Christianity 201

January 21, 2017

You Can Be The Someone in Anyone’s Life

As I explained last year at this time, for several years I received a devotional booklet in the mail from James MacDonald and Walk In The Word titled Our Journey. After calling a local Harvest Bible Chapel, I learned that the devotional is now an online resource, and today, a year later, we pay a return visit.

That Special Someone

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19–20, ESV).

“Anyone,” meet “someone.”

The beauty of this passage from James 5 is evident in God’s personal care for His children as He matches up a “someone” with an “anyone” for a life-saving mission.

As you think today about those you know who aren’t living for God as they once did, the name that most likely comes to mind is someone close to you—a family member, longtime friend, or workplace associate. Perhaps, in fact, every time a sermon or small group discussion poses a similar type of question, this person has been your immediate answer for as long as you can remember.

“What an answer to someone else’s prayer you could become by obediently following up on a spiritual nudge from the Lord.”

You’ve probably made several attempts through the years to try persuading them to take God’s Word more seriously. Apparently to no avail. And sad to say, they may be closed off to hearing it from you at this point. Experience tells us they’ll respond best hearing it from somebody else now, some other way. And while you can (and should) stay persistent and faithful, always ready to lead them lovingly back to Christ, begin trusting God now to put this person of yours on some other believer’s heart who can represent Him to them with a fresh face and approach.

But don’t consider yourself a failure, ineffective, or out of a job . . . because there’s someone else who’s in your shoes today, who’s weary of trying and failing to get through to a loved wanderer. And they’re praying for someone like you to come along.

Unlike them, your relationship with this person who’s most on their heart is not as a spouse or sibling but is more coincidental. Maybe you went to high school or college with them. Maybe you used to work out at the same gym. Maybe their family and your family once lived on the same street and had kids the same age. But you knew then, or you’ve heard since, that they stopped walking with the Lord. And lately, as you’ve been open to the Spirit’s stirring in your heart, this person’s name and memory keep popping up—unexpectedly, yet with a certain weight and frequency.

Eventually, “someone” is going to bring them back. “Someone” is going to find this “anyone” that the Spirit is working to help you acknowledge. But why should “anyone” wait any longer when “someone” like you is already primed to be thinking of them and praying for them? Finding them may take a bit of work, especially if it’s a person you haven’t seen in a long time. But what a pleasant surprise for them if they were to hear from you. And what an answer to someone else’s prayer you could become by obediently following up on what you know to be a spiritual nudge from the Lord.

When the Bible says to go after “anyone” who’s wandered from the truth, you can never say a person is too far gone to be reached, or that the situation is too messy and complicated to get involved. And when the Bible says “someone,” you know that any of us should be expecting His call at any time. He wouldn’t be alerting you about it if making this connection wasn’t part of His plan, if He wasn’t actively extending His grace to this individual and wooing them back into fellowship with Him.

Don’t underestimate the urgency of your mission. Be the “someone” to go after “anyone” today.

Journal

  • Who comes to mind when you think of “someone” who influenced your decision to embrace Christ as savior, or to return from wandering?
  • Ask the Lord to give you “anyone” to pursue for His sake. Who does He bring to mind?

Pray
God, in this moment I ask You to stir in me such a burden that I cannot escape it. Touch my heart with someone that I can reach out to with renewed friendship and grace. Let my obedience not be determined by their response, but by the overflow of love and mercy You’ve poured out on my heart and life. Even though I have my own burdens, cause me to know that when I take up what matters most to You, You will meet my needs in ways that are beyond what I could ask for or imagine. Use me as You see fit, for Your glory alone. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

July 4, 2016

Wheat Among the Weeds

The Parable of the Weeds

NIV Matt. 13: 24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

This parable came up in a discussion on the weekend, and I went looking for some commentary on it, even though we’ve covered it here before two or three times. I think there’s a powerful principle here we can miss.

Karoline Lewis is Associate Professor of Preaching and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minn. Click the title below to read at source. Note: Her website, Dear Working Preacher, is addressed to pastors.

Wheat and Tares and Other Truths about the Kingdom of Heaven

Good and evil side by side, co-existing without set checks and balances, without resolute criteria for adjudicating which is which, without a sense of qualifications and quantifications that might provide certain conclusions to ease our moral consciences? Perhaps one of the most challenging and problematic issues in the history of theological thought. Where does evil come from? Is it as simple as assigning it to an alternate being? Is it as easily determinable as we tend to think? Is it so readily recognized as we want to believe?

These are the theological questions that Matthew’s parable seems to raise. A first step in preaching this week is to acknowledge these difficulties, to dwell in the discomfort, and to resist any definitive test to secure answers that surely demand far more deliberation than a twelve minute sermon can give justice.

We are really good at assessing what is good and what is not with the effortless phrase, “the Bible says.” But, the problem with evil? With sin? Is that it looks pretty darn good. So close to what seems right and virtuous. So close to our vision of what we imagine good should be.

Matthew’s parable…is in one sense a warning. Lest we think we have it all figured out how to judge evil from good, moral from immoral, right from wrong, virtuous from unvirtuous, think again. According to whom? When? In what contexts? By what standards? This is the time for some prophetic proclamation. Pointing out the places in our history, in our present, when evil was and is justified biblically, theologically, morally, socially. This alone is worth preaching.

Such is our human inclination, is it not? Our penchant for judgment and condemnation. For declaring the future of those we deem somehow inadequate in faith and Christian life. For assuming maleficence in another as if our own actions are above reproach.

This parable is one that should stop us up short. Really? Who do you think you are? God? Yet many do. We do. A lot.

I recently shared a saying on my Facebook page that appeared in my news feed, “When they discover the center of the universe, a lot of people will be disappointed they are not it.”

When we start going down the road of making our lot in life electing what is good and evil we may very well discover that others will make similar conclusions about us.

Matthew’s parable invites some honest preaching about the existence of evil. When was the last time you listened, really listened, to how your parishioners talk about evil, about theodicy? Call attention to the ways in which these realities co-exist. How difficult it is to determine the difference until the point when it’s too late. That it is ok. Because in the end, the parable promises that God’s job is not ours. Exuberant efforts to eradicate evil may very well end up only in questioning our own eschatological actuality.

This parable is a description of a reality we’d rather not admit. Maybe even a description of a God in whom we’d rather not believe. Can’t God do something about the enemy, and now? What is God good for anyway if God can’t see to it that evil is eliminated? The parable of the wheat and the weeds is not told for the sake of action but for the sake of honesty. Our presence in the world as Christians is not about a full-blown plan to get rid of evil at every turn.

That our calling as disciples is to seek out and purge sin and evil? Frankly, I don’t want that job. I don’t trust myself. But I do trust God. Our presence in the world as Christians is to be the good. To live the Gospel. To be the light. To be the salt. Because we are, says Jesus to his disciples. This should be good news. This parable calls us simply to be. To be the good in the world with the full awareness of what the resistances will be. To be light when darkness will surely try to snuff us out. To be salt when blandness and conformity and acceptability are always the easier paths.

Maybe you are wondering, but aren’t we called to call out evil? To resist the forces that would deprive those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? To make sure that those who mourn are comforted? To uplift the poor in spirit? Yes. Absolutely. But perhaps not in this sermon. There will be other texts and other sermons that will have us lead a charge for this kind of action.

Perhaps in this instance we believe in the text and take our cue from Matthew’s vision of God. Immanuel. “I am with you to the end of the age.” We are called to just to be. And in order to be we trust that God is with us.

Indeed, God is.

 

January 21, 2014

Sin Kills

Sin Kills 2

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship, in Lancaster, Ca. He has recently written Desperate for More of God, for which you can watch a book trailer here. This article appeared in November on the church’s blog under the title, The Cross of Christ is Foolishness . . .”

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

There is a significant shift in the church today to avoid controversial truths such as the cross. The cross confronts evil; it’s repulsive to sinful man. Darkness hates the light. God’s Word says to confront, confess, and turn from sin, whereas many encourage us to ignore, overlook, and continue in them. Silence about sin minimizes the cross. But the cross only makes sense in light of the consequences of sin. “To convince the world of the truth of Christianity, it must first be convinced of sin. It is only sin that renders Christ intelligible” (Andrew Murray; 1794-1866).

Many mistakenly believe that Jesus didn’t mention sin—after all, He was “a friend of sinners.” However, Scripture reveals quite the opposite. For example, in John 5:14 Jesus exhorted a man to sin no more or a worse thing would happen to him. He also told the woman caught in the act of adultery to “go and sin no more.”

It’s clear that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15), why, then, is there a move within the church to avoid mentioning difficult truths such as the cross, sin, judgment, and so on? John 12:43 may reveal the answer, “They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” “The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it” (A.W. Tozer).

Sin has a life cycle — it either grows or withers depending on whether we feed or starve it. This is why the puritan author, John Owen, wrote, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” With that said, here is why we need the cross of Christ:

Sin is within: “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Our sinful nature is at war with God. No peace treaties can be signed; no concessions can be made…sin must be eradicated: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (cf. Hebrews 9:22). The life of the flesh is in the blood. Christ’s life had to be offered in order to saves ours.

Sin has a cost: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). It’s been said that sin takes you farther than you want to go, costs you more than you want to pay, and keeps you longer than you want to stay. Sin has a tremendous price, but fortunately, this greatest of debts was paid: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Sin separates: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). Sin separates all nations, tribes, and tongues from God. There are two types of separation: 1) separation from God eternally, and 2) separation that believers experience as the result of besetting sin. If God seems distant, Bible study boring, and church inconvenient, it may be that sin is hindering your relationship with Him. Look within…is jealousy, envy, bitterness, gossip, lust, or anger controlling your thoughts? Do you have a critical spirit? Are you compromising the gospel? Are you filled with pride and judgmentalism instead of love, joy, peace, contentment, and gentleness. If there is no repentance of besetting sin, one can never experience true freedom in Christ.

Sin enslaves (controls): “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). Mike Wilkerson, in his book Redemption, writes, “Sin corrupts worship. Not a ceasing of worship but a distortion of it. We never stop worshiping. Rather, in sin, we worship anything and everything other than God. We tend to exalt a substance, an experience, a person, or a dream to the level of a god. We define life by its attainment, and we feel like dying when it eludes us…The Bible calls this ‘idolatry.’ So addictions, for example, aren’t just drug, alcohol, food, or pornography problems. They are worship disorders. They flow from hearts bent on worshiping created things rather than the Creator.” Sin enslaves, controls, and distorts. The only way to break sins hold in our life is to embrace the cross. Jesus came to “save His people from their sins.” The penalty for sin was paid on the cross (propitiation), and our guilt was removed (expiation).

Conviction is a wonderful gift from God…run to it not away from it. Conviction is also the first step toward truly knowing God. Does 1 Corinthians 1:18 convict you: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”? Is the cross foolishness to you? That can change today. John 10:10 says that Jesus came to give us life, freedom, and a relationship with God. Are you experiencing this abundant life? Or are you bound by sin, rules, compromise, or tradition? 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. The old has gone, and the new is here. You must trust in Him as Lord and Savior and repent from your sin. This isn’t popular but it is powerful.

If you’re a believer, but find yourself trapped in sin, misery, and depression, there is also hope. God’s continually calls His people back to Him. If you return to Him with all of your heart, He will return to you. That’s a gift of the greatest value…a promise that will never fail.

The title we chose for today’s post comes from the song Sin Kills by Andy McCaroll and Moral Support, a Christian metal band from the early 1980s. It’s not the type of song I would normally embed here, but if you’re under a certain age, the lyrics are quite powerful. Click here to listen.

January 7, 2014

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Sin

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Today’s reading is rather short, but there’s a link that will take you through a 40-day set of readings from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that includes a study in the Beatitudes from The Sermon on the Mount.  These 40 devotionals appeared at BibleGateway.com starting in February of this year.  To start at the beginning, click here and then click on successive dates on the February/March calendars. To simply read today’s item at source, click here.

Dietrich BonhoefferWhen another Christian falls into obvious sin, an admonition is imperative, because God’s Word demands it. The practice of discipline in the community of faith begins with friends who are close to one another. Words of admonition and reproach must be risked when a lapse from God’s Word in doctrine or life endangers a community that lives together, and with it the whole community of faith. Nothing can be more cruel than that leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin. When we allow nothing but God’s Word to stand between us, judging and helping, it is a service of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine community. Then it is not we who are judging; God alone judges, and God’s judgment is helpful and healing.

Biblical Wisdom

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Galatians 6:1

Questions to Ponder

  • Is sin taken seriously in today’s church and by today’s Christians? How is it, or how is it not?
  • Why might it be “cruel” not to admonish someone whose behavior is obviously sinful? What are the dangers in admonishing someone?
  • How might the church and individual Christians avoid being hypocritical and judgmental when admonishing a Christian brother or sister?

Psalm Fragment

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us. Psalm 85:4

Journal Reflections

  • Have you ever been admonished by another Christian? If so, write about the experience. How was it done? How did it feel? What were the results?
  • Have you ever offered a word of admonition to another person? If so, write about the experience. How did it feel? What were the results?
  • If you answered no to the above two questions, spend some time in writing reflecting upon the idea of taking sin seriously enough to admonish another and receive admonition from another.

Prayer for Today

Lord, open my ears that I may hear from your Word whatever words of admonition I need to hear that I might grow in love and faithfulness.

40-Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Copyright © 2007 Augsburg Books, imprint of Augsburg Fortress.