Christianity 201

January 7, 2023

More on Need-Meeting vs. Proclamation

It was a hot August day in 2015 and the blog post here was about Moses, and how despite his feelings of inadequacy, he was obedient to God’s calling on his life. The devotional wrapped up…

…God does the same with believers like you and I—He takes us as we are, in our inadequacies and weaknesses, and He takes the things in hands that are in and of themselves useless, and demonstrates His life-giving power.

God is with you, and He will work through you … not because of anything you do, but because of who He is. God working through us, will set people free, set nations free, and bring people to faith in Christ.

Don’t hesitate, don’t doubt. Look to Jesus, and GO and Tell!

So far, so good.

Or so I thought.

But then we got a comment — back when people actually left comments on the blog — from George, who had also contributed articles here.

Great post. I only hesitate at the very last word – ‘tell.’ That isn’t in the text. Go is meaning we are sent and authorized as his ambassadors. Make disciples is there. Are the two the same?

I grew up in a world of tell. “Part one of the gospel is ‘taste and see’ and part two of the gospel is ‘go and tell.'”

Or so I had often shared with people.

We discussed this at length in yesterday’s blog post, but I thought you’d like to read what happened the next day here on the blog.

Exodus 4:10:

Then Moses said to the LORD, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (NASB)

But Moses pleaded with the LORD, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” (NLT)

Exodus 6:12

But Moses said to the LORD, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?” (NIV)

But Moses said in the LORD’s presence: “If the Israelites will not listen to me, then how will Pharaoh listen to me, since I am such a poor speaker?” (HCSB)

Today’s thoughts flow out of the comments section to yesterday’s devotional.

fearfactor_240Public speaking is not everyone’s gift. Years ago an Ann Landers poll showed that the number one fear reported was fear of public speaking. Even pastors who speak before thousands each weekend often confess they are natural introverts who potentially can freeze up if asked to speak before fifty people.

So much of the Christian life is about words. Our revelation of God comes to us through a book. We’re told to share our faith.

Go deeper in the Christian life and you discover a vast library of Bible reference books to help you get the etymology or word origins right. There are pastors who study Biblical Greek and Hebrew. There are concordances which are concerned with the derivation of words in the English texts as they relate to the original languages.

What if my language is not precise? What if I say the wrong thing and cause confusion? What if my words drive people away from God’s Kingdom?

“But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.” Matthew 10:1 NASB

“When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-12 NIV

Clearly the Bible is telling us not to sweat these situations.

But let’s go back to yesterday’s devotional and the comment. George (who has been a contributing writer here, and who I know personally) noted that the essence of the command is to make disciples. He wanted to see a de-emphasis on telling and (by implication) a wider emphasis on other areas where the discipleship process can become organic.

The idea of a disciple “walking in the dust of his rabbi” is a teaching that probably best illustrates this. These talmudin learned by doing what the rabbi did. We had a good example of that in the second paragraph of this excerpt. We also looked at the Bible concept of being an imitator (of Christ, or of Paul as he imitates Christ.)

But it goes beyond this. We can help. We can love. We can serve. We can give…  In doing all these things we are being a living gospel. Surely at this point someone is expecting me to quote the phrase commonly attributed (though perhaps not accurately attributed) to St. Francis: “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”

However, this is as equally out of balance as the person who thinks the gospel can only be proclaimed verbally.

As Mark Galli pointed out in this 2009 article:

“Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets, Jesus, and Paul put on preaching. Of course, we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns.

Further pushback to what was starting to trend (and what St. Francis said) came from Ed Stetzer who wrote about this in 2012 (link no longer available):

The gospel is not habit, but history. The gospel is the declaration of something that actually happened. And since the gospel is the saving work of Jesus, it isn’t something we can do, but it is something we must announce. We do live out its implications, but if we are to make the gospel known, we will do so through words.

It appears that the emphasis on proclamation is waning even in many churches that identify themselves as evangelical. Yet proclamation is the central task of the church. No, it is not the only task God has given us, but it is central. While the process of making disciples involves more than verbal communication, and obviously the life of a disciple is proved counterfeit when it amounts to words alone, the most critical work God has given the church is to “proclaim the excellencies” of our Savior.

A godly life should serve as a witness for the message we proclaim. But without words, what can our actions point to but ourselves? A godly life cannot communicate the incarnation, Jesus’ substitution for sinners, or the hope of redemption by grace alone through faith alone. We can’t be good news, but we can herald it, sing it, speak it, and preach it to all who listen.

In fact, verbal communication of the gospel is the only means by which people are brought into a right relationship with God. The Apostle Paul made this point to the church in Rome when he said:

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10:13-14, HCSB)

If we are to make disciples of all nations, we must use words.

I agree with Ed, but I also agree with where George was coming from in his comment. We have to find the balance between the two. And our lives must match our speech. Here’s what I wrote:

In the last 50-60 years, Evangelicals have made proclamation 100% of their evangelism stock portfolio. After accusing “the liberals” of preaching a “social gospel” we’re slowly coming around to the position that there is so much more we can do besides quoting chapters and verses.

On the other hand, further on in the Matthew passage, it does say “teach” or “teaching” in most translations, and although she doesn’t quote it here, Mark 16:15 renders the same quotation as either “preach” or “proclaim” (The Voice has “share.”)

While not everyone has the same gifts, I believe that every Christ-follower has the ability to share a verbal witness, but many are afraid to do so. I think her point here is to encourage people along those lines.

Of course, it would also do good if those who feel they are better equipped to preach would also find ways to share a non-verbal witness. Each of needs to balance the two.

And better to be asked sometimes what it is that drives our faith instead of just shouting it to people with whom we haven’t earned the right to be heard. Zachariah 8:23 is useful here:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

Where is the balance in your life on this issue? Most of us would side with Moses, we really don’t want to be placed in those public speaking situations. But there are some who don’t fear that for a second, though often their walk doesn’t match their talk. We need to be working on both fronts.

January 6, 2023

A Church Which Couldn’t Care Less

Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.

John 12:26, NLT

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Matthew 25:34-40, NLT

We like to think of the book of James as a “General Epistle,” but I do wonder if, like chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, James had a particular church in mind when he wrote these words in chapter two:

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? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 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? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless
James 2:14-17 NLT

Perhaps it was specific to a trend he was seeing. It doesn’t actually cost anything to believe. There is no physical action; no examination to pass. That is the essential nature of grace. We don’t have to do anything because it’s all been done through Christ’s atoning work on the cross.

But it’s another thing to get your hands dirty, being the hands of feet of Christ in a hurting and needy world. Or it can cost us where it really hurts for some people: Their bank balance.

Basil of Caesarea wrote,

“When someone steals a person’s clothes, we call him a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to those who need it; the shoes rotting in your closet to the one who has no shoes. The money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”

Somewhere recently I read,

You say you care for the poor.
Tell me their names.

Two weeks ago someone shared with me a ministry venture that involved helping the homeless through handing out backpacks filled with supplies to help meet personal needs. But as we talked, I wasn’t seeing a direct connection to the people they were trying to help. They were simply handing off their donations to the people who went into the encampments and distributed the materials. That’s good and it’s helpful, but it’s not incarnational ministry. It’s not presencing yourself as the hands and feet of Christ in that situation.

(Let me pause here to say: Maybe you’re able to tick the right boxes on this one. Following the commands of Jesus to care for the poor is, in one sense, for many people, an easy thing to do. Following the full and complete compendium of what it means to follow Jesus — just think of the high standards of “You have heard it said…” in the Sermon on the Mount — is much more difficult.)

Here’s a quotation that we haven’t used recently, but it needs to be shared again because there are always new readers.

“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace, as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a high cross between two thieves: on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek…. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that’s where He died. And that is what He died about. And that is where church people ought to be and what church people should be about.”

Those words belong to Scottish theologian Dr. George MacLeod (1895 – 1991). According to Wikipedia, MacLeod is also the founder of the Iona Community, an ecumenical movement committed to social justice issues and “seeking new ways to live the gospel of Jesus in today’s world.” Most of its activities take place on the Isle of Iona and its interdenominational liturgies and publishing are developed by the Wild Goose Group, the name taken from an ancient Irish symbol of the Holy Spirit. (Apologies to “dove only” readers!) Its books and music resources deal with social justice and peace issues, spirituality and healing, and innovative approaches to worship.

Someone years ago taught me that so much of what the church considers “outreach” is actually “indrag.” We need to find ways to engage the concept of “marketplace ministry.” Evangelicals have long neglected issues of social justice or relegated the ’social gospel’ to mainline churches. We said that we are all about “proclamation” — sometimes termed as “sharing a verbal witness” — as though it were the superior path to right standing before God.

But that is changing. And perhaps the thing we need to do in the center of the marketplace is to live out the gospel with visible demonstrations of Christ’s love, not just taking the quotation above as a call to loud street preaching.

In November, 2021, Clarke Dixon wrote here:

It has often been said that there are two gospels, an evangelical gospel (you get to heaven when you die) and a social gospel (we can make this earth a little more heavenly before we die). In fact there is is just one gospel, the good news that Jesus is king, the Kingdom of God is here and near, and we are invited and enabled to be a Kingdom person forevermore, beginning here and now.

Is there someone in your sphere of influence to whom you can give “a cup of water” to today?

“And anyone who gives one of my most humble followers a cup of cool water, just because that person is my follower, will be rewarded.
Matthew 10:42 CEV

January 1, 2023

Building a New Year with Materials that Last

The illustration which follows is not meant to be a description of how heaven ‘works.’

A man died and went to heaven and on arrival asked if it was true that there are mansions with many rooms with for all. An angel assured him that this was true and offered to guide him to where one had been prepared just for him.

They walked down a street filled with the finest mansions that would be the envy of the highest priced neighborhoods in the western world back on earth.

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then entered a section of housing which would be compared to a North American upper middle class community.

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then moved on to a group of bungalows that were not initially impressive, but, this being heaven after all, were no doubt adequate.

“So here we are;” said the man.

“No, just a little further;” said the angel.

It continued like this until the two of them ended up in an area where the houses — more like cabins — were not only much smaller, but there were only a couple of rooms and some elements of the walls, floors and ceilings were missing.

Pointing to a nearby dwelling, the angel said, “That one is your house.”

“There is no way,” said the man, “That I can live in something like that.”

“I’m very sorry;” replied the angel; “But we did the best we could with the materials you sent up.”

…This apocryphal sermon illustration is usually told in reference to Matthew 6: 19-20 which reads:

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. NLT

But what constitutes treasure?

As we start a new year, I want us to produce something of substance. Sometimes I get feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the ‘Goodnights’ are said or the computer is turned off and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value or significance?

It’s not that I wasn’t busy doing Kingdom work, it’s just that I fear I wasn’t busy doing the right things. I feel that by not letting my talents be used to the maximum, I have missed the mark (the same idiom by which the word sin is defined in Greek) of God’s highest calling. You could say that I not only have ‘performance-based religion’ issues, but I’m additionally burdened with combining it with a Type A personality when it comes to what I would like to see happen.

So… I need to be reminded that God still loves me even I didn’t do all the the things or type of things that I thought God was expecting of me. I need to be reminded that it’s about what God’s wants me to be that matters.

However, I can’t just toss out the consideration (or self-evaluation) of what it means to give my best to God each day. I have to have certain goals or ideals or standards of attainment. The verses that I think match up best with the heaven story above are these from I Cor. 3 —

12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. NLT

Some of you know these verses from the KJ text as referring to: “Gold, silver and precious stones;” contrasted with “wood, hay and stubble.”

In the Christian internet world, a lot of what is written or spoken on podcasts is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance; something of a more lasting quality than what I was producing on my other blog at the time; something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

So while Christianity is not performance-based, if we’re going to launch out into any endeavor at all (in response to what Christ has done for us) we should aim for that thing to be of the highest quality, the finest purity, the greatest depth and the most lasting significance. We can discuss other things, and comment on the issues of the day in religion, politics, social justice, the environment, church life, parenting, education, marriage, missions, theology, or even the weather; but at the end of the day, we need to bring something best to the table; something that not only people in our sphere of influence, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level or what I would term Christianity 201. And just as that name propels me to go beyond the basic, the elementary, the minimum; I encourage you to set up whatever reminder you need this year to do the same.

In the quotation of the lyrics from a very familiar worship song, I’ve highlighted four of the lines:

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart…

When our works are “tested by fire” what is going to be left. Wood, hay and straw will be consumed, but gold, silver and precious stones can withstand the test by fire. Then we will have treasure in heaven.

December 29, 2022

The Fruit of the Spirit Goes Beyond Doctrines, Ethics

CEB.Gal.6.22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.

In an information age, much emphasis is placed on holding to correct doctrine. Heresy hunters, fact checkers, and watchdog ministries are in abundance, making sure that people are held to a standard of orthodoxy. Research organizations (like Barna and Pew) have checklists of beliefs if one is to considered a Christian or an Evangelical.

Additionally, many passages of Christians (i.e. most of Galatians) are written to combat the era of “false teachers” which was already a problem for the early church. So it’s safe for us to conclude that holding to accurate beliefs is of utmost importance, especially in a world where sects, isms, cults, etc. proliferate online and in our communities.

Beyond orthodoxy however, there is also orthopraxy. If the former is defined as “right beliefs,” then the second might be defined as “right practices;” though it goes beyond spiritual practices and involves all that we do as followers of Christ.

One writer, Liv Walton, defined the two here in a June, 2021 blog post:

Orthodoxy is most simply defined as “right belief,” which consists of authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine or practice. Orthodoxy is held with great importance in the Protestant-Christian church and other branches of Christianity such as Catholicism. While Protestant-Christians do not contend that salvation is found through doctrine nor practice, having faith is not enough to qualify “right belief.” …

Orthopraxy is defined as “right practice” yet this idea of practice is not about practicing right doctrine. Rather, when orthopraxy talks about practice, it is talking about gospel living. Instead of focusing solely on saying and doing the right things, one should focus on the holistic message of the gospel, which is to love God and love others. Additionally, orthopraxy puts emphasis on liturgy (worship) that extends beyond Sunday services.

When incorporating orthopraxy, one’s faith becomes a testament to God’s love and puts every individual on the same level. Christianity is not about who can serve the most at church or witness to the most people, but rather how one can love those around them in a way that edifies and uplifts others as fellow image-bearers…

The Bible’s “Love Chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13 has this short prologue:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

But some have argued that understanding “religion” is to incorporate a third dimension that might be termed orthopathy. (Immediately, my spell-check is concerned that this word is not in its dictionary! I find it interesting that although I’ve heard this discussed, I can’t find a single instance in an online search.)

The idea is that faith is found not only in

doctrine + ethics

but rather

doctrine + ethics + experience

In other words, by “believing right things” and “doing right things” what is the result of that in your life? How is your life different because of the beliefs you have put into practice?

So when Paul says that love is the means by which everyone will know we are Christ’s disciples, he is referring to ethics. But how do the other fruit of the spirit match up:

  1. Love = expressed in action, ethics
  2. Joy = an inner quality of life, therefore it is experienced
  3. Peace = an inner experience as well
  4. Patience = a trait which will express itself both internally, and in our dealings with others, therefore it lands in both categories
  5. Kindness = expressed in action, ethics
  6. Goodness = expressed in action, ethics; though sometimes we will do “the good” and it will never be seen; Jesus cautions us in all these not to practice such things in order to gain recognition
  7. Faithfulness = seen in our doctrine and ethics, including our faithfulness to the pursuit of right doctrine. This one hints more directly of the spiritual disciplines.
  8. Meekness = an internal culture of humility that will be expressed in our dealing with others
  9. Self Control = again, an inner quality with an outward, visible expression

Some alternative scriptures for each of these, beyond the passage in Galatians where they are listed, can be found here in a May, 2014 article.

So we see in the above list that some things like joy and peace — while they have an outward visible component like self-control — are part of our inner experience.

Liv Walton concluded,

Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are not meant to stand alone. When one places all emphasis on orthodoxy, servitude becomes a false idol; and, when all the emphasis is on orthopraxy, the body of Christ and important practices such as communion can more easily be lost. However, when a balance of both is reached, believers are able to look at the world with more love.

So back to orthopathy. If you’ve been reading Christian authors, you know the important principle that our faith in Christ is anchored on the trust we have in his promises, not feelings. But we can expect an inner confirmation of his indwelling presence in our lives that is significant enough that it doesn’t fit the doctrine/ethics categories.

There is an inner confession we have, which although subject, leaves us knowing that our spirit has found what it’s looking for, we have the peace of God that exceeds human understanding.

 

 

 

 

 

December 20, 2022

Everything Eagerly Expecting

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Every once in awhile I encounter a blog or website which, although we linked to it often at Thinking Out Loud, never made it to Christianity 201 (or in this case, almost never, with the exception of May, 2017). Such is the case with Don’t Ask The Fish, written by Dr. Tommy Kiedis and today we remedy that.

Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared.

Are you standing on tiptoe?

The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.

— Romans 8:19 J.B. Phillips Translation

I have celebrated sixty-three birthdays, but only longed for one gift.

At twelve, I was adventuresome, tough, and ready to take on Everest. Can anything stop a boy in early adolescence?  I set my sights on the perfect gift to complement my venturesome spirit – a mountain tent.  Not a pup tent mind you, a “Mountain Tent!”  What is a mountain tent?  Perhaps just a pup tent with a little bravado, but for a boy in search of manhood it sounded rugged – and I wanted it!

I announced my desires to my mom and dad. I begged, pleaded, and pouted. Actually, I only pouted around Mom—Dad didn’t put up with whining.  By the time the big B-Day came my mom had me convinced that I would be sleeping tent-less under the open stars, but that was just her attempt to surprise me. I got the tent!

Waiting on that gift taught me the meaning of longing early in life. Today, that inward ache I call longing looks a little different. Now, I long for a day off after a difficult week of work. I long for a Dolphins Super Bowl victory (hey, even a playoff victory would be nice!). I long for bodies to be healed, health restored, and broken hearts mended, and . . . my latest hot rod project to get out of the garage and on the road.

God gives me another lesson on longing in Romans 8. He paints a picture and then points me toward it. On the cross, Jesus took the punishment that was mine. Through faith in Him, I have life. In fact, God adopts me! I am his. “And all that Christ claims as his will be ours as well.” Grace upon grace!

Right now, I am living between two worlds: earth and heaven. Because He has me, I’ve got it great. But oh what’s coming is literally “out of this world.” Right now, it will be tough here and there, but God has so much more in store for us then. I appreciate the way JB Phillips paraphrases these words of Paul:

In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God [and daughters!] coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God! Romans 8:18-21 J.B. Phillips Translation

God has been on a rescue mission from the beginning of time. He is going to set the world right! Paul pictures all of creation anxiously awaiting God’s final victory. J.B. Phillips’ translation of verse nineteen is picturesque, “The whole creation is on tiptoe.” 

That’s longing.

So let me ask you, “This Advent season, are you standing on tiptoe?” And if so, what are you longing for? For my part, there’s nothing wrong with putting that hot rod out on the street, but that pavement pounding longing is only pointing to a deeper longing that can only be satisfied with heaven’s Christ.

As we enter this season of advent, I am asking God to rekindle within me a holy sense of longing. I want him to renew the inward ache for the Messiah – God’s greatest gift – who alone will right every wrong. I invite you to pray this prayer with me . . .

“Father, help the affections of my heart to stand on tiptoe for Jesus the Messiah, who alone can right every wrong and satisfy every aching heart. 

November 13, 2022

Quotations: Thoughts on Grace

The difference between mercy and grace? Mercy gave the prodigal son a second chance. Grace gave him a feast.

~Max Lucado


The Law tells me how crooked I am; Grace comes along and straightens me out.

~Dwight L Moody


While our various guest writers’ material appears here only once, I do permit myself the luxury of a few “reruns” of some of the original devotionals here. That said, I’ve never circled back to any of the series of quotations by different writers or on different themes. Today’s quotations appeared in two different pieces, one from 2011 and one from 2012. (Apparently some were longer back then!) The authors are attributed on some (not all) where they’re linked with their names, just click.

Grace is at the heart of the Christian faith. It’s our distinctive. Part of our mission is to make people understand that salvation is not earned, it is the gift of God made available to us through Jesus Christ.

A scripture focus for today may be found at this August, 2015 blog post.


Grace binds you with far stronger cords than the cords of duty or obligation can bind you. Grace is free, but when once you take it you are bound forever to the Giver, and bound to catch the spirit of the Giver. Like produces like, Grace makes you gracious, the Giver makes you give.

~(Eli) E. Stanley Jones


We tend to give an unbeliever just enough of the gospel to get him or her to pray a prayer to receive Christ. Then we immediately put the gospel on the shelf, so to speak, and go on to the duties of discipleship. The grace that brought salvation to you is the same grace that teaches or disciplines you. But you must respond on the basis of grace, not law.

~Jerry Bridges


“The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”

~Philip Yancey


‘He’s prone to stoop. He stooped to wash feet, to embrace children. Stooped to pull Peter out of the sea, to pray in the Garden. He stooped before the Roman whipping post. Stooped to carry the cross. Grace is a God who stoops. Here he stooped to write in the dust.’

~Max Lucado


“Romans 8 is all about living in a suffering world marked by brokenness… Verse 28 says: For those loving him, God works together all things for good. …Earlier in Romans 8, Paul discusses how things fall apart because the world is burdened with evil and sin. Things are subject to decay. Everyone will eventually experience the decay of their bodies; that’s the nature of things. The little grains of sand on the beach used to be a mountain. Everything falls apart; things do not come together. This verse tells Christians to get rid of the saccharine, sentimental idea that things ought to go right, that things do go right, and that it’s normal for things to go right. Modern, Western people believe that if things go wrong, we should sue, because things ought to go right. But Christians have to discard that idea completely. Christians have to recognize that if our health remains intact, it is simply because God is holding it up. If people love us, if someone is there to hug us or squeeze our hand, if someone loves us in spite of all our flaws—if someone loves us at all—it’s because God is bringing all things together. God is holding it up. Everything that goes well is a miracle of grace.”

~Timothy Keller


Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about anymore than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks. A good night’s sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace.

~Frederick Buechner


Grace is the incomprehensible fact that God is well pleased with a man, and that a man can rejoice in God. Only when grace is recognized to be incomprehensible is it grace. Grace exists, therefore, only where the Resurrection is reflected. Grace is the gift of Christ, who exposes the gulf which separates God and man, and, by exposing it, bridges it.

~Karl Barth


“…Jesus’ approach toward a decadent Roman empire, as well as toward individual sinners who must have offended him deeply, seemed almost the opposite of the self-righteous attitude of many evangelicals.  As I studied Jesus’ life, the notion of grace kept hitting me in the face.  All his stories made the wrong person the hero: the prodigal son not the responsible older brother, Lazarus not the rich man, the good Samaritan not the Jewish rabbi.  And I began to see grace as one of the great, often untapped, powers of the universe that God has asked us to set loose.  Human society runs by Ungrace, ranking people, holding them accountable, insisting on reciprocity and fairness.  Grace is, by definition, unfair.  That intrigued me.”

~Philip Yancey


Who can estimate the value of God’s gift, when He gave to the world His only begotten Son! It is something unspeakable and incomprehensible. It passes man’s understanding. Two things there are which man has no arithmetic to reckon, and no line to measure. One of these things is the extent of that man’s loss who loses his own soul. The other is the extent of God’s gift when he gave Christ to sinners…Sin must indeed be exceeding sinful, when the Father must needs give His only Son to be the sinner’s Friend!

~James Charles (J. C.) Ryle


“Most every cult you could name is a cult of salvation by works. It appeals to the flesh. It tells you, if you will stand so long on a street corner, if you will distribute so much literature, if you will sacrifice so much of life, if you will be baptized, if you will contribute your money, if you will pray or attend numerous meetings, then your good works and hard effort will cause God to smile on you. Ultimately when the good is weighed against the bad on the Day of Judgement, you will finally earn His favor. The result in that, I say again, is man’s glory, because you added to your salvation.

“Grace says you have nothing to give, nothing to earn, nothing to pay. You couldn’t if you tried! Salvation is a free gift. You simply lay hold of what Christ has provided. Period. And yet the heretical doctrine of works goes on all around the world and always will. It is effective because the pride of men and women is so strong. We simply have to do something in order to feel right about it. It just doesn’t make good humanistic sense to get something valuable for nothing.

“Please allow me to be absolutely straight with you: Stop tolerating the heretical gospel of works! It is legalism. Wake up to the fact that it will put you into a bondage syndrome that won’t end. The true gospel of grace, however, will set you free. Free forever.”

~Charles (Chuck) Swindoll


“You are loved by your Maker not because you try to please him and succeed, or fail to please him and apologize, but because he wants to be your Father. Nothing more. All your efforts to win his affection are unnecessary. All your fears of losing his affection are needless. You can no more make him want you than you can convince him to abandon you. The adoption is irreversible. You have a place at his table.”

~Max Lucado


 

October 1, 2022

Christians Giving Birth to Other Christians

alternative title: A Call to Reproduce

NIV Luke 15:7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

This is the verse that is indirectly responsible for the phrase:

“All the angels in heaven rejoice when there’s a soul saved.”

That particular phrase does not appear in scripture.

The principle does appear in scripture.

According to what I’ve heard from a significant number of missionaries, the reality of life on the mission field can be a slow, plodding process. Kyle Idleman, in his most recent book One at at Time points out that despite the scenes of Jesus with the crowds, there are an equal (if not more) number of scenes where he ministered to one person at a time.

And we certainly don’t hear reports of mass conversions.  Years ago a controversial pastor reported over 1,250 people saved in a single weekend, but even if this statistic were exaggerated by a factor of ten, this would still be reason to rejoice.

Meet your new brothers and sisters.

A Christian news story ten years ago told of 11,000 people — out of a crowd of 650,000 — were saved at a two day Evangelistic rally in the northwest of Brazil, conducted by a well-known televangelist there who most of us have never of heard before. Again, a rather round number; but why doubt that something extraordinary happened?

11,000! The Christian world should stop and party.

To those newest members of the faith family, our response should always be: Welcome!

I once heard someone say that each Christ followers should — at the very, very least — ‘reproduce themselves’ spiritually by leading one person to Christ in their lifetime.

Have you led someone to Christ? I know at this point many will want to cite this verse:

NIV I Cor. 3:6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

This verse is used to justify the idea that some people plant seeds while others are ‘harvesters;’ the people who get down to asking the question that brings someone to a point of decision. In many cases that’s how it works. But I think this dodges responsibility and makes bringing someone to faith someone else’s job.

At the end of the day, the end of the month, the end of a life; we are being changed through Word and sacrament and encounter with the risen Christ.

It does not stop there however; we are changed to bring change to the lives of others. We’re part of a “thread of grace,” or what others call a “chain of grace.” It begins in our own lives with “taste and see” and it continues with “go and tell.”

If you haven’t had the joy of being in the spiritual delivery room — of witnessing a new birth take place — let me challenge you. Not 11,000 people, not 1,250… one person… and here’s the extra impetus: Before this year is through.

… This is a song by Aaron Niequist that I’ve shared here a few times at C201. We have been changed to bring change.

In Jesus’ name I’ve been changed, I’ve been filled,
I’ve been found, I’ve been freed, I’ve been saved!
In Jesus’ blood I’ve been loved, I’ve been cleansed,
And redeemed, and released, rearranged

But how can I show You that I’m grateful?
You’ve been so generous to me.
How can I worship more than singing?
And live out Redemption’s melody.

I have been blessed – now I want to be a blessing
I have been loved – now I want to bring love
I’ve been invited – I want to share the invitation
I have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

In Jesus’ name we are changed, we are called,
We are chosen, adopted, and named!
In Jesus’ blood we are loved, we are healed,
We’re forgiven and free of our shame!

We want to show You that we’re thankful
Flooding Your world with hope and peace
Help us to worship more than singing
Giving Redemption hands and feet

We have been blessed – now we’re going to be a blessing
We have been loved – now we’re going to bring love
We’ve been invited – we’re going to share the invitation
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

Thank You for this new life, thank You for the invitation!
God, we want to live it loud enough to shake the nations in Your name!

We have been saved – we’re going to shout about the Savior
We have been found – we’re going to turn over every stone
We’ve been empowered – to love the world to Heaven
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

September 16, 2022

Taking the Bypass Around the Valley of the Shadow

Lately when I’m on YouTube or watching television, I’ve been more aware of references to the Interstate Highway system in the United States. Many of these pass directly through the downtown sections of major cities, and since many drivers will prefer to avoid the congestion, there are also ‘bypass’ routes, sometimes called ‘spurs.’ So with I-75 there might be a I-275, or I-475 offered to you as you approach a metropolitan area. Basically, these help you avoid the pain.

Which brings us to today’s devotional…

NLT II Tim 3: 12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

It was one of those big outdoor festivals in the late ’70s. The speaker was an up-and-coming youth evangelist, and for the purpose of making a point that day he was deliberately misquoting scripture:

“Yes, and some who endeavor to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 

Some?

No, it doesn’t say that. And people started yelling up what it does say from the crowd: “All, all, it says ‘all.’”

We got the message. Or did we?

Years later, I had to be somewhere, but I had a few minutes in the car, and I immediately fell into a familiar pattern, “Lord, I pray for the people suffering under religious oppression right now that you would deliver — “

And then I stopped.

Deliver them? That’s the typical North American or Western European response. Get me the heck out of here.

But when you talk to people who have dealt with religious persecution that can mean torture, imprisonment or death, they never ask that we pray for deliverance, but that God would give them the grace to endure it and the presence of His Holy Spirit in the middle of it.

Psalm 23 talks about going through tough circumstances:

MSG Ps. 23: 4a Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.

Our interpretation is often

“Even though I walk around the valley of the shadow of death…” 

To which the crowd should yell out, “Through, through, it says ‘go through.’

How you feel about such things will affect how you pray. I posted some of these thoughts nearly a decade ago, and at the time the title was, “Pray For Them, Yes; But Pray What Specifically?”

We want to pray for the persecuted. We want to pray for the suffering. But do we have a theology of persecution? Have we ever examined ourselves to see what is our personal theology of suffering?

For the record, if I am dealing with physical, mental or emotional suffering, probably every part of me will cry out for you to please pray that I will see relief from it. But should you pray that for me if God is teaching me something through it? Or should you pray that I experience God’s presence in the middle of it and learn the lesson he is teaching me?

That would be a difficult question. Especially if I’m asking you to pray for healing and you say, “Lord, I pray that our brother will learn the lessons you’re teaching him through this illness.” Huh? That isn’t what I asked you.

With persecution it’s more difficult. We want to see the end of political and social regimes that block justice and oppress people. We want them to see relief from it. We want it to end.

On the flip side, we also want to avoid questioning God’s presence in the middle of suffering and persecution; the line of reasoning that asks, ‘Where was God when __________ was happening?’

While you’re pondering that, let’s throw one more spice into the soup.

What about your theology of end times or what’s called eschatology? If you believe in a rapture doctrine, is it consistent with scripture to believe that the church will be removed from the suffering association with the period called ‘the tribulation,’ or is it more consistent to believe that the church will be faced with enduring it?

I’m not saying one way or another right now, I’m just saying that if we begin to understand a theology of suffering and a theology of persecution then we may want to think about our theology of tribulation.


We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.
– 2 Cor. 4: 8-11 NLT

 

September 2, 2022

The Good News Changes the World

NRSVUE.Acts.17.4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some brothers and sisters before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this…

 

Appropriately enough, we’re back for a fourth time with Stanley J. Groothof who blogs at The 4th Point. In many communities, pastors are often asked to write something for the local newspaper. That’s what this is: An opportunity to speak to a wider audience than weekend church services might offer. Clicking the title below will take you to where it first appeared (and a picture of Stanley’s mouse pad referenced in the first paragraph!)

Upside down

On my desk is a mousepad. It’s a round mousepad and pictured on it is a map of the world. You can see a good chunk of North and South America, all of Europe and Africa, and part of Asia.

There’s just one thing that’s a little strange about my mousepad: It’s upside down – at least compared to how we usually look at a world map. The tip of Argentina points straight up pretending it’s high noon and Santa’s home at the North Pole is at the bottom! I understand that’s how Australians orient their globes, but here in North America it just doesn’t look quite right.

My upside down globe daily reminds me of something the people in Thessalonica say in Acts 17. Although the Gospel is initially welcomed by the Thessalonians, some ruffians show up where the followers of Jesus are sharing the Good News. These bad characters form a mob that turns into a riot. They drag some the disciples before the authorities with this accusation: “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.”

Apparently the people in Thessalonica don’t like having their world turned upside down.

I don’t either.

Yet that’s what the Gospel consistently does. It reveals how weakness is strength. How poverty reveals true wealth. How death leads to life. It sounds backwards, but God wins by losing. His perfect Son Jesus dies on the cross – the most humiliating, shameful ending imaginable. But Jesus beats death at its own game and rises in a shocking new beginning on the third day. Now for all who are in Christ, sin has been defeated, life has purpose, and the future is hopeful.

Those who identify with Jesus can’t help but adapt more and more to God’s upside down ways. Followers of Jesus perceive that generosity carries the highest profit. Slowing down helps you get ahead. Apologies are necessary. Forgiveness is freeing. Fidelity is meant to be celebrated. Sports are not meant to be idolized. Wisdom is more valuable than a university degree. Possessions are temporary. Beauty comes from character instead of the cosmetics counter. It’s ok for both men and women to cry. Those who are overlooked need compassion. We’re stewards (not owners) of creation. The truth matters. Promises need to be kept. Rights can be willingly set aside. The unborn already have an imprint of the divine. Ethnic diversity is a foretaste of heaven. Worshiping is the best use of time. Persecution is a reward. Peace overpowers hate. Loving one’s enemy is normal.

Many influencers in our culture say that living in line with these and other priorities in God’s Kingdom is unrealistic and pointless. They say living like that is upside down. And sometimes it feels that way. Especially when I get used to things not being right side up as described in the Bible.

So I keep Argentina on my mousepad map pointing upwards to remind me that God works in surprising ways. And that his Spirit empowers me to sometimes turn things upside down in God’s name. When I do so, I’m in good company with the disciples in Acts 17.

 


About the scripture reference: This is the first time we’ve had an author using the new NRSVUE which is publishing this month. It stands for New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition.

August 29, 2022

We’re A Small (Important) Part of a Larger Masterpiece

If you leave a comment here, and include the URL for your own devotional blog, don’t be surprised if we take a look and your writing finds its way to Christianity 201. That’s what happened on the weekend, and that introduced us to her blog Echoes of Heart: Reviving Righteousness. Click the header which follows to see where today’s sample of her writing first appeared.

Puzzle pieces

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about puzzles. More specifically a 40,000 piece puzzle that is the Guinness book of world records largest puzzle in the world. This puzzle is the largest in both the amount of pieces and its overall size. The part of this puzzle that has me thinking though, is the number of pieces. 40,000 pieces needing to find their place in the big picture.

With that many pieces one might entertain the thought that one or two pieces aren’t such a big deal if they happened to go missing.. keeping track of 40,000 pieces sounds almost overtime payish.

One piece of a puzzle won’t even give someone an idea of what the picture will be once all the pieces are put together.  Having just one piece of the whole puzzle is useless really as it cannot be the whole puzzle even if it wanted to be.  That piece has its one place within the whole, where it is vital to the whole.  If that one piece decided to go its own way getting lost, thinking it’s no big deal or unimportant, would ruin the masterpiece for without it the whole would be void in the spot that piece was to take up. Furthermore that piece is not replaceable either. No other piece can or will fit into it’s rightful place.

As I ponder this I am drawn to the idea, what if life was like this. What if God has this masterpiece in mind as He creates each and every piece to fit together, each having its own unique shape and each being equally important to the finished project. He’s skillfully and masterfully knit every single human together while in the womb, giving to each a uniqueness that only they can contribute and nobody can take the place of.

We are all just pieces to the whole puzzle. We are meant to fit together, each in our own unique way.

This is not really a new thought, in scripture Paul puts it this way,

1 Corinthians 12:14-27 NLT — Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care.

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

Selfishness, self-pity, self-righteousness, all focus on self.  So long as the focus is on self, it cannot also be on service.

The world has made popular the idea that we should be focused on self, like self improvement, self-confidence, self-help, self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-love, etc. All examples of the worldly idea that we need to focus on ourselves.

All around us are the messages, feeding into our minds and hearts, causing us to believe this concentration on self is right.   We are all searching for inner peace, love, and a place to just rest. When focus is on self, no matter what side of the scale, from self-pity to self-righteousness, we are in a constant state of restlessness, anxiety, always standing ready to defend.  We build up walls inside ourselves as part of our defense readiness, having no idea, the walls, once built, won’t allow the bad in, but won’t allow the good in either.   We starve ourselves of the very thing we are seeking, all because we have given into the feel-good, worldly, idea that we should concentrate on ourselves.

The problem is, we were not created for this.   Self, is lonely, isolating, non-community, it’s all take and little to no give.  We were created in the image of  All Mighty God, to be parts of a whole, to fit like puzzle pieces together.

The enemy doesn’t want us to know we are but one simple piece.  He wants to destroy the puzzle, of course he will most deceptively, by the use of our emotions and lack of true wisdom, give us every reason to continue believing we, individually, are the whole.

We seem to all try to fit ourselves into spots that make us like those we admire or like those we respect. We work hard to prove ourselves worthy of the spots we desire to fit into. The truth is only one might actually fit in that spot. The rest are faking, camouflaged, mimicking, etc.

We all go through this life trying to find our place, a place with people like us, where we feel like we fit in. We look for like-mindedness, hobbies in common, similar interests and ways of living.

We then pass judgement in one form or another upon those who are not living up to our standards. Some may try to use religion or Christian principles as justification for being able to point out wrong doing in others.

We try to hide our true selves just in case we won’t be accepted.

The truth is instead of searching for what makes us the same as, or at least makes us resemble others, we should search for what makes us unique, different, special. We should be looking for our place in the big picture. At the same time we should be encouraging others to find their uniqueness also.

Instead of shunning people that may be different we should be accepting, learning, encouraging, celebrating what makes us individuals.

If we are to mimic Jesus, we need to learn how to serve and accept others regardless of what society and the world try to tell us.

We are all just one piece to the whole puzzle. All equal in significance, all having our own special, uniqueness to contribute to the whole.

Find your unique, be it, own it, show it off because you are special, important, fearfully and wonderfully made, most of all, you are dearly loved by your Creator!

July 18, 2022

The Imperfect People God Chooses

Today we return to Meanderings of a Minister by Pastor Jack Jacob. This is a difficult passage in scripture, especially given the title which Jack gave the devotional, but hear him out; many of us have been chosen despite our weaknesses. Clicking that title which appears next will not only take you to where this first appeared, but allow you an opportunity to listen to today’s devotional on audio.

God Never Gives Up on His People

I was reading in Exodus about Nadab and Abihu. Now, I realize that most people will have to look up those names, but they are particularly prominent figures in the Old Testament. Let me tell you about them and why they are so important.

First, they were important because they were the sons of Aaron whom God personally chose to become priests to serve before Him in the Tabernacle. Imagine being the first priest called by God to serve. But go further than that and imagine being called by God’s own voice! (Exodus 28:1)

Next, they were important because they were part of the seventy that had worshipped God on the mountain and had come down and had prophesied before the people and helped Moses’ shoulder the load of speaking to the people on God’s behalf. (Exodus 24:1)

Lastly, they were important because they decided, despite the instructions God had given, to offer strange fire on the altar and God killed them on the spot. (Number 3:4)

Okay, so you are thinking…” Thanks! Now I am depressed. If God could do that to them, then what about me?”  I want us to learn from Nadab and Abihu, but I want us to learn from their lives, not their deaths. God personally called them. Since I believe in the omniscience of God (omni=all, science=knowledge…God knows everything), then I must believe that He knew they would fail, but HE CALLED THEM ANYWAY! What does that mean? What does that mean to me?

What this means to me is that, despite my worst failures, God will continue to give me chances. Despite my worst stumbling, He never gives up on reaching out to me. No matter how little I have, God, the author of faith, is always there and always offering His Hands. If I will spend more time looking up for His help and reaching out for His forgiveness, I can spend less time carrying a heavy guilt load and a bunch of shame I was not meant to carry.

Here is the best part. If you are a new creature in Christ, you can do the same. If you have surrendered your life to Christ, He will never turn away. (Romans 5:9-10) He will never put you to shame, and He will in no wise cast you out. (John 6:37) I do not know about you, but that is great news to me. I feel more like Paul all the time in Romans 7,

“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”  (NASB)

Isn’t it good to know God will not give up on you? Why not take the time today and thank Him for just that reason? Having thanked Him, let us hang on and get it right so that we do not end up like Nadab and Abihu.

 

July 14, 2022

Hidden in the Religious Rubble

Five times, in the years 2015 to 2017, we featured the writing of John Myer at the blog Barenuckle Bible. I have no idea why that didn’t continue, but today we’re returning. Clicking the title which follows will take you there where you, along with us, can catch up on what we’ve missed.

The Mower Cometh

Find and address the things that lie within, before something else does. 

Like a lot of pre-teen boys back in the seventies, my brother and I got into lawn mowing to earn our summer candy and comics.  It wasn’t long before our gigs felt onerous under a blazing Louisiana sun.  We began trying to get done too fast, only giving the yard a cursory scan before starting the mower.  That led to running over items hidden in the tall grass while the blades were turning—a stump, a hose head, a brick, a clump of paper that exploded out from under the mower all over the rest of the yard.  Each of these yielded spectacularly unpleasant results.

And it all began with a rushed assumption that nothing needed to be picked up.

This is the mistake we Christians make on an almost daily basis.  Nothing resistant, it seems, lies concealed within the thick religious ground cover that fills our hearts.  And so skimping on internal development, we devalue the needs of our hidden regions while paying premium attention to behavioral, external issues others can see.  The apostle Paul warned that this type of avoidance ends up in Christian shipwreck (c.f. 1 Tim. 1:19) and useless ministry (“vain discussion”—v. 6).

Concern for our inward condition needs to remain central to our walk.

“Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Tim. 1:6-7).

According to Paul, some people swerve from the things of verse 5, which mentions a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith (see my last post).  In doing so, these folks not only neglect their inner life, but deliberately avoid it.

Dealing with internal issues tends to be more abstract than simpler, workbook style self-improvement.  We prefer the pragmatic strategies to Christian living rather than the rich, truth-based, faith-based relational approach.   Jesus warned of this habit, indicting the religious folks of the day:  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Mt. 23:26).

The teaching of behavioral legalism is, to some of us, tempting.  It offers short term results, bypassing the slow and steady work of grace.  That is why some people choose to try harder rather than to cry out, “wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24).

Even natural efforts that seem successful are never marked by the divine hand.  Truly, a person can attain praiseworthy standing in the religious community by the sweat of his brow.  But meanwhile, his heart can remain mixed with many motives, his conscience only as good as his sinful self-justification, and his faith little more than an object for public show.  Yet he has kept the “rules,” sometimes above and beyond his peers.

Although there are important practical uses for the principle of law giving and law keeping (we will see them in next week’s post), in the end, law does not grant the boon its practitioners think it will.   It might restrain people from doing certain things through shame and threat of punishment, but it does little to change the human heart.  The things that lie hidden, lie hidden still.

Avoidance of inner life issues frequently proves destructive.  Then why do we do it?  For one thing, it is easier to allow mixture in the heart than to face it.  It is easier to bribe our conscience than to exercise ourselves unto having a good one.  It is easier to follow rules than to interact with God in authentic ways.

Regardless though, in principle a situation allowed by God always ends up exposing these concealed things.  As King James might say, “Behold, the mower cometh.”

And it can get ugly.  Once while mowing a back pasture, we hit a nest of baby rabbits.  The bloody mess that resulted traumatized my young mind.

Okay, maybe some of these experiences will happen no matter what.  How often are we aware of everything lurking in the tall grass of our heart?  I’ve certainly been caught by surprise many times, shocked at what a momentary crisis seemed to flush out of me.  These things were humiliating because I had worked so hard to do and be the opposite.  In undetected ways, my moral energy had become my god.

Now if those things can happen by “accident,” how about the objects we intentionally swerve around?  And what blessings might occur if we decided to face them in a non-compromising way, probing hidden regions more carefully?  What if we made our heart, conscience, and faith more germane to our consideration of the Christian life?

Now there’s a thought.

But these things take time to cultivate.  Maybe years.  Maybe all your life.  However, the changes that are made will prove genuine.  Grace, the redemptive work of God, builds spiritual experiences and truth into a human being, turning a person into what God requires.

July 8, 2022

Praying on a Moment’s Notice

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to Dave Lowe who writes at The Lowedown where his articles are called  DAVEotionals! He is in ministry with Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ. Clicking the header (title) which follows will take you to where this one first appeared.

The Shortest (Non) Prayer in the Bible

Nehemiah 2

1Early the following spring, during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never appeared sad in his presence before this time. 2So the king asked me, “Why are you so sad? You aren’t sick, are you? You look like a man with deep troubles.”

Then I was badly frightened, 3but I replied, “Long live the king! Why shouldn’t I be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been burned down.”

4The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”

With a prayer to the God of heaven, 5I replied, “If it please Your Majesty and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”

6The king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked, “How long will you be gone? When will you return?” So the king agreed, and I set a date for my departure. (Nehemiah 2:1-6, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The book of Nehemiah is a classic study on effective leadership.

Nehemiah is a Jew in exile who happens to be the cupbearer to the King. When Nehemiah gets word that the wall in the city of Jerusalem is in ruins he’s understandably distraught. The king notices Nehemiah’s sullen demeanor, which could have been disastrous for Nehemiah given his position, but fortunately, the king is compassionate and inquires about the nature of Nehemiah’s anguish.

Nehemiah shares about the news he received concerning Jerusalem and to Nehemiah’s surprise, the king asks, “well, how can I help you?”

What comes next in the text is what I find most interesting. It says, “With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied…”

Nehemiah prayed to God before making his request to the king, a request which was certainly bold in nature.

It might be easy to overlook the significance of this verse. After all, it seems quite reasonable that Nehemiah would pray before making such a bold request of the king.

But think about it for just a moment. Did Nehemiah really pray? It’s not likely he had the time to pause, kneel, close his eyes and pray to the Lord, at least not as we tend to think about prayer.

This “prayer” was made in the middle of a back-and-forth conversation with the king. Nehemiah did not have the time to beseech the Lord in the traditional way we think of prayer. It would not have even been appropriate for Nehemiah to make a traditional prayer in the king’s presence while he awaited a response from Nehemiah to his question.

So if Nehemiah didn’t actually pray, how is it that the text can say Nehemiah prayed?

I think the key is the phrase “with a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied…”

Nehemiah didn’t stop to pray as we think about it. Instead, he prayed AS he replied to the king. In other words, at the same time he was engaging the king, he was inviting the God of heaven to give him wisdom, to give him favor in the eyes of the king and to grant the request he was about to make.

This may be a paradigm shift in how you think about prayer. Prayer is not JUST a focused time where we lift our requests up to God. Prayer is not JUST a dedicated time of solitude where we pause, reflect and lift up our praises and requests to God. Instead, prayer is an attitude of dependence and reliance on God that we can practice at all times. Prayer, essentially, is directing our thoughts towards God, whether it is audible or not, visible or invisible.

In Nehemiah’s case, he obviously didn’t stop, pause and lift up an audible prayer to God. Nehemiah’s prayer was in reality more of a heart attitude toward God in which he, in that moment, was acknowledging his dependence on God and exercising faith that God would speak through him and grant him favor in the king’s eyes.

And God honored Nehemiah’s prayer and granted his request before the king.

You may not be able to set aside hours each day for dedicated prayer. You may not be able to set aside even 30 minutes, though this discipline can have many benefits. But no matter how much time you may have to set aside for uninterrupted prayer, Nehemiah’s example demonstrates that we can pray at any moment and dedicated, focused time in prayer is not requisite in order to connect with the God of heaven!

Reflection

What has been your practice and discipline with prayer in the past?

How have you thought of prayer in the past? How have you defined and understood the nature and practice of prayer?

In what ways does Nehemiah’s example challenge your view and understanding of prayer?

In what ways can you implement Nehemiah’s example and make prayer more of an ongoing connection with God in which you are constantly directing your thoughts towards Him?


Bonus link: Here’s another recent study from Dave’s site, click to read The Mark of Immaturity.

July 4, 2022

The Case for a Literal Reading of Genesis 1

This is a topic which arises constantly, in fact I referred to it in conversation yesterday. This is our fourth time at Awakened to Grace, and the author of today’s piece is again Joy Bollinger. Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared.

Were Adam & Eve Real People?

Adam and Eve’s existence has been argued since the beginning of time. A Gallup poll determined that only 24 percent of Americans believe the Bible to be the literal Word of God. The other 76 percent believe the Bible is a book of myths, legends, teachings, and that Adam and Eve were nothing more than an allegorical representation of humanity. However, there is enough proof throughout the Bible to legitimize the reality of Adam and Eve being the first parents of mankind.

We learn in Genesis 1:1-28 that after God spoke all things into existence, God said,

“Let Us (Son and Father) make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So, God created mankind in His own image; He created them male and female and blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” “And God saw everything that He had made and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Adam’s name means “man from the red earth” and Eve’s name means “living one and source of life.”

The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and he became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). The Lord God then caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and took one of Adam’s ribs, and made a woman, and brought her to the man. Then He gave them all authority over creation (Genesis 2:21-23).

God had lavishly provided for their every need, yet Satan, the great deceiver, would come to tempt and cause doubt to form within their hearts and minds. So it happened that Satan appeared to Eve with his trickery and convinced her that God was a withholder of good things. When Eve saw that the fruit of the forbidden tree was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom, she took the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it (Genesis 3:6).

Adam disobeyed God’s command to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, so he followed his wife’s lead, and together they yielded to temptation. Sin filled their hearts, bringing death and destruction to all mankind.

Satan continues to perpetuate that same deceptive lie, causing many people to believe that God withholds good things and that in serving Him, they are prevented from enjoying life. The truth is that those who fully surrender and commit their hearts and minds to the lordship of Jesus Christ, will experience peace, joy, and God’s provision that surpasses all understanding.

Job, a righteous man, referred to Adam when he made his case of innocence to his friends and said, “If I have covered my transgressions as Adam…” (Job 31:33). Adam tried and failed to cover his sin of disobedience when he said, “The woman You put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12-13).

Adam blamed God for giving him Eve; therefore, he reasoned that she was the cause for his rebellion and disobedience. He took no responsibility for his sin and failure in preventing them both from making that fatal choice.

We find a reference to Adam in Deuteronomy 32:8: “When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He [God] set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.”

The entire genealogy of Adam to Abraham and eventually to David can be found in Chronicles 1 and 2, beginning with Adam and his sons. Again, we see a reference to the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham, whose lineage came from Adam (Matthew 1:1).

A significant account regarding Adam and Eve is found in Paul’s letters to the Roman and Corinthian churches. Paul, who walked with Jesus and sat under His teaching, was educated in the eternal truths regarding Jesus and Adam. He fully understood Adam to have been just as real as Jesus. Had Adam never existed, then Paul’s entire case for the Gospel would have been pointless.

Paul details how sin and death entered the world through Adam and spread by inheritance to the entire human race. He presents Adam and Jesus as the two representative heads of humanity. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act (Jesus’ death and resurrection) resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one Man (Jesus Christ) the many will be made righteous” (Romans 18:21).

Jesus Christ came in the form of a man, yet fully God, to redeem and bring salvation to those who confess with their mouth that “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in their heart that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9).

The Apostle Paul strongly affirms, “Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man (Adam) came death, by Man (Jesus) also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming (I Corinthians 15:20-23).

It is written that “The first man, Adam, became a living being—the last Adam, (Christ), a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second Man (Christ) is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly Man” (I Corinthians 15:45-49).

Those who discount the authenticity of Adam and Eve, dismiss the whole counsel of God and might as well toss out the entire Bible. For everything rests on the foundation of God’s creation of man and woman, because it was their sin and fall that required Jesus Christ coming to earth to bring restoration and redemption to a fallen world.

PRAYER: LORD, all scripture is given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God and is valuable for doctrine, admonishment, correction, and instruction in righteousness, so that I may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Help me, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, to believe and accept in faith that Your God-breathed Word is true and accurate. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

June 13, 2022

Fashioning Weapons into Agricultural Tools

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we have another new author to introduce to you, although he has been writing online for a long time. Chuck Larsen is a U.S. pastor, and we discovered him when looking at search results for the phrase “they will beat their swords into ploughshares.” It seemed like a timely search in view of the grassroots desire for gun reform in that country, and I couldn’t help but think of social activist Shane Claiborne, who literally takes guns and fashions them into garden tools.

Chuck’s articles are shorter than some we run here, so there is also a bonus devotional for you as well. Clicking the headers (titles) below will take you to where they first appeared. The first is from 2011, the second is from last week and is part of a series in Genesis. If you’re reading this June 2022, simply visit the blog and read through.

Beat Their Swords Into Ploughshares

God has not only given us His absolute truth to guide our life by, but also has promised us a king who will one day apply that truth across the board for all mankind. This King and judge of all will be recognized by the entire world. He will come! He will establish His Kingdom and we will finally have peace. Micah 4:3-4 is a famous passage. Every soldier that’s ever walked a rice patty or stormed a beach, or pointed a rifle, or pushed a button longs for the fulfillment of this passage. Every mother who lost a son, every wife, every child whose husband or father didn’t return from battle gets goose bumps when they read this.

It says,

“He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.”

This passage is also found in Isaiah Chapter two. It is inscribed on a stone wall facing the United Nations building in New York. Khrushchev saw a figurative fulfillment of the prophecy when he visited the John Deere factory near Des Moines, Iowa: The plant was built early in World War II for manufacture of machine-gun bullets. Today it produces farm implements.

Micah 5:2-4 is another famous passage. We often sing about it at Christmas time. It tells us about the Prince of Peace who will end war for all time.

It says,

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, …And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

The next time I sing, “O little town of Bethlehem,” I’ll sing it with more meaning. “The Hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight!”

Chuck

“…his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Dust Thou Art!

In Genesis 2:7 we see more detail in God’s creation of our first ancestors. It says, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

Picking up on what Wenham said in his commentary that I quoted earlier, he adds to his comments on verses 5 and 6 and says more, “The writer flashes back to the situation before mankind was created on the sixth day (1:26–28) and describes a typical middle-eastern desert, which requires human effort to irrigate and make it bloom. It was from the clay of such an area that God, the great Potter, moulded the first man and breathed into him the breath of life. Through this traditional image Genesis implies that people are by nature more than material; they have a spiritual, God-breathed, element too.”[1]

Referring to the material aspect of man, “clay” or “earth” or more often “the ground,” Adam, the man, and Adamah the ground have an intimate relationship. Mangun says, “The word for man is adam, while ground is adamah, so the verse says that God formed adam from the dust of adamah.”[2] He then points out that other commentators insist that both Akkadian and Egyptian texts depict God forming man from clay like a potter. This is a familiar comparison in the Bible as well. One commentator even argues that this relationship is intentional. “God forming man here is intentionally evoking the image of a potter and clay.” Then he points out “The Hebrew word used three times in Gen 2 for ‘formed’ is the same word that describes the potter and his activity in Isa 29:16.”[3]

I love that verse. The English Standard Version follows the traditional translation and says, “Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’”? I like the New Living Translation better. It says, “How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, ‘He didn’t make me’? Does a jar ever say, ‘The potter who made me is stupid’’?

It was a common practice for man, in repenting, to cover themselves with dust and ashes. I think the “dust” was symbolic of the acknowledgement of being the clay who has not right to question the potter. It took Job 40 chapters to wrestle with why bad things happen in the world to good people. After he and his friends exhausted all their puny ideas, God confronts them with questions they cannot answer. Job finally gets the point in Job 42:2-6 and says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak.” Sometimes it’s good to remember that we are but dust.


[1] Wenham, Gordon J. 1994. “Genesis.” In New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, 4th ed., 62. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[2] Mangum, Douglas, Miles Custis, and Wendy Widder. 2012. Genesis 1–11. Lexham Research Commentaries. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Mangum, Douglas, Miles Custis, and Wendy Widder. 2012. Genesis 1–11. Lexham Research Commentaries. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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