Christianity 201

June 2, 2021

Equip Yourself in Order to Equip Others

Today we have a brand new writer to highlight. Ron Braley is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at both Equipping Believers and Finding Discipleship. This is adapted from parts III and IV of a series on Loving Your Neighbor. You need to love yourself before you can spread that love to others and so as we prepared to post the fourth part as our sample of Ron’s writing today, we realized we needed to reach back to the previous message where he defined some of these elements more fully. Pleeeze encourage the writers we feature by reading their work at their pages, not ours. Click the headers which follow.

Love Yourself… How??

…[B]eing Christian carries the responsibility of remaining healthy in body, mind, spirit, etc., to the best of our ability in obedience to the Father and Son so that we can honor them and help bring the Kingdom of God to others. The good news is that the Bible gives us much of what we need to figure this out in two distinct areas: spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual formation. Once we say, “I do!” in response to God’s call through Jesus, we’re to embark on a journey of transformation—in all areas of life, which is possible with the Spirit of God. Our change matures and forms several areas:

  • Relationships. If we remember that we’re to treat others with the love of Christ and consider them better than ourselves, our relationships will likely flourish (Philippians 2:3-4). Don’t go to bed angry (Ephesians 4:26) and be sure to ‘turn the other cheek’ to allow reconciliation (Luke 6:29). Finally, remember the ‘golden rule’ (Matthew 7:12).
  • Finances. The Bible has a LOT to say about sound money management. Be cautious about borrowing money and be content with what you have (Hebrews 3:5).
  • Physical health. Eat and drink (if applicable) in moderation. Get off the couch and put your body to work, even if just a bit at first. Remember that God desires to move you to action in His plans.
  • Intellect. Stimulate the brain by reading, studying something interesting, playing games, or assembling puzzles, etc. Say “No!” to the electronic stuff more often!
  • Emotional and mental health. Do what you can to keep your emotions and mind healthy by tending to the body, relationships, finances, and intellect. But, again, do what’s within your control.

Spiritual disciplines.

  • Prayer. It is our communications with (not just at!) God. Use Jesus’ model (Matthew 5:6-13) and Adore God, Confess sins, offer Thanksgiving, and Intercede for others (healing, finances, salvation, etc.).
  • Study. Engage God’s words in the Bible and meditate on them—it’s how we ‘put on Christ’ and become spiritually mature.
  • Accountability. We must bear each other’s burdens and confess sins, at least to one person we trust.
  • Giving (money, time, talents, etc.). The Bible demands it (e.g., Matthew 6:1-4 and 25:31-40; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Not only is it a necessary outcome of the Christian faith, but it can also help emotional health too. Giving stimulates the brain and makes us feel better physically and emotionally. It’s also a great way to take our eyes and minds off our troubles.

So, move toward emotional, physical, relational, financial, and spiritual health one baby step at a time in God’s direction as you love yourself. Next… we’ll put self-love to work as we dive into how to love our ‘neighbor.’

Love Yourself, Love Your Neighbor

…As we’ve learned, loving yourself positions you to love others. With healthy relationships (especially with God), finances, mind, emotions, and spirit, you’re armed to help others do the same. But, how does that look? We’ll learn that our love falls into similar categories as the spiritual formation I recently addressed. So, let’s frame my input like that.

Relationships. Our connections are vital! The Bible says much about interacting with others in a godly way to maintain and deepen those connections used to present God’s Kingdom to others. Here are several biblical tips for keeping those connections alive:

  • … be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to angerJames 1:19.
  • BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger Ephesians 4:26.
  • … but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:39-42.

Finances. You cannot help others financially without money! But, once you get your finances under control, you may have resources with which to help clothe, feed, or house others—things on which Jesus said He’ll judge us (Matthew 25:31-46).

Physical health. Jesus told us to ‘go.’ The ‘going’ is necessary to establish new relationships with which to be and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Our healthy relationships also allow us to ‘go’ and help others.

Emotional and mental health. This area affects relationships. When we’re healthy emotionally and mentally, we’ll be positioned to mentor others, listen to them in their pain, aid in healing, etc.

Spiritual. Once healthy, we can be godly models of spiritual practices, including Bible study, prayer, accountability, and discipleship. That’s how others can grow spiritually; spiritual growth positively affects all others!

In summary, loving your neighbor can happen when we love ourselves. Being healthy relationally, spiritually, financially, etc., sets us up to aid others by being godly models, helping physically, ‘being there’ emotionally, and assisting in feeding, housing, and clothing the less fortunate. Here’s the good news: you can still love others even while you’re becoming healthy. Just do what you can, give to others as you can.

 

March 23, 2021

More Than Leadership Ability, Character Counts

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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This our third time highlighting the work of Rev. Tonia Slimm who has been writing very faithfully at blog Growing with God since September, 2015.

Recently neighbors in a nearby country had to wrestle with the question, ‘Can we overlook some character flaws if the person is a great leader?’ Let’s see what today’s reading has to say about that. Click the header below to read at source.

The Character of a Leader Matters- Ecclesiastes 10:16-17

Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 (NIV)
Woe to the land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning. Blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness.

Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 (MSG)
Unlucky the land whose king is a young pup, and whose princes party all night.
Lucky the land whose king is mature, where the princes behave themselves and don’t drink themselves silly.

Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 (AMP)
“Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child and when your [incompetent] officials and princes feast in the morning. Blessed [prosperous and admired] are you, O land, when your king is a man of noble birth, and your princes and officials feast at the proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness.” 

“According to Scripture, virtually everything that truly qualifies a person for leadership is directly related to character.” ~John MacArthur

We need good leaders, those men and women who know how to motivate and inspire others. Good leaders lead by example and know how to make a difference. The Teacher gives to us two very distinctive examples of leaders to consider.

“The happiness of a land depends on the character of its rulers.” ~Matthew Henry

 

[same verse – The Voice] “Woe to the land whose king is a child and whose princes start their feast in the morning. Blessed is the land whose king is of noble heritage and whose princes know when to feast, who discipline themselves with strength and avoid drunkenness.”

The Teacher gives us these two examples to compare:

The first is a land whose king is young and inexperienced. This king cares only for glory, honor and riches; and he party’s hearty with his with his young noblemen. He cares nothing for the people that he is supposed to be leading.

The second land is a land lead by a benevolent king of noble birth. This king not only works hard for his people, but has his noblemen work hard for them as well. You will notice, the needs of the people are put before their own.

Which leader would you wish to have leading your country?

[same verse TLB]Woe to the land whose king is a child and whose leaders are already drunk in the morning. Happy the land whose king is a nobleman and whose leaders work hard before they feast and drink, and then only to strengthen themselves for the tasks ahead!” 

“Foolish rulers, by their weakness, self-indulgence and sloth, bring decay upon the state: nobleness and temperance insure prosperity: yet the subject must not rebel in word or thought against his king.” ~Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

The idea the Teacher is trying to convey is that the young, inexperienced king is unprepared for his duties and is therefore irresponsible. We are told that the princes that work with the young king “eat in the morning”. This conveys the idea that they are given toe gluttony and overindulgence; a lack of self-control.

“He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander.” ~Aristotle

It is bad for a land to be led by foolish and self-indulgent rulers. Let us look to the example of Rehoboam who was a young and inexperienced king. Instead of listening to the voice of experience, Rehoboam chose to listen to his young, untried friends; and it brought him a whole lot of trouble. Take note:

“Rehoboam traveled to Shechem where all Israel had gathered to inaugurate him as king. Jeroboam had been in Egypt, where he had taken asylum from King Solomon; when he got the report of Solomon’s death he had come back. Rehoboam assembled Jeroboam and all the people. They said to Rehoboam, “Your father made life hard for us—worked our fingers to the bone. Give us a break; lighten up on us and we’ll willingly serve you.” “Give me three days to think it over, then come back,” Rehoboam said. King Rehoboam talked it over with the elders who had advised his father when he was alive: “What’s your counsel? How do you suggest that I answer the people?” They said, “If you will be a servant to this people, be considerate of their needs and respond with compassion, work things out with them, they’ll end up doing anything for you.” But he rejected the counsel of the elders and asked the young men he’d grown up with who were now currying his favor, “What do you think? What should I say to these people who are saying, ‘Give us a break from your father’s harsh ways—lighten up on us’?” The young turks he’d grown up with said, “These people who complain, ‘Your father was too hard on us; lighten up’—well, tell them this: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. If you think life under my father was hard, you haven’t seen the half of it. My father thrashed you with whips; I’ll beat you bloody with chains!’” -1 Kings 12:1-11 (MSG)

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” ~John C. Maxwell

“Love and truth form a good leader; sound leadership is founded on loving integrity.” -Proverbs 20:28 (MSG)

It would be better to have experienced rulers who are ready for the job. We need rulers who are self-controlled and balanced; men and women of good character.

Here are 10 characteristics of a good leader:

1.) A person of integrity.
2.) A person of wisdom.
3.) A person who seeks good counsel from others.
4.) A person who listens when others speak.
5.) A person who exhibits self-control.
6.) A person who is fair.
7.) A person who is not easily influenced by others.
8.) A person who is kind.
9.) A person who shows compassion.
10.) A person who thinks of others more highly than themselves.

Paul, writing to the Colossians wrote a passage that gives us many good pointers about the characteristics of a good leader. Take note:

“Since you have been chosen by God who has given you this new kind of life, and because of his deep love and concern for you, you should practice tenderhearted mercy and kindness to others. Don’t worry about making a good impression on them, but be ready to suffer quietly and patiently. Be gentle and ready to forgive; never hold grudges. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Most of all, let love guide your life, for then the whole church will stay together in perfect harmony. Let the peace of heart that comes from Christ be always present in your hearts and lives, for this is your responsibility and privilege as members of his body. And always be thankful. Remember what Christ taught, and let his words enrich your lives and make you wise; teach them to each other and sing them out in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing to the Lord with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, and come with him into the presence of God the Father to give him your thanks.” -Colossians 3:12-17 (TLB)

“Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” ~John Stott

My friend, if you are in a place of leadership you need to be practicing good leadership characteristics. God has set you in that place of leadership to be a light for Him. Whether you are leading a group of children or running a large business; whatever you are doing do it unto the Lord and lead with honesty and integrity.

“The true mark of a Christian leader is trying to build up other people. Raise up other leaders!” ~Charles Colson

My Prayer:
Heavenly Father, help me to be the person you have intended me to be. Let my life be a light for you in this World; especially when it comes to being a leader of others. Develop my character into what it needs to be, so that I will be a good leader. Give me wisdom, your godly wisdom. Help me to see the hurt and need of others; let my listening ears be in tune as well. Even more Lord, give me the heart of Christ, that I may not only lead others, but cares not only for their needs but their eternal destiny as well. Thank you, Lord.

March 16, 2021

Don’t Curse Your Job

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Today we return to the writing of Joel Nevius from Bethany Bible Church, and an archived article which may hit some of you where you live, or more accurately where you work. Click the header below to read this at source.

Three Reasons Why Your Work Probably Isn’t a Curse

Recently, in our young adults ministry at Bethany Bible Church, we’ve been studying the intersection of faith and work, based on Every Good Endeavor by renowned pastor, author, and theologian Timothy Keller.

In his book, Keller explains Jesus Christ came into the world when the Hellenistic culture permeated the ancient near east, and Greek thought influenced and shaped how millions of people viewed work, which was to view work as a “necessary evil.”

I bet many of us can relate to this mentality for a variety of reasons: our boss is a jerk, our work is boring, our co-workers are mean, or we’re constantly stressed out from all of the demands. The weekends can’t come soon enough, because that’s when we really come alive. Keller argues this mentality has us view work as a barrier to a good or fulfilling life, not part of the good life.

Christianity is counter-cultural to this thinking, and instead elevates work to a place of importance and dignity. Let’s explore three reasons why God doesn’t want us to approach work as a necessary evil.

Reason 1: God himself works

In Genesis chapters 1 and 2, we see God, as Creator, works! In six days, God creates galaxies, ecosystems, animals, and humans. On the seventh day, he rests.

From the New Testament gospels, we know Jesus worked. Apart from logging many travel miles, teaching people, and constant ministering, he lived most of his life as a carpenter.

In the Old and New Testaments, we see a God who doesn’t approach work as a necessary evil, but as an opportunity to infuse the world with goodness, truth, and beauty.

In Genesis 1:27, when humankind is described as being created in the image of God, it is in the context of the “creation narrative,” where God is working. So what that means is that if God is a God-Who-Works, and we’re created in his image, then part of what it means to be human is to work.

Reason 2: Work came before Adam and Eve sinned—it’s not a punishment.

If we think of work as a necessary evil, then we might think work is a curse or an effect of Adam and Eve’s sin of disobeying God. Actually, work was part of God’s good design for humans. In Genesis 2:15, God’s Word tells us, “The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” Sin and evil came into the world later, as recorded in Genesis 3. So we can be assured work isn’t something we just have to do as eternal payback for Adam and Eve’s sin, but it’s something we are made to do. Therefore, Keller writes:

“Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer, and sexuality; it is not simply medicine but food for our soul. Without significant work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness.”

Far from a necessary evil, Christianity sees work as something we were made to do. It resonates with our soul as something good.

Reason 3: If we see it as a necessary evil, we will pursue work in unhealthy ways.

When we view work as a necessary evil, it negatively affects the way we approach and even carry out our work. Keller notes negative ways we will approach work.

We will pursue high paying or prestigious careers we aren’t suited for.

If we see work as a necessary evil, then we typically approach it only as a means to a material end. That is, we will see the most valuable and meaningful work as that which gives us the money to support our family and pursue our desires. We’ll be motivated to chase after jobs and careers that pay the most money and stay away from jobs that don’t pay.

The problem, Keller notes, “…is that many people take jobs that they are not suited for at all, choosing to aim for careers that do not fit their gifts but promise higher wages and prestige.”

Unfortunately, this often leads to disillusion, depression, or burn-out.

We will avoid work we think is beneath us.

The inverse of the previous approach is that we will avoid at all costs work that doesn’t give us lots of money or prestige. Furthermore, Keller notes that we will “…believe that lower-status or lower-paying work is an assault on our dignity.”

As a young adults pastor, I’ve noticed this affect some students who graduated with impressive degrees. After they graduate, they anticipate that they’re going to make big money and have their dream job immediately. When that doesn’t happen, they have a hard time getting a job that doesn’t seem up to their monetary expectations or match the value of their degree. This can also happen when someone loses or quits a high-paying, high-status job and doesn’t want to start over.

The awesome truth is that God sees all work (that is not inherently sinful), as valuable and upholding our dignity as his image-bearers. It levels the playing field, so to speak.

Keller writes, “…in Genesis we see God as a gardener, and in the New Testament we see him as a carpenter.”

If we think certain work is beneath us, then we are unconsciously elevating ourselves over God, who in Christ, humbled himself so much that he not only had calloused hands and saw dust in his hair, but he also embraced the foot odor of his disciples as he knelt and washed their feet. Status and money are not important to God, but working hard to serve others and reflect his character is.

How can we become counter-cultural, and look at “work” through God’s eyes?

First, pray and ask God to see our work as an opportunity to display God’s glory in different ways. Colossians 3 tells us “…whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Second, if you live for your days off, take a few moments and ask God to search your heart and reveal why you approach work as a necessary evil. Ask him to show you how to see it the way he does.

Third, thank God for your work. Even if it isn’t an ideal situation, praise him for giving you an opportunity to work. You were made to work, and with a thankful attitude, you just may see that work as a “necessary good.”

August 11, 2020

You Can’t Hate Religious Hypocrisy and Applaud Political Hypocrisy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to Geno Pyse, who writes at Geno Pyse and the Proclamation. I know, it sounds like the name of a band! He’s recently decided to change to shorter articles, but this one, the second-last of the longer format things he’s written, caught my eye. Click the header which follows to read this at its source.

Is Hypocrisy Relative?

I have heard numerous people state the reason they neither like nor attend church is because churches are “filled with hypocrites.” Such persons give the impression that they hate hypocrisy. But wait, is such a statement true, or does it also reveal hypocrisy—the very thing persons imply to dislike?

First, what is hypocrisy and what are hypocrites? Hypocrisy is to claim or to give the impression of having moral standards, yet to live in contrast to these standards. Thus, a hypocrite is one who does not live in accordance to what he professes.

It might surprise some, but Jesus hates hypocrisy. In Matthew’s Gospel He says of some:

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.’ (15:7-8)

And,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (23:27-28)

In any case, is the issue people have against church really that of hypocrisy? Mind you, I am not saying there are not any hypocrites in churches, for there are some. However, is this really the reason persons despise churches? I dare say, by and large the answer is a resounding “No!”

If there is any realm where hypocrisy surpasses religious hypocrisy by far is that of politics! How often those on political platforms project an image of moral superiority, all the while lying to the masses with all sorts of ulterior motives. The hypocrisy and corruption in politics knows no bounds. But I have noticed, no matter how repulsive the hypocrisy of the political figures, multitudes will not only gather to see them, but to cheer for them!

The tentacles of politics, like parasites, dig into the realms of media and entertainment. Those who denounce the hypocrisy in churches will defend the hypocrisy of journalists spreading agendas rather than giving the facts. While Christians trying to live honest and moral lives are condemned, immoral Hollywood elitists are viewed as purveyors of truth as they applaud and support the cause of the rioters—so long as they do not come to their neighborhoods!

But is hypocrisy relative? Is hypocrisy wrong in religion but permissible in politics? It is an amazing thing to me when I hear persons criticize preachers as being  deceivers, while saying, “Amen” when a politician or talking head speaks boldfaced lies.

So, generally speaking, do people really hate hypocrisy? No, for you cannot truly hate something when you applaud it in other areas. Then what is it about religion, Christianity in particular, people find revulsive? Is it really the hypocrisy? Granted, religious hypocrisy can leave a bitter taste in people’s mouths; but again, many find hypocrisy in other settings quite flavorful. I assure you, God hates hypocrisy in every form and in every setting. In both the Old and New Testaments, hypocrisy is condemned in religious, political, and personal realms.

So what is the real issue people have with Christianity? Jesus gets straight to the point when He declares the true reason people hate not simply Christianity, but Him: “The world … hates me because I testify about it that it’s works are evil.”

No figure in history has ever displayed more powerfully what it truly means to love and show mercy to others. Some denounce Christianity as being “too exclusive,” but no figure has ever had such an open invitation to everyone who will come to Him. However, His teachings strike at our greed, lust, hatred, prejudice, selfishness, etc.

Again, many dislike Jesus’ exclusivity, but consider the reason people are condemned:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. ~ John 3:16-20 (ESV)

The light of Jesus Christ shines into our hearts and exposes our cracks and brokenness. His light exposes our depravity and barbarism. His light exposes who we truly are, and instead of humbly coming to Him, many choose to curse the light and embrace the darkness. Many choose to criticize the broken followers of Jesus, condemning them as hypocrites, all the while extolling hypocrisies far more vehement, divisive, and destructive.

Is hypocrisy relative? No. Hypocrisy stands against truth—which is also not relative. And when one stands against truth he must embrace lies.

 

August 5, 2020

When Things Are So Very Hateful: Don’t Lose Your Love

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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One of the most-featured writers here over the years has been J. Lee Grady who’s blog is titled Fire in My Bones. Today’s article has been edited for length; you’re encouraged to read the entire piece at Charisma Blogs at the link below. Note: When you click through, you’ll have the option of listening to a devotional podcast At Work With God.

Don’t Let Love Grow Cold in These Hateful Times

…I’ve never known my country to be so hateful.

Anger has reached a boiling point. Passengers are being removed from planes because they started fistfights over leg room. Store customers are going ballistic because other customers aren’t wearing masks. Entitled Americans, always ready to record a cellphone video, are ready to blow the whistle on each other.

We don’t care how our words hurt people anymore. We have become a vicious culture. Jesus warned this would happen when He said that in the last days, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12, NASB)…

…The world tells us that ending a relationship is as easy as hitting the unfriend button. But when I read the Bible, I don’t see any room for outrage, resentment, intolerance or “unfriending.” Jesus calls us to love—and He gives us the supernatural power to do it.

Have you considered ending a relationship recently because of politics? Did you already walk out of a church or break a close friendship because of a disagreement? If so, examine your heart and ask these probing questions first:

  1. Am I giving up too soon? The apostle Paul told the Ephesians they should “always demonstrate gentleness and generous love toward one another, especially toward those who try your patience” (Eph. 4:2b, TPT). Your love will never grow unless it is stretched—and the best way to stretch your love is to show kindness when you feel like slamming a door in a person’s face.

The truth is that we often give up on relationships because we just don’t want to exert the energy to improve them. Relationships require a lot of work. When you unfriend someone just because they hurt you, you are missing an opportunity to become more like Christ.

Show some patience. Choose to love even when you don’t get anything in return.

Ephesians 4:3 (NLT) says we must “make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” The Greek word for “make every effort” means “to be diligent; to use speed; to be prompt or earnest; to labor.” That means you shouldn’t let wounds fester. Act quickly to repair the relationship before it gets worse!

  1. Would Jesus end this relationship? When you end a friendship because of an offense, you are doing the exact opposite of what Jesus did for you. Ephesians 4:32 says “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” You will never understand God’s merciful love if you don’t show it to others.

Jesus doesn’t flippantly write people off. He loved us even when we were sinners, and He patiently drew us to Himself using “ropes of kindness and love” (Hos. 11:4b). Before you end a friendship, judge a pastor, storm out of a church or give someone the cold shoulder, remember how aggressively Jesus pursued a relationship with you. Let His ropes of kindness pull you out of your bad attitude.

When Peter asked Jesus how many times we are required to forgive a person, Jesus answered “seventy times seven” (see Matt. 18:22b). Taken literally, that means 490 times—but Jesus wasn’t putting a limit on forgiveness. He was using the number seven to imply infinity. Stop counting how many times you have been offended and instead thank God for all the times He has overlooked your mistakes.

  1. Am I nursing a grudge? Our divisive political climate encourages people to get up mad in the morning, fuel their anger with hot political rhetoric throughout the day and then go to bed after listening to more arguments on news broadcasts. We are literally poisoning ourselves.

Many Christians have allowed similar poison in their lives because of church drama. They are mad that a pastor slighted them. They are jealous of someone who took a position they wanted. They are angry because a Christian did something hypocritical.

Resentment is deadly. It actually makes people sick. It also makes us ugly and unpleasant. Unforgiveness puts a frown on your face, wrinkles around your eyes and a sour tone in your voice.

Don’t let today’s culture of outrage infect you. Go against the flow of toxic hate. Make a decision today to work harder at maintaining your relationships. Forgive those who hurt you so your love doesn’t grow cold.

 

 

June 25, 2020

Spectacular and Sensational: Are Christians to Be Known Primarily for Working Miracles?

by Clarke Dixon

In these days of a pandemic, should we as followers of Jesus be known for doing spectacular and sensational things? Should we be fearless in the face of infection? We’ve prayed about it, we believe that God can protect us, so should we then act like we are immune? Should we declare the pandemic will be over soon? We keep praying it will be.

Of course, this is not just about the pandemic, but all of life. Is the working of miracles the Christian solution to all problems? Is the spectacular and sensational the defining mark of the Christ follower?

Jesus clarifies the defining mark of his followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

The defining mark of the Christ follower may not seem clearly evident here on first glance. Let us put ourselves, for a moment, in the shoes of the scribes and Pharisees. We have a passion for God’s law. We study it, memorize it, and teach it, hoping that our zeal for pleasing God is contagious.

Along comes Jesus, doing spectacular and sensational things, like casting out demons, healing people, and works of power. Yet he does some surprising things too, like healing on the Sabbath. Have you not read your Bible Jesus? Working on the Sabbath is forbidden.

We are concerned. Jesus is attracting people with the spectacular and the sensational, yet his track record of keeping the law and traditions we teach is suspect. Will the Jesus followers, of which there are now many, be all show, and no substance? Will Jesus be taking people away from righteousness through all the spectacular and sensational things he is doing?

To that Jesus says,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7:21 (NLT emphasis added)

The defining mark of the Christian is not the spectacular and sensational, though those things may happen. The defining mark of the Christian is the doing of the heavenly Father’s will. Jesus’ followers can not be described as “workers of lawlessness” (literal rendition of ‘evildoers’ in verse 23).

In other words, Jesus is not taking people away from God and godliness, Jesus is taking people deeper into God and godliness.

Let us remember what Jesus said near the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount” back in chapter 5

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV emphasis added)

When Jesus speaks of the need for a righteousness that excels that of the scribes and Pharisees, he is pointing out that there’s is a faulty righteousness. There is something missing. They were all about the letter of the law, missing God’s heart.

When Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to teach about character, he is taking us toward a righteousness that captures God’s heart.

Here is the defining mark of a Christ follower; a character that captures God’s heart. In developing a character that captures God’s heart, the Jesus follower develops a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Of course eternal life depends on God’s grace and not our ability. However, salvation to eternal life does not preclude becoming more like our Saviour as we follow.

Yes, Jesus was going about doing spectacular and sensational things. And no, Jesus was not keeping the traditions in ways that would keep the scribes and Pharisees happy. However, Jesus was, and is now, calling people, not to be workers of the spectacular and sensational, nor to a wooden adherence to a set of rules, but to a deep righteousness formed of God.

What about us? What defines our Christian walk? Is it a focus on the spectacular and sensational? Do people know us to be a people who walk about with the expectation that God will hand out miracles like candy? Do we see miracles as the solution to all our, and the world’s, problems?

We should pray for miracles. I believe they happen. But while we pray for miracles, we can recognize how character that captures God’s heart solves many of our, and the world’s problems. We can think of problems in family relationships, marriage, race relations, and so much more. If our character is growing in Christlikeness, many of our problems wouldn’t exist in the first place!

We may think that we would be most like Christ if miracles would happen all around us, and through us. We are most like Christ when we love as Jesus loved, when we sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed, when we serve as Jesus served, when we forgive as Jesus forgave.

Ours is not to make people think we are the second coming of Jesus by the working of miracles every time there is a problem. Ours is to be a people who live in a deep relationship with God through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. We respond to every problem, including every pandemic, with Christlike character. We will be known as Jesus followers, not by our miracles, but by our character.


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. His family are currently riding out both the pandemic and the heat wave next to their pool. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

May 26, 2020

The Things We Boast About

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:38 pm
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Genesis 11:1 NIV Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”


2 Corinthians 12: 7b NLT … So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.


Micah 6:8 CEB He has told you, human one, what is good and
what the Lord requires from you:
to … walk humbly with your God.


Proverbs 3:34 GNT He has no use for conceited people, but shows favor to those who are humble.


1 Corinthians 1:31 The Voice As the Scripture says: “If someone wants to boast, he should boast in the Lord.”

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think... Romans 12: 3a NASB

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

In the first two passages above we see God altering the circumstances in order to keep people — collectively in the first passage, an individual in the second passage — from become prideful or boastful.

Introverts might not get this, but as an extrovert, I can say that in my life there is very much a tendency towards arrogance.

In the movie Network the female lead is asked, “What’s it like to be the person in the room who always has the right answers?”

Smugly, she replies, “It’s awful, absolutely awful.”

Psalm 20:7 is a verse that some of you learned in the KJV and other translations as “Some trust in chariots and some in horses…” Having a gut feeling about this verse I checked and sure enough, these alternatives to trust exist:

  • Some nations boast of armies and of weaponry, but our boast is in the Lord our God. (TLB)
  • Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God. (NASB)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. (NRSV)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God. (HCSB)

What are our modern equivalents? We don’t have chariots and horses, but many of us have nice cars which we spend our Saturday mornings polishing and caring for. What else?

  • education; including academic certificates, degrees, etc.
  • knowledge; both specialized and general
  • intuitive abilities; logic, reason, quick wit, tech savvy
  • friends; the size of our friends list on social media as a possible example
  • status; standing in the community, perhaps our name is in the local newspaper or mentioned on TV
  • spouse; we take credit for what is really a gift from God to us
  • possessions; our house, car, cabin the woods, consumer electronics, etc.
  • passions; the hobbies and interests we are always talking about

Thinking about these things and speaking of them sometimes boosts are adrenaline, brings a smile to our faces, or causes us to speak with greater volume and passion. We’re energized thinking about these things, and we can become arrogant.

The last category above is a good lead to these two questions:

  1. What’s the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning?
  2. What do you talk about when it’s your opportunity to control the conversation?

God had to wipe out the Tower of Babel. He didn’t wipe out Saul/Paul however, but introduced a condition — and Bible scholars vary as to what exactly it was — to keep him humble. Laura Story, in the popular Christian song Blessings asks:

What if your blessings come through rain drops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?

We very rarely thank God for Babel-type changes in plans, or Paul-type ongoing conditions, but they do prevent us from being less of a person than we might be; from being a person that others may not find particularly attractive; and from presenting ourselves in a way that people see us, but don’t see Christ living in and through us.

December 14, 2019

Different Types of Kisses

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Sam describes himself as “a minister, teacher, husband, dad, artist, basketball fan, Ph.D., computer geek, and SG-1 fan.” He’s been blogging for about a year now at Word-Centered Living. This is our first time highlighting his writing here at Christianity 201. He’s currently in a series in 2 Samuel.

What kind of kiss are your kisses?

“And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him.” (2 Samuel 20:4-13, NASB)

What kind of kiss are your kisses in life?

Not every kiss in life is a kiss of peace, friendship, or affection. Had Amasa understood this, he might have survived the assassination attack by Joab. King David commissioned Amasa the newly appointed general to rally the people to go after Sheba the troublemaker. But Amasa took too much time in carrying out the order that David re-delegated that order to Abishai and Joab.

When Joab met Amasa in the field, he came in a friendly manner and brutally killed him. It says, “And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa was not on guard against the sword which was in Joab’s hand so he struck him in the belly with it and poured out his inward parts on the ground, and did not strike him again; and he died.

His motive for killing him was probably to remove him as a rival to his position in the army (2 Sam.19:13). While the killing itself was disturbing enough, the way Joab went about killing Amasa was even more disturbing. Joab came to him offering friendship and used it to deceive and attack him. He greeted, “Is it well with you, my brother?” Then he took hold of his beard as if he was about to kiss him and killed him.

Kisses of people can come in many forms—hugs, praises, gifts, or arm around the shoulder. The Bible says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov.27:6). Even our Savior was betrayed with a kiss by his friend and companion Judas Iscariot.

Do not be deceived by the kisses of people for not are all kisses of love and respect.

How about you? Do you use “kisses” to manipulate others, gain friendship, or even hurt others? Betraying people with a kiss is a cowardly act and something that Christians should avoid at all costs. As Christians, we are commanded to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom.16:16). It means that the kisses we give in life ought to be a genuine, sincere, and sacred act. We may not be able to control the kisses of people around us, but we can control how we are going to use kisses in our own life.

What kind of kiss are your kisses?


Read more: The Joab story continues in Talk It Out Before Fighting It Out.

November 24, 2019

The Bible on Punctuality and Lateness

As I sat down to dinner just now, I realized that I had missed my usual 5:32 PM (EST) posting time for Christianity 201. (Sometime, I’ll have to explain why it’s usually 5:33, or 5:32.) I had sat down at my computer to do this several hours earlier, but got distracted by another online project, which actually isn’t due until tomorrow. So it seems fitting to look at this subject!

GotQuestions.org has covered this in two different articles. We’ll look at excerpts from each, but you must click the headers below to read them in full!

What does the Bible say about punctuality?

…Punctual people build trust with others because they are dependable. Punctuality is a way of showing respect for other people and their time. It also indicates to those meeting with us that they were worth planning ahead. We communicate value to others when we are where we said we would be when we said we would be there. Punctuality is a form of trustworthiness that can help build a good reputation.

Punctuality, or the lack of it, is a character trait that tells other people how dependable we are. The unpunctual may consider their chronic tardiness unavoidable (“That’s just how I am!”). But, while the unpunctual may not realize it, their continued lateness stems from a combination of pride and lack of time management skills. Chronically late people have subconsciously adopted a perspective that says, “I’m important enough that others will wait for me.” It communicates to those who must wait that their schedules are not a priority. So making it a point to be punctual is a way of obeying the Scriptures that tell us to consider others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3–4).

…Punctuality is also a byproduct of the spiritual fruit of self-control (Galatians 5:22). Self-control requires that we be proactive about our choices and our schedules. Rather than reacting to unexpected events, punctual people have already allowed for the unexpected by allotting extra time for such an occurrence. The unpunctual are usually procrastinators, leaving too many last-minute tasks that must be completed before moving to the next one. By contrast, punctual people are planners who give attention to future events and the time required to honor their commitments. Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” Diligent people are usually punctual because wise time management is required to accomplish their goals.

While all of us will be late from time to time, punctual people are bothered by their own tardiness and do not let it become a habit. Chronically late people, however, have developed an indifference to the problems caused by their continued lateness. Although they apologize and feign regret, they don’t take the necessary steps to change it. The chronically tardy may never know the opportunities, relationships, and responsibilities they forfeited because they could not be counted on to be there. Those who’ve known them for long enough to notice their lack of punctuality simply stop asking for their help…

What does the Bible say about being late or lateness?

…[I]f someone is habitually late and unconcerned about being on time, especially if that person professes to be a Christian, then scriptural principles do apply. As with all things, God looks at the heart, “for the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

For one thing, continual lateness does not express love for others. Forcing others to wait for us time after time is simply rude. Christians are to love one another and love our enemies as well, and “love is not rude” (1 Corinthians 13:5). When others perceive that we are unloving and unconcerned about them, our reputations as Christians suffer. “A good name is better than precious ointment” (Ecclesiastes 7:1). A good name, a good reputation is important for a Christian. This means that we should be known as people of our word, trustworthy and dependable, and not be known as always late, slothful, or unconcerned about others. Our actions as Christians point back at Christ. Do they glorify Him? Do they bring Him honor? “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23).

Furthermore, as Christians we never want to cause someone else to sin. Constantly being forced to wait for someone can be very aggravating, especially to those who make an effort to be on time. Minor irritation can easily become anger, which can easily become sin, and we are never to be the cause of someone else’s sin. “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come’” (Luke 17:1).

Waiting can not only be frustrating, but it causes unnecessary stress and wasted time for the person that has to wait. Christians are exhorted by Paul to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). The perpetually late person does not consider others’ time as more important than his own. Most habitual late-comers are concerned only with themselves. Continually being late does not communicate a zeal or diligence in serving Christ by loving others as He loves us. It also does not communicate faithfulness or trustworthiness…

 

June 22, 2019

Speaking from Deceived Hearts

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out.- Jeremiah 17:9, The Message

Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ – Ephesians 4:15, CEB

Finally, beloved, whatever is true… – Philippians 4:8a, NRSV

Today we’re again back at the website Live as If (part of StudyLight.org) This time around the writer is Stan Smith whose subsection of the site is called Winging It. (I know we all feel we’re doing that sometimes.) The verse above from Jeremiah is mentioned at the end of the devotional and it raises some interesting thoughts in view of the subject of the devotional that follows. How good can we be at speaking truth if our own hearts are deceitful more than anything else? Click the title below to read at source.

Speaking the Truth

It is obvious that our job as followers of Christ is to speak the truth. Lies do not become us. Neither do false doctrines, misguided rants, or a lazy understanding of God’s Word. As followers of “the Truth” (John 14:6), we must find the truth mandatory rather than optional.

However …

… Scripture is clear. We must speak the truth, but we must do so in love (Ephesians 4:15). You see, it can be a pretty simple thing to declare with teeth bared what is true, but it can be a real challenge to do it in love. It speaks to the motivation, the aim, the purpose. Paul told Timothy, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). If love is seeking the best for others, our truth-speaking would need to be motivated by a grand desire to seek the best for others.

You must admit, that isn’t always easy. I mean, listen to the lies that are told, even in Jesus’s name. Look at the harm they do with their lies. Look at the outrageous things they say. No, it’s not always easy. But it’s always necessary. So we need to check ourselves. We need to constantly aim to love God and love our neighbors even as we aim to speak the truth.

I’m convinced, though, that perhaps the hardest place to speak the truth in love is someplace you might not have considered. That’s when you’re talking to … yourself. What do you tell yourself? Is it true? Is it loving? Many of us are harsh on ourselves. “I can’t do anything right.” “I’m good for nothing.” Others are lying to themselves in the opposite direction. You’ve met guys who think they’re God’s gift to women. Trust me; it’s a lie. So we lie to ourselves in the negative and the positive. We tell ourselves we can’t do “that” even if “that” is something God has commanded. Or we tell ourselves it’s perfectly okay to do “this” even if “this” is something God has forbidden. We lie to ourselves about our abilities and our shortcomings, our weaknesses and our strengths, our character and our lack thereof. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not be.

We suffer from deceived hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), so it’s no surprise. Still, we’re commanded to speak the truth in love. That would include those around us, obviously, but it is in our own best interest that we speak the truth in love to ourselves as well. Because we suffer from bad hearts and bad thinking and we need to be made new. It’s a constant battle. And if we just ignore, it doesn’t just go away. In a world full of lies (like identity by sexual preference, non-binary gender, gay marriage, confused morality, the right to murder babies if we feel like it, one-sided racism, “The Bible isn’t a reliable document,” the separation of church and mind, etc.), speak the truth in love — to others and to yourself.

May 6, 2019

Peacemakers are Forgiveness People

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. – Matthew 5:9

Once again today we’re highlighting Mark McIntyre at the blog Attempts at Honesty. Click the header below to read at source. (The site now has authentication for viewing. Many blogs are adding this.)

Thoughts on Forgiveness

Isaiah’s cry, “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5) resonates with me this morning. I have wounded others and have been wounded by others through both speech and action.

The question arises as to how to respond to the wounds. There are three possible responses to being hurt by someone.

  1. Pretend that it didn’t hurt
  2. Respond in anger
  3. Forgive

There are variations within each of these responses. For example, we can try to ignore the behavior which is also a form of pretense. This response potentially destroys any relationship that was there.

Another variation of responding in anger is to gossip about the other person in an attempt to destroy their reputation. The internet is ablaze with this form of response.

The third option is the best of the three for two reasons.

Pragmatically, it is the only one that allows for restoration of the relationship.

Theologically, Jesus tells us that our forgiving others is an indication that we realize how much we have been forgiven.

I have found it helpful to look at the root meaning of the word translated “forgive” in the New Testament. At its root, the word means to let go, to send off. In other words, to forgive is to let go of the need to retaliate or seek restitution for the offense.

As Christians, we are not only letting go of the offense but we are leaving it in God’s hands. God is better able to bring the offender to repentance and will ultimately call them to account for their behavior.

Jesus tells us that peacemakers are blessed by God (Matt 5:9). To be good at making peace requires that we be good at forgiveness. To truly forgive an offense is the best (and perhaps only) way to lasting peace.

On the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). From this, we learn that those we forgive may not be wanting forgiveness or even understand that they need forgiveness. In other words, our forgiveness does not depend upon the offender’s response.

I realize that to forgive is a difficult and messy process. The deeper the hurt, the harder it is to come to the point of forgiving the perpetrator of that hurt.

But forgiveness should be our goal.


For all articles here using the tag forgiveness, click this link.


Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times… Matthew 18:21-22.


“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 61:16-17 ESV

February 5, 2019

“Well Done” Starts Today

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Matthew 25.21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

which repeats 2 verses later as:

Matthew 25.23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Don’t know the story? Read it here.


A year ago we introduced you to the writing of Chicago area Youth Pastor Joshua Nelson who writes at The Sidebar Blog.  Tomorrow we’re linking to two posts he wrote about youth in the church, and older members of the church. (They’re also linked below.)

Click the header below to read this at source.

Well Done

It is hard to express in words alone the torrent of emotions that accompany laying a loved one to rest.

Even for those who were not particularly close to the person being grieved for, the whole experience can still be incredibly emotional.

Thankfully, joy can be found in the midst of the mourning if the loved one knew Jesus as Savior.

As Billy Graham said when speaking of his own passing, “I will be more alive on that day than ever before.” And he was right. For believers, when we pass from this temporary life into the eternal we will, in fact, be more alive than ever before because we will be with our Lord, the giver of life itself.

But the process is still, understandably, painful. I think that one of many reasons why funerals are so difficult for us humans is because death causes us to reflect. Death causes us to think about life. How did they live their life? How has my own life been lived thus far? How will I now choose to live?

Recently, I attended a funeral service of a faithful and incredible man of God. And it may sound weird to say, but I was truly and deeply blessed. (You know that someone lived their life well when their funeral service is a blessing to people, and a true celebration of life.) I was encouraged to hear about his love and devotion to his God and to his family. I was awed by his steadfast and upstanding character. And I was grateful for the legacy that he left behind.

There is no doubt in my mind that the moment when this man stepped into eternity he heard the words “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Those words actually come from a parable that Jesus told in Matthew 25. You should read the passage for yourself, I promise it will be worth it. But one of the main takeaways is that what you do today matters for tomorrow.

Jesus tells of a master who entrusts a few of his servants with various amounts of money and then he leaves to go on a journey. He returns and discovers what each of his servants has done with the money. The master is very pleased with the servants who have done something with what was entrusted to them and have doubled it.

He tells them “well done.”

But one of the servants was lazy and did nothing with what was entrusted to him, and the master was very displeased with him.

I want to live my life in such a way that at the end of the road I will hear “well done.”

But “well done” starts today. The choices that we make today are literally forming our character. Each and every day needs to be a “well done” kind of day.

There are no shortcuts in a life well done. We cannot just simply hide what has been entrusted to us away and wait till the end and expect a pat on the back.

The only way to hear “well done, good and faithful one” at the end of your life is to do well during your life.

I am thankful for godly men and women who set examples for us to follow and be encouraged by. I am thankful for a God who doesn’t just leave us in the dark, but actually gives us answers to our problems and frustrations in the Bible. I am thankful for Jesus and the promise of eternal life.

And I am motivated to live my life in a way that will please my Lord.



Two more articles by the same author:

  • Regarding the youth in his church, someone once suggested to him they should “just sit on the sidelines until their time came.” That prompted the article Too Young For Church. However…
  • …Then, a week later, the other side of the coin: “Just as the Body is deprived if young people are not championed, so too is the church deprived if the elderly are forgotten.” Check out Too Old for Church.

 

 

 

September 7, 2018

A Higher Life

No, the title isn’t a reference to recreational drug use, though if that’s what brought you here, let me offer you something better.

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.
 Hebrews 10:24 NLT

In a recent article at CT Women (part of Christianity Today) titled Why You Can’t Name the Virtues, Karen Swallow Prior looks at the underlying foundation that is often not discussed for moral behavior, which is more frequently seen.

For the past several decades, American evangelicalism has been concerned about morality—and for good reason. Sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortion, divorce, materialism, racism, and countless other ills so permeate our culture—even among the churched—that they seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

But moral choices flow from moral character. Perhaps if we wish to reform morality, we should turn more attention to the formation of character.

Indeed, you can’t legislate morality, neither can you force it to be part of religious observance; but morality flows from core character. You need to have a certain bent (or if you prefer, predilection) to want to behave morally. It’s the same way in which we don’t engage in certain behaviors or practices as Christians because we must, but rather, these come out of the overflow of the heart.

She continues,

The early church fathers found much biblical wisdom in the Greek philosopher’s teachings on virtue. After all, the Bible speaks extensively about virtue. Faith, hope, and love, which Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13, are referred to as the theological virtues. 2 Peter 1:5–7 instructs believers to diligently “add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (NKJV). The Book of Proverbs is full of wisdom about virtues. The Fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22–23—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—are virtues, as well. All of these qualities constitute the marks of good Christian character, or virtue.

One of the most intriguing and insightful aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy is that virtue is a mean between two extremes—an extreme of excess and an extreme of deficiency, both of which are vices. For example, the virtue of generosity is the mean between the vice of miserliness (a deficiency of giving) and the vice of wastefulness (an excess of giving). For example, healthy self-regard—or humility—is a mark of good character because it means being truthful about oneself, which is a moderation between the extremes of esteeming oneself too little (deprecation) or overmuch (boasting). This idea of virtue as the mean between two extremes is captured in the King James translation of Philippians 4:5, which tells us to let our “moderation” be known to all.

So what are those virtues? At the website Changing Minds,

When Pope Gregory defined the seven deadly sins that we should avoid, he also included a counter-balancing set of values that we should espouse and adopt. These are:

Faith is belief in the right things (including the virtues!).
Hope is taking a positive future view, that good will prevail.
Charity is concern for, and active helping of, others.
Fortitude is never giving up.
Justice is being fair and equitable with others.
Prudence is care of and moderation with money.
Temperance is moderation of needed things and abstinence from things which are not needed.

The first three of these are known as the Spiritual Virtues, whilst the last four are called the Chief or Natural Virtues. The Natural Virtues had already been defined by Greek philosophers, whilst the Spiritual Virtues are a slight variation on St. Paul’s trio of Love, Hope and Faith (due to variation in translation from the original: Charity and Love arguably have a high level of overlap)…

…The Seven Contrary Virtues are specific opposites to the Seven Deadly Sins: Humility against pride, Kindness against envy, Abstinence against gluttony, Chastity against lust, Patience against anger, Liberality against greed, and Diligence against sloth.

(We covered some of this a year ago Thinking Out Loud.)

Some would argue that this character cultivation begins with the thought life; that it begins with the mind. Just a few verses past the one alluded to above, in Philippians 4:8 we read,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
  (NIV)

As we’ve quoted before:

Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a lifestyle.

Karen Swallow Prior continues:

…How do we go about cultivating virtue? Through something we sorely need today: good habits. A person is not in possession of a virtue by exhibiting a trait now and then. It must be routinely practiced for it to be considered a virtue.

Many of the commands, obligations, and exhortations that the Bible places on believers require intentionality, practice, and habit. It is, as Aristotle says, “a working of the soul in the way of excellence.” Or, as Paul says, a working out of our salvation “with fear and trembling” in order to fulfill God’s “good purpose” (Phil. 2:12–13) the way that is most excellent…


Karen Swallow Prior’s newest book is, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life in Great Books.

 

April 21, 2018

24/7 Honesty

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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…speaking the truth in love… – Eph. 4:15

So if I counted correctly, this is Jim Thornber’s tenth time here at Christianity 201. He has been writing faithfully since October, 2006 at the site Thinking Out Loud. (I feel I know that name from somewhere!)

No More False Positive Confessions

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies” Psalm 34:12-13

I am now convinced that I did not become a proficient liar until I became a dedicated disciple of Christ.

Before I became a Christian, if someone asked me what I thought about a subject, I’d tell them. I may have lacked diplomacy and discretion, and I know I needed to work on my social graces, but I was honest with my opinion. Now I think about what I say in order not to offend someone. Quite often I weigh truth against kindness, and kindness tends to win.

In other words, I lie.

The other night my wife and I were having a conversation with a friend who is dealing with a great amount of stress in her job. Barbara said, “Feel free to come over any time and just talk.”

Since I’m a pastor, I encouraged her. “Our home is a safe place for you to come and unload. Feel free to be yourself. Be angry, frustrated and hurt. Say the bad words you want and know it’s okay.”

At this point she laughed and said, “I don’t think a pastor ever encouraged me to cuss before!”

I said, “If you’re thinking the bad words then God already knows it. You might as well just be honest about your feelings. God isn’t scared of your vocabulary.”

She said, “It is so hard to be honest. When people ask me how I’m doing I’ve become good at saying, ‘Fine. I’m good.’ Even when I’m not.”

At this point I said, “It’s amazing how we have to become Christians in order to become good liars.”

I hope someone will write and tell me the origin of the idea that Christians can’t be honest with how they’re feeling. If they’re feeling crappy (or worse), and someone asks them how they’re doing, they should feel free to say so. But that’s not what happens. We put on our good religious face, turn a stiff upper lip of faith into the wind, take a deep breath and spew our best positive confession. “I’m fine,” we say.

Liar.

Liar.

Liar.

Not too long ago I tried this technique on someone. You know, the honesty technique. If you’re expelling hot air in any church in America, it won’t be too long before someone asks you, “How are you doing?” When they did, I told them. Life was hard, I was crabby, and it wasn’t a very good day.

True to form, they said, “Well, brother, that isn’t a very positive confession.”

I said, “You can have a false positive confession or you can have honesty. Which do you prefer?”

The person stumbled out a response and walked away, and I figure I probably offended them with the truth. But here’s the thing: I’d rather offend people with the truth (especially those who don’t REALLY care how I’m doing), than lie to them in order to protect their feelings. And I learned something – I feel better about myself for being honest.

I think it is a good thing to be a follower of Christ and not be a liar. No more false positives for me. From now on, when you ask me how I’m doing, be prepared to hear the truth.

 

November 22, 2017

Changing Values in our World

Today I want to introduce you to Jay Mankus who writes at Express Yourself 4 Him. This is a goldmine of devotional resources and new content has been faithfully posted daily since February 2012. Deciding which article to showcase here was so tough that I’m presenting two. Click the individual titles to read at source.

Don’t Go There or Else

There is a new movement emerging from members of the media, seeking to destroy naysayers, opponents and those possessing opposing worldviews.  This rush to judgment ignores the concept of innocent until proven guilty.  Instead of waiting until the facts to come out during a trial, the severity of recent accusations are more than enough to presume guilt.  Where did this mentality come from and what does the Bible say to address this issue?

He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities, Psalm 103:10.

According to David, God does not treat human beings as they deserve.  According to Psalm 103:12, God’s love is infinite, “as far as the east is from the west.”  If God is willing to show forgiveness, grace and mercy to undeserving sinners, why is the mainstream media so quick to condemn.  Have the elite been offended by conservatives in the past?  Is this recent response some sort of pay back for previous hypocritical actions?  Whatever the reason, sometimes you have to use common sense by replying, “don’t go there.”

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times, Matthew 18:21-22.

There was an unspoken belief that forgiveness should be limited in the first century.  Sensing a good opportunity to address this topic, Jesus shares the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  Attempting to shatter any stereotypes on forgiveness, Jesus illustrates God’s mercy on those who are unable to pay back earthly debts accrued over time.  God the Father bestows grace on those who beg for mercy.  Yet, lip service is disregarded unless individuals reciprocate mercy by doing to others as you want others to do unto you.  In other words, don’t go there or else.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins, Matthew 6:14-15.

The or else part of this equation was addressed by Jesus earlier in the book of Matthew.  At the conclusion of the portion of Scripture known as the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father, Jesus emphasizes the conditional aspect of forgiveness.  Yes, I did say conditional, based upon how you treat other people.  In next chapter, Matthew 7 builds upon this concept proclaiming, ” the measure to which you judge others will be used against you.”  Therefore, despite whatever differences you may have against others, make sure your remember to live out the Golden Rule.  Don’t seek revenge or the grace of God will turn it’s back on you.

Character Education

As societies evolve, the meaning of words change to reflect this evolution.  In the early stages of American history, character referred to personality, nature and qualities.  One of the synonyms for character is ethos, where we derive the Greek term ethics.  Ethics is the system of philosophy where individuals develop their basis for defining right and wrong.  Today, character education focuses on an initiative to foster global citizenship.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out, Proverbs 10:9.

Based upon the United Nations global education initiative, character education is based upon three core philosophies: humanism, socialism and utilitarianism.  Utilitarianism teaches actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.  Socialism advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.  Finally, humanism denies the presence of a Creator, seeking solely rational ways of solving human problems.  Signed by former president Obama, this curriculum is now being implemented into public education within K-12 schools across the country.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect, Romans 12:2.

When I first heard of Character Education on the Rush Limbaugh Show, I thought this sounds good, a step in the right direction.  Yet, as I began to hear and read more about this as a former teacher, I was horrified.  This attempt to erase the biblical influences within the foundation of America is unsettling.  Nonetheless, unless parents begin to challenge what their children are being taught, the true history of America will be forgotten.  May this blog awaken believers to stand up to this indoctrination by studying and teaching God’s divine intervention upon the founding fathers of this country.

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