Christianity 201

July 30, 2017

A Call to Help and to Encourage

by Russell Young

The walk of faith is not as easy as some might think. It is for this reason that believers have been called upon to help and to encourage one another. The Word records that all Christ-followers will be persecuted, and that they must go through many trials. It is during these times that help and encouragement is needed to pursue a walk of faith. The church of Christ is a community of believers through whom the Lord works to accomplish his purposes personally, locally, and globally. The idea of community should not get lost since strength exists in community.

The nation of Israel faced a great trial at Rephidim. Lacking water, they quarreled and complained to Moses, “Is the Lord among us or not.” (Ex 17:7 NIV) When trials strike it is easy to feel abandoned and alone. It is easy to question whether God is with us. The promises that are so readily uttered seem hollow. The Israelites questioned the intent of God—did he lead them into the desert to let them die? Anyone going through a severe trial can easily question the presence of God. It is during times of testing that believers need someone to come along side and encourage them in their faith.  Before entering the Promised Land, Moses told his people, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8: 2 NIV) Trials have a purpose. Those who are enduring them are having their faith tested; God wants to know what is in their hearts. They need to be encouraged in their faith. The Lord stated, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22 NIV) Standing firm to the end is a condition of eternal salvation. In a person’s weakness, he or she needs the help and encouragement of those who care for them and Christ has commanded his disciples to love one another. (Jn 15:17) His second great commandment is that believers are to love their neighbour as themselves. (M2 22:39) Paul has revealed that the law of Christ is to “carry each other’s burdens.” (Gal 6:2 NIV) A law is not a suggestion, but a command.

The need to help one another was made clear by the Israelites at Rephidim. Not only did they lack water but once provided it they were attacked by the Amalekites. Trial came upon trial. Moses sent Joshua to attack them and went with Aaron and Hur to the top of the hill and held up his hands to God. While they humbled themselves before the LORD and sought his help, they found themselves winning.  When Moses lowered his hands, the battle favored the Amalekites. Sometimes we do not have the strength, physical, emotional, or spiritual, to do what must be done.  Moses’ arms became tired and he had to lower them. As much as he desired, victory would have deserted him if he had been left to his own resources. Fortunately, Aaron and Hur came alongside and lifted his hands for him and victory was given.

There are Christian brothers and sisters about us who will fail if not supported.  They cannot help it. Fatigue, discouragement, and circumstances take over. Some will not even humble themselves before their God as he required of the Israelites; they presume that victory is their right. They will not metaphorically lift their arms to God. These also need encouragement and teaching. Aaron and Hur did not accompany Moses by accident. God had placed them in a strategic position. They were to help Moses in his weakness.

Trials and persecutions in the believer’s life are not accidental. They are to test faith and every confessor will have his or her faith tested to discern its measure. Based on such testing the Lord will become knowledgeable or “know” (become certain) of those who are his. This will happen! Some are walking astray and need encouragement to walk in the light. Others might be struggling through discipline and punishment so that they might share in his holiness (Heb 12:10), while others might be suffering through health problems or as a life relationship causes them to share the tribulations of a loved one.

The Lord equates ministry to the needs of others as having been done for him. “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Mt 25:40 NIV)

The family of believers is to share in the burdens of their brothers and sisters in the Lord and are to encourage and help them in their trial. They should not to be left to feel abandoned and alone. Both pain and joy ought to be shared experiences, community experiences. A person’s position in the life of another is not an accident; through the church community the hands, feet and mouth of Christ should always be available and exercised.


Starting next week, we introduce Sunday Worship, a weekly feature publishing at the end of your worship day and focusing on time spent in God’s presence. Each article in the series will have the same title. Writer suggestions and contributions are also appreciated.

Russell Young‘s writing moves to alternate Tuesdays, starting August 8th and 22nd, and thereafter on the first and third Tuesday of each month.


Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

November 20, 2015

Making Your Church a Better Place

CEB* Romans 12:3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!

Today we pay a return visit to the blog of B. J. Rutledge, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise, Texas. Click the link below to read the article at source.

7 Things That Would Make Church Better

Romans 12:1 & 2 have long been favorites of mine, but today as I was reading Romans 12, I got really focused on the next few verses and had to admit I’m not doing as well with them as I’d like.  If we’d all work on them, I think church would be even better than it already is!

  1. Choose Humility (v. 3)

Filter every thought about yourself through Christ; don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

  1. Give Each Other Grace. (v.4)

We belong to one another; we’re family and we don’t all have the same function. Family is difficult at times because we’re so different & grace is needed because we don’t all respond the same way…and by the way, God set it up this way (so go figure).

  1. Use The Gifts God Gave You (v. 6)

We all have gifts – given to us by God through His grace, so whatever gift we’ve been given IT’S FROM GOD & THAT’S GOOD!  Quit desiring someone else’s gift & be thankful for what God gave you, and USE IT!

We’re to exercise our gift(s); that is – put them/it to use. Failure to use our gift(s) – or simple negligence is like saying to God – “Don’t get me anything for Christmas; Your gifts aren’t that great.”

  1. Love One Another (v. 9)

We’re to love each other; it’s that simple and profound. This reminds me of a question Andy Stanley posed a while back: “What does love require of me?” In other words, RIGHT NOW – IN THIS INSTANT – IN THIS SITUATION – WITH THIS PERSON…What Does Love Require of Me?

  1. Hate Evil; Cling To What’s Good (v. 9)

This should be self explanatory!

  1. Be Devoted To One Another (v.10)

Christians, we’re not just to ask: “What does love require of me?” WE’RE TO BE DEVOTED TO ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE.   Oops; how are we doing with this? We’re to be so devoted we actually GIVE PREFERENCE to ONE ANOTHER – and HONOR ONE ANOTHER. Let’s give this a lot more effort this week – month – year – and begin today!

  1. Don’t Be Lazy (v.11)

DON’T BE LAZY in using what God’s given you when it comes to SERVING HIM & HIS CHURCH.   Diligence has to do with our ACTIONS.   BE FERVENT IN SPIRIT has to do with having an enthusiastic attitude about serving Christ! Serving Christ through His Church is one of the greatest privileges in the world so demonstrate your gratefulness in Action & Attitude and get busy SERVING!


*I frequently refer to the Common English Bible. Published just a few years ago, it’s target market is the more liturgical Protestant churches who have historically used the NRSV.

May 3, 2015

Confession is Good for the Church

So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them…”
Luke 17:3

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted…
Galatians 6:1

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
Matthew 18:15-16

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
I John 1:9

Sometimes a local church faces a crisis point where the sin of one person needs to be confessed publicly. Depending on your faith tradition, this may be something that occurs often or it may be extremely rare.

A few years ago, I remembering noting four areas such an event can impact:

  • the dynamics of spiritual warfare
  • our susceptibility to sin
  • the ongoing need to be both givers and recipients of grace
  • the importance of prayer

Some of these are more proactive and some are more reactive. Some are preventative and some are restorative.

I think the thing that impacts me the most at such times is when there is an element of surprise. We often don’t know much of the details of what is going on in someone else’s life. We clean up nicely for weekend services. Yes, it is true that sometimes you can see spiritual collapse coming, but often the spiritual condition of brothers and sisters in the local church catches us unaware.

Years ago I heard this statement, which uses automotive imagery: “Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout, it usually the result of a slow leak.”

Now, I realize that statement, and the paragraph which precedes it seems to be at odds, so let me clarify again that what we’re talking about in the higher paragraph concerns what can be seen, what brothers and sisters are made aware of.

That we don’t sometimes see these things is often the result of the duplicity in the lives some live. One foot in the world, and one foot in the church. A disconnect between the spiritual and the secular. Two sets of friends. Two sets of social activities. Two competing mindsets.

As you think about this, let me close by restating the four points above differently:

  • The accuser of our souls is always looking for opportunities to hurt us.
  • Even the greatest saints among us need to recognize their susceptibility; their predisposition to sin.
  • Our response to one who falls should be loving, gracious correction.
  • We need to pray for each other, by name, and citing specific areas of peoples lives for which we intercede, as the Holy Spirit reveals them to us.

Do you know someone who may be teetering on the edge of spiritual collapse? Pray for them, and ask God how he can use to be a greater influence in their life.

November 14, 2014

Membership in the Colony of Heaven

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Phil. 3:20

Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times.” Phil. 4:4 (Phillips)

Although I’ve been linking to the blog Gathering in Light for many years at Thinking Out Loud, I’ve never run a piece by Quaker pastor C. Wess Daniels here at C201. This one caught my eye as it deals with several good things in the last two chapters of Philippians.  As always, click the title to read at source and then take a look around the blog.  Note: Read the first part of this slowly and carefully, so you don’t miss the transition from the verse we quote as “Rejoice in the Lord…” to the other possible implications Paul has in mind for his readers.

Learning to Say Farewell

Saying Farewell

C Wess DanielsFinally, my brothers and sisters, farewell in the Lord.

The letter to the Church in Philippi reflects Paul’s own uncertainty about his life and what I think is his own trying to prepare his community for his passing (cf.  1:6; 1:20–24; 1:27; 2:5–11; 2:12–13; 3:7–11; 3:12–16).

The letter itself is believed to have been written around 62 CE and Paul is believed to have been martyred under the reign of Emperor Nero shortly thereafter.

What is even more moving is a word Paul chooses to use throughout his letter: chairo. It is used 9 times in this letter.  It can be translated as rejoice. Here are a couple instances:

  • Phil. 2:17 But even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
  • Phil. 3:1  Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again to you is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you.
  • Phil. 4:4   Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice!

But you know how else it can be translated?

It can be translated: be well: be glad, God speed, or farewell.

Let’s re-read these that way:

  • Finally, my brothers and sisters, farewell in the Lord.
  • Farewell in the Lord always; again I will say, farewell. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand (Phil. 4:4 ).

Do you see how this shifts it?

Not only do we see into the heart of Paul, who is one suffering in prison for the Gospel he has preached but also that he is learning how to say farewell through his own process of writing. I think he is coming to terms with the fact that this is the end for him. That his life, like Jesus’, will be poured out for those he loves.

And importantly, it is also a farewell letter to his community. Paul hopes to give them some parting words of encouragement that they may hang onto until the end. In a way, it is meant to help them learn how to say farewell and continue on into the unknown future.

Colony of Heaven

I think Paul knows that the church is always in danger of having “a failure of nerve,” of giving in to the demands of “the world,” of bending under the pressure of being nice, keeping the peace or just plain old survival. Paul is well aware of the cost that is incurred when it comes to trying to build the beloved community or as he calls it the “colony of heaven” (3:20).

To be the church, to be a part of this group of people right here – you’ll be relieved to know – does not mean that you are all saints like Francis, or Teresa, or even like Paul. It doesn’t mean that you spend every day praying, or reading Scripture. It doesn’t mean that you always love your enemies, or always say the right thing to someone. It doesn’t mean that you’ve worked out your prejudices, racisms, classisms, or whatever ism fits you. It certainly doesn’t mean that you always feel like God is close to you. Nor does it mean that since you are a part of the church, all the answers to life’s most challenging questions come to you in a blink of an eye.

This is not what it means to a part of the church.

But there is one thing that I do know that it means to be a part of this “colony of heaven” and that is that we take risks.

It is a risk to be a community of people who have no other reasons to meet together, to be committed to one another, to look out for one another, or to go bat for one another, other than because of a commitment to learn what it means to embody love right here in our world. Right here in a world that so desperately needs people committed to the way of love and integrity.

To be a “colony of heaven” not mean that we are waiting for our exit strategy to get off this planet or, like Pilate, wash our hands of all responsibility. It means that the Spirit has set up shop here and is building heaven on Earth. To see heaven here is to see that we are to live as God intended the world to be. To participate in the colony of heaven is to participate in a “dress rehearsal for the future.” It means to live now what we hope the future will look like.

It means that we aren’t waiting around for people to get their policies rewritten, or their budgets in order, or a better administration, or for them to read a few more books, or for things to sort themselves out over time so that we can begin to live rightly and act justly. No. We are not waiting, we are doing it right now. We will not wait Christ has come and is leading us to respond to the injustices of our world. If we do not stand up, if we do not speak up, who will?

To be a “colony of heaven” means that we will live in contrast with and sometimes have to be a prophetic voice to other colonies. Paul knew that the city of Philippi was itself a military colony that was populated by veterans of wars and as a Roman colony, it had all the rights and privileges of what it meant to be a Roman citizen. In this context Paul says, “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus…”

Every right, entitlement or privilege we have can just as easily become an obstacle to speaking truth to power. Paul knows that even with all his credentials, all his rights as a Roman citizen, this did not protect him from the empire. And he preached the Gospel of love anyway.

To be a “colony of heaven” means that we must have our minds refocused. Those who are a part of the “colony of empire” have their “minds set on earthly things.” Their imaginations are captured by the prestige of power, by the rush of wealth, by the exhilaration of violence, by the pride of silencing others. Imaginations “set on earthly things” will be met with their logical conclusion. Destruction. Violence begets violence. Silence perpetuates domination. Misuse of power is costly for the whole community.

Or as Darleen Ortega wrote this week on Facebook:

Oppression depends on the acquiescence and silence of good people.

This is why Paul stresses again and again throughout his letter that the church’s mind be set on contrasting values, prophetic witness, and concern for the other.

Here my translation of Phil 4:4ff:

Godspeed in the Lord always; again I will say, farewell. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is truthful, whatever is honorable, whatever is equitable, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, if there is any goodness and worthy of applause this is all the capital your colony will ever need.

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

September 19, 2012

Prayer Partners Wanted

I’m not sure if I agree entirely with customizing sections of the Bible to meet the needs of various audiences, not because I disagree with dynamic equivalence translation, but because it concerns me that individual translators might be given too much latitude.

For example, I’ve mentioned before the translators who tried to deal with a tribe that had never seen snow, and came up with, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as fungus.’  Or the time they had to deal with a society where you called into a house and only a thief would rattle the door to see if anyone was inside, so they wrote, ‘”Behold, I stand at the door and call.”‘ Those choices, I understand, became necessary.

Or what about the New Century Version of the Bible. Before it’s renaming as the NCV, it was called The Everyday Bible, but I’m told that it has origins that predate that as a translation that was developed especially for the deaf community.  Was “He who has ears, let him hear,” tastefully edited out? One almost hopes so.

But what do we do with Matthew 18:19 — “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”

Isolation is a chronic problem in modern society. Even among Christ-followers, many people choose online church, or get lost in the vast crowds of a mega church. How do they react when they see this particular verse? What if you’re facing a great need and don’t have someone to “agree in prayer” with?

I think that the verse shows that, properly lived out, Christians should exist in real — not virtual — community, and that connecting with other people must be considered normative Christian living.

But, on the other hand, I can foresee a day where, in a world of specialty Bibles, there is one for introverts where they simply will feel the need to address this verse, at least with a footnote.

For the rest of us, this verse shows the importance of having prayer partners. This can certainly exist between mothers and fathers and their children, and between husbands and wives; but I believe we should all work toward having prayer partner relationships with people beyond the family context.

And perhaps one place to look would be among people who do not have a family context, or are not currently attending church for whatever reason.

December 26, 2011

Christian versus Church-attender

This seems like a rather basic subject, but it’s one that every Christian who is working at ‘the next level’ should be prepared to answer.  We tend to think of apologetics as something involving those who are outside the church, but sometimes we need an apologetic to deal with challenges that arise from within.

Because church attendance is no longer culturally mainstream, there are a lot of ‘lone ranger’ Christ-followers out on the fringes deriving their teaching from podcasts and sermon downloads, and getting their worship from CDs and mp3s.  But this fails to provide corporate worship, it fails to provide interactive opportunities, and it fails to provide a prayer covering should one be dealing with things ranging from illness to temptation to broken relationships. 

However, it must also be stated that with many people, church affiliation is over-rated; they tend to speak at great lengths as to the greatness of their church, but rarely, if ever, talk about what it means to be in relationship with Jesus Christ, to know they are loved by the God who created the universe.  Such people occupy the opposite extreme end of the church continuum, and are as guilty of ‘missing the point’ as those who believe they can follow Christ in isolation from the rest of the Body of Christ.

Layfayette, Indiana pastor Jeff Mikels dealt with this issue after someone in his church asked a question at the end of a recent sermon:

This past Sunday, I ended our service by taking some live questions from the congregation…

Does this mean that you cannot be a Christian unless you go to church?

The simple answer is that you can be a Christian without going to church if you define “Christian” to mean “I have been saved.” (Salvation does not depend on going to church or anything else you do. It is a gift from God. See Ephesians 2:8-10). You can also be a Christian without going to church if you define “church” as “an event where I show up, sit, soak, and leave 60 minutes later.”

However, if you define Christian to mean “follower of Jesus” and if you understand “church” to mean “the universal family of God, specifically expressed in local fellowships” then you can’t be a Christian and intentionally avoid the church. Reading the rest of Ephesians will make it clear that God did not save us to be isolated individuals destined for heaven. To the contrary, Jesus died for us to cleanse us of sin and thereby bring us into God’s family! Reading 1 John will remind you that you can’t love God and hate his family.

Even more strongly, John speaks of people who were once part of his church and then decided to leave the church:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. — 1 John 2:19

To state it strongly, every true follower of Jesus will pursue frequent fellowship with other believers that involves locality, leadership, mutual submission, expression of gifts, discipleship, evangelism, ministry, and worship. Any fellowship expressing all of that is rightly called a church.

~Jeff Mikels