Christianity 201

August 14, 2017

Owning It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.

I can’t help but think as I read this that what he prays collectively has to begin individually, it has to begin with me. This is often contrary to our nature. We think ourselves righteous. It’s harder to pray:

But I have sinned and done wrong. I have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. I have refused to listen to your servants…

And yet, each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon.

Our service ended in a time of confession, and then I sought someone to pray with me individually. I admitted that I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas. If you’re a guy, are you tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt? For me it’s ideas and concepts. One single phrase or sentence in an online article can be as devastating to me as the girl at the mall is to you. My worldview warps; my mindset skews.

Psalm 139 ends with the type of mind inventory I need constantly:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

About two and a half years ago we looked at a quotation by Jerry Bridges where he says, “We never see sin aright until we see it as against God.”

In Psalm 51, David writes:

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight. (v.4a)

but he realizes he needs help to get back to the standard:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you. (v.12)

If I were truly, truly sorry for past sins, I would never repeat them.

In the linked piece above, we included this graphic image:

We have to be truly sorry for our sin. Not the collective our, but the individual our.

I have to be truly sorry for my sin.

Heb. 10:25 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Prov. 15:10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

 

 

 

 

 

August 2, 2017

Christianity is a Singing Faith

We’ve frequently mentioned, quoted and linked to Mark and Stephen Altrogge at Thinking Out Loud. This is his fifth time here at C201, but it’s been nearly 3 years.

Christianity is a singing faith. It sets us apart from many other belief systems. As an old hymn, noting God’s care and protection put it, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.” Another hymn writer wished for “a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise.” More recently, a popular worship writer wrote:

…We will sing, sing, sing
Grateful that You hear us
When we shout your praise
Lift high the name of Jesus.

Click the title below to read this at source. Though Mark and Stephen Altrogge and I are from different doctrinal streams, there usually isn’t an article on their blog, The Blazing Center that isn’t top-notch reading. This one is by Mark.

7 Reasons God Commands Us To Sing To Him

Have you ever wondered why God commands us to sing to him?

Does he need our songs somehow? Does he get some kind of sick pleasure out of commanding us to sing his praises?

First of all, God doesn’t need anything from us. He doesn’t need our worship or our songs or our money or our obedience. He is infinite and lacks nothing. Everything he commands us is for our joy and benefit. If God commands us to sing, then it is to bless us and add to our joy in him.

What are some reasons God commands us to sing?

First, we should sing to God because he saved us

We have so many incredible things to be thankful for and sing about – we’ve been forgiven, justified, and adopted as God’s own children and made joint-heirs with Christ. We’ve been rescued from eternal destruction. We’ve been given eternal life. Jesus SAVED us! That’s something to sing about. When God led Israel through the Red Sea with the Egyptians hot on their tail, then closed the sea over the Egyptians, and saved the Israelites from certain death, and the Israelites saw the chariots and horses washed up on the beach they began to sing and dance. Can you imagine them shrugging their shoulders and saying, “That’s nice”? No, they wrote a song for the occasion. And Jesus saved us from something far worse than death – God’s eternal wrath. How can we not sing and rejoice?

Secondly, we should sing because we are loved.

God’s love is too marvelous and amazing to simply talk about. Think of all the love songs people sing. If we sing love songs about our love for human beings, how much more should we sing songs to the One who so loved us he gave his Son for us? How much more should we sing to Jesus who bore the wrath of God to redeem us?

Third, we should sing because Jesus has filled us with joy.

Singing is an expression of joy. We sing for joy at birthdays, weddings, ballgames. God has given us unspeakable everlasting joy in Christ. We just have to sing about it. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of joy. Someday Jesus will wipe away every tear and sorrow and sadness will flee away. For all eternity we will celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb. If earthly weddings have music and songs, how much more will the marriage supper of the Lamb?

Fourth, we should sing because Jesus sings over us

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zeph 3.17

Jesus rejoices and exults over his people with loud singing. How can we not rejoice in our King and Savior?

Fifth, because singing is a wonderful way to meditate on the gospel

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. CO 3.16

Our songs should be filled with “the word of Christ” – the gospel. And as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God, the gospel dwells in us richly. Singing usually involves repetition, rhyming and easily remembered phrases– it is a wonderful way to soak in and remember God’s truth.

Sixth, singing allows us to express our emotions to God in a way we couldn’t by mere talking.

What an incredible gift from God music is. How much color, joy and depth it adds to our lives. The band Cream sang a song called “I’m So Glad” in which they sang, “I’m so glad, I’m so glad, I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad!” (I know, not the most creative lyrics in the world). But it just wouldn’t be the same to merely speak these words. When you’re really happy you want to sing.

Seven, when we sing and rejoice in our God it honors him.

Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
All the earth worships you
and sings praises to you;
they sing praises to your name.” Ps 66:1-4

Singing is a way for us to glorify God – to “sing the glory of his name.” God created and saved us and gave us gifts, talents, intelligence, minds and bodies that we might glorify him. Not only are we to seek to glorify him by our lives, but with our tongues. And singing is such an easy way to glorify Jesus! It’s not like when we glorify him by suffering for him. How hard is it to sing?

Our God is so great, and so good and so glorious, he’s worthy of all of our praise. And one of the easiest ways to praise him is by singing. Let’s “sing the glory of his name!”

July 26, 2017

He Will Not Forget Your Work

Today’s thoughts are an excerpt of a devotional that appeared last week at DailyEncouragement.net by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber. Click the title below to read at source.

Serving Out Of The Spotlight

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

…The aspiration to do something great is commendable. Yet a sense of unworthiness can sweep over a person, who, after an honest assessment of their giftings or lack thereof, realize they’re simply unable to accomplish anything reckoned as great by others. Many have dropped the baton of service when their aspiring dream never fully materialized. They could only imagine worthiness of ministry if serving in a big way or in the spotlight.

We propose another aspiration that may initially seem rather uninspiring: “do something ordinary for God!” All of us can do that and faithfulness in the ordinary really does matter. In our view the vast, vast majority of work being done for God is done by ordinary people doing ordinary things out of the spotlight.

Now, praise God, sometimes the ordinary does become great, such as the young boy with the fish and bread that Jesus multiplied to feed the crowd. He simply offered the ordinary he had and Jesus performed the miracle. We read nothing more in Scripture of that boy again. We can assume he went on to live an ordinary life, hopefully in faithful service to Christ. Our aspiration should be to glorify God in our obedience and service to Him, not to make anything great of ourselves, let alone seek the spotlight.

Let us consider the daily verse, written to a group of people “The Hebrews”, none of whom we know by name. But as part of the Holy Scriptures we can read this verse applying it to our own lives.

God is not unjust.” That’s a simple four word phrase we do well to memorize. Unjustness permeates our world and at times God’s ways don’t make sense, even tempting us to question His justness. But the infallible Word of God proclaims, “God is not unjust”.

He will not forget your work.” Others may forget or not even notice, but God always sees and remembers!

And the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people.”  How do we show our love for God? Surely through our praises, thankfulness, obedience and in many other ways.  But this verse specifies a way that goes to the very heart of ministry and it’s generally demonstrated in ordinary ways. In some wonderful way as we help and serve God’s people, we are actually helping and serving God. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

And continue to help them” The writer of Hebrews was confident that this help was active and ongoing, as he finished the sentence with this phrase.  Are you in active service for God and His people today?  If so, keep it up.  What a great blessing long-term, faithful, and dependable workers are in the kingdom of God. You may not be in the spotlight, in fact it’s likely you’re not. But He sees and will not forget your work. He generously rewards us in this life but His greater reward will be given in the life to come! Today do something ordinary for God so that He will use it for His extraordinary purposes.

Father, as You call us You also equip us to do that which You lay upon our hearts.  May we respond to those in need in whatever capacity we can help.  Certainly we can pray, we may need to write or call, and then there are the times we are to go and accomplish that which we are called to do. May our motive, in everything we say, do or think be to glorify You as we shine our light, not for our own glory, but always for Your glory and honor while also spotlighting the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

July 7, 2017

Knowing Your Spiritual Weak Links

So the one who thinks he is standing firm should be careful not to fall.” – 1 Cor. 10:12 Berean Study Bible.

Note: Some may find this article is built on a rather pessimistic or negative premise, but I hope you’ll buy in and see the lesson in this.

If you’ve read The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel you’ve seen a reference in the first chapter to Charles Templeton, once a leading Canadian pastor whose faith was suddenly shattered and he spent his prime years in agnosticism. There is a story that Billy Graham was once asked about his calling and said something to the effect, ‘I’m only doing what Charles Templeton started and didn’t finish.’

My father was a big part of the music ministry surrounding Templeton’s work, and said he felt that the trigger for Templeton’s atheism was a massive fire that took place at his Toronto church. (Parenthetically, my father was constantly reminding me that you can’t fix your eyes on an individual leader; the focus has to be on Christ.)

As I started thinking about that, I realized that a fire is a rather superficial reason for abandoning the faith, though I can’t say what bitterness could steal my heart in similar circumstances. I have often said to close friends that I become an atheist every night around 4:00 AM when after several hours of tossing and turning I can’t get into some deep sleep. I hope they know what I’m saying and don’t take it too literally. Again, superficial things.

Last month I started thinking what superficial factors could plunge me into a cycle of questioning the reality of the Christ story. I don’t mean this in the sense that I’m having a faith crisis, or that any such factors would be successful in knocking my faith off its moorings, but I wanted to better understand my own vulnerabilities. Here are two I came up with.

1. Natural disasters. This is of course a reason often used by non-believers for not embracing the idea of deity. “How could a loving God allow this to happen?” But as I watch World News Tonight with David Muir each evening and see peoples’ homes washed away, it does seem a great moment for divine intervention that didn’t take place. (Remember, we’re talking about potential vulnerabilities here.)

2. The actions of fellow Christians. This was the one C.S. Lewis said could prevent just about anyone from becoming a Christian. When I think of the hurt I’ve endured at the hands of fellow believers, I can very easily imagine a person of weaker faith abandoning ship.

So…what about you? Have you ever looked toward the horizon and imagined the proverbial straw that could break the proverbial camel’s back. As I said at the outset, some of you are perhaps reading this at the outset of the workday and it may seem like a very negative thing to consider, but I think it’s important to be aware of our vulnerabilities. I think it’s implicit in the warning of Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (NLT)

What personal circumstances or things in your life have the potential to eat at your core faith? What is the weak link in your faith chain?

July 5, 2017

When the Flood Waters Run High

Just two months ago, we introduced you to the website Dust off the Bible, which contains news, reviews, quizzes and a daily devotional. We thought we’d give you another opportunity to explore this excellent website. Click the title below to read this at source. (Often the passages are covered by two writers, which is the case today.)

Daily Bible Reading Devotional [Psalm 69:7-18]-June 28, 2017

Psalm 69:7-18

69:7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.

69:8 I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.

69:9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

69:10 When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.

69:11 When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.

69:12 I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.

69:13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help

69:14 rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.

69:15 Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.

69:16 Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

69:17 Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress–make haste to answer me.

69:18 Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.


Much like yesterday’s reading, this passage calls for the Christian to stand up for the name of Christ. This however, is a prayer that God would give strength to those who are enduring persecution and mocking for the sake of following after God. We cannot live this Christian life alone and we are not meant to. Jesus is always there to give us peace and strength, especially when are facing hard times.

The Psalmist here is recognizing that yes, there has been some very hard times for being a follower of Christ. He names how family no longer cares for him, the people around him gossip, even those who are at the lowest form of the social ladder, are making fun of him. The sacrifice to follow after Christ is great and costly. Yet, there is no cry about frustration and bitterness. There is a cry for strength and a means of being sustained as he goes through this.

Whenever we are mocked and questioned about our faith, let us remember that Jesus Christ endured the greatest form of mockery in spreading the Gospel. He was beaten, humiliated, spit upon, mocked and killed. Our strength comes from the one who has endured it all and we can rest assured that He will answer us during times of persecution and hardships. He gives strength to the weary, peace to the anxious heart and joy to the sad.


Sometimes, the storms are what make us seek God the most. They are times where we need to seek something outside of ourselves and our surroundings. We need a supernatural event. While we should encourage others to call on God daily, know that it’s normal to call on the Lord more in our times of need. In fact, this is what King David often did and that is why so many Psalms are written from a place of despair. However, there is no need to despair. God is listening to us already. He is listening before we even speak.

If you are in a place of need at this moment, go find a quiet place and pray the words of King David;

With your faithful help rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.

Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.

Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress–make haste to answer me.

Draw near to me, redeem me.

 

 

June 12, 2017

It’s Not An Easy Road

NLT Deut 31:6 So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

I thought of calling this “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden;” a song which one speaker once said should be in our hymnbooks!

Today we’re paying another visit to Paul Burleson at Vital Truth Ministries which also contains a poem written by his son who is also in ministry. This appeared on his blog in May; click the title to read it there. (Again, as we said last time, Paul likes capital letters and we decided to leave it in the original form.)

THERE IS NO GUARANTEE THAT THE LIFE OF FAITH WILL BE EASY!

For as long as I can remember some Christians, especially television preachers, have emphasized “victory, success, healing, and material blessings” as the path for EVERY believer who truly lives “by faith!” The only problem is that not only misses reality, it misses the emphasis of the scripture entirely. According to the Biblical materials the ONLY guarantee any of us have IN THIS LIFE is that God LOVES us and He will NEVER leave us nor forsake us. A Christian may be healed, but they might NOT be. A Christian may be materially blessed, but they might NOT be. A Christian may have a successful marriage, but they might NOT have one, because they have a partner that chooses, for whatever reason, to leave the union. Christians suffer at the hands of a brutal criminals. They sometimes find out they have a disease for which there is NO CURE or one that IS NOT cured. It isn’t that God can’t or even doesn’t heal some, but, the point is that He doesn’t do so EVERY TIME, even for those living by faith. They may receive bad news about their children. And on and on I could go.

But here’s the deal, our lives “in Christ” are built upon a much more solid rock than any circumstance that makes us comfortable with health, wealth and happiness being undisturbed. That rock is CHRIST HIMSELF and He will NEVER LEAVE US nor FORSAKE us and is coming to establish His Eternal Kingdom with a New Heavens and a New Earth!

What an eye-opener it would be for ANY of us as American Christians to be magically transported overseas to live among radical Islamists, massive poverty, and barren wastelands of dry, dusty earth. It might help us realize that when our Christian message of comfort revolves around material things as evidence of God’s blessings and favor, the way we’re thinking has been “materially” corrupted and no longer represents the true message of the Bible. [We have been blessed with ALL spiritual blessings IN CHRIST JESUS!] Just remember that if a message or truth any preacher brings CANNOT be lived out in ANY nation on earth, it isn’t scripturally true for this nation either.

A few years ago our son, Wade Burleson, wrote a poem and sent it to a family in the fellowship he pastors that was facing some horrible circumstances at the time. I found it yesterday and thought you might enjoy it as well. As Wade said back then,”Maybe God can use this poem to encourage you as these things happen in your life, or worse, as the answer to your prayers is exactly opposite of what you have requested.”

My Lord’s Guarantee

There are days you’ll hear news that burdens your soul.
Words will come that cause you to feel less than whole.
Those times are planned by Me for a special reason,
To give you My comfort in your particularly dark season.

I may not always make things perfect and secure,
But I will show you two things that are absolutely sure.
My unconditional love for you will never change or abate.
And your life is not in the hands of earthly chance or fate.

I have taken hold of you and supported you by My hand,
To ensure the evil around you will not forever stand.
Assurance of My love is found not in what you can see.
It is established in the personal faith you have in Me.

It may be that I designed this affliction to end with death.
For this reason you must trust Me with your every breath.
You came to this world with nothing but My love for you,
And it is this unfailing love that will see you through.

June 7, 2017

Doctrine and Behavior

Today we’re paying a return visit to GotQuestions.org and in particular an article which uses two rather large words, one of which you’ve seen and the other which may be new to you. Click the title to read at source and then click on “What’s New” to see other articles of interest.

What is orthopraxy/orthopraxis?

Orthopraxy is a compound Greek word. The first word in the compound is ortho, which is quite familiar to most of us today. Is means “right, correct, or straight.” An orthodontist is a dentist who can “straighten” or correct teeth. An orthopedist is a doctor who works with deformities or misalignments of the skeletal system, often the spine, with the hope of being able to correct them. Praxis, the second word of the compound, sounds similar to the English equivalent—practice. Orthopraxy or orthopraxis is simply “correct practice” or “correct behavior.”

Orthopraxy is often seen in distinction from orthodoxy, which is “correct teaching” or “correct doctrine.” If someone is orthodox, it means that he believes correctly. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are often seen to be on opposite ends of a spectrum. Some forms of Christianity seem to place more emphasis on correct doctrine. Other forms of Christianity seem to care little for doctrine but place heavy emphasis on proper deeds. Orthopraxis can also refer to the correct performance of required rituals, which is important in some expressions of Christianity as well as in other religions. In many religions, it matters little what one believes as long as the correct works and rituals are performed.

Evangelical Protestantism emphasizes correct doctrine, and critics sometimes caricature the evangelical position as teaching that, as long as you believe the right things, it doesn’t matter what you do. That is not a genuine evangelical position, and neither is it a biblical understanding of the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

According to the Bible, correct doctrine will lead to correct behavior, but the doctrine comes first. In Romans, Paul spends the first eleven chapters explaining correct doctrine. In Romans 12:1 he transitions to correct practice: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” The word therefore means that the instructions that follow are based upon the doctrine that has just been explained.

In Ephesians we see the same pattern. Ephesians 1–3 explain correct doctrine, and chapters 4–6 explain correct practice. Once again, Ephesians 4:1 makes the transition: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” In the first 3 chapters, Paul has explained the calling of the Christian in doctrinal terms, and now he calls his readers to live in light of that doctrine.

In Titus 3:8 Paul pulls orthodoxy and orthopraxy together in one verse: “I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God [orthodoxy] may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good [orthopraxy]. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” He does the same thing in Ephesians 2. Verses 8–9 emphasize the orthodox teaching that we are saved by grace through faith apart from good works: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Verse 10 completes the thought: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Once again, correct belief comes first, and out of that flow correct works. We are saved apart from works; God’s purpose in saving us is that we do good works.

In fact, the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy is so strong that, if a person does not perform good works, it is doubtful that he believes the right things. First John 2:3–6 explains, “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”

Some religions and some forms of Christianity emphasize orthopraxy with little regard for orthodoxy, but this is not the biblical pattern. Likewise, some forms of Christianity emphasize orthodoxy with little regard for orthopraxy. This too is unbiblical. The biblical model is that we must embrace correct doctrine (orthodoxy), and this must be more than mere intellectual assent to truth. Biblical faith involves trust and personal commitment. When a person goes beyond affirming the fact that Christ is the “Savior of the world” to trusting Christ as “my Savior from my sins,” then he or she is born again. The indwelling Spirit of God begins to change that person from within. Correct behavior (orthopraxy) will result from that inner work.

We cannot see a person’s heart, but the link between orthopraxy and orthodoxy is so strong that, if a person’s practice is not correct, we can infer that his faith is not truly orthodox. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:14–19). Even demons have an orthodox theology, but they are not saved!

In summary, both orthodoxy and orthopraxy are important. If any form of Christianity emphasizes one to the exclusion or diminishing of the other, it is unbiblical. Good deeds are a necessary and normal part of the Christian life; however, they are unable to make one righteous before God. Justification is only possible by faith in the Savior whose substitutionary, sacrificial death paid the penalty for our sins and provided us with the righteousness that we need to make us acceptable to God.

Recommended Resource: The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns

May 30, 2017

It’s More Than a Word

Today we’re paying a return visit to Elsie Montgomery who, as I’ve said before, is one of the most faithful devotional writers I’ve encountered here.  The topic I chose from the many great articles I skimmed is a topic that is covered here by other writers, but there are different interpretations out there as to how sanctification takes place in the life of the believer. Since C201 is a “devotional potpourri” I decided to add Elsie’s voice to the many other articles here dealing with righteousness, holiness and sanctification.  Click the title below to read at her blog, Practical Faith.

Sanctification is more than a lofty theological word…

Today’s devotional reading tells of three errors concerning the doctrine of sanctification. Boring? Not at all when I explored the meaning of this term and studied the biblical definition.

One of my dictionaries says that sanctification means “the state of proper functioning” or to set a person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer. If I made a pen, I’ve set it apart to write. In the theological sense, God designed me for His purposes, and He set me apart to live accordingly.

Another dictionary links sanctification to active trust and obedience, citing 2 Corinthians 7:1 which tells me to perfect holiness out of reverence for God, and be diligent to be what He has called me to be. (See 2 Peter 1:10)

However, neither the devotional or the dictionaries bring out an even more amazing truth. While no one can set themselves apart for God and no one can keep themselves in that place apart from the presence and work of Jesus Christ, yet because Christ lives in me, I am already sanctified . . .

“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Corinthians 1:28–31, italics mine)

God has already set me apart, declared me holy. The issue is learning how to act like it, to behave according to what I already am! This is something like enlisting in the armed forces. When a person ‘signs up’ they become a soldier, but it takes months of training before they act like it. In the case of Christians, we are set apart by God right from the start, then spend the rest of our lives learning how to behave as a sanctified person.

This is God’s grace, yet is often a struggle. Paul describes the struggle and the grace . . .

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:14–25)

Those three errors in the devotional include

  • mixing works and grace in a human effort to become sanctified,
  • becoming sinless by a ‘second work of grace’ which is totally contrary to Scripture (see 1 John 1:8), and
  • trying to separate oneself from sin using rules.

All three errors happen to those who do not realize or accept that in Christ Jesus, Christians are already sanctified. Again, we just need to learn how to act like what we already are.

Perhaps this doctrine is too outrageous. Perhaps it is dismissed because we tend to evaluate ourselves by our performance rather than by what God says. Perhaps we humans want to contribute to our holiness so add works and rules to what is needed for spiritual growth. Whatever the reasons, none of those errors bring us closer to what God intends. He wants me to trust and obey Him — and He supplies everything I need to do that. A walk of faith with obedience does not make me more ‘set apart’ for God; it simply declares that I already am!

 

Jesus, just as Your kingdom is already here but not yet, so also is my sanctification. You are it! You live in me and You are my perfect holiness right now. In You, I am all that the Father intended. The process of shedding the stuff that is not like You is a challenge, often painful, and yet You are the One who bursts forth in my life. I can no more make it happen than a caterpillar can will itself into a butterfly. All I can do is trust and obey, and You do the wonderful work. What a glory. What a future hope! Thank You!

May 24, 2017

Listening

Today’s devotional is an excerpt from a newly published book by Paul J. Pastor, The Listening Day. It’s a 90 day devotional which follows the format used in other books (Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess, and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling) with what God is saying to us written out as though God is speaking in the first person; with the difference that this book includes interjections on behalf of the reader. I’ll have a fuller review of it in a few days on my other blog. Clicking the title below will take you to Zeal Books.

Luke 8:15 NIV But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

The Needed Thing

Luke 10:41-42 NIV ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’

The life of God, of truth and understanding, lands in your heart with the fragility of a seed.  It is possible it will wither, be crushed, be pecked and torn, be strangled by lies.

The same word is sowed to all.  Christ the Sower shows no favoritism, respects no person above another.  The truth is the truth, as a kernel of wheat is wheat indeed, and an acorn is only and always the seed of the ancient oak.

The human heart is a fickle field, rocky and weed-laden. Your own heart makes it hard for truth to take root. Too often you work, when you ought to surrender, then give up when you ought to be working.

Your way is not easy, Lord.

It is better than easy. It is life.

What do I need to do?

Today, quiet your heart. Look inside. Consider the growth of the word in you. Where is your soil stony? Where do the birds ravage my tender promises to you? Where do the thorns and poisonous vines sprout?

Listening is the needed thing. Sit still at the feet of Christ. Silence fears. Cease frenzied activity. Stop your mouth. Breathe in the presence of the Quiet Planter. Listen to the voice of the one in whom is all truth and every understanding. You may keep whatever treasures you gather at the feet of your simple King.

Lord, you know that many things trouble me, from outside my heart and from within it. Help me quiet myself today, to truly listen and receive your word, allowing your truth to bear fruit in my life. Amen.

May 8, 2017

Preaching for Change

CEB Acts 2:36 “Therefore, let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

37 When the crowd heard this, they were deeply troubled. They said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Earlier today I wrote these words at my other blog, or perhaps I should say these words wrote themselves:

I have been noticing a recurring theme lately in sermons I have listened to online and books I have been reading. Perhaps it’s personal conviction about this subject.

The idea is very simple: Many of us read the Bible and Christian books, and many of us listen to sermons in order to gain information when God is wanting to see our transformation. Perhaps you even are in a position where you give leadership or mentoring to others, or simply have occasion to speak into the lives of friends, and what you’re imparting is more informative than transformative.

I know I’m a guilty of this. Do you ever track your spiritual progress by the month, or by the year? Each day I have more knowledge and a better understanding of the ways of God and the history of his dealings with his people. But am I a different person than I was last month or last year? To ask the question bluntly, what good is all this information doing for me? What good is all that Bible knowledge and understanding of systematic theology doing for you?

Spiritual formation is not simply about building up the mind’s knowledge base. It’s about forming the character of the heart. It leads to different speech, different choices, a different mindset, and different actions.

The Word of God should bring change. As I write this now, later in the day, I realize that there are people for whom God’s truth needs to be rediscovered. They don’t even have the basic Bible knowledge that was once common among people in North America and Western Europe, regardless of their personal beliefs. It reminds me of Nehemiah (see chapter 8) bringing the scrolls to be read to a people who had not heard this word in a long, long time.

At the blog Clergy Stuff I read this:

In this information age, where any piece of information can be accessed at our fingertips at any time, it might be hard to believe that God’s people had lost touch with their God. But they had been exiled – ripped from their homes, families, and faith practices. After so many years of living apart from the community of faith, it is possible to see how easily the faith practices of a broken people could unravel.

But after they returned, a scroll was found. The scroll contained God’s word lost long ago. When Ezra read it to the people, it brought up many emotions for them. It was a word of hope and promise to a people that had nearly lost all hope of ever being a united people again. But the promise of restoration had been fulfilled, and on this day, the word of God spoke loudly throughout their gathering.

At the Our Daily Bread archives, I found this in reference to our key text today:

In 1738, an Englishman named John Wesley entered a church service where someone was preaching from the book of Romans. As he listened to the message of the gospel that night, Wesley wrote that he felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and he knew deep within that Jesus had died to save him from his sins. John Wesley would go on to found Methodism, an approach to living out Christian faith that continues today.

In today’s world, the message of the gospel can sound strange to some who don’t yet know God. The idea of receiving salvation can seem like a foreign concept.

We can be encouraged, however, for a person’s heart being transformed by the gospel takes place through the work of the Holy Spirit—a work we trace back to that first day of the early church.

So today we have both situations: People who have great quantities of Bible knowledge at their fingertips but have not allowed themselves to be changed by it; and people for whom the Bible narrative has gotten lost and they need to hear it as if it were the first time.

Because we’ve posted this song before, here’s a different version of it.

God, help us all in this information age when we have so many Biblical resources so easily accessible; help us that we don’t track our progress simply in terms of knowledge gained but in terms of hearts and lives changed. For those who lead, help them to lead with change in view. Amen.

 

April 23, 2017

Unless You Repent

by Russell Young

Unless you repent you too will all perish.” (Lk 13:5 NIV) Jesus spoke these words while addressing the people of Jerusalem. The words sound very much like those that John the Baptist would have proclaimed. The need of God for repentance is very clear. Repentance requires a person to recognize an attitude or an act as being offensive to God, to seek forgiveness, and to discontinue its practice. Paul told King Agrippa, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove (perform repeatedly) their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV) Paul did not teach that a single act of repentance was acceptable, but that a person’s life practices were to change.

In truth, there is not much preaching today concerning the need for repentance. One is more apt to hear proclaim the need to invite Jesus into his or her heart, following which he will meet their need for eternal salvation and a blessed life. The call to repentance during the “camp meetings” of past years has been displaced by the overarching love of God. Rather than admonishing “believers” to walk circumspectly, to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), to be humble before God, to honour and obey the Lord, believers are being told that they are to trust God because they are loved by him.

Repentance requires that the believer walk closely with his or her Lord so that his voice can be heard and his heart known. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice.” (Jn 10:27 NIV) He also said, “When [the Spirit] comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:8 NIV) It is easy to restrict the Lord’s teaching of repentance to those who are acknowledged as not knowing him, who have not “invited him into their heart,” but the world includes those who have made a confession of faith as well. Sin is sin, it is rebellion against God’s government and those who do not repent of their evil deeds will one day do so on their knees before him. Sin is to be acknowledged as the Spirit leads to its awareness; it is to be acknowledged and humbly confessed. “John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9 NIV) Repentance is not conveyed merely by the mouth but is demonstrated by the deeds that follow.

In spite of teaching that negates a walk of righteousness or of “walking in the light” (1 Jn 1:7 NIV), the Lord requires righteousness leading to holiness. (Rom 6:19) The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New. The God that punished sin in the Old is the same God who will punish it even at the end. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7-8 NIV) Christ’s admonition was that unless a person repents, they too will die. Do not be deceived!

Christ also revealed that “[The brothers] have overcome [their accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11 NIV) Overcoming Satan requires the word of their testimony as well as the blood of Christ. The testimony of their lives, their deeds, loudly proclaimed the word of God. (Note that he did not say, ‘the testimony of their word,’ but “the word of their testimony.”) The righteous manner in which the believer lives his or her life is important.

When asked if only a few people were going to be saved, Christ replied, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV) Note that the Lord required an “effort” to enter his Kingdom. Some will not put forth the required “effort” an will be left outside. The effort requires a victorious walk using all that the Lord has provided, especially his indwelling presence as Spirit. “He who overcomes will inherit all of this (life in the New Jerusalem), and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Rev 21:7 NIV) Victory can only be accomplished by defeating those practices and by disposing of those attitudes that are offensive to God through repentance and the demonstration of that repentance through a person’s deeds. God’s love does not cover defiance and rebellion which is blasphemy of the Spirit. In the end the believer is to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29) by walking as Jesus walked. (1 Jn 2:6)


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

April 19, 2017

Building from the Materials God Provides

Psalm 104:14 NRSV:

 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,

Today we’re paying a return visit to the website, Theology of Work. Many scripture references are embedded in the commentary today; feel free to click back and forth. (Suggestion: With most PCs, right-click and select “Open in New Tab.” This allows you to go back and forth more easily.)

Human creativity with God (Psalm 104)

From the beginning, God intended human work as a form of creativity under or alongside God’s own creativity (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:5, 15-18). Human work is meant to fulfill God’s creative intent, bring each person into relationship with other people and with God, and glorify God. Psalm 104 gives a delightful depiction of this creative partnership. It begins with a broad canvas of the glory of God’s creation (Psalms 104:1-9). This leads naturally to God’s active work in sustaining the world of animals, birds and sea creatures (Ps.104:10-12, 14, 16-18, 20-22, 25). God provides richly for human beings as well (Ps. 104:13-15, 23). God’s work makes possible the fruitfulness of nature and humanity. “From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work” (Ps. 104:13).

The work of humans is to build further, using what God gives. We have to gather and use the plants. “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle and plants for people to cultivate” (Ps. 104: 14, alternate reading from NRSV footnote f). We make the wine and bread and extract the oil from the plants God causes to grow (Ps. 104:15). God provides so richly, in part, by populating his creation with people who labor six days a week. Thus, while this psalm speaks of all creatures looking to God for food, and God opening his hand to supply it (Ps. 104:27-28), people still have to work hard to process and use God’s good gifts. Psalm 104 goes so far as to name some of the tools used for the work of God’s world—tents, garments, beams, fire, ships (Ps. 104:1, 2, 3, 4, 26, respectively). Intriguingly, the Psalm happily ascribes use of such tools to God himself, as well as to human beings. We work with God, and God’s ample provision comes in part through human effort.

Even so, remember that we are the junior partners in creation with God. In keeping with Genesis, human beings are the last creatures mentioned in Psalm 104. But in distinction from Genesis, we come on the scene here with little fanfare. We are just one more of God’s creatures, going about their business alongside the cattle, birds, wild goats, coneys, and lions (Ps. 104:14-23). Each has its proper activity—for humans it is work and labor until the evening—but underneath every activity, it is God who provides all that is needed (Ps. 104:21). Psalm 104 reminds us that God has done his work supremely well. In him our work may be done supremely well also, if only we work humbly in the strength his Spirit supplies, cultivating the beautiful world in which he has placed us by his grace.


© 2014 by the Theology of Work Project, Inc.; used by permission
Unless otherwise noted, the Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, Copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved.


Read another devotion from the same source: God’s Guidance in Our Work: Psalm 25


Because we often get first time readers, every few months we like to review our purpose statement:

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

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


Introducing EMU Music. “Emu is a collaborative ministry focused on contemporary, Biblical, Christ-centered music in church. Founded in Sydney, Australia, and now operating throughout the world…” This is the 2nd most-viewed (in the last year) video on their YouTube channel:

This is their highest viewed song in the same period:

 

 

April 10, 2017

Christianity 201: Quotations

For those who come to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Christianity 201 started on April 1st, 2010. So we had a birthday a few days ago that we didn’t mention. The early days were rather rough and haphazard. To give you an idea, one post the first month contained the above verse, but not the reference. (For the record, it’s a shortened version of Hebrews 11:6.)  It took a year or so for us to find our rhythm.

Over the years we’ve done a quotations series from various authors, but today, in a sense, we’re quoting ourselves. Here, in no particular order, are some very random things that were posted in those early day from our very first month:

Watchman Nee:

Nothing is so hurtful to the life of a Christian as acting; nothing so blessed as when our outward efforts cease and our attitudes become natural — when our words, our prayers, our very life become a spontaneous and unforced expression of the life within.

Bruxy Cavey:

The thing about grace is that it makes religion totally redundant

E. Stanley Jones:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God.   Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

Oswald J. Smith:

Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?

Chuck Swindoll:

At Catalyst ’09  Chuck Swindoll shared some wisdom that he’d compiled over the course of his fifty years in ministry. One of his many points was that “God’s way is better than my way.”

He says that “our problem is that we are too capable.” We are too talented, too skilled, too knowledgeable, and too busy doing it all. No room for God. No need.

Swindoll says that “God can’t pour His riches into hands that are already full… Empty your hands… [We must] empty our hands” of our own clippings, ideas, dreams, philosophies.

Tim Keller:

Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.

J.D. Greear:

Both Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Edwards were known to arrive home with a couple dozen hand written notes pinned to their jackets. Yes, they looked like dorks, but we remember them hundreds of years after their deaths and don’t even know the names of the cool people anymore.

Unknown:

Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout.  It is usually the result of a slow leak.

A. W. Tozer:

There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always possess. It covets “things” with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns “my” and “mine” look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant…

They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease. The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one root lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature  is upset by the monstrous substitution.

Ghandi:

“You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down, and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of good literature.“

Steven & Brooksyne Weber (on the scribe in Matthew 8: 19-20)

Our Lord tests the sincerity of the scribe’s loyalty by warning him that He was so poor that beasts of the fields and birds of the air have nicer accommodations than He Himself had. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” If the popular leader fared so badly, what was the follower to expect? 

Ottawa area pastor Paul Kern provided us with our first ever graphic element, borrowed from his church website:

Finally, here, in its entirety is the first of what would turn out to be many posts from Kevin Rogers. If you click the link and then look around, you’ll find that Kevin is faithfully writing and that the title of this devotional is still the tag line for his website.

Loners Learning About Community

God’s eyes are watching loners. He is the shepherd who leaves a flock of ninety-nine in the care of another and travels to find the one-hundredth sheep that wandered away and was lost.

He is the Father who watches and waits for broken rebels to humble themselves and return home to His endearing love and unmerited acceptance.

God is a father to orphans and a new husband to widows. The societal separation, abandonment and sudden loss create a lack of belonging. The loneliness of orphans becomes their new identity. Where will the widow and orphan belong? Who will provide for them? Who will be their protector?

God not only finds loners but calls them to belong to His family. He adopts and marries the ones misunderstood, rejected and divorced from their own family of origin.

His presence in a life can sometimes cause difficulty and separation from your roots. The sins of the fathers affect the family down to the great-grandchildren. But God’s blessing goes further in unlimited potential.

April 5, 2017

Giving Our Very Best

Jim Thornber writes at what we always call “the other Thinking Out Loud blog” and he’s been featured here many times previously. Click the title below to read at source. There’s also a link to another one of his pieces in today’s link list at what Jim probably calls “the other Thinking Out Loud blog.”

Presenting My Best

“So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, ‘Hurry . . . and bake some bread.’ Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready . . . he served it to the men. ” – Genesis 18:6-8

After reading this passage about Abraham’s hospitality to the Lord and the two angels, it occurred to me that sometimes I am either too lazy or too impatient to give to the Lord in the manner of this marvelous man.

As it happens, one day Abe is sitting in front of his tent during the hottest part of the afternoon, sipping sweet tea and listening to the tree frogs, when he looks up and notices three men standing nearby. He must have figured they weren’t normal beings since one moment no one is there and the next moment they’re standing nearby. Since he didn’t see them approaching from the distance, their appearance is Abe’s first clue to be nice.

Realizing he has heavenly guests in his front yard, Abraham goes into high gear and asks if he may treat them to a chair in the shade, a foot bath and a fresh meal. They say “Okay,” and Abraham rushes off to arrange a nice lunch for his guests.

As I was reading this, I wondered why Abraham would go to all this trouble. Undoubtedly, Abraham and Sarah had food in the tent. They weren’t poor and lacking. With all the people Abraham had in his company, it is inconceivable that there wasn’t some meat and bread in the pantry left over from last night’s dinner.

But that isn’t the way of Abraham. Instead, he makes sure to prepare the freshest food for the Lord.  He didn’t give his guests day-old bread and yesterday’s meat, but warm bread and a tender calf. It was a lot of effort and time, but the Lord is gracious to Abraham and allows him the time necessary to make the arrangements.

I wonder: How often does God get my leftovers because I’m too stingy, lazy, preoccupied or even self-conscious to arrange to give Him my best? Sure, I may be thinking I don’t want to try the Lord’s patience by making Him wait until I’ve prepared, but this scene with Abraham tells me that the Lord is already prepared to wait for me to give my best. I’m the only one who is in a hurry.

I also see that giving my best means I may impose upon others in order to give the best, the way Abe got Sarah and the servant involved in the meal. It means that in order for me to give God the best I have to give, I sometimes need the help of other people. Abraham never hesitated to ask for help in giving to the Lord. That is something I need to learn.

Abraham’s reaction to the Lord’s presence in his home is a reminder that: 1) God knows who I am, 2) God’s knows where I live, and 3) God is prepared to wait for my best. I may be impatient to “get on with it,” but the Lord is not in a hurry to receive my leftovers. If the Lord is willing to wait for me, I should be willing to give Him my best.


Behind the scenes at C201 is my wife, Ruth Wilkinson who is often involved in the preparation of this daily devotional study through discussions about a particular writer’s perspective or additional research into the context or meaning of verses. Also, on the days you see a longer excerpt from a print source, it’s probably Ruth who typed it out. So today I wanted to do something I’ve never done here, which is to say thanks and wish her a Happy Birthday.

March 30, 2017

The DNA of the Very First Church

During the week of March 13th, Andy Elmes from the UK Ministry Great Big Life ran a series of five devotionals that he called “Characteristics of a Blueprint Church.” Space doesn’t permit us to run all five here, but I wanted to include some highlights from each day. See the bottom of today’s piece for information on how you can get material like this in your inbox each weekday.

Characteristics of a Blueprint Church

Acts 2:41-43, NIV
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

They devoted themselves

Here we find the first ingredient to their effectiveness. There was within the church, not just the leadership, a spirit of self devotion. People daily “devoted themselves”. They had great preachers, but they were not spoon fed; they were self feeders taking responsibility to get the spiritual nourishment they needed. They had great meetings and fellowship but did not need to be constantly phoned or dragged there or reminded with constant bulletins like they had memory problems; they got themselves were they needed to be, when they needed to be there.

So much of modern church is sadly about motivating people to do what they should naturally want to do, encouraging people to do things that really should be their spiritual lifestyle. Imagine if we could get even more self devotion into the DNA of the modern western Church – how much more effective would our local churches be if each member took personal responsibility for even the little things, like getting to Church on time so church services could start as strong as they could do, serving on the teams that needed them and turning up when it was their turn without a text, being faithful in honouring God with their finances and time without subtle reminders and encouragements from the stage?

I am always amazed at how people can downgrade the “God bit” of their life and sentence it to a lesser devotion than the other bits; one great example again being time keeping. In every other area of life they are on time: meetings with the dentist, bank manager, work – but why not church? What is that switch that needs to be fixed? Surely the greatest of our devotion belongs to God, right? Surely the place we manifest the greatest personal self devotion should be in His House? Imagine what we could achieve if just this one thing was to change – suddenly no challenge would be too great. Hey we might even see 3000 people get saved on our Sunday morning: 3000 people moved by His message but also moved by a group of people so sold out and devoted to what and who they believed in.

Apostles Doctrine

…The Dictionary says that Doctrine is, “Teaching, instruction, the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief.” Basically, the Apostles’ doctrine was the teaching of the first Church Leaders (apostles). The foundational teaching for the new testament church was based on their teaching, especially Paul’s. Their teaching formed the “branch of belief” for what we still believe, live by and hold to as true today in regard to everything including God, His Church and how we are to live.

I suppose the challenge today is, do we teach and personally live by the truths found in the Apostles’ doctrine (teaching)? Does it still form the margins of what we believe today to be truth or do we attempt to mix it with other doctrines (teachings)? Notice that it does not say they devoted themselves to the doctrine of Moses or the doctrine of religion; no, it clearly says they devoted themselves to the doctrine of the Apostles (leaders of the early church).

The doctrine of Moses was not wrong for its time or dispensation, but as Paul stood up to preach daily everything had indeed changed. Christ had now died for the sins of the world, the old covenant was no longer effective or relevant because a new covenant had been established and had replaced it – a covenant (agreement) cut with the very blood of God’s only Son, not of bulls and goats that could only provide a mere covering for sin that would last a moment. Full punishment for sin had now been placed on Christ as He hung on the cross as our substitute; full forgiveness had now been given and God’s wrath towards us settled because of His one-time redemptive work. So much had now changed. It wasn’t that Paul could not or did not refer to Moses, the law or the previous covenant, but now what he taught, and the doctrine he was establishing, was based on the grace of God and the perfect finished work of the cross, and nothing else. The doctrine he now preached and established would leave a person redeemed and free outside of their own performance or merit; it would give the offer of a new beginning to all who would believe based on faith not works; it would reveal God’s eternal plan to get His life inside the life of the believer, to empower a person to overcome and live the new life they had been freely given…

…[A]re you living and building by the Apostles’ teaching or are you trying to add a bit of Moses, or maybe a bit of law, maybe a dash of your reasoning?

…When I started to think about “the Apostles Doctrine” I was intrigued to find out exactly what it was, to make sure I was not guilty of mixing covenants in a wrong way, or of believing partial or diluted truth. I studied a bit deeper than normal and found out what the epicenter of the Apostles Doctrine was. I was not surprised but certainly encouraged as I discovered the Apostles Doctrine orbited and found its strength in a couple of basic truths or realities. Firstly the finished redemptive work of Christ and secondly the reality of the new creation.

Think about that: everything that Paul taught and established was based and rooted in the simple yet profound truth that when anyone believes in Jesus as Saviour they become a “new creation” – they are born again, and it is as if they had never lived before or ever sinned in the sight of God.

One of Paul’s foundational truths for all he taught in regard to this reality was of course this one found in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”. The NIV translation puts it like this: “the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here”. Paul had a deep set revelation that the new creation was God’s master plan – not a patch up job of the old man, behaviour modification or a rust maintenance program, rather a brand new beginning for a person based on God’s unfailing grace.

The truth is when a person believes in Christ they identify with His death, burial and resurrection and come in by faith to a brand new existence based on Christ alone (Romans 6:3-6). As God’s word says in Romans 6, the old man is crucified with Christ and, as Paul said so well, our only boast is in the cross where we were separated from the world and who we were to be who God has called us to be (Galatians 6:14). As you read on in that verse you actually see Paul defy or replace the doctrine of Moses with this new creation reality.

Galatians 6:15, NIV
Neither circumcision nor un-circumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

…Are you attending meetings or doing life with the church?

We have been looking at what the first church devoted themselves to. We saw that the Apostles’ teaching was a very high priority and that each person who called that first church home had a personal devotion to it. Next on the list comes the word fellowship, this was another high priority to them and needs to be to us. So what does it mean by fellowship? I love the way The Message translation puts this verse:

“They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.”

I love that statement and the image it creates: they devoted themselves to “the life together”. The early church put great emphasis on simply “doing life together”, they never defined their church experience as two hours on Sunday but rather committed to live more community-minded in their relationship with the Church…

Acts 2:42-44, AMP
And they steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] and prayers.

We have looked at how the original blueprint church devoted itself to doctrine (teaching) and fellowship (doing life together); next on the list comes the breaking of bread. Did this mean that they spent all day doing communion? I don’t think it did. I like the way that the Amplified version puts it: “to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper]”. Personally I think this fits well with the culture of Israel at that time and links well with previous value and priority of doing life together. Remember, when Jesus instituted the original communion, or breaking of bread as we know it today, where was He? In a synagogue? No, He was at a meal with His friends, hanging out with them, eating and breaking bread with them, then He takes the bread and wine and talked His friends through what has become a significant ordinance still in His Church today.

Is God saying in this verse that we are to devote ourselves to the act or ordinance of communion? That we are to do it all day and everyday? Or, like the Amplified version says, that we are to be taking time to eat and fellowship together and, in the midst of that ongoing fellowship, we are to make time to take bread and wine to specifically remember what He has done like He instructed us to do). This feels more natural and ‘lifestyle’ to me than just making the bread and wine something we do in certain meetings we hold together?

Again, I don’t think it is an issue of “either, or”, rather “both”. I think we should still have significant Bread and Wine (communion) times together when we meet corporately, but also as we build the community side of the church. As we meet together not just to pray but to fellowship and eat, in the midst of us doing that we take time to give thanks and remember what He did for us when He gave His Body (represented by the bread) and shed His Blood (represented by the wine or grape juice)…


I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. Click the link to have it delivered to your inbox each weekday.

 

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