified on the cross, He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, His death was God’s plan for our salvation. We needed Jesus to be our Saviour, to save us from our sins. When He died on the cross, He took our sins upon Himself so that we could be forgiven. He was definitely in the right place at the right time.

Romans 5:6 – You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (NIV)

Many of us who have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour will remember when we were in the right place at the right time.

  • Maybe we were listening to a sermon.
  • Maybe a friend was telling us about Jesus.
  • Maybe we were reading the Bible and the Holy Spirit convicted us of our sins.

There will be times in our lives when we make bad choices. It’s never too late to repent and turn back to God. The price has been paid. The offer is there. Will you accept God’s offer of forgiveness and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour? Have you been waiting for such a time as this?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank You that every day is a new beginning with new opportunities to trust in You. There is a time for everything in life. Forgive us for the times when we have made bad choices and we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thank You for the times when we have been in the right place at the right time. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.


 

 

July 14, 2018

The Purpose of Patience

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Joanna Pierce writes for the blog of Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Bloomington, Illinois. This is her second time appearing here at C201. As with our last visit, the scriptures are embedded within the post as links. The links take you to a KJV version of the verses, but once there, you have an option to switch over to two Amplified Bible texts.

Patience is a Big Part of Your Journey

Endurance and Patience

Jesus encouraged the disciples to endure until the end to see their salvation (Matthew 10:22, 24:12–13). But, what did He mean? Endure means to suffer patiently, or to last. So, what’s patience? Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

Our salvation journey has a starting place and then continues until we reach Heaven. There’s a gate we enter and a way we follow once we start on our journey with God (Matthew 7:13–14). Patience makes up for a lot of our way!

Necessary for Salvation

How much is patience critical to our salvation experience? Is it as importance as repentance and baptism? Scripture tells us to add to our faith virtue, then knowledge, then temperance, then patience, then godliness, then brotherly kindness, and lastly, charity (II Peter 1:5–9). If we don’t have patience, we’ll be unfruitful in God’s Kingdom; we’re called to bear fruit! If we lack all of these things, we’ll be blind and forget we’ve been purged from our sins. When this occurs, there’s a strong likelihood we’ll follow false truth or be bound by condemnation—all because we’re missing patience in our life.

It is through our trials and tribulations will our patience flourish. It builds experience in us which leads to hope (Romans 5:3–5). We are called to glory in our tribulations and how it aids our spiritual development.

3 Men Who Demonstrated Patience

Abraham

Abraham began his life in an idolatrous society, was childless, and God called him to leave everything he knew and follow Him. Because he believed in God, it was credited to him as righteousness. After given the promise of a child and being the father of all nations, he waits 25 long years. Then, 12–13 years after the birth of Isaac, he’s instructed to sacrifice his son. What a journey of trials!

But, Abraham had learned through every trial to stand on the promises of the Word of God. He knew at the moment of sacrifice, God would raise up his son (Hebrews 11:19). Abraham is our example of a person who waited, endured tribulation, and struggled to develop patience in his life. We must learn to rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him no matter how long it takes and no matter what He tells us to do (Psalms 37:1–7).

Joseph

At the age of 17, God gave Joseph a dream of his future. From that moment on, he faced trial after trial. He was cast into a pit by his brothers, sold into slavery, accused of rape and thrown into prison, and left to abide there, forgotten for years. However, through these experiences God was grooming Joseph into a vessel who could glorify Him.

At times, Joseph may have struggled to see God’s purpose in patience because he was in the midst of a 20-year long trial. But, at age 37, he winds up in the second most powerful seat in all of Egypt and it all becomes crystal clear. God never promised we’d have an easy life; our promise is that we will see a lot of trouble. But, God has also promised to give strength to the weary if we wait upon Him and not give up (Isaiah 40:28–31).

David

David was 12 years old when the most powerful prophet in Israel anoints him with oil as the future king. Even with this promise, David faces trial after trial in his life. He fights a giant, spends most of his reign running for his life from the murderous Saul, commits adultery and devises a plot to kill the woman’s husband, numbers Israel and causes the death of 70,000 people in the process, and the list goes on and on.

At the death of his child, the product of his adulterous relationship, David still gets up and goes to the house of the Lord to worship. In his trials (and mistakes) David was in the process of learning patience. God was shaping him into being a man after His own heart.

Purpose of Patience

Every trial we experience is for our good (Romans 8:28); it’s working patience in us! Scripture tells us we need patience to complete the will of God (Hebrews 10:36). Ultimately, we sill be saved if we have patience (Luke 21:19)—patience is part of the way, not the gate to Heaven.

As in the examples of Abraham, Joseph, and David, we are put through trials so our lives can bring God glory (I Peter 1:3–7). What an example we can show to others of God’s goodness, grace, mercy, and transformative power. What God can do in us can be done in someone else!

God pushes patience so we will have 1) reduced stress, 2) fewer times we hurt others, 3) more joy, and 4) help to keep us on our journey with Him. We need to allow patience to have its perfect work in us (James 1:2–4). It’s all to get us ready (and patient) for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (James 5:7–8).

 

July 7, 2018

When Jesus Comes in the Storm

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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NIV.Matthew.14.22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Doubtstorms

by Max Lucado

On Sundays I stand before a church with a three-point outline in my hand, thirty minutes on the clock, and a prayer on my lips. I do my best to say something that will convince a stranger that an unseen God still hears.

And I sometimes wonder why so many hearts have to hurt.

Do you ever get doubtstorms? Some of you don’t, I know. I’ve talked to you.

I think you are gifted. You are gifted with faith. You can see the rainbow before the clouds part. If you have this gift, then I won’t say anything you need to hear.

But others of you wonder…

You wonder if it is a blessing or a curse to have a mind that never rests. But you would rather be a cynic than a hypocrite, so you continue to pray with one eye open and wonder:

– about starving children

– about the power of prayer

– about the depths of grace

– about Christians in cancer wards

– about who you are to ask such questions anyway.

Tough questions. Throw-in-the-towel questions. Questions the disciples must have asked in the storm.

The light came for the disciples. A figure came to them walking on the water. It wasn’t what they expected. Perhaps they were looking for angels to descend or heaven to open. Maybe they were listening for a divine proclamation to still the storm. We don’t know what they were looking for. But one thing is for sure, they weren’t looking for

Jesus to come walking on the water.

“‘It’s a ghost,’ they said and cried out in fear” (Matthew 14:26).

And since Jesus came in a way they didn’t expect, they almost missed seeing the answer to their prayers.

And unless we look and listen closely, we risk making the same mistake. God’s lights in our dark nights are as numerous as the stars, if only we’ll look for them.

When the disciples saw Jesus in the middle of their stormy night, they called him a ghost. A phantom. A hallucination. To them, the glow was anything but God.

When we see gentle lights on the horizon, we often have the same reaction. We dismiss occasional kindness as apparitions, accidents, or anomalies. Anything but God.

“When Jesus comes,” the disciples in the boat may have thought, “he’ll split the sky. The sea will be calm. The clouds will disperse.”

“When God comes,” we doubters think, “all pain will flee. Life will be tranquil. No questions will remain.”

And because we look for the bonfire, we miss the candle. Because we listen for the shout, we miss the whisper.


Excerpt from In the Eye of the Storm (1991)


Ryan Stevenson: In the Eye of the Storm:

June 8, 2018

Selwyn Hughes on Proverbs

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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It’s unfortunate that outside the UK, so few are familiar with the devotional writings of the late Selwyn Hughes. His devotionals were part of my own routine for at least a decade, and unlike other small devotional booklets, you had to pay for them. Furthermore, he would stay on the same theme for 60 days, so each day’s reading built on the previous days. His writing is currently available on the website Crosswalk. While I couldn’t get the earliest ones on this series from the book of Proverbs, I thought we would join the study a few days in progress…

 ►►►To continue with this series during this month, bookmark and track at Crosswalk – Everyday Light

Proverbs 28:1-17
“‘ a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order.” (v.2)

…[A]ny church which does not encourage its people, especially its youth, to dig into the book of Proverbs is doing them a major disservice. I was introduced to Proverbs within weeks of becoming a Christian and this book, perhaps more than any other in the Bible, has supplied me with wisdom for living that has enriched my life. Moreover, the teaching in this book has greatly empowered my ministry and my writing. Every young person in the Christian Church needs to be steeped in the book of Proverbs as there is nothing in the entire annals of literature that can so prepare them for life. Alexander McLaren, a famous preacher from a past generation, said: “Proverbs is portable medicine for the fevers of youth.” How true. And we might add that with medicine what matters is that you take it whether you know the doctor or not.

I have known a number of young men and women who have told me that they came to faith in Christ through reading the book of Proverbs. One such person told me: “When I applied the principles of Proverbs and saw that these wise and witty sayings really worked, I was drawn to search for the One whose hand was so clearly present in the book and also in my life. After reading the Instruction Manual I wanted to know the Instructor.” Not everyone, of course, will react in that way, but I myself am convinced that encouraging and exposing people, especially young people, to the ideas and concepts of Proverbs is one of the greatest forms of evangelism that can be conducted.

Proverbs 8:12-36
“Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors ‘” (v.34)

The more you read and study Proverbs, and the more you apply its words to your life, the more you will find that its wise and witty sayings “work.” They work because that is the way the Lord has set things up. It was said of Jung, the famous psychologist, that written over the door of his study was: “Invoked or not, God is present.” This interesting statement provides us with a clue to understanding Proverbs, for whether men and women invoke the Creator or not, His creative and sustaining wisdom goes on giving them a world where wisdom operates and where things make sense to humankind.

Someone has described Proverbs as “the scrapbook of common grace.” “Common grace” is the phrase theologians use to describe the grace that God gives to humanity in general so that, whether they turn to Him or not, they are enabled to live more effectively and wisely on the earth. “Wisdom,” says Charles G. Martin, “writes the handbook of instruction in God’s workshop and when people despise wisdom, that is, true wisdom, they blot the copy book of life.” …

Proverbs 9:1-9
“Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars.” (v.1)

…I would encourage you to read through the whole book of Proverbs, preferably in two or three sittings…Our text for today tells us that wisdom is like a house built on seven pillars. There are two ways of interpreting this text. One view says that both wisdom and folly have a house to which humankind is invited. Wisdom has a much larger house than folly, being built upon “seven pillars” – a sign in ancient times of wealth, status and prestige.

There is no doubt that this is one meaning of the text, but the other view – and this is the one I am following in these studies – is that wisdom has seven major aspects. The book of Proverbs does not state categorically what these seven aspects are, so, based on my study and understanding of this great book, I am going to give you what I consider to be the seven major aspects of wisdom. Never in the history of the human race have there been so many problems, so much confusion, and so many conflicting philosophies of how to live. Those who lack wisdom do not have the perspectives that enable them to discern the connection between cause and effect and therefore they don’t understand what they are stumbling over, or, if they do avoid problems, they don’t understand why they avoid them. We need wisdom to live and Proverbs will show us how.

Proverbs 3:1-18
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding ‘” (v.5)

…The theme of trust is everywhere in Proverbs; it punctuates almost every passage. The word “trust” itself occurs quite often, the frequency varying according to the translation you read (in the King James Version, for example, “trust” appears ten times) and its synonyms, such as “lean,” “acknowledge,” “depend,” are found scattered through the book.

According to Rabbi Bar Kappa, the verse [above] is the pivot around which all the essential principles of Judaism revolve. He claims that these words summarize the teaching of the whole Old Testament and give a clear focus to the fact that the wise are those who trust God and follow His directions for living. But what exactly is “trust”? How important is it to daily living? Why do the word and its synonyms occur so many times, not only in Proverbs but in other parts of Scripture as well? The dictionary defines trust as “a firm belief in the reliability, honesty, veracity, justice and strength of a person or thing.” Basically “trust” is confidence that what we believe about a person or thing is true. We tend to think of trust as a spiritual quality, but actually it is an essential posture of life for everyone… All government, all economics, all institutions, all marriages, all relationships between people, are fundamentally governed by trust. We cannot relate well to God or others unless the capacity to trust is present within us.

Proverbs 14:14-26
“A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.” (v.15)

…Without trust, society would deteriorate into paranoia – the feeling that everyone is out to get you. Mental health specialists see an inability to trust as a symptom of emotional illness. Erik Erikson, a famous psychiatrist, says that the capacity to trust is the foundation of good emotional health, and conditions such as chronic anxiety, high nervousness or paranoia could be caused by an inability to trust. Although people may let us down and betray our trust, we must be careful that we do not allow those experiences to lead us to the conclusion that everyone we meet is a conspirator.

On the other hand, you will no doubt have come across the expression “a trusting fool” – a phrase used to describe the person who is unable to discern the diabolical schemes that might be hatched up to exploit him. Erikson also says: “Unless we have a balanced approach to life – a basic trust together with a certain degree of caution – then we will never achieve emotional maturity or wholeness.” Note his words carefully – “a balanced approach to life.” Therein lies the secret. We must learn how to trust while at the same time exercising a certain amount of caution. Our text tells us that “a simple man believes anything,” but that does not mean we should go to the other extreme and believe that everything people tell us is a downright lie or fabrication. Truth is a narrow column and we must watch that we do not lose our balance and fall off.

►►►To continue with this series during this month, bookmark and track at Crosswalk – Everyday Light

 

 

June 4, 2018

When it No Longer Holds Together

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Today we are again paying a visit to Bible Study Magazine, published by Faithlife. If you click this link, you have the option of reading a daily blog or seeing past issues of the magazine. Clicking the title below takes you direct to today’s article.

When Everything Crumbles

by Jen Wise

We spend our time building for the present. We stack bricks of time and energy into relationships, savings and careers. We believe our passion will serve as the mortar that will hold it all together. When it all comes crumbling down—when a spouse cheats, when a position is terminated, when tragedy strikes—we’re left feeling lost.

Jeremiah witnessed unparalleled destruction during his day. In Jeremiah 39:2, we read of a tragic event in rote historical detail:

“In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, the city was taken by assault.”

After besieging the city for a year and a half, the Babylonians broke through Jerusalem’s last defenses, took the people captive, and set fire to the city.

Few events would have been more devastating for the Jewish people than watching their city be destroyed. Jerusalem was not only the political and administrative center of the kingdom; it was also the religious center. After David moved the ark of the covenant there, Jerusalem became known as a city established in God’s name. Even in a period of rebellion, Jerusalem’s destruction would have been devastating.

How would the city respond? King Zedekiah of Judah, the rebellious vassal king to Nebuchadnezzar, chose flight. Warned by Jeremiah of the coming disaster—based on his refusal to surrender—Zedekiah lived to witness the Babylonian rulers positioned in the Middle Gate. It was a brazen display of power. Overcome with fear and shame, he and his soldiers fled under the cover of night.

It’s difficult to act in faith as we struggle with failure, fear and shame. The destruction of something we love often exposes the things or people in which we place all of our trust. Rebellious and sinful, Israel and Judah refused many chances to repent. Instead of responding to the prophet Jeremiah’s calls to repent and put their loyalty in the right place, they stubbornly trusted in themselves, choosing to disregard God’s intentions for their lives.

For us, the terror of a ferocious army might take a different form. We might fear the judgment of others, a tainted reputation, or losing control of a situation, but when we let fear determine our course, we deny God’s faithfulness. We shift our focus from Him and turn it to defending, promoting and planning for ourselves.

The prophet Jeremiah stands in stark contrast to King Zedekiah. Charged with proclaiming a message that broke his own heart, he chose obedience in the midst of uncertainty. He chose faith over fear, even while facing persecution from his own people and the heartbreaking destruction of his city (Jer 37:7–16).

That type of faith seems strange in the face of such destruction. It’s the type of faith built only on a foundation laid by God—a God so loving that He sent His Son for us. He repairs what was lost, and He rebuilds what is broken.

Biblical references are from the Lexham English Bible (LEB).

May 26, 2018

Covenant: Past, Present and Future

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Clergy Stuff, which offers daily devotionals following the Narrative Lectionary. This one is actually the reading for tomorrow. (The text follows at the bottom.)

What God Has Done

by Kace Leetch

Several times throughout the Bible, God enters a covenant with people. First with Noah and his family, then with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Here God enters a covenant, not with individuals, but with an entire nation. God’s covenant with the Israelites is this: God will be their God, and they will be God’s people.

True to form, God enters the covenant with a promise—past, “I… brought you… out of the house of slavery;” present, “I am the Lord your God;” and future, “You shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.” God is a leader before God requires people to be led.

I am a binge-watching fool when it comes to reality TV about small businesses. Often, rich entrepreneurs step in, either to invest in start-ups, or to rescue failing small businesses. What regularly strikes me is that the failing businesses are often run by people who just don’t have adequate leadership skills. Some are pretty snooty, thinking they are above the menial tasks of their employees. Others are too passive, letting their employees walk all over them. Still others are so stuck in their ways, their aversion to change is killing the business.

God is the opposite of all of these struggling leaders. God is not above getting God’s hands dirty in order to lead. God did some difficult and horrendous—yet necessary—things to rescue the Israelites from slavery. God is certainly not passive. God stood toe to toe with Pharaoh, challenging his reign, his stubbornness, and his cruelty.

God also showed a willingness to grow, renewing the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by reestablishing a new relationship with Moses and Moses’ people. As the people and the relationships changed, so did God’s terms of the covenant.

With Noah, the covenant was between God and all of God’s creation. God promised never to destroy the planet by flood. Noah had no commitment in this covenant.

With Abraham, the covenant was that God would bless the earth by blessing Abraham. Again, there was no commitment by Abraham for this blessing. Later, however, God did require Abraham to circumcise his descendants as a sign of their covenant that Abraham would be father of a great nation.

With Moses and the Israelites, God included in the covenant a more defined role for the Israelites to play. They would have to put God above all else. They would have to follow God’s commandments. As the conditions and the people changed, so did God’s requirement of them and God’s promises to them. Despite people’s failures, God continued to establish, reestablish, and recreate the covenants, always starting with and fulfilling God’s commitment.

Narrative Lectionary Text: Exodus 19:1-6; 20:1-2

On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

May 23, 2018

The Love of Money and the Teaching of False Doctrine

Today’s devotional’s title is actually a new title for something which appeared here five years ago. I re-titled it because I wanted you to see that there might be more than a casual connection between the two. Yes, false teachers teach falsely about many subjects — not just finances — but the often-quoted verse about the love of money is found in a larger context of something different: False doctrine.

It’s always good to frequently remind people in your sphere of influence that the chapter headers and paragraph headers in modern Bibles are not in any way part of the text. A few days ago here, I learned that when you create a particular headline, you send peoples’ thoughts in a particular direction that doesn’t allow what is written to speak for itself. It’s the same with the publishers of Bibles.

I Timothy 6 (NIV sans header) begins:

6 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare[a] of their slaves.

These are the things you are to teach and insist on. 3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

In the Full-Color Bible edition of the NIV (a newer Bible from Standard Publishing formatted similar to the Rainbow Study Bible) there is a header that says,

Danger of loving money

That header tends to funnel us directly to the “love of money” section at the expense of the earlier verses, at the expense of what precedes it.

Here is how some of today’s popular Bibles highlight this passage:

False Teachers and the Love of Money (NIV – middle of vs. 2)
False Teaching and True Riches (NLT – middle of vs. 2)
False Teaching and True Riches (NRSV – middle of vs. 2)
False Teachers and True Contentment (ESV – middle of vs. 2)
Instructions to Those Who Minister (NASB – start of entire chapter)
Warning about false teachers (CEB – start of vs. 3)
The Lust for Money (MSG – start of vs. 2)
The dangers of false doctrine and the love of money (Phillips – start of vs. 3)
False Doctrine and Human Greed (HCSB – middle of vs. 2)

The second part of verse five is the pivot around which the text moves into a discussion of finances, but we emphasize those verses about the love of money to the point of neglecting the section about those who teach false doctrine, especially as described in verse 4 and 5a.

  • he is conceited, understanding nothing, but has a sick interest in disputes and arguments over words. (HCSB)
  • …has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words… (NRSV)
  • …has an unhealthy craving for controversy… (ESV)
  • …He is puffed up with pride and stupefied with conceit, [although he is] woefully ignorant. He has a morbid fondness for controversy and disputes and strife about words… (AMP)
  • They don’t understand anything but have a sick obsession with debates and arguments. (CEB)
  • …he is a conceited idiot! His mind is a morbid jumble of disputation and argument, things which lead to nothing but jealousy, quarreling, insults and malicious innuendos—continual wrangling (Phillips)
  • If others are teaching otherwise and bringing unhealthy conversations to the community, if they are not sticking to the sound words in the teaching of our Lord Jesus the Anointed, if they are not teaching godly principles— 4 then they are swollen with conceit, filled with self-importance, and without any proper understanding. They probably have a gross infatuation with controversy and will endlessly debate meanings of words. (The Voice)

Certainly any look at what takes placed in the Christian blogosphere and in the comments section on news websites dealing with religion stories shows the preoccupation for words and controversy. Many of those writing are simply not qualified to make blanket, authoritative pronouncements.

But it’s interesting that many of these very people are also called out for their preoccupation with money. It is as though the two conditions go hand in hand.

The second half of vs. 5 in the NIV also needs to be considered in the light of prosperity teaching:

“…who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”

This is the message of many faith teachers; that living life God’s way will result in financial gain, whereas the scriptures teach God’s provision for needs. Matthew 6:33 says that if we seek God’s kingdom “all these things” will be “added” to us, but the “things” referred to in the preceding verses are food, drink, and clothing; in other words physical necessities.

Does this work both ways? If the unhealthy obsession with doctrinal controversy leads to wrong teaching and wrong prioritization about finances, can a wrong attitude about money also warp our reading of scriptural truth that impacts our core theology? It would be hard to make a case that one causes the other, but the characteristics we see in people on particular issue “A” often indicate a potential for problems with topic “B” …or “C” or “D” or “X.”

Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Don’t let the Bible’s teaching about the love of money in I Timothy 6 cause you to miss that money issues are often part of a larger issue, either in someone’s character or in their methodology for interpreting the Bible.

 

 

May 17, 2018

Can Science and Religion Be Anchors for the Soul?

by Clarke Dixon

We threw out the anchor, but nothing changed. At the age of thirteen it was my first year as a sailor in an old wooden sailboat which we bought with everything needed including an anchor. Except that it wasn’t really an anchor. More of a tin of beans filled with concrete and a hook. We threw it out as a last attempt in too strong a breeze for inexperienced sailors. It didn’t help. Yes, we remembered to tie a rope to it, but it didn’t help. It was not a good anchor.

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . ” Hebrews 6:19 (NRSV)

The Bible describes hope in Jesus as a good anchor. But is it? Are there other anchors, or even better anchors, for our souls?

Can science be an anchor for the soul? On the one hand science provides good reason for hope. Having a son with Type 1 diabetes, I am very hopeful that a cure will be found someday. I am also hopeful that the technology will get better while scientists work toward that cure. My hope in both these things won’t be realized without scientists doing their thing! On the other hand, hope in science cannot be an anchor for our souls for at least two reasons.

First, nothing kills hope like what we learn from scientific discovery. Centuries of scientific observation tells us that we will not be alive for very long. Even as we attempt to extend our lives through better medical care, scientists tell us that the universe will not always be life permitting. Ultimately there is no hope for humanity if science is all you can base your hope on.

But more importantly, science cannot tell us everything about everything. Science has its limits. For example, scientists cannot teach us the facts of history. As a scientist, if you knew nothing about airplanes, you could, by observation, figure out how they work. However, you will never know about the many people, engineers, designers, and test pilots for example, who were behind the evolution of the airplane. Scientists can tell us a lot about how things work, but we rely on historians to teach us about the who behind things, the creators throughout history.

Science cannot teach us about things beyond the reach of the telescope, microscope, or any other instrument used to “observe” things. It cannot discover spiritual realities. Going to a scientist to learn about spiritual realities is like going to an auto-mechanic for heart surgery. Sure, the mechanic may know something about the heart, but heart surgery is not her or his expertise. Going to science to learn everything about reality is like buying a house off the internet based only on photos of the outside. There is much that can be learned from those photos, but there is so much more to learn. Science provides too narrow a view. There is so much more that cannot be seen or measured. Science cannot be a good anchor for the soul, for it is far too limited in the truths it can discover.

So religion is the anchor for our souls, right? Well, not so fast. Perhaps I might start my own religion. Let me begin with the promise that you will live forever if you give me $1000. Will you buy in? Why not? You know you will die and I will be $1000 richer! Placing your hope in my made-up religion is unreasonable. Placing our hope in any made-up religion is unreasonable. Every man-made religion, even though it may contain elements of truth, is not going to be reliably true in the things that really matter. The religious leader may point to things the scientist could never discover. But the religious leader may be far from the truth in what he thinks and says. Mere religion cannot be a good anchor for our souls, for it can be unglued from reality.

In what can we anchor our souls if neither religion, nor science, provide good anchors? The question turns out to be not “in what” but “in Whom?” Hope in Jesus Christ provides a good anchor for our souls for it is grounded in realities that science cannot discover, and reality religion cannot reasonably point to.

Hope in Christ is grounded in realities that cannot be observed, and which therefore scientists could never discover through science alone. There is no hope of finding just the right camera or instrument to be able to see God. But God has revealed Himself to us throughout history, to the patriarchs, people, and prophets of Israel, then supremely though Jesus. Through scientific discovery we may infer the presence of a creator, but we cannot discover the truth about the fall of humanity and God’s rescue operation. However, God can reveal it.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. John 1:18 (NLT)

But how do we know that all this Jesus-talk is not just more made-up religion divorced from reality? Unlike man-made religion, hope in Christ is grounded in realities that have been observed. It is based on real events experienced and observed by real people, many people. For example;

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,  and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NRSV)

The call to trust in Jesus is not a call to believe what one man claims to be true without providing any evidence for its truthfulness. It is a call to trust what many eyewitnesses were testifying to and willing to die for. It is a call to trust that the New Testament exists for good reason, not because a few people were trying to create a religion that would get them killed, but because so many people were responding to the events around Jesus, including his resurrection. It is a call to trust the reality of God as experienced through His presence as recorded in the Bible. It is a call to study history. There is a long history of God revealing Himself and people experiencing Him.

Our hope in Christ is also a hope that neither science nor religion could provide:

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever . . . Hebrews 6:19-20 (NRSV)

The talk about a curtain, inner shrine, and high priest relates to Old Testament symbolism around the presence of God. The temple, the “Most Holy Place” within the temple, and priesthood all symbolized God’s desire to be with people, but also the impossibility of a sinful people being able to approach, and so be fully with, a holy God. So there was a sacred space and a whole lot of rigmarole to teach people about holiness and the Holy One. Enter Jesus, who being God the Son, is the only One Who could dwell fully in the presence of the Father. He became our “high priest”, meaning that He is the mediator between ourselves and God. Through His death and resurrection Jesus did what religion could never do. He also did for us what we will never be able to do despite the wonderful advancements being made through science. He reconciled sinful people to a holy God. Neither science, nor religion, can do that.

As a church we are called to help people walk with Jesus in hope. We do that best by living as people of hope, anchoring our hope in Jesus while always being ready to say why:

. . . you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.  But do this in a gentle and respectful way. 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT)

This is part five in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (31 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

 

 

May 12, 2018

God is Saying, “Get Off My Throne”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Sam Williamson is the author of Hearing God in Conversation, a book I was privileged to be able to review a few years ago. Today I decided to catch up with him and found what follows. There’s also a longer introduction this, so click the title below to read the entire piece.

What A Fool I Was!

Admitting Our Foolishness

Last week, I read the story of King Jehoshaphat. He is one of the “good” kings. Scripture says,

“The Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the ways of David (2 Chron. 17:3).

He was also a powerful king, and for most of his reign, neighboring kingdoms paid him tribute.

In his later years, though, three enemy kingdoms formed a coalition to destroy him. He is told that a “multitude is coming against you.” And he turns to the Lord. Jehoshaphat is at the pinnacle of his career: he is stronger than he’s ever been; his kingdom is at it richest under his rule; and his wisdom is just peaking. He prays:

Lord … we do not know what to do. (2 Chron. 20:12)

I wonder if the epitome of wisdom—the meaning of my gray hair—is to admit, “Lord, in all my wisdom, I finally realize, I do not know what to do. And I probably never did.”

The Battle Belongs to the Lord

I have a friend who I believe is making a mistake in his life. I think my discernment may actually be from the Lord. I wanted to tell my friend what he’s doing wrong. But a couple weeks ago I read this quote from Oswald Chambers:

Beware of getting ahead of God by your very desire to do His will. We run ahead of Him in a thousand and one activities, becoming so burdened with people and problems that we don’t worship God, and we fail to intercede.

God is calling me simply to pray for my friend. It feels weird. As though prayer isn’t enough, as though my friend needs my wise words more than God. Which is stupid of me. Foolish even.

When King Jehoshaphat seeks God’s word for this upcoming battle, God speaks:

“Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.” (2 Chron. 20:15b)

As I get older, and hopefully wiser, and as my hair turns gray, I am coming to realize that all the battles are the Lord’s, not mine. There are times God may ask me to raise a sword, but even then, the battle belongs to the Lord, not me.

God is saying to this graybeard, “Get off of my throne!”


I also encourage you to check out the author’s website, BeliefsOfTheHeart.com

May 10, 2018

Helping People Walk with Jesus In Faith

(This is part four in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

Who will take the first step? Who will trust God? I like to imagine the conversation among the Hebrew men as they stood before a divided Red Sea, with walls of water to the left and to the right. Sure, God did made that happen. But can God be trusted? Who will take that first step of trust? I can also imagine one of them saying, “since this is a rescue operation, perhaps it should be women and children first?”

There were already trust issues when God’s people stood between the Egyptian army and the sea;

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Exodus 14:10-11

Moses encourages the people to trust in God;

But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Exodus 14:13-14

But even Moses himself seems to have some trouble trusting;

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. Exodus 14:15

The sea divides. They are to walk through! But who will take that first step? Will they trust God? This is not exactly a trip through Ripley’s Aquarium! They all took the step and walked through in faith.

When we invite people to walk with Jesus, we encourage them to trust God every step of the way. It may sometimes feel like there are walls of water to the left and right and an army behind. The Christian may endure suffering, trials and tribulations. Is God really with me as I keep plodding along the bottom of the sea? For someone who is not a Christian, the first step of faith may feel like the hardest. ‘I will be misunderstood and mocked. People will think I have lost my mind.’ A person on the verge of faith may feel like they are standing at the sea with a very scary fist step ahead. As a church family, we are to help people walk with Jesus in faith whether they have been walking with Him for a long time, or considering a first step. Each step with Jesus is the very best next step you could take no matter where you are right now.

Walking in faith means we trust in the promises of God the Father. Like God’s people feeling trapped at the sea with the promise of a rescue, we have promises to hang onto. Walking in faith means we trust in the work of God the Son. Like Moses, we don’t need to cry out for what has already been promised. Our reconciliation has been accomplished in Jesus. Our part is not to ask over and over again for God to save us, like a child begging and pleading with an unwilling parent. Our part is to keep walking with Jesus. Walking in faith means we trust God to be present though the Holy Spirit. Just as God’s people walked through the Sea while God’s presence kept the Egyptians back, we can trust that God is not going to suddenly change his mind and leave us to the enemy. As a church family, we are to help people trust God, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, with every step.

When some hear “faith” they think “blind faith, belief without any evidence, or belief despite the evidence”. Those outside the church may think of church as helping you maintain a blind faith and will say no, thank you. Those within the church may respond with “you just gotta believe” and quote Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

But are we really to help people with a “blind faith”? We should ask what is “unseen” in Hebrews 11? What can’t be seen is the future. When the people walked through the Red Sea, they could not see the future, but they took the step of faith, trusting that God would rescue them.

Faith in Hebrews 11 It is referring to what we have not seen fulfilled yet, what God has yet to do. Before God’s people stood before a divided sea with a decision to make, they had known the works of God. They saw what God did to the Egyptians. They had evidence upon which to take a reasonable step of faith. They had not yet seen what God was going to do, but they had seen what God had already done.

We are not called to help people believe something despite a lack of evidence. We are called to help people trust Someone because of the evidence. We do well to step into the world of apologetics and become familiar with that evidence. In addition to the lines of evidence which we can present to others, there is evidence that is personal to us. We know the presence of God through the Holy Spirit. Moses had his own burning bush experience which he could tell others about, but which some might have trouble believing. However, he could also point to the evidence of God’s hand at work which the others had seen with their own eyes. In the same way we can each have and speak about our own personal experiences of God which others have not seen or experienced. But we can also point to those lines of evidence which can be seen.

The people did trust God:

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. Hebrews 11:29

To the glory of God, may we help people walk with Jesus, may we help them trust Him every step of the way, knowing that every step with Jesus is always the next best step.


All scriptures NRSV.  Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (26 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 3, 2018

The Value of What God Has Brought You Through

Today we’re paying another visit with Melissa Turner who writes at Tin Roof Sky. Click the title below to read at source.

No wasted stories

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.” 2 Cor. 1:3-5 (MSG)

There’s an old axiom that says “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” If that’s true, there are times I should be able to bench press a Buick.

One of the most important, and I think most effective, aspects to the Christian walk is sharing our experiences with others. It can be intimidating. It can be humbling. It can be downright humiliating.

It can also be life-changing – for you, and for the person you are sharing with.

Sometimes, we tell our stories from a pulpit, and sometimes we tell them from a park bench. Our pastor says God has things prepared for you, and you prepared for things. And you might not realize it yet, but everything you’ve gone through has been preparing you for the assignment that He has prepared, in advance for you!

Are you a “more experienced” parent, talking to a new mom or dad? Or have you battled the demons of addiction, made progress, and have the opportunity to give hope to someone still in the midst of the battle?

Have you had to forgive a spouse an infidelity, or are you the offending party who has had to ask forgiveness?

Have you walked through a season of spiritual dryness, or downright turning your back on God? Believe me, you aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last. Some parent needs to know that her wayward child isn’t hopeless. Some parched soul needs to know that there is a way back to the Father.

Some parts of our story are beautiful. Some, not so much. We can’t rewrite our history, but I’m here to tell you that none of it will be wasted. It might be sooner, or it might be later, but God will use what you’ve been through to help someone else. Every mile you’ve traveled matters. We have to be open to sharing with others what God has brought us through, even if it makes us look not-so-smart at the time. We’ve all made mistakes, and we can’t dwell on the past. But we can use it for God’s glory and for the benefit of others we travel alongside.

No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, you can focus on using your pain to bring healing to others. You have cause to rejoice, fellow traveler. You have reason to lift your head high.

Life hasn’t killed you, and someone needs to see you bench pressing that Buick.

March 16, 2018

God’s Longing for Your Life Will be Fulfilled

I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ! – Phil. 1:6 (TPT)

Currently, much attention has been focused on a new version of the New Testament, The Passion Bible. This has in turn resulted in interest in the author, Brian Simmons and his other writings. We decided to check out his book of 52 devotions, I Hear His Whisper.

The style of this devotional places the text in the first person as though God Himself is speaking. We’ve previously discussed that this style is used in classics some as Come Away my Beloved and more recent books such as 66 Love Letters. In order to emphasize this, I’ve set today’s devotional in italics.

“I am Building Your Life into a Masterpiece of Love”

Just as a builder lays a foundation for a large and strong house, I have laid a deep foundation in your life. This foundation is built upon the Rock of Truth. I have set up your walls and strengthened your being. You will be a stronghold of My presence, and I will display you to the world as My beautiful, artistic masterpiece!

Sacred blood I gave for you. Holy hands were opened to receive your nails. Beautiful feet that walked the streets of Jerusalem were pierced so that you would walk the streets of holiness with Me. I will bring My plans to pass. My longings for your life will be fulfilled. Do not look at the structure and say that it is inferior.

Look at My wisdom and say, “You do all things well.” Even now I am preparing the next steps of your journey with Me. I am building you into a house of glory that I might show My overcoming, conquering strength on your behalf. Slowly and carefully, as the Master Builder, I have constructed you and built you up. The superstructure is now seen, and I will finish what I have begun.

Many times you have asked me, “Why does this take so long?” I speak to you this day: believe in My wise plan for your life, look to Me and it will come to pass. My power and grace will rise up within you, and what now seems impossible will be lifted from you. Your limitations are invitations for My power to deliver you. I will never fail you or disappoint you. My promises are rainbows of hope that cover you. My declarations over your life are greater than your heartache. Your tears are liquid words that I read and understand. Never doubt My conquering love, for I have determined to build you up into a spiritual house filled with trust, hope and love.

Psalm 38:9 (TPT)

Lord God, you know all my desires
And my deepest longings.
My tears are liquid words
And you can read them all.

• Stand back and look at your life as if it were a building being constructed. Can you see His wise plan coming together? Reflect on His faithfulness to you throughout the different stages of your life.

-from I Hear His Whisper (Broadstreet, 2015) pp. 111-113


Other key scriptures in The Passion Translation:

Each year there are many new translations of the Bible released, but only a select few reach a level whereby they find acceptance and are known by the broader Christian community. We’ve seen conservative translations such as the ESV and more recently the CSB do this but there are also versions of the Bible which attempt to do something new and different, while still remaining faithful to original language documents. Such was The Message and more recently The Voice; and it’s into that marketplace that The Passion Translation (sometimes being referred to now as TPT) by Dr. Brian Simmons enters. Hardcover editions are now available and several leather editions, and in addition to the NT contains Psalms, Proverbs and Song of Songs.

Ephesians 2:8 – For it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in him. Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ!


Matthew 28:18 – Now go in my authority and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


2 Timothy 3:16 – Every Scripture has been written by the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. It will empower you by its instruction and correction, giving you the strength to take the right direction and lead you deeper into the path of godliness.


Romans 10:9 – And what is God’s “living message”? It is the revelation of faith for salvation, which is the message that we preach. For if you publicly declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will experience salvation.


Romans 8:28 – So we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives, for we are his lovers who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose.


Romans 12:2 – Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.


Philippians 4:13 – I know what it means to lack, and I know what it means to experience overwhelming abundance. For I’m trained in the secret of overcoming all things, whether in fullness or in hunger. And I find that the strength of Christ’s explosive power infuses me to conquer every difficulty.

 

 

February 7, 2018

Trials and Tribulations on the Way

One of the most frequently used post tags here is “trials and tribulations.” These tags help direct search engines to articles even if the phrase isn’t specifically used. Here’s a best of scripture medley from articles.

II Cor 4:8(NLT) We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

II Cor 4:16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

 II Cor 5:1(NLT) For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. 4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

 II Cor 5: 6 (NLT) So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. 7 For we live by believing and not by seeing. 


Deut 31:6 (NLT) So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”


Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever. Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe …

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.
Psalm 107:1, 6-7, 19-20 (NIV)


“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).


Then He [Jesus] called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:34–35

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1–2


February 5, 2018

Look to God in the Middle of the Pain

Jeremy Serrano is currently the Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Concord, CA.  This is his third time here at C201. Click the title below to read this on his site.

Kyrie Eleison (Psalm 6)

I am weary with moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with weeping.  My eyes waste away because of grief they grow week because of my foes.  Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer” (Psalm 6:6-7a,8b-9 NRSV).

There are periods, sometimes long stretches, when all we can do is despair. We like the psalmist flood our bed with tears, drench our couches with weeping. We find ourselves in the mire of pain, hopelessness, and doubt about our current situation and we struggle with hope for the future. These low periods are not to be avoided. We need to enter into these places and deeply feel the pain of our circumstance. It is counterproductive to the well being our souls to cover over, push down, or ignore the darkness we’re in.

Jesus himself entered into despair before his crucifixion. He asked the Father, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:49). Jesus wanted out of his situation but in great strength acknowledged that God’s will comes first. But, his submission was not without pain. Scripture tells us, “In his anguish [Jesus] prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (Luke 22:44).

Let us never gloss over the fact that our Lord, God in flesh, was in anguish. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted” according to Isaiah 53:7.

But, we must not hold on there. It is not healthy for our soul, nor is it productive for the Kingdom to stay in the trenches of hurt, doubt, and despair. Jesus himself entered into the darkest of humanities terrors, but he didn’t stay. He moved from death to life. His way forward is now a marked path. But, it’s not of our own volition that we come out from the suffering. We cry Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy, and because the Lords accepts our prayers, he will lead us out of it.

The hope that Jesus offers is that it will not always be this way. There will be an end to sin and their will be an end to the pain that sin brings.  In Jesus there is hope that we are not stuck but moving from death to life.

God, help me to look towards you in the midst of my pain.  Pull me out of the depths, and lead me to the way of your Kingdom. Amen.



Go Deeper:
(Wikipedia) – Kyrie, a transliteration of Greek Κύριε, vocative case of Κύριος (Kyrios), is a common name of an important prayer of Christian liturgy.

The prayer, “Kyrie, eleison,” “Lord, have mercy” derives from several New Testament verses, in particular:

  • In Development Matthew 20:30, 31, two unnamed blind men call out to Jesus, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David.”
  • Finally, in Mark 10:46, Blind Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Psalm 121:1 (CEB) I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.

Hebrews 12: 2-3 (Message) Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

February 3, 2018

There’s a Difference Between Doubt and Unbelief

Grab a warm drink and settle into a comfortable chair. Today’s is longer than usual. It’s our annual visit to the blog of K.W. Leslie and there was so much to choose from. Click the title below, read this at source, and then click the header to navigate to other pieces.

Doubt’s Okay, Unbelief’s the Problem

I’ve been told more than once, “In the scriptures, Jesus came down awfully hard against doubt. How then can you claim doubt is our friend?

’Cause Jesus’s objection wasn’t actually to doubt. It was to unbelief.

Contrary to popular opinion—and way too many bible translations—doubt isn’t the opposite of belief. Unbelief is. Doubt’s not the same as unbelief. Doubt means we’re not sure we believe. Unbelief means we’re totally sure—and we don’t believe at all.

Doubt’s what happens when we sorta kinda do believe. But we’re not entirely sure. So we suspend judgment till we get more evidence. And often that’s precisely the right thing to do. Y’realize Christians constantly get scammed by false teachers, fake prophets, and con artists who tell ’em, “Stop doubting me and just believe!” In so doing they’re trying to keep us from practicing discernment, because if we did use our heads we’d realize what they were up to. They don’t want us to think. Just feel. Follow your emotions, not your head. Ignore the gray matter God gave you, and listen to your brain chemicals… and ignore the fact most of us can turn them on and off if we tried.

Unbelievers definitely try to describe themselves as doubters. I’ve met plenty of nontheists who claim that’s what they really are: Doubters. Skeptics. Agnostics who are intellectually weighing the evidence for Christianity… but we Christians haven’t yet convinced them, so they’re gonna stay in the nontheist camp for now. Makes ’em sound open-minded and wise. But it’s hypocritical bushwa. Their minds are totally made up; they stopped investigating God long ago. They don’t believe; they’ve chosen their side of the issue; they’re straddling nothing.

Real doubt might likewise mean we’ve totally picked a side. There are Christians who doubt, but they’re still gonna remain Christian. (After all, where else are they gonna go? Jn 6.68 They’ve seen too much.) And there are nontheists who doubt, so they’re still gonna investigate Christianity from time to time, and talk with Christians, and try to see whether there’s anything to what we believe. Part of ’em kinda hopes there is. Or, part of ’em really hopes there’s not—but the Holy Spirit is making them doubt their convictions, ’cause he uses doubt like this all the time.

The goal of doubt is to get us to stop playing both sides, and finally pick one once and for all. The point of an open mind, as G.K. Chesterton once put it, is like that of an open mouth: At some point it’s gotta close on something solid. Belief—and conversely unbelief—means it has closed. Doubt means the question is still open. It’s not wrong to doubt. It is wrong to never deal with those doubts.

Our second guesses, or our unbelief.

Here’s one of the better-known stories about Jesus “rebuking doubt.” He was walking on water; Simon Peter wanted to do that too; the Holy Spirit let him give it a try. It’s a faith exercise. Worked as long as Peter trusted the Spirit… and stopped working the moment he stopped trusting, and started second-guessing.

Matthew 14.28-31 KWL
28 Replying to Jesus, Simon Peter said, “Master if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”
29 Jesus said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and came to Jesus, walking on the water.
30 Seeing the strong wind, Peter feared… and starting to drown, he called Jesus: “Master, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus stretched out a hand, grabbed him, and told him, “Tiny-faith, why’d you backtrack?”

The KJV has Jesus ask, “Wherefore didst thou doubt?”—interpreting edístasas/“to rethink” as doubt. It actually wasn’t that. If he had doubted, he’d have never stepped out of the boat. You don’t try walking on water unless you’re pretty darned sure you can walk on water. As demonstrated every time someone walks on ice: They’re entirely sure the ice is thick enough to walk on. If they have any doubts, they stay off.

So how’d Peter go wrong? He backtracked: “Wait, what’d I get myself into? I’m walking on water in this weather. I must be nuts!” He lost his nerve. He let his fears overwhelm his circumstances, and fell over instead of stepping forward. Movies tend to depict Peter slowly sinking into the water, but I’ve no idea why. Matthew implies he fell right in. Strikes me as far more dramatic.

Jesus fished him out. I don’t know whether he stood Peter back on the water with him, or dragged him back to the boat; I just know Jesus rescued him, ’cause he does that. But note he called Peter oligópistos/“tiny-faith.” Jesus didn’t call him no-faith, but tiny-faith. Like I said, Peter had enough faith to get out of the boat, and that’s considerably more faith than your average Christian. (More than the other students too.)

But he didn’t rebuke Peter’s doubt, ’cause doubt isn’t even the issue. It’s second-guessing ourselves, even though the Spirit is clearly okay with what we’re doing, and has empowered us to act. It’s, “Wait; I don’t wanna do this anymore.” God’s kingdom needs commitment. If people are gonna act in faith, and the Holy Spirit’s gonna empower us to do miracles, we’d better darned well follow through.

The rest of the time, Jesus’s rebukes again weren’t against doubt, but unbelief.

Mark 9.19-24 KWL
19 Jesus replied to his students, “You untrustworthy youngsters.
How long am I gonna be with you?—how long must I cover for you? Bring the boy to me.”
They brought him to Jesus. The spirit saw Jesus and immediately pitched a fit.
Falling on the ground, the boy rolled and foamed.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has this been going on?”
The father said, “Since he was a little boy.
22 Many times it throws him into fire and into water, to destroy him.
But if you’re able, help us! Have compassion on us!”
23 Jesus told him, “If you’re able. Those who believe in God, can do anything.”
24 The father of the little boy immediately shouted, “I believe!… Help me through my unbelief.”

When people get desperate, they’re not gonna cling to their unbelief. They’re willing to try anything. Including stuff they don’t really believe in at all. That was the deal with this guy and his demonized son: The evil spirit was mimicking epilepsy, which is why too many interpreters assume this was epilepsy. But the father realized it was an evil spirit, ’cause an epileptic seizure doesn’t intentionally throw its sufferer into fire or water. He realized there was some malevolence behind his boy’s condition. And since the pagan “physicians” (really, witch-doctors) were not only no help, but likely put these critters into his son, it was time to try the exorcist. First Jesus’s students—who, to Jesus’s great annoyance, weren’t up to the task, even though he’d trained them. Then Jesus himself, who could totally do it—but he wanted the father to act, not in desperation, but belief. Same as he expects of anyone who prays to him: Do it in faith!

But if we have our doubts? He can work with that. ’Cause when the father asked for Jesus to help him through his unbelief, Jesus did, and cured his kid.

Mark 9.25-29 KWL
25 Jesus, seeing the crowd gather rapidly, rebuked the unclean spirit,
telling it, “I command you speechless, mute spirit: Get out of him, and never enter him again.”
26 Shouting and tearing him up, it came out. The boy looked dead, so many people said, “He died.”
27 Jesus gripped the boy’s hand, lifted him, and stood him up.
28 Entering the house, when they were by themselves, the students asked him this: “Why weren’t we able to throw it out?”
29 Jesus told them, “That species can’t be thrown out by anything but prayer.”

In other words you can’t throw it out. Only God can. So don’t presume you have the power to drive out every evil spirit you come across, just because you’re God’s kid. Always pray for help. You might need it. But I digress.

Doubting fellow Christians.

Jesus is infallible. Our fellow Christians aren’t. That’s why we’re actually instructed to doubt them. Test them, make sure what they tell us is consistent with good theology. It’s gotta jibe with the scriptures, with what other Christians teach, with common sense, and with our previous God-experiences. We don’t just blindly follow one another. (Not even me. I could be wrong too, of course.)

Problem is, we Christians are way too likely to unquestioningly accept the things our favorite preachers tell us. We’re more apt to listen to them than even the Holy Spirit! The Spirit may tell a man, “Help the needy,” but his pastor’ll tell him, “God helps those who help themselves.” The pastor is quoting Benjamin Franklin, not bible. But to the man, karma sounds way more fair to him than grace. So he follows his pastor, not the Spirit.

Even the best of us get suckered into following our prejudices instead of God. Likely you’ve heard this story before: God sent a prophet, whom the story calls “God’s Man,” to condemn King Jeroboam ben Nebat for idolatry. En-route home, God’s Man encountered an older prophet who, for whatever reason, led him astray.

1 Kings 13.14-22 KWL
14 He rode after God’s Man and found him sitting beneath an oak.
He said, “Are you God’s Man who came from Judah?” God’s Man said, “I am.”
15 The prophet said, “Go with me to the house, and eat bread.”
16 God’s Man told him, “I won’t go with you or come with you.
I won’t eat bread, won’t drink water in this place.
17 The message to me, the LORD’s word, is ‘Don’t eat bread, don’t drink water there.
Don’t return the way you came.’ ”
18 The prophet told God’s Man, “But I’m a prophet like you!
An angel spoke the LORD’s word to me, saying, ‘Bring him back to your house.
He will eat bread; he will drink water.’ ” But he lied.
19 God’s Man returned with the prophet, and ate bread and drank water at his house.
20 As they sat at table, the LORD’s word came to the prophet who’d brought God’s Man back.
21 He called out to God’s Man who came from Judah, saying: “The LORD says this:
‘You rebelled against the LORD’s mouth and didn’t keep the command your LORD God commanded.
22 You returned, ate bread, and drank water
in a place where I told you not to eat bread and drink water.
So your corpse won’t come to your fathers’ tomb.’ ”

Very soon after, a lion killed God’s Man, and the older prophet buried him in his own tomb, thus fulfilling this prophecy.

Yeah, it sounds harsh. But we don’t know all the circumstances behind God’s odd instructions to God’s Man: Maybe they were meant to keep him from getting killed by lions! In any case, the main point is God’s Man didn’t doubt. He heard, “I’m a prophet too,” and his discernment went right out the window. He accepted the lie because he wanted to fill his stomach, and didn’t care God had instructed otherwise. Any loophole would do.

We pull the same stunt all the time. Plenty of Christians accept everything our preachers tell us, without a doubt, without a concern, without question, because our preachers are telling us just what we wanna hear. We aren’t engaging in the sort of healthy skepticism God wants of us when he told us to test prophets and teachers.

1 John 4.1 KWL
Beloved, don’t trust every spirit, but put the spirits to the test to see if they’re from God,
because many fake prophets have been coming out of the universe.
1 Thessalonians 5.19-22 KWL
19 Don’t quiet the Spirit: 20 Don’t dismiss prophecy, 21 and put everything to the test.
Hold tight to what’s good. 22 Stay far away from what seems bad.

We’re expected to entertain a certain degree of healthy skepticism—healthy in the sense that the goal isn’t to reject everything, but test everything. Keep what’s good, shun what’s bad. We expect prophecies, moves of the Spirit, and solid teaching. But at the same time we’re meant to confirm prophecies, test spirits, double-check our teachers, and compare what we’ve heard to the scriptures, to Christians, and to reason. God isn’t just okay with this: He ordered this.

A fake prophet, false teacher, and iffy Christian will call it unbelief, and call our devotion into question. That’s their tactic, meant to frighten us into leaving them alone. Works too well, too often. Way too many Christians never admit our doubts, never publicly ask questions, keep our mouths shut, and meekly allow ourselves to be led astray. Every legalistic church, every child-molesting pastor, every fool who teaches something stupid and ridiculous and embarrasses Christianity with it, has benefited by the fact Christians refuse to doubt. We refuse to engage our brains, and apply any critical thinking. It makes us look like idiots. But whenever we refuse to ask questions, we are idiots.

Every Christian should doubt. Make sure it’s of God, and once you find out it’s him, follow him to the ends of the earth. But first we gotta reasonably confirm it’s him. So don’t slack on that.

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