Christianity 201

October 5, 2018

Civil Law May Not Conform to God’s Law

Today we’re back again at Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with locations on many continents. Click the title below to read at source.

God’s Laws Versus Human Law

by David Cross

Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. Then these men said, We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.  Daniel 6:4-5, NASB

In this passage the accusers of Daniel decided to get him into trouble (and they were eventually able to get him into the lion`s den) by forcing him into a conflict between the nation’s laws and God`s laws. In our world today, laws are being rewritten to suit the changing moral climate, and many followers of Jesus are finding themselves in a similar position of conflict as Daniel, even if not with quite such a dramatic outcome.

A few decades ago the judiciary in Britain was still strongly influenced by the nation`s Christian heritage and the biblical concept of sin. Today, in much legal interaction, there is little acknowledgement of right or wrong, but rather it has become, very often, just a contest of opposing rights. This new culture of entitlement is founded on ill-defined concepts such as freedom, inclusivity and equality, and it is giving license to countless lifestyles which would previously have been regarded as immoral or dysfunctional, by most of the population.

Increasingly, Christians voicing traditional biblical views with regard to particular lifestyles, not least about sexual expression, are attracting forceful accusations of discrimination, even finding themselves facing legal proceedings. It appears that there is a particular strategy today, by the god of this world, to attack the truths of the bible through the courtroom. We need to be alert to this tactic of the enemy and, with courage, hold firm to God`s laws.

Prayer: Father God, I want to abide by the law of the land but, in this world of changing morality and increasing accusation against traditional Christian belief, I need help to stand, both graciously and confidently, on the truth and efficacy of Your word and Your laws. Amen.


* What does Ellel mean?

David Cross is Deputy International Director for Ellel Ministries, with particular responsibility for the Ellel centres in Western Europe.


Ninety feet tall and nine feet wide
Solid gold – “It must be a god!”
They were told
“When you hear the music play
Fall on your knees and begin to pray”
They were told
But when the trumpet sounded
The whole world bowed
Three men stood there all alone
They said

Not gonna bow to your idols
Not gonna bow, oh no
Not gonna bow to your idols
I won’t bow down

All Bobby wanted was just to fit in
To be accepted he must act like them
He said “No!”
“Everybody does it! So, what’s the fuss?
Come on, Bobby, won’t’cha be like us?”
He said “No!”
And when the pressure came
He watched them bow
Bobby stood there all alone
He said

Not gonna bow to your idols
Not gonna bow, oh no
Not gonna bow to your idols
I won’t bow down

We don’t have to give in to it
We can choose to go against the crowd

Not gonna bow to your idols
Not gonna bow, oh no
Not gonna bow to your idols
I won’t bow down

October 16, 2017

A Message That Offends

Today once again we are back with Josh Ketchum, a pastor in Mayfield, Kentucky who also has a passion for marriage and family counseling. Click the title below to look around his blog, Life in the Kingdom.

How Jesus Handled Offending Others

Is it me or does it seem that everyone is offended nowadays?  People are offended by all kinds of things from decorations to beliefs.  While we are all entitled to our own opinions and right to be offended, it sure seems to me that it has gotten out of hand.  “I am offended!” has become a common cry that seems often self-serving and unbalanced.  This caused me to investigate how Jesus handled the issue of offending others.

The greek term skandlon means “to put a stumbling-block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; to be a stumbling block” (Thayer).  It is used metaphorically in the NT to cause or make one to stumble, not physically but spiritually. It is often translated “offense” or the verb form “to offend.”

When I researched the gospels I discovered three key ideas about how Jesus dealt with offending others.

  1. He expected that his message and actions would offend others.  When John the Baptist sends disciples asking Jesus if he truly is the Messiah, Jesus tells them about his miraculous works which he is doing.  Then he adds, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Mat. 11:6).  He understood that his message would be offensive and controversial.  Once many of his disciples turned away from following after him because of his hard teachings, but he didn’t change his teachings or chase after them (John 6:61-67).  He came as the light of the world and he knew the darkness would try to overcome the light (John 1:5).
  2. He practiced and counseled his disciples to leave offended people alone.  Once the disciples came to tell Jesus the Pharisees were offended because of his teachings.  Jesus instructs his disciples to “let them alone” (Mat. 15:14).  He says if they follow these blind guides they will both fall in the ditch.  Earlier, when his hometown of Nazareth was offended because of his teaching, he understood it was because he had grown up there.  He chose to move on and do no more works in the area (Mat. 13:57-58).
  3. When possible, in cases that did not violate the truth of God, Jesus tried to not offend others.  Jesus didn’t intentionally try to offend people.  In fact, even though he didn’t have to technically pay the temple tax since he was the Son of God, he told Peter to pay the tax so as not to offend them.  They would not understand how he was exempt from such a tax, so Jesus paid it, rather than offend them (Mat. 17:24-27).

What are some lessons we can apply to our own lives in 2017 in this ultra-offensive culture from Jesus?  Here are a few for you to consider, I am sure there are more.

  1. The Christian message will still offend people today.  If we craft a version of Christianity that is politically correct and offends no one, then we are not preaching the true gospel of God.  The gospel, in its very nature, is offensive (1 Cor. 1, Gal. 1).
  2. We need to be willing to keep our distance from folks who claim they are offended.  We should try to work through the issue, but if they are not willing, then we need to let them alone.  We should practice the golden rule, always being kind and respectful, but we may be best served by ending the discussion and moving on to other works.
  3. Christians should not be in the business of trying to offend others.  We should try to adopt cultural norms that are acceptable standards of word and action when possible.  Our message and our leader cause the offense, it should not be our petty opinions that really don’t matter that cause them.  For example, we should adopt appropriate terms for races and ethnic groups, rather than persistently using older terms that are now considered offensive.

I hope this study has been a blessing as you try to navigate our overly-sensitive culture and one that is becoming more hostile to the Christian faith.

 

August 20, 2016

When Christians Bear the Sweetest Fruit

“But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.

Deuteronomy 11: 11-12 (emphasis added)

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6 (both verses are NASB)

Today we are again paying a return visit to Katherine Harms at the blog Living on Tilt. One thing I really like is how she bridges topical and Bible study material, and sometimes in the same article! Click the title below to read at source.

More Than Survival

I just finished reading a long essay by a man who believes that everyone should acquire the knowledge that enabled people to survive and thrive before electronic technology existed. I agree. Electronics are seriously vulnerable, but the ways of pre-electronic society can and will enable a good life to anyone. God’s earth will still be here, even after the EMP or a hurricane or a world war.

People in today’s world need another “tool” in their “survival kit,” too. They need faith in Christ who redeemed humankind and all creation when he died and rose again.

Many people believe that it is “all up to me” and there is no help other than their own wits and strength. Self-sufficiency is an important and valuable character trait that keeps us from being needy and dependent on our fellow man and on government, but it is not enough to give us real health and long life. Only faith in Christ and a life lived in relationship with him will enable us to thrive in utterly destructive circumstances.

The first principle of a successful life before, during, or after disaster is to put all your hope in God alone.

Contemporary culture rejects the existence of God, and that stance means that one must be completely self-sufficient. God cannot help a person who denies his existence. God sends rain on the believers and the unbelievers alike, but only believers see God’s hand at work in the blessing of the rain. Unbelievers see a water control problem that they must fix. Unbelievers see no blessing in the seeming randomness of the rain, or in the gradual increase in the size of a desert, or in the transitions of natural climate change. Unbelievers see Inequality in the difference in rainfall, paychecks, or intellectual gifts. Unbelievers think that only equal pay, equal rain, and equal intellect is equality, and therefore unbelievers are always at war with God’s diversity and inclusiveness. God loves all people equally, but his gifts are distributed according to his perfect plan, not according to the ability of humans to measure equality.

To put your hope in God alone is to accept his work and his administration without fear. If you hope in God alone, for example, then when voters choose a tyrannical president as wicked and faithless as the ancient king Ahab, you do not lose faith in God. You recognize that a purpose and plan bigger than yourself is at work. When that godless tyrant begins to disassemble legal and moral structures that were God’s gifts delivered through leaders obedient to God’s direction, you recognize God’s judgment on people who chose the tyrant who hands out bread and circuses rather than a Godly leader who focuses on protecting opportunity for all. God has not stopped caring about the nation; the nation has stopped caring about God.

If you put your hope in God alone, then you trust God’s guidance and care for the nation and for you as an individual. You don’t despair when God’s will for the nation results in pain for you; rather, you give thanks to God for the privilege of suffering for His Name’s sake, in the same way the disciples suffered from human evil: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”  (Acts 6:41)

This is why Christians who mourn the collapse of Constitutional government and the moral rot perpetuated by government mandate in public schools do not, nevertheless, despair. The church, Christ’s body on earth, was not made for the easy times; it was born of inhuman suffering and it thrives in the most inhospitable times and places.

Christians thrive and bear the sweetest fruit when nourished by being like Christ — despised and rejected by men.

It is wise for Christians to prepare for disasters. A wise person will be ready for war, civil unrest, hurricanes, or whatever hard times he can foresee. However, all that common sense wisdom can be made worthless by disasters nobody could have foreseen. When that happens, it is good to be able to testify with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Only those who put all their hope in God alone will thrive in times like that.

November 6, 2015

Participating in the Worship Practices of Other Faiths

Contradict

My wife and I enjoy touring the worship facilities of other religions. We’ve been in a variety of these, including two Muslim mosques, a Hindu mandir and a Hare Krishna temple. At the temple we were served some deep fried cauliflower. Did “breaking bread” in that sense possibly mean something to them that we missed? Did we inadvertently partake of cauliflower communion?

Okay, scratch the last sentence; but sometimes — even in the cases above where we were simply visiting the facilities on non-holy days — you could find yourself in an unexpected situation.

Many of you know the story from 2 Kings 5 about Naaman being healed of his leprosy. Naaman was an army general, but was also a man under authority, serving the king. Here’s a link to the story from The Message Bible.

Because he’s healed, Naaman wants to give Elisha a gift, but of course, the prophet will have none of that. Naaman pledges himself to worship [the] God [of Israel], but before he leaves, he asks Elisha if he can be forgiven for one transgression; something from the past, that he expects to also arise in the future.

CEB 2 Kings 5:17b  Your servant will never again offer entirely burned offerings or sacrifices to any other gods except the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master comes into Rimmon’s temple to bow down there and is leaning on my arm, I must also bow down in Rimmon’s temple. When I bow down in Rimmon’s temple, may the Lord forgive your servant for doing that.”

The NIV (see further below) says the king is “leaning on his arm” while The Message version seems to make Naaman a little more complicit than the NIV indicates:

“…When my master, leaning on my arm, enters the shrine of Rimmon and worships there, and I’m with him there, worshiping Rimmon, may you see to it that God forgive me for this.”

Elisha tells Naaman to “Go in peace.”

The God he is concerned about having worshiped is  “‘Rimmon’ (lit. ‘pomegranate’) is a parody of the name Ramanu, the Syrian storm god corresponding to Baal. This chief deity of Syria was also known by the name Hadad (Zech. 12:11)” [Reformation Study Bible]

I was unfamiliar with this aspect of the store Naaman’s healing until I was listening to a discussion two weeks ago on a Christian talk show* where the guest was Dr. Paul Metzger, a professor at Multnomah Bible Seminary. Not having been able to record the reference, I wrote to him for clarification.

…In the interview, I referenced Naaman, who was a military commander of the king of Aram’s army. Naaman was also a leper. He came to Elisha for healing, and God healed him of his leprosy. Naaman devoted his life to the God of Israel as a result. I alluded to the account in 2 Kings 5, as it pertains to how Christians might engage others in multi-faith settings today. Naaman asked Elisha if he would be pardoned for going with his Master, the king, into the pagan temple and bow when the king leaned on him. Elisha gave him his blessing. Here is the text in 2 Kings 5:

17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. 18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.” 19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said. (2 Kings 5:17-19; NIV).

I made use of this text in response to [program host] Drew [Marshall] concerning the matter of what one should do in a worship service in a diverse or pluralistic context. I said it is a case by case matter of intent. Naaman’s heart intent was to honor the God of Israel, not the pagan deity.  Thus, Elisha gave him his blessing. It is not the bowing as such that is the issue, or the praying, but to whom is one praying in one’s heart. Again, I don’t think it is a matter of bowing or not bowing, praying or not praying, but the object or intent of the bow or prayer.

 

There is the danger of taking too much liberty from this passage however. Again we turn to Matthew Henry who takes a more hard-line approach:

He owns he ought not to do it, but that he cannot otherwise not do it, but that he cannot otherwise keep his place,—protests that his bowing is not, nor ever shall be, as it had been, in honour to the idol, but only in honour to the king,—and therefore he hopes God will forgive him. Perhaps, all things considered, this might admit of some apology, though it was not justifiable. But, as to us, I am sure,

(1.) If, in covenanting with God, we make a reservation for any known sin, which we will continue to indulge ourselves in, that reservation is a defeasance of his covenant. We must cast away all our transgressions and not except any house of Rimmon.

(2.) Though we are encouraged to pray for the remission of the sins we have committed, yet, if we ask for a dispensation to go on in any sin for the future, we mock God, and deceive ourselves.

(3.) Those that know not how to quit a place at court when they cannot keep it without sinning against God, and wronging their consciences, do not rightly value the divine favour.

(4.) Those that truly hate evil will make conscience of abstaining from all appearances of evil. Though Naaman’s dissembling his religion cannot be approved, yet because his promise to offer no sacrifice to any god but the God of Israel only was a great point gained with a Syrian, and because, by asking pardon in this matter, he showed such a degree of conviction and ingenuousness as gave hopes of improvement, the prophet took fair leave of him, and bade him Go in peace, 2 Kings. 5:19. Young converts must be tenderly dealt with.

I have four takeaways from this.

  1. The Bible is wholly adequate to speak to issues which arise in a 21st century context, especially with increasing religious pluralism.
  2. You may indeed find yourself doing more than “touring the facilities” but actually being asked (because of work or family commitments) to attend a service of worship of another faith.
  3. As Dr. Metzger points out, is the attitude of the heart that matters most.
  4. As Matthew Henry indicates, this situation ought to be the exception and not the rule, and we’re not granted permanent indulgences to participate in such worship events, but need to trust God that he will provide alternative arrangements so that we’re not doing this on a regular basis.

The graphic is a response to the popular Coexist graphic found in a 2012 blog post at the apologetics website Stand To Reason. Click the image to read more.

*Scroll down to October 24th, the “Pub Crawl” segment at this link.

October 31, 2015

Being Light on Dark Days

“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead” (Deuteronomy 18:10,11)

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11)

With today being Halloween, I looked for something appropriate and found a post from Daily Encouragement. Actually I found two. The scriptures above are taken from this post, Go Light Your World, as is the song at the bottom; and what follows is linked from the title below.

Exposing Darkness With Light

“The light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5).

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).

For about 7½ years we served the Lord Jesus Christ in New England, pastoring a church about 35 miles south of Boston in Taunton, Massachusetts. Only once did we drive through Salem which is about 16 miles north of Boston. This historic town is best known for the witch trials held in the late 1600’s. It is still a center for witchcraft and other deeds of darkness. In fact it proudly promotes its reputation as the “witch city”.   I recall sensing the spiritual darkness even as we drove through.

There are several Bible-preaching churches in the city and certainly in the surrounding area. What a mighty job they have in letting the light of Christ shine through them to the darkness that pervades that area. Halloween is a very significant day for witchcraft and other satanic activities in Salem (and elsewhere), and yet the true church will have mission outreaches.

The light of Christ will shine as they expose the fruitless deeds of darkness. May the Lord bless these worthwhile efforts! Thankfully, God has a light shining in the midst of this darkness and the true church has seen many people turn from fruitless deeds of darkness to God’s marvelous light.

The first daily verse fundamentally speaks of Christ. He is the Light and indeed He shines in the darkness. Wherever you live there is darkness, although some places are certainly much more spiritually dark. We noted such a difference in this regard when we moved from Northern Pennsylvania to New England and now to Lancaster County.  But when we compare our Christianized nation to dark places such as Papua New Guinea and other unreached tribal regions the darkness is even more pervasive.  (We do thank God for Bible translators and missionaries who are going into these dark strongholds and reaching these souls for Christ.)

“The light shines in the darkness.”  The verb “shines” is in the present tense and can be understood as “the light keeps on shining.” Jesus teaches His followers. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

In our second daily verse the Apostle Paul makes a very unambiguous statement: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”  It’s a call desperately needed in our culture and increasingly so in the Church but it will subject us to ridicule among many who “love the darkness rather than the light” (John 3:19).  In fact the world wants to silence those who speak out for truth exposing darkness with the Light of His Word.

You see, when we become accustomed to the darkness it just may not seem as dark anymore.  When we were children playing at dusk our moms would call out, “Come into the house.  It’s dark outside.”  But we’d continue to play since we could still see.  A few days ago I was mowing my lawn in the early evening. Afterward I entered the house and looked out the window and it was dark. But while I was mowing my eyes got used to the dark since the dimness was gradual. I believe that can be true of our spiritual eyes as well and all the more reason why we must be on guard.

Today, all over the world serious believers are allowing the light of Christ to shine through them. This light exposes the fruitless deeds of darkness and this is the essence of spiritual warfare. Darkness hates the light. Yet faithful followers of Christ will continue to let their light shine, essentially reflecting the true Light, who is Christ.

May each reader today shine brightly.  As for me and my house we will stand up for the One True God today and seek to let His light shine through us!

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily Prayer: Father, You created us to be people who function and thrive by light.  Your placement of the sun by day and the moon by night is the way You provide for our physical needs enabling us to see as we carry out our multitude of duties.  As important as light is for the eyes to see, it is even more essential that the eyes of our heart see the magnificent light of Your glory.  As we walk in Your light we will be able to discern that which is evil from that which is good.  Jesus, we know that goodness cannot partner with wickedness for there is no harmony between You and the devil. We are one with You as we walk in Your truth and dispel the darkness everywhere we go, for greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. Amen.

 

September 2, 2015

The Conflict Between Tradition and Jesus

Jesus and Traditions

by Clarke Dixon

When a Baptist preacher announces that he is about to preach a sermon focused on tradition you can usually guess what is coming up. Said preacher will be looking to encourage the trading of stale churchy traditions for new “attractive” ones. But I’m not going there for many reasons including one very simple one. When Jesus spoke about tradition he did not go there. He had much bigger fish to fry. There was a much greater problem with tradition that he needed to address:

1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. ’ 8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition Mark 7:1-8 (emphasis mine)

We should be struck by the possibility that we too might “abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition” (v.8). The word tradition literally means “to give over” or as we more commonly think of it, “to hand down.” What traditions are handed down to us that are in conflict with the things God would have us think and do? What traditions are handed over from people around us that likewise do not lead us to honor God? The tricky thing with traditions is that we often keep them without thinking about them or questioning them. It is so easy to just keep doing the done thing without realizing that in doing so we dishonor God. Do the accepted traditions of our families, friends, and society honor God?

Jesus continues:

9 Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die. ’ 11 But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God) — 12 then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this Mark 7:8-13 (emphasis mine)

Jesus gives an example of people declaring that something was dedicated to God as an excuse for not helping their own family with their own wealth. So the accepted tradition of the day distracted from the keeping of what God had said ought to be done. This is just one example: “you do many things like this” (v.13). The question for us is: do we also do many things like this? Do we ever distract from and “make void” the Word of God through traditions we keep? Here are some possibilities:

  • We make void the Word of God when we justify sinful practices by appealing to a few verses of the Bible rather than looking to the whole message. A very sad example can be given of those who would use the Bible to justify slavery. The following of Jesus meant a transformation of slavery. We see an example of this in the wonderful and short book of Philemon where Paul encourages Philemon to welcome back his thieving runaway slave Onesimus: “that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother.” (Philemon 15,16) Yes, slavery is found in the Bible, but so too is the focus on serving others as Jesus served, including slaves. Jesus is our example. To appeal instead to the traditions of the societies of Bible times is to make void the Word of God.
  • We make void the Word of God when we allow church-taught traditions to usurp or confuse Biblical belief and practice. As examples, traditions around purgatory add confusion to what the Bible teaches about salvation. Traditions around praying to the saints, no matter how meaningful some might find the practice, adds confusion to what the Bible teaches about prayer. We must be careful we root our beliefs and activities in God’s Word, not church tradition.
  • We make void the Word of God when we allow misconceptions to persist. For example there is a common misconception that God is judgemental and mean in the Old Testament, but nice in the New. God is consistently represented as holy, therefore a God of justice and judgement, and gracious, therefore a God of mercy, in both the Old and New Testaments. The expression “God is love” is consistent. Misconceptions can become traditions that are handed over or down, making void what the Bible really teaches.
  • We make void the Word of God when we keep society’s traditions around conversation. There is a tradition in Canada that we would rather talk about weather, hockey, and politics than about religion. And if we do talk about religion we certainly do not want to talk about sin. This tradition runs so deep in our society that it is sometimes even kept in churches. We say things like: “Jesus welcomes everyone, so don’t talk about sin or people won’t feel very welcome.”  The intentions are good, the result is not: God is dishonored by our sin and our sin persists in part because we are not talking about it. The Bible talks about it. We make void the Word of God when we don’t.
  • We make void the Word of God when we allow media to tell us what Christianity is all about. If you were to base your knowledge of Christian theology on what is said or sung in popular culture you would think that Christianity is focused on “good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell.” Rather, Christianity is focused on Jesus Christ. It is not just about getting to heaven and there are no good people who can get to heaven anyway. It is about Jesus being alive and Lord. It is about relationship with God made possible through Jesus dealing with our sin on the cross, relationship that changes everything now and in our lives beyond death. We make void the Word of God when we make popular media our source of Christian teaching rather than the Bible.

So should we trade stale churchy traditions for new attractive ones? The more pressing questions are: Are we abandoning the commandment of God to hold to human traditions? Are we making void the Word of God through our human traditions?

All scripture verses are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada

April 17, 2015

Reminder Ministry

Today’s writer is a long-time acquaintance of Thinking Out Loud and C201. Years ago, I ran a profile/interview with Kevin Sanders aka Kuya Kevin, a guy from Alabama who found himself doing youth ministry in The Philippines. He’s now married and back in the U.S. and still blogging at KevinSanders.org

To read today’s article at source — where we’ve also poached a picture of Kevin preaching — click the title below.

The Ministry of Reminding

“I am fully convinced, my dear brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them. Even so, I have been bold enough to write about some of these points, knowing that all you need is this reminder. . .  “ -Romans 15:14-15

KevinSRCOne of the greatest joys I had in the Philippines was teaching the Scriptures to students who had never really studied them before.  I’d hand out copies of the New Testament and tell them the page number where they could find the passage we would study.  It was the first time many of them had experienced a simple, verse-by-verse discussion of God’s word with someone willing to answer their questions.

The same goes for my preaching ministry: I had to be careful about assuming my listeners knew anything about the text I would be sharing.  This was particularly true in some of the evangelistic preaching opportunities God gave me.

There was something extremely refreshing about doing ministry in this kind of setting.  What an amazing privilege!

This is not to say that Filipinos are Biblically illiterate –- there are thousands of faithful believers there who diligently study the Bible.  But my ministry was focused more on those who were new to the faith.

My ministry took an ironic turn here in the States.  I’ve had the privilege of preaching (short-term) in three churches.  All three congregations were of an older demographic: the average attendee had probably been listening to sermons since before I was born.

“What can I share that they haven’t already heard many times before?”  I asked myself this question as I embarked on this new season of ministry.

God taught me something very important: I don’t have to teach/preach anything “new.”   I’m not saying God lead me to “recycle” old sermon outlines from C.H. Spurgeon.  Preaching, after all, is applying the timeless truths of Scripture to our modern context.  But I realized that preaching is a ministry of reminding for many of us who have had already learned the basics doctrines of the faith.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m always learning new things when I prepare for (or listen to) sermons.  But I’ve let go of the need to hear “I’ve never heard anything like that before” when I preach. I’m just as content to know I have reminded my listeners of things we need to hear over and over again.  Here are a few examples that quickly come to mind:

  • It’s not about us.
  • We can trust God.
  • Life is fleeting.
  • God expects obedience.
  • We are forgiven in Christ.

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea.  We need to constantly hear the gospel preached because we are a forgetful people.  I’m thankful for the ministry of reminding–both as a preacher and hearer of God’s word.

June 10, 2014

When Friends Stop Going to Church

Alan Ballou writes at the creatively titled blog, How to Stop Sinning. Be sure to check it out. Click the title for today’s post: They Stopped Going to Church. Warning: Read this carefully; it might not be heading where you think, but it will make you think!

I heard the other day that “So many people have stopped going to church.” I didn’t know that, but perhaps they have heard the same two sermons so often that they have them memorized; more money, more people.

I only know about six people who would rather be the church that God has called Christians to be rather than going to church, so I may not be the one to ask, but I can speak for myself.

One lady said that it is better to gather with the people of God, than to gather with the people of this world. Amen! I agree with the 100%! However, do the people of God put up with a different Gospel, or a different Jesus, or a different spirit?

2 Corinthians 11:4  For if he who comes to you preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted – you may well put up with it! NKJV

Where are the people of God who hold to the teachings found in the Bible, rather than ignoring the verses that they do not hold on to (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15, 1 Corinthians 15:1-2)? Please tell me if you know. I want to join right now!

My Bible says not to gather with those who are unwilling to walk according to what is written. What does your Bible say in 2 Thessalonians 3:6?

2 Thessalonians 3:6 But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. NKJV

Does that say “Withdraw from every brother?” Does that verse insinuate that it is okay to be called “Christian” and yet disobey the teachings? Verse 14 of that same chapter says the same thing.

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15  And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he might be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. NKJV

It’s one thing to sin and repent, having a contrite heart, but it is a totally different issue when we ignore that the verses even exist, and even take a stand against those who mention them.

Christians are supposed to warn Christians (verse 15 above, Colossians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 5:12-13). According to the Word of God, the prophets even judge from the floor during the service (2 Corinthians 14:29). Boy, are we a long ways from that are what?

We don’t do any of that any more, if we ever did, because our method to stop sin in the church is not working, because we do not preach the Word. Therefore, we have to turn a blind eye to anyone who walks in the door because we need their money to keep the doors open.

What that amounts to is that we are not trusting God, but the world system in which our service is based on. We stopped trusting God way back when we decided to run the church like a business.

Who added people to the early church according to Acts 2:47? Is the Lord’s arm too shot to add people to the church today, or have we stopped trusting in His ways?

God could see all the way to the end of the world when He decided to have a church, and yet the only Words He left for us are written in the Bible? Did He really need our wisdom in adding changes to His Word, just because He spoke so long ago?

According to Proverb 30:5-6, and 1 Corinthians 4:6, God only needs someone to preach His Word. His Word is enough for those who believe it (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

We need to repent and return to the Lord our God in accordance with His ways found in His Word. We need to put away the world’s way of doing things and return to God’s Word.

Ephesians 5:2-7, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, 2 Timothy 3:1-9, and 1 Timothy 6:3-5 along with the verses above are very clear concerning who Christians, that live by faith, are NOT to associate with. If we followed those verses to the letter, I don’t know if there would be one church left to gather in here in the Bible belt. That’s how far we have drifted from the truth (Hebrews 2:1).

So, why be a part of that? Do I need to jump on a sinking ship, even when the captain doesn’t know he is taking on water? “Oh hey, come aboard!” “Don’t worry about that water, since God promised,” “No more floods!” Hee hee.

Does a pilot forget the instructions on his maiden voyage, and turn to the paying customers for guidance? “You guys are the ones paying for this flight, so according to my worldly philosophy book, you ought to have a say so.” Have we bumped our heads?

If you are serious about the faith that we should be proclaiming, and know of a church gathering that is in-line with what is written in the Bible, please let me know. However, I would prefer to watch a sermon or two on video (YouTube, etc) before I attend. I’m Alan Ballou; a servant.

 

January 16, 2014

The Vision God Births in You

Today I want to juxtapose two verses of scripture and apply them to a context that may seem unusual.

Over the last couple of days I have been thinking about the earliest days of what we call Contemporary Christian Music. While I am grateful for the theological heritage I gained from learning the hymns, I am also grateful for the Christian musicians who pioneered a whole new genre, and endured the thunder and lightning storms that take place when Christianity meets culture. I am grateful also to be able to bring friends and acquaintances to church knowing they won’t suffer an immediate disconnect because of the use of 17th and 18th century musical styles. I am especially thankful for the artists who re-write the hymns with modern chords and those who are part of the modern hymns genre who give us fresh lyrics within familiar structures.

It’s easy to look back at the early days of CCM and say, “Well, it began in California at Calvary Chapel;” or “It began with Larry Norman;” or any other source we might wish to name.  On closer examination however, you discover that God was working in the hearts of young people across the U.S., Canada, England and beyond. There are literally dozens of examples of recordings that pre-date the usual suspects.

The first verse that popped into my head was I Kings 19:18. This is the passage where Elijah waits for God, expecting him to be found in the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, but God speaks to him in a whisper. Then Elijah speaks to God and laments that he is all alone.

14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

But God tells him that he is not alone in ministry.

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

Paul quotes this passage in Romans 11: 1-4.

Elijah felt he was operating in a vacuum. The comparison to those early music pioneers — or anyone who sets out to do a new a thing — is apt. The musicians were counter cultural on two levels: They were proclaiming Jesus in a medium not accustomed to hearing about him, in places where drug use and free love were normative.  But they were also going against the musical styles and preferences of the established church. They were getting flak from both directions.

But then, almost immediately another rather disparate verse struck me.

In John 21, we see Jesus restoring Peter and then Jesus gives Peter a brief glimpse into his future. But Peter suddenly is interested in knowing John’s future.

20 Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” 21 Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?”

22 Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” 23 So the rumor spread among the community of believersthat this disciple wouldn’t die. But that isn’t what Jesus said at all. He only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

The connection to me is one of personal accountability for vision. If you join these verses together it’s saying, you need to pursue the vision God gives you and not be looking around at anyone else. You need to follow God’s leading even if you’re the only one. You need to consider the possibility that you’re not the only one; that God is doing something and stirring people in locations you can’t see from your current vantage point.

Elijah was told that God was working even when Elijah couldn’t see it.
Peter was told that God had a future for Peter that wasn’t inter-dependent on others.

I don’t usually use illustrations here, or borrow material that starts with illustrations, and I know some of you prefer traditional church music and are not so fond of today’s worship choruses; but I believe that right now, God is birthing dreams and visions in the hearts of a new generation. Some of them will feel they’re going it alone, and if that’s the case, and you see the Spirit of God working in their lives, come alongside them to give encouragement. Let them know that their future is unique to their particular gifts and calling.

January 8, 2014

The Christian and Creativity

Christians and the Arts

Today’s thoughts appeared recently at the blog, Writing Down Life. The author is Stacey Louiso. As usual, you’re encouragement to the writers we discover here can consist of clicking through to read the article at source. This one was titled It’s a New Year State of Mind.

“Your creative mind is the greatest gift God has given you and it ought to be devoted entirely to Him.” 

~Oswald Chambers, 

My Utmost for His Highest (Feb 11 devotional page)

 

…The thought above from Oswald Chambers is one that many people may wonder about but not understand completely. Even Believers or disciple of Christ Jesus, may not actually grasp the concept of becoming such a clean vessel, you desire your every thought to glorify God. I remember the first time I read the following passage in 2 Corinthians (10:5):

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” 

(For short, take every thought that is impure, or ungodly, captive. Do not allow it to seep into your spirit or outwardly, into the world. The two prior passages are really important as well when in a battle but this one speaks particularly loud to those in certain areas of sin.)

For a person with a creative penchant in life, who enjoys the creativity of others (art, music, literature, et al) it can be a difficult thing to defeat. For a creative person, even more trying…yet not impossible. I had no idea that the thoughts and imaginings of my mind are controllable (i.e. that I could be rid of them); the prospect both excited and amazed me. It takes a lot of work, breaking down strongholds of the enemy and a lot of strength to accomplish but it is very possible!  (2 Cor 10:4 discusses this: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.)

Ask yourself: where exactly does your creativity come from? What does it feel like when it’s bubbling up (are thoughts/feelings healing or disturbing?) and how would God perceive the final product? Would it be pleasing to His eyes, ears and heart? If you are walking with the Lord (or even if you are not) your very goal in life should be to produce work (regardless of the type), or good fruit, that you know is pleasurable to our God. It should resemble something that would be created in His image, not wrapped in bubble wrap mind you, but also not deceptive, hateful or wicked, in spirit.

We are not to participate in the ways of “the world”, instead we are to create “heaven on earth” (or Matt 6:10, “…thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”). We are created in the image of God. Through this calling we are commissioned to create art that is beautiful and uplifting (edifying), as not to tempt ourselves, nor others, into bondage of the flesh through their participation, or admiration of, your work. By keeping your eyes and mind on Christ as you create, you will take captive any ungodly desires to produce ugly fruit.

“Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” (Psalm 2:1) Because they do not adhere to God but instead to the darkness over this world. The most beautiful thing we have to offer as creative professionals, artists…is a mind that is sanctified; all we produce should resemble good fruit. It is very unfortunate that the dark arts have a stronghold over people today.

But there is hope…

There is no time like the present to start fighting; no time like the present to take back what God gifted to us, for His pleasure as well as the aesthetic enjoyment of all people. Works of art and words of glory, bathed in beauty and light. There is no time like the present to stop being complacent and allowing ourselves, or our work, to be used for evil rather than for good! Today is a great day to start – why not enter into this new year with a more beautiful state-of-mind?