Christianity 201

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

(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

March 30, 2017

The DNA of the Very First Church

During the week of March 13th, Andy Elmes from the UK Ministry Great Big Life ran a series of five devotionals that he called “Characteristics of a Blueprint Church.” Space doesn’t permit us to run all five here, but I wanted to include some highlights from each day. See the bottom of today’s piece for information on how you can get material like this in your inbox each weekday.

Characteristics of a Blueprint Church

Acts 2:41-43, NIV
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

They devoted themselves

Here we find the first ingredient to their effectiveness. There was within the church, not just the leadership, a spirit of self devotion. People daily “devoted themselves”. They had great preachers, but they were not spoon fed; they were self feeders taking responsibility to get the spiritual nourishment they needed. They had great meetings and fellowship but did not need to be constantly phoned or dragged there or reminded with constant bulletins like they had memory problems; they got themselves were they needed to be, when they needed to be there.

So much of modern church is sadly about motivating people to do what they should naturally want to do, encouraging people to do things that really should be their spiritual lifestyle. Imagine if we could get even more self devotion into the DNA of the modern western Church – how much more effective would our local churches be if each member took personal responsibility for even the little things, like getting to Church on time so church services could start as strong as they could do, serving on the teams that needed them and turning up when it was their turn without a text, being faithful in honouring God with their finances and time without subtle reminders and encouragements from the stage?

I am always amazed at how people can downgrade the “God bit” of their life and sentence it to a lesser devotion than the other bits; one great example again being time keeping. In every other area of life they are on time: meetings with the dentist, bank manager, work – but why not church? What is that switch that needs to be fixed? Surely the greatest of our devotion belongs to God, right? Surely the place we manifest the greatest personal self devotion should be in His House? Imagine what we could achieve if just this one thing was to change – suddenly no challenge would be too great. Hey we might even see 3000 people get saved on our Sunday morning: 3000 people moved by His message but also moved by a group of people so sold out and devoted to what and who they believed in.

Apostles Doctrine

…The Dictionary says that Doctrine is, “Teaching, instruction, the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief.” Basically, the Apostles’ doctrine was the teaching of the first Church Leaders (apostles). The foundational teaching for the new testament church was based on their teaching, especially Paul’s. Their teaching formed the “branch of belief” for what we still believe, live by and hold to as true today in regard to everything including God, His Church and how we are to live.

I suppose the challenge today is, do we teach and personally live by the truths found in the Apostles’ doctrine (teaching)? Does it still form the margins of what we believe today to be truth or do we attempt to mix it with other doctrines (teachings)? Notice that it does not say they devoted themselves to the doctrine of Moses or the doctrine of religion; no, it clearly says they devoted themselves to the doctrine of the Apostles (leaders of the early church).

The doctrine of Moses was not wrong for its time or dispensation, but as Paul stood up to preach daily everything had indeed changed. Christ had now died for the sins of the world, the old covenant was no longer effective or relevant because a new covenant had been established and had replaced it – a covenant (agreement) cut with the very blood of God’s only Son, not of bulls and goats that could only provide a mere covering for sin that would last a moment. Full punishment for sin had now been placed on Christ as He hung on the cross as our substitute; full forgiveness had now been given and God’s wrath towards us settled because of His one-time redemptive work. So much had now changed. It wasn’t that Paul could not or did not refer to Moses, the law or the previous covenant, but now what he taught, and the doctrine he was establishing, was based on the grace of God and the perfect finished work of the cross, and nothing else. The doctrine he now preached and established would leave a person redeemed and free outside of their own performance or merit; it would give the offer of a new beginning to all who would believe based on faith not works; it would reveal God’s eternal plan to get His life inside the life of the believer, to empower a person to overcome and live the new life they had been freely given…

…[A]re you living and building by the Apostles’ teaching or are you trying to add a bit of Moses, or maybe a bit of law, maybe a dash of your reasoning?

…When I started to think about “the Apostles Doctrine” I was intrigued to find out exactly what it was, to make sure I was not guilty of mixing covenants in a wrong way, or of believing partial or diluted truth. I studied a bit deeper than normal and found out what the epicenter of the Apostles Doctrine was. I was not surprised but certainly encouraged as I discovered the Apostles Doctrine orbited and found its strength in a couple of basic truths or realities. Firstly the finished redemptive work of Christ and secondly the reality of the new creation.

Think about that: everything that Paul taught and established was based and rooted in the simple yet profound truth that when anyone believes in Jesus as Saviour they become a “new creation” – they are born again, and it is as if they had never lived before or ever sinned in the sight of God.

One of Paul’s foundational truths for all he taught in regard to this reality was of course this one found in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”. The NIV translation puts it like this: “the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here”. Paul had a deep set revelation that the new creation was God’s master plan – not a patch up job of the old man, behaviour modification or a rust maintenance program, rather a brand new beginning for a person based on God’s unfailing grace.

The truth is when a person believes in Christ they identify with His death, burial and resurrection and come in by faith to a brand new existence based on Christ alone (Romans 6:3-6). As God’s word says in Romans 6, the old man is crucified with Christ and, as Paul said so well, our only boast is in the cross where we were separated from the world and who we were to be who God has called us to be (Galatians 6:14). As you read on in that verse you actually see Paul defy or replace the doctrine of Moses with this new creation reality.

Galatians 6:15, NIV
Neither circumcision nor un-circumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

…Are you attending meetings or doing life with the church?

We have been looking at what the first church devoted themselves to. We saw that the Apostles’ teaching was a very high priority and that each person who called that first church home had a personal devotion to it. Next on the list comes the word fellowship, this was another high priority to them and needs to be to us. So what does it mean by fellowship? I love the way The Message translation puts this verse:

“They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.”

I love that statement and the image it creates: they devoted themselves to “the life together”. The early church put great emphasis on simply “doing life together”, they never defined their church experience as two hours on Sunday but rather committed to live more community-minded in their relationship with the Church…

Acts 2:42-44, AMP
And they steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] and prayers.

We have looked at how the original blueprint church devoted itself to doctrine (teaching) and fellowship (doing life together); next on the list comes the breaking of bread. Did this mean that they spent all day doing communion? I don’t think it did. I like the way that the Amplified version puts it: “to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper]”. Personally I think this fits well with the culture of Israel at that time and links well with previous value and priority of doing life together. Remember, when Jesus instituted the original communion, or breaking of bread as we know it today, where was He? In a synagogue? No, He was at a meal with His friends, hanging out with them, eating and breaking bread with them, then He takes the bread and wine and talked His friends through what has become a significant ordinance still in His Church today.

Is God saying in this verse that we are to devote ourselves to the act or ordinance of communion? That we are to do it all day and everyday? Or, like the Amplified version says, that we are to be taking time to eat and fellowship together and, in the midst of that ongoing fellowship, we are to make time to take bread and wine to specifically remember what He has done like He instructed us to do). This feels more natural and ‘lifestyle’ to me than just making the bread and wine something we do in certain meetings we hold together?

Again, I don’t think it is an issue of “either, or”, rather “both”. I think we should still have significant Bread and Wine (communion) times together when we meet corporately, but also as we build the community side of the church. As we meet together not just to pray but to fellowship and eat, in the midst of us doing that we take time to give thanks and remember what He did for us when He gave His Body (represented by the bread) and shed His Blood (represented by the wine or grape juice)…


I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. Click the link to have it delivered to your inbox each weekday.

 

February 21, 2017

Worshiping in Vain

We’ve linked to Wes McAdams’ blog Radically Christian before at Thinking Out Loud, but apparently not here. Time to fix that! Click the link in the title below to read this at source; there are some really good articles.

What is Vain Worship?

In Mark 7:7 Jesus quoted Isaiah, saying, “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” But what did Jesus mean about worshiping in vain? I’ve heard many people explain that “vain worship” is worshiping God in unauthorized ways. One website claims it is “when we worship the way we want” instead of worshiping “the way God has told us in His word” (source). Unfortunately, I think that definition of “vain worship” ignores the context of Jesus’ words and gives the wrong impression about vain worship.

The Context – Jewish Traditions

Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees because His disciples ate food without first ceremonially washing their hands according to Jewish customs. In order to help his readers understand what was going on, Mark explained, “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:3). And he even added, “And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches” (Mark 7:4).

The Pharisees thought their strict customs and traditions were necessary in order to keep people from accidentally breaking the Law of Moses by eating something “unclean.” However, Jesus’ disciples were not observing these customs; which is why the Pharisees were very critical of them and of Jesus.

It’s important to recognize that nothing in the context is about worshiping “the way we want” versus worshiping “the way God has told us in His word.” That is an important discussion to have, but it is NOT the discussion Jesus was having with these Jews.

The Meaning – Vain Worship

The word, “vain” means “useless” or “empty.” It means “hollow” or “unsuccessful.” When Jesus used Isaiah’s words to criticize the people of His day, He wasn’t criticizing the way they were praying or singing. He was criticizing their hearts and the way they were living.

He went on to criticize the way they kept the custom of “Corban,” but disobeyed God’s command to financially provide for their parents. He said, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition” (Mark 7:9).

Jesus was saying, “All your words about honoring God are worthless. You say you love Him, but you don’t. Your religious piety is just a show you’re putting on for people. Your customs and traditions are for your own benefit; not because you actually love God.”

The Application – Vain Worship in Modern Times

I would certainly agree that we should worship God the way He says for us to worship and we should not invent unauthorized ways of worshiping. In fact, I could not agree with that more. But if we think avoiding “vain worship” is done by simply worshiping according to the rules, then there is a very good chance that we ourselves are truly guilty of vain worship.

I can’t help but think of Christians and congregations in the 50s and 60s who discriminated against people of other skin colors. That was vain worship! They were honoring God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They maintained their custom of discrimination, segregation, and racism, saying, “That’s just the way things are done around here,” while they rejected God’s commandment to love their neighbor as themselves. Critical of the church down the street for worshiping in an unauthorized way, but all the while being guilty of truly vain worship.

And we continue to do such things today. Our worship is vain anytime we honor God with our lips, but we are more concerned with keeping the religious customs and traditions of our time than we are the actual commandments of God.

It’s interesting how many religious customs and traditions we have:

  • What time we meet for worship on Sunday.
  • How many times we meet for worship on Sunday.
  • Whether or not we have a Wednesday Bible study.
  • How we dress when we come to worship.
  • Whether or not we offer an invitation at the end of a sermon.

None of these traditions and customs are inherently wrong; just as the washing of hands in Jesus’ day was not inherently wrong. But they become wrong when God’s people are more concerned about keeping traditions and customs than we are things like:

  • loving our neighbor
  • loving our enemy
  • not slandering anyone (including political leaders)
  • not being greedy or covetous

These are things God actually addresses and commands, but often we are more concerned with keeping our customs and traditions than we are obeying the actual commands of God. This is when we are truly guilty of “vain worship.”

Examine yourself. Examine your heart. Examine your life. The question isn’t, “Do you worship according to the rules?” but rather, “Do your words and your life reflect true devotion to God?”

 

 

November 18, 2016

The Elder as Spiritual Parent

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’re going to feature all six of his interpretative guidelines to the Proverbs tomorrow.

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.

 

November 9, 2016

You Have to Be Desiring Negative Consequences to Lie to Each Other

Ephesians 4.25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

26 “In your anger do not sin”[*]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

This is our eighth time sharing the thoughts of B. J. Rutledge pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise, Texas. Click the somewhat provocative title below to read at source.

5 Reasons To Lie To Each Other

bj-rutledgeI am camping out in the book of Ephesians right now and it’s rich!  Here are a few thoughts from my reading yesterday and this morning.

If we’re not careful we become part of a big con game that’s played out week after week in church.  We lie to each other; we act like everything is ok when it’s not, or we won’t confront a problem we have with someone, but share it with others.  We’ve become pretty good at disengaging with portions of Scripture that don’t fit with how we feel or think at the time. Pastors can be guilty just like the people in the church can be guilty.

So here are 5 simple reasons to go ahead and lie to each other.

  1. We don’t really want to build community.

To grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ we have to connect relationally in a place that is safe; where we can be authentic and real.

Real community in a local church can’t be built without us taking the risk of getting rid of falsehoods and lies and begin to share with each other truthfully because we belong to one another. (Ephesians 4:25)

  1. Because we’re OK giving the devil an opportunity

In every relationship we’re going to be hurt or offended; whether intentionally or unintentionally. Expectations aren’t going to be met. People aren’t going to measure up, or they’re going to fail us in some way. An offense takes place and we get angry. That’s going to happen. But when we’re unwilling to go to the person who offended us we’ve put a match the hand of Satan.   If we take the offense to someone else, Satan lights the match and pours a little gas on it. (Ephesians 4:26-27) Because we’re members of one another (the same body of Christ) we’re to go to each other and work things out in the right spirit.   The principle Jesus shares in Matthew 18:15 would solve so many problems.

  1. Because we’re fine with the church being torn down.

When we talk badly about someone, and we usually don’t have the whole story unless we talk to that person – lies get involved because truth gets twisted.   When that happens, we steal from one another; we steal the reputation of the person(s) involved or even the reputation of the local church. Ephesians 4:28 says to stop stealing and start doing good. Listening to Tony Evans yesterday, he said we’re to quit stealing from one another and do all we can to build up the church. We’re to build up because we’re members of one another as Christ’s body the church.

  1. Because we don’t care if we grieve God’s heart.

Ephesians 4:29 is pretty clear that every word you say should build up others and build up the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:30 says when we violate this principle, we grieve the heart of God. The words you and I say should give grace to people and build up the body of Christ (the church).   Not only are we members of the same body, we have the same Father, and every parent I know wants people to treat their kids right. It grieves God’s heart when we talk about or treat His kids the wrong way.

  1. Because we really don’t care what God says.

Ephesians 4:30-32 is clear; we’re to put aside things that hurt others and do things that are kind. We’re to be tender-hearted and forgiving because that’s what we’ve experienced in Christ. Lying is a sin because it always hurts someone and violates the law of love that Jesus said was paramount in our lives.  The truth is; lying hurts the liar and the person(s) being lied about.

So what’s the solution? Submit your pride and opinions to God. Man up or Woman up and talk to people when you have an issue.   Don’t spread discontent or speak without thinking.

What Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 is a sobering truth; He said you and I will give an account for every careless word we speak.

Most of the time, problems we have are really spiritual issues; Ephesians 6:12 says our real fight is not with flesh and blood. Go to people you have a problem with and be mature; don’t give Satan an opportunity.

As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:14-16 (NLT)

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.


[*] Psalm 4:4 (see Septuagint)

June 18, 2016

Are we required to submit to a vision by a pastor?

When people leave comments on my various blogs, I often check out their writing if they provide a website. That’s how I ran into Australia’s Luke Goddard, who along with his wife Peta, writes at From Frightened To Father and hosts the Filtered Radio podcast. (Don’t worry, he explained it to me!) I asked him if he would consider writing something for readers here, and he came up with a rather interesting topic. The situation described may be foreign to some of you, but in the modern church it can be far too common. Either way, I hope it gets you thinking… For my U.S. readers, Luke used the Anglicized spelling of honor so many times that I decided not to change it today! 

•••by Luke Goddard

Are we required to submit to a vision by a pastor? This is a valid question as it is an extremely common trait in modern churches to have a visionary leader who is like a miniature god that the congregation must “honour at all costs.” This honour is often driven into the members as if when they open up a discussion about theology, practices or ecclesiology in general is an attack on their God given dream for the church.

Scripture disagrees.

The qualifications for a pastor of a congregation are laid out very clearly in Titus 1:

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

These qualifications include “not pursuing dishonest gain” and, “not overbearing,” and finally encouraging others in “sound doctrine…refuting those who oppose it.”

These qualities are lacking in many pastors, and our submission to them is not meant to be a compulsory, overbearing honour that weighs down and puts into bondage the congregation member. I have witnessed this type of leadership and realized that I was trying to support a vision for church that clearly was unbiblical, yet loved the hype, music, relationships and modern facilities of church and it kept me quiet. I had solid convictions about word-faith doctrine, heretical teachers that spoke blasphemous things that were being promoted by our old congregation, and many instances where visiting preachers said some grievous things from our pulpit… yet my “honour” principle taught from a young age told me to shut up and let it go. They’re a minister, I’m a member… there’s nothing I can say to change anything.

But Christian pastors are literally required to refute those who teach heresy, and also preach in accordance with sound doctrine the whole counsel of God! So I have come to learn that approaching a pastor in a friendly way is OK to discuss theology, but that in most modern churches this is completely unwelcome. Their vision from God for the church is usually “gospel” and unchangeable, and handed down from higher authorities in the Pentecostal movement through young people camps and leader training. It’s a battle for the Bible and souls in reality.

So back to the question: Do we have to submit to a pastor’s church vision? No! But we do honour them as our feeding shepherd, and if they are faithful and rightly handle God’s word then they’re actually due honour for doing so, but those that preach faithfully usually don’t have a “vision” for their church that is infallible. If they do, they end up sliding down a slippery slope anyway. We are in no way obligated in scripture to honour a pastor’s vision. We are, though, under the God given submission to a local pastor if he has “shown himself approved” by studying the word of God. This will be evident in his life, his kids, his teaching and his relationship with his elders and staff. This takes time to visibly witness, but is there for our good. We are to lovingly support our pastors, and speak openly with them about doctrine as it arises if anything is said out of line, but the truth is that heretical teachers usually abhor questioning. In fact, many have gone on record saying they will openly throw out any church member who dares question their way of doing church. This is dangerous. Dangerous because they stand in the place of Jesus as the builder of the church, and the author and finisher of our faith. Jesus becomes the tacked on message to the end of motivational speeches, pep talks, self esteem boosting sermons and mini-movie stories loosely to do with spiritual things.

I think the Bible makes it clear that Paul and Timothy were given very specific directions for pastors to follow, and that those that deviate are not faithfully serving Jesus flock as they should, and as such are liable for questioning. It is how we approach this questioning, though, that often gets us into trouble.

In the end, we need to pray for faithful men of God to proclaim Christ crucified, and support those who do, and listen in to what our current pastors are saying with an open Bible to make sure that they are preaching in context, with the right message, given in season and with faithfulness to the text.

That is the only way a church can grow healthily, and the flock be fed nutritionally.

May 24, 2016

The Gift of Evangelism

EvangelismWe all know that The Great Commission is a call to evangelism, but many prefer to think in terms of the gift of Evangelism, which affords the opportunity to say, “I don’t have that gift.” If we’re all called to “Go and tell” then why is evangelism listed among gifts that not all possess?

Let’s begin at the website Spiritual Gifts Test:

All Christians are called to evangelize and reach out to the lost with the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20), but some are given an extra measure of faith and effectiveness in this area.  The spiritual gift of evangelism is found in Ephesians 4:11-12 where Paul says that Jesus “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  The Greek word for evangelists is Euaggelistes which means “one who brings good news.”  This word is only found two other places in the New Testament: Acts 21:8 and 2 Timothy 4:5.

Evangelists are given the unique ability by the Holy Spirit to clearly and effectively communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others.  They are burdened in their hearts for the lost and will go out of their way to share the truth with them.  Evangelists are able to overcome the normal fear of rejection and engage non-believers in meaningful conversations about Jesus.  Their gift allows them to communicate with all types of people and therefore they receive a greater response to the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.  They continually seek out relationships with those who don’t know Jesus and are open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to approach different people.  They love giving free treasure away for Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:7), and it brings them great joy knowing that the “feet that bring good news” are beautiful to those who believe (Isaiah 52:7).  See Ephesians 4:11, Acts 8:5-12, 26-40, 21:8, Matthew 28:18-20.

We continue at Biblical Studies:

…In the early church, the evangelists were considered the successors of the apostles. They did not think that evangelists were the same as the apostles but merely that they continued the apostles’ ministry.

The term in the Greek is related to the word “gospel.” The euangelion is the “gospel,” or the “good news.” Euangelizo (the verb form) means to announce the gospel, “to evangelize.” The euangelistes is “the one who evangelizes,” or the “evangelist.”

The term “evangelist” occurs only three times in the New Testament, none of which actually define what an evangelist is. Acts 21:8 simply tells us that Philip was an evangelist; Ephesians 4:11 teaches that evangelists are gifts to the church; and II Timothy 4:5 commands Timothy to do the work of an evangelist.

Pulling together the information available from these verses, we can come to an understanding of the term. The word itself, we know, means to announce the good news, to evangelize. Ephesians 4:11-12 teaches that the evangelist is for the purpose of equipping the saints to the work of the ministry to the edifying of the body of Christ. And with the ministry of Philip recorded in Acts 8, we have an example of what an evangelist is and does. An evangelist, then, is one who is especially effective in presenting the message of the gospel to the lost and instructing believers in the faith. His ministry is an itinerant one, ministering to believers and unbelievers alike in various locations. He is not one who announces new truth — that is a prophet. But he is one who announces truth. It seems that the New Testament evangelist more closely resembles our present day missionary. He brings the good news to an unevangelized community, disciples, establishes a church, and moves on. Our present day evangelists, as we have known them since the days of Wesley and Whitefield with their itinerant ministries, whose ministries are extremely valuable to our churches, do properly wear the title “evangelist,” but the evangelist of the New Testament, it seems from the example of Philip, had a broader work.

For a third perspective on this, I wanted to go to the site Lay Evangelism, but the article was too long here to print in full. (I hope you’ll click the link.) I did want to make sure you didn’t miss something that appears later on, regarding the difference between sowing and reaping.

… Other Christians pose the argument this way, they will say, “In our Church we feel that Evangelizing our community at this time is not right. Our community is not ripe yet for Evangelism.” What does Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit through the writer John say about this argument? Jesus said,

John 4:35-38 “Do you not say, “There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who Reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who Sows and he who Reaps may rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true, ‘One Sows, and another Reaps.’

evangelism quoteJesus asks us in this passage, “Are you saying you need to wait until your community is ripe? You are wrong. I say to you look out on your community and see that it is ripe for Evangelism now!” To help the reader, Jesus goes on to explain what he means by Evangelism and ripe for Evangelism. He explains that not all Christians are called to be Reapers but all Christians are called to be Sowers.

What is the difference between a Sower and a Reaper? In farming terms, the Sower is the farmer. The farmer goes out and plants the seed, waters and fertilizes the ground and weeds the ground. Who does the reaping? Hired labor. Is not an Evangelist someone who is hired to Reap where he did not Sow? Your community may not always be ready for an anointed Evangelist, but your community is always ripe to be Evangelized. Not all Christians are called to be Evangelists, but all Christians are called to do Evangelism. If you are not called specifically to be an Evangelist, you along with all other Christians are called to do Evangelism. You are called to be a farmer. You are called to Sow, water, fertilize and weed. You are called to go and plant the seed of the Word into the hearts of men. You are called to prepare the ground for the Evangelist. The command to do this has already been given. You do not need to wait for the leading of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has commanded you and I to GO THEREFORE! Behold the fields are WHITE for harvest!

Part of the problem of getting Christians involved in aggressive Evangelism is that unless they can be guaranteed to reap a harvest every time they go out, they get discouraged and won’t continue. That would be like a farmer saying that unless he can have a harvest now, he won’t sow seed, water, fertilize and weed his field. If the farmer refused to sow seed and then water, fertilize and weed his field, there would never be a crop for the Reapers to harvest. If Christians do not Sow the seed of the Word and then water, fertilize and weed the field, there won’t be a harvest when the Reaper comes. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 11:4 “He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.” …

(Again, here is the link for the article Evangelism is Not a Spiritual Gift.)

February 22, 2016

It’s Not (Just) Teaching That Identifies a False Prophet

As I was reading today’s article, I was reminded of Matthew 7: 15-16a

15“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16“You will know them by their fruits…

This week we pay a return visit to a blog we featured last year, Theology for Girls. (Yes, that’s the title!) At first what follows looks like a more topical subject that would be better suited for my other blog, Thinking Out Loud. But I decided that the first part of this raises an issue worth considering. Especially among Evangelicals, we tend to think of false teachers solely in terms of their teaching.

You need to click through to read this at source, because this is only the first half of the article, there are some practical suggestions that make up the second half. The author is .

Sexual Predators in the Church

“For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions” 2 Tim. 3:6

We have in our file cabinet a manila folder containing testimonies written nearly forty years ago by several very courageous women.  They chronicle detailed accounts of seduction by the senior pastor of the church where my husband was the associate pastor.  Some spoke of how the  Bible was twisted to convince them that they were doing God’s will. All of these women willingly submitted to and passed polygraph tests because only a few people believed their stories. They had all come from difficult backgrounds that would render their testimonies questionable.

My husband was  only thirty-years old, fresh out of  Bible College, and was left to deal with  serious issues in an era when the idea of church discipline was considered harsh and unloving by most Evangelicals.  Consequently, he had little support from other leaders in the community. As a young pastor’s wife I witnessed the devastating impact one man’s sin had on everyone  around him, but I lacked the spiritual maturity to be of much help.  Oh, how I wish I could go back and try to be of better service to those dear people in our first ministry!

I do not want to convey the idea that in situations where two fully consenting adults are involved that the woman should take no responsibility for her actions. These women understood this completely.  However, when a man who has been appointed to shepherd the flock takes advantage of weak parishioners by means of deception to fulfill his own sexual lust, the sin he commits is exceedingly reprehensible.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident but as the years passed we encountered similar situations in other Evangelical churches. The types of sexual abuse committed by church leaders which we have personally dealt with in one way or the other have ranged from serial adultery to pedophilia.

I want to make a clear distinction between the true Christian who, in a backslidden state, temporarily succumbs to temptation and then genuinely repents. Rather, I am speaking of a very different sort of person. These are the false professors who fit the descriptions spoken of in Jude,  Matt. 7:15-23;   2 Tim. 3:5-9;  and 2 Peter 2:1-3.

“For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you.  They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.  Jude 1:4

We tend to think of false prophets in terms of those who are primarily teaching false doctrine, but the men described in the above passages also have insatiable appetites for sex and/or money. When Jude says that they “deny Jesus Christ”  he is not referring to a mere profession of words but rather that these are men who inwardly deny Christ and His Lordship. If they were not holding to some outward form of godliness, how would they get their foot in the door?

We may not be able to stop these kinds of people from entering the church, but with teaching and awareness we can at least bring the problem out of the closet and put into place some safety measures. While we don’t want to lose the joy of fellowship with our church family by becoming suspicious, the Lord did give us these Scriptures to warn us.

What then are some practical ways we can protect others and ourselves from sexual exploitation and temptation?

[…continue reading here…]


Blog Birthday 8This week our sister blog, Thinking Out Loud is celebrating its 8th year of Christian news, opinion and current cultural trends affecting The Church. If you’re not a regular reader, click the button above to link.

 

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