Christianity 201

January 16, 2023

Peter Wrote to an Ongoing, Continuing, Future Church

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. – Matthew 16:18 NLT

Did the epistle-writers (Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude) know that their words were not just for the immediate recipients of their letters but also “… your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call;” including you and me? In today’s devotional we get a sense of that. His generation would pass, but God was building his church; his gathered ones; and Peter had been told personally that nothing would thwart that…

Last year at this time we introduced you to Pastor Will who lives on the U.S. west coast. If you have time, check out his testimony. His blog is titled, Today’s Scripture. We plucked today’s devotional from the middle of a series on 2 Peter, all of which makes great commentary on the passage.

When We Listen

Read with Me

2 Peter 3:1-2 (HCSB)
Dear friends, this is now the second letter I have written to you; in both letters, I want to develop a genuine understanding with a reminder, so that you can remember the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the command of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles.

Listen with Me

Peter knew two things very well. First, he knew that he was not going to live forever. This knowledge was underscored as he wrote this letter by the fact that he was now sitting on death row in a Roman prison. He knew that he would never deny Jesus to save his own life again, so he knew that he would make his transition the next world sooner rather than later.

But he also knew that the Church, the community of those belonging to God through faith in Jesus, would continue after he was gone. And he knew that, for that reason, he had a responsibility to ensure that the Christians of the future would be reminded of who they are and what they were charged with doing, even after he and the other apostles had passed on. That is the reason for his writing both of his letters, and it provides the context in which both are to be read.

Whereas neither Peter, nor Paul, nor any of the other writers of the New Testament epistles, ever sat down to write “Scriptures”, Peter also understood that what he was writing to pass down to future generations of Christians was not merely his own thoughts or opinions.

Instead, he knew that he was passing on the commands of Jesus that were being given to his people through the apostles. His words were not his own. He was just doing his best to pass on the words of the holy prophets of old, pure and untarnished, but made clear by the life and ministry of Jesus. And he was also working to make sure that he was passing on the words that Jesus Himself spoke, both while in the flesh and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, also pure and untarnished. And it was these words, not his own thoughts or opinions, that he knew would serve to stimulate his readers to genuine understanding, and would protect them from both false teachings, and compromises and corruptions of the truth.

Pray with Me

Father, reading these letters with Peter’s stated intentions in mind really does provide a content that makes them make a lot of sense. Peter was not only living focused on the present, but with an eye to the future; a future that includes me today. He was well aware that false doctrines were already arising, and that they would only multiply as time went on. So, he did his best to convey what Jesus revealed to him would help us to stay in the center of what is true and right, instead of allowing ourselves to be whipped about by the winds of changing worldviews and morphing doctrines. Thank you for Peter and his faithfulness. Amen.

 

December 19, 2022

Socialism in Scripture?

We’re back for a fifth time with writer and editor Rebecca LuElla Miller, whose blog A Christian Worldview of Fiction also gets into topical issues, Christian fiction reviews, and devotional insights. Although not active since April, we thought this article touches on a topic worth including here. Click the link which follows to read it where it first appeared.

What’s Wrong With Socialism?

On its face, socialism may seem to be a compassionate idea—a “no person left behind” idea. Some Christians even think it is Biblical. But is it?

Those favoring socialism may point to the first church—a group of Jews who responded to Peter’s sermon on Pentecost and put their faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us about that group of believers: they spent time together. They shared their stuff with each other, even to the point of selling stuff to help the people in need: “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

Sounds like socialism, right?

Not really. This was not an economic plan instituted as a mandate. These were people with a common purpose taking care of one another voluntarily. We know this when Peter later addresses a couple who sold a house and brought part of the proceeds as a gift to the church. The problem was, they lied about the amount, claiming they had given the entire sum.

Before pronouncing judgment, Peter said, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? (Acts 5:4a)

So nobody, not the government, certainly, and not the church, had mandated this principle of sharing. Rather God seems to lift up generosity, both from individuals and from church bodies. Paul, for example, praises the church in Philippi for sending him gifts from time to time. And Jesus Himself praised the poor widow for giving her last coin for the work in the temple.

In contrast to the instituted “sharing” of socialism, the Bible has much to say about the concepts behind capitalism.

  1. The one who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.
  2. The worker is worthy of his wages.
  3. Our money should be invested and grow.

I know the parable of the talents that Jesus told had spiritual implications, but first, like all parables, it was grounded in the physical. The story Jesus told was about servants investing their master’s money. Two succeeded, one did not. The guy who earned no money actually hadn’t made an investment, and it was for this reason that his master punished him. He didn’t judge him because he made a bad investment but that he didn’t even do the bare minimum—he didn’t even put the money in the bank.

Beyond these basics, there is a fundamental issue that we shouldn’t ignore: man’s sin nature. Because we have this tie to sin, this dead weight that pulls us away from God’s holiness, we will never have a perfect system of finance or government.

Therefore, the bottom line is that in socialism, people will take advantage. They will try to get something for free, something they don’t deserve, and something they don’t need. In capitalism, some people will be greedy; they try to take advantage of others and get more and more and more, beyond what they need.

Because I live in California, I’ve seen a little of what “socialism” can do. The obvious problems are people lying to get “benefits” from the state. A friend related how her family, when she was a child,  signed the kids up for free lunches at school, even they they were not in financial need. They just wanted the free stuff. There are many, many, many more examples I could cite.

Of course, there is the dis-incentive for dads to be in the home because single moms get money for each child they have when the dad is absent. It’s financially profitable for moms to be single moms. That has serious repercussions for how children are raised, the values they learn, they goals and aspirations they have, the ethics and morality they believe in.

On the other hand, the government locks you into a level of poverty that you can’t climb out of. For example, if you are part of the Medical program or the Cal Fresh (food stamps) you can only have a certain amount of money in the bank.

For instance, a neighbor who is part of the Cal Fresh program, was notified that they would lose their benefits. They had a vehicle stolen. They received money from the insurance company and were looking for a replacement vehicle. Before they found one, the government was at the door telling them they would no longer qualify for the food program unless they spent that insurance money by a certain time. So how does anyone save for, let’s say, a down payment on a house or the first and last months’ rent or for a new car? They are essentially trapped at their level of poverty, unable to “get ahead.”

All that to say, socialism isn’t always beneficial even for the people receiving benefits.

Clearly the Bible points to people working and getting paid for their work. It points to both people and the Church being generous and helping those in need. But generosity is never mandated.

History only shows us failed socialist societies—the USSR, East Germany, Venezuela, etc. Perhaps the failures are due to the authoritarian governments that implemented the socialist policies, but there’s also the possibility that authoritarianism is the natural result of socialism. If the government owns all the banks or oil companies or transportation entities, doesn’t that lend itself to authoritarian control?

But even if socialism “worked,” I don’t believe the utilitarian outcome will supersede the Biblical models and mandates. There’s more we could add to this discussion, obviously, but hopefully this will start us all thinking more about the trends some in our country would like us to go.


■ For more about the economic system followed by the Jewish people, and also some further insights into the early church, consider this 47-minute message from Tyler Staton of Bridgetown Church in Portland. Click this link for both video and audio options.

November 20, 2022

Overcoming an Overly Critical Spirit

But build one another up every day. Do it as long as there is still time. – Hebrews 3:13a (NIRV)

I’ve often joked that, “I know my spiritual gift, I have the gift of criticism.” It makes people laugh, but in seriousness, our criticisms can really hurt people. In today’s climage of polarity, much energy is spent (especially online) by the people on Team ‘A’ criticizing the people on Team ‘B,’ and it works both ways.

Most of today’s thoughts are based on a sermon shared earlier this morning by Rev. Dwane Parsons, a pastor at Grace Church in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada.

What causes us to have a critical spirit? It could be that

  • It resonates with our sinful nature, what scripture calls “the old man.”
  • We’re frustrated, and therefore try to control people and circumstances which ultimately we cannot
  • We have our own insecurities and jealousies
  • We hold a misplaced perfectionism (which we’ve either developed or inherited) and try to impose that standard on others

You see these and other factors manifested in the way the Pharisees react to Jesus.

What can we do?

First, stop walking through life like a whiner. Most people reading this are part of the “first world.” We have our basic necessities met each day, and many of our desires as well. Our personal theme should be, “I’m blessed.”

Philippians 2:4 reminds us to “Do everything without complaining and arguing.” (NLT)

Second, we can work to see the positive, in each situation and in each person. Ephesians 4:29 reminds us, Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. (GNT)

The NASB on that verse is interesting as it adds (amplifies) somewhat rendering the last part of the verse as, “… if there is any good word for edification according to the need of the moment, say that, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Reading this and thinking about the whole issue of timing, I couldn’t help but think of Proverbs 25:11, “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.” (NLT)

In Colossians 4:6 we’re reminded to, Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out. (MSG)

Third, Ask the Lord to help you overcome your critical behaviour. Romans 12:3 reminds us, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (NIV)

A key phrase there is “sober judgment.” Sometimes our judgement is irrational judgement or emotional judgement.

Fourth, model encouragement to others. Here’s a quote from this morning’s message I found interesting: “You may be criticizing the gift of God in someone’s life.” Also, we might be normalizing criticism in front of new believers when we criticize someone unfairly. (Christian leaders: Certain negative remarks and assessments should, if necessary, stay between others in Christian leadership and not be shared in a forum where they might be more broadly heard or seen.)

Build a Legacy of Encouragement

Remember that encouragement, teaching, serving and showing mercy are spiritual gifts; criticism is not on the list. So much for my aforementioned ‘gift of criticism.’ Check out Romans 12:6-8, it’s not there.

Also, it comes back to you. Encouragement others benefits you as much as it does the person you encourage. Proverbs 11:25 is a verse I hadn’t considered before, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (NIV)

Here’s another vantage point on this subject, Nobody builds a legacy on criticism, but you might as an encourager. Here Pastor Dwane shared an interesting quotation by musician Jean Sibelius that, “A statue has never been built in honour of a critic.” So true.

Finally, a legacy of encouragement opens doors for ministry. We’re thinking here of the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to Tychicus and Titus in Colossians 4:7-8 and 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3. Paul’s letters are often letters of introduction for people he is sending or commissioning.


During the course of the message, I believe a point was very quickly raised about encouraging people who don’t receive our encouragement. In my head at that moment I heard some lyrics by ’80s Christian musician Margaret Becker:

It’s never for nothing
When we love with no return
Light your candle in the darkness
‘Cause it’s never for nothing.

We’re not responsible for outcomes, but we are responsible to remain faithful to encourage others.


And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

October 30, 2022

Adding to the Rules; Adding to the Text

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.  – Revelation 22: 18-19 NIV

You must not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, so that you may keep the commands of the LORD your God I am giving you. – Deuteronomy 4:12 CSB

You must be careful to do everything I am commanding you. Do not add to it or subtract from it! – Deuteronomy 12:32 NET

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this over the past few months — because it’s been a major theme in our household — but we’ve encountered a number of people who, despite being Christ followers for a relatively short time, have sought to add a number of different restrictions or requirements to their faith that does not match the spiritual communities in which they find themselves, with the result that it has put them at odds with many in those same faith communities.

In other words, they have fallen prey to the trap of legalism.

Does the Bible speak to this?

Well, the whole book of Galatians is a response to the ‘Judaizers’ who wanted to impose the rules of their former religious observances to the simple grace offered by Christ. Of particular sensitivity was the requirement that males be circumcised. [Click here for the Bible Project video on Galatians.]

The Early Church had a document called The Didache, which we’ve introduced before. It would be similar to joining the church and receiving a “membership manual” of practices which defined their faith community. But nobody harbored any illusion that it was in some way ‘inspired’ or that it superseded scripture on any particular matters.  It remains in print more as an artifact of the culture of those believers in the first and second centuries.  (We last repeated an article about it in this post from last year.)

In Roman Catholicism, one finds The Catechism of the Catholic Church to be treated as a source with greater authority than the scriptures. So if you enter a classroom in a Catholic school, you will see a Ten Commandments poster which is completely missing #2, the one about ‘graven images.’ (The problem is resolved by splitting #10 as we know it into two parts. Don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff and don’t covet your neighbor’s spouse.)

The Catechism here is an addition to the Bible, and strangely enough, there are other documents, such as the teaching of the Mysteries of the rosary (joyful, luminous, sorrowful, glorious) which are actually an addition to the Catechism itself. Many other teachings (such as the beliefs about the scapular) are an additional part of surrounding Catholic culture that does not appear in the Catechism and certainly does not appear in scripture.

The Mormon* missionaries who I spoke with several years ago were also clear that if they were going to be marooned on the proverbial, hypothetical island for several months can could only take one book of “The Quad” (Bible, Book of Mormon Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) with them, they would choose the Book of Mormon. I asked this question of several of them on many occasions over several years and the results were always the same, placing greater weight or emphasis on that book over the Christian Bible.

Jehovah’s Witnesses also place great stress on updates issues from their head office each year. When someone donated a large number of classic materials written by them, instead of simply tossing them in recycling, we asked their local representatives if they would like to receive them. They explained that those writings were no longer of interest, probably because they had been superseded by even newer writings from their head office.

Seventh Day Adventists greatly revere the writings of founder Ellen G. White. While no other secondary book dominates their denomination as in the three cases above, they end up at a completely different understanding of what it means to live in the New Covenant established by Jesus.

So when people approach me and make it clear that they have added additional requirements about things the Bible is not explicit about — forms of music, Bible translations, qualifications for ministry, types of preaching, etc. — I get the same reaction as I do toward members of fringe denominations who seek to impose secondary documents as having equivalence to Biblical texts.

We discussed this back in February, looking at Acts 15:19:

 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

It was Andy Stanley who drew my attention to verse 19. That last verse is one that Andy says he has posted on the wall of his office. He contrasted verse 19 with churches and organizations that try to put people in a box, or try to line people up with a specific church policy or regulation.

Or ask people to “clean up” first.

While we would never want to admit, in certain circumstances, most of us are Pharisees at heart.

The Message Bible renders verse 19 as:

We’re not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master.

Do we want to do the opposite? Make it too easy? Of course not. For a balance on this, you need to read to the end of the article as it appeared.

In conclusion, just be careful around people who seem to gravitate to a position of legalism. They’re not helping the cause of Christ, they’re not helping you, and really, they’re not at all helping themselves. To the latter case, the number of people who fall way from crippling legalism is quite high, and it was never what Christ intended for them.

Summary: When in doubt, err on the side of grace.


*This group now prefers not to be called Mormons, but as we said in a discussion earlier this week, it’s going to be a difficult appellation from which to escape. The group is also known to most people as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.


This article was updated 90 minutes after publication to correct confusion involving the sources used by SDA churches and the JWs.

 

October 29, 2022

Encouragement for Veteran Believers

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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I chose the word veteran not in a military sense, but with the idea of those who have served the Lord for a long time and have been faithful in church involvement and Christian witness to the wider world.

Today we’re just slightly stretching the six-month rule — it was May 11th if you’re keeping score — to share another message from Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement. The day after this appeared, they celebrated 26 years of writing original devotional material every weekday. Clicking the title below takes you to their site, where this first appeared just over a week ago.

The Wisdom of the Aged

Listen to this message on your audio player.

“Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12).

“I have been young, and now am old” (Psalm 37:25).

“Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2).

Many years ago when I was much younger I taught a senior Sunday School class. At that time older age still seemed quite a ways off and I felt like a relatively young man teaching these seniors, although I was actually middle-aged.

An elderly class member shared this perspective, “One of the blessings of being older is having a broadened perspective on the events of life”. Indeed many (but certainly not all) of the elderly have a deep reservoir of “broadened perspective”, which demonstrates an ancient observation made by Job. The question Job asked some 4,000 years ago surely demands an affirmative answer! “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12).

Well, now we are in a class with those similar in age to us and to the class I taught many years ago! We are experiencing David’s observation, “I have been young, and now am old” (Psalm 37:25). That’s a good thing since growing old is a healthy consequence of staying alive!

Of course not all the aged are wise and many have lived their lives foolishly. Aging is not a guarantee that we will attain wisdom and maturity. It comes over time as we make wise choices, learn from our unwise decisions, and “deny ungodliness and worldly desires and live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12).

My life is enriched as I consider those who have endured the rough knocks of life and steadily matured in their Christian walk as year by year they grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. They offer timeless wisdom – similar to that which is seen in the lives of the Bible characters thousands of years ago and every bit as applicable to our lives today. Now it’s increasingly going to be my turn and I sure hope I have the same wise outlook to offer those who follow me, either by example or counsel.*

What about you today? Are you building on the Rock, progressively attaining the true wisdom to pass along to those that who follow behind? Older readers, today I want you to know that Brooksyne and I, along with many others, greatly value the contributions of your generation to the cause of Christ and the perspective you now offer to those who follow.

It’s natural for all of us to seek out those who are similar in age since we find ourselves going through many of the same experiences and interests related to our season of life. But if we fail to regularly interface with believers from all ages we miss the greatly needed perspective they bring to our lives.

Spending time with the aged who have experienced so much of the stuff of life that we will eventually face is such an important aspect to the maturing believer. Let us just add that we appreciate those of you much younger than we are who regularly read the Daily Encouragement and interface with us. The fact is, we all need each other!

Be encouraged today, (Hebrews 3:13)

Daily prayer: Father, we read of those in the Bible from generations long ago who lived upright and godly lives. They were discerning and wise, devoted in their duties such as Anna and Simeon who served in the temple. So many serve as examples of those who walked in Your ways from their youth and remained faithful through their golden years. Some of their choices brought about multiple blessings and other choices brought forth great sacrifice, persecution, or even death. We also read of those who were proud and foolish, thinking only of themselves, such as Samson, Ananias and Sapphira or Demetrius the Silversmith. They also serve as warnings to us. Since we will soon follow in the steps of our elderly friends help us to store up the wisdom, discipline, and overcoming spirit they convey as they deal with the inevitable physical pain, loss of loved ones, and lack of independence as a result of growing old. It’s in the name of Jesus that we pray. Amen.

October 27, 2022

A Christian Pecking Order?

by Clarke Dixon

If tv is to be believed, it seems there is a pecking order in the Royal Family. My wife and I have been watching the series The Crown and we are up to the point Lady Diana stumbles in on the family and makes a royal mess of it, not knowing whom to curtsy to, in what order, and how to address each. In our home there is only one who goes by “Your Majesty” and that title belongs to a wee dog named “Ruby.” Or so she thinks.

Is there a pecking order in the family we call church? Are some people superior and others inferior? Our answer based on what is ideal may not line up with what people really experience.

Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Corinth, a community in which some people felt superior to the rest based on their expression of spiritual gifts leaving others, of course, to feel inferior.

So what did Paul say?

To the ones feeling inferior he said this:

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

1 Corinthians 12:14-17 (NLT)

In other words, no matter how inferior you may feel, you belong. Not one of us is inferior. All of us are necessary. In fact it is as ludicrous to think of the Church functioning without you as it is thinking of a body made up of only an eye or ear.

To those feeling superior Paul said this:

Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity.

1 Corinthians 12:20-24 (NLT)

In other words, if you belong, so do the others, even those you think are inferior to you in some way. Each person is a unique part of the whole body. So a “pecking order culture” where some may be perceived to be more necessary than others must give way to a culture of mutuality.

This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

1 Corinthians 12:25-27 (NLT)

Do we see a similar propensity for superiority and inferiority today as happened in Corinth in Paul’s day?

Unfortunately we can fall into the same pecking order based on gifts, both those perceived as being spiritual gifts and those perceived to be natural.

Despite Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, some Christians still feel superior, and some still feel inferior based on whether they pray or speak in spiritual tongues. Whether you speak in tongues or not, you belong, you are important.

Some people may be lifted up as superior, perhaps not even by their own choice, by having the “gift of the gab.” Those who are not naturally outgoing and on the quieter side can feel inferior. Whether we are more outgoing, or more reserved, we belong, we are important.

Some people seem to be especially gifted at prayer. Their prayers are so articulate, plus they seem to know exactly what to pray for. Some us think we must sound kinda stupid when we pray. Whether we are articulate or not in our prayers, we belong, we are important, and God hears us.

Some people have the gift of answered prayers. Some of us wonder if God is listening at all. If our prayers seem to go unnoticed, we may feel inferior. Whether our prayers are answered according to our desires or not, we belong, we are important. Prayer is too mysterious to be a sign of the worth of any human being.

Some of us have the gift of not having anything about ourselves that would raise eyebrows. I recently came across the following in a Christian statement of faith: “we oppose any form of gender confusion.” Language is important, and stating it that way can make someone who is confused about their gender feel like they are inferior. Some people experience that confusion for a season, some for a lifetime. Some people have the gift of clarity. Whether we are confused or have clarity, we belong, we are important.

We could go on to many other examples, but in this series I’m calling “What Kind of Church,” let us again turn to a cultural statement of Open Table Communities:

A Culture of Mutuality
We nurture a culture where everyone is encouraged towards becoming their best selves and offering themselves in service of others. We seek to empower one-another and the communities we participate in, through using our gifts to bless and serve.

Open Table Communities

A culture of mutuality is very different from a pecking order kind of culture. We each have gifts, not to lift us up higher than others, but to lift others up. We each have gifts, not to serve ourselves, but to use in the service of others.

It is an honour to serve His Majesty, King Jesus, to be in the body, to have gifts to serve and serve alongside so many other gifted people.


Clark Dixon is a Canadian pastor. His condensed sermons can be read at Thinking Through Scripture, and also appear here most Thursdays.

October 26, 2022

Every One of Us is Significant

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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In December of last year, we introduced you to Doug Eaton who lives in greater Los Angeles, and writes at Flight of Faith, and is also Director of Admissions at Trinity Law School, which upholds Judeo-Christian principles in legal training. Today we have an excellent devotional for you; why not click the title below and read this where it first appeared?

Why There Are No Insignificant Christians

The person sitting in the other pew at church is more glorious than you realize. It is easy for us to look at some of the other people in our church and think, “I am glad they are part of this church, but they are not that significant.” If we feel like that, it exposes a biblical blindness on our part that we need to correct as soon as possible.

Throughout scripture, there are references where the church is called the bride of Christ. One of those places is Revelation 21:2. It says, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” This vision is ultimately a picture of the redeemed children of God. This understanding does not eliminate the fact that there will be a heavenly city, but this is ultimately about the people who dwell in that great city. It includes anyone, Old Testament or New, saved by faith and counted righteous in Christ Jesus.

If you notice, the city is adorned like a bride for her husband. Sinclair Ferguson says this is wedding imagery. This scene is the moment in the ceremony when the music begins to play; the congregation stands up, turns around, and looks at the bride, who has made her appearance. She is beautiful, fully adorned. At that moment, she may notice the people in the congregation, but her eyes are ultimately on the groom. It is his approval she is looking to receive, and the smile on his face and the light in his eyes are unmistakable.

Ferguson goes on to make an interesting point. Paraphrasing here, he says, I have officiated many weddings, and this is always an interesting moment because I saw the bride yesterday, and she did not look exceptional. She was wearing old jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. Nothing made her stand out then, but now she is fully adorned.

That picture of the bride in jeans and a t-shirt is a picture of us in our current state. We still struggle with sin and weakness. We have bodies that are corruptible and struggle with illness, but one day we will stand fully adorned. On that day, when we see them, we will think, “Wait a minute, that was you?” Fully adorned with Christ shining on them, we will say, “That was who was sitting next to me, and I did not know it?”

We must not write off our brothers and sisters in Christ because they do not measure up to some standard we have imposed on them. Whether that standard is based on class, talent, dignity, employment, or clothing, all of them are false measures because, on that day, the child of God will be turned inside out, and all you will see is Christ. We will recognize all of the battles they fought. How they had been washed in the blood of Jesus, and how he never let them go because he loved them so much.

Never look at our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and think, “eh.” This child of God is precious to our Savior. And if you ever feel like an insignificant Christian, know this, your glory awaits. Whether persecuted, broken, sick, poor, or struggling with sin, no matter what you are now, you will shine in glory one day.


…Reading Doug’s devotional reminded me of a quotation wherein C.S. Lewis stops to consider the eternal significance of the everyday people with whom we come in contact. He doesn’t stop at “insignificant Christians,” but would argue that this applies for “insignificant people” everywhere:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”  (from The Weight of Glory)

September 29, 2022

Anchored in Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Beginning a New Series: What Kind of Church?

by Clarke Dixon

Many people have become uncomfortable with the Church and churches to the point of being done with Christianity. They have seen too much politicking, hypocrisy, abuse, scandals, and the ignoring of science and education. One might wonder if Jesus himself would be comfortable in some churches.

While on Sabbatical I was grateful for efforts of our interim pastor Ray Jones who happens to be the executive director of an entity called Open Table Communities. What is Open Table Communities? There are many people known as the “dones,” that is, people who are done with churches and Christianity as a whole. While there is much more to it that what I’m about to say, I’d characterize Open Table Communities as saying, “before you throw out the baby with the bath water, let’s take a closer look at that baby, and the bath water.”

Open Table is guided by eight cultural statements. They are statements of “this is how we do things around here, this is the kind of community we are.” As I looked over the eight cultural statements, they struck me as being good, not just for a new kind of faith community like Open Table, but also for an old fashioned kind of church, such as we are at Calvary Baptist. Really they speak to a community that gets Jesus, his teaching and example, the kind of community Jesus would feel at home in, the kind of community many of us would feel at home in.

Therefore, over the next eight weeks we will be using of these statements as launching points for exploring the kind of church Jesus would feel at home in, the kind of church we want to be.

Here is the first statement:

We nurture cultures that are anchored in the Jesus story, his life, death and resurrection. We nurture a view of God that is seen through the lens of Christ, and consider how this way of seeing God, the world and human activity is conducive to all human flourishing.

Open Table Communities

Why anchor our faith and life in Jesus?

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)

Why anchor our faith and life in Jesus? Because Jesus said it was the wise thing to do. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had already said several times “you have heard it said…but I say to you.”. Here in conclusion he is saying “Listen to me!”

Jesus later said,

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

The kind of church that “gets Jesus” is one that is anchored in him.

But why listen to Jesus?

Why listen to Jesus when we wouldn’t listen to any of our friends if they said the same things about themselves as Jesus said about himself?

In a nutshell, the resurrection of Jesus changed everything and the apostles knew it.

With the resurrection of Jesus, on top of his teaching, and on top of the miracles he performed, listening to Jesus became the natural thing to do. With the resurrection of Jesus it became reasonable to believe him when he said that all authority had been given to him. With the resurrection of Jesus the disciples knew it was time for new wineskins. Everything had now changed.

But why listen to what the early Christians said about Jesus?

The disciples were convinced about Jesus, but why should we be? How do we know the New Testament is not just made up?

There is enough to say here to write a book, in fact I’ve done that as have many others. For now, let’s just recognize that Jesus is unique in the history of the world and the history of people. Jesus deserves a deeper dive, a second look, in fact a third and fourth look.

Where else might we anchor our faith and life rather than in Jesus?

There are many other places we might anchor our faith, many places which actually are good sources of truth. For example, science. Science is a great and important source of truth, but it cannot tell us everything. Likewise, philosophy, tradition, and our own experience can all be good sources of truth though they cannot replace Jesus as the anchor. Some anchor their faith in what pop culture says, or in what their social media streams tell them. There can be truth there too, but they do not compare to Jesus as an anchor for life and faith.

Here is another source of truth which is not to be the anchor: the Bible. Surprised? We are not Bible followers who look to Jesus to help us follow the Bible, but Jesus followers who look to the Bible to help us follow Jesus. There is a subtle but important distinction there. The Bible is “God-breathed,” and while that’s amazing and important, Jesus is “God with us,” and that’s even more amazing and more important. We Baptists like to say that the Bible is our authority. Sometimes what we mean, without our even realizing it, is that our understandings or interpretations of the Bible are the authority. Again, there is a subtle but important difference there. The Bible is so important for our faith. But it is not the anchor. Jesus is.

Jesus as the corrective lens.

If all we had was science, how would we view God, humanity, life, and everything else? If all we had was philosophy, how would we view God, humanity, life, and everything else. Or if all we had was pop-culture, social-media, or the Old Testament? We see what God is like through the lens of Jesus.

The corrective lens of Jesus, seeing everything through Jesus’ teaching, his life, his example, his death and resurrection, enabled Paul to say that “God is for us and not against us” (see Romans 8) and John to say that “God is love” (see 1st John 4). What does being anchored in Jesus enable you and I to say about God and our relationship with the Divine?

Since Jesus is the anchor, people are the focus.

Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10 NRSV). When we focus on Jesus, his teaching, example, life, death, and resurrection, we see that Jesus was focused on us. Being anchored in the Jesus story means putting the focus on people, seeking human flourishing. There is a reason the only verb in the tagline of our church is “helping people.”

Here at Calvary, we want to be anchored in Jesus. We want to help people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada; whose writing appears here most Thursdays. The sermon on which this is based can be see here.

August 12, 2022

Keeping Jesus the Focus of Our Scripture Reading

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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So readers and subscribers, bear with me on this one.

We’re featuring a lot of writers for the first time during August, and this one is no exception. The original article from which this is based is longer than what we usually run here, and this excerpt from it is a bit shorter that what you normally get.

But what struck me here — aside from the very obvious point the writer is making — is the way he cited scripture verses. Using (I think) the KJV as a base text, he inserts clarifications the same way the Amplified Bible inserts amplifications.

And somehow, I couldn’t walk way from how this brings the scriptures to life and the truths seem to leap off the page.

So as usually, we’ll link to the article, but this time around you have the option to continue reading the original on the writer’s blog. The author is David Buffaloe and the blog is BibleTeacher.org. Click the link below to read this there in full.

Our Business Is God’s Kingdom

John 1:10-14 He {Jesus} was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. {11} He came unto his own, and his own received him not. {12} But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: {13} Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. {14} And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Why Are We Here Today? Why Am I A Christian?

When Sherry and I were stationed in England for the United States Air Force we had the wonderful opportunity of riding these big red double decker buses in London. We’d taker our boys to the top floor of the bus – an upper “uncovered” floor – and enjoy a wonderful view as we rode around town. It was wonderful to ride those buses – that is, when you could get on them.

There were several times when our family was waiting at a bus stop, excited to ride the bus … and the bus driver passed us by without stopping! It wasn’t just us, but this happened frequently throughout London. Someone finally complained about this to the London Transit Authority, the organization that maintains the city buses. The London Transit Authority issued a public paper that stated the following:

“It is impossible for us to maintain our schedule if we are always having to stop and pick up passengers”

The Transit Authority forgot what its purpose is. Without passengers, the bus is useless. Without passengers, the Transit Authority makes no money. The business of the London Transit Authority is to take people around town in buses.

What Is The Business Of The Church?

The Business of the Church is to introduce the Lord Jesus and His Kingdom to a world that neither knows Him, nor wants to know Him. We are Light bearers & Seed sowers.

In our text today we see a tension between Jesus and the world He made. Jesus made the world. Jesus made every person who has ever been made. The Bible says:

John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word {that’s Jesus}, and the Word {that’s Jesus} was with God, and the Word {that’s Jesus} was God. 2 The same {that’s Jesus} was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The Bible says All things were made by him. That’s Jesus. The Apostle Paul said of Jesus:

Colossians 1:15-18 Who {that’s Jesus} is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature {Jesus is the Source of all life}: 16 For by him {that’s Jesus} were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him {that’s Jesus}, and for him {that’s Jesus}: 17 And he {that’s Jesus} is before all things, and by him {that’s Jesus} all things consist {are held together}. 18 And he {that’s Jesus} is the head of the body, the church…

The Business of the Church is to tell others about Jesus, and as they believe on Him this will bring the Kingdom of God more and more to this present world.

 

►►finish reading the article at this link

May 20, 2022

Everything is Temporary … Except for One Thing

NIV.Acts.19.23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”

28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.

[…continue reading here…]

Today we have another first time writer to highlight here. Alistair Chalmers who writes at Chalmers Blog. Clicking the link in the header below will take to where this first appeared.

You can build but it will crumble

A couple weeks ago my wife and I were on holiday and we did a day trip to the ancient city of Ephesus. We walked the streets where Paul and Timothy would have preached. We stood in the amphitheater where Paul probably spoke at times. One thing that you can’t help but notice in these ancient cities is the amount of shrines and temples to pagan gods that they had. Some big and some small, but all for the same purpose, worshipping a pagan false idol.

If you remember from Acts 19, Demetrius a silversmith of the shrines for Artemis began an uproar that lead to a riot. The riot continued and people gathered in the court and for 2 hours they shouted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Ephesus was the place of one of the biggest temples to Artemis, it’s actually one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. So what does it look like now? A temple that once housed thousands of worshippers on a daily basis. A city in its shadow that believed it was safe because the goddess looked over them. What happened?

Well this once prominent temple is now a pile of rubble. Stones lay strewn in a field, it’s marked by a tiny road sign that you could clearly miss and there remains one pillar standing (it’s actually just been out together to help visitors imagine the height of the temple).

Such a prominent pagan temple, reduced to nothing sand forgotten by most of the world, why? Because you can build, even the most grandiose things, but all things temporary will crumble. What was once a temple is nothing more than a pile of stones. Temporary trimmings paying homage to a fake god that didn’t last very long.

As I stood underneath that pillar and imagined what it would have originally looked like I remembered two things;

1. That the things of this world are temporary and will pass away (1 Cor. 7:31, etc.)

2. That nothing will defeat the Church (Matt. 16:18, etc.)

There will always be things that are built oppose the gospel. There will always be people, institutions and religions who set themselves against God and His people. It was be frightening at times, it may feel like the local church is insignificant and weak, it may even seem that there is no chance that Christianity can survive at some points.

But the truth is that all attempts to rob people of the knowledge of Jesus, all brick and mortar will fall and all the voices that mock Christ and His people will one day be silenced.

Everything that is build against God has the same ending, it is futile and it will fail. Investing time and energy in something that you know will ultimately fail and be reduced to crumble is pointless.

Like the temple of Artemis, you can build your structure (physical or not) but it will fail. God is the only one who has always been and will always be. Remember that as your pick up a stone to build your next idol.


Scriptures in today’s devotional:

NLT.1 Cor.7.30 Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. 31 Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.

The Voice. Matt.16.18 This is why I have called you Peter (rock): for on this rock I will build My church. The church will reign triumphant even at the gates of hell.

 

March 20, 2022

Putting God Back Into Everything Church-Related

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
– Colossians 4:5-6 NIV

“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.”
– Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NLT

 

I’ve heard people talk about being at a fairly typical church meeting thing, and “then God showed up.” This may assume that he wasn’t “showing up” at previous meetings, or it may mean that he was there all along but an awareness of his presence finally broke in on the assembly.

When leading worship, I have often — though not every time — begun by following the traditional concept of invocation; inviting God’s presence into our time together. Or at least, sort of. I take it as a given that God is already among us, especially on Sunday morning. He never misses our church service, right?

So I’ll begin with something like,

“Lord, we don’t presume to invite your presence because after all, you said you would never leave us nor forsake us. Furthermore, we sometimes say that this building is your house, a place set apart for your worship, so we know if you’re omnipresent, you’re everywhere, then certainly of all places you are here.  No, instead, we ask you to help us have an awareness of your presence, an awareness of a presence that already exists, but we’re too distracted to realize. Open our hearts. Meet with us today in a special way.  Amen.”

The fact of the matter is however, that some things the church — as opposed to The Church — does are purely perfunctory. And I think a church business meeting is a good example of that. Unless of course, you are committed from the beginning that this business meeting is open to the possibility of God breaking in and doing something greater.

Basically, the question I want to ask is, “What if we spiritualized church?” Yeah, seriously. What if we decided there were no task-only, business-only events, but lived out each time we gathered together as moments full of eternal possibilities?  What if…

  • What if every item run through the church photocopier had to have a ministry value, even if it was just a verse tacked on at the end?
  • What if every church spring cleaning day was seen as a teachable moment, the way Jesus taught as he walked along the road with his disciples?
  • What if every mailout and every church newspaper advertisement kept its seeker appeal, but still contained the DNA of the gospel?
  • What if every church business meeting was more like a town hall forum where old men (and women) could prophesy and young men (and women) dream dreams?
  • What if every time there were announcements, they were viewed not as commercials, but as opportunities for greater fellowship, greater teaching, greater service?
  • What if every time there was a collection or offering, it was truly viewed as an act of worship?
  • What if the church bulletin had teaching or devotional value, not just announcements, to the point where people wanted to hang on to them beyond a single week?
  • What if your tax receipt for those donations was accompanied by a note of thanksgiving, or a teaching on how God delights and will reward our cheerful giving?
  • What if every salesman, tradesman, public sector worker, etc., who came in the front door of your church was told, “It’s no accident that you came in just now…” and then heard a piece of the particular good news that he/she needed that day?
  • What are the “What ifs” that your heart longs for?

That’s what I mean by “spiritualizing Church.” Yes, God is there with us all along, but we need to leave him a place to break into our program.

Quick example. Before we got married, I was a performing Christian solo artist in southern Ontario. I worked alone. One time, a friend of mine who was a professional, recording-studio quality jazz bass player offered to do a concert engagement with me at a local church. To maximize his talents and contribution, we rehearsed the songs with some instrumental ‘bridges’ in them so he could do a few improvised bass solos.

But when we actually got out before the audience, I got distracted and started playing the songs the way I normally do, moving quickly from verse to chorus to verse.    At the end of the first set, I realized this and told him, and his reply was, “I was trying to break in, but I couldn’t find an opening.”

I think that’s how the Holy Spirit would say it to us today.  ‘I was there, but you didn’t leave me any room in the program.’

Nobody is saying that God isn’t with us.  But we need to see the spiritual possibilities each time we get together, even if it’s just to rake the leaves on the church lawn or clean the church kitchen.  And just think, if we were really focused on doing this, we could actually invite our neighbors to “help out” in our church clean-up day, and they might actually see Christ in the most seeker friendly of all possible environments.

It would also revolutionize the way we do things  outside of church.   We would be spiritualizing or God-focusing our entire lives.  Nah. That’s way too radical.

Years ago (13 to be exact) our friend Kathy put this on her blog:

I’m reminded of a little church my sister and I visited in the UK, in 2007. St. Leonard’s in Speeton, Yorkshire dates back at least the the 12th century, maybe even further.  It’s the tiniest church I’ve ever seen — surely couldn’t hold more than 50 people — set on the outskirts of the village. It was lovely to sit in its pews and meditate for a while; so quiet and peaceful.

But what struck me the most was the sign on the door:

Don’t you think this sign should be on every church door?

Those routine church events — from cleanup days to business meeting — have a holy, supernatural potential; and we should participate with the expectation of seeing amazing things take place.

 

November 24, 2021

How Did They Miss That Sermon Reference?

The Voice – II Cor. 3:18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.

The Amplified Bible – II Cor. 3:18 And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.

With the pandemic, it’s been awhile since some readers here have been physically present in a worship service, but for a moment, imagine you there and the pastor is preaching and after awhile it occurs to you that the whole sermon seems to be directed at one particular person’s situation. It’s almost embarrassing. It’s like everyone knows the minister is referring to Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, imagine that mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin a few weeks later, and you get the distinct impression that the sermon hasn’t changed a thing in their life; that whatever it was that made it so blatant to you and everyone else that it was about them, seems to have misfired or otherwise not taken root.

I suppose there could be a number of possibilities here, of which four are:

  • They were tuned out for most of the sermon; not paying attention
  • The pastor’s remarks registered, but they assumed it applied to someone else, never considering it might be them to whom the sermon was most directly speaking
  • The application and needed next steps registered, but were eventually dismissed or forgotten
  • The cost of change or the price of obedience was simply too high

The Bible tells us we’re not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word; but sometimes we mess up the hearing part which cancels out the rest.

James 1:22-24 (The Message) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

People do this everyday however. The middle aged man steps into his souped up sports car, turns the music on the sound system up high, and believes he is still 18. He starts flirting with his assistant at work and with the receptionist at the dentist’s office, and forgets he’s graying; that he has a wife and kids.

He needs a mirror.

The woman who goes out to lunch to with four friends and then spontaneously offers to pick the tab for everyone’s meal before they embark on an afternoon of shopping, slapping down the credit card at store after store, forgetting that the bank has already canceled her other credit card because of too many missed payments, and her income prospects for the foreseeable future are rather dim.

She needs a mirror.

We all need a mirror. An accurate one. One that doesn’t distort the truth. The clearest, most focused mirror is God’s word. It shows us what right living looks like. It tells us where we’ve messed up. What we can do to get back on track. What it will take for us to stay on track. You can read more about this four-fold purpose of scripture by clicking here.

…Sometimes however, the sermon is about you. It’s like there’s no one else there. Imagine the same scenario, but it’s more like a bad dream. The pastor preaches a similar sermon, but everyone turns around stares directly at you.

But weeks later your life is unchanged. That would be a bigger nightmare.

What would your excuse be?


Want to further wrestle with the issue of how we see ourselves vs. how we really are? Consider the book by Brant Hansen, The Truth About Us. Here’s a link to a review of the book.

September 29, 2021

Letters to the Seven (or more) Churches in Revelation

This is a revisit to an article that was posted here eleven years ago. It’s been rewritten for clarity. It also features a graphic image at the bottom. When I tested the link, I discovered that the original site is no longer available, so I can’t give proper credit. Make sure you spend as much time looking over the chart as you do reading what follows…

(NIV) Rev. 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Seven letters to seven different churches that existed when John received the vision, right?

Zoom out a little. There were a dozen or so well-established churches at the time. Could it be that the choice of “seven” means that these letters have application to the whole church? That the letters, like the rest of scripture, are not written to us but are definitely written for us?

Zoom back in. Some people teach that the seven churches represent different ages of the larger church over different eras. That this is a historical overview of church history. Perhaps. But there may be something more immediate for us to consider.

Zoom in again. Churches like the seven so-described exist today. If you’ve been around different denominations, or have attended a variety of churches, you might be able to put different names next to each letter.

Zoom in more. Even within an individual church, there are often different sub-groups to whom these different letters might apply. Or maybe they represent different stages in the history of that local church over time.

Zoom in tighter. We shouldn’t get caught up in the idea that the letters are a message that someone else needs to hear. That it’s for the church in the Middle Ages. That the message applies to the church down the block. Rather these letters contain a message that’s for me. These letters have application to each one of us. Maybe the message to the church at Laodicia is pertinent to you right now. Or maybe you’re at a Sardis or Ephesus point in your Christian life.

Zoom in!

…Here’s a bonus for you today…

If you didn’t grow up in church before the 1960s, here’s an example of the kind of visual presentation you missed out on when the letters were taught!

We considered the seven letters elsewhere at C201. Here’s a link to Seven Letters: Seven Problem Churches (It’s a short article and uses the same scripture reference, so you’re already halfway through!)


If you’re reading this at the site and not as an email, there’s a formatting problem (depending on what browser you’re using and the size of your monitor) with the last ten or so articles that normally I can fix, but this time it’s not fixing. Thanks for your patience. If you wish the text of a particular article emailed to you, use the submissions and contact tab to request.

March 7, 2021

Why Didn’t God Stop the Church from Charting Diverse Paths?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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In the early days of Christianity 201, a frequent source of material was Jim Greer at the blog Not For Itching Ears: Calling the Church Back to the Cross. Yesterday I reconnected with something he had written more recently, and this morning I discovered it’s been seven years since we featured his writing here. (Not sure why!) Clicking the title which follows takes you to read this directly from his site.

Does God Care About Your Theology As Much As You Do?

“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”

My friend stared at me in disbelief. How could I say something like that? We’d been discussing the state of the church in its four major divisions: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant. (For the sake of brevity, I’ve lumped all us Protestants into one category. I don’t have time to list us all!)

“Of course THE Church matters to God”, he replied, “He died to give it birth!

I can’t argue with that!

What perplexes me though, is there are so many different types of churches. Catholics believe in purgatory, the other three divisions of the church, don’t. That’s a big difference. We don’t agree on how many books are actually the official “word of God”. That also seems significant. Some churches teach that how one lives has absolutely nothing to do with salvation, while others teach that it has everything to do with it. That’s a HUGE deal, right? Others are somewhere in-between.

We have Catholic decrees calling the Reformers heretics, and we have the Reformers labeling the Pope the anti-Christ. Orthodox and Catholics are at odds over one word in the Creed among other substantial issues. We can’t even seem to agree on the purpose of Christianity.

Then we have us Protestants!

Protestants agree that Jesus Christ died on the cross for “our” sins, but we can’t agree on who is included in “our”. We agree in the “Atonement”, but can’t agree on what it actually entails. We believe people worked miracles, but don’t agree on when or IF that has stopped.

  • We don’t agree on how a church should conduct itself in worship.
  • We don’t agree on something as simple as how a person actually comes to Christ.
  • We don’t agree on what it means to follow Christ.
  • We don’t agree on a host of important issues.

The world looks at us and sees “Christian” sects. Groups that argue amongst themselves and can’t agree on the essentials. We are divided, pure and simple. Stating otherwise is wishful thinking.

“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”

Of course, Jesus did pray for “those who would believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me…” (John 17:20-21, 23.) Unity was important enough to pray for on the eve of the crucifixion.   The Father gave a big “Sorry Son, no can do” answer on that one. At least Jesus knows what it’s like to have his prayers go unanswered!

Why did God allow it to happen?

Many Protestants believe that around 300AD the real church was infiltrated and perverted by the Catholic Church. As a result, the true Gospel was lost. And God let the Gospel be lost for 1200 years? That leaves more questions!

If purity of doctrine matters so much…

  • Why didn’t God step in at such a critical moment to stop the hijacking of the Gospel?
  • Why would God allow His church to proclaim a false gospel? One that would consign its followers to hell?
  • Why didn’t he put a quick end to it? I find these questions a bit troubling.

To be fair, Catholics believe the Reformers are the real usurpers. Who can blame them? After all, the church existed virtually unchanged for 1500 years, until Luther come along. It’s understandable that they got together at Trent and called the Reformers heretics.

Here’s the compelling issue for me: In both cases, God did not stop the supposed error from taking root. If God is omniscient then he knew what would happen if he did nothing. God foresaw the doctrinal mess that would result. He knew what would happen if He did nothing, and he did…. nothing. Think about that!

He stepped in before, why not again?

We do know that if God wanted to step in and crush the rebellions, he could have. He did that very thing during the Exodus when Korah and his crew openly challenged Moses leadership of the young Israel. Read about it in Numbers 16. The gist of it is that God caused the ground to open up and swallow the leaders of the rebellion, their families and everything they owned! Rebellion over. Case closed. God’s leadership of his people settled.

But that is not what he did in 300AD. That is not what he did when the West and East Split in 1054. It’s not what he did at the beginning of the Reformation. He still hasn’t done it. In all these cases, God allowed it to stand. He had the opportunity to answer the Son’s prayer for unity, but chose not to.

You may counter and say that God NOT acting isn’t proof He doesn’t care. And I’d agree with you 100%. His non-action doesn’t prove anything on either side of the question. What we know from the Bible is that God has acted in human history. At key moments and in powerful ways, he’s intervened to ensure his plan moves forward as planned. But not on this issue. When you consider how significant the Church is to God’s plan, I think his inaction is worth considering.

It matters to us, but does it matter to God?

This brings me back to my conversation with my friend. Obviously, the doctrinal differences we’ve killed others for matter to us. They are a big deal. But do they matter to God? Personally, I don’t think so.

Before you get the kindling and tie me to the stake consider what I’m NOT saying. I’m not saying that God doesn’t care about the Gospel or the church, or the world of lost souls. He does. But our petty little arguments?

This isn’t simply a thought exercise. The church in the USA could be heading into a very dark period. The culture is shifting. Their opinion of the church is souring even more. They’re calling some members of the church terrorists. They don’t like that we want to gather together for worship. New political leadership is rising that doesn’t care about religious freedom. What lies ahead? I’m not sure. But it sure seems like dark clouds on the horizon.

If dark days lie ahead, we’ll need to circle the wagon of faith. We’ll need to set aside our petty theological differences. We’ll need to unite around the basic essentials.

Who am I kidding? That will never happen! That would take a miracle and miracles don’t happen anymore. 🙂

That’s my view from the cheap seats. What’s yours? Why do you think God has allowed so much diversity to exist in His Church?


By the same author:

Jim continued this theme with his next article, What Does God Want?

At the end of today’s article, he also recommended an earlier one:  God Does Not Need Our Worship…We Need It!

January 14, 2021

When We Still Can’t Go to Church: There is Good News

by Clarke Dixon

In these days of restrictions due to COVID-19 our lives are far from normal. The expression of our faith is also now far from normal. Those of us who would normally make our way to church on a Sunday morning among other times are stuck at home. Our church building can feel like our spiritual home, not just the building itself, but the church family we expect to meet there.

As Carey Nieuwhof has often said, this is not an interruption, but a disruption. We wonder if we will ever get back to normal.

There was a huge disruption in the early days of Christianity, a disruption which had a huge impact on how God’s people expressed their faith. There was no getting back to normal. Looking at that great disruption will help us navigate ours.

Let us put ourselves back into New Testament times. Imagine that you were a Jew, for whom the Temple was a focal point of the expression of your faith. The sacrifices are held there, you make pilgrimages there, the life of the nation is focused there in so many ways. While the local synagogue also played a big role, the readings of the Scriptures often pointed to the Tabernacle of the days of Moses and the judges, and the Temple which was built in the days of the kings. The synagogue was convenient, but the Temple was central, and crucial.

You come to trust in Jesus as the Messiah, as your Lord and Saviour. Being a Jewish Christian, the temple is still very important to you, the traditions around the temple are still a part of your life. Indeed we see in the Book of Acts how the apostles, with their Jewish background, would often make their way to the temple in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, normally under Roman control until a Jewish rebellion in 67AD, was put under a proper siege in 70AD. After a few months the city fell and the temple was destroyed. Indeed, it has never been rebuilt. Now that was a disruption! This meant, not just the loss of the temple, but the loss of many cherished traditions that centred on the temple. There would be no getting back to normal. As a Jewish Christian how do you handle the disruption? Is there hope?

There is. One verse in the Gospel of John captured how God’s people now had something far better in Christ:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (NRSV)

The word translated as “lived” among us, but sometimes translated as “dwelt” among us, is the word for pitching a tent. It was a word that evokes the tabernacle that God’s people were to build for the presence of God’s glory among them as directed to Moses following the exodus from Egypt. This tabernacle, literally a tent, would give way to a temple once Jerusalem was established as the focal city in the days of the kings. You could translate John 1:14 as “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” The tabernacle was the place where God was said to reside among his people. Since the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, we no longer go to the temple in Jerusalem to find God. We go to Jesus.

The tabernacle/temple was also the place where God’s glory rested, often referred to as His shekina glory. Note again John 1:14 and “we have seen his glory.” The glory of God was to be found, not at the temple, but in Jesus. Again, the destruction of the temple could not disrupt the worship of the Christ follower.

The tabernacle/temple was also the place where intimacy with God was shown to be an impossible thing. Only one person, the High Priest, could enter the Most Holy Place in the temple, and then only once a year after much religious rigmarole. The lesson was clear: while God wanted to be among His people, a holy God and an unholy people cannot mix. While the temple symbolized the nearness of God to His people, it also represented distance. John 1:14 continues with “the glory as of a father’s only son.” While even the priests could not speak of intimacy with God such that they could meet with God face to face, Jesus has a unique intimate connection with the Father. Jesus represented intimacy with God. Through his death on the cross, intimacy with God is now possible for us. The destruction of the temple could not change the fact that in Jesus, a much better intimacy with God was on offer.

John 1:14 goes on to say that Jesus is “full of grace and truth.” Before Jesus you would go to the temple to experience and be reminded of God’s grace. It was the place of sacrifice for atonement, a place representing the forgiveness of sin and covenant with God. The temple was the place you would expect to be reminded of the truths of God, the reality of God’s relationship with His people. The destruction of the temple could not destroy the experience of grace, the presence of truth, for these are found in Jesus, even more so.

In summary, before Jesus, if you were wondering where to go to find God, you would be pointed to the temple. But now we look to Jesus. Being with Jesus was far more important and exciting than being at the temple!

Here is a point which is important for us today. Being with and walking with Jesus in all of life is far better than being religious in a sacred space once a week. Having Jesus in our hearts and minds is far better than having ourselves in a church building. Experiencing Jesus in our lives daily is far better than experiencing church ministries from time to time.

There was one major benefit to the destruction of the temple as we will see. Worship at the temple could become temple worship.

The disciples were impressed by the temple:

As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.”

Mark 13:1 (NLT)

Jesus responded:

Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!

Mark 13:2 (NLT)

So don’t be too impressed with the temple. It is temporary. Worship that which is eternal. The destruction of the temple was also the deletion of an idol.

Worship in a church can become worship of the church. We are easily impressed with things that cannot last. In our day, the expression of faith through the ministry of a church is not being destroyed, but perhaps it is being deconstructed. What was once impressive, is not so much anymore. With a lockdown in our province, the most impressive church buildings are now much less impressive. Even those built to hold thousands can currently only hold ten.

We cannot at this time invite people to attend impressive churches, to experience impressive ministries, held together with impressive leadership. But we can connect with, and invite others to connect with, an impressive God.

Very few churches have impressive ministries right now. Our own church “services” are shot using the phone in my pocket, and edited with software that came free with our computer. It is a very Mickey Mouse affair. In fact I refuse to call them church “services,” but instead call them “worship expressions.” It is just not the same! But that’s okay, it is not about impressive churches and ministries, but about becoming people through whom God makes an impression on the world.

Perhaps a positive from all this is that we are being weaned from trying to be impressive in what we do for Jesus, and instead must focus on leaving an impression, from what God is doing in us.

An impression is left, when,

  • someone forgives as a result of focusing their worship on Jesus,
  • someone expresses generosity as a result of a walk with Jesus,
  • someone is a peacemaker as a result of being with Jesus,
  • someone becomes a more faithful and loving partner in a marriage relationship because of their relationship with Jesus,
  • someone shows a gentleness that was not there before, because of the inner soul work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit,
  • Someone makes progress on coming to terms with an addiction, because of the higher power of Jesus . . .

The list can go on. An impression is left when people are growing in the fruit of the Spirit, growing in love, peace, kindness, joy, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Jesus calls us to follow him. The question is not, how impressive are our men’s ministries and women’s ministries, but are there men and women of God who are following Jesus?

Don’t get me wrong. We will regather for in-person worship at some point. This is important. However, the things we do as a church are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. The end is to be walking with Jesus. What can we do as a church family to help people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love, to the glory of God? This is a question we can ask whether we are in lockdown or not. In this time of disruption let us put church in its proper place, as a means to an end, and not the end in itself. Let us turn from idolatry if we have let worship at the church become worship of the church.

We live in a bad news world, things are not normal, the expression of our faith in worship is not normal.

There is good news, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Our faith is not dependent on being in impressive buildings or going to impressive churches with impressive ministries and impressive pastors. Believe me, our church has not been dependent on an impressive pastor, at least not since my arrival here nine years ago or so. It is dependent on the presence of Jesus through His Holy Spirit.

When are we getting back to normal? The Lord knows. Walking with Jesus is way more exciting than getting back to normal anyway.

(Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays. The full reflection can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)

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