Christianity 201

September 20, 2022

Eliminating Walls Between Christ-Followers

We’re back once again for a visit to the website called More Than Useless, written by Thom Fowler. Clicking the title which follows will take you there where you can read today’s thoughts where they originally appeared.

Tear Down Those Walls!

In my distress I prayed to the Lord,
… and the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear.
… What can mere people do to me?
Psalm 118:5-6 NLT


God’s Good News

Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart[a] by spreading the Good News about his Son.

10 One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. 11 For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. 12 When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.

13 I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters,[b] that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. 14 For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world,[c] to the educated and uneducated alike. 15 So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News.

16 For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.[d] 17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”[e]

Growing up I went to kindergarten through 5th grade, initially in West Virginia then finished in North Carolina. We then moved to Ohio where I attended middle school.

Younger readers won’t get this reference, but in Ohio, many of my classmates called me Gomer Pyle! (Remember these colloquialisms? “Shazam!”, “Gooolly”, “Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise!” If you recall his character, I’m sure you heard his accent loud and clear in your head!) So unsurprisingly, I had a bit of a southern accent. I wasn’t labeled for very long, but obviously, it impacted me, because I still remember it after all these years.

Unfortunately, one of the worst traits of humanity is not accepting others who are different. It is an ancient habit that is just as prominent today as it has ever been. It is a very complex mentality that plagues us all.

It is most disheartening in that, though you’d think it wouldn’t be, the church is not exempt from these thoughts and attitudes. If anything, we tend to expand the criteria of separation. We don’t just hold at arm’s length those who differ from us along cultural, social, racial, and economic lines, but we also throw in all the religious issues.

Some may be pretty vocal, but I think, instead, many have this underlying mentality of distrust – even fear – of those who aren’t like them. And the list of “problematic” characteristics then goes on forever – they may not speak the language we know, the customs of their culture exclude some of our traditions and add things that are totally foreign to us, they may come from way more money than we’ve ever seen, or they may be dirt poor and lack the fastidiousness of our hygiene, and of course, having any other skin tone may automatically throw up red flags.

Then to make matters worse, they may adhere to different faith practices than we do. They may speak in tongues, or partake of communion from a chalice, they may follow a strict liturgy of worship, or be entirely led by the Spirit in their worship style…and on and on it goes.

It’s not necessarily intentional, but walls go up…dividers are set into place. But isn’t that what Jesus came to tear down? The Apostle Paul said it this way,

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. Ephesians 2:14-16 NIV

In verse 14 of today’s passage he stated,

For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world… NLT

My Life Application Study Bible says, regarding this verse,

Paul’s…obligation was to people of the entire world. He met his obligation by proclaiming Christ’s salvation to people – across all cultural, social, racial, and economic lines, both Jews and Gentiles. We also are obligated to Christ because he took the punishment we deserve for our sins. Although we cannot repay Christ for all he has done, we can demonstrate our gratitude by showing his love to others.

Lord Jesus, help us tear down those walls. May we too feel that obligation to people of the entire world…not just those near and dear. Amen.


NLT footnotes:

  1. 1:9 Or in my spirit.
  2. 1:13 Greek brothers.
  3. 1:14 Greek to Greeks and barbarians.
  4. 1:16 Greek also the Greek.
  5. 1:17 Or “The righteous will live by faith.” Hab 2:4.

September 6, 2022

The Day Approaching

The worldwide pandemic has certainly taken a toll on church attendance. And regular weekly attendance was already suffering, as some people took a more casual approach to the discipline of weekend gathering, while others found themselves compromised because of commitments to their job or their childrens’ sports programs.

A popular verse lately has been

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24,25 (NIV)

I tend to remember this verse in terms of three parts:

  1. urging each other toward love and good deeds
  2. not forgetting to meet together
  3. encouraging each other

But there is a fourth element I realized I was overlooking

4. even more so now as we see “the day approaching.”

The Amplified Bible renders this as “the day [of Christ’s return] approaching;” while Phillips has “the final day drawing ever nearer.” Most others simply have “the day” or “the Day” (capitalized) leaving both new and veteran Bible students wondering what is in the writer’s mind.

Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer. – Hebrews 10:25 (CEV)

Personally, I think of this as, ‘Don’t stop meeting together… especially right now, of all times.’ Or, “‘… especially these days.’ I hear it as, ‘If ever there was a time we need each other and need to gather corporately, it’s now.’

Don’t you agree?

The idea here isn’t just that we (ourselves, personally) remember to keep meeting together, but that we spur (NIV) each other toward this, as the phrase is bookended by phrases about encouraging each other.

In November, 2013 we heard this from Jim Thornber who appears here frequently:

…Look at that word “spur.” It means to provoke, incite, irritate. When you gather with other Christians then you should be spurring them, provoking and inciting and even irritating them on towards good works. It also means when you gather you are willing to be spurred. But we cannot be spurred if we are not gathering, and we cannot be spurred or provoked towards good works if we only show up every once in a while to a church and leave as soon as possible. Still, this happens week after week in churches all over the world. But according to the Great Commission, to be a disciple and to make disciples means you are personally investing in the lives of others.

And this is terribly inconvenient. It means you will have to invest the one thing that means more to many of us than money – our time. We would rather pay someone to take our neighbor to the grocery store than actually drive them ourselves. We’d rather pay someone to work on the church than show up ourselves. We’d rather buy someone a book on finances than commit to going to their house for 12 weeks and taking them through the book and teaching them through our own example. I’m very glad that Jesus didn’t send someone else to earth to do His work. He came personally. He took time away from His throne in Heaven to invest His life, and then His death, so He could make disciples. That is what it cost Jesus. What are we willing to invest to make disciples? It will cost us our time, our talents, our personal touch and yes, even some of our treasure. But that is what it means to be a disciple. So ask yourself: “Am I a disciple, or am I just content with being saved?” I don’t know how anyone can think of the price Jesus paid to bring us to Heaven and be content with merely being saved…

In November, 2014, Ben Savage quoted this verse in an outline of six evidences of discipleship.  He simply called it “being present.”

  1. Connection through prayer
  2. Engagement with scripture
  3. Being present
  4. Acts of service
  5. Investment in others
  6. Worship through generosity

In July, 2015 we noted seven benefits of meeting together.

  1. Fellowship
  2. Corporate Prayer
  3. Receiving prayer ministry
  4. Corporate worship
  5. Corporate giving
  6. Confession
  7. Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion

By April 2016, we noted that data collection organizations were classifying being in church only once or twice a month as “regular” church attendance. But writer Phillip Pratt refocused our attention that “the context here is not about clinging to a particular local church or congregation but about clinging to Christ.” Using the KJV wording of the verse, “Forsaking the assembling ourselves…” he wrote:

The book of Hebrews has a theme and it is not about religious attendance but about clinging to Christ, specifically the hope of Jesus Christ (verse 23)…

…“Forsake” in Greek is egkataleipō = quit, leave entirely, abandon completely, desert, to give up or renounce

The same word is found in Matt 27:46 My God, My God, why have You forsaken (egkataleipō) me? & also in 2 Tim 4:10 for Demas has forsaken (egkataleipō) me

Now, is someone who attends a church service once a month or once every 3-4 months completely abandoning or renouncing anything?

Hebrews was addressed to persecuted Jewish Christians who were completely (or considering) abandoning “faith in Christ”.

“Assembling together” is a one word phrase from the Greek word episunsgoge or episynagoge = to be gathered together but to who or to whom?

It can be found in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together (episynagoge) unto Him…

This verse is telling us to cling to & “gather ourselves unto Christ” & don’t be shaken. It has nothing to do w/ church attendance & everything to do w/ persistence to stay focused on Christ & His return…

We have to say here that yes; of course our motivation for gathering must be that we are gathering unto Christ. It also begs a question similar to the one I asked earlier, ‘How can we then simply be skipping church from week to week?’ We’re not reflecting a casual relationship to our local congregation, but a casual attitude toward God Himself.

So now… especially now… with all that’s going on in our world, and “as we see the day approaching,” let’s not be lax or casual in our commitment to the Body of Christ, His Church, and Jesus Himself. (capital letters intentional!)

As Danniebell Hall sang in 1974, “This is not the time for giving up, it’s time for holding on.”


Related: What did a commitment to church look like for First Century Christians? Check out a book called The Didache, introduced in this article here from October, 2021.
 

August 29, 2022

We’re A Small (Important) Part of a Larger Masterpiece

If you leave a comment here, and include the URL for your own devotional blog, don’t be surprised if we take a look and your writing finds its way to Christianity 201. That’s what happened on the weekend, and that introduced us to her blog Echoes of Heart: Reviving Righteousness. Click the header which follows to see where today’s sample of her writing first appeared.

Puzzle pieces

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about puzzles. More specifically a 40,000 piece puzzle that is the Guinness book of world records largest puzzle in the world. This puzzle is the largest in both the amount of pieces and its overall size. The part of this puzzle that has me thinking though, is the number of pieces. 40,000 pieces needing to find their place in the big picture.

With that many pieces one might entertain the thought that one or two pieces aren’t such a big deal if they happened to go missing.. keeping track of 40,000 pieces sounds almost overtime payish.

One piece of a puzzle won’t even give someone an idea of what the picture will be once all the pieces are put together.  Having just one piece of the whole puzzle is useless really as it cannot be the whole puzzle even if it wanted to be.  That piece has its one place within the whole, where it is vital to the whole.  If that one piece decided to go its own way getting lost, thinking it’s no big deal or unimportant, would ruin the masterpiece for without it the whole would be void in the spot that piece was to take up. Furthermore that piece is not replaceable either. No other piece can or will fit into it’s rightful place.

As I ponder this I am drawn to the idea, what if life was like this. What if God has this masterpiece in mind as He creates each and every piece to fit together, each having its own unique shape and each being equally important to the finished project. He’s skillfully and masterfully knit every single human together while in the womb, giving to each a uniqueness that only they can contribute and nobody can take the place of.

We are all just pieces to the whole puzzle. We are meant to fit together, each in our own unique way.

This is not really a new thought, in scripture Paul puts it this way,

1 Corinthians 12:14-27 NLT — Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care.

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

Selfishness, self-pity, self-righteousness, all focus on self.  So long as the focus is on self, it cannot also be on service.

The world has made popular the idea that we should be focused on self, like self improvement, self-confidence, self-help, self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-love, etc. All examples of the worldly idea that we need to focus on ourselves.

All around us are the messages, feeding into our minds and hearts, causing us to believe this concentration on self is right.   We are all searching for inner peace, love, and a place to just rest. When focus is on self, no matter what side of the scale, from self-pity to self-righteousness, we are in a constant state of restlessness, anxiety, always standing ready to defend.  We build up walls inside ourselves as part of our defense readiness, having no idea, the walls, once built, won’t allow the bad in, but won’t allow the good in either.   We starve ourselves of the very thing we are seeking, all because we have given into the feel-good, worldly, idea that we should concentrate on ourselves.

The problem is, we were not created for this.   Self, is lonely, isolating, non-community, it’s all take and little to no give.  We were created in the image of  All Mighty God, to be parts of a whole, to fit like puzzle pieces together.

The enemy doesn’t want us to know we are but one simple piece.  He wants to destroy the puzzle, of course he will most deceptively, by the use of our emotions and lack of true wisdom, give us every reason to continue believing we, individually, are the whole.

We seem to all try to fit ourselves into spots that make us like those we admire or like those we respect. We work hard to prove ourselves worthy of the spots we desire to fit into. The truth is only one might actually fit in that spot. The rest are faking, camouflaged, mimicking, etc.

We all go through this life trying to find our place, a place with people like us, where we feel like we fit in. We look for like-mindedness, hobbies in common, similar interests and ways of living.

We then pass judgement in one form or another upon those who are not living up to our standards. Some may try to use religion or Christian principles as justification for being able to point out wrong doing in others.

We try to hide our true selves just in case we won’t be accepted.

The truth is instead of searching for what makes us the same as, or at least makes us resemble others, we should search for what makes us unique, different, special. We should be looking for our place in the big picture. At the same time we should be encouraging others to find their uniqueness also.

Instead of shunning people that may be different we should be accepting, learning, encouraging, celebrating what makes us individuals.

If we are to mimic Jesus, we need to learn how to serve and accept others regardless of what society and the world try to tell us.

We are all just one piece to the whole puzzle. All equal in significance, all having our own special, uniqueness to contribute to the whole.

Find your unique, be it, own it, show it off because you are special, important, fearfully and wonderfully made, most of all, you are dearly loved by your Creator!

June 2, 2022

The People We Christians Have the Hardest Time Loving

Longtime regular Thursday devotional columnist Clarke Dixon has been granted a sabbatical by his church this summer. We look forward to his return in September.

Thinking Through John 13:34-35

by Clarke Dixon

There is a group of people that throughout history Christians have had great difficulty loving. We Christians have shunned them, demonized them, jailed them, and have even put them to death. In our day common notions of decency do not keep us from being on the attack, in books and over the internet, through social media, in blogs, podcasts, and in chat forums.

What is that one group? It is the group Jesus speaks about in John 13:34,35:

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

John 13:34-35 (NLT)

The group we Christians have the hardest time loving? Other Christians.

We have a long history of not treating Christians who think differently from us well. We have hated, feared, mistreated, maligned, and tried to destroy one another.

Loving one another is super-important!

Jesus gave the disciples a kind of “pep talk” at the Last Supper. Jesus had spent three years with his disciples and was now preparing them to be a Jesus following community without him, at least without him in the way they had become accustomed to. First thing out of the gate? Love each other!

Why is loving one another so important?

If we can’t love one another, then how can we expect people to take seriously our good news message of love? Jesus said love for each other would prove that the disciples really were his followers. It is interesting that though Jesus taught and modeled love for all people, including those on the fringes of society, and even including one’s enemies, it is love for one another that is evidence of being a Jesus follower.

A watching world will not be impressed by our lack of love for each other. We Christians can do all kinds of loving things in the world and for the world, but when we don’t love one another, our message that God’s love changes everything, is lost.

What does loving one another look like in our day?

There is the idea that if you love someone you will rescue them from their wrong thinking. Loving one another therefore means fixing other Christians, pointing out their errors.

There are two problems with this.

First, Christians are not cars that can simply be fixed. They are people, with history, experiences, and reasons why they think the way they do.

Second, the Bible is not like the Haynes repair manual I have for my motorcycle, with step-by-step instructions and photographs to make everything as clear as possible. The Bible is brilliant, but convoluted. The Bible is sometimes hard to understand, and it is sometimes easy to misunderstand.

There is a better path forward than trying to fix one another.

Loving one another means having conversations with one another.

Conversation means talking with and to one another rafter than talking about one another. In our day there is so much talking about one another in books, on social media, podcasts, blogs, and perhaps worst of all, online comments.

Conversation means listening as well as speaking. Listening is an important part of love. We each have our blind spots that others may be able to speak to. We each believe things and hold to things that may cause harm if we are not aware. Blind spots are nasty that way.

Conversation means seeking truth together. Author Soong-Chan Rah has written an article about the difference between truth possessed and truth pursued. Truth possessed can be summed up as “I know the truth and everyone should listen to me.” Truth pursued can be summed up as “there is such a thing as truth and let’s work together on finding it.”

Loving one another means learning the skill of disagreeing with one another without dismissing or demonizing one another.

It means learning to disagree with others while honouring them for doing their best to honor God. Those who think differently than we do may never have been exposed to reasons to think otherwise. They might be doing the best they can. Maybe the blind spot is ours and we are the ones who need to rethink things. Humble people are listeners.

Loving one another means taking a posture of gentleness toward one another.

Gentleness might be the most neglected fruit of the Spirit in our day.

If everyone around the world learned gentleness, wars would cease, and wars would cease to begin. Imagine too, if people would be gentle with themselves. Therapists may find they have more free time.

We can not, of course, make that happen, but we can model gentleness in our own lives, in the life of our our own church family, and in our own family of churches.

You may think differently about many issues and theological ideas than I do. I will be gentle with you. Will you be gentle with me?

But isn’t diversity of thinking among Christians a problem? Don’t we need to get everyone on the same page?

I have heard it said that we have a diversity problem in our day in the convention of churches within which I serve. It has been said that our tent is too big as a Baptist Convention.

I don’t think we have a diversity problem. We have a diversity opportunity.

We have the opportunity to demonstrate to a polarized world, how to live in a polarized world. It is through loving one another. It is through conversation, speaking and listening, talking with and to rather than about, disagreeing without dismissing or demonizing, and through being gentle.

When we allow our differences to become reasons for erecting walls and starting wars we are reflecting the world’s ways, not the way of Jesus.

We Christians have had a hard time loving one another. Jesus said we must do it. So let’s do it.

 

May 17, 2022

When the Pieces of the Body Fit Together

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

Today we have another new writer to highlight for you here, who blogs under the name Daily Echoes at Echoes of Heart. Many days the posts are poetry, but this one, which appeared on Monday was ideal for what readers expect here. Clicking the header which follows will let you read this where it first appeared.

Puzzle pieces

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about puzzles. More specifically a 40,000 piece puzzle that is the Guinness book of world records largest puzzle in the world. This puzzle is the largest in both the amount of pieces and its overall size. The part of this puzzle that has me thinking though, is the number of pieces. 40,000 pieces needing to find their place in the big picture.

With that many pieces one might entertain the thought that one or two pieces aren’t such a big deal if they happened to go missing… keeping track of 40,000 pieces sounds almost overtime payish.

One piece of a puzzle won’t even give someone an idea of what the picture will be once all the pieces are put together.  Having just one piece of the whole puzzle is useless really as it cannot be the whole puzzle even if it wanted to be.  That piece has its one place within the whole, where it is vital to the whole.  If that one piece decided to go it’s own way getting lost, thinking it’s no big deal or unimportant, would ruin the masterpiece for without it the whole would be void in the spot that piece was to take up. Furthermore that piece is not replaceable either. No other piece can or will fit into it’s rightful place.

As I ponder this I am drawn to the idea, what if life was like this. What if God has this masterpiece in mind as He creates each and every piece to fit together, each having it’s own unique shape and each being equally important to the finished project. He’s skillfully and masterfully knit every single human together while in the womb, giving to each a uniqueness that only they can contribute and nobody can take the place of.

We are all just pieces to the whole puzzle. We are meant to fit together, each in our own unique way.

This is not really a new thought, in scripture Paul puts it this way,

1 Corinthians 12:14-27 NLT — Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care.

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

Selfishness, self-pity, self-righteousness, all focus on self.  So long as the focus is on self, it cannot also be on service.

The world has made popular the idea that we should be focused on self, like self improvement, self-confidence, self-help, self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-love, etc. All examples of the worldly idea that we need to focus on ourselves.

All around us are the messages, feeding into our minds and hearts, causing us to believe this concentration on self is right.   We are all searching for inner peace, love, and a place to just rest. When focus is on self, no matter what side of the scale, from self-pity to self-righteousness, we are in a constant state of restlessness, anxiety, always standing ready to defend.  We build up walls inside ourselves as part of our defense readiness, having no idea, the walls, once built, won’t allow the bad in, but won’t allow the good in either.   We starve ourselves of the very thing we are seeking, all because we have given into the feel-good, worldly, idea that we should concentrate on ourselves.

The problem is, we were not created for this.   Self, is lonely, isolating, non-community, it’s all take and little to no give.  We were created in the image of  All Mighty God, to be parts of a whole, to fit like puzzle pieces together.

The enemy doesn’t want us to know we are but one simple piece.  He wants to destroy the puzzle, of course he will most deceptively, by the use of our emotions and lack of true wisdom, give us every reason to continue believing we, individually, are the whole.

We seem to all try to fit ourselves into spots that make us like those we admire or like those we respect. We work hard to prove ourselves worthy of the spots we desire to fit into. The truth is only one might actually fit in that spot. The rest are faking, camouflaged, mimicking, etc.

We all go through this life trying to find our place, a place with people like us, where we feel like we fit in. We look for like-mindedness, hobbies in common, similar interests and ways of living.

We then pass judgement in one form or another upon those who are not living up to our standards. Some may try to use religion or Christian principles as justification for being able to point out wrong doing in others.

We try to hide our true selves just in case we won’t be accepted.

The truth is instead of searching for what makes us the same as, or at least makes us resemble others, we should search for what makes us unique, different, special. We should be looking for our place in the big picture. At the same time we should be encouraging others to find their uniqueness also.

Instead of shunning people that may be different we should be accepting, learning, encouraging, celebrating what makes us individuals.

If we are to mimic Jesus, we need to learn how to serve and accept others regardless of what society and the world try to tell us.

We are all just one piece to the whole puzzle. All equal in significance, all having our own special, uniqueness to contribute to the whole.

Find your unique, be it, own it, show it off because you are special, important, fearfully and wonderfully made, most of all, you are dearly loved by your Creator!

March 23, 2022

Living Out Unity in Christ Need to be Intentional

It’s hard to believe that I wrote what follows ten years ago. Reading it, a decade later, it still holds true, perhaps even more so and honestly, I could have written this yesterday…

I invite you to begin today by slowly and meditatively read the words of Jesus in these four verses from the NLT rendering of John 17:

(11) “Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.”

(21) “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”

(22) “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.”

(23) “I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”

In the part of the world where I grew up, the rumor was that if you were preparing song-sheets for campfires or transparencies for overhead projectors — remember this pre-dates PowerPoint — you should not use the song which states,

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord

It wasn’t that you couldn’t sing the song, the issue was making print or projected copies of it in a world before CCLI. The story — which I never could confirm — was that the song’s copyright, which was owned by “the Fellowship of Evangelical Laymen” (FEL) was the most prosecuted for copyright violation and that church lawsuits could name pastors, church staff, board members and music committee members. Whether or not the “Laymen” were so litigious, I always found it ironic that a song proclaiming that as the Body of Christ, we hold all things in common, should be subject to a mentality that prevented its widespread use.

In the part of the world where I live now, we’re closing in on the annual Good Friday service. All of the Evangelical churches get together in the largest auditorium they can find, which for the past few years has been a hotel ballroom. This is a high point of the church year here and it’s always exciting — and honestly, a little bit distracting from the day’s primary message — to see people from different churches coming together to worship.

For the one day, we truly are “one in the Spirit.”

But the rest of the year, not so much. We break off into our individual assemblies and congregations for the other 364 days, and while the pastors themselves get together monthly, the rest of us don’t get to experience that blessing of Christian unity except at the one annual service.

The point is, we have a lot to offer each other:  Video resources, teaching materials, children’s programs, church libraries, men’s breakfasts, women’s retreats, marriage enrichment, etc.  We also have a lot we can give together more effectively than we can give individually: Respite for families with young children, support for pregnant teens and young single moms, networking on behalf of those seeking jobs, service projects for shut-ins, community meals for the poor and the lonely, advocacy for marginalized individuals and groups, etc.

Inter-connectedness needs to be intentional.

Working together needs to be our goal, our aim, and most important, our desire.

But beyond church resources and neighborhood projects, the thing we best have to give each other is ourselves.

The problem in the Body of Christ is that we don’t really know each other.

We might know names and occupations, but we don’t know the heart of each other and we have no meaningful shared experiences. We might work together on a specific project for a limited time, but our fellowship is really just task-oriented. We don’t dig deeper to get to know what makes the other person tick, and we certainly have never taken the time to hear their story.

Inter-connectedness needs to be intentional.

We are one in the Spirit, and we should be able to say that without fear of copyright prosecution, but we should also be able to say it without fear of rejection just because we’re part of another faith family.

CSB.Eph.4.4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

MSG.1Cor.12.12-13 You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.

NLV. same passage Our own body has many parts. When all these many parts are put together, they are only one body. The body of Christ is like this. It is the same way with us. Jews or those who are not Jews, men who are owned by someone or men who are free to do what they want to do, have all been baptized into the one body by the same Holy Spirit. We have all received the one Spirit.

 

November 29, 2021

Knowing Your Identity; To Whom You Belong

Our continuing quest to find new sources of devotional material for you took us today to the page of “Come and See” daily devotions. “Evangelical Ministries International is a ministry with a Vision to ensure the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached throughout the world.” They are based in London, UK. After reading several, we chose a two-part topic for today. Click the links to read these where we found them.

Never Lose your Identity (I)

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1st John 4:4, New King James Version).

Knowing our identity is important because this determines our position in the physical and spiritual realms of life. People with little insight into their identity are easy prey to the devil and his desolate fallen agents, as they are confused and so their agony and eventual defeat is inevitable.

The Bible records that Immediately after the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist, an important announcement was made by Almighty God concerning Jesus’ identity: and suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ (Matthew 3:17, New King James Version).  This revelation was essential for the purpose of Jesus Christ to be fulfilled. It upset the devil and he immediately reacted by doing what he does best: “to steal, kill and to destroy.” (John 10 verse 10a, New King James Version).

The devil duly sought to destroy the identity of Jesus, as the Bible relates: the tempter came to him and said, ‘if you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. (Matthew 4:3, New International Version). The devil then attempted on two more occasions to test, discredit and question the identity of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Refer to Matthew 4:6-8).

Today’s key Bible verse reveals our real identity because it states that we belong to God and not the devil; the verse also assures us of a positive outcome to any situation we may encounter in life. We overcome life’s trials because the Spirit of God lives in us: For the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world.” (1st John 4:4, The Message).

Recall that when Jesus was betrayed and delivered up for trial, the main charge against Him was centered on His identity. The Bible states: but Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ (Matthew 26:63, New International Version). This further suggests how relentless Satan is about stealing our identity or confusing us about our true identity in Christ Jesus.

Your new identity in God through Jesus Christ, holds the key to your victory over the devil and his ugly works in your life. But if you confront him as a natural man, you will be defeated because he is used to the ways of individual men and women; however he cannot deal with Spirit-filled saints of God. John 3: 8 states: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit”. Moses did not confront Pharaoh as a mortal man but as a god. Here, the Bible states: so the Lord said to Moses: ‘See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet.’ (Exodus 7:1, New King James Version).

Your spiritual source is Christ Jesus and you are born of the Spirit of God: this is your true identity and you should never doubt this. Also, never allow the enemy to steal your identity through deceptions.

Let us pray: “Father, You live in me by your Holy Spirit. I refuse to be confused regarding my true identity in You,” in Jesus’ Mighty Name, Amen.

Never Lose your Identity (II)

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1st John 4:4, New King James Version).

If the devil repeatedly challenged the identity of Jesus Christ, then he will certainly attempt to do the same to all of us. Apostle Peter cautioned us saying: be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1st Peter 5:8, New King James Version). When we refer to the term ‘identity’  we are not concerned with physical appearance, which is of no importance in spiritual warfare. Instead we refer to our identification with the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who died for our sins and was resurrected on the third day.

The size of Goliath was irrelevant when David challenged him (1st Samuel 17 verses 1-57) and they both understood the place of divine identity in warfare; both men identified with their deities. Thus, Goliath cursed David in the name of his gods, while David answered him saying: you come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. (1st Samuel 17 verse 45, New King James Version).

David made this declaration based on his awareness of his covenant identity in God through Abraham, knowing that this gave him the spiritual advantage needed to defeat Goliath. He later declared in Psalms 139 verse 14:I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. (New King James Version).

As mentioned in the first part of this series of devotionals, the exploits of Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry were traceable to his awareness of who He was. We must all be aware that the wicked spirits of this world do not recognize or respect anyone based on physical features such as the colour of their skin, size of their muscles or degree of intellect. Nobody can fight and win spiritual warfare using those attributes. For example, when the seven sons of Sceva tried to imitate the Apostles, they were beaten and stripped naked by the demon which possessed the man whom they encountered. The evil spirit said: Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you? (Acts 19 verse15, New International Version).

When we accept Christ Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, by giving our lives to Jesus Christ, we automatically assume the spiritual identity of the Son of God. This enables us to function like Jesus: For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring. (Acts 17 verse 28, New King James Version). We must realize that we are programmed for success and not failure, victory and not defeat, faith and not fear, blessings and not curses, progress and not regress, life and not death.

Let us pray: “Father, You live in me by your Holy Spirit. I will not be confused regarding my true identity in You,” in Jesus’ Mighty Name, Amen.

November 1, 2021

Be Careful How You Judge

Today our search for good devotional material took us to Lamp and Light, and writer Jason Smith who lives in Oregon, a state in the western US. On his “About” page he writes, “…if there is one thing that will be said of me at the end of my life, I hope it is this: this man lived for Jesus.”

Because this article appeared just hours ago, I’m going to close comments here and invite you instead to click the header which appears below, and read and comment there. I know he would be encouraged if you do.

Beware a Critical Spirit

“What gives you the right to judge?”

If you’ve lived in the United States for almost any amount of time, there’s a good chance you’ve heard this question or some version of it. Maybe someone even threw this barbed question at you or someone you know. It’s a question that gets to the heart of some major cultural shifts that have been witnessed in the last several decades. It’s also a question that points to why so many seem fed up with Christianity today.

But wait a minute, someone might say. Didn’t Jesus Himself tell us we are not to judge others?

Judge Not or Judge Correctly?

Perhaps more than any other passage in Scripture, I hear Matthew 7:1 quoted today – by both Christians and non-Christians alike.

“Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1, ESV)

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Many will even say, “Who are you to judge? Even Jesus said ‘Judge not.’”

Certainly such a command should be taken seriously, if we claim to follow Jesus as Lord. But let’s make sure we are understanding what exactly Jesus meant by this. For example, in another passage of the New Testament, the crowds are quick to criticize Jesus – even calling Him “demon-possessed!” That’s when Jesus showed them the error of their ways and added,

“Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24, NIV, emphasis added)

So, which is it? Are we to judge or not judge? We like simple and straightforward answers to this question, don’t we? And yet, as with so many other areas of human relationships, the answer has to be more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.”

Let’s consider the Matthew 7 quote in its full scriptural context. After saying “Judge not,” Jesus goes on to say this:

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:2-5, ESV)

There’s a lot to unpack here, but if we seek to understand Jesus’ words we can avoid one of two errors that people often make. The first error is to think “judge not” is an absolute statement calling us to forsake all moral judgment or critique. The second error is to judge with a Pharisaical or self-righteous judgment.

Pharisaical Judgment

The first thing we need to see is that judgment here is akin to the word criticism. Jesus is chiding those who were eager to make harsh criticisms of others. This is seen in the ridiculous image Jesus paints for us. If you have read this passage before and completely missed Jesus’ use of righteous satire, there’s a good chance you missed what He’s saying.

Imagine someone walking into church with a massive tree trunk sticking out of his eye. To the amazement of everyone around him, the poor guy is somehow unaware of this ocular protrusion. How do you even broach the subject when he’s acting as if nothing is wrong? You then watch as he suddenly approaches one of the gentlemen staring at him in wonder.

“Listen, pal,” says Mr. Tree Trunk. “It seems that no one else is willing to tell you this, but you have some kind of black speck stuck in your eye. Here, I don’t want to embarrass you, but let me see if I can get it out of there.”

To which the other man, still startled by the size of that log, blurts out, “No, no! Thanks, but I think I’ll ask someone else to help with that.”

The whole scene sounds absurd, and yet it makes Jesus’ point perfectly. Jesus talks about things stuck in our eye, because very often our harsh criticism is the result of blindness to our own faults. To criticize someone else when we are struggling with the same thing (maybe even to a greater degree!) is to play the hypocrite.

Why Are We Quick to Judge?

It is part of our human nature that we tend to minimize the seriousness of our own sins and failures while we magnify the shortcomings of others. This can stem from spiritual pride – even if we don’t consider ourselves religious. We all have an inner Pharisee that is eager to make others look worse in order to make ourselves look better by comparison.

Take inventory of your own heart. When you hear about someone else’s failures, are you quick to condemn? Is there a part of you that smiles when others are exposed for wrongdoing? Do you jump at opportunities to show others to be in the wrong simply because you are gratified by being right?

There are times when we might be absolutely right, but the way we are speaking is shortsighted and harsh. Maybe it’s because we’re speaking like someone who has the goal of tearing others down rather than building them up.

Are you better at seeing the good intentions of others or finding errors in their thinking? Too often, we can criticize someone else only to find out later that we had no understanding of their unique situation. Proverbs 18:13 says, “To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.”

The Pharisees felt they had to bolster their own self-image, because for them everything hung on being seen as righteous and morally praiseworthy. But when you understand that your righteousness comes from Christ through faith, you no longer feel the need to be superior or self-righteous. When you understand your own guilt has been removed by Christ, you won’t feel the need to find guilt in others.

Why We Can’t Neglect Discernment

Secondly, let’s note that Jesus is not calling for an absolute ban on any and all moral judgments. We’ve already noted that Jesus elsewhere calls people to “judge correctly” or to make sober judgments in the right way. And in Matthew 7, Jesus goes on to say, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs” (v. 6). Picking up Jesus’ metaphor for those who mock and malign us, how are we to know who the “dogs” or “pigs” are without careful discernment? A little later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (v. 15). If we should never make any moral judgments whatsoever, why would He say, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (v. 20)? To determine if “fruit” of someone’s life is good or bad, one must make a moral judgment.

But even in the example of the man with a log in his own eye, Jesus tells us to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5, ESV)

In other words, Jesus isn’t calling us to stop correcting people who are in error. Jesus is saying that until we have examined our own hearts first and confessed our own sin to God and others, we are in no position to confront others. A good question to ask ourselves before issuing criticism is: “While my situation is different, is this something that I too struggle with in some way?”

God calls all His people to live in holiness, so of course Jesus still wants us to speak the truth in love to one another (Ephesians 4:15). If God calls something “sin,” so should we. Sin is always destructive, and God’s commands are for our good (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). When we keep this in mind, we can warn both ourselves and others against it. Jesus calls the clear-eyed to help the brother with the speck out of love.

Elsewhere the New Testament says:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1, NIV)

Confronting a brother or sister in sin is something Jesus explicitly calls His followers to do. But this is so important: the goal must always be restoration. The goal is not to expose, embarrass, condemn, or make an example of someone. To confront someone in love is to say, “I know that what you are doing offends God and can only bring harm to yourself and others in the long run. So please come back to the Savior who loves you too much to let you go your own way!”

Tenderness in tone goes a long way here. That’s why Paul says to restore the person caught in sin “gently.”

Jesus, Friend of Sinners

Let’s remember that Jesus came into this world not to condemn, but to save.[1] If you are at all familiar with the teachings of the Bible, you know it says that every last one of us are sinners. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” All includes you, me, and everyone else in the line of Adam. What does that have to do with being overly critical?

Well, if I am a sinner who deserves condemnation but instead receives grace from God, that should radically shape the way I deal with others. As a Christian, I know that Jesus found me when I was lost and showed me incomprehensible grace when I was headed for the ultimate judgment of hell. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV). To forget this in my relationships with others is to forget the greatest thing that happened to me.

How quickly we can forget that because of Jesus’ compassion for the lost, He was frequently found with the biggest sinners. Why? Not because the perfect Son of God wanted to join in their sin, but simply because He loved them and knew they needed Him. How ironic that we don’t find Jesus sharply criticizing the sexually promiscuous or materialistic tax-collectors. Instead, it was for the religious leaders that Jesus reserved His sharpest criticism, the very ones who mocked Him with the label “Friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19).

Cruelty, slander, and mud-slinging happen in the world. We know that. We know people get canceled and shamed and ostracized without a fair hearing. But that should not happen in the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus does not delight in a church that looks down on a sinner who has lost their way.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who goes after that wandering sheep with the goal of bringing it back to the fold. That should be our hearts, too. And as I look at my own heart, I confess there are times that I’ve jumped to conclusions about people without giving them a fair hearing. That is always wrong, and Jesus calls us to do better than that.

Christians of all people should understand the importance of being slow to criticize. We should take our cues from Jesus and be known for humbly loving those with whom we strongly disagree. We should confront religious hypocrisy while being especially watchful about such hypocrisy in our own hearts.

Question for reflection: Am I more eager to confront hypocrisy in others than I am willing to confront it in my own life?


[1] John 3:18.

 

September 21, 2021

Christians and “Failure Porn”

A recent popular Christian podcast series was accused of creating “failure porn.” The term is a reference to those reports and stories of people who experienced failure in ministry — for whatever reason — and the resultant charge or excitement that others seem to get in hearing or reading such accounts.

It’s been compared to the “thrill” — and I hate having used that word — that someone might get in seeing a train wreck. It does seem to be a trait of human nature that people slow down when there has been a bad accident on the freeway. Is that mere curiosity or something else?

A Washington Post headline called it the “celebration of failure.”

Such reaction is antithetical to Christian living.

Romans 12:15 tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Or, other translations: weep with those who weep.)

We’re told that Job’s friends didn’t just drive by and later relay the details of Job’s tragedy to their friends and family, but rather they entered in to his suffering. We read that, “When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.” (2:11)

This can also include entering into the suffering of those who, rather than have external circumstances befall them, have brought about their condition by their own doing. The writer of Hebrews tells us, Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (13:3)

Paul echoes this in Romans: We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. (15:1)

“Bearing with” or “taking on” the consequences and circumstances of those who have fallen, as though it befell or happened to us will help us see these situations in a different light. Again, Paul writing to the Corinthians this time says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (I-12:27-28)

He’s speaking about what it means to be part of a body. Even when someone with a high profile experiences catastrophic, headline-making failure, our response should be, “That’s my brother,” or “That’s my sister you’re talking about.”

…The thing I like about the podcast against which the charge of producing “failure porn” has been leveled against is that they are going out of their way to find the redemptive value in us hearing the stories and learning from them. The host has said many times he wants to do this in order to benefit the church, and I personally trust that this is indeed his genuine motive.

Furthermore, many of the Old Testament narratives — and a few in the New Testament as well — are accounts of colossal failures; stories of people who perhaps failed to listen to God (or the prophets) and committed grave errors and made huge mistakes.

Paul in Romans says that, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us…” We’re not to look at Noah’s weak moments, or David’s failure, or Samson’s character flaws and experience some type of endorphin rush, or what the Washington Post called celebration.

But even there in Romans, Paul is thankfully focused on the more positive things that are written for our benefit. The full text reads,

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (15:4-6)

all scriptures today, NIV

 

July 8, 2021

What I Love About Being a Christian, Despite the Shenanigans of Christianity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , ,

NIV John 13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

NRSV Acts 5:31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

by Clarke Dixon

It may surprise some of you, but sometimes I, a Baptist pastor, don’t like being a Christian. There are aspects of Christianity that I don’t like. In fact there are aspects of Christianity I hate.

For one thing, I don’t like quite a bit of our history, especially where we have done things to others, and one another, which go well beyond the “shenanigans” spoken of in the title. Atrocities is a better word.

In our day we can point to residential schools here in Canada, all seemingly staffed and run by Christians from various denominations. These are only the tip of the iceberg on Christians doing things that would cause any atheist to say ‘you Christians make a good case for believing that evil exists, but not God.’

We Christians have done and still do bad things. We used to put one another to death for thinking differently. So much for “they will know we are Christians by our love” (see John 13:35). Many shady characters throughout history have identified as Christians. We have used the Bible to support the suppression of human rights, slavery and sexism coming to mind.

So why I am a Christian?

Despite all the things that I hate about Christianity, there are things I love about being a Christian.

I love being a Christian because following Jesus brings beauty.

The way the Jesus centered life works out in life is beautiful. While yes, we Christians have had our share of atrocities, there have been so many beautiful moments because people have followed Jesus in the way of love. This is a sermon in itself, actually many, so I will refer you to a series from a couple of years ago called “Believable and Beautiful. Why Christianity is Compelling.”

I love being a Christian because I don’t have to stop thinking to follow Jesus.

As I have often said, I don’t ever leave my brain at the front door of the church, and neither did I leave my faith in the parking lot of the university. Critical thinking (in the best sense of the phrase) is well integrated into my faith. Again, here is a series touching on this.

I love being a Christian because I am part of a movement of Jesus followers that is worldwide and enduring.

Despite efforts to stamp it out, the movement centered in Jesus continues on. Despite all the stupid and sinful things we have done, the movement has brought and continues to bring a positive impact in peoples lives.

I love being a Christian because the facts about Jesus answer my deepest questions.

The Bible’s storyline focused on Jesus answers my deepest questions about existence. That God is, and that Jesus is the self-revelation of God, makes the best sense of everything; the existence of the world, the existence of humanity as a unique species, the existence of the Bible as a unique collection of writings, and yes, even the existence of suffering.

It answers my deepest questions about the past, present, and future. Looking to the past, there is healing and forgiveness in Jesus, there is change from all that is ugly to all that is beautiful. As one songwriter has put it, we trade our ashes in for beauty. Looking to the present, there is the potential for growth and continual renewal in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. We trade our ashes in for beauty on a daily basis. Looking to the future, there is assurance of life through Jesus. We will trade our ashes in for beauty, quite literally, when even the ashes of our deceased bodies will be traded in for beauty.

I love being a Christian because of Christ.

Though there are things I actually hate about Christianity, Jesus resonates. In speaking before the religious leaders who wanted to squash the nascent Christian movement, Peter calls Jesus “Leader and Saviour” (Acts 5:31). If there is any person in the history of the world that I would want as my leader, it is Jesus. If there is any person in the history of the world that I could consider has any claim to be Saviour, it is Jesus. There is not even a close second. There is not even a distant second. There is no other. There is no other person in the history of the world where we see that God is, that God is love, and that God is for us and not against us.

There have been many inspiring people throughout history, but none as inspiring as Jesus. There have been many revolutionaries, but none as revolutionary as Jesus. There have been many who have had a lasting impact, but none have had as great and lasting an impact as Jesus. Looking to the future, none will have the impact on world, and on our lives, as Jesus.

Many people have inspired me, have brought revolution to my thinking, and have had lasting impact on me, but none like Jesus. No one rescues me from all that separates me from God like Jesus. No one else can.

In conclusion, there are reasons that I don’t like being a Christian. There are aspects of Christianity I actually hate. But I love being a Christian mainly because I love Jesus. Jesus loved me first.


Clarke Dixon appears here weekly. Videos for this and other messages on which his blog posts are based are available at this link.

May 9, 2021

Fixing Fractured Fellowship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I have written about what is called “The Philippian Hymn” many times. I’ve also preached a 40-minute sermon it, written my own paraphrase for it, and committed it memory several different ways. If pressed, I will tell you that the theme of the passage is the humility of Christ, though it’s really an overarching view of the incarnation of Christ from beginning to end. (See my sermon notes here.)

But scrolling through Twitter hours ago, I saw something that maybe I’d missed. While the passage itself is a very creed-like statement of all things that matter in terms of the life of Jesus, it’s true context is relationships.

NIV.Phil.2.1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

I remember years ago listening to a sermon on “present yourself as a living sacrifice;” and it was said that “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to crawl off the altar.” Well, in light of the Philippians passage we could add, ‘The problem with being told to prefer others and defer to others is that it doesn’t apply in an argument or debate where I happen to be right.’ In other words, you might smile and open the door for someone, but continue to allow a Great Wall of Disagreement to be constructed where you have different views on a spiritual, political, or social issue.

What’s worse is that in that in the present climate, the differences we have seem to be magnified. And our reactions– whether it’s to pick a fight or simply shut down — have become more frequent and more dramatic.

I have always found Romans 14 to be instructive. It’s dealing with specific issues — the eating of certain food, the keeping of certain days — but the principle behind what’s stated is widely applicable:

NIV.Rom.14.1. Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters… 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat… 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister… 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

…While looking for something else earlier today, I came across an item that we had posted nine years ago from author Mark O. Wilson. He had begun with his Mother’s Day sermon with The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands, the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1

Although we don’t usually re-post third-party devotions here, so much of this was appropriate to today’s cultural moment, both inside and outside the church. Where you see the word “home” below, just replace with “Church” or “community” or “extended family.”

Killkenny Cats and Home Squabble

…Wisdom builds the house. Foolishness tears it down.

When we fail to think before we speak and act, we’re likely to tear the house down. We’ve been given two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in that proportion.

Sometimes, in a passion to say right things, we say things wrong and hurt people. We’re wrong in our rightness, and unwilling to budge an inch in spirit. I think this is at the heart of the polarization in our state and nation. People are eager to share their opinions, but few are humble and patent enough to take the time to listen and understand others.

Too many homes are marked by unhealthy conflict and misunderstanding. Sometimes, it’s just a slow simmer of frustration. Frequently, it leads to checking out, and giving less than one’s best. Occasionally, it erupts into full-scale, brutal warfare. In the squabble, hurtful and destructive things are spoken that can never been undone. Rash words in a fit of anger can destroy the very fabric of the relationship.

As the old rhyme goes:

There once were two cats of Kilkenny.
Each thought there was one cat too many.
So they fought and they fit,,
And they scratched and they bit
‘Til excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats there weren’t any.

Perhaps this is why Proverbs 19:11 reminds us it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

It’s very possible to win the battle (argument) and lose the war (relationship.) Here’s a question: Is what we’re fighting over worth the fight?

Occasionally, it is. Sometimes, there is a significant principle or human right at stake, and only a good fight will set it straight. However, most of the time, our conflicts are over lesser things. We let our selfishness stand in the way, then hold stubbornly to our opinions as a “matter of honor.” Little issues become major eruptions when we stake our significance on them.

Conflict is an emotional state, and the issue will not be resolved when either party is in that state. You can’t argue someone out of it. The only way to help another person move from the state of conflict is through kindness and patient understanding.

Argument may force the other person into a corner, forcing him to agree – but it will only be a surface agreement, and definitely not be an agreement of hearts. As the old adage goes, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Here’s an idea: fight FOR your family instead of fighting against them. What dreams and hopes to you have for your family? What actions can you take to gently move in that direction? If you don’t do anything different, you will keep following the same path with the same patterns. I appreciate Andy Stanley’s observation, “Direction, not intention, equals destination.”

Weigh your words. Bite your tongue. Think twice. Then, as Colossians 4:6 says, let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you ay know how to answer everyone.

January 14, 2021

When We Still Can’t Go to Church: There is Good News

by Clarke Dixon

In these days of restrictions due to COVID-19 our lives are far from normal. The expression of our faith is also now far from normal. Those of us who would normally make our way to church on a Sunday morning among other times are stuck at home. Our church building can feel like our spiritual home, not just the building itself, but the church family we expect to meet there.

As Carey Nieuwhof has often said, this is not an interruption, but a disruption. We wonder if we will ever get back to normal.

There was a huge disruption in the early days of Christianity, a disruption which had a huge impact on how God’s people expressed their faith. There was no getting back to normal. Looking at that great disruption will help us navigate ours.

Let us put ourselves back into New Testament times. Imagine that you were a Jew, for whom the Temple was a focal point of the expression of your faith. The sacrifices are held there, you make pilgrimages there, the life of the nation is focused there in so many ways. While the local synagogue also played a big role, the readings of the Scriptures often pointed to the Tabernacle of the days of Moses and the judges, and the Temple which was built in the days of the kings. The synagogue was convenient, but the Temple was central, and crucial.

You come to trust in Jesus as the Messiah, as your Lord and Saviour. Being a Jewish Christian, the temple is still very important to you, the traditions around the temple are still a part of your life. Indeed we see in the Book of Acts how the apostles, with their Jewish background, would often make their way to the temple in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, normally under Roman control until a Jewish rebellion in 67AD, was put under a proper siege in 70AD. After a few months the city fell and the temple was destroyed. Indeed, it has never been rebuilt. Now that was a disruption! This meant, not just the loss of the temple, but the loss of many cherished traditions that centred on the temple. There would be no getting back to normal. As a Jewish Christian how do you handle the disruption? Is there hope?

There is. One verse in the Gospel of John captured how God’s people now had something far better in Christ:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (NRSV)

The word translated as “lived” among us, but sometimes translated as “dwelt” among us, is the word for pitching a tent. It was a word that evokes the tabernacle that God’s people were to build for the presence of God’s glory among them as directed to Moses following the exodus from Egypt. This tabernacle, literally a tent, would give way to a temple once Jerusalem was established as the focal city in the days of the kings. You could translate John 1:14 as “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” The tabernacle was the place where God was said to reside among his people. Since the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, we no longer go to the temple in Jerusalem to find God. We go to Jesus.

The tabernacle/temple was also the place where God’s glory rested, often referred to as His shekina glory. Note again John 1:14 and “we have seen his glory.” The glory of God was to be found, not at the temple, but in Jesus. Again, the destruction of the temple could not disrupt the worship of the Christ follower.

The tabernacle/temple was also the place where intimacy with God was shown to be an impossible thing. Only one person, the High Priest, could enter the Most Holy Place in the temple, and then only once a year after much religious rigmarole. The lesson was clear: while God wanted to be among His people, a holy God and an unholy people cannot mix. While the temple symbolized the nearness of God to His people, it also represented distance. John 1:14 continues with “the glory as of a father’s only son.” While even the priests could not speak of intimacy with God such that they could meet with God face to face, Jesus has a unique intimate connection with the Father. Jesus represented intimacy with God. Through his death on the cross, intimacy with God is now possible for us. The destruction of the temple could not change the fact that in Jesus, a much better intimacy with God was on offer.

John 1:14 goes on to say that Jesus is “full of grace and truth.” Before Jesus you would go to the temple to experience and be reminded of God’s grace. It was the place of sacrifice for atonement, a place representing the forgiveness of sin and covenant with God. The temple was the place you would expect to be reminded of the truths of God, the reality of God’s relationship with His people. The destruction of the temple could not destroy the experience of grace, the presence of truth, for these are found in Jesus, even more so.

In summary, before Jesus, if you were wondering where to go to find God, you would be pointed to the temple. But now we look to Jesus. Being with Jesus was far more important and exciting than being at the temple!

Here is a point which is important for us today. Being with and walking with Jesus in all of life is far better than being religious in a sacred space once a week. Having Jesus in our hearts and minds is far better than having ourselves in a church building. Experiencing Jesus in our lives daily is far better than experiencing church ministries from time to time.

There was one major benefit to the destruction of the temple as we will see. Worship at the temple could become temple worship.

The disciples were impressed by the temple:

As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.”

Mark 13:1 (NLT)

Jesus responded:

Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!

Mark 13:2 (NLT)

So don’t be too impressed with the temple. It is temporary. Worship that which is eternal. The destruction of the temple was also the deletion of an idol.

Worship in a church can become worship of the church. We are easily impressed with things that cannot last. In our day, the expression of faith through the ministry of a church is not being destroyed, but perhaps it is being deconstructed. What was once impressive, is not so much anymore. With a lockdown in our province, the most impressive church buildings are now much less impressive. Even those built to hold thousands can currently only hold ten.

We cannot at this time invite people to attend impressive churches, to experience impressive ministries, held together with impressive leadership. But we can connect with, and invite others to connect with, an impressive God.

Very few churches have impressive ministries right now. Our own church “services” are shot using the phone in my pocket, and edited with software that came free with our computer. It is a very Mickey Mouse affair. In fact I refuse to call them church “services,” but instead call them “worship expressions.” It is just not the same! But that’s okay, it is not about impressive churches and ministries, but about becoming people through whom God makes an impression on the world.

Perhaps a positive from all this is that we are being weaned from trying to be impressive in what we do for Jesus, and instead must focus on leaving an impression, from what God is doing in us.

An impression is left, when,

  • someone forgives as a result of focusing their worship on Jesus,
  • someone expresses generosity as a result of a walk with Jesus,
  • someone is a peacemaker as a result of being with Jesus,
  • someone becomes a more faithful and loving partner in a marriage relationship because of their relationship with Jesus,
  • someone shows a gentleness that was not there before, because of the inner soul work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit,
  • Someone makes progress on coming to terms with an addiction, because of the higher power of Jesus . . .

The list can go on. An impression is left when people are growing in the fruit of the Spirit, growing in love, peace, kindness, joy, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Jesus calls us to follow him. The question is not, how impressive are our men’s ministries and women’s ministries, but are there men and women of God who are following Jesus?

Don’t get me wrong. We will regather for in-person worship at some point. This is important. However, the things we do as a church are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. The end is to be walking with Jesus. What can we do as a church family to help people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love, to the glory of God? This is a question we can ask whether we are in lockdown or not. In this time of disruption let us put church in its proper place, as a means to an end, and not the end in itself. Let us turn from idolatry if we have let worship at the church become worship of the church.

We live in a bad news world, things are not normal, the expression of our faith in worship is not normal.

There is good news, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Our faith is not dependent on being in impressive buildings or going to impressive churches with impressive ministries and impressive pastors. Believe me, our church has not been dependent on an impressive pastor, at least not since my arrival here nine years ago or so. It is dependent on the presence of Jesus through His Holy Spirit.

When are we getting back to normal? The Lord knows. Walking with Jesus is way more exciting than getting back to normal anyway.

(Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays. The full reflection can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)

November 12, 2020

What Makes Us God’s People?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
Tags: , , ,

A Look at Philippians 3:1-11

by Clarke Dixon

What makes me a Canadian? Is it being born in Canada? I wasn’t. Is it having a Canadian accent, eh? Many don’t. Is it living here in Canada? Many Canadians don’t even do that. So what makes me Canadian?

We can also ask, what makes us God’s people?

In the earliest days of Christianity, before there was something known as the New Testament, the answer to that question for some people was very simple; if you are part God’s people you will act like God’s people as laid out in the only Testament available, the Old Testament. You will therefore be found keeping the covenant, keeping all the customs and traditions including dietary restrictions, festivals, and of course the mark of belonging for the males, circumcision. In other words, to be part of God’s people in Christ you must become a Jew, though a Jesus-believing Jew of course.

After all, some would have said, as God’s old covenant people we are considered to be the righteous ones, the ones in right standing with God, while the rest are the unrighteous ones, the ones not in right standing with God. Through Jesus you can duck under our Jewish umbrella.

But is that it?

This became a very important question among the early Christians. There was a discernment process which we read about in Acts 15. Here is the conclusion of the matter as written in a letter to Christ followers of non-Jewish background:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Acts 15:28-29 (NIV)

Short, sweet, and to the point! You don’t need to become Jewish to be part of God’s people. But neither can you worship who, what, and how you once worshipped before walking with Jesus. This is why food, blood, and sexual immortality are mentioned, these all being part and parcel of the worship of the gods commonly worshipped in that time and place.

The early Christians realized that in Jesus God was not inviting people to get under the Jewish umbrella, but that there was now a bigger umbrella that now included non-Jewish people, just as they are, but now focusing their lives and their worship on Jesus.

Paul, knowing that it would only be a matter of time before the non-Jewish Christ followers in Philippi would be under pressure by some to become more Jewish, warned them very strongly:

Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us.

Philippians 3:2-3 (NLT)

Paul is reiterating here very strongly what was already recognized: you don’t need to become Jewish in order to become part of the people of God. Whatever makes us God’s people, keeping the customs of God’s old covenant people isn’t it.

If it was it, Paul could boast of the things that marked him out as truly belonging to God’s people:

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Philippians 3:4-6 (NRSV)

If being Jewish is what makes you righteous, if it is what gives you right standing before God, then Paul can boast of his Jewishness. But that’s not it:

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.

Philippians 3:7-9 (NRSV)

Paul knows that God doesn’t relate to him on the basis of his fitting in with Jewish society. God relates to him through Christ. Being God’s people is about “knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord,” and being “found in him.” It is about “faith in Christ.”

There is a challenge in translating “faith in Christ.” Some Bible scholars point to the possible translation of “faith of Christ,” that is, the faithfulness of Christ. So we could paraphrase it like this: “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through the faithfulness of Christ, the righteousness from God based on God’s faithfulness to us.”

The focus is on the faithfulness and obedience of Jesus

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:6-8 (NRSV)

We should each ask, am I part of God’s people? Am I included? It is not by taking up religion. It is not by figuring out the right rules and keeping them really well. It is not by picking a Christian sub-culture and trying to fit in with what you wear and how you speak or what kind of music you listen to. It is by being “found in” Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,” but one that comes through the faithfulness of Christ. It is by responding to the invitation of God and walking with Jesus. What makes us God’s people? God’s love and grace.


Clarke Dixon is, in case you missed the first paragraph, a Canadian pastor. His church is in a town with a latitude of 43.9667 (or 43.9598 depending on who you’re reading) which places it just a tad south of Eugene, Oregon; and Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The full sermon on which this devotional is based was shared on November 8th)

October 12, 2020

What’s the Mission of Your Local Church?

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24-25

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Jesus, Matthew 18:20

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. – Colossians 3:15

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word. – Ephesians 5: 25b-26

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. – I Cor. 12:27

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:4-6

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church ,which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. – Ephesians 1:22-23

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. – Jesus, Matthew 16:18

if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. – I Timothy 3:15

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. – Ephesians 4: 11-13*

 

As I shared with readers at Thinking Out Loud earlier today, there is a song from a 2012 album which captivated my imagination back then as to what the local church can be and do, and it’s this song by former NorthPoint worship leader Eddie Kirkland. We play Christian music each evening during dinner and this one came around again on Friday and it’s been playing all weekend.

Consider the lyrics; play the video below as you read them; re-examine the scriptures at the top of the page, then follow the links at the bottom of the page to look at more scriptural images of the local church.

We want to be a church where freedom reigns
We want to be a people full of grace
We want to be a shelter where the broken find their place

We want to be a refuge for the weak
We want to be a light for the world to see
We want to be a love that breaks the walls and fills the streets

All are welcome here
As we are
As we are
For our God is near every heart

Let Your mercy rise
Let Your hope resound
Let Your love in our hearts be found
Let Your grace run free
Let Your name bring peace
Heaven come in the here and now

We want to be a door that’s open wide
We want to see compassion come to life
We want to carry truth that shines a beacon in the night

We want to see the city fill with hope
We want to bring peace to troubled souls
We want to tell the story of a God that we can know

All are welcome here
As we are
As we are
For our God is near every heart

Let Your mercy rise
Let Your hope resound
Let Your love in our hearts be found
Let Your grace run free
Let Your name bring peace
Heaven come in the here and now

Let justice roll like a river wild
Let mercy grow like a burning fire
Let it come in the here and now
Your kingdom come til it rules the earth
Your will be done all around the world
Let it come in the here and now

All are welcome here
All are welcome here
All are welcome here
As we are
As we are
For our God is near every heart

Let Your mercy rise
Let Your hope resound
Let Your love in our hearts be found
Let Your grace run free
Let Your name bring peace
Heaven come in the here and now

Let justice roll like a river wild
Let mercy grow like a burning fire
Let it come in the here and now
Your kingdom come til it rules the earth
Your will be done all around the world
Let it come in the here and now

Let justice roll like a river wild
Let mercy grow like a burning fire
Let it come in the here and now
Your kingdom come til it rules the earth
Your will be done all around the world
Let it come in the here and now
Let it come in the here and now 


Scripture sources: DailyVerses.net, Knowing-Jesus.com, OpenBible.info, BibleStudyTools.com

*NLT; all other verses NIV

July 25, 2020

Being Saved vs. Being Safe

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

At least once a year I like to highlight the writing of pastor, author and evangelist Greg Laurie, of Harvest Church in Riverside, California; Harvest.org. Here are two shorter devotions for you today. If you click through (on the titles below), you’ll see an option where you can have Greg’s devotions delivered to your mobile device each day.

Hold on Tight!

Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

—Jude 1:21

I don’t keep myself saved, but I keep myself safe.

God saves me. That’s established. But I keep myself safe, which means that I keep myself in the love of God.

Though God’s love is unsought, undeserved, and unconditional, it’s possible for me to be out of sync with His love.

Jude wrote, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (1:21 NKJV). He was basically saying, ‘Keep yourself away from those things that are unlike Him. Keep yourself from any influence that violates His love or brings sorrow to God’s heart. And keep yourself in a place where God can actively show His love to you.’

In John 17 Jesus prayed to the Father, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (verse 15 NKJV).

In this context “the world” refers to a mentality. It’s talking about a culture, a way of thinking, and the world system under the control of Satan. That’s why the Bible calls the devil “the god of this world” (see 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT).

There is God’s part and our part. If you were on a diet, for example, you wouldn’t hang around donut stores, would you?

Just as donuts aren’t good for diets, there are things that feed sin. That’s what Jesus meant when He taught us to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13 NLT).

Basically, that’s saying, “Lord, help me not to put myself in a place where I could fall into sin.”

So, God will keep you, but if you’re yanking your hand out of His hand, that’s a problem. God is holding on to you. But the question is this: Are you holding on to Him?


What Jesus Wants for Us

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
—John 17:21

Before I heard the gospel message, the love that Christians had for each other won me over. I watched them on my high school campus and thought, “Is this for real, or are they making this up? Is this an act? Do these people really love each other?”

After all, I was used to hanging around with people that I liked. Certain kids hung around certain kids. But as I watched the Christians, I realized they were from every kind of background imaginable, yet they obviously had something in common.

When Christians are unified and when they love one another, it’s a powerful witness to a lost and divided world. And that is just what Jesus wants for us.

In John’s gospel we find His prayer for us: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (17:21 NLT).

Now, I’m not calling for unity at any cost because the most important thing is truth. But sometimes Christians divide over ridiculous things. They’ll get upset over some minor thing, so they decide to leave fellowship altogether.

It reminds me of a story I heard about a man who had been stranded on a desert island. When rescuers finally found him, they noticed he’d built three huts on the island.

“I built those huts myself,” he told them.

“Wow! What is this hut here?”

“That’s my house.”

“How about this one?”

“That’s my church.”

“That’s fantastic! And what’s the third hut?”

“Well,” he said, “that’s the church I used to go to.”

As Christians, we should seek to live in unity and love one another as Christ has loved us.


Hi again, this is Paul, the editor and publisher of Christianity 201. Today I’d like to ask readers for prayer concerning some yet-undiagnosed health issues. Thanks.

Next Page »