Christianity 201

December 9, 2015

When Peace Returns

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

ISIS Goes Global. So Does Peace.

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

This question in answered in the book of Revelation:

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

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

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

Like the promise to Abraham:

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

Like the words of an angel announcing a birth:

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

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

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

Like Simeon on seeing the baby Jesus:

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

Like John 3:16,17

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

Like our Lord’s Commission:

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

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

Like the Day of Pentecost:

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

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

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

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

All these and more are pointers to a coming reality:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

December 6, 2015

Becoming a Peacemaker: The Church and Race

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

“From Racist to Grace-ist”

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Does Jesus Transform You into a Peacemaker?

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

1. By receiving Jesus’ gift of grace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

November 20, 2015

Making Your Church a Better Place

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

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

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

7 Things That Would Make Church Better

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

  1. Choose Humility (v. 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Love One Another (v. 9)

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

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

This should be self explanatory!

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

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

  1. Don’t Be Lazy (v.11)

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


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

November 1, 2015

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

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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For All Saints Day, a post from this day in 2013 by Alex Crain, Editor of Christianity.com from Crosswalk.com

Click the title below for additional content:

All Saints’ Day – Crosswalk the Devotional

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

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

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

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

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

“God is faithful.”

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

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

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

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

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

October 26, 2015

Unity in the Body

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

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

100 Pianos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what is that “Tree”?

It is the “Tree of Life”!

And what is the “Tree of Life”?

It is CHRIST!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Body-wide DISSONANCE;

A global, ecclesiastical CACOPHONY;

A ubiquitous, religious BABEL!

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~

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

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

100 Pianos by Gio Galanti

October 18, 2015

The New Community

Yesterday’s reading was quite long; today I want to give you more time to look at it. So we have a reading and a few notes from commentaries at BibleGateway.com

Ephesians 1:17-23 New International Version (NIV)

17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[a] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

If you wanted to just stop there and read this passage just one more time (out loud is even better) that’s fine, otherwise here are some supplementary notes on this passage.

  • The Reformation Study Bible gives us a good introduction:

First, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in believers (2:4, 5; 3:16, 17). Second, Christ enjoys His position as head over everything for the sake of the church. Not only is Christ at the most exalted position in the universe, He is there representing believers (2:6; Col. 3:3) and governing the universe for their sake. The principles of conduct in Ephesians emphasize that authority exists for the sake of service.

  • The Encyclopedia of the Bible on what is meant by the phrase “the church”:

In 1 Corinthians and Romans the phrase indicates the local church, and emphasizes the unity of its members and their harmonious working together according to the varying functions God has assigned by His Spirit to each (Rom 12:4-8; 1 Cor 12:4-31). Paul does not think of Christ as head of the body in these epistles (1 Cor 12:21). In Paul’s later letters, Ephesians and Colossians, reference is to the universal Church, of which Christ is the head (Eph 1:22, 23; 4:15, 16; 5:23; Col 1:18; 2:19). Each member is related to Christ as the directing, controlling center. The unity emphasized in Ephesians is that of Jew and Gentile in the one body (Eph 2:11-16; 3:6; 4:4) while in Colossians the unity of the whole cosmos under Christ’s headship is in view (Col 1:16-19; 2:10).

The origin of Paul’s thought of the Church as the body of Christ has been sought in four fields: (1) the communal participation in the communion bread, as suggested by 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17; (2) the Stoic description of an ecclesia, a public meeting, as a united body composed of different independent persons; (3) the meaning of the “corporate personality” of Israel in the OT, as in the figure of the vine (Ps 80:8); (4) the close identification of Christ with Christians, as for example in their sufferings (Acts 9:4, 5; Col 1:24).

Some regard the phrase as indicating that the Church is the extension of the incarnation, but it is better understood metaphorically, signifying the unity of believers in the Church, a unity which depends upon Christ.

  • Finally, an excerpt from The Asbury Bible Commentary:

Vv. 20b-22a are creedal in regard to the present role of the risen Son, although they also demonstrate the scope of divine power. Not only did the Father raise the Son from death, but he made him co-regent, with authority far above all [human] rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given on earth. Jesus has authority and dominion both now and in the age to come. Furthermore, God gave Jesus supremacy over all creation (cf. 1Co 15:28) and gave him to the church, his body, as its supreme Head.

Here, then, is the new community, the called-out ones (ekklesia), from both Judaism and paganism that now constitute the church. By divine power and appointment Christ now presides over the church the fullness [or complement] of him who fills everything and provides all spiritual vitality. The fulfillment of the Father’s purpose for the Son is his lordship over the church. Jesus, who fills the whole universe with his presence and governs the entire creation with his given authority, finds his completion as Head of the body, the church. A head without a body is incomplete. As the body renders the head complete, so the church fulfills God’s purpose for Christ.


Footnotes:

  1. Ephesians 1:17 Or a spirit

If there are any passages you would like to see covered here, feel free to write.

 

September 28, 2015

Are You a Fountain or a Drain?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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fountainThrough a rather roundabout journey on the weekend, I found this 2011 post at the blog The Pound Proclaimer by Glen Young. Click the title below to read at source.

Be a Fountain Not a Drain

I saw a marquee in front of a church’s building that had the following on it: “BE A FOUNTAIN NOT A DRAIN”. I looked over at my wife and said, “There is a sermon in there somewhere.” Indeed, there is a lesson in this simple statement that every Christian needs to hear.

Christians will either be a fountain or they will be a drain when it comes to their responsibilities in the kingdom of God. This is especially seen in the local work of a congregation. There is no middle ground. As a member of a local church, I am either a fountain that nourishes the work or I am a drain that is depleting the energy and life from that work.

Paul expressed the ‘either or’ principle when writing about the life of the Christian.

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:16-18)

Having become slaves of righteousness, we are bound to fulfill our servanthood. Slaves have a vested interest in the success of their master. The accomplishing of the master’s desire is directly related to the faithfulness of the slave. The lazy servant fails to understand that he is important in the process of completing the task. A modern expression to emphasize this principle is, “he got skin in the game”.

Every member of a local church has “got skin in the game”. Therefore, when a member is lazy and a slacker regarding the work of the local church, they become a drain rather than a fountain of life giving water. Drain is defined as, “To deplete gradually, especially to the point of complete exhaustion.” (American Heritage Dictionary) My oldest son has a GMC pickup truck that began having a problem with the battery losing power when the truck wasn’t run for a day or so. It was determined that it had an electrical short that drained the battery. Like the electrical short in my son’s truck, a member who does not consider that they have “skin in the game” will drain the life out of a local church.

Christians often lament the lack of growth in the congregation where they hold membership. We all have known of local churches that at one time were growing but today are on the verge of death. Why do congregations find themselves in this dilemma? In my humble opinion, it is because members have failed in their servitude by losing sight of their personal responsibility. A local church’s spiritual vitality is predicated upon the individual member’s participation. Yes! Every member has “got skin in the game”!

Some will say, “I can’t do anything.” Peter says you can, and he was inspired by God to say so.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (2 Peter 1:3-10)

What makes a local church grow and do the work God has assigned to it? It takes a membership where each individual member is personally involved in every aspect of its work. In this way and only in this way, will it be a living active organism.

Members who are fountains will give forth their energies to serve. Local churches that are alive and well have members who are fountains. Further, churches whose members are drains are being depleted of their life’s energy which leaves them a useless shell; an illusion rather than the real thing.

Which are you, a fountain or a drain?

July 18, 2015

The Church Attendance Crisis

We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming. – Hebrews 10:25 GW

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer… And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had...They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity. – Acts 2: 42, 44, 46 NLT

I was gladdened when they said to me, “We are going to the house of Lord Jehovah”!  – Psalm 122:1 Aramaic Bible in Plain English

We are in the middle of a church attendance crisis. What was always a weekly occurrence for individuals and families is often, at very best, only twice a month. Some are skipping entire months at a time. Others have simply discontinued the church habit, with no return in sight.

While some continue the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, others are more certain to have their absence from weekend worship signal a drift away. Twice in 1 Timothy 6:10 and 6:21, Paul uses the phrase “wandered from the faith.” The micro-context is “the love of money” and worldly influences; but clearly a faith that was more anchored would not drift.

We could look at all the factors that are in play right now causing many to give up a lifetime of church participation, but I would rather focus on the positives; the things we gain by gathering together.

FellowshipFellowship – There is so much to be gained from community. The small group movement has made this even more meaningful. As Andy Stanley says, “It’s harder to fall out of a circle than it is to fall out of a row.” When we worship in a larger body, we’re also observing other people at worship, hearing their testimonies, and witnessing the spiritual growth taking place in their lives. We’re also putting ourselves in a place to minister to others.

Corporate Prayer – It’s hard to participate in “If two of you will agree as touching anything on earth” prayers by yourself. There is something to be said for coming into God’s presence en masse and then interceding on behalf of individuals facing great needs, our spiritual leaders, the local and national government, and the work of God around the world.

Personal Prayer – The obvious consequence of corporate prayer is that there are people available to pray with you when it’s your need that is uppermost.

Corporate Worship – Even if you don’t like the song, or don’t prefer the style, there are many intangible blessings of being part of a local assembly lifting their voices in praise that simply can’t be duplicated at home. I know those “worship moments” in nature are meaningful, and singing in the car with a worship CD turned up loud can be inspiring, but in my life, many corporate worship occasions have been life highlights.

Giving – You can give online, of course, but many people don’t. In the offering, we participate together in financing God’s work in the local church and are made aware of the needs of missions operating throughout the world.

Confession – Many services offer a call to go forward or stand or raise a hand and through a physical action affirm that God is speaking to us about a particular aspect of the day’s teaching. Even a short time of silence gives us an opportunity to respond to God in ways that might never come about through watching a sermon on a computer or television, where ‘dead air’ isn’t desirable.

Communion – This is last, but certainly not least. The modern “breaking of bread” service, or Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist has a direct connection to the Passover meal. As we receive the bread and wine in community we do so in humility and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us.

These are just a few of the benefits that occur when we don’t give up meeting together.


Christianity:

Coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ and being joined to a company of imperfect people who are trying to live a new life in a new way.
 ~ Larry Tomczak (circa 1976)

 

 

 

 

June 18, 2015

The Church is Greater than Your Church or My Church

Church Around the World - Body of Christ

Today we pay a return visit to the blog Glory to God for All Things by Fr. Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox Priest under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America. He serves as the Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. You may click the title to read at source and/or leave a comment or question there.

A Cosmic Salvation

The conversation about Church often turns on history and doctrine. Each ecclesiological claim is shored up or torn down. In the middle of the fray, it is very easy to lose sight of what is being discussed. Church is reduced to its most institutional form. I want to suggest a larger view.

My first thought is to understand the true nature of the Church. I have seen bumper stickers that proclaim, “Orthodox Christianity, since 33 a.d.” Of course, viewed in a certain manner, this is correct. It is our trite American way of saying, “My Church is older than yours!” But it also diminishes the Church. A more accurate statement would be to say that the Church begins when God says, “Let there be light!”

This understanding is made manifest in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

…having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth– in Him. (Eph 1:9-10)

And this from Colossians:

For it pleased the Father that in [Christ] all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Col 1:19-20)

This is a vision of the Church as a cosmic unity. That which we name “Church” is the instrument through which God gathers and reconciles all things to Himself. Thus naming “Church” should not be an effort to create division and separation. The purpose of God is the gathering together of all things in One.

Of course, that cosmic unity is not something we see at present. Simply declaring, “We are one!” does not make it so. The divisions and separations that exist on account of sin cannot be abolished through mental gymnastics or by force of the will. It occurs through the reconciling work of the Cross.

It is correct to declare that the Orthodox Church is the One Church (the Church can only be One, as we confess in the Creed). But this is not a declaration of competition or an excuse for triumphalism. The divisions that exist in the world are the result of sin, the same sin that infects every life of every member of the Orthodox Church. Taunting the sins of others only serves the purpose of sin itself. Being gathered into the One Church should never be an occasion for shouting, “I’m gathered and you’re not!”

In this cosmic vision of the Church, it is possible to say that all of creation is “Orthodox,” although such a statement could immediately be misunderstood. Perhaps it would be better to say that all creation is destined for unity in the One Church.

Equally important in this vision is the understanding that the Church includes all of creation. All of the sacraments of the Church involve the material of creation. Wine, oil, bread, water, incense, fire, wax, the minerals of pigments, wood, metal, trees, dirt, flowers, etc. are all incorporated into the fullness of the life of the Church. In this, the life of the Church extends to the whole of creation. The life of the Church is the life of the whole world.

This cosmic unity also makes sense of Christ’s commandments regarding the love of enemies. Our refusal to forgive, our clinging to resentments and injuries are manifestations of the division and separation of sin. Rather, when we pray, we should stand in unity with the whole of creation and every human being, particularly our enemies. To “forgive everyone for everything” is an essential act in fulfillment of the final union of all things.

I am not suggesting in any of this the blurring of lines in the nature or integrity of the Church. However, it is to say that the primary direction and focus of our lives should be towards union with God. It is clear that for many the center of attention is on the boundaries of the Church – those points at which we must say, “I am not this,” or “This is not us.” This is a spiritual mystery. Obviously, we are aware of the lines and boundaries, and yet the lines and boundaries are themselves occasioned by sin. If they become the focal point of our spiritual existence we will discover them to have been a means of death in our lives.

The mystery of our existence then is found in moving ever closer to God, carrying within ourselves the whole of creation. And though boundaries and lines exist, they must not consume us. I have frequently encountered people who seem to be on permanent border-patrol in the Orthodox Church. Something always seems to be missing (most often it is joy).

God grant us to joyfully unite ourselves to Christ as Christ unites all things to Himself.

May 19, 2015

What Impedes Brotherly Love?

Today you will have to click through to read the real meat of the article, but overall it’s not long.

Here’s how the article begins. Click the title below to start at the beginning, or the one at the bottom to continue to the five factors the author mentions. The article is by Nebraska pastor Erik Raymond and appeared at ChurchLeaders.com

How to Prevent Brotherly Love

Let brotherly love continue. (Hebrews 13:1)

Brotherly love is the love that comes from God and functions within the context of our new family, the church. And we come to experience and express this love by repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation. A love like this is so very precious. It is little wonder then that the author of Hebrews says, let brotherly love continue. It is something that is so very costly! Christ gave his own life; he died to purchase this love. This is not cheap, fleeting, diminishing love, but costly, enduring and replenishing love.

However, this verse indicates a potential for brotherly love to stop. This all-important, ever precious, God-reflecting love from within the church—could potentially come to a grinding halt. This is very concerning to the writer of Hebrews. This should be very concerning to Christians. This is why he urges his hearers, and all Christians who would come after them, to let brotherly love continue.

If we are going to persevere in this brotherly love amid adversity, we need to know what the problem is. What impedes brotherly love? What derails it? What suffocates it?

In short: selfishness.

In other words, we oppose it. The love of self will suffocate a love for others. John Calvin got it exactly right when, thinking about this verse, he said, “When someone thinks more of himself than he ought, he will love others less than he ought.”

Selfishness is such a helpful word when thinking about what impedes our progress in holiness. Selfish. It is to be focused on, preoccupied with, in love with, concerned with—self. It is the characteristic of a heart that is turned inward upon itself. We love self, preserve self, honor self, serve self and defend self.

Selfishness is actually self-worship. Anything we elevate above God and his commands is what we worship. So, if we don’t obey God’s commands because we don’t like how it will make us feel or look, or because we just don’t want to—then we have identified our selfishness.

What does this look like? What impedes brotherly love in the church? We could list 500 things, but here are five big ones…

May 18, 2015

Skipping Church

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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As I prepared to post today’s devotional, I was reminded that next Sunday, a well-known U.S. megachurch is simply shutting down for the Memorial Day weekend. I have a great admiration for these people, but I think this sends the wrong message. If lived in their community and attended their church, I would voice my displeasure next week by not showing up. (Oh, wait… never mind!)

Today we pay a return visit to the blog, Finding the Holy in the Mundane by Rachel Stephenson.  Click the title below to link.

Going to the Chapel

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 (MSG)

Hebrews 10                        Romans 12:1-5

As I child I don’t remember missing church. At some point during my childhood, I’m sure I did, but nothing springs to mind. It wasn’t until my sometimes rebellious young adulthood that I would skip church on purpose.

When I did, and my mom caught me, she would quote the verses above to me.

Like I shared with you all the other day, I’m not a great rule follower. The people I work with will attest to that. It’s not that I’m opposed to rules. I’m all for rules. I just need to understand the reason for the rule. I like to call myself a “big picture person” because it sounds better than “rebellious.”

Why should the believer attend church or meet together with other believers? That sounds like just another rule someone made up until you look back to the beginning of Hebrews 10. The author does a great job explaining the difference between the old ways of relating to God, through repeated animal sacrifice, and the new way made possible by Christ’s death on the cross.

The writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah. The Message paraphrases it this way:

This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper,
isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; This time “I’m writing out the plan in them,
carving it on the lining of their hearts.” Hebrews 10:16 (MSG)

God’s agreement with humanity now involves a relationship, not simply a contract. Christ’s sacrifice makes it possible to come directly to the Father. God wants an intimate, personal relationship with each person. He wants those who believe in Him to be a living example of personal connection and relationship.

The church is more than a building. The church is an entity that ministers God’s love to the world. No individual can accomplish what the connected, interrelated, united body of believers can accomplish. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he compared the church to the human body. Each person is interdependent on the others in the body to accomplish the work God plans.

Paul says that each believer finds meaning in being part of the body. No organ or body part would be productive or function properly on its own without all of the parts of the body working together. In the same way, a believer who does not make himself a functioning part of the church body by attending and being involved, will never be fully realize the potential God has for him.

While the combined effort of organized believers influences the world outside the doors of the church, there is a ministry within the body as well. The mix of young, old, male, female, seasoned and novice believers, the serious and the carefree, the detail oriented and the big-picture dreamers all come together to help each other affirm and motivate one other as each individual lives life. Varied experiences and gifts allow individuals to encourage and minister to the needs each other in the body.

As the day of Christ’s return draws near, the church is a place of refuge for both the believer and non-believer.

Be part of The Body—it’s crippled without you!

Father, thank you for giving us a living example of the intimate relationship you want to have with each of us. I will be active in the body of believers and do my part to share, motivate and encourage those in the church.

April 13, 2015

If You’re a Christ-Follower, It’s Impossible to ‘Join’ a Church

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Jim Thomber writes at the other Thinking Out Loud blog. Click the link below to read this at source, and then click around his site for other great articles.

One Body Many MembersWhy It Is Impossible To Join A Church

“In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” – Romans 12:5

 

After reading this passage in Romans, I’m starting to question the whole idea of church membership. How can I join a church, that is, a local assembly of believers, when I already belong to the Church, the one Body of Christ?

Like you, I live in a town with many churches. Large and small, independent and mainline, the body of Christ is widely represented. However, my understanding of Romans 12:5 tells me there is only one Church in my city; we just happen to meet in different locations.

So the question is: “How can I join a particular assembly of believers and become a member of their church when I already belong to all the others?” My gifts and my life are not my own. I belong to the body of Christ, not just to the assembly that gathers under the banner of my particular denomination. Even though I am an ordained minister of a large denomination, I don’t limit myself or my fellowship solely to this organization. Furthermore, I don’t exist to promote my denomination; rather, my denomination exists to give me what I need to do the work in the “white and ready to harvest” field of the world. In other words, my denomination exists to help me promote Jesus. I don’t exist to promote my denomination.

I’m starting to think that becoming a member of a local church is like saying my arm can choose to join my shoulder. When we see ourselves as only a member of one local church, we limit our gifts and talents to that one part of the body at the exclusion of all the others. But this doesn’t make sense. For instance, if I stub my big toe, my entire body walks differently until the toe is healed. However, if a local church goes through a split or a painful episode with its pastor, none of the other churches seem to be affected. The most we can offer our hurting brethren is a quick, “Oh, I’ll pray for you.” Rarely are we given permission to be part of the healing process. I think this tells us that in most cities the churches do not see themselves as part of the same body, where each member belongs to all the others. Instead, we act as disjointed members, eyeing one another as competitive stepchildren of the same parent, vying for attention and a larger share of the inheritance.

If we see ourselves as just members of one particular church, we are mostly in competition with other churches in town. However, when we ARE the Church, we then find the other churches are companions along the way. I want to learn to work in conjunction and connection with the rest of the Body. I pray you do too. “Lord, hear our prayer.”

Yes, I understand the argument for church membership, for the need to have order in the organization. This is why I submit to my denominational authorities, pastor a church, and teach a class for new members. Still, the body of Christ is NOT an organization; it is a living organism. What I do in my fellowship should have a reverberating effect upon the rest of the Body in my town. But for the most part it doesn’t, and I’m not sure where the problem lies. Maybe it’s with me.

Therefore, I’ve decided to feel free to be myself with whatever group of Christians I happen to be hanging around with. I’ve noticed that if my finger scratches my ear, it doesn’t have to become an ear to be an effective itch reliever. Likewise, I’m going to worship wherever I find myself, associate with whomever I chose, and be an honest ambassador of Christ wherever God leads me. By thinking this way, I won’t have to join any particular group in order be a part of the Body of Christ. I already am.

April 7, 2015

Loving the Unloveable

We linked to Garrett Kell before at Thinking Out Loud, but I believe this is the first time here at C201. He is a Baptist pastor in Alexandria, VA. There are many good articles to see, be sure to look around after clicking the title below:

Loving Christians Who Are Tough To Love

“Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:21

After love for God, the most basic mark of the Christian is love for other Christians (Matthew 22:36-40). But love for our fellow blood-bought brothers and sisters isn’t always easy.

As a pastor friend of mine used to say:

To live above with saints we love; Ah that will be glory,
To live below with saints we know; Well, that’s another story.

Just because someone is a Christian, doesn’t mean they are easy to love. Sanctification is a slow process (sometimes really slow) that doesn’t transform our personality quirks, theological peculiarities, and sinful tendencies over night.

Love requires patience—and perspective.

Help from Heaven

Having an eye toward eternity helps our hearts to love even the most difficult of believers.

John Newton captures what I mean in a letter he wrote to another pastor who was about to write a letter to a fellow Christian he strongly disagreed with. Here’s a portion of his advice,

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him…you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.”

The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself.

In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

You can read the letter in its entirety here.

Remembering Empowers Love

Let’s consider three reflections from this letter to help us love our “tough to love” brothers and sisters in Christ.

1. Remember how God has loved you.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

God serves fresh grace to our hearts when we recall the ways He has loved us. It would do you (and others) well if you take a moment to consider how Jesus has loved you.

Think of His persistence in pursuing you, even in spite of your resistance to His pursuit.

Reflect on how many transgressions He has blotted from your account with His own blood.

Consider specific ways He has shown you compassion despite of your defiance.

God has been kind to you. His heart has been tender toward you. If you are in Christ, He has forgiven your debt in full. Shouldn’t your love for others be affected by His love for you?

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11

2. Remember that we will soon be with them in eternity. 

There will be a day when all God’s children will stand together before His throne of grace. On that day, all disputes will be forgotten and all irritations will be abolished. Why allow those quarrels to steal love from your brother on this day?

I’m not in any way suggesting that all disputes are small or all disagreements are insignificant. There are weighty things in this life, some which are very difficult to endure. But what I am suggesting is that all of our relationships must be guided and guarded by the fact that one day we will stand alongside our fellow Christians before the Savior who died for them.

That kind of perspective helps us to extend love to those who are not so easy to love. Perspective grants us patience and compassion. Let the sourness of a relationship today be overcome by the sweetness of that everlasting day to which you are traveling together. Ask the Lord to help you see others in light of the love you will share together in the eternal dwelling Christ is preparing for you (John 14:1-2).

3. Remember that you aren’t so easy to love either. 

Spurgeon rightly reminds us “if you cannot bear with your imperfect brother, take it for certain that you are very imperfect yourself.” Our inability to love others perfectly is a faithful reminder that we don’t have it all together either.

Humility about our own lovability serves as a gracious help in extending love to others. What sinful patterns do you have a tough time fighting against? When have you said hurtful words? Where do you still have room to grow in spiritual maturity? How do you think those shortcomings affect those around you?

I’ve found that when I’m concerned with confessing my own sins before the Lord, I’m less irritated with the sins of others. Regularly confessing your sins to God keeps you downwind of yourself and helps you to remember that you’re probably just as as tough to love as the next person.

 

Though no relationship will be perfect on this side of eternity, I am convinced that the more our hearts are set on heaven, and the more that we are sobered by our own need for a Savior, the more our love for others will reflect the love of Christ—including those who are tough to love.

January 25, 2015

It Takes All Types of Churches…

 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  I Cor 12:4-7

I’ve copied excerpts from books here before, but this is the first time I’ve ever copied a table of contents. The reasons are twofold: First, I wasn’t given a review copy, and second, I haven’t started the book yet. But the table of contents is impressive.

Ten Most Influential Churches - Elmer TownsWe had a pastor who repeatedly quoted a U.S. pastor who said “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” Every church has something special to offer. The parish system — where you simply attend the church located closest to where you live — has some things in its favor, but for centuries now, Protestants have chosen their place of worship based on a variety of factors, some doctrinal and some, if we’re honest, that are totally superficial.

I also had a missionary friend who said, “Every denomination is an overstatement.” What he meant was that if you have a particular distinctive, you are going to emphasize that above everything else, which means that sometimes other priorities will fade into the background. So our churches often feature a particular facet of ministry life, but may do so at the expense of something else. Hopefully nothing that should be absolutely central is diminished beyond recognition.

The book is, The Ten Most Influential Churches of the Past Century: How They Impact You Today by Elmer L. Towns, published by Destiny Image. I’m not quoting the index verbatim here, I just want to give you an overview. And there are more than ten chapters! I’ve combined a few here, and listing does not imply endorsement.

  • The worldwide Pentecostal movement
  • House church / Home church movement
  • Churches at the forefront of racial integration
  • Church structures using a network of cell groups under a central administration
  • Churches built on Christian Education / Sunday School outreach
  • Churches using non-traditional teaching methods
  • Churches targeting seekers, skeptics; the non-churched
  • Baby Boomer churches
  • Worship/Praise driven churches
  • Integrated media, or internet-based churhes
  • Churches promoting multi-generational appeal and programs
  • Positive-thinking or prosperity teaching churches
  • Churches built on personal evangelism
  • Churches focused on foreign missions
  • Multi-site churches with video teaching
  • Churches modeled after the concept of using church plants to evangelize

Now remember, with a couple of exceptions above, this has nothing to do with doctrine or teaching. You could map this on to a variety of denominations and many of the models would fit.

What’s your reaction to this?

Mine is, “Wow!” God us using many people in many different ways to accomplish his Kingdom Purposes. Yes, some of these have emerged more driven by the culture than by anything the First Century Church knew and some of these styles may be unknown a generation from now. Some are more likely to lead people into a deeper walk with God, and some are more entry-level; their converts will eventually feel the need to settle in another congregation.

But instead of bemoaning the particular styles you personally don’t care for, I think we need to celebrate what God is doing around the world.  There are a few styles listed there that I know will cause eye rolls, but I’ve been to some of these and have found a depth of devotion and Bible knowledge beyond the stereotypes.

If the gospel is presented clearly and is unobstructed by distractions, people will come to Christ through all types of churches, and those already in the fold will find avenues for greater growth and discipleship.


This is from an undated blog post by Josh Hunt titled What Do All Growing Churches Have in Common:

So, here are six ways to grow a church:

  • Balance the purposes–Rick Warren

  • Emphasize evangelism–Bill Hybels

  • Emphasize worship–Jack Hayford

  • Emphasize service–Steve Sjogren

  • Emphasize discipleship–John MacArthur

  • Emphasize fellowship–Josh Hunt

November 1, 2014

Wait a Minute! What Did Jesus Just Say?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:49 pm
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Yesterday we looked at the subject of unity in the body of Christ and it’s hard to discuss this subject without remembering John 17:21. This is Jesus praying before the crucifixion:

…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (NIV)
…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (ESV)
…That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (KJV)

This verse is often used as a rallying cry for Christian unity and promotes the ideal that there would be no division in the capital ‘C’ Church.

But Jesus isn’t just saying that, he’s saying that we would be one just as the Father (to whom he is praying) and himself are one.  What does that mean?

trinity 1

We’ve used this diagram before here to promote the idea that each part of what we call the Godhead maintains complete unity with the other but is also distinct. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. But the Father is not the Son or the Spirit; The Son is not the Father or the Spirit; The Spirit is not the Son or the Father.

This is summed up in The Athanasian Creed. When you click through, you see something much longer than the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. Part of the length is this qualification that each holds distinction but is part of the unified whole.  (I once suggested it was written by lawyer!) The purpose is to spell out the complexity of what we call Trinity in unmistakable terms.

There is also some additional language that stems from this:

And yet there are not three eternal beings;
there is but one eternal being.

For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
the person of the Son is another,
and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
their glory equal, their majesty co-eternal.

So…back to John 17:21. Is Jesus suggesting that in becoming one with the Father just as he and the Father are one, we need to re-draw the diagram? Does that make us part of the Godhead, too? (Father, Son, Spirit, Church?) Some tools at BibleGateway.com are useful here.

From the Asbury Bible Commentary:

In nature this was identical to the oneness that united Son and Father, and it was characterized by the same glory. Its purpose was that by observing it the world might come to know that God had indeed been behind the mission of Jesus and that his blessing was on the church.

From the Reformation Bible Commentary:

This prayer for unity is not merely for a “spiritual” or invisible unity, but for a unity that is visible to the world, “that the world may believe.”

IVP Bible Commentary:

What follows is usually seen as the content of Jesus’ prayer for all disciples—that all of them may be one (v. 21)—as it is in the NIV. The word that (hina) is used this way quite often, but it also frequently signals purpose. Jesus uses this same language in two other places in this prayer (vv. 11, 22), both times clearly indicating purpose, which suggests he intends this meaning here as well…

Matthew Henry:

Some think that the oneness prayed for in John 17:11 has special reference to the disciples as ministers and apostles, that they might be one in their testimony to Christ; and that the harmony of the evangelists, and concurrence of the first preachers of the gospel, are owing to this prayer. Let them be not only of one heart, but of one mouth, speaking the same thing. The unity of the gospel ministers is both the beauty and strength of the gospel interest. But it is certain that the oneness prayed for in John 17:21 respects all believers. It is the prayer of Christ for all that are his, and we may be sure it is an answered prayer—that they all may be one, one in us (John 17:21), one as we are one (John 17:22), made perfect in one, John 17:23

So first of all with respect to the idea that Jesus would incorporate the Body into the triune relationship, this is not intended. Jesus is not suggesting that. The request is not literal, nor is it hyperbole, but it is a simile.

Rather, Jesus is praying that we would have the same type of unity, the same type of intimacy enjoyed by the Father, Son and Spirit.

What would it look like to see that happening in The Church today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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