Christianity 201

November 1, 2022

Allies in Kingdom Advancement

Today we’re back with another article by Ben Sternke whose eponymous blog has the subtitle: “Field notes on life and mission with God after Christendom.” (There’s a lot to think about there!) Clicking the devotional title below will take you to where this first appeared.

Whoever Isn’t Against You is For You

John said, “Master, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he isn’t in our group of followers.”

But Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him, because whoever isn’t against you is for you.”

John 9:49-50

Just before this little exchange, the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest within the group, and when Jesus rebuffs them by placing a child in their midst and telling them that whoever is least among them is the greatest, they turn their attention to outside the group and, in effect, say, “Well we’re definitely greater than those guys, right?”

Just like us, Jesus’s disciples are relentlessly measuring their status and honor to see who they’re better than, and who is better than them. Just like them, we have all kinds of ways of measuring:

  • Whose theology is better?
  • Whose liturgy is better?
  • Whose aesthetics are better?
  • Whose church is bigger?
  • Whose preaching is better?
  • Whose discipleship practices are better?

Instead of these status games, Jesus brings us back to the point: is God’s kingdom going forward? Well then don’t get in the way (and maybe even rejoice a little!).

These people you’re upset about, are they opposing God’s work? If not, then stop worrying about them. Do you think they’re going about the work in the wrong way? Do you think they’re not part of the right team? Don’t have the correct affiliation or the right theology? Wrong question!

Better questions: Is God’s kingdom advancing? Are the marginalized brought into communion? Are the broken healed? Are the prisoners set free? Are those in bondage being delivered? Is good news being preached to the poor? Then don’t worry about them being part of the wrong group or having bad theology.

As long as they’re not against you, they’re for you! If they’re not opposing God’s kingdom advancing, they’re your partners, and there’s absolutely no need to figure out who’s better than who.


Because that was shorter than many of our devotionals here, I thought we’d add this (even shorter!) one; which is relevant to the advancing kingdom discussed above.

The Harvest Really is Plentiful

“The harvest is plentiful…” Jesus tells the seventy-two as he sends them out as forerunners to enact and announce God’s kingdom coming near (Luke 10:2).

This initial proclamation about the nature of the disciples’ mission field is a vital key for their ability to discern where and when God is at work. If they are to stay where they are welcomed, and move on when they are not, they need to have confidence that the harvest is plentiful.

They don’t need things to work out positively in any particular town or village, as if the harvest was scarce and needs to be squeezed out of reluctant soil. No, the harvest is plentiful, so just brush the dust off your feet and move on a place where you are welcomed.

Leave judgment in God’s hands; the way that people respond is not your responsibility. Simply go out in openness and vulnerability and look for openness and vulnerability in others. Stay wherever you find it, receiving and giving in mutuality, proclaiming the nearness of God.


Reading Ben’s articles got me thinking about the potential competition that can exist between ministry organizations, which reminded me of a book that I saw a few years ago, but didn’t pick up at the time: Rooting Among Rivals: How Collaboration and Generosity Increase The Impact of Leaders, Charities and Churches by Peter Greer and Chris Horst. The publisher blurb reads:

Do ministries and churches compete? Faith-based organizations are sometimes known for what we’re against—and all too often that includes being against each other. But amid growing distrust of religious institutions, Christ-centered leaders, churches and charities have a unique opportunity to link arms and collectively pursue a calling higher than any one organization’s agenda.  (Bethany House, 2018)

I think we could all say “Amen” to that spirit of cooperation.

September 20, 2022

Eliminating Walls Between Christ-Followers

We’re back once again for a visit to the website called More Than Useless, written by Thom Fowler. Clicking the title which follows will take you there where you can read today’s thoughts where they originally appeared.

Tear Down Those Walls!

In my distress I prayed to the Lord,
… and the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear.
… What can mere people do to me?
Psalm 118:5-6 NLT


God’s Good News

Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart[a] by spreading the Good News about his Son.

10 One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. 11 For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. 12 When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.

13 I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters,[b] that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. 14 For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world,[c] to the educated and uneducated alike. 15 So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News.

16 For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.[d] 17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”[e]

Growing up I went to kindergarten through 5th grade, initially in West Virginia then finished in North Carolina. We then moved to Ohio where I attended middle school.

Younger readers won’t get this reference, but in Ohio, many of my classmates called me Gomer Pyle! (Remember these colloquialisms? “Shazam!”, “Gooolly”, “Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise!” If you recall his character, I’m sure you heard his accent loud and clear in your head!) So unsurprisingly, I had a bit of a southern accent. I wasn’t labeled for very long, but obviously, it impacted me, because I still remember it after all these years.

Unfortunately, one of the worst traits of humanity is not accepting others who are different. It is an ancient habit that is just as prominent today as it has ever been. It is a very complex mentality that plagues us all.

It is most disheartening in that, though you’d think it wouldn’t be, the church is not exempt from these thoughts and attitudes. If anything, we tend to expand the criteria of separation. We don’t just hold at arm’s length those who differ from us along cultural, social, racial, and economic lines, but we also throw in all the religious issues.

Some may be pretty vocal, but I think, instead, many have this underlying mentality of distrust – even fear – of those who aren’t like them. And the list of “problematic” characteristics then goes on forever – they may not speak the language we know, the customs of their culture exclude some of our traditions and add things that are totally foreign to us, they may come from way more money than we’ve ever seen, or they may be dirt poor and lack the fastidiousness of our hygiene, and of course, having any other skin tone may automatically throw up red flags.

Then to make matters worse, they may adhere to different faith practices than we do. They may speak in tongues, or partake of communion from a chalice, they may follow a strict liturgy of worship, or be entirely led by the Spirit in their worship style…and on and on it goes.

It’s not necessarily intentional, but walls go up…dividers are set into place. But isn’t that what Jesus came to tear down? The Apostle Paul said it this way,

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. Ephesians 2:14-16 NIV

In verse 14 of today’s passage he stated,

For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world… NLT

My Life Application Study Bible says, regarding this verse,

Paul’s…obligation was to people of the entire world. He met his obligation by proclaiming Christ’s salvation to people – across all cultural, social, racial, and economic lines, both Jews and Gentiles. We also are obligated to Christ because he took the punishment we deserve for our sins. Although we cannot repay Christ for all he has done, we can demonstrate our gratitude by showing his love to others.

Lord Jesus, help us tear down those walls. May we too feel that obligation to people of the entire world…not just those near and dear. Amen.


NLT footnotes:

  1. 1:9 Or in my spirit.
  2. 1:13 Greek brothers.
  3. 1:14 Greek to Greeks and barbarians.
  4. 1:16 Greek also the Greek.
  5. 1:17 Or “The righteous will live by faith.” Hab 2:4.

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.

November 13, 2011

A Modern 95 Theses

As of last week, this has been available online for a year.  Just as Martin Luther posted his ‘memo’ with 95 ‘bullet points’ to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, so also did Greg Gordon offer this to the church today.  Internet etiquette requires you to click the title link below to read it on the original site, but since some won’t, it’s also appears here in full.

95 THESES TO THE MODERN EVANGELICAL CHURCH by Greg Gordon

I believe many need to hear these truths and they are shared in the humility of my weakness and lack in my own Christian Life. May all of these lead people to experience the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ and to proclaim His Gospel clearly and accurately. May God in His mercy come and revive, reform and renew North American Christianity for His glory alone. “May the Lamb of God receive the reward of His sufferings in our lives today!”  – Greg Gordon (founder of SermonIndex.net / Twitter @sermonindex)

1. The “church” at large has forgotten that the chief end of man is to glorify God. (Rom 16:27; 1Cor 6:20; Mt 6:9; 1Cor 10:31)

2. Christians ignore most of the methods, practices and principles found in the book of Acts. (Acts 2:42,44; Acts 2:46; Acts 2:38)

3. Many treat “church” like any other social club or sports event that they might attend. (Acts 2:46; Heb 10:25; Acts 1:14)

4. We’ve made Christianity about the individual rather than the community of believers. (Rom 12:5; 1Cor 12:12; 2Tim 4:16)

5. In most “churches” the priesthood of all believers isn’t acknowledged and the role of pastor is abused. (1Pt 2:9; 1Cor 12:12; Eph 4:11-13)

6. The “church” as a whole has lost the concept of their being grafted into the promises given to Israel. (Rom 11:15, 17-18, 20, 25)

7. There needs to be a recovery of teaching the whole counsel of God, especially in expository form. (Acts 20:27; 1Tim 4:6, 2Tim 2:15)

8. We take it too lightly that we have the blessing and honor of having God’s Scriptures in our possession. (Ps 119:16; Acts 13:44; Neh 8:9)

9. There has never been more access to the Word of God, yet so little reading of it. (1Tim 4:13; Neh 8:1-3; Ps 119:59)

10. Some read the Scriptures to attain knowledge, but do not practice what they read. (Jam 1:22; Mt 7:21; 3Jn 4)

11. Worship has become an idol in many “churches.” The music often resembles that of the world. (Amos 5:23; Phil 4:8; 1Jn 5:21)

12. The world is shaping the views of the “church” more than the “church” shaping the world. (Rom 12:2; Mt 5:13; 1Cor 1:22-23)

13. The “church” spends more money on dog food than on missions. (2Cor 9:6; Lk 21:2; Acts 4:34-35)

14. We take lightly the cost of discipleship laid out by Jesus Christ and do not deny our lives. (Lk 14:33; Lk 14:26-27; Mt 8:19-20)

15. There is a lack of true discipleship and making others to be obedient disciples. (Mt 28:20; 2Tim 2:2; 2Tim 2:14)

16. Many subscribe to the error that parts of life are to be spiritual while others are to be secular. (1Pt 4:2; Col 3:3; 1Jn 2:6)

17. Modern Christians often find Jesus’ command to sacrifice and serve abhorrent. (Phil 2:21; Jam 3:16; Rom 12:1-2)

18. Self disciplines in the Christian life such as fasting and praying are considered legalistic. (2Tim 2:21; 2Tim 1:8; Mt 6:17)

19. Little thought and contemplation is put towards the lostness of men, the seriousness of the Gospel. (Phil 3:8; Gal 2:20; Heb 10:34)

20. We are living with an epidemic of cheap grace with flippant confession and shallow consecration. (Lk 14:28-30; Lk 14:26; Jam 4:8) (more…)

March 27, 2011

A Letter to Pastors from The Congregation

I’ve often believed that the most interesting part of any church sermon is not found in the text the pastor takes with him to the pulpit, but rather, the parts that end up, to use a film analogy, on the cutting room floor.  Author and speaker Rachel Held Evans posted this in February, and it seems an appropriate Sunday post here.  It appeared on her blog under the title, Dear Pastors — Tell us the Truth.

Dear Pastors,

Tell us the truth.

Tell us the truth when you don’t know the answers to our questions, and your humility will set the example as we seek them out together.

Tell us the truth about your doubts, and we will feel safe sharing our own.

Tell us the truth when you get tired, when the yoke grows too heavy and the hill too steep to climb, and we will learn to carry one another’s burdens because we started with yours.

Tell us the truth when you are sad, and we too will stop pretending.

Tell us the truth when your studies lead you to new ideas that might stretch our faith and make us uncomfortable, and those of us who stick around will never forget that you trusted us with a challenge.

Tell us the truth when your position is controversial, and we will grow braver along with you.

Tell us the truth when you need to spend time on your marriage, and we will remember to prioritize ours.

Tell us the truth when you fail, and we will stop expecting perfection.

Tell us the truth when you think that our old ways of doing things need to change, and though we may push back, the conversation will force us to examine why we do what we do and perhaps inspire something even greater.

Tell us the truth when you fall short, and we will drop our measuring sticks.

Tell us the truth when all that’s left is hope, and we start digging for it.

Tell us the truth when the world requires radical grace, and we will generate it.

Tell us the truth even if it’s surprising, disappointing, painful, joyous, unexpected, unplanned, and unresolved, and we will learn that this is what it means to be people of faith.

Tell us the truth and you won’t be the only one set free.

Love,


The Congregation

 

 

HT: Chris Hyde, who also has a response to the letter from author Adam McHugh.

September 26, 2010

The Seven Letters in Revelation

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.   Maybe, as the pastor at the church we visited this morning suggested, the choice of “seven” means that these letters have application to the whole church.

Zoom back in.   Some people teach that the seven churches represent different ages of the larger church over different eras.

Zoom in again.   Churches like the seven so-described exist today.   If you’ve been around you could 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. 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!   (But it’s actually a good summary, too.)

Click the image for original source site.

July 22, 2010

Apostleship and “Becoming the ‘Being’ in the ‘Doing'”

I published this on my personal blog, Thinking Out Loud, this morning, but decided later that it also belonged here.

No matter what the people who print calendars tell you, the school year cycle determines when the start of the “new year” is in most churches.

Nothing lasting happens in your local church without (a) vision, (b) prayer and (c) planning. Vision begins with people who are ‘initiators’ that is, people who feel God is sending them into the middle of a situation or area to give birth to something that will either (a) serve those with needs, or (b) proclaim Christ; to provide opportunities to be salt and light at particular place and time or for their particular generation.

At a very low point in my life about ten years ago I asked God, “If my health improves and I am able to take on something, what do You want me to do for Your kingdom?”

The answer came in the middle of a worship service as clear as what you’re reading right now: “You need to be doing more.”

More? More what?

I wasn’t sure.

Some day, I’ll finish that story on this blog. It wasn’t the answer I expected. I was looking for a fresh vision. Instead, I was led to expand on a vision already in progress.

Let me say here that there is nothing you can “do” for God. He is concerned with what you can “be” for Him. But I know a lot of people are working on that “being” to the extent that nothing happens about “doing.” Sometimes by “doing” God shapes our “being.” With the exception of a handful of people who have some major stuff they need to work out, you can’t wait until you are perfect. That day will just keep slipping further and further into the future.

As the fall season approaches in your local church (or some local parachurch organization) you have a choice: You can maintain the status quo in your life, or you can choose to be a little apostolic; you can be a person who makes things happens.

What will your role be as another season of ministry commences in a few weeks?

You need to be doing more.