Christianity 201

February 27, 2020

Be Perfect As God is Perfect: So, Are You a Perfectionist?

by Clarke Dixon

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (NRSV)

Be perfect, as God is perfect. So, are you a perfectionist, doing everything perfectly all the time? Do you keep the rules perfectly? Is that what Jesus means?

Perfectionism can affect the culture within a workplace, a family, a church family, an organization, or even within one’s own soul. Perfectionism can lead to a culture of excellence, with high standards coming from high expectations. However, perfectionism can also lead to a culture of judgement, a culture of fear, a culture of exclusion. We can be hard on others. We might be hardest on ourselves.

Is that what Jesus is calling us to? To be perfectionists? Let us look again at the words of Jesus in the context in which they are spoken.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV)

In the immediate context, Jesus is telling us to be perfect in love. Nowhere in the Old Testament does it actually say “love your neighbour and hate your enemy,” (verse 43) but some Jewish groups were indeed saying that. In contrast, Jesus tells us to love our enemies (verse 44), and in so doing we will demonstrate a family resemblance to God (verse 45). After all, God provides graciously for all people without distinction (verse 45). The original hearers could reflect on the fact that Roman, or “enemy,” farmers would receive the same amount of sun and rain as the Jewish farmer. Since God loves the enemy, we all should. In the immediate context, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” is not so much “follow all the rules perfectly, keeping a perfect spirituality, while being a perfect person,” as “love like God does.” To quote the Common English Bible translation:

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” Matthew 5:48 (CEB)

In the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is leading us to become the kind of people who reflect the goodness of God, in love, and in everything else. We looked last week at how the scribes and the Pharisees were meticulous in studying and keeping the rules, yet were not the kind of people God was calling them to be. Jesus said that we must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees (5:20). In pointing to a better kind of righteousness, Jesus was pointing out that those who were merely focused on the rules were no different from anyone else, no matter how perfectly they kept them:

46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:47-48 (NRSV)

As we pointed out last week, it is not about the rules, it is about you and me, the kind of people we are becoming in Christ, the kind of people who show a family resemblance with God in love, and in everything else.

In the even larger context of the whole Bible, Jesus is leading us toward a goal that God has brought within reach. God has a goal for us. What is that goal?

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. Romans 8:29 (NRSV emphasis added)

21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him. Colossians 1:21-22 (NRSV emphasis added)

Being just like Jesus, made holy, blameless, and irreproachable before God; these are lofty goals which we could never attain on our own. God makes it possible.

In speaking of the goal of perfection, there are two big theological words that are worth learning: justification & sanctification. To explain them, let me use an illustration. Suppose your driving instructor is the devil himself. You learn terrible driving habits, and indeed you rack up so many speeding and dangerous driving tickets, you cannot afford to pay them. You are to have your day in court, the evidence is overwhelming, you expect to be in jail for the rest of your life. Judgement day comes. The judge sets the fine, and indeed you cannot pay it. You are headed to jail for sure. The judge gets off his judgement seat, comes down to your level, gets out his chequebook and pays the fine on your behalf. That is justification. You are free to drive. There may be an accuser in the gallery shouting about how guilty you are, how strong the evidence is, and why you deserve to be in jail. However, while you could never justify why you belong on the roads, the judge who just paid your fine can. So what is sanctification? You get back into your car to drive off, and there sitting beside you in the passenger seat is your new driving instructor, the Holy Spirit. You begin driving, you become a better driver. You are not instantly a good driver, but you are improving with every mile. That is sanctification.

Bible scholar Michael Wilkins talks of a “restful dissatisfaction.” We rest in the fact of God’s love and what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Christ to enable us to reach the goal of perfection. Yet, we are dissatisfied if we do not experience movement towards that goal in the here and now. We are not concerned with how our lingering imperfections might disqualify us from belonging to God as His children. We are concerned with how our lingering imperfections can have a negative impact on our children, or anyone in relationships with us.

Are you perfect? If that is a question on an entrance exam for eternal life, then the answer can be yes; God offers to make you perfect in Jesus Christ. If that is a question we ask the people in our lives based on their experience of us, then no, we can likely make some improvements.

Are you a perfectionist? If you are the kind of person who loves like God loves, then you will not be. You will walk with imperfect people along a journey, putting up with their imperfections along the way. You may even learn to put up with your own imperfections. If you are a perfectionist, you may be hard on other people. You may be hardest on yourself. Perfectionism is not a part of love. God walks alongside us, not as a perfectionist judging our imperfections, ready to ditch us when we stumble, but as a Heavenly Father Who helps us walk better on our way to a wonderful goal.


Clarke Dixon is a minister with the Canadian Baptists denomination. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

January 16, 2020

Learning From the Master Learner

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus is arguably the greatest teacher that ever taught. His teaching was recognized as profound by those who first heard it:

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28-29 (NRSV)

The teaching of Jesus continues to be revered in our day, by Christians and non-Christians alike. The impact of Jesus’ teaching is undeniable, on both individuals and societies.

Neil Peart was arguably one of the greatest rock drummers ever. The one known as “The Professor” said this on why he took drum lessons despite his already high level of drumming proficiency: “What is a master but a master student?” (Rolling Stone Magazine 2012). Was Jesus, the master teacher, also a master student? While the Bible tends to focus on the teaching of Jesus, there is one passage which speaks to his learning:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:41-47 (NRSV emphasis added)

Before Jesus taught, he learned. There are two things to take note of.

First, Jesus went to the right place and the right people to further his growth and learning. He went to the temple, he sat under those who taught things about God. According to the custom of that time and place, Jesus should have been focused on learning carpentry from Joseph. No doubt most his days were taken up with learning that trade. However, even from a young age, Jesus had a sense of a much deeper calling:

When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Luke 2:48-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

Yes, Jesus would have called Joseph “Dad.” And yes, Jesus would have been learning carpentry from him. However, in being in his “Father’s house,” and in learning things about God, Jesus showed his awareness of being someone special, of being called to something special. Jesus, being the Son of God, was called to do what no one else in history could do; be Lord and Saviour.

Do we know our identity in, and calling from, God? We may immediately think of our vocation or volunteering. We may have matched our passions and gifts with what we do with our time. There is a calling more basic and fundamental than that. We are called to follow Jesus. We are called to be his disciples, a word which simply means ‘student.’ If Jesus, being aware of his calling and identity as the Son of God, went to the Temple, we, as disciples of Jesus, will want to go to Jesus. Perhaps you thought I was going to say we go to church. Yes, that is part of it, but even in church we focus on learning from Jesus.

Second, Jesus engaged in conversation, asking questions and giving answers:

. . . they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:46-47 (NRSV)

There is a theological question we must answer so that we can better understand this Bible passage. Was Jesus, since he was God the Son, and therefore potentially knew everything already, showing off his knowledge? Or, was Jesus actually engaged in learning? While Jesus is fully divine, he is also fully human. Bible passages will sometimes put the focus on one or the other. In this passage, the emphasis is on the humanity of Jesus. Note the verses immediately preceding and following this passage of Scripture:

And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. Luke 2:40 NASB

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke 2:52 NASB

Before Jesus taught, he learned. He asked questions, he dug deeper. He gave answers, giving opportunity for correction. This was how people learned from the rabbis in those days. The teachers were not annoyed with the answers of Jesus, as they would be if he was coming off as a ‘know-it-all,’ rather, they were amazed. Before Jesus taught with great wisdom, he learned with great wisdom.

Are we asking good questions? There is never a dumb question. But there are questions that are are more wise to ask than others. For example, I have often been asked whom Cain married. Since the Bible only told us about Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel up to the point of Cain going off and getting married, whom did he marry? This is not a dumb question. However, a better question, a wise question to ask is: “what is the nature of, and God’s vision for, the Bible?” When we find the answer to that question, the question about Cain goes away. In a nutshell, the Bible is given to teach us what we need to know about ourselves, God, and our relationship with God. It is not given to tell us everything. Are we asking good questions? Are we open to correction? Do we have a teachable spirit? Sometimes this means, not adding to our understanding, but making adjustments to our understanding. Are we learning with wisdom?

Like Jesus, the master learner, we want to be in the right place to grow into our identity and calling. We want to be learning at the feet of Jesus. Like Jesus, we want to be wise learners, asking questions, digging deeper, giving space for correction.

Jesus is not just a great teacher, but being God the Son, Jesus is Lord and Saviour. Jesus is not a self-help guru! Our growing in, and learning from, Jesus is not just about living the good life. It is part and parcel of our salvation. Salvation is not just about going to heaven when we die. It is also about heaven’s influence on us now. Are we learning from the Master Learner?


Clarke Dixon is a musician, motorcycle enthusiast, and pastor in Ontario, Canada. He is the single-most-frequent contributor to C201, with articles appearing most Thursdays.

June 29, 2019

Do “Sunday Christians” Actually Exist?

Six months ago we introduced you to Rebecca LuElla Miller, a freelance writer and editor who has appeared in many different publications. Her site is, A Christian Worldview of Fiction. Click the header below to read at source.

Sunday Christians

Sunday Christians may not be Christians. Only God knows. A couple of the pastors I listen to on the radio when I’m doing dishes or the like, repeatedly challenge their congregation—and by extension, those of us listening to the broadcast—to examine our hearts to see if we are of the faith, because it’s too, too easy to sit Sunday after Sunday in a church service and not actually be saved.

But how is that possible? someone may ask.

One way is to sit under the instruction of false teachers who “tickle our ears.” Of course, no one forces us to choose false teachers. This is something we do because we like it that way: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,” (2 Tim. 4:3)

In other words, these false teachers are giving people what they want to hear, but it’s not the gospel.

Another way people calling themselves Christians may not actually be Christians, is if they see their “religious activity” as their ticket to heaven. In other words, going to church is just one activity on a list that they can check off and add to the “good deeds” side of the ledger. In their mistaken way of thinking, as long as the good outweighs the bad, they can bank on heaven for their future home. It’s sort of like depositing money in your savings account so when it comes time to buy a new house, you have a sufficient down payment.

Sadly, for these folk, salvation doesn’t work that way.

There’s a third category, and of course, there well may be Christians in this group. Only God knows their hearts. These are people who come to church, listen, say they believe, and then go away and live their lives as if they are just like everyone else. In other words, their Christianity does not inform their daily lives—what they say, how they work, what they do on their free time—none of it.

Some actually think this is a good thing. The more they can blend in with society, the better they think it is. They don’t want to look too radical, too focused on “just Christianity.” They want the empirical data to govern their every-day lives and the Bible to govern their spiritual lives—never the twain should meet.

What I don’t see or understand is how this approach fits in with the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He told us that we who would follow Him should take up our crosses daily. We are to die to self, and we are to live for Christ. This approach requires a total reordering of our lives, our priorities, our purposes. Can a person be a Christian without such a renewed approach to life?

Maybe. God only knows. I mean, none of us enters the Christian life as fully formed, mature believers with all the right priorities. We talk about growing in our faith because we do need to develop from little seedlings into more sturdy plants, on our way to fully developed trees that will withstand the storms of life. We simply don’t start there once we acknowledge our need for a Savior and turn to Jesus for our redemption.

The point is, can a person be saved and still look like pretty much everyone else? Maybe. Maybe the Holy Spirit hasn’t convicted them about things others see in their lives. They might think there’s nothing wrong with porn, for example, because the world tells them nothing is wrong with porn. But at some point the Holy Spirit will convict a true believer and they will deal with that sin in their lives.

We all face this sort of roller coaster experience in our Christian lives. We repent and then find ourselves needing to repent all over again. To repent means to turn from, but our turning too often seems like a U-turn. We can’t seem to continue on the path of righteousness that God would have us walk. We want to. We pray to. And we see our baby steps taking us along the way more and more, but not all at once. Never all at once.

So who’s to say that another person is a believer or not?

Of course if they say they’re not, they’ve answered the question for us. If they think they are, but are sitting under false teaching, that’s pretty easy to see they have deluded themselves. Same with those who think doing religious duty is the same as following Christ.

Truly, becoming a Christian requires us to declare who Jesus is, what He’s done, why we need Him.

Who is He? Jesus is God’s Son who died for the world, to pay they penalty for our sins which we have no way of paying for on ourselves. He is Lord—not only in a future sense when every knee will bow to Him, but now, in my heart.

What has He done? He’s stepped in to do what we could not do for ourselves. He’s become the Mediator between God and humanity. He’s made it possible for humans to see God and to know Him and to enter into a relationship with Him.

Why do I need Him? Because I’m a sinner and have no way to reach God on my own. I’m mired in the world system, entangled by my own evil desires. I need Jesus to rescue me from the “dominion of darkness.”

In the end, I don’t want to go my own way any more. But sometimes I do. I wish it weren’t true, but that’s the reality Paul described in Romans 7—“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (v. 19).

So, do Sunday Christians exist or are they all pretend Christians who don’t exhibit a sold-out lifestyle?

I have no doubt that some are saved and some are not. God knows who’s who. My responsibility is to examine my own life, to lay it before God, and ask Him where He wants me to grow in order to become conformed to the image of His Son. I really have no way of doing that for anyone else.

July 6, 2018

On the Days You Can’t Perfectly Fulfill Every Command

While searching something else this week, we came across the writing of whose site is called Feeding on Jesus. As usual, click the title below to read this at source.

When Your Very Best Doesn’t Seem Like Enough

“For the word of God is living and active… (Heb. 4:12, ESV).

Several years ago, Holy Spirit gave me a charge. It was one of those moments when He took a verse from the Bible and made it mine. Out of Isaiah 8:12, He very clearly commanded me, “Do not dread.”

The only problem was, in that particular season of my life, it felt like there was a whole lot to dread. I did my best to live out the directive He had given me, but I was painfully aware of only being partially able to fulfill it.

In retrospect, I have learned something essential from that experience. I now see and understand that His command began immediately to do a deep work in my heart, once He gave it to me. The command itself was and is, power. He had injected power into me by the very act of commanding. As I persevered and held onto His word, it was at work in the core of me. Little by little, day by day, month by month, that rhema from His heart was transforming me into a person free of dread.

Now I have come to understand something critically important: He hadn’t expected me to be able to fulfill His command perfectly when He first delivered it to me. Rather, He was inviting me to begin to engage with it, and with Him… in an ongoing process that was going to make me increasingly fearless, by small and very gradual increments. (I wish I had understood that better at the time! It would have relieved me of a lot of unnecessary pressure.)

How about you? Is there a particular directive in Scriptures that you know Holy Spirit has highlighted for you personally… but you are just not quite there yet? Does it feel discouraging to read those words in the Bible, and feel like you are not adequately living up to them?

The Comforter wants to greatly encourage your heart today. He wants to reassure you that it’s actually His job to get you there. His word is living and active. Once He deposited it into your spirit, it immediately went to work. Even if you can’t yet see all the fruits of the process, be assured that it has begun, and amazing things are going on deep inside of you.

Continue to engage with that word that He gave you. Meditate on it, speak it over yourself as often as you can, chew on it, think about it, and pray about it. It’s working. It really is. With perseverance over time, you will see the mind-blowing finished product wrought by the hand of the Master Artisan! He who began the good work in you will be faithful to bring it to completion!

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4, NIV).

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Can we give ourselves grace to be in process? Are there areas of your life where God has made amazing progress in developing you? Does reflecting on them help provide perspective for whatever He is currently working on?

 

May 3, 2018

Walk with Jesus

by Clarke Dixon

(This is part three in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

One of the best “taglines” I’ve heard for a church is “To Know Jesus, and to make Him known.” So why would we go with something more wordy? Why walk with Jesus rather than simply know Him? There are several reasons:

When we walk, there is in mind a destination, a goal. We are implying that we are going somewhere, we are becoming something. We are on a journey of becoming mature in Christ:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

As a church family, we want to keep our eyes on this amazing destination. We want to keep this goal of becoming mature in mind.

If we are walking, then we have not yet reached our destination! We recognize that have not arrived, but we are making progress. This is an echo of Paul:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.   Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 (NRSV emphasis added)

Walking with Jesus happens one step at a time. This should help keep us from a legalistic style of Christianity which assumes everyone should be equally ready to cross the finish line on the very next step. That is not the kind of church I want to be a member of. We all start at different times, and have different capacities. We are not all going to be at the same level of maturity, though we can have that same goal and do have the same Spirit helping us reach the goal.

It is a walk and not a run. The journey is long, the Christian life is not a sprint. Also, walking is an everyday part of life, rather than a special occasion. If you are a runner, you probably schedule in running. However, walking is something we do everyday very naturally. It might just be walking from the couch to the fridge and back, but it happens. Walking with Jesus is like that, an everyday thing. We might schedule in spiritual training like a runner schedules physical training. We schedule worship and times of devotion. But we don’t schedule in putting another person before ourselves, being patient, being generous, forgiving someone, having compassion, or spontaneously praying for someone.

You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24 (NRSV)

Being clothed with “the new self” is an everyday thing, like walking, and not a scheduled thing, or worse, a good-intentions-to-set-aside-the-time-if-I-ever-get-the-time thing, like running! We want to be a people who walk the walk, everyday.

When we walk there is the possibility of stumbling. Christian celebrities, pastors and artists alike, face the pressure of being pretty-near-perfect. The band DC Talk came up with these lyrics:

What if I stumble, what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble, and what if I fall? (Daniel Joseph / Toby Mckeehan)

The song goes on to speak about God not turning away from from us when we stumble.  But do we turn away from each other? What if a member of our church commits a terrible crime this week? There would be discipline and a statement that the perpetrator’s actions do not represent us. But will we go to that person and ask how we can help him or her take a step toward Jesus? “Walk with Jesus” recognizes the possibility of stumbling. It might be you. Or me.

Why walk with Jesus? Who else?! Who else can be an anchor for our souls? Who else sees us at our absolute worst and yet offers His absolute best? Who else does the evidence lead to? Who else has had such an impact on the world and on individuals? Who else walks with us in our suffering having endured suffering Himself? Who else offers His Holy Spirit?  Who else reconciles sinful people to a holy God?

let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.
This Jesus is
‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.’
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:10-12 (NRSV emphasis added)

When Peter said there is no name given under heaven by which we must be saved, he was not saying that the Christian religion is better religion than any other. He was simply stating a fact; there really is no one else through whom, or no other way by which, we can have a relationship with the Creator. There is no other way for the justice of God and the mercy of God to come together. Only God the Son could endure the consequence of sin so that justice could be served, yet people could be forgiven. Who else would we walk with?

As a church family, we have the privilege, the opportunity, the calling, to walk with Jesus and help others do the same.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (33 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

December 11, 2015

Barriers to Encountering Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
Tags: , , ,

Today we offer something different; and it’s going mean a little less work on my part, but a lot more work on yours! In a graphic search on Thursday, I came across the chart below from the website With the Word. When I clicked through, there were no accompanying notes, just what you see below.

I thought it would make an interesting study to consider some ideas today in visual form. Let me know what you think. Clicking the graphic itself will take you to the page, it’s one of ten inter-related websites.

The writer, Richard Krejcir, did begin by asking one question:

Why do some people grow in their faith and maturity while others not at all?

 

Barriers to encountering Christ

Look over the “chart.” Where are you in this chart? Where do you need to be?

Carefully consider any barriers in your thinking that blocks you from the core truth and reality of life as Jesus Christ as your LORD

February 20, 2015

Building on an Existing Foundation

CEB* Luke 1:1  Many people have already applied themselves to the task of compiling an account of the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used what the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed down to us. Now, after having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, I have also decided to write a carefully ordered account for you, most honorable Theophilus. I want you to have confidence in the soundness of the instruction you have received.

When most people start reading the gospel of Luke, any subsequent discussion usually revolves around two things:

  • the painstaking thoroughness of Luke’s account; his attention to detail; his desire for accuracy
  • speculation as to the identity of Theophilus; who he might have been or if the term is a generic to describe God-seekers everywhere, or perhaps a coincidental combination of this with an actual name (such as we get with Barabbas, a sort of Everyman name.)

For that reason, it’s easy to miss what is taking place in verse four.

so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (NIV)

The Reformation Study Bible points out that the word used for taught here is the word from which we get our “catechism” and Michael Card points out in his commentary on Luke that Theophilus is wanting to know more of the background behind the things he has already been catechized in.

In other words, Theophilus is not sitting on the fence here, he’s crossed the line of faith but wants to go deep. He wants to move from Christianity 101 to Christianity 201. And beyond.

Michael Card writes,

…Theophilus is entrusted with one of the greatest pieces of literature on the planet, all for the purpose of being sure of his original catechism.

~Michael Card, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, page 33

The IVP New Testament Commentary notes that,

There is a geographic flow to the order: Galilee through Samaria to Jerusalem. But above all, the order seems to be redemptive-historical. Luke is concerned to trace the progress of God’s redeeming work in Jesus, especially by highlighting his teaching and the rise of opposition to him. The emphasis on promise-fulfillment also suggests this sort of order. The Gospel is roughly chronological, but not precisely so. More important to Luke is revealing how God worked through Jesus. This is “sacred history” revealing the order of God’s plan. (emphasis added)

Michael Card also notes that in the verse that follows, “ In the time of Herod king of Judea…” the reference to Herod is intended to send chills up the spines of Luke’s readers. In other words, Luke is doing more than just accurately pinpointing years and months, he is painting a picture for his readers as to the mood of the times in the story. This is the contrast between the teachings of Jesus and the opposition that the IVP commentary references.

Matthew Henry writes,

Theophilus was a person of quality, perhaps of noble birth; and so much the more pains should be taken with such when they are young, to teach them the principles of the oracles of God, that they may be fortified against temptations, and furnished for the opportunities, of a high condition in the world… It was intended that he should know the certainty of those things, should understand them more clearly and believe more firmly. There is a certainty in the gospel of Christ, there is that therein which we may build upon; and those who have been well instructed in the things of God when they were young should afterwards give diligence to know the certainty of those things, to know not only what we believe, but why we believe it, that we may be able to give a reason of the hope that is in us.

While we haven’t used the word so far here, we’re clearly talking about apologetics; of being able to say with certainty, “I know who I have believed…”  (II Timothy 1:12)

We know from the first verse that Theophilus commissioned this writing by Luke. He wanted to know more or perhaps with some of the narrative, he simply wanted to hear it again.  While Luke’s introduction assures us of his attempt to get the story right — to be an exemplary journalist — it also speaks to our need as Christ followers to study, review and even immerse ourselves in the story that changed the world.

So, finally, we can never be sure of the identity of the mysterious Theophilus. But that is not, strictly speaking, true either. He is you. He is me. For we have received some initial instruction on Jesus’ life and ministry. We need to know with more certainty the truth of what we have heard.

~Michael Card, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, page 34


* Common English Bible

 

 

February 20, 2014

Reviving The First Love

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Rev 2:4b “…You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!  5a Look how far you have fallen!  (NLT)

Rev 2:4b “…you have left (abandoned) the love that you had at first [you have deserted Me, your first love].”  (AMP)

Matt. 24:12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. (NLT)

Jude 21 [K]eep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (NIV)

Matt 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (NASB)

In the area in which I work, Christian publishing, sales of books have hit a slow patch. It’s easy to blame eBooks, but Christian reading as a whole is down as people devote their time and their spending to supporting screen habits that are, at the end of the day, all about entertainment.

In church life, denominations report baptisms and conversions are down. Baptist (SBC) writer Thom Rainer says, “We are reaching fewer people for the gospel today than we did decades ago when we were a much smaller group.”

Yesterday, I was thinking of the song, Revival by Robin Mark. One of the lyrics says, “Like the preacher preaching when the well is dry.” It’s easy to identify people — both clergy and laity — whose well has run dry. Like hamsters running the wheel in the cage, we get caught up in religious life, but all the activity isn’t taking us anywhere.

I maintain that any point in time all of us in either of the two situations:

  • moving toward the cross
  • moving away from the cross

In your life it may be quantifiable on a yearly basis or a daily basis. The daily may be a microcosm of the annual; or your relationship to God, your hunger and thirst for the things of God may have its ups and downs.

I also need to pause here and talk about that phrase, “the things of God.” What are these things? Some of the things — the latest worship song, involvement in teaching Sunday School, a spirited discussion about creation science — may be spiritually superficial. Here’s a phrase you can Tweet:

To be excited about the things of the Lord, first you have to be excited about the Lord of the things.

God wants us to be in a constant posture of moving toward the cross. Back to the Robin Mark song, here are few of the lyrics:

Every dreamer dreaming in her dead-end job
Every driver driving through the rush hour mob
I feel it in my spirit, feel it in my bones
You’re going to send revival, bring them all back home

I can hear that thunder in the distance
Like a train on the edge of town
I can feel the brooding of Your Spirit
“Lay your burdens down, Lay your burdens down”.

The song is a clarion call to release yourself from the empty, the meaningless, the burdensome things of this world, and await the revival in your heart God wants to send you.

Here’s the video for the song. It’s long — ten minutes — but I pray it speaks to you. God wants to stir revival in your heart, and in mine. This is something we can ask for in prayer knowing that we are asking in God’s will.

January 10, 2014

Eight Principles for Making Disciples

Matthew 28 19 Great Commission Make Disciples

Paul Kroeker is the director of Global Disciples Canada. This article is one in a series that links back and forth between the Global Disciples blog and Christian Week, an online Canadian news magazine. Not all the links were functional on the day this was posted, but the two above should work.

“Have you ever been discipled?” I asked. “I don’t think so,” was his reply. “I grew up in the church, but I don’t remember being discipled in any intentional way.”

My friend’s experience is far too common. Many people who have been raised in a Christian context can point to various programs which were significant to their Christian growth, such as Sunday school, youth group or summer camp. But were they discipled?

Many churches have strong programming, but if you ask about “discipleship,” it may not be on the agenda. Somehow we think discipleship will be accomplished through the collective activity of the Church. In other words, discipleship may be assumed, but does it happen?

I have been reading the gospels with the following question in mind: “How can we learn to make disciples in the way of Jesus?” Here are some of my observations:

Jesus began His ministry after being called, affirmed and anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism. Discipling others needs to come from a deep place of intimacy with the Father.

Prayer is central to making disciples. Persistent prayer for those who do not know the love of Jesus will “rekindle your first love” and moves you to become an active disciple-maker.

Disciples need an invitation. Jesus calls them by name. Later, He explains that each one was “given to him” by the Father (John 17:8ff). It may sound random as He walks down the beach and says, “Come, follow me,” but Jesus knew that each one had been “chosen.”

True disciples responded to the call. They were willing. Some left their nets, others their office. Following Jesus was full-time. There is no such thing as a “part-time disciple.”

Teachable moments happened anywhere: sitting at a banquet, finding a man in a tree, having an argument about being first in line, seeing a herd of pigs rush into the sea, or responding to the needs of people they met. How do you write a curriculum for that?

Disciples were introduced to the power and the presence of the Kingdom of God. It is an invisible Kingdom (for now), but as disciples of Jesus, they saw evidence daily. Evil strongholds were torn down and people were set free.

Discipleship is not a spectator sport. Disciples do stuff. What they saw the Master do, they did. When at the end of His ministry Jesus said, “Go make disciples,” His final words echoed the pattern they had seen throughout their time with Jesus. Learning always led to serving.

Disciples become like their master. Being with Jesus taught them to live like Jesus, love like Jesus and to serve like Jesus. People would refer to them as “little Christs.” Pretty strong evidence that they had been with Jesus.

Is your church doing discipleship? Does this really happen today? Recently I met two young men, Dylan and Matt. They are working with First Nations young adults, learning to make disciples in the way of Jesus. Listen to Dylan’s spoken word piece called “Walk With Me.”

“…you walked with me.
You showed me first hand, what it meant to be free
So I opened my heart and I gave you the key
And for the first time I could finally see
Why someone like Jesus would actually die for me.
You brought your Bible to life, it wasn’t just talk
You see the word “love,” it’s a verb, and so is the word “walk”
So I thank you for putting your love into action,
Because your love is what caused my internal reaction
No, my “eternal reaction”
This crazy attraction…
I finally know what it’s like to be free
Because you took the time to walk with me.”

May 18, 2013

The Root of Sanctification is Internal, Not External Change

Today, something from an awesome blog find that I think we’ll be visiting again!  Dave Dunham is a Baptist pastor in Michigan who writes at Pastor Dave Online. This article is the first of three parts (so far) which are equally beneficial; the links to part two and three are at the bottom.  This was originally titled: The Power of the Gospel for Real Change: Reflections on the Process of Sanctification from Colossians 2:20-3:5 (Part 1)

How do people change? There are a myriad of ideas about what change looks like, and lots of proposed solutions are offered to what ails us. But as a Christian any solution I offer to others, or any that I claim for myself, must be rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the real center of all true, lasting change for humanity. But what does this mean: gospel-centered change? Paul gives us a picture of this kind of change in Colossians 2:20-3:5. By studying this passage we can learn how the gospel applied to our struggles can affect real change.

In the letter to the Colossians Paul is writing to a church beleaguered by false teachers who are promoting a sort of mystical Jewish/Christian amalgamation over and against the gospel.  So Paul urges them to remember the preeminence of Christ, resist the empty philosophies of others, and pursue the example of Jesus. The specific passage we are looking at discusses how to “put on the new self.” It states:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” referring to things that all perish as they are used—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

To understand how this passage instructs us on true, gospel-centered, change let’s break it down.

Paul begins by warning us that self-discipline, in and of itself, is not enough. The Colossians had lists of things not to avoid, regulations and rules that were designed to keep the world at a distance. “Don’t handle,” “don’t taste,” “don’t touch.” They would say. The developed their own form of legalism to make themselves pure. But legalism can never achieve real growth in godliness. Following a list of rules, apart from the gospel of grace, leads naturally either to arrogance or depression.

If you succeed in keeping all the rules you become an arrogant jerk. You’re proud of your accomplishments and you pat yourself on the back. You compare others to your own standard of “godliness” and condemn those who don’t match your level. After all, you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, why wouldn’t you expect everyone else to do the same. But, of course, we can never attain true purity this way.

As the reality of our imperfection manifests itself to us we become depressed. Legalism tends to produce depressed and ashamed Christians who are constantly frustrated and downcast because, after all, no one is perfect and they can’t keep the rules. So we are constantly aware of the slightest failing and sure that God must hate us for it. Rule keeping, and self-restraint alone, are not the pathway to our transformation.

That is not to say that self-discipline is not important. It is very important. And Jesus gives us rules to follow. But self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), not merely something we conjure up of our own will. Self-discipline apart from the gospel and apart from the Spirit of God leads to legalism, not to change.  I like how J. Alasdair Groves summarizes Paul’s point:

Paul’s point is simple: you are not going to overcome your sin by beating yourself into shape and keeping the outside world at arm’s length. Trying harder and being your own drill sergeant has “no value in restraining sensual indulgences.” You’ll feel better for a while if you establish a list of rules, an exercise regimen, and a plan to do more school work so you won’t have much time to be tempted. But it will never be enough. Rules (in and of themselves) simply cannot stop the flesh, and the world (and the devil). Looking to rules or your own effort to change is insufficient and opposed to how God works to redeem us. (“Exposing the Lies of Pornography and Counseling the Men Who Believe Them” in The Journal of Biblical Counseling, 27.1. p. 20)

Paul says that such things have an “appearance of wisdom,” that’s why so many legalists still exist. But ultimately this approach to transformation is “of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” We want real change not merely an exchange of “indulgences.” Legalism tends to help us abandon one sin only to pick up another (like arrogance and pride, or judging others to name two examples). Real change must go deeper than our external behaviors. Real change must get at the heart, and that’s where the gospel takes us.

If you want real change you have to address more than our behaviors. That is why “solutions” that only ever address external behavior don’t affect lasting or real change.  The gospel doesn’t ignore our external behavior, but it treats us as whole people (spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, relational, etc.). Next week we’ll unpack some more of what Paul says about real change to the Colossians, but spend some time this week reflecting on the failure of rule keeping, and ask God to help you address more than just your actions. Pray and ask him to expose your heart, in order that you might find real transformation.

Continue reading other parts of this series:

May 11, 2013

Just Deserts

This is from the popular website Crosswalk.com where it appeared recently under the title Comeuppance: A Study in Stewardship.

Micah 2:1-5 (New International Version)
Man’s Plans and God’s
1 Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. 2 They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance. 3 Therefore, the LORD says: “I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of calamity. 4 In that day men will ridicule you; they will taunt you with this mournful song: ‘We are utterly ruined; my people’s possession is divided up. He takes it from me! He assigns our fields to traitors.’ ” 5 Therefore you will have no one in the assembly of the LORD to divide the land by lot.

God’s plans will override those of the swindlers Micah describes. And that sounds only fair, doesn’t it? In fact, we get a certain sense of satisfaction when we read about the just deserts coming to these terrible individuals. It goes without saying that we can identify with the swindled, or at least that we stand with them in our righteous disgust over the injustice they are experiencing.

Pastor and author Bill Hybels points out in a sermon that each of us is born with closed fingers. He goes on to describe ways in which that grasping response stays with us until finally, in death, we relax our grip. That sounds pretty consistent with Micah’s oppressors. But Hybels is talking about you and me.

When we get to the Gospels, we see Jesus responding to peoples’ greed and oppression in a different manner than the judgment described in Micah 2:1–5. Hybels envisions a scene between Jesus and a certain swindler named Zacchaeus.

Luke 19:1-10 (New International Version)

Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ” 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Zacchaeus was a clutcher… until he had dinner with Jesus…

Here is what I imagine Jesus might have said over dinner: “Hey, Zacchaeus. What your heart yearns for will never be satisfied by that which you are hanging on to so tightly. Your heart was meant to be in deep communion with God and in loving community with other people in the Family of God. You have walked away from that kind of communion and are settling for something far less. You are settling for trying to meet the needs of your heart by clutching stuff.”

I think Jesus might have gone on, “You know what I am going to do for you? In the not too distant future, I am going to open up my hands and they are going to receive steel spikes so that guys like you with hands like yours can be changed. I am going to be so generous to you, Zacchaeus. I am going to take your sin and greed and lack of love and I am going to pay for it on the cross and present salvation to you as a gift.

“And I won’t stop there. I am going to adopt you into my family. I am going to answer your prayers. I am going to give you strength through the storms of life. And I am going to give you heaven on top of all.”

At a certain point in the conversation, I think the enormity of Jesus’ generosity melted Zacchaeus and something changed on the inside. Zacchaeus emerges with his voice trembling with excitement and newfound conviction …

When your heart gets transformed by generous grace, your hands have a way of opening up.

Maybe it isn’t so hard after all to see ourselves on the negative side of justice, at least some of the time. None of us looks forward to comeuppance, but “Come to me, … and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28) sounds inviting.

Think About It

•What weighs most heavily on you?

•Are you ready to let it go?

•Are you willing, like Zacchaeus, to allow your life to be transformed?

Pray About It

Lord, transform my life by your power and presence. Help me to fully realize the extent of Jesus’ gifts to me.


Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and 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. You might even decide to make some of these a daily habit.

December 7, 2012

Jesus Began With Text

Well Marked Bible

The gospels provide us with a number of snapshots of Jesus teaching in what we would consider informal situations. Most are outdoor. In one he is in a boat. His longest recorded sermon takes place on a plateaued section of land that earns it the title of Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) or Sermon on the Plain (Luke). One is in a location so remote that food for the crowd becomes an issue.

But we don’t see anything of Jesus teaching, as we would say it now, “in church.” Except of course for Luke chapter 4.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

Although the Biblical text doesn’t use ellipsis (or I suppose the plural should be ellipses) we get that dramatic moment when he says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled…”  Then we get the oft-quoted line about a prophet not being honored in his own country (or county, or hometown). And then we get a hint in verse 26 and 27 of more of his message that produces the reaction in verse 28.

My point today is simply that in the only “church” sermon we have from Jesus, he began with text.

‘But;’ you are thinking, ‘That’s how they did it back then; that was the order of service so to speak in that synagogue.’

I’ll grant you that one.

But as someone who tries to prepare these daily devotionals drawing on the best of the Christian blogosphere, I am somewhat grieved by the volume of words produced each day that do not begin with any particular reference to Biblical text.

Some days, I spend upwards of 30-minutes scanning online for something that fits the albeit traditional Bible-based format here; without of course resorting to reblogging the same authors week after week; something I believe they would tire of eventually. (In nearly 1,000 posts; only once have we been asked to remove something.)

Instead, I find all manner of articles; many of which I enjoy; many of which inform me; many of which make it into the link list at Thinking Out Loud, but mostly all of which are inappropriate for what we’re trying to accomplish here.

Did nobody read a verse of scripture which impressed them in a new way or perhaps even for the first time? Did no one find that like “a word fitly spoken in the right time” a scripture verse opened up at a key moment in life held both deep personal meaning and broad general application?  It has been said,

Of all the major religions of the world, Christians are the least acquainted with their own sacred writings.

Perhaps we’ve been sufficiently offended by the bibliolatry of fundamentalists, that we’ve marginalized The Good Book somewhat. The general sense you get in the Christian blogosphere is that the traditional examination of scripture is somewhat passé and even a little boring.

I’m not trying to be a dinosaur here. On the ‘exegetical versus topical’ debate, I land clearly in the middle. I love edgy. I love refreshing. I love new forms.

But I clearly believe that most of the things being posted online today simply won’t matter much in five months, let alone five years.

Of course, Jesus had a special anointing on his ministry. Only he could have said the line that literally rocked the house, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

But you and I can do that on a different scale. We can mine the vault that is God’s word, we can examine the various refractions of light in the jewel that is God’s word, we can plot a course on the map and compass that is God’s word; and then we can say to the world, “This was written for you, today.”

For those who aspire to preach, the most powerful and authoritative words in any given church service are these:

“Take your Bible and turn with me to the book of…”


Read more about the transformative power of scripture.

November 10, 2012

Not All Growth is Healthy Growth

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Randy Morgan blogs at Your Best Life Later. I enjoy reading him — and have for years — but he has eluded appearing here as he’s one of a number of bloggers who types everything in lower case. Sigh! I decided today to either reformat every sentence or just run this as is, because there’s a paragraph — the one I’ve set in larger type — that I want you to really think about. (Time will tell which way this appears!) You’re also encouraged to read this at source where it appeared under the title, Pruning is Painful (but in lower case!)

i came home from work tonight to find that my trees had been butchered.

a little back story…

when we moved from our old home, i promised myself that i was done with trees. our last house was surrounded by big, beautiful oak trees. consequently, i fought all summer to get the grass to grow in the shade and i fought leaves the rest of the year.

when we found the house we currently own my wife fell in love with it instantly, and the house hunt ended suddenly. and this lot has more trees than the last one. so every few years i am forced to hire tree trimmers.

i’ve hired the guys with a truck and a chain saw who knocked on my door and offered me a deal i couldn’t resist (and i always regretted it), and i’ve hired arborists who are more interested in making trees healthy than making them look good.

several months ago i took bids from several companies and made arrangements to have my trees trimmed by a well-respected company. i invited them to come whenever they had room in their schedule. they came today.

it literally looks like my trees have been destroyed.

i’ve watched them work. the trimmers climb up into the middle of the tree and first cut out all the dead twigs and branches. then they begin drastically thinning the healthy branches. it looks terrible when they are finished, but the result is a tree that flourishes. what looks damaged today will grow symmetrically and evenly, and produce much more green foliage (that i get to rake in the fall, praise his holy name).

“that’s a delightful story, randy,” you may be thinking, “but is there a point?”

the longer i’m a christian the more i grow, but not all growth is healthy growth. my sinful nature compels me to grow in ways that are comfortable and convenient, but jesus calls me to grow in ways that are difficult and scary.

jesus illustrated this concept by pointing to a vine that bears little fruit.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (john 15:1-2).

like the trimmers who devastated my trees today, the gardener in jesus’ analogy undoubtedly shredded the vine. after pruning, i’m sure the vine looked like it would never again bear a meaningful harvest. but the gardener knows how to care for the vine.

jesus’ prescription for healthy spiritual growth is connection. he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (john 15:5).

but connection is costly. it is not comfortable and it is not convenient. if i am going to remain in jesus, it will require deprivation. other pursuits must be neglected and ignored. connection will most certainly be painful. like pruning.

but i have visited connection in the past and i have found it to be encouraging and refreshing.

and as the seasons change, our pain will result in greater fruitfulness.

~randy morgan

November 6, 2012

Assured of Eternal Life

Today we look at what may at first seem rather elementary material about the basics of salvation, until we move on to testing ourselves on how this evidences itself in our lives. This from Pastor B. J. Rutledge at Grace Fellowship Church and appears on his blog as You Can Know You Have Eternal Life.


[Recently] at Grace we talked about an UNUSUAL PROMISE from God.  At the request of one of our web/tech guys, I’m putting some of the scripture, some added notes and the check list from 1st John in this blog.  Let me start with a couple of added notes…

1.  No one can earn their way into heaven.  We are saved by faith through grace which is the gift of God and is clearly taught throughout the NT.  Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear on this and Eph. 2:10 states that we do good works as a result of this.  Titus 3:5 is clear that none of us can be saved by any works we do; our salvation is based on His mercy as we trust Christ and are born again by the renewing and regenerating that only the Holy Spirit can do in us.

2.  James 2:14-26 says that if my faith is real then “works of that faith” or “good works” will follow.  They don’t save me, but they are evidence of the fact that I am saved.

3.  None of us will live up to the things that John wrote in 1st John as “tests” of salavation 100% of the time; that’s why we need God’s grace.  As I stated Sunday, and have stated many times, the issue of testing your faith is one of direction not perfection.  We all sin.  I still sin.  However, the bent of my heart is now in the direction of the things that John revealed in the book of 1st John.

4.  In 2 Cor. 13:5, Paul was writing to the people who gathered as a part of the church in Corinth and challenged them to TEST themselves and make sure there was actual evidence that their lives had been changed by Jesus Christ.

5.  Paul was clear when sharing his testimony with King Agrippa that people must repent of their sins and turn to God to be saved, and then they should show / prove / give evidence of this change by their lifestyle or the things they do.

6.  John was clear that there are some very clear evidences that will be seen in a person who has “moved from death to life” or who is ”a child of God”.  He lists these things that help people test themselves as to their faith in 1st John.

Here’s some of the information from the message this past Sunday with a few added notes.

THE UNUSUAL PROMISE: You can KNOW you have eternal life.

My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion.  1 John 5:13 Msg

Paul – who wrote much of the New Testament says – if you’re not sure – you should do something about it.   Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it.      2 Cor. 13:5 (Msg)

TEST YOURSELF – IS THIS EVIDENCE  IN YOUR LIFE?

1st   OBEY THE WORD OF GOD   

We can be sure that we know God if we obey his commands. Anyone who says, “I know God,” but does not obey God’s commands is a liar…”1 John 2:3-4a NCV

You may not & probably won’t understand everything in the Bible, but do you have a desire to do what God says and are you striving to obey what you already know from God’s Word?  None of us will be perfect, but if you have no desire for the Word of God or have no desire to obey the Word of God then you need to evaluate your life and see if your faith is real.

2nd   LIVE A CHRIST-LIKE LIFE  

Here is how we know we belong to him.  Those who claim to belong to him must live just as Jesus did.      1 John 2:5b-6  (NIrV)

Jesus lived a perfect life & none of us can live up to that because we’ve all sinned & messed up.     The issue isn’t perfection – the issue is direction.   Is the direction you choose – one that’s moving you closer to becoming like Jesus?  All of us mess up.  In fact, a verse from the book of wisdom that has really helped me and I’ve shared with others for years is Prov. 24:16 which states:  “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again…”   I’m so grateful for the truth of 1 John 1:9 which reminds me when I sin and blow it, I can confess it and God forgives me.

So – Do your attitudes & actions give evidence of someone who is pursuing a Christ-like lifestyle?

3rd  STAY TRUE TO THE FAITH 

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.  1 John 2:19 (NIV)

Believers will look for ways to experience community & do life with other believers.

4th  CHANGED NATURE 

“Those who are born again because of what God has done will not keep on sinning. God’s very nature remains in them…”     1 John 3:9a (NIrV)

Pigs like to wallow in filth because that’s their nature.  If you’re a believer, you’ve been given a new nature and while you’ll still sin – it’s not the habit of your life.  You don’t want to live in willful habitual sin.

5th  LOVE OTHER CHRISTIANS   

10 So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.  14 If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to eternal life…” 1 John 3:10, 14a (NLT)

Love…doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do.  1 Cor. 13:4 CEV

6th  EVIDENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT  

When a person puts their faith & trust in Christ – the Holy Spirit comes to live in them.

How do we know that God lives in us?  We know it because of the Holy Spirit he gave us.  1 John 3:24b (NIrV)

We know an apple tree is an apple tree because of the fruit it produces.  If you’re really a Christian, there will be external evidence: fruit the Holy Spirit produces in you.  I’m not talking about Spirit Gifts here, but fruit.  Someone wrote me a note from Sunday and said “even an apple tree does not bare fruit at all times”.  They were absolutely correct, so let me try to expand the analogy.   Spiritual growth is a journey and we will have growth spurts and times when it seems like not much is happening; but it’s the Holy Spirit that produces fruit in us as we submit to Him.   As Jesus said when He was speaking about a person’s character: “the tree is known by its fruit” (Mt. 12:33).  The bottom line is that a person who has a genuine faith will at some point produce fruit; “the fruit of the Spirit” will be produced in their life at different times as they submit to God.

Gal 5:22-23a NASB  says:  “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…”

7th  HAVE THE SON OF GOD  

This is what God told us: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life, but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.   1 John 5:11-12 (NCV) 

Eternal life is found in Jesus Christ alone.  NOTE:  The thief on the cross never had a chance to do any of the things that John said were tests of salvation other than “have the Son of God.”  That thief put his faith & trust in Christ just prior to his death, and Jesus told him that he would be with Christ in paradise.  A simple accrostic I’ve used for years related to FAITH is:  Forsaking All I Trust Him.  That means I must put my faith in Christ and Him alone for salvation.

Here are a couple of other passages used in the message:

 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.  James 2:19 NLT

Yet some people accepted him and put their faith in him. So he gave them the right to be the children of God.  John 1:12 CEV

People have to die once. After that, God will judge them.  Heb 9:27 (NIrV) 

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.     Heb. 4:13  (NIV)


For a previous article by B. J. Rutledge at C201, click here.

September 18, 2012

Worship Moment: To Be Like You

Amplified – Phil 3:10 [For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope]

Getting this 1984 worship song added to our YouTube channel has been an obsession. (There’s everything there from metal to worship, but all the songs have personal significance.)  The song has an infectious introduction with keyboards by John Andrew Schreiner which draws you into some beautiful worship lyrics sung by Pam Fadness. The song was written by Dan Marks.  Allow it to help you focus on the goal of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, I want to be just like You
I want to do the things You do
And Jesus, I’m sorry that I’ve fallen short
But I won’t give up on the dream I hold

To be like You, that’s my only prayer
To be like You, Jesus won’t you help me
To be like You, I’m down on my knees
‘Cause I want you to know that I’m longing
to be just like you.

There is another version of this song available online for listening or download which credits the song to Pam Fadness and Calvary Chapel Downey at this address: http://worshipsong.com/songs/songdetails/to-be-like-you1/listen

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