Christianity 201

November 18, 2019

God is Sovereign Over Suffering

Today we have a new writer. Pastor Matthew Rickett leads Antioch Baptist Church in Portland, Tennessee in the U.S. He posts occasional devotional articles at the church website. Clicking the header below will take you directly to today’s article.

Our Faithful Creator

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” 1 Pet 4:19

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. All of it is profitable. Yet, some verses become elevated in our thinking because of the promises they contain, or because they speak to a certain season in our life, or because they succinctly declare Gospel truth. Unfortunately, other verses can get overlooked, though they are just as inspired, just as wonderful, and just as powerful. 1 Pet 4:19 is one of those verses. We touched on it briefly this past Sunday when discussing the context of our passage. I encourage you to read 1 Peter this week. Meditate on it. Especially 1 Peter 4:19. Why?

  1. It Affirms that Suffering is a Normal Part of the Christian Experience. Don’t be surprised by suffering. Why are these things happening to me? Why now? Why this? Why me? Don’t be surprised by suffering, says Peter (4:12). Suffering is never scheduled. It is never convenient. But, according to Christ, it is to be expected. Peter reaffirms this in this little letter. This verse brings to conclusion Peter’s thoughts on suffering by telling us how to react: Entrust your soul to a faithful Creator and continue to do good. I can’t answer, “Why?” But I can answer, “How.” God has not left us without instruction for the rainy season.
  1. It Affirms that God is Sovereign Over Suffering. Peter makes a clear distinction: You can suffer as a consequence of your sin (ex. drunkenness will lead to vomiting and hangovers. Gross.). Or, suffering might seemingly come from nowhere. Peter says, that the latter is according to God’s will. It’s shocking to think that suffering might actually be God’s will. Today, we are often told that God wants you to be happy, fed, and blessed. But, suffering is a part of God’s redemptive purposes, and as such, he is sovereign over it. Not a hair on your head will fall without the Creator’s signature to allow it. But, he often does allow it. This is ultimately for your good and for his glory. Jesus suffered. You were saved as a result.
  1. It Affirms that God is Faithful. God is faithful. He has saved you. He has redeemed you. He has forgiven you. He has declared you righteous. He has sealed you with the Holy Spirit. He has adopted you. He has accepted you. He has purified you. Why would he let you down now? When has God ever failed you? When has God ever not been there? When has God ever turned his back on you? When has God ever left you? Point: God is faithful. His steadfast love endures forever. You can entrust your soul to God because he is always, and has always been, faithful.
  1. It Affirms that God is Creator. God is your creator. He is omnipotent, even in the midst of our suffering. Often, our circumstances or our trials rule our thoughts. They become big and God becomes small. Flip it. God created man from dust and breathed into him the breath of life. Your situation does not have that power. Suffering creates in our minds the thought that this (whatever this might be) is too powerful to overcome, too strong, too mighty. Peter, on the other hand, reminds us that God created all things ex nihilo, what is too much for the God who creates?
  1. It affirms that Our Actions and Our Thoughts Precede Our Feelings. Suffer, says Peter, while doing good. You might not feel like doing good, but that’s exactly the point. Anxiety is a feeling- it’s a physiological response to our thoughts. When that response is triggered, anxiety takes over and we live our lives around this feeling. Peter is clear- we may not feel like doing good, but do it anyway. Your anxiety might be telling you to worry about this or that, but tell yourself the truth. To simplify: Tell yourself the truth of Scripture, do good… and eventually, the feelings will follow. Follow your heart? Nah, man… Follow the Word. Do the Word. Your heart will catch up.

Meditate on God’s Word this week. Commit this passage to memory. Open the Word- you might just find hidden treasures.

November 13, 2019

Playing ‘Parishioner of the Week’ at Church

NIV James 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6a But you have dishonored the poor…

I remember the first time I encountered this verse. I attended a large church at the time, and there was a couple in the church who would always arrive five minutes late, which was rare in that church culture. The service would start at 11:00 AM with the call to worship, the invocation and the opening prayer; and then either just before or just after the opening hymn, this man and his wife would walk in and be escorted by an usher to a seat near the front that had been kept for them.

Imagine my surprise when someone older and more cynical (but as I later realized, surprisingly accurate) told me that their late arrival was on purpose. That the whole point of their apparent tardiness was to create the grand entrance that I witnessed each week. To be seen. To be known.

In that stage of my life I would later move on to a succession of four much smaller churches, and I could say with all honesty that this problem didn’t apply in those churches. At least not as far as I could see. But it’s not unique by any means.

The problem of favoritism toward the rich obviously was an early church problem. I remember encountering these verses from Ken Taylor’s classic original Living Bible:

LB Romans 14:1 Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you, even though his faith is weak. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.

The second half of this verse has been used to shut down all discussion of doctrinal matters, which I don’t believe is the intent. The first part has been the subject of what it means to be “the brother of weaker faith” and how it is often new believers (starters) who are prone to religiosity and legalism.

The point is not have a bias against people whose doctrinal interpretation is different on secondary matters.

Both the James and Romans passage remind us that in the church we do tend to give privilege and ministry opportunity to people who are (a) in positions of socioeconomic high standing and (b) people who we’ve already ascertained ahead of time will agree with us on matters of doctrine.

The two areas of potential transgression are simply horses of a different color. It’s all about showing preference to person “A” and indifference to person “B.”

In our world, we have people moving through our churches who come from a variety of backgrounds. It’s said that many millennials really don’t care whose franchise name is on the door. So our churches today you might find Calvinists and Arminians sitting side-by-side, egalitarians and complementarians on the same church board, and pre-tribulation and post-tribulation interpreters sharing teaching duties on the same adult elective class or small group.

In our modern church we sometimes have a different, more subtle examples of bias and prejudice.

When it comes to fairness in any organization, the one thing the world detests is nepotism. The Oxford Diction defines nepotism as:

the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs

In a church environment, this may include unpaid volunteer positions, as well as salaried positions. (For the former, the reward occurs later in heaven, right?)

When Paul and James are telling the early church not to ignore those of weaker faith, or not to prefer the rich people, they are setting out rules. A rule is something that may apply to (a) only one people group, or (b) only one location, or (c) only at one time. But the statements about people with whom we have doctrinal differences, or ignoring the poor are simply examples. In scripture, rules always derive from principles.

And what is the principle?

The principle is simply not to show favoritism. To be so circumspect in all your dealings (and including dealing with the processes of hiring or appointing ministry leaders) as to not be seen as guilty of favoritism. To keep the process open and transparent. To keep accountability unbiased. To be willing to make the tough decisions if someone you’ve already placed in a position is falling short of the task required.

What’s true of churches also applies to Christians in leadership in a business or non-profit. It can apply to extended families. It can apply in neighborhoods…

…I don’t know who among us needed that today, but I hope it will stay with you in situations you find yourself this week.

CEB Deut. 16:19a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

NIV Lev.19:15a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

November 10, 2019

End of Life Revisions

(It’s a play on “end of life decisions.” Makes more sense after you read the article.)

As I said yesterday, Christianity 201 has been blessed over the years to feature Elsie Montgomery who writes at the blog Practical Faith. She is faithful in writing and consistent in terms of the content of what she posts. I’ve broken a rule here and have re-posted some recent things from her blog both yesterday and today. Visit the blog and click the headers for individual articles.

To-do list for old timers (and newcomers too)

Bette Midler once said regarding her body, “After fifty, it’s just maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.” Those in that age bracket will agree. However, I try not to focus on the state of my body since this is too easy the topic of conversation for us seniors. It tends to fill my head with a ‘me’ focus that is not healthy for my spiritual life.

At the end of 2 Peter, this disciple writes about focus as God’s people wait for the end of life and the return of Jesus Christ. He puts the focus on my spiritual state and gives me some practical assignments . . .

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him . . . You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ . . . . (2 Peter 3:14–18)

Be found by Him without spot or blemish. This isn’t about freckles or pimples but about sin. No one is sinless in this life, but keeping short accounts is possible. That is, God wants me to confess and forsake any sinful and selfish attitudes and actions as soon as I realize they are present. The benefits include continual fellowship with God and His people, having a child-like humility and attitude toward life, and a good night’s sleep!

Be at peace. No worrying. How is that even possible? For me, it means trusting the Lord with everything, and to do that, I must believe in His love and power. He is sovereign over this world and all that is in it. If not, I’d be in a stew about everything because nearly everything seems to be coming unraveled. Trusting the Lord means being able to take my burdens to Him and leave them in His care. I cannot do that without firmly believing He hears me and will answer my prayers. His answers may not be what I expect, but trust isn’t concerned about my thoughts and opinions, only about His loving wisdom.

Count patience as salvation. Peter also said that I’m to consider patience as a huge factor in salvation. Impatience is me trying to run things my way — and that is the essence of sin. Patience is evidence of faith, of knowing God is taking care of things and being okay with that. It is not an anxious ‘wait and see’ but a settled and peaceful yielding to His will.

Don’t get carried away. Spiritual maintenance includes standing firm on what I believe, not carried away by the teaching of those who have no regard for the basic principles of faith. The foundations of trust and obey, of knowing and believing, are the firm places. I don’t need to study error to know it — I only need to study truth.

Grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Last but not least I am to grow by studying Him, spending time with Him. Listening. Following His leading. Seeking His face. Reviewing and remembering His words. Doing whatever is necessary to deepen my relationship with this man who is God — who saved me for all eternity!

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Jesus, this is simple stuff for this old-timer, basic for those who are new to the faith, yet powerful. Doing the will of God is not as challenging as wanting to do the will of God. I must want to abandon the habits and old sinful ways and dictates of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Keep me close as I desire to stay close. I love You and want to bring You glory in this life and in the life to come!

Today’s thankful list . . .

– having basics to keep me growing and in God’s will.
– faith is practical!
– a good workout at the gym.
– motion detector light switches.
– time for a much-needed nap this afternoon.
– chicken tacos and salt-free chips.

 

November 7, 2019

Why God Isn’t Working In and Through You: A Checklist

A few weeks ago at Thinking Out Loud, I linked to the article that appears below from Charisma Magazine’s J. Lee Grady. He has been quoted, linked to, or excerpted at both blogs many times. Although we just had an article by him in August, I really wanted to share this one here. Click the title below to read at source.

There Are Some Types of Christians God Can’t Use

J. Lee Grady

About 17 years ago, I prayed the most dangerous prayer in the Bible while lying on the floor of my church near Orlando. I repeated these words from Isaiah 6:8: “Here am I. Send me.” Then I cringed. I knew God would “mess me up good” in order to use me to touch others for Christ.

I wanted God to use me, but I was painfully aware that we don’t just go out and start a ministry on our own terms. God bends and breaks those who speak for Him. He requires full surrender. I had to let go of fears, adjust attitudes and change priorities.

It has become popular today to suggest that God can use anybody. It’s true that He does not show favoritism based on race, age, gender, marital history, past failures or income status. Yet His standards have never been lowered; He only uses humble, obedient, consecrated followers.

Many Christians will never be useful in the kingdom because of mindsets or behaviors that limit the flow of the Holy Spirit or, as the apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:21a (KJV), “frustrate the grace of God.” I don’t ever want to frustrate His grace! If you want God to use you, make sure you don’t fall into any of these categories:

  1. Driver’s seat Christians. Jesus is not just our Savior; He is our Lord. He wants to guide our decisions, direct our steps and overrule our selfish choices. There are many believers who enjoy the benefits of salvation, yet they never yield control to God. If you want Him to use you, then you must slide over into the passenger seat and let Jesus drive. If you have a problem with willfulness, learn to pray: “Not my will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42b, MEV).
  2. Armchair critics. There are some people who roll up their sleeves and serve the Lord; there are others who make it their business to analyze and pick apart everyone who is doing God’s work. The devil is the accuser, so if you are accusing others, you are operating in the spirit of Lucifer. The Holy Spirit does not work through people who are bitter, angry or judgmental.
  3. Glass-half-empty pessimists. Many Christians today worry about what sinners are doing, and some spend hours trying to predict when the Antichrist will arise or when the world will end. Meanwhile there are other Christians who focus on winning lost people to Jesus and showing His compassion to a broken world. Who do you think will bear more spiritual fruit—the doomsday pessimist or the hopeful evangelist?
  4. Carnally minded Christians. It has become fashionable today for believers to lower the standard of moral behavior to the point that anything goes. Don’t be fooled. Just because more and more people are jumping on the bandwagon of sexual permissiveness doesn’t mean God has rewritten His eternal Word.

People who live in blatant sin cannot be instruments of the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 2:21 says clearly: “One who cleanses himself from these things will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, fit for the Master’s use, and prepared for every good work.” Our usefulness to God is based on whether we have submitted to the process of sanctification. Holiness is not an option.

  1. Church dropouts. I won’t win a popularity contest by saying this, but it’s true: God does not use people who have turned away from the church. Today it is fashionable to bash the church; some people have even established “ministries” to lure Christians away from church and into an isolated spiritual wilderness. Most of these church-bashers are bitter because they had a bad experience with a pastor.

I have only compassion for victims of spiritual abuse. But no one has the right to tear down the work of God just because a spiritual leader hurt him. The church is God’s plan A, and He does not have an alternative. If we are going to be used by God, we must get connected to the church and learn to flow with God-ordained leadership.

  1. Timid cowards. When Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to pioneer the church there, he exhorted him to break free from fear. He wrote: “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:8a). Fear has the power to paralyze. All those who surrender to the call of God must bravely open their mouths, defend the faith, risk their reputation and suffer rejection—and possible persecution. If you are afraid to share the gospel, repent of your fear and ask God for holy boldness.
  2. Lazy spectators. Many Christians today think following God means clocking in for a 60-minute service before driving to the lake. We read quick devotions on our smart phones and breathe short prayers during our morning commutes. But somewhere in all this 21st-century stress, we lost the meaning of discipleship.

If you want God to use you, you must take His call seriously and become a focused student of His Word and a passionate prayer warrior. The apostles of the first century declared: ” But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Halfhearted people never changed the world. You must be devoted, committed and passionate if you want to make maximum spiritual impact.

November 6, 2019

Deep and Lasting Friendships Don’t Just Happen

NIV.Eccl.4.9 Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.

NIV.Prov.27.17 As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.

Six months ago we shared something from the writing of Glenn Kaiser, a leader in the Jesus People USA community in Chicago which gave birth to Resurrection Band, Cornerstone Magazine and the Cornerstone Festival. Today we’re back with another one of his devotional pieces. Click the header below to read at source.

True Friendship!

Some years ago someone repeated to me what another person had stated about a third party. The sentiment was something like “He might sometimes drive me crazy but he’s the kind of person you want to have next to you in a foxhole.”

I get a long list of daily devotionals in my inbox most of which I read slowly through. Sometimes they seem to nail truth or at least open up a line of thought I find encouraging to consider. On occasion they spread open to a larger field of reality I think it good to share.

Here are three quotes on friendship.

  • “A true friend is the one who walks in when others walk out.”  -Walter Winchell

Boom. A few more thoughts on this in a moment, but I have several such friends and am SOOOOO grateful to God for them!

  • “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

True friendship costs and the sad truth is that plenty of people are not committed to one another enough to pay the bill.

Lastly a “Yes and No” on this quote:

  • “In true friendship, one can express anything and everything without feeling ashamed or afraid of being rejected.” -Aparna Chatterjee

I agree but counter and add that even when you do feel ashamed a true friend is one you can still express anything to and not fear being rejected.

These kinds of deep and especially lasting friendships don’t just “happen”. They take real investment of time, effort, forgiveness, agreeing to disagree but not terminating the relationship easily. Actual continual physical abuse and life and death matters are another matter entirely and certainly friendship with such a person is not what I’m taking about.

Some of us are so insecure and/or arrogant, at times we’re just not willing to build truly deep and close alliances, maybe even a sort of coalition. This does not mean full agreement in every area but enough that you still reach out, respect, actually hang out willingly with one another.

The lack of such commitment to mutual friendship contributes to extreme polarization which can and often does happen. I believe this an element of why our world is often quite mean, impatient, fractured, even brutal to the extent of breeding outright hatred in our times.

How easily do you “send ’em packing”, just dump a friend? Whether or not you agree on everything (you don’t and won’t) what sort of friend are you when they’re hurting? How willing are you to point them in directions that may bring them needed help and perhaps relief from issues they’re plagued with?

Are you simply a friend of convenience- they have some of what you want so you hang out to take not so much share and/or give?

Some of the amazing reality of God is He already knows everything about you and knows the depth, importance, right or wrong, good for you or self-destructive, He’s down with it all -and still loves you. He doesn’t always agree with your choices but Jesus didn’t come to a world of people who all full-on agreed with Him, gave/give a rip about God or even care much for others. He came for all sinners -meaning you, me, all of us!

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” -Jesus in John 15.12,13

We may split from others, might run away from Jesus but He never left. While we were yet sinners… hmmm… He died for us. HE laid down His life for us. That’s the sort of friendship I’m talking about!

When nobody else is around -He is.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am for my Best Friend.

God help us learn to love and cultivate, indeed sacrifice to become the sort of friends Jesus calls us to be for others. And Thank You Lord for such friends!

October 22, 2019

The Battle Has Been Won!

by Russell Young

The time-worn phrase, “The battle has been won!” is disconcerting, and its acceptance will lead many to their destruction. Jesus has won his battle over the dominion of evil, but those who walk this earth have not. Satan is very much contesting for their lives, and their victory rests in their submission and obedience to the Lord, Jesus Christ. He is their hope, but their hope must yet be realized. To further encourage the faulty notion that the battle has been won some would loudly proclaim that believers have been “adopted” into the family of God; however, Paul wrote that adoption does not happen until the body has been redeemed (the misdeeds of the body have been put to death) and that it is being eagerly awaited. (Rom 8:23)

To assert that the battle has been won and that access to his eternal kingdom is a gift from God to those who acknowledge belief denies the on-going ministry of Christ following his crucifixion and resurrection. It also dismisses the lordship of Christ, accountability to God and the coming judgment, the need for confession and repentance for sin, and the process of sanctification that follows one’s declaration of faith.

Christ redeemed confessors so that by faith they might receive the promised Holy Spirit. (Gal 3:13−14) Christ is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3: 17−18; Gal 2:20; Col 1:27) As Spirit, he sanctifies those obedient to his commands. (Heb 5:9; Rom 15:16) Eternal salvation comes through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. (2 Thess 2:13) The “righteousness for which we hope” comes through the Spirit by faith in the power and authority of Christ as he is obeyed and that righteousness is being “awaited.” (Gal 5:5) Since the Spirit must do his work in the lives of the obedient, the war has not been won; the battle over sin must be engaged. “The righteous requirements of the law [will be] fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4) The manner of the confessor’s living is important, and he or she will be judged according to “the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10)

The faith that brings eternal salvation compels cooperation and participation with Christ, who is the Spirit, and who has given both his life and Spirit to enable the believer’s survival and rescue from eternal destruction. The faith that saves is not based on sentimental religious representations and philosophical constructions but on the reality of the full ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Faith in Christ means trusting him to lead those who have hearts and ears to hear through the temptations and testing that would challenge righteous choices and actions. It means depending on him to enable the obedient to do that which they are unable to do in their limited strength and weakened hearts. God’s faithfulness to the humble and contrite of heart will provide “all that is needed for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3), and although he is with them, he has not unilaterally won the battles that each must fight.

The war in which Christ was engaged and through which he gained victory was for himself and indirectly for those “in him.” He destroyed Satan’s power and gained the keys of death and Hades; they are now in his possession. (Rev 1:18) Since he holds the keys, he can use them according to his grace and mercy but will make his judgment based upon the believer’s heart commitment and state of righteousness. “He will punish those who do not know [understand] God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be is at among all those who have believed.” (2 Thess 1:8−9) Paul admonished his “brothers” to work out (finish, complete) their salvation with fear and trembling so that they might become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation.” (Phil 2:13, 15)

Declaring that the war has been won implies that those who started their spiritual life in Christ must have remained in him. However, John chapter 15 presents that those in him might be cut out if they do not produce fruit. (Jn 15:1) and promises blessings to those who remain in him (Jn 15:5, 7); to remain in him requires obedience to his commands (Jn 15:10), which are given by the Spirit. (Rom 7:6; 8:4; Gal 6:7−8)

Care should be taken by those who present that the war has been won because such a proclamation may give license for immorality and unrighteous practices; care should be taken by those who endorse such a proclamation because neglect of the ministry of Christ, as Spirit, may lead to their destruction. The Lord spoke of the destruction that will follow “evildoers.” (Mt 7:23; Lk 13:27) Even Paul declared that he had to “strike a blow to his body and make it his slave” so that he would not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Cor 9:27) And he admonished Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim 4:16) Paul was declaring that Timothy remained at risk and that his battle over sin had not been finished.

The phrase “The war has been won,” must be put in context when it is used, and its proclamation made clear according to the Scriptures.


Eternal Salvation - Russell Young - 2Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation — “I’m Okay, You’re Okay”– Really? (Lettra Press) and his writing appears here on alternate Tuesdays. Text citations above include italics added. 

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link


 

September 29, 2019

Paul’s Charges to Timothy

I love lists.

I’m just as distracted as everyone else and my attention span is often very… …where was I?

We live in a bullet-point world, where information dissemination and absorption often happens with phrases or even single words, not complete sentences.

Most of us are familiar with the Apostle Paul’s 9 Fruit of the Spirit (capitalized because those short verses represent a distinct body of Biblical literature) but maybe not a similar list in I Timothy 6:11 (bullet point formatting added):

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue

  • righteousness,
  • godliness,
  • faith,
  • love,
  • endurance and
  • gentleness.

This is a long-term pursuit. At the Bible commentary blog, Precept Austin, we read these words:

I love Pastor Steven Cole’s introductory remarks in his sermon on Going the Distance (1Timothy 6:11-12) – As an aside, I strongly encourage you to become familiar with Steven Cole’s material which almost reads like a verse by verse commentary! see Sermons by Book)…

Question: What do diets, exercise programs, marriage, and the Christian life have in common?

Answer: It’s fairly easy and even fun to begin, but it’s not so easy to hang in over the long haul.

Eugene Peterson, in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, writes,

One aspect of world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once. We assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently. Our attention spans have been conditioned by thirty-second commercials. Our sense of reality has been flattened by thirty-page abridgments.

It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the Gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to be born again, but the evidence for mature Christian disciple-ship is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.

(Peterson adds [not quoted by Cole] “Religion in our time has been captured by the tourist mindset. Religion is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure. For some it is a weekly jaunt to church; for others, occasional visits to special services. Some, with a bent for religious entertainment and sacred diversion, plan their lives around special events like retreats, rallies and conferences. We go to see a new personality, to hear a new truth, to get a new experience and so somehow expand our otherwise humdrum lives. The religious life is defined as the latest and the newest: Zen, faith healing, human potential, parapsychology, successful living, choreography in the chancel, Armageddon. We’ll try anything—until something else comes along.”)

The Christian life is not a hundred-yard dash; it’s a marathon, a “long obedience in the same direction.

Starting well is easy;
finishing well is another matter.

Some great thoughts.

Before we’re done, though, Paul also gives another list like this to Timothy in II Timothy 3 (bullet point formatting added)

10 You, however, know all about

  • my teaching,
  • my way of life
  • my purpose,
  • faith,
  • patience,
  • love,
  • endurance,
  • 11a persecutions,
  • sufferings

I found it interesting how as this list (which begins with an encouragement to follow Paul’s example as he follows Christ) continues, it rolls into persecution and sufferings. In the following verse he will go on to say that, “12everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

The Christian life will be marked by these very Fruit-of-the-Spirit-like attributes, but when we cast our mind to that list from Galatians, it’s important to remember that the fruit of the Christian life may also include hardship and persecution.


If you like lists, here’s one we covered back in 2012 from chapter one of Paul’s epistle to the Colossians as we considered what it means to live a Christianity 201 type of life:

9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Col 1 9-12 NIV

Nine growth areas:

  • Grow in knowledge of God’s will
  • Grow in spiritual wisdom and understanding
  • Live a worthy life
  • Please God in every way
  • Bear fruit
  • Grow in knowledge of God
  • Be strengthened with power
  • Reflect great endurance and patience and joy
  • Be thankful

September 16, 2019

Let There Be Light

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Light is a factor in the name of the ministry organization which I work with.

Light is a factor in the name of the commercial ministry entity which occupies many of my waking hours. A searchlight can shine into the night saying, ‘something is happening here;’ but can also be mounted on a boat, airplane or vehicle to search for the lost. In today’s devotional, the meaning is different, the light of God is the light of truth, exposing and convicting people of sin.

We begin with a scripture medley about light:

  • “You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light” (2 Samuel 22:29).
  • “He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light” (Job 12:22).
  • “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light” (Psalm 18:28)
  • “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).
  • “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). (This was quoted by Jesus when He began to preach Matthew 4:12-17).
  • “But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:23)
  • “When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
  • “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46).
  • “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:17,18).
  • “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).
  • “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
  • “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
  • ‘You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
  • “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
  • “Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8)

Back in 2015 Steven and Brooksyne Webber wrote about light at their blog, Daily Encouragement.:

…The understandable grandeur of John 3:16 may tend to diminish the rich, instructive material that follows. Bible students differ as to whether John 3:16-21 are the words of Jesus following His discourse with Nicodemus or whether these are the interpretive words of John when he wrote his gospel late in the 1st century. Either way they are God’s inspired Word!

Regardless of whether these are the words of Jesus or a part of John’s inspired teaching we should seek to understand this portion in its context. Today’s text is a macro assessment of the human race.

“Light has come into the world.” The Greek has the definite article “the” before light and we believe this is very significant. In the Gospel and Epistles of John “the light” is Jesus Christ (see John 1:4-9; 8:12: 9:5; 12:46; 1 John 1:5). The Light coming into the world is at the very heart of the Gospel message.

“But men loved darkness instead of light.” Again we have the definite article in the Greek prior to both light and darkness precisely reading, “But men loved the darkness instead of the light.” (See here for Greek interlinear scrolling down to v.19.) This is a matter of fact statement that explains much about human nature and the response to the Gospel. Many people would prefer to live in the darkness rather than the light. This preference, a result of the fall, leads to spiritual troglomorphism. [ed, note: Look it up]

“Because their deeds were [are] evil.” For those of us living in the glorious light of Jesus Christ we marvel that anyone would choose darkness but many do. The awful consequence of spiritual troglomorphism is that the more one spends in darkness his eyesight for spiritual things is diminished and he increasingly becomes blinded.

The next verse continues, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:20). And, of course, many are unwilling to do that so they continue to live in the darkness. In fact they become spiritual nyctophiliacs [ed. note: That one, too.] who love the darkness.

When we come into the light we must deal with our evil deeds, confess, and repent. As we do so we experience another word with morphis in it, metamorphisis in Romans 12:2, which is translated transformed!

Today, we encourage believers all over the world to join us as we live in the light of Christ and walk according to the light of His Word! May this statement be true of us today, that we love light rather than darkness! We come under the truth of Jesus Christ: “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:21).

August 29, 2019

Don’t Focus on What You’ve Been Told You Can’t Do

Today we’re back for a third time with Craig Greenfield, founder and director of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Jesus: An Adventure in Justice and Mercy in a Broken World. Clicking the header below will take you to the original article with a longer introduction.

She did what she could

In Mark 14, Jesus is in a place called Bethany, which some scholars suggest actually means, “House of Misery” or “House of Affliction and Poverty”. So, it may have been a place where the poor congregated and received handouts.

This might explain why Jesus was chilling out at the home of the unfortunately-named “Simon the Leper”.

Maybe Bethany, this place of struggle and affliction, was a place where men like Simon and other outcasts made their home.

Maybe you’re in your own kind of Bethany.

Perhaps you feel like you’re in a place of misery, sickness, or poverty right now. Maybe you are living in the midst of a broken neighbourhood, or going through a season of affliction. Whatever that looks like.

If so, pay attention. Because what happens next is quite mind-blowing and cool.

Jesus is having dinner around the table with Simon and a bunch of his crew. And a woman (John suggests it is Mary, the sister of Martha) slips in with a bottle of expensive perfume.

She makes her way quietly through the small gathering. No-one knows what she is about to do. As Mary draws nearer to Jesus, she adjusts the pint jar in her hands. She’s shaking a little. But she’s determined to do what she came here to do.

Jesus is mid-sentence, reclining. Mary steps forward and breaks the seal. She tilts the jar. The perfume flows out, thick and fragrant, enough to drench Jesus’ head, drip down his beard, and even reach his feet. A pungent aroma fills the room. It’s overwhelming. Faaaaaaaaaar too much perfume.

The crowd turns. “What the heck have you done, Mary!?!”

John says that Mary kneels now, as mouths drop open in surprise and shock, and she wipes Jesus’ feet with her long hair. An act of devotion.

And then Jesus praises her with these poignant words:

“She did what she could.” (Mk 14:8)

It’s a dramatic scene. Here’s this woman, lacking in almost every way that the world deems important. Small. Vulnerable. Fragile. But she carries out an act so brazen, so incongruous, that the whole party is buzzing with surprise and indignation.

Notice who she is, who God uses, and see if it resonates with your situation today:


1. She lacks power.

Like any woman in that time, Mary was considered a second-class citizen, of no status or authority. Respectable women were expected to stay mostly within the confines of the home. If a woman was ever in the streets, she was heavily veiled and was prohibited from conversing with men.

The women Jesus knew were very likely illiterate, since the rabbis did not consider it important for women to learn to read. (On a side note, most of us don’t experience illiteracy – except when we move to a new country. Perhaps you’re struggling with the language in the place where you live? Or in some other way you feel you don’t measure up educationally. That’s Mary.)

And yet she steps forward. She dares to push through the crowd. Mary holds her head high. She does what she can.


2. She lacks permission.

No-one saw Mary coming, or realized what she was going to do. And it’s probably wise that she didn’t ask for advice from the established religious leaders first, because as soon as she acts, everyone is up in arms. The crowd of critics erupts in grumbling and furor. What a dumb thing to do! So unstrategic! Those resources could have been used better elsewhere.

And yet she acts anyway. A small, seemingly insignificant and unimportant act. She does what she can.


3. She lacks support.

No-one is on board with Mary’s strange action. It seems out of place, incongruous, lacking in purpose or objective. You wouldn’t write this in your newsletter home. You wouldn’t submit it in a monthly report to your manager. You probably wouldn’t even post it on Instagram.

And frankly, in the context of a place of poverty, like Bethel, it’s not surprising to me that there is some critique of her extravagance. The grumbling actually makes sense on a human level.

But Mary is compelled by something beyond human reason. She has left space for the Spirit to lead. And she does what she can.


We do need worldly knowledge and wisdom. There are times when it is appropriate to strategize about how to best reach the poor. We need big thinkers. We need to reflect on best practice and critique models of mission that are broken. We need to think beyond emotional acts of mercy and consider the larger structural justice issues.

I do that a lot, in my blog and in my books.

But we also need to leave room for the mystical, the beautiful, and the small.

We need to leave room for the Spirit.

There are plenty of critics out there. The room is filled with finger-pointers.

On the left, the progressive movement is overflowing with critique. Everything is “problematic”. Everyone with privilege is complicit. Anyone who dares to go overseas must be a ‘White Savior’. No-one is radical enough.

There is little room for grace.

On the right, conservative evangelicals are often just as bad. They want reports back with numbers of salvations, and to know whether the “gospel was preached” verbally in every situation. They want to know our theological position on this and that.

There is little room for grace.

Many of these critiques are valid and useful. Like I said, there is a time and place for critical thinking and strategic initiatives.

But not all the time.

Sometimes, we just do what we can. Especially when we are in Bethany.

Sometimes we walk in the footsteps of Mary, who didn’t have power, permission or support.

She took what little she had. And she did what she was able to do. Without paying attention to the armchair critics.

Nothing less. Nothing more.

And that was enough. More than enough. Because she was open to the weird and wonderful leading of the Spirit.

And Jesus said, “She did what she could.”

With a smile on his face.

Perhaps you need to hear that encouragement today.

Go ahead. Do what you can. It might not be much. It might be weird or insignificant or unstrategic. But listen to the still small voice of the Spirit. Step out. And do what you can with what you have.

I promise you. It is enough.

 

August 4, 2019

This Critical Moment

clock spiral

Well seize this critical moment, because the days are evil. (A Google Translate iteration of Ephesians 5:16 from Dios Habla Hoy, a Spanish Bible; could also be “this decisive moment.”)

Today’s thoughts continue from a topical article posted in 2016 at Thinking Out Loud

…As Christians, the stewardship of our time is important. In the old KJV rendering of Ephesians 5:16, they used the phrase, “Redeeming the time…” More recent translators went with:

  • Make every minute count. (CEV, NASB, and others)
  • Make the best use of your time. (J. B. Phillips)
  • Don’t waste your time on useless work. (Eugene Peterson)
  • Make the most of every living and breathing moment. (The Voice)

The time factor figures into social media [such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, podcasts, etc.] but even more into addictive online behavior…

…While I’ve always used two major arguments in relationship to Christians watching inappropriate content online — the Bible’s teaching on lust and its teaching on self control — I think the stewardship of our time really needs to be added as a third reason to walk away from the computer, especially in view of stories about the hours and hours people spend glued to the screen.

Other verses come to mind, such as Psalm 90:12

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (ESV)

Other translations render this;

  • Teach us how short our lives are so that we can become wise. (ERV)
  • Teach us to use wisely all the time we have. (CEV)

Some verses remind us of the brevity of life, such as James 4:13-15

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (ESV; some translations use vapor instead of mist.)

and Proverbs 27:1

Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring. (NIV)

These reminders should make us want to consider where we invest ourselves in our daily schedule.

At the website BibleReasons.com, I found a list of Bible Verses About Time Management. I won’t reproduce it here, but encourage you to click through. One that struck me as we close here was about the idea of living with eternity in view:

NLT 2 Cor 4:18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

How are you redeeming the time in your life?

If you find yourself guilty of wasting time in front of screens — pocket screens, laptop/desktop/tablet screens, 42-inch screens in the family entertainment room — this might be a good time to repent.


The Sunday Worship feature will continue to appear from time to time.

July 31, 2019

The Opposite of Humility

If you have read this website for any length of time, you know that I often return to the “hymn” in Philippians 2. The one that begins, “Let this mindset [attitude] be in you that was also found in Christ;” and then goes a few sentences before defining that mindset, “He humbled himself.”

The cross is the place where we changed.
Above all fruit of that change is the fruit of love.
The attitude we then adopt is humility.

So what is the opposite of humility? What is the thing we have to “put off” before we can “put on” a humble, gentle spirit?

If you asked me that question 24 hours ago, I would have said pride. Pride and humility are opposites, right?

But this morning, after starting in Philippians 2, I kept reading to the end, and then decided I should backtrack to chapter 1 so could say I had read the whole book this morning. (Maybe that was pride!!)

Anyway, midway through that chapter I think Paul gives us a clue as to what feeds humility’s counter-attitude. It just so happened I was reading in The Message translation.

15-17 It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.

18-21 So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

Paul is in prison at this point, hence the reference to “out of the way.” He has apparently gained some popularity at this point and obviously that is enviable to the point where others would like to step into the limelight. In the above translation they are called “greedy” as having “bad motives.” In the NIV it reads,

17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

adding the extra dimension that perhaps they simply want to cause trouble for Paul while he is not at liberty to respond. Imagine though, someone preaching the gospel, the good news about Jesus to make someone else look bad.

Some of this is human nature. Paul was not part of the original group of apostles that Jesus taught or among the early disciples who were present on the day of Pentecost. As Saul, he greatly opposed the movement Jesus had begun. Then, in a very short period, he becomes Paul the Apostle. Can you see the problem some might have with this?

Sometimes someone new will come into one of our churches and be given a ministry position and the church’s “old guard,” the “elder brothers” can get very irate. I know. I was the new person in a rural church. A woman got up at the annual meeting and asked, “So what’s the deal here? Can anybody just walk in off the street and get a job?” If I had doctrinal quirks or theological errors it might have been a valid question. But clearly, her question wasn’t rooted in that concern, it was rooted in envy. Just a few short months later she left the church.

But I think The Message translation gets more clearly at the humility’s opposite in chapter one, with chapter two in view.

The opposite of humility is ambition.

Being driven, taking proactive steps, or being a type-A personality is not a bad thing. But to be consumed with ambition strikes at the very heart of the humble attitudes we are supposed to reflect. The Voice translation reflects this in Psalm 75:

6 There is no one on earth who can raise up another to grant honor,
not from the east or the west, not from the desert.
There is no one. God is the only One.
7 God is the only Judge.
He is the only One who can ruin or redeem a man.

It is God who grants promotions and give raises. We shouldn’t seek these things; we shouldn’t strive to get somewhere that isn’t in God’s plans or not currently in God’s timing.

We can’t even claim that healthy ambition in doing things for God, because there is a flaw if we think we do things for God. (This becomes especially vital in a church culture where pastors are preoccupied with metrics and church growth.)

Above, verses 18-21 reveal that Paul doesn’t allow himself to get perturbed at whatever motivates such people. As long as the gospel is presented clearly, he actually rejoices. The messenger may be flawed, but the message is what matters. As I replied to a comment last week, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, so while we should consider the source, we shouldn’t discount everything the source writes or says.

Right now, even as you read this, there are people using the ministry to build their own empires. Yes, that concerns me, but it doesn’t concern Paul if the message is being clearly transmitted. Of course, in a social media and internet world, everybody knows everybody else’s backstory. That is unfortunate, but it doesn’t minimize the power of the message itself.

Response: God, I know I need to guard my heart. Help me to see things I’m doing for wrong reasons; wrong motives. Help me not to be consumed with ambition.


Previously on C201:

July 29, 2019

What Does it Mean to be Pure?

We often highlight devotionals from Charles Price, Minister at Large for The Peoples Church in Toronto. You’re encouraged to click this link if you wish to follow these teachings. There are two inter-connected devotionals today.

One Thing I Do

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” 
—Matthew 5:8

To be pure in heart almost sounds angelic. Many may think it implies perfection or refers to someone who is tremendously giving, always does the right thing and is noble in their cause. This is where we fall off the rails, because we know our hearts are not pure. Thankfully, perfection is not what Jesus is talking about in the sixth beatitude.

To understand what Jesus means by pure in heart we need to define what is meant by “pure.” Although Jesus probably spoke Aramaic during His time in this world, the New Testament was recorded in the Greek language, which was a language of international commerce and trade. Hence, Bible translations mostly take from early Greek manuscripts. There is no exact equivalent between Greek and Aramaic, or even in English, for these vocabularies. A word in Greek has a specific meaning to the Greek mind, but may have a different meaning to the English mind. The Greek word for “pure” that Jesus uses here is katharos, which does not mean pure in the sense of perfection, but pure in the sense of being undiluted, not mixed with anything. For example, wine that is not diluted with water would be a katharos wine.

The heart is the seat of our personalities. It is where the mind, emotions and will come together to form the real person. Our thoughts, emotions, aspirations and desires are filtered through our minds and settled into our hearts. This is why Paul tells us, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:10).

To be pure in heart is to narrow our interests down to the interests of Jesus Christ, which opens them up to all that is the purpose and agenda of heaven. Paul tells us, “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul is not saying 25 things that he dabbled in, but one thing he will do. Paul’s exhortation did not mean he was boring without a wider interest in business, family or hobbies. Rather, Paul is implying, “In the midst of my business, family and recreational life, there is an undergirding, ‘this one thing I do’ that is the backbone and the spinal cord of everything in my life.” Of course, there are other aspects of our lives that we are involved and dedicated to doing but it all flows out of this “one thing I do.”

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, grant me a pure heart that focuses on You and Your agenda in every area of my life as the “one thing I do.” Thank You, Lord.

Pureness of Heart

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  —Psalm 51:10

When we have made up our minds that our position is going to be one of “pureness in heart,” we begin a pursuit of pureness. It is not a passive acceptance of “que será será”—“whatever will be, will be”—by letting others think what they will because God will love us regardless. A pursuit for a pureness of heart is to enter every aspect of our lives, which is probably best described as being single-minded to the will and purpose of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Book of Acts records Paul as a tentmaker, where he supported part of his ministry by making tents. He also had a great interest in people from different cultures and backgrounds. Because of his interests, he gained a clear perception on what a predominately pagan world believed in, and related to them from their viewpoint by finding the bridge that would unite them to the gospel.

We all have different lives, but similar to Paul, the undergirding premise is that we bring the life of Christ into all we do. We live in an overwhelmingly secular world where truth has become subjective and bringing Christ in sets us apart from the norm. Jesus was radically set apart from the norm, not only in Jewish religious beliefs, but also to the entire Gentile world. He is the truth, not subjectively, but objectively. Pureness of heart is a pursuit, whereby we allow the truth within us, which is Christ Himself, to become the source from which our attitudes and behaviours derive.

James tells us, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19). The devil believes things with his mind but the significance is not there for his heart because to believe with the heart is to surrender and recognize that God is God. Everyday we fight a battle with our hearts. This is why David writes, “Teach me Your way, Lord, that I may rely on Your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name.”

(Psalm 86:11). We cannot allow ourselves to be pulled in two directions, because in a divided heart, the secular issues will always swallow the sacred issues.

An undivided heart is a pure heart, and to pursue a pureness of heart means surrendering all that we are to seek Jesus. Sometimes we talk about Jesus coming into your heart but that is not found in the Bible. Yet, when we talk about Jesus coming into our hearts, we are asking for Jesus to become the center of our being, right into the heart of everything that we are. Are we ready to pursue a pureness of heart?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I surrender my heart in pursuit of a pureness of heart. Help me to be single-minded and focused on Your will and purpose. Thank You, Lord.


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

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

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


July 27, 2019

A Humble Self-Opinion

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A few weeks ago someone asked me online if it was appropriate to ‘like’ their own social media posts. I suggested that it seemed a bit narcissistic. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines narcissism as, “extremely self-centered with an exaggerated sense of self-importance : marked by or characteristic of excessive admiration of or infatuation with oneself.”

In contrast, Paul reminds us in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” NIV.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is quoted in Matthew 6:2, “When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” NLT

Back in March we introduced you to a reading drawn from a posting of seven chapters of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, posted by Random House at the link in the title below, where you can read all 7 chapters. This book is an all-time Christian classic if you haven’t read it. I have made only one editing change, taking out the use of numbered paragraphs (which I believe cause readers to rush through the material) and substituting each new section with the first sentence in bold type.

Having a Humble Opinion of One’s Self

Thomas à Kempis; 1380-1471; Wikipedia

Everyone has a natural desire for knowledge but what good is knowledge without the fear of God? Surely a humble peasant who serves God is better than the proud astronomer who knows how to chart the heavens’ stars but lacks all knowledge of himself.

If I truly knew myself I would look upon myself as insignificant and would not find joy in hearing others praise me. If I knew everything in the world and were still without charity, what advantage would I have in the eyes of God who is to judge me according to my deeds?

Curb all undue desire for knowledge, for in it you will find many distractions and much delusion. Those who are learned strive to give the appearance of being wise and desire to be recognized as such; but there is much knowledge that is of little or no benefit to the soul.

Whoever sets his mind on anything other than what serves his salvation is a senseless fool. A barrage of words does not make the soul happy, but a good life gladdens the mind and a pure conscience generates a bountiful confidence in God.

The more things you know and the better you know them, the more severe will your judgment be, unless you have also lived a holier life. Do not boast about the learning and skills that are yours; rather, be cautious since you do possess such knowledge.

If it seems to you that you know many things and thoroughly understand them all, realize that there are countless other things of which you are ignorant. Be not haughty, but admit your ignorance. Why should you prefer yourself to another, when there are many who are more learned and better trained in God’s law than you are? If you are looking for knowledge and a learning that is useful to you, then love to be unknown and be esteemed as nothing.

This is the most important and most salutary lesson: to know and to despise ourselves. It is great wisdom and perfection to consider ourselves as nothing and always to judge well and highly of others. If you should see someone commit a sin or some grievous wrong, do not think of yourself as someone better, for you know not how long you will remain in your good state.

We are all frail; but think of yourself as one who is more frail than others.

 

 

July 25, 2019

Claiming to be Wise, They Became Fools

The Apostle Paul wrote to communities that were engulfed in things from superstition, to religious pluralism, to decadence and depravity in the name of religion. He wrote,

NLT.Rom.1.21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

They may have been foolish before, but their pretense at wisdom confirmed it.

For example, how can you know that there is no God? (I was taught you never try to prove a negative hypothesis.)

NLT.Ps.14.1 Only fools say in their hearts,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!

At Truth Magazine, Irvin Himmel writes,

If there is no God, how did intelligent life originate? How could an impersonal force produce a personal being? How could that which neither thinks nor wills produce that which thinks and wills? How could lifeless matter ever by chance grouping of the particles produce that which is not matter, a soul? How could that which has no self-consciousness, and consequently no purpose, ever produce that which is self-conscious and which shows the. result of purpose? How could that which has neither life, consciousness, intelligence, nor morality produce a living, conscious, intelligent, moral being?

I agree.

But then the writer looks at I Corinthians 4:6,

Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. NIV

and comes to this conclusion

Some people are just sure that it pleases God to accompany the singing in worship with the playing of musical instruments. It is not so written in the New Testament. If it is, where is the passage? Others are positive in their minds that sprinkling will suffice for baptism. It is not so written in the Bible. They are exceeding what is written. And others insist that burning incense is perfectly lawful as a part of our devotion to God. But where does the New Testament authorize us to burn incense to God?

I didn’t grow up with sprinkling or incense, but I did grow up with musical instruments. The writer implies that this is not scriptural, yet there’s Psalm 150, which is like a giant catalogue of brass, woodwind and percussion instruments. The inclusion of that paragraph robs the article of the impact it might have had. It brings in personal biases of the writer’s church culture, and thereby drifts miles and miles away from the examination of the first chapter of Paul’s epistle.

There is saying,

It is better to remain silent and appear to be a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt!

I would propose that “Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.” is a broader principle which can apply to both within the church and without; that Paul’s word to the Romans has both a primary and a broader application.

There are things in doctrine and theology which are above my pay grade. I might not be the target of Paul’s words in Romans 1, written to members of a society filled with debauchery beyond comprehension, but I can be the guy who has completely missed the point, but feels compelled to pontificate about that which I do not comprehend.

I simply don’t want to be that guy!

 

July 10, 2019

A Theology of Hospitality and Recovery

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

Several months back we introduced the devotional blog, Partners in Hope Today. You can also listen to today’s devotional.

I’d like to add something to the first paragraph below. It could easily be applied to introverts. I have a few of these in my family and I am only beginning to understand how that can limit some types of fellowship.

When you think about it, what other factors could limit someone’s approach to hospitality?

Click the header below to read at source.

Hospitality and Recovery

Some of us in recovery lack the quality of being hospitable.  We do not care to be around others.  We give our attention to our own needs and have forgotten, or perhaps never learned, the social skill of thoughtfulness towards others.  Our loving God created us to be in relationship with Him and with one another and we are out of sync with our humanness when we behave in other ways.

Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him.  He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. (Acts 17:26-27 MSG)

Although we may not vocalize it, some of us tend to think this way, “Why should God and others care about me when I really don’t care about them?”  However, we are made to be hospitable and care for one another.  Jesus gave us a commandment to love one another.  This is not a suggestion.  God knows what is best for us and He made us to live in community with one another.

This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you.  This is the very best way to love.  Put your life on the line for your friends.  (John 15:12-13 MSG)

Going to a recovery meeting for the first time can be intimidating, but if we are warmly greeted by others we will be encouraged to stay.  When attendees share their experience, strength, and hope with us, they are being hospitable, and desire that what they share will be of help to us.

Love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  (1 Peter 4:8-9 NIV)

Hospitality is the human way of caring for one another.  It begins with one person helping another to find their way out of the maze of self-centeredness.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Sometimes I want to hide from others because of the guilt I feel about my past life.  Help me to accept Your forgiveness and live in the dignity of being Your child.  Help me to put Your Word and Your ways into practice.  Help me to be hospitable as I share the experience, strength, and hope I experience in belonging to You.  Amen


Related articles:


Go Deeper: 21 Bible Passages on Hospitality.

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