Christianity 201

August 26, 2015

Why Choose Christianity?

 Acts 26:1 ESV So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense:

“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently…

Why Choose Christianity and Not Something Else? Or Nothing Else?

2295355354_e65354babd_nby Clarke Dixon

Why would we choose to be a Christian and not something else? Why follow Jesus when there are so many other options including an attempt at following no one? With so many religions, how can we settle on one, or should we even settle on one? One answer appeals to the tension that exists between naturalistic explanations and supernatural explanations.

There are perfectly good explanations for how the vast majority of religions arose, explanations which make no appeal to the supernatural. For example, it is not hard to see how ancient myths involving a pantheon of gods arose out of need to understand things beyond understanding. Bad things happen because the gods are angry, sometimes at humans, sometimes at each other. As understanding increased, the gods were pushed out as being not a very good explanation of the facts. The naturalistic explanation, saying “men came up with myths about Zeus and others” fits all the data we have available much better than an appeal to a supernatural explanation; “men spoke about Zeus and the rest because those gods were real.” Similarly, to say “Islam arose because Muhammad was impressed with neither the people nor theology of Jews and Christians and so founded his own religion” fits all the data available better than “Islam exists because Allah revealed himself to Muhammad.”  We can follow similar lines of reasoning for 99% of all the world’s religions. In this sense, atheism is a powerful ally to Christianity for the atheists help us make the case for why we reject the vast majority of religions. We should note that in fact the early Christians were accused of spreading atheism! They were going around saying that all idols and myths were human invention.

However, for Christianity, the supernatural explanation provides a better explanation of all the available facts than the naturalist explanation. To give some examples:

  • The supernatural explanation accounts for the amazing consistency of the Biblical message despite the many authors writing over many, many years, from different contexts, writing for different purposes. There is a simple explanation of this: the scriptures are “God breathed.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
  • The supernatural explanation accounts for why people in the days following the death of Jesus were going around saying “Jesus is risen, I have seen him” and were willing to die for that claim. Appeals to hallucinations and/or fabrications do not account for the facts very well.
  • The supernatural explanation accounts for sudden birth and rise of an unexpected Christianity theology. The theology of Christianity is not what you would expect from Jewish scriptures and expectations, but it is what you would expect from Jewish scriptures and expectations plus the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
  • The supernatural explanation accounts for the staying power of Christianity and why so many people over so many years have some claim of a personal relationship with God through Jesus. The Christian message was not popular to either Jews or non-Jews from the get go. And yet it caught fire and continues to do so today despite still being unpopular to the point of persecution throughout the world. Yes, other religions have had staying power also, but you can come up with naturalistic explanations for this. Christianity would have died out ages ago if God were not in it.
  • The supernatural explanation accounts for the big questions like “Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there life when the odds are against there being such? How did the universe get started? Why is there something startlingly different about humans compared with other animals? Why is there such a strong yearning for purpose among humans? Why do humans reflect on morality so much? Why is there evil and what can be done about it?” Naturalism struggles to explain what Christianity simply and  profoundly answers.

Within the Bible itself we find an example of this tension between a natural and supernatural explanation. In Acts 26 Paul shares with King Agrippa, the local governor Festus, and many others how he came to be a Christ follower including his experience of the risen Jesus. But at some point Festus has had enough: “And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.’” (Acts 26:24) With that Paul says “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.” (Acts 26:25) Here we have a tension between a naturalistic explanation given by Festus; ”Paul, you are mad, no gods here,” and a supernatural explanation from Paul: ”Jesus appeared to and spoke with me.” Paul could have gone for a naturalistic explanation himself “perhaps the stress is getting to me and so I had some sort of hallucination.” However any naturalistic explanation could not fit all the facts, including the fact that his companions experienced something also, “we had all fallen to the ground,” (Acts 26:14) not to mention Paul’s further experience of regaining sight through the ministry of a Christian (Acts 9:10-19). No naturalistic view could account for these things.

So why Christianity and not another religion, or no religion? Why follow Jesus and not someone else, or no one else? Because Jesus rose from the dead, because Christianity is true. That Jesus rose from the dead and that Christianity is true makes the best sense of the all the facts we have. Yes there are naturalistic explanations offered for the rise and spread of Christianity and they are many, diverse, and complicated. But there is a simple explanation that covers all the facts, the supernatural one; Jesus rose from the dead. How should we respond when people say we are crazy for believing in the supernatural? Just like Paul did with Festus: “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.” (Acts 26:25)

There is one more thing we should mention about all this. There is no religious perspective that if found to be true could offer more hope, both for this life and the next, for more people, than Christianity. That Jesus rose from the dead and Christianity is true is not just a rational conclusion, it provides for an amazing hope in God’s amazing grace.

All Bible references are taken from the ESV.
photo credit: Interfaith Banner via photopin (license)

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

February 25, 2015

Everybody’s Got a Troubled Heart

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


 

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

Trouble!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 28, 2014

Was Paul a Do-er or a Pray-er?

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This is Post #1700 at Christianity 201.


Today’s devotional thoughts really challenged me. I am by nature an action person who has to confess that at times I have jumped into things which should have been bathed in greater measures of prayer.  This is taken from Andrew Murray’s book The Secret of Intercession, chapter 15. I have replaced the texts in the original with NIV, except the one asterisked passage which is NLT.

Paul as an Intercessor

For this reason I kneel before the Fatherthat out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.  Ephesians 3:14, 16

We think of Paul as the great missionary, the great preacher, the great writer, the great apostle “in labours more abundant” (2 Cor. 11:23).

23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.

We do not sufficiently think of him as the intercessor who sought and obtained, by his supplication, the power that rested upon all his other activities and brought down the blessing that rested on the churches that he served.

We see above what he wrote to the Ephesians.  Think of what he said to the Thessalonians,

Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith...so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (1 Thess.  3:10, 13). 

To the Romans,

God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you  (Rom 1:9).

To the Philippians,

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy. (Phil. 1:4).

And to the Colossians,

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.… I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church  (Col. 1:9, 2:1*).

Day and night he cried to God in his intercession for them, that the light and the power of the Holy Spirit might be in them.  As earnestly as he believed in the power of his intercession for them so also did he believe in the blessing that theirs would bring upon him.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.  (Rom. 15:30). 

…he will continue to deliver us,  as you help us by your prayers  (2 Cor. 1:10b-11a).

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…keep on praying for all the Lord’s people...Pray also for me (Eph. 6:18-19a; complete).

for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance (Phil. 1:19).

The whole relationship between pastor and people depends on their united, continual prayerfulness.  Their whole relationship to each other is a heavenly one, spiritual and divine, and can be maintained only by unceasing prayer.  It is when ministers and people waken to the consciousness that the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit is waiting for their united and unceasing prayer that the church will begin to know something of what apostolic Christianity is.

Ever blessed Father, we do most humbly ask You, restore again graciously to your church the spirit of supplication and intercession – for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Andrew Murray, The Secret of Intercession, Whittaker House edition, pp 60-62

November 14, 2014

Membership in the Colony of Heaven

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Phil. 3:20

Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times.” Phil. 4:4 (Phillips)

Although I’ve been linking to the blog Gathering in Light for many years at Thinking Out Loud, I’ve never run a piece by Quaker pastor C. Wess Daniels here at C201. This one caught my eye as it deals with several good things in the last two chapters of Philippians.  As always, click the title to read at source and then take a look around the blog.  Note: Read the first part of this slowly and carefully, so you don’t miss the transition from the verse we quote as “Rejoice in the Lord…” to the other possible implications Paul has in mind for his readers.

Learning to Say Farewell

Saying Farewell

C Wess DanielsFinally, my brothers and sisters, farewell in the Lord.

The letter to the Church in Philippi reflects Paul’s own uncertainty about his life and what I think is his own trying to prepare his community for his passing (cf.  1:6; 1:20–24; 1:27; 2:5–11; 2:12–13; 3:7–11; 3:12–16).

The letter itself is believed to have been written around 62 CE and Paul is believed to have been martyred under the reign of Emperor Nero shortly thereafter.

What is even more moving is a word Paul chooses to use throughout his letter: chairo. It is used 9 times in this letter.  It can be translated as rejoice. Here are a couple instances:

  • Phil. 2:17 But even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
  • Phil. 3:1  Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again to you is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you.
  • Phil. 4:4   Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice!

But you know how else it can be translated?

It can be translated: be well: be glad, God speed, or farewell.

Let’s re-read these that way:

  • Finally, my brothers and sisters, farewell in the Lord.
  • Farewell in the Lord always; again I will say, farewell. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand (Phil. 4:4 ).

Do you see how this shifts it?

Not only do we see into the heart of Paul, who is one suffering in prison for the Gospel he has preached but also that he is learning how to say farewell through his own process of writing. I think he is coming to terms with the fact that this is the end for him. That his life, like Jesus’, will be poured out for those he loves.

And importantly, it is also a farewell letter to his community. Paul hopes to give them some parting words of encouragement that they may hang onto until the end. In a way, it is meant to help them learn how to say farewell and continue on into the unknown future.

Colony of Heaven

I think Paul knows that the church is always in danger of having “a failure of nerve,” of giving in to the demands of “the world,” of bending under the pressure of being nice, keeping the peace or just plain old survival. Paul is well aware of the cost that is incurred when it comes to trying to build the beloved community or as he calls it the “colony of heaven” (3:20).

To be the church, to be a part of this group of people right here – you’ll be relieved to know – does not mean that you are all saints like Francis, or Teresa, or even like Paul. It doesn’t mean that you spend every day praying, or reading Scripture. It doesn’t mean that you always love your enemies, or always say the right thing to someone. It doesn’t mean that you’ve worked out your prejudices, racisms, classisms, or whatever ism fits you. It certainly doesn’t mean that you always feel like God is close to you. Nor does it mean that since you are a part of the church, all the answers to life’s most challenging questions come to you in a blink of an eye.

This is not what it means to a part of the church.

But there is one thing that I do know that it means to be a part of this “colony of heaven” and that is that we take risks.

It is a risk to be a community of people who have no other reasons to meet together, to be committed to one another, to look out for one another, or to go bat for one another, other than because of a commitment to learn what it means to embody love right here in our world. Right here in a world that so desperately needs people committed to the way of love and integrity.

To be a “colony of heaven” not mean that we are waiting for our exit strategy to get off this planet or, like Pilate, wash our hands of all responsibility. It means that the Spirit has set up shop here and is building heaven on Earth. To see heaven here is to see that we are to live as God intended the world to be. To participate in the colony of heaven is to participate in a “dress rehearsal for the future.” It means to live now what we hope the future will look like.

It means that we aren’t waiting around for people to get their policies rewritten, or their budgets in order, or a better administration, or for them to read a few more books, or for things to sort themselves out over time so that we can begin to live rightly and act justly. No. We are not waiting, we are doing it right now. We will not wait Christ has come and is leading us to respond to the injustices of our world. If we do not stand up, if we do not speak up, who will?

To be a “colony of heaven” means that we will live in contrast with and sometimes have to be a prophetic voice to other colonies. Paul knew that the city of Philippi was itself a military colony that was populated by veterans of wars and as a Roman colony, it had all the rights and privileges of what it meant to be a Roman citizen. In this context Paul says, “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus…”

Every right, entitlement or privilege we have can just as easily become an obstacle to speaking truth to power. Paul knows that even with all his credentials, all his rights as a Roman citizen, this did not protect him from the empire. And he preached the Gospel of love anyway.

To be a “colony of heaven” means that we must have our minds refocused. Those who are a part of the “colony of empire” have their “minds set on earthly things.” Their imaginations are captured by the prestige of power, by the rush of wealth, by the exhilaration of violence, by the pride of silencing others. Imaginations “set on earthly things” will be met with their logical conclusion. Destruction. Violence begets violence. Silence perpetuates domination. Misuse of power is costly for the whole community.

Or as Darleen Ortega wrote this week on Facebook:

Oppression depends on the acquiescence and silence of good people.

This is why Paul stresses again and again throughout his letter that the church’s mind be set on contrasting values, prophetic witness, and concern for the other.

Here my translation of Phil 4:4ff:

Godspeed in the Lord always; again I will say, farewell. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is truthful, whatever is honorable, whatever is equitable, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, if there is any goodness and worthy of applause this is all the capital your colony will ever need.

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

October 31, 2014

Wanted: Unity in the Body of Christ

The Church Works Best When We Work Together

Our text today is from Ephesians chapter 4:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.” 

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

We live in a bullet point world, so some of you will appreciate the point-form layout of today’s devotional from Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM). I thought some of you might find this “cut to the chase” approach refreshing. To read this at source, click on the title below:

Ephesians 4:1-16, Live worthy of your calling

Introduction

The Christian church is under increasing attack from the world both here in America and abroad. Churches are being destroyed, and Christians are being killed all over.  But we here in America face a different attack, and it is from within the church.  Among many issues that we as Christians need to work on, disunity is one of the more prevalent problems.

Our propensity for division is natural to our sinful natures, and this is why God inspired Paul to tell us to live in a manner worthy of the calling which we have received.

  1. First of all, God wants you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received (Read verses 1-3. But what does that mean, “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received”?).
    1. There are many examples around us of what it means to live in a manner worthy of a calling.
      1. A policeman, when he works, is supposed to be an example of the Law.  He lives worthy of his profession.  He doesn’t steal, and he doesn’t cheat . . . He defends and upholds the Law.
      2. A doctor also is supposed to live worthy of his profession.  He heals the sick.  He cares for those who are ill and seeks to make them well.
      3. A farmer tills the soil and produces food for thousands.  He is called to this task and is gifted to accomplish it.
    2. As a Christian, there are marks of what it means to live a life worthy of the calling.
      1. In this section they are throughout. Look with me at verses 1-3
        1. “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance (endure with) to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
        2. Several fruit of the Spirit are listed here:  humility, gentleness, patience, love, and peace.   All for a purpose, unity in the body of Christ.
          1. Therefore, in order for unity to occur in the body of Christ, we Christians need to exhibit humility, gentleness, patience, endurance, love, and peace.
  2. Alright, so God wants you to live in a manner worthy of being called a Christian.  But why? Why does God want you to be humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another, loving, united, and peaceful?
    1. First of all it is because God has called you all into unity.  (Read verses 4-5: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism”).
    2. The reason that it says “one faith, one Lord, one Baptism” is that it is into one church that you are all baptized; that is, it is into one faith: the Christian faith–Calvinists and Arminians alike, male and female, young and old, immature and mature, black, white, and brown.  One faith as a whole, and one faith in the particulars, one faith in the decisions that a church must make for the purpose of glorifying God, being united in love, and expanding the kingdom of God.
    3. Take for example a Military Unit.
      1. It has one leader; it works as a unit; it moves in one direction; it receives its orders and obeys them.  All those in it work well together because they have been trained to do so.  Sometimes individual members of the group don’t like what they are called to do, but they do it anyway for the greater good.  Therefore, they are able to accomplish a great deal because they act as one.
      2. Didn’t Jesus say, “And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one;” (John 17:22).
    4. God wants you to be united because (v. 6) there is “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
      THE CROSS!

      1. You have been bought, and you are united to Christ.
      2. The same God indwells each of you.  The same Holy Spirit.  If differences of opinion arise, it is not because God is telling us different things; it is because we are not listening.  It is because we are stuck listening to ourselves and not to God.
      3. Now is the time to listen more intently to His will and submit to His will just as Jesus said, “Not My will be done Father, but your will be done.” (Luke 22:42).
  3. God wants you to be united, of one mind, of one body, of one Spirit, of one faith, and of one Lord.
    1. But God simply doesn’t require unity without providing the means to achieve it.
      1. That is why He gave gifts
        1. (v. 11) “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,”
        2. Aan Apostle is a delegate, a messenger, one who is sent forth with orders from God.
        3. A Prophet is someone who is moved by the Spirit of God and who solemnly declares to men what he has received from God by inspiration.
        4. An Evangelist is a bringer of good tidings. It is a name given to the New Testament heralds of salvation through Christ who are not apostles. They lead people to Christ.
        5. Pastor: A herdsman, a shepherd. He is someone who cares for his flock.
          1. The tasks of a Near Eastern shepherd were to watch for enemies trying to attack the sheep; to defend the sheep from attackers; to heal the wounded and sick sheep; to find and save lost or trapped sheep; to love them, and guide them.
          2. During World War II, a shepherd was a pilot who guided another pilot whose plane was partially disabled back to the base or carrier by flying alongside him to maintain visual contact.
          3. So to, the Pastor comes along side to guide, protect, help, and teach the sheep so that they might grow in the grace of God and come to unity in the faith.
        6. A teacher in the New Testament is a person who teaches concerning the things of God and the duties of men.  They teach doctrine and correct people in error.  They are those who in the Christian assemblies undertake the work of teaching with the special assistance of the Holy Spirit.
          1. Note: In the Greek the construction of the last two, pastor and teacher, implies that they are shared by the same person. The Pastor/Teacher is the gifting for one man.
      2. These officers were given to the church by Jesus for a specific purpose.
        1. To prepare you (v.12) . . . for service.
          1. What kind of service?  Spiritual service: prayer, helping, admonishing, teaching, forgiving, loving, being an example of Christ in this world, and bringing glory to God.
          2. To accomplish this you are to be both humble and bold, gentle and determined, patient and strong, bearing with one another in love (verses 2-3), forgiving each other, helping each other, and considering others more important than yourselves.
  4. This unity that Paul is speaking of is for a reason: Maturity
    1. Again we have an issue of “reason”; that is, the reason we are equipped and gifted in this church is (verses 12-13) so that “that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
      1. As members in the body of Christ, we are continually being built up to maturity.
        1. Maturity in persona areas mentioned above: humility, gentleness, bearing with one another, love, peace, etc., so that you can . . .
        2. Mature corporately: The personal maturity leads to corporate maturity.
        3. Maturity in doctrine:  Knowing what is essential and what is not essential.  Knowing what it means to be gracious to others in the body of Christ who do not agree with you in areas of opinion.  Patience and love and peace should be shown to all people in the body of Christ so that we might speak the truth.  That is the result of maturity . . . speaking the truth in love.
  5. Conclusion
    1. In this world of anti-Christian bias we need all the more an extra measure of maturity, of grace, of gentleness, patience, and forgiveness.
    2. Each of you needs to keep your eyes on the one Lord.
    3. Each of you needs to keep your eyes on the one faith.
    4. Each of you needs to seek unity–being knit together in a close group.
      1. Each of you needs to be doing your part.
        1. Reaching Up–Seek God in prayer, study, and reading his word.
        2. Reaching In–Look to one another and find needs.  People in this church are needy and need love and support.  Visitors need to be welcomed and encouraged.
        3. Reaching Out–The community at large awaits the continued demonstration of your love and commitment to Christ.
    5. This is what it means to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

July 12, 2014

“I Follow Paul” “I Follow Christ”

ESV I Cor. 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

NIV I Cor. 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

 

The dialog I chose as a title for today’s thoughts was probably pretty typical in the days of the early church, and the tributaries of that discussion still run through the church today.  Clark Bunch tackled this earlier this week and gave us permission to use it here. To see the article at source, and especially to engage with the comments that followed, click the title below.

A Defense of the Apostle Paul

by Clark Bunch

Saul of Tarsus developed quite a reputation in the world of the early Christian church, zealously hunting down those who taught and preached in the name of Christ. He was on his way to Damascus, with arrest letters from the Jerusalem Sanhedrin in hand, when he had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul he became one of the most prolific church planters and writers of the first century; 14 of the 26 New Testament books are his letters (epistles) to various individuals and churches.

But here’s the rub: Do we today make too much of Paul? Does our attention become Paul-centered rather than Christ centered? Just because he wrote many epistles that become a major component of the New Testament, is everything Paul wrote the Word of God? Which is why I propose a defense of Paul to consider and respond to these criticisms.

It is human nature to pick favorites. And just like baseball fans have a favorite team, a favorite pitcher, or a favorite park, Christians becomes “fans” of particular leaders. I would rather listen to John Piper than Joel Osteen (but that has more to do with theology than fandom). In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul responds to reports that some in the church are saying “I follow Paul” while others mention Apollos, Cephas, and even others proclaim “I follow Christ.” In a sense Paul has already responded to the Paul-centered argument when he asks “If Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?” He urges all believers to be united in the same mind and judgement and that there be no divisions. He further says that he was not sent to baptize but to preach the Gospel “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Which brings me to my second point:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

The primary goal of all of Paul’s ministry was to proclaim the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. He wanted the faith of his listeners to rest not in his wisdom or in any other person but in the power of God. He was preaching Jesus and the resurrection in Athens when he attracted the attention the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, and later reasoned with them concerning their altar dedicated to the unknown god. He proclaimed, in the Aeropagus of Athens, that The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. Acts 17:24-25

Paul desires we have the same mind in us as was as Christ in Philippians 2, who took the form of a servant obedient to the point of death. He proclaims the preaching of the cross foolishness to those who perish (1 Corinthians 1) but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation in Romans 1. The word Christ is referenced in the writings of Paul 364 times. There are guidelines for selecting leaders and instructions for members of the family written by Paul, but the overwhelming majority of his letters (and travels, and sermons) is focused on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The New Testament books of Paul are so Christ-centered that studying Paul becomes in and of itself a Christ-centered act.

Paul himself warned us not to make too much of Paul. What about his writings? What makes his letters scripture? One of the key facets of the Bible is that it does not contradict itself. In the first and second centuries there were many accounts of the life of Jesus and church leaders made decisions about biblical canon, what would be included as scripture in what was becoming the New Testament. The accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke have many identical accounts that corroborate each other and paint a certain character portrait of Jesus. Other accounts, such as the Gospel of Judas or Gospel of Mary, paint a portrait that is out of character when compared to the others. The 14 letters of the Apostle Paul share the Gospel of Jesus that is in character with 1) what we know about Jesus from the 4 Gospel writers and 2) in line with what we know and understand of the Old Testament. Paul warns his listeners to not accept doctrine that does not agree with the words of Jesus Christ. (1 Timothy 6:3-4) That is possibly the strongest argument I can make. As a Pharisee, Saul had been a diligent student of the Law. He could read, write and probably speak at least four languages, including Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Latin. As one called of God (Acts 9) Paul was uniquely qualified to proclaim the Gospel message to Jews and to Gentiles. Look at his comparison of Adam and Jesus as types of first men (Romans 5) and the use of Sarah and Hagar as an allegory for two covenants (Galatians 4).

Did Paul make some mistakes? Did Paul sin? Absolutely. So did Abraham, Moses, King David, the Apostle Peter and every other significant character of the Bible, Old and New Testament (with one obvious exception). Many of those Old Testament figures, despite their well known faults, are spoken of highly by Jesus and by the writer of Hebrews for their faith. Peter, who famously denied Jesus three times, was later charged with leading the disciples. Saul of Tarsus had a personal encounter with Jesus the Christ on his way to Damascus and became a changed man who suffered much and did much in establishing the New Testament church in its early history. The same God that inspired the Old Testament writers and the Gospel accounts gave us the rest of the New Testament. He did not suddenly become incapable of doing so early in the first century. “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 complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible tells one story, about how a holy God relates to a sinful, fallen and broken people. At the center of that story is Jesus. The goal of this blog, and hopefully every Christian endeavor, is to be God-honoring and Christ-centered. The work of the Apostle Paul, including the 14 surviving New Testament epistles, do that and can help us do the same to the glory and honor of God.

 

Related posts here at C201:

January 4, 2014

Clarifying a Popular Scripture Verse

Dr. Ric Walston is the founder and president of the distance-education school at Columbia Evangelical Seminary.  You are encouraged to read this at his blog, Coffee Talk.

“I can do all [THESE] things
through Christ who strengthens me.”

A short lesson in context.

Philippians 4:13

The Claim
We’ve all heard people claim: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

But, was this verse written as a claim-it verse? And, what is this “all things” that Paul speaks of?

The “all things” – The Circumstances
The “all things” are the very things Paul was talking about in Philippians chapter 4 verses 10 through 12.

Paul said: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I’m in” 11b.

What circumstances are those Paul?

He goes on:
1. I know how to get along with humble means, i.e., like a poor person with very little material goods.
2. I also know how to live in prosperity. (Some people don’t ya know! They tend to forget Christ when they have all of the physical comforts of life).
3. In any and every circumstance [i.e., poor or rich], I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

Oh! What is that secret Paul?

Answer: Through Christ! “I can do all [THESE] things through Christ who strengthens me.” The NIV says it this way, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Note the “all this.” The “all this” is the “all things” that he was talking about, i.e., all these things.

And, then note what he says in verse 14:

“Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.”

Paul was afflicted with needs and wants.

So, he ends this point by saying that even though he can live for Christ in needs (poverty) or in plenty (rich), it was still good that they helped him during his time of poverty.

Backing up to verse 10, he says to them that he rejoiced in the Lord that they (the Philippian Christians) had once again revived their concern for him; he says that they were concerned before, but they lacked opportunity—that is they lacked the opportunity to help him in his time of poverty, probably because they themselves didn’t have much to give.

It is in the face of this that Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He’s talking about having nothing and living in poverty or being rich and having plenty; in either case or in both cases, he can do it through Christ who strengthened him.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” is not a “catch-all phrase” that refers to throwing a football, or starting a business, or walking a tightrope, or on and on and on. It’s about Paul living in contentment in Jesus whether he was in poverty or in wealth, when he had a full tummy or when he was hungry, both when he had abundance and when he had needs.

Not a “Claim-it verse”
People attempt to “claim” this verse by making it about them. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

But, guess what. This is not a “claim-it verse.”

This verse is not even about you!

Paul’s Report
This is Paul’s personal report and testimony of his own maturity in Christ.

The “I” in this verse is about Paul himself, not you.

In the same chapter, Paul says, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” v. 2. But, no one seems to be confused about who the “I” is in this verse. It’s Paul, not you. It’s not you in verse 2 and it’s not you in verse 13.

What’s Our Report?
Most of us cannot live content lives while living in poverty. Most of us can hardly be content when we have all the material things that we need.

Again, this is not a claim-it verse; this is a report by a fellow Christian who tells us that he has found the secret on how to be content whether he is poor or rich: the secret is through Christ!

If you are not content in your station in life, Paul’s example is there for us to follow.

Once you can be content in poverty or in riches by the power of Christ living in you, then you can say, as Paul did, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” v. 11.

It is in this way that Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (NIV).

How about us?
Have we actually reached a point in our maturity in Christ where we too can say with Paul, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances . . . I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m still not there yet.

 

December 17, 2013

Grace Arrives on the Scene

It was just three months ago that we featured the writing of Paul Tautges at the blog Counseling One Another. Normally, we wait six months to return to particular source here, but I want you to be sure to check out some of his other writing, not to mention how much I enjoyed today’s featured post, which is appropriate to the season.  Click to read Grace Has Arrived on the Scene.

Grace is the gift of God brought to sinners through the giving of His Son who willingly humbled Himself, dwelt among us, died a cruel death in our place, and was raised from the dead to give us life. This is the gospel. Romans 1:1-7 is a one-sentence, 126-word, announcement of good news from God. Alva McClain writes, “The literary construction of this sentence is very beautiful, and the unfolding of the ideas exquisite! It is almost like the unfolding of a flower—first the stalk, then the bud, then the full bloom, then the heart of it!” (p. 34). The author of this text is Paul, formerly Saul the persecutor of the church.

  • Paul was a servant of Jesus Christ: Six different words could have been chosen by Paul to explain his servitude, but he chose the strongest, the most absolute servitude. Doulos = slave, one purchased from the slave market of sin.
  • Paul was called to be an apostle: To be an apostle, by New Testament definition, two things had to be true of the man. He had to have seen the Lord (Paul did when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus). He had to have received his call directly from the Lord, which Paul was at the same time (both described in Acts 9).
  • Paul was separated unto the gospel: Paul was chosen by God to be an apostle. Galatians 1:15 indicates that God separated Paul out for this ministry while still in his mother’s womb. God called him to salvation (Acts 9), set him apart for the work of the gospel (Acts 13) for the purpose of spending his life announcing the Good News that God loves and saves sinners through repentance and faith in His Son. It is that gospel that is the very heart and soul of the message of these seven verses. Here we see three simple, foundational truths concerning the gospel.

The Gospel Is Good News from God (vv. 1-2). Paul calls this good news the “gospel of God.” It is God’s gospel. This gospel was “promised beforehand by the prophets.” So many Scriptures were perfectly fulfilled in the first advent of our Lord (see this encouraging article from Answers in Genesis)! Perhaps the greatest Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in our Savior’s death, burial, and resurrection is Isaiah 53. This good news from God was also “recorded in the Scriptures.” Paul stresses the importance of this truth in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.

 

The Gospel Is Good News about Jesus (vv. 3-4). The gospel concerns God’s Son. This sounds very simple, but it is very significant. The gospel is not about you; the gospel is not about me. The gospel is about Jesus Christ. He is the center of it all. Jesus was born of “a descendant of David” according to the flesh. Matthew’s genealogy, in particular, traces the lineage of Jesus back to King David. He began, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David” (Matthew 1:1). This was to establish the fact that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of David. He is the long, promised King of Israel. Jesus was born “according to the flesh.” Jesus is fully human. He is the God-man who broke into earth’s history to rescue us from our sin, and He did this in accordance with God’s perfect timing (Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus was declared the Son of God by His resurrection. The first advent of Jesus, as a descendant of David according to the flesh, presents his humanity. The resurrection of Jesus was a declaration of His deity. He is God in the flesh. He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it is because of His resurrection that we may have new life. Four names and titles are used of Jesus in these verses.

  • Son = defines His relationship to the Father
  • Jesus = speaks of His humanity, He is “the salvation of Jehovah”
  • Christ = His office as the Messiah
  • Lord = His exalted position. He is the Lord Jehovah.

The Gospel Is Good News for Sinners (vv. 5-7). The good news is that the gospel turns sinners into saints. Here believers are described in three ways:

  • Believers are called of [by] Jesus Christ. By means of the gospel, Jesus Christ calls sinners to Himself. He offers us forgiveness, new life, and peace (Matthew 11:28-30).
  • Believers are loved by God. Isn’t this an amazing description?! We are sinners loved by God (John 3:16)! It is true that we are—right now, this very minute—children of God! (1 John 3:2).
  • Believers are called to be saints. Believers are saints by calling, not by deed. When God saves us from our sin He, at the same time, calls us to Himself. He sets us apart. Alva McClain: “God never goes to a sinner and tells him to try to attain to sainthood. He picks us out of the mud, and He says, ‘You are a saint.’”

God has given us good news. The good news is that grace has arrived on the scene. Grace has been given to desperate, fallen humanity. The gospel is the message of grace, which saves us when we first become a Christian., but the gospel continues to preach to us—day after day—that God’s grace is enough for us. God loves sinners. What a wonder that is!! There is no greater news. There is no greater message. God’s grace has arrived. And it is found in His Son, the Lord Jesus.

June 10, 2013

The Fruit of Ministry: Lives Changed and Growing in Christ

Col 1 : 10( NIV)  …live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,

Balanced Christian LifeOne of the frustrations of online ministry is you don’t always get a lot of feedback; neither do you see the people who are being influenced by what is posted each day. Statistics report that several hundred people land here each day, but I have no idea if the readings are helpful; if they like the videos; if they enjoyed checking out a particular writer’s website.

It’s also possible that many readers find a website which especially resonates with them and end up making that their daily habit instead of this. Of course, that result was built into the design of this page. There is so much Christian writing available; some of it relates more to intellectuals than those less educated; some to women more than men; some to people of certain denominational persuasions more than others.

I was reminded today of this passage in I Corinthians 3:

…4 When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world?

After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.

10 Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it…

(continue reading full chapter in the NLT)

Matthew Henry writes:

…Both [people, i.e. Paul and Apollos] were useful, one for one purpose, the other for another. Note, God makes use of variety of instruments, and fits them to their several uses and intentions. Paul was fitted for planting work, and Apollos for watering work, but God gave the increase. Note, The success of the ministry must be derived from the divine blessing: Neither he that plants is any thing, nor he that waters, but God who gives the increase, 1 Cor. 3:7. Even apostolic ministers are nothing of themselves, can do nothing with efficacy and success unless God give the increase. Note, The best qualified and most faithful ministers have a just sense of their own insufficiency, and are very desirous that God should have all the glory of their success. Paul and Apollos are nothing at all in their own account, but God is all in all…

We know a lot about Paul, but when we connect the dots of scripture, we actually know a lot about Apollos as well.  ChristianAnswers.net tells us:

This is the name of a Jew “born at Alexandria,” a man well versed in the Scriptures and eloquent (Acts 18:24). He came to Ephesus (about A.D. 49), where he spoke “boldly” in the synagogue (18:26), although he did not know as yet that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Aquila and Priscilla instructed in “the way of God”, i.e., in the knowledge of Christ. He then proceeded to Corinth, where he met Paul (Acts 18:27; 19:1). He was very useful there in watering the good seed Paul had sown (1 Cor. 1:12), and bringing many to Christ. His disciples were very attached to him (1 Cor. 3:4-7, 22). He was with Paul at Ephesus when he wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians; and Paul makes kind reference to him in his letter to Titus (3:13).  (Scripture reference links are KJV.)

One of our former pastors would constantly say, “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” In today’s world, it also takes all types of websites, blogs and forums to reach out to an internet-wired world. But as I write this, I long to hear reports of the fruit of this ministry in the lives of readers.

I believe strongly that while we all may be instrumental in the discipleship process of people in our sphere of influence, we should also be know the joys of being reapers of the fruit of ministry. We should all experience Paul-Timothy mentoring relationships. We should all know what it means to reproduce ourselves in the lives of others and even the next generation.

Furthermore, we see Jesus’ attitude toward fruit-bearing ministry in Matthew 21’s story of the fig tree:

18 In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, 19 and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up. (NLT)

Ask yourself: Are my efforts for the Kingdom of God bearing fruit, or just putting out leaves?

~PW


Practical Christian Living: Here’s a tip some of you might want to consider or even need to consider. My 21-year old son was convinced he was spending too much time watching videos on YouTube. So he simply uninstalled Flash player in his computer.

In Matthew 5:29 we read Jesus words:

29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (NIV)

but Jesus apparently repeated these words, as Matthew records them again at 18:9

If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. (NASB)

To which we might add the following paraphrase:

If part of your computer causes you to waste time; disable it…

March 4, 2013

Embracing Weakness

We try to go six months before revisiting an author, but after formatting this, I realized it’s only been two months since we featured Elsie Montgomery and her blog, Practical Faith. (I guess she writes good stuff.) Here is another one of her great devotional posts, titled Weakness is a Good Thing. You’re encouraged to read ‘borrowed’ C201 posts at their original source. This one also continued to look at the key verse the next day, that link is below.

Jesus loves me, this I know,
for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
we are weak but He is strong.

For someone who often sings “Jesus loves me…” God surprises me again by pointing to thinking about my weakness in terms of His love and compassion toward me.
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13–14)
Today’s devotional uses these verses again. Obviously, I’ve still more to learn from them. Spurgeon again focuses on the compassion of God, this time on the weakness of His children.
 
As he says, children cannot do much. They have little strength and little children are quite helpless. Yet their father does not chide them for this. In fact, he will enjoy carrying his baby who cannot walk and not at all be angry with the little one who is unable to help himself.
 
As verse 14 says, my heavenly Father knows my weakness. Whether it is a physical lack of strength due to some infirmity or some other shortcoming that keeps me from full capacity, He remembers that I am only dust. He even sympathizes with my weakness.
 
This is the God who became a man, actually, a tiny baby. He became helpless and knows helplessness. This is the Creator of the universe who allowed Himself to be beaten, mocked, and strung up on a cross. The Bible says, “He was crucified in weakness… we also are weak in him… (2 Corinthians 13:4)
 
Yet there is power in weakness, partly because it means I will be carried by my Father, but also because when I am weak, I will call on Him and experience His power. Without weakness, I would not do that. This makes weakness, especially a childlike weakness, my friend, not my enemy. Paul said,
… I will not boast, except of my weaknesses…. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:5–10)
Weakness is more than feeling weak. It is also being weak and unable. I’ve struggled as a teacher on those days I could not put together a lesson plan. Many times God has put people with questions in my path and I knew the answers, but my mouth seems sewn shut and I could not speak. I get weary, disorganized, depressed, and bowed down, and feel like a total failure, yet God has compassion on those who fear Him. He knows that I am dust.
 
I have to ask, why should I think I should be able to do everything I want to do? When I see problems, why can’t I solve them? When I see spiritual blindness and hardened hearts, why can’t I open eyes and soften hearts? Maybe my attitude of wanting to fix everything stems from pride. Maybe it stems from wanting to be like God in the wrong way, the way that tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. But I cannot do it all nor does God put me up against a wall and hammer me with “do it.” Instead, He says things like…
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:12–13)
If I were able, I would not need God or even seek Him. It is weakness that breeds faith and weakness that keeps me in the right place before God, on my knees in humility and utter dependence. I see this clearly and can only say no wonder Paul was content to be weak and even boasted of his weaknesses.
 
Spurgeon says that “a person in perfect health and strength may joyfully accomplish what another cannot even think of undertaking,” but is this what God wants? I don’t think so. Jesus was such a person, but He chose weakness…
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8)
For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but… we will live with him by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:4)
Click this link: Another Practical Faith post continues to look at Psalm 103

December 10, 2012

The Word of God Is Not Imprisoned

The Apostle Paul saw his imprisonment not as a problem, but an opportunity. We can learn so much from this. Today’s post appeared originally at the blog The Cripplegate. I encourage you to click through to read this, and then explore the rest of the blog which features a variety of authors. Today’s piece is by Los Angeles pastor Mike Riccardi.

Paul wrote his epistle to the Philippians against the backdrop of the church’s concern for Paul as he awaited his trial before Nero in his first Roman imprisonment. How was Paul holding up? Was this imprisonment discouraging him? Would he be released? Could he return to Philippi to help them with their lack of unity (cf. Phil 4:2) and to strengthen them amidst the threats of persecution and false teaching (cf. 1:28–30; 3:2)? Or would he die in Rome, and their sweet partnership in the ministry die with him? And perhaps most importantly of all: How has this loss of freedom affected the spread of the Gospel? Have Paul’s adverse circumstances in prison dealt a blow to his ministry of the Gospel to Gentiles?

After his customary thanksgiving (Phil 1:3–8), and prayer (Phil 1:9–11) Paul begins the body of his letter, in verses 12 to 18, by reassuring them—right off the bat—that far from being a hindrance to the Gospel, this opposition, this imprisonment, has actually served to advance the Gospel.

How? I’m glad you asked.

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.

The praetorian guard was a company of 9,000 elite soldiers that were particularly tasked to protect the emperor and his interests. And it seems that this subversive preacher Paul was a high priority case for Nero, because he was being guarded around the clock by the imperial elite. The “chain” he wore (cf. Acts 28:20; Eph 6:20) was an 18-inch long chain that attached at one end to a handcuff on Paul’s wrist and at the other end to a handcuff on the wrist of the Roman guard. There wasn’t an hour of the day when Paul wasn’t 18 inches away from a Roman soldier of the imperial guard.

linksBut it wasn’t the same guard all day every day. The soldiers took shifts of six hours at a time. That means that for nearly two years, Paul had come into contact with four different imperial soldiers each day, and had them at his disposal for six hours at a time. Talk about a captive audience!

So what do you think Paul talked about? Do you think he said things like,

  • “This isn’t fair!”
  • “What injustice!”
  • “I’ve been waiting two years!”
  • “This is not a quick and speedy trial!”
  • “I’m a Roman citizen!”

How would you have reacted? Would you have complained about the lack of privacy? Would you have blamed God for your unjust imprisonment? Paul didn’t do any of those things. Paul knew a captive audience when he saw one, and he saw this as an opportunity to preach the Gospel.

The Conversation

And that’s exactly what he did. You could imagine the guard would ask, “So what are you in for?” And Paul would respond: “I am in these chains because I serve the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the One, True and Living God—God made flesh in the person of a Jewish Carpenter. And in further humility and obedience to the will of God, He died for sinners on a Roman cross under Roman authority in Israel 30 years ago.

He was buried and laid in a tomb with Roman soldiers keeping it secure. But three days later He rose from that grave, demonstrating His triumph over death. After remaining with His disciples for 40 days, He ascended into Heaven right before their eyes and is, this very moment, enthroned in power at the right hand of God as the Lord of the whole world.

“Not long after His ascension, while I was persecuting His followers for corrupting the Jewish religion—putting them into chains like these, and even approving of their murder—this resurrected Jesus Himself appeared to me in a blazing light! He knocked me to the ground and struck me blind, and told me that I was to be His messenger, to preach His Gospel and strengthen the church that I once tried to destroy! And since that day I have given every waking moment of my life to preaching the Good News that because of His life, death, and resurrection, those who simply turn from their own self-righteousness and trust in Him can be forgiven of their sins, can escape the punishment of God, and can be reconciled to Him. And one day soon, this same Jesus is going to break through the clouds, return to the earth, and set up His kingdom over all nations!”

And as they spoke with him, and heard this Gospel, and observed his character, they learned that he was not in prison as a criminal, but because he was faithfully preaching the Lordship of Jesus.

This is the word that spread throughout the whole guard. They would talk with each other, and wonder with each other, “This man hasn’t broken any laws. All he has to do to be released is to recant his teachings about this Jesus of Nazareth, and he’d be free to go. But he won’t do it! He’d rather lose his head than stop preaching this message!”

And as they heard this Gospel, and observed the virtue and consistent devotion of Paul’s life—that his behavior matched his message—they began to believe. God began to grant them repentance and faith in the Gospel, one by one. So much so that Paul could close the letter to the Philippians, chapter 4 verse 22, by saying: “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” Four different guards, six hours at a time, every day, for the last two years, all hearing the Gospel. The messenger might have been in chains, but the word of God is not imprisoned (2 Tim 2:9). And the result, by God’s sovereign, providential work, was that many in the household of Caesar himself were beciming more sincere followers of Jesus than they ever were of Nero.

What Can We Learn?

The Lord used circumstances that anyone would have supposed would have hindered Paul’s ministry to further it. And in such circumstances of adversity, his response was not to complain, to blame God, or to sink into discontentment and depression.

Instead, he rejoiced (Phi 1:18). In what? In pleasant circumstances, an easy life, or a good reputation? No. Paul’s joy was found in the advance of the Gospel. He could endure opposition from both friends and enemies, he could decrease into insignificance and obscurity, he could suffer hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:3)—because his ministry wasn’t driven by a thirst for prominence, but by the advance of the Gospel.

We need to learn to receive life’s trials from the hand of God Himself—as opportunities sent directly from Him to advance the Gospel. We shouldn’t try to cut the legs out from under the sovereignty of God by suggesting that God just passively allows our trials, or makes the best out of a bad situation. When confronted with suffering, we should see that the Sovereign Lord is purposefully giving us an opportunity to make much of Him and His Gospel by responding in a way that makes plain that comfort, freedom from conflict, and an easy life are not what we love most, but that Christ is.

We also need to take advantage of our captive audiences. We may not be chained to a Roman soldier, but we each have our obligations that keep us “captive.” Maybe you’re chained to a desk in the workplace. Maybe you’re chained to a kitchen sink and a couple of young children. Maybe you’re chained to a hospital bed, unable to move about freely. You need to see each of these “chains” as an opportunity to proclaim Christ from exactly where you are. You can be a witness to your co-workers, to your kids, or to your nurse and doctors. The messenger might be in chains, but the word of God is not imprisoned (2 Tim 2:9).

October 9, 2012

Tell Me The Old, Old Story

Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,
For I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.

Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in,
That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning has passed away at noon.

The title here is a reference to an old gospel hymn, the first two verses quoted above. The post is actually titled, Sunday Morning Motivational Speaking? by North Carolina United Methodist Pastor Talbot Davis at the blog The Heart of the Matter. You’re encouraged to click through to read on his blog.

In my occasional dark nights of the soul, I wonder:  “is what I’m doing anything other than some motivational speaking on a Sunday morning?”

Seriously: do people come to Good Shepherd or to any church simply to have their ears tickled and the hearts touched?  To feel like they’ve made some connection with a vague “something” out there in the cosmos that helps them approach the coming week with a bit more hope and resilience?

Am I just a pseudo-sanctified Tony Robbins, albeit with half the hair, a quarter of the enamel, and a fraction of the following?

Well, it’s sure possible to fall into that trap, for me or for any other preacher.  And if I succumb to that temptation towards motivational speaking then the dark night of the soul will become a dark month or season or year.

Which is why it is wise never to veer too far from Paul’s words in I Corinthians 15:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

What did Paul communicate to them and then remind them of?  The Gospel.  The story, the history, the facts, the world-tilting events of the first Easter weekend.

And how did he communicate it to them?  By preaching.  Not by example, not by poetry, and not by motivational speaking.  By preaching — heralding The Story that shapes and defines each individual story.

So as long as I and my fellow Sunday preachers do that, well, we can leave the motivational speaking to others.

And become instead Story Tellers for the church.

~Talbot Davis

Here’s another article by Talbot which appeared six months ago here at C201.

September 30, 2012

An Open Heart

NIV Actis 16:13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.  [Full chapter]

Jim Williams is a bi-vocational pastor who has lived in the Canadian Maritimes, on the prairies, and currently calls Ontario home.  This appeared at his blog, The Journey under the title Cooperation.

In Acts Chapter 16 we are introduced to Lydia. She was successful, wealthy and influential. She loved God but it is her response to hearing the gospel for the first time that is revealing. Scripture says that when Paul shared the news of Christ that, ‘the Lord opened her heart…’ (verse 14) As a result, Lydia received Christ a became an influential believer in the early church.

Last week I wrote of “Our Most Valuable Asset” as being our heart because from it ‘flow the springs of life.’ To enjoy the blessings of God in our lives we must protect our hearts from evil influences and open our hearts to God’s Word and Work.

We are in a dangerous state if our hearts are closed to Him. A closed heart is unable to respond to what the Lord has to say. We become resistant to Him.

Now, if our hearts are open to Him we able to respond to what the Lord has to say. We become cooperative with Him and enjoy His blessings.

1) An open heart is like fertile soil.

Fertile soil is able to turn planted seed into valuable crops. Infertile soil is useless and seed planted in it is a wasted resource.

Jesus drew an analogy of the heart condition when he spoke of fertile soil.(Mark 4) He said that some hearts are fertile places that take the seed of God’s word and turn it into something of value. Other hearts are either too hard, stony or full of weeds that are unable to produce anything of lasting value.

The real question is whether we have a heart that is fertile or infertile. Many of us would love to say that it is good soil but truthfully some of us would have to admit the opposite. What type of soil represents your heart condition? Hardened, rock infested or filled with life-choking thorns? Is your heart open to the seed of what God has to say?

2) An open heart is like mold-able clay.

In the hands of a master potter good clay can be shaped to become useful, beautiful masterpieces. Workmanship fit for the King.

The right kind of clay in a skilled potter’s hand can be made from mud to a masterpiece.When placed on a potter’s wheel, mouldable earth can become valuable enough to sit in the palaces of royalty.

God once told Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house because He had a lesson to teach him.(Jeremiah 18) He showed him that we are like earth in the hands of the Master Potter. We are but mud in His skillful hands.

The real question is therefore: what condition is our heart in the hand of God? Are we trying to cultivate a soft, mold-able heart for the Master Potter? Is our heart hard and resistant to the shaping of the Lord? God has only good plans for us. Let’s not resist but let’s allow His work in our lives.

Cooperating with God.

Lydia’s heart was opened by God to receive the truth of the gospel Paul shared. Without His grace she would not have been receptive. Scripture does tell us that Lydia loved God and sought after Him. She cooperated and God gave her an open heart.

God is encouraging us to do the same thing: to cooperate with Him and allow Him to work on our heart. After all, He desires the best for us. He is the Great Gardner and the Master Potter. He is able to make infertile soil fertile and useless dirt mold-able.

How do we cooperate with Him?

1) Invite Him.

Simply ask God to open your heart. Life has a way of making us hard-hearted. He longs to be invited into our hearts. Jesus stands at the door of our hearts knocking. He is asking for the invitation to come in. (Revelation 3:20) Why not make that decision? Why not give the invitation? You’ll be glad you did.

2) Slow down!

We often are in too much of a hurry. As Christians we want to mature, grow up and become all that God wants us to be. We want spiritual fruit but we aren’t willing to let it grow. For example, we want patience but we don’t want to wait for.

A farmer can’t rush a good harvest … it takes time … so let God do His work.

A potter can’t rush to make a masterpiece … it takes time … so let God do His work.

Slow down … surrender to the process … listen, learn, grow … have an open heart to Him … it is your most valuable asset.

Questions to ponder:
How important to you is allowing Him to make your heart fertile and mold-able? What kind of steps can you make to cooperate with God today?

~Jim Williams

September 21, 2012

What Jesus Began to Do Was Just The Beginning

Jim Foreman is the pastor of Sedley Baptist Church in Sedley, Virginia. This appeared on his personal blog, On the Brink of Something Large under the title Jesus Began To Do And Teach.

Acts 1:1 says; The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teachThinking about verse 1, we see a key word for understanding the book of Acts and that is the word “began.” Luke in the gospel dealt with all that Jesus began to do and to teach until after his resurrection and his ascension into heaven. The gospel of Luke ends with the ascension of Jesus into heaven and in Acts he starts just before the ascension of Jesus into heaven and moves forward. Luke shares that this was the beginning of the teaching ministry of Jesus. Jesus’s earthly ministry was just the beginning of the teaching and actions of Jesus.

I want you to understand what Luke says here. What Jesus did on the earth was only the beginning of His doing and teaching. The clear implication is Jesus had just started. Right now, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, He is not finished as we so often think, but is He is continuing. He is not done and not dead as some think but He is alive and He is present and He was and is and will continue to do and teach until His return. What is seen in the life of the Son of God in human flesh, is the sacrifice of Himself for our sin on the cross, His mighty resurrection and His ascension to the Father’s right hand and that is just the beginning. One of the main points of the book of Acts is that Jesus is not dead and done but He continues. The book of Acts is not just the Acts of the Apostles; but it is also The Acts of the Risen and Living Jesus. Jesus began doing and teaching and He will continue his doing and teaching until the Father sends Him back for the Church.

Let me explain it like this. Whatever Paul accomplished for the kingdom, it was Jesus doing and teaching. Paul in Romans 15:18-19 says: For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. Note the same pair of words: Christ worked through me “by word and deed.” Jesus is speaking and acting through Paul. He is alive and building His church. That is what the book of Acts is about and that is why it is relevant for us today. Jesus is still alive and He will always be alive! He is still speaking and working and building His church and saving souls. How is Jesus doing this? He is doing this through us and we need to avail ourselves to Him so he will work through us!

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