Christianity 201

February 23, 2017

Little Power and Great Affirmation in Philadephia: Revelation 3

by Clarke Dixon

You feel powerless. Something is broken and you don’t think you can fix it. There is a problem and you don’t think you can find a solution. The complexities of life are like a maze and you don’t think you can find your way. What are we to do when we feel powerless?

Our friends may respond with a big dose of positive thinking; you are powerful, you can do anything, you are amazing! And sometimes, when we are thinking of ourselves more lowly than we ought, we need affirmation. But sometimes affirmation falls short. It feels hollow somehow. It is not just that we think we can’t fix it, or find the solution, or find our way. It is that we can not fix it, find the solution, or find our way. Sometimes we don’t just feel powerless, we are powerless.

In Revelation chapter three we have a letter to a small community of Christians who are of “little power.” (Revelation 3:8) This small community of Christians in Philadelphia could easily feel overwhelmed by those loyal to Roman ways of thinking and acting. They could also feel overwhelmed by those who strictly observe the Hebrew Bible but who don’t share their excitement over Jesus as the fulfillment of those scriptures. These two communities were much larger than the Christian community, and persecution was known to happen. So what does Jesus have to say to these powerless Christians?

Here is what Jesus says:

“These are the words of the holy one . . .” (Revelation 3:7)

Jesus is in effect saying, “I am the Holy One, and so the only One who has the power of God.” We read in Mark chapter 1 of a demon saying “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24). The demon knew Jesus had the power to destroy because the demon knew Jesus was God’s Holy One. 

“. . . the true one, . . .” (Revelation 3:7)

The word “true” here means “authentic, genuine.” Jesus is the “real deal.” No one but Jesus can promise relationship with God, life, or eternal life, and deliver on the promise.

“. . . who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” (Revelation 3:7)

Jesus holds the key of of the Kingdom, and makes decisions on the door of the Kingdom. Persecutors may make decisions about a person’s death, but Jesus is the one who makes decisions on every person’s life & eternal life.

“I know your works.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus knows stuff! Nothing escapes his notice, neither the patient suffering of the persecuted, nor the evil deeds of those who persecute.

“Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus creates opportunities. It may feel like opportunity belongs to the strong and powerful. However, Jesus can create opportunities for those with little to no power.

“I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet,” (Revelation 3:9)

In other words “I will make justice happen.” There is a turning of the tables here, from the Philadelphian Christians being kicked out of the synagogue to those of the synagogue gathering around them.

“ . . . and they will learn that I have loved you.” (Revelation 3:9)

Jesus will clear up misunderstandings. Those who hate people because they think God hates them will someday find out whom God loves and how foolish it was to hate.

“I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” (Revelation 3:10)

Here Jesus promises to hold the Christians through a time of trial. There are differing interpretations on the “what” and “when” of this “hour of trial.” The important thing is the promise of Jesus to keep his people through it.

“I am coming soon;” (Revelation 3:11)

Jesus will return and those persecutors who say that he is of no consequence, will see him and come to a new appreciation of just Who He is.

“If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it.” (Revelation 3:12)

Jesus will ensure the believer’s presence with God. They may have been cast out of the synagogue, and disowned by the city, but Jesus will give them a secure standing in his temple, the Bible’s great symbol for the presence of God.

“I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Revelation 3:12)

This is a promise of inclusion in God’s people, as well as a promise of reflection of God’s character, a “family resemblance” if you will.

The Christians in Philadelphia have little power. Does Jesus respond with affirmation, telling them that they have much more power than they think? There is affirmation, but most of the affirmations are about Jesus Himself! Let us look at the full letter to Philadelphia and notice the affirmations that pertain to Jesus:

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens8 “I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. 11 I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Revelation 3:7-13 (emphasis mine)

Jesus does not affirm the power of his followers. He affirms His own power! In other words Jesus is telling the Christians in Philadelphia that they do not need to be God. He is! They do not need to be powerful. He is, and He loves them. Their part is to keep doing what they have been doing;

“I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. . . . Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, . . .” (Revelation 3:8,10).

Do you feel powerless? Something is broken and you don’t think you can fix it? There is a problem and you don’t think you can find a solution? The complexities of life are like a maze and you don’t think you can find your way? Perhaps you are correct. But you are not God. You don’t have to be. Look instead to the One Who Is.

There is one matter in life where we are completely and utterly powerless. We have absolutely no power to reconcile ourselves to God. But God does. And He has made it happen through Jesus at the cross. Let us not look to ourselves with false affirmations, but look to our Lord and Saviour with honest affirmations of His power and love.

 All Scripture references are from the NRSV

 Original Source: Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

February 22, 2017

Why did the Messiah Die as a Roman Criminal?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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…and Where did the Israelites Come From?

Deut. 29:29
“The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed  belong to us and our children forever.”

1 Cor. 13:12
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

This is our 5th time visiting the writing of author and theologian Peter Enns. His writing style is always lighthearted but the things he discusses can be quite serious. In the two questions before us today, he doesn’t quite solve either of them, but wants us to embrace the idea that we don’t really have a complete understanding of such things. The Bible just doesn’t tell us. Click the title below to read this at source.

Two Issues in the Bible that are Really Really Important and Really Really Not Clear at All

This is no official word from above (unlike most of my blog posts). Just my opinion.

Here are the two issues that I think are very important for how we think about Christian faith and how the Bible fits into that. Many would like absolute clarity on these issues, but that clarity does not exist.

The two issues, one from each Testament, are (cue dramatic music):

Israelite origins and the meaning of the cross (atonement)

Israelite origins

The question is, historically speaking, Where did the historical group of people called “Israelites” come from?

That question is not answered by biblical scholars and historians with, “Just read the Bible.” The biblical story, which begins with one person Abraham and leads through Egypt to the Promised Land and a monarchy, is fraught with many well-known and often insurmountable historical problems.

It seems that the biblical account of Israelite origins is not so much a history as it is a story, with historical echoes of various sorts, but a story nonetheless.

The further back in time we go in Israel’s history, the more complex and mysterious the matter becomes. Certain events in the Old Testament are ones we can, generally speaking, hang our historical hat on. They include (working backwards):

  • the Babylonian exile and return (586-539 BCE),
  • the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians (701),
  • and the fall of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians (722),
  • the division of the monarchy into north and south (around 930),

Similarly, the existence and reigns of David and Solomon (10th century BCE) can (and I think should) be assumed as generally echoing historical events, even if the details of the biblical accounts raise some significant questions for historians.

But if we continue pressing backward in time, before the monarchy, the historical nature of the biblical accounts is either utterly unclear or in direct tension with the general outline of history that has come to light in the past century or so. Historically speaking, we really don’t know where the Israelites came from, and the exodus and conquest stories, which are so central to the biblical account, are particularly problematic.

And, of course, here’s the real problem and why I am singling out this issue above all others: Israelite origins is sort of a big deal in the Old Testament. You know, Abraham, Moses, Mt. Sinai, and all that.

Engaging the historical study of Israelite origins from a position of faith in the God of Israel is a challenge, and not one that I am going to solve in this post, other than to say, “Welcome to the journey; it’s really no that bad once you get used to it.”

The Cross

If Israelite origins is a core Old Testament issue for Christian faith, the meaning of the cross is überimportant.

“Why did Jesus die? What is the significance of Jesus’s death?” Christian theologians have been discussing these questions for as long as there have been Christian theologians, beginning with the New Testament writers themselves, and I suppose we should take some comfort in that.

Yes, Jesus died on the cross, and yes, that changed everything. But exactly what the cross changed and how it changed it can easily begin barroom fights (assuming that biblical scholars and theologians hang out in bars, which most of them do and if not they probably should).

There have been in fact a number of “atonement theories” out there for centuries that try to explain the significance of Jesus’s death on a Roman cross. And the reason why these theories abound isn’t because theologians are looking for attention or have daddy issues they are taking out on God, but the fact that the Bible doesn’t speak with one voice on the matter.

Actually, when reading the New Testament, you get the impression that the writers were actually trying to work it out themselves. “Why did the Messiah die as a Roman criminal?” can’t be answered with a few Old Testament prooftexts—as if, “Oh yeah, duh. Obviously.” The matter of a suffering and executed Messiah was a surprise that posed a deep theological challenge for the early Christians, but one they took up with gusto.

The crucifixion of Jesus is of central importance to the Christian faith, but the nature of its significance is very hard to pin down. What, exactly, did Jesus’s execution do? Did it appease God’s wrath? Was it like a legal transaction to satisfy God’s justice? Was Jesus’s death a ransom of some sort to free captives (see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)? Was it Jesus’s victory over the power of death? Was it a moral exemplar for Christians to follow?

These theories exist because they can be found in (or perhaps inferred from) the New Testament. And so when someone asks you what seems to be that most basic of questions about Christianity, “Why did Jesus die?”, the answer actually isn’t obvious but strikes at the heart of the mystery of faith. And maybe all the atonement theories are right in their own way.

Anyway, this post isn’t about solving Israelite origins or atonement theory. It’s about how untended and even uncooperative the Bible can be if we are looking to it to pave a smooth path for us theologically. The Bible doesn’t work well that way.

But perhaps better, the Bible as is, not as we might like it to be, drives us to work together by faith in thinking through the nature of the Christian story and its implications.


We actually linked to one of Peter’s other articles earlier today at Thinking Out Loud: Why is that in each of the synoptic gospels, Jesus seems to be saying something quite different?

February 21, 2017

Worshiping in Vain

We’ve linked to Wes McAdams’ blog Radically Christian before at Thinking Out Loud, but apparently not here. Time to fix that! Click the link in the title below to read this at source; there are some really good articles.

What is Vain Worship?

In Mark 7:7 Jesus quoted Isaiah, saying, “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” But what did Jesus mean about worshiping in vain? I’ve heard many people explain that “vain worship” is worshiping God in unauthorized ways. One website claims it is “when we worship the way we want” instead of worshiping “the way God has told us in His word” (source). Unfortunately, I think that definition of “vain worship” ignores the context of Jesus’ words and gives the wrong impression about vain worship.

The Context – Jewish Traditions

Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees because His disciples ate food without first ceremonially washing their hands according to Jewish customs. In order to help his readers understand what was going on, Mark explained, “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:3). And he even added, “And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches” (Mark 7:4).

The Pharisees thought their strict customs and traditions were necessary in order to keep people from accidentally breaking the Law of Moses by eating something “unclean.” However, Jesus’ disciples were not observing these customs; which is why the Pharisees were very critical of them and of Jesus.

It’s important to recognize that nothing in the context is about worshiping “the way we want” versus worshiping “the way God has told us in His word.” That is an important discussion to have, but it is NOT the discussion Jesus was having with these Jews.

The Meaning – Vain Worship

The word, “vain” means “useless” or “empty.” It means “hollow” or “unsuccessful.” When Jesus used Isaiah’s words to criticize the people of His day, He wasn’t criticizing the way they were praying or singing. He was criticizing their hearts and the way they were living.

He went on to criticize the way they kept the custom of “Corban,” but disobeyed God’s command to financially provide for their parents. He said, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition” (Mark 7:9).

Jesus was saying, “All your words about honoring God are worthless. You say you love Him, but you don’t. Your religious piety is just a show you’re putting on for people. Your customs and traditions are for your own benefit; not because you actually love God.”

The Application – Vain Worship in Modern Times

I would certainly agree that we should worship God the way He says for us to worship and we should not invent unauthorized ways of worshiping. In fact, I could not agree with that more. But if we think avoiding “vain worship” is done by simply worshiping according to the rules, then there is a very good chance that we ourselves are truly guilty of vain worship.

I can’t help but think of Christians and congregations in the 50s and 60s who discriminated against people of other skin colors. That was vain worship! They were honoring God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They maintained their custom of discrimination, segregation, and racism, saying, “That’s just the way things are done around here,” while they rejected God’s commandment to love their neighbor as themselves. Critical of the church down the street for worshiping in an unauthorized way, but all the while being guilty of truly vain worship.

And we continue to do such things today. Our worship is vain anytime we honor God with our lips, but we are more concerned with keeping the religious customs and traditions of our time than we are the actual commandments of God.

It’s interesting how many religious customs and traditions we have:

  • What time we meet for worship on Sunday.
  • How many times we meet for worship on Sunday.
  • Whether or not we have a Wednesday Bible study.
  • How we dress when we come to worship.
  • Whether or not we offer an invitation at the end of a sermon.

None of these traditions and customs are inherently wrong; just as the washing of hands in Jesus’ day was not inherently wrong. But they become wrong when God’s people are more concerned about keeping traditions and customs than we are things like:

  • loving our neighbor
  • loving our enemy
  • not slandering anyone (including political leaders)
  • not being greedy or covetous

These are things God actually addresses and commands, but often we are more concerned with keeping our customs and traditions than we are obeying the actual commands of God. This is when we are truly guilty of “vain worship.”

Examine yourself. Examine your heart. Examine your life. The question isn’t, “Do you worship according to the rules?” but rather, “Do your words and your life reflect true devotion to God?”

 

 

February 20, 2017

Jesus and Melchizedek

We almost never repeat an article here, but this 2012 piece came up in a search I was doing for a pastor on the subject of Bible Typology, which we’ve covered 3 times in the last year, plus this older one. I felt this was worth a revisit for newer readers.


Today I thought we’d really go deep with what is the first of two posts by author Andrew Perrimen at his blog post on the nature of the incarnate Christ. Don’t fret if you can’t absorb this all at once in the first reading; simply get an overview of what the author is discussing and your exposure to this type of examination will register over time. It’s a good introduction to the issues that arise when people try to get too much doctrine out of an isolated text.

One of the arguments put forward by those who wish to find the divinity of Jesus under every stone is that as a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:6; 6:20; 7:17) Jesus must have been both God and man. This is a misunderstanding of the argument in Hebrews, and I want to set out briefly why I think this is the case. There is a lot more in the discussion that I would like to pick up on, particularly cherylu’s helpful contribution

1. Nowhere in the Bible is a priest identified with God. It’s not part of the job description. In fact, it’s part of the job description that a priest should be thoroughly human (Heb. 5:1-3).

2. Jesus qualifies for priesthood by virtue of his suffering on behalf of his “brothers”, that is, on behalf of suffering Israel (there is no reference to the nations in this argument). When it is said that it was necessary for him to “become like his brothers in every respect” (Heb. 1:17), the point is not that he had to become human but that he had to suffer (2:18); he was tested in just the same way that the recipients of the letter had been tested—that is, by persecution—but without sin, without disobedience, without backsliding (Heb. 4:15). Jesus was “designated” a high priest by God because he “learned obedience through what he suffered” and was “made perfect” (Heb. 5:8-10). That makes no sense at all if Jesus, as some sort of eternal high priest, was already God.

2. Jesus becomes a priest through the power of the resurrection, by the power of an “endless life” (Heb. 7:16). He was appointed as high priest (Heb. 5:5). He was not a high priest before his death and resurrection, so no claims can be made on the basis of this analogy regarding his preexistence. That Jesus would live forever is part of the argument; that he had already lived forever is not. As a human priest after the order of Melchizedek, raised from the dead, Jesus has gone ahead as a “forerunner” on behalf of those who will also suffer and be vindicated for his sake (6:19-20).

3. The reference to Psalm 110:4 indicates that the point of the argument is that Israel’s eschatological king, from the line of Judah, was also legitimately a high priest who could make propitiation for the sins of the people, following the failure of the Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7:11). The Jewish polemical background is obvious. Melchizedek was both a king and a priest, who predated the Levitical priesthood, and who set the precedent for the new conjunction of the two human roles in Jesus. John Doyle also has some good comments on the significance of Melchizedek in the argument of Hebrews. Divinity doesn’t come into it.

3. In Hebrews 7:3 we have this description of Melchizedek:

He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

Melchizedek is a “type” of Jesus here only in one respect: he continues as a priest forever, which is an element in the convergence of the priestly and royal themes. The other statements made are not part of the typology or analogy—clearly not, since Jesus had a mother and a genealogy, in fact, two genealogies. You can’t have a genealogy and be eternal. So the writer is not saying here that Jesus was also without beginning of days. This cannot be used as an argument for the divinity or preexistence of Jesus.

4. The strongest case for the preexistence of Jesus in the New Testament, in my view, is probably to be made on the basis of statements which connect him with the original act of creation (eg. Col. 1:16). The fact that the argument with regard to Melchizedek and the nature of priesthood is exegetically and theologically is flawed does not mean that the case cannot be made on other grounds.

~Andrew Perrimen

Here’s the link to part two


 

February 19, 2017

Does the Lord Know You?

by Russell Young

Does the Lord know you?  This might be a strange question to ask.  It is commonly accepted that the Lord knows everything about everyone.  That is, he is omniscient.  However, Christ said that “on that day” he would plainly say to some of those who had served in the development of his kingdom, “I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers!” (Mt 7:23 NIV) This is a disturbing prophesy.  These people were expecting to be received by him; they had prophesied in his name, driven out demons in his name, and had performed many miracles (v.22); they were confident in their hope.

Many start their evangelizing with the question, “Do you know the Lord?” Perhaps, that is a good place to start, but even in this question consideration needs to be given to the word, “know.” In any event, as the confessor progresses in his or her walk, the question needs to be asked, “Does the Lord know you?” Those he does not “know” will be cast from him.  The justification that he had presented for casting away those referenced above was because they were “evil-doers.” Even though they had participated in ministry in his name, they had walked through their world in an “evil” manner, in violation of the law, or unrighteously.  At the beginning of this discourse the Lord had stated, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 NIV) It is a person’s “doing” that is important to the Lord, not their profession of his lordship.

The word “knew” is translated from the Greek ginosko which means “to know absolutely, to be aware (of), feel, have know(-ledge), perceived, be resolved, can speak, be sure, understand.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #1097) Perhaps the “knowing” that the Lord spoke of can best be understood in relation to the Lord’s absolute knowledge of a person’s conviction; he was “unsure” of the integrity of their confession, or “didn’t understand” them. In this manner, he had chastised the church in Laodicea for being “lukewarm—neither hot nor cold” (Rev 3:16 NIV) and said that he was about to “spit them out of [his] mouth.” A person’s testimony through his or her life practices is the manner in which the Lord comes to know him or her.  He has stated that his saints overcame Satan, by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Rev 12:11 NIV) He is not saying that ‘the testimony of their word’ overcame Satan but that “the word of their testimony’ or the speaking of their actions as they revealed Christ through righteous living and obedient practices. It should be appreciated that both the blood of the Lamb and a person’s own testimony through righteous living are needed to dwell in the kingdom of heaven.

To the Thessalonians Paul wrote: “He will punish those who do not know (appreciate) God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thess 1:8─9 NIV) As is recorded above, Christ said that, “only he who does the will of my Father in heaven” will enter his eternal kingdom. It is through obedience to him that God gets to “know” or to become sure of a person’s commitment.  This thought should not be taken lightly. Does the Lord “know” you? Do you obey Christ as he leads you by his Spirit?  Those who do will present a righteous testimony and will be participants in building his kingdom, and they will be part of it. The only way that a person’s state of faith can be known by God is through their degree of submission to him as they obediently comply with his requirements in their lives. Obedience is faith in practice. “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV)

The Lord gets to know a person as he or she seeks him for righteous living.  The reason that Christ claimed not to know or to be sure of them was because their practices did not show evidence of his life having been lived through them.  They had not humbled themselves to his sovereignty.  They had lived apart from him.  Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” (Jn 14:6 NIV) and they had not recognized his life even though they had called him “Lord.” They had continued in their evil practices; they had lived life on their terms.

This passage should instruct everyone who desires to dwell in the Lord’s eternal presence to recognize his lordship, his indwelling ministry, and the need for righteous living. Misleading representations concerning God’s grace should not prevent the life of Christ from being lived, as he would, through the believer. Christ admonished, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46 NIV) How well does the Lord “know” you?

February 18, 2017

Interpreting Christianity Through the Jesus Lens

Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written  John 21:25 ESV

Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne are the principle writers behind a website called Red Letter Christians.  Their “about” page begins:

Mission

Staying true to the foundation of combining Jesus and justice, Red Letter Christians mobilizes individuals into a movement of believers who live out Jesus’ counter-cultural teachings.

About Us

The goal of Red Letter Christians is simple: To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.

By calling ourselves Red Letter Christians, we refer to the fact that in many Bibles the words of Jesus are printed in red. What we are asserting, therefore, is that we have committed ourselves first and foremost to doing what Jesus said. Jesus calls us away from the consumerist values that dominate contemporary America. Instead, he calls us to meet the needs of the poor. He also calls us to be merciful, which has strong implications in terms of war and capital punishment. After all, when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he probably means we shouldn’t kill them.

Some people think this means setting aside the Pauline epistles, or the entire Old Testament. Recently, Tony wrote the following responding to questions and critics. Click the title to read at source:

To Our Critics: Jesus is Our Lens

From time to time, we Red Letter Christians are confronted with the critique that our most serious error is that we discount the black letters of the Bible. Nothing could be further from the truth. We readily declare that without the black letters in the Bible we would have very little in the way of a solid theology. Consider that we would not have a belief system that declares, as do the black letters recorded in Ephesians 2:8-9, that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by our good works.

Undoubtedly, our theologies would be sparse without the writings of Paul. I grew up, however, in numerous church-sponsored Bible studies that seem in retrospect to have been focused almost entirely on the Pauline Epistles. What was lacking in those days was the kind of balance that is provided by the Gospels—and specifically by those red letters in the New Testament that highlight the social justice teachings of Jesus about the Kingdom of God. The good theology provided by Paul’s writings needs the balance of the prescriptions for the radical lifestyle provided by the teachings of Jesus (indeed, Jesus helps us to see that these prescriptions are there in Paul’s writings too).

Theology must have at its side the call to participate with Jesus in raising up oppressed people and meeting the needs of the poor as are emphasized in those red letters of the Bible. Both are held high in the New Testament, and we need both.

The Jesus revealed in the red letters of the Bible declared that He did not come to abolish the writings of the Hebrew Bible (i.e. the Old Testament) but to fulfill them. The laws of Moses pointed beyond themselves to the higher morality of Jesus as set forth in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5: 5-6). The prophesies about The Messiah that we find in the Hebrew Bible were actualized in Jesus (see Psalm 22 and Is. 54) and were the sources for the sermons of the first century church. The cries for social and economic justice preached in both the major and minor prophets are what Jesus legitimated in His many declarations about the new social order that He wills and prays to become a reality here on earth – “as it is in Heaven.”

We Red Letter Christians want to draw attention to the good news that Jesus, through His death and resurrection, not only provided personal salvation to all who put their faith in Him, but also declared that He was initiating a revolution wherein the kingdom of God would become historically real.

The Red Letter Revolution is not only about preaching a savior who forgives sins and promises eternal life, but who also declared that the shalom of God was breaking loose in the here and now. We’re about furthering this kingdom message that is declared in both the red letters and the black letters of the Bible. We declare the whole gospel for the whole world. We want to help make Jesus and what He had to say in the red letters of the Bible the lens through which the entire Bible is read.

 

 

 

February 17, 2017

Dead Churches, Like Sardis

by Clarke Dixon

Dead and dying churches. They are everywhere in our nation along with opinions as to why and what to do. A lack of vision. Failure to keep up with the times in music. Too much politicking. Boring services and coma-inducing sermons. A changing culture that could care less. These are some of the reasons people give for the death of churches, with no shortage of advice on staying alive. Perhaps now is a good time to read this letter from Jesus to a dead church:

 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:
“I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. 3 Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. 4 Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. 6 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.  Revelation 3:1-6 (NRSV emphasis mine)

Is there anything here that can help our dying churches in Canada? Jesus gives them six imperatives:

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. Revelation 3:2-3a (emphasis mine)

Let us take a look at each.

Wake up!

To wake up is to leave dreamland and dwell again in the real world. It is to give up appearances and get back to reality. The church at Sardis appeared to be alive, but needed to grasp the reality that in God’s eyes they were quite dead. Every church needs to pinch itself from time to time to ensure it is awake and has a good grasp on reality.

The original language behind “wake up” is more literally “become watching” (Young’s Literal Translation). We are reminded of Jesus’ teaching:

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. (Lk. 12:35-36 NRS)

Churches, more than any other group of people on earth, should live in such a manner that the return of Jesus tonight would cause rejoicing and not embarrassment or regret. Sadly, many churches in our nation do not even think Jesus is returning.

Strengthen what remains and is on the point of death!

What remains, yet could disappear? A community of people gathered around a cause. Let us consider another time Jesus spoke of the potential for death:

John 15:5-6 (NRSV) I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

To strengthen what remains, the Christian community needs to gather, not just around a cause, but around a person, the Person, Jesus Christ.

Remember then what you received and heard!

What was received and heard, that is now forgotten? Consider the following example:

13 We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers. (1 Thess. 2:13 emphasis mine)

The Christians in Sardis are to remember the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is the message of reconciliation with God. It is the truth that such reconciliation is made possible by the grace of God through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Is it possible for a Christian community to forget the Gospel? Here are three ways the Gospel is forgotten among the churches of our nation.

  1. The Good News is forgotten where the reality of the supernatural is denied.
  2. The Good News is forgotten where confidence wanes in what the Bible teaches about Jesus.
  3. The Good News is forgotten where sentimentality becomes an idol.

This last one perhaps needs more explanation. Suppose you had to make a choice between a) having your church just as it is, with the building and the weekly services, but no possibility of anyone coming to Jesus through its ministry, and, b) a person coming to Jesus through the ministry of your church, but you must lose your building and the way you do things. What would you choose? If you chose option a, sentimentality may have become an idol. It can and does happen that the message of the church is seen of less importance than the institution of the church. Such churches need to “remember then what you received and heard.”

Obey it!

The word “obey” has the connotation of the mere keeping of rules. However the word in Greek is much more nuanced than that. Some of the definitions include: “keep in view, watch over, guard, keep, preserve, maintain, protect, observe.” Here is encouragement to keep, guard, and maintain the Gospel teaching. This is more than just keeping the right doctrinal teaching, for the Good News of Jesus Christ is not just good news. It is life changing good News. When we grasp the Good News fully, we will find ourselves grasped fully. Yes, churches are for sinners like you and me, and should be places where we can be transparent about our struggles. Yet, the Church is the people who live by the Holy Spirit. The statistics should reflect that people are bearing the fruit of the Spirit. If things look no different between the church and society, then chances are good that the church is dead. There is a need to guard the Gospel, not just in the sense of being able to recite a catechism, but in being changed people, a people who reflect the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Repent!

To “repent” means to have a “change of mind.” The church in Sardis is told to repent, to have a change of mind about what is important. In our day, there are many voices calling for churches to change. Change the music, change the morality, change the doctrines, change the traditions, change the preaching, change the preacher. Some churches try to change nothing. Many churches try to change everything. The change that really matters is the kind of change Jesus calls a dead church to make; a call to change the mind, to repent and focus on the life changing Good News of Jesus Christ. 

There may be many reasons that churches die. But there is one reason that is inexcusable, one that Jesus speaks to; forgetting the life-changing Good News of Jesus Christ. Neglecting the Gospel is a sure-fire way to kill a church. Does your church need to pinch itself?

(All Scripture references are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted)


Clarke’s articles appear first on his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

February 16, 2017

Ten Towering T’s of Spiritual Discipline

This is an excerpt from an article by William Barrick at Parking Space 23 in an article titled:

Hi-def Leadership in a Hi-def World: Attributes of Godly Leaders

…As an aid to examining the characteristics of Christian leadership, I have outlined my thoughts by means of “HI-DEF” as an acronym:

  • Humility
  • Integrity
  • Discipline
  • Excellence
  • Faith

The section below appears in the discipline category.

Discipline

One of the greatest causes of failure in leadership relates directly to one’s failure to manage himself properly—in other words, a lack of self-discipline. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, could not become a leader: “Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence” (Genesis 49:4). Self-control (self-discipline) must be carried out in ten major areas of life—the Ten Towering T’s:

  1. Thought. Self-discipline begins with managing our minds, our thoughts, our daydreaming. We waste mental energy in worry, anxiety, and over-thinking each situation we face. As leaders the best use of thought involves developing priorities and focusing on a plan of action and how to implement it efficiently.
  2. Time. Too often we end up piddling around with minor matters, or exhausting valuable time avoiding the difficult matters. In the Facebook age, we begin by looking at what one friend has posted and end up three hours later on an online rabbit trail that leads us away from the things we ought to be doing offline.
  3. Transformation. The task of becoming a man of God continues unendingly. We must begin every day seeking God’s presence and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).
  4. Tasks. A godly leader must order his tasks according to their priority before beginning to do the work itself. A Hi-def leader must identify, define, and prioritize pertinent tasks.
  5. Toil. A persistent devotion to labor marks every great Christian leader. Paul spoke of how he surpassed others in the amount of labor he expended in gospel ministry: “I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Such leaders “who diligently labor” are worthy of respect (1 Thessalonians 5:12).
  6. Talents. Skills and abilities, as well as spiritual gifts, come from the Lord. Great leaders know how to manage their gifts and how to maximize their efforts. They recognize where they lack skill and seek co-laborers who make up that which the leader himself lacks.
  7. Treasures. Wise and prudent management of one’s finances and possessions also characterizes godly leaders. Being “free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:3) does not mean that a godly leader should ignore proper management of what God has given to him and to his family. Such good management includes honoring “the LORD from your wealth” (Proverbs 3:9).
  8. Tongue. With Hi-def clarity James 3:1–12 reveals the importance of controlling one’s words. The same teaching abounds in the Old Testament in passages like Psalm 39:1—leaders must guard their mouth “as with a muzzle.” The Hi-def leader chooses his words with care and keeps silent when it is wiser not to speak (James 1:19).
  9. Teaching. A leader must practice what he teaches (Romans 2:21). Paul exhorted Timothy to “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16). This discipline must be passed on to future leaders: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
  10. Thanks. Being thankful takes discipline and management. A godly leader will excel in giving thanks when and where thanks is due—first of all to the Lord, then to others. Thanksgiving was such an important aspect of corporate worship that David appointed Asaph as “the leader in beginning the thanksgiving at prayer” in the Tabernacle and the Temple (Nehemiah 11:17).

I encourage you to click the title above to read the full article.

February 15, 2017

Flexible Methodology; Fixed Message

For the last few days we’ve been reconnecting with writers with whom it’s been many years — in this case five — since they last appeared at C201. It’s great to go back and find people are being faithful to Bible study and devotion online. Dave Bish at the Blue Fish Project website is one of those. He’s doing a series on Galatians and at the end of this article, we’ll link you to another in the series.

Trampolines and Brick Walls: Don’t flex on the gospel, do flex on everything else to love the church and advance the gospel.

In his 2005 book Velvet Elvis Rob Bell argued that the church has a problem because we think of theology as like a brick wall – rigid and systematic, whereas we should look at our theology as being more of a trampoline – flexible and in which some of the springs can be safely removed. The analogy seems really attractive, though it’s pretty flawed – not least because you could removed more bricks from a wall than springs from a trampoline before everything would fall apart… but beyond that it’s also woefully ignorant.

In writing to Galatians Paul wont have any of this anti-doctrinal faith. He tackle gospel denial and says it’s Father-desertion… he speak of gospel truth and it’s about the Father’s revelation of the Son. It’s life-filled, relational, and write-down-able. And accuracy matters – because it’s curse-worthy to believe a different gospel, and to teach others to hope in something contrary to Christ. Theology is about the knowledge of the Father and his Son by the Spirit – it’s not cold and rigid, but without accuracy we’re not talking about the same God, just a similar one. Or in Galatian language a different gospel that is no gospel at all… a perversion of the gospel.” 

But, some things are flexible and some things aren’t. The gospel can’t be up for grabs, a lot of other stuff must be – at least when it comes to ministry practice.

In Galatians 2 Paul tells one of three stories to his Father-deserting friends that build his case that they should get back to where they began rather than heading off in a different direction. He tells that he went to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel for them (2v5). It’s worth a big detour upstream to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel in Turkey – just as later it’s worth a big detour to to Jerusalem to maintain the unity of the Jew and Gentile churches in Rome.

Though there were false brothers in Galatian – counterfeit-christians – the church itself hadn’t lost the plot and they recognize that God who was at work in Peter… was also at work in Pauland they recognized the grace given…to both Paul and the Jerusalem church. One gospel.

What’s curious is the test for finding out whether Jerusalem is true to the gospel.

  • Paul takes Titus in the expectation that gospel loss would mean he’d be compelled to be circumcised (v3). Meanwhile, in Acts 16v3 (possibly around the same time, depending on how you date Galatians), Paul gets Timothy circumcised so he can take him with him.  To be clear: If the Jerusalem church compels Titus to be circumcised that’s evidence that the gospel has been lost, but when Paul gets Timothy circumcised that’s the gospel advancing.
  • Likewise, in Paul’s next story – Peter stands condemned for putting himself back under food laws, and in effect saying to his Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch that they’re not welcome unless they take on the food laws too. But in Romans 14v21 Paul says it’s best not to eat if that’ll cause problems for your brother or sister from a Jewish background.

Context and motive call for different practices. It’s a recipe for inconsistency but necessary for the inclusion of diverse peoples and for taking the gospel diverse peoples. And it works because, the gospel isn’t a matter of out conformity. Habits, festivals, food laws and bodily markings aren’t the issue. Loving the church and reaching new people require different approaches at different times and in different places. What would we need to flex to ensure that the only obstacle is the gospel?

Paul embodies this by being prepared to become all things to all people to win some… and by his substantial detours – twice to Jerusalem – to demonstrate bond between the Gentile and Jewish churches.

The real mark of the gospel isn’t what we wear, eat or celebrate. It’s the Spirit of the Son indwelling the believer by faith and enacting our adoption. All else is flexible. Sadly churches fall out over loads of things, but a true gospel priority should mean most of those things – important as they are – are matter over which we’re more than happy to flex, to serve other believers and to reach those who aren’t yet believers. Sadly, we tend to hold on to things for the sake of having church how we want it to be.

If I get this then I’ll be radically committed to welcoming any other believer and removing things that are obstacles for their conscience out of the way, and to welcoming those who don’t believe by changing anything at all – apart from the gospel. If I get this I’ll be incredibly flexible and inconsistent in my view of almost everything in church life… though that’ll look messy, I suspect the gospel shines brighter against that messy backdrop.


Continue reading Dave’s writings on Galatians with this article, What’s GOOD in this foreign country?

February 14, 2017

Saying “I Love You”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I’m hoping I will tell my wife I love her several times today. It’s not only Valentine’s Day, but it’s also our anniversary, and a special one at that.

Words like “I Love You” that can make a difference.

Last year we introduced a new (to us) author, Robin Patchen who lives in Edmond, Oklahoma and is the author of three books and blogs at Quid Pro Quills. The site actually features six different writers, and today we’re featuring another one, . As usual, click the title below and encourage these authors by reading their works at the original site.

Words

What are the last words you spoke to the last person with whom you spoke?

To be fair, I’ll share mine: “I love you, too.”

But if you’d heard my words yesterday, they would’ve sounded less beautiful. More… ungrateful. Untrusting. Unkind.

Words have the ability to encourage or the ability to destroy. When you add emotions, exhaustion, and ego to the mix, communication can be a minefield. The paradox? We frequently mete our harshest words to the individuals we love the most.

Why is that? Don’t you hate it? I do. I want to be a better listener. A better problem-solver. I want to end a conversation with someone knowing that I’ve affirmed him. In times of disagreement, my desire is that when the conversation is over, the problem has truly been resolved instead of postponed. I want to stop falling into the same speech traps that constantly leave me disappointed and defensive.

The gift of speech is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given, but I’m so inept at utilizing the spoken word. That’s why the Proverbs wield power. These wise sayings help me to love God and my neighbor.

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18

“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” Proverbs 12:25

“He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

“It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” Proverbs 20:3

“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11

Sometimes the best use of the tongue is to keep it sealed behind our lips. Silence is a powerful form of communication. The best Communicator who ever lived, Jesus Christ, chose to remain silent even when He was unjustly accused and on the way to His crucifixion. I would’ve been screaming. But He was silent. He knew He was right. Therefore, He had nothing else to say. His final action of love was all that was necessary.

It’s tough to control our words. We should think before we speak, and if we do have to say difficult words, they must be spoken in love. One of the scriptures most difficult to apply is this: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”

Father, give me wisdom. Use my speech to glorify You and encourage others. Make my words agents of Your healing.


Check out these related C201 articles:

February 13, 2017

A Place to Belong

With a blog name like Christianity 201, you would expect us to post articles for those who are wanting to move on to maturity in their Christian life, and in fact that’s what we do. But I came across this piece by Eric Bryant at Gateway Austin, a writer with whom we haven’t connected for about five years and thought this would be good for the weekend. It’s more of an outreach piece, but it’s good to get us thinking along the lines of how we express our faith to outsiders. It’s also great in a local church context.

For those of you who prefer something a little deeper, check out the link (and the end of the piece) to another recommended article by Eric.

You Belong Here

If you are afraid…
If you are lonely…
If you are bullied…
If you are grieving…
If you are anxious…
If you are hurting…
If you are broken…
If you are healing…
If you are hopeful…
If you are making progress…
If you are creative…
If you are innovative…
If you are making a difference…

No matter how you voted or if you voted…
No matter what decisions you’ve made…
No matter your spiritual or ethnic background…
No matter from where you’ve come or where you’re going…

You Belong Here.

Come as you are.

We offer faith.
We offer hope.
We offer love.

We too are broken, hurting, afraid, anxious, healing, and trying to make progress.

We are at our best when we disappear and you see Jesus instead.

We are at our best when you see Jesus through all of our God-given diversity.

We are at our best when we live out what Jesus said.

It was Jesus who said:

  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
  • “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.””
  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the persecuted…”
  • “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you….”
  • ““You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
  • “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.””
  • “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Forgive us when we don’t live out what we say we believe.

Forgive us for forgetting that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

We sang a song years ago that “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,” but we’ve struggled to do that.

All the children of the world should be able to experience the local church as a refuge, a sanctuary, a safe place, and a place to call home.

Out of this conviction, we’re committed to learning the way of Jesus and standing with those experiencing hate, racism, and marginalization.

Here among us, you belong.


For something different from Eric — but more like what we usually post here — check out Walking on Water (Lessons on surrender learned while wake-skating.)

February 12, 2017

“God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life”

by Russell Young

Consider the cliché: “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”  This pronouncement is often given by those trying to evangelize.   This cliché is easy to accept at first glance.  It is encouraging to the one going through one of life’s struggles; it offers promise.  Those who accept that there is a god would esteem him to know all things and to be all powerful. They also accept that he is all loving.  Consequently, the message is given and taken as if the person being addressed would only confess faith, his or her life would be wonderful, richly blessed and filled with joy. Although these descriptors are true, they are not true according to the world’s understanding.

What was “God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the apostles? They all, but one, experienced horrible deaths. Think of God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the many faithful today who are being martyred for their faith in Christ. What are people to think when they suffer through disease and poverty? How are they to interpret God’s “wonderful plan”?

God does have a plan for our lives. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ may be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1: 11─12 NIV)

The plan is not “for us” directed; it is “for the praise of [God’s] glory.” Later in that book Paul wrote, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10 NIV) This is also the declaration of a plan.

God’s plan is “wonderful” but will not necessarily bring the worldly blessings that many infer. Paul wrote: “The Lord will reward everyone for the good he does whether slave or free.” (Eph 6:8 NIV) The rewards of God are not trivial nor are they necessarily temporal and their accomplishment requires suffering.  “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12 NIV) Despite the trials, persecution, pain, and poverty that true believers endure in this world, they will reap a harvest of blessings and eternal life, if they remain faithful to the end. (Mt 10:22)

The walk of truth and obedience brings glory to God and eternal rewards.  This is his wonderful plan.  It does not include ease, riches, and the pleasures of this world, and those who present clichés need to take care concerning the impressions that they leave others.  They can mislead and be destructive to furthering the gospel. Weak faith based on misrepresented truths can give way to disillusionment and destruction and the spreading of a false gospel. Should the one being evangelized know the truth about what is before him or her?  Absolutely!  They must count the cost if they are to become strong and useful. Perseverance to the end is the only way that God’s plan can become wonderful. True believers know this and have committed themselves to victory over all sorts of trials through the presence and power of Christ. It is for the fulfilment of God’s plan in one’s life that his people have been called for the praise of his glory and it is in that fulfilment that they bring him glory. His plan is to conform the faithful to the likeness of his Son and to assist in the building of his kingdom.

It should never be accepted that God has ordained a moment by moment strategy for the way a believer is to live, that his moments have been pre-destined and firmly established.  The manner in which believers are led will depend upon how well they listen and how closely they follow.  Paul wrote, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom 8:27 NIV) It is God who searches our hearts and from his search determines a strategy to affect the Spirit’s purpose.  Sometimes God will discipline, and at other times he will punish.  “Do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5─6 NIV) God’s plan is wonderful because he has a personal interest in accomplishing those things in our lives that will give opportunity for transformation of heart and practice so that a person might become acceptable to him. (Rom 15:16)  It is wonderful because it leads to eternal life, but most of the ‘wonderfulness’ will come in glory, not as we walk this earth.


Russell Young has been a regular Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 for the past year and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

February 11, 2017

Truth and Honesty in Times of Depression

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Pastor Kevin Rogers has been one of the most frequent writers here since we began C201. In January, he ran a series of posts all containing the world Blue and words which rhyme with it.  In the introductory piece, Lonely and Blue he set up the series noting how depression peaks in winter (which it is here in the Northern hemisphere) and went on to write Blue, Take Your Cue before writing today’s piece:

BLUE, BE HONEST AND TRUE

Truth can be painful because it proclaims life’s situations as they are, and not as we hoped they would have been. An important step out of loneliness is to be honest with God and with others. If you are not being honest with yourself, there’s no way for you to be honest with God.

Sometimes we want to minimize our problems or live in denial. We may be too proud to admit that we have a problem.

There are many people who hide behind service to others. They will do things for all kinds of people, but leave their own needs unmet. Perhaps you find it harder to pray for yourself. This is a false belief that it is wrong to ask God or anyone else to take care of you. This lack of self-love will lead to isolation and self-loathing.

God will never belittle you for being honest with Him about your deep inner feelings. He really does love and care for you.

1 Peter 5:7

“Cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.”

God’s ability to work in our lives is dependent upon our openness to Him and allowing Him to absorb our deep inner hurt. His power to heal our fears and pains deepens with our honesty. He will not take away the anxieties that we keep from Him.

Many do not make themselves vulnerable to God. They hold back in fear. They think they are being childish, rude or selfish if they bring their complaints to God. It’s as if we want to keep our relationship with God on a professional, adult level. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out too well. We need to let God see the hurt and immaturity that grips us.

1 Peter 1:13

“Prepare your mind for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

People of fate believe that they are lonely because it is meant to be, but people of faith believe differently. They do not take loneliness sitting down. People with faith cry out to God and look for an answer that will help them break free of their cycle of frustration.

 

February 10, 2017

The War on Terror is Fought with Love

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Some of you will recognize the name Floyd McClung in context with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) or more recently, All Nations. Floyd has not been well for over a year now. This article was posted to his blog in November of 2015, and was one of the last half dozen things he posted there before being unable to write.

Perfect Love Casts Out Terror!

That’s how Jonathan, a co-worker living in the Middle East described his response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut. “Perfect love casts out terror.” The outpouring of terror in Paris and Beirut make me angry – but it does not dictate my attitude to terrorists. Jesus defines my responses to terror, more than any government or act of terror ever will be able to do!

I know the difference between my response as an American citizen and my response as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. God’s kingdom comes above America, as much as I love my country.

There is a place for governments to protects it’s citizens. God has created them for that purpose. But while government armies can protect us, they cannot win the real war, the war for people’s hearts. That is the war that counts for eternity. And it is not fought with human weapons.

God challenged me years ago with these words, “You see yourself more as an American than a Christian –I want that to change.” I made a covenant with God in that moment to build my life – and my identity – on the words of Jesus

Perhaps these words from Jesus in John 10:10 can help you as much as they did me to respond like Jesus to terrorists and others far from God – I know they helped me:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

What we’re seeing in ISIS and its associates is a movement of fear: of killing and destroying.

Jesus is the leader of another kind of movement, a movement of life and love. People who use terror and violence to advance their cause do so because they are losing the battle for people’s hearts and minds.

That’s right. They are losing the battle precisely because they fight with hate and violence.

Terrorists get the media’s attention, but they don’t win the battle for people’s hearts. There are far more people responding to the love of Jesus than will ever join up with ISIS and it’s movement of fear!

Millions of Muslims are turning to Jesus around the world and it is precisely for that reason: they are sick and tired of hate and violence. They are tired of man-made religion. Of rules and self-righteousness. They want something more. They hunger for what only Jesus can offer.

All Nations, through our ministry called Serve Syria, is part of a movement of love and life. We are sharing the love of Jesus with Muslims in many countries, especially with the Syrian refugees.

One such Syrian refugee named Ishmael was a former secret service agent in Syria – assigned to assassinate those who opposed the regime. He was sickened by what he was doing, but fearful to speak up. He decided to run for his life – literally. He escaped at night across the desert with his family to Jordan.

There Ishmael met “George” (not his real name – changed to protect his identity as he continues to minister in Jordan). George led him to faith in Christ and Ishmael in turn started 38 Bible studies with other refugees – including back in Syria itself.

The real war on terror isn’t fought with drones and AK47s! It is being combated with love by our dedicated workers who are right now serving on the Syrian border and in refugee camps in Europe.

Terror is just another word for fear. And perfect love casts out terror and fear!

 

February 9, 2017

Leading Like Jezebel in Thyatira

by Clarke Dixon

You have influence! In every relationship, in fact every encounter, you influence and are influenced. Even where there seems to be disengagement, there is still influence. As we continue our trip through the seven churches of Revelation,we meet a person of incredible influence in Thyatira. Not good influence, but incredible:

I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. Revelation 2:20-21

You may have a Jezebel in your life, exerting incredible influence. Not good influence, but incredible. You may be the Jezebel in someone else’s life. Jezebel is not likely the real name of the woman in this church. Instead this is a nickname, pointing back to the wife of King Ahab in the Old Testament. The original Jezebel had incredible influence over the King. Not good influence, in that he was influenced away from Godly worship, but incredible. We have the capacity to influence and be influenced away from a God-focus. Therefore we need to take influence very seriously. So what are the leadership lessons we can learn from Jezebel?

One person’s influence can be extremely important. When you think of the great themes and scope of the Book of Revelation, it is remarkable that this one woman should get a mention. We are not told if she has an official leadership position. That does not matter, for we can wield incredible influence without an official position. I’ve seen some people wield incredible influence on individuals, and an entire church, even after they have passed away! Do not underestimate the kind of influence a Jezebel can have in your life, in your family, or in the life of your church. And don’t underestimate the power you exert over others. You do have influence. Are you using your influence to draw people toward Christ’s Kingdom, or away?

To claim to speak on behalf of God is a very big claim. Jezebel “calls herself a prophet” (verse 20). Broadly defined, a prophet is someone who speaks on behalf of God. Jezebel was not doing that at all. Her advice directly contradicted that of the apostles at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 to stay away from idolatry and sexual immorality. Her advice directly contradicted the commands and wisdom of all the Scriptures from Genesis on. Do we allow people to “speak on behalf of God” in our lives who have no right to? Are the spiritual leaders of our lives full of Biblical truth and the Holy Spirit? Or are we sometimes the ones to get preachy without a good grasp of Biblical truth and fullness of the Holy Spirit?

That you reap what you sow is still true, and so what you sow as a person of influence is very important. Jezebel will reap what she has sown: “Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings” (Revelation 2:22).

Grace is a wonderful theme in the Bible and comes to its most profound expression in Jesus. In Jesus, we do not reap what we sow, we reap what He has already sown in his death and resurrection. He sows love, mercy, and forgiveness. We reap eternal life. We also reap what the Holy Spirit sows, a Kingdom life, a life marked by the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But we might take a Jezebel detour. We might insist on doing the farming ourselves, throwing away the Holy Spirit’s seed, preferring to sow our own seed instead. Don’t be surprised by the weeds. If people are allowed to have a Jezebel influence in our lives, don’t be surprised by consequences. If we lead like Jezebel, don’t be surprised if like Jezebel, we reap what we sow. Let us reap what the Spirit sows instead.

Shepherding is a great image for leadership. The concept of leadership carries through the letter to Thyatira:

 To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,
I will give authority over the nations;
to rule them with an iron rod,
as when clay pots are shattered—
even as I also received authority from my Father. Revelation 2:26-28

“To rule” in verse 27 is literally “to shepherd” and reflects the Greek translation of Psalm 2:9 quoted here. Christian leadership is not just influence for the sake of having power, it is about shepherding. It is not so much power over, but responsibility for. There are three aspects of shepherding to think about.

First, the shepherd is not the owner of the sheep, but is accountable to the owner. All leaders are accountable to God, even if they do not believe in Him.

Second, care of the sheep is an important aspect of the shepherd’s work. We can think of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me to lie down in green pastures.” The good shepherd leads the the sheep to good pasture.

Third, the shepherd is to have concern for the safety of the sheep. Looking to Psalm 23 again: “your rod and your staff — they comfort me.” Thy rod and staff comfort me because with them you can chase away predators.

Keeping in mind these aspects of shepherding, we can clearly see that Jezebel was no shepherd. In not repenting, she was not being accountable to God. She had no care or concern for the sheep. In fact she was leading them into danger. In contrast, Jesus is the good shepherd who lays his life down for the sheep (John 10). Are there Jezebels in your life who throw off accountability, who are influencing you though they have no care or concern for you? Are you a Jezebel, or do you shepherd people?

You are, whether your realize it or not, a person of incredible influence. But is it good? Are you a good shepherd, like Jesus? Or a wolf in shepherd’s clothing, like Jezebel?


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

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