Christianity 201

November 18, 2022

Why Was the Widow Down to Her Last Pennies?

In my part of the world the penny (one cent coin) was eliminated several years ago. Not having it certainly speeds up cash transactions, although most purchase payments are done electronically anyway. In the narrative today, a widow is down to her last few cents, and while her response to that situation is to be generous, you have to wonder how she got that low on funds.

Today we’re back for the eighth time at the website Borrowed Light, and for the seventh time with Mike Leake. Click the title to read this where it first appeared.

One Way Spiritual Abuse Happens

“But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.”Mark 12:42

Jesus goes on to tell us that she gave “out of her poverty”. She put in her last two cents. Yes, he commends her. But Mark also wants us to know that Jesus “sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put”. Mark places Jesus in opposition to this whole racket.

This text is not only a commendation of the widow’s offering. It’s perhaps even more an condemnation of the temple system. We should be asking, “why is this widow down to her last two cents?”

This is another one of those places in Scripture where the subheadings distract us from meaning. We’re supposed to read Mark 12:40 with this text: They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers…” As one of the most vulnerable members within what was supposed to be a God-reflecting society, she should have been flourishing and not down to her last couple pennies.

I imagine this widow to be a sweet and devoted woman. We have several of these women in our church. They are often the backbone of our ministries. Often they are bound by duty and dedication. It’s no surprise that Jesus commends this widow’s offering.

If we were to interview her about this gift she’d likely say something like, “it was my duty to do this. The leaders have told us that this is a way in which we can honor God. So I give because I love God. This offering is a gift to my LORD, and a reminder that He will take care of us.” As she says this she points to one of the religious leaders—adorned in gold, flowing robes, sitting at important seats and places of honor—“they help us know how to obey God”.

What is Spiritual Abuse?

What I’ve just described to you is spiritual abuse. Here are a few of the better definitions (source):

“Spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds.” (Ken Blue, Healing Spiritual Abuse, 1993)

“Spiritual abuse is when a Christian leader causes injury to others by acting in a self-centred manner in order to benefit themselves.” (Nelson, Spiritual Abuse: Unspoken Crisis, 2015)

“Spiritual abuse happens when people use God, or their supposed relationship with God, to control behaviour for their benefit.” (Diederich, Broken Trust, 2017)

You can see each of these definitions at play in the story of the widow giving her final two cents and Jesus’ words of condemnation for the Pharisees who are devouring widows’ houses. They used their spiritual authority for their benefit and not for hers.

Spiritual abuse is one of those things that happens not only at the hands of one particular person but it can happen through multiple hands within an unhealthy church culture. And often it is subtle. It can, at times, be hardly recognizable.

There are many ways in which spiritual abuse can happen, but today I will share with you one way in which it subtly happens within churches and communities of faith.

How does spiritual abuse happen?

We are on the road to spiritual abuse whenever we equate our ideas with the Bible’s imperatives. Let me explain.

Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we are to “not neglect to meet together” but instead we should be “encouraging one another”. From, this text you are safe to give this general principle: gathering with other believers is a vital component to being encouraged in the faith. Or to put it more bluntly, we are commanded by Scripture to encourage one another.

Biblical imperative: encourage one another through gathering together.

That is a non-negotiable. But watch what happens…

As a pastor I come along and take that biblical imperative and match it to a ministry idea:we should meet in weekly small groups for the purpose of encouraging one another in Christ.

Ministry idea: Small groups help us encourage one another through gathering together.

I might say something like, “at Calvary we believe God calls us to gather together to encourage one another, we obey this through weekly small groups.”

That sounds good, right?

Except nowhere in Scripture does it say, “obey this through weekly small groups”. It’s a great idea. I think it does help you obey this imperative. But the ministry idea itself does not have the authority of Scripture.

It turns into spiritual abuse whenever we use our authority (whether it be pastoral authority or the church’s cultural authority) to force obedience of a biblical imperative through our ministry idea. And people are wounded by this type of thing all the time. They experience loads of false guilt.

These things are subtle too. It is incredibly easy to merge a biblical imperative with a ministry idea, so that over time the ministry idea become synonymous with the biblical imperative. It happened to the Pharisees. And it happens within so many of our churches.

Conclusion

There are, I believe, two main solutions.

First, it would be good for leaders to slow our roles. We are not to be faith handlers. We must have the humility to acknowledge that our suggestions for how to obey an imperative do not carry the same weight as Scripture. We can be firm on what the imperatives are, but we must be humble in the specific way these are carried out.

Secondly, it is good for all of us to stop and ask questions of every thing we assume is an imperative. What exactly did God say? Part of the deception for the first couple was when they added, “we shall not touch”. God never said that.

As we begin to melt away some of the dross it is important for us to remember that imperatives really do matter. We should have a heart to obey what Christ has commanded us. But also the humility to let ourselves and others relationally work out what obedience actually looks like.

I am His.

So are you.

February 20, 2022

Life is Beautiful When Fulfilled by Relationships

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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This is our first time with Alicia Witt who writes at For His Purpose. in this post, written in late November, she speaks about a particular health challenge, but from her other writing, we know that it was just one of many. You can read this, where we sourced it, by clicking the header below which contains a link.

A Cord of Three Strands

This morning my oldest daughter, Paige, had asked if I’d braid her hair. She’s going out for girls’ wrestling this year and has practice today (even though it’s Thanksgiving break) so pulled back hair is her preference.

I found it interesting because at the time she asked, I was reading and studying over Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 which says this:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

When it comes to my daughter wanting her very long hair braided she always requests the help of either her sister or myself. It takes another set of hands to make it happen. It’s teamwork.

Today as I got the privilege of braiding her hair, with some new and fresh insight, I thought about the last part of the verses I’d just read, a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Interesting given the fact I’d just woven three sections of hair together similar to a cord formation. The weaving and intertwining of the hair strands keeps it stronger and serves the purpose for which it was meant—to hold together.

Keeping these verses in mind we can circle the encouragement found here—there is strength when partnering up.

Last weekend I tested positive for Covid and to say I accepted the circumstances to follow with ease would be a huge falsity. I was not impressed and am still struggling. Plans were tossed and negative feelings pursued.

My “quarantine” time doesn’t end until Sunday evening. There’s nothing normal about being isolated from family over Thanksgiving break especially in my own home.

Out of respect for my husband and kids I’ve tried to stay to my room but I was really “wrestling” with depressive thoughts so I’ve graduated a bit more to the main areas of the house while wearing a mask. I know this probably doesn’t meet CDC recommendations but out of the personal health of my sanity it is what it is.

I admit this isn’t one of my most happy-go-lucky-posts. Actually I always aim to just be as transparent as possible. I share all this though because I’ve been able to reflect on how much people matter to me.

God didn’t design us to be alone. In the beginning of His Word we read in Genesis 2:18, “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” God created woman in effort to reinforce that idea. We know sin ensued shortly after and humanity has suffered the results since. But God didn’t leave us without a Way to overcome…His name is Jesus.

When we include Jesus in our life, and in our relationships, that cord we read about in Ecclesiastes exist with the type of supernatural strength that points to Him.

Life is for us to do together. To lift one another up. To encourage. To cheer one another on. To smile. To hug. To laugh. To cry. To fellowship. To be in communion.

So even though Thanksgiving has definitely looked and felt very different and has not been my first choice of creating memories in this way, I can focus on the fact that I am blessed beyond measure—I know the importance (without a shadow of a doubt) of how beautiful life is when we are fulfilled by relationships. And the best is with Jesus laced right in the middle.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken…


March 18, 2020

Biblical Christianity and Social Distancing (2)

Yesterday I wrote,

The present period of lockdown, quarantine, or social distancing is contrary to our nature…

As people created in God’s image, we were made for community and some theologians teach that the God head (Father, Son, Spirit) itself models that community and functions as community.

Writer Christina Fox at Christianity.com continues our theme from yesterday; this is an excerpt, click the header which follows for the complete article…

Don’t Go It Alone, You Were Made for Community

God’s word tells us that we simply can’t function without each other. We need each other and we need community.

…We once were a society that centered around family. Multiple generations often lived together under one roof and when families did live separately, they never moved very far. These days, we are more of an individualistic culture. We rely on ourselves. We live far away from where we were raised. Our connections with other people take place most often in the workplace. But those connections are usually shallow, fickle, and short lived.

In the church, we see this sense of individualism and disconnectedness as well. Many people serially date churches, never staying in one place very long. Some may stake a claim on a church but remain distant and on the margins, attending only when something better isn’t going on. And then there are those who may indeed have a committed relationship with a church but they are not all in. They aren’t fully known by their community. They don’t rely on the Body when they are struggling or in need. Instead, they wear masks that cover the pain of their lives, pretending that everything’s okay, even though it’s not.

Yet individualism and doing life on our own is not part of God’s design. After all, God is a community in himself. Existing for all of eternity past, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have enjoyed the love and fellowship of their perfect triune community. In creating mankind, God desired for us to participate in that community and know the perfect and joyous love the Godhead share.

But God didn’t stop there. He didn’t create man to be in community with him alone. After he created the world and Adam, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). God created man and woman to be in community together, to create families and live together, bearing the image of and reflecting the three-in-one God.

Scripture is all about community. God chose the Israelites to be his people. “And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12). They lived and worshipped him together in community. Following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, God then instituted the church, the Body of Christ as a community of believers. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Here’s what Paul Tripp says in his book, Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy,

“We weren’t created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in a humble, worshipful, and loving dependency upon God and in a loving and humble interdependency with others. Our lives were designed to be community projects. Yet, the foolishness of sin tells us that we have all that we need within ourselves. So we settle for relationships that never go beneath the casual. We defend ourselves when the people around us point out a weakness or a wrong. We hold our struggles within, not taking advantage of the resources God has given us.” (p. 147)

…The truth is, we need each other. We need to trust, rely on, and depend upon other believers. God gave us each other to walk alongside, encourage, and spur one another one in the faith. The writer to the Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” We are to carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), care for each other’s practical needs (Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:16), warn each other of sin (1 Thessalonians 5:14) and rejoice and mourn with each other (Romans 12:15)…


So how do we do that today? In Psalm 137:4 the Psalmist reflects on Israel’s captivity and asks, “How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? Today we could equally ask, How do we practice Christian community while in isolation? We need to work to seek solutions in a less than ideal set of circumstances.

 

 

March 17, 2020

Biblical Christianity and Social Distancing (1)

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. – Genesis 2:18a

Although this verse is usually presented in the context of what Ellicott terms, “the divine appointment of marriage;” it also reflects the wider principle that we were made for community.

The present period of lockdown, quarantine, or social distancing is contrary to our nature, though I know a few Christian introverts who would say they don’t mind this at all. At least for now. We’ll see what they say in about ten days. God made us as social beings.

My research today took me to a website I was previously unaware of, TheNIVBIble.com which led to this article:

We Were Made for Community

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.John 13:34

In our individualistic society, many of us often feel alone. Sometimes we are actually alone; at other times we simply feel lonely. Some of us, conditioned by our culture, believe we are better off by ourselves and think we do not need the help of others. However, the gospel—and all of Scripture, for that matter—reinforces the truth that we were created for community. God created us not to be isolated beings, but rather people who live life with others. The primary way that we as Christians live in community is by belonging to the church.

When our culture thinks of community, it often thinks of a social club or an organization formed around a specific interest or cause. But the church is something much greater. It is Christ’s “body” (Colossians 1:24). And the nature of our relationships with other Christians is described in the New Testament as koinonia, a Greek word often translated as “fellowship.” It means that we as Christians have communion with one another and participate in life together. Not only that, but we also have communion with Christ and participate in his life and mission. We are members of his body.

Unity in Diversity

The fellowship of the church is concretely expressed in diversity. God wants to transform us from people who prefer to be with those who are like us into people who love those who are unlike us and unlike those with whom we would typically associate.

In his book The Living Church, John Stott discusses the practical consequences, “both negative and positive,” of this kind of loving fellowship:

“Negatively, if we love each other, we will not stand in judgment on each other, or speak evil against each other. We will not bite or devour each other (as if we were wild beasts). And we will not provoke or envy or lie to each other. Positively, if we love each other, we will be kind and compassionate to each other, forbear and forgive each other, submit to each other and build each other up, practice hospitality to each other ungrudgingly, encourage each other, admonish and comfort each other, pray for each other and bear each other’s burdens.”

Community is opportunity. Fellowship in the church becomes a tutor and an avenue for us to love and serve others, even those outside the church. Above all, the church is called to mirror the love of the Trinity. God exists in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is the true unity in diversity, and we are invited to not only share in the love of the Trinity, but also to extend that love to everyone we encounter.

Love In Our Workplace and Community

One reason why God has established the church is so that we can experience concretely the love of Christ. Yet this love was never meant to be restricted to the community of the church. Rather, it should generously overflow into all of our communities, including our workplaces. The love of Christ changes the way we see our work community.

Our coworkers are not merely people who help us get our work done or help us advance professionally. No, God has placed them in our lives so that we may love and serve them, even if they are radically different from us. We are called to love them, as Stott explained, both negatively and positively so that they might not only flourish but also experience God’s love and mercy.


The article then concludes with a question that is a bigger challenge today than it was a week ago:

What communities do you belong to? How might you show greater love to someone today?

I encourage you to find ways to reach out even when physical proximity is not an option.

November 6, 2019

Deep and Lasting Friendships Don’t Just Happen

NIV.Eccl.4.9 Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.

NIV.Prov.27.17 As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.

Six months ago we shared something from the writing of Glenn Kaiser, a leader in the Jesus People USA community in Chicago which gave birth to Resurrection Band, Cornerstone Magazine and the Cornerstone Festival. Today we’re back with another one of his devotional pieces. Click the header below to read at source.

True Friendship!

Some years ago someone repeated to me what another person had stated about a third party. The sentiment was something like “He might sometimes drive me crazy but he’s the kind of person you want to have next to you in a foxhole.”

I get a long list of daily devotionals in my inbox most of which I read slowly through. Sometimes they seem to nail truth or at least open up a line of thought I find encouraging to consider. On occasion they spread open to a larger field of reality I think it good to share.

Here are three quotes on friendship.

  • “A true friend is the one who walks in when others walk out.”  -Walter Winchell

Boom. A few more thoughts on this in a moment, but I have several such friends and am SOOOOO grateful to God for them!

  • “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

True friendship costs and the sad truth is that plenty of people are not committed to one another enough to pay the bill.

Lastly a “Yes and No” on this quote:

  • “In true friendship, one can express anything and everything without feeling ashamed or afraid of being rejected.” -Aparna Chatterjee

I agree but counter and add that even when you do feel ashamed a true friend is one you can still express anything to and not fear being rejected.

These kinds of deep and especially lasting friendships don’t just “happen”. They take real investment of time, effort, forgiveness, agreeing to disagree but not terminating the relationship easily. Actual continual physical abuse and life and death matters are another matter entirely and certainly friendship with such a person is not what I’m taking about.

Some of us are so insecure and/or arrogant, at times we’re just not willing to build truly deep and close alliances, maybe even a sort of coalition. This does not mean full agreement in every area but enough that you still reach out, respect, actually hang out willingly with one another.

The lack of such commitment to mutual friendship contributes to extreme polarization which can and often does happen. I believe this an element of why our world is often quite mean, impatient, fractured, even brutal to the extent of breeding outright hatred in our times.

How easily do you “send ’em packing”, just dump a friend? Whether or not you agree on everything (you don’t and won’t) what sort of friend are you when they’re hurting? How willing are you to point them in directions that may bring them needed help and perhaps relief from issues they’re plagued with?

Are you simply a friend of convenience- they have some of what you want so you hang out to take not so much share and/or give?

Some of the amazing reality of God is He already knows everything about you and knows the depth, importance, right or wrong, good for you or self-destructive, He’s down with it all -and still loves you. He doesn’t always agree with your choices but Jesus didn’t come to a world of people who all full-on agreed with Him, gave/give a rip about God or even care much for others. He came for all sinners -meaning you, me, all of us!

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” -Jesus in John 15.12,13

We may split from others, might run away from Jesus but He never left. While we were yet sinners… hmmm… He died for us. HE laid down His life for us. That’s the sort of friendship I’m talking about!

When nobody else is around -He is.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am for my Best Friend.

God help us learn to love and cultivate, indeed sacrifice to become the sort of friends Jesus calls us to be for others. And Thank You Lord for such friends!

March 21, 2018

The Sluggard – Part Two

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Yesterday and today we’re sharing a total of four devotionals by Charles Price, Minister at Large for The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada. Click the individual titles to read at source.

Look to the Ant

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” —Proverbs 6:6-8

To correct the sluggard’s attitude, Solomon suggests looking to the ant. Ants are incredibly strong creatures, able to carry the heaviest weight of any animal in proportion to its size. They are also highly social, existing as part of colonies where each ant has a specific job to do. But what in particular can the sluggard learn from the ant?

Firstly, an ant’s work ethic exemplifies responsibility. Unlike the sluggard, ants look beyond their immediate needs. The sluggard only works to provide for the here and now, but the ant collects food in summer for the good of the colony down the road. Ants spring into action whenever their colony is under attack. The apparent chaos that occurs when we knock off the top of their anthills is really an incredibly organized re-digging and repairing of tunnels.

Secondly, the sluggard can learn reliability from the ants. No one needs to tell an ant it is time to gather food or rebuild tunnels. There are no commander ants looking over shoulders and demanding everyone do their part. When there is a need, every ant can be relied upon to fill it. Of course, this is largely because of instinct in which ants are essentially pre-wired to act this way, but they still serve as good examples for the sluggard. Our communities are strengthened when people do a task they know needs doing without having to be asked or checked up on.

Finally, the ants’ interdependence on one another for the colony’s success teaches the sluggard respect. Not every ant is a gatherer or re-builder. There are actually three kinds of ants—queen ants, worker ants and soldier ants—and each type has specific roles within the colony. The queen’s job is simply to be fed and lay eggs so the colony can grow. She is served by the worker ants that dig tunnels, incubate eggs and take care of the resulting babies. Meanwhile, the soldier ants are the ones gathering food and defending the colony.

The sluggard wastes his gifts by not looking beyond his immediate self-interest, but ants exemplify respect for each other by reliably fulfilling their particular roles for the greater good of the colony. This should remind us of when Paul describes the church as the body of Christ.

We all have a place within this body, including the sluggard, but bodies only work when there is mutual interdependence between its members. In the same way, the church is strongest when we each take responsibility for tasks that fit our gifts and callings, work reliably to get them done and show mutual respect for others within the body by encouraging them do the same.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the remarkable example of the ant. May their responsibility, reliability and respect be a regular reminder of how to execute my role within Your church. Thank You, Lord.

Sluggard in Our Souls

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”  —Mark 8:36

While Jesus was teaching one day, a man called out to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13). This inspired Jesus to tell a parable about the dangers of greed, but it also has a lesson for the sluggard. Jesus describes a rich man who had an exceedingly successful harvest. Realizing his barns could not hold all the extra grain, the man decided to tear them down and build bigger ones. He figured he could live comfortably off the excess and his future would be one of “eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). 

This man was no sluggard. He followed the wisdom of Solomon, planting in season so he would have a harvest down the road. He reaped the benefits of an abundant harvest and had the good sense to increase his storage capacity. “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Luke 12:20) There is nothing wrong with providing for future material needs, but what about our souls? The man in this parable was disciplined and had a good work ethic, but he neglected the most important thing. We may gain every material blessing and comfort we could ever want, but it will amount to nothing if we are sluggards in our souls.

Some of us have been putting off responding to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. Maybe we have felt His leading to spend more time in His Word or prayer but we never make the time. Maybe we engage in the same sin over and over because we know Jesus will forgive us. Maybe we have been avoiding witnessing to someone at work because “it just hasn’t been the right time.”

Sadly, many people even put off entering a relationship with Jesus Christ because they think there is always tomorrow, but tomorrow is promised to no one.

The reality is that life is short. Schedules remain busy, temptation constantly knocks, coworkers leave for other jobs and death comes unexpectedly. This is the danger of spiritual slothfulness. The man in the parable was caught unprepared; a sluggard in his soul. His life had been all about himself and no amount of wisdom could help him now. In Matthew 16:26, Jesus asks, “What can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

There is nothing we can give in exchange for our souls, but the day will come when our souls will be required of us. What we decide in the present will determine our future, which is why a true Christian shares what they have and lives with eternity in mind.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, shift my focus from concerns of this life to spiritual matters. Keep me from becoming a hoarder and instill in me a heart that generously shares the blessings You have graciously given me. Thank You, Lord.