Christianity 201

December 4, 2017

Identifying The Spots and Wrinkles

When He cometh, when He cometh,
To make up His jewels,
All His jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own

Like the stars of the morning,
His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

– William Cushing, 1856


Do you hear them coming, brother?—
Thronging up the steeps of light,
Clad in glorious shining garments,
Blood-washed garments, pure and white

’Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle,
Washed in the blood of the Lamb;
’Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle,
Washed in the blood of the Lamb.

– Ralph Hudson, 1892


Today we’re back with Patrick Hawthorne who blogs at Serving Grace Ministries. Click the title below to read it at source (with comments) and then click “author’s blog page” to view other articles.

Has the Separation Begun?

A passage that has always troubled me is Ephesians 5:27 which reads,

“…that He (Jesus) might present her (the Church) to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

While the “what” of the verse is self-explanatory, the “how,” of the verse is not.  How will the Church – the Body of Christ Jesus – be without spot or blemish?  It’s obvious that the Church has some serious issues that need dealing with, but how will the Lord deal with these issues prior to His return?

Lately, the Lord has been revealing things to me about the Church so that I might pray more effectively.  One way was through a vision while in prayer, A Body Out of Alignment. Another way was through the Word, Storm On the Horizon. This latest has come through a conversation with my mom.  As a side note, never discount nor limit the way in which the Holy Spirit may speak to you.

As I was speaking with my mother about this burden to pray and write concerning the Church she said to me, and I paraphrase, “Did you know that the spots and blemishes of the Church are people?”  Of course I asked her to explain.  “Yes,” she said, “Look at 2 Peter 2:13 and you will see that the spots and blemishes are those within the Church who appear to be part of the Body but practice wickedness and deception.”  Naturally, my curiosity was peaked.

At the first opportune moment I went to those verses.  Sure enough 2 Peter 2:12-13 read,

“But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, 13 and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you,

(2 Peter 2:12-13 NKJV underline mine).

The spots and blemishes written of are church members.  These are they who live two lives; one life is in the church and the other is in the world. Suddenly things were making sense.

As I previously wrote, I believe we are in the season of the last of the last days.  I don’t know how much longer till Jesus returns but all indications reveal that we are close.  Could it be that the prophecy of Malachi 3:16-18 may occur prior to His return?  Could it be that the separation of the wheat from the tares within the Church has already begun?  Maybe… Be blessed.

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name.17 “They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels.  And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.”18 Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.  (Malachi 3:16-18 NKJV underline mine)


Lyrics for When He Cometh and ‘Tis a Glorious Church from TimelessTruths.org

September 14, 2017

When Your Greatness Messes Others Up

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

The person next to me had figured out very quickly that I was not a good volleyball player. So whenever the ball came my way he would yell, “I’ve got it” and then he would get it. Everyone else on the team was playing volleyball. I, however, was playing dodge-ball. My role was to get out of the way and let the better player save the day. I do not know who won the game. But I do know that I did not grow as a volleyball player that day. I did not develop any volleyball skills that day. I didn’t even like playing volleyball that day. If I had any potential as a volleyball player, it was missed that day. This kind of thing happens in all areas of life. This kind of thing would not happen if people followed the Biblical principles laid down in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3 (NRSV)

When we think we are the best person to hit the ball back, we may think we should be the only person to hit the ball back. Our high opinions of ourselves easily translates into low opinions of others. We can do it, they probably can’t. We are capable, they probably are not. We are the solution, they are probably the problem. So we should do it, they shouldn’t. When we think of ourselves more highly that we ought, we can end up stifling others without even realizing it.

Paul goes on to speak about knowing our calling, finding our role and place, and so not squash out others as they are finding theirs:

4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Romans 12:4-8 (NRSV)

These verses are as much “back off, and let others shine in their calling” as they are “discover your own”. They are an encouragement to shine, but they are also and encouragement to give space for others to shine also.

Messing others up by our own perceived greatness can happen in any relationship. Let us consider marriage, about which there is an interesting, and often misunderstood passage in the Bible. On first reading, Proverbs 31:10-31 seems to be quite sexist with the man doing nothing while the woman does everything. But keeping in mind the patriarchal society into which this Scripture is given, look at how much the wife accomplishes. While the titles given to this passage by translators are usually things like “Ode to a Capable Wife” (NRSV), or “The Wife of Noble Character” (NIV), another title might be “The Good Husband”. The good husband does not think he is better at everything and so does it all. The good husband does not think he is a better decision-maker and micro-manage his wife. The good husband gives space for his wife to shine. The final verse of Proverbs captures it well: “let her works praise her in the city gates.” Proverbs 31:31 (NRSV emphasis mine).

Not thinking of yourself too highly is part of “thinking towards yourself with smart thinking” to translate Romans 12:3 very literally. We are to have a good, reasonable self-understanding. Although Paul does not say it, included in this would be not thinking of ourselves too lowly either. At the very least, each person can say they are created in the image of God and so are therefore deserving of being treated with dignity. We have important functions within our families, networks of friends, and in God’s Kingdom. Romans 12:4-8, quoted above, is an encouragement to stand up and grow up into what God calls us to do, even if others seem to be better than us at the time of our standing. While we ought not think of ourselves too highly, recognizing that we are not indispensable in everything, neither are we to think of ourselves as disposable either.

Everyone around us benefits when we have a good self-understanding and a proper self assessment of ourselves. But no one benefits more than we, ourselves. When we have too high an opinion of ourselves we don’t see our need of anyone, even God. And when we have too low an opinion of ourselves we cannot imagine allowing ourselves to be loved by anyone, especially God. Having a proper assessment of ourselves is not just a matter of thinking clearly, it is a matter of loving dearly.


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

August 24, 2017

How Inclusive Should We Be?

by Clarke Dixon

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household”  Ephesians 2:19 NIV

This is a wonderful verse that fills us with joy at the thought we are considered part of God’s family, members of His household.  Yet this verse also may create sour feelings within us as we consider just how large, or perhaps small, this household is.  We may look at loved ones in our family or to good friends and wonder, perhaps worry is the better word, if they too are part of this family of God. Of course it is our desire that they be such and the thought they may not be fills us with dread.  We want to feel inclusive.

In my personal Bible reading I am again introduced to the many tribes of Bible times; Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites among others. In our day within Christianity has sprung up two new tribes, which are really quite old: the inclusivites and exclusivites.

Inclusivites don’t handle well the thought of anyone not being found in God’s family and so they will make it as big as they possibly can.  There are two ways to do this.  One is to declare that all roads lead to God.  The second is to declare that the only road to God is through Jesus, but that God will ultimately put those on another road on a detour that will get them on the right road.  Hence, your fears over the journeys of your loved ones are put to ease.  And you get a pat on the back by society for being inclusive.

Then there are the exclusivites.  They tend to think that God’s family is very small indeed, in fact it is made up of only people who think and act just like them.  Like the old joke that God will separate the Baptists from everyone else in heaven because He just can’t bring Himself to break it to them that they are not the only ones there.*  Mind you, I have not met very many exclusivites in my travels, even among Baptists.  It is far more common in our day to meet an inclusivite.

How do we deal with our anguish over God’s family and the thought it is not big enough to include our loved ones?  Should we join a tribe?  Perhaps the inclusivites so that can think our loved ones are okay and that our fears are much ado about nothing?  Or the exclusivites who sometimes end up redefining loved ones as those in the ‘club’?

Ephesians 2 suggests a way forward.  Here is the short route:

  1. Be solid on Biblical theology:  Which in this case means being solid on who the “you” refers to in our verse above.  See verses 1,2, and 11.
  2. Recognize our default position, yes, even ours: See verses 1,3, and 12.
  3. Recognize the amazing grace of God in our passage: See verses 4-8.  And then recognize that this grace is not just a theological term that pastors like to use, but a reference to the amazing generosity of God.
  4. Recognize how fences and walls between peoples are destroyed in the Kingdom and family of God.  See verses 14-18 and Galatians 3:28.  It is like John Lennon’s “Imagine” only it is not left to the imagination as a pipe dream, but to the will of God as a sure thing.
  5. Recognize that God’s family is not primarily about destiny, but about identity.  See verses 15,19-22.  We tend to only look to the future, fretting about who God will “let into heaven” and then we get annoyed with Him when we think our loved ones, or anyone else for that matter, will not be there (and we may even insinuate that we are more generous than God). We should look instead to who is recognizing the Father and demonstrating a ‘family likeness’ to God’s family right here and now and consider who’s will is at work in that.  And while we are at it, let us consider our own family resemblance.

Finally, we do well to follow the example of Jesus who was inclusive in His invitation to the Kingdom and inclusive in His service to others.  But Jesus did not throw open the gates of heaven by denying the truth of sin and the damage done to our relationship with God, rather He became that gate. That feeling of tension that we may feel over the household of God is a good thing.  It inspires us to the noble task of evangelism, being inclusive in our invitation and service, and always ready to point to the gate.


Read more at www.clarkedixon.wordpress.com

*Clarke is a Baptist so he’s allowed to say that!

May 22, 2017

All Things Under His Feet

Today’s thoughts originate with Dust Off The Bible, a website I had bookmarked for about a week now that I’ve wanted to share with you. I think the devotions on this site are quite good, but there are some books reviewed I wouldn’t endorse and one of the quizzes is overly simplistic. The artwork below is from Warren Camp Designs. (Or this link, which offers more selection.) To see the devotional site, click the title below. (Clicking the above link to the site, the devotional it provides may differ from the one below if it is after May 22nd.)

Daily Bible Reading Devotional – Ephesians 1:15-23

Eph.1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Here in this life we feel the pain of evil deeds. We feel the hurt of evil people. We get disappointing, annoyed, scared, and full of anxiety. Yet scripture tells us that God has already put all things under His feet. He has already brought His kingdom to the earth. So why does it often feel like we’re still waiting on God?

Despite the fact that the Spirit of God resides in His children, God’s kingdom is what we call “already but not yet”. This a familiar phrase that means God’s kingdom is here yet we are still waiting for part of it to arrive with Jesus on the day of His second coming. That is when all evil will be wiped away from the earth. There will be no more pain and suffering in the presence of the Lord. So what is the purpose of the kingdom that has arrived already?

The purpose is two-fold. First, we need this power of God, in the Holy Spirit, to endure this evil world and to sanctify all those who are in the body of Christ. Secondly, it is the witness of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and for the sins of the world. This current age will end when the fullness of saints it met.

I  do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25)

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters were killed just as they had been. (Revelation 6:9-11)

May 15, 2017

Focusing More on What Unites Us

NIV John 17:20-21 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…”

Today we’re again paying a return visit to Done With Religion by Jim Gordon. If you click the title below and then click the banner at the top of their page, you’ll see that this is a blog written from the perspective of ones who left the institutional church. I think they do a better than average job of presenting that perspective and that’s why I’ve chosen them to return here today. Besides, to think otherwise would be to completely miss the spirit of today’s devotional!

Divisions in the Body of Christ Should Not Be

It is sad that Christianity is divided into so many different groups. We all have a little different interpretation of the bible and a little different understanding of doctrine. Obviously, we are not going to agree on everything but we certainly should be able to love one another and accept each other even when we differ on these things.

It is hard to understand why this is when God tells us we are to be one as Jesus and the Father are one. Yet, we understand that we are human and it is easy to lose sight of our first love. If we could only stay focused on Christ, listening for his voice and the guidance of the Spirit, loving God and loving others as God intended, then we could begin to look past our differences.

The problem seems to be that we are unwilling to see any other viewpoint other than our own. There are those such as my wife and I that do not attend an organized church. There are those who attend a church every time the doors are open. Some attend a house church, some meet with fellow believers at cafés, parks or restaurants and others meet in their homes over dinner. We should accept these differences and love one another rather than argue over who is right and who is wrong.

There really is not a right or wrong way to assemble together and we need to stop expecting everyone to do things exactly the same way. We should respect others viewpoints and focus on loving them rather than expecting them to see things our way.

Things will not change until we start focusing on what is common in our lives rather than the differences. The common focus should be on Christ, the head of the body. After that we should focus on loving others rather than arguing about the differences in interpretation and doctrine.

We also need to keep in mind that we are all constantly changing as God brings new truth to us. We are all learning and changing as we are ready to accept new truths. The interpretations I had five years ago are completely different from some of the interpretations I have now. I am sure in another five years they will change again as God leads me into more truth.

Sometimes we are afraid to accept others interpretations because we feel if we do not hold to our way of thinking we are compromising and not standing up for what we believe. We do not have to give up how we interpret the bible, but neither should we think everyone else is wrong. Besides, we really are not responsible for convicting people of sin or leading them into truth or even saving them. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. We are told to love God and love others.

When we realize we are each equally important functioning parts of the body and Christ is the head, we can start to change how we feel about those who do not see things exactly the way we do. We can begin to accept the differences in our brothers and sisters in Christ as we realize we are all following after our Father and our goal is to show His love to all people.

 

November 9, 2016

You Have to Be Desiring Negative Consequences to Lie to Each Other

Ephesians 4.25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

26 “In your anger do not sin”[*]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

This is our eighth time sharing the thoughts of B. J. Rutledge pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise, Texas. Click the somewhat provocative title below to read at source.

5 Reasons To Lie To Each Other

bj-rutledgeI am camping out in the book of Ephesians right now and it’s rich!  Here are a few thoughts from my reading yesterday and this morning.

If we’re not careful we become part of a big con game that’s played out week after week in church.  We lie to each other; we act like everything is ok when it’s not, or we won’t confront a problem we have with someone, but share it with others.  We’ve become pretty good at disengaging with portions of Scripture that don’t fit with how we feel or think at the time. Pastors can be guilty just like the people in the church can be guilty.

So here are 5 simple reasons to go ahead and lie to each other.

  1. We don’t really want to build community.

To grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ we have to connect relationally in a place that is safe; where we can be authentic and real.

Real community in a local church can’t be built without us taking the risk of getting rid of falsehoods and lies and begin to share with each other truthfully because we belong to one another. (Ephesians 4:25)

  1. Because we’re OK giving the devil an opportunity

In every relationship we’re going to be hurt or offended; whether intentionally or unintentionally. Expectations aren’t going to be met. People aren’t going to measure up, or they’re going to fail us in some way. An offense takes place and we get angry. That’s going to happen. But when we’re unwilling to go to the person who offended us we’ve put a match the hand of Satan.   If we take the offense to someone else, Satan lights the match and pours a little gas on it. (Ephesians 4:26-27) Because we’re members of one another (the same body of Christ) we’re to go to each other and work things out in the right spirit.   The principle Jesus shares in Matthew 18:15 would solve so many problems.

  1. Because we’re fine with the church being torn down.

When we talk badly about someone, and we usually don’t have the whole story unless we talk to that person – lies get involved because truth gets twisted.   When that happens, we steal from one another; we steal the reputation of the person(s) involved or even the reputation of the local church. Ephesians 4:28 says to stop stealing and start doing good. Listening to Tony Evans yesterday, he said we’re to quit stealing from one another and do all we can to build up the church. We’re to build up because we’re members of one another as Christ’s body the church.

  1. Because we don’t care if we grieve God’s heart.

Ephesians 4:29 is pretty clear that every word you say should build up others and build up the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:30 says when we violate this principle, we grieve the heart of God. The words you and I say should give grace to people and build up the body of Christ (the church).   Not only are we members of the same body, we have the same Father, and every parent I know wants people to treat their kids right. It grieves God’s heart when we talk about or treat His kids the wrong way.

  1. Because we really don’t care what God says.

Ephesians 4:30-32 is clear; we’re to put aside things that hurt others and do things that are kind. We’re to be tender-hearted and forgiving because that’s what we’ve experienced in Christ. Lying is a sin because it always hurts someone and violates the law of love that Jesus said was paramount in our lives.  The truth is; lying hurts the liar and the person(s) being lied about.

So what’s the solution? Submit your pride and opinions to God. Man up or Woman up and talk to people when you have an issue.   Don’t spread discontent or speak without thinking.

What Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 is a sobering truth; He said you and I will give an account for every careless word we speak.

Most of the time, problems we have are really spiritual issues; Ephesians 6:12 says our real fight is not with flesh and blood. Go to people you have a problem with and be mature; don’t give Satan an opportunity.

As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:14-16 (NLT)

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.


[*] Psalm 4:4 (see Septuagint)

September 14, 2016

What it Takes to Have a Church

by Clarke Dixon

What do you have to have to have a church? Here are some possible answers I’ve heard along the way:

  • you have to have mission and vision statements.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture outside the church.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture within the church.
  • you have to have PowerPoint for the sermons, shorter sermons, or even no sermons.
  • you have to have a constitution, a budget, a proper system of governance, and a bunch of paperwork.  . . or risk losing your charitable status, which of course everyone knows you have to have.
  • you have to have buildings and paid staff.
  • you have to have programming for every age group and for every felt need.
  • you have to have values that reflect the society around you, which means ever changing values of course.
  • you have to have a worship experience that makes each person feel affirmed and good.
  • you have to have a good consumer experience for a happy customer.

House ChurchWhat does the Bible say you have to have to have a church? What better place to go than the Books of Acts where we read about the earliest Christians and the origins of the Church. In looking to the book of Acts there is one sentence that captures what you have to have to have a church:

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

Did you notice what was there in the first church without which you cannot have a church? No, not food. Just two things: “The Lord,” and “those who were being saved.”

“The Lord.” You cannot have a church without the presence of the Lord. And by Lord we do not mean just any god, or God in a generic sense. This is the LORD, Who created the heavens and the earth, Who created all life including humanity, Who called Abraham with a promise, Who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, Who gave His people the Law and the covenants, Who came to humanity in Jesus, and bearing a cross for our sin He rose from the dead, Who comes to us in the Holy Spirit, Who ensured we had a record of all this and more in the Bible. That LORD. The church is not in the business of promoting spirituality but rather has a ministry of reconciliation. We introduce people to that LORD. You can have all the things people generally think you have to have to have a church, yet if you are missing the presence of the Lord, then you don’t have a church.

“Those who were being saved.” We can read the entire book of Acts to be introduced to those people and find out what they are like. When we do we find out that they are an imperfect people, a growing and learning people, a praying people, a listening people, a preaching and reaching people, a generous people, a missionary people, a hope filled people, a changed people, and a willing-to-be-persecuted people. You have to have people like that to have a church.

Lego ChurchThere are some practical implications in needing only two things to have a church:

Church is a people rather than an organization. In the Book of Acts we are not given a manual on how to organize a church. Sometimes we might wish we were! We are given, rather, the story and stories of people responding and relating to the Lord. We do well to remember that we organize as churches, not for the sake of the organization created, but for the sake of the people God is re-creating. As you read through the book of Acts you never once hear a church named. There is no “Calvary Baptist,” or “Grace United,” or the like. But you hear time and time again about the Lord, about people, and about the Lord in relationship with people. When we celebrate a church anniversary, which is something we love to do for we like any excuse to have our cake and eat it too, we are not celebrating how long an organization has been organized. We are celebrating the lives that have been changed by God through the lives of the people who have been changed by God.

The church is something we always are rather than something we sometimes do. It is funny how when asked to describe our churches we quickly report on Sunday morning attendance. Instead we ought to report about what happens throughout the week. We should speak of the saints on their knees in prayer, those who visit, those who give, those who encourage, those who volunteer, those who forgive, those who are patient, those who are peaceful, those who are joyful, those who are self-controlled. . .  you get the picture. In the Book of Acts you never hear of a church described by numbers in attendance on a Sunday morning. But you you do read of people living their lives for the Lord every day. Church is what we always are, not something we sometimes do.

That you only have to have two things is good news for the small church. I must admit to being discouraged when I read a book written for small church pastors then realize they are written by superstar pastors, or that by “small church” they mean a church of 200. That is so not me, and so not us! Good news, to have a church you do not have to emulate the big churches and do everything they do. We are not to follow the lead of bigger churches, we are to follow the lead of the Lord. Small church leaders can learn to say as the church leadership said in Acts “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28)

That you only have to have two things is good news for a church under threat. We are told we face the threat of becoming irrelevant. From that perspective, the first Christians must have seemed supremely irrelevant. The apostle Paul discovered that the Gospel was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1st Corinthians 1:23). Yet the presence of the Lord together with the presence of God’s people was turning the world upside down.

Perhaps someday we will face the threat of losing our charitable status as we do not keep in step with a society that keeps changing step. Look to the first Christians. Never mind a privileged position in society, they were persecuted. Yet with the presence of the Lord and the presence of a people who set themselves to the task of keeping in step with God’s Holy Spirit, not even the gates of hell could stop the Church.

What do you have to have to have a church? Look to the Book of Acts where they did not have charitable status, buildings, mission and visions statements, organs, worship bands, a multitude of programs for every age, denominations, PowerPoint, constitutions, church growth consultants, or a very organized clergy. (Some days it seems the church I pastor still lacks organized clergy!) All they had was the presence of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit filled people of God. And it was brilliant. When we have those two things, it still is!

Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor in Canada; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

June 1, 2016

Ending Well With Difficult People

•••by Clarke Dixon

How do your encounters with difficult people end up? Is there a fitting conclusion to such encounters? By difficult people we mean the kind of people that stress you out, or have wounded you in some way. And by an encounter we don’t even need to think of actually meeting the person, it may be an online encounter, or even just an encounter in our imagination. In fact if the truth be told, don’t the difficult people in our lives end up taking up too much space in our heads? We give them so much time and mental resources and they may not even know it! So is there a fitting way to conclude every such encounter?

If there is a group of Christians that could earn the title “difficult people” for the apostle Paul, it would have to be the Corinthians. From reading Paul’s two letters to Corinth we learn of the divisions he must address, the false notions he must put right, the crooked practices he must straighten out, and the fact that some of them evidently thought Paul himself was not worth listening to. And so with that in mind, listen to his last words to the Corinthians:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 Corinthians 13:13 NRSV)

First, notice what’s at the last; “be with all of you.” Not just “the people I like”, not just “the people who like me”, not just “the people who are good to me”, not just “the people who are mature”, but “all of you.” Even the difficult people. Here is a fitting conclusion for every encounter with all the people of our lives, even the difficult people. Whether we say it or pray it, we can desire it. Let’s dig a little deeper into Paul’s desire.

Paul has a desire for the Corinthians to know and live in the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace is undeserved favor and the greatest symbol of grace is the cross where the Greatest ever died on behalf of the least. Notice Paul does not just say the grace of Jesus. Jesus is Lord, that is, the One who has the power and authority to condemn. Yet He is the One who stood on trial, innocent, but condemned. That is grace. Jesus is also the Christ, or in another language, the Messiah. He is the focus of God’s plan of salvation revealed through the events and pages of the Old Testament. That is grace. Paul knows first hand that he does not deserve that grace. So when he thinks of those difficult people in Corinth who do not deserve that grace, he is reminded of himself. When we think of the difficult people in our lives who do not deserve favor, do we remember that we are difficult people who have not deserved God’s favor? Having experienced the amazing grace of Jesus, how could we not desire it for everyone and anyone?

Dealing with Difficult PeoplePaul has a desire for the Corinthians to know and live in the “love of God.” God is love. And Paul has a good understanding of that love. It is not the warm-and-fuzzy-feeling kind of love that we may think of. Neither is it just being nice. The Hebrew term for God’s love includes the notion of loyalty and faithfulness. God’s love is more a “faithful in marriage” than “smitten in dating” kind of love. The Greek word for God’s love is marked with overtones of commitment and choice. It is not “how could I dance with another, when I saw her standing there” kind of love, which can end up being a selfish kind of love. It is more “I will ask her to dance because I care for her and a dance would be good for her.” When we say that God loves you, it is not because you are amazing, it is because He is amazing in His capacity to love. Paul knows that he himself is not amazing. Paul knows that he is in exactly the same boat as the difficult people in Corinth who are not amazing. Do you know God’s love as the difficult person you can be? Can you desire that the difficult people in your life know it also?

Paul has a desire for the Corinthians to know and live in the “communion of the Holy Spirit.” This can be interpreted either that they will enjoy good relationships with one another as the Holy Spirit makes possible, or that they will each experience the Holy Spirit personally. Perhaps we should take it as meaning both since an experience of the fruit of the Spirit in your life will come along with better relationships. This desire for the Holy Spirit can help us get over two speed bumps we might come across as we desire something really good for those people we may consider to be really unworthy.

  • Speed Bump #1 — Thinking: “This person has always been difficult and always will be difficult.” But not if the Holy Spirit takes control of their lives! Think of the most shady characters throughout history. Now think of the benefit for many, many, many people had the Holy Spirit taken control of their lives. How would history have been different if they had the communion of the Holy Spirit so that their lives would show the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NRSV) To pray for difficult people to experience communion with the Holy Spirit is to pray “Thy Kingdom come.” It is to pray for good things, not just for the person experiencing communion with the Holy Spirit, but for everyone who experiences the person experiencing the Holy Spirit!
  • Speed Bump #2 Saying: “I just can’t do it – I just can’t desire good things for a certain person in my life.” You can’t or you won’t? Remember the communion of the Holy Spirit is available to you also, God is working a transformation in you also. In fact it is the difficult people in our lives that God uses to change us into the likeness of His Son who bore the cross for difficult people. God does not stretch your forgiveness and grace muscles through perfect people. Difficult people can be the heavy weights of a good muscle developing workout.

So how do your encounters with difficult people end up? With awkwardness, bitterness, or grudges? Paul’s conclusion in his second letter to the Corinthians provides us with a great conclusion to every encounter with the difficult people of our lives.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 Corinthians 13:13 NRSV)

Even if we do not say it, we can pray it, we can desire it. It won’t just change their lives. It will change ours.

 

May 15, 2016

The Forgotten Ministry

•••by Russell Young

John wrote,If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.(1 John 5:16, NIV)

This is a curious promise written by John.  There are many different opinions as to what John meant when he spoke of a sin that does not lead to death.   For this writing, however, consideration will be given to the issue of life that John has promised.  Is he promising physical life or spiritual life?  Throughout his epistle John has been speaking of one’s spiritual health and well-being, not his physical well-being.   However, applying the notion of spiritual life or death does not make sense to those who claim that one’s spiritual hope was assured at the time of their confession of faith.  They would proclaim that the ‘believer” was saved eternally at that point and this reality cannot be altered.  If this is so, how can sin bring about his spiritual death?  Consequently, they must attribute the death being spoken about as one’s physical death.  And examination of the Scriptures reveals that John might very likely be addressing one’s eternal health or spiritual life.  Disobedience, and walking in sin has been revealed to bring about one’s spiritual destruction or death.

John has recorded the Lord’s teaching that one’s doing will either allow him to rise to live or rise to be condemned.   “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28-29, NIV) That is, his practices are what determines his outcome.

Erroneous teaching about the nature and application of God’s “grace” and of “works” has allowed God’s children the freedom to engage in sin without concern for judgment and death.  The Word is clear that eternal salvation is only accomplished through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) Paul taught that we are not to be DECEIVED, a man reaps what he sows.  “The one who sows to please his sinful nature from his sinful nature will reap destruction.” (Galatians 6:7-8) Paul also recorded: “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey-whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 5:16) He also taught that the believer was to offer his body in slavery to righteousness which leads to holiness (Romans 6:19), resulting in eternal life. (Romans 6:22) Further in his letter Paul wrote: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)

It is not the gospel message that God’s grace will deliver the confessor into His eternal presence.  In order for that to be accomplished he must utilize the resources that have been provided according to God’s grace and mercy and live a life of obedience.  Sin is disobedience.

Just before the Lord’s crucifixion He washed the disciple’s feet.  Many take this as an act of humility and command to service.  It certainly is that, but much more.  Peter was appalled and at first would not submit.  However, the Lord rebuked him.  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8) And clarified,A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.  And you are clean.” (John 13:10) The soil of daily sins (dirty feet) according to the Lord still needed to be washed clean if the Lord was “to have any part with him.”  That is, known sin must be repented and confessed if it is to be forgiven and removed.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:9, NIV)

It is in the context of these understandings that the passage under consideration and the “forgotten ministry” makes sense.  If you see your brother (a fellow believer) commit a sin you are to pray for him so that he might have life.  It is unfortunate that this ministry is not promoted more within the church.  It is both an act of service and of love.  The reality of this ministry has been lost in exaggerated and misleading teaching concerning the nature of God’s grace and of His “unconditional” love, but it still remains in force.

April 30, 2016

The People’s Court

Early in my Christian walk, one writer and pastor who had a major influence on me was Stuart Briscoe. As a family, we traveled to his church in Milwaukee, and many years later I got to hear him in Toronto. Stuart has a devotional page at LightSource.com where this was posted recently. His target audience for this page is men, but there are good thoughts for everyone in his writing. To read more by him, click to this link.

Conflict Resolution

Don’t you know that those who do wrong will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. . . . There was a time when some of you were just like that, but now your sins have been washed away, and you have been set apart for God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9, 11

Bumper stickers can communicate messages that might not otherwise be heard, but never take your theology from them! For example, consider this popular bumper sticker message: “Christians aren’t perfect—just forgiven.” The sentiment that Christians are painfully aware of their sinfulness is correct, and they know how necessary forgiveness is. Christians also affirm that while their sins are forgiven, that does not add up to an ongoing life of perfection. But to suggest that Christians are just forgiven is surely to miss the point. Christians are forgiven, they are not perfect, but they are more than “just forgiven”—they are called to and empowered for a new life.

Christians suing ChristiansPaul explained this truth quite bluntly and plainly. Having listed some of the common sinful behaviors of the day—behavior patterns that disqualify the behaviors from participation in God’s kingdom—he concluded: “There was a time when some of you were just like that, but”—and it was a big but—”now your sins have been washed away and you have been set apart for God. You have been made right with God because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you” (1 Cor. 6:11). The Corinthians were undoubtedly forgiven sinners, but in light of the fact that they had been “washed” and “set apart” and “made right with God,” a higher standard was now expected from them in their lives.

For example, some of the Corinthian Christians were trying to resolve their differences by taking each other to court. There was nothing unusual about Corinthians suing each other, but Paul said it was not acceptable behavior for Christians. Christians will one day “judge the world” and also “judge angels” (6:2-3), so Paul argued that they ought to be capable of settling conflicts among themselves without seeking a legal remedy imposed by unbelievers.

How strictly modern Christians should apply this principle to their business lives is a subject of earnest debate and genuine disagreement. But Christians should, at least, be willing to “accept the injustice and leave it at that,” and they should be willing to “let [them]selves be cheated” (6:7-8). Nobody likes to be treated unjustly or to be cheated. And rather than accept such treatment, the natural response is to take whatever action is available to avoid it. Paul’s point is that Christians respond to life’s injustices in ways that are not “normal.” They have been “set apart” for something different. Their model, of course, is Jesus, who suffered monumental injustice on a cross without complaining. And their empowerment comes from the Holy Spirit. Christians are not “just forgiven,” they’re definitely different!

For Further Study: 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 

Excerpted from The One Year Devotions for Men, Copyright ©2000 by Stuart Briscoe.


Want to go deeper with this topic? Here’s a very lengthy article on the subject of Christians suing other Christians. Or check out an answer to whether or not it’s Biblical to sue other Christians.

 

December 9, 2015

When Peace Returns

•••click the title below to read this at Clarke Dixon‘s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

ISIS Goes Global. So Does Peace.

The term World War Three is popping up more and more these days. With ISIS extending its reach and more nations lining up to reach back the war on terror is looking more and more like a worldwide thing.  And ISIS is only one part, there is still Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and others besides. “It’s a small world after all” is feeling less and less like a feel good statement and more and more like a lament the world is too cramped. Will there ever be peace? Will we ever be able to stand together as different nations, peoples, and races?

This question in answered in the book of Revelation:

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

It's a Small World After AllNotice that the people in this vision are standing together. Finally, people standing together in peace! One thing I miss about my former church in Ottawa is the diversity in our worship. There were times you could look around and see people from Canada, Jamaica, Russia, Iran, Benin, Haiti, China, England, and N. Ireland not to mention the Congo when we combined services with a  sister church. Those combined services were a special treat with different races worshipping together in English, French, Swahili, and Lingala. It felt like a foretaste of Revelation 7:9, many peoples standing together in worship.

With all the wrangling over land, resources, and ideologies, we may correctly be cynical about ever expecting peace on earth this side of heaven. But we ought not to be surprised that God has promised to bring people together in harmony. The Bible has pointing this way for a long time. Do you remember the last time we enjoyed peace on earth? Yes, it did actually happen once. There were only two people on earth at that time mind you, but there was peace on earth! This was God’s intention from the get-go: peace and harmony. We see hints and pointers to this throughout scripture.

Like the promise to Abraham:

in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

Like the words of an angel announcing a birth:

see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

Like the words of a whole big party of angels celebrating a birth:

and on earth peace among those whom he favors. (Luke 2:14)

Like Simeon on seeing the baby Jesus:

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:30-32)

Like John 3:16,17

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

Like our Lord’s Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19)

. . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 NRSV)

Like the Day of Pentecost:

7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power. (Acts 2:7-11)

Like the day the original Jews for Jesus realized Jesus wasn’t just for Jews:

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. (Acts 10:34-36)

And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life. (Acts 11:18)

All these and more are pointers to a coming reality:

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

Who are these people and why are they able to stand together? 

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)

Before we notice that these people are standing together we should notice that they are standing before God. This has incredible significance for it is a wonder that they should be able to stand there at all. In fact the seventh chapter of Revelation is an answer to a question raised in chapter six:

15 Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? (Revelation 6:15-17)

Who is able to stand in the day of God’s judgement of sin? There is not one person who is able to raise their hand, point to their own righteousness and say “I am.” Yet here in Revelation 7 we have a multitude standing. The answer is those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14) It is because of what God has done for us through Jesus at the cross that we can have peace with God, that we are able to stand in His holy presence. And it is because of God’s work in our lives that we will be able to stand together in harmony and peace.

While we cannot stand together before God on the strength of our own efforts, we are to be involved and active. Notice that the multitude are those who have done their washing! They have actively participated. They have repented. Salvation is completely the work of God in our lives through Jesus. But we are not saved to simply sit around waiting for the Prince of Peace to return and bring the Day of peace. We are saved to be peacemakers. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is the work of God in us and for us, but also in us and through us, for others.

Peace on earth might seem like an impossible dream. But when God is the One with the dream, nothing is impossible. Advent reminds us that the Prince of Peace is on His way. Despite the wars and rumours of wars all around us, we don’t just look forward to peace, we lean into it. Come Lord Jesus.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Emphases are mine.

 

December 6, 2015

Becoming a Peacemaker: The Church and Race

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

“From Racist to Grace-ist”

When we think of the issue of race in the church, we often assume an American context, but I believe this issue surfaces all over the world…

This morning I woke up with a painful sore throat that had begun late afternoon yesterday. Since attending a church service was not in the best interests of the people who would be sitting near me, I decided to stay home. Those of you who know me personally know my passion for church and I already got one phone call that contained a surprised, “You stayed home? You?”

This meant that in addition to my weekly connection with Andy Stanley at North Point in Atlanta, I was free to do some electronic megachurch hopping.

I started out with an over-the-air TV sermon by Charles Price of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Charles will be retiring in a few months, so I’m trying to catch as much as I can on the Living Truth program and website, though I’m told they still have about a year’s worth of material that will be broadcast. Charles spoke about the prophecies that foretold the coming of Jesus and the odds that the prophetic statements about the Messiah would actually combine into a single narrative focused on one individual in history. At a certain point, you have to believe the Biblical record about Jesus not because of what the Bible says happened, but because of what it said would happen.

After North Point’s 11:00 (EST) live broadcast, I discovered I was on time to connect with an 11:15 (CST, 12:15 EST) broadcast from Willow Creek in Chicago. The whole service was about prison ministry with teaching pastor Steve Carter presenting the strongest scriptural case for Christians to be involved in visiting and encouraging prisoners, founding pastor Bill Hybels interviewing Burl Cain, warden of Angola Prison, and then the entire congregation taking about 10 minutes to pack Christmas paper bags filled with books and snacks. I was reminded again how every service at Willow is an event, and how they do everything with excellence. You can watch that service on demand now at this link.

Finally, I ended up at Saddleback Church where Rick Warren introduced guest speaker Derwin Gray, Lead Pastor of Transformation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. The theme at Saddleback is “Peace on Earth” and Derwin’s message (which I believe will be streaming throughout the day and on-demand later this week) was titled:

How Does Jesus Transform You into a Peacemaker?

I got interrupted by a telephone call and missed about ten minutes in the middle, but the outline (the answer to that question) was:

1. By receiving Jesus’ gift of grace.

2. By partnering with God and fulfilling His dream for Humanity: Peace on Earth!

3. By believing that Jesus, through the cross united different ethnicities.

4. By believing that Jesus, through the cross brought peace (reconciliation) between different ethnicities.

5. By believing that Jesus, through the cross, created a new multiethnicity called the church. 

6. By believing that Jesus, through the cross, killed hostilities between ethnicities making one new, multi-ethnic body.

Some of the key scriptures, reminding us of the multi-ethnicity of the Kingdom of God, were:

“What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this GOOD NEWS to Abraham long ago when He said, ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” Galatians 3:8-9 (NLT)

and

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down tin his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in cone Spirit to the Father.”Ephesians 2:8-18 (ESV)

The key verses in Ephesians can be broken down individually as they appear in another translation:

“Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called ‘uncircumcised heathens’ by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:11-13 (NLT)

“For Christ Himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in His own body on the cross, He broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations.” 
Ephesians 2:14-15a (NLT)

“He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.” Ephesians 2:15b (NLT)

“Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.” Ephesians 2:16 (NLT)

Both Steve’s sermon (prisoners) and Derwin’s (racial reconciliation) are big problems in the U.S., but also are seen in other parts of the world. At Saddleback, viewers leave comments during the sermon that you can read in the margin. One person from Hawaii wrote:

Here in Hawaii, racism isn’t a problem against any ethnicity except toward our own kind. It’s sad to see Hawaiians against Hawaiians.

Everyone reading here can think of other places where ethnic hostility has existed over the years, from the Middle East to Northern Ireland to the place where you live.

As Christians we are to be distinct from the world and the world’s ways. Among Christians such things should not be. The First Century church comprised people of different ethnicities, generations, and social standing. Since they included both Jews and Gentiles, a new word was needed to describe them, so the term “Christians” was born.

Jesus broke down the dividing walls- may we be a generation that breaks down dividing walls for the sake of the gospel!” – Derwin Gray

 

 

November 20, 2015

Making Your Church a Better Place

CEB* Romans 12:3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!

Today we pay a return visit to the blog of B. J. Rutledge, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise, Texas. Click the link below to read the article at source.

7 Things That Would Make Church Better

Romans 12:1 & 2 have long been favorites of mine, but today as I was reading Romans 12, I got really focused on the next few verses and had to admit I’m not doing as well with them as I’d like.  If we’d all work on them, I think church would be even better than it already is!

  1. Choose Humility (v. 3)

Filter every thought about yourself through Christ; don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

  1. Give Each Other Grace. (v.4)

We belong to one another; we’re family and we don’t all have the same function. Family is difficult at times because we’re so different & grace is needed because we don’t all respond the same way…and by the way, God set it up this way (so go figure).

  1. Use The Gifts God Gave You (v. 6)

We all have gifts – given to us by God through His grace, so whatever gift we’ve been given IT’S FROM GOD & THAT’S GOOD!  Quit desiring someone else’s gift & be thankful for what God gave you, and USE IT!

We’re to exercise our gift(s); that is – put them/it to use. Failure to use our gift(s) – or simple negligence is like saying to God – “Don’t get me anything for Christmas; Your gifts aren’t that great.”

  1. Love One Another (v. 9)

We’re to love each other; it’s that simple and profound. This reminds me of a question Andy Stanley posed a while back: “What does love require of me?” In other words, RIGHT NOW – IN THIS INSTANT – IN THIS SITUATION – WITH THIS PERSON…What Does Love Require of Me?

  1. Hate Evil; Cling To What’s Good (v. 9)

This should be self explanatory!

  1. Be Devoted To One Another (v.10)

Christians, we’re not just to ask: “What does love require of me?” WE’RE TO BE DEVOTED TO ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE.   Oops; how are we doing with this? We’re to be so devoted we actually GIVE PREFERENCE to ONE ANOTHER – and HONOR ONE ANOTHER. Let’s give this a lot more effort this week – month – year – and begin today!

  1. Don’t Be Lazy (v.11)

DON’T BE LAZY in using what God’s given you when it comes to SERVING HIM & HIS CHURCH.   Diligence has to do with our ACTIONS.   BE FERVENT IN SPIRIT has to do with having an enthusiastic attitude about serving Christ! Serving Christ through His Church is one of the greatest privileges in the world so demonstrate your gratefulness in Action & Attitude and get busy SERVING!


*I frequently refer to the Common English Bible. Published just a few years ago, it’s target market is the more liturgical Protestant churches who have historically used the NRSV.

November 1, 2015

For the Unity of Christians of all Ages, Countries, and Races in Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

For All Saints Day, a post from this day in 2013 by Alex Crain, Editor of Christianity.com from Crosswalk.com

Click the title below for additional content:

All Saints’ Day – Crosswalk the Devotional

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
(Hebrews 12:1)

…There’s a yearly reminder of our connectedness as Christians to the church. It’s called “All Saints Day” and is commemorated every November 1st. Perhaps, you were taught to think of saints as statues in a church building. But the Bible teaches something completely different. Who is a saint? You are. That is, if you’re a follower of Jesus. God calls a “saint” anyone who trusts in Christ alone for salvation (see Acts 9:13, 26:10, Romans 8:27, 1Corinthians 1:2).

Sainthood isn’t given by a group of religious leaders. It’s granted by God Himself to any common, salt-of-the-earth person who simply trusts Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2). Words matter. And sowing confusion about good, biblical words like “saint” is not from God. The gospel message is that God the Son came to earth, lived a perfectly obedient life, died on the cross to pay for our sins (Romans 5:1), and rose again proving His atoning work was complete (Romans 4:22-25) . Those who will give up the useless work of trying to please God by “good deeds” and, instead, trust Christ alone become the very righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). If God calls even those erring believers in Corinth “saints” (and He does, 1 Corinthians 1:2), why argue?

Anyone who trusts in Christ alone for salvation is a saint in the sight of God. Now that we have that cleared up, how should we think of All Saints Day? Well, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer says that the holiday stands for “the unity of Christians of all ages, countries, and races in Christ, and the perfection of that unity in heaven.” It dates the holiday back to about A.D. 610 when the Pantheon in Greece, turned into a Christian Church, was dedicated to all saints. Sounds like the prayer book has the right idea.

The Bible doesn’t teach us to pray to the saints (Matt. 6:6), through the saints (1 Tim. 2:5) or for saints who have already gone to heaven. Instead, we remember the saints and to allow the testimony of their faith spur us on to deeper worship and greater service to the Lord. Hebrews 11 gives us examples of the great cloud of witnesses who are called so, not because they are watching us, but because they testify of God’s grace to them. These saints of the past remind us:

“God is faithful.”

“The Lord is good, trust always in Him.”

“God’s grace was sufficient for me and it will be for you too.”

There’s a hymn that’s traditionally sung around this holiday called “For All the Saints.” It encourages believers to look back through the years of Christian history and think of the millions now enjoying rest and salvation in the presence of God. It’s also meant to provide encouragement to believers here and now to press on, looking forward to the glorious day…

“…when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!”

Intersecting Faith & Life:
How about you? Do you tend to view yourself as an isolated Christian? Consider your connection with the rest of the saints by reading through the words of “For All the Saints.” If you’ve never heard this great song of the faith, click on the link to listen as you reflect on the lyrics. (“For All the Saints” performed by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.)

October 26, 2015

Unity in the Body

Eph. 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.…

This is from the website Christ-Centered Christianity and the writer is David Bolton. I’m not sure which you might enjoy more, the words that follow, or the 9-minute video linked to in the closing paragraphs that he discovered. But you need to read the first for the second to make sense. Better yet, click the link below and read everything at source:

100 Pianos

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other?  They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.  So one hundred worshipers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
A. W. Tozer The Pursuit of God

Ever since the earliest days of my walk with Christ, I’ve had a strong passion and deep burden for the unity of the Body of Christ.  This passion and burden have sprung from two main sources: the clear teaching of Scripture and, in stark contrast, the grievous division that abounds in the Church of Jesus Christ.

From Scripture, it is clear that there are few things more precious to God than unity. Please consider the following:  

  • Unity defines the very nature of His triune being.
  • Unity permeated all of “eternity past” before the beginning of time.
  • Unity characterized the whole of creation prior to the rebellion of Lucifer.
  • Unity marked the Garden of Eden before the serpent entered and tempted Eve.
  • Unity is what God sought to manifest through His chosen nation, Israel.
  • Unity is what Christ taught, prayed for, and then died and rose from the dead in order to restore.
  • Unity is what the Holy Spirit poured out on the Church on the day of Pentecost.
  • Unity is what the early church was known by throughout the book of Acts.
  • Unity is what Paul and the other apostles repeatedly exhorted the Church unto throughout the Epistles.
  • Unity is what will define the Kingdom of God in the millennial reign of Christ.
  • Unity is what will prevail in the new heavens and new earth for all eternity.

From beginning to end, unity lies at the very heart and soul of God and His eternal purpose! That is enough for me!  How about you?

As we turn from looking at the central and significant place of unity in Scripture to the vessel that God has chosen to manifest His eternal purpose on earth, the Church, what do we see in this regard?  Instead of seeing a corresponding witness on earth of unity, we see an entirely contrary witness of disunity.  In my opinion, it is an utter mess, an epic fail, an outright mockery of the unifying work of God in Christ!  I really don’t think it could get much worse!

So, I have to ask, “What is the cause of this vast disparity between the strong testimony of Scripture regarding unity and the despicable testimony of the Church in its practice of disunity?”

As I’ve contemplated this matter, I’ve come to a conclusion that may be somewhat surprising.

Ironically, I’ve come to believe that the greatest enemy to unity in the Church is actually the Church’s pursuit of “unity!”  Look about the Christian landscape and I think that you will see that this is so.  When any portion of the Church pursues an isolated form of unity along sectarian lines, it becomes divisive to the larger body of Christ.  In fact, the sectarian pursuit of “unity” is one of the most dangerous and destructive practices the Church regularly engages in.  Christendom is riddled with the divisive fruit of this practice.

The reality is, that as much as God esteems and seeks unity in His Church, He has not set unity as a primary pursuit for His Church.  Rather, it is a secondary matter that comes into expression as His people primarily seek a much higher and greater objective, i.e., that of conformity to Jesus Christ.  In other words, the unity that He seeks is a “fruit” issue, not a “root” issue.

To give an example, if I want to have delicious apples to eat, I don’t primarily set out to create apples with my own determination, wisdom, and resources. That would be impossible! Rather, I plant and nurture an apple tree and, in time, I have delicious apples to eat!  The same is true with unity.  If we want the unity that God desires, we don’t primarily set out to create unity with our own determination, wisdom, and resources.  That, likewise, would be impossible!  Instead, we plant and nurture the right “Tree” and, in time, we have the delicious fruit of unity!

So, what is that “Tree”?

It is the “Tree of Life”!

And what is the “Tree of Life”?

It is CHRIST!

I once tweeted, “We don’t obtain unity by pursuing unity together; we obtain unity by pursuing Christ together!”

Isn’t this what Bro. Tozer is saying in the quote at the beginning of this post.  We don’t get 100 pianos in one accord by tuning them to each other, but by individually tuning them to another standard.  That “standard”, that “fork”, is Jesus Christ!

When man tries to create unity, he employs all manner of “forks” to bring people into one accord.  More often than not, however, Jesus Christ Himself becomes “the fork that the tuners reject.” (to paraphrase Psalm 118:12 & 1 Peter 2:7)

Jesus Christ is a “Fork” that is heavenly and spiritual in nature.  He can only be “heard” by those who have spiritual ears attune to His heavenly “frequency”.  Man, in general, is much more in resonance with earthly, natural things, and so are much more readily brought into one accord around a “fork” that is of a lower nature.

Jesus Christ is, likewise, a “Fork” that emits a sound that is fuller and more exquisite than any tone heard here on earth.  The range and resonance of the sound far exceeds the dull, monotone ring of our earthly “forks”.  He emits a symphony of sound that is able to tune all of our diverse “strings” harmoniously at once.  Those who are attuned to Him create a magnificent symphony of sound in their unified diversity.  Not so the “forks” of earth which emit a single tone and create a much more uniform drone.  Such, however, is easier for leaders to “conduct” and for man to “echo”, and so man’s spiritually tone-challenged ears rally around their monotonous, man-made rings.

Consider, then, the many “forks” that religious/spiritual people employ to bring followers into one accord:

Some employ the “fork” of church hierarchy and official dogma; others that of denominational affiliation and theological persuasion; still others a chosen religious tradition, spiritual experience, Scriptural emphasis, charismatic personality, church polity, crafted program, or popular movement.  All of these are used to bring a select portion of the Body of Christ into one accord around their particular tone.

This may all seem very reasonable, but what is the over-all result?

Body-wide DISSONANCE;

A global, ecclesiastical CACOPHONY;

A ubiquitous, religious BABEL!

I tweeted at a different time: “The unity of the Church is found in Jesus Christ alone.   All human contrivances to produce unity only divide the Church further. JESUS ALONE!”

God has only ONE FORK with which to tune ALL of His Church!  The unity that He seeks is found solely in the Lord Jesus Christ!  “For He Himself is our peace…”  (Ephesians 2:14)  Only He, through His glorious Person and work is able to bring all of God’s people into unity and one accord.

So, let it be understood, that the “fork” that we tune to is not an institution or organization, for Christ is not an institution or organization.  The “fork” that we tune to is not a mere theological position or set of doctrines, for Christ is not a mere theological position or set of doctrines.  The “fork” that we tune to is not a particular spiritual emphasis or religious experience, for Christ is not a particular spiritual emphasis or religious experience.

The “Fork” that we tune to is a PERSON!  He is a Living PERSON in Whom all fullness dwells, and Who transcends all of these things.  As each one of us becomes personally tuned to Him, we automatically become tuned to one another.  This is God’s way of true unity!

May we as Christ’s Body transcend these lesser, divisive “forks”, and seek to become fully one in resonance with God’s chosen “Fork”.  Then, and only then will we be fully tuned with one another and so be fit for the Grand Symphony of the Ages to be played through us to the glory of God and the joy of all creation!

~ ~ ~

As I was searching for this quote of A. W. Tozer’s, I came across a video of a musical production which was inspired by these very words.  I share the link with you here as a final meditation and inspiration.  It is extraordinary!

As you watch and listen, please consider the multitude and diversity of talents and gifts that have gone into making this what it is.  This is a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ, all in tune, functioning in one accord, under the direction of one Conductor!  Enjoy!

100 Pianos by Gio Galanti

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