Christianity 201

November 25, 2015

Choose Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

•••click here to read at source

Decisions. Decisions. What to choose? I am always glad when my wife is close at hand when I get dressed. How I knew what ties went with what shirts before I was married, I do not know. Decisions, decisions. Yet while I stress over ties, the world unravels. Decisions must be made by world leaders on how to deal with terrorism. Our current conundrum has arisen due to a complex interweaving of history, politics, economics, and yes, religion. Such complexity makes rocket science seem like a grade school project. I am glad I am not a world leader. You should be glad I am not a world leader too. Thankfully, not every decision in life is so hard to make or so mired in complexity. Let’s take a moment to think on one from Deuteronomy 30.

As God’s people stand ready to enter the Promised Land, and as Moses gets ready to say his final goodbyes, he makes a call to commitment to the Lord. He begins with this:

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. Deuteronomy 30:11-14

Bible scholars tell us that the expression translated “not too hard,” could be translated as “not too mysterious,” “hard to understand,” or “incomprehensible.” In other words: this is not rocket science. Nor is it kept hidden. God’s people need not go on a search in heaven or across the sea for the answers to big questions like “who is God?”, “who are we?”, and “what is expected of us?”. God has revealed it. In fact “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart” if indeed they were listening back in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 when He said “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them.” God has revealed enough of Himself, His purposes, His covenant, and His expectations that His people ought not to be confused. As they stand ready to enter the Promised Land, it is crystal clear who God is, who they are, and what is required of them.

Moses goes on lay out the possible consequences of the decision he is calling them to:

15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Deuteronomy 30:15-19a

This ought to be an easy decision to make. Life, or death? Again, this is not rocket science. And so comes the call to make a decision:

Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Deuteronomy 30:19-20

While some translations have “for that,” i.e. the act of choosing God, loving and obeying Him, “means life to you”, another possible translation is “For the Lord is your life”, as the NIV has it. Either way, God’s people are called upon to choose the Lord, to choose to obey His law, to choose life. All these go together. Given the consequences this was an easy decision to make.

People sometimes refer to the afterlife as “The Promised Land” and of death as “crossing the river” which of course alludes back to the Jordan river which lay between God’s people and the Promised Land. There is a decision that needs to be made by every person before making that journey, before crossing that river, crossing over from this life to the next. Just as God’s revelation was clear to His people in Deuteronomy, so too it is clear today. There is a clarity to the Gospel, of the good news of right relationship with God. In fact this is part of what Paul is getting at when he refers to our passage from Deuteronomy:

. . . the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven? ’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss? ’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:5-9

In other words, salvation is not something impossible for us to attain, like going up “into heaven . . .to bring Christ down” or going down “into the abyss . . .to bring Christ up from the dead.” Those are examples of things we of course can not do. In fact salvation is not even something we do. It is something God does for us in and through Jesus Christ. God “is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Romans 10:12-13 NRSV) Our part is to call upon God, to trust Him, to repent from our sins and turn to Him in Christ. It was for us that Jesus chose death. Our part is to choose life.

The consequence of our decision is clear:

11 Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. 13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15

It is not hard to figure out what to do when confronted with the consequence of God. It is not hard to figure out what to do when confronted with the love of God. It is not hard to figure out what to do when confronted with the grace of God, the holiness of God, the justice of God, the power of God, the reality of God, the evidence for God, the Word of God, the Son of God, the Spirit of God. We have the opportunity, one we don’t even deserve, to make a decision: to choose life.

Did you notice when the call to decision was made for God’s people in the days of Moses? It was before they crossed over the Jordan. Did you notice from God’s Word in Revelation that the book of life is opened to be read from rather than written in? No angel will stand with pen in hand waiting for you to make your choice. Now is the time to make that decision. Now is the time to choose life.

Unless stated otherwise all scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a Canadian Baptist pastor who blogs a sermon summary weekly at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

November 24, 2015

Having a Plan of Attack

Today we’re introducing Carol Hatcher who we’ve linked to at Thinking Out Loud before, but not here at C201. We’ve borrowed not only her writing today, but also a graphic image; nonetheless we hope many of you will send her some link love by clicking the title below to read this on her blog, Sheep to the Right.

Preparing a Plan of Attack

There are two ways to do just about anything – carefully plan or wing it.

Most of the time, I’m a carefully-plan-it kind of girl. I love making lists. I used to write out menus by the month. When planning a vacation, I’ll spend hours online finding the best places to stay, recommended stops along the way and highest rated restaurants. When my kids have a birthday, you can be sure I will create a Pinterest board and hunt the Internet for the cutest party ideas.

When I’m presented with the opportunity for a date night, I search movies and read reviews. I poll Facebook friends for best places to eat and search my closet for just the right outfit.

But somehow when it comes to my prayer life and dealing with those situations that seem impossible, I find myself winging it. Satan will throw me a curve ball, and I wildly swing my bat hoping to make contact.

Today, as I was reading in 2 Samuel about David trying to defeat the Philistines, I found good advice for creating a battle plan to overcome the obstacles in my own life. First David asked God, not his friends on social media, for direction. (Ouch. Let’s move on.)

“…so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered…” 2 Samuel 5:23 NIV

David asked God first IF he should attack the Philistines and then HOW he should attack. God responded, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the balsam trees.” (2 Samuel 5:23) The Hebrew word used in this verse for “circle around” is sabab. It means, “To go around, surround, encircle, engulf.” It can also mean, “to change direction, to be surrounded, to change.”

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God gave David a plan of attack, but he gives us that same plan. When trials come our way, often we come straight at them and are knocked backwards from the blow because we aren’t prepared. Instead, we need to establish a plan of attack for any obstacle – for your failing health, for your marriage that grows stale, for your mounting bills and empty bank account, for the addiction you’ve been hiding, for the loss of your closest friend.

Friends, it’s time we fight back God’s way. We need to sabab our issues with prayer. Circle them. Engulf them. You see, because its only through prayer, praise and thanksgiving that we can “change direction.” You are not defined by the series of events that have happened in your life.

You are not defined by your diagnosis, your divorce, your size, your upbringing, your financial status or your education.

You are who God says you are. And He says you are chosen. (John 15:16) You are an heir. (Galatians 4:7) You are part of a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9)

Satan will try to distract you and get you off your game. Don’t let him. He’ll tell you you’re not good enough. Don’t believe his lie. Be ready, friends. Arm yourselves for the battle by preparing your plan of attack. You see, in the woods that day when God told David to sabab, or circle around, He also told him to listen for the sounds of marching in the tops of the trees, “because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” (2 Samuel 5:24 NIV)

Don’t be shaken. Don’t be afraid. The Lord your God, the Sovereign Creator of all things will fight for you. Put on your armor and sabab. The battle has already begun.

November 23, 2015

The Suffering Church

Today’s thoughts are from a North Carolina author who came recommended to us. Matt Capps posted this sermon excerpt in September, but it seems even more timely with each passing day. There is a link to watch the sermon in full; click the image to read at source. (This is one of a series on The Church in Exile.)

Matt CappsThe Suffering of the Church (1 Peter 3:13-4:6)

This is an excerpt from a sermon I recently preached at Fairview Baptist Church. You can watch the whole thing online.

In John 17, Jesus prayed that the Father would protect his own from the evil one. But, he did not pray that we would be removed from this world, and by implication – the suffering of this world.

We will suffer in this life. Suffering is comprehensive, and is a no respecter of persons. While the Bible covers various ways to suffer in this life, this passage is specifically concerned with distinctively Christian suffering. In other words, suffering that may come to us precisely because we are Christians.

Suffering will drive us to our knees, and at the same time it can be a powerful reminder that Jesus is King. Through suffering God brings us to Himself. Consider the words of 1 Peter 3:13-15

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”

Peter is preparing the church, not just to endure suffering – but to find in their suffering an opportunity for witness.

You can imagine that some of the Christians in which this letter was first directed to had seen the suffering of their fellow believers, and fear of that suffering had the potential of halting their desire to publicly live out their faith.

But Peter responds with strange wording – “suffering brings about blessing”. When the world sees that you are – to use the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9:

  • Afflicted in every way, but not crushed.
  • Perplexed, but not driven to despair.
  • Persecuted, but not forsaken.
  • Struck down, but not destroyed.

They think, what is it with these people? What is this hope that is within them? This hope is a frame of mind achieved by setting apart – literally, sanctifying – Christ as Lord.

Our courage is born out of a belief that Christ is king even when things look hopeless. Moreover, in Christ we have a sure hope in the coming blessing. Hope is not wishful thinking, but true faith under pressure. Assurance of our future resurrection in Christ will not only give us courage and comfort, but will also put those who revile us to shame.

When you suffer, suffer with hope. This is the Blessing of Suffering for Christ. In suffering, we can find an opportunity for witness. In suffering, we also realize that God is bringing you to himself.

November 22, 2015

Worship With Authenticity

A church we visited a few years ago incorporates a rather bizarre mixture of informality and tradition. By that I don’t mean that they blend contemporary and liturgical forms; no, that would be welcome. Instead, there is a very specific order of worship from which there has never — in the last 15 years — been and possibly never will be any significant variance.

One expects there to be a distinction between a “contemporary” church and a “liturgical” church, but in practice, many modern churches have a rather strict liturgy that simply exists in unwritten form.

It’s most evident in the arrangement of the worship songs which always consists of:

  • two songs at the beginning
  • three songs in the middle
  • one song at the end, which must be an upbeat song of celebration, not the more contemplative type of piece you might get after the sermon in other churches.

Some of the worship songs can be engaging and give voice to the worship inside of you that you are longing to give back to God; but once you know the formula, it’s really like trying to put your worship in a box, when in your spirit you know it’s longing to break free.

Furthermore, in the middle set, just as the spirit of the worship may begin to be really moving, it’s time to sit down again. Week after week, it’s the same;

  • two songs at the beginning
  • three songs in the middle
  • one song at the end

If we look at I Corinthians 14, we see a picture of the early church that incorporates orderliness and spontaneity. It’s hard to imagine the enactment of something so formulaic, let alone the mentality that would even want to suggest such a thing.

In verse 26, we see worship originating in a variety of contributors, a kind of melting pot of ingredients that many of the house church proponents are quick to note works well in that setting:

26 So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. (The Message)

26 Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. (New Living Translation)

However, in verses 33 and 40 we’re reminded:

33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (New International Version)

33 When we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. (The Message)

40 But let everything be done in a right and orderly way. (New Century Version)

While their available worship repertoire back then was probably much more limited than ours is today, I believe they sang their hearts out. Some of the songs were probably celebratory, but at other times, when they paused to remember Christ’s broken body and shed blood, I’m sure they sang softly and reverently. At times, I’m sure they sang until their voices gave out.

There were probably a number of spiritual and cultural parameters that were different in their day than ours, but I think if those early Christians could somehow time-travel to our era, they would be both amazed and appalled by the 2-3-1 worship ritual.

I think that those set apart for worship planning and execution have to frequently ask the WWECD question: What Would the Early Church Do?

Follow up: On a more recent visit, I was glad to see that their format is now being shaken up a little. It took nearly 20 years, but at least it’s being challenged somewhat.

Comparative subject: Like so many issues in our churches, there is a balance to be had here. Consider the difference between extemporaneous prayers and written prayers. I much prefer prayers that sound authentic and heartfelt, but sometimes the people doing so seem to rambling in search of content; I believe the Evangelical term is “winging it!” Pre-written prayers at least have solid content and thought has gone into them.

November 21, 2015

Forgiveness for All

When the host of the party is outraged that a woman of sketchy reputation is devoting so much attention to the rabbi Jesus, the teacher launches into a parable

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Most people reading this know this story, and understand the parable, which sort of quantifies degrees of forgiveness. Debts do, after all, come in various sizes.

The parable itself comprises only two verses, 41 and 42, but it contains a foregone conclusion of a forgiveness that doesn’t take place until verse 48. The woman knows who she is, the life she’s lived, and her need of repentance. Jesus responds to the contriteness of her heart and tells her that her sins are forgiven.

But who else needs forgiving in this story?

Simon has not been very accommodating to Jesus, he has not acted as a host should, especially if we see this in light of 36 which seems to paint Jesus as the guest of honor. I’ve often wondered then, how this woman of ill repute gets in, but some suggest that certain occasions might have been open to a wider swath of people, not unlike a situation where a British lord might invite the villagers to a type of open house at the manor. By whatever means she gets in.

But Simon seems to have snubbed Jesus somewhat, and his outrage at the interaction between the woman and Jesus provides Jesus with a context to note Simon’s lack of social graces.

Clearly, Simon is also in need of forgiveness.

But here’s the good news: In the parable Jesus tells, two people are forgiven!

At this point, I need to acknowledge a footnote in Ann Spangler’s telling of the story in the recently released Wicked Women of the Bible:

I am indebted to Kenneth E. Baily for his fascinating interpretation of this story in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (IVP, 2008, pp 239-60). Though Baily does not speculate on whether Simon showed signs of repentance as I have done… he does make it clear that the story Jesus tells Simon speaks of forgiveness that is extended to both people, the one with the large debt and the one with the small one, implying that Simon is the person with the smaller debt.

It must be said however that there’s nothing in the text to suggest Simon enters a posture of penitence. But the parable leaves the potential there for both the one with the great debt and the smaller debt to have the same opportunity to begin with a fresh slate.

How many people do you think were forgiven that day?


November 20, 2015

Making Your Church a Better Place

CEB* Romans 12:3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!

Today we pay a return visit to the blog of B. J. Rutledge, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise, Texas. Click the link below to read the article at source.

7 Things That Would Make Church Better

Romans 12:1 & 2 have long been favorites of mine, but today as I was reading Romans 12, I got really focused on the next few verses and had to admit I’m not doing as well with them as I’d like.  If we’d all work on them, I think church would be even better than it already is!

  1. Choose Humility (v. 3)

Filter every thought about yourself through Christ; don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

  1. Give Each Other Grace. (v.4)

We belong to one another; we’re family and we don’t all have the same function. Family is difficult at times because we’re so different & grace is needed because we don’t all respond the same way…and by the way, God set it up this way (so go figure).

  1. Use The Gifts God Gave You (v. 6)

We all have gifts – given to us by God through His grace, so whatever gift we’ve been given IT’S FROM GOD & THAT’S GOOD!  Quit desiring someone else’s gift & be thankful for what God gave you, and USE IT!

We’re to exercise our gift(s); that is – put them/it to use. Failure to use our gift(s) – or simple negligence is like saying to God – “Don’t get me anything for Christmas; Your gifts aren’t that great.”

  1. Love One Another (v. 9)

We’re to love each other; it’s that simple and profound. This reminds me of a question Andy Stanley posed a while back: “What does love require of me?” In other words, RIGHT NOW – IN THIS INSTANT – IN THIS SITUATION – WITH THIS PERSON…What Does Love Require of Me?

  1. Hate Evil; Cling To What’s Good (v. 9)

This should be self explanatory!

  1. Be Devoted To One Another (v.10)

Christians, we’re not just to ask: “What does love require of me?” WE’RE TO BE DEVOTED TO ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE.   Oops; how are we doing with this? We’re to be so devoted we actually GIVE PREFERENCE to ONE ANOTHER – and HONOR ONE ANOTHER. Let’s give this a lot more effort this week – month – year – and begin today!

  1. Don’t Be Lazy (v.11)

DON’T BE LAZY in using what God’s given you when it comes to SERVING HIM & HIS CHURCH.   Diligence has to do with our ACTIONS.   BE FERVENT IN SPIRIT has to do with having an enthusiastic attitude about serving Christ! Serving Christ through His Church is one of the greatest privileges in the world so demonstrate your gratefulness in Action & Attitude and get busy SERVING!

*I frequently refer to the Common English Bible. Published just a few years ago, it’s target market is the more liturgical Protestant churches who have historically used the NRSV.

November 19, 2015

Teaching Bible Students the Skills Needed for Bible Living

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

NLT 1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

Today we pay a return visit to the women’s ministry blog, where we found this article by featured writer Leslie Bennett. Please click the link to read at source, and then take a few minutes to look around the website, which is also (as of this week) the new home of the True Woman blog.

3 Skills Bible Teachers Must Teach

Extensive research reveals the trend of evangelical Christian’s knowledge of Scripture is decreasing every year.

A seminary professor made this sobering statement in a course designed to prepare the next generation of Bible teachers. As an older student sitting among mostly young men and women, I already suspected it was true. I’d been teaching for over fifteen years. But upon learning this verifiable fact, I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. With a trembling voice, I questioned the professor, “How can we hear this and not fall face down weeping?”

Shameless Truth-Tellers

At Revive ’15: Women Teaching Women, Jen Wilkin exhorted women’s leaders from 2 Timothy 2:15 to become shameless truth-tellers. After making the ironclad case that we’ve become a nation of Bible illiterates, she pulled the fire alarm by saying, “The modern church cannot afford for its women to be biblically illiterate. As we go into the dawn of post-Christian America, we must treasure and teach our sacred text as recent generations have not.”

Three Skills Necessary for Bible Students

Jen advocates that the methods teachers use matter in order to rightly handle the Word of God. Our methods need to cultivate a deep and enduring adoration of God. A woman who loses interest in her Bible study has not been equipped to love it as she should because the God of the Bible is too lovely to abandon for lesser pursuits. If we want to feel deeply about God, we must learn to think deeply about God. This means we must ask the women whom we teach to be more than just consumers. We must ask them to be students in the true sense of the word, not passive but active, in the way they approach the Scriptures.

1. Teach your students how to think (love God with their minds).

In Scripture we’re commanded to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Is that a verse for men only? Is it God’s intention that women love Him with their emotions and men with their intellect? No.

Often women in the church aren’t challenged to have a thinking faith. We agree we want to be changed, so what is the path of transformation? Romans 12:2 answers, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” The path to the renewing of our feelings is through our thinking. Right thinking should inform right feeling. (Case in point: Jen’s deep-seated love for cheese puffs died a slow death after reading the nutrition label.)

The heart cannot love what the mind does not know. It’s a simple formula: Know God, and you will love God. We must teach women to think rightly about God, and that right thinking will beget right feeling.

2. Teach your students how to learn.

Don’t just give students good information; give them good tools. Teachers must push them to seek firsthand knowledge of Scripture. The reason is that the false teacher and secular humanist rely on us not knowing what the Bible says. But so often women have adopted a way of thinking that resembles the telephone game. Women read a book about the Bible without reading the Bible. Instead of being able to quote the Word, we spout off what someone else said about what someone else said about the Scriptures.

God help us if we become content to be curators of other people’s opinions about a book that we cannot be troubled to read. Use those books as a supplement to—but not a substitute for—spending time in the Word of God firsthand. You are commanded to love God with your mind, not the mind of Nancy Leigh DeMoss or John Piper.

3. Teach your students how to work.

Let’s change the paradigm in the church that just showing up for Bible study is sufficient. Disciples are called to be disciplined. Do you see how the two words are so closely related? If you happen to be good at playing an instrument, you became that way through practice.

First attempts at anything worth learning are hard! It’s tempting to quit, but students must be trained to learn a skill by doing it. We must make students do the work. Try not to do anything for them that they can do for themselves. Set a clear expectation that sanctification is hard, but that as the teacher, you’ll be doing the same hard work as the students.

In 1 Peter 2, the apostle says we should crave the pure milk of the Word. Just as breastfeeding is a natural and necessary thing, it isn’t something we automatically know how to do well. Give students permission to fail at first, speculate sober-mindedly, wonder, and wait for answers to come. Women must get over the desire to have “the right answer.” The job of the student is not to please the teacher but to expand her thinking to love God with her mind.

Teachers, you don’t have to convince someone to work hard at something they love.

Our job is to help them love Bible study.


November 18, 2015

A Funny Thing Did Not Happen on the Way to Worship an Idol

by Clarke Dixon
•••click here to read at source

All religions are equal, right? Some say that they are equally bad, but many claim that they are all equally good. They all lead to the same morals. They all deserve respect. To say otherwise you will risk being labelled as intolerant. The prevailing mood of accommodation of all religions indiscriminately is a far cry from what God called his people to in Deuteronomy 12:

When the Lord your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land, take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, “How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.” Deuteronomy 12:29-30

For those who think all religions promote the same moral values, the next verse is very important:

You must not do the same for the Lord your God, because every abhorrent thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Deuteronomy 12:31

As God’s people prepare to enter the Promised Land they are warned that messing around with Canaan’s god’s would make a real mess of things. God had given the law to His people as a gift of grace, as a set of ethics that would lead the obedient to be a light in a dark world. Idolatry would cause God’s people to plunge into darkness themselves. Our twenty-first century living blinds us to some of the atrocious things that happened in the name of religion in the ancient world including child sacrifice. The Law given to God’s people pointed to a better way. In leading God’s people away from God, idolatry would lead people away from God’s best for them; the godly, good, and wise way of life. Clearly, not all religions are equal and we should be grateful that many immoral religions have faded into obscurity.

Idolatry still leads people away from God’s best. Remembering that idolatry is loving anyone or anything more than God, consider the idolatry of Adolf Hitler who loved Social Darwinism more than God. Social Darwinism is what happens when you apply the principles of Darwinism, namely the survival of, or “natural selection” of, the strong to a society. Evolution demands that the “weak”, like the Jews according to some, really ought to be eliminated. Hitler was not a crazy man, but a quite intelligent man who was unfortunately informed more by his idolatry than by God’s way. Had Hitler been influenced by the very people he sought to destroy he would have realized the implications of all humanity created in the image of God and history books would now tell a very different story.

Another example of idolatry leading people away from God’s best for them can be readily seen in ISIS. ISIS has a morality problem. ISIS seeks to build a religious state, a caliphate, through violence. Islam has a fundamentalist problem. When people who call themselves Christian turn to violence in the name of Christianity, we point them back to Jesus and the call to emulate him in the way of the cross. When people turn to a violent expression of Islam, the moderate Muslim has trouble calling them to emulate Mohammed. They are convinced they already are. When a Christian wants to create a Christian state, we point them to the teaching of Jesus who said “Go therefore and make disciples,” and not “Go therefore and make a Christian nation.” When a militant Muslim wants to support the creation of a religious state, a caliphate, the moderate Muslim has trouble sending them back to the teaching and example of Mohammed. They are convinced they have already gone there. Islam is idolatry that is keeping people away from God’s best for them. As a Christian I am called to love the Muslim. I am not called to like Islam.

But someone may object that the very passage from Deuteronomy we began with has God’s people creating a religious state though violence. That is a very good objection and one which demands a response. First, consider that God was establishing a nation for the purpose of keeping his promise of blessings for all nations (Genesis 12:1-13). Second, consider that those times and places were very different from our own, being more like the tribalism that we have seen in places like Rwanda, than like the nation states we are comfortably used to. Third, consider that the inhabitants of Canaan were ripe for God’s judgement. They were no better than the people who experienced the flood in Noah’s day. Fourth, consider that this was a one time event. The command to take Canaan was not a command to be dusted off whenever God’s people feel like taking territory. Yes, we do have in Deuteronomy a people called to create a religious state and yes, violence was to be involved. But this was one step, a necessary step, on the journey to the cross where God Himself would suffer violence to bring salvation to sinful people. This was one step on a long road to blessing.

So which should we be following today? The prevailing mood validating all religions as equal, or the Biblical call to religious purity and evangelism of people we see as lost? In leading people away from God, idolatry leads people away from God’s best for them. That includes the godly ethics he longs for people to enjoy. But there is more; idolatry leads people away from God’s very best for them in leading them away from his salvation. Idols can never rescue us from the effects of sin. Jesus does. Atheism does not rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Islam can not rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Hinduism, Buddhism, and everyotherism cannot rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Even the Christian religion, when it is just religion for the sake of religiosity does not rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Jesus said  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

We can and should affirm religious pluralism in our nation, to a point. A religion that demands something like child sacrifice would be clearly very far from Canadian values. So religious freedom does have its limits. But as Jesus followers we are called to religious purity. Are we not to respect the religions and world-views of other people then? As followers of Jesus we recognize these views for what they are: idolatry which leads people away from God’s best. How can we respect that? But as for the people who hold these views, who follow these idols, we are to go far beyond respect, to love. And if we love them, we will want them to know Jesus, His way of life, His way of salvation. We will want want them to experience the very best He has for them.

All scripture references are from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada; and as we learned this week, a very competent musician.

November 17, 2015

Why Did Uzzah Have to Die?

Today we pay a return visit to and a Bible topic that often perplexes people. This passage is also the clearest statement by the scriptures on what is often called situation ethics. If you’re unfamiliar with this story, pause for a moment and read 2 Samuel 6:1-12. Ecclesia is a great resource; consider bookmarking this one in your computer.

David, Uzzah, and the Ark of the Covenant

The “Ark” means a box or chest. The pattern of the ark was revealed to Moses in Exodus 25. It was to be made of wood, rectangular in shape, gold plated inside and out. It had a decorative gold border around it forming a rim on the top of the ark. It had a cover made of gold called “the mercy seat”, and matched the dimensions of the ark. At either end of the cover was a hammered gold cherub (angel), with wings outstretched over the plate. You see the creatures as they pull their wings in front of their faces and look down upon the ark. They apparently were small because a solid gold piece would be extremely heavy if it were very large and the ark would be top heavy and awkward to carry. And the ark was mobile. Beneath the plate within the container were three objects: A golden jar that held the manna, Aaron’s rod, and the tables of the Covenant. God promised he would meet with the people of the mercy seat. The very Glory of God was shown on this Mercy Seat.

In other words, this ark was Holy. It was set apart to God. So careful with God that in the details of the drawing that he wrote in Exodus 25, he gave the dimensions, he said how it was to be covered, He even talked about how it was to be carried. At the base of each of the four corners was a fixed ring of gold. Through these rings were slipped gold plated poles by which the entire chest was to be carried. Numbers 3,4 and 7 clearly state that handling the tabernacle was to be done by Levites, and it was to be done on their shoulders.

Each one of these things were important to God. Even how the ark was transported from one place to another, because that’s where David got into trouble. David thought the best way to move the ark was on a cart (2 Samuel 6:3). So they got a new cart and set the ark on the cart and started to transport it, but something happened. Suddenly there’s a death (2 Samuel 6:7). What did Uzzah do to deserve death?

2 Samuel 6:6, “And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it.”

That’s all he did. After all, it’s a natural thing to do, if it’s going to drop you’ve got to grab it! But it wouldn’t have ever dropped if they would have done it right.

What’s the right way? The Levites were the ones who were suppose to carry the ark, the poles were to be put through the little ringlets at the bottom of the ark, the poles were to be placed on the shoulders of these specially chosen men, and they were to balance it as they carried it from one place to another. And David didn’t do that. He took a convenient route and changed the details to fit the expediency of the hour.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, do something, even if it’s wrong”. That’s the most stupid council I have ever heard. “Do nothing until it’s right, then do it with all your might”. That’s wise council.

Now here’s David standing next to a corpse and he gets mad (2 Samuel 6:8) because of the Lord’s outburst against Uzzah. We have David angry at the Lord when, in fact, the Lord was angry at David. Now understand David hasn’t done his homework, we often get in trouble when we don’t do our homework. We seek the Lord’s Will and we reach out on a lark and we want to do “that”, so, in expediency or convenience or because we’re in a hurry, we make “that” decision. And the Lord says, “Look, I have written a lot of things in my book about that decision you just made, and I want you to take council from me. That’s why it’s not working. And if you want to have a heart for me, then you check my Word and you find either precepts or principles, and you go according to that, and I’ll make you happy like you won’t believe. If you don’t, you will be miserable.”

People need to know the right way to do things and to practice them. Shortcuts or grandstand plays almost never work over time, and when they are substituted for careful execution, people are often hurt.

Uzzah undoubtedly meant well. On the surface he did a useful, helpful, even noble thing. But he did not do the right thing, and it cost him his life. In this strange circumstance, brought about because David, the leader, wanted to do things his way, the right thing would have been to let the ark touch the earth instead of Uzzah’s sinful hands.

David assembled thousands of people and had glorious music played in celebration of the Ark’s return to Jerusalem. It was a grandstand play. It would have been much better had he quietly followed the instructions and done it right. Enthusiasm must be accomplished by obedience. It is not enough to mean well. We must also do the right thing.

November 16, 2015

The Holy Spirit Working In and Through The Church

“We don’t need the Holy Spirit. We have technology.”

Yes, someone actually said it. They said it in a church I attended years ago in a pre-computer, pre-Internet age when technology wasn’t all that it is today. And yes, I’m certainly hoping they said it tongue-in-cheek.

But the sentiment behind that statement rules in many of our local churches, district offices, national denominational headquarters, parachurch organizations and mission agencies. We are self-sufficent. We can do this. We don’t need help.

This Sunday morning our pastor referenced Judges 16:20 (italics added)

He [Samson] awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him.

Samson, who is more of an anti-role model in scripture, has had his hair [the source of his great physical strength in conjunction with his Nazarite vow] shaved off, and once again has been tied up as he has been in two previous tests of strength. This time around however, he’s not going to be able break free. Matthew Henry writes about this (paraphrased)

He couldn’t help but notice his missing hair as soon as he awoke, and yet said, “I will free myself as I always did before after waking up…” …Perhaps he thought to shake himself free even easier than with the previous tests, and that his head would feel lighter, now that his hair was cut, little thinking how much heavier the burden of guilt was than the weight of long hair. He soon found himself in a never-before-experienced predicament …and yet even then doesn’t have awareness that the Lord had departed from him: he did not consider that this was the reason for him being in a different state.

Many have lost the favorable presence of God and are not aware of it; they have done something that provoked God to withdraw from them, but are not aware of their loss, nor ever complain of it. Their souls atrophy and grow weak, their gifts fall into disuse, circumstances starts going wrong with them; and yet they don’t credit this to the right cause: they are not aware that God has departed from them, nor are they in any hurry to reconcile themselves to him or to gain back his favor. When God has departed we cannot continue in a ‘business as usual’ mode.

Pastor Jeff also shared this quotation from A. W. Tozer (emphasis added)

If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95% of what we do would go on, and no one would know the difference.

That’s a rather sad commentary. Does this happen? Is it possible that “God has left the building?” In Romans 8:38-39 Paul tells us,

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But there are things we can do to impair the relationship between us and Him. In a long article — that’s worth seeing — George Kirkpatrick lists some of these things:

1 – Grieving the Holy Spirit
2 – Wrath
3 – Clamor and Sowing Discord
4 – Evil Speaking
5 – Unbelief
6 – Following false prophets and false teachers
7 – Sexual sins
8 – Free thinkers
9 – Jealousy and Anger
10- Unequally yoked to unbelievers
11- Rebellion against God’s authority

If the Holy Spirit was taken out of your situation, your family, your community, or even your church, would anyone notice the difference?






November 15, 2015

Q&A Was Still Open, But Nobody Had Any Questions

Today we pay a return visit to Brandan Robertson at the blog Revangelical, now part of Patheos and renamed Nomad. This article was posted two weeks ago and is based on the Lectionary reading for November 1st. Click the title below to read at source.

The Flow of Love

Each Sunday, I take time to reflect on a sacred text, usually from the Revised Common Lectionary, in order to re-calibrate, challenge, and fuel us to continue on this rough and rocky journey of faith. Today’s reading comes from Mark 12:28-34:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

“From then on no one dared to ask him any more questions.” What could Jesus have done that caused such silence to emerge from this antagonistic crowd of religious leaders?  This is truly seems like a mic-drop moment. In an attempt to trip Jesus up, this young seminarian comes and asks Jesus what seemed to be an impossible question. Out of all of the Laws of the Hebrew Bible, which command was most important? I imagine any other religious leader would have stopped to think through what was written in the law. Could it be honoring the Sabbath? Worshiping God alone? Staying away from unclean foods and people? Which commandments carried the biggest consequences? Surely, that would help us determine what is most important to God.

Yet in one sentence, quickly uttered, Jesus silences all of the religious leaders of his day. “There is no commandment greater than this: love.” That was it. Love God. Love your neighbor. If you do this, you will fulfill all of the Law. In one sentence, Jesus shifts the focus from personal piety, seeking to obey every jot and tittle written in the Hebrew Bible, to a single broad principle that reshapes the rhythm of our lives than it tries to get us to obey an obnoxious laundry list of religious rules.

I was recently talking to a group of friends and we somehow stumbled onto the topic of “sin”. I voiced my critique of progressive churches, who often, in my opinion, focus so much on societal sins and systemic injustice that they neglect personal morality.  I offered the exact opposite critique of conservative churches, who seem to care little for systemic injustice and instead pour all of their time into keeping God happy through acts of personal piety. Both views of sin, in my opinion, are flawed and lead us away from walking in step with the rhythm of the Kingdom. Keeping the commandments is not rigid obedience to a laundry list of rules nor engaging in activism for the sake of activism. It is living life with an ethic of love.

Each day, in every action that we do, we should shift our awareness and ask ourselves whether or not our every move is motivated by and rooted in unconditional, self sacrificial love. Love that builds up, love that heals, love that encourages, love that unifies. When we live with a broad ethic of love, we will live holy lives that are pleasing to God and beneficial to ourselves and to the world around us. When we live lives of love, we live with awareness of our interconnectedness to all things, understanding that every choice and action we make has an impact on others.

Is what I am doing today liberating, healing, blessing, and encouraging others? Is it liberating, healing, blessing, and encouraging me? If so, I can be assured that I am walking in step with the Spirit. If not, may I be empowered to repent, or turn from the path I am walking down and chose the way of love. It will not always be comfortable or favorable, and it will always cost us. But “it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”(The Prayer of St. Francis) In the subversive, upside down Kingdom of Jesus, when we are able to live lives to the rhythm of love, we align ourselves with the Divine Flow, and we will experience righteousness, favor, and an abundance of peace. And not only us personally, but our entire world will feel the effects of the Love that flows from our lives.

This command, the command of love, silences the most legalistic of people and liberates those who are weighed down by the burden of religion. This command opens us to lives of abundance and challenges us to ask different questions about the way we live, move, and have our being in the world. The way of love is the way of life. May we realign ourselves to be people of love today.

Ten Ways to Love

November 14, 2015

Is The New Testament About a Different God?

Today we were going to pay a return visit to Mike Leake at the blog Borrowed Light, but while there we discovered this article by Nick Horton which covers a topic that seems to be constantly resurfacing. Click the title below to read at source:

Theology Thursday: God Doesn’t Change

“The God of the New Testament is different from the God of the Old Testament.”

Have you heard that idea before from unbelievers? Do you hold to that idea yourself?  The idea asserts God changed somehow between the Old Testament and the New Testament times. They see a difference in God in the 400 years between the testaments. The God of the Old Testament is apparently too harsh, where the God of the New Testament is all about grace.

Here’s the problem. Either they believe there are two different Gods, or they don’t understand that God does not change. The doctrine that God does not change is called divine immutability.

Divine immutability: “By his immutability we mean that it follows from the infinite perfection of God; that he can not be changed by any thing from without himself; and that he will not change from any principle within himself. That as to his essence, his will, and his states of existence, he is the same from eternity to eternity.” Archibald Alexander Hodge, Outlines of Theology: Rewritten and Enlarged (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1878), 143.

How can we say God does not change? Recall last week we discussed God’s aseity. That is, his self-existence. If he is self-existent, then he is not caused by creation, but instead has caused creation to be. He cannot be changed by his creation. Look above to old man Hodge’s further clarification. Not only will he not be changed by anything outside of himself, he will not change from any principle inside himself.

“Hold up,” you might say, “I get that he can’t be changed by creation but why can’t he change himself?”

Good question. This gets at the heart of what it is to be God. God is, among many things, perfect. We polish a mirror and call it perfect. We eat a really good meal and call it perfect. We have perfect games in baseball, perfect frames in bowling, and perfect 10’s in Olympic diving. We use perfect as a relative word. That is, “perfect” can be different things for different folks at the same time. God, however, is absolutely perfect.

He is perfect in: his being, his actions, his will, his goodness, his love, his justice, and his wrath. He cannot get any better than he is because if he changes, he is not perfect. The need to change means there is a deficiency in who he is which cannot fulfill his will. We change and react because we do not have total knowledge or total power. If we were omniscient, we would not react as we would already know what will happen. If we were omnipotent, we would not change to accomplish something as the power to accomplish it would already be in us.

God says in the Old Testament that he does not change: “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)

God says in the New Testament that he does not change: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

“Okay. I guess. But! What about the incarnation?”

The incarnation was the plan from eternity past and not a reaction to the unforeseen consequences of sin. Sin did not cause a “holy huddle” where the trinity met in anguish to figure out what they ought to do next. The Son’s incarnation was the plan from the beginning. By beginning, I mean before creation. There is no change in God, and no surprise in him. Why else did he tell Moses his name is, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14) He disclosed to Moses his unchanging eternal nature. He disclosed his deity.

Just the same, Peter tells us God, the Rock of Ages, Eternal One, sent his Son to be our Passover lamb. He did not do this as a reaction to a crisis, but as a plan made before the foundation of the world and manifested visibly and effectually now for the sake of those who are believers in God. God doesn’t change. It may appears that he does as he revealed more and more of himself to us as time went on until we reached the point of it all; Jesus Christ. He progressively revealed himself throughout the Bible. This is not change, this is the ushering in of glory upon glory.

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:17–21)

November 13, 2015

To Whom Shall We Go

NIVJohn 6:48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them...

…60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”

…66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Today’s post is by Denver pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber and we offer 3 different ways for you to experience it today. You can read the excerpt below. You can click the link and read it in full. Or you can click the link and listen to it on audio.

Jesus Isn’t The Sears Wishbook

…If you remember – It started with Jesus feeding the 5,000 – the crowd’s desire for bread was granted and then inevitably seen for what it was – only a temporary fix. This is followed by a long weird discourse about Jesus being the bread of life which leads us to our reading for today when a bunch of his followers say “um, your teachings are hard.” and they take off and Jesus looks at the ones who are left and asks if they want to take off too and they respond, “Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life”.

It was like the disciples kept circling things in the Sears Wishbook and showing them to Jesus sure that getting what they wish for would be the key to a good life and the avoidance of suffering. They wanted miracles and signs and a list of rules to follow so that they may earn eternal life and they wanted to make Jesus a real king and not just that weird guy who says weird stuff while surrounded with weird people. And instead, over and over – Jesus gives them himself. He keeps saying I give myself to you and they keep pointing to what they circled in the Sears Wishbook.

So some of the disciples say “this teaching is hard” and they leave. I get that. His teachings are hard. Mainly because my own desires – the things I circle in my Wishbook are pretty much always rooted in ego and Jesus’ teachings do nothing for the ego except destroy it. You know which ones I’m talking about: teachings like, those who seek to save their life must lose it and those who lose their life will find it – teachings like the first shall be last and the last shall be first. And “don’t be afraid” and that classic, “don’t worry about tomorrow” It makes me want to tell Jesus to stop talking and just smite my enemies and hand over Malibu Barbie already.

Because Jesus’ words are seldom the words we want to hear. They just happen to be the words we need to hear. Just to be clear, though: Jesus’ teachings are hard not because they demand a certain moral or ethic from us – a lifestyle that isn’t as fun as one we’d rather choose – the teachings are hard because they offer a saving truth that our desires can never offer us. For instance, were there a picture in the Sears Wishbook of my enemies being destroyed…my ego would totally grab a black magic marker and circle that and say yes, Jesus slash Santa if you could please make sure horrible things happen to my internet trolls and the people who have hurt me and my 8th grade bully Debbie Quackenbush I would feel better – and to this Jesus says these words: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” He says “turn the other cheek” he says “forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”

These words of Jesus make me realize why the great poet W.H. Auden, when asked once why he was a Christian, instead of a Buddhist or a Confucian, since all these religions share similar ethical values said, “Because nothing in the figure of Buddha or Confucius fills me with the overwhelming desire to scream, “crucify him.” Which makes me realize that my own Christian faith is always a blend of “This teaching is hard” and “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.” I don’t know about you – but I feel like a combination of both these kinds of disciples. Because I know that the message and work of Jesus is what heals me and yet, it smarts the ego like hell so instead – I sometimes walk away like a kid who refuses antiseptic for her badly skinned knee because she knows its gonna sting.

But Lord, seriously, to whom shall we go instead? …

November 12, 2015

We Were Created to “Do”

This week I paid a return visit to What’s Best Next, the blog of Matt Perman, only to discover that since I was last there, Zondervan has released the book, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. The following is adapted from the book and can also be read at source by clicking the title below.

To Be Productive is to Be Fruitful in Good Works

What Does God Want Done?

Good works. What God wants done are good works.

We see this right in Matthew 5:16, where Jesus sums up for us the entire purpose of our lives:

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

That is the purpose of the Christian life summed up for us in one sentence. The entire purpose of our lives—what God wants from us—is to do good for others, to the glory of God.

We also see this in one of the most important passages on productivity in the Bible—Ephesians 2:8-10:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing: it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Likewise, Titus 2:14 tells us that Jesus

“gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

And Jesus says in John 15:16,

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”

Being Fruitful in Good Works

Hence, good works are part of the purpose of our salvation. In one sense we have been doubly created for good works. God created us to do good works, as we see in the creation mandate in Genesis, and here we see that we are also re-created in Christ to do good works.

Productive things, then, are things that do good. Productivity always has to be understood in relation to a goal, and God’s goal is that we do good works.

Hence, we can define productivity in this way: to be productive is to be fruitful in good works. 

Adapted from What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.

Today’s song is by Keith Green and was suggested by the devotional reading.

November 11, 2015

gods Forget GOD

by Clarke Dixon (click here to read at source)

We have a prosperity problem. Prosperity causes us to forget God. We intuitively feel this in Canada as our relative affluence seems to be related to our religious apathy. Scripture seems to point this out also:

12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 8:12-14 emphasis mine)

This being the case, perhaps we should be praying for a downturn of the economy? If, as we Christians believe, there is nothing as important as one’s relationship with God, then perhaps more misery might make many souls merry?

Or is prosperity really the problem? Let’s take a look at those verses again, but let me move the highlighting:

12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 8:12-14 emphasis mine)

Or as another translation puts it, “your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God”  (NIV). We do not have a prosperity problem. We have a heart problem. Proud hearts are prone to forgetting God.

The heart problem was to be the heart of the problem for God’s people as they entered the Promised Land. Things would be better for them, this is the land flowing with milk and honey after all. But in prosperity and all that has been achieved would be the danger of self-congratulations:

. . . then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. (Deuteronomy 8:14-18 emphasis mine)

We are prone to being self-congratulatory. We are prone to wanting the glory. Just look at all we have achieved. A great team of men and women worked hard to put a man on the moon. We might ask who should get the MVP award for making such an achievement possible. Who deserves the most glory? The astronauts? The scientists? The technicians? The taxpayers? And in deliberating the question we forget that God put the moon there in the first place, not to mention the earth, not to mention the materials in the earth fit for building a spacecraft, not to mention the rules of physics, not to mention the potential of the human mind to dream, and the capacity of human hands to create. Even in the greatest of human achievements, God deserves glory.

As humans we have great potential. Yet we do nothing without God’s gift of potential. We innovate. But we do not innovate without God. We succeed and achieve. But we do not succeed and achieve without God. We live. But we do not live without God. We love. But we do not love without God. To God belongs the glory.

Deuteronomy chapter eight does not leave us without an antidote to our forgetfulness. Though some translations take verse ten as concluding verses 1-9, I think the NIV gets it correct with putting it with what follows:

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, . . .  (Deuteronomy 8:10-11 NIV emphasis mine)

Praise is the cure for forgetfulness. It is in praising God that our hearts are humbled. It is in praising God that our hearts are filled with the wonders of God. It is in praising God that we recognize where the glory truly belongs.

Praise keeps us from stealing God’s glory. Even in matters of salvation we are prone to wanting to steal God’s glory. We think we can be good enough that God will have to accept us. “Yes, He is holy, but I can be holy too.” Actually no. We can no more be good enough before God based on our own righteousness than the Israelites could cross the Red Sea on dry ground by their own miracle working. We depend on God’s grace, God’s work of salvation through Jesus Christ. We cannot steal God’s glory.

So do we have a prosperity problem? We have a heart problem. It is in trying to be gods, we forget GOD. If we have no appetite for God, perhaps it is not that we have too much stuff, so much as we have stuffed ourselves with too much of our own glory.

Not to us, Lord, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.
(Psalms 115:1 NIV)

All Bible references are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted.


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