Christianity 201

January 12, 2020

Understanding the Message Happens with Applying the Message

A year ago we quoted a short excerpt from the blog of author Rick Thomas. Today we’re doing the same, as this is taken from a much longer article written for pastors and leaders. I encourage you to read it at its source, in full. Just click the header which follows:

You Need More Than Preaching If You Want to Change

The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4, ESV)

1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The Purpose of the Parables

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

“ ‘they may indeed see but not perceive,

and may indeed hear but not understand,

lest they should turn and be forgiven.’ ”

13 And he said to them, Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

Community Contexts

In verses 1-9 Jesus was teaching to a very large crowd from the pulpit,so to speak. In verses 10-13 He begins to unpack the teaching lesson in a personal, customized, relevant, and practical way for His community.

The pulpit is a great place to exalt the Savior and expound the gospel, as well as call people to live lives of holiness. To be sure, God-ordained preaching for the proclamation of His Word. It is the foolishness of preaching that confounds the wise and empowers the faithful (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In addition to great preaching, you also find in Scripture that it is in the living rooms of the communitywhere the truths preached from the pulpit are worked out in the contexts of lives.

You can exhort someone over and over again from the pulpit to serve, and its possible he will understand, personalize, and apply that idea. But if you bring a towel and basin to his living room and wash your friends feet, you can be assured he will never forget that one act of other-centered serving (see John 13:15; Matthew 26:13).

Helping others is where Jesus excelled. He contextualized His preached Word in the community of the believers. He did not let the preached Word stand alone. He modeled His message to drive home His points.

Practically Speaking

Rachel has heard wonderful preaching the past 16 years of her life. Nearly every Sunday, she has been encouraged, enlightened, and envisioned about how to be a woman for God.

Recently, a growing bitterness took root in her soul toward her church, her pastor, and some of her friends. The more she hears the wonderful truths from the Word declared from the pulpit, the more cynical and suspicious she becomes. 

She’s seeing the discontinuity between the preached Word on Sunday and her marriage and family during the week. The dots are not practically connecting for her.

Sadly, her cynicism and suspicion are directed toward Godthough she would never say it that way. She hoped for a different life and believed it would come by “going to church,” as she put it.

Her belief about the church is why she committed herself to God and the meetings of the church. She even took on a ministry in the church to help in whatever way she could. Her faith and practice were real. Rachel loves God.

But like a person asleep in a boat, only to awake hours later to find they drifted beyond the buoys, Rachels marriage has seemingly slipped past the point of no return. All the while she is faithfully committed to her local church.

Rachel is not struggling with sound doctrine. She does not have a theological problem, as far as her understanding of the Bible. What she has is a methodological problem.

Building a knowledge base through learning and growing in theological understanding, is half the equation. Rachel is getting good information on Sunday morning. It is consistently biblical, easy to understand, and well-delivered.

Her problem is the other half of the solution she needs. Her church has not provided or trained her on how to take the good Word preached and work it out in the milieu (contexts) of her life. She needs a clear and practical application. The Sunday church meeting is not designed to fulfill that part of her solution.

Rachel is half-full: She knows the Word, but she has not been equipped to apply it practically in ways that matter to her life, marriage, and other relationships. If she continues this way, she’ll be running on empty before long.


Rick then continues with ten action steps for local churches. See the closing section of the article which I am again, linking here.

December 29, 2019

When We Speak of Joining a “Faith Community”

He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
 -Acts 9:2 NIV

At that point Felix, who was quite familiar with the Way, adjourned the hearing and said, “Wait until Lysias, the garrison commander, arrives. Then I will decide the case.”
 -Acts 24:22 NIV

This article took a long and roundabout route to get here. I do think his point is worth your time. Dr. Ed Searcy is a retired minister in the United Church of Canada in Vancouver. You can read more on his blog, Holy Scribbler. Or click the header which follows:

The Problem with Calling the Church a Faith Community

In recent years it has become common place in The United Church of Canada and beyond to speak of the church as a “community of faith” and to refer to congregations as “faith communities”. I suspect that this shift in language has been made in order to include ministries that are not patterned on a congregational template. This generic designation is also seen to allow for a sense of shared identity when in an inter-faith context. Some report it is language that is invitational to seekers. However, in adopting such a change it is worth stopping to note the problems inherent in calling the church a “community of faith”.

First, by speaking of religious communities as “faith-based” we reveal our captivity to modernity’s definition of faith. In this modern paradigm those who live in the “real world” of the market and of military might are not living by faith. Such people are “realists” who base their judgments on facts and figures. Yet coming to the conclusion that this “real world” is ultimate reality is itself an act of faith.  Everyone lives by faith in something or someone. There is no community that is not living by faith. The church is called to reveal the illusory nature of the so-called “real world” which pretends that it is not based on faith. Adopting contemporary culture’s designation of the church as a “faith community” suggests that we have forgotten that the offers of a good life marketed on all sides are offers based on faith. In such a world it is imperative the church bears prophetic witness that there is no such thing as a non-faith community. The question is not whether to have faith or not to have faith. The question is “In what or in whom will we place our trust.”

The second problem with calling the church a “faith community” is that this focuses attention on us. The issue becomes our faith or lack thereof. The human actors in the drama become the subject. Then theology (talk about God) is essentially anthropology (talk about us). We get to God through our faith. In this we imagine that Christianity is akin to every other religion. All religions, we assume, are about the human desire to connect with the divine. This is what we mean, so we think, when we identify ourselves as participants in a community of faith. Before we know it our worship and our life together puts the emphasis on us, on our needs and desires, on our doubts and our beliefs. God becomes the backdrop on which the human drama unfolds.

But the drama at the heart of Christianity is not human faith in God. The drama at the heart of Christianity is the faithfulness of God revealed in Jesus Christ. God is the subject, the church is the predicate. In Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we discover that the God who has promised to save and heal is carrying through on those promises. The faith of the church is the result of the faithfulness of God. Our faith is a sign of God’s faithfulness. Such faith as we may have in God is a gift the Holy Spirit – a gift from God. To say that the church is a community of faith is to say that it is a community that is always being formed by God’s faithfulness. The emphasis is to be on God’s faithfulness rather than on our response. Alas, while we may pay lip service to God our sermons and board meetings often move immediately to the matter of how we will accomplish what God is apparently leaving undone. Parker Palmer has called this temptation in the church our “functional atheism”. While we speak about God we do not act in ways that suggest we trust God to be redeeming creation and us with it.

We would be wise to remember names which have been used to identify Christian communities in the past (the following terms are described in more detail at the gathering). There is the name “church” derived from a Greek word meaning “of the Lord”. Not “people of faith” but “people of the Lord”. The first Christians were called people of “The Way” (Acts 9:2). This identifies disciples of Jesus as a people who think and act and live in the Way of Christ. This is much more specific than “faith communities”. It reminds us of the oddness that sets apart Christian communities because of the faithfulness of Jesus. Early Christians also called their communities “Ekklesia” (as in “ecclesial”). They borrowed this title – that means “called out to meet” – from the gatherings of free men who met to discuss matters of importance. Now slave and free, male and female, Gentile and Jew were gathering in a new kind of Ekklesia because Jesus, the Servant Lord, was the head of this surprising household (for a contemporary example visit the Ekklesia Project).

The oldest name for Christian gatherings was inherited from its Jewish roots. It is the word “synagogue” or “gathering”, often translated as “congregation”. The congregation is made up of those being caught up in the drama of the faithfulness of God. The recovery of names such as these is a useful corrective to the generic language of “faith community”. Along with recovering ancient names for Christian community I suggest we encourage one another to be creative with contemporary language in order to name something of the peculiarity, specificity and wonder of Christian communal life today.

 

 

December 13, 2019

Good Habits

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Luke.4.14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.

Today we are back again at the blog with the unusual name, More than Useless, written by Thom Fowler. Click the title below to read this at source.

He Went as Usual

Father, it is much later than I like but I just couldn’t stop what I was doing. You and I were working on this coming Sunday’s sermon and You were speaking and guiding me so clearly that I just couldn’t stop! May it be a blessing to those that hear. May our time be a blessing, as well. Amen.

Luke 4:14-16 (<<see above or click to read the passage)

Frequently, I see and hear excuses for why people don’t attend church. Let me share one from a slightly different angle.

12 Reasons Why I, as a Pastor, Have Decided to Quit Attending Sporting Events

1. The coach never came to visit me.
2. Every time I went, they asked for money.
3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.
4. The seats were very hard.
5. The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.
6. I was sitting with hypocrites – they only came to see what others were wearing!
7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.
8. The band played some songs I had never heard before.
9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.
10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.
11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches, anyway.
12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

Now this list is shared with a little tongue in cheek on my part but as I read through today’s passage something important was pointed out. At the beginning of verse 16, it says of Jesus,

When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath…

First of all, my Life Application Bible states, “During the exile when the Jews no longer had their Temple, synagogues were established as places of worship on the Sabbath and as schools for young boys during the week. [They] continued to exist even after the Temple was rebuilt.”

So, verse 16 states that Jesus “went as usual”.

Just for review, who is Jesus? He is fully God and fully man. Do you think that God needed to go to worship? And if you really give it some thought, wouldn’t His local synagogue had been a little sub-par, especially when compared to the majesty of heaven? But He went “as usual”.

Hebrews 10:25 encourages us by saying

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. NLT

Sunday is coming – and if Sunday doesn’t work others meet on Saturday night. Find yourself a place to set down the burdens you carry every day. Jesus will welcome you with open arms! Don’t miss out!

November 28, 2019

Asking Daniel: Should We Make Our Nation Christian Again?

This is the final in a series on The Book of Daniel called “Outnumbered. The Book of Daniel and Living As Christians In A Not-So-Christian Society.” The series begins here.

by Clarke Dixon

We have been considering how we might express our Christian faith in a society which has been pushing Christianity to the margins.

If you have been following along, you will wonder why we are ending half way through Daniel. This is a good place to shift gears, for the Book of Daniel itself shifts gears between chapter 6 and chapter 7, from being about the experiences of Daniel and his friends, to prophecies through, and to, Daniel.

Let us remind ourselves what we have learned thus far in Daniel chapters 1-6.

To summarize, in all these things Daniel was living out the words from Jeremiah:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NIV)

In other words; live as my people, but quietly among a very different people, making yourselves at home in a strange land. Reading between the lines, we might add; don’t form an army to try and fight your way back. Daniel quietly lived his life in devotion to God. He did not start a war. The early Christians followed a similar pattern as they lived as a minority group with very little influence on the governments of their day. They quietly lived Jesus focused lives and called others to join them in doing the same. They did not seek to start a war or fight for a privileged position.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NLT)

Is it time to declare war on our changing culture? Or is it time to settle in, to live as a different kind of people, but harmoniously among others? The Book of Daniel invites us to consider the concept of the separation of church and state. The Book of Daniel invites us to consider the value of religious freedom. The Book of Daniel invites us to reflect on good witness to God’s goodness which begins with a good relationship with God and is borne out through a good relationship with people. The Book of Daniel also invites us to consider that “God’s got it.” We have not spent time in chapters 7-12, but a recurring theme of the prophecies found there is that the future is in God’s hands. Our government may pass laws we don’t agree with. It is not the end of the world. The end of the world is God’s prerogative. God can be trusted with the future of the Church. Therefore our focus is not on rescuing the Church, or the privileged position of Christianity. Ours is not to rescue the Church, but to participate in God’s rescue of people.

In chapter 9 there is something else that is a crucial part of the experience of exile:

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes.
 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:
“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands.  But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations.  We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Daniel 9:3-6 (NLT)

Daniel prayed a prayer of confession. He knew there needed to be a greater connection with God. Daniel’s prayer of confession is focused, of course, on Moses and the Mosaic law. Our prayers of confession will be focused on Jesus:

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 (NLT)

As we face a changing nation, as Christianity is pushed to the margins, is our focus on making it a Christian nation again? Or is our focus is to make the Church more Christian than it has ever been.

November 7, 2019

Why God Isn’t Working In and Through You: A Checklist

A few weeks ago at Thinking Out Loud, I linked to the article that appears below from Charisma Magazine’s J. Lee Grady. He has been quoted, linked to, or excerpted at both blogs many times. Although we just had an article by him in August, I really wanted to share this one here. Click the title below to read at source.

There Are Some Types of Christians God Can’t Use

J. Lee Grady

About 17 years ago, I prayed the most dangerous prayer in the Bible while lying on the floor of my church near Orlando. I repeated these words from Isaiah 6:8: “Here am I. Send me.” Then I cringed. I knew God would “mess me up good” in order to use me to touch others for Christ.

I wanted God to use me, but I was painfully aware that we don’t just go out and start a ministry on our own terms. God bends and breaks those who speak for Him. He requires full surrender. I had to let go of fears, adjust attitudes and change priorities.

It has become popular today to suggest that God can use anybody. It’s true that He does not show favoritism based on race, age, gender, marital history, past failures or income status. Yet His standards have never been lowered; He only uses humble, obedient, consecrated followers.

Many Christians will never be useful in the kingdom because of mindsets or behaviors that limit the flow of the Holy Spirit or, as the apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:21a (KJV), “frustrate the grace of God.” I don’t ever want to frustrate His grace! If you want God to use you, make sure you don’t fall into any of these categories:

  1. Driver’s seat Christians. Jesus is not just our Savior; He is our Lord. He wants to guide our decisions, direct our steps and overrule our selfish choices. There are many believers who enjoy the benefits of salvation, yet they never yield control to God. If you want Him to use you, then you must slide over into the passenger seat and let Jesus drive. If you have a problem with willfulness, learn to pray: “Not my will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42b, MEV).
  2. Armchair critics. There are some people who roll up their sleeves and serve the Lord; there are others who make it their business to analyze and pick apart everyone who is doing God’s work. The devil is the accuser, so if you are accusing others, you are operating in the spirit of Lucifer. The Holy Spirit does not work through people who are bitter, angry or judgmental.
  3. Glass-half-empty pessimists. Many Christians today worry about what sinners are doing, and some spend hours trying to predict when the Antichrist will arise or when the world will end. Meanwhile there are other Christians who focus on winning lost people to Jesus and showing His compassion to a broken world. Who do you think will bear more spiritual fruit—the doomsday pessimist or the hopeful evangelist?
  4. Carnally minded Christians. It has become fashionable today for believers to lower the standard of moral behavior to the point that anything goes. Don’t be fooled. Just because more and more people are jumping on the bandwagon of sexual permissiveness doesn’t mean God has rewritten His eternal Word.

People who live in blatant sin cannot be instruments of the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 2:21 says clearly: “One who cleanses himself from these things will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, fit for the Master’s use, and prepared for every good work.” Our usefulness to God is based on whether we have submitted to the process of sanctification. Holiness is not an option.

  1. Church dropouts. I won’t win a popularity contest by saying this, but it’s true: God does not use people who have turned away from the church. Today it is fashionable to bash the church; some people have even established “ministries” to lure Christians away from church and into an isolated spiritual wilderness. Most of these church-bashers are bitter because they had a bad experience with a pastor.

I have only compassion for victims of spiritual abuse. But no one has the right to tear down the work of God just because a spiritual leader hurt him. The church is God’s plan A, and He does not have an alternative. If we are going to be used by God, we must get connected to the church and learn to flow with God-ordained leadership.

  1. Timid cowards. When Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to pioneer the church there, he exhorted him to break free from fear. He wrote: “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:8a). Fear has the power to paralyze. All those who surrender to the call of God must bravely open their mouths, defend the faith, risk their reputation and suffer rejection—and possible persecution. If you are afraid to share the gospel, repent of your fear and ask God for holy boldness.
  2. Lazy spectators. Many Christians today think following God means clocking in for a 60-minute service before driving to the lake. We read quick devotions on our smart phones and breathe short prayers during our morning commutes. But somewhere in all this 21st-century stress, we lost the meaning of discipleship.

If you want God to use you, you must take His call seriously and become a focused student of His Word and a passionate prayer warrior. The apostles of the first century declared: ” But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Halfhearted people never changed the world. You must be devoted, committed and passionate if you want to make maximum spiritual impact.

August 28, 2019

Letter to the Next Generation

At our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, we’ve linked to or excerpted material from Charisma Magazine’s J. Lee Grady almost since our beginning, and you’ve also seen his writing here several times.

Because today’s article is just the outline of a recent article, I want to encourage you especially today to click the header below. It provides additional commentary and also explains his context in writing this.

An Open Letter to Today’s Young Leaders

Ref. The book of 2 Timothy

Some scholars call this letter “Paul’s last will and testament” because he knew he would be stepping into eternity soon. He also knew Timothy would soon be hurled into the deep waters of spiritual responsibility even though he didn’t feel ready for the challenge.

Paul was passing the baton to his beloved spiritual son. The apostle had done everything he could to prepare him, but now it was Timothy’s time to shine. Paul gave Timothy five directives. I’m passing along these instructions to today’s emerging leaders—because if you don’t heed Paul’s advice you will drop the ball.

If you are called to be a leader, take time to read 2 Timothy this week and ask the Lord to prepare you for this adventure.

  1. Be bold. Paul advised Timothy: “God has not given us a spirit of timidity” (1:7a, NASB). Leaders can’t be fearful. That doesn’t mean you won’t have weak knees or anxious thoughts when you step out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t mean you won’t feel butterflies before you speak publicly. But you must swallow hard and go forward anyway. Someone must go first. If you have surrendered to the call to leadership, you must bravely push your fears aside. God can change a wimp into a warrior.
  1. Be strong. Paul told his spiritual son: “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2:1b). Paul wrote those words from a filthy Roman prison. He probably had iron cuffs on his wrists, and maybe lice crawling on his body. Paul was toughened by hardship and suffering. Every leader must be tested by adversity. If you can’t take the stress and the anguish that spiritual leadership requires, don’t try it.
  1. Stay true to God’s Word. Paul instructed Timothy: “Preach the word … for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (4:2-3a). Many leaders in the previous generation failed to preserve biblical morality. Many churches today are crumbling because we modified our theology to match popular culture instead of just preaching God’s timeless truths. (Please forgive my generation for thinking that we could vote to change God’s Word.)
  1. Make disciples. Paul told Timothy: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2:2). Notice Paul did not push Timothy to build big buildings or reach huge crowds. Paul stressed quality over quality. He knew the best way to build a faithful church is to start with a few authentic disciples and then multiply them.
  1. Stay on fire. Paul also told his spiritual son: “Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you by the laying on of my hands” (1:6b). What’s the secret to spiritual passion? I have never met a devoted Christian who didn’t spend lots of time alone with God. It was Moses’ secret. It was David’s secret. You must find the cleft of the rock. You must pray, read the Scriptures and pursue intimacy with the Holy Spirit if you want your spiritual fire to stay ablaze.

Paul was saying, “Stay lit!” You cannot lead God’s people if your embers are cold. This is the problem with so much of today’s church—we have “professional” leaders who aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit. They rely on intellect, gimmicks, church growth strategies and human ability rather than trusting God’s power. That might last a few years, but nothing will last if the branches are not continually connected to the vine.

As a father in the Lord, I am urging you: Be bold, be strong, stay true to God’s Word, make disciples and stay on fire. Soon you will be handing the baton to another generation. Please be faithful with what Jesus has charged you to do!

July 7, 2019

Worshiping God vs. Worshiping Government

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Last Sunday, my wife, myself, and each of our two sons were at four different worship services; four different churches. Though the following day was Canada Day, the national anthem was not sung at any of them this year, which is especially interesting when you consider that the Canadian national anthem is a prayer. (“God keep our land, glorious and free…”)

In the U.S., where statistically, most of the people will be reading this, it’s highly probable that your Sunday morning worship service contained some mention of the 4th of July or some other element involving nation, government, the President, etc. You probably have a U.S. flag at the front of your worship space. I’m not here to say whether that’s right or wrong, it simply is.

So this week I was especially struck by this verse:

“So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours”
~ 1 Corinthians 3:21

I might be reading something into the verse that readers even a few decades ago would not recognize. Still, let’s look at the larger principles.

At the web forum ebible.com the answer given juxtaposes different spiritual leaders; not the conflict between spiritual and civic/federal leaders:

This is not an easy passage to understand simply by looking at v. 21 alone. We need to look at the context of Paul’s argument and how “all things are yours” fit in it.

The larger context is Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthian church’s division between those who claim to follow Paul or Apollos (v. 4-6). This is natural considering the prominent roles both men play in the life of the Corinthian church. Paul uses the building analogy, more specifically temple, to remind the believers that the foundation is Christ and they are the temple. Paul reminds them of the futility of the worldly wisdom in v. 18 and the foolishness of men’s wisdom since the division is the result of boasting on certain man’s wisdom. So Paul writes, “Let no one boast in men.” The underlying reason is “All things are yours.” Starting with teachers, Paul, Apollos, and Cephas. They are “yours.” They are in the ministry to help the believers to grow in Christ. The believers do not belong to these teachers but rather they do. Paul then goes on to include everything in all sense (world, life, death, present and future) ringing with the truths in Romans 8 where all things work together for our good. The crux of the argument is that all these are ours because we belong to Christ who belongs to the Father. All this to say, therefore, there is no boasting anything but in Christ with whom we are co-heirs. Their ownership of everything should quiet all boasting based on to whom they owe their allegiance.

At VerseByVerseCommentary.com, the emphasis is the similar, but could be read in terms of different people in the same congregation having different opinions politically. (But of course that would never happen, would it?)

No Christian should put ultimate truth in the authority of man. This always causes divisions in the local church. All of God’s revelation is at our disposal so why should we get caught up in the wisdom of men?

Human wisdom is not permanent but temporal. There are two essential approaches to truth today: the natural and the supernatural. The one believes that all that one can know is bound within nature; the other believes that there is a God and that He has spoken. The person who believes that the natural is all that there is can never come to an ultimate certainty about anything, for he has delimited himself to finiteness. The believer who knows this can claim his status and assets to live the Christian life.

At Ellicott’s Bible Commentary at BibleHub.com, the emphasis is also on the danger of following spiritual teacher “A” or spiritual teacher “B”, but again, look at the language used in the first sentence:

Let party-spirit cease. Do not degrade yourselves by calling yourselves after the names of any man, for everything is yours—then teachers only exist for you. The enthusiasm of the Apostle, as he speaks of the privileges of Christians, leads him on beyond the bare assertion necessary to the logical conclusion of the argument, and enlarging the idea he dwells, in a few brief and impressive utterances, on the limitless possessions—in life and in death, in the present life and that which is future—which belong to those who are united with Christ. But they must remember that all this is theirs because they “are Christ’s.” They are possessors because possessed by Him.

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passage, at Christianity.com, shows a different emphasis.

All this should teach us to be humble, and make us willing to be taught of God, so as not to be led away, by pretenses to human wisdom and skill, from the simple truths revealed by Christ. Mankind are very apt to oppose the design of the mercies of God.

But where Henry expresses the key in terms of humility, the Reformation Study Bible at BibleGateway.com looks at the phrase “all things are yours” in terms of jealousy:

This principle demonstrates the pettiness and absurdity of the Corinthians’ quarreling. If we belong to Christ, then because of Him all things belong to us (Rom. 8:17, 38, 39; Heb. 1:2), and jealousy can have no place in our lives.

Conclusion

Commentators over the years have found different applications in this verse, even looking contextually at the larger passage.

  • worldly vs. human wisdom
  • quarreling vs. peace
  • unity vs. division
  • identification with a “party” vs. identification “in Christ”
  • humility vs. reliance on human skills and abilities

They could not have anticipated political discussions and divisions in the church lobby, or coming from the pulpit. Those writers could not have anticipated the climate of our day, especially in the United States, where political opinion overshadows everything including our fellowship at church.

Is it time for a spiritual reset in our local churches and denominations in terms of how everything is polarized and everything is either black or white?

 

 

June 30, 2019

We Are His Church

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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a worship liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

We are His church and we stand together.

We are one body, in one Spirit, called to one hope, under one Lord, with one faith and one baptism for one God, one Father of all.

Once we were without, now we are within.

Once divided, now unified.

Once hostile, now reconciled.

Once far away, now brought near.

Once foreigners and strangers, now fellow citizens and family.

We are diverse – many parts, with many gifts and many shapes and cultures – but built on one foundation into one building, a holy sanctuary, the Spirit’s dwelling place, standing with Christ himself as the cornerstone.

We are His church and we stand together.

*********

We are His church and we make a choice.

When He asks us, “Who do you say I am?” we choose to say, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!”

When He says, “Take up your cross and follow me” we choose to say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

When He says, “Will you leave me, too?” we choose to say, “We know You, and we believe You. No one else has the words of life.”

We are His church and we make a choice.

*****************

We are His church and we have an identity.

We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession,
so that we may shout His praise. Once we were not a people. Now we are God’s people.

God’s people hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven,
binding and loosing things in heaven and on earth.

God’s people are not bound by categories.

Categories like Jew or Gentile
– because He calls us from every nation to be His own.

Categories like male or female
– because we are all equal inheritors of His Kingdom and equal builders of His Kingdom.

Categories like slave or free
– because we are all free, and all bearers of His Name.
All redeemed from under the law, adopted as sons and daughters,
with the responsibility to act, to speak, to love in His Name.

In the name of the One who gave us life and set us free.

We are His church and we have an identity.

***********

We are His church and we are not our own.

Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this physical surrender is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, to this culture, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

We are His church and we are not our own.

***********

We are His church and we are forever.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:

Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity,
and He will live with them.
They will be His people,
and God Himself will be with them
and be their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer,
because the previous things have passed away.

Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” “

We are His church and we are forever.

February 14, 2019

Why Church? Becoming . . .

Today’s post is from Clarke Dixon’s archives and is part of a February, 2013 series called Why Church. It appears here for the first time.

by Clarke Dixon

I met a remarkable man many years ago. He told me of his Bible study routine which included at least three hours of intensive study in the Word each day, this being a man who knew the Bible very well and could quote it from memory better than anyone I know. But what struck me about this man was not his Biblical knowledge, it was his seeming complete lack of grace. Showing my own sinfulness I must admit to hoping that he would not die during my time as pastor of that church lest I may be called to officiate at his funeral, something I did not want to do! My impressions of him and relationship with him would have made a eulogy difficult. Here was a man who knew his Bible, yet something was amiss.

I have a book that lists 4,400 guitar chords, of which I suppose I know about 20, enough to play a few songs at least. It is entirely possible, given enough time and boredom, that we could learn all 4,400 chords, knowing exactly where on the fret-board to place our fingers. Yet if we have never practised playing, our fingers may not want to go where our vast knowledge knows they should go. Knowing the chords does not a solid guitar player make. Knowing the Bible does not a solid Christian make!

Ephesians 6 leads us to three words that are important for becoming a solid Christian.

First: Maturity

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,  to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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. Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV

As a pastor I don’t exist to simply convey information, any more than any parent exists to simply convey information to their child. Part of the work, and a fulfilling one I must admit, is to help people mature in Christ. Maturity in this passage is defined as “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Looking at it that way, we all have some distance to go!

Second: Change

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV

We often hear things like “I was born this way.” How quickly we run from change, sometimes even denying the possibility. And how often we hear of churches resisting change, even in minor details like carpet colours. Yet change is what a Christian is to do! We are a people who are all about change!

Third: Imitation

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2

What a challenge, to imitate God! This is challenging to some because they would actually prefer to be God, and so like Adam and Eve try be something they are not. Others find the challenge rather in trying to do things they don’t think they can, like forgive or learn patience. But we must be imitators of God and all the wonderful character traits that we see in Him, we reach for and by His grace, and through His Spirit, we begin seeing in ourselves.

So why bother with church? Because maturity, change, and imitation of God works so much better with others. We are not likely to do well in these things without others, and amazingly, God wants to use us to help others do well in these things also. Sure, we can memorize the entire Bible on our own, but memorizing the Bible does not ensure our growth as Christians.  Jesus did not call just one disciple, but twelve. Discipleship always works best in bunches!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

…or, if you prefer, all his articles here at C201 can be seen at this link.


Valentine’s Day Devotionals – various authors:

October 13, 2018

He Knows Your Works, Love, Faith, Service and Patient Endurance

Six months ago we introduced you to Martha Anderson who has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since January, 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com.

El Roi–The God Who Sees

I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.  Revelation 2:19

In Revelation chapters 2-3 there are letters to seven churches that are scattered throughout what was then called Asia.  God told John to write down both their strengths and their weaknesses. What strikes me as I read the letters again is this:  the words, “I know your works,” are repeated again and again. They are phrased a bit differently in some of the letters, like to Smyrna in 2:9, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)” and to Pergamum in Rev. 2:13, “I know where you live.”

Not only does God know the seven churches’ works, but He knows our works.  He told them things like, You have lost your first love, in Rev. 2:4 and, You have reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.  Remember then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.  Rev. 3:2-3

God didn’t just tell them words of rebuke, but also words of encouragement.  For instance, He told the church at Ephesus that they worked hard and had patient endurance.  Plus, they didn’t tolerate false teachers. To the church in Philadelphia, God told them that He knew that although they had little power, they had kept His word and didn’t deny His name.  God spoke of rewards to those who conquer and who keeps His works until the end.

† My question: What if God were to write you a letter?  What would He say? What strengths would He mention and what words of encouragement would He give?  Does it help you to know that He sees your heart, that He knows the things that you have done that no one else knows about, and that He knows the path you have taken?

If God were to say to you, “I know your works,” would that be a comforting and encouraging statement?  When Hagar fled from Sarai in Genesis 16 because Sarai was dealing with her bitterly, the angel of the Lord came and spoke blessings to Hagar in the wilderness.  So Hagar called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You are a God of seeing, for she said, Truly here I have see Him who looks after me. vs. 13.  That is where the name of God, “El Roi” is first used.

‡ El Roi, the God who sees, is a good thing.  God sees our works and He looks after us. He sees our love and faith and service and    patient endurance, and He will reward us for those things.  On the flip side, He also sees the things that we need to repent of. As Hebrews 4:13 tells us, No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.  It is much easier to shed off the yuck knowing that God  has my best interest in mind.

Forgive me for when my love grows cold and I tolerate false idols and teachers.  Wake me up so that you will not find my works incomplete. And thank you that You can trace my path and see my heart for You when no one else can.  You are the God who sees and who rewards.

 

September 17, 2017

Sunday Worship

While worship – acknowledging the worth of God – should be part of our everyday lives, we tend to do this best in a corporate setting. While we began this series saying that worship is more than just music; more than what we sing; we often forget that in that same corporate setting, we can ascribe worth to God, along with his majesty and greatness and power, in the words we pray.

This begs the question: Should those words be planned or spontaneous? While the terminology may differ if you’re taking a course in public speaking, rhetoric, debate, etc., in The Church we usually speak of extemporaneous worship vs. liturgy. So in prayer we’re talking about prayers which are generated on the spot, as opposed to those read from prayer books, from the prayers found in the Bible itself, or prayers simply written in advance.

Although the context is slightly different, I’m often drawn to this verse in this debate:

What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
-1 Corinthians 14:15 ESV

While I’m sure there is much to find online about the negative aspects of spontaneous prayer — “Well, uh, Lord we just want to tell you and Lord we just want to ask you from the bottom of our hearts that, um, well, Lord… I just forgot what I was going to say…” — there are times when prayers simply overflowing from a heart of both gratitude and devotion are exactly what is needed.

But instead, we want to focus today on the positive aspects of perhaps planning to use something which has been previously written. This is a small part of an article by David Bennett at the website Ancient and Future Catholics. Click the title below to read the entire article.

Objection: Why Do You Pray Using a Book

1. Written Prayers Provide a Solid Structure for Worship
The original intention of using written prayers was to provide a basic order for worship and prayer. This basic order can be traced back to the earliest church, and the words and phrases of most written prayers and liturgies (such as you may encounter in a Catholic or Orthodox Church) are practically lifted verbatim from the Bible or the writings of saints. The traditional order of worship includes the spiritually necessary parts of a worship service: confession, thanksgiving, communion, etc.

2. Written Prayers Allow for Common Prayer
The early Church was a tight-knit community. Today, thanks to Western enlightenment values, many tend to view Christianity as a highly personal matter. The early Church did not. Therefore, they often prayed many prayers together, and always would offer an “amen” after the presider said his words. The idea that everybody comes to worship to sing a few songs, hear a sermon, and pray their own spontaneous prayers that do not include the entire assembly is foreign to early Christian ideals, and was not a generally accepted way of worshipping until the latter half of the 20th century.

3. Written Prayers Allow For Real Freedom of Worship
(See # 1) I remember trying to piece together something for morning devotions, asking myself continually, “where in the heck do I start?” This became a bigger problem as I would spend more and more time just wandering during my private prayer time. Once I discovered the written forms of Morning and Evening Prayer, I found that having the structure actually gave me more freedom. Instead of wandering aimlessly, lacking any focus, I had a structure to work within. Keep in mind, written prayer forms allow for plenty of spontaneity, if not more, than structure-less prayer. Think of it like a football game. There are structures and rules…but…think of how much excitement is allowed within the structures! If we showed up to a field every Sunday and just acted spontaneously, we would rarely have as much fun as playing football, because the form of football is a proven, fun game. In the same way, liturgical form worship is proven, meaningful, and biblical worship, where a whole lot of cool things happen.

4. Written Prayers Connect Us to the Past and to the Wider Church
When we pray written prayers together, we are doing so with billions of past and present Christians. Thus, when praying written prayers we are not spiritually isolated within our own region or time period. Instead we are saying prayers that have been faithfully said throughout history. We are praying with Africans, Asians, Europeans, etc, and not just those of our same culture. Think of how many people have recited the Lord’s prayer, or the Agnes Dei, or the Sanctus. The number is certainly in the billions and includes peoples of all races and classes.

5. Written Prayers Are Time-Tested
Most well-known written prayers, including those used during Mass by Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestants, are time-tested because of their theological orthodoxy and clearly-stated themes. I have been in many non-liturgical churches, and sometimes the spontaneous prayers are so long and rambling that I wish the pastor had written down something! Sometimes they are so theologically thin that they seem so sickly and superficial when compared to great prayers of the past.

6. Jesus Gave Us a Set Form For Prayer
When Jesus taught us to pray, he gave us what has been traditionally called “The Lord’s Prayer” or, more commonly in Catholic circles, the “Our Father.” When Jesus gave his disciples this prayer, he gave them a useful form, which they could use and build from. He did not say, “when you pray, simply speak to God like you’re his best buddy, and say whatever comes from your heart.” While spontaneously speaking to God from the heart is very important, Jesus’ model for prayer is a form, showing the value of this type of prayer.

7. Written Prayers are Scriptural
Liturgical prayer, that is, prayer mixed with ritual, is firmly rooted in ancient Jewish worship. Ancient Jewish worship was not only strikingly ritualistic, but relied heavily on written prayers (for example, the Psalms). Christian worship follows in this pattern. Catholic worship even regularly integrates a Psalm (or similar canticle) into daily and weekly prayer services and Masses, usually sung, as in ancient Hebrew worship. This shows that many written prayers used in Catholic worship are taken directly from the Bible! Thus, written prayers allow a person to “pray Scripture.” Many written prayers that are not directly taken from the Bible are nonetheless full of biblical themes and symbols. Thus, far from being unbiblical, written prayers are probably the most biblical prayers available.

Does this mean there is no value to spontaneous prayers? Of course not! While written prayers are good for a variety of reasons, their use does not exclude made-up prayers. In fact, having a written form as a basic structure allows one real freedom to be spontaneous. Yes, written prayers can be misused, and are often said by people who don’t believe them, but this is hardly the fault of the prayers themselves. Spontaneous prayers can be misused as well. So why not give written prayers a try?

September 14, 2016

What it Takes to Have a Church

by Clarke Dixon

What do you have to have to have a church? Here are some possible answers I’ve heard along the way:

  • you have to have mission and vision statements.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture outside the church.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture within the church.
  • you have to have PowerPoint for the sermons, shorter sermons, or even no sermons.
  • you have to have a constitution, a budget, a proper system of governance, and a bunch of paperwork.  . . or risk losing your charitable status, which of course everyone knows you have to have.
  • you have to have buildings and paid staff.
  • you have to have programming for every age group and for every felt need.
  • you have to have values that reflect the society around you, which means ever changing values of course.
  • you have to have a worship experience that makes each person feel affirmed and good.
  • you have to have a good consumer experience for a happy customer.

House ChurchWhat does the Bible say you have to have to have a church? What better place to go than the Books of Acts where we read about the earliest Christians and the origins of the Church. In looking to the book of Acts there is one sentence that captures what you have to have to have a church:

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

Did you notice what was there in the first church without which you cannot have a church? No, not food. Just two things: “The Lord,” and “those who were being saved.”

“The Lord.” You cannot have a church without the presence of the Lord. And by Lord we do not mean just any god, or God in a generic sense. This is the LORD, Who created the heavens and the earth, Who created all life including humanity, Who called Abraham with a promise, Who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, Who gave His people the Law and the covenants, Who came to humanity in Jesus, and bearing a cross for our sin He rose from the dead, Who comes to us in the Holy Spirit, Who ensured we had a record of all this and more in the Bible. That LORD. The church is not in the business of promoting spirituality but rather has a ministry of reconciliation. We introduce people to that LORD. You can have all the things people generally think you have to have to have a church, yet if you are missing the presence of the Lord, then you don’t have a church.

“Those who were being saved.” We can read the entire book of Acts to be introduced to those people and find out what they are like. When we do we find out that they are an imperfect people, a growing and learning people, a praying people, a listening people, a preaching and reaching people, a generous people, a missionary people, a hope filled people, a changed people, and a willing-to-be-persecuted people. You have to have people like that to have a church.

Lego ChurchThere are some practical implications in needing only two things to have a church:

Church is a people rather than an organization. In the Book of Acts we are not given a manual on how to organize a church. Sometimes we might wish we were! We are given, rather, the story and stories of people responding and relating to the Lord. We do well to remember that we organize as churches, not for the sake of the organization created, but for the sake of the people God is re-creating. As you read through the book of Acts you never once hear a church named. There is no “Calvary Baptist,” or “Grace United,” or the like. But you hear time and time again about the Lord, about people, and about the Lord in relationship with people. When we celebrate a church anniversary, which is something we love to do for we like any excuse to have our cake and eat it too, we are not celebrating how long an organization has been organized. We are celebrating the lives that have been changed by God through the lives of the people who have been changed by God.

The church is something we always are rather than something we sometimes do. It is funny how when asked to describe our churches we quickly report on Sunday morning attendance. Instead we ought to report about what happens throughout the week. We should speak of the saints on their knees in prayer, those who visit, those who give, those who encourage, those who volunteer, those who forgive, those who are patient, those who are peaceful, those who are joyful, those who are self-controlled. . .  you get the picture. In the Book of Acts you never hear of a church described by numbers in attendance on a Sunday morning. But you you do read of people living their lives for the Lord every day. Church is what we always are, not something we sometimes do.

That you only have to have two things is good news for the small church. I must admit to being discouraged when I read a book written for small church pastors then realize they are written by superstar pastors, or that by “small church” they mean a church of 200. That is so not me, and so not us! Good news, to have a church you do not have to emulate the big churches and do everything they do. We are not to follow the lead of bigger churches, we are to follow the lead of the Lord. Small church leaders can learn to say as the church leadership said in Acts “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28)

That you only have to have two things is good news for a church under threat. We are told we face the threat of becoming irrelevant. From that perspective, the first Christians must have seemed supremely irrelevant. The apostle Paul discovered that the Gospel was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1st Corinthians 1:23). Yet the presence of the Lord together with the presence of God’s people was turning the world upside down.

Perhaps someday we will face the threat of losing our charitable status as we do not keep in step with a society that keeps changing step. Look to the first Christians. Never mind a privileged position in society, they were persecuted. Yet with the presence of the Lord and the presence of a people who set themselves to the task of keeping in step with God’s Holy Spirit, not even the gates of hell could stop the Church.

What do you have to have to have a church? Look to the Book of Acts where they did not have charitable status, buildings, mission and visions statements, organs, worship bands, a multitude of programs for every age, denominations, PowerPoint, constitutions, church growth consultants, or a very organized clergy. (Some days it seems the church I pastor still lacks organized clergy!) All they had was the presence of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit filled people of God. And it was brilliant. When we have those two things, it still is!

Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor in Canada; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

November 27, 2015

Judgment Begins with the Family of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we visit a new author who is also indexed at Faithful Bloggers. Theology in Overalls is written by Rev. Gregory Crofford. We looked at about eight different articles, but many were longer than we use here, so we settled on this one. Click on the title below, then click the “Home” button at the top to look at other stories.

Forgive us, Lord, for we have sinned!

They’re triumphant words, a hymn I sang often as a child on Sunday nights:

‘Tis a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle, washed in the blood of the lamb.

You’d think that 123 years after Ralph Hudson penned those 1892 lyrics that we’d be much closer as the people of God to that vision. But when I look at the church today, I realize how dry like a desert we are, how broken, how guilty, how desperately in need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing. We have forgotten that 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 is addressed to a group of believers, the Thessalonians. God calls the church to be sanctified, to be pure in her culture and her systems, yet we have fallen pitifully short and the watching world has surely noticed that we are no different than they.

Forgive us, Lord, for we your people have sinned!

No denomination has a corner on the market on righteousness. Across the spectrum of churches, things are awry. There’s no need to make a laundry list of offenses. That list is added to every day in online newspaper articles or on social media, undercutting our sacred mission in the world.

Forgive us, Lord, for we your people have sinned!

We look around us at our culture and see it plummeting downward. Too quickly, we are ready to call down upon those who make no claim to Christian faith the fiery judgment of God. But have we forgotten that God’s judgment falls first upon us, the church? Peter reminded his readers:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added).

Acts 5:1-11 is the fearful story of Ananias and Sapphira. Because they misrepresented to Peter the price that they had received for selling their land, Peter warned Ananias: “You have not lied to men but to God” (v. 4). Later, to Sapphira he asked: “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (v. 9). Because of the cover-up – their complicity in lying – both fell down and died, first Ananias then later – playing dumb – Sapphira. If nothing else, doesn’t this story teach us that harboring known sin in our lives has negative physiological effects upon us? If that is true for individuals, what effect upon the overall health of our churches is there when corporately we look the other way when there has been wrongdoing? Shall we be surprised should God one day look at us, his people, and declare:

Ichabod! The glory has departed (1 Samuel 4:21) ?

The Psalmist wrote:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24, NIV).

My prayer first of all is for myself, that I will remain transparent before God, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict  me of sin, leading me to ongoing change in my heart and life. But can it stop there? As God’s people, the church, let us acknowledge where we have allowed wrong ecclesiastical practices to go unchallenged and unchanged. Only then can the spiritual revival we seek take hold and make us the holy people God wants us to be. Surely, only a transformed people can transform our world (Matthew 5:13).

Together, let us pray:

“Almighty God, we your people have merited nothing but your disdain. In word, thought and deed, we as your church have failed; we have sinned. Like a land in drought, we are spiritually dry. Again and again, we have sought to increase our power and wealth rather than lifting up the powerless and destitute. We have run after position and fame, forgetting that your son, Jesus, divested himself of his glory, becoming a humble servant. Grant that we your people may  see the sinful log in our own eye then trust you to remove it. Do not repay us, your church, according to our transgressions or we will surely be lost! Forgive us, cleanse us, and fill us anew with the love and presence of the Holy Spirit. Help us, we pray, as your church not to conduct business as this world does, but show us a different way, your higher way. Hear us, we pray, for it is in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, that we with humble repentance offer this prayer, AMEN.”

May 18, 2015

Skipping Church

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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As I prepared to post today’s devotional, I was reminded that next Sunday, a well-known U.S. megachurch is simply shutting down for the Memorial Day weekend. I have a great admiration for these people, but I think this sends the wrong message. If lived in their community and attended their church, I would voice my displeasure next week by not showing up. (Oh, wait… never mind!)

Today we pay a return visit to the blog, Finding the Holy in the Mundane by Rachel Stephenson.  Click the title below to link.

Going to the Chapel

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 (MSG)

Hebrews 10                        Romans 12:1-5

As I child I don’t remember missing church. At some point during my childhood, I’m sure I did, but nothing springs to mind. It wasn’t until my sometimes rebellious young adulthood that I would skip church on purpose.

When I did, and my mom caught me, she would quote the verses above to me.

Like I shared with you all the other day, I’m not a great rule follower. The people I work with will attest to that. It’s not that I’m opposed to rules. I’m all for rules. I just need to understand the reason for the rule. I like to call myself a “big picture person” because it sounds better than “rebellious.”

Why should the believer attend church or meet together with other believers? That sounds like just another rule someone made up until you look back to the beginning of Hebrews 10. The author does a great job explaining the difference between the old ways of relating to God, through repeated animal sacrifice, and the new way made possible by Christ’s death on the cross.

The writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah. The Message paraphrases it this way:

This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper,
isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; This time “I’m writing out the plan in them,
carving it on the lining of their hearts.” Hebrews 10:16 (MSG)

God’s agreement with humanity now involves a relationship, not simply a contract. Christ’s sacrifice makes it possible to come directly to the Father. God wants an intimate, personal relationship with each person. He wants those who believe in Him to be a living example of personal connection and relationship.

The church is more than a building. The church is an entity that ministers God’s love to the world. No individual can accomplish what the connected, interrelated, united body of believers can accomplish. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he compared the church to the human body. Each person is interdependent on the others in the body to accomplish the work God plans.

Paul says that each believer finds meaning in being part of the body. No organ or body part would be productive or function properly on its own without all of the parts of the body working together. In the same way, a believer who does not make himself a functioning part of the church body by attending and being involved, will never be fully realize the potential God has for him.

While the combined effort of organized believers influences the world outside the doors of the church, there is a ministry within the body as well. The mix of young, old, male, female, seasoned and novice believers, the serious and the carefree, the detail oriented and the big-picture dreamers all come together to help each other affirm and motivate one other as each individual lives life. Varied experiences and gifts allow individuals to encourage and minister to the needs each other in the body.

As the day of Christ’s return draws near, the church is a place of refuge for both the believer and non-believer.

Be part of The Body—it’s crippled without you!

Father, thank you for giving us a living example of the intimate relationship you want to have with each of us. I will be active in the body of believers and do my part to share, motivate and encourage those in the church.

March 10, 2015

A Time to Mourn, A Time to Feast

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Today’s thoughts are from the unnamed writer at Justified And Sinner, based in California. Click the title below to read at source.

Time for Church? Time to Celebrate or be Reverent?

8  They gave an oral translation of God’s Law and explained it so that the people could understand it. 9  When the people heard what the Law required, they were so moved that they began to cry. So Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra, the priest and scholar of the Law, and the Levites who were explaining the Law told all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God, so you are not to mourn or cry. 10  Now go home and have a feast. Share your food and wine with those who don’t have enough. Today is holy to our Lord, so don’t be sad. The joy that the LORD gives you will make you strong.” 11  The Levites went around calming the people and telling them not to be sad on such a holy day. 12  So all the people went home and ate and drank joyfully and shared what they had with others, because they understood what had been read to them. Nehemiah 8:8-12 (TEV)

There are those that think church is a time for high reverence.  For everyone to sit calmly and sedately, to not make noise.  To somberly listen to the music, the sermon, play their part in the responsive readings and prayers.

And while I know we are to be in awe of God, I think the somberness of church can be taken too far.  This is especially true when God is at work. At work as He reconciles and restores His people. Seeing God at work, whether it happens when God’s people are gathered together, is an awesome thing. I am not saying being irreverent, but that our definition of reverence needs to be changed, changed to include the joy of God’s love, manifested in our lives.

As people hear God’s word, things happen.  This is why it is so critical that they are told, as they were in the passage above, in a way they can understand!  The Holy Spirit’s work is amazing, as the Spirit breath’s life into people.

You see it in this passage, as the crowd has to be told that this day, the one God has made, is not a time for weeping and mourning.  They heard the Law, they knew where they fell short, and hearing the law grieved them.  They had a heart that was no longer stone (see Exodus 36:25) but flesh, and was still broken, damaged by the sin.  Their hearts were broken because they realized how they had rebelled against God, how they had treated the special relationship He had created, where He would be their people, and He would care for them, love them, and protect Him, for He is their God.

Hearing that was painful.  So much, that the priests had to go around and assure them of God’s love, and teaching them not to mourn, not to cry, this is God’s day.  As they gather they are told that this is the day, He has set aside for us to rest, to be at peace, to know His love.

Not the day to mourn, not the day to dwell on the failures of our past, but the day to celebrate!  You are His people!  He has restored you! He is your God, you are His people, and nothing will separate you from Him.

The result is amazing!  They leave the gathering and go and feast together. Even the poorest of the poor are provided for, as they celebrate His love.

IF this was the pattern before the Crucifixion, before Jesus rose from the grave. How much should it be now?  For now we can explore the height, the depth, the width, the breadth of His love.   Now we can realize that He has brought us to life with Christ in our Baptism.

Church, a place for mourning and tears because of our sin?  Now, there are times and places for that, This is the time for a feast, for a celebration, to realize that the Lord is with us!

So make sure you don’t miss the celebration … and when you are there, celebrate!


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