Christianity 201

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.

January 11, 2020

Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions

John 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

A few years ago I had an interesting conversation after church.

The pastor had quoted the verse we commonly refer to as “The Great Commission;” the verse which reads,

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The person who spoke to me has a huge compassion for Israel and is willing to share this passion with any who want to know more about the various facets of how modern Israel fits into Old Testament history, New Testament studies, evangelism and missions, eschatology, etc. We’ve had some great interactions, and I’ve learned much about The Holy Land from our conversations and various items she’s given me to read.

She suggested to me that perhaps the passage in Acts 1:8 might actually be taken most literally. That we should be evangelists in Jerusalem.

Perhaps that has some appeal. As I write this, the forecast for tomorrow (Sunday) in Jerusalem is cloudy with sunny breaks and a high of 10°C (about 50°F for our U.S. readers.) Certainly milder than what’s predicted where I live.

I told her that neither those we call the “church fathers” nor modern commentators have interpreted this passage that way. I mean, it’s an interesting take on the passage, and certainly in first century context it is correct; but we tend to read their commission into our commission and when we do so, we tend to think of Jerusalem as the place where we’re standing or sitting right now. The place we call home. My Jerusalem is the close family, co-workers, immediate neighbors, etc. who in a sense, only I can reach.

Perhaps you grew up in a church where it was diagrammed something like this: City, then state (province), country, entire world.

Jerusalem Judea Samaria traditional interpretation

But people do read scripture differently, and many passages that seem straight-forward are subject to different understandings. So in Acts and Paul’s epistles, my friend at church sees Paul’s consuming drive to bring the Gospel to the Jews; whereas I read Acts and am struck by how Paul was compelled to go to Rome against all odds. (To be fair, both elements are present; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”)

Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends. (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.” Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however. He chose Toronto, a city about an hour from where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world. Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission. In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to. Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea. Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to. Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do. Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you buy milk who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically. Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

And perhaps, just to make things interesting, with its heat, humidity and propensity toward violence, perhaps your Samaria actually is modern-day Jerusalem.

So perhaps you’re thinking, okay, I am going to be a missionary to Jerusalem (so to speak) and I’ll let you be a missionary to Judea. I don’t think it’s that simple. True, in a church setting people may find themselves specializing in different mission fields, but I believe each of us, over the course of our lives, is to be open to be finding ourselves in ‘Samaria situations.’

All David was doing was delivering a ‘care package’ of food to his older brothers, but he found himself on the front line of the battle against the Philistines, and in particular, their MVP, Goliath.

I believe a Christian life, lived to the full, will involve all four types of battle: On the home front, further afield, to the place we don’t necessarily want to go, and to those in places involving 30-hour flights or multiple airport connections.

At the very least, let’s be open to all of these.


  • Some of today’s article appeared previously in October, 2014 incorporated in a look at how this view of Samaria would have influenced the original hearers of The Parable of the Good Samaritan story. The full article was originally published in January 2011 at Thinking Out Loud.

December 10, 2019

Devotional Thoughts When You Don’t Expect Them

I had this article as a link for our weekly news roundup at our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud. I thought this was a rather provocative teaser: Lessons in replacing toilet seals and the Corinthian church.

Much later in the hour it occurred to me it would also make a good fit here. This from the blog The Cripplegate, which we linked to in 2012, but not since! The author is Eric Davis.

Plumbing, Self-Esteem, & the Great Love of God

I recently noticed that the floor around my toilet looked stained with water. Knowing very little about plumbing, I contacted my trusty father-in-law. He knew what to do right away. “The wax seal is broken.” When he was in town for Thanksgiving, he held my hand through changing the seal. This was a first for me. In addition to saving $300 in plumber costs, many things about the experience were memorable; one in particular.

But first, a brief detour.

One of the first epistles I preached through as a pastor was 1 Corinthians. It was a good challenge.

Paul writes the letter to help this beloved church make some spiritual adjustments to their lives. Many in the Corinthian church were full of pride. They lusted after significance. They craved the praise of men. Likely they didn’t want to hear any “bad” news about things like sin, hell, and the need for repentance. They liked the more “positive” things. They were too sophisticated to talk about sin. It was all too fire and brimstone for them. Thus, the message that salvation is exclusively through an unflashy, unfashionable Jewish guy nailed to a cross was too offensive for their self-esteeming sensibilities. They wanted to feel important and esteemed. They lusted after recognition. They jockeyed with one another for popularity and praise. If a relationship or ministry association did not help them get notoriety and spotlight, then it wasn’t worth their time. In other words, they were self-worshipers.

And the apostle Paul loved this wrecked church. So, to shepherd them, he says things like this:

“[W]hen we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (1 Cor. 4:13).

Their founding pastor shepherds them here to understand how the world views Christians, and apostles in particular. He does so to corral them away from their craving of praise and esteem. And it’s good shepherding.

Let’s consider two words he uses, translated “scum” and “dregs.”

The word translated, “scum,” is the Greek word περικαθάρματα (TDNT, 3:430-431), and, “dregs,” is περίψημα (TDNT, 6:84-85). They are rich, colorful words, being synonymous in Greek.

The word, “scum,” meant, “to clean around,” and “dregs,” literally meant, “to wipe around” or “rub.” Sometimes they referred to a sweat rag or bath towel, used to wipe away those less noble areas of the body. Also, they referred to something of no value that had to be scraped off and thrown away, particularly sewage and refuse. In ancient times, human waste would sometimes be carried out in pots and disposed of. As one can imagine, “build-up” would accumulate in these pots. In order to effectively love one another in a household, the “build-up” would have to be scraped off and diligently disposed of.

Back to my recent plumbing inauguration. So, after undoing a few bolts and draining the water from the toilet, the enlightening moment came: we lifted the toilet off of the seal in the floor. And for those of you who haven’t done this, let me tell you. Actually, let me show you (see the pic above, taken after I had scraped most of it off, to spare you all). There it was. The dregs. The scum. The “build-up.” The scrapings. And I had the privilege of scraping. It was necessary character building. Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 4:13 will never be the same to me.

So, how does the apostle of grace help people struggling a bit with the love of significance and a lust for mattering? How does he come alongside those battling a tad with self-exaltation syndrome? How did this exemplary church leader love those who did not have much of a pallet for those unfashionable, negative things like sin and a bloody cross?

It’s as if he says, “So, you want to be praised and popular in the world. I understand. Ok, so, you know the sweat rags people use at the bath houses and gymnasiums? And you know the excrement pots in your house? And how you have to scrape them often? That’s what we are. We are nothing more than sweat wipe and sewage scrapings. Glory to God.”

“Scum” and “dregs.” Scrapings. Wiping-around. These are the words that our good and loving God decided to preserve for the ages in Holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit could have spoken many words here. He chose these. And we shouldn’t try to soften this. Beware of being too sophisticated for God and his word. And beware of using the Bible to shield the Bible.

Glory and praise be to Almighty God. The Lord Jesus Christ bore our wrath on the cross. He loves the scrapings and the sweat-rags. He loves us! He loves us! And by faith in Christ, we will bask and rejoice in his love for all eternity!

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

 

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.

October 30, 2019

Start Something

This was a the 4th part of a four-part tag-team teaching Ruth and I did this past weekend encouraging people to “start something” unique to their vantage point on the world. There is much scripture here which I haven’t highlighted today, but I am sure many of you will know what is quoted and what is original.

by Ruth Wilkinson

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created.

Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.

That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering like a mother hen over the surface of the waters.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Then God said, “Let Us make humanity in Our image, according to Our likeness. To watch over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl.”

So God created humanity in His own image;
He created them in the image of God; He created them male and female.


And that’s how God started something.

He sat in His own infinity of light and love and He imagined time.
He imagined energy and matter.
He imagined life and diversity
and he imagined us.

Having imagined us, he made us
to be just like him.

He made us to watch over creation and to watch over each other.
He made us to look into emptiness and see possibility.
To see something new.
He made us to see what could be.
He made us to imagine.

To ask, “What if?”

What if I said something? What if I did something?
What if I sat down next to her, opened that door,
asked for permission?

What if I challenged the status quo?

What would happen?

Well, what happened when God started something?

It began well. It began with life and love, understanding, friendship and community.

And then?

Then, somebody stuck their oar in.
Somebody with big ideas and ambition. Somebody who thought they knew better.

Then there was division and disagreement, grief and separation.

But God didn’t walk away. Didn’t give up. He kept on looking into the darkness and seeing what could be.

He kept working. Kept reaching out.

Because he has a goal. There is something that only He can accomplish. He knows that only He can bring us back to where we belong – next to Him.

When we start something, when we turn our “What ifs” into action,
—we take a chance – on the people we work with, on the circumstances that will arise, on ourselves.

People drive us crazy. Circumstances conspire against us.
We disappoint ourselves.

All we can do, the best we can do is remember…

There is a reason we tried in the first place. There is something that we can do. Maybe not only you.
But definitely you.

God is still walking us through His plan, his story from eternity to eternity.

Jesus kept walking through the plan, from birth to resurrection.

And he walks alongside us and within us and for us.

It’s been said that the difference between a good idea and a vision is that a vision is something you can’t not do. Something that fills you with fire and won’t let go.

If that is where you find yourself, struggling to find the courage to step out,
keep this in mind…

God doesn’t call you to go anywhere he hasn’t already been himself.
He knows our weakness,
our strength.

Everything we can experience,
He has experienced in the flesh.

He has been there and He will help.


There is a time for every activity under Heaven-
a time to plant and a time to uproot;
a time to tear down and a time to build;
a time to be silent and a time to speak;

This I know… that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

When we will see a new heaven and a new earth,
for the first heaven and the first earth will have passed away,
and the sea will no longer exist.

When He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer.

When the One seated on the throne will say,

“Look! I am making everything new.”

May 10, 2019

Limited Love

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Jesus in Acts 1:8

Okay.

Wait a minute, Samaria?

No way!

…If there are situations you would prefer not to get into, and types of people you would prefer not to help, perhaps your love is too limited…


Today’s devotional comes from a source we frequently link to at Thinking Out Loud but not here at C201. The website A Life Overseas is an online point of connection for people in missions for whom “home” means two (or more) places. Today’s writer is Ivy Chiu whose background includes Taiwan, traveling by ship to different countries with OM, and now, as she writes this, living in Zambia. Click the header below to read at source and then visit some of the other articles by her and other writers.

Touch the Untouchables

To love God and His people is the core of missions. That’s why missionaries leave their homes and move to places far away from anything familiar. Love is the reason for this crazy movement.

Well, that sounds all great and wonderful. But as I’ve entered long-term missions, I’ve realised it’s not always natural for me to love the people I serve. I’ve found it’s possible to be on the mission field and do all the work but at the same time, not love the people. Instead, I’m there simply to fix a problem. Trying to understand people’s situations, but not wanting to really relate to them. Standing a safe distance away from the ‘untouchable.’

As an Asian with a lot of straight and silky hair (that is hard to braid), African hairstyles were a completely new territory for me. I am always amazed by the endless creativeness and possibilities with African hair. I enjoy watching the ladies braiding their hair, but I never tried it myself until one day a girl called my name and asked me to help her take off her weave. I said yes without realizing what I was getting myself into. The other lady knew this was my first time, so she gave me a warning “This is going to take some time and she hasn’t washed her hair for a while. It’s a bit greasy and messy.” Immediately, I felt the dirt with my finger and I could smell the grease on the wig which had been used by multiple people. To be honest, I was not comfortable, but it was too late to say no. With clumsy fingers, I dug in.

If I had thought about it before, I would not have agreed to help. I would have wanted to keep myself clean. Dirty hair might not sound like a big deal. However, this shows that in some parts of me, I still wanted to stay in my comfort zone. I wanted to make sure the ‘mess’ of people would not affect me. I didn’t want to take the risk. Deep in my heart, I still separated myself from the people I served. I might be friends with them, but I was not willing to put myself in their shoes. But this is not the attitude of love.

I also started working with people who are HIV+. I thought as a missionary I was totally ready to love these people who are often pushed away from communities – I was there to serve the outcasts with the love of God. The reality struck me when I had a few people over to my house. I am not proud of my reaction to that first visit. I freaked out over the possibility that someone would cut their finger and bleed and I would somehow come into contact with it. I have received many teachings and trainings about HIV – I knew I just needed to be aware. Even with all the knowledge in my head, my heart still panicked. Love should be without fear and there I was, a missionary afraid to get close to the very people she was called to serve.

‘’While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.’’ – Luke 5:12-13 (NIV)

Lepers were some of the most untouchable people in the Bible. Everyone was afraid to get leprosy, a sign of uncleanliness, and so lepers were often isolated from the rest of the world. To me, the most amazing part of the story in Luke is not that Jesus had the ability to heal the leper, but that Jesus chose to touch him. From other scriptures, we know that Jesus could heal people via simply speaking – it was not necessary for Jesus to touch a person for healing. However, He touched the untouchable as the way of healing. Jesus didn’t stand far off and pray for the man. He reached out His hand without fear. He loved this man and knew what the leper desired most. Jesus didn’t care what other people might think and He truly acted out the belief that the man was worthy to be loved and accepted.

This story brings me back to my knees in prayer for God’s forgiveness and love. My love is too limited and I need God to help me overcome the fear. It’s by God’s grace I am able to serve and love the people I work with because I am too weak. I don’t want focus on the work instead of the people; creating a comfort zone within the mission field. I need to daily remind myself that love is the reason why I am here and it’s risky. I know there will be times when I want to run away and pray from a distance, but instead I need to run to God and ask for His power and love to fill me and help me reach out my hand to touch the untouchable.

December 31, 2018

Starting Another Chapter

Col 4: 5 KJVWalk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Eph 516 KJVRedeeming the time, because the days are evil.

The KJV uses the term “redeeming the time” in these two verses.   The second verse appears in the NASB as,

making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

The other verse appears in the NASB as

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

The question I ask myself is this:  Did I make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2018?   And then:  Will I endeavor to make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2019?

While some current Christian writers emphasize the importance of rest, others talk about the “stewardship of our time.”   Time management is considered enough in scripture that it is not a stretch to say that scripture introduces a “doctrine of time usage.”

But like everything else in scripture, there is a place for balance in doctrine.   Think of a pendulum swinging back and forth.   Only when it stops swinging does it find the place of balance in the middle. There are two aspects to the Bible’s teaching on time management; time stewardship.

There is a time for action — The one who knows to do something right and doesn’t do it; that’s a sin.   But there’s a time for restBe still and know that He is God.

Time management by Biblical standards involves more than a simple “resting” or “action” theory.   It requires skill and wisdom to find the balance.

So more questions:   Did I learn to rest in God in 2018?   Will I learn more about resting in God in 2019?

Nobody said this was easy.


Each of us is about to write another chapter of our lives. The turning of the pages of the calendar may be more significant to some people than it is to others, but the start of a new year is always a time to both look back and look forward. For that reason, I think Steve Green’s song is such a great way to end 2018.

This isn’t my all-time favorite song, or style, but when Steve Green or anyone else is taking their lyrics directly from scripture it creates something bigger than the song itself. When they were much younger I asked my kids if they can tell when, in the middle of devotional book we’re reading, the paragraph moves into a Bible quotation, and they both understood exactly where I was going with this question. There’s something about the power of God’s word that is so easily identified; it stands out from what the devotional writer is saying as though it was underlined, in bold face type, in giant print, or printed in bright orange.

The song’s key verse source is Philippians 1:6, but I’ll give you the verses that precede and follow for full context:

Phil 1:5(NIV) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

I don’t what you or I are facing in 2019, but we are each, in God’s eyes, a work in progress. And he doesn’t abandon his projects.

All God’s best for the new year.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and 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.

August 22, 2018

Christian Service: Joyfully Rendered or Indicator of Bondage?

Readers here know that every time we pass an anniversary — either by date or a significant number of posts, as we did with #3,000 not long ago — I’ll mention that C201 has offered a fresh devotional daily since its inception. But scrolling through the archives for August, 2013 — only 5 years ago — I was reminded that technically that isn’t true. Stuck in the middle of nowhere I had to confront the reality that unless I covered up by backdating an extra post the next day, there would be what I considered an unsightly gap in my perfect blog attendance record. It would be the end of Christianity as we know it. After all, it all depends on me!

Instead, I let the date roll by and posted this the next day. (I even broke a rule and began with an illustration, albeit one I made up on the spot!)

Ritual Versus Faithfulness

I Cor 4:2 ESV Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

The Henderson Family very rarely misses a church service, church meeting, or church function. They are what a previous generation called “pillars of the assembly;” people you can count on to be there and to do whatever needs doing in the church. A check of Mrs. H.’s pocket calendar shows a church event or responsibility consuming much of 17 of this month’s 31 days.

Some would say they are being faithful, while others would prefer to think they are in some kind of religious bondage. They could certainly use a copy of the book Boundaries, because saying ‘no’ isn’t in their vocabulary. How do you tell the difference between people who joyfully make the church the center of their lives, and people who serve under duress?

II Cor. 9:7a NIV Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion…

The Bible distinguishes between service and giving which are done joyfully and cheerfully versus that which is done under a sense of obligation.

I thought of this a lot in the last 48 hours when it appeared that I would not be able to post a devotional reading here for yesterday, August 17th. I tried to get online using a rather primitive smart-phone, but it wasn’t to be, as the limitations of the phone met the very limited internet access in the remote area where we were.

‘But I haven’t missed a day here in years,’ I thought to myself. Ah, there’s a religious spirit creeping in. The feeling that I must do this; compounded with the feeling of If you don’t _________ it won’t ________. Not a good place to be in. Instead of God being the center, I become the center. It also shows a misplaced appropriation of my place in the building of God’s Kingdom; a rather self-centered, egotistical sense of my own importance.

In fact, scripture describes ministry as more of a symphony concert than a solo recital:

I Cor. 3:6,7 Message Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow.

And then, the worst thought of all, where faulty attitude becomes outright sin: I considered backdating a post to yesterday once I got back online. It wasn’t so much trying to create a false impression of my faithfulness to this, as it was the feeling a curator of a set or collection must have if one of the items is missing. I must restore the museum/gallery to its pristine state. That’s pride.

Matthew 6:1 The Voice Jesus: But when you do these righteous acts, do not do them in front of spectators. Don’t do them where you can be seen, let alone lauded, by others. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Amazing how writing a daily devotional blog can cause one to sin, isn’t it? So what would you tell the Henderson family? What would you tell me?


As it would turn out, I realized the same religious spirit — or addiction to a misdirected perception of how to measure of faithfulness — was plaguing my writing at my primary blog, Thinking Out Loud. So last month, when we were heading for holidays, I deliberately left a gap of seven or eight days. It would have been easy to post things ahead (as we did here and on my book trade blog) but I decided the non-stop streak had become a source of pride.

What’s the equivalent in your life?

July 31, 2018

When the Answer to “How are you?” is “Not so fine.”

Today’s article has been shortened from its original form at the blog Jesus Unboxed, which we’re featuring here for the first time. Rev. David Eck is the pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, Fairview, North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital, Asheville, North Carolina. In the introduction, David points out that Nehemiah only surfaces once in the three year cycle of the Lectionary. Some of his thoughts below are derived from hearing author Brian McLaren. For the entire passage in Nehemiah, click here. To read the article in its full context click the title below.

Nehemiah: From Despair to Hope (Neh 8:1-18)

…“So, how are you?”…

…if you’re feeling “not so fine” today, that’s perfectly okay…

…Nehemiah gives us some tools for how to cope when it feels like life is an avalanche of “not so fine” days.

First, let me give you a little background on this relatively unknown prophet. The book of Nehemiah takes place after the Babylonian exile. This is a people who had experienced so many “not so fine” days in a row that they had lost count. They were people of despair. They were people who had abandoned all hope that things would get better.

Then, miraculously, King Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonian army. He allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland, and even gave them some of the resources they needed to rebuild their lives. Nehemiah is all about the rebuilding. Chapter 8, in particular, gives us a lot of wisdom regarding how we can rebuild our lives when we feel like we are a people without hope.

As chapter 8 begins all the people in Jerusalem were asked to gather in the public square in front of the Water Gate. The Water Gate was located near the Southwest corner of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, near the Gihon Spring. It was a place that was open and accessible to everyone.

In this very public space Ezra began reading the Torah, the “law of Moses” to everyone who would listen. For those unfamiliar with the term, the Torah is the first five books we have in our Bibles. It was revised and edited by Ezra and other priests while they were in exile.

And so this brand-spanking-new version of the Torah was read to the people. When Ezra opened the scroll for the first time, the people shouted “Amen, amen!” and they began to worship together. While Ezra was reading the Torah, the Levites, who were the traditional teachers of the Law, moved among the people and helped them to understand how it applied to their lives.

This is something that lasted an entire day. During this gathering the leaders reminded the people “This day is holy to the LORD your God; so not mourn or weep.”

When the day came to an end they told the people, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

What I see going on in this passage is a blueprint for how we successfully navigate the “not-so-fine” times our our lives; times when we have lost hope and despair is our constant companion.

First of all, we need to immerse ourselves in the Word and in worship. The “law of Moses” that Ezra read was defined by Brian McLaren as “the standards of basic human decency.” They contained the Ten Commandments and reminded the people how they were supposed to live in covenant with God and with each other.

In times of despair, it’s important that we immerse ourselves in scripture. This is something we do not do alone. We interpret it together. This circle of interpretation involves the whole family of God: pastors, lay people, poets, musicians and scholars.

It’s important that we have this holy conversation because in 2018 it’s vital that we understand clearly who Jesus is and what he stands for. There are many counterfeit Jesuses out there. If we are students of the Word, we are less likely to fall for them.

My challenge to you… is that if you haven’t read the gospel lately, it’s time to do so. We all need to be able to defend the Jesus we know and love in a world that often makes him into their image instead of the other way around.

Worship is also important during the “not so fine” times of our lives. When we are despairing, when we have lost hope, we need to surround ourselves with those who will remind us of God’s promises to us. They are there to sing the hymns of faith we cannot bring ourselves to sing. They are there to love us and care for us when we cannot love and care for ourselves. We see this happening in Nehemiah 8. It was Ezra’s way of helping God’s people to heal and have their hope restored.

The second thing that emerges in Nehemiah, is that during the “not so fine” times of our lives, we need to practice gratitude, celebration, and service to the needy. Ezra tells the people “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine, and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

When things are going wrong, we need to focus on what’s going right. When things get us all hot and bothered, we need a cool oasis where we can refresh our weary souls.

This is exactly what the people did. They set aside their troubles for at least one day. They feasted with one another. and shared a portion of what they had with those who could not afford to feast.

Then they were reminded by Ezra that “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” This is not some rose-colored glasses kind of joy. It’s not even the-glass-is-half-full kind of joy. It’s the kind of joy that believes “If God is for us, who can be against us?” It’s the kind of joy that lives deep inside our souls. It cannot be taken away from us no matter what is happening in our lives and in our world.

We may not think we do not have this kind of joy within us. But, trust me, its there. Our job is to awaken that kind of joy in those around us when they cannot awaken it themselves…

But there’s one more piece of the blueprint we need to examine for how to navigate the “not-so-fine” times our our lives. This occurs in our second lesson which contains a ritual celebration known as the Festival of Booths. It is a festival that Jews celebrate to this very day. Some of you may remember the Jewish Secular Society of Asheville, who does their monthly Shabbat here, set up a booth or tent in our yard this past fall.

The reason why it’s important in Nehemiah, is that the Israelites had not celebrated this festival since the time before the exile in Babylon. Now that they were rebuilding their community, this particular festival was important. They feasted under these booths to remember how their ancestors wandered in the wilderness after escaping from Egypt, as well as how God led them to the promised land.

The important lesson we learn from this festival is that during the “not so fine” times of our lives, it’s important that we remember how God delivered us from difficult times in the past. When we do this, it gives us hope for the future. It helps to replenish the deep well of joy that is our strength.

And so, as we make our way, through these unstable and unpredictable times we are experiencing as a nation, it’s absolutely vital that we remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past. This gives us the strength we need to trust that God will help us to navigate the “not so fine” days were are experiencing currently.

Friends in Christ, there is a lot of wisdom we can gain from Nehemiah. I encourage you to read this chapter during the week, and see what else you can learn from it. Make no mistake about it, God is with us in these “not so fine” times. The joy of the Lord WILL be our strength. If we immerse ourselves in the Word and in worship; if we practice gratitude, celebration, and service to the needy; if we remember the times in our lives when God was faithful to us; we will get though this! Our hope will be renewed as we place our trust in the One, who helped Israel persevere during both an exodus and an exile. Amen!

Copyright ©2018 by David Eck; used with permission.

 

May 15, 2018

The Reluctance of Moses to Serve

Today we’re back at Lightsource, but this time on the page for the In His Grip Devotional, which features the writing of Dr. Chuck Betters from MarkInc.

…God’s confrontation with the Old Testament patriarch, Moses, gives us a glimpse into our own hearts and often excuses for turning down God’s invitation to partner with Him by using our own gifts to introduce others to His son, Jesus.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Moses, when given the task of leading the Israelites out of Egypt, objected strenuously (Exodus 3:1-4:17). First, Moses questioned, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

God responded, “I will be with you,” the very promise He made to Abraham (and to us, Matthew 28:28).

Second, Moses objected, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is Him name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God responded, in effect, “Tell them that Jehovah, the faithful and trustworthy God of their fathers, has sent you.”

Third, Moses doubted. “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” Moses probably remembered his earlier rejection by his people and questioned why this time would be any different.

Throw Down Your Staff

God responded that Moses should throw down his staff, the symbol of his identity as a working shepherd. Without his staff he could not take care of the sheep or protect himself. God changed the staff into a snake, the national symbol of Pharaoh’s alleged sovereign power. God changed it back into a staff when Moses obediently picked it up. This was no magic trick; it underscored God’s power and authority over Pharaoh. Moses had to surrender his shepherd’s calling in order to accept God’s commissioning. Though Moses carried the simple staff of a shepherd, God had invested it, as indeed He had invested Moses, with a power far beyond its humble appearance.

Fourth, Moses continued to object, claiming he was not a man of words. “O Lord,” he complained, “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since You have spoken to Your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

God responded, reassuring Moses and promising him that the Lord Himself would help him speak and teach him what to say. As with Moses, God also promises to give us the strength and abilities we need. As it says in the book of Ephesians, every child of God is “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:10).

Fifth, Moses decided he wasn’t the best man for the job. God’s promise of His presence, power, and authority was apparently not enough for Moses. He desperately exclaimed, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it(Exodus 4:13).

This is the first time during this encounter that God actually became angry with Moses. He bluntly told Moses that his eloquent brother Aaron would serve as Moses’ spokesman.

Moses at last acquiesced and obeyed. On his long journey back to Egypt and into the jaws of his enemy, however, Moses did not travel alone, for God was with him.

Since then no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt – to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:10-12)

Everyone who answers God’s call to know Him intimately must confront His call to courageously serve as Moses did.

Look around your local church. Are you the missing piece needed to reflect God’s compassion and mercy in a broken world? Which of Moses’ excuses is your favorite one behind which you hide?

What gift, talent, or resource are you hiding in your pocket?

Are YOU the missing piece in your local church? Share the love of Jesus in you, by sharing the gifts He has given to you!

April 25, 2018

Giving to Get

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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NIV Luke 14.12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Today we’re back with Mayfield, Kentucky pastor and counselor Josh Ketchum. Click the title below to read at source.

Life in the Kingdom

Why do we do what we do? Most things we do with an expectation of getting something in return.

Consider these questions . . .

Why did you have the last people over to your house? Why did you give your wives flowers for your anniversary? What was your expectation when you helped a poor person with gas? What was your expectation when you mowed the yard for a neighbor when he was sick?

What were you expecting? Why did you serve them? What was the repayment you were hoping to get?

Jesus gives us a challenging principle in Luke 14:12-14. He says for us to have a dinner and not invite our friends or family. Don’t invite those who have wealth or those similar to you that will “pay” you for the invitation. He says rather to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” The reason you will be blessed is because they “cannot repay you.” In fact, you may not receive any earthly payment or satisfaction, but you will be “repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Who loves like that? What if we did? What if we loved simply to love. What if we let our expectations of what we will (or should) get out of it go?

It would transform our relationships and our attitudes.

Consider these thoughts . . .

What if I loved my wife today without expecting anything, but only offering to her my service and complete acceptance for who she is? It would foster sincere and true love in our marriage. It would free her and me to love, rather than acting out of fear and pressure.

What if I chose to invite people to my home who are different from me, who I don’t really know, but people whom need a friend and whom I haven’t really learned their story?

What if I chose to love others in my family in a way that communicates I respect who they are and the choices they make, rather than punishing them when they fail to meet my imposed expectations?

What if I sought to release my focus on what I get and chose to simply love for the sake of Jesus? Isn’t this the love of Christ? Christ’s love is unselfish and done without the expectation of payment. He loved us on Calvary’s cross, while we were his enemies (Rom. 5:8-10).

Consider your motives for your actions toward others. Choose to intentionally love others without the expectation of anything in return. Choose to love without expecting any repayment. Even take it one step farther, go find someone to love who can’t really give you anything (a young child, a poor stranger, or a elderly person). You will be blessed when you do!

NIV Romans 5.8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

July 26, 2017

He Will Not Forget Your Work

Today’s thoughts are an excerpt of a devotional that appeared last week at DailyEncouragement.net by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber. Click the title below to read at source.

Serving Out Of The Spotlight

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

…The aspiration to do something great is commendable. Yet a sense of unworthiness can sweep over a person, who, after an honest assessment of their giftings or lack thereof, realize they’re simply unable to accomplish anything reckoned as great by others. Many have dropped the baton of service when their aspiring dream never fully materialized. They could only imagine worthiness of ministry if serving in a big way or in the spotlight.

We propose another aspiration that may initially seem rather uninspiring: “do something ordinary for God!” All of us can do that and faithfulness in the ordinary really does matter. In our view the vast, vast majority of work being done for God is done by ordinary people doing ordinary things out of the spotlight.

Now, praise God, sometimes the ordinary does become great, such as the young boy with the fish and bread that Jesus multiplied to feed the crowd. He simply offered the ordinary he had and Jesus performed the miracle. We read nothing more in Scripture of that boy again. We can assume he went on to live an ordinary life, hopefully in faithful service to Christ. Our aspiration should be to glorify God in our obedience and service to Him, not to make anything great of ourselves, let alone seek the spotlight.

Let us consider the daily verse, written to a group of people “The Hebrews”, none of whom we know by name. But as part of the Holy Scriptures we can read this verse applying it to our own lives.

God is not unjust.” That’s a simple four word phrase we do well to memorize. Unjustness permeates our world and at times God’s ways don’t make sense, even tempting us to question His justness. But the infallible Word of God proclaims, “God is not unjust”.

He will not forget your work.” Others may forget or not even notice, but God always sees and remembers!

And the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people.”  How do we show our love for God? Surely through our praises, thankfulness, obedience and in many other ways.  But this verse specifies a way that goes to the very heart of ministry and it’s generally demonstrated in ordinary ways. In some wonderful way as we help and serve God’s people, we are actually helping and serving God. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

And continue to help them” The writer of Hebrews was confident that this help was active and ongoing, as he finished the sentence with this phrase.  Are you in active service for God and His people today?  If so, keep it up.  What a great blessing long-term, faithful, and dependable workers are in the kingdom of God. You may not be in the spotlight, in fact it’s likely you’re not. But He sees and will not forget your work. He generously rewards us in this life but His greater reward will be given in the life to come! Today do something ordinary for God so that He will use it for His extraordinary purposes.

Father, as You call us You also equip us to do that which You lay upon our hearts.  May we respond to those in need in whatever capacity we can help.  Certainly we can pray, we may need to write or call, and then there are the times we are to go and accomplish that which we are called to do. May our motive, in everything we say, do or think be to glorify You as we shine our light, not for our own glory, but always for Your glory and honor while also spotlighting the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

January 30, 2017

Christianity 201: Devotional # 2500

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

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

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

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

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

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

“So here we are;” said the man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what constitutes treasure?

As I consider 2,500 posts here at Christianity 201, I look back to when I started this, wanting to produce something of substance that would cause people to dig a little deeper or consider something they might not have thought of before.

I’m a person who can speak with spiritual confidence and authority to an individual or group one minute; and then be struck by a feeling of total inadequacy the next; a form of spiritual intimidation, or spiritual inferiority complex. Why is this? I think much of it has to do with feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the computer is turned off or it’s time for bed and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value of significance?

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

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

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

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

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

In the Christian internet world, a lot of what is written — including what I myself post at Thinking Out Loud — is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance, something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

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

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level.

That’s Christianity 201.

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

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

October 3, 2016

Serving with Determination and Perseverance

This devotional came recommended to us, and is from Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with branches on many continents.

Keep On Keeping On

by Denise Cross

Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not loss heartGalatians 6:9, NIV

Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, I was taught that believers should expect that doing God’s work would always be challenging and difficult. Indeed, this very fact of contention, they believed, proved that the work was a ‘good’ work.

However, later I discovered that other believers had a different expectation. They believed that, if something was a God-ordained plan, it would all fall into place with no struggles, because God Himself had gone ahead and prepared the way.

After a good few years of being involved in Ellel Ministries, it seems to me that neither of these extremes is true. There may be times when things go easily, and we feel the path ahead is easy, but there may also be battles, and discouragement along the way.

I can only think that Paul himself might have been feeling a little weary and discouraged when he wrote this letter to his friends in Galatia. They were obviously showing signs of being tired and discouraged, and needed to remember that perseverance and determination were what was needed. They had, perhaps, started with enthusiasm and excitement, but they’d hit difficulties of some kind, and their energy seemed to be running out. Paul is saying “Don’t give up. It will be worth it in the end. Keep your eye on the finishing line. What you’re seeking to achieve will come to fruition, and you’ll see the completion, and feel rewarded”.

I wonder if you’re feeling weary today, or losing heart about something you’re doing. Have you started something which you feel sure God’s laid on your heart, but it’s all taking longer, or proving much more difficult, than you first expected? Are you wondering when, or if ever, you’ll see the harvest of your efforts?

We may just need to ‘keep on keeping on’, because it’s just a matter of time until the ‘due season’ arrives, or maybe we need some rest to catch our breath, so we can re-focus on the goal, and push onward with renewed determination. Perhaps we need some extra support in prayer, or practical help, before we can totally reap the reward

If you’re feeling tired of doing good, you can ask God to refresh you, to refocus you and to give you a new determination to complete the work He’s put before you. Then you will, in the fullness of His perfect timing, see the end results of your efforts, and have the delight of hearing His ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.

Prayer: Father God, You’ve called me, and trusted me to do good works, Kingdom works for You, in ways You’ve planned for me. Thank You that, if, and when, I grow weary, I can turn to You for refreshing, re-inspiring and re-energizing to continue with those good works. Please speak Your encouragement to me today. I ask it in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.


* What does Ellel mean?

Ellel Ministries takes its name from its first building in England, Ellel Grange, which is near the village of Ellel, in Lancashire.

In old English, the name Ellel means ‘All hail’ which means ‘All glory to God’
In Hebrew, Ellel means ‘towards God’
In Mandarin Chinese, it means ‘love flowing outwards (愛流).

So Ellel could be said to mean ‘All hail, Jesus, All glory to Him’ and be expressed as ‘Love flowing outwards’ into a fallen and broken world, where we are helping people move ‘towards God’. It is all for His glory.

July 1, 2016

Unnecessarily Troubled

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Mary and Martha imgHeather is a former Mormon who doesn’t write often, but I had bookmarked this devotional many months ago and noted we still hadn’t run it here. Click the link below to read this at source and look around Jesus Is All, her blog.

Be Mary Not Martha

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, ESV)

To put this story into context, the “they” at the beginning is Jesus, his twelve apostles, plus 72 disciples who have just returned from traveling abroad and preaching.  This group of at least 85 have been invited into the home of sisters Mary and Martha. Immediately, Martha gets to work, as I think a majority of us would do.

Let me say something here, there is nothing wrong with WHAT Martha is trying to do, only HOW she is going about it.  The bible is full of calls to serve others; Jesus Himself praised the service of others (see John 6).  So why this time didn’t he praise Martha for her willingness to serve?

There are two key words in these verses, “distracted” and “anxious”.  Martha is so “distracted” with her busyness that she doesn’t have time to enjoy the presence of the Lord in her home.  She has made her “to do list” her focus, rather than being focused on Jesus.  She’s focused on feeding the crowd, while Mary is focused on feeding her spirit.  This is frustrating to Martha, she feels that she is doing something helpful and noble, while her sister is over there lazily lounging around doing “nothing”.  She eventually gets so frazzled that she asks Jesus to make Mary help her.

Of course this crowd in their home is probably tired and hungry, and Martha sees a need and wants to feed them.  However, Mary realizes that the Bread of Life, the Living Waters, is more satisfying to her soul than anything she could offer the Savior and his group.  She has chosen the “good portion”.

So back to my question…why didn’t Jesus praise Martha’s efforts?  Because Jesus knows our hearts, He knows our thoughts.  He knew that Martha had made herself “anxious” and “troubled” unnecessarily.  He could see that her joy wasn’t in serving but in gaining approval. She was using her service to validate her self-worth and her righteousness.  Knowing this, Jesus didn’t get angry at her or tell her to quit working, He lovingly pointed out that she had another choice, the one that her sister had already made.

If you are currently caught up in what you think you “have to do” or “should do” to prove yourself to God, please reconsider your actions.  Ask God in prayer if what you are doing is what He wants you to be doing.  Maybe you are distracting yourself and making yourself anxious doing things that aren’t necessary.  Any time you are faced with an opportunity to serve, ask yourself if you would be doing it simply because you love to serve, or because you are looking for approval from God or from other people.

There is NOTHING we can do to prove ourselves to God.  As it says in Isaiah 64:6 (KJV), “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”.  There is no checklist God asked us to complete for Him.  All Jesus asks for in return for redeeming us is for us to love Him and seek after Him. My personal goal is to be constantly seeking after God.  I don’t really care anymore what anyone else thinks of what I do or don’t do, only what God thinks of me.  It is very freeing to let God be your guide and do what you know He wants you to do, rather than trying to impress God by doing what you assume He might want you to do.  One of the reasons I haven’t blogged for awhile is I would’ve only been doing it because I felt I was “supposed to” and I felt guilty I hadn’t written. My writing has been sporadic because I wait for the times when I feel God is putting the desire to write and the message I should write about in my mind.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23, ESV)


Read more: We looked at Martha and Mary previously in March, 2015 in an article with a similar title, Troubled About Many Things.

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