Christianity 201

November 8, 2020

When the Motivation is Encoded in the Description

Bible translation is both an art and a science, and we see the possibilities in various ways of rendering the same Hebrew or, in this case, Greek text.

The third verse of the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians apparently offered translators a variety of options.  In the NIV, the verse reads:

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Before we look at three distinct pairings in this passage, I want to point out that from my perspective, the words work and labor suggest the same thing. In some the second word is service. But even that is very similar, though not all work is an act of service, all acts of service certainly involve some effort.

The NIV would seem to say that faith, love and hope are the motivators or inspiration for work, labor and endurance.  Thus,

  • faith gives way to work (something James would agree with)
  • love gives way to labor (see this September, 2014 post on compassion)
  • hope gives way to endurance (we would not endure if there were no hope, right?)

But in the ESV, we see the motivating characteristic embedded in the fruit that it produces:

  • work of faith
  • labor of love
  • steadfastness of hope

To some of you it may be a minor nuance in the translation, but it certainly reads differently.

The GNT (Good News) expresses it yet differently again perhaps putting more emphasis on the motivation than the fruit:

  • you put your faith into practice
  • your love made you work so hard
  • your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ is firm

The ISV (still not available in print) provides a more descriptive picture combining the motivation and the effect:

  • your faith is active
  • your love is hard at work
  • your hope in our Lord Jesus the Messiah is enduring

I think it’s a real blessing that certain passages can be read different ways, but also it challenges me to see the intertwining of the action and the motivator. Some people believe that as long as certain results are attained it doesn’t matter why. Paul certainly saw this as a distinct possibility:

ESV Phil 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

But what a greater beauty awaits you when you see both the purity of the motive and the fruitfulness of the result; when you see them intertwined.

ESV Prov. 16:2 All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
but the Lord weighs the spirit.

Unbeknown to most of us, the motivation (which is the word used in some translations of the verse above) is written into, or the actions we take, not unlike the genetic code is embedded or encoded in every cell in our body…

…As interesting as this is (to me at least!) we can delve into this and miss the obvious: Our lives should be characterized by the three spiritual fruit named: Faith, hope and love.

At least that’s how we say it. But in the text it actually reads: Faith, love and hope. Go deeper. Look again at the above renderings in different translations and ask yourself if perhaps there is a significance to the order in which these three are presented.

October 14, 2020

Reading Biblical Literature

Passage One:

John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Passage Two:

Mark 10:17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone…”

In the first passage, Jesus knows who he is, where he has come from and where he is going. He then performs an act of great humility.

In the second passage, it could be seen by some that Jesus is distancing himself from God. The Reformation Study Bible notes:

Jesus’ reply does not mean that He does not consider Himself good. He rather wants to show the man that “No one is good except God alone,” so that the man may realize that all his works do not make him good, and that he is not capable of earning eternal life.

The question is meant to challenge the rich young man in the story, but if people are looking for Biblical contradictions — and many are — they might seize on this one.  It is for that reason I titled today’s thoughts “Reading Biblical Literature.” One needs to know what they are reading at the time.

Passage one shows the servant heart of Jesus, but it places that in direct contrast to his divinity. Again, the Reformation Study Bible is helpful here:

Jesus’ humble conduct was not because He forgot His rank as incarnate God the Son. His act demonstrates that rank and privilege are not occasions for arrogance, but are higher credentials for service.

I am always drawn back to the passage in Philippians 2, which I personally render as “…although he was God, he did not think his divinity was something to be leveraged.”

There’s a simple saying in real estate that the top three things in selling a house are “Location, location, location.” Similarly in Bible interpretation, the top three things are context, context, context.

But as easy at is to resolve Passage Two above by saying, “He was simply asking a rhetorical question” or “He was simply challenging the young man” (Some simply shrug their shoulders and say, “We cannot understand it; it is mystery.”) Those are good starts, and I don’t want to eliminate the element of mystery, but I think we can also resolve this by looking at the issue of interpretation through knowing the character of Christ.

This reminds me of the time someone said to me, “I don’t know everything about the book, but I know the author.”

Don’t you love the fact that Jesus knew who he was and where he was from and where he was going, but can also look into the eyes of someone and almost playfully, humorously ask, “Why do you call me good; there is no one good except God?”

When we engage in the academic, somewhat dry process of “reading Biblical literature,” we can easily get bogged down in the weeds.

We do it best when we see that we are reading Christ.


Dive Deeper:

This week in an exchange with a local pastor, I brought another friend into the conversation which resulted in a link to an article titled Jesus’s Humor. The article is too long to publish here, and I tried to think of a way I could incorporate some of the material devotionally. The author says,

…The entire Sermon on the Mount, in the original Greek, reads like a stand-up comedy routine. This has been translated out of the version you read in the Bible, but Jesus’s original words have all the hallmarks of humor…

I thought the phrase translated out was rather interesting and perhaps signals a systemic problem in understanding the interactions Jesus has with everyone from seekers to Pharisees.

The article is long, but it might be the best thing you read this week! I find approaches like this really make the Gospels come alive.

September 15, 2020

Salvation: A Continuous Imperative

If I were to leave you to keep an eye on my office, and just before walking out the door, I pointed to the back and said, “Shut the door;” what would I expect? Namely that you would shut the door. That’s it.

But if I were to turn around and say, “And answer the phone;” what does that imply? It implies that if the phone rings, answer it, and if it rings again, answer it, and if it keeps ringing, keep answering it. It’s what is called a continuous imperative.


Today we’re back with a visit to the blog Brothers of the Book, written by Bill Hood. While the column is directed at men, there is application here for everyone. (Also, with so many printed devotional resources directed toward women, here is a site you can recommend to a male friend or relative.) As always, click the header below and read this there instead of here.

You Are Being Saved

1 Corinthians 15:1–11

God’s work of salvation pre-dates your existence, is on-going in your life, and will be witnessed again in eternity. You are saved; you are being saved; you will be saved.

Today’s reading is a re-presentment of the Gospel.  Paul shares the facts of salvation with the Corinthians.  It is important for us to remember what we believe.  It is so easy to be led astray.  A little twisting of the truth produces a lie – not an alternate truth.

Changing subjects, I found the comparison of various translations of the following verse to be rather interesting.

1 Corinthians 15:2

ESV
“and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”

NIV
“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

KJ
“By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.”

Most translations refer to the Gospel as something by which they “were saved” while the English Standard Version (ESV) refers to the Gospel as something by which they were “being saved”.  Did the ESV get this wrong?  I don’t think so.  I went back and did a word study in the original Greek, and the word translated “you are being saved” by the ESV does give a sense of something that is on-going; at least it gave me that sense.  My pastor, several times, has said from the pulpit “you are saved, you are being saved, you will be saved”.

This sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it?  Try this on for size.  God chose to save you before He even created the World.  Moving forward in time, if you are a Christian, there was a moment in your past when you submitted your life to Christ, and at that moment you were saved as God had already determined you would.  Can you lose your salvation?  Christ says He will lose no one whom God places in His hand.  Did the Son of God get this wrong?  Can He lose you due to your own choices?  No brothers, it is His grace and presence in your life that keeps saving you every moment of every day.  God doesn’t save you and walk away hoping you’ll make the right choices so you can keep what He gave you.  Your salvation is a complete work of grace on the part of God Himself.  You had nothing to do with it.  God saved you and He is saving you.

One day, you will stand before the righteousness of God.  Jesus will step forward and say “Abba, he is with me.  I paid for his sin.”  You will be allowed to pass in to eternal fellowship with God. At that moment, you are saved anew.  You will be saved.

Salvation is an amazing thing.  It is beyond miraculous.  It is beyond comprehension.  Brothers, you are not alone in your wanderings in this desert called life.  If you truly submitted your life to Christ, Jesus goes with you in the form of His Holy Spirit.  He lifts you up.  He carries you through.  In the Good News of Jesus Christ, you are being saved!

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

 

 

August 29, 2020

The Perplexing Problem of Cain’s Sacrfice

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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There are several views on today’s subject, but this one does a great job of presenting what I would call the “blood” argument with respect to Cain’s agricultural sacrifice.

Today’s thoughts are from Josh Spaulding who writes most of the articles at EternalAnswers.org an online ministry which serves to provide sound, Biblical answers to many of life’s biggest questions. Josh is pastor of Bible Baptist Mission in Washington, Indiana. and author of, “The Reality of Saving Faith.” Their objective at Eternal Answers is that the gospel message is embedded in each article they write.

Josh chose today’s article to share with you, and remember you can click the header which follows to read this — and then browse other articles — at his site.

Alternatively, today’s thoughts in much greater detail are also available as a six-minute video.

Why Wasn’t God Happy with Cain’s Offering?

In the book of Genesis we read the story of Cain and Abel (two of Adam and Eve’s sons). The first thing that we read about them is in regard to their offerings to the LORD.

Genesis 4:3 “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.”

So there is clearly something about Abel’s offering that pleased God, and something about Cain’s offering that did not please God. In order to figure this out, we must turn to God’s Word. There are four very important things we must understand in order to interpret this passage correctly.

1: We must understand that all descendants of Adam are sinners (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12). And since Cain and Abel (just like you and me) were descendants of Adam, they fell into that group.

2: We must understand that God is Righteous (Psalm 7:9, Psalm 145:17). He is also Loving and Forgiving (1 John 1:9), but He never lays one attribute aside as He picks up another. He is always righteous. He is never unrighteous.

3: We must understand that the punishment for our sin is death (Romans 6:23). This “death” is defined as separation from God. Yes, eventually physical death is also a result, but the eternal separation from God is the worst part of it. This is why the LORD said to Abel in Genesis 4:7 “…and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.”

4: We must understand that “without shedding of blood is no remission [forgiveness of sin]” (Hebrews 9:22).

Once we understand the four points above, we see why God has put such an emphasis on blood and sacrifice throughout the entire Bible. In order to have fellowship with our Holy God … in order to approach Him … in order to enjoy His favor … in order to be justified … in order to LIVE there must be blood sacrificed.

Although the blood of animals did not take away the sin of men, they pointed to the One who could (and did), the Lord Jesus Christ! And they stood as a reminder for the absolute necessity of a Perfect Substitute (Hebrews 10:1-4).

God has required blood from the beginning. In the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21) we read how God shed the first blood for Adam and Eve, when he made coats of skins and clothed them. Those coats of skins were the first picture of how the Lord Jesus, as the Lamb of God, should die for sin, that we might be clothed with the righteousness of God in Him (Isaiah 64:6, Psalm 132:9, 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Throughout the history of man, we read of God’s people shedding blood to temporarily atone for their sin. But without the eternal atonement that the Lord Jesus accomplished on the cross, those animal sacrifices would have been meaningless. His blood ETERNALLY atoned for the sins of all who put their faith in Him!

Hebrews 9:12Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

So why was the LORD pleased with Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s?

Because blood was shed with Abel’s. But no blood was shed with Cain’s. And on top of that, Cain’s offering came from the cursed ground (Genesis 3:17)!

This passage is a clear message that our own works, done as an attempt to justify ourselves, are worthless to our Holy God. Cain worked HARD to prepare his offering. He prepared the seeds. He tilled the ground. He sowed the seeds. He nurtured the plants. He pulled weeds. Finally, he harvested the fruit. Then he gathered it all and brought it to the LORD. SURELY, God would be pleased with his good work. He worked HARD!

But it didn’t please God at all. Cain was relying on his own good works to please God, without the shedding of blood.

Abel realized that there was nothing he could do in order to please God. He understood that there must be blood.

There is, however, one very important thing to understand. The blood of the Perfect Lamb, the Lord Jesus, only justifies (counts righteous) those who have put their faith in Him.

Faith involves taking God at His Word (which always involves repentance of sin) and trusting alone in the finished work (the blood shed by the Perfect Lamb) that HE (not you by your works) accomplished at Calvary, on the cross (Romans 4:5, Romans 11:6, Romans 3:24-25).

Just as the blood of the paschal lamb had to be applied to the lintel and the side posts of the doors (Exodus 12:21-23), the blood of the Lord Jesus must be applied to your heart. And that can only happen by taking God at His Word and trusting alone in Jesus Christ as your Savior. (Click this link to read more about what saving faith is.)

August 9, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: The Church

For the last two days we’ve been looking at what are called The Five Discourses of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

■ Take time now read all of Matthew chapter 18.

The idea of ‘church’ as a building would have been a very foreign concept on the day Jesus had this particular huddle with his followers. Rather, He is talking about the relationships in the new community of believers.

This chapter deals with relationships in the new, emerging community that Jesus is shaping; these called-out ones; followers of what will be called The Way. This is sometimes referred to as The Ecclesial Discourse, and there is an extensive (i.e. quite lengthy) study page on this, including a helpful Q&A approach at this link.

The Greatest in the Kingdom

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  Matthew 18:1-3

This theme is recurring throughout the Jesus narrative. The mother of James and John dares to ask if her sons can sit to the left and right of Jesus, and then we have that embarrassing scene right after He has washed their feet and given them the symbols of his broken body and shed blood:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  Luke 22: 24-26

The answer is always the same, a reminder of the “upside down” nature of His kingdom.

Causing Others to Stumble

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  Matthew 18:6

Here Jesus warns about something that is going to be a great threat to the new community He is building: Corruption from within. How many times have you heard quoted — both from people inside the church and outside — that the greatest stumbling block to Christianity is Christians.

This situation can develop when Christians let down their guard and become lax about moral and ethical standards. However, it can also happen when well-meaning people impose rules and regulations on what Romans 14 calls those whose faith is weak.

Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.  Romans 14:13b

The Sheep Who Wander

While we left the “parabolic” discourse behind yesterday, this chapter does contain two parables. This very familiar one is a continuation of the thoughts above, told in terms of one sheep out of a flock of a hundred who has wandered off. In Luke 15, this story will become part of a trilogy including a lost coin and a lost son.

In the NIV, the first part of verse 10 begins, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones….” The full verse in The Message reads, Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?

A Pattern for Confronting Sin

Jesus issues a four-step guideline for dealing with sin in the community, which is totally connected to the idea (above) concerning those who cause others to stumble:

  1. Go directly to the person
  2. If they don’t listen, repeat, but bringing a couple of others with you
  3. If they still don’t respond, bring the matter before the assembly; the congregation
  4. If they are still not repentant, treat them as a pagan.

It’s not step four implies a complete excommunication, though some groups today practice this type of shunning.

This brings us to the verse,

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Matthew 18: 18

At this point in church history, many different opinions exist as to the meaning of this verse, and we’ve covered (perhaps inconclusively) that a few years ago in What is Meant by Binding and Loosing.

The Forgiven Servant Who Doesn’t Forgive

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18: 21

This is the longest section of Matthew 18, running to the end of the chapter at verse 35. Even beginning Bible readers will see a connection between this parable and the familiar words from Matthew 5:

and forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Matthew 6:12 NLT

The servant is let off the hook, but refuses to do the same in the matter of a much, much smaller debt. As I mentioned two days ago, I owe this attention to these discourses to Michael Card who writes on this passage:

 One of the key concepts of mercy (hesed) is that once we are shown mercy; we become obligated to give mercy. On realizing that the person from whom we have a right to expect nothing has given us everything, we must reciprocate.  –Matthew: The Gospel of Identity p166

There is one more block of teaching to follow. Stay tuned!

August 8, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Parables

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That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore Then he told them many things in parables… Matthew 13 1-3a NIV

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”  He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.This is why I speak to them in parables… Matthew 13 10-13a NIV

Yesterday we introduced “the five discourses” in Matthew, namely, “the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.”

If this is what you think is meant by The Parabolic Discourse, you’ve come to the wrong page!

The third of these, The Parabolic Discourse, has nothing to do with parabolas, in case you were wondering. Rather it is a section consisting of consecutive parables.

■ Take time now to read the entire section in Matthew 13.

R. K. Bingham, writing at GraceOfOurLord.com introduces these.  The points below are excerpted from Matthew 13 – Parabolic Discourse1

  • Jesus first tells the parable of the sower in verses 3-9. We are not told about the chronology in the text, but most surmise that Jesus spoke all of the parables from the boat, and the explanation came later, after he went into the house in verse 36…
  • He quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 in verses 14-15, explaining that the difference between them (the disciples that want to learn) and the crowds (those that do not really want to understand, much less accept, the truth) is in their hearts
  • This is followed up by the explanation of the parable of the sower in verses 18-23, which is the key to understanding all of the parables…
  • The parable of the weeds, or tares (verses 24-30), is like that of the net (verses 47-50), and refers to the fate of those who will not accept the truth…
  • The parables of the mustard seed (verses 31-32) and leaven (verse 33) show that the kingdom may be starting very small, but will grow into something very large…
  • The parables of the hidden treasure (verse 44) and the pearl of great value (verses 45-46) demonstrate that those who truly understand the value of our place in His kingdom will be willing to give up anything in this ordinary world in order to attain it.

Jeff Bryerley, writing at Burnside Family Church’s Bible Study page has some more extensive notes on the latter part of the discourse:

Why did Jesus ask if the disciples understood his parables (13:51)?
The disciples were chosen so that they would themselves be teachers (cf v.52 “scribes”) of others. Jesus was only too willing to give further explanation if needed. However, they replied that they understood. They understood (a) the importance of receiving well the kingdom (soils); (b) the humble growing / permeating of a great kingdom (mustard seed, yeast); (c) the consequences of receiving / rejecting the kingdom (wheat and tares, good and bad fish); and the priceless value of Jesus’ kingdom (hidden treasure, pearl of great price)… [L]ater events showed their understanding was not perfect, but it was growing and would be used fruitfully later.

What did Jesus mean “like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old (13:52)?
We believe this is referring to both the Old and New Testaments. The OT is an old treasure in revealing the Word of God and pointing to the coming Messiah. The NT is a treasure, revealing who Christ is, how He fulfills God’s promise of salvation and wraps up history with its eternal consequence. Indeed, Jesus’ teaching shows how the old is to be understood by the new. Michael Wilcox, in the NIV Application Commentary on Matthew, provides further background. The Greek word “oikedespoles” translated here as “householder”, is not just referring to someone bringing out old and new treasures to gaze upon and return to its safe location. The oikedespoles was someone who brought treasures out to be used fruitfully, such as dividing his estate among tenant farmers or to pay wages to his laborers. As Jesus’ disciples we are to be workers “who correctly handle the Word of God” (2 Tim. 2:15).

Why did the people of Nazareth disbelieve Jesus (13:53-58)?
These verses show that Jesus was indeed fully human as well as divine. Before he began his ministry, Jesus led a very quiet ordinary life, albeit “in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Indeed, this gives rise to evil suspicion among the townspeople as to the source of his wisdom and mighty works. This was not unlike the Pharisees who with blasphemy attributed the source of his power to Satan (12:22-32). The townspeople declared that Jesus was trained as a carpenter, (not as the student of some great rabbi). Also they note that he comes from a very ordinary poor family. They name his family members including his mother “Mary”, a quite common name. We believe the inference was that he cannot be genuine, that his power was not from a godly source and that he must be some sort of conjurer, an ordinary person contemptibly acting beyond his station in life, in an attempt to dupe them for some ill purpose. Their unbelief limits Jesus’ ability to do mighty works…

Returning to our first author quoted as to why the passage ends as it does:

…The rejection of Jesus in His own hometown resulted in Him not wasting much time there (verse 58). It illustrates very well the points that He made in the earlier parts of the chapter. The hearts of the people there were hardened to the truth and they could not see. The ground of their hearts needed plowing as well.


1Many of the blogs we use are now running rather firm copyright notices that are leaving us running scared of quoting material as we’ve done for over ten years now. I think this is a great overview and encourage you to read it in its original form, but I was nervous about simply re-blogging the entire post.

July 16, 2020

Not “My,” But “Our” – A Refection on the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy. – Matthew 6:9

by Clarke Dixon

Prayer is a very personal thing. If we are being honest, the words “I,” “me,” and “my,” show up a lot in our prayers. Yet when Jesus teaches us to pray, we are to address “our” Father in heaven. Throughout the Lord’s prayer we also encounter “us,” and “our” a lot, but never “me,” nor “my.” This is important and reminds of three important facts as we learn to pray.

First, when we pray our Father, we are reminded that God is Someone we experience together. Faith is personal, but it is not something we create for ourselves, it is not something we possess and control or change for our own purposes.

If we began our prayer with something like “my personal cosmic being” we could then perhaps conjure God up as we desire. However, Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father in heaven.” God is not someone we can change to suit our tastes. God has been experienced by a very large community of faith over a very long time.

If you ask my three boys what I am like, the facts they relate will need to fit with each other, plus fit with what you know about me. They might point to the obvious and say that I have blue eyes and and more grey hair today than yesterday. That would be true. Actually, my eyes were blue long before they came on the scene. We won’t mention my hair colour. You get the point though, that what is true about me is true about me whether you asked my boys or not. They cannot conjure me up, rather they experience me through my presence in their lives.

What is true about God was true about God long before you or I came on the scene. God is God, and that would be true even if there were no Church to speak of Him. God is not “my father, conjured up in my mind to suit my preference,” but “our father,” the one with whom humans have had a relationship for a long time. He is the one who revealed himself to his covenant people. He is the one who has revealed himself in Jesus. He is the one the community of faith has experienced and has spoken about. He is the one we meet in the Bible. He is our father, someone beyond us and experienced together by us.

When we pray “our father,” we are reminded that God is beyond us, experienced by a whole community of faith, and therefore can be discovered by us, but not conjured up.

Second, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we are part of a large family which is part of an even larger family of faith. Faith is personal, but it is not practiced alone.

The local church is a family of believers and so we can properly refer to one another as brothers and sisters.

Within our own church family I feel rather badly for those who have come from a tradition where one is taught to enter the sanctuary with quietness in order to prepare for worship. That simply does not happen at Calvary as there is a lot of chit-chat which goes on before and after the service. But as I like to say, God loves a noisy church for it shows that relationships are happening. Yes, we gather to worship God, however, we gather to worship God together. As a family of believers we do not gather at the church, but as the church.

Of course we have an even bigger family to think about. The believers that would normally gather at the church down the street are also our brothers and sisters. As are the believers across the town. Even if we think they are weird. As are the believers across the world.

We are a huge family brought together not by our efforts at thinking alike, or even by liking each other, but by God loving us alike. We do not need to agree with our brothers and sisters to be family. We just need a relationship with our father. When you enter into relationship with God, you automatically enter into a family relationship with many people you might consider a little odd, or even a lot wrong.

When we pray “our father” we also think of the many generations of Christ followers which have gone before. God was their father too. Actually, God is still their father! The dead don’t cease to be God’s children!

Third, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we share something fundamentally important with all people, for God is the Father of all humankind. Faith is personal, but it does not not cut us off from the public.

I once heard someone make a distinction between Genesis 3 and Genesis 1 Christians. If we are Genesis 3 Christians we tend to see people first-off as fallen, as having suffered the consequence of the Fall. We may not even see people at all, we may just see sinners. Genesis 1 Christians on the other hand see people, first-off as being created in the image of God, for relationship with God. In that sense all humans are children of God. Praying “our” father reminds us of that.

However, we may wonder about those times the Bible speaks of people as being alienated from God, or even enemies of God. Is that not evidence that not all people can be called “children of God,” that from the Christian perspective they cannot be considered part of one big family?

Imagine you can go back to the days of slavery in the Southern States. If you met a slave, would you say “slave is an appropriate term for you for that is what you are, this is where you belong,” or would you say “slave is a tragic term for you for you were created to be free. You were created for something better. Slave fits your current situation, but not your identity. You are not currently where you belong.” So too, with those who would live far from God. There are terms, like stranger, and enemy, which accurately describe their situation due to sin, but those terms are tragic. All people were created in the image of God, for relationship with God. He is calling them to come home. In his grace he is offering forgiveness and a new start through Jesus. They are his children, but children may end up living with zero relationship with their parents. This is tragic. Do our hearts break?

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that God is father to all humanity. We are reminded to have the same kind of love and longing for all people from all peoples as God has. Our hearts will break for those who are far, even as God’s does.

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that family dynamics are always changing. Every person we meet can potentially also desire to pray this prayer too someday. Those far from God can come home. Faith is personal, but it is not private. What we call “evangelism” is often seen as unethical in our day of privacy and individualism, however, evangelism is unavoidable when we pray “our father.” Our father desires that all His children come home. Given that we are family, we would love to see them come home too!

“I,” “me,” and “my” may show up a lot in our prayers and that is fine. Prayer is personal and we approach God as individuals. He relates to each of us on a personal and individual level. However, let us remember that Jesus taught us to pray addressing God as “our” father. Let that be a reminder that,

  • God is a very real Someone that an entire faith community has experienced, and continues to experience.
  • we are part of a big family, in fact a huge and complicated family of faith.
  • We are part of an even bigger and even more complicated family, which includes even those who would rather not be in the family at all, whom God loves and is calling home.

May we ever be mindful that God is not just “my father,” but “our father.”


This reflection comes from the “online worship expression” at Clarke’s church You can also watch the reflection here.)

July 14, 2020

The Warnings in the Book of Hebrews

 

Hebrews 2:1-4 New Living Translation (NLT)

So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.


Hebrews 4:12-13 Common English Bible (CEB)

12 because God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. 13 No creature is hidden from it, but rather everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we have to give an answer.


Hebrews 6:4-8 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, who shared in the Holy Spirit, who tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age, and who have fallen away. This is because, to their own harm, they are recrucifying the Son of God and holding him up to contempt. For the ground that drinks the rain that often falls on it and that produces vegetation useful to those for whom it is cultivated receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and about to be cursed, and at the end will be burned.


Hebrews 10:26-31 New International Version (NIV)

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


Hebrews 12:25-29 New Living Translation (NLT)

25 Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven! 26 When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: “Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.” 27 This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain.

28 Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. 29 For our God is a devouring fire.


Space didn’t permit much further discussion of these passages, but after using a different base source, we discovered Michael Battle has an excellent collection of the texts with some short commentary at his site Rooted and Grounded in Christ. To read that in full, click this link. After the fifth warning he notes:

…The fifth warning…sums up all the other warnings – beware of sin and rejection of Jesus.

Many of you recognize the words “our God is a consuming fire” but do you know the context of these words? Many quote this in connection with God’s love, but the scriptures do not use it that way. These words, in both the Old and New Testament, are used in connection with God’s holiness and righteous judgment against sin (i.e. His jealously expressed in anger which results in the punishment of our sins).

Here is how Moses used the words:

But the LORD was angry with me because of you. He vowed that I would not cross the Jordan River into the good land the LORD your God is giving you as your special possession. You will cross the Jordan to occupy the land, but I will not. Instead, I will die here on the east side of the river. So be careful not to break the covenant the LORD your God has made with you. Do not make idols of any shape or form, for the LORD your God has forbidden this. The LORD your God is a DEVORING FIRE; he is a jealous God. “In the future, when you have children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time, do not corrupt yourselves by making idols of any kind. This is evil in the sight of the LORD your God and will arouse his anger. (Deuteronomy 4:21-25 TNLT)


As I searched online many websites offered teaching on the five warnings in Hebrews, but one stood out offering what the writer called The Seven Alarms of Hebrews. What were the two extra passages, I wondered. Here they are:

Hebrews 3:7-4:2 New Living Translation (NLT)

12 Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13 You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. 14 For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. 15 Remember what it says:

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
    as Israel did when they rebelled.”

16 And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness? 18 And to whom was God speaking when he took an oath that they would never enter his rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed him? 19 So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest.

God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God.

and

Hebrews 5:11-14 Common English Bible (CEB)

11 We have a lot to say about this topic, and it’s difficult to explain, because you have been lazy and you haven’t been listening. 12 Although you should have been teachers by now, you need someone to teach you an introduction to the basics about God’s message. You have come to the place where you need milk instead of solid food. 13 Everyone who lives on milk is not used to the word of righteousness, because they are babies. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between good and evil.

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

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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)

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