Christianity 201

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.

August 21, 2017

Four Things Which Give Our Scriptures Power

For the third year in a row in August, we’re paying a return 2-day visit to the website Gospel-Centered Discipleship. This is Day 2. The post today is an excerpt from a larger piece, so to read the full introduction you need to click the title below. The writer this time around is Maryland pastor Sean Nolan. For scriptures today, click the individual links.

4 Weighty Attributes of Scripture

#1 – Indispensable

One of the many grievances Martin Luther raised with the church of his day was the lack of emphasis on the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith.

By overemphasizing human works, through the sacraments and the sale of indulgences, there was a widespread loss of the means of salvation. Much of mankind, without access to the Scriptures, was being misled to believe that by jumping through hoops of performance laid out by the Roman Catholic Church they would be made right with God and earn salvation.

It was upon reading Romans 1:17—“the just shall live by faith”—that Luther’s eyes were opened to see that the means of salvific grace were not earned but rather received freely by faith. Just how does one respond in faith to God? That too is revealed in the Scriptures:

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. – Romans 10:17

Here we see that the Bible is indispensable in matters pertaining to faith. In order to reconcile mankind to himself, God sent Jesus Christ to incur his wrath upon the cross. Jesus then rose from the dead miraculously, exhibiting his victory over sin and death. The mystery of Christ is revealed only through the Scriptures (Eph. 3:3-4).

Without hearing the words of Christ, contained in the Scriptures, mankind is incapable of hearing the gospel and responding in faith. Their importance cannot be understated.

The Reformation’s recovery of the indispensability of Scripture can be visibly seen in worship services today. Whereas the Roman Church places communion at the center of its worship, the preaching of the Bible is the center for those following in the Reformation tradition for: How are they to hear without someone preaching (Rom. 10:14)?

Saying the Scriptures are indispensable, however, isn’t enough. When we start to uncover the mysteries contained within, we might be inclined to think only a professional—a priest or pastor—is capable of comprehending them. But the Scriptures themselves tell us all believers are part of a “royal priesthood” and are called to proclaim (i.e. preach) the excellencies of Christ (1 Pt. 2:9). For this reason, the Scriptures aren’t simply indispensable, but clear.

#2 – Clear

…When we say the Bible speaks with clarity on matters pertaining to faith and practice we bring three presuppositions to the table. First, we assume those turning to its pages for wisdom and guidance have trusted in Jesus for salvation and have been born again by his Spirit (Jn. 3:3); for his sheep hear his voice (Jn. 10:27) within its pages.

Second, when we say that Scripture is clear we don’t mean that everything contained within is easily understandable. We simply mean that God’s Word is not cryptic or meant to confuse its readers.

Finally, we do not mean we have the correct insight into the meaning of every sentence of Scripture. Some look at the differences in interpretation between different sects of Christianity as evidence the Bible is unclear and untrustworthy. I maintain that the things of ultimate importance in regards to faith and salvation are free from obscurity and those passages over which there are disputes are not what Paul calls “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

After clearing these hurdles, we are left with a Bible that is clear and the only means God has left us with to discover truth about himself. Because the Reformers were convinced of Scripture’s clarity, they fought against a two-tiered Christianity in which only clergy were allowed access to the Word of God. Because Scripture’s clear and accessible to all who have received the Spirit of God, it should be placed in every Christian’s hands.

Here’s a few reasons why:

  • For when we have insight into the revelation of God, we cannot be deceived by Satan, even when he is masquerading as a priest of the light (2 Cor. 11:14).
  • It is the duty of every Christian to weigh what pastors and preachers teach by the light given in the Bible (Acts 17:11).
  • The clarity of the Scriptures give us access to the only weapon (Eph. 6:17) we need for our spiritual battle (Eph. 6:12).

#3 – Enough

While saying that the Scripture is clear and indispensable, we have not yet grasped the totality of its importance. It is possible that by stopping here, we could view it as a good place to start, but later abandon it in search of some further revelation from God. However, Scripture is enough for the Christian life.

The totality of Jesus’s work in securing salvation for sinners is chronicled within the pages of Scripture. Jesus now sits at the right hand of God (Heb. 1:3) because his salvific work is complete (Jn. 19:30). The work now done by the Church is not done to secure salvation; it was already secured by Christ. The Church’s work, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is to spread the good news of what Jesus has already completed on our behalf.

For this reason, we should diligently guard the sufficiency of Scripture. We have all we need in its pages. When this truth is undermined by adding the sacraments to salvation or by lifting tradition or papal decrees to the same level as biblical canon, we must turn back to Scripture to correct false teaching (2 Tim. 3:16).

On the other hand, by saying the Bible is enough we confirm the Reformation mantra “semper reformanda” (“always reforming”). In other words, one of the living Church’s endeavors is not clever innovation, but bringing itself into further alignment with the teaching of Scripture.

The historical innovation of indulgences was to be refuted by Scripture during the reformation, and this same principle guides the Church and protects her purity today when “new” false teachings arise.

Because the Bible is enough, doctrinal novelty should never be sought. When a modern-day preacher or “prophet” presents some teaching that lies outside the clear instruction of Scripture, a Christian is under no obligation to believe or obey it. Scripture is enough, and its teaching is complete.

#4 – Authority

The Reformers believed that the truth claims of Scripture command nothing less than our total obedience. I’ve been careful thus far to avoid using the term “Protestant.” That is because it was not Luther’s intent to protest the Church at Rome, but to bring it into submission to the Word of God. Only after its refusal to hear his appeals, did it become necessary to break away.

As Luther famously stated during his refusal to recant, his “conscience was captive to the Word of God.” It was his conviction, like the Apostle Paul, that God would be true even if every man on Earth were a liar (Rom. 3:4).

One of the blocks that drove the wedge between the Reformers and the Roman Church was the question of Scripture’s authority. It was the fiery conviction of Luther that the Scriptures alone were the final authority on matters of doctrine and faith and stood above papal decrees or tradition.

The Roman Church fired back that the canon of Scripture itself was determined by the Church and couldn’t be separated from tradition. In contrast, the Reformers rightly concluded that the Church did not determine what writings were Scripture but simply recognized the clear voice of God within them (Jn. 10:27).

Peter, reflecting back upon his mountaintop experience with Jesus where he saw Moses, the author of the Law, and Elijah, the chief of the prophets, appear in all their glory, concluded that the Bible was more trustworthy (2 Pt. 1:19). In other words, even the most magnificent miraculous experience pales in comparison to the trustworthy authority of Scripture.

You Can Never Upgrade Scripture

 

June 3, 2017

The Bible: Additions and Deletions

NIV Revelation 22: 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

Are these concluding words in Revelation 22 intended to refer to that book only, or do they apply to the whole Bible? Or is this expressing an even broader principle?

Jon Rittenbaugh writes:

Though these words were written specifically about the book of Revelation, the principle is significant in light of today’s church. Christ’s concern at the very end is that His people do not deviate from what is written in the book. To remain in His safety, a Christian must be submissive to Him, worshiping Him in every aspect of life, continuing to develop in Christian freedom, not enveloped by an attitude that may prove to be spiritually fatal.

The classic commentary Albert Barnes Notes suggests it only applies to the one book, but somewhat hedges on other application:

The reference here is to the book of Revelation only – for at that time the books that now constitute what we call the Bible were not collected into a single volume. This passage, therefore, should not be adduced as referring to the whole of the sacred Scriptures. Still, the principle is one that is thus applicable; for it is obvious that no one has a right to change any part of a revelation which God makes to man; to presume to add to it, or to take from it, or in any way to modify it. Compare… 2 Timothy 3:16

Almost humorously, John Gill reminds his readers that commentary (i.e. his own) does not constitute an addition, but also speaks of creating other writings which would have equal footing.

To “add” to the things contained in this book, is not to deliver, or write an exposition of it, in a modest manner, with a sincere view to give light into it, agreeably to the analogy of faith; for to expound Scripture, or to preach from it, consistent with it, is not to add unto it, but to give the sense of it; but then may it be said to be added unto, and so this book, when it is wrested and perverted, and a false gloss is put upon it, as the Pharisees did upon the law; and when unwritten traditions are made to be equal to it, or above it, as the same persons made the traditions of the elders, whereby they transgressed the law, and made the word of God of none effect, and so broke through the precept given, Deuteronomy 4:2 as do the Papists in like manner; and when men pretend to visions and revelations, and make them the rule of faith and practice, and to confirm things that are neither in this book, nor in any other part of the word of God; and when men interpolate it, and set up human fictitious writings upon equal authority with it; which shows the authenticity of this book, and of all the whole Scripture, and the perfection of it, whose canon is closed with it: the punishment of such a crime follows…

For some readers here “human fictitious writings” or books with “equal authority” may have suggested to you The Catechism of the Catholic Church. I thought a Catholic response might be in order. On this forum, the points made are:

  • the Protestant Bible subtracts seven books
  • the large number of Protestant denominations suggests varying interpretations (this is a frequent argument raised by Roman Catholics)
  • it applies only to the Book of Revelation
  • the full canon of scripture did not yet exist when this was written
  • the scriptures, as they knew them at that point, were the books of the Hebrew bible.

Note: This issue is also is also particularly sensitive to members of the LDS Church, especially as it applies to The Book of Mormon. Space doesn’t permit us to explore that here.

The fullest and lengthiest commentary I discovered on this was at life-everlasting.net.  The author, David Simon, looked at several different aspects of this verse, for example:

  • What does it mean to have one’s part in the tree of life taken away? This is a part of the verse that is often under-examined. What does this say about the eternal security of the believer?
  • Another overlooked part is the reference to those who “hear” the words. Communication was mostly oral at that time, so today we might interpret this to includes “hears or reads” (though we are increasingly moving back toward more oral transmission).
  • The best example of “adding to” is mentioned here, namely all of the additional “weight” the Pharisees added to the law. The similarity to legalistic groups in contemporary Christianity is striking.
  • What about subtraction? The author says that this is, “more than rubbing out some words. It concerns the denial of the prophecies contained in Revelation, and hence the denial of the authority of this book and the Bible as a whole. Denying the authority of the Book, denies God…” equating this to what is often referred to as “the unforgivable sin” of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
  • The author concludes that such activity can be seen as a “sign” of person’s spiritual state: “…persons committing these acts are unsaved… evidence of the unsaved state of a person, whatever he or she says, is that he or she will add or take from Scripture, nullifying the prophecies of God. Such a person cannot be saved, for they will deny the saving grace of God.”

There is much more at that website, and I’ll repeat the link and encourage you to visit.

 

 

November 3, 2016

The Bible’s Proper Place

by Clarke Dixon

Imagine this scenario: The teenagers of our church have grown up into their twenties and have left town to attend colleges and universities elsewhere. Meanwhile society has shifted and governments have changed so that there is now a hostile climate for Christianity. In fact, officials have stormed our church service, rounded us all up and sent us to prison. We learn that we are all to be executed. We also learn that while things are not as bad for our youth away in other towns, things are not good there either. We can send a letter to them. What would you write?

This is not unlike what we have in the book of 2nd Timothy where Paul is in prison in Rome awaiting execution. He has the opportunity to send a letter to a young pastor in Ephesus named Timothy. What does he write?

10 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 2nd Timothy 3:10 – 17 (NRSV)

Let us summarize: “Timothy, you will be surrounded by bad people, but as for you, be good, keeping the scriptures central.” This is just as important a message for us in our day. In fact we can consider how “be good, keeping God’s revelation front and centre” is proper for us as individuals, families, churches, and as a nation.

For individuals – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

When Paul speaks of “the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” in verse 15, we may immediately think of salvation in terms of what it means for us when we die. The Scriptures do instruct us on such things as they help us see our need for, and God’s provision of, grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. But salvation is a two-sided coin. On the one side we may think of the destination, eternity with God. On the other we can consider the journey, life with God now. The Scriptures also instruct us for the salvation journey as the Holy Spirit transforms us step by step along the way. This second side of the salvation coin, the journey, is in mind when Paul goes on to say that

16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work

So as individuals, be good, keeping God’s revelation central!

For families – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

It is sometimes said that faith is a private and personal thing. This is actually a ridiculous statement for how can it be? As I respond to the call to be good, keeping God’s Word central, how can my family be unaffected? As God transforms individuals, He also transforms the experience of those in relationship with those individuals. There is a direct impact on my family and friends when I seek to be good, keeping the wisdom of the Bible central in things like avoiding drunkenness, alcoholism, gambling, adultery, pornography, and the like. There is also a direct impact when I seek to be good like Jesus, as I read about him in the Bible, learning to bear a cross, learning how to love and forgive, and the like. There is a direct impact on my family, friends, and even enemies, when my life evidences the fruit of the Spirit:

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

The Holy Spirit uses scripture to awaken in us a greater desire for such fruit than the kind of fruit Adam and Eve went after. It is good for families, indeed all relationships, to be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

For churches – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

Ask what makes for a good church and you can get a wide variety of responses like good parking, good facility, great speaking, great music, great programming and so on. You can build a great organization without ever cracking open a Bible. However, to form a good people you will need to open the Bible. The Church is not an organization that happens to made up of people, it is a people who happen to get organized. Though not very organized sometimes! To have a great church, we will want to be good, keeping the Bible central.

For our nation – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

What makes Canada great? Some people will say that it is our multiculturalism. However, are we really all that multicultural? There are things that appear to be acceptable, or even promoted in some other cultures that we would think barbaric here. Even the most ardent proponent of multiculturalism in Canada has their limits. So we are not as multicultural as we think we are, for there is a sense of Canadian culture, of limits in what is not acceptable. Where do we get this from? Though we are moving away from it, our culture still owes a great debt to Christian ethics. The Bible has given us a good foundation on which to build a nation. We should not be surprised by this as we are told the Bible is useful for “training in righteousness” (verse 16). Consider, for example, how the opening chapters of the Bible teach us about the dignity of every human being. Those who who would push us to become a fully secular state have difficulty accounting for why, objectively, we ought to value every person. This is just one example of many.

I am a secularist in the sense that I do not think a person should ever be compelled to be a Christian to be a Canadian. Nor should a non-believer be forced to pray a believer’s prayer. However, I also see how Biblical values have served our nation well. We are a nation that enjoys a bit of multiculturalism and a bit of secularism. We can appreciate that. But our nation has also been marinating in Christianity for a long time. So as a nation we can appreciate what Paul tells Timothy; be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

What Paul knew to be good in a time of crisis is good for all time including our time. Don’t be like the rest when the rest have lost their way. Be good, keeping the Scriptures central, sticking close to Jesus who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). And remember, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit. We also have the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ for when we fall on the journey and need to get back on our feet, dust off our Bibles, and start again.


Follow Clarke Dixon at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon or on Twitter

September 20, 2016

The Disappearance of the Triune God Doctrine

ESV Gen 1:2b And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

For today’s devotional, we went to the blog of one of my former employers, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. To read this at source, and look around at other articles, click the title below. Jonathan Rice is an editor and writer with InterVarsity.

holy_spirit_-_pentacost_jwisWho Is the Holy Spirit?

When describing God, the language of the Bible is not merely truthful but careful. For instance, biblical descriptions of the Holy Spirit in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek always use a personal pronoun. The Bible never refers to God’s Spirit as an “it,” as if the Spirit is merely an impersonal object.

Such care for language is evident in Genesis 1:2, where the Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruach) is grammatically feminine. And though in the New Testament, the Greek word for “spirit” (pneuma) is neuter, it is still a personal pronoun, implying that the Holy Spirit not only transcends gender but also possesses personhood. So in contrast to popular notions that speak of God’s Spirit in abstract terms, the Bible speaks most clearly of the Holy Spirit as a personal deity.

An impersonal deity, a mere force of energy, is incapable of loving us. Such an impersonal energy is emotionless, feeling neither joy nor grief about our lives. But in Ephesians 4:30, we read that the Holy Spirit is grieved by our unwholesome talk, among other sins. And in 1 Corinthians 12:11, the Holy Spirit personally determines the distribution of gifts among believers for the common good of the church. In each of these biblical verses, the Holy Spirit is portrayed as a thinking, feeling, choosing Being—a true personality.

The personality of the Holy Spirit is typically manifested through actions. The Bible shows the Holy Spirit acts in this world by creating (Genesis 1:2), empowering (Zechariah 4:6), guiding (Romans 8:14), comforting (John 14:26), convicting (John 16:8), teaching (John 16:13), restraining (Isaiah 59:19), and commanding people (Acts 8:29)—all of which require intelligence, emotion, and will. Other Scriptures indicate that the Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3), another relational behavior that implies the Spirit is a person.

Regardless of these biblical evidences, some people continue to believe that the Holy Spirit is simply a convenient term to indicate God’s activity. While describing the Holy Spirit as being active is certainly consistent with the biblical revelation of the Spirit’s personality, descriptions such as Comforter, Encourager, Healer, etc., when relied upon alone, are detrimental to our building a sound biblical theology about the nature of God, since any abstract, depersonalizing, reductionist notion of the Holy Spirit undermines the doctrine of the Trinity. So whether one obscures or denies the personhood of the Spirit, the result is the same—the existence of the Trinity is undermined and the personal triune God of biblical Christianity fades away.

Why the Loss of the Doctrine of the Trinity Is a Problem

The disappearance of the doctrine of the personal triune God is a problem, for the personhood of the Holy Spirit is a necessary truth of the whole gospel and should constitute a part of the theological legacy we leave for future generations. But these days the doctrine of the Trinity is again being questioned, though the church has repeatedly through the centuries affirmed the existence of the Trinity and the personhood of the Holy Spirit through historic church councils and creeds.

So just as the Bible is not merely truthful but careful in its use of language, our learning what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit is essential for our careful articulation of the whole gospel.

Today when you hear the Spirit’s gentle voice in your life, listen carefully and ask God to guide your thoughts, words, and actions. Through the person of the Holy Spirit, you can be a living testimony of the gospel and a worker for Christ in this world.


What is Christian doctrine? And do words such as eschatology, sanctification, and atonement really have anything to do with our everyday, going-to-class, working, hanging-out-with-friends lives?

Christian doctrines begin as interpretations of the Bible. Throughout the history of the church, Christians have preserved what they believe the Bible teaches. They form doctrines so that they may remember what other Christians have historically believed about God, humanity, and God’s mission in this world.

These days it’s no less important than in ages past for us to understand Christian doctrine. So we’re offering you brief posts about what Christians have historically believed are the core teachings of the Bible. We hope you find that these historic teachings not only broaden your understanding of Christianity but also deepen your love of God.

September 29, 2015

The Top Verses: Minor Prophets Edition

Today we pay a return visit to TopVerses.com and a look at scripture verses that are often sought out from the twelve Minor Prophets of the first testament. (Far from a last minute devotional, this is something I’ve been meaning to do for several months, and it took twice as long to format this!) All selections NIV; clicking the reference will take you to a page which shows the verses in context, in 3 different translations. Allow the various passages to speak to you.

Hosea 4:6

Bible Rank: 469
My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.”

Joel 2:28

Bible Rank: 90
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

Amos 3:7

Bible Rank: 822*
Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.

Obadiah 1:2

Bible Rank: 2,085
“See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised.”

Jonah 1:1

Bible Rank: 1,144
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai:

Micah 6:8

Bible Rank: 99
He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Nahum 1:2

Bible Rank: 2,385
The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies.

Habakkuk 1:2

Bible Rank: 1,856
How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

Zephaniah 3:17

Bible Rank: 1,522
“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Haggai 1:4

Bible Rank: 2,791*
“Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

Zechariah 9:9

Bible Rank: 739
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Malachi 3:10

Bible Rank: 492
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

*The top searched verse in Amos is one of those humorous verses that doesn’t exactly provide the devotional blessing we’re going for here! The top verse in Haggai was similar to the one in Jonah, so we went to the second one. At some point we’ll return and look at second and third ranked verses, but always remember that the verse numbers themselves are an artificial construction that were never part of the original documents.


July 11, 2015

Reverse Engineering The Promises

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.
 2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (same verse + 21 and 22, The Message)

A few days ago, we re-ran a piece on Thinking Out Loud that has also appeared twice here at C201, though not for three years. Apparently this time around, it really resonated with some people.

The idea was to look at areas in my life where it might seem like “it’s not working” and ask ourselves if maybe we’re doing something wrong.

We need to watch the logic of this however. A Biblical statement of promise such as, “If you do _____, then I [God] will do ______ …” is of the form “If ‘A” then ‘B’.” But we can’t logically automatically assume from that, “If ‘not-B’ then ‘not-A.” Moreover, some of the promises in scripture are guiding principles of how things work. For example, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it;” is a statement of general principle, but not an iron-clad assurance that every child raised in the love of Christ will not wander from the faith. Clearly, some do. (I realize some will say, ‘I have to believe that eventually they find their way back, or the Bible isn’t true.’ I guess we can debate that some time!)

All that to say, here’s what I wrote as it appeared (without this long introduction) a few days ago…
 
 

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord


If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.


If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.


If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.


If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.


If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

 

November 16, 2014

You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Sermon is About You

The Voice – II Cor. 3:18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.

The Amplified Bible – II Cor. 3:18 And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.

 

Have you ever been in church and the pastor is preaching and after awhile it occurs to you that the whole sermon seems to be directed at one particular person’s situation? It’s almost embarrassing. It’s like everyone knows the minister is referring to Dan or Shirley or Marg or Jason, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Dan, Shirley, Marg or Jason a few weeks later, and you get the distinct impression that the sermon hasn’t changed a thing in their life; that whatever it was that made it so blatant to you and everyone else that it was about them, seems to have misfired or otherwise not taken root.

I suppose there are a number of possibilities here, of which three are:

  • They were tuned out for most of the sermon; not paying attention
  • The pastor’s remarks registered, but they assumed it applied to someone else, never considering it might be them to whom the sermon was most directly speaking
  • The application and needed next steps registered, but were eventually dismissed or forgotten
  • perhaps the cost of change or the price of obedience was simply too high

The Bible tells us we’re not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word; but sometimes we mess up the hearing part which cancels out the rest.

James 1:22-24 (The Message) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

People do this everyday however. The middle aged man steps into his souped up sports car, turns the music on the sound system up high, and believes he is still 18. He starts flirting with his assistant at work and with the receptionist at the dentist’s office, and forgets he’s graying; that he has a wife and kids.

He needs a mirror.

The woman who goes out to lunch to with four friends and then spontaneously offers to pick the tab for everyone’s meal before they embark on an afternoon of shopping, slapping down the credit card at store after store, forgetting that the bank has already canceled her other credit card because of too many missed payments, and her income prospects for the foreseeable future are rather dim.

She needs a mirror.

We all need a mirror. An accurate one. One that doesn’t distort the truth. The clearest, most focused mirror is God’s word. It shows us what right living looks like. It tells us where we’ve messed up. What we can do to get back on track. What it will take for us to stay on track. You can read more about this four-fold purpose of scripture by clicking here.

Sometimes the sermon is about you. It’s like there’s no one else there.

…Now then, imagine the same scenario, but it’s more like a bad dream. The pastor preaches a similar sermon, but everyone turns around stares directly at you. But weeks later your life is unchanged.

What would your excuse be?

April 23, 2014

Timothy Keller on Jesus in the Old Testament

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jesus-star-of-david-2Via Darryl Dash’s blog:

All About Him

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27)

  • Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us (1 Corinthians 15).
  • Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out for our acquittal, not our condemnation (Hebrews 12:24).
  • Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void “not knowing wither he went!” to create a new people of God.
  • Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. While God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love, from me,” now we can say to God, “Now we know that you love me, because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love, from me.”
  • Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
  • Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.
  • Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant (Hebrews 3).
  • Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.
  • Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends (Job 42).
  • Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
  • Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.
  • Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

jesus-star-of-david-1Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb – innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He is the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the Lamb, the Light, the Bread.

The Bible is not about you — it is about him.

(Tim Keller, Ockenga Preaching Series 2006)

November 14, 2013

System Status Check

NLT – II Cor. 13:5 Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. As you test yourselves, I hope you will recognize that we have not failed the test of apostolic authority.

The Message – II Cor. 13:5-9 Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it. I hope the test won’t show that we have failed. But if it comes to that, we’d rather the test showed our failure than yours. We’re rooting for the truth to win out in you. We couldn’t possibly do otherwise.

CEB – Jude 1:3 Dear friends, I wanted very much to write to you concerning the salvation we share. Instead, I must write to urge you to fight for the faith delivered once and for all to God’s holy people. Godless people have slipped in among you…

NASB – Jude 1:3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to thesaints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed…

Every once in awhile, I believe Christ-followers need to perform a system check. We need to run a diagnostic of all our closely-held doctrines. We need to test our faith against the Bible and against what the church has historically held as orthodox theology.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this stems from a study of one of the ‘marginal’ groups which is sometimes thought of as ‘Christian.’ While this group has a number of tenets that would easily identify them if I listed them here, the one that struck me as most disturbing was the idea of new light. Their head office is constantly releasing new documents which the faithful are required to study and learn. Shockingly, each new document potentially supersedes all that have come before it.

This creates a number of problems, not the least of which is: If you hold to their beliefs and then new light revises that teaching and you do not change as the teaching changes, you can be considered apostate for believing things that were perfectly acceptable just days before.

Another interesting point I heard was this: If a person did not have access to this group’s teachings and simply read their Bible, is there anything they would read in the Bible that would point them toward the same conclusions as this group? Of course the answer is a definite no. The Bible does not lead one toward such doctrinal positions.

Interestingly enough, all this happened a day after another conversation concerning another group which bases much of its teachings on prophetic words from its members. This is far less authoritarian, since anyone who is part of the group can issue forth words which become as binding as core doctrines; and it’s a more Charismatic-flavored version of the other, which is more formal.

But many of the spoken prophecies do not line up with scripture. So the person who told me about this group said he is constantly asking, “Where’s that in the Bible?” “Where’s that in the Bible?” “Where’s that in the Bible.”

The difference is that the first group bases their updates on revisions to their interpretation of the Bible, whereas the second group doesn’t even try to confirm prophetic words with scripture.

That’s why Paul in today’s opening verse, urges the Corinthians to check him out, to engage critical thinking, to verify his words against external standards.

We need to always be doing the same.

ESV- Matt. 22:37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (emphasis added)


C201 is always looking for both submissions and suggestions for sources of material. Use the submissions page in the margin.

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

August 30, 2013

Christianity Isn’t Afraid of Questions

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NIV Ecc.  12:9 Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. 10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.

Today’s reading comes from The Catch, the blog of author and musician John Fischer, where it appeared originally under the title The improbable Truth.  John ends with a quote from The Message Bible where “the teacher” is translated as “the quester.”  Christianity isn’t afraid of questions.

question-markHas it ever made anyone curious why the Bible questions its own answers? Take the book of Ecclesiastes, for instance — twelve chapters dedicated to the propagation of the meaninglessness of life. And this is not just the author having a bad hair day. This is an investment of a wise king’s entire life seeking the meaning of his existence. Every attempt to answer the big question is meticulously pursued, and with all the resources to make it legitimate. If Solomon wanted to pursue wealth, he had wealth to exceed the richest kings at the time. If he wanted to pursue pleasure, he had thousands of concubines at his bidding. And in his pursuit of wisdom, his wisdom was unparalleled in human history.

King Solomon was no armchair philosopher. He had the opportunity to try out each one of his solutions, and every time he came up with the same conclusion: “Meaningless, meaningless… Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). And even when he does concede, in the end, that the only reasonable thing to do is to fear God and keep His commandments, it’s not like he’s ready to celebrate this final discovery (Ecclesiastes 12:13). In fact, it reads like a resignation. You finish this book and you want to go, “When’s the next Tony Robbins seminar? I need some cheering up!”

Actually, the fact that Ecclesiastes is in the Bible does two things for me. First, it gives me confidence that the rest of the Bible is true. If Christianity were a construct of the human mind, you wouldn’t find this stuff in its portfolio, that’s for sure. What propaganda features differing views? Who includes the opposing arguments in their literature, and even makes them look good? And yet the Bible declares life meaningless, it shows bad people having a good time and good people having a miserable time. The hero of the whole book dies a brutal death in the end, for heaven’s sake, and then He calls His followers to come and die with Him! Well, whoopee! Where do I sign up? I’m sorry, but to all those who say someone made up Christianity, I have to say, based on what? Certainly nothing I know of in human nature.

Secondly, it makes me look more deeply into things. Maybe the reason following Christ doesn’t magically make this life a party is because there is something more than this life to consider. And maybe Solomon was so old and spent by the time he finally got to it that he couldn’t really enjoy what was enjoyable about what he found. And maybe, just maybe, the reason God put his story there was for us to benefit from his life’s search, take his word for it, and start living where he left off.
_______________________

Besides being wise himself, the Quester also taught others knowledge. He weighed, examined, and arranged many proverbs. The Quester did his best to find the right words and write the plain truth.

The words of the wise prod us to live well. They’re like nails hammered home, holding life together. They are given by God, the one Shepherd.

But regarding anything beyond this, dear friend, go easy. There’s no end to the publishing of books, and constant study wears you out so you’re no good for anything else. The last and final word is this:

Fear God.
Do what he tells you.

Ecclesiastes 12:9-13 (The Message)

July 7, 2013

If Anyone Hears My Voice

Revelation 3 20In looking at Revelation 3:20 yesterday, we stumbled on a blog that offered insights on the passage we wanted to share here in full. We don’t normally spend two days on one verse, but I really appreciated this analysis. This is from the blog Gulf Coast Pastor and appeared in 2011 under the title Revelation 3:20 – Can We Use It In Evangelism?

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me. -Jesus Christ; Revelation 3:20

Some say this verse should never be used to lead someone to the Lord because it was written to a church, not to lost people. Some go so far as to ridicule the ignorance of anyone who would use it in evangelism.

In contrast, many, many Baptist and Christian preachers of the Gospel have preached this verse to not only the saved, but also to the lost. Many a lost soul has been won to the Lord through this passage of Scripture.

It is granted that the verse is primarily written to the church at Laodicea. It is also granted that this verse alone does not present the gospel or the plan of salvation in its totality. (You could even argue that about John 3:16; after all it says nothing about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.)

The plan of salvation includes our sin and separation from God, God’s holiness, His love, Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, His blood being shed for us, and his literal resurrection from the dead. We are to ask forgiveness for our sins. We are to believe and accept Jesus as our Lord (Boss, Master) and Savior. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 3:23; 6:23; 5:8; 10:9-10, 13; John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24)

But when the full plan of salvation is presented, Revelation 3:20 is valid to use in explaining the biblical concept of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

I and many before me believe Revelation 3:20 is valid to use in evangelism because:

1. We can go too far in saying this verse is not for you. All of the Bible is written as God’s love letter to mankind.

I know you can also go too far the other way; but here I do not think that is the case. For example, Romans is addressed to the saints (Romans 1:7-8). Does anyone argue that because of this the Roman Road verses cannot be used for evangelism? If they so argue, they are wrong.

2. Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20 are valid for a saved person. They are also valid for a lost person.

3. Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20 illustrate Jesus’ attitude toward a lost person and what the person must do to be saved. This can be shown from many Bible passages.

Does a lost person have to do something to be saved? Yes. Jesus wholly accomplished the work of salvation. But a man must respond, must believe, must call on the name of the Lord, must reach out and receive the gift of God. (John 1:12; Romans 10:9-10, 13; John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31; etc.) In other words, a man must open the door of his heart and invite Jesus in.

A number of verses reveal that when we are saved Jesus comes to live in our hearts. Other verses refer to the Holy Spirit living within us.  Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Galatians 4:6; 2 Peter 1:19; John 7:38; etc. (also, our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit).

4. Revelation 3:20 is given to whoever will take it. Notice Jesus’ use of the word, “anyone.” That includes the saved and the lost, all the world.

5. Just as today, the church at Laodicea would have included unsaved visitors and unsaved members (Jesus even had an unsaved disciple!)*; especially a lukewarm church like Laodicea.

Jesus would certainly have known this and included them in His invitation. Just as pastors today include the saved and the lost in the public invitation they give in their church.

If Revelation 3:20 cannot be used for the lost because it was given to a church, then it would be invalid for pastors today to give a salvation invitation in church. After all, if they are in church, they surely must all be saved!

6. It could even be argued that Jesus knocking at the door and us inviting Him in is more valid for a lost person that for a saved person.

A person is welcome to disagree and use their own verses in evangelism. But those who use this verse in evangelism are not doing so out of ignorance.

David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, October 4, AD 2011.

*  Of course, every member of a Baptist church should be a believer.  The requirements to be a member of a Baptist church are usually two:  You have personally received Christ as your Savior, and you have subsequently been Scripturally baptized (Beleiver’s Baptism by Immersion).  But we all know there are those who have made an outward profession of faith without meaning it in their hearts.

Saved By The Sinner’s Prayer
The Roman Road of Salvation
Unlimited Atonement, Jesus Died For All

April 18, 2013

Zacchaeus Meets The Christmas Story

Ever wondered what you were thinking when you wrote something years earlier?  This was first published at Thinking Out Loud in November, 2009.  I read this three times before I finally noticed what the reference is to the Christmas story. This has actually appeared here before as well, in 2011; I hope you don’t mind a repeat.

The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19: 1-9 is the ultimate children’s Bible story. Think about, it’s got:

  • zacchaeusa short key character; kids can identify
  • a parade — or something similar — about to pass by
  • tree climbing; what kid doesn’t like that?
  • unlikely guy gets singled out for special treatment
  • Zacchaeus and Jesus have a tea party, at least according to the children’s song; actual serving of tea may have been unlikely
  • restitution of unfair trade practices; he did something bad and is going to make it right

But the tree climbing is the fun part of the story, so much so that we omit to notice the fact that respectable adults in the culture don’t climb trees. In the book Preaching the Parables to Postmoderns, Brian Stiller reminds of another story where we miss the cultural nuances.

Stiller notes that in the story of the prodigal son, the father sees his returning son in the distance and runs to meet him. To run meant to lift the lower hem of the tunics worn at that time, which would expose the ankles and lower leg. While that may not seem out of line with the bathrobes worn in most church plays you’ve seen, it in fact is out of line with norms in that society. Besides, the patriarchal head of household doesn’t run, period.

Zacchaeus climbs up a tree because he doesn’t want to miss Jesus. The father in the story of the two brothers runs because he doesn’t want to miss a moment with or hide his enthusiasm for the return of his lost son. Both actions involve a considerable loss of dignity on the part of both parties.

David understood this. Consider this account from II Samuel 6:

14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the LORD. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

21 David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

The line I like is verse 22: I will become even more undignified than this. Nothing reinforces this like the Matt Redman song,

I will dance I will sing
To be mad for my King
Nothing Lord is hindering
The passion in my soul

And I’ll become even more
Undignified than this
Some would say it’s foolishness but
I’ll become even more
Undignified than this

David’s removal of his outer garment ought to remind you of something else. Think about this moment from John 13:

1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.

The outer garment that Jesus removed was the fine piece of clothing that symbolized his authority as a rabbi. Hours later, Roman soldiers would gamble for the chance to walk way with this prime specimen of clothing as a souvenir of their day’s work.

This action symbolized his servant leadership, but as he told Peter, there was a bigger picture yet to be grasped. I believe that the removal of his outer garment symbolizes something else entirely, as shown in Philippians 2:

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor…

Jesus gave up the splendor of heaven — took of his outer robe — to enter into our human condition. But then, as John 13:12 shows us, he puts that outer robe back on, i.e. he returns to the glory he had known before at the right hand of the Father.

There are lots of words we could use to describe this, but the key one for today is that he made himself undignified.

Now, he invites you to find a place where you can lose your own dignity in order to accomplish his purposes in your generation.

I Samuel and John passages – NIV; Philippians passage – NLT

A edgier version of Undignified by David Crowder appears here

July 6, 2012

Four Myths Attacking God’s Word and the Church

Today’s thoughts are from James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel and host of Walk in the Word.  Click through to read this at source, and learn more about Harvest, Walk in the Word, and the upcoming Vertical Church tour of North America.

2 Timothy 4:3-5
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Let’s grow in our capacity to discern. Make a note of these four myths attacking the church today. Some you might be aware of, others maybe not at all. They are messages crafted for itching ears that damn the souls of men.

1: The Word of God is not sufficient. The Word of God does not have all of the answers that people need for the complex problems of the twenty-first century man. Instead of the message of the Word of God, we need psychology—literally, the study of the soul.

Almighty God has already written a book on the soul. Any contributions from psychology have not seriously upgraded what God calls “all things pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). If you have a problem, a burden, or a struggle, the answer is not found by running away from God’s Word and going to a counselor, month after month, who never opens the Word of God, who never prays with you, or who is not ministering in the power of God’s Spirit. If the answer to your problem doesn’t leave you closer to God, it wasn’t God’s answer for you. I don’t judge those who don’t know the Lord for doing the best they can and finding relief along the broad road, but the people of God should not be clamoring for the world to solve what God, in His Word and in the power of His Holy Spirit, wants to give. God help us to love the truth and pursue the truth for the answers to the burdens we carry and the issues we face.

2: The Word of God is not sophisticated. If you really want to reach people—boomers, GenX’ers, post-moderns—you need a more sophisticated hook than the Word of God.

Listen to what some church sites are posting in their attempts to reach people. “Our church is growing large and strong with an emphasis on the importance of every individual.” “Our church is not just a church; it’s an adventure.” “We’ll make sure that the first face you see when you approach our church has a smile on it.” “We will give you the resources and the opportunity to reflect upon yourself, to develop a balanced lifestyle and discover the healthy whole person God designed you to be.” Those are not the answer to anyone’s problems.

How much different does the promise of this church sound?  “A people who desire to know Christ and to raise the Cross over Hollywood.” Do you see the difference, see the vertical focus upon Christ Himself as the answer for searching souls? But these myths, tragically posing as the ministry of Christ, claim the Word is not sufficient nor sophisticated. And tragically, when they fail, people feel the Lord has failed them, when He has not been truly involved at all.

3: The Word of God is not settled. The Word is still emerging—the message is still changing.

My brother sent me an e-mail about a church that’s attempting to adjust the biblical teaching on the role of women. The rationale they give for explaining away the clear teaching of Scripture is that folks like us take a static approach to God’s Word, “but we take a redemptive approach,” they say. My brother wondered what that meant. In essence, they are claiming: “Don’t think the Bible always means the same thing through all of the centuries. We believe that the Bible means different things to different people. Centuries ago it meant one thing, but now to modern, more sophisticated culture it means this.”

As soon as I hear that, I want to throw up, because that message confirms people in their sin and gives them misguided authority to sin against their own conscience.  All around us are those that have adopted the “redemptive” approach to studying the Bible. My greatest concern isn’t even about the role of women—we celebrate women leaders in our church in every area except those restricted by Scripture. My burden, however, is not women preachers, but the perversities in society that are standing in line behind that comparatively innocent issue, waiting to say, “Oh beautiful! We get to take the parts of the Scripture that are an affront to our perversity and dismiss them as no longer relevant.” It’s the idea that the Word of God is not settled, when it is—that the Bible needs updating, when it doesn’t.

4: The Word of God is not sure or reliable. Christ is not unique, and His unique message is to be rejected in a world of pluralism.

We live in a day where the name that is not welcomed is the Name that is above every name. As the God of this age heightens His attack upon this world in these last days, the dividing lines are becoming incredibly clear. I believe with all of my heart that in the days to come, to cross that finish line, it is going to cost us more than it has ever cost us before. It is going to cost us relationships when we continue to proclaim, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We trumpet the message of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6). To those who do not have the Spirit of God within them, the Scripture says, we are the aroma of death, 2 Corinthians 2:16.  People are not kind to those who become a stench in their nostrils.

What should we do! Spend all of our time attacking error? Some of that is needed, no doubt. But Paul’s exhortation to Timothy [above] has a lot more to do with actually continuing in his own biblical ministry and being deterred by others.

“…be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

~James MacDonald

Christianity 201 is a repository of some of the best devotional and Bible Study material in the Christian blogosphere. Selections come from a variety of doctrinal and theological viewpoints. You’re encouraged to read articles at source, and if you like what you read, click that blog’s header to discover more about the writer/ministry and consider subscribing.

June 13, 2012

Guardians of Truth

The last twenty-four hours have been rather stressful here, so today I clicked over to Daily Encouragement because I knew that their devotional ministry is reliable.  I think it’s important that certain kinds of blogs, and all churches and small group meetings be consistent.  People need to know they can depend on you to be there.  And Stephen and Brooksyne embody all that: Dependability, reliability and consistency.

Their message on Tuesday was titled “To avoid being pulled into error, keep a firm grip on the truth!” That is certainly needed these days. Because we operate the only Christian bookstore in our county, one local pastor referred to us “gatekeepers.” I hadn’t thought about that aspect of our role until he said that, but I now see what he meant. Certainly every book or CD or DVD had to pass through our filter in order to get stocked in the store. (And a few times that judgment got criticized by people who wanted to nitpick over the inclusion of a title they personally disagreed with!)

Anyway, I encourage you to read what follows, or better yet, click here to read today’s thoughts.

“Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:9). “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 men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:14,15).

The daily texts describe the volatility of those who fail to grow and mature in Christ and become properly grounded. They become unstable like “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 men in their deceitful scheming.” The writer of Hebrews warned, “Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines”.

Today we see a departure from the course of Biblical faith and standards that our forefathers could hardly have imagined. Even in my own lifetime who would have predicted just thirty years ago that something as foundational as the basic constitution of holy marriage between a man and a woman would be a serious issue of departure?

Some of our readers have been forced by biblical conviction to leave their church due to leadership that has deviated from God’s Holy Word. Tragically, some pastors are basing their teaching more on the popularity of opinion polls than the unwavering truths presented by our Creator. I am very wary of “evolving views” based on current opinion polls and the views of popular entertainers and supposedly elite academics.

False teaching is a perpetual danger for God’s people. It was a concern in the New Testament age, all through church history and certainly abounds in our own day

1) I call on my pastor peers to “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2) and “Teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Resist the temptation to preach so you will be loved by the world or following after the fads that flood the church.

2) I call on dedicated followers of Christ to implement the God-ordained means to stability and health in your spiritual lives. Through our unwavering commitment to read God’s Word and through the practice of other spiritual disciplines the character of Christ is developed in us as we are rooted and grounded in Him who is the Head, which results in long-term spiritual stability.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
(click this link for the main site and bookmark it in your computer)

Daily prayer:  Father, Your warnings regarding the deluge of deceitful tactics from the enemy is evidenced all around us – through the media, books, false prophets and even well-meaning but confused individuals. Your Word is the stabilizing and authoritative doctrinal manual for all that we need for life and godliness. Help us to be wise, studied, and vigilant so that we correctly discern good from bad, truth from error.

In Your holy name we pray, Amen

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