Christianity 201

January 19, 2018

The Struggle With Judging

So there I was at the devotional page at Daily Paradigm Shift, reading the devotional which follows and I was thinking that it was a bit shorter than what we usually use, but something about it struck me as worth bookmarking for later use.

Then yesterday, I came back to the site and reexamined the article, and discovered it was written by Rebekah B. who is only 15 years old, and I’m asking myself, ‘Why do I have so many problems getting adults I know to consider writing devotional pieces, when here is a 15-year old doing so well at this?’

Crickets.

Anyway, when not at Daily PS — or six other websites where her material has appeared — her own blog is The Narrow Road for Teens.

Should Christians Judge?

What does God say about judging others?

Christians sometimes get confused with the concept of judging. Biblically we are commanded to judge (John 7:24 says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make it right judgement). Then at the same time we are biblically told that we are not to judge. (Matthew 7:1 NIV, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.)

So, which is it?

Jesus knew that we would struggle with judging.  This is why He gave us a strict warning in His Word saying, Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure that you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 NIV)

This verse is not telling us that we should never judge. Obviously, we make judgments every day between right and wrong. What Jesus is telling us here is to not judge others hypocritically. He is telling us to remove the plank from our own eye so that we may help the other person.

We should not be judgmental of others when our own sins need to be corrected as well.

Just as we are commanded to not condemn others, we are also commanded to not ignore sin. This requires the act of judging others in a biblical way.

It is important to be able to discern the difference between the judging.  There is judging that is mentioned in Matthew 7:1-5 and the biblical kind of judgement mentioned in John 7:24 NIV.Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

If I am to see a fellow believer sinning, I am biblically instructed to confront the person. In a respectful and loving manner of course.  Matthew 18:15-17 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just go between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen to even to the church, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.  

The ultimate goal in confronting someone is to bring that person to repentance. We are called to judge sin with the goal of bringing repentance and reconciliation.

God commands us to point out the truth with hope, love, and Christ-like compassion.

Ephesians 4:15, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.

I hope this helped you understand the difference between biblical judgement and non-biblical judgement.

In closing I leave you with this verse. “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” – 2 Timothy 4:2 NIV

 

January 18, 2018

Powerful Men React to Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Falling prey to a “research project”, my wife and I sat and listened to a lengthy sales pitch  for an air purifier. The punchline of the presentation was “if you want to live longer you will buy our product”. To that I asked the salesman if he would like to live even longer than what he suggested and began to talk about Jesus. We listened to his sales pitch for about three quarters of an hour. Within minutes of my mention of Jesus, he was out the door.

It is interesting to note how people respond, or more accurate sometimes, react, to Jesus. In our passage for this week, Mark 2:1-3;6-7, we have several different reactions to Jesus.

1 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. .. Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ (NRSV)

In verses 2-4 we see people crowding into a house to see Jesus. Some even dig through a roof in an effort to get their friend into his presence. In verses 6-7 the scribes respond by assuming that Jesus has committed blasphemy when he pronounces  forgiveness upon a paralyzed man. The crowd then responds with amazement and glorify God when the man is healed. There is more excitement in verses 13-15 with a crowd gathering again, Matthew Levi responding favorably to the call to follow, and the tax collectors and sinners wanting to be with Jesus. Then the scribes react again by questioning how Jesus could possibly hang out with sinners in verse 16. They are then upset with Jesus in verses 18 and 24 over his disciples’ lack of religious observances. When Jesus heals on a sabbath day, they conspire with the Herodians in 3:6 to destroy him. To put this reaction to Jesus in perspective, Pharisees wanting an alliance with Herodians would be like Hillary Clinton seeking an alliance with Donald Trump. That is how much the religious leaders want Jesus dead.

There are a few things to notice about all this. First we see two very different reactions to Jesus. One is full of excitement and the embracing of Jesus. The other is full of fear and rejection. We see different results based on the reactions. Those who respond positively to Jesus experience healing and growth. Good things are happening! On the other hand, those who respond negatively end up thinking about murder. We also see two different kinds of people; those who know they have needs, and those who think they are needed.

Do you notice something further about those who reject Jesus and seek his destruction? They are powerful men, men of influence. The very first person to have tried to destroy Jesus was King Herod, another powerful man. Herod, representing political power wants Jesus dead and in trying to destroy Jesus, kills many infants. The Pharisees of Mark 2, representing religious power, are also bent on destruction. Unfortunately, bad things still happen around powerful men.

What lessons are here for powerful men today?

First, when powerful men meet Jesus, they should be prepared to trade in their pride for humility. They should learn a lesson from King David who had learned to say “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). While our minds tend to run to the thought of a shepherd’s protection and care, the thought is also of the shepherd’s authority. King David knew that he was answerable to a higher authority. He was not the true king. God was, and is. Powerful men do well to remember that.

Second, when powerful men meet Jesus, they should be prepared to trade in their fear for trust. Herod feared losing his Kingdom to a baby born in Bethlehem. The Pharisees feared losing their grip on the people through religion. Both would have done well to trust what God was doing in their midst, and in fact to join in.

Third, when powerful men meet Jesus, they should be prepared to trade in their religion for relationship. Not only are the scribes powerful, they are also religious which can be a deadly combination. We have many examples of this with a fundamentalist form of Islam leading the way. When you see darker moments within Christianity look deeper and you will see people exercising religion without a solid and growing relationship with Christ.

Fourth, when powerful men meet Jesus, they should be prepared to trade in their own evil and embrace the goodness of Jesus. Jesus raised the question of good and evil:

1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. Mark 3:1-6 (NRSV emphasis mine)

It is ironic that the religious leaders do not respond by stating the obvious correct answer but instead react by living out the wrong one. They succumb to the evil in their hearts. They storm out on the very person who can help them with that!

In our day powerful men are being called out for bad deeds. We can think of #metoo and the “Time’s Up” movement. People in our day are realizing that even in a secular society, morality matters and sexual freedom is a myth. There must be limits and boundaries, but who, or better, Who gets to set them? Just think of how these powerful men would have treated women differently had they been embracing the goodness of Jesus.

You may not be powerful, or a man, but do you need to make similar trades in your life? Trading pride for humility, fear for trust, religion for relationship, and our evil for His goodness? Not to rush you, but the trade deadline is coming up!


read more from Clarke at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

January 17, 2018

Prayer for World Leaders

Today, I want to do something completely different. I want to share something that Jill, a friend of ours posted on Facebook, and help her take it to a wider audience.


Praying these scriptures, and sounding a warning for all leaders of all God’s nations to follow, praying that they will speak with Godly wisdom, discernment, respect, may they humble themselves, live a life of compassion and love for all the people they rule over and for each other’s countries.

Psalms 2:10-11 – Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.

Proverbs 11:14 – For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.

Proverbs 21:1 – The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

Job 12:23-25 – He makes nations great, and destroys them; he enlarges nations, and disperses them.

Proverbs 2:1-8 – My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2) turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding— 3) indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4) and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5) then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. 6) For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7) He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, 8) for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.

2 Chronicles 7:14 If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

• Dear LORD God,
This day and always may we be reminded of:

1 Timothy 2:1-6:

“I exhort therefore, that, first of all , supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified 
in due time.

Dear faithful Holy LORD God Almighty we give you thanks that you are in control and that: Jesus Christ is the Ruler of all the Kings and leaders on earth.

May you alone, LORD God receive all the glory and honor, may we humble ourselves, and come before you in prayer, in continued praise and adoration. may we walk in your paths of righteousness and may we live a life mirroring Jesus and do what he continues to tell us to do:

” You have heard people say, “Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.” But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends.” (Matthew 5:43-46)

Father God, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, may we seek to always be in the center of your perfect will.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

January 16, 2018

Confession of Christ’s Lordship

by Russell Young

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (NIV)

  Confess and confession are translated from the Greek homologeo which means “to assent, i.e. covenant, acknowledge: —con- (pro-)fess, confession is made, give thanks, promise.” Strong’s Greek Dictionary #3670

Considering all the representations given for homologeo, the utterance of the phrase, “Jesus is Lord,” does not represent the intent of this word.  The Greek ‘homologeo’ is a compound of ‘homo’ and ‘logeo’ meaning of one or of uniform word or mind. The meaning of a promise, pledge, and even a covenant is being transmitted. That is, the believer is agreeing to a relationship where Christ is his lord or supreme ruler. This covenant with God does not result in a person’s eternal salvation, however, unless it is honored.

There are many biblical passages that attest to the need to allow the Lord to reign in the believer’s life.  (Mt 7:21, 28:20; Jn 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; Acts 26:20; 2 Cor 2:9; Gal 5:18, 6:8; Eph 5:6; Heb 5:9; 1 Jn 2:3, 5, 3:22, 2:4, 5:3; 1 Pet 1:14; Rom  6:16, 8:4, 8:14; Rev 14:12; Rev 22:14 KJV) Paul wrote that “the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 6:23 KJV) Paul not only intended to honor Jesus through his title as “Lord,” but through honoring the reality of his authority and position.  Of course, if his sovereignty is not being practiced, he is not lord. The Lord questioned, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46 NIV) Christ has revealed that defying his leadership is living a lie (Rev 22:15) and such a practice has eternal consequences.

Matthew wrote, “Not everyone who calls me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 NIV) The covenant or promise of Christ’s lordship is very real. The writer of Hebrews has revealed that “eternal salvation” comes through obedience. “[Christ] is the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) The Lord himself revealed, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (Jn 14:21 NIV; See also 1 Jn 5:2─3) It is the person who obeys the Lord’s commands who will find an eternal hope. Obedience results in a good conscience and Peter has written that baptism is a person’s “pledge” to maintain a good conscience toward God. (1 Pet 3:21 NIV)

Many have tried to dismiss the on-going sovereignty of Christ by denying his lordship, and accept that his love and his grace cover their need and meet their hope. The issue of the constant evil imaginations of people’s hearts must be overcome. Many accept that the pardon for sins committed under the jurisdiction of the first covenant is sufficient (Heb 9:15), even though God requires transformation into the likeness of his Son as the real need. Humankind was created in the image of God and to this image they must be conformed if they are to dwell with him. Pardon for past sin, although essential, does not result in a person becoming an acceptable offering to God (Rom 15:16); transformation is required and that is accomplished through the sanctifying ministry of the Spirit. (Rom 7:6, 8:13; 2 Thess 2:13; Titus 3:5:6, etc.) Being led by Christ as Holy Spirit, as lord, is the only means of meeting God’s righteous requirements. (Rom 8:4)

Some have taken Romans 10:9-10 to refer to the Jews alone and view the passage merely as acknowledgement that Jesus is the Messiah. Such a distorted perception denies that those in Christ are to serve in the new way of the Spirit as opposed to the old way of the law. (Rom 7:6) Service in the Spirit is the crux of the New Covenant and it is through obedience to him as lord that allows for a person’s eternal hope. The “confession,” pledge, promise, covenant that Christ is his sovereign is the believer’s means of attaining righteousness and his or her eternal hope.


Author Russell Young lives in Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here on alternate Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.


January 15, 2018

Increasing Your Measure of Faith

We’re paying our third annual visit to radio preacher, pastor and author James MacDonald and their devotional from the radio show Walk In The Word titled Our Journey. The devotional is also available as an online resource. Click the title below to read at source.

Growing Faith

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5, ESV)!

Ever feel like your faith is small? Perhaps you wish you could do more or be more. Maybe when you look around you, it seems as if everyone else has BIG BOLD FAITH, while yours is just . . . tiny.

If that’s you, then consider these three things you can do that will immediately begin to grow your faith.

1. Believe that your faith can increase.

Every Christian has been given a measure of faith (Romans 12:3). While each of us has been given a certain capacity to believe, it can increase. Isn’t that great news? Exhibit A for growing faith is the Apostle Peter. Remember what Peter was like in the Gospels? He tried hard but failed, said the wrong thing at the wrong time, and kept messing up at critical moments. Peter was the one who swore loyalty to Jesus then denied even knowing Him (Mark 14:26–31, 66–72). Peter was the one who followed Jesus after His arrest but only from a safe distance (Mark 14:54). When Peter tried walking on the water, he sank, and Jesus called him, O you of little faith (Matthew 14:31). Ouch.

Yes, Peter had little faith and a lot of growing to do, but he made one good decision: He followed Jesus’ instructions, went to that upper room, and waited for the Holy Spirit to come and fill him. When the Spirit of God filled Peter in response to his faith, he was transformed. He preached boldly, and three thousand people were saved. Peter became such a powerful, faith-filled man that Acts 5:15 reports that people even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.

Peter was a changed man, transformed by the power of the Spirit through faith. Do you want Peter-size faith? Believe that your faith can increase, and then . . .

2. Expose your mind to God’s Word.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Faith can’t grow without the soil of God’s Word.

Have you learned yet to love the Word of God? Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts (Jeremiah 15:16). Is your mind steeped in God’s Word? Have you gotten past the discipline stage of reading the Bible (gutting it out because you know you should) to the delighted stage (actually wanting to read it, even craving it)?

The more we wash our minds with God’s Word, the more our faith can grow. When we fill our minds with trash—or with everything but God’s Word—what happens to our faith? It falters and even withers. According to Romans 12:2, your transformation comes by the renewal of your mind. So what are you putting into your mind?

We must read the Word, study it, memorize it, meditate on it. Human words don’t build faith; God’s do. And as you immerse yourself in God’s Word, you’ll also learn to . . .

3. Practice genuine prayer.

Faith comes through genuine prayer. Not rote repetition of empty words but genuine, on-your-knees, heartfelt prayer, laying hold of God by faith.

“Hmmm,” you might say, “I’m not very good at that. Where’s the seminar on genuine prayer?” The seminar is conducted in your home daily in a private place where you can kneel down. The seminar is given by the Holy Spirit Himself and is available 24/7. If you want to learn how to pray, get on your knees, open your heart, and ask, “Lord, teach me to pray.”

Prayer has incredible power to build your faith. When you are filled with anxiety, concerns, or burdens, pray. Get by yourself, kneel in humility before God, and in the simplest language you know, talk to your Father about it. Through genuine, heartfelt prayer, you can exchange your anxiety for faith.

So for all those who want their faith to keep growing—believe that your faith can increase, expose your mind to God’s Word, and genuinely pray.

And ask the Lord—as the apostles did—Increase our faith (Luke 17:5)!

Journal

  • Have you gotten past the discipline stage of reading the Bible (gutting it out because you know you should) to the delighted stage (actually wanting to read it, even craving it)?
  • What are you putting into your mind? Survey the scene; what is your “dose” of God’s Word vs. entertainment, social media, etc.?

Pray
Lord God, I know that You are wholly faithful and worthy of all my trust. Thank You for patiently growing me. I confess that my faith can be weak and my heart is prone to give way to fear and anxiety. I do believe, and I humbly ask You to help my unbelief. Thank You for the precious gift of Your Word and the privilege of prayer. Please help me to fix my eyes on You, and stir my heart to get and stay in the Scriptures. Grow in me genuine delight and deep faith in You. Lord, teach me to pray. I admit that I am dependent upon You for these gifts, and I trust You for them, praying this in the worthy name of Your Son, Jesus. Amen.

January 14, 2018

Sunday Worship

At the outset of this series, we said we wanted to focus on the broader meaning of the word worship and not limit it to music in the church. However, I found this article yesterday while spending much time in the archives of the Institute for Biblical Worship at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While it appears on the surface to apply only to those who lead us at weekend services, I believe there are some broader principles we can extract from this as we serve and honor God in various ways. The author is Dr. Scott Connell, Assistant Professor of Music and Worship Leadership; Program Coordinator, Worship and Music Studies at Boyce College in Louisville, KY.

Seven Essential Characteristics of an Effective Worship Leader

I have the privilege of training worship leaders. This means that I have the task of preparing musicians to lead their congregations in doing something that they will continue to do in eternity. Done well this act should help teach people how to live in faith and one day die with hope. Leading a task that engages a holy God with such eternal implications should not be handled tritely. It takes a substantive person to plan, prepare, and lead what should be a substantive act. Here is what I believe a worship leader must demonstrate in order to be effective for this significant task:

  1. Musical talent. This is the only characteristic on the list that must be present at birth. Some people have a gift for music and others do not. For those that do, that talent must be developed and refined. This takes time and work, but the combination of these two demonstrates the presence of talent. Effective worship leaders practice and get better.
    Psalm 33:3 (ESV) – “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully…”
  2. Teachability. Regardless of how talented a worship leader is, teachability is always required. Good worship leaders are continually learning and seeking instruction. A worship leader who resists instruction will be a poor teacher himself. Effective worship leaders strive to be teachable.
    Proverbs 13:18 – “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.”
  3. Biblical Knowledge. This is a characteristic that everyone begins life with a total absence of. It is necessary to create a lifelong appetite for God’s word. Every week worship leaders point people to God while also representing the character and works of God in song and speech. Too many do so out of theological and biblical ignorance. Effective worship leaders develop a reservoir of Biblical truth within them so they can speak and lead intelligently.
    2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
  4. Character. The hypocrisy of a duplicitous life on any platform will eventually be revealed. Standing on a platform to lead worship is essentially saying “Follow me while I follow Christ.” Perfection is unattainable for anyone, but sanctification is honest about sin and progressive in growth because it comes from following Christ intentionally. Unfortunately, talent has a way of taking musicians farther than their character can sustain them. Effective worship leaders grow in godliness.
    1 Samuel 16:17b – “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
  5. Passion. Worship should have an appropriate and authentic emotional component. I am not referring to pep rally emotionalism, but neither should there be the appearance of apathy or disinterest. Worship should reflect deep-seated joy, true brokenness over sin, and authentic (even euphoric) gratefulness for the Savior. Effective worship leaders cultivate the capacity to be appropriately affected emotionally because worship is an unparalleled journey of enjoying ultimate fulfillment at Christ’s expense.
    Psalm 84:2b – “My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.”
  6. Humility. This may be the most elusive characteristic on the list. Performing music can tend to make musicians arrogant. A musical skill can become a motive for boasting in an otherwise reserved individual. The types of thoughts that can come to mind while leading worship can be startling if evaluated honestly. Effective worship leaders pursue God’s glory over their own glory.
    James 4:6 – “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
  7. Love for the Church. This can often be the most forgotten item on the list. If allowed, love for music can eclipse love for the people. The true allegiance of our affections will be on display in numerous decisions that we make every week. Effective worship leaders examine their motives and advance strategies that make music a servant, not a master.
    Romans 12:10 – “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

Being a worship leader is a journey. Proper orientation in these things reflects one’s capability and fitness for being used in a role that none of us truly deserves to hold. We serve at God’s pleasure. Enter humbly, grow intentionally!

January 13, 2018

Bold, Protocol-Defying Prayers

NIV Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

This is a short excerpt from Draw the Circle: A 40 Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. It was today’s selection from a devotional service I subscribe to, Devotions Daily from Faith Gateway.

Crazy Prayers, Crazy Faith

This woman is driving me crazy. – Luke 18:5

I love the parable of the persistent widow. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think persistent is a nice word for crazy. This woman is crazy, but when the cause is a righteous one, it’s a holy crazy!

We aren’t told what injustice took place, but she was on a mission. Maybe her son was falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Maybe the man who molested her daughter was still on the streets. We don’t know for sure. But whatever it was, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. And the judge knew it. The judge knew she would circle his house until the day she got justice or the day she died. The judge knew there was no quit in the crazy woman.

Does the Judge know that about you? How desperate are you for the blessing, the breakthrough, the miracle? Desperate enough to pray through the night? How many times are you willing to circle the promise? Until the day you die? How long will you knock on the door of opportunity? Until your knuckles are raw? Until you knock the door down?

The persistent widow’s methodology was unorthodox. She could have, and technically should have, waited for her day in court. Going to the personal residence of the judge crossed a professional line. I’m almost surprised the judge didn’t file a restraining order against her. But this reveals something about the nature of God. God couldn’t care less about protocol. If He did, Jesus would have chosen the Pharisees as His disciples. But that isn’t who Jesus honored.

Jesus honored the prostitute who crashed a party at a Pharisee’s home to anoint His feet. Jesus honored the tax collector who climbed a tree in his three-piece suit just to get a glimpse of Him. Jesus honored the four friends who cut in line and cut a hole in someone’s ceiling to help their friend. And in this parable, Jesus honored the crazy woman who drove a judge crazy because she wouldn’t stop knocking.

The common denominator in each of these stories is crazy faith. People took desperate measures to get to God, and God honored them for it. Nothing has changed.

God is still honoring spiritual desperadoes who crash parties and climb trees.

God is still honoring those who defy protocol with their bold prayers. God is still honoring those who pray with audacity and tenacity. And the crazy woman is selected as the gold standard when it comes to praying hard. Her unrelenting persistence was the only difference between justice and injustice.

The viability of our prayers is not contingent on scrabbling the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet into the right combinations like abracadabra. God already knows the last punctuation mark before we pronounce the first syllable. The viability of our prayers has more to do with intensity than vocabulary. It has more to do with what we do than what we say.

Don’t just pray about it; act on it.

There are defining moments in life when we need to prove to God that we mean business – and I don’t mean “business as usual.” In fact, it’s only when “business as usual” goes out of business that we’re in business – the Father’s business. That’s when we’re on the verge of a spiritual breakthrough…

January 12, 2018

Fearing Man More than Fearing God

This is our first time visiting the wealth of articles at the blog of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, Michigan. Today’s main text is linked in the 3rd paragraph and takes you to a parallel of the NIV and The Message for these twelve verses. Click the title below to read this at source.

The Paralysis of the Fear of Man

 By  
 “I do not know this Man that you are talking about” (Peter in Mark 14:71).

It’s easy for us to stand at a distance and throw stones at Peter for denying Christ, and to claim that we would do better than he. But have you ever squandered a clear opportunity to testify about Jesus? Truthfully, I can relate to Peter, because I too have confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, but at times, I am paralyzed by the fear of man.

The Bible has a lot to say about our fear of man, giving numerous examples of people (both believers and unbelievers) who at times were driven by this fear: Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Lot, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Samson, Saul, David, the Pharisees, Peter, Ananias and Sapphira, etc. Why is the fear of man such a strong motivation for us? Why are we driven by what other people think about us? Why are our choices motivated by the danger that might come from other people?

Jesus offers three answers in Luke 12:1-12. Before we consider the text, a definition of the fear of man might be helpful. Fear of man can be described as a heightened awareness of self that comes because of a possible threat. When we fear man, we are most worried about what someone may do to us.

In Luke 12:1-12, Jesus identifies the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Scribes and exhorts believers to fear God most of all. Prior to His teaching, two important events set the context: 1) The Pharisees and Scribes attacked Jesus with their words, in an attempt to trap Him (cf. 11:53-54); 2) An ambitious crowd formed to hear Jesus speak (12:1).

It is in this setting that Jesus speaks to the crowd in order to calibrate their thinking regarding their fears. Jesus makes His point with 6 verbs that take the force of a command:

  • Watch out for hypocrisy, v. 1
  • Don’t fear man most of all, v. 4
  • Fear God most of all, v. 5 (2x)
  • Don’t fear that you’ll be forgotten, v. 7
  • Don’t fear that you’ll be abandoned, v. 11

These verbs can be summarized into three main reasons why we fear man more than God:

We Focus on the Temporal

The first reason that we fear man more than God is that we have our eyes fixed on that which is passing away (vv. 1-5). The hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Scribes was motivated by their fear of man. They looked and acted as if they were strong, when in fact, they were weak. Consider John 12:41-44,

These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.

Their external piety covered the wickedness of their hearts (cf. Matt 23:27). The disciples would do well to avoid that same hypocrisy by being less concerned about what man could do to them, and more concerned about what God could do.

Specifically, in verses 1-3, disciples of Jesus must be motivated by God’s final judgment, There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and [nothing] hidden that will not be known (v. 2). The religious leaders lived as if this life was all that there were to live for. We disciples must not fall into the same trap. God will expose the sin of hypocrites.

Relatedly in verses 4-5, disciples of Jesus must recognize that there is a greater death than physical death. One of the reasons that we fail to testify about Jesus is because of what man can do to us. But Jesus wants us to consider these threats in their proper perspective. What is the worst that people can to do us when we testify about Jesus? They can kill our body. Anticipating that fear, Jesus says, “after that [they] have no more that they can do” (v. 4). In contrast, there is Someone whom we should fear more than man. There is a God who can destroy both our body and our soul in hell forever. Therefore, we should fear Him most of all, “Fear the One…yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (v. 5). Following Jesus demands that we have an eternal perspective.

We Ignore our Value Before God

The second reason that we fear man more than God is because we forget God’s care of us (vv. 6-7). God does not forget His children; they are precious in His sight (cf. 1 Pet 3:4; Isa 43:1-4). Jesus wants us to know that no one cares for us more than God. In order to prove this, Jesus uses an argument of lesser to greater. Humans sell sparrows for next to nothing. And yet God knows and cares about objects that we virtually discard. In comparison to sparrows, we are His image-bearers and the objects of His redemption. If God’s eye is on the sparrow, we can be certain that He knows and cares for us (cf. v. 7). Our heightened fear of man often rises out of our failure to remember our identity as a child of God. Following Jesus demands that we remember our value before God.

We Fundamentally Deny the Work of the Spirit

The third reason that we fear man more than God is because we fundamentally deny the work of the Spirit, either by mocking His work (vv. 8-10) or by ignoring His power to come to our aid (vv. 11-12). I would argue that these two promises are not meant for us directly. They were meant for Jesus’ immediate audience. However, we certainly can discern implications for how we should respond to the work of the Spirit.

Those who turn away from Jesus and mock the Spirit of God evidence the reality of their rejection. The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day had the very Son of God in their presence. They heard His teaching and saw His miracles, and yet they clearly denied His deity. In doing so, they blasphemed the Holy Spirit and abandoned every possibility of being forgiven by God. Jesus promised them that because of their clear rejection, they should not be surprised when the Son denies them before the Father. Like them, in the midst of persecution, we too are tempted to reject the work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God will not be mocked.

Jesus also promised that the Spirit would help the disciples by giving them special revelation in the midst of persecution (vv. 11-12). Therefore, the disciples should not despair in those times. While this promise was not directed at believers today, we do have the guarantee of the Spirit’s abiding presence within us (Eph 1:13-14). And we must not ignore His power at work.

To reject the Son is to reject the Father. To mock the Spirit is to mock the Father. Following Jesus demands that we commit ourselves to Jesus and embrace the work of the Spirit.

So how will we do the next time that we are given the opportunity to testify about Jesus? Will we crumble under the pressure of our improperly placed fears (“I do not know this Man”)? Or will we consider ourselves in light of who God is and fear Him most of all? He is our final Judge, our loving Companion, and our immanent Helper.

The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted” (Proverbs 29:25).

January 11, 2018

Jesus. An Ordinary Person?

by Clarke Dixon

Who is Jesus? This question is the most important question we could ever face. It is a much more significant question than; “Do you like organized religion? Do you like Christianity? Do you like church and find it relevant?”

Many suggestions are put forward, but they fall into only three categories:

  1. Jesus is fictional. He is a figment of someone’s imagination.
  2. Jesus was an ordinary person. He became extraordinary in people’s minds sometime after his death.
  3. Jesus is no ordinary person. In Christian thinking, he was, is, and always will be extraordinary, being God incarnate.

Out of these three options, this question is really only a choice between two of them. If you think that Jesus is pure fiction, then most of history, and especially all of ancient history must be seen as pure fiction also. People who really want Jesus to go away may be comfortable with that, but most historians are not. If you are being consistent in matters of history, there is really only one question: Is Jesus an ordinary person, or an extraordinary person?

The first chapter of Mark will help us know how Mark, at least, would answer that. Consider:

  • In the very first verse Jesus is no ordinary person, but is the Messiah (Christ) plus the Son of God:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1

  • In verses 2 and 3, the prophecies quoted refer to the coming, not just of a prophet, or king, but of God Himself. These are understood to be pointing to Jesus:

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ” Mark 1:2-3

  • In verse 7, John the baptizer knows he is not worthy of Jesus, stating that he is not even worthy to do the task of a slave. Jesus is on another level entirely:

He proclaimed, The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” Mark 1:7

  • Continuing on with John the baptizer, in verse 8 we need to ask who can baptize with the Holy Spirit except God Himself?

I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:8

  • In verse 11 Jesus is referred to with a title that would only previously be applied to the king of Israel, or the nation as a whole. We are to understand that Jesus is king, and in some way representative of all Israel. Also, where the kings and and the nation were prone to failure, Jesus gets it right:

And a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11

  • In verse 13 when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days we are to think of the 40 years God’s people spent in the wilderness before entering the promised Land. They spent that long in the wilderness because, unlike Jesus, they fell to temptation and sinned:

He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1:13

  • In verse 18 Jesus is the one who is worth immediately leaving everything to follow:

17 And Jesus said to them,Follow me and I will make you fish for people.18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:17-18

  • In verses 21 and 22 the teaching of Jesus was extraordinary:

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Mark 1:21-22

  • In verse 24 Jesus is identified by an unclean spirit as “the Holy One of God”.  The spirit knows that Jesus is extraordinary and has power over evil:

23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out,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 1:23-24

  • In verses 25 and 26 the spirit is under Jesus’ authority:

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, Be silent, and come out of him!26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. Mark 1:25-26

  • In verse 27 the people recognize that not only does Jesus teach with authority, his word has authority. This reminds us of Someone else Who spoke with authority and had extraordinary results (see Genesis 1):

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another,What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Mark 1:27

  • In verses 40 and following the compassion of Jesus is extraordinary. Notice how Jesus touches the leper before healing him. Something no ordinary person would do!

40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him,If you choose, you can make me clean.41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him,I do choose. Be made clean!” Mark 1:40-41

Is Jesus an ordinary person or an extraordinary person? Mark certainly knows him to be extraordinary!

Mark was not one of the 12 disciples, so we might ask how would he know? As a Christian I can point to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but I wouldn’t expect a non-Christian to be convinced by that. However, we can appeal to history. Mark was known to be a close companion of Peter and to have written down the Gospel based on Peter’s testimony and preaching. Peter, of course, knew Jesus very well. Mark’s interest in Jesus may have been stirred prior to Jesus’ crucifixion as some scholars think that he may be the young man who fled naked at the arrest of Jesus in Mark chapter 14. Further, in the process of settling on which books were authoritative for the Church, the early Christians only considered writings that were known to be closely associated with eyewitnesses, the apostles. Mark wrote his Gospel account while eyewitnesses were still alive, so his facts could be checked. All the New Testament documents, dating from closer to the events than make grand fictions possible, say the same thing as Mark chapter 1. Jesus is no ordinary person.

The eyewitnesses to Jesus were all saying the same things: The teaching of Jesus was extraordinary, the miracles of Jesus were extraordinary, and the resurrection of Jesus was extraordinary. Also, the fulfillment of the promises, given to the people who have a long testimony of God’s involvement with them, is extraordinary. We have the advantage that 2,000 years later, we can say that the legacy of Jesus has been extraordinary. The positive impact of Jesus, on individuals and society alike, has been profound! To summarize, Jesus was no ordinary man, but is extraordinary. That God loves us enough to do what He has done for us in Jesus is extraordinary!

At the centre of Mark chapter one is this:

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying,The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:14-15

Such an extraordinary person, such extraordinary love, demands a life that is anything but ordinary.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)


Visit Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

January 10, 2018

Results or No Results: Delighting When God is Honored

Today’s thoughts are from Sam Williamson, author of two books I’ve reviewed at Thinking Out Loud, Is Sunday School Destroying our Kids? and Hearing God in Conversation. His website is Beliefs of the Heart. Click the title below to read this at source.

An Unearthly Delight

Sometimes I hear God best in surprises. Seemingly unrelated circumstances suddenly unite, and their merger stirs something in my heart. Like a succession of waves on a beach, one last surge dissolves my sandcastles.

This last month I talked with:

  • A despairing man whose ministry seems stagnant, and all his work seem fruitless;
  • Another man who keeps a tally in the front of his Bible of all the souls he helped save;
  • A group of friends who mused on our all-absorbing attraction to superhero movies;

Each discussion hinted at some deep longing for significance, expressed in meaningful ministry, “souls I helped save,” or that desire to be superhero (ish) ourselves. Wanting a life that matters doesn’t contradict Scripture. We are made in God’s image, and he is the God of all glory.

And yet. Last week I read about the baptism of Jesus. A voice from heaven cries, “You are my beloved Son; I delight in you.” My first response (and probably my second and third) was: “That’s exactly what I want, to hear the Father say to me, ‘Well done. I am pleased with you.’”

Then a thought flashed through my mind: Is it possible to have as much joy when the Father affirms Jesus as I would have if He so affirmed me? Can I simply take joy in the joy of Jesus?

I’ve Been Looking in the Rear View Mirror

It’s a brand-new idea to me: of delighting so much in Jesus that his happiness overwhelms me, whatever happens in my own life. Familiar verses take on new meaning:

  • Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Ps. 37:4). No longer to delight in God in order to get my “real” desire (a new house or better job), but that the desire of my heart is to see the Father overjoyed in Jesus.
  • Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble, the Lord delivers him (Ps. 41:1). To enjoy the blessedness bestowed on Jesus that he considered the poor …
  • The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth (Ps. 145:18). To rejoice in God’s nearness to Jesus who alone cried out to him with true purity.

My nature unconsciously looks to God to accomplish my own schemes: my ideas for happiness or a good name, or my plans for ministry or a retreat house. In John 15, Jesus says the branch that bears fruit abides in the vine. I find myself saying, “If I just do that, like abide a bit more, then I’ll get what I really want.”

Which means my heart really abides in the fruit and not the vine.

God is inviting me to abide in him a new way: simply to delight when he is honored, whether I see results I want or not. Joy in him is undermining my sandcastles.

All It Took Was a Trip to Lowes

On an errand to Lowe’s hardware store, a phrase from an old John Newton poem snuck into my thoughts on fixing a furnace humidifier. I googled the phrase in the parking lot. In it, God speaks to Newton, and through Newton, God spoke to me:

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may find thy all in Me.”

I keep thinking I need a home for retreats or to hear words of affirmation. Both fine things. I think, instead, God is breaking my “schemes of earthly joy,” all those fleeting castles of sand, because he is building a lasting home of unearthly joy.

There is a delight we can have simply in knowing him, in finding our “all” in him alone.

Sam

P. S. God often speaks to us in the moments we think he is silent. To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in Conversation.

January 9, 2018

Four Characteristics of a Faithful Christian

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Once again we’re back with Shane Idleman, founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. This is Shane’s mission statement when preaching:

“To bring Centrality and Relevance to Jesus’ words. To understand theology in a deep, yet impacting way. To compare and contrast biblical truth with error. To allow the power of the gospel to truly shape and challenge hearts so that deep, meaningful change takes place…to magnify The Message.”

To read this at source on the church blog, click the title below.

Characteristics of a Faithful Christian

Although many godly traits are attributed to faithfulness, these four are vitally important. How can we increase faith and serve God with all of our heart? Here are just four ways:

1. Holiness is a priority. Charles Spurgeon rightly noted, “There will be three effects of nearness to Jesus—humility, happiness, and holiness.” If these three are not present, hard questions need to be asked: “Do I have a rebellious spirit? Do I love the things of the world more than the things of God? Have I let bitterness and pride set in?” We have to fight for holiness…our relationship with God is dependent upon it. Holiness produces faith and spiritual power; carnality produces faithlessness and a life void of spiritual power

Carnality gives God “His due” – a few hours on Sunday – but forgets His call to “come out from among them [the world] and be separate.” Holiness is a fire burning deep within. Do we stoke the flames and increase the heat or continually put them out? We are so “stoked” when it comes to the things of the world, but why not the things of God?

Carnality quenches the fire of the Spirit and dries up the rivers of living water. We cannot love both Christ and this world. A carnal Christian does not pray, really pray and seek the heart of God. A deep prayer life exposes facades and crushes hypocrisy. A carnal Christian does not worship, really worship in total abandonment. Deep, penetrating worship cannot take place in a carnal heart until repentance takes place.

You won’t find those who are carnal at prayer nights or worship mornings, but you will find them spending much of their time at Cinemark and the Mall. Check your calendar and checkbook. Where are your priorities?

If this is you, allow God to awaken and restore: “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

Do you desire peace and joy again? Simply return to God: “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Full surrender is the fertile ground for seeds of joy and peace.

2. God’s Word is the source of authority. A faithful Christian is not continually looking for advice outside of God’s Word. Too often we look to Merrill Lynch for financial advice, a local nail salon for marriage counseling, and guys at work about how to prioritize our lives. Look to God for the final say – He is the “Wonderful Counselor.”

3. Reliance on God’s strength, not man’s. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9). God will often break us down in order to build us up. He’ll take away our strength – what we have been trusting in – so we look to Him, and Him alone. The refiner’s fire involves fire and heat. The waves of change involve being plummeted, tossed, and turned: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12).

God reminds, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior…” God is always the fourth man in the fire (cf. Daniel 3:25).

4. Keep His Word despite setbacks. Faithful Christians keep the course regardless of the storm…regardless of the criticism…regardless of the heat. We must teach perseverance. Many theologians are divided on the timing of the rapture, or if it will occur at all. Telling people, “Don’t worry. You’ll be out of here before it gets hard,” is inconsistent with those who are suffering in other countries. And it does not prepare people for tribulation, challenges, and difficult times. One thing we do know for certain is that Christ will return. In Rev. 3:11 He says, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” The message of hope is always urgent.

Christian Heritage Fellowship offers a riveting example of why we should not wait to share the good news:

On Sunday night, October 8, 1871, D. L. Moody, preached to the largest congregation that he had yet addressed in Chicago. His text that evening was, “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” At the conclusion of his sermon he said, “I wish you would take this text home with you and turn it over in your minds during the week, and next Sabbath we will come to Calvary and the Cross, and we will decide what to do with Jesus of Nazareth.” Then his song evangelist, Ira D. Sankey whose hymns are sprinkled throughout most evangelical hymnbooks, began to lead in singing the hymn, but Sankey never finished the hymn, for while he was singing the rush and roar of fire engines whistled by the church on the street outside, and before morning much of the city of Chicago lay in ashes. To his dying day, Mr. Moody deeply regretted that he had told that congregation to come next Sabbath and decide what to do with Jesus.

Turn, or return, to Him today. We are not even guaranteed tomorrow.

January 8, 2018

Conflict at Church

This is our third visit to Art Toombs Ministries, and today I read several great articles trying to decide which one to carry here. Be sure to check out his archives of scriptures covered in past posts — he’s currently in the epistle of James — you never know when you might need it.  I also follow Art on Twitter. To read today’s item at source, and then look around the site, simply click the title below.

Resolving Church Conflict

James 4:7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. 11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (NKJV)

James is writing to first century Christian Jews who have been dispersed from Jerusalem. He specifically is writing to teachers of the Gospel. The current teaching is on the subject of resolving conflict in the church.

This passage begins with the word “therefore” (v.7a). This is a reference to the previous verse which states “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” The key to resolving conflict in the church is humility.

We see this humility lived out in six commands which if heeded will resolve conflict in the church. The six commands are listed in verses seven through nine:

(1) “Submit to God” (v. 7b). Submission to God requires obedience to His word. We do not know what to obey unless we know His word, the Bible. We should turn to the Bible for advice on all matters. Then we should be obedient to that Scripture.

(2) “Resist the devil” (v. 7c). The devil always hits at our weakness. For many of us Christians our weakness is pride. Pride is also the source of much church conflict. We must resist pride, and all other sin. When we do, the devil “will flee” (v. 7d).

(3) “Draw near to God” (v. 8a). When we do this, “He will draw near” to us (v. 8b).    We draw near to God through prayer. The more we fill ourselves with God, the less room there is for self. The closer we draw to God, the more we see things through God’s eyes and not our own. Our selfish desires then take a back seat to the will of God.

(4) “Cleanse your hands” (v. 8c). This is a reference to our actions. Sinful actions require confession, repentance and seeking forgiveness, from both God and from those we have offended. It is not enough to just confess our sin, if we intend to then repeat the sin. We must also turn from, repent of, that sin.

(5) “Purify your hearts” (v. 8d). This is a reference to motives. Our motives may be mixed, “double-minded” (v. 8d). We must be careful to keep our motives pure. Our motives may be what we perceive as what is best for us, instead of what is best for God’s kingdom.

(6) “Lament and mourn and weep“(v. 9a). Without getting too bogged down in the theology, let’s just say this has to do with our attitude. Our attitude needs to be one of sincerity. If we have wronged another, we should feel badly for our sin against our fellow Christian. We should feel so badly that we never want to return to the behavior or mindset that may have contributed to a problem. We should feel so badly that it is hard to laugh or have joy (v. 9b). Even if we are not the source of the problem, we should be upset with ourselves for letting things get to this point. We should not take the problem lightly, or pass off all the blame on others. We cannot control what others may say or do, but we can control our reaction. A poor reaction often escalates a slight, or an offense, into a problem.

So If you “humble” yourself in these ways, “He will lift you up”, (v. 10). God will provide a way to resolve the problem that will glorify God. Humble yourself, and then put your trust in God.

James then introduces what may be interpreted as a new subject. However, I believe that he stays on the subject of humility. He writes of criticism, specifically criticism of a “brother” (v. 11a), a fellow Christian. There is no place for criticism in a humble heart.

How can you be humble while criticizing another? The two do not go together. You are breaking the Golden Rule. You are not doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. No one likes being criticized.

When you criticize “you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (v. 11b). God is the only “Lawgiver” (v. 12a), the only judge. He is the only one “who is able to save and to destroy”, able to judge (v. 12b). We are not “to judge another” (v. 12c).

Correction is another matter. It is Biblical to correct a fellow Christian who has gone astray. The correction, however, should always be offered in the form of kindness and love, not criticism.

So the key to resolving church conflict is humility. Humility does not escalate a slight into a problem. Humility, instead, allows God to lift up the situation. Stay humble and trust God to resolve the situation in His own way, and in His own time.

 

January 7, 2018

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Matthew 2:9b After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11a And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.

Today’s thoughts for Epiphany Sunday were published earlier today by a writer who is new to us, David M. Wilmot, a Vicar in the Church of England in Troutbeck. Click the title below to read the full article, of which this is the second half.

To Recover Confidence: Right worship, Right praise is the most missional thing you can do

…I so often wonder, where on earth did we get the notion that worship is about `meeting needs`? No, worship is about God. Worship is its own reward. Right Worship, right praise is our calling… without one eye on what other people might think. No, if worship is for our benefit at all the only `need` it addresses is our need to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. And this happens in two ways….

Firstly, worship remind us of both who we are and whose we are. What I mean is that the very act of gathering in obedience to the Sabbath command is that we put down a marker as to where our true and ultimate loyalties lie. You see, I don`t think we have begun to appreciate how radical and thoroughly subversive a thing it is to worship. It is… or at least should be… regarded as absolute dynamite. Ask some of our many persecuted brothers and sisters what happens when day by day week by week you persist in reminding the world; anyone within earshot of its true king.

Because that`s what we learn of Jesus in that Epiphany Reading today isn’t it? (Matthew 2.1-12) The coming of the Christ; the world`s true King threw everyone (especially those who considered themselves to be someone) into an absolute panic. Why? Because his very presence exposes our real problem: idolatry. The attempt to live as if God is not God. In the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Kingdom of self… and the Kingdoms of the world are `on notice`. Because, the question is never `whether` we worship but `what or whom`. And to a world that seems obsessed with matters of identity and persists in attempting find their sense of who they are in things less than God, worship gets things the right way around.

And this is the second thing: You see worship `forms` us in our true identity, as sons and daughters of this King. We must not domesticate or turn passages such as the one we heard a moment ago, into little children’s stories. Remember, those visitors from the East `paid him homage ` but that act of worship changed them. They didn’t go `back to Herod`, to the recognized authority; because we`re told “they left for their own country by another road”. (Matthew 2.12) My point is that this is what we must learn to expect from our gathering here: Formation in Discipleship.

Jesus tells us, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. (Matthew 6.21) In our worship, just like the wise men, we hand over our treasures… our loves… the things which most drive, motivate and enthuse us. And here`s the thing… We offer them for trans-formation. We expect to leave here by another road… with our loves trans-formed. So, I`m calling us to a renewed confidence today and I`m suggesting that confidence will come as we re-engage with what it means to worship; as we kneel before the king of kings. It really does begin and end with God; the one Revelation calls the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

And if I were to offer one practical step I would suggest that you immerse yourself in the Book of Psalms. Not just because it`s the book which taught our Lord to pray… but because it has nurtured the Church in a true Vision of God from the very beginning. I was taught a long time ago that if you’re going to learn to pray, you need to read at least one Psalm every day. And what`s true for us individually is especially true of us as a Church. Place the Psalms at the heart of your worship….

You could do worse than begin with Psalm 115. Not least because the writer takes a well-aimed and comedic shot at the shallowness and stupidity of the world’s idolatry. He pokes fun at the nations by saying:

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk;
   they make no sound in their throats.

But then he ends by saying:

Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them. (Psalm 115 4-8)

Again, the writer`s point is that it is never a matter of `whether` we worship… but WHAT we worship. And in the end, we will always come to resemble the desire of our hearts…We become like the thing…the god we worship.

Dear friends, in times of change and uncertainty you will find the confidence to be faithful as you centre your lives in worship; the worship of the true and living God revealed in Jesus the Christ. Right worship, Right praise is the most Christ-like and therefore the most missional thing you can do. Our prayer is that in worship you should be transformed into the likeness of Christ… that you will bear his image to those with whom you live and work. It all begins here. You become what you worship…

January 6, 2018

The Steps to Decision (C201 Version)

If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved. For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  (Romans 10:14)

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. (Psalm 37:5-6)

Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.  (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NLT)

One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see! (John 9:25b)

…also…

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you…” (Matthew 7: 21-23a)

Earlier today at Thinking Out Loud I shared that at home we had been discussing the process by which people ‘cross the line of faith’ and identify as Christians. It reminded me of a graphic image I had in my files, but then discovered some people had improved on the one we posted there in March, 2014.

One of the challenges we face comes when we try to make things into a formula or try to over-analyze what God is doing by the Holy Spirit in human hearts. As someone once described it, “The problem of trying to figure out how a cat works is that once you dissect it, it no longer works.” Furthermore, God is working in different ways in different peoples’ lives.

So where did the graphic come from? Here’s what I wrote about this at the time,

A long time ago, a pre-internet generation of Christians were as excited about the latest books as today’s host of internet bloggers. While we might think the universe didn’t exist until we were born, there was the same mix of academic writers as well as popular writers.  One of the latter was Emory Griffin who wrote a paperback about evangelism called The Mind Changers, and in that book, he frequently quoted James F. Engel, who wrote the textbook Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice

Engel dissected the conversion process as only a late 20th Century academic could, breaking it down piece-by-piece. I’ve always kept a copy of this particular little chart handy, because it reminds me that making disciples (or what a previous generation called soul-winning) doesn’t happen overnight (though it can) but often involves the careful processing through of ideas and thoughts. Yes, some people encounter Jesus and the transformation can be instantaneous, but often it has to be reasoned through (or even emoted through; I don’t know if there’s a word for that) and it usually involves some other person whose gift is apologetics or just being there with love or perhaps some combination of the two.

Today, people still discuss whether or not salvation happens as a crisis experience (in a moment, in an instant) or whether it is a process experience (as C. S. Lewis defined so well in the train analogy in Mere Christianity) but if it’s a process, it might look something like Engel describes in the graphic.

Why does it matter?

I suspect that many of us, in our interactions with people expect them to move more rapidly to the point of decision. We’re aware of imperatives like “Choose today whom you will serve;” and “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” We’ve heard the story of D. L. Moody opting not to give an invitation at the end of a message, only to have many hundreds who were there that day perish that week in the Chicago Fire. We long for instantaneous results.

While a crisis experience can definitely spark conversion, I think it’s more likely to be a process. Furthermore, we know statistically that guilt and fear may result in short-term decisions, it definitely is detrimental to the making of long-term converts. The attrition rate for those guilted in or scared in is quite high.

Discipleship is also a process involving much followup post-decision. There’s a second part to Engel’s graphic that we didn’t share this morning at Thinking Out Loud that I want to share here:

Today’s thoughts began with some verses on the subject of salvation. To my mind, they seem much more simple compared with the complexity of the upper graphic. But I am aware that as God is a work the lives of our friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers; it may be that a change in the heart needs to be accompanied by a change of mind on various aspects of the gospel, and this might move forward in stages, rather than all at once.

Read the verses again in the light of the chart, and read the chart again through the lens of the verses. Is there someone in your sphere of influence who God is telling you might want to progress on the journey to decision and discipleship?

 

January 5, 2018

God Intervenes in Our Circumstances

NIV Ps. 18.32 It is God who arms me with strength
    and keeps my way secure.
33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
    he causes me to stand on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for battle;
    my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

40 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
    and I destroyed my foes.
41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them—
    to the Lord, but he did not answer.

43 You have delivered me from the attacks of the people;
    you have made me the head of nations.

47 He is the God who avenges me,
    who subdues nations under me,
48     who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
    from a violent man you rescued me.

Once again, we’re back with the blog, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. This has been a great source of excellent articles for us over the years. Please click the link below to read this at source.

Praise God for His Intervention

In Psalm 18:30-50, David praises God for intervening in his circumstances and coming to his aid when he needed it the most. Today, God wants you to give thanks and praise for three specific ways He intervenes on your behalf.

Praise God for renewing you with strength (vv. 30-42).

David gave clear testimony as to the source of his strength. His strength did not originate within himself, but it was from the Lord. It was from the Lord whom Isaiah would later direct Israel to: the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary…He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

God was a shield in battle (v. 30) and equipped David with strength (vv. 32-34). God defended the glory of His name through His servant David (think Goliath). And David was able to be this courageous because He knew the Lord was with him and the Lord was his strength. Therefore, he testified “your right hand supported me” (v. 35), “you gave me a firm footing” (v. 36), and “you equipped me with strength” (v. 39). This is more than military strength, though. God gave David spiritual strength (fortitude, endurance) to persevere.

Are you tired? Is your spirit worn down? Go to the Lord for your strength. Know that His strength is made perfect in your weakness. Pray Ephesians 3:16 for yourself, “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” Trust the Holy Spirit to give you strong courage when you need it most.

Praise God for restoring you from (after) strife (vv. 43-45).

David praised God because He “delivered [him] from strife” (v. 43). God delivered David, making him head of nations, giving him military superiority. God certainly gave him the victory. Near the end of his life—in the last letter he wrote—the apostle Paul gave the same testimony of God’s intervention in his troubles and conflicts (2 Tim. 4:14-17). What Paul experienced is what Jesus had predicted in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

When you have been through severe conflict you don’t necessarily bounce back right away. Healing takes time. But know this: God is your healer. He will restore you in His time and according to His perfect plan. Some of you, I am sure, have been through very painful conflicts in the past. Perhaps you still feel wounded. By His grace, and through the love of the brethren, God will heal your hurts and restore you. Lean on Him. Lean into Him. He heals through the ministry of others. Don’t try to do it alone. As you receive His means of grace, the Lord will heal and restore you. You will not be the same; that is true. But you will be more like Christ because of having fellowship in His sufferings.

Praise God for recovering you in (through) salvation (vv. 46-50).

Verse 46 is a triumphant declaration. “The Lord lives! He has intervened for me!” Why? Because He is “the God of my salvation.” Verses 47-48 summarize the saving deliverance of God. The Lord “rescued” David (v. 48). I could have used the word “rescued,” but intentionally chose “recovered” instead. Our world likes to speak of people as always being in recovery. The recovering alcoholic. The recovering drug addict, etc., as if to imply that a person is always in the process of recovering to the healthy state. It implies that one never truly becomes a new, changed person.

But the hope of the gospel is greater. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave to fully recover us for God. If you know Jesus Christ then your life has been recovered for God’s purposes. Yes, you may continue to battle certain temptations for your remaining years on earth, but that is not what defines you. In Christ, God has redeemed you from the slave market of sin. You now belong to Him. He has recovered you from a life wasted on sin and given you victory in Christ.

In Christ, Romans 6:10-11 is true of you: For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. As believers, our sins and weaknesses do not make up our identity. Our identity is bound up with who Jesus is. We should enthusiastically praise God for this great salvation!

The Lord is worthy of this praise “among the nations” as, together, we “sing” His praises (v. 49). And this praise will go on forever. Why? Because of Jesus, the Son of God, is also the son of David. Therefore, David’s “offspring” will forever sing praise to God.

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