Christianity 201

April 7, 2016

Ice Cube or Iceberg?

Today we return to the writing of Andy Elms from the UK ministry Great Big Life. What follows is from a series of emails to which I subscribe, I’ve condensed several days into one here.

Matthew 6:1-2 (NKJV)
Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
So what do I mean by “Are you an Iceberg or an Ice cube?” Both are made of the same basic material – frozen water – but they are two very different experiences. An ice cube floats on the water and if you hit it with something it moves; an iceberg has a tip that sticks out of the water with the majority or major part of it under the waves, unseen. The difference comes when something hits an iceberg – it does not move; in fact, as HMS Titanic found out, what hits it will sink.

icebergSo much of modern Christianity seems to be about what happens in the sight of others (especially worship leading and preaching). It seems that a lot of people want to just do Christianity that is with others and seen by others; everything about their Christian experience is ‘above the waves’. Yet I believe the Bible encourages us to build something stronger and deeper than this. Like the man who built his house upon the rock, we are to build a walk with God and an outworking of our Christianity that has great depth. By this I mean a whole lot happening under the waterline of our life, where man does not see but God does.

It’s when we take time to develop what we have with God ‘under the waves’ of what others can see or hear that we build a faith walk that is strong and unmovable, so when an enemy ship or random life attack comes against us we do not sink or float off, rather we cause that which came against us to sink while we remain strong and unshaken.

[The above text] touches this concept when it talks about how we are to give: it instructs us to have an ‘under the water, unseen by man’ reality to how we give. When we know in our hearts that man may not ever know what we have done and we may never get their applause, but God does see and know, we can know we will get His reward; and don’t tell me for a minute that His reward won’t be far superior than that which man gives.

Matthew 6:5-6 (NKJV)
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

…God is interested in building the parts of you that are not seen by others, things like your character and integrity, because He knows as you daily grow in who you are, in the unseen, who you are ‘above the waves’ will naturally grow and strengthen too.

In the next part of Jesus’ teaching He looks at prayer, and the whole thought of ‘iceberg or ice cube’ continues to be very relevant. When it comes to prayer, is there a part of your prayer life that is never heard or witnessed by others, reserved just for the audience of One? With so much of today’s performance-driven Christianity we have become great at praying eloquent prayers when others are around, but God is interested in what is happening when it is just you and Him.

[The above text] instructs us concerning our personal prayer walk with God – that we are to all have a prayer place that we go to where no other person can hear what we are saying or see what we are doing. Like the ‘below the waters’ part of an iceberg, this place of personal prayer should be the largest part of what we have going on in the area of our prayer and communication with God. If it isn’t we can easily become ‘professional prayers’ who pray to be heard and given applause and appreciation by man. The problem is that those who pray to be heard by others have received all of the reward they are going to get. Those, however, who pray not to be heard by man are told that God Himself gives the reward for what they have done that no one else saw.

I hope this encourages you today to grow a prayer life ‘beneath the waves’ of what man observes, to have a secret place where it comes to communicating with God, to build a depth in prayer knowing that where there is depth “deep can call out to deep” (Psalm 47:2), and Father God wants to talk to you deeply.

Matthew 6:16-18 (NKJV)
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

…Here Jesus uses the same principle but this time picks on the subject of fasting. He says when we fast, we are to do it in such a way as to not let others know. Don’t do it in an ‘above the waves’ fashion, rather do it in such a way that none watching you would even know.

I am sure like me you have met people who are fasting and they just can’t help themselves, they just have to let you know. They whisper quietly, “I am fasting, don’t tell anyone”, or they actually don’t need to say anything, the facial expressions say it all! The reality is, the minute they let you know they should probably give up because the power of fasting, according to today’s text, is in others not knowing. Don’t get me wrong, when others find out that’s fine; its when you do it for others to know you are doing it that you have problems, and all you are doing is just starving yourself.

Jesus teaches us to wash our face, put the make up on, put gel in our hair, and walk around in such a way that only God, who sees what happens under the waterline of your life, can see what you are doing and why you are doing it. When fasting is done to be seen by the audience of only One – like giving and prayer – He then takes the responsibility to reward you openly. The person who fasts to been seen by others better enjoy the applause they get, because that’s all they’re getting.

Let me challenge you to continue to grow the part of you that is ‘beneath the waterline of your life’, knowing that this is the part He rewards and this is the part that makes you strong and unsinkable. Let me say again, when shallow Christians who have no depth have a collision with life’s various problems and situations they simply float away. But people with depth don’t float away, they remain standing strong, weathering every storm that comes along. Grow and invest in the person you are beneath the waves!

June 24, 2012

Who You Look Down On, Who You Look Up To

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.   ~Romans 12:3b NIV

At 6’0″ I usually find myself in conversation with people not as tall as myself, but in the last few months I’ve noticed that I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable carrying on conversations with people taller than myself, probably because it happens so seldom.  Yesterday we ran into Tim, the son of one of my mother’s best friends, and I again found myself registering the fact I had to keep looking up to make eye contact.

I can see how people like myself who are tall of stature might get confused and think that they are somehow ‘taller’ intellectually or emotionally; and there is always the danger of thinking oneself to be ‘taller’ spiritually. Of course, we all know our inward shortcomings and weaknesses, but when we’re out and about with members of the wider faith family, it’s easy to posture. In the key verse today, Paul says we should use ‘sober judgment’ of ourselves.

Another application of this principle is that we look up to God, who scripture tells us looks down on us. This is repeated in various passages; it’s important to remember who is where! One prayer pattern that I learned years ago contains the phrase, “You’re God and I’m not;” or “You’re God and we’re not.” When we come to Him in prayer, we need to remember who is ‘taller.’

Here’s a similar application of how we deal with our own estimation of ourselves from Luke 14.  Jesus is teaching…

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  ~NLT

A month ago we attended a family funeral. My wife’s uncle passed away and we didn’t realize that some seats were being held for nieces and nephews, so we took a seat toward the back. Her cousin saw us and immediately told us that special seats were reserved for us, and invited us to “come up higher” in the seating plan. We appreciated this, but I couldn’t help but think of this passage as we were walking to the front, and also of the potential embarrassment that could occur if the situation were reversed.

The brand of Christ-following that is portrayed on television is centered on people with very strong personalities and — dare I say it? — very large egos. I think some of this is given away by the very fact these people want to be on television, though I don’t preclude the use of media to share the gospel.  But you and I, the average disciple, should be marked by humility; the type of humility that takes a back seat in a culture that wants to proclaim, “We’re number one.”

We serve the King of Kings. We have the hottest news on the rack. We are seated with Christ in heavenly places. But we approach this in a humble spirit, with gratitude that God chose to reach down and rescue us from our fallen state.

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. ~ James 4:10 NKJV

How tall do you feel?

~Paul Wilkinson

Classic Worship Song: Humble Thyself in the Sight of the Lord

February 4, 2012

What’s in a Name? Saul Becomes Paul

Thanks to those of you who recommend blogs or specific posts.  If I don’t use your suggestion, feel free to re-submit the idea. 

Today we introduce the writing of Darrell Creswell, where today’s post appeared as Why Did Saul Change His Name to Paul?

By divine sovereignty the Lord intervenes in Saul’s life and he is genuinely converted during an encounter with the Lord Jesus. Under the ministry of Ananias he is also healed and filled with the Holy Ghost. Saul immediately began preaching Christ in the synagogues of Damascus. It is uncertain when Saul’s name was changed to Paul. The first reference in the sacred record to this name change was while Paul was ministering on the Isle of Cyprus during his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-9).

  • Acts 7:58 – Saul is introduced in the New Testament giving approval to Stephen’s death
  • Acts 8 – Saul continues persecuting the church
  • Acts 9 – Saul travels to Damascus and is converted by Jesus in the process
  • Acts 9:19 – Saul (no name change yet) begins preaching Christ in Damascus
  • Acts 13:1-3 – Saul and Barnabas (still no name change) are set apart by the Holy Spirit for missionary service
  • Acts 13:4 – Saul and Barnabas set sail for Cyprus
  • Acts 13:9 – Saul or Paul name “change” takes place
  • Acts 13-28 – Saul goes by the name Paul for the remainder of the book and the remainder of the New Testament

The Bible does not tell us how or when Saul’s name was changed to Paul. In the book of Acts, Luke simply identifies Saul as the one who is also called Paul.

Acts 13:9 “Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him.”

So why the change from Saul to Paul?

There are two possibilities.

The first is found in the first book of Timothy when the Lord informs Saul that he would become an apostle to the Gentiles.

1 Timothy 2:7 “For which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle. I am speaking the truth in Christ, a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”

One reason that Paul may have converted his Jewish Saul to the Gentile equivalent Paul is so that non-Jews would accept him more easily. Jews were intensely hated throughout the Roman Empire and very few Gentiles wanted to listen to or be around Jews.

The second possibility and the topic of this piece may be that his new identity reflected a new life in Christ Jesus. After his conversion on the road he was a new man with a new heart. The old man Saul with his persecution of Christians was a thing of the past. I personally believe that Paul knew that this new man with a new heart required a new name.

The name Paul is a fully Romanized name that means “small”, with no Jewish roots attached to it.

Did God change Saul’s name? If He did, the Bible doesn’t say so, and if it wasn’t done by God, then Paul must have done it.

Paul referred to himself as the “least of the Apostles”, a pun on the meaning of “Paul” meaning small in Greek.

It is no small wonder that it was most probably Paul that introduced the word  tapeinophrosune into first century literature. The word was first introduced in Ephesians in about 61 AD. Ephesians 4:2 with all humility (tapeinophrosune) and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.

In Greek pre-Christian writers, the word tapeinos is with a just a few exceptions used by Plato and Platonic writers, in a bad or inferior sense–meaning something evil or unworthy. In secular Greek literature, the adjective (Greek) “humble”, or “lowly” was used always in a derogatory and negative way, most commonly of a slave, bum or a vagrant. It described what was considered unfit, unclean and having little or no value.

If I were to say to you in the year 20AD, “Hi Buddy, your wife sure is humble”. You would go ahead and punch me out. That is how bad the word humble was. But just as Christ came to change the world, He came to change the word tapeinos to tapeinophrosune and give it a new meaning changing the negative definition to a positive and eternal meaning. Jesus’ death on the Cross and the sharing of that message gave us the meaning of the word we now know as humility, now that’s powerful. Paul understood that as the Holy Spirit directed him to write God’s word. And humility as a believer goes even a step farther than the secular world.

It is Paul who first penned the word as found in the New Testament as a  noun that is translated “humility” (Col 2:18, 23); in several other places in the New Testament it is also translated “lowliness” and “lowliness of mind”.

Neither the Romans nor the Greeks had a word for “humility”. The very concept of humility was so foreign to their way of thinking that they had no term to describe it. During the first several centuries of Christianity, pagan writers borrowed the term (tapeinophrosune) humility from the writings of the Paul  in the New Testament. The pagan writers always used it derogatorily—mostly in reference to Christians—because to them humility was a pitiful weakness. Thus, it is not surprising that the word “humility”, has not been found in any Greek literature outside the Bible before the 2nd century.

The word humility (tapeinophrosune) in the New Testament always has a positive connotation. Humility of mind and spirit is the opposite of pride, pride being the sin that has always separated men from God. Christ through the power of His Blood has transformed the word humble from that of shame in the eyes of man, to that of humility (tapeinophrosune) which carries glory, strength and honor, and is exalted in the eyes of our Lord.

The prominence that humility has gained in Christian scripture indicates the power of this concept in our relationship to God, ourselves and to our fellow man. Jesus not only strongly impressed His disciples with the need of humility, but was in Himself its supreme example. He described Himself as “meek and lowly (tapeinos) in heart” (Matt 11:29) “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted”.

Philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility (tapeinophrosune) consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Here Paul gives us the Scriptural “antidote” for pride, selfish ambition and the pursuit of our own egos and glory. We are to view others as being above and better than ourselves, and to hold ourselves as lower than them, which is exactly the opposite of what our flesh desires to do. The word indicates the esteeming one’s self as small or recognizing one’s insufficiency but at the same time recognizing the powerful sufficiency of God! This the power of the word tapeinophrosune (humility), transformed by the Blood of Christ.

It is not a weakness when we surrender, but in strength when we reject our own wants and desires and look after the needs of others.” It is good to show humility to the world as we follow Christ and humble ourselves that our “labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1Cor 15:58).

This is perhaps Scripture’s clearest portrait of the humility called for in the Gospel. It is not a weak man’s surrender, but a strong man’s rejection of selfishness and determination to be actively concerned with the needs and interests of others. In Christ there are no empty, meaningless lives, only strong eternal lives through humility.

Humility is the understanding of our own insignificance, in light of His significance. I think that what Paul is trying to teach us here in understanding humility is

Colossians 3:12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience

The word humility here refers to the saints, to see themselves as sinners saved by God’s grace, to esteem others better than themselves; in ascribing all they have, and are, to Christ; in doing works of mercy and righteousness without ostentation, or boasting of them, or depending on them; owing all to Christ Jesus in humility.

So it is fitting that Saul whose name was changed to Paul after his conversion would refer to himself as the least of the apostles and coin the noun tapeinophrosune (humility) for all of recorded history from the time of Christ to see. The word for humility used by Paul is but a reflection of how he saw himself in Christ Jesus -– Small and Humble. A wonderful legacy in Christ Jesus to leave for us all to see and read.

~Darrell Creswell

August 6, 2011

Spiritual Formation

Sometimes when I’m tagging the articles here before posting I’ll use “spiritual formation” as one of the tags.  Some people love this little phrase, for others it grates for some reason.  Jeff Jones blogged this article a few weeks ago which reminds us that spiritually, we are all A Work In Progress.

“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12:3, NKJV

Don’t you just love working with people? We’re all so different and on top of that we’re all works in progress. I put myself in that category as well…a work in progress…so as I share this with you today, I pray that it doesn’t come across judgmental or critical, but that it will actually help of few of us.

I’ve come across several situations in my work as a pastor in dealing with some people who can best be described as “thinking of themselves more highly than they ought to think.” Now don’t get me wrong, they are good people, but they are just not seeing themselves the way they should. I’ve tried to put my finger on it and I think it can best be described as the “teenager syndrome.” Do you remember those years, when you thought you really knew the score on life? The years when you thought mom and dad were just so out of touch with life, were complete idiots and totally clueless, if only your parents could be as smart as you? But then it happened – you grew up – and somehow they got smarter.

Did you know that if we’re not careful the same thing could happen to us spiritually? According to 1 Corinthians 8:1 (NKJV) when we gain a little knowledge it can sometimes puff us up. Ever seen a blowfish? They are the fish that puff themselves up so it looks like they are much bigger than they really are. Well, sometimes we can do the same thing and think that we’re bigger, smarter, or even more spiritually mature than we really are. The danger is that we stop listening to the very people that God has placed in our lives to teach us, and help guide us through life.

It’s unfortunate, but as a pastor I’ve seen this very thing shipwreck people’s faith. Imagine what would happen if you made a decision at home that your teenager didn’t like, if there was a conflict or they didn’t get to do what they wanted, and their response was, “Mom and Dad, I believe the Lord is moving us on…my season here is up.” As parents we’d send them to their room and tell them not to come out until they changed their attitude. But that’s not what us loving pastors do. Oh no, we just love on them and let them go. I sometimes wonder if that’s really the right thing to do.

So what can we do to avoid the spiritual “teenager syndrome”?

First, be honest enough to admit that it exists. Just know that it takes decades to grow up in the Lord, not months, or even a few years. There’s an old saying that to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Second, stay little in your own eyes. That’s the warning that the prophet Samuel gave Saul when he took matters into his own hands in 1 Samuel 15:17 (NKJV),

“So Samuel said, ‘When you were little in your own eyes,were you not head of the tribes of Israel?And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel?’”

There’s no doubt that God was able to anoint Saul to be king because he was little in his own eyes, but then he got in trouble when he stopped listening to Samuel and decided to take things into his own hands.

Isn’t it really just an issue of spiritual pride? That’s why God reminds us of this in 1 Peter 5:5-6 (NKJV),

“Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders.Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”

Would you agree that all of this takes faith? Because sometimes we just don’t want to humble ourselves. Sometimes we just don’t want to listen to anybody but us, our own thoughts and ideas. But that’s not God’s way. So, let’s stay little in our own eyes, stay humble and teachable and trust God to keep working on us, because in the end, we’re all a work in progress.

~Jeff Jones