Christianity 201

September 7, 2018

A Higher Life

No, the title isn’t a reference to recreational drug use, though if that’s what brought you here, let me offer you something better.

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.
 Hebrews 10:24 NLT

In a recent article at CT Women (part of Christianity Today) titled Why You Can’t Name the Virtues, Karen Swallow Prior looks at the underlying foundation that is often not discussed for moral behavior, which is more frequently seen.

For the past several decades, American evangelicalism has been concerned about morality—and for good reason. Sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortion, divorce, materialism, racism, and countless other ills so permeate our culture—even among the churched—that they seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

But moral choices flow from moral character. Perhaps if we wish to reform morality, we should turn more attention to the formation of character.

Indeed, you can’t legislate morality, neither can you force it to be part of religious observance; but morality flows from core character. You need to have a certain bent (or if you prefer, predilection) to want to behave morally. It’s the same way in which we don’t engage in certain behaviors or practices as Christians because we must, but rather, these come out of the overflow of the heart.

She continues,

The early church fathers found much biblical wisdom in the Greek philosopher’s teachings on virtue. After all, the Bible speaks extensively about virtue. Faith, hope, and love, which Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13, are referred to as the theological virtues. 2 Peter 1:5–7 instructs believers to diligently “add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (NKJV). The Book of Proverbs is full of wisdom about virtues. The Fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22–23—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—are virtues, as well. All of these qualities constitute the marks of good Christian character, or virtue.

One of the most intriguing and insightful aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy is that virtue is a mean between two extremes—an extreme of excess and an extreme of deficiency, both of which are vices. For example, the virtue of generosity is the mean between the vice of miserliness (a deficiency of giving) and the vice of wastefulness (an excess of giving). For example, healthy self-regard—or humility—is a mark of good character because it means being truthful about oneself, which is a moderation between the extremes of esteeming oneself too little (deprecation) or overmuch (boasting). This idea of virtue as the mean between two extremes is captured in the King James translation of Philippians 4:5, which tells us to let our “moderation” be known to all.

So what are those virtues? At the website Changing Minds,

When Pope Gregory defined the seven deadly sins that we should avoid, he also included a counter-balancing set of values that we should espouse and adopt. These are:

Faith is belief in the right things (including the virtues!).
Hope is taking a positive future view, that good will prevail.
Charity is concern for, and active helping of, others.
Fortitude is never giving up.
Justice is being fair and equitable with others.
Prudence is care of and moderation with money.
Temperance is moderation of needed things and abstinence from things which are not needed.

The first three of these are known as the Spiritual Virtues, whilst the last four are called the Chief or Natural Virtues. The Natural Virtues had already been defined by Greek philosophers, whilst the Spiritual Virtues are a slight variation on St. Paul’s trio of Love, Hope and Faith (due to variation in translation from the original: Charity and Love arguably have a high level of overlap)…

…The Seven Contrary Virtues are specific opposites to the Seven Deadly Sins: Humility against pride, Kindness against envy, Abstinence against gluttony, Chastity against lust, Patience against anger, Liberality against greed, and Diligence against sloth.

(We covered some of this a year ago Thinking Out Loud.)

Some would argue that this character cultivation begins with the thought life; that it begins with the mind. Just a few verses past the one alluded to above, in Philippians 4:8 we read,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
  (NIV)

As we’ve quoted before:

Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a lifestyle.

Karen Swallow Prior continues:

…How do we go about cultivating virtue? Through something we sorely need today: good habits. A person is not in possession of a virtue by exhibiting a trait now and then. It must be routinely practiced for it to be considered a virtue.

Many of the commands, obligations, and exhortations that the Bible places on believers require intentionality, practice, and habit. It is, as Aristotle says, “a working of the soul in the way of excellence.” Or, as Paul says, a working out of our salvation “with fear and trembling” in order to fulfill God’s “good purpose” (Phil. 2:12–13) the way that is most excellent…


Karen Swallow Prior’s newest book is, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life in Great Books.

 

May 29, 2018

The Chastisement of Our Peace

Sometimes a reader will leave a comment at very old post here, and it will remind me that the article might be worth sharing again. This one is from January, 2011…


He was wounded for our transgressions.

Those words, from the KJV of Isaiah 53:5 are probably among the scripture verses most known by heart.

By his stripes we are healed.

If you grew up Pentecostal or Charismatic, there is no escaping teaching on that part of the verse; no escaping the connect-the-dots between the scourging Christ suffered and the healing that is available to us today, in the 21st century.

But what about the third of the four clauses in that verse? Here’s the whole verse in the new NIV:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah, in this Messianic prophecy is saying that Christ’s suffering has brought us forgiveness for our transgressions and iniquities as well as (if you’re not dispensationalist) healing of mind and body.

But there it is, in the second-to-last, a reference to peace.

I mention all this because of a post I did this morning at Thinking Out Loud, where a U.S. pastor had his congregation complete an index card indicating the trials they were facing and the burdens they were carrying. If Isaiah 53 applies, then it must apply to the point of bringing peace to the very doubts, anxieties, fears, angers, jealousies, anger, pride, insecurities, addictions, pain, disappointments, attitudes… and everything else that people mentioned on those little 3-by-5 cards.

First, let’s do some translation hopping:

  • He took the punishment, and that made us whole (Message)
  • The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (NASB)
  • the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him (Amplified)
  • He was beaten so we could be whole. (NLT)
  • The punishment which gives us the peace has fallen on him (tr. of French – Louis Segond)

Clearly, the intent of this verse is that our peace is part of the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The New International Bible Commentary says:

Peace and healing view sin in terms of the estrangement from God and the marring of sinners themselves that it causes.

The ESV Study Bible notes on this verse concur:

His sufferings went to the root of all human vice.

Lack of peace as sin? Worry and anxiety as sin? That’s what both of these commentators seem to say.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary makes clear however that the peace that is brought is a general well-being, not simply addressing the consequences of sin.

But in the Evangelical Bible Commentary, something else is suggested, that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is bringing a peace that represents the restoration between God and man.

Many of the other commentaries and study Bibles I own do not directly address this phrase. A broader study of the chapter reveals a Messiah suffering for all of the burdens we bear, such as the ones listed above in the pastor’s survey. (“Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear…”)

I’d be interested if any of you can find any blog posts or online articles where this particular phrase is addressed apart from the wider consideration of the verse as a whole.

At this point, let’s conclude by saying that the finished work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all manner of needs we face; all types of burdens we carry.

April 28, 2018

Justly, Kindly, Humbly

Today we’re introducing you to a writer appearing for the first time here at C201. Martha Anderson has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since January, 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com as she explains at her site:

One is “Food for the Soul,” and it takes you through forty-five Old Testament daily devotionals, complete with some explanation and application questions. The second was just finished, “More Food for the Soul,” with seventy-eight New Testament daily devotionals…There are also three books that take you chronologically through Jesus’ life, “Jesus Changes Everything and He is Changing Me.” The 4th one takes you through the book of Acts.

To learn more click this link. Click the title below to read today’s devotional at source. I’ve added a song at the end which is based on today’s key scripture.

How to please God

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

The prophet Micah was asking about how to please God in Micah 6.  He asked if he should come before God with thousands of animals for burnt offerings or ten thousands of rivers of oil to burn incense as a fragrant offering.   In today’s terms we might ask if we should go to church three times a week, become a missionary, or give all of your money to a good cause.

No, the answer is still the same.   God gives a picture of His true heart for how we should live in a way that pleases Him.  We should pursue justice, to love kindness and to be humble.  God’s answer to Israel and to us is today’s verse:  pursue justice, love kindness and be humble before God and others.

We find a similar response in Isaiah 58.  In that chapter, God told the people of Israel that even though they sought Him daily and even fasted to be religious, it didn’t amount to much.  God told them if they really wanted to please Him they should end wickedness, oppression, and injustice, to feed the hungry and take in the homeless.

The justice that we are to pursue isn’t just for ourselves; it is for those who have no voice.  It might be for those who don’t have the financial resources to get a good lawyer, or for children and the unborn.   God wants us to see others that are not as well off as we are and find ways to help them.

We are not to get confused and to think that ‘social justice’ is the Gospel, as some movements do.   But if I live a grace and truth filled, joyful and Jesus centered life–that should make me different. It should make me incredibly generous, and quick to embrace the messy people who have more needs than I can meet. I should be looking for ways to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

My eyes should always be looking outward, not in at my own safe little heterogeneous group or navel gazing at myself. One of my capstone verses is John 10:16 where Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold, I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice.”

Micah 6:8 mentions both justice and kindness. Synonyms for kindness are: gentleness, affection, warmth, concern and care.   This is a fruit of the Spirit, so as I am walking in the Spirit, kindness should be front and center. That slogan about practicing ‘random acts of kindness’ is kind of funny. Really, we should be practicing ‘intentional and well thought out acts of kindness on a regular basis.’ But that doesn’t make for a good t-shirt slogan.

Finally, God wants us to be humble.  It is easier to think about the opposite trait, which is pride.  James 4:6 tells us, “God oppose the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  And in Philippians 2:3 Paul writes, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  As Tim Keller said in The Art of Self Forgetfulness, “It’s not that you think less of yourself, it’s that you think of yourself less.” That’s what God is looking for. The thing about humility is that when you achieve it, no one will notice!

If you want to know how to please God, here it is: stand up for someone who can’t speak for him or herself, do an intentional and well thought out act of kindness daily, and make sure you don’t get the credit for it.

February 23, 2018

Billy Graham: Death is not The Grim Reaper

NCV John 3.2 One night Nicodemus came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we know you are a teacher sent from God, because no one can do the miracles you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot be in God’s kingdom.”

I thought it would be fitting today in light of the passing on Wednesday morning of Rev. Billy Graham to present part of an excerpt from his final book, Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity and Our Life Beyond the Now. Click the title below to read the full excerpt at BillyGraham.org.

Note: If you’re unfamiliar with the encounter Nicodemus has with Jesus, read John 3.1-21

Where I Am

by Billy Graham

…This term born again has fascinated people for centuries. It simply means “born from above”—born into the family of God. We are all God’s creation, but we are not all God’s children. Those who are born only once (physical birth) will experience physical and spiritual death, what the Bible calls the second death. But those who are born twice (physically and spiritually) will die only a physical death because they will be resurrected to life eternal. This is why Jesus came.

Nicodemus could only see human life; Jesus was speaking of spiritual life. What Nicodemus needed was a new heart. Surely he would have read the Scripture, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you” (Ezekiel 36:26). No matter how hard Nicodemus worked to live right, he fell short of being born again.

This was a lot for Nicodemus to take in. Imagine what must have been going through his mind when he heard Jesus say,

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

The Bible does not record what happened after their meeting; and if the Book of John ended there, we might not know what became of Nicodemus. But John 7 tells of a debate that later arose among the Jewish leaders about Jesus, for He had told them also that He was going away, and “where I am you cannot come” (John 7:33-34). Jesus knew the chief priests were planning to seize Him, but He spoke of returning to His heavenly home. Then the Pharisees asked one another if any of them believed Jesus, and Scripture says that Nicodemus spoke up for Him (John 7:47-51). Jesus’ words had illuminated Nicodemus’ darkened heart.

We don’t see Nicodemus again until he appears after Christ’s death on the cross, bringing a mixture of spices to use in preparing Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:39). Most of Christ’s followers had fled, but here we see Nicodemus caring for Him. It seems that even in death’s shadow, Nicodemus had eternity on his mind.

But as we’ve seen, many people never think of eternity. As a Christian and a preacher of the Gospel, I am always grieved to have to interrupt a marvelous picture, such as eternal life in Heaven, to talk about another eternal place that Jesus calls Hell. It has no similarities to what is typically called home, nor is Hell a resting place, a holding place, or a graveyard. Hell is a burning inferno.

More than the description, I want to point out the greatest darkness of Hell—it is a place where Jesus is not. Jesus said, “I am going away. You will search for me but will die in your sin. You cannot come where I am going” (John 8:21, NLT). This is the great anguishing nightmare—to be eternally separated from the Son of God. It is unimaginable. For this reason alone, to be in Hell is the most terrible of all judgments.

There are some people who actually believe that if they end up in Hell, they’ll get used to it. After all, they say, the devil has provided a great deal of pleasure for them while on earth, so how bad can it be?

Let me tell you; the devil is not in charge of Hell, nor is it his headquarters. Satan is the “prince of this world” (John 16:11, KJV) and has taken up residence in many hearts. But He knows what the end is for him. He made his choice long ago and wants to take a world of people with him to Hell, where he will serve out his eternal sentence.

The Bible says that the everlasting fire was created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Jesus said, “I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Revelation 1:18). The devil does not own Hell. It is not his home—it is his judgment.

A mother and son once lived in a miserable attic. Years before, she had married against her parents’ wishes and had gone with her husband to live in a strange land. But her husband soon died, and she managed with great difficulty to secure the bare necessities. The boy’s happiest times were when his mother told of her father’s house in the old country, a place with grassy lawns, enormous trees, wide porches, and delicious meals. The child longed to live there.

One day the postman knocked at the door with a letter. The woman recognized her father’s handwriting and with trembling fingers opened the envelope that held a check and a slip of paper with two words: “Come home.”

A similar experience will come to all who know Christ. Someday you will receive this brief message: “The Father says come home.”

Those who know Christ are not afraid to die. Death is not the grim reaper. Death to the Christian is “going home.” No one who has died in the Lord would ever want to come back to this life. To depart and be with Christ, Paul said, “is far better” (Philippians 1:23). The Bible says that we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, seeking a homeland, a place prepared for us by God (Hebrews 11:16) where the Lord will receive us into “an everlasting home” (Luke 16:9). I have never known a man or woman to receive Christ and ever regret it.

Perhaps you have never bent your will to God’s will and been born again. You can do that now, for He desires that all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Right now you can make your decision for Christ and start on the road that leads to a heavenly home.

Jesus said in essence, “You can be where I am, or you can be where I am not.” I pray you settle life’s most important question: Where will you spend eternity?

My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going (John 8:14).

November 30, 2017

Why Worship This God and Not Another, Or None?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

by Clarke Dixon

The new Governor General of our nation, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, recently found herself in a bit of hot water with religious groups. In a speech she expressed concern that that anyone would believe in something other than what you can learn from science. To quote:

“And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”

While people of faith, including myself, may have felt slighted by this, we do well to consider that our Governor General really is expressing a sentiment of many Canadians. Our most recent worship service began with the following words:

1 O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! Psalms 95:1-2 (NRSV)

Many Canadians would respond to this call to worship with “why would we bother to do that? Has not science taught us that God is not necessary?”

The people in the Psalmist’s day would have asked a similar question coming out of the typical worldview of their day: “Why sing to this Lord, and not another? Why not worship the gods of the Babylonians or the Egyptians? After all, those nations seem to be more powerful, so maybe their gods are more powerful! Why not the gods of the Canaanites? The worship in their fertility cult temples sounds like more fun than ours!”

The Psalmist goes on to answer this question, which in turn also helps us answer ours. Why worship this God?

3 For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6 O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! Psalms 95:3-6

Worship the Lord, because He is the one true God, the Creator of everything including us. God as revealed in the Bible is quite a different kind of god from all the other gods believed in during those times. Of all the mythologies of those days, no other religion expressed the theology of creation in quite the same way as the Hebrew Scriptures. The theology of God as revealed in the Bible has stood the test of time in a way no other theologies have. Belief in God is still very much with us. Zeus and the rest, not so much. Why? The Judeo-Christian concept of God stands up to philosophical enquiry, historical study, and scientific scrutiny. In fact such investigations even point to Him!

You might ask, “how can science point to God as creator when there is a fight between science and faith?” Let us consider an example (inspired by John Lennox). Consider my favourite motorcycle, a 1939 Triumph Speed Twin. Now consider a motorcycle enthusiast who owns one, and loves to take it apart and put it back together again to see how it all works. Scientists are like the motorcycle enthusiast who studies the motorcycle. Now consider a history buff who collects books about the Triumph Motorcycle Company.  The history buff learns that a man named Edward Turner was the chief designer of the Speed Twin. Theologians are like the history buff who studies Edward Turner, the man behind the motorcycle. Now when scientists say things like “having studied the world and the universe, we are able to explain how things work without reference to God, therefore God does not exist”, it is a bit like the motorcycle enthusiast saying “having studied the motorcycle, I did not find Edward Turner in the crankcase spinning the crankshaft to make the motorcycle go, in fact I can explain how the motorcycle moves without reference to Edward Turner, therefore Edward Turner does not exist”. Scientists say a lot of good things, but they say too much when they say that kind of thing.

Theologians can say too much too of course. Though a history buff will learn about the Speed Twin from history books and biographies on Edward Turner, they will not learn the same kinds of things as someone with the blueprints. Both the scientists and the theologians need to be careful they don’t say too much.

Consider further, that the existence of the Speed Twin as an engineering marvel, and as a work of art, points to a designer. That much is obvious. There are scientists who infer the existence of a Creator God from the engineering excellence and the artistry evident in the universe. This is the theory of Intelligent Design which you can read more about here.

While the existence of design in the universe points to a Designer, why should someone today worship God as understood through Jesus and not some other? The Psalmist helps us answer this question also.  Why worship this God?

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand. Psalm 95:7a

Worship this God because He is the God who has had a relationship with us all along. God’s people in the Psalmist’s day could look back at the records chronicling God’s relationship with them and recognize that God has been walking with them all along. The gods of the other nations were not. God was their shepherd, sometimes protecting, sometimes correcting, but never far away. Likewise, we can look back and see God’s hand in history.

If you are a Christian, suppose for a moment that you are not. You are hardly going to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, or that miracles of the Bible happened. However, even if we do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we should at least recognize that it is a collection of historical records. It is a collection of 66 books, written over 1500 years, by the hand of over 40 different authors from quite different backgrounds. Whether you believe what the authors have to say or not, at the very least you can believe that these are historical records of what they believed to be true. As we study this collection, questions arise. For example, why the incredible unity of thought about God? Why the incredible storyline that runs from beginning to end including creation, fall, promises plus shepherding, redemption, and restoration? Why did a group of Jews claim that Jesus experienced resurrection, and why were they willing to die for that claim? Why has Christianity stood the test of time where other religions have faded away? How has Christianity become the biggest religion in the world, and why does it spread even quicker under persecution? The simplest answer is often the best, and in this case answers every question: Jesus is Risen Lord, God is our maker and has a long history of relationship with humanity.

The Psalmist calls upon the people of his day to worship God and not another, to listen to God’s voice: “O that today you would listen to his voice!” Psalm 95:7b. Why listen to His voice and not another, or none? Because God is the Creator, and humanity has a long, and recorded history with Him. Are we listening?

1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . Hebrews 1:1-3

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon’s writing appears here most Thursdays; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

October 15, 2017

Sunday Worship

A few years ago we were reading Psalm 106. You know that one. The one where the Israelites are reminded of all the times they screwed up as a nation. The times they forgot their God. Then it suddenly occurs to me. This is a PSALM. They SANG THIS. This was one of their WORSHIP SONGS. As in, “Take your hymnbook and turn to number 106.” How do you SING stuff that is so self deprecating? Definitely a minor key.

6 We have sinned, even as our fathers did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

7 When our fathers were in Egypt,
they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

13 But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his counsel.

14 In the desert they gave in to their craving;
in the wasteland they put God to the test.

15 So he gave them what they asked for,
but sent a wasting disease upon them.

16 In the camp they grew envious of Moses
and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the LORD.

17 The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan;
it buried the company of Abiram.

18 Fire blazed among their followers;
a flame consumed the wicked.

19 At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.

20 They exchanged their Glory
for an image of a bull, which eats grass.

21 They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,

22 miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.

23 So he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him
to keep his wrath from destroying them.

24 Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.

25 They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the LORD.

26 So he swore to them with uplifted hand
that he would make them fall in the desert,

27 make their descendants fall among the nations
and scatter them throughout the lands.

28 They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor
and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods;

29 they provoked the LORD to anger by their wicked deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.

30 But Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was checked.

31 This was credited to him as righteousness
for endless generations to come.

32 By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD,
and trouble came to Moses because of them;

33 for they rebelled against the Spirit of God,
and rash words came from Moses’ lips. [c]

34 They did not destroy the peoples
as the LORD had commanded them,

35 but they mingled with the nations
and adopted their customs.

36 They worshiped their idols,
which became a snare to them.

37 They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to demons.

38 They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.

39 They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.

40 Therefore the LORD was angry with his people
and abhorred his inheritance.

41 He handed them over to the nations,
and their foes ruled over them.

42 Their enemies oppressed them
and subjected them to their power.

43 Many times he delivered them,
but they were bent on rebellion
and they wasted away in their sin.

Okay, I left out a few of the good verses. But even so…

We always want our songs to be happy.  The modern church doesn’t do lament well. What if Western Christians had a song that was the modern equivalent to this?  In her review at Thinking Out Loud of The Ben Ripple my wife wrote:

All in all, it is important for us to know stories like Ben’s.  The places where God meets us face to face, and the places where he stands quietly behind us.  What the family next door might be going through and what they may deal with from one day to the next.  It’s been said that we live in a world that has forgotten how to lament — to cry out to God our pain and fear and loss.  This book is just such a thing, but like so many of the laments in Scripture, it ends on a note of “nevertheless…”  The possibility of healing, the value of trusting, the necessity of faith in one who loves us.

In a review of a new NLT edition that contains a section of laments, I quoted the authors:

“These are the questions we’re all afraid to ask God, and the complaints we might hesitate to voice to him. The truth is, God desires our honest doubts, questions and complaints. After all, the writers of the Bible regularly lament, crying out to God and questioning him about injustices, pains and problems.

In 2012 at Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike looked at our propensity to edit the Psalms of Lament to suit our purposes in a piece about Sanitizing the Wilderness:

Contemporary “worship” music is especially weak when it comes to giving voice to the full spectrum of human experiences and emotions. Even when today’s songwriters make use of the Psalms they tend to transform the raw, earthy language that describes our complex, often messy relationships with God and others into easily digestible spiritual sentiments…

…It takes one image from a rich, profound, complex and realistic description of life and latches on to it because the image evokes a simple devotional sentiment that prompts an immediate emotion. We set it to music, and voila! — people get the idea we are singing “Scripture.”

Instead, in Psalm 106, we have true scripture, but the part of it that we tend to ignore or forget. But in its own way, this too is worship.


We also looked at Psalm 106 in a June, 2012 article, God Keeps Putting Up With Us.

March 15, 2017

Right Results, Wrong Method

Numbers 20 (NIV):

1In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4 Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

This passage contains an interesting sequence of events:

  • The people are thirsty
  • God reveals to Moses that water can be obtained by speaking to a particular rock
  • Moses hits the rock instead (this worked before)
  • Water gushes forth

Maybe God had His instructions wrong, or maybe it applied to some other rock? After all, the water issued forth and the thirst of the people was satisfied.

Hardly. Moses was angry. “…Listen you rebels…” In anger he struck the rock.

In Moses defense, he was using a tried and true formula; see Exodus 17. And he got the desired result. No biggie, right?

The point is that Moses disobeyed; he did God’s work in a sense, but didn’t do it God’s way.

I find myself often guilty of this. I can justify something done in anger because it produced results. I’ve even said to myself, “I think sometimes you just have to get mad enough about something and then God uses that anger.”

Yes. I’ve really thought that. More than once.

And there is such a thing as righteous anger. But it is characterized by being shaped over a long-term, not a short-term; and by its righteousness more than its anger-ness.

James 1 19b & 20 (NIV)

…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Whether or not you feel like you are more a product of the information age or the industrial age, either way you are probably results oriented.

But just because it worked doesn’t mean that God was in it, or that He was pleased, or that you were obedient. Even if the “worked” in question seems to bear the mark (vs. 11) of the miraculous.

And a great danger lies in trusting in what worked before, when God wants to lead you into something new.

And like Moses (vs. 12) by doing it our way, you and I may be missing out on God’s greater blessing and the fullness of God’s highest goal for our lives.

~PW


*Reader mini-survey:

Just curious… Have blog posts here resulted in you making the author’s blog part of your daily or weekly routine?  My hope is that in introducing you to a wide variety of Christian devotional and Bible-teaching bloggers, some of them will resonate with you to the point you bookmark their sites and/or subscribe, making their writing a regular habit.

March 3, 2017

Devotional for 3/3: The Trinity

Someone pointed out the coincidence (if that applies) that a major motion picture about the Trinity is releasing on 3/3. That got me thinking that perhaps we could look back at this topic as it has been discussed here.

In November of 2014 we began with a quote from Tozer:

Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.
~A.W. Tozer, The Idea of the Holy, chapter 4

and then continued to look at “who does what.”

In the Holy Scriptures the work of creation is attributed to the Father

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below

to the Son

Col 1:16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.

and to the Holy Spirit

Job 26:13     By His breath, the heavens are made beautifully clear;
        by His hand that ancient serpent—even as it attempted escape—is pierced through.

Psalm 104:30 When You send out Your breath, life is created,
    and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.

The article continues as a scripture medley worth checking out… continue reading here.

In July, 2013 we looked at the idea of “One What and Three Whos” with this item by C. Michael Patton:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Spirit of GodSince there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos…

For more on the idea of a hierarchy within the Trinity… continue reading here.

In February of 2011, we offered “The Trinity Collection,” to go-to verses in which all three members of the Godhead are referenced:

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIrV

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18 TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2 NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Also included in this list is the longer passage at I Cor. 12: 4-13.

That’s pretty much the entire piece… read at source here.

Also in February, 2011, we had a discussion at Thinking Out Loud and noted that

…four of the seven statements in the National Association of Evangelicals Statement of Faith which specifically refer to God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, of which the first is primary for this discussion:

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

(For Canadian readers, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Statement of Faith is identical.)

For that article… continue reading here.

Finally, in January of this year, here at C201 we quoted Fred Sanders on Trinitarian Praise:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be, world without end.

The glory of God is from everlasting to everlasting, but while the praise of the Trinity will have no end, it had a beginning. There was never a time when God was not glorious as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. But there was a time when that singular glory (singular because, to gloss the Athanasian Creed, there are not three glorious, but one) had not yet disclosed itself so as to invite creatures to its praise. To join in the ancient Christian prayer called the Gloria Patri, directing praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to come into alignment here in the world “as it is now” with triune glory “as it was in the beginning.” All theology ought to be doxology, but Trinitarian theology in particular is essentially a matter of praising God. This doxological response is the praise of a glory (ἔπαινον δόξης, Eph 1:6, 12, 14) that always was, and whose epiphany in time entails its antecedent depth in eternity. Those whom God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ are summoned to join that praise: “Blessed be God the Father, who has blessed us in the Beloved and sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:3–14, condensed).

For more of that article… continue reading here.

January 30, 2017

Christianity 201: Devotional # 2500

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

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

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

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

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

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

“So here we are;” said the man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what constitutes treasure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s Christianity 201.

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

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

January 19, 2017

Lost Love: The Letter of Revelation to Ephesus

gnbnby Clarke Dixon

“I have some good news and I have some bad news.” Such is how we could summarize the words of Jesus to the Christians of Ephesus in the Book of Revelation. So let us begin with the good news:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. . . . this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Revelation 2:2,3,6

Works, toil, endurance, standing up to false teaching and also to bad practices. Sounds like a good report. However,there is a ‘but,’ coming. And it is a really big ‘but.’ It is something very serious, so serious that here are the consequences:

Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Revelation 2:5

What does it mean to lose the lampstand? We are told in John’s vision that “the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). In other words, the Christian community will cease to be relevant in Ephesus, there will be no church there. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

If the Christians in Ephesus do not change course there will be no lampstand in Ephesus which means no Christian witness which means no glory to God.

So what is the ‘but,’ the bad news that needs fixing?

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4 (NASB)

What does this mean exactly? At first reading, it certainly seems as if the Christians in Ephesus are good at expressing their love for God. Remember they are commended for their works, toil, endurance, and standing up to false prophets and bad practices alike. On the surface of it, it looks as if they are expressing a great love for God. In fact it seems they are very religious about expressing their devotion to God. And maybe that is the clue. 

The Christian journey can sometimes look like this: We fall in love with God. In fact we become religious about expressing our LOVE for God. Then we become RELIGIOUS about expressing our LOVE for God. Then we can become VERY RELIGIOUS about expressing our love for God. Then we just become VERY RELIGIOUS. And we have left our first love. We have replaced it with religion.

We can leave our first love in two ways:

The first way we can leave our first love: by replacing love with religion as the basis of our relationship with God.

There is an easy way to tell when this is happening. We enter a church, or enter into prayer, and say, “look at me, Lord. Look at how good I am. Look at my works, toil, endurance, and how I stand up to false prophets and bad practices.” We know religion has replaced love when we find ourselves at the center of it all. We have no capacity to impress God. Nor do we need to. When God’s love is at the center rather than our religiosity, we are free to enter into church, or into prayer, and say, “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.” We enter into church, or into prayer, not because we have a chance of impressing Him, but because He loves us. After all, does it not say in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosever is really religious shall not perish but shall have eternal life?” You know that is not how it goes! It is “whoseover believeth in Him, or better, whosoever trusts in Him.

The basis of our relationship with God rests first of all on His love and the fact that He gave Himself for us. We leave our first love and trade it in for mere religion when we trust, not in the love of Jesus, but in our own efforts. If the Christians in Ephesus don’t get this right, they cannot be a lampstand, and their Christian witness will be lost to the misfortune of the people of Ephesus. It will be to the misfortune of our towns and cities today if we replace love with religion as the basis of our relationship with God.

The second way we can leave our first love: by replacing love with religion as the basis of our relationship with others.

You can see the challenge the Christians in Ephesus faced. They were in a very Roman world with very Roman practices, which were very far from Christian practices. There were huge pressures to cave. It is commendable that they have not. They are to be commended for enduring, and standing up to false teaching and bad practices. However, the easiest way to endure when all the world around you is putting pressure on you to cave is to crawl into one.  Crawl into a cave and disconnect yourself from all that pressure. Hunker in a bunker. There is such at thing today as “hunker in a bunker” Christians. There we are free from pressure and temptation. We are free in a bunker, sheltered from the world around us to excel in being religious. Religion becomes the main point of connection with our friends, and the main point of disconnection from everyone else. We can excel at being religious in, but we cannot love the world around us from, a bunker. We are called to love!

Study the life of Paul and you will see that despite all the pressures on him, he never hunkered down in a bunker. He rubbed shoulders with anyone and everyone, letting his light shine. Jesus rubbed shoulders with anyone and everyone, letting His light shine. It is good to do those commendable things the Christians in Ephesus were doing; not countenancing evil, weeding out the false prophets, enduring. But it is not good to become isolated and a closed community. If the Christians in Ephesus do not get this right, they cannot be a lampstand, and their Christian witness will be lost to the misfortune of the people of Ephesus. It will be to the misfortune of our towns and cities today if we don’t keep love as the basis of our relationship with others.

Jesus shows the way:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: Revelation 2:1

Jesus is the example of love, walking among the the seven gold lampstands, a living presence of love. In everything he has done and everything he does, he gives us an example, not of what religion looks like, but love. May we be more like Jesus, and not so much like the Ephesians.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted


Read today’s and other writing by Clarke Dixon at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

August 13, 2016

The Cross as Christianity’s Icon

Yesterday, we discovered an apologetics site we weren’t aware of… and we’re always interested in apologetics. After reading several posts, we decided to use this one to feature Answering Skeptics, but as always, you’re encouraged to click the link below and read this at source. The author goes by the user name, Saint of Christ. This certainly will make you think.

cross at Grace ChurchThe Cross Does NOT Represent Christianity

22 And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: 23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is ACCURSED of God) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. – Deuteronomy 21:22-23

When you ask people, what does the cross represents? Immediately they’ll tell you, Christianity. But the truth is; the cross represents curse, not Christianity. Blessing, not curse, represents Christianity (Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 3:9).

When Jesus was crucified, He wasn’t crucified for Christians because Christians are those who are born of God, without past (2 Corinthians 5:17); born of His sinless Word (1 Peter 1:23; John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:9); He was crucified for the world sins (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).

Christianity was born at His resurrection, not His crucifixion. He was crucified for all sinners to pay the price for their sins. So it is wrong to suggest that the cross represents Christianity. It represents the world of sin (curse). Without the resurrection, Christianity wouldn’t exist.

Our theme verse says that he who is hanged on a tree is accursed of God. In other words, the tree [i.e. Cross] represents curse; it’s a symbol of curse. Indeed, everyone, except Jesus, who was crucified, was criminal. Jesus, who was willing to be our sin sacrifice, became curse for us. He was accursed of God on that Cross; that’s why the Holy Spirit left Him (Matthew 27:46). Paul reaffirmed this when he said, Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree(Galatians 3:13). Jesus became sin itself on that cross, For he hath made him TO BE SIN for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.(2 Corinthians 5:21). As Christians, we are not worshiping or serving the Jesus who was hanged on the cross; but the risen Christ.

So what represents Christianity? You may want to ask. The answer is, you. You are the epistle of Christ if you’re born again (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). You are the symbol of Christianity. That’s why He calls you the light of the world just like He is (Matthew 5:14, 16; Philippians 2:15).

The Church needs to grasp this truth and repent. Acts 17:30 says, And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent”. Some even use the cross sign to pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; even though, nowhere does the Bible ever suggest that we should pray this way. Jesus said, “to baptize”; not to pray, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). He told us to pray “to” the Father, “in” His name (John 15:16; 16:26-27); “through” the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26; 15:16).

Just because this has been practiced for ages doesn’t make it right. So repent. Proverbs 9:9 says, Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. So be wise.


At the same blog: Who Made Paul an Apostle? Some people would argue that Paul was self-appointed. This article shows otherwise.

Interestingly enough, there’s also a lengthy article attributed to Kenneth Hagin (a prosperity preacher, I presume) which refutes the idea that Jesus was poor. I have to admit that knowing the writer’s identity and intention somewhat biased my reading of this, but there is no disputing some of the evidence presented.

May 21, 2016

Proof-texting to Justify a Position on an Issue

Today we pay a return visit to Benjamin L. Corey who blogs at Patheos. This is really two articles in one. On the surface, it’s dealing with the issue of “just war theory” versus pacifism. On a deeper level, it deals with the complications that arise when we try to use particular Bible texts to justify a particular position. So… even if you’re not drawn to the particular issue — and I deliberately chose a neutral headline — consider this an A+ exercise in Biblical hermeneutics. Click the title below to read at source or leave a comment for Benjamin.

The Serious Problems With Using Ecclesiastes 3 To Justify Christian Support of War & Violence

I’ve heard a lot of reasoning over the years regarding Christian support of things like war, violence, and gun slinging. I’ve seen the Bible bent into a giant pretzel, watched folks do theological gymnastics, and I’ve seen the teachings of Jesus on the matter outright dismissed– over, and over again.

thought I had addressed all of the counter arguments over the years, but a new one is emerging and being used more and more frequently: the use of Ecclesiastes chapter 3 to justify the Christian’s support of war and violence.

Even the casual Bible reader probably knows this passage well, as it became the hit song, Turn, Turn, Turn, by the Byrds, which is still an iconic song of the 60’s. The biblical passage (and the song) goes like this:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

So, here’s how this is starting to be used in Christian discussions about guns, war, and violence: When Christian A puts forth the nonviolent teachings of Jesus, Christian B retorts by posting this passage in reply. The inferred argument is, “Jesus couldn’t have really meant that, because Ecclesiastes says there’s a time to kill and a time for war.”

Let me quickly outline the serious problems with this argument:

First, it ignores Jesus! The act of rebutting Jesus using other passages of Scripture should be a major red flag in the mind of any believer. If Jesus is the living Word of God and the Wisdom of God, then we begin with what Jesus taught us. This is what makes us Christians instead of Biblicists– we follow the teachings of our Lord and Savior. When one rejects the face value teaching and example of Christ in favor of other passages or people in Scripture, it’s a good indication that such a person may like Jesus the Savior but not Jesus the Lord– and unfortunately, this thing is a package deal.

Second, it ignores the poetic nature of the passage. This passage became a hit song because it’s actually quite beautiful and insightful as a piece of literature. The author poetically describes the many seasons of life he has observed, and invites us into his inner thought process as he reflects on these deep questions. The result is certainly beautiful.

Finally, using this passage to trump Jesus falls flat, as it ignores things the author of Ecclesiastics totally got wrong. Because the poem describes the extremes that exist in life, there’s something in the passage that everyone will likely find disagreement with, and stuff that I believe a Christian should flat out reject as being wrong.

For example, when I first went to Bible college 20+ years ago, I tried to make the argument that we should be allowed to dance because the Bible says, “there’s a time to dance.” Of course, they rejected this argument and reminded me that even Satan knows Scripture and how to twist it. (But strangely when they got to the lines about hating, killing, and war, the passage all of a sudden became the “final authority for faith and Christian living.”)

But let’s look at a few more serious examples:

Do you really think there’s a time to hate? If Jesus commanded us to love God, love our neighbors, and love our enemies, I can’t think of anyone we’re allowed to hate. Thus, this passage cannot be read as a prescriptive command from God as to how to live, because according to Jesus, there’s not a time to hate.

Or, if one reads beyond the more famous lines of this passage, we find a few other things I hope we’d reject. In verse 12 he says that there’s, “nothing better than for people to be happy” and as a Christian I would categorically deny that our existence here on this earth has the highest goal of our own happiness. Surely, Jesus promised not happiness– but that the consequences of following him would great, including poverty, jail, and death.

In addition, the author states in verses 19-21 that humans have “no advantage” over animals and that he doesn’t know if the human spirit “rises upwards” or if the animal spirit “goes down to the earth.” I would hope that as Christians we’d reject such shoulder shrugging as to wether or not our fate after death is any better or different than an animal.

Finally, in that same set of verses, the author says that “everything is meaningless.” But do we really believe that life is meaningless? That it has no point? I certainly don’t see how “everything is meaningless” can fit within a Christian narrative– the opposite would be far more likely to be true.

Thus, to use Ecclesiastes 3 to justify the Christian supporting war and violence is one of the weakest arguments one could make. It completely ignores what Jesus said about things. It also completely ignores the context of the passage– someone poetically thinking about loud in the 3rd Century BCE as to whether or not life has meaning, and who wonders if we will share the same fate as animals. Finally, it ignores things the author simply got wrong about life– it’s not meaningless, and surely for the Christian, the highest goal of life isn’t the pursuit of personal happiness.

Can we please stop using this passage as an American Christian go-to passage to justify our support of war and violence? Because the passage doesn’t actually work that way.

 

March 30, 2016

How Easter Explodes a Religious Myth

•••by Clarke Dixon

Christianity, and religion itself, is often seen to be something helpful. So, for example, it can provide a crutch for those moments you may feel weak. It can provide a belief system for those moments that you need to know there is more to life than what you can see. It can be something you pay attention to for a few moments in a day for the sake of your spiritual health, kind of like an exercise program for your soul. It can provide a good dose of morality for your day.

All these things are helpful, but they all have something in common: they relegate Christianity to the sidelines of your life. They make Christianity something that you can put on the back burner until the time comes you might have need of it. Worse, they turn Christianity into something optional, so that if your spiritual and religious needs are met some other way, then okay, leave church attendance and Jesus following for those who are into that kind of thing. Easter Sunday explodes the myth that Christianity is a religion that can exist on the sidelines of our lives. How so?

It is often claimed that the early Christians invented a religion that had not too much to do with the actual historical Jesus. However, in our recent sermon series we have been looking at how the writers of the four Gospels were either eyewitnesses themselves (Matthew, John) or were very intimately connected with eyewitnesses of the events and key Person they describe (Mark, Luke). Additionally the Gospels were written not long after the events described, indeed early enough that what was written could be checked against what eyewitnesses were saying. Now let us venture beyond the Gospels to consider something that was written even earlier by Paul. In fact many Biblical scholars conclude that Paul was quoting an oral tradition that went back even earlier, possibly a baptismal affirmation. I have highlighted the possible “confessional”:

Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1st Corinthians 15:2-8 emphasis mine)

The earliest traditions about Jesus were not about his being a good teacher, with later traditions adding in the supernatural bits. The earliest traditions point to the supernatural, in fact they speak of the resurrection of Jesus. As Paul points out to the Christians he is writing to in Corinth, most of those who had seen Jesus following his death and resurrection were still alive – so you can still check the story out with them.

It is fascinating also, that Paul does not mention that Jesus first revealed Himself to the women by the empty tomb. The fact that women were the first eyewitnesses is somewhat embarrassing to the still very patriarchal society of that day. In that time and place if you wanted to invent a religion based on a fabricated resurrection, you would not call upon women to be the first witnesses. Nor would you call upon Mark and Luke to write Gospels. These things speak to the genuine nature of the eyewitness testimony.

These eyewitnesses of the Risen Jesus were not going about trying to start a new religion. They were going about telling everyone about all they had seen. They were not fabricating Jesus, they were responding to Him. They responded with repentance. They responded with prayer and lots of it. They responded with reading the scriptures they had at that time, what we call the Old Testament, with their eyes open to seeing Jesus in them. They responded with sharing the Good News of all that had happened and with all that God was doing and had promised to yet do. Christianity from the get go was not a new religion, but a response to the Person of Jesus the Messiah. It was not a thing to practice, but a Person to know. The earliest Christians were not aware of “taking up religion,” but they were very aware of taking up a cross to follow Jesus. They responded to the evidence of God’s love with love. Christianity was not something “helpful” for them, it was something real and true.

On Easter Sunday we celebrated a baptism in our church. In Baptist circles, baptism is a profession of faith. In baptism one is not saying “I am taking up religion,” or “I am joining this church or that denomination.” Neither is one saying “I am perfect.” Baptism shows the desire, not to take up religion, but to take up a cross and follow Jesus who died and rose again in a very real display of God’s love.

Religion is something that can be put on the back burner. Perhaps many should be taking their religion off the back burner and putting it where I put all the meals I have burned over the years, the garbage bin. Jesus is someOne who died and rose again. He cannot be sidelined. He belongs neither on the back burner nor in the bin. Jesus belongs at the center of our lives. Easter Sunday confirms that fact. And as the early Christians showed by moving their worship from the Sabbath, Saturday, to the day Jesus rose from the dead, every Sunday is Easter Sunday.


Read more from Clarke at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

March 26, 2016

Jesus Aims Directly Toward Jerusalem

When the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.
~Luke 9:51

Matthew Henry writes:

1. There was a time fixed for the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus, and he knew well enough when it was, and had a clear and certain foresight of it, and yet was so far from keeping out of the way that then he appeared most publicly of all, and was most busy, knowing that his time was short.

2. When he saw his death and sufferings approaching, he looked through them and beyond them, to the glory that should follow; he looked upon it as the time when he should be received upinto glory (1 Tim. 3:16), received up into the highest heavens, to be enthroned there. Moses and Elias spoke of his death as his departure out of this world, which made it not formidable; but he went further, and looked upon it as his translation to a better world, which made it very desirable. All good Christians may frame to themselves the same notion of death, and may call it their being received up, to be with Christ where he is; and, when the time of their being received up is at hand, let them lift up their heads, knowing that their redemption draws nigh.

3. On this prospect of the joy set before him, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem the place where he was to suffer and die. He was fully determined to go, and would not be dissuaded; he went directly to Jerusalem, because there now his business lay, and he did not go about to other towns, or fetch a compass, which if he had done, as commonly he did, he might have avoided going through Samaria. He went cheerfully and courageously there, though he knew the things that should happen to him there. He did not fail nor was discouraged, but set his face as a flint, knowing that he should be not only justified, but glorified (Isa. 50:7), not only not run down, but received up. How should this shame us for, and shame us out of, our backwardness to do and suffer for Christ! We draw back, and turn our faces another way from his service who steadfastly set his face against all opposition, to go through with the work of our salvation.

This reminded me of another passage:

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
~Hebrews 12:2

Again, Matthew Henry writes:

What it was that supported the human soul of Christ under these unparalleled sufferings; and that was the joy that was set before him. He had something in view under all his sufferings, which was pleasant to him; he rejoiced to see that by his sufferings he should make satisfaction to the injured justice of God and give security to his honor and government, that he should make peace between God and man, that he should seal the covenant of grace and be the Mediator of it, that he should open a way of salvation to the chief of sinners, and that he should effectually save all those whom the Father had given him, and himself be the first-born among many brethren. This was the joy that was set before him.

While there are so many theological depths in this idea of Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem, I have often found on a very practical level that this concept — and that exact phrase — has helped me when I must face an unpleasant situation.


If you’d like to go deeper today, there is much exposition and application in this 1985 article by Ray Stedman; check out He Endured The Cross.


 

 

August 31, 2015

Offering Unauthorized Fire

Leviticus 10:1 (NIV) Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

“‘Among those who approach me
I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
I will be honored.’”

Aaron remained silent.

4 Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, “Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary.” 5 So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered.

6 Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the Lord will be angry with the whole community. But your relatives, all the Israelites, may mourn for those the Lord has destroyed by fire. 7 Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting or you will die, because the Lord’s anointing oil is on you.” So they did as Moses said.

8 Then the Lord said to Aaron, 9 “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, 10 so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.”

These are two excerpts from the book What Would Jesus Read by Joe Amaral; two readings related to Leviticus.  In the last year, Joe turned his attention from First Century studies to the heavens. Check out our review of The Story In The Stars.For more of Joe here at C201, click this link.

Leviticus 10:1
They offered unauthorized fire

Aaron’s sons offered unauthorized fire to God. God struck them dead as a result of their sin. Seems a little strong, yet that is what the Scripture records. God is love and God is fair, but God is also just. We like to forget that sometimes.

Many Christians are taught that the God of the New Testament is not the God of the Old Testament – that the God of the New Testament is filled with love and compassion, and the God of the Old Testament is a violent, cruel, and angry God. That is simply not the case. The Bible says in Malachi 3:6, “I the LORD do not change.”

We need to understand the holiness and justness of God. He is slow to anger and he is willing to bless and love for a thousand generations. But we have to live in the reality that there are consequences to sin.

A police officer may forgive us for running a red light, but we still have to pay the fine. We must learn to live in reverent fear before the Lord and to walk in His ways. He is a loving God who guides our steps, even when we sometimes veer off the path.


Leviticus 10:7
So they did as Moses said

Have you ever used the term “scared to death”? That would apply to today’s passage. The entire camp was literally scared to death. Aaron’s two sons had just been killed for offering unauthorized fire.

God spoke through Moses, and the people did as Moses said. You can be sure that no one was considering disobeying Moses after what had just happened. This wasn’t the first time the people suffered death because of disobedience. Remember at Mount Sinai when they worshiped the golden calf? Three thousand were put to death that day.

People always judge the people of Israel for not “getting it.” They always seemed to stray away from God, get punished, get forgiven, and then stray away again. Let’s take a good long look in the mirror: are we any different today? How many times have you been forgiven for the same sin? We have all fought the same fight with our sins.

Let the fear of the Lord guide you as you strive to live for Him. He has given us His Word to be a light.

~Joe Amaral in What Would Jesus Read? (FaithWords, 2012)

 

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