Christianity 201

December 7, 2020

Favoritism Forbidden

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , ,

NIV.James.2.1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

I’ve seen it at Christian concerts and apparently it’s become increasingly common in celebrity-driven megachurches: VIP sections for the well-heeled or well-known.

Just as the author of a Christian book might seek the endorsements of Christian authors or pastors to include on the inside page of their latest title, I suppose in some respects having the rich and the famous on the front row might be seen as an endorsement of the church or pastor. It lends credibility to the message.

The problem there is that the message of Jesus is powerful and authoritative. It requires no additional endorsement. Besides, if it contains what my friends in the South call “a heapin’ helpin'” of scripture* then we have this promise:

TPT.Hebrews.4.12 For we have the living Word of God, which is full of energy, and it pierces more sharply than a two-edged sword. It will even penetrate to the very core of our being where soul and spirit, bone and marrow meet! It interprets and reveals the true thoughts and secret motives of our hearts.

Jesus didn’t need the endorsement of key leaders, in fact, he seemed to go out of his way to discourage their future attendance (unless, of course, they took his message to heart.) James continues,

NIV.James.2.5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

But of course, this isn’t a passage about seeking endorsement or credibility, it’s a passage about showing favoritism. The guy with the expensive wardrobe and his like are being given the best seats in the house. Remember, this is before the era of ticketed concerts, or, as we’ve seen in the last decade, ticketed arena events featuring rock star preachers. The people James has in view aren’t getting their front row reclining seats on the basis of a huge donation — it doesn’t say key donors — though perhaps on the basis of a donation hoped for.

It’s a simple case of putting one person above another.

That’s just wrong.


*I don’t actually have friends in the South, and according to a popular search engine, nobody has ever said that phrase before. However, it’s still a good rule in preaching to include more that’s Bible and less that’s you.

October 1, 2020

A Good News Life

by Clarke Dixon

What does the Christian life look like? Should we retreat from a non-Christian majority and keep to ourselves? Should we just fit in, behaving like everyone else, but holding some beliefs in a very private place? Should we go all-in on what we think is a Bible-based lifestyle and call upon the government to get everyone else to believe and live like we do? What does it look like to be a follower of Jesus in our day?

This was a central question for the young Christian communities in New Testament times. Having turned from Roman religions, now how are they to live? Just as they are and do as Romans do? Or should they begin a political revolution calling on society to adopt and enforce Judea-Christian laws?

When we look at the early Christians we find neither of these things happening. What we find are people continuing to live in the world, rubbing shoulders with those they normally would, but who were now living differently. Yes, they were still in the Roman world, but they were now living there as citizens of another world.

Paul speaks to this in his letter to the Christians in Philippi:

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.

Philippians 1:27a (NLT)

Followers of Jesus in the early Church did not separate themselves from society, nor did they try to change society, but they did live differently within society.

Living lives “Worthy of the Good News,” they would be living in such as way that the people they rubbed shoulders with would say “wow, this really is good news.”

We might imagine what a very Roman citizen might say to his neighbour who became a Christian: “You are different. Love seems to be a big thing for you now. You have more concern than ever for the poor. You are quick to forgive people. You Jesus followers refuse to expose your unwanted babies (a practice of leaving unwanted newborns out to die). Your sexuality is different, we don’t see you with the temple prostitutes anymore. Your marriages are different, faithfulness to your spouse is now so important to you. When you gather in community, you don’t make distinctions based on class or, it seems, even gender. You have a confidence that there is only one God and that God is for you and not against you. You say it is good news that Jesus rose from the dead. In many ways it looks like good news!”

When Jesus calmed a storm, the disciples were astounded, asking “who is this man?” The person in the Roman world living a life worthy of the good news, lived a life that caused people to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about? We want to know more.”

Is that happening in our day?

No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we live like hermits, separating ourselves off from everyone who is not a Christian. If no one hears us talking about Jesus, and sees the difference following him makes in our lives, nothing will change in theirs.

No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we just make Christianity a belief system, a set of doctrines we believe, with little to no impact on our lives. Christianity is not a privately held set of thoughts, but a way of life.

No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we make adopting Christianity a nationalist political agenda, if it is all about getting the state to ensure that everyone is living like Christians. People will not ask “Who is this Jesus?”, but they will ask “Who do these Christians think they are?”.

People will ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we are growing in the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. People will ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we are being changed from the inside out.

Now back to the Romans in Philippi:

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents.

Philippians 1:27-28 (NRSV emphasis added)

Though a life worthy of the good news is really a beautiful kind of life, there will always be those who are very much opposed.

We can imagine the opposition in Philippi. The Christians would be seen to be promoting atheism by saying that the gods commonly believed in are not gods at all. The Christians are also no longer taking part in all the regular civic duties. The Christians seem to have forgotten what being a good Roman looks like with regards to both belief, and practice!

There will be those who are opposed to the Christ-focused life today with regards to both belief and practice.

There are those who very strongly promote scientism, the belief that all that is worth knowing can be learned through science. Certainly there is much we can know from science and we are grateful for all the work scientists do. But science is limited in what it can discover. We can expect opposition from those who disagree.

There are those who are opposed to Christian ethics and lifestyle. As an obvious example, many think the emphasis on faithfulness within monogamous marriage is rather old-fashioned. It may be old-fashioned, but it is good! There is something beautiful about the Christian ethic. We can expect opposition from those who disagree.

Let us not be intimidated by those who are opposed to Christianity, those who claim that it is unbelievable and/or ugly. In fact Christianity is both believable and beautiful! I will refer you to a series of earlier blog posts which speak to this, the summary of which, and a kind of “table of contents,” can be found here.

Just as Paul encouraged the Christians in Philippi to find encouragement from Christian community, “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel” we also can find encouragement from Christian community. This includes being part of a church family, but it can also include the encouragement we receive from Christian writers and resources.

When we are a follower of Jesus, do we retreat from society? Do we just fit in with society, and hold our beliefs in a very private place? Do we go all in and try to get everyone else to believe and live like we do?

We center our lives on God, being encouraged by Christian community, learning love from Jesus, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Watch a video version of today’s devotional at their “online worship expression” from September 27th.

June 12, 2020

How Can Your Righteousness Surpass the Pharisees?

NIV.Matt.5v17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses* that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

by Ruth Wilkinson

In order to know how to “exceed,” we need to first know what the benchmark is that we are exceeding. What is the righteousness of the Pharisees?

Pharisaic righteousness was (and is today for observant Jews) rooted in the Law of Moses which lays out the standards of behaviour that God expects from those with whom He has made a covenant. Over several centuries, the Pharisees preserved and promulgated this intricately detailed Law, desiring to bring God’s people through to the day of its fulfillment when the righteous would be raised up in vindication, ending Israel’s exile and oppression.

Devout Pharisees were community leaders, steeped in learning and in the nuance of God’s will. Faithful Jews would have followed their example, and turned to them for teaching.

How should we understand what it means to exceed the righteousness of such people?

One possible interpretation flows from the common translation of ερισσεύω into the English equivalent “to exceed.” For many English speakers, this word appears most often in contexts like “to exceed the speed limit.” In other words, to go beyond: to find new ways in which to be righteous, to out-righteous the Pharisees, to be holier than they.

This may have been what the rich young man in Luke 18:18-24 had in mind. He approached Jesus asking what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life and, in Jesus’ words, “enter the Kingdom of God.” He asked this in spite of his own belief that he had kept the Law, an assertion that Jesus did not refute.

Neither did Jesus challenge the young man’s adherence to such minutiae as tithing on “mint and dill,”1 or his keeping of the “least commandment,” as opposed to the greater statutes the young man cites.

Instead, Jesus takes the conversation in a completely different direction—one not of greater adherence, or of more detail, but of the unknown and starting over.

Jesus isn’t impressed by his crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s and certainly shows no desire to engage that debate or to add new rules to the existing ones.

A second interpretation could arise from the Pharisees’ temporal understanding of what they were doing. The righteousness of Jesus’ followers could be seen as more enduring in time than that of the Pharisees.
Their persistence in keeping the Law had in mind the goal of bringing Israel to the time of fulfillment: the Day of the Lord, when the righteous would no longer have to strive, but “sit encrowned and enjoy the splendor of the Shekinah.” At that point, the Law would no longer be required.

The righteousness that Jesus endorses seems to have more lasting implications. He points us not only toward a “perfection” like His own, but further forward to our being made “a kingdom and priests” who will actively “reign on the Earth” alongside Christ himself (Revelation 5:10).

In addition, we are no longer waiting for that fulfillment, but we’re taking part in it now. At His baptism, Jesus declares that He is “fulfilling all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). By this, He doesn’t just mean that he’s meeting personal requirements, but that He’s standing in the place of Israel, taking on the burden of her broken covenant.

A third point of comparison is that Jesus calls out the Pharisees for being ὑποκριτής (those who pretend) and σκανδαλίζω (causing to stumble) both indirectly (Matthew 5:19) and in no uncertain terms (Matthew 23:13 ff). He accuses them of attending to external details, making good impressions, and hiding their internal falsity: of doing rather than being.

Jesus extends His standards deeper by pointing to the heart as the seat of murder, adultery, truth-telling, and acts of grace or revenge. This echoes back to Amos 5 and Micah 6 where God rejects the religious observances of people who have lying tongues and deceitful hearts.

Jesus’ righteousness isn’t simply behaviour, but it flows outward from a heart that has been made clean and surrendered to God.

The final option for identifying Jesus’ “exceeding righteousness” is that it is Himself.

The Pharisees pursued righteousness through studying and keeping the Law. But in Christ, the Law is fulfilled and made complete. “But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction” (Romans 3:21, 22, HCSB). The Law cannot provide for righteousness, but faith in Christ can and does. He himself is our righteousness when we live following Him. No matter how we try or for how long, we cannot achieve righteousness. In fact, if we could, then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:19-21, HCSB).

The Pharisees took on themselves the responsibility of living lives of righteousness, setting themselves up as arbiters of what was right. Instead, Jesus sets aside nuance and detail and tells us to enter the Kingdom as a child (Mark 10:13-16): as with the rich young man, dependent and trusting.

Although this last interpretation is the one that carries the most weight in light of the whole New Testament, I think it most applicable in context of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount to focus on the third option: Jesus expects us to allow our righteousness to flow out from hearts that are pure. The Sermon, while it contains some inspirational, encouraging passages and some that promise hard times, provides a very practical foundation for a life lived in imitation of Christ: one of an internal, heart-focused view of oneself and how we are to live with and toward each other.


*exceeds (many translations); is more than (AMP); is greater than (CSB, CEB); do it more faithful (Good News); goes beyond (NET); are more right with God (NLV); more pure and full of integrity (TPT); goes deeper (Voice); do it far better (Message).

March 2, 2020

Breaking the Ten Commandments is all Stealing

“You must not steal.” – Exodus 20:15 NLT

“Will a man rob God?…” – Malachi 3:8a NASB

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen. – Romans 1:25 NIV


It’s all theft.

That was the message from a graphic that a friend posted on Facebook earlier today, originating with Bay Community Church in Comox, British Columbia, Canada.

One has to be living under a rock to not realize that the Christian is engaged in spiritual warfare. Still, I think that many “sign up” for the Christian faith without realizing the nature of the family/body/group they are joining themselves to. Consider this:

  • Imagine you are one of the people being sworn in as a new citizen
  • You correctly answer all the questions about George Washington if you’re in the U.S. or Sir John A. MacDonald if you’re in Canada
  • You attend a ceremony where you are officially welcomed as a citizen
  • You’re then told the country is at war and you are needed to serve
  • You’ve been drafted, and you truly didn’t see that coming!

In a way, that’s what happens when someone decides to live their life as a Christ-follower.  When we think of “spiritual warfare” we tend to think that

  • this is something involving angels and demons
  • this is something Pentecostal and Charismatic people talk about
  • this is the stuff of fringe Christian TV channels
  • this references stories of spiritual conflict in places like central Africa or S. America

However, if we go the other extreme, and totally discount the concept of spiritual warfare, we become hard pressed to explain much of what is taking place in our world.

The warfare model proves true.   There are spiritual forces behind a lot of things we take for granted:

Eph 6:12 For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.

But anytime we

  • see the headlines in the newspaper
  • check out the news feeds on social media
  • watch the evening news

we clearly see a conflict of ideologies; where the ideals of Christian people come into conflict with the larger world.  We enter into a situation where up is down, black is white, etc.; and everything else is turned upside down.

So it should be no surprise that the enemy of our souls wants to take the basic Judeo-Christian framework for ethical behaviour — The Ten Commandments — and see us live lives which turn those commands on their head.

I thought it interesting that the same person who posted the above graphic on Facebook had also posted this one just hours earlier, showing how the “voices” both inside and outside us can easily be identified by the type of actions they propel us to.

Truly, the person who doesn’t realize they’ve signed up for a standing army is going to be shocked when the battle comes to their front door and the persecution gets personal.

2Ti 3:12  Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

Unless we hide our personal convictions, or don’t stand up for what we’ve been taught in Church or taught from the Bible, there will come a time when our views will be in conflict with what it seems the larger society believes and practices.

Sometimes the persecution has been subtle, but in North America and Western Europe it is becoming more overt. Our values are being undermined.

It’s all theft.

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…

Next Page »