Christianity 201

July 23, 2014

The Quest for the Purple Fish

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:22 pm
Tags: , , ,

Before we begin, here is Psalm 23 in The Voice translation.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.
    He soothes my fears;
He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

You spread out a table before me,
    provisions in the midst of attack from my enemies;
You care for all my needs, anointing my head with soothing, fragrant oil,
    filling my cup again and again with Your grace.
Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me
    where I go, always, everywhere.
I will always be with the Eternal,
    in Your house forever.

In conjunction with Thursday’s review at Thinking Out Loud, I wanted to run an excerpt from Wisconsin pastor Mark O. Wilson’s book, Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus, a book about how everyone can develop a heart for fruitful evangelism. Using an anecdotal approach, Mark’s stories should provide the ‘nudge’ many need to step out of their familiar territory, their comfortable turf, and make a verbal declaration of their faith to coworkers, neighbors, extended family, and even complete strangers.  Perhaps you’re a regular reader here because you love the “201″ approach that gets into doctrine and theology but you may come up a bit short when it comes to sharing the hope within you with others. I encourage you to get this book, available in paperback from Wesleyan Publishing House.

“Can you come visit Harold?” the young woman pleaded.  “He’s dying of cancer.”

Purple Fish - Mark O. WilsonHarold was an ex-convict who had lived a violent godless life.

“Of course, Harold probably won’t receive you well,” she continued. “He’s likely to cuss up a storm and kick you out.  He’s done that already with a few hospice workers, but a visit from you might be good for him.”

I agreed to go and invited my friend, Randy, to come along as my bouncer.  I brought my Bible, anointing oil and a prayer shawl.

The young lady met us at the door of Harold’s bungalow.  “I told him you’re coming, but he’s shut down and won’t communicate.  I’m afraid you won’t get anywhere.”

In the living room, frail Harold sat hunched on the couch in his pajamas.  He didn’t look up.   “Harold, I’m Pastor Mark from the Wesleyan church, and this is Randy.  We came to encourage you today.”

No response from Harold.

“I brought a gift for you Harold.  It’s a prayer shawl.  Some wonderful women in our congregation make these, and while they knit, they pray for the ones who will receive them.  Would it be alright if I placed the shawl over your shoulders and prayed for you?”

Harold didn’t say anything.  He just sat there.  Since he didn’t say no, I took it as a yes.  Placing the soft shawl over his shoulders, I said, “Harold, if you don’t mind, I’d love to share some Scripture and anoint you with oil.  Then we’ll pray.”

Still no response, so I moved forward.

I opened my black leather Bible to Psalm 23, handed it to Randy, then gave the bottle of anointing oil to Harold’s friend.  “I would like for you to anoint Harold when Randy reads the part that says, ‘You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.’”

She seemed honored, though a bit nervous about doing it right.  I gave her simple instructions and she was ready to go.

Harold didn’t look up or say anything.

Randy read Psalm 23 with passion, and as he got to the fifth verse, the young lady reached forward tenderly, making a cross on Harold’s forehead.  Then I prayed.

Harold needed some faith, so I loaned him mine.  I prayed, on Harold’s behalf, for salvation, with as much faith as I could muster.  “Harold needs you, Lord.  Please come right now and help him.”  I asked God to forgive and cleanse all his sins.  I prayed for Harold to be completely enfolded in God’s gracious love and peace.  I concluded by thanking God for the depth and width of his mercy.

When I said amen, Rand whispered, “Look.”

A tear trickled down Harold’s wrinkled cheek.  He didn’t say a word., but that tear testified to something.

I remembered Philip Yancey’s observation, “Grace, like water, flows to the lowest part.”

Two days later, Harold died.  The family called to make funeral arrangements.  “Everything changed after you came,” they said.  “He settled into a deep peace and wasn’t agitated any longer.  It was exactly what Harold needed.  And here’s the most amazing thing. That prayer shawl you gave him?  He held it tightly and wouldn’t let go.  Even when we tried to take it from him, he just clung to it like a life preserver, and so it stayed wrapped over his shoulders till the moment he died.”

I was astounded.  When this man, who lived so far from God, passed away, he was wrapped in holy love.

Jesus is a friend of sinners.  He is not willing that any should perish and takes great measures to grant grace to needy souls.

The best way to share your faith is to loan it to someone who needs it.

“Come, every soul by sin oppressed; there’s mercy with the Lord, and he will surely give you rest by trusting in his Word.”

 

 

 

 

July 22, 2014

When God Tells Stories

Many times at Thinking Out Loud there have been references to the sometimes-controversial Rachel Held Evans, but it might surprise you to see her here at Christianity 201. However, she’s been blogging the Lectionary this year, and while the concept of what follows is, at one level, quite simple, I hope you’ll read what she writes and get lost in the wonder of how the Creator of the universe chooses to communicate with us.

To read at source, click here.

I’m blogging with the lectionary this year, and this week’s reading comes from Matthew 13:24-43:

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’ 

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!’

In the Gospel reading for this week, we learn that in the time between Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the events leading to his death and resurrection, the travelling teacher communicated through stories.  Matthew goes so far as to say “without a parable he told them nothing.”

It is an astounding detail when you think about it: The God of all creation, the One who knows every corner of the cosmos and fathoms every mystery, the One who could answer every theological riddle and who, I suspect, chuckles at our volumes of guesses, our centuries of pompous philosophical tomes debating His nature, when present in the person of Jesus Christ, told stories.

  • Stories about farming.
  • Stories about kneading bread.
  • Stories about seeds and trees and birds.
  • Stories that somehow, in their ordinary profundity, “proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

Jesus, who certainly could have filled volumes, favored riddles to lectures, metaphors to propositions, everyday language, images, and humor to stiff religious pontification. In a strange burst of joy, Jesus even exclaimed,  “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

Religious education is good and important, certainly. But it’s not as important as paying attention. It’s not as important as seeking the Kingdom in the quotidian rhythms of the everyday. It’s not as important as obedience. 

After all, Jesus didn’t come for the rich, the educated, or the right. Jesus came for those with listening ears and open eyes, those who are hungry for righteousness and thirsty for God, those comfortable with metaphors and similes and “almosts” and “not yets,” those content to understand without knowing fully, those with dirt in their fingernails and flour in their hair.

In Matthew 13, we encounter several parables all packed in together, each one worthy of a thousand different reflections. (The one about the seed that grows into a tree is one of my personal favorites.) Each of these parables features Jesus’ very favorite subject, the thing he spoke about more than any other: The Kingdom. 

The Kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed, Jesus said, that grows into an enormous tree with branches wide and strong enough to make a home for all the birds. It is like a buried treasure, a delicious feast, or a net that catches an abundance of fish. The Kingdom is right here, Jesus said. It is present and yet hidden, immanent yet transcendent. The Kingdom isn’t some far off place you go where you die, the Kingdom is at hand—among us and beyond us, now and not-yet. It is the wheat growing in the midst of weeds, the yeast working its magic in the dough, the pearl germinating in a sepulchral shell. It can come and go in the twinkling of an eye, Jesus said. So pay attention; don’t miss it.

This Kingdom knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture. It advances not through power and might, but through acts of love and joy and peace, missions of mercy and kindness and humility. This Kingdom has arrived, not with a trumpet’s sound but with a baby’s cries, not with the vanquishing of enemies but with the forgiving of them, not on the back of a war horse but on the back of a donkey, not with triumph and a conquest but with a death and a resurrection.

And yet there is more to this Kingdom that is still to come, Jesus said, and so we await a day when every tear will be wiped from every eye, when swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears shaped into a pruning hooks, when justice will cascade like a river down a mountain and righteousness like a never-ending stream, when people from every tribe and tongue and nation will live together in peace, when there will be no more death.

On this week when our newspapers reveal the ugly reality that evil and good grow alongside one another—in the world and even in our own hearts—the parable of the wheat and the weeds seems especially weighty. As reports of civilian casualties mount, we see that, just as Jesus warned, human attempts to “root out evil” on our own, by force, result in the destruction of innocent lives. 

Every. Single. Time. 

Like it or not, this parable challenges, (perhaps even mocks), our notion of “precision airstrikes,” of getting rid of the “bad guys” without hurting the “good guys.” The fact is, we don’t see the world as God sees it. We are not equipped to call the shots on who deserves to live and who deserves to die, who is evil and who is good—especially when, if we’re honest, we can feel both impulses coursing through our own bloodstreams.

While we could certainly digress into an eschatological conversation about exactly what Jesus means when he talks about throwing evildoers into the fire, the instructive call of this parable remains the same: to let God do the farming. God is the judge—not you, not me, not kings, not presidents.

“Without a parable, he told them nothing.” 

Yet still we struggle to understand. Still we struggle to obey.

Two-thousand years after Matthew recorded these parables about seeds and wheat and yeast, we’re still combing our theology books for answers. We’re still talking about airstrikes and minimizing civilian casualties. We’re still seeking power and vengeance, knowledge and stuff.

In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle tells of a young woman who told the author, “I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was eight or nine. I didn’t understand it, but I knew what it was about.”

That’s often how I feel about the parables of Jesus. I don’t understand them exactly, but I know what they’re about.

L’Engle concludes: “…One does not have to understand to be obedient. Instead of understanding—that intellectual understanding which we are so fond of—there is a feeling of rightness, of knowing, knowing things which you are not yet able to understand…As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain.” 

The God of the universe has beckoned us into His lap to tell us a story, to teach us to pay attention.

Let those with ears hear.

July 21, 2014

Our Free Will with Respect to Sin

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:59 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The questions of free will, election, predestination, etc., are very confusing to some and very divisive to others. Not every article posted at Christianity 201 agrees with my position, and sometimes in the same month, there are articles posted by writers who would disagree with each other.

In many respects, this does not concern me at all. I believe that as we immerse ourselves in the scripture, we end up better able to formulate our own views on such matters, and better equipped to clearly articulate those views to others. Even if you’ve already reached your own conclusions, it is good to stay exposed to the writings of others.

I have a great deal of respect for R. T. Kendall. In writing what follows, which was posted back in April, he noted that some people simply assumed that he was in one particular camp on this issue, and wanted to state for the record what he believed.  To read the article at source, click the title below.  To look up the scriptures in today’s article, copy and paste the references below at the top of the page at Bible Hub.

The Sovereignty of God

Does man have a free will? Answer: yes and no. Martin Luther (1483-1546) said “No” in his book The Bondage of the Will. Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) said “Yes” in his book Freedom of the Will. But Edwards’s thesis is that, whereas man is free to do what he wants to do, what is it he invariably wants to do? Answer: by nature he always has a proneness to evil. We love darkness rather than light because our deeds are evil (John 3:18). So Luther and Edwards came to the same conclusion: man is not free after all.

We must bring St Augustine (354-430) into the mix. His famous “four stages” of man are very relevant:

Stage One: man was born posse pecarre  – able to sin.

Stage Two: after the fall man is non posse non pecarre – not able not to sin.

Stage Three: after conversion man is posse non pecarre – able not to sin.

Stage Four: after glorification – non posse pecarre – not able to sin.

It is Augustine’s second stage that we should be mainly concerned with: the state of humankind after the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is granted that Adam and Eve had free will when they were first created but that was before their Fall. Everything changed after the Fall. So what of their seed – as in Able, Cain, Seth – and all of us? The answer: we are all born unable not to sin.

So is man free? Before the Fall, yes. After the Fall, no.

Does this teaching upset you?

Paul says were born “dead” in trespasses and sins (Eph.2:1). A dead man can do nothing unless infused with life from the Sovereign Redeemer. Try speaking to a dead man! He cannot answer because he cannot hear.

Paul also says we were born “blind” (2 Cor.4:4). A blind man cannot see unless given sight by the Sovereign Redeemer. Try trying to get a blind man to see! He cannot see because he is blind.

The issue regarding the free will of man is: are people born as Adam was before the Fall? No. We are all born in sin. I was shaped in iniquity, in sin did my mother conceive me (Psa.51:5). We were born speaking lies from our mother’s womb (Psa.58:3). This is why you don’t need to teach a child to do wrong. You do have to teach him or her to do what is right.

The only way we come to faith is for God Himself to impart faith.

Question: does one believe before he is regenerated? If regeneration means being “born again”, it means one must be given life before he or she can believe. It is not believing that precipitates the new birth; it is the new birth that enables one to believe and repent.

After Adam and Eve sinned they were ejected from the Garden of Eden. The cherubim were placed their to keep them out (Gen.3:24). We have been kept out ever since. Only God can bring one to faith.

But does God bring everybody to faith? Apparently not. Not all people believe, not all have faith. Who has it and who doesn’t have it? Those who have faith are given it by the gracious hand of a Sovereign God. A man can receive nothing unless it is given him from Heaven (John 3:27). “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (Jas.1:18 – ESV).

Does this surprise you? Does this offend you? And yet it is clearly what Jesus taught. No one can come to Him unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). The Son lives life to whom He will (John 5:21). No one knows the Son except those to whom the Son “chooses” to reveal Him (Matt.11:27). According to Luke, those who were “ordained” (KJV) or “appointed” (NIV) to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).  Some think that Luke meant that those who believe were ordained to eternal life. Had Luke said that it would have been true. But that is not what he said. He said that those who were appointed to eternal life believed.

I pointed Acts 13:48 out to a Greek professor at my Seminary many years ago. He insisted that all who believe are appointed to eternal life. But I pointed out that Luke said only those who were “appointed” believed. He replied: “I know, but I don’t agree with Luke”.

The question is: will you believe the plain reading of Holy Scripture? Or do we read in what we want to believe into Holy Scripture?

You will ask: If God makes the choice, why does He not choose everybody? You tell me. The nearest you get to the answer to that question is Jesus’ own response to this: it was the Father’s will – it seemed “good” in His sight (Matt.11:26-27).

Don’t try to figure this out! Do you understand the Trinity? No. But do you not believe that God is in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit? I hope you do.

Dr. J. I. Packer (one of my mentors at Oxford University) called all this an “antinomy” in his classic little book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. An antinomy is parallel principles that seem irreconcilable but both being true. For example, is Jesus 50% God and 50% man or 100% God and 100% man? The answer is: Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. So too with the sovereignty of God and man’s moral responsibility: God is 100% the Author of salvation, and yet man is 100% responsible for his or her condition.

Whosoever will may come. Whoever is thirsty comes. But who makes a person thirsty? God. Who disdains the way of salvation? Those who refuse to believe.

As for the popular idea that man is a “free moral agent”, I would point out: (1) man is not free; he is in dominion to sin. (2) He is not moral; the heart is deceitful above all things and incurably wicked (Jer.l7:9). And (3) man is not the agent; the Holy Spirit is the agent (John 6:63).

If we get to Heaven, it will be by the sheer grace of God. If we refuse the Gospel we are to blame – not God. It is an antinomy.

I have written this blog partly because it has come to me of late that many of those who read my tweets and blogs have not been aware of my views of the sovereignty of God. Perhaps this should not have surprised me, but it did.

Now you know. After delivering His “hard sayings”, Jesus asked, “Do you take offense at this?” (John 6:61). Many of His followers did.  “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66).
 

RT Kendall

July 20, 2014

Murmuring and Complaining

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:38 pm
Tags: , , ,

Today’s devotion was sourced at Christian Blessings, where they in turn “borrowed” it from the Institute for Christian Research.

Murmurers and Complainers
These people are grumblers and complainers, living only to satisfy their desires. They brag loudly about themselves, and they flatter others to get what they want.
(Jude 1:16)

Jude’s book cites several incidents in the early history of Israel right after they were wonderfully delivered from slavery in Egypt. Within a very short time, they had come through the Red Sea, had bitter water made sweet, seen water come out of a rock, and been fed with “angels’ food” from heaven. Yet when the 12 spies came back from the land of Canaan that had been promised to them, there was a widespread revolt against God and against Moses’ leadership.

The ten spies who “murmured” against God “died by the plague before the LORD” (Numbers 14:37). Some who had previously sided with the defeatist words of the spies tried to take matters into their own hands and “presumed to go up” to fight against the Canaanites and were killed or scattered (Numbers 14:44-45).

Much of the history of Israel is marked by various ways of turning away from God. Psalm 81 provides a good summary of how God sees this behavior: “I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels” (Psalm 81:10-12).

Jude uses a rather unusual word picture to describe those who use others for their personal advantage. They speak “great swelling words” to gain the association. The Greek word is huperogkos, which conveys something like “beyond weight” or “too heavy.” The words are coming from hearts that are lustful and attempting to manipulate others for their own benefit. It appears that those who “murmur” and “complain” will use “heavy” words to achieve their ends. HMM III

From Institute for Creation Research

July 19, 2014

Repetition in Scripture: Poetry or Emphasis?

Case for the PsalmsI am currently working my way devotionally through N. T. Wright’s second-newest book, The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential. Today I looked back at a section in the introduction that has been sticking with me:

The Psalms rely for their effect on the way they set out the main themes. They say something from one angle and then repeat it from a different angle.

NRSV Psalm 33:6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    and all their host by the breath of his mouth.

Psalm 78:2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
    I will utter dark sayings from of old,

Psalm 139:3 You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even when this doesn’t happen line by line, it often happens between different sections of a psalm or in the balance of the collection, or a part of it, as a whole.

The important point here is that some of the most important things we want to say remain just a little beyond even our best words. The first sentence is a signpost to the deep reality, the second a signpost from a slightly different place. The reader is invited to follow both and to see the larger, unspoken truth looming up behind. This means that only can the effect be maintained in translation, but the effect itself is one of the deepest things the Psalms are doing, making it clear that the best human words point beyond themselves to realities that transcend even high poetic description.

But then, Wright makes another observation — in parenthesis — that really got me thinking:

(Something similar is achieved elsewhere in the Bible — for instance in the provision in Genesis for two creation stories, offering two picture-language images for a reality that lies beyond either.)

Let’s look at that:

NIV Genesis 1:1  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters…

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Genesis 2:4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth[a] and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams[b] came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man[c] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

  1. Genesis 2:5 Or land; also in verse 6
  2. Genesis 2:6 Or mist
  3. Genesis 2:7 The Hebrew for man (adam) sounds like and may be related to the Hebrew for ground (adamah); it is also the name Adam (see verse 20).

One thing I have been taught from my youth is that where the scripture provides emphasis, the emphasis is there for a reason. It can happen within a single phrase. The angels don’t cry “holy;” they cry “holy, holy, holy.”  (Another author has more examples in this list.)

While I have no particular Bible-and-science agenda here, I think it is interesting that in today’s climate of creation controversy and a divided Christian community on the subject of creation — old earth creation, new earth creation, theistic evolution, etc. — that God would choose that the story should appear twice. What are we not to miss?

Sometimes the Bible seems to sanction repetition and sometimes it does not. We’re told in the introduction to The Lord’s Prayer not to keep repeating the same prayers over and over again, but in a Catholic article, written to defend the use of the rosary, the author appeals to the Psalms, stating,

Take Psalm 119… It is the longest psalm in the Bible, having 176 verses. On the whole, the psalm is a persistent repetition of the main theme, that is, of the excellence of keeping the law of God. It makes an excellent meditation and prayer of repetition — like the rosary — beautiful, pious, and thoroughly biblical.

(The article does make some points worth considering, though to many Evangelicals, the chanting of the Hail Mary prayer seems more pagan than Christian.)

Another author breaks down the variants of repetition we encounter in an article on Puritan Hermeneutics:

…Today I am typing out my notes from John Arrowsmith’s exposition of John 1:1-18.  It is entitled, ” Theanthropos, God made Man.”  I came across a very nice little hermeneutical discussion on what repetition signifies in Scripture.  In sum, Arrowsmith writes:

1.         In prayer repetition serves to express fervency and earnestness. Matthew 26:44

2.         In prophecies repetition serves to note the certainty of them.  Genesis 41:22

3.         In threats repetition indicates unavoidableness and, perhaps, suddenness.  Ezekiel 21:27

4.         In precepts repetition serves to note a necessity in performing them.  Psalm 47:6

5.         In truths repetition serves to show the necessity of believing them and of knowing them.  John 3:3, 5, 17

My point today is that when we encounter repetition in scripture it’s important not to simply say, “at this point the writing has moved into a poetic form;” but rather to say, “this repetition is for a reason, maybe God is trying to tell me something!

 

 

 

July 18, 2014

Right Attitudes Toward Money

ESV Proverbs 28:6 Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity
    than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.

ESV Proverbs 19:22 What is desired in a man is steadfast love,
    and a poor man is better than a liar.

NIV Proverbs 18:11 The wealth of the rich is their fortified city;
    they imagine it a wall too high to scale.

NIV Proverbs 23:4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
    do not trust your own cleverness. 

NLT Proverbs 28:27 Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing,
    but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed.

ESV Proverbs 19:17 Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord,
    and he will repay him for his deed.

Yesterday morning James MacDonald concluded a two part series on wisdom in handling money.  Some of the scriptures he used are listed above.  You can listen to the audio for both this and the message which preceded it.

What struck me however was something that James said at the end when he talked about giving God the “first fruits” of our income. Of course, this was an agricultural society and “first fruits” meant that yes, you brought a bushel of apples to church! But today we have currency as a medium of exchange.

ESV Proverbs 3:9 Honor the Lord with your wealth
    and with the firstfruits of all your produce;

But then he pointed out that this is part of a trio of firsts that belong to God.

  • The first day of the week
  • The first hour of the day
  • The first part of my income

He said that just as one day a week to rest is an eternal principle, so also is giving first fruits to God an eternal principle.

10 then your barns will be filled with plenty,
    and your vats will be bursting with wine.

While it’s true that we’re not supposed to test God, there is one area where we are told to do so:

Malachi 3:10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

James concluded with this verse:

NASB Proverbs 11:24 There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more,
And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.

Remember the illustration of the monkey with its hand in the jar. It wants the banana, but as long as its fist is clenched, it can’t get the banana. The proverb is teaching this:Those who are generous with what they have never run lack; it seems to increase; but those who hold on to it tightly are always in crisis.

Conclusion: His major points about money from the 2-part series:

  • Gain it honestly
  • Esteem it accurately
  • Share it generously

 

July 17, 2014

Scripture Demands the Highest Work Ethic

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:49 pm
Tags: , , ,

A year ago we introduced you to David Brumbelow, who blogs at West Coast Pastor.  This article appeared back in April; click the title to read at source.

The Christian Work Ethic

I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man. -Proverbs 24:30-34

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. -Exodus 20:8-9

A man had trouble sleeping. He told his doctor, “I sleep fine at night, and I sleep pretty well in the morning. But in the afternoon I just toss and turn.”

Perhaps we should all go back and read the Little Golden Book about The Little Red Hen.

Some responsibilities are yours alone. Some struggles you are going to have to deal with. Work hard; provide for your family; serve the Lord; give to church and to others. Also get some rest and fun along the way. Make this world a little better, because you were here.

For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. -2 Thessalonians 3:10-11

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. -1 Timothy 5:8

See also: Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Proverbs 10:4; 12:24, 27; 13:4; 21:5; 23:21; 27:23; John 9:4; 1 Corinthians 9:7; 10:31; 1 Timothy 5:18.

The Message Bible restates the text:

One day I walked by the field of an old lazybones,
and then passed the vineyard of a lout;
They were overgrown with weeds,
thick with thistles, all the fences broken down.
I took a long look and pondered what I saw;
the fields preached me a sermon and I listened:
“A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there,
sit back, take it easy-do you know what comes next?
Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life,
with poverty as your permanent houseguest!” MSG

At the blog of Palmerston Evangelical Missionary Church, Canadian Pastor Phil DesJardine writes the following. Click the title to read the article in full.

Proverbs 22-24: Eyes to see

…Proverbs 24:30-34 talks about a situation where the field of a slacker is observed by a passer by, a field overgrown with thorns and weeds, a vineyard with a broken wall destined to produce a poor crop.As a side note, the broken wall was significant because crops had to be protected from wandering vagabonds as well as wandering and wild livestock. It would be terrible for a vineyard to be picked over by a herd of deranged sheep on the lamb.  HA! (yes, I know how bad that was).

Then the author says this: “I SAW and took it to heart”

He had eyes to see. He perceived the state of the slackers field, he saw the connection between the state of the field and the lack of motivation by the owner, and he took that information into his heart and mind as informative about life and how to live it. He had eyes to see.

So many in life lack that ability to see situations in life and learn from them or hear words of correction and actually pay heed to them (the Proverbs has lots to say about the wise listening to correction, but the fool ignoring it).

Let me encourage you, make asking the Holy Spirit to give you eyes to see and ears to hear part of your prayer life. It is part of allowing the Spirit to speak, guide and correct us. You won’t be sorry!

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture?  What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now?  Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

 

July 16, 2014

Our Work Revealed By Fire

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:44 pm
Tags: , , ,

Today I was drawn to this passage:

“The work of each one will become plainly and openly known; for the day of Christ will disclose and declare it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test and critically appraise the character and worth of the work each person has done. If the work which any person has built on this Foundation survives this test, he will get his reward. But if any person’s work is burned up under the test, he will suffer the loss of it all, losing his reward, though he himself will be saved, but only as one who has passed through the fire.” (I Corinthians 3:13-15)

Through a long process, I ended up at Superior Word, the blog of Charlie Garrett who took this passage in some interesting directions.  I invite you to read this at source by clicking this link.

 

…each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 1 Corinthians 3:13

Paul is now speaking of anyone who builds on the foundation, which is Christ. Therefore, as noted in the preceding verse, he is speaking of saved believers regardless of the soundness of their work. Having noted six different metaphors concerning their work, he now says that “each one’s work will become clear.” Those people who teach incorrectly will be shown where their faults were; those who taught what is right and in accord with sound doctrine will likewise be so informed.

A great example of what Paul is speaking of today is how modern Israel is perceived. The doctrine of dispensationalism teaches that despite being out of God’s favor due to their rejection of Christ, Israel’s time of punishment will end and Christ will return to Israel after the Tribulation period refines them. From Jerusalem, and in the midst of His people Israel, He will reign for a thousand years.

Reformed theologians, for the most part, dismiss this and believe that the church has replaced Israel. To them, the 1000-year reign of Christ mentioned in Revelation is merely symbolic of the entire church age; not a literal time-frame, but simply a number which represents “fullness.”

Both of these cannot be right. Both sides truly believe they are correct and they find the opposing view incredible to even contemplate. In the end, proponents of both views will stand before the Lord and this, along with all their other correct or incorrect doctrine, will be evaluated. At that time “the Day will declare it.” This means that when the judgment of believers for rewards and losses are handed out, in that Day, the declaration for right doctrine will be proclaimed and the declaration for the faulty will also be called out.

Paul says that the reason it will occur is “because it will be revealed by fire.” In Revelation 2:18, we read this comment about the Lord -

“These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass.”

The “eyes like a flame of fire” speak of His ability to seek out and determine all things, burning away that which is of no value. The “feet like fine brass” speaks of judgment. It is at the Judgment Seat of Christ that the evaluation of each man’s efforts will be made. He alone will determine the truth of matters such as dispensationalism by “the fire” which “will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

The marvelous thing about Christ’s judgment is that it will be perfectly fair and it will be perfectly just. No soul will come before Him for judgment and leave feeling as if he had received unfair treatment. Instead, he will realize the error of his faults. Another beautiful aspect of what is involved in this judgment is the fact that we were given, in advance, the necessary tools to determine what our judgment will be!

In the giving of the Bible, we have been handed His instruction manual for life, doctrine, and practice. It is up to us to rationally, fairly, and competently evaluate those doctrines which are presented and then to reject those which are faulty. In the end, we can be as right as we want or as wrong as we want. We can pray about, study, meditate on, and proclaim God’s word competently, or we can trust other’s findings and hope they were right.

Of what eternal value is sitting on the computer playing games, watching an endless succession of television shows, or heading out to the mall day after day for shopping? And yet, we pursue these at the expense of right doctrine! Let us be prepared at our judgment, which is coming, for that which lasts.

Life application: How sure are you about which type of baptism is correct? Are you trusting the Bible or tradition? If the Bible, are you properly evaluating baptism’s symbolism and purpose? This is one of a zillion things that you will be evaluated on. Read, study, be approved!

Magnificent and splendid God! Someday I will stand before Jesus Christ for my judgment. On that day, the doctrine I held to, the things I taught concerning Your word, and the decisions I made about the standards You have given in Your word will all be exposed before me. Those things of value will stand. The others will be burned away in the fire. Give me the heart now, Lord, to study and be approved on that awesome Day. Amen.

July 15, 2014

You and Your Pastor

Twice before we’ve featured the writing of Scott McCown here, but sadly, it’s been awhile.  I visited his blog, The Morning Drive recently and ended up wishing I could post a whole handful of articles. I ended up going back this one which talks about the relationship you (individually and corporately) have with your minister/pastor/preacher.  Please click through and read this at source; click the title below.

Your Preacher

preacherA while ago, Adam Faughn asked me to write and article about preaching for his blog: Faughn Family of Four. As I was looking through some files I came across the article and updated it for today’s blog post.

About three years ago I posted a question on a Social Networking Q&A site. The question was, “What do you expect from your minister (preacher)? One answer stood out as the answerer simply described the preacher where she worships. I thought I would begin by sharing that answer with you:

First and foremost, he is someone who is dedicated to following Christ. He cares more about people than image, he is a servant rather than a celebrity. He is not power-hungry, but is willing to delegate tasks and trust people, even when they do things differently than he would have them done. He is willing at times to say “no” and make sacrifices so that he is able to meet the emotional needs of his family.

  • He is willing to admit when he’s made a mistake. And he is also quick to forgive those around him. As a member, it is easier for me to grow in Christ because I know that I am deeply, genuinely loved. That I am accepted as is, but encouraged to grow.
  • He has close, open friendships where he is able to be honest about anything in his life. He honors and respects his wife.
  • He is willing to laugh at himself, and by his example I have learned a little about how to laugh at myself too. In his sermons he passes on stories that lift people up–nice things his wife, children, and folks in the congregation have done…
  • He sees people for who they are. He is not a big talker, but he is an encourager and a good listener.
  • He tries to model his ministry after the image of Jesus washing His disciples feet. He makes it his goal to always be the lowest person in the room, to always be serving those around him, just as Christ served us and gave himself for us.
  • He prays. He prays a lot. And he devours the scripture.
  • He isn’t trying to share some sort of theoretical faith he’s learned about in his head. Rather, it’s a faith he is living–”join me in following Christ.”
  • He sees himself as equipping all members for ministry. He is not there to entertain us or to make us happy; he is there to help, teach, and encourage us, so that we can be the best ministers we can be to those around us in whatever role we find ourselves in.

The Apostle Paul was in many ways a “pulpit preacher.” He spent three years located and serving with the Church in Ephesus. He describes his time there to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. By looking at his words, we can get an idea of what the pulpit is about: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:18-21, 27b – ESV).

Paul instructs a younger minister, his son in faith, Timothy, encouraging him in the following ways:

“ . . . For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth – 1 Tim 2:5-7.

. . . But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness – 1 Tim 6:11.

. . . Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth – 2 Tim 2:15.

. . . Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will – 2 Tim 2:23-36.

. . . preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry – 2 Tim 4:2-5.”

Here is what we learn from the Scriptures:

The Pulpit is not:

  • A venue for your soap box or personal point of view.
  • An avenue to vent anger or to speak to one individual’s struggle.
  • A place to push your political standings. There are times to take moral stands, but preach the morality issue and do not make it a political speech. Do not tell people how to vote, tell them what God says and let them decided what to do.
  • A way to make a living. You can make a living while filling a pulpit, but do not enter ministry just to make a living. My Bible College instructors were quick to tell us if we could make a living doing something else, then do it.

What the local congregation can (should) expect:

  1. Sound teaching: Make sure you are expounding the text and not reading into the text what you already believe.
  2. Studied material: A good sermon takes time to study, write, review, edit, and reflect before presentation.
  3. Significance: Sermons should have an impact on people lives. Messages need to have significance to the listener. This requires knowledge of peoples lives by being available to them.
  4. Simplicity: Theological babble sounds good and impresses other preachers at lectureships, but keep weekly sermons simple. The educational level in most congregation varies from children to well educated adults. Try to reach each group where they are.
  5. Servant mentality: A preacher is not the controlling officer of the congregation. He is a servant of the congregation where he worships and works. Look for opportunities and be ready to serve when called upon.

What the local congregation should return (pulpit can expect)

  1. Time to study: Those that fill the pulpit full-time receive support so that they can spend extra time in study. A number of years ago I stopped referring to the room I use at the building or the area of my home as my office, but as my study. When someone asks me if I have “office hours” I reply, “I am usually in my study at the building” during certain hours. Using the word study lets them know what I am doing while there, and keeps me from becoming a manager of church affairs.
  2. Taking lessons to heart and action: I love the story about a preacher who presented a lesson on Going the Second Mile in Love. One lady who always complained about others not treating her well, shook his hand saying, “that was a great lesson.” “Thank you,” he replied, “How are you going to put love in action this week?”
  3. Toleration: One person cannot be in more than one place at a time. “I called the building, but no one answered” and “That preacher never visits” are expectations that should not co-exist, but do.
  4. Togetherness in service: Every member is a servant “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another . . .” 1 Pet 4:10.

July 14, 2014

Good Deeds: Pre-Conversion vs. Post-Conversion

Today we’re visiting the weblog Canon Fodder, written by Dr. Michael Kruger, the President and Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC. to look at an interesting topic. This was suggested by a reader; if you see something online we might enjoy, be sure to suggest it.  As always you’re encouraged to read entries here at their source blog, and then look around. Just click the title below:

A Word of Encouragment to Those in Ministry: God Does Not View Your Labors as “Filthy Rags”

by Dr. Michael J. Kruger

When it comes to our justification–our legal standing before God–our own good works are in no way the grounds of God’s declaration that we are “righteous.”  Indeed, that is the very thing that makes the gospel good news.  We are saved not by what we have done, but by what Christ has done.  We are accepted by God not because of our works, but in spite of them.

But what does God think of our good works after we are saved?  Here is where, unfortunately, Christians often receive mixed messages.  Somewhere along the way we have begun to believe that our pride is best held in check, and God’s grace is most magnified, when we denigrate all our efforts and all our labors as merely “filthy rags” in the sight of God (Is 64:6) .

what God delights inBut does God really view the Spirit-wrought works of his own children in such a fashion?  Is God pleased with only Christ’s work, and always displeased with our own?

Not at all.  Time and time again, the Scriptures show that God is pleased with the righteousness deeds of the saints.  God was pleased with  Noah: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Gen 6:9).  God was pleased with Zechariah and Elizabeth: “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). Christ was pleased with Mary’s gift of perfume (Mark 14:6), a deed he called “beautiful.” Christ was pleased with the widows offering: “She put in more than all of them” (Luke 21:3).

Indeed, one could say that the entire “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11  is a catalog of the great deeds of the saints that are held up by the Scriptures as noteworthy.  Think of all that was done by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David, Samuel, and others.  Are all their deeds “filthy rags” in God’s sight?

Of course, we should not be surprised that God is pleased with the good works of his people.  As Hebrews 11:1-2 tells us, God is pleased with these works precisely because they were done out of faith. They are good works that are generated from the work of God’s own Spirit in the hearts of the saints (Eph 2:10).  Sure, they are not perfect works–they are always tainted by sin to some degree.  And yes, we cannot think for a moment that they merit salvation. They do not. But, they are the works of God’s own sons and daughters and he delights in them.

This larger biblical context can provide the proper framework for understanding the intent of passages like Is 64:6.  The “filthy rags” in this passage is not a reference to the Spirit-wrought works of the regenerate, but the outward religious grandstanding of the wicked (see Isaiah 58).  This understanding allows John Piper to say the following:

It is terribly confusing when people say that the only righteousness that has any value is the imputed righteousness of Christ.  I agree that justification is not grounded on any of our righteousness, but only the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.  But sometimes people are careless and speak disparagingly of all human righteousness, as if there were no such thing that pleased God. They often cite Isaiah 64:6 which says our righteousness is as filthy rags…[But] when my sons do what I tell them to do—I do not call their obedience “filthy rags” even if it is not perfect.  Neither does God. All the more because he himself is “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight” (Hebrews 13:21).  He does not call his own, Spirit-wrought fruit, “rags” (Future Grace, 151-152).

In a similar fashion, the Westminster Confession offers a wonderfully balanced perspective on how God views the good works of his own people:

Yet notwithstanding, the person of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works are also accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreproveable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward  that which is sincere, although accompanied by many weaknesses and imperfections (WCF 16.6).

This recognition that God’s delight in the works of his people is not, as some might think, a recipe for pride, but rather a tremendous (and much needed) encouragement to those of us who are laboring in ministry.  Truth be told, ministry can be difficult.  Our efforts can seem futile.  We often find ourselves spent and exhausted.

What a refreshment to our souls to know that our father in heaven actually delights in these labors.  It is like salve on our blisters, and a balm to our aching muscles to know that he is pleased with the faith-driven works of his children.

He is like a Father who sees the painting his five-year old brought home from school.  He doesn’t pour scorn on the effort because it is not a Rembrandt.  Instead, he takes the painting, with all its flaws, and sticks it on the refrigerator for all to see.

Indeed, it is this very hope–that God might be pleased with our labors–that Jesus lays out as a motive for us in our ministries.   For our hope is that one day we might hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:23).

July 13, 2014

Seeking the Person of Peace

Luke 9 and 10, along with Matthew 10, deal with the instructions Jesus gives to his disciples before sending them out in two-by-two ministry teams.  One of those instructions is that when they arrive in the town, they are to look for, depending on which translation you use, a “person of peace” or “man of peace” or “son of peace.”

The NIV reads,

If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.

If you read the extended Matthew Henry notes for verses 1-16, you get the very strong impression that the thrust of this passage is that, as they go on their way, the disciples are to search for fertile ground for their message.

This in itself is rather confusing, because we know that, in the parable of the sower, the seed is scattered widely and lands on soil not amenable to growth, soil vulnerable to the elements, and good soil. The disciples seem to be told to go to areas that are already receptive to their message.

As an aside: Have you ever wondered why it seems that so many churches are planted in certain areas creating a glut of houses of worship in those places, while there is dearth of churches in other parts of the country? I recently heard people joking about doing a church plant in Atlanta because, tongue-in-cheek, “Atlanta really needs more churches.”  It does beg the question as to why it appears there is so much activity in some parts of North America, while others seem to be in great need.

The other aspect of this story that should be piquing your curiosity concerns what Jesus sent these disciples out to do. We know that 20th century Evangelism methodology included sending people out two-by-two to knock on doors on residential areas. Further into the 1900s, this method got ‘trademarked’ by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter Day Saints (Mormons) to the point where Evangelicals simply stopped doing door-to-door ministry.

But their message was not Christ Jesus crucified, dead, buried for their sins and then risen again defeating death.  Jesus had not yet suffered and died. Jesus had not yet risen from the dead. Their message was, at best, an echo of their rabbi, his twist on familiar ethics as per the Sermon on the Mount; a message of turning from sin, the message that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Still, their apostolic ministry serves as a model for us and the key to that model is that they were sent out in utter dependence upon God.

So while we’ve left some unanswered questions here, I want to move on to why I was focused on this passage today.  As I left for a morning worship gathering, part of my goal was that God would lead me for someone to interact with either before or after the service per se, and the phrase person of peace flashed into my mind, even though I was fully aware of this phrase’s use in an evangelism model.

In the process, I uncovered the following which appears on several different websites. If someone knows where it originates, I will give proper credit.

When it comes to sharing their faith, most people aren’t strategic. Jesus, however, was very strategic in how he modeled evangelism and sharing the Gospel. In fact, He gave us a template for sharing our faith – and yet most people don’t know what that template is.
What Jesus sends the disciples to do is look for the person of peace…and that method is a reproducible strategy. We see it in Luke 9 when Jesus sends out the 12. We see it in the book of Acts with Peter and Cornelius, Paul and Lidia, Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch looking for these people who are people of peace.

6 Marks of a Person of Peace

And what we see in scripture is the person of peace is the one who welcomes you, who will receive who you are, who is open to you, open to what you have to say about Jesus, open to the life you live because of Jesus.

But they’re also someone who serves you. So often when we’re seeking to minister we want to do everything for somebody else, but the person of peace often wants to make a contribution in some way.

So, a person of peace will be one who

  • welcomes you
  • receives you
  • is open to you
  • will be open to what you have to say about Jesus
  • is open to the life you live because of Jesus
  • serves you

A person of peace could be a passing relationship. Sometimes a person of peace is a permanent relationship. But the real question is, “Who are your people of peace?”

Who are the people of peace who are open to you, who welcome you, who serve you, and then you will see that the Kingdom of God is nearby.

That’s a whole lot of things to think about today.  I look forward to your emails and blog comments. For more study review Matthew 10 and Luke 10.

July 12, 2014

“I Follow Paul” “I Follow Christ”

ESV I Cor. 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

NIV I Cor. 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

 

The dialog I chose as a title for today’s thoughts was probably pretty typical in the days of the early church, and the tributaries of that discussion still run through the church today.  Clark Bunch tackled this earlier this week and gave us permission to use it here. To see the article at source, and especially to engage with the comments that followed, click the title below.

A Defense of the Apostle Paul

by Clark Bunch

Saul of Tarsus developed quite a reputation in the world of the early Christian church, zealously hunting down those who taught and preached in the name of Christ. He was on his way to Damascus, with arrest letters from the Jerusalem Sanhedrin in hand, when he had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul he became one of the most prolific church planters and writers of the first century; 14 of the 26 New Testament books are his letters (epistles) to various individuals and churches.

But here’s the rub: Do we today make too much of Paul? Does our attention become Paul-centered rather than Christ centered? Just because he wrote many epistles that become a major component of the New Testament, is everything Paul wrote the Word of God? Which is why I propose a defense of Paul to consider and respond to these criticisms.

It is human nature to pick favorites. And just like baseball fans have a favorite team, a favorite pitcher, or a favorite park, Christians becomes “fans” of particular leaders. I would rather listen to John Piper than Joel Osteen (but that has more to do with theology than fandom). In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul responds to reports that some in the church are saying “I follow Paul” while others mention Apollos, Cephas, and even others proclaim “I follow Christ.” In a sense Paul has already responded to the Paul-centered argument when he asks “If Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?” He urges all believers to be united in the same mind and judgement and that there be no divisions. He further says that he was not sent to baptize but to preach the Gospel “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Which brings me to my second point:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

The primary goal of all of Paul’s ministry was to proclaim the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. He wanted the faith of his listeners to rest not in his wisdom or in any other person but in the power of God. He was preaching Jesus and the resurrection in Athens when he attracted the attention the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, and later reasoned with them concerning their altar dedicated to the unknown god. He proclaimed, in the Aeropagus of Athens, that The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. Acts 17:24-25

Paul desires we have the same mind in us as was as Christ in Philippians 2, who took the form of a servant obedient to the point of death. He proclaims the preaching of the cross foolishness to those who perish (1 Corinthians 1) but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation in Romans 1. The word Christ is referenced in the writings of Paul 364 times. There are guidelines for selecting leaders and instructions for members of the family written by Paul, but the overwhelming majority of his letters (and travels, and sermons) is focused on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The New Testament books of Paul are so Christ-centered that studying Paul becomes in and of itself a Christ-centered act.

Paul himself warned us not to make too much of Paul. What about his writings? What makes his letters scripture? One of the key facets of the Bible is that it does not contradict itself. In the first and second centuries there were many accounts of the life of Jesus and church leaders made decisions about biblical canon, what would be included as scripture in what was becoming the New Testament. The accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke have many identical accounts that corroborate each other and paint a certain character portrait of Jesus. Other accounts, such as the Gospel of Judas or Gospel of Mary, paint a portrait that is out of character when compared to the others. The 14 letters of the Apostle Paul share the Gospel of Jesus that is in character with 1) what we know about Jesus from the 4 Gospel writers and 2) in line with what we know and understand of the Old Testament. Paul warns his listeners to not accept doctrine that does not agree with the words of Jesus Christ. (1 Timothy 6:3-4) That is possibly the strongest argument I can make. As a Pharisee, Saul had been a diligent student of the Law. He could read, write and probably speak at least four languages, including Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Latin. As one called of God (Acts 9) Paul was uniquely qualified to proclaim the Gospel message to Jews and to Gentiles. Look at his comparison of Adam and Jesus as types of first men (Romans 5) and the use of Sarah and Hagar as an allegory for two covenants (Galatians 4).

Did Paul make some mistakes? Did Paul sin? Absolutely. So did Abraham, Moses, King David, the Apostle Peter and every other significant character of the Bible, Old and New Testament (with one obvious exception). Many of those Old Testament figures, despite their well known faults, are spoken of highly by Jesus and by the writer of Hebrews for their faith. Peter, who famously denied Jesus three times, was later charged with leading the disciples. Saul of Tarsus had a personal encounter with Jesus the Christ on his way to Damascus and became a changed man who suffered much and did much in establishing the New Testament church in its early history. The same God that inspired the Old Testament writers and the Gospel accounts gave us the rest of the New Testament. He did not suddenly become incapable of doing so early in the first century. “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 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible tells one story, about how a holy God relates to a sinful, fallen and broken people. At the center of that story is Jesus. The goal of this blog, and hopefully every Christian endeavor, is to be God-honoring and Christ-centered. The work of the Apostle Paul, including the 14 surviving New Testament epistles, do that and can help us do the same to the glory and honor of God.

 

Related posts here at C201:

July 11, 2014

When You Feel Outnumbered

Deut. 20:1-4 When you go to war against your enemy and see horses and chariots and soldiers far outnumbering you, do not recoil in fear of them; God, your God, who brought you up out of Egypt is with you. When the battle is about to begin, let the priest come forward and speak to the troops. He’ll say, “Attention, Israel. In a few minutes you’re going to do battle with your enemies. Don’t waver in resolve. Don’t fear. Don’t hesitate. Don’t panic. God, your God, is right there with you, fighting with you against your enemies, fighting to win.” The Message

Out-numberedFrom the Website, The Bible Reading Club:

The land that God had promised to Abraham’s descendents was a land of milk and honey, a land of immense natural resources and wealth.  But it wasn’t a place the children of Israel would merely walk into without opposition.  It was already occupied by powerful peoples, defended by fierce warriors, and filled with walled and fortified cities.  To the eye, Canaan didn’t seem much like a ‘Promised Land’, did it?

But then, the Promised Land was never intended to be a gift.  It was an opportunity.

By partnering with God, by trusting Him completely to fight their battles, occupying Canaan was an opportunity for Israel to fulfill the greatness God had made them for.  Israel was meant to be a beacon to the world.  The nation’s wealth and security was meant to be a reflection of God’s strength and faithfulness.  The compassion they were to show to the poor and to strangers passing through the land was meant to be a demonstration of God’s grace and mercy.  And ultimately, through the lineage of Israel, the saviour of the world would come.

The mission, challenge and blessings of Israel and the Promised Land also present an example for us today.  What may at times appear to us to be an impossible challenge is often God giving us the chance to join with Him in accomplishing the impossible.  What mission has God called you to?  What obstacles stand in your way?  And what step of faith do you need to take to bring God’s promises for your life to pass?

Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

From the blog, Faith and The Law:

God has issued to each of us a bugle call to intelligent combat. It is a call to us to be men and women of God, to fight the good fight, to stand fast in the faith, to be strong in the Lord in the midst of the battle, in the midst of this dark and evil world.Those who ignore this call and the battle that rages around them are doomed to be casualties. We cannot remain neutral. We must choose sides. We must align ourselves with the forces of God, the forces of good. We must answer the bugle call, we must put on our armor and stand our ground or the battle will roll over us and in our defenseless, bewildered state, the forces of evil will trample us into the dust of the battlefield.

It comes as a shock to the new believer that the Christian life is a battleground and not a playground. We are at war.

The truth is that very few Christians grasp the value and necessity of spiritual combat.

“The Lord is a warrior” (Exodus 15:3):

The Lord will go forth like a warrior,
He will arouse His zeal like a man of war.
He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry.
He will prevail against His enemies. (Isaiah 42:13)

Warrior, hear the Lord’s marching orders for your life:

“Prepare a war; rouse the mighty men! Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up! Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, ‘I am a mighty man’ “(Joel 3:9-10).

We must approach our service as sons and daughters of spiritual liberty and our position on the front lines of battle with great zeal, passion, fervor and excitement. How exciting to be called into the service of our God!

Romans 12:11 (NIV): Never be lacking in zeal. Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

Romans 12:11 (Amplified): Never lag in zeal and earnest endeavor; be aglow and burning with the Spirit, serving the Lord…

…The Deuteronomy passage is clear. Before we can be warriors for God, we must be established as lovers of God. “So take diligent heed to yourselves to love the Lord your God” (Joshua 23:11). Purpose in your soul right now to draw your heart to God before you draw your sword for Him.

We can sleep when we get to heaven. We should move, push and go forward with great devotion like an athlete to point of agony. That is the commitment required to live as a Christian. When are you going to pull out all the stops and burn for God and the Lord Jesus Christ? When is God going to be your love, your passion, when is he going to be the excitement of your being. When is He going to be your living experience?

Don’t just play it safe your whole life. Look at Matthew 25 and the parable of the talents. Do you think Jesus was trying to tell us something?

Bolt out of every oppressive circumstance and draw strength from your God by desperate prayer and fierce devotion. Don’t be weighed down by yesterday’s failures or tomorrow’s burdens.

So often our heart cries out: I AM NOT THE ONE, THIS IS NOT THE PLACE, NOW IS NOT THE TIME. Yet this is not true, as you are the one, this is the place, now is the time. God needs you desperately on the battlefield. We should take to the heart the words of God uttered by the King David:

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. . . .
For by Thee I can run upon a troop;
And by my God I can leap over a wall…. He trains my hands for battle,
So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze…. I pursued my enemies and overtook them,
And I did not turn back until they were consumed.
I shattered them, so that they were not able to rise; They fell under my feet.
For thou hast girded me with strength for battle;
Thou hast subdued under me those who rose up against me.
(Psalm 18:2, 29, 34, 37-39)

 

July 10, 2014

Church Life: The Spectacular and the Ordinary

Modern Church Interior

With a name like Christianity 201, we know some people reading this are in church leadership, and we try, once each month, to include an article which looks at the workings of church life. For this one, we’re introducing you to the writing of Maryland Church of Christ pastor K. Rex Butts who blogs at Kingdom Seeking (KingdomSeeking.com) where is blogroll includes many of our personal favorites! To read this article at source (with pictures!) click the original title below.

Discernment and Mission: Seeing Beyond Our Own Church

Many commentators treat this statement simply as a summary of what’s going on among this early movement of Jesus followers. While it’s entirely appropriate to this passage as a summation, we miss a lot if we limit this text to mere rhetorical strategy. Regarding v. 24, Luke Timothy Johnson says, “it is also a triumphant assertion of the movement’s growth despite the attempts of a tyrant to suppress it through the harassment of its leaders” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 216). Therein is a clue regarding what ought to challenge every church’s understanding of what participation in the mission of God may involve.

Baptisms and Bible-Studies

Let’s first take a few steps back and think about church and mission. I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to the church and the mission of God, there’s a lot of for the spectacular occasions. For example, in the book of Acts, churches love to talk about chapter two where the Spirit is poured out and 3,000 plus people are baptized upon hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ preached. The same is true for chapter eight where an Ethiopian eunuch is baptized after basically asking Philip to study the Bible with him.

Churches love stories like these and would love for them to be the stories of their churches. That’s why churches talk about their yearly number of baptism or about the evangelistic Bible studies taking place, as if the number of baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies are the sure marks of a good church (don’t get me wrong here, I’m all for baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies). However, turn to Acts chapter twelve and we won’t find any spectacular stories of baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies. What we find is a church struggling in turmoil and this is where churches today must pay attention because, as I’m suggesting, they can learn a lot about what participation in the mission of God may involve.

A Theological Conundrum and Persecution

At this point in the book of Acts, its somewhere between 41-44 CE during the reign of Herod Agrippa and the church is facing a lot of challenges. First, Peter has already baptized Conelius and his household (ch. 10). The baptism of Gentiles has now thrusted a theological conundrum upon the church that results initially in a counsel (ch. 11) but one in which the church, through the ministry of Paul, will wrestle with for the next several decades. Second, Herod has begun persecuting the church, having James executed and Peter arrested (presumably to suffer the same fate as James).

While Peter is rescued from his imprisonment by an angel of the Lord, the church doesn’t know this. So when Peter returns to his church gathered at the house of Mary where, according to v. 12, “many people had gathered and we praying” (churches brag about baptisms but how often do they brag about gathering for prayer?). Peter, who already realized it was the Lord that rescued him from prison, tells the church that it was the work of God. Then we are told about Herod’s death (which also is the work of God), which says something about the continued unstable political climate the church lived within. But… With all these challenges facing the church, “the word of God kept on increasing and multiplying” (NET).

Seeing Beyond Our Church

Why did the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, keep increasing and multiplying? This is, after all, what matters. The answer is none other than God. God was at work and this early Jesus movement believed so, which is why they continued faithfully following Jesus even when the difficulty of their circumstances escalated. If more churches would understand that the multiplication of the gospel is the work of God then they might also understand the futility and unnecessary need for the utilitarian thinking that undergirds many books on ministry. The increase of God’s word is the work of God that happens through the faithfulness of the church and not through turning this multiplication into an end that justifies whatever means gets the job done. This is not to say that churches should cease casting vision and planning for ministry. Rather, vision and planning for ministry must begin with the question of discerning: how must the church live faithfully as participants in the mission of God within the current circumstances?

As I suggested earlier, Churches love to talk about the mission of God when it involves preaching, a lot of evangelistic Bible studies, and especially a lot of baptisms. More importantly, Churches love the mission of God when it means church growth with lots of people joining their church. But… That is not how God always works. Sometimes God is taking that large church gathering in Jerusalem and scattering it though out the region (cf. Acts 8:1-3) so that the word of God may keep on “increasing and multiplying.” Sometimes God simply needs the church to gather for prayer and fasting so that Barnabas and Saul can be sent off as missionaries to serve somewhere else (cf. Acts 13:1-3) so that the word of God may keep on “increasing and multiplying.” Sometimes a church’s best vision and planning for future ministry is not how God is working. Sometimes the vision for growth and new ministry Churches have for their church is not how God is working. And let’s be clear… The mission of God is about the increase and of God’s word, not the increase of their church or our church per se.

The question is then, are churches willing to participate in the mission of God even if it means faithfully walking down a path different than it envisioned? The answer to this question takes discernment but the story here in Acts is inviting and challenging churches today to see beyond the realm of their own church so that they may fully live as participants in the mission of God.

July 9, 2014

Where Coveting is Permitted

Steve DeWitt, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Crown Point, Indiana recently completed a detailed series of studies on The Ten Commandments. Often when we sample a series here we start at the beginning, but this time we wanted to share this particular devotional study, but we encourage you to go back and start at the beginning. Click the link for the blog All About Him and go all the way back to January 12, 2014.

To read today’s devotion and find an audio link to this message, click the title below.

The Tenth Command: Covet Christ!

Covetousness or Contentment?

Each command tells us about the character of God and has a positive command with it. How about the tenth? What does no coveting tell us about God? It tells us that God alone satisfies the human heart. God alone provides what we need. God is sovereign over our lives and our circumstances. God is good in what he provides for us and what he provides for others. If I have something, it is because of the goodness of God. If I don’t have something, God also deems that good. The tenth command is about the sufficiency of God as soul-satisfier and the final judge of what is good for me. All of that is another way of saying that the tenth command is a command to covet God and God alone.

You might say, Wait, what? Are you saying it’s wrong to strive to improve my lot, wrong to improve my car, wrong to improve my savings account, wrong to improve my health? No. God is for human flourishing. 1 Timothy 4:4 says, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”

  • The tenth command is about freeing us from the materialistic mindset
  • Freeing us from identity in things
  • Freeing us from thinking he who dies with the most toys wins
  • Freeing us from the lustful accumulation of this world
  • Freeing us from the kind of misdirected, obsessive, and pathological life pictured tragically in Gollum and the ring of power in The Lord of the Rings…his precious

If there is one command that is needed in American materialism, it is the command to covet God. We must never think that having anything but him will satisfy the longings of our hearts. What can satisfy? What can provide my soul with peace and contentment? God alone through his Son Jesus. When I realize that God gave me his own Son as a sacrifice for my sin and redemption for my guilt, now there is no circumstance that I cannot be content in because in every circumstance I have Jesus. This is Paul’s argument in Philippians:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need,  for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”(Philippians 4:11-13)

People quote verse 13 and apply it to anything and everything. No. This has to do with contentment. Paul was familiar with seasons of abundance and seasons of want; times of plenty and times of hunger. Yet there is a secret he had learned. Are you in a time of want? A time of hurt? A time of trial? Or have you lost something or someone very dear to you? You long for peace and contentment. As Christians, there is a secret. Do you know it?

If we are looking to our circumstances for contentment, we will never find it. Our circumstances are always changing, and in a broken world, ultimately disappointing. There are some circumstances that can never be changed. I’ll never have contentment in those IF I derive peace from circumstances. But Paul’s contentment wasn’t in his circumstances.

Contentment does not come from changing my circumstances to meet my desires, but rather changing my desires to meet my circumstances.

How can the Christian do this?

My circumstances are controlled by a sovereign God who loves me.

Do I believe God is in control or not? If he is, then the things I deem unchangeable and undesirable are here for reasons I may not understand but can trust God in. How do I know he loves me? He gave me Jesus.

In every circumstance, whether desirable or not, Christ is the source of my strength and satisfaction.

That is Philippians 4:13. But what does it mean? It goes back to Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul treasured having Christ so much that even death was gain to him because in death he gained Christ. This is so hard for us because this world and this life have such a hold on us. But Christ assures us of eternal life and that we should live to be rich there.

I can battle coveting what I don’t have or what others do have by treasuring above all else what I have in Christ.

Do you think about your final days on earth or even your deathbed? There will be no more houses to buy. Hobbies to live for. Money to make. Degrees to earn. Possessions to accumulate. All there is ahead is eternity. What do we step into eternity with? Not a house. Not a spouse. Not an ox. Not a donkey. That’s true for Warren Buffet and the homeless man on the street. Death reveals the true value of all these things we covet so dearly. What is their value? Nothing really. So how can the Christian die happy? If in my life I coveted Christ, then I can step into eternity with anticipation because in death I finally get what I have longed for—personal presence with Jesus and eternal life in paradise with God.

Dear friends, the things in this world are not evil in themselves but we make them evil when we covet them and mistakenly place our hope for happiness in them. It is better to covet God. Better to covet Christ. Better to covet the godliness of godly saints. Better to covet commendation from Christ as a good and faithful servant. This is how we fulfill the tenth command: enjoy the freedom it provides to live in this world without loving it and to be rich in eternity as our spiritual longings are fulfilled in Christ.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 143 other followers