Christianity 201

July 22, 2021

Abraham’s Faith Never Wavered

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Clarke Dixon’s regular Thursday column returns in four weeks.

Today again it’s our privilege to feature who writes at Feeding on Jesus where she has a following of many faithful readers who actively engage with her in her comments section. We chose this one for you today. Click the header which follows to read at source. There are also two more recent articles there on the subject of angels including some inspiring stories, and also a link to her devotional book, Feeding on Jesus.

Weak Faith? Strong Faith? Keep Pushing Forward!

“And Abraham’s faith did not weaken… In fact, his faith grew stronger…(Rom. 4:19a; 20b, NLT)

We can draw much encouragement from how God remembers and memorializes Abraham’s life. I’ve always done a double take when reading this passage from Romans 4. The Holy Spirit, writing through Paul, makes the statement that “Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise” (v. 20a).

I read that and my mind starts to protest: Wait, he never wavered? What about when he despaired of waiting and decided to take matters into his own hands? What about Ishmael? What about the poor boy he engendered that had to be sent off into the desert to almost die there?

Somehow, as God gives the overview of Abraham’s earthly sojourn, He chooses not to bring up the Ishmael incident. Apparently, it’s not relevant to the main point: that Abraham’s faith eventually completed the test. The extremely lengthy, prolonged process of waiting on God for His promise actually accomplished something staggering in Abraham. His initially shakeable faith became so resilient that he became renown as “the father of all those who believe” (v. 11).

At the culmination of Abraham’s faith journey, this is the description God gives us of him: “He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises” (v. 21). How do I know this verse is talking about the “end product” of the (twenty-five year) long process that went into the development of Abraham’s faith?

Well, just take a quick look again at the midpoint. That was when Ishmael happened. So clearly Abraham wasn’t fully convinced at that juncture that God was able. He kinda thought God might need some help. His faith was a bit wobbly yet.

However, even after that faltering moment, he didn’t give up on God. He didn’t give up on the process. He didn’t give up on what must have felt like an eternal wait. He kept on choosing hope when for all the world it didn’t look like there was any shred of a reason to keep on hoping (v. 18).

Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, he kept pressing on. His body kept getting older and older. His wife’s did too. But he refused to relinquish God’s word to him.

Every night, he would look up at the stars and remember his Promise encounter. Over and over, he kept choosing to feed and edify his faith. He kept reminding himself of what God had said. He kept stomping on doubt by lifting up his voice and glorifying God (v. 20). He kept pushing through the process. Every. Single. Day.

The result? “Abraham’s faith did not weaken… In fact, his faith grew stronger…” And stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and STRONGER!!!!

Here’s my encouragement to you today. Feeling a little wobbly? Not quite at the “completely convinced” stage yet? That’s okay!!! Just keep pushing forward! Be assured, your faith is not weakening; it’s getting stronger and stronger and stronger by the day. No matter how eternal the wait seems, you ARE going to complete this test. And when God is through with you, WATCH OUT WORLD!! I can’t wait to see the flattened mountains in your wake!!!

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Do you find comfort, as I do, in knowing that “the father of all who believe” started out with faith that needed to be greatly strengthened?

July 7, 2021

When We Learn Our Lives Mattered to Others

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Pastor and author Greg Laurie is featured here at least once a year. Click the header below to read this on the devotional blog of Harvest Church in Riverside, California. You can also listen to a reading of this devotional at this link.

An Eternal Impact

When the Rapture takes place, not only will we meet the Lord in the air, but we’ll also rejoin friends and loved ones who have already gone on to be with the Lord.

Isn’t that wonderful to know?

If you’ve lost loved ones who were believers, then you will see them again. That’s a great comfort for anyone who has ever lost someone they cherished in life. Death is the great separator, but Jesus Christ is the great reconciler. Jesus will bring together those whom death has separated.

The Bible also reveals that we’ll not only be reunited with Christian relatives and loved ones, but we’ll also be reunited with those who trusted in Jesus through our witness.

For example, the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19 NKJV).

Paul was saying that his spiritual children would be his crown of exaltation in the Lord’s presence when He returns. From this it would appear that in Heaven, each of us will have those whom we helped to believe in Jesus grouped around us. Think about that.

Understand, God gives the increase in evangelism. I’ve never saved anyone, and neither have you. But God, by His grace, does allow us to participate in the wonderful process of seeing people to come to faith.

You might have sown seeds of the gospel in someone’s life, or you may have had a key role in watering a seed that another Christian had sown as you shared your faith in the Lord.

Ultimately, when we get to Heaven, we’ll be able to see what kind of impact that our lives on Earth have had.


Several times at Christianity 201, we’ve looked at what I’ve heard described as the chain of grace and how we can be play a part in it. Although we just ran it in October, 2019, I love telling this story over and over.

One of the best stories I ever heard in church a youth service where a girl, got up and (I’m changing the names at this point, I am sure) said, “My name is Amanda…” and then went on to tell the story of how her life was changed because of a friend named Brittany. Then the next one stepped up and began, “My name is Brittany…” and told her story of coming to faith because of the influence of a girl named Crystal. Next — and you’re probably guessing the pattern already — a girl stepped to the microphone and started with “My name is Crystal…” and told her story which included being invited to an event by her friend Danielle.

You might think this all sounds too contrived to be true, but when the last girl got up and said, “Hi, I’m Danielle…” I swear there wasn’t a dry eye in the church. You could hear a pin drop.

In today’s devotional, Greg used the phrase “we’ll also be reunited with those who trusted in Jesus through our witness.”

Will there be people in eternity because we modeled life in Christ?


For a complete list of devotionals here where we’ve used the phrase “the chain of grace,” click this link.


Acts 2.42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

July 5, 2021

Gifts Used to Bless Others Can Also Edify Yourself

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A year ago we introduced Mutsawashe Chipuriro who writes at Grace Unmatched. Her articles are often inspired by videos she sees on YouTube or conversations with friends. Great devotional writing finds its themes in real life living! Click the header which appears next to read this one at her page.

Working in ministry

One morning, after I completed my chores, I started singing a song. Mid-way through the first stanza I stopped and just thought, “wow.” The way I had been singing just really blended in with the lyrics and it was beautiful. It had quite the healing effect because I was tired from the chores.

God blessed me with the gift of singing, among the many other gifts He bestowed upon me. Whenever I share the voice with others, they indicate that the voice has a certain presence to it. I never believed it until a few years back when I truly started listening my voice.

The Holy Spirit gives gifts according to how He sees fit, so that they are used well to minister to the world and, in turn God is glorified :

Now there are [distinctive] varieties of spiritual gifts [special abilities given by the grace and extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit operating in believers], but it is the same Spirit [who grants them and empowers believers]. And there are [distinctive] varieties of ministries and service, but it is the same Lord [who is served]. And there are [distinctive] ways of working [to accomplish things], but it is the same God who produces all things in all believers [inspiring, energizing, and empowering them]. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit [the spiritual illumination and the enabling of the Holy Spirit] for the common good.

To one is given through the [Holy] Spirit [the power to speak] the message of wisdom, and to another [the power to express] the word of knowledge and understanding according to the same Spirit; to another [wonder-working] faith [is given] by the same [Holy] Spirit, and to another the [extraordinary] gifts of healings by the one Spirit; and to another the working of miracles, and to another prophecy [foretelling the future, speaking a new message from God to the people], and to another discernment of spirits [the ability to distinguish sound, godly doctrine from the deceptive doctrine of man-made religions and cults], to another various kinds of [unknown] tongues, and to another interpretation of tongues.

All these things [the gifts, the achievements, the abilities, the empowering] are brought about by one and the same [Holy] Spirit, distributing to each one individually just as He chooses.

1 Corinthians 12:4‭-‬11 AMP

I’ve noticed, however, that many who posses gifts, use them to edify others but don’t believe that these gifts can in turn edify themselves as well, because at the end of the day it is actually not the person at work but, the Holy Spirit. The person is just a vessel. Therefore, if the individual is just a messenger, even the message they carry can also be delivered to themselves!

There are many people out there who are laboring for God’s kingdom. They pray for others, preach, teach, motivate and encourage, among other things yet they’re overwhelmed and troubled within. I believe that, this is why:

When you minister to others, you are pouring out. As with any vessel that empties out its contents, it has to be filled up again. Yet we’re not doing that. We go on to edify others and that’s the end! Very few go back to their tools for edification to understand why it had the power to edify.

The Holy Spirit’s gifts are for edification of the body of Christ. The parts of the body of Christ are you and I, among countless others :

For just as the body is one and yet has many parts, and all the parts, though many, form [only] one body, so it is with Christ. For by one [Holy] Spirit we were all baptized into one body, [spiritually transformed—united together] whether Jews or Greeks (Gentiles), slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one [Holy] Spirit [since the same Holy Spirit fills each life]. For the [human] body does not consist of one part, but of many [limbs and organs].

1 Corinthians 12:12‭-‬14 AMP

If you believe that your neighbor, your friend, your colleague or any other person deserves to be edified through your use of your gifts, why do you think that you are exempt?

Next time you edify someone, take time to revisit that situation. You will be amazed just how much you can be ministered unto as well!

July 2, 2021

We Will be Replanted in Different Soil

Eleven months ago we introduced you to a writer simply goes by the (lower case) name appolus at his blog is titled A Call to the Remnant, with the subtitle, Scottish Warriors for Christ. There is a richness to the writing in the style of classic devotionals and after considering four different possibilities, I chose this one for us today.

Shall The Flower Bloom Again?

When my wife and I came back from vacation, we discovered that one of the plants that stands guard at our door, had been over-watered. The one on the left was fine, and flourishing, the other had wilted and the blooms were dying or dead. When we researched what had happened, it seems that if you over-water a plant to this extent then the soil will be rancid and the roots themselves will be rotting from the bottom up. There is a slight chance that you can save the plant, but only slight. It involves uprooting the plant and laying it to one side, removing all of the soil, cut away as much of the roots that you can, then replace all of the soil and replant it.

We did this and just as the research suggested, the soil was rancid, so bad that we had to wear masks as we removed it. The roots were rotten almost all the way to the top, we cut them away. And now the replanted plant will either live or die, no one knows. Can I suggest that the Western world is over-watered. We are rancid as we drown in our abundance. The very roots that held us are rotten from the top on down. The flowers of our culture are dying on a rotten vine. There is drastic change to come. There is an uprooting so that which can be saved and shall be saved. The soil which has held us will be removed. The roots of everything we know is being cut away. We shall be replanted in different soil.

Will you survive the cutting brothers and sisters? Shall you resist it? The old soil is being shoveled away as we speak. The saints of God shall be ripped away from this world and all its hold upon us. We shall be laid bare and put aside while the Master deals with what is left of this world. We shall not be watered for a time. It is vital that we “dry out.” Think not that we have been abandoned. We have not, but it will seem that way. This time of of our troubles is for our saving.

The new soil will be rich and deep. It will be watered by the blood of the martyrs. The name of the new soil is persecution. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. Can you hear the drumbeats of war brothers and sisters? A war that for all intents and purposes will be one that we shall lose. For a time it shall seem that all is lost. Not just for a day or a week or even a month, this season shall be much longer than that. It will be long enough to make you doubt everything that you have ever believed. You will be tried in this.

Yet God has cultivated a people for Himself. They have a few banners that fly over their lives and the battles they have waged. One of the banners that flutters in the wind of the Spirit says “Even if He kills me, yet will I trust Him.” Another banner reads “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” There are two more banners. One says ” And they loved not their lives unto death,” and the last one reads “If God does not deliver us from the fire, let it be know, we shall never bow down to the gods of this world.”

It is these saints that shall survive the uprooting. All others shall die in the rottenness that is this world. This mindset of the saint is to glorify God. It is to yield and to surrender to His will for their lives. It is what the Master wants that is all important. It is His desires that fill the hearts of the saints. It is their blossom that causes color to exist in another-wise black and white world. Shall the flower bloom? Shall it survive the trauma of the uprooting? Some will, most will not. In the end, the heart of the matter is revealed as everything is stripped away. It cannot be otherwise. The heart of the matter, the only heart that matters is the Heart of God the Father and Christ His Son. Let us be found there, even if He slays us. For the things that we see are temporal and of little value, but the will of God is eternal and flowers in the heart of His children.


By the same author:

 

June 30, 2021

Prayer: Have You Reached the Stage of Saying “What’s the Point?”

Today we have two alternative articles for you, but this one, while perhaps seeming elementary to some of you, is a good review and as we reach the end of the month and the halfway point in the year; I sense someone needs to read this.

The U.K. blog author, who we’re featuring for the first time, simply goes by “The Godly Lady” and the blog has the title, Christian Lady After God’s Own Heart. Click the header below to read at source, and then explore!

What’s the use of praying?

Ever found yourself in a place where you feel angry, annoyed, frustrated, downhearted, and feel a little bitter towards God? Well I have, and I’m sure that several other Christians have also felt this way too. It’s not abnormal to express emotions of annoyance over why God let a specific circumstance, pan out the way it did. My encouragement to you today is that you’re not alone in your feelings of frustration, although our experiences are different we all encounter pain, joy, and happiness in our lives.

So what’s the use in praying or striving to live a life of righteousness? If God has already determined my future, and there’s no changing what has been predetermined, why bother to pray, and pursue holiness? I can confirm that I’ve asked myself these questions, and God has recently brought two major points to my attention.

First point being an analogy. I know that my parents would do whatever they can to help me live a great and fulfilling life, and I’m also aware that if I desire something within their means to obtain, they will not hesitate to give me that thing. Now just because I know my parents will help support me doesn’t mean that I should stop speaking with them altogether, because they’ve done their job as my earthly guardians. What my parents desire most, is to have a deep, loving, and meaningful relationship with me. And we all know that a key ingredient to maintaining a good relationship is GOOD COMMUNICATION.

Now even if an answer to prayer seems delayed, it doesn’t mean that we should stop praying to God, because God desires intimacy with us, and wants us to pour out our hearts to Him. He desires for us to speak with Him! We mustn’t forget that prayer is a form of communication. Be honest and real with God, and pour out all your complaints before Him. God cares about everything that bothers your mind, no matter how small or big your concerns may be, God cares! So what’s the use in praying? It’s about building a better relationship with God, and enhancing our level of closeness with Him.

Psalm 27:8 ~ My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Psalm 55:22 ~ “Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.”

Secondly one should not do good (pursue to live righteously) in order to get from God, or to be seen by others. Remember God freely gives to us, not based upon our works or performance, but simply because that’s part of His loving nature! We should pursue to live godly lives, and mustn’t give up on doing good, purely because of our love for The Lord. The great act of love which God showed us through His death on Calvary, should motivate us to love Him through our actions, because He first loved us!

Galatians 6:9 ~ “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”

So let us not give up on praying, and let’s not throw in the towel because of challenging circumstances. And let us not forget that when the going gets tough, we should strive to use it as an opportunity to build a better relationship with God!

Luke 18:1 ~ “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.”


Bonus items for today:

Today we have two suggested articles. These are opinion pieces, not Bible studies, but ones we would carry here if the format were different.

The first is by Michael Frost and just published today, If Jesus Planted a Church, What Would it Look Like? Highly recommended.

The other is by Chris Tiegreen and deals with the online disputes often carried out in the name of doctrinal purity; Disagreement or Heresy?

Both of these are respected Christian authors. Enjoy.

June 28, 2021

Spiritual Formation is Becoming Like Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Jesus: “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.” – John 14:12 NLT

Today we’re again highlighting the writing of a new-to-us author. Jamin Bradley is an author and a pastor in the Free Methodist Church denomination in Michigan.  You can read more at his eponymous blog, or click the header below to read this one there.

Yes, You Can Be Like Jesus

Because Jesus is God-in-flesh, we often act as though it’s impossible to live up to his example whatsoever and so we should all just get used to living in grace. This seems to be the feeling of many Christians as Barna Group has found that, “Among people who believe Jesus was a real person, 16 percent claim they make the ‘greatest possible effort’ to follow His example; 10 percent claim they come ‘very close’ to following His example.” (Barna, George. America at the Crossroads. p. 67.)

The theological difficulty for many is that Jesus feels, as Paul Wallace says,

a lot like Superman: he’s an alien, an immigrant from an unearthly realm sent to us—yes, by his father—from the heavens. He looks like one of us but is not really one of us. Like Clark Kent, his humble exterior is merely a cover for out-of-this-world powers. He’s essentially distinct from the general run of earthly creatures. He is the Messiah of Steel.

Paul Wallace (Stars Beneath Us: Finding God in the Evolving Cosmos. p. 114.)

When I was younger, Jesus was unrelatable to me because of his miracles. I thought I could never be like him in that regard. But the more the Holy Spirit revealed himself to me over the years, the more I started to see miracles happen through the church, my friends, and even myself at times. I was now confronted with the fact that people I knew could prophesy, heal, perform miracles, cast out demons and much, much more. And in that revelation, I learned that Jesus didn’t do miracles simply because he was God-in-flesh—he did miracles because He was empowered by the Holy Spirit, just like we are.

Yes, of course, there are some things Jesus did that we’ll never be able to do. We’re not God-in-flesh, nor are we the Messiah and we’re not going to save the world from sin. We’re also not going to die without ever having sinned, but we certainly can be more like Jesus than our standard Christian upbringing taught us.

And we can be like Jesus not just in the supernatural ways of the Holy Spirit, but in human ways as well. For when we memorize Jesus, we realize that we’re a lot more like him than we thought we were. After all, he had friends and siblings; he had parents he obeyed; he grew and learned, asked questions and didn’t even know a few things; he fasted and was hungry; he was tempted; he worked a job; he paid taxes; he celebrated holidays; he got angry and frustrated; he was troubled in soul and spirit, cried, and was sorrowful; he had friends die and go back on their word; he was mocked; he was rejected, denied, betrayed, abandoned, and even felt abandoned by God; and he even died.

We can relate to Jesus in all of these characteristics and we must learn how to handle such human experiences in the ways that he did. He is the ultimate example of what humanity can be like when empowered by the Holy Spirit and he is therefore the ultimate role model of the Christian faith. Said another way, he is the true image of God that humanity is to image themselves.

The idea that it’s impossible to be anything like Jesus and so we shouldn’t even try is antithetical to the gospel; for when the resurrection comes, we will be made exactly like him. Being like Jesus is, indeed, the ultimate goal to which we are headed. And since resurrection life has already begun now in the “already, but not yet,” we should (by the grace and growth of the Holy Spirit) start becoming more and more like Christ everyday, here and now.

June 27, 2021

Only God Can Satisfy Our Thirst for God

Today we return to Brothers of the Book, written by writer, speaker, entrepreneur and marketing consultant Bill Hood. His thoughts this month have come from the Book of Psalms. Click the header below to read this and find other parts of the series.

Turn Off The Noise

Text: Psalms 61-67

This world is full of distractions that keep us focused on the meaningless and leave us too exhausted to focus on the eternal. We’ve got to turn off the noise.

I love gadgets; I always have. I guess I live in the right time for gadgets, don’t I? I walk around with two cell phones, each of which receives e-mails; one of them receives e-mails from about seven different addresses. I have a Bluetooth headset for each phone; in fact, one of them is a stereo headset for listening to music I have loaded up on my iPhone. We have two desktop computers, one is a Mac and the other a PC. I have a work laptop and a personal laptop. I have a cordless headset for my office line, along with a cordless handset. All of our phones in the house are cordless. We have five TVs in a household of three people.

The best gift I ever got my wife was one of those single serving coffee makers where you put a little sealed package in the thing and it pops out the perfect cup of coffee quicker than I can fill a cup at the refrigerator’s filtered water dispenser. We have two Kindle e-readers, two iPads, and I have a hand held electronic organizer, or three, lying around here somewhere. We have a portable DVD player we can take in the car with us on long trips away from our other three DVD players in the house. I have an old but still powerful stereo system to which I have the Bonus Room TV hooked up. I could go on and on but I’m getting tired of the game.

You know what all of that stuff is? Distraction. I was talking with a brother in Christ Wednesday night about the fact that kids today talk through texting. The telephone is so “last century”. Texting is the thing. We went on to talk about how things were when we were kids; you were really upscale if your house had a microwave or a VCR. It’s funny; I’m all “gadgeted” out and I’m complaining about the kids these days. Go figure.

I didn’t give much thought to all of my gadgets or the distractions they provide until I read today’s Bible verses. They are so powerful in their praise. I become almost breathless as I contemplate the truth of these praises. I wonder; why does God’s greatness only seem to strike me when I take a moment to read His Word? Listen to this:

Psalm 61:1-8 ESV
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.”

Does your soul thirst for God? Do you remember Him on your bed and meditate on Him in the watches of the night? Do you know what image came to me as I read that? I pictured David lying out in the fields with his sheep; he was a shepherd as a youth. Laying there with no TV or books or DVDs or CDs or Nintendos or cell phones; what did he have to occupy his mind? He had God. What do you and I have to occupy our minds? TV, books, DVDs, CDs, Xbox, and cell phones.

I drop into bed at night, exhausted from all the noise, in a pitch-dark room, and drop off to sleep, only to get up and start rushing first thing in the morning. David fell asleep under the stars with no sound of traffic or electronic clatter in the background. He could feel the grass beneath him and see the stars above him and God was self-evident in His majesty. Laying there, enveloped in the awesome reality of His power, how could David not meditate on God?

I don’t think I do enough of that, and I wonder if you’re in the same boat. The wonders of this age are significant but they are nothing compared to a solid, moment by moment relationship with the Father God. They are nothing compared to meditating on Him. I think we miss a lot of what God has for us simply because we are too busy with stuff and things. All that glitters is not gold, and this is never more true than when we compare the wonders of this world with the wonders of God.

I know I’m “preaching to the choir” here, but guys, we need to start turning off the noise and distractions. We have got to make time for ourselves. Surprised you there didn’t I? You probably thought I would have said we needed to make time for God. I almost did, but that would have been incorrect. God doesn’t need time with us; we need time with Him. It starts with this time we take every day to read the Bible, but it needs to be more than that. We need to spend time with Him in Prayer. We need to meditate on His Word, and on His character, and upon His ways. We need to lie down at night and meditate on Him in the watches of the night. To do this we are going to have to turn off the noise.

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

June 26, 2021

Your Walk Should Match Your Talk

Discussions around the dinner table at our house this week centered on a church which does some rather odd things which appear to be out of character with the core values they say they uphold. The variance is often somewhat startling.

Four years ago we ran a blog post here which we called Doctrine and Behavior. At the time we linked to GotQuestions.org and an article they ran which used the proper theological terms, Orthodoxy (right beliefs) and Orthopraxy (right practices.)  They noted that,

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

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

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

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

As a rule, while we repeat original material here, I don’t do a second re-posting of others material (although that was four out of ten paragraphs) so I wanted to add something else to the discussion today, which follows.

One needs to be careful however, as just looking up orthodoxy and orthopraxy leads to websites oriented to how this plays out in Islam and Hinduism. In a sense, while we can’t send readers to those pages, it is what you want in a faith community; you want people whose actions match their stated convictions.

Which brings us to some closing thoughts by Liv Walton which appeared at Mars Hill Newspaper, which is connected to Trinity Western University. Clicking the header which follows will take you there.

Orthodoxy Versus Orthopraxy

Contemporary Christianity is constantly confronted with societal transformation.There are times, however, where transformation becomes a point of conflict amongst the body of Christ. There have been and always will be instances when the trends of cultures appear to be maligned with biblical text or the values one is taught to hold. How does the body of Christ, both institutionally and individually, handle the grey areas? What happens when orthodoxy isn’t the answer and it’s not as simple as the Sunday-school phrase, “be in the world and not of it”? Though generally overlooked, orthopraxy can and should be used to provide clarity in the way the body of Christ interacts with society.

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.”

As Matthew 7 says, one will know right belief when good comes from their practices. This concept is echoed in James 2:14-26, as well, when the author says, “faith without works is dead.” It cannot be refuted that orthodoxy important in contemporary Christianity, however, orthodoxy can easily turn into idolatry. In some instances, the theology of the body of Christ restricts, or places too much importance on, the practice of orthodoxy to service. It is not uncommon for faith-based circles to heap shame on those who do not volunteer at their church or within their community, judging their faith to be dead.

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.

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. Grey areas and societal transformation become an opportunity for individual growth through God and the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the days ahead, ask yourself, ‘Does my walk match my talk?’


You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder (James 2:14–19).

June 20, 2021

God’s Honor and Our Spiritual Welfare

This is an excerpt from The Root of Righteousness by A. W. Tozer, as posted by a Presbyterian Church in Singapore, 9 years ago. If you’re not familiar with the co-founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, this video devotional we posted 7 years ago contains a link to a biographical article.

The Sanctification of Our Desires

In nature it is easy to watch the activity carried on by desire. The very perpetuation of the various species is guaranteed by the presence of desire, and each individual member of each species is sustained and nourished by the natural operation of desire. Every normal creature desires a mate, and so the perpetuation of life is achieved. Every creature desires food and the life of each is supported. Thus desire is the servant of the God of nature and waits on His will.

In the moral world things are not otherwise. Right desires tend toward life and evil ones toward death. That in essence is the scriptural teaching on this subject. Whatever a man wants badly and persistently enough will determine the man’s character. In the Pauline epistles the gravitational pull of the heart in one direction or another is called the “mind.” In the eighth chapter of Romans, for instance, when Paul refers to the “mind” he is referring to the sum of our dominant desires. The mere intellect is not the mind: the mind is intellect plus emotional tug strong enough to determine action.

By this definition it is easy to understand the words of Romans 8: 5-7,

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.

When our dominant desires are bad the whole life is bad as a consequence; when the desires are good the life comes up to the level of our desires, provided that we have within us the enabling Spirit.

At the root of all true spiritual growth is a set of right and sanctified desires. The whole Bible teaches that we can have whatever we want badly enough if, it hardly need be said, our desire is according to the will of God.

The desire after God and holiness is back of all spirituality, and when that desire becomes dominant in the life nothing can prevent us from having what we want. The longing cry of the God-hungry soul can be expressed in the five words of the song, “Oh, to be like Thee!” While this longing persists there will be steady growth in grace and a constant progress toward Christlike-ness.

Unsanctified desire will stop the growth of any Christian life. Wrong desire perverts the moral judgment so that we are unable to appraise the desired object at its real value.

As Christians our only safety lies in complete honesty. We must surrender our hearts to God so that we have no unholy desires, then let the Scriptures pronounce their judgment on a contemplated course. If the Scriptures condemn an object, we must accept that judgment and conform to it, no matter how we may for the moment feel about it.

God is always glorified when He wins a moral victory over us, and we are always benefited, immeasurably and gloriously benefited. The glory of God and the everlasting welfare of His people are always bound up together. The blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse not only actual sins which have been committed, but the very inward desires so that we will not want to sin. Purified desires will tend toward righteousness by a kind of gently moral gravitation. Then it can be said that we are “spiritually minded.” A blessed state indeed, and blessed are they that reach it.

 


Other Tozer readings here at Christianity 201:

June 5, 2021

A Prayer Life Which “Commends the Gospel”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Again today we’re back with Melody at In Pleasant Places and this is visit number seven! You’re strongly encouraged to visit her site to see more devotional material like the one we’re featuring today.

Prayer that Changes Us – 1 Timothy 2:1-6

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”
1 Timothy 2:1-6

These verses highlight prayer as essentially connected both to the salvation of others and to how we live. My pastor focused [recently] on its vital role in our sharing of the gospel; this morning, I am drawn also to prayer as a vital element in our leading “a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

The study notes in my Bible connect the two pieces, stating, “This sort of living commends the gospel.”

Our sharing of the gospel, then, is inseparably impacted by the manner in which we live. Because with our whole lives, including those moments when we are alone, we are witnesses to the truth of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and salvation of us, and witnesses to His power to change us at our very core. We speak and we live the truth, and this shows those around us that what we declare is real and life-changing.

Prayer is crucial to this – to all of it. As we intentionally and consistently lean our hearts toward the gospel in prayer, God’s heart and His truth strengthen within us. And perhaps we will begin to live with the focus of Paul: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them…I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19, 22-23); “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).

Prayer like this changes us. It changes our focus. It rights our perspective and priorities, and helps protect us from being carried through our days without intention or purposeful thought.

Prayer that is focused on the gospel and grounded in the Word of God, as we abide in His words and truth, fixes our eyes on Jesus. And in beholding Him, we become like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). The more we become like Jesus, the more our prayers are characterized by His heart and His personhood – and we experience what it truly means to pray in His name and His will, rather than in our own faulty perspective and desires.

As my pastor stated… it is through purposeful, devoted, unhindered, united prayer that we can experience the power of God: His power around us, mighty to save, changing hearts and bringing those lost in darkness to salvation; and His power within us, giving us His heart and leading us on the paths of righteousness and truth for His name’s sake.

That we may lead peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way.

Pouring ourselves out and enduring all for the sake of the elect.

Beholding the power of the cross to save all those whom God draws to Himself, all who take hold of His promise in faith and are changed to join with us as witnesses to His truth, hope, light, and everlasting love.


Write for Christianity 201: This is an invitation to our regular readers and subscribers to consider submitting some writing for others to read and consider. Guidelines are posted at Submissions and Questions and Contact.

June 4, 2021

Vowing not to be Distracted

Earlier today a popular internet web-browser introduced an update which left users confounded and frustrated. Using my phone, I typed some keywords and started thinking about the number of businesses and individuals who couldn’t get work done that they needed to prioritize because of this distraction, and my mind immediately went to our key verse in Nehemiah.

The first time I looked at this passage here, in 2013, I called it “Try Our Signature Dish!” The reason? Restaurants have signature meals, a particular menu item that the place is well known for and with each menu revision, it’s always left intact. Preachers have signature sermon series as well, a particular book of the Bible for which they have great affinity and/or expertise, or if they are academics, a particular commentary that they have authored that stands apart from all their other writing. For Andy Stanley, who introduced me to this passage, the signature dish is the Book of Nehemiah — you can read more in his book Visioneering — and when he preaches it, the key verses are:

Neh 6:2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”

But they were scheming to harm me; 3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. (NIV)

Nehemiah had obtained special permission take what we would call today “a leave of absence” from his duties to the king to return home and rebuild the walls of his city, which had crumbled.

This is a passage about distractions in all areas of life, but especially distractions that can take us away from spending time with God and doing God’s work. In Nehemiah’s case the distraction was relentless. “Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave the same reply.” (v4)

Matthew Henry notes the specifics of those appeals:

  • When they courted him to an interview, with design to do him a mischief, he would not stir (v. 1-4).
  • When they would have made him believe his undertaking was represented as seditious and treasonable, he regarded not the insinuation (v. 5-9).
  • When they hired pretended prophets to advise him to retire into the temple for his own safety, still he kept his ground (v. 10-14).
  • Notwithstanding the secret correspondence that was kept up between them and some false and treacherous Jews, the work was finished in a short time (v. 15-19).

Author Steven J. Cole portrays Nehemiah’s refusals as a story you might get in your news feed:

Nehemiah Says No to Ono

Samaritan officials have disclosed that Nehemiah, governor of Judah, has again turned down the offer of Governor Sanballat of Samaria to meet at one of the villages in Ono, on the Judah-Samaria border. The proposed conference would include the Big Four of the area: Geshem, leader of the Arabs; Tobiah, leader of the Ammonites; Sanballat, and Nehemiah.

Sanballat issued a statement today in which he sharply criticized Nehemiah for his repeated refusals to cooperate. He reports that the purpose of such a meeting would be to work on a formula for lasting peace in the region. The Samaritan leader said with evident frustration, “This is the fourth time Nehemiah has turned down my invitation to meet and discuss our mutual concerns. These repeated refusals mean that the responsibility for increasing tensions and any violence that may result, rests solely upon Jerusalem.” (Adapted from Donald Campbell, Nehemiah: Man in Charge [Victor Books], p. 55.)

(If you want an excellent detailed commentary on this passage, the above link for that one is the one to choose!)

There have been several times in my life I’ve wanted to quote verse 3 to people, “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down;” but I’m not sure they would get the reference.

Blogger Alyson Browning calls this one of three marks of leadership:

…Third mark of leadership – ignore the annoying distractions (chapter 6). In this chapter, we see the enemies of God – Sanballet, Tobiah, and Geshem – attempting to discourage and distract Nehemiah from everything he was doing to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah ignores their plot to distract and harm him. He gives this now famous response, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (6:3, HCSB). Nehemiah kept his focus on the task God had for his life and ignored those who were trying to distract him.

Christopher Scott notes that we’re getting an inside look in this story:

One of the reasons I love the book of Nehemiah is that it allows the reader to peek inside the heart of Nehemiah because it was written as a memoir from Nehemiah. Most of the books of the Bible tell about events that happened, but rarely do they tell about the thoughts and feelings of the biblical characters. However, because the book of Nehemiah was written as a memoir, we get to take a peek past what has happened and actually read about what Nehemiah was thinking and feeling.

Michael “Sinbad” Creighton writes:

Nehemiah was doing something that could only be blamed on God. He led a group of people in the rebuilding of the wall around the city of Jerusalem and completed it in only 52 DAYS! And all through the process, he had distractors and distractions. Check it out here. And every time he stood firm in what God was leading and equipping him to do.

Notice the first line of the 2nd paragraph (italics added) here from Steven Ruff:

Proponents and opponents: those for and against something. Every leader has both in the circle of influence. Nehemiah was no different. He had received word of the condition of Jerusalem’s walls and his heart was broken. He had prayed, sensing a God-given mission, and approached the king for assistance. He made the long trip to Jerusalem, surveyed the situation first-hand, and gave a reasonable and attainable goal to the people. When Sanballat and Tobiah approached Nehemiah, sounding like children on the playground, a choice had to be made. Does he move forward with his plans or does he come down off the wall and argue with them about the legitimacy of his work? Does he make wise use of his time and strength by carrying out the work or does he waste time, energy, and strength arguing whether it could or could not be accomplished? Nehemiah chose in that pivotal and critical moment to not argue. As the work continued and his opponent’s displeasure became louder, he later made his decision known, loud and clear. He said, “So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” [Nehemiah 6:3]

There is a difference between casting and defending a vision before those you lead and arguing with them about the legitimacy of that vision. There is a difference between answering legitimate questions from the organization and arguing with them about it. The difference : the opponent’s spirit. Nehemiah opponents were not genuinely concerned with his vision. They were not there to understand better the work at hand. They were not there to investigate how they might be involved. Instead, their spirit was one that simply wanted to see the work stopped and the Israelites embarrassed. Period. Leaders must decide where they will spend their precious time, strength, and energy. Will they spend it helping their opponents who genuinely want to better understand their vision and decision? Or, will they spend it arguing with an opponent who only wishes to see the work stop or fail? Nehemiah answers this question for us. Leaders lead confidently and choose not to argue, instead, inform and encourage. Ed Stetzer sums this matter up perfectly. He said, “You do not have to show up to every argument you are invited to.”

Conclusion: This is from Kendra Graham writing at the Billy Graham Training Center website:

When the opposition hears of the work that God is doing, it will raise eyebrows and tempers. Be prepared for opposition when you start doing what God has called you to do…When you do work for God, ill meaning people, but also many well meaning people and noble causes may try to steal your attention. These are not bad things, but are not the things God has called you to. Be on guard. Know what God has called you to and have confidence in that.

Like Andy Stanley, I’ve tried to take ownership of this passage, helped by the fact I’ve heard him refer to it several times. I hope you’ll find the spirit of this principle useful in the days ahead.

From Eugene Peterson, Ephesians 6:

The Message.Eph.6.10-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

June 3, 2021

One Word to Capture the Essence of Christianity?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through 1st John 3:11-24

by Clarke Dixon

What one word would you use to convey the essence of Christianity?

■ For some it might be heaven, as in how to get to heaven when you die.

■ For some it might be law, as in how to live, what rules to follow.

■ For some it might be tradition, as in the Christian tradition is good for our society.

■ For some it might be theology, as in knowing all the right things about God.

■ For some it might be politics, meaning if you are a Christian, you will vote this way and not that.

■ For some it might be the word belief. Just believe in Jesus, and all will go well.

There is a word that John uses a lot in the letter we now know as 1st John. It was a word John knew the early Christian communities in his day needed to hear as they faced false teaching from a specific group of people. It is a word that maybe we need to hear in our day as we face all kinds of teaching from all kinds of people.

One Word to Describe the False Teaching, and the Word John Uses to Describe the True Teaching

Let us think first about what one word would capture the kind of Christianity the false teachers were trying to promote.

We have already seen how they were trying to change the facts about Jesus to fit their thinking rather than change their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus. We have also already seen that they missed the mark on what it means to follow Jesus, how to live as a Christians.

Bible scholars tend to agree that these false teachers were trying to advance an early form of Gnosticism. In this kind of thinking, anything spiritual is good, anything material is bad. For the Gnostics the one word that might sum up the essence of their thinking, and what they thought Christianity should be about, is escape, meaning an escape into the good spirit world while leaving the awful material world behind. And by the way, on your way there it doesn’t really matter what you do because the material world means nothing. So just do what you want while you are waiting for your escape from the body.

To this John says, and I paraphrase, “no, as Christ followers, as God’s children, we don’t just do what we want”:

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

1 John 3:11 (NRSV)

There it is, the word, love. As John points out, this word was there from the beginning. As the apostles first taught people about Jesus, they didn’t tell them that Jesus was Lord, and that was all there was to know. Nope, loving one another was an integral part of the message from the beginnning too. It was not considered an option that might be nice to have at some point in the future. It was essential. It still is!

Love Explored

John goes on to say more about love, first, what it does not look like:

We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.

1 John 3:12 (NRSV)

Someone who loves, who is not self-centred and jealous, will be unlike Cain, and will not murder. John continues:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.

1 John 3:14 (NRSV)

It turns out that love is so important that it is the test of whether we are following Jesus! Speaking of Jesus:

All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.

1 John 3:15 (NRSV)

In writing this John is echoing the teaching of Jesus who said:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment . . .

Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

Love is the better way as Jesus goes on to say in that Sermon on the Mount.

In addition to being reminded of the teaching of Jesus, We are also reminded of his example:

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

1 John 3:16 (NRSV)

Jesus is the opposite of Cain here. Instead of taking the life of another, he lays down his own. Cain is the first example of a life taker. Jesus is the first and best example of a life giver, and of love.

We have the teaching and example of Jesus on love. We are changed by the love of God:

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action

1 John 3:17-18 (NRSV)

The Christian Faith is Grounded in Love.

This word ‘love’ was an important focus when facing the false teachers in John’s day. The false teachers wanted to change the facts about Jesus to fit their way of thinking. But the facts about Jesus speak of the love of God. The incarnation, the teaching, the example, the death and resurrection of Jesus, these all speak to the love of God. Change the facts about Jesus to suit yourself and you lose the greatest love that has ever been known.

Also, you don’t just do what you want as the false teachers were claiming. You become a person of love. The word is not escape, but love.

This word ‘love’ is an important focus when we face all kinds of teaching in our day.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about getting to heaven. Are you becoming a person of love here on earth? In fact, merely becoming a Christian so that you can get to heaven someday can actually be a self-centred thing. It is all about me and what I get. It should also be about picking up our cross and following Jesus in the way of generous love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about keeping law. We can keep the rules and yet somehow not become a person of love. Jesus has a lot to say about that in his teaching as found in the Gospels.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about tradition. We can keep the traditions and yet somehow not become a person of love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about theology. We can know all the right things about God, yet not become a person of love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about politics. Politics is so often about power. Jesus has a lot to say about serving others with love, giving the example of washing the disciples’ feet, giving the example of the cross. A Christian does not avoid politics. A Christian is to express love through politics, loving others through serving them.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about belief:

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

1 John 3:23 (NRSV)

John just can’t help but mention love along with belief!

Conclusion

At the beginning I asked which one word you might use to describe the essence of Christianity. Of course, we should never just reduce Christianity to just one word. But perhaps Paul is onto something when in writing to the Christians in Corinth he says,

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)


The full video of the sermon on which this is based can be seen as part of this “online worship expression Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada and appears here most Thursdays.

June 2, 2021

Equip Yourself in Order to Equip Others

Today we have a brand new writer to highlight. Ron Braley is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at both Equipping Believers and Finding Discipleship. This is adapted from parts III and IV of a series on Loving Your Neighbor. You need to love yourself before you can spread that love to others and so as we prepared to post the fourth part as our sample of Ron’s writing today, we realized we needed to reach back to the previous message where he defined some of these elements more fully. Pleeeze encourage the writers we feature by reading their work at their pages, not ours. Click the headers which follow.

Love Yourself… How??

…[B]eing Christian carries the responsibility of remaining healthy in body, mind, spirit, etc., to the best of our ability in obedience to the Father and Son so that we can honor them and help bring the Kingdom of God to others. The good news is that the Bible gives us much of what we need to figure this out in two distinct areas: spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual formation. Once we say, “I do!” in response to God’s call through Jesus, we’re to embark on a journey of transformation—in all areas of life, which is possible with the Spirit of God. Our change matures and forms several areas:

  • Relationships. If we remember that we’re to treat others with the love of Christ and consider them better than ourselves, our relationships will likely flourish (Philippians 2:3-4). Don’t go to bed angry (Ephesians 4:26) and be sure to ‘turn the other cheek’ to allow reconciliation (Luke 6:29). Finally, remember the ‘golden rule’ (Matthew 7:12).
  • Finances. The Bible has a LOT to say about sound money management. Be cautious about borrowing money and be content with what you have (Hebrews 3:5).
  • Physical health. Eat and drink (if applicable) in moderation. Get off the couch and put your body to work, even if just a bit at first. Remember that God desires to move you to action in His plans.
  • Intellect. Stimulate the brain by reading, studying something interesting, playing games, or assembling puzzles, etc. Say “No!” to the electronic stuff more often!
  • Emotional and mental health. Do what you can to keep your emotions and mind healthy by tending to the body, relationships, finances, and intellect. But, again, do what’s within your control.

Spiritual disciplines.

  • Prayer. It is our communications with (not just at!) God. Use Jesus’ model (Matthew 5:6-13) and Adore God, Confess sins, offer Thanksgiving, and Intercede for others (healing, finances, salvation, etc.).
  • Study. Engage God’s words in the Bible and meditate on them—it’s how we ‘put on Christ’ and become spiritually mature.
  • Accountability. We must bear each other’s burdens and confess sins, at least to one person we trust.
  • Giving (money, time, talents, etc.). The Bible demands it (e.g., Matthew 6:1-4 and 25:31-40; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Not only is it a necessary outcome of the Christian faith, but it can also help emotional health too. Giving stimulates the brain and makes us feel better physically and emotionally. It’s also a great way to take our eyes and minds off our troubles.

So, move toward emotional, physical, relational, financial, and spiritual health one baby step at a time in God’s direction as you love yourself. Next… we’ll put self-love to work as we dive into how to love our ‘neighbor.’

Love Yourself, Love Your Neighbor

…As we’ve learned, loving yourself positions you to love others. With healthy relationships (especially with God), finances, mind, emotions, and spirit, you’re armed to help others do the same. But, how does that look? We’ll learn that our love falls into similar categories as the spiritual formation I recently addressed. So, let’s frame my input like that.

Relationships. Our connections are vital! The Bible says much about interacting with others in a godly way to maintain and deepen those connections used to present God’s Kingdom to others. Here are several biblical tips for keeping those connections alive:

  • … be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to angerJames 1:19.
  • BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger Ephesians 4:26.
  • … but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:39-42.

Finances. You cannot help others financially without money! But, once you get your finances under control, you may have resources with which to help clothe, feed, or house others—things on which Jesus said He’ll judge us (Matthew 25:31-46).

Physical health. Jesus told us to ‘go.’ The ‘going’ is necessary to establish new relationships with which to be and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Our healthy relationships also allow us to ‘go’ and help others.

Emotional and mental health. This area affects relationships. When we’re healthy emotionally and mentally, we’ll be positioned to mentor others, listen to them in their pain, aid in healing, etc.

Spiritual. Once healthy, we can be godly models of spiritual practices, including Bible study, prayer, accountability, and discipleship. That’s how others can grow spiritually; spiritual growth positively affects all others!

In summary, loving your neighbor can happen when we love ourselves. Being healthy relationally, spiritually, financially, etc., sets us up to aid others by being godly models, helping physically, ‘being there’ emotionally, and assisting in feeding, housing, and clothing the less fortunate. Here’s the good news: you can still love others even while you’re becoming healthy. Just do what you can, give to others as you can.

 

May 28, 2021

Cultural Differences Can Lead to Lack of Unity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Six months ago we introduced you to who writes at Our Living Hope and today we’re back for a return visit. Click the header below to read or leave a comment there.

Cross + Culture

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” 1 Corinthians 1:10.

An appeal by Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth, he talks about the need for unity among the believers. Ancient Corinth is a very important city, it was known for its harbors connecting Judea, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. A melting pot of many cultures, especially it had a mixed population of Jews, Greeks and Romans, and one can understand how complex the Church would be. Even though they believed in one Lord, they had so much of differences culturally which made it difficult for them to overcome and be united. To a cross-cultural community Paul introduces a solution called Cross+Culture. He explains to them the need to overcome their differences and be united in Christ.

In a world full of conflicts, and a church which is influenced by those conflicts, Apostle Paul appeals the Church to stand out and make a difference, and he shows his pastoral heart going deep in to the issues in order to find suitable solutions based on truth. And in that process we get a beautiful Epistle to address the conflicts of our times.

The conflicts included the issue of leadership, race, culture, ministries, gifts, gender roles and doctrinal understanding. I think Paul’s strategy here in the Epistle was to point all of the issues to an higher call, which is Love! As well, he reminds them of the cross which meets their culture. The peak of his teaching was found in 1 Corinthians 13, a chapter dedicated to emphasis Love in a God filled community. He seeks growth and maturity in the mindset and guides everyone to the leadership of Christ and the order he would expect.

“Follow the way of Love”. 1 Corinthians 14:1.

What happened in Corinth is not irrelevant to us today. We too have issues based on conflicts that we have to continuously deal with, there can be controversies and divisions arising out of those conflicts, yet it is important to see the reality of those issues, and bringing them to the cross where all are united. This cross+culture is a culture of Love, the Love of God was displayed on the cross to unite all men under one head to live a life filled with Love.

Apostle Paul didn’t lose hope because of these conflicts, instead he admonishes and encourages the community to crucify the ‘self’ so to be perfectly united. Community is possible through commitment and mutual respect. He teaches them on how the ‘Cross of Christ’ opens a new way for everyone to travel together and grow out of each other. They were told to focus on things that would enable them to grow together, which is by serving one another and encouraging each other for the good.

Above all the cross teaches us about the Glory in God’s will, and the Apostle encourages the church at Corinth to put their differences out and seek God’s will. A community which seeks, knows and understands God’s will and his good purposes will always be willing to let go of the differences and unite. To the church at Rome he writes this,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will”. Romans 12:2

Even though the cross cultural world influences the church with its patterns, and even though conflicts arise, our purposes in the Lord are far greater than the differences that divides. The cross+ culture has the power to go across our cultures to bring transformation.

“Believers are never told to become one; we already are one and are expected to act like it”.

Joni Eareckson Tada

What are the reasons that causes divisions in a community?

Is church unity possible in a multi-cultural world?

Prayer : Heavenly Father, may we be one as you are one. Help us to come to the higher ground, and seek your good purposes together. Amen.

Bible Reading: Amos 8

 

May 19, 2021

Walking the Path of the Rhythms of Jesus

Last year we uncovered the devotional page of Veterans United Home Loans (VU). Although a business — with over 3,000 employees in 28 locations — VU has a Faith & Community “department,” “formed in 2013 to allow people opportunities to have their lives enhanced through deepening faith and improving community—hopefully experiencing greater peace on both vertical and horizontal relational planes.” This time around the author is Brock Bondurant.

Go Back to Go Forward

Jeremiah 6:16 – Thus says Yahweh: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. …”.

Around the end of 2020, a friend of mine wrote a post on taking a slightly different approach to the New Year with a Scripture focus to guide her throughout the year instead of the usual setting of goals and resolutions. This really resonated with me. After reading her post, I set out to find that which would enliven me to personal renewal in 2021. So, when I read the sweet words of Matthew 11:28-30 on the eve of 2021, I found what would be my focus.

Come to me, Jesus said (Matt 11:28). I was extended an invitation to rest, to the renewal that my soul had been longing for. The question still echoes: What if I started from a place of rest? Thus my year began.

My mind and heart have long been captured by the essence of practicing the way of Jesus. In a culture of busy and hurry, practices or habits of Jesus provide rest and renewal through the ways of old instead of the anxiety that we’ve become accustomed to. The spiritual disciplines of the early Church seemed to provide that which my soul was thirsting for – rest and nearness to God – as I began to participate in habits that stir my affections for Jesus. Through the ancient practice of flipping your bible open to read whatever your finger lands on, I found this verse in Jeremiah:

Stand by the roads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.

I set out on my personal study of the way of Jesus and invited my church small group along for the ride, adding a new practice every couple of months. We asked for the ancient paths, where the good way is and found our answer in Jesus. Now, we simply need to walk in it – to practice the way of Jesus – to find rest for [our] souls. Because to accept Jesus’ invitation to come to him, to take his easy yoke upon us means to change our ways. We cannot continue in the way of the world and expect to find the rest that we long for. We must look back, to Jesus himself and live lives renewed by following his life rhythm. We have to go back to these ancient paths to go forward.

Jesus – God in the form of man – walked these ancient paths. He came to not only grant us salvation, but to show us a new way to live. He came as a human to show us the way that we were intended to be human. To become like Jesus, bearing all the fruits of the spirit, we must commit our lives to this way. To be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, and so on, we must walk in His way. But what does that look like? Practices like prayer, Scripture study, time in silence & solitude, Sabbath, and worship with a community of believers. This is the new way – the easy yoke – that Jesus establishes and invites us into. These practices are, as Eugene Peterson describes them, unforced rhythms of grace (Matt 11-28-30 MSG).

I invite you to receive Jesus’ invitation to the new way. I invite you to stand, and look; to ask for the ancient paths – the ones where the good way is – and walk in it with me, with others – together. Looking to Jesus, let us go back to go forward.


Bonus devotional: At the same site, the same author looks at the prodigal son parable and that older son who, “although he was near in proximity, his heart was bent more towards earning his inheritance than it was towards loving the father.” Check out Homecoming.

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