Christianity 201

August 29, 2014

Welcoming Jesus

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Chris Lenshyn blogs at Anabaptistly and wrote what follows back in 2013, and apparently I bookmarked it at the time. Click the title below to read this at source, and then click around the blog to see what he’s been up to more recently.

Matthew 25: How do we receive Jesus?

Where love is

Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Matthew 25:34-36

This is a classic text!  During a week of service with Mennonite Disaster Service, an organization which rebuilds houses and a bunch of other stuff after disasters, I participated in a bible study based on this text.  At the bible study a gentleman took the liberty to add to the end of this text “… I needed a house, and you built one for me.”  It was beautiful.  A stunning moment as this text dynamically engaged my particular time and place.

It has also inspired literary genius.  Leo Tolstoy in his classic “Where love is God is also” shares a story about a cobbler who loses his faith, but finds it again in the service of people, for that is where he found God.

Surely the audience of 1st century Palestine would recognize that Jesus was offering a divine social critique in this story.  He lived a life that embodied this message.  Serve the people of whom our society throws out with the garbage.  Serve and love like Jesus did.  It is a call to follow in Jesus’s footsteps, offering a love that transcends all social boundaries.

It is a call to humility.  To serve those whom are the ‘least of these’ has a guilty by association feel to it.  You love, therefore you are.  Love, and show solidarity with the socially downtrodden and there is a high chance you will indeed share the same fate.

It’s not something we do just because it is nice.  The sacrifice is too great for that.  Nicety can only take us so far.  It therefore can’t be a ’riding in on a white horse’ superman-esque mentality.  This is where Jesus digs a bit deeper.

It stunningly asks us the question, “how will we receive Jesus?”

Martin the cobbler in Tolstoy’s story receives Jesus in humble service of the ‘least of these.’  That is where he encountered God.  Crossing socio-economic boundaries takes a humility.  Without this humility and service, the cobbler would not have seen love, nor encountered the presence of Jesus.

If we are not in the place of humility, we will have a difficult time receiving Jesus.

The apocalyptic element of this story indicates to us that our choices matter.  There are consequences to what we do.  It offers us hope however, that we are ultimately judged by the cross.  But at it’s heart, this story, this text pierces our soul with the bold suggestion that we need humility to receive Jesus and humility looks like ‘the least of these.’

The answer, while relatively simplistic offers a back to the basics in Christian spirituality. Be humble, for there you will find and receive Jesus.  The consequences of such are wholistic, being both spiritual and social.

Like the gentleman who offered an addition to the text “I needed a house and you build one for me…” what would you add to the story?  What does humility look like for you? 

August 28, 2014

Trust in the Lord with all your Heart

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The summer camp where my wife and I met and where our boys attended and later worked on staff is named Camp IAWAH, an acronym for “In All Ways Acknowledge Him.” So it’s no surprise that Proverbs 3:5-6 is a verse we all know by heart. My son Aaron wrote this on his blog last week; it’s short, but I wanted to share it here…


Proverbs 3:5,6

In the Bible, this passage reads “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and rely not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your path straight.”

1 IAWAHI used to work at a summer camp that had a beautiful forest on its property. It has kilometers of trails with stunning vistas overlooking lakes and groves of tall trees that stretch into a cathedral-like canopy. I wandered around in this forest during my time off to unwind. Eventually, I had the beaten paths memorized. I got bored. I started to deviate from the paths and I learned how the trails ran relative to each other.

I found cool ancient dead trees with branches that stretched up like flames. I found skulls, rivers, new vistas, and other things that had always been a couple meters or a half-kilometer off the path. So long as I remembered where the sun was, I always made it back to camp in one piece and on time.

If we rely on our own understanding of the world, we only re-walk a path that we’ve been on a thousand times before and we miss out on the whole. We understand only a fraction of what there is to understand in the world. We need to reach out and challenge ourselves from time to time. I like doing abstract thought exercises because they help me to explore. Sometimes I find something worth coming back to and other times not. I try to understand things that it seems a lot of people reject on principle. I play devil’s advocate and wonder ‘what if’?

Some would call it dangerous. To them I say, life is. There are no guarantees in life except for that those that walk the beaten path will remain eternally blissfully ignorant. Sometimes we get lost. Sometimes we ask ‘who am I, what am I doing, and where am I going?’ As long as we stay focused on the source of our direction, we won’t stay lost. When I feel depressed or worried, sometimes I simply pray ‘God, you’re here.’ Christians often say that God doesn’t promise life will be easy, but he promises that he’ll stay with us through the hard times.

This is my first rule. Don’t trust your limited perspective. Get the larger picture. Follow the light that guides you and you’ll always find your way home.

~Aaron Wilkinson

August 27, 2014

“Kick in the Head” Psalms

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This is an interesting study in how we sometimes might misunderstand or mis-apply some of the more violent verses in Psalms. The writer is our weekly contributor, Clarke Dixon, and you can click the title to read at source. In today’s devotional, he suggests some of these verses call for a “boot to the head” to the enemy, but I would also argue that, surprising as they are when we encounter them, they’re almost like a kick in the head to us. So what’s really going on these verses?


 

When Prayers Are Not Pretty – Reflections on “Boot to the Head” Psalms

What happens when as a spiritual exercise you commit to praying though the Psalms and very early on you get to a verse like Psalm 3, verse 7?

Rise up, O Lord!
Deliver me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
Psalm 3:7 NRSV

This verse is calling out for what I would call a “boot to the head” of the enemy. Whatever happened to turning the other cheek?

In visiting the elderly or the sick I often like to read Psalm 139 with all its comforting thoughts but sometimes I forget to stop at verse 18 and read:

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
Psalm 139:19-22 NRSV

Note how the one praying is not just filled with hatred, but “perfect hatred.” How nice! Or how about the time that I opened worship using Psalm 149 as a call to worship but forgot to end at verse 5:

6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,
7 to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,
8 to bind their kings with fetters
and their nobles with chains of iron,
9 to execute on them the judgement decreed.
This is glory for all his faithful ones.
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 149:6-9 NRSV

As a Christian I have to ask how can this fit with the words of Jesus when he says “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” in Luke 6:28 (NRSV). Or as Paul commends the teaching of Jesus to the Christians in Rome: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14 NRSV). Reading the not-so-pretty parts of the Psalms makes me feel less like a Jesus follower and more like an extremist jihadist. How can I love the enemy as Jesus taught while praying for their destruction as the Psalmists do?

Psalm 3Here are four thoughts to help us:

First, recognize the circumstances of the writer. Psalm 3, for example,  was written by David when his son Absalom took the throne from him and was seeking to end his life, chasing after him with an army no less. You can read about this in 2 Samuel chapters 15-18. We each go through troubles, but how many of us as comfy Canadians have ever faced a situation quite like that? Put yourself in the Psalmist’s shoes for a moment, and rather than expressing hatred along with the Psalmist you just might find yourself expressing gratitude for having it so good.

Second, recognize that the Psalms are sometimes not as personal as we might tend to read them. When we read of the Psalmist’s desire for a “boot to the head” of the enemy, our minds may go straight to thinking of individuals that have offended us in some way. The Psalmist, on the other hand, may rather be asking God for a military victory against a vicious army. Indeed when you read the background story to Psalm 3, David does not want his enemy, his son, Absalom to die. When he hears of his son’s death, far from celebrating an answered prayer, he mourns.

Third, we can think of the enemies all around us that are threatening to crush and/or kill us. As Canadians we may not be able to think of anyone out to kill us, but can we think of anything? Cancer? Boot to the head Lord! Addictions? Boot to the head Lord! Gossip? Boot to the head of gossip Lord! Lies? Boot to the head of lies! Satan himself? Dear God, boot to the head!

Fourth, when the name or a face of someone who has wounded you cannot help but come to mind, then go ahead and let God’s Word help you express your pain and anger. “This is how I really feel, Lord” is a valid and valuable prayer, “I wish you would give a boot to the head of my enemy. That is how I feel.” This fourth point deserves a little more attention . . .

It is interesting at how we might feel that we sin by being angry, but scripture does not condemn anger as sin by itself: “Be angry but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26 NRSV). We sin, not by being angry, but by what we do with our anger. Far better to express our anger to God in prayer, than to another person with our fists, words, or manipulations.

This is where we can see that prayer is a conversation that moves, and moves us over time. We may think that we cannot pray until we have a well thought out and tidied up prayer, a “finished product” worthy of an “A” from an English teacher. Forget that, just pray. Pray when you are too upset to get your words together. Pray when your prayers are too ugly for the church prayer meeting or even your best friend. Pray an honest prayer like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane:

33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; Mark 14:33-36a NRSV

This was not a pretty well thought out prayer. But Jesus’ prayer moved into: “yet, not what I want, but what you want” (Mark 14:36b NRSV). Basically Jesus went from “Dad, this sucks” to “You are love and grace, and I will join with you as you pour out your love and grace.” And not only did the prayer of Jesus change, but also his expression; from distressed and agitated in the garden, to calm, cool, and collected before the High Priest, before Herod, and before Pilate. Prayer does stuff like that.

When there is someone in your life you find yourself truly loathing, let the Psalms lead you into prayer. But then let the Holy Spirit move you through prayer so that you can move from “Boot to the head of that person Lord, and that is how I feel about it” to “You Lord, are love and grace and I will join you as you pour out your love and grace. Yes, even on that person.”

August 26, 2014

The Gospel According to Romans 8

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Because this is Christianity 201 and not 101, sometimes we find material online that we think is going to be too simplistic for readers here. But let me ask you a question, if someone asked you to explain the scriptural concepts of why sin leads to death, or how the law is inadequate to redeem us, or what someone must do to become part of the family spiritually; if someone asked you these types of questions would you be able to articulate an answer clearly?

I know that sometimes the simple aspects of the faith trip me up in situations like that because to me, these are taken as a given or they have become so familiar as to be self-evident. This is why, every so often, I return to the idea of the invisible transaction of salvation; that to explain it fully is to point out the foreshadowing in the book of Numbers, where Moses lifts up the serpent on a pole.

All this to say that today’s post is from The Gideons in Canada. To prepare to read this, you might want to take a minute to read all of Romans 8. To read this at source, click the title below and then look around the rest of the site.

ROMANS EIGHT

Romans 8 was read four times per second on a popular Bible app in 2013, and I’m not surprised.

Romans 8 is the gospel in a nut-shell. It’s the best news anyone on this planet could ever receive.

gidideonlogoIts message crosses every divide the world tries to create–social status, gender, age, culture, job, moral-code… And the message is for everyone.

 The Solution is Life on God’s terms.

This life is not about our performance or ability to go it on our own. It’s about receiving life on God’s terms—and His terms are pretty good. You see, we humans were born with a sinful nature that we cannot cure ourselves. We can’t work ourselves up to perfection; we ourselves cannot reach a point where we will not encounter temptation or sin. We are not the answer. Our efforts are not the solution.

God, seeing that we are incapable of saving ourselves, provided a savior—Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ took on the sins of this world, and paid the price for them on the cross so that we could be forgiven. In that moment in time, we received His clean slate, and He took our messed up one. We were set free.

1) No Condemnation. Escape Death.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you[b] from the power of sin that leads to death. Romans 8:1-2 NLT

Yes. Someone was willing to sacrifice it all on a cross so that we wouldn’t be condemned or punished for our failures, so that we would escape the death sentence we deserve and get to live for an eternity in Heaven.

And it’s not dependent on anything that we do.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Ephesians 2:8 NLT

Believing & belonging to Jesus = no condemnation, no death.

Our continual inability to measure up and be good enough is overcome by Christ’s ability. In our weakness He is strong.

2) You can’t fulfill the law. Christ did.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4

Don’t worry. There isn’t something you are missing, the same struggle you have to keep up with all the do’s and don’ts is the same struggle everyone else on this planet also battles with. It’s not about us trying harder, rather it’s about us embracing what Christ did for us on the cross. He took our terrible record, the punishment for that record, and in return, gave us his perfect record.

God’s terms are… although you are completely undeserving; I am going to give you a clean slate.

God’s terms are… although you sin, I see you as clean, whole, perfect, as my child—because of what Jesus Christ did for you on the cross.

God’s terms are… I love you. God’s terms are… I forgive you. God’s terms are… I am with you.

When you need a fresh reminder of the Good News of the gospel, if you need that weight of law, duty and failure lifted—turn to Romans 8—it’s pretty Good News if you ask me.

In fact, it’s news that is too good not to share.

Order free copies of Scripture at http://www.sendme.ca and trust God for opportunities to share.

August 25, 2014

Forgiving Those Who Betray Us

Matthew 6:12

Forgive us the wrongs we have done,
    as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.  (Good News)

Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. (Phillips)

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven (left, remitted, and let go of the debts, and have given up resentment against) our debtors. (Amplified)

I had run across Samuel C. Williamson online because of his book, Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids? (Bet that title has you curious!) I thought we had used his material once before, but apparently today will serve as an introduction. I also thought the topic of this particular post might resonate because, unless you live in a vacuum, we’ve all been hurt. To read this at source, and then look around the rest of his blog, click the title below.

How Do We Forgive Betrayals?

I ended last week’s story of betrayal with the faint beginnings of a desire to forgive. But our wanting to forgive doesn’t mean we’ve granted forgiveness any more than wanting a beach vacation gives us tickets to Tahiti. It’s a start, an important start, but only a start.

Our desire to forgive is undermined by our memories, recollections of the betrayal that relentlessly resurface with stunning clarity. With the vividness of slow-motion video, I recall a half-erased whiteboard, the buzz of a fly, and the shadows on the wall.

A friend of mine remembers the jingle of an ice-cream truck and the smell of lilacs through the screen porch.

We want to forgive, but images flood our mind, and something in our soul recoils. We try to forgive and forget, but those memories scratch their way out of the holes we buried them in.

We want justice; somehow, in some form or fashion, we want payment. Like David, our heart cries, “Let death take [them] by surprise; let them go down to hell while still living” (Ps. 55:15).

Or as Freud said, “One must forgive one’s enemies: but preferably after they’ve been hanged.”

It twists our soul

Last week, I heard a talk radio host interview a therapist. The therapist claimed that “unforgiveness is a major contributor to heart disease,” and that “bitterness can kill us.” The wrong done to us begins to take root in us. The evil inflicted on us begins to flow out of us.

Mirslov Volf wrote, “Forgiveness flounders because I exclude my enemy from the community of humans and I exclude myself from the community of sinners.” We begin to dehumanize our betrayer, and in turn we are dehumanized. Agony and anger twists our souls.

On hearing the consequences of non-forgiveness, the radio host responded, “I don’t want a stroke, so I’d better start forgiving. I’ll just let it go.”

But it’s not so simple. No magic wand will wave away the stain. To claim, “I’ll just let it go,” is like getting over stage-fright by saying, “I’ll stop being self-conscious.” It makes matters worse.

And it completely misunderstands the essence of forgiveness.

Because someone does have to pay

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the World War II martyr who died resisting Hitler) said:

If you’ve ever really forgiven somebody, forgiven some real wrong, all forgiveness is suffering. If you say “I forgave and I didn’t suffer,” it wasn’t that serious a wrong. But if you have ever really been wronged, and if you have forgiven it, then you have suffered. Because all forgiveness is a form of suffering.

When we’ve been deeply wronged—not just an accidental slip-up but a treacherous betrayal—we know there is a debt, a deep-seated sense of injustice. We can’t shrug it off as if nothing happened, we can’t simply dismiss those memories in a momentary fancy of forgiveness.

When we remember the injury, we must choose between two paths. We can make the perpetrator pay (by finding little ways to make them suffer, poking pins in their memory, disparaging them to our friends, or snubbing them in our heart); or we can forgive.

If we make the perpetrator pay, evil wins. The road to hell is not paved with good intentions, and not even with our betrayal of others. The road to hell is paved with our non-forgiveness.

So what does it mean to forgive?

Everyone thinks forgiving is a wonderful idea. Until they have something real to forgive. Because forgiveness means suffering. If we don’t make the perpetrator pay (and somebody has to pay), it means we pay.

Forgiveness means we pay our betrayer’s debt.

It’s normal life. If I borrow your car and wreck it, then either I cough up cash for the repair, or—if I don’t have any money—then you do. The damage doesn’t disappear magically. Somebody pays. (Or you drive a wrecked car, which is just another form of you suffering for my mistake.)

How do we pay? When we’re tempted to dwell on their cruelty, we stop (it costs not to punish them in our thoughts). And when we have a chance to tell others of their betrayal, we shut up (we suffer when they enjoy a good reputation). And we pray for their welfare, not punishment.

Of all Christian disciplines, this is the hardest. First we suffer the horrible wrong done to us, and then we pay for their wrongdoing. It’s double baked death. Compared to forgiveness, chastity, charity, and contentment seem like sipping lemonade on a summer’s evening.

Forgiveness also brings us closest to Christ. It is suffering, thorns, nails, and a cross.

Forgive me for repeating myself

To settle a debt requires capital. We need a full bank account (either financial, emotional, or spiritual reserves) to write that check. We need deposits in our account before we can pay out. But our reserves were depleted by the wrong done to us. What are we to do?

Our ability to forgive is wholly dependent on our being forgiven. When it seems impossible to forgive, our only hope is to understand our debt to God, and to grasp our own forgiven-ness.

Jesus said of the prostitute who washed his feet, “She loves much because she’s been forgiven much, and whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” With the deposits of our own forgiven-ness, we pay our debtor’s debt. And little by little, we find we have forgiven.

Over time (not magically in a moment) something miraculous happens. We begin to really hope for them, to really wish them the best; we even begin to love them.

The evil done to us has been executed.

Sam   (see also, Betrayal)

P.S. Don’t think that because I can write this that I can also do it well. But I’m getting better.

P.P.S. Forgiveness does not mean disconnection with reality. Our betrayers may still act like jerks toward us or toward others. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we should go back and work in that ministry or become best pals with that former friend. But it does mean their debt has been paid, that we have shredded our case files, and we that desire their welfare.

August 24, 2014

Morning Prayers

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Psalm 5:3 - “In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice; in the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.”

We begin with Rick Roeber at The Bare Soul Daily Devotional:

While evening prayers are often built upon reflection concerning our day, our time with the Lord in the morning should be hopeful. The prophet tells us in Lamentations how the Lord’s mercies and compassions are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Promises such as this should evoke expectancy in God’s children as they prepare themselves for the upcoming day.

Morning Prayer should be deliberate. For some, this means sitting or kneeling in a quiet place. For others, they may meet God as they walk, bike, or run. Wherever we meet God during our day, we should keep His word close at hand. Meditating on God’s word and then praying it back to Him should be the ongoing discipline of every believer. For those who choose to exercise while praying, the word of God should be rich in their minds and hearts. There are few things as delightful as when God makes His word come to life during our prayer times. No matter where we choose to meet Him in our morning devotions, we should always have open hearts that cry, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening!”

Matthew Henry writes of this verse:

What David here promises, as the condition on his part to be performed, fulfilled, and kept, that he might obtain this gracious acceptance; this may guide and govern us in our addresses to God, that we may present them aright, for we ask, and have not, if we ask amiss. Four things David here promises, and so must we:—

(1.) That he will pray, that he will make conscience of praying, and make a business of it: Unto thee will I pray. “Others live without prayer, but I will pray.” Kings on their own thrones (so David was) must be beggars at God’s throne. “Others pray to strange gods, and expect relief from them, but to thee, to thee only, will I pray.” The assurances God has given us of his readiness to hear prayer should confirm our resolution to live and die praying.

(2.) That he will pray in the morning. His praying voice shall be heard then, and then shall his prayer be directed; that shall be the date of his letters to heaven, not that only (“Morning, and evening, and at noon, will I pray, nay, seven times a day, will I praise thee”), but that certainly. Morning prayer is our duty; we are the fittest for prayer when we are in the most fresh, and lively, and composed frame, got clear of the slumbers of the night, revived by them, and not yet filled with the business of the day. We have then most need of prayer, considering the dangers and temptations of the day to which we are exposed, and against which we are concerned; by faith and prayer, to fetch in fresh supplies of grace.

(3.) That he will have his eye single and his heart intent in the duty: I will direct my prayer, as a marksman directs his arrow to the white; with such a focus and steadiness of mind should we address ourselves to God. Or as we direct a letter to a friend at such a place so must we direct our prayers to God as our Father in heaven; and let us always send them by the Lord Jesus, the great Mediator, and then they will be sure not to miscarry. All our prayers must be directed to God; his honour and glory must be aimed at as our highest end in all our prayers. Let our first petition be, Hallowed, glorified, by thy name, and then we may be sure of the same gracious answer to it that was given to Christ himself: I have glorified it, and I will glorify it yet again.

(4.) That he will patiently wait for an answer of peace: “I will look up, will look after my prayers, and hear what God the Lord will speak (Ps. 85:8; Hab. 2:1), that, if he grant what I asked, I may be thankful—if he deny, I may be patient—if he defer, I may continue to pray and wait and may not faint.” We must look up, or look out, as he that has shot an arrow looks to see how near it has come to the mark. We lose much of the comfort of our prayers for want of observing the returns of them. Thus praying, thus waiting, as the lame man looked unwaveringly on Peter and John (Acts 3:4), we may expect that God will give ear to our words and consider them, and to him we may refer ourselves, as David here, who does not pray, “Lord, do this, or the other, for me;” but, “Hearken to me, consider my case, and do in it as seems good unto thee.”

 


Enjoy a worship song taken from Psalm 5

August 23, 2014

Everybody Needs a Prophet

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Nathan confronts David

Nathan confronts David

On Saturday I was reading an article at Huffington Post about a popular U.S. minister who is presently experiencing a rather dramatic fall from grace. Because we don’t do news-specific or time-specific devotionals here, the details are not important; though in fairness, because we’re quoting from it extensively, here is the link. But what struck me was one section of a larger article suggesting the man needs to hire a prophet. I think this article has a timeless quality that transcends the current Christian news cycle.

What would that look like?

The author, Jack Levison blogs at Spiritchatter and is author of Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life (Paraclete Press, 2012). He begins with a look at what you don’t want: A false prophet.

What Not to Hire

Let’s start with what not to hire. One Old Testament writer (actually, a prophet himself) named Micah described false prophets in words worth reading right now:

Here is GOD’s Message to the prophets,
the preachers who lie to my people;
“For as long as they’re well paid and well fed,
the prophets preach, ‘Isn’t life wonderful! Peace to all!’
But if you don’t pay up and jump on their bandwagon,
their ‘God bless you’ turns into ‘God damn you.’
Therefore, you’re going blind. You’ll see nothing.
You’ll live in deep shadows and know nothing.
The sun has set on the prophets.
They’ve had their day; from now on it’s night.” (Micah 3:5-6, The Message)

Micah criticizes the leaders of his day for their neglect of justice, but here his real beef lies with other prophets — false prophets — whom he lambastes. Why?

First of all, these so-called prophets “give oracles for money” (Micah 3:11). They “cry ‘Peace’ when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths” (3:5). These prophets cozy up to power, like members of a pastor-appointed board or pastor-appointed counselors. This is the last kind of prophet [he] needs right now; he’s got plenty of supporters.

Second, these so-called prophets refuse to recognize that criticism can be inspired by the Spirit of God. Wrong! claims Micah. It’s not true that “the Spirit of God has been cut off,” as they claim (Micah 2:7 in Hebrew), just because he criticizes his people. Criticism isn’t a sign of God’s absence but a sign that God is still all in — and a prophetic critique is what [he] needs right now.

Then he goes on to add what you do want:

What to Hire

… Someone like Nathan, who blasted King David for his dalliance with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12). Someone like Micah, whose concern lay with “justice, power, and might” rather than personal popularity or professional esteem.

So here’s what I suggest… hire a full-time prophet. Not a friend but an opponent. Not a pushover but a person of incisive intellect. Maybe not even a man but a woman. Someone like Deborah, who exercised enormous power among Israel’s early judges (Judges 4). Like Huldah, whose prophecies led to intense reform (2 Kings 22).

Most important, whomever [he] picks — or better yet, whoever is picked for [him] — has to be free of self-interest, impervious to intimidation, and sure that honest criticism is the work of God’s Spirit. Someone willing to stand and say, with Micah, “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare … transgression and … sin” (Micah 3:8).

…After I formatted this for today’s reading, I thought about how this applies to each and everyone of us in a way that is perhaps more familiar: Mentoring and accountability. But when someone rises to a position of power and influence, sometimes their mind tricks them into believing they do not have to come under the authority of another.

That’s where the whole prophet thing kicks in. The prophet comes alongside and speaks what needs to be spoken. Someone who is “willing to call it for what it is.”

Do you have someone who speaks into your life?

 

 

 

August 22, 2014

Are You “In The Faith”?

This is the devotional blog I write and some days that also comprises my personal devotions, but there is also Daily Encouragement, the devotional blog I read. A couple of days ago the theme verse was:

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

I thought there might be more to the phrase “in the faith” but that it also might be something that we do need to examine ourselves concerning, since some people who think they are “in” may justify their inclusion on religious premises instead of God’s grace.  Translations treat this phrase as follows:

  • you are holding to your faith and showing the proper fruits of it (AMP)
  • living the life of trust (CJB)
  • true to your faith (CEV)
  • still in the Christian faith (GW) (I thought the use of still was interesting here)
  • continuing in the faith (ISV) (see note above)
  • Are you really Christians? (Living Bible) (i.e. Did you ever cross the line of faith)
  • you are really believers (NIrV) (see not above)
  • faith is genuine (NLT)
  • you are solid in the faith (Message)

Bible translators try very hard to avoid doctrinal bias and just say what the text says, but there are three nuances presented above:

  1. The idea of a faith that is being lived out on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis; that the person is endeavoring the abide in Christ; that there is no pretense
  2. The idea (GW and ISV) that one can abandon the faith; or at the very least, not be walking in it as described in the previous instance
  3. The idea that some Corinthians reading Paul’s letter may be resting on a false conversion; perhaps trusting in works to save them

The Reformation Study Bible says of this passage (in reference to examination or testing):

Paul’s words help clarify the doctrine of assurance of faith. Paul asks the Corinthians to examine their own lives for evidence of salvation. Such evidence would include trust in Christ (Heb. 3:6), obedience to God (Matt. 7:21), growth in holiness (Heb. 12:14; 1 John 3:3), the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23), love for other Christians (1 John 3:14), positive influence on others (Matt. 5:16), adhering to the apostolic teaching (1 John 4:2), and the testimony of the Holy Spirit within them (Rom. 8:15, 16)

The IVP New Testament Commentary Series notes:

The kind of testing Paul envisions is that which proves the worth or genuineness of something (dokimazo; compare 2 Cor 2:9; 8:8, 22; 9:13). In this case it is the Corinthians’ faith that is to be proven. Pistis in this context denotes profession. The Corinthians have professed a belief in Christ, but does their life match their profession? If the life of the congregation is not in conformity with the trutes of the gospel, it negates any claim to standing firm in the faith (1 Cor 16:13).

In the article at Daily Encouragement, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber began by comparing this to an energy audit they had of their house.  Then they write:

In his article “The Place Of Self-examination” by S. Lewis Johnson he comments concerning this verse, “There are literally millions of professing Christians who need to pay attention to this statement of the apostle. They have entered into a shallow commitment to Christianity, they’ve joined the church, they’ve been baptized or they’ve done other things that might make them think that they are genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. They’ve been encouraged to think that, by men who’ve not been careful to point out that there is more to becoming a Christian than subscribing to a statement. They don’t hate sin. They don’t love holiness. They do not pray. They do not study the word of God. They do not walk humbly with God. These individuals, so many of them stand in the same danger in which the Corinthians stood. And the apostle’s words, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith, examine yourselves,” are valid words that each of us should ponder.”

Self-examination or a spiritual audit is important so that we correct ourselves on a regular basis to make certain we continue to bring glory to God in the manner in which we live our lives.

Colossians 1:10-12 provides a list of audit items for our consideration. I will phrase them as personal questions:

  • Am I living in a manner worthy of the Lord?
  • Am I pleasing Him in all respects?
  • Am I bearing fruit in every good work?
  • Am I increasing in the knowledge of God?
  • Am I being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might?
  • Am I attaining steadfastness and patience?
  • Am I joyously giving thanks to the Father?

They also included another key verse that day:

“But let a man examine himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28a).

which is,

in the context of sharing Communion at the Lord’s Table. Before one eats and drinks of the emblems representing the broken Body and shed blood of Christ he is to examine himself. Of utmost importance in this personal exam is the answer to these foundational questions, “Do I have saving faith in Christ?” (Romans 10:8,9). “Do I have any unconfessed sin in my heart?” (1 John 1:9).

If your church has a monthly communion service, that’s coming up in a couple of weeks, but you don’t have to wait until then to perform a spiritual audit; a spiritual self examination.

 

 

August 21, 2014

Your Part in the Chain of Grace

1David summoned all the officials of Israel to assemble at Jerusalem: the officers over the tribes, the commanders of the divisions in the service of the king, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of all the property and livestock belonging to the king and his sons, together with the palace officials, the warriors and all the brave fighting men.

2King David rose to his feet and said: “Listen to me, my fellow Israelites, my people. I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it. 3But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.’

4“Yet the Lord, the God of Israel, chose me from my whole family to be king over Israel forever. He chose Judah as leader, and from the tribe of Judah he chose my family, and from my father’s sons he was pleased to make me king over all Israel. 5Of all my sons—and the Lord has given me many—he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel. 6He said to me: ‘Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. 7I will establish his kingdom forever if he is unswerving in carrying out my commands and laws, as is being done at this time.’

I Chronicles 28; NIV; to read any verses in other translations, click the verse numbers

I wrote a few months ago about the idea of the “chain of grace” and compared it to the children’s plastic toy/game known as Barrel of Monkeys!  It’s a very popular theme when I am speaking with people but I was surprised to see how little it’s reflected in my blogs. We are part of a very huge, overarching story in which we are recipients of grace and agents of grace. We pass that on to others.

Moses led his people but only to the edge of the promised land. David served God, but did not see his dream, the building of the temple, through to completion. Acts 13:36 tells us,

We all know David died and was reduced to dust after he served God’s purpose in his generation  (The Voice Bible)

Our responsibility is to serve the purpose of God in our generation.

What got me thinking about this was the following excerpt from Love Well: Living Life Unrehearsed and Unstuck by Jamie George. How willing are we to build up the ministry of others instead of feeling we need to do it all? He tells the story of feeling directed to take a drive out in the country where God would speak with him.

My conversation with God went like this:

“I know You wanted to meet with me today.  Sounds like You have something in mind.  But before You get rolling, do you mind if I say something?”

Sure.

“Thank you.  One basic, overarching question.  Why did You send me to plant a church in Franklin, Tennessee?  It seems like there is a church on every corner.  I mean, people introduce themselves here and ask, ‘What church do you go to?’  This is crazy.  Why didn’t You send me to Brasil?  Seriously, why am I here?”

Are you finished?

Love Well - Jamie George“Uh.  Yeah.”

Wrong question.

“Huh?”

You need to get over yourself.

This is My story, not yours.

I will send you where I wish.

Jamie, all of your life you have told people you want to ‘change the world for God.’  And at times, your motives were pure.  But all too often, you wanted to change the world for Jamie.

I know your story.

No friends in middle school, a misfit in college, an underdog mentality from an underdog town.

Let’s be honest, much of your life has been about proving your worth.

“Oww. Okay. Yeah.

Can’t deny it.

I am sorry.

I repent.”

Rather than change the world, I want you to touch the life of someone else who will change the world.

This statement would alter my life forever.  I stared for a while at this point – at the trees, the sky, the leaves.  There was something solemn about the moment.

Touch the life of someone else who will change the world.

Do you understand what I am saying?

“Yes, I think so.  I’m supposed to empower other people and let them get the credit.  As much as I love ‘the stage,’ I am supposed to lean into subtlety and move away from the ‘big show’.  Rather than a bold and brash, clean and shiny church, we are supposed to become a quiet but confident family of faith.  Rather than wave the banner and give the cheer, we will invite the broken and steadily serve whomever we find in need.  And along the way, You will use someone other than me to influence the world.”

You have the idea.

“God, I have spent most of my life trying to become a great leader, and very little of it learning to become a great listener.  Starting today, I’ll begin seeing people not as chess pieces to move around in a grand strategy, but rather as stories that are unique and magnificent, individuals to be released to their God-designed life.”

August 20, 2014

Giving and Receiving Criticism

This is probably one of the highest things we can do in our personal Bible study; take an issue which is present in the course of a day or week, and delve into what the scripture says about that issue. In this case, we look at criticism, something we all experience and something many of dish out. To read this at source click the title below.

How to Offer & Receive Criticism

by Mathew Sims

Richard Sibbes once said that  “men love not to be judged and censured.”

Personally, I have yet to meet the person who enjoys criticism. Whether it’s criticism about your work, life, faith or criticism from an unknown critic online or a loving family member. All criticism is hard to swallow.

My mom and I have a great relationship. I look back at my formative years and she provided a foundation for the love of God that hasn’t left me. I recall the words of Paul to Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you” (2 Tim. 1:5).

However, I wish I was wiser when hearing her criticism. Her words of encouragement and admonition were coming from a heart of love. Because of my own struggles with hearing criticism, I would often refuse to heed her concerns, only accepting the truth of her words after I’d made a mess of the situation. Hearing criticism is and has been one of the hardest lessons learned in my life, especially if I’ve received criticism from those whose motives were not in my best interest.

But the gospel should transform the way we give and receive criticism. In today’s, age social networks and blogs have only made it easier to criticize without accountability or real community. It’s much easier to make that snarky comment about someone when you don’t have to look them in the face to do so.

So, how do we take a gospel-centered approach toward criticism?

The Gospel and Criticism

The gospel transforms the way we receive criticism in four ways. First, it tells us we are created in the image of God. We have value because we are his handiwork, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). What we do has value because we imitate his creativity in creation. None of us is left without a touch of this creativity.

Second, the gospel tells us we are sinful. Charles Spurgeon once said, “If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be.” Often criticism stings because there may be a teaspoon of truth within the cup of criticism (or maybe a cup of truth within the teaspoon). We know we are sinful. But we almost always give ourselves the benefit of the doubt as we speak, act, and write. It’s hard to hear the perspective of someone who may not give us this benefit of the doubt.

Third, the gospel tells us are adopted by God. We have been declared righteous and joined his family and are now being transformed into the image of the Son of God. We are now much more than the sum total of our sins. Criticism can’t touch that.

Finally, the gospel tells us that we will be vindicated on the last day. George Whitefield once said, “I am content to wait till the judgement day for the clearing up of my reputation.” We should learn to be content now with the righteousness of Christ waiting for our final vindication. For some of us, that might mean allowing our reputation to be tarnished for now.

Scripture actually has much to say about criticism. The following practical suggestions for receiving and giving criticism will hopefully help you build upon these truths.

Receiving Criticism

1. Hear the criticism.

The writer of Proverbs admonishes us, “Whoever heeds instructions is on the path of life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray” (Prov. 10:17), “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is foolish” (12:1), and “Whoever heeds reproof is prudent” (15:5). These Scriptures only touch the surface. Read through Proverbs for yourself and study what the Solomon teaches about receiving reproof. When criticism is offered, you should hear it, consider it, pray about it, and seek counsel about it. You should also be willing to sift through the criticism for the grain of truth. I have rarely found a criticism where there may not a single grain.

2. Rejoice in the criticism.

Jesus starts one of the greatest sermons ever preached, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).

In this sermon, Jesus addresses criticism that ends up being slanderous lies. Yet he says we are blessed and we should rejoice. How can this be? We are baptized into the body of Christ. We are participants in his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus was persecuted, lied about, and slandered. And the writer of Hebrews says, “[Jesus] who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1). This passage connects our joy, suffering, and final vindication by God. Jesus sits at the right hand of God vindicated against the criticism that he made himself to be God (Matt. 26:62-68). We too will stand before God vindicated one day.

3. Compare the criticism with Scripture.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The truest criticism we will receive comes from Scripture. It speaks honestly about the condition of fallen humanity. Bring the criticism you receive to Scripture and ask the Spirit to uncover truth that might relate to it. Don’t miss the full story of the gospel.

4. Don’t respond with umbrage.

The worst thing you can do is respond quickly with your own criticism or accusation. But also don’t let a “root of bitterness” (Heb. 12:15) take hold in your heart. Resentment will impact you most and the others you love. This last point is especially true when the person clearly doesn’t have your best interest in mind and the bulk of their criticism is slander. It’s easy to set the record straight about that person, but in my experience that is either almost completely useless because it’s peppered with anger or slander in its own right.

Offering Criticism

1. Be wary of making accusations against brothers in Christ. 

All those who profess Christ are one with Christ. We have been baptized into one body and Spirit (Eph. 4). Christ isn’t divided. We should be very careful when criticizing that we aren’t accusing another Man’s servant (Rom. 14). That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take part in polemics, dialogues, debates, and defending the faith. Helpful criticism takes wisdom rooted in Scripture and a robust understanding of how the gospel changes everything.

2. Be prayerful about your criticism.

Before you ever utter the criticism pray about it. Ask God for wisdom in using the right words and also that it would be received from a heart of love. Express your dependance on God in sharing this concern with the person. Examine your heart in giving the criticism. If you cannot offer the criticism in good faith (Rom. 14:23) then don’t.

3. Seek peace and mutual up-building.

Paul says, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building” (Rom. 14:19). I see two connections to the gospel story when see the word “peace.” First, peace connects with the Old Testament concept of shalom. It’s a state of rest for all of life. In the Old Testament, the shadow was the promised land and in the New Testament the fulfillment is the rest we have in Christ. Also, peace is often connected with the blood of Christ and our justification. All of the conflict, rebellion, and sin found in the story of humanity and Israel is resolved when God makes a covenant of peace with Christ (Eph. 2:13-16, 6:14-15; Rom. 5:1-2, and Col, 1:19-20) declaring all those in him as justified and now “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16-17, also see Luke 2:8-14). The purpose should be to build the hearer up; it shouldn’t tear him down. There’s correlation with Jesus’ instructions for church discipline, the goal of which is restoration.

4. Watch your own life and doctrine.

Paul admonishes the Galatians, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgressions, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 5:1-2). These instructions are meant to encourage patience, gentleness, and humility. A professor in college who taught counseling would frequently say, “Admonish others as you might expect them to admonish you later.” The idea was “today it’s me admonishing you; tomorrow it may be you admonishing me.” Paul also makes an important point about “bear[ing] one another’s burdens.” Step in their shoes and understand their struggles. Don’t be merciless to those who doubt (Jude 1:22). God doesn’t bruise the reed and neither should we. Fan the flame of God’s grace in their life.

5. Stop continually criticizing.

Paul commands Titus, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him” (Tit. 3:10). The original context was the local church but there’s good application for our personal relationships and online interactions. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may just need to stop criticizing and “have nothing more to do with him.” I cannot tell you how tiring it is hearing the same criticism over and over again by the same people about the same person. It takes wisdom to understand at what point you are casting your pearls before the swine (Matt. 7:6).

It’s important to search Scripture when understanding how to receive and give criticism. The Internet has made it easy to register our criticisms and provides a platform for those with grudges. These interactions are front and center for the world to see. We must learn to interact in a way which glorifies God. “Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters to pertaining to this life!” (1 Cor. 6:3).

_

Originally published at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. Used with permission.

Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes. Follow him on Twitter: @GraceForSinners.

August 19, 2014

A Message to Prime Ministers, Presidents and Kings

We continue today with weekly contributor Clarke Dixon.  You can also read this at his blog by clicking the title below:

Biblical Message to World Rulers: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid. Reflections on Psalm 2

There is no shortage of rulers, now, and in recent memory, who have plunged or kept the people under their care into darkness. We think of Bin Laden and the recruitment of people into lives of terror. We think of the Taliban and remember the dismal treatment of women. We think of Boko Haram and the atrocities committed of late. We think of those associated with the new “Islamic State” and the reports of beheadings, kidnappings, forced conversions, and executions. Already the rulers of these organizations are responsible for thousands dead and thousands more living in terror this year. But we can also look back to other atrocities within living memory. There is Hitler responsible for 10 million deaths, 6 million of which were Jews, and we are not even counting those who died in battle from the war he started. Stalin is said to be responsible for 7-13 million dead, some say much more. Mao is said to be responsible for 40-50 million dead. How many more lived, but lived in terror? These rulers and all like them have something in common beyond being responsible for plunging people into darkness: they are mentioned in the Bible. Consider:

1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” (Psalm 2:1-3 NRSV)

These verses originally speak to the rulers surrounding Israel in Old Testament times, and the “anointed” referred to the earthly king of Israel. But they also point to Jesus Christ as true King, and to rulers throughout all of history and even today who operate in ways that are far from the Kingdom ways of the Lord. No thought is given by all such rulers to the possibility that Jesus Christ is “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16) and that they are subject to His rule. They are expected to follow Christ as they lead others.

Since Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, He has the right, in fact the obligation, to execute justice with regards to those who rule:

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
(Psalm 2:4-9 NRSV emphasis mine)

Revelation makes the connection between Psalm 2 and Jesus quite clear:

15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:15-16 NRSV emphasis mine)

Keep reading in Revelation and you will learn what happens next to “the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty” (v18). It is not pretty.

Can you imagine that day, when the each ruler of the earth will stand before the judgement seat of Christ to give an account for how they ruled? Can you imagine the questions that will be posed to them?

  • Why did you not follow Me? Why did you not follow the example I set of servant leadership? I am the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep. Why did you not do likewise?
  • Why did you not lead people to Me? Is it not your duty as a leader, as a shepherd, to lead your people to greener pastures? Why did you instead plunge them into darkness?
  • Why are you making excuses? Did you not notice the greener pastures? Did you not see the positive impact My people have had in the world, wherever they have been truly following Me?
  • Why are you making excuses? Did you not notice how people have been following Me for many, many, many generations. Did you seriously think Christianity was just a passing fad? Did it never cross your mind that maybe your rule and your cause was the passing fad?
  • Did you stop to consider the positive impact upon your people had you drawn close to Me? The potential was too profound to ignore the possibilities.
  • Did you stop to consider the eternal implications for you in your relationship with Me? The potential was too profound to ignore the possibility.
  • Did you put any effort at all into exploring the evidence for My claim to being your Lord? Did you ponder the evidence for the truth of Christianity? As a leader, ought you not to have taken a lead in the most important questions ever asked?

Can you imagine it? And can you imagine what would happen if rulers everywhere would seriously explore the Christian faith? Can you imagine what kind of world we would live in if rulers everywhere would repent from their sins and turn to the Lord following the example of the Good Shepherd who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NRSV)?

Final questions: Are you aware that you have people in your realm of influence? Are you aware that you may be considered a ruler of this earth? Are you aware that those same questions could be posed to you?

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
with trembling 12 kiss his feet,
or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Happy are all who take refuge in him.
(Psalm 2:10-12 NRSV)

Let us pray for those who are living in darkness. Let us pray for the rulers who plunge or keep their people in darkness. Let us be encouraged that this world’s story is far from over and that darkness will give way to light. Let us pray that we will serve well, whenever and wherever we reign, and that in doing so we will reflect light into the lives of our families, friends, and enemies.

August 18, 2014

When Your Prayer Request List is Too Long

Post 1600I know there are days in our household when the list of prayer requests seems to be balloon out in size, and we feel we must be exasperating God with so many requests. Additionally, as I type this, to even list the countries of the world that are hotspots right now would take some time, especially if you are aware of key groups or individuals that need an extra blessing from God.

After a person has been around the church for awhile, they are often instructed that prayer is so much more than just asking for things for ourselves or on behalf of others. Using the ACTS model (acknowledgement, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) that would mean that additionally prayer should include:

  • a point of entry into conversation with God that recognizes who He is, His sovereignty over all things, His immense power, His majesty in creation, His knowing of all things, His holiness.
  • a confession of our sin, both individually and corporately
  • spoken recognition of the good things that life brings us as part of the general grace given to all of us, appreciation for blessings that might seem to be extra or undeserved

But then we are back at requests. The list seems so long. Should we do some editing? Just pray for certain people on certain days?

Scripture would seem to suggest not to hold back.  In Ephesians 6:18 we read:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

The phrases I want to highlight today are all occasions, all kinds of…requests, always keep on.

Of course sometimes we do not really know what we ought to pray. Should we pray for Mike and Carrie’s relationship to be restored, or is it better that they break the engagement now before they end up in a marriage that may not succeed? Should we pray for Shelley to get the job in Ohio when really, she should look for employment closer to home so she can keep helping her sister who really needs her?

I don’t know, don’t ask me!!

In I Corinthians 14:15 Paul says,

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding…

This verse bears on the subject of praying in tongues, which I know is controversial; but the Bible does suggest there are times when human words are inadequate. We see this again in Romans 8:26:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

The KJV uses, “groanings too deep for words.”

(We hear a lot about speaking in tongues, but not so much about ‘speaking in groans,’ though I’ve been in at least two churches where this was manifested.)

The key in these verses is where Paul says, “What shall I do?” (I Cor. passage) and “We do not know what…to pray for” (Romans passage).

Sometimes we just don’t know. We throw up our hands and surrender our total inadequacy to intercede in these situations.  Should we give up? I think a good place to resolve this is with our key verse again:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”  (Matt 7:7 HCSB; all other ref.s NIV)

August 17, 2014

Deceivers Can Be Deceptive

 

I Timothy 4:1 (NIV)

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 

At first glance this appears to be one of several verses discussing rising apostasy (falling away) in the last days. We can read this verse on that basis and clearly understand its main point.

But there’s something else going on here in the phrase “taught by demons.”

When we think of demons, we often think of movie images of slimy creatures in dank sewers with horrific sounding voices and threatening words.

When we think of teaching, we think of well-dressed men and women in well-lit classrooms speaking perfectly in clear voices all contained within the realm of the academic life of high schools or colleges or universities, or even seminaries.

We know that some teachers can be deceived, or misguided, or badly informed, but we ought to see the phrase “taught by demons” as somewhat oxymoronic. (“He’s on a Christian TV station and he’s wearing a tie; he must be trustworthy.”)

Nonetheless, The Enemy of our souls can appear quite respectable. II Timothy 3 (NKJV) states:

1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come…   having a form of godliness but denying its power.

It speaks of very self-centered people who, as The Message Bible puts it, “make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals.

II Cor. 11:13-15 (NLT) reminds us that Satan himself can appear on your doorstep appearing perfectly honorable, even supernaturally honorable:

These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness…

Just because someone has what appears to be ‘a teaching ministry’ does not mean you should turn off your discernment filters. You need to always be on the lookout because deception is…well…so deceptive.

Similarly, the Bible describes a situation where Jesus might be said to using his discernment filters in reference to humankind. I like how the [Old] Living Bible handles verse 25 in John 2:23-25; although it amplifies one particular phrase in ways the other translations do not, it really gets the point across:

23-25 Because of the miracles he did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many people were convinced that he was indeed the Messiah.   But Jesus didn’t trust them, for he knew mankind to the core. No one needed to tell him how changeable human nature is!

If human nature is that changeable, it means that even within the context of respectable Bible teaching an individual could be led astray and their core message change from truth to deception.

Don’t let appearances fool you.

August 16, 2014

“Perfectly” United?

Christian unity

1 Corinthians 1:10:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

One of the wonderful things that can take place online is when people who might normally disagree over certain issues are willing to set those differences aside and come together over a specific cause or concern. It shows that unity is possible even on days we don’t feel it’s very probable.

Even in my own writing, I often find myself disagreeing violently with some Christian authors or bloggers on certain things, and then a few days later, I will use one of their articles here at C201. I know that people who read both blogs must find this confusing; either that or think I’m schizophrenic.

But the verse in I Corinthians one is talking about perfect unity; the implication is that this would mean unity on all things.

But wait; there’s more! If we believe that Paul is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then it is God Himself who desires that we be “perfectly united in mind and thought.”  Surely there is some context to this verse (see yesterday’s post) that gives us some ‘wiggle room’ on this unity thing, right?

For A to agree with B on an issue, what personal preferences or doctrinal convictions might A have to concede on?

If I believe I am correct about a certain issue, would I be willing to lay that aside in order to be united with the “brothers and sisters” Paul mentions?

Think carefully before you answer those questions. It’s very noble to say, yes I’ll compromise on [substitutionary atonement, baptism of infants, post-Tribulation rapture] in order for us to attain unity, but you’re not truly going to do that with things you feel are part of core doctrine, or things you’ve spent the better part of a lifetime arguing in favor of.

Some would argue that the goal here is merely perfunctory, that Paul is trying to calm down certain quarreling that has erupted (see the next verse, v. 11) but it is interesting that two verses later, the picture he presents is so very similar to our present denominational structure:

12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

We get this today. Doctrinal identity often overshadows our Christian identity.

I don’t believe that denominations in and of themselves are a bad thing. Accountability is a good thing. There is strength in numbers. John Stumbo, president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination recently said this on the Phil Vischer podcast:

“With mounting pressure against the church of Jesus Christ in North America, it’s a great time to be part of a team”

Furthermore, we see certain distinctions very early on in the first century church. Some believe that in addition to the sects that Paul names in verse 12 above, that there was a group which followed the teachings of the Apostle John. And Paul himself, through his writings no doubt had his ‘Pauline’ followers; to this very day discussions exist as to distinctions between the message of the gospels (what Jesus taught) and the large percentage of the New Testament canon that bears Paul’s name (what Paul taught, that some imply as not necessarily having the inspiration of the Holy Spirit because of its different tenor from Jesus’ teachings.)

So this does get complicated, doesn’t it.

Perfect unity.

The words seem so easy.  Putting it into practice is much more difficult.

August 15, 2014

The Danger of Over-Contextualization

As I get older, I keep hearing that broadly-applied Bible verses are not the universal promises we believe them to be, but have specific contexts. “…Plans to give you a future and a hope…” appears on plaques and coffee mugs and if it doesn’t fit on a bookmark, creators of ‘inspirational giftware’ simply inscribe “Jeremiah 29:11″ the verse now being part of our collective consciousness like John 3:16 and Psalm 23:1.

The problem with this approach is that now the pendulum swings to the other extreme, we distance ourselves from ‘Bible promise’ verses lest they set us up for false hope. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick;” right?

In some cases this is just unnecessary caution. Maybe the Ephesian husbands needed to be told to love their wives (5:25) more than other people the Apostle Paul wrote to, but I cannot simply dismiss that with a, ‘Well that verse is for the Ephesians and doesn’t really apply to me.’

I say all this in the light of recent re-reading Romans 15:4

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Eugene Peterson translates this:

Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next.

At the blog reVer(sing) Verses:

In every time and era, there will probably be a select group of people who are against old teachings, considering them outdated and conservative. In the early church days, there were a lot of commotion about the conversion of Gentiles into the faith, and accommodating both Jews- with their numerous customs – and Gentiles – with their alien habits and beliefs, into the Church – especially in the church of Rome. Even till today, there are plenty of people who cannot accept some of the laws of the Old Testament, and claim it as out-dated and entirely redundant in this faith. Non-believers perhaps think that we are crazy for following the words of such an ancient book. We cannot assume that when Paul says ‘everything’, he refers to books and laws outside of the Bible – that would be too far and too unfair an assumption to make. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come [1 Cor 10:11].

…[continue reading a breakdown of the rest of the verse; click here]…

The blog Logos Walk touches on four keywords in the verse:

  • “Instruction”. What a child receives from parents to guide them into maturity along the right path.
  • “Perseverance”. Sticking with it regardless of the temporary circumstances, in order to attain an ultimate, worthwhile goal.
  • “Encouragement”. Support provided to sustain one’s will to continue persevering in the instruction they know will lead to the worthwhile goal not yet obtained.
  • “Hope”. The yet unattained worthwhile goal that is so real in it’s coming true that it is considered to be “future fact”.

A few years ago, Clay Gentry wrote about the context of the verse itself. That context is interesting because it bears on the issue of Old Testament law versus New Testament liberty, and the issue of the stronger brother deferring to the spiritual sensibility of the weaker brother.  Then he makes a conclusion which ties everything together so well:

There are two points of application that we should make from our examination of the context of Romans 15:4.

The first is, make sure you understand the context of a passage and the way the speaker/author used it before make applications and teachings from your chosen passage. While you may teach the truth, it’s always best to keep passage(s) in context so as to not go beyond what the speak/author intended. Remember, if it’s true there’s a passage that teaches it.

The second is, read the Old Testament. While the names, places, and events may seem foreign to us, there is a great wealth of knowledge and insight to be gained from the Old Testament. In keeping with the theme of dealing with weaker brethren you might read about how Joseph dealt with his brothers, or Moses dealt with the Children of Israel, or Nehemiah dealt with the people of Jerusalem when the walls were rebuilt. In reading these stories you’ll learn strategies for being patient and be comforted in that you too can deal with your weaker brethren. While we may not be justified by the Old Testament today Paul tells us we shouldn’t ignore it.

I hope that this has helped you see the richer meaning of God’s word. Keep on reading, keep on studying, and keep on praying for wisdom and understanding…

…[Go deeper with this study; read the whole article by clicking here]…

 

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