Christianity 201

August 8, 2021

A Devotional Three-for-One Special!

For the third year in a row, we’re bringing you a trio of short-form devotionals from The Bare Soul Daily Devotional by Rick Roeber (aka The Barefoot Runner). Click on each of the headers below to bookmark or read at source.

The Valley of Decision

Joel 3:14 – “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.”

The day of the Lord will characterize itself in a terrifying way to most. However, the day of the Lord can also be a day of great victory. For those of us who have accepted the Lord Jesus, our day of the Lord has come and God has already entered into judgment with our sin through the Lord Jesus Christ. Only as we have accepted Him as our sacrificial Lamb, will we then have moved from judgment to mercy as our sin has been forever atoned for by Christ’s perfect life.

The tragedy is that most will be caught in the conundrum of their own indecisiveness, not accepting the Lord’s most gracious gift before their respective death or His eminent return. If only they had known how close the Lord was to them in this time of decision! He patiently waited for their response but there was none.

As the writer of Hebrews tells us, if today you hear His voice, do not harden your heart but give your life to Him for He is full of love and abounding in mercy (Hebrews 4:7).

Divine Recognition

Acts 4:13 – “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.”

Have you ever recognized someone as having been with Jesus? They aren’t difficult to spot. As the Pharisees witnessed, the hallmark of these folks is their immovable confidence in what they believe. How does confidence of this type manifest itself? Well, it starts in secret and spills out publicly. It oozes out of believers that truly believe their Lord and desire to spend time with Him. It comes by searching out His Word, and then living it to the best of their ability. It comes by living out the Great Commission and spreading the love of Jesus Christ to their communities, counties, states, countries, and finally to the world. Godly confidence is something that cannot be self-created but is a by-product of living and breathing the Lord Jesus Christ on a daily basis.

Do you want to provoke amazement as the Pharisees experienced? They merely acknowledged the confidence of Peter and John, that they were uneducated but yet they recognized the Lord Jesus in them. Confidence in one’s standing with the Lord only comes by getting into that secret place with Him — to pour out one’s heart and to pour over His word. Then, when we come out into the public light, there will be little to mistake any of us from having been with our Risen Lord.

Love and Compassion

Matthew 20:34 – “Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.”

Often people confuse God’s compassion with His love. The Lord certainly loves at all times, for this is His nature (Proverbs 17:17), However, His compassions are often kindled according to His great will (Hosea 11:8). These ebb and flow in perfect measure as He touches and mends lives. Jesus’ nature did not always look loving, yet He never failed in this respect, even when He was angry or openly grieved. Likewise, His compassion was always at work although it was most demonstrative when God’s heart was “kindled.”

Always know God is a loving Father, even when He does not appear that way. The sign of a mature believer is patiently discerning how the Lord chooses to reveal Himself through His compassion. When God does touch us, there is a new awareness of His love and kindness and a greater desire to follow Him no matter where He might lead.


Bonus content:

It’s been awhile since we shared anything from Ruth Wilkinson. Today we have two video teachings for you in what will eventually become a series of four or five, which are based on the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy.

Click these links for

July 26, 2021

Besides Sheep, Jesus Used the Analogy of Fish and Fishing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Luke.5.3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.


ESV.Matt.13.47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.

Our 11-year journey takes us to interesting places to find devotional material, and today’s no exception. Stephen Bernard writes at Mouse Squeak (the computer type of mouse) and shares this personal reflection. Click to read this at source, and take some time to read some of this other recent essays.

When You Can See The Fish But They Won’t Bite

I went out fishing during the hours when the moon was down and they’d be out feeding. I wasn’t wrong either. Upon arrival the tide was high, the river was flowing and the weather was nice and warm. Under the bridge I could see crowds of fish. They were of all sizes big and small. They looked so good I could taste them. In my district I’m only allowed to use barbless hooks and no live bait so I use golden and silver spinners/spoons most of the time.

When I first arrived I started casting and did not see the crowd of fish until later when I actually began to look. As usual I casually began casting the line here nor there. Quite content I began to relax. But when I saw the horde of fish all nicely piled together I began to get excited. Try as I may, for more than one hour I cast that rod in their direction and none of them would bite. . . Not one.

I had the best gear, spinner and even though I changed my spinner from gold to silver (assuming it was overcast and would help) nothing happened. I almost fired the rod into the river to stab one of them with it that’s how frustrated I became. When I cast my line in their direction I only further complicated matters as it simply scared them away. You see? I got too excited and my enthusiasm ended up dispersing them.

I can see why Jesus uses the theme of catching fish for souls in the Gospels. It’s incredibly similar. Sometimes we can arrive at the seemingly right time. There’s plenty of people to introduce the Gospel to. We’ve got what we think is the right bait and all the best of gear available to us, but nothing ever gets them biting, right? You think fishing is hard? Try evangelism.

As Christians we often change our bait according to the fish we are trying to catch. One method of evangelism gets replaced for this method depending on the size, personality and location of the fish. We use the kind of food they’re used to according to their local customs. Even so, none of them seem to catch on. What are we to do in these cases?

Today I threw in the towel and walked away. I think sometimes that’s what we need to do with souls. It can be very easy to get frustrated with people. When they’re not interested or willing to listen sometimes you’ve no choice but to wave the white flag of surrender and go home.

If you hang around and keep shouting in their direction like I did with the fish, you end up scaring them away altogether. There are moments when we get too enthusiastic and such overtly religious attitudes can make them run a mile. Sometimes it’s enough that they’re there in Church sitting in the pew. They’ve all these bizarre ideas about their faith and their hearts are not totally into what you’re preaching, but at least they’re there. You can sermonize and drop lots of the sweet corn of good advice into the ocean but they won’t be interested.

By simply being present these souls give us the opportunity to come back another day, maybe with different bait or other methods and try again. It really is after that down to the Lord to catch them for you. I’m thinking of the bit in the Gospel where the apostles have been fishing all night and caught nothing. Then Jesus tells them to cast their nets again. They do as they’re told and loads of fish come in. Jesus teaches us that by our own efforts no fish is ever reeled in. The Grace of the Lord is always required on any expedition we undergo to evangelize the world.

Today the Lord was not with me.* Why? Because he wanted me to write this article that’s why. He allowed me to go out and waste my absolute time and effort to teach me a valuable lesson which is to say I can do nothing without him. . . nothing. In my ignorance I didn’t even pray. Maybe next time in addition to bringing the best of fishing gear I should bring along the greatest form of bait one can find. . . Jesus.


*Editor’s note: Maybe the Lord was with Stephen all along, or we wouldn’t be enjoying today’s meditation!

…Where he lands the plane today is neither about sheep nor fish, but comes from a passage where Jesus uses another analogy, about vines and branches.

TLB.John.15.5b For apart from me you can’t do a thing.

July 7, 2021

When We Learn Our Lives Mattered to Others

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Pastor and author Greg Laurie is featured here at least once a year. Click the header below to read this on the devotional blog of Harvest Church in Riverside, California. You can also listen to a reading of this devotional at this link.

An Eternal Impact

When the Rapture takes place, not only will we meet the Lord in the air, but we’ll also rejoin friends and loved ones who have already gone on to be with the Lord.

Isn’t that wonderful to know?

If you’ve lost loved ones who were believers, then you will see them again. That’s a great comfort for anyone who has ever lost someone they cherished in life. Death is the great separator, but Jesus Christ is the great reconciler. Jesus will bring together those whom death has separated.

The Bible also reveals that we’ll not only be reunited with Christian relatives and loved ones, but we’ll also be reunited with those who trusted in Jesus through our witness.

For example, the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19 NKJV).

Paul was saying that his spiritual children would be his crown of exaltation in the Lord’s presence when He returns. From this it would appear that in Heaven, each of us will have those whom we helped to believe in Jesus grouped around us. Think about that.

Understand, God gives the increase in evangelism. I’ve never saved anyone, and neither have you. But God, by His grace, does allow us to participate in the wonderful process of seeing people to come to faith.

You might have sown seeds of the gospel in someone’s life, or you may have had a key role in watering a seed that another Christian had sown as you shared your faith in the Lord.

Ultimately, when we get to Heaven, we’ll be able to see what kind of impact that our lives on Earth have had.


Several times at Christianity 201, we’ve looked at what I’ve heard described as the chain of grace and how we can be play a part in it. Although we just ran it in October, 2019, I love telling this story over and over.

One of the best stories I ever heard in church a youth service where a girl, got up and (I’m changing the names at this point, I am sure) said, “My name is Amanda…” and then went on to tell the story of how her life was changed because of a friend named Brittany. Then the next one stepped up and began, “My name is Brittany…” and told her story of coming to faith because of the influence of a girl named Crystal. Next — and you’re probably guessing the pattern already — a girl stepped to the microphone and started with “My name is Crystal…” and told her story which included being invited to an event by her friend Danielle.

You might think this all sounds too contrived to be true, but when the last girl got up and said, “Hi, I’m Danielle…” I swear there wasn’t a dry eye in the church. You could hear a pin drop.

In today’s devotional, Greg used the phrase “we’ll also be reunited with those who trusted in Jesus through our witness.”

Will there be people in eternity because we modeled life in Christ?


For a complete list of devotionals here where we’ve used the phrase “the chain of grace,” click this link.


Acts 2.42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

June 19, 2021

Divine Appointments are Divinely Appointed

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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With our area now released from a stay-at-home order, yesterday I ventured to a place that is always a great context for Jesus-centered conversations; unlocking the door for the first time in nine weeks. Within minutes, I found myself deep in conversation with a new Christian. He had a lot of questions, and I tried to answer them humbly, bearing in mind that,

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.James 3:1

So while it was nice to be entrusted with this mission, I also had a sense that in these encounters I can have a posture of learning, perhaps learning as much from the questions and responses, as he hopefully learned from the information I imparted.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.Proverbs 27:17

He promised he would be back, though I seriously erred in not getting contact information. To use an overworked phrase, I’ll have to “leave that with the Lord.”

I’m also sorry we didn’t get to pray together, but there were other people coming and going. In any event, pray for T.

Part of the reason those two things didn’t happen is because L. dropped by. I didn’t remember her at first, but as she recapped her story, she’s been through every religion in the book, and in the words of a U2 song, she “still hasn’t found what [she’s] looking for.”

She said the last time we were together, I shared with her “the story of the geese.” The who of the what? I had no idea. She said the major point was that “geese follow.” I suppose that was what I asking her to do.

I assured her that this was an analogy that God had given me on the spot to share with her and that nobody had ever heard the geese story before or after. I like coming up with my own ‘redemptive analogies‘ or any analogies for that matter. Or maybe it was something I had read that week.

Be very careful, then, how you live‚–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. — Ephesians 5:16

A woman who was also in the building then picked up the conversation with her. I felt that as much as God might have used me in the conversation with T., she was much more God-appointed to continue talking to L. That was her divine appointment, not mine.

I offered a Bible to L. but she just kinda glared at me. Not the eagerness you expect to hear in stories like this. She was probably thinking, ‘Been there. Done that.’ But then the other woman placed into her hand a copy of In His Steps by Charles Sheldon. An odd choice, in human terms, but then I chimed in and told L. that it’s a fictional story of what the world would be like if we actually lived as Jesus instructed us. When you remember to pray for T., pray also for L.

The verse,

Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope.— I Peter 1:15b

is used in the context of formal witnessing or evangelism situations, but sometimes God sends divine appointments without even a moment’s notice.

I would shorten the verse to simply, “Always be ready!”


Two follow up things:

First, I inserted a link with the phrase ‘redemptive analogy’ in case you’re not familiar with the term. But for those who know the story and are wondering, several years ago the son of Don Richardson returned to the area, with the result that Mustard Seed International was formed. This is a charity that we support personally, and if God has blessed you financially, I encourage you to check them out.

Second, we don’t always feel ready for divine appointments. In many ways, I’ve been going through something that the kids call spiritual ‘deconstruction,’ for lack of a better word. I’ve been down and depressed for nine weeks now, and within minutes of returning physically to the place of ministry (as opposed to posting devotionals from home) God handed me a special assignment to encourage me. He knows what he’s doing. In addition to praying for the two mentioned today, pray for me as well!

June 11, 2021

Nicodemus First Saw, Then Listened

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we’re featuring a writer who is new to us. Pastor Dick Woodward’s writing appears at the blog The Four Spiritual Secrets. He passed away in 2013, however new material is posted regularly excerpted from a variety of sources of his teaching. Click the header below to read this at his page.

Sharing the Gospel

“I want to remind you of the gospel…which you received and on which you have taken your stand… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day.” (I Corinthians 15:1-4)

It is imperative we understand how to articulate the Gospel. A first step in that direction is realizing the Holy Spirit is the Evangelist and we are merely conduits through whom the Holy Spirit works…

When Jesus stayed up late with Nicodemus, the first words of Nicodemus were: “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do the works that You do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2)

Jesus earned His hearing with Nicodemus by what he had seen Him do. Likewise, we must also earn our hearing with people. This begins with our understanding that what we do demonstrates what we believe. All the rest is just religious talk.

People are not interested in our religious talk unless they are impressed by what they see us do. Nicodemus was impressed with what he saw Jesus do, so he went to hear Jesus talk. We deceive ourselves if we think it’s not that way today.

What I call religious talk is our lengthy theological explanations of what we believe. Many secular people don’t understand the simplest theological terms. They will not be interested if they are not impressed with who and what we are and the things we do.

When we earn our hearing by the grace of God, the Gospel is simply two facts about Jesus Christ: He died for our sins and He rose again from the dead, just as the Old Testament Scriptures said He would and the New Testament Scriptures tell us He did.

There is something to believe and Someone to receive.


Because his articles are shorter, we have a bonus item from the same author:

God’s Stewards

“Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful… And what do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4: 2, 7)

The biblical word “steward” is not fully understood or appreciated. It is actually one of the most important words in the New Testament. A synonym for this word is “manager.” Many people believe this word primarily relates to a person’s money, but that application falls far short of the essential meaning of this word.

When Paul asks the probing question: “And what do you have that you did not receive?” he is telling us that our stewardship applies to everything we receive from God. This means our time, energy, gifts and talents, our health, and all the things that make up the essence of our very life including all of our money and possessions.

At the age of 65 one of my friends had what he refers to as a “halftime” experience when he came to fully appreciate the word “steward.” His regular custom was to draw a line down the middle of a legal pad page. On the left side he wrote “My business” while on the right side he wrote “God’s business.” When he fully appreciated the word “steward” he erased that line because, as a very successful wealthy businessman, he realized it was all God’s business.

Remember, the important thing about a steward is that we are found to be faithful. Do you realize there is nothing in your life you did not receive from God? Do you know that you are to faithfully manage everything you have received from God? Are you willing to have a halftime experience and erase the line between what is yours and what is God’s?


Now that you’ve read two of Dick Woodward’s articles, you might be asking, ‘What are the four spiritual secrets?’ His answer only takes 63 words, but you’ll need to click here to read them!

June 5, 2021

A Prayer Life Which “Commends the Gospel”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Again today we’re back with Melody at In Pleasant Places and this is visit number seven! You’re strongly encouraged to visit her site to see more devotional material like the one we’re featuring today.

Prayer that Changes Us – 1 Timothy 2:1-6

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”
1 Timothy 2:1-6

These verses highlight prayer as essentially connected both to the salvation of others and to how we live. My pastor focused [recently] on its vital role in our sharing of the gospel; this morning, I am drawn also to prayer as a vital element in our leading “a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

The study notes in my Bible connect the two pieces, stating, “This sort of living commends the gospel.”

Our sharing of the gospel, then, is inseparably impacted by the manner in which we live. Because with our whole lives, including those moments when we are alone, we are witnesses to the truth of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and salvation of us, and witnesses to His power to change us at our very core. We speak and we live the truth, and this shows those around us that what we declare is real and life-changing.

Prayer is crucial to this – to all of it. As we intentionally and consistently lean our hearts toward the gospel in prayer, God’s heart and His truth strengthen within us. And perhaps we will begin to live with the focus of Paul: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them…I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19, 22-23); “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).

Prayer like this changes us. It changes our focus. It rights our perspective and priorities, and helps protect us from being carried through our days without intention or purposeful thought.

Prayer that is focused on the gospel and grounded in the Word of God, as we abide in His words and truth, fixes our eyes on Jesus. And in beholding Him, we become like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). The more we become like Jesus, the more our prayers are characterized by His heart and His personhood – and we experience what it truly means to pray in His name and His will, rather than in our own faulty perspective and desires.

As my pastor stated… it is through purposeful, devoted, unhindered, united prayer that we can experience the power of God: His power around us, mighty to save, changing hearts and bringing those lost in darkness to salvation; and His power within us, giving us His heart and leading us on the paths of righteousness and truth for His name’s sake.

That we may lead peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way.

Pouring ourselves out and enduring all for the sake of the elect.

Beholding the power of the cross to save all those whom God draws to Himself, all who take hold of His promise in faith and are changed to join with us as witnesses to His truth, hope, light, and everlasting love.


Write for Christianity 201: This is an invitation to our regular readers and subscribers to consider submitting some writing for others to read and consider. Guidelines are posted at Submissions and Questions and Contact.

June 2, 2021

Equip Yourself in Order to Equip Others

Today we have a brand new writer to highlight. Ron Braley is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at both Equipping Believers and Finding Discipleship. This is adapted from parts III and IV of a series on Loving Your Neighbor. You need to love yourself before you can spread that love to others and so as we prepared to post the fourth part as our sample of Ron’s writing today, we realized we needed to reach back to the previous message where he defined some of these elements more fully. Pleeeze encourage the writers we feature by reading their work at their pages, not ours. Click the headers which follow.

Love Yourself… How??

…[B]eing Christian carries the responsibility of remaining healthy in body, mind, spirit, etc., to the best of our ability in obedience to the Father and Son so that we can honor them and help bring the Kingdom of God to others. The good news is that the Bible gives us much of what we need to figure this out in two distinct areas: spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual formation. Once we say, “I do!” in response to God’s call through Jesus, we’re to embark on a journey of transformation—in all areas of life, which is possible with the Spirit of God. Our change matures and forms several areas:

  • Relationships. If we remember that we’re to treat others with the love of Christ and consider them better than ourselves, our relationships will likely flourish (Philippians 2:3-4). Don’t go to bed angry (Ephesians 4:26) and be sure to ‘turn the other cheek’ to allow reconciliation (Luke 6:29). Finally, remember the ‘golden rule’ (Matthew 7:12).
  • Finances. The Bible has a LOT to say about sound money management. Be cautious about borrowing money and be content with what you have (Hebrews 3:5).
  • Physical health. Eat and drink (if applicable) in moderation. Get off the couch and put your body to work, even if just a bit at first. Remember that God desires to move you to action in His plans.
  • Intellect. Stimulate the brain by reading, studying something interesting, playing games, or assembling puzzles, etc. Say “No!” to the electronic stuff more often!
  • Emotional and mental health. Do what you can to keep your emotions and mind healthy by tending to the body, relationships, finances, and intellect. But, again, do what’s within your control.

Spiritual disciplines.

  • Prayer. It is our communications with (not just at!) God. Use Jesus’ model (Matthew 5:6-13) and Adore God, Confess sins, offer Thanksgiving, and Intercede for others (healing, finances, salvation, etc.).
  • Study. Engage God’s words in the Bible and meditate on them—it’s how we ‘put on Christ’ and become spiritually mature.
  • Accountability. We must bear each other’s burdens and confess sins, at least to one person we trust.
  • Giving (money, time, talents, etc.). The Bible demands it (e.g., Matthew 6:1-4 and 25:31-40; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Not only is it a necessary outcome of the Christian faith, but it can also help emotional health too. Giving stimulates the brain and makes us feel better physically and emotionally. It’s also a great way to take our eyes and minds off our troubles.

So, move toward emotional, physical, relational, financial, and spiritual health one baby step at a time in God’s direction as you love yourself. Next… we’ll put self-love to work as we dive into how to love our ‘neighbor.’

Love Yourself, Love Your Neighbor

…As we’ve learned, loving yourself positions you to love others. With healthy relationships (especially with God), finances, mind, emotions, and spirit, you’re armed to help others do the same. But, how does that look? We’ll learn that our love falls into similar categories as the spiritual formation I recently addressed. So, let’s frame my input like that.

Relationships. Our connections are vital! The Bible says much about interacting with others in a godly way to maintain and deepen those connections used to present God’s Kingdom to others. Here are several biblical tips for keeping those connections alive:

  • … be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to angerJames 1:19.
  • BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger Ephesians 4:26.
  • … but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:39-42.

Finances. You cannot help others financially without money! But, once you get your finances under control, you may have resources with which to help clothe, feed, or house others—things on which Jesus said He’ll judge us (Matthew 25:31-46).

Physical health. Jesus told us to ‘go.’ The ‘going’ is necessary to establish new relationships with which to be and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Our healthy relationships also allow us to ‘go’ and help others.

Emotional and mental health. This area affects relationships. When we’re healthy emotionally and mentally, we’ll be positioned to mentor others, listen to them in their pain, aid in healing, etc.

Spiritual. Once healthy, we can be godly models of spiritual practices, including Bible study, prayer, accountability, and discipleship. That’s how others can grow spiritually; spiritual growth positively affects all others!

In summary, loving your neighbor can happen when we love ourselves. Being healthy relationally, spiritually, financially, etc., sets us up to aid others by being godly models, helping physically, ‘being there’ emotionally, and assisting in feeding, housing, and clothing the less fortunate. Here’s the good news: you can still love others even while you’re becoming healthy. Just do what you can, give to others as you can.

 

May 22, 2021

When Face Masks Block the Light

A year later, we are returning to the website Sacred Sandwich. This article touches on a subject I was thinking about just a week ago and I urge you to click the header below to read it in full. The author is C. R. Carmichael.

Is Your Face Shining With The Light Of Christ?

“…It is ours to reflect the light.. and to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” — C.H. Spurgeon, 1879

It is not until you’ve been forced to wear a mask during a pandemic that you truly value the power of your face. No sooner have you exchanged glances with someone that you suddenly realize they can’t see your hidden smile, and you in turn have no idea what they might be expressing to you under that piece of cloth. It is in that awkward moment that you immediately comprehend how dehumanizing and frustrating it is to have your face so savagely removed from the process of interpersonal communication and emotional connection. No doubt this is why so many masked people these days seem to avoid eye contact altogether, walking past you like soulless zombies in a private hell.

For joyful Christians who demonstrate the grace of God through the social graces, this can be a difficult time for missional endeavors. As ambassadors for Christ who are called to be a light in this dark world, our shining faces are essential in communicating the Gospel to those with whom we interact during the course of our day. The Gospel, you see, is conveyed with more than mere words or deeds. It is a message of love and grace, fueled by the Holy Spirit, that can be powerfully expressed in the very countenances of our faces. Does the Scriptures not tell us so?

Indeed, the Bible teaches that the inward spiritual transformation of the Christian will bear outward “fruit” as the believer increases in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10). By the grace of God, those drawn to Christ have been “transformed by the renewing of their minds” (Romans 12:2) and now possess the wisdom of God’s truth embedded in their hearts. This sacred Gospel knowledge imparted by His Spirit is a sparkling treasure in earthen vessels that will always radiate through the bright eyes and happy wrinkles of our beaming faces. Indeed, as God’s word tells us, “a man’s wisdom brightens his face, and the sternness of his face is changed” (Ecclesiastes 8:1).

Once freed from the chains of sin and guilt by Christ’s sacrifice, the wise Christian’s once-dour face is forever changed, shining “as the brightness of the firmament” and appearing like “stars forever and ever” so that the believer might “turn many people to righteousness” through the illumination of the Gospel (Daniel 12:3). Even stretching into eternity, Jesus has assured us, “the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43).

Light, therefore, is intrinsic to the new nature of those transformed by Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus tells His people. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Jesus Christ, in fact, is our example to be emulated so that we might become “the children of Light” (John 12:36). During his earthly ministry, our Lord spoke to his disciples, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). And how was His light often transmitted in its full power and glory? Why, in His glorious face! “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

“In the face of Christ!” Imagine being witness to those historic supernatural events bathed in the brilliance of Christ’s white-hot countenance. How thrilling it would have been to stand beside Peter, James, and John in the high mountain when they saw their Master “transfigured before them,” where “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). Or being there to share in John’s vision of Christ holding seven stars in his right hand, a sharp double-edged sword coming from His mouth, and seeing His face “like the sun shining at its brightest” (Revelation 1:16).

One day, of course, the redeemed people of God will literally witness such a marvelous sight when “night will be no more, and they will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). And what a glorious thought this is as we anticipate His return to usher us into this bright eternity.

Until that day, however, the question remains: how do we as Christians bring Christ’s light to our faces to help convey the Gospel message in this dark world? Quite simply, it can only happen when we are in daily communion with the Lord. Just as Moses’ face radiated with the fiery glory of God when he returned from his interaction with the Divine in Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:29), so too the Christian’s face should be filled with the reflected light of Christ’s glory after boldly approaching His heavenly throne through fervent prayer, worship, and the reading of His word. It is, after all, the spiritual culmination of “fixing our eyes upon Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).

As the old hymn beautifully says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; Look full in His wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”

When believers are regularly energized through communion with the holy dynamo that is Christ Jesus, such fellowship cannot help but show forth in their outward expression. This spiritual interaction with the eternal Light of the world produces a godly, compelling visage that can draw the attention of those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Isaiah 55:1; Matthew 5:6). As explained by Matthew Henry, “Near and spiritual communion with God improves the graces of a renewed and holy character. Serious godliness puts a lustre upon a man’s countenance, such as commands esteem and affection.”

This noticeable “lustre,” therefore, should be the goal of every Christian who desires to be used for God’s glory in bringing the lost to Christ. “Every Christian life,” insists Alexander Maclaren, “should be a life of increasing lustre, uninterrupted, and the natural result of increasing communion with, and conformity to, the very fountain itself of heavenly radiance.”

It is here where the Christian must be very careful not to pursue this heavenly radiance under their own power. This is not something that can be manufactured by sheer will or desire. We must never think we can put on a “happy Christian mask” of our own creation to hide a dark face still burdened by stagnant discipleship, ongoing sin or suspect faith.

When Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees, “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:25), He was using a common theatrical term of His day that denotes a stage actor in a Greek play who often wore a mask to “assume a role and identity that were not truly his own and performed for the audience’s approval” (Jesus and the Theatre, New Testament Studies, Vol. 30, 1984). The grave implications of being a hypocrite, therefore, are readily apparent. If you, as a professing Christian, are wearing the false mask of an actor because you are “more concerned with your public image rather than with genuine fidelity to God” (Ibid), then do not be surprised if the Lord soon calls you out as a liar and a hypocrite.

The true disciple of Christ has no need to hide behind a false mask. Stephen, one of the first deacons of the Church, is a case in point. To be sure, this servant of God was a humble disciple “full of God’s grace and power” who preached Christ with a true supernatural “lustre” that came from the Holy Spirit. There, even among the enemies of Christ, Stephen displayed in his face a real godly wisdom and calm serenity that struck at the very hearts of his listeners as he delivered his Gospel message. As the Bible records, “Gazing at Stephen, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

Did this mean that Stephen looked like an effeminate cherub from an old Renaissance painting? Of course not. John Gill tells us that the beauty displayed in Stephen’s face was consistent with the “lovely and amiable” angels of God, “who when they appeared to men, it was in very glorious and splendid forms.” Indeed, the Bible reminds us that angelic beings are “angels of light” that can have “faces like the sun” (Revelation 10:1). And so it was with Stephen’s appearance at the very moment of his martyrdom when his face reflected the heavenly vision he saw of Christ standing at the right Hand of God (Acts 7:55-56).

At this point, perhaps, the Christian may look in the mirror and become worried that the face looking back at him or her has little of the biblical radiance of an angel of God. This, of course, can be a frequent concern among those who are poor in spirit as humble servants and are often “working out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Whether this fear of a dim spiritual condition is based on one’s lack of godly discipleship or from an overly-harsh assessment of their position in Christ, it makes little difference. The answer is simply to renew one’s commitment to Christ and seek His face at every opportunity. When our spiritual focus wanes, how blessed we are to have a God who is “gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psalm 145:8).

This is why the Bible is filled with repeated heartfelt petitions to the Lord, actively seeking His face and asking that He might “make His face shine upon thee” (2 Chronicles 7:14; Numbers 6:25; Psalm 27:8; 105:4-5). It is the shining face of God which imparts His grace and warms us in the rays of His care and benevolence. This, in turn, recharges us and brings a renewed spiritual brightness to our faces. It may not be a vivid, supernatural light of biblical proportion, but nevertheless the public around you will no doubt see a striking difference in your facial expression.

“It is not unusual,” writes theologian Albert Barnes, “for deep feeling, sincerity, and confidence in God, to impress themselves on the countenance.” Even the slightest Spirit-driven influence upon your face can mark you as “peculiar” and distinct from the world. As Scripture declares, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” And why are you set apart from the crowd? “So that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

In this way, your happy face with sparkling eyes, a radiant smile, and the glowing cast of spiritual serenity can truly proclaim the light of the glory of Jesus Christ. And if the dazzling beauty of Christ and the shimmering power of the Holy Spirit rests upon your countenance, perhaps one day it will also warm and enlighten the heart of a lost sinner who then will ask you “the reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). As C.H. Spurgeon encourages us on this point, “Scatter your light in all unselfishness. Wish to shine, not that others may say ‘How bright he is,’ but that they may rejoice in the Source from which the light came to you and to them.”

Thus, the Christian should always ask, “Is the Light of Christ still shining in my face?” This may not be an easy question to answer these days. Sadly, we live in a stressful age of suppressive masks and fearful faces that have hardened and waxed cold. Now, more than ever, we must diligently and continually seek after Jesus, knowing that the Captain of our salvation will gladly fill our faces with His eternal brilliance to powerfully shine the Gospel “upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79).

Regardless of our circumstance, may we heed the charge of David’s inspired psalm in order to emit the rays of Christ’s glorious light in this dark and fear-gripped world:

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works! Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD be joyful! Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face for evermore!” (1 Chronicles 16:8-11).

If this we do, then no mask on earth will ever dim our glorious shine for Jesus.

March 19, 2021

It’s Hard to Face Rejection and Still Love People

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In today’s search to highlight new writers to you I came across Julie Harris who is a worship pastor in the Nazarene denomination. Her blog title, I Sing Because I’m Free really resonated with me! (Okay, bad pun, perhaps.) Her devotionals all begin in personal experience and after reading many current ones, I settled on this older one from her archives. Click the title to read at source and from there, take a few minutes to read more recently written pieces.

Rejected

While I was out running errands today, I had a conversation with a stranger who told me she had just quit smoking.  I asked her how long it had been since she had her last smoke.  Just yesterday.  I told her every single moment was a small victory for her to celebrate.  I encouraged her and let her talk about her smoking addiction.  After talking with her for quite some time, I felt the Lord nudging me to invite her to a special service we’re having at our church next week.  It’s something I am really excited about- 9 churches coming together to worship and give thanks… 9 churches in our community uniting as one in Christ Jesus!  With all the division in the world right now, this is the perfect time for this!

I waited until I knew it was the right moment to ask her… Do you go to church? I asked her, nonchalantly.

No- I don’t do that kind of thing.

Well this would be the perfect service to come to then!  I explained how a bunch of churches in our community were coming together…

No, I’m not interested in that.  

And immediately I felt that door slam shut.  She changed the subject quickly, clearly ready to end the conversation at that point. It was awkward, to say the least!

As she continued to make small talk, I started feeling a little sorry for myself.  I’d been rejected.  She didn’t ask me the usual “what church do you go to?” or even say the polite “I’ll think about it”… just a flat out NO. I hate rejection. It’s hard to put yourself out there…to be obedient to invite strangers to church.  Who am I kidding?  It’s hard to just flat have conversations and LOVE people.

I said goodbye and told her that I’d be praying for her as she continued to break the nicotine habit.  “You can DO it!” I told her. Then I then went to my car, feeling like a complete DORK and a REJECT.

And He brought to my mind this verse-

As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.Isaiah 55

All He asks us to do is be obedient. We throw out the seeds… HE does the watering.

As I drove home, I started to replay the words of our conversation in my mind…and then I looked ahead of me and the license plate in front of me said it all.

On the license plate was this-

GD LOVS U

And in that instant, those feelings of being a complete nerd and a rejected vanished.  He loves you.  And He loves me.  And He loves that stranger I spoke to today.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Galatians 6:9

March 2, 2021

The Scary E-Word: Evangelism

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re back with First 15 by Craig Denison, a devotional site for the first 15 minutes of your day. There is a lot happening on this site and even within each devotional there is an audio version, related worship songs, and more. So I really hope you’ll click through today, which you can do by clicking the header which follows. You can also follow the audio version on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

  • lee esto en español: Read today’s devotional in Spanish

Evangelism

Today we’ll explore the concept of evangelism. There are so many fears and misconceptions wrapped up in this topic, and my hope today is that we’ll simplify it, and get straight to the heart of the issue. As we assess our hearts, may we remain soft and open to the commands and will of God for us.

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Mark 16:15

Devotional

The idea of evangelism has always been terrifying to me. Going up to someone and interrupting their day to tell them about Jesus, no matter how real and good I know him to be, has never been comfortable for me. But you can’t read Scripture and escape God’s command to share the gospel. You can’t read through the New Testament and discount the reality that the disciples gave themselves entirely—to the point of death—that the world might come to know Jesus.

Verses like Mark 16:15-16 couldn’t be more clear. Jesus commands us, Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Evangelism is meant to be a part of our normal lives. It’s not just for the few. It’s not just for pastors or the intensely extroverted. It’s for you and me.

When I assess my own heart I discover that my fears related to evangelism are entirely selfish. In fact, I don’t know if I could do something more selfish than hold back the one hope for the world just to protect my own image. Jesus is clear in Mark 16:16 that those who don’t believe in him will be condemned. It’s like I contain the cure for a deadly disease and rather than sacrificing my image to love them by sharing the one cure, I just let them continue to suffer.

In pondering my own heart I realize that the way to engage in evangelism isn’t fixing myself; it’s getting over myself. Is my image really so important that it’s worth condemnation for another? Are the opinions of others really so important to me that I would withhold from them eternal, abundant life with a God who loves them relentlessly and perfectly?

I am made to share God’s light. I have been commissioned by my King to go out and share his heart. It’s time that we obey God’s command in Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Sure, people might think I’m weird. Sure, it might be a little awkward. But God is after the hearts of his creation, and he’s called me to help. May we be those who set aside our pride, seek humility, and love others whatever the cost. May we be so bold as to set our eyes on heaven and sacrifice this life for the sake of eternity. And may the world change around us as we humbly and courageously proclaim the goodness of our heavenly Father.

Prayer

1. Meditate on God’s call for you to engage in evangelism.

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20

2. What are your fears in regard to evangelism? What holds you back from telling others about the good news of God’s unconditional love?

3. Take time to humble yourself before God and others. Ask him for grace to love others above yourself. Set your eyes on him and open your heart to receive his affection.

Go

In Jesus’ conclusion of the Great Commission he tells his disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Our power for evangelism is that God is with us. He doesn’t send us out alone. His love, power, and presence are fully available to us when we seek to share the gospel with others. When you tell others about Jesus, don’t speak of him as if he’s not with you. Don’t pray as if he doesn’t move and work miracles. Instead, share the reality of God’s nearness with a world that needs to be touched by a revelation of his love. May you be empowered to share the gospel with someone today that they might come to know the power and presence of God.

Extended Reading:

Matthew 28 or watch The Bible Project’s video on Matthew 14-28.

January 31, 2021

The Roller Coaster Ride of Ministry and Missions

If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would always sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, I was hearing the KJV text from where I first learned it:

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

Today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. Today in church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (KJV) says,

But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.


Earlier today I launched a fundraising page at GoFundMe for an orphanage in Haiti that we’ve come to know over the past seven years. Our oldest son Chris has been on the ground there twice now and participates in their fundraising activities back home in Canada. If God has blessed you and you’d like to make a difference, I invite you to click through to the page and then consider any encouragement you can give through your donation.

October 1, 2020

A Good News Life

by Clarke Dixon

What does the Christian life look like? Should we retreat from a non-Christian majority and keep to ourselves? Should we just fit in, behaving like everyone else, but holding some beliefs in a very private place? Should we go all-in on what we think is a Bible-based lifestyle and call upon the government to get everyone else to believe and live like we do? What does it look like to be a follower of Jesus in our day?

This was a central question for the young Christian communities in New Testament times. Having turned from Roman religions, now how are they to live? Just as they are and do as Romans do? Or should they begin a political revolution calling on society to adopt and enforce Judea-Christian laws?

When we look at the early Christians we find neither of these things happening. What we find are people continuing to live in the world, rubbing shoulders with those they normally would, but who were now living differently. Yes, they were still in the Roman world, but they were now living there as citizens of another world.

Paul speaks to this in his letter to the Christians in Philippi:

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.

Philippians 1:27a (NLT)

Followers of Jesus in the early Church did not separate themselves from society, nor did they try to change society, but they did live differently within society.

Living lives “Worthy of the Good News,” they would be living in such as way that the people they rubbed shoulders with would say “wow, this really is good news.”

We might imagine what a very Roman citizen might say to his neighbour who became a Christian: “You are different. Love seems to be a big thing for you now. You have more concern than ever for the poor. You are quick to forgive people. You Jesus followers refuse to expose your unwanted babies (a practice of leaving unwanted newborns out to die). Your sexuality is different, we don’t see you with the temple prostitutes anymore. Your marriages are different, faithfulness to your spouse is now so important to you. When you gather in community, you don’t make distinctions based on class or, it seems, even gender. You have a confidence that there is only one God and that God is for you and not against you. You say it is good news that Jesus rose from the dead. In many ways it looks like good news!”

When Jesus calmed a storm, the disciples were astounded, asking “who is this man?” The person in the Roman world living a life worthy of the good news, lived a life that caused people to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about? We want to know more.”

Is that happening in our day?

No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we live like hermits, separating ourselves off from everyone who is not a Christian. If no one hears us talking about Jesus, and sees the difference following him makes in our lives, nothing will change in theirs.

No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we just make Christianity a belief system, a set of doctrines we believe, with little to no impact on our lives. Christianity is not a privately held set of thoughts, but a way of life.

No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we make adopting Christianity a nationalist political agenda, if it is all about getting the state to ensure that everyone is living like Christians. People will not ask “Who is this Jesus?”, but they will ask “Who do these Christians think they are?”.

People will ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we are growing in the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. People will ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we are being changed from the inside out.

Now back to the Romans in Philippi:

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents.

Philippians 1:27-28 (NRSV emphasis added)

Though a life worthy of the good news is really a beautiful kind of life, there will always be those who are very much opposed.

We can imagine the opposition in Philippi. The Christians would be seen to be promoting atheism by saying that the gods commonly believed in are not gods at all. The Christians are also no longer taking part in all the regular civic duties. The Christians seem to have forgotten what being a good Roman looks like with regards to both belief, and practice!

There will be those who are opposed to the Christ-focused life today with regards to both belief and practice.

There are those who very strongly promote scientism, the belief that all that is worth knowing can be learned through science. Certainly there is much we can know from science and we are grateful for all the work scientists do. But science is limited in what it can discover. We can expect opposition from those who disagree.

There are those who are opposed to Christian ethics and lifestyle. As an obvious example, many think the emphasis on faithfulness within monogamous marriage is rather old-fashioned. It may be old-fashioned, but it is good! There is something beautiful about the Christian ethic. We can expect opposition from those who disagree.

Let us not be intimidated by those who are opposed to Christianity, those who claim that it is unbelievable and/or ugly. In fact Christianity is both believable and beautiful! I will refer you to a series of earlier blog posts which speak to this, the summary of which, and a kind of “table of contents,” can be found here.

Just as Paul encouraged the Christians in Philippi to find encouragement from Christian community, “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel” we also can find encouragement from Christian community. This includes being part of a church family, but it can also include the encouragement we receive from Christian writers and resources.

When we are a follower of Jesus, do we retreat from society? Do we just fit in with society, and hold our beliefs in a very private place? Do we go all in and try to get everyone else to believe and live like we do?

We center our lives on God, being encouraged by Christian community, learning love from Jesus, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Watch a video version of today’s devotional at their “online worship expression” from September 27th.

July 8, 2020

Placing our Fear in the Right Place

Today’s devotional is taken from a devotional collection that was new to us, titled Hearing the Voice of God: A Devotional by David Chadwick (Harvest House, 2016). Learn more about the book at this link.

Fear God, Not Man

Today’s Reading: John 12:37-43

37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”[a]

39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.”[b]

41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God.

Hearing God’s Voice for Today:

“Many of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”

***

Sometimes people miss the fact even many authorities came to believe in Jesus. This included influential members of the Sanhedrin, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.

Yet a major problem persisted. Though these authorities decided to put their faith in Jesus, their fear of the Pharisees remained strong. They were afraid to follow the Lord publicly for fear of being ostracized from their synagogues. They knew they would face rejection. Not to be able to have community with other Jews was a great fear.

The human heart is complex. People want to follow Jesus, but they fear public rejection. They want to follow him, but they also want the praises of people.

It’s impossible to have both. Some people in your sphere of influence will not like you if you choose to follow Jesus. They will label you a narrow-minded, bigoted obscurantist. They will call you intolerant. They will hate you because you love Jesus. If you follow him, you mist be willing to give up the praises of people.

If you do make your faith in Jesus public, your reward in heaven will be great. If you honour him before people, he will do the same with you before the Father.

Your public recognition of Jesus here on earth will bring you rejection from some. But from an eternal perspective, it will be worthwhile. When you hear his public commendation of your witness before the Father, all the angels and saints in heaven will break out in uproarious applause.

That one moment will soothe all your hurts from people’s rejection.

Don’t be ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of the Father in heaven to change hearts–first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. There is no such thing as a secret-service Christian. You should never want to remain quiet about all you’ve seen the Lord do and all he has done for you.

You are called to be his witness. You begin locally, then reach out globally.

Ask yourself this question often: If you were put on trial for being Jesus’ witness, would the evidence be enough to convict you?

Don’t fear what others can do to you. Yes, they are able to kill your body. But that’s all. If you fear anything, fear God, who has the power and authority to cast both body and soul in hell. He will protect you from those who desire to do you harm.

His opinion is the only one that should concern you.


Footnotes:

  1. John 12:38 Isaiah 53:1
  2. John 12:40 Isaiah 6:10

David Chadwick has been a pastor for almost 40 years.  Along with this theological degrees, he earned a Specialist’s degree in counseling.  The love of his life is Marilynn, his wife for more than 40 years.  He has three married children, and six grandchildren.  David loves Jesus, his family, the church, and basketball—in that order.  He especially loves seeing people understand the power of Jesus’s grace to change a heart.

momentsofhopechurch.org

January 17, 2020

The Best Proof for Christianity

Today is a revisit to the website Truth or Tradition, sponsored by Spirit and Truth Fellowship International.This is about half of a much larger article. If you read this, and fear rejection, click the header below to include the two sections on ‘having a thick skin’ and ‘having a thicker skin!’

Heart Matters

Proof of Jesus in our Actions 

Apologetics is the religious discipline of defending or proving the truth about one’s religion. Although some would argue that Christianity is not really a religion, there is information that every Christian needs to know to be able to defend and prove that Jesus Christ and his saving works are true. With all the different belief systems and ideas moving through our society, we need to be able to show others genuine and honest evidence that Jesus is who they need, that God is the creator of this universe, and that he is very real and alive and active in his endeavors to help them.

Your love Matters

I recently heard someone say that the best proof (apologetics) we have of Christianity being true and real is Christians themselves.  He said the way Christians act and relate to others is the best evidence to the world that Jesus is the answer, that Jesus is truth and life. Of course, this would mean that Christians are being good imitators of the love and kindness as shown by Jesus. One of the commands of our lord Jesus, and also one of the prayers by the apostle Paul for us, is that we have love for one another and love for all.

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:12-13

and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,

 1Thes 3:12 

We are truly living in some very good times to be able to display this love for one another and to those around us that have not named Jesus as lord, yet. No matter where we turn there is so much strife and conflict and uncertainty and division and…and …and. Your love for a hurt and confused and possibly hateful person will certainly stand out in blatant contrast to the minimizing and indifference that they might be all too aware of in their interaction with others. During these difficult days we need to not withdraw our attempts to love and reach out to others and help with their difficulties, but we need to be bold and confident because we truly have answers and help for a dying world…

Plant and Water

There is no way of knowing for sure what effect we are having on many of the people we interact with over the course of our lives. So many times I have wanted to be efficient with my time in finding people who are interested in repenting and getting saved, and I have hastily necessitated a decision or a commitment from them without allowing ample time for them to consider deeply what the decision will mean for them, without allowing them to being able to see my life and the fruit produced by following Jesus.

But in my attempts to be efficient, I have often damaged my ability to be effective. It is almost always impossible to be efficient with people because there are so many emotional loose ends that end up taking longer than we have scheduled. Often people need to not feel pressured into making a decision, to have room to consider what they are getting into. Better to be effective than efficient.

Many times we hear about spectacular conversions of people coming to Christ. And of course this does happen at revivals or other life altering events. We need to be ready to supply people with the truth at these times. However, there are by far more people who come to know Jesus over a course of time, and sometimes through many exchanges from many different people.  Jesus said that he would personally build his church, and something for us to remember is that Jesus brings people and situations together into the lives of the people we meet to help in his building.

On a construction site, usually there are many different contractors who bring different skills at the right time during the building project. The foundation people show up first, then the framers, followed by the mechanical people including plumbers and electricians. It is a process that requires time and planning. Our lord Jesus is very good at putting us into others’ lives at the right time so that we can be a part of the building process that results in God giving growth. Even the Apostle Paul knew that there are others involved in the growth process.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

1Cor 3:6-7

My wife and I were at a restaurant eating with a neighbor of ours that we have befriended. We of course have the hope of sharing the good news with her, and do so in little tiny bits. She has, through the course of our friendship, been very outspoken of her non-biblical views. She has listened briefly to some of the points we have made about God, but mostly changes the topic quickly. She also has a few tattoos that she has collected over the course of her life.

As we were at this restaurant, she mentioned the hostess who had these beautiful tattoos all over her arms.  She told us tattoos like those are called sleeves. As the hostess came by our table, our friend mentioned to the hostess how nice her tattoos were. This hostess asked if she could share the story of her tattoos with us. She sat down and started talking about her life and how she was into drugs and other very dark situations, and as she pointed to her arms, from one tattoo to another as they all tied together, she explained her journey out of darkness and into the grace and salvation of Jesus. Part of her tattoos where a stairway leading out of pain into light. Our friend was quiet and did not have much to say after the hostess left, until she changed the subject again.

This was such a great example to me of how our Lord is in the process of building his church and bringing different people together to plant and water.  We may not always be the one who gets the joy of seeing the actual conversion in another’s life, but we should be filled with joy that we get to be a part of the process of planting and watering, realizing that  we are not the whole process. In fact we need to pray that others will be sent to the people we love, so that there will be a concentrated effort leading them in the right way…

…continue reading here

75 Days of Christianity 201

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

January 10, 2020

Apologetics for Anyone

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Last week I was introduced for the first time to the name Michael Ramsden. He works with the Zacharias Trust, which is the UK name for RZIM. Anyone who knows the names, Joe Boot, Andy Bannister, Logan Gates, Abdu Murray, Vince Vitale, etc., should know about Michael, but I didn’t. I tracked him down first on YouTube and then found this transcript and podcast. It’s very, very long in written form, so I’m just including a small sample here today. (Note: If you have the time, click the link and read or listen to the story about the haircut Michael had which precedes this section.)

Click the header below to read or listen at BeThinking.org.

Conversational Apologetics

…I don’t know if anyone has ever asked you, “Why are you a Christian?” If you find yourself in the context where someone else has asked that question, listen very carefully to what they say. What you’ll find is that when we are asked why we are Christians, we often explain to someone how we became a Christian. But why you are a Christian is not the same as how you became one. Those are two different questions – why and how. If you answer the question “Why are you a Christian?” by telling someone how you became a Christian, what do you think you’re communicating to them? Put yourself in their shoes. What do you think they’re going to hear? It’s about me. And more than that, what about the process itself? “Why are you a Christian?” “Well…” And then you tell them how. “I met a Christian guy, he seemed very nice, he invited me to his church. I was intrigued by what they said, I went along to their bible study group, I spent some time, and then I became a Christian.” If you were a non-Christian, what’s the next thing that you would then ask? They might say, “But if you met a Buddhist that day, and he took you to his temple, and you joined his Zen group, you would now be sitting cross-legged on the floor going, ‘Ommm…’ Doesn’t it sound a bit random? But is that why you are a Christian? Just a random chance process and it just happened to happen to you, or is there more to it than that?”

Most of you are here because you’re interested in apologetics, and if you’re interested in apologetics, you’ll already be familiar with the verse in 1 Peter 3 where it says, “But in your heart set apart Christ Jesus as Lord, and always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us for the reason for the hope that we have.” We’ll look at that briefly, because I want to go somewhere else into the Gospel as well. Here’s what is interesting with that command to be able to always give an answer: The word translated ‘answer’ is from the Greek word apologia, where we get apologetics from. For years, we’ve taught that apologetics is an inherently complex task. Apologetics is for a group of specialists. Apologetics, we said, is giving the philosophical branch of theology, or the theological branch of philosophy. But I don’t think that’s what it is at all.

When Peter wrote 1 Peter to the church, he didn’t write to an individual, and he wasn’t writing to just a very narrow geographical region. He wrote 1 Peter 1:1-2 to the church that was being scattered as a result of persecution. He addresses himself to the church. He’s addressing two universal commands in those two verses, 1 Peter 3:15-16. First, “In your heart, set apart Christ as Lord.” If you are a Christian, you must live in obedience to that command, are we agreed? And number two, “you must be prepared to give an answer, an apologia, an apologetic, for the reason for the hope that you have.” Who is that command addressed to? To the church.

I would suggest that the vision and the meaning of what is in here is not about a complex specialist task for a group of highly trained, skilled individuals. What is in here is a command addressed to the church, to the ordinary members of the body of Christ, saying, “You must be prepared and ready to give an answer – an apologia – to everybody who asks you for the reason for the hope that you have.” In other words, apologetics is not about introducing a dose of confusion into the gospel in order to make it sound more profound. It is about communicating the profundity of the gospel so as to remove the confusion surrounding it.

There has been a very big divergence between the historical development and definition of apologetics and its biblical definition. I have no trouble admitting that at all, but that is a disastrous development – absolutely disastrous. Now there are going to be people out there with incredible philosophical minds who will take this to a very deep level. That’s fine. But Peter can’t be addressing himself at that level, can he? Because unless you are a master of philosophy, how will you ever be in a position to give that kind of apologetic?

In other words, this idea of conversational apologetics – engaging with hairdressers, taxi drivers, your next-door neighbors, your friends, your family, meaningfully, with the gospel, I suggest to you from Scripture, is meant to be something which every member of the body of Christ should be able to do. It is not an optional extra. Two commands are given back to back: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord,” and “always be prepared to give an answer, an apologetic, to everyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that you have.”

We don’t have 1) Basic Christianity that’s got like, the lordship issue settled out, and then 2) Christianity Deluxe, with advanced theology, apologetics and a couple of extra software modules plugged in. Apologetics is part of the basic package. Apologetics therefore must live or die within the life of the church. It died in Western Europe when it became an abstract intellectual discipline as opposed to a spiritual dynamic exercise that was right at the heart of the church. Yes, there will be specialists, there will be people who have incredible ability, but that’s not all there is to it. It’s just as dangerous for apologetics to end up in a small group of specialists as it would be for theology to only exist among academic theologians…

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