Christianity 201

April 21, 2017

Intentional Followership

Today we’re paying a fourth visit to Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. Usually at this point I encourage you to click the title below to read at source, but I also want to point you to a blog post Paul did in the form of an infographic. Before or after you’re done here, check out 6 Helpful Scriptures to Guide our Choices.

3 Components to Spiritual Formation

Intention in spiritual formation is essential. Our faith cannot, and will not, remain static. Every day our spirits are either being molded into the likeness of Jesus or into the likeness of the world.

Passivity is not an option.

Without intentional action our spirits will be conformed to the way of the world. If we are not moving towards Christ we are moving away from him.

The Apostle Peter was very aware of the importance of spiritual formation.

In 2 Peter 3:17-18 he wrote:

I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. (NLT)

There is a great danger in not being intentional about our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ.

Peter pointed out 3 dangers that we face when we are not serious about our spiritual formation:  (1) losing our faith, (2) being led astray, and (3) living in error.

No matter how strong we believe our faith is right now, it is not enough to sustain us through all of life’s ups and downs. The faith that is sufficient today will not be sufficient tomorrow.

The writer of Hebrews shared a similar sentiment when he wrote:

 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds* and placing our faith in God. (Hebrews 6:1, NLT)

God expects us to be engaged in spiritual formation. Maturity will only happen through intentional effort.

If we are not willing to do what it takes grow spiritually and to deepen our relationship with God, then we will continue to miss out on the life He created us to live. We cannot remain the same and remain with Jesus. Either we are moving with him or we are allowing ourselves to be left behind.

If spiritual formation is this important, how do we make it a part of our lives?

The entire Bible is filled with instruction and example of how we can partner with the Holy Spirit to bring maturity to our spirits.

Today I want to share with you a little bit of what the Apostle Paul told the Colossians about spiritual formation.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers* of this world, rather than from Christ.(Colossians 2:6-8; NLT)

Let’s take a moment and examine what Paul wrote about spiritual formation:

1. We need to be consistent – Vs. 6

Faith is the key.

We came to salvation because we trusted in Jesus to deal with our sins. We experience spiritual maturity because we trust Jesus to lead us to the life God created us to live. Without this faith in Jesus we are unable to grow. If we cannot be consistent in our trust (trusting Jesus to take away our sins but not to lead us to life) means that we will be stunted in our maturity and our relationship with God will begin to die.

The consistency we need becomes visible through our obedience.  We need to ask ourselves these questions: Am I willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads me? Will  I risk my life, career, and reputation for the sake of the Gospel?

By being obedient we demonstrate that we trust God.

2. We need to be concrete – Vs. 7

Remember the parable Jesus told about the wise man and the foolish man?

The point of the story is people need to build on a firm foundation. The wise man is able to survive the storms because his house is built on the rock, which was able to withstand the power of the waves. The foolish man is destroyed because his house is built on the sand, which washed away with the raging water.

Being concrete is about holding on to truth. Jesus’ teachings are a firm foundation because they are truth. We receive truth through instruction, reading, relationships, and experiences. By constantly seeking and applying  truth to our lives we are building on a firm foundation. This foundation will provide us with the security we need to survive any situation.

3. We need to be cautious – Vs. 8

It is easy to be led astray by something that seems credible.

Proverbs 14:12 reads; There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.  (NLT). What seems to be right and what sounds good are not the best indicators of what is truth. We can get very lost following what seems to be right to us.

This is about influence. Who will we allow to influence us? What type of media will we use? Is their message in agreement with the message of Jesus?

The best way we can safe guard ourselves from being led astray is to know and live the teachings of Jesus. Only when we are familiar with the truth are we able to identify the lie.

Spiritual formation is essential for our relationship with God. We need to remain consistent in our faith, we need to be concrete in our belief, and we need cautious about what influences us.

These 3 components will help us stay on the path of spiritual formation. Without them we will be prevented from living the life that Jesus has for us to live.

Don’t neglect your spiritual formation. Be intentional about the person you are becoming and make an effort to become like Jesus.

 What is an essential component to your spiritual formation?

April 7, 2017

Feeling Down? Romans 8:18-30

As promised yesterday, today we’re bringing you the 2nd of two in a row…

…by Clarke Dixon

We witness, and sometimes experience, awful moments of tragedy. We see incredible injustice; whether it be bad things happening to good people or good things happening for bad people. We experience terrible health concerns; some elusive, some chronic, and some severe. There is also tragic and irreversible loss. All of this can be from “natural causes,” conflict, or shear stupidity. Being “in Christ” and “walking according to the Spirit” does not lift us out of the suffering of our world. But the suffering we are witness to can consume our focus and rob us of the joy of the Christian life. If the Christian life is supposed to be a joyful life, how can we keep suffering from robbing us of our joy? How can we keep from being overwhelmed by frustration?

Paul gives us the answer in Romans 8:18. But before we read it, let me offer an example from my own “first-world-problem.” There is a kind of suffering in dieting. Indeed, dieting is the only thing I have ever wanted to give up for Lent! The hardest part is looking at the food on the table and not reaching for a second helping. “Seconds” to me is not just a wee bit more, but an entire dinner again. But I have discovered the secret of losing weight. The secret is to look at the food with only one eye. Keep one eye on the future. Look forward with eager anticipation to not feeling bloated at the end of the meal. Look forward to not feeling a sense of regret for the course of the evening. Look forward to the numbers heading in the right direction when you stand on the scales. Look forward to fitting into those clothes that have collected some dust in the closet. The momentary “suffering” of self-denial at the dinner table does not compare to the joy ahead. So look ahead. Likewise with the suffering of life; don’t look at suffering with both eyes and so letting it consume your entire focus – keep one eye on the future.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

Paul looks forward with eager anticipation to what the future holds. The current suffering of those who are in Christ is not worth comparing to to the future, either qualitatively or quantitatively. The future joy will be of far greater scale than the current sorrow. The time spent with God in eternity will far outweigh the time spent watching or experiencing suffering now. Though our suffering may seem overwhelming as we are enduring it, in hindsight it will seem as nothing when compared with our joy in God’s presence.

Paul gives us four things to keep in mind as we keep one eye on the future.

First, we are not alone in looking forward with eager anticipation. Indeed all creation is keeping an eye on the future:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now . . . Romans 8:19-22

When God looked at creation he saw that it was good. When it seems less than good in our day, we are seeing the result of the fall, the result of human sin. Thankfully for all creation, God had and has a plan to deal with that sin, and so all of creation is spoken of as looking forward to God’s rescue of His people. Creation faces frustration because of us. Creation will be renewed because of God’s love for us!

Second, in keeping an eye on the future, we look ahead to things we have never experienced.

. . . and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:23-25

The gist of these verses is “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” While we enjoy great privilege in walking with the Spirit in the here and now, there is so much more to come. Hope is caught up with the eager anticipation of something we have not seen or experienced yet; our resurrection.

Third, we are keeping an eye on a future which is beyond our understanding.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27

Sometimes suffering is so intense we are left speechless. The Spirit helps us pray when we are speechless. The future that God has in store for us will also leave us speechless. We cannot pray about our future glory without the Spirit’s help. We are not bold enough in our prayers. We often pray for an alleviation of suffering and leave it at that. What God has in store for us is so much more!

Fourth, we keep an eye on the future knowing that it is ensured by God’s ultimate rule.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:28-30

There is much deep theology to unpack in these verses, but to keep it simple, the focus here is on God’s initiative, God’s plan, God’s purposes, God’s will, God’s way. The suffering we witness and experience can’t touch it, or alter it! Though I may be sidetracked from my diet, God does not get sidetracked from the unfolding of His will. The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to revealed to us. And with God in charge, the glory will be revealed to us.

To conclude, let us go back to the where Paul began his current summary of our rescue:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. . . who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1,4

This does not mean that life is perfect in the here and now for those who are in Christ, in fact we should expect suffering to continue. But even while we see, experience, and expect suffering, we can keep one eye on the future. Because it is glorious!


Read more in this series at Clarke’s blog.

April 1, 2017

Only One Plan

Bruxy’s book releases in May. Click the image for more details.

While I’m a huge fan of Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor of The Meeting House in Oakville just west of Toronto, Canada we’ve never included his writing here beyond a few quotations. So with the new book re(Union) due out in May, we thought this would be a good time to share his ministry with you. Click the link in the title below to read this at its source, and then take a few minutes to look around the rest of his website.

The scandal of particularity

When I was young, I wondered why Jesus didn’t come to earth as a woman (they seemed smarter to me). I also wondered why Jesus hadn’t come as an Irishman (our family is part Irish), or even as a three-toed sloth (my favorite animal). And why had he come only once, so long ago, instead of coming today and every day for a visit? Jesus coming only once, in one place, as one person, at one point in history—that just didn’t seem “fair” to me.

My dad was a gentle, gracious, and wise man. I often peppered him with my weird and wonder-full questions, and he would patiently help me think through possible answers.

“Why did Jesus not come as a woman?” I’d ask him.

“He could have,” my dad would say. “God can do anything. But men were the powerful people in that culture, as in most, and maybe Jesus came in that form in order to teach the people with power how to lay it down. Remember him teaching his disciples to wash feet? In that culture, a job like that was reserved for servants or women, who had no power. But as Jesus washed his all-male disciples’ feet, he told them they needed to learn how to wash feet too!”

“Why not an Irishman?” I’d probe.

“He could have. God can do anything. But he had already been patiently working with a group of people, the Jewish people, to teach them how to be the light of the world together. When they weren’t lighting up the world the way God wanted, Jesus came specifically to them, as one of them.”

“Why not a three-toed sloth?” I’d ask.

“He could have,” my dad would say, somehow still patient. “God can do anything. Back in the days of Moses, God became a fire in a bush and a pillar of cloud, so I’m sure he could become a three-toed sloth if he wanted to. But remember, of all creatures, we alone are made in the image and likeness of God. We were put in charge of the planet in order to take care of creation. Just think of it—through our choices, we can take care of three-toed sloths, or harm them by harming their environment. Our choices affect them in ways their choices will never affect us, just as our environmental decisions affect the lives of every species in ways that their decisions do not. We are the powerful ones in nature. But as we learned from Spider-Man, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ We are made like God, which means that we need to learn from God how to use power to love, to care, and to cultivate.”

“But why then and not now?” I’d say.

“He could have. God can do anything. But his timing does seem perfect. Back then, Roman roads had only recently made it possible for the gospel to travel far and wide with new directness. The Pax Romana (Roman peace) made it possible to travel those roads with reasonable safety. And a common language, Greek, started to be spoken among different people groups, allowing them to communicate with each other as never before. And the Romans executed people in a very bloody way—crucifixion—which would allow God to demonstrate the coming of the New Covenant and the end of all religious sacrifice to a people who saw blood as the centre of religious sacrifice. Once that was all in place, why wait another day?”

“Why not just come every day?”

“He could do that,” my dad would say, still with a patient grin. “God can do anything. In fact, he does that every day and every moment through his Holy Spirit. But Brux, if God was really going to become one of us through Jesus—I mean, really become human—then that means he doesn’t get to come every day in every place. Humans don’t live that way. Humans live one life in one place at a time. And God decided to become human just like us.”

My dad and my mom and my older sisters and Sunday school teachers and youth pastors—all of them had to put up with my many questions. And their patience paid off. I finally got it: God came to us as one of us. That’s the incarnation, and it’s central to the gospel. This idea of incarnation has profound implications. Theologians call this “the scandal of particularity.”

In becoming human, God became particular, a specific human, not just humanity as some generalized concept. And that creates particularity in time and space, gender and race. God became this and not that. God became a man and not a woman. God became a Jew and not a Gentile. God became an Israelite and not a Canadian. God became a poor person and not a rich person. God became a first-century person and not a twenty-first-century person.

The apostle Paul wrote:

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4-7).

When the time had fully come. That’s when Jesus came. As one “born under the law,” Jesus came as part of one of the world’s rule-enforcing, ritual-observing, temple-building, animal-sacrificing, blood-spilling religions—to bring an end to it all, from the inside out. Through Jesus, God came to us at just the right time, in just the right way, to say everything God had to say. Now, with religion out of the way, God pulls us close, as his children. (We are called “sons,” not to exclude women but to emphasize the equal status women have in God’s family. See, at that time, daughters had no rights. So God says, to men and women,  you are all my “sons,” to emphasize that all of us, male and female, are heirs to the love and blessing God has for his kids.)

We are no longer slaves. Before Jesus, and even now apart from Jesus, we can all end up as slaves to something, to some system of belonging, even and especially the system of religion. But we are no longer slaves. We no longer have to serve our own fragile egos, always subconsciously clamouring for the affirmation and acceptance we so desperately desire. We are now God’s children. Let it sink in: we are God’s children. And, alongside Jesus, we share in our inheritance: God’s great love for his kids, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Yes, Jesus came “once upon a time” and “once upon a place.” But today, through the Holy Spirit, we not only have God with us, but within us, at all times, and in every place. Now that you’re done reading this post, take a moment to be aware—God is with you, within you, and all around you. Take a deep breath, and receive the infinite love that is your inheritance.

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May 15, 2016

The Forgotten Ministry

•••by Russell Young

John wrote,If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.(1 John 5:16, NIV)

This is a curious promise written by John.  There are many different opinions as to what John meant when he spoke of a sin that does not lead to death.   For this writing, however, consideration will be given to the issue of life that John has promised.  Is he promising physical life or spiritual life?  Throughout his epistle John has been speaking of one’s spiritual health and well-being, not his physical well-being.   However, applying the notion of spiritual life or death does not make sense to those who claim that one’s spiritual hope was assured at the time of their confession of faith.  They would proclaim that the ‘believer” was saved eternally at that point and this reality cannot be altered.  If this is so, how can sin bring about his spiritual death?  Consequently, they must attribute the death being spoken about as one’s physical death.  And examination of the Scriptures reveals that John might very likely be addressing one’s eternal health or spiritual life.  Disobedience, and walking in sin has been revealed to bring about one’s spiritual destruction or death.

John has recorded the Lord’s teaching that one’s doing will either allow him to rise to live or rise to be condemned.   “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28-29, NIV) That is, his practices are what determines his outcome.

Erroneous teaching about the nature and application of God’s “grace” and of “works” has allowed God’s children the freedom to engage in sin without concern for judgment and death.  The Word is clear that eternal salvation is only accomplished through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) Paul taught that we are not to be DECEIVED, a man reaps what he sows.  “The one who sows to please his sinful nature from his sinful nature will reap destruction.” (Galatians 6:7-8) Paul also recorded: “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey-whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 5:16) He also taught that the believer was to offer his body in slavery to righteousness which leads to holiness (Romans 6:19), resulting in eternal life. (Romans 6:22) Further in his letter Paul wrote: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)

It is not the gospel message that God’s grace will deliver the confessor into His eternal presence.  In order for that to be accomplished he must utilize the resources that have been provided according to God’s grace and mercy and live a life of obedience.  Sin is disobedience.

Just before the Lord’s crucifixion He washed the disciple’s feet.  Many take this as an act of humility and command to service.  It certainly is that, but much more.  Peter was appalled and at first would not submit.  However, the Lord rebuked him.  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8) And clarified,A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.  And you are clean.” (John 13:10) The soil of daily sins (dirty feet) according to the Lord still needed to be washed clean if the Lord was “to have any part with him.”  That is, known sin must be repented and confessed if it is to be forgiven and removed.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:9, NIV)

It is in the context of these understandings that the passage under consideration and the “forgotten ministry” makes sense.  If you see your brother (a fellow believer) commit a sin you are to pray for him so that he might have life.  It is unfortunate that this ministry is not promoted more within the church.  It is both an act of service and of love.  The reality of this ministry has been lost in exaggerated and misleading teaching concerning the nature of God’s grace and of His “unconditional” love, but it still remains in force.

April 26, 2016

Hallowed Be Thy Name

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God's Name

Today we pay a return visit to the website Missio Alliance, and what I believe to be our first look at professor and author who has started a series on The Lord’s Prayer. Click the link below to read this article at source, or click his name above to find part one — this is part two — and bookmark the page as new posts are added.

The Lord’s Prayer, A Missional Reading: Hallowed By Thy Name

I remember as a teenager having really no idea what “hallowed” means in the Lord’s Prayer. Is it related to Halloween? Or the phrase “hallowed halls”? My guess was that it had to do with being respectful to God – he is God, I am not. Actually, I came to learn that that is not too far off. To “hallow” the name of God is to sanctify or consecrate it, to make it holy (or, better yet, attribute it all holiness).

Profanity

A biblical text that helps to explain why Jesus wanted his disciples to desire the consecration of God’s Name is Ezekiel 36, a passage prophesying the restoration and “new life” of Israel. The Lord details the waywardness, idolatry, and covenantal rebellion of Israel such that the Lord’s people were scattered in exile (Ezek 36:17-20). Instead of immediately repenting, they became a mockery of God amongst the nations. Out of concern for “my holy name,” the Lord was compelled to act:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God; it is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned [i.e., degraded] among the nations to which you came. I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned…and the nations will know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.” (Ezek 36:22-23).

The Lord goes on to promise Israel that he will gather and unite them, restore them to their land, cleanse them and give them a new heart and spirit to obey, and turn them from their idols back to the one true and living God (36:25-27).

God’s Name, People and Restoration

Two things are striking here: First, God’s name is tied to his people – their behavior and reputation redounds upon him, for good or bad. Secondly, God’s plan to restore God’s own name entails a restoration of all things – and this requires the transformation of God’s people both in terms of ethics (doing what’s right) and in terms of unity (bringing God’s people together in common life).

This is a healthy reminder that the Lord’s Prayer cannot be prayed by those who say, “I like Jesus, but don’t believe in the church.” Insofar as the church is the people of God, God’s name must be “sanctified” within the world through the church as a “conductor” of his reputation. You really can’t pray the Lord’s Prayer – at least not in the way Jesus expected – without doing so for the sake of the church as the worshipping and apostolic people of God.

What Name?

There is one more piece I want to bring into this petition. When we say, “sanctify your name,” what “name” is it? It is not simply the name “God” or even “YHWH” the prayer assumes here. The prayer begins, “Our Father” and the Gospels attest that, first and foremost, this is the Father of Jesus. And, by the time we get to the end of the Gospels, this Jesus, Son of God, is crucified and dies a miserable, shameful death on a cross (Roman statesman Cicero called the cross the “tree of shame”).

For the crucified, their family “name” was ruined, worse than ruined. The Roman state declared such ones fools, criminals, and abject creatures. When we pray “sanctify your name,” we pray to the Father who is implicated in this profaning of Jesus’ name. The reputation of the Son “sticks” to the Father. When we pray for the holiness of the Father’s name, we signal a protest against the Roman punishment, against the public judgment on Jesus.

We reject the verdict on Jesus, and the implication against his Father. Your Name is holy, Father of Jesus, Our Father. The cross of Christ is not folly or shame. It is beautiful. We embrace it. If the ignominy of Jesus “sticks” to you, Father, let it stick to us. Let us together fight for a world where the “Jesus way” – even if it be to a cross – represents the holiness of God.


 

I really wanted to include “Our Father” by Brian Doerksen here, but iTunes has it wiped from YouTube. This is a song from the same album.

July 4, 2015

Passing the Torch of Leadership

“Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites.
~Joshua 1:2 NIV

Brian StillerToday’s post is by Brian Stiller, former President of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, former President of Tyndale University College and Seminary and now Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance. Brian has lived many lifetimes! You can read more about him here.

What makes what follows so interesting is that it was written in 1987. It appeared in an EFC communications piece, The Sundial, and my wife typed this out so we could share it here.

When we fail to pass the torch

As we look at churches and organizations today, we can see that there are many in need of torch passing. But either the senior leader desperately holds on too long with no attempt to train or give opportunity to the younger, or the tension produces so much conflict that the younger leader heads off to some other more flexible opportunity. Out of it all, energy and vision are suppressed. This leads to an increasing loss of touch with reality and a lack of clear goals and effective strategy.

How can the torch be passed?

There is a wonderful example in the Old Testament of the passing of the torch – from Moses to Joshua.

The announcement, “Moses, my servant, is dead”, boomed out across the tents in the valley. What would happen now? many wondered. Fortunately for the people of Israel, Moses had carefully nurtured and developed a younger leader – Joshua.

What Moses did then lends powerful ideas to this generation.

Leadership includes different styles

Moses recognized that leadership emerges out of different styles. Whereas he was a crusader, Joshua was a manager.

Moses was angered by the treatment of his kinsfolk. Later he defended some young women who were being harassed while tending their sheep. Ultimately his crusader instinct led him to say yes to God’s call to lead the people out of Egypt.

How different Joshua was. Right from the beginning we see his obedience. Never is there conflict between himself and Moses. There was no sign of trouble because of a strident spirit or a self-centered personality.

Moses didn’t look for someone identical to himself. A different style was needed. Moses’ and Joshua’s backgrounds, personalities, styles, means of operation and public profiles were vastly different. Yet each was a leader and each, from his base of strength, was used by God in a particular way and particular time.

Different times call for different styles

It’s easy to be trapped into believing in a “best” form of leadership. My generation has grown up thinking its cloth must be cut from a certain model. Since World War II church leadership has been characterized as aggressive, charismatic, individualistic and outgoing. This view of leadership, however, has been typecast from a specific time and culture. It’s time we looked for other models.

Moses was a restless and dominating figure who led his people out of bondage and defined the basis of the community by his special contact with God. How different was Joshua! Learning from his tutor, Moses, he took the patterns and ideas expressed by his predecessor and molded them into a working society. Each leader was competent but their styles were different.

Passing the torch is inevitable

It’s not always easy to make the transition from one generation to the next. My generation has lived with the “long shadow” syndrome. The long shadow occurs when a key senior leader, often a creative and crusading “Moses”, continues for so long that his or her shadow blankets the one who is following. And the up and coming leader never gets an opportunity to nurture his or her own vision. Instead, the potential leader gets trapped by serving the older and never really develops the fine edges of his or her own leadership.

Managing Moses’ ideas

Joshua became the manager of Moses’ ideas. And how necessary it is that crusaders nurture and train managers to put their ideas into order and practice. Joshua succeeded because he refused to succumb to the weakness which plagues all managers: maintaining the status quo. Rather, he nurtured his vision and risked beyond the borders of Moses

March 25, 2015

The Uniqueness of Jesus

Our regular Wednesday columnist Clarke Dixon continues in John 14. Clarke is a pastor in Ontario, Canada and, as I learned a week ago, each week hosts a “Hebrew Club” for people in the area who want to deepen their study of the Biblical language. To read more, click the title of today’s title below, which will link you to his blog.

Jesus: Ordinary or Extraordinary?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NRSV)

Many people believe Jesus to have been an extraordinary person. However, the emphasis is often on the ordinary part of extraordinary. In other words, though a profound figure of history, he is just like you and me in most respects.

When Jesus says “I am the truth” he is pointing to his identity with a  focus on the extra part of extraordinary. This includes the following:

  • Jesus is the Messiah
  • Jesus is Lord
  • Jesus is the Saviour
  • Jesus is the Son of Man, described in Daniel 7
  • Jesus is the Son of God, but moreover is  God the Son

We are none of these things.

Each of these affirmations and more we learn from the life and teaching of Jesus himself in the Gospels. These are also affirmed in the letters and other writings of the New Testament. There are those who like to cast doubt on such a high view of Jesus. They do this in the following ways:

People cast doubt on the truth of Jesus by saying his divinity is a fabrication of the Church. Very few historians insist that Jesus never existed, but there are those who say Jesus existed, but the extra-extraordinary account of Jesus we find in the New Testament was made up by Jesus’ disciples. The biggest weakness of this view is that the disciples and other early Christians had no motivation to make Jesus more extraordinary that ordinary. They did not get rich by their teaching about Jesus, or even popular. If anything they got themselves persecuted and killed. There simply was no motivation to make Jesus up.

People cast doubt on Jesus by saying that Jesus was a legend that developed over time. They say there was a historical figure named Jesus, but over time his legend grew so that eventually he was thought of as being more extraordinary than ordinary. The weakness of this view is that there was not enough time between the life and teaching of Jesus and the writing of the New Testament documents. Legends require time, and the writers of the New Testament documents were writing so close to the events they could point to the existence of eye witnesses. In some cases they are the eyewitnesses. In all cases they are close companions to eyewitnesses.

People cast doubt on Jesus by saying that the events of Jesus’ life are to be understood metaphorically. On this view Jesus is more ordinary than extraordinary in that he did not really rise from the dead or do miracles, but the accounts of these things point in a poetic fashion to some religious truth. However this fails to take into proper account the various genres that scripture is written in. For example, there is poetry in the Bible that ought to be taken metaphorically, such as “The Lord is my rock” (Psalm 18:2 NRSV). But there are passages that clearly are meant to be taken as historically true. The accounts of the life and events of Jesus’ life including his death and resurrection are clearly in this category. The early Christians of the New Testament believed all this to be historically true rather than mere metaphor.

There are also those who have rejected Christianity without giving much thought at all as to what is true about Jesus. Though I cannot remember the who, where, or when, I can remember being shocked when reading a blog post about Christian music. I was not shocked by anything the author said about Christian music and even agreed on certain points. What shocked me was how the post ended with “that is why I no longer call myself a Christian.” I remember wondering to myself what Christian music really had to do with the acceptance or rejection of Christianity. And many people will give many reasons as to why they accept or reject Christianity. But there should really be only one reason to do either, and that is our response to Jesus as the truth. Do we believe him to be Messiah, Lord, Saviour, Son of God and God the Son, or not? Is he extraordinary, with the emphasis on the “extra” part and so not at all like us because we are not Messiah, Lord, Saviour, Son of God and God the Son? Or is he extraordinary with the emphasis on the ordinary part, so just like you and me in all the important ways?

When we say “Jesus is the truth” we recognize certain things to be true about Jesus’ identity, but we also recognize certain things to be true about our own identities: If Jesus is the truth, then we are sinful people in need of salvation. 

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:8-10 NRSV)

If we are not sinful and in need of God’s rescue, then there was no need for Jesus to come and do what he did. Believing Jesus is the Saviour goes hand in hand with believing we are sinners in need of a Saviour. There are many people who would say that Jesus was an extraordinary figure in history with the emphasis on the ordinary because it is just too hard for an intellectual person to believe otherwise. However, methinks often it is the corresponding belief about ourselves, that we are sinful, that is the less palatable belief. For if we are sinful, then we must be very ordinary indeed.

Jesus said “I am the truth.” An extraordinary claim by an extraordinary man.

March 16, 2015

Lovers will always Outwork Workers

Today we pay a return visit to Mary Agrusa from the blog The Thought Just Occurred to Me. As always, you’re encouraged to click the headline below to read this at source. (We had a tough time choosing which item to run, if you like C201, you’ll like the devotions there.)

Third Verse of a Hymn

Yet I have this against you: ‘You have forsaken your first love,’” (Revelation 2:4 NIV).

“One day on our way out of church, she turned to me and said, ‘Sometimes I feel like the third verse of a hymn.’” Immediately I knew what she meant. In our church, we sometimes skip the third verse of a hymn if the service is running late. ‘I feel like the third verse of a hymn’ was Mom’s way of saying she felt left out. My mother’s unique ability at description was intersecting with her common problem of feeling lonely.”1

It seems God felt the same way: overlooked, forgotten, left out – and this was by the church. How did this happen?

The Ephesians weren’t slackers. The preceding verses of Chapter Two contain praise from God for their activities. Hard workers who had no tolerance for wicked men, they stood firm in the face of pressures and hardships. This church did many things right and therein laid the problem. The Ephesians lost sight of the Lord of the work and focused on the work of the Lord.

Their failure isn’t unique. It’s easy to be so busy for God that time to spend with Him somehow evaporates. Ask a pastor (maybe not your own) how much quality time with God does his/her schedule permit. Don’t be surprised at the enormous demands they face daily – and that’s just church business – not life in general. Cell phones, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, texts and other social media increases their exposure to those in need of instant help. Down time for any reason, like time spent with God, is difficult to carve out.

How many Christians, if they were honest, would admit their time with God’s not what it should be (whatever that means)? Maybe more than you’d think. To prove their allegiance and commitment to the cause, schedules are packed with things to do for God – activity instead of intimacy. God found this unacceptable with the Ephesians and He hasn’t changed.

We need to make a shift. Focused time spent with God produces greater results than lives cluttered with good, necessary works. Mike Bickle from IHOP, Kansas City believes lovers will always outwork workers. A deeper relationship diminishes the pressure to perform for God, others and ourselves. Attention directed toward His priorities frees up time and resources to accomplish tasks sans burnout.

God needs the permanent top spot of our “to-do” list. Forsake good things to obtain the best. At first this may feel awkward and uncomfortable; the urgent is loathe to relinquish its tyrannical hold. Any who purpose to know God, not just know about Him, never suffer disappointment. They discover the object of their affection. God’s pleased too because He really enjoys their company.

How about you? What changes can you make to allow more quality time with God? How will this improve your relationship with Him? What kinds of questions will you ask Him during your extra time with Him? How do you think this will impact your life?

The opening quote is from David Fessenden’s book, From Concept to Contract. Plan to write a book? This is a must read. A writer and editor, David gives practical insights into things to do before you start to write your book and continues throughout the process to publication.

1David Fessenden, From Concept to Contract (Galax, VA: Sonfire Media, 2011) pg 14

February 15, 2015

The Buck Stops Here

For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.  II Cor 5:10 NLT

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.   Romans 14:12 ESV

As you know by now, for Sundays in February, we’re highlighting the website Christian Fellowship Devotions. Today we look at the writing of Janice Moser, one of the regular contributing writers at the site. Click the title below to read at source, and then navigate the site.

Stopping the Buck

Most of us have heard and even used the phrase, “The Buck stops here,” which is said to have originated from the French phrase “bouc émissaire,” which translates as scapegoat.

During a recent election campaign, it was refreshing to hear one candidate using that phrase to accept responsibility, instead of blaming others as some national and local leaders do – even many years after those blamed have left office – and the media don’t do their job. They don’t hold them accountable, if it’s someone they like, or they are afraid of not being “politically correct.” Our Georgia governor, Nathan Deal – with whom I definitely have not always agreed – has shown true leadership in taking responsibility (even sometimes when not legally necessary, as during an ice storm for which – unlike in NY – he did not have the authority to shut schools etc.). There are so many political leaders who could learn from him.

responsibilityBut it’s not just political “leaders” who try to cast blame on others, rather than “manning up,” as the modern phrase goes. Most all of us do it at some time or another. Having been involved in the Criminal Justice system for a decade-and-a-half, I have heard more than my share of the phrase “someone else did it,” as well as countless excuses given for committing crimes. In one case, a young man had five separate convictions of felonies – five separate Grand juries had indicted him five separate times. Five separate trials, five separate juries had then found him guilty, five separate times of five separate violent crimes. Yet his mother stood up and said “Your Honor, every time my son has been convicted of a crime, it’s been someone else’s fault.” She did not have a clue how obviously ridiculous she sounded. The discerning judge responded: “Ma’am, you can blame someone else once but not five times – and eventually your son has to accept his own responsibility. You, ma’am are part of the problem. Sit down and don’t say anything else.” The buck had to stop with the young man, but in his defense, he didn’t get very good parenting or role modeling in that regard.

We live in a world where society doesn’t often hold us responsible for our own sins or mistakes. We live in a world where people overlook the fact that someone has committed traumatizing violence against others, and instead of holding them responsible for their acts, the people lift the felons up as heroes. We live in a world where someone violates a law and someone’s safety by breaking into their home or business, but instead of saying “it’s my fault,” the perpetrator sues the victim because the perpetrator gets hurt while committing a felony. We live in a world that glamorizes violence with television shows and movies that make heroes out of criminals. For those of us who work with the traumatized victims, this can be frustrating, as we see the sometimes life-changing effects of the violence. We want justice here and now, we work toward that, and thankfully sometimes it happens. It is our responsibility to do our part:

Isaiah 1:17 (MSG) Work for justice.
  Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
  Go to bat for the defenseless

And regardless of the success or failure of Earthly systems, God Himself will not accept excuses. We do all ultimately answer to Him, and he will hold us responsible for our own sins and crimes. He holds us individually accountable. With God, “the buck stops here” for each one of us. Let’s all resolve that in 2015, we will take responsibility for our own sins and mistakes, and encourage others to do so as well. Otherwise, we aren’t being honest with ourselves, others – or with God. The more people (including us) who take responsibility for their actions, the safer and healthier society we will have – and the more we will please the Lord.

Proverbs 28:13
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.

January 7, 2015

Special Moments With God

For our weekly installment from Clarke Dixon, we mined an earlier article that he wrote in a series on the church. I hope that each of you has something in your experience that will relate to the story he describes. To read at source, click the title below; to see other posts in the series, select the archives for January, 2013.

Special Moments With God - Seeking God's GloryWhy Church? Seeking God’s Glory . . .

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” (Exodus 33:18 NIV)

I find that my most embarrassing moments at church tend to also be the most poignant. My most embarrassing church moment thankfully came on a Sunday off, sitting in the back pew of a church rather than standing at the front for all to see. This church was a Pentecostal church, but it did not seem to be a very lively Pentecostal church, indeed the people present could have passed for Presbyterians in their expressiveness, but I was definitely being a typical Baptist, being in the back pew and all. The embarrassment came during the song “How Great is Our God.” A simple enough song, and simply done but for some reason on that morning I was really struck. The tears flowed from somewhere very deep and there was nothing I could do to stop them. I wanted to alright, especially as I seemed to be the only one expressing any emotion at the time, but there was no tap for the waterworks. I had an overwhelming sense of the greatness of God and smallness of myself. I tell you this, not so that you will think that I am super-spiritual (because I’m not), or that I am “losing it” (because I haven’t, yet!), but to remind you that God does make Himself known, and that knowing Him can be a deeply emotional experience.

How often do we pray that simple prayer of Moses, “Now, show me your glory”? We may pray often, with our petitions, intercessions, and pleas for God’s guidance and the strength to follow, but how often do we find ourselves praying with Moses, “now show me your glory”? James MacDonald in his book, Vertical Church points out that this prayer of Moses is answered by God through a deep experience of His presence which you can read about in Exodus 33. To experience God’s glory is to experience God’s presence. Isaiah gives us another great prayer that we don’t pray often enough:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! (Isaiah 64:1, 2 NIV)

Perhaps we don’t pray this kind of prayer often because we have in our minds the very true idea that God is omnipresent. But we can point to times and places where God’s presence has been more evident, more palpable, more of an experience held in the heart than a truth held in the mind. James MacDonald in the aforementioned book would say that we confuse the omnipresence of God with the manifest presence of God.

Have you ever experienced that real heart filling, perspective changing presence of God? If you have trusted in Jesus you will. You may experience it someday when you least expect it. You will experience it on that day when we are ushered into God’s presence in glory, in the hereafter. And when we experience that presence and glory of God we will worship, not out of obligation, nor with an eye on the clock, but with joyful and humble hearts that desire to bring Him glory.

Why do we bother with church? Because this is the people with whom we seek God’s glory, to see it, and to bring it, then to live it. Do the prayers of Moses to see God’s glory, or of Isaiah to experience God’s presence sound like your prayers? To gather together Sunday by Sunday is to make being in His presence, our lives bringing Him honor, the prayer of our hearts.

October 30, 2014

You Are a Sheep-Feeder

So how many sheep could a sheep-keeper keep, if a sheep-keeper could keep sheep?

Of course the word is actually shepherd, and the line the way I originally wrote it a few years ago had to do with sheep-shearing. (Try saying it five times!) At any rate, it’s time for our weekly visit from pastor Clarke Dixon.  To read this at source, click on the title below.

Feed My Sheep! (John 21:15-19)

 

sheep in green pasture15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep (John 21:15-17 NRSV)

You may read the above passage and think: “I’m not Peter. I’m not a pastor. I’m not even a leader in our church, so why would this passage of scripture be important to me?” Here are three reasons.

1. All Christians need a dreadful reminder.

By the third time Peter is asked by Jesus “Do you love me?” he is frustrated and feeling hurt. The question is asked three times by a charcoal fire, not unlike the one by which Peter denied Jesus three times. It is a question designed to remind Peter that it was not that long ago that he was not acting like he loved Him. It is like Jesus is saying “are you really sure you love me? The way you acted back there would say otherwise.”

Here we do not have the “forgive and forget” that we might expect from Jesus. Instead we have “remind and forgive” which actually is much better. While “forgive and forget” might remove the penalty of our sin, “remind and forgive” removes the penalty of sin and spurs us on to remove the future potential of sin. Peter will go on to take care of the sheep, not just from a place of forgiveness, but also a place of repentance. The reminder of his offense is an invitation to do better. According to what we read in verses 18 and 19, Jesus knows that he will. Though you may not be Peter, or a pastor, or a leader, chances are good that you, like the rest of us, can truly benefit from our Lord’s “remind and forgive” approach.

2. All Christians want to express love for Jesus.

While we can and should express our love for Jesus through worship, prayer, and Bible study, we do well to remember what Jesus is asking of Peter: “If you truly love me Peter, you will take care of my sheep.” If we truly love Jesus, we will make His priorities, our priorities.

And His priority time and time again, and to the glory of God, is people. Jesus prayed in the Garden the night before his crucifixion “yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NRSV). And that will was to go through with the crucifixion, to bear sin of people. People are a priority for Jesus. We can commit ourselves to all manner of godly activities, but are we really about our Father’s will if people are not a huge part of our lives? You may not be Peter, or a pastor, or even a leader in your church, but if you really love Jesus, people will be a priority in your life.

3. All Christians have pastoral opportunities.

The word pastor comes from Latin where it means shepherd or feeder (Dictionary.com). Every Christian can think of people in their lives for whom they can be a shepherd.

There is a lot of emphasis these days within Christian circles on “leadership development.” That is good, yes, but sometimes I wonder if there are times we should use the word leader less often and use the word shepherd instead. Leaders get things done and that is good. But shepherds feed and tend the sheep and that is so important. Perhaps you do not feel like “leadership” material, but do you love and have concern for others? Then you are well on your way to being a shepherd. Whether you are a natural leader, or follower, watch for how the Lord calls and enables you through his Spirit to be shepherd to others. You may not be Peter, a pastor, or even a leader in your church, but are you developing a shepherd heart? Why not think and pray over who needs you to be, or better, for whom God is calling you to be, a shepherd.

“If you really love me, you will feed my sheep.” What a great insight for us all.

 

September 23, 2014

Bringing Your True Self Before God

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After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ Acts 13:22

 

Today’s reading is from Stanley J. Groothof who blogs at The 4th Point.  Why is his blog called that? Here’s the reason. To read this at source, click the title below.

After God’s own heart

David of the Hebrew Scriptures is famously known as “a man after God’s own heart.” A great example of David living up to this description is when he oversees welcoming the ark of God to his capital city, Jerusalem.

That David is a man after God’s own heart is obvious in his excitement over bringing the ark of God to his home. For the Hebrew people of David’s day, the ark represents the character and very presence of God Himself. That it is coming to Jerusalem has David and all of Israel “celebrating with all their might before the Lord” (2Sam 6:5). Further, we see David “dancing” (6:14 & 16), “shout[ing]” (6:15), and “leaping” (6:16). David loves to worship in God’s presence; David loves God’s presence; David loves God. No wonder he’s called a man after God’s own heart.

However, it takes David two shots to get the job done: The first attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem was tragically interrupted when Uzzah “put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God” (6:6-7, KJV). It sounds to us like such a harsh punishment for someone who was just trying to help. David, it seems, feels the same way: He becomes “angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah” and he is “afraid of the Lord that day” (6:8-9).

Reading about David’s anger and fear also reveals how he is a man after God’s own heart: David is real with God – both in celebration and in lament. I learned from Mark Buchanan earlier this summer in a course on David he taught at Regent College how this was unheard of in the pagan religions of his day where people brought only their “best self” into the presence of their fickle gods lest they not get what they ask for. David, in contrast, brings his true self. And our gracious God welcomes David into His presence, even when David is angry and afraid.

God does not want us to think we have to edit ourselves or our emotions before we are welcomed into His presence. On the contrary, God invites us to bring all our messiness (to use Michael Yaconelli’s wording) into His presence rather than leaving it at the door, pretending it doesn’t exist or interest Him. Jesus confirms this truth in His conversation with the woman at the well where He refers to how “true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” The truth to which Jesus refers involves facts – things that are objectively verifiable; but it also involves honesty, including honesty about oneself and one’s circumstances and emotions. David brings it all into God’s presence, presents it all in his sacrifice of worship. This kind of real worship of and love for God is what also makes us men and women and children after God’s own heart.


Go Deeper: This link takes you to a detailed sermon outline with many, many scripture links on various aspects of David’s character.

February 11, 2014

From Law to Grace

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Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

12 …For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 54:4 “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.

“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.

“To me this is like the days of Noah,
    when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
    never to rebuke you again.
10 Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

We usually do straight teaching and study pieces here, but don’t want to minimize the power of a story that puts those teachings in context. Such is the case today. Greg Stubbings is a friend of ours who shared this just a few days ago…

When I was ready to attend a certain church in 1970, I couldn’t find their address. So I wrote to their headquarters. They sent a pastor and his assistant to “screen” me. They wanted to know if my hair was the right length. It wasn’t, even though I had it cut for the interview. They wanted to know if I smoked. I had quit smoking cigarettes, grass, hashish, and opium. They wanted to know if I was “shacking up.”  I had recently split up with my girlfriend. So, I seemed suitable if I’d cut my hair. I asked them if my friends could come. But they’d have to go through the same process. No way that was gunna’ happen! These pastors were looking for “fruit worthy of repentance”. It seemed as if I had to walk perfectly in the flesh before I could walk in the Spirit. This church didn’t want sin creeping in.

But the church I attend now isn’t looking for those they can disqualify. The pastor doesn’t stand at the door, seeing if he can smell smoke on someone. Or say, “Look, that couple isn’t wearing wedding rings”, or “Don’t you think those two guys are standing too close to each other? I wonder…”. No, when I walk in that church, I’m like the apostle Paul, who said “In me dwells no good thing”. Sin comes in that door full-blown. I am accepted as I am. My pastor knows that it is only the goodness, and love, and favor of God that can change me, not laws and regulations.

With my new understanding of grace, you can only imagine how angry I was when a radio preacher said if I wanted to get right with God, I had to list all my sins and go before Him to confess them. No wonder Christians think God is angry with them. But Isaiah prophesied that, after Jesus would be punished for me, in chapter 53, God swore he would never be angry with me (chapter 54). Furthermore, He says He will remember my sins no more (Hebrews 8:12). The Greek there is a double negative and should read, “I will remember your sins never, not ever again.”  And God repeats Himself in Hebrews 10:17.

Hebrews 8:12 For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.

Hebrews 10:17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.

So for me to go before God’s throne, rehashing my sins, where the ark of the covenant is, I would have to remove the lid of that ark, the box containing the two stones that list the Ten Commandments. The lid is called the mercy seat, representing God’s favor towards me. Why, even Indiana Jones had more sense than to remove that lid. And for me to remind God of my sins would be like slapping Jesus in the face, saying “What You did wasn’t enough.” To go back to the law is to fall from grace (Galatians 5:4). No, I no longer want to attempt to justify myself by my law keeping. Instead, I am obedient to the faith that Jesus is the end of the law (Romans10:4). He perfects my conscience (Heb.10:14). He clothes me in His righteousness (Rom.5:19).

Thank You Lord!

Here are some of the scriptures Greg mentioned today:

Galatians (NLT) 5:4 For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

Romans (Voice) 10:4 But Christ makes the Law no longer necessaryfor those who become acceptable to God by faith.

Hebrews (AMP) 10:14 For by a single offering He has forever completely cleansed and perfected those who are consecrated and made holy.

Romans (NASB) 5:19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

September 22, 2013

Do You Trust Me?

trusting God 2

 

NLT Prov. 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.

While the school year has just begun here, and many students are enjoying settling back into the routine and catching up with friends; others already have the goal in sight: Getting good marks. They know that report card season is coming, and while the end of the semester may seem far away, each day builds on what was processed and understood the day previous.

I’ve written before about the importance of spiritual growth, the importance of ending well,  and a sample self-examination we can do to see how we measure up spiritually using both a beginner and an advanced report card template found in scripture.

Today I want to suggest another test; and I am including myself in this one. It consists of two questions God would ask me:

  • Do you love me?
  • Do you trust me?

We’ll come back to the first one another day, but when we think of trust, I think our thoughts sometimes go different directions:

  • trusting Jesus for our salvation, i.e. trusting in what Jesus did
  • trusting God in terms of having an overall plan, i.e. having our best interests at heart

These are just two among other possibilities. The point is to say that each of us might interpret this question differently and then intend something different when we answer.

Mark Altrogge is a Sovereign Grace pastor and wrote on this a few days ago in an article titled, Who Do You Trust? (Click through to read the whole article.)

…The Christian life is a life of trusting in the Lord from beginning to end. To trust in the Lord means to believe his word and act on that belief. This is what FAITH is. Faith is trust. The bible says Everyone who believes in Jesus will be saved. This doesn’t mean we simply believe information about Jesus, that he lived and was crucified. It means we TRUST his promise to wash our sins away in his shed blood, give us eternal life and bring us to his Father. It means we believe that he is God and we trust him as God. We trust him to rule, care for and lead us. Jesus is THE ULTIMATE EXPERT. He created every molecule in the universe. He knows us inside and out. He knows exactly what we need. So we should put all our trust in him.

Faith takes action. A couple years ago I had to get a stent in my heart. So I went over to Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh and put my life in the hands of a surgeon I’d never met before. I didn’t simply believe he was an experienced expert who knew what he was doing. I entrusted my life to him (of course, ultimately I entrusted my life to Jesus) and took action. I drove to the hospital and laid down on the table. My trust in the doctor led me to take action. Faith leads to action – obedience to Jesus.

To trust in the Lord means to TRUST HIS WORD. In my early Christian days, we used to say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” In a sense that’s true, but it’s not completely accurate. The truth is “God said it, that settles it.” God’s word is true whether I believe it or not. But my well-being depends on me believing it. So we should cultivate this conviction: “God said it, I believe it.”

And this is where we are tested from the day we’re born again till the day we close our eyes in this world and open them in heaven. The test is: “What did God say about this situation and will I believe it?” This is what Paul calls the “good fight of faith.” He said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7). He had fought all his life to keep believing God’s word and trusting the Lord in all circumstances.

do not lean on your own understanding

Here’s the BIG QUESTION: Whose understanding will you lean on, the Lord’s or your own?

Our hearts are constantly interpreting. We constantly take in all that happens to us and interpret it. For example, I walk through the church lobby and say hi to someone, who walks right past me without so much as a nod of the head. I immediately begin to interpret the situation – wow, he must be mad at me. I can’t believe he just snubbed me. He’s so unfriendly. That’s my interpretation. But the truth of the situation is he just saw his child fall down behind me and he’s hurrying to help her.

We constantly interpret life. Hard times hit us and we think “God has abandoned me” or “God doesn’t love me” or “God is giving me too much to handle.” So here’s the question: Will you believe God’s word – will you trust in the Lord with all your heart, or will you lean on your own understanding? Will you trust your interpretation of life or God’s?

The BIG QUESTION is always How does GOD understand this situation verses how do I understand this situation? What is God’s interpretation? What does God’s word say about this? God says I am in control and I will never leave you nor forsake you. I will never turn away from doing good to you. I am causing this to work for your good.

Trust the Lord today. He’s the ultimate Expert. He knows exactly what you need. And he understands your life perfectly. Lean on God’s Word and his interpretation of events, not your own.

 

November 10, 2012

Not All Growth is Healthy Growth

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:43 pm
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Randy Morgan blogs at Your Best Life Later. I enjoy reading him — and have for years — but he has eluded appearing here as he’s one of a number of bloggers who types everything in lower case. Sigh! I decided today to either reformat every sentence or just run this as is, because there’s a paragraph — the one I’ve set in larger type — that I want you to really think about. (Time will tell which way this appears!) You’re also encouraged to read this at source where it appeared under the title, Pruning is Painful (but in lower case!)

i came home from work tonight to find that my trees had been butchered.

a little back story…

when we moved from our old home, i promised myself that i was done with trees. our last house was surrounded by big, beautiful oak trees. consequently, i fought all summer to get the grass to grow in the shade and i fought leaves the rest of the year.

when we found the house we currently own my wife fell in love with it instantly, and the house hunt ended suddenly. and this lot has more trees than the last one. so every few years i am forced to hire tree trimmers.

i’ve hired the guys with a truck and a chain saw who knocked on my door and offered me a deal i couldn’t resist (and i always regretted it), and i’ve hired arborists who are more interested in making trees healthy than making them look good.

several months ago i took bids from several companies and made arrangements to have my trees trimmed by a well-respected company. i invited them to come whenever they had room in their schedule. they came today.

it literally looks like my trees have been destroyed.

i’ve watched them work. the trimmers climb up into the middle of the tree and first cut out all the dead twigs and branches. then they begin drastically thinning the healthy branches. it looks terrible when they are finished, but the result is a tree that flourishes. what looks damaged today will grow symmetrically and evenly, and produce much more green foliage (that i get to rake in the fall, praise his holy name).

“that’s a delightful story, randy,” you may be thinking, “but is there a point?”

the longer i’m a christian the more i grow, but not all growth is healthy growth. my sinful nature compels me to grow in ways that are comfortable and convenient, but jesus calls me to grow in ways that are difficult and scary.

jesus illustrated this concept by pointing to a vine that bears little fruit.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (john 15:1-2).

like the trimmers who devastated my trees today, the gardener in jesus’ analogy undoubtedly shredded the vine. after pruning, i’m sure the vine looked like it would never again bear a meaningful harvest. but the gardener knows how to care for the vine.

jesus’ prescription for healthy spiritual growth is connection. he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (john 15:5).

but connection is costly. it is not comfortable and it is not convenient. if i am going to remain in jesus, it will require deprivation. other pursuits must be neglected and ignored. connection will most certainly be painful. like pruning.

but i have visited connection in the past and i have found it to be encouraging and refreshing.

and as the seasons change, our pain will result in greater fruitfulness.

~randy morgan