Christianity 201

May 30, 2023

Praying in Community: The Family

The family that prays together stays together, and if they stay together they will love one another as God has loved each one of them. And works of love are always works of peace. – Mother Teresa

 

We found today’s devotional at the website Makanji Space and not knowing more about the writer, discerned that it would be a good fit here. Click the title below to read it where it first appeared, and then navigate from there to read other posts as we did.

Divine Threads: Unraveling the Power of Shared Family Prayer

In the words of Venerable Patrick Peyton, the celebrated phrase, “The Family that Prays Together Stays Together,” was given birth, illuminating the profound connection between family unity and collective prayer. Father Peyton, also known as The Rosary Priest, was a fervent advocate of family prayer, particularly the recitation of the rosary. His unwavering conviction was that prayer, especially when done together as a family, had the power to strengthen familial bonds, instill virtues, and bring divine grace into the home.

This spiritual reflection seeks to delve into this aphorism’s depths, exploring why and how shared prayer holds the potential to sustain and nourish family unity. Drawing on biblical texts and interpreting them in the context of family and prayer, the reflection offers insights into the transformative power of shared prayer. It articulates how shared prayer fosters peace, enhances communication, invites divine interventions, instills virtues, provides a shared sense of purpose, and strengthens familial bonds.

“A Family that Prays Together Stays Together” reveals profound insights about prayer and family life. It encapsulates the transformative power of prayer, which is not just an act of uttering sacred words, but an experience that fosters shared peace, enhanced communication, divine intervention and virtuous development as a sense of purpose.

Yet, another perspective deserves our attention: the community aspect of prayer. Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer.” Here, prayer is not an isolated practice but integrated into the fabric of vibrant community life. It is in this community life that the family finds its highest expression. The family that prays together forms a small ecclesia, a small church, a spiritual community that lives in communion with God and each other.

The divine communion is beautifully demonstrated in 1 John 4:12: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” The family that prays together invites God’s love into their hearts, enabling them to love each other more deeply. This divine love transcends human limitations and helps family members to accept and cherish each other in their uniqueness, promoting unity in diversity.

The family that prays together also embodies and perpetuates the faith tradition.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 advises, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home, walk along the road, lie down, and get up.” Prayer becomes an occasion to pass faith values and wisdom to the younger generation, promoting continuity and tradition that strengthens family bonds.

In retrospect, the concept of a family that prays together, staying together transcends the mundane aspect of human interactions. It places the family in the sacred realm of divine love, grace, and wisdom. It acknowledges that family is not just a human institution but a divine blessing, an opportunity to experience and manifest God’s love.

Prayer can therefore be seen as a spiritual thread that weaves the family together, and it is the golden cord that connects the family and God. The family that prays together stays together- not just because they pray, but because they live, love and grow together under the divine umbrella of prayer. They become a spiritual community that embodies the psalmist’s words in Psalm 133:1 “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

And so, to answer the question as to why the family that prays together stays together, it is not simply the act of prayer that keeps the family together. It is what prayer signifies: a collective surrender to divine guidance, a shared journey into love and understanding, a mutual nurturing of virtues, and a united front facing life’s challenges. It is about communicating with each other and with God. It is about being together in the most intimate way possible, in the quiet moments of reverence, in the shared silence of the divine, and in the unity of purpose that prayer cultivates.

This reflection only scratches the surface of the depth of wisdom encapsulated in the phrase, “The Family that Prays Together Stays Together.” May each family discover the beauty and power of shared prayer, and through this practice, may they grow stronger, closer and more loving.


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

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

May 1, 2023

When Someone in Your Church Knowingly Disobeys God

It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. – Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 5:12 NLT

The topic of what’s called “Church Discipline” is a thorny issue for sure. I’ve seen examples of this being done in a very heavy-handed and even unnecessary manner, but have also seen congregational leadership unwilling to confront someone living in — and even flaunting — a sinful lifestyle.

This is our fourth time featuring the writing of Michael Wilson at Jesus Quotes and God Thoughts. If you click the title which follows, there’s also a related embedded video in the original post.

What are the Problems that Require Church Discipline?

This is a tough issue. My experience is that many churches ignore this and hence, have no process to deal with it. It is the “head in the sand” conundrum.

Is there a principle we can follow? Yes, Jesus and the Apostles laid it all out for us. Here is the principle:  We should deal with any professing believer who associates with this church and is knowingly and rebelliously disobeying the clear commandments of Scripture.

The person must be a professing believer. Paul had written a now lost letter in which he told the church not to associate with immoral people (1 Cor. 5:9). Now he clarifies that he did not mean unbelievers, but rather a “so-called brother” who is immoral or covetous or an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or a swindler (5:11). He states (5:12) that it is God’s business to judge those outside of the church, but it is the church’s responsibility to judge those within the church. Our first step should be to make sure that the sinning person understands the gospel. Sometimes the problem is that the person is not truly born again.

The person must associate with this church. Some Church constitutions and by-laws spell out that by joining this church, you are submitting to the process of church discipline. But, also, if someone attends this church regularly and especially if he is involved in any church ministry, we must practice church discipline. The testimony of this church is at stake, and the world does not check to see if the person is an official member.

The person must be knowingly and rebelliously disobedient. This calls for discernment. Paul writes (1 Thess. 5:14), “And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” We should not encourage the unruly but admonish him. We should not admonish the fainthearted or weak but encourage and help them. Sometimes, a newer believer is in sin due to ignorance of God’s Word. He is weak. But, if he continues defiantly in the sin after you show him what the Word says, he then becomes unruly. The sequence laid out by Jesus and the Apostles is that first one person goes, then 2 – 3 and finally it is taken to the whole church.

I find the analogy of child rearing helpful here. If my three-year-old was acting like a three-year-old, I tried to help him learn how to behave in a more mature manner. But I didn’t discipline him for being three. But when your three-year-old is defiant, you must deal with his rebellion. If a believer is overcome by a sin, but is repentant and wants help, you help him. But if he says, “I have a right to do as I please,” he is defiant and needs discipline.

The person must be disobeying the clear commands of Scripture. You don’t discipline someone for areas on which the Bible has no clear commandments. Drinking alcoholic beverages is not grounds for discipline; drunkenness is. Watching movies is not grounds for discipline; watching pornographic movies is. Scripture contains many lists of sins (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:25-5:6; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; 2 Tim. 3:2-5; etc.). We may summarize these as:

  1. Violations of God’s moral commandments (1 Cor. 5:10-11; 6:9-10; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5).
  2. Unresolved relational sins, such as gossip, slander, anger, and abusive speech (Matt. 18:15-20; Eph. 4:25-31; Gal. 5:19-21; Col. 3:8).
  3. Divisiveness in the church (Rom. 16:17-18; Titus 3:10; 3 John 9-10).
  4. False teaching on major doctrines (Gal. 1:8-9; 1 Tim. 1:20; 6:3-5; 2 John 9-11).
  5. Disorderly conduct and refusal to work (2 Thess. 3:6-15; 1 Tim. 5:8).

We have good news. If the process is followed, starting with one person and then followed up with another visit by several, souls can be restored. This may not happen with someone who is defiant.

 

March 12, 2023

Go Because of the Hurt; Stay for the Healing

I Cor 12:25 (NIV) so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

I Cor. 12:25-26 (The Message) The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

Romans 12::5 (Phillips) Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad.

Romans 12:15 (NLT) Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

I originally wrote this when several different people we knew were facing the anniversary of a loss. I copied The Message version of I Cor. 12:25-6 into an email and sent it to one such family. I respect Eugene Peterson’s credentials to do a translation like The Message, but I don’t know enough about his translation process to know how we came to “…involved in the hurt and the healing.” It’s certainly unique to his translation; but I like that it implies a sense of follow through; that we stick around not only for the hurt but for the better days that are to happen.

Think of this way: Presence yourself with someone because they are hurting, and still be there when the time of rejoicing comes.

This whole sense of bearing one another’s burdens is so contrary to western “me-first” individualism. We sort of get the idea of extending love and care to someone else, but we often miss the part of the concept where you and I are one. We sort of get the idea of the people in our church being family, but we miss out on the idea that as the body of Christ we are an organic unity.

It totally flies in the face of the Western mindset of individualism.

Even in marriages — the epitome in scripture of becoming one — it’s now common for husbands and wives to have separate bank accounts. I’m not talking about a situation where one spouse has a household account out of which to pay expenses as they crop up; I’m referring to situations where each keeps a portfolio of savings and investment accounts. Perhaps in an easy-divorce culture, it makes the separation of assets more simplified.

So the notion of weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice tends to miss the recurring word “with.” We often weep for, and rejoice for, instead of weeping with and rejoicing with; and by this I am referring to the full sharing of their situation, not something simply done in physical proximity.

In our business, we adopted a financial policy that is somewhat biased toward the people of like faith that we deal with. We pay all our bills on time anyway, but we like to use the following principle, and expect the people who deal with us — many of them who are churches — to carry a similar goal:

Gal 6:10 (ESV) So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

The problem is, consider the following scenario: A and B are both Christ-followers and are involved in a financial transaction where A is performing a service for B that is part of his trade. A wants to give B a price break because she is a fellow believer, but B wants to pay more than A is invoicing her for because she wants to honor the Galatians 6:10 principle.

I’ve been involved in such transactions where each person thinks it’s them that is doing the other person a favor, and it’s not unlike the classic scene where two very polite people are standing on one side of a door trying to let the other person go through the door first!

The way we work out these things is going to be complex, and sometimes an exactly similar situation will be interpreted in different ways by the different parties, leading to different outcomes. Still, I believe that God is pleased when we are endeavoring to honor Him by preferring others in all that we do.

This also has embodies the idea of humility, which is a recurring theme in my writing. You adopt a mindset of habitually esteeming the other person.

Furthermore, I believe that what honors Him the most is when we truly view ourselves as part of a single collective body.

Paul used the analogy of parts of the body, but if he had jigsaw puzzles in his day, he might have said, “The bottom right corner piece of the puzzle cannot say to the middle piece, ‘I don’t need you.'”

The way we show there’s no preference is to prefer the other.

CSB.Rom.12.10 Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Take the lead in honoring one another.

February 1, 2023

Paul Desired That We Speak With One Voice

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The source for today’s devotional was new to us, though I’m not sure how we missed it earlier. Unashamed of Jesus has been active since October, 2014, and has over 106,500 subscribers. (We couldn’t find an ‘About’ page, or names of the writers.) There were some excellent articles we scanned, and we encourage you to click on the title which follows to read this one where it first appeared.

Note: Today’s devotional used the KJV, and knowing that some of you struggle with that, the link for the two passages will take you to the NLT for the same verses.

1 Corinthians 1- Unite in Christ

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:10-12

Since the beginning of time, there has been problems in the Church. Anytime you get a group of people together, there is always going to be conflicts and issues. That’s why Paul here urges the Church to “that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind” How did it work out? Well currently we have over 40,000 different denominations, including Catholicism and Orthodox.

So we know that there are a lot of things that divide us, such as for example a Catholic and a Protestant, have a lot of theological differences that keeps them from worshiping together. However let’s focus on what we do have in common, what do we all have in common with other Christians? Jesus Christ our Lord , Christ died for our sins, and Christ rose again on the 3rd day as according to the scriptures, and Christ will come again!

Many Christians like to keep arguing about tradition and theology, instead of sharing the gospel with non-believers. Back in the first century , there were believers saying they were followers of Paul, others said they were followers of Peter, and others followers of Apollos. Is this any different today? We have Christians today who are followers of the Pope, or followers of Luther, or followers of Wesley, but what about Jesus Christ?

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, Christ is our Lord and God, not any mortal human or faith tradition. Christ should be the foundation of our faith, and also the foundation that unites us together as brothers and sisters of God

Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. 1 Corinthians 1:13-17

As the Apostle Paul states here “Is Christ divided?” No, there is only One Lord, One God, One Church, One Holy Spirit, One Faith, etc. There is not multiple Churches as we like to think here , when the Kingdom comes into full completion, there is only One bride of Christ, not multiple brides. If you hate your Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, brothers and sisters, then you need to repent and get over it, Christ is Lord of All, Amen!

January 16, 2023

Peter Wrote to an Ongoing, Continuing, Future Church

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Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. – Matthew 16:18 NLT

Did the epistle-writers (Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude) know that their words were not just for the immediate recipients of their letters but also “… your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call;” including you and me? In today’s devotional we get a sense of that. His generation would pass, but God was building his church; his gathered ones; and Peter had been told personally that nothing would thwart that…

Last year at this time we introduced you to Pastor Will who lives on the U.S. west coast. If you have time, check out his testimony. His blog is titled, Today’s Scripture. We plucked today’s devotional from the middle of a series on 2 Peter, all of which makes great commentary on the passage.

When We Listen

Read with Me

2 Peter 3:1-2 (HCSB)
Dear friends, this is now the second letter I have written to you; in both letters, I want to develop a genuine understanding with a reminder, so that you can remember the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the command of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles.

Listen with Me

Peter knew two things very well. First, he knew that he was not going to live forever. This knowledge was underscored as he wrote this letter by the fact that he was now sitting on death row in a Roman prison. He knew that he would never deny Jesus to save his own life again, so he knew that he would make his transition the next world sooner rather than later.

But he also knew that the Church, the community of those belonging to God through faith in Jesus, would continue after he was gone. And he knew that, for that reason, he had a responsibility to ensure that the Christians of the future would be reminded of who they are and what they were charged with doing, even after he and the other apostles had passed on. That is the reason for his writing both of his letters, and it provides the context in which both are to be read.

Whereas neither Peter, nor Paul, nor any of the other writers of the New Testament epistles, ever sat down to write “Scriptures”, Peter also understood that what he was writing to pass down to future generations of Christians was not merely his own thoughts or opinions.

Instead, he knew that he was passing on the commands of Jesus that were being given to his people through the apostles. His words were not his own. He was just doing his best to pass on the words of the holy prophets of old, pure and untarnished, but made clear by the life and ministry of Jesus. And he was also working to make sure that he was passing on the words that Jesus Himself spoke, both while in the flesh and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, also pure and untarnished. And it was these words, not his own thoughts or opinions, that he knew would serve to stimulate his readers to genuine understanding, and would protect them from both false teachings, and compromises and corruptions of the truth.

Pray with Me

Father, reading these letters with Peter’s stated intentions in mind really does provide a content that makes them make a lot of sense. Peter was not only living focused on the present, but with an eye to the future; a future that includes me today. He was well aware that false doctrines were already arising, and that they would only multiply as time went on. So, he did his best to convey what Jesus revealed to him would help us to stay in the center of what is true and right, instead of allowing ourselves to be whipped about by the winds of changing worldviews and morphing doctrines. Thank you for Peter and his faithfulness. Amen.

 

January 13, 2023

Quarreling, Divisions and those Weak in Faith

Sit back, as this devotional goes in several directions at once!

First, as we should, let’s begin with text. Romans 14:1 should be familiar to most of you:

Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. (NLT)

Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you, even though his faith is weak. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong. (TLB) (That’s how I first learned it.)

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not to have quarrels over opinions. (NASB)

Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions. (NET)

I think you get the idea.

I was drawn to this verse on Wednesday when someone who is considerably younger than myself quoted it to me from the KJV. I’m always surprised when a new generation embraces this translation, as I expected it to die out in the 21st Century, but it’s not on a trajectory to do that anytime soon. It reads,

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

That phrase, “doubtful disputations,” a form of the word dispute, got my attention, and got me meditating — as we spoke about a few days ago — on this passage again.

First (and I grant that this is somewhat anecdotal) I’ve noticed that many new believers immediately form opinions based on their reading of scripture; opinions which they believe should be prescriptive for everyone.

Let me give an example of how this strikes me: My oldest son is an Electrical Engineer. I know relatively nothing about the profession. If I were to read a few newspaper or online articles and then offer strong opinions on some matter related to the field, he might take the time to correct me, or he might just smile and walk away, completely bewildered as to how I have someone become an expert on something for which I am entirely unqualified to offer an opinion. Furthermore, at some point I would expect to be self-aware enough to realize that I simply didn’t know what I was talking about.

This is however, something we often see in the local church. People come arrive at our fellowships with some pre-loaded opinions on various matters, and become quite infuriated when we who have walked with Jesus for considerably more years do not hold the same convictions.

We, being human, often respond with equal passion!

The NLT citation of the verse says to simply not engage the debate. (For those of you who know your book of Proverbs, about a dozen cross-references might come to mind!)

But the NASB rendering of the verse suggests there might be some who would invite someone into their fellowship for the very purpose of debating them. Instead, we should simply accept them.

Decades ago, the worship team Scripture In Song wrote “The Song of Acceptance” in which they took Romans 15: 6-7, but reversed the order of the verses, leading to this phrasing:

(v.7) Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God, (v.6) so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)

Second, I think the backwards nature of the situation bears exploring. One would expect those who have studied the scripture for decades to be the ones with established positions on issues. But it doesn’t work that way. While they clearly “know who they have believed” it because of the relational dynamic implicit in knowing Christ that they avoid inter-personal conflicts. In other words, they’ve got all the right information about theology and doctrine, but they’ve also absorbed the right character of Christ so that they are less argumentative. They have the doctrine that comes with years of study, but they also have the spirit of humility.

In at least one case where I’ve run into relatively new believers whose ideas are inflexible, or intransigent, what I want to say to them is, ‘You lack a humble apologetic.’

A few days ago I read a news account which contained this quote: “He is my political opponent, but he is not my enemy.” Too many times our real enemy would have us see the other person as a threat to the work of the global Church, when they are instead simply a highly opinionated new believer sharing their issues with those within earshot.

Third, such debates can consume much time, mental energy, and even physical energy (through stress) that could instead be put into building the kingdom.

I’ll leave us with Eugene Peterson’s rendering of today’s key verses in The Message Bible:

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

 

November 20, 2022

Overcoming an Overly Critical Spirit

But build one another up every day. Do it as long as there is still time. – Hebrews 3:13a (NIRV)

I’ve often joked that, “I know my spiritual gift, I have the gift of criticism.” It makes people laugh, but in seriousness, our criticisms can really hurt people. In today’s climage of polarity, much energy is spent (especially online) by the people on Team ‘A’ criticizing the people on Team ‘B,’ and it works both ways.

Most of today’s thoughts are based on a sermon shared earlier this morning by Rev. Dwane Parsons, a pastor at Grace Church in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada.

What causes us to have a critical spirit? It could be that

  • It resonates with our sinful nature, what scripture calls “the old man.”
  • We’re frustrated, and therefore try to control people and circumstances which ultimately we cannot
  • We have our own insecurities and jealousies
  • We hold a misplaced perfectionism (which we’ve either developed or inherited) and try to impose that standard on others

You see these and other factors manifested in the way the Pharisees react to Jesus.

What can we do?

First, stop walking through life like a whiner. Most people reading this are part of the “first world.” We have our basic necessities met each day, and many of our desires as well. Our personal theme should be, “I’m blessed.”

Philippians 2:4 reminds us to “Do everything without complaining and arguing.” (NLT)

Second, we can work to see the positive, in each situation and in each person. Ephesians 4:29 reminds us, Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. (GNT)

The NASB on that verse is interesting as it adds (amplifies) somewhat rendering the last part of the verse as, “… if there is any good word for edification according to the need of the moment, say that, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Reading this and thinking about the whole issue of timing, I couldn’t help but think of Proverbs 25:11, “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.” (NLT)

In Colossians 4:6 we’re reminded to, Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out. (MSG)

Third, Ask the Lord to help you overcome your critical behaviour. Romans 12:3 reminds us, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (NIV)

A key phrase there is “sober judgment.” Sometimes our judgement is irrational judgement or emotional judgement.

Fourth, model encouragement to others. Here’s a quote from this morning’s message I found interesting: “You may be criticizing the gift of God in someone’s life.” Also, we might be normalizing criticism in front of new believers when we criticize someone unfairly. (Christian leaders: Certain negative remarks and assessments should, if necessary, stay between others in Christian leadership and not be shared in a forum where they might be more broadly heard or seen.)

Build a Legacy of Encouragement

Remember that encouragement, teaching, serving and showing mercy are spiritual gifts; criticism is not on the list. So much for my aforementioned ‘gift of criticism.’ Check out Romans 12:6-8, it’s not there.

Also, it comes back to you. Encouragement others benefits you as much as it does the person you encourage. Proverbs 11:25 is a verse I hadn’t considered before, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (NIV)

Here’s another vantage point on this subject, Nobody builds a legacy on criticism, but you might as an encourager. Here Pastor Dwane shared an interesting quotation by musician Jean Sibelius that, “A statue has never been built in honour of a critic.” So true.

Finally, a legacy of encouragement opens doors for ministry. We’re thinking here of the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to Tychicus and Titus in Colossians 4:7-8 and 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3. Paul’s letters are often letters of introduction for people he is sending or commissioning.


During the course of the message, I believe a point was very quickly raised about encouraging people who don’t receive our encouragement. In my head at that moment I heard some lyrics by ’80s Christian musician Margaret Becker:

It’s never for nothing
When we love with no return
Light your candle in the darkness
‘Cause it’s never for nothing.

We’re not responsible for outcomes, but we are responsible to remain faithful to encourage others.


And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

November 15, 2022

The King the People Wanted versus The King God Wanted

Back in April we reconnected with a guy we knew as Kuya Kevin aka Kevin Sanders who we had often linked to back in the day at Thinking Out Loud. Still faithfully writing online, his blog is simply titled Pastor Kevin Sanders, and you can read today’s post by clicking the title which follows.

The Blessings of 8th Place

1st Samuel 16 introduces us to one of the most well-known characters in the Bible: David. What you may not realize is just how unlikely a choice he was to be the King of Israel.

God told Samuel it was time to stop moping around and dwelling on the dismal leadership failures of Saul, Israel’s first king. Samuel was ordered to anoint another king, but this time it would be different. Saul was exactly the type of king the people wanted, but the new king would be the kind of man God wanted.

Samuel was told to go visit Jesse in Bethlehem. There he would meet Jesse’s sons, one of whom would be God’s choice for the next king.

The meeting eventually happened, and Samuel was immediately presented with the most obvious choice: Eliab.

Eliab had won the genetic lottery in more ways than one. He was the firstborn son, which meant he would be the leader of the family once Jesse passed away. This also meant he would receive twice the inheritance of any other sibling. Even now, being first has its advantages: firstborn children tend to surpass their younger siblings in both leadership ability and intelligence.

Eliab had something else going for him: he was tall and handsome–an impressive physical specimen of a man.

All things considered, this alpha male was the obvious choice to be Israel’s next king. Even Samuel was impressed: he was ready to cast the one and only deciding vote for Eliab.

But God had a different plan–a plan so surprising that it had to be spelled out in no uncertain terms. God told Samuel that He was looking for something that Samuel couldn’t see:

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

-1st Samuel 16:7

Eliab was clearly not God’s choice, so Jesse did the most sensible thing he could think of. He presented Samuel with the second-born, then the third-born, an so on until he had presented seven of his sons as potential candidates. God rejected them all.

“Are all your sons here?” Samuel asked. There was one more, but no one in the family thought he should even be invited. David, the youngest, had been assigned to watch the sheep while everyone else attended to these more important matters.

Samuel sent for him, and God made His choice clear: David would be Israel’s next king. He was anointed on the spot–right in front of his higher-status brothers.

Why David? Because God wanted a man after His own heart (1st Samuel 13:14).

David is an example of something we see repeatedly in the Scriptures: God delights in using the unlikeliest of people to do extraordinary things. Social status, appearance, wealth, or any other external measure of “success” are meaningless in His eyes. God looks at one thing above everything when deciding who He will use: the heart.


Thanks, Kevin.

Back in 2014, I had an unusual moment involving today’s key verse; looking for something to jump out at me in a fresh way.

I wrote:

I Samuel 16 offers us a verse we know but tend not to practice:

7bI do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.

The Louis Segund translation renders it this way:

…l’homme regarde à ce qui frappe les yeux, mais l’Éternel regarde au coeur.

In English, it would read that man looks at what “strikes the eyes;” in other words first impressions and superficial indicators.

That’s even more true today as social media compels many to make a good impression, and many of us gravitate to people who simply look good.

God uses different metrics than we do. He looks at the heart.

November 1, 2022

Allies in Kingdom Advancement

Today we’re back with another article by Ben Sternke whose eponymous blog has the subtitle: “Field notes on life and mission with God after Christendom.” (There’s a lot to think about there!) Clicking the devotional title below will take you to where this first appeared.

Whoever Isn’t Against You is For You

John said, “Master, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he isn’t in our group of followers.”

But Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him, because whoever isn’t against you is for you.”

John 9:49-50

Just before this little exchange, the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest within the group, and when Jesus rebuffs them by placing a child in their midst and telling them that whoever is least among them is the greatest, they turn their attention to outside the group and, in effect, say, “Well we’re definitely greater than those guys, right?”

Just like us, Jesus’s disciples are relentlessly measuring their status and honor to see who they’re better than, and who is better than them. Just like them, we have all kinds of ways of measuring:

  • Whose theology is better?
  • Whose liturgy is better?
  • Whose aesthetics are better?
  • Whose church is bigger?
  • Whose preaching is better?
  • Whose discipleship practices are better?

Instead of these status games, Jesus brings us back to the point: is God’s kingdom going forward? Well then don’t get in the way (and maybe even rejoice a little!).

These people you’re upset about, are they opposing God’s work? If not, then stop worrying about them. Do you think they’re going about the work in the wrong way? Do you think they’re not part of the right team? Don’t have the correct affiliation or the right theology? Wrong question!

Better questions: Is God’s kingdom advancing? Are the marginalized brought into communion? Are the broken healed? Are the prisoners set free? Are those in bondage being delivered? Is good news being preached to the poor? Then don’t worry about them being part of the wrong group or having bad theology.

As long as they’re not against you, they’re for you! If they’re not opposing God’s kingdom advancing, they’re your partners, and there’s absolutely no need to figure out who’s better than who.


Because that was shorter than many of our devotionals here, I thought we’d add this (even shorter!) one; which is relevant to the advancing kingdom discussed above.

The Harvest Really is Plentiful

“The harvest is plentiful…” Jesus tells the seventy-two as he sends them out as forerunners to enact and announce God’s kingdom coming near (Luke 10:2).

This initial proclamation about the nature of the disciples’ mission field is a vital key for their ability to discern where and when God is at work. If they are to stay where they are welcomed, and move on when they are not, they need to have confidence that the harvest is plentiful.

They don’t need things to work out positively in any particular town or village, as if the harvest was scarce and needs to be squeezed out of reluctant soil. No, the harvest is plentiful, so just brush the dust off your feet and move on a place where you are welcomed.

Leave judgment in God’s hands; the way that people respond is not your responsibility. Simply go out in openness and vulnerability and look for openness and vulnerability in others. Stay wherever you find it, receiving and giving in mutuality, proclaiming the nearness of God.


Reading Ben’s articles got me thinking about the potential competition that can exist between ministry organizations, which reminded me of a book that I saw a few years ago, but didn’t pick up at the time: Rooting Among Rivals: How Collaboration and Generosity Increase The Impact of Leaders, Charities and Churches by Peter Greer and Chris Horst. The publisher blurb reads:

Do ministries and churches compete? Faith-based organizations are sometimes known for what we’re against—and all too often that includes being against each other. But amid growing distrust of religious institutions, Christ-centered leaders, churches and charities have a unique opportunity to link arms and collectively pursue a calling higher than any one organization’s agenda.  (Bethany House, 2018)

I think we could all say “Amen” to that spirit of cooperation.

October 27, 2022

A Christian Pecking Order?

by Clarke Dixon

If tv is to be believed, it seems there is a pecking order in the Royal Family. My wife and I have been watching the series The Crown and we are up to the point Lady Diana stumbles in on the family and makes a royal mess of it, not knowing whom to curtsy to, in what order, and how to address each. In our home there is only one who goes by “Your Majesty” and that title belongs to a wee dog named “Ruby.” Or so she thinks.

Is there a pecking order in the family we call church? Are some people superior and others inferior? Our answer based on what is ideal may not line up with what people really experience.

Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Corinth, a community in which some people felt superior to the rest based on their expression of spiritual gifts leaving others, of course, to feel inferior.

So what did Paul say?

To the ones feeling inferior he said this:

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?

1 Corinthians 12:14-17 (NLT)

In other words, no matter how inferior you may feel, you belong. Not one of us is inferior. All of us are necessary. In fact it is as ludicrous to think of the Church functioning without you as it is thinking of a body made up of only an eye or ear.

To those feeling superior Paul said this:

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.

1 Corinthians 12:20-24 (NLT)

In other words, if you belong, so do the others, even those you think are inferior to you in some way. Each person is a unique part of the whole body. So a “pecking order culture” where some may be perceived to be more necessary than others must give way to a culture of mutuality.

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.

1 Corinthians 12:25-27 (NLT)

Do we see a similar propensity for superiority and inferiority today as happened in Corinth in Paul’s day?

Unfortunately we can fall into the same pecking order based on gifts, both those perceived as being spiritual gifts and those perceived to be natural.

Despite Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, some Christians still feel superior, and some still feel inferior based on whether they pray or speak in spiritual tongues. Whether you speak in tongues or not, you belong, you are important.

Some people may be lifted up as superior, perhaps not even by their own choice, by having the “gift of the gab.” Those who are not naturally outgoing and on the quieter side can feel inferior. Whether we are more outgoing, or more reserved, we belong, we are important.

Some people seem to be especially gifted at prayer. Their prayers are so articulate, plus they seem to know exactly what to pray for. Some us think we must sound kinda stupid when we pray. Whether we are articulate or not in our prayers, we belong, we are important, and God hears us.

Some people have the gift of answered prayers. Some of us wonder if God is listening at all. If our prayers seem to go unnoticed, we may feel inferior. Whether our prayers are answered according to our desires or not, we belong, we are important. Prayer is too mysterious to be a sign of the worth of any human being.

Some of us have the gift of not having anything about ourselves that would raise eyebrows. I recently came across the following in a Christian statement of faith: “we oppose any form of gender confusion.” Language is important, and stating it that way can make someone who is confused about their gender feel like they are inferior. Some people experience that confusion for a season, some for a lifetime. Some people have the gift of clarity. Whether we are confused or have clarity, we belong, we are important.

We could go on to many other examples, but in this series I’m calling “What Kind of Church,” let us again turn to a cultural statement of Open Table Communities:

A Culture of Mutuality
We nurture a culture where everyone is encouraged towards becoming their best selves and offering themselves in service of others. We seek to empower one-another and the communities we participate in, through using our gifts to bless and serve.

Open Table Communities

A culture of mutuality is very different from a pecking order kind of culture. We each have gifts, not to lift us up higher than others, but to lift others up. We each have gifts, not to serve ourselves, but to use in the service of others.

It is an honour to serve His Majesty, King Jesus, to be in the body, to have gifts to serve and serve alongside so many other gifted people.


Clark Dixon is a Canadian pastor. His condensed sermons can be read at Thinking Through Scripture, and also appear here most Thursdays.

October 26, 2022

Every One of Us is Significant

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In December of last year, we introduced you to Doug Eaton who lives in greater Los Angeles, and writes at Flight of Faith, and is also Director of Admissions at Trinity Law School, which upholds Judeo-Christian principles in legal training. Today we have an excellent devotional for you; why not click the title below and read this where it first appeared?

Why There Are No Insignificant Christians

The person sitting in the other pew at church is more glorious than you realize. It is easy for us to look at some of the other people in our church and think, “I am glad they are part of this church, but they are not that significant.” If we feel like that, it exposes a biblical blindness on our part that we need to correct as soon as possible.

Throughout scripture, there are references where the church is called the bride of Christ. One of those places is Revelation 21:2. It says, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” This vision is ultimately a picture of the redeemed children of God. This understanding does not eliminate the fact that there will be a heavenly city, but this is ultimately about the people who dwell in that great city. It includes anyone, Old Testament or New, saved by faith and counted righteous in Christ Jesus.

If you notice, the city is adorned like a bride for her husband. Sinclair Ferguson says this is wedding imagery. This scene is the moment in the ceremony when the music begins to play; the congregation stands up, turns around, and looks at the bride, who has made her appearance. She is beautiful, fully adorned. At that moment, she may notice the people in the congregation, but her eyes are ultimately on the groom. It is his approval she is looking to receive, and the smile on his face and the light in his eyes are unmistakable.

Ferguson goes on to make an interesting point. Paraphrasing here, he says, I have officiated many weddings, and this is always an interesting moment because I saw the bride yesterday, and she did not look exceptional. She was wearing old jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. Nothing made her stand out then, but now she is fully adorned.

That picture of the bride in jeans and a t-shirt is a picture of us in our current state. We still struggle with sin and weakness. We have bodies that are corruptible and struggle with illness, but one day we will stand fully adorned. On that day, when we see them, we will think, “Wait a minute, that was you?” Fully adorned with Christ shining on them, we will say, “That was who was sitting next to me, and I did not know it?”

We must not write off our brothers and sisters in Christ because they do not measure up to some standard we have imposed on them. Whether that standard is based on class, talent, dignity, employment, or clothing, all of them are false measures because, on that day, the child of God will be turned inside out, and all you will see is Christ. We will recognize all of the battles they fought. How they had been washed in the blood of Jesus, and how he never let them go because he loved them so much.

Never look at our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and think, “eh.” This child of God is precious to our Savior. And if you ever feel like an insignificant Christian, know this, your glory awaits. Whether persecuted, broken, sick, poor, or struggling with sin, no matter what you are now, you will shine in glory one day.


…Reading Doug’s devotional reminded me of a quotation wherein C.S. Lewis stops to consider the eternal significance of the everyday people with whom we come in contact. He doesn’t stop at “insignificant Christians,” but would argue that this applies for “insignificant people” everywhere:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”  (from The Weight of Glory)

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.

 

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