Christianity 201

May 15, 2021

Jewish Feasts, The Christian Calendar, Secular Holidays

“This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time.” – Exodus 12:14 NLT

May, June and July offer a concentration of holidays in the U.S. and Canada, and I suspect Europeans also have days which take advantage of the nicer weather. To what degree the pandemic will affect our ability to gather together remains to be seen, but we do mark these days with, at the very least, a day off work.

For Christians, we also — to varying degrees depending on our denomination — follow the Christian liturgical calendar as well, but our understanding of the world that Jesus, the incarnate second person of the Trinity, inhabited during his short stay among us also included a celebration of the Jewish festivals, and many of those were actually pointing to Him.

First stop for the Christian is to understand our Jewish roots, and in particular the Feast Days and also, as the lower section of the chart below shows, their fulfillment in the New Testament:

Source: God’s Calendar.

In searching, I came across several articles by a group called United Church of God, which celebrates these Feasts but doesn’t do Christmas or Easter. (Jehovah’s Witnesses fall into this category as well.) I don’t know much about this group, but I found this comment challenging:

Jesus Christ celebrated seven festivals every year that most Christians today can’t even name, yet He is at the core of all of them.

But when it comes to the special days on the secular calendar, one article on another site asked the question, “Should you observe God’s holy days or demonic holidays?” This rather provocative approach accomplishes little. We don’t live in a theocratic society as did the Jewish people. You may not celebrate those points on the calendar, but probably the place where you work will be closed for the day. Does the modern, secular Christmas detract from the Biblical story of incarnation? Absolutely, but we can also use the day as a talking point to inform our non-churched friends and neighbors. Similarly, we can share with them why the secular symbols of Easter — eggs and rabbits — are a shadow of the story of life we find in the resurrection.

One of the arguments used by those who oppose secular holidays, and secularized Christian holidays is that it constitutes adding to the calendar God has already given. Two verses in Deuteronomy are quoted:

Don’t add anything to the word that I am commanding you, and don’t take anything away from it. Instead, keep the commands of the Lord your God that I am commanding all of you. (4:2, CEV)

Diligently do everything I command you, the way I command you: don’t add to it; don’t subtract from it. (12:14, MSG)

Again, remember these verses are from the Pentateuch. These books teach us the ways of God and God’s dealing with humankind, but they also encode a law we are no longer under.

Those from liturgical churches however do have Evangelicals at an advantage. In the Biblical panorama of the church calendar we see things which are often missed in our modern churches. It might do some good to swap out the names Christmas and Easter to look more closely at “Epiphany” or “Resurrection Sunday.” [For a really good look at this calendar check out the image accompanying this article.]

Another example: We just passed Ascension Day on Thursday. Writing on Friday at DailyEncouragement.net, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber noted:

In most of Christendom this day doesn’t have nearly the emphasis as other notable events in our Lord’s earthly life such as His birth, death, resurrection or Day of Pentecost which followed His Ascension by 10 days. I wonder how many readers even recalled that yesterday was Ascension Day prior to reading today’s message?

The old order communities of faith in our area place great emphasis on this holy day. As we traveled through that part of the county yesterday we noted that many of the stores and businesses are closed on Ascension Day with special services being held.

Many Christians express their faith in creeds and a line in the Apostle’s Creed states, “He ascended into heaven”. Other churches have formal statements of doctrine and this truth is expressed as in a statement such as “in His ascension to the right hand of the Father”.

Did you know that Thursday was Ascension Day? I know that I never gave it a moment’s thought. Yet in a few days, Americans will both celebrate and remember the nation’s military history with Memorial Day. I don’t think that’s wrong. It’s important to remember the people who paved the way for our liberty and freedom. But I think it’s sad that, myself included, an important day on the church calendar should pass without notice…

…In preparing this I realized there is a place of balance to be found here between our spiritual worship and our civic obligations; and especially between our First Testament history and our Second Testament life under grace. Verses can easily be pulled out to randomly support particular positions. With respect to the Law, I think this one is helpful:

NLT Gal 4:10 You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. 11 I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. 12 Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.

 

 

 

 

May 9, 2021

Fixing Fractured Fellowship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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I have written about what is called “The Philippian Hymn” many times. I’ve also preached a 40-minute sermon it, written my own paraphrase for it, and committed it memory several different ways. If pressed, I will tell you that the theme of the passage is the humility of Christ, though it’s really an overarching view of the incarnation of Christ from beginning to end. (See my sermon notes here.)

But scrolling through Twitter hours ago, I saw something that maybe I’d missed. While the passage itself is a very creed-like statement of all things that matter in terms of the life of Jesus, it’s true context is relationships.

NIV.Phil.2.1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

I remember years ago listening to a sermon on “present yourself as a living sacrifice;” and it was said that “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to crawl off the altar.” Well, in light of the Philippians passage we could add, ‘The problem with being told to prefer others and defer to others is that it doesn’t apply in an argument or debate where I happen to be right.’ In other words, you might smile and open the door for someone, but continue to allow a Great Wall of Disagreement to be constructed where you have different views on a spiritual, political, or social issue.

What’s worse is that in that in the present climate, the differences we have seem to be magnified. And our reactions– whether it’s to pick a fight or simply shut down — have become more frequent and more dramatic.

I have always found Romans 14 to be instructive. It’s dealing with specific issues — the eating of certain food, the keeping of certain days — but the principle behind what’s stated is widely applicable:

NIV.Rom.14.1. Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters… 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat… 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister… 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

…While looking for something else earlier today, I came across an item that we had posted nine years ago from author Mark O. Wilson. He had begun with his Mother’s Day sermon with The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands, the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1

Although we don’t usually re-post third-party devotions here, so much of this was appropriate to today’s cultural moment, both inside and outside the church. Where you see the word “home” below, just replace with “Church” or “community” or “extended family.”

Killkenny Cats and Home Squabble

…Wisdom builds the house. Foolishness tears it down.

When we fail to think before we speak and act, we’re likely to tear the house down. We’ve been given two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in that proportion.

Sometimes, in a passion to say right things, we say things wrong and hurt people. We’re wrong in our rightness, and unwilling to budge an inch in spirit. I think this is at the heart of the polarization in our state and nation. People are eager to share their opinions, but few are humble and patent enough to take the time to listen and understand others.

Too many homes are marked by unhealthy conflict and misunderstanding. Sometimes, it’s just a slow simmer of frustration. Frequently, it leads to checking out, and giving less than one’s best. Occasionally, it erupts into full-scale, brutal warfare. In the squabble, hurtful and destructive things are spoken that can never been undone. Rash words in a fit of anger can destroy the very fabric of the relationship.

As the old rhyme goes:

There once were two cats of Kilkenny.
Each thought there was one cat too many.
So they fought and they fit,,
And they scratched and they bit
‘Til excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats there weren’t any.

Perhaps this is why Proverbs 19:11 reminds us it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

It’s very possible to win the battle (argument) and lose the war (relationship.) Here’s a question: Is what we’re fighting over worth the fight?

Occasionally, it is. Sometimes, there is a significant principle or human right at stake, and only a good fight will set it straight. However, most of the time, our conflicts are over lesser things. We let our selfishness stand in the way, then hold stubbornly to our opinions as a “matter of honor.” Little issues become major eruptions when we stake our significance on them.

Conflict is an emotional state, and the issue will not be resolved when either party is in that state. You can’t argue someone out of it. The only way to help another person move from the state of conflict is through kindness and patient understanding.

Argument may force the other person into a corner, forcing him to agree – but it will only be a surface agreement, and definitely not be an agreement of hearts. As the old adage goes, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Here’s an idea: fight FOR your family instead of fighting against them. What dreams and hopes to you have for your family? What actions can you take to gently move in that direction? If you don’t do anything different, you will keep following the same path with the same patterns. I appreciate Andy Stanley’s observation, “Direction, not intention, equals destination.”

Weigh your words. Bite your tongue. Think twice. Then, as Colossians 4:6 says, let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you ay know how to answer everyone.

January 16, 2021

APEPT People: You May Have Them, You May Need Them

Ephesians 4:11-13

New International Version (NIV)

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.

It’s sometimes called “The Five-Fold Ministry of the Church.” Sometimes it’s just abbreviated as APEPT: Apostle, Pastor, Evangelist, Prophet, Teacher. We mentioned it briefly yesterday and there was a link which possibly should have been to the content which follows, though the article linked is also interesting. This appeared here in 2012, and for some reason was never repeated.

The term APEPT is often applied as helping a church determine its vision and the particular models that church should utilize to fulfill the five-fold mission.

Many times it is presented in terms of “finding your spiritual gift” types of sermons. You are asked to look at your abilities and gifts and determine if you see yourself as an Apostle (literally ‘sent one,’ missionary, church planter) or Pastor (literally ‘shepherd,’ caregiver, prayer warrior, etc.) or Evangelist (or ‘proclaimer,’ one who spreads the ‘evangel’ or good news of salvation, or a Christian apologist) or Prophet (not one who ‘foretells’ but one who ‘forth-tells’ who speaks into peoples’ lives often utilizing gifts of knowledge and utterance) or Teacher (one who searches the scriptures and opens understanding of doctrine and application.)

You’ve been to places where this was explained, and perhaps you’ve tried to look at your own potential areas of Christian service in this context.

Some people, like Australia’s Michael Frost for example, believe that each church currently has all five of these giftings operating in different people. He would say it’s necessary to identify these people and then come alongside them and resource them and support them.

Today, I want to look at it differently.

I want to consider what your church needs.

I want to ask you what type of gifted person you need right now personally.

(Be sure to click the linked verses in each section.)

I/We Need an Apostle

This means, that we’re looking for a “sent one” to come into our community who wants to do ministry or just shake things up. Right now, where I live, I often speak about “watching the horizon for some young buck to appear over the horizon with a guitar slung over his shoulder, who is interested in doing a church plant, so that we can support them in what they want to accomplish.” Maybe you need someone to help you with an existing ministry project. Maybe you’re a pastor who needs help. Maybe you need someone with an expanded vision who can give you the extra kick you need to get something done for The Kingdom. (See Romans 10:14)

I/We Need a Pastor

I know this applies to so many of you reading this. You need someone to put their arm around your shoulder, or give you a good hug. Someone who will pray with you. Someone who will walk with you through a tough time. Maybe you’re in a church led by a rancher, but you really need a shepherd right now. Maybe you’re alone and just need to know that someone cares. In a megachurch world, we tend to focus on great preaching at the expense of great pastoring. You need someone to pray with you for help, for wholeness, for healing. (see I Peter 5:2)

I/We Need an Evangelist

Maybe someone you know hasn’t crossed the line of faith, and you’re praying for someone to step into the picture who can help close the sale. Maybe you’re having a tough time defending the faith with people who are closed or apathetic to the Christian message. Maybe it’s you, yourself, who isn’t clear on how salvation happens, or maybe you’re a seasoned veteran of this whole church thing, but suddenly riddled with doubts and needing assurance of salvation. You need to connect with someone with the heart of an evangelist. (See Romans 10:14)

I/We Need a Prophet

Either individually or as a church, you know you need someone who will speak into your life or the life of your congregation; someone not afraid to tell it like it is; someone possessing insights that can only come through supernatural words of knowledge and wisdom; someone willing to identify sin. (See I Corinthians 12: 7-11)

I/We Need a Teacher

You know when you’re hungry. You know when you’re thirsty. Sadly, many individuals and churches are dying of thirst and dying of hunger; ironically, at a time when more Bible study resources, courses and Christian colleges are available than have ever existed at any time in history. There are, to be sure, some great Bible teachers out there, but in many local churches, there has been a weakening in the richness and substance of Bible teaching. You know when you’re getting milk when your body craves meat. (See Hebrews 5:12-14 also Luke 24:27)

God gave these gifts to Christian leaders — and the rest of them — because he knew that we needed them individually and collectively. Seeing the available list of gifts can help us identify what particular needs should presently be met in the hours, days and weeks to come. Perhaps now, you’re clearer on what specifically to pray for.

~Paul Wilkinson


I want to invite our Christianity 201 readers to share in a 97-minute livestream presentation from The Jesus Collective which happened earlier this week with Andy Stanley and Bruxy Cavey discussing How Centering on Jesus Changes Everything. To watch on YouTube: Click this link.

January 2, 2021

Moving People Toward Belief

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:30,31 NIV

I just finished reading (in one day!) the history of InterVarsity Press (IVP). I would hope that anyone reading a blog called Christianity 201 would have at some point in their life consumed several of their books and have them still on their shelves. They produce thoughtful books for Christians who think.

J. I. Packer said of the organization, “Some publishers tell you what to believe. Other publishers tell you what you already believe. But InterVarsity Press helps you to believe.”

It’s easy to tell people what to believe: ‘Here’s what you need to know.’ In the medium you’re reading (blogging) a popular type of article is a genre called listicles. These lists begin with phrases like “7 Things About…;” or “5 Reasons You Should…;” or “8 Most Important Lessons…” As someone who likes systematically organized information, I need to confess that I tend to gravitate to articles like this. It’s so easy to tell people the bullet points, or the talking points. And there is some value in informing people that the death and resurrection of Christ is key to beginning a faith journey.

But the Apostle Paul famously says in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that knowledge puffs up. It’s amazing how many modern translations retain that phrase with the runner-up being makes people arrogant. The context is about eating meat which has been offered to idols. I often wondered how someone could do this, but after learning more about the intricacies surrounding the interconnectedness of what I’ve called elsewhere “the sacrifice industry” with the manner of food distribution at the time, it’s easier to see why this is a moral, ethical and spiritual issue that would resonate with people and actually have more practical application than we realize.

Eugene Peterson goes well beyond translation into commentary rendering this passage:

The question keeps coming up regarding meat that has been offered up to an idol: Should you attend meals where such meat is served, or not? We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know to answer these kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognize that God alone knows it all.

We can also, as Packer noted, tell people what they already believe. Again, in this (blogging) medium, we’ve seen over the years that online Christian community can become a vast echo chamber with people imagining they receive more points by quoting or re-publishing the most recent columns by prominent Bible teachers. It is often called, preaching to the choir. In yesterday’s look at an extremely popular passage, I tried to state at the outset that we would be taking a fresh approach, mapping the positive character qualities Paul was listing to negative character traits which show up in our modern world.

Some truths are profound however and cannot be stated enough. For example, God is love; but that reality often doesn’t challenge the intellect of some readers who immediately tune out. But when you go beyond the surface, you find that:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.*

But what our aim should be is to help people believe; to inspire them to come to know Jesus in a personal way which makes their faith their own and isn’t just an adoption of our beliefs, our positions, our doctrine, our systematic theology.

A phrase you don’t hear often anymore — and one that only produced a mere eight results on Google — is “Making Jesus Mine.” I’ve often told my own salvation story in these terms, “Taking ownership of my faith.” It’s not hereditary. It’s not something you do as a community. It’s definitely not something you do with your spouse.** Rather, the Bible teaches a personal accountability for salvation (in an eternal sense) and stewardship of the life we’ve been given (in the present tense.)

In our opening verse John states that the purpose of his gospel all along has been, But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

In other words, John isn’t saying ‘Here’s what you need to know.’ Rather, he’s creating a spark and trusting that the fire will spread.

Similarly, we can play a role in pointing others to a belief that they own. We can disciple people, but we’re not the arbiters of their faith. Nor is any church body. Everyone needs their own direct line to God. We simply point them to Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to work on their hearts.

 


*Frederick M. Lehman (1868-1953) “The Love of God” vs. 3 quoted
**There are many passages that apply to community, to actions taken by a community, and even the concept of household salvation; but we do eventually stand before God alone. In the past year, I’ve observed several cases where married couples have acted as though spiritual decisions are taken collectively, but this is an area where marital disagreement (i.e. on the deity and lordship of Christ) is not only healthy, but it’s positionally necessary.

 

December 16, 2020

Five Greek Words You Should Know

I know. Some of you are thinking, ‘Let’s not get into Greek here; this is Christianity 201 not 301.” Okay. We won’t do this again. At least this month. And there are no actual Greek alphabet letters in what follows.

A year ago we shared a devotional by Dr. Ed Searcy, a retired minister in Vancouver  who writes at Holy Scribbler. Dropping by earlier today, we saw a reference to the website of University Hill Congregation. That took us to this article which I knew right away needed to be shared here.

Who We Are: The Five Marks of the Church

Liturgia (Worship): Every Sunday morning we gather to worship God, through singing and prayer, the reading of Scripture and preaching, as well as fellowship with one another, in God’s presence. Symbolically, gathering in the morning, on the first day of the week, reminds us that our proper first commitment is to God, made known to us in Jesus Christ, present by the Holy Spirit.

Our worship includes many voices, as members of our congregation lead in prayer, music, Scripture reading, and presiding, reminding us of the importance of the “priesthood of all believers.” Liturgia is a Greek word that means “a public work, undertaken by some, on behalf of all.” In worship, we turn to God, on behalf of this God-beloved world.

Koinonia (Community): From the earliest days of the Church, it is clear that the Christian life is not meant to be a solitary existence. In the book of Acts, we hear that this new community of Jesus followers–members of the Way–“spent much time together” worshiping, eating, baptizing and teaching, praying and learning the rhythms of a new way of life. The community that took shape in response to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead–confirmation that his will and way really is the Divine will and way in the world–sought to live lives appropriate to this new resurrection reality.

This reality we call, as Jesus did, the Kingdom of Heaven: the in-breaking of God’s world-renewing hope, peace, joy, and love, here and now–God’s will on earth as in heaven. When we gather together, learning to love and forgive, worship and work, pray and play in the wide space of God’s grace and love, we seek to align ourselves with the resurrection community through the centuries. Made one in Christ and one with each other, we are called to be a beacon of God’s work to reconcile all things in Jesus, crucified, risen, and reigning. In his name, all are welcome!

Diakonia (Service): Scripture tells us that Jesus, “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited [or grasped at], but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant.” (see Philippians 2:5-11) On the evening before he was crucified, John’s gospel (Ch. 13) tells us that Jesus stripped down, wrapped a towel around himself, and washed his disciples’ feet, like a first-century servant would.

Following his example, and his command to serve and love one another, Christians are expected to offer loving service to the world around us. We seek to do that through the ministries of our congregation, but we are also sent out, like seeds scattered by the Sower and blown by the winds of the Spirit, to love and serve beyond our church community, wherever we find ourselves in the world. The goal as we seek to “grow up in Christ” is to do everything, in word or deed, in the name of Jesus, to the glory of the One he calls Father (see I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3: 17).

Didache (Training): Pronounced “did-a-kay” this is the mark of a Christian community in which members are being trained in the way of Jesus. Followers of Jesus are often called “disciples,” which means something like “apprentice.” At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples, to go and make disciples themselves, teaching others to walk in the world as he did. The Christian way of life is not always intuitive; we need to learn the rhythms of mercy and grace, of radical love and extravagant generosity, of justice and righteous aligned with God’s dream and work for this broken and beloved world.

We know there are many voices and idols vying for our attention; the goal of Christian maturity is to center our attention, and our lives, on Jesus, and to walk in his Way. We are called to “be doers of the word, not merely hearers” (James 1:22); we are called to embody and live out the good news (gospel) of Jesus, the Word made flesh. As a congregation the “training” to do so happens in a number of ways, including: regular worship, through our Church School (for children, during worship), through weekly Bible study, bi-annual book/Bible studies, preparation for baptism or marriage, personal and pastoral care (with clergy and one another).

Kerygma (Proclamation): The Church has good news to share. Gospel means “good news.” It’s from the Greek word euangelion, a word that was first used to describe a royal announcement, often about the most recent military victory. When Christians adopted the term (see Mark 1:1) it was at least in part a reminder of a different kind of victory, by a different kind of king. The Christian witness is that in Jesus, God who made and loves all creation, has come into this world in a unique and revolutionary way–a way of self-giving love, mercy, and grace–a way that ultimately proved too much of a challenge to “the way things are,” and for which he was put to death by the authorities of his day. The Scriptures tell us that three days later, he was raised from the dead, vindicating his way in the world. Christians came to believe and know that through his death and resurrection, God was keeping his promise to Abraham, that the whole world would be blessed, restored and made whole.

After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to be witnesses of repentance (a new way of life, re-oriented to God and God’s way of lavish love) and forgiveness of sins (freedom from and healing for brokenness and guilt; and the restoration and renewal of our relationships with God, ourselves, each other, and all creation). The Church is called to continue in that witness, proclaiming in our words and actions, a different, Christ-centered way of living in the world, and of relating to one another, as we grow in the hope, peace, joy and love of God for us and all things.

 

November 26, 2020

Six Things to Do When Life Ain’t Perfect

A Reflection on Philippians 4

by Clarke Dixon

There is sometimes an expectation that since God loves us, and since we have responded in faith, then life should be pretty much perfect from now on. But then what follows in our experience is, well, far from ideal. When we realize that things are far from perfect we might be surprised. We might even fall to pieces.

Life is a reality check. Paul’s concluding words to the Christians in Philippi are also a reality check. The reality is, that things are far from perfect.

In Philippians chapter 4 we are reminded that the apostle Paul’s life was far from perfect. Here we are given the reason for the letter. It is a thank you note from Paul for the gift the Christians in Philippians sent him because he was in prison. Yes, this encouraging letter was written while Paul was in troubling circumstances. He may even be executed! We have good reason to believe that he eventually was executed following another imprisonment. Paul’s life was far from the perfect experience we seem to expect Christians to have. His life was no picnic.

In Philippians chapter 4 we are also reminded that the Christian church is far from perfect, since Christian people are far from perfect. In verses 2 and 3 we discover that there are troubled relationships. Euodia and Syntcyche are two leaders who are evidently mature Christians. Yet they are not getting along. They are not the perfect people we seem to expect Christians to be. Getting along was no picnic.

As a side note, if you ever find a perfect church, where everyone is perfect, don’t bother telling me about it. I don’t want to wreck the perfection by showing up.

Here we have evidence, of less than than perfect people in less than perfect circumstances. In fact you could say, messy people in messy circumstances. Perhaps you can relate . . .

So how do we handle the mess?

First, we do the best we can:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3 (NRSV)

Euodia and Syntyche are to iron out their differences and be reconciled. We can wonder if Paul in our day would encourage the Anglicans and the Baptists among others to iron out our differences and be reconciled. At any rate, we are to just do the best we can as individuals and faith communities and to help each other out the best we can too.

We celebrate God:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

Most translations go with “rejoice” or “be glad,” but I like those that say “celebrate.” It can be hard to just switch our emotions, to suddenly just go from grumpy to joyful. It is not like our emotions respond like a light to the flick of a switch. Think of going home grumpy from a hard day at work. We may still be grumpy when we get home, which is no fun for our loved ones. But if you go home to a celebration, a birthday celebration for example, your emotions may well catch up to your celebrations. When we regularly celebrate Jesus, celebrating all that is real and true in Jesus, then our awful emotions will eventually catch up with the awesome facts.

We grow in gentleness:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

How often have you heard a sermon on gentleness? If you attend my church, not very often, for I have not often preached on it. I suspect that across our land there are many sermons on holiness, and very few on gentleness. Yet gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. Gentleness is an important mark of following Jesus. I promise to speak about it more often. Perhaps we should all promise to grow into it more.

We give our anxiety to God through prayer:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)

Simply turning off worry can feel like an impossible thing to do. It likely is. Thankfully, we are not so much encouraged to simply turn it off, but rather to trade it in. Through prayer we trade it in for peace.

We focus our minds on good things.

I like Eugene Peterson’s rendition of the next few verses:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Philippians 4:8,9 (The Message)

We are so good at being focused. Unfortunately we focus on the dirt. We focus on the negative. We focus on what is worst about others, and ourselves. News and social media often doesn’t help in this regard. Let us learn to focus on all that is good, in God, in life, in our world, in our church, in others, and yes, even in ourselves.

We learn contentment with the reality of things:

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

Philippians 4:10-14 (NRSV)

Here we are, back to a reminder that Paul’s situation was from from ideal as he sits in prison, dependent on others for the basic necessities of life. Yet Paul could speak of being content. Yes, things could be better. But yes, things will be better. The reality is that being a Christian is no guarantee of a perfect life. The reality is that in Jesus there is the guarantee of God’s perfect love. As bad as things could get, they can’t do anything but get better yet.

Things are less than ideal in our day. We have been living through an incredibly messy year. We should not act surprised. In fact we have been sheltered. Messiness is nothing new. One of the books I read this summer was “A Journal of the Plague Year, written by a citizen who continued all the while in London,” by Daniel Dafoe. This book is a memoir about a plague that hit London, England, in the 1600’s. It puts our current plague into perspective. Thanks to advances in society, we are in a much better situation now than then.

The first Christians knew what Paul knew; life gets messy. Following Jesus does not excuse us from the mess. In fact, as Paul also knew, following Jesus could get you into a bigger mess. Sadly, many believers around the world today know that all too well as persecution continues to plague many Christ followers.

Let us not fall to pieces when life is less than ideal, when the people around us, including ourselves, are less than perfect. Let us do the best we can, celebrate Jesus, grow in gentleness, trade anxiety for peace through prayer, focus on the good, and learn contentment. May we not fall to pieces, but as we walk with Jesus, let us watch how God picks up the pieces.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor and his weekly devotional here is taken from his blog Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, which in turn are derived from his weekly sermons. With the pandemic, he’s been preaching shorter messages; each one he calls a full reflection and the shorter services he calls an online worship expression(Use the links provided to see other content from previous weeks.)

October 23, 2020

When You’ve Heard That Bible Passage Before

If you’ve lived a certain number of years as a follower of Christ, you’ve probably been in worship services enough times to have heard some popular narratives repeated many times. The speaker or teacher says, “Turn to Luke 15…” and before they can say “Verse 11,” you know it’s going to be The Prodigal Son parable, which, in all fairness, you’ve heard before.

At this point you might one of two possible reactions.

First, you can say to yourself, “I’ve heard this story before dozens and dozens of times. There’s nothing more you can do with this passage.” (The slightly more spiritual among you might add, with some resignation, “but maybe there’s someone else here today who needs to hear this.”)

Or you can breathe a quiet prayer and say, “Lord, reveal to me something in this narrative I haven’t seen before; something fresh you want to speak to me this day.”

I heard a Bible teacher once begin with a prayer that included, “…and if there’s anyone here who thinks they’ve heard all this before, help them to know that your desire is to imprint this indelibly on the tablets of their hearts.” (I actually have used that myself; see also footnote below.)

In Acts 8:26-40 Philip encounters a situation that looks like this:

NLT.26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia.* The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”

30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.

…if you don’t know the story continue reading here.

* The Voice Bible renders this, “a dignitary from Ethiopia (the treasurer for Queen Candace), an African man who had been castrated.”[italicized words supplemented]

Had the person in the carriage/chariot read this section of Isaiah before or was this a first reading? (That’s your homework question for today!) Either way, further illumination was needed.

But there’s a better example which for some of you is probably coming to mind. Post-resurrection (don’t you love that word!), Jesus encounters two people on the road to Emmaus, though only one of them is named.

NIV.14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

These two were not first-timers. They knew the scripture. They new the issue of the day. They, like so many, were looking forward to the coming of the anointed one, the Christ, the anointed one.

21 ... we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.

There hadn’t been a breakthrough.

There hadn’t been that “Ah-ha!” moment.

Until…

27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

…if you don’t know that story, continue reading here.

Can you imagine also being there and seeing the wheels start to turn in their heads? Or experiencing that along with them?

I’ve had many times when a book, a sermon video, a podcast, a Bible study group, or an in-person teaching has caused the wheels to turn, the light bulb to go off, and the… okay I ran out of analogies.

Some of these applications don’t stand the test of context, the test of the meaning of the original languages, or the test of consistency with the rest of scripture.

But most add to my understanding.

I may have heard it all before, but I need to hear it again.

Or hear it differently.


The idea of something “written on our hearts” can be found in these verses:

Hebrews 8:10  This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (NIV)

Jeremiah 31:33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (NIV)

Hebrews 10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them, after those days, says the Lord, putting My Laws into their hearts, and I will inscribe them into their mind” (BSB)

 

 

October 12, 2020

What’s the Mission of Your Local Church?

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24-25

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Jesus, Matthew 18:20

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. – Colossians 3:15

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word. – Ephesians 5: 25b-26

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. – I Cor. 12:27

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:4-6

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church ,which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. – Ephesians 1:22-23

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. – Jesus, Matthew 16:18

if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. – I Timothy 3:15

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. – Ephesians 4: 11-13*

 

As I shared with readers at Thinking Out Loud earlier today, there is a song from a 2012 album which captivated my imagination back then as to what the local church can be and do, and it’s this song by former NorthPoint worship leader Eddie Kirkland. We play Christian music each evening during dinner and this one came around again on Friday and it’s been playing all weekend.

Consider the lyrics; play the video below as you read them; re-examine the scriptures at the top of the page, then follow the links at the bottom of the page to look at more scriptural images of the local church.

We want to be a church where freedom reigns
We want to be a people full of grace
We want to be a shelter where the broken find their place

We want to be a refuge for the weak
We want to be a light for the world to see
We want to be a love that breaks the walls and fills the streets

All are welcome here
As we are
As we are
For our God is near every heart

Let Your mercy rise
Let Your hope resound
Let Your love in our hearts be found
Let Your grace run free
Let Your name bring peace
Heaven come in the here and now

We want to be a door that’s open wide
We want to see compassion come to life
We want to carry truth that shines a beacon in the night

We want to see the city fill with hope
We want to bring peace to troubled souls
We want to tell the story of a God that we can know

All are welcome here
As we are
As we are
For our God is near every heart

Let Your mercy rise
Let Your hope resound
Let Your love in our hearts be found
Let Your grace run free
Let Your name bring peace
Heaven come in the here and now

Let justice roll like a river wild
Let mercy grow like a burning fire
Let it come in the here and now
Your kingdom come til it rules the earth
Your will be done all around the world
Let it come in the here and now

All are welcome here
All are welcome here
All are welcome here
As we are
As we are
For our God is near every heart

Let Your mercy rise
Let Your hope resound
Let Your love in our hearts be found
Let Your grace run free
Let Your name bring peace
Heaven come in the here and now

Let justice roll like a river wild
Let mercy grow like a burning fire
Let it come in the here and now
Your kingdom come til it rules the earth
Your will be done all around the world
Let it come in the here and now

Let justice roll like a river wild
Let mercy grow like a burning fire
Let it come in the here and now
Your kingdom come til it rules the earth
Your will be done all around the world
Let it come in the here and now
Let it come in the here and now 


Scripture sources: DailyVerses.net, Knowing-Jesus.com, OpenBible.info, BibleStudyTools.com

*NLT; all other verses NIV

October 8, 2020

The Path to Unity (According to Paul)

by Clarke Dixon

This is a time of incredible division. Though we are Canadians, we cannot help but hear all the shouting to the South of us, especially with an election in the near future. America seems to be coming apart at the seams.

As a Christian I can’t talk. Church communities have faced divisive issues from the get-go. In New Testament times it was the eating of meat sacrificed to animals. In our day it is the response to the LGBTQ+ community.

Division is not limited to nations and churches. We are told that divorce rates are at an all time high. It is a time of division, and it looks like it is only going to get worse. How can we break through to unity?

The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi about unity in his day, which will help us in our day. In fact it will help avoid it in the first place.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV)

In other words, if you are a Christ follower, then be “of one mind.” But how do we do that? Unity is the goal, but what is the path?

We may think that the path to unity is uniformity. We just need to get everyone thinking the exact same things. Before we move forward on that assumption, let us keep reading what Paul has to say, let us follow the path he points us toward:

. . . be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

Philippians 2:2-5 (NRSV)

The path to unity is humility.

Why is humility the path to unity where we might expect uniformity? When uniformity is seen as the path to unity, it is not always the voice that is most correct that wins the day. Often it is the voice that speaks the loudest. Sometimes the voice that is heeded belongs to the one whose arm is the strongest.

That is how things worked in the Roman Empire. Step out of line and you could be crucified. Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi, a colony of Rome, to no longer have the mind of Roman, but instead:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)

Don’t think like Romans, for whom the cross, as a means of terrible execution, was a symbol of power. Instead think like Jesus, for whom the cross is a means of grace and forgiveness.

Don’t think like Romans, who exploit their position of power in the world, but think like God, who did not take advantage of his own position of power for his own sake, but came to us in Jesus for our sake.

If God was thinking like a Roman and had resorted to brute power to put things right, he would have wiped us all out and started over without us. Instead, God came to us as one of us and experienced the worst of us, for us. We were divided from God, a huge chasm existing between ourselves and God because of sin. We also became divided from each other. Through His humility, God brought has brought unity.

Power is the path to unity in empire thinking. Humility is the path to unity in Kingdom thinking.

Do we think like Romans or like Christ?


Rev. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. The full sermon on which this is based can be seen as part of an “online worship expression” from October 4th.

August 30, 2020

What’s In Your Hand?

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt…

“The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. “And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed…

Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”  Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it…

“This,” said the LORD, “is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has appeared to you.” Exodus 3: 15-17a, 18-21, 4:1-3, 5

Earlier this week, I was thinking about the people whose Christian identity is defined by the things they do in terms of Christian service, and how much of this service revolved around church activities which ceased after the lockdown. Preparing the Communion table. Handing out bulletins. Singing on a worship team. Greeting visitors. Serving coffee.

If your entire realm of Christian service consisted of areas of ministry activity at a weekend church gathering, and you didn’t find anything to replace it, then you clearly haven’t been serving God much lately, have you? No wonder you’re anxious to return to live, in-person worship.

My wife, on the other hand, has been busier now than ever. She stepped up from her worship-leading focus to create a media-focus in a smaller church where none had existed previously.

For me, I’ve gone from feeling immobilized for the first six weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, to a return to greater activity, including preparing these devotionals on a daily basis at a time we had previously announced we would be cutting back the frequency from its current 24/7 schedule.

As I thought about wanting to do more earlier this morning, I was reminded of God’s word to Moses.

Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

If you’ve found yourself wanting to find new ways to offer service — assuming that your personal spiritual development through prayer and scripture hasn’t waned during this period — you might want to ask yourself the same question, “What is that in your hand?”

In other words, what do you already possess that God can use, if you will allow it to be used.

[At risk of going off on a tangent — which I’m about to do anyway — I should say that when this verse was impressed on me, I was actually holding my toothbrush in my hand. There are people who take things like this quite literally, but I’m sorry to say I don’t have a wonderful toothbrush analogy to share, or a vision of how the toothbrush represented something significant. You can feel free to leave a comment. Or maybe not.]

The thing in your hand might be:

  • an email address you can use to get in contact with someone you haven’t heard from in a long time
  • a conversation you can start with the person(s) walking their dog by your house each night after supper
  • a bank balance that’s been untouched by restaurants and recreation that can be used to make a donation to a needy individual or a smaller, underfunded charity
  • a talent for sewing, woodworking, baking, automotive-tinkering, etc., that can be used to bless someone with a physical gift or the gift of your time
  • a Christian book, novel, study resource, sermon audio, DVD, etc., that can be passed on to someone who might enjoy it

and so many other things I could list here.

The writer of Ecclesiastes offers this (9:10)

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

BibleHub.com notes that Paul echoes this in two passages,

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters – Colossians 3:23

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. – Romans 12:1

Again, what have you got at your immediate disposal?

We’ll continue this thought tomorrow with a re-broadcast of an article which looks at this verse:

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.
– Eph 5:16 KJV, NLT

all other scriptures NIV

August 9, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: The Church

For the last two days we’ve been looking at what are called The Five Discourses of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

■ Take time now read all of Matthew chapter 18.

The idea of ‘church’ as a building would have been a very foreign concept on the day Jesus had this particular huddle with his followers. Rather, He is talking about the relationships in the new community of believers.

This chapter deals with relationships in the new, emerging community that Jesus is shaping; these called-out ones; followers of what will be called The Way. This is sometimes referred to as The Ecclesial Discourse, and there is an extensive (i.e. quite lengthy) study page on this, including a helpful Q&A approach at this link.

The Greatest in the Kingdom

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  Matthew 18:1-3

This theme is recurring throughout the Jesus narrative. The mother of James and John dares to ask if her sons can sit to the left and right of Jesus, and then we have that embarrassing scene right after He has washed their feet and given them the symbols of his broken body and shed blood:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  Luke 22: 24-26

The answer is always the same, a reminder of the “upside down” nature of His kingdom.

Causing Others to Stumble

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  Matthew 18:6

Here Jesus warns about something that is going to be a great threat to the new community He is building: Corruption from within. How many times have you heard quoted — both from people inside the church and outside — that the greatest stumbling block to Christianity is Christians.

This situation can develop when Christians let down their guard and become lax about moral and ethical standards. However, it can also happen when well-meaning people impose rules and regulations on what Romans 14 calls those whose faith is weak.

Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.  Romans 14:13b

The Sheep Who Wander

While we left the “parabolic” discourse behind yesterday, this chapter does contain two parables. This very familiar one is a continuation of the thoughts above, told in terms of one sheep out of a flock of a hundred who has wandered off. In Luke 15, this story will become part of a trilogy including a lost coin and a lost son.

In the NIV, the first part of verse 10 begins, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones….” The full verse in The Message reads, Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?

A Pattern for Confronting Sin

Jesus issues a four-step guideline for dealing with sin in the community, which is totally connected to the idea (above) concerning those who cause others to stumble:

  1. Go directly to the person
  2. If they don’t listen, repeat, but bringing a couple of others with you
  3. If they still don’t respond, bring the matter before the assembly; the congregation
  4. If they are still not repentant, treat them as a pagan.

It’s not step four implies a complete excommunication, though some groups today practice this type of shunning.

This brings us to the verse,

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Matthew 18: 18

At this point in church history, many different opinions exist as to the meaning of this verse, and we’ve covered (perhaps inconclusively) that a few years ago in What is Meant by Binding and Loosing.

The Forgiven Servant Who Doesn’t Forgive

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18: 21

This is the longest section of Matthew 18, running to the end of the chapter at verse 35. Even beginning Bible readers will see a connection between this parable and the familiar words from Matthew 5:

and forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Matthew 6:12 NLT

The servant is let off the hook, but refuses to do the same in the matter of a much, much smaller debt. As I mentioned two days ago, I owe this attention to these discourses to Michael Card who writes on this passage:

 One of the key concepts of mercy (hesed) is that once we are shown mercy; we become obligated to give mercy. On realizing that the person from whom we have a right to expect nothing has given us everything, we must reciprocate.  –Matthew: The Gospel of Identity p166

There is one more block of teaching to follow. Stay tuned!

July 16, 2020

Not “My,” But “Our” – A Refection on the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy. – Matthew 6:9

by Clarke Dixon

Prayer is a very personal thing. If we are being honest, the words “I,” “me,” and “my,” show up a lot in our prayers. Yet when Jesus teaches us to pray, we are to address “our” Father in heaven. Throughout the Lord’s prayer we also encounter “us,” and “our” a lot, but never “me,” nor “my.” This is important and reminds of three important facts as we learn to pray.

First, when we pray our Father, we are reminded that God is Someone we experience together. Faith is personal, but it is not something we create for ourselves, it is not something we possess and control or change for our own purposes.

If we began our prayer with something like “my personal cosmic being” we could then perhaps conjure God up as we desire. However, Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father in heaven.” God is not someone we can change to suit our tastes. God has been experienced by a very large community of faith over a very long time.

If you ask my three boys what I am like, the facts they relate will need to fit with each other, plus fit with what you know about me. They might point to the obvious and say that I have blue eyes and and more grey hair today than yesterday. That would be true. Actually, my eyes were blue long before they came on the scene. We won’t mention my hair colour. You get the point though, that what is true about me is true about me whether you asked my boys or not. They cannot conjure me up, rather they experience me through my presence in their lives.

What is true about God was true about God long before you or I came on the scene. God is God, and that would be true even if there were no Church to speak of Him. God is not “my father, conjured up in my mind to suit my preference,” but “our father,” the one with whom humans have had a relationship for a long time. He is the one who revealed himself to his covenant people. He is the one who has revealed himself in Jesus. He is the one the community of faith has experienced and has spoken about. He is the one we meet in the Bible. He is our father, someone beyond us and experienced together by us.

When we pray “our father,” we are reminded that God is beyond us, experienced by a whole community of faith, and therefore can be discovered by us, but not conjured up.

Second, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we are part of a large family which is part of an even larger family of faith. Faith is personal, but it is not practiced alone.

The local church is a family of believers and so we can properly refer to one another as brothers and sisters.

Within our own church family I feel rather badly for those who have come from a tradition where one is taught to enter the sanctuary with quietness in order to prepare for worship. That simply does not happen at Calvary as there is a lot of chit-chat which goes on before and after the service. But as I like to say, God loves a noisy church for it shows that relationships are happening. Yes, we gather to worship God, however, we gather to worship God together. As a family of believers we do not gather at the church, but as the church.

Of course we have an even bigger family to think about. The believers that would normally gather at the church down the street are also our brothers and sisters. As are the believers across the town. Even if we think they are weird. As are the believers across the world.

We are a huge family brought together not by our efforts at thinking alike, or even by liking each other, but by God loving us alike. We do not need to agree with our brothers and sisters to be family. We just need a relationship with our father. When you enter into relationship with God, you automatically enter into a family relationship with many people you might consider a little odd, or even a lot wrong.

When we pray “our father” we also think of the many generations of Christ followers which have gone before. God was their father too. Actually, God is still their father! The dead don’t cease to be God’s children!

Third, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we share something fundamentally important with all people, for God is the Father of all humankind. Faith is personal, but it does not not cut us off from the public.

I once heard someone make a distinction between Genesis 3 and Genesis 1 Christians. If we are Genesis 3 Christians we tend to see people first-off as fallen, as having suffered the consequence of the Fall. We may not even see people at all, we may just see sinners. Genesis 1 Christians on the other hand see people, first-off as being created in the image of God, for relationship with God. In that sense all humans are children of God. Praying “our” father reminds us of that.

However, we may wonder about those times the Bible speaks of people as being alienated from God, or even enemies of God. Is that not evidence that not all people can be called “children of God,” that from the Christian perspective they cannot be considered part of one big family?

Imagine you can go back to the days of slavery in the Southern States. If you met a slave, would you say “slave is an appropriate term for you for that is what you are, this is where you belong,” or would you say “slave is a tragic term for you for you were created to be free. You were created for something better. Slave fits your current situation, but not your identity. You are not currently where you belong.” So too, with those who would live far from God. There are terms, like stranger, and enemy, which accurately describe their situation due to sin, but those terms are tragic. All people were created in the image of God, for relationship with God. He is calling them to come home. In his grace he is offering forgiveness and a new start through Jesus. They are his children, but children may end up living with zero relationship with their parents. This is tragic. Do our hearts break?

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that God is father to all humanity. We are reminded to have the same kind of love and longing for all people from all peoples as God has. Our hearts will break for those who are far, even as God’s does.

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that family dynamics are always changing. Every person we meet can potentially also desire to pray this prayer too someday. Those far from God can come home. Faith is personal, but it is not private. What we call “evangelism” is often seen as unethical in our day of privacy and individualism, however, evangelism is unavoidable when we pray “our father.” Our father desires that all His children come home. Given that we are family, we would love to see them come home too!

“I,” “me,” and “my” may show up a lot in our prayers and that is fine. Prayer is personal and we approach God as individuals. He relates to each of us on a personal and individual level. However, let us remember that Jesus taught us to pray addressing God as “our” father. Let that be a reminder that,

  • God is a very real Someone that an entire faith community has experienced, and continues to experience.
  • we are part of a big family, in fact a huge and complicated family of faith.
  • We are part of an even bigger and even more complicated family, which includes even those who would rather not be in the family at all, whom God loves and is calling home.

May we ever be mindful that God is not just “my father,” but “our father.”


This reflection comes from the “online worship expression” at Clarke’s church You can also watch the reflection here.)

July 13, 2020

Spiritually Good People Can Be Worn Down by the Spiritually Bad

Today we’re returning to the website of The Superior Word Community Fellowship in Sarasota, Florida and pastor Charlie Garret. Readers there have been working verse-by-verse through the book of 3 John, and if you go back into previous articles, you’ll learn much about a character named Diotrephes, and the effect he is having on the local church. (If you have the time, this makes a good study.) Then, John moves to a passage which might be more familiar to us. Click the header below for today’s piece.

3 John -11

Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. 3 John -11

John now begins a new thought, as indicated by the word, “Beloved.” This is the fourth and final time he uses this word in the letter. As with each instance, it is referring to the main addressee of the letter, Gaius. John has just referred to Diotrephes, noting his disgraceful conduct towards those he interacts with. Understanding this context, John now says, “do not imitate what is evil.”

The word mimeomai, translated as “imitate,” is seen only four times. This is its last occurrence. It is the root of our modern-day word “mimic.” Thus, the translation as “imitate” is well-founded. Gaius (and also we who apply John’s wisdom to our lives) is encouraged to not imitate what is evil. This implies that what Diotrephes was doing is, in fact, evil. The word translated as “evil,” however, is not the same as the previous verse. This word is a more universal word signifying morally bad. One can think of rot in wood which eats away at the tree.

Therefore, rather than imitating such conduct, John next says, “but what is good.” In this, Gaius needs to look no further than the example of Christ. Diotrephes had rejected that. Instead of being vibrant and healthy, his actions were rotten and in a state of decay.

John next says, “He who does good is of God.” The idea here is that the good a person does shows that he is out of, or from, God. His actions demonstrate the character, and the source of, who he is. Jesus referred to this in Luke 20 –

“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Understanding this, John then finishes with, “but he who does evil has not seen God.” John’s words are to be taken in a general sense. There are people who do things which are “good,” which may be even more admirable than that of Christians. And there are Christians who do things which are not so good. They may be worse than those who are not Christians. What John is conveying is a state of being similar to that found in 1 John 3 –

“Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” 1 John 3:7-9

A person who is in Christ has moved from the authority of the devil to the authority of Christ. His actions are reckoned in an overall state.  Without being dogmatic on the matter, it appears that John believes Diotrephes had never truly believed in Christ. His actions are contrary to what a true believer would do. However, he does not question his salvation. He simply makes the observation that what Diotrephes is doing reflects the character of someone who has not seen God (meaning believed in what God has done in Christ).

Thus, when he comes, John indicates that he will deal with the matter. It will probably be an action similar to what Paul exhorted the Corinthians to take in 1 Corinthians 5:13. By putting him out of the congregation.

Life application: One may question, “Why would John say the words of this verse to Gaius if he had been acting in a Christian and responsible manner so far?” The answer is that just as a stone wears down to a pebble in a river by the continued slow grinding of the water and turbulence, we are equally susceptible to wearing down in our Christian conduct.

Bad company and bad examples will always bring down those around them unless they are diligent in maintaining their good behavior. This is abundantly evident in the political landscape of America. As people practicing perversion, and others with less than moral behavior, move into positions of power, those around them tend to degenerate into like-mindedness. The exceptions are belittled for their morality and defense of godliness. Eventually, only the most resolute and determined souls maintain their strong morals – usually at the expense of any true influence. This then is what John is warning against.

When he says “does good,” he is using a term which describes moral and spiritual goodness, just as mentioned in the example of those in politics above. The Greek word translated as “does evil” refers to something which lacks the necessary qualities that it should otherwise possess – like a lemon in a car lot. This was Diotrephes – the lemon on the lot, inferior and unworthy of any true value in the kingdom of God. We know this because John says that he who acts this way has not seen God in any heartfelt way which would qualify him for glorification.

Glorious and Almighty Heavenly Father – the world is a difficult place filled with perversion, wickedness, and unrighteousness. It is so very easy to become overwhelmed by the ungodly living around us. Please be our Shield and our Defender against the fiery darts which are constantly thrown at us. Keep us wholesome and healthy in our walk with Jesus. Amen.

July 3, 2020

Communal Faith

NIV.Mark.2v1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Today I want to highlight and recommend a book that I just received in yesterday’s mail, and I’m already halfway through. Why Would Anyone Go To Church: A Young Community’s Quest to Reclaim Church for Good by Kevin Makins (Baker Books, 2020) is the story of Kevin and his wife Meg and a team of volunteers who planted Eucharist Church in the urban core of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. It’s full of insight and practical lessons for anyone who wants to do ministry in the inner-city. Learn more from the publisher about the book at this link. Follow Kevin on Twitter at this link.


…When the word gets out that Jesus is back in town, the entire region comes to see him. Before long, the house he’s in is so packed that no one can even get on the property. People are poking their heads through windows and climbing on shoulders just to hear one of his stories. Those outside the home notice a small group in the distance, carrying something between them and moving quickly despite the heat. “You should have come earlier if you wanted a seat,” someone shouts to them as they get closer. “Unless you’re carrying a pile of gold on that mat, you ain’t gettin’ in!” But the truth is that they had started scrambling as soon as they’d heard Jesus was back in town–the four friends working to track one another down before heading to the fifth, who is always at the same place: the city gate.

The men are carrying their friend, who has been unable to walk for as long as they have known him. To be paralyzed in any culture is to face unique challenges, but in the ancient world, without social assistance or accessibility laws, it was difficult to even survive. Unless you had people who cared for you. Being resourceful fellows, they decide to bypass the front door entirely, instead boosting one another onto the roof of the clay house and carefully hoisting their friend up as well. Inside, the people try to ignore the sound of footsteps on the roof, but when dirt begins to fall onto their heads, it proves impossible. Looking up, they see cracks forming as chunks of clay begin to fall, and before they can even piece together what’s happening, a human hand has burst through. The ceiling is quickly being replaced by daylight which is then interrupted by a large shadow. Something is being carefully lowered down…

…Jesus looks up to the four friends whose heads are now peeking in from the corners of his new sunroof and, having witnessed their faith, he heals the paralyzed man.

But, wait, that can’ be right.

The author must have meant that when Jesus saw the paralyzed man’s faith, he healed him. But that’s not what the text says. It says that Jesus saw their faith. Plural. The faith of the paralyzed man’s friends made him well. The Gospel accounts are filled with stories of people helping one another experience Jesus’ healing. A Roman centurion has enough faith to heal–not himself but his servant. A woman has faith to heal her daughter. Faith is never an individual exercise. There’s a reason Jesus didn’t select one good student but instead called twelve apostles and seventy-two disciples. It’s the same reason the early Christians clustered together and formed the church. It’s why the Nicene Creed doesn’t begin with “I believe” but “We believe.” Why the Lord’s Prayer begins with “Our Father who is in heaven,” not “My Father who is in heaven.”

Faith is a communal endeavour…

…Once we rediscover this side of church, so much begins to fall into place. Many of us were taught that we needed to believe the right things to belong in the church, but maybe we don’t need to have all our intellectual opinions sorted out before we start to follow Jesus. If church is a community of people called by God to move toward Jesus, then it’s perfectly acceptable to walk with others in that direction, even if you don’t know what you personally believe.

Eucharist Church celebrates Communion every Sunday afternoon, and we are quick to remind people that this table does not belong to our church. It’s Jesus’ table, and he welcomes all who desire to come to him, whether they have a lot of faith or just a tiny mustard seed of belief. What’s important is that we come to Jesus’ table together and bring him what we have. Feelings and intellectual opinions will come and go; they aren’t a good foundation for a life of discipleship. But when we bind ourselves to a group of people who have committed to move toward Jesus together, we no longer have to be anxious about what we feel or think in any given moment. We can trust that those around us will help us get to Christ, and as we grow and mature, we’ll even be able to help others.

(excerpt from pages 61-64)

June 17, 2020

Drive In Service: Stuck Inside a Car, But Experiencing Freedom

Today another new author for you, and an unusual devotional format as well. Marjorie Wingert’s focus on her blog is Prayer Over Our Children. On her ‘About’ page she explains,

…As a new parent seeking to raise her child up in the Lord while recognizing the power of prayer in my family’s life, I hungered to proactively pray on behalf of my child. Oh, how my mother’s heart beat to pray against the temptations and struggles that will inevitably bombard our children as they grow. Moreover, I desired to pray in a way that would deepen my walk with our Heavenly Lord while feeding my soul with the meat of Scripture.

One evening as my husband and I were joined in prayer, the Holy Spirit whispered softly to my heart. Why not pray Scripture over her? Why not read a chapter a day from the Bible and use the content from each passage to form your prayer? My eyes popped open. What a great solution!…

So, for example, in its original formatting, following the scripture verse, today’s sample blog post begins,

Prayer Over Our Children
Call my child to You, oh Lord, and surround her with an abundance of Your joy and love. I pray that You will keep her from unbelief, sexual immorality, perversion, slander, and ungodliness. May she not grumble, boast, flatter, fault find, or follow evil desires. Instead, I pray that You will buildup in her a most holy faith and help her to learn to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. Keep her in Your love, oh God, as she waits to be brought to glory. May You also help her show mercy and intercede for others. Oh Lord, keep my little one from falling but help her to stand before Your glorious presence without fault and with great joy. Amen.

Parents might want to read more prayers like this as a model for something you can do in your homes.

…Currently, Marjorie is in a series on Revelation. So I scrolled back to this post-Easter article to find you something that would work as a stand-alone devotional. Please, click the header below to read this at source, and consider subscribing to her blog, marjoriewingert.com


Jude

“But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
Jude 1:20-21, NIV

Living Hope

The day dawned like any other. The sun rose, people slumbered in their beds, and quiet tip-toed through the neighborhoods. Birds chirped their greetings and winds rustled the leaves clinging to tree branches. Young children scrambled to start their day while their parents groaned for more sleep. Today, however, was different. It was Easter Sunday!

My own family tumbled out of bed for the early service. To a nearby fast food restaurant, we headed. Our special Easter breakfast comprised of egg, bacon, and cheese muffins. Hash browns rounded out the meal with small cups of orange juice. Armed with an arsenal for our growling bellies and music blaring from the radio, we nibbled our way to the Easter “drive in” service.

Having participated in sunrise Easter services, never did I dream that Easter “drive in” services would also be added to my repertoire. We sat in our vehicles with one parking spot in between each car to ensure social distancing. Everyone remained in their vehicles and each radio tuned into the same low frequency airwaves. Some engines idled while others remained off.

Here, in this unlikely gathering of dusty vehicles, the Holy Spirit fell strong and vibrant upon this unconventional Easter service. Surrounded by fast food wrappers, empty water bottles on the floor, and neighboring cars instead of people in pews, our souls feasted on a message of hope. In noisy procession, geese banked high above us, raining down their honks of hallelujahs. Even sun rays which crested above the rooftop painted the perfect backdrop to the morning.

Yet, while hearty “Amens” flashed by flickering car lights and hands clapped or raised in praise, two truths unfolded in my brain. The thoughts made my spirits soar and deepened my gratitude. For although our gathering today was far from the traditional Easter service, devoid of Easter lilies, decorative bows, and fancy dresses, something new and beautiful unfolded before me.

Clothed with anonymity within the privacy of our cars, a new freedom of the Spirit emerged. No longer was I hindered by the self-consciousness of what others would think. No longer did I suppress the joyful bubblings stirring for expression. Vibrant Amens frequented my lips. Even my husband flashed multiple Amens with his flickering car lights. A new freedom in worship washed over us.

Though surrounded by rows of cars, the seclusion which our individual vehicles afforded, produced a freedom in the Spirit I had never known. Freedom to dance in my seat. Freedom to wave my hands in praise. Freedom to shout jubilations. Freedom to whoop, holler, or yell agreements and affirmations. Freedom to raise a hallelujah!

Although many of us have felt the stirrings of the Holy Spirit prompt expression from the inside out, I suspect many of you are like me. We have tamped down the stirrings of the Spirit due to social etiquette and convention. We have opted not to give expression to our praise and adoration due to self-consciousness and worry of what others may think. However, here, in the privacy of my own car, I experienced the freedom to worship as the Spirit led. The freedom to dance as David danced. The freedom to let go of pride and self-restraint. The freedom to engage in authentic worship.

Interwoven amidst this dawning light, another truth spoke life. Hope. Yes, a hope that this virus will recede. A hope that someday soon we can emerge from our houses. A hope that a cure will be found. This is a good hope. This is a shared hope. However, what struck me is that we were hearing in the Easter message of a different kind of hope. This hope which bound us together and stirred in our very souls was not just hope. It was Living Hope.

A hope bound by earthly measures is not complete. It is like a cup that is half full. It awaits the richness of its potential, not fully blossomed into the abundance of its splendor. When this hope stands beside the crowning riches of eternal glory, it pales in the light of true Living Hope.

Living Hope is exactly that. It is living, it is breathing, it is palpable. It is firmed through the beatings, the blood, and the bruises. It is pounded through by nails driven deep into flesh. It was heard with the anguished yet triumphant cry, “It is finished.” It was seen in the darkness of the land and felt in the quaking of the ground. It was fulfilled with the veil torn top to bottom and the tombs of saints cracked open. It is marked by an empty tomb. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory? No longer does death have a hold over us. No longer does death have the final word. It is conquered. It is defeated. It is overcome.

Unlike earthly hope, Living Hope is not grounded in the visages of this world nor is it an emotion, desire, or wish conjured from within. It is derived from the eternal truth of the sacrificial act of the One who came to save. Living Hope is found in the person of Jesus, the Son of God who clothed Himself in human flesh, was crucified, died, buried, and raised on the third day. Jesus is not dead. He is alive. He is the Living Hope. He is our Living Hope.

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