Christianity 201

April 10, 2017

Christianity 201: Quotations

For those who come to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Christianity 201 started on April 1st, 2010. So we had a birthday a few days ago that we didn’t mention. The early days were rather rough and haphazard. To give you an idea, one post the first month contained the above verse, but not the reference. (For the record, it’s a shortened version of Hebrews 11:6.)  It took a year or so for us to find our rhythm.

Over the years we’ve done a quotations series from various authors, but today, in a sense, we’re quoting ourselves. Here, in no particular order, are some very random things that were posted in those early day from our very first month:

Watchman Nee:

Nothing is so hurtful to the life of a Christian as acting; nothing so blessed as when our outward efforts cease and our attitudes become natural — when our words, our prayers, our very life become a spontaneous and unforced expression of the life within.

Bruxy Cavey:

The thing about grace is that it makes religion totally redundant

E. Stanley Jones:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God.   Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

Oswald J. Smith:

Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?

Chuck Swindoll:

At Catalyst ’09  Chuck Swindoll shared some wisdom that he’d compiled over the course of his fifty years in ministry. One of his many points was that “God’s way is better than my way.”

He says that “our problem is that we are too capable.” We are too talented, too skilled, too knowledgeable, and too busy doing it all. No room for God. No need.

Swindoll says that “God can’t pour His riches into hands that are already full… Empty your hands… [We must] empty our hands” of our own clippings, ideas, dreams, philosophies.

Tim Keller:

Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.

J.D. Greear:

Both Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Edwards were known to arrive home with a couple dozen hand written notes pinned to their jackets. Yes, they looked like dorks, but we remember them hundreds of years after their deaths and don’t even know the names of the cool people anymore.

Unknown:

Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout.  It is usually the result of a slow leak.

A. W. Tozer:

There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always possess. It covets “things” with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns “my” and “mine” look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant…

They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease. The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one root lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature  is upset by the monstrous substitution.

Ghandi:

“You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down, and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of good literature.“

Steven & Brooksyne Weber (on the scribe in Matthew 8: 19-20)

Our Lord tests the sincerity of the scribe’s loyalty by warning him that He was so poor that beasts of the fields and birds of the air have nicer accommodations than He Himself had. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” If the popular leader fared so badly, what was the follower to expect? 

Ottawa area pastor Paul Kern provided us with our first ever graphic element, borrowed from his church website:

Finally, here, in its entirety is the first of what would turn out to be many posts from Kevin Rogers. If you click the link and then look around, you’ll find that Kevin is faithfully writing and that the title of this devotional is still the tag line for his website.

Loners Learning About Community

God’s eyes are watching loners. He is the shepherd who leaves a flock of ninety-nine in the care of another and travels to find the one-hundredth sheep that wandered away and was lost.

He is the Father who watches and waits for broken rebels to humble themselves and return home to His endearing love and unmerited acceptance.

God is a father to orphans and a new husband to widows. The societal separation, abandonment and sudden loss create a lack of belonging. The loneliness of orphans becomes their new identity. Where will the widow and orphan belong? Who will provide for them? Who will be their protector?

God not only finds loners but calls them to belong to His family. He adopts and marries the ones misunderstood, rejected and divorced from their own family of origin.

His presence in a life can sometimes cause difficulty and separation from your roots. The sins of the fathers affect the family down to the great-grandchildren. But God’s blessing goes further in unlimited potential.

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

April 2, 2012

Madame Guyon Quotations

First, the usual stop at Wikipedia (two separate links as noted):

Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon (commonly known as Madame Guyon) (13 April 1648 – 9 June 1717) was a French mystic and one of the key advocates of Quietism. Quietism was considered heretical by the Roman Catholic Church, and she was imprisoned from 1695 to 1703 after publishing a book on the topic, A Short and Easy Method of Prayer.

Quietism is a Christian philosophy that swept through France, Italy and Spain during the 17th century, but it had much earlier origins. The mystics known as Quietists insist, with more or less emphasis, on intellectual stillness and interior passivity as essential conditions of perfection.

Guyon believed that one should pray all the time, and that in whatever one does, one should be spending time with God. “Prayer is the key of perfection and of sovereign happiness; it is the efficacious means of getting rid of all vices and of acquiring all virtues; for the way to become perfect is to live in the presence of God. He tells us this Himself: “walk before me, and be thou perfect” Genesis 17:1. Prayer alone can bring you into His presence, and keep you there continually.”[1]

As she wrote in one of her poems: “There was a period when I chose, A time and place for prayer … But now I seek that constant prayer, In inward stillness known …”

Here are a few of her writings:


The soul seeks God by faith, not by the reasonings of the mind and labored efforts, but by the drawings of love; to which inclinations God responds, and instructs the soul, which co-operates actively. God then puts the soul in a passive state where He accomplishes all, causing great progress, first by way of enjoyment, then by privation, and finally by pure love.


There are three kinds of silence. Silence from words is good, because inordinate speaking tends to evil. Silence, or rest from desires and passions is still better, because it promotes quietness of spirit. But the best of all is silence from unnecessary and wandering thoughts, because that is essential to internal recollection, and because it lays a foundation for a proper reputation and for silence in other respects.


We must forget ourselves and all self-interest, and listen, and be attentive to God.


If knowing answers to life’s questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget the journey. You will never make it, for this is a journey of unknowables, – of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles, and most of all, things unfair.


Regarding your spiritual life, be open, simple and like a child. In the depths of your spirit be like a drop of water lost in an ocean, and be no longer conscious of yourself. In this enlarged condition see and enjoy everything from within God. Within yourself there is only darkness, but in God there is only light. Let God be everything to you…. God’s love is like a weight within us, causing us to sink deeper and deeper into God.


Holy Solitude

Kind solitude
Away from the world and the noise
Divine quietude,
Silence, like the night!

Happy the one that possesses you,
And tastes your sweetness,
The cure of all ills!
Unfortunate are those who do not love you!

It is blessedness,
To be heart to heart with God:
There no disquietude
Troubles the peace of this place.


Rest assured, it is the same God who causes the scarcity and the abundance, the rain and the fair weather. The high and low states, the peaceful and the state of warfare, are each good in their season. These vicissitudes form and mature the interior, as the different seasons compose the year…God loves you; let this thought equalise all states. Let him do with us as with the waves of the sea, and whether he takes us to his bosom, or casts us upon the sand, that is, leaves us to our own barrenness, all is well.


O my Divine Love, the desire I had to please You,
the tears I shed,
my great labours and the little fruit I reaped from it,
moved Your compassion.
You gave me in a moment,
through Your grace and Your goodness alone,
what I had been unable to give myself through all my efforts

I implore you not to give in to despair. It is a dangerous tempatation, because our Adversary has refined it to the point that it is quite subtle. Hopelessness constricts and withers the heart, rendering it unable to sense God’s blessings and grace. It also causes you to exaggerate the adversities of life and makes your burdens seem too heavy for you to bear. Yet God’s plans for you, and His ways of bringing about His plans, are infinitely wise.

Sources: GiGA Quotes, Quotation Park, Wikiquote, Daily Christian Quotes, Madame Guyon Blogspot, Relevant Blog Blogspot, Rachel Jane Rickert

January 25, 2012

Can Worship Be Defined in Terms of Experience?

Over the weekend, I brought my obsession with Eugene Peterson to my readers at Thinking Out Loud, but I wanted to share the quotation — which my wife graciously typed out for me — with readers here…

For several days at Christianity 201, I’ve been sharing my excitement over discovering that Eugene Peterson The Message bible translator is also Eugene Peterson the author. For those of you who’ve known this secret for some time, I apologize for arriving late to the party. I’m reading The Jesus Way (Eerdman’s) and spreading the reading out over several weeks, which is really what is needed to take it all in.

Each section of the book deals with the different “ways” of living that some choose, including Old Testament characters such as Abraham, Moses and Elijah. The study of the text is most thorough, but in each section, Peterson breaks away from the text long enough to provide contemporary application. He minces no words in his concern over the state of the modern church in the west, particularly in North America with which he is most familiar.

The study on Elijah’s showdown on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal yielded these comments:


“Harlotry” is the stock prophetic criticism of the worship of the people who are assimilated to Baalistic forms. While the prophetic accusation of “harlotry” has a literal reference to the sacred prostitution of the Baal cult, it is also a metaphor that extends its meaning into the entire theology of worship, worship that seeks fulfillment through self-expression, worship that accepts the needs and desires and passions of the worshiper as its baseline. “Harlotry” is worship that says, “I will give you satisfaction. You want religious feelings? I will give them to you. You want your needs fulfilled? I’ll do it in the form most arousing to you.” A divine will that sets itself in opposition to the sin-tastes and self-preoccupations of humanity is incomprehensible in Baalism and is so impatiently discarded. Baalism reduces worship to the spiritual stature of the worshiper. Its canons are that it should be interesting, relevant and exciting – that I “get something out of it.”

Baal’s Mount Carmel altar lacks neither action nor ecstasy. The 450 priests put on quite a show. But the altar call comes up empty.

Yahweh’s altar is presided over by the solitary prophet Elijah. It is a quiet affair, a worship that is centered on the God of the covenant. Elijah prepares the altar and prays briefly and simply. In Yahwism something is said – words that call men and women to serve, love, obey, sing, adore, act responsibly, decide. Authentic worship means being present to the living God who penetrates the whole of human life. The proclamation of God’s word and our response to God’s Spirit touches everything that is involved in being human: mind and body, thinking and feeling, work and family, friends and government, buildings and flowers.

Sensory participation is not excluded – how could it be if the whole person is to be presented to God? When the people of God worship there are bodily postures of standing and kneeling and prostration in prayer. Sacred dances and antiphonal singing express community solidarity. Dress and liturgy develop dramatic energies. Solemn silence sensitizes ears to listen. But as rich and varied as the sensory life is, it is always defined and ordered by the word of God. Nothing is done simply for the sake of the sensory experience involved – which eliminates all propagandistic and emotional manipulation.

A frequently used phrase in North American culture that is symptomatic of Baalistic tendencies in worship is “let’s have a worship experience.” It is the Baalistic perversion of “let us worship God.” It is the difference between cultivating something that makes sense to an individual, and acting in response to what makes sense to God. In a “worship experience”, a person sees something that excites him or her and goes about putting spiritual wrappings around it. A person experiences something in the realm of dependency, anxiety, love, loss, or joy and a connection is made with the ultimate. Worship becomes a movement from what I see or experience or hear, to prayer or celebration or discussion in a religious setting. Individual feelings trump the word of God.

Biblically formed people of God do not use the term “worship” as a description of experience, such as “I can have a worship experience with God on the golf course.” What that means is, “I can have religious feelings reminding me of good things, awesome things, beautiful things nearly any place.” Which is true enough. The only thing wrong with the statement is its ignorance, thinking that such experience makes up what the Christian church calls worship.

The biblical usage is very different. It talks of worship as a response to God’s word in the context of the community of God’s people. Worship in the biblical sources and in liturgical history is not something a person experiences, it is something we do, regardless of how we feel about it, or whether we feel anything about it at all. The experience develops out of the worship, not the other way around. Isaiah saw, heard, and felt on the day he received his prophetic call while at worship in the temple – but he didn’t go there in order to have a “seraphim experience”.

At the Mount Carmel Yahweh altar things are very different. Elijah prays briefly. The fire falls. The altar call brings “all the people” to their knees. They make their decision: “Yahweh, he is God; Yahweh, he is God.” And then the rain comes.

~Eugene Peterson

January 19, 2012

Eugene Peterson on American Christianity

It’s not like this blog to get stuck on a particular writer, but I am so impressed with The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson; and can’t believe this writer has been so obvious, so in plain sight, yet I’d never read anything beyond his Bible translation, The Message.   In a couple of places he contrasts “the way” Jesus pioneered with the very different state of things in the modern church.  I have a section I want to include here, but will need to type it out manually; so in today’s busy-ness, I’m giving you a similar passage from the publisher’s blog. (Eerdmans)

Here is a text, words spoken by Jesus, that keeps this in clear focus: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The Jesus way wedded to the Jesus truth brings about the Jesus life. We can’t proclaim the Jesus truth but then do it any old way we like. Nor can we follow the Jesus way without speaking the Jesus truth.

But Jesus as the truth gets far more attention than Jesus as the way. Jesus as the way is the most frequently evaded metaphor among the Christians with whom I have worked for fifty years as a North American pastor. In the text that Jesus sets before us so clearly and definitively, way comes first. We cannot skip the way of Jesus in our hurry to get to the truth of Jesus as he is worshiped and proclaimed. The way of Jesus is the way that we practice and come to understand the truth of Jesus, living Jesus in our homes and workplaces, with our friends and family.

A Christian congregation, the church in your neighborhood, has always been the primary location for getting this way and truth and life of Jesus believed and embodied in the places and among the people with whom we most have to do day in and day out. There is more to the church than this local congregation. There is the church continuous through the centuries, our fathers and mothers who continue to influence and teach us. There is the church spread throughout the world, communities that we are in touch with through prayer and suffering and mission. There is the church invisible, dimensions and instances of the Spirit’s work that we know nothing about. There is the church triumphant, that “great cloud of witnesses” who continue to surround us (Heb. 12:1). But the local congregation is the place where we get all of this integrated and practiced in the immediate circumstances and among the men, women, and children we live with. This is where it becomes local and personal.

The local congregation is the place and community for listening to and obeying Christ’s commands, for inviting people to consider and respond to Jesus’ invitation, “Follow me,” a place and community for worshipping God. It is the place and community where we are baptized into a Trinitarian identity and go on to mature “to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), where we can be taught the Scriptures and learn to discern the ways that we follow Jesus, the Way.

The local congregation is the primary place for dealing with the particulars and people we live with. As created and sustained by the Holy Spirit, it is insistently local and personal. Unfortunately, the more popular American church strategies in respect to congregation are not friendly to the local and the personal. The American way with its penchant for catchy slogans and stirring visions denigrates the local, and its programmatic ways of dealing with people erode the personal, replacing intimacies with functions. The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus way with the American Way. For Christians who are serious about following Jesus by understanding and pursuing the ways that Jesus is the Way, this deconstruction of the Christian congregation is particularly distressing and a looming distraction from the Way of Jesus.

A Christian congregation is a company of praying men and women who gather, usually on Sundays, for worship, who then go into the world as salt and light. God’s Holy Spirit calls and forms this people. God means to do something with us, and he means to do it in community. We are in on what God is doing, and we are in on it together.

And here is how we are in on it: we become present to what God intends to do with and for us through worship, become present to the God who is present to us. The operating biblical metaphor regarding worship is sacrifice — we bring ourselves to the altar and let God do with us what he will. We bring ourselves to the eucharistic table and enter into that grand fourfold shape of the liturgy that shapes us: taking, blessing, breaking, giving — the life of Jesus taken and blessed, broken and distributed. That eucharistic life now shapes our lives as we give ourselves, Christ in us, to be taken, blessed, broken, and distributed in lives of witness and service, justice and healing.

But that is not the American way. The great American innovation in congregation is to turn it into a consumer enterprise. We Americans have developed a culture of acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting more, requiring more. We have a huge advertising industry designed to stir up appetites we didn’t even know we had. We are insatiable.

It didn’t take long for some of our Christian brothers and sisters to develop consumer congregations. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel in consumer terms: entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem-solving, whatever. This is the language we Americans grew up on, the language we understand. We are the world’s champion consumers, so why shouldn’t we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?

Given the conditions prevailing in our culture, this is the best and most effective way that has ever been devised for gathering large and prosperous congregations. Americans lead the world in showing how to do it. There is only one thing wrong: this is not the way in which God brings us into conformity with the life of Jesus and sets us on the way of Jesus’ salvation. This is not the way in which we become less and Jesus becomes more. This is not the way in which our sacrificed lives become available to others in justice and service. The cultivation of consumer spirituality is the antithesis of a sacrificial, “deny yourself” congregation. A consumer church is an antichrist church.

We can’t gather a God-fearing, God-worshipping congregation by cultivating a consumer-pleasing, commodity-oriented congregation. When we do, the wheels start falling off the wagon. And they are falling off the wagon. We can’t suppress the Jesus way into order to sell the Jesus truth. The Jesus way and the Jesus truth must be congruent. Only when the Jesus way is organically joined with the Jesus truth do we get the Jesus life.

~Eugene Peterson

January 4, 2012

Brennan Manning Quotations

Brennan Manning (christened Richard Francis Xavier Manning) is an author, monk, priest, contemplative and speaker. Born and raised in Depression-era Brooklyn, New York, Manning finished high school and enlisted in the US Marine Corps, where he fought in the Korean War. When Manning returned to the states, he enrolled at Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania. Upon his graduation from the seminary in 1963, Manning was ordained to the Franciscan priesthood.In the late 1960s, Manning joined the Little Brothers of Jesus of Charles de Foucauld, a religious order committed to an uncloistered, contemplative life among the poor. Manning then spent time diversely, transporting water via donkey, as a mason’s assistant, a dishwasher in France, a prisoner in a Swiss jail (by choice), and spending six months in a remote cave somewhere in the Zaragoza desert.In the 1970s, Manning returned the US and began writing after falling into, and climbing out of, alcoholism. 


The Word we study has to be the Word we pray. My personal experience of the relentless tenderness of God came not from exegetes, theologians, and spiritual writers, but from sitting still in the presence of the living Word and beseeching Him to help me understand with my head and heart His written Word. Sheer scholarship alone cannot reveal to us the gospel of grace. We must never allow the authority of books, institutions, or leaders to replace the authority of *knowing* Jesus Christ personally and directly. When the religious views of others interpose between us and the primary experience of Jesus as the Christ, we become unconvicted and unpersuasive travel agents handing out brochures to places we have never visited. ~Ragamuffin Gospel


“The deepest desire of our heart is for union with God.  God created us for union with himself.  This is the original purpose of our lives.”


“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” ~ Ragamuffin Gospel


“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”


“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” ~Abba’s Child


“I am deeply distressed by what I only can call in our Christian culture the idolatry of the Scriptures. For many Christians, the Bible is not a pointer to God but God himself… God cannot be confined within the covers of a leather-bound book. I develop a nasty rash around people who speak as if mere scrutiny of its pages will reveal precisely how God thinks and precisely what God wants.” ~ Signature of Jesus


“The defining moments of my life have not been my sins or successes.  They’ve been a depressingly small number of decisions that involved real risk.”


“There is the “you” that people see and then there is the “rest of you”. Take some time and craft a picture of the “rest of you.” This could be a drawing, in words, even a song. Just remember that the chances are good it will be full of paradox and contradictions. ” ~Furious Longing of God


“Everybody has a vocation to some form of life-work. However, behind that call (and deeper than any call), everybody has a vocation to be a person to be fully and deeply human in Christ Jesus.” ~The Wisdom of Tenderness


“Jesus said you are to love one another as I have loved you, a love that will possibly lead to the bloody, anguish gift of yourself, a love that forgives seven times seven, that keeps no record of wrong. This is the criterion, sole norm, the standard of discipleship in the New Israel of God.” ~Furious Longing of God


“The god who exacts the last drop of blood from his Son so that his just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased, is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ. And if he is not the God of Jesus, he does not exist.” ~Above All


But the answer seems too easy, too glib. yes, God saved us because he loved us. But he is God. He has infinite imagination. Couldn’t he have dreamed up a different redemption? Couldn’t he have saved us with a pang of hunger, a word of forgiveness, a single drop of blood? And if he had to die, then for God’s sake — for Christ’s sake — couldn’t he have died in bed, died with dignity? Why was he condemned like a criminal? Why was his back flayed with whips? Why was his head crowned with thorns? Why was he nailed to wood and allowed to die in frightful, lonely agony? Why was the last breath drawn in bloody disgrace, while the world for which he lay dying egged on his executioners with savage fury like some kind of gang rape by uncivilized brutes in Central Park? Why did they have to take the very best? One thing we know — we don’t comprehend the love of Jesus Christ. Oh, we see a movie and resonate to what a young man and woman will endure for romantic love. We know that when the chips are down, if we love wildly enough we’ll fling life and caution to the winds for the one we love. But when it comes to God’s love in the broken, blood-drenched body of Jesus Christ, we get antsy and start to talk about theology, divine justice, God’s wrath, and the heresy of universalism. ~Ragamuffin Gospel


Sources: Good Reads; Quoteland; A Daughter of Grace; Apprenticeship to Jesus; Zedekiah List; After All; Quoting Quotes

October 26, 2011

Oswald Chambers Quotations

Many know the works of Oswald Chambers, but not many know that he only actually wrote one book!  From Wikipedia

While there are more than 30 books that bear his name, he only penned one book, Baffled to Fight Better. His wife, Biddy, was a stenographer and could take dictation at a rate of 250 words per minute. During his time teaching at the Bible College and at various sites in Egypt, Biddy kept verbatim records of his lessons. She spent the remaining 30 years of her life compiling her records into the bulk of his published works.

From the writer of My Utmost for His Highest…


The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is not–Do your duty, but–Do what is not your duty. It is not your duty to go the second mile, to turn the other cheek, but Jesus says if we are His disciples we shall always do these things. There will be no spirit of–“Oh, well, I cannot do any more, I have been so misrepresented and misunderstood”. . . Never look for right in the other man, but never cease to be right yourself. We are always looking for justice; the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is–Never look for justice, but never cease to live it.


We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all.


Never tolerate through sympathy with yourself or with others any practice that is not in keeping with a holy God. Holiness means unsullied walking with the feet, unsullied talking with the tongue, unsullied thinking with the mind – every detail of the life under the scrutiny of God. Holiness is not only what God gives me, but what I manifest that God has given me.


Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking.


It is impossible to live the life of a disciple without definite times of secret prayer. You will find that the place to enter in is in your business, as you walk along the streets, in the ordinary ways of life, when no one dreams you are praying, and the reward comes openly, a revival here, a blessing there.


If in preaching the gospel you substitute your knowledge of the way of salvation for confidence in the power of the gospel, you hinder people from getting to reality.


We say, sorrow, disaster, calamity. God says, chastening and it sounds sweet to him though it is a discord to our ears. Don’t faint when you are rebuked, and don’t despise the chastening of the Lord. ”In your patience possess your souls.”


It is not so true that “prayer changes things” as that prayer changes me and I change things. God has so constituted things that prayer on the basis of Redemption alters the way in which a man looks at things. Prayer is not a question of altering things externally, but of working wonders in a man’s disposition.


We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.


Patience is more than endurance. A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says–‘I cannot stand anymore.’ God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly. Trust yourself in God’s hands. Maintain your relationship to Jesus Christ by the patience of faith. ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.


Get into the habit of dealing with God about everything. Unless in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door wide back and let God in, you will work on a wrong level all day; but swing the door wide open and pray to your Father in secret, and every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God.


The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance.


Character in a saint means the disposition of Jesus Christ persistently manifested.


Sources:  Good Reads, Think Exist, Famous Quotes & Authors, Daily Christian Quote, Brainy Quote

June 2, 2011

Going Deep, Staying Real

Today, a reprint from June of last year…

The present Christian online culture craves spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

“Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.”

January 28, 2011

Introducing the Ministry of Ann Voskamp

We’re going to take a break today from the regular format to introduce daily devotional and Bible study readers to the ministry of Ann Voskamp, author of the just-published One Thousand Gifts.

First, you might want to get to know Ann’s website, A Holy Experience.  Make sure your speakers are turned on, as music plays underneath.  Or not.  I read one reviewer who valued Ann’s words so much, readers were advised to make sure their speakers were turned off!  I guess we each process things differently.

Second, read Ann’s story.  Some of you have blogs of your own and you’ve had that experience of creating an “about” page where you try to sum up your life journey in a few words for people who you’ve never met.  If not, open a word processing program or open a blank e-mail and take about fifteen minutes to craft your own personal “about” page.  (If you like the result, you can post it here as a comment!)

Finally, watch and listen to an excerpt from the book in this video.  Usually on days like this I embed a Christian worship video, but this time we’re going for a different kind of video that is so suited to Ann’s ministry. I realize not all of you are into poetry, but consider the following:

  1. The Bible devotes five books to wisdom literature, much of which is poetic in form.
  2. In many places that we don’t think of as poetry, the simple repetition of words (i.e. “Holy, Holy, Holy”) is following Hebrew poetic forms familiar to the audience.  There is a beauty to the language of scripture that our language, English, causes us to overlook.
  3. The Bible is filled with Psalms in places other than the book that bears that name.  Mary greets the angel’s news that she is the one chosen to bear the Messiah with the song we know as The Magnificat.  While it is largely a reiteration of various scripture; combined it becomes poetic.  The passage in Philippians about Christ’s humility (“Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus…”) is indented in most modern Bibles because it’s recognized as an early Church hymn.

So watch, listen and enjoy…

December 11, 2010

Things That Matter

I’m going to flesh this out a bit more later in the week at Thinking Out Loud, but I wanted to sketch it out here first.

If you click the link (at right) for Alltop, and read the things that people write about on some of the top Christian blogs, it’s easy to get really confused.  Yes, confused.   It’s easy to think, ‘Okay, these guys are the top Christian bloggers, and if these are the issues they write about, then these things must be really important.’

In other words, to make the mistake of thinking that their issues should also be your issues.   To get sucked into the wrong idea that the things pastors and Christian leaders are blogging about are key to Christian faith, growth and understanding.

To my fellow bloggers — especially those of you just getting started — don’t be so deceived.   Write about the things that matter to you; the things that you think are important.   Pour out your heart.   Be transparent.   Write about what you know and confess relative ignorance of things you don’t.   Don’t feel the need to respond or “have a take” on the so-called “issues of the day.”

Write about the things that you are passionate about.   Write about things that begin in your story, how you came to friendship with Jesus Christ, and what He’s been doing in your life lately, and what you’ve been learning as you’ve read His book.

Today’s sidebar

…Last Sunday, I walked up to a guy I hadn’t seen in a few months.   I asked how the family was, and then asked how his business is going.  And then… “and how are things going spiritually?”

He said something back like, “Wow!  That’s the question.”   It turned out things are going pretty good, actually, but he was still a little surprised by my asking the question.

How much of the time we spend “fellowshiping” in church is actually spiritual fellowship?   Make a difference in someone’s life by asking the right questions, by steering the conversation to things that matter.

October 29, 2010

The Devotional Ministry of Selwyn Hughes

I grew up with the Our Daily Bread devotionals, but many years ago, I discovered the devotional booklets Every Day With Jesus by the late Selwyn Hughes.   The advantage to these books is that you are studying a single subject for 60 days.   Can’t remember what you read earlier this morning?   Maybe a more focused study like this is the answer.

EDWJ is distributed in most countries of the world, but is relatively unknown in the U.S.  Probably this is because there are so many free devotional books in the States, whereas CWR (Crusade for World Revival) in England, the publisher of EDWJ charges for the booklets, and it’s not cheap.  ($5.50 in Canada through bookstores from David C. Cook.)   However, they do publish annual collections under various titles, and you can still find some of the ones Broadman & Holman published in the U.S.

Here are some samples of Hughes’ writing:


Seeing Life Whole

For reading & meditation: 1 Peter 3:13-22
“‘ Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have ‘” (v.15)

As Christians we ought never to forget that the message of the Bible is addressed primarily to the understanding; it enables us to understand life. Because of the Bible, we are able to give a reason for the hope that is within us. The psalmist found the truth of this. In the sanctuary he discovered an explanation for the way that he felt. He was not given a temporary lift that would stay with him for a few hours or a few days – he was given a solution that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

It was this, in fact, that caused him to write the psalm we are focusing upon day by day. The words: “Then I understood their final destiny” (Psa. 73:17) suggest that previously he had not been thinking correctly. He had been seeing things from a partial and incomplete perspective, but now “in the sanctuary” he began to see the whole picture: “Then I understood”. When? Then – when he came into the sanctuary. There is a line in one of Matthew Arnold’s writings that goes like this: “Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole.” What a delightful phrase this is. Nothing can be more wonderful than to see life steadily and to see it whole.

Much of the inner turmoil we go through in life comes about because we do not see life as a whole. Prejudice has been defined as “seeing only what you want to see”. People who are prejudiced say: “I have always seen it that way.” That’s their problem – their eyes are fixed on just one facet of an issue and they will not allow themselves to look at the other sides.

Restoring The Image

For reading & meditation: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
“May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.23)

We continue meditating on the importance of looking at life “steadily and whole”. I venture to suggest that people who are not Christians are unable to see life as a whole. How can they, when their thinking takes place only on the level of the natural? Natural thinking is notoriously partial and incomplete.

Take, for example, the field of medicine. A generation ago doctors treated the symptoms that people presented to them, but now, with a clearer understanding of how the mind affects physical health, they have come to see that this approach was partial. One doctor said: “At long last the medical profession has discovered that the patient himself is important.” Medicine is fast moving towards what is described as a “holistic” approach as more and more doctors begin to realize that it is not enough to treat the problem, we must also treat the person.

They are still far from seeing that there is also a spiritual element in the person that has to be considered, but perhaps in time that will come. Christian counselling suffers from the same problem – it does not see the whole picture. I am tired of reading books on Christian counselling that give just one side of the issue and suggest that problems can be resolved by applying one special technique.

Man was created as a whole person and he will never be helped back to wholeness unless every part of his being is treated – spirit, soul and body. God wants to restore His image in us: not in part of us but in the whole.

No Need for Dead Reckoning

For reading & meditation: Acts 26:1-18
“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (v.9)

The place where we can see life as a whole is in the sanctuary of God, or, if you prefer, in the presence of God. There we are reminded of things we have forgotten or ignored. See how the Good News Bible translates Acts 26:9: “I myself thought that I should do everything I could against the cause of Jesus of Nazareth.” Here you see the root of Paul’s problem: “I myself thought”. And is not that the underlying cause of many of our problems too? We say, “I myself thought ‘” instead of asking: “What does God think?”

Sometimes sailors will attempt to establish the position of their ships by estimating the distance and direction they have traveled, rather than by astronomical observation. This is called “dead reckoning”. It is sometimes necessary in foul weather but it is fraught with peril. One mariner has said: “Undue trust in the dead reckoning has produced more disastrous shipwrecks of seaworthy ships than all other causes put together.”

There are people who attempt the voyage of life by dead reckoning, but there is no need. God has charted the map for us with loving care in the Scriptures, and our plain duty is to study the chart so that we might become better acquainted with His purposes and His ways. For the better we know the Scriptures, the better we will know God. We cannot ignore the facts of history or science – they help – but if our perspective is not drawn from the Scriptures it will lead us astray. We must not rely on dead reckoning but on divine reckoning.

What the Scripture Says

For reading & meditation: Matthew 22:23-33
“Jesus replied, You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (v.29)

We spend one more day considering the proposition that apart from a relationship with God and an understanding of the Scriptures, we are unable to see life as a whole. The man or woman who knows and understands the Bible will be acquainted with the facts he or she needs to have in order to come to right and sound conclusions.

So immerse yourself in the Scriptures. Understand that human nature is corrupt and that apart from the grace and power of God men and women are unable to live up to their ideals. Realize that the spiritual is more powerful than the material, and unless the spirit is in control we will be driven by carnal desires. When people say humanity is getting better and that sin and evil are just the “growing pains” of the human race – what are the facts? You get them from the Scriptures and only from the Scriptures. What does the Bible tell us about evil? It says it is part of the human condition and can never be rooted out except through the power and the grace of God.

So study the facts of Scripture. Read them, memorize them, and meditate upon them. When next you feel dispirited because you cannot make sense of something, ask yourself: What are the facts? Dig into the Scriptures and draw your perspective from what the Bible says. The root of many of our emotional problems lies in a lack of clear thinking – clear thinking based on Scripture. Think as God thinks about issues and you will feel as God feels about them. For you are not what you think you are, but what you think you are.

These readings are from the archives for March 1 – 4 this year.  You can link to them through this page, which offers current readings. For the record, I remained a EDWJ subscriber for 18 years.

June 23, 2010

Redefining “Deep”

The present Christian online culture craves spiritual depth.   A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard.   A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment.   An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.”  An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths.   A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth?   What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?”   Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so.   Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals.   That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate.   People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.”   In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth.   I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace.    I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible.   Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered.  Or phone calls you never returned.   Or a bill you’ve never yet paid.   I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission.     “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.”   They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors.   They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned.   “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.”  (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are.   Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online.   But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such.  They are aware of the shortcomings.   Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé.  But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

“Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today.  Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission.   Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best.  Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving.   Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press.   When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.”