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.

 

August 10, 2014

What to Write

This morning our speaker opened in prayer quoting Psalm 19:14

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

No pastor, teacher, preacher, author wants to overstep the boundaries of what would be acceptable to God. Many begin Sunday sermons with, “Hide me behind the cross;” expressing the desire that the cross of Christ be seen first and foremost, often using the word preeminent.

A few days ago, blogger Scott Fillmer quoted from the introduction to The Journals of Jim Elliot.

What is written in these pages I supposed will someday be read by others than myself. For this reason I cannot hope to be absolutely honest in what is herein recorded, for the hypocrisy of this shamming heart will ever he putting on a front and dares not to have written what is actually found in its abysmal depths. Yet, I pray, Lord, that You will make these notations to be as nearly true to fact as is possible so that I may know my own heart and be able to definitely pray regarding my gross, though often unviewed, inconsistencies… these remarks are to be fresh, daily thoughts given from God in meditation on His word.

Elliot had no idea through his martyrdom how many people would want to read his writings.  It reminds me of this story:

6While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

8When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9“This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11The poor you will always have with you,a but you will not always have me. 12When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Verse 13, which I’ve underlined is interesting because the woman had no idea that what she was doing would continue to be remembered in perpetuity; but also the agency by which we know the passage that we call Matthew 26; the writer of the gospel could not possibly realize the means by which that story would become part of what we call the New Testament canon, which in turn is part of the bestselling book of all time, which we call The Bible. (Today, many print books are remaindered, declared ‘out of print’ after as little as one year.)

Pause for a moment: Imagine creating something that lives on long after you are gone; of leaving a story so significant that becomes part of the core literature for all generations that follow.

I try to both write God-honoring material here, and select God-pleasing material here on the days we borrow from other devotional bloggers and authors. But the totality of my computer output on any given day can contain a variety of topics not all of which are enduring or lasting. Just check my other blog, Thinking Out Loud, and you get a glimpse of some of the controversies that dog the contemporary church, and each Wednesday at that blog we note some of the stranger things that take place in the name of Christianity. Some of these stories and articles have a “best before” or “sell by” date that’s just a few hours after they appear.

Elliot’s wish was that God would, “make these notations to be as nearly true to fact as is possible so that I may know my own heart and be able to definitely pray regarding my gross, though often unviewed, inconsistencies.” He desired to be truthful and he desired to be consistent. The gospel of Matthew strived for accuracy. The woman with the alabaster jar courageously broke with tradition as he broke the jar sacrificially, probably not fully realizing the prophetic significance of her actions.

Today’s takeaway words: Truth, consistency, accuracy, courage, sacrifice.

This is what pleases and honors 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.

April 12, 2014

Cheapening Spiritual Progress with Gifts

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
  Matthew 7:6

Earlier today at Thinking Out Loud, I wrote about the trend toward feeling obligated to purchase a gift for someone who is being baptized as a teen or adult, an obligation perhaps borrowed from our Catholic (Confirmation) or Jewish (Bar Mitzvah) friends.  In that context, today’s opening scripture verse may seem a little extreme, but I believe the verse applies to anything which might trivialize or reduce someone’s sincere (hopefully) spiritual steps with gift-ware.

I suspect the logic works like this: Family and friends have been invited to the church. They will have everyone over to their house afterwards. Food and beverages will be served. There will be laughter and celebration. That constitutes a party. Therefore, I must take a gift.

I am all for celebrating spiritual occasions. When the prodigal son’s father saw his son returning in the distance his heart was filled with joy:

Luke 15:20“…But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

The son begins his well-rehearsed admission of contrition and humility, but the father interrupts:

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Sorrow and sadness
Turn into gladness.

But for many young people, a spiritual step that is marked with gifts — or even worse, cash — sends a mixed message. I know I have a very biased preference for books, but it seems like, if anything, a good time for a Bible handbook, a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia, or a copy of the scriptures in a novice-friendly translation.

Of the various youth-friendly, scripture-based things the gift-ware industry has created over the past decade, I’ve always liked the “Whatever” plaque from Abbey Press because it is a Bible quotation that is a good prescription for life for a young person.,

Whatever plaque

The text is based on Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

If a gift is absolutely necessary, that’s a sentiment I would endorse.

How else might we trivialize the things of God?  In looking back, I’ve referred to the “dogs” verse in Matthew twice before here.

One post dealt with several things at once:

  • We can pray repetitiously, reciting memorized prayers without thinking of their meaning
  • We can omit to pay proper reverence to the name of God
  • We can fail to regard as sacred the writings of scripture and the books that contain them
  • We can substitute subjective testimonies for actual Bible teaching
  • We can discount the importance of committing some of the scriptures to memory
  • We can have a rather casual approach to church services, small group meetings, etc.

In another post, I wrote about how as leaders, we can trivialize the importance of special times for The Church, using Good Friday as an example. We can neglect to immerse our congregations in His humility (washing the feet of The Twelve), his pain and sadness (showing how he would be betrayed and using the cup of sorrow in the Passover meal as example), and his anguish and suffering (at his trial, scourging, crucifixion and death.) For more of my thoughts on how might we ‘miss the moment’ on this particular day of all days, read this recent essay on the other blog.  In the two paragraphs that follow, I explain how we get to this conclusion from the opening verse:

Go Deeper: I should also say that there is much more going on in the ‘giving holy things to God’ and ‘giving pearls to pigs’ verse than what I’ve touched on in the three times it has come up here. While the verse seems to speak to all the things we’ve discussed, the context has to do with judging, but even there, this proverbial saying seems somewhat of an interjection and several Bible commentators skip over it altogether. In its most literal reading, the dogs and swine represent Gentiles, or by extension, unbelievers. It could be argued here that this is stating we are to judge within the family of God and not attempt to judge the world at large.

The broader application of this verse to mean “Don’t offer spiritual ‘pearls’ or things of great value to those who lack the understanding to absorb or process the meaning of them” is really being reversed to say, “Don’t take things which possess great meaning and value and expunge or excise (or we could say, diminish, depreciate or pejorate) all or some of that richness.

In the same Prodigal Son story we read in verse 10,

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

By all means celebrate. But don’t reduce someone’s pursuit of God and desire to live a set-apart life by offering something purchased only because you feel you had to.

We’ll close today with our opening verse as taken from The Message Bible, which seems to lean more to the way we’ve applied it here:

“Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

 

April 5, 2014

When God Is First

Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Regular readers here know I am always using multiple translations, and I like to introduce new wordings from newer ones. But sometimes I wonder if we lose something by changing some classics, even when our word choices are well-informed based on the original Greek or Hebrew.

For example, take

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness… (NIV)

The phrase in question has to do with putting God first, or giving Him first place in our lives.  Modern options include:

  • Set your heart on the kingdom and his goodness… (Phillips)
  • Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. (Message)

Fortunately this isn’t true of all the recent versions:

  • Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously (NLT)
  • Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too. (The Voice; I included the full verse so you could catch the addition at the end!)

At his blog, Speaking the Truth in Love, Ken Idleman (yep…he is related*) offers the following:

Ever since I was a sophomore in college I have been giving regular financial offerings to God.  I praise Him for the older Christian Brother who took me aside and taught me this vital discipleship principle… over 4 decades ago now.  I am confident that much of the heart for The Lord and His Church that I have developed through the years has been the result of investing my ‘treasure’ in God’s kingdom as a priority [Matthew 6:21].  I was convicted then that either my kingdom or His would be my primary focus.  I decided it should be His [Matthew 6:33].  When I started taking my giving seriously, I had an income of $35/week.  I started faithfully giving $5 each Lord’s Day as an expression of worship.  Something good began to happen in my head and heart that I trace back to that Spirit-led decision/commitment.

It grieves me that most Christians do not give to God first.  It is more predictable today that a person subtracts their bills from their income to see how much is left over; then determines what can be given to the Lord’s work out of the overflow, without going into debt.  So rather than a ‘first fruits’ offering, it becomes a ‘leftover’ offering.  But, taking our offering off the top, so to speak, is evidence that we acknowledge God’s authority over us.  It is an act of gratitude to God for his goodness and it’s trusting Him to provide the best for us.  Bill Hybels wrote that most of us look at giving like paying another bill; but instead we should look at it as seed we sow.

I want to point out three things:

  1. This isn’t about “tithing” per se, since he was giving one-seventh, or 14%
  2. The principle applies to far more than financial giving, even though he doesn’t say that up front
  3. He has practiced what he’s preaching; he’s not talking beyond his personal sphere of experience.

So what are some of the ways we can put God first in our lives that aren’t related to financial giving to our church and ministry organizations?

  1. I am really trying to discipline my mind to start the day with some kind of prayer; asking God to use my day for His glory. If my thoughts are getting sidetracked, I just quickly get out of bed and do a re-start so I can try the thought focus again.
  2. I am endeavoring to make the devotional website I read each day the first internet page that is opened in my computer.
  3. I am trying to begin my day at work by asking God to use my workplace to reach my community. This isn’t easy. The first thing I have to do when I walk in is shut off the alarm system, and sometimes the message light is flashing on the phone system.
  4. I am trying to be more intentional about the emails I write and things I post on Twitter. That’s hard because I am already a bit of a Bible-nerd, so with a faith quotient that’s already high, I have to separate things that are about Church life or ‘religion’ in general from things that are about Jesus. I have a long way to go on this one.
  5. I am trying to put God’s kingdom agenda in the words I write and the words I speak so that the wisdom I offer is not earthly wisdom, but are filled with truth, hope, and encouragement.

I Chronicles 21:24

But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

II Samuel 24:24 (parallel passage)

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

 


* Kyle’s dad, Pastor of Crossroads Christian Church, Newburgh, IN

December 18, 2013

Reasons to Praise God

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Today’s thoughts are from the blog Filled with God’s Fulness by a writer who simply goes by the name Gracious. In reading this in preparation, the thought occurred to me that I have fallen out of the habit of simply offering praise to God that is not motivated by circumstances; simply taking time to express something back to God that goes beyond the emotions of a specific moment.  Click here to read this at source.

Why You Must Praise God

If we are to praise God effectively, we must know and have a reason for doing so. The popular saying goes: ‘where purpose in not known, abuse is inevitable’.

When we don’t know why we must praise God despite our prevalent challenges, it is possible that we might abuse such virtue, express ingratitude and become unappreciative.

Let us learn more reasons we must praise God so we can do it confidently and effectively.

1. Praise God for who He is. Psalm 48:1 He is God, the maker of all things. He is our father and friend. He is our sustainer- He sustains us even when we have nothing to rely on. He is the ultimate and final authority over our lives. It doesn’t matter who said nor did anything to us- God is the final authority over that situation.

He is God, He is not a man. He doesn’t change.

He is ever faithful. He is the, I AM.

2. Praise Glorifies God. When you praise God, you glorify Him. Psalm 50:23  Do you want to see God’s glory? Praise Him!

3. God commands Praise. Romans 12:1 All through the Scriptures we see different commands as regarding our praise and worship to God. ‘Praise God, Make known His praise, offer and give yourself to God.’

4. Praise God for all His benefits. Psalm 103:2. His grace, infinite love, mercies, protection, provision, health, redemption, family, life, job, home- all His benefits to you and those you love.

Praise Him for all the benefits and display of love you have enjoyed.

5. Praise Him for His Goodness and for His works. Psalm 107:21. If the Lord has been good, kind faithful and loving to you in any way, then you owe Him your praise.

6. Praise Him for His mighty acts. Psalm 150:2. Praise Him for all His acts of love, redemption plan and mercy. Praise Him for all the miracles, healings, deliverances, divine provision, and protection and any other act you have experienced personally and have seen in the lives of other believers.

7. God is worthy of our Praise. 2 Samuel 22:4, Revelation 4:11. Even if you do not have anything physical or tangible thing to praise God for, He would still deserve your undivided praise and worship even till the next age.

God has given us all things He owns, all that He is, Himself and all things that pertains to life and godliness.

You know the saying: ‘a living dog is better than a dead lion’? But we are neither dogs nor dead lions. We are God’s most treasured and priced creature. He put all that He is and had to make us.

For the fact that we are alive and have everything working well alone, He deserves our highest praise. Whatever our situation is or challenge we face, as long as it has not taken our lives or robbed us our salvation; then God deserves our highest praise.

8. Praise magnifies God.

9. Praise is proper and comely.

10 God dwells in our praise

11. Praise generates power.Praise moves God to begin to act on our behalf. Praise provokes prophecy, Psalm 89:3-5. God speaks more often when we praise Him than He does in prayer.

12. Praise brings our heart desires. Psalm 37:4. Praising God is one way we can receive immediate and instant answer to long years of prayer.

Worshiping God produces more effective and instant results, and solution to problems.

There are various instances of miracles, healing and met expectations in the Bible that occurred as a result of worship and praise. We can see it in Mark 7:24-26, John 11:32-34, and John 6:11.

13. Praise precedes victory. In 2 Chronicles 20:1-29, we see practically how God used the praise of His people to procure victory against the Moabites and Ammonites. Do you want victory over the battles in your life? Praise God.

SO, my Friend, what reasons do you have to praise God? Praise Him, and praise Him NOW!!!

Here’s another article from the same blog: Five Good Ways to Praise the Lord (Some of you might #4 a bit of a stretch!!)

November 10, 2013

Dear God: I’d Like to Order a Medium Pizza

So I pick up the phone and I call the number of the Chinese Food restaurant around the block, and I tell them I’d like to order:

  • dinner for four
  • two extra egg rolls
  • an order of chicken fried rice

I give my name and tell them I’ll come by to pick it up in 30 minutes. And then I hang up.

I have no idea who took my order. I have no idea if they’re busy or if I’m the first customer of the day. I don’t really know if the person who I will be served by is even the same person I just talked to. And honestly, in a busy world, I usually don’t care.

Are our prayers to God any different? People talk about having a “laundry list” of prayer requests, but I prefer to think in terms of ordering Chinese food or a pizza.

Phil 4:19 (NLT) And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

God wants us to bring our needs to Him. He loves it when we ask. He wants us to keep the conversation going. He wants us to be in relationship with Him. He promises to meet us in the area of provision.

But in the model prayer Jesus gave The Twelve, this type of request was only a small part of a bigger prayer picture. The prayer consists of three requests toward God Himself:

  • that His name be honored and reverenced
  • that His will be accomplished
  • the bringing about of His kingdom to earth

And then toward ourselves:

  • for our basic provisions
  • for us to live in, practice, and be agents of grace and mercy
  • for us to be protected from evil, and the temptation to evil

Now, you could say that if each of these is equal that mean each should form 1/6th of our prayer time, or that each one constitutes 17%. (I don’t think we need to be that literal.) Others might argue that in the Hebrew mindset, where there is a list, things are presented in an order of importance. (Some might say the first thing is doubly important.) In a proportionate percentage guide, that might look like this:

  • 28%
  • 24%
  • 18%
  • 14%
  • 10%
  • 6%

The point is, that we don’t spend 70% on concerns that would fit the patter of prayer toward God, in fact we don’t even spend 51% (using the 17% figure above). We tend to spend all our prayer time on ourselves. That a lot more than the 17% that would put things in proportion.

And we often want our order ready for pickup in 30 minutes.

But interestingly enough, God promises us that if we put him first we might need to spend so much time concerned with health and material provision requests.  You find that in a familiar verse in Matthew 6, provided you incorporate the context of a previous verse:

Matt 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [i.e. 31..What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’] will be given to you as well.

Do people who honor God in their prayer life get everything they feel they need? I have two answers for that. First of all, if they spend less time preoccupied with provision for needs, it is less of a priority, less of an obsession for them. This in itself will give them greater contentment with what they have. Second, I’ve always believed that ‘the desires of the righteous are righteous desires.” So in a way, the answer is ‘yes.’

Now for the hard part:  Lately we’ve had a number of people voice prayer requests that are not prayers for ourselves. We have friends who need a healing touch. We have friends who need jobs. We have friends whose marriage is in trouble. We’ve sensed — and commented to others — that our prayer list has gotten very long lately.

So surely, this does not apply to altruistic prayers like we’ve been praying, right?

Wrong!

I think the principle still applies. I need to be challenged to spend more time working on the part of the model prayer that concerns thoughts toward God. I need to begin my prayer in worship and reverence. I need to pray for the extension and raising of God’s Kingdom. I need to spend more time praying for God’s will to be done on the earth.

A ‘laundry list’ is a ‘laundry list’ no matter how you frame it. God wants my prayer life to be so much more, even when I feel that bringing needs on behalf of others.

If it looks like a take-out order, and it sounds like a take-out order, it’s probably a take-out order.

God, help me to spend more time letting you know that I love you, and that I am in awe of your greatness and majesty and dominion. Help me to be more concerned that Your Will be carried out on the earth. Make my desire that You build your kingdom.

 

 

July 26, 2013

He Will Direct Your Paths

He Will Direct Your Paths

My wife and I met at a Christian summer camp, and now both of our sons work there in the summer. Camp IAWAH takes its name from Proverbs 3:6 “In All Ways Acknowledge Him (and He will direct your paths).”  Here’s what some people have written about this verse…

Billy Graham

In all your ways submit to him, and he will direct your paths. — Proverbs 3:6 (NIV)

Are you facing a significant decision? Then look again at these words in Proverbs 3:6. Implicit in this verse is the truth that God knows what is best for us, and that He wants to guide us so we will make right, God-honoring decisions.

When you face a decision about your future, seek God’s will above all else. Make your decision a matter of prayer, and ask Him to guide. If we are truly open to His will, He will direct us.

Does this mean we should just wait around until God gives us some kind of miraculous sign or deep inner conviction? No, not necessarily. God wants us to be practical. Do research if you need to; understand yourself and your gifts; seek the advice of others. Make your decision in the light of God’s Word also; God never leads us to do anything that is contrary to the Bible.

Remember, too, that God often guides us only one step at a time—but that is all we need to know. So don’t be anxious. Trust God to guide you, and He will.

Colin D. Smith

…Proverbs 3:5 exhorted us to trust in the Lord wholeheartedly, and not to lean on our own understanding of things. That is, I think, the attitude we should have toward life. The next verse seems to me to be speaking more practically: acknowledge the Lord in all your ways.

The words for “ways” and “paths” are two different words in Hebrew, but very close to each other in meaning. The first, derek, often means simply a road, or a journey, but can be used metaphorically to refer to one’s behavior, or “life-journey.” The second, ‘orach, refers to a stretch of road too, but seems to lean more toward referring to one’s manner or behavior. From this, I think we get the gist of what the proverb is telling us: in all aspect of your life, acknowledge the Lord, and He will keep your life correctly oriented.

I should note that “acknowledge” is the way the Hebrew verb yada’–”to know”–is commonly translated here. This is a perfectly legitimate translation, and the one that makes best sense in the context. To “know” the Lord as you travel life’s byways is to acknowledge Him, and to take every twist and turn leaning upon Him for guidance and direction.

Indeed, I think this is the lesson of the verse. Life throws us curveballs. Not just once in a while, but often. Our best-laid plans are frequently thwarted, and it’s not unusual for us to feel frustrated when things don’t go our way. To quote that classic movie, The Princess Bride, “Life is pain… Anyone who says differently is selling something.” Sure, there’s a lot that good and joyful about our lives, but we know it’s all too frequently not an easy road.

But if we’re trusting in the Lord, leaning upon His wisdom and not our own, and acknowledging His presence in our lives, His goodness, and His wisdom, He will help us keep our eyes lifted up. The burdens of life, while still present, will be easier to bear. As we keep our eyes on the Lord, by His grace we will be less inclined to wander into sin and despair, and more able to maintain a right perspective, and a godly attitude…

Darrell Creswell

What the scripture is saying here is to Know Him, see Him, seek Him, always have Him in your mind, in your heart and let it be His consideration that you always turn to.

As you see things before you always have Him in view in front of you, in your side-view mirrors and in your rear-view mirrors; let it be Him that is in view in all that you see. The Lord is ever-present with you. Let him be the ground beneath you as you step, and do not take one step without Him. Follow His lead, His wisdom, and His divine advice in all that you do.

Ask of Him to have the wisdom to endure and the strength to overcome in all situations. As you seek the Lord let His Word counsel and direct your steps as you walk in His providence. He will be your guide lest you stray. Let it be your mindset to submit to His divine plan for your life and follow Him wherever He leads as you walk not after the flesh in your own understanding, but in the Spirit as He leads you in the path of His righteousness.

So be still and know that He is your God; your Help in the time of need; your Rescue; your Guide and your Shelter. He will always do what is right for you according to His will and plan that He might be glorified in your life. So give Him the glory and the praise for what He has done, is doing and will continue to do in your life.

What we need to understand, that everything in our lives are completely under God’s control. As Jesus died upon the cross sin and death were defeated, and in His seemingly weakest hour, the strength of God was made manifest as redemption was poured out for the first time upon all mankind. In that weakness and pain and suffering that Jesus endured, the power of the living God rested upon the world bringing salvation and restoration to all humanity. We are the recipients of that grace.

It is by His hand you were created and it is by His hand that He will make your paths straight as all that you need in life flows freely from the throne of grace. It is the Almighty God that sits upon that throne acknowledging you, loving you and providing for you. All good things come from Him.

In the same way, Jesus gives us comfort, direction and victory in our lives even when we feel we are overwhelmed by the circumstances around us. We can find wonderful things out of even the darkest moments of our lives. Our Lord is present with us when it is the very darkness. He has planned that even the darkest of situations that we face will result in redemptive good for us. He surrendered His very own Son to death so that we could have life. He does not abandon us, He saves us.

Isaiah 40:21 Your own ears will hear Him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether it be to the right or to the left.

God is always right here, walking beside us, urging us on when we wander left or right saying – “This is the right road. Walk down this road”.

Blog: My Lord, My Friend

“Think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.”

We are all on a journey through this life on earth and we all have a final destination in eternity either with God or without God.

Yes the God that created us wants us to spend eternity with Him. That is what we were created for but somehow free will allows us to choice of  a journey and an eternity without Him.

How sad it would be an eternity without him. without His Love which is real love from which all love grows and through free will that love can become distraughted. In Him {Our Lord and Our Friend} we have a purpose on our journey, and we have a destiny, and with Him, it is the most exciting and wonderful journey and destiny of all.

The above scripture says THINK about Him {Our Lord and Our Friend} and He will guide you on the right paths. He will always be there to help, but even if we take or have taken the wrong paths, He is always there waiting to help us, to get us back on the right track.

In the Sermon on the Mount {Beatitudes}, Jesus told us to enter the narrow gate, for the gate is wide, and the highway is broad that leads to destruction, and many are traveling that way.

Mathew 7 verse 13 “Enter through the narrow gate”  Verse 14 ” How narrow is the gate and difficult is the road that leads to life, and Few find it.”

Ask Our Lord and Our Friend and He will lead you, and be with you, and help you no matter what difficulty you go through.

He has said if we Ask Him, He will Never leave us or Forsake us. Think about Him in all your ways, and what a wonderful journey through life you will have {He did say it wouldn’t be easy, but He did say He would always be with us all the way.}

God Bless  you on your journey .

In All Ways Acknowledge Him

Image: Darell Creswell (click to link). Got a verse you’d like to see covered here? Send us a suggestion and consider being one of the 4-6 writers we use.

Camp Iawah is an interdenominational faith ministry in Ontario, Canada that is sustained by camp fees and the support of contributors.

July 20, 2013

Hallowing the Lord’s Name

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. (Exodus 20:7 NASB)

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God. (same vs. NRSV)

Since I’ve been writing I have taken The Lord’s Prayer as a theme for several blog posts.  One looked at the prayer in Aramaic which is quite different from the one we know. Another was much more lighthearted; an imaginary dialog wherein as an individual is ‘talking’ the prayer to God, who is interjecting questions and comments.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches on prayer:

Matthew 6:9 “Pray, then, in this way:

‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.

One chapter later, he continues this theme:

Matthew 7:6:“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

I wrote about that passage just a few months ago, when I talked about trivializing important moments in worship or times on the Christian calendar.

What got me thinking about all this is a quotation from the book Tell it Slant by Eugene Peterson.

Tell It SlantFor several years I was part of a group in Baltimore called the Jewish-Christian Roundtable.  Twenty of us met monthly, ten orthodox rabbis and ten pastors and priests.  We basically conducted a Bible study alternating the leadership between Jew and Christian.  The rabbis always brought a handout of the Hebrew text that we would study together.  And they always collected the pages afterwards – meticulously.  I observed that they always counted the pages to make sure they had them all.  One day I asked the rabbi in charge what he did with the pages afterwards.  He said that he took them home and reverently burned them.  He told me that it was a tradition with them.  They were not permitted to leave the holy name in the hands of gentiles, lest it be inadvertently used or treated irreverently, or even blasphemously.

My immediate but unspoken reaction was negative.  Wasn’t this being a bit over-scrupulous?  But as time went on I began to feel the weight of their reverence, this hallowing of the name.  The experience continues in my memory as an implicit rebuke of the glibness in which the name is often tossed around in the circles I frequent.  And it often enters my mind still when I pray “Hallowed be your name.”  (p. 173)

When I read this story, it reminded me of an experience I had, also with a group of Jewish people, but a group of Jews who had accepted Jesus as Messiah. Our church youth group had been invited to visit a youth group of a Hebrew Christian church. I should explain that there are two streams among converted Jewish people, one is the Messianic Jewish style of worship that continues to meet on Fridays and follows the order of service of a typical Shabbot meeting. The other adopts the forms familiar to Evangelical Protestants, with a church building and worship style that is similar to Baptist.

Our group had brought musical instruments and taught them some songs, and several from our group shared their salvation stories. Up to that point, I thought we were doing a reasonably good job.

However, when we turned the youth meeting back over to their leader, he basically said, “These stories and testimonies are all well and good, but we need to focus on what the Bible actually has to teach us.” He then launched into a highly focused, very sober Bible study using a catechism type of teaching format (i.e. question and answer) which proved very quickly how well his group of teens knew their Bibles… and how much our group didn’t.

The contrast between “serious faith” and “casual faith” was striking. We were good kids. We attended youth group. We attended a church renown for the excellence of its programs, speakers and teachings. But we did not have the same reverence or thirst for the things of God in the same way as the group we visited. You could feel the difference. It was for more pronounced than simply the ability to answer Bible questions. It was humbling.

Someone has said that “a fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do.” That said, could something also be said of someone who takes seriously, and more deeply reveres the things of God that you or I?

July 17, 2013

Following the Promptings of God

I once heard a missionary sermon in which the speaker said, “I know many of you feel God has never called you to go, how many of you have heard a specific call to stay?” How many of us would be obedient if God gave us a specific location where he wanted us to be, and it didn’t line up with anything we had planned?

Luke 2 - 14

Cheryl Zelenka, the blogger at Facing Trials is writing from a unique vantage point, and a part of her journey is referred to at this post. You’re encouraged to read this at source and then visit around the rest of her blog for other articles.  It was originally titled Go, If God Says To Go!

“Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.” Jeremiah 42:3 (NIV)

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”                            Jonah 1:1-3 (NKJV)

Dear One,

The book of Jonah is one of my favorites in the Bible. The Lord used this book to help me stay on track during my recovery from brain surgery.  My spiritual race was wearing me out, and I wanted to move back home to Oregon. God however had other plans for me, all of which were waiting for me in Colorado.

As I recovered in an assisted living facility in Arizona, I decided to lay out a fleece and pray.  I asked the Lord for His permission to move back to Oregon.  If my house had not sold by the New Year, I would have His blessing to return to my adopted state. On the day I made this petition, I received an offer on my house. I had no doubt that God had answered my prayer and closed the door back to my old and comfortable life. 

Instead, I was thrown into an unknown wilderness.  He told me to GO and so I did.  I knew of Jonah’s disobedience and the consequences he had suffered.  He ended up right back where he started and I did not want to waste any time.  If I moved to Oregon, I knew I would eventually end up in Colorado.  There was no doubt in my heart He wanted me to make a fresh start in a new land.

When God tells us to GO, we must go.  We must keep a loose grip on the things we love and the homes we live. If we are able to maintain a loose grip on the things we hold dear, it won’t hurt as much if we loose them.  Lost, but replaced by new and better blessings. 

Are you sold out for Christ? Are you ready to lay down your whole life for His will and purpose? If so, you must be prepared to hand over all you love and desire.  Thankfully, if your will is aligned with the heart of God, your desires are already His desires.  Taking hold of His hand and allowing Him to lead you down unknown paths will seem effortless, thanks to your childlike faith.

If God said, “GO, share My Word with that man,” would you GO? (Even if he were a stranger?)  If God said, “GO, sell your house and move to Africa. I want you to become a missionary.” Would you go?  I hope so, but only if there was confirmation in the Word, and a conviction in your heart.  We are to do the Lord’s bidding, but only when we are certain HE is the one commanding us to GO. 

What if you are in the middle of a hardship or trial?  Do you get a free pass?  Nope!      If you are certain God is telling you to GO, the Holy Spirit will continue to nudge you.  Maybe God wants you to speak to a doctor or nurse caring for your loved one.  Maybe you heard a message at church that really encouraged and comforted you.  If the Holy Spirit tells you to thank your Pastor, please do it.  He probably needs the validation and encouragement.

Prayer allows us to hear the will of God.  Our life is His to use for His purpose and glory.  When He decides the time is right, He will ask you to obediently GO where you are needed. Until then, grow where He has planted you. 

Don’t be like Jonah and run from His commands. That is not the “GO” I am encouraging. If you don’t understand His purpose and reasons, faith must carry you along. If He prompts you to speak to a stranger, or an “enemy,” trust that He will give you the words and actions required.  He may use your pain and circumstance to comfort and encourage another going through a similar trial.  

Jonah did not want God to give his enemies an opportunity to repent.  However, we are called to do HIS bidding, even if we don’t agree with it.  After all, hasn’t He shown all of us boundless grace and mercy? Should we not extend the same measure of grace to all men? Dear One, GO and do the will of God. 

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.”  Jonah 3:1-3 (NKJV)

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The Book of Esther is another great story about when to GO and when to wait.  For Esther, God’s command to GO meant risking her life and going before the king so that her people might be saved from death.

June 11, 2013

The Righteousness We Don’t Earn

Chad Hendley is in student ministry and blogs at A Servant Named Chad. This article is packed with different insights and takeaways. For today’s post title I chose to look at the difference between the righteousness we work for versus the righteousness imputed to us through Christ’s atonement. Chad’s post title emphasized the atonement as fulfilling the righteousness that the teachers of the law in the First Testament knew to be God’s unchanging requirement; he called it Not A Dot Shall Pass Away. You’re encouraged to read C201 posts at their original source.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17 ESV)

The Jewish religious leaders of the day had made a strict set of rules and traditions beyond the Law of God given to them by Moses. They kind of put a fence around the Law saying you can do this, this, and this, but not this, this, and this. The problem with this was that it had taken all the heart work out of their religion. While all the Laws were strict and hard to follow, it made it easy to follow God in a sense because it boiled down the whole thing to a list of do’s and don’ts. It completely ignored the greatest commandment of “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” It just became, “Do all these things right, and you’re fine.” Isaiah prophesies of this saying:

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” (Isaiah 29:13-14 ESV)

Isaiah prophesied of time when the fear and awe and love of God were replaced by heartless obedience to commandments of men.

Because Jesus did not hold to the strict traditions of these religious leaders, and because he just upset a lot of leaders due to their jealousy, he was accused of throwing out or causing people to disobey the Law. Jesus makes a point here to expressly say, “I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.”

It is helpful to recognize that Christ fulfilled the Law in 2 different ways.

Christ perfectly upheld the Law. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24 ESV) He perfectly completed the Law living without sin. The only person in history to do so. By no means did he come to do away with it, for he himself is the only one to perfectly complete it.

Christ himself was the very fulfillment of all the Law pointed to. Much more than that, he himself was the fulfillment of the Law, that is all that Law pointed to. Remember? The sacrificial system that was set up, where, when you sinned, sacrifice must be made to atone for your sin reminding you that God is just and that sin must be punished? Christ fulfilled the Law in that he himself completed once and for all what the Law was pointing to.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:11-18 ESV)

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18 ESV)

To emphasize how permanent the Law and word of God is, he explicitly indicates that they will remain until the end of time as we know it. An iota referred the smallest letter of Hebrew alphabet that resembled an apostrophe. The dot refers to small marks in the written Hebrew language that helped distinguish some letters from others. Jesus is saying that not even a single letter, nor even a single stroke of a letter shall pass away from the Word of God, much less the its propositions and content.

Jesus, later equating the duration of his own words with the duration of the Law says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35 ESV)

So if there is one thing you may be certain of, it is that the word of the Lord endures forever. What does this mean for us?

It means that the word of God is trustworthy and true. In the New Testament, time and time again, Jesus and the authors point out instances where something happened in order “that the scriptures might be fulfilled.” They are indicating here that the scriptures are totally true and therefore must be fulfilled. That is exactly what Jesus is saying here. “The Law and Prophets will not pass away until all is accomplished.” The assumption here is that scripture is without error; therefore, we may be certain that all it says will be and must be accomplished. The fulfillment of all that is written then verifies the completeness of truth of the scriptures.

This, in turn, means that scripture MUST be the ultimate authority in our lives. Everyone has an ultimate authority. What’s yours? For many people it’s self. “I am my own ultimate authority. I am the only one I am responsible for, and I decide what’s best.” For other people it’s the culture. “Society defines what is right and wrong, so I’ll do whatever society and the culture says is ok.” For some people it’s science and reason. “I only believe what I can learn scientifically.” But there are a few problems with these: 1. You are a single individual with limited knowledge and understanding, and with a tiny view of the world limited by your experience which gives you little authority to determine for yourself what’s right and wrong. 2. Society is ever changing thus is no solid base on which to form a worldview. Does what’s right and wrong change? It shouldn’t. 3. Science is not a broad enough in scope to rests one’s life on. Science tells us nothing of right and wrong or love or purpose or emotion. It is a tool, but not a foundation.

And if scripture is the one true ultimate authority, we must submit our lives to it. Many people choose not to give Christianity serious consideration, because deep down they are scared of what they shall find. They know that if they dig and find that it is true, there is no option but to surrender one’s whole self to Christ. The worse sin that we often find, is those who claim to believe, but have not totally surrendered, still playing with the world. You have not dug deep enough either. YOU CANNOT  TRULY BELIEVE THIS AND LIVE AN UNCHANGED LIFE. When you come near the person of Christ you will find that there is no middle ground. It’s all either all in or nothing. We are to have child-like faith, but this is not a faith for children.

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19 ESV)

Jesus makes another practical conclusion as well from the fact that God’s word shall never pass away. This is the responsibility not just to obey but also teach others to obey his word. This is not a hard principle right? If God’s word is true and the ultimate authority for our lives and shall never pass away, if they are the measure by which our reward shall be doled out, if they are the works which reveal the fruit of God’s work in our lives, and the means by which we can honor him, then we must definitely be careful to be obedient to it and to be careful in teaching others to do the same. It only makes sense right? If God takes it so seriously as to say it shall never pass away, we should take his commands just as seriously right? For his name sake and for his glory.

Whoever loves him less and thus obeys him less shall be lesser in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever loves him more and thus obeys him more shall be greater in the kingdom of heaven. Note here Jesus is talking about believers, for both attain to the kingdom of heaven, but Jesus says some shall be called greater than others. It is a matter of reward, not a matter of salvation.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15 ESV)

God or no God, heaven or hell, is determined by the saving work of the Holy Spirit and genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but there will be varying levels of reward in heaven. The Apostle John, also the author the Revelation text we just read, said “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (2 John 1:8 ESV) But be careful of your heart here. Our obedience must not be fueled by this desire to be great in heaven, for that is pride, but for those who humble themselves and seek to honor him, Jesus says, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20 ESV)

Jesus stresses the importance of the Law and the word of God, the importance of keeping and teaching the word of God to others, then he drops the doozy! Unless your goodness is better than the most religious, rule-keeping person you know, then you won’t get into the kingdom of heaven. At one point, Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” One of the commands is to tithe. To give a tenth of all that you receive from the Lord. So you know what these guys did? They tithed, they gave a tenth of the herbs they received to cook with. They did everything right! How in the world can my righteous be better than that of the most strict religious person I know???

Because, through faith in Christ, God gives us a righteousness that is not our own. Our righteousness must not just be a little better than the scribes and the Pharisees, our righteousness must be that of Jesus Christ! The Pharisees tried it, and it didn’t work. They worked and worked and worked trying to be perfect on the outside when Jesus told them they were dead on the inside. YOU CAN’T DO IT! You cannot work your way to heaven. If you could do that you wouldn’t need Jesus! Remember…King David? Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

~Chad Hendley


Practical Christian Living:  Looking for books that are suitable for giving to non-Christian friends, neighbors, fellow-students, co-workers or relatives? Check out the blog Books for Evangelism to familiarize yourself with resources that do more than preach to the choir.

January 21, 2013

To Come or To Go — That is the Question

Today’s piece is from Harlen Wall. When we asked for permission to use this, Harlen also wrote his own introduction:

Who am I? A Jewish Bible Teacher. Inspired by G-d, I composed this message for my weekly newsletter, which is distributed via email to a group of Christians and Jews (comprised of my students and those who attend my weekly Shabbat service along with friends and family).

The reason I put the dash in G-d is out of reverence for His Holy Name. Who am I to think I can comprehend who G-d is –and the “dash” reminds me of His infinite and transcendent Unity (Oneness) that is above space and time.I should NOT be casual when I write the Holy Name of G-d or refer to Him. Jews are taught to have reverence for His Holy Name.

Here is today’s reading:

“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them (2) and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.” EXODUS 10:1-2

I only wish to make a very simple and concise point in this week’s message. Sometimes, less is really more! Most English Bibles translate the word bo as go as in “go to Pharaoh.” But the Hebrew word is best translated as, and properly rendered “come.” There is a big difference between coming and going, especially in this context. There is a very important lesson in this verse. Hashem (the LORD) is telling Moses to come to Pharaoh because He (G-d) is already there waiting. This idea is dazzling in its simplicity but profound in its depth.

G-d is telling Moses to come. Not only to come to Pharaoh but to come to Him (G-d) since G-d is already there waiting for him. In truth, it won’t be Moses that will confront Pharaoh. It will be the G-d of Israel, the G-d of Heaven and Earth. Moses just has to show up and realize that it’s not about him. It’s not about what he can do or say. He doesn’t even have the natural gift of persuasive speech. In fact, the Torah tells us that Moses is C’vad Peh (heavy of speech). It’s not about Moses in any way. It’s about what the LORD can do and will do in and through Moses.

This is, in many ways, the most difficult lesson for us humans to learn. Many of us invest decades upon decades of our lives in proving to the world that we’re worthy of respect and deserving of recognition. We make every effort to convince others that we’re intelligent, beautiful, “strong,” wise, and powerful. It’s both ironic and sad that we often spend our entire lives seeking honor, only to find out in the end, that’s it’s not even about us. It’s only about what the LORD can do in and through us. It’s not about us. It’s all about Him. This reality can be liberating and troubling at the same time.

The totality and essence of the human experience is “coming to G-d.” He’s always waiting “there” for us, in every situation. G-d is not telling Moses to go to Pharaoh. He is really saying “Come to Me. I’ll be here waiting for you. I’m already there.” He is saying you will not defeat Pharaoh if you “go to him.” You will defeat Pharaoh (despite your many weaknesses and flaws) if you come to me. Moses could not defeat Pharaoh and the Egyptian forces on his own merit or strength. He could only succeed by coming to G-d and allowing Him to fight the battle. A war is never won. It’s merely received.

It’s not just the word bo that is mistranslated. There are many Hebrew words that are mistranslated in Christian/English versions of the Torah. Perhaps the most glaring error is the very name of the LORD that is given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Hebrew word is “E-hi-yeh,” which is translated in most bibles as “I am that I am.” This is not the meaning of the word and falls short of what the original Hebrew language reveals to us. To render the word as ‘I am That I Am” is to miss the point and the underlying message to Moses, Israel, and ultimately the entire world.

In truth, however, the word is a verb and means “I shall be” as in I shall be there. G-d was revealing His Essence to Moses and at the same time assuring him that he would be there with him when he approached Pharaoh. The name of G-d and his essence is that he will always be there (waiting) even before we get “there” (even when it seems like he’s not there or we can’t see him or feel him). He was also revealing to Moses that He would be with the children of Israel in their exile and all their trials throughout history as well.

We must always remember this lesson that G-d taught Moses. And we must always remember the meaning of His Name. We must know with complete certainty that the LORD is always there waiting for us in every situation. Instead of going to confront our enemies or going to confront or deepest fears or going to defeat HaSatan, we must make the decision to come to G-D instead. The victory is always received when we come to the LORD. And we must joyfully accept that the victory is His. Not ours. It’s not about us. It’s ONLY ABOUT HIM.

But the choice to come or go is ours.

~Harlen Wall

November 3, 2012

Giving Your Best to God

Just as parts of the southern hemisphere are, I’m sure, switching to “summer time,” as it’s called in many places, we here in North American are changing from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time tomorrow morning. The graphic above infers that people who chronically arrive late for church may experience the horror of arriving early.

I don’t know why it is, but some people who would never for a moment consider arriving late for work think nothing of arriving late for church. We touched on this very briefly here once before, but I want to look at it more closely this time.

Maybe it’s because Christianity is all about grace, but we tend to have a rather casual approach to worship, to scriptures, and to God Himself. I’ve quoted this before: “It is said that of all the major religions of the world, Christians are the least acquainted with their own scriptures.” We hear stories of evangelical church buildings in disrepair, of ministry organizations that don’t return calls or emails, and of Sunday School teachers who don’t prepare their lessons, opting instead to ‘wing it’ each week.

While the idea that we should “give our best to God” is well known, it is not well practiced. The Bible tends not to talk about “best” so much, but adheres to the more agrarian language of “giving our firstfruits.”

Proverbs 3:9
Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops

This nomenclature is unfamiliar to most of us; but my first observation is to note that the NIV (and other translations) don’t treat this as an adjective followed by a plural noun (as in “first fruits”) but as an entity onto itself, as one word, “firstfruits.”

Related to this is the similarity in scripture to the concept of “firstborn.”

Psalm 105:36
Then he struck down all the firstborn in their land, the firstfruits of all their manhood.

Unfortunately today, there is a great cognitive distance from thinking of our firstborn children, to setting aside the first part of our “increase” (which today is mostly wages, but could be investment earnings or business transaction profits) to God. Our offspring are extremely personal, but the value of our firstfruits isn’t highly regarded.

In fact, we tend to look an opt-out wherever possible.

  • Should I tithe on the gross income or the net income?
  • Isn’t tithing an Old Testament concept?
  • Is God interested in excellence, or does he just want our hearts?
  • Isn’t requiring weekly church attendance more about law than grace?

There’s a lot of opting out going on right now. Has God changed his mind on ideas like,

Exodus 23:19
“Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.

The term fristfruits doesn’t appear in the New Testament, but there are more than hints of excellence in worship and life:

1 Corinthians 14:40
But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

1 Corinthians 16:14
Do everything in love.

Colossians 3:23
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters

Personally, I think that arriving late for church is symptomatic of a greater problem. Or several problems. The same goes for halfhearted singing, preaching, praying and serving.

We should approach weekend worship as though we are coming directly into the presence of God because, well, we are.

~Paul Wilkinson

March 24, 2012

Learning from Job

I’m not a regular follower of John Piper, but while searching the Desiring God website for something else, came on this article about Job. When we think of the losses that Job incurred, perhaps we really don’t know the half of what was involved in his unique testing…

I Was Warned by Job This Morning

I take this as a serious and sober warning to people with significant influence and respected standing in the church and community. Job was a good man. “Blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). His fall from health, wealth, and family wholeness was not owing to an evil lifestyle.

Whatever remnants of pride lying in the bottom of Job’s glass of holiness, which God meant to expose and purge, he was a faithful man, no worse than you or I.

But he was prominent. Very prominent. He was utterly successful. He was revered by the young, and respected by the old. He had authority and great influence.

For example here is a sampling from Job 29:

  • I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent.
  • My children were all around me.
  • My steps were washed with butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!
  • The young men saw me and withdrew.
  • The aged rose and stood.
  • The princes refrained from talking and laid their hand on their mouth.
  • The voice of the nobles was hushed.
  • I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him.
  • I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
  • My justice was like a robe and a turban.
  • I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know.
  • I broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made him drop his prey from his teeth.
  • Men listened to me and waited and kept silent for my counsel.
  • I smiled on them when they had no confidence, and the light of my face they did not cast down.

And God took it all away. He tested Job. Are Job’s successes — even his holy successes — his treasure? Or is God his treasure? That’s the question everyone of us must ask. And there is no reason to believe that God will not test any one of us just as he did Job.

When he takes it all away, will we love him more than things, more than health, more than family, and more than life? That’s the question. That’s the warning. That’s the wonderful invitation.

~John Piper

November 26, 2011

Post 600: Forgetting What You Look Like

Today is the 600th post at Christianity 201; though regular readers know that I write only a small fraction of them.  I thought I should write number six hundred, however…

Have you ever been in church and the pastor is preaching and after awhile it occurs to you that the whole sermon seems to be directed at one particular person’s situation?  It’s almost embarrassing.  It’s like everyone knows the minister is referring to Dan or Shirley or Marg or Jason, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Dan, Shirley, Marg or Jason a few weeks later, and you get the distinct impression that the sermon hasn’t changed a thing in their life; that whatever it was that made it so blatant to you and everyone else that it was about them, seems to have misfired or otherwise not taken root.

I suppose there are a number of possibilities here, of which three are:

  • They were tuned out for most of the sermon; not paying attention
  • The pastor’s remarks registered, but they assumed it applied to someone else, never considering it might be them to whom the sermon was most directly speaking
  • The application and needed next steps registered, but were eventually dismissed or forgotten
  • perhaps the cost of change or the price of obedience was simply too high

The Bible tells us we’re not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word; but sometimes we mess up the hearing part which cancels out the rest.

 James 1:22-24 (The Message) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

People do this everyday however.  The middle aged man steps into his souped up sports car, turns the music on the sound system up high, and believes he is still 18.  He starts flirting with his assistant at work and with the receptionist at the dentist’s office, and forgets he’s graying; that he has a wife and kids.

He needs a mirror.

The woman who goes out to lunch to with four friends and then spontaneously offers to pick the tab for everyone’s meal before they embark on an afternoon of shopping, slapping down the credit card at store after store, forgetting that the bank has already canceled her other credit card because of too many missed payments, and her income prospects for the foreseeable future are rather dim.

She needs a mirror.

We all need a mirror.   An accurate one.  One that doesn’t distort the truth.  The clearest, most focused mirror is God’s word.  It shows us what right living looks like.  It tells us where we’ve messed up.  What we can do to get back on track.  What it will take for us to stay on track.  You can read more about this four-fold purpose of scripture by clicking here.

…Now then, imagine the same scenario, but it’s more like a bad dream.  The pastor preaches a similar sermon, but everyone turns around stares directly at you.  But weeks later your life is unchanged.

What would your excuse be?

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