Christianity 201

August 22, 2021

Christian Mentors, Pastors, Teachers Who Shaped You

NIV.Hebrews.13.7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

In a world that tends to put greater emphasis on those who have fallen, these words from the concluding paragraphs of the epistle to the Hebrews remind us of all the good, faithful, noble people who have helped us along in our Christian journey.

The Enduring Word Bible Commentary:

…We are told to recognize and follow godly leadership in the body of Christ, leadership shown to be legitimate by faithfulness to the word of God and by godly conduct. Paul advised Timothy along the same lines: Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. 1 Timothy 4:16

Such leaders should be recognized and followed. Just as much as a church needs godly leaders, it also needs godly followers. Leaders don’t need to be perfect, but they should be able to show with their life that the power of Jesus is real as it impacts and transforms the individual life. That demonstrates a faith that can actually be followed.

Barnes Bible Commentary

(The Barnes Commentary spends considerable time on the phrase Consider the outcome of their way of life.)

The word rendered here “the end” – ἔκβασις ekbasis – occurs only here and in 1 Corinthians 10:13, where it is rendered “a way of escape.” It properly means, “a going out, an egress,” and is hence spoken of as a going out from life, or of an exit from the world – “death.” This is probably the meaning here…

it means that they were attentively to contemplate the end or the issue of the conduct of those holy teachers – the close or going out of all that they did; to wit, in a peaceful death. Their faith sustained them. They were enabled to persevere in a Christian course, and did not faint or fail. There is allusion, doubtless, to those who had been their religious instructors, and who had died in the faith of the gospel, either by persecution or by an ordinary death, and the apostle points to them as examples of that to which he would exhort those whom he addressed – of perseverance in the faith until death.

Thus explained, this verse does not refer to the duty of Christians toward living teachers, but toward those who are dead. Their duty toward living teachers is enforced in Hebrews 13:17. The sentiment here is, that the proper remembrance of those now deceased who were once our spiritual instructors and guides, should be allowed to have an important influence in inducing us to lead a holy life.

We should remember them with affection and gratitude; we should recall the truths which they taught, and the exhortations which they addressed to us; we should cherish with kind affection the memory of all that they did for our welfare, and we should not forget the effect of the truths which they taught in sustaining their own souls when they died.

Let’s bring this up-to-date with a contemporary writer. Juli Camarin has been featured here on five previous occasions. You can read more at jcblog.net.

Remember Your Leaders and Imitate Their Faith

Growing up, there was a lady in our church who took the time to disciple me. She invited several of the youth age girls into her home on a weekly basis where she spent time with us in the Word and in prayer. It was a special time as her love for Jesus was unmistakable. The impact that this dear lady made on me has affected my entire life because I learned how, from an early age to spend time with the Lord.

Since then, the Lord has sent a few others to come beside and mentor me in the Word. Showing, teaching and explaining His truths until they’ve taken hold. These precious people have spoken truth into my life in a way that cannot be measured. As such, this pattern has propagated as I, in turn have also discipled young friends, teaching them from the Word and showing them who the Lord is as they start to grow in their faith.

The people who teach the Word of God to us are very dear so we should honor them and imitate their faith. We should consider their lives, how they live and do our best to emulate them.

Paul also gave similar instruction about this, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Philippians 3:17 ). The Word of God is life-changing so it makes sense that those who spend a lot of time in it will think and act differently. We are to live according to that pattern.

Amazingly, the Lord will always send people to us to encourage and build us up in our faith as we grow in the grace and knowledge of God. We are never left to our own; He will surround us by a fellowship of believers. We can use their example of faith and obedience to pattern our lives after. The result will be unity just as Paul encouraged the Philippians, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel”( Philippians 1: 27 ). 

Not only will we imitate the faith of those who went before us, our lives will be worthy of the gospel that saved and redeemed us!


Consideration of this passage today was inspired by a lengthy (55 minutes) sermon by Steven Furtick at Elevation Worship on August 15th which started with Hebrews 13:7.

May 26, 2021

God is Sovereign over Popularity, Status, Platform, and Likes

Years ago, for Christian bands and solo artists, getting radio airplay was everything. Since most stations were programmed locally, it represented a concerted effort each time there was a new single, or a new album.  I attended a seminar for Christian musicians on the subject of promotion, taught by veteran CCM artist Scott Wesley Brown. He began with, “Did you know promotion is mentioned in the Bible?” Then he proceded to read Psalm 75:6,7 in the KJV:

6For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.

7But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

A few years later I sat in a camp staff training seminar where the speaker said,

“If you see a turtle on a fence-post, you know it didn’t get there by itself.”

That little phrase is used to cover a wide range of applications, but certainly we’ve all met people who have “achieved” but only through the guidance and support of many others, and certainly some by the grace of God Himself. (Though the analogy breaks down quickly… What does the turtle do next?)

We often have the tendency to look at someone who has — for the time being — earned the attention and accolades of a large number of people, and say, “Why him?” Perhaps we compare that person’s talents to our own and say, “Why her?”

Psalm 75 seems to basically be saying that no one advances but that God has allowed it. Theololgically, people wrestle with things they think that God caused, but while God may not be directly causing everything he gets blamed for, he is definitely permitting things to happen, and I believe, he is constantly orchestrating things in our lives and the lives of others which we often do not realize.

This sovereignty (rule) is certainly reinforced by the appearance of Jesus before Pilate in John 19 (NIV).

10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…

But the Psalm passage has an entirely different spin in the NLT:

6 For no one on earth—from east or west,
or even from the wilderness—
should raise a defiant fist.
7 It is God alone who judges;
he decides who will rise and who will fall.

And also in The Message:

He’s the One from east to west;
from desert to mountains, he’s the One.

God rules: he brings this one down to his knees,
pulls that one up on her feet.

The NASB is closer to the King James:

6 For not from the east, nor from the west,
Nor from the desert comes exaltation;
7 But God is the Judge;
He puts down one and exalts another.

So I’m not sure why the translations seem to differ in emphasis in verse six, though they both resolve the same way in verse seven. Perhaps the key is found in the verse which precedes six and seven, verse five, best represented by the NIV:

Do not lift your horns against heaven;
do not speak so defiantly.’”

It’s possible that when I question God’s decision to use someone who I might not have chosen, I am in fact speaking defiantly. Or in arrogance (NLT). Perhaps questioning why him or her is a road I should not want to go down. Have you ever questioned why God allows a certain author’s books to sell so well; a certain pastor to become so widely known; a certain individual in your church to gain such a key position of leadership? That might be speaking defiantly.

Now this is where it gets interesting: The “rock stars” of David’s time were kings. We might not hold politicians in the same regard today, but back then it was a different story. Recently, in our time, people questioned why God allowed a certain leader to come to power. I don’t wish to debate that here, but it’s important to say, regardless of which side of that issue you find yourself, that God is sovereign. He never stopped being God.

The same could be said for the pandemic. We can’t assert the sovereignty of God in some areas and suppress its applicability in other areas of life. If Psalm 75 is true in terms of leaders, it has to be true in terms of other aspects of life.

In his commentary on this package, Matthew Henry suggests that we, to put it in modern language, don’t try to be over analytical over why someone has come to power, prestige, popularity, etc.  Our objective should be to live in the present, not try to dissect the past.

I originally wrote these thoughts down ten years ago. What follows helps you understand why.

That weekend I watched an interview with an individual about whom I might have, at one time awhile back, asked the “Why him?” question. But as I watched him taking live questions I realized four things were present: (a) natural intellectual gifts; (b) natural speaking gifts; (c) an obvious command of scripture or what we sometimes call Bible knowledge; and (d) an understanding of the ways of God, which is different from the third point. While I never had major questions, some of my minor misgivings were alleviated.

God knows what He’s doing. He is the judge. He promotes some and holds back others. Richard Ritenbaugh points out that verse 6 mentions the east, the west, the south, but not the north. Why not the north? Because, he says, that’s where God’s throne is; that’s the truth of the next verse; that he loves everyone equally, and may have a “promotion” in some other arena of life just waiting for you.

~Paul

June 5, 2020

When Following Christ, Intellectual Depth is not Spiritual Depth

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 often crave spiritual depth. They should have recent to expect to receive just that.

  • A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard.
  • A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment.
  • An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.”
  • An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths.
  • A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. And often, I must confess, I default to writers and articles which stimulate the spiritual intellect.

But talk to someone who has walked for decades with God, and you’ll see something else at work. Yes, there is a love for his word, the scriptures. But there is also, simply put, a love for Him.

Again, Spiritual depth isn’t depth of understanding, or depth of communicating truths, rather, it’s about depth of relationship with God; or depth of intimacy with Jesus. You see a person and say, “That person really knows God.” Or conversely, “That person is truly known of God.” Or better, “That person really loves God.”

And what happens in the mind, manifests itself in the life, and can be observed in one’s character. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. Or a situation where you’ve never sought forgiveness, or forgiven the other. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. Then this becomes a natural lifestyle. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen people spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post about them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never properly tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of their personal shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

Conclusion:

We need to live our Christian lives not out of deep reasoning, or deep understanding of the things of God; rather, we need to live out of a deep conviction that comes from walking closely with God.

April 28, 2020

Coming Alongside a God Who Does Miracles

NIV.Mark.6.35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Today’s thoughts are from the devotional section of the NIV Bible website and are drawn from The Maxwell Leadership Bible, 3rd Edition (available in NIV and NKJV editions) by John Maxwell.

Working Alongside a Miracle-Working God

…The feeding of five thousand story is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. It breaks down how a biblical miracle works: A few sense a need, and each individual takes responsibility and gives his or her all, regardless of the odds, then Jesus works a miracle.

WHEN THERE IS A NEED. . .

Every miracle in the Bible begins with a problem, a need. Before he fed the five thousand, Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw a multitude of people who were like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). The problem posed by this huge crowd of hungry, hurting people was the catalyst for the miracle.

If you have a problem, you are a candidate to work alongside a miracle-working God. That problem in your family, business, church, or community is your ticket to a potential miracle.

SENSED BY A FEW . . .

Jesus taught this crowd all day until the disciples told him it was getting late and the people had nothing to eat (Mark 6:35 – 36). These men were the ones aware there was a problem. Only a few, maybe only you, need to sense a need for a miracle to occur; a majority is not needed.

AND EACH INDIVIDUAL TAKES RESPONSIBILITY . . .

The disciples brought Jesus the problem and a solution. They suggested he send the people away to get something to eat. Jesus responded, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37).

God isn’t interested in our solutions or suggestions. He’s interested in our participation. This is where the miracle can often break down. God wants to involve you in his miracles. When you back away from that involvement, you back away from your influence and miss working alongside a miracle-working God.

AND GIVES HIS OR HER ALL REGARDLESS OF THE ODDS . . .

The disciples searched the crowd and found a boy who had five barley loaves and two small fish (John 6:9). This boy didn’t need a miracle to be able to eat — he already had food. Instead, he was asked to give.

There may be times when you don’t need a miracle, but God needs you to be a channel for a miracle that will bless someone else. You’ll give your all, despite the odds.

The disciples’ request for this boy’s lunch surely made no sense to him. How could his five loaves and two fish feed thousands of people? But he gave it to Jesus anyway.

How many miracles might you have missed because God asked you to do something and you didn’t do it because it didn’t make sense? As a leader, you must obey God even when you’re comfortable and don’t need a miracle, when his commands don’t make sense, when his instructions seem too simple, or when he asks for what seems to be too much. You never will learn to trust God until you learn to obey him. That’s when the miracles happen.

THEN JESUS WORKS A MIRACLE

Jesus took that boy’s small lunch, thanked God for it, and instructed the disciples to distribute the food among that crowd of thousands. Not only did everyone eat until they were full, there were twelve baskets of leftovers (Mark 6:39 – 44). Surely the disciples, the crowd, and the boy were changed forever by this event.

TAKEAWAY

We value the spectacular things God can do, but the greatest miracle when you work alongside a miracle-working God is what happens inside you. Being God’s channel changes your faith and increases your capacity for leadership influence beyond anything you can imagine.


Taken from The Maxwell Leadership Bible, 3rd Edition by John Maxwell Copyright © 2018 (NKJV edition) and Copyright © 2019 (NIV edition) by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

September 8, 2019

Our Christian Heroes are Equally Vulnerable as We

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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On the days I rotate through writers we’ve used previously, I’m always pleased to see the name Elsie Montgomery appear because I know I’m going to find some quality devotional material to read for myself, and then choose one to include here. (This is her 20th time appearing here, and we frequently break our six-month rule to include her!) Click the header below to read this at her blog, Practical Faith.

Don’t Put Anyone on a Pedestal

When a teenager, I idolized a few singers, including Elvis Presley. After becoming a Christian, that tendency to put stars on a pedestal was soon shaken. God showed me that no matter how popular or ‘great’ a person might be, as a friend used to say, they put their pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else.

I’ve been put on a pedestal by a few well-meaning people; and hated it. One extreme was having my mistakes overlooked or excused making transparency and confessing sin awkward to say the least. Not only that, if I did make even a small error, some would treat me as if I’d ruined the world. Pride likes a pedestal, but only to a point!

None of the above is biblical. God does not play favorites and tells His people not to do it either. Each member of His family has struggles, ups and downs, human needs, skills and weaknesses. Paul, an easy person to put on a pedestal, reveals reasons why this is not to be done. He was human like the rest of us and every time I read this section, I identify with him and feel empathy. That can’t happen if I put him up there somewhere rather than alongside me. Paul writes to Timothy:

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:9–18)

I feel his loneliness in this passage. He was needy. He forgot his cloak, books and Scripture in Troas. He had been opposed by someone, perhaps a person he’d trusted. He also had been deserted and attacked while alone by that roaring lion — Satan. He knew the pressures of suffering without anyone to help him, yet the Lord was with him. These are the words of a ‘spiritual giant’ yet they sound like the words of every Christian. Each of us struggles with the same things.

A couple weeks ago in a small group discussion about seniors, I mentioned what I thought most seniors struggled with — feeling abandoned and useless. Two were over ninety, another a bit younger and they nodded vigorously. They had not expressed this as a problem but seemed totally relieved that it came out in the open. They are people who appear spiritual mature to everyone else, yet in their hearts have struggles with basic issues — just as everyone else.

God’s thought for me today is that we are all in this battle of life together. I’ve met famous preachers — they lose their car keys and forget their wives’ birthdays just like many ordinary people. I’ve met famous authors and they goof up too, burn the toast and worse, just like I do. Don’t put anyone on a pedestal.

The preachers I learn the most from are transparent and willing to share their quirks and foibles. One of our pastors recently shared getting a speeding ticket and how he felt when he saw the flashing lights, while waiting for the officer to come to his vehicle, during the conversation and after receiving the piece of paper. He was up on a platform in the church building but refused to be put on a pedestal. Some listeners expressed discomfort, yet all of us felt closer to this man and more aware of the love of Jesus that he preached about that day.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Lord Jesus, it is easy to talk about accomplishments and not as easy to share my mistakes, needs, or negative emotions or events, but Paul did. And he invites his readers to follow his example. We humans are in this together; we all struggle with various things and should never make anyone feel they are so ‘special’ that they cannot be honest about their lives. Pedestals make them feel uncomfortable because standing there forces them to be unreal, even dishonest. Guard my heart that I don’t do this to anyone or let anyone do it to me.

 

 

September 4, 2019

When Leaders Walk Away

My people have become lost sheep; Their shepherds have led them astray” (Jeremiah 50:6).

At Thinking Out Loud we’ve linked to the writing of Dr. Claude Mariottini, but this is his first appearance here at C201. He is Emeritus Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary. He has pastored churches in California, Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois. I have published more than 200 articles and book reviews in English, Spanish, and Russian, and is a contributor to many scholarly works.

He wrote the article — linked in the header below — in the wake of several high profile departures from the faith by key leaders. This piece is a follow-up to a previous essay, Why People Leave the Christian Faith in which he presents three major reasons, but then here he devotes his attention entirely to a fourth reason. Again click the header for the full article.

When Leaders Fail

…Those who leave the Christian faith because they are offended or hurt by church leaders should remember the admonition of God: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5).

The decision that [these leaders] made to abandon the faith… is not unique to them. The people of Israel also abandoned God. The Lord said to the people of Judah, “You have abandoned me and turned your back on me, says the Lord. . . . I am tired of always giving you another chance” (Jeremiah 15:6).

Why did Israel abandon God? The prophetic books of the Old Testament give several reasons:

Israel’s prophets were arrogant; they were treacherous men (Zephaniah 3:4).

Israel’s priests profaned what was holy (Zephaniah 3:4).

Israel’s teachers taught lies and falsehoods and thus did not help the people to turn from their evil ways (Jeremiah 23:22).

The shepherds of Israel took care of themselves instead of taking care of their flock (Ezekiel 34:2-5).

But poor leadership was not the only reason the people abandoned God. The people of Israel were destroyed because they did not know the difference between good and evil (Hosea 4:6). They went into exile for lack of understanding of their responsibility before God (Isaiah 5:13).

In addition, the leaders of the nation and the people who followed them would not listen to the call for a change of attitude. The people were as stiff-necked as their ancestors had been. The people did not trust in the Lord their God. They rejected God’s teaching and the covenant God had made with their ancestors and the warnings God had given them through the prophets. They followed the work of their hands, worthless idols, and in turn they themselves became as worthless as their idols (2 Kings 17:14-15).

This is what Israel had done. The Lord said: “For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” (Jeremiah 2:13).

Notice that God said: “My people.” They were God’s people, but they had abandoned God. They had abandoned God, the fountain of living water in order to satisfy their own desires. They wanted to be satisfied with water from cisterns, the work of their own hands. Instead of trusting in God, the people of Israel decided to go alone, to do what they wanted to do. They decided to be independent of God only to discover that in the hour of their greatest need, they were all alone, deprived of divine help.

The tragic result of living without God is clearly seen in the book of Lamentations: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her” (Lamentations 1:1-2).

Jerusalem represents the people of Israel. The people of Israel had gone into an exile of affliction and hard servitude because they had left God in order to go alone. The people left God in order to find solace among the works of their hands only to discover that at the time of their deepest despair, when they were facing the darkest night of their soul, they were all alone, deprived of the God who could help them, with none to comfort them…

[…finish reading the article at this link]

 

June 1, 2018

Are We Truly Free From Idols?

We’re back for a third time with David Kitz who writes at I Love the Psalms. David has served as an ordained minister with the Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada. His love for drama and storytelling is evident to all who have seen his Bible based performances. For several years now, he has toured across Canada and into the United States with a variety of one man plays for both children and adults. For further information visit: http://www.davidkitz.ca/

Click the title below to read today’s devotional at its original source.

Are There Idols in your Life?

Reading: Psalm 115
(Verses 1-8)
Not to us, LORD, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.
Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.
 But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them
(NIV).

Reflection
Where are your idols? “I have none,” you say. Are you sure? Most readers of this post would deny being idol worshippers, but perhaps we have more idols than we care to admit.

Idolatry was commonly practiced during Israel’s kingdom era. In Old Testament times, the nations around God’s people all practiced various forms of idol worship. One might assume that God’s redeemed people, who were rescued from slavery, would have nothing to do with such vile practices. But you would be wrong. Time and again Israel fell into idolatry.

King Solomon, who was revered for his wisdom, is a prime example of someone who condoned idol worship. Here’s what we read about this ‘esteemed’ leader:

On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods (1 Kings 11:7-8).

When leaders go astray, there will be many who follow. In the church today we have many leaders who have fallen captive to the god of Mammon—material goods. Jesus said,

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

Before we claim to be free from idols, we need to examine our hearts. Are we yielding to the Holy Spirit, or are we controlled by our desire for what this world has to offer?

Response: Father God, show me if there are idols in my life. In love, correct me when I stray. I want to serve you—put you first in my life. Lord Jesus, be my master.  It’s an honor to serve you. Amen.

Your Turn: Are there other things that can become idols in your life?


Read more: The above article was David’s blog post for yesterday. Under equal consideration was the one from the day before, God Caused the Sea to Flee.

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

April 15, 2015

Setting the Bar High

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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NIV Matt 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

We like to pay return visits to people who have appeared here before. Several years ago we linked to the writing of Bill Muehlenberg at the blog Culture Watch. Today we drop in him again. What appears below is about half of the original article, so click the title to see it all now, or click the link at the end to continue reading; the balance of the article looks at a biography of Thomas Whitefield.

Time to Raise the Bar

In much of life, and certainly in the Christian life, we need to be inspired, challenged and given a vision of something better, grander and more worthwhile. This is obviously true in the sporting world where the phrase “raise the bar” comes into play.

raise the bar 1Whether it is the pole vaulter or the high jumper, the bar is raised so that an even greater sporting accomplishment can be attempted. And all great athletes crave this: they don’t want to settle for second best, or that which is easily obtainable.

They press on for the best, and in this case, the highest. They are not interested in the ordinary, but want to be the very best in their sport, and raise the bar even higher. They want to lead the way and set the standard. Life is meant to be like that, especially the Christian life.

Indeed, with Jesus Christ as our ultimate standard, and his command that we be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48), every single Christian has the bar set as high as it can go. But sadly most Christians don’t even consider this standard, and don’t care about raising their own bar.

They are far too satisfied with a nominal, mediocre life. They look at other nominal, mediocre Christians and think that this is the way the Christian life is. They simply compare themselves with one another and never get a vision of something better, something greater, something more pleasing to God.

These folks need to raise the bar. There are various ways we can do this, but one way which helped me very early on in my Christian life was to read biographies, autobiographies and stories of great men and women of God. As a new Christian I regularly went to the church library or to Christian bookstores, and read heaps of these sort of books.

And guess what? They sure set the bar high. I was spoiled for the ordinary after reading about a Hudson Taylor or a C. T. Studd or an Adoniram Judson or a William Carey. Stories of more recent men of God such as Jim Elliot, the martyred missionary, or his widow, Elizabeth Elliot, also were part of my diet back then.

And what about those Christians who endured horrific suffering at the hands of the godless communists such as Haralan Popov (Tortured for His Faith) or Richard Wurmbrand (Tortured for Christ)? Or the remarkable exploits of Brother Andrew (God’s Smuggler)? Their soul-stirring stories also inspired me greatly.

As I say, they spoiled me for life, and left me forever greatly discontented with the ordinary, the nominal, the so-so. I have always had a passion to move on and grow in Christ because of reading these amazing stories and learning about these incredible men and women of God…

continue reading here(continue at the paragraph above the book picture)

June 2, 2011

Going Deep, Staying Real

Today, a reprint from June of last year…

The present Christian online culture craves spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

“Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.”

May 26, 2011

God Decides Who Gets Promoted

Many years ago I attended a seminar for Christian musicians on the subject of promotion, taught by veteran CCM artist Scott Wesley Brown.  He began with, “Did you know promotion is mentioned in the Bible?”  Then he proceded to read Psalm 75:6,7 in the KJV:

 6For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.

 7But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

A few years later I sat in a camp staff training seminar where the speaker said,

“If you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself.”

That little phrase is used to cover a wide range of applications, but certainly we’ve all met people who have “achieved” but only through the guidance and support of many others, and certainly some by the grace of God Himself.  (Though the analogy breaks down quickly… What does the turtle do next?)

We often have the tendency to look at someone who has — for the time being — earned the attention and accolades of a large number of people, and say, “Why him?”  Perhaps we compare that person’s talents to our own and say, “Why her?”

Psalm 75 seems to basically be saying that no one advances but that God has allowed it. 

This is certainly reinforced by the appearance of Jesus before Pilate in John 19 (NIV). 

10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”  11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…

But the Psalm passage has an entirely different spin in the NLT:

 6 For no one on earth—from east or west,
      or even from the wilderness—
      should raise a defiant fist.
 7 It is God alone who judges;
      he decides who will rise and who will fall.

And also in The Message:

  He’s the One from east to west;
      from desert to mountains, he’s the One.

  God rules: he brings this one down to his knees,
      pulls that one up on her feet.

The NASB is closer to the King James:

 6 For not from the east, nor from the west,
Nor from the desert comes exaltation;
7 But God is the Judge;
He puts down one and exalts another.

So I’m not sure why the translations seem to differ in emphasis in verse six, though they both resolve the same way in verse seven.  Perhaps the key is found in the verse which precedes six and seven, verse five, best represented by the NIV:

Do not lift your horns against heaven;
   do not speak so defiantly.’”

It’s possible that when I question God’s decision to use someone who I might not have chosen, I am in fact speaking defiantly. Or in arrogance (NLT).  Perhaps questioning why him or her is a road I should not want to go down.  Have you ever questioned why God allows a certain author’s books to sell so well; a certain pastor to become so well used; a certain individual in your church to gain such a key position of leadership?  That might be speaking defiantly.

Why am I writing this? 

This weekend I watched an interview with an individual about whom I might have, at one time awhile back, asked the “Why him?” question.  But as I watched him taking live questions I realized four things were present: (a) natural intellectual gifts; (b) natural speaking gifts; (c) an obvious command of scripture or what we sometimes call Bible knowledge; and (d) an understanding of the ways of God, which is different from the third point.  While I never had major questions, some of my minor misgivings were alleviated.

God knows what He’s doing.  He is the judge.  He promotes some and holds back others.  

But he loves us all equally, and has a “promotion” in some other department just waiting for you.

~Paul Wilkinson

February 24, 2011

Doing Ministry in the Flesh

Francis Chan:

Sometimes I leave Christian events wondering if we resemble the prophets of Baal in I Kings 18 more than Elijah, the prophet of God… The prophets of Baal had a loud, passionate gathering that lasted form morning till evening. When they were done, they had a great time of fellowship (I think you can call it that). But “no one answered; no one paid attention” (18:29). After all of that, Elijah prayed. God heard his prayer, and fire came down from heaven.

My favorite part of that story comes when it is all over and the prophets of Baal are saying, “The Lord — he is God! The Lord — he is God! (18:39). They didn’t say, “Elijah is a great speaker” or “Elijah sure knows how to connect with God!” They were stunned by God. They were in awe of his power. They knew that what they had experienced could not have been manipulated by Elijah. They experienced the power of God.

Is that what happens at the christian gatherings hyou attend? Or does it feel more like what the prophets of Baal experienced before Elijah prayed? We can have a great time singing and dancing ourselves into a frenzy. But at the end of it, fire doesn’t come down from heaven. People leave talking about the people who led rather than the power of God.

Forgotten God pp 143-144

June 23, 2010

Redefining “Deep”

The present Christian online culture craves spiritual depth.   A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard.   A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment.   An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.”  An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths.   A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth?   What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?”   Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so.   Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals.   That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate.   People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.”   In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth.   I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace.    I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible.   Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered.  Or phone calls you never returned.   Or a bill you’ve never yet paid.   I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission.     “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.”   They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors.   They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned.   “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.”  (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are.   Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online.   But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such.  They are aware of the shortcomings.   Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé.  But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

“Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today.  Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission.   Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best.  Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving.   Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press.   When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.”