Christianity 201

April 26, 2018

The Purpose of a Church: Helping People

by Clarke Dixon

(This is part two in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

Why “Helping People”?

When we want as few words as possible in our tagline, why should “Helping People” make the cut? In reading the Bible we learn that God has always had a focus on helping people. One example is the giving of the the law. Consider the words of Jesus:

The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” Mark 2:27 (NLT).

When God gave the law He was not arbitrary in choosing its commandments. The law helped people. A day off for rest is helpful. It still is! We choose many other examples. If you were keeping God’s law, you were forbidden from sacrificing your child in fire as some religions from Biblical times required. That too, is helpful! God’s law also helped people to realize their need for grace which brings us to Jesus. He was always helping people through his teaching and miracles. However, Jesus also helped us with our greatest need, reconciliation to God. In Jesus God offers the grace we need. That too, is helpful! Since God has always had a focus on helping people we can expect that His Church will be called to help people also.

What are we helping people with?

Consider the story of Jesus helping a man and his son:

21 He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
24 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:21-24 (NLT)

Jesus is asked for help in a very practical way, the curing of the child through the casting out of the demon. However, the father also asks for a help with his spirituality: “I believe, help my unbelief”.  Churches may help people with very practical things, helping with food, clothing, shelter, and the like. But there is a spiritual help that will only come through the Church. Jesus spent three years helping people by working miracles, but it was only three years, and it was only in a small corner of the world.  However, Jesus has helped people across the world and throughout the generations by offering the cure for what alienates us from God. We do good works as Christian people, but they are not the core of what we are about. We are to do something that only we as Christians will do; that is, point people to God in Jesus Christ. If all heaven rejoices over the repentance of one sinner, then the people called the Church will be reaching out to that sinner. If the Father runs to welcome home the prodigal son, then we want to call the son home.  While helping people with the practical stuff of life is important, our main focus is on helping people to connect with the Giver of Life Himself, to help people walk with Jesus.

Whom are we helping?

Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor, and through the parable of the Good Samaritan we learn that our neighbor is anyone and everyone. But are we to focus on helping the people who are the Church, or people beyond the Church? Our neighbor includes both. Churches which do not help Christian people walk further with Jesus have a wide open back door. Churches which do not help non-Christian people begin, or at least consider, walking with Jesus do not have a front door.

Who is helping?

We could phrase this question another way. Is the task of Christians to support the church financially, then the staff of the church will help people? Ephesians 4 will bring some clarity:

11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

The entire church body is involved in ministry, the entire church is to be involved in helping others. The people of our church family have passions and gifts which I, the pastor, do not, so they can be of greater help to a greater number of people. They also have connections with neighbours and friends and acquaintances which I do not. Any church which limits its helping of others to its staff is severely limiting its capacity to help people. The mission of the Church is always to be carried out by all the people of the church.

Are there any icebergs ahead? Is there anything that might sink a church in helping people?

There is a subtle slide that can happen.

15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (NRSV emphasis added)

Here we read about “the body’s growth”. We might, therefore, try every trick in the book to “grow” our church. However, we can lose sight of the fact this passage is about people. Just as we saw last week that the church is the people, not the building, so too we must realize that each church is the people, not the organization.  Just as the Sabbath exists for people and not people for the Sabbath, the organization exists for people, rather than people existing for the organization. There is a subtle difference.

Conclusion

It has always been about the people. When God introduced religion, it was about the people; a better way to live, a way to live that pointed to the need for a better way to relate to God. Now that God has come to us in Jesus and we relate to him, not through religion, but through relationship by His grace and through faith – it brings glory to God, but it helps people.

To the glory of God, may the people called “Church” always be helping people.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

March 6, 2018

John Newton Quotations

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!
He, whose Word cannot be broken,
Formed thee for His own abode;
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou mayst smile at all thy foes.

Blest inhabitants of Zion,
Washed in the Redeemer’s blood!
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,
Makes them kings and priests to God;
’Tis His love His people raises
Over self to reign as kings,
And as priests, His solemn praises
Each for a thank off’ring brings.

~ Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken – John Newton

Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God. (Psalm 87:3)

Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. But there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. (Isaiah 33: 21-22)

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King… As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever. (Psalm 48: 1-2,8)

No doubt like many of you, we sang Amazing Grace in our church on Sunday. It’s author, John Newton said many other things too! First, Wikipedia reminds us that Newton “was an Anglican clergyman in England who served as a sailor in the Royal Navy for a period, and later as the captain of slave ships. He became ordained as an evangelical Anglican cleric, served Olney, Buckinghamshire for two decades, and also wrote hymns, known for “Amazing Grace” and “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” [see above]. Newton started his career at sea at a young age, and worked on slave ships in the slave trade for several years. After experiencing a period of Christian conversion Newton eventually renounced his trade and became a prominent supporter of abolitionism, living to see Britain’s abolition of the African slave trade in 1807.

Because his change of heart on the matter of slavery did not happen until much after his spiritual conversion, he marked the date of the latter annual but would say he was not a true believer until he became an abolitionist.


You will likewise find advantage, by attending as much as you can on those preachers whom God has blessed with much power, life, and success in their ministry. And in this you will do well not to confine yourself to any denomination or party for the Spirit of the Lord is not confined. Different men have different gifts and talents. I would not wish you to be a slavish admirer of any man. Christ alone is our Master and Teacher. But study the excellencies of each: and if you observe a fault in any (for no human models are perfect), you will see what you are yourself to avoid


Experience is the Lord’s school, and they who are taught by Him usually learn by the mistakes they make that in themselves they have no wisdom; and by their slips and falls, that they have no strength.”


Assurance grows by repeated conflict, by our repeated experimental proof of the Lord’s power and goodness to save; when we have been brought very low and helped, sorely wounded and healed, cast down and raised again, have given up all hope, and been suddenly snatched from danger, and placed in safety; and when these things have been repeated to us and in us a thousand times over, we begin to learn to trust simply to the word and power of God, beyond and against appearances: and this trust, when habitual and strong, bears the name of assurance; for even assurance has degrees.


Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.


I compare the troubles which we have to undergo in the course of the year to a great bundle of sticks, far too large for us to lift. But God does not require us to carry the whole at once. He mercifully unties the bundle, and gives us first one stick, which we are to carry today, and then another, which we are to carry tomorrow, and so on. This we might easily manage, if we would only take the burden appointed for us each day; but we choose to increase our troubles by carrying yesterday’s stick over again today, and adding tomorrow’s burden to our load, before we are required to bear it.


Your constitution, your situation, your temper, your distemper, all that is either comfortable or painful in your lot, is of his appointment. The hairs of your head are all numbered: the same power which produced the planet Jupiter is necessary to the production of a single hair, nor can one of them fall to the ground without his notice, any more than the stars can fall from their orbits. In providence, no less than in creation, he is Maximus in minimis. Therefore fear not; only believe. Our sea may sometimes be stormy, but we have an infallible Pilot, and shall infallibly gain our port.


Happy is that family where the worship of God is constantly and conscientiously maintained. Such houses are temples in which the Lord dwells, and castles garrisoned by a Divine power.


The Bible is the grand repository … It is the complete system of divine truth, to which nothing can be added, and from which nothing can be taken, with impunity. Every attempt to disguise or soften any branch of this truth, in order to accommodate it to the prevailing taste around us, either to avoid the displeasure, or to court the favour, of our fellow mortals, must be an affront to the majesty of God, and an act of treachery to men.


It belongs to your calling of God as a minister, that you should have a taste of the various spiritual trials which are incident to the Lord’s people, that thereby you may know how to speak a word in season to them that are weary; and it is likewise needful to keep you perpetually attentive to that important admonition, “Without Me ye can do nothing.


I endeavored to renounce society, that I might avoid temptation. But it was a poor religion; so far as it prevailed, only tended to make me gloomy, stupid, unsociable, and useless.


And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.


The Word of God is not to be used as a lottery; nor is it designed to instruct us by shreds and scraps, which, detached from their proper places, have no determinate import; but it is to furnish us with just principles, right apprehensions to regulate our judgments and affections, and thereby to influence and direct our conduct.


When people are right with God, they are apt to be hard on themselves and easy on other people. But when they are not right with God, they are easy on themselves and hard on others.


How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
in a believer’s ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds,
and drives away our fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole
and calms the troubled breast;
’tis manna to the hungry soul,
and to the weary, rest.


If two angels were sent down from heaven,–one to conduct an empire, and the other to sweep a street,–they would feel no inclination to change employments.


Sources: Christian Quotes, A-Z Quotes, Inspiring Quotes, Timeless Truths,  Grace Quotes, Hail and Fire, Hymnary.org.

 

 

 

 

March 3, 2018

Can Any Christian Do Deliverance Ministry or is it a Specialized Gifting?

This is a question which came up today and I thought I’d share it with you, as this is a topic which, outside of Charismatic and Pentecostal environments, is not discussed among Evangelicals.

The issue is whether or not ‘the average Christian’ when in a situation of spiritual confrontation can move in the power of the Holy Spirit, or if they need to retreat and defer to ‘the experts’ in this area of ministry. An analogy to the movie Ghostbusters, while rather distracting, is not entirely out of place here. Who are you gonna call?

Before we begin, an important question to ask is, ‘Does the person seek healing and deliverance?’ If the person who needs Christ doesn’t particular want Christ’s help — and I’ve met people on both sides of this equation — then you’re possible going to proceed differently.

Another clarification needs to be made between deliverance ministry and spiritual warfare, something we looked at here in January, 2014:

The difference between deliverance and spiritual warfare is that deliverance is dealing with demonic bondages, and getting a person set free, whereas spiritual warfare is resisting, overcoming and defeating the enemy’s lies (in the form of deception, temptations and accusations) that he sends our way. Deliverance involves the breaking up of legal grounds, the tearing down of strongholds (offensive spiritual warfare), and the casting out of demons. Spiritual warfare on the other hand, is dealing with three key things the enemy sends at us: temptations, deception and accusations.

So we need to keep that distinction in mind as we proceed.

Deliverance is certainly similar to the supernatural gifts of the spirit in 1 Cor. 12, yet it is not one of them; of the nine listed, see especially these:

The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles… (12:9-10a)

This certainly gives the believer confidence that part of our ministry can include operating in the supernatural realm. Also, bringing relief to those in need was part of Christ’s mandate as shown in Luke 4:18 (AMP):

The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon Me, because He has anointed Me [the Anointed One, the Messiah] to preach the good news (the Gospel) to the poor; He has sent Me to announce release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send forth as delivered those who are oppressed [who are downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity]

and then he tells us (John 14:12-13)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.

In Luke chapter 10, Jesus sends out the 72 disciples and then we read in vs. 17:

When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”

The tone of the verse suggests a bit of surprise on the part of these short-term missionaries, but also implies something which came naturally or organically because of their connection to Jesus. We get this sense two verses later in 19-20:

[Jesus:] “Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you. But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.”

While the last half of the 16th chapter of Mark has been disputed because of manuscript corroboration, it is there we find a ‘spiritual power package’ of instructions including verse 17:

These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages.

You have the authority. So why have we relegated deliverance ministry to being a the purview of a very select few?

It might be that this passage brings with it the potential for deliverance ministry failure:

Mark 9.17 One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. 18 And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”

19a Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you?…

25 When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil  spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”…

28 Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?”

29 Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.

The Pulpit Commentary elaborates:

Though all things are possible to faith, some works are more difficult of accomplishment than others. This kind can mean only this kind of evil spirit, or demons generally. But the latter interpretation is excluded by the fact that the apostles had already exercised successfully their power over devils without special prayer or fasting. The words point to a truth in the spiritual world, that there are different degrees in the Satanic hierarchy (comp. Matthew 12:45); some demons are more malignant than others, and have greater power over the souls of men. In the present case the possession was of long standing; it revolved a terrible bodily malady; it was of an intense and unusual character. The mere word of exorcism, or the name of Jesus, spoken with little spiritual faith, could net overcome the mighty enemy. The exorcist needed special preparation; he must inspire and augment his faith by prayer and self-discipline. Prayer invokes the aid of God, and puts one’s self unreservedly in his hands; fasting subdues the flesh, arouses the soul’s energies, brings into exercise the higher parts of man’s nature. Thus equipped, a man is open to receive power from on high, and can quell the assaults of the evil one. (emphasis added)

Elliott’s Commentary adds:

The disciples, we know, did not as yet fast (Matthew 9:14-15), and the facts imply that they had been weak and remiss in prayer. The words are noticeable as testifying to the real ground and motive for “fasting,” and to the gain for the higher life to be obtained, when it was accompanied by true prayer, by this act of conquest over the lower nature.

or perhaps this passage from Matthew is in the back of someone’s mind:

17.14b A man came and knelt before Jesus and said, 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 So I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”

17 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.

19 Afterward the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?”

20 “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.

We often refer to the website, GotQuestions.org. Some non-Pentecostals or non-Charismatics downplay the need for this as a specialized ministry. Since you’ll find this thinking online in various places, here is a sample from their site:

…The Gospels and Acts relate that Jesus and the disciples cast out demons. The teaching portions of the New Testament (Romans through Jude) refer to demonic activity yet do not discuss the method of casting them out, nor are believers exhorted to do so. We are told to put on the whole armor of God…

…The Gospels and Acts relate that Jesus and the disciples cast out demons. The teaching portions of the New Testament (Romans through Jude) refer to demonic activity yet do not discuss the method of casting them out, nor are believers exhorted to do so…

…It is interesting that we have no record of Jesus’ instructions to His disciples on how to cast out demons…[and then the commentary goes on to list a rather significant number of ‘exceptions.’ Hmmm…]

Did we answer the question at the top of the page?

I think the issue here is not the office or title of the person rebuking the evil spirits, but rather the preparation of the person entering into such a ministry.

Of course, some situations are extremely short notice. We don’t know exactly when we might find ourselves seeing or being part of a direct demonic confrontation. I believe in those situations, a person who has heard God’s word on this subject, and is thereby aware of the powers that exist should resolve to act in whatever timely opportunity is available. (But I also believe God will give you some foreknowledge to be prepared to do so.)

In other parts of the world, I’m told that demonic activity is much more acute; much more visible. People in those situations don’t need to be told what they’re dealing with, they see its effects.

So the answer is both: It is a ministry that is the specialty of some pastors and Christian leaders, but it is also within the reach of any Christ-follower who has prepared themselves for the task.

Do you want to take this on?

It’s definitely worth remembering that the seventy-two were sent out in pairs. That might be a better way to apprentice in this type of ministry.


In any deliverance situation, there’s also the issue of providing ‘filling’ to someone whose ‘casting out’ of something has created a void or a whole. In Matthew we read the words of Jesus,

12.43 “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. 45 Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.”

There are some good resources online on this topic, be discerning as you search however, and recognize that there are differences of opinion on this issues from different theological traditions.


Scriptures today were all NLT (just because) except where indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

January 31, 2018

Filling the Overall Void in Our Lives and Filling the First Hour of the Day

Today’s title is a bit longer because we’re playing a six-month catch-up with two different blogs that we last featured in July of last year; each one offering a short article on a significant theme. I hope, as our own title suggests you see the connection between the two.

The first one is from Partners in Hope Today, a website we first connected with five years ago. The devotionals posted there — in print and in audio — are especially focused for readers who are in a recovery program. This is something that is also part of my own personal story. Don’t skip past the first sentence too quickly…it’s SO important.

Running on Empty

When we get rid of something bad in our lives, we need to fill the vacancy with something good.  Failure to fill the vacancy with something good can lead to relapse and even cause a person to be worse off than they were before.

For it was I, the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt.  Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things. (Psalm 81:10 NLT)

In the past, bad habits and negative attitudes played a significant role in our lives.  When we felt vulnerable we used our substance of choice to help cope with the emptiness, the pain, and the loneliness we were experiencing.  In addiction our daily agenda was entirely focused on meeting and fulfilling the demands our substance of choice made on us.  In recovery we have become aware that God has promised to meet all our needs.  Are we entirely willing to let Him do so?

This same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:19 NLT)

Life in recovery is about living in truth, and the truth is that on our own our hearts are unfulfilled.  We struggle with anxiety and fear when we feel vulnerable and powerless.  God, through His word in the Bible, and trusted people in recovery around us, assure us that there is a sure way forward.  Step by step we can come to know and believe in a Power greater than ourselves who can restore us to sanity.  We are encouraged to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this powerful God.  When we choose to do so, God fills our dead hearts with His Holy Spirit, the power greater than ourselves, who enables us to do the things that please God.

It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us.  (2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT)

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, When I am afraid and feel vulnerable, help me to trust that You are always with me and will meet all my needs.  Amen. 


Our second piece today is from Gary Henry at WordPoints. For people battling the issue in the first article, this — the way we start each day — is probably the very best place to begin.

Now Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before the LORD (Gen 19:27)

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. (Mark 1:35)

In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch. (Psalm 5:3) (all verses NASB sourced at Knowing Jesus)

Giving God the First Hour

I have found that giving God the first hour of every day is an excellent practice. Not only does it honor God by giving Him the “firstfruits” of the day, but it is the most helpful thing I’ve ever done in regard to my own spiritual growth.

Before I do anything else, I spend an hour in prayer, Bible study, singing, and meditation on God. In order to do this, of course, I have to get up an hour earlier than my schedule would otherwise require. I do this seven days a week. I don’t always get up at the same time every day, but on any given day, whatever time I would “have to get up,” I get up an hour earlier than that — and give that hour to the Lord.

Not being a “morning person,” this is a very difficult thing for me to do. Even so, I have made it a matter of commitment that I will not allow myself to do anything else until I have devoted myself to the Lord for an hour or more.

Some individuals might practice a similar discipline at the end of the day, staying up an hour later than they normally would and giving that hour to the Lord. Either way, there is a great benefit in making the sacrifices necessary to devote a certain time exclusively to the Lord.

Personally, I believe the beginning of the day is preferable because it gets the day started off in the right manner. It puts into practice our preaching about what should come first. It says, “Lord, I thank you for this new day. I will not embark on any of this day’s activities until I have worshiped You and learned from Your word. Lord, I give this day to You.”

December 29, 2017

When is it Right to Judge?

I mentioned on December 20th that I was so impressed by the material by Colin Sedgwick at Welcome to Sedgonline, that we now return for an extra visit this month (plus a link to a third article) before our “six month rule” kicks in!  Click the title to read the first one at source.

Is it ever right to judge?

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”. Matthew 7:1

The minister stood at the church door to greet people after the service. The sermon hadn’t been an easy one to preach. He had spoken about sexual morality, and had stressed particularly the biblical ideal of marriage – one man and one woman, for life – and he knew that not everyone would take it kindly.

(He knew too, of course, that the ideal is exactly that: an ideal. And that God is compassionate and forgiving towards those who may have failed to achieve it.)

One woman had just a very brief comment to make: “I prefer to live my life according to Matthew 7:1. Goodbye.” By which she meant, of course: “I believe in not making judgments on the way other people live their lives.”

Was her frosty comment right?

In one sense, of course, yes. We should not judge others in the sense of condemning them. We are all sinners, so the sins we should take most seriously are… our own. Jesus goes on to make this clear in his words about the speck of sawdust and the plank: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?… You hypocrite…” Point taken!  Ultimately, God alone is qualified to judge.

But in another sense she was wrong. Taking Matthew 7:1 as a stand-alone text – treating it as if it says everything that needs to be said – simply creates chaos.

Somebody has calculated that the Bible as a whole contains 31,102 verses (depending on which version you use), so if that minister had had the chance he could well have replied to the woman, “Er, yes, of course, Matthew 7:1 is great verse – but what about the Bible’s other 31,101 verses? What about verses that put a different angle on the matter – shouldn’t they be taken into account as well?”

For if you take Matthew 7:1 as the only word on the subject of judging, it implies that there are no rights and wrongs at all. Somebody commits murder? Oh dear, that’s bad – but, of course, Jesus says I mustn’t judge them. Somebody operates an internet scam and robs people of millions of pounds? Mmm, that sounds pretty dodgy as well. But of course Jesus says I mustn’t judge them…

Fact: some things are right and some things are wrong. And we shouldn’t shy away from saying so.

Jesus himself wasn’t afraid to point this out: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13) Not exactly non-judgmental, that, eh?

In the early days of the church Simon Peter had to deal with a case of gross dishonesty by a couple called Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). So what did he say: “Ananias and Sapphira, you have done a seriously bad thing – but of course I am forbidden by the Lord Jesus to judge you”? Er, no. No: he spoke some quite frightening words: “… how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…?” Non-judgmental?

A little later Saul (before he became known as Paul) was confronted on the island of Cyprus by “a sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus” (Acts 13:6-12). This man comes in for similar rough treatment: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!” Again, non-judgmental?

The fact is that when we see evil and wickedness, whether in others or mainly in ourselves, something is wrong if we don’t recognize it as such.

But, having said that, shouldn’t our main reaction be one of sorrow?

This, I think, is what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4). He wasn’t talking about bereaved people or people attending a funeral; he was talking about people who shake their heads in sadness as they look into the darkness in their own hearts, and as they survey the sorry state of our world – the lies, the corruption, the greed, the vice and immorality, the violence.

Such people aren’t self-righteous or “holier-than-thou”; no, they are people who have looked a little into the heart of God, who have been moved by the beauty and purity they have seen there, and who long for things to be different. They are people who pray, as Jesus taught us: “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) – and who add “including in my heart”.

Is that a prayer you can pray with sincerity? If it is, I think that means you can stand up for what is right, and denounce what is wrong, without being guilty of judging others where you shouldn’t.

Lord God, save me from fault-finding, criticizing and condemning others. Help me to see clearly my own sins and failings – but at the same time not to be afraid to uphold what is good, right and true. Amen.


This topic raises another important issue – how easy it is, like that woman at the church door, to misuse the Bible. It might be helpful to have a think about that next. See this article by the same author.

November 14, 2017

“I Have Lost Everything!”

by Russell Young

I recently heard a committed believer lament, “I have lost everything!”  Perhaps as someone endeavoring to walk “in the light,” as John puts it (1 Jn1: 5─7), you are struggling through a valley experience; you feel that you are being attacked from all sides. The committed believer does not need be overwhelmed with loss, the only things that those “in Christ” can lose are sin, sin’s practices, right to self-determination, and your status “in Christ.”

The greatest fear that any believer can have is his or her failure to remain “in Christ.” Many teach that such a fear is unbiblical, that a person cannot lose his or her position in Christ. However, Christ presents this change in status as a very clear possibility. “[My Father] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” (Jn 15:1; Italics added.) Further, the Lord spoke about the blessings that arise “If [a person] remains in him” (Jn 15:5, 7, 10), and promises that he will remain in the person who remains in him. (Jn 15:4) A person remains in him if he or she obeys his commands. (Jn 15:10) The believer—a believer is one who obeys him—need not fear loss, but all who claim his name need to be believing–belief must be ongoing. In another place Christ also spoke of the possibility of impermanence in the family. (Jn 8:35)

It is important for the believer, the person “in Christ,” to understand the reality of what is transpiring in his or her life. Valley experiences require that time be committed to prayer and meditation. Truth must be separated from feelings and losses from gains. Certainly, disappointment, the thwarting of dreams, and even the loss of “friends” or financial security can weigh down a sensitive spirit, but these may not be losses from the Lord’s perspective; consequently, they should not be considered losses from the believer’s perspective. This is easy to say for someone not involved, but reflection will reveal that losses, in fact, may not have been losses at all.  “Losses” bring a person up short. They greatly impact the progress of life and call for an alteration in some sense. However, the Lord is looking out for the good of those “in him.”  Paul encouraged, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28 NIV) It is easy to become distracted and to stray from the Lord’s will and it can hurt to become re-oriented, to have ungodly interests chipped away, and to be maintained on the narrow path.

The Word never taught that all things would go painlessly for the believer. In fact, he promised persecution (2 Tim 3:12) and trials (1 Thess 3:3; 1 Pet 1:6) and even discipline (1 Cor 11:32; Heb 12:5-7; Rev 3:19) and punishment. (Heb 12:6) Discipline and punishment apply to those he loves.  (Heb 12:5) “God disciplines us for our good that we might share in his holiness.” (Heb 12:10 NIV)

God tests hearts. He did it for the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex 12:25, 16:4, 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16, 13:3;) He tested Abraham (Gen 22:1), Job (Job 23:10), and Jeremiah (Jer 12:3). He even tested the heart of his Son (Mt 4:1; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:1) Those who claim the name of Christ will be tested also. (Job 7:18; 1 Chr 29:17; 1 Thess 2:4; Jas 1:12) God tests hearts and the faithful will be found walking obediently with him.

The only way a believer can “lose everything” is for him or her to abandon the Lord and the position that was provided for them. Trials must be faced for what they are…trials. This life is not easy. Imperfections must be cut away; holiness must be built through righteousness practices. (Rom 6: 19, 22) All those who want to remain in Christ and attain to the resurrection must live as he did. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6)

When you are counting your loses, it is important to consider them from an eternal perspective.  Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Mt 16:25 NIV) Loss is often a very good thing.


Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. He is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

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

November 12, 2017

Sunday Worship

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
  – Romans 12:1

“The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to crawl off the altar.”

Today we return to a recurring theme verse here at Sunday Worship. It reminds us that worship is something we do, but rather worship is something we are. Years ago, Christian musician Chris Christian wrote,

We lift our voices
We lift our hands
We lift our lives up to You
We are an offering1

I really try to eschew pithy illustrations and stories here at C201, but I find this one most appropriate:

A chicken and a pig were discussing how they could do something for the farmer. Finally the chicken said, “He loves a good breakfast; why don’t we give him bacon and eggs?”

To this the pig replied, “That’s easy for you. All it demands of you is an offering, but for me it demands total sacrifice.” 2

Here are some things I think will help us remember what it means to live our lives as a living sacrifice. Each starts with the letter ‘s’ followed by a different vowel.

Sacrifice

If we are to judge it, the measure of a sacrifice is not the size of what is given, but the size of what is left over.

A sacrifice will cost us and it will be consumed. There is no taking back the investment of our energies, gifts or material possessions given up in the service and pleasing of God. The last distinction is important. In service we see tangible results. But God is sometimes pleased by our giving up of things. Ask yourself: How much cash would you put on the offering plate if, as it was in Old Testament times, what was giving was then burned? That’s what our Old Testament predecessors did with the best of their grain and animals.

Set-Apartness

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

In a world that values conformity, no one wants to be the odd duck. Yet the book of Leviticus is essentially God wanting to insure that his people could maintain a distinct identity. It was all about showing yourself to be different.3

Sinlessness

Jerry Bridges has written,

Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We must honestly face the question, “Am I willing to give up a certain practice or habit that is keeping me from holiness?” It is at this point of commitment that most of us fail. We prefer to dally with sin, to try to play with it a little without getting too deeply involved. 4

Sovereignty

“There is a God. You are not Him,”

Jesus himself deferred to his Father on many occasions; providing us a reminder of who is in charge.

Surrender

When Abraham is asked to sacrifice is only son, we have the advantage that Abraham and Sarah didn’t; we know how the story ends. They did not, and yet Abraham is willing to do whatever it takes to obey God.5

Although we speak very different languages, two symbols are universal throughout the worldwide church. One is the word “Hallelujah” which I’m told is rendered the same in most languages. The other is lifted hands as a sign of surrender.

A writer at Charisma points out that our fingers, hands and arms are also most associated with human strength, power, creativity; both in a human sense and if we examine the Biblical record of God’s actions presented in a way we can best understand them. 6

 


1 Full video at YouTube.

2 This story is often used by leadership coaches as well. Here’s a longer version with the punchline contrasting contribution and commitment.

3 We looked at maintaining a distinct identity in this March, 2017 article.

4 We included more quotes from Jerry Bridges on this topic in this article.

5 This is excerpted from a fuller look at Abraham’s trip up the mountain with Isaac at this link.

6 See the full article about lifting hands at this link.

November 6, 2017

Developing the Discernment to Call Out False Prophets

I am grateful for the writers and musicians who speak into my spiritual life. But it’s only through God’s Word that I have a framework to know if they speak from God authentically. I need to be assured that their words resonate with scripture before I allow them to resonate with me.

Today we return to Todd Sepulveda who lives in Houston and writes at Glorify God • Magnify Him in This World. Click the title to read at source.

All the Voices

Scripture

Then the prophet Jeremiah told the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord did not send you! You are making these people trust in a lie!
Jeremiah 28:15 NET

Observation
Believers need to understand that not everything that proclaims to be from the Lord is truly from the Lord.

In Bible times, there were prophets whose message was different from each other. Both proclaimed to be prophets of God. Both proclaimed to have a message from God. But both had very different messages, one from God, one from wishful thinking.

Because people don’t necessarily want to hear a message of repentance and becoming holy, they usually listened to the false prophets. They listened to the wrong prophet.

At the most basic level, people who followed the false prophets we’re lazy. They didn’t care to know what the Word of God said. They didn’t examine or question the religious leaders. They new Jewish history, but they thought they were different.

And today, we have more access to the Word of God than any other time in history. Are you trusting what others say, or are you getting in the Word for yourself?

Application
There are so many voices vying for our attention. As a Believer, you should want the only voice you respond to, to be the true voice of God.

This means that you need to know Him, His Word, His presence!

Don’t rely on someone else to give you insight into spiritual matters only. Don’t fall into the trap of false teaching and false prophets, because there is much out there today! Don’t be lazy!

Start reading the Word today! Start praying today! Start walking with Him on a deeper level today. Nothing else compares.

Prayer
Lord, I desire to know You fully. Reveal Yourself to me as I read Your Word and I pray. Show me Your ways.

 

November 3, 2017

Discipline in All Areas of Life

Today we’re returning to the blog No Condemnation. Click the title to read at source.

Discipline and Discipling

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Proverbs 3:11-12 (NIV)

Read: Proverbs 3

Consider: Proverbs 3 is one of those chapters in the Bible that contain several striking verses that challenge our thinking. In reading through the chapter, the verses that stand out to me are:

My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity (3:1-2).

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (3:5-6).

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act (3:27).

The verses quoted at the start of this post are repeated by the writer of Hebrews (12:5-6) as:

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’

Interestingly the Greek word translated as discipline carries with it meanings of tutorage, education and training (by disciplinary correction). Have you ever noticed that the words ‘discipline’ and ‘discipling’ differ only in their final letter. This got me thinking about Jesus and his disciples. While we tend to think of a disciple as a follower, it means someone who is a learner. Jesus was teaching his disciples throughout his ministry.

Let’s be honest, discipline can be painful. Spiritual discipline can be particularly painful because it gets to the heart of what God points out as needing attention in our lives. It is important to realise that God disciplines us out of love. He wants us to become disciples, learning from him. So remember that while God is discipling you, you will be subject to his discipline.

Pray: Father, we thank you that your love for us is expressed in wanting us to be Christlike. May we willingly submit to your discipline in all aspects of our lives. Amen

 

October 23, 2017

We Need Daily Encouragement

On Saturday, our online friends, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber celebrated 21 years of writing Daily Encouragement. We thought we’d encourage them by making more of you aware of their ministry. As always, click the title below to read this at source.

“But Barnabas”

“When he (Saul, later known as Paul) came to Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles” (Acts 9:26,27).

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).

…October 21st…is  the very day this ministry started 21 years ago in 1996 with a short email to just two email addresses (both still receive these messages). I had preached a sermon the night before from Hebrews on encouraging one another daily and that was the leading I had from the Holy Spirit, although I would have no idea at that time it would continue the next day, then the next day, and now here we are 21 years later!

Barnabas is one of our favorite Bible characters to write about. Earlier this week we had a message highlighting two words concerning Barnabas “even Barnabas”. “The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray” (Galatians 2:13).

Consider his influence; no book in the Bible was written by him, we don’t have the text of any sermon he preached as we do Peter, Stephen and Paul. In fact I am unable to find even a single quote attributed exclusively to Barnabas. All the information we have about him are brief, biographical snippets. But these snippets tell a lot about him.

He first comes on the scene in Acts 4:36 as “Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement)“. Thus Barnabas is essentially a nickname and every single future reference to him in Scripture uses this nickname given by the apostles!

The first daily text is so typical of his ministry as an encourager. I can sure understand the apprehension of the disciples concerning the recently converted Saul! After all he had a vicious reputation. His newfound conversion might have been a mere ruse to get in closed quarters with the disciples.

Note just the two words, “But Barnabas.” His action is so indicative of an encourager. Barnabas believed in the power of Jesus Christ to perform the miracle of transformation. And Saul (who became Paul) was genuinely transformed. Consider the tremendous contribution Paul made to the church in his apostolic ministry and letters. I am sure thankful for Barnabas who chose to stand up for him!

Barnabas is an encourager and additional references in Scripture demonstrate this. We are all indebted to encouragers even though it certainly is not considered one of the more prominent ministries, such as a polished preacher or a dynamic worship leader or powerful vocalist.

A subtheme of this ministry is “Everyone Needs Encouragement.” We sure believe that.

There are matters in our lives that can easily bring on discouragement but thankfully most of us don’t live in a state of discouragement. And yet I don’t believe there will ever come a time that I’d say, “I don’t need any more encouragement. I’ve had enough for today. Thanks anyway.” I am always receptive to other’s encouragement since in a sense I can store it up! And I expect that you feel the same way, so on the 21st anniversary of this ministry, let us once again declare to you; Be encouraged today!

Daily prayer: Father, we’re reminded of the important role people like Barnabas play in our lives. They give us the benefit of the doubt; they reach out to us when others turn away; they see our need even when we don’t verbally express it; they steer us in the right direction when we’ve taken a wrong turn; they model for us the reflection of Christ. I thank You, Father, for Your Spirit manifested through these encouragers who physically, emotionally, and spiritually bless my life by their encouraging words and actions toward me. Prompt me often to spread the same kind of encouragement to those whom I have opportunity to bless.  In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen

 

September 30, 2017

7 Habits of Highly Successful Christians

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

Today we’re returning to the blog Disciple All Nations. The author is teacher, administrator, pastor, missionary, researcher, college professor and writer Russ Mitchell. Click the title below to read this at source.

Seven Habits of People who Accomplish Great Things for God

Who does not want to be successful? My tenth grade Bible class is beginning to study the Old Testament book of Joshua. In the first nine verses, we were surprised to discover seven habits that lead to prosperity and success. Considering that these may interest a broader audience, I will outline seven habits, which enable anyone who practices them to be successful. But first, an important perspective on what constitutes success.

A Biblical Perspective on Success

A biblical perspective on success differs significantly from the popular understanding of success, which seems to be associated with fame, fortune and a large social media following. In contrast, let us consider Jesus, the New Testament Joshua. In John 17:4 Jesus prays to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” Having this in mind, Jesus may have defined success as accomplishing the work that God has given a person to do. This perspective certainly contrasted with how people in Jesus’ day viewed success. In eyes of his generation, Jesus had no fortune; he was infamous – a liar or worse, and most of his followers abandoned him. They would have given Jesus a big “F” for failure. But this is not what God thought. God exalted him and gave him a name above every other name (Philippians 2:9). Why? Because Jesus accomplished the work God gave him to do.  This understanding of success, defined as accomplishing the work God has given a person to do, frames the practice of the seven habits of people who accomplish great things for God.

With this biblical understanding of success in mind, let’s return to Joshua 1:1-9 and look at the first habit of people who accomplish great things for God.

1. Hear what God says. The Book of Joshua begins,

“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant…”

and the next eight verses continue God’s message to Joshua. So we will start our seven habits of people who accomplish great things for God with the observation that anyone who accomplishes great things for God must first hear what God says.

2. Go where God sends you. Verses 2-5 record God’s first instruction to Joshua.

“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.  Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life.” (ESV)

God’s command to Joshua was “arise, go….”  Reading on we see that God was sending Joshua and the people into the Promised Land, which God was giving to them.  God promised Abraham that he would give this land to his descendants (Genesis 12:7). The time had now come. God was at work fulfilling his promise. We too can accomplish great things for God when we go where God is at work and join Him in what he is doing.

3. Be strong and courageous. Three times in this passage God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous. However this command was preceded by a great promise (v. 5)

“Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.“ God’s presence was secret of Joshua’s success and it continues to be the secret of the Church’s success (Matthew 28:18-19).

Today we might say that God had Joshua’s back. And he continues to be with those who follow his call to make disciples of all nations. We might think of courage as “holy boldness”, inspired by God’s presence and commission. Courage is the choice to act boldly in the face of great risk. Without a doubt, courage is needed to accomplish great things for God.

4. Be careful to obey all God’s Word. Habit Number. 4 is at the heart of our list and is probably the most essential of them all:

“Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you” (v.7a NIV).

This same phrase is repeated in verse 8, and I also hear an echo of this verse in the Great Commission. “Make disciples of all nations….teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). People who accomplish great things for God must be careful to obey all of God’s word.

5. Do not turn to the right or left.

“Do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go” (v. 7b NIV). 

Joshua was to have a singular focus on his mission. Tuning to the right or the left would simply involve pursuing other things outside his calling. Jesus shares a similar comment in the parable of the sower. He notes that some “hear the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:18b,19 NASB). Reflecting on both examples, we learn that maintaining a singular focus leads to success.

6. Memorize God’s word.

Verse 8 “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips.”

The only way to keep God’s word on your lips is to first memorize it. This sets the stage for the final habit, which is…

7. Meditate on God’s word. Joshua 1:8 is considered the golden verse of the entire book and highlights the final key to success: Meditating on God’s word.

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (v. 8 NIV)

People who accomplish great things for God memorize and meditate on God’s Word.  This is not an end in itself as the intended outcome is to “be careful to do everything written in it.” This leads to success.

Success follows practicing these seven habits

William Carey, the Father of the Modern Missions Movement (1761-1834), exhorted his generation to “Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God!” Joshua was certainly a person who not only attempted great things for God but accomplished great things for God. The remainder of the book of Joshua tells how he led the people into the Promised Land and possessed it, fulfilling a promise God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob centuries prior. Throughout his life Joshua practiced the seven habits outlined here, and the people of Israel served the Lord too (cf. Joshua 24:31).  It seems reasonable that those who faithfully practice all seven habits outlined here will accomplish great things for God too. What about you?

Questions for Further Reflection:

  1. How do you view success?
  2. What surprises you about these seven habits?
  3. What challenges you about these habits?
  4. What will you do to practice all seven of these habits?

 

September 21, 2017

Being Good While Being Yourself

by Clarke Dixon

“Just be yourself!”

This is a message often heard in today’s society. “Be authentic, be genuine, don’t let anybody tell you that you need to change!” The Christian message seems to be the exact opposite with the instruction “be transformed” (Romans 12:2), a call to repentance, and testimonies of changed lives. It seems like acceptance of who you are clashes with needing change. Which is the better path? Romans 12:9-21 will help us figure this out.

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21 (NRSV)

At first glance this might seem like a list of unrelated life-instructions. However, there are some common threads which will help us navigate the tension between self-acceptance and the need to change. Let us take a look:

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT CHARACTER.

Notice that there is no call to change one’s personality in Romans 12. A change in character is what is called for. This is not a change in identity, so that you are no longer authentically you, but a change in character, so that you are a better you. I am, and have always been, a quiet, shy person. The Lord did not ask me to become a naturally outgoing person when He called me to follow Christ.

We want to be careful here not to mix up personality traits with character traits and so miss an opportunity for growth. For example, many people describe themselves as being impatient people, as if impatience were a mark of their personality and something that cannot change. However, anything that is listed as a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22,23) is something God can and will help us change. As we sort out which of our “quirks” are personality traits that make us unique, and which are sins that keep us from being like Christ, let us remember that being a Christian is not a call away from authenticity, but a call to character.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT OUR MINDS BEING RENEWED (BUT NOT REMOVED) BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.

In Romans 12:9-21, Paul is fleshing out 12:1,2:

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1,2 (NRSV emphasis mine)

The word behind “renew” has the idea of “making new again”. It is not a complete replacement, but rather a renovation. To renovate a home is a very different thing from demolishing it to build a completely different home. Take, for example, the apostles Peter and Paul. There is nothing to make us suspect that their personalities changed from before they knew Christ to after. We do see them change in very important ways, but they are still very much Peter and Paul. They are still very unique individuals. Discipleship in the Christian life is not like assimilation into the Borg in Star Trek, but rather becoming more like Jesus in our character.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT RESPONDING TO THE TEACHING OF JESUS.

Romans 12:9-21 feels familiar. These are things that Jesus taught about, and demonstrated in his own life. It begins with love in verse 9: “Let love be genuine”. It includes non-retaliation, putting into practice turning the other cheek, which Jesus both taught and demonstrated. Someone might point out here that Jesus taught that we should deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow. Does that not mean giving up our individuality? In calling us to pick up our cross and follow, Jesus was not calling upon us to give up our identity as being unique in the universe, but to give up a desire to be the centre of the universe. In doing so, you will still be very much you, with all your quirks that make you interesting and unique. But you will be a better you.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT CHOOSING GOOD OVER EVIL

All of Romans 12:9-21 is framed by the the opportunity to choose good over evil as reflected in verses 9 and 21: “. . . hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good . . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. This is where “just be yourself” does not actually work. Such a sentiment must always be qualified. In watching the Emmy’s recently I did not hear anyone say anything like “Isn’t it wonderful how Donald Trump is comfortable in his own skin? Isn’t it great that he is just being himself?”. No one is saying that about Kim Jong-un either. At the end of the day, all people want everyone else to be good and not evil. All people want others, if they insist on being themselves, to be their better selves. Unfortunately, most people want to go with their own definitions of good and evil. However, the Christian life leads us to God’s definitions of good and evil, plus God’s empowerment to choose to do good rather than evil.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT BEING COUNTER-CULTURAL.

Romans 12:2 does not say “no longer be conformed to your own identity” but “do not be conformed to this age”. Simply put, be yourself, but be your better self, and so stick out like a sore thumb. Those who live the kinds of lives that reflect Romans 12:9-21 will surely do so.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ABOUT BEING SALT AND LIGHT IN SOCIETY.

While there is disagreement on how to get there, people naturally long for a better society. Romans 12:9-12 gives some very practical ways of getting there. Just imagine the impact if people were to live like these verses describe. The effect of a renewed mind is much better than the effect of being conformed to the current age. As our relationship with Christ leads to our minds being renewed, people will take notice. How could anyone not respond positively to genuine love (verse 9), hospitality (verse 13), being blessed instead of being cursed (verse 14), care for the downtrodden (verse 15), non-retaliation (verses 17 and following), and being with people who are peaceable (verse 18)? We should note here that we are to think on “what is noble in the sight of all” (verse17). The world is watching, even longing for, a changed people to show the way.

CONCLUSION

Society does not actually say “just be yourself”, it says “be yourself, unless we don’t like you, or there is something about you we think should change”. Jesus says I love you, no matter what you are currently like. I have already demonstrated that love by bearing the cross for you”. Now that is true acceptance, and by Someone whose acceptance of us really matters! When you experience acceptance by God, get ready to be changed, not that you are no longer you, but that you are a better you. Not only are you transformed by the renewing of your mind, but the world around you will begin changing for the better too. So be yourself! But be a God-filled changing-in-great-ways self!


September 12, 2017

Appointments with God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

NET 1 Timothy 4:8 For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” 9 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. 10 In fact this is why we work hard and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of believers. ©NET

If my schedule permits, I do prefer writing these devotional studies myself rather than importing than from the various sources we use in the course of a year. I find doing so forces me to spend time in scripture, immersed in a particular theme.

If you’re at a small group meeting and you contribute something verbally, it’s much easier to just say it than to have to commit to print. Knowing the words will be here for successive hours, days, months and years means fine tuning what it is you really intend to express.

But regular readers here will notice a disconnect between the words “forces me” and what we talked about in the last Sunday Worship column, which involves doing things wholeheartedly out of joy and delight. If you missed, you can read that article here. Just because I love to do something doesn’t mean I do not face the busyness and distractions common to us all.

However doing something joyfully can also mean that, while I see the benefit which occurs in my life by spending time in God’s word (versus the days I don’t get to do this) it doesn’t mean I have organized my life to the point where this flows naturally into my daily schedule. For you that might mean blocking out the time in your daily schedule; for me that means facing a 5:31 PM deadline each day knowing that subscribers are expecting something in their in-box.

And so it is we speak of spiritual disciplines. This term really grates on some people because of childhood memories of what constitutes discipline, namely punishment. (Often this intersects with the category of people who have problems with seeing God as Father, again because of painful memories.) I much prefer the term spiritual practices.

Another verse which evokes negative images for people is 2 Timothy 2:15, at least in the way many of us learned it as children: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (KJV) Besides “shew” and “needeth,” the issue is actually the choice of the word “study” which is not used by other translations that are not derivatives of the KJV. “Study” tends to remind us of cramming for an exam. It’s not a positive image for many people, especially people who didn’t do well in school! Again, since we’re using the NET Bible today, better to go with, “Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.” It’s talking about diligence; applying ourselves to present our best to God.

⊕⊕⊕⊕⊕⊕⊕⊕

The term “spiritual discipline” is a frequently used tag on this site, but though it’s often covered here, I wanted to end with this list, posted in 2012 at the website Soul Shepherding for those less familiar with the concept. The author is .

Disciplines of Abstinence (Self-Denial)

These are ways of denying ourselves something we want or need in order to make space to focus on and connect with God.

Solitude: Refraining from interacting with other people in order to be alone with God and be found by him. (Solitude is completed by silence.)

Silence: Not speaking in a quiet place in order to quiet our minds and whole self and attend to God’s presence. Also, not speaking so that we can listen to others and bless them.

Fasting: Going without food (or something else like media) for a period of intensive prayer — the fast may be complete or partial.

Sabbath: Doing no work to rest in God’s person and provision; praying and playing with God and others. (God designed this for one day a week. We can practice it for shorter periods too.)

Secrecy: Not making our good deeds or qualities known to let God or others receive attention and to find our sufficiency in God alone (e.g., see Matthew 6).

Submission: Not asserting ourselves in order to come under the authority, wisdom, and power of Jesus Christ as our Lord, King, and Master. (If you think of this as submitting to a person as unto Christ then it’s a discipline of engagement.)

Disciplines of Engagement (Christ in Community)

These are ways of connecting with God and other people, conversing honestly with them in order to love and be loved.

Bible Reading: Trusting the Holy Spirit-inspired words of Scripture as our guide, wisdom, and strength for life. (Related disciplines include Bible study, Scripture meditation, and praying God’s Word.)

Worship: Praising God’s greatness, goodness, and beauty in words, music, ritual, or silence. (We can worship God privately or in community.)

Prayer: Conversing with God about what we’re experiencing and doing together. (As we see in the Lord’s Prayer the main thing we do in prayer is to make requests or intercessions to our Father for one another.)

Soul Friendship: Engaging fellow disciples of Jesus in prayerful conversation or other spiritual practices. (Related spiritual disciplines or practices include small groups, spiritual direction, and mentoring relationships.)

Personal Reflection: Paying attention to our inner self in order to grow in love for God, others, and self. (The Psalms in the Bible model this.)

Service: Humbly serving God by overflowing with his love and compassion to others, especially those in need. (Also tithing and giving.)

 

 

September 1, 2017

Working Out My Salvation

Philippians 2:12

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;  (NASB)

Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. (NLT)

We’re back with our annual visit to the blog Christians in Context by J. Mark Fox. Click the title below to read it on his blog, and then navigate from there to some other great articles. (We read several preparing this!)

Work out, not for, your own salvation

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. This command in Paul’s letter to the Philippians has caused many to stumble, to make an argument for works-righteousness, and even to believe that what Jesus did was not enough. That he needs my help to save me. We know that’s nonsense, and the plain meaning of this text makes perfect sense. Paul says work out your salvation. He doesn’t say work in your salvation. Or work up your salvation. Or work for your salvation! No, we are to work it out. In other words, what God has secured in you through His grace given on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, work it out in every way and on every day. It’s what we do in our marriages, right? Were you done when you said, “I do”? No, you were just getting started. And for the rest of your life, you are working out your marriage in fear. And sometimes with trembling!

If you are working out your salvation as a father, it means you are learning to bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. You cannot learn that without starting to do it badly. But you have to start. When my children were very young, they each had trouble learning to ride a bike. They fell. They scraped their knees. They cried. But they kept getting back on the bike until it became second nature to them. Get back on the bike, Dad, and lead your family in the things that are most important. If you are working out your salvation as a student, it means you study. You work hard. If you are working out your salvation as a brother or sister in Christ in your church family, it means that when you are offended, you don’t hold onto that. You let it go quickly, and if you can’t let it go, you go to the one who offended you and you work it out. And yes, it will require work, sacrifice, and discipline. Tim Challies had a good word on this recently:

“I want to have 10 percent body fat. I set that goal a while ago and even managed to get really close to reaching it. But eventually I found out that I want to have 10 percent body fat just a bit less than I want to have 13 percent. There’s a key difference between the two: While 13 percent requires moderate effort to gain and retain, 10 percent requires strict discipline. I soon learned I just didn’t want the goal enough to put in the effort to achieve it. I didn’t meet my desire with discipline.” Then he adds, “I often consider the people I’ve known who set an example of unusual godliness. I think of well-known Christian men who lived godly lives in the public eye and who carried out unblemished ministries. I think of unknown and unnoticed women who lived equally godly lives far outside the public eye. What did they have in common? What was the key to their holiness? I believe it was their discipline. They disciplined themselves for the highest godliness. They were spiritual athletes who ensured their highest desires supplanted their baser desires. They achieved godliness because they aimed at godliness.”

We all have work to do if we are to aim at God’s best for us. Thankfully, we are never alone. Paul adds, “for it is God who works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” That is the gift that keeps on giving.

August 21, 2017

Four Things Which Give Our Scriptures Power

For the third year in a row in August, we’re paying a return 2-day visit to the website Gospel-Centered Discipleship. This is Day 2. The post today is an excerpt from a larger piece, so to read the full introduction you need to click the title below. The writer this time around is Maryland pastor Sean Nolan. For scriptures today, click the individual links.

4 Weighty Attributes of Scripture

#1 – Indispensable

One of the many grievances Martin Luther raised with the church of his day was the lack of emphasis on the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith.

By overemphasizing human works, through the sacraments and the sale of indulgences, there was a widespread loss of the means of salvation. Much of mankind, without access to the Scriptures, was being misled to believe that by jumping through hoops of performance laid out by the Roman Catholic Church they would be made right with God and earn salvation.

It was upon reading Romans 1:17—“the just shall live by faith”—that Luther’s eyes were opened to see that the means of salvific grace were not earned but rather received freely by faith. Just how does one respond in faith to God? That too is revealed in the Scriptures:

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. – Romans 10:17

Here we see that the Bible is indispensable in matters pertaining to faith. In order to reconcile mankind to himself, God sent Jesus Christ to incur his wrath upon the cross. Jesus then rose from the dead miraculously, exhibiting his victory over sin and death. The mystery of Christ is revealed only through the Scriptures (Eph. 3:3-4).

Without hearing the words of Christ, contained in the Scriptures, mankind is incapable of hearing the gospel and responding in faith. Their importance cannot be understated.

The Reformation’s recovery of the indispensability of Scripture can be visibly seen in worship services today. Whereas the Roman Church places communion at the center of its worship, the preaching of the Bible is the center for those following in the Reformation tradition for: How are they to hear without someone preaching (Rom. 10:14)?

Saying the Scriptures are indispensable, however, isn’t enough. When we start to uncover the mysteries contained within, we might be inclined to think only a professional—a priest or pastor—is capable of comprehending them. But the Scriptures themselves tell us all believers are part of a “royal priesthood” and are called to proclaim (i.e. preach) the excellencies of Christ (1 Pt. 2:9). For this reason, the Scriptures aren’t simply indispensable, but clear.

#2 – Clear

…When we say the Bible speaks with clarity on matters pertaining to faith and practice we bring three presuppositions to the table. First, we assume those turning to its pages for wisdom and guidance have trusted in Jesus for salvation and have been born again by his Spirit (Jn. 3:3); for his sheep hear his voice (Jn. 10:27) within its pages.

Second, when we say that Scripture is clear we don’t mean that everything contained within is easily understandable. We simply mean that God’s Word is not cryptic or meant to confuse its readers.

Finally, we do not mean we have the correct insight into the meaning of every sentence of Scripture. Some look at the differences in interpretation between different sects of Christianity as evidence the Bible is unclear and untrustworthy. I maintain that the things of ultimate importance in regards to faith and salvation are free from obscurity and those passages over which there are disputes are not what Paul calls “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

After clearing these hurdles, we are left with a Bible that is clear and the only means God has left us with to discover truth about himself. Because the Reformers were convinced of Scripture’s clarity, they fought against a two-tiered Christianity in which only clergy were allowed access to the Word of God. Because Scripture’s clear and accessible to all who have received the Spirit of God, it should be placed in every Christian’s hands.

Here’s a few reasons why:

  • For when we have insight into the revelation of God, we cannot be deceived by Satan, even when he is masquerading as a priest of the light (2 Cor. 11:14).
  • It is the duty of every Christian to weigh what pastors and preachers teach by the light given in the Bible (Acts 17:11).
  • The clarity of the Scriptures give us access to the only weapon (Eph. 6:17) we need for our spiritual battle (Eph. 6:12).

#3 – Enough

While saying that the Scripture is clear and indispensable, we have not yet grasped the totality of its importance. It is possible that by stopping here, we could view it as a good place to start, but later abandon it in search of some further revelation from God. However, Scripture is enough for the Christian life.

The totality of Jesus’s work in securing salvation for sinners is chronicled within the pages of Scripture. Jesus now sits at the right hand of God (Heb. 1:3) because his salvific work is complete (Jn. 19:30). The work now done by the Church is not done to secure salvation; it was already secured by Christ. The Church’s work, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is to spread the good news of what Jesus has already completed on our behalf.

For this reason, we should diligently guard the sufficiency of Scripture. We have all we need in its pages. When this truth is undermined by adding the sacraments to salvation or by lifting tradition or papal decrees to the same level as biblical canon, we must turn back to Scripture to correct false teaching (2 Tim. 3:16).

On the other hand, by saying the Bible is enough we confirm the Reformation mantra “semper reformanda” (“always reforming”). In other words, one of the living Church’s endeavors is not clever innovation, but bringing itself into further alignment with the teaching of Scripture.

The historical innovation of indulgences was to be refuted by Scripture during the reformation, and this same principle guides the Church and protects her purity today when “new” false teachings arise.

Because the Bible is enough, doctrinal novelty should never be sought. When a modern-day preacher or “prophet” presents some teaching that lies outside the clear instruction of Scripture, a Christian is under no obligation to believe or obey it. Scripture is enough, and its teaching is complete.

#4 – Authority

The Reformers believed that the truth claims of Scripture command nothing less than our total obedience. I’ve been careful thus far to avoid using the term “Protestant.” That is because it was not Luther’s intent to protest the Church at Rome, but to bring it into submission to the Word of God. Only after its refusal to hear his appeals, did it become necessary to break away.

As Luther famously stated during his refusal to recant, his “conscience was captive to the Word of God.” It was his conviction, like the Apostle Paul, that God would be true even if every man on Earth were a liar (Rom. 3:4).

One of the blocks that drove the wedge between the Reformers and the Roman Church was the question of Scripture’s authority. It was the fiery conviction of Luther that the Scriptures alone were the final authority on matters of doctrine and faith and stood above papal decrees or tradition.

The Roman Church fired back that the canon of Scripture itself was determined by the Church and couldn’t be separated from tradition. In contrast, the Reformers rightly concluded that the Church did not determine what writings were Scripture but simply recognized the clear voice of God within them (Jn. 10:27).

Peter, reflecting back upon his mountaintop experience with Jesus where he saw Moses, the author of the Law, and Elijah, the chief of the prophets, appear in all their glory, concluded that the Bible was more trustworthy (2 Pt. 1:19). In other words, even the most magnificent miraculous experience pales in comparison to the trustworthy authority of Scripture.

You Can Never Upgrade Scripture

 

Next Page »