Christianity 201

October 6, 2021

Preaching in the Forest

It’s said that missionary statesman and Canadian pastor Oswald J. Smith would go out into the woods and preach to the trees. I am sure that some will say this is no different than modern preachers doing a midweek practice run in an empty auditorium, and I am 100% confident that when Oswald preached in the woods, the response rate was extremely low. No chipmunks or squirrels were saved.

Garrison Keillor tells a story of working a year at the campus radio station at his college, only to discover at the end of the year the transmitter had been shut off. The station ran a full schedule of programs, but they were doing it entirely for themselves.

Still, there are some who would say that many bloggers and podcasters — especially Christian ones — are also preaching, metaphorically speaking, to the trees, not because absolutely nobody is listening, but rather, because so many others are writing that it’s easy to feel lost in such a sea of voices. Or to feel like a ‘voice crying in the wilderness.’

That phrase is from Isaiah 40, and while there are narratives in the life of Christ which appear in all four gospels this is a case where all four use that exact Isaiah quotation to affirm the ministry of John the Baptist.

  1. Matthew 3:3
    This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
  2. Mark 1:3
    “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
  3. Luke 3:4
    As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.
  4. John 1:23
    John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

If John was using modern media today, I’m sure his wilderness experience would translate into low stats, or in church-related terms, low attendance. As he continued, the crowds came, but we know that while he preached his message of repentance with great conviction, and his prophetic word that The Messiah, the lamb of God had come into the world; we also know that later on he himself  had doubts as to the Messiah-identification being fulfilled in Jesus.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Matthew 11:2-3

The wilderness mentality was hard to shake.

So knowing that John spoke in faith and not certainty, and knowing that his experience was a wilderness experience, we can be sure that John had days where he felt he was preaching to the trees.

But tree preaching is not a bad thing.

The speaking out of anything is a good test of what is in the heart. This can reveal a good heart condition or a bad heart condition. One time a few years ago, I said something out loud for which I am thankful that not even trees were present. Where did that come from? It wasn’t something angry or rash or hate-filled, just something I might not have thought I was capable of thinking.

Luke 6:45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

It’s the same with writing. You reveal yourself to yourself when you write. Sometimes you mentally picture a three-paragraph outline, but end up with eight paragraphs because there were things in your heart and mind which overflowed as you sat at the keyboard.

You ask yourself, Is anyone reading all this?

There are people I’ve never met in person but I read them online regularly. I know for a fact that some of them only get 4 or 5 visitors a day. I’m sure they feel they are preaching to the trees. But they have been a great influence in my life. Some are major Christian influencers while others are people who faithfully post online in relative obscurity.

So we’ll say things like

We are responsible for the depth of our ministry and
God is responsible for the breadth.

which is very true.

But the depth of our ministry is cultivated sometimes in the secret and almost-secret places. What I’m saying here is that you should

  • keep writing even when it seems that no one is listening
  • keep sharing with that spouse, coworker or relative even it seems that nothing is getting through
  • keep teaching that Sunday school class even when the kids are fighting, fooling around and talking
  • keep recommending those books even when nobody buys them or borrows them from the church library
  • keep serving those meals at the soup kitchen even it looks like all you’re doing is freeing up money they can spend on drugs or alcohol
  • keep supporting that missionary even when his/her prayer letters contain frustration over a lack of measurable results
  • keep sending cards and birthday gifts to that wayward person who seems to have gone so distant from you and from God

Why? Because of what is forming in you as you remain faithful, even when it seems that your efforts are met by nothing but the wind blowing through the trees.

Phil 2:13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

The Message renders this section as:

12-13 What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

Be the voice in the wilderness, but let your voice resonate in social media posts, empty auditoriums and forest woodlands.

The trees are listening, and perhaps so are others, more than you realize at the time.


What if?

What if someone was preaching to an empty auditorium, not because they were doing a practice run, but because it was a regularly scheduled service to which no one had come, but they were determined to conduct the entire service anyway as an act of obedience, and an act of worship to God?

We happened upon this taking place when we were in Boston. Ruth Wilkinson describes it in this older C201 blog post from 2010: If a Tree Falls in the Forest.

September 6, 2021

Terminology: Missionaries or Workers?

Today we’re back for a third time at Disciple All Nations. The author is teacher, administrator, pastor, missionary, researcher, college professor and writer Russ Mitchell. This first appeared in the spring of 2020, and clicking the header which follows will get you there. (For those of you in missions, there’s an excellent article there on June 15th you should check out.)

Is it Time to Put the Term “Missionary” to Rest?

Recently I read Amy Peterson’s book Dangerous Territory, which chronicles her two-year adventure as a Christian English Teacher in Asia, which she self-critically subtitles “my misguided quest to save the world.” Early on I was struck by Peterson’s aversion to the term missionary. She shares:

“Despite my sincere and passionate desire to change the world for God, I hated that term –missionary—for all the connotations and baggage trailing behind it. I dreaded being aligned with the long history of abuse that educated westerners commonly associated with “missions” – destruction of indigenous cultures in the name of Christ, introduction of foreign diseases, wars in the name of evangelism. …I was terrified that I might accidentally live into this horrific, ethnocentric, imperialistic tradition.” (pages 18-19)

Peterson’s remarks reminded me of research findings of the Student Volunteer Movement 2 (renamed Global Mission Mobilization Initiative in 2019). Through interviews with young people around the world they too discovered an aversion to the term “missionary” for many of the same reasons Peterson lists. In addition, young people either viewed missionaries as “super saints”  – a measure they could never attain – or as cultural misfits, something they never wanted to become. Sensing that the term “missionary” was a hindrance to mobilizing students for service, SMV2 championed “message bearer” as a replacement for “missionary.”

I have also noticed that sending organizations avoid the use of “missionary” for practical reasons.  As many work in limited access countries where local governments do welcome foreign Christians, the term “workers” is preferred. Here are two personal examples.

Earlier this year my wife and I led a group of students to Central Asia. Our local hosts warned us to never use the M word in any of our communications. Otherwise the security of the entire work could be jeopardized. Also a few years ago, when reviewing our sending organization’s website, I was shocked to discover that the term “missionary” was not to be found anywhere on our public website! Upon inquiry, I learned that this was intentional.

So, I wonder, it is time to put the term “missionary” to rest? And if so, what shall replace it?

I was nurtured in a theological tradition that championed calling biblical things by biblical terms. How does missionary” fare? First, nowhere in the scriptures does the term “missionary” occur. So, it is not a biblical term. “Missionary” comes from the Latin verb, missio, to send. This is a semantically equivalent to biblical term, “apostle”, which literally means “sent out one.” Theological considerations, however, commonly restrict the use of “apostle” to leaders in the first century church. It is prudent to not go down that path.

Is there biblical alternative to “apostle” or “missionary?”

I believe there is, and it is a term that already is finding broad usage: worker.

Jesus tells his followers in Luke 10:2 (NIV), “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Consider too the parallel passage in Matthew 9:38.)  Here we see an early instance of people being sent out into the harvest field and the term used is worker.

Paul in his letters refers to numerous people as “fellow workers” or “co-workers” among whom are Urbanus (Romans 16:9), Timothy (Romans 16:21), Titus (2 Corinthians 8:13), Philemon (Phm. 1) and Stephanus (1 Corinthians 16:16). In the case of Stephanas, we see an even broader use of the term: “Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer (1 Corinthians 16:16 ESV). Also, when writing Timothy Paul also uses “worker” in a general sense. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV).

The term “worker” also eschews “super saint status.”  A saying of Jesus reminds us, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10). “Workers,” then, are not super saints. They have only been obedient. They have done their duty.

What, then, are the advantages of the term “worker”?

  • It is a biblical term.
  • It has the connotation of being sent out by God.
  • It implies that one can rightly handle the “word of truth”
  • It shows that one is devoted to serving God’s people and is a trustworthy leader.
  • It already is used by sending organizations and churches with activity in limited access countries.
  • It is a humble term, that avoids the “super saint syndrome.”
  • It has none of the baggage associated with the term “missionary” that hinders mobilization

So, it seems prudent to lay the term “missionary” to rest and use the biblical term “worker” in its place. What do you think? Are there any other advantages or disadvantages to using the term “worker”?

 

August 26, 2021

Making a Fall Commitment Reset

With regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon still on holidays, we mined his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon for something we had not presented before. This one appeared on the Labor Day weekend of 2021. Clicking the link in the header below takes you there directly.

When We Feel Not So Into It

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1st Corinthians 15:58 NIV)

Here is a verse we may read and think “I could not be described as a person who gives myself fully to the work of the Lord.” And of course this does not mean we should all quit our jobs and become pastors or full time missionaries or ministers of some sort. If we all did that I’d have to wonder where my salary was coming from. I depend on people committing, or in the case of the retired, having committed, themselves to regular jobs. We all do! And we should not make the mistake of thinking that Paul here is only speaking to the full-time professional minister. All Christians are called and invited ‘excel’ in the Lord’s work as another translation puts it. This means serving the Lord with passion in everything we do, including our ‘secular’ jobs, or put another way, serving the Lord as sacred people in the midst of a secular world. So what happens we find ourselves lacking in Christian spunk and fervor? What might we do as we read this verse and find ourselves faithfully serving ourselves and our own ambitions, or those of another person rather than our Lord?

First thing is to check your faith in the resurrection of Jesus. We do well to read the rest of 1st Corinthians where we find it all begins with teaching on the resurrection of Jesus. The ‘therefore’ that introduces verse 58 is key, as is the concluding reminder that the resurrection hope means our service to the Lord is not in vain. We serve a risen Saviour, to quote a familiar hymn, precisely because He is risen.

The 20th century was a time when many church goers got quite vague on what the resurrection was all about. Many turned their backs on anything sounding supernatural in the Gospel accounts right up to and including the resurrection of Jesus.

This leads naturally to a very vague kind of faith where one might say “I believe there is perhaps some sort of God, who I guess loves us”. Theology becomes very vague as the Bible fades into the background (taking Jesus with it) and faith is built only on reason, tradition, and experience, becoming a “build your own” kind of thing. And how easy it is for the Christian today to forget that our faith, our theology, and therefore our ethics are all founded upon and center around the resurrection of Jesus.

If Jesus was not raised from the dead, Christianity is dead. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, I wouldn’t bother being a pastor, indeed I wouldn’t even bother with being a Christian. Many in my own generation think likewise, and some, not having a solid sense of the resurrection of Jesus, are leaving the pews empty today. All the contemporary music in the world won’t help a church that has forgotten that Jesus lives.

So if you find your dedication waning, or your commitment lacking, check the place the resurrection of Jesus takes in your faith. Paul could always be described as giving himself “fully to the work of the Lord”, and little wonder when you consider his experience of meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. The fact that Jesus is risen changes everything, and for Paul, and millions since, everything changed.

If you find you are not “fully giving yourself to the work of the Lord”, perhaps it is time for a fresh encounter with our risen Saviour.


Bonus scriptures for today’s theme:

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

But those who trust the LORD will find new strength. They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings; they will walk and run without getting tired.
 – Isaiah 40:31 CEV

Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged… Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day.
– 2 Corinthians 4:1,16 NET

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
 – Romans 12:11 NIV

 

May 17, 2021

C. T. Studd Quotations

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Just like wealthy people can hire musicians to play at a house party, it was not unusual in the 19th Century to hire “parlour preachers” to come to your house and present a sermon or two; and Edward Studd the father of Charles Thomas Studd, was such a person of means. That preacher’s visit combined with an English tour by evangelist D. L. Moody led to the older Studd’s conversion, while the home visit resulted in Charles (C. T.) and two of his brothers making their own profession of faith.

The preacher “…caught C. T. on his way to play cricket. ‘Are you a Christian?’ he asked. C. T’s answer not being convincing enough, the guest pressed the point and C. T. tells what happens as he acknowledges God’s gift of eternal life received through faith in Christ. Charles remembered this saying, “I knew then what it was to be ‘born again,’ and the Bible which had been so dry to me before, became everything.”

His rich family made an education at Cambridge a possibility, but C. T. questioned the trajectory on which his life was heading. He asked, “What is all the fame and flattery worth … when a man comes to face eternity?”

He decided to be a missionary, and served in China, India and Africa. At the time, world missions was expressed in militaristic terms — think ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ — and one biographer says, “C. T. was essentially a cavalry leader, and in that capacity he led several splendid charges.”

He’s best known for his work in China, working with China Inland Mission and at one point serving alongside renowned missionary to China, Hudson Taylor.  In 1913 he formed the World Evangelization Crusade (now WEC International) which continues to this day.

But he’s also known for his love of cricket representing England in a match with Australia. The most popular biography of his life, written by Norman Grubb is called C. T. Studd: God’s Cricketeer (CLC Publications).

Sources: Soul Supply, Wholesome Words, Wikipedia
Graphic Image: Soul Supply


It turns out that in a very early blog post here at C201 — one which pre-dates our quotations series — we ran a set of quotes from Studd, but didn’t list our sources. I’ve repeated those here with a couple of additions.

Studd is best known however for this adage:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
only what’s done for Christ will last.

Click here for the complete text.

He’s also credited with this phrase which forms the basis of the Steve Camp song I’ve added at the bottom of today’s devotional:

Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell,
I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.

Here are the rest of the quotations:


I am getting desperately afraid of going to heaven for I have had the vision of the shame I shall suffer as I get my first glimpse of the Lord Jesus; His majesty, power and marvelous love for me, who treated Him so meanly and shabbily on earth, and acted as though I did Him a favour in serving Him! No wonder God shall have to wipe away the tears off all faces, for we shall be broken-hearted when we see the depth of His love and the shallowness of ours.


I can easily see why the folks at home want to eliminate Hell from their theology, preaching and thought. Hell is indeed awful unless its preaching is joined to a life laid down by the preacher. How can a man believe in Hell unless he throws away his life to rescue others from its torment? If there is no Hell, the Bible is a lie. If we are willing to go to Hell on earth for others, we cannot preach it.


The “romance” of a missionary is often made up of monotony and drudgery; there often is no glamor in it; it doesn’t stir a man’s spirit or blood. So don’t come out to be a missionary as an experiment; it is useless and dangerous. Only come if you feel you would rather die than not come. Don’t come if you want to make a great name or want to live long. Come if you feel there is no greater honor, after living for Christ, than to die for Him.


How little chance the Holy Ghost has nowadays. The churches and missionary societies have so bound him in red tape that they practically ask Him to sit in a corner while they do the work themselves.


God’s real people have always been called fanatics.


When we are in hand-to-hand conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil himself, neat little Biblical confectionery is like shooting lions with a pea-shooter; God needs a man who will let go and deliver blows right and left as hard as he can hit, in the power of the Holy Ghost. Nothing but forked-lightning Christians will count.


The light that shines farthest shines brightest nearest home.


Christ’s call is to save the lost, not the stiff-necked; He came not to call scoffers but sinners to repentance; not to build and furnish comfortable chapels, churches, and cathedrals at home in which to rock Christian professors to sleep by means of clever essays, stereotyped prayers, and artistic musical performances, but to capture men from the devil’s clutches and the very jaws of Hell. This can be accomplished only by a red-hot, unconventional, unfettered devotion, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the Lord Jesus Christ.


If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.


A lost reputation is the best degree for Christ’s service.



“But be sure to fear the LORD and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you.” 1 Samuel 12:24

“If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Jeremiah 20:9

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

“But Peter and John answered them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19-20

 – scripture selection from AWBE Interational

January 31, 2021

The Roller Coaster Ride of Ministry and Missions

If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would always sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, I was hearing the KJV text from where I first learned it:

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

Today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. Today in church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (KJV) says,

But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.


Earlier today I launched a fundraising page at GoFundMe for an orphanage in Haiti that we’ve come to know over the past seven years. Our oldest son Chris has been on the ground there twice now and participates in their fundraising activities back home in Canada. If God has blessed you and you’d like to make a difference, I invite you to click through to the page and then consider any encouragement you can give through your donation.

January 12, 2021

Overflowing with Words, Truths, Blessings, Insights

Luke 6:45b

The inner self overflows with words that are spoken. (CEB)

The things people say come from inside them. (GNT)

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (GW)

Matthew 12:34b

For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. (NLT)

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (NRSV)

This is a theme that turns up frequently in my conversations with people about sharing their faith and passion for Christ, His church, the Bible, and so many other aspects of Christian living. That’s probably why I felt it was recorded here.

A few years ago some Christian leaders shared verses which have been central to their ministries. One mentioned Jeremiah 20:9

But if I say, “I will not mention his word
or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.

Eugene Peterson renders this in The Message:

But if I say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer!

The NIV Study Bible notes that this one verse indicates two seemingly contradictory inclinations: a prophetic reluctance that is overcome by a divine compulsion. (For more on prophetic reluctance check out this devotional.) They simply can’t not speak.

Amos 3:8b reiterates this:

The Eternal Lord has been heard; His prophets can’t help but prophesy. (The Voice)

We see this also in Acts 4:20

As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (NIV)

And Paul reiterates this in 1 Cor. 9:16

Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News!

I like the CEB on this:

…I’m in trouble if I don’t preach the gospel.

Many years ago I attended a church where it was common for people to stand up and give messages (prophecy, teaching, knowledge, wisdom, etc.) spontaneously. As a person who is always thinking, always pondering the scriptures, I once asked a friend, “How do you know that this is something you’re supposed to stand up and speak out loud to everyone?”

He — and notice it was a guy not a woman — said, “It’s like you’re pregnant with it. It has to come out. It has to be delivered. It has to be shared.”

Later, I began to hear people speak about ministry which comes out of the overflow of the heart. There is simply so much contained inside that it spills outside.

This reminded me of another analogy — this one I might have used before — of what it means to be filled with the Spirit. If you open the top of a can of soda pop, you can look inside and say that it’s filled. The contents fill the entire can. There is no room for any more.

But what it means to be filled changes if you put your thumb over the opening and then shake up the contents. What was filled spills out. It overflows.

So it is with our verbal proclamation. Whether evangelism, encouragement, or even rebuke, it has to come from somewhere. There needs to have been some point where content was poured into our lives. But then, when shaken, the contents overflow.

Matthew Henry says of the Amos passage:

They [the prophets] are so full of those things themselves, so well assured concerning them, and so much affected with them, that they cannot but speak of them; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak.

Their prophetic reluctance is overcome…

…Another one of the leaders key verses was 1 Cor. 15:58, which relates to our efforts in ministry; the times we are reluctant prophets, and the times we’re just overflowing or bursting with words to share:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (NIV)



And now for something completely different:

Sometimes while re-visiting past sources we find an article that we think might be of great interest to readers here, but it’s too long for our format, and it’s difficult to share an excerpt out of context. This one starts out:

A number of cases of mass killings of people, apparently at God’s behest, are recorded in the Old Testament:

1. The Flood (Genesis 6-8)
2. The cities of the plain, including Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19)
3. The Egyptian firstborn sons during the Passover (Exodus 11-12)
4. The Canaanites under Moses and Joshua (Numbers 21:2-3; Deuteronomy 20:17; Joshua 6:17, 21)
5. The Amalekites annihilated by Saul (1 Samuel 15)

If this subject is of interest to you for further exhaustive study, click this link.

 

November 8, 2020

When the Motivation is Encoded in the Description

Bible translation is both an art and a science, and we see the possibilities in various ways of rendering the same Hebrew or, in this case, Greek text.

The third verse of the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians apparently offered translators a variety of options.  In the NIV, the verse reads:

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Before we look at three distinct pairings in this passage, I want to point out that from my perspective, the words work and labor suggest the same thing. In some the second word is service. But even that is very similar, though not all work is an act of service, all acts of service certainly involve some effort.

The NIV would seem to say that faith, love and hope are the motivators or inspiration for work, labor and endurance.  Thus,

  • faith gives way to work (something James would agree with)
  • love gives way to labor (see this September, 2014 post on compassion)
  • hope gives way to endurance (we would not endure if there were no hope, right?)

But in the ESV, we see the motivating characteristic embedded in the fruit that it produces:

  • work of faith
  • labor of love
  • steadfastness of hope

To some of you it may be a minor nuance in the translation, but it certainly reads differently.

The GNT (Good News) expresses it yet differently again perhaps putting more emphasis on the motivation than the fruit:

  • you put your faith into practice
  • your love made you work so hard
  • your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ is firm

The ISV (still not available in print) provides a more descriptive picture combining the motivation and the effect:

  • your faith is active
  • your love is hard at work
  • your hope in our Lord Jesus the Messiah is enduring

I think it’s a real blessing that certain passages can be read different ways, but also it challenges me to see the intertwining of the action and the motivator. Some people believe that as long as certain results are attained it doesn’t matter why. Paul certainly saw this as a distinct possibility:

ESV Phil 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

But what a greater beauty awaits you when you see both the purity of the motive and the fruitfulness of the result; when you see them intertwined.

ESV Prov. 16:2 All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
but the Lord weighs the spirit.

Unbeknown to most of us, the motivation (which is the word used in some translations of the verse above) is written into, or the actions we take, not unlike the genetic code is embedded or encoded in every cell in our body…

…As interesting as this is (to me at least!) we can delve into this and miss the obvious: Our lives should be characterized by the three spiritual fruit named: Faith, hope and love.

At least that’s how we say it. But in the text it actually reads: Faith, love and hope. Go deeper. Look again at the above renderings in different translations and ask yourself if perhaps there is a significance to the order in which these three are presented.

August 30, 2020

What’s In Your Hand?

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt…

“The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. “And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed…

Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”  Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it…

“This,” said the LORD, “is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has appeared to you.” Exodus 3: 15-17a, 18-21, 4:1-3, 5

Earlier this week, I was thinking about the people whose Christian identity is defined by the things they do in terms of Christian service, and how much of this service revolved around church activities which ceased after the lockdown. Preparing the Communion table. Handing out bulletins. Singing on a worship team. Greeting visitors. Serving coffee.

If your entire realm of Christian service consisted of areas of ministry activity at a weekend church gathering, and you didn’t find anything to replace it, then you clearly haven’t been serving God much lately, have you? No wonder you’re anxious to return to live, in-person worship.

My wife, on the other hand, has been busier now than ever. She stepped up from her worship-leading focus to create a media-focus in a smaller church where none had existed previously.

For me, I’ve gone from feeling immobilized for the first six weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, to a return to greater activity, including preparing these devotionals on a daily basis at a time we had previously announced we would be cutting back the frequency from its current 24/7 schedule.

As I thought about wanting to do more earlier this morning, I was reminded of God’s word to Moses.

Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

If you’ve found yourself wanting to find new ways to offer service — assuming that your personal spiritual development through prayer and scripture hasn’t waned during this period — you might want to ask yourself the same question, “What is that in your hand?”

In other words, what do you already possess that God can use, if you will allow it to be used.

[At risk of going off on a tangent — which I’m about to do anyway — I should say that when this verse was impressed on me, I was actually holding my toothbrush in my hand. There are people who take things like this quite literally, but I’m sorry to say I don’t have a wonderful toothbrush analogy to share, or a vision of how the toothbrush represented something significant. You can feel free to leave a comment. Or maybe not.]

The thing in your hand might be:

  • an email address you can use to get in contact with someone you haven’t heard from in a long time
  • a conversation you can start with the person(s) walking their dog by your house each night after supper
  • a bank balance that’s been untouched by restaurants and recreation that can be used to make a donation to a needy individual or a smaller, underfunded charity
  • a talent for sewing, woodworking, baking, automotive-tinkering, etc., that can be used to bless someone with a physical gift or the gift of your time
  • a Christian book, novel, study resource, sermon audio, DVD, etc., that can be passed on to someone who might enjoy it

and so many other things I could list here.

The writer of Ecclesiastes offers this (9:10)

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

BibleHub.com notes that Paul echoes this in two passages,

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters – Colossians 3:23

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. – Romans 12:1

Again, what have you got at your immediate disposal?

We’ll continue this thought tomorrow with a re-broadcast of an article which looks at this verse:

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.
– Eph 5:16 KJV, NLT

all other scriptures NIV

May 24, 2020

For the Twelve, Answering the Call Came with Risk

Two weeks ago we looked at The Twelve Disciples. I’ve been continuing to think about them in the days which followed…

I wonder what I might have done in their shoes. A decade ago, a popular Christian speaker said these guys, like other Hebrew boys, might have dreamed of being selected to follow a Rabbi. Only “the best of the best of the best” were chosen. These guys were (for the most part) plying trades and weren’t on any Rabbi’s short list. Their life trajectory was headed in another direction.

Then Jesus appears. He invites them to basically ‘stop what you’re doing and follow me.’ And out of the blue,

Matt.4.20.NIV At once they left their nets and followed him. (See three different gospel accounts.)

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

Today, most of us would not consider taking a job without investigating the potential employer. What is their reputation? How is their stock price doing? What are the working conditions?

Similarly, none of us would enroll in a program of education (which is closer to what they were doing) unless we knew that upon completion, the certificate or degree was actually recognized; that it truly meant something. (The accreditation process facilitates some of that investigation for us today.)

Would they accept not knowing all the facts? Apparently so.

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

Don’t let the big word scare you, it’s similar to itinerant and simply means “traveling from place to place.” Jesus the teacher was not attached to a synagogue. Being schooled with him didn’t mean an actual school, but rather wandering from place to place, sometimes eating on the road by biting the heads off the grain in nearby fields (and getting into arguments over so doing.) See Matthew 12 for that story, but don’t miss verse 8 where Matthew adds the phrase “Going on from that place…” to emphasize the traveling ministry. Even his long discourse in the last quarter of John’s gospel is delivered while walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane.)

(A big shoutout here to anyone who has ever slept in their car, or at the side of the road. I’ve done both, but not lately. That’s the idea conveyed here, although the twelve plus Jesus were sometimes billeted in the homes of supporters in various towns.)

When one of the scribes considers following him, Jesus utters his famous “foxes have holes” line which The Message renders as,

Matt.8.20.MSG Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Second, Jesus wasn’t trained by a rabbi they knew.

There was a strict process here. One rabbi trains a group of students (as Jesus is doing) and then they wash, rinse and repeat. (Couldn’t resist.) But you always know, at least in name, the person your rabbi sat under for his training.

So Jesus commences his ministry, and the crowd (specifically, elders, scribes and chief priests) ask him who has commissioned him in ministry; who has authorized him to preach. In our day, being ordained or being a commended minister carries with it the concept of accountability.

Mark.11.28.NLT They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

repeated in Luke,

Luke.20.1-2.NASB On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”

Most readers here would quickly say that Jesus’ ministry is confirmed by his Father. More than once in the gospel accounts we find the “voice from heaven” speaking. (A good topic for another study!) But the disciples would be risking their own reputation following a teacher whose own schooling doesn’t have earthly verification.

In balance however, we need to remind ourselves that the miracles Jesus performs validate his teaching. Things ‘no one could do unless…’ Nicodemus gets this when he says,

John.3.2b.NIV “…For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Third, there are lingering questions as to the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.

In a world without user names and passwords, people would have a longer memory for stories, and while Joseph and Mary weren’t celebrities, their story is the hard-to-forget type which would make great fodder for the tabloids and TMZ.

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

Mark.6.3a Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?”

they don’t simply mean, ‘Isn’t this the boy next door?’ but rather are dredging up a host of other memories which would recall the earlier scandalous story where Mary finds herself pregnant.

In another story where the authority or power of Jesus’ teaching is questioned, the Jews to which he is speaking come back with an indirect, but hard-hitting shot at Jesus

John.8.41b.NIV We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Commentators have suggested that this phrase can be translated, “We’re not bastards!” It’s a direct allusion to Jesus’ parentage.

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

  1. Following Jesus may take us to unexpected places, it might involve sacrifice, and may result in experiencing less than optimal conditions.
  2. The path of discipleship may mean unconventional employment, perhaps even contradicting the norms of standard vocational ministry.
  3. Following Jesus the Nazarene may impact our own personal reputation; we will need to simply not care what people think of us or Him.

 



May 23, 2020

Darkness is Everywhere

This is our first time here sharing with you the writing of popular Christian author Christine Caine with an excerpt from her book Undaunted: Daring to Do What God Calls You to Do, which recently released in a revised and updated edition. Learn more about the book at this link.

Combat the Darkness

Darkness is everywhere. We live in a world full of fear and in desperate need of light.

But Jesus said,

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven. — Matthew 5:14-16

The light overtakes the darkness and the fear. It makes it all disappear. It eradicates its power. It eliminates its strength. Just as sure as morning follows night, the light of Christ is always coming — through us. As His hands and feet, we are the force that conquers the darkness. We. The undaunted ones.

The prophet Isaiah said,

Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. — Isaiah 60:1-2 NKJV

God’s glory is upon us, and His light can break through the darkest night. That’s why He wants us to partner with Him in bringing light into the dark places where oppressors try their best to shut people away.

I understand that we can get worn down by the needs in this world and wearied by them. We need sleep, rest, restoration, recuperation. That’s why God gives us the end of a day, and He doesn’t begrudge us our rest.. Isn’t this is what God meant when he asked in Isaiah 1:12,

Why this frenzy of sacrifices? — MSG

Working ourselves into a frenzy or tormenting others by working them to death is not freedom. It is enslavement.

But we are not slaves. We are free. And we have been freed for a purpose: to share what we’ve been given. The Bible tells us,

He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? — Micah 6:8 NKJV

We do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God when we rise ready, when we get up and go out with God to partner with Him in his purposes on the earth…

…I thought of King Xerxes in the Bible, who was persuaded by an adviser to issue an edict condemning all the nation’s Jews to death. Esther, a Jew but chosen by King Xerxes as his queen, seemed uniquely positioned to persuade the king to withdraw the edict and was urged to do so by her cousin Mordecai, who said,

Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? — Esther 4:14

I felt much the same. Who could say that I had not been born into a reasonably affluent and free society for such a time as this? For a time when I could see the injustice and crying need so common throughout the world and stand up to combat it?

Won’t you join me? At the very least, pursue what God is calling you to do? You and I have opportunities every day to combat the darkness, the evil, that surrounds us in every country, every corner of the world. The opportunities are countless, and the needs are desperate…


Taken from Undaunted (Revised and Updated) by: Christine Caine Copyright © 2012, 2019 by Zondervan, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. https://www.zondervan.com

May 18, 2020

Drawing a Crowd Isn’t a Problem: It’s More Complicated

Previous generations didn’t have the word, “megachurch.” Of course they didn’t have “televangelist” either. There were indeed large churches, however and there were preachers (George Whitefield is a good example) who preached to thousands — in the outdoors, no less — without the benefit of sound equipment. But we tend to look back favorably on those days, believing it was a matter of substance over style.

Today, we have popular preachers whose television ministries have huge followings and whose close-up pictures are plastered on the front cover of their books. (No, not just that one; I’m thinking of about six.)

The general conclusion at which people arrive is that they are getting those followers because they are saying what people want to hear. On close examination, it’s true that many of the hooks of their sermons and books are positive motivational sayings that also work on posters and coffee mugs.

For those of us who are insiders, we immediately default to the phrase itching ears. This is drawn from 2 Timothy 4:3

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. (NLT)

This true, probably more true now than ever, but the challenge for Christians today is that everyone who drives by a church with an overflowing parking lot is likely to jump to conclusions and declare that church liberal in their theology or empty of doctrines; or infer that people only go there for the music.

It’s true that Jesus warned his disciples they were not going to win a popularity contest. In Matthew 7: 13-14 he tells his disciples,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (NIV)

and then immediately makes a statement about false teachers.

Jesus had his own fall from popularity when he began what I call the tough teachings and others call the “hard sayings.” A month ago I referred to “the ominously verse-referenced” John 6:66

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

Many of you grew up in churches where you were told you were part of “the chosen few” a reference to Matthew 22:14

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)

Jesus told his disciples that they would experience rejection in some places. In Matthew 10:14 he is saying,

If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.  (NLT)

In other words, there is, at least in Evangelicalism, a mindset that says that we are a tiny remnant, and by extrapolation is suspicious of large crowds.

But there are exceptions.

I think of an American pastor who since Christmas has been walking his church through some very challenging sermons; raising the bar when it comes to expectations for both compassionate service and lifestyle evangelism. But he’s not off in a corner doing this, it’s one of the top ten churches in the U.S.

I think of two Canadian pastors, from two very different eras, who have a giftedness when it comes to taking Bible passage “A” and showing people how it relates to Bible passage “B.” I’ve seen both of them preach before thousands of people. It was far from “itching ears;” you had to work hard just to keep up with the note-taking, which is challenging when you’re sitting there with your mouth open going, “Wow!”

I think of Nicodemus who we characterize as coming to Jesus in secret. I was always taught that was the reason for his nighttime visit in John 3. But lately I read that the rabbis set aside the early evening for further discussion. He was coming back for the Q. and A. part of the teaching. He wanted more. I find him to be representative of people in the crowd who were there for all the right reasons. (Compare his motivation to that of Felix in Acts 24:25-26.) The itching ears crowd don’t come back for the evening service, the Tuesday morning Bible study, or the midweek prayer meeting.

The website Knowing Jesus has come up with more than 30 good examples of Jesus being surrounded by crowds. True, the Bible tells us that some of them were simply there for the miracle spectacle or the free lunches, but I’m sure that many of them were drawn to Jesus for greater, higher reasons. (There’s a limit to how many hours people will listen to teaching in order to get a fish sandwich lunch.)

So where did all this come from today? A friend posted this on Facebook. I’ve decided to delete the original author’s name.

His words appear deep, meaningful and mature, but indirectly he is lashing out against individuals or movements which are left unnamed. He’s implying that everyone who is drawing a big crowd is doing so at the expense of preaching the Word. I suspect his words land with people who are already on-side, so I don’t really get the point of posting things like this at all.

Furthermore, the inference is that the sign of a successful ministry is suffering, hardship and opposition.

Like so many things in scripture, there is a balance to be found.

In Matthew 5:14 +16, we find Jesus saying

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
(NASB)

If all you experience is suffering, hardship and opposition, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing everything right, but rather, it could be you’re doing something seriously wrong.

Oswald Smith wrote the hymn which begins:

There is joy in serving Jesus
As I journey on my way
Joy that fills my heart with praises
Every hour and every day

I really hope that’s your experience as well.

May 13, 2020

Conversations Motivated by Love

We share devotional content here across a wide spectrum of Christian thought. Today’s thoughts are from Chad Reisig, an Adventist pastor to a absolutely beautiful high school in Milo, Oregon with its own farm, pond and covered bridge.  Because his posts are shorter, we’re giving you a double-feature today, but both are centered on the word talk. Click the individual headers below to read the articles at source.

Idle Talk

And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.

Matthew 12:36 (NLT)

As we discussed in our devotional a few days ago, the perception of the outside world when it comes to the majority of Christians is that they are all talk, but rarely do anything to benefit the community that surrounds them. To summarize that particular devotional, that’s bad.

However, there is a different type of idle talk. This idle talk happens in our churches, schools, workplaces and homes way too often as well. What is “idle talk?” Well, to put it simply, it is like a car at a stop sign. It may make noise, because the engine is running, but it doesn’t go anywhere or produce any forward momentum.

Here, Jesus is using the term idle talk as a synonym for two things: Saying we will do something, then not doing it; and complaining. It’s the latter one I want to address today.

Complainers make a lot of noise, but never seek to resolve the situation they are complaining about. They, therefore, remain at the stop sign. In our current day and age, we tend to call it “venting.” At the end of the tirade, we often say something like “Well, I feel better.” However, nothing is accomplished other than feelings are hurt, others are now upset, (usually at the target of the complaining) and the situation that caused the complaining is not resolved. It’s all idle talk.

So, what does Jesus say about such talk? “You must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.” That one stings a bit!

So, what must we do to get back on track with how God asks us to communicate? As we’ve seen previously, everything we do must be motivated by love. Therefore, we need to be able to have conversations with people within our schools, churches, homes, and workplace because we love those God has placed in our lives. We need to speak to those that we feel the need to vent about rather than complaining to others about them or questioning their motives, intellect, or wisdom. We need to have hard conversations – not shouting matches, but real conversations that lead to understanding, even if there is still disagreement.

Stop Talking

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.

Romans 12:9 (NLT)

I was at a conference not too long ago. It was a gathering of teachers and pastors. The topic: how to get the churches and the school united in our mission, the Great Commission. It was a good conference, with good materials, and good presentations. But one thing really stood out to me.

One of the conference leaders put an ad out on Craigslist asking for people from the greater Portland area to come and speak to the conference attendees, on behalf of their peer group, about their perceptions of Christians. There were three that responded in earnest. One was a secular Jew with a radio show in Portland. Another came representing the LGBTQ community. The third was a young woman who grew up in a religious home where she was beaten over the head (figuratively speaking) with the Bible on a regular basis.

What they shared really impacted the entirety of the conference goers. But, it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. They all stated generally the same thing: Christians are really good at talking about love, but horrible at actually demonstrating that love to their communities. Ouch!

I believe that Paul’s inspired verse for us today shows that the early church was wrestling with this same concept a couple of thousand years ago. We can’t just say we love others. We have to do it. There are enough fakers in the world. As Christians, it pains me to think that we’ve been lumped into that category.

So, what do we do? We follow what the Scriptures say. Get out and love people.

In a practical sense, it means leaving the safe confines of our church buildings and making friends with people where they are: in the alleyways, in our neighborhoods, in the part of town we never dare enter because things are “different” there. Get out and serve.

May 5, 2020

Lessons from a List: The Twelve Disciples

I’m told that there are gifted preachers who make the genealogies relevant and engaging. We often rush through those, but they are part of God-inspired scripture and full of applications we can miss.

Last night I couldn’t sleep. I often recite the names of the books of the Bible, but this time around I was compiling lists of the twelve students of Rabbi Jesus and mentally rearranging them into various sub-categories.

I say ‘students’ or ‘apprentices’ in order to skip over the semantics of ‘disciple’ versus ‘apostle.’ There were actually many disciples beyond these twelve.

NIV.Mark3.14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

NIV.Luke 6.13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

While I don’t like putting people in boxes, let’s look closer at the list:

Inner Circle (Peter, James and John) – In this group of three we see a leadership position assumed by Peter, possibly because of his age and marital status, but also the intimacy of the relationship between Jesus and John. To function, the church needs core leadership, and even a core-within-a-core.

Brothers (James and John; Andrew and Peter) – No one hates nepotism more than I, but the history of the church, religious organizations, and perhaps even your local church is filled with family histories. Sometimes subsequent generations lack the zeal of those previous, and even within generations, some siblings are more attuned to the purpose, or perhaps carve out a different world. Is not the entire Bible story arc a story which begins with God’s loving promises to Abraham’s family?

Gospel Authors (John and Matthew) – Asked to name the disciples, many an outsider to Christianity will say, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” But only two of the gospels were written by disciples and only three disciples contributed to our modern day Bibles, the other being Peter whose two epistles appear near the end of the New Testament. This however does not preclude that Peter and the others contributed information to Mark’s account and Luke’s account. In an age where print-on-demand is commonplace and everybody has a book to sell on their website, it’s interesting that those closest to the action — the twelve students of Jesus — didn’t pursue publishing; or at the very least, in terms of Luke 1:1 (where we’re told that many wrote accounts) their writing didn’t make the final canon of scripture.

Unlikely Choices (Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot) – I am sure there were cries of, “What is he doing here?” or “What are they doing here.” The inclusion of Matthew (a sellout to the Roman tax farming system) and Simon (a political activist) would pave the way for the Apostle Paul (a persecutor of Christians), and pave the way for the inclusion of Gentile believers (gasp!). Sometimes we have difficulty accepting that those who have genuinely met Jesus and decided to follow Him are actually capable of leaving their former life behind.

Disappointments in the Later Chapters (Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, Thomas’ doubt) – Much has been written about Peter and Judas, but as I compiled this, I thought it strange that Thomas is not usually listed in their category. One website described him as “naturally cynical” and skepticism is a still a disease in our day. Why wasn’t he there when the others were gathered and Jesus appeared? My guess is that he was out shopping around his resumé looking for another job. Despite the familiarity of the Peter and Judas narratives, it’s worth noting that elsewhere in scripture there is an emphasis on finishing well. (See this comparison from II Kings in a very early edition of this devotional.) After years with Jesus, how could Judas betray and Peter disavow himself of any connection? Or how could Thomas not be satisfied with the testimony of the other ten disciples? Also, Thomas makes a particular proof requirement of the risen Christ that has sparked many discussions about the nature of Christ’s glorified body and the nature of ours in the age to come.

People with the Same Name (James and James, Simon and Simon (Peter), Judas and Judas) – In a world where people stand out and stake their individual identity it’s often difficult for people to be in a school classroom where there are four Jennifers and five Jasons (among the most popular names in the 1980s.) I include this here because, well, you know who you are! Also, it’s no wonder that the other Judas is often listed as Thaddeus; I would have done the same!

Those Outside the Spotlight (Phillip, Nathanael (Bartholomew), the other James, the other Simon, the other Judas) – You probably know the reference to “Judas, not Iscariot,” and perhaps have heard a sermon that referenced Nathanael as a man of integrity (NLT) in whom there was “no guile.” (KJV). But the list of twelve is rounded out by some whose contributions are minimal. And how would you like to remembered in history as “James the Lesser” or “James the Less?” (Debate continues as to whether or not this was the brother of Jesus who wrote the Book of James. My understanding is that he was not but was the son of Alphaeus.) Nonetheless, these men also were taught by Jesus and served alongside the others, and like ten of the twelve, tradition is that they died martyr’s deaths for their adherence to the Christ story.

Not Listed – In this list we find the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, the other Mary, the other other Mary (a popular name, they must have been Catholic), Clopas, John Mark (who was quite young at this point) and the two nominated to replace Judas. On the latter event we’re told:

NIV.Acts.1.21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” 23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

Despite verse 21, one website dared to suggest Matthias had not been a witness to the life of Christ, but the text speaks otherwise. That did however make me think of Paul, whose Damascus Road experience is in the minds of many readers, a direct encounter with Christ. He describes himself as a man abnormally born, which is not a statement of physiology, but that he was simply elsewhere when the controversial Rabbi was teaching and performing miracles in Capernaum or Bethsaida or Sychar or Bethany. Check out our look at his life from a few days ago.

Then there were the perhaps secret followers such as Nicodemus (aka Nick at Nite) and Joseph, who in offering to bury the body of Christ in his tomb was acting as a type of patron of which there might have been many.

…So where do you fit in this list? As a disciple of Jesus, where would your profile land? Perhaps you’re in a unique category not listed here or perhaps God is waiting to use you in a category that hasn’t been invented yet!


For more on the twelve, check out this article from October 2019.

May 2, 2020

Would You Rate a Shout-out from Paul?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our 4th or 5th time featuring the writing of Jay Mankus at Express Yourself 4 Him. As a rabid sports guy in his youth, it’s fitting that Jay’s faith journey began in 1984 at a Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s event in Philadelphia. Since then he’s attended seminary, worked in youth ministry, and written a film script of his own life story. Click the header below to read this at source, and check out several of the other devotionals there. This is a blog I would recommend to people who maybe don’t want to go as deep (or wordy, or tangential!) as we do here, so you might have a friend who could use some solid devotional material each day who would like to know about this one.

What Would the Bible Say about You?

At the end of his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul thanks those who worked quietly behind the scenes. Without these men and women, Paul’s ministry journeys would not have been possible or successful. Beginning with a deaconess and woman who opened her home as a congregational meeting place, Paul wanted to ensure that their contributions were not minimized or overlooked. Unlike the gospels where woman and children are excluded from the overall count of individuals present, Paul places women first on his list.

Now I introduce and commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, That you may receive her in the Lord [with a Christian welcome], as saints (God’s people) ought to receive one another. And help her in whatever matter she may require assistance from you, for she has been a helper of many including myself [shielding us from suffering]. Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, Who risked their lives [endangering their very necks] for my life. To them not only I but also all the churches among the Gentiles give thanks, Romans 16:1-4.

In another letter to the church at Galatia, Paul breaks down his entire life into three stages. Galatians 1:11-24 serves as an outline for sharing your faith by detailing your life before knowing Jesus, your conversion experience and transformation since making this decision. While every faith story contains peaks and valleys, portions of your testimony will connect with or touch other souls. One of Jesus’ disciples urges first century Christians to be prepared, always ready to provide the reason for the hope that you have in God, 1 Peter 3:15-16.

[Remember me] also to the church [that meets] in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was a firstfruit (first convert) to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked so hard among you. Remember me to Andronicus and Junias, my tribal kinsmen and once my fellow prisoners. They are men held in high esteem among the apostles, who also were in Christ before I was. Remember me to Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, that one tried and approved in Christ (the Messiah). Remember me to those who belong to the household of Aristobulus, Romans 16:5-10.

As I turn our attention toward today, I’m curious about what modern writers might say. Would you receive a shout out like Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila or be out-shined by other believers? As you go to work, reside in a neighborhood and let your guard down at home, what do people notice? According to my children, I drive too fast, I’m impatient and too opinionated. Are your daily actions full of light or do moments of darkness blur the love of Jesus inside of you? The book of Acts ends abruptly. Some scholars suggest that either the final chapter was never fully completed or simply missing. When judgement day arrives, what will God say about you? Only time will tell so make the most of the days that the Lord gives you.

March 7, 2020

‘Spiritual Pursuits Cannot Be Reward-Driven’ – True or False?

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Today we are again highlighting the writing of Ben Nelson at Another Red Letter Day, who is wrote in November this while considering The Sermon on the Mount.

Let me also mention that Ben has an excellent piece from the end of December which I would have loved to include here, but it is quite lengthy. However, as we’re nearing the season of Passion Week / Easter, I strongly recommend you take the time to read ‘I Don’t Even Know the Man;’ a dramatized story of Peter having, as Ben puts it, “one of those days.”

You Can Take it With You!

Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12

As I come to the end of this beginning (the Beatitudes) I can’t help but notice once again the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus tells us that the proper reaction to persecution, insults, and harm done to us in His name is rejoicing!

I feel like–OK Lord, it is one thing for me to expect it, and be prepared for it, but rejoice? WOW–HOW?

As I mull this, I think how did Jesus demonstrate this? Check this out.

“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

It says He endured the cross with His eye on the prize, and that is what He tells us to do. Rejoice because of the “Great Reward.” Let’s think about this a bit.

Somehow Christians have in their collective heads (please forgive the broad brush stroke) the idea that spiritual pursuits cannot be reward-driven. It’s like, somehow, if we are doing something with a reward in view, it is unspiritual at best, or at worst sinful and selfish. Not so!

Think about this for a minute. Why were the disciples always arguing about who would be the greatest? Was it just testosterone-driven machismo? Or could it be that Jesus often taught about how to be great? He would say stuff like “He who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven…” or “…your reward in heaven is great.”

It may seem paradoxical, but Jesus actually encourages us to strive for greatness, as He defines greatness. That definition is for another post.

Again, the writer of Hebrews tells us:

And without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  Hebrews 11:6

Have you read what David said before he decided to go after that Philistine Champion, Goliath. He asked, “What do I get if I take this bozo down? No more taxes and a beautiful wife! I’m in!” (my paraphrase)

So why is it OK–wait–let me fix that–why is it imperative for a Christian to pursue reward? Think of the snapshots we get of heaven. What is going on? People, saints, God’s children, assembled before His throne. Those who have received rewards have the privilege of laying them at His feet. The more you have received from Him, the more you can give back.

So what will you have to present to the Lord? If you sit back and fall through your life, you will have nothing to present to your King. We pursue spiritual reward so that we have a tangible way to honor our King when we stand before Him. This is the stuff that will make it through the fire. This is the stuff that you can take with you!

Excellence in your walk before the Lord will net you persecution, but with that is great reward.

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