Christianity 201

September 1, 2018

Greater Things Ahead

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:53 pm
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Today we’re back once again with Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto.  Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

Even Greater Things

Psalms 132-134

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

“You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.”   —John 1:50

Jesus not only knew who Nathanael was, but where he was and what he would become. When Nathanael asked Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus said that He saw him under the fig tree before Philip had called him. This would have seemed impossible to Nathanael because Jesus was not in the vicinity at the time. He declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (John1:49).

For Nathanael, believing Jesus saw him under the fig tree led to the profound revelation of Jesus as the King of Israel, the Son of God. Jesus said to him, “You shall see greater things than that.” In other words, because you believe the little that you have begun to understand now, that belief will grow and you will see even greater things. The revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God works the same way in our own lives. It is a progression of knowledge and personal experience of Christ in which we will begin to see even greater things.

Jesus then said to Nathanael, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man” (John 1:51). We are not sure what Jesus meant by that, but we frequently read a passage in Scripture that rings a bell and connects with something we have read before. It may be that this verse alludes back to the story of when Jacob first acted in rebellion against God. One night, Jacob had a dream involving a ladder extending from earth to heaven upon which angels were ascending and descending. This is the same image Jesus speaks of with Nathanael, portraying a link between heaven and earth.

If I may paraphrase, perhaps what Jesus is saying is something like this: “Nathanael, you are going to see more than the King of Israel. You are going to see the bond between God and humanity. You are going to see the link between heaven and earth because of your experience of Me.” Jesus Christ is Himself the link between heaven and earth, God and humanity.

All revelation of God and of Jesus Christ is by the Holy Spirit whose task it is to live the life of Christ in us and through us. Every Christian is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ and so we have living within us the link between heaven and earth, God and humanity. It is living in intimate union with Jesus Christ that makes possible the greater things God will do in our lives.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, it is incredibly amazing to know we have the link between heaven and earth living within us. Thank You for giving us Jesus, and I pray for an ever deepening relationship with Him.

 

January 2, 2018

A Baby Was Born

by Russell Young

Christmas celebrates the birth of a baby and hope for humankind. He was born into the humble circumstances of a young mother and a new father. For them the stability of place and position had not yet been established.

That baby was as helpless as any new-born. He soiled himself, and required nursing and protection. He needed to be educated and allowed the right to develop and grow through play, discipline, and all forms of parental guidance. Although he was the Son of God, he was also the son of Mary. He was like you and me.  The writer of Hebrews states that “he [was] made like his brothers in every way.” (Heb 2:17 NIV) He had a body, soul, and spirit like all humankind.

The baby, Jesus, grew and became a man. He suffered the same bodily temptations as do all men. “[He] was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Heb 5:15 NIV) His temptations were not easy to bear. He suffered through them. (Temptations are not temptations unless they have a draw and their resistance causes some form of suffering.) “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb2:18 NIV) He had come to earth as a baby to learn of the human condition and to provide victory over weaknesses and over the evil one.

The resoluteness and commitment of Jesus to his Father should not be underestimated. His heart was fully committed to overcoming the frailties of the flesh that cause destruction. To live without sin, to deny the temptations of the flesh and to resist the deceptions and lies of the evil one and all that the world allows requires a heart determined to live righteously. We have been told, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7 NIV) No escape had been provided from the consequence of sin even for Jesus, the Christ. Sin would have brought about his own death. His Father did not interfere to make his earthly passage any different from our own concerning the issues of life. It was the heart of Christ devoted to pleasing his Father that allowed him to overcome the world.

There was a savior. The sinless man, through obedience to his Father’s will, became the source of eternal salvation for all people who would obediently follow him. (Jn 10:27)  “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) He was not sent to remove the consequences of the devil’s work, but to destroy it.

Confusion remains concerning the manner in which Jesus accomplished the provision of hope for a lost people. He bore the sin of the world and through his sinless life, “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption (for himself).” (Heb 9:12) His sinless life was the result of victory over Satan, over the flesh, and over the world. His propitiation for sin applies to those who “confess with [their] mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in [their] heart that God raised him from the dead.” (Rom 10:9 NIV) Those who would enjoy the hope offered by Christ must confess that “Jesus is Lord.” Confession is assenting to his lordship, promising it, covenanting it. “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) “He died as a ransom to set [people] free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Heb 9:15 NIV), and to provide eternal salvation through his resurrected life. He requires that those who he has freed and who have made the pledge of his lordship, follow him.

The sacrifice of the sinless Christ on the cross does not provide eternal salvation but release from the consequence of the confessor’s past sins and those repented and confessed following confession. (1 Jn 1:9) Just as the Lord lived without sin in the body that the Father had given him in the womb of Mary, he is prepared to live that sinless life in the body of the believer. “Christ in you is your hope of glory.” (Col 1:27; see also Gal 2:20 and 4:6) The saving ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ was not completed at the cross; he is the Spirit — “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18 NIV, italics added.) The Lord must be permitted to live his life through the believer. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV) “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (1 Jn 3:7─8 NIV) “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” (1 Jn 3:6 NIV)

 There is a judge. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10 NIV) The baby who became a sinless man, made provision for the Holy Spirit, and will be the judge of all. He dwells in us and knows the degree of our commitment to him. He holds the keys (Rev 1:18) and will decide each person’s eternal fate.

The baby born of Mary experienced the world and the flesh and overcame all the temptations that would have defeated him, and which would have provided victory for Satan. This baby grown into man victoriously fought the fight which has defeated all humankind. He knows the struggles and temptations of people and desires to be their helper and the source of their eternal salvation, but they must repent and allow him lordship of their lives so that they can become an offering acceptable to God. (Rom 15:16) Jesus the baby has become the light and hope of the world.


Author Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. His book Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.


 

December 28, 2017

Herod’s Messed Up Christmas

by Clarke Dixon

The Christmas Story as told by Matthew does not end like it does in the more sentimental telling of it we are used to. It ends in tragedy.

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Matthew 2:16

Technically speaking, the magi were likely not present with Jesus along with the shepherds as commonly portrayed in manger scenes. They arrived later. In fact the Church calendar encourages us to reflect on the arrival of the magi at the end of Christmas, on January 6th, with a celebration called Epiphany. Nevertheless, in the popular and sentimental celebrations of Christmas the magi are there at the manger scene and everyone is happy but Herod. However, in the Biblical account Christmas ends up going horribly wrong. What are we to make of Herod’s messy Christmas?

First, the unhappy ending of the Christmas story is a reminder from the get-go that we need a rescue.  While we tend to think Herod was a particularly evil person, the fact is that any one of us could have ended up being a Herod. People we think of as evil are usually ordinary people who have been swept up in evil. It could have been us. Hitler may have been particularly evil, but many regular folk committed evil deeds because they were too easily swept up with his evil. Charles Manson may have been particularly evil, but those who committed murder for him would likely have had very different lives had they become involved with a better crowd. That could have been us and not them being swept up in evil. Humanity has a sin problem. Even the most “naturally nice” of us have the potential for great evil. Therefore the sad ending of the Christmas story found at the beginning of the New Testament is a reminder of something we learned from the Old Testament, namely that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The massacre at Bethlehem reminds us that we need a rescue.

Second, the unhappy ending of the Christmas story is not the end of the story. Matthew goes on to tell us about the teaching of Jesus, pointing us toward a righteousness that is far better than that of the rule-focused Pharisees. There is a God-given and Spirit-driven righteousness ahead. Matthew goes on to tell us about the miracles of Jesus, reversing the effects of sin and curse we know about from Genesis chapter three. Matthew goes on to tell us about the death of Jesus. We learn early on that Mary “will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) The death of Jesus deals with sin in a way neither we, nor anything nor anyone else, ever could. God Himself brought His grace and justice together in rescuing us from the end result of sin. Matthew goes on to tell us about the resurrection of Jesus. Where Herod failed, the religious and political leaders finally seemed to succeed when Jesus was put to death at the cross. Only that didn’t last very long. Death could not hold him and the story goes on! Matthew goes on to tell us about the great commission of Jesus:

18 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. Matthew 28:18-20

Here is a new beginning, a revolution! The implication is that the Herods of the world, if they become obedient disciples of Jesus, could not commit the kind of atrocities that we find in the Christmas story. Instead of being people who are swept up in evil, we are to become people swept up in goodness and godliness, a people swept up in God Himself.

Matthew goes on to tell us, in the final words of his book, some final words of Jesus before his ascension: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) There is an age to come after this age. In other words the ending of the Christmas story is not the end of the story. Far from it! The Christmas story is the beginning of a new beginning which will lead to a new beginning. The story goes on and it ends well! While Christmas has a sad ending, the story of Jesus ends well. In Christ your story can have a happy ending too!

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

December 25, 2017

The Gift of Peace

Like many of you, I was sitting at a Christmas Eve service thinking about Jesus as the Prince of Peace, no doubt inspired by a reading of Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

I started thinking about the chorus of the song below. The song has an entirely different purpose, I doubt William D. Cornell had Christmas in view at the time of its composition. Nonetheless, the coming of Christ ushered in the opportunity for all of us to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit who brings us the peace the songs speaks about.

Peace! peace! wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above;
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray,
In fathomless billows of love.

On a day where we focus on the beginning of the account of Christ incarnate, we tend not to focus on the end of the story. In my early 20s, I had a poster in my room with these words,

The Father gave authority to the Son to send the Holy Spirit, with the results you are now seeing.

This a paraphrase of Acts 2:33.

At the very, very end; when atonement had been purchased and death had been conquered, we see Jesus in his final moments with his disciples in John 20:21 and 22 and there again is a reference to peace.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

For many of us this has not been a peaceful year. Many of you would echo the words of the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

For you and for me I would wish the words of the song that follows.

Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray,
In fathomless billows of love.

March 22, 2017

I Now Live in a New Family

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we are again paying a return visit to the writing of Elsie Montgomery at the blog Practical Faith. As I’ve stated before, she is one of the most faithful writers online, now in her 11th year of daily devotional studies.

I am adopted

Before believing in eternal life, I had to believe in eternal condemnation. Who needs salvation if there is no consequence for sin? Yet my condemnation was not ‘in place’ because I believed it, but because of the family line to which I (and everyone else) belongs.

As described in Romans 5, eternal condemnation began when sin began — through Adam. Sin results in death — which is separation from God, and because all humanity comes from Adam, then all are born into sin and separated from God. This is called spiritual death. We still walk around, but are dead to God and ignorant of sin. We needed a measuring stick and the Law of God did that, making us aware that we fall short.

Yet because of God’s great love and grace, He offered redemption — a free gift to sinners. This offer came through the righteousness of another man, Jesus Christ. Just as those in Adam were condemned in sin, those in Jesus Christ are made righteous in Him.

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:18–21)

Salvation is about a change in family, about being taken from the line of those descended from Adam and placed in Christ, adopted into the family of God. This is something only God can do and did do because of His great love for us:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3)

Living in the family of eternal condemnation is made evident by lifestyle. Sinners sin; it is as simple as that. Law reveals and defines the sin, but sin was there before the Law was given. People murdered people before God said it was not lawful, and people hated God before He told them “No other gods.”

Jesus came to take away that sin and enable sinners to live righteous lives. God actually made a trade; He put our sin on Jesus, and put Jesus’ righteousness on us:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

This incredible swap means that I now live in a new family, the family of eternal life. That change is made evident by a lifestyle change. While not perfect in practice, I have a new identity; I’m no longer ‘in Adam’ but ‘in Christ’ and rejoice that God has adopted me.

“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:4–10)

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Dear Jesus, God imputed Your righteousness to my account as He imputed my sins to You. You became responsible to the Law of God for my sin, took its penalty and died under His wrath. As my sin was made Yours, and Your righteousness was made mine, so also were the rewards of Your righteousness given to me. This is substitution and astonishing grace. Because of it, the Father sees me in You, not in Adam. I am a new creation and a member of Your eternal family, loving that which once didn’t matter, and hating those things I once loved. The more I hear this incredible Gospel, the deeper it sinks into my heart and flows out into my life. This too is amazing grace, grace that I cannot earn or deserve, only respond to in grateful obedience. grateful obedience.

January 12, 2017

The Final Page of the Final Chapter of the Christmas Story

by Clarke Dixon

Now that Christmas is over we might ask, where does the Christmas story actually end? Nativity plays often finish off with the visit of the magi. Some may think the story of Christmas concludes  with Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt, or coming home to Nazareth. Actually, the Christmas story points far beyond itself as it is part of a much larger story. The magi point beyond themselves to that larger story. Consider how the presence of the magi alludes to this prophecy spoken many years prior:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Isaiah 60:1-3

Though not kings, the magi are not Jewish and travel from afar, indicating that it is beginning; The nations are drawn to the light. It continues:

Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you,
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall be acceptable on my altar,
and I will glorify my glorious house.Isaiah 60:5-7

We cannot help but notice the gold and frankincense along with the possibility of camels. The visit of the magi is not the full fulfillment of Isaiah 60, but it is the beginning of the fulfillment. This is also pointing more generally to a greater fulfillment of a greater promise: all peoples of the earth worshipping the God of Israel.

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations. Psalms 22:27-28

Herod figures prominently in the account of the magi and he also points to the future when he says “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:8 NIV) Of course Herod has no intention of worshipping Jesus. Herod would rather have Jesus destroyed. Herod would rather be in charge. Herod would rather attempt to grasp at a throne that truly belonged to another. Herod did not worship Jesus. But he will:

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him. Psalms 22:29

The Old Testament points to even the dead bowing down to the true king, the Creator God. The New Testament makes this even more explicit:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

Every knee and every tongue includes even the knees and tongues of the dead. Even Herod. So ironically, Herod was speaking truthfully about the future when he said he would worship Jesus. He will. So will you and I. The question is not if you will bend the knee to Jesus, or if you will confess that He is Lord, but when

Does the fact that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord mean that every person will experience eternal life with God? No.

Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15

You and I have the wonderful opportunity to be among those who bend the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord sooner rather than later. The sooner we do, the greater the opportunity to live with the hope, peace, joy, and love, that we celebrate during Advent.

So where does the Christmas story end? With Mary and Joseph going home with Jesus? Or is the end of the story yet to come, with you and I going home?

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13

If you are a child of God, you will feel right at home in the presence of God. If you are like Herod and would rather stay in charge, rejecting God and the possibility of a relationship with Him, then you will feel right at home being separated from God. The final words on the final page of the final chapter of the Christmas story will not be you or I saying “You are unfair, Lord” but “I’m home.”


Read today’s column online at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermons.

Be aware of new blog posts by Clarke by following him on Twitter.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless noted otherwise

December 25, 2016

Rejoice, O World! Rejoice! A Savior Has Been Born!

by Russell Young

Today is Christmas! It is a celebration of the revelation of God’s grace and mercy to humankind. For millennia the human condition had been one that had brought grief to the Creator through the rebellion and intransigent hearts (Gen 6:6) of those whom he had created for his good pleasure and purpose. The mandate of the One born as a baby was to rescue or redeem the world from its depravity so that it might please God once again. It was and is the Creator’s desire to fellowship with those who had been formed in his image. For this purpose, the babe in the manger was born, lived his life and died among us.

John wrote: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save it through him.” (Jn 3:16─17 NIV) He did not come to condemn the world to destruction but to rescue it and it not just humankind that was his mandate, it was the world—all that had been created. The Lord came to complete God’s creation so that it would accomplish their (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) purposes. He came to “save” it.

The world had become a place worthy only of destruction; it was not worth preserving given its state of evil. The minds of people had allowed them sovereignty over the world’s affairs. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work,” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) which includes recognition of the sovereignty of the One who created all that is.

Part of the Lord’s ministry was to make people “acceptable” to God once again (Rom 15:16) and all creation is waiting expectantly for that to happen. (Rom 8:19–22) When the ministry of Jesus is completed there will be no more wars or hostility and he will reign in peace. It is in the hope of the restoration of God’s kingdom and our place in it that we rejoice.

Isaiah has presented his victory and the hope available to all of those “in him” upon his return as king.

“The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and power,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—
And he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
Or decide by what he hears with his ears;
But with righteousness he will judge the needy,
With justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
The leopard will lie down with the goat,
The calf and the lion and the yearling together;
And a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together;
and the lion will eat straw like an ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child will put his hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

(Isaiah 11:2─9 NIV)

Rejoice and celebrate the hope, love, and promises provided through the One whose birth is honoured today, the One who has been provided for the salvation of man and of God’s creation, the One who has been faithful to the Father and to his promises. In the child whose birth is celebrated today rests the hope of humankind and of all creation.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngCheck out Russell Young’s book now in print and eBook — Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

December 18, 2015

He Came to Save

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today’s reading is from Stephen & Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement. This is my go-to devotional in the morning and we break the six-month rule with them, using their material more frequently here. They are in their eleventh year of faithfully doing this on top of an active chaplaincy ministry in Pennsylvania. Click the title below to read this at source.

Mighty To Save

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save” (Zephaniah 3:17).

“But when he (Joseph) had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet” (Matthew 21:20-22).

“Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost (completely, perfectly, finally, for all time and eternity) those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25 Amplified)

One day when Heaven was filled with His praises,
One day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin,
Dwelt among men, my example is He!

Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He’s coming—oh, glorious day! *

At this season, along with Easter, it’s predictable that national news magazines will do a feature story about Jesus Christ. However so often these articles are slanted away from the Biblical and historical teachings about Jesus Christ and espouse the faddish views of various “scholars” that the writer selectively cites.

Critics have often tried to distinguish between what they perceive as the harsh, judgmental God of the Old Testament with the kind, loving God of the New Testament.  Of course God is God and He does not change. In Malachi 3:6 He declares “I the LORD do not change”. The feeble attempts by critics to “package” God merely reveals that we are finite humans. We are called to belief and obedience. Understanding comes as we “trust and obey”.

Zephaniah 3:17 Today’s first verse is a reminder to us of a powerful, loving God who is ever present. “The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save.” You may have present circumstances in your life that make this verse hard to grasp. But consider the great truth that God is with you and He is mighty to save! I would sure take this to primarily mean in regard to our greatest need of salvation from sin, but I also believe He is “mighty to save” in regard to a specific situation we are dealing with as well.

Matthew 1:20-22 contains the angel’s announcement to Joseph concerning Mary. The message of the angel in verse 21 is an assurance to Joseph that Mary’s baby would be a “Son” whose name would be “Jesus.” The Greek name “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew name Joshua which literally means “Jehovah saves,” or “God is salvation.” Even before Christ was born the angel revealed to Joseph the unique nature of His reason for coming, “He will save His people from their sins”. The Gospels and Apostolic teaching reveal this was accomplished by His sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection from the dead. The term “His people” should be understood to include both believing Jews and Gentiles (see Gal. 3:13,14; Romans 3:21-25; Titus 2:13,14; 1 Peter 2:4-10) whom Christ would save “from their sins” by means of His perfect life and substitutionary sacrifice. (from “Explore the Bible”)

Two thousand years after His first coming and mission accomplished we are among those who experience the wonder of His love. “Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost (completely, perfectly, finally, and for all time and eternity) those who come to God through Him.”

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today

Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer: Father, the wonder of Your love is that You sent Your beloved Son, Jesus, the Holy Child of Bethlehem, in answer to our need for salvation. And in answer to our prayer You cast out our sin and entered in to be born in us, making all things new in our spiritual transformation. Because we come to You through Christ we are saved completely to the uttermost: perfectly, finally, for all time and for all eternity. All we have need of You provide through Christ Jesus our Lord. And we are forever grateful! Amen.



* “Glorious Day (Living He loved me)”  Video  Casting Crowns

December 16, 2015

The Leader We Long For

We’re so grateful for Clarke Dixon’s weekly contributions here at C201. Click the title below to read at source.

Toward Good Leadership

There is something that has stood between joy and far too many people in far too many places far too often: Lousy leadership by lost leaders. They say that cream always rises to the top, but throughout the world, and throughout the history of the world, the cream seems to have been sitting out in the sun for days on end. Bad decisions by people of influence have plunged people into suffering and darkness. Because of dreadful leadership oppression has poured out on countless millions. We need world leaders who have a heart for the people, a capacity to bring real change, and who bring effective solutions to problems. Is there a leader who can rise to that challenge?

From the Gospel of Luke, enter an angel announcing a birth:

Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

From the Book of Revelation, enter another angel and another announcement:

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

Could these announcements point us to a leader who can rise to the challenge of good leadership? Let us consider three points:

Because this is a hurting world, we need a leader who knows how to be a shepherd. Rulers can rule indiscriminately, but shepherds do at least three things: they find lost sheep, they have compassion on hurting sheep, and they provide protection for threatened sheep. We have had enough oppressive rulers in our world. We don’t need oppressors, we need shepherds. In Jesus we have a shepherd. Consider the following:

First, there is a connection between Jesus and David, the “shepherd-king.” Though David was originally a shepherd from Bethlehem, he became the favorite king of Israel. God promised David that one of his descendants would reign forever. That Jesus was born in Bethlehem and that shepherds from Bethlehem were invited to see Him, make plain that we are to make a connection between Jesus and David; the shepherd-king.

Second, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who “lays his life down for the sheep” (John 10:11). This is a very different kind of leadership than those rulers who take out as many sheep as it takes to remain in power.

Third, Jesus is the shepherd spoken of in Revelation 7:17:

“for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This is a shepherd leader who is also a sacrificial lamb. He leads from a place of love, giving his life for the sake of the sheep in contrast to many rulers who rule from a place of insecurity and fear.

Fourth, the birth of Jesus is mentioned in Revelation 12:5:

“And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.”

The word for “rule” here is actually the word for “shepherd,” as in “he will shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron.” The 23rd Psalm is in view with “The LORD is my shepherd . . . your rod and your staff – they comfort me.” The rod and staff were used by shepherds to protect and guide the sheep.

Indeed, the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign as the Good-Shepherd-King forever and ever.

Because this is a darkening world we need a leader who has the capacity to bring sunny ways. As Canadians we cannot miss the reference to our new Prime Minister in that statement. No matter our political stripe, we should always hope that our current prime minister will be the best one yet. But whether or not sunny days may be ahead for Canada, Mr. Trudeau is limited in the world by one simple fact. He is only human. Even if we experience superb leadership here in Canada, Mr. Trudeau will have limited impact in other nations around the world, nations which are in greater need of good leadership than we are! Jesus has the capacity to bring sunny ways. Consider the following:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

Not only is Jesus described as light, but being involved in Creation, He is the Creator of light. That sounds like someone who has the capacity to bring about real change! While we look to political leaders to make promises, Jesus is far more able to keep His. Speaking of promises:

22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. (Revelation 21:22-25)

While world leaders have often plunged their people into darkness, Jesus is the light of the world. Indeed the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign as the Light-of-the-World forever and ever.

Lastly, Because this is a broken world we need a leader who can fix problems with real solutions. What is the biggest problem the world faces today? Climate change? Terrorism? The announcement of the loud voices from Revelation 11 provides us with a clue:

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord.” (Revelation 11:15)

“Kingdoms” are not handed over as we might expect, but rather a singular “kingdom.” Satan is the “ruler of this world” as Jesus makes clear in John 14:30. The evil one has had plenty of practice in being the greatest threat to society beginning with Adam and Eve. The problems of this world have never been just Hitler, or Stalin, or Bin Laden, or Herod. The problems of this world have been the sin that infects and affects such people, not to mention people like you and me. The evil one has even tried to tempt Jesus:

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. ’” (Matthew 4:8-10)

The temptation was to take the world by force. Jesus would have succeeded in that venture where many have tried and failed. But there was a better way, the way of the cross. Rather than use violence and force to rule over all the kingdoms, Jesus suffered violence and force at the cross. His is the way of love. His kingdom is marked by love, not brute force. Indeed, the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and the King-of-love will reign forever and ever.

So will we ever have good leadership in our world? We already have a good leader in our world; Jesus. What we really need are good followers. We do not need to wait for the seventh trumpet to sound to know that Jesus is Lord, to live as His Kingdom people. The leaders of this world would do well to figure out how to follow the leader before leading the followers. So would we.

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

July 22, 2012

He Is Our Peace: Blood Tears Down a Wall

The reconciliation of God’s people

11 So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by Jews who are physically circumcised. 12 At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. 13 But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.

17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. 22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.

~Ephesians 2:11-22 (Common English Bible)

Another longer post today.  Maybe we should rename this Christianity 401. The blogger we feature today is Morgan Guyton, a United Methodist Pastor. I encourage to read this — and other posts — at his blog, Mercy Not Sacrifice, where it appeared under the title, How can blood tear down a wall? Sacrifice in Ephesians 2:11-22

This past weekend, I preached on Ephesians 2:11-22. It’s one of my favorite passages because it talks about how Jesus tears down the walls between us. And at first glance it would seem like a great opportunity to talk about how important it is for the church to fight racism and take on all the “us vs. them” conflicts in our day that build walls between people. But there was a line that confronted me in the passage that I felt like I couldn’t just treat as a rhetorical flourish as I’d so often read it before. I needed to be able to explain it. Paul says, “You who were far have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” That line doesn’t make any sense unless you read it with some understanding of the central purpose of sacrifice in the community of the ancient Israelites. Only through the lens of sacrifice can we understand how the blood of Jesus can tear down the wall that had kept the Gentiles out of the Jewish temple.

The Jerusalem temple in the time of Jesus was defined architecturally by a series of walls that only certain people were allowed to go inside. The outer area of the temple was the court of Gentiles, where money changers and animal vendors could come to sell their wares to Jewish pilgrims who traveled long distances to sacrifice in the Jerusalem temple and weren’t able to bring cattle from their own flocks with them if they owned cattle. Another group of Gentiles who would hang around the temple were called “God-fearers.” These were Gentiles who believed in the Jewish God but were unable or unwilling to go through the process of fully converting to Judaism.

The “dividing wall” that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 2:14 is the wall separating the inner temple complex from the court of Gentiles. Archaeologists have found several signs that originally hung on this wall around the inner temple saying: “No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and embankment around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which follows.”

Notice the way the sign is written. It doesn’t say that the Jewish authorities in charge of the temple would kill any foreigner. It is simply indicating that people who enter do so at their own risk of imminent death. The Jews believed that strongly that the divine power inside the temple would be enough to kill someone who was not properly prepared to face it. So what in the world happened in their temple that would cause them to feel this way?

We go to our temples and houses of worship today to sing, pray, read scripture, and hear sermons. We do not ritualistically slaughter and burn an animal as the centerpiece of our worship act. But that’s what the Jewish people did. Animal sacrifice was the means that God gave His people in Leviticus to make their people clean.

It’s important to understand that the ancient Jewish understanding of cleanliness was completely different than the modern understanding of cleanliness. In modernity, we define cleanliness according to biological terms. Being clean means you wash your hands with antibacterial soap and wipe your countertop to avoid attracting ants. In ancient Israel, cleanliness referred to the social chemistry of the community. Things were unclean that would disrupt the social chemistry and create conflict between people. In order to stay clean, the people had an elaborate “law with commandments and ordinances” that Paul references in Ephesians 2:15. At the center of the law was the ritual of sacrifice.

Sacrifice as well had a completely different meaning for ancient Jews than it does for us. Today it means “giving up something for the sake of a greater good,” like sacrificing on my weekly food budget for a few months so I can save money for an airline ticket to Hawaii. Though the Israelites were commanded to offer the best 10% of their flock to God, the primary meaning of the word sacrifice for them didn’t have to do with the loss of giving something up, but with the violence within the ritual of sacrifice. It was through the violence and hideousness of slaughtering an animal that the unnamed violence in the air of the community could be named, laid out before people, and then put in God’s hands through the fire of the altar. Using the violence of sacrifice that God had provided for them as a resource, Jewish people were able to clear the air of their community and dissipate any bad blood between them through the blood of the animal on the altar.

In this context of a society that depended upon the cleanliness created through a powerful violent ritual, it seems reasonable that Jews would worry about what would happen to the transformative space they experienced in their temple if Gentile tourists were given permission to walk through. So they told them they would have to sign on fully to the Jewish covenantal system before being allowed to enter. Note that this dividing wall wasn’t about separating races; it was about drawing the boundaries without which a powerful ritual could not occur.

The problem was that the temple cult gave too much power to the religious authorities in charge and they became corrupted as anyone would in their position. It turned into a sacrifice industrial complex. Then a young rabbi from Galilee named Jesus rolled into town and caused a ruckus in the court of the Gentiles throwing all the money changers out, calling the whole place a “den of thieves.” When the chief priests decided to arrest and crucify Jesus, they did not realize that they were creating the means by which their own vocational function would become obsolete. They didn’t make the connection between the lambs that they slaughtered and burned on the altar every week and the innocent man they were putting on the cross.

But because of the chief priests’ unwitting complicity with God’s plan, Jesus became “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). His blood became the violence that absorbs every other violence named and unnamed throughout the world. A very common misunderstanding of sacrifice is that it’s something that is done to “appease” God’s anger. This may have been true about other ancient gods, but Israel’s God YHWH makes it pretty clear through His prophets (Isaiah 1:10-17, Micah 6:6-8, etc.) that He didn’t get any pleasure out of sacrifice except insofar as it served as the system by which His people were made clean of sin so they could do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

Jesus’ sacrifice makes peace between us and God the same way that the animal sacrifices of the ancient Israelites did for them, but it’s not because there’s any obstacle on God’s end of the relationship to His full, perfect love for us. Our sin simply keeps us from entering His presence with any degree of integrity or confidence without the assurance of the sacrifice that He has made on our behalf. We hate the light and flee to the darkness when our deeds are evil (John 3:19), so God provides a means through Christ for us to walk into His light without shame and with a purification that we don’t have to provide for ourselves.

The dividing walls that keep us out of God’s temple today are not anything that humans have built. They are rather walls within our hearts that keep us from coming clean before God. Many different walls are possible, but there are basically two types. Walls of pride are built out of our accomplishments and acts of piety when they serve the purpose of proving our faithfulness to God and hiding our sin and inadequacy. Walls of shame are built from the piles of our failures and obvious embarrassments; they keep us from believing we could ever be worthy of God’s acceptance.

Both walls of shame and pride share a basic misconception: that God expects us to be good. No one is good except for God alone. We are only good to the degree that we have allowed God to overpower us and accomplish His good through us. God doesn’t expect us to be good; God longs for us to be clean. He wants to take away all the bad blood and hidden ugliness that we have accumulated by washing our hearts clean in the blood of Jesus. Yes, it is a bizarre concept in our science-shaped world: that blood could make people clean, but there’s a truth to the logic of ancient sacrifice that has been proven through the witness of millions of Christians throughout history whose lives have been changed utterly by Jesus’ sacrifice.

How does Jesus’ blood tear down the walls of the Jerusalem temple? By changing the entire concept of temple from a place where you go to make yourselves clean before God using His prescribed ritual sacrifice to the place in all of our hearts where Jesus comes to take our sins away and make us clean again. It is only because of Jesus’ sacrifice that Paul can say, “He is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Peace is not something that can be established on the basis of rational discourse. We will always be able to come up with reasons why our adversaries are the ones who will not make peace with us. Peace is made between people who have been made clean by God, and that kind of piece makes all of us into one body and one temple where the God who we were created to enjoy can be glorified through our worship.

~Morgan Guyton

Related Post:  June 15, 2012: The Ground is Level at the Foot of the Cross

April 6, 2012

Filled With The Spirit

Christ was not deserted in death and his body was never destroyed. ‘Christ is the man Jesus, whom God raised up—a fact of which all of us are eye-witnesses!’ He has been raised to the right hand of God; he has received from the Father and poured out upon us the promised Holy Spirit—that is what you now see and hear!

~Acts. 2:31-33, J. B. Phillips translation

This verse was one that I learned in a slightly different form from The Living Bible, in fact, it hung as part of poster on the walls of my bedroom:

The Father gave the authority to the Son to send the Holy Spirit, with the results you are seeing and hearing today.

I believe that’s more or less verbatim, as I don’t think anyone has The Living Bible text online.

Christ’s death and resurrection brought about a change in the relationship between The Holy Spirit and man.

  • In the first covenant, God’s Spirit occasionally rested on certain individuals, such as the prophets
  • In the time of Christ, the disciples experienced Emmanuel, God with us. The Spirit indwelt Jesus who in turn was physically present among mankind in ways unknown since the Garden of Eden, but limited by whatever physical location Jesus was present at any single time.
  • After the resurrection, God’s Spirit lived inside those who granted Him full authority, or Lordship over their lives.

Christ came to fulfill a sacrificial mandate, but also to usher us into a time when His Spirit would live through us; where instead of being centered on a single person (and therefore a single place) the Spirit of God would be present in people throughout the entire earth. Though omnipresent in both old covenant and new covenant times, the embodiment of His presence after Acts 2 was much more widespread.

Raised to new life, God pours out His Spirit on all those who believe and follow. 

That’s the progression…

…But we’re not there yet.

This is still Good Friday.  In between incarnation and ascension, we have the suffering and death of Jesus, we hear him cry out, “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” 

But even in that anguish, is there hope?  Is there a hint of what is to come?  Just as Christ, in his life, foreshadows his death, does he in his death foreshadow his resurrection?

Today, I want to refer you to a somewhat longer  piece by Al Hsu from InterVaristy Press, posted at Christianity Today.  It’s one of the best I’ve read in a long time, in fact I read it out loud to my family.  It takes about 20 minutes to do it that way, so your reading time should be shorter.

But I promise you will never look at one particular cry from the cross the same way. I strongly encourage you to invest the time this reading takes.

Read all six screens of He’s Calling for Elijah: Why We Still Mishear Jesus (click here).