Christianity 201

October 28, 2018

To Look into the Depths of God

NIV.John.3.1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again…5 Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit…   12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?16 For God so loved the world that he gave…”

Those 3-D Computer Generated Picture Things at the Mall

by Ruth Wilkinson

You know the ones? They look like an explosion at the pixel factory, unless you stand just so far away and refocus your eyes just right and for just long enough that a 3-D panorama leaps out, thrilling and amazing all.


Except me. I can’t do it. I’ve tried starting with my nose almost touching the glass and slowly backing away. I’ve tried gently relaxing the muscles in my eyes. I’ve tried defocusing, unfocusing, disfocusing — everything. My husband and kids go from one to the next, saying, “Hey, cool! This one’s a cow! This one’s a space ship! This one’s the ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica, complete with Michelangelo, paintbrush in hand!”

I’m still standing there crossed-eyed and head-achy looking at an explosion at the pixel factory.

I think it would have been better if I didn’t know. At face value, they’re visually interesting; a collage of images and colours, almost a pattern, but not quite. I could enjoy them that way.

But I do know and I’m missing something. Something my family sees, but I don’t. They tell me it’s there and, for them, it is. But not for me. I want it to be. I’d like to get it. They patiently try to help and advise. They really want me to get it, too. So I keep looking.

Nicodemus was like that. John, who was one of Jesus’ closest friends while he was on earth, tells us that Nicodemus was a Pharisee; one of a group who were deeply passionate about their faith. They knew the good that God had for His people and how much He loved them. But they had some very real and legitimate concerns about how the Jews could be drawn away from God by philosophical and religious influences of other nations and cultures. Pharisees worked hard at guarding the hearts of God’s people. We like to dump on them for working too hard. Making too many rules, making the whole thing cumbersome. Getting uptight at little things. We call them “legalists” and thank God that we’re not like that.

But Nicodemus, and others, were not entirely stuck in the mud. They were wise enough, humble enough, to know that they didn’t have God all figured out and someday He’d have more to say than 10 commandments and a whole lot of rules, and they’d better not be asleep at the switch when it happened.

Nicodemus and friends found Jesus very interesting. There was definitely something going on there beyond cool stories and sleight of hand. He wasn’t just a nice guy who knew a lot. He was extremely 3D. N & Co. realized that and they went to work trying to refocus in order to figure out the picture. They listened and followed and asked questions.

Everything they saw fit with everything they heard. Jesus wasn’t a fake. He wasn’t loopy. But he might be dangerous.

These guys cared genuinely about keeping people in line with God and Jesus was saying things just different enough to make them nervous.

All we know about Nicodemus is that. 1. He went to the trouble of getting alone with Jesus and asking some questions. 2. He risked his reputation to give Jesus a fair hearing. 3. When it came down to it, he made the choice to step up and take ownership of his respect and love for, and relationship with Jesus. We don’t hear anything else about Nico.

Tradition says he became a Christ follower and given John 19, I think he probably did. If so, he would have sacrificed a lot: prestige, power, family maybe, reputation. Maybe, in those three turning point moments, he found himself wishing he didn’t know. Life was good before Jesus. Obeying the rules was easier. Simpler. Walking through this relationship is a whole other layer of paint.

But in exchange, he would have fulfilled his mission as a true Pharisee. To know God’s voice and obey.

To look into the depths of God and see what’s hidden there. Love. Truth. Life.

January 13, 2016

Why People are Leaving and Churches are Dying

Today we pay a return visit to Shane Idleman, founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. (And this time we looked into it and no, Shane and Kyle are not related!) To read this at source on the church blog, click the title below; there’s also a related article by him linked at the bottom.

The Real Reason Churches Die and People Leave

Experts say that nearly 4,000 churches close every year in America and over 3,500 people leave the church every single day.

Church is boring, ​and many churches are dying ​because the power of God has vanished from the pulpit as well as the pew. Like Samson, they “know not that the Spirit of the Lord has departed” (cf. Judge 16:20). But there is hope if we once again seek God. “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn” (John Wesley).

Shane IdlemanWe need genuine revival preaching: “Revival preaching is more concerned about an outcome than an outline. The revival preacher is more aware of his text than the time. He is bent on pleasing the Lord rather than pleasing men. His ear is tuned to hear and heed the voice of God” (Harold Vaughan). “We need more prophets in our pulpits and less puppets” (Leonard Ravenhill).

​Many know about ​2 Chronicles 7:14​ , but fail to apply it​​: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

God’s call is not to Hollywood, Washington, or the media, but to us. If “My people” turn back to Me I will heal and restore. We have a form of microwave Christianity. Service times are cut to just over an hour, prayer is glanced over, and worship is designed to entertain the masses. “People are bored,” they say, “so our services need to be more appealing.” You can increase attendance with slick marketing and entertaining services, but you’ll miss the heart of God. The church will be a mile wide but only an inch deep.

To seek in the context of 2 Chronicles 7:14 means to “find what is missing.” The Hebrew word for seek, baqash, has a very strong meaning. Imagine losing your child in a crowded mall. Your entire heart would be engaged. How would you spend your time? Where would your energy be concentrated? Now parallel this with seeking God.

I’ve often said that one of the most difficult challenges associated with pastoring is not sermon preparation, leading a church, or taxing counseling appointments; it’s witnessing the tragic results of spiritual dehydration—watching people die spiritually with living water just steps away. Sadly, we are too busy and too self-absorbed to truly seek Him.

In today’s culture, there are countless enticements that pull us away from God. It is my firm belief that, second only to salvation, seeking God is the most important aspect of the Christian life…to truly know God: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Very few of us ever experience this close relationship with God because it involves things such as humility, dying to self, vibrant prayer, and heart-felt worship. This isn’t meant to discourage, but to convict. Conviction is a wonderful gift from God used to turn the heart back to Him.

Let’s be honest: how many can truly say like Jeremiah, “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9)? How many have truly experienced Jesus’ words in John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water?” How many can truly relate to “times of refreshing” found in Acts 3:19?

Many have head knowledge, but they’ve never truly experienced the presence of God. Often, it’s because of ongoing and unconfessed sin. Being tempted isn’t sin—surrendering to it is. Temptation is also an opportunity to do what is right by turning from it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 states, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

This “way of escape” is ultimately what tilts the scale toward seeking God. When we flee temptation, turn from sin, and seek God, the by-product is the filling of the Spirit. The door of temptation swings both ways—you can enter or exit. If we choose to enter, once inside, we may not see the exit sign so clearly again.

I’ll close with a correspondence I received from a man before he fully sought God with all his heart, “I had become someone I never thought I would become. I was in complete darkness…I would sleep in my clothes for as long as I could. I began wishing that I would die. The emotional pain was unbearable.”

Here is his correspondence after he passionately sought God and surrendered his life to Him. “I only wish that everyone could feel the love that I experienced. I’m able to forgive others and genuinely love them. I feel like I have been re-born…elusive peace has now been found.”

How long will you waver? If God is God follow Him (cf. 1 Kings 18:21). ​​

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. He recently released his 7th book, Desperate for More of God at shaneidleman.com


Related article by Shane: Why Do So Many People Hate Preachers?

Related: A.W. Tozer quotation at Clark Bunch’s blog.

 

July 7, 2014

Making Righteousness Our Desire

Last night I discovered a listing of what is purported to be the top 100 Christian blogs that people link to on their Facebook pages. One of the titles caught my eyes, The King’s English. The author is Glen Scrivener who describes himself: “I’m not a linguist or historian.  I’m a minister in the Church of England and an evangelist in Eastbourne, UK.  I write as someone gripped by the Jesus of the Bible, but I don’t presume that you share my beliefs.” This is a website I think many readers here would enjoy. He’s currently in a series on the Sermon on the Mount, which is where we jump in for today’s sample. Click the title below to read at source, and then look around the rest of the blog.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled

Genesis 15:1-6; Matthew 5:6

From the Bible we can think of “righteousness” in these terms:

– the goodness of God.

– the blessed life in action.

– setting the world to rights.

When seen in its true light, righteousness is incredibly attractive.  And incredibly elusive.

From its first mention in the Bible, “righteousness” is a consuming passion.  In Genesis 15, Abraham is taken outside for some star-gazing by the Word of the LORD.  Abraham is reassured of the promise of seed and he trusts this appearing LORD:

“he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”  (Genesis 15:6)

Abraham is declared righteous for trusting in the LORD Christ.  This is the foundation of everything the Bible teaches on “righteousness.”  It’s what makes Abraham our father in the faith (Galatians 3:6ff).

And in Matthew 5 Jesus reiterates the teaching using an analogy drawn from eating:  those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” will be “filled.”

It does not speak of “Those who have righteousness…” or “Those who act righteously…”  Christ’s illustration speaks of a lack of righteousness – a lack that’s felt very keenly.  The person poor in spirit, who mourns over their sin, who understands that they are not strong but meek – such a person knows their need for righteousness.  And precisely because of their hunger and thirst, they are filled.

This filling is not an earning, not a payment, not a reward.  The blessed person is a beggar through and through.  This filling does not come because we have something to offer.  It comes because we have nothing.

When does the filling happen?  Well there is a present and a future dimension.  We must take this beatitude in parallel with the others.  For all the beatitudes the blessing is present, but only because of a future state of affairs – a time when we “inherit the earth”, when we “see God”, etc, etc.  And so the “filling” most properly happens when Christ returns.  On that day we will no longer simply hunger and thirst for righteousness.  At that time Christ will establish His righteous reign on the earth and raise us to righteous, resurrection living.  But in the meantime we live with the certain promise of that future.  And we know the present blessing of our Father, brought as we are into Christ’s Kingdom.

Notice how this righteousness comes to us from outside ourselves.  Jesus does not speak of a “seed of righteousness” growing from within us or a “spark of righteousness” that needs fanning into flame.  When it comes to “our righteousness”, the only appropriate analogies are ones of desperate need.  But the famished are filled by Christ.

It’s a wonderful truth.  But all this teaching about righteousness “imputed/filled/credited/counted” to the believer has recently fallen on hard times.  It seems so impersonal.  Is righteousness really like internet banking?  Can it really be “credited” into my spiritual account?  Is it really like food and drink?  Can I just “fill up” on a meal of righteousness?  What sense does that make?

Well Jesus is not teaching us about some spiritual stuff called righteousness here.  He’s speaking about a reality that is incredibly personal. How personal?  Just read on a few verses to the last two beatitudes and notice the reasons why Christ’s people might be persecuted:

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you… for my sake.”  (Matthew 5:10-11)

Do you see the parallel?  Righteousness is equivalent to Jesus Himself.  Jesus is Righteousness.

“Righteousness” might be likened to a money transfer or to food and drink.  But that’s only because, in those illustrations, our own spiritual bankruptcy or hunger is being highlighted.  Most fundamentally, righteousness is Jesus.  He is the Goodness of God.  He is the Blessed Life in Action.  He is the Setting to Rights of the Whole World.  Righteousness is not fundamentally a state of affairs, He’s a Person.  To enter into righteousness (and for righteousness to enter into us) is not about possessing a moral quality but about possessing (and being possessed by) the LORD our Righteousness.

The Christian is simply the person who comes to the end of themselves.  They say “There is no goodness, blessedness or justice in me.”  Instead we crave Christ.  And we are filled.

October 15, 2012

Sabbatical Rest

A sabbatical isn’t simply ‘time off.’ Not any more than fasting is ‘not eating.’ Fasting is abstaining from food for the purpose of focusing spiritually; and a sabbatical is abstaining from work for much the same purpose.

This year a lot of people I know in ministry of taking sabbatical breaks of varying lengths. But I never thought of Christian musicians honoring this principle until I landed today at the blog of Jimmy Needham, where this appeared under the title Resting In The Lord: My August Sabbatical.

“The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.”
(Leviticus 25:1-5)

In August of 2005, I released my very first independent CD, “For Freedom”. This was the album that got the attention of Inpop Records only three month after it’s release, which ultimately led to my first ever record contract in February ’06. I was 19 when that first album dropped. Still in college with plans to be a history teacher. I’m writing today as a twenty six year old. In a week I will be a father of two. Six years of marriage to my best friend next month. And, this August will also mark seven years since “For Freedom” was released and my career began. So much has happened in these seven years, and I’m grateful for it all.

There is an often undervalued command of Scripture that we find in Leviticus 25. It is a passage on rest. Specifically, God commands that every seven years the people are to cease tilling the ground, gathering it’s fruits, sowing and reaping. “There shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land” (Lev. 25:5). The command served dual purposes. First and most practically, it allowed the ground a year of “recovery time” for it to replenish the nutrients that the soil had lost over the past six years. This rest actually made the soil even better than before so that the next six years could be fruitful and profitable.

The second purpose was not for the soil but for the people: “But in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath…to the LORD.” Every business owner knows, work equals provision. You put your hours of labor every day and yield a return that will provide for you and your employees as well as grow your company. Time off means regression, no production, no provision. This is a terrifying thing. Maybe that’s why so many Americans are work-a-holics. The Lord knows this about mankind, and He knows that what is best for man is not to rest in their own efforts, but to rest in Him. He is their provider and their ceasing from work is a tangible way for them to affirm that.

I wanted you to know all that so that I can inform you of something. This August, in honor of my seven years of laboring in the studio and on stage, and in keeping with the essence of the levitical command, I have decided to take a Sabbath rest. Not for a year, but for a month. From August 5th until September 5th I intend to one thing, rest. My goal is to take thirty days to press into the Lord and to invest in my family and friends. I am hoping this will yield two results: First, that just like the fallow soil replenishing its nutrients, my heart will grow a renewed fondness and desire for Jesus, that He would expand my appetite for Him and then satisfy that appetite. I’ve been going virtually non-stop for seven years and there is no question that on some level, my relationship with Him has suffered because of that. I look forward to hours of uninterrupted God-time to pray, read and enjoy being in His presence.

The second outcome I am aiming for is to remind my heart that it is the Lord and not my labors which provide for me and my family. Despite misconceptions about my financial situation as a recording artist, if I’m not on the road, I’m not making money. Thirty days of no income is no fun, but I believe and am trusting that God will provide in the interim.

The Lord says to the people, “The Sabbath of the land shall provide for you” (v. 6). It’s a funny statement. It’s like saying, “not providing will provide for you.” Our provision is not by works, but by God’s grace as we rest from our works! This beautiful passage is a shadow, an arrow of the future grace that was to be poured out on people when Jesus came to earth. “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And that, not of yourselves, it is a gift of God. Not by works so that no man may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9). My God “provides for His beloved even in their sleep” (Psalm 127:2)!

…continue reading here

May 14, 2012

Seeking Earnestly

Today’s devotional find is Carl Gobelman’s blog, A New Creation, where these thoughts appeared today under the title, Truly Seeking Jesus.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:26-27)

Some of the more potent sayings from Jesus of Nazareth come from the closing words of the famous Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14). This passage depicts all of humanity on either one of two roads: The wide road that leads to destruction or the narrow road that leads to life. In fact, most of the sayings at the end of this sermon serve to differentiate true followers of Christ from false followers of Christ. What makes this difficult is that it’s often the case that one cannot readily discern the true from the false followers easily. False followers refer to Jesus as “Lord” (their doctrine is right) and they do many things in his name (their actions are right), yet Jesus will turn them away by saying “I never knew you” (they didn’t have a saving relationship with Christ).

The truth of the matter is that there are no shortage of people who admire and seek to follow Jesus, but they aren’t truly seeking Jesus. Today’s passage from John’s gospel illustrates this phenomenon. The context of the passage is Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000. After the miraculous feeding, Jesus and his disciples travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. When the crowd that was fed the day before realized that Jesus went to the other side of the sea, they proceeded to follow him. When they find him, the crowd said to Jesus, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus responds with the passage cited above. Note three things about Jesus’ initial response to the crowd:

  1. Jesus correctly diagnoses their true intent
  2. Jesus negatively exhorts them
  3. Jesus positively exhorts them

Jesus begins by correctly diagnosing their true intentions. The crowd wasn’t following Jesus because of the signs and wonders he was performing, but because they were fed to the full by Jesus. In other words, they didn’t want Jesus, but they wanted what Jesus could do. If you’re a follower of Jesus, why are you following him? Are you seeking Jesus or what Jesus can do for you? How many Christians come to Jesus for life improvement? Having problems in your marriage? Come to Jesus and he’ll help you have a successful marriage. Having problems making ends meet financially? Come to Jesus and he’ll help you manage your finances. The problem with all of this is that Jesus becomes a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

Of course, people who are seeking Jesus for all the wrong reasons aren’t completely to blame. For many years now, Christianity has been marketed as relevant for meeting the needs of 21st century people. People don’t want to hear boring doctrine, but want a Christianity that meets their felt needs and helps them navigate the travails of life (at least that’s what we’re told from the slick marketers of contemporary evangelicalism). If Christ is preached as a means to an end rather than the end itself, then all you’re doing is creating shallow (and false) followers of Christ.

Secondly, Jesus negatively exhorts them by telling them not to labor for food that perishes. One of the great roadblocks to truly seeking and following Jesus is our propensity for being bound up in earthly desires (represented by Jesus as “food that perishes”). In the well known Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13), Jesus illustrates one of the false converts as the seed that landed in the week-choked soil. When it sprouted, it was choked by the weeds and died before bearing fruit. Jesus explains to his disciples that this represents the man who receives Jesus joyfully, but the cares of the world choke the life out of the person and he ends up falling away. Following Jesus is not easy. For many it means losing friends and family, for others it means losing wealth and status, and for some it may even mean imprisonment or death. If we’re more concerned with the cares of this world, then we’re not following Jesus.

Of course, it’s not enough to negatively exhort someone without also positively exhorting them. If we’re not to labor for the food that perishes, then what are we to do? Jesus continues, “[Labor] for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Jesus will, of course, go on to say that HE is the bread of life (John 6:35). The food that endures to eternal life is Jesus himself! The Bible continually exhorts us to seek after the eternal, not the temporal; the imperishable, not the perishable; the spiritual, not the physical. As it pertains to our discussion, we need to seek Jesus, not the blessings he bestows. This is not an either/or exhortation, but a both/and. If we seek Jesus, we get the blessings he bestows as well. What does Jesus say in the Sermon on the Mount? “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). However, if all we seek are the blessings Jesus bestows, we get neither Jesus nor the blessings.

Jesus concludes this passage by saying, “For on him God the Father has set his seal.” The seal being referred to here is God’s seal of approval. That Jesus is the Son of God is authenticated by his miraculous signs. The feeding of the 5,000 corroborated that Jesus was indeed the Jewish Messiah. Jesus never performed a miracle that was superfluous. They all pointed to his redeeming work as Messiah — bringing sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and making the lame walk all point to Christ restoring creation to its original design; a reversing of the effects of the fall. Yet the people that followed Christ to the other side of the sea were more interested in the sign that what the sign pointed to. This is a danger that some Christian traditions that over emphasize spiritual gifts run into; they’re more interested in the gifts than the giver of the gifts.

Bottom Line: It’s not enough to seek Jesus. It’s not enough to admire Jesus. It’s not enough to even follow Jesus if we’re not seeking, admiring or following for the right reasons. Jesus is not a life coach who will help you be a better you. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords! His signs and miracles point to that reality, yet we labor so hard in this life to make this life more bearable. Rather we should seek Jesus because he’s gateway to eternal life! He’s the REAL FOOD that leads to eternal life, not the perishable food of this world. Seek Jesus as he really is, not as some life improvement solution, but Son of God upon whom the Father has set his seal of approval.

~Carl Gobelman