Christianity 201

October 1, 2022

Christians Giving Birth to Other Christians

alternative title: A Call to Reproduce

NIV Luke 15:7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

This is the verse that is indirectly responsible for the phrase:

“All the angels in heaven rejoice when there’s a soul saved.”

That particular phrase does not appear in scripture.

The principle does appear in scripture.

According to what I’ve heard from a significant number of missionaries, the reality of life on the mission field can be a slow, plodding process. Kyle Idleman, in his most recent book One at at Time points out that despite the scenes of Jesus with the crowds, there are an equal (if not more) number of scenes where he ministered to one person at a time.

And we certainly don’t hear reports of mass conversions.  Years ago a controversial pastor reported over 1,250 people saved in a single weekend, but even if this statistic were exaggerated by a factor of ten, this would still be reason to rejoice.

Meet your new brothers and sisters.

A Christian news story ten years ago told of 11,000 people — out of a crowd of 650,000 — were saved at a two day Evangelistic rally in the northwest of Brazil, conducted by a well-known televangelist there who most of us have never of heard before. Again, a rather round number; but why doubt that something extraordinary happened?

11,000! The Christian world should stop and party.

To those newest members of the faith family, our response should always be: Welcome!

I once heard someone say that each Christ followers should — at the very, very least — ‘reproduce themselves’ spiritually by leading one person to Christ in their lifetime.

Have you led someone to Christ? I know at this point many will want to cite this verse:

NIV I Cor. 3:6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

This verse is used to justify the idea that some people plant seeds while others are ‘harvesters;’ the people who get down to asking the question that brings someone to a point of decision. In many cases that’s how it works. But I think this dodges responsibility and makes bringing someone to faith someone else’s job.

At the end of the day, the end of the month, the end of a life; we are being changed through Word and sacrament and encounter with the risen Christ.

It does not stop there however; we are changed to bring change to the lives of others. We’re part of a “thread of grace,” or what others call a “chain of grace.” It begins in our own lives with “taste and see” and it continues with “go and tell.”

If you haven’t had the joy of being in the spiritual delivery room — of witnessing a new birth take place — let me challenge you. Not 11,000 people, not 1,250… one person… and here’s the extra impetus: Before this year is through.

… This is a song by Aaron Niequist that I’ve shared here a few times at C201. We have been changed to bring change.

In Jesus’ name I’ve been changed, I’ve been filled,
I’ve been found, I’ve been freed, I’ve been saved!
In Jesus’ blood I’ve been loved, I’ve been cleansed,
And redeemed, and released, rearranged

But how can I show You that I’m grateful?
You’ve been so generous to me.
How can I worship more than singing?
And live out Redemption’s melody.

I have been blessed – now I want to be a blessing
I have been loved – now I want to bring love
I’ve been invited – I want to share the invitation
I have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

In Jesus’ name we are changed, we are called,
We are chosen, adopted, and named!
In Jesus’ blood we are loved, we are healed,
We’re forgiven and free of our shame!

We want to show You that we’re thankful
Flooding Your world with hope and peace
Help us to worship more than singing
Giving Redemption hands and feet

We have been blessed – now we’re going to be a blessing
We have been loved – now we’re going to bring love
We’ve been invited – we’re going to share the invitation
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

Thank You for this new life, thank You for the invitation!
God, we want to live it loud enough to shake the nations in Your name!

We have been saved – we’re going to shout about the Savior
We have been found – we’re going to turn over every stone
We’ve been empowered – to love the world to Heaven
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

September 29, 2022

Anchored in Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Beginning a New Series: What Kind of Church?

by Clarke Dixon

Many people have become uncomfortable with the Church and churches to the point of being done with Christianity. They have seen too much politicking, hypocrisy, abuse, scandals, and the ignoring of science and education. One might wonder if Jesus himself would be comfortable in some churches.

While on Sabbatical I was grateful for efforts of our interim pastor Ray Jones who happens to be the executive director of an entity called Open Table Communities. What is Open Table Communities? There are many people known as the “dones,” that is, people who are done with churches and Christianity as a whole. While there is much more to it that what I’m about to say, I’d characterize Open Table Communities as saying, “before you throw out the baby with the bath water, let’s take a closer look at that baby, and the bath water.”

Open Table is guided by eight cultural statements. They are statements of “this is how we do things around here, this is the kind of community we are.” As I looked over the eight cultural statements, they struck me as being good, not just for a new kind of faith community like Open Table, but also for an old fashioned kind of church, such as we are at Calvary Baptist. Really they speak to a community that gets Jesus, his teaching and example, the kind of community Jesus would feel at home in, the kind of community many of us would feel at home in.

Therefore, over the next eight weeks we will be using of these statements as launching points for exploring the kind of church Jesus would feel at home in, the kind of church we want to be.

Here is the first statement:

We nurture cultures that are anchored in the Jesus story, his life, death and resurrection. We nurture a view of God that is seen through the lens of Christ, and consider how this way of seeing God, the world and human activity is conducive to all human flourishing.

Open Table Communities

Why anchor our faith and life in Jesus?

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)

Why anchor our faith and life in Jesus? Because Jesus said it was the wise thing to do. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had already said several times “you have heard it said…but I say to you.”. Here in conclusion he is saying “Listen to me!”

Jesus later said,

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

The kind of church that “gets Jesus” is one that is anchored in him.

But why listen to Jesus?

Why listen to Jesus when we wouldn’t listen to any of our friends if they said the same things about themselves as Jesus said about himself?

In a nutshell, the resurrection of Jesus changed everything and the apostles knew it.

With the resurrection of Jesus, on top of his teaching, and on top of the miracles he performed, listening to Jesus became the natural thing to do. With the resurrection of Jesus it became reasonable to believe him when he said that all authority had been given to him. With the resurrection of Jesus the disciples knew it was time for new wineskins. Everything had now changed.

But why listen to what the early Christians said about Jesus?

The disciples were convinced about Jesus, but why should we be? How do we know the New Testament is not just made up?

There is enough to say here to write a book, in fact I’ve done that as have many others. For now, let’s just recognize that Jesus is unique in the history of the world and the history of people. Jesus deserves a deeper dive, a second look, in fact a third and fourth look.

Where else might we anchor our faith and life rather than in Jesus?

There are many other places we might anchor our faith, many places which actually are good sources of truth. For example, science. Science is a great and important source of truth, but it cannot tell us everything. Likewise, philosophy, tradition, and our own experience can all be good sources of truth though they cannot replace Jesus as the anchor. Some anchor their faith in what pop culture says, or in what their social media streams tell them. There can be truth there too, but they do not compare to Jesus as an anchor for life and faith.

Here is another source of truth which is not to be the anchor: the Bible. Surprised? We are not Bible followers who look to Jesus to help us follow the Bible, but Jesus followers who look to the Bible to help us follow Jesus. There is a subtle but important distinction there. The Bible is “God-breathed,” and while that’s amazing and important, Jesus is “God with us,” and that’s even more amazing and more important. We Baptists like to say that the Bible is our authority. Sometimes what we mean, without our even realizing it, is that our understandings or interpretations of the Bible are the authority. Again, there is a subtle but important difference there. The Bible is so important for our faith. But it is not the anchor. Jesus is.

Jesus as the corrective lens.

If all we had was science, how would we view God, humanity, life, and everything else? If all we had was philosophy, how would we view God, humanity, life, and everything else. Or if all we had was pop-culture, social-media, or the Old Testament? We see what God is like through the lens of Jesus.

The corrective lens of Jesus, seeing everything through Jesus’ teaching, his life, his example, his death and resurrection, enabled Paul to say that “God is for us and not against us” (see Romans 8) and John to say that “God is love” (see 1st John 4). What does being anchored in Jesus enable you and I to say about God and our relationship with the Divine?

Since Jesus is the anchor, people are the focus.

Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10 NRSV). When we focus on Jesus, his teaching, example, life, death, and resurrection, we see that Jesus was focused on us. Being anchored in the Jesus story means putting the focus on people, seeking human flourishing. There is a reason the only verb in the tagline of our church is “helping people.”

Here at Calvary, we want to be anchored in Jesus. We want to help people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada; whose writing appears here most Thursdays. The sermon on which this is based can be see here.

September 25, 2022

Character Formation: Aiming For the Highest Good

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

In 2018 in an article at CT Women (part of Christianity Today) titled Why You Can’t Name the Virtues, Karen Swallow Prior looked 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 continued,

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 that last list in reference to Gandhi in 2017 at 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 has written On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life in Great Books, along with many other titles. Check her out where you buy books.

 

September 22, 2022

Keeping the Sabbath – Part Two – Sabbath

by Clarke Dixon

Guess what I did last Sunday after telling the story about mowing the lawn on a Sunday. I mowed the lawn. A blatant disregard for the rules? Should I feel guilty? Is the Sabbath a day for going on a guilt trip whenever you do anything?

In reading the New Testament with fresh eyes we may be challenged in how we view the Sabbath. Let us take a look at what we do and do not find.

We do not find the apostles telling the Jesus followers who came from a non-Jewish background to keep the Jewish Sabbath when given the perfect opportunity to do so. At the Council of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15 the apostles came together to discern if people needed to become Jews in order to become Christians. Here is what they wrote:

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.

Acts 15:28-29 (NLT)

Each of the things listed to not do relates to worship practices that were common in the Roman world. You would expect that if keeping the Sabbath as the Jews did was to be a necessary religious practice of the non-Jewish Christian, it would have been listed as something to do.

We do not find Paul, who calls himself the apostle to the non-Jews, putting an emphasis on Sabbath keeping. In fact we find a hint of him doing quite the opposite in his letter to the Galatians:

You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.

Galatians 4:10-12 (NLT)

Some think that “observing certain days” includes keeping the Sabbath in the strict manner as the Pharisees commended. Here Paul is commending freedom instead.

What we do find is Jesus appealing to the use of wisdom in keeping the Sabbath:

One Sabbath day Jesus went to eat dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees, and the people were watching him closely. There was a man there whose arms and legs were swollen. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in religious law, “Is it permitted in the law to heal people on the Sabbath day, or not?” When they refused to answer, Jesus touched the sick man and healed him and sent him away. Then he turned to them and said, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” Again they could not answer.

Luke 14:1-6 (NLT emphasis added)

Jesus pointed out that even the Pharisees would break the commonly held rules around Sabbath when it was wise to do so!

We also find Jesus setting the record straight on why the Sabbath exists in the first place:

One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?”
Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.”
Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath…”

Mark 2:23-27 (NLT emphasis added)

What we also find is Paul telling his protégé Timothy how to think of the writings of the Old Testament:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV emphasis added)

We Christians can become quite confused in how we use the Old Testament, especially since we are no longer living under the old covenant that is given so much attention in it. Paul calls these Scriptures “useful.” He does not call them binding rules, nor the covenant we are still under in addition to the new covenant, but rather they are “God breathed,” so yes God was involved in their writing, and they are “useful.” Nothing more, nothing less.

As Christians, we are not going to say “we are not under the old covenant, and we don’t need to become Jewish, so we are never going to rest!” Rather, the practice of a regular rhythm of rest is a wise thing to do. The Old Testament Scriptures are useful for teaching, just as Paul said. In a world that takes so much out of us, the practice of Sabbath is wise, in fact it is an act of love.

Let us be reminded, too, that the Old Testament commandments were an act of love toward others as well as oneself:

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do.

Deuteronomy 5:12-14 (NIV)

Although the practice of a Sabbath day is not commanded for Jesus followers, practicing Sabbath is wise and is an act of love, toward oneself, and toward others.

So how do we Christians keep the Sabbath as a wise and loving thing to do? Should we set aside Sunday as a Sabbath, a day of rest? For some people that is very wise. Must we set aside Sunday as a Sabbath, a day of rest? For some of us that would be unwise, another day, or another rhythm of rest would be better.

When it comes to wisely practicing Sabbath, perhaps thinking of taking a day off work is too narrow. What would working too hard every day do to the ancient Israelites when the commandment to rest was first given? It could deplete their energy, cause injury, take away joy, destroy opportunities of connection and celebration, and likely lead to an early grave. Sometimes we need a break form the things that would deplete our energy, injure us, take away our joy, destroy opportunities for connection and celebration, and lead us to an early grave.

We might therefore need a break from hard work, but we may also need to take a break from bullies, expectations, people, loneliness, perfectionism, judgemental attitudes of others, or from being self-absorbed. There are many things that it may be wise to take a break from. Sabbath is an act of self-love.

But it is not just about us.

How might we give Sabbath to others? People might need a break from our expectations, our presence, our absence, our perfectionism, our judgement, our issues, and the things we do which trigger their anxiety.

Paul prayed for the believers in Philippi that their love might “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (Phil 1:9 NIV). Loving people with wisdom includes concern for their need for Sabbath, discerning whatever kind of break they might need.

Given what we do and not find in the New Testament writings, Sabbath is not a strict day of obligation for the Christian, but it is an opportunity. It is an opportunity of practicing love toward oneself, giving ourselves permission to take a break. We may need a break, not just from work, but from whatever may be grinding us down. Sabbath is also an opportunity to love others, giving them a break, from work, or from whatever is grinding them down.

Notice how this can affect how we relate to those who are not church going Christians. When we think of Sabbath as a day of obligation we can have judgemental attitudes towards Sunday shoppers, Sunday mowers, or the like. Instead, in our super busy world where even retirees are worn out from having too much to do, Sabbath can be a point of commonality, and an invitation; “You need a break too, huh?”

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

Sabbath is not an obligation that sends us on a guilt trip, but an opportunity for a journey in being wise in acts of love toward ourselves, and others.


This spring, Clarke Dixon announced the completion of a book. Read more about what’s inside Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope, by clicking this link. It’s a great book to give to someone who is considering Christianity but hasn’t made a decision. It contains material adapted from Clarke’s “Compelling” series which ran here a few years back. Available in print and e-book. For the rest of Clarke’s blog, click Thinking Through Scripture.

September 16, 2022

Taking the Bypass Around the Valley of the Shadow

Lately when I’m on YouTube or watching television, I’ve been more aware of references to the Interstate Highway system in the United States. Many of these pass directly through the downtown sections of major cities, and since many drivers will prefer to avoid the congestion, there are also ‘bypass’ routes, sometimes called ‘spurs.’ So with I-75 there might be a I-275, or I-475 offered to you as you approach a metropolitan area. Basically, these help you avoid the pain.

Which brings us to today’s devotional…

NLT II Tim 3: 12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

It was one of those big outdoor festivals in the late ’70s. The speaker was an up-and-coming youth evangelist, and for the purpose of making a point that day he was deliberately misquoting scripture:

“Yes, and some who endeavor to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 

Some?

No, it doesn’t say that. And people started yelling up what it does say from the crowd: “All, all, it says ‘all.’”

We got the message. Or did we?

Years later, I had to be somewhere, but I had a few minutes in the car, and I immediately fell into a familiar pattern, “Lord, I pray for the people suffering under religious oppression right now that you would deliver — “

And then I stopped.

Deliver them? That’s the typical North American or Western European response. Get me the heck out of here.

But when you talk to people who have dealt with religious persecution that can mean torture, imprisonment or death, they never ask that we pray for deliverance, but that God would give them the grace to endure it and the presence of His Holy Spirit in the middle of it.

Psalm 23 talks about going through tough circumstances:

MSG Ps. 23: 4a Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.

Our interpretation is often

“Even though I walk around the valley of the shadow of death…” 

To which the crowd should yell out, “Through, through, it says ‘go through.’

How you feel about such things will affect how you pray. I posted some of these thoughts nearly a decade ago, and at the time the title was, “Pray For Them, Yes; But Pray What Specifically?”

We want to pray for the persecuted. We want to pray for the suffering. But do we have a theology of persecution? Have we ever examined ourselves to see what is our personal theology of suffering?

For the record, if I am dealing with physical, mental or emotional suffering, probably every part of me will cry out for you to please pray that I will see relief from it. But should you pray that for me if God is teaching me something through it? Or should you pray that I experience God’s presence in the middle of it and learn the lesson he is teaching me?

That would be a difficult question. Especially if I’m asking you to pray for healing and you say, “Lord, I pray that our brother will learn the lessons you’re teaching him through this illness.” Huh? That isn’t what I asked you.

With persecution it’s more difficult. We want to see the end of political and social regimes that block justice and oppress people. We want them to see relief from it. We want it to end.

On the flip side, we also want to avoid questioning God’s presence in the middle of suffering and persecution; the line of reasoning that asks, ‘Where was God when __________ was happening?’

While you’re pondering that, let’s throw one more spice into the soup.

What about your theology of end times or what’s called eschatology? If you believe in a rapture doctrine, is it consistent with scripture to believe that the church will be removed from the suffering association with the period called ‘the tribulation,’ or is it more consistent to believe that the church will be faced with enduring it?

I’m not saying one way or another right now, I’m just saying that if we begin to understand a theology of suffering and a theology of persecution then we may want to think about our theology of tribulation.


We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.
– 2 Cor. 4: 8-11 NLT

 

September 15, 2022

Keeping the Sabbath this Sunday? – Part One – Sundays

We welcome regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon back from sabbatical. To read more of his writing, check out his blog Thinking Through Scripture.

by Clarke Dixon

The former pastor of the church wondered what the new pastor of the church, me, would think of my neighbour cutting grass on a Sunday. Dropping by to see me, as he rounded the corner on his walk he discovered that it wasn’t a neighbour at all. It was me!

There is a lack of confusion about the Sabbath and Sundays. Notice that I didn’t say there is a lot of confusion about the Sabbath and Sundays, but there is a lack of confusion. Everyone knows that Sunday is the Sabbath, right? Everyone knows that no one, especially Baptist pastors, should cut the grass on a Sunday, right? We all know it is a day of rest, right?

Should we be confused about Sabbath and Sundays?

Well yes, for starters anytime we find the Sabbath mentioned in the Bible, which is a lot, it is the seventh day of the week.

Secondly, nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to gather to worship God on first day of the week.

So how is it that Jewish people, and some Christians like Seventh Day Adventists and Seventh Day Baptists, celebrate the Sabbath on the seventh day, yet the vast majority of Christians, now, and throughout history, celebrate on the first day?

It turns out that very early in the history of Christianity, followers of Jesus began getting into the habit of worshipping on the first day of the week. They called it the Lord’s Day. We find no command to do so in New Testament, but we do find some hints, though not many, that this was happening as early as that time. For example,

On the first day of the week, we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lord’s Supper. Paul was preaching to them, and since he was leaving the next day, he kept talking until midnight.

Acts 20:7 (NLT)

Some might suggest that a young man falling asleep while Paul was speaking, as is related in verses 8 and following, is proof that this was indeed a Sunday church service! We also find this in the Book of Revelation;

It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast.

Revelation 1:10 (NLT)

While this last verse does not specifically link “the Lord’s Day” with the first day of the week, we know that early Christians did think of Sunday as being “the Lord’s Day.” John is most likely referring to Sunday here.

So what happened, that we see Christians paying less devotion to the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath Day, while also beginning to pay more attention to the first day of the week, not as the Sabbath Day moved, but as a different day, the Lord’s Day?

What happened was that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week. Something remarkable happened, resurrection, to someone remarkable, Jesus, that caused the apostles to know more deeply and profoundly something remarkable about God, namely that, as Paul would say, “God is for us and not against us,” and as John would say “God is love.”

This was profoundly good news, and so the earliest Jesus followers began to gather for worship and mutual encouragement on Sundays, to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus which happened on a Sunday. At the same time there was a shift in attitude toward the Sabbath, but we will think about that next week.

This invites us to re-imagine Sundays for our time. We might think of Sundays as being the Sabbath day, a day of rest, a day on which we should not work. But what if we see Sunday instead as a day that commemorates the resurrection of Jesus, a day to remember that God is for us and not against us, and that God is love. What if we think of Sunday, not as a day of obligation to keep rules, like thou shalt attend church and thou shalt not cut thy grass or the like, but as a day of opportunity, to recenter and refocus our lives on the fact of God’s love?

When we begin the week with a focus on the fact that Jesus is the risen Lord, and that God is love, and that God is for us and not against us, we will gain new perspective for all that we face. Is there pain and sorrow? God is for us and not against us. Is there anxiety? God is for us and not against us. Is there grief? God is for us and not against us. Is there guilt? God is for us and not against us. Are there decisions that need to be made? God is love and we are commanded to love too.

Notice what that does not just for our own attitudes, but for our attitude toward outsiders. Perhaps we will be less likely to think of those not attending church as rule breakers, but as people who, like us, face hardships, pain, grief, and anxiety. We will see them as people who could benefit from knowing that God is for them and not against them. When we make Sundays about the rules of Sabbath keeping and church attendance, we may well come across as judgemental toward those who don’t keep the rules. When we make Sundays about an opportunity to connect, and reconnect with God who loves us, maybe we will across as more loving and understanding in our invitation.

There is no commandment given in Scripture for Christians to gather on Sundays. There is barely a mention of them doing so! But the tradition of gathering on the Lord’s Day sets up a rhythm, a regular rhythm of remembrance that is wise.

At my heaviest, at 248 lbs, I figured my days of windsurfing were over. I lamented that my body would give shape to my life and determine the things I could and could not do. That was 60lbs ago. I now believe that, apart from illness or disease, our lives give shape to our bodies. Likewise, we may allow our lives to give shape to our worship, to our church attendance, to our gathering for mutual encouragement, or the lack thereof. We are too busy, we are too wounded. Perhaps we are too angry. Instead we can let our worship, our gathering to re-centre on Jesus, our gathering with others for mutual encouragement, to give shape to our lives. A regular rhythm of worship is wise.

Brian Zahnd’ describes in his book When Everything on Fire a pastor who announced the Sunday following Easter that he had lost his faith and was quitting his job as pastor. Zahnd’s next line was “no more Easters.”

I have a very different announcement; every Sunday is Easter Sunday. Every Sunday is a commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Way more Easters!

There is a lack of confusion about Sundays and the Sabbath. We all know that Sunday is about being on a guilt trip. Where we should and should not be, what we should and should not be doing. But if we allow ourselves a little confusion about that, we may gain some wisdom. Sundays are not about a guilt trip, but about a journey with God who is love. Sundays are a journey with others, walking together in divine love.


This spring, Clarke Dixon announced the completion of a book. You can read more about what’s inside Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope, by clicking this link. This would be a great book to give to someone who is considering Christianity but hasn’t made a decision. It contains material adapted from Clarke’s “Compelling” series which ran here a few years back. Available in print and e-book.

September 2, 2022

The Good News Changes the World

NRSVUE.Acts.17.4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some brothers and sisters before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this…

 

Appropriately enough, we’re back for a fourth time with Stanley J. Groothof who blogs at The 4th Point. In many communities, pastors are often asked to write something for the local newspaper. That’s what this is: An opportunity to speak to a wider audience than weekend church services might offer. Clicking the title below will take you to where it first appeared (and a picture of Stanley’s mouse pad referenced in the first paragraph!)

Upside down

On my desk is a mousepad. It’s a round mousepad and pictured on it is a map of the world. You can see a good chunk of North and South America, all of Europe and Africa, and part of Asia.

There’s just one thing that’s a little strange about my mousepad: It’s upside down – at least compared to how we usually look at a world map. The tip of Argentina points straight up pretending it’s high noon and Santa’s home at the North Pole is at the bottom! I understand that’s how Australians orient their globes, but here in North America it just doesn’t look quite right.

My upside down globe daily reminds me of something the people in Thessalonica say in Acts 17. Although the Gospel is initially welcomed by the Thessalonians, some ruffians show up where the followers of Jesus are sharing the Good News. These bad characters form a mob that turns into a riot. They drag some the disciples before the authorities with this accusation: “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.”

Apparently the people in Thessalonica don’t like having their world turned upside down.

I don’t either.

Yet that’s what the Gospel consistently does. It reveals how weakness is strength. How poverty reveals true wealth. How death leads to life. It sounds backwards, but God wins by losing. His perfect Son Jesus dies on the cross – the most humiliating, shameful ending imaginable. But Jesus beats death at its own game and rises in a shocking new beginning on the third day. Now for all who are in Christ, sin has been defeated, life has purpose, and the future is hopeful.

Those who identify with Jesus can’t help but adapt more and more to God’s upside down ways. Followers of Jesus perceive that generosity carries the highest profit. Slowing down helps you get ahead. Apologies are necessary. Forgiveness is freeing. Fidelity is meant to be celebrated. Sports are not meant to be idolized. Wisdom is more valuable than a university degree. Possessions are temporary. Beauty comes from character instead of the cosmetics counter. It’s ok for both men and women to cry. Those who are overlooked need compassion. We’re stewards (not owners) of creation. The truth matters. Promises need to be kept. Rights can be willingly set aside. The unborn already have an imprint of the divine. Ethnic diversity is a foretaste of heaven. Worshiping is the best use of time. Persecution is a reward. Peace overpowers hate. Loving one’s enemy is normal.

Many influencers in our culture say that living in line with these and other priorities in God’s Kingdom is unrealistic and pointless. They say living like that is upside down. And sometimes it feels that way. Especially when I get used to things not being right side up as described in the Bible.

So I keep Argentina on my mousepad map pointing upwards to remind me that God works in surprising ways. And that his Spirit empowers me to sometimes turn things upside down in God’s name. When I do so, I’m in good company with the disciples in Acts 17.

 


About the scripture reference: This is the first time we’ve had an author using the new NRSVUE which is publishing this month. It stands for New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition.

August 12, 2022

Keeping Jesus the Focus of Our Scripture Reading

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

So readers and subscribers, bear with me on this one.

We’re featuring a lot of writers for the first time during August, and this one is no exception. The original article from which this is based is longer than what we usually run here, and this excerpt from it is a bit shorter that what you normally get.

But what struck me here — aside from the very obvious point the writer is making — is the way he cited scripture verses. Using (I think) the KJV as a base text, he inserts clarifications the same way the Amplified Bible inserts amplifications.

And somehow, I couldn’t walk way from how this brings the scriptures to life and the truths seem to leap off the page.

So as usually, we’ll link to the article, but this time around you have the option to continue reading the original on the writer’s blog. The author is David Buffaloe and the blog is BibleTeacher.org. Click the link below to read this there in full.

Our Business Is God’s Kingdom

John 1:10-14 He {Jesus} was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. {11} He came unto his own, and his own received him not. {12} But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: {13} Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. {14} And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Why Are We Here Today? Why Am I A Christian?

When Sherry and I were stationed in England for the United States Air Force we had the wonderful opportunity of riding these big red double decker buses in London. We’d taker our boys to the top floor of the bus – an upper “uncovered” floor – and enjoy a wonderful view as we rode around town. It was wonderful to ride those buses – that is, when you could get on them.

There were several times when our family was waiting at a bus stop, excited to ride the bus … and the bus driver passed us by without stopping! It wasn’t just us, but this happened frequently throughout London. Someone finally complained about this to the London Transit Authority, the organization that maintains the city buses. The London Transit Authority issued a public paper that stated the following:

“It is impossible for us to maintain our schedule if we are always having to stop and pick up passengers”

The Transit Authority forgot what its purpose is. Without passengers, the bus is useless. Without passengers, the Transit Authority makes no money. The business of the London Transit Authority is to take people around town in buses.

What Is The Business Of The Church?

The Business of the Church is to introduce the Lord Jesus and His Kingdom to a world that neither knows Him, nor wants to know Him. We are Light bearers & Seed sowers.

In our text today we see a tension between Jesus and the world He made. Jesus made the world. Jesus made every person who has ever been made. The Bible says:

John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word {that’s Jesus}, and the Word {that’s Jesus} was with God, and the Word {that’s Jesus} was God. 2 The same {that’s Jesus} was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The Bible says All things were made by him. That’s Jesus. The Apostle Paul said of Jesus:

Colossians 1:15-18 Who {that’s Jesus} is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature {Jesus is the Source of all life}: 16 For by him {that’s Jesus} were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him {that’s Jesus}, and for him {that’s Jesus}: 17 And he {that’s Jesus} is before all things, and by him {that’s Jesus} all things consist {are held together}. 18 And he {that’s Jesus} is the head of the body, the church…

The Business of the Church is to tell others about Jesus, and as they believe on Him this will bring the Kingdom of God more and more to this present world.

 

►►finish reading the article at this link

July 24, 2022

The Ministry of “Coming Alongside”

When my oldest son was doing a 4-month internship with Engineering Ministries International, he reminded us several times that they were “an adjunct ministry.” Their job was to work in the background for other Christian organizations (who they called the “client charities”) and it was those other organizations which received all the visibility. Engineering Ministries International has been involved in at least two thousand projects around the world, but you’ve probably never heard of them.

Another organization, Partners International, had some missions projects operating a few years ago that fell under the banner of “Alongside.” One was a water treatment plant in Africa started by my wife’s uncle. He had noticed that many organizations were raising money to install wells so Africans could have fresh water, but nobody was fixing the wells when they needed repairing. So he created his own “Alongside” project which led to the water treatment facility.

With that in mind, today I want to pick up where we left off yesterday. This devotional study originally appeared a decade ago under the title

Cooperating With What God is Already Doing

and has never been repeated here until now…

It’s possible that your work situation or family situation or neighborhood situation looks, from a spiritual perspective, fairly bleak. You may find yourself in what you consider to be a fairly pagan or secularized environment. But I believe that God is at work in hearts more than we realize.

As an aside, I am reminded of the story of Elijah who goes into hiding, despite winning a huge victory against the prophets of Baal. He cries to God that he is “the only one left,” rattling off some stats about the remaining prophets of Baal, and at that moment, God throws out his own statistic:

NCV.1 Kings.19.8 I have seven thousand people left in Israel who have never bowed down before Baal and whose mouths have never kissed his idol.”

You can read our February, 2021 devotional about this narrative at this link.

Okay…let’s go back to the idea of feeling like you’re in a broken place where God doesn’t seem to be working.

I want to continue where we left off yesterday, and look at our part in bringing people into an awareness of Jesus that leads to a desire for Jesus.  In that devotional, we looked at being the kind of person that God can use to be “sent,” that is to go out into a particular situation or people group or individual’s life and then tell them, so they can hear, believe and call out for salvation.

But the Bible also teaches a principle of “sowers and reapers” and raises the possibility of this being a team approach. In I Corinthians 3:

(NCV) 5b …We are only servants of God who helped you believe. Each one of us did the work God gave us to do.6 I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it. But God is the One who made it grow.7 So the one who plants is not important, and the one who waters is not important. Only God, who makes things grow, is important.8 The one who plants and the one who waters have the same purpose, and each will be rewarded for his own work.

My entire part-time work career during eight years of high school and college consisted of working in large department stores. In each area of the store I had to know what the products were, how the products worked, whether there were product warranties, and where the products were kept in the stockroom.  I also had to learn how to work the cash register.

So, my usefulness to my employer consisted of two things:

  • product knowledge
  • sales processing

In later years, when I owned my own business, I realized I had been taught nothing about how to sell. There was no sense in which I asked customers what they felt they needed, qualified what might meet that need, and then proceed to  “ask the question.” Asking means saying, “Do you think that this product can meet those needs?” Or, “Is there anything stopping from you buying today?” Or, “Can I wrap that up for you?”

The ingredient I was missing was what is called, “closing the sale.” My training should have been a three-pronged approach consisting of:

  • product knowledge
  • closing the sale
  • sales processing

Sometimes in the Christian journey we encounter people who are given to us so that we can plant seeds. And other times, we find people where God has been working in their lives already and they’re just waiting for someone to gently nudge them over the line of faith.

But sometimes we fall short of doing both when the opportunities are present. To switch analogies for a moment, it’s like a baseball game in which you’re up to bat and you get a perfect pitch, but instead of hitting a home run you decide to bunt. What holds us back from the hitting the ball out of the park?

I once heard a pastor tell the story of a friend with whom he had been planting seeds for a long time. One day, out of the blue, an associate asked the man if he would like to become a disciple and make Christ the Lord of his life, and the man said yes on the spot. This pastor often jokes that this was simply “not fair.” With a department store analogy, you could say that this man was “his customer;” though thankfully we’re not exactly on commission! More seriously, the pastor understood the distinction between sowing and reaping, and rejoiced that this man did indeed cross the line of faith.

(If we keep the analogy going, the pastor gave the friend all the product knowledge, but his associate was the one closing the sale.)

In Experiencing God, Richard Blackaby talks about coming alongside areas where the Holy Spirit is already working.** Perhaps there is a ministry organization or even a secular social service agency where people, whether consciously or unknowingly, are experiencing the fruit of God’s love and are ripe to respond. Could you be the missing ingredient?

  • In the lives of people you’ve been in contact with for the past few weeks or month, are you a sower or a reaper?
  • Do you know people right now who you’ve been gently sharing your faith with, but you’ve been afraid to ask the question?
  • Re-read today’s key verses. Maybe you find evangelism very difficult. Is there an area where you can be a “water-er” providing after-care for new disciples?

~ PW

**Experiencing God, pp. 54-55; p. 297

July 23, 2022

The Beautiful People Who Lay the Foundation for Evangelism

Could I have made that title any longer? Today and tomorrow I want to revisit some things we looked at here in 2012; two original devotional studies that have never, until now, been repeated. This devotional was originally titled

But Before That Can Happen, This Has to Happen

I know…equally long title!

NIV Romans 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

From a purely literary standpoint, these verses in Romans use a rather unique form. It’s like Paul is deliberately saying everything in reverse, not unlike those comedies or dramas on television where they keep flashing back to progressively earlier and earlier scenes chronologically. In other words, before that can happen, this has to happen.

Having just proclaimed that, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” in verse 13, the sequence looks like this:

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent

So before one thing can happen something else has to happen.  Let’s put things in chronological order:

  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

That in itself would be a sufficient meditation, but it leaves something else.  In every major English translation, one more verse is included in the same paragraph, which is a quotation from Isaiah 52.

Isaiah 52:How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”

Repeated here in Romans:

As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

I love how the CEV put this:

The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.

Now, I’m going to read something into the text here, but I want you to humor me by following along here.  I think the CEV accurately conveys the picture here of the beauty of the sight of someone coming to bring the good news. But let’s assume for just a moment the beauty of the person themselves who comes.  (Not, obviously physical beauty, but spiritual beauty.)

If everything in the text is in reverse order, and if every translator sees the quotation as very directly linked to the other phrases, then what appears in the original form,

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent
  • that “sent someone” is a beautiful person!!

Then the adjusted order would be

  • the process described here begins with a beautiful person!!
  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

Again, I’ve done some “reading into” on the text here, but it does give you a different way of looking at the passage, and it is supported by further study of what it is to be the man or woman who God chooses.  Those of you who object strongly can leave a comment with the more traditional interpretations of the Isaiah passage’s presence here.

But I think God is looking for a “special someone” to relay the message to people in need, and he’s looking for that someone to have a beautiful spirit.  In other words, before we can assume a ministry, we need to cultivate the character of Christ within.

Someone once said there are two dimensions to a physical cross, and we can think of the vertical dimension as the depth of our relationship to God, and the horizontal as the breadth of expressing that relationship to the world around us. We are responsible for the depth of our ministry and God is responsible for the breadth of our ministry.

To get to be the sent one, to be the preacher, to see people respond and call out for salvation; all that has to begin with the formation of Christian character within.  You can’t expect to move in the gifts of the spirit until you have cultivated the fruit of the spirit.

~Paul Wilkinson

For some of you, the passage today reminded you of an older worship song; so here’s a link to Our God Reigns.

 

 

May 26, 2022

Parable Shatters “Equal Pay for Equal Work”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

NIV.Matt.20.8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

[click here to read the full story starting with verse 1]

Today we’re back for a second time with Brian Lothridge who writes at On The Way. You can read this where it first appeared by clicking the link below.

Called to Freely Give Grace

Everyone got paid the same. This story should mess with our notions of what is fair. Imagine if you were without a steady job, got up early to go to the market in order to be seen by someone hiring laborers, got picked at 6 a.m. and worked until 6 p.m. When it came time to get paid you stood at the end of the line and waited for your fair share. Those who worked one hour got paid the amount that you agreed to get paid earlier that day. So did those who worked three hours, six hours, and nine hours. But surely you should get paid more than all of them. That’s only right. And yet, here is the landowner giving you the wage you negotiated in the morning.

It’s not fair. Equal pay for equal work sounds fair. Equal pay for unequal work sounds unfair. And this is what the kingdom of heaven is like? Everyone gets an equal reward no matter when they come to the vineyard? What do we do with this?

Consider this: A day laborer did not have a steady job. Those who showed up at the marketplace seeking a job didn’t already have a job. However, they needed money. They had families to support just like anyone else. They needed the work. Hanging out in the marketplace all day would mean returning home that night to disappointed faces because you came with no food. Those who were chosen early were lucky. With each passing hour, the likelihood of finding work diminishes and so does your pay. So when someone shows up at noon, or three, or five and says, “I’ll pay you whatever is fair,” you take it because you need to feed your family. A denarius would have been a day’s wages, but if you get a late start you might expect to get paid less. However, you’d be willing to take what you could get later in the day.

How would you feel if you were the day laborer hired at noon, or three, or five and the employer paid you a full day’s wage? You’d be very happy. You’d be thankful for the generosity that means your family gets to eat for another day. You might feel a little awkward about the complaining that the workers hired first are doing. You might wonder if you really should accept this money. However, it’s not your place to refuse the generosity of the landowner and your family really needs to eat.

Some might object at this point and say this kind of practice disincentivizes workers to work hard. The workers hired first would learn the lesson that they can show up to the job late and earn the same amount of money. But do you not think the workers hired at 5 p.m. would have loved to have been hired earlier in the day? Do you not think they may have worked twice as hard in their hour because they were grateful about the work? And while it may not seem fair, the workers hired first got paid the wage upon which they agreed.

There are 140 million poor and low-income people in our country. In a nation that prides itself on being the best in the world and a nation that has some people saying it is a Christian nation, we often find that we are like those who cry out, “That’s unfair!” when poor people receive benefits. We don’t cry out when rich folk get bailouts and tax breaks or make out like bandits during a pandemic that has many of us reeling. We say, “They deserve it!” And to the poor, “Earn your keep and don’t complain.” Can you imagine Jesus holding such views?

I can’t. Especially given the nearly 2,000 verses in the Bible that talk about caring for the poor and downtrodden. Especially when Jesus says in his first sermon that he came to to preach good news to the poor and free the oppressed. Especially when right before our parable was told in Matthew Jesus tells a rich man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

A truly Christian nation would figure out how to create an economy that shows love of God and love of neighbor instead of a love of money. A truly Christian nation wouldn’t have 140 million poor or low-income people because it would have figured out how to truly care for people. A truly Christian nation would understand that we all belong to each other and that we have been commanded to love God and neighbor. Instead, we have people in power trying to scare people away from the example and teaching of Jesus by using scary words like “socialism” and “radical left.” Instead, we have people trying to incite culture wars and say their beliefs are being persecuted.

It’s time for the Church to reclaim the radical teachings of Jesus and demand more just systems that will contribute to the common welfare of everyone. Remember, we call ourselves Christians. We may forget this at times but calling ourselves Christians doesn’t simply point to the club we belong to or the side for which we cheer. Calling ourselves Christians means that we are calling ourselves “little Christs.” That’s a big name with a big responsibility to act as little Christs both individually and collectively. The responsibility leads us to read the words of Jesus and figure out how we are to truly follow him in our time and place. It’s not to get caught up in the culture war or align ourselves with any one nation or political party. It’s to give allegiance to Christ and to the kingdom of God for which he gave his life.

Whether we identify with the laborers hired first, last, or somewhere in between, the exemplar in the story is the landowner, who is seen as generous or unfair, depending on your perspective. The landowner has made all the laborers equal. Even though they all put in different amounts of work, they all had to put bread on the table. That was their great equalizer. The landowner met the need they all had.

Isn’t that what God does for us? There is no earning our way into the kingdom of God. It’s all grace; it’s all a gift. There may be some people we see in the next life and wonder how fair it is that they are there when we did more and were faithful longer. And God will say, “Are you mad at my generosity? I gave you what we agreed upon, and I didn’t have to hire you at all.”

And if Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is near, and Paul says we are temples of the Holy Spirit, living stones of the temple that is Jesus’ body, should we not work for the kingdom of heaven here and now? Should we not strive to make a more just and equal society? Should we not grumble when the poor receive help but instead advocate for policies and advances that would lift them from poverty? Would that not bring us closer to a Godly nation?

What would it be like if we truly imagined the kingdom of God was among us? That is how Jesus lived his life. He hung out with tax collectors and sinners, healed the sick, spoke truth to power, and encouraged people to be who they were created to be. He lived as though the kingdom of heaven was here, even amidst the brokenness of our current reality. This is the task at hand for the church. If we truly want to be the church we are called to be, if we truly want to advocate for a nation that served as Christ served then we must be brave enough to be little Christs, treat the last as the first and the first as the last (making all equal), and speak truth to the powers that be in Washington, D.C. and in Albany and all the halls of power.

We are essentially called to be the managers of the vineyard. The landowner hired the workers and set the wage of grace and we get to dole it out. We are called to make sure everyone receives grace, whether they deserve it or not.

I challenge us to read this story anew this week as well as the chapter before it. Read the sermon on the mount in chapter 5-7. Spend some time in prayer with God and hear where God is calling you to act in the realm of creating the kingdom of heaven here on earth. What action can you take? Can you donate money or goods to charity? Can you volunteer with a charitable organization? Can you get to know the poor and advocate on their behalf? Can you write to your local, state, and federal representatives about a policy that will help people? Use the authority God has given you to spread the grace of God to all.

 

May 17, 2022

When the Pieces of the Body Fit Together

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

Today we have another new writer to highlight for you here, who blogs under the name Daily Echoes at Echoes of Heart. Many days the posts are poetry, but this one, which appeared on Monday was ideal for what readers expect here. Clicking the header which follows will let you read this where it first appeared.

Puzzle pieces

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about puzzles. More specifically a 40,000 piece puzzle that is the Guinness book of world records largest puzzle in the world. This puzzle is the largest in both the amount of pieces and its overall size. The part of this puzzle that has me thinking though, is the number of pieces. 40,000 pieces needing to find their place in the big picture.

With that many pieces one might entertain the thought that one or two pieces aren’t such a big deal if they happened to go missing… keeping track of 40,000 pieces sounds almost overtime payish.

One piece of a puzzle won’t even give someone an idea of what the picture will be once all the pieces are put together.  Having just one piece of the whole puzzle is useless really as it cannot be the whole puzzle even if it wanted to be.  That piece has its one place within the whole, where it is vital to the whole.  If that one piece decided to go it’s own way getting lost, thinking it’s no big deal or unimportant, would ruin the masterpiece for without it the whole would be void in the spot that piece was to take up. Furthermore that piece is not replaceable either. No other piece can or will fit into it’s rightful place.

As I ponder this I am drawn to the idea, what if life was like this. What if God has this masterpiece in mind as He creates each and every piece to fit together, each having it’s own unique shape and each being equally important to the finished project. He’s skillfully and masterfully knit every single human together while in the womb, giving to each a uniqueness that only they can contribute and nobody can take the place of.

We are all just pieces to the whole puzzle. We are meant to fit together, each in our own unique way.

This is not really a new thought, in scripture Paul puts it this way,

1 Corinthians 12:14-27 NLT — Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care.

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

Selfishness, self-pity, self-righteousness, all focus on self.  So long as the focus is on self, it cannot also be on service.

The world has made popular the idea that we should be focused on self, like self improvement, self-confidence, self-help, self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-love, etc. All examples of the worldly idea that we need to focus on ourselves.

All around us are the messages, feeding into our minds and hearts, causing us to believe this concentration on self is right.   We are all searching for inner peace, love, and a place to just rest. When focus is on self, no matter what side of the scale, from self-pity to self-righteousness, we are in a constant state of restlessness, anxiety, always standing ready to defend.  We build up walls inside ourselves as part of our defense readiness, having no idea, the walls, once built, won’t allow the bad in, but won’t allow the good in either.   We starve ourselves of the very thing we are seeking, all because we have given into the feel-good, worldly, idea that we should concentrate on ourselves.

The problem is, we were not created for this.   Self, is lonely, isolating, non-community, it’s all take and little to no give.  We were created in the image of  All Mighty God, to be parts of a whole, to fit like puzzle pieces together.

The enemy doesn’t want us to know we are but one simple piece.  He wants to destroy the puzzle, of course he will most deceptively, by the use of our emotions and lack of true wisdom, give us every reason to continue believing we, individually, are the whole.

We seem to all try to fit ourselves into spots that make us like those we admire or like those we respect. We work hard to prove ourselves worthy of the spots we desire to fit into. The truth is only one might actually fit in that spot. The rest are faking, camouflaged, mimicking, etc.

We all go through this life trying to find our place, a place with people like us, where we feel like we fit in. We look for like-mindedness, hobbies in common, similar interests and ways of living.

We then pass judgement in one form or another upon those who are not living up to our standards. Some may try to use religion or Christian principles as justification for being able to point out wrong doing in others.

We try to hide our true selves just in case we won’t be accepted.

The truth is instead of searching for what makes us the same as, or at least makes us resemble others, we should search for what makes us unique, different, special. We should be looking for our place in the big picture. At the same time we should be encouraging others to find their uniqueness also.

Instead of shunning people that may be different we should be accepting, learning, encouraging, celebrating what makes us individuals.

If we are to mimic Jesus, we need to learn how to serve and accept others regardless of what society and the world try to tell us.

We are all just one piece to the whole puzzle. All equal in significance, all having our own special, uniqueness to contribute to the whole.

Find your unique, be it, own it, show it off because you are special, important, fearfully and wonderfully made, most of all, you are dearly loved by your Creator!

May 16, 2022

The Business (and Ministry) of Making Connections

Some of you know that I’m involved with a Christian bookstore. (Yes, there’s still a couple left!) The thoughts below are something I shared with our customers on the weekend…


Part of our mission at Searchlight is to get people connected to local congregations. So it would be easy for me to sit here and type something like, “Okay, people; it’s been more than two years, it’s time to get plugged in once more to a local church.”

Instead, I want to come at this from the other direction. I want to celebrate the people who, against odds we’re all familiar with, have remained faithful to church attendance (in-person as much as possible) for the last 24+ months. Faithfulness is not just an admirable quality, it’s listed as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Your dedication and perseverance is seen and will, one hopes, inspire others.

We can be faithful because God is faithful toward us. Proverbs 3:3-4 (NLT) reads,

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.

I am so grateful for the example of people who have “stuck it out” during the ministry season of 2020 and 2021 (and now this year as well.) For these people “pulling back” from Christian service was simply not an option.

Another mission of our store is to connect people and resources, so it’s especially painful when those resources simply don’t exist in our community. Wednesday morning a young man came in the store who is without an address to call home. Yes, there are shelters but unless you’ve actually spent a night in a shelter, it’s only an academic exercise to talk about them.

Then on Thursday morning, the devotional reading that lands first-thing on my phone was from James 2:15-16.

“Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (NLT)

We do have people in our community who lack clothing — a national event called “The Big Give” is coming up in a few weeks, and clothing will be handed out — and people with food insecurity, but the Bible doesn’t speak as much to the equivalent challenge of our day, homelessness. Perhaps when the scriptures were written it was the warmer climate, or that family units cared more for their own. But for us today in North America, it’s the affordable housing crisis.

And yet, after talking to him about possibilities, I did the VERY SAME THING that the verse tells us not to do, and, as is my habit when people are walking out the door, I said, “Bless you; have a good day.” Talk about Brain Cramp Encounters of the Worst Kind.

I felt so empty, not being able to give him the one thing he needs more than anything right now. I just don’t have the contacts, and we have other acquaintances who are literally living in a tent on the north shore of Lake Ontario. That’s their home. And was all winter.

It just hurt to not be able to reach into my pocket and pull out a business card and say, “Call these people, they’ll set you up.” I could more easily pull a rabbit out of a hat these days.

I was reminded of a poem which was making the rounds at least two decades ago that is a riff on a Bible passage that is known well by readers here. I’m not sure if anyone knows who wrote this:

I was hungry …
And you formed humanities groups to discuss my hunger.

I was imprisoned …
And you crept off quietly to your church and prayed for my release.

I was naked …
And in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick …
And you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless …
And you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely …
And you left me alone to pray for me.

You seem so holy, so close to God …
But I am still hungry … and lonely … and cold …

The challenges for people without a fixed address can seem endless. But there are people doing what they can to help, day in and day out, because of the thing we started out mentioning: Faithfulness. One way to find out exactly where your help is most needed and appreciated might come through a local church connection.

Which brings us full circle. The capital “C” Church is making a difference in the world, but there’s so much work spread out ahead of us. You can be a part in making a difference.

May 12, 2022

When Fear of Life After Death Scares the Life Out of a Christian

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Thinking Through John 10:22-30

by Clarke Dixon

Does the fear of death scare the life out of you? Or perhaps the question is, does the fear of life after death scare the life out of you?

There is plenty to worry about in our day, but this nagging worry about the afterlife has plagued people across generations and societies. Will we be okay when we die?

Some say there is no God, and so therefore no afterlife, so don’t worry about it. Indeed there are those who have embraced that line of thinking and have come to peace with the idea of not existing forever. Others who think death is the final end fight it tooth and nail.

Some say there may be a God or spiritual realities we know nothing about, but who knows? Many would say that not only do they not know, but that they believe no one can really know. So as for the afterlife, don’t worry about it, because who can know anything about it? Some are at peace with not knowing, some are scared to death of the great unknown.

Now we come to the Christian who of course believes there is a God, and the best way to know God is through Jesus and the Bible. So no Christian fears death, right? Actually, many do. Many Christians have a nagging worry about not being okay when they die. It is tragic that many atheists and agnostics worry less about death and life after death than many Christians.

The nagging worry that we will not be okay when we die often comes down to one of three thoughts:

  • I’m worried I don’t have enough faith.
    • “The person on the other end of the pew is a shining example of faith, while I struggle with doubts.”
    • “Sometimes I think I trust what scientists tell me more than what Bible teachers tell me.”
  • I’m worried I don’t know enough.
    • “I don’t have God and the Bible all figured out.”
    • “Some people know so much about God and the Bible, and I don’t. They are so much more deserving of a place in heaven than I am.”
  • I’m worried I’m not good enough.
    • “Some people are so such better than me. God will be pleased with them, but not me.”
    • “I’ve tried, and failed, at being better in this one area of my life. God must be greatly disappointed with me.”

There is a problem with each of these lines of thought, a problem easy to miss. In each case the focus is on ourselves, our our faith, our knowledge, our goodness, or rather our lack of each.

Worry takes centre stage when we take centre stage.

The solution, of course, is to get out of the spotlight. Instead of being focused on ourselves, and ourselves in relation to others, let’s focus on God and where we stand in relation to God, according to God:

My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Fatherʼs hand. The Father and I are one.”

John 10:27-30 (NET emphasis added)

Notice where we are; in the hand of Jesus, secure in the hand of God.

Okay, but how do we know if we are one of the “sheep” secure in God’s hand? Jesus said “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus did not say “My sheep have superlative faith, deep knowledge, and are shining examples of perfect people.” We can listen to the voice of Jesus, follow him, yet still have doubts, gaps in our knowledge, and messy flaws.

Jesus also said,

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven

Matthew 18:3 (NRSV)

A young child is dependent on someone loving them. The Christian knows their dependence on God loving them.

We can become stuck in thinking of God as loving us, but not really loving us. We can paint the picture of God being totally disgusted with us, of harboring a disdain for us. Then even when we talk about God’s forgiveness of us, we think of God as merely tolerating us. We know God loves us but we can not bring ourselves to think that God might actually like us.

The law court may be our go to image of our relationship with God. We are on trial, guilty, while God is the judge. The good news is that the judge grants a pardon, that Jesus paid the debt. The difficulty is that we have trouble thinking that the judge will want to have anything to do with the accused following the trial. Sure, I might be forgiven, but given my doubt, my gaps in knowledge, and how imperfect I am, surely I am on the fringes of the Kingdom, kept at a distance from the King. The good news is better than that. Jesus challenged us to think of God as our Heavenly Father. We can think of God as loving us so much that he has us in his hand, and wants us there!

You can be in the hand of God and still have doubts. Doubt may not always be a lack of faith, but of faith seeking understanding. In fact sometimes our doubts may not be a lack of faith in God, but a lack of faith in those who tell us about God. That is not always a bad thing. No Bible teacher or preacher is perfect, including me of course.

You can be in the hand of God and still have much to learn. While Christianity is not anti-intellectual, it is also not about our ability to figure it all out. It is simply about trust. When we were young, too young to know much at all about anything, all we could do is trust our parents or those who took a parental role in our lives to make sure we were okay. In Christ we trust God.

You can be in the hand of God and still have room for growth in character, thinking, and behaviour. A common theme for those of us who are motorcyclists is that it is not about the destination, but the journey. To make Christianity about the destination of heaven and how you get there is missing the point. The Christian life is a journey of growing as a Kingdom person, all the while being secure in the hand of God.

Are you a Christian but you have a nagging worry that you won’t be okay when you die? If you focus on yourself and how good you are, especially in where you stack up against other Christians, your worry may continue. If you focus on God and where you stand with God in Christ, then no worries! In Christ you are in the hand of God, and will be. Instead of stressing about life after death, let’s concern ourselves with life, with our next best step in our relationship with God right here, right now.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, about one hour east of Toronto. Read more at Thinking Through Scripture.

April 24, 2022

Waiting on God; Hoping on God

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

I had bookmarked the site Welcome to the Brightside in my computer, and when I returned today, the about page and contact page had been scrubbed clean, so I couldn’t see who the writer was beyond a single name, Katie. But I decided to be true to my original impulse when I bookmarked the site, and run this devotional from June ’21 anyway.

The devotional is short, but links to another at First 15 by Grace Fox, some of which we’ve included. If you’re looking for more today, consider that a second helping.

Clicking the title gets you to read this where we sourced it.

What is the World Coming To?

In a time where it feels as if everything is crumbling around us and making us question everything, one thing I know for sure remains true: Jesus.

The Holy Spirit. God. The Universe. All that is Holy. It’s true. I rest in this space. It tests my limits – making me feel uncomfortable at times – but the discomfort is one of my own. It is a lesson being offered to me on a silver platter. I choose to work on these and iron them out in my sacred time.

This morning I read on the First 5 App a beautifully written article on Hebrews 6:13-20.

Hebrews 6:19 (ESV) “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain…” 

An anchor’s purpose is to hold a boat in place. Set in mud, sand or silt, it prevents the vessel from drifting. Just as mariners need a physical anchor properly set in the right foundation to secure their ships, so all humans need a spiritual anchor properly set to secure their souls.

The author of Hebrews reminds us of Abraham’s faith in God. God’s promises provided a spiritual anchor for Abraham. (Hebrews 6:13-14) This anchor gave him the courage to obey when God told him to leave his country and follow Him to an undisclosed land where He would make Abraham a great nation and a blessing. (Genesis 12:1-3) It gave him the power to trust God for a son even though the thought seemed ludicrous. After all, he was an old man. His wife was beyond childbearing years and barren. (Genesis 17:1;  Genesis 18:11;  Genesis 21:1-7) Abraham’s faith also gave him the patience to wait nearly 25 years to see the promise of a son fulfilled. (Hebrews 6:15)

Abraham’s hope was securely grounded in God’s inability to lie and in the covenant He made with him. (Hebrews 6:13-18;  Numbers 23:19;  Genesis 15:9-20) Traditionally, someone who swears by an oath calls on a person with greater authority to hold him to his word, but God swore by His own name because He is the ultimate authority on Earth and in heaven. (Exodus 32:13;  Isaiah 45:23) There is no name higher than His. (Psalm 138:2) The oath is like an extra layer of reliability that He will do what He says He will do.

Abraham’s faith kept him from drifting into despair through years of waiting for the impossible to happen. Most importantly, it made him right with God. (Romans 4:1-5) We, too, are made right with God when we take refuge in Him through faith in Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 6:18;  John 3:16;  1 John 1:9)…

[…to read the full devotional, including the above cited passage with links to the scripture verses, click this link…]

The biggest takeaway for me this morning: Jesus is the hope that anchors our souls.

Jesus is the anchor when our souls have lost hope.

So I flip open my Bible to connect deeper and I stumble upon this page in Matthew 26:55.

NLT.Heb.26.55 Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day.

It could do us all a lot of good to reflect. Think about it – if God waited 700 years before bringing Jesus to us – why do we constantly think we need to slay the enemy right now? Instead of focusing on defending what we believe to be ours… focus small. Otherwise we fall victim into the enemy’s plan.

Stay focused.


Next Page »