Christianity 201

June 25, 2020

Spectacular and Sensational: Are Christians to Be Known Primarily for Working Miracles?

by Clarke Dixon

In these days of a pandemic, should we as followers of Jesus be known for doing spectacular and sensational things? Should we be fearless in the face of infection? We’ve prayed about it, we believe that God can protect us, so should we then act like we are immune? Should we declare the pandemic will be over soon? We keep praying it will be.

Of course, this is not just about the pandemic, but all of life. Is the working of miracles the Christian solution to all problems? Is the spectacular and sensational the defining mark of the Christ follower?

Jesus clarifies the defining mark of his followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

The defining mark of the Christ follower may not seem clearly evident here on first glance. Let us put ourselves, for a moment, in the shoes of the scribes and Pharisees. We have a passion for God’s law. We study it, memorize it, and teach it, hoping that our zeal for pleasing God is contagious.

Along comes Jesus, doing spectacular and sensational things, like casting out demons, healing people, and works of power. Yet he does some surprising things too, like healing on the Sabbath. Have you not read your Bible Jesus? Working on the Sabbath is forbidden.

We are concerned. Jesus is attracting people with the spectacular and the sensational, yet his track record of keeping the law and traditions we teach is suspect. Will the Jesus followers, of which there are now many, be all show, and no substance? Will Jesus be taking people away from righteousness through all the spectacular and sensational things he is doing?

To that Jesus says,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7:21 (NLT emphasis added)

The defining mark of the Christian is not the spectacular and sensational, though those things may happen. The defining mark of the Christian is the doing of the heavenly Father’s will. Jesus’ followers can not be described as “workers of lawlessness” (literal rendition of ‘evildoers’ in verse 23).

In other words, Jesus is not taking people away from God and godliness, Jesus is taking people deeper into God and godliness.

Let us remember what Jesus said near the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount” back in chapter 5

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV emphasis added)

When Jesus speaks of the need for a righteousness that excels that of the scribes and Pharisees, he is pointing out that there’s is a faulty righteousness. There is something missing. They were all about the letter of the law, missing God’s heart.

When Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to teach about character, he is taking us toward a righteousness that captures God’s heart.

Here is the defining mark of a Christ follower; a character that captures God’s heart. In developing a character that captures God’s heart, the Jesus follower develops a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Of course eternal life depends on God’s grace and not our ability. However, salvation to eternal life does not preclude becoming more like our Saviour as we follow.

Yes, Jesus was going about doing spectacular and sensational things. And no, Jesus was not keeping the traditions in ways that would keep the scribes and Pharisees happy. However, Jesus was, and is now, calling people, not to be workers of the spectacular and sensational, nor to a wooden adherence to a set of rules, but to a deep righteousness formed of God.

What about us? What defines our Christian walk? Is it a focus on the spectacular and sensational? Do people know us to be a people who walk about with the expectation that God will hand out miracles like candy? Do we see miracles as the solution to all our, and the world’s, problems?

We should pray for miracles. I believe they happen. But while we pray for miracles, we can recognize how character that captures God’s heart solves many of our, and the world’s problems. We can think of problems in family relationships, marriage, race relations, and so much more. If our character is growing in Christlikeness, many of our problems wouldn’t exist in the first place!

We may think that we would be most like Christ if miracles would happen all around us, and through us. We are most like Christ when we love as Jesus loved, when we sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed, when we serve as Jesus served, when we forgive as Jesus forgave.

Ours is not to make people think we are the second coming of Jesus by the working of miracles every time there is a problem. Ours is to be a people who live in a deep relationship with God through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. We respond to every problem, including every pandemic, with Christlike character. We will be known as Jesus followers, not by our miracles, but by our character.


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. His family are currently riding out both the pandemic and the heat wave next to their pool. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

June 5, 2020

When Following Christ, Intellectual Depth is not Spiritual Depth

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 often crave spiritual depth. They should have recent to expect to receive just that.

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

And I am in favor of all five of those.

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

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

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. And often, I must confess, I default to writers and articles which stimulate the spiritual intellect.

But talk to someone who has walked for decades with God, and you’ll see something else at work. Yes, there is a love for his word, the scriptures. But there is also, simply put, a love for Him.

Again, Spiritual depth isn’t depth of understanding, or depth of communicating truths, rather, it’s about depth of relationship with God; or depth of intimacy with Jesus. You see a person and say, “That person really knows God.” Or conversely, “That person is truly known of God.” Or better, “That person really loves God.”

And what happens in the mind, manifests itself in the life, and can be observed in one’s character. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

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

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

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

Conclusion:

We need to live our Christian lives not out of deep reasoning, or deep understanding of the things of God; rather, we need to live out of a deep conviction that comes from walking closely with God.

June 1, 2020

Just One Way: Through Jesus

Today we’re introducing a new website to you with the unusual title, Theist Thug Life. (I really wish there was an about page for this one!) Click the header below to read at source, then click the page header there to look at other articles.

The Exclusivity of Christ V. Religious Pluralism

“I am a Christian who believes that there are certainly many more paths to God other than Christianity”. – Oprah Winfrey

Immediately one may see the problem in Oprah’s statement above: A blatant contradiction.  Claiming to be a Christian she states that there is more than one path to God aside from Christianity. So what is she doing here? Oprah is advocating religious pluralism. Religious pluralism is generally the belief that two or more religious worldviews are equally valid or acceptable. This goes beyond simple tolerance (disagreeing but living peaceably together) but rather the very real acceptance of multiple paths to God (or gods) as a possibility. This is in stark contrast to those views that are exclusive, which is the idea that there is only one true religion or way to know God. Christianity is one such view that is exclusive. Immediately it becomes clear that her belief that there is more than one way to God is in opposition to her professed belief in Christ. In fact it is in blatant opposition to Jesus Christ himself. What do I mean? Christianity isn’t exclusive because Christians want it that way or because we are trying to come from a position of superiority of belief. No, Christian exclusivism just is because God has made it plainly known that he alone is God and there is only one way to him. One of the most prominent verses towards this end is found in John 14:6,

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The claim here made by Jesus is distinct and purposely narrow. It’s exclusive in that it leaves no room for another way.  In a world that has hundreds, if not thousands, of worldviews proposing the way to God (or gods or not gods) we must apply the law non-contradiction. This law essentially states that contradictory propositions cannot both be true ‘at the same time and in the same sense. Ravi Zacharias helps us understand this point here,

“Truth by definition is exclusive. Everything cannot be true. If everything is true, then nothing is false. And if nothing is false then it would also be true to say everything is false. We cannot have it both ways. One should not be surprised at the claims of exclusivity. The reality is that even those who deny truth’s exclusivity, in effect, exclude those who do not deny it. The truth quickly emerges. The law of non-contradiction does apply to reality: Two contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense. Thus, to deny the law of non-contradiction is to affirm it at the same time. You may as well talk about a one-ended stick as talk about truth being all-inclusive.”

Every worldview about God or how to get to God can’t be correct. Either Jesus is the WAY, TRUTH, or LIFE or he isn’t.

Now some may object here by saying that various religious views share certain values and agree on some social issues. Isn’t this religious pluralism? No it isn’t. While, for example, Buddhists and Christians both agree that helping the poor is important, such limited concord is not pluralism per se. Again pluralism has to do with lending credence to competing truth claims. It is a position that advocates the acceptance of diverse beliefs regarding God and salvation as being just as true as any other. However, worldviews contradict each other on a fundamental level. This doesn’t mean some religions can’t share some doctrinal beliefs (like there being only one God) but that the fundamental positions that each hold are irreconcilable. One or the other is true, not both.

Christian Core Beliefs

Christians are those individuals who have been forgiven of their sins. They are individuals who have entered into a close personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9Romans 10:9–10). Within the faith there are those beliefs that are essential and those that are non-essential. The non-essentials are those things that do not affect the salvation of an individual. Such things as dancing, head dressing, alcohol consumption, and so forth are not salvific issues. They are those issues that different Christians can disagree on but not divide over. Essential beliefs are those that are the core foundational beliefs that are paramount. These beliefs are something a person must fully accept as part of his or her own personal worldview to be called a Christian. The following are core beliefs:

• Jesus is the Son of God and is equal with God (John 1:149Luke 22:70Mark 3:11Philippians 2:5–11)
• Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18Luke 1:26–35)
• Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life (Hebrews 4:15John 8:29)
• Jesus was crucified to pay the penalty for our sins (Matthew 26:281 Corinthians 15:2–4)
• Jesus rose from the dead (Luke 24:46Mark 16:6)
• We are saved by the grace of God; that is, we cannot add to or take away from Christ’s finished work on the cross as full payment for our sin (Ephesians 2:8–9)

Notice that these core beliefs of Christianity fly in the face of Oprah’s statement. While she claims to profess Christ she believes differently from what the core beliefs of Christianity are. Many people may indeed be ‘Christian’ in name but ignore or outright reject core beliefs that define who a Christian is. Truly if Christ is our only hope…our sole way of forgiveness of our sins and gaining redemption…then belief that we or others can go outside of Christ for hope and redemption is simply anathema. It does not follow. Such a person who advocates that there are other ways to God aside from Christ is someone who either doesn’t know what they are talking about, deceiving themselves, or they are outright lying and do not believe the truth.

Summary

Ravi Zacharias perfectly finishes off this article below with these last words,

“So where does that leave us? We must not be surprised at truth claims but we must test them before we believe them. If the test demonstrates truth then we are morally compelled to believe it. And this is precisely the point from which many are trying to run. As G.K. Chesterton said, the problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried.

Christ is either the immeasurable God or one dreadfully lost. Apply the tests of truth to the person and the message of Jesus Christ. You see not only his exclusivity, but also his uniqueness.”

Note: While Christianity is exclusive in that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation it must be said that Christianity is perhaps the most inclusive faith. No matter your skin color, creed, where you were born, or social status you are able to come to Jesus. No one is turned away as long as they repent and believe the Gospel. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

Further Reading and Citations

https://www.rzim.org/read/a-slice-of-infinity/point-of-exclusion

Here are 10 verses that speak to the exclusivity of Jesus.

  1. John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
  2. Acts 4:12 – And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
  3. John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  4. Romans 10:9 – Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
  5. 2 Corinthians 4:4 – In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
  6. John 3:36 – Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
  7. Acts 10:43 – To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
  8. 1 Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
  9. Romans 3:22 – The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
  10. John 17:3 – And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

May 7, 2020

Should Christians Have All the Answers?

by Clarke Dixon

Do you feel that there are questions Christianity is not providing good answers for? Why would God allow a pandemic? Why do innocent children suffer while some evil adults do well? Why is God not hearing the prayers of Christians around the world for this pandemic to end? Why does God not seem to answer my prayers at all?

Should we, who are Christians, have all the answers? Should we feel like we are lacking as Christians if we don’t have all the answers? Or, is Christianity lacking as a valid worldview if some questions go unanswered?

I have often thought of the journey of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. You don’t open the box and suddenly all the pieces fall into place. There is a long process of getting the pieces together. We don’t simply start following Jesus and expect all the pieces to fall into place. We don’t suddenly know everything there is to know. Rather, we are on a journey of growth in understanding. This is reflected by the apostle Paul:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

There are three things for us to consider from this verse:

First, it is okay to not have all the answers. None of us have a completed puzzle yet! Even the greatest theologians and preachers have pieces still not placed. Those who think they have it all figured out, don’t. I don’t know about you, but when I work on a jigsaw puzzle, there are always pieces which I think belong in particular places, some of which can actually seem to fit, if you hammer them hard enough. But then, later on I find they are out of place. To be able to say “I don’t have an answer for that” may be better than having all kinds of pieces hammered in the wrong places. If Paul can say “now I know only in part” (NRSV), we can too! Here is that same verse in another translation to help us see Paul’s humility:

Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see him face to face. We don’t know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (CEV)

Second, it is okay to be puzzled about our own experiences in life. We may have a season like Job, where despite faithfully putting our best foot forward, we suffer. The suffering does not seem to make sense. An online attendee of our church family (he lives in a different nation!), David Hodgson, shared a post with our church Facebook group. I am sharing it here with his permission:

Imagine the MOST beautiful picture you have ever seen, landscape, person, pet, building – it doesn’t matter what your subject is. Now imagine getting that picture enlarged 10,000 times, and then getting the result turned into a 1,000,000 piece Jigsaw puzzle 😳 Some of the pieces individually would be dark, ugly, not make much sense on its own BUT the beautiful picture would be incomplete without it. Now imagine God, who sees everything – He has created a picture more beautiful than anything we can imagine and much larger than a 1,000,000 piece Jigsaw – now maybe the bad, dark, things that happen are like the individual pieces mentioned earlier – His beautiful picture would be incomplete without them and they look nasty and ugly on their own 😉 That’s how I look on life, and everything that happens in it – we don’t understand because we have NEVER seen the complete picture, BUT I FIRMLY believe that this helps to put EVERYTHING into context 😃

David Hodgson via Facebook

You might feel like your life is in a very dark place right now. This present darkness is part of a much bigger picture, a beautiful picture. In fact the darkness is a necessary part of that bigger picture. God will complete the picture at some point, then we will see how it all fits together.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NRSV)

When we read through the Book of Job, we are not left thinking “ah, all that suffering of Job made sense,” but rather “there is so much we do not know, but we do know we can trust God.” We trust even though “now I know only in part.”

Third, Jesus has given us a wonderful opportunity to make great progress on the puzzle of life and faith. While we have thus far noted Paul’s humility in his knowledge and understanding, we can also note his conviction. Paul has great conviction thanks to Jesus. Because of Jesus there are certain things we do know. Consider these verses:

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

John 1:18 (NLT)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Hebrews 1:3 (ESV)

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

1 John 4:9-10 (NLT)

Jesus reveals God to us. What is God like? Through Jesus we learn that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Because of Jesus, John, Paul, along with all the apostles, along with Christians down through the centuries, have had confidence that God is, and that God is love. It is like working on a puzzle, and getting the most important bits done. Being an avid motorcyclist I have a puzzle of a Triumph motorcycle. Coming to a knowledge of God and God’s love in Jesus is like getting the pieces that make up the motorcycle in place. Yes, there are unanswered questions, but they are the bits nearer the edges, out of the main focus of the picture.

The Lord’s Table is a reminder, that now we have great answers to the most important questions. Is there a God, and if so, what is he like? We are reminded that God came to us in Jesus, His body broken for us, his blood shed for the atonement of our sins. God is, and God is love. A pandemic may shine a spotlight on what we don’t know. The Lord’s Table shines a spotlight on what we do. Through Jesus we know what God is like. We know that God is love.

A pandemic may shine a spotlight on what we don’t know. The Lord’s Table shines a spotlight on what we do. Through Jesus we know what God is like. We know that God is love.

Have you ever been tempted to give up on Christianity because there are unanswered questions? It is okay to not have all the answers. But in Jesus we have the answer to the most important question of all; does God love me?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

April 1, 2020

Celebrating 10 Years of Christianity 201

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
 -Hebrews 12:2 BSB

Last week one of our contributing writers reminded me of a paragraph on our “about” page, I had forgotten,

Why “201” – A lot of energy is expended in the Christian blogosphere debating and discussing things that are either divisive or fleeting. I wanted this particular voice to be about things that were more lasting, and the possibility of God’s blessing on those who read this to be a realistic expectation.

That sums up why I started Christianity 201 on April 1, 2010, and it remains its purpose today.

The original articles weren’t formatted the same however. I didn’t demand of myself that each day include scripture — that came months later — but only that the focus be centered on Christ and His Church. So there were a lot of quotations. Here are some excerpts from some of the early posts:

On the first day of C201, April 1, 2010:

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

On the uniqueness of Christ:

If Jesus had never lived we never would have been able to invent him. – Walter Wink

On staying the course spiritually:

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

On the cross:

“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace, as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a high cross between two thieves: on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek…. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that’s where He died. And that is what He died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.” – George MacLeod

On Grace vs. Scripture:

The thing about grace is that it makes religion totally redundant. – Bruxy Cavey

On treasuring scripture:

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

On the Holy Spirit:

The Ten Commandments… are impossible to fallen people, but not God whose nature they are. …It is the indwelling Spirit of God who, alone, can reproduce and express the moral character of God within us. – Charles Price

On intimacy with God:

There is a way to read the Bible that keeps God at an arm’s length. If you primarily read the Bible as a book of principles to follow and people to imitate then your relationship with God won’t be intimate, it will be contractual. – David Paul Door

A guide for those who preach:

1. How often is Jesus mentioned?
2. If Jesus is mentioned, is he the subject of the verbs? In the sermon is Jesus and his work proclaimed… or is someone else and their work proclaimed?
3. What are those verbs? Are they that Jesus came, lived, died, rescued, saved, and the like? Are they biblical terms? – R. Alan Cole

On the nature of sin:

We never see sin correctly unless we see it as against God. – Jerry Bridges

On evaluating ourselves:

I don’t want to underestimate my sinfulness because all that does is cheapen the grace of God! But more importantly, I don’t want to underestimate the grace of God. We need to be reminded over and over again that the grace of God is so much bigger than our biggest failure! – Mark Batterson

On not worrying about what others see:

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

The other thing that struck me about the early days of Christianity 201 was the use of music. Sometimes, in the early days, a post was simply an embedded video and a reflection on the lyrics. Ten years later, we have “the worship industry” and it’s far too easy for writers to be dismissive of the power a Christian song can have in the life of a believer, so few devotional writers include music. For an index of the songs we’ve used — updated last about a year ago — click this link.

I want to especially thank those who granted us permission to continually use their material here, and those who forgave us for the times we were on deadline and saw something we felt worth highlighting and pilfered it!

While some authors appear here with great regularity, I also want to express my special thanks to Rev. Clarke Dixon, whose material is featured here every Thursday. It’s such a good fit for C201 in many different ways.

Also, I want to thank my wife Ruth who at least once a month transcribes something out of a print resource that doesn’t exist online and is also a frequent contributor here. Click here for all her posts.

…Moving forward, we will eventually be converting to a five-days-per-week format, as do many other devotional bloggers. But in the present circumstances, I want to continue to be here for people 7-days-a-week if I am able.

Thanks again to readers and subscribers for your support over the past 120 months.

Paul Wilkinson


March 19, 2020

Investing Wisely (According to Jesus)

Today we’re taking a break from the special series of devotions we’ve been running in light of the world situation; though, with financial markets being the collateral damage of the pandemic, this is in its own way very timely.

by Clarke Dixon

With the markets being so volatile, there are those who are having trouble knowing what to invest in. I have no idea how my pension plan is doing day to day, I am just happy to have one! Many don’t. When we think of investments, we need not just think of wealth and money. We can also think of how we invest our time. The well-to-do and not-so-well-to-do alike have the same amount of time to invest. We can also think of how we invest our abilities and “gifts.” The well-to-do and not-so-well-to-do alike have much to offer, abilities to invest. So is there good advice for how we should invest? Should we invest in Apple, or in gold? Well, Jesus has something to tell us about investments:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)

Jesus would have us choose investments in heaven. What does that mean? What it does not mean, is giving away all your money so that you will receive a bigger reward when you get to heaven. That is not the point. The point is, whatever wealth you accumulate on earth will not last. It can be destroyed by moths when it is precious fabric, a valuable investment in ancient times, it can be destroyed by rust when it is precious metal, another valuable investment in ancient times, and of course it can be destroyed by a market crash. And if our investments do not lose value in those ways, they will certainly be of no value to us when we are dead:

Those who are wise must finally die,
just like the foolish and senseless,
leaving all their wealth behind . . . .
People who boast of their wealth don’t understand;
they will die, just like animals. Psalms 49:10,20 (NLT)

“Treasures in heaven” are investments that last. They are not affected by moth, or rust, or market crashes. “Treasures in heaven” are investments of real heavenly value. We store up treasures in heaven when we invest in justice and peace, things that result in a lasting impact on people. We store up treasures in heaven when we invest in someone’s walk with Jesus, which will have a lasting impact on them plus the people in their sphere of influence. We store up treasures in heaven when we invest in someone’s opportunity to experience peace with God. That is a treasure that can never be taken away!

Jesus has more to say on the matter:

Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! Matthew 6:22-23 (NLT)

This is one of those sayings that would make perfect sense to the people of Jesus’ day, but is harder for us to understand. Basically, a bright eye, or rather a “simple,” or “generous” eye, is an eye that can really see what is going on. I remember when the headlight burned out on my motorcycle. Since I only had one, it was dark, and how deep that darkness was! People with good eyes can see far down the road. They can see what their investments will accomplish. They can see the difference generosity will make.

Let us give an example. Suppose you invent something really useful, the best thing since sliced bread. From your invention you earn one million dollars every year for the next 100 years. You decide to invest all of it in a super-high interest account. Now just imagine how much that would be worth in 100 years! Now think how much it will actually be worth to you in 100 years. If you have a healthy eye, you will see that it will ultimately be of no worth to you, for you will be gone! And by the way, your grandchildren will fight tooth and nail over it. Now, what if it was invested in God’s great kingdom purposes? What good would it do? How many lives might it touch? How many families might be positively impacted when people learn to walk wth Jesus in faith, hope, and love? How many people might spend eternity with God as a result of investing in God’s purposes? Can we see the future returns on our investments? Let us keep in mind that our investments are more than just money, but also time and abilities. Do we see the future impact our investments can have?

Jesus has yet more to say on the matter:

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Matthew 6:24 (NRSV)

Let us note what Jesus did not say. He did not say “You cannot pursue both God and wealth.” Jesus is not commending here a vow of poverty. We can pursue both. But we can only serve one. Consider again the example given above about earning a million dollars a year. We can do that. It is not wrong to earn money. But where will we invest it? Will we serve God with our wealth? Or will we serve the wealth itself?

We can worship God every Sunday, be vocal about our trust in God for salvation, and follow all the rules. But we could be missing the mark in our priorities regarding wealth. We can be a people who worship wealth, trust it more than God, and fail to love people through it. Jesus is leading us to choose generosity toward God’s great kingdom purposes. Jesus is leading us to be the kind of people who worship God with our wealth, trust God more than our wealth, and love people with our wealth. Do we love the wealth we have? Or do we love people using the wealth we have?

Jesus had a great investment strategy. Jesus himself chose to store up treasures in heaven:

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (NLT)

Jesus is the ultimate example of one who chose to store up treasures in heaven, who had a healthy eye seeing the impact of his investment, who served the Father, not wealth. He invested in us at the cross. That treasure can never be eaten by moths, destroyed by rust, or affected by stock market crashes. That was an investment with returns that last for eternity! Whatever we have that we can invest, whether financial wealth, time, or abilities and talents, let us invest like Jesus.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario; a small town about an hour east of Toronto, Canada.  He appears here most Thursdays.

For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

February 29, 2020

Moving to a 201-Level Christianity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Earlier today I did a Google search for “Christianity 201” and found an article of which a very small excerpt appears below. (I hope it’s enough of a teaser that you truly desire to read the whole piece.) Greg has been writing at Inappropriate Conversations for ten years now and more recently podcasting.

Again, I encourage you to click the link in the header which follows, and read this complete.

Christianity 201: Time for Solid Food

It’s embarrassing to consider this possibility, but one of the differences between a 101-level and 201-level understanding of scripture is the answer to a couple of simple questions.  Did Jesus accomplish his mission and fulfill the law?  And when?

Matthew 5:17 – “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

John 19:30 – Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

I call the questions I raised embarrassing because they should reflect an elementary level of comprehension.  Jesus finished his work on the cross.  As Christians, we’ve -heard and said that phrase countless times.  Or, do we somehow doubt that Jesus truly is “Abraham’s seed” as specifically described by Paul (and, if you are a Christian, by Moses)?

Galatians 3:15-26 – Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.  Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.  What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.  For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.  Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.  Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?  May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.  But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.  Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Jesus fulfilled all of The Law.  Period.  Christianity teaches that we are justified by faith in Christ alone, and not by obedience to laws.  One line between heroes of the faith and heretics was drawn on precisely this point.  As human leadership perverted this doctrine, reformers throughout history have laid down their lives to restate Biblical truth.  Some were hanged.  Others were burned at the stake.  Shame on us for forgetting or feigning confusion.

I understand.  This can seem like a challenging concept.  So many believers who have specialized in Christianity 101 – taking the beginner’s course over and over again – have learned to rely upon The Law.  We erect statues of the Ten Commandments on the public square like graven images, in fact.  We’re willing to accept that Jesus fulfilled some of the laws.  It’s no trouble to walk away from dietary restrictions or guidelines about menstruation and participation in worship.  We’re failing at theology if we claim that Jesus did not fulfill them all…

…again, click the link in the title to continue reading…

February 28, 2020

Signs of a Healthy Church

Last Sunday, I attended the annual meeting of the church where my wife is employed, and where I’ve also been attending for nearly two years. It was my first such business meeting in a church of this denomination. Though required by law, the AGM (Annual General Meeting) is also a good opportunity for churches to step back and see the ‘big picture’ of church life, consider what God is doing through their efforts, thank God for His provision and look forward to the future.

The danger of course is to reduce meetings like this to statistics; to pie-chart and bar-graph church life to extremes. Often we rejoice in the reports of individual departments, but then the meeting really kicks into high gear when attendees are told to turn to the financial reports. Generally AGMs are all about numbers.

I doubt the first century church did this kind of record-keeping, and the Apostle Paul — who had a great mind when it came to understanding justification and atonement — was somewhat fuzzy on if or when he had baptized people.

Years ago we published an excerpt from an annual report from a UK church which began by reminding people of the marks of a healthy church. (The source blog is no longer online.) Check it out:

1. People are coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
2. Our missions program is expanding locally, nationally and globally.
3. People are making public professions of faith through baptism.
4. Attendance in worship services is increasing.
5. The worship experience is vibrant, enthusiastic and intergenerational.
6. There is broad participation in serving throughout the ministries.
7. New ministries are beginning as God imparts vision.
8. Guests are being connected to church life.
9. Covenant membership is increasing.
10. Our budgetary needs are being met.
11. Leaders are being developed and placed in ministry roles.
12. Scripture is central to our message.
13. Staff relationships are healthy.

That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of; though I think the eleven hour round trip would take its toll after a few Sundays. Although it represented a larger church, I believe these goals are viable at some level for churches of all shapes and sizes.

What else does a healthy church look like? I want to leave us with a look at how The Message translates two familiar passages describing the early church. Take your time with this:

Acts 2:38-39Peter said, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites.”

40He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!”

41-42That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

43-45Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.

46-47They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.

Acts 4:31While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence.

32-33The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

34-35And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

February 19, 2020

Waiting Is Not a Passive Act

The website Broken Believers “is all about serving through a message of Christian discipleship and helping Christians with mental illnesses and other issues. Bryan is a pastor who also suffers from clinical depression and now ministers to those in need.”

This is our seventh time with Bryan Lowe. An understanding of the Hebrew word used in a very familiar verse really enhances its meaning. As always, click the header below to read this at source.

Braided Up With God

Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

Isaiah 40:31, NASB

The particular word “wait” is a vital force. It’s definitely not a passive word in the Scriptures. It does not mean to be apathetic or lazy. Sometimes we wait in line at the grocery store or maybe waiting on a phone call. We regularly wait all the time, and usually, we don’t even realize it.

The Hebrew word used in v. 31 is ‘kawvah’ which means, ‘to bind together by twisting.’ It sometimes will mean, ‘to braid.’

It’s an interesting word picture, isn’t it? Sometimes we only take the English idea of waiting and turn it turns into a frustrating delay. Often this is why we lose out on what ‘wait’ is really about. I have to believe the Holy Spirit wants to teach this idea of becoming ‘braided up with God.’ All too often we are limited by our definitions and not God’s Word.

For those of us who are ill— physically or mentally, just to be told simply, “wait on the Lord” is a real challenge. Often, we will end up resenting this counsel (and the counselor) because we misunderstand what it means to really ‘wait.’

Yet when I truly wait on God, I’m actually weaving myself into Him. He becomes my strength; He is now the strong cord I am braided into. (Perhaps this is how He imparts strength and might to His people?) We desperately need this and the Lord is eager to lead us into this new intimacy.

The promise in Isaiah 40:31 tells us about new strength, the eagle’s wings, and holy stamina. This verse is relevant to us today, and we need this kind of strength now. I only want to encourage you in your own prayer time, to see yourself intertwined to the Lord, and to recognize the good gift of the Holy Spirit freely given.

“Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!”

Psalm 27:14



Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

February 9, 2020

Keeping Moral Purity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
 – Jeremiah 17:9

For from within the hearts of men come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolishness.
– Mark 7:22-23

For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts.
 – Romans 1:21

Once again we’re back with Arnold Reimer, for many years the pastor of Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto, and his blog titled Finishing Well.

Moral Purity

The news and the courts seem crowded with disturbing cases of sexual impropriety involving people of all social levels of wealth, fame, power and commonality. The number of women who have been violated is staggering. One wonders how so many have been so vulnerable, and where their parents, siblings, friends and associates were while all this was happening? It is not a happy commentary on family and social responsibility. After all, we really are our brothers’ (sisters’) keeper!

One thing is very clear: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” Jesus spelled it out bluntly, “The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man (or woman), for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile . . .

Painful is the number of clergy and those of Christian profession who are found among the reprobates. Nothing reveals the depths of human depravity more than a person who proclaims the Word of God with its clear commands, calls for obedience to its truths, and warns of the consequences of disobedience, while living in moral hypocrisy. Great harm has been done to the cause of Christ because of it. No place on earth should be safer to be, nor persons safer to be with, than the church and its leaders. Thankfully, for the most part that remains true; but that is little comfort to the abused.

…I wish to underline some Scriptural/spiritual principles that bless and protect one’s moral purity. In a world that is increasingly becoming a cesspool of moral failure, misinformation, indecent dress and selfish unrestraint, we need biblical disciplines with boundaries strong and true. So . . .

1. KEEP YOUR HEART – with all diligence for out of it come the issues of life. Our Creator has set the standards and fixed the values governing sexual behaviour. Moral purity is suppose to be the norm. To aid and abet that, marriage is a sacred and exclusive relationship between one man and one woman. Sexual acts outside that bond are wrong. It is critical that we fill and guard our mind with truth. Learn the biblical principles and illustrations that teach and enable purity, loyalty and faithfulness. Meditate on them day and night. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and obey Him, while making no provision for the flesh. The Word of God, the work of Christ and the voice of the Holy Spirit are sufficient protection and guidance for every temptation we face.

2. KEEP YOUR EYES – Our eyes feed the thoughts which motivate our body. What and who we allow our eyes to look at indiscriminately will make a huge difference in how we think and what we do. A life informed by Scripture and yielded to the Spirit bears the fruit that starts with genuine love and ends with the strong disciplines of self-control. God wants us to see others as those He values and loves. No one is a commodity.

3. KEEP YOUR SPOUSE – Next to God, Himself, our relationship with our spouse is critical to all we are. There is a reason why God has instructed us to leave father and mother and to cling to our wife/husband in order to become one flesh. That takes time, love, togetherness, forgiveness, communication, trust, commitment, wisdom and understanding – a lot more, but nothing less! No one else is half as valuable to our well-being, and certainly not to the maintenance of moral purity. Nurture, build, protect, value and reward the spousal relationship.

To a large degree we are living with the consequences of a society that places little value on purity. Our laws, educational systems and social values have increasingly looked the other way as immorality infiltrates behaviour, especially among vulnerable youth. It is taken for granted in sex education that immorality will occur, to the point of aiding it in the hopes of limiting pregnancies or STDs. Little emphasis or consideration is given to the serious physical, psychological and social consequences of unleashed sexuality. The acceptance of homosexuality as normal behaviour has hugely complicated the issue. Its influence and demands are spreading at an alarming rate

Only a profound revival of biblical influence into our culture will save us from the devastating consequences of rampant, moral impurity. Critical to that will be strong, godly marriages and faithful churches committed to teaching and living the whole counsel of God. We desperately need to put on the whole armour of God, holding firmly the shield of faith to protect us from every flaming missile hurled at us. Sorely needed are prophetic voices warning of the consequences of moral impurity, and a multitude of saints demonstrating what it looks like.

February 4, 2020

The Hurt of Rejection

Today again, an internationally-sourced devotional for you that’s new to us; this time from down under! Christianityworks is a non-denominational, global media ministry headquartered in Sydney, Australia. They have additional offices in the UK, India, and the USA.  To read today’s article at source, or listen to each on audio, click the individual titles.

Romans 5:7,8 Very few people will die to save the life of someone else, even if it is for a good person. Someone might be willing to die for an especially good person. But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us.

Honestly, I think that rejection is one of the worst things that we ever have to deal with in life. Sometimes it’s a big rejection, like a divorce. Other times, it’s just the little things. But whichever form it comes in, rejection is just the pits.

Have you ever been ignored by other people? It hurts, doesn’t it? You know – a bunch of people at work decide to go out for lunch and they forget to invite you. I even remember back when I was single, all the married couples would go out for lunch after church, but I wouldn’t be invited.

Man that hurts, because even though it’s not a big thing sometimes, those sorts of slights, if I can call them that, tell us that we’re not worth anything much to those other people and that, at the end of the day, we’re not worth anything much … period. You know what I’m talking about.

So the question is how do you deal with that feeling of rejection and loneliness? How do you stop it from eating away at you?

Well, it’s in that moment that you and I need to experience the magnitude of God’s love for us – not just in words or as a concept, but for real. Words are cheap. But God’s actions speak louder, much louder, than words.

This is how the Holy Spirit puts it in the book of Romans:

Romans 5:7,8 Very few people will die to save the life of someone else, even if it is for a good person. Someone might be willing to die for an especially good person. But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us.

Just breathe that in. Let God’s Word fill you with the love that you need when the rest of the world ignores you.


Here’s a bonus devotional for you from Christianity Works:

Forgiveness – A Surprising Twist

Matthew 6:14,15 Yes, if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do.

There are many things we know that are incredibly wrong. Murder for instance. Rape. Adultery even. We know they’re wrong. And then there are the things that we like to sweep under the carpet. Things like, unforgiveness. Surely that’s not up there with those others.

One of the things that many so-called Christians are incredibly good at is ignoring the bits in the Bible that they don’t like. The bits that … Well they’re probably there for someone else’s benefit, but not for mine. We don’t like to think about it quite as brutally as that, but it’s the truth.

There are lots of very inconvenient things there in the Bible that we’re just dying to ignore – take for instance the whole thing about God’s forgiveness. The conventional wisdom is that if you believe in Jesus, then you’re completely forgiven, right? That’s what the Bible says. That’s the whole “saved by grace through faith” thing … correct? And nothing can ever get in the way of that. And yet, when Jesus was teaching His disciples how to pray, this is what He taught:

Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our sins, as we also have forgiven those who sinned against us.

That has a definite sting in the tail and just in case they didn’t quite get it the first time, He added this little bit – a surprising twist if ever there was one – to the bottom of the Lord’s Prayer:

Matthew 6:14,15 Yes, if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do.

Now remember – Jesus said that. And there’s only one way to read it. What unforgiveness is rotting away there in your heart? And what’s it doing to your salvation?

January 11, 2020

Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerusalem Judea Samaria traditional interpretation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

December 29, 2019

When We Speak of Joining a “Faith Community”

He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
 -Acts 9:2 NIV

At that point Felix, who was quite familiar with the Way, adjourned the hearing and said, “Wait until Lysias, the garrison commander, arrives. Then I will decide the case.”
 -Acts 24:22 NIV

This article took a long and roundabout route to get here. I do think his point is worth your time. Dr. Ed Searcy is a retired minister in the United Church of Canada in Vancouver. You can read more on his blog, Holy Scribbler. Or click the header which follows:

The Problem with Calling the Church a Faith Community

In recent years it has become common place in The United Church of Canada and beyond to speak of the church as a “community of faith” and to refer to congregations as “faith communities”. I suspect that this shift in language has been made in order to include ministries that are not patterned on a congregational template. This generic designation is also seen to allow for a sense of shared identity when in an inter-faith context. Some report it is language that is invitational to seekers. However, in adopting such a change it is worth stopping to note the problems inherent in calling the church a “community of faith”.

First, by speaking of religious communities as “faith-based” we reveal our captivity to modernity’s definition of faith. In this modern paradigm those who live in the “real world” of the market and of military might are not living by faith. Such people are “realists” who base their judgments on facts and figures. Yet coming to the conclusion that this “real world” is ultimate reality is itself an act of faith.  Everyone lives by faith in something or someone. There is no community that is not living by faith. The church is called to reveal the illusory nature of the so-called “real world” which pretends that it is not based on faith. Adopting contemporary culture’s designation of the church as a “faith community” suggests that we have forgotten that the offers of a good life marketed on all sides are offers based on faith. In such a world it is imperative the church bears prophetic witness that there is no such thing as a non-faith community. The question is not whether to have faith or not to have faith. The question is “In what or in whom will we place our trust.”

The second problem with calling the church a “faith community” is that this focuses attention on us. The issue becomes our faith or lack thereof. The human actors in the drama become the subject. Then theology (talk about God) is essentially anthropology (talk about us). We get to God through our faith. In this we imagine that Christianity is akin to every other religion. All religions, we assume, are about the human desire to connect with the divine. This is what we mean, so we think, when we identify ourselves as participants in a community of faith. Before we know it our worship and our life together puts the emphasis on us, on our needs and desires, on our doubts and our beliefs. God becomes the backdrop on which the human drama unfolds.

But the drama at the heart of Christianity is not human faith in God. The drama at the heart of Christianity is the faithfulness of God revealed in Jesus Christ. God is the subject, the church is the predicate. In Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we discover that the God who has promised to save and heal is carrying through on those promises. The faith of the church is the result of the faithfulness of God. Our faith is a sign of God’s faithfulness. Such faith as we may have in God is a gift the Holy Spirit – a gift from God. To say that the church is a community of faith is to say that it is a community that is always being formed by God’s faithfulness. The emphasis is to be on God’s faithfulness rather than on our response. Alas, while we may pay lip service to God our sermons and board meetings often move immediately to the matter of how we will accomplish what God is apparently leaving undone. Parker Palmer has called this temptation in the church our “functional atheism”. While we speak about God we do not act in ways that suggest we trust God to be redeeming creation and us with it.

We would be wise to remember names which have been used to identify Christian communities in the past (the following terms are described in more detail at the gathering). There is the name “church” derived from a Greek word meaning “of the Lord”. Not “people of faith” but “people of the Lord”. The first Christians were called people of “The Way” (Acts 9:2). This identifies disciples of Jesus as a people who think and act and live in the Way of Christ. This is much more specific than “faith communities”. It reminds us of the oddness that sets apart Christian communities because of the faithfulness of Jesus. Early Christians also called their communities “Ekklesia” (as in “ecclesial”). They borrowed this title – that means “called out to meet” – from the gatherings of free men who met to discuss matters of importance. Now slave and free, male and female, Gentile and Jew were gathering in a new kind of Ekklesia because Jesus, the Servant Lord, was the head of this surprising household (for a contemporary example visit the Ekklesia Project).

The oldest name for Christian gatherings was inherited from its Jewish roots. It is the word “synagogue” or “gathering”, often translated as “congregation”. The congregation is made up of those being caught up in the drama of the faithfulness of God. The recovery of names such as these is a useful corrective to the generic language of “faith community”. Along with recovering ancient names for Christian community I suggest we encourage one another to be creative with contemporary language in order to name something of the peculiarity, specificity and wonder of Christian communal life today.

 

 

December 25, 2019

A Devotional for those who Don’t Celebrate Christmas

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” – Isaiah 7:14

Increasingly among people with whom I come in contact, are those who, while they are committed followers of Jesus, do not celebrate Christmas in any form. After a half hour of discussing many faith related topics, one such individual reminded me, “We don’t do Christmas.”

In many ways these people have my sympathies. Let’s face it:

  • We can be almost 100% sure the date is incorrect.
  • There is no denying that many aspects of Christmas (and Easter) have their roots in pagan festivals taking place at the same time(s).
  • The commercialization of Christmas is rampant; a celebration of materialism and greed more than Jesus; something which we should all grieve.

That said however, in my personal life I find that with each passing year:

  • I am not celebrating the birth of the baby I came to know in Sunday School, but I am celebrating the notion of incarnation, the idea of God with us.
  • I am continuing to marvel at the grand story arc of scripture; a redemptive plan that was set in motion long before Adam took his first breath.
  • I am increasingly aware of God’s invitation to experience intimacy with him; that this is a God who can be known.

The story arc ends with God and mankind in absolute, unclouded, undistracted fellowship. Revelation 21:3

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.”

But eternal life with God starts now. John 1:14 states:

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

In the first part of that verse, Eugene Peterson famously renders it as

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.

Biblical commentators take this one step further and say, “God pitched his tent among us” as a shepherd would among the sheep in his care. Also, the comparison here between tent and the tabernacle of the Hebrew scriptures is not to be overlooked, and the appearance of tabernacle above in the verse from Revelation.

This is amazing! Marvelous! Beyond our scope or imagination!

While this is an Old Testament quotation, I believe it expresses God’s heart throughout time, Ezekiel 37:27:

I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 

There are, I suppose many ways in which Jesus might have come among us, however he chooses to live, 100% completely, the reality of human experience beginning from birth; birth in an obscure place, at an obscure time, in less than ideal conditions (in so many ways.)

While you might not do Christmas, my prayer is that each day contains reminders of the reality of God with us.

God’s revelation to humankind in the incarnation is a cause for celebration, not on December 25th, but every day of the year.


– today’s scriptures are NLT


In case you missed it from Monday: There’s no incarnation without atonement.

December 23, 2019

There’s No Christmas Without Easter

Or, if you prefer,

There’s No Incarnation Without Atonement

This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–and I was the worst of them all.

I Tim 1:15 (NLT)

I decided today to look at several things that were posted here during the first Christmas season of writing C201. I was under the impression my wife was doing a single song at the Christmas Eve service just days away. Then she informed me we were responsible for the whole service.

Hastily going through the files, we discovered that a short medley we’d done for 15 years prior. It was built around the worship chorus which perhaps was slightly more popular then than now, but still recognizable…

You came from heaven to earth to show the way
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord I lift Your name on high.

The “Why” of Jesus birth is that Jesus was born to die. There is no particular cause to celebrate a Christmas unless there is an Easter.

Another song in the medley is the first verse of an old hymn,

One day when Heaven was filled with His glory
One day when sin was as dark as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my redeemer is He

Living He loved me
Dying He saved me
Buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified
Freely forever.
One day He’s coming, oh glorious day.

The medley ends with the third verse of And Can It Be…

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free
For, O my God, it found out me.
Amazing love!
How can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me.

There are key scripture passages associated with this time of year that answer the questions as to how Christ came into the world. The incarnation is key to Christian belief, so we need to define that. There are verses that explain where Christ came into the world. There are verses that explain who was around when Christ came into the world. But we need to get past what I call the “Linus” versus — the verses that Linus in the Peanuts television special quotes from memory to Charlie Brown — and think about why Christ came into the world.

NIV Hebrews 1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

If you’re on Twitter, you know the phrase Direct Messaging. After years of speaking through the prophets, God decides it is time to send a DM, not only to his followers, but to all humankind.

John 6 gives us more details:

33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Verses 33 and 38-39 are key: Jesus comes to give life, and to see the salvation (although the word isn’t used here) of His children on the last day.

In addition to bread, the gospel of John is filled with other images. such as light:

John 3:46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

The Apostle Peter talks about how angels longed to see the day when salvation would be offered in a new way:

1Peter1.3 …It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

10 This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. 11 They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

12 They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

As Jesus calls his first disciples, he ushers in this new way, an intersection of the heavenly realm and the earthly realm

Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

and urges his disciples this is the message they are to proclaim:

Matt.10.7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8b … Freely you have received; freely give.

Announcing the kingdom also is mentioned at the outset of Christ’s ministry, in his inaugural sermon:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

These verses should begin our thinking as to why Jesus came, but trying to encapsulate everything in a short article is impossible. So multifaceted was — and is — the ministry of Jesus Christ that our words cannot contain the whole of it.

It’s so much more than a baby’s birth, and as mentioned above, while summaries of the gospel are challenging, I want to close with Bruxy Cavey’s “Gospel in 30 words.”

Jesus is God with us, come to

• show us God’s love,
• save us from sin,
• set up God’s kingdom, and
• shut down religion,

so we can share in God’s life.


Note: We’ll continue this theme tomorrow with 15 reasons why Jesus came.

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