Christianity 201

November 28, 2020

Paul the Apostle Needed People to Support Him

Periodically I check the website A Life Overseas which is written for MKs (Missionaries Kids) and TCKs (Third Culture Kids; people for whom the word home doesn’t mean the place on their passport.)  We’ve shared content from that site here and at Thinking Out Loud. That’s where I found today’s article.

Craig Thompson and his wife, Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to the United States. His blog, Clearing Customs, is an interesting mix of poetry, embedded music videos, and good writing. Click the header below to read this at A Life Overseas, or click the link at the end of the article to read a shorter version at Clearing Customs.

Paul and the Corbels of Member Care

There’s something in architecture called a corbel. Even if you’ve never heard the name before, you’re probably familiar with what it is. A corbel is a bracket, sometimes ornamental, that projects out from a wall, providing support to a structure above. It allows that structure to extend out to where it couldn’t on its own.

Cross-cultural workers are the kinds of people who want to reach out far from home, who dream of going where no one has gone before. They’re often pioneering spirits who’d even go it alone, if that’s what it took—empowered only by their calling and their grit, gristle, and God-given abilities. That’s how the Apostle Paul did it, right? If I were more like Paul, I’d rely on God more and on people less . . . right?

Yes, at times, Paul stressed his independence. In his letter to the Galatian churches, he affirmed that his role as an apostle came directly from Jesus, not from his association with the other apostles:

But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not go to ask advice from any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away I departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus.

But Paul wasn’t a loner. He took partners with him on his missionary trips, and he also recognized the need for flesh-and-blood corbels to hold him up as he reached out, bearing the gospel. He valued the encouragement and comfort of others. He understood the importance of member care (pastoral care, nurture and development, tender care, that one safe friend).

When Paul finally met with the apostles in Jerusalem, Barnabas helped him by being his advocate, vouching for his dedication to Jesus. Later, Barnabas sought out Paul for his help in working with the church in Antioch, and the two were sent out by the church on Paul’s first missionary journey. It was during his trips and while he was a prisoner that Paul wrote his New Testament letters, often mentioning those who served to encourage him.

Near the end of his first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote about “the household of Stephanus” (or Stephanas), who “devoted themselves to ministry for the saints,” and added,

I was glad about the arrival of Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus because they have supplied the fellowship with you that I lacked. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. So then, recognize people like this.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul told about how he even turned away from a God-sent opening for ministry because he needed to hear from Titus:

Now when I arrived in Troas to proclaim the gospel of Christ, even though the Lord had opened a door of opportunity for me, I had no relief in my spirit, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-bye to them and set out for Macedonia.

Then, in Macedonia,

our body had no rest at all, but we were troubled in every way—struggles from the outside, fears from within, But God, who encourages the downhearted, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. We were encouraged not only by his arrival, but also by the encouragement you gave him, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your deep concern for me, so that I rejoiced more than ever.

While under house arrest in Rome, Paul wrote to Philemon, “I have had great joy and encouragement because of your love, for the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.” He went on to address the subject of Onesimus, Philemon’s slave who had run away, had come to Paul, and had become a Christian. Paul was sending him back to Philemon, not as a slave but as a brother in Christ, even though Paul wrote, “I wanted to keep him so that he could serve me in your place during my imprisonment for the sake of the gospel.” Paul also looked forward to spending time with Philemon in the future, telling him to “prepare a place for me to stay, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given back to you.

Still a prisoner, Paul wrote to the Colossians and the Philippians. He told those in Colossae that Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus (called Justus) were the only Jewish Christians still working with him, saying “they have been a comfort to me.” And to the Christians in Philippi, he told of his plans to send to them Epaphroditus, whom he described as

my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him—and not to him only, but also to me—so that I would not have grief on top of grief. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me.

Later, imprisoned in a Roman dungeon, Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, saying, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy,” and then,

May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my imprisonment. But when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well all the ways he served me in Ephesus.

Alone, except for Luke, Paul told Timothy, “Make every effort to come to me soon,” requesting that he also bring Mark, because “he is a great help to me in ministry.” Paul even mentioned some items that he wanted (a care package?), asking Timothy to bring along a cloak that Paul had left in Troas, as well as his scrolls.

Even Paul needed member care, not just for the sake of his work, but also for his personal well-being. Or maybe we should say, given the hardships that he faced, especially Paul needed member care. He needed it, and he appreciated it. And if Paul needed it, so do today’s cross-cultural workers, every one.

A version of the post originally appeared in

The Scriptures quoted are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996, 2019 used with permission from Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved)

Photo: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

May 1, 2020

When Comparison is Healthy

It’s been six months already, so we’re back featuring Mark DuPré who is an associate pastor, a film professor, a writer and a musician. If you check out his devotional page you’ll see a number of 2-part and 3-part articles for those of you who want to go deeper on a particular subject. Another way to get there is to click the link in the title which follows.

Comparison Can be Good

I Corinthians 11:1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
I Corinthians 4:16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me.

As long as there are people around, there will be comparison. Unfair comparisons can hurt, of course, and we need to be on guard about the damage they can do. But avoiding comparison is a futile task.

It’s a little like stress. Years ago there was a shift in training on the subject. In the beginning, there were sessions on “stress reduction.” Then reality hit and the sessions began to focus on “stress management,” which made a lot more sense to everyone.

Comparison is like that. We’re not going to get rid of it, but we can embrace it in God. How? By different thinking and by a new way of embracing it.

Comparison can be a learning moment for all of us. For example, we can begin to realize how much we can learn by properly observing others. For example, by comparing ourselves to others, we can learn how to be more loving, how to bring grace to difficult situations, and how to have godlier perspectives on any number of topics. If we think of ourselves as lifelong learners, and of everyone else as the source of life lessons, we can learn every day.

Of course the big thing to work out (notice I didn’t say “avoid,” because that’s impossible) is resisting the comparison that’s accompanied by the enemy’s attacks. Noticing that someone is perhaps more gracious than you, for instance, can offer us the negative choice of turning in on ourselves and listening to voices that generalize and condemn: “See—you’re a failure in this area.” Whether it sounds like the devil or like us, that talk is straight from our enemy. Let’s learn to resist those voices! The fault here isn’t comparison per se, it’s listening to the negative voices that can accompany it.

Let’s learn from Paul, and release the sanctifying power of comparison by redirecting our focus. Instead of deepening the rut of comparison that leads to listening to the enemy, let’s cut a new mental pathway and embrace the many learning opportunities out there provided by God through the people around us. It’s like nature—sometimes we just have to stop and take a good long look around us at the physical beauty of this world. There are many examples God is providing us to grow from.

When it comes to people, let’s free them and us by taking on the role of the continual learner, and grab all the lessons of love, grace and wisdom we can learn. Yes, a few folks may provide lessons of what not to do (“Wow—note to self: Don’t ever do that!”). But if we have the right perspective, and imitate others as they imitate Christ, we can grow every day.

Prayer: Lord, the enemy has robbed me of so many learning moments because of his accusations. Help me to submit to you first, and then resist the devil. Give me eyes to see and a heart to learn all the many lessons in the Spirit that you have out there for me.

When circumstances suddenly change

Here’s a timely example of the two-part articles Mark writes which I mentioned in today’s introduction. Both look at Joshua chapter one.

March 4, 2020

Altars Powerfully Mark the Movements of God

Today we’re back once again highlighting Seedbed, and an excellent devotional by J. D. Walt. This one falls in the middle of a series title, “People who Say Such Things,” and I can’t encourage you strongly enough to click through and read several of these. You might even want to subscribe!  Click the title below to read this at source.

People Who Say Such Things: Show Us How to Build an Altar

Genesis 32:22-28 (NIV)

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”


When is the last time you built an altar?

We will say goodbye to Jacob today but not before he completes the God cycle. What is the God cycle? Thanks for asking. It is the movement from promise to struggle to blessing to worship.  Remember, it was at Bethel where God first revealed himself to Jacob through a dream. As Jacob ran from the consequences of his broken life, God met him in a dream, revealing to him the Covenant Promise given Abraham and Isaac would also determine his destiny.

Yay God! Right? Yes, . . . but. Perhaps the biggest lesson of the Bible so far is how the promises of God necessarily mean struggle. Something in us wants to believe the presence and promises of God mean an easier path. It does not. God’s promises mean an infinitely and eternally better life, but they almost guarantee a harder path. The way of the Cross is the way of blessing and yet struggle.

After the promising dream in Bethel, the next twenty years delivered the struggle for Rachel, the struggle of Leah, the onerous yoke of Laban, and more than a dozen children who would define the legacy—and all of this under the impending cloud of doom from an angry older brother bent on revenge.

Remember, through it all . . . God. Promise. Struggle. Blessing. God blessed Jacob. God prospered Jacob. God favored Jacob. God delivered Jacob. Following the miraculous change of heart of older brother, Esau, and the happy reunion on the far side of the River Jabok, God instructed Jacob to complete the cycle. The time had come to worship.

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

Promise. Struggle. Blessing. Worship. Certainly we worship our way through it all and yet there is something to be said for building a new altar from time to time to mark significant God moments and faith milestones. They call for something more than the usual.

2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

People who say such things show us what building an altar requires. First, it’s a community affair: “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him.” Second, it means a personal and community call to repentance: “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you.” Third, it means a call to a renewed heart level consecration to God: “Purify yourselves.” Fourth, it calls for an outward sign of the inward reality: “Change your clothes.” Finally, it means sharing the testimony that it might become the shared witness of all: “Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Altars powerfully mark the movements of God while extending them forward for all who will kneel. So let me ask you again, when is the last time you built an altar? It’s been too long for me. I see one coming on the horizon. You too?


Father, I want to be a person who says such things. Help me become this kind of person in my deep heart and this kind of leader in my relationships with others. You don’t so much need this from me as you want it for me. Guide me in the who, what, where, when and how of building an altar to mark your movement in my life, to complete the cycle of promise, struggle, and blessing with worship. Come Holy Spirit, and train me be such a person of faith. I pray in Jesus name, Amen.


So when is the last time you built an altar? What was that like? How did it go? What might the altar on the horizon look like in your life, family, church, community?

Get J. D. Walt’s latest book, THE FIRST REAL CHRISTIAN, or his new church-wide Lenten Study, LISTEN TO HIM. Subscribe to get devotionals like this in your email inbox here.

June 13, 2019

A Compelling People

A Compelling People: Does the Church Point to the Reality of God?

by Clarke Dixon

If Christianity is compelling, should we not expect the Christian Church to be compelling also? If the good and loving God proclaimed by Christianity is real, then would we not expect beauty and not ugliness in the Church? So is it beautiful?

Some would say no. Churches can be marked by politics within, sometimes brutal politics. Church people can also be known for politicking beyond the church, and that can be brutal also. Plus, the Christian Church appears to be greatly divided. Not only are there many different camps, there are even camps within the camps! This can all seem quite ugly to the onlooker. While there is ugliness, is there also beauty? Does the Bible have a compelling and beautiful vision for the Church? There is so much we could say, but let us go to the words of Jesus in John 14 as a starting point.

12 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. John 14:12 (NLT)

The Christian Church is to be a people who do great works. We may be startled by the idea that we, who are Christians, could do “greater works” than Jesus. Perhaps we immediately think of miraculous works of great power and wonder how we could ever match his healing ministry. However, we should note that Jesus’ greatest work was not a health restoring miracle, but a relationship restoring death. While reconciliation to God is something only God can accomplish, the Church is called to participate in God’s work of reconciliation! Consider the words of Paul,

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NLT emphasis added)

The Christian Church has been involved in this ministry of reconciliation throughout the world over the past 2000 years or so. This is a great work, and it is beautiful.

We can go on to speak of the many other good works that Christians have been involved in. Alvin Schmidt outlines the great positive impact of the Christian Church on the world in his book, How Christianity Changed the World. Consider his chapter titles as an indication of that impact.

  1. People Transformed by Jesus Christ
  2. The Sanctification of Human Life
  3. Christianity Elevates Sexual Morality
  4. Women Receive Freedom and Dignity
  5. Charity and Compassion: Their Christian Connection
  6. Hospitals and Health Care: Their Christian Roots
  7. Christianity’s Imprint on Education
  8. Labor and Economic Freedom Dignified
  9. Science: It’s Christian Connections
  10. Liberty and Justice for All
  11. Slavery Abolished: A Christian Achievement
  12. Christianity’s Stamp on Art and Architecture
  13. The Sound of Music: It’s Christian Resonance
  14. Hallmarks of Literature: Their Christian Imprint
  15. Additional influence: Holidays, Words, Symbols and Expressions

The positive impact of the Christian Church on the world has been massive and beautiful. I encourage you to read the book to discover just how massive and beautiful it has been. Yes, Christians have often got it wrong and brought ugliness and not beauty. But over the centuries, God has used His people for beautiful purposes. Good things have happened and keep happening through the people known as the Church.

Let us consider the next two verses of John 14:

13 You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. 14 Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it! John 14:13-14 (NLT)

The Christian Church is to be a people who ask in Jesus’ name. To ask ‘in his name’ means that we are to be a people who rally around his purposes. These verses do not indicate that Jesus will bend to our will, something we might desire as we consider what great things we might include under “anything.” Rather in asking ‘in Jesus’ name,’ Jesus’ will is becoming ours.

Very often on a Sunday morning I will choose a tie to go with a shirt. Very often on a Sunday morning my wife will say something like “you are not going out dressed like that, are you?” I might try to bend my wife’s will to accept my clothing choice, but it never goes that way. It is not that my wife wins a battle of wills. It is that I am steered in a better direction. I am not upset with being called out on my tie selections. I am very pleased to be better dressed! When all is said and done I realize that my ultimate desire was not to wear a particular tie anyway, but to be well dressed. This is like our relationship with God. It is not that God wins the battle of wills. It is that we are steered in a better direction. When all is said and done we realize that what God has for us is really what we would have wanted all along and asked for if our eyes had been open to all the possibilities.

The Christian Church is a people who are steered by God, who pray in Jesus’s name, seeking His Kingdom, not our empires, His purposes, not our flights of fancy. This is beautiful!

Let us consider the next verse:

15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. John 14:15 (NLT)

The Christian Church is a people who love Jesus, who have an allegiance to Jesus.

We are to be a people who put the teaching of Jesus into practice. We are to love our neighbours, and love our enemies.. As Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount, we are to pay attention to character. We are to make disciples. It is beautiful when a person lives out the teaching of Jesus.

We are to be a people who emulate Jesus. We seek to reflect the goodness of Jesus in the way we relate to people and are relatable. We do good. We live grace filled lives, ready to forgive. The Christian Church is to be a Jesus emulating people. It is beautiful when a person emulates Jesus.

Let us consider the next few verses:

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. John 14:16-17 (NLT)

The Christian Church is to be a people who are impacted by the Holy Spirit. This means a number of things including the fact that we are being transformed by the Spirit:

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! . . . 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Galatians 5:22-23,25 (NLT)

When people are transformed by the Spirit, this is beautiful.


The Church can sometimes seem pretty ugly. But the Biblical vision for the Church is beautiful. The Church is to be a people wrapped up in a deep life changing connection with God. When church is ugly, there is always a disconnect from God. When there is connection, truly the Church is beautiful; a people involved in God’s great works, a people who pray in Jesus’ name and rally around his purposes, a people who have an allegiance to Jesus, a people filled with and led by the Holy Spirit. The Biblical vision for the Church is consistent with what you would expect from a good and loving God. The beauty of the Church in that vision is another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.

This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

June 7, 2015

Theological Insiders but Social Outsiders

Thinking about people in your church who attend regularly, but exist on the fringes.

It’s only been a few weeks since we considered the topic of hospitality, but returning to that article today, I was again reminded that much of what the writers of scripture have to say on this subject refers to how we respond to the stranger, or the alien as it’s assumed that we would treat family differently.

But today I want to consider a situation that I believe is unique to the modern church, and by modern I mean primarily the North American, post-1990 medium-to-large church situation.

While small groups (house groups, cell groups, etc.) have gone a long way to create the small, community feel; some churches don’t have them, and even the best churches often only get a 50% response among people attending weekend services. In the traditional church setting (think southern U.S. around 1940) churches consisted of family groupings and in these clans, everyone was connected to someone else.

But increasingly today:

  • Often one spouse attends alone, the other is not a believer.
  • There are more singles.
  • There are people who have become unattached from their home church due to changes in job or even vocation who now find themselves in a new city or town.
  • There are people who would prefer an ethnic-centered fellowship, but are in a location where there isn’t one for their particular ethnicity.
  • For some, the local church they attend is actually a theological compromise; they would prefer something more suited to a particular doctrinal pattern if it was available and by whatever sixth sense church people use, this situation is evident.
  • Some people are perceived as intellectually or spiritually intimidating and so people keep their distance; at the other end of the spectrum, others seen as simple or shallow.
  • Local churches often have a dismal track record dealing those who are obviously the poorest among the congregation, even though their faith is deep.
  • We seem to have more people characterized by an introverted nature that inhibits the process of making deeper connections.
  • Some churches are located in college and university towns where students attend for only eight months, and even in their junior or senior year feel no sense of belonging.
  • Perhaps a couple has started attending who, even though they obviously know their Bibles and the hymns or choruses, have been ostracized because they grate on our church’s stand on people living common-law or even the gay issue.
  • There are people whose only ‘crime’ is that they can’t or choose not to join a small group.

Those are just some examples. In other words, though they have made Jesus Christ the Lord of their lives — some have been on the journey for decades — they are social outsiders in the local church. In Romans 12 we read:

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers

I think even Paul saw these two groups as mutually exclusive. There was no possibility for someone to be theologically inside, but outside in a pragmatic sense.  But Romans 14 starts out with a reminder that we might tend to be less accepting of someone we view as different than us on a particular aspect of doctrine:

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.

I think the need goes beyond this, however. I think we have a situation in many churches, even smaller ones, that perhaps could not have existed in earlier days: People on the fringes. I think some of this is good intentioned; we just assume that someone else is looking after the new family that moved into the area; that someone else has the single man covered who started attending a few weeks ago; that the family that has attended for a decade has got to be well-connected by now.

Finally, I want to get to today’s main agenda, and let me say at the outset that as a family, we a partly guilty of what I want to share. I believe that the modern church loses a lot by not inviting people into our homes. I remember in 1979 interviewing a survivor from the Jesus People revolution in California who said, “The early church would fellowship from house to house; we fellowship from restaurant to restaurant.” He said this almost as if it was improvement on the Biblical model. In Acts 2:46 we read:

They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts

And in Acts 4:32:

No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

And in Acts 5:42

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Then in Acts 20:20 (an easy reference to remember) we see more vividly the emergence of the house church model that came out of the generous sharing of homes and spontaneous door-to-door evangelism:

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.

Today, the homes we live in are often very private places. Pastors note that people don’t desire home visits anymore, and for whatever reasons, doctors stopped making house calls about two generations ago.

But I feel strongly there is something very… let’s say Christian about opening up your home and inviting people to share food or beverage (it can be kept simple) especially people who God calls you to who are on the fringes.

And Luke 14:12 reminds us to not worry about whether or not you get a return invite:

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.

Who is there in your faith community that everyone just assumes is well-connected socially?

Footnote: If you are that person or part of that family, remember the adage that “He has friends who shows himself friendly.” Be proactive, take the initiative and do the inviting; but don’t sweat it if your attempts at hospitality are not reciprocated. Do as onto God.










June 2, 2015

Recognizing God’s Voice (2)

We continue with some wisdom from Rick Warren’s blog: (click the section headers to read at source)

The Third Test

“God’s intent is that through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known.” Ephesians 3:10 (NIV)

God has not meant for anyone to go through life alone. He made us to live in relationship with other people. So when it comes to hearing God’s voice, you need to listen to the people around you. You need a church family and a small group to confirm whether what you sense God directing you to do is true or not. This is the third test question: Are there other people who can confirm what I believe God is saying to me?

If God has genuinely spoken to you, he will confirm it through other mature believers. This idea that we have to do everything on our own is an American idea, not God’s. He wants you to share your idea with others for confirmation and listen to their feedback.

And if you feel resistance to the thought of even asking somebody else about your idea, that should be a huge red flag that the idea did not come from God.

The reason God tells us to get advice is because he wants to save us from a lot of things. As it says in Proverbs 11:9, “The wisdom of the righteous can save you” (GNT).

Advice from other mature believers can save you time wasted doing the wrong thing. It can save you from wasting money. It can save your reputation. It can save you from making mistakes.

One of the main reasons people mess up their lives is that they have no godly friends to give them feedback. That is why it is so important to be in a small group with fellow believers who can hold you accountable and give you advice.

The Bible says, “In the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14b KJV). If you are not in a small group, you are skating on thin ice and you don’t know when you might fall through.

The Fourth Test

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

The fourth test for confirming a word from God is to ask yourself, “Is it consistent with how God shaped me?”

At Saddleback Church, we use the acronym SHAPE to describe the collection of a person’s Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality and Experiences. These five things make you unique from everyone else in the world. They also reveal your purpose in life.

A lot of people ignore their SHAPE and end up wasting millions of dollars going after pipe dreams, starting businesses and making plans they weren’t shaped to do. God will never lead you a way that is inconsistent with your SHAPE. If you have a musical ability, you should use it. But if you’re tone deaf and can’t carry a tune, you shouldn’t try out for American Idol.

Romans 12:6 says, “God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well” (LB). So ask yourself, “What do I love to do that I’m good at doing?” Note that I didn’t just say, “What do you love to do?”

Before I became a pastor, I was a worship leader. I played guitar and loved to sing, but nobody liked hearing me. So I learned pretty quickly that while I had a passion for music, I didn’t have the talent for it. I loved it, but I wasn’t good at it.

You discover a lot of God’s will simply by looking at what you are good at. And if you get an impression that makes you wonder if it’s from God, but it leads you completely contrary to your SHAPE, then it’s not from God. You can know that for a fact. God is not going to ask you to do something he hasn’t given you the ability to do.

Learn more about your SHAPE through S.H.A.P.E.: Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life by Erik Rees


September 7, 2014

Helped a Needy Person: Check

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If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  I John 3:17

Each month we refer back to the same month of the previous year to see what various writers we introduced here are currently thinking about.  This one is from Dwight L. MacPherson who blogs at Son of a Parson Ministries with something you just might want to forward to others.  To read this at source, click the title below.

Checking the Box Doesn’t Cut It

One of my childhood buddies shared a story with me about his church that punched me in the gut. It moved my heart. It convicted me. It made me think. So I’ve decided to share it with you…

My friend told me that at an evening service, the pastor asked every church member to write a need they’ve been praying about along with their name and phone number on a piece of paper. The pastor then had the members come to the altar and leave their written needs there. Then, at the conclusion of the sermon, he told the congregation to go to the altar and take someone else’s need… and meet it.


One problem I’ve had with the Church is that I don’t think we do enough to meet the needs of our congregations. Sure, we anoint them, pray with them, but how often do we directly meet their needs? As a former church administrative assistant, Rebecca can attest to the fact that church offices are usually jam-packed with people who have very real and pressing needs. So this made me wonder… how often are church offices jam-packed with people desiring to meet the needs of others?

Feeling convicted yet? I know I am.

Thinking of my buddy’s story, I looked around at the congregation at our home church. I saw two men seated a couple of feet apart. I wondered… I could imagine one man crying out to God desperately for $50 to fill his gas tank for work the next week. The man beside him I imagined calling out to God asking Him how he could use the finances God had blessed him with to be a blessing to others.

The Bible tells us that the early Church met the needs of their members internally.Red-Pencil-checking-off-Boxes Acts 2:44, for example, tells us, “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.” Now before anyone draws from their extensive church history knowledge to tell me that the Jerusalem church was basically a commune due to persecution, my point still stands. The Church didn’t direct their Christian brothers and sisters to secular public programs, or simply give them a bag of groceries or gas voucher so they could check off a box for helping the needy. No, they genuinely helped one another and made sure everyone’s needs were met. Are we honestly doing this today?

So what’s the answer for the modern Church? Well, I think my buddy’s pastor has the right idea. We need to be more open with our brothers and sisters that we see Sundays and Wednesday nights. This requires for us to be intentional, willing to go out of our way to help others, and open to hear one another’s needs without judging them. I think this would be much easier in small churches, but in big churches, it could be tough. I love the idea of small groups meeting in homes during the week. I think this gives us a much better opportunity to cultivate healthy, “real” relationships. I think it could also give us wonderful opportunities to use our God-given resources and talents to help others. The thing is, it’s hard, and it can be downright messy. The question is: are we truly willing to roll up our sleeves and help our brothers and sisters in need?

In Christ’s perfect love,


The Parson

June 10, 2014

When Friends Stop Going to Church

Alan Ballou writes at the creatively titled blog, How to Stop Sinning. Be sure to check it out. Click the title for today’s post: They Stopped Going to Church. Warning: Read this carefully; it might not be heading where you think, but it will make you think!

I heard the other day that “So many people have stopped going to church.” I didn’t know that, but perhaps they have heard the same two sermons so often that they have them memorized; more money, more people.

I only know about six people who would rather be the church that God has called Christians to be rather than going to church, so I may not be the one to ask, but I can speak for myself.

One lady said that it is better to gather with the people of God, than to gather with the people of this world. Amen! I agree with the 100%! However, do the people of God put up with a different Gospel, or a different Jesus, or a different spirit?

2 Corinthians 11:4  For if he who comes to you preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted – you may well put up with it! NKJV

Where are the people of God who hold to the teachings found in the Bible, rather than ignoring the verses that they do not hold on to (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15, 1 Corinthians 15:1-2)? Please tell me if you know. I want to join right now!

My Bible says not to gather with those who are unwilling to walk according to what is written. What does your Bible say in 2 Thessalonians 3:6?

2 Thessalonians 3:6 But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. NKJV

Does that say “Withdraw from every brother?” Does that verse insinuate that it is okay to be called “Christian” and yet disobey the teachings? Verse 14 of that same chapter says the same thing.

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15  And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he might be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. NKJV

It’s one thing to sin and repent, having a contrite heart, but it is a totally different issue when we ignore that the verses even exist, and even take a stand against those who mention them.

Christians are supposed to warn Christians (verse 15 above, Colossians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 5:12-13). According to the Word of God, the prophets even judge from the floor during the service (2 Corinthians 14:29). Boy, are we a long ways from that are what?

We don’t do any of that any more, if we ever did, because our method to stop sin in the church is not working, because we do not preach the Word. Therefore, we have to turn a blind eye to anyone who walks in the door because we need their money to keep the doors open.

What that amounts to is that we are not trusting God, but the world system in which our service is based on. We stopped trusting God way back when we decided to run the church like a business.

Who added people to the early church according to Acts 2:47? Is the Lord’s arm too shot to add people to the church today, or have we stopped trusting in His ways?

God could see all the way to the end of the world when He decided to have a church, and yet the only Words He left for us are written in the Bible? Did He really need our wisdom in adding changes to His Word, just because He spoke so long ago?

According to Proverb 30:5-6, and 1 Corinthians 4:6, God only needs someone to preach His Word. His Word is enough for those who believe it (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

We need to repent and return to the Lord our God in accordance with His ways found in His Word. We need to put away the world’s way of doing things and return to God’s Word.

Ephesians 5:2-7, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, 2 Timothy 3:1-9, and 1 Timothy 6:3-5 along with the verses above are very clear concerning who Christians, that live by faith, are NOT to associate with. If we followed those verses to the letter, I don’t know if there would be one church left to gather in here in the Bible belt. That’s how far we have drifted from the truth (Hebrews 2:1).

So, why be a part of that? Do I need to jump on a sinking ship, even when the captain doesn’t know he is taking on water? “Oh hey, come aboard!” “Don’t worry about that water, since God promised,” “No more floods!” Hee hee.

Does a pilot forget the instructions on his maiden voyage, and turn to the paying customers for guidance? “You guys are the ones paying for this flight, so according to my worldly philosophy book, you ought to have a say so.” Have we bumped our heads?

If you are serious about the faith that we should be proclaiming, and know of a church gathering that is in-line with what is written in the Bible, please let me know. However, I would prefer to watch a sermon or two on video (YouTube, etc) before I attend. I’m Alan Ballou; a servant.


September 23, 2013

Learning How to Unlearn Things

Sea of Forgetfulness

Recently I heard someone say of a televised music performance, “Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t un-see it.” While the memory starts to go as people age, for most of us, our memories are able to recall all manner of details from the past, often particularly as they relate to other people. Trying to forgive and forget is just about impossible. The synapses — or whatever it is — in our brain work too well. How does God do it?

In Micah 7, we read:

19 He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.  (KJV)

From this we derive the phrase, “the sea of God’s forgetfulness,” which also occurs in an old gospel song. Being able to forget is considered a human failing but a divine attribute.

There is also this idea in Hebrews 8:

12 For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”  (NIV)

Mark O. Wilson looked at this topic recently.  Click the title below to link directly to his blog:

Just Forget It

A few years ago, I had the privilege of spending the evening with a saintly author, Wesley Duewel who was in his 90’s. In the course of our conversation, I happened to mention a recent scandal involving a well known religious figure, which made national news.

Dr. Duewel seemed confused for a moment.

“I’m sure you remember. . .” I said and added a few juicy details. Then, the kind minister smiled and said, “Oh yes. was completely out of my mind  until you brought it up.  I chose to forget about that.”

I was appropriately rebuked.

Rehashing another person’s failures doesn’t do anybody any good. Sometimes, the best alternative is just to forget the whole thing.

Forgetting things can be rather frustrating. All of us know the stress of attempting to pull a lost memory from the dark, cobwebbed corners of the mind.

Some people are more forgetful than others. I hate to admit it, but I’m a member of the “forgetful club.” We’ve organized “Forgetters Anonymous” – but nobody remembers to go to the meetings!

Fortunately, I haven’t forgotten too many earth shattering things along the way. Probably the worst ones were: when I forgot about a funeral I was supposed to perform or when my brain blanked out and I forgot to write my column for the newspaper- or perhaps the time I forgot to take the offering at church! I was finishing the service with a benediction, when the ushers finally caught my attention by waving the offering plates like crazy.

So far, I’ve done pretty well remembering important stuff like my wife’s birthday, our anniversary, funerals, Christmas and Packer games. Actually, forgetting isn’t as bad as it’s cracked up to be.

Sometimes, it’s better to forget than to remember.

It’s better to forget the hurt someone has caused you.
It’s better to forget to “rub it in” when you were right.
It’s better to forget what others “owe” you.
It’s better to forget the minor annoyances – the bugs on life’s windshield.
It’s better to forget your failures, your past sins, and your losses.
It’s better to forget to toot your own horn.
It’s better to forget your resentment and disappointment.
It’s better to forget to complain.

In this regard, choosing to forget is good medicine for the soul.

“Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize..” Phil. 3:13

August 31, 2013

The Proud vs. The Broken

Have I truly been broken by God? There are times in the day when I see pride and confidence in the flesh creeping in, especially in interactions with others. I found this had been posted back in May at the blog Strengthened By Grace

Excellent tool:  Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ produced a list (PDF) years ago which ” contrasts characteristics of proud, unbroken people whom are resistant to the call of God on their lives with the qualities of broken, humble people who have experienced God’s revival. Read each item on the list as you ask God to reveal which characteristics of a proud spirit He finds in your life. Confess these to Him, and then ask Him to restore the corresponding quality of a broken, humble spirit in you. ”   Here is the list in chart form courtesy of Feeding on Christ.

Proud, Unbroken People Broken People
1. Focus on the failure of others 1. Are overwhelmed with their own spiritual need (Matthew 5:3, 7:3-5, Luke 18:9-14)
2. Are self righteous; have a critical, fault finding spirit; look at own life/faults with a telescope but others with a microscope 2. Are compassionate; have a forgiving spirit; look for the best in others (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:12)
3. Look down, in a condescending spirit, at others 3. Esteem all others as better than self (Phil. 2:3, Rom. 12:10)
4. Are independent; have desires for everyone else to meet own personal needs 4. Are dependent on God and His grace; recognize others’ needs and seek to meet them (2 Cor. 3:4-6, Phil. 2:4)
5. Always manipulating circumstances to maintain control; must have everyone do it their way 5. Surrenders control by giving freedom for others to do or see things differently (Rom. 12:1-2)
6. Have to prove they are always right 6. Are willing to yield to the possibility that they could be wrong, and thus, yield the need to always prove they are right(Rom. 15:2)
7. Claiming personal rights 7. Yielding personal rights (Eph. 5:21)
8. Display a demanding spirit 8. Have a giving spirit (Rom. 12:13)
9. Self-protective of time, rights, reputation 9. Are self-denying (Luke 9:23)
10. Desire to be served 10. Are motivated to serve others (Matt. 20:26-28, Phil. 2:20-21)
11. Desire to be a success 11. Desire to be faithful to make others a success (John 3:30)
12. Desire for self-advancement 12 Desire to promote others (John 3:3)).
13. Are driven to be recognized and appreciated Have a sense of unworthiness; are thrilled to be used at all; eager for others to get credit, honors and awards (I Tim. 1:12-16)
14. Cringe when others in the same field are praised, wishing it was them 14. Rejoice when others are lifted up (Rom. 12:15)
15. Think ‘the ministry is privileged to have me!’ 15. Think ‘I don’t deserve to serve in this ministry (2 Cor. 4:7)
16. Think of what they can do for God 16. Know they can offer nothing to God, and seek for God to work through them in His power (Phil. 3:8-9, Titus 3:5)
17. Feel confident in how much they know 17. Are humbled by how much they have not learned and wish to learn (Phil. 3:12, Prov. 1:7)
18. Are self conscious 18. Have little concern with how others view them (Gal. 1:10)
19. Keep people at arm’s length 19. Risk getting close to others; are willing to take those risks for the sake of love for others (2 Cor. 6:11-12)
20. Are quick to blame others 20. Accept personal responsibility; can see and acknowledge personal failure (Matthew 7)
21. Are concerned with being ‘respectable’ 21. Are concerned with being real (2 Cor. 4:3-5).
22. Are concerned about what others think 22. Know all that matters is God and what He knows (I Cor. 4:3-5)
23. Work hard to maintain image and protect reputation 23. Die to own reputation (Phil. 3:7, Rom. 14:7)
24. Find it difficult to share their spiritual needs with others 24. Are willing to be transparent with others (2 Cor. 1:12)
25. Want to be sure no one finds aout about their sin Are willing to acknowledge and confess one’s sin; brokenness is the ultimate sign of personal success (Ps. 51:17)
26. Have a hard time saying, ‘I was wrong. Will you forgive me’ Are quick to admit fault and seek forgiveness (I John 1:9, James 5:1)
27. Deal in generalities when confession sin 27. Deal in specifics (Ps. 51:17)
28. Are concerned about the consequences of their sin 28. Are grived over the root of their sin (Ps. 51:5)
29. Wait for other party to come and ask forgiveness in a conflict 29. Take the initiative to be reconciled; gets their first (Matthew 5:23-24)
30. Compare themselves with others and feel deserving of honore 30. Compare themselves with God and feel desparate for mercy (Luke 18:9-14)
31. Are blind to their true heart condition 31. Walk in the light of true knowledge concerning their own hearts (I John 1:6-7).
32. Do not display any spirit of repentance, because they don’t need it 32. Continually display a spirit of repentance, sensing their need for fresh encounters with God and the filling of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5;18), Gal 5:16)
33. Spent time reading these words and wondering if _____________ was reading it 33. Thanked the Lord for using words on the internet to bring brokenness to their lives.

June 5, 2013

When Secondary Things Become the Bond that Unites Us

Although the largest scripture passage in today’s reading actually is found at the end of the reading, as I looked at this topic, I was already determined that this definitely merited inclusion here at Christianity 201.  This is from the blog of Eric Geiger who blogs mostly for pastors and church leaders, and appeared recently at his blog under the title Gospel Continually Forms.

Though the believers in Philippi had been brought together only because of the gospel, Paul knew that the gospel must continually form community. The Christian faith is and has always been an interdependent grouping of people rescued by Christ. But because of our sinfulness, we tend to drift away from that, toward either dependence or independence.

Some are more likely to move in the direction of dependence. This occurs when we find our identity, security, or worth in someone else. Maybe the pastor, a friend we feel we must have, a certain teacher, or a person we don’t feel we can do without. Unhealthy dependence is actually a form of idolatry, finding ultimate fulfillment in someone other than God.

Equally destructive and on the other side of the spectrum is independence. Some foolishly attempt to live an isolated faith, recklessly believing that the Christian life can be lived in one’s own might and merit. Independence shuns community and refuses to lean on others for maturity, growth, sharing, and serving.

The gospel says differently. It pulls us back to interdependence.

Paul reminded believers to keep the gospel as the impetus for their community. He challenged them to “[stand] firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27 esv). He encouraged them because of Christ to have “the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (2:2 esv). He pleaded with them to submit to one another as Christ submitted to death, to have the same humble attitude as His (2:5–8). Paul knew that contrary to Jesus-centered community is the thinking that some believers are at a different level of righteousness than other believers, that some believers are “better.”

In 1983 an educational commission appointed by President Ronald Reagan released a study that influenced common practice in schools. It chronicled how America was no longer the leader in education, and that one of the reasons was because its smarter students were being held back to accommodate the ones who couldn’t keep up. Thus began an emphasis on “gifted” classes—students who were set apart to learn at an accelerated rate apart from the rest of the school population.

If you were in school during that time, you may remember the sting when particular students got pulled out of your class and assigned to special accelerated classes. The thought behind it was this: “The dumb guys are holding down our best and brightest. So we should pull out the smart ones. Let those guys color, and teach these other guys calculus.” It was a bit painful and demotivating. Perhaps you thought, They’re gifted and talented, so obviously I’m not.

Unfortunately, some of this idea has seeped into the Church. Some act as if there are levels of Christianity, and when you hit the gifted level, you don’t mingle so much with people who aren’t there yet. After all, they’re slower than you are, they’re not as motivated as you, they don’t understand what you understand, and they’re not as serious about pursuing the things of the Lord as you are. But the concept of “levels in Christianity” is not a concept built on the gospel of Christ.

Levels are only possible if there are levels of righteousness. And those levels simply do not exist, because we all possess the same amount of righteousness—none. The only righteousness any of us have is the righteousness God freely gives to us in Christ.

Some may be more mature than others in their understanding of the righteousness that’s been freely given, or in how they live in response to it. But no one in the community of faith is more righteous than another. Nobody.

Therefore, any attempt to build community on something more than the grace of Christ becomes a subtle move away from grace, a move toward pseudo-community that only puffs up and fails to transform. If something other than the person and work of Jesus becomes the foundation for a group of believers, that “other thing,” whatever it is—economic level, social manners, music preferences, common life experiences—becomes what they use to differentiate themselves from others. And it immediately becomes a point of boasting, a way to feel justified.

In the Galatian church, the issue became “circumcision.” Those who were circumcised only fellowshipped with others in the same condition. In churches today, perhaps it’s “we’re the deeper group” or “the homeschool group” or “this zip code group.” While there’s nothing wrong with people wanting to go deeper, or meet in homeschool groups, or make friends in the same zip code, we must be careful. Because of our sinfulness, these commonalities can become the bond that holds us together instead of the gospel. And worse, these commonalities can become prideful distinctions that repel others from a community that should be open and inclusive.

The commonality of the gospel is something believers share that will never change. Whether we are single or married, with children or no children, hyper-religious or irreligious, young or old, all believers in Jesus-centered community have a common place to stand together. In fact, if your small groups, journey groups, life groups, Sunday school classes, Adult Bible Fellowships, or whatever you call them are not centered on the common need for and common experience of grace, then they are actually doing more harm than good to the gospel movement. If groups are not gospel-centered and gospel-fueled, they are merely a social outlet for people, and they lack the power for transformation.

So what does community centered on Jesus and His work look like . . . practically?

The apostle Paul spent the first eleven chapters of Romans unpacking the fullness and the glory of the gospel. Then in Romans 12, he moved to our responses in light of the gospel, with the back half of the chapter containing some very practical but profound instructions that guide our pursuit of gospel-centered community. After clearly establishing that Christ is the One who forms community and places believers in one body (12:5), Paul issued this challenge:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Rom. 12:9–13  (ESV)

We featured Eric’s writing here a year ago at Church Life: What Matters Most

April 7, 2013

Do Believers Need to Keep Confessing Their Sins?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:20 pm
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This is from Currents, a new blog at Alltop which originates with Streams church in Red Deer, Alberta.  (Streams, currents, get it?) You’ll have to read this closely to catch what is and isn’t being said here, and regular readers will notice the nuances of this are somewhat opposite a principle we looked at here not too long ago, where classic authors talked about keeping short accounts with God.  So we present it for your consideration. Feel free to comment on how the two posts coincide. As always, you’re encouraged to read this at source where it appeared as Do We Need To Confess Our Sins to Be Forgiven?.

Do We Need To Confess Our Sins To Be Forgiven?

That depends on who is asking.

Confess means to agree with God (to agree with, concede or acknowledge).

Sinners cannot receive the free gift of salvation if they do not first realize they are sinners and that they need a saviour.  Yes, they need to confess their sins, to come into agreement with God regarding their need for salvation.

Saints, on the other hand, have already accepted the free gift of salvation. Jesus died once and for all, we don’t have to keep going back to the start every time we mess up. All our sin, forgiven and forgotten and destroyed utterly; we do not need to keep confessing.

That’s not entirely true, we do need to confess.  We need to confess, agree with God, that we have been made righteous. We are not ‘sinners saved by grace’ and confessing as much puts us under the law.  You are a saint saved and empowered by grace. Period.

But what about 1 John 1:9?

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

This verse is the only place in the New Testament that ties our confession with forgiveness.  To build a doctrine of forgiveness on one verse would be unwise.

John says earlier, in verse 5, that ‘This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you…” and he then presents the Gospel to sinners. Yes, most of 1 John is written to believers, but in verse 6 John speaks to those who are walking in darkness, those who do not practice the truth. Verse 8 and 10 uses the royal ‘we’ to describe those sinners who do not acknowledge their need for a savior.

So, to sinners, yes you need to confess your sins. Once. Once you’ve been saved we do not need additional forgiveness.

But you saints,  don’t throw out confession all together!

We need to agree with God on many fronts, confessing what the Bible says about us is an exercise in faith and it helps us renew our minds. Saints should be confessing things like “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”” (Romans 8:15)

Hebrews 13:15 exhorts us to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge(confess) his name.”
When snared in temptation, or condemnation, or when suffering, this type of confession does us good.

Confession within community is also healthy.
James 5:16 says “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed,”

That healing usually is physical, but can be spiritual.  Sin thrives in the dark. A guilty conscience is like a stomach ache, it’s a signal that something is wrong.  Just as it is wise to address physical symptoms, when guilt builds up and shame enters in, it’s a sign that we should deal with the sin issue in our lives.

Our bodies, spirits and minds are so interconnected that a chemical or hormonal imbalance can affect our moods (i.e. depression) and our minds can affect our bodies (i.e. the placebo affect). Things like bitterness or shame can manifest in our body as sickness.

Confessing sins in safe community brings about multi-faceted healing of our body and mind (our spirit is already a new creation!).

Confession is healthy and good. But to link the forgiveness of a saint’s sinful acts to confession is incorrect.  When we accept salvation (certainly through confession and faith) all our sins, past present and future, are wiped out and forgotten.  To maintain righteousness we do not need to confess. We cannot maintain righteousness, our righteousness is dependent on Jesus alone.

The place confession has in the life of a Christian is that of dealing with sin, not getting forgiveness. It is about bringing our thoughts more in line with what God says about us, that we are righteous, holy, loved, pure and powerful.

The confession of our sins for forgiveness is then a one time deal. After that confession remains a tool for saints in conquering their sin and faulty heart beliefs about their identity.

Do we confess to receive forgiveness? Depends who’s asking.

March 9, 2013

On Ethnic Heritage Churches

Today’s post is from the blog section of Theologyweb. The author’s name is indicated as elysian and it appeared under the title Connected in Community.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NRSV)

Today’s question:
How does remaining connected with Christ, the Head, solidify your fellowship with others in the body, the church?

I have to admit that one of the things that turned me off to being part of a church when I took a hiatus from church involvement several years ago, was the whole socio-political aspect of most churches. I was already playing the status-to-win game professionally, and by the time I got home from work I was tired of people, and weary of office politics. I didn’t want to go to church and end up playing politics there too.

The one organization that should be relatively free of the cut-throat competition and dirty politics that permeates the world is the church. However, the church is made up of sinful people- people who put “me” first, people who don’t hesitate to use others for their own purposes, people who must be “right” at all costs, and people who seek the esteem of others to make themselves look and feel good.

The church where I was confirmed was an example of this. That congregation had once been exclusively a heritage church, which essentially meant you were of German ancestry, your parents belonged to that church and you were baptized in that church. The new pastor who had come to the church when I started going there in high school was trying to evangelize- to invite people to worship, to come to classes, and to participate in the community, but not everyone supported the pastor and his outreach.

The church became divided between the old-school faction who took a dim view of anyone who was not of German ancestry and/or not baptized into that particular church in infancy, against the pastor along with the evangelization faction who welcomed newcomers with open arms.

Since I was one of the newcomers, some of the old-school members weren’t terribly thrilled I was there. Neither of my parents are Lutheran, and most of my ancestors came from either England or Scotland. My English surname didn’t help endear me to the old-schoolers either (though I do have some German ancestry too.)

The battle in that church came down to a sad struggle: keep the community a small, ever-dwindling faction of ethnic Germans, OR open the door to the greater community. I am glad to say that the pastor, and ultimately the community itself, won out. Today it is still a small congregation, but it is comprised of a greater variety of people- people who are ethnic German, people who aren’t German at all, people who came to Christ as adults, and people who grew up in different traditions.

God never meant for the church to be a genealogical preservation society or an exclusive club. He meant the church to be a place for ALL people who are seeking, knocking, asking and striving to follow Christ.

I adhere to a very specific way of interpreting Christian faith. I am a confessional Lutheran. I belong to and participate in a Lutheran church that is a vibrant community that embraces people of all backgrounds and situations. I might not agree with everything my church does, but by and large it is a God-honoring community. The Gospel is proclaimed, the sacraments are given, and the congregation is committed to serving God.

My church is not perfect. I can’t say that I agree 100% with either of our pastors all the time. Just as in any other organization containing sinful humans, we have obnoxious people. I’m one of those obnoxious people. But the grace of God and the love of Christ are central in our church. Slowly I am learning that loving people is more important than being able to agree with them all the time.

The more that I stay focused on Christ, the more I realize I have in common with believers of other traditions. The more I stay focused on Christ and rooted in His word, I realize that I can forgive people who are sinful humans just like I am. I can love people and be gracious toward them even if I don’t particularly like them. I may not agree with all of the other Christian traditions’ doctrines or practices, but I can acknowledge their faithfulness to Christ and join them in loving and serving God. I can embrace other believers not only in my own congregation, but in the greater church as well, because I know that’s what Jesus would do.

I pray that God will keep me aware that there is no such thing as a “lone ranger” Christian, and that I need the greater community to grow in faith and grace.

Blog Flashback:

From two years ago, here’s a post for worship leaders and songwriters on taking a Biblical passage and “making it sing.”  Click here to read.

October 28, 2012

A Biblical Understanding of ‘Place’

Gen 15:7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

Jer 29:7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Over the weekend, I have been immersed in the book The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Zondervan). The book deals with life in monastic community as experienced in 2012. In particular, chapters are titled:

1. Why We Eat Together
2. Why We Make Promises
3. Why It Matters Where We Live
4. Why We Live Together
5. Why We Would Rather Die Than Kill
6. Why We Share Good News

The verses quoted above introduce what turns out to be the longest chapter in the book, a study of place or location which was fundamental to Israel. This is but a very brief excerpt:

For so many of today, church is a place we go to on Sunday, just like work or school or home are the places we go every other day of the week. Where we live often has little to do with where we worship. This makes it difficult for us to see how we’re called to make our whole life true worship in a place.

But incarnation interrupts us. To confess that Jesus took on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood is to see that we are invited to dwell in our places and grow up into “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (Eph. 1:23). As the letter to the church at Ephesus demonstrates so well, the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead is within us to overcome the “principalities and powers” (6:12) of our present age. A culture of hyper-mobility is not greater than God’s plan to redeem the world through Christ’s body, the church. But Ephesians is equally clear that this power is made manifest in the peculiar way of engagement that we learn from Israel and Jesus: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but … against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that … you may be able to stand your ground” (6:12-13).

If we pay attention to the conquest stories of Israel, we learn that God’s people did not gain their promised land through cunning or military might. They left Egypt through the Red Sea because God made a way out of now way. When they came to Jericho, it was God who made the walls come tumbling down. Israel’s greatest hero, David, won his monumental battle against the Philistine giant, Goliath, by refusing the royal armor and trusting God to use the simple slingshot he carried as a shepherd boy. Over and again, God makes clear that Israel isn’t in charge of securing its own place in the world. “The Lord will fight for you,” Moses says; “you need only to be still (Ex. 14:14).

This standing in place is the posture that the New Testament exhorts the church to maintain. Jesus told Peter, the rock upon whom he promised to build his church, that he should put away his sword in the garden of Gethsemane. The violence of this world’s kingdoms would not be the means by which God would establish the peaceable kingdom here on earth. Jesus’ refusal of worldly power is not, however, a passive submission to the status quo. Jesus stands before Pilate, just as the martyrs would stand before authorities after him, neither backing down nor succumbing to the ways of an order that is passing away. “Fight the good fight of the faith,” Paul exhorted his young disciple Timothy (6:12), recalling that Timothy had made the same “good confession” Jesus made while testifying before Pontius Pilate. It was confession made not so much with his mouth as with his feet. In the power of the spirit, he stood his ground.

~Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Awakening of Hope, pp. 101-103

December 24, 2011

The Outrage of the Gospel of Light

At the Saturday morning Christmas Eve service today at North Point, Andy Stanley noted that when you attend an afternoon showing at a movie theater, and then walk out into the day light, the brightness hurts.  It offends the senses.  We tend to think of  “seeing the light” as a good thing; but initially it is an affront to one’s body.

At this classic post from the late Michael Spencer at Internet Monk, he begins with a quotation from Sam Harris — who experiences what Andy Stanley is talking about — and suggests this is a barometer of whether or not we’ve got the gospel right.  If you read it here, be sure to click the “more” tag — grab a coffee or hot chocolate, this is a longer one — otherwise read it at Internet Monk.

There is, in fact, no worldview more reprehensible in its arrogance than that of a religious believer: the creator of the universe takes an interest in me, approves of me, loves me, and will reward me after death; my current beliefs, drawn from scripture, will remain the best statement of the truth until the end of the world; everyone who disagrees with me will spend an eternity in hell. An average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse and there have been some extraordinarily arrogant scientists

Sam Harris, Letters To A Christian Nation

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
(Isaiah 9:2)

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. …And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:9-18)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)


Christians in America have a preference for people like themselves. In this, we’re not unlike most human beings, but that’s exactly the problem. Most 4th graders would be able to give the correct answer to the question “Who is my neighbor As obvious as the answer would be, most of us would still like to be surrounded with people from our tribe, culture, language group, income level and, of course, worldview.

Christians like to participate in the fantasy that ours is a Christian nation in what is becoming a Christian world. Muslims, atheists, occultists and others occupying the planet get the requisite dose of rhetoric saying we love our neighbors who are unlike us, but if we’re honest, especially about our evangelicalism, we’d have to admit a strong bias toward familiar surroundings and familiar people.

Those radically, fundamentally different from ourselves make us uneasy, as if we were somehow under attack from different cultures and beliefs. The sound of the culture war is the sound of Christians- largely- declaring that they are in some way at war with their neighbors. The rumblings of culture expansion and population shifts in Europe and the American southwest brings out a kind of paranoia in some Christians remarkably similar to what one might have heard from white South Africans in the waning days of apartheid.

I am blessed to live in one of the most diverse communities in America, a place where various races, cultures and religions live and work together in the pursuit of education. For those of us who are part of the Christian mission and identity of our school, the command to love our neighbor takes on flesh and blood every day as students from Muslim, Buddhist, Communist and secularist cultures come into our classrooms and lives.

It is not unusual to watch Christians at our school struggle with the feelings this kind of diversity creates. I might find myself surrounded by Koreans speaking their language, and I am assaulted by a temptation toward resentment that they aren’t speaking English. A table of inner-city African-Americans seem too loud and their hip-hop culture seems alien and disrespectful to me. The hostile questions of an atheistic student cross the invisible boundaries I’ve set up; boundaries that demand he not find my worldview oppressive or ridiculous.

These experiences are common enough that our school might lose a staff family each year primarily to the stress and strain of relating to those different from us. The familiar rhetoric of “I thought this was a Christian school” often comes along with that resignation, insisting that a “real” Christian school would, of course, be populated by Christians in agreement on everything from politics to worship music.

Sam Harris’s description of the arrogance of the Christian faith is the kind of bold atheism that rankles many Christians. Despite the Tom Paines of our history, our belief that we live in a Christian culture inclines us to believe that unbelievers should be, at least, humble. If they want to have their little meetings and make the occasional speech, we can handle it. But when they write confident New York Times bestsellers lecturing all of us as if the nation really belongs to the secularists, it makes us mad.

Harris, however, has a better grasp of the Gospel than most Christians. Evangelicals have almost totally lost the outrage that lies at the heart of the Gospel. We believe that everyone ought to believe what we believe because it’s obvious that its the truth. We have big churches, media stars and books explaining everything so persuasively that it shows just how stubborn and hostile unbelievers really are. If they would just listen to our pastor answer all the questions, it would make sense. (more…)

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