Thinking Out Loud

August 10, 2018

Man-Made Lights in the Nighttime Sky

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:39 am

Some of you know that while I’m not writing on a number of online platforms, I spend a few days a week at a Christian bookstore which we own. The shop is named “Searchlight” and it’s registered as a business although we don’t draw a salary. Some years it makes money, and some years it loses.

So what was I thinking when I named the company?

On one level, I was probably thinking of a song by Christian artist Nancy Honeytree from the 1970s. (It’s posted below.)

On a higher level however, I had in mind the two definitions of the word.

The first type of searchlight is the type you see mounted on the back of a large truck. The lens is at least a meter across and the light pivots, pointed to the nighttime sky to attract people from a wide area to see what’s happening, whether it’s the opening of a new store or restaurant or the premiere of a new movie.

It’s saying, “There’s something happening here.”

The Apostle Paul is standing before Governor Festus…

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.
Acts 26:24-26 NIV

The Passion Translation states the last phrase as, “After all, it’s not like it was a secret! while The Message renders it as, “You must realize that this wasn’t done behind the scenes.

There’s something happening here. The Good News is changing hearts and lives. The message of Jesus is raising people to new life.

The prophet Habakkuk is told to write God’s message in a way that no one can miss it:

And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. – Habakkuk 2:2 ESV

I love how The Living Bible (the predecessor of today’s NLT) renders this:

And the Lord said to me, “Write my answer on a billboard, large and clear, so that anyone can read it at a glance and rush to tell the others.

The word of the Lord is larger than life; not done in a remote corner, and certainly not about something distant, or ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far away.’

This is the best news ever.

The second type of searchlight is smaller, but much more important. It’s the type of light is mounted on a vehicle, a boat or a small plane.

It’s saying, “Someone out there is lost.”

It’s meant not to draw people in to a location, but rather to go out from a location to look for a missing person or persons.

Jesus is concluding his meeting with Zacchaeus:

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:9-10 NIV

(Jesus says the same words in Matthew 18:11, in a different context.)

This mirrors Ezekiel 34:11-12:

“For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. – NLT

This has led many to refer to “The God who pursues.”

Part one of the Gospel is “come and see” and part two is “go and tell.”

Something is happening that compels us; draws us; then like Andrew (who on meeting Jesus went to get his brother Peter) we go out and search out more who need to hear.


It turns out I mentioned Searchlight once before at Christianity 201 in this August, 2015 article.


The meaning of Searchlight in the Honeytree song is different yet again, asking God to shine his light into our hearts and souls.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139: 23-24 NLT

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April 10, 2018

In the Middle of the Miracle

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:40 am

My stomach is growling.

He’s been teaching and doing miracles all day and nobody in particular wants to leave. But it’s obvious that people are hungry. Someone near the front is discussing this with him and there’s a question if anyone has any food. For a crowd this big?

Yeah, right. I’ve got my caravan of camels loaded up with food just over the hillside. Not.

The woman next to me has been slipping snacks to her kids all afternoon but she’s not volunteering anything. In the distance a little boy is handing Jesus a cloth bag and he’s removing the contents. He’s quietly saying a short prayer.

We’re asked to sit down in groups of 50 households. Since it would later be reported that 5,000 men — plus women and children — were fed, that would be about 100 groups. His disciples start circulating through the crowd. Where did those baskets come from?

When they get to our group I can see the bread and the fish pieces quite clearly. But as I reach for a piece of bread, my eyes go blurry for second and it looks like the piece that’s in my hand was just replaced. Someone would write later that everyone had their full, so hungry as I am, I reach in and grab a second piece. Again, it appears to be replaced. There are now two pieces in my hand, and I grab a piece of fish, and quickly pass the basket to my right.

I think the same guy who served us comes around to the group next to us minutes later and the basket is still filled to the top. The kid who had the cloth bag is standing next to Jesus and they’re both sharing a private moment and laughing with delight.

Is this what it’s like to be in the middle of a miracle?

January 25, 2018

The 72 Jesus Sent: Who Were Those Guys?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:10 am

This will appear on Friday afternoon at Christianity 201. We occasionally cross-post original devotionals here at Thinking Out Loud.

“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. (Acts 1:21-23 NIV)

New Christians often face roadblocks to understanding because the terminology used is often clear to insiders, but requires explanation to those unfamiliar.

Take for example the word disciple. A disciple is one who follows a master. We are told to “Go and make disciples.” (Matt. 28:19) So far, so good.

But we often speak of “the twelve disciples” and to outsiders this might be unclear. It obviously refers to a very specific group of people to whom Jesus, the itinerant Rabbi, said, “Follow me.” But we know that Jesus had many other followers.

So we sometimes speak of “the twelve apostles” but in the giving of spiritual gifts we’re told, “he gave some apostles.” This phrase in Ephesians 4:11 is translated by Eugene Peterson in this beautiful passage:

He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

Peterson retains the term “apostle” — most commonly found — while some others use “messengers” and “emissaries.” A good definition might be “sent ones.”

This can also confuse, since we sometimes speak of “the apostolic age” and cessationists would argue that when that period ended — when those who were witnesses to the resurrection all died — then the supernatural gifts (healing, tongues, prophecy) also died.

Being a “disciple” is not a specific gift. The mandate to follow Christ applies to all Christians. To say that Jesus only had twelve followers in his ministry is to ignore the passage where he sends out 72 in Luke 10:

The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.

This “advance team” is interesting because we’re told that Jesus chose them, which would imply he had more than 72 to choose from. In my mind, certainly some of them were women, but that’s another discussion; I know some would disagree. We do know from other texts there were women followers; whether or not they were part of these short-term mission trips is up to interpretation.

We also know that not every disciple continued with Jesus. In John 6, Jesus teaches and interacts with the crowd. He talks about being the bread of life, and introduces the idea of “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood.” Then we read,

Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”(60)
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. (66 NLT)

Perhaps this sounds familiar. Maybe you know people who started attending your church and then found the cost of discipleship to high a price to pay, or found the teaching, like those early hearers, hard to accept. The similarity to the parable of the soils in Matthew 13 comes to mind especially.

But perhaps you know people who have been faithful throughout their entire lives, who haven’t really been “prone to wander.”

Among the 72 were some of those. In Acts 1:21-23, it’s time to choose a replacement for Judas to be among the inner circle of twelve, and the text states,

“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

The InterVarsity Commentary tells us,

By detailing the apostolic requirement of being an eyewitness to the whole course of Jesus’ ministry, including the resurrection and ascension, Luke emphasizes the continuity of eyewitness testimony which would be the church’s foundation. And through it all he presents a prepared church with a restored integrity in its leadership.

There’s no mention of these two nominees before or after this point in Acts 1, but the mere mention of their names gives us insight into a broader community of followers. It’s almost certain, if these two were part of the story beginning from when John baptized Jesus, we can safely assume they were among the 72. Some day we’ll get to meet the other 70.

 

 

 

December 8, 2017

Reckless Love: A Closer Look at the Song

Luke 15:11b [Jesus teaching] “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them…”

Every so often I find myself captivated by a new worship song. Today I want to look at the song, Reckless Love. The following is a shorter (5½ minute) version of the song originally by Bethel Worship.

Before I spoke a word
You were singing over me
You have been so, so
Good to me
Before I took a breath
You breathed Your life in me
You have been so, so
Kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it
I don’t deserve it
Still You give yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

When I was your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so
Good to me
When I felt no worth
You paid it all for me
You have been so, so
Kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine…

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
No lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God…

My wife and I had a discussion about this song on the weekend. The idea of a God who will “lavish his love” on us is found in the parable we call The Prodigal Son. We often think that prodigal means runaway, or someone who leaves and returns, but the word’s origins have to do with his spendthrift nature; how he burns through his cash reserves — with abandon.

But in the book The Prodigal God, Tim Keller points out that it is the father in the story who is free-spending. We actually see this twice.

First, he quickly gives away the inheritance to the son. Notice how quickly this is established in the key verse above. Some have said about this story that he knows he needs to lose his son in order to gain him back. There’s an interesting parallel here to 1 Corinthians 5:5 that we don’t have time to explore fully; “[H]and this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Second, he is equally free-spending when the son returns, throwing a huge party.

22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15)

Reviewing Keller’s book nine years ago, I noted,

  • “Prodigal” means “spendthrift”, which also means “reckless”
  • The father in the story is reckless in his willingness to forgive and reinstate the son
  • The father in the story represents God
  • God is “reckless” in that he chooses not to “reckon” our sin; instead offering forgiveness.

Others have noted the character of the Father in his willingness to run to meet his son while he is still in the distance. In a sermon titled, The God Who Runs Martin Ellgar writes,

He sees him coming in the distance and with joy runs out to greet him. In this way he brings honour again to his son. In the eyes of his neighbours, such behaviour of a man towards his disgraced son is disgraceful and unwarranted in itself. He has humiliated himself before others. The loving father has not only gone out eagerly to meet his returning son, but has willingly sacrificed himself to share in and to relieve the humiliation of the returning son.

To me this parable is much in the spirit of the lyrics of the song above.

However, we can’t leave the song there because much has been made of the lyric leaves the ninety-nine. It’s unfortunate that even among Christians, as we face declining Biblical literacy, we need to stop and explain this. Earlier generations — and hopefully readers here — would pick up on the reference immediately.

Interestingly enough, as I prepared this, I realized that the story is actually part of the trio of parables in Luke 15 of which The Prodigal Son is the third. (Maybe that was partly what drew me to the third story as an illustration of God’s lavish love.)

4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

God desires to lavish his love on you. Are you ready to receive it?


Further Reading: The Father’s Love Letter (presented in your choice of text, audio, or video and available in over 100 languages.)

See also this post: Spiritual Triage – The God Who Pursues Us


I mentioned that my wife and I had been discussing this song. Sometimes I will workshop an idea for a blog post with friends online, and my friend Martin at Flagrant Regard agreed with her somewhat:

If we open dictionary.com, we have this:

1. utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution; careless (usually followed by of): to be reckless of danger.
2. characterized by or proceeding from such carelessness: reckless extravagance.

I can’t get my head around the concept that God’s love is ‘careless’ or ‘unconcerned with the consequences of some action’. Just a bad choice of descriptors in my mind.

Words do matter. What do you think?

July 10, 2016

The Meek, Frank Zappa, and The Life of Brian

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:24 am

img 071016Two days ago, for the second time, we poached a devotional blog post for C201 from The King’s English, an interestingly named site considering the goal is to work through King James Version verses phrase by phrase. But the writer is hardly what you might picture, given the KJV connection, and when I saw this article, I thought, this is perfect for Thinking Out Loud. The writer is Glen Scrivener, and now I owe him two favors; so please click the link below to read this at source…


Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth

Psalm 37; Matthew 5:5

In The Life of Brian we join the outskirts of Christ’s audience for the sermon on the mount.  “The meek shall inherit the earth” filters through to one listener:

“Oh that’s nice innit, I’m glad they get something cos they have a hell of a time.”

It’s a brilliant line.  But Jesus isn’t throwing out a twee consolation to the downtrodden.  He’s preaching revolution.  This is all about world domination.  Who will take over the earth?  Rupert Murdoch?  One World Government?  Militant Islam?  Google? No, the meek.

It’s a laughable prospect.  It sounds as absurd as yesterday’s blessed mourners.  But that’s the nature of the beatitudes, they turn the world right-side-up.  To the world’s ears though, it can only sound ridiculous.

Listen to how Frank Zappa lampooned the phrase in his song: The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing

Some take the Bible for what it’s worth
When it says that the meek shall inherit the earth
Well, I heard some sheik has bought New Jersey last week
And you suckers aint gettin nothin’!

We laugh because we recognize the picture Zappa paints of this world.  It’s dog eat dog and the strong eat the weak.  Fortune favours the brave.  Only the strong survive right?  Well apparently not.  Jesus is saying that everything we thought we knew about power is wrong.  In fact we’re wrong about the whole way in which the world works.

Jesus is not giving us a verse to be cross-stitched onto wall-hangings.  It’s an infallible prophecy of cosmic proportions.  In this dog eat dog world there will be one power that comes out on top.  At the end of all history, emerging from the interplay of a million forces and vested interests, one group will emerge with absolute dominion: the meek.

You could translate it as “gentle” or “friendly” or “humble”.  After millennia of cut and thrust, the winner-takes-all-victors will be the lowly.

Do you have a hard time believing that?  I do.  And an even harder time living it. Why?  Well I wonder if my problem is that I don’t really believe that this is Christ’s universe.  As we considered on the first day of the year, we imagine that the power behind this world is “nothingness” or “chaos” or “a lonely god.”  And if that really were what was “in the beginning” then the meek have no future at the end.  But if Jesus really is Lord, then the Suffering Servant really is the Power behind this universe.

Jesus describes Himself as “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29) and He meets the power-plays of the earth with perfect peace.  As He lay in the grave on Easter Saturday, nothing looked more foolish than His beatitudes.  And yet on Easter Sunday it wasn’t just Jesus who was vindicated.  His whole project of world-domination-by-meekness was established.  It’s not just that the meek will “get something.”  Those who stop exalting themselves and take refuge in Jesus will be the only ones who get anything. In fact, they’ll get everything.  Because the future really does belong to Christ.


Today’s graphic image was sourced at the website, You Have Heard It Said, which also has some interesting thoughts on the same passage. (Interesting find. I have a feeling we’ll be dropping by there again soon…)

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