Christianity 201

July 24, 2022

The Ministry of “Coming Alongside”

When my oldest son was doing a 4-month internship with Engineering Ministries International, he reminded us several times that they were “an adjunct ministry.” Their job was to work in the background for other Christian organizations (who they called the “client charities”) and it was those other organizations which received all the visibility. Engineering Ministries International has been involved in at least two thousand projects around the world, but you’ve probably never heard of them.

Another organization, Partners International, had some missions projects operating a few years ago that fell under the banner of “Alongside.” One was a water treatment plant in Africa started by my wife’s uncle. He had noticed that many organizations were raising money to install wells so Africans could have fresh water, but nobody was fixing the wells when they needed repairing. So he created his own “Alongside” project which led to the water treatment facility.

With that in mind, today I want to pick up where we left off yesterday. This devotional study originally appeared a decade ago under the title

Cooperating With What God is Already Doing

and has never been repeated here until now…

It’s possible that your work situation or family situation or neighborhood situation looks, from a spiritual perspective, fairly bleak. You may find yourself in what you consider to be a fairly pagan or secularized environment. But I believe that God is at work in hearts more than we realize.

As an aside, I am reminded of the story of Elijah who goes into hiding, despite winning a huge victory against the prophets of Baal. He cries to God that he is “the only one left,” rattling off some stats about the remaining prophets of Baal, and at that moment, God throws out his own statistic:

NCV.1 Kings.19.8 I have seven thousand people left in Israel who have never bowed down before Baal and whose mouths have never kissed his idol.”

You can read our February, 2021 devotional about this narrative at this link.

Okay…let’s go back to the idea of feeling like you’re in a broken place where God doesn’t seem to be working.

I want to continue where we left off yesterday, and look at our part in bringing people into an awareness of Jesus that leads to a desire for Jesus.  In that devotional, we looked at being the kind of person that God can use to be “sent,” that is to go out into a particular situation or people group or individual’s life and then tell them, so they can hear, believe and call out for salvation.

But the Bible also teaches a principle of “sowers and reapers” and raises the possibility of this being a team approach. In I Corinthians 3:

(NCV) 5b …We are only servants of God who helped you believe. Each one of us did the work God gave us to do.6 I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it. But God is the One who made it grow.7 So the one who plants is not important, and the one who waters is not important. Only God, who makes things grow, is important.8 The one who plants and the one who waters have the same purpose, and each will be rewarded for his own work.

My entire part-time work career during eight years of high school and college consisted of working in large department stores. In each area of the store I had to know what the products were, how the products worked, whether there were product warranties, and where the products were kept in the stockroom.  I also had to learn how to work the cash register.

So, my usefulness to my employer consisted of two things:

  • product knowledge
  • sales processing

In later years, when I owned my own business, I realized I had been taught nothing about how to sell. There was no sense in which I asked customers what they felt they needed, qualified what might meet that need, and then proceed to  “ask the question.” Asking means saying, “Do you think that this product can meet those needs?” Or, “Is there anything stopping from you buying today?” Or, “Can I wrap that up for you?”

The ingredient I was missing was what is called, “closing the sale.” My training should have been a three-pronged approach consisting of:

  • product knowledge
  • closing the sale
  • sales processing

Sometimes in the Christian journey we encounter people who are given to us so that we can plant seeds. And other times, we find people where God has been working in their lives already and they’re just waiting for someone to gently nudge them over the line of faith.

But sometimes we fall short of doing both when the opportunities are present. To switch analogies for a moment, it’s like a baseball game in which you’re up to bat and you get a perfect pitch, but instead of hitting a home run you decide to bunt. What holds us back from the hitting the ball out of the park?

I once heard a pastor tell the story of a friend with whom he had been planting seeds for a long time. One day, out of the blue, an associate asked the man if he would like to become a disciple and make Christ the Lord of his life, and the man said yes on the spot. This pastor often jokes that this was simply “not fair.” With a department store analogy, you could say that this man was “his customer;” though thankfully we’re not exactly on commission! More seriously, the pastor understood the distinction between sowing and reaping, and rejoiced that this man did indeed cross the line of faith.

(If we keep the analogy going, the pastor gave the friend all the product knowledge, but his associate was the one closing the sale.)

In Experiencing God, Richard Blackaby talks about coming alongside areas where the Holy Spirit is already working.** Perhaps there is a ministry organization or even a secular social service agency where people, whether consciously or unknowingly, are experiencing the fruit of God’s love and are ripe to respond. Could you be the missing ingredient?

  • In the lives of people you’ve been in contact with for the past few weeks or month, are you a sower or a reaper?
  • Do you know people right now who you’ve been gently sharing your faith with, but you’ve been afraid to ask the question?
  • Re-read today’s key verses. Maybe you find evangelism very difficult. Is there an area where you can be a “water-er” providing after-care for new disciples?

~ PW

**Experiencing God, pp. 54-55; p. 297

July 23, 2022

The Beautiful People Who Lay the Foundation for Evangelism

Could I have made that title any longer? Today and tomorrow I want to revisit some things we looked at here in 2012; two original devotional studies that have never, until now, been repeated. This devotional was originally titled

But Before That Can Happen, This Has to Happen

I know…equally long title!

NIV Romans 10:14 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? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

From a purely literary standpoint, these verses in Romans use a rather unique form. It’s like Paul is deliberately saying everything in reverse, not unlike those comedies or dramas on television where they keep flashing back to progressively earlier and earlier scenes chronologically. In other words, before that can happen, this has to happen.

Having just proclaimed that, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” in verse 13, the sequence looks like this:

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent

So before one thing can happen something else has to happen.  Let’s put things in chronological order:

  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

That in itself would be a sufficient meditation, but it leaves something else.  In every major English translation, one more verse is included in the same paragraph, which is a quotation from Isaiah 52.

Isaiah 52:How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”

Repeated here in Romans:

As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

I love how the CEV put this:

The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.

Now, I’m going to read something into the text here, but I want you to humor me by following along here.  I think the CEV accurately conveys the picture here of the beauty of the sight of someone coming to bring the good news. But let’s assume for just a moment the beauty of the person themselves who comes.  (Not, obviously physical beauty, but spiritual beauty.)

If everything in the text is in reverse order, and if every translator sees the quotation as very directly linked to the other phrases, then what appears in the original form,

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent
  • that “sent someone” is a beautiful person!!

Then the adjusted order would be

  • the process described here begins with a beautiful person!!
  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

Again, I’ve done some “reading into” on the text here, but it does give you a different way of looking at the passage, and it is supported by further study of what it is to be the man or woman who God chooses.  Those of you who object strongly can leave a comment with the more traditional interpretations of the Isaiah passage’s presence here.

But I think God is looking for a “special someone” to relay the message to people in need, and he’s looking for that someone to have a beautiful spirit.  In other words, before we can assume a ministry, we need to cultivate the character of Christ within.

Someone once said there are two dimensions to a physical cross, and we can think of the vertical dimension as the depth of our relationship to God, and the horizontal as the breadth of expressing that relationship to the world around us. We are responsible for the depth of our ministry and God is responsible for the breadth of our ministry.

To get to be the sent one, to be the preacher, to see people respond and call out for salvation; all that has to begin with the formation of Christian character within.  You can’t expect to move in the gifts of the spirit until you have cultivated the fruit of the spirit.

~Paul Wilkinson

For some of you, the passage today reminded you of an older worship song; so here’s a link to Our God Reigns.

 

 

July 3, 2022

Letting Christ Be Seen

Throughout all the times we’ve borrowed material from writer Kevin Rogers, I really hope some of you have taken the time to become subscribers to his blog, The Orphan Age. It’s one of the best sources that we use here, and through social media — including re-posts by online friends — I’m always reminded of his newest articles and often click through. Kevin is a pastor in southwest Ontario, Canada.

Clicking the header which follows will take you to today’s devotional. While it’s written for fellow-pastors, there is application here for everyone.

When Preachers Get Out Of The Way

I apologize for any time that I have preached in ways to make myself look good or have tried to convince you through logic alone that I had the truth. If I have lulled you to sleep with my soothing voice and my words had no effect on you, please forgive me for thinking that it was important that you somehow owed me an audience.

The idea that preachers should be elevated to celebrity status is a temptation for both the pastor and his greatest fans. Paul started a church in the city of Corinth, a place where professional communicators were in demand.

Here’s an example of the showbiz side of philosophy and rhetoric.

A speech by the orator Favorinus (c. a.d. 80–150), who came from Arles in the south of France, is preserved in the corpus of speeches by his teacher Dio Chrysostom. Although the speech was delivered sometime after Paul’s day and in a period when the colony was becoming more Greek, it provides detail about the way in which orators addressed their audiences. After talking about the colorful and eminent visitors who had visited the city—including Arion, who was saved by a dolphin, Solon, the great lawgiver of the city of Athens, and the historian Herodotus—Favorinus recalled this about his second visit to the city:

You were so glad to see me that you did your best to get me to stay with you, but seeing that to be impossible, you did have a likeness made of me, and you took this and set it up in your Library, a front row seat as it were, where you felt it would most effectively stimulate the youth to persevere in the same pursuits as myself.[1]

Still today, there’s no mania like ego mania. When rappers brag about their status, wealth, sexual prowess, or clever way with words, it is entertainment. When preachers brag about their ministry and authority, it falls short of what God is looking for.

1 Corinthians 2:

1 And this was the way it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I didn’t come with fancy words or human wisdom. I preached to you the truth about God’s love. My goal while I was with you was to talk about only one thing. And that was Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. When I came to you, I was weak and very afraid and trembling all over. I didn’t preach my message with clever and compelling words. Instead, my preaching showed the Holy Spirit’s power. This was so that your faith would be based on God’s power. Your faith would not be based on human wisdom. (NIrV)

When I have preached effectively in my estimation, it is because Holy Spirit was hovering over listeners and whispering truths that they needed to hear more than my words. I have often had people tell me a message was meaningful and when asked to elaborate, they will tell me things that weren’t fully developed or just given a passing mention in the sermon. They are most affected by the things that I did not say. This is God’s power at work, not mine.

Paul was undoubtedly referring to his first journey to Corinth when the local church was established. The letter he now writes will address his pastoral perspective on all of the ways that these Jesus followers were struggling. It would appear that these Christians were wanting their preachers to be brilliant orators. Paul will now address that.

His first mission to Corinth was very focused. He communicated with one aim. The truth about God’s love in Jesus was all he cared about. For them to understand who Jesus is and the importance of his scandalous death meant everything.

Why was Paul coming in fear and trembling? Was it some medical condition or mental stress? Was preaching a trigger event that reminded him of the time he had the crowd throwing rocks to kill him or being flogged for preaching the gospel? Paul had been on the side of the oppressor and injured many of the early Christians. Now he was one and perhaps the irony was not lost on him.

Paul reminded the Corinthians of his aim. He wanted them to trust in God and not in the messenger God had sent. If Paul had depended on human wisdom and presented the plan of salvation as a philosophical system, then the Corinthians would have put their trust in an explanation. Because Paul declared the Word of God in the power of God, his converts put their faith in an experience: They knew God’s power at work in their own lives.[2]


[1] Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the New Testament ©2002

[2] NKJV Wiersbe Study Bible ©2021 by Thomas Nelson. All Rights Reserved


Note to C201 readers: Today Kevin is using the NIrV, a simplified version of the NIV which uses shorter sentences and a more limited vocabulary; ideal for children, and those for whom English is not their first language.

May 1, 2021

The Day the Grade Five Sunday School Teacher Taught Reincarnation

We begin with two scriptures:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly. ~James 3:1 NET

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! ~Matthew 18:6-7 NIV

I am reminded of a something that happened many years ago. The church secretary’s ten-year-old son announced at lunch that his Sunday School teacher believed in reincarnation. True story. There’s a family mealtime conversation for which I would love to have been a fly on the wall.

Needless to say, an investigation ensued, the child’s report was accurate, and the teacher was relieved of responsibilities.

I’ve probably shared this story about a dozen times in the twenty years since it happened, but only today did I ask myself, “I wonder if anybody ever set the woman straight?” Obviously, removing the teacher from the classroom was the first thing that needed to happen, but someone also needed to set her straight on why Christians don’t see themselves as having existed before in another form and then, at the end of this life, returning to earth in another life-form.

I would suspect that at the most elementary level, correction would entail some notion of the teaching that “It is appointed onto man once to die, and after that the judgement” Hebrews 9:27 KJV, italics added. A Christian theological understanding of man would assert that we don’t come back in some other form as taught in Spiritism or Hinduism.

About a year ago, I discovered something I had previously overlooked; namely, that in the various doctrines which join together to form a systematic theology (or as I prefer, a cohesive theology) there is a doctrine of man and for that the term used is anthropology, the same term we normally use to describe a particular discipline in the social sciences alongside things like psychology or sociology or philosophy. Perhaps you took ‘anthro’ in school but never thought of it in a doctrinal sense.In the list of branches of theology at Wikipedia, it’s listed as “Theological Anthropology”

  • Bible – the nature and means of its inspiration, etc.; including hermeneutics (the development and study of theories of the interpretation and understanding of texts and the topic of Biblical law in Christianity)
  • Eschatology – the study of the last things, or end times. Covers subjects such as death and the afterlife, the end of history, the end of the world, the last judgment, the nature of hope and progress, etc.
  • Christology – the study of Jesus Christ, of his nature(s), and of the relationship between his divinity and humanity;
  • Creation myths
  • Divine providence – the study of sovereignty, superintendence, or agency of God over events in people’s lives and throughout history.
  • Ecclesiology (sometimes a subsection of missiology)—the study of the Christian Church, including the institutional structure, sacraments and practices (especially the worship of God) thereof
  • Mariology – area of theology concerned with Mary…
  • Missiology (sometimes a subsection of ecclesiology)—God’s will in the world, missions, evangelism, etc.
  • Pneumatology – the study of the Holy Spirit, sometimes also ‘geist’ as in Hegelianism and other philosophico-theological systems
  • Soteriology – the study of the nature and means of salvation. May include Hamartiology (the study of sin), Law and Gospel (the study of the relationship between Divine Law and Divine Grace, justification, sanctification
  • Theological anthropology – the study of humanity, especially as it relates to the divine
  • Theology Proper – the study of God’s attributes, nature, and relation to the world. May include:
    • Theodicy – attempts at reconciling the existence of evil and suffering in the world with the nature and justice of God
    • Apophatic theology – negative theology which seeks to describe God by negation (e.g., immutable, impassible ). It is the discussion of what God is not, or the investigation of how language about God breaks down (see the nature of God in Western theology). Apophatic theology often is contrasted with “Cataphatic theology.”

The Bible’s truth and Christianity’s orthodoxy is not comprised solely of doctrines about God, but also teachings about the nature of man and the world.

But we’re digressing from our Sunday School teacher.

For the record, I have however in my limited contact with this person over the years encouraged them along the lines of deeper Bible study. It grieves me to think that someone could be in church for so many years and hold to views that are so far from orthodox. However, there are times when spiritual confrontation is appropriate.

I’m not sure at this point that it would be helpful to revisit a 25-year old discussion, nor to reveal I was party to something that might have been considered confidential at the time. But I am reminded of this verse:

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness… (Galatians 6:1 NRSV)

Brothers and sisters, if someone in your group does something wrong, you who are spiritual should go to that person and gently help make him right again. (same vs. NCV)

The context is more overt sin and wrongdoing, but the principle is the same: To gently guide that person to the right path, using scripture. In a very, very early post here on Christianity 201, I looked at 2 Timothy 3:16 (the one that begins, “All scripture is inspired…”) and suggested the following paraphrase:

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

■ shows us the path God would have us walk
■ highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
■ points the way back to the path
■ gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

The second point is most applicable here, but some remediation along the lines of the last point is important as well. Over the years I’ve seen that some people are simply “prone to wander.”

The chorus of the old hymn, “Brighten the Corner” describes this. While you might not fully understand all the nautical imagery, it’s easy to see the gist of the sentiment:

Brighten the corner where you are!
Brighten the corner where you are!
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
Brighten the corner where you are!

Our responsibility is threefold:

  1. To identify (discern) false teaching
  2. To remove the person caught in error from public ministry
  3. To try to restore that person to sound doctrine

As to point #2: This is for their benefit (to avoid being under judgement, as in today’s opening verses) and to prevent them from causing “little ones”(which can be literal in terms of children, or figurative in terms of people new to the faith) to stumble

We brighten the corner by shining light where light is needed.


The person in the story still attends the same church and still serves in a somewhat lesser capacity. They are in regular contact with people who are well-versed on the truths of Christianity and I believe are able to hold unorthodox beliefs in check.\


Previously on Christianity 201:

October 23, 2020

When You’ve Heard That Bible Passage Before

If you’ve lived a certain number of years as a follower of Christ, you’ve probably been in worship services enough times to have heard some popular narratives repeated many times. The speaker or teacher says, “Turn to Luke 15…” and before they can say “Verse 11,” you know it’s going to be The Prodigal Son parable, which, in all fairness, you’ve heard before.

At this point you might one of two possible reactions.

First, you can say to yourself, “I’ve heard this story before dozens and dozens of times. There’s nothing more you can do with this passage.” (The slightly more spiritual among you might add, with some resignation, “but maybe there’s someone else here today who needs to hear this.”)

Or you can breathe a quiet prayer and say, “Lord, reveal to me something in this narrative I haven’t seen before; something fresh you want to speak to me this day.”

I heard a Bible teacher once begin with a prayer that included, “…and if there’s anyone here who thinks they’ve heard all this before, help them to know that your desire is to imprint this indelibly on the tablets of their hearts.” (I actually have used that myself; see also footnote below.)

In Acts 8:26-40 Philip encounters a situation that looks like this:

NLT.26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia.* The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”

30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.

…if you don’t know the story continue reading here.

* The Voice Bible renders this, “a dignitary from Ethiopia (the treasurer for Queen Candace), an African man who had been castrated.”[italicized words supplemented]

Had the person in the carriage/chariot read this section of Isaiah before or was this a first reading? (That’s your homework question for today!) Either way, further illumination was needed.

But there’s a better example which for some of you is probably coming to mind. Post-resurrection (don’t you love that word!), Jesus encounters two people on the road to Emmaus, though only one of them is named.

NIV.14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

These two were not first-timers. They knew the scripture. They new the issue of the day. They, like so many, were looking forward to the coming of the anointed one, the Christ, the anointed one.

21 ... we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.

There hadn’t been a breakthrough.

There hadn’t been that “Ah-ha!” moment.

Until…

27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

…if you don’t know that story, continue reading here.

Can you imagine also being there and seeing the wheels start to turn in their heads? Or experiencing that along with them?

I’ve had many times when a book, a sermon video, a podcast, a Bible study group, or an in-person teaching has caused the wheels to turn, the light bulb to go off, and the… okay I ran out of analogies.

Some of these applications don’t stand the test of context, the test of the meaning of the original languages, or the test of consistency with the rest of scripture.

But most add to my understanding.

I may have heard it all before, but I need to hear it again.

Or hear it differently.


The idea of something “written on our hearts” can be found in these verses:

Hebrews 8:10  This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (NIV)

Jeremiah 31:33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (NIV)

Hebrews 10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them, after those days, says the Lord, putting My Laws into their hearts, and I will inscribe them into their mind” (BSB)

 

 

June 21, 2020

God Does Not Reveal His Blessings All at Once

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today again we have a new author to introduce. Sophia Lorena Benjamin is a blogger, author and mother of two kids. She likes encouraging, inspiring and motivating others through writing fiction novels and Bible based inspirations. Her blog is The God Minute but also contains some longer items, such as today’s devotional. Click the header which follows to read this at her site. You can also experience an expanded version of today’s teaching as an 11-minute video at this link.

Uncover the Hidden Blessing

These are the last words of David recorded in the Bible:

The inspired utterance of David, the son of Jesse, the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High. [2 Samuel 23:1]

While reading this verse, a few questions came to my mind.

‘Why does the passage highlight “son of Jesse”? Why did God inspire the writer to specifically mention this? Why not just say “King David?

To me that would have been a stronger, more powerful description.

I kept going back to the text. That is when the understanding came. Jesse, the father of David needed to be mentioned, as a memorial, particularly because these were going to be David’s final words on earth.

Going a bit back, chapter 15 of the book of Samuel narrates how God was displeased with King Saul for his disobedience and tells Samuel that He has chosen a future king to replace Saul and asks him to anoint one of Jesse’s sons. Only, God does not tell him which son.

Sometimes, precious blessings are hidden, and God does not reveal them in one go!

When the day of anointing arrived, Jesse showcases all his sons except David.

At first glance, Eliab, the oldest son of Jesse catches Samuel’s eye, he is an impressive young man. Looking at this tall and handsome man Samuel thinks this must be God’s choice for King. But God reminded Samuel that God’s anointed is not chosen because of physical attributes but that He bases His decisions on inward character and the  person’s heart. Samuel tells Jesse that none of the seven sons he presented are chosen and asks Jesse if he has any more sons.

Then, David, the youngest son of Jesse, who was taking care of the sheep is called and the spirit of God tells Samuel, Anoint him, he is the chosen one’.

The day David killed Goliath; Jesse had actually sent David to deliver food for his brothers. Up until that day, David’s own father had absolutely no idea that David was the chosen one of God.

You can be someone special yet remain insignificant for a prolonged period of time.

This reminds me of Abram before God changed his name to Abraham. In Genesis chapter 15 when God decrees a blessing over Abram, he is troubled and reasons with God that any blessings and wealth may not do much good as it will all be inherited by his servant. This was the time when Abram was old in age and childless.

Physical attributes often do not reveal the hidden potential that God can see.

God assures Abram that his own son would inherit the blessings and promises to bless him with children as many as the stars in number.

The Bible says Abram believed God which is accounted to him as righteousness which qualifies him to be holy.

God makes a big deal of ‘believing.’

In John chapter 1: Verse 45-46:

Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Nathanael’s response is filled with remorse. He believes that Nazareth is hopeless and nothing good can come out of a town with such low social status. But that was not the truth. Because while the people nurtured negative thoughts about their surroundings, God always had their town in His mind. God had chosen Nazareth as the birthplace for Jesus.

God chooses the least likely to accomplish His most important work.

What is our call to action?

Maybe you are like David, humble beginnings, no one realizing or willing to believe that you are chosen and gifted with the ability to make a difference. They are seeing you outwardly. The truth is, God is looking at the heart.  He looks at what you are on the inside.

Maybe you are like Abraham, blessed in one area and lacking in another. But God knows your specific need.

Maybe you are like Nathanael, feeling frustrated about your city, nation or circumstances. But know that God is mindful of you and each of your circumstances.

It is time to:

– Find truth, in the Word of God.
– Get closer to Jesus.
– Receive a fresh touch of the Holy Spirit.
– Know that God has a unique purpose for your life.
– Decree that there is uncommon favor reserved for you.
– Believe that in the middle of difficult situations are great opportunities.

Are you ready to uncover hidden blessings?

I look forward to your comments.


To view this message video, visit this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN7TqAKzy7Q

May 18, 2020

Drawing a Crowd Isn’t a Problem: It’s More Complicated

Previous generations didn’t have the word, “megachurch.” Of course they didn’t have “televangelist” either. There were indeed large churches, however and there were preachers (George Whitefield is a good example) who preached to thousands — in the outdoors, no less — without the benefit of sound equipment. But we tend to look back favorably on those days, believing it was a matter of substance over style.

Today, we have popular preachers whose television ministries have huge followings and whose close-up pictures are plastered on the front cover of their books. (No, not just that one; I’m thinking of about six.)

The general conclusion at which people arrive is that they are getting those followers because they are saying what people want to hear. On close examination, it’s true that many of the hooks of their sermons and books are positive motivational sayings that also work on posters and coffee mugs.

For those of us who are insiders, we immediately default to the phrase itching ears. This is drawn from 2 Timothy 4:3

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. (NLT)

This true, probably more true now than ever, but the challenge for Christians today is that everyone who drives by a church with an overflowing parking lot is likely to jump to conclusions and declare that church liberal in their theology or empty of doctrines; or infer that people only go there for the music.

It’s true that Jesus warned his disciples they were not going to win a popularity contest. In Matthew 7: 13-14 he tells his disciples,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (NIV)

and then immediately makes a statement about false teachers.

Jesus had his own fall from popularity when he began what I call the tough teachings and others call the “hard sayings.” A month ago I referred to “the ominously verse-referenced” John 6:66

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

Many of you grew up in churches where you were told you were part of “the chosen few” a reference to Matthew 22:14

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)

Jesus told his disciples that they would experience rejection in some places. In Matthew 10:14 he is saying,

If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.  (NLT)

In other words, there is, at least in Evangelicalism, a mindset that says that we are a tiny remnant, and by extrapolation is suspicious of large crowds.

But there are exceptions.

I think of an American pastor who since Christmas has been walking his church through some very challenging sermons; raising the bar when it comes to expectations for both compassionate service and lifestyle evangelism. But he’s not off in a corner doing this, it’s one of the top ten churches in the U.S.

I think of two Canadian pastors, from two very different eras, who have a giftedness when it comes to taking Bible passage “A” and showing people how it relates to Bible passage “B.” I’ve seen both of them preach before thousands of people. It was far from “itching ears;” you had to work hard just to keep up with the note-taking, which is challenging when you’re sitting there with your mouth open going, “Wow!”

I think of Nicodemus who we characterize as coming to Jesus in secret. I was always taught that was the reason for his nighttime visit in John 3. But lately I read that the rabbis set aside the early evening for further discussion. He was coming back for the Q. and A. part of the teaching. He wanted more. I find him to be representative of people in the crowd who were there for all the right reasons. (Compare his motivation to that of Felix in Acts 24:25-26.) The itching ears crowd don’t come back for the evening service, the Tuesday morning Bible study, or the midweek prayer meeting.

The website Knowing Jesus has come up with more than 30 good examples of Jesus being surrounded by crowds. True, the Bible tells us that some of them were simply there for the miracle spectacle or the free lunches, but I’m sure that many of them were drawn to Jesus for greater, higher reasons. (There’s a limit to how many hours people will listen to teaching in order to get a fish sandwich lunch.)

So where did all this come from today? A friend posted this on Facebook. I’ve decided to delete the original author’s name.

His words appear deep, meaningful and mature, but indirectly he is lashing out against individuals or movements which are left unnamed. He’s implying that everyone who is drawing a big crowd is doing so at the expense of preaching the Word. I suspect his words land with people who are already on-side, so I don’t really get the point of posting things like this at all.

Furthermore, the inference is that the sign of a successful ministry is suffering, hardship and opposition.

Like so many things in scripture, there is a balance to be found.

In Matthew 5:14 +16, we find Jesus saying

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
(NASB)

If all you experience is suffering, hardship and opposition, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing everything right, but rather, it could be you’re doing something seriously wrong.

Oswald Smith wrote the hymn which begins:

There is joy in serving Jesus
As I journey on my way
Joy that fills my heart with praises
Every hour and every day

I really hope that’s your experience as well.

August 29, 2017

Precept Upon Precept

When I wrote this article for Thinking Out Loud, I was expecting to write about three paragraphs. When I was finished it was much longer, and something that I felt would have been a good of not better fit here…

It began with a  conversation I had last week at the local Christian bookstore concerning Bible features. As the guy was looking at one in particular, he said, “Oh good, it’s got the precepts.”

The first time, it didn’t really register. Then he looked at another and said something like, “Does it have the precepts?”

Huh?

It turned out he was talking about what most of us would call cross references; the notations of other passages either in a center column or at the end of the verse where something related may be found.

The idea of ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ is taken from Isaiah 28:, 9-10 in the KJV. The NASB has:

To whom would He teach knowledge, And to whom would He interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast?  “For He says, ‘Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there.’”

The NLT is really contradictory to this idea on its rendering of this:

He tells us everything over and over–one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there!”

implying that the learning or teaching or knowledge is linear, but not necessarily cumulative. In other words, one line at a time, doesn’t mean that line B is necessarily building on line A, but to say upon is to imply that it is or does.

(In case you’re wondering if there’s any irony to be found, you’re wrong; the verse itself is reiterated in scripture, albeit 3 verses later in verse 13.)

As we discussed this the idea of “Out of the mouth of two [or three] witnesses was brought into the conversation. This is found in the Old Testament twice.

The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6, Holman)

A solitary witness against someone in any crime, wrongdoing, or in any sort of misdeed that might be done is not sufficient. The decision must stand by two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15, CEB)

Those OT passages are cited in the NT by Jesus and by Paul.

But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:16, NIV)

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  (2 Corinthians 13:1, ESV)

In the Corinthian example, you have to go back to the previous chapter to get the context. Paul is speaking about sorting out matters concerning people who have been found in sinful practices.

Capital crime. Wrongdoing. Sin. Denial of Sin. Nowhere do these passages suggest something related to “the establishing of doctrine.” But don’t get me wrong:

I believe the Bible always corroborates itself on matters of important doctrine.

In other words, it’s internally consistent. I’m just not sure that we need to force it [scripture] into a situation where everything has to be said twice or three times in order to establish a doctrinal pattern, or make it conform to an overarching systematic theology. Or, to come at it differently, it may reinforce something but in an entirely different way than our Western way of thinking can process too simply.

I think to do so is to doubt the value of what we read the first time. It’s saying to God, ‘Now, if you’ll just show me one more time where you say this, then I’ll obey.’ I think that undermines the text somehow. That doesn’t mean to imply that at a crossroads of life we don’t ask God for confirmation of what we are to do. There is the example of Gideon, who put out a second fleece.

So what are precepts? Yourdictionary.com says

precept pre·cept. … The definition of a precept is a guiding principle or rule that is used to control, influence or regulate conduct. An example of a precept is a commandment found in the Ten Commandments.

At that we would need to get into the differences between a rule and a principle. Principles are timeless, never location-specific, widely applicable. Rules apply to one group of people in one particular situation at one unique point in time. The rest of that we need to save for another day.

A cross-reference is simply:

•noun: cross reference; plural noun: cross references
–a reference to another text or part of a text, typically given in order to elaborate on a point.

Anyone who has been reading the Bible for any length of time knows that sometimes the Bible editors have chosen to take us to a reference to a rather obscure part of the verse, not something which indicates its overall meaning. There are times when I have been completely mystified as to the inclusion of a particular reference. Many of you know the danger of over-spiritualizing things, and I don’t want to be guilty of under-spiritualizing something, but… They’re. Just. Cross-references.

Here’s my concluding statements on this:

We read scripture not so much because we’re trying to learn precepts as we are recognizing the importance of understanding the ways of God.

and

If God is saying something to us with unmistakable clarity through a scripture passage, we don’t need to start hunting around looking for a second verse.

November 19, 2015

Teaching Bible Students the Skills Needed for Bible Living

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

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

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

3 Skills Bible Teachers Must Teach

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

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

Shameless Truth-Tellers

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

Three Skills Necessary for Bible Students

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

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

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

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

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

2. Teach your students how to learn.

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

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

3. Teach your students how to work.

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

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

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

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

Our job is to help them love Bible study.

 

October 10, 2014

The Purpose of Prophecy

Rev 19:9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

10 At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.”
(NIV)

Two weeks ago I felt strongly that I was to share Revelation 19:10b with readers here but wasn’t sure exactly what it was I was to add to the passage.  Here are a few translations of this verse:

  • For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus. (NLT)
  • For the testimony about Jesus is essentially the prophetic spirit. (The Voice)
  • Those who tell about Jesus have the spirit of a prophet. (Worldwide English)
  • the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (KJV)
  • For the truth that Jesus revealed is what inspires the prophets. (Good News/TEV)
  • Everyone who tells about Jesus does it by the power of the Spirit. (CEV)
  • For the substance (essence) of the truth revealed by Jesus is the spirit of all prophecy [the vital breath, the inspiration of all inspired preaching and interpretation of the divine will and purpose, including both mine and yours]. (AMP)

Days later however, the top religious news story was the release of a new movie based on the Left Behind books. Those books are, to most people and many Christians, the essence of prophecy. However…

In the Bible prophecy does not refer to foretelling but rather to forthtelling.

I remember as a young adult the first time my pastor referred to prophecy as “powerful preaching.” “No, no!” I wanted to scream, “It’s about being able to tell the future; being given supernatural knowledge to know what is going to happen next.” You see, I had been greatly influenced by the Charismatic movement and got caught up in the sensational and supernatural aspects of the gifts of the spirit; the signs; the wonders.

I still consider myself a post-Charismatic. I still believe in the limitless power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that God indeed does give people insights into the future, but this is more through the gifts we call the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom; and even those are more concerned with seeing things as they are, not necessarily what will be.

The gift of prophecy is in no way connected to the fortune tellers who occupy low-rent business locations and invite clients to learn where they are to live or whom they are to marry. It’s more about speaking plainly and in the power and authority that God gives to speak into a person’s life, or to a situation; and then to point them to Christ.

Prophecy is indeed speaking in power and testifying to Jesus.  Charles Stanley writes:

Very seldom does the Lord God reveal a future event to us. The motivational gift of prophecy is primarily concerned with speaking forth the truth. The Word of God helps us to understand characteristics and avoid misunderstandings associated with the gift of prophecy, and it shows us how we use that gift when we walk in the Spirit.

…continue reading a 9-point outline on prophecy

The IVP New Testament Commentary offers this:

The apparent meaning is that those who have the testimony of Jesus—the angel, John and John’s brothers (fellow believers)—are all prophets. Prophets are bearers of the word of God, and in this book “the word of God” and “the testimony of Jesus” are inseparable (see 1:2, 9; 20:4). We learn now that the testimony of Jesus is not only a message about Jesus but also a message from Jesus the risen Lord. His is the one voice behind the many prophetic and angelic voices echoing through the pages of this book. So the testimony of Jesus is the spirit or essence of Christian prophecy. Whether it is also “the spirit of the prophecy,” referring to the book of Revelation itself (1:3; 22:7, 18-19), is more difficult to say (it does have the definite article in Greek). If it is, then the testimony of Jesus is virtually equivalent to the title “revelation of Jesus Christ” at the beginning of the book (1:1).

Although I couldn’t find an exact quotation on this, I love how Canadian pastor Bruxy Cavey teaches on the times where Bible prophecy does involve looking into the future. He says that the point is not to look forward but after the events have come to pass to look back and realize that God had it all under his control all the time. God knew about it all along.

In the meantime, the words of our mouths, and the meditations of our hearts should be all about testifying to Jesus. To Him be the honor, the power and the glory, both now and in the unknown future yet to come.

 

 

April 27, 2014

Teacher Trouble

This morning, the sermon I heard included these two scriptures:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly. ~James 3:1 NET

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! ~Matthew 18:6-7 NIV

As I listened, I was reminded of a something that happened many years ago. The church secretary’s ten-year-old son announced at lunch that his Sunday School teacher believed in reincarnation. There’s a family mealtime conversation for which I would love to have been a fly on the wall.

Needless to say, an investigation ensued, the child’s report was accurate, and the teacher was relieved of responsibilities.

I’ve probably shared this story about a dozen times in the twenty years since it happened, but only today did I ask myself, “I wonder if anybody ever set the woman straight?” Obviously, removing the teacher from the classroom was the first thing that needed to happen, but someone also needed to set her straight on why Christians don’t see themselves as having existed before in another form and then, at the end of this life, returning to earth in another life-form.

About a year ago, I discovered something I had previously overlooked; namely, that in the various doctrines which join together to form a systematic theology (or as I prefer, a cohesive theology) there is a doctrine of man and for that the term used is anthropology, the same term we normally use to describe a particular discipline in the social sciences alongside things like psychology or sociology or philosophy. Perhaps you took ‘anthro’ in school but never thought of it in a doctrinal sense.1  In the list of branches of theology at Wikipedia, it’s listed as “Theological Anthropology”

  • Bible – the nature and means of its inspiration, etc.; including hermeneutics (the development and study of theories of the interpretation and understanding of texts and the topic of Biblical law in Christianity)
  • Eschatology – the study of the last things, or end times. Covers subjects such as death and the afterlife, the end of history, the end of the world, the last judgment, the nature of hope and progress, etc.
  • Christology – the study of Jesus Christ, of his nature(s), and of the relationship between his divinity and humanity;
  • Creation myths
  • Divine providence – the study of sovereignty, superintendence, or agency of God over events in people’s lives and throughout history.
  • Ecclesiology (sometimes a subsection of missiology)—the study of the Christian Church, including the institutional structure, sacraments and practices (especially the worship of God) thereof
  • Mariology – area of theology concerned with Mary…
  • Missiology (sometimes a subsection of ecclesiology)—God’s will in the world, missions, evangelism, etc.
  • Pneumatology – the study of the Holy Spirit, sometimes also ‘geist’ as in Hegelianism and other philosophico-theological systems
  • Soteriology – the study of the nature and means of salvation. May include Hamartiology (the study of sin), Law and Gospel (the study of the relationship between Divine Law and Divine Grace, justification, sanctification
  • Theological anthropology – the study of humanity, especially as it relates to the divine
  • Theology Proper – the study of God’s attributes, nature, and relation to the world. May include:
    • Theodicy – attempts at reconciling the existence of evil and suffering in the world with the nature and justice of God
    • Apophatic theology – negative theology which seeks to describe God by negation (e.g., immutable, impassible ). It is the discussion of what God is not, or the investigation of how language about God breaks down (see the nature of God in Western theology). Apophatic theology often is contrasted with “Cataphatic theology.”

But we’re digressing from our Sunday School teacher. I’m not sure at this point that it would be helpful to revisit a 20-year old discussion, nor to reveal I was party to something that might have been considered confidential at the time.2 But I am reminded of this verse:

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness… (Galatians 6:1 NRSV)

Brothers and sisters, if someone in your group does something wrong, you who are spiritual should go to that person and gently help make him right again. (same vs. NCV)

 

The context is more overt sin and wrongdoing, but the principle is the same: To gently guide that person to the right path, using scripture.  (See my treatment of II Timothy 3:16, especially the final paraphrase.)

The chorus of the old hymn, “Brighten the Corner” describes this. While you might not fully understand all the nautical imagery, it’s easy to see the gist of the sentiment:

Brighten the corner where you are!
Brighten the corner where you are!
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
Brighten the corner where you are!

Our responsibility is threefold:

  1. To identify (discern) false teaching
  2. To remove the person caught in error from public ministry3
  3. To try to restore that person to sound doctrine

1Not having engaged in this study formally, I would suspect that at the most elementary level, it would entail some notion of the teaching that “It is appointed onto man once to die, and after that the judgement” Hebrews 9:27 KJV, italics added. A Christian theological understanding of man would assert that we don’t come back in some other form as taught in Spiritism or Hinduism.

2I have however in my limited contact with this person over the years encouraged them along the lines of deeper Bible study. It grieves me to think that someone could be in church for so many years and hold to views that are so far from orthodox. However, there are times when spiritual confrontation is appropriate.

3This is for their benefit (to avoid being under judgement, as in today’s opening verses) and to prevent them from causing “little ones”(which can be literal in terms of children, or figurative in terms of people new to the faith) to stumble.

April 28, 2013

Nature Reflects Spiritual Truth

As a general rule here, we begin with text. Next, we move into exposition or commentary on that text. Hopefully, the writers end with a practical application.

It’s not so at every website or blog online. Many begin with stories. Sometimes the stories are related somehow, but there is a danger when the story comes first and then text is squeezed in at the end to suit a predetermined message. We ought to allow the text to speak.

However, sometimes we find stories based on realities of life in the natural world. These are often stronger illustrations as the natural world often mirrors truths in the spiritual world and I truly believe that from the moment of creation, God left us these parallels to discover.

Our online friends Stephen and Brooksyne Weber deal with this in Friday’s devotional at DailyEncouragement.net and while you need to link to read the entire piece, here is the part where they address this issue directly with a rather interesting example. But first, their text:

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:21). “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

…Those reading this material over time realize I have a tendency to learn lessons in the regular stuff of life and I recall a spiritual lesson that goes way back to that old brick dormitory. Now I want to warn you that some may find this particular illustration distasteful.

If you were to get up in the night to use the bathroom as soon as you turned on the bathroom light you’d see roaches of all sizes, mostly mammoth, scurrying to cover. Brooksyne recalls that the girl’s dorm also had this interesting educational feature, perhaps a real living illustration for those preparing for the mission field.

In the Gospel of John, he made an association between this Scripture and our scurrying roach observation. “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:21). Now roaches are not evil (although I sure wouldn’t care to gather them as pets). They are just creatures doing what they were created to do, however distasteful we may find it. They live and do their deeds in the darkness.

That’s not God’s design for His special creation. We were created to live in His light. A foundational aspect of the redemptive work of Christ is marvelously described in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”

Next time you see a roach, consider the contrast of light and darkness – remember God calls you to live in His wonderful light and to carry out deeds that are viewed favorably in the light of day!

February 27, 2013

Howard Hendricks Quotations

“You’re looking at a completely fulfilled human being. If I died today having produced some of the people God has given me the privilege of shaping, it will have been worth showing up on the planet.”

—Prof Hendricks to the Dallas Morning News, 2003

Many in the Christian blogosphere took time last week to pay tribute to Howard Hendricks.  Some of his books included As Iron Sharpens Iron, A Life of Integrity, Teaching to Change Lives, The 7 Laws of the Teacher, and Living By The Book. He was a mentor to many, taught the mentoring principle through his teaching and writing. You can read one such tribute at Daily Encouragement, and  at Dallas Theological Seminary’s online magazine.

The mentoring principle in scripture is best expressed in the relationship between the Apostle Paul and Timothy, who joins Paul at the beginning of Acts 16:

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named  Timothy,  the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek.  He was well spoken of by  the brothers  at Lystra and Iconium.  Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him…    (ESV)

and in the introduction to his first letter to Timothy, Paul refers to him as a spiritual son:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy my true son in the faith. Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

That’s the kind of relationship Howard Hendricks felt every mature Christian should have, and it works both ways; you can ask yourself, ‘Who is my Paul and who is my Timothy?” Sometimes we can emphasize one over the other; we are being helped and influenced by one person but not passing that on; or, conversely, we are constantly giving of ourselves to nurture another person, but nobody is guiding and shaping us.  Yes, it is God that forms us, but his desire is that we grow in community. Yes, God uses His Word to teach us, but he also works through other believers He places in our lives.

Many of Hendricks’ quotations online are one-liners from his teachings, but we’ve also included some longer quotations below as well.

  • howard_hendricksIf your religion does not work at home, don’t export it.
  • Succeeding in business and failing at home is a cop-out. For no success in the workplace will ever make up for failure at home.
  • There is no fear of judgment for the man who judges himself according to the Word of God.
  • A good leader has a compass in their head and a magnet in their heart.Our problem is that we are in the Word but not under the Word.
  • You cannot impart what you do not possess.
  • How big is your God? The size of your God determines the size of everything.
  • The Bible was written not to satisfy your curiosity but to help you conform to Christ’s image.
  • If you leave the church service thinking about how good the pastor was, he has missed the mark. If you leave consumed with Christ, the pastor has been used by the Lord.
  • Man is the only animal which you can pat on the back and his head swells up.

A webpage devoted to Dr. Hendricks at Talbot Theological Seminary contains some longer quotations of which these are two:

The greatest tragedy among Christians today is that too many of us are under the Word of God, but not in it for ourselves. (p. 9) The genius of the Word of God is that it has staying power; it can stand up to repeated exposure. In fact, that’s why it is unlike any other book. You may be an expert in a given field. If you read a book in that field two or three times you’ve got it. You can put it on the shelf and move on to something else. But that’s never true of the Bible. Read it over and over again, and you’ll see things that you’ve never seen before. (p. 81) I think the great need among God’s people today is to get into Scripture for themselves. And because they are not doing so, they are losing the fizz in their spiritual life. They are flat and lukewarm. Nothing is more repulsive. People are weary of words, but they are starving for authenticity. (p. 340)

Living by the book. Chicago: Moody Press. (1991)

Perhaps you find yourself talking more these days and enjoying it less. If so, you may be on the verge of the greatest breakthrough in your Christian life and ministry. Nothing is as easy as talking; nothing is as difficult as communicating. Those to whom you and I effectively communicate are changed; they are never quite the same again. I believe communication is one of the most delicate and critical tasks ever to confront the human mind—especially communicating in the spiritual realm. Here the results affect not only time but eternity. (p. 24)The man or woman who stops learning today stops communicating tomorrow. (p. 26) I have found that the closer I get to an individual, the more influence I have on his life. I talk to many students; unfortunately, I teach very few. Those I teach, I change, and that requires personal involvement. (p. 58)

Say it with Love. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books. (1972)

December 7, 2012

Jesus Began With Text

Well Marked Bible

The gospels provide us with a number of snapshots of Jesus teaching in what we would consider informal situations. Most are outdoor. In one he is in a boat. His longest recorded sermon takes place on a plateaued section of land that earns it the title of Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) or Sermon on the Plain (Luke). One is in a location so remote that food for the crowd becomes an issue.

But we don’t see anything of Jesus teaching, as we would say it now, “in church.” Except of course for Luke chapter 4.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

Although the Biblical text doesn’t use ellipsis (or I suppose the plural should be ellipses) we get that dramatic moment when he says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled…”  Then we get the oft-quoted line about a prophet not being honored in his own country (or county, or hometown). And then we get a hint in verse 26 and 27 of more of his message that produces the reaction in verse 28.

My point today is simply that in the only “church” sermon we have from Jesus, he began with text.

‘But;’ you are thinking, ‘That’s how they did it back then; that was the order of service so to speak in that synagogue.’

I’ll grant you that one.

But as someone who tries to prepare these daily devotionals drawing on the best of the Christian blogosphere, I am somewhat grieved by the volume of words produced each day that do not begin with any particular reference to Biblical text.

Some days, I spend upwards of 30-minutes scanning online for something that fits the albeit traditional Bible-based format here; without of course resorting to reblogging the same authors week after week; something I believe they would tire of eventually. (In nearly 1,000 posts; only once have we been asked to remove something.)

Instead, I find all manner of articles; many of which I enjoy; many of which inform me; many of which make it into the link list at Thinking Out Loud, but mostly all of which are inappropriate for what we’re trying to accomplish here.

Did nobody read a verse of scripture which impressed them in a new way or perhaps even for the first time? Did no one find that like “a word fitly spoken in the right time” a scripture verse opened up at a key moment in life held both deep personal meaning and broad general application?  It has been said,

Of all the major religions of the world, Christians are the least acquainted with their own sacred writings.

Perhaps we’ve been sufficiently offended by the bibliolatry of fundamentalists, that we’ve marginalized The Good Book somewhat. The general sense you get in the Christian blogosphere is that the traditional examination of scripture is somewhat passé and even a little boring.

I’m not trying to be a dinosaur here. On the ‘exegetical versus topical’ debate, I land clearly in the middle. I love edgy. I love refreshing. I love new forms.

But I clearly believe that most of the things being posted online today simply won’t matter much in five months, let alone five years.

Of course, Jesus had a special anointing on his ministry. Only he could have said the line that literally rocked the house, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

But you and I can do that on a different scale. We can mine the vault that is God’s word, we can examine the various refractions of light in the jewel that is God’s word, we can plot a course on the map and compass that is God’s word; and then we can say to the world, “This was written for you, today.”

For those who aspire to preach, the most powerful and authoritative words in any given church service are these:

“Take your Bible and turn with me to the book of…”


Read more about the transformative power of scripture.

November 25, 2012

The Importance of Preaching

Being Sunday, many of you experienced preaching at some point in the last 24 hours. Here is a blog post — currently the only blog post — at the blog Inspired Preaching which is mostly a video collection of today’s popular Bible teachers from a variety of doctrinal perspectives. The title is What is Preaching; be sure to click through and then explore the rest of the website.

 

Without question, preaching is the most powerful form of communication on the earth. 

Why? Because it is a supernatural activity prescribed by God himself.

“God said,” and there was. Mankind, made in God’s image and likeness, possesses the same power to speak life into darkness and create tangibility from the unseen world.

And so it is with the power of preaching, a gift on select men and women by God’s divine choosing; to ignite the hearts and minds of people; to save, liberate and propel believers into their God-given destiny.

Since the days of Noah, faithful men have preached the uncompromising gospel with power and conviction to whoever will listen.

Jesus of Nazareth – God in the flesh – launched his ministry from a pulpit and the Book of Isaiah…

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised… Luke 4:18

From that point, Jesus ruled his world with his Word, turning society upside down in the process…

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John… Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. Matthew 11:12-13 & Luke 15:16

Some received the Word. Some didn’t. But only by the Word were they saved and set free.

After Christ’s ascension, the apostle Peter preached the first church into existence. And as Peter preached to the Jews, Paul unleashed on the Gentiles, establishing Christ-centered local churches through the gospel of peace. Said Paul…

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! Romans 10:14-16

Strong’s translates preaching as the Greek word, Eaggelizō, which is to…

  • Proclaim good news
  • Announce glad tiding of the coming kingdom of God and of the salvation to be obtained in it through Christ. And of what relates to this salvation, and to instruct concerning the things that pertain to Christian salvation.

And so it is today, that there has never been a more important time to spread the gospel (in its preached form) to the ends of the earth, and to whoever will hear it, for the saving of souls and to build the church Christ died for.

Through this website, Inspired Preaching is dedicated to that purpose.

Do you know Christ? Watch this 2-minute message right now.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

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