Christianity 201

May 28, 2020

What Do You Have to Have, to Have a Church?

Readers: This week you’re getting a double dose of Clarke Dixon’s writing. This was an extra item he posted on his blog, and then tomorrow, we’ll pick up where Clarke left us working our way through Matthew 7.

by Clarke Dixon

When I wrote this back in 2016 I did not realize that in 2020 we would not have what we normally have. Thank the Lord we still have what we have to have to have a church!

What do you have to have to have a church? Here are some possible answers I’ve heard along the way:

  • you have to have mission and vision statements.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture outside the church.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture within the church.
  • you have to have PowerPoint for the sermons, shorter sermons, or even no sermons.
  • you have to have a constitution, a budget, a proper system of governance, and a bunch of paperwork … or risk losing your charitable status, which of course everyone knows you have to have.
  • you have to have buildings and paid staff.
  • you have to have programming for every age group and for every felt need.
  • you have to have values that reflect the society around you, which means ever changing values of course.
  • you have to have a worship experience that makes each person feel affirmed and good.
  • you have to have a good consumer experience for a happy customer.

What does the Bible say you have to have to have a church? What better place to go than the Books of Acts where we read about the earliest Christians and the origins of the Church. In looking to the book of Acts there is one sentence that captures what you have to have to have a church:

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

Did you notice what was there in the first church without which you cannot have a church? No, not food. Just two things: “The Lord,” and “those who were being saved.”

“The Lord.” You cannot have a church without the presence of the Lord. And by Lord we do not mean just any god, or God in a generic sense. This is the LORD, Who created the heavens and the earth, Who created all life including humanity, Who called Abraham with a promise, Who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, Who gave His people the Law and the covenants, Who came to humanity in Jesus, and bearing a cross for our sin He rose from the dead, Who comes to us in the Holy Spirit, Who ensured we had a record of all this and more in the Bible. That LORD. The church is not in the business of promoting spirituality but rather has a ministry of reconciliation. We introduce people to that LORD. You can have all the things people generally think you have to have to have a church, yet if you are missing the presence of the Lord, then you don’t have a church.

“Those who were being saved.” We can read the entire book of Acts to be introduced to those people and find out what they are like. When we do we find out that they are an imperfect people, a growing and learning people, a praying people, a listening people, a preaching and reaching people, a generous people, a missionary people, a hope filled people, a changed people, and a willing-to-be-persecuted people. You have to have people like that to have a church.

There are some practical implications in needing only two things to have a church:

Church is a people rather than an organization. In the Book of Acts we are not given a manual on how to organize a church. Sometimes we might wish we were! We are given, rather, the story and stories of people responding and relating to the Lord. We do well to remember that we organize as churches, not for the sake of the organization created, but for the sake of the people God is re-creating. As you read through the book of Acts you never once hear a church named. There is no “Calvary Baptist,” or “Grace United,” or the like. But you hear time and time again about the Lord, about people, and about the Lord in relationship with people. When we celebrate a church anniversary, which is something we love to do for we like any excuse to have our cake and eat it too, we are not celebrating how long an organization has been organized. We are celebrating the lives that have been changed by God through the lives of the people who have been changed by God.

The church is something we always are rather than something we sometimes do. It is funny how when asked to describe our churches we quickly report on Sunday morning attendance. Instead we ought to report about what happens throughout the week. We should speak of the saints on their knees in prayer, those who visit, those who give, those who encourage, those who volunteer, those who forgive, those who are patient, those who are peaceful, those who are joyful, those who are self-controlled. . .  you get the picture. In the Book of Acts you never hear of a church described by numbers in attendance on a Sunday morning. But you you do read of people living their lives for the Lord every day. Church is what we always are, not something we sometimes do.

That you only have to have two things is good news for the small church. I must admit to being discouraged when I read a book written for small church pastors then realize they are written by superstar pastors, or that by “small church” they mean a church of 200. That is so not me, and so not us! Good news, to have a church you do not have to emulate the big churches and do everything they do. We are not to follow the lead of bigger churches, we are to follow the lead of the Lord. Small church leaders can learn to say as the church leadership said in Acts “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28)

That you only have to have two things is good news for a church under threat. We are told we face the threat of becoming irrelevant. From that perspective, the first Christians must have seemed supremely irrelevant. The apostle Paul discovered that the Gospel was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Yet the presence of the Lord together with the presence of God’s people was turning the world upside down.

Perhaps someday we will face the threat of losing our charitable status as we do not keep in step with a society that keeps changing step. Look to the first Christians. Never mind a privileged position in society, they were persecuted. Yet with the presence of the Lord and the presence of a people who set themselves to the task of keeping in step with God’s Holy Spirit, not even the gates of hell could stop the Church.

What do you have to have to have a church? Look to the Book of Acts where they did not have charitable status, buildings, mission and visions statements, organs, worship bands, a multitude of programs for every age, denominations, PowerPoint, constitutions, church growth consultants, or a very organized clergy. (Some days it seems the church I pastor still lacks organized clergy!) All they had was the presence of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit filled people of God. And it was brilliant. When we have those two things, it still is!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Scripture references today are taken from the NRSV.

 

 

May 27, 2020

If You Ever Wished You Could Have Done Something, You Still Can

A different meaning for “gifts in kind”

In North America, we usually use the phrase “gifts in kind” to refer to donations people make to charities and non-profits of things other than cash. Someone will donate a valuable sterling silver cutlery set, or an oil painting by a renown artist.

We usually think of such gifts as originating with people who are wealthy — after all, they owned these beautiful pieces in the first place — but it can also be done by people who are too poor to make a monetary gift, but find themselves in possession of something that can be assigned a value and then sold by the organization they wish to support.

Today, I want to consider a situation where the gift was somewhat “in kind” — and I’m borrowing the term here for a different purpose — is being made because it has become impossible to give to the original intended recipient. In other words, person “A” is no longer around to bless, but in their honor, I am giving to person “B.”

2 Samuel 9:1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

2 Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”

“At your service,” he replied.

3 The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan…”

As the chapter continues, David pours out his generosity to Mephibosheth. The book Men of the Bible by Ann Spangler and Robert Wogelmuth tells us:

…David lavished Mephibosheth with more than he ever could have dreamed: land, servants, and access to the king’s table. Mephibosheth had not deserved the misfortune that had marked his life. But neither did he earn the good fortune that suddenly befell him. Mephibosheth must have been overwhelmed by it all.

There is more to the story to be sure, but I want to return again to verse one:

1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

I’m wondering if there’s anyone reading this who can think of someone who has passed from this life, and there perhaps a wish that you could have done something, or done more to bless that person?

Before we continue, it’s important to note that David and Jonathan had a covenant relationship. Matthew Henry notes:

It is good sometimes to bethink ourselves whether there be any promises or engagements that we have neglected to make good; better do it late than never. The compendium which Paul gives us of the life of David is this (Acts 13:36), that he served his generation according to the will of God, that is, he was a man that made it his business to do good; witness this instance, where we may observe,

1. That he sought an opportunity to do good.
2. Those he inquired after were the remains of the house of Saul…
3. The kindness he promised to show them he calls the kindness of God

At this point, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook and say, “I did not have a covenant relationship with anyone like that.

But is there someone to whom you could say,

  • Your father was a major influence in my life
  • Your mother helped me through a difficult time
  • Your brother was like a brother to me
  • Your aunt and uncle were very generous to me at a critical time
  • Your sister’s encouragement was always both needed and appreciated

and then, in recognition of that

  • invite them over for dinner or out to a restaurant?
  • give them a gift, perhaps even a Bible or Christian book?
  • make a charitable donation in their name or in memory of their loved one?
  • write out the story of how their relative blessed you and print it out for them as a keepsake?
  • failing all else, just simply tell them how much their family means to you?

Verse seven is our model. In light of the deep relationship between David and Jonathan:

7 “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Take a pause here to ask yourself: Is there a Mephibosheth in your life?

May 26, 2020

The Things We Boast About

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:38 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Genesis 11:1 NIV Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”


2 Corinthians 12: 7b NLT … So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.


Micah 6:8 CEB He has told you, human one, what is good and
what the Lord requires from you:
to … walk humbly with your God.


Proverbs 3:34 GNT He has no use for conceited people, but shows favor to those who are humble.


1 Corinthians 1:31 The Voice As the Scripture says: “If someone wants to boast, he should boast in the Lord.”

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

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

In the first two passages above we see God altering the circumstances in order to keep people — collectively in the first passage, an individual in the second passage — from become prideful or boastful.

Introverts might not get this, but as an extrovert, I can say that in my life there is very much a tendency towards arrogance.

In the movie Network the female lead is asked, “What’s it like to be the person in the room who always has the right answers?”

Smugly, she replies, “It’s awful, absolutely awful.”

Psalm 20:7 is a verse that some of you learned in the KJV and other translations as “Some trust in chariots and some in horses…” Having a gut feeling about this verse I checked and sure enough, these alternatives to trust exist:

  • Some nations boast of armies and of weaponry, but our boast is in the Lord our God. (TLB)
  • Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God. (NASB)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. (NRSV)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God. (HCSB)

What are our modern equivalents? We don’t have chariots and horses, but many of us have nice cars which we spend our Saturday mornings polishing and caring for. What else?

  • education; including academic certificates, degrees, etc.
  • knowledge; both specialized and general
  • intuitive abilities; logic, reason, quick wit, tech savvy
  • friends; the size of our friends list on social media as a possible example
  • status; standing in the community, perhaps our name is in the local newspaper or mentioned on TV
  • spouse; we take credit for what is really a gift from God to us
  • possessions; our house, car, cabin the woods, consumer electronics, etc.
  • passions; the hobbies and interests we are always talking about

Thinking about these things and speaking of them sometimes boosts are adrenaline, brings a smile to our faces, or causes us to speak with greater volume and passion. We’re energized thinking about these things, and we can become arrogant.

The last category above is a good lead to these two questions:

  1. What’s the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning?
  2. What do you talk about when it’s your opportunity to control the conversation?

God had to wipe out the Tower of Babel. He didn’t wipe out Saul/Paul however, but introduced a condition — and Bible scholars vary as to what exactly it was — to keep him humble. Laura Story, in the popular Christian song Blessings asks:

What if your blessings come through rain drops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?

We very rarely thank God for Babel-type changes in plans, or Paul-type ongoing conditions, but they do prevent us from being less of a person than we might be; from being a person that others may not find particularly attractive; and from presenting ourselves in a way that people see us, but don’t see Christ living in and through us.

May 23, 2020

Darkness is Everywhere

This is our first time here sharing with you the writing of popular Christian author Christine Caine with an excerpt from her book Undaunted: Daring to Do What God Calls You to Do, which recently released in a revised and updated edition. Learn more about the book at this link.

Combat the Darkness

Darkness is everywhere. We live in a world full of fear and in desperate need of light.

But Jesus said,

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven. — Matthew 5:14-16

The light overtakes the darkness and the fear. It makes it all disappear. It eradicates its power. It eliminates its strength. Just as sure as morning follows night, the light of Christ is always coming — through us. As His hands and feet, we are the force that conquers the darkness. We. The undaunted ones.

The prophet Isaiah said,

Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. — Isaiah 60:1-2 NKJV

God’s glory is upon us, and His light can break through the darkest night. That’s why He wants us to partner with Him in bringing light into the dark places where oppressors try their best to shut people away.

I understand that we can get worn down by the needs in this world and wearied by them. We need sleep, rest, restoration, recuperation. That’s why God gives us the end of a day, and He doesn’t begrudge us our rest.. Isn’t this is what God meant when he asked in Isaiah 1:12,

Why this frenzy of sacrifices? — MSG

Working ourselves into a frenzy or tormenting others by working them to death is not freedom. It is enslavement.

But we are not slaves. We are free. And we have been freed for a purpose: to share what we’ve been given. The Bible tells us,

He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? — Micah 6:8 NKJV

We do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God when we rise ready, when we get up and go out with God to partner with Him in his purposes on the earth…

…I thought of King Xerxes in the Bible, who was persuaded by an adviser to issue an edict condemning all the nation’s Jews to death. Esther, a Jew but chosen by King Xerxes as his queen, seemed uniquely positioned to persuade the king to withdraw the edict and was urged to do so by her cousin Mordecai, who said,

Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? — Esther 4:14

I felt much the same. Who could say that I had not been born into a reasonably affluent and free society for such a time as this? For a time when I could see the injustice and crying need so common throughout the world and stand up to combat it?

Won’t you join me? At the very least, pursue what God is calling you to do? You and I have opportunities every day to combat the darkness, the evil, that surrounds us in every country, every corner of the world. The opportunities are countless, and the needs are desperate…


Taken from Undaunted (Revised and Updated) by: Christine Caine Copyright © 2012, 2019 by Zondervan, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. https://www.zondervan.com

May 10, 2020

Christocentric Conversation

I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings
Phil 3:10 (NIV)

For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves because of Jesus.
2 Cor. 4:5 (HCSB)

And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.
I Cor. 15:14 (NLT)

So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.
1 Cor. 1:2 (NLT)

Christ means everything to me in this life, and when I die I’ll have even more.
Phil 1:21 (GW)

For it is in closest union with Him that we live and move and have our being…
Acts 17:48a (Weymouth)

Now this is eternal life–that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
John 17:3 (NET)

He must increase, but I must decrease
John 3:30 (var.)

If you get to know someone over a period of time you should start to see an emerging pattern of the values they hold to be important. But sometimes, after ten years of writing and editing Christianity 201, I’ll discover a topic which is very near and dear to me which I’ve never covered here. Or I’ll be speaking with someone with whom I’ve had dozens of conversations, and they’ll tell me I never mentioned that particular term before.

One such word is: Christocentric.

It’s a preacher word, to be sure, and I’m not a preacher; but I believe strongly in Christ-centered preaching, when even with a particularly obscure Old Testament passage, the pastor infuses the message with the Christological element or application. The same is true of my preference for Christ-centered worship songs, and Christ-centered fellowship.

A few years ago, I got to test my commitment to that ideal.

It was a simple discussion with a man who is a member of a Christian denomination that many of my friends would say doesn’t represent “the real thing.” We talked about various things, and many spiritual practices and doctrines were mentioned which had the potential to easily hijack the discussion, or prove to be red herrings that would have simply consumed much time and yielded nothing productive.

So I kept coming back to the things Jesus said and the things Jesus taught. That’s actually not easy for me because I’m a sucker for all those other debate subjects. I love a good argument. There. I said it.

But it wasn’t the time or place. It was a time to focus on Jesus, and draw the conversation back to Jesus every time it threatened to go off in a different direction. I even explained my strategy out loud a few times; something to this effect: No one will be won to Christ by clever argument or reasoned persuasion or skillful rhetoric; but rather, they will be compelled to follow only when they have looked directly into the face of Jesus and been won by His love.

It was the best conversation of this type I’ve had; and I think the feeling was mutual, especially inasmuch as we ran 90 minutes. He was in 70’s and I probably should have offered him a chair, but he was as caught up in the discussion as I was. But I had to work hard to keep the discussion from going off the rails.

And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Mark 8:29 (NASB)

…So again, today’s word is “Christocentric” meaning Christ-focused. Take this word and make it yours and then whenever it’s your turn to control the conversation, bring the focus back to Jesus. Ask people the question below.  The way people answer this speaks volumes as to their relationship to the Lord. But, sometimes the tables are turned, so always be ready to give your answer to this question:

What do you think about the Messiah?
Matthew 22:42 NIV

What do you think about the Christ?
Matthew 22:42 NET


Jesus at the Center – Israel Houghton – Studio version.

 

May 3, 2020

Don’t Let Them Stop You

A year ago we first introduced you to Mark Stephenson who co-pastors Horizon Church of Towson, Maryland and writes at Fire and Light. This article was posted this very morning, and is one of several great devotionals at his blog. As you are able, click the link above (or the header below) and explore more scriptures discussed at Fire and Light. (Also if the theme today sounds familiar, remember that Ezra and Nehemiah are interconnected books covering a particular time in Israel’s history.)

Opposition

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build…” 

Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia. At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 4:1-2, 4-6

A large group of the people of God returned from exile to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the Temple. They were released to do so by an order from the king of Persia, King Cyrus. This was all orchestrated by the Lord.

…in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia…

Ezra 1:1

But once they started making sacrifices to the Lord and rebuilding the Temple, opposition came. Whenever we are called by God to accomplish His plans, there will be opposition. This is especially true when we are building something new or rebuilding something that should have always been. And notice the strategies of the opposition. Opposition to the Lord’s work usually goes through these same stages.

First, there’s the attempt to join the work in order to derail the work. This “friendly” and soft approach is often how opposition first arrives on the scene. If we invite the wrong people to give their input into the work we know we are called to do, it will get side-tracked, watered down, and compromised.

Secondly, there is an attempt to discourage through fear. This next wave of opposition is a series of people who are “concerned” about where this might lead. Fear is the main theme. Worst case scenario after worst case scenario gets listed as reasons why the work should stop. The attempt is to spread fear in such a way that people start getting discouraged and want to bail out.

If those two tactics don’t work, the next strategy of opposition intensifies into manipulation and accusation. The opposition starts recruiting people to their side with various forms of emotional bribery, manipulation, and false accusations about the ones leading the work of the Lord. (We read about how Absalom did this to King David in 2 Samuel 15:1-12). Lies about the leaders and character assassinations are the bread and butter of this stage of opposition.

Finally, if none of this stops the work of the Lord, the next move is making threats, including the threat of physical violence (see Nehemiah 4:11). While these threats are often empty, they can still cause a lot of pain and a lot of division.

For those who are called to step out in faith to accomplish a work of God, opposition will come. And the enemy isn’t creative enough to change his tactics. It usually looks something like the above strategies. The hard part is that many times this kind of opposition will come from people close to us. So it’s important that we face this opposition with love and grace for those who come against what God is doing. They think they are being helpful and wise even as they fight against what God is clearly doing.

I am reminded of times where I was the one pushing against and opposing a work of God. I thought I was being righteous and theologically sound. I thought I was in the right. I thought I was doing the right thing and warning against disaster. I didn’t realize until years later that I was actually fighting a work of the Lord. I didn’t realize until years later that I was the opposition; I was a puppet of the enemy. And when I came to realize my folly, I spent months in repentance for it. It was painful to realize how wrong I was. It was painful to come to an awareness of my own false accusations against those leaders God was using to lead a work of the Lord.

So when we do face opposition, we need to show grace. We need to show love. But we shouldn’t let opposition discourage us or stop us from what we’ve been called to do. God has called us to accomplish His work. It’s not our plan; it’s His plan. And we shouldn’t stop for any reason.

March 5, 2020

Surpassing Righteousness in Spiritual Disciplines

by Clarke Dixon

People who pray are righteous, right? People who give to people in need are good people, correct? We will be considered righteous if people see us fasting, worshipping in church every Sunday, reading the Bible regularly, and practicing all the spiritual disciplines, correct? According to Jesus, not necessarily:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1 ESV

We have previously considered a deeper kind of righteousness, a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness Jesus saw in the scribes and Pharisees:

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 NIV

We do not reach this deeper righteousness by merely being meticulous about the rules, a skill the scribes and Pharisees excelled at, but through a transformation of our character.  It is not so much “do this, don’t do that,” but rather “become the kind of person who . . .” Previously, we looked at examples Jesus used for morality and love in Matthew 5:21-46, which we might summarize as; become the kind of person who does not harm others, gives their spouse and marriage their best effort, is honest and has integrity, handles offence with grace, and who extends grace and love to everyone. Whereas in these things Jesus was teaching about the kind of people we should become in our ethics, in Chapter 6 Jesus is now speaking to the kind of people we should become in our spiritual disciplines:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standingc in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-6 NIV

Jesus is not giving us new rules here to get all legalistic about. We are not to be Christian versions of the scribes and Pharisees and so apply these rules in a legalistic manner. If we did there should be no more prayers during church services, and prayer meetings would all be cancelled. I think we would benefit from more prayer in worship, not less, more prayer meetings, not fewer! Instead, we are to become “the kind of people” who do spiritual and religious activities in a way that honours God. What is that way which honours God?

Jesus calls us to be a people who engage in spiritual disciplines for the right reasons. Drawing attention to ourselves is not the right reason and does not honour God! Jesus calls those who do this “hypocrites” which is a term for “actors” who put on masks in order to appear to be one thing while actually being another. Jesus is picking on the scribes and Pharisees here who were the prime examples of those who loved to flaunt their righteous activity in front of others to be seen and praised by them. Jesus calls us to have a righteousness that surpasses theirs. According to Jesus, their reward was the praise they received from others. They did not look forward to reward from God. In contrast, God rewards those whose religious activity is done in secret.

What about the idea of reward? Isn’t reward still the wrong reason to practice spiritual disciplines? For example, should we not give alms for the sake of people in need rather than for our own reward? Perhaps we don’t have the best idea of reward here. Our minds may jump to a final judgement-seat scenario when we hear the word “reward.” However, the idea here is more “wages” for your work, the consequence of your efforts. If our purpose in practicing spiritual disciplines is to receive praise from others, we will get that. If our is purpose is to draw closer to God and grow in character, that will happen. If our focus is on God, the practice of spiritual disciplines will be rewarding indeed and we will be happy to practice them quietly without drawing attention to ourselves. Others may not be impressed, but will benefit.

In conclusion, let’s not be that guy; the person who has a need to appear religious, spiritual, righteous, or better than everyone else. That person is like the scribes and Pharisees who often put on a good show. We are to be a people who practice a better kind of righteousness in our spiritual disciplines. The spiritual life in Christ is not a show, it is an opportunity to grow in Christ and become a difference maker in the world.


Clarke Dixon is a minister with the Canadian Baptists denomination. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

March 4, 2020

Altars Powerfully Mark the Movements of God

Today we’re back once again highlighting Seedbed, and an excellent devotional by J. D. Walt. This one falls in the middle of a series title, “People who Say Such Things,” and I can’t encourage you strongly enough to click through and read several of these. You might even want to subscribe!  Click the title below to read this at source.

People Who Say Such Things: Show Us How to Build an Altar

Genesis 32:22-28 (NIV)

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

CONSIDER THIS

When is the last time you built an altar?

We will say goodbye to Jacob today but not before he completes the God cycle. What is the God cycle? Thanks for asking. It is the movement from promise to struggle to blessing to worship.  Remember, it was at Bethel where God first revealed himself to Jacob through a dream. As Jacob ran from the consequences of his broken life, God met him in a dream, revealing to him the Covenant Promise given Abraham and Isaac would also determine his destiny.

Yay God! Right? Yes, . . . but. Perhaps the biggest lesson of the Bible so far is how the promises of God necessarily mean struggle. Something in us wants to believe the presence and promises of God mean an easier path. It does not. God’s promises mean an infinitely and eternally better life, but they almost guarantee a harder path. The way of the Cross is the way of blessing and yet struggle.

After the promising dream in Bethel, the next twenty years delivered the struggle for Rachel, the struggle of Leah, the onerous yoke of Laban, and more than a dozen children who would define the legacy—and all of this under the impending cloud of doom from an angry older brother bent on revenge.

Remember, through it all . . . God. Promise. Struggle. Blessing. God blessed Jacob. God prospered Jacob. God favored Jacob. God delivered Jacob. Following the miraculous change of heart of older brother, Esau, and the happy reunion on the far side of the River Jabok, God instructed Jacob to complete the cycle. The time had come to worship.

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

Promise. Struggle. Blessing. Worship. Certainly we worship our way through it all and yet there is something to be said for building a new altar from time to time to mark significant God moments and faith milestones. They call for something more than the usual.

2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

People who say such things show us what building an altar requires. First, it’s a community affair: “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him.” Second, it means a personal and community call to repentance: “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you.” Third, it means a call to a renewed heart level consecration to God: “Purify yourselves.” Fourth, it calls for an outward sign of the inward reality: “Change your clothes.” Finally, it means sharing the testimony that it might become the shared witness of all: “Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Altars powerfully mark the movements of God while extending them forward for all who will kneel. So let me ask you again, when is the last time you built an altar? It’s been too long for me. I see one coming on the horizon. You too?

 THE PRAYER

Father, I want to be a person who says such things. Help me become this kind of person in my deep heart and this kind of leader in my relationships with others. You don’t so much need this from me as you want it for me. Guide me in the who, what, where, when and how of building an altar to mark your movement in my life, to complete the cycle of promise, struggle, and blessing with worship. Come Holy Spirit, and train me be such a person of faith. I pray in Jesus name, Amen.

THE QUESTION

So when is the last time you built an altar? What was that like? How did it go? What might the altar on the horizon look like in your life, family, church, community?


Get J. D. Walt’s latest book, THE FIRST REAL CHRISTIAN, or his new church-wide Lenten Study, LISTEN TO HIM. Subscribe to get devotionals like this in your email inbox here.

February 17, 2020

When Did Judas Go (Really) Bad?

He [Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
(John 12:6)

As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
(John 13:27)

Judas is an interesting character, to say the very least. Like the thief on the cross, he is one of a number of exceptions to the rule, and many speculate as to what might have been if his betrayal had worked out like Peter’s denial and he had been restored. One writer suggests:

I do think that Judas was one of the very few in the Bible who did not have a free will, and was destined to betray Jesus actually from before the foundation of the world.

Another writes,

To summarize, be careful where you place Judas. He did the will of the Father and fulfilled the Scriptures. Peter, who we all love, tried to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion and was called “Satan” by our Lord. Peter, who was not mindful of the will of God, was restored. Was it not Jesus who said, “”For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50) Be careful about placing Jesus’s brother, Judas, in Christendom’s “hell.” One day you may have to look up to Judas, instead of looking down on him. Peter denied him three times in one night while Judas declared Jesus innocent in front of the High Priesthood. Judas had a very important job in the Kingdom of God. For three and one half years, as a Priest he inspected the Lamb of God as an unbiased man. He was not “one of them” a Galilean. He was the outsider. He did his job perfectly. If Judas really wanted to mess things up, he could have agreed with the High Priesthood and called Him a “blasphemer” who claimed to be the Son of God when He really wasn’t. But Judas declared the Lamb spotless and unblemished*, the Perfect Passover.

*“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matthew 27:4a)

Where I wanted us to look today however is when did Judas go bad? The second of our opening verses suggests a particular time when “Satan entered into him.” It’s interesting that there is absolutely no variance on this phrase in any English Bible translations, though the AMP adds, “and took possession.”

The first verse however shows him to be embezzling money from the funds used to support Jesus and The Twelve in their ministry. (We know that many of the contributors and supporters were women, along with men.)

So if we look at a continuum of Jesus ministry, with one end beginning with the calling of the disciples, the scripture reading in the temple, and the turning of water into wine; and the other end consisting of the Passover meal, the arrest and betrayal; we see some rather bad behavior on Judas’ part long before Satan ‘entered’ him. There is evidence of something wrong before we would place an “X” on that continuum to mark what happened in the upper room.

Question: If it was found that the treasurer of your church was helping himself to money from the offerings or church bank account, would you necessarily say that Satan had entered into him?

Judas’ petty thievery is used to show that he was bad from the beginning, and is used to justify the position that he was never fully committed to Christ, but the scripture indicates that something especially significant happened as he exited that Passover meal to carry out his plan.

Again, it’s pointed out that:

[Acts 1] affirms that Judas was one of theirs in number and fellowship with ministration.* In other words, Judas worked cooperatively and in concert with the other disciples. There is no mention of his not being a good and faithful member of the group.

*v. 17 “…he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.

I John 2:19 paints a broader picture of people who ‘share in the ministry’ but then do not continue in the faith:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

The Reformation Study Bible says of this:

Paul too warns against false teachers who will arise from among the believers (Acts 20:29–31). As in the case of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9–24), visible membership in the church does not guarantee salvation. Inward apathy or hostility to the gospel may be masked by outward conformity. The false teachers revealed their hostility not just by leaving, but by the way they left. Because they went out to oppose the word of the gospel, their departure was as much a renunciation of the church and its message as was Judas’s departure from the Last Supper (John 13:30).

Some say this is also a picture of the Antichrist.

What is the point of studying Judas in such detail and what can we learn? This is just my opinion, but I believe that even though the Biblical picture is of a more dramatic turn taking place during that Last Supper meal, the events in Judas’ life compounded, one on top of the other.

Another commentator puts it this way:

Somewhere in Judas’ life, he took an evil turn that eventually resulted in rejection of Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior and eventual suicide. One bad attitude toward Jesus led to another, and a pattern of rejection and bitterness must have led to the ultimate rejection of Jesus.

and later writes,

Judas confessed his sin without repentance. There was no radical change in his mind that resulted in a change from spiritual death to spiritual life through faith in Jesus Christ. True repentance would have turned him to Jesus for forgiveness.

Does any of this resonate with you because of a person or situation you know? Let’s end with some encouragement from Galatians 6: 1

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.


I want to again acknowledge Michael Card’s book, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, for getting me thinking about this topic.


Go Deeper: Here’s The Message translation of I John 5:16-17 to get you thinking further along this topic. Use online Bible resources to help unpack this passage:

16-17 For instance, if we see a Christian believer sinning (clearly I’m not talking about those who make a practice of sin in a way that is “fatal,” leading to eternal death), we ask for God’s help and he gladly gives it, gives life to the sinner whose sin is not fatal. There is such a thing as a fatal sin, and I’m not urging you to pray about that. Everything we do wrong is sin, but not all sin is fatal.

Go Deeper Still: Some of today’s passages bear on issues dealing with free will and predestination, as well as the eternal security of the believer (perseverance of the saints). The verse in I John often is used to support the semantic idea that such people were “never saved in the first place.” How do you see that verse fitting in?

February 8, 2020

Because You Probably Won’t Be Fed By Ravens…

There is one verse of scripture that I wish had been deeply ingrained in me before we moved to our present community nearly 35 years ago. The verse is Proverbs 24:27

Do your planning and prepare your fields
before building your house. NLT

Don’t build your house and establish a home until your fields are ready, and you are sure that you can earn a living. GNT
The Voice Bible extrapolates another aspect of this principle:
Complete your work outside, and get your fields ready for next season; after that’s done, build your house.
We made our move “on faith” with some of the building blocks in place for a plan of what we were going to do, but not all the foundation clearly laid.
Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to interact with people who are in their junior or senior year of college. The first question is always, “What are you studying?” or “What is your major?” The second question is always, “What are you planning for after graduation?” The results are often similar:
Where they want to live Mostly certain
Who they want to marry Somewhat certain
What they plan to work at Mostly uncertain

Mostly without exception there is great hope and faith that the job is going to simply appear. That’s just not always the case.

A few years ago, I was in a discussion with someone about the differences between the Protestant (Exodus 20) Ten Commandments and the version taught in the Roman Catholic Catechism which drops the second (statuary; graven images) and splits the last (coveting) into to separate entities.

The point was made that you can make an argument for fourteen commandments. Certainly one of the extra ones that they are counting, in verse 9, is what the KJV renders as:

Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work

Granted, many translations render this as ‘you have six days to work’ but it’s easy to see it as what God considers the normative lifestyle if not a direct commandment.

The point is that the Bible writers teach a philosophy of work, a work ethic for the follower of God. Colossians 3:23-25 teaches us that all work needs to be seen as work as unto the Lord.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Another translation says to “work heartily” (ESV).

Ephesians 6:7-8 reiterates this:

Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

A verse in 2 Thessalonians (3:10) is more hardline however:

If a man will not work, he shall not eat.

Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of CapitalismSociologist Max Weber wrote the book pictured at right in 1904 which looked at two different approaches to work, especially highlighting the Puritan or Calvinist ethic. Wikipedia notes the nuances of this:

It is common for those in a Protestant work culture to skip lunch (traditionally being sustained from a large breakfast) or to eat lunch while doing their job. This is in contrast to Catholic cultures which practice siesta at lunch time, and neo-Confucianist cultures such as China, Korea and Japan which have a one- or two-hour lunch break.

Without debating the philosophy of lunch breaks, it’s clear that for Weber, the work ethic foundation to a capitalist society was based in an interpretation of scripture.

…Well, we’ve digressed a long way from where we started. My point today is that we remember that before we can build our houses (both figuratively or even literally) we have to know where our next dollar (or pound, or peso, or rand) is coming from. We can’t put the cart before the horse and make a move, commit to someone in marriage, or buy a house without knowing how we are going to pay for the necessities of life.

Yes, there are times people strike out in faith. The Psalmist said he had “never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread” (Psalm 37:25) and in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that if we “seek first the Kingdom of God” all these things [in context: food and clothing] would be given us. And yes, Elijah was fed by ravens.

However, most of us will not be fed by ravens.

Whether you want to see it as a consequence (or curse) of the fall of man, or as a blessing that we get to co-partner with God in subduing the earth, the general principle of scripture is that we are to work in order to have food, shelter, medicine, security, clothing and transportation.

 

January 7, 2020

As Jesus Grew, His Purpose Became Increasingly Clearer

Last year at this time we introduced you to the writing of various authors at The Jagged Word. This article caught my eye when I saw the original title (below, click to link) and thought it would be a good fit here. The author of this piece is Cindy Koch.

What Jesus Did Not Know

He heard it a million times from his mom; son of God, born of a virgin. When he was younger, he did not really know what all those words meant. Everyone was nice to him and he had a special place when they went to temple. He remembered the old men looking at him with tears in their eyes, and the widows would touch his little shoulder when he walked by. They told him that he was born of the Spirit, and there was much he would do in his lifetime. When he was little, he tried to imagine what it was he would get to do.

And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him (Luke 2:40).

He read it a million times in the Scriptures. It is written, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:6-8). “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:6-7). His wisdom about the deep things of God were remembered from the beginning of all time. The Word he once spoke from creation and now heard through the prophets kept his heart and mind focused on the will of the Father in Heaven.

He wondered a million things as he grew up in the fear of the Lord. He was Son of the most-high, why did he ache with sadness? He was able to heal and give sight to the blind, would there ever be an end to this need for restoration? He spoke with the authority of the everlasting Word of God, why can people not recognize his voice? His purpose in life was to lead God’s beloved creation through repentance to everlasting salvation, why do they refuse to listen?

Jesus must have expected more out of this creation. The wise and holy son of God learned to be incredibly disappointed. Fulfillment and meaning lay right in front of the servants of God, and they turned away from young Jesus. Healing and wisdom called directly into the ears of the chosen people, and they raged against his holy name. Day by day, Jesus grew in the wisdom and understanding of what it looked like to be the Christ, the Son of God. Day by day he understood what it must take to save such an undeserving hoard of unbelievers.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented (Matthew 3:13-15).

He began to know what he must do. His righteousness, his wisdom, his healing, his sonship, it was for them. It was to be given to this wicked and unloving generation. Even the repentance they failed to do, right now at John’s passionate call, it was the responsibility of this righteous Son. Jesus began to understand his long-promised kingdom in reference to those who would reside within the gates. Here in the Jordan, Jesus was coronated in the gritty black mud of his unmerited repentance.

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).

Jesus seemed to know this from the beginning. He was the Son with whom God was well pleased. He was sent to do the work of the Father, and he would do it well. But the pleasing work of the Father looked a little darker than Jesus might have imagined. The repentance of the world felt thick and heavy stepping out of the water that day.

The worst of it was, finally, looking around at the people whom he came to save. They had no idea. The adulterous, guilty generation blindly believed their own baptism of repentance was enough. They wanted to fulfill the Law and do it right, but John’s washing with water only highlighted their sin. So, they left the water, trying to sacrifice and clean up their life to please the Father in Heaven. They were made alive in their sin, only to find out they were already dead. Yet, if they trusted in their repentance and their reconciliation, these poor miserable sinners unknowingly heaped sin upon sin; trusting in the Law to bring life, trusting in themselves to follow the Law.

Unbelief, misunderstanding, selfishness, unrighteousness, these were the brothers and sisters Jesus discovered in the Jordan. Pain, sorrow, disgust, separation, these were the riches Jesus learned to inherit on this earth. His journey of deep wisdom and pure understanding ultimately exposed the bowels of a rotting humanity. And while we were still sinners, Jesus died for the ungodly.

“This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

January 5, 2020

Spiritual Vulnerability May Follow Spiritual Triumph

NIV.Gen.9.20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

There are some Bible passages we’d rather just ignore. For me, this is one of them. However, Bible teacher Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer has done an excellent job of dealing with this passage at her blog Grace and Peace. (Learn more about her personal story at this about page.) Click the title below to read this at source.

His Nakedness Uncovered

I think of Noah as a fine man who was not vigilant and slipped, spiritually.

After all, reading his story reminds me of when my own excesses may have presented temptation to those close to me, and caused anguish in the lives of the people I love. Anyone can sin, even someone who had been righteous and blameless among the people of his time, and who walked with God, as Noah was described.

He had experienced great spiritual summits. He had come through the Great Flood as only one of eight survivors. God had rested upon his shoulders the weight of the ark, and of the animals, and of his family. He had preached for a hundred years with not one single convert, yet he had faithfully pressed on, obedient to God’s commands from first to last.

Now, in the new world, his family growing and spreading as the new humanity, their fields and flocks thriving, their orchards and vineyards established, their lives enriched, Noah was right with God and right with the world. That’s often a time when a person will let down their guard.

What began as a perfectly worthy work, growing a vineyard, degenerated into a complete dishonoring of his body, made in the image of God. That’s a great metaphor for how sin insinuates itself into our souls. It can gradually grow as you and I make one small seemingly unimportant choice after another, getting closer and closer to the edge of okay, slipping like wisps of mist into the gray area between good and bad, right and wrong, until one day we step over another line, the true line that separates us from evil, and it wasn’t a very big step, actually. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal. But it was.

  • Maybe this was a spiritual fall after a spiritual victory.
  • Maybe Noah allowed the pressures of life to get to him, not remembering to call upon the name of the Lord, as his ancestor Seth had done.
  • Maybe this was just one more step of many steps, wandering ever closer to no return.

Many people of faith today have decided to express their faith in Christ by living a life that is free from controlled substances such as alcohol in a world that is given over to the indulgence of appetites to the point of addiction. The apostle Paul talked about the value of refraining from those things that might trouble other people or open the door to temptation or worse for them, writing: “It is best not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that causes problems for other followers of the Lord.

In another letter, Paul urged believers to be mindful and intentional about every aspect of their lives, writing, “When you eat or drink or do anything else, always do it to honor God.”

What exactly Noah’s son did to him is not clear. Some Bible scholars link this episode with Leviticus 18, where the phrase, “to see the nakedness” of an individual is a euphemism for a sexual act, suggesting this involved some sort of incestuous activity on Ham’s part. (Some scholars suggest it might even have involved Ham’s mother, Noah’s wife.)

Even if no sexual act took place, there is a sexual connotation to the way Ham took in his father’s exposed condition. Whether or not there was outright coitus, some form of sexual perversion seems to have been present at the very least in Ham’s lustful thoughts, as the son leered at his father’s naked form.

Remember the conditions that existed before the Great Flood: widespread sexual perversion. Jude[1] referred to a series of unnatural acts, connecting antediluvian society with the unnatural sexual deviance of Sodom and Gomorrah. Shem, Ham, and Japheth had grown up in this kind of an atmosphere, even though Noah and his family were an island of righteousness in a sea of corruption.

All the more reason for you and I to be vigilant about the ways our culture influences us, and the people God has placed in our care. It’s not so much this TV show or that video game, this website or that party, this politician or that policy. It’s the sum total, the message the culture sends in all kinds of ways, every day, that shapes what the next generation is going to think is good, bad and just plain fun.

Somehow, Ham did not recognize the degenerate nature of his thoughts (or perhaps even acts), for he seems to have taken lewd delight in talking about it with his brothers. That gave me real pause. How will what I am about to say about someone influence my listener’s impression of the person I am talking about? Have I ever found myself relishing someone else’s downfall, particularly someone whose authority I felt was misused in some way? Did it make such delicious news I just couldn’t wait to tell somebody about it? (The answer is yes. I am ashamed to admit it.)

Shem and Japheth wanted to have nothing to do with it. They did not even respond to their brother’s salacious suggestiveness. Instead, their love for their father covered over this “multitude of sins.” They literally covered their father with a blanket, turning their heads away as they did so, refusing to look at his shame. They honored their father, and the stamp of God’s image in him.


[1] Note Jude’s use of the phrases “likewise” and “in the same way” to link the Nephilim culture, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the culture of his own day all together, as all one kind of people, all destined for the same destruction.


January 3, 2020

Praying for Political Leaders

One of the things I liked about this article is that in these politically charged times in the U.S., other than the title below (which is the only thing I amended) this article applies to all of you reading this worldwide, whether you have a Prime Minister, a President, or a King. It should also also be considered to apply to all levels of government, not just federal. (I like how some denominations’ prayer books encourage people to pray not only for the head of federal government, but also state Governors or provincial Premiers in Canada.)

This from the site, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges, which has been a great source of excellent articles for us and I hope you’ve taken an opportunity to visit the page and read more. Please click the link below to read this one at source. It’s also partially an excerpt from one of his books which is pictured below and linked at the end of the article.

3 Reasons God Wants You to Pray for Government Leaders

How do national, state, and local leaders bear up under the enormous pressures they face every day? How does the President of the United States continue to perform his appointed tasks, as best as he is able, without being crippled by weariness? How do our government leaders maintain composure when they become dartboards for honest critics as well as false accusers? One answer is found in our ministry of prayer. When we commit to praying for our leaders (whether or not we like them or agree with them), God is pleased with our obedience and is pleased to work in hearts according to His will.

In relation to this divinely given duty, one passage in particular contains fundamental principles every believer needs to understand: First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:1–4). In these verses, we hear the apostle’s plea to us to be obedient to God by praying for our leaders.

The Priority

Paul begins his exhortation with a phrase that calls attention to the primacy of prayer in the life of the believer and the local church. “First of all” is a plea to keep first things first. It is an appeal not only to individual Christians, but, since the book was originally written to instruct Timothy concerning local church life (3:15), it is a call to churches and their members to place utmost importance on prayer. As a pastor, Timothy needed to guard against prayer being abandoned by members of his flock or subtly replaced by self-reliance.

The Plea

I urge” is a strong plea carrying the meaning of “coming alongside in order to exhort.” The same word is used in Romans 12:1: “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Even though Paul possessed apostolic authority to command Timothy, he chose instead to make a strong appeal to him to recognize the irreplaceable priority of prayer. Paul used four different words to paint a balanced picture of prayer. “Entreaties” refers to prayers prompted by the awareness of needs. “Prayers” is a general term referring to approaching God with reverence. “Petitions” are compassionate prayers generated from empathy with others. “Thanksgivings” are specific praises to God for the works that he has done. The apostolic appeal is general at first and then gets specific. With these words, Paul provides a sampling of prayers that should be made on behalf of “all men,” but especiallyfor kings and all who are in authority” (vv. 1–2).

The Purpose

“[S]o that” is a clear statement of purpose, which reveals 3 reasons God commands us to pray for our government leaders.

  • REASON #1 – Pray for our leaders so that “we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” This refers to an external as well as an inner peace. How does praying for our leaders promote peace? Praying for God to give our leaders wisdom in world affairs may promote peaceful living, as will praying for the writing of good laws which honor biblical principles. According to Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” If we really believe this truth then we will get down on our knees in order to lift our government leaders before God in prayer.
  • REASON #2 – Pray for our government leaders because it is “good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” It pleases God. It’s that simple. Matthew 6:33 calls us to this motive for life: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things will be added to you.” When we have this overarching philosophy of life, all peripheral matters fall into their proper place in their proper time. “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). One clear way to please God and set our mind on things above is by faithfully praying for our government leaders.
  • REASON #3 Pray for our government leaders because God “desires all men to be saved.” Conversion takes place when sinners “come to the knowledge of the truth.” Therefore, we must pray for the souls of our civil leaders, that they will come to know Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We should pray for the Holy Spirit’s convicting work (John 16:8), for faithful witnesses to be heard (Rom. 10:14), and for the faith-giving power of the Word of God (Rom. 10:17).

Our government leaders need us; they need us to pray for them with all diligence. This obedient habit pleases God, but is also a powerful means to making a difference for the sake of righteousness in our world and for the sake of the gospel for all eternity.

[Adapted from my book, Pray About Everything. Also available for Kindle.]

 

January 2, 2020

2019 Bible Verse of the Year

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

by Clarke Dixon

With 35 billion chapters of the Bible read using their Bible apps in 2019, the people who bring us YouVersion have some impressive statistics to back up their announcement of the “verse of the year.” It is the most looked up, most highlighted, and most shared verse in the YouVersion community. So what is it?

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

This speaks to the fear and anxiety in today’s society, and since the app is used across the globe, the anxieties felt around the world. This verse was written by someone who had great reason for anxiety and worry, for people who had great reason for anxiety and worry. It is in a letter written by the apostle Paul from prison, always a place of uncertainty in that time and place, to the Christians in Philippi who were facing persecution. So what does Paul say? Let’s consider what the Bible says about worry here, beginning with verse 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

We rejoice, even though we may feel scared, mad, or sad. That might seem like an impossible thing to do, since we cannot normally choose our emotions. However, “rejoice” here is an imperative verb, it is an action rather than a feeling. According to Greek experts it is the activity of being glad or taking delight. It is possible to feel sad, and be glad at the same time. Paul is not contradicting himself when he says “we are saddened, but we rejoice” in 2nd Corinthians 6:10.

To give an example, I might be sorrowful that we are now in a Canadian winter and I cannot ride a motorcycle. But at the same time I can be glad that I have enjoyed motorcycling every year since 1991, and look forward to another season of riding in the spring. For another example, I am unhappy about my Mum having Alzheimer’s disease, and feeling distraught that she is now living in a nursing home. However, I am glad she is safe, and with our shared hope in Christ, I take delight in the fact that her best days are still ahead. My emotions have not changed, I am still feeling the emotions brought by grief, but I can focus my mind on things to take delight in. I don’t try to change my emotions from feeling sad to happy, but rather refocus my mind, engaging in the activity of rejoicing even while unhappy.

This is part of what happens in worship and praise at church gatherings. Whatever our emotions resulting from a difficult week, or a difficult season of life, in worship we focus on the big picture, the reality that is ours in God. There can be awful stuff happening in our lives which will result in negative emotions, but in worship all the awful stuff takes the background. The reality of God takes the forefront of our hearts and minds. We cannot change our emotions, but we can change our focus. We are told to “Rejoice in the Lord!” We focus on God. We focus on the big picture God paints for us which takes the focus off the limited perspective of our own field of vision.

Next:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

We keep our cool, even though we may be mad enough to blow our tops. If our emotions take the forefront, then our relationships will be affected. When we allow the worries of life to take the foreground of our hearts and minds, we can easily hurt others. We can “kick the dog” so to speak. The Greek word for ‘gentleness’ has the idea of fitting, appropriate, or fair. Our response to the troubles of life can make our family and friends suffer unfairly, not to mention the poor dog. It is much better when we relate to people with the reality of God in the foreground. We relate to people, not as wounded people flailing away with swords, but as healed and healing people, experiencing grace and love from God, seeking grace and love in the lives of others.

And now for the verse of the year:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

We can pray, even though worry seems like the best, or only, thing to do. When we rejoice, we put the big picture in the forefront. In prayer, we have the opportunity to get our concerns and frustrations back to the forefront. Our frustrations and concerns are important, so should not merely be hidden away as if they do no matter. However, we do not put them forward so they can consume us. We focus on them in order to name them and hand them over to God. What is the result?

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 (NRSV)

We may be uncertain about many things, but in Christ we can be certain God is our Heavenly Father who works out all things together for good (see Romans 8:28). One very literal translation puts it this way: “The peace of God, the one surpassing in value all reasoning, will watch over your inner selves and your thoughts” (from Scripture Direct Interlinear Greek Bible). While many understand this verse to mean something like “the peace of God is beyond understanding,” another possibility is; “having the peace of God is better than having understanding.” In other words, it is better to experience the peace of God, than have everything figured out. That is often our trouble, we want to have everything figured out, we worry and fret when we don’t. We don’t need it all figured out! Give it to God, Who already has it all figured out, Who has the power to do something about it, Who has the love to do something good about it, even if we can’t see it or understand it. Once we have given our concerns over to God, we can then refocus the mind again:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (NRSV)

We have something far greater than knowing every detail of the future, and the ability to control that future. We have a relationship with the One who holds the future. Instead of worrying, let us go to God, rejoicing in our reality in Christ, relating to others with that reality in mind, giving our concerns over to God, then refocusing on all that is good. Whatever emotions you may experience in 2020, may you know peace, especially the peace of God.


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in Cobourg, Ontario about an hour east of Toronto. Click here for his WordPress blog.

 

November 14, 2019

Being a Go-to Person When Someone Needs to Talk About God

(This devotional is from a series on The Book of Daniel called “Outnumbered. The Book of Daniel and Living As Christians In A Not-So-Christian Society.” The series begins here)

by Clarke Dixon

Will you and I come to mind as a go-to person when someone feels the need to talk about God? We Canadians are always talking hockey and weather. We don’t tend to talk religion. It is far too personal and private a topic for reserved and apologetic Canadians. However, sometimes people hit a wall, there is a crisis point, and they feel a great need to have a spiritual conversation, a conversation about the most important things in life, like God. When they do, will we come to mind?

Daniel was a go-to person when a crisis hit the king of Babylon in Daniel, chapter 5. Twenty-three years or so have passed since we last heard from Daniel in chapter four. He had a good relationship with King Nebuchadnezzar at that point. However, there was a new king, and Daniel seemed to have been forgotten. One day the king threw a big party and, in a scene reminiscent of a horror movie, a hand appeared, the hand wrote a message on the wall, and the king was terrified:

9 Then King Belshazzar became greatly terrified and his face turned pale, and his lords were perplexed.
10 The queen, when she heard the discussion of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall. The queen said, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts terrify you or your face grow pale. 11 There is a man in your kingdom who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father he was found to have enlightenment, understanding, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and diviners, 12 because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.” Daniel 5:9-12 (NRSV)

Daniel was remembered. The queen, or perhaps the “queen mum,” for we don’t really know her identity, knew that Daniel could help, that he was the best go-to person in this crisis. Will you and I come to mind as a go-to person when someone wants to talk about God and spirituality? There are some reasons Daniel came to mind as the go-to guy. We can ask if those same reasons are found in us.

❶ First, The queen mum spoke of Daniel as having “a spirit of the holy gods.” Daniel had a divine spark. Being a Babylonian, the queen mum probably does not have a good knowledge of the Holy Spirit here, but she does recognize a divine spark in Daniel. Do people see a divine spark in us? Is there evidence that we rub shoulders with the divine? The Bible tells us what the evidence would be:

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

If we are growing in our relationship with God, if our lives are increasingly marked by the fruit of the Spirit, we will have a divine spark. People may therefore seek us out when they feel the need to talk about God and spirituality. They will know that our spirituality is genuine. If we are lacking the “fruit of the Spirit,” we may come across as hypocrites. No one will want to talk with us, for we obviously don’t know what we are talking about.

❷ Second, Daniel was “found to have enlightenment, understanding, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. . . an excellent spirit, knowledge.” To give a summary, Daniel was a man of great depth. There was excellence in all he knew and said. Are we known as people of great depth in all we know and say?

The internet can be a very shallow pool of ignorance. Yes, the internet can offer us a wonderful way to connect with people and resources. However, it would seem that many people build their knowledge base, including their thoughts on religion, not on the vast resources available, but on memes and sound bites. There is a lack of depth. Are we as Christians diving deep?

Let us consider one example where diving deep would be helpful. Imagine a scene where a teenager, an occasional attendee at church, but a regular attendee of a school in the public system, asks how she should reconcile creation, as taught in church, with evolution, as taught in school. A well meaning Christian might use the cliché, “the Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Unfortunately, that does settle it. The young person will not seek out that Christian for a spiritual conversation in the future, for while there is great conviction, there is evidently not much thought.

When people are thinking things through, they want thinking people to help them. Consider an alternative response: “Some Christians handle science and the creation account this way, others handle it that way, as for me, here is the solution I find convincing and this is why . . . ” There is evidence of depth in that kind of response, even if the speaker has the same position as the one who used the cliché. There is knowledge and understanding. There is thought. Are we demonstrating depth when people ask about evolution, racism, mental health, perspectives on LGBTQ+, and all manner of things that are important to them? To demonstrate depth on such matters, we need to dive deep ourselves. Do we have excellence in our knowledge, or do we latch onto the first thing that sounds right to our Christian ears and stop digging?

Being human, we feel the need to always be right. People don’t seek out people for spiritual conversations who are known to have the need to always be right. But people will seek out people who are known to be always deep, even if they are sometimes wrong.

❸ Third, “understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel.” Daniel was helpful. He solved problems. Are we helpful? Do we help people, and society, solve problems? If we are hurtful in our relationships, don’t expect to come to anyone’s mind when they feel the need for a spiritual conversation. But if you are helpful, don’t be surprised if someone seeks you out when they need help! If we are Christ-like in our relationships, people will seek us out.

How did Daniel become a go-to person? Daniel had a divine spark, great depth, and was helpful. These things because true of Daniel through a good relationship with both God and the former king, Nebuchadnezzar. Is our relationship with God and with others such that we have a divine spark, are deep, and are helpful? Will we will come to mind when someone feels the need to talk about God?

 

Next Page »