Christianity 201

December 24, 2017

Sunday Worship

Despite the glaring omission of a key sign of God’s blessing, these two were “careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God.” In other words, they worshiped God in the middle of personal trial.

For some, Christmas is like this. It’s hard to suffer, to undergo trials, to grieve, etc. when everybody around you is pre-programmed for celebration…

One time our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did, though they probably whispered it, not wanting Z. and E. to hear.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

You know what? Even when things are going relative well, everybody has something that humbles them. Everyone has something about which they are hypersensitive. Everybody experiences what it’s like to covet someone else’s gifts and abilities.

Maybe you can’t cook anything beyond making toast.
Maybe you can’t do your own tax returns.
Maybe you can’t land a basket when shooting hoops to save your life.
Maybe you’re short.
Maybe you’re short on cash all the time.
Maybe you are tone deaf and church services serve as a constant reminder.
Maybe you suck at open heart surgery.

We’re all terribly aware of our inadequacies. Maybe they aren’t as big a deal as some of the more serious challenges others face, but they haunt our prayer life and cause us to approach life with pessimism, cynicism, fatalism, resignation and defeat. In other words, the challenge to worship God through our circumstances and situations applies to everyone, not just the people facing the more frequently discussed giant mountains.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is. Their lives were lives of worship to God despite personal setbacks and frustrations.

February 10, 2014

Must We Love Ourselves to Love Others?

Author and speaker Jennifer Slattery started blogging the same month we started Christianity 201, and this is actually her 4th appearance here.  Click through to read this at source.

Love. Such a confusing, abstract emotion. It’s something we “fall into” and “out of”,  something we chase after…

There’s a notion that says “You must love yourself in order to love others.”

Is this true? Biblical?

I’m no theologian, but I can’t locate a verse that says this. In fact, again and again, God tells us to take the position of a servant, and to honor others above ourselves.

To die to ourselves so we can live for God.

It’s hard to die to something you love.

Perhaps biblical love isn’t so much an emotion as it is an action.

Consider 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

For you see, emotions wane. Therefore, true love must be a choice and an action, the moment-by-moment discipline of laying ourselves aside so that God can love others through us.

The Bible says we love because God first loved us. Therefore, our love comes not from us but from Him. It is when we completely surrender ourselves to God that we are fulfilled. That is when we begin to live lives of passion and purpose, of courage and impact.

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Learning to love is receiving and giving the love only God can give.

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Consider insecurity and fear of rejection and all those negative emotions that supposedly stem from a lack of self-love. What if the opposite is true? What if those emotions stem from love of self and a desire to protect self.
 
We protect that which we love.

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But when we die to ourselves, there is but one focus, what God would do through us. 

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And that is the most freeing occurrence we can experience.

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Let me provide an example. I have a less than glamorous past, and for years, I vehemently longed to hide that past. This fear kept me from embracing God’s call to write for many years. I told Him again and again, “I’ll only write if you protect me from exposure.”

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I’m sure you can imagine God’s response. He knew His grace is best seen when revealed through an imperfect sinner.

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But still I fought Him. I was afraid to tell my story for fear of what others would think and for fear of losing friends. Until I started hanging out with at risk teens and the homeless. Suddenly, I wanted for them to see Jesus and what He could do so badly, I no longer cared about embarrassing or shaming myself. My fear and insecurity went away because I found something more important–the saving of another life.

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The results were glorious, inspiring, fulfilling, because the more I died to myself and lived for God, the more I experienced His all-consuming love pour through me.

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You cannot be fearful, prideful, envious, and insecure when God’s Spirit invades your core. It’s impossible.

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So what does this all mean?

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1. If you want to experience an abundant, joy-filled, peace-saturated life, ask God to help you die to yourself–your fears, desires, pride, insecurities. All of it. Then ask Him to replace those things with His all-consuming love as you follow after Him with surrendered obedience.

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2. Parents, if you want your children to rise above the toxicity of their clique-infested schools, if you want for them to grab hold of a purpose that will propel them forward with a God-given passion, teach them to see others through God-sized lenses and to get involved in His mission. Then sit back and watch them thrive.

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Let’s talk about this! Looking back on your journey, when have you felt most fulfilled? What do you think of my take on love? Consider a time when you’ve felt God’s love coursing through you. What were you doing? What did His love motivate you to do?
 
Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Livng by Grace on Facebook.

January 3, 2014

Devotions for a New Year

Today, two devotions from the Presbyterian Church in Canada devotional page. Click each title to read at source.  (Devotions at the site are archived going back to 1996.)

The first, by Lisa McLaughlin-Kent is titled Rituals.

Ephesians 3:20 – Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us. (KJV)

Exceeding abundantly? Above all that I ask? Beyond what I can even imagine? How can that be? These are questions I asked.

Each year end, I used to take some time to reflect on the closing year, to take stock of accomplishments, review my goals and objectives, and put a check in the box for complete items and perhaps bring forward some items into the following year. It was like an annual report card for myself, by myself. But my rituals became stale and stunk. My goals and objectives took on the appearance of some corporate document, rigid in form, impersonal, and lacking in any real worth.

A few years ago, while praying for some guidance, I was compelled to re-think this calendar-like event. If I were on track, would my goals and objectives change every January first? How important were my goals and objectives if I reviewed them only on an annual basis? How could I grow in my relationships with Christ, my husband, my children, friends, and co-workers if my goals and objectives didn’t even include them?

Feeling very hesitant and skeptical, I prayed that God would take the lead role and help me craft my plans for the year ahead. With great trepidation, I abandoned my old format and procedure and replaced it with opening my heart to the daily devotional and a commitment to memorize Psalm 8. Surprisingly, the insights I gathered from the daily devotionals were sometimes put to immediate use within the same day. At other times, it was later in the week or month, when I least expected it. Psalm 8 took a bit longer. To start, I read the psalm daily; each day I let it sink deeper into my heart, then I wrote it out daily, until writing was no longer required. I put words to music and sang it out to the Lord on my way to work each morning. Soon, I was singing it out in my mind throughout the day. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1 NIV) God was closer to me and I to Him than ever before in my life.

With joy and excitement, I began to share with family and friends how God had provided answers to everyday situations and prayers, because of insights that He had planted in my heart from a devotional I had read in the morning or the previous week, and which had stuck with me.

Since this change in my initial ritual, the memory work has changed several times, and each change is not tied to a calendar, nor do I give myself a check in the box. I praise God for His faithfulness and wait on Him.

Do you have rituals that need revisiting? Are you tied to a calendar, or to our amazing Lord?

Psalm 27:14 – Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. (KJV)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray and trust that You will show us if we have rituals and habits that we need to change. Draw near to us and fill us with Your holy presence. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Our second reading is by Parise Arakelian titled A New Beginning

Proverbs 16:3 – Depend on the Lord in whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. (NCV)

The table is set in the dining room of the seniors’ assisted care facility where I reside. Three of us ladies share this table each day. After the meal one day, we got into a conversation noting that there were several in our community who present themselves with a downcast countenance. “I could see where they could be depressed, especially if they were limited in what they can do,” one of the ladies offered. “Maybe they might even want to die,” was another response.

As I considered these comments, the realization came to me that seniors need to be encouraged to lead productive lives. Why not take advantage of the clean slate the new year provides and set some goals to work toward?

  • Physical: Start a walking routine. Add a brisk walk to encourage the function of the brain. Decrease eating tasty morsels which can add pounds.
  • Mental: Increase activities like word search, word play, and crossword puzzles.
  • Spiritual: Draw strength by reading the Scriptures and/or study with others in a structured setting. Pray — it is a source of power. Take time to relax.
  • Emotional/relationship: Decide to give the gift of forgiveness for an old hurt. Practice patience where historically we have been impatient.

Each of us can live a life of fulfillment. Look at the life of Job. When the book opens, he was probably seventy years old. The book ends on a note of contentment and peace:

Job 42:16-17 – Job lived on another 140 years, living to see his children and grandchildren — four generations of them! Then he died — an old man, a full life. (MSG)

How do we plan to live out our days?

Prayer: Lord, thank You for this new year. We depend on and trust You as You guide and strengthen us each day. Thank You for the many blessings You will give us as we lead meaningful lives for You. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

November 18, 2013

The Importance of Tradition

Today’s thoughts are from Brandan Robertson at the blog Revangelical, where it appeared recently under the title, We Cannot Give Up Our Traditions.


So then, our friends, stand firm and hold on to those traditions which we taught you, both in our preaching and in our letter.

– 2 Thessalonians 2:15

Tradition. Tradition is an essential part of the Christian faith. It is one of the highest authorities we have as a community of Jesus followers. Any professor of Christianity would refer to a three legged stool of authority for the Christian faith: The Bible, Tradition, and Reason. Upon these three things, it has been traditionally been held, our faith sits upon. Now I have some serious disagreements with this model. I would say there is a four legged stool, the fourth leg being “Experience”. But that’s beside the point. The reality is that for most evangelical Christians, there stool only has two legs: The Bible and Reason. This is a sad reality because in this thinking, we have become afraid of any and all things that look “religious”, “mystic”, or “catholic”. And as we have reduced our faith to this modernistic approach, we have lost nearly all of the richness, broadness, and mysteriousness of our faith. It has become black and white. Sing songs, pray prayers, read the bible, go home. That is our faith.

But I want to propose that Paul, Peter, Clement, Justin Martyr, and all of the other Christians that lived from 30 A.D. to about 1650 would not recognize our version of Christianity and would probably be highly offended and in direct opposition to all we do in our worship services. I know that’s a bold statement. But I really feel like it’s true. But the problem is, we Evangelicals have tunnel vision and tend to think that our way is the way and that most Christians are just like us. But nothing is further from the truth. The reality is the Western Evangelical non-traditional Christianity is the minority. We are the odd ones out. We are outnumbered by far by the number of Christians who attend churches and live lives based on Christian traditions such as Liturgy, The Church Calendar, Mystical Practices, Corporate Written Prayers, Eucharist, and the plethora of other traditions that have been an essential part of the Christian faith.

Thankfully, God is working in the hearts of the younger Western Evangelicals who are growing weary of our disconnected, un-rooted, and weak faith. We are seeing the value of the third leg of our stool and are putting it back in place firmly. We are coming back to tradition and we are realizing we are part of something much bigger than our mega-churches. We are finding the mystic wonder of being connected and unified with millions upon millions of Christians around the world who are celebrating the same feast as us at the same time, who are partaking of the same Eucharist, praying the same prayers, and practicing the same practices. Tradition is a way to unite people to the past and future. We do it in our families and we are commanded to do it in the family of God. Tradition does not only enrich our corporate worship experience, but also deeply enhances our spiritual life and connectedness. That’s why Islam is so unified. Because for thousands of years, five times a day, Muslims from every nation of the earth prostrate towards one central location of the earth at the same time. What a powerful image. What a powerful tradition. What an amazing experience.

The traditions of our faith, such as the church calendar, cause us to contemplate, reflect, and journey deeper into our faith day by day and year by year. My prayer is that churches and individuals in the Evangelical world will wake up to the profound need for tradition as well as the direct command to observe both Scriptural and Oral Traditions of Christianity. This is what we Revangelicals are desiring. These are the types of Churches that are being planted. This is the future, and the past, of the Catholic Christian Faith.

I just want to give a shout out to my brother, Aaron Neiquist, the worship Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL who is leading the way in the Revangelical worship renewal. Willow has been engaging in full-fledge liturgies for a few years now and they are incorporate both contemporary and artistic style with ancient Christian tradition. It’s absolutely amazing! Check him out at his project website called “A New Liturgy”.

In line with the flow of this post, let me end with a traditional Christian benediction to you:

The grace of the beneficence of your only-begotten son, our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ are now fulfilled. We have confessed his saving passion, we have preached his death, we have believed in his resurrection, and the mystery is accomplished. We give thanks to you, O Lord God the Pantocrator for your mercy is great upon us, for you have prepared for us those things which the angels desire to behold. We ask and entreat your goodness, O Philanthropic One, that since you have purified us all, you join us unto Yourself, through our partaking of your divine mysteries. That we may become filled with your holy spirit with the longing for your true love, may we speak of your glory at all times, in Christ Jesus, our Lord, through whom the glory, the honour, the dominion, and the adoration are due unto you, is of one essence with you, now, and at all times and unto the age of all ages. Amen.

Liturgy of St. Basil, 300 A.D.

October 21, 2013

Lessons from Lot’s Story

Two years ago we introduced you to the writing of Duke Taber, who blogs at Taber’s Truths, where you’ll find a mix of devotional articles, Bible studies, and marriage resources. This recent article appeared there a few days ago under the title Remember Lot’s Wife.

Luke 17:32
“Remember Lot’s wife.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and how Abraham’s cousin Lot barely escaped with his life. However what we do not talk about very often is Lot’s wife. She was the one who turned back to look one last time at what she was leaving behind and in doing so, ended up becoming a pillar of salt.

Jesus told us to remember Lot’s wife in context of looking for His return. It was a warning to us not to be attached to our cultural lifestyle here on earth. It is a reminder to be focused on His kingdom and the lifestyle of His kingdom. Eating, drinking, experiencing life with family and friends are not bad things. However when they become the focus of our life then they become anchors that attach us to this world in ways we do not expect. These anchors are something we all need to avoid.

Things That Tie Us To This World

These anchors can be good things that have happened in our life or bad things that have happened in our life. Let’s take a look at the good things for a second. For instance, family is a good thing. However when your family has more influence upon you than Jesus does then that relationship is an anchor that ties us to this world in an unhealthy way.

Another example of a good thing becoming a bad thing is in the area of finances. Making money is a good thing and we all need to do it in order to live. The problem arises when making money becomes the end in itself rather than just a tool used while we are here on this earth. I know many people who sacrifice their spiritual life with Jesus because they are so busy making money. They have to have all the latest and greatest toys life has to offer. Materialism becomes an anchor in their life that keeps them from following Jesus the way He would have them follow.

Even love can become an anchor when it is used in the wrong way. Our love for our closest family members is something that needs to be nurtured and developed. However that same love can become an anchor when it is mixed with grief and loss. I know many people who are trapped in the cycle of grief because they think if they really move on they are somehow violating the love that they have for the person who has gone on to be with the Lord. Their life becomes tied to that tragic event. They emotionally mark the calendar of how long it has been since the tragedy happened. This ties them to something that keeps them from following Jesus.

Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean in the scriptures.

Matthew 8:22
But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Matthew 19:21
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Luke 14:26
“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison – your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.

In these scriptures Jesus makes it very clear that following Him and the kingdom lifestyle is more important than even the most dear of things on earth. Now I don’t believe He wants us to actually hate our family. He is talking about placing them at a lower level than discipleship and following him.

Remember Lot’s Wife

So I just want to encourage you to remember Lot’s wife. Remember that if we are to be disciples of Jesus then we have to let go of the anchors that hold us back from truly following Jesus with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

As I studied this devotional I was reminded of this song by the early Contemporary Christian Music band Fireworks. On low-speed internet? This is a static image video which plays audio only.

February 9, 2013

The One Who Will Judge is Non-Judgmental

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen

~Apostles Creed  (see also a musical adaptation)

This week we went to an event that featured Steve Geyer, who was billed as a comedian, but really shared his heart for over two hours in a much more pastoral sense.

In one section he spoke about the surprising and unexpected things that take place in the earthly ministry of Jesus; things where the events and people and situations get turned on their heads, including the time Jesus is anointed with perfume by an uninvited guest to a party.

Three gospels carry this story. Mark  (chapter 14) who is usually much more concise gives us more than Matthew

Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.

Luke 7 is considered to be a different story that took place at a different time, but is a similar story that includes a parable that Jesus teaches:

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

As Steve Geyer referred briefly to this story he said,

“The One who will judge the earth is non-judgmental.”

That phrase really hit me. Here we see another example of the contrast between “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild;” (itself not a fully accurate rendering of the earthly ministry of Jesus) and the one who sits at God’s right hand from where “he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Mercy contrasted with justice. God’s love versus God’s judgment.

John 5:24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

Acts 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

Jesus pours out love and compassion to so many in the gospel narratives, but just as a parent gently loves a child, so also does a parent not hesitate to bring rebuke, correction and discipline. (See this link for an interesting parallel between that and the work of the scriptures in our lives.) God’s justice must be satisfied, and yet, as I ponder Steve’s statement, I see even there a justice that is tempered by mercy and grace.


Even though today’s story may not be exactly in all four gospels, I did a check to see what teachings/stories are found in all four gospels:

  • Feeding the 5,000
  • Identification of the betrayer at the Last Supper
  • Jesus prays in Gethsemane
  • Peter’s denials
  • various elements of the death and resurrection

Scriptures quoted today are NIV; all underlinings in the creed and Bible verses added.

January 20, 2013

Don’t Forget What You Look Like – A Devotional Poem

James 1:22-25 (NLT)

22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

Be doers of the word and not only hearers, deceiving yourselves.

Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works—this person will be blessed in what he does.

cat in mirrorWe look in a mirror and we see ourselves.

Ears, lips, nose, neck, eyes.

Sometimes, all we see is our flaws.

Uncle Henry’s ears. Aunt Millie’s nose. Not quite symmetrical. Not quite perfect.

Sometimes, we see our ideal.

Brad Pitt’s chin. Angelina Jolie’s lips. Almost perfect. Nearly beautiful.

But neither imperfections or ideals is truth. We have a hard time seeing ourselves just as we are.

Just as we are made. Just as he sees us. Just as he saw himself, the image of the invisible God, reflected in the still places along the river.

Ears, lips, nose, neck, eyes.

  • He had ears – that really listened. Not just waiting for a silence to fill, but hearing. Patient. Understanding.
  • He had lips – that smiled, knowing the difference between just talking and actually saying something. Whispering or shouting as needed.
  • He had a nose – that sniffed out trouble. Sniffing out the hurt, the lack, the fear, the lonely, drawing him toward, not away. Sniffing out hypocrisy, pretension, and lies.
  • He had a neck – strong, but never stiff. Always stretching to see beyond the immediate, and beyond the stars. And bending to work and to pray, in compassion and in humility.
  • He had eyes – deep, bright, warm, embracing, looking through the surface to the truth. Seeing the eternal beneath the skin. Seeing the beauty beneath the brokenness.

Jesus is the mirror that the Father holds up for you. The mirror the Spirit polishes and refines in you.

The mirror that commands us to, more and more everyday, reflect God’s image into the world.

He is the mirror that we so quickly turn away from, forgetting what we look like.

So our prayer must be this:

Teach us to look at ourselves and at you. To look honestly.

Show us where we have been deaf.

Show us where we have been silent.

Show us where we have failed to face corruption.

Show us where we’ve been proud or stubborn.

Show us where we’ve chosen darkness, and ignored the light.

Show us what we look like. Don’t ever let us turn away. Don’t ever let us forget.

 

~ Ruth Wilkinson

January 10, 2013

Jesus’ Last Words

ESV Matt 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…

In the western world much is made of being present when someone issues their last words. We want to know what the final words were from politicians, authors, great military men and preachers.

The first time my father was hospitalized with a heart attack, he pulled me close to his hospital bed and said, “I want you to know, I have always been very proud of you.”  You have no idea how much I needed to hear that. My father worked in the world of finance, dealing with budgets, financial forecasting and investments. I have only once in my life — a very brief time working with InterVarsity — had anything resembling a regular, normal salary. I’ve always felt like that by the standard he would measure achievement, there wouldn’t be much to be proud of.

But he said he was, and although it was twelve years later when he finally passed away, I have always regarded that sentence as his ‘official’ last words to me; his blessing.

Famous Last Words

So what were Jesus’ last words to his disciples?  Ask most people, and they will say, “The Great Commission;” the command to, as The Message bible puts  it, “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.”

But another phrase follows that,

(ESV)20 … And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

It’s a promise of his ongoing presence and comfort.  You have no idea how much you and I need to hear that. We live in a world where it is so easy to lapse into the mindset that, as a song once said, “God is watching us, from a distance.” But the scriptures teach that God is very close, very present, very much at hand.

While Luke doesn’t reiterate the exact words, he mentions this blessing.

(NIV) Luke 24:50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.

This was Jesus’ benediction to us.

Matthew Henry writes:

Two solemn farewells we find our Lord Jesus giving to his church, and his parting word at both of them is very encouraging; one was here, when he closed up his personal converse with them, and then his parting word was, “Lo, I am with you always; I leave you, and yet still I am with you;” the other was, when he closed up the canon of the scripture by the pen of his beloved disciple, and then his parting word was, “Surely, I come quickly. I leave you for awhile, but I will be with you again shortly,” Rev. 22:20. By this it appears that he did not part in anger, but in love, and that it is his will we should keep up both our communion with him and our expectation of him.

Many of you will find this verse echoing in your minds as you’ve thought about this:

Hebrews 13:5b God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.” (NIV)

The writer of Hebrews is recollecting several passages including Deut 31:6, Deu 31:8, Joshua 1:5  and 1Kings 8:57  Again, Peterson renders this:  God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,”

You have no idea how much the world needs to hear this. Maybe that’s why it’s paired with the command to go out into the world…

PW

January 2, 2013

Preaching on Sin

We’ve frequently borrowed from the blog Daily Encouragement, but today’s post from Stephen Weber is a classic article he wrote for a blog experiment, Clear Minded.  You can find it and one other article here.

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine”(2 Timothy 4:2). 

“For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Stephen C. Weber Preaching on sin; how the pendulum has swung even in my lifetime on this issue. Many my age and older will recall when sin was regularly addressed from the pulpit boldly and forthrightly. However now there’s (in my observation) far less preaching on sin and a great reluctance among many preachers to address sin specifically.  I have given some thought as to why this is so:

1. Preaching on sin is seen as “legalistic.” Let me address several understandings of legalism as I have heard the word used:

  • Legalism is a system where it is preached or assumed that following a certain set of rules is the source of salvation. That is; what we do or don’t do in following these rules determines our eternal destiny. The faithful preacher must forcefully renounce this form of legalism.  The Biblical teaching is that we are saved by grace through our faith in Christ and His finished work.
  • Legalism to many means a varying list of man-made rules regarding all manner of issues such as dress, entertainment, technology, etc. These issues vary by geography, denominational background and age.  Brooksyne speaks of growing up with “clothesline” preaching where the preacher specifically addressed specific dress standards (usually focusing on the women).  She really didn’t understand grace till Bible College. The faithful Biblical pastor will see that any addressing of and denunciation of sin has a solid Biblical foundation and is not merely a cultural or personal preference.

However the man of God must be committed to preaching the whole counsel of God including addressing sin and its terrible consequences. Proclaiming the moral standards of Scripture is not legalism!

2. Preaching on sin may turn off newcomers or “seekers.” That’s true, particularly in this age of relativism in which we live. However the proclamation of God’s truth should not be motivated by this as long as the message also contains the gospel of redemption.

3. We need to focus on the positive and God’s love and grace. Absolutely, but again proclaiming the whole counsel of God will certainly include addressing sin.

4. This behavior is so popular and it’s now legal or “constitutional”. This is a major detriment to sound Biblical preaching. Many behaviors that were once recognized as sinful have become popular and  legalized according to the laws of man.  The law of God is far greater and our mission is to proclaim His law as truth rather than man’s.

5. We are not to judge others and we are to be tolerant of all. These are two of the dominant attitudes of our day. The apostle Paul, in practicing church discipline, passed judgment on the immoral brother and certainly did not tolerate his behavior in 1 Corinthians 5.

6. Addressing these behaviors is hateful and mean-spirited. This is silencing many preachers of righteousness. We are flooded with new meanings for hateful and mean-spirited, particularly if its addressing sins that are politically correct and have growing acceptance in society at large.

7. It will make those who may be involved in the sinful behavior feel bad about themselves. Better to feel bad and hear and hopefully heed a warning than live in ignorance.

8. Pastors may feel they shouldn’t address a subject matter unless they have it 100% conquered. Certainly we should expect our pastors to live a righteous life and not be a hypocrite. As the Spirit deals with them they should repent of their sin, seek to please God, and be an example to their spiritual flock.  However they should proclaim God’s Word even though they may not have fully attained.

A corollary attitude from the pew may be a feeling that the pastor shouldn’t preach on any subject matter unless he himself has no problems with it or any other issue.  You would have to wait for a perfect pastor (none exist) or more likely one who is proud and self-deceived!

9. People just don’t want to hear this kind of preaching anymore. Indeed some don’t. But our call to preach the Word and proclaim the full counsel of God is not based on popularity polls.  But let me speak here as one earnest Christian in the pew (as I normally am now since I am not in pastoral ministry at this time and thus regularly preaching from the pulpit. I feel I speak for many but of course not all.)

  • A strong denunciation of sin may not be the most “enjoyable” message but I am challenged and edified when I hear God’s truth proclaimed and sin denounced.
  • The issue addressed may apply directly to me.  Ouch! That can bring conviction, a healthy work of the Holy Spirit.   May the Holy Spirit keep my heart soft so that I may feel His conviction and deal with the troubling matter in my life rather than blame the pastor for preaching the Word. My discerning response should not be “this sure annoys me” but rather “is this true according to the Scriptures and what action should I take.”  If it is I need to deal with it and thank God for a preacher who cares enough and is bold enough to bring it to my attention.

10. The pastor may not have it completely right when seeking to apply a Biblical principle to a modern issue. That may be so but if you value your pastor you should also value his counsel, input, and thoughtful study on current matters. Listen as a Berean checking the Scriptures yourself.

11. Even issues very specifically addressed in the Bible may tend to be skirted around or in some cases reinterpreted from what has been their normal understanding. I am also wary of what some new translations and paraphrases are doing with words and traditional understanding of sinful actions.

May God help me and my many pastor friends to truly preach the whole counsel of God!

 

Please note: Certainly I am aware that many pastors continue to boldly address sin and my pastor has tackled many of these topics.

~Stephen C. Weber

You’re invited to visit Stephen’s regular blog, Daily Encouragement.  Click the image below:

Daily Encouragement dot Net banner

 

 

December 23, 2012

Unfulfilled Longings of the Heart

This morning our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think?  People back then did.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s).  Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is.

 


Above we read these words: ‘Everyone has something they live with.’ Maybe you’re not dealing with childlessness like Zachariah and Elizabeth; maybe it’s something more superficial, but it still eats away at you… Ever wished you were taller? Or you could change the oil on your car? Or fix a plumbing problem? If you find yourself constantly reminded of your inadequacies, you might enjoy this post.