Christianity 201

June 4, 2020

God’s Leadership; Our Response

by Clarke Dixon

We have all had to respond to a new abnormal. Separation from friends and family, social distancing, standing in lines, wearing masks, and haircuts by loved ones (preferably!). We have had to respond to a new normal in workplaces, working from home, or sadly for many, not working at all. There is a new normal in our concern for safety and health of loved ones and indeed, ourselves. Have had the best kind of response which will lead to the best kind of future?

Churches have had to respond to a new abnormal also. We, along with many churches, have taken to YouTube and Facebook. Our church has had a quiet online ministry for eight years through this blog where every sermon I have preached is here in a “Shrunk Sermon” form. One sermon from 2016 has come back to haunt me: What do you have to have to have a church?

Right now we don’t have what we normally would have as a church family, such as the full use of a building, or, very important at Calvary, opportunities for food together. There is good news in my 2016 “Shrunk Sermon,” which was taken from a long sermon, which actually came from a very long study series in the Book of Acts. We really only need two things; God and people. That is all the earliest of Christians had. God and people.

When we look back on the early Christian communities we don’t see building programs, extensive programming for every generation, big music productions, or people getting particularly organized into churches and denominations. We see people responding to the Holy Spirit. We see God at work in the world changing lives. We see the Holy Spirit leading and people responding.

When people look back on our day, what will they see?

They will see how we have adapted to a new normal, as churches and individuals. They will see how we have responded in very practical ways, such as taking services online. But will people see how God was at work among us and through us?

We might wonder when we will get back to normal as a church. The better question is, how do we help people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love given each new normal? The answer is; in the same way we see the early Christians helping people walk with Jesus, by responding to God’s leadership through the Holy Spirit.

People will also see how we responded to the new normal as individuals. We have all been affected, we have all made changes. It is important that we continue to do so, responding to each new normal in practical ways. As we respond to each new normal, we want to be responsive to the God’s leadership in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

This may look different for each person. For some it will mean a deeper prayerfulness, for others it mean deeper and more spiritually focused discussions with others. For others it will mean letting their light shine online, or serving in new ways, or growing in generosity, or connecting with people more than ever even while social distancing.

As we we respond to God’s leadership in our lives in practical ways, let us also consider the inner work of the Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts is not just about God leading people, like Paul, Phillip, or Peter, here or there, to do this, that, or the other thing. It is also about God changing people, like Paul, Phillip, Peter, and all the rest, from the inside out. Though he figures prominently, the Book of Acts is not just a record of what Paul did. It is also a record of what God did in Paul.

While there is a new normal all around us, God, through the Holy Spirit, is bringing a new normal within us:

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

Galatians 5:22,23 NRSV

While we respond to each new normal developing around us, let us be responsive to the Holy Spirit developing a new normal within us.

While we respond to each new normal developing around us, let us be responsive to the Holy Spirit developing a new normal within us.

As we look to leaders to make good decisions for our health and economy, let us look to God to lead us through his Holy Spirit. Responding to good leadership is important in these days of a pandemic. Responding to God’s leadership in our lives is the best kind of response, and will lead to the best kind of future.


Pastor Clarke Dixon loves music, motorcycles and ministry, though not necessarily in that order. His wife and three teenage boys are currently social distancing about an hour east of Toronto. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

 

May 31, 2020

Currently, Where is Your Church Located?

Six months ago, we introduced you to Wes Barry, the pastor of Waypoint in North Carolina. It was the quotation at the beginning of today’s article which got my attention! Clicking the header below will take to this article at his website, where you can navigate to other helpful articles for church leaders.

The Church is Not Best Buy

The Church has not been closed; it is public worship that has been suspended.

I am reminded of one of my favorite stories about Dr. Halverson, the pastor of a large Presbyterian church in D.C.

One of the students asked, “Dr. Halverson, where is your church?” This seemed like a perfectly reasonable question to me, but Dr. Halverson looked quite perplexed and hesitated to answer. Then he glanced at his watch.

“Well, it’s three o’clock in Washington, D.C. The church I pastor is all over the city. It’s driving buses, serving meals in restaurants, having discussions in the Pentagon, deliberating in the Congress.” He knew exactly where his church was, and he went on and on with his lengthy listing.

Then he added, “Periodically, we get together at a building on Fourth Street, but we don’t spend much time there. We’re mostly in the city.”

A bomb went off in my head. All of my out-of-joint ideas about the church suddenly snapped into place. The church is people!

Jerry Cook, The Monday Morning Church, Howard Publishing Company, 2006, p. 12-13.

Though I do not have a practical solution to the issue of reopening, I want to challenge the church to consider how it needs to approach this next phase with a Biblical mindset not a consumeristic one.

Recently I came across the recommendations that churches should restart public worship with these protocols: staggered seating 6 feet apart and temperature scans as people come in while limiting capacity to 50 people. The politician recommending these measures then said, “The sick and vulnerable should not be allowed in church.”

Immediately, I was struck by how anathema that is to specifically why Jesus came into this world: “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Mark 2:17.

The sick and vulnerable should not be excluded from public worship–again I do not have a practical solution to this problem–but I am perturbed by this attitude that public worship should be “for me” while we exclude others. As the Christ Hymn reminds us, we should look “not to our own interests but to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4). Even in public worship attendance, are you going for your sake or for the sake of the person sitting next to you?

Take for example the suggestion that worship be limited to 50 people. How is a church supposed to monitor that? Suppose you are number 47 in the parking lot are you going to out sprint ahead of that young family who is struggling to get their kid into the stroller? Suddenly church is only available for those who are on time and have their acts together. This, too, seems counter to Christ’s command that: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16).

Perhaps you would recommend that people could register online. Therefore, it excludes the marginalized who would not have internet access or those who are disorganized, depressed, and the ones so busy trying to keep their family afloat they cannot “register” to go to church. Jesus, however, did not wait for people to register online to be one of his disciples–He inserted Himself into their lives; He entered their homes: “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.‘” Jesus tells Zacchaeus that He is coming over to Zacchaeus’ home because His mission was a rescue mission: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10).

Also I heard of one church that is assigning numbers to members alphabetically so that they can attend when it is their turn. While that is very effective for people on the list, what about the one not on a list? In fact, Jesus had a whole parable about rejoicing over that one:

Then Jesus told them this parable: “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the pasture and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders,comes home, and calls together his friends and neighbors to tell them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep!’ In the same way, I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones who do not need to repent.” [Luke 15: 4-7]

So, as you prepare for worship, how can you make sure to leave room for the one who is missing?

There are two streams emerging in this drive for public worship. One is the desire for the community to gather again. It is a living out of the word “ecclesia.” This is the Greek word used to describe the church and means: “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place.” It is the bringing out into the public square what is being done in our personal homes. It is God calling us to publicly demonstrate what He is doing personally in our hearts. It is a longing for our private lives to engage with others in praise of God.

The longing and drive we feel for this is good. And this season of shutdown should be a season of lament. We are sad that we cannot get together. Lament is good because it shows what our hearts desire: we need to publicly demonstrate our faith. However, this desire is in response to what we are doing on our own terms, in our own homes, in our private worship. This longing is good, and this desire needs to be cultivated. Cultivating this attitude can forestall public worship, however, through intentional private worship and relational connection with one’s neighbors.

The other drive–and the main one in our American church–is the selling of religious commodities. Like Best Buy needing to reopen, the church has been so heavily built upon the production of Sunday worship that the shutdown has stalled our religious economy. This desire for public worship is because we have an anemic understanding of private worship and an individualistic nature of worship being done amidst a crowd; We want the Church to do it for us so we can spectate.

In speaking to a fellow church planter, I appreciated his attitude when he said, “We want to be the third to last church to reopen in our city.” His intentional and thoughtful delay will place the emphasis upon a continued lament for the loss of community. His philosophy of ministry has an emphasis upon community groups, so this phased approach to reopening will allow him to place the focus back upon the gathering of people in their homes.

This season hopefully will cause us to consider why do we publicly worship in the first place? How can we be the Ecclesia by bringing into the public square what God is doing in our private hearts?

As your church considers restarting public worship, I would challenge you to make sure you consider how can you include the sick and vulnerable into the community? How can the last and lost be first and found?

May 24, 2020

For the Twelve, Answering the Call Came with Risk

Two weeks ago we looked at The Twelve Disciples. I’ve been continuing to think about them in the days which followed…

I wonder what I might have done in their shoes. A decade ago, a popular Christian speaker said these guys, like other Hebrew boys, might have dreamed of being selected to follow a Rabbi. Only “the best of the best of the best” were chosen. These guys were (for the most part) plying trades and weren’t on any Rabbi’s short list. Their life trajectory was headed in another direction.

Then Jesus appears. He invites them to basically ‘stop what you’re doing and follow me.’ And out of the blue,

Matt.4.20.NIV At once they left their nets and followed him. (See three different gospel accounts.)

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

Today, most of us would not consider taking a job without investigating the potential employer. What is their reputation? How is their stock price doing? What are the working conditions?

Similarly, none of us would enroll in a program of education (which is closer to what they were doing) unless we knew that upon completion, the certificate or degree was actually recognized; that it truly meant something. (The accreditation process facilitates some of that investigation for us today.)

Would they accept not knowing all the facts? Apparently so.

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

Don’t let the big word scare you, it’s similar to itinerant and simply means “traveling from place to place.” Jesus the teacher was not attached to a synagogue. Being schooled with him didn’t mean an actual school, but rather wandering from place to place, sometimes eating on the road by biting the heads off the grain in nearby fields (and getting into arguments over so doing.) See Matthew 12 for that story, but don’t miss verse 8 where Matthew adds the phrase “Going on from that place…” to emphasize the traveling ministry. Even his long discourse in the last quarter of John’s gospel is delivered while walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane.)

(A big shoutout here to anyone who has ever slept in their car, or at the side of the road. I’ve done both, but not lately. That’s the idea conveyed here, although the twelve plus Jesus were sometimes billeted in the homes of supporters in various towns.)

When one of the scribes considers following him, Jesus utters his famous “foxes have holes” line which The Message renders as,

Matt.8.20.MSG Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Second, Jesus wasn’t trained by a rabbi they knew.

There was a strict process here. One rabbi trains a group of students (as Jesus is doing) and then they wash, rinse and repeat. (Couldn’t resist.) But you always know, at least in name, the person your rabbi sat under for his training.

So Jesus commences his ministry, and the crowd (specifically, elders, scribes and chief priests) ask him who has commissioned him in ministry; who has authorized him to preach. In our day, being ordained or being a commended minister carries with it the concept of accountability.

Mark.11.28.NLT They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

repeated in Luke,

Luke.20.1-2.NASB On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”

Most readers here would quickly say that Jesus’ ministry is confirmed by his Father. More than once in the gospel accounts we find the “voice from heaven” speaking. (A good topic for another study!) But the disciples would be risking their own reputation following a teacher whose own schooling doesn’t have earthly verification.

In balance however, we need to remind ourselves that the miracles Jesus performs validate his teaching. Things ‘no one could do unless…’ Nicodemus gets this when he says,

John.3.2b.NIV “…For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Third, there are lingering questions as to the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.

In a world without user names and passwords, people would have a longer memory for stories, and while Joseph and Mary weren’t celebrities, their story is the hard-to-forget type which would make great fodder for the tabloids and TMZ.

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

Mark.6.3a Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?”

they don’t simply mean, ‘Isn’t this the boy next door?’ but rather are dredging up a host of other memories which would recall the earlier scandalous story where Mary finds herself pregnant.

In another story where the authority or power of Jesus’ teaching is questioned, the Jews to which he is speaking come back with an indirect, but hard-hitting shot at Jesus

John.8.41b.NIV We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Commentators have suggested that this phrase can be translated, “We’re not bastards!” It’s a direct allusion to Jesus’ parentage.

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

  1. Following Jesus may take us to unexpected places, it might involve sacrifice, and may result in experiencing less than optimal conditions.
  2. The path of discipleship may mean unconventional employment, perhaps even contradicting the norms of standard vocational ministry.
  3. Following Jesus the Nazarene may impact our own personal reputation; we will need to simply not care what people think of us or Him.

 



May 5, 2020

Lessons from a List: The Twelve Disciples

I’m told that there are gifted preachers who make the genealogies relevant and engaging. We often rush through those, but they are part of God-inspired scripture and full of applications we can miss.

Last night I couldn’t sleep. I often recite the names of the books of the Bible, but this time around I was compiling lists of the twelve students of Rabbi Jesus and mentally rearranging them into various sub-categories.

I say ‘students’ or ‘apprentices’ in order to skip over the semantics of ‘disciple’ versus ‘apostle.’ There were actually many disciples beyond these twelve.

NIV.Mark3.14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

NIV.Luke 6.13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

While I don’t like putting people in boxes, let’s look closer at the list:

Inner Circle (Peter, James and John) – In this group of three we see a leadership position assumed by Peter, possibly because of his age and marital status, but also the intimacy of the relationship between Jesus and John. To function, the church needs core leadership, and even a core-within-a-core.

Brothers (James and John; Andrew and Peter) – No one hates nepotism more than I, but the history of the church, religious organizations, and perhaps even your local church is filled with family histories. Sometimes subsequent generations lack the zeal of those previous, and even within generations, some siblings are more attuned to the purpose, or perhaps carve out a different world. Is not the entire Bible story arc a story which begins with God’s loving promises to Abraham’s family?

Gospel Authors (John and Matthew) – Asked to name the disciples, many an outsider to Christianity will say, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” But only two of the gospels were written by disciples and only three disciples contributed to our modern day Bibles, the other being Peter whose two epistles appear near the end of the New Testament. This however does not preclude that Peter and the others contributed information to Mark’s account and Luke’s account. In an age where print-on-demand is commonplace and everybody has a book to sell on their website, it’s interesting that those closest to the action — the twelve students of Jesus — didn’t pursue publishing; or at the very least, in terms of Luke 1:1 (where we’re told that many wrote accounts) their writing didn’t make the final canon of scripture.

Unlikely Choices (Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot) – I am sure there were cries of, “What is he doing here?” or “What are they doing here.” The inclusion of Matthew (a sellout to the Roman tax farming system) and Simon (a political activist) would pave the way for the Apostle Paul (a persecutor of Christians), and pave the way for the inclusion of Gentile believers (gasp!). Sometimes we have difficulty accepting that those who have genuinely met Jesus and decided to follow Him are actually capable of leaving their former life behind.

Disappointments in the Later Chapters (Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, Thomas’ doubt) – Much has been written about Peter and Judas, but as I compiled this, I thought it strange that Thomas is not usually listed in their category. One website described him as “naturally cynical” and skepticism is a still a disease in our day. Why wasn’t he there when the others were gathered and Jesus appeared? My guess is that he was out shopping around his resumé looking for another job. Despite the familiarity of the Peter and Judas narratives, it’s worth noting that elsewhere in scripture there is an emphasis on finishing well. (See this comparison from II Kings in a very early edition of this devotional.) After years with Jesus, how could Judas betray and Peter disavow himself of any connection? Or how could Thomas not be satisfied with the testimony of the other ten disciples? Also, Thomas makes a particular proof requirement of the risen Christ that has sparked many discussions about the nature of Christ’s glorified body and the nature of ours in the age to come.

People with the Same Name (James and James, Simon and Simon (Peter), Judas and Judas) – In a world where people stand out and stake their individual identity it’s often difficult for people to be in a school classroom where there are four Jennifers and five Jasons (among the most popular names in the 1980s.) I include this here because, well, you know who you are! Also, it’s no wonder that the other Judas is often listed as Thaddeus; I would have done the same!

Those Outside the Spotlight (Phillip, Nathanael (Bartholomew), the other James, the other Simon, the other Judas) – You probably know the reference to “Judas, not Iscariot,” and perhaps have heard a sermon that referenced Nathanael as a man of integrity (NLT) in whom there was “no guile.” (KJV). But the list of twelve is rounded out by some whose contributions are minimal. And how would you like to remembered in history as “James the Lesser” or “James the Less?” (Debate continues as to whether or not this was the brother of Jesus who wrote the Book of James. My understanding is that he was not but was the son of Alphaeus.) Nonetheless, these men also were taught by Jesus and served alongside the others, and like ten of the twelve, tradition is that they died martyr’s deaths for their adherence to the Christ story.

Not Listed – In this list we find the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, the other Mary, the other other Mary (a popular name, they must have been Catholic), Clopas, John Mark (who was quite young at this point) and the two nominated to replace Judas. On the latter event we’re told:

NIV.Acts.1.21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” 23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

Despite verse 21, one website dared to suggest Matthias had not been a witness to the life of Christ, but the text speaks otherwise. That did however make me think of Paul, whose Damascus Road experience is in the minds of many readers, a direct encounter with Christ. He describes himself as a man abnormally born, which is not a statement of physiology, but that he was simply elsewhere when the controversial Rabbi was teaching and performing miracles in Capernaum or Bethsaida or Sychar or Bethany. Check out our look at his life from a few days ago.

Then there were the perhaps secret followers such as Nicodemus (aka Nick at Nite) and Joseph, who in offering to bury the body of Christ in his tomb was acting as a type of patron of which there might have been many.

…So where do you fit in this list? As a disciple of Jesus, where would your profile land? Perhaps you’re in a unique category not listed here or perhaps God is waiting to use you in a category that hasn’t been invented yet!


For more on the twelve, check out this article from October 2019.

February 28, 2020

Signs of a Healthy Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 14, 2020

Moses’ Reasons Why He Was the Wrong Choice

NIV.Exodus.3.11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Today we’re introducing you to Chris Miller at the blog Get Encouraged. There are some other articles here we considered, so take the time to look around the site. Click the header below to read at source.

3 Responses to Procrastination

I don’t know about you, but I procrastinate sometimes, particularly when I need to do something I am dreading. It seems our natural response to dreaded life change is procrastinating if possible.

This may be especially true when we believe the Lord is calling us to a life change, we do not understand or a project for which we feel ill-equipped. The good news is we are not alone. Moses shared in this experience.

“The good news is we are not alone. Moses shared in this experience.”

Moses was tending sheep one day when a nearby bush was ablaze but not consumed by the flames. Moses’ curiosity got the best of him, so he walked over to see what was happening. Moses walked over to see a burning bush but had an encounter with the Lord. The Lord revealed his plan, and Moses made every attempt to tell the Lord why it would not work.

When I arrive at my “burning bush,” I often procrastinate by telling the Lord I am not the right person. What about you?

Moses tried to convince the Lord he was not the right person, but for every reason Moses offered, God provided a response. It seems we offer the same reasons, and God offers the same responses. Here are 3.

No one’s listening.

Moses said no one would listen to him. They would just accuse him of being in the sun too long. God dismisses this reason by obvious work in Moses’ life.

Do you ever feel like you are talking, and no one is listening, so you just stop talking? Maybe you ask yourself, “Why do I even say anything? It is like talking to a brick wall.” Like Moses, the Lord’s work in our lives is obvious. And, while it may seem no one is listening, it turns out they are paying attention.

Reimaging Faith Formation for the 21st Century cites studies showing our family members are listening. For those of you who are grandparents, you are the second most influential person in your grandkids’ life. You follow only their parents, and in some cases, you are in the number one slot. You sit in a position to speak a lot of wisdom into their lives as they witness the Lord’s obvious work in your life. Just when you think no one is listening, it turns out they pay much attention.

The work the Lord is doing in our lives is obvious. It stands as a testimony to the words we say.

I can’t.

Moses tells the Lord he is not a good speaker, so how can he stand before Pharaoh and say anything. God responds by saying, “I gave you the abilities you have, so go, and I will help you.”

We may feel we are inadequate for God’s calling. We know we should do something, but we try to convince ourselves and the Lord we are not capable. We identify a barrier that could cause us to fail, and instead of jumping it, we hide behind it.

Moses identified a barrier of speech. What is your barrier? It could be any number of things. No matter the barrier, the Lord’s response is the same. “I gave your abilities and I will help you, so go.”

Not me, please.

After other reasoning failed, Moses simply asks the Lord to send somebody else. The Lord tells Moses to stop procrastinating. He has already put provisions for him in place. Moses is the one God called for this purpose, and the Lord will help Moses accomplish it. He began a good work in Moses, and he will bring it to completion.

Can you relate to Moses? “Lord, I just don’t want to,” you say. Perhaps we can all relate to Moses. The Lord’s response is always the same; he has called us each to a unique spot in his plan. Therefore, he will help us accomplish the purpose. He, who began a good work in our lives, is bringing it to completion.

Moses was in a special place in time to perform a special task for the Lord. His biography records Moses leading God’s people out of Egyptian bondage and guiding them to the border of the Promised Land. He may have felt inadequate, but God used him in a mighty way. God completed a good work in Moses’ life.

Acting

We are in a special place in time to perform a special task for the Lord. Each of our biographies will record how we served in the Kingdom. What is the Lord calling you to do? You may feel inadequate, but the action step you can take is growing in the Lord. Paul tells the Philippians to grow.

  • Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
  • Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…. I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Continue to walk with the Lord and fulfilling your purpose. Again, what is the Lord calling you to do? How have you responded to your “burning bush?” Share in the comments below, and remember, he, who has begun a good work in you, will bring it through to completion.

 

January 19, 2020

The King Had Everything Except God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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“Ahaz had a vague spiritual interest, and that was not enough.”

Earlier today, one of my personal friends suggested I check out an online resource, The Enduring Word Biblical Commentary. This free website has over 11,000 pages of Bible commentary and is the work of David Guzik, a pastor, Bible teacher, and author of commentary material you may have already used on Blue Letter Bible. (It turned out we had referred to or used material from Enduring Word on three earlier occasions in 2016 and 2017.)

Today’s feature comes in two parts. First, I’ve included a short devotional from his blog. As usual, click the header below to read it at source.

Then, I’ve included a link to David’s full commentary on the chapter for today’s key verse for you to get an idea of what his material looks like.

One of the Worst Kings

Also he removed the Sabbath pavilion which they had built in the temple, and he removed the king’s outer entrance from the house of the LORD, on account of the king of Assyria. Now the rest of the acts of Ahaz which he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? (2 Kings 16:18-19)

Ahaz was one of the worst to reign over Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah. He brought in corrupt pagan innovations to the temple of God. Ahaz took away many of the good things that stood before. The record of 2 Kings 16 tells us some of the story, but not all of it – the rest of the acts of Ahaz are found in 2 Chronicles and a few other places.

Ahaz did what he could to discourage the worship of the true God at the temple of God. For a time, he even shut down the operation of the temple and established small pagan altars all around Judah (2 Chronicles 28:24-25).

I think that in many ways, Ahaz is a warning to our generation. He could be considered a church leader from the 21st century on several points.

– Ahaz was a man with an artistic sense of style.
– Ahaz was impressed with technology and brought the Babylonian innovation of the sundial to Jerusalem (2 Kings 20:11).
– Ahaz loved innovation and new things, and brought those innovations into worship.
– At the same time, Ahaz seemed to be a nice man. He did not have the persecuting spirit of his grandson Manasseh (2 Kings 21:16).
– Yet, Ahaz had the advantage of great prophets and messengers (such as Isaiah and Micah).
– Ahaz had the blessing of a great deliverance when God spared Jerusalem and Judah from conquest.
– Ahaz also had the influence of a godly father and a godly heritage from the line of David.

Ahaz had many advantages yet was a terrible leader for the people of God. The key to understanding Ahaz is to note that he had no relationship with God. Ahaz destroyed the link that his father Jotham made between the palace and the temple, and this was an illustration of his destroyed relationship with God. With his love of the latest trends and fashion he was the opposite of Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Ahaz had a vague spiritual interest, and that was not enough.

In the end, Ahaz put his trust in himself and in man – instead of the living God who reigns from heaven. Therefore, his reign was a disaster, one of the worst among the kings of Judah.

How can you avoid the same disaster? Don’t put your trust in yourself, in your gifts, in your strengths, in the latest style, or even in good people who want to help you. At the foundation, put your trust in God. Jesus is worthy of our trust.

Click here for David’s commentary on 2 Kings 16

 

 

 

January 5, 2020

Spiritual Vulnerability May Follow Spiritual Triumph

NIV.Gen.9.20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

There are some Bible passages we’d rather just ignore. For me, this is one of them. However, Bible teacher Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer has done an excellent job of dealing with this passage at her blog Grace and Peace. (Learn more about her personal story at this about page.) Click the title below to read this at source.

His Nakedness Uncovered

I think of Noah as a fine man who was not vigilant and slipped, spiritually.

After all, reading his story reminds me of when my own excesses may have presented temptation to those close to me, and caused anguish in the lives of the people I love. Anyone can sin, even someone who had been righteous and blameless among the people of his time, and who walked with God, as Noah was described.

He had experienced great spiritual summits. He had come through the Great Flood as only one of eight survivors. God had rested upon his shoulders the weight of the ark, and of the animals, and of his family. He had preached for a hundred years with not one single convert, yet he had faithfully pressed on, obedient to God’s commands from first to last.

Now, in the new world, his family growing and spreading as the new humanity, their fields and flocks thriving, their orchards and vineyards established, their lives enriched, Noah was right with God and right with the world. That’s often a time when a person will let down their guard.

What began as a perfectly worthy work, growing a vineyard, degenerated into a complete dishonoring of his body, made in the image of God. That’s a great metaphor for how sin insinuates itself into our souls. It can gradually grow as you and I make one small seemingly unimportant choice after another, getting closer and closer to the edge of okay, slipping like wisps of mist into the gray area between good and bad, right and wrong, until one day we step over another line, the true line that separates us from evil, and it wasn’t a very big step, actually. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal. But it was.

  • Maybe this was a spiritual fall after a spiritual victory.
  • Maybe Noah allowed the pressures of life to get to him, not remembering to call upon the name of the Lord, as his ancestor Seth had done.
  • Maybe this was just one more step of many steps, wandering ever closer to no return.

Many people of faith today have decided to express their faith in Christ by living a life that is free from controlled substances such as alcohol in a world that is given over to the indulgence of appetites to the point of addiction. The apostle Paul talked about the value of refraining from those things that might trouble other people or open the door to temptation or worse for them, writing: “It is best not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that causes problems for other followers of the Lord.

In another letter, Paul urged believers to be mindful and intentional about every aspect of their lives, writing, “When you eat or drink or do anything else, always do it to honor God.”

What exactly Noah’s son did to him is not clear. Some Bible scholars link this episode with Leviticus 18, where the phrase, “to see the nakedness” of an individual is a euphemism for a sexual act, suggesting this involved some sort of incestuous activity on Ham’s part. (Some scholars suggest it might even have involved Ham’s mother, Noah’s wife.)

Even if no sexual act took place, there is a sexual connotation to the way Ham took in his father’s exposed condition. Whether or not there was outright coitus, some form of sexual perversion seems to have been present at the very least in Ham’s lustful thoughts, as the son leered at his father’s naked form.

Remember the conditions that existed before the Great Flood: widespread sexual perversion. Jude[1] referred to a series of unnatural acts, connecting antediluvian society with the unnatural sexual deviance of Sodom and Gomorrah. Shem, Ham, and Japheth had grown up in this kind of an atmosphere, even though Noah and his family were an island of righteousness in a sea of corruption.

All the more reason for you and I to be vigilant about the ways our culture influences us, and the people God has placed in our care. It’s not so much this TV show or that video game, this website or that party, this politician or that policy. It’s the sum total, the message the culture sends in all kinds of ways, every day, that shapes what the next generation is going to think is good, bad and just plain fun.

Somehow, Ham did not recognize the degenerate nature of his thoughts (or perhaps even acts), for he seems to have taken lewd delight in talking about it with his brothers. That gave me real pause. How will what I am about to say about someone influence my listener’s impression of the person I am talking about? Have I ever found myself relishing someone else’s downfall, particularly someone whose authority I felt was misused in some way? Did it make such delicious news I just couldn’t wait to tell somebody about it? (The answer is yes. I am ashamed to admit it.)

Shem and Japheth wanted to have nothing to do with it. They did not even respond to their brother’s salacious suggestiveness. Instead, their love for their father covered over this “multitude of sins.” They literally covered their father with a blanket, turning their heads away as they did so, refusing to look at his shame. They honored their father, and the stamp of God’s image in him.


[1] Note Jude’s use of the phrases “likewise” and “in the same way” to link the Nephilim culture, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the culture of his own day all together, as all one kind of people, all destined for the same destruction.


December 10, 2019

Devotional Thoughts When You Don’t Expect Them

I had this article as a link for our weekly news roundup at our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud. I thought this was a rather provocative teaser: Lessons in replacing toilet seals and the Corinthian church.

Much later in the hour it occurred to me it would also make a good fit here. This from the blog The Cripplegate, which we linked to in 2012, but not since! The author is Eric Davis.

Plumbing, Self-Esteem, & the Great Love of God

I recently noticed that the floor around my toilet looked stained with water. Knowing very little about plumbing, I contacted my trusty father-in-law. He knew what to do right away. “The wax seal is broken.” When he was in town for Thanksgiving, he held my hand through changing the seal. This was a first for me. In addition to saving $300 in plumber costs, many things about the experience were memorable; one in particular.

But first, a brief detour.

One of the first epistles I preached through as a pastor was 1 Corinthians. It was a good challenge.

Paul writes the letter to help this beloved church make some spiritual adjustments to their lives. Many in the Corinthian church were full of pride. They lusted after significance. They craved the praise of men. Likely they didn’t want to hear any “bad” news about things like sin, hell, and the need for repentance. They liked the more “positive” things. They were too sophisticated to talk about sin. It was all too fire and brimstone for them. Thus, the message that salvation is exclusively through an unflashy, unfashionable Jewish guy nailed to a cross was too offensive for their self-esteeming sensibilities. They wanted to feel important and esteemed. They lusted after recognition. They jockeyed with one another for popularity and praise. If a relationship or ministry association did not help them get notoriety and spotlight, then it wasn’t worth their time. In other words, they were self-worshipers.

And the apostle Paul loved this wrecked church. So, to shepherd them, he says things like this:

“[W]hen we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (1 Cor. 4:13).

Their founding pastor shepherds them here to understand how the world views Christians, and apostles in particular. He does so to corral them away from their craving of praise and esteem. And it’s good shepherding.

Let’s consider two words he uses, translated “scum” and “dregs.”

The word translated, “scum,” is the Greek word περικαθάρματα (TDNT, 3:430-431), and, “dregs,” is περίψημα (TDNT, 6:84-85). They are rich, colorful words, being synonymous in Greek.

The word, “scum,” meant, “to clean around,” and “dregs,” literally meant, “to wipe around” or “rub.” Sometimes they referred to a sweat rag or bath towel, used to wipe away those less noble areas of the body. Also, they referred to something of no value that had to be scraped off and thrown away, particularly sewage and refuse. In ancient times, human waste would sometimes be carried out in pots and disposed of. As one can imagine, “build-up” would accumulate in these pots. In order to effectively love one another in a household, the “build-up” would have to be scraped off and diligently disposed of.

Back to my recent plumbing inauguration. So, after undoing a few bolts and draining the water from the toilet, the enlightening moment came: we lifted the toilet off of the seal in the floor. And for those of you who haven’t done this, let me tell you. Actually, let me show you (see the pic above, taken after I had scraped most of it off, to spare you all). There it was. The dregs. The scum. The “build-up.” The scrapings. And I had the privilege of scraping. It was necessary character building. Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 4:13 will never be the same to me.

So, how does the apostle of grace help people struggling a bit with the love of significance and a lust for mattering? How does he come alongside those battling a tad with self-exaltation syndrome? How did this exemplary church leader love those who did not have much of a pallet for those unfashionable, negative things like sin and a bloody cross?

It’s as if he says, “So, you want to be praised and popular in the world. I understand. Ok, so, you know the sweat rags people use at the bath houses and gymnasiums? And you know the excrement pots in your house? And how you have to scrape them often? That’s what we are. We are nothing more than sweat wipe and sewage scrapings. Glory to God.”

“Scum” and “dregs.” Scrapings. Wiping-around. These are the words that our good and loving God decided to preserve for the ages in Holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit could have spoken many words here. He chose these. And we shouldn’t try to soften this. Beware of being too sophisticated for God and his word. And beware of using the Bible to shield the Bible.

Glory and praise be to Almighty God. The Lord Jesus Christ bore our wrath on the cross. He loves the scrapings and the sweat-rags. He loves us! He loves us! And by faith in Christ, we will bask and rejoice in his love for all eternity!

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

 

November 13, 2019

Playing ‘Parishioner of the Week’ at Church

NIV James 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6a But you have dishonored the poor…

I remember the first time I encountered this verse. I attended a large church at the time, and there was a couple in the church who would always arrive five minutes late, which was rare in that church culture. The service would start at 11:00 AM with the call to worship, the invocation and the opening prayer; and then either just before or just after the opening hymn, this man and his wife would walk in and be escorted by an usher to a seat near the front that had been kept for them.

Imagine my surprise when someone older and more cynical (but as I later realized, surprisingly accurate) told me that their late arrival was on purpose. That the whole point of their apparent tardiness was to create the grand entrance that I witnessed each week. To be seen. To be known.

In that stage of my life I would later move on to a succession of four much smaller churches, and I could say with all honesty that this problem didn’t apply in those churches. At least not as far as I could see. But it’s not unique by any means.

The problem of favoritism toward the rich obviously was an early church problem. I remember encountering these verses from Ken Taylor’s classic original Living Bible:

LB Romans 14:1 Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you, even though his faith is weak. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.

The second half of this verse has been used to shut down all discussion of doctrinal matters, which I don’t believe is the intent. The first part has been the subject of what it means to be “the brother of weaker faith” and how it is often new believers (starters) who are prone to religiosity and legalism.

The point is not have a bias against people whose doctrinal interpretation is different on secondary matters.

Both the James and Romans passage remind us that in the church we do tend to give privilege and ministry opportunity to people who are (a) in positions of socioeconomic high standing and (b) people who we’ve already ascertained ahead of time will agree with us on matters of doctrine.

The two areas of potential transgression are simply horses of a different color. It’s all about showing preference to person “A” and indifference to person “B.”

In our world, we have people moving through our churches who come from a variety of backgrounds. It’s said that many millennials really don’t care whose franchise name is on the door. So our churches today you might find Calvinists and Arminians sitting side-by-side, egalitarians and complementarians on the same church board, and pre-tribulation and post-tribulation interpreters sharing teaching duties on the same adult elective class or small group.

In our modern church we sometimes have a different, more subtle examples of bias and prejudice.

When it comes to fairness in any organization, the one thing the world detests is nepotism. The Oxford Diction defines nepotism as:

the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs

In a church environment, this may include unpaid volunteer positions, as well as salaried positions. (For the former, the reward occurs later in heaven, right?)

When Paul and James are telling the early church not to ignore those of weaker faith, or not to prefer the rich people, they are setting out rules. A rule is something that may apply to (a) only one people group, or (b) only one location, or (c) only at one time. But the statements about people with whom we have doctrinal differences, or ignoring the poor are simply examples. In scripture, rules always derive from principles.

And what is the principle?

The principle is simply not to show favoritism. To be so circumspect in all your dealings (and including dealing with the processes of hiring or appointing ministry leaders) as to not be seen as guilty of favoritism. To keep the process open and transparent. To keep accountability unbiased. To be willing to make the tough decisions if someone you’ve already placed in a position is falling short of the task required.

What’s true of churches also applies to Christians in leadership in a business or non-profit. It can apply to extended families. It can apply in neighborhoods…

…I don’t know who among us needed that today, but I hope it will stay with you in situations you find yourself this week.

CEB Deut. 16:19a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

NIV Lev.19:15a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

November 11, 2019

Your Church’s Elders/Deacons Are Your Spiritual Parents

leading-by-example

BSB Titus 1:6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, having children who are believers and are not open to accusation of indiscretion or insubordination. 7 As God’s steward, an overseer must be above reproach—not self-absorbed, not quick tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not greedy for money. 8 Instead, he must be hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it was taught, so that by sound teaching he will be able to encourage others and refute those who contradict this message.

Titus 1:6 heads a list of qualities that a local assembly of believers should look for in someone who will give leadership to the church. But the last half of the verse, which deals with the elder’s children has been used to eliminate some otherwise worthy candidates or in some cases have an elder removed from their responsibility.

Translations agree (we used the Berean Study Bible today) but use a variety of adjectives to describe this:

  • a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. (NIV)
  • his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. (NLT)
  • his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. (ESV)

As indicated by today’s title, it’s important that those who are going to be spiritual parents to many prove themselves in the parenting role in their nuclear family.

In my own life, a man who had a profound influence on me spiritually was also removed from the office of elder in a denomination which was very swift to practice church discipline, and passed that legacy down from generation to generation.

What if someone who has a strong spiritual gift — pastor, teacher, evangelist, apostle, prophet — but their kids are a little unruly (KJV)? Our usual default here is to say that the first rule of Bible interpretation is that everything that can be taken literally should be taken literally. Some will argue how this is doubly so in the case of something the Bible says twice and Paul’s words to Titus are echoed in a possibly more familiar passage in 1 Timothy 3:

4 An overseer must manage his own household well and keep his children under control, with complete dignity. 5 For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for the church of God?

But doesn’t that verse in Proverbs (22:6) suggest there are going to be times of rebellion?

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.

First of all, Prov. 22:6 is not an iron-clad promise. It’s a proverb, a general directive of how things ought to work and perhaps even usually work. The Quest Study Bible notes in reference to Proverbs 3:

Proverbs are principles of right living and general descriptions of life’s realities, rather than sure-fire promises or guarantees. For example, Proverbs 3:1 appears to promise a long life and prosperity to those who do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart. Yet some godly people live in poverty and die at a young age.

This proverb isn’t offering immunity from illness, accidents or financial troubles. Rather, proverbs such as this point to a general principle, which if applied consistently to our lives, will save us from unnecessary pain and suffering. While we aren’t guaranteed we’ll never contract cancer or go broke, we can avoid the foolish choices that can prematurely cut our lives short or cause financial ruin.

While Proverbs observes the way life works time after time, exceptions to the general rules are evident in the books of Ecclesiastes and Job.

Paul Tautges, who we’ve featured here before, notes:

…[T]he proverbs are consistent observations, not categorical absolutes. The proverbs are not always intended as promises, but only as observations of repeated phenomena. Take Proverbs 22:6: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.’ Many a parent has been told that, in this verse, God guarantees their wayward child will return to the fold. But, like so many other proverbs, its author is making an observation of consistent behavior and outcomes (i.e. normally children raised in godly homes end up walking with God themselves), not issuing an inviolable law.

It will take discernment to carefully draw the line between divine guarantee and divinely inspired observation. A helpful path to such wisdom is the balancing of individual proverbs with the fuller witness of Scripture. This leads to a second principle of interpretation.

You can click this link to read more in a 2013 article.

But we’ve digressed from our opening topic. Should a great Bible teacher or counselor be removed from their position if their kids are party animals?

If the Proverbs principle is true, then generally speaking we can say the children will return to the faith they have been taught. I would say that in order to be obedient to the words in Timothy and Titus, that leader should be sidelined for a season, and I think they would probably welcome the break from their leadership responsibilities to focus on their family issues.

The person in my example however was never restored to ministry in that denomination. He was dismissed instead of being sidelined. As it turned out, his kids did indeed return to faith, and a couple of them that I’m aware of accomplished great things in ministry.

But what about the sheep who wander from the fold and simply don’t return and show no sign of returning? Should those elders (or pastors) be forever exiled from ministry life?

That’s a tough one to answer.


NIV I Peter 5:3 Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.

August 17, 2019

The Offering: To Whom are We Giving?

Today we are again returning to Wes McAdams’ blog Radically Christian. If you’re reading this mid-August, 2019, Wes is currently in the middle of a series titled What is the Gospel? You might want to click through and check out those articles.

Secondly, it’s Saturday, so why did I put the “Sunday Worship” banner on this article? Simply because many people decide on Saturday night what they’re doing for the offering on Sunday morning. It’s one part of the weekend worship service that we indeed do as an act of worship, but only after we’ve often begun that process earlier by writing a check.

Are We Giving Money “to God” on Sundays?

For decades there have been countless church arguments and even splits over how “the Lord’s money” can and cannot be spent. But what if we’ve been working from some flawed assumptions? We typically assume that putting money in the collection plate is giving money “to God” and we assume the church’s bank account is a treasury of sacred funds belonging to the Lord. But are these biblical assumptions?

To Whom are We Giving?

I’ve always assumed that when the collection plate is passed on Sunday mornings that we are giving our money to God. In fact, I used to tell my children on Saturday evenings to set aside the money they would “give to God” the next morning. That’s actually a habit I am trying to break.

I’m trying to break that habit for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is inconsistent with the idea that God already owns all of our possessions. When we became followers of Jesus, we renounced all that we owned (Luke 14:33). Because of his mercies, we have given our whole selves to the Lord (Romans 12:1-2). We give money on Sundays not because we’re giving some of our money to the Lord, but because we’ve given our whole selves to him already (2 Corinthians 8:5)

But if we are not giving to God, when we put money in the collection plate, to whom are we giving? When we look at the examples of giving in the New Testament, it seems they were giving to “one another.” They were giving to support the poor, the elderly, and the spreading of the gospel.

To Whom Does the Church Treasury Belong?

The early church seems to have believed the collected funds were the shared property of the Christian community.

Acts 2:44-45 says:

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

And in Acts 4:32-35 it says:

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

The church is supposed to be a community where everyone believes, “mi casa es su casa” and when we give, we are simply proving the genuineness of our love for one another (2 Corinthians 8:8). The church leaders oversee the funds and distribute them to the people, ministries, and good works where they are needed. But the funds are simply the common property of the church community.

I know of no passage in the New Testament that justifies us treating the collected funds as some sort of sacred treasury. Should the church be good stewards of collected funds? Obviously so, but no more than you and I should be good stewards of the funds in our personal accounts. It all belongs to the Lord and we should be good stewards of whatever is entrusted to us.

What Are the Rules for Spending Church Money?

And there’s the rub, “How can church funds be spent?” This is where we have massive disagreements in the church. But it seems to me our disagreements are completely unnecessary when we read Scripture contextually.

Some will point to a passage like 1 Timothy 5:9-10, where Paul gives Timothy instructions about supporting widows, to prove there are strict rules for how church funds can and cannot be spent. However, a close look at 1 Timothy 5 will reveal that it is not really about rules for how church money is spent but about protecting people (specifically young widows) from “toxic charity.” In other words, it’s not about protecting church funds from unauthorized spending, but about protecting church people from becoming spiritually unhealthy (see also 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).

The church is nothing more than a gathering, or a community, of individual Christians. The New Testament never lays out one set of rules for individual Christians and a different set for the community as a whole. The money that belongs to the community no more belongs to the Lord than the money that belongs to individual Christians. The same principles that govern how you spend the money in your wallet are the same rules that govern how church leaders oversee the spending of church funds.

Conclusions

It seems to me we need to stop being so critical about financial decisions church leaders make. We need to realize there is as much freedom for church leaders to spend shared money on good works they believe glorify God as there is for you and me to spend personal money on good works we believe glorify God.

We especially need to stop splitting churches over how funds are spent. The New Testament says little to nothing on this issue, but it says so much about love, unity, and peace within the church. The world will not recognize you as followers of Jesus because of your congregation’s frugality but because of your love for one another.

When we put money in the collection plate we are doing it to honor God and in response to God’s love for us. In this way, you can certainly say we are worshiping when we give. But we are doing it because we have already given everything to him, because we are part of something bigger than ourselves, and because we belong to our church family and our church family belongs to us.


I want to recommend another article from the same writer which I considered for today: The Sexual Ethics of Jesus and His People.

July 31, 2019

The Opposite of Humility

If you have read this website for any length of time, you know that I often return to the “hymn” in Philippians 2. The one that begins, “Let this mindset [attitude] be in you that was also found in Christ;” and then goes a few sentences before defining that mindset, “He humbled himself.”

The cross is the place where we changed.
Above all fruit of that change is the fruit of love.
The attitude we then adopt is humility.

So what is the opposite of humility? What is the thing we have to “put off” before we can “put on” a humble, gentle spirit?

If you asked me that question 24 hours ago, I would have said pride. Pride and humility are opposites, right?

But this morning, after starting in Philippians 2, I kept reading to the end, and then decided I should backtrack to chapter 1 so could say I had read the whole book this morning. (Maybe that was pride!!)

Anyway, midway through that chapter I think Paul gives us a clue as to what feeds humility’s counter-attitude. It just so happened I was reading in The Message translation.

15-17 It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.

18-21 So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

Paul is in prison at this point, hence the reference to “out of the way.” He has apparently gained some popularity at this point and obviously that is enviable to the point where others would like to step into the limelight. In the above translation they are called “greedy” as having “bad motives.” In the NIV it reads,

17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

adding the extra dimension that perhaps they simply want to cause trouble for Paul while he is not at liberty to respond. Imagine though, someone preaching the gospel, the good news about Jesus to make someone else look bad.

Some of this is human nature. Paul was not part of the original group of apostles that Jesus taught or among the early disciples who were present on the day of Pentecost. As Saul, he greatly opposed the movement Jesus had begun. Then, in a very short period, he becomes Paul the Apostle. Can you see the problem some might have with this?

Sometimes someone new will come into one of our churches and be given a ministry position and the church’s “old guard,” the “elder brothers” can get very irate. I know. I was the new person in a rural church. A woman got up at the annual meeting and asked, “So what’s the deal here? Can anybody just walk in off the street and get a job?” If I had doctrinal quirks or theological errors it might have been a valid question. But clearly, her question wasn’t rooted in that concern, it was rooted in envy. Just a few short months later she left the church.

But I think The Message translation gets more clearly at the humility’s opposite in chapter one, with chapter two in view.

The opposite of humility is ambition.

Being driven, taking proactive steps, or being a type-A personality is not a bad thing. But to be consumed with ambition strikes at the very heart of the humble attitudes we are supposed to reflect. The Voice translation reflects this in Psalm 75:

6 There is no one on earth who can raise up another to grant honor,
not from the east or the west, not from the desert.
There is no one. God is the only One.
7 God is the only Judge.
He is the only One who can ruin or redeem a man.

It is God who grants promotions and give raises. We shouldn’t seek these things; we shouldn’t strive to get somewhere that isn’t in God’s plans or not currently in God’s timing.

We can’t even claim that healthy ambition in doing things for God, because there is a flaw if we think we do things for God. (This becomes especially vital in a church culture where pastors are preoccupied with metrics and church growth.)

Above, verses 18-21 reveal that Paul doesn’t allow himself to get perturbed at whatever motivates such people. As long as the gospel is presented clearly, he actually rejoices. The messenger may be flawed, but the message is what matters. As I replied to a comment last week, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, so while we should consider the source, we shouldn’t discount everything the source writes or says.

Right now, even as you read this, there are people using the ministry to build their own empires. Yes, that concerns me, but it doesn’t concern Paul if the message is being clearly transmitted. Of course, in a social media and internet world, everybody knows everybody else’s backstory. That is unfortunate, but it doesn’t minimize the power of the message itself.

Response: God, I know I need to guard my heart. Help me to see things I’m doing for wrong reasons; wrong motives. Help me not to be consumed with ambition.


Previously on C201:

March 11, 2019

Discernment: Hard to Define

NIV 2.Tim.3.12-14 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it

NLT.Phil.1.9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.

CEB.Col.1.9 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding.

TPT.1Cor.1210b And to another the gift to discern what the Spirit is speaking.

NCV.1John.4.1 My dear friends, many false prophets have gone out into the world. So do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God.

CSB.1Pet.5.8 Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.

13 months ago we ran a devotional containing short excerpts from four different websites on the subject of discernment. If you missed it, you can connect at this link. (Pay special attention to the third and fourth sections.)

I return to this topic frequently because I think that discernment is the gift needed in these times, and in particular this internet age.

Imagine for a moment someone you know is with you looking for insight on a particular Bible passage. They type, “Meaning of Philippians 4:6,” or if they know the language, “Philippians 4:6 commentary.” As they click the search results, you’re not looking at the main body of the screen, but instead you’re checking out the web address (URL) at the very top of the page.

The first link is to a site of a ministry you know and recommend. The second link is to a site that is very obviously connected to what is considered, to be polite, a marginal organization.

But then a third site pops up, “GodThings.com.” (Don’t bother, I made it up, it’s unassigned.) You don’t know who is behind the site. Clicking the ‘about’ page isn’t helping. So you read the commentary with your friend. It sounds great. Then you click another random page on the site, and suddenly something doesn’t feel right.

That’s an example of discernment kicking in. You can’t go by the information you already have, so you need to take a look at the content and discern whether or not this is a voice you want to be speaking to your friend.

Eight years ago we looked at this topic using an article by the late Dr. Greg Burts, at the blog Dying to Live, with the unusual title Are There Too Many Milk Drinkers? But then he goes on with something that suggested to me that perhaps many Christians lack discernment because they’re thinking in terms of the supernatural gift that’s mentioned in a list of other supernatural gifts that perhaps they see as outside their spiritual reach.

Throughout 2,000 years of church history, there have always been those who distorted the Scriptures. Paul provides a “who’s-who” list of false teachers to avoid in 2 Timothy. With increased television and Internet exposure for anyone who wants to promote his ‘take’ on Christian teaching, has there ever been a greater need for Christians to exercise discernment?

We need people with discernment who can detect false teaching (Heb. 5:14), and spot impostors who try to mislead them and others (2 Tim. 3:13-14). You may be saying, “but I don’t have the gift of discernment.” But Paul is not talking about the “gift of discerning spirits” found in 1 Corinthians 14. He is talking about discernment as a quality each of us is expected to grow in (Phil. 1:9).

And you can sense Paul’s frustration as he writes: “You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food. And a person who is living on milk isn’t very far along in the Christian life and doesn’t know much about doing what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong [discern] and then do what is right” (Hebrews 5:12-14 NLT).

 

February 12, 2019

Aaron’s Golden Calf Today

by Russell Young

For those who think that Aaron’s golden calf was an historical event in Israel’s past, they should think again. The problem is that the calf is being worshipped so much that people do not recognize it as an idol.

I have been admonished by people because my words are not often seen as uplifting, not affirming the assurance of their eternal hope. Over the years I have been told to present a word more supportive and encouraging concerning their spiritual state. Like Balak, they seek a blessing even though their living may be in defiance of truth.

Moses had gone up Mt Sinai to meet with God (Ex 31:18) concerning his people. While absent, the Israelites felt it safe to vent their anger to Aaron, the priest. They had yearned for Egypt and the desirable offerings of that land and had grumbled about Moses’ leadership. “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” (Num 11:5) “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Ex 32:1)

Aaron should have known better. His claim was that because they were “prone to evil” he had fashioned the calf. There is no evidence that he had tried to resist. The people had wanted the idol, so he had complied with their wishes. He did not defend God or righteousness but had submitted to their wickedness. He asked for their gold and fashioned a calf. This practice is certainly prevalent with many televangelists today. Give them your gold and they will fashion a god to your liking. They assure their audience that this (their created god) god is the one who will bless them. Unfortunately, many teachers and spiritual leaders are also of this faction. When fear of man supersedes fear of God, the line has been crossed and the golden calf is being shaped.

Aaron did not hesitate to encourage their delusion. He pronounced, “’These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.’ And when Aaron saw this (probably that it pleased them), he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord’.” (Ex 32: 4−5) He tried to restore them to God, but he did not destroy their idol. Consequently, after presenting their fellowship offerings they ate and drank and indulged in revelry. Fear of God had left them.

The Exodus of Israel was not pleasant. They had been taken into the desert for testing by God, so that he would know what was in their hearts, whether they would keep his commands. (Deut 8:2) The Old Testament reveals God’s history with the Israelites as he tried to forge attitudes of obedience and righteousness in their relationship with him. Because of their weakened, “sinful nature” (Rom 8:3) he could never accomplish it; he was unable to overcome their love for other gods and the rule and accommodation of their flesh.

There are many “Aarons” who have taken and are taking the gold of the people and are fashioning an idol that pleases the people. The sinful nature thrives on approval and on being appeased. When even false blessings are promised, people will gather to enjoy the hope given by the idol that has been fashioned. They do not want to hear about God’s righteous judgment, of the need for the obedient living that restricts their life choices. They want a god who is accepting of their right to self-rule and who offers encouragement concerning their practices, and who even promises an eternal hope despite their disobedience. They want good news as they see it. “For a time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim 4:3) These teachers will suffer the destruction that is promised to those who present “destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.” (2 Pet 2:1) “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly.” (1 Thess 5:3) It may do well to remember that while God loved Moses, most of the people did not, and only one of the first generation who had been redeemed from Egypt (the world) entered the Promised Land; the rest died in the wilderness without passing the test.

While Moses was meeting with God the people had “become corrupt” in God’s sight. (Ex 32:7) Aaron had let the people get out of control and they had become a laughingstock to their enemies. (Ex 32:25). Many were put to death (Ex 32:27) and the rest who had sinned were struck with a plague. (Ex 32:25)

The journey of the Israelites was filled with trials and hardships, even death and destruction for disobedience. Their plight should be understood and taken seriously. The same one and only God is sovereign and rules today despite the gods that are being proffered. He is seeking a holy nation, a people who will honor his sovereignty and who will live in obedience to his commands. (Mt 7:21, 19:17, 28:20; Lk11:28; Jn 14:23; Rom 6:16; Heb 5:9; 1 Jn 2:3, 3:24; Rev 14:12) Those Israelites who disobeyed the LORD while in the wilderness found their hope dashed (Heb 3:18), and those who display lack of faith through disobedience today will also find disappointment. “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9)

Believers are destined for trials. “You know quite well that we were destined for them (trials). (1 Thess: 3:3) The Lord said on the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kind of evil against you. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Mt 5:11) He did not call his servants to distort his truths to appease their listeners and to gain their gold. James taught that trials should be joyfully accepted because they produce faith that matures the believer. (Jas 1:2−4)

The gospel is a gospel of hope, but it is an eternal hope not one that promises peace and enjoyment from this world. There are many cautions that need to be realized and personal issues to be overcome if a person is to become an acceptable offering to God and to gain his kingdom. Those who seek a “golden calf” to provide comfort in this world, like the rebellious Israelites, will only reap destruction. (Gal 6:7) When God returns who will he find worshipping him in truth and obedience, and through trials? Who will you be found bowing to a golden calf?



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

Other book promotions posted at C201 do not originate with us.

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