Christianity 201

August 27, 2015

The Reward of Sacrificial Following

Today we’re at the website TillHeComes.org and before we jump into the text, here’s the setup from the previous verse:

28Then Peter said, “See, we have left all and followed You.”

Peter’s ears perked up when Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor, and then come follow Jesus. This is very close to what Peter and the other apostles had in fact done.  And so Peter is a little curious. He says, “Hey, we’ve done what you told that rich young ruler to do. We have left everything. We have followed you. What does that mean for us?”

And Jesus, knowing that all of his apostles except Judas truly has believed in him for eternal life tells them what their sacrifice and service will result in. He doesn’t rebuke Peter for asking a selfish question, for it is not a selfish question. There is nothing wrong with seeking the things of God.

Many times we refer to the cost of following Christ, but in Luke 18:29-30, Jesus, replying to Peter, suggests there is also great reward, even reward to be had in this life (“in the present time”) as well as the age to come, which the commentary below emphasizes.  The webpage here — and we’ve linked to Jeremy Myers before — deals with a much longer section, verses 18-30.  To read it all (encouraged!) click on the link below.

Paying the Entrance Fee

29So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

You see, good works and sacrificial service are very beneficial, but only AFTER one has believed in Jesus for eternal life. They earn reward and privilege and greater responsibility in this life and in the next. It most often will not be financial reward, but spiritual rewards of one sort or another.  And this verse should not and must not be used to justify neglecting your family for ministry. We know when we get married and have children, our first sphere of ministry is in the home. Men, your primary ministry is to your wife and children. If you fulfill that ministry and have time left over, you can serve some at the church. Women, same thing for you and your ministry with your husband and your children.

What Jesus means by talking about leaving parents, brothers, wife and children is to make sure that they are not holding you back from God’s will for your life. Ministering to them is God’s will for your life, but if there ever comes a point where they try to keep you back from doing the rest of God’s will for you life, this is when you must choose to serve God or serve others.  If you choose to serve God, and leave your family for the sake of the kingdom, Jesus says that your reward will be great, both in this age, and in the age to come.

Here Jesus teaches his disciples about reward. He doesn’t rebuke Peter for wondering what he is going to get in heaven. Instead he encourages Peter to keep on serving in the Kingdom of God, because the better you serve, the more reward in heaven you get. It is not selfish to seek the things of God.  We all want more of God in our lives. That is not selfish. We all want to know the Bible better. That is not selfish. We all want God to answer our prayers. That is not selfish. We all want God to be at work more in our lives and to see his hand at work in our presence. That is not selfish.  Neither is it selfish to want riches in heaven, and to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The rich young ruler, though he came asking about eternal life, revealed that he was only seeking to hold on to his worldly wealth. Peter and the other apostles, after having believed in Jesus for eternal life, gave up their wealth and worldly relationships. As a result, they earned for themselves great reward in heaven.

How great? The Bible tells us that in the Millennial kingdom, the twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones ruling over the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt. 19:28). Israel will be the greatest nation in the world and will rule over the entire world also, and so the apostles will be some of the twelve most powerful men on the earth during that time. And we are fairly certain that it was Paul who will take the place of Judas.

Now, Luke 19:11-27 tells us that the rest of the world will be divided up and given to faithful servants of God to rule over. That means that you and I, if we are faithful servants, may also be given cities or maybe even countries which Jesus Christ will want us to rule. Not all will rule, some will simply be subjects in the kingdom, and they will be ruled over, rather than be rulers.

Some Christians will be given positions of reward and responsibility for a life lived in faithful service to Jesus Christ. Other Christians will enter the kingdom because they have believed in Jesus for eternal life, but they won’t have much gold, jewels, precious stones or crowns that will be given to them.  We will be talking about eternal rewards a lot more in the weeks to come. Let me just close with this. The lesson from the rich young ruler is that all of us are sinners. If a person is self-righteous like the rich young ruler, the law can be used to shows them that they have indeed offended a holy God.

And once they have seen this, it is much easier to show them that they only way they can be reconciled to God is by the blood of Jesus, through our faith in Him.  But once we have done that, we must make sure we do not stop there, for there are great rewards and blessings in store for those who make service to Christ a top priority. And we’ve seen the two extremes today. One man, the rich young ruler, who didn’t want to give up his riches. And one man, Peter, who gave up all to follow Christ.

Which category do you fall in? Are you seeking the things of this world, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, or are you seeking after the riches of the world to come? The first may give you momentary pleasure while on this earth, but the second will give you everlasting joy in the kingdom which is to come.

August 16, 2015

Lord, I Can’t Do This; Please Get Somebody Else

A few days ago we looked at how Moses was reluctant to be God’s chosen mouthpiece and his reasons why God should get someone else. Our particular focus there was the public speaking aspect of the job God was calling Moses to do.

But sometimes it’s not public speaking, we have other reasons why we just wish God would choose someone else. (After writing this, I realized there’s also a tie-in to our devotional from two days ago; that often we just wish we could be somewhere else.)

I never really thought of this verse in this context until a sermon I heard this morning, but certainly God understands when we are struck by our limitations:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses – Hebrews 4:15a

and an earlier verse in the same book:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity – Hebrews 2:14

In Christ we have a role model, who as he took on a mission that, in his humanity, as Calvary loomed large, caused him to ask if there were not a better way or a different way. It’s like he was almost saying, ‘Maybe someone else can take over at this point.’ Okay, I know that’s not the way it works, but you do get a sense of the anguish that Christ as feeling at that time.

But sometimes we hesitate to enter into the mission God has for us because of condemnation. This is a difficult subject to address because sin needs to be dealt with before a person is fit for public ministry (which might include everything from teaching a class to helping at the soup kitchen.) But sometimes the condemnation is simply an attack of the enemy.

I John 3:20 states,

If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

From the Forerunner Commentary at BibleStudyTools.org:

When we commit the occasional sin, are we no longer acceptable to God? Is our fellowship truly cut off? While it is true that sin separates us from Him, do we remain unsatisfied because we feel there is no communion? Once again, God’s grace rescues us from what would otherwise be an impossible situation.

The answer to this confounding situation lies in a change of our natures arising from repentance, receipt of God’s Holy Spirit, and—perhaps above all—access to God through Jesus Christ. Through these come fellowship and experience with Them throughout the remainder of life and access to God’s merciful grace when we fall short. There can be no doubt we are saved by grace through faith. Our depression and extreme self-condemnation reveals a lack of faith in God’s willingness to forgive upon repentance. Though works are required of us, we cannot earn our way into the Kingdom through them because they will forever fall short in providing payment for sin.

As mentioned earlier, there is a tension between the two extremes of excessive guilt and feelings of worthlessness in contrast to the casual, careless, irresponsible, “God will just have to take me as I am” disregard of our responsibility to glorify God in all we think, say, and do.

This is why John says, “God is greater than our heart.” He is ever willing to accept us as Christ—even though we personally bring Him blemished offerings in our life’s experiences—as long as our attitude has not turned to trampling the sacrifice of His Son underfoot and treating it as a common thing.

We will never enter into God’s acceptance and fellowship based on any work of offering we sacrifice to Him. The only thing He will accept is the unblemished offering of Christ’s life, and because it accompanies or precedes us into His presence, we are accepted, have communion with Him, and are fed.

[read more at Bible Study Tools]

Ephesians 3:12 states:

 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

If we find ourselves in a battle, Ephesians 6:13b reminds us:

…[W]hen you have done everything you could, you will be able to stand firm. (ISV)

Our local congregations are in need of people who are able to give their time in ministry service, but many are afraid to step up because of what the commentary above calls excessive guilt; however, our texts today I hope help us see that this may just be another tactic of the enemy to get us to quit.

Don’t get discouraged and don’t get overcome by feelings of inadequacy.

 

 

 

 

 

May 21, 2015

Remember Who?

Forgotten Apostles

by Clarke Dixon

I grew up watching wrestling, specifically the show “Maple Leaf Wrestling.” Part of what I remember is how predictable most of the matches were. The first contender would be be announced, usually a man no heavier than myself, nor taller, nor more muscular. Then they would announce the “big name,” someone like Big John Stud or Andre the Giant who would go on to decimate them. The outcome was always predictable. I’m not sure why the small guys even bothered to get into the ring, except of course that they were being paid to lose. And don’t ask me their names for they were forgettable as wrestlers next to the giants.

Perhaps we may feel that our performance as Christians is meagre, even forgettable. We may feel that it makes no sense to step into the ring for there are spiritual giants who do the Christian thing so much better than we do. We can think of the call to witness to a seeker, the call to righteousness, the call to investing our lives in the lives of others, the call to getting over ourselves, the call to love, the call to forgiveness, and the call to prayer. We can think of people who do these Christian things so much better than we can, they are spiritual giants. Let them enter the ring since they have so much more to offer. We may choose therefore to make Christianity a spectator sport and never get into the ring ourselves.

If you feel your Christian service is forgettable, you are in good company. Consider Matthias who was chosen to replace Judas in the earliest days of the Christian Church. Matthias was chosen for an extremely important role and he had the right qualifications:

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us– one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” Acts 1:21-22 NRSV

Since Matthias fits this description we know he was well versed in the teaching and life of Jesus. He could attest personally to the death and resurrection of Jesus. He also had the Lord’s blessing on his choice as Judas’ successor:

Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. Acts 1:24-26 24 NRSV

The interesting thing about Matthias is that he just disappears from the pages of the Bible. Despite amazing credentials and the Lord’s blessing we never hear about him again. His work for the Lord, his response to God’s every call has, apart from a few mentions outside the Bible, been forgotten by history. He was not a “spiritual giant” like Paul, or Peter, or John. In fact, the service to the Lord of most of the disciples in New Testament times has been forgotten. And down through the centuries, though there has been a rich tradition of spiritual giants like Spurgeon, Carey, C.S. Lewis, and others, the vast majority of the Lord’s servants have been forgotten.

If you know Jesus as Lord and Savior, consider the men and women God has used to reach you. You have heard the Gospel from someone who has heard it from someone who has heard it from someone, and so on down through a long line of mostly forgotten servants of Christ. For the most part, the Lord has not used spiritual giants to reach you with the Gospel, but forgotten servants. Or perhaps you did come to faith in Jesus through the ministry of a spiritual giant, through a Billy Graham crusade for example. Yet even in the “spiritual ancestry” of Billy Graham are a lot of unknown and forgotten Christians. Or maybe you came to faith through reading the Bible, with no one to help you at all. Yet how many forgotten and unknown scribes can we thank for preserving the Word of God for us. God has used hundreds, if not thousands, of unknown servants to make the Gospel known to you. We can be grateful to God that they did not stay out of the ring just because they were not spiritual giants.

We may be less like Paul and more like Matthias, likely to head into obscurity in just a few generations. But there are two things to note:

  1. God’s impact through you may grow long after you are forgotten. Because you have responded to God’s call on your life, people may be influenced by people who have been influenced by people who have been influenced by someone you have influenced. God may reach people for many generations to come because you got into the ring.
  2. You may be forgotten by history, but you will not be forgotten by God. You may not make it into the history books, but as a follower of Christ you will have your name in the God’s “Book of Life.

Most of God’s servants throughout history have been forgotten. But God has accomplished amazing things through forgotten people. You may feel that your contribution and participation in God’s Kingdom work is meager, even forgettable, but don’t stay out of the ring just because you are not a spiritual giant. Get into the ring with your words. Get into the ring with your actions. Get into the ring with your presence. Get into the ring with your time, talents, and treasures. Get into the ring with your prayers. The Lord is already there waiting for you.


May 17, 2015

Wherever You Serve God, Be All In

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

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…
Ecclesiastes 9:10a

Today we pay a return visit to Done With Religion by Michael Donohoe. To read this at source, click the title below.

What’s Your Passion?

My wife and I have some friends who are very much involved and active in certain areas of ministry. We were recently talking about the passion these friends have for their particular ministry.

That got me to thinking about passion. The dictionary says passion is: ‘a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything’. This certainly describes our friends and we are happy that they are involved so much.

We both stated that we felt we did not have a passion like this for any particular thing. It actually made us feel a little disappointed and wondered why we did not seem to have a passion like our friends.

I think passion is great. In some ways, passion for the wrong things or done in extremes can be very tiring and frustrating. A passion for money can cause a person to work many hours, consuming their energy. Passion like that can take your strength and drain you of all energy. Yet, people who have passion for showing God’s love, helping others and use it in moderation see their lives enriched, strengthened and seem to have endless energy.

The only trouble I see with passion is that it can sometimes become an obsession with the ones involved, and they can begin to expect everyone to have the same passion they have for the same thing. This is where we have to realize that God designed each of us with different gifts, abilities and passions, and they are displayed differently in each of us.

I think each of us has a passion for what God designed us to be. We may not be as outspoken or even act the same way as others with passion, but God works through us in a way that is effective according to the personality and gifts with which he designed us. We may not even realize the passion that shows through us to others, but rest assured, God will work through us to touch others with his love.

We are all designed differently, and we all act and respond in our uniqueness. I think it wrong to think we are not useful to God because we do not act like someone else. God works in us and through us based on the way he created us, each unique temples of the Holy Spirit, each making an impact on those we have contact with, through the power and love of God within us.

March 22, 2015

Something You Cannot Control Happens When You Serve

Christian Service

This excerpt from Brandon Hatmaker’s book Barefoot comes to us via the Pastor-to-Pastor newsletter from FaithGateway.com. Click the image to learn more about the book.

Barefoot ChurchDiscipleship: Giving to the Poor Is Not About Money

Jesus was once asked point blank what we need to do to inherit eternal life; He was asked by someone who already knew all the rules.

His response? Give to the poor.

We know the law, yet this is probably the most obvious discipleship tool we miss.

“You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother. All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Luke 18:20 – 22

I assure you, this wasn’t about the cash. Jesus didn’t need this man’s money to help the poor. This man needed to help the poor himself. There is so much wrapped in what happens when we do. We are confronted at the very soul of our existence. This wasn’t the first time Jesus encouraged this discipline for making disciples, and it wasn’t his last time either.

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. – Luke 14:13 – 14

In a moment, Zacchaeus discerned what Jesus required of him:

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” – Luke 19:8 – 9

Paul labeled Tabitha a disciple. Here are the marks of her discipleship:

In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha . . . she was always doing good and helping the poor. – Acts 9:36

The angel who came to Cornelius, the first Gentile convert reported in Scripture, claimed that the very reason he was there was because God not only heard his prayers, but remembered his service to the poor:

Cornelius answered: ‘Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.’” – Acts 10:30 – 31

The apostles, pioneers of the New Testament church, knew that if they did anything of value, they should continue to serve the poor:

James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along. – Galatians 2:9 –10

Believing is not just a matter of knowing.

“Believing is also a matter of doing. Believing is trusting that Jesus’ way of living is the right way, and trusting it enough that one is willing to live that way — and die that way.” – Darrel Gruder

We’ve been talking about the elements of discipleship ad nauseum. Bible study, surrender, the Holy Spirit, giving back — no one would disagree with these marks of a disciple — but most people never transfer these practices from the church campus to an actual life. According to our role model, Jesus, surrender meant death in every possible way: materially, relationally, and physically. Surrender until there was nothing left but redemption for a broken world. The Holy Spirit is a blazing fire, charring every remnant of selfishness and pride left in our souls, an unquenchable fire that cannot be ignored or denied. Giving back means giving all; any inferior definition is pure deception. Our money, our resources, our gifts, our time, our dreams, our selfish ambitions, our comfort — these we give back in their entirety. Anything less is not discipleship at all. It is simply a clever substitution by a crafty enemy who has figured out how to use our own weaknesses against us, rocking us to complacent sleep with a consumer version of the gospel and knowing all the while he is making goats out of sheep.

Tangible Transformation

Earlier today I sat down to start this chapter on how social action impacts discipleship when I was interrupted by a call from my wife. She said seven words, “Brandon. Come home. We got our referral!” Then she hung up.

Nearly a year ago we started the long journey of international adoption. After spending some time in Africa with The Eden Reforestation Projects and falling in love with the children of Ethiopia, our hearts were affirmed that that’s where we were to adopt. Jen handled the whirlwind of paperwork like a pro. It’s like applying for twenty mortgages at the same time. Quite a process: family history, addresses, references, financial reports, physicals (even the dog), fingerprints, and home studies. We submitted our dossier and made the payments, thanks to some incredible friends and supporters. And we waited. I tried my best not to think about it too often, hoping the time would pass. Jen’s strategy was a little different; adoption blogs, Facebook groups, email chains, and the adoption agency website were a daily obsession for her.

Today we were given the names, faces, and heartbreaking stories of a beautiful little five-year-old girl and seven-year-old boy we were going to adopt. There are experiences in life that simply change us. Some are good. Some are tragic. But they change who we are and what we’re about from that point forward. While we’ve yet to realize the full impact adoption will have on us, this is certainly one of those experiences for us. Life will never be the same. Following Christ should change our lives. We should not be the same. Discipleship should be transforming. Yet when we think about our spiritual development, it’s easier to see a change in our practices than in our passions. We continue to add things and replace things, yet our hearts remain the same. We seem to think discipleship is an agreement to knowledge instead of a commitment to a gospel that makes all things new.

I share my story because I want you to know that my hope is completely different today from where it was a handful of years ago. I’ve seen the same in others. While I know I have a ways to go, I can honestly say that the way I think is different. The way I feel is different. The way I love is simply different. My faith journey is now a joy. My church experience is life giving. And for the first time, I actually do life with the people I’m in biblical community with.

Most of us change over the years.

Yet few can look back and identify supernatural God-level transformation and link it to a clear and concise discipleship process.

When we add serving the least into the mix of our passion for God’s Word, worship, and community, we take something already great and make it better. We seem to think discipleship is an agreement to knowledge instead of a commitment to a gospel that makes all things new.

I received an email the other day from one of the founding members of our church. His story is simple: an extremely successful businessman who’s done just about everything in life and has been radically changed by serving the least. He writes:

Brandon,

Just wanted to put words to what’s been going on in my life over the last few years and share it with you. You know that each time we do the homeless grill-out downtown, my post is at the front of the line handing out the tickets. I love it because I get to talk to everyone we serve.

In case you didn’t know, they call me “ticket-man.” They have called me that for a few years now. A few years of my own metamorphosis from “dude too busy to notice suffering” or “dude too quick to judge who deserves help” to “ticketman.” I hand out tickets so that we make sure we have enough hamburgers for everyone in line. I am no longer “dude who flies first-class to Sydney” or “dude having a drink at the top of the JW Marriott in Hong Kong”; just “ticket-man.” Those who were my age would remember David Byrne chopping lettuce on his arm to “Once in a Lifetime” singing, “You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’ ”

That was me last week on a stinking hot Austin summer day, hugging a homeless guy I did not know wondering, “Well, how did I get here?” Something happens when you serve. Something you cannot control.

You start with all sorts of obstacles, fear, incompetence, and even a desire to avoid the hopelessness that occurs when you realize that you do not have the power within you to fix people.

Something changes and you stop seeing people and you see a person. Maybe even for a fleeting second you see a person through God’s eyes. And you see their heart and they see yours. And you see them see your heart and that is when you get it. Serving was never about them. Serving is about getting gripped in the heart by God. And he touches your heart through the ones you serve. I am not who I was. And it has nothing to do with anything I did. It is the heart connection to individuals as you serve with no agenda other than telling them, “I see you, you are a person and I accept you for who you are in this moment.” I am ticket-man, and serving has been transformational for me.

March 2, 2015

Troubled About Many Things

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“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things…” (Luke 10:41 NIV)

Most readers here are familiar with the story of Mary and Martha. (Click this link if not.)

On the one hand we have Mary, so willing to just sit at Jesus’ feet and take in each precious moment of teaching.

I had an experience once where I was talking to a pastor after a church service while he in turn was trying to listen to some things the guest speaker was saying to people near the door as they were leaving. He made it clear that he wanted to hear what was being said, even though, of all the two thousand people in the building, he had the most unlimited access to this man before, after and during his time in the city. What I got from that was the local pastor’s teachability; his desire to be ever learning.

On the other hand, Martha is making lunch for their guest, so willing to express love through an act of service.

As a very small child, we visited a church in Wisconsin which had a group called the “Lend-a-Hand Marthas.” While it grates me to type that (!) it was a group that clearly wasn’t dedicated to prayer (though I’m sure they prayed) and wasn’t dedicated to Bible study (though I’m sure they had devotional times) but was dedicated to getting their hands dirty and helping those who needed help. A similar group where we live today is called Love in Action.

Mary and Martha imgGenerally speaking, the takeaway people get from this story tends to castigate Martha and put Mary on a pedestal. The KJV many of grew up with says, “Mary hath chosen that good part…” after all, so clearly, if the story needs a hero, that would be Mary.

But the church needs Marthas as well, or nothing gets done. Andy Stanley focuses on this in his recent series Brand New, and especially so in the fifth of five parts which you can watch at this dedicated link. We can’t equate holiness with Bible knowledge or an ability to teach the scripture.

We can’t be too quick to jump to conclusions about this story. Luke places it just after the story of the Good Samaritan. The moral of that story is that the person who truly kept the commandment to love their neighbor was, as the expert in the law states, “The one who had mercy on him.” Obviously not the priest or the Levite. But then we have Mary, who chooses the better part.

Is this what is echoed at the end of I Corinthians 12 where Paul wraps up an entire chapter on the exercise and use of spiritual gifts by saying, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way” and then proceeds to speak about love?

I think what is called for here is balance.

I have friends who attend Mainline Protestant churches, and after describing a period of dryness or frustration I will simply say, “You need to take a month off and do the tour. You need to visit the Baptist church, and then the Pentecostal church, and then the non-denominational church and finally a Missionary Alliance or Salvation Army church.

To those in a similar position in an Evangelical or Charismatic church, I will say, “You need to take a month off and do the tour. You need to visit a Presbyterian Church, and then a Lutheran Church, and then an Episcopalian church, and then a Catholic mass.”

The idea isn’t that they’re going to leave the church they attend, the idea is that they will return with a fresh perspective.

The same applies to today’s text.

There are some Marthas who need to set aside the service for a period of time and do the tour of Bible study and learning. Buy a few good Christian books; perhaps two recent ones and a couple of classics. Watch some sermons online from some of today’s top communicators. Immerse yourself in a deeper study of a particular book of the Bible using study notes, commentaries or a fill-in-the-blanks type of outline.

Then there are some Marys who need to do the tour of getting their hands dirty. Do some volunteer work downtown. Help out on the church Spring cleanup day. Sign up for church nursery duty. Offer to deliver hot lunches to shut-ins.

I am writing this today partly with one individual in mind. He runs around his church like the proverbial headless chicken, often tied up in some backroom activity while the rest of us soak in great teaching in the church’s main auditorium. I watch him and sometimes wonder if we even follow the same God (seriously) because his expression of his faith on Sunday mornings is so demonstrably different than anyone else in the building.

But perhaps you know someone who is so quick to quote chapter and verse and understands vast bodies of knowledge about doctrine and theology and church history and hermeneutics, but comes off like the clanging cymbal Paul writes about in I Cor. 13.

The key is balance.

While this may be slightly out of John 21:6’s context, let me encourage you to cast your nets on the other side.

 

 

November 22, 2014

Translation Nuances in 1 Thessalonians

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 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 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.

 

 

 

November 6, 2014

When You Feel Like Quitting

This week regular columnist Clarke Dixon ran a more topical piece, Do Muslims and Christians Worship The Same God? which you’re invited to read.  For C201, we went into his archives from the summer and found a piece that actually deals with the verses immediately prior to the passage from Clarke we ran last week.  Click the title — note the alliteration! — to read this at source.

small__4804167810[1]Five Questions for Frustrated Fishers of Men

Frustrated with being a Christian? John 21 begins with a group of disciples who understand frustration as they have been out on the Sea all night with no fish to show for their efforts. But the darkness and frustration will soon give way to new possibilities when “early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore” (John 21:4 NIV). Has the Christian life become full of frustration for you? There are some questions lurking here which may help bring a new morning to your life and witness. Let’s take a look.

5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish (John 21:5-6 NRSV)

The miracle catch of fish is reminiscent of an earlier miraculous catch, which we can read about in Luke 5:1-11. What is significant about this earlier catch is that it leads directly to Jesus’ call of Simon Peter, James and John to be his disciples. Now remembering that all the disciples had proven that they were better at fleeing than following at the first hint of danger, here is a significant and symbolic moment of affirming the call. Despite everything, they are still called. Are you ready to affirm God’s call on your life, or are you about to call it quits? No matter the mess you may have made of it so far, He is still calling. You have not been uncalled. Its a new morning, hear again His call.

7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.  (John 21:7 NRSV)

We should look at Peter’s reaction to the miracle and the Miracle Worker in light of his previous reaction. The first time there was a miraculous catch Peter “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man’” (Luke 5:8 NRSV). This time, he was so excited and in such a hurry to be with Jesus he “jumped into the sea” (John 21:7 NRSV). Clearly Peter has grown in his relationship with Jesus. Are you ready to jump ship to get to Jesus, or would rather Jesus walk the plank and leave you alone? Does your worship and prayer life give the answer away? It’s a new morning, a deeper relationship with Jesus awaits you.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread (John 21:9 NRSV)

Another charcoal fire has been mentioned recently in John’s Gospel, but it is not one of warm friendship. It was the fire at which Peter was warming himself when questioned if he knew this Jesus who had just been arrested. He said he did not. This fire is different. This fire is Jesus’ invitation to breakfast, but more than that, it is Jesus’ invitation to experience grace. Going forward Peter, along with the other disciples, will serve Jesus as those who experienced deep grace. Is grace the fuel that feeds your service, or is your service a fire that consumes grace? Let’s not serve to earn favour or fame, that only leads to frustration. Let’s serve from our experience of forgiveness. It’s a new morning, you are not just a servant, but a forgiven child of the King.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty- three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn (John 21:10-11 NRSV)

Does the presence of bread and fish, and the miracle of so much being abundantly supplied remind you any other miracles? Yes, Jesus has done this kind of thing before, many times actually and we are reminded of the miracle recorded in John 6:1-15 where Jesus takes what they have: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish” (John 6:9 NRSV), and makes it more than enough to fill the need. Here in John 21 God is going to take what is available, a band of fisherman, and use them to begin a movement that will change the world. Are you making yourself available to God, or are you making excuses to Him? Don’t worry if you not gifted like that wonderful Christian in the next pew. God will take what you have and make it more than enough. It’s a new morning, God will use what you make available to Him today.

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast” (John 21:12 NRSV)

While there is so much to be done and so much to get doing, there is time to stop for meal. We sometimes hear loud and clear the call of Jesus to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19 NRSV). But we forget that he also said “Come and have breakfast.” Meals are wonderful things. Time to sit down without a goal to be accomplished, or a task to be done. Time to spend with loved ones. Time for nourishment for our bodies.  Are you taking time for meals? Are you resting? Are you having some downtime with your Christian family? Are you feeding on the Word of God? It’s a new morning. Stop fussing about and sit down for some breakfast!

August 21, 2014

Your Part in the Chain of Grace

1David summoned all the officials of Israel to assemble at Jerusalem: the officers over the tribes, the commanders of the divisions in the service of the king, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of all the property and livestock belonging to the king and his sons, together with the palace officials, the warriors and all the brave fighting men.

2King David rose to his feet and said: “Listen to me, my fellow Israelites, my people. I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it. 3But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.’

4“Yet the Lord, the God of Israel, chose me from my whole family to be king over Israel forever. He chose Judah as leader, and from the tribe of Judah he chose my family, and from my father’s sons he was pleased to make me king over all Israel. 5Of all my sons—and the Lord has given me many—he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel. 6He said to me: ‘Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. 7I will establish his kingdom forever if he is unswerving in carrying out my commands and laws, as is being done at this time.’

I Chronicles 28; NIV; to read any verses in other translations, click the verse numbers

I wrote a few months ago about the idea of the “chain of grace” and compared it to the children’s plastic toy/game known as Barrel of Monkeys!  It’s a very popular theme when I am speaking with people but I was surprised to see how little it’s reflected in my blogs. We are part of a very huge, overarching story in which we are recipients of grace and agents of grace. We pass that on to others.

Moses led his people but only to the edge of the promised land. David served God, but did not see his dream, the building of the temple, through to completion. Acts 13:36 tells us,

We all know David died and was reduced to dust after he served God’s purpose in his generation  (The Voice Bible)

Our responsibility is to serve the purpose of God in our generation.

What got me thinking about this was the following excerpt from Love Well: Living Life Unrehearsed and Unstuck by Jamie George. How willing are we to build up the ministry of others instead of feeling we need to do it all? He tells the story of feeling directed to take a drive out in the country where God would speak with him.

My conversation with God went like this:

“I know You wanted to meet with me today.  Sounds like You have something in mind.  But before You get rolling, do you mind if I say something?”

Sure.

“Thank you.  One basic, overarching question.  Why did You send me to plant a church in Franklin, Tennessee?  It seems like there is a church on every corner.  I mean, people introduce themselves here and ask, ‘What church do you go to?’  This is crazy.  Why didn’t You send me to Brasil?  Seriously, why am I here?”

Are you finished?

Love Well - Jamie George“Uh.  Yeah.”

Wrong question.

“Huh?”

You need to get over yourself.

This is My story, not yours.

I will send you where I wish.

Jamie, all of your life you have told people you want to ‘change the world for God.’  And at times, your motives were pure.  But all too often, you wanted to change the world for Jamie.

I know your story.

No friends in middle school, a misfit in college, an underdog mentality from an underdog town.

Let’s be honest, much of your life has been about proving your worth.

“Oww. Okay. Yeah.

Can’t deny it.

I am sorry.

I repent.”

Rather than change the world, I want you to touch the life of someone else who will change the world.

This statement would alter my life forever.  I stared for a while at this point – at the trees, the sky, the leaves.  There was something solemn about the moment.

Touch the life of someone else who will change the world.

Do you understand what I am saying?

“Yes, I think so.  I’m supposed to empower other people and let them get the credit.  As much as I love ‘the stage,’ I am supposed to lean into subtlety and move away from the ‘big show’.  Rather than a bold and brash, clean and shiny church, we are supposed to become a quiet but confident family of faith.  Rather than wave the banner and give the cheer, we will invite the broken and steadily serve whomever we find in need.  And along the way, You will use someone other than me to influence the world.”

You have the idea.

“God, I have spent most of my life trying to become a great leader, and very little of it learning to become a great listener.  Starting today, I’ll begin seeing people not as chess pieces to move around in a grand strategy, but rather as stories that are unique and magnificent, individuals to be released to their God-designed life.”

July 25, 2014

The Macedonian Call

Come over to Macedonia and help us

This verse is often used at missions conferences or other contexts to challenge people to consider Christian service:

During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
(Acts 16:9)

I don’t know the exact timeline between this passage and one where apparently Paul answered the call but there was obviously a definite need for Paul’s time there was not easy:

For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn–conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,
(II Cor. 7:5-6)

Answering the call

In most cases this verse is presented as a direct confrontation: Will you stop what you are doing and consider going to some other part of the world in Christian service?

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
(Matthew 9:36-38)

I’ve included verse 36 here to see that Jesus call to his disciples was based on seeing genuine need and responding with compassion.

And knowing our propensity to procrastination, wanting to put off our response to the call, scripture includes this verse:

Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
(John 4:35)

But where I want to land today has to do with another aspect to this we often don’t consider:

Issuing the call

If you’re reading a “201” devotional, it may be that you already are playing a ministry role in your local church, with some other parachurch organization, or are simply deeply involved in 1:1 ministry with individuals in your sphere of influence. And sometimes you need to reach out to other people because you can’t — and were not made — to do it all alone.

“Help! I need somebody
Help! Not just anybody”
(The Beatles)

The help you need may consist of

  • Someone’s knowledge or expertise in a particular area of counseling or Bible knowledge. I list this first because sometimes we refuse to admit when we’re over our depth in something.
  • Physical help. You can’t move great weights but together with others the load becomes lighter. It’s nice that you offer to help someone move, but when you get to the refrigerator or the piano, probably a group is needed.
  • Respite. Sometimes you need a break. People in leadership are often the last to realize that. (I’m at that place right now!)
  • Financial assistance. Perhaps you’re trying to do alone something where the costs really need to be borne by a larger group.

It’s at that point, that The (capital C) Church needs to step up, but they can’t do this unless you ask.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.
(Galatians 6:2 NIV, ESV)

How will people know you have a need unless you tell them? What keeps us from asking for help? Pride. I know this to be true in my life; I want to be able to do it all myself, to be the Lone Ranger who rides in and saves the day.

Why? Probably because I want to get the credit, the recognition, the earthly honor. The fact is, some people in ministry don’t want to share the blessing, don’t want to share the stage, don’t want to share the pulpit. They trust the promise that God is able to equip them to do everything, but fail to see sometimes he equips them to be able to recognize people who would provide great help and assistance.

Conclusion

By all means, listen for the Macedonian call and be prepared to respond if you are able. But don’t forget to be prepared to issue a Macedonian call when you find yourself completely over your head in ministry life.

May 22, 2014

Gatekeepers

Nehemiah 7:1

After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers, the musicians and the Levites were appointed.

1 Chronicles 9:26

But the four principal gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted with the responsibility for the rooms and treasuries in the house of God.

Ezra 2:70

The priests, the Levites, the musicians, the gatekeepers and the temple servants settled in their own towns, along with some of the other people, and the rest of the Israelites settled in their towns.
The dictionary of Bible themes tells us that two primary meanings for the term gatekeepers.
Levite temple servants, responsible for protecting the palace and the temple from those who would desecrate it or steal its treasures. City gatekeepers also existed.
In other translators the words doorkeepers, porters, watchmen, and guards are used.
In modern times, especially here in the world of Christian blogs, we have many “watch” ministries who keep an eye on ministry leaders and organizations lest they fall astray.  This type of role is the theme of a lengthy article on this subject at The Christian Gazette  which begins:

Gatekeepers have three primary roles

  1. To protect the Lord’s house.  This means they defend the gospel, the truth of the Word and Protect the holiness of God’s house. Their hearts are on fire with the Fear of the Lord. They want the Lord’s house to be a house of Prayer and they are not content until they see the Lord’s will come to place. The gatekeeper protects the House. They know the scriptures well and are full of understanding. They are bold to speak out against the sins of the church- even if it means they will be mocked, hated or even kicked out of the church. They stay close to the House of the Lord
  2. They keep the Lord’s people on the right path, keeping them from drifting from the Lord. As a staff or sheepdog would keep the sheep together from straying, so the role of gatekeeper is the same. He is responsible to oversee the people, gently guide the drifter back and keep those on the threshold of evil paths from taking another step in the wrong direction. They are bold and not afraid to tell the truth of God;s word, knowing full well they are saving many from the fires of eternal hell.They are prayer warriors and intercessors for the people
  3. They keep watch for the master’s return; ready to usher in the King of Glory

There is also an interesting article at Supplication International which compares the role of gatekeepers and watchmen to the roles of apostles and prophets.

Apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church, they are to lay the foundation of the apostles and prophets, they are to lay the foundation of reformation, and reformation will lay the foundations for lasting revivals. –(Eph. 2:20)

Apostles are sent, and prophets are send, apostles come with divine works, and prophets come with divine messengers, apostles are call to be gatekeepers and to open the gates, and prophets are to be watchmen over the gates and to guide the people of the Lord through those gates. Apostles are leaders of leaders, and prophets are called to lead the church through divine guidance. Apostles are first, and prophets are second in the order of church government. –(1 Cor. 12:28)

Apostles and prophets are foundational ministry, revelational ministry, and impartational ministry to the church. Apostles and prophets are reformational, revival, social transformation, and harvest ministry, and restoration ministry to the church. Apostles and prophets are supernatural ministry to the body of Christ. –(Eph. 2:20,3:5)

Apostles and prophets are gate ministry to the church, the apostles are gatekeepers at the gates, and prophets are watchmen at the gates, both are called to stand together at the gates. –(Rev. 21:9-21, Matt. 16:18-19, Jn. 4:1-26,Ezek. 3:17-21)

Apostles and prophets have gate ministry, they are gate ministry of the church, they have 12-gate ministry of the church. Each of these 12 gates is apostle and prophet gate ministry, only apostles and prophets can seat at these gates, as gatekeepers and watchmen. –(Isa. 1:26)

This article then goes on to describe the specific ministry of the watchmen at each of the twelve gates in Nehemiah.

watchman-on-the-wallIn our work at the Christian bookstore, a local pastor once described us as gatekeepers. I had never really thought about our work in those terms — in the spiritual warfare metaphor I saw us more as running the supply lines — but I can see both the necessity and how we were already fulfilling the doorkeeping role in many ways and didn’t realize it.

Perhaps there is some area where, although you don’t have authoritative oversight, you can, using the gift of discernment serve as a watch-person or a gatekeeper who can alert ministry leaders in your community to situations that might be of concern.

Read more: Daily Encouragement covers this same theme today in a different way at this post.

 

 

December 20, 2013

Spiritual Distractions

You would think the celebration of Jesus’ birth would be a highly focused time for Christ-followers, but in reality, we are just as distracted by the busy-ness of the season. I typed  “spiritual distractions” into a search engine, and one of the first posts I saw was from Real Life Student Ministries.  I liked the approach and thought I would share it. You can also pass this on to any students who are in your life. To read at source click here for Worldly Distractions from God by Amber Ginter.

How many of you get on Facebook, Instagram, twitter, snapchat, check our email, Skype, facetime, read a magazine, or watch T.V. every day. Now keep your hand up if you get on these things more than once a day. More than 5 times a day? What about more than 10?

Do you find it a challenge to go even a day without checking up on your online site, or watching that favorite show of yours every week?

What if every time we wanted to get on Facebook, Instagram, twitter, snapchat, check our email, Skype, facetime, read a magazine, or watch T.V. we opened our Bible to read it instead? We would all for the most part have had the entire Bible read long long ago. Now I’m not saying that I don’t get on some of these networking sites, and things; because I do. I watch that favorite T.V. show every week, and update my status once in a while. Our world just needs to realize that we have the power to say NO against what it promotes we should be a part of.

Pick up your phone and text someone. How long does it take you? 5 seconds, 10? Now pick up your Bible. How long does it take you to find the book of Malachi? Longer than that? Now I admit, I’m not the smartest person about the Bible, but I try to learn more each and every day. This world is full of distractions that pull us away from God, and it can be very difficult to stay focused on him.

.When we become distracted from our faith, we become separated from God. Think of your faith as a drive. Who wants to be in a car with a distracted driver? All kinds of things can happen. You miss your exits. You run off the road. You take a wrong turn. It’s no different in our faith. There are all kinds of spiritual distractions that take us on all kinds of wrong paths and far away from God. Here are some common things that take us away from our faith:

Ourselves

We’re human, and we tend to be very self-focused. It’s easy for us to get lost in our problems and ourselves to a point where we lose sight of God. When we become too focused on ourselves, we are no longer focusing on God. Obviously God loves us, and He wants us to care for ourselves, but he designed us for more than just to take care of ourselves. He also wants us to care for one another and to love Him. Next time you’re in prayer, remember that some of your time with God needs to be other-focused.

Lust and Love

People like to think that lust and love are just adolescent distractions, but they’re not. No matter how old or young you are, lust and love are huge distractions from our faith. We often find ourselves thinking of a crush before we think of God. We find ourselves lost in romantic fantasy or distracted by pornography. We can even get lost in our dating partner to where we no longer focus on our faith, and we only focus on the other person. Breakups can also be a huge distraction as we immerse ourselves in sadness. Christians are very marriage focused, and the desire to get married can also be a huge distraction from God and His purpose for our life.

Entertainment

We like to be entertained. Television, movies, books…they all provide escape from our daily lives. There is nothing that says we cannot provide ourselves a little break from reality by being entertained, but when that entertainment gets in the way of our faith, it becomes a spiritual distraction. We need to prioritize what’s the most important. Should we go see that movie or go to church? If we’re choosing entrainment over God, we have given into our distractions.

Things

Our world is one that promotes having things. Every week there seems to be a new gadget we’re all told we need in our lives. It’s important that we learn the difference between what we need and what we want. When we keep our perspective on needs verses wants, the things in life become far less distracting from our relationship with God. Things in this life are just here for a short time, but God is eternal, and our eternal life with Him needs to be our priority.

School and Work

We all need to go to school and many people need to work. They are an essential part of our lives, but we also need to be careful not to let them distract us from our faith. Now, faith does not give us an excuse to ditch school or not study. To avoid the distractions that school and work can cause, we must be better at managing our time. We have to make sure we get done what we need to do on time so we can devote the time God needs from us. Some spiritual distractions are just caused by poor time management.

Service

Even serving God can provide a spiritual distraction. Sure, we may be working for Him, but sometimes we lose sight of God in the desire to be good servants. A good example of this situation is Martha. She became resentful that her sister, Mary, was not helping her in the kitchen when Jesus came to visit. Yet Jesus reminded her that He needed to come first, not the kitchen work. Her heart wasn’t in a Godly place. When we’re doing God’s work, God needs to be the reason behind what we do.

Luke 10:38-42: 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.”

000

1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

God will never give you more than you can handle. Sure with the temptations, and things we all deal with in life it will be a challenge, but God reminds us that with him ALL things are possible.

We need to ask God to help us and stay focused on him. Psalm 119:15: I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.

We need to ask God to help us only want to do things for him. To help us center our lives on what he wants for our lives, and what he wants us to do for him. Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

We need to turn all our attention to God, and truly keep him as our top priority. 1 Corinthians 7:35:I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

By meditating on God’s word we will become stronger and more faithful in him. Psalm 19:14: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Don’t let the things of this world become more important than God. When it comes down to the end of age; what is going to matter? How much time you spent doing what the world told you, or how much time you spent with God? Matthew 6:24-34: No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, …

By meditating on God’s word we can become stronger and more dependent on him. Joshua 1:8: This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success

 Jesus had to endure torturous temptations. With God we can see that he will give us the strength to carry on; no matter what. Matthew 4:1-11: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple …

If we ask God to turn all of our attention over to him, and help us focus just on HIM; we can become immune to what the world wants us to be; and become who God wants us to. Galatians 5:16-17: But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

We need to go on a spiritual fast to get connected and stay focused on God.  Turn your attention towards him, pray, and believe that if God will bring you to it, God will lead you through it.

October 17, 2013

A. W. Tozer on Christian Leadership

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:59 pm
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A W TozerThe Tozer leadership devotional appears daily on BibleGateway.com and is also available by email subscription.  Since we can’t transcribe full devotionals due to copyright, we’ll give you some introductory paragraphs and links to finish reading. Be sure to read all three, plus some of the in-between ones from various dates on the calendar posted on the right side of the page; the posts themselves are shorter than what we normally do here.

Failure and Success: The Small and the Great

…Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”1 Peter 5:5

Some time ago we heard a short address by a young preacher during which he quoted the following, “If you are too big for a little place, you are too little for a big place.”

It is an odd rule of the kingdom of God that when we try to get big, we always get smaller by the moment…

[...continue reading here...]

 

Failure and Success: True Greatness

Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave.Matthew 20:26-27

The essence of His teaching is that true greatness lies in character, not in ability or position. Men in their blindness had always thought that superior talents made a man great, and so the vast majority believe today. To be endowed with unusual abilities in the field of art or literature or music or statecraft, for instance, is thought to be in itself an evidence of greatness…

[...continue reading here...]

Failure and Success: Quantity Rather Than Quality

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness-God is witness.—1 Thessalonians 2:4-5

Time may show that one of the greatest weaknesses in our modern civilization has been the acceptance of quantity rather than quality as the goal after which to strive….

Christianity is resting under the blight of degraded values. And it all stems from a too-eager desire to impress, to gain fleeting attention, to appear well in comparison…

[...continue reading here...]

August 18, 2013

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 to sin, isn’t it? So what would you tell the Henderson family? What would you tell me?

March 6, 2013

Digging Deeper Into I Timothy

One thing we’ve learned from the publication of The People’s Bible — an NIV edition that highlights the most frequently searched verses at BibleGateway.com — is that some scripture verses are more prevalent in the public consciousness than others. In keeping with the oft-mentioned theme here of scripture as a jewel, we find when we return to a passage something staring us in the face which may have totally missed before.

For example, consider I Timothy 3, the passage dealing with the requirements to be an overseer (as in the ESV and NIV, some use bishop, CEV uses church official, etc.) or deacons (today we might say elders or board members).  While you might not have this passage memorized, you could probably describe it: Self controlled, a solid marriage, not involved in any shady business dealings, a good manager of their family, well-liked by those outside the church, etc. But then we come to verse 9:

NIV I Tim 3:9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.

Matthew Henry says of this:

The practical love of truth is the most powerful preservative from error and delusion. If we keep a pure conscience (take heed of every thing that debauches conscience, and draws us away from God), this will preserve in our souls the mystery of faith.

Now notice, we would say that those ‘handling’ the truth of God’s word need to do so in purity; personally, I would want to see this passage as parallel to the purity laws in Leviticus required of the priests who were instrumental in administering the sacrifices.

But Matthew Henry reverses the cause and effect from what I would expected, and says that those who love truth will be kept from error and delusion by so doing, because the truth acts as preservative.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, however sees this passage as I expected, while the Eerdman’s Bible Commentary defines the ‘mystery’ referred to here as referring to truths not apparent to the common man, the one who is not privileged to be a partaker in the truth.

The other verse which I wanted to look at today is in chapter 5:

NIV I Tim: 524 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.

This is a chapter dealing with the treatment of widows and the responsibility of elders. The NIV section header adds “and slaves” though the word isn’t used in the chapter, but does occur at the start of  chapter six.

I like the CEV on this verse:

24 Some people get caught in their sins right away, even before the time of judgment. But other people’s sins don’t show up until later.

The Message Bible couples this with the verse that follows, offering a positive implication to follow the negative:

24-25 The sins of some people are blatant and march them right into court. The sins of others don’t show up until much later. The same with good deeds. Some you see right off, but none are hidden forever.

This couplet of verses seems like it would be more fitting in the book of Proverbs. It does stand out here which may be why we tend to skip over it, jumping to the next chapter and the treatment of slaves.  (And historically, we must see this referring to slavery; even the most modern translations avoid an attempt at being contemporary with the suggestion that this might refer to ’employees.’)

The Reformation Study Bible tells us that this section is included as a reminder of the type of screening process that is necessary when choosing elders, overseers, etc.

Matthew Henry reads it differently:

Ministers have need of a great deal of wisdom, to know how to accommodate themselves to the variety of offences and offenders that they have occasion to deal with. Some men’s sins are so plain and obvious, and not found by secret search, that there is no dispute concerning the bringing of them under the censures of the church; they go before to judgment, to lead them to censure.

Others they follow after; that is, their wickedness does not presently appear, nor till after a due search has been made concerning it. Or, as some understand it, some men’s sins continue after they are censured; they are not reformed by the censure, and in that case there must be no absolution. So, also, as to the evidences of repentance: The good works of some are manifest beforehand. And those that are otherwise, whose good works do not appear, their wickedness cannot be hid, and so it will be easy to discern who are to be absolved, and who are not. Observe,

  1. There are secret, and there are open sins; some men’s sins are open beforehand, and going unto judgment, and some they follow after.
  2.  Sinners must be differently dealt with by the church.
  3. The effects of church-censures are very different; some are thereby humbled and brought to repentance, so that their good works are manifest beforehand, while it is quite otherwise with others.
  4. The incorrigible cannot be hid; for God will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of all hearts.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary sees this passage in the light of verse 22, which says,

22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

(Note: Just to be clear, there are always some who read ‘laying on of hands’ as referring to prayer for healing or deliverance; but it refers to setting someone apart for ministry leadership.)

The commentary suggests that the overarching principle should be, “By their fruits you will know them;” thus character is established over the long term. (Ref. Matthew 7:20 also verse 16.)

The International Bible Commentary reflects the implications when both verses 24 and 25 are considered together:

…Great discernment will be required where the true nature of the individual is not so obvious. Some will only after a time reveal disqualifying traits. Others, in danger of being turned down, may subsequently show that they possessed in good measure the qualities of a first-class elder. Timothy must be aware of making a rapid assessment, and arriving at a superficial judgment. First impressions are not always accurate. Where uncertainty exists, caution will clearly be the wisest choice. And yet Paul encourages his colleague; good deeds, though not always immediately discernible cannot be concealed forever.


Do you have a verse you’d like to see looked at closer?  No promises, but if so, feel free to use the contact page. (Try to avoid known difficult passages as there is never full resolution on those!) If you know a link where the passage has already been discussed include it with a note as to whether or not you found that explanation satisfactory.

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