Christianity 201

February 26, 2015

The Judas Effect

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 He [Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
 (John 12:6)

As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
 (John 13:27)

Judas is an interesting character, to say the very least. Like the thief on the cross, he is one of a number of exceptions to the rule, and many speculate as to what might have been if his betrayal had worked out like Peter’s denial and he had been restored. One writer suggests:

I do think that Judas was one of the very few in the Bible who did not have a free will, and was destined to betray Jesus actually from before the foundation of the world.

Another writes,

To summarize, be careful where you place Judas. He did the will of the Father and fulfilled the Scriptures. Peter, who we all love, tried to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion and was called “Satan” by our Lord. Peter, who was not mindful of the will of God, was restored. Was it not Jesus who said, “”For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50) Be careful about placing Jesus’s brother, Judas, in Christendom’s “hell.” One day you may have to look up to Judas, instead of looking down on him. Peter denied him three times in one night while Judas declared Jesus innocent in front of the High Priesthood. Judas had a very important job in the Kingdom of God. For three and one half years, as a Priest he inspected the Lamb of God as an unbiased man. He was not “one of them” a Galilean. He was the outsider. He did his job perfectly. If Judas really wanted to mess things up, he could have agreed with the High Priesthood and called Him a “blasphemer” who claimed to be the Son of God when He really wasn’t. But Judas declared the Lamb spotless and unblemished*, the Perfect Passover.

*“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matthew 27:4a)

Where I wanted us to look today however is when did Judas go bad? The second of our opening verses suggests a particular time when “Satan entered into him.” It’s interesting that there is absolutely no variance on this phrase in any English Bible translations, though the AMP adds, “and took possession.”

The first verse however shows him to be embezzling money from the funds used to support Jesus and The Twelve in their ministry. (We know that many of the contributors and supporters were women, along with men.)

So if we look at a continuum of Jesus ministry, with one end beginning with the calling of the disciples, the scripture reading in the temple, and the turning of water into wine; and the other end consisting of the Passover meal, the arrest and betrayal; we see some rather bad behavior on Judas’ part long before Satan ‘entered’ him. There is evidence of something wrong before we would place an “X” on that continuum to mark what happened in the upper room.

Question: If it was found that the treasurer of your church was helping himself to money from the offerings or church bank account, would you necessarily say that Satan had entered into him?

Judas’ petty thievery is used to show that he was bad from the beginning, and is used to justify the position that he was never fully committed to Christ, but the scripture indicates that something especially significant happened as he exited that Passover meal to carry out his plan.

Again, it’s pointed out that:

[Acts 1] affirms that Judas was one of theirs in number and fellowship with ministration.* In other words, Judas worked cooperatively and in concert with the other disciples. There is no mention of his not being a good and faithful member of the group.

*v. 17 “…he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”

I John 2:19 paints a broader picture of people who ‘share in the ministry’ but then do not continue in the faith:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

The Reformation Study Bible says of this:

Paul too warns against false teachers who will arise from among the believers (Acts 20:29–31). As in the case of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9–24), visible membership in the church does not guarantee salvation. Inward apathy or hostility to the gospel may be masked by outward conformity. The false teachers revealed their hostility not just by leaving, but by the way they left. Because they went out to oppose the word of the gospel, their departure was as much a renunciation of the church and its message as was Judas’s departure from the Last Supper (John 13:30).

Some say this is also a picture of the Antichrist.

What is the point of studying Judas in such detail and what can we learn? This is just my opinion, but I believe that even though the Biblical picture is of a more dramatic turn taking place during that Last Supper meal, the events in Judas’ life compounded, one on top of the other.

Another commentator puts it this way:

Somewhere in Judas’ life, he took an evil turn that eventually resulted in rejection of Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior and eventual suicide. One bad attitude toward Jesus led to another, and a pattern of rejection and bitterness must have led to the ultimate rejection of Jesus.

and later writes,

Judas confessed his sin without repentance. There was no radical change in his mind that resulted in a change from spiritual death to spiritual life through faith in Jesus Christ. True repentance would have turned him to Jesus for forgiveness.

Does any of this resonate with you because of a person or situation you know? Let’s end with some encouragement from Galatians 6: 1

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.


I want to acknowledge Michael Card’s book, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, for getting me thinking about this topic.


Go Deeper: Here’s The Message translation of I John 5:16-17 to get you thinking further along this topic. Use online Bible resources to help unpack this passage:

16-17 For instance, if we see a Christian believer sinning (clearly I’m not talking about those who make a practice of sin in a way that is “fatal,” leading to eternal death), we ask for God’s help and he gladly gives it, gives life to the sinner whose sin is not fatal. There is such a thing as a fatal sin, and I’m not urging you to pray about that. Everything we do wrong is sin, but not all sin is fatal.

Go Deeper Still: Some of today’s passages bear on issues dealing with free will and predestination, as well as the eternal security of the believer (perseverance of the saints). The verse in I John often is used to support the semantic idea that such people were “never saved in the first place.”  How do you see that verse fitting in?

 

February 25, 2015

Everybody’s Got a Troubled Heart

Apologies to those of you who dropped by the blog Tuesday and found things hard-to-read. Sometimes when we format an article from another blog, we pick up HTML code that affects the articles which follow, but we’re not immediately aware of that. Please let us know if you see copy running off the page.


Our post title alludes to Bruce Springsteen’s song Hungry Heart. Some have written about the spirituality that people feel at his concerts. But the truth of the lyrics of this song is certainly appropriate to today’s devotional. People think that some of their friends or people in their church have everything so together, but if they were to peel back the layers, they would see that everybody’s got a hungry heart, a hurting heart, a troubled heart.


 

It’s Wednesday which means today’s post is by Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon. Click the link in the title below to read at source, or better yet, if you have the time, listen to the audio of the full sermon at this link. (Choose the sermon titled “Trouble.”)

Trouble!

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14:1 NRSV

This is a verse with no relevance to any of us as we all have perfect lives, right? We all have perfect health, perfect relationships, and perfect families, and so no troubles, and no troubled hearts. Well truth be told there are many things that can cause our hearts to be troubled. In fact, even if the situations of our lives are not troubling, we can still experience a troubled heart as we fret over situations that may never happen. Troubled hearts are a relevant topic for us all.

Troubled hearts are a relevant topic for the disciples in our passage. He has already told them that one of them would betray him, one of them would deny him, and all of them would fall away from him. Oh, and he would be killed. One can only imagine the kind of thoughts that would be troubling the hearts of the disciples as Jesus is arrested, falsely accused, beat up, mocked, and executed. They might obsess over how they had failed Jesus. They might obsess over the possibility that Jesus had failed them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

But that is Friday and Saturday. Sunday comes and Jesus rises from the dead. That should be the end of all troubles, right? Wrong, following Jesus’ ascension to the Father, persecution breaks out against the Jesus followers and it does not go well for them. Study history and you will find much suffering for many Christians. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Or as one Bible scholar translates it: “Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

But shouldn’t things always go well for those who worship God? Should not their prayers be answered? Isn’t God fixing things? Many well meaning Christians believe that yes, God does fix everything for the true believer, and yes, God does answer every prayer of a good Christian. So if things are broken in your life, or prayers are not being answered; confess more, pray more, be a better Christian.

But what does Jesus say? What did Jesus say to the disciples when thing were about to go oh, so wrong? “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God, keep trusting also in me.” He does not say “now that you are following me, your life will be pain free,” but “do not let your hearts be troubled.” You do not say such a thing unless you know trouble is coming. He does not say “I have now fixed everything,” but “keep trusting in God, keep trusting in me.” You do not call for trust unless you know someone needs to wait. He does not say “today you will be with me in paradise,” but “I am going to prepare a place for you.” Well he did tell one believer that paradise would be his lot that very day, but we all know what came next.

Truth is, we are still living in a messy world. No matter how good a Jesus follower we are, no matter how deep our prayer lives are, no matter how all-encompassing our confession of sin is, we still live in a messy world.

Genesis chapter three outlines the result of the fall. The last time I checked, a Christian woman is as likely to experience pain in childbirth as any other. A Christian farmer needs to work just as hard as any other farmer to produce a potato. And all through history, Christians have been as likely to die as anyone else. This is the mess we live in. As we live in this mess we sometimes would rather treat the symptoms than seek the cure. Jesus does not promise to be a pill that will take away pain. He promises to be the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus meets our greatest need. He fills our biggest hole. He cures our greatest illness. He lifts us up from our hardest fall. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” Every pain we feel as a Jesus follower is temporary. Jesus dealt with our eternal problem.

But someone will object: “God does fix every problem in our lives in the here and now. If you are experiencing trouble, it is because you are not a good enough Christian.” But are you willing to say that to the apostle Paul?

with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. 28 And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NRSV)

Paul responded to all these troubles, not by blaming himself or God, but with trust: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 NRSV)

Someone else will object: “God answers prayers with miracles, and if you are not receiving them, that is because you are not good enough.” I believe God does miracles today. But I also believe that miracles today serve the same purpose as the miracles of Jesus recorded for us in the New Testament. They point people to the fact that the Kingdom of God is near. They point to the fact that Jesus is the One through whom the Kingdom comes. Notice that in the New Testament, Jesus did not fix every problem of every person in every place. He still doesn’t. God does miracles, but He does not hand them out like candy. The Christian, no matter how devout or righteous, still lives in a messy world. A miracle is not the cure for a troubled heart. Trust is. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

I once took a girl sailing on Chemong Lake. Not being very windy we decided to drop the anchor and go for a swim. If you know Chemong Lake you will know that the middle of the lake is the best place to go swimming for all along the shores are icky, slimy, gross weeds. It came time to head in, and so I got back into the boat. My friend tried to do likewise, but failed. I tried to get her in, but to no avail. So she swam for a bit while I sailed alongside, until she became too tired. With my friend being too tired and my being too weak I had to do something. So I threw a line from the back of the boat and I towed her in. Now do you remember those weeds all along the shoreline? If you could have heard the screams of this poor girl as I pulled her through the weeds! The point is this. Don’t be surprised by the weeds. Trouble will come, even upon the very best Christian. But when they do, don’t let go of the rope. That God in His grace and love will get us to the shore is a sure thing.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

February 24, 2015

A Cross-Carrying Kind of Life

cross at Grace ChurchThis is one of two posts in a series by Deb Wolf who blogs at Counting My Blessings. This is her third time appearing here at Christianity 201 and we do appreciate the work she does on her site; the tag line is “Encouraging you with stories of faith, hope and love.” Click the title below to read at source and/or read part two, “Jesus Answer to the Fear of Cross-Carrying.

When You Don’t Want a Cross-Carrying Kind of Faith

There is a verse in the Bible that did anything but give me peace and contentment. I tried to pretend I was obedient, but my heart knew it terrified me.

Then He [Jesus] called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:34–35

[Last Wednesday] was Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent. For the next six and a half weeks followers of Jesus will fast, pray, and ponder His journey to the cross.

Followers who are called to deny themselves, carry their cross, trust and obey . . . lose their life for Jesus.

I didn’t want to carry my cross. I liked my comfortable safe life. Sure there were some problems and pain, but life—my life, my kid’s lives, my husband’s life, complete trust and obedience . . . what could happen to a life lost to cross carrying.

My doctor and a counselor said I was “high-strung,” anxious.

Lack of Faith

I knew I was a fear-filled worrier. Seriously, I turned worry into an art form. Not surprising. Look around. Have you seen all the truly terrible things that can happen?

I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew it was lack of faith.

But that verse and others like it:

But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Acts 9:15–16

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps. 1 Peter 2:21

 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. Matthew 10:38

Giving Up Fear for Faith

“I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith . . . I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

It’s true. In this world there will be trials and sorrows. Worry doesn’t prevent it. Fear won’t keep it out of reach.

Trials and sorrows did happen, but.

What a small yet important word.

“You will have trials and sorrows. But take heart, because.

Take heart [don’t lose your faith], because…

I have overcome the world
I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.
Be sure of this: I am with you always.

Through trials and sorrows Jesus was faithful, and because of His faithfulness my faith grew. Faith that was greater than my fear. Faith that was impossible when I focused on my fears, but grew when I kept my eyes on Jesus.

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1–2

February 23, 2015

Understanding Spiritual Gifts

On the weekend, I discovered the blog Parking Space 23. They have multiple authors and go deep on many subjects.  In looking for something we could borrow here, I was impressed by this piece on spiritual gifts.  To read this at source, click the title below. When you’re done, click to the home page and look around at other topics they cover.

Two Misconceptions about Spiritual Gifts

gifts and gifts and giftsby Matt Tarr

We hear a lot about “serving” our church. But what does that actually mean? When I say “serve your church,” my intention is not to tell you about all the programs and ministries our church offers, and where there might be an opening for you to get plugged in. You may very well be the most “active” person in the church, performing the greatest number of tasks than any other person, while using your spiritual gift the least. And as such, you are not serving your church well.

The hypothetical is unlikely, but certainly a possibility. We would therefore do well to ask ourselves, “Is this ministry distracting me from using my spiritual gift, or is it providing me with an opportunity to use it?” Only when all the members understand the nature of their gifts and how they fit in to the corporate body will we truly see how the Lord can bless our church. That to say, this is an important issue for the health of our church – or any church. Of course, if you want to know how to serve our church by using your spiritual gifts, you’ll need to know what those gifts are – that’s the nature of this post. It answers the question, “what are spiritual gifts,” so you can ask the question, “what is my spiritual gift,” so you can ask the question, “How can I utilize my spiritual gifts at my church?”

Now, we need to recognize that there has been a lot of confusion about the nature of spiritual gifts. A LOT of confusion, so let me clear a few of them up.

  1. Spiritual gifts are not for your benefit.
    It may seem obvious, maybe even redundant for me to point out, but spiritual gifts aren’t for your benefit. Every believer has them, but the intention is that these gifts serve the body of Christ. In other words, they are for the body of Christ (the church) – to build it up. They are not for your personal edification, but for the edification of the church. That is not to say you won’t benefit from using them. You certainly will, but your benefit is not the objective – and if it’s become your objective, then my guess is that you’re not serving the body, but your body. It comes with thoughts like, “What am I gonna get out of this?” or, “How will this take away from what I want to do?” For others, this attitude might be better reflected by the way you answer this question, “Why am I doing this?” If it’s because it makes you feel good, or because it makes you feel important, then I’d say it sounds like you’re using your spiritual gift to serve your body. Again, this isn’t to say there won’t be personal benefit. There will be. Not only do you store up for yourselves treasures in heaven as you use your spiritual gifts, but you also nurture a deeper love for the church, resulting in greater joy as you serve. Not only that, but you’ll also increase in spiritual maturity as you use your gifts. Case in point – my primary spiritual gift is that of preaching and teaching. Do I gain a personal benefit from using my spiritual gift? Certainly! I count myself doubly blessed! There is great joy in studying God’s Word and I am regularly refreshed by it as I prepare for each Sunday’s message. But that’s not why I study. I study for the benefit of the flock. Any gift used for your personal benefit rather than the benefit of the body prostitutes and perverts that gift. We are given gifts to serve others.

    As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving on another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Pet. 4:10).

  2. Spiritual gifts are not talents.
    This may be one of the more misunderstood elements regarding spiritual gifts, if not the most misunderstood. We hear it often. “I have the gift of music.” “I have the gift of singing.” “I have the gift of media,” and the list goes on but you get the idea. A spiritual gift is something that’s supernatural – you wouldn’t otherwise have it except that it was given to you by the Holy Spirit – hence why we call them “spiritual” gifts. They are also imparted solely by God’s grace - hence why we call them “gifts.” These two statements are further strengthened by the two words used in the New Testament for spiritual gifts. First, there’s pneumatikos which means “spiritual,” and has its root meaning from the word pneuma meaning “spirit.” This is how Paul uses the word in 1 Corinthians 12, “Now concerning spiritual (pneumatikos) gifts.” He then goes on to say, “Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit (pneuma),” and “the same Spirit (pneuma) works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (vs. 4, 11). Secondly, there’s charisma. This isn’t talking about that certain je ne sais quoi that certain people carry themselves with. It means “gift,” coming from the root charis, meaning “grace.” That being said, we should understand spiritual gifts as just that – spiritually bestowed gifts of grace for the specific purpose of serving the body of Christ. Where a talent is something you’ve been born with, a spiritual gift is something you were supernaturally given by the Holy Spirit upon your conversion. There might be overlap in their use, but they are distinct nevertheless. That means while you might be using a talent in your church, that does not necessarily mean you are using your spiritual gift(s) in your church. In fact, your talent might even be distracting you from appropriately using your spiritual gift.

    Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly (Rom. 12:6a).

So, each believer has been given spiritual gifts, and if we aren’t using them, it’s to the detriment of the body. All the members are important, because each has a gift to serve the church.

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing  e? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body ,just as He desired… Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it (1 Cor. 12:14-18, 27).

Now, there are two categories of spiritual gifts in that exist in the church today – gifts related to teaching, and gifts related to serving. 1 Peter 4:11 says, “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Of course, the question at hand is obvious. Are you serving the body of Christ, utilizing the gifts you have been given by the grace of God to serve your church?

 

February 22, 2015

The Bible on Depression

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During Sundays in February we’ve been visiting the blog Christian Fellowship Devotions.  Archives at the blog go back to 1996, and today I want to link you to their topical index.

For our final Sunday with them, I wanted to use an older item by Janice that deals with a topic I know is very real to many of you.  (I think by NNAS she is referring to the updated New American Standard.) Click the title below to read at source.

depression

Passages about Depression

Depression — it’s something many of us struggle with — yes, even Christians. Being depressed does not mean you are “not a good Christian.” In fact, some of the “heroes of our faith” went through periods of what used to be called “melancholy.” Sometimes depression is a result of sin, but at other times, it is as Christian psychiatrist Frank Meier says, simply “…the result of life stresses.” Here is a bit of what God’s word has to say about it.

Biblical Examples of Depression

Neh 1:3-4 (NNAS) They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire. When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Psa 13:1-3 (NNAS) How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death.

Psa 102:9-11 (NNAS) For I have eaten ashes like bread and mingled my drink with weeping. Because of Your indignation and Your wrath, For You have lifted me up and cast me away.My days are like a lengthened shadow, And I wither away like grass.

Prov 14:13 (NNAS) Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, And the end of joy may be grief.

What We Are to Do About Depression?

We should follow Nehemiah’s and the Psalmist’s examples, pouring our hearts out to God:

Neh 1:6-7 (NNAS) Let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned.We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.

James 4:8-10 (NNAS) Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

Find things to be thankful for, even in the most painful times. God will honor that.

1 Th 5:18 (NNAS) In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Share with a trustworthy friend. Let him minister to you.

Rom 12:15 (NNAS) Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

February 21, 2015

Devotional Poetry

Today you have a choice of two devotionals; you can choose one or read both.

 

CEB Luke 5: 29 Then Levi threw a great banquet for Jesus in his home. A large number of tax collectors and others sat down to eat with them. 30 The Pharisees and their legal experts grumbled against his disciples. They said, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31 Jesus answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do…

Last year at this time we visited the blog Scripture4You. Because they take more of a poetic approach to scripture and the readings are shorter than what we do here, I thought we would include two of their most recent posts. As always, click the titles to see these at source, along with some beautiful illustrations.  (I wish I had the font that they used as well!)  The scripture verses are all links as well, today we’ve used the Common English Bible for all of them.

Scripture4You

Levi’s Dinner Party

Jesus called Levi, the tax collector, to follow.
Jesus was an equal opportunity employer.
Levi was so excited about his new career…
 …he gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.

 

Levi invited all of his friends who also just happened
 to be in the financial field.
So was this one of the first fund raiser events.
Did Levi see that if Jesus was to spread his message
some additional funds might be necessary?

 

Jesus chose to place himself in the company
 of every kind of person imaginable.
He did not concern himself with a person’s
sinfulness social or economic status.
Jesus came for everyone.

 

Imagine for a minute if Jesus
had only chosen fine upstanding members
of the community for his followers.
Would the greatest of sinners given him any notice?

 

Jesus purposely went out of his way to encounter
 all aspects of the human condition.
No one repulsed him… no one was rejected by him…

 

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, 
but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous 
to repentance but sinners.”

 

Today we believe in annual
visits to our physician for our well-being.
Jesus was focused on the well-being of the soul.
We have many ways to maintain the health
 of our soul through the sacraments.

 

When Jesus walked among us
 he was the preview of all of the sacraments.
Jesus restores and repairs all things;
those whom he called came to witness this first hand.

 

We are Blessed today because Jesus
is the Divine Physician
for the body and soul.
~~~Peace~~~

14 At that time John’s disciples came and asked Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees frequently fast, but your disciples never fast?”

15 Jesus responded, “The wedding guests can’t mourn while the groom is still with them, can they? But the days will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they’ll fast.

Fasting Beatitudes

Today’s message highlights the pitfalls
and the beauty of fasting.
Fasting is a spiritual practice designed
to bring us closer to God.
We do not fast to let others think more highly of us.
A time of fasting is not to pretend we are a better
person because we are not eating.
Fasting is a practice to remind ourselves of our dependence on God.
It is God who sustains us in all our needs.

 

We fast for blood work, we fast because it is prescribed
by our religious beliefs.

 

Fasting is not so much about what we do or don’t eat.
Fasting is more about our mindset.
We must ask ourselves what is our motivation for fasting.

 

God reveals to Isaiah what amounts to
the Beatitudes of Fasting.
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.

 

Yours will be a clean heart…entrance into the kingdom.

 

…your wound shall quickly be healed…

 

If while you are fasting you focus on the care of others;
your own ills will be healed…
your heart will be cleansed…
you will be forgiven…
Your fasting will not be in vain…for all the wrong reasons.

 

The wounds of our soul are healed
when we reach out to care for God’s children.
The wounds of our soul from years past
will be filled in smoothed over with the grace of God.

 

If you choose to fast do so with a loving heart…
for even if you are not aware of the wounds of your heart
healing will occur.

 

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…

 

Fasting is not about being sad and gloomy.
Fasting is about surrendering our will to doing God’s will.
It is in fasting where we can come to know
 what hunger for God truly is…
Our hunger for God is our hunger to be made
whole again to be with him in heaven.

 

Blessings may come in restricting you food intake,
but not by ignoring the needs of the poor.
~~~Peace~~~

February 20, 2015

Building on an Existing Foundation

CEB* Luke 1:1  Many people have already applied themselves to the task of compiling an account of the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used what the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed down to us. Now, after having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, I have also decided to write a carefully ordered account for you, most honorable Theophilus. I want you to have confidence in the soundness of the instruction you have received.

When most people start reading the gospel of Luke, any subsequent discussion usually revolves around two things:

  • the painstaking thoroughness of Luke’s account; his attention to detail; his desire for accuracy
  • speculation as to the identity of Theophilus; who he might have been or if the term is a generic to describe God-seekers everywhere, or perhaps a coincidental combination of this with an actual name (such as we get with Barabbas, a sort of Everyman name.)

For that reason, it’s easy to miss what is taking place in verse four.

so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (NIV)

The Reformation Study Bible points out that the word used for taught here is the word from which we get our “catechism” and Michael Card points out in his commentary on Luke that Theophilus is wanting to know more of the background behind the things he has already been catechized in.

In other words, Theophilus is not sitting on the fence here, he’s crossed the line of faith but wants to go deep. He wants to move from Christianity 101 to Christianity 201. And beyond.

Michael Card writes,

…Theophilus is entrusted with one of the greatest pieces of literature on the planet, all for the purpose of being sure of his original catechism.

~Michael Card, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, page 33

The IVP New Testament Commentary notes that,

There is a geographic flow to the order: Galilee through Samaria to Jerusalem. But above all, the order seems to be redemptive-historical. Luke is concerned to trace the progress of God’s redeeming work in Jesus, especially by highlighting his teaching and the rise of opposition to him. The emphasis on promise-fulfillment also suggests this sort of order. The Gospel is roughly chronological, but not precisely so. More important to Luke is revealing how God worked through Jesus. This is “sacred history” revealing the order of God’s plan. (emphasis added)

Michael Card also notes that in the verse that follows, “ In the time of Herod king of Judea…” the reference to Herod is intended to send chills up the spines of Luke’s readers. In other words, Luke is doing more than just accurately pinpointing years and months, he is painting a picture for his readers as to the mood of the times in the story. This is the contrast between the teachings of Jesus and the opposition that the IVP commentary references.

Matthew Henry writes,

Theophilus was a person of quality, perhaps of noble birth; and so much the more pains should be taken with such when they are young, to teach them the principles of the oracles of God, that they may be fortified against temptations, and furnished for the opportunities, of a high condition in the world… It was intended that he should know the certainty of those things, should understand them more clearly and believe more firmly. There is a certainty in the gospel of Christ, there is that therein which we may build upon; and those who have been well instructed in the things of God when they were young should afterwards give diligence to know the certainty of those things, to know not only what we believe, but why we believe it, that we may be able to give a reason of the hope that is in us.

While we haven’t used the word so far here, we’re clearly talking about apologetics; of being able to say with certainty, “I know who I have believed…”  (II Timothy 1:12)

We know from the first verse that Theophilus commissioned this writing by Luke. He wanted to know more or perhaps with some of the narrative, he simply wanted to hear it again.  While Luke’s introduction assures us of his attempt to get the story right — to be an exemplary journalist — it also speaks to our need as Christ followers to study, review and even immerse ourselves in the story that changed the world.

So, finally, we can never be sure of the identity of the mysterious Theophilus. But that is not, strictly speaking, true either. He is you. He is me. For we have received some initial instruction on Jesus’ life and ministry. We need to know with more certainty the truth of what we have heard.

~Michael Card, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, page 34


* Common English Bible

 

 

February 19, 2015

A Vessel for Honorable Use

Today we want to introduce you to servantsofgrace.org and if you click the title below, you’ll not only get the article, but links to a large number of quality articles just like it. In today’s reading Zach Barnhart looks at four distinctive marks of holiness we can apply to our own spiritual diagnostics test.

Holiness: Becoming a Vessel For Honor

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

The discussion of holiness in Christian circles is inescapable. There are hundreds of books on the subject, and thousands of articles and blog posts on it. The word “holy” appears in the Bible over 600 times. This conversation is not only inevitable, but can often be burdensome to believers trying to live the Christian life.

HolinessIt’s easy to talk about holiness and feel utterly disheveled. Oftentimes it’s because we, as heirs of grace need to acquire an honest view of the difficult process of sanctification. In order to discover this, God’s people need to understand their sin nature. We do this by understanding that Satan hasn’t left God’s people alone. Not to mention, it’s growing seemingly more difficult to live a holy life in a pleasure-driven, tolerance-demanding, all-things-go culture. Holiness, in short, is hard. Take heart and find Paul’s encouraging spirit in these words in 2 Timothy 2:20-21. Only then will you not feel bogged down, but motivated by His grace. Christians should not feel stripped of their armor, but equipped with it. Paul writes Timothy from a heart of encouragement, calling him “my beloved child” (2 Tim. 1:2). He encourages Timothy to be “strengthened by the grace” of Christ (2:1), reminding him “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power” (1:7). Paul aims to encourage both Timothy and you.

In 2 Timothy 2:20, Paul begins an illustration: in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver…” Just as a house holds various kinds of vessels, so the Church has many different members and gifts. Some vessels are gold, others are silver. Both are precious metals, with some more refined (gold) than others (silver). These precious metals are all a sight worth displaying in the home; they are treasures we love. But there are also vessels of wood and clay.” Wood and clay are certainly inferior to any gold or silver. A necklace made of wood is of fractional value when compared to a necklace of pure gold. These are “vessels of dishonor,” referring to the hypocrites, or those who stand in moral or doctrinal error in the Church. The Church will be full of not only vessels of honor (running towards holiness), but vessels of dishonor (running from holiness).

As believers, we have to ask ourselves, “How am I doing?” Sometimes it’s difficult to interpret the data of our own spiritual diagnostics test. What are the signs and indicators? How can believers tell if they are moving in the right direction? How does the Christian become a vessel of gold and silver, and avoid becoming like wood and clay? Thankfully, here Paul has provided four distinctive marks of a Christian who is running the race of holiness.

He will be a vessel for honorable use”
The first mark of spiritual holiness is that we embrace our transformation. What is a vessel after all? A vessel is best used when first emptied, then filled. All are born incapable of achieving righteousness by their own strength (Isa. 64:6, Rom. 3:10-12). Any chance we have, then, of being counted righteous before God is to be completely emptied of ourselves, and, in the new birth of regeneration, being transformed into new life, a life “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Only the power and grace of Jesus can accomplish this feat, and when He does, He fills His people with His spirit “for honorable use.” Whether filled to the brim or down to the last drip, God is filling His people with His Spirit, for His use, for His glory. The end result of this is His people embracing true transformation.

Set apart as holy”
One of the main differences between a gold or silver vessel as opposed to a wood or clay vessel is the physical appearance of the vessels. A vessel of gold shines; it illuminates when a light is shined on it, and it is more eye-catching than other elements. Similarly, we must also reflect the King to an unseeing world. Scripture shows the importance of being set apart. Christians must evaluate themselves and ask, “Am I living a life that walks the walk and talks the talk?” We don’t ask out of unhealthy piety or competition, but rather to determine what our life is reflecting to a lost world. When the light shines on us, do we reflect it back, as gold and silver? Or do we, like wood and clay, look dull, dark, and unfazed by the light? To live in holiness is to live a life of non-conformity (Rom. 12:2), putting on the new self (Col. 3:10), walking in wisdom (Col. 4:5), “for we are His workmanship” (Eph. 2:10).

“useful to the master of the house”
A third distinctive mark of our holiness is when we serve a purpose for the Kingdom of God. I recently heard the illustration from a friend on how we must approach our duty as the Church like a battleship, not a cruise ship. Cruise ships are consumer-driven. People eat at will, soak up the sun, etc. No one is there to be working or sacrificing. But on a battleship, everyone works. Everyone has a purpose and desire to be useful, because there is a fight to be fought. People don’t go to a battleship to be served – they go to be useful. We cannot approach God and His Word and His Church as an opportunity to merely be filled, but as an opportunity to be useful (1 Cor. 4:1, Gal. 5:13). Christians must accept the call, and put their hands to work for Christ’s Kingdom.

“ready for every good work”
The fourth mark of holiness Paul outlines is when we prepare for battle. There is a level of desire and preparation that we should have in wanting to be a vessel of honor. I am not suggesting that preparedness affects God’s control in situations or opinion of us. I think what Paul is saying is, “Do not tarry. Be on guard.” When preparing to become vessels for honor, our battle sword doesn’t need to be sharpened, because it already is. There’s no need to go rummaging around for our armor, because we’re already wearing it.

You and I are not worthy to receive righteous on our own. But let this truth fill you with deep longing for the power of Christ. Don’t let the scorching sun of holiness wither you; let it root you. Be a radiant, cultivated picture-in-progress of the Spirit’s working power. Be encouraged. Your journey in holiness is designed to give you Kingdom purpose, and passion for it. It helps you shine reflections of Him to a dark world. It helps you be eager to fight in Jesus name.

In summation: Embrace your transformation. Reflect the King. Serve a purpose. Prepare for battle.

February 18, 2015

The Transfiguration: Listen to Him

Today, our regular mid-week thoughts from Pastor Clarke Dixon.  Click the title below to read at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

The Transfiguration Clarification

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,  3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.  4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:2-7 NRSV emphasis mine)

The transfiguration of Jesus may seem strange to us, with dazzling clothes, and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, but as strange as it may seem, this is a very important moment with much to teach the follower of Jesus, both then, and today.

Transfiguration of JesusTo understand it well we will want to notice the many references back to the Old Testament. The event occurs on a mountain, which reminds us of God giving the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Also we have the radiance of Jesus, reminding us of the radiance of Moses’ face when he had spent time in God’s presence (see Exodus 34:29,35). We also have Peter’s reaction, which though most translations have as a statement, some Biblical scholars think should be a question: “Is it right for us to be here?” The Israelites were not to go up Mount Sinai with Moses, for God is holy and they were not. Peter may be reflecting that same concern of getting too close to where God’s presence and glory is being made manifest. Then there is Peter’s suggestion of building shelters or “booths.” The word for shelter can also be translated as “tabernacle,” and part of the intent of the tabernacle was to shield the people from the glory of God while God’s presence was among them. And of course we have the presence of two key figures from the Old testament, Moses and Elijah. These are very key as Moses represents the Law, and Elijah represents the prophets. Both the law and the prophets are associated with God’s speaking to the people and His expectation of their obedience.

So what has this to do with my life today?

First, the transfiguration gives clarity to the identity of Jesus. The disciples knew that there was something special about Jesus. And many people today think there is something special about Jesus, but when asked what that is, they will talk about his great ethics, or his inspirational compassion and love of peace. But that does not capture it, for that quaint view of Jesus is not amazing enough. Consider how amazing it would have been for Peter, James, and John, to find themselves standing with Moses and Elijah. These were two key heroes of the people, representing the law and prophets. Yet God does not introduce Moses with “here is my servant, Moses. Listen to him,” nor Elijah with “here is my spokesperson Elijah, listen to him.” No, for there is one of even greater importance standing among them: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7 NRSV). As amazing as standing in the presence of Moses or Elijah would be, it is not as amazing as standing in the presence of Jesus. Though Moses and Elijah could reflect the glory of God, Jesus is the source. Though Moses and Elijah could call people to repentance, Jesus is the One who redeems the one who repents. Far too many Christians today do not have an amazing enough understanding of who Jesus is. Let the transfiguration amaze us.

Second, the transfiguration gives clarity as to how to live as a Christian. Some people become Christians, but it is as if they are taking up religion. They want to know the rules, they want to fit into the denominational subculture, they want to be like everyone else in the religion. But Christianity is not taking up a religion, it is entering into relationship with God through a person, Jesus Christ, in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Entering into relationship with Jesus is not taking up religion, but taking up the cross and following Jesus in the way of the cross. It is not being like other religious people, but becoming like Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus means: paying attention to the teaching of Jesus, paying attention to the example of Jesus, and paying attention to the example of the early Christians as they followed the teaching and example of Jesus. All this is recorded for us in God’s Word. In short, we are to “listen to him.”

Third, the transfiguration provides a response to certain accusations being made against Christianity. In our day we seem to be seeing a rise in violent militant Islam and many are saying that Christianity could be as likely to turn violent. People will point to passages from the Old Testament as proof. However, when people compare Christianity with Islam in this way they are really comparing apples and oranges with the conclusion of “we are all fruit after all.” Or comparing cashews with almonds and concluding “we are all nuts.” However, if you are allergic to cashews and not almonds, knowing the difference becomes very important. It is important to know the difference between Islam and Christianity on this point.

When a Christian turns to violence, he or she is not paying attention to the teaching of Jesus, the example of Jesus, or the example of the early Christians and how they follow the teaching and example of Jesus. He or she is not expressing the Christian faith, but rather a sinful heart. We are not thinking here of those times that violence may be a matter of national or personal security; that is a deep topic worth mining. That Christians have turned to violence is not in dispute. That the turning to violence is an expression of Christianity is. We are to “listen to him.” Rip out of context whatever passages you want from the Old Testament, we are to “listen to him.”

When a Muslim turns to violence, we are grateful that he or she (but typically he) is in the minority of Muslims. However, the militant Muslim can point to the teaching of Muhammed, the example of Muhammed, and the example of the early Muslims. Each has violence. Thankfully this is a minority view, but it is a possible view which the militant Muslim can defend theologically, and use to radicalize others. This is happening. The militant Christian cannot defend a violent expression of Christianity. We are to “listen to him.” When we do that we pick up a cross, not a sword.

February 17, 2015

Before You Act, Speak, Hurt, Get the Facts

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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In all my writing, not just here, I try to practice the art of “trans-Atlantic cross-pollination.” I believe there are great things being said by writers and musicians in the UK that we miss out on from having a faith worldview that stops wherever we meet a large body of water. Recently, I started getting weekday morning devotions from Andy Elmes sent to me by email.  (There’s a similar service offered by Skye Jethani.) Today I want to share the one that arrived on Monday:

Good to get your facts right before you crucify someone

Mark 15:12-14 (NKJV)

Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!” Then Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?”But they cried out all the more, “Crucify Him!”

Just days before Jesus had heard this same crowd shout “Hosanna” as He entered Jerusalem, now so many in unison shouted “Crucify Him”. Sadly, this is a true testament to how fickle “the crowd” can often be. But in reality it was no surprise to Jesus, because He knew He was born to die on a cross, and their ignorant uninformed shouts were only driving things in the direction His Father had appointed them to go.

The reality here is that, while Pilate desperately looked for facts, the crowd had made its mind up. The trouble was, their collective mind was already made up – without the facts. Their opinion was based on “some things they heard” from people. Maybe it was  because they liked the people or because the people were very earnest and convincing that they felt the information making this man guilty did not need to be proved? But the real problem was, they were wrong. As they joined in with the chant of “Crucify Him” they were actually guilty of believing a bunch of well-presented lies, and of hanging an innocent man on a cross to die.

So the trial continued and the innocent man is condemned. He is whipped, mocked and hung on a cross to die like a common criminal, as they watched on still cheering. The problem for them is that, directly after His death, it is indisputably proven that the man on the cross was actually innocent, and the people who put Him there were actually guilty – guilty of not seeking out the truth, guilty of listening to only one side of the story, guilty of not giving the person accused an opportunity to relay their side of the facts or defend Himself.

Our lesson today is simple. After you have crucified someone is too late to realise you have made a mistake and that you did not have all the facts!

It has often been said that there are always two sides to any argument. It’s just immature and unjust to not find out the other side of what has happened or to check that you are indeed in possession of all the facts before joining in with a judgement. Wisdom will always wait until it has all the needed information before passing judgement. How often can one person seem so right, until the other party is heard – like the Bible puts it so well:

Proverbs 18:17 (NKJV)

The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him.

Whether it is a person, or even a church leadership, that appears to be guilty, take a moment before you join in with the crowd that shouts “Crucify” to make sure you have all the facts, because after you have killed a person’s reputation or integrity is the wrong side to realize that maybe you were wrong. Remember, there are always two sides to every story!

February 16, 2015

The Death of the Saints: Responding to Present Day Persecution

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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CNN called the last 7 days "Religion's Week from Hell." Click the image to read the story.

CNN called the last 7 days “Religion’s Week from Hell.” Click the image to read the story.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants. Psalm 116:15 NIV

Most of you realize that I don’t do topical articles here. Rather, I try to keep each post somewhat timeless so that people can go back and reuse the resources here at any time.

Sometimes however, events just overwhelm us. I can’t imagine that I would have simply kept writing and posting Bible studies after September 11th, 2001; and with videos circulating of Middle East Christians being beheaded it’s very difficult not to be overwhelmed.

Our purpose here at Christianity 201 is to help people build their doctrinal foundation and link to similar online sites to find more of the same. But as a “201 Christian” who is moving beyond the basics, we have to realize that there are times we need to simply stop the Bible study, forget the Sunday order-of-service, and cry out to God. Rather, we need to use these occasions to express our anguish and pain at seeing brothers and sisters so brutally cut down.

Modern Christian MartyrsOn an Instagram posting of the picture at right — a graphic image of a type unusual for this site — Ann Voskamp quoted two important scriptures.

…whatever the world news may say about the Brave, Martyred 21 Christians who were beheaded by ISIS, Lord, we know Your Word speaks the Truth: “The world was not worthy of them.” (Heb.11:38)

However any evil thinks it’s winning & overcoming,

Your Truth declares that they are the Overcomers, that they overcame “because of the blood of the Lamb & because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Rev.12:11)

And wherever Your people are tonight, God,

We will remember every one of their names because they did not forget You or forsake claiming Your name,

We will pray for their families because they are our literal family,

And we will pray that our faith in You
is worth laying down our life for You,

We will pray that we don’t live lives of cheap grace but costly Christianity,

We will pray that their sacrificed lives will stir us to live sacrificial lives

And we will weep prayers for the persecuted Church because we are bound to them through Your Heart & in Your heart they are UNBOUND, UNDEFEATABLE, UNDAUNTED, & UNFORGETTABLE.

James 1:22 says Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice. (GNT)

The Message Bible records this as:

22-24 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.

Part of our doing is communicating with God, expressing our sadness, crying out to him for help, interceding on behalf of the persecuted church. Yes, it is possible that God sees their sacrifice differently than we do, but we have only these eyes and ears, and what we see breaks us.

We need to tell God that.

AMP Rom 8:26   So too the [Holy] Spirit comes to our aid and bears us up in our weakness; for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.

Message Rom 8:26 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.

If the news about such modern day martyrdom has touched you — and I do not know how it cannot — I leave some space here that, rather than absorbing teaching and learning today, we would just express our pain to our Father in heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 15, 2015

The Buck Stops Here

For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.  II Cor 5:10 NLT

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.   Romans 14:12 ESV

As you know by now, for Sundays in February, we’re highlighting the website Christian Fellowship Devotions. Today we look at the writing of Janice Moser, one of the regular contributing writers at the site. Click the title below to read at source, and then navigate the site.

Stopping the Buck

Most of us have heard and even used the phrase, “The Buck stops here,” which is said to have originated from the French phrase “bouc émissaire,” which translates as scapegoat.

During a recent election campaign, it was refreshing to hear one candidate using that phrase to accept responsibility, instead of blaming others as some national and local leaders do – even many years after those blamed have left office – and the media don’t do their job. They don’t hold them accountable, if it’s someone they like, or they are afraid of not being “politically correct.” Our Georgia governor, Nathan Deal – with whom I definitely have not always agreed – has shown true leadership in taking responsibility (even sometimes when not legally necessary, as during an ice storm for which – unlike in NY – he did not have the authority to shut schools etc.). There are so many political leaders who could learn from him.

responsibilityBut it’s not just political “leaders” who try to cast blame on others, rather than “manning up,” as the modern phrase goes. Most all of us do it at some time or another. Having been involved in the Criminal Justice system for a decade-and-a-half, I have heard more than my share of the phrase “someone else did it,” as well as countless excuses given for committing crimes. In one case, a young man had five separate convictions of felonies – five separate Grand juries had indicted him five separate times. Five separate trials, five separate juries had then found him guilty, five separate times of five separate violent crimes. Yet his mother stood up and said “Your Honor, every time my son has been convicted of a crime, it’s been someone else’s fault.” She did not have a clue how obviously ridiculous she sounded. The discerning judge responded: “Ma’am, you can blame someone else once but not five times – and eventually your son has to accept his own responsibility. You, ma’am are part of the problem. Sit down and don’t say anything else.” The buck had to stop with the young man, but in his defense, he didn’t get very good parenting or role modeling in that regard.

We live in a world where society doesn’t often hold us responsible for our own sins or mistakes. We live in a world where people overlook the fact that someone has committed traumatizing violence against others, and instead of holding them responsible for their acts, the people lift the felons up as heroes. We live in a world where someone violates a law and someone’s safety by breaking into their home or business, but instead of saying “it’s my fault,” the perpetrator sues the victim because the perpetrator gets hurt while committing a felony. We live in a world that glamorizes violence with television shows and movies that make heroes out of criminals. For those of us who work with the traumatized victims, this can be frustrating, as we see the sometimes life-changing effects of the violence. We want justice here and now, we work toward that, and thankfully sometimes it happens. It is our responsibility to do our part:

Isaiah 1:17 (MSG) Work for justice.
  Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
  Go to bat for the defenseless

And regardless of the success or failure of Earthly systems, God Himself will not accept excuses. We do all ultimately answer to Him, and he will hold us responsible for our own sins and crimes. He holds us individually accountable. With God, “the buck stops here” for each one of us. Let’s all resolve that in 2015, we will take responsibility for our own sins and mistakes, and encourage others to do so as well. Otherwise, we aren’t being honest with ourselves, others – or with God. The more people (including us) who take responsibility for their actions, the safer and healthier society we will have – and the more we will please the Lord.

Proverbs 28:13
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.

February 14, 2015

Letters to the Exiles

This is actually the second of four blog posts (two are not written yet) by Alex Koo under the title Are You Reading the Bible Biblically. If you have the time, click here to read part one. Otherwise, we’ll jump right into the middle with part two. Click the title below to read at source.

Are You Reading the Bible Biblically? Pt. 2

Letters to the Exiles:

This blog post is the second post of the series I’ve been doing titled “Are You Reading the Bible Biblically?” My aim is to speak to the growing trend of individualism when it comes to reading our bibles, a trend that I grew up believing. More specifically, while the natural tendency is to read the bible with the only intent of applying it to the narrative of our lives, I write to encourage us to first understand the narrative of the bible and applying our lives to that story. So what is this story? Last week, I established the four-fold framework of the bible: Creation, the Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. This week, I want to specifically focus on the stage of Redemption (the stage we live in).

redemptionIf you open my bible to the front page, you’ll find scrawled in my handwriting “Letters to the Exiles.” Why? Because it changes how I read the bible. We all flip open our bibles with a particular lens or framework that has been established in our minds. How I approach my bible will be different if instead I wrote “Rules to Be Holy” or “Helpful Tips for Success”, or even “Captions for Instagram Photos”. What I mean is this: The way we read the bible is directly affected by what we think it’s primarily about.

Yes, indeed there are rules on how to live in a way that pleases God. Yes, to an extent, there are proverbs on how to live with wisdom and success. Yet before any of that, the bible is 1) God’s revelation of Himself and His glory and 2) His redemptive plan to restore all things and people back to the enjoyment of Himself. And like I said last week, this story is made up of four stages: Creation, the Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.

When we understand that this is the narrative of the bible, we can begin to ask ourselves, well, how do I fit in? How does the Church fit in? How does my seemingly mundane schedule align with it? How do my relationships, my struggles, my hobbies, and my dreams fit into this narrative? When we start asking ourselves these questions, we’re on the right path. So, keeping in step with the four-fold narrative, it is crucial we realize that we are in the stage of redemption. Or, as Peter would say, we are in exile.

Peter opens his first letter with this greeting:

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…”

The recipients of his letter would surely have begun to draw parallels to their past by his penning of the word “exile.” Hearing the word exile would have rung a bell in the minds of the readers. They would have thought back centuries ago, around 600 BC, when the nation of Israel was taken into captivity by Babylon. This event was prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah; that Israel, because of their idolatry and disobedience, would be taken into captivity and live as exiles for 70 years.

The events unfolded just as God had said and Israel found themselves exiled from Jerusalem, under the rule of Babylon. And there in exile, God spoke to them saying:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

So back to Peter.

As Peter writes to his first-century readers, who now are followers of Christ, why does he still mention the exile? He goes on to call them exiles again here saying,

“Beloved, I urge you, as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11).

He calls them exiles, similarly to how the Israelites were exiles in Babylon, because with the arrival of Christ and the birth of the Church, this story of exile is seen again. However, this is now displayed on a grander scale. The Church, after Creation, after the Fall, and now in Redemption, is now in exile in this world. We, as Christians, are exiles in a foreign land — pilgrims and foreigners. This is our story. In our hearing and believing of the Gospel, we have entered into the Church, saved into a new community of exile, awaiting the return of our Savior when He will make all creation new.

Having that in mind changes how we read the bible. I have scrawled on my bible “Letters to the Exiles” because it reminds me that these 66 books all point to the reality of Christ redeeming people — all the way from Genesis 3 to Revelation. And when I read the Word of God from the perspective of an exile, it changes my perspective. Imagine if you and a couple of friends were visiting an island for vacation. You guys check into the hotel rooms you booked and start to unpack your stuff. You put your needed toiletries in the bathroom, perhaps throw in some clothes into the drawers (if you’re ambitious), and then jump on the bed. Imagine, however, if one of your friends brought some paint and some tools and started redecorating the room. He started working on one wall, explaining how he was planning to add an extension to the room so he could study in the future, and how he wanted to set up a hammock on the balcony. How ridiculous that would sound! It wouldn’t make sense to settle into a hotel that you are temporarily staying at. In the same way, it doesn’t make sense to settle down in a world we are temporarily living in.

One final note. Does that mean we draw back from the world and aspire to live a life of isolation and exiled solitude? Hardly. Remember what God told the exiles through Jeremiah in their time of exile?

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

While the Israelites were called to seek the welfare of the city they were exiled in, we are called to seek the welfare and good of the world we are living as exiles in. That is why we remove from our thinking this idea of a sacred vs. secular divide. That is why, though we are in exile, we still seek to excel in the field of business and politics. That is why we strive to excel in the arena of medicine and construction. One main reason is because we, in God’s image, are wired to do such activities as humans. Think about it, we would have pursued these activities if Adam hadn’t sinned and we will pursue these activities in the New Heavens and New Earth. Yet, a second reason why we still strive to do well in this world as exiles is we seek to bless this dying world.

In conclusion, it is imperative that we establish a framework of the meta-narrative of the bible, namely, the Creation, the Fall, the Redemption, and the Consummation. We understand that all 66 books of the bible were written with this grand story in mind and this whole book points and leads to Christ, who has made redemption possible. Thus, because of Christ in the Gospel, we now live as exiles in a world we do not belong to, yet seek to prosper. And as exiles, we are called to bless this world by first and foremost bringing to them the hope of redemption that is in the Gospel.

In the next post, we’ll take a look at what exactly this message of the Gospel is that we, as exiles, are stewarding and delivering to the world.

 

 

February 13, 2015

God: From A to Z

Scripture verse in greenAt first, I thought this was a rather contrived premise for an article, but then, the more I thought about it, it’s all scripture so it’s all good. We put scripture verses in green here as a reminder that God’s word is life. Today, the entire article is in green.  (I know, I should have saved it for St. Patrick’s Day.) This is from the blog Abundant Life Now by Robert Lloyd Russell, click the title below to read at source and look around the rest of the site.  Oh… and slow down as you read each verse; think of the theme and what this reveals of God’s nature and His character.

God Alphabet

~ God’s Interactions with His People ~

Almighty God (to bless us) ~ “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless’” (Genesis 17:1).

Blessed God (to cheer us) ~ “According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust” (1 Timothy 1:11).

Compassionate God (to bear with us) ~ “For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the place of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land and in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings, so the Lord alone led him, and there was no foreign god with him. He made him ride in the heights of the earth, that he might eat the produce of the fields; He made him draw honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock” (Deuteronomy 32:9-13).

Defending God (to protect us) ~ “The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him. The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is His name” (Exodus 15:2-3).

Eternal God (to secure us) ~ “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, and will say, ‘Destroy!’” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

Faithful God (to assure us) ~ “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11).

Gracious God (to bless us) ~ “So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm’” (Jonah 4:2).

Holy God (to sanctify us) ~ “I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror” (Hosea 11:9).

Indwelling God (to establish/guide us) – “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn” (Psalm 46:5). “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

Just God (to clear us) ~ “Tell and bring forth your case; yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me” (Isaiah 45:21).

Kind God (to supply us) ~ “Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Psalm 103:4).

Loving God (to cherish us) ~ “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you’” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Mighty God (to deliver us) ~ “And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power” (Deuteronomy 4:37). “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Near God (to sustain/comfort us) ~ “He is near who justifies Me; who will contend with Me? Let us stand together. Who is My adversary?” (Isaiah 50:8). “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6).

Omniscient God (to watch over us) ~ “Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul” (Psalm 121:4-7).

Powerful God (to strengthen us) ~ “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Timothy 4:17).

Quickening God (to change us) ~ “Even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:5).

Righteous God (to justify us) ~ “Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, but establish the just; for the righteous God tests the hearts and minds” (Psalm 7:9). “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Romans 5:9).

Saving God (to free us) ~ “And it will be said in that day: ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation’” (Isaiah 25:9).

Truth-keeping God (to encourage us) ~ “Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever” (Psalm 146:6).

Unchanging God (to secure us) ~ “For I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob” (Malachi 3:6).

Victorious God (to overcome for us) ~ “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Wise God (to enlighten us) ~ “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Xcellent God (to be our example) ~ “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth, who have set Your glory above the heavens!” (Psalm 8:1).

Yearning God (to look after us) ~ “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me” (Isaiah 49:15-16).

Zealous God (to keep us) ~ “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).

~ Robert Lloyd Russell

February 12, 2015

The Beauty of John’s Prologue

This post is from the blog Living the Gospel by Jason Velotta. If you’re unfamiliar with the term in today’s title, it refers to the first 18 verses of John’s gospel; the passage beginning

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  (NIV/KJV/NASB)

and containing that important incarnational verse 14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)

To read the whole passage first, click here, and then read the first 18 verses. We’ve chosen a newer translation here, the CEB, or Common English Bible. (But you can select a different one, or even a different language, from the pull-down menu.)

The Prologue of John – Responding to the Word of God

The first 18 verses of John’s gospel (commonly known as the Prologue) represent a literary masterpiece of inspired Scripture. On the one hand, John’s introduction is so simple a child can understand it, yet it is also so theologically deep, the most intellectual scholars could never mine every detail held within its verses.

incarnationThere have been many debates regarding the structure of John’s prologue. The most convincing in my opinion is that the first 18 verses are a narrative which summarize not only the entirety of John’s gospel but make a broad sweep of salvation history. The prologue begins in eternity before creation, declaring that in the beginning the Word already existed. It proceeds through the creation (all things were made by Him) and He is the source of all life and light. Then John skips over the majority of Israel’s salvation history and shows that a final prophet, John the Baptist, came to testify to the light. This light is the revelation of God Himself. He came into the world and was rejected by the world. Yet, those who received Him became the sons of God.

The prologue finishes by showing the culmination of Israel’s salvation in Jesus. The law (which was itself a grace given to men) came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Jesus has completely explained the Father. Jesus is the Father’s final word to man. – This culminates salvation history. So, we see that the prologue begins in eternity past and concludes with God’s final word of salvation and redemption.

What John simply states in the prologue (albeit with great theological depth and nuance) he will elucidate throughout the pages of his gospel. First, we see that Jesus is the divine Word of God.

There is much discussion about the Hebrew and Greek presuppositions regarding the word (logos). Although there is much to be learned from these distinctions, I think John has primarily the Old Testament view of the “Word.” In the Old Testament the Word of God was His creative power, authority, and organizing principle. In Genesis, God created by the word. Repeatedly Genesis one presents God’s creative power in His speech. Over and over again God created by speaking – “And God said let there be…and there was.”

Likewise, the word is personified in the Old Testament when the prophets were given God’s words to speak. Repeatedly the Bible says, “The word of the Lord came to…” whatever prophet to whom God was speaking.

The idea of a divine word was not uncommon for a Jewish person. What is uncommon is John’s assertion that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The idea being that Jesus Himself is the divine person of the Word. In lieu of an extended treatise on the Trinity, I would point you to my discussions on the doctrine here.

The verb “dwelt” is the verbal form of tabernacle. John says that the word became flesh and tabernacled among us – this, taken along side John’s introduction of Moses and the law shows us that Jesus’ incarnation is the fulfillment of God’s promise to dwell with His people. He is truly Emmanuel – “God with us.” Jesus fulfills the types and shadows of the Old Testament. Jesus is the display of God’s glory which can be seen. In Exodus, Moses asked to see God’s glory and was told that it was impossible for man to view Him. Instead, Moses was only allowed to see God’s hind parts. But here John says that we saw His glory. It was the glory of God the Son who is full of grace and truth.

Jesus has perfectly revealed the Father to mankind. The Son of God became a son of man so that the sons of men might become sons of God. Jesus is the word of God that demands a response. To those who received Him, He gave them the authority to become sons of God – yet to those who reject Him, He brings the completion of the judgment of God for there will never be another door of salvation.

 

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