Christianity 201

September 21, 2014

One Single Rule, One Solitary Commandment

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden ‘?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” 4The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.…   Genesis 3 (NIV)

This article by Jered Totten appeared earlier this month at the blog Christians in Context. As usual, you’re encouraged to read this at source by clicking the title below.

“All the Law and the Prophets…” in a piece of fruit

A million yeses, one no

We’re all familiar with the story. In fact, if you grew up in the church, you’re probably so familiar with the story that there’s no surprise, no suspense left in it. But Genesis 3 is an epic drama. The fate of the entire human race hanging in the balance as good and evil are paraded across this cosmic stage. It was Shakespearean before Shakespearean was cool.

And at the center of it all: fruit. Yep, skin and pulp and juice. A plum, a pear, maybe a pomegranate. We don’t know. There are some (quite serious) people out there who are certain it was a grape because wine comes from grapes and wine is the devil’s drink. I’ll leave that discussion for another time (perhaps after we share in the Communion table?).

But almost every person who has read that fateful chapter has at one time or another expressed the same frustration and confusion at the account of the fall:

“What’s the big deal with the fruit?!!”

I mean, it seems so arbitrary. So piddling. So banal. My pastor once described the pre-fall state of Adam and Eve as “a million yeses and one no”. But that one “no” seems so maddeningly trivial that some people are inclined to allegorize the entire story. “Surely the fruit represents sex” they say. (Right. ‘Cause that makes sense after God puts two nekked people in Eden and tells them to “be fruitful and multiply”. Sorry, try again. Better luck next time. Don’t quit your day job.)

But if this world of typhoid and typhoons, racism and rape, gender wars and genocide, tyranny and tragedy, is all due to a literal little nibble on the no-no nectarine (say that five times fast)…well, then we’ve got a bigger problem on our hands: namely, a God who looks a whole lot like Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts tearing through the universe crying “off with their heads!” when someone sneezes on his backswing.

Is there any way to understand the fruit, the forbidden, the fall, that doesn’t turn the entire story into a metaphor or turn God into a whimsical deity guilty of a cosmos-swallowing overreaction?

A long time ago in a Galilee (not so) far, far away…

I am reminded of another story in Scripture where there was a discussion about another singular rule, another solitary commandment.

And one of the scribes came up and … asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
(Mark 12:28-30 ESV)

From Jesus himself we are given the big E on the eye chart, the bullseye on the moral dartboard of life. Every other command, rule, prohibition, and exhortation uttered by God flows out of this one, including the one Jesus mentions immediately after (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”).

Or to say it another way, if you keep this one rule (love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength) then by default you will have kept all the other rules as well…including that one way back in the garden. Yes, the one about the fruit. Yup, the weird one. We’ll get there, but first, Jesus’ one commandment:

Love the Lord with all your heart:
Do you desire God more than anything else? Or are there other things that capture your heart and steal your affections?

Love the Lord with all your soul: Do you find your deepest identity in who God says you are? Or are you tempted to find your identity in who others say you are and the identity you can create for yourself?

Love the Lord with all your mind: Do you trust an infinitely wise and good God? Or do you trust your own reasoning first and only turn your thoughts in God’s direction when it makes sense to you?

Love the Lord with all your strength: Will the labor of your hands be used to show God as great, God as glorious, God as worthy of worship, praise, and honor? Or will you work and strive for that which will bring yourself glory and applause?

And now we are ready to return to the garden. Perhaps, by now, you see where I am going. Because the fruit didn’t just represent some arbitrary no-no. No, no, not at all. It represented a God-alternative that asked for their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Heart - At Satan’s flowery promises of an eye-opening meal, Adam and Eve desired what the fruit offered more than what God offered.

Soul - At Satan’s charge that God was holding out on them and that they could be so much more (i.e. “like God”), Adam and Eve reached for self-created identities rather than the identities given them by God.

Mind - At Satan’s alternative story (which included painting God as a liar), Adam and Eve trusted their own reasoning and wisdom more than they trusted God’s.

Strength - At Satan’s prompting, Adam and Eve lifted their hands to work for their own glory instead of God’s.

Epilogue

So yeah. The fruit was a big deal. If I may be so bold as to say it again, it represented a God-alternative that asked for their heart, soul, mind, and strength. But fortunately for us, God didn’t let the story end there. In the very same chapter of Genesis 3, God promises to send another, a singular offspring of woman, a snake-crusher.

And Jesus came. At every point where Adam and Eve failed (and we all continually fail), he did not. At every temptation for his heart, soul, mind, and strength, Jesus resisted and the full testimony of his life cried out:

“My heart is the Lord’s, and he is my greatest desire. My soul is the Lord’s, and he gives me my deepest identity. My mind is the Lord’s, and he is the most trustworthy source of wisdom and knowledge. My strength is the Lord’s, and my work is for his glory.”

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:15-17 ESV)


Jared is the worship pastor at Redeemer Church in Omaha, NE. He tweets for Christians in Context at @cicblog

September 20, 2014

New Earth, New Bodies

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Heavenly PlacesIf you haven’t already, you really should read Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven. He introduces the idea that despite hundreds of references in scripture to the hereafter, only a couple of them seem to point to some place up there. Most talk about a new earth. This idea somewhat conflicts with some of the things we were taught in Sunday School, and like other doctrines, we often find ourselves having to re-learn things as we get older.

If the book’s 530 pages is intimidating, allow me to recommend Randy’s shorter version of it, 50 Days of Heaven: Reflections Which Bring Eternity to Light, which breaks down the larger book into 50 6-page devotionals. (That’s still 304 pages, but more bite-size for some of us!)

Whenever Randy posts things on his blog at Eternal Perspective Ministries, I always want to learn from him more about how this view reshapes some of the earlier perspectives I held. One thing remains consistent however, whether (as comedy group Isaac Air Freight put it so well) it’s ‘here, there, or in the air;’ we will have glorified bodies.  Randy dealt with this briefly on the blog yesterday, click the link to read this at source and then take some time to look at other subjects he covers.

Will our new resurrection bodies have new abilities?

The disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! —John 20:19

Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! —Luke 24:31

He was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. —Acts 1:9

He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. —Philippians 3:21

Christ’s resurrection body had an ability to appear suddenly, apparently coming through a locked door to the apostles. And “He disappeared” from the sight of the two disciples at Emmaus. When Christ left the earth, He defied gravity and ascended into the air. It’s possible that the risen Christ, who is man yet God, has certain physical abilities we won’t have. Appearing and disappearing could be a limited expression of His omnipresence, and His ascension might be something our bodies couldn’t imitate.

On the one hand, because we’re told in multiple passages that our resurrection bodies will be like Christ’s, it may be possible at times for us to transcend the present laws of physics and/or travel in some way we’re not now capable of. On the other hand, it’s our God-given human nature to be embodied creatures existing in space and time. So it’s likely that the same laws of physics that governed Adam and Eve will govern us. We can’t be sure, but either way it will be wonderful.

Our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. —1 Corinthians 15:53

Our resurrection bodies will never fail us. They’ll work in perfect concert with our resurrected minds. We won’t get sick, grow old, or die from either an accident or natural causes.

September 19, 2014

The Devil is in the Details

Earlier today, Kevin Rogers had an interesting article at his blog, The Orphan Age, which gives us a few things to think about. When do we place the blame on the Devil? Aren’t some things just the consequences of living in a fallen world?  To read this at source, click the title below. (We’ve used a lot of Kevin’s writing here over the years, so please send him some link love by clicking through.)

DIAGNOSING BEDEVILMENT
When it comes to understanding strange behavior there is plenty of controversial speculation about how the Devil is involved.

There may be two extremes in this regard—one that does not accept the reality of evil and the other that ascribes too much blame to dark forces.

I remember a man who worked with people with exceptional needs telling me that he thought a particular individual must be possessed to make such strange gestures. Out of his need to explain the unexplainable, he gave the Devil credit.

We see the word lunatic used in the King James Version of the bible to describe some people that Jesus encountered.

Matthew 4:24 And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.

Matthew 17:14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: for oft-times he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.

If we accept the reality of evil forces at work in the universe, we must ask how they affect humanity. The Scriptures do tell us about the Devil’s strategies. Jesus described himself as a shepherd who stayed at the gate of fold to protect his people from the Enemy.

John 10:
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Peter, who was once warned by Jesus that Satan wanted to sift him like wheat, later was known to say,

1 Peter 5:
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Peter knew first hand how the enemy could affect the mind with crippling fear. Peter knew how the mind could play tricks on you and how the devil could convince you of great falsehood.

It is not fair to say that a mentally ill person is possessed by the Devil. But, it is very possible that in the vulnerability of their condition, the Soul Enemy goes to work to bring a crushing load of accusation, shame and destruction. The debilitated mind is not in a state of sobriety where it can process thoughts in a healthy manner.


Today’s picture is completely unrelated, but when pastor and author Pete Wilson posted this picture this morning of the eggs his hens have been laying, I was reminded of the beauty and detail and variety that exists in creation that we often miss.

Beauty of Creation

 

September 18, 2014

A Great Giving Church

Offering Plate

Regular columnist Clarke Dixon returns this week with a look at Acts 2.  To read this at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, click the title below.

Generosity and the Acts 2 Church

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47 NRSV emphasis mine)

If you did not know that the above quotation was from the Bible, would you have assumed instead that it is a description of the typical church in North America? I am guessing not. It is a picture of incredible devotion, togetherness, and generosity which we might lament we do not live up to. On the other hand we might be glad that this does not describe Christian churches in Canada; do we really want such crazy giving away of our stuff? We might be concerned that this passage is setting up an ideal for the Christian community that we neither want nor think we can attain. Is it, and are we falling short?

Whether the passage is reflecting an ideal or not, it is describing what was real. This is how the first Christians acted immediately following the calling and establishment of the Church at Pentecost. Let us note three things.

  1. There is great giving. The first Christians are enthusiastic enough to sacrifice their stuff for those in need.
  2. There is ongoing giving. The tense of the verb describing the selling of stuff indicates ongoing activity rather than a one-time thing.
  3. There is spontaneous giving. This is not a response to imposed law. While the Old Testament law makes provisions for the poor we do not get the picture here of the apostles imposing such and making demands on the people. They don’t need to, the generosity is spontaneous.

Why is there such great, ongoing, and spontaneous generous activity? There are a lot of verbs in this passage as there is a lot going on, but tucked in there also is a description of the hearts of the people: They have “glad and generous hearts” (v.46 NRSV). There is spontaneous generous activity because hearts are being changed. It is a heart thing!

Some of you may think of a different translation of that phrase “glad and generous” for the word generous in verse 46 can also be translated as singleness or simplicity of heart. We might want to ponder the fact that simplicity and generosity go together. When we are not feeling particularly generous toward someone we have a tendency of cluttering up our thoughts with rather complex rationalizations. For example, “you have need, I have plenty, but I cannot help you because . . . [enter rationalization here].” Or, “you need my forgiveness, I have the potential for being generous with grace, but I cannot forgive you because . . . [enter rationalization here].” Sometimes generosity is the simplest way forward. And it was the way forward for these first converts to Christianity.

So how did the first Christians come to have such glad and generous hearts? It is Pentecost and the Holy Spirit is changing hearts! As one Bible commentator notes, people are “fundamentally selfish,” but on the Day of Pentecost, with the outpouring and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, hearts are being changed.

The language people often use of people “getting religion” just does not work when people genuinely come to faith in Christ. You will sometimes hear it said that so-and-so “got religion.” The three thousand who came to faith in Jesus that day did not get religion, they already had religion, being Jews devout enough to be in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. What they “got” was Jesus, recognizing Him as Lord and Messiah. And with “getting Jesus” they also “got” the Holy Spirit. Indeed the New Atheists are onto something when they say that religion can be bad for you and for society. Religion will destroy you, the Holy Spirit will restore you. The three thousand on Pentecost got Jesus, they got the Holy Spirit, and their hearts were changed for the better.

So how do we develop glad and generous hearts today? While we do not want to take the application of this passage in a wrong direction and push for a commune-style of Church, we do want to long for our church today to be a people marked by glad and generous hearts. If we find we are falling short on this how do we proceed? Should we  institute a plan to become an Acts 2 kind of church, getting the leadership together with a vision and umpteen step plan of how we will get there? Or do we legislate it, writing into our constitutions that if you want to keep your membership you had better have a glad and generous heart? It seems to me that our typical churches do a lot of those kinds of things. Or is the solution much simpler: we long for it, we ask for it, we pray for it – “Lord, with you Holy Spirit in us, fill, refresh, convict, overwhelm, and remake us: give us glad and generous hearts!”

September 17, 2014

Compassion in Action

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
 ~James 1:22 NLT

Yesterday I shared this post at Thinking Out Loud, but wanted to also cross-post it here as well.  Diane Lindstrom blogs at Nice One Nana! To read this at source, click the title below.


The Fog of a Broken Heart

Apparently, the two most common lies are “I’m fine” and “It’s OK.”

Casual conversation seems to trap us into a practiced script that alienates us from exposing the truth about who and how we really are.

It’s difficult to be honest with others because to do so, we need to believe that others care and that it will be safe to expose the restlessness in our spirits, without fear of rejection.

image 0916A young woman walked into the store last week and I greeted her with a friendly, “Hi – how ya’ doin’ today?”

She walked up to the counter, took my hand, looked me straight in the eye and asked,“Do you REALLY want to know because if you genuinely care, I’ll tell you about the sh–ty day I’ve had so far.”

It was quiet in the store — no customers around — and because I had engaged in conversations with this woman before, I decided to pursue the dialogue.

“I care, Susan. I care” was my response. I put down the pricing machine and postured myself in a way that said, “Talk to me. I’m listening.”

The young woman began to speak.

“So, here’s the story. My mouth says ‘I”m OK.’ My fingers text, ‘I’m fine’ but my heart says, ‘I’m broken.’ There’s a good chance I’m going to lose custody of my two kids because of my drinkin’ and my mother is giving up on me. I’m not fine. I’m not OK. I feel like I’m gonna’ die.”

With those words, the woman began to weep.

Oh, how humanity is groaning all around us. (Romans 8. 22,23)

The Holy Spirit breathed Jesus’ familiar words into my conscience.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. ~ Matthew 25:35-36,40

I have learned that it’s a costly choice to care.

Consciously allowing our hearts to break goes against not only our natural tendencies, but also against the grain of our culture. Myriad distractions lure us from embracing pain. There are so many places to hide so that we need not heed God’s beckoning to share in the suffering of impoverished people.

But the pain and empathy I felt moved me to action.

A person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. ~ James 2: 24

I walked around the counter and held her in my arms. Thankfully, no other customers came into the store and I was resolved to be “all there” for this hurting woman. She didn’t need advise or exhortation. I couldn’t be the answer to her pain but I certainly could be “Jesus with skin on” for those precious minutes that she needed to be held.

The fog of a broken heart is a dark fog that slyly imprisons the soul.

If we can be a beacon of light that breaks through the fog, even for a short moment, it is good and honoring to God.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. ~ 2 Corinthians 4.7 NLT


Diane Lindstrom is a Canadian author who looks for Almighty God in the ordinariness of life. She has been blogging daily since 2010 and has recently published her first book, Sisters in the Son.

September 16, 2014

Why Not Sin?

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In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. ~Romans 6:11

 

The title of today’s devotional certainly got our attention when we first saw it, so we decided to retain it here. This is from a source that’s new to us, The Christward Collective is the blog of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. To read this at source, and then look around at other aspects of the website and blog, click the title below.

Why Not Sin?

As a Christian, why not sin? We could give a myriad of answers to that question. However, the best answer is supplied by Paul in Romans 6. Paul could have talked about the misery that sin brings, the pain that it inflicts upon others, the consequences which flow from it, or the penalty that Christ had to pay for it. But that is not where he first turns. He wants Christians to understand that we cannot easily entertain sin, because of our identity.

In Romans 5, Paul focuses on justification. In Romans 6, he points out that our sanctification cannot be separated from our justification. Those who have been forgiven their sins in Christ are to live in light of having been forgiven. Paul addresses this by pointing out that we are in union with Christ. Look at the language in Romans 6:3, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Verse 4, “We were buried therefore with Him.” Verse five, “For if we have been united with him.” Verse 6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him.” Verse 8, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” As Christians, we have been united with Christ. We are one with Him. In fact, that is what makes us Christians. Paul would have us to understand that our union with Christ marks every aspect of our salvation. That is, by faith we have been united with Christ for our justification, sanctification, and glorification. These cannot be separated anymore than Christ can be separated. Christ cannot be ripped asunder; therefore, we cannot rip sanctification from justification. This has great ramifications.

We have nothing apart from Christ. We have no justification, peace, forgiveness, sanctification, righteousness, holiness, Heavenly Father, or indwelling Spirit apart from Christ. Every part and parcel of our salvation is ours, because we are in Christ. As Anthony Lane put it, “Until we are united with Christ what he has achieved for us helps us no more than an electricity main supply that passes our house but is not connected to it.” Union with Christ is our identity.

This leads Paul to ask the question that he does in Romans 6:2, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Before we came to know Christ, we were dead in sin. Ephesians 2 tells us, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” Now as a Christian, Paul declares that we are not dead in sin, we are dead to sin. This is what Paul wants Christians to understand above all else in response to the question of why we should not continue in sin: you have died to sin, dear Christian. It has happened. That is our identity in Christ. That is who we are.

When we became a believer by grace through faith in union with Christ, we died to sin. It is not a progression that Paul has in mind, though it is true that we are to die to sin every day. It is also not a future reality that he is looking to, though it is true that we will know freedom from sin more in heaven than we have ever experienced on this earth. Rather, what Paul is pointing out in Romans 6 is that it is a historic reality for the Christian. We have died to sin. It has already occurred in our past by virtue of our being united with Christ. John Murray aptly explained this by suggesting that when we came to saving faith in Christ there was “a definitive breach with sin.”

Look at how desirous Paul is for us to understand this in just the first 14 verses of Romans 6. Verse 2, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Verse 3, “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” Verse 4, ” buried with him by baptism into death, just as Christ was raised from the dead.” Verse 5, “united with him in a death like his.” Verse 6, “crucified, brought to nothing.” Verse 8, “died with Christ.” Verse 9, “being raised from the dead will never die again. Death no longer has dominion over him.” Verse 10, “For the death he died.” Verse 11, “consider yourselves dead to sin.”

Death is everywhere in these 14 verses. Even the most uninformed reader can see that Paul is making a single point. He is declaring with passion, “Don’t you understand, when you were united with Christ by grace through faith, you were united with Him in His death?” Christ died. And by our union with Him, we died with Him. He died, so we died. That old life of mine, that unregenerate man that I was, that man trapped in sin, steeped in sin, dominated and controlled by sin, is dead. And so it is for you, if you are in Christ. Sin’s power and authority has already been broken in your life.

Sin is no longer our king. It is no longer our sovereign. We need not follow its dictates. It cannot command us. We have been set free to serve a new Lord, a better Lord. Sin no longer sits upon the throne of our hearts, grace does in the person of King Jesus. That is the principle reason we are not to sin. Our identity has been changed. Giving ourselves over to sin is harkening back to an old lord, an impostor, a realm to which we no longer belong. Sin that grace may abound? By no means!

September 15, 2014

Lists to Live By

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2 Peter 1:5-8 -New International Version (NIV)

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gal. 5: 19-23

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Several years ago, in a time before the internet, a series of books came out under the name Lists to Live By. Today, emails and blog posts are always bringing us “10 Ways To…;” “Seven Tips For…;” and “Five Reasons You Should…”  But in today’s reading we’ll take a look at three Biblical lists, two by New Testament writers and one written by God Himself! This is from the classic (1994) devotional book The Finishing Touch by Charles Swindoll.  This was written for the start of a new year, but we feel it applies equally to the fall season of school, work, ministry and life. [Changes indicated by * ]


 

Finishing TouchInvariably, a [fall season*] prompts us to make our own list of things deserving our diligent attention and pursuit.  Instead of using the wish-list stats as a kick-starter into the new [season*], let me suggest that we work off the lists of a few men who have gone before us.  Happily, there is not a discouraging or dreamy thought in any of them.  And, best of all, they are attainable.  And 100% wholesome.

Moses’ List  (Exodus 19:3-17)

  • Don’t ever place substitute gods before the Lord your God.
  • Don’t make an idol out of anyone or anything.
  • Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.  It is holy.
  • Remember to observe a Sabbath rest every week.
  • Honor and respect your dad and mom.
  • Don’t murder anyone for any reason.
  • Never, ever commit adultery.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Never lie or give a false impression.
  • Don’t covet another person’s mate, benefits or belongings.

Paul’s List (Galatians 5:19-23)

  • Stay away from the things which flesh produces, such as immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, arguments, jealousy, angry outbursts, heresies, envyings, drunkenness and running around with the wrong crowd.
  • Emulate the things which the Holy Spirit produces, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Peter’s List (2 Peter 1:5-8)

  • Be a diligent person.
  • Don’t waver in your faith.
  • Be known for uncompromising moral excellence.
  • Enlarge your reservoir of knowledge; keep learning.
  • Stay balanced; guard against extremes.
  • Persevere.
  • Make sure your godliness is free of hypocrisy.
  • Treat others tactfully, graciously.
  • Let your Christian love flow, let it flow, let it flow.

Been looking for a few hints to stimulate some [fall season*] resolutions?  Need a little invigorating oomph?  I suggest you focus more on these biblical lists rather than those earlier-mentioned temporal stats.

If you take these lists seriously, two things are certain…:  1) You won’t be the same person you were…, and 2) You certainly won’t get bored.

 

September 14, 2014

Are You a Berean or a Pharisee?

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Pharisees

This is Mary Agrusa’s third time here at C201; if you want to visit her blog, The Thought Just Ocurred To Me, just click the title of today’s post below.

Bereans vs. Pharisees

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” Acts 17:11 (NIV).

How do you spell Pharisee: pompous, haughty, arrogant, rude, ingratiating, sarcastic, educated, egotistical, snob? It’s unfair to paint them all with that broad brush, but many that Jesus tangled with fell into this category. The largely uneducated Jewish population were under the tutelage of these religious teachers of the law. Unlike us, the Jews had no other options. We can at least change churches.

Mark Virkler described the difference between a Pharisee and a Berean. Pharisees look to prove someone wrong; Bereans look to prove them right. What would happen if Christians as a whole took a more Berean approach toward those who threaten to tip over their personal sacred cows? Would this methodology put us in a better frame of mind to investigate challenges to our belief systems? It might.

To entertain the remote possibility that you just might be wrong can be grounds for serious heartburn and possible excommunication (just kidding…maybe not). If our foundation’s not as firm as believed isn’t it better to adjust as opposed to pretending our concrete footers aren’t grounded in quicksand?

To clarify, there are basic non-negotiable tenets of the faith. These aren’t the issues I’m talking about (although some may disagree). We all have our pet doctrines. As I look back over forty plus years of being a Christian I’ve revised my position on subjects I once thought were indisputable. That said, in the coming years I’ll probably make even more changes as I grow in the knowledge of how ignorant I really am about God.

I’ve come to accept that God is so much bigger and complex than my personal theology can handle or even dream up. Daily I’m reminded how small my understanding is. He constantly challenges my shallow thinking and I’ve become more comfortable not being a know it all. I get lots of opportunities to grow and prove myself wrong.

If I chose to explore a different idea as opposed to defending my own (and of course correct) position, my study habits change. Rather than search for arguments to bolster my case, with fresh eyes I can look for and find things I’ve missed. I may come to the conclusion that my original premise is sound and intact. My attitude, however, will be very different. I can ditch the haughty I-told-you-so demeanor and experience the let down that comes when you root for the underdog who doesn’t pull a “Rudy” off in the final seconds of the game. If you don’t know who Rudy was, Google him. Hint: he played Notre Dame football. My heart has changed. There are no longer any quacks or adversaries, just those I agree to disagree with. No corresponding feelings of superiority are needed.

The world and the church could use a lot more Bereans and a whole lot less Pharisees. Do you think the pre-Christians would take note if we didn’t name call and fight over incidentals? What if we sat down and investigated conflicting claims in an effort to prove the other guy right? Think that might garner some attention? Much of what we come to blows over has nothing to do with the key issue – salvation through Christ alone.

How about you? Has someone yanked your doctrinal chain? If so, will you react as a Berean or a Pharisee?;

September 13, 2014

Calvin on the Sufficiency of Christ

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.
 ~ II Cor. 3:5

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
 ~II Peter 1:3

Gloria Furman is a wife, mother, cross-cultural worker, and the author of Glimpses of Grace and Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full. Before we let her share today’s devotional, I want you to hear some of her story:

When my husband Dave and I got married in 2002, we knew that we wanted to serve in cross-cultural ministry. But we didn’t know any of the “w’s”—where, what, when. While we prepared for the “w’s” we completed seminary degrees and the details began to fall into place. A month before graduation our first child was born, and the next year the three of us stepped off the plane and onto the sizzling tarmac of an airport in the Middle East. In 2010, Redeemer Church of Dubai was planted. In our years here in the desert the Lord graciously blessed us with three more children. Life anywhere is a challenging, tremendous gift from God, and life in Arabia is no different.

To read more of her blog, start by clicking the title below to read today’s devotional at source.

Looking for bread in all the wrong places

Mindless snacking. Perhaps we all have a tendency to do this to some degree. I suppose it isn’t too harmful if you’re crunching on carrot sticks and not walnut brownie mix.

Sadly, we can even mindlessly feed junk food to our soul. A lot of times we hardly ever notice that we’re doing this until a friend mercifully points it out. Those can be awkward conversations, but we all need people in our life who are willing to step into the awkward fray and bring out Isaiah 55:2 for our consideration. Friend, why are you spending your money on things that aren’t bread, and working for things that don’t satisfy? Eat what is good instead!

When Jesus meets people who are looking for bread in all the wrong places, he consistently points thirsty and hungry people to himself. He is the one who gives water from the fountain of life (John 4:14, Rev. 21:6) and he is the one who gives the food that endures to eternal life (John 6:27). This is no mindless soul food snacking– Jesus is inviting us to a feast! The cost of bread in Jesus’ kingdom is simply to be hungry for him.

Isaiah 12:3 says, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Our faith does the work of dropping our bucket into the well of salvation, joyfully drawing upon Christ for everything we need.

I love how John Calvin has carefully parsed out the implications of Christ’s sufficiency in the packed-solid sentences below (I added some bullet points for fun). This quote from Institutes is worth a slow read.

“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else.

  • If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is ‘of him.’
  • If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing.
  • If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion;
  • if purity, in his conception;
  • if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects that he might learn to feel our pain.
  • If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion;
  • if acquittal, in his condemnation;
  • if remission of the curse, in his cross;
  • if satisfaction, in his sacrifice;
  • if purification, in his blood;
  • if reconciliation, in his descent into hell;
  • if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb;
  • if newness of life, in his resurrection;
  • if immortality, in the same;
  • if inheritance of all blessings, in his Kingdom;
  • if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge.

In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.” (John Calvin, Institutes 2:16.19)

Perhaps eternity is an eternity long because we’ll need that much time to drink our fill of the infinite perfections of Jesus.

 


Some sidebar graphics at Thinking Out Loud and C201 periodically sourced from Maria’s Christian tumblr Blog.

September 12, 2014

Overcoming the Virus that Lives Within Us

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.
 ~Ephesians 5:17 NLT

This post appeared at the blog The Blazing Center and was written by Barnabas Piper. Click the title to read this and other good articles at source.

You Can’t Catch Sin Like a Cold

It’s my favorite time of year. That time when we send our children off to slap five, share books, and suck on the same water fountains as hundreds of other little germ carriers at the Petri dish we call “school.” Every time one of my daughters comes home and says a classmate went home sick or missed school my wife wants to boil her in bleach, wrap her in Clorox wipes, and lock her in a hyperbaric chamber. If only we could quarantine them to keep them safe from all those nasty germs.

Sadly school is a necessary evil so we have to expose them to the ills and ailments. This is much the way many Christians think of “the world” – that necessary evil that we must be exposed to full of evil and vices and insidious temptations. If only we could quarantine ourselves from that too.

And many Christians do live in cultural quarantine, shutting themselves off from what they see as sinful influences. They avoid “bad” people and even places. They talk about those people and places like they are disease carriers – “We can’t have them around” or “We couldn’t go there.” They act like someone can sneeze sin onto them, that they will catch the bad decisions and guilt of another through physical proximity. What does his shunning communicate to those we have labeled “unclean”? Exactly that, Christians think they are unclean. Not the ideal way to draw people to Jesus. But sin is not an infectious disease

We don’t “catch” sin. It’s in us from birth. We are sin carriers. It’s only by the grace of God that we can become immune to the virus that lives in us, that we can live a life without its symptoms oozing and coughing and exhaling out of us onto others. Because of the work of Christ we are able to choose whether or not to sin. It is a decision, one that we often have a very hard time making, but a decision nonetheless. Sin is a theology too. It is a belief, or lack thereof, in the goodness and work of Jesus. It is this theology, this belief that informs our decision and drives us.

So, when we are around obvious sin, those people and places, we can’t catch their sin. We can choose their sin, but that is a matter of decision, of belief, of theology. If we hold fast to Jesus there is no risk of that sin invisibly taking hold of us like a flu bug might. How freeing! We no longer have to keep our distance or live in cultural quarantine. We can engage those people with grace and freedom without fear. Because we are near Jesus we can be near to anyone without fear that they will make us more like them than like Him.

But it would be nice if they used Purel and covered their mouths when they sneeze.


September 11, 2014

Taking Jesus at His Word

Matthew 4:18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

Matthew 8:21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Matthew 9:9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

Matthew 10:38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me

I have to say I love lists. Maybe it’s the over-simplicity of “Ten things that…” or “Five reasons you…” but my brain processes things that way.  David Leung, a local pastor in our area had this on the landing page for his church website:

Day-to-day as I reflect on the gospel of Jesus, I am excited about the church.  It is evident from his teaching and ministry that Jesus believed another world was possible.  The Kingdom of God: a realm of radical love, acceptance and care that would bring restoration to a fallen world.

What if Jesus really meant it when he said,

  • God loves us? (John 3:16)
  • His Holy Spirit would be with us? (John 14:16)
  • His Kingdom was at hand? (Luke 10:9)
  • Doing it his way would set us free? (John 8:32)
  • We could come together as one? (John 17:22)
  • We would have a reputation of genuine love? (John 13:34)
  • Good news for the poor and oppressed was at hand? (Luke 4:18)
  • We didn’t have to be afraid? (John 14:27)
  • We didn’t have to worry? (Luke 12:-22-34)
  • We could be forgiven? (Luke 5:20)
  • We could live forever? (John 11:25-26)
  • God answers prayer? (John 15:7,16)
  • Jesus has won (John 16::33)

Jesus’ claims are too important to overlook.  Our world needs this!  Our communities need this!  Our families need this!  I need this!

We believe that all this has been made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection.  We believe that this is real.


So are we willing to trust Jesus’ promises?

As I continued thinking about this theme of taking Jesus at his word, I was reminded of the song I Will Follow by Chris Tomlin. This is the acoustic version.

Where you go, I’ll go
Where you stay, I’ll stay
When you move, I’ll move
I will follow…

All your ways are good
All your ways are sure
I will trust in you alone
Higher than my side
High above my life
I will trust in you alone

Where you go, I’ll go
Where you stay, I’ll stay
When you move, I’ll move
I will follow you
Who you love, I’ll love
How you serve I’ll serve
If this life I lose, I will follow you
I will follow you

Light unto the world
Light unto my life
I will live for you alone
You’re the one I seek
Knowing I will find
All I need in you alone, in you alone

In you there’s life everlasting
In you there’s freedom for my soul
In you there joy, unending joy
And I will follow

September 10, 2014

Greater Works than these Shall He Do

“…nearly every miracle has a human element…” ~ Mark Batterson

I thought I’d throw a little King James into today’s title.  (I thought it was “shall ye do.”) That’s the way I first heard this verse, but now, as a mature adult, I still find my mind carries the baggage of expectations that like Jesus, I would raise the dead and walk on water. Or greater, right?  Because the verse is about greater. So I appreciated reading what follows from Mark Batterson’s new book The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible (Baker Books, Sept. 2014).

Grave Robber - Mark BattersonOne of the boldest statements in the Bible is found in John 14:12:

Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing and they will do even greater things than these.

Greater things?  It would sound like heresy if it didn’t come from the lips of Jesus.  It’s one of those verses that we tend to rationalize, so let me tell you exactly what it means.   If you follow Jesus, you’ll do what He did.  You’ll seek to please the heavenly Father first and foremost.  You’ll care for the poor, you’ll wash feet, and you’ll offend some Pharisees along the way.  You’ll also traffic in the miraculous.  And it won’t just be as an eyewitness.  It’ll be as a catalyst.  Please believe me when I say, you are someone else’s miracle!

Make no mistake about it:  only God can perform miracles.  So God gets all of the glory.  But as you’ll see, nearly every miracle has a human element.  Sometimes you need to step into the Jordan River, like the priests of Israel, before God will part the waters.  And sometimes you need to wade into the Jordan seven times, like Naaman.  Only God could miraculously heal Naaman’s leprosy, but he would have forfeited the miracle if he hadn’t positioned himself for it by repeated obedience.  So while some miracles take only a single step of faith, others require multiple attempts!  But whether it’s ankle deep or waist deep, you’ve got to wade into the Jordan River.  Sometimes you’ve got to do the natural before God will do the supernatural.

The playground we live on, planet Earth, was designed with natural boundaries that mark the outer limits of human possibility.  The speed of light is the fence line, and the laws of nature are the fence posts.  some of them are well-known, like the law of gravity or Newton’s three laws of motion.  Others are more obscure, like Bell’s theorem.  While those fence posts are constantly being repositioned by scientific research, they establish a borderline between what is possible and what is impossible.  It’s the invisible, impassable fence between the natural and the supernatural, and no human can dig under it, climb over it, or walk around it.  But God has put a gate in the fence.  His name is Jesus.

If you follow Jesus long enough and far enough, you’ll eventually trespass into the impossible.  You’ll turn water into wine, feed five thousand with two fish, and walk on water.  I’m not suggesting that you go walk off the nearest dock and see ho many steps you can take.  God will probably manifest His power very differently for you than He did for the original disciples.  But if you believe what Jesus said, then you’ll do what Jesus did.  The miracles you experience should be even greater than the miracles Jesus performed, in terms of both quantity and quality.

Grave Robber, pp. 25-26

September 9, 2014

The Preacher’s Dilemma Following a Disaster

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:22 pm
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Those of you who are in leadership at your church, or have done any preaching will appreciate today’s post, from our regular columnist, Rev. Clarke Dixon.  Click the title to read this at source or respond directly with comments.

Disasters: Divine Judgement? Reflections on Luke 13:1-5.

DisastersPut yourself in the preacher’s shoes. There has been a natural disaster of extraordinary proportions in a nation whose sinfulness is well known. Do you stand up Sunday morning and declare that God has divinely judged that nation? Or put yourself in the pastor’s seat. The person sitting across from you has experienced a massive catastrophe and is lamenting that she must have committed a big sin to deserve it. Do you agree with her? Or do you reassure her that oftentimes bad things happen to good people?

Thankfully, we do not need to spend too much time theorizing and theologizing over these questions, for Jesus gives us the answer:

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you;. . . Luke 13:1-13 NRSV
Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them– do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; . . . Luke 13:4-5 NRSV (emphasis mine)

That is a very simple answer to what we sometimes make into a very convoluted question: “no.” When a part of the world experiences a natural disaster, ought we to say “ha, you have suffered more than we do because your sin is greater”? No. When a person we know (and likely don’t like considering our jump to being judgemental) experiences catastrophe, do we say “ha, you have suffered more than I have for you are bigger sinner than me”? No. When we suffer greatly should we assume that our own sinfulness must be overwhelming? No. Jesus was very clear in the two examples he gave that those who suffered greatly did not suffer more because they sinned more. So let us leave off that presumption. Jesus couldn’t be more clear on that.

But that is not all Jesus has to say about the matter:

“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them– do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Luke 13:2-5 NRSV (emphasis mine)

Let’s put ourselves back in the preacher’s shoes following a disaster. Perhaps you do not want to be one of those preachers that says something along the line of “this earthquake happened to these people because they practice voodoo,” and instead you speak on a different kind of line, a fault line along which earthquakes naturally occur. The people leave the church feeling quite reassured that God is nice, and the preacher too. But should a nation deeply into voodoo not repent from their voodoo anyway? Or you do not want to call America to repentance from corporate greed following a massive terrorist attack. But shouldn’t America repent of corporate greed if it is guilty of it anyway? We might tend to wince at the “loose cannon” preachers out there who jump all over every disaster as a sign of divine judgement, yet imagine what this world would be like if people actually listened to them and repented from sin? Imagine what would happen if every disaster were followed by waves of mass repentance. We would find ourselves living in a remarkably different world!

Still wearing the shoes of a preacher, consider what would happen if every funeral service were not treated as a celebration of life for the deceased, but instead a call to repentance for the living? Every death, after all, is a reminder of our rebellion against God and the consequence of that. As a preacher your popularity would go down since people do not want preachers at funerals, but rather officiants. But if every attendee at every funeral were to consider the wages of sin, which is death (see Romans 6:23), and were to repent, the crime rate would fall, addictions would lose their power, sexually transmitted diseases would stop transmitting, broken relationships would be restored, marriages would regain health, and much, much more. We would find ourselves living in a remarkably different world! And best of all, billions of people would experience the grace of God for repentance is not just a turning away from sin but a turning toward God. Jesus could not be more clear on it: “unless you repent, you will perish.” That is the negative way of stating what is very, very positive: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16 NRSV).

Calamity and death have entered into this world because of rebellion against God. Bad things happen to all people. Yet out of the depths of His grace He saves us. He saves us for eternal life into the future, He saves us for Godly life lived through His Holy Spirit right now. If we see a nation or a person experiencing disaster, let us not judge. But neither let us hesitate to repent.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 6:23 NRSV)

September 8, 2014

Knowing Our Place; Knowing God’s Place

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
..” Isaiah 55:8-9

For our devotional thoughts today we return to the blog of First Evangelical Free Church in Sioux City, Iowa, which we visited last year. Pastor Kevin Miller’s reminder here is vital at a time when God is sometimes treated casually in both a church and secular environment. Click the title to read this at source.

Jesus: Like Us and Yet Greater Than Us

This fall, we will be working through the New Testament book of Hebrews. As part of my preparations, I like to take the time to read through an entire book repeatedly both before and in the midst of preaching it. To this end, I was recently reading through Hebrews once more and something caught my eye:

The primary point and purpose of the first several chapters of Hebrews is to establish that Christ is supreme over all. Chapter 1, for example, tells us that He is supreme over the angels. Chapter 3 tells us that Christ is superior to Moses. Later, we see that Christ is superior to Melchizedek (chapters 7-8). In short, it’s as if the bulk of Hebrews spends time exalting Christ over everyone and everything. He is the better High Priest. He is the coming King. We can’t help but be in awe of Him because He is so different than even the best of us.

And then, the turn comes: it’s not just that Christ is different and better than anyone else, it’s that He is different and better and then He dies FOR everyone else.

“For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14)”

The Priest literally atones for all who trust Him – for those who are, if nothing else, are very unworthy of atonement.

Jesus Christ is not like us in so many ways – we dare not simply think of Him as a good teacher or as simply a buddy. And yet, Jesus IS also like us in so many ways – He gets tired, needs to eat, rests, laughs, bleeds, and dies.

Hebrews proclaims the Gospel loud and clear: salvation comes from God Himself, through His Son, who is higher and better and more absolutely perfect than anyone else. And yet this very same Savior walks and talks and lives amongst us, both back then and someday coming soon. What a Savior! What a Lord! The exalted King walks amongst and dies on behalf of His people! He rises to new life and promises that for all who trust in Him, they too shall inherit new life in His coming kingdom.

September 7, 2014

Helped a Needy Person: Check

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:39 pm
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If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  I John 3:17
 

Each month we refer back to the same month of the previous year to see what various writers we introduced here are currently thinking about.  This one is from Dwight L. MacPherson who blogs at Son of a Parson Ministries with something you just might want to forward to others.  To read this at source, click the title below.

Checking the Box Doesn’t Cut It

One of my childhood buddies shared a story with me about his church that punched me in the gut. It moved my heart. It convicted me. It made me think. So I’ve decided to share it with you…

My friend told me that at an evening service, the pastor asked every church member to write a need they’ve been praying about along with their name and phone number on a piece of paper. The pastor then had the members come to the altar and leave their written needs there. Then, at the conclusion of the sermon, he told the congregation to go to the altar and take someone else’s need… and meet it.

Wow.

One problem I’ve had with the Church is that I don’t think we do enough to meet the needs of our congregations. Sure, we anoint them, pray with them, but how often do we directly meet their needs? As a former church administrative assistant, Rebecca can attest to the fact that church offices are usually jam-packed with people who have very real and pressing needs. So this made me wonder… how often are church offices jam-packed with people desiring to meet the needs of others?

Feeling convicted yet? I know I am.

Thinking of my buddy’s story, I looked around at the congregation at our home church. I saw two men seated a couple of feet apart. I wondered… I could imagine one man crying out to God desperately for $50 to fill his gas tank for work the next week. The man beside him I imagined calling out to God asking Him how he could use the finances God had blessed him with to be a blessing to others.

The Bible tells us that the early Church met the needs of their members internally.Red-Pencil-checking-off-Boxes Acts 2:44, for example, tells us, “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.” Now before anyone draws from their extensive church history knowledge to tell me that the Jerusalem church was basically a commune due to persecution, my point still stands. The Church didn’t direct their Christian brothers and sisters to secular public programs, or simply give them a bag of groceries or gas voucher so they could check off a box for helping the needy. No, they genuinely helped one another and made sure everyone’s needs were met. Are we honestly doing this today?

So what’s the answer for the modern Church? Well, I think my buddy’s pastor has the right idea. We need to be more open with our brothers and sisters that we see Sundays and Wednesday nights. This requires for us to be intentional, willing to go out of our way to help others, and open to hear one another’s needs without judging them. I think this would be much easier in small churches, but in big churches, it could be tough. I love the idea of small groups meeting in homes during the week. I think this gives us a much better opportunity to cultivate healthy, “real” relationships. I think it could also give us wonderful opportunities to use our God-given resources and talents to help others. The thing is, it’s hard, and it can be downright messy. The question is: are we truly willing to roll up our sleeves and help our brothers and sisters in need?

In Christ’s perfect love,

Dwight

The Parson

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