Christianity 201

October 30, 2014

You Are a Sheep-Feeder

So how many sheep could a sheep-keeper keep, if a sheep-keeper could keep sheep?

Of course the word is actually shepherd, and the line the way I originally wrote it a few years ago had to do with sheep-shearing. (Try saying it five times!) At any rate, it’s time for our weekly visit from pastor Clarke Dixon.  To read this at source, click on the title below.

Feed My Sheep! (John 21:15-19)

 

sheep in green pasture15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep (John 21:15-17 NRSV)

You may read the above passage and think: “I’m not Peter. I’m not a pastor. I’m not even a leader in our church, so why would this passage of scripture be important to me?” Here are three reasons.

1. All Christians need a dreadful reminder.

By the third time Peter is asked by Jesus “Do you love me?” he is frustrated and feeling hurt. The question is asked three times by a charcoal fire, not unlike the one by which Peter denied Jesus three times. It is a question designed to remind Peter that it was not that long ago that he was not acting like he loved Him. It is like Jesus is saying “are you really sure you love me? The way you acted back there would say otherwise.”

Here we do not have the “forgive and forget” that we might expect from Jesus. Instead we have “remind and forgive” which actually is much better. While “forgive and forget” might remove the penalty of our sin, “remind and forgive” removes the penalty of sin and spurs us on to remove the future potential of sin. Peter will go on to take care of the sheep, not just from a place of forgiveness, but also a place of repentance. The reminder of his offense is an invitation to do better. According to what we read in verses 18 and 19, Jesus knows that he will. Though you may not be Peter, or a pastor, or a leader, chances are good that you, like the rest of us, can truly benefit from our Lord’s “remind and forgive” approach.

2. All Christians want to express love for Jesus.

While we can and should express our love for Jesus through worship, prayer, and Bible study, we do well to remember what Jesus is asking of Peter: “If you truly love me Peter, you will take care of my sheep.” If we truly love Jesus, we will make His priorities, our priorities.

And His priority time and time again, and to the glory of God, is people. Jesus prayed in the Garden the night before his crucifixion “yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NRSV). And that will was to go through with the crucifixion, to bear sin of people. People are a priority for Jesus. We can commit ourselves to all manner of godly activities, but are we really about our Father’s will if people are not a huge part of our lives? You may not be Peter, or a pastor, or even a leader in your church, but if you really love Jesus, people will be a priority in your life.

3. All Christians have pastoral opportunities.

The word pastor comes from Latin where it means shepherd or feeder (Dictionary.com). Every Christian can think of people in their lives for whom they can be a shepherd.

There is a lot of emphasis these days within Christian circles on “leadership development.” That is good, yes, but sometimes I wonder if there are times we should use the word leader less often and use the word shepherd instead. Leaders get things done and that is good. But shepherds feed and tend the sheep and that is so important. Perhaps you do not feel like “leadership” material, but do you love and have concern for others? Then you are well on your way to being a shepherd. Whether you are a natural leader, or follower, watch for how the Lord calls and enables you through his Spirit to be shepherd to others. You may not be Peter, a pastor, or even a leader in your church, but are you developing a shepherd heart? Why not think and pray over who needs you to be, or better, for whom God is calling you to be, a shepherd.

“If you really love me, you will feed my sheep.” What a great insight for us all.

 

October 29, 2014

Bible Metaphors

Bible Imagery

Today’s reading is adapted from the book The Ransomed Heart: A Collection of Devotional Readings by John Eldridge, author of Wild at Heart.


The Bible uses a number of metaphors to describe our relationship to God at various stages.  If you’ll notice, they ascend in a stunning way:

Potter and clay.  At this level we are merely aware that our lives are shaped – even broken – by a powerful hand.  There isn’t much communication, just the sovereignty of God at work.

Is. 64:8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

Shepherd and sheep.  At this stage we feel provided for, watched over, cared about.  But beyond that, a sheep has little by way of true intimacy with the Shepherd.  They are altogether different creatures.

John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Master and servant.  Many, many believers are stuck in this stage, where they are committed to obey, but the relationship is mostly about receiving orders and instructions and carrying them out.

Matthew 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.

Father and child.  This is certainly more intimate than being a servant; children get the run of the house, they get to climb on Daddy’s lap.  These fortunate souls understand God’s fatherly love and care for them.  They feel “at home” with God.

Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Luke 11:2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father,…

Friends.  This stage actually opens up a deeper level of intimacy as we walk together with God, companions in a shared mission.  We know what’s on his heart;  he knows what’s on ours.  There is a maturity and intimacy to the relationship.

John 15:15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you

Bridegroom and bride (lovers).  Here, the words of the Song of Songs could also describe our spiritual intimacy, our union and oneness with God.  Madam Guyon wrote, “I love God far more than the most affectionate lover among men loves his earthly attachment.”

John 3:29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.

Rev. 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad
    and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.

Where would you put your relationship with God?  Why did you choose that “level”?  Has it always been that way?


 

This particular section of The Ransomed Heart is taken from The Journey of Desire Journal and Guidebook page 150. The scriptures are taken from the NIV and were not part of the original.

October 28, 2014

Parables Aren’t Fantasy; Based in Reality

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Acts 1 8

I would expect all readers here are familiar with the parable that we call The Good Samaritan. As with most parables, we believe Jesus invented the story on the spot. It begins in most translations “A certain man.” Only once — with Lazarus and the rich man — is the character in a parable even given a name.

The surprise ending of course is:

NIV Luke 10:33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.

It’s easy to say at this point that Jesus made the hero of the story a Samaritan for shock value. The story could stand — albeit not as forcefully — with one of his own people bandaging his wounds and offering to pay for his care at the inn. But were there good Samaritans?

Of course there are. There are good and bad in any sect you wish to define by drawing lines.  There are good and bad Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics and Mormons. As I write this, news stories in my native Canada remind me that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. It’s wrong to stereotype.  But Jesus’ statement picture of a good Samaritan is revealed just a few chapters later, in Luke 17 in the story of the healing of the ten lepers:

NKJV Luke 17:15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.

That was a real life situation, not a parable. (I hesitate to say, this was a situation over which Jesus had no control; but theologically and practically that is incorrect. He could have easily placed it in the heart of the one man to return and give thanks; but it defeats the purpose of Luke’s inclusion of the detail if you’re going to dismiss it by saying Jesus supernaturally manipulated the post-healing moment.)

The point is that Samaritans, like any other group both then and now, should not be subject to stereotyping or profiling.

A study of Samaritans in scripture also reveals some paradoxical moments:

In Matthew 10, we see Jesus sending out the disciples with these words:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.

But as Jesus enters a later phase of his ministry he does just the opposite:

NIV Luke 9:51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.

But the Samaritans don’t receive him. This is the only place in scripture where they are cast negatively. If you’ve read the encounter Jesus has with a Samaritan woman at the well, you might think the key to verse 33 is Jerusalem itself.  After all she says,

NIV John 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

But the IVP NT Commentary suggests a broader theme:

The explanation is that Jesus’ face is set toward Jerusalem. In other words, rejection is his fate. Even though that rejection will occur in the capital of Israel, the Samaritan reaction mirrors that coming reality. The world is not responsive to Jesus; rejection is widespread.

The commentary on the verses that follow 53 is also interesting:

James and John ask for the ancient equivalent of nuking the enemy: “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” The disciples understand the great power they have access to, but the question is whether vindictive use of this power is proper. Is their hostile reaction justified? The request for “fire from above” recalls the ministry of Elijah (2 Kings 1). In their view, surely rejection means instant judgment.

Jesus corrects them. The text does not tell us what he said. In a story that is a little unusual in form, it simply notes that Jesus rebukes them and they move on to the next village. Many Gospel accounts end with a climactic saying of Jesus, a pronouncement that is key to the event in question. Here Jesus’ action speaks for itself. There is no saying; rather, the disciples’ saying becomes a view to be rejected emphatically

The disciples reaction is amazing considering that this passage almost assuredly follows chronologically the parable and the healing. Biases and prejudices do not disappear easily.

So who are the Samaritans in your life? In mine?

We’ve shared before about this verse:

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

and with this we’ll end today.

…Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends.  (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.”  Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however.  He chose Toronto, a city about an hour west of where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world.  Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission.  In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to.  Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea.  Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to.  Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do.  Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you rent DVDs who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence.   Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically.   Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

 

October 27, 2014

Only Visiting This Planet

On Sunday our sermon had a “passport” theme. One of the central points was that we’re just visitors, or what the Bible calls “strangers and aliens.”

NLT Phil. 1:21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.

25 Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. 26 And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me.

27aAbove all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ…

NLT 1 Peter 2:10 “Once you had no identity as a people;
    now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
    now you have received God’s mercy.”

11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.

At one point in the message, the pastor reminded us that we go on vacation we recognize that our “moving in” to a motel or hotel room is at best a 6 or 7 day proposition. We’re not there to stay, we’re just using the room, it’s not our home.  As I let that allegory sink in, it occurred to me that the way to tell if you’re not staying is this:

You don’t rearrange the pictures on the wall.

You might move a table to let you work at your laptop in better light. You might change the chairs around to play a board game. But that’s about it. You have no sense of belonging there. You aren’t going to do any painting or change the carpet.

But so many times we let ourselves get absorbed in activities that basically amount to rearranging the pictures. We allow ourselves to fall into the mindset that this place we call Earth is permanent. We invest so much in this life, and I’m not just speaking financially.

The Reformation Study Bible speaks of these investments as “bodily” desires, or we could use the word physical equally, and notes that the desires of our fallen, sinful nature are always going to be perverted by our sin nature. There’s a reference to Galatians 5:

NIV Gal. 5:19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Jesus certainly intended us to take a second look at even our concerns for what we would call the necessities of life in Matthew 6:

NIV Matt. 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

Take a minute to re-read that last verse: “The pagans run after these things.” The IVP New Testament Commentary reminds us:

Some people today associate faith with being able to obtain possessions from God, but Jesus did not even associate it with seeking basic needs from God. Pagans seek those things, he warned (v. 32; compare 5:47; 6:7); we should seek instead God’s kingdom and his righteous will (6:33).

Verse 33 is familiar to everyone here, it references not worrying in light of God’s ability and promise to provide for those necessities.

However “this world is not my home.” A new passport was issued to you when you affirmed Christ’s divinity, His payment for your sin, and your desire to subject your life decisions to His best ways.

Don’t spend too much time and energy concerned about the paintings on the walls.

October 26, 2014

Why Trials Come: Two Reasons

Today’s article was submitted by Kimberly David who blogs at Excellent Way and is part of a women’s blog collective called The Loft. To check out her blog, read today’s article at source by clicking the title below, and then look around at other entries.

2 Reasons for Trials and Suffering

“Life is pain…Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”
-Westley, The Princess Bride

We all know life hurts.  While at times we may enjoy the sunshine of the mountain peaks, we are bound to spend some time in the dark valleys too.  Thankfully we have a promise:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

God promises to bring everything together for our good, for our benefit…if we love Him.  But what benefit can be derived from pain?  How can trials and suffering be good?  What reason does God have to bring difficulty into His children’s lives?  This past week or so, I’ve been contemplating two key reasons for trials and suffering.

1. God Uses Trials and Suffering to Prove Us

The book of Job is an amazing case study for trials intended for proving us.  In Job 1, we see Satan coming to account for himself before God.  While he is there, God offers up a challenge of sorts:

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
Job 1: 8

And thus the gauntlet is thrown, for Satan is sure no man would serve God without ample compensation.  After all, Job was wealthy, healthy, and happy.  Why shouldn’t he serve God?  But what would he do stripped of all the fruffery and “extra comforts” of this life?  Would he still serve God?

The next eighteen verses lay out the destruction of all that Job held dear.  In these few verses we read about the loss of Job’s livestock, his children, and eventually his health.  His reaction in Job 1:21 still amazes me:

“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

The rest of the book is a revelation of hearts.  We see Jobs heart as he grieves in silence with his friends.  We see his friends’ hearts as they strive to encourage Job to a just life.  In the end, we get a rare glimpse of Heaven, as God speaks to Job himself, revealing His heart and His power.

God-uses-the-trials-and

The book of Job is a prime example of God using trials and suffering to prove us.  The trials put in Job’s life revealed/proved the nature of Job’s heart.  Job’s heartache proved that his devotion to God was not dependent upon pleasant circumstances.

Trials and suffering have a unique ability to bring out the true nature of our hearts.  Pressure and pain reveal the hidden darkness and sin, or the deep foundation of a true dependence on the Lord.  When we know the true state of our heart, we are better prepared to submit to the cleansing, perfecting guidance of the Lord.

In the midst of all the turmoil, Job presents some of the most comforting and encouraging words about trails that prove us.  Job 23:10 says:

But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

Just as gold is refined, God uses trials and suffering in our lives to burn off the dross and purify our hearts.

 

2. God Uses Trials and Suffering to Prepare Us

The book of Job has 42 chapters dedicated to the story of Jobs trials, but another Bible character’s woes are summed up in a few simple words. 1 Samuel 1 introduces us to a man, Elkanah, and his wife, Hannah.  Verse two brings us to the heart of the trouble:

“But Hannah had no children.”

As our family read through this passage recently, I was touched by three small words in verse 7:

“Year by year.”

Elkanah was a godly man, and he went to worship the Lord as was required of the Jews.  He went up for an offering to the Lord “Year by year.”  You may be wondering why I felt this was significant.  It wasn’t for Elkanah’s faithfulness; rather it was for Hannah’s suffering.

Job tells a hard tale: the loss of everything precious.  Job has a whole book dedicated to his suffering.  We watch his journey.  We see the proving of his heart.

Hannah’s story is similarly heart wrenching.  She hasn’t lost the desires of her heart, she simply cannot attain them.  But her story is not the focus of an entire book.  Instead, her suffering and trials are limited to a few scattered words: year by year she had no children.

So why did Job’s story get a book while Hannah’s was barely cliff notes?  I think one very important reason is the purpose of their suffering.  Job is the poster child for proving trials.  But that isn’t what God had in store for Hannah.  Hannah’s trials weren’t focused on proving her.  God was preparing her.

In 1 Samuel 1:10 we see Hannah leaving her husband’s commemorative feast for some time alone with God.

In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.

Hannah’s heart was constantly, painfully aware of her childless condition.  However, this time of worship and praise was particularly painful for her.  Her husband’s second wife (I know, bad idea) constantly goaded Hannah about her lack of children.  But when the time of worship came, jealousy goaded her to provoke Hannah even more.

In her distraught condition, she made a vow to God:

And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life...”
1 Samuel 1:11

Her desire for a child drove her to an extreme sacrifice.  If God would give her a son, she would give him back.  He would work in the temple and be a full time servant of the Lord from his youth.  She was willing to sacrifice the special moments she would have had raising him, if the Lord would simply be willing to let her have him.

Hannahs-trials

Now let’s imagine we could erase a few words from Hannah’s story.  What if we could remove the trial, the year by year that Hannah had no children.

  • Do you think this new, un-suffering Hannah would have begged for a son only to give Him up?
  • Do you think this new, pain free Hannah would have been willing to dedicate her unborn child to a life of service far away from her?
  • Do you think this happy wife would have even thought of such things?

Hannah’s trials were necessary, because they prepared her for what she needed to do.  Her trials put her in a place to offer her greatest treasure in service of the Heavenly King.  Her suffering gave Israel one of it’s greatest prophets: Samuel.
Sometimes the pain, the suffering of life, can seem senseless…meaningless.  After all, where is the sense in the death of ten beloved, adult children or the loss of all you own?  Where is the meaning in year after year of the same devastating bareness?

When we face these questions, when we are drowning in the pain, we must remember, God has promised to work all things for our good if we love Him.  Sometimes the trials will prove us.  Sometimes they will prepare us for the path ahead.  But they will always propel us in the way God has planned for us.

October 25, 2014

Getting It From The Source

The Voice: Luke 1:1-3 For those who love God, several other people have already written accounts of what God has been bringing to completion among us, using the reports of the original eyewitnesses, those who were there from the start to witness the fulfillment of prophecy. Like those other servants who have recorded the messages, I present to you my carefully researched, orderly account of these new teachings. I want you to know that you can fully rely on the things you have been taught about Jesus, God’s Anointed One.

The introduction to Luke’s gospel is widely taught and usually the emphasis is on the book’s authority and reliability, based on the author’s declaration that he followed what we would call today the “best practices” of journalism.

Search the ScripturesLuke describes his work as

  • a careful study (CEV)
  • traced the course of all things accurately (ASV)
  • carefully investigated everything (various)

Verse 3 is somewhat paradoxical however, because Luke while he starts the narrative at day one — only Luke and Matthew include Jesus’ birth — it could also be an admission that he’s been tracking the Jesus story from the outset, which is how some translations render it. Why do more research? The facts were widely known and it would have been easy to sit down at the keyboard and start typing (so to speak) but he takes an academic approach to his work, he does the work of a scholarly historian.

So we find the text used in an apologetic sense; used to defend the accuracy of this particular gospel and sometimes of the scriptures in general.

But in so doing, is there an application we miss?

In these times when there are so many voices on the internet, so many Christian radio and television programs, and so many books being written; do we ever take the time to fully weigh and consider and evaluate what we read, see and hear?

In my work, I often encounter the phrase, “[Name of television preacher] says that this means…” or “My pastor said on Sunday that…”

Don’t take me wrong, we want pastors who are set apart to teach us; people who spend time in God’s Word and use reference materials such as commentaries and lexicons and interlinear Bibles to gain the full background context and the full meaning of scripture. There are tools available to us online, but most of us as laypeople lack the four to six years that the average pastor has spent gaining a foundation that qualifies him (or her) to preach.  Likewise the people whose books are issued by major Christian publishers, or television preachers whose ministry has been proven and has the endorsement of others in the field.

But sometimes when I hear, “My pastor said…” there is a sense in which the person is not at all interested in studying the scriptures. They want to be spoon-fed the bullet-points in a weekly 30-minute download, and nothing more; and don’t even think about suggesting that there are other pastors who have a different take on that issue, that verse, or that way of doing things.

It’s a rather myopic way of living.

Luke had every reason to simply write down his own thoughts on Jesus life, teaching and ministry. People would have read his blog post out of respect for his relative proximity to the action. Or, he could have just interviewed Peter to have a second source, or just interviewed Mary, but evidence shows he spoke with both and many others, too. He took it seriously. The IVP New Testament Commentary details his process:

First, he investigated (parekolouthekoti) the story. This appears to refer to the fact he studied his topic. Luke was not himself an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life. So only his study could produce such a work. But we should not think of Luke in a library here. He would have traveled through the community gathering information, both from recorded texts and from conversations with others who had seen Jesus.

Second, Luke went back to the beginning (anothen). This is why the story starts with John the Baptist. This Jewish prophet was the starting point of the renewal of God’s activity, as Luke 1—2 will make clear.

Third, his study was thorough: he says he studied everything (pasin). Though what we have in Luke is surely a select collection of material, the Gospel writer wants it known that he did his homework. Luke was very concerned to get the story right, to be accurate in his portrayal of Jesus.

Fourth, Luke did his work carefully (akribos). As the Gospel itself reveals, Luke’s work is thought out and precise in its development of the story.

Luke calls his account an orderly one (kathexes)…

…All the care Luke gives to the task, as noted in his preface, is designed to reassure Theophilus, who has been taught (katechethes) on such matters previously.

Do we continue to carefully study the scriptures or are we content to coast on letting others do the work for us?

I wrote this today to challenge us to develop the same skills your favorite TV preacher or author or pastor uses; to stand on a stronger authority than simply, “My pastor says…;” to move from Christianity 101 to Christianity 201 and then 301 and 401.


Go much, much deeper: The graphic image used in today’s post is from part four of an online instruction to Messianic Christians on how to interpret the scriptures. To read the article, click this link.

 

 

 

October 24, 2014

The Little Foxes

Over a year ago we did a devotional column titled Biblical Foxes, and at the end of it, I added an update recommending a similar column that Ben Nelson had written on the same theme at the blog Another Red Letter Day.  I decided that since it’s been a year, we would return to this topic again.  Click the title below to read this at source. (Note: This is a series on Song of Solomon joined in progress.)

The Trouble with Foxes

Image credit Wikipedia

Let’s recap where we have come in the song so far  – or as they say on TV – Here are some things you may want to know: (you can skip this part if you want – but it might paint the picture for you)

When we started this story of romantic pursuit our maiden (the passionate believer) was in love with the Shepherd King (Jesus) from afar. Her heart cry was “Draw me, and We will run.” At that time she was an admirer. He began to fulfill her request and began to woo her, and they have begun to get to know one another.

When she first begins to get to know Him she realizes that she is a mess. She says “Don’t even look at me – I am filthy on the outside, but because of your attentions I am becoming lovely inside. On the outside I feel like a nasty old desert tent, but on the inside, I feel I am adorned with curtains from the Kings palace. (1:5)

In Verse 6 of the first chapter she confesses that, in order to live out her deep desire to please her new love, she got right to work. I think of this as working in the Church, joining committees, going to meetings, you know the drill.

She got so busy with the work of the Church that she neglected her personal relationship with her Lover, and she began to feel like a failure:

They made me caretaker of the vineyards,
But I have not taken care of my own vineyard. ~ Song of Songs 1:6

Now she has spent time with Him. She pulled back from ministry and began to spend large amounts of time in worship, in personal connection with Jesus, just loving on Him. It’s been a warm and cozy time in her Christian walk.

Then we enter into a season of change. She awakes from her place of worship and see He is not in the room, but rather He is out in ministry, in life, “Climbing on the mountains, Leaping on the hills!” and calling her to join Him in ministry.

This is a frightening prospect for her. She likes her little cocoon of personal closeness to Him. But He reassures her with His declaration of how much He loves her and how beautiful she is.

This is where we come in today:

Catch the foxes for us,
The little foxes that are ruining the vineyards,
While our vineyards are in blossom. ~ Song of Songs 2:15

We find her second self-assessment in the Song, and she is not where she was. She has grown.

Her garden (her spiritual life) is no longer unkempt as it was in 1:6. It has blossoms and is beginning to bear fruit.

Is this the fruit of the Spirit? : “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23) These are beginning to show great progress in her life. No longer is she “dark but lovely.” Those around her are beginning to reckon her alive in Christ.

However there are little foxes.

The problem with these foxes is that they sneak around and just as the fruit is nearing maturity, they grab it and spoil the personal harvest she has been walking toward.

They are not the big animals who come in and destroy the vines and trample the vineyard, but just take these vines that are ready to bear fruit, and make them unfruitful.

Our girl is sensing the conviction of the Holy Spirit in her life. It is being stirred up by His call on her to get out of her comfort zone and move out in ministry, and she is afraid. Every time she take a step forward there is a little slipping going on. She is making HUGE progress in her Christian walk, but can’t seem to get fruit on the table.

And it is the little things, the things that are hard to give up.

Do you have little foxes that the Lord is pointing out to you even as you connect with this picture? Are there things that, just as you take a huge step forward in your patience pop up and challenge you and you lose your cool? Then you think, ‘that didn’t look much like Jesus at all.’

Or perhaps there is some little thing you hold on to, that when you were first started pressing into the Lord and intimacy, it did not hinder your massive growth, but now you find you have gotten stuck – plateaued so to speak.

Are you holding on to a liberty that turns out to be a little fox in disguise?

This is true in any area of our lives.

In the past few years I have tried to bring two huge areas in my life into control. I am talking about my natural life here. And it was in getting rid of the little foxes that I found victory.

I am talking about my finances and my weight.

A financial fox might be going to the ATM and then not paying attention to where the money goes. At the end of the month I would see that all the money was gone, but I had nothing to show for it.

And as for my weight – well – my life was beset with foxes all around, donuts, candy bars, 3rds at every meal.

So it is with your spiritual garden. Solomon calls them foxes, Jesus calls them thorns:

And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, and the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. ~ Mark 4:18-19

What I love here is that she does not shrug her shoulders and give up, she asks Him for help. Remember this wonderful promise:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. ~ Hebrews 4:15-16

If you sense the Spirit poking around at some little foxes, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and He will come along side you, and together you can clear out the garden, and enjoy the fruit you have labored for.

Well – I have gone way too long today, and for this I apologize. I suppose I could have broken into two posts. Perhaps you will forgive me and read it over two days.

I am really loving this Song!

October 23, 2014

Michael Card Quotations

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Genesis 17:1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty[a]; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.

  1. Hebrew El-Shaddai

It’s been awhile since we ran something in our quotations series. Today we choose author of more than two dozen books, and songwriter with more than 30 albums, Michael Card.  We begin with one of his songs that you can leave playing as you read.  Lyrics are at the end of today’s post.


“There comes a moment in our lives when some of the pieces of the puzzle come together – where all our past experiences, both good and bad, are brought to bear in causing us to become who God intends us to be.”
―  A Fragile Stone: The Emotional Life of Simon Peter


Michael Card“You need to be confronted
By the Stranger on the shore
You need to have Him search your soul
You need to hear the call
You need to learn exactly
What it means for you to follow
You need to realize that He`s asking for your all.”
A Fragile Stone: The Emotional Life of Simon Peter


So, within the preexisting turmoil that was Galilee, another crisis was brewing. Amid the growing conflict between the Romans and the Jews that would result in the destruction of the temple and the rebirth of Judaism as we know it, a small group of Jews was coming together. They had found the Messiah, Jesus of Galilee. To the best of their ability, they carried on with their daily work, Sabbath observance and synagogue attendance (see the disciples observing the hours of prayer in the temple, Acts 3:1; 10:30). The crisis that loomed on the horizon would destroy what fragile identity they had left. They were Christians who did not yet know they were Christians. Matthew’s Gospel is written in the face of this growing crisis. His portrayal of Jesus and his word will provide for this conflicted congregation the one thing they most badly need: identity.

Matthew: The Gospel of Imagination


“Then Luke commits his most grievous error, and I’m not sure I will ever be able to forgive him for it, at least this side of heaven. Luke reports in verse 27 that Jesus explained everything concerning himself in the Old Testament. What was Luke possibly thinking? The greatest Bible lesson of all time, and yet we have not a single word!”
― Michael Card, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement


“When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He was already bloody before anyone laid a hand on him. He had been fighting a battle that would make certain the final outcome on Calvary. The blood and water that flowed from his wounds on the cross were preceded by bloody sweat that poured from His pores as He suffered the agony of a death more painful than the physical death of the cross, the death of the will... The painful crushing began appropriately enough, in the garden…”
~ Michael Card, quoted in Our Journey devotional


Song lyrics:

Come to the table and savor the sight
The wine and the bread that was broken
And all have been welcomed to come if they might
Accept as their own these two tokens
The bread is His body, the wine is the blood
And the One who provides them is true
He freely offers, we freely receive
To accept and believe Him is all we must do
–Come to the Table


When we in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
When we in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong

And so we follow God’s own fool
For only the foolish can tell-
Believe the unbelievable
And come be a fool as well
–God’s Own Fool


Why did it have to be a friend
Who chose to betray the Lord
Why did he use a kiss to show them
That’s not what a kiss is for

Only a friend can betray a friend
A stranger has nothing to gain
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain
–Why


Love crucified, arose
And the grave became a place of hope
For the heart that sin and sorrow broke
Is beating once again
–Love Crucified Arose


El Shaddai, El Shaddai, Elyon no Adonai
(God almighty, God almighty, God in the highest, oh lord)
Age to Age you’re still the same
By the power of the Name
El Shaddai, El Shaddai, Erkamka na adonai
(God Almighty, God Almighty, I will love you, oh lord)
We will Praise and Lift you high
El Shaddai

Through Your Love and through the ram
You saved the son of Abraham
And by the power of your hand
Turned the sea into dry land
To the outcast on her knees
You were the God who really sees
And by your might you set your children free

El Shaddai, El Shaddai,…

Through the years you made it clear
That the time of Christ was near
Though the people failed to see
What messiah ought to be
Though your word contained the plan
They just could not understand
Your most awesome work was done
Through the frailty of your son

El Shaddai, El Shaddai,…


Sources: GoodReads, LyricsMode, CoramDeo

Go Deeper: Read a short Bible study on the meaning of El Shaddai.

October 22, 2014

What’s In It For Me?

Pastor Clarke Dixon continues his series on generosity; to read this week’s entry at source and check out previous installments, click the title below.

Selfish Generosity? Reflections on Matthew 19, 20

 

Rich Young RulerCan you be generous and yet remain selfish and self-centered at the same time? According to the Bible, yes!

First, let us consider the rich young ruler who asks: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 NRSV). Notice incidentally that he is looking for only one thing to do! But notice especially what he is not asking: “Teacher, what must I do to see God’s name honored? Teacher, what must I do to see your Kingdom come? Teacher, what must I do to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven? Teacher, how can I be of help?” Instead his question is very self focused. He may as well be asking “What about me? What’s in this for me?” Being rich, he would have had the resources to be helpful to Jesus in His ministry, being young he would have had the energy, and being a ruler, his influence also might of been of help. But helping himself is the only thing on his mind at this time.

A short conversation between Jesus and the young man ensues, but there is something notable about Jesus’ response as to which commands the man should focus on:

And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19:18-19 NRSV)

Do you notice anything about this list? These are all commands that focus on relationships. Jesus is here looking to wean the young man off his self-focus and instead to focus on others. Jesus takes this focus on others a step further:

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me (Matthew 19:21 NRSV)

The young man walks away grieved for being rich now he cannot fathom becoming poor and trusting the Lord with his treasures in heaven. He cannot focus on others. He cannot get beyond his self-focus.

Jesus takes the opportunity to teach, as we read 19:23-26 , about the difficulty of the rich entering the Kingdom of Heaven but things quickly get back to the theme of self-focus: “Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”” (Matthew 19:27 NRSV). Peter here is comparing himself and the other disciples to the rich young ruler. They had left everything to follow, the young man had not. Is there reward for that? Yes, great will be their reward according to Jesus in verses 28-29. However, notice how Peter’s question is very much like the rich young man’s? He may as well be saying “What about me? What’s in this for me?” It is a self-centered question.

The next parable in 20:1-16 develops this. Some laborers are hired to put in a full twelve hour day, while others are hired for less, some even for only one hour. But at the end of the day they all get the same amount, and understandably the workers who worked the longest are upset. But to this the master responds:

Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? (Matthew 20:13-16 NRSV)

That we are to take this parable as furthering the thoughts of reward in the previous chapter is made clear by the repeating of “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” in both 19:30 and 20:16. To summarize those two passages: “First; yes you will be rewarded. Second; do not focus on your reward.” Someone who has fully surrendered to the Master will trust Him with the final outcome of all things. Someone who has a self focus, however, will focus in on the rewards and make comparisons with others receive. Though we may leave all to follow Jesus, we may still be self-centered rather than fully surrendered. Self-sacrifice may not be sacrificial at all if it is an attempt to come out on top.

Keep reading and we will keep seeing this lesson on self focus. Next up, Jesus speaks of His own death in 20:17-19, which of course has its focus on you and me. Right after that in 20:2-,21 the mother of James and John, with both of them along, asks Jesus to give her sons the best places in the Kingdom. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on others. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on God. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on the Kingdom. They had left everything to follow Jesus. But they had not yet left their self focus. Have you?

October 21, 2014

Chewing on the Word

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Jim ThornberFirst of all, it’s not a reference to Ezra eating the scrolls, but if you guessed that, give yourself five extra points!

Today’s reading is from Jim Thornber whose writing we have shared here several times. For four years, Jim was an Assemblies of God minister who was also a monk. Seriously! Check out his story here and here. To read this at source, click the title below.

Gnawing On God

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” —  Joshua 1:8

I like the word “meditation.” Although some Christians are truly scared to meditate – thinking it is something done by cultic Eastern religions while forgetting that Judaism and Christianity ARE Eastern religions! – Scripture is full of injunctions to meditate upon the Word and Law of God.

The word for “meditation” in this passage comes from the Hebrew haghah, meaning to murmur, to mutter, to sigh, to moan, to roar, to meditate, to muse, to speak, to whisper. The word also describes the low moaning sound of a dove (Isa. 38:14) or the “growl” of a lion (Isaiah 31:4). Eugene Peterson uses the analogy of a dog gnawing on a bone, getting everything it can out of it.

This got me wondering: what is my heart gnawing on? What causes me to moan and growl, to be so totally consumed with God that I’m unaware of any thing else? If people could listen to my thoughts, would they hear me murmuring and musing about God and His goodness? Would they hear me whispering to God the joy and wonder I sense in His ever-present love? Or, would people hear me doubting my place in His Church, struggling with my pride and my desires and wrestling to place my wants into the realms of His eternal agenda?  Depending on when a person tuned in, I know they’d hear a little bit of both.

I want my heart to murmur, sigh, growl, moan and utter the goodness and glory of God. I want to be lost in my consumption of God and unaware of anything but Him. But in reality, I spend too much time thinking about my self and my place, or perceived lack of a place, in the Kingdom. In say I want to consider Him but I end up thinking mostly of my self.

However, meditation is not thinking, which is where I go wrong. Meditation means I’m gnawing on the truths of God. It means I’m taking into my spirit the very nourishment that God knows I need in order to grow into a healthy man. Meditation is the simple act of putting my mind and spirit into the hand of God and allowing Him to take me where He needs me to be. Thinking, on the other hand, is me taking God where I think God and I need to be. See the difference?

I want to wrap my thoughts and prayers around God the way a lion wraps its paws around a piece of meat, savoring and tasting its life-giving goodness. I want to meditate upon God and reap all possible benefits from the encounter. I wonder if this is why the Psalmist encourages us to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8)? Could this be one of the reasons Jesus said we must eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53)? How else could we take into our spirits the nourishment needed for the eternal journey?

Today I purpose to gnaw on the goodness and faithfulness of God. What about you? What’s on your plate?

 


Related: 4 Previous posts by Jim Thornber at Christianity 201.

October 20, 2014

God Isn’t Always Looking for Ability

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But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.        1 Peter 2:9

Years ago I remember hearing the idea that “God isn’t looking for your ability, just your availability.” You can be a very competent person, but if your talents and gifts aren’t fully surrendered — or even casually offered — you won’t get picked for the team on God’s next mission.

After leaving university, I remember wanting to work in a particular facet of a particular industry. I sought information on the training needed and was told that the dominant employer didn’t actually take graduates of that program. Simply put, it was easier for them to take willing people off the streets and train them than to take people who thought they know how to do everything and have to retrain them in the company’s methodology. The gifts and knowledge that would have resulted from the training would have actually gotten in the way.

Our pastor spoke on this yesterday; how our culture tends to default to able-ism. I didn’t take exhaustive notes because I intended to ask him after for his sermon notes, only to discover he was working from a rough outline. (He’s always better off-script anyway; not to mention one-on-one with people in his office or over coffee.)

The notes he sent me follow. What does it mean to be a chosen people?

What did that mean?

God would work through everyday people

  • not through the most powerful
  • not through the religious hierarchy
  • or the ecclesiastically ordained
  • not through an elite group of somebodies
  • but through everybody

And this truth bears out over and over again in the pages of scripture as God chooses the most unlikely people to do his work.

John Goldingay: “God’s instinct is to resist social conventions by resisting eldest-ism, able-ism, racism and sexism.”

God works in the ordinary and God works through the ordinary.

The idea that God would not choose the eldest in the family repeats over and over again in scripture, and in a couple of real-life situations today, I’ve seen the same thing play out in everything from Christian organizations to families.

In the sermon, he noted that God chooses to work through

  • the second oldest*
  • the foreigner
  • the woman
  • the weak

*In our sermon text, I Samuel 16, God doesn’t just choose the next oldest, but he chooses the youngest. It was pointed out that to have the prophet — no, wait; that should be capitalized — to have The Prophet visit your home was a rare and high honor, but nobody even bothered to go get David at that point. Furthermore, in verse 11, he isn’t even mentioned by name, just by “the youngest” which is a polite translation of a derogatory term.  Eugene Peterson renders this verse:

“Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s out tending the sheep.”

All other translations listed online use youngest, except for the Wycliffe Bible:

Yet there is another little child, and he pastureth sheep.

The Spanish RVR1960 is interesting, rendering the verse:

Queda aún el menor

which while it could also translate as “youngest,” also  translates (as you might expect) as “the minor.”

And yet, this is the one Samuel realizes that God has chosen. David had his flaws and his failings but he is called ‘one after God’s own heart;’ and thus we remember him favorably. But we were reminded at the outset of yesterday’s message that David was also very ordinary: There are no miracles associated with his story as one finds with Elijah or Joshua.

There may not be any miracles in your story, either; but God chooses to work through people just like me and you.


Thanks to Rev. Jeff Knott for today’s inspiration and notes!


We’ve used this song here four years ago, but it really fits. Danniebelle Hall singing Ordinary People: (Audio window showing; click center of the black bar to play.)

October 19, 2014

Everyone Matters

Jesus’ compassion wasn’t measured by the social context, or the condition of the individual, but by the need.

I found this on the blog of Jonathan Zinck who pastors The Pier Church in Brockville, Canada; a city in which we were involved for 14 years. He wrote it for the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, and with a largely U.S. audience here, I thought of filing it away for the end of November; but with its references to leprosy it seemed more immediate in light of Ebola and Enterovirus. There are however, less dramatic examples of outcasts around us all the time. Do we reach out to touch them as Jesus did?

Thankful in All, for All

“Everyone has to matter, or no one matters”. This is a quote I saw on Twitter yesterday. Although it was a quote from a current TV drama, it was a statement I couldn’t ‘shake’. The reason it resonates with me so deeply, is because it is a statement I have been wrestling with the last number of weeks. Whether in conversations with friends, in my devotions, or while ‘people watching’ over the steam of a cup of coffee, the message of this statement has been churning my heart.

When it comes to compassion and needs to be met, my first step has always been to meet the challenge. In fact, as a Church family that we affectionately call ‘the knee-cap’, our primary mandate is to invest in others’ lives. So why the challenge in my heart? It isn’t because of the words ‘to matter, but the word ‘everyone’. This statement speaks more than just being compassionate, but that our compassion is not limited to a few, but a commitment to ‘all’. This statement challenges my heart because its origin isn’t in a TV drama, but from the words of Jesus.

At the very onset of His ministry, Jesus was approached by a leper, begging Jesus to heal him. While for us today we would see this leper as a man who was sick, those in Jesus’ culture saw him as a social outcast. People feared so much about ‘catching’ the disease, that they would make those with leprosy yell out “…unclean! unclean!”. As a result, leprosy not only condemned the afflicted physically, but socially as well. Because of this, what happens next is remarkable:

“…Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, “I want to. Be clean.” ~Mark 1:41

Jesus’ compassion wasn’t measured by the social context, or the condition of the individual, but by the need. From the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus made it very clear that He had come for all, and that ‘everyone has to matter, or no one matters’. In fact, the Bible tells us that this statement is the very context of the Cross. John 3:16-17 Jesus proclaims that He came to spiritually rescue ‘all’ who would come. John 17:20, Jesus prays that ‘all’ who believe the message will be united as one. Romans 3:22, stresses that salvation through the Cross is for ‘all’ who believe, and 1 Tim 4:10 impresses on us that Christ has come as Saviour for ‘all’.

So what’s my point? Why am I so challenged by the statement ‘ Everyone has to matter, or no one matters”? Because if I am a follower of Christ, I am not only to live a life of compassion for others, but a life of compassion for all. Because as I honestly look into my life I have to ask myself if I show equal measure of compassion to everyone. Am I willing to walk with those who are labeled as socially ‘unclean’ in the same way with those who are socially accepted? Am I willing to invest in the needs of those who oppose me, in the same way I am willing to invest in the needs of those who accept me? For all of us, as followers of Christ and walkers with Christ, is mandate our to show compassion to all…period?

Jesus’ voice from the Cross answers with a resounding “Yes!” What Jesus risked with the leper pales to what He did on the Cross. Taking on the ultimate persecution, humiliation, and torture, He sacrificed and invested His life for ALL…yes All. Regardless of our need, our past, or our social status, Christ made the ultimate sacrifice so that we (all of us) have the opportunity to reach out to Him in faith, to receive the ultimate reward- salvation and eternal Hope.

Thanksgiving is not only a time of celebrating how we have been blessed, but the active sharing of what we’ve been given. Likewise, Thanksgiving of Faith- celebrating the message of the Cross- is not only celebrating our salvation and deliverance, but is sharing this hope to all, by investing in others what Christ has invested in us: all love, compassion, and message of Hope.

So here’s my encouragement, challenge, and request for you. My request is that you walk with me in this. I encourage you to wrestle with what “Everyone has to matter, or no one does” means to you. I want to challenge you to intentionally reach your hand out to someone who you have personally regarded as ‘unclean’, and example Christ to them.

Being a follower of Christ is not only fully receiving what Christ has done for us, but the commitment to follow Christ…walking in His steps…love those He loves (All)…share hope with those He sacrificed His life for (All). This is a Thanksgiving celebration of Faith.

October 18, 2014

Give Me This Mountain

I was enjoying the lyrical depths of a playlist of songs by Graham Kendrick and was particularly drawn to the song Give Me This Mountain (Caleb’s Song). I decided to post it on Thinking Out Loud by itself, but wanted to at least include the scripture reference. The video annotation reads:

A song about a Biblical encounter between Caleb and God. Caleb was called ‘wholehearted’ by God and was allowed to enter the promised land.

I decided to investigate that further, first in scripture,

Numbers 14:24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

and then when I landed on the blog of Harvest Pointe Fellowship in Evans, Georgia. Once there, I knew I had to include it here at C201.  Click the title below — a reference to Caleb’s character before God — to read it at source.

Wholehearted -Joshua 14

Besides God, there are two main characters throughout this stage of our study of Joshua: obviously Joshua is one of them, and the other is Caleb. Caleb is one of the spies who entered the Promised Land the first time– all the other spies gave reports of giants and fortified cities and how it would be impossible to take this land but Caleb (and Joshua) stuns everyone by boldly proclaiming that they should enter the land because God had already given them the victory. No one listened to him and the children of Israel are forced to wander the wilderness once more. We should not be surprised to learn that the name “Caleb” comes from Hebrew and means “wholehearted”. Caleb is a man who lived his entire life with wholehearted devotion to God’s purpose.

…Caleb is one of the unsung heroes of the Bible. He stands as a shining example of one who never lost his edge spiritually. He himself said at age 85, “I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and coming in” (Joshua 14:11 NKJV). This demonstration of courage must have unnerved the other men. They may even have thought him senile.

At this point of our study of Joshua, God’s people have taken much of the long awaited Promised Land and Joshua was dispensing portions of it to the tribes. However, Caleb steps forward to claim that which had been promised him by Moses. In fact, Caleb asks for the land that he had surveyed as much younger man.

In response, Joshua granted his faithful friend Caleb what he asked. He gives Caleb Hebron. The old man proved he had not yet exhausted his courage, when he said:

Now therefore, give me this mountain [the land of Hebron] of which the Lord spoke in that day. . (Joshua 14:10–12 NKJV)

The other men of Israel must have breathed a sigh of relief that Caleb had chosen this portion of land. This was not some beautiful, green pasture; it was one of the most treacherous mountainous areas of the Promised Land. Even more problematic was the fact that formidable adversaries inhabited this land. This was the home of the sons of Anak, the very same giants that terrified the 10 spies sent by Moses. No one wanted to take on the giants except 85-year-old Caleb. Can’t you just envision him holding up that muscular old arm, saying, “Give me this mountain”?

I love the boldness of this man of God. I can just see Caleb running up that mountain. I can see him as he slays his adversaries. He was victorious. He had been strong all those years and he finished well.

Let me share several principles with we learn from Caleb’s life that can give us this same spiritual stamina we need to run and indeed finish in the race of life well.

1. Follow the Lord 100 percent. Scripture says again and again that Caleb “wholly followed the Lord.” It’s in Joshua 14:8–9 and verse 14: Joshua blessed Caleb and gave the old man what he asked because “he wholly followed the Lord God of Israel.”

This is clearly a key to Caleb’s spiritual success. But what does it mean to “wholly follow the Lord”? It means that you must fully follow our Lord not halfheartedly, but completely. One hundred percent.

Are you wholly following the Lord your God? If you are not, you will eventually be picked off. It is only a matter of time until you become a casualty in the race of life.

2. Don’t compromise—stand your ground. At the risk of being ostracized, Caleb took a stand for what he knew was true. He knew he needed to be more concerned with God’s approval than man’s approval. And for this, he was rewarded.

As you walk with the Lord, you will face many temptations to cave in to peer pressure, to do what everybody else does. But if you are going to fully follow the Lord, then, like Caleb, you must make this principle operative in your life. Stand firm and seek God’s pleasure, no one else’s.

3. Take God at His Word. Caleb didn’t win immediate entrance to the Promised Land. First, he had to wander around with those ungrateful, complaining Israelites for 40 years. They said things like “We remember the good old days back in Egypt, where we had garlic, leeks, and onions.”

Despite the Israelites’ childish clinging to conjured memories, Caleb hung on to the promises of God. He knew God would be faithful, regardless of the time frame. Caleb trusted God’s word to him. We can do the same.

4. Long for fellowship with your God. Caleb asked for a place in the Promised Land called Hebron. There is something very interesting about the name Hebron, which—in the original language—means “fellowship, love, and communion.” Hebron is where Abraham met with God face-to-face and received the promise of the new land in the first place.

Caleb yearned for fellowship with God. While the other Israelites longed for Egypt, Caleb longed for Hebron. While the others looked back in dread, Caleb looked forward with fearless anticipation. While others wanted to please themselves, Caleb wanted only to please God.

This is an essential key to spiritual longevity. You must always move forward. You must always seek to grow spiritually and never look back. That’s what will keep you going.

If you are living this Christian life for others’ applause, you won’t make it. You have to run empowered by your love for God.

Questions for thought:

1. Have you ever felt resentful or burdened by something God was calling you to do?
2. One justification for not helping or serving is that feel we need time for ourselves, for our studies, for our work, for our own rest. While easy to understand, what do you think is wrong with this mindset?
3. When was the last time you felt excited and even proud to have the chance to serve? What made that situation so different?
4. What are some practical ways you can begin to see serving God as your privilege rather than your burden?

 

October 17, 2014

Full of Grace

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:40 pm
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John 1:14 — The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)

John 4:19, 20 — “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” (NLT)

Today we offer you a preview excerpt from Philip Yancey’s new book Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News, releasing Tuesday from Zondervan.

Vanishing Grace Jesus “came from the Father, full of grace and truth,” wrote John in the preface to his gospel.  The church has worked tirelessly on the truth part of that formula:  witness the church councils, creeds, volumes of theology, and denominational splits over minor points of doctrine.  I yearn for the church to compete just as hard in conveying what Paul calls the “incomparable riches” of God’s grace.  Often, it seems, we’re perceived more as guilt-dispensers than as grace-dispensers.

John records one close-up encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman.  Knowing well the antipathy between the two groups, she marveled that a Jewish rabbi would even speak to her.  At one point she brought up one of the disputed points of doctrine:  Who had the proper place of worship, the Jews or the Samaritans?  Jesus deftly sidestepped the question and bore in on a far more important issue:  her unquenched thirst.  He offered her not judgment but a lasting solution to her guilt over an unsettled life.  To her and her alone he openly identified himself as Messiah and chose her as a grace-dispenser.  Her transformation captured the attention of the whole town, and Jesus stayed for two days among the “heretics,” attracting many converts.

That scene of Jesus and the Samaritan woman came up during a day I spent with the author Henri Nouwen at his home in Toronto.  He had just returned from San Francisco, where he spent a week in an AIDS clinic visiting patients who, in the days before antiretroviral drugs, faced a certain and agonizing death.  “I’m a priest, and as part of my job I listen to people’s stories,”  he told me.  “So I went up and down the ward asking the patients, most of them young men, if they wanted to talk.”

Nouwen went on to say that his prayers changed after that week.  As he listened to accounts of promiscuity and addiction and self-destructive behavior, he heard hints of a thirst for love that had never been quenched.  From then on he prayed, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people.  And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.”

That day with the gentle priest has stayed with me.  Now, whenever I encounter strident skeptics who mock my beliefs or people whose behavior I find offensive, I remind myself of Henri Nouwen’s prayer.  I ask God to keep me from rushing to judgment or bristling with self-defense.  Let me see them as thirsty people, I pray,  and teach me how best to present the Living Water.

pp 27-29

October 16, 2014

God Has Done the Big Thing

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:43 pm
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It wasn’t intentional, but today we have a post from Stephen Altrogge at Thinking Out Loud, and below, a post by Mark Altrogge here at C201.  This topic appears very simple, but I had to read it twice to get all the nuances. To read this at The Blazing Center blog, click the title below:

God Has Done The Big Thing. Surely He’ll Take Care Of The Lesser Things.

Israel had a short memory.

They had been miserable slaves to the king of Egypt who seemed to have all power over their lives. They had no means of escape, yet God heard their groaning, and struck Pharaoh and Egypt with plague after plague, then brought Israel out of Egypt loaded with their gold and silver. Then God miraculously split the Red Sea and brought his people through on dry ground, then Israel watched the sea come back together and engulf the Egyptian chariots who pursued them.

Though God delivered them and provided for them again and again, they couldn’t seem to remember his faithfulness. In their unbelief, every new challenge they faced made them doubt the goodness of their God. They failed to make this important connection: If God did the big thing for them, he’d surely do lesser things. If God delivered them out of Egypt, he’d surely provide for their needs.

A short memory wasn’t just the problem of the generation who left Egypt. It was Israel’s constant failure over the years. We see God reminding his people again in Psalm 81:

I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I delivered you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder; (6-7)

I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. PS 81.10

God says to his people: Don’t forget who I am: I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. I did the big thing. I saved you when you couldn’t save yourselves. So ask me to provide for you – open your mouth wide – expect me to meet your needs – and I will fill it – I’ll do the lesser thing and answer your prayers and provide for you.

We too need to remember this truth: God did the big thing for us – he saved us from our sins and his wrath by sending his only Son to live and die and rise for us – surely he will do the lesser things – provide, protect and help us.

God has done the big thing – he saved us. Surely he’ll take care of all the lesser things we need.

God could say to us:

I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of your land of Egypt – your slavery to sin, your misery, your condemnation and hopelessness.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it – ask me and I’ll give you all you need.

Romans 8:32 puts it this way:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

God gave up his most valuable thing – his Son Jesus on the cross – he sent Jesus to be broken and to pour out his blood for sin, then he poured out his horrific wrath upon his Son’s soul, withdrawing every shred of mercy and love from Jesus’ awareness. He did this for us all. After doing this, how will he not graciously give us all lesser things? Surely God will give us all we need to glorify him. Surely he will give us mercy and grace and strength and help. Surely he’ll provide for our needs.

So open your mouth wide and God will fill it. Open your mouth today in praise and thanksgiving. Open your mouth wide in prayer. Ask for whatever you wish. Nothing will be greater than Jesus. Open your mouth wide in expectation that your heavenly Father will answer your prayers.

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