Christianity 201

June 27, 2020

Works are Nice, Knowledge is Helpful; But God Wants Your Proximity

But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome. (Matthew 26: 58)

Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. (Mark 14:54)

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. (Matthew 27:55)

This is one of my oldest son’s favorite worship songs, I Just Want to be Where You Are by Don Moen. Because today (27th) is his birthday, it seemed like a good time.

The opening lines are:

I just want to be where you are
Dwelling daily in your presence
I don’t want to worship from afar
Draw me near to where you are.

The line that got to me was, “I don’t want to worship from afar.”

I realize this is rather superficial, but in my years in church I have attended some churches which fill the back rows first, and other churches in which the front rows fill up right away. I’m not sure what accounts for the difference in church culture. I’ve been to seminars and conferences where people will pay top dollar for airfare, hotel, food and conference admission, only to grab a seat in the very last row. But I’ve also seen people at Christian events who run to grab a seat near the front, with Bibles and notebooks already open before the speaker is even introduced.

Turning to today’s scripture texts, we certainly know why Peter followed Jesus from a distance. Jesus had just been arrested, and for all he knew, he might be next. So he became a ‘distant’ follower. Knowing how the lives of Peter and 10 of the other twelve disciples ended, we know that following Jesus came with great personal risk, and this begins after that scene in Gethsemane where the story takes on a new trajectory which, for persecuted Christians, continues to this day.

The same applies to the women in the third verse cited above. Matthew Henry says that either way, it was either the ‘fury’ of those who arrested Jesus or the ‘fear’ in themselves that kept them from getting too close.

Between these two considerations, where do you find yourself?

In terms of the superficial, do you gravitate to the front rows at Christian gatherings, or are you content to stay near the back? Even if life circumstances currently make you one of the people Ruth Graham calls “broken on the back row;” may I encourage you to try moving up. It’s a way of making a physical declaration of the interior intention of your heart.

In terms of the scripture text and today’s song, can you say, “I just want to be where you are;” or are you “following at a distance?” Perhaps where you live there is a stigma associated with Christianity, or a local church. You may already be paying a price for close association with Jesus.

Whatever it is, it probably doesn’t compare to what Peter and the women felt on that terrible night. What if Peter hadn’t denied his connection with Jesus? I can say from personal experience that life changes when you are willing to identify with the body of Christ no matter what may come; when you determine to a public statement that you’re all in.

There’s something about this simple song that intensifies as you hear it. Take time to listen to it more than once. Enter fully into God’s presence.


Bonus item:

This song is not as well known. It was part of the “Jesus Music” revolution that took place in the early 1970s. The songwriter was Gary Arthur and the band was simply called The Way. The song is called Closer to God.

June 12, 2020

How Can Your Righteousness Surpass the Pharisees?

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

by Ruth Wilkinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

June 10, 2020

A Study in Patience

Today’s devotional is unlike anything I’ve ever featured here. Usually we run between 650 and 1200 words. Occasionally shorter, and sometimes longer. But often I run into a writer I want to highlight who uses a shorter format, so I’ll combine two (or three) pieces into one.

Today we’re combining nine pieces where the author(s) have created a scripture medley on the subject of patience. The thoughts come from Glorious Ministries, a “non-profit organization located in Genesee county* and established in 2014” which states is mission as “seeking to encourage, empower, and support individuals who are striving for excellence in their walk with Christ by offering retreats, motivational classes, support groups, group therapy, a 12 step Christ-centered program, and individual counseling.” [*so either Michigan or New York State.]

The Bible is clear that it’s not about the number of words. A short, concise word “fitly spoken” can be a treasure to the right person.

The link below takes you to the site in general. To see these at source, you want to track down articles from May 31st to June 8th. Each of the nine short articles comes with graphics you can use on social media which were not included here.

Patience

But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
 – Rom.8v25 NASB

When we hope for something we are not able to see we have to be patient. Have you waited on the Lord and said “I could have had this done already, my way!” You take it back and then your way doesn’t work! Patience… wait with patience!

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
 – Rom.12v12 ESV

God is our hope and we should rejoice in Him. When we are experiencing a little turbulence in our life we should be patient and wait upon the Lord. Praying and thanking God always.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
 – I Cor.13v4 NIV

In our daily walk, no matter where the walk takes us, we are to be patient! We are to show love and kindness to everyone! We are made in God’s image and our actions should reflect such!

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.
– James 5v7 NIV

Have you been patient in waiting on the Lord for answers? For the land to be fruitful? For the purpose of what is happening on going on in your life? God tells us over and over in His Word, Be patient, Be still, rest in Him! Remember to be patient and wait on the Lord!

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
– Galatians 6v9 NLT

We are to wait upon the Lord. Be patient! Do not grow weary! We will reap when the time is right as long as we are patient!

Hot tempers cause arguments, but patience brings peace.
– Proverbs 15v18 GNT/TEV

We are suppose to be slow to anger! When we are patient we provide peace not only to ourselves but also to those we come in contact! Remember, when you do not know people are watching you and how you react to things.

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.
 – Ephesians 4v2 NLT

When we are kind always, patient, and accept each other where each person is at we are able to show the light of Christ through us.

The end of something is better than its beginning. Patience is better than pride.
  – Ecclesiastes 7v8 GNT/TEV

When it is finished we are wiser than when we started! We have grown and are able to pass on what we have learned to those around us! Patience to press on and keep pressing on is important. Pride gets in our way! May your journey today be full of patience to press on and wisdom to go to the steps ahead!

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
  – Colossians 3v12-13

It is no surprise to me patience with one another and forgiveness of each other go hand in hand. We are not suppose to complain about each other. We are required to forgive each other as we have been forgiven. We are to share the light of Christ in everything we do! Let us practice patience with one another and providing forgiveness in place of complaining!


By our measurement this is still a shorter devotional, but by their standards we ‘borrowed’ a lot of their content. (It took a lot of patience just to format this!) So I want to one more time direct you to Glorious Ministries, and this link to their page. This is part of a longer series on the Fruit of the Spirit you might want to check out.

 

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.

June 3, 2020

Pre-booking Your Choices

The excerpt from Thinking out Loud which follows is a principle I’ve always held in high regard, but was surprised this morning to find I’ve never shared it here at C201. (You’ll see why I looked in the second half of this devotional.)

Our kids hated road trips. We would get to a city, walk into a motel, pull out our coupon book, and then be told that due to a soccer tournament, there were no motels with openings anywhere within an hour radius. Back to the car, hungry, hot, tired, and another hour’s drive.

Later on, we discovered the joy of planning destinations ahead, and making reservations, though by that point, the kids were older and opting out of our excursions.

Their road trip phobia later turned into an interesting object lesson. I told them that somewhere in the future, they will find themselves in situations that will tempt them to compromise their principles, or do something foolish and unsafe. We said that like our motel example, they need to pre-book their choices. That way they won’t regret something done in the heat of the moment. Decide now what they will and won’t do.

One author suggested that this is what the book of Proverbs is about. It’s a father saying to his son something like, “Look, this stuff is gonna happen; here’s how it’s gonna go down…” and then describing the benefits of wisdom and not be the proverbial (!) lamb to the slaughter of temptation.

Proverbs is a great book to teach your kids. 31 Chapters, one for each day of the month. Lots of easy-to-understand translations out there; and you need to spend money if you really don’t want to; just read it off the tablet at suppertime from BibleGateway.com. ICB, NCV, NLT, The Voice, all recommended for the younger set, in that order. Start each new month with the same chapter in a different translation. (Yes, a few of the verses are explicit, but you can skip over those until the kids are older.)

What got me thinking about this was an excerpt at Devotions Daily from a recently published book by Kathi Lipp, Ready for Anything: Preparing Your Heart and Home for Any Crisis Big or Small (Zondervan, 2020). You can read the full devotional — which contained some very practical advice — at this link, or learn more about the book at this link.

…Predeciding is when you make a decision before you get into the thick of a situation. It can be as simple as making a menu plan for the rest of the week so you don’t get to five thirty each night and have to figure out what in the world you are going to make for dinner. Or it can be as hard as deciding that the next time I see Aunt June and she mentions how much weight I’ve gained—because she lives for that kind of thing—I’m going to say, “So good to see you,” and then give my husband the preagreed-upon signal to get me out of there.

Predeciding takes most of the emotion out of decisions because we are not in the midst of the situation. We can use logic and wisdom instead of adrenaline and anxiety. And that will make our decisions—for us and our family—so much better, healthier, and wiser.

One of the biggest benefits of predeciding is giving ourselves and our loved ones the confidence that if something scary happens, we have a plan.

Throughout the Bible we see God honoring those who made decisions before they were ever tested who remained faithful to their plans.

Here are some other examples:

  • RUTH 1: When Ruth decides to stay with Naomi, even though her husband has died and Naomi has nothing to offer Ruth.
  • DANIEL 3: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to bow down to the king’s image and were thrown into the fiery furnace but were preserved from harm.
  • ESTHER 4: When Queen Esther went before the king and made an appeal for the lives of the Jewish people, she declared, “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (v. 16).
  • LUKE 10: Mary choosing to sit at Jesus’s feet even though she was receiving pressure from Martha to get up and help with the preparations.
  • PHILIPPIANS 4: Paul’s decision to focus on God, and not his circumstances, while in prison awaiting trial.

These are just a few of the circumstances where God empowered people to set a course and follow it, despite hardship and temptations to choose a different route.

Predeciding is an invaluable skill. Making a decision about how you will act before a crisis comes will save you pain and heartache in everything from parenting to budgeting to handling an emergency…

Taken from: Ready for Anything: Preparing Your Heart and Home for Any Crisis Big or Small by: Kathi Lipp Copyright © 2020 by Zondervan. Used by permission of Zondervan. zondervan.com

 

April 29, 2020

Finding Jesus in the Hurry and the Hustle

Once again today we’re back at Don’t Ask The Fish written by Lancaster Bible College and Capital Seminary president Dr. Tommy Kiedis who also writes at Leader’s Life and Work. As always, you’re encouraged to click the headers like the one which follows, and read these at their original host sites.

Hope When the Path is Uphill

“You shall seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

— Jeremiah 29:13

I’m beginning to wonder if Jeremiah 29:13 went down with Amelia Earhart. I don’t see it much. I don’t hear it taught, preached, or memorized. On the other hand, Jeremiah 29:11 is as popular as Santa Claus:

““For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

— Jeremiah 29:11

Why does Jeremiah 29:11 find its way onto T-shirts, bedroom walls, and coffee mugs? Probably because it speaks to the gracious nature of God. But could it be — just possibly — because it subtly reinforces our desire for life on easy street?

  • Prosperity? Yeah, I’m down with that.

  • No harm coming my way? Love that idea.

  • Hopeful future (my future)? Sure, bring it on!

Jeremiah 29:7 is also trending nicely.

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

— Jeremiah 29:7 ESV

There is an army of church planters and pastors who have taken up the rally cry of Jeremiah 29:7. That’s a good thing. One Westboro Baptist Church is enough. God, give us more emissaries of peace.

But Jeremiah 29:13 is a different story. It is the awkward friend, the out-of-date tie, the book collecting dust on the shelf:

“You shall seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

Seeking and searching implies effort. Finding Jesus in the hurry and hustle is hard. Contending for the faith in the face of a tough week, a marital spat, or a world pandemic . . . . Come on! Who wants to put up with that?

We may not want to, but we must.

Read the Scriptures. Study history. The way of Jesus is often uphill, over difficult terrain, and carried out under a cloudy sky. I suspect that is how Jeremiah felt. The man who delivered the promise of “prosperity, hope, and future” walked the road of potholes, hassles, and failure:

  • Jeremiah’s parishioners beat him and imprisoned him (Jeremiah 37:15).

  • The political officials called for his hide (Jeremiah 38:4).

  • Enemies cast him into a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:6).

  • He walked to Babylon bound in chains with the other exiles (Jeremiah 40:1)

  • His ministry was a fountain of tears (Jeremiah 9:1)

So what gives? How come the one who preached “Don’t worry be happy” sang, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen”? For starters, God’s Jeremiah 29:11 promise was, above all else, his prophetic word to his disobedient people wallowing in the land of Babylon.

God would not leave them there. Jeremiah 29:11 was God’s billboard: Better days ahead!

But “better days” does not mean “every day” nor necessarily “this day.” In fact, Jeremiah’s audience would wait 70 years for that promise to become reality.

That kind of delay is okay for people of faith. Walking with God is never about the circumstances. It is always about keeping fixed on the one who sees us through the circumstances, and who rains the sweet fragrance of peace over parched souls.

So we seek him . . . by praying, reading his word, remembering his promises, running to his family, and resting in his presence. He is there no matter our peace or lack of it.

The Apostle John was Jeremiah’s first-century colleague in the faith. John reminds us: Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. It is in remaining in Him (seeking him) that we “find him,” produce fruit, and accomplish more than we ever dreamed.

So what are we to do with Jeremiah 29:11? Well, for starters don’t throw away your coffee mug or paint over the verse. Just add verse 13 to it.

“You shall seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

April 24, 2020

The Apostle Paul’s Personal Circumstances as Apologetic

…”I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee…”
– Paul in Philippians 3:4-6 NIV

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished…”
– Paul in Acts 22:3-5 NLT

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
– Paul in 2 Cor. 5:17 NLT

After the Gospels, the New Testament proceeds to give us a glimpse of what following Christ will look like after He ascended and after He sent the Holy Spirit. Much of this was written by Saul/Paul who is personally completely absent from the gospel accounts.

What we know about his life can be instructive.

The Apostle Paul:

Shows us what following Jesus means when you didn’t see it firsthand.

In a way, Paul is a stand-in for all of us. There’s nothing in either the gospels or Paul’s own writing to suggest he was part of the crowd when he taught in Capernaum or Bethsaida or Sychar or Bethany or performed miracles in those places. There is a natural skepticism when you didn’t see something extraordinary up close and personal. Even Thomas doubted after following Jesus for three years. Paul would be in this category. Because he never met or conversed with Jesus, in I Cor. 15:8 he goes so far as to call himself “one abnormally born.”

Shows us what following Jesus means when you follow an other religion.

Paul is an example of what it means to convert (verb) or become a convert (noun.) Here was no nominal Jew, but a man steeped in religious training who knew his faith inside-out and would go on to boast about this aspect of his life even after committing to Christ. He in effect becomes the poster boy for conversion; his life allows the possibility for anyone to walk away from their spiritual past into a new chapter.

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are an intellectual.

Even if Paul had never boasted about his training, the grammar and sentence structure of his writing betray his thorough education. I personally believe that the “Philippian hymn” which is set off as poetry citation in most of our Bibles could be an example of Paul quoting a popular early Church song written by someone else or it could be Paul quoting Paul, since training in music was part of that classical education. Today we see objections from people who think they are ‘too smart’ to believe the Gospel, but Paul showed that formal education doesn’t make one too sophisticated an intellectual to reject the simple concepts of faith.

Shows us what following Jesus means if you were formerly opposed to Christianity.

It’s one thing to be atheist or agnostic, or to follow another faith, but if you’ve been particularly vocal about it, you have to be willing to swallow your pride and say you were wrong. Most biographers of Paul characterize what happens to him in the wake of the Damascus Road encounter as being a dramatic, 180-degree turnaround. This is the simplest definition of repentance: ‘My life was going in one direction and then, in a moment, I changed trajectory and started walking toward a completely different objective.’

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are being spiritually formed.

None of any of the significant events in Paul’s post-conversion life happens until after he has been inactive while undergoing a time of discipleship and spiritual formation and simply considering the claims of Christ in a world about to be turned upside down by the life of Jesus. Some put this as a three-year period, while others have it as high as 14 years, though the latter number might have some overlap with early ministry. This might have been a tough period of Paul who would have been anxious to share his post-Damascus testimony, and it shows us that just because people aren’t entering into high-profile Christian service right away, it doesn’t mean their life hasn’t been dramatically changed.

Shows us what following Jesus means while you are suffering.

We can only speculate as to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” though some commentators are more certain than others. There can be little doubt that it dogged Paul continually, three times bringing him to a point where he either enlisted the fervent prayers of other or spent time apart crying out to God to take the condition away. If anyone had time to wrestle with the question as to why God allows suffering, it was him. And let’s not even talk about being hungry or shipwrecked. He is convinced that when we are weak we are made strong.

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are now the one facing opposition.

From a literary perspective, the story comes full circle; the man who opposes the teaching of Jesus ends up facing the same type of opponents; the proverbial shoe is now on the other foot. Many of the epistles are called “Paul’s prison letters” because he spends a section of his life under house arrest. A faith in Christ needs to be anchored firmly and be resilient in the face of challenge.

Shows us what following Jesus means … period.

From Paul’s famous love chapter, to the fruit of the spirit, to his message of economic, ethnic and gender egalitarianism, to his imagery of living the Christian life as one running a race, to his theological treatise in his letter to the Romans; in all these things Paul shows us what it means to live the Christian life.

 

-PW

 

 

April 15, 2020

‘Nominal Christian’ is an Oxymoron

“The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.”
― Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus


“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46 NASB)

The mechanism by which the hammers strikes the strings in an acoustic piano was, in its day, a revolutionary invention. To that point, no matter how softly or heavily one engaged the keys, the sound would always be heard at the same volume level. When this new keyboard action was created, the resulting instrument was called a pianoforte which literally (in Italian) means “quiet-loud.” An oxymoron.

This morning at Thinking Out Loud, we looked at the idea of a “nominal-Christian.” After I write an article, I usually come up with a sentence or two to promote the piece on Twitter, and sometimes those ‘teasers’ have an extra level of clarity. I said,

“I’m a Christian, but I’m non-observant.”
Theologically speaking, that makes no sense at all.
And yet… there are people for whom this fits.

Truly, Jesus doesn’t give us the option of half-hearted service.

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! (Rev. 3:15-16NLT)

A pianoforte can be quiet or loud and even both at the same time, but the Christian has no such luxury of spiritual ambiguity. To push the analogy to its limits, we need to be loud all the time!

Mark Batterson posted this summary of his 2013 book All In on his website:

The Gospel costs nothing. You can’t earn it or buy it. It can only be received as a free gift compliments of God’s grace. It doesn’t cost anything, but it demands everything. It demands that we go “all in,” a term that simply means placing all that you have into God’s hands. Pushing it all in. And that’s where we get stuck―spiritual no man’s land. We’re afraid that if we go all in that we might miss out on what this life has to offer. It’s not true. The only thing you’ll miss out on is everything God has to offer…

…The message of All In is simple: if Jesus is not Lord of all then Jesus is not Lord at all.  It’s all or nothing. It’s now or never. Kneeling at the foot of cross of Christ and surrendering to His Lordship is a radical act of dethroning yourself and enthroning Christ as King.  It’s also an act of disowning yourself.  Nothing belongs to you. Not even you…

In the book he also writes,

We all want to spend eternity with God. We just don’t want to spend time with Him. We stand and stare from a distance, satisfied with superficiality. We Facebook more than we seek His face. We text more than we study The Text. And our eyes aren’t fixed on Jesus. They’re fixed on our iPhones and iPads – emphasis on “i.” Then we wonder why God feels so distant. It’s because we’re hugging the rim. We wonder why we’re bored with our faith. It’s because we’re holding out.

We want joy without sacrifice.
We want character without suffering.
We want success without failure.
We want gain without pain.
We want a testimony without the test.
We want it all without going all out for it.

and

There is a fine line between ‘Thy kingdom come’ and ‘my kingdom come.’ If you cross the line, your relationship with God is self-serving.

You aren’t serving God. You are using God.

You aren’t building altars to God. You are building monuments to yourself.

In a 2011 book, Not a Fan, Kyle Idleman emphasized that Jesus is looking followers not fans. Many who heard him teach were fans, but when the going got tough, the tough got going. Scripture tells us that many walked away. The ominously verse-referenced John 6:66 says, From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. (James 1:22 NLT)

Yet many of those people could have been said to have a fairly good knowledge of what Jesus was teaching. (In fact that was the issue, some of them knew exactly what he was teaching, and exactly what this was going to cost them.)  Kyle writes,

Fans have a tendency to confuse their knowledge for intimacy. They don’t recognize the difference between knowing about Jesus and following Jesus. In Church we’ve got this confused. We have established systems of learning that result in knowledge, but not necessarily intimacy…

…Now don’t get me wrong, studying and learning from God’s word is invaluable. Jesus referenced, read and quoted all kinds of passages from the Old Testament, ample proof that he had studied God’s Word with great care and diligence. The problem isn’t knowledge. The problem is that you can have knowledge without having intimacy. In fact, knowledge can be a false indicator of intimacy. clearly where there is intimacy there should be growing knowledge, but too often there is knowledge without a growing intimacy. …Knowledge is part of intimacy, but just because there is knowledge doesn’t mean there is intimacy.

And of course intimacy is developed over time and time involves an investment. Kyle also notes,

For many Christians the concept of denying themselves was not part of the deal. They grew up with the message that such a radical decision really isn’t necessary. So they signed up to follow Jesus, but if denying themselves was part of the explanation, it was definitely the fine print. That’s especially true of American Christians. In part, this due to the collision of Christianity with American capitalism. It has created a culture of consumers in our churches. Instead of approaching their faith with a spirit of denial that says, “What can do for Jesus?” they have a consumer mentality that says, “What can Jesus do for me?”

…One of the reasons it’s so hard for us to deny ourselves is because the whole idea seems to go against our greatest desire in life. Most everyone would say that what they want more than anything else is to be happy. We’re convinced that the path to happiness means saying yes to ourselves. Indulgence is the path to happiness, so to deny ourselves seems to go in the opposite direction of what will make us happy. The right to pursue happiness seems to be in direct conflict with the call to deny.

…That’s what the story of the Rich Young Ruler is really all about. It’s not just about giving up money and the things that money can buy; it’s about giving up, period. That’s what it means to deny yourself and follow Christ.

 

 

 

 

April 6, 2020

Cleaning House with Fear and Trembling

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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As I’m writing this, the world is in lockdown. A lot of people are using the time for projects around their homes, one of which is housecleaning. But today we’re talking about a different type of housekeeping, the type Israel would do before Passover.

We’re again back with Paula Maillet at Along Emaus Road who wrote these shorter articles in the opposite order, but I thought if we’re going to approach purging our lives of sin, we can’t do it halfheartedly, we need to do so with fear and trembling.

Click the individual titles below to read these at her blog.

Christ Our Passover

“Therefore purge out the old leaven,
that you may be a new lump,
since you truly are unleavened.
For indeed Christ, OUR PASSOVER, was sacrificed for us.
Therefore let us KEEP THE FEAST, not with old leaven,
nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
1 Corinthians 5:7-8

Before Passover begins, the Jews do a thorough search in their homes to make sure every single bit of leaven is found and removed. Leaven is the symbol of sin. This is a picture of how believers should approach Christ, searching their hearts for any evil thing, getting rid of malice and wickedness, and approaching Christ in all sincerity and truth, recognizing that we are celebrating Christ who is OUR PASSOVER lamb, whose body was striped and pierced as the matzah is, and whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. It’s a time of bringing this to our remembrance as we partake of the bread and the wine.

Let us clean our “house” as it were, and repent of the sin which so easily besets us.

“…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things,
like silver or gold,
from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers,
but with the precious blood of Christ,
as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot.”
1 Peter 1:18-19

With Fear And Trembling

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
for it is God who works in you
both to will and to do for his good pleasure.”
Philippians 2:12-13

“With fear and trembling…”

Salvation is not repeating words as someone leads, saying “Jesus, come into my heart.” It’s not raising your hand after hearing a sermon that moved you. It’s not acknowledging that there probably is a God.

“You believe that there is one God? You do well.
Even the demons believe and tremble!”
James 2:19

Salvation is a very serious thing and that’s why the Scripture says we are to pursue it with FEAR and TREMBLING. Salvation is coming to acknowledge your depravity. And if you think you’re not depraved, you haven’t understood salvation and had better ask God to reveal to you the state of the human soul. Then once you’ve realized and acknowledged your lost state, salvation is bowing before almighty God and asking the Savior to save you, surrendering yourself and your entire life to him.

There is nothing fun or exhilarating about salvation. It’s a difficult thing to acknowledge the truth about one’s self and to submit one’s entire self and life to the Creator who alone can save.

If one understood the way of salvation, he would understand why it truly is to be sought with fear and trembling.

Nothing less is worthy of the great and holy God.


I’ve put together a playlist of some of songs I’ve featured here over the yearsrelated to Good Friday (or Communion Services) as well as some my wife and I have introduced in local churches. It runs 1¾ hours (at the moment) and contains 23 songs. To get started with the first song, click this link.

March 25, 2020

In the Absence of Communal Meals

Part of being the family of God is eating together. The Western mindset doesn’t emphasize this enough, but Eastern faith traditions have this much more entrenched.

Nevertheless, we have our moments, whether it’s the annual church banquet, a monthly pot-luck (sorry, that’s pot-blessed for some of you) dinner or just having a few friends over for dinner, the local church does enjoy opportunities to ‘break bread’ together.

So we grieve the loss of that during these weeks.

We are a people who are (or ought to be) naturally given to hospitality. But we also need to know how to receive hospitality. I’ve known people who loved to serve, and loved to give, but had serious difficulty when it came to accepting the hospitality of others.

We also are a people who prioritize giving food to the hungry in Christ’s name, whether it’s through a food bank, a soup kitchen, or coming alongside organizations which do this well, such as The Salvation Army. In Matthew 10:42 (NIV), Jesus said,

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

A related verse, when I looked that one up is Proverbs 19:17 (ESV)

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.

Almost exactly five years ago this day (3/26/15) Jancie Garrison offered us a scripture medley of related verses:

Rom 12:13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Rom 12:16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Heb 13:1-2 Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

1 Peter 4:9-11 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.  

but it’s interesting to go back and read her introduction to that article:

For much of my life I believe I misunderstood the word hospitality. I understood it to mean inviting someone into my home and perhaps sharing a meal and spending an enjoyable time with them. The them however, was always someone I already knew. I didn’t grasp that it was to be a stranger.

That is further compounded by the present situation, with the world on lockdown. We lack a proper context in which to connect with ‘the stranger,’ much less share a meal together. (Though there are things we can do such as giving out takeout food or grocery store gift cards.) So we’re in this doubly difficult time where we neither connect over a meal with our fellow-Christ-followers, or those who have not yet crossed the threshold of faith.

But these opportunities will present themselves when the current crisis has passed, and it’s important that we start strategic planning toward them now.

Jesus didn’t hesitate to share a meal with people of all types.

Matthew 9:10 (NLT) tells us,

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.

Would we accept such an invitation? Or even plan an event with a similar mix of people? Such an evangelism strategy today is called ‘a Matthew party.’ The organization known today as Cru employs this method on university campuses; this article tells more. Or see especially this article, which tells how your small group can do this 3-4 times a year…

…Food figures into many gospel stories: The Last Supper; The Feeding of the 5,000; Matthew’s Party; or The Dinner with Mary and Martha. Breaking bread with someone, no matter what the context, has a certain significance that it’s so easy to overlook.

When we’re all mobile again; what type of food-related event can you envision within your sphere of influence; in your small corner of the world?

 

 

March 9, 2020

Finding Joy in Everything

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Recently a devotional that I’m subscribed to, Devotions Daily offered an excerpt from the David Jeremiah book A Life Beyond Amazing. It was too long to print here but I wanted to offer you some excerpts from the excerpt!

Infusing life with joy!

…In Luke 15, Jesus told three stories of precious things that are lost and then found, and each is an occasion for joy: the shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep to search for and find one lost lamb; the woman who lost a valuable coin and found it; and the prodigal son, who was lost but finds his way home. In each story Jesus spoke of the rejoicing that surrounds the saving of one soul, and He described the joy that results:

I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.Luke 15:7

After the Ethiopian eunuch was saved, he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:39). Luke recorded the conversion of the Gentiles “caused great joy to all the brethren” (Acts 15:3). The Philippian jailer and his family were filled with joy when they became believers in God (Acts 16:34). Never doubt that salvation, the most profound of new beginnings, is also infused with joy beyond description…

…Christian joy shows up not only in the happy times but also in times of trial and discouragement. Jesus’ joy survived troubles and even flourished in the midst of them. He told His followers:

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!” — Luke 6:22-23

The writers of the epistles followed Jesus’ lead:

You received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you.1 Thessalonians 1:6 NLT

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.
— James 1:2

One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. They were beaten; they were imprisoned; and who knew what would happen to them the next day?

But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Acts 16:25

The kind of joy that gets you singing in jail at midnight with your back bleeding and your life hanging by a thread — that’s joy worth cultivating!

In our culture of instant gratification and constant amusement, it’s hard to understand the suffering the apostles endured for the sake of the gospel. We’ll do anything to avoid trials and tribulations. But often, in an attempt to keep anything uncomfortable from touching us, we miss the very thing God wants to use to lead us to the joy in Him. We can’t avoid difficulties, but in the midst of all our troubles — there is God and His effervescent love.

This doesn’t mean we deny or disguise our feelings. It doesn’t mean we can or should shrug off pain or disappointment, or try not to feel sorrow when we have good cause. It means we place our trust in God, and He opens the door to a joy beyond anything we can know on our own: the joy of knowing we are in His hands forever.

Commenting on the New Testament’s command that we’re to rejoice and be glad when undergoing trials, Philip Yancey said:

By using words like “Rejoice!” the apostles were not advocating a spirit of grin-and-bear-it or act-tough-like-nothing-happened. No trace of those attitudes can be found in Christ’s response to suffering, or in Paul’s…

Nor is there any masochistic hint of enjoying pain. “Rejoicing in suffering” does not mean that Christians should act happy about tragedy and pain when they feel like crying. Rather, the Bible aims the spotlight on the end result, the productive use God can make of suffering in our lives. To achieve that result, however, He first needs our commitment of trust, and the process of giving Him that commitment can be described as rejoicing…

…As Paul contemplated the conclusion of his life and ministry, he anticipated the joy that would be his at the end:

But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy. — Acts 20:24

According to the apostle Peter, this joy is “inexpressible” (1 Peter 1:8). From his captivity on the Isle of Patmos, John the apostle affirmed this dying joy:

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.Revelation 14:13

 

March 6, 2020

Practice Handing Your Circumstances Over to God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today’s devotional is short and simple, but there’s a reason I want to share it here on C201.

I don’t usually drive at night. No particular reason, but my schedule tends to crowd more things into daylight hours. But last week, with my car radio preset to Life 100.3 in Central Ontario (Canada) I was able to listen to what some would describe as “the youth show” called Slammin’ Christian Hits with host Terry Molinaro.

I was quite impressed with the way he handles the conversations with various people who call into the show, which are aired between songs. When I found out he has a blog (since 2014) I made up my mind I was going to share something from it; not only for readers here, but as an encouragement to Terry in his ministry.

As always, click the header below to read this at source. (Especially today…send Terry some online traffic.)

Practice Peace, Forget Worry

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were unprepared? When I was younger, I used to go to piano competitions. It’s a pretty strange thing to do, especially when you get into your teen years. No matter how good you become, what level you get to, there is always a five-year-old that can outplay you. I remember this one time when I was around 18 years old, sitting in a row of performers looking like I was the babysitter instead of a contestant.

Usually, I did well; however, there were times where I felt like I could have done better. I believe it came down to preparation or a lack thereof. If we have to bring things to the modern-day, I’m not worried about winning a piano competition against a bunch of five-year-olds anymore, but there are real things that pop up every once and awhile.

Recently, I had a non-medical emergency happen in my life that ended up costing a decent amount of money. Not to brag, but I got the invoice, and I paid for it. I didn’t stress or think twice about it. Why? Because I had prepared for an emergency in advance. (Thank you, Dave Ramsey)

The Bible says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He’s done.” The question on my mind is, how well are we practicing not worrying? How often are we practicing praying about everything?

When I went on stage as a kid to perform a piece of music, if I suddenly decided to take a few moments to memorize the piece and practice it right then and there, it would have done me no good. It was the practice ahead of time that prepared me for the moments I was on stage.

Let me encourage you; you don’t have a different access level to peace than other people who seem peaceful do. You simply may not have practiced handing your circumstances and stresses over to God.

In the coming weeks and months, even today, stop and breathe, take a moment and bring the things that are on your mind before God. Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He’s done. If you do, the Bible goes on to say, “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ, Jesus.”

Practice peace, practice putting it into your life today, and it will guard your tomorrows.

25 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. We will probably adopt a Monday-to-Friday format. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

 

February 19, 2020

Waiting Is Not a Passive Act

The website Broken Believers “is all about serving through a message of Christian discipleship and helping Christians with mental illnesses and other issues. Bryan is a pastor who also suffers from clinical depression and now ministers to those in need.”

This is our seventh time with Bryan Lowe. An understanding of the Hebrew word used in a very familiar verse really enhances its meaning. As always, click the header below to read this at source.

Braided Up With God

Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

Isaiah 40:31, NASB

The particular word “wait” is a vital force. It’s definitely not a passive word in the Scriptures. It does not mean to be apathetic or lazy. Sometimes we wait in line at the grocery store or maybe waiting on a phone call. We regularly wait all the time, and usually, we don’t even realize it.

The Hebrew word used in v. 31 is ‘kawvah’ which means, ‘to bind together by twisting.’ It sometimes will mean, ‘to braid.’

It’s an interesting word picture, isn’t it? Sometimes we only take the English idea of waiting and turn it turns into a frustrating delay. Often this is why we lose out on what ‘wait’ is really about. I have to believe the Holy Spirit wants to teach this idea of becoming ‘braided up with God.’ All too often we are limited by our definitions and not God’s Word.

For those of us who are ill— physically or mentally, just to be told simply, “wait on the Lord” is a real challenge. Often, we will end up resenting this counsel (and the counselor) because we misunderstand what it means to really ‘wait.’

Yet when I truly wait on God, I’m actually weaving myself into Him. He becomes my strength; He is now the strong cord I am braided into. (Perhaps this is how He imparts strength and might to His people?) We desperately need this and the Lord is eager to lead us into this new intimacy.

The promise in Isaiah 40:31 tells us about new strength, the eagle’s wings, and holy stamina. This verse is relevant to us today, and we need this kind of strength now. I only want to encourage you in your own prayer time, to see yourself intertwined to the Lord, and to recognize the good gift of the Holy Spirit freely given.

“Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!”

Psalm 27:14



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. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

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

January 29, 2020

God Doesn’t Need Professionals to Accomplish His Purposes

38 Then Saul gave David his own armor—a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. 39 David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before.

“I can’t go in these,” he protested to Saul. “I’m not used to them.” So David took them off again. 40 He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them into his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across the valley to fight the Philistine.

if you’re not familiar with the story click here to read the full chapter

Today’s thoughts are taken from the late Eugene Peterson’s book Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians, which is a study of the life of David. So many times in church life we think we have to leave certain responsibilities to the pastor. Depending on where you worship, there are often limits on what non-clergy — the laity — can do. This often transfers to a belief that if you are empowered to carry out a task, you have to do it in a certain, prescribed way. You find yourself often imitating the person who usually carries out that task, because that is what is expected.

Those of us who have worked vocationally in Christian ministry often use the two word shortcut code “Saul’s armor” to describe these situations. We’re being asked to perform in a way that is simply not us.

Eugene PetersonOn the near side of the valley, King Saul is worried over this kneeling David. He has just tried his best to be of help by outfitting him with his own armor. He set his bronze helmet on David’s head, wrapped him in his coat of mail, and handed him his sword, which David strapped around his waist. David had never been dressed like that before. And it seemed like such a good idea. Saul’s Armor! The king’s weapons! If there was anything that would fit him for the task ahead, it was certainly this. Was there a man in Israel who wouldn’t have counted it the highest privilege to be so equipped? But when he tried to walk, he couldn’t move. Weighted down under the cumbrous metal, he was reduced to a stiff and awkward waddle.

There was no question but that Saul was well intentioned. He wanted to help and was helping in the only way he knew: pile on the armor, protect yourself, get a weapon with proven effectiveness.

This is a common experience in the Valley of Elah, when an amateur ventures into a field dominated by professionals. All around us people who care about us are suddenly there helping – piling armor on us, dressing us up in equipment that’s going to qualify us for the task (even though it didn’t seem to be doing them much good). We get advice. We get instruction. We’re sent off to a training workshop. We find ourselves with an armload of books. These people are truly concerned about us, and we’re touched by their concern, in awe of their knowledge and experience. We listen to them and do what they tell us. And then we find that we can hardly move. (p. 42)

As I read this, I was reminded of an earlier part in the book where Peterson talks about how we tend to defer everything to pastor, priest, rector or minister:

Most people who venture upon a life of faith are laypersons. Why do so many of the habitually and pliantly take a subordinate position under the certified experts in matters of faith – that is, the clergy? As a pastor myself, I’ve never gotten over either my surprise or my dismay at being treated with doggish deference by so many people. Where do all these Christians, who by definition are “new creatures in Christ” and therefore surely eager to taste and see for themselves (a universal characteristic in newborns) that the Lord is good, pick up this deprecating self-understanding? They certainly don’t get it from the Bible or from the gospel. They get it from the culture, whether secular or ecclesial.

They get it from leaders who love the prerogatives and power of expertise and bully people by means of their glamorous bravado into abdicating the original splendor of a new life in Christ and declining into the wretched condition of the consumer. The consumer is passivity objectified: passive in the pew, passive before the TV screen, vulnerable to every sort of exploitation and seduction, whether religious or secular. (p. 21)

As I read these words several days later, I am reminded that there are likely people reading this who, while they long for a deeper walk with God, settle for a church life that reflects the passivity Peterson speaks of. When needs are mentioned, they assume someone else will answer the call. Someone more gifted. Someone more intellectual. Someone who has the particular expertise they think is needed.

It’s common today to be in a room and you hear the sound of a cell phone ringing and you ignore it and then suddenly realize, that’s my ringtone. Of all the people in the room, it’s me they’re calling. Perhaps that’s true in Christian service as well. Appeals are made but few take the time to say, that call is for me.

It may be that someone is reading today and God has a calling on your life to step out in faith in what we would call a ministry, but an inner voice halts you from making the first move:

  • I’m not trained
  • I’m not a Bible scholar
  • I don’t know Greek
  • I’ve never taken any Bible college courses

Now by all means, if you can, take some courses, get some training. But God may be wanting to use you, right now, the way you are — imperfect, tempted, broken, unschooled — with no armor, just the five stones in your hand.

Your posture as a warrior for God may not include armor, helmet and a sword. You may be kneeling at the brook, looking to all the world like you’re playing in the water, when you’re actually gathering stones, formulating a plan and acting on a vision.


January 12, 2020

Understanding the Message Happens with Applying the Message

A year ago we quoted a short excerpt from the blog of author Rick Thomas. Today we’re doing the same, as this is taken from a much longer article written for pastors and leaders. I encourage you to read it at its source, in full. Just click the header which follows:

You Need More Than Preaching If You Want to Change

The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4, ESV)

1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The Purpose of the Parables

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

“ ‘they may indeed see but not perceive,

and may indeed hear but not understand,

lest they should turn and be forgiven.’ ”

13 And he said to them, Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

Community Contexts

In verses 1-9 Jesus was teaching to a very large crowd from the pulpit,so to speak. In verses 10-13 He begins to unpack the teaching lesson in a personal, customized, relevant, and practical way for His community.

The pulpit is a great place to exalt the Savior and expound the gospel, as well as call people to live lives of holiness. To be sure, God-ordained preaching for the proclamation of His Word. It is the foolishness of preaching that confounds the wise and empowers the faithful (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In addition to great preaching, you also find in Scripture that it is in the living rooms of the communitywhere the truths preached from the pulpit are worked out in the contexts of lives.

You can exhort someone over and over again from the pulpit to serve, and its possible he will understand, personalize, and apply that idea. But if you bring a towel and basin to his living room and wash your friends feet, you can be assured he will never forget that one act of other-centered serving (see John 13:15; Matthew 26:13).

Helping others is where Jesus excelled. He contextualized His preached Word in the community of the believers. He did not let the preached Word stand alone. He modeled His message to drive home His points.

Practically Speaking

Rachel has heard wonderful preaching the past 16 years of her life. Nearly every Sunday, she has been encouraged, enlightened, and envisioned about how to be a woman for God.

Recently, a growing bitterness took root in her soul toward her church, her pastor, and some of her friends. The more she hears the wonderful truths from the Word declared from the pulpit, the more cynical and suspicious she becomes. 

She’s seeing the discontinuity between the preached Word on Sunday and her marriage and family during the week. The dots are not practically connecting for her.

Sadly, her cynicism and suspicion are directed toward Godthough she would never say it that way. She hoped for a different life and believed it would come by “going to church,” as she put it.

Her belief about the church is why she committed herself to God and the meetings of the church. She even took on a ministry in the church to help in whatever way she could. Her faith and practice were real. Rachel loves God.

But like a person asleep in a boat, only to awake hours later to find they drifted beyond the buoys, Rachels marriage has seemingly slipped past the point of no return. All the while she is faithfully committed to her local church.

Rachel is not struggling with sound doctrine. She does not have a theological problem, as far as her understanding of the Bible. What she has is a methodological problem.

Building a knowledge base through learning and growing in theological understanding, is half the equation. Rachel is getting good information on Sunday morning. It is consistently biblical, easy to understand, and well-delivered.

Her problem is the other half of the solution she needs. Her church has not provided or trained her on how to take the good Word preached and work it out in the milieu (contexts) of her life. She needs a clear and practical application. The Sunday church meeting is not designed to fulfill that part of her solution.

Rachel is half-full: She knows the Word, but she has not been equipped to apply it practically in ways that matter to her life, marriage, and other relationships. If she continues this way, she’ll be running on empty before long.


Rick then continues with ten action steps for local churches. See the closing section of the article which I am again, linking here.

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