Christianity 201

January 25, 2023

The Second Thing You Should Read Today

…for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. – Acts 17:11b NIV

Today’s reading here hits absolutely all of us where we live, because it’s related to what we’re doing at this exact moment!

…This would have been the 12th time we posted something from Gary Henry at the blog WordPoints. Well, actually, it is the 12th time, but it’s not from his devotionals. Rather, something caught my eye on his site, a special article with the title below, and I knew I should share it here.

Daily Devotional Books

Setting aside some “devotional time” each day is a practice that many, if not most, Christians prioritize. During that time, whether short or long, various activities may be engaged in. These are intended to foster greater “devotion” to God: prayer, study of the Scriptures, singing of hymns, devotional meditation, etc.

But many Christians also read a selection from a “daily devotional book.” These books contain short readings on topics of spiritual significance. Hugely popular, devotional books are a major sector in the religious book market. Many people purchase one or more new ones each year and read them as part of their daily devotional time.

Unfortunately, many of the best-selling devotionals are popular not because they produce greater devotion to God but because they give the reader a sugary “high.” They aim to make the reader feel better, but they do little to stimulate significant spiritual growth.

In an article analyzing the popularity of devotional books, author Jen Wilkin noted that most of these are based on a two-fold premise concerning “daily devotion”: (1) it involves being inspired, and (2) it involves being comforted. But while devotion to God is a biblical concept, there is more to it than feeling better emotionally. Read the following words by Wilkin several of times and give them a chance to adjust your thinking:

Are the words of devotional books profitable? Some, but not all. Emotion is certainly an expression of devotion but is not its sum total. Biblical words of comfort are profitable, but so are words of correction. Both are words of life. If devotional reading is our primary vehicle for formation, we run the risk of malformation and — worse still — of forming God himself into an idol, one who comforts without correcting, seeks relationship but not repentance, dotes but does not discipline, and is our companion but not our commander (Christianity Today, October 2020).

So identifying a good devotional book requires that we first understand what devotion means. It means to be consecrated or set apart for God’s special service. When we spend time each day in “devotional” activities, those should result in our being more “devout” — that is, we are more intensely interested in serving God and we have a better sense of what His service requires of us. “Devotion is not mere feeling, but action: It serves and it obeys” (Wilkin). As Jesus taught in Matthew 6:24, being “devoted” to a master and “serving” that master are inseparable.

Concerning the Scriptures, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16,17, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Scriptures are “profitable” because they provide four things: doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Providing these things to us perfectly, the Scriptures are our source for the Lord’s “words of eternal life” (John 6:68). There is not a devotional book in the world that can give us what the Scriptures provide, but to whatever extent such a book can be an “aid” to us, shouldn’t we want it recognize the priority of these same four needs: doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness?

With the above thoughts in mind, I suggest that you ask these questions about any resource (not just books but any other devotional aid) you might consider using:

  • Does it provoke and challenge me in a healthy, biblical sense (Hebrews 10:24)?
  • Does it contribute to my spiritual formation or my malformation?
  • Does it result in my being more devoted (“set apart for special service”) to God?
  • Does it provide correction as well as comfort?
  • Does it promote service and submission in my life?
  • Does it call me to repentance and change?
  • Does it encourage me to take the next step in my obedience?

But finally, there is one more thing to say, and it is the most important thing of all: not even the best devotional book should take the place of studying the Scriptures and prayer. To quote Jen Wilkin one last time: “Devotional writing, when done with excellence, may supplement our time in the Scriptures, but it must not subordinate or supplant it.” To which this writer says a hearty “Amen!”

January 20, 2023

Models for Prayer

In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. – Romans 8:26 CEB

But whenever you pray, go into your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him – Matthew 6:6-8 NET

Different people have different mental images when shopping for books in the “Prayer” category. For some it means books of prayers; the prayers of our spiritual forebears, the great prayers of the Bible, and occasionally, prayers shared by Christian authors and leaders still living. For others, it means books about prayer; teaching as to the how and when and where of our communication with our heavenly Father.

In my tribe, I was more exposed to the latter. I had great difficulty understanding why someone would want to pray a prayer that was written by someone else. To someone in a more liturgical tradition, it can still be, after many years, still difficult to form their own words and speak to God as one would speak to a friend at the coffee shop.

Today we look at three model prayers. The one which we did have a link for no longer connects to anything, so I can’t speak to the origins of these, but I know when I first found them, they struck me as worthy to share here. Two are simply variations of the model prayer Jesus teaches his disciples.

Becoming Like the One We Worship

This prayer is found in the book by G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, page 311.

Father, we thank you for your Word,
which is sober but not without hope.
Jesus has reformed his true people into his own image
on the basis of his own person, death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit,
and he wants us to trust him and not be idol worshippers.

And so Lord,
cause us to revere you so we resemble you
and are blessed and restored to you,
and not ruined.
Give us eyes to see and ears to hear your truth
and give “us understanding so that we might know him who is true”
and to abide “in him who is true,
in his Son Jesus Christ.
This is the true God and eternal life.”

Give us grace to guard ourselves from idols.
Be with us to this end for your glory.

In Christ’s name,
Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer as You’ve Never Heard It

This appeared in 2010 at Thinking Out Loud. It is a version of what is commonly known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ However this version is one translated from Aramaic, rather than Greek.

Oh Thou, from whom the breath of life comes,
who fills all realms of sound, light and vibration.
May Your light be experienced in my utmost holiest.
Your Heavenly Domain approaches.

Let Your will come true
in the universe
just as on earth.

Give us wisdom for our daily need,
detach the fetters of faults that bind us,
like we let go the guilt of others.

Let us not be lost in superficial things,
but let us be freed from that what keeps us off from our true purpose.

From You comes the all-working will,
the lively strength to act,
the song that beautifies all and renews itself from age to age.

Sealed in trust, faith and truth.
(I confirm with my entire being)

The Sibling’s Prayer

I have no idea how this got its name. It appeared in the early years of my other blog, Thinking Out Loud. It is credited to Dave Aldrich. It is also based on The Lord’s Prayer.

Dear Father,

We, Your children in Jesus, who live throughout the world, who love and revere You and await your perfect Kingdom…

Together we pray that Your will be done here on earth, in all our lives, as it is always fulfilled in Heaven.

We pray for one another, asking You to take care of our needs. We ask You to forgive all that divides us from You and from one other. And to lead us away from the temptation of trying to control our lives or the lives of others.

Keep that enemy of ours from distracting our focus upon You. We depend upon Your strength for we are but weak vessels.

This is Your Kingdom at stake, Your power and glory. Help us to put aside our differences and remember all that You’ve done for us and how much You love us. We love You.

 

January 19, 2023

Is Opposition Proof that We Are Good Christians?

by Clarke Dixon

…and you will be hated by all because of my name.

Matthew 10:22 (NRSV)

Hated by all. That is what Jesus said would happen. That is what many Christians think is happening now. With great apathy towards Christianity, or at least organized Christianity, by many plus outright outrage against the faith by some, this is proof we are being good Christians, right? Not necessarily.

People may reject or be against our particular expressions of Christianity for good reason. They may never get around to experiencing a better expression.

Let me give one example. Suppose we take the Bible at face value, taking the plain sense in every instance starting right at the beginning with how everything came into being. Taking six days of creation literally, and the timing of the patriarchs as accurate, we will arrive at the conclusion that the earth is quite young. However people go off to university, or Google, and are confronted with some pretty convincing evidence that the earth is not nearly as young as we say it is. Some of us will be unflappable: “see, hated by all just like Jesus said would happen! Therefore trust God, not scientists!” The opposition found in universities and online is treated as proof of correctness. We dig our heels in. The questioner walks away. The questioner may walk away, not just from our church or denomination, but from Christianity altogether and, sadly, from the possibility of connecting with Christ.

But what if we are wrong? N.T. Wright has said somewhere about how we do well to consider how history, theology, and literature has shaped the Bible. Something happened in history which either affirmed or challenged what people believed (theology). They then wrote from, and sometimes about those belief perspectives (literature). In the Bible we hold that literature. We don’t necessarily hold the history as it happened.

Having studied English Literature and Classical Studies in my undergraduate studies, I have little difficulty in seeing that there is something quite literary going on in the creation account of Genesis. In fact it is so poetic that I can’t even comprehend that it is supposed to be read as being a straight historical account. The writers of that day were trying to convey, in ways appropriate to their time and place, beliefs about God. They were not trying to write history the way we think we do today.

If we are holding tightly onto the idea that every word of the Bible conveys an accurate historical account, and if we then face opposition from those who have studied science and history, that opposition is not proof that we are being faithful, but rather that we might need to do a rethink. What we need is not more Bible reading from our own perspectives and biases, but more Bible reading with wisdom. The questioners who walk away depend on it.

Let us also note that the opposition Jesus spoke about was not from people outside Jesus’ own religion, but from people within. The opposition Jesus said his disciples will face is also from within, from their own religious peers, from their own faith family:

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles… Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Matthew 10:16-18,23 (NRSV)

Opposition from within still happens in our day. In fact opposition from within Christianity may be better proof of being on the right track than opposition from without.

Recently I preached a sermon called “The Bible Clearly Says that Women Must Be Silent in Church. Is that Fair?” Here is what one person commented on the video version of that sermon:

Fair? The Most High God determines fairness. This is a question asked by a base conscience person. Repent, walk away from your wicked ways, seek Christ, and live by the fruit of the spirit. Gal. 5:22-23

Evidently my quest for fairness and equality is to be equated with wickedness. Meanwhile people walk away from Christianity because they know better. Maybe they really do know better. Perhaps, like Jesus they have a nose for fairness and can smell injustice a mile away. The danger if we confuse opposition of our bad ideas with the kind of opposition Jesus faced, is that we will fail to break through to a better expression of our faith. We won’t be following Jesus as well as we think we do. We won’t be helping people connect with Jesus.

If we are going to face opposition in our day let it be because we are like Jesus, pushing against the status quo and seeking good things for people, and not because we are holding onto bad ideas.


Before they appear here, Ontario, Canada pastor Clarke Dixon’s condensed sermons appear at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

January 7, 2023

More on Need-Meeting vs. Proclamation

It was a hot August day in 2015 and the blog post here was about Moses, and how despite his feelings of inadequacy, he was obedient to God’s calling on his life. The devotional wrapped up…

…God does the same with believers like you and I—He takes us as we are, in our inadequacies and weaknesses, and He takes the things in hands that are in and of themselves useless, and demonstrates His life-giving power.

God is with you, and He will work through you … not because of anything you do, but because of who He is. God working through us, will set people free, set nations free, and bring people to faith in Christ.

Don’t hesitate, don’t doubt. Look to Jesus, and GO and Tell!

So far, so good.

Or so I thought.

But then we got a comment — back when people actually left comments on the blog — from George, who had also contributed articles here.

Great post. I only hesitate at the very last word – ‘tell.’ That isn’t in the text. Go is meaning we are sent and authorized as his ambassadors. Make disciples is there. Are the two the same?

I grew up in a world of tell. “Part one of the gospel is ‘taste and see’ and part two of the gospel is ‘go and tell.'”

Or so I had often shared with people.

We discussed this at length in yesterday’s blog post, but I thought you’d like to read what happened the next day here on the blog.

Exodus 4:10:

Then Moses said to the LORD, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (NASB)

But Moses pleaded with the LORD, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” (NLT)

Exodus 6:12

But Moses said to the LORD, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?” (NIV)

But Moses said in the LORD’s presence: “If the Israelites will not listen to me, then how will Pharaoh listen to me, since I am such a poor speaker?” (HCSB)

Today’s thoughts flow out of the comments section to yesterday’s devotional.

fearfactor_240Public speaking is not everyone’s gift. Years ago an Ann Landers poll showed that the number one fear reported was fear of public speaking. Even pastors who speak before thousands each weekend often confess they are natural introverts who potentially can freeze up if asked to speak before fifty people.

So much of the Christian life is about words. Our revelation of God comes to us through a book. We’re told to share our faith.

Go deeper in the Christian life and you discover a vast library of Bible reference books to help you get the etymology or word origins right. There are pastors who study Biblical Greek and Hebrew. There are concordances which are concerned with the derivation of words in the English texts as they relate to the original languages.

What if my language is not precise? What if I say the wrong thing and cause confusion? What if my words drive people away from God’s Kingdom?

“But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.” Matthew 10:1 NASB

“When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-12 NIV

Clearly the Bible is telling us not to sweat these situations.

But let’s go back to yesterday’s devotional and the comment. George (who has been a contributing writer here, and who I know personally) noted that the essence of the command is to make disciples. He wanted to see a de-emphasis on telling and (by implication) a wider emphasis on other areas where the discipleship process can become organic.

The idea of a disciple “walking in the dust of his rabbi” is a teaching that probably best illustrates this. These talmudin learned by doing what the rabbi did. We had a good example of that in the second paragraph of this excerpt. We also looked at the Bible concept of being an imitator (of Christ, or of Paul as he imitates Christ.)

But it goes beyond this. We can help. We can love. We can serve. We can give…  In doing all these things we are being a living gospel. Surely at this point someone is expecting me to quote the phrase commonly attributed (though perhaps not accurately attributed) to St. Francis: “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”

However, this is as equally out of balance as the person who thinks the gospel can only be proclaimed verbally.

As Mark Galli pointed out in this 2009 article:

“Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets, Jesus, and Paul put on preaching. Of course, we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns.

Further pushback to what was starting to trend (and what St. Francis said) came from Ed Stetzer who wrote about this in 2012 (link no longer available):

The gospel is not habit, but history. The gospel is the declaration of something that actually happened. And since the gospel is the saving work of Jesus, it isn’t something we can do, but it is something we must announce. We do live out its implications, but if we are to make the gospel known, we will do so through words.

It appears that the emphasis on proclamation is waning even in many churches that identify themselves as evangelical. Yet proclamation is the central task of the church. No, it is not the only task God has given us, but it is central. While the process of making disciples involves more than verbal communication, and obviously the life of a disciple is proved counterfeit when it amounts to words alone, the most critical work God has given the church is to “proclaim the excellencies” of our Savior.

A godly life should serve as a witness for the message we proclaim. But without words, what can our actions point to but ourselves? A godly life cannot communicate the incarnation, Jesus’ substitution for sinners, or the hope of redemption by grace alone through faith alone. We can’t be good news, but we can herald it, sing it, speak it, and preach it to all who listen.

In fact, verbal communication of the gospel is the only means by which people are brought into a right relationship with God. The Apostle Paul made this point to the church in Rome when he said:

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10:13-14, HCSB)

If we are to make disciples of all nations, we must use words.

I agree with Ed, but I also agree with where George was coming from in his comment. We have to find the balance between the two. And our lives must match our speech. Here’s what I wrote:

In the last 50-60 years, Evangelicals have made proclamation 100% of their evangelism stock portfolio. After accusing “the liberals” of preaching a “social gospel” we’re slowly coming around to the position that there is so much more we can do besides quoting chapters and verses.

On the other hand, further on in the Matthew passage, it does say “teach” or “teaching” in most translations, and although she doesn’t quote it here, Mark 16:15 renders the same quotation as either “preach” or “proclaim” (The Voice has “share.”)

While not everyone has the same gifts, I believe that every Christ-follower has the ability to share a verbal witness, but many are afraid to do so. I think her point here is to encourage people along those lines.

Of course, it would also do good if those who feel they are better equipped to preach would also find ways to share a non-verbal witness. Each of needs to balance the two.

And better to be asked sometimes what it is that drives our faith instead of just shouting it to people with whom we haven’t earned the right to be heard. Zachariah 8:23 is useful here:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

Where is the balance in your life on this issue? Most of us would side with Moses, we really don’t want to be placed in those public speaking situations. But there are some who don’t fear that for a second, though often their walk doesn’t match their talk. We need to be working on both fronts.

January 6, 2023

A Church Which Couldn’t Care Less

Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.

John 12:26, NLT

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Matthew 25:34-40, NLT

We like to think of the book of James as a “General Epistle,” but I do wonder if, like chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, James had a particular church in mind when he wrote these words in chapter two:

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless
James 2:14-17 NLT

Perhaps it was specific to a trend he was seeing. It doesn’t actually cost anything to believe. There is no physical action; no examination to pass. That is the essential nature of grace. We don’t have to do anything because it’s all been done through Christ’s atoning work on the cross.

But it’s another thing to get your hands dirty, being the hands of feet of Christ in a hurting and needy world. Or it can cost us where it really hurts for some people: Their bank balance.

Basil of Caesarea wrote,

“When someone steals a person’s clothes, we call him a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to those who need it; the shoes rotting in your closet to the one who has no shoes. The money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”

Somewhere recently I read,

You say you care for the poor.
Tell me their names.

Two weeks ago someone shared with me a ministry venture that involved helping the homeless through handing out backpacks filled with supplies to help meet personal needs. But as we talked, I wasn’t seeing a direct connection to the people they were trying to help. They were simply handing off their donations to the people who went into the encampments and distributed the materials. That’s good and it’s helpful, but it’s not incarnational ministry. It’s not presencing yourself as the hands and feet of Christ in that situation.

(Let me pause here to say: Maybe you’re able to tick the right boxes on this one. Following the commands of Jesus to care for the poor is, in one sense, for many people, an easy thing to do. Following the full and complete compendium of what it means to follow Jesus — just think of the high standards of “You have heard it said…” in the Sermon on the Mount — is much more difficult.)

Here’s a quotation that we haven’t used recently, but it needs to be shared again because there are always new readers.

“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace, as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a high cross between two thieves: on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek…. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that’s where He died. And that is what He died about. And that is where church people ought to be and what church people should be about.”

Those words belong to Scottish theologian Dr. George MacLeod (1895 – 1991). According to Wikipedia, MacLeod is also the founder of the Iona Community, an ecumenical movement committed to social justice issues and “seeking new ways to live the gospel of Jesus in today’s world.” Most of its activities take place on the Isle of Iona and its interdenominational liturgies and publishing are developed by the Wild Goose Group, the name taken from an ancient Irish symbol of the Holy Spirit. (Apologies to “dove only” readers!) Its books and music resources deal with social justice and peace issues, spirituality and healing, and innovative approaches to worship.

Someone years ago taught me that so much of what the church considers “outreach” is actually “indrag.” We need to find ways to engage the concept of “marketplace ministry.” Evangelicals have long neglected issues of social justice or relegated the ’social gospel’ to mainline churches. We said that we are all about “proclamation” — sometimes termed as “sharing a verbal witness” — as though it were the superior path to right standing before God.

But that is changing. And perhaps the thing we need to do in the center of the marketplace is to live out the gospel with visible demonstrations of Christ’s love, not just taking the quotation above as a call to loud street preaching.

In November, 2021, Clarke Dixon wrote here:

It has often been said that there are two gospels, an evangelical gospel (you get to heaven when you die) and a social gospel (we can make this earth a little more heavenly before we die). In fact there is is just one gospel, the good news that Jesus is king, the Kingdom of God is here and near, and we are invited and enabled to be a Kingdom person forevermore, beginning here and now.

Is there someone in your sphere of influence to whom you can give “a cup of water” to today?

“And anyone who gives one of my most humble followers a cup of cool water, just because that person is my follower, will be rewarded.
Matthew 10:42 CEV

January 4, 2023

Created by the Master Creator

Looking at today’s blog post, I was reminded of something I heard decades ago, where a young child turns to a friend — a friend who was possibly being a bit derisive — and said, “God made me, and God don’t make no junk!”

Today we’re featuring a writer who was new to us, but came recommended by one of our other writers. Joshua Jarvis can best be described as an entrepreneur with a background in various types of business ventures. He is also the author of Kingdom Driven Leader.

You can read more at his website, where he writes about God, Family and Leadership, or click the title which follows to get there via today’s article.

I Am A Masterpiece Created By God

Calling yourself a masterpiece feels a bit strange. However, the Bible is pretty clear that we were planned, handcrafted and that we have a purpose. While we might not feel perfect, God sees us differently. Let’s examine how He sees us.

You are a masterpiece.

For we are God’s masterpiece,  – Ephesian 2:10 NLT

A few years ago, I heard a message that really highlighted this verse and what it means.  It’s tough to take what a Pastor says and let it change the way you think when the messages are 30 minutes or less and it focuses only on a part of a verse.  However, I’ve personally always struggled with value and this message bounced around in my head for a long time.  Out of all the I am affirmations, saying I am a masterpiece feels weird.  I know that God has paid the ultimate price for me and I know He loves me, but if I’m honest, sometimes I need reassurance that I was made with a purpose in mind.

After that sermon, I wanted to dive in and find out what does the Bible has to say about me (and you) being a masterpiece.

We have become his poetry, a re-created people that will fulfill the destiny he has given each of us, for we are joined to Jesus, the Anointed One. Even before we were born, God planned in advance our destiny and the good works we would do to fulfill it! Ephesians 2:10 TPT

Almost every translation of this verse uses the word “workmanship.”  It’s pretty easy to see why anyone might have glossed over this verse.   I’m God’s workmanship reads like, “I’m a fantastic chair or object. ” I might be great but nothing that God is proud of, or at least nothing unique. Why then do only a few translations use the word masterpiece?   This is one reason why it’s worth looking into verses.  If the verse whispers to you, then spend some time there trying to understand it.

The original Greek used the word poema, the root word for poem.  If you’ve ever had to write a poem you likely remember how intentional you had to be. Syllables, rhyming, rhythm, and flow, a poem is one big artistic calculation. Today if you write a poem it’s being typed into a document that lives on the cloud.  Every help is available at your fingertips. Thesaurus, dictionary, and grammar helpers all there making suggestions and allowing you to craft something truly better than it could be without that help.  However, when this verse was written, it was a time of intense artistry.  Every letter hand stroked by the author knowing that one mistake could ruin the entire creation.

You were planned

God says you were planned with the intentionality of a loving poem, a masterpiece. Masterpieces have to be planned.  Imagine if one day you just followed every whim you had in your mind.   While it might be fun to imagine, I can’t imagine any masterpiece coming from such a haphazard approach. Creativity is essential, but so is having a clear plan. Psalm says that he crafted us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). God tells Jeremiah in verse 1:5, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.”  You are not a mistake, God planned for you. He has a clear purpose for your life. God has a very specific plan for you but instead of telling you all about it, He wants you to discover it with Him. He’s inviting all of us on an adventure to uncover the story of why He created us.

You are a new creation

It might be difficult to call yourself a masterpiece when you think about your life and your own accomplishments.  We might view our life through a lens from the past, but God doesn’t do that.  When we accepted Him, we got a new life… we were born again.  This phrase isn’t just to identify weird Christians.  As a born-again Christian, I am a new creation.  I might have scars from my past but I am not defined by my past and neither are you.  Instead, God uses those scars to multiply what He wants to do through you.

You are perfect

Like any great work of art, you are perfect. No great artwork looks for ways to appear more beautiful or to improve itself. It just is. When you accepted the new life of Christ you became this perfect creation. This statement isn’t giving you permission to do whatever you want, I’m not saying you don’t have room for growth.  Instead, because you are perfect you now have abilities that you didn’t have before. You can now ACT perfectly, whereas before you could not. That doesn’t mean you’ll always act perfectly but that you have this ability. The great news is that God has already forgiven us for our past and our future.

Every time I struggle with this, I think about how I feel about my kids. Every new parent thinks their babies are perfect. Their children have done nothing to earn this praise and can do nothing to improve this view.  Parents see their children as masterpieces.   Imagine then, how God in His infinite love sees us!

You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them all together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it! How thoroughly you know me, Lord! You even formed every bone in my body when you created me in the secret place; carefully, skillfully you shaped me[c] from nothing to something. You saw who you created me to be before I became me! Before I’d ever seen the light of day, the number of days you planned for me were already recorded in your book.
Psalm 139:13-16 TPT

Takeaway:  You were planned intentionally. You are perfect in God’s eyes. There is nothing you can do to change His love for you.

 

January 1, 2023

Building a New Year with Materials that Last

The illustration which follows is not meant to be a description of how heaven ‘works.’

A man died and went to heaven and on arrival asked if it was true that there are mansions with many rooms with for all. An angel assured him that this was true and offered to guide him to where one had been prepared just for him.

They walked down a street filled with the finest mansions that would be the envy of the highest priced neighborhoods in the western world back on earth.

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then entered a section of housing which would be compared to a North American upper middle class community.

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then moved on to a group of bungalows that were not initially impressive, but, this being heaven after all, were no doubt adequate.

“So here we are;” said the man.

“No, just a little further;” said the angel.

It continued like this until the two of them ended up in an area where the houses — more like cabins — were not only much smaller, but there were only a couple of rooms and some elements of the walls, floors and ceilings were missing.

Pointing to a nearby dwelling, the angel said, “That one is your house.”

“There is no way,” said the man, “That I can live in something like that.”

“I’m very sorry;” replied the angel; “But we did the best we could with the materials you sent up.”

…This apocryphal sermon illustration is usually told in reference to Matthew 6: 19-20 which reads:

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. NLT

But what constitutes treasure?

As we start a new year, I want us to produce something of substance. Sometimes I get feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the ‘Goodnights’ are said or the computer is turned off and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value or significance?

It’s not that I wasn’t busy doing Kingdom work, it’s just that I fear I wasn’t busy doing the right things. I feel that by not letting my talents be used to the maximum, I have missed the mark (the same idiom by which the word sin is defined in Greek) of God’s highest calling. You could say that I not only have ‘performance-based religion’ issues, but I’m additionally burdened with combining it with a Type A personality when it comes to what I would like to see happen.

So… I need to be reminded that God still loves me even I didn’t do all the the things or type of things that I thought God was expecting of me. I need to be reminded that it’s about what God’s wants me to be that matters.

However, I can’t just toss out the consideration (or self-evaluation) of what it means to give my best to God each day. I have to have certain goals or ideals or standards of attainment. The verses that I think match up best with the heaven story above are these from I Cor. 3 —

12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. NLT

Some of you know these verses from the KJ text as referring to: “Gold, silver and precious stones;” contrasted with “wood, hay and stubble.”

In the Christian internet world, a lot of what is written or spoken on podcasts is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance; something of a more lasting quality than what I was producing on my other blog at the time; something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

So while Christianity is not performance-based, if we’re going to launch out into any endeavor at all (in response to what Christ has done for us) we should aim for that thing to be of the highest quality, the finest purity, the greatest depth and the most lasting significance. We can discuss other things, and comment on the issues of the day in religion, politics, social justice, the environment, church life, parenting, education, marriage, missions, theology, or even the weather; but at the end of the day, we need to bring something best to the table; something that not only people in our sphere of influence, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level or what I would term Christianity 201. And just as that name propels me to go beyond the basic, the elementary, the minimum; I encourage you to set up whatever reminder you need this year to do the same.

In the quotation of the lyrics from a very familiar worship song, I’ve highlighted four of the lines:

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart…

When our works are “tested by fire” what is going to be left. Wood, hay and straw will be consumed, but gold, silver and precious stones can withstand the test by fire. Then we will have treasure in heaven.

December 29, 2022

The Fruit of the Spirit Goes Beyond Doctrines, Ethics

CEB.Gal.6.22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.

In an information age, much emphasis is placed on holding to correct doctrine. Heresy hunters, fact checkers, and watchdog ministries are in abundance, making sure that people are held to a standard of orthodoxy. Research organizations (like Barna and Pew) have checklists of beliefs if one is to considered a Christian or an Evangelical.

Additionally, many passages of Christians (i.e. most of Galatians) are written to combat the era of “false teachers” which was already a problem for the early church. So it’s safe for us to conclude that holding to accurate beliefs is of utmost importance, especially in a world where sects, isms, cults, etc. proliferate online and in our communities.

Beyond orthodoxy however, there is also orthopraxy. If the former is defined as “right beliefs,” then the second might be defined as “right practices;” though it goes beyond spiritual practices and involves all that we do as followers of Christ.

One writer, Liv Walton, defined the two here in a June, 2021 blog post:

Orthodoxy is most simply defined as “right belief,” which consists of authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine or practice. Orthodoxy is held with great importance in the Protestant-Christian church and other branches of Christianity such as Catholicism. While Protestant-Christians do not contend that salvation is found through doctrine nor practice, having faith is not enough to qualify “right belief.” …

Orthopraxy is defined as “right practice” yet this idea of practice is not about practicing right doctrine. Rather, when orthopraxy talks about practice, it is talking about gospel living. Instead of focusing solely on saying and doing the right things, one should focus on the holistic message of the gospel, which is to love God and love others. Additionally, orthopraxy puts emphasis on liturgy (worship) that extends beyond Sunday services.

When incorporating orthopraxy, one’s faith becomes a testament to God’s love and puts every individual on the same level. Christianity is not about who can serve the most at church or witness to the most people, but rather how one can love those around them in a way that edifies and uplifts others as fellow image-bearers…

The Bible’s “Love Chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13 has this short prologue:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

But some have argued that understanding “religion” is to incorporate a third dimension that might be termed orthopathy. (Immediately, my spell-check is concerned that this word is not in its dictionary! I find it interesting that although I’ve heard this discussed, I can’t find a single instance in an online search.)

The idea is that faith is found not only in

doctrine + ethics

but rather

doctrine + ethics + experience

In other words, by “believing right things” and “doing right things” what is the result of that in your life? How is your life different because of the beliefs you have put into practice?

So when Paul says that love is the means by which everyone will know we are Christ’s disciples, he is referring to ethics. But how do the other fruit of the spirit match up:

  1. Love = expressed in action, ethics
  2. Joy = an inner quality of life, therefore it is experienced
  3. Peace = an inner experience as well
  4. Patience = a trait which will express itself both internally, and in our dealings with others, therefore it lands in both categories
  5. Kindness = expressed in action, ethics
  6. Goodness = expressed in action, ethics; though sometimes we will do “the good” and it will never be seen; Jesus cautions us in all these not to practice such things in order to gain recognition
  7. Faithfulness = seen in our doctrine and ethics, including our faithfulness to the pursuit of right doctrine. This one hints more directly of the spiritual disciplines.
  8. Meekness = an internal culture of humility that will be expressed in our dealing with others
  9. Self Control = again, an inner quality with an outward, visible expression

Some alternative scriptures for each of these, beyond the passage in Galatians where they are listed, can be found here in a May, 2014 article.

So we see in the above list that some things like joy and peace — while they have an outward visible component like self-control — are part of our inner experience.

Liv Walton concluded,

Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are not meant to stand alone. When one places all emphasis on orthodoxy, servitude becomes a false idol; and, when all the emphasis is on orthopraxy, the body of Christ and important practices such as communion can more easily be lost. However, when a balance of both is reached, believers are able to look at the world with more love.

So back to orthopathy. If you’ve been reading Christian authors, you know the important principle that our faith in Christ is anchored on the trust we have in his promises, not feelings. But we can expect an inner confirmation of his indwelling presence in our lives that is significant enough that it doesn’t fit the doctrine/ethics categories.

There is an inner confession we have, which although subject, leaves us knowing that our spirit has found what it’s looking for, we have the peace of God that exceeds human understanding.

 

 

 

 

 

December 21, 2022

We’re God’s Unique Creation

Although it’s no longer as active, this week I worked on updating the blogroll at Thinking Out Loud. Blogrolls — links to other online writers — were once quite common, whereas today everyone seems to wish to keep their readers to themselves! In doing so, I came across Practical Theology Today writer Curt Hinkle, and although we linked to him back in March, I thought these thoughts bore repeating here at C201.

Clicking the link in the title below will also take you to his site, where more articles await you.

Woodworking and God’s Poiema

A surprising advantage of woodworking using hand tools – one can quietly prep boards and layout dovetails during a church service. A dozen or so years ago I got to do just that. My friend Sonja preached a sermon focused on Ephesians 2, specifically, For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do (Eph. 2:10, CSB). She asked me if I would relocate my workbench and some tools to the church sanctuary stage and then do some woodworking stuff as she gave her message.

As I prepared boards to cut dovetails that Sunday morning, I contemplated the significance that I, Curt Hinkle, am God’s workmanship. What does it mean to be God’s workmanship? And what does it mean that I am his workmanship with purpose? And what are those good works for which God has prepared for me? Some thoughts…

I notice that the Apostle Paul said we are God’s workmanship, not you (or Curt Hinkle, for that matter). In our western, American individualistic approach to faith, it’s an easy miss. I don’t doubt that this is a truism applicable to the individual, but we need to remember that Paul is addressing the Church in Ephesus. It seems that he is saying that Christ-followers as a whole unit are his workmanship, created for good works – individually and corporately.

So, let’s look at what Paul might be saying both individually and corporately. The root Greek word for workmanship is poiema (ποίημα). It describes God’s creative activity. It’s the word from which poem and poetry are derived. It has also been translated as accomplishment, masterpiece, handiwork, or a product of his hand. The Jerusalem Bible’s translation of Ephesians 2:10:

We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.

God’s work of art! In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis describes us as “Divine work(s) of art, something that God is making…” Or, as Timothy Keller has been oft quoted…

Do you know what it means that you are God’s workmanship? What is art? Art is beautiful, art is valuable, and art is an expression of the inner being of the maker, of the artist. Imagine what that means. You’re beautiful … you’re valuable … and you’re an expression of the very inner being of the Artist, the divine Artist, God Himself.

As a woodworker, I know the reality that every project I work on is a unique creation. Every year I try to make gifts for each of our four kids (i.e. charcuterie boards). On the surface, they all appear to be the same but they are not. They each have nuances related to things like wood types, grain orientation, blemishes, and, of course, operator error. What they do have in common that cannot be taken away from them: They are each a unique creation of mine, an expression of my creative activity.

The Apostle Paul used poiema only one other time in his writings that are included in the New Testament canon. In Romans 1:20 he states…

For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and all the things that make him God [his divine nature] – have been clearly seen [perceived], understood through what God has made (poiema). (EXB)

To be God’s poiema is a big deal! It’s right up there with all of creation (which we discussed in The Theology of Woodworking). We are visible expressions of the invisible God. As a higher schooler once said to me, “We get to be walking billboards.” It’s the “good works” we were created for. What a privilege!

With woodworking, there is a point where I, the artist, say “good enough.” It’s not a statement of shoddiness. It’s more of a comment about return on investment. At some point, I deem a project complete enough for its intended purpose. Satisfied with my poiema, I move on to the next project.

I am aware that not all of us consider it a privilege to be “walking billboards” due to real or perceived warts. But Paul didn’t say “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works someday.” There is a present tense implication. God’s creative activity is ongoing in the form of transformation into the likeness of his Son (For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his SonRomans 8:29). He doesn’t say “good enough.” As we continue to follow him, the warts (real and perceived) begin to fade.

Transformation. We’ve talked about that in previous blog posts (cf. Metamorfoo). We must remember that it’s not our job to transform ourselves. Our job is to follow Jesus, positioning ourselves so God can accomplish the transformation – For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants (Philippians 2:13, TLB). This is the entirety of C.S. Lewis’ quote from The Problem of Pain

“We are a Divine work of art, something that God is making and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.”

December 4, 2022

Ditching Grumbling and Arguing

This is visit #5 with Michael James Schwab who lives in Oaxaca, Mexico serving at a home for needy children called Cristo Por Su Mundo (Christ for the World) operated by Foundation For His Ministry.  His blog is ToEnjoyGod.com. Clicking the header which follows will let you read today’s devotional where it first appeared.

Become Blameless

The Bible talks a lot about the importance of being blameless. Especially Psalms and Proverbs:

LORD, who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless. (Psalm 15:1-2)

The blameless spend their days under the LORD’s, care, and their inheritance will endure forever. (Psalm 37:18)

Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me, and to the blameless I will show my salvation. (Psalm 50:23)

No good thing does the LORD withhold from those whose walk is blameless. (Psalm 84:11)

The LORD holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless. (Proverbs 2:7)

The way of the LORD is a refuge for the blameless, but is the ruin of those who do evil. (Proverbs 10:29)

The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness. (Proverbs 11:5)

Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse. (Proverbs 28:6)

The one whose walk is blameless is kept safe, but the one whose ways are perverse will fall into the pit. (Proverbs 28:18)

It seems there are a lot of benefits to living a blameless life. Good things like living on God’s holy mountain, being under the LORD’s care, salvation, protection and straight paths.

Two questions. What does it mean to be blameless and How can we be blameless?

One dictionary defines blameless as innocent of wrongdoing. Evidently, to be blameless we must never do anything wrong. It seems like an impossible dream. Never offend anyone. Never hurt anyone. Never take revenge. The list could be a long one.

How can we ever hope to accomplish blamelessness?

According to Paul in Philippians 2:14-15, the answer is to stop grumbling or arguing. He writes, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”

That doesn’t sound so hard. I thought there would be a list of do’s and don’ts a mile long that I would have to obey to be blameless. But it is just two things that seem to be everything – Do Everything Without Grumbling or Arguing. And not only will we be blameless, but we get purity thrown in as well.

It is probably a little more difficult than it sounds. As fallen, broken humans, bent toward sin, I think that our default mode in life is to start off being negative about most things, especially when things do not go our way, or we are not treated the way we think we deserve to be treated. That negativity leads to grumbling, which is generally a kind of low key, inner discomfort that, if not nipped in the bud, grows into complaining, and then bitterness and anger.

So how do we nip the negativity and grumbling in the bud and stop it before it gets out of control?

I read some positive thinking books about 35 years ago, and two phrases come to mind – Stop your stinking thinking and turn that frown upside down. At first blush those two ideas seem really simplistic when we are dealing with major downers in our life. But I think that is what Paul would have us do, in a manner of speaking. In chapter four of Philippians, Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (vs. 4) We must make the choice to rejoice.

What a contrast. In chapter two he is basically saying NEVER grumble or argue. In chapter four he says ALWAYS rejoice. So when we feel the negativity bug begin to bite into our thought process, we should get out the pesticide of Rejoicing in the Lord and find something to be thankful for. And if we can somehow manage to do that, we end up blameless and pure. And we get all the benefits from God that go with it.

I think, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do it. God loves us and wants us to be happy; full of joy. By replacing grumbling and arguing with praising and adoring, we can become blameless and pure. And happy.

 

November 11, 2022

Possessing Automatic Grace

Today we’re back for a third time featuring the writing of Glenn Kaiser, a leader in the Jesus People USA community in Chicago which gave birth to Resurrection Band, Cornerstone Magazine and the Cornerstone Festival. Click the header below (there’s two today) to read this where it first appeared.

Roots

No plant, flower or life grows healthy and well if laced with bitterness.

“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.” -Hebrews 12.15

Two weekends ago I brought a message to a fellowship about holiness, both imputed by God and lived out/walked by followers of Jesus. That largely focused on verse 14. Here we see the verse immediately following it.

Injustices have happened since Adam and Eve blew off God’s command, God’s “No, all but that over there…” so to speak. The bitterness in human life is partly what came of that non-trust and disobedience toward God. How many bitter people have we known… perhaps ourselves during our lifetime?

Bitter people are not at peace, not happy, anything but fulfilled, often as self-righteous as the smug, uncaring powerful who seem to (as even God’s Word tells it) have plenty of everything and get along just fine while the godly so often suffer. One of the reasons I love and trust scripture is that this scenario is written, preached and sung about a great deal in The Bible.

So what of a sense of what I’ll call “automatic grace”? Doesn’t a follower of the Lord experience this? Of course we do on many levels. And then injustice comes our way, illness or heartbreak or shocking, perhaps very deep loss occurs. Where was God in all this?

I met a man in a cancer ward years ago, being asked to visit and pray for him which I did. He only wanted to know one thing which I admitted I could not answer- “Why?” He said he’d lived a good life, had given to others, was a veteran, had laid his life down right through and now incurable cancer, pain and the end of life came in terrible misery. I do not know whether he was in fact a bitter person but many have taken that option. Many do in such circumstances or similiar situations.

Is is possible to “fail to obtain the grace of God”? I believe it is. Every sinful choice, foolish decision opens such a door. It does not fully eradicate grace (“eradicate” by the way means to “tear up by the roots…”) in one’s life, but surely can cause one to not actually obtain it. To miss God’s grace in the Greek = “be late, come behind, come short” — instead of, rather than “looking upon, caring about and exercising oversight” re. His grace.

Jesus taught that it is in our heart, our deepest place within where real defilement comes from. How we NEED God’s grace, eyes to see and repentance from a bitter heart! Forgiving, sowing grace and love toward people, prayer that God will be merciful to them, even bless them is a tall order and maturing followers of Jesus will take that route — or perhaps “fail to obtain.”

I’ve known far too many who have ditched any faith relationship with God at this very intersection.

Thankfully, I’ve known and know a great many who walk in grace rather than bitterness, who seek and love and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ their Lord.

We need to be mindful of our own root.

I wrote a lyric many years ago that concluded “Draw us from the bitter water, to the garden once again.” We need to tend our garden or things just… decay.

Mixed metaphor alert, but As the old preacher said: “The dog you feed is the one that grows.”

This article (below) on a similar theme appeared the next day on Glenn’s blog, and we couldn’t post the one without the other! —

Rooted -and- Grounded

“that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” -Ephesians 3.17

I am convinced the more our roots are IN GOD’S LOVE our own sense of deception, pretense, desire for vengeance, control, harsh attitudes that DEMAND x, y or z from others begin to fade.

The thought struck me that Paul’s prayer for those in the church at Ephesus is totally relevant for us today. Well, for all in any time or place on earth.

Is love actually the soil we are planted in, in our relationship to Jesus? Is that the ground we live in, stand on, offer care and concern for others -from the stability of His love? Are we doing all (as scripture teaches) we do in love?

Believe me, if you fail in this, know [that] I do plenty! Yet the target, the mark, the place we seek, as the NRSV renders it, “you are BEING”, so it’s a process.

If it isn’t all about love what is our aim in life, work and relationships?

Lastly we best consider what the Spirit does to nurture good health and growth in the roots of such ground.

Prayer, His Word, repentance and confession of sin, actually living out the Word and example of Jesus, growing in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5) are all part of the weed-pulling and nutrient-imparting for the life of a growing Christ follower. Yes!

November 10, 2022

Women Must Be Silent in Church: Is that Fair?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 (NRSV)

That doesn’t seem fair does it? That women must be silent in the church.

That these words of Paul strike us as being unfair is made evident by the way many Bible scholars try to explain these verses away. Some suggest, based on differing ancient manuscripts that a copyist added part of the wording in, so therefore the idea of women being silent in the church is not Paul’s idea, and so not really a part of the Bible. Others suggest that Paul is quoting the Corinthians, so the idea is really theirs, not his. Others suggest that we should look to the context, which we will turn to shortly. These suggestions exist because most scholars, most people in fact, hear these verses and think; that is not fair, that can’t be right.

If I were to suggest that women must be silent in our church I’d probably soon be out of work, but more importantly, I would feel like I was sinning somehow. Very few churches take Paul’s words here at face value and women’s voices are heard even in churches that attempt to be “biblical” by keeping women from preaching or teaching men.

Let’s face it, this is one of those places where what the Bible says we should do does not fit well with our gut reaction about what should be done. It strikes us as not fair, a matter of justice.

So what are we to do?

If we could read through the Bible tonight we could watch for something very important; God calls us to think of others and pursue justice.

In the Creation story, we are created in the image of God, which means many things, but since God is just, we are created to have a heart for justice. The law of Moses speaks of taking care of orphans, widows, and foreigners, which in that day meant taking care of the most vulnerable of society. The prophets often echo that call for justice and let’s not forget Micah 6:8:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (NRSV)

We also find a movement toward justice in the New Testament with the new Christian communities breaking down class distinctions between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. We should note that in each of these couplings this would not bring to the ancient mind the joining into one of two equal but different groups, but rather of two formerly unequal groups, slave and free for example. This was a movement, not just of bringing classes together, but of overhauling the class system altogether and granting equal opportunity.

Now let us focus on women for a moment, We find a lifting up of the place of women in the New Testament beginning with the emphasis on monogamy. Polygamy automatically pushes toward patriarchalism whereas monogamy opens the door for equal partnership. There is also a push for a better day for women with the call for men to have better character. We can think of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the call to not look at women lustfully, and so not to objectify women. Additionally, while some people take the words of Jesus on divorce in a very mechanical manner, his words push people to have better character, that is, don’t even think of using the divorce laws to legitimize adultery. Again, this was better for women. Jesus also challenged the roles of women with Mary being commended for learning with the disciples, men, rather than helping Martha in the kitchen. Then Jesus revealed himself first to a women, Mary, making her the first witness of his resurrection in a day in which women were not counted worthy as witnesses. Since an apostle was someone sent with a message, you can also make the claim that Mary was the first apostle, being sent to tell Peter and the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. Plus there is evidence in the New Testament of women being in leadership among the early Christians.

When we read all this in the Bible, we recognize that God calls us to think of others and pursue justice.

There are, however, two problems that can trip us up in responding to that call.

First, we can make our expression of Christianity a strict following of what the Bible says rather than what the Bible says God is calling us to.

We can get so focused on what the Bible says, we miss what God has said. The writings of the Bible were collected together for us, but they were not originally written to us. The Bible is a long record of the relationship between God and humanity and we get to see people working out their response to Jesus in their day in the pages of the New Testament. If we miss that, we can actually end up with unjust practices. We might, for example, in our day enforce the rule that women should be silent when in Paul’s day there may have been some reason for he called for their silence. Perhaps the women were being disruptive to worship somehow. The context of Paul’s writing about orderly worship supports this. Women are not disruptive to worship in our day. Perhaps instead of calling for women to be silenced we should be asking for cellphones to be silenced. That may be the better application of Paul’s words today.

Second, we can make Christianity to be all about us and how we get to heaven, and miss the call of God to think of others and push toward justice.

Preoccupation with our own personal piety can mess with our concern for justice for others. We may think, for example, of the priest and Levite who passed by a man left for dead in the Good Samaritan story. Some suggest they passed by on the other side in an attempt to keep themselves ritually “clean.” And there is this:

And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?”

Luke 14:3-5 (NRSV)

This example from Jesus gives the interesting situation where to do the right thing for personal piety, in keeping the Sabbath, would be to do the wrong thing for the child. It would be unfair, it would not be following God’s call to think of others, to do justice. We all know this. It is interesting that when we so often ask “what would Jesus do,” here Jesus asks what we would do, knowing that we would do the right thing, we would break the rule and rescue the child.

Likewise, a preoccupation with our own sin can make us miss the sin in the communities we live in. We may focus on repentance from our own personal individual sins but miss repentance from systemic sins. As an example here in Canada, many well meaning Christians, who were perhaps considered very good Christians indeed, donated towards the residential school system thinking they were doing a good deed for indigenous children. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and many good Christians enabled bad ideas. With God’s call to think of others and pursue justice, we need our eyes wide open to what sins we might be enabling in our day. Perhaps we need our eyes open to the sin of sexism we would enable by calling for strict adherence to what the Bible clearly says about women in church. Let us instead hear the call of God to think of others and pursue justice.

While we have focused mainly on fairness toward women in this post, really we are thinking about justice in the next topic of our series “What Kind of Church.” In this series we have been considering the cultural statements of Open Table Communities and today’s is:

A Culture of Justice
We nurture a culture that actively seeks to dismantle barriers that prevent human Flourishing, while upholding and acting on standards of justice, such as; equality, equity, fairness, impartiality and goodness.

OPEN TABLE COMMUNITIES


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. His Thursday column here is taken from his website, Thinking Through Scripture where articles are taken from his weekly Sermons. He is also the author of Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope, which may be sourced wherever you buy books.

November 3, 2022

Lessons We Can Learn

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.Romans 15:4 NIV

NLT.Heb.11.32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

39a All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith…

Scripture offers a wealth of examples of those who trusted God through difficult circumstances, including those recorded in the First Testament, who never lived to see all of the fruition of their faith, which only arrived with the appearing of Jesus Christ.

It’s important, I believe, to use the term narrative to describe their exploits, because in our time, the word stories conveys a fictional or mythical “once upon a time” sense.

These narratives need to be rehearsed periodically because we live in a time in history when Biblical literacy is on the decline, and familiarity with these Bible personalities is ebbing away.

There is a term used among professional classical musicians, “knowing the literature,” or having “knowledge of the literature.” It refers to the situation that there are certain piano concertos which every great pianist knows by heart; there are symphonies that every clarinet player can play without printed music. A lifetime of interaction with those compositions means that the mere mention of those pieces starts an internal audio file playing.

Are we as familiar with the Bible’s literature?

Years ago an acquaintance was describing his ordination exam. This is where a candidate is tested by a body of senior pastors and denominational leaders to see if they are fit for the term, “Reverend.” The chairperson started out by asking, “Tell us about John’s gospel, chapter one.” The next question was “Tell us about John’s Gospel, chapter two.” And so on. You get the pattern.

I don’t know if he had been given any warning that the ordination council would take that route, but that day he needed to have that level of familiarity with John’s Gospel.

Sometimes the Bible narratives — and here you might want to compare not just the Hebrews passage cited above, but all of Hebrews 11 — are written with a concision or brevity that requires us to interpolate details not provided.

A month ago I listened to a sermon wherein the account in Mark’s gospel was very stark. The pastor speculated as to the circumstances surrounding an encounter with Jesus, even to the point of giving the key character in the narrative a name.

A friend who was there objected strenuously to this speculative manner of presenting the encounter. When I told him that this is called narrative preaching, he very much condemned the entire genre.

But I believe it’s important to do whatever we can — within limits, of course — to spark these Bible snapshots to life. If the Bible teacher pictures an overcast day, it doesn’t threaten the integrity of the story to add that. What matters is that the core elements of the narrative remain intact.

We do this to help people remember the scene presented.

We do this to help people be able to apply the principles waiting to be extracted from the Bible text.

Our key verse in Romans (above) reminds us that all these narratives were written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

The best narrative preaching I’ve ever witnessed is that which invites the listener to through the use of their imagination, place themselves in the middle of the scene. That’s when the genre is being utilized at its best, where the hearer finds themselves immersed in the unfolding drama.

In Christian Education, one approach is to read the text like the one we heard preached that day (a) from the point of view of the person having the encounter with Jesus, (b) from the viewpoint of the disciples, (c) from the vantage point of the crowd and (d) from the perspective of the person having the encounter with Jesus.

If you wish to try this exercise, a great text is Jesus healing the man born blind, because you’ve also got (e) the man’s parents, and (f) the Pharisees.

Again, the goal is to remember and then to apply.


Related reading:

Several years ago we shared this quotation:

“A spiritual community that does not transmit its sacred writings to its children is one generation away from extinction.”

Read more at Generation Lost from 2014.

also, consider this quotation:

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

Read more at Jesus Began with Text from 2012


Our roving Thursday devotional correspondent, Clarke Dixon is on assignment and will be back next week.

 

November 2, 2022

Letting God Do the Driving

One year ago we introduced you to the blog called Basic Bible Thoughts where the writer is simply credited as S. Joiner. This time around we’re back with an older post, written nearly two years ago, but one which we selected after reading several other worthy articles. (There’s a really good series from Spring ’21 on the subject of faith, for example.) Click the title below to read this one when and where it first appeared.

I Am A Passenger

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have recently had knee replacement surgery. With that process comes the fact that I cannot drive during my recovery, I have become a passenger. Being the passenger has removed an aspect of the journey that I enjoyed more than I knew. The control that comes with being behind the wheel of my journey; hands on the steering wheel, foot on the gas and ready to stop when I decide. But being the passenger forces me to live under the control of the driver.

Galatians 1: 14                                  ESV

And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

The Apostle Paul reflecting back on the time when he drove his own life as Saul of Tarsus. This passage is just one example of how that man was in control, we would call him driven. Judaism was his way of life but also it was his career and he excelled at it. He was a rising star inside the ranks of Judaism.

I also, relying on my own strength, worked my way up my career, personal, and spiritual ladder. I pushed hard and showed my worth and abilities to all who could assist me in the climb. I quickly learned that the ability to increase the value of those above me drove my ascent even faster.

Philippians 3: 4b-6                            ESV

If anyone else thinks he has reason for 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; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 

I have mentioned in past Blogs that I grew up in church. If there was a job to fill, I was the one to fill it. I taught classes from children to adults and often on the same Sunday. I filled seats on leadership boards, I started ministries from the ground up, and my last name brought extra attention inside the church we served in, it was a family achievement.

What did all that hard work and respect get me? Church became more of a job than it was a place of worship. I walked the halls with my head up high. One day it all became increasingly clear – I was all about what I was doing to assist God and not what He was accomplishing through me. It broke me and I cried for days just thinking about how I had twisted the very purpose that God had designed me for.

Acts 9: 3-5                            ESV

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 

Riding on his horse and directing his team on their journey to destroy those troublesome Jesus followers. A light bulb moment happens, and it completely knocked Paul off his horse. Laying on the ground and unable to see, he hears a voice. He hears what others are unable to see, the voice of Jesus.

Acts 9: 13-15                       ESV

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel

Ananias was a follower of Jesus; Paul was coming to make him renounce his faith in Jesus or die. Instead of driving his own journey, Ananias became an instrument of God’s mercy toward Paul. Yes, Ananias did raise a concern but once God said go, the instrument sounded clearly as Ananias went. Before Paul’s encounter with God’s life changing light, his name was Saul (meaning ask or question). God changed his name to Paul (meaning small or humble).

I have never known an instrument to make a noise by itself. Someone must properly work and create the noise with the instrument. I learned quickly that I was not making God look better by the work I was doing; He was using me to play music that leads others to Him.

This blog came into being this week not because I am creative but, because I wrote something that resounded through my soul. A friend posted at Thanksgiving with an eye over this past year, realizing that her biggest blessing in 2020 was being forced to slow down and focused on Jesus. Then God placed this note in my heart, “The best place to be is understanding that God is directing your life and you find yourself in the passenger seat.”

November 1, 2022

Allies in Kingdom Advancement

Today we’re back with another article by Ben Sternke whose eponymous blog has the subtitle: “Field notes on life and mission with God after Christendom.” (There’s a lot to think about there!) Clicking the devotional title below will take you to where this first appeared.

Whoever Isn’t Against You is For You

John said, “Master, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he isn’t in our group of followers.”

But Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him, because whoever isn’t against you is for you.”

John 9:49-50

Just before this little exchange, the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest within the group, and when Jesus rebuffs them by placing a child in their midst and telling them that whoever is least among them is the greatest, they turn their attention to outside the group and, in effect, say, “Well we’re definitely greater than those guys, right?”

Just like us, Jesus’s disciples are relentlessly measuring their status and honor to see who they’re better than, and who is better than them. Just like them, we have all kinds of ways of measuring:

  • Whose theology is better?
  • Whose liturgy is better?
  • Whose aesthetics are better?
  • Whose church is bigger?
  • Whose preaching is better?
  • Whose discipleship practices are better?

Instead of these status games, Jesus brings us back to the point: is God’s kingdom going forward? Well then don’t get in the way (and maybe even rejoice a little!).

These people you’re upset about, are they opposing God’s work? If not, then stop worrying about them. Do you think they’re going about the work in the wrong way? Do you think they’re not part of the right team? Don’t have the correct affiliation or the right theology? Wrong question!

Better questions: Is God’s kingdom advancing? Are the marginalized brought into communion? Are the broken healed? Are the prisoners set free? Are those in bondage being delivered? Is good news being preached to the poor? Then don’t worry about them being part of the wrong group or having bad theology.

As long as they’re not against you, they’re for you! If they’re not opposing God’s kingdom advancing, they’re your partners, and there’s absolutely no need to figure out who’s better than who.


Because that was shorter than many of our devotionals here, I thought we’d add this (even shorter!) one; which is relevant to the advancing kingdom discussed above.

The Harvest Really is Plentiful

“The harvest is plentiful…” Jesus tells the seventy-two as he sends them out as forerunners to enact and announce God’s kingdom coming near (Luke 10:2).

This initial proclamation about the nature of the disciples’ mission field is a vital key for their ability to discern where and when God is at work. If they are to stay where they are welcomed, and move on when they are not, they need to have confidence that the harvest is plentiful.

They don’t need things to work out positively in any particular town or village, as if the harvest was scarce and needs to be squeezed out of reluctant soil. No, the harvest is plentiful, so just brush the dust off your feet and move on a place where you are welcomed.

Leave judgment in God’s hands; the way that people respond is not your responsibility. Simply go out in openness and vulnerability and look for openness and vulnerability in others. Stay wherever you find it, receiving and giving in mutuality, proclaiming the nearness of God.


Reading Ben’s articles got me thinking about the potential competition that can exist between ministry organizations, which reminded me of a book that I saw a few years ago, but didn’t pick up at the time: Rooting Among Rivals: How Collaboration and Generosity Increase The Impact of Leaders, Charities and Churches by Peter Greer and Chris Horst. The publisher blurb reads:

Do ministries and churches compete? Faith-based organizations are sometimes known for what we’re against—and all too often that includes being against each other. But amid growing distrust of religious institutions, Christ-centered leaders, churches and charities have a unique opportunity to link arms and collectively pursue a calling higher than any one organization’s agenda.  (Bethany House, 2018)

I think we could all say “Amen” to that spirit of cooperation.

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