Christianity 201

January 23, 2020

Kicked to the Curb? (Blessed Are The…)

by Clarke Dixon

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the . . . ” Matthew 5:1-3 (NRSV)

If we were to come up with our own beatitudes what might we come up with? We might say “blessed are the rich and famous, for they have no worries.” Or, “blessed are those with many Instagram followers for they will be popular and never be lacking for friends.” Or, “blessed are the Canadians, for they typically receive decent medical care.” Being quite shy, as a teenager I would have said “blessed are the outgoing, for they will not be overlooked.”

If people in various times and places could come up with beatitudes what might they come up with? Perhaps “blessed are the slaveowners, for they themselves are not slaves.” Or, “blessed are the males, for they will have more opportunities, earn more money, and will never face sexual harassment.” Or “blessed are the white people, for they will enjoy privilege.” Or, “blessed are the straight people, for they will not get beaten up or put to death for their sexuality.” Or, “blessed are the atheists, for they will not be shunned in their academic circles.” Or, “blessed are the religious, for they will not be shunned in their families.”

Going back to the days of the New Testament, if the people listening to Jesus were to come up with beatitudes what would they come up with? They might say things like “blessed are the Romans in Rome, for they will collect taxes from Jews in Judea.” Or “blessed are those who have the power and authority to crucify others, for they themselves will not be crucified and will have control.” Or, “blessed are those who cozy up to the Romans, for they need not fear being hung on a cross.” With such in mind, let us hear the beatitudes Jesus shared:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3-10 (NRSV)

Keeping in mind that the first hearers of these beatitudes were downcast and grieved at being occupied by the Romans, meekly putting up with the status quo, experiencing the injustice of being controlled by an unrighteous and often unmerciful empire, being asked to mix loyalty to God with loyalty to the emperor, and under threat of violence and persecution, we could summarize these beatitudes as “blessed are those who get kicked to the curb and look to God for help, for God will take care of them.” That would resonate with a people kicked to the curb by the Romans.

In that context, the beatitudes of Jesus were reminders that things were not as they seemed. It seemed like the powerful were the fortunate ones, but in reality those who look to God to act in power are the blessed ones. It might seem like the Romans are in charge, but in fact, God is. While “Caesar is lord” was a popular saying, it would later become evident that Jesus is Lord. Indeed the very symbol of Roman power, the cross, was to become a symbol of God’s love for the weak. While it seemed like the Romans were the blessed ones, truly God’s people were the blessed ones as they looked to, and trusted in, Him. Blessed are those who are kicked to the curb, who look to God for help.

As we consider the idea of “blessed are the kicked to the curb,” there is a twist:

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12 (NRSV)

It is not “blessed are you when the Romans persecute you because you are Jewish,” but “blessed are you when people persecute you because you follow me, Jesus.” Also, when we consider the persecution of the prophets, the identity of “they,” the persecutors, is not the usual list of Israel’s enemies, the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, or Romans. The prophets were persecuted by their own people. God’s people in Jesus day were being kicked to the curb by their own people, the religious elites. Jesus will go on to contrast His way with the way of the religious leaders in what has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount. It might seem that the fortunate ones are those who are able to attain religious perfection according to the standards of those who think they are perfect. But in fact the blessed ones are those who look to God’s perfect love. It turns out that you are not in a good situation if you are depending on your own ability at being good. You are blessed if you look to the goodness of God, if you are aware of your need of His grace. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Jesus teaches us in the beatitudes that things are not as they seem. It might seem that the powerful Romans are the blessed ones, the ones who can lord their power over the weak, but in fact, Jesus is Lord. It might seem like the religious leaders are the blessed ones, the ones who think they can earn salvation and shun everyone who cannot, but in fact Jesus is Saviour. Both these point to the cross, where the political and religious elites, the so-called “blessed ones,” combined forces to put Jesus to death. The death of Jesus seems to confirm that the Roman and religious leaders are the blessed ones. However, the resurrection of Jesus shows a different reality. The blessed are those who look to God. The blessed are those who look to Jesus, the Lord and Saviour. Blessed are those who are kicked to the curb and look to God for help.

Jesus taught about the Good Samaritan, the outsider willing to help someone left for dead at the side of the road. The so called “blessed ones,” the religious leaders crossed the road to avoid him. They were on their way to the temple and so needed to stay pure to stay blessed. Or so they thought. The one kicked to the curb was the blessed one when the Good Samaritan went above and beyond to be helpful. Have you been kicked to the curb? God is the ultimate Good Samaritan. Cry out, He’ll cross the road.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Today’s article kicks off a series on The Sermon on the Mount. He appears here most Thursdays. You’ll also find these articles at his blog.

January 22, 2020

Ways We Can Interface with God

One of the devotional sources we’ve used before took us to one we haven’t: Teens in Christ. Not surprisingly, this devotional piece borrowed some terminology from the world of technology to look at the discipleship process in a rather different but refreshing way.  (If you have teens, consider getting them to follow this particular website.)

Spiritual Interface

An interface is regarded as the common area between two spheres of influence: practices shared by two disciplines with a common goal of interconnection between spiritual realms. Communication between God and His subsidiaries enables sometimes incompatible elements to coordinate effectively together through prayer. To be in an interface is to communicate directly, in this case with our Creator. Processors, software, hardware, and routers are all terms we use with computers, whereas spirituality, Bible study, prayer, and meditation of scriptures are terms we use in processing our mind to interface with the likeness of God. Where computers have to be maintained, repaired, and recovered, our minds have to go through a similar process of regeneration so we can communicate with God.

This process begins with DBS&P, or daily Bible study and prayer. Through the process of Bible study we learn what God wants us to do so we become obedient to His Word. Reading alone will not create the change we need to prepare ourselves for the future. We have to do exactly as the Bible instructs us to do so we can begin to have a spiritual interface with God. We are trapped halfway between heaven and hell, and we exist as half animal, half spiritual beings so it is up to us to decide what direction we want to take. If we choose to act animalistic, we go to hell, and if we choose to act spiritual and seek out the face of God, we go to heaven. It is our choice and no one is making us go either way.

If it were this simplistic it would be easy to decide; unfortunately, there are influences all around us and inside of us that draw us away from God. We are a spirit being that lives in a body in a physical world so here we are again trapped halfway in between. We are spiritual, but we cannot see the spiritual world. We cannot see the spirit beings coming and going in our life, influencing us in ever-wrong directions. They can hear our thoughts, mingle with our mind, and influence us to do wrong. If this is not enough, we have our own fallen condition that was handed down to us from our ancestors. It is no wonder the world is the way it is because we are bombarded by the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life.

We are placed in this circumstance for a reason. We have been given a free will to choose any direction we want as long as we understand that all choices have circumstances. God has created us the closest being there is to His own personality. He is not looking for robots. He is looking for family. He created Himself so He doesn’t have anyone like us so He devised a plan for us to have the opportunity to be like Him.

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:1-3 NKJV).

However, with God, holy perfection is a given, and He is unable to lie or sin in anyway so for us to be able to reach His level of existence we have to be regenerated from our animalistic, hell-bound, half-spiritual, half-physical being to a son or daughter of God. In the beginning, He created us to be like a lot closer to Him, but with the fall of Adam sin came into our world. Lucifer, Satan, the Devil, a fallen angel, manipulated the good things God created and corrupted them into evil. Satan and his cohorts gave us knowledge that we were not ready to have, and some knowledge like war, witchcraft, and sorcery we never needed to know.

Growth is the key to life, and growth begins when we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. That through His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection He has paid the price for our sins and enabled us to have a personal relationship with Him. He did what we could not do for ourselves because only one sin will separate us from God forever. Christ paid a tremendous price for us. He, being part of the godhead, virtually separated Himself from Himself when he was crucified on the cross. We may never know the pain he bore as He absorbed all of our sins.

The first step to spiritual interfacing is asking Jesus Christ to come into our life. We do this by saying this simple prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

I accept Jesus Christ as my sin-bearer, and I trust God to forgive my sin because Jesus Christ died in my place; I accept Him as my risen Savior who ever lives to make intercession for me, and I trust Him to keep me from day to day. I accept Him as my Lord and King, to whom I surrender the absolute control of my thoughts and my life. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen

If you have any questions you can reach me at alan@kidsnchrist.com.

January 21, 2020

As Abraham Aged, Testing Increased

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we have two devotions for you by George Whitten. The first appeared at his website, Worthy Devotions, and the second (abridged) is from Standing for God.

Experience it!

Genesis 22:1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested (Hebrew word len-a-sot, to try) Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

John 6:5-6 Then Jesus lifted up [His] eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test (Hebrew word, lenasot, to try) him, for He Himself knew what He would do.

James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials (nisayon (noun form of lenasot)), knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

The testing of Abraham’s faith was repeated by YHVH throughout the patriarch’s entire life. The tests grew greater as his life advanced, and through everyone, whether Abraham passed or not, YHVH proved Himself to be his friend over and over again. Every test or “trial” involved a serious challenge or threat in which Abraham had to trust that the LORD knew what He was doing, asking, or requiring, and that His goodness and faithfulness were unquestionably reliable.

This type of testing or trying of faith is displayed throughout the Scriptures. In an entirely different setting, Yeshua (Jesus) asked His disciple Philip a question, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” The purpose of the question was simply to try Philip’s faith. The Hebrew, “lenasot” “to try, or test”, in the Greek is “pi-ras-mos”, which carries an interesting connotation: “proving by experiment”.

James, the Lord’s brother, speaks of the “testing of our faith”, as well. Though we often think of this testing in negative terms, James exhorts us to “count it all joy”, never mind that it’s virtually certain there will be little pleasure in the experience of any trial. The fact is that trials function as experiments, and experiences, which serve to prove and improve our faith. In the Hebrew New Testament (Brit Chadasha) the word for “trial” is “ni-sa-yon”, which also happens to be the word for “experience” and “experiment”.

So the trials we experience are literally, experiments upon our faith. And while it is clear that God Himself does not tempt us, we also know that He allows our faith to be proven by experience, and experimentally verified. Faith is not based on experience; it is based on revelation from God. But it’s genuineness is tested by experience. And it ought to be growing through every trial, producing a deeper comprehension of God’s faithfulness.

Your faith is being proved to be genuine through testing and trial; experimentally and experientially, just as was the faith of Abraham, Philip, and every true saint of the Lord. For while faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen — it will be proven in, by, and through the very hard experiences and realities of your life. This is not accidental but very much in the plans and purposes of the Lord.

The stakes are going up!

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning.

…During the past ten years we’ve seen such radical changes in our society… People of Biblical faith are witnessing the fulfillment of Isaiah’s warning, Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! [Isaiah 5:20]

Societal changes are also influencing the body of believers as numerous controversies and divisions in churches are challenging leaders and lay people alike. This is not a negative thing according to the Apostle Paul. He addressed the carnal church in Corinth where factions had developed, saying, “I hear that there are divisions among you … for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” [1 Cor. 11:18-19]

Those who truly know the Lord and abide in His Word are all the more easily distinguished in today’s social and moral climate. Since God’s definitions and standards do not vary as human conventions or opinions do — even when “science” is used to support the new claims, faithful believers will be identified for better or worse. We’ll be afforded distinct opportunities to represent our God who is “the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

While the world makes its resolutions to be more fit, financially independent, or cosmically conscious, we can resolve to make this year, this decade, one in which we continue set apart, representing the truth and love of our Heavenly Father.

…[M]ay we be the ones that stand out as true believers. Let’s resolve to make this year and this decade — one that our faith is genuinely recognized! May His love, joy, and peace be manifest in our lives for His glory as a witness to the world that so desperately needs Him!

January 20, 2020

Devotions: Breaking Out Into Song(s)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is an archived article which appeared on the writer’s blog in 2016. Julie Meyer is the author of Singing the Scriptures (Chosen Books, 2018) and we were referred to her blog, Into the River.

Spontaneous Worship

For years, part of my personal devotions have been to simply open the Bible and sing the Word. I have found that it is possible to be in the most depressed state of mind – where hope is far away and frustration is knocking at the door of your heart —then I begin to sing the Word – suddenly that song – those words of life actually get inside of me and literally  begin to stir up my heart, mind and spirit to take hope in God. Spontaneous worship and singing the Word of God are powerful tools we all need in our tool belt.

David says it over and over in the Psalms. He writes with complete honesty regarding his feelings, his hopelessness, his discouragement, his despair. Then David begins to sing beyond his feelings. It’s as if this spontaneous song, this prayer that David in complete honesty is writing and singing before God – he begins to stir his heart, his emotions, his mind to remember God. He begins to sing out and write down the questions that he is feeling. He writes down & sings out the answer to the questions. Remember to hope in God. Don’t forget God!

In Psalm 42, David bring us into the whole journey. As I was reading the Matthew Henry Commentary on Psalm 42, he writes the titles do not tell us who the penman of this psalm is, but most probably it was David. And then David presented it to the ‘Sons of Korah’ to sing this song to the congregation.

David writes,

‘My heart is breaking’. He goes on to write, ‘I am deeply discouraged, yet I remember you God.‘

In this Psalm, we go on a journey with David in his spontaneous prophetic worship where he writes down every emotion and sings our every discouragement, but he does not stop in his downcast state. He also gives the answer to his discouragement.

He is writing down quite possibly what his eyes are beholding, a storm over the seas;  he sees the raging seas and the storm.

I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.

Possibly his emotions identified with that storm and he began to sing of the storm within his soul, his heart and his emotions. But he doesn’t just write the negative – he also – because of the spontaneous worship that he lived a life of – he began to sing the answer.

Then suddenly the Psalm begins to turn and he begins to sing the answer, bringing great hope to His soul, heart, mind and emotions.

Why am I discouraged?
Why am I so sad?
I will put my hope in God;
I will praise Him again!

David was possibly encouraging his own heart from the Torah. The Word of God that He had in his days. We have David’s songs, prayers, and cries today so we can sing the same words. They do the very same thing to our own heart, emotions, mind, and soul.

This is the powerful effect of prophetic spontaneous worship. We can simply open the Living Word of God, sing these same words, and have an encounter with Hope that will bring anyone out of the deepest despair. This is the power of singing the Word; the wonderful simplicity of just opening the Bible and beginning to sing Words that are already written down.

This Spontaneous Prophetic Worship is for everyone.

Oh Lord, make us like David!

January 19, 2020

The King Had Everything Except God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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“Ahaz had a vague spiritual interest, and that was not enough.”

Earlier today, one of my personal friends suggested I check out an online resource, The Enduring Word Biblical Commentary. This free website has over 11,000 pages of Bible commentary and is the work of David Guzik, a pastor, Bible teacher, and author of commentary material you may have already used on Blue Letter Bible. (It turned out we had referred to or used material from Enduring Word on three earlier occasions in 2016 and 2017.)

Today’s feature comes in two parts. First, I’ve included a short devotional from his blog. As usual, click the header below to read it at source.

Then, I’ve included a link to David’s full commentary on the chapter for today’s key verse for you to get an idea of what his material looks like.

One of the Worst Kings

Also he removed the Sabbath pavilion which they had built in the temple, and he removed the king’s outer entrance from the house of the LORD, on account of the king of Assyria. Now the rest of the acts of Ahaz which he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? (2 Kings 16:18-19)

Ahaz was one of the worst to reign over Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah. He brought in corrupt pagan innovations to the temple of God. Ahaz took away many of the good things that stood before. The record of 2 Kings 16 tells us some of the story, but not all of it – the rest of the acts of Ahaz are found in 2 Chronicles and a few other places.

Ahaz did what he could to discourage the worship of the true God at the temple of God. For a time, he even shut down the operation of the temple and established small pagan altars all around Judah (2 Chronicles 28:24-25).

I think that in many ways, Ahaz is a warning to our generation. He could be considered a church leader from the 21st century on several points.

– Ahaz was a man with an artistic sense of style.
– Ahaz was impressed with technology and brought the Babylonian innovation of the sundial to Jerusalem (2 Kings 20:11).
– Ahaz loved innovation and new things, and brought those innovations into worship.
– At the same time, Ahaz seemed to be a nice man. He did not have the persecuting spirit of his grandson Manasseh (2 Kings 21:16).
– Yet, Ahaz had the advantage of great prophets and messengers (such as Isaiah and Micah).
– Ahaz had the blessing of a great deliverance when God spared Jerusalem and Judah from conquest.
– Ahaz also had the influence of a godly father and a godly heritage from the line of David.

Ahaz had many advantages yet was a terrible leader for the people of God. The key to understanding Ahaz is to note that he had no relationship with God. Ahaz destroyed the link that his father Jotham made between the palace and the temple, and this was an illustration of his destroyed relationship with God. With his love of the latest trends and fashion he was the opposite of Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Ahaz had a vague spiritual interest, and that was not enough.

In the end, Ahaz put his trust in himself and in man – instead of the living God who reigns from heaven. Therefore, his reign was a disaster, one of the worst among the kings of Judah.

How can you avoid the same disaster? Don’t put your trust in yourself, in your gifts, in your strengths, in the latest style, or even in good people who want to help you. At the foundation, put your trust in God. Jesus is worthy of our trust.

Click here for David’s commentary on 2 Kings 16

 

 

 

January 18, 2020

The Difference Between a Friend and a Brother

Today we return to Before the Cross, written by . This makes a great and timely point. Click the title below to read at source.

Real Community Shows When There’s Trouble

Our Community Group right now at Austin Life Church is going through the book of Proverbs each week. Recently we were covering Proverbs 17 and 18 and there was a part in chapter 17 that stood out to me.

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Other translations say a brother is born for a difficult time, or to help when trouble comes.

There’s a couple of things that stand out to me from this.

There’s A Difference Between A Friend And A Brother

After the invention of social media and the increase of technology, we find ourselves with many “friends” these days, but we know they aren’t really that close to us. They aren’t actual real relationships that experience life together. I’m afraid we are getting farther and farther away from real relationships with people, even though we crave this and want real community with others.

A “brother” (or sister), is someone who shows up. An actual real relationship that does life with you. He/She is someone you see or talk to with frequency. Someone you can be vulnerable with and not be afraid about being “the real you.” There’s a huge difference between someone who likes your picture online vs the person who’s in the picture with you.

Do you have someone like this in your life?

There’s Going To Be Times Of Trouble

As we follow Jesus, we are never promised a life free of issues. In fact, sometimes things can feel like they are getting “worse” because we see the real war that is taking place between making Godly decisions vs sinful decisions each and every day. In this life, in this sinful and broken world we still live in, with sinful and broken people, there will be times of trouble.

What is clear Biblically, is that we are not to isolate ourselves and do life alone. We are all different members of the same body (the church) and so when we isolate ourselves, we intentionally separate ourselves from the body.

We absolutely need brothers and sisters to walk with us in times of adversity. When trouble comes into our lives, we need help and encouragement to spur us on to love and good works

…let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24).

I’m convinced we all need a few of these close people in our lives as followers of Jesus. Not only for ourselves, but also to be that person for someone else or for multiple people. This is how the whole body of Christ works together.

If you don’t have people that close to you in your life, why not? Are you holding back? Afraid to be real with one another? Not connected to the local church? Been hurt by past friendships?

Let me encourage you that regardless of your past, you have full freedom and forgiveness from what Jesus has done for you and you have the power from the Holy Spirit to step into those close relationships, without fear of what “could happen.” It’s a step of faith on building these relationships around you, but Christianity is all a step of faith. Plus, you have so much to offer because God sees value in your life and He has wired you to compliment the body of Christ so we all have a role to play.

The fact is for all of us who follow Jesus, we are all going to be in heaven together for all eternity anyway, so we might as well get to know each other today.


Friendships: A Warning

While preparing today’s devotional, I found another reference to the Hebrews text presenting another approach. I thought it worth sharing here for those who want to look at this in an entirely different light.

“…spurring one another on towards love and good deeds.” (Heb. 10:24)

Bizarrely, the closer some relationships are, the more permissive they can become; and our passion to do what is right is diluted. As we feel able to relax completely with trusted friends, we can abuse the sense of ease by letting our behavior slip. Gradually language that we would never use in public slips into the conversation and off-white humour that we know is inappropriate becomes part of the common currency of our friendship, because we feel able to let our hair down. The friendship has now become one that gives permission (where we give each other a license to compromise) rather than providing exhortation (where we encourage each other towards character and excellence).

~Jeff Lucas, writing in Lucas on Life, devotional reading for Jan 20, 2005.

Friend Counting: Also in our blog archives this quotation:

I think about the number of friends I have who are that way, who would answer the phone if I were to call at 2 a.m. (and who may well get such a call before peace returns), who would listen and love me no matter what I say, what I do. At the drop of a hat I can tell you roughly how much money I own, the approximate amount of equity in my house, exactly how many frequent-flyer miles I have. But it takes some thought to conjure up the number of true friends, because I don’t think on them as often as I should.Their number is far greater than I deserve, and maybe just enough to carry me through to the end.

It’s worth doing such a heart’s accounting, now and then, to remind yourself how many people love you, how many people would welcome you into their homes, how many pray for you and think about you and take joy in knowing you are well.

And then to ask yourself how many people would consider you such a friend.

~Tony Woodlief

January 17, 2020

The Best Proof for Christianity

Today is a revisit to the website Truth or Tradition, sponsored by Spirit and Truth Fellowship International.This is about half of a much larger article. If you read this, and fear rejection, click the header below to include the two sections on ‘having a thick skin’ and ‘having a thicker skin!’

Heart Matters

Proof of Jesus in our Actions 

Apologetics is the religious discipline of defending or proving the truth about one’s religion. Although some would argue that Christianity is not really a religion, there is information that every Christian needs to know to be able to defend and prove that Jesus Christ and his saving works are true. With all the different belief systems and ideas moving through our society, we need to be able to show others genuine and honest evidence that Jesus is who they need, that God is the creator of this universe, and that he is very real and alive and active in his endeavors to help them.

Your love Matters

I recently heard someone say that the best proof (apologetics) we have of Christianity being true and real is Christians themselves.  He said the way Christians act and relate to others is the best evidence to the world that Jesus is the answer, that Jesus is truth and life. Of course, this would mean that Christians are being good imitators of the love and kindness as shown by Jesus. One of the commands of our lord Jesus, and also one of the prayers by the apostle Paul for us, is that we have love for one another and love for all.

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:12-13

and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,

 1Thes 3:12 

We are truly living in some very good times to be able to display this love for one another and to those around us that have not named Jesus as lord, yet. No matter where we turn there is so much strife and conflict and uncertainty and division and…and …and. Your love for a hurt and confused and possibly hateful person will certainly stand out in blatant contrast to the minimizing and indifference that they might be all too aware of in their interaction with others. During these difficult days we need to not withdraw our attempts to love and reach out to others and help with their difficulties, but we need to be bold and confident because we truly have answers and help for a dying world…

Plant and Water

There is no way of knowing for sure what effect we are having on many of the people we interact with over the course of our lives. So many times I have wanted to be efficient with my time in finding people who are interested in repenting and getting saved, and I have hastily necessitated a decision or a commitment from them without allowing ample time for them to consider deeply what the decision will mean for them, without allowing them to being able to see my life and the fruit produced by following Jesus.

But in my attempts to be efficient, I have often damaged my ability to be effective. It is almost always impossible to be efficient with people because there are so many emotional loose ends that end up taking longer than we have scheduled. Often people need to not feel pressured into making a decision, to have room to consider what they are getting into. Better to be effective than efficient.

Many times we hear about spectacular conversions of people coming to Christ. And of course this does happen at revivals or other life altering events. We need to be ready to supply people with the truth at these times. However, there are by far more people who come to know Jesus over a course of time, and sometimes through many exchanges from many different people.  Jesus said that he would personally build his church, and something for us to remember is that Jesus brings people and situations together into the lives of the people we meet to help in his building.

On a construction site, usually there are many different contractors who bring different skills at the right time during the building project. The foundation people show up first, then the framers, followed by the mechanical people including plumbers and electricians. It is a process that requires time and planning. Our lord Jesus is very good at putting us into others’ lives at the right time so that we can be a part of the building process that results in God giving growth. Even the Apostle Paul knew that there are others involved in the growth process.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

1Cor 3:6-7

My wife and I were at a restaurant eating with a neighbor of ours that we have befriended. We of course have the hope of sharing the good news with her, and do so in little tiny bits. She has, through the course of our friendship, been very outspoken of her non-biblical views. She has listened briefly to some of the points we have made about God, but mostly changes the topic quickly. She also has a few tattoos that she has collected over the course of her life.

As we were at this restaurant, she mentioned the hostess who had these beautiful tattoos all over her arms.  She told us tattoos like those are called sleeves. As the hostess came by our table, our friend mentioned to the hostess how nice her tattoos were. This hostess asked if she could share the story of her tattoos with us. She sat down and started talking about her life and how she was into drugs and other very dark situations, and as she pointed to her arms, from one tattoo to another as they all tied together, she explained her journey out of darkness and into the grace and salvation of Jesus. Part of her tattoos where a stairway leading out of pain into light. Our friend was quiet and did not have much to say after the hostess left, until she changed the subject again.

This was such a great example to me of how our Lord is in the process of building his church and bringing different people together to plant and water.  We may not always be the one who gets the joy of seeing the actual conversion in another’s life, but we should be filled with joy that we get to be a part of the process of planting and watering, realizing that  we are not the whole process. In fact we need to pray that others will be sent to the people we love, so that there will be a concentrated effort leading them in the right way…

…continue reading here

75 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday, but not necessarily daily. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

January 16, 2020

Learning From the Master Learner

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus is arguably the greatest teacher that ever taught. His teaching was recognized as profound by those who first heard it:

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28-29 (NRSV)

The teaching of Jesus continues to be revered in our day, by Christians and non-Christians alike. The impact of Jesus’ teaching is undeniable, on both individuals and societies.

Neil Peart was arguably one of the greatest rock drummers ever. The one known as “The Professor” said this on why he took drum lessons despite his already high level of drumming proficiency: “What is a master but a master student?” (Rolling Stone Magazine 2012). Was Jesus, the master teacher, also a master student? While the Bible tends to focus on the teaching of Jesus, there is one passage which speaks to his learning:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:41-47 (NRSV emphasis added)

Before Jesus taught, he learned. There are two things to take note of.

First, Jesus went to the right place and the right people to further his growth and learning. He went to the temple, he sat under those who taught things about God. According to the custom of that time and place, Jesus should have been focused on learning carpentry from Joseph. No doubt most his days were taken up with learning that trade. However, even from a young age, Jesus had a sense of a much deeper calling:

When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Luke 2:48-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

Yes, Jesus would have called Joseph “Dad.” And yes, Jesus would have been learning carpentry from him. However, in being in his “Father’s house,” and in learning things about God, Jesus showed his awareness of being someone special, of being called to something special. Jesus, being the Son of God, was called to do what no one else in history could do; be Lord and Saviour.

Do we know our identity in, and calling from, God? We may immediately think of our vocation or volunteering. We may have matched our passions and gifts with what we do with our time. There is a calling more basic and fundamental than that. We are called to follow Jesus. We are called to be his disciples, a word which simply means ‘student.’ If Jesus, being aware of his calling and identity as the Son of God, went to the Temple, we, as disciples of Jesus, will want to go to Jesus. Perhaps you thought I was going to say we go to church. Yes, that is part of it, but even in church we focus on learning from Jesus.

Second, Jesus engaged in conversation, asking questions and giving answers:

. . . they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:46-47 (NRSV)

There is a theological question we must answer so that we can better understand this Bible passage. Was Jesus, since he was God the Son, and therefore potentially knew everything already, showing off his knowledge? Or, was Jesus actually engaged in learning? While Jesus is fully divine, he is also fully human. Bible passages will sometimes put the focus on one or the other. In this passage, the emphasis is on the humanity of Jesus. Note the verses immediately preceding and following this passage of Scripture:

And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. Luke 2:40 NASB

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke 2:52 NASB

Before Jesus taught, he learned. He asked questions, he dug deeper. He gave answers, giving opportunity for correction. This was how people learned from the rabbis in those days. The teachers were not annoyed with the answers of Jesus, as they would be if he was coming off as a ‘know-it-all,’ rather, they were amazed. Before Jesus taught with great wisdom, he learned with great wisdom.

Are we asking good questions? There is never a dumb question. But there are questions that are are more wise to ask than others. For example, I have often been asked whom Cain married. Since the Bible only told us about Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel up to the point of Cain going off and getting married, whom did he marry? This is not a dumb question. However, a better question, a wise question to ask is: “what is the nature of, and God’s vision for, the Bible?” When we find the answer to that question, the question about Cain goes away. In a nutshell, the Bible is given to teach us what we need to know about ourselves, God, and our relationship with God. It is not given to tell us everything. Are we asking good questions? Are we open to correction? Do we have a teachable spirit? Sometimes this means, not adding to our understanding, but making adjustments to our understanding. Are we learning with wisdom?

Like Jesus, the master learner, we want to be in the right place to grow into our identity and calling. We want to be learning at the feet of Jesus. Like Jesus, we want to be wise learners, asking questions, digging deeper, giving space for correction.

Jesus is not just a great teacher, but being God the Son, Jesus is Lord and Saviour. Jesus is not a self-help guru! Our growing in, and learning from, Jesus is not just about living the good life. It is part and parcel of our salvation. Salvation is not just about going to heaven when we die. It is also about heaven’s influence on us now. Are we learning from the Master Learner?


Clarke Dixon is a musician, motorcycle enthusiast, and pastor in Ontario, Canada. He is the single-most-frequent contributor to C201, with articles appearing most Thursdays.

January 15, 2020

Did You Bring the Right Offering to Church?

Can we return one last time to the Advent/Christmas narrative? We weren’t sure, but we knew last week there was a possibility that Clarke Dixon’s article from last week, would have a Part Two, but it didn’t get published on his blog until this week. So today, this article, and then tomorrow, Lord willing, Clarke’s regular Thursday blog post.

by Clarke Dixon

Did you bring the right offering to your church? Perhaps pastors such as myself will be tempted to say “no.” That may be based on organizational number crunching for 2019 and a realization that red is not just a Christmas color. As Christmas fades into the past, an event following that first Christmas will help us reflect on our offering.

Let us consider the Magi. We usually think of the Magi as being at the manger along with the shepherds on the first Christmas Day. However, based on Herod’s killing of Bethlehem’s 2-years-old-and-under infants (see Matt 2:16), they likely arrived later.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 (NIV)

Being non-Jewish, the Magi do not bring an offering according to any religious rule, but rather from of a spirit of generosity. It is an interesting exercise to read through the entire New Testament, taking note of how often religious rules for giving are promoted in contrast to how often generosity is taught and modelled, especially by Jesus.

It is an interesting exercise to also consider the difference between giving out of religious duty and a spirit of generosity. For example, it is possible to earn millions of dollars, tithe a tenth of all that is earned to a church, and yet be completely lacking in a generous spirit. We would be left with incredible wealth, yet could still be stingy to everyone and every need that crosses our paths. Even though we have given much to our church community, we can be Scrooge-like in sharing our gifts of time and talents. Are our offerings of time, talents, and treasures an expression of a growing and generous spirit, or merely an expression of how religious we are? Our offering is not just a matter of accounting and number crunching, but a matter of the heart.

Further, let us consider that the Magi bring their offering, not to the temple, but to a person. Are our offerings focused on Jesus? Are they focused on Jesus when they are given to an organization we call a church? It is more important that churches help people connect and walk with Jesus, than simply keep churchy and religious things happening. Since our offerings are part of personal devotion and worship, we would bring them as an act of worship, even if we were asked by God to be burn them on an altar.  But God has not asked for that. He has directed us to help people connect with Him.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)

Do our offerings help people connect with God and walk with Jesus?

There is another offering for us to consider as we bid farewell to the Christmas season. Let us go back to the temple, to the moment Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms and said to Mary:

“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Luke 2:34-35 (NLT)

A sword would indeed pierce Mary’s soul when Jesus was opposed by his own people, who should have known better, and hung on a cross by the Romans, who should have done better. We are barely beyond Christmas and already we are hearing about Good Friday. While we think of the offerings of the Magi, the offering brought by God for outsiders like the Magi is the real news here. God’s generous spirit is on full display!

Have you brought the right offering to church? Come to Jesus, see the gift he has for you. Then see where generosity leads you.


Clarke Dixon is a musician, motorcycle enthusiast, and pastor in Ontario, Canada. He is the single-most-frequent contributor to C201, with articles appearing most Thursdays.

January 14, 2020

Distinguishing Between P1 and G1 Issues

Today’s devotional arrives from an unlikely source for a blog that aims to avoid topical issues and stick to to doctrinal discussions. I found this towards the end of my reading of Bruce B. Miller‘s book Leading a Church In A Time of Sexual Questioning: Grace-Filled Wisdom for Day-to-Day Ministry (Thomas Nelson, 2019). Learn more about the book at this link.


…Some theological issues are worth fighting for. When do we, like Martin Luther, say, “Here I stand,” and when do we agree to disagree? Let me suggest we distinguish between P1 and G1 issue, Philippians 1 and Galatians 1. In both chapters there is conflict between people who identify themselves a Christians. Paul wrote to the Philippians,

NIV.Phil.1.15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

Some people were preaching the gospel from bad motives. Likely, in their selfish ambition they were trying to get people from Paul’s church to come to their church while Paul was in prison. I imagine they had reasons why their flavour was better than Paul’s. How did Paul respond? “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).

Paul did not condemn them or try to shut them down. He did not critique them or tell people not to join their group. Paul said the important thing is that Christ is preached  no matter what the motive or what the flavour. If Christ is preached, let’s rejoice… Our Christian churches may have different names… but we are all on the same team. We are all for Jesus Christ.

Now look at Galatians 1. How is G1 different from P1? Paul wrote to the Galatians,

NLT.Gal1.8 Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.

How is the situation different in Galatians 1 than in Philippians 1? In Philippians 1, the other people are preaching the true gospel of Christ, but in Galatians 1, the other people are preaching a different gospel. Paul used some of the harshest language in the entire New Testament. He fought for the truth of the gospel. Why? Because people’s eternal destinies are at stake. If you sincerely believe a false gospel, you are not saved, even though you might wrongly think you are.

So when do you fight for the truth? When do you stand up and say, “So help me God, I will die for this truth”? When the gospel is at stake. When the issue is motive or minor matters, you rejoice that the gospel is preached, even if you would not personally go to that church or belong to that group. When the gospel is perverted, you condemn those who are throwing people into confusion. We must distinguish P1 issues from G1 issues. Is this a minor matter, a personality issue, or is the truth of the gospel at stake? If the truth of the gospel is at stake, we fight against those who pervert it because people’s eternal destinies are at stake.

These days some groups in the American Christian church are using the word gospel for nearly everything – from marriage to songs. While it’s commendable to bring the gospel of Jesus to bear on all of life, and it’s true that the gospel has been truncated in recent American popular evangelicalism, such as in simplistic salvation tracts, it can be harmful to use gospel as a heavy adjective to turn P1 issues into G1 issues…

pp.149-151

 

 

January 13, 2020

Jesus Identifies with Us in His Own Baptism

Yesterday (Sunday) was “the first Sunday of Ordinary Time” in the liturgical calendar. It kicks of with “the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.” We read that story in Matthew 3:

NIV.Matt.3.13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

A new author, who came recommended to us is Debie Thomas (no relation to yesterday’s author) at the website Journey with Jesus. This is an excerpt from a much larger article which tells some of her personal story and again, as I often do, I strongly encourage you to click the header below and read the whole thing if you’re able.

Stepping In

…[W]hen I read the story of Jesus’s baptism in this week’s Gospel, I don’t so much see a stepping out.  I see a very intentional stepping in.  A stepping into a history, a lineage, a geography, an identity.  In receiving baptism, Jesus doesn’t set himself apart from us; he aligns himself with us.  Baptism in Matthew’s Gospel story is not about Othering. It’s about solidarity.  About joining.

On the day I was baptized, I had no felt sense that I was giving myself over to something larger, older, wiser, and more capacious than my own one-on-one with Christianity.  Baptism, I thought, was all about my effort, my obedience, my responsibility.  So much depended on me!  There were so many ways I could mess up! I had no idea that my “personal decision to love God,” important though it is, pales in significance to God’s cosmic decision to love me — and the whole of humanity and creation along with me.  I didn’t know that God was ushering me into a Story — a huge, sprawling Story that began eons before I showed up in my father’s study with tiny fistfuls of belief.

In other words, I didn’t know the paradoxical power of stepping in.  Of giving myself over to something deeper and more trustworthy than the shifting sands of my own opinions, creeds, and doctrines: an ancient cloud of witnesses.  A worldwide community of the faithful.  A liturgy that endures.  A created universe that whispers, laughs, and shouts God’s name from every nook and corner.

According to Christian historian John Dominic Crossan, Jesus’s baptism story was an “acute embarrassment” for the early Church, precisely because of this stepping in.  Why would God’s Messiah place himself under the tutelage of a rabble-rouser like John the Baptist?  Why would God’s incarnate Son receive a baptism of repentance?  Repentance for what?  Wasn’t he perfect? Why on earth would he wade into the murky waters of the Jordan, aligning himself with the great unwashed who teemed into the wilderness, reeking of sin?  Worse, why did God the Father choose that sordid moment to part the clouds and call his Son beloved?  A moment well before all the miracles, the healings, the exorcisms, the resurrections?  A moment long before Jesus accomplished a thing worth praising?

Why, indeed?  And yet this is the baffling, humbling, awe-inspiring story we’ve inherited as Christ’s followers. Unbelievable though it may seem, Jesus’s first public act was an act of stepping into his humanity in the fullest, most embodied way.  “Let it be so,” he told John, echoing the radical consent of his mother, Mary, who raised him in the faith.   Let it be so at the hands of another, he decided, as he submitted to John the Baptizer, because what Jesus did and still does with power is freely surrender it, share it, give it away.  Let it be so here, he said, in the Jordan River rich with sacred history.  The Jordan where once upon a time his forbears, the ancient Israelites, entered the land of Canaan.  The Jordan where the prophet Elijah ended his prophetic ministry, and his successor Elisha inaugurated his.  The Jordan which flowed under the same “opened” sky God first opened “in the beginning,” at the very dawn of Creation.

In other words, in this one moment, in this one act, Jesus stepped into the whole Story of God’s work on earth, and allowed that story to resonate, deepen, and find completion.

So.  What part of this story is hardest for you to take in?  That God appears by means so unimpressive, so familiar, we often miss him?  That Jesus enters joyfully into the full messiness of the human family?  That our baptisms bind us to all of humanity — not in theory, but in the flesh — such that you and I are kin, responsible for each other in ways we fail too often to honor?  That as Christians we are called into radical solidarity, not radical separateness?  That we are always and already God’s Beloved — not because we’ve done anything to earn it, but because God’s very nature, inclination, and desire is to love?

To embrace Christ’s baptism story is to embrace the core truth that we are united, interdependent, connected, one.  It is to sit with the staggering reality that we are deeply, deeply loved.  Can we bear to embrace these mind-bending truths without flinching away in self-consciousness, cynicism, suspicion, or shame? …

 

January 12, 2020

Understanding the Message Happens with Applying the Message

A year ago we quoted a short excerpt from the blog of author Rick Thomas. Today we’re doing the same, as this is taken from a much longer article written for pastors and leaders. I encourage you to read it at its source, in full. Just click the header which follows:

You Need More Than Preaching If You Want to Change

The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4, ESV)

1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The Purpose of the Parables

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

“ ‘they may indeed see but not perceive,

and may indeed hear but not understand,

lest they should turn and be forgiven.’ ”

13 And he said to them, Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

Community Contexts

In verses 1-9 Jesus was teaching to a very large crowd from the pulpit,so to speak. In verses 10-13 He begins to unpack the teaching lesson in a personal, customized, relevant, and practical way for His community.

The pulpit is a great place to exalt the Savior and expound the gospel, as well as call people to live lives of holiness. To be sure, God-ordained preaching for the proclamation of His Word. It is the foolishness of preaching that confounds the wise and empowers the faithful (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In addition to great preaching, you also find in Scripture that it is in the living rooms of the communitywhere the truths preached from the pulpit are worked out in the contexts of lives.

You can exhort someone over and over again from the pulpit to serve, and its possible he will understand, personalize, and apply that idea. But if you bring a towel and basin to his living room and wash your friends feet, you can be assured he will never forget that one act of other-centered serving (see John 13:15; Matthew 26:13).

Helping others is where Jesus excelled. He contextualized His preached Word in the community of the believers. He did not let the preached Word stand alone. He modeled His message to drive home His points.

Practically Speaking

Rachel has heard wonderful preaching the past 16 years of her life. Nearly every Sunday, she has been encouraged, enlightened, and envisioned about how to be a woman for God.

Recently, a growing bitterness took root in her soul toward her church, her pastor, and some of her friends. The more she hears the wonderful truths from the Word declared from the pulpit, the more cynical and suspicious she becomes. 

She’s seeing the discontinuity between the preached Word on Sunday and her marriage and family during the week. The dots are not practically connecting for her.

Sadly, her cynicism and suspicion are directed toward Godthough she would never say it that way. She hoped for a different life and believed it would come by “going to church,” as she put it.

Her belief about the church is why she committed herself to God and the meetings of the church. She even took on a ministry in the church to help in whatever way she could. Her faith and practice were real. Rachel loves God.

But like a person asleep in a boat, only to awake hours later to find they drifted beyond the buoys, Rachels marriage has seemingly slipped past the point of no return. All the while she is faithfully committed to her local church.

Rachel is not struggling with sound doctrine. She does not have a theological problem, as far as her understanding of the Bible. What she has is a methodological problem.

Building a knowledge base through learning and growing in theological understanding, is half the equation. Rachel is getting good information on Sunday morning. It is consistently biblical, easy to understand, and well-delivered.

Her problem is the other half of the solution she needs. Her church has not provided or trained her on how to take the good Word preached and work it out in the milieu (contexts) of her life. She needs a clear and practical application. The Sunday church meeting is not designed to fulfill that part of her solution.

Rachel is half-full: She knows the Word, but she has not been equipped to apply it practically in ways that matter to her life, marriage, and other relationships. If she continues this way, she’ll be running on empty before long.


Rick then continues with ten action steps for local churches. See the closing section of the article which I am again, linking here.

January 11, 2020

Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions

John 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

A few years ago I had an interesting conversation after church.

The pastor had quoted the verse we commonly refer to as “The Great Commission;” the verse which reads,

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.”

The person who spoke to me has a huge compassion for Israel and is willing to share this passion with any who want to know more about the various facets of how modern Israel fits into Old Testament history, New Testament studies, evangelism and missions, eschatology, etc. We’ve had some great interactions, and I’ve learned much about The Holy Land from our conversations and various items she’s given me to read.

She suggested to me that perhaps the passage in Acts 1:8 might actually be taken most literally. That we should be evangelists in Jerusalem.

Perhaps that has some appeal. As I write this, the forecast for tomorrow (Sunday) in Jerusalem is cloudy with sunny breaks and a high of 10°C (about 50°F for our U.S. readers.) Certainly milder than what’s predicted where I live.

I told her that neither those we call the “church fathers” nor modern commentators have interpreted this passage that way. I mean, it’s an interesting take on the passage, and certainly in first century context it is correct; but we tend to read their commission into our commission and when we do so, we tend to think of Jerusalem as the place where we’re standing or sitting right now. The place we call home. My Jerusalem is the close family, co-workers, immediate neighbors, etc. who in a sense, only I can reach.

Perhaps you grew up in a church where it was diagrammed something like this: City, then state (province), country, entire world.

Jerusalem Judea Samaria traditional interpretation

But people do read scripture differently, and many passages that seem straight-forward are subject to different understandings. So in Acts and Paul’s epistles, my friend at church sees Paul’s consuming drive to bring the Gospel to the Jews; whereas I read Acts and am struck by how Paul was compelled to go to Rome against all odds. (To be fair, both elements are present; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”)

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 from 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 buy milk 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.

And perhaps, just to make things interesting, with its heat, humidity and propensity toward violence, perhaps your Samaria actually is modern-day Jerusalem.

So perhaps you’re thinking, okay, I am going to be a missionary to Jerusalem (so to speak) and I’ll let you be a missionary to Judea. I don’t think it’s that simple. True, in a church setting people may find themselves specializing in different mission fields, but I believe each of us, over the course of our lives, is to be open to be finding ourselves in ‘Samaria situations.’

All David was doing was delivering a ‘care package’ of food to his older brothers, but he found himself on the front line of the battle against the Philistines, and in particular, their MVP, Goliath.

I believe a Christian life, lived to the full, will involve all four types of battle: On the home front, further afield, to the place we don’t necessarily want to go, and to those in places involving 30-hour flights or multiple airport connections.

At the very least, let’s be open to all of these.


  • Some of today’s article appeared previously in October, 2014 incorporated in a look at how this view of Samaria would have influenced the original hearers of The Parable of the Good Samaritan story. The full article was originally published in January 2011 at Thinking Out Loud.

January 10, 2020

Apologetics for Anyone

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Last week I was introduced for the first time to the name Michael Ramsden. He works with the Zacharias Trust, which is the UK name for RZIM. Anyone who knows the names, Joe Boot, Andy Bannister, Logan Gates, Abdu Murray, Vince Vitale, etc., should know about Michael, but I didn’t. I tracked him down first on YouTube and then found this transcript and podcast. It’s very, very long in written form, so I’m just including a small sample here today. (Note: If you have the time, click the link and read or listen to the story about the haircut Michael had which precedes this section.)

Click the header below to read or listen at BeThinking.org.

Conversational Apologetics

…I don’t know if anyone has ever asked you, “Why are you a Christian?” If you find yourself in the context where someone else has asked that question, listen very carefully to what they say. What you’ll find is that when we are asked why we are Christians, we often explain to someone how we became a Christian. But why you are a Christian is not the same as how you became one. Those are two different questions – why and how. If you answer the question “Why are you a Christian?” by telling someone how you became a Christian, what do you think you’re communicating to them? Put yourself in their shoes. What do you think they’re going to hear? It’s about me. And more than that, what about the process itself? “Why are you a Christian?” “Well…” And then you tell them how. “I met a Christian guy, he seemed very nice, he invited me to his church. I was intrigued by what they said, I went along to their bible study group, I spent some time, and then I became a Christian.” If you were a non-Christian, what’s the next thing that you would then ask? They might say, “But if you met a Buddhist that day, and he took you to his temple, and you joined his Zen group, you would now be sitting cross-legged on the floor going, ‘Ommm…’ Doesn’t it sound a bit random? But is that why you are a Christian? Just a random chance process and it just happened to happen to you, or is there more to it than that?”

Most of you are here because you’re interested in apologetics, and if you’re interested in apologetics, you’ll already be familiar with the verse in 1 Peter 3 where it says, “But in your heart set apart Christ Jesus as Lord, and always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us for the reason for the hope that we have.” We’ll look at that briefly, because I want to go somewhere else into the Gospel as well. Here’s what is interesting with that command to be able to always give an answer: The word translated ‘answer’ is from the Greek word apologia, where we get apologetics from. For years, we’ve taught that apologetics is an inherently complex task. Apologetics is for a group of specialists. Apologetics, we said, is giving the philosophical branch of theology, or the theological branch of philosophy. But I don’t think that’s what it is at all.

When Peter wrote 1 Peter to the church, he didn’t write to an individual, and he wasn’t writing to just a very narrow geographical region. He wrote 1 Peter 1:1-2 to the church that was being scattered as a result of persecution. He addresses himself to the church. He’s addressing two universal commands in those two verses, 1 Peter 3:15-16. First, “In your heart, set apart Christ as Lord.” If you are a Christian, you must live in obedience to that command, are we agreed? And number two, “you must be prepared to give an answer, an apologia, an apologetic, for the reason for the hope that you have.” Who is that command addressed to? To the church.

I would suggest that the vision and the meaning of what is in here is not about a complex specialist task for a group of highly trained, skilled individuals. What is in here is a command addressed to the church, to the ordinary members of the body of Christ, saying, “You must be prepared and ready to give an answer – an apologia – to everybody who asks you for the reason for the hope that you have.” In other words, apologetics is not about introducing a dose of confusion into the gospel in order to make it sound more profound. It is about communicating the profundity of the gospel so as to remove the confusion surrounding it.

There has been a very big divergence between the historical development and definition of apologetics and its biblical definition. I have no trouble admitting that at all, but that is a disastrous development – absolutely disastrous. Now there are going to be people out there with incredible philosophical minds who will take this to a very deep level. That’s fine. But Peter can’t be addressing himself at that level, can he? Because unless you are a master of philosophy, how will you ever be in a position to give that kind of apologetic?

In other words, this idea of conversational apologetics – engaging with hairdressers, taxi drivers, your next-door neighbors, your friends, your family, meaningfully, with the gospel, I suggest to you from Scripture, is meant to be something which every member of the body of Christ should be able to do. It is not an optional extra. Two commands are given back to back: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord,” and “always be prepared to give an answer, an apologetic, to everyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that you have.”

We don’t have 1) Basic Christianity that’s got like, the lordship issue settled out, and then 2) Christianity Deluxe, with advanced theology, apologetics and a couple of extra software modules plugged in. Apologetics is part of the basic package. Apologetics therefore must live or die within the life of the church. It died in Western Europe when it became an abstract intellectual discipline as opposed to a spiritual dynamic exercise that was right at the heart of the church. Yes, there will be specialists, there will be people who have incredible ability, but that’s not all there is to it. It’s just as dangerous for apologetics to end up in a small group of specialists as it would be for theology to only exist among academic theologians…

January 9, 2020

Do You Belong in Church on a Sunday Morning?

by Clarke Dixon

Listen to the original sermon on which today’s article is based at this link.

Do you belong in church on a Sunday morning? There are those who have no desire to go. I get that. However, there are those who who would like to, but don’t feel they belong. They feel they will be judged, by the regulars, or worse, by God. There are those who feel that they are not good enough to be found in church, their attendance would be hypocritical in some way. At the tail end of the Christmas story, there is an event which will help us reflect on where we belong.

Let us first consider Mary and Joseph:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:22-24 (NRSV)

Often missed in the Christmas celebrations, and often neglected in our rush to get beyond Christmas, is this story about Mary and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was known to be the place where God took up residence among His people. Of course everyone would have known that God, Who created the cosmos, could not be contained in any single building. But there was a sense in which God had chosen to dwell among a certain people and therefore dwelt at a certain place. The temple, therefore was a sign of intimacy.

Do we think of Joseph and Mary as just going through the motions, doing a religious duty and nothing more? Or was there a sense of wonder, expectation, gratitude, and recognition of the intimacy between God and his people? Indeed this intimacy with God would be worked out in a special way through this child Mary and Joseph carry. Would they really have known what a privilege they had? If they did, being regular people, would they have felt they deserved that privilege? I doubt it! Do we really get what a privilege it is to be in the presence of God together with God’s people? Do we think of going to church as merely ‘doing a religious thing,’ or are we aware of our participation in something quite incredible?

Let us also consider Simeon. While Joseph and Mary are at the temple, Simeon took Jesus in his arms and said:

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32 (NRSV)

These are surprising words. We may have expected ‘for my eyes have seen your salvation, for this child will deliver us from all peoples, and kick these pesky Romans out.’ Instead, salvation is “prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The temple was a place of nationalistic pride. Many held the attitude that “Romans don’t belong here,” not in Israel, certainly not in the temple. Many feared the Romans would destroy the temple, just as the Babylonians had done hundreds of years before. Many were hoping the coming Messiah would protect the temple by destroying the Romans. However, this infant called Jesus was not destined to protect the temple and destroy the Romans, but rather to include the Romans in God’s loving embrace!

Next, let us consider Anna:

 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38 (NRSV)

As God used Simeon to drop big hints about what was to come through this infant Jesus, so He used Anna also. Anna spent most of her time for most of her long life at the temple. However, if the temple stood as a symbol of intimacy with God, it also stood as a symbol of distance from God. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy place in the temple, only once a year, and only after much rigmarole to ensure ritual purity. Such is the holiness of God. Your regular priest could not go as far into God’s presence. Non-priests were kept further away. Women were kept further away still. Anna spent her life in devotion to a God she could not properly approach. God would change all that through this infant Jesus. Following his life, death, and resurrection, people like Anna could “come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Hebrews 6:16 KJV).

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. Ephesians 3:12 (NLT)

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 (NLT)

In fact, people like Anna, once kept at a distance without Christ, together are the temple, the place where God takes up residence:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16 (NRSV)

With Simeon and Anna we discover that God can surprise us with his inclusive love. Are you surprised by the fact you can be included in God’s love? One of the things I am fond of saying at the Lord’s Supper is “it is not necessary for you to be a formal member of our church, or indeed any other church to participate with us in the Lord’s Table.” People are often not “good enough” to be included in church membership rolls. God is good enough to include them in His love, in His mercy and forgiveness at the cross. Perhaps that describes you? You may think you should stay away from church for you are not good enough to enter. You are welcome to come. You would be in the right place.

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