Christianity 201

August 30, 2012

Taking Up The Offering: It’s OK to Ask

Since some of you are in leadership, here’s a great piece by Blake Coffee at Church Whisperer on asking people to give when that goes against your basic personality or instincts.  You’re encouraged to read it at his blog — click the title link — where it appeared as…

A Spirituality of Fundraising


Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

This year has been and will continue to be a huge transitional year for our ministry, Christian Unity Ministries. This is the year we will transition from a small, church consultation ministry operated by Blake and a few of his friends in their spare time to a full-fledged, global non-profit organization with a paid staff and active arms operating in churches and denominational entities all over the world. Last year’s budget: approximately $75,000. The 2013 budget: approximately $350,000. That, my friends, is a God-sized transition!

One of the most painful transitions, it seems, is the one going on in me…the transition toward becoming the visionary leader this new organization will require. And, just to get very specific here for purposes of this post, I am thinking primarily about the transition into becoming a leader in matters of money and fundraising. Anyone who knows me very well at all, knows that I have simply never been very passionate about fundraising. I have long recognized the eternal truth that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And so, it has always been easier for me to just avoid talking (or thinking) about money rather than having to delve into any theology concerning it.

But scripture really does not permit that, does it? A truly Biblical worldview really will not coexist with a fear of this conversation…in fact, a truly Godly perspective demands that we (as Christ followers) have a well-developed theology concerning money and wealth. So it is with fear and trepidation that I read Paul’s admonishment to me and to you and to young pastor Timothy and to every other leader of Christ-followers about our role in teaching and mentoring others: Command them …to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

My friend, Barry Nelson, is Director of Development at Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary & College. Earlier this year, he gave me a copy of Revolution in Generosity, a compilation of profound writings from Christian leaders on the spirituality of fundraising (find that resource here or Google it…I believe it is crucial reference material for every leader of every Christian organization). That work’s project leader and editor, Wesley K. Willmer, makes this point this way:

If we view giving as an instrument of transformation, we will support our givers through a consistent program of prayer and personal interaction, accepting the fact that it is the Holy Spirit, not our personality, that influences how they give. The change will take time, both for those asking for and those giving funds. But as we embrace the transformational model, the focus shifts from the gift and getting money to seeing God’s power work in individual lives. Revolution in Generosity, p. 40.

And so, the transformation in me (and in my leadership) takes root in the deepest passion of my spiritual life: my desire to see lives being changed. When my heart says to God, “I don’t want to raise funds…to talk about money…” God’s voice says back to me, “Then you don’t want to be about real life change…about real discipleship.”  So, I am not raising funds…I’m raising Christ-followers.  I can get comfortable with that!

Blake Coffee

Here’s another good article at Church Whisperer, Good-sized Vision v. God-sized Vision.  Preview:

For both churches and individuals, there is a difference between a good-sized vision and a God-sized vision….

I am thinking this had to be a disturbing and frightening scenario for the disciples who, for almost three years, had awakened each morning and simply allowed Jesus to set the agenda for the day.  The only thing he asked of them was that they follow him.  It was an easy arrangement, one that led them through amazing and miraculous moments and obviously changed them forever.  Now, Jesus was leaving them and telling them “you guys take it from here…go and do this ministry!”   …continue

July 1, 2012

Father, You Have Loved Us First

I John 4:19 (Message) We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

Trevin Wax posts classic prayers and poems on a regular basis at his blog Kingdom People. This one was posted today. Read it through at least two times, slowly, prayerfully, one line at a time.

Father in heaven!
You have loved us first,
help us never to forget that You are love
so that this sure conviction
might triumph in our hearts
over the seduction of the world,
over the inquietude of the soul,
over the anxiety for the future,
over the fright of the past,
over the distress of the moment.

But grant also that this conviction
might discipline our soul
so that our heart might remain faithful
and sincere in the love which we bear
to all those whom You have commanded us
to love as we love ourselves.

You have loved us first, O God, alas!

We speak of it in terms of history
as if You have only loved us first but a single time,
rather than that without ceasing
You have loved us first many times
and every day and our whole life through.

When we wake up in the morning
and turn our soul toward You
– You are the first –
You have loved us first;
if I rise at dawn and at the same second
turn my soul toward You in prayer,
You are there ahead of me,
You have loved me first.
When I withdraw from the distractions of the day
and turn my soul toward You,
You are the first and thus forever.
And yet we always speak ungratefully
as if You have loved us first only once.

Soren Kierkegaard

January 3, 2012

Belief is Just the Beginning

I remember years ago there was pop music star who was rumored to have become a Christian.  Later on however, the report was nuanced a little finer with the news that he simply undergone “an intellectual conversion.”  I guess he had worked out all the claims of Jesus Christ and accepted those as being true, but wasn’t about to let it change his life.  Or something. Perhaps he was simply astute enough to realize that true Christ-following was going to cost something; or that one really has to be all-in to accept Christ’s invitation.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci gets at this in an excellent blog post at Cost of Community titled Convinced is not Converted.  As we still are in the early days of a new year, we need to make sure that all those things we give intellectual assent to are also finding application in our lives. 

I have an odd intolerance for certain foods.  I’m not allergic to them, but I’ve also discovered that it more than mere pickiness.  Unfortunately, the foods I am intolerant of are the ones that I most need to be eating for health and nutrition.  While I am working on overcoming this problem, it never fails that someone learns of my eating habits and begins to lovingly lecture me on the necessity of eat better than I do.  I nod patiently as I hear for the umpteenth time the basics of nutrition we all learned in grade school.  Recently, when someone began this lecture, I quickly interrupted them and said: “Oh, I agree!  I’m convinced, just not converted“.

This off-hand turn of phrase has stuck with me ever since.  Let’s briefly look at the terms in question here:

Convinced: To be moved to believe, through logic, argument or evidence, that something is true.

Many Christians, especially in West, have come to faith through being convinced — that is, we have been moved to believe differently about something through a compelling argument, presentation or even relationship.  This ushers us into active relationship with God as we make a choice to identify as His follower.  Growing up, this is what I was taught about what it meant to be converted.  While there is overlap, I think that we have confused being convinced with being converted.

Converted: To be changed from one form, substance or state, to another.

Without question being convinced is a significant part of the conversion experience (at least for many).  That being said, we can see by the definition that conversion is far more than simply being convinced- it encompasses and surpassed it.  To be converted is to be transformed- to be changed from one thing to another.  It is holistic and all-encompassing.  The emphasis of rationalism in Western Christianity, while bringing us many gifts, has all too often led us understand belief as primarily (and at times exclusively) as cognitive.  Yes, it demanded change in us, but it was as though we believe that the transformation would occur because of the changed understanding.  In other words, the primary means of conversion was the change of ideas.

True conversion does not occur because of us.  Yes, we participate through our will.  Yes, our minds- that is our understanding and ideas- should be changed as well.  But the source of that change is not the result of anything in us, but instead it is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Further, if Jesus is to be believed, then how we live out this transformation is more important than what we think about it.  The changed mind is a product of the transformed heart, made possible through Christ.  The fruit of that transformation must be made manifest in how we live.

Don’t settle for a changed mind.  Jesus is not someone who had some ideas He wanted us to be convinced by.  Rather, He invited (and invites) us into Himself to experience true and whole transformation to become, together, His Body for His kingdom and His glory.

(To explore what I believe it means to live the fullness of what Christ calls us into, see “The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom”)

~Jamie Arpin-Ricci

April 1, 2011

Joanna, A Disciple of Jesus


Luke 8:1 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.  

# # #

Luke 24:1 But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 3 So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

5 The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man[b] must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

8 Then they remembered that he had said this. 9 So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. 11 But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it.

Today’s reading is from Jeff Lucas; and first appeared in the UK bi-monthly devotional book Lucas on Life — an offshoot of CWR’s other subscription devotional, Selwyn Hughes’ Every Day With Jesus — in November of 2005.

What does a real Christian look like?  Is it enough to believe the right things, attend church regularly, read the Bible and pray — or should there be some more startling evidence that God is at work?  The letter of James insists that when God is really at work in us, then fruit can be seen.

We don’t want to be followers of “mere” religion that makes us feel good, but does nothing else.  S. H. Miller, dean of Harvard Divinity School, says, “Religion which is interested only in itself, in its prestige and success, in its institutions and ecclesiastical niceties is worse than vanity; it is essentially incestuous.”

For some answers we turn to a lady called Joanna.  She is only mentioned twice in the Bible — both times by Luke in his gospel.  But Joanna — a member of Jesus traveling band and one of the first to hear of the resurrection — is a heroine worthy of our reflection because her life was radically transformed by Jesus.  We’ll see that her priorities, her spending patterns, her domestic life — all were dynamically affected by the power of God that had either delivered her from sickness, dark powers, or both.

Let’s follow in her footsteps.

Jeff Lucas also adds as a reading for the day this passage in James:

James 2:14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.

25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.

Scriptures quoted from the New Living Translation (NLT)

January 2, 2011

The Biblical Concept of Leadership

Jamie Arpin-Ricci is founding co-director of YWAM Urban Ministries in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; a vocation which combined with his writing on the Missional Church would never catch you guessing that he’s also a third order Franciscan.

I really like the way he has come to understand what we can — and can’t — infer from leadership models in scripture.    This appeared just before his Christmas on his blog, A Living Alternative: Our Missional Pilgrimage, under the title Godly Leadership.

When I consider leadership in the Church I am deeply convinced that God calls His people to a politic of communal and absolute submission to the Lordship of Christ alone.  So what does that mean about leadership?  That word, “leadership”, comes loaded with baggage from the wider culture (for better and for worse).  In response to the worst aspects of leadership models that come from the world into the church- namely the pastor as CEO- some have pushed back against the very concept of leadership, questioning whether it is even biblical.  A few (and I believe a very few) reject leadership in toto.  Sadly, when legitimate concerns about leadership are raised, some respond by citing the dangers of this minority perspective, thus failing to recognize the more immediate and prevalent problems that were being addressed.

In considering “biblical leadership” I must always begin with Jesus, the perfect example of human leadership.  Jesus is the King of Kings, the leader of leaders.  So much can be gleaned from Him that we can only barely brush the surface here.  However, a few aspects emerge centrally for me.  Interestingly, Jesus does adopt the title “king”, drawing from the surrounding culture in respect to the nature of His leadership.  However, Jesus leads like no other king in human history- from His birth through to His resurrection and ascension- modeling a humble, servant posture that subverted the very system He draw the name from.  From this we can then recognize that when Scripture borrows from other examples in the world (such as “presbyters”, which translated as “elder”, etc., used widely outside of the Church), we cannot presume that the function of those roles are in anyway similar to their namesakes.

Jesus modeled a leadership that was absolutely submitted to the Father (”Not my will, but Yours be done”).  If the King of Kings functions in complete submission to the Father, then we too must only embody leadership that is in complete submission to Christ.  And when we submit to leadership in the Church (and I believe there are times where such leadership is right and godly), we are practicing leadership in that very act of submission.  Too often we read reference to submission in Scripture as an affirmation of specific authority when in fact God is teaching us that submission is the greater good, the ultimate point, not the leadership it is submitting to.  Any role and opportunity of leadership must, in itself, be an act of submission to God, making humility the primary condition for all leadership.

The New Testament talks about those to whom we are meant to submit to, such as in 1 Timothy 5:17.  The word “rule”- “proistēmi” in the Greek- share the same root as the word “first”- “prōtos”- from Matthew 20:16, when Jesus promised that the last shall be first.  In other words, those who might be in positions of leadership are not the point in and of themselves, despite how our culture celebrates and especially honors such leaders.  They exist for the purpose of those they are serving.  Leadership, while essential, is ultimately meant to serve the community of Christ in the same way a buttress supports a cathedral.  The buttress/leadership is designed to lend support, stability and even boundaries for the cathedral/community.  They have a specific and essential role, but no more important than the whole.  In fact, they are to be “the least”.

A more powerful image for how the community of faith is meant to function is the Church as the Body of Christ.  In the function of any body, there are parts that function in more apparent prominence, such as the mouth or hands.  It is easy for some to view such roles as more important, more valuable.  Few Christians would deny this truth, yet functionally we continue to treat those roles with greater honor.  Yet the truth is that the most critical parts and functions of the body (and the Body) are unseen, hidden, even intentionally covered.  This truth has to move beyond a conceptual, espoused conviction and shape the very nature of our communities, relationships and leadership.  Further, like any body, certain circumstances require different aspects of the body to take leadership.  Thus, leadership should be more situational, circumstantial and mutual, as the dynamic realities of life and service to God require genuine and intentional submission to others in some situations, while requiring initiative and sacrificial service in others.

We must also recognize that all communities, like all the individuals in those communities, are moving towards wholeness in and through Christ.  Therefore, the role and the nature of leadership in communities are shaped by the circumstances.  In my inner city context, there is a greater need for my more intentional, directive pastoral leadership.  However, my commitment in that role is to work myself out of such centrality- not completely out of leadership, but rather as one of many uniquely gifted leaders in a community of submitted disciples of Christ, equally submitted to His servant Kingship.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci

December 31, 2010

We Don’t Need Another Hero

When Pete Wilson mentioned this piece, which he originally titled Plodding Visionaries, as one of his top posts of 2010, I decided to give it another read.    It’s true.   We don’t need another Christian superstar.

So this is me, re-blogging Pete re-blogging Keven…

So, I read a blog post last week that has challenged me all weekend as I’ve reflected back on it. I rarely quote this much of someone’s blog post but I couldn’t do it justice any other way. The following post was written by Keven DeYoung on the Ligonier Ministries blog. Do yourself a favor and read the post in its entirety.

I’m quite confident many of you won’t agree with the entire thing but man did he challenge me. There are times I get so frustrated with the church that I just want to scream and walk away. Generally it’s because I see something in her that reminds me of something glaringly obvious in my own life.  Trying to consistently lead a church to be everything God has called her to be is the biggest challenge of my life. So thankful for all the “plodders” God has put around me. Don’t know where I would be without you!!

It’s sexy among young people — my generation — to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church. Besides being un-Biblical, such notions of churchless Christianity are unrealistic. It’s immaturity actually, like the newly engaged couple who think romance preserves the marriage, when the couple celebrating their golden anniversary know it’s the institution of marriage that preserves the romance. Without the God-given habit of corporate worship and the God-given mandate of corporate accountability, we will not prove faithful over the long haul.

What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church — a multitude of faithful, risk-taking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency.

My generation in particular is prone to radicalism without follow-through. We have dreams of changing the world, and the world should take notice accordingly. But we’ve not proved faithful in much of anything yet. We haven’t held a steady job or raised godly kids or done our time in VBS or, in some cases, even moved off the parental dole. We want global change and expect a few more dollars to the ONE campaign or Habitat for Humanity chapter to just about wrap things up. What the church and the world needs, we imagine, is for us to be another Bono — Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church.

As great as it is that Bono is using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos (as at least one author suggests). With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the choir every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income?

Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary. Our jobs are often mundane. Our devotional times often seem like a waste. Church services are often forgettable. That’s life. We drive to the same places, go through the same routines with the kids, buy the same groceries at the store, and share a bed with the same person every night. Church is often the same too — same doctrines, same basic order of worship, same preacher, same people.

But in all the smallness and sameness, God works — like the smallest seed in the garden growing to unbelievable heights, like beloved Tychicus, that faithful minister, delivering the mail and apostolic greetings (Eph. 6:21). Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days.

Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.

September 16, 2010

Sin Is Poised for Attack

Maybe it’s because I’ve been meaning to repost another devotional from Daily Encouragement, or maybe it was just the cat picture (which I’ve also borrowed) but I especially appreciated Stephen & Brooksyne’s thoughts yesterday on the first mention of temptation in scripture…

“Sin’s Desire”

“Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it'” (Genesis 4:6,7).

Dottie in barn doorOver the past year our sweet little cat Dottie, now nine years old, has had a change of personality.  When making extended trips our neighbors look in on her to see that she has adequate food and water, but last summer she pulled quite a surprise.  After Marion spent time giving Dottie some TLC and reassuring her that her family would soon be returning she then turned her back and walked toward the door.

Suddenly out of nowhere she heard a loud swish and then felt the heavy pounce of a furry animal complete with clinching claws and teeth that clamped like a vice grip on her leg.  Obviously Dottie didn’t want our neighbor to leave and she let her know it in the most unfriendly fashion.  Interestingly she planned her attack when Marion was least expecting it with her back turned away.  Now when she or Doug looks in on our “innocent” little cat they don’t turn their backs. They watch to see that she doesn’t position herself into a crouching position since they want no surprise attack again.

Dottie’s aggressive behavior brings to mind our Scripture text where God warns Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door…”.  It is the first recorded conversation God had with Adam’s descendants and is a timeless truth with perpetual application to each generation. Every believer would do well to heed God’s warning and make this personal application:

“Sin is crouching at my door and Satan wants to have me.”

This is the first record of temptation and sin among Adam’s fallen descendants.  It provides a pattern of how sin works in the lives of all of Adam’s children and reveals the tragic consequences for the transgressor, Cain, and all his family.

As I note the progression I see a caution for my own life as a redeemed believer.  I am again so powerfully reminded of the need to stand firm in my faith. I must call on God for His sustaining grace to resist the sin that results when I give into the daily temptations Satan hurls at us.

“If you do what is right.” God has revealed His will for our lives so we can know the right way.  We have many other Scriptures telling us the right way, “He hath showed thee…” (Micah 6:8); “This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isaiah 30:21); “This is the will of God…” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).  Truly His “Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).

“Will you not be accepted?” Foundationally being accepted by God begins by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. This is God’s appointed means of beginning to “do what is right.”  Then we pursue the things of God and grow in His grace and knowledge. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).

“But if you do not do what is right.” God’s warnings are expressions of His love. When we violate God’s will as revealed in His Word, we give the enemy a foothold into our lives for further activity and progression of sin.  A grim outcome is revealed in Ephesians describing the latter stages of this progression: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:19).  With the flood of evil, pornography and perversions of all sorts sweeping through our world many are at this stage. Deeper and deeper depths of depravity can be expected and the evil acts that accompany it.

“Sin is crouching at your door.” The word for “crouching” conveys the posture of a four legged animal as it prepares to attack its prey. That’s the nature of sin and its crouched position is persistent. We must ever be alert, practice self-control, and stand firm, for our “enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

“It desires to have you.” Sin continues its desire to enslave you and me. A foundational step in overcoming sin is realizing this. You do well to recognize the enemy’s tactic since he desires to have you as well.

“But you must master it.” In the New Testament Paul wrote, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). In the pursuit of godliness we must, by God’s grace, master our sinful nature, something as descendants of Adam we all must do.

We often hear the phrase, “No one is perfect” and, yes, that is true.  Only God is perfect.  But we can be a righteous people if Christ lives in us, if we apply the Scriptures to our lives and commune with God through prayer, and if we resist the “charm” or deceit of our enemy.  Stand firm, my brothers and sisters.  Resist the enemy who seeks to do evil and engage the Holy Spirit who seeks to mature us in the faith.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

September 15, 2010

What’s in a Name?

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James 2:5-7 (New International Version)

5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?


Verse seven of this passage says it is the rich who drag you into court and slander… well, who do they slander?  Is it the name of (a) God, (b) Jesus, (c) your family name, i.e. surname (d) your name?

I got curious after reading the new CEB, Common English Bible:

Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?

I guess I read this in the context of certain cultures where the baptism of an infant is also a “naming ceremony.”   With John the Baptist, this took place when he was circumcised at eight days old. (Luke 1:57ff)

The NASB has James 2:7 as:

Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

The Message has:

Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—”Christian”—used in your baptisms?

The NLT reads:

Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

The ESV renders this:

Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

The NKJV has:

Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

The NCV puts it:

And they are the ones who speak against Jesus, who owns you.

The TNIV says:

Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

The Louis Segond reads:

Ne sont-ce pas eux qui outragent le beau nom que vous portez? [name you are called]

The Amplified Bible blends the two aspects of this:

Is it not they who slander and blaspheme that precious name by which you are distinguished and called [the name of Christ invoked in baptism]?

So what’s in a name?

The context of the passage is the rich exploiting the poor.  That this is an insult to the character of the poor man so exploited.

Our name embodies who we are; our character is embedded in that name.   And in addition to blending the two dymanics of this, The Amplified Bible (which I don’t use a whole lot) introduces the phrase, “name by which you are distinguished.”   Your name marks you as different from everybody else.  (Unless, I suppose, your name is John Smith…)

But we also bear another name, the name of Christ.

Any insult to us; any exploitation of you or me is an insult to Christ.    I think the answer to the question I asked here is truly (e) all of the above.

But James isn’t just saying that we poor people are exploited.   The earlier context (verses 1-4) say that in the larger equation we are the ‘rich’ person in the story when we show favoritism, or when we marginalize those poorer than ourselves.

It’s easy to miss verse 6, sandwiched between verses 5 and 7.  We’re actually the rich person in the story; it is us who are slandering the character of the poor; and thereby slandering the name of Christ by which they are called.

August 28, 2010

Finding Your Worship Moment

I have written and spoken many times on the concept of finding a worship moment; that time when you are just overcome by the beauty of creation and you have to stop and thank God for what He has made, and worship Him for being able to make it.

But not all worship moments involve emotional intensity, there are some that equal the fervor of a Sunday morning worship time in a Charismatic church, but there are others where you don’t respond the same, but in your heart, there is no doubt about giving credit to Whom credit is due.


This little forest is nested in a town park not far from our business.   It’s been awhile since we grabbed a sandwich and took a half hour to enjoy some time together, but on Thursday we did just that.   Mrs. W. was quite excited about owning — for the first time in her life — a truly decent camera and was snapping picture after picture of leaves, and tree trunks, and tiny little spiders.

“Hurry up,” I kept saying; “No more micro pictures, you need to take more macro pictures.”   For me, the beauty in creation is always the big picture scenes;  I tend to choose Niagara Falls over the little drops of water running down the rock; although, when I was thirsty this summer at High Falls Gorge, the water from the rock proved much easier to access than the torrent racing down the gorge itself.

Each one of us has different things in creation which remind us of the  greatness of God.   The heavens do indeed tell the splendor of God’s glory (the macro) and the earth provides the details of His creative engineering (the micro).   Day after day, nature repeats this message to us like a flashing beacon; night after night nature provides the information.   What matters is that we need to formulate some response to all that we see.

But for me, the beauty of the forest, is the more appreciated.   This time around I wasn’t exactly overcome with worship, but again, you see it all differently when you know the Maker.

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Portions of today’s thoughts are taken from Psalm 19.

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August 27, 2010

The Assurance of Pardon

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Today at Thinking Out Loud, I looked at the need people have to confess, but often this is nothing more than a desire to get something off their chest, or to blurt out something that they’ve been keeping to themselves.

A key element of confession has to involve the WHO question. To whom am I making this confession?   The person wronged?   A third party to whom might be inflicted some collateral damage?   Or do we confess our sins to God and then expect that to be sufficient, and leave the earthly details to sort themselves out?

The next question is the WHAT question. Is simply telling God (or someone else) what we did sufficient or is genuine sorrow or remose needed as well?   In other words, is confession simply bringing the truth to the surface, or does it involve genuine repentance?   (What James MacDonald in his Downpour tour, might call “face in the dirt” repentance.)   Clearing the air is not clearing the soul.

Finally there is the matter of the CONFESSOR’S RESPONSE. If we confess our sin to God, he is faithful and just to forgive us… here’s how I paraphrased that one today: “if we confess our sin, with faithfulness and according to a justice we can’t always comprehend, he will pardon that sin and help us to work out that sin-nature that caused it.”

Then there’s our NEXT STEPS. Our response also has to involve a determination to both learn from our error and not repeat the same actions or type of actions.   And it may involve subsequent confession to other parties who have been affected by what we have done.

You can read the post I referred to by clicking here.

August 24, 2010

Don’t Give Church Kids “Things”

A Christian bookstore in Anytown, U.S.A. …

Customer: I’m looking for something to give my Sunday School class on the first week; maybe some pencils or something…

Clerk: You know, kids are pretty high-tech these days, they’re not really impressed with pencils anymore and we’ve kinda stopped ordering them.

Customer: Well, what does that leave? How about some rubber stamp things, or stickers; or one time I got bookmarks with smiley faces…

Clerk: You know, forgive me for saying this, since I don’t know you well, but maybe you should just give them you.

Customer: I’m sorry. What was that?

Clerk: Maybe you should just give them yourself. Pour your life into them. Spend time listening to their stories. Invite them over to your house a few times.

Customer: Okay. I get that. But I really felt I was meant to come in and buy something here today.

Clerk: And so you should.  But invest in your own spiritual development. Build yourself up in God’s Word, and then, out of the overflow, you’ll have so much more to give your Sunday School students.

Customer: Like what?

Clerk: I don’t know. It will be different for each person. But something that challenges you to get deeper into Bible study, deeper into prayer, deeper into sacrificial giving, deeper into awareness of global missions, deeper into personal witness.

Customer: But that doesn’t directly benefit my Sunday School class.

Clerk: Actually it does directly. As you are being moved deeper into grace and deeper into knowledge; as you are being moved toward the cross; your kids will pick up on that spiritual momentum. They’ll be drawn into the current of spiritual motion that’s taking place.  It’s the best gift you can possibly give them.

June 30, 2010

Weeds in the Garden

Once again, here’s a post from the Webers who write a daily devotional blog, Daily Encouragement.   This one is from June 29.

“Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?”  He replied, “An enemy did this” (Matthew 13:27b, 28a).

We have really had the hot weather here in Lancaster County and it’s been rather dry as well. Nevertheless I am able to report that the weeds are growing extremely well in our garden and in various landscaped portions of our yard.  We have a couple of small garden plots in our back yard where we have planted tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, corn, lima beans and many herbs.  Popping up through the soil all around the intended plants are scores of weeds that appear to be thriving.

Our daily verse has often intrigued me.  Jesus is telling a series of “Kingdom” parables in Matthew 13, the most familiar of which is the Parable of the Sower.  The statement found in the daily verse is from the second parable which begins in verse 24.  This parable speaks of a landowner who sowed good seed in his field, but while he slept his enemy came in and sowed weeds.  Later when the weeds appeared beside the intended crop his servants, knowing that he had sown good seed, asked him what most gardeners often ask themselves, “Where then did the weeds come from?”

Isn’t that also the very question we often have in our own lives and in the work of God? The answer in the parable as stated by the landowner expresses a vital truth: “An enemy did this.”  Later, in explaining the parable Christ plainly says, “The enemy that sowed them is the devil” (v. 39).  Indeed, this enemy continues his dastardly work individually and all throughout the world.  Martin Luther wrote, “But still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe.”

We must follow some good advice I recall my parents saying every summer after planting our garden, “You’ve got to keep up with the weeds!”  Whether we get down on our knees and uproot them one at a time, use a hoe or cultivator, or spray for them which we saw last night on our walk as we passed our Amish neighbor’s farm.

Now let me make it clear; I don’t attribute the weeds in our little vegetable garden to a literal enemy, but they’re sure a reminder of the truth of this parable.  Today, may God help each of us as we continue to overcome the work of our archenemy in keeping up with the weeds and let us also remember, “Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4).

June 11, 2010

Practicing God’s Presence

O.K.,  I’ll admit it.   I am the last person on earth to get around to reading The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.   Actually, it’s only a few dozen pages, but I am slowly working my way through this classic.

It’s written in an older style of English for one thing.   Not exactly Shakespeare, but I have to read a single sentence several times in order to get what I think it means.

But mostly it’s a rich text. And no, I don’t mean “rich text” in the HTML sense.   I mean it’s deep. Simple, but very, very profound.

Much like Brother Lawrence himself.   This guy had no real claim to fame.   He would be voted “least like to have inspired a Christian book that has sold millions of copies.”

In the monastery where he served, he was the guy who worked in the kitchen.   That’s it.   Every once in awhile he got sent out on some purchasing mission which, to hear how it stressed him, you would think it was a trans-Atlantic crossing.

But he trusted God for everything.   In everything.   Through everything.

But it was never a big deal.   For him it was natural.

He could pray a formal prayer, but when it done, then he would simply go back into the normal, ongoing discourse he had going with God.   And the latter type of communication with God was for him, the better and more effective of the two.

He could so some act of service, but when it was done, he would go back to the mundane activity of his work, but do it as onto God.   And for him, the latter type of effort was, he felt, the higher of the two.

Kinda the opposite of how we normally see things.

I think the style of the book is actually its best asset.   You have to mine to get the nuggets of gold it contains.   And I’m only mere pages into it, just finishing the “Conversations” section.

If you’ve missed out, get a copy.    It’s certainly not an expensive book, but its worth on a “per-page” basis is way up there.