Christianity 201

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 6, 2019

A Personal Study and Service Outline on Favoritism

A year ago we introduced you to a site containing liturgical readings with an unusual name, The Peanut Gallery. Art Chartier is a retired pastor who lives in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Although we usually post at 5:30 PM, EST, I know many of you read this in the morning, for which it was written.

You are strongly encouraged to read the posts here at C201 on their original sites. For this, click the header below.

James 2:1-13 ~ Faith and Favoritism

Saturday Morning

+ In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Opening:  (A Collect for Sabbath Rest – Saturday)

Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and set aside a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared to meet you in worship, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
__________

Reading from the Book of James 2:1-13 (NLT)

A Warning against Prejudice

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.

For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law.

So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.
__________

Morning Reflection:

Faith and Favoritism

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ
if you favor some people over others?

–  James 2:1 –

In today’s reading, James comes right to the point: Showing personal favoritism is inconsistent for Christians who worship the glorious Lord Jesus Christ. The example offered is preferential seating of the rich and powerful at Christian gatherings.

In regard to the poor:

+ God has chosen the believing poor to be rich in faith.
+ The believing poor will inherit the Kingdom of God.

In regard to the rich:

+ The unbelieving rich oppress the poor.
+ The unbelieving rich slander Jesus Christ.

The problem of showing favoritism in Christian assemblies is that it treats people exactly opposite to the way God treats them.

Questions for consideration:

  • Can you think of examples where the rich and powerful have been given preferential treatment at Christian gatherings? Please explain.
  • Can you think of examples of people who expect preferential treatment at Christian assemblies? Please explain.
  • Does focusing a church’s ministry on one segment of the population, e.g. youth, or community leaders, amount to showing them preferential treatment? Please explain.
  • Can you think of people in your Christian assembly who are marginalized, e.g. poor, sick, or elderly? How can you show them courtesy and compassion? Please explain.

__________

Morning Prayer:

Prayer for the Poor and Powerless:

Heavenly Father: We pray especially today for the poor and powerless whom you hold close to your heart. Open our hearts to receive them as you do – rich in faith, though poor in worldly status. Fill us with compassion for the very young, the old, the disabled, the stranger – that we might honor them with our friendship and express our concern for them with acts of kindness and love. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

__________

“All the Poor and Powerless” – All Sons & Daughters

__________

Closing:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever He may send you. May He guide you through the wilderness, and protect you through the storm. May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you. May He bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

March 29, 2019

Putting the Other Person First

I Cor 12:25 (NIV) so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

I Cor. 12:25-26 (The Message) The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

Romans 12::5 (Phillips) Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad.

Romans 12:15 (NLT) Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

I originally wrote this when several different people we knew were facing the anniversary of a loss. I copied The Message version of I Cor. 12:25-6 into an email and sent it to one such family. I respect Eugene Peterson’s credentials to do a translation like The Message, but I don’t know enough about his translation process to know how we came to “…involved in the hurt and the healing.” It’s certainly unique to his translation; but I like that it implies a sense of follow through; that we stick around not only for the hurt but for the better days that are to come.

This whole sense of bearing one another’s burdens is so contrary to western “me-first” individualism. We sort of get the idea of extending love and care to someone else, but we often miss the part of the concept where you and I are one. We sort of get the idea of the people in our church being family, but we miss out on the idea that as the body of Christ we are an organic unity.

It totally flies in the face of the Western mindset of individualism.

Even in marriages — the epitome in scripture of becoming one — it’s now common for husbands and wives to have separate bank accounts. I’m not talking about a situation where one spouse has a household account out of which to pay expenses as they crop up; I’m referring to situations where each keeps a portfolio of savings and investment accounts. Perhaps in an easy-divorce culture, it makes the separation of assets more simplified.

So the notion of weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice tends to miss the recurring word “with.” We often weep for, and rejoice for, instead of weeping with and rejoicing with; and by this I am referring to the full sharing of their situation, not something simply done in physical proximity.

In our business, we adopted a financial policy that is somewhat biased toward the people of like faith that we deal with. We pay all our bills on time anyway, but we like to use the following principle, and expect the people who deal with us — many of them who are churches — to carry a similar goal:

Gal 6:10 (ESV) So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

The problem is, consider the following scenario: A and B are both Christ-followers and are involved in a financial transaction where A is performing a service for B that is part of his trade. A wants to give B a price break because she is a fellow believer, but B wants to pay more than A is invoicing her for because she wants to honor the Galatians 6:10 principle.

I’ve been involved in such transactions where each person thinks it’s them that is doing the other person a favor, and it’s not unlike the classic scene where two very polite people are trying to let the other person go through a door first.

The way we work out these things is going to be complex, and sometimes an exactly similar situation will be interpreted in different ways by the different parties, leading to different outcomes. Still, I believe that God is pleased when we are endeavoring to honor Him by preferring others in all that we do.

Furthermore, I believe that what honors Him the most is when we truly view ourselves as part of a single collective body.

Paul used the analogy of parts of the body, but if he had jigsaw puzzles in his day, he might have said, “The bottom right corner piece of the puzzle cannot say to the middle piece, ‘I don’t need you.'”

The way we show there’s no preference is to prefer the other.

~PW

January 11, 2019

Paul’s Perspective

Again we’re back highlighting The Life Project written by Don Merritt who is currently in the book of Philippians. If you’re looking for more in your Bible study time, this will be an excellent overview of one my personal favorite epistles.

Paul’s Unique Way of Looking at Things

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Philippians 1:15-18a

Paul has been telling the Philippians that he is rejoicing because as a result of his imprisonment the gospel is being preached in Rome, and now he continues his thoughts on that subject. It would seem that there are people who are preaching the gospel with impure motives, that they would like to stir up trouble for Paul.  He hasn’t told us exactly how this would happen for him, so I will leave the speculation to others, but let’s be honest; there are those today who preach for the wrong motives as well.

I have seen and heard of some who preach out of envy and rivalry, have you?  I have seen some who simply can’t stand the thought of anybody else serving Christ in that way, who are always afraid that someone might supplant them or their ministry.  Maybe they are afraid for their job or their position, or maybe they just have a sense of inferiority. Whatever the reason, they are only good “team players” if everyone else is on their team.  It’s sad really, for it should never be this way in the Body of believers, for all of us are on His Team!  Most that I have seen, however, serve out of goodwill.  As Paul has noted here, they serve out of love for others. As Paul put it, they know that he was put here for the defense of the gospel.  Yes, isn’t that why all of us are “put here”?

“Selfish ambition” may be a reason that many preach, thinking that they can “be somebody” by attracting followers, just as a celebrity might attract fans.  This sort of thing has no place in the church, and yet perhaps it is more common than we might like to admit.

I know about a particular case where there was a minster leading a growing church. He was doing good work, and yet like all of us, wasn’t good at everything. His leadership considered adding an “associate” to staff who was much more experienced and who could handle the areas that the minister had problems in.  When the minister heard about this, he became quite upset; all he could see was that the leaders were thinking he wasn’t doing the job right.  He felt that if they added someone to help him, the people would see him as having been rebuked in some way.  When the other guy heard of this, he removed himself from consideration, not wanting to cause any division.  Was the growth and health of that church damaged by this?  Would it have been even more vibrant had things worked out differently? We will never know; maybe that guy coming on board just wasn’t God’s plan, but I think you get the idea of what can happen… Right about now, we might want to jump on the bandwagon of condemnation and indignation, but before we do, maybe we should see how Paul reacts…

Paul recognized the situation, and while he did not endorse false motives in any way, he saw that good was coming out of it in spite of everything.  What did it matter anyway? For whatever reason, the gospel of Christ was being proclaimed, and that is the most important thing.

Have you noticed how Paul views things?  He isn’t overly concerned with his unfortunate circumstances, he isn’t overly concerned that everything isn’t always ideal, his sole concern is that the gospel of Jesus Christ goes forth so that some will be saved, that their sins may be forgiven, and that they may inherit eternal life.

I wonder, is there a lesson in this for us today?

 

 

 

December 9, 2018

Lay Participation in Sunday Worship

1 Corinthians 14:26 (NET)  What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church.

1 Corinthains 12:4 (The Voice) Now there are many kinds of grace gifts, but they are all from the same Spirit. There are many different ways to serve, but they’re all directed by the same Lord. There are many amazing working gifts in the church, but it is the same God who energizes them all in all who have the gifts. 7a Each believer has received a gift that manifests the Spirit’s power and presence

This first verse above (from chapter 14) has resulted in many different expressions of spontaneous interjections to any given worship service. I’ve seen it expressed in the Brethren style of worship where there are often long silences before the next person will stand up and share something which blessed them through the week. I’ve seen it happen in the Pentecostal style of worship where people will suddenly start speaking in tongues and as soon as they are seated, someone else will suddenly offer the interpretation.

My favorite was an interdenominational meeting* which wasn’t entirely different from the apparent spontaneity of the Pentecostal service but seemed to also imply the preparation which might have gone into the Brethren service. The thing that made it different is that before speaking, people would first define the gift they were about to bring.

The people would simply jump to their feet — not unlike the figures in the arcade game Whack-a-Mole — and announce:

“I have a word of prophecy!”

“I have a Psalm!”

“I have a teaching!”

or whatever; followed by the short message itself. If my description sounds irreverent, you need to know this also a group that could be brought to complete silence for minutes at a time in what I later referred to as “a holy hush.”

I wrote about this experience on my other blog back in 2008. At the time I noted that with each participant clearly defining what it is they were going to say, nobody could jump up and say, “I have a cute story about my dog.” It was also not the time for prayer requests. It was a time for using spiritual gifts to build up the body.

Their motto was: “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.”

That should be the motto of every church…

…I realize writing this that lay participation in the service is perhaps quite uncommon where you worship. It certainly doesn’t fly in a megachurch environment, or where a church has bought into the idea that the people in the seats are an audience or spectators. I got thinking about this after reading an article by Ned Berube at the blog Lionshead Café. The article was titled, Thoughts on Evangelical Corporate Worship.

He first describes the worship pattern for a church where two friends attend:

Because they are quite clear that every believer is inhabited by the Holy Spirit and consequently hearing the word of the Lord hopefully on a very regular basis, they make room explicitly for individual members to share what the Lord may have put on their heart. Two or three may share for 5-10 minutes before an elder speaks for 30-40 minutes on a prepared text. The others might be more spontaneous or thought through earlier in the week. The value of this is apparent-the whole congregation is “on call” for sharing the word of God and they are quite clear that they are part of a gifted body of believers that are to bring forth God’s word to God’s people. They are central to the Liturgy (Greek liturgia– the work of the people). And it derives very clearly from Paul’s exhortations to the Corinthians in chapter 14 of the first letter: “When you come together, you all have a lesson, a revelation, a tongue etc”). They were led to believe that every time they came together they could expect the presence of the Spirit who would use the whole body of gifted believers to minister to the whole body.

Next he describes another church which he started himself:

A good 15-20 minutes was separated for “Sharing” from the congregation. We tried to have a 90 minute service but more often it was closer to 2 hours. Sometimes a bit beyond. And I’m sure that the length eliminated a few folks. Maybe a lot! But our thinking was built on what we perceived as a dearth of spiritual impartation by the body to each other. And many complained and thought that could be better met by a system of small groups. In fact, one couple that visited thought our service was more like a big small group, which they meant largely as a critique, but we felt that the trade-offs were worth it.

There’s one more paragraph I want to get to from Ned’s article — I realize I took most of the space myself today — but before doing so, I don’t want you to miss his description of Simon:

I would consider Simon the most skilled worship leader I have met in the world. The first time I watched and heard him lead worship was an amazing personal event. Simon is very small of stature and he took his guitar and turned his back to the congregation/audience and proceeded to lead us in music that was rich toward the Person of God and circumvented most of the “how I am feeling about God” lyrics that have dominated so much of modern evangelical worship.

Talk about avoiding a personality-driven church!

The timing on this is interesting because just this week, I remember reading someone saying that in a really well-run small-group, it’s not apparent who is in charge of the meeting. My personal longing would be to experience this in our weekend worship as well, on a more regular basis. (‘Who’s in charge? God’s in charge.’)

I’ll let Ned have the last word:

If we do not provide a venue for the general sharing of the body in a worship service or small group, we run the risk of creating an elite that alone can speak the word of the Lord. And that is not to dismiss gifted preachers who should indeed be handling the bulk of preaching and teaching, but there must be a place for the larger body to bring their unique perspective into the mix of a worship service. And as I share these sentiments, I am also personally aware of pastors and friends who would consider these thoughts anathema. And there are decent reasons for so thinking. There are a lot of ways for this to go off the rails. But if there is sufficient teaching and healthy leadership during the worship service that can be minimized. We did this for 18 years at Christ Community Church with far more blessing than weird off-key expressions.

…read the full article at this link.


*The meeting I referred to took place in Toronto under the name Reach Out. “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.”

 

 

August 29, 2018

You Have the Gift, Now Where Do You Use It?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Eph. 4.11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

1 Cor. 12.4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

We found this rather awesome article on the New Wineskins page at Patheos yesterday. It’s a bit more practical than we usually run here, but I wanted readers here to see it. You need to copy and paste the various scripture references today. The author is Josh Daffern, and I strongly encourage you to read it on his blog by clicking the title below.

Specific Places of Service for Every Spiritual Gift in Your Church

It’s common for Christians to get excited about discovering their spiritual gifts, take a test or an online assessment (like spiritualgiftstest.com), and then lose interest because they don’t know a practical way to leverage their spiritual gifts in the local church. We’re called not just to discover our spiritual gifts but to develop them. This list isn’t exhaustive, but here are a few specific places in the local where you can begin to leverage every spiritual gift:

ADMINISTRATION – (The gift of administration is the divine strength or ability to organize multiple tasks and groups of people to accomplish these tasks — 1 Corinthians 12:28.)  Almost any ministry in the church needs some organization behind the scenes. You could volunteer in the church office, manage supplies for the children’s ministry or help check-in students to small groups.

APOSTLESHIP (The gift of apostleship is the divine strength or ability to pioneer new churches and ministries through planting, overseeing, and training — Ephesians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 12:28.) Apostles are pioneers and are the perfect folks to help get a new ministry or project off the ground. They love a challenge!

DISCERNMENT (The gift of discernment is the divine strength or ability to spiritually identify falsehoods and to distinguish between right and wrong motives and situations — 1 Corinthians 12:10.) These folks are great for the security team! They can also make a big impact if you have leadership teams that help give oversight to various ministries of the church or teams that minister out in the community such as a benevolence ministry. 

ENCOURAGEMENT (The gift of encouragement is the divine strength or ability to encourage others through the written or spoken word and Biblical truth — Romans 12:8.) Folks with the gift of encouragement are great just about everywhere, but can make a special impact working on a host team making the first impression for your church. Encouragers can also encourage online through a social media team.

EVANGELISM (The gift of evangelism is the divine strength or ability to help non-Christians take the necessary steps to becoming a born again Christian – – Ephesians 4:11.) Most folks think door-to-door witnessing but evangelists are also perfect for working with youth, who are often at a critical juncture in their faith.

FAITH (The gift of faith is the divine strength or ability to believe in God for unseen supernatural results in every arena of life — Romans 12:8.) Like evangelism, people with the gift of faith are great working with teenagers, believing in them when many teenagers don’t believe in themselves. People with the gift of faith are also critically important to any recovery ministry your church might have.

GIVING (The gift of giving is the divine strength or ability to produce wealth and to give it by tithes and offerings for the purpose of advancing the Kingdom of God on earth — Romans 12:8.) People with the gift of giving are great serving in the community on behalf of the church because their generosity to others beautifully represents the generosity of God. Also if you have any team creating framework or accelerating the giving within the church, people with the gift of giving are naturals here.

KNOWLEDGE (The gift of knowledge is the divine strength or ability to understand and bring clarity to situations and circumstances often accompanied by a word from God — 1 Corinthians 12:8.) People with knowledge make incredible Bible teachers in small group or classroom settings. Knowledge can also be useful in specific fields such as a medical response team or working with production or audio/visual. 

LEADERSHIP (The gift of leadership is the divine strength or influence people at their level while directing and focusing them on the big picture, vision, or idea — Romans 12:8.) Like the gift of encouragement leaders are beneficial in every ministry of the church. The key is to identify people with the gift of leadership and give them meaningful opportunities to lead.

MERCY (The gift of mercy is the divine strength or ability to feel empathy and to care for those who are hurting in any way — Romans 12:8). Folks with the gift of mercy are great working with young children, ministering in the community through outreach, or even working with senior adults, the sick and the elderly.

PASTOR/SHEPHERD (The gift of pastor/shepherd is the divine strength or ability to care for the personal needs of others by nurturing and mending life issues — Ephesians 4:11.) Pastor/shepherds tend to be your best small group leaders because they truly create a sense of family and community where the body ministers to one another. People with these gifts are also incredible in children’s ministry as they shepherd the next generation.

PROPHECY (The gift of prophecy is the divine strength or ability to boldly speak and bring clarity to scriptural and doctrinal truth, in some cases foretelling God’s plan — 1 Corinthians 12:10.) People with the gift of prophecy can bring a divine power to a prayer team or prayer ministry. In many cases prophets can be incredible teachers, bringing clarity to issues that seem confusing to most. There is no gray with prophets, only black and white, right and wrong.

SERVICE (The gift of serving is the divine strength or ability to do small or great tasks in working for the overall good of the body of Christ — Romans 12:7.) Like the gift of leadership those with service are beneficial in every area of the church. The key difference is they want to be behind-the-scenes. If you have a team of folks that sets up or breaks down chairs, does maintenance or small construction projects within the church, operates sound boards or video cameras, basically anything where there is no spotlight, these servants thrive. 

TEACHING (The gift of teaching is the divine strength or ability to study and learn from the Scriptures primarily to bring understanding and depth to other Christians — Ephesians 4:11.) Teachers obviously make incredible small group leaders and large group teachers and preachers. Any ministry or program where the Bible is taught, you want someone with the gift of teaching to have the microphone in their hand.

WISDOM (The gift of wisdom is the divine strength or ability to apply the truths of Scripture in a practical way, producing the fruitful outcome and character of Jesus Christ — 1 Corinthians 12:8). Like the gift of discernment, people with wisdom are incredible on leadership teams that give oversight to the church. Whether it’s serving on a board, with a team of elders, on a Personnel Team (or however else you slice it), people with wisdom are the ones you want pointing your church forward into the future. 

August 22, 2018

Christian Service: Joyfully Rendered or Indicator of Bondage?

Readers here know that every time we pass an anniversary — either by date or a significant number of posts, as we did with #3,000 not long ago — I’ll mention that C201 has offered a fresh devotional daily since its inception. But scrolling through the archives for August, 2013 — only 5 years ago — I was reminded that technically that isn’t true. Stuck in the middle of nowhere I had to confront the reality that unless I covered up by backdating an extra post the next day, there would be what I considered an unsightly gap in my perfect blog attendance record. It would be the end of Christianity as we know it. After all, it all depends on me!

Instead, I let the date roll by and posted this the next day. (I even broke a rule and began with an illustration, albeit one I made up on the spot!)

Ritual Versus Faithfulness

I Cor 4:2 ESV Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

The Henderson Family very rarely misses a church service, church meeting, or church function. They are what a previous generation called “pillars of the assembly;” people you can count on to be there and to do whatever needs doing in the church. A check of Mrs. H.’s pocket calendar shows a church event or responsibility consuming much of 17 of this month’s 31 days.

Some would say they are being faithful, while others would prefer to think they are in some kind of religious bondage. They could certainly use a copy of the book Boundaries, because saying ‘no’ isn’t in their vocabulary. How do you tell the difference between people who joyfully make the church the center of their lives, and people who serve under duress?

II Cor. 9:7a NIV Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion…

The Bible distinguishes between service and giving which are done joyfully and cheerfully versus that which is done under a sense of obligation.

I thought of this a lot in the last 48 hours when it appeared that I would not be able to post a devotional reading here for yesterday, August 17th. I tried to get online using a rather primitive smart-phone, but it wasn’t to be, as the limitations of the phone met the very limited internet access in the remote area where we were.

‘But I haven’t missed a day here in years,’ I thought to myself. Ah, there’s a religious spirit creeping in. The feeling that I must do this; compounded with the feeling of If you don’t _________ it won’t ________. Not a good place to be in. Instead of God being the center, I become the center. It also shows a misplaced appropriation of my place in the building of God’s Kingdom; a rather self-centered, egotistical sense of my own importance.

In fact, scripture describes ministry as more of a symphony concert than a solo recital:

I Cor. 3:6,7 Message Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow.

And then, the worst thought of all, where faulty attitude becomes outright sin: I considered backdating a post to yesterday once I got back online. It wasn’t so much trying to create a false impression of my faithfulness to this, as it was the feeling a curator of a set or collection must have if one of the items is missing. I must restore the museum/gallery to its pristine state. That’s pride.

Matthew 6:1 The Voice Jesus: But when you do these righteous acts, do not do them in front of spectators. Don’t do them where you can be seen, let alone lauded, by others. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Amazing how writing a daily devotional blog can cause one to sin, isn’t it? So what would you tell the Henderson family? What would you tell me?


As it would turn out, I realized the same religious spirit — or addiction to a misdirected perception of how to measure of faithfulness — was plaguing my writing at my primary blog, Thinking Out Loud. So last month, when we were heading for holidays, I deliberately left a gap of seven or eight days. It would have been easy to post things ahead (as we did here and on my book trade blog) but I decided the non-stop streak had become a source of pride.

What’s the equivalent in your life?

July 4, 2018

Follower’s Default: Blaming the Leadership

In preparing material at Thinking Out Loud, I visited the blog of Ron Jacobs, only to discover it is presently inactive. This was the last item posted, and I thought it would be a good fit here at C201.

Lessons In Followership

“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’” Exodus 16:2-3

I feel for Moses. This situation is not his idea nor is it of his making. It is the result of following God. Much has and will be written about the leadership lessons and abilities of Moses. But I want to focus on the other half of the leadership equation. The followers.

The Israelites complain and grumble against Moses and Aaron. Why? Why do they not realize and remember that the entire vision of this exodus from slavery, from Egypt is from and directed by God? Yet they yell at Moses and Aaron and not at God.

It is human nature to complain to those we see-the leaders.
Even though God is in control and is responsible, it is our broken nature that complains and grumbles to man.

Leaving Egypt was God’s plan.
The plagues were God’s plan.
Hardening pharaohs heart was God’s plan.
Leading them to the sea was God’s plan.
Pharaohs Army pursuing them was God’s plan.

None of this was the fault of Moses or Aaron. And yet they complain to them as if it is.

The mistake of the follower is to blame those who are at the front, but not who is ultimately in control.

Leaders have a responsibility to hold the truth that they are, “Not God” in all they do. But do not followers have a responsibility to hold this same truth about their leaders?

The leader doesn’t part the sea, he or she merely holds up the staff
Bitter water is made clean by God’s hand.
Manna comes from heaven, not from man.

What is the responsibility of followers to their leaders?

The Israelites are a broken people.
They thought and acted like slaves.
They complained out of their brokenness.
They grumbled out of their hurt.

But it is not the leader’s responsibility to heal their brokenness. Followers must take responsibility for that themselves. I have often criticized leaders out of my own brokenness. Followers have just as much responsibility to work on their character as leaders do

The world suffers from the brokenness of leaders daily. It is on display in social media feeds continuously. But what is missing is an honest look at the brokenness of followers.

Broken followers must deal with their hurts, habits, and hang-ups and not project them onto their leaders. Broken followers will complain to leaders, again and again, looking for the leader to provide what only God can give.

Broken followers hunger for what the leader cannot give.
Broken followers thirst for what the leader does not possess.
They fear and seek protection that the leader cannot provide.

Followers must not look to leaders to do what only God can do.

May 10, 2018

Helping People Walk with Jesus In Faith

by Clarke Dixon

(This is part four in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

Who will take the first step? Who will trust God? I like to imagine the conversation among the Hebrew men as they stood before a divided Red Sea, with walls of water to the left and to the right. Sure, God did made that happen. But can God be trusted? Who will take that first step of trust? I can also imagine one of them saying, “since this is a rescue operation, perhaps it should be women and children first?”

There were already trust issues when God’s people stood between the Egyptian army and the sea;

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Exodus 14:10-11

Moses encourages the people to trust in God;

But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Exodus 14:13-14

But even Moses himself seems to have some trouble trusting;

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. Exodus 14:15

The sea divides. They are to walk through! But who will take that first step? Will they trust God? This is not exactly a trip through Ripley’s Aquarium! They all took the step and walked through in faith.

When we invite people to walk with Jesus, we encourage them to trust God every step of the way. It may sometimes feel like there are walls of water to the left and right and an army behind. The Christian may endure suffering, trials and tribulations. Is God really with me as I keep plodding along the bottom of the sea? For someone who is not a Christian, the first step of faith may feel like the hardest. ‘I will be misunderstood and mocked. People will think I have lost my mind.’ A person on the verge of faith may feel like they are standing at the sea with a very scary fist step ahead. As a church family, we are to help people walk with Jesus in faith whether they have been walking with Him for a long time, or considering a first step. Each step with Jesus is the very best next step you could take no matter where you are right now.

Walking in faith means we trust in the promises of God the Father. Like God’s people feeling trapped at the sea with the promise of a rescue, we have promises to hang onto. Walking in faith means we trust in the work of God the Son. Like Moses, we don’t need to cry out for what has already been promised. Our reconciliation has been accomplished in Jesus. Our part is not to ask over and over again for God to save us, like a child begging and pleading with an unwilling parent. Our part is to keep walking with Jesus. Walking in faith means we trust God to be present though the Holy Spirit. Just as God’s people walked through the Sea while God’s presence kept the Egyptians back, we can trust that God is not going to suddenly change his mind and leave us to the enemy. As a church family, we are to help people trust God, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, with every step.

When some hear “faith” they think “blind faith, belief without any evidence, or belief despite the evidence”. Those outside the church may think of church as helping you maintain a blind faith and will say no, thank you. Those within the church may respond with “you just gotta believe” and quote Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

But are we really to help people with a “blind faith”? We should ask what is “unseen” in Hebrews 11? What can’t be seen is the future. When the people walked through the Red Sea, they could not see the future, but they took the step of faith, trusting that God would rescue them.

Faith in Hebrews 11 It is referring to what we have not seen fulfilled yet, what God has yet to do. Before God’s people stood before a divided sea with a decision to make, they had known the works of God. They saw what God did to the Egyptians. They had evidence upon which to take a reasonable step of faith. They had not yet seen what God was going to do, but they had seen what God had already done.

We are not called to help people believe something despite a lack of evidence. We are called to help people trust Someone because of the evidence. We do well to step into the world of apologetics and become familiar with that evidence. In addition to the lines of evidence which we can present to others, there is evidence that is personal to us. We know the presence of God through the Holy Spirit. Moses had his own burning bush experience which he could tell others about, but which some might have trouble believing. However, he could also point to the evidence of God’s hand at work which the others had seen with their own eyes. In the same way we can each have and speak about our own personal experiences of God which others have not seen or experienced. But we can also point to those lines of evidence which can be seen.

The people did trust God:

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. Hebrews 11:29

To the glory of God, may we help people walk with Jesus, may we help them trust Him every step of the way, knowing that every step with Jesus is always the next best step.


All scriptures NRSV.  Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (26 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

May 3, 2018

Walk with Jesus

by Clarke Dixon

(This is part three in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

One of the best “taglines” I’ve heard for a church is “To Know Jesus, and to make Him known.” So why would we go with something more wordy? Why walk with Jesus rather than simply know Him? There are several reasons:

When we walk, there is in mind a destination, a goal. We are implying that we are going somewhere, we are becoming something. We are on a journey of becoming mature in Christ:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

As a church family, we want to keep our eyes on this amazing destination. We want to keep this goal of becoming mature in mind.

If we are walking, then we have not yet reached our destination! We recognize that have not arrived, but we are making progress. This is an echo of Paul:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.   Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 (NRSV emphasis added)

Walking with Jesus happens one step at a time. This should help keep us from a legalistic style of Christianity which assumes everyone should be equally ready to cross the finish line on the very next step. That is not the kind of church I want to be a member of. We all start at different times, and have different capacities. We are not all going to be at the same level of maturity, though we can have that same goal and do have the same Spirit helping us reach the goal.

It is a walk and not a run. The journey is long, the Christian life is not a sprint. Also, walking is an everyday part of life, rather than a special occasion. If you are a runner, you probably schedule in running. However, walking is something we do everyday very naturally. It might just be walking from the couch to the fridge and back, but it happens. Walking with Jesus is like that, an everyday thing. We might schedule in spiritual training like a runner schedules physical training. We schedule worship and times of devotion. But we don’t schedule in putting another person before ourselves, being patient, being generous, forgiving someone, having compassion, or spontaneously praying for someone.

You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24 (NRSV)

Being clothed with “the new self” is an everyday thing, like walking, and not a scheduled thing, or worse, a good-intentions-to-set-aside-the-time-if-I-ever-get-the-time thing, like running! We want to be a people who walk the walk, everyday.

When we walk there is the possibility of stumbling. Christian celebrities, pastors and artists alike, face the pressure of being pretty-near-perfect. The band DC Talk came up with these lyrics:

What if I stumble, what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble, and what if I fall? (Daniel Joseph / Toby Mckeehan)

The song goes on to speak about God not turning away from from us when we stumble.  But do we turn away from each other? What if a member of our church commits a terrible crime this week? There would be discipline and a statement that the perpetrator’s actions do not represent us. But will we go to that person and ask how we can help him or her take a step toward Jesus? “Walk with Jesus” recognizes the possibility of stumbling. It might be you. Or me.

Why walk with Jesus? Who else?! Who else can be an anchor for our souls? Who else sees us at our absolute worst and yet offers His absolute best? Who else does the evidence lead to? Who else has had such an impact on the world and on individuals? Who else walks with us in our suffering having endured suffering Himself? Who else offers His Holy Spirit?  Who else reconciles sinful people to a holy God?

let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.
This Jesus is
‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.’
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:10-12 (NRSV emphasis added)

When Peter said there is no name given under heaven by which we must be saved, he was not saying that the Christian religion is better religion than any other. He was simply stating a fact; there really is no one else through whom, or no other way by which, we can have a relationship with the Creator. There is no other way for the justice of God and the mercy of God to come together. Only God the Son could endure the consequence of sin so that justice could be served, yet people could be forgiven. Who else would we walk with?

As a church family, we have the privilege, the opportunity, the calling, to walk with Jesus and help others do the same.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (33 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 21, 2018

24/7 Honesty

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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…speaking the truth in love… – Eph. 4:15

So if I counted correctly, this is Jim Thornber’s tenth time here at Christianity 201. He has been writing faithfully since October, 2006 at the site Thinking Out Loud. (I feel I know that name from somewhere!)

No More False Positive Confessions

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies” Psalm 34:12-13

I am now convinced that I did not become a proficient liar until I became a dedicated disciple of Christ.

Before I became a Christian, if someone asked me what I thought about a subject, I’d tell them. I may have lacked diplomacy and discretion, and I know I needed to work on my social graces, but I was honest with my opinion. Now I think about what I say in order not to offend someone. Quite often I weigh truth against kindness, and kindness tends to win.

In other words, I lie.

The other night my wife and I were having a conversation with a friend who is dealing with a great amount of stress in her job. Barbara said, “Feel free to come over any time and just talk.”

Since I’m a pastor, I encouraged her. “Our home is a safe place for you to come and unload. Feel free to be yourself. Be angry, frustrated and hurt. Say the bad words you want and know it’s okay.”

At this point she laughed and said, “I don’t think a pastor ever encouraged me to cuss before!”

I said, “If you’re thinking the bad words then God already knows it. You might as well just be honest about your feelings. God isn’t scared of your vocabulary.”

She said, “It is so hard to be honest. When people ask me how I’m doing I’ve become good at saying, ‘Fine. I’m good.’ Even when I’m not.”

At this point I said, “It’s amazing how we have to become Christians in order to become good liars.”

I hope someone will write and tell me the origin of the idea that Christians can’t be honest with how they’re feeling. If they’re feeling crappy (or worse), and someone asks them how they’re doing, they should feel free to say so. But that’s not what happens. We put on our good religious face, turn a stiff upper lip of faith into the wind, take a deep breath and spew our best positive confession. “I’m fine,” we say.

Liar.

Liar.

Liar.

Not too long ago I tried this technique on someone. You know, the honesty technique. If you’re expelling hot air in any church in America, it won’t be too long before someone asks you, “How are you doing?” When they did, I told them. Life was hard, I was crabby, and it wasn’t a very good day.

True to form, they said, “Well, brother, that isn’t a very positive confession.”

I said, “You can have a false positive confession or you can have honesty. Which do you prefer?”

The person stumbled out a response and walked away, and I figure I probably offended them with the truth. But here’s the thing: I’d rather offend people with the truth (especially those who don’t REALLY care how I’m doing), than lie to them in order to protect their feelings. And I learned something – I feel better about myself for being honest.

I think it is a good thing to be a follower of Christ and not be a liar. No more false positives for me. From now on, when you ask me how I’m doing, be prepared to hear the truth.

 

April 8, 2018

Worship Devotional Sampler

Three items today. Three very different items, but all involving worship.

The first is from the blog of Crossroads Church in Grain Valley, Missouri.

Impactful Worship

Acts 16       

In Ethiopia, where we lived, the people would use a tree or even a mountain to bring their sacrifices to appease the evil spirits.  They would take their sacrifices to the base of the mountain to appease the evil spirits. These sacrifices were ritual acts of worship; they were showing their adoration, devotion and respect to the evil spirits seeking the spirits blessings.  However, this kind of worship never brought them joy or peace. They always lived in fear of whether or not they had done enough to appease the spirits.

Worshiping the God of the universe is different.  It is not a ritual act in which we try to appease God and gain His favor.  It is an action which should involve our entire being (heart, mind, and soul).  We are to give total control or our lives to God which is our “living sacrifice.”  We do this by being “transformed by the renewal” our minds (Romans 12:1-2).  We must replace our human way of thinking with God’s way of thinking.  In order to change our way of thinking, we must learn the truth about who God is in His Word, talk to God in prayer, and be obedient to Him.

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were thrown in jail.  What did they do?  Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they prayed and sang hymns to God. And it visibly impacted the people around them.  No matter what situation we find ourselves in, when we truly worship God we can have “joy unspeakable,” and “peace that surpasses all understanding” – all the while impacting the world around us.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. (Acts 16:25-26 ESV) 

Today in Prayer
Private Worship: Romans 12:1-2

  • Pray that your private worship would be made a priority on a daily basis, so that you would know Him more intimately.
  • Pray that you find true joy in Him through your private worship.
  • Pray that you see yourself as a living sacrifice, DAILY, so you can stay focused on Him and be in the world, but not of the world.

“Public worship will not excuse us from secret worship.” ~Donald S. Whitney


The second is from Core Christianity. This is only the second half of the article, so click the title below if you wish to read it all.

Why You Need to Be in Church

In Scripture worship is the intrusion of God’s alien kingdom upon us.

by Adriel Sanchez

It may seem quite ordinary to the one without faith, but for the faithful, something magnificent is happening in the mundane. The author to the Hebrews put it best when he said that in coming together for worship, we are coming to: “the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:22-24)

Please, stop for one moment and consider that when you go to church, you are ascending the heavenly Jerusalem. Angels are present, though not to the naked eye. God has promised to meet you there, and your new-covenant mediator, Jesus, is in the midst of the assembly by the power of the Spirit (Rev. 2:1). Earlier in Hebrews, we’re reminded of the fact that in worship we “taste the heavenly gift,” probably a reference to the Lord’s Supper; and that the powers of God’s coming kingdom are breaking in on us like rain from heaven (Heb. 6:4 & 7).

All of this is in fact, quite alien to the normal person, even perhaps offensive. How can we speak of eating the body and blood of Jesus? Isn’t preaching from the Bible sort of outdated? No one uses words like covenant, and blood-sacrifice, today! We’ve forgotten that it’s this strange beauty that captivated the Greco-Roman world. The Christian church after the days of the apostles was accused of practicing cannibalism and incest because of how they spoke in their assemblies, but according to sociologist Rodney Stark, the church also experienced unprecedented exponential growth during that time (See Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity). It turns out, the heavenly service sets people’s hearts on eternity, and that results in their willingness to lay down their lives for their neighbors. The church grew not by trying to imitate this world, but by giving this world a glimpse of another world, even by offering them a taste of it in the Eucharist.

This Sunday, God invites you, together with your brothers and sisters, to ascend his holy mountain. To join the angels around us, and the martyrs, who preceded us. He promises to give you the rain of his holy Word, able to spark faith in your heart, and raise you from spiritual lethargy. He offers to feed you, not ordinary food, but heavenly food. A bread so sacred that the apostles warned that eating it could result in death if it was received with impudence (1 Cor. 11:30). In the Bible, worship was far from comfortable, but it was life-giving (Jn. 6:53).  It’s life-giving still.

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isa. 55:1)


This last one is from the early days here at C201. The phrase from The Lord’s Prayer appears now as a tag line for many churches, only with the name of their city or town substituted for “earth.”

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

We’ve prayed it many times:

Thy Kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven

But how is God’s will done in heaven?

I see two things, but perhaps you can think of others:

(1) There is constant worship. The KJV of Rev. 4:8 says “they rest not.” The NLT reads:

Day after day and night after night they keep on saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty — the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.

So if you want to see a bit of the will of God done here on earth, there’s going to be non-stop worship.

(2) There is instant compliance. God simply speaks the word and it happens. “And God said…” is the constant theme of the creation narrative, giving new meaning to the old phrase “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Except that in heaven, the middle part wouldn’t be “I believe it;” but something closer to “I’m obeying it.”

Simply: He speaks and it is.

Unlike creation, God cannot always simply make things happen unless we’re willing to be used as partners with him; he has chosen in this time and place to work through willing people.

January 8, 2018

Conflict at Church

This is our third visit to Art Toombs Ministries, and today I read several great articles trying to decide which one to carry here. Be sure to check out his archives of scriptures covered in past posts — he’s currently in the epistle of James — you never know when you might need it.  I also follow Art on Twitter. To read today’s item at source, and then look around the site, simply click the title below.

Resolving Church Conflict

James 4:7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. 11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (NKJV)

James is writing to first century Christian Jews who have been dispersed from Jerusalem. He specifically is writing to teachers of the Gospel. The current teaching is on the subject of resolving conflict in the church.

This passage begins with the word “therefore” (v.7a). This is a reference to the previous verse which states “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” The key to resolving conflict in the church is humility.

We see this humility lived out in six commands which if heeded will resolve conflict in the church. The six commands are listed in verses seven through nine:

(1) “Submit to God” (v. 7b). Submission to God requires obedience to His word. We do not know what to obey unless we know His word, the Bible. We should turn to the Bible for advice on all matters. Then we should be obedient to that Scripture.

(2) “Resist the devil” (v. 7c). The devil always hits at our weakness. For many of us Christians our weakness is pride. Pride is also the source of much church conflict. We must resist pride, and all other sin. When we do, the devil “will flee” (v. 7d).

(3) “Draw near to God” (v. 8a). When we do this, “He will draw near” to us (v. 8b).    We draw near to God through prayer. The more we fill ourselves with God, the less room there is for self. The closer we draw to God, the more we see things through God’s eyes and not our own. Our selfish desires then take a back seat to the will of God.

(4) “Cleanse your hands” (v. 8c). This is a reference to our actions. Sinful actions require confession, repentance and seeking forgiveness, from both God and from those we have offended. It is not enough to just confess our sin, if we intend to then repeat the sin. We must also turn from, repent of, that sin.

(5) “Purify your hearts” (v. 8d). This is a reference to motives. Our motives may be mixed, “double-minded” (v. 8d). We must be careful to keep our motives pure. Our motives may be what we perceive as what is best for us, instead of what is best for God’s kingdom.

(6) “Lament and mourn and weep“(v. 9a). Without getting too bogged down in the theology, let’s just say this has to do with our attitude. Our attitude needs to be one of sincerity. If we have wronged another, we should feel badly for our sin against our fellow Christian. We should feel so badly that we never want to return to the behavior or mindset that may have contributed to a problem. We should feel so badly that it is hard to laugh or have joy (v. 9b). Even if we are not the source of the problem, we should be upset with ourselves for letting things get to this point. We should not take the problem lightly, or pass off all the blame on others. We cannot control what others may say or do, but we can control our reaction. A poor reaction often escalates a slight, or an offense, into a problem.

So If you “humble” yourself in these ways, “He will lift you up”, (v. 10). God will provide a way to resolve the problem that will glorify God. Humble yourself, and then put your trust in God.

James then introduces what may be interpreted as a new subject. However, I believe that he stays on the subject of humility. He writes of criticism, specifically criticism of a “brother” (v. 11a), a fellow Christian. There is no place for criticism in a humble heart.

How can you be humble while criticizing another? The two do not go together. You are breaking the Golden Rule. You are not doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. No one likes being criticized.

When you criticize “you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (v. 11b). God is the only “Lawgiver” (v. 12a), the only judge. He is the only one “who is able to save and to destroy”, able to judge (v. 12b). We are not “to judge another” (v. 12c).

Correction is another matter. It is Biblical to correct a fellow Christian who has gone astray. The correction, however, should always be offered in the form of kindness and love, not criticism.

So the key to resolving church conflict is humility. Humility does not escalate a slight into a problem. Humility, instead, allows God to lift up the situation. Stay humble and trust God to resolve the situation in His own way, and in His own time.

 

October 8, 2017

Sunday Worship

The Last Book of the Old Testament

NIV Malachi 1:6 “A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.

“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“By offering defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.

Today we’re paying a return visit to John D. West at the blog WestWord | Reflections from a Christian Perspective. This article is a perfect fit to our Sunday Worship theme. Click the title to read at source. Then navigate through the blog for similar summaries of other Bible books.

Gleanings from the Bible: Malachi

The last book of the Old Testament is an encouragement and a warning to the existing generation of that day to not allow their faith to slide or be lost. The present state of worship was in bad shape and a tumultuous 400 years would follow before the events of the New Testament saw God dramatically intervening, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.

Even since the return from Exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, expressions of worship had slid into perfunctory patterns, devoid of real depth and meaning. Much of Malachi’s condemnation is therefore directed towards the priests and as such could be a warning to leaders of Christian worship everywhere.

I’ve noticed it often in Anglican worship (both high and low church) where the liturgy is said in a rapid monotone, without expression or any apparent reflection. Where the trappings associated with Holy Communion seem almost to be flung around without any thought of their significance. Like the rolling stone that gathers no moss engagement with God or the Spirit never seems to have a chance to stick. Surely we do a disservice to both God and his people when we fail to read or recite with expression and when we are offhand with symbols which are meant to remind us of the depth of God’s love for us.

The priests also seem to have lapsed when it came to preserving the teaching which had been entrusted to them. Instead of preserving knowledge their teaching was causing people to stumble. This morning I was reading the same sorts of warnings from Paul to Timothy (2 Timothy 3-4). Teachers who had become weary of sound doctrine, always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth, having a form of godliness but denying its power. I may have said it before, but I often wonder whether the powerlessness and sterility of some expressions of worship and doctrine have created a boredom, which has given rise to the searching and experimentation of so-called Progressive Christianity, a conglomeration of faith which in its more extreme forms has departed from Christianity altogether.

But Malachi’s complaint goes further. Worship, of course, involves us beyond Temple, Synagogue or Church walls. It is expressed in our day to day attitude. Malachi reminds us of what an insult it is to offer God the leftovers of our life. His example is sacrifice on the altar, but ours could be the loose change on the collection plate or the paltry time we give to God in prayer, or our reluctance to heed his calling for us to get involved in his work, all because we have just too many other things to occupy our wealth, time and talents. Only when we truly engage with God do we find the spiritual blessings that really satisfy. Only when God is at the centre of our lives can we know balance and fulfillment. Only when God is first can we realize the purpose of humankind to glorify him and enjoy his presence.

Malachi, like other prophets, speaks of the Day of the Lord. A day is coming when justice will prevail, where good and evil will be seen for what they are, where comprehensive healing will come with righteousness.

That day arrived with the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It will reach its fulfillment in the day that he returns, and in the meantime we must examine ourselves and heed the call, Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty (3:7).

And there it is. It is not just by going through the motions and it is not by creating new and innovative doctrines. It is by returning to Yahweh Almighty as revealed to us in the Scriptures and now, more particularly in Jesus Christ. For that is where the exciting  life-changing transformation really takes place!

 

June 29, 2017

Good Grief! And a Lack Thereof

by Clarke Dixon

Expressing emotion during a time of grief is a very natural thing to do. To not grieve, and to suppress emotion, is a very unnatural thing to do. If we understand that, then we are well on our way to understanding why God told Ezekiel to show no grief over the death of his wife:

Ezekiel 24:15-18 (NRSV) The word of the Lord came to me: 16 Mortal, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. 17 Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your upper lip or eat the bread of mourners. 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

So why is Ezekiel told not to grieve? Ezekiel’s lack of grief becomes a lesson in grief for God’s people during the exile. They have been demonstrating a lack of grief over something very important. We find the clue as to what in these following verses:

Thus says the Lord God: I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and your heart’s desire . . . . And you, mortal, on the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes and their heart’s affection, . . . Ezekiel 24:21-25 (NRSV)

Do you notice something about the loss God’s people are experiencing? Where is the mention of the presence and glory of God? Remembering that the temple was to be known as the place of God’s presence, and remembering the need for humility in approaching God’s glory and presence, it is strange that the temple should be called “the pride of your power”. The temple has become “the delight of your eyes, and your heart’s desire,” and their “joy and glory.” The temple has taken the place of God in the lives of His people. The temple itself has become for God’s people nothing more than another idol. Yet there has been no grief over the fact that God has already “left the building.”

When God’s people lose the temple they are told they ought not to grieve, for all along they have not shown any grief over losing what should have been most important to them, the presence and glory of God. In fact God’s people have been actively doing the very things that take them away from the presence and glory of God: “you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another” (Ezekiel 24:23 ESV). In other words, this is the status quo. God’s people have not been grieving over the sin that has led them away from the presence and glory of God.

What are we to learn from this for our day?

There are two things:

First, we learn about what ought to elicit deep emotions in us. When you have an understanding of the reality of the presence and glory of God, then anything that would take you in the opposite direction should make you feel sick. What are those things? We learn them from God’s Word, but let Jesus summarize for us:

Matthew 22:34-40 (NRSV) 34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

When we know the Lord, when we have a mature understanding of His greatness and glory, we will naturally grieve when we see a lack of love, both for God and for neighbour. When we see God mocked, and when we see people suffer injustice, we ought to grieve.

Second, is it possible that our grief as God’s people is misplaced in very much the same way it was misplaced in Ezekiel’s day? We grieve over the loss of churches and church buildings. A recent local newspaper article lamented the closure of churches in the rural areas. To quote one church member: “When I was a kid, there would be square dances and community meals here” (Northumberland News, Thursday, June 22nd 2017). What about the prayer there, the digging into the Word of God there, the care of the soul there, the presence of God among God’s people there, the worship of God there? To quote a clergy person from the same article: “When I was a child everyone went to church – why do people go to church? For the community. It was the only game in town for some communities.” Again, does no one go to church for prayer, for the Word of God, for the presence of God, for the worship of God, for the glory of God?

The sentimentality around losing churches and church buildings is completely natural and understandable. But are we grieving more over the apathy towards Christ, and active pushing away from God in our day? Are we getting emotional over God’s presence and glory? To do otherwise is unnatural and we may be lacking in good grief.


Read more from Clarke at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

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