Christianity 201

June 21, 2019

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Your Daily Devotional Time

Today we’re returning to the website, All About Reflections. The writer of this piece is C. Michelle Bryant, who is a freelance writer and the author of the devotional book “God, are You Listening?”

Rules to Live By

Rules to Live By – It’s so Elementary
Let’s take a trip back in time. For some of you it may be a further journey than others. Return with me to your younger days, when you stepped into your first elementary school classroom. You can probably envision all the desks strategically placed within sight of the teacher’s and can look back on exactly where the hooks were for hanging coats, gloves and so on. As you may also recall, your eyes glanced around the top of the blackboard to the alphabet with handwritten upper and lower case letters drawn beside a picture that started with the appropriate letter like an apple or a ball. You scanned the room with its bright colors and gasped at the joy of discovering all that was contained within these new four walls. Right now your heart is beating erratically from the reminiscent memories of your schooldays, as your mind seems to disconnect from reality, isn’t it?

But don’t stop there. Think even further. Close your eyes. Look off in the corner by the teacher’s desk, near the blackboard. There sits another desk for the one unruly student who simply can’t seem to get it together that day. Perhaps it is the daydreamer or the student who marches to the beat of a different drum. And right beside that small desk — a list. Do you recall the list? That’s right, every classroom has one…the list of classroom rules. Raise your hand. Be polite. Respect each other. Don’t talk when someone else is talking — things like that. As a substitute teacher I personally love to see this list when I walk into a classroom. Its posting serves as a reminder that this particular group of students are held accountable and made aware on a daily of what is expected of them. So, with that said, you can imagine how ecstatic I was when I found my “adult” list of rules for living.

Rules to Live By – Finding My Rules
One day, while doing my daily devotions, I ran across this scripture in a New Century Version Bible. It was so pure and simple it rocked my world in a way that I cannot explain except to take me back to my childhood days in elementary school. It is from Romans 12:9-21:

Your love must be real. Hate what is evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves. Do not be lazy but work hard, serving the Lord with all your heart. Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times. Share with God’s people who need help. Bring strangers in need into your homes. Wish good for those who harm you; wish them well and do not curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and be sad with those who are sad. Live in peace with each other. Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant. Do not think how smart you are. If someone does wrong to you, do not pay him back by doing wrong to him. Try to do what everyone thinks is right. Do your best to live in peace with everyone…If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink….Do not let evil defeat you, but defeat evil by doing good.

Can’t you just see those on posters around a classroom?

1). Hate what is evil!
2). Hold on to what is good!
3). Do not be lazy but work hard!
4). Serve the Lord with all your heart!
5). Be patient when trouble comes!
6). Pray at all times!…

…you get the idea.

This scripture has been that “rules for living” list for me. I’ve printed them out one by one and placed them around my house as a daily reminder of how God wants me to live. They are my mantra for my life. I need them like I need air. I believe we all do.

Rules to Live By – Will you join me?
I hope you read each one over and over again and really chew on its meaning and that they would move you as they have me. Perhaps you feel it is too overwhelming, too much to take in all at once. I challenge you to grab one or two and focus on that for one month. Then do that one and another one for the next month and so on. Imagine what kind of world we would live in if everyone followed these rules on a daily basis. I hope that you will join with me in the quest of not just “making” the world a better place but “leaving” the world a better place.

I think I should warn you though, that should you choose not to join me, I’m perfectly content to sit in the unruly desk all by myself- serving the Lord with all my heart.

May 30, 2019

Compelling Society

How the Christian Vision for Society Points to the Reality of God.

by Clarke Dixon

Are Christians to rebel against governments? Are Christians to submit to governments? Are Christians to take over governments? Does the Christian vision for society lead to a theocracy, where God’s law is the law of the land? Does Christianity promote a beautiful vision for society? If God is real, and Christianity is true, then we should expect beauty and not ugliness. What is the vision?

Are Christians to rebel?

8 So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.
19 But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:18-20 (NLT emphasis added)

26 The captain went with his Temple guards and arrested the apostles, but without violence, for they were afraid the people would stone them. 27 Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. 28 “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”
29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. Acts 5:26-29 (NLT emphasis added)

In the New Testament we find rebellion against the authorities in order to be obedient to God. We can think of the many Christians around the world who disobey the authorities by gathering together as the Church, by telling others about Jesus, sometimes simply by owning a Bible. Let us not just think of the underground Church, let us pray. So yes, we are encouraged to rebel and break the laws when necessary.

Are Christians to submit?

1 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. Romans 13:1-7 (NLT)

Keep in mind that these words are taken from Paul’s letter to Rome, the seat of power in the ancient world. While the Christians in Rome recognized that “Jesus is Lord” meant  therefore that Caesar is not, there was still a call to respect the authorities. There is an impulse to be good citizens of the land, to be good Romans, or Canadians, as well as good Christians.

We therefore find in the New Testament a balance between respect for the authorities, but also disobedience when necessary.

Are Christians to take over the government, to aim for a “Christian Nation,” to establish a theocracy?

Reading through the entire New Testament we find no encouragement to take over the government, to establish a theocracy. Christianity began as a minority movement and therefore a takeover was not even entertained as a possibility. Even so, neither do we find a longing to do so at some point in the future. What we find is a focus on individuals having a life changing encounter with Christ. We find disciples making disciples. We find the recognition that Jesus already reigns without the need for a coup. There is no need to take over the government, for Jesus is already Lord. There is no need to set up a theocracy, for God is already sovereign.

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven:
“The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 11:15 (NLT)

The place of the Christian is not to enforce laws that make the land look like God’s kingdom. The place of the Christian is to live kingdom focused lives while watching and waiting for God to bring His kingdom.

We find something similar in Old Testament. While there was a call for the establishment of a theocracy, known as Israel, there was no impulse for that theocracy to take over the world. Israel was to be salt and light to the world. Christians today are to be salt and light within the world.

We can have influence on society, but we are to be salt and light, not a hammer and gun. We are to carry a cross, not a sword. Helping people know Jesus is the priority of the Christian, not enforcing non-Christian people to live like Christians, especially not our own vision of what a Christian looks like. Our own idea of a “theocracy” might better be termed a “meocracy.” We are not kings over the land but kingdom people in the land, leading kingdom lives, looking forward to the Kingdom to come. We are disciples making disciples.

As lives are changed, society is changed. Christianity has brought good and beautiful changes to society, yet without a vision for totalitarian control. As an interesting example, consider the nations that are best, and worst, to live in if you are gay. According to one source, here are the ten best in ascending order; Argentina, Belgium, Malta, Germany, Iceland, Portugal, Sweden, The Netherlands, Spain, and Canada takes the top spot as the best. From another source, here are the worst in descending order; Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somaliland, Nigeria, Russia, United Arab Emirates, and Mauritania. Notice anything about these two lists? The nations that are considered best have all had Christianity working in the background for a long time, helping to shape the culture, helping to develop a societal vision of love for one’s neighbour. The nations that are considered worst share a history of either Sharia law or communism, Islam or atheism. Rights and freedoms have flourished in lands that have been marinating in Christianity. This speaks positively about Christianity.

To conclude, the New Testament does not promote a vision for society that is to be fought for, that is to be enforced. That could get ugly quite quickly. Unfortunately, being all too human, we Christians have made things get ugly at times. What the New Testament promotes is a vision for how Christians engage with and interact within society, any society. We are to be individuals reaching individuals with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are to be disciples making disciples. We are to do good, to love our neighbours. We are to lead Jesus-centred, Spirit-filled, wisdom seeking lives. We are to be kingdom people living kingdom lives, while watching and waiting for the kingdom to come. We are to be good citizens of whatever land we live in. We are to rebel when necessary. Overall, the Bible promotes a beautiful vision for how Christians engage with and live within society. This is another reason Christianity 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.

January 22, 2019

Saying Nothing: We Condone Sin by Our Silence

Judge not, that you be not judged.”- Matthew 7:1

Judge with righteous judgment.” – John 7:24


The one who gives an answer before he listens–this is foolishness and disgrace for him.
 – Proverbs 18:13 CSB

Seven is the perfect number (or so it is said) and this is our seventh time featuring the writing of Shane Idleman, founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California.  Today’s devotional is from Shane’s personal blog, click the title below to read at source.

Naming Names—Should We Ever Confront Others Publicly?

Whether it’s regarding a worship leader wavering on biblical truth or a pastor speaking error from the pulpit, should others ever speak out? When a podcast addressing a recent concern was released, the amount of positive feedback was very encouraging. However, some are angry when I name names. On the surface, I can understand. As a youth (and even today) I had the tendency to isolate myself to prevent future pain. I became an approval seeker, something you would find hard to believe if you heard my preaching. Angry people scare me, and personal criticism hurts more deeply than it should. So I, of all people, understand the need to build people up instead of pulling them down.

But here is the kicker: We don’t have to pull people down to address important issues. We can also use it as an opportunity to speak the truth in love and redirect them back to God’s Word. When a well-known person wavers on or makes an incorrect public statement about God’s Word that could potentially give millions the wrong idea about God, possibly validating or encouraging sin, those who have been given a platform should pray about tilting the scale back in the direction of truth. New Testament writers would name names from time to time for this very reason.

If a prominent Christian says they aren’t sure if pornography or adultery is wrong today, I’m sure most would agree that we would have a moral obligation to respond. But why must we remain quiet when it comes to the issue of homosexuality? Why are those who are simply clarifying what the Bible says scorned?

When a person, including myself, makes public statements, we open ourselves up for public scrutiny. Freedom of speech comes with social responsibility. We can’t always say whatever we want and hope that others leave us alone. Our words must be weighed carefully. Granted, I have concerns about some “heresy hunters” and modern-day Pharisees who lack love and humility in their blogs. They are proud, unteachable, and eager to dispute. They are doing a lot of damage and should be publicly rebuked. We should err on the side of grace whenever possible. Finding the balance between being bold or passive is difficult—I myself fluctuate—but it can be done if we look at the biblical course and remember that it’s not what we say but how we say it that determines the impact.

Those who strongly believe in the Bible and God’s will regarding sexual behavior also strongly believe in unconditional love and forgiveness. To say that authentic Christians hate or fear those trapped in the homosexual lifestyle demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the Christian faith. To truly “confront in love” simply comes from a desire to honor God and to sincerely love and care for others. The ability to relate to people on their level, show genuine concern, and love them regardless of their lifestyle is the mark of true Christianity (read more here).

Sadly, many churches take the easy route by avoiding confrontation. But saying nothing is saying something: we are condoning sin by our silence. True, we should not rush to judgment; grace, mercy, and forgiveness must be underscored, but we also must speak up now and then. God’s patience with us is a good example to follow. If someone is caught in sin, we should restore that person gently while being careful not to fall into temptation as well (see Galatians 6:1). Here are a few ways:

Examine your heart first. Believe it or not, Jesus actually encourages us to judge others (read more here). Because our sinful tendency is to point out the flaws in others, judgment must begin with us by removing the plank from our own eye. This means we should refrain from eager judgmentalism. Before appearing on Fox News to debate the topic of homosexuality (you can listen to the full audio here and a short clip here), I spent a month praying and fasting. I needed to examine my heart first. As a result, the peace, boldness, and love I felt while at the studio was a true gift from God.

Research the facts. Proverbs 18:13 says that we should not make a decision before hearing both sides. Be patient, and ask God to reveal what’s really going on. Don’t be quick to assume.

Don’t move too quickly. Moving too quickly can hinder our decision-making and damage communication. But on the flip side, moving too slowly has pitfalls as well. Sometimes we must intervene immediately, as in the case of outlandish media statements. But even then, I try to pray for a day or two on whether I should I say anything. Wisdom is needed here.

Lovingly confront the person when possible. This is often not the time for anger but for tears. Lovingly and graciously challenge the person. It may also be appropriate to walk them through relevant Scriptures, reminding them that poor choices have consequences, but there is grace and forgiveness via repentance. However, public figures are rarely able to do this; therefore, our public critique must be tear-stained and seasoned with grace.  It should not be something we want to do but something we need to do.

Offer a solution. Saying “I will walk through this with you” offers great hope if you can talk to the person individually. The man addicted to porn needs to show he is serious by installing accountability software, the wife who left her husband needs to end the affair immediately, and so on. Accountability often starts the process of lasting change. Here are some helpful articles and sermons on addressing sin in the local church.

When confronting, don’t forget about the emotional state of the person, as well as their family, especially if children are involved. Their spiritual well-being and emotional health are just as important as ours. When I write or speak against something, I try to imagine the person or their family reading or hearing it. Am I humble and broken before God? Am I seasoning my words with grace and hope? Am I encouraging them in their walk and reminding them that we all make mistakes—including me? I could write articles daily against things I see or hear, but I try to be very selective. We shouldn’t be eager to critique others. If we are, something is wrong in our own heart, and we need to back off until God deals with us. As a final thought, how can we warn if we won’t confront, correct if we won’t challenge, and contend if we won’t question? We must speak the truth in love if God opens that door.

 

December 1, 2017

Mind Your Own Business

1 Thess. 4:11

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.   (NLT)

and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, (ESV)

and to strive earnestly to live quietly and to attend to your own matters, and to work with your own hands, just as we commanded you,  (Berean Literal Bible*)

We’re back with yet another return visit to Done With Religion by Jim Gordon. If you click the title below and then click the banner at the top of their page, you’ll see that this is a blog written from the perspective of ones who left the institutional church. It’s in some ways a refreshing perspective.

Words Are Important but What About Actions

Do you feel guilty when you do not talk to someone about Christ? Do you feel obligated to speak your mind about a particular sin? Do you feel it is your duty as a Christian to force every conversation into an opportunity to point out sinful behavior or to tell someone about salvation?

If we answer yes to any of these questions, I disagree with all of the above. I agree that some people have the gift of evangelism and should be using that gift to the fullest. I also feel that not all of us need to be forcing the issue with those we come in contact each day and we should not feel guilty for not doing so.

As Christians we are to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and love others as ourselves. When we live our lives each day under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the love of God, the way we act will be a witness to the love of God.

We have always heard that actions speak louder than words. Our actions show what is within us. Words do not always show the real us. Words without the actions are usually pretty meaningless or as the bible calls it, faith without works is dead. This does not mean that faith without our effort or good works are required for salvation. It means that our words and our actions should match up showing the love of God to all people. Because of our faith and love for God, our actions or works will be a natural result of that love.

Anyone can speak words…words of condemnation, words of how we should live for God, words against particular sins, words about Christian living but words themselves have no strength. It is the daily life we live allowing the love of God to show through that makes a difference. How many times have we heard of a pastor saying words against something only to find out the pastor is doing the same thing that is being spoken against?

We need to remember that it is the Holy Spirit that convicts and draws people to the Father. It is not our job to condemn people nor point out what we think is sinful. We do not have to force every conversation into a gospel presentation.

God’s word says that we should live a quiet life, working with our hands and to be ready to give an account of the hope that is within us. Notice we are told to be ready to speak up when asked. Go about your daily routine minding your business, living a peaceful life and be ready at all times to give an answer about salvation and God’s love when someone asks. Only when the Holy Spirit is leading the opportunity will it make an impact on the person anyway.

By living this way and not forcing our views on others, the words we say will have more meaning to those who are wondering about the hope that we have within us. When our actions are consistently showing the love of God, our words will fall in line and have more impact on those we meet throughout the day.


*Sourced at BibleHub.com

January 28, 2017

Loving Your Neighbor in a Global World

In nearly 2,500 posts here at C201, only two or three times have I suspended the usual format in order to respond to current events or topical concerns. This is one of those days.

Over at Thinking Out Loud today, you’ll find an article the purpose of which is to link to Stephen Mattson’s article at the Sojourners website, American Christianity Has Failed. There are also some Tweets there from respected Christian leaders. The article begins,

For the last few years Christians have been singing worship songs that include lyrics like “ keep my eyes above the waves, when oceans rise …” and yet have rejected refugees who’ve seen loved ones die beneath waves, who themselves have literally struggled to keep from drowning in oceans. Those American Christians — particularly white evangelicals — continue to sing the words: “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders …” but fail to realize the shameful irony that they’re largely responsible for refusing shelter and opportunity to some of the world’s most helpless and oppressed people.

What struck me as something appropriate here was the collection of scripture verses with which Stephen ends his article:

…The gospel of Jesus has been traded in for a narrative of fear. But the Bible keeps reminding us to right the course:

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17)

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt. 25:35)

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 19: 33-34)

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Prov. 14:31)

 Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov. 31: 8-9)

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jer. 22:3)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” (Zech. 7:9-10)

…How anyone can see the pictures below and determine not to respond; not to help; is totally beyond comprehension. In a global world we don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘This isn’t our problem.”

In a time before mass communication, before satellites, before the internet, we could be excused for our ignorance. But this is not that world. Images appear in our Facebook and Twitter feeds and beg us to ask the ask the question, “What would Jesus have us do;” or better, “What would Jesus have me do?”

The gospel has not reached us if we simply turn our heads, or click to something else.

face-of-refugee-crisis

 

November 12, 2016

Scales of Justice

Let God weigh me on the scales of justice, for he knows my integrity.
 -Job 31:6 NLT

The LORD demands accurate scales and balances; he sets the standards for fairness.
– Proverbs 16:11 NLT

The website keyway.ca notes that “While the traditional “scale of justice” is usually regarded as a man-made notion, it actually had its origin in the Holy Scriptures.

scales-of-justiceThe idea here is not a general sense of justice (i.e. “do justice, love mercy”) but rather something more measurable; something that can be quantified. As reflected in a large number of translations of Prov. 16:11, the reference weight was placed in a bag and then the thing to be measured was placed in a bag on the other side and the measurement conducted. (Other translations use pouch or sack.) Many translations and commentaries note that the reference weight or standard is His, the various stones comprising it belong to him.

But there’s also a sense here if practicality. In other words, instead of a more abstract sense of justice, there is an everyday application not to be missed. Thus Eugene Peterson’s Message Bible says, “God cares about honesty in the workplace; your business is his business.” It’s easy for us to appear to have the highest ethical standard; to defend certain Christian principles; but to then be basically ripping people off in our businesses, especially if we are the purveyor of goods or services.

Matthew Henry writes, “God takes more exact notice of us than we do of ourselves; let us therefore walk circumspectly. He carefully avoided all sinful means of getting wealth. He dreaded all forbidden profit as much as all forbidden pleasure.” (italics added)

The Pulpit Commentary notes that we are within our rights to spiritualize our various types of transactions we conduct with others, quoting the verse in the Latin Vulgate: “”The weights and the balance are judgments of the Lord;” in other words, God is present in our various marketplace dealings.

Then, a footnote in the Geneva Study Bible takes this even further, “If they are true and just, they are God’s work, and he delights in it, but otherwise if they are false, they are the work of the devil, and to their condemnation that use them.”

It’s interesting to note that in Daniel 5, when “the handwriting on the wall” appears for King Belshazzar, his life of debauchery is expressed not using the adjectives we might use to describe so despicable a person, but using the the language of mathematics.

This is the inscription that was written: mene, mene, tekel, parsin  (:25)

The phrase mene, mene, tekel, upharsin is usually translated numbered, numbered, weighed, divided. I’ve also seen it referenced as number, number, measure, balance. Thus the conclusion, you are weighed in the balances and found wanting.

None of us wish to be found deficient (NASB) before God. We need to see to it in those areas where our integrity is measurable and quantifiable.


various commentaries used today sourced at BibleHub.com

 

 

September 4, 2015

The Price of a Dog

The older translations of Deuteronomy 23:18 contain one prohibition which is easily understood and one which might be a mystery:

Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the Lord thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the Lord thy God.

The NIV clarifies

You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the Lord your God to pay any vow, because the Lord your God detests them both.

which is supported in the explanation by Matthew Henry which follows.

The NLT is even clearer

When you are bringing an offering to fulfill a vow, you must not bring to the house of the Lord your God any offering from the earnings of a prostitute, whether a man or a woman, for both are detestable to the Lord your God.

cats and dogs in the BibleMatthew Henry writes:

The land of Israel must be no shelter for the unclean; no whore, no Sodomite, must be suffered to live among them (Deut. 23:17, 18), neither a whore nor a whoremonger. No houses of uncleanness must be kept either by men or women. Here is,

1. A good reason intimated why there should be no such wickedness tolerated among them: they were Israelites. This seems to have an emphasis laid upon it. For a daughter of Israel to be a whore, or a son of Israel a whoremaster, is to reproach the stock they are come of, the people they belong to, and the God they worship. It is bad in any, but worst in Israelites, a holy nation, 2 Sam. 13:12.

2. A just mark of displeasure put upon this wickedness, that the hire of a whore, that is, the money she gets by her whoring, and the price of a dog, that is, of the Sodomite, pimp, or whoremaster (so I incline to understand it, for such are called dogs, Rev. 22:15), the money he gets by his lewd and villainous practices, no part of it shall be brought into the house of the Lord (as the hire of prostitutes among the Gentiles was into their temples) for any vow. This intimates,

(1.) That God would not accept of any offering at all from such wicked people; they had nothing to bring an offering of but what they got by their wickedness, and therefore their sacrifice could not but be an abomination to the Lord, Prov. 15:8.

(2.) That they should not think, by making and paying vows, and bringing offerings to the Lord, to obtain leave to go on in this sin, as (it should seem) some that followed that trade suggested to themselves, when their offerings were admitted. Prov. 7:14, 15, This day have I paid my vows, therefore came I forth to meet thee. Nothing should be accepted in commutation of penance.

(3.) That we cannot honor God with our substance unless it be honestly and honorably come by. It must not only be considered what we give, but how we got it; God hates robbery for burnt-offerings, and uncleanness too.

Why are we looking at this? I think the principle is that one doesn’t sanctify the revenue received by ill-gotten gain by putting toward an offering or missions pledge. Maybe you cheated someone in a business deal. Perhaps you were paid to do something illegal. Or it may be that the income was derived from something you just know was morally wrong.

Which begs the question, should a church accept the proceeds of lottery winnings that someone wants to donate? Your answer probably is based largely on whether or not you see the lottery as sin, though for many it certainly involves coveting, a sloth-based attitude toward earning, addictive behavior, or a lack of dependence on God to supply our needs.

I covered this topic at Thinking Out Loud briefly here and here, with several comments on the second one. I suspect if you poll enough Christian people on this subject, you would get a variety of answers.

The takeaway today is simply that whatever you might consider “the price of a dog,” it should not be brought to the church as part of a tithe or offering. Such a donation does not absolve an individual of the sin committed, only a contrite heart and a seeking of God’s forgiveness (and a desire not to return to the activity in question)


While preparing today’s devotions, I had a Graham Kendrick playlist running on YouTube. This song was part of that; I wasn’t familiar with it before. Join me in listening to it a couple of times.

July 1, 2015

Praying For Your Children

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
  Psalm 103:13 NIV

praying boy and dogEven if you’re not a parent, you might be a grandparent, Godparent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, teacher, Children’s ministry leader, etc. Or perhaps you can use this as a checklist to see how you measure up yourself! This is a return visit to the blog Into The King’s Garden by Angel Koerner Bohon. Click the title to get the source for this and think of someone who has children in their sphere of influence you can send it to. (The text in each section alludes strongly to scripture passages you will recognize, but if you want to study them further, copy and paste into BibleGateway.com)

Virtues to Pray for Your Children

1. Salvation — “Lord, let salvation spring up within my children, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” (Isa. 45:8; 2 Tim. 2:10)

2. Growth in Grace — “I pray that my children may grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 3:18)

3. Love — “Grant, Lord, that my children may learn to live a life of love, through the Spirit who dwells in them.” (Gal. 5:25; Eph. 5:2)

4. Honesty and Integrity — “May integrity and honesty be their virtue and their protection.” (Ps. 25:21)

5. Self-Control — “Father, help my children not to be like many others around them, but let them be alert and self-controlled in all they do.”
(1 Thess. 5:6)

6. Love for God’s Word — “May my children grow to find Your Word more precious than much pure gold and sweeter than honey from the comb.” (Ps. 19:10)

7. Justice — “God, help my children to love justice as You do and act justly in all they do.” (Ps. 11:7; Mic. 6:8)

8. Mercy — “May my children always be merciful, just as their Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

9. Respect (for self, others, and authority) — “Father, grant that my children may show proper respect to everyone, as Your Word commands.” (1 Pet. 2:17)

10. Biblical Self-Esteem — “Help my children develop a strong self-esteem that is rooted in the realization that they are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:10)

11. Faithfulness — “Let love and faithfulness never leave my children, but bind these twin virtues around their necks and write them on the tablet of their hearts.” (Prov. 3:3)

12. Courage — “May my children always be strong and courageous in their character and in their actions.” (Deut. 31:6)

13. Purity — “Create in them a pure heart, O God, and let that purity of heart be shown in their actions.” (Ps. 51:10)

14. Kindness — “Lord, may my children always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” (1 Thess. 5:15)

15. Generosity — “Grant that my children may be generous and willing to share, and so lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age.” (1 Tim. 6:18-19)

16. Peace-Loving — “Father, let my children make every effort to do what leads to peace.” (Rom. 14:19)

17. Joy — “May my children be filled with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thes. 1:6)

18. Perseverance — “Lord, teach my children perseverance in all they do, and help them especially to run with perseverance the race marked out for them.” (Heb. 12:1)

19. Humility — “God, please cultivate in my children the ability to show true humility toward all.” (Titus 3:2)

20. Compassion — “Lord, please clothe my children with the virtue of compassion.” (Col. 3:12)

21. Responsibility — “Grant that my children may learn responsibility, for each one should carry his own load.” (Gal. 6:5)

22. Contentment — “Father, teach my children the secret of being content in any and every situation, through Him who gives them strength.” (Phil. 4:12-13)

23. Faith — “I pray that faith will find root and grow in my children’s hearts, that by faith they may gain what has been promised to them.” (Luke 17:5-6; Heb. 11:1-40)

24. A Servant’s Heart — “God, please help my children develop servant’s hearts, that they may serve wholeheartedly, as if they were serving the Lord, not men.” (Eph. 6:7)

25. Hope — “May the God of hope grant that my children may overflow with hope and hopefulness by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 15:13)

26. Willingness and Ability to Work — “Teach my children, Lord, to value work and to work at it with all their heart, as working for the Lord and not for men.” (Col. 3:23)

27. Passion for God — “Lord, please instill in my children a soul that ‘followeth hard after thee,’ one that clings passionately to You.” (Ps. 63:8)

28. Self-Discipline — “Father, I pray that my children may acquire a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair.” (Prov. 1:3)

29. Prayerfulness — “Grant, Lord, that my children’s lives may be marked by prayerfulness, that they may learn to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers.” (1 Thess. 5:17)

30. Gratitude — “Help my children to live lives that are always overflowing with thankfulness and always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 5:20; Col. 2:7)

31. A Heart for Missions — “Lord, please help my children to develop a desire to see Your glory declared among the nations, Your marvelous deeds among the peoples.” (Ps. 96:3)

 

January 1, 2015

The People Whose Name You Can’t Speak

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

NIV Footnotes:

  1. Luke 10:27 Deut. 6:5
  2. Luke 10:27 Lev. 19:18
  3. Luke 10:35 A denarius was the usual daily wage of a day laborer (see Matt. 20:2).

Each of us, myself included, carries baggage into a new year. Perhaps family or work events surrounding the holiday season left you upset or angry with relatives or coworkers, or inflamed relationships which were already hurting. That’s the topic of today’s thoughts.

Today we are drawing on the writing of an author who I feel has much to say to us, despite his recent associations and proclivity to controversy. (That in itself is a microcosm of the text he’s writing on.) For that reason, I thought I’d put the credit and link at the very end, though you’re free to scroll down.

The Reason Why People Miss the Point of the Good Samaritan Story

Let’s take a look at a familiar story from the Bible, shall we? How about the story about the Good Samaritan? Because everybody knows that one. It’s about the importance of helping people who are in trouble, right?

You could make it about that. And that might be helpful. But you’d be missing the point of the story. Most people completely miss the point of the story. 

Here’s why: Jesus tells this story (It’s in Luke 10) in response to a question. And the more you understand the question, the more you can see just how brilliant and provocative the story is. 

The question is asked by a lawyer, who wants to know What must I do to inherit eternal life?

A couple of truths about this question this lawyer asks:

First, the lawyer doesn’t want to know. He already has an opinion. That’s what lawyers (which means scripture expert) did in the first century: they had opinions about the scriptures which they spent hours discussing. Or more realistically- debating. This man is not new to the game, he’s one of the elite, a long standing member of the religious establishment. It’s important to note that whatever Jesus says, this man will have something to say in response to it. 

Second, when the lawyer asks about eternal life he’s not asking about life after you die. What happens when you die was not something people in Jesus day talked much about and it wasn’t something Jesus taught about much at all. In the first century world that Jesus inhabited the focus was this life, this time, here and now. Not life after death but life before death. So when you had a chance to interact with a great spiritual teacher or rabbi, that was one of the first questions you would ask them–How do I have the most/best/fullest life right now? 

Eternal life was a phrase people used to describe a quality of life, the kind that comes from living in harmony and peace and connection with God. 

Jesus, of course, responds like a good Jewish rabbi, asking the man what the Torah teaches. Jesus responds this way because in the first century Jewish world that Jesus lived and moved in, the answer to how you have the best, most full and vibrant life was believed to be in the Torah (That’s the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures. Genesis, Exodus, etc…) How does it teach you to live? 

The lawyer isn’t surprised at all by Jesus’ question to his question–

let’s pause here and note that Jesus responds to his question with a question. This, once again, was not at all unusual for his day. Jesus is asked lots of questions in the gospels, and he responds to almost all of them with…a question–

he isn’t surprised because life revolved around the Torah and so Jesus’s answer-that-is-really-a-question is how he would have expected him to respond. The lawyer then quotes Deuteronomy and Leviticus about how loving God and loving your neighbor are the most important things you can do–they’re how you enter in to this particular kind of life that they called eternal life

Jesus then says to him That’s cool.

Well, not exactly. But pretty close. Jesus responds You’ve given the right answer; do this, and you will live.

Which is the end of the exchange, right?
What else is there to talk about?

The lawyer asks a question, Jesus asks him a question about his question, he answers the question about his question, Jesus tells him he got it right. Conversation over. 

Except it isn’t.
(By the way, we aren’t even to the Good Samaritan part yet and you can already smell something is up, can’t you…?)

Another parenthesis, just for good times:

(When people say the Bible is boring, I always know they’re saying that because they haven’t actually read it. Because if you actually read it, and enter into the stories, and the depth and background and context and innuendo and hyperbole, the one thing you will not be is bored…)

But the conversation isn’t over, because the text reads

But wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus And who is my neighbor?

Ohhhhhhhhhh. Interesting…the dude had an agenda all along! It’s a set up. All that question and response and love your neighbor blah blah blah was all a set up! The lawyer has an issue with Jesus, he disagrees with Jesus, and his questioning was to get to the point of conflict. Which has something to do with who your neighbor is. It’s as if he says

Yeah yeah yeah, we can do Torah all day and agree that loving your neighbor is how you get eternal life but we both know that you and I, Jesus, don’t agree on who our neighbor even is…

At which point Jesus then launches into a story about a certain man who was going to Jericho from Jerusalem and was beaten and left by the side of the road. A priest comes along and passes by on the other side-

let’s stop there.
That’s funny.
The road between those two cities was a trail a few feet wide. With a cliff. Jesus is being funny here because there was no other side.

Then a Levite comes along and does the same thing. 

The priest and the Levite are the bad guys, right?

Nope. The man on the side of the road has been beaten, hasn’t he? Which means he’s bloody, correct? And according to the Torah, if you have contact with someone else’s blood you would be considered ceremonially unclean, correct? And if you’re a priest or Levite, to serve your people, to be true to your God, to contribute your part to the community, you can only do that if you remain ceremonially clean, correct? So when they come across the man, they each have a to make a decision

Do I help just this one man and in the process make myself unclean which means I can’t serve for a period of time?

You with me? Any telling of this story that makes them the bad guys misses the point. Which we’re about to arrive at…

Then, a third dude comes along. Let’s pause for a minute and point out that it’s only logical for the third person to be a lawyer who then helps the wounded man. Then Jesus would have made his point to the lawyer about how your neighbor is anyone who is in need that you are passing by. Which is how a lot of people tell this story. 

Which completely misses the point.

It isn’t a lawyer who comes along, it’s a…wait for it…Samaritan. And teachers of law and lawyers hated Samaritans. This is the last character the lawyer would have expected to enter the story. Samaritans were the TalibanPedophilesWhoKickPuppies of the day. This hatred went way back, generations back, and it ran really, really deep. But in this story that Jesus tells, the Samaritan helps the man. 

This story would have been next to impossible for the lawyer to hear. A good Samaritan? In our day when people use the phrase Good Samaritan it is said without disgust or irony or most of all disbelief. It’s not an oxymoron now. It was then. A good Samaritan was impossible. It didn’t exist in their minds. Jesus then finishes this story in which a Samaritan is the hero and asks the lawyer 

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? 

Boom! Do you see how insanely brilliant and clever and subversive Jesus is here? Please tell me you see it-because the whole thing started with the lawyer asking Jesus a loaded question, didn’t it? And so what does Jesus do? He tells a story that appears to ramble way off into the deep weeds, then a shocking character enters the story and ends up the hero, and then Jesus turns the table on the lawyer and asks 

Who was the neighbor?

The answer is The Samaritan, right? Yes, that’s correct.

But how does the lawyer answer?

The one who showed him mercy.

Oh man. The lawyer can’t even say the word Samaritan. That’s how deep his hatred goes. He can’t even say the word. 

Have you ever noticed how people often refer to the person they used to be married to as their ex? How rarely you hear them actually say the person’s name? Names connect us. Names bond us. Names create intimacy. If feels terrible to forget someone’s name, doesn’t it?

But this lawyer, he can’t even answer Jesus’s question by saying the name. He simply replies the one

That’s your neighbor.
That’s who you’re called to love.
That’s where the eternal life is found.
In loving your neighbor, the one you hate, the one you despise, the one you wish didn’t exist, the one who’s name you can’t even say.

Now obviously some people we avoid. Some people we have boundaries with. Some people are so toxic and dangerous and hurtful, some people have done so much damage to us we have to keep our distance. We love them from a distance. That’s all part of being healthy. But even then, we forgive so that the hate and bitterness won’t eat us alive.

Do you see why I began by talking about the point of the story? You can make it about roadside assistance, which is fine, and maybe even helpful, but Jesus is calling us to something way bigger and higher and deeper and transcendent. Jesus is calling the man to love like God loves. Which means everybody. Even those you hate the most. Jesus is challenging the man to extend divine love to those who are the most difficult to love. That’s where it’s at. That’s the answer to the question. That’s where the eternal life is.

~Rob Bell, part 74 in a continuing series, What is the Bible.

April 21, 2014

Should Christian Content Online Be Free?

When I first looked at this topical article, I didn’t think it would fit here at C201, where articles are more devotional and Bible-study oriented. But then I looked at how the author, Daniel Darling handled this, and decided this is exactly the kind of issue people wrestle with online. As always you are directed to read the articles at their original source, where this appeared as No, All Christian Content Shouldn’t Be Free. (Once there, be sure to also click through to read today’s scriptures.)

A few years ago, when I was a pastor, I had a hard time explaining to a rather cranky member why we, as a church, had to pay for a license to use Christian music in our worship services. “They should give it away freely. Why do I have to pay for it? I thought this was ministry. Why they are out to make money?” What made this man’s beef all the more interesting is that I had just concluded, a day earlier, a long conversation with him about what he considered unfair pay at his work. The irony was lost on him, but not me.

But alas, this complaint about Christian content costing money is one I’ve heard in a variety of forms most of my adult life. It goes something like this:

Christian publishers should not be so eager to make money. Why not give their books away free?

Christian musicians should not charge to sing at a Church. Why not sing for the Lord?

Christian conferences should offer all their content online, right away, for free, right now.

Well-known speakers shouldn’t charge so much to speak at someone’s church. They should just come to be a blessing.

So, the question is this: Should all Christian content be free? And to this I say a hearty, “No!”

I understand the desire to get resources into the hands of those who can’t afford them. The impulse to break down financial barriers so  people can hear the gospel and so God’s people can grow is good. I’m thankful for all of the free content, readily available online and elsewhere. But we must understand that good content always has a cost.

For free stuff, somebody, somewhere was kind enough to fund the spread of the good news. Praise God for this kind of generosity. May He raise up more Christian philanthropists in this generation.

But I want to tackle this idea that there should never be charge for Christian content–books, sermons, study guides, music, teaching textbooks. This is not a right argument on many levels.

First, the Bible says that hard work should be rewarded with adequate payment. Paul said to Timothy that “the worker” is worthy of his wages. Christians shouldn’t succumb to greed and materialism. This is a sin and can be a soul-sucking snare (1 Timothy 6:9). But money is offered in Scripture as a reward for hard work. Work was instituted by God at Creation, before the Fall. And the rewards of hard work are woven into the mandate to subdue the earth. To diminish reward is to cheapen, in my view, the value of hard work and to soften the God-glorifying act of creating.

Secondly, Christians should be rewarded for their ministry workWe have this idea that because someone is in “full-time” ministry that they should give their time and effort away for free. But Paul told the Galatians that those “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6). In other words, those who benefit from the teaching ministry of others should support those who teach. How this works out in real life often differs. Some work full time and get their sole paycheck from a Christian organization. Others are “tent-makers” who, like Paul for a season, offer their ministry work in a part-time or free basis. Still, there are many who have some combination of an agreement. But, the principle still stands: there is nothing wrong with someone getting paid for their Christian content (music, books, preaching, etc). In fact, there is everything right.

Third, by depriving Christians of payment for their work, at times, we could be causing them to disobey ScriptureScripture says that a man who doesn’t provide for his family is “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Paul scolded lazy men who refused to provide for their families (2 Corinthians 3:10). Sometimes in our desire to demand free Christian content or when we grow upset at Christian organizations for charging for content or services, we forget that the men and women working in those organizations would like to feed their families, have health insurance, and own homes just as we do. Many serve and work at drastically reduced rates. They consider their vocation a calling, a mission, a chance to serve the body of Christ. But, that doesn’t mean the should work for free. Imagine if you were asked to do your job for free–if you had no paycheck to take home to support your wife and children? Imagine if someone demanded you do your job for free? You wouldn’t do that. You couldn’t do that. And neither should we expect editors, writers, web guys, recording artists, pastors etc give us the best and most edifying Christian content without cost.

Of course there are many caveats to this. There are legitimate and illegitimate ways to make money in the Christian world. There are, sadly, pastors who fleece their flocks and live lavish lifestyles off the backs of poor widows. There are some who claim that financial prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing. This wicked and destructive teaching is anti-gospel. And there are times when Christian organizations make decisions based on revenue streams rather than what is enriching for the body of Christ. That is wrong.

But let’s trust that these are a few examples out of the many faithful believers who serve the body well and deserve to be paid fairly for their labors. Let’s not simply rush to the conspiratorial idea that “That publisher/organization/church/pastor is just out to make money.” You actually don’t know that. It could be they are serving with an earnest desire to bring the good news of the gospel to those who need to hear it.


Daniel Darling works with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC), the same organization as Dr. Russell Moore, who we’ve featured over the years here at C201 and Thinking Out Loud. His blog at DanielDarling.com ranks in the top 100 Christian blog list.

March 8, 2014

Your Writing Talent is On Loan From God

Before we begin today, I also want you to be sure to read an article about the devotional process itself. In it, Erik Raymond suggests we often do what he calls Dental Chair Devotions; a kind of rinse-and-spit process where the goal is to get finished and head out toward doing something else.


Today, I want to continue a thought that was raised in the introduction to yesterday’s piece. A longer version appeared this morning at Thinking Out Loud.

The Bible has a lot to say about the accumulation of wealth and the hoarding of possessions. Probably the classic statement of scripture on the matter is,

NASB Matt. 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal…

or

MSG Matt. 6:19-21 “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Don’t have any treasure whatsoever.’ True, when Jesus sent his disciples out he told them to travel light, advice that extends through all of life:

NLT Matt. 10:9 “Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. 10 Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick.

But in everyday life, the Bibles teaching presuppose you will have a home or a donkey or bread that you may or may not choose to give your neighbor when he comes knocking late at night.

CopyrightThis week it occurred to me that at the time the Bible was written, one thing that we can possess that they didn’t was intellectual property. There was no Copyright Act; no Letters Patent. Did Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph the Carpenter have a special way of doing a table that would cause him great consternation if Murray the Carpenter down the road started copying the same concept? You get the feeling that everything was open source.

The whole premise of Christianity 201, is that we search the internet for sources of daily Bible exposition and discussion. Unlike the Wednesday Link List at Thinking Out Loud, where some people click and some people just read the list, I think it’s important that these devotional meditations get seen in full, and statistics bear out the reality that most people don’t click through.

Most of the bloggers are thrilled that their work is being recognized. C201 doesn’t have quite the readership of Thinking Out Loud, but it possibly represents ten times as much as some of the writers see on their own pages. We get notes of appreciation, and a handful of readers also thank us regularly for putting them onto reading a particular writer.

So this week when, for the second time in about 1,450 posts someone strenuously objected to their material being reproduced in full — don’t look for it, it’s been removed — I started thinking about the whole intellectual property issue in the light of Jesus’ teachings.

I think it’s interesting that in the prior verse of Matthew 10, Jesus makes the often-quoted statement, “Freely you have received, now freely give.”

Personally, there’s nothing on this blog that isn’t up for grabs, provided it’s cited properly and quoted properly and being used non-commercially. Like this article? Help yourself. Yes, I have been paid to write and could thereby consider myself a professional writer; but this is only a blog and it’s vital not to get too caught up in your own sense of self-importance; and I say that in the fragile financial state of someone who currently has no other sources of income, as our business does not pay us a regular salary.

I also thought it was interesting that the person who was so upset about the use of his material on other than his own website was complaining about a particular article that was about 50% scripture quotations. More than 50%, I believe. Oh, the irony. I can just hear Jesus saying, ‘Uh, could you just link to my words in the Bible rather than print them out on your own website?’

… I really think when that writer is a little older, they will look back and see the foolishness of trying to hang on to what really wasn’t theirs to begin with.

Freely received…freely given…help yourselves.

Go Deeper: Some things simply didn’t exist when the Bible was written, such as smoking cigarettes or driving over the speed limit. It’s the same with intellectual property. We have to appeal to the timeless, grand themes of scripture to make behavioral determinations.


Irony: The copyright symbol used today was already in my computer before I worried about such things…

November 15, 2013

Bible Study Isn’t to Win God’s Approval

Bible Study 2

Today, years later, I can still remember the reference, in fact I can still hear the cadence of my Sunday School repeating it slowly in unsion:

“Second Timothy Two Fifteen”

The verse, as we learned it, was “Study to show yourself approved unto God, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”  Actually it was “shew thyself.”

But while Bible study is important, the verse wasn’t translated as accurately as it might have been. Being “approved unto God” isn’t about study, in the more academic sense we think of it. Other versions have:

  • Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him (NRSV, NIV)
  • Work hard so God can say to you, “Well done.” (Living Bible)
  • For yourself, concentrate on winning God’s approval (Phillips)
  • Do your best to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker  (God’s Word, also CEB)
  • Do your best to be the kind of person God will accept  (ERV)
  • Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of (Message)
  • …do everything you can to present yourself to God as a man who is fully genuine (The Voice)

The Voice Bible sets up the broader context:

11 Here’s a statement you can trust:

If we died with Him,
    we will live with Him.
12 If we remain with Him,
    we will reign alongside Him.
If we deny Him,
    we will be denied by Him.
13 If we are unfaithful,
    He remains faithful,
For He is not able to deny Himself.

14 Remind others about these things that I’m telling you. Warn them before God to stop their useless bickering over words. After all, splitting hairs does no good; it only ruins those forced to listen to their meritless arguments. 15 Timothy, do everything you can to present yourself to God as a man who is fully genuine, a worker unashamed of your mission, a guide capable of leading others along the correct path defined by the word of truth. 16 Stay away from ungodly babbling because it will only lead deeper into a godless lifestyle. 17 Once these empty voices start to speak, Timothy, they infect and spread; and soon the body is consumed with its cancer…

In context, winning God’s approval is this passage is about character, and behavior; not about Bible knowledge.

There’s nothing wrong with Bible study. Every Christian should own several Bibles, a Bible Dictionary, a Concordance; or access to similar resources online. I only have to say, “Search the scriptures,” and immediately many of you think of the Bereans, who are commended in Acts 17:11 for their diligence in Bible study.

NIV Acts 17:11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

If you were raised with the two or three translations that use “Study to show yourself approved;” that’s not exactly bad advice. And it won’t throw you off track spiritually. But today we have the benefit of translations that will help us see passages in ways that more accurately reflect their context. In other words, you’ll discover that the section in II Timothy isn’t about studying the Bible if you… well… study the Bible.

We often do translation passage comparisons here, and facilitate that using BibleGateway.com; although I do own a multitude of translations and commentaries in print. Today at Thinking Out Loud we’re doing a feature on the variety of Bible versions available, so I want to invite you to continue reading at Bible Translation Families. I’m hoping it will shed some new light on how the various translations fit into the broader picture.

September 6, 2013

A Theology of Work

Steven and Brooksyne Weber covered this earlier in the week as part of Labor Day, but I felt it was worthy of consideration here as well.  (Apologies to those of you who read both!)

You can find this online at DailyEncouragement.net where it appeared as Enjoying Your Work.

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“There is nothing better for man than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work” (Ecclesiastes 2:24).

Yesterday was “Labor Day” here in the USA, the last holiday of the summer and the unofficial start of the Autumn Season. Most American readers had the day off and are back to work today. We know a good number of our readers who are representative of the entire constituency of Daily Encouragement Net. Just considering the types of work you do reveals a vast variety. We are often asked to consider whether we find our work fulfilling or if we enjoy our work.

So many have a view of work as drudgery, a dreaded necessity. This is not healthy nor is it Biblical. Each day is a day the Lord has made and we are called to rejoice and be glad in it. Ecclesiastes 2:24 speaks of enjoying work so today let us examine four aspects of work that can bring joy:

1) The joy of obedience. God has ordained work into His created order. This ordaining of work predates the fall (original sin) although the difficulty of labor increased as a result of the fall. When we work we are expressing obedience to God. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work” (Exodus 20:9). Psalm 40:8 states, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart.”

2) The joy of providing. This is a critically important attitude. It grieves us greatly to see the rotting fruit of a system where people aren’t expected to work to provide for their own needs and that of their family. Many years ago I encountered a man who had left his wife and children, giving no thought to their future since he expected others to care for them. I still recall sternly using this verse, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). God has ordained that we provide for our own! What joy that brings.

3) The joy of contributing.  “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28). We may initially consider the need to work in the sense of having resources to give to God’s work and those in need, and this is certainly true. However, also consider how that which you make and do is contributing to the needs of others.

We will use some examples we see weekly in our chaplaincy ministry:

  • A company which installs HVAC and another roofing, siding, doors and windows. We need these and they are a blessing. These workers and all who support them have skills to help and bless others.
  • A company which makes precision machined parts for the medical industry. Next time you or someone you love is in the hospital consider the machinist who made a part for a valve. I visited with a Vietnamese worker who had trouble communicating with me. He showed me a very tiny part he was making that goes into a pacemaker. The slightest error and it must be disposed of and the worker must start all over again. (Imagine the extraordinary eye and hand coordination for such a task.)
  • A group of men making live animal traps. Visiting friends in rural Missouri several years ago we heard a glowing story of these traps in action catching 11 armadillos that were destroying a home garden over several weeks.
  • A company that makes displays that go into retail stores. Next time you go to a Lowes, Staples, Walmart and many other stores you will likely see a display made by this company although you probably won’t pay much attention since the goal is selling the product!
  • A huge commercial tree farm that grows and sells trees and shrubs to wholesalers all through the eastern states. We sure appreciate nice landscaping and the blessing of plants.

So today ask yourself, “In what way is my work contributing to the needs of others?”

4) The joy of influence. A healthy outlook for the believer is to see his associations at work as a means of ministry. We regularly visit with a man about our age who trained for ministry. He’s had some disappointing setbacks and is still open to a vocational ministry assignment but in the meantime works with a good attitude and sees his present place as a means of letting his light shine. Consider this verse: “After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them” (Acts 18:1-3). In the text quoted from Acts note the phrase, “and worked with them”. At this point Paul was already an esteemed minister yet he worked as tentmaker for a season. He could have resented this and seen it as a setback but I have a feeling he had some good discipleship talks with Aquila and Priscilla who went on to have a fruitful ministry together.

Let us experience the joy of work, whatever that looks like; today and in every season of our life!

Daily prayer: Father, our ability to work is a blessing. The drive and dedication to be a good worker, rather than one who does as little as possible to draw a paycheck, is pleasing to You and a testimony to others. We are further motivated because You give us a healthy mind, strong bodies and a desire to provide for our own. In addition we are spurred on to help others who are truly in need and joyfully give of our resources to help provide for them. We pray for those seeking employment but have found one door after another closed. Provide for their needs, open doors for employment and grow them in ways they never imagined during this dry season of their lives. We delight in doing Your will; we joyfully contribute to the needs of others; and we seek to positively influence those around us. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

July 14, 2013

Eight Tough Sayings of Jesus

I haven’t seen an article in a long while that has impressed me as much as this one, so it’s being reblogged both here and at Thinking Out Loud today. Do we really take seriously some of the tougher demands Jesus places on us or do we dismiss it thinking, “Oh that’s just Jesus using hyperbole again….”? The author is Eddie Becker and you are encouraged to read this at source, Relevant Magazine, where it appeared under the title, 8 Things I Wish Jesus Had Never Said.

It’s the commandments. It’s His treatment of the ones I deem unlovable in my own mind. It’s the drawn out parables used to teach lessons that cut to the very core of my heart and soul. It’s the not only difficult sayings of Jesus, it’s the ones that frustrate us, that confound us and convict us.

As I struggle through the red letters of my NIV Study Bible, I see numerous statements from Jesus that perplex me. To be blunt, there are several things I wish He had never said. For example:

1. That I’m blessed when I’m persecuted at for my beliefs. (“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Matthew 5:11)

If we can all be truthful, we find some things Jesus said difficult.

Through ridicule and brutal persecution, we are to feel … lonely? Depressed? Angry? Bitter? No, Jesus says we are “blessed.” It’s hard to think of that especially when we hear stories like what happened at the Zirve Publishing House massacre in Turkey. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17 that our “momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory.” In the end, all of these evil things many Christians world wide face will truly be blessings.

2. That I’ve cheated on my wife when I check out an attractive woman. (“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28)

When do you think the moment of adultery occurs? To many men it’s when a spouse has sex with someone outside their marriage. Many women think just an emotional relationship on any level with someone other than a spouse is cheating. Jesus says the tipping point starts when we simply lust after someone who isn’t our spouse. Crushing to the core at the end of the verse is one word: heart. Our lustful affairs don’t stop at our minds. We’re temporarily replacing our spouses with someone else in our hearts. That convicts me greatly.

3. That I can’t love God and money at the same time. (“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24)

I think Jesus brings up money here because if there is one thing that distracts us from full dependence on God, it’s money. How much time do we spend on it? Thinking about it? Worrying about it? Working for it? Spending it? Saving it? Wasting it? Stealing it? After all, as Kanye West says, “having money’s not everything; not having it is.” If we could just make a little more of it, we’d be okay. If I can just use it to buy this and that, I’d be fine. If we save enough this year, Christmas will be great. Maybe we need to start seeing all of our money and possessions as gifts from a gracious Giver, and not just means to survive and the source of our pleasure.

4. Not to worry. (“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear … “ Matthew 6:25)

$300 billion. That’s roughly the amount of money spent annually by employers on work missed and health care costs related to stress. In America, it’s almost uncool to not have some form of stress or worry in your life. Yet Jesus says that if the birds and flowers are okay, how can we have anything to worry over? I feel sometimes He’d understand my stress better if He sat down with me as I pay bills. I’m sure He would ask me why I don’t ask Him more regularly for help in paying those bills.

5. “Why did you doubt?” (“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,’ he said, “Why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:31)

It’s fairly easy to follow Christ’s commands when the balance of the world is swinging in our favor. It’s when the bumps in the road come, the heavy storms, that we seem to waver. Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, so he got out of the boat to go to him. But he got distracted. The wind blew. The lightning flashed. Waves crashed. Cancer struck. Feelings got hurt. Tragedy hit home. Wars started. Pain happened. Yet through it all, Jesus expects us—as He expected Peter—to trust him, even in the midst of impending disaster.

6. To take sin so seriously. (“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” Matthew 18:8)

All I can do is wonder if the things I wish Jesus hadn’t said are really the things He wanted me to hear and do the most.

Jesus doesn’t play with sin. He goes as far as to suggest that any part of our body that causes us to sin needs to be removed. Those are drastic measures. He doesn’t recommend a self-help book or program. He wants total amputation of the things that are causing us to seek pleasure away from Him.

7. To pay my taxes and tithes. (“Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Matthew 22:21)

Be honest: you don’t like paying taxes. You don’t scrape couch cushions at home to gather extra money to donate to the IRS. Why? Because we don’t always feel like the money goes for our own personal wants and needs. We treat our tithes the same way. Jesus commands us to honor our leaders, both civic ones and church ones. In our age of anti-government rage, Jesus shows us we all come under the authority of someone else. We’re to honor that.

8. To love my neighbors the same way I love myself. (“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39)

Jesus has apparently never met some of the neighbors I’ve had over the years. Not just neighbors but people in my community, church and workplace. Many of these people are hard to love in general, let alone to love as much as I love myself. All that should matter to us is God created us all in His image, and He loves everyone He created. We’re not only asked to do the same, we’re commanded to.

If we can all be truthful, we find some things Jesus said difficult. We can debate over the cultural applications of many of the statements He made. We can add to and take away, twist and rearrange the phrases so they fit our own selfish purposes. I’m as guilty as any other at doing these things. Yet all I can do is wonder if the things I wish Jesus hadn’t said are really the things He wanted me to hear and do the most.

Eddie Becker works in sales but has a passion for writing. He is married to a beautiful wife and has two beautiful daughters. Read more at his blog or follow him on Twitter

 

C201 is always looking for both submissions and suggestions for sources of material. Use the submissions page in the margin.

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

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

 

 

July 5, 2013

What is Sin?

This appeared a year ago at Thinking Out Loud, and has not been seen here before…

Let’s begin with an elementary definition. David Peach at the blog Genuine Leather Bible (love that name!) writes:

“Sin is disobedience to God, or not following God’s plan. It is breaking God’s law in some way. Often we define sin as doing something wrong or bad. The only problem with that simplistic definition of sin is that it does not explain who is the one who makes the rules. Many people in the world believe that right and wrong are defined by individual opinions and that there are no absolute rules. However, when we talk about sin, we are talking about God’s definition of right and wrong. A person should understand that their sin is a matter of breaking God’s law, not some man’s opinion.”

Susanna Wesley, the mother of John Wesley once wrote:

“Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself”

Duke Taber writes:

“In our society, and especially in Christian circles, there is probably not one word more emotionally charged with negativity than the word sin. But what does sin really mean? What is the biblical definition of sin? It literally means missing the mark. It is a term in the Greek that comes from an archery term meaning to miss the bulls-eye. In Romans 3:23 the Bible says that ‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ So please allow me to reword it just a bit. ‘All have missed the mark and didn’t get their arrow to hit the perfection of God.’”

West Breedlove writes: “The meat of this prayer came from a John Piper sermon entitled The Greatest Thing in the World . After singing How Great Is Our God, I said:

Indeed God is exceedingly great. And the only reason someone has a low view of God is because they have a low view of sin.

Sin is:

The glory of God not honored.
The holiness of God not reverenced.
The greatness of God not admired.
The power of God not praised.
The truth of God not sought.
The wisdom of God not esteemed.
The beauty of God not treasured.
The goodness of God not savored.
The faithfulness of God not trusted.
The promises of God not relied upon.
The commandments of God not obeyed.
The justice of God not respected.
The wrath of God not feared.
The grace of God not cherished.
The presence of God not prized.
The person of God not loved.

That is sin!

The infinite, all-glorious Creator of the universe, by whom and for whom all things exist (Rom. 11:36) –– disregarded, disbelieved, disobeyed, and dishonored by everybody in the world. That is the ultimate outrage of the universe.*

And that is why we sing “How Great Thou Art!”

That is why the sweet sound of saving grace is surpassingly sweet –- The exceedingly great God has taken our exceedingly sinful sin and placed it on his Son…

This great God has taken the sins of liars, adulterers and the rest of his enemies, and has placed them on his Son; and there poured out his wrath – Jesus becoming sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God!

Lord, help us to marvel at the miracle of your glorious grace poured out on us at Calvary.”

Finally, to challenge us, here is a thought that is better to read in its full context, but I’ll highlight a section here. This is from the blog Diaknos by Frank and Steph Rue.

“Yeah, I had heard the line, ‘Have you ever lied before?’ I raised my hand at those events where someone asked that question. Of course. Everyone’s sinned—even in my emaciated definition. So when I read passages like Romans 3:23: ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…’

Are you getting the point? Do you happen to relate, perhaps?

The problem with this definition of sin is that it’s wrong—completely wrong. Its inadequacy is terrible: calling sin an occasional problem for man is like calling water an occasional ingredient in the ocean.

Jesus Christ said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38 ESV).

I’ve heard this verse before. But what does it mean? If we take it for its clearest reading, we must recognize that we fail to honor a command (the greatest command) of the Lord, for no one has ever loved God with all of his heart, soul and mind for every moment of every day. At some second, every one of us has violated (and will continue to do so!) this command!

Now it doesn’t matter if we don’t lie, don’t steal, or don’t kill—for truly: all have failed to do this one, seemingly simply command—every one of us, all the time.”

Get into this topic in great detail with this post at Christianity 201 a year ago.


(For all you ’80s rockers out there, here’s a link to the song Sin Kills by Andy McCarroll and Moral Support.)

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