Christianity 201

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.

 

May 17, 2022

When the Pieces of the Body Fit Together

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

 

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