Christianity 201

March 27, 2017

New Creation? Or “Pretty much who I have always been?”

NLT 2 Cor. 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Today we’re introducing a new writer, Tara who blogs at PursuePeaceBlog. Click to look around, I love her writing style and how she wrestles with the text. Click the title below to read today’s thoughts with photo images.

A New Creation

I’m dead.

Yep, dead as a door nail.

Nail down the coffin, people.

I am entirely unresponsive to the world around me.

Dead.

Don’t plan my funeral yet though, that would just be weird.

Allow me to explain…

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the Bible says that in Christ, we are a new creation. In fact, Paul explains it further by saying that old things have passed away and all things have become new. Notice that Paul does not say some things have become new, or you have become new, or the world has become new. No. Paul says all things have become new for those who live in Christ Jesus.

I have always had a rather ambivalent relationship with Paul’s words. There is nothing more encouraging or edifying to know that Christ frees us in such a way that we become a brand new creation.

Just as many times as this verse has encouraged me, it has confounded and alarmed me. I am not certain when I became a Christian; I pretty much just always loved Jesus. I could tell you when my faith became my own, instead of my parents’, but I did not have a defining moment where the Lord saved me. I often wonder if Paul’s words would have a more potent impact upon me if I hadn’t always been a Christian—if I had a “me before Jesus” with which to compare myself.

I know I have grown more in love with Christ as I have entered adulthood, and I know my faith has matured in immeasurable ways; however, I don’t know that I see myself as a new creation. I am still pretty much who I have always been. I continue to struggle with the same sins I was struggling with as a young girl; they may look different now, but they are the same. I can be unimaginably prideful, and impeccably self-absorbed; I tend to envy one’s success long before I rejoice in it; I seek my own glory before I seek my Father’s, and I am impatient beyond logic.

How is this kind of mess a new creation?

Romans 6:4 says, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Read that verse again. I mean, really read it.

Paul says we were buried with Him…Whoa. I don’t recall being held up in a tomb for three days with the Son of God. I guarantee I would not have been as chill about it as Jesus was.

Colossians 2:11 also describes Christians as being buried with Jesus through baptism, but it goes further to say not only was Christ raised from the dead, but so were we.

Colossians 3 reminds us again that we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God.

This begs the question that if we are dead, how then should we live on this earth?

It’s hard to be dead and alive at the same time, even for the most gifted of people.

Colossians 3 says more, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Christ is life. Christ is life. Christ is life.

There are countless verses that address being dead to the world and alive in Christ. Galatians 3:26-27 says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Colossians touches on this same concept in chapter 2 by saying a Christian puts off the body of the things of the flesh…

If my faith in Christ allows me to drape Him over my shoulders like a blanket and traipse around like a beacon for Jesus, then I must simultaneously clothe myself in newness of life—my new man—killing my old self.  

In fact, Ephesians 4 says this of a Christian: putting off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Despite all this evidence, the problem many Christians have with this idea is that our old self seems to still live, lurking in the shadows of our hearts, revealing himself or herself countless times throughout the course of one day—this old self is our sin, and it has the power to eat us alive if we don’t let Christ fight it.

Our old self fears sin, fears the world, fears failure—fears everything. Putting on Christ each day and making Him our life does not mean sin no longer exists within us: it means that sin no longer controls us; it becomes so powerless, in fact, that it is dead. Christ has given us a weapon with which to fight this sin, and the ultimate gift when we lose that fight – forgiveness.

For many of us, choosing to truly believe this is half the battle.

Jesus was buried with our sin, our muck, our nastiness, our filth. It is no longer ours, but His. Being a new creation does not mean that I no longer sin. When the world looks at me, it sees little change between who I am and who I once was. However, it is what God sees when He looks at me that truly makes the difference.

He sees His pristine and perfect child, dead to the world, yet alive and well in Christ. He sees a woman who has her mind set on things above.

My master is no longer sin; my master is God.

This is freedom.

March 11, 2017

Jesus in Luke on Money: Part 2 – The Rich and the Kingdom of God

As we explained yesterday, through a friend I was introduced to the writing of Don Merritt. We asked him for permission to use two of them for which he graciously agreed, but then I decided to split these over the course of two days, since they were on the same topic. Don is working his way through the gospel of Luke, but his blog also features topical items as well. Click the title below to read this one at The Life Project, and then take a few minutes to look around.

The Rich, The Way and The Kingdom

Luke 18:24-30

Jesus was fully aware that the disciples would be confused after His conversation with the rich man because, as we noted last time, He had blown up a major cultural expectation of the time that the rich were more favored by God than others were. As a result, He begins to teach them, even while the man is standing right there…

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (18:24-25)

The rich man hadn’t been overly enthused at the prospect of giving up all of his wealth, and Jesus underscored the difficulty that many have in entering the Kingdom and leaving the priorities of this world behind. Looking at His example here of putting a camel through the eye of a needle, I think we can safely say that He was engaging in a touch of hyperbole to make the point. The reaction of the disciples speaks volumes about the prevailing assumptions of that culture: “Who then can be saved?”

If you notice, Jesus in His answer blows up a second predominant assumption of that time:

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (18:27)

There are two cultural teachings that are being corrected here: First, that the rich are most favored by God, and the second is that a person can attain righteousness by reliance upon their own ability to keep the Law; both of these are false. This second teaching is still with us, sometimes it is obvious, and sometimes it is more subtle, we call it “works”. You cannot earn your way into the Kingdom by following the rules, “doing church right” or by doing good deeds, for you can only enter the kingdom by faith in God through Christ. Can the rich enter the Kingdom? Yes, they can, by placing their faith in God, and not in their earthly possessions and positions.

Peter is beginning to comprehend: “We have left everything to follow you!”  (18:28)

In reply to Peter, Jesus indicates that there may be more than just “stuff” that can get in the way…

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (18:29-30)

Notice the relationships that may also need to be left behind, notice also that they are in the same list as “home”, Matthew has “fields”, which is to say material possessions. The real point is that the follower of Christ must be willing to leave anything behind if it interferes with following Him, for with the Kingdom, you are either “all in” or all out. Aren’t these things that we all struggle with at one time or another?

This is one of those cases when the theology of the teaching is very simple, but living it can be difficult, yet with God, all things are possible. Consider this: The man who wrote Matthew’s Gospel was a tax collector. He was rich, he also had a family, friends and associates, but by the grace of God, he was one of the Twelve, and he wasn’t the only one. Remember Zacchaeus? Joseph of Arimathea? Saul of Tarsus?

With God, all things are indeed possible!

March 10, 2017

Jesus in Luke on Money: Part 1 – The Rich Young Man

Recently, through a fellow blogger who is also a personal friend, I was introduced to the writing of Don Merritt at The Life Project. Because some of his pieces are shorter than what we do here, I asked him for permission to use two of them for which he graciously agreed, but then I decided to run these two over the course of two days, since they were longer and also related. Don is working his way through the gospel of Luke, but his blog also features topical items as well. Click the title below to read this one at source, and then go exploring!

Jesus Meets a Rich Ruler

Luke 18:18-23

This account matches up quite nicely with Matthew’s (Matt. 19:18-22) although Matthew tells us that the rich man was young as well.

Social conventions and customs are a funny thing; they influence most of us in a way that enables us to make sweeping assumptions concerning great truths, even eternal ones, and yet those very conventions change often through history. We should take this reality as a warning to question the social conventions of our time, and this tale is a case in point. In Jesus’ day, as in many other historical periods, it was assumed that most wealthy people were the ones favored by God; why else would they be so blessed? Yes, some were not so ethical in their conduct, but many were good, hard working people, the bedrocks of the community; surely God’s favor was upon them!

What a contrast to those little children in the last scene, those little ones that represented vulnerability and humility. Right after Jesus commented about the little ones, a rich young man walks up to Him and asks a question:

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (18:18)

Here’s a guy who appears to have it all, but he apparently believes that he is lacking in the way he has led his life; there is an element of humility here that we often overlook. In the dialogue that follows, we learn more about this young man:

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. (18:19-21)

In Matthew’s account, the man asks Jesus what he was still lacking right here. This young man was righteous, and appears to have good intentions, and as you will see, Jesus doesn’t dispute his claim that he has kept all of those commandments. It would also appear that the man was beginning to realize, perhaps more quickly than the disciples, that merely keeping commandments as was the Jewish prevailing thought, wasn’t quite enough, after all, why else would he have asked Jesus in the first place? Yet, he still seems to have believed that eternal life was contingent upon his ability to do something. Maybe he was right:

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. (18:22-23)

Jesus told the man to sell everything he owned, give money to the poor and follow Him. I cannot over-emphasize how radical this was, for the prevailing thought of those times said that the rich were blessed, worthy and most favored of all, yet Jesus told the man to liquidate and give to the poor. Notice, He didn’t say to give everything to the poor (as some older translations say) but the implication is clear enough. The story ends with the man going away sad, because he had great wealth.

Traditional teaching assumes the man did not do as Jesus told him, but I want to point out that the text doesn’t say so; maybe he did, maybe he didn’t… but he was sad.

This is where we like to bash people who have more than we do; I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this in class discussions and sermons and how many times I have read it, but I would suggest that we should not go rushing into this too quickly. I have known quite a few people who are quite wealthy, rich people, and they usually discover that their wealth, while handy for sure, is also a millstone around their necks; a burden more than a pleasure. Yet once they have it, it is hard to let go of. Even so, let’s not concentrate on those who have more than we do, let’s look in the mirror instead, for there is where Jesus message, and the young man’s predicament resonate:

Suppose Jesus came to you and told you to liquidate everything you have, that’s right dear reader, sell all your possessions, give to the poor and follow Him.

Would that make you happy?

If you answer “yes” to that question, then let’s take a closer look: Your home, your car(s), your accounts, retirement plans, investments, kids’ college funds, the contents of your house… everything. You show up to follow Jesus with only the shirt on your back. Hold on, the shirt on your back is also a possession, so you show up without even a shirt on your back or anything else, to follow Jesus. Are you happy?

More importantly, would you do it?

Maybe we should think carefully before we make this all about pointing fingers at others!

The good news is that we are still in that section where the instruction is for the disciples, and in the next part, we will see what Jesus has to say to them; will it get easier? Well, you’ll have to come back next time to find out!

December 26, 2016

Compromise: Making it “Easier” to be a Christian

Today we’re returning to the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. I got caught up in reading several articles here, and I encourage you to take ten minutes to do the same.  For today’s piece, click the title to read at source.

Your Compromise isn’t a Virtue

Friends, we are called as disciples to “preach the Word” and be ready in season and out of season”when the circumstances are for us and when they are against us. We are told to “convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Why? Because “the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables”  (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Do you know how the church can “do better”? By adhering to God’s Word and loving our neighbor in truth.

How is it that we can “dig deep” and “do the hard work” that God really desires of us? By searching His word and hiding it in our hearts. It is the TRUTH that sets people free, not our well-meaning actions. The opinions of culture, authors, historians or professors don’t set people free, in fact they can do just the opposite.

Lets open our arms, but with the true gospel.

Our God is holy and righteous. He is also loving and full of mercy. These don’t cancel each other out, and we can’t adhere to one and not the other.

Sin has a diabolical agenda that will take us further down the road of good intentions than we ever imagined. Following Jesus requires hard things sometimes. It means we die to sin and self. We don’t rejoice in sin but flee from it. When others are stuck, we point them to a God who loves them and wants them free. The argument of “you’re too judgmental,  God just wants us to love each other” is worn out with me. A true disciple does everything in love. Speaking the truth does not equate me with Westboro Baptist lunatics. If we ignore what He says in His Word, if we rearrange it to suit our feelings, no matter how noble they may be, we are not living as Jesus followers. We are nothing more than people-pleasers.

“In the end its like two locals telling a visitor how to get into a building. One tells the visitor he must go through the main gate, while the other says to go through an easier side door. The latter fears the main gate is too far away and too hard to enter. Initially, this local appears to make it easier for the visitor to get in, while the other seems to impose a harsher standard – until you find out there’s no side door. 

While the easier instruction is well intended, it’s sadly just another way of keeping the visitor out.” – Derek Rishmawy, The Gospel Coalition

It is precisely because we don’t want any to perish that we are speaking up. We don’t want anyone left out,  Jesus didn’t come to be exclusive, He came for all of us. Ironically, those screaming to include what God has deemed not acceptable in His kingdom are shutting the door on the very people they hope to bring in.


Application: (1) Can you think of areas where the modern church has made it “easier” to be a Christian by being lax about things scripture teaches?

(2) Does this overlap on the issue of “belonging” versus “believing” as discussed in this article?

November 3, 2016

The Bible’s Proper Place

by Clarke Dixon

Imagine this scenario: The teenagers of our church have grown up into their twenties and have left town to attend colleges and universities elsewhere. Meanwhile society has shifted and governments have changed so that there is now a hostile climate for Christianity. In fact, officials have stormed our church service, rounded us all up and sent us to prison. We learn that we are all to be executed. We also learn that while things are not as bad for our youth away in other towns, things are not good there either. We can send a letter to them. What would you write?

This is not unlike what we have in the book of 2nd Timothy where Paul is in prison in Rome awaiting execution. He has the opportunity to send a letter to a young pastor in Ephesus named Timothy. What does he write?

10 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 2nd Timothy 3:10 – 17 (NRSV)

Let us summarize: “Timothy, you will be surrounded by bad people, but as for you, be good, keeping the scriptures central.” This is just as important a message for us in our day. In fact we can consider how “be good, keeping God’s revelation front and centre” is proper for us as individuals, families, churches, and as a nation.

For individuals – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

When Paul speaks of “the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” in verse 15, we may immediately think of salvation in terms of what it means for us when we die. The Scriptures do instruct us on such things as they help us see our need for, and God’s provision of, grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. But salvation is a two-sided coin. On the one side we may think of the destination, eternity with God. On the other we can consider the journey, life with God now. The Scriptures also instruct us for the salvation journey as the Holy Spirit transforms us step by step along the way. This second side of the salvation coin, the journey, is in mind when Paul goes on to say that

16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work

So as individuals, be good, keeping God’s revelation central!

For families – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

It is sometimes said that faith is a private and personal thing. This is actually a ridiculous statement for how can it be? As I respond to the call to be good, keeping God’s Word central, how can my family be unaffected? As God transforms individuals, He also transforms the experience of those in relationship with those individuals. There is a direct impact on my family and friends when I seek to be good, keeping the wisdom of the Bible central in things like avoiding drunkenness, alcoholism, gambling, adultery, pornography, and the like. There is also a direct impact when I seek to be good like Jesus, as I read about him in the Bible, learning to bear a cross, learning how to love and forgive, and the like. There is a direct impact on my family, friends, and even enemies, when my life evidences the fruit of the Spirit:

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

The Holy Spirit uses scripture to awaken in us a greater desire for such fruit than the kind of fruit Adam and Eve went after. It is good for families, indeed all relationships, to be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

For churches – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

Ask what makes for a good church and you can get a wide variety of responses like good parking, good facility, great speaking, great music, great programming and so on. You can build a great organization without ever cracking open a Bible. However, to form a good people you will need to open the Bible. The Church is not an organization that happens to made up of people, it is a people who happen to get organized. Though not very organized sometimes! To have a great church, we will want to be good, keeping the Bible central.

For our nation – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

What makes Canada great? Some people will say that it is our multiculturalism. However, are we really all that multicultural? There are things that appear to be acceptable, or even promoted in some other cultures that we would think barbaric here. Even the most ardent proponent of multiculturalism in Canada has their limits. So we are not as multicultural as we think we are, for there is a sense of Canadian culture, of limits in what is not acceptable. Where do we get this from? Though we are moving away from it, our culture still owes a great debt to Christian ethics. The Bible has given us a good foundation on which to build a nation. We should not be surprised by this as we are told the Bible is useful for “training in righteousness” (verse 16). Consider, for example, how the opening chapters of the Bible teach us about the dignity of every human being. Those who who would push us to become a fully secular state have difficulty accounting for why, objectively, we ought to value every person. This is just one example of many.

I am a secularist in the sense that I do not think a person should ever be compelled to be a Christian to be a Canadian. Nor should a non-believer be forced to pray a believer’s prayer. However, I also see how Biblical values have served our nation well. We are a nation that enjoys a bit of multiculturalism and a bit of secularism. We can appreciate that. But our nation has also been marinating in Christianity for a long time. So as a nation we can appreciate what Paul tells Timothy; be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

What Paul knew to be good in a time of crisis is good for all time including our time. Don’t be like the rest when the rest have lost their way. Be good, keeping the Scriptures central, sticking close to Jesus who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). And remember, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit. We also have the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ for when we fall on the journey and need to get back on our feet, dust off our Bibles, and start again.


Follow Clarke Dixon at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon or on Twitter

September 19, 2016

What it Looks Like to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

Today we’re introducing a new writer to you. Jonathan Parrish writes at Walking With Christ Daily, now in its 5th year. To read this at source and then check out their archives, click the title below.

How we can love our neighbor as yourself?

The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31

How are we to love our neighbor as ourselves? Some people have applied this to many things in life as lessons. From not judging others to giving to others, but what is a real way to love our neighbor as our self. I’m going to cover a few points that will help in a way that loving our neighbor as ourselves can have eternal and not just life impacts.

The first point I want to cover is looking out for needs of your neighbors, be it prayer, help during a rough financial patch, or even just talking to them. Neighbors can be more than just a literal neighbor it could be anyone you meet also.

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Romans 12:13

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4

We should be fulfilling needs in our communities, friends, and family. If we truly want to love them as ourselves. And this is a just small way of meeting a physical need for someone. Especially if they don’t know Christ.

My second point is this. If you truly love someone like you love yourself, then guess what you will share the Gospel with them. The Gospel is the demonstration of love. So we should not be afraid to offend or be ashamed of the Gospel, but instead proclaim it to your community proclaim it everyone as you go about your daily life.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  Romans 1:16

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1st Corinthians 1:18

We need to remember that someone in boldness shared the Gospel with us, know very well that we could reject it because we found it to be crazy or offending. They still did it because we are called to do that, but also because they loved you as much they loved themselves. So if we love someone as much as love ourselves then we won’t worry about our reputations, but instead will worry about the fact that neighbor, friend, family member is condemned to Hell.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16

Last, if we love them as ourselves, we will grow and disciple them. We won’t leave them out there to dry. They need to be led and taught. They need to be grown in the likeness of Christ. We start with the basics and we work our way up. We don’t let them catch on in a more mature Sunday class or as they go. We take them one on one and show them how to have a quiet time, teach them what it means to be a Christian and prepare them to go out and share the Gospel with their neighbors.

So when we love each other as Jesus commanded us to, we meet physical needs with our neighbors, we share the Gospel with them, and once they come to salvation we help grow and disciple them into mature Christians. That is how we love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus proved it ultimately at the cross when He died for all of our sins and rose again. So get out there and love somebody this week.

August 16, 2016

The Baptismal Formula; The Discipleship Formula

As we did last year at this time, yesterday and today we’ve been re-visiting the website GCD (Gospel-Centered Discipleship) and this time around the featured writer is Pittsburgh young adults pastor Austin Gohn. Click the title which follows to read this at source, and then spend some time looking at other articles.

In the Name of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit

“In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Whatever the format—swimming pool, font, bathtub, or baptistery—this simple, rhythmic phrase has “stirred the waters” (Jn. 5:4) of baptism since the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20). As a second grader, I remember hearing these words at my own baptism while trying to catch one more breath. Now, as a pastor, I pronounce them over young adults as I baptize them in my church’s small and under-heated baptistery (complete with its own Bob Ross worthy Jordan River mural).

As we step into discipleship, though, we often leave this phrase (and the reality it proclaims) in the water. We attempt discipleship in the name of the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit, but not in the name of the Holy Three. We might confess the Trinity at a doctrinal level, but we forget, sideline, or ignore the Trinity at a practical level. As Eugene Peterson noted, “We know the truth and goals of the gospel. But we have haven’t taken the time to apprentice ourselves to the way of Jesus, the way he did it. And so we end up doing the right thing in the wrong way and gum up the works.”[1] Instead of living “life to the fullest” (Jn. 10:10), we end up stuck, smug, or spent somewhere in the course of discipleship.

But, what if Jesus intended baptism “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” to set the tone for discipleship? Listen to the way Dallas Willard paraphrases the Great Commission:

“I have been given say over all things in heaven and in the earth. As you go, therefore, make disciples of all kinds of people, submerge them in the Trinitarian presence, and show them how to do everything I have commanded. And now look: I am with you every minute until the job is done.” (italics mine)[2]

The Trinity is not a mere entry point into discipleship but the ongoing environment for discipleship. This means that gospel-centered discipleship is only as gospel-centered as it is Trinity-centered (please read Fred Sanders on this). Perhaps, this is what St. Paul meant when he prayed for “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” to be with the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 13:14).

If we want our discipleship to bear fruit, sometimes we need to be pulled aside like Apollos and have explained to us “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:24-28). We need to uncover the areas where we only lean into the name of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, and recover discipleship in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Discipleship in the Name of One or Maybe Two

When we attempt discipleship in the name of one or two persons of the Trinity, it’s like attempting to live on only food or oxygen or water (or two out of three). Sooner or later, you are going to feel the effects of forgetting to eat, drink, or breathe. It’s a life or death matter. Discipleship is no different. Without the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, disciples (and even entire communities of disciples) start to shrivel up.

Trinitarian DiscipleshipAlthough there are many angles from which we could consider this (e.g. overemphasis on one person of the Trinity), let us consider what happens when we neglect one person of the Trinity and attempt discipleship in the name of two, but not the other. If we attempt discipleship apart from the Son, we might begin to equate our progress in the faith (or lack thereof) with our status before God (Eph. 2:8-10, Gal. 2:15-16). If we attempt discipleship apart from the Father, we might attempt to live like Jesus without knowing the fundamental knowledge about the Father that made his life the logical overflow (as expressed in his Sermon on the Mount, especially Mt. 6:25-34).[3] And, if we attempt discipleship apart from the Spirit, we might burn out as we try to overcome our sinful habits through own insufficient power and discipline (Rom. 8:12-13, Gal. 5:16-25). Whether through ignorance or intention, each of these mistakes can be deadly for discipleship.

In my own life, I tend to lean into the Father and the Son but forget the Holy Spirit. Even if I believe (and teach) that transformation is not possible apart from the Holy Spirit, my own discipleship growth often centers on correct motives (the finished work of Christ) and correct knowledge of the Father.  Borrowing the language of A.W. Tozer, it’s possible that 95% of my own discipleship would go unchanged if the Holy Spirit were withdrawn. As a result, I am prone to feeling burned-out, tired, and exhausted.

Since these kinds of oversights are difficult to notice on our own, we need a community of disciples who can gently point out where we need some course correction. This is not something that can be figured out with a Trinity survey or checklist, but by careful listening to our brothers and sisters in Christ. In our church, this happens best in discipleship communities (our equivalent of missional communities). While we are eating together and talking, I’ve heard phrases like:

  • “I don’t feel like I can change.”
  • “I feel like I am letting God down.”
  • “I don’t understand why Jesus would tell us to do that.”

These phrases act like signposts that clue us into areas where we need to be reminded of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are an open door to talk about the Trinity-centered gospel.

Discipleship in the Name of All Three

The best way to get back on track is to remember that we are already locals in the neighborhood of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Discipleship is not a way into the neighborhood, but something we do as part of the community. As St. Paul made clear in Ephesians 1:3-14, our participation in the life of the Trinity is thanks to the saving work of the Trinity in the first place. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit chose, loved, predestined, redeemed, sealed, and adopted us (just for starters!). At baptism, the Trinity became our home.

With this confidence in the saving work of the Trinity, we are free to explore how discipleship in a Trinitarian shape might look. Although there are many possibilities, we can start by considering some of the implications of John 13-17 (which is arguably the best discourse we have on life with the Triune God). Here are a few implications from Jesus’ conversation with his disciples:

  • Discipleship in the name of the Father is dependent on the Father’s provision (15:16) and love for us (16:27).
  • Discipleship in the name of the Son is made possible through him (14:6), looks to him to see what the Father is like (14:9), converses with the Father through him (14:24; 16:23), and trusts him to bring about the fruit of discipleship (15:1-4).
  • Discipleship in the name of the Holy Spirit relies on the Spirit to remind us of what the Son taught (14:25-26), convict of us sin (16:8), and teach us how the truth applies in present circumstances (16:12-15).

This is just a taste of discipleship in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Alongside this and other Trinity-soaked texts, read authors like St. Augustine, John Owen, Eugene Peterson, Susanna Wesley, Dallas Willard, Fred Sanders, and Wesley Hill—people who have both written about and experienced life with the Triune God. Steep in these for a few minutes and the possibilities for discipleship in a Trinitarian shape really start to open up.

It’s Missional

As a final note, doing discipleship in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not just about us. It’s for the sake of everyone else. The process of discipleship is just as critical to God’s mission as the product of discipleship. In a culture that is looking for the next self-improvement strategy, discipleship in a Trinitarian shape offers people a transformative relationship.Discipleship itself is an opportunity to show the world not only different goals to pursue, but also a different way in which to pursue them—in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And that’s good news.

[1] Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 300.
[2] Willard, The Great Omission, (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2006), xiii.
[3] I am thinking here of the way Jesus deals with anxiety. He doesn’t say, “I’m not anxious, so you shouldn’t be anxious.” Instead, he says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (italics mine). Anxiety is rooted in wrong ideas about the Father.

 

June 23, 2016

Freedom of Religion & Ezekiel

Clarke Dixon continues his series on Ezekiel. Before posting this, I spent a minute pondering Clarke’s tag line on his blog, “Preaching, not because I can, but because He called.” Food for thought. But also very humble; Clarke’s a very good preacher. You can read this at source at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

•••by Clarke Dixon

You can make a case that God given values as taught in the Bible are great values to build a society upon. In fact you can make the case that Western society has been positively influenced by these values, though increasingly not so much. Therefore, should we be compelling all Canadians to hold Christian values? Should we be forcing the Christian viewpoint on everyone?

God’s calling of Ezekiel to prophesy to His people in captivity provides an interesting parallel for us to consider. God’s people of Israel have rebelled against God and the time has come for something to be done about it. Is Ezekiel called as a prophet to enforce the law? Will his role be to crack down on the lawbreakers by force? Let’s take a look:

16 At the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me:17 Mortal, I have made you a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. (Ezekiel 3:16-17 emphasis mine)

Ezekiel the ProphetEzekiel is called, not to be a “religious policeman,” nor a “ruler,” but a “sentinel,” or as some translations have it, a “watchman.” While we normally think today of defending a nation, back in antiquity they thought rather of defending each individual city. Part of a city’s defence was to have watchmen who would stand on tall towers or walls watching out for an approaching enemy. The role of a watchman was to make the leaders and people aware of the facts. What happened after that was up to the leaders and the people. In calling Ezekiel in his role as prophet to be a watchman, God was calling him to state the facts: “you shall give them warning from me.” Ezekiel was required to do no more, nor no less. This responsibility is made clear in the verses that follow, for example:

18 If I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give them no warning, or speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness, or from their wicked way, they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life. (Ezekiel 3:18-19 emphasis mine)

Ezekiel was called to warn, to state the facts, but not to force or enforce.

When we look at the apostles in the New Testament we see them acting like watchmen. We see this in Peter in his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost:

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’.” (Acts 2:40 NIV)

As we read through the New Testament we find that the early Christians were never interested in arranging a political coup. They were not looking to create a political entity or to seize power from the current political entities. If anything, there was a call to pray for and respect the prevailing civic powers. Christians instead were calling individuals to repentance, giving warning about the consequences of a broken relationship with God and making the invitation to be reconciled to God through the grace of Christ. They were stating the facts, very important facts, and with great urgency, like any good watchman would do.

We can note here that the beginnings of Christianity with an implicit separation of Church and State is quite different from the beginnings of Islam. Muhammad claimed to be a prophet, but he became in fact a political leader and a military commander which has had implications for what fundamentalist versions of Islam look like today. The leaders of the early Church were neither political nor military leaders. Many people hoped Jesus would become a political and military leader in hopes that he would lead a revolt against Rome. Rather than pick up a sword, Jesus picked up a cross. The followers of Jesus were committed to following the example of Jesus and the “Great Commission” of Jesus:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18-20)

Jesus said “make disciples”, not laws. Jesus said “make disciples”, not Christian nations. The early Church in new Testament times kept its focus on making disciples without any thought to armed action. We must admit, however, that a clean division between Church and State has not been kept through every era of Church history and in every place. We must also point out that the separation of Church and State also does not mean that Christians cannot have a voice in politics. The Bible does point us, however, toward being sensitive in our politics to the fundamental human right of freedom of religion.

That Ezekiel is to give warning and not force a decision is further highlighted in the concluding verse of the chapter:

But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God’; let those who will hear, hear; and let those who refuse to hear, refuse; for they are a rebellious house. (Ezekiel 3:27 emphasis mine)

Ezekiel is to give free space for response: “let those who will hear, hear; and let those who refuse to hear, refuse”. The response is not Ezekiel’s responsibility. A watchman gives the facts. What people do with the facts after that is not the watchman’s responsibility. As the people of God we are not called to force the hand, we are called to direct the eye. The watchman says “Look,I see the enemy army over there!” The Christian says “Look, we see signs confirming that God is real”, and “Look at how far you are from God because of sin and rebellion”, and “Look, you can see clearly God’s love and grace at the cross, reconciliation and life with God is possible through Jesus.” We do not force people to accept our viewpoint, we point people to the truth and invite them to see for themselves.

So should we be forcing Christian values and beliefs on everyone? We respect the freedom of people to make up their own minds; but remember, they are not free to do so until they have all the facts. The leaders and people of a city are not free to make good decisions until the watchman shares what he knows. People do not have the freedom of religion until we share the facts. That means sharing Jesus!

(All scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless stated otherwise)

 

February 16, 2016

A Devotional About Devotion

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is our 6th time with Andy Elmes who is better known in the UK, Australia and New Zealand than in North America. His organization is called Great Big Life and he hosts a weekday radio feature called Breakfast of Champions. You can also get the Breakfast devos by subscription (click the above link) as I do by email each weekday morning. This is part one of a series, you need to sign up to see them all.

Characteristics of a Blueprint Church, part 1

Acts 2:41-43 (NIV)
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

These verses show us a really good day in the life of the early Church. What a result: three thousand people added in one day by one message! How would you like a response to your personal evangelism like that?

The other great thing that these verses give us is a glimpse into the culture or DNA of that early “blueprint” church. In these verses we see a number of values that they chose to give great emphasis to. I personally think that when we hold these verses against the ones in Matthew 28:18-20 (the Great Commission) and Acts 1:8 (the promise of empowerment to a GOing people) we find the co-ordinates for the destination we are to still take as 21st century relevant churches, and indeed the ‘blueprint’ for building what God wants built. We need to still find our DNA for building effective Christian lives and churches in that which Jesus was passionate about and commissioned us to do and that which the first Church spent their time, energy and money doing. What He desired and what they dedicated their lives to transcends style or natural culture and still gives us a great and effective building plan for our lives and churches today.

They devoted themselves
Here we find the first ingredient to their effectiveness. There was within the church, not just the leadership, a spirit of self devotion. People daily “devoted themselves”. They had great preachers, but they were not spoon fed; they were self feeders taking responsibility to get the spiritual nourishment they needed. They had great meetings and fellowship but did not need to be constantly phoned or dragged there or reminded with constant bulletins like they had memory problems; they got themselves were they needed to be, when they needed to be there.

Andy Elmes DevotionSo much of modern church is sadly about motivating people to do what they should naturally want to do, encouraging people to do things that really should be their spiritual lifestyle. Imagine if we could get even more self devotion into the DNA of the modern western Church – how much more effective would our local churches be if each member took personal responsibility for even the little things, like getting to Church on time so church services could start as strong as they could do, serving on the teams that needed them and turning up when it was their turn without a text, being faithful in honouring God with their finances and time without subtle reminders and encouragements from the stage?

I am always amazed at how people can downgrade the “God bit” of their life and sentence it to a lesser devotion than the other bits; one great example again being time keeping. In every other area of life they are on time: meetings with the dentist, bank manager, work – but why not church? What is that switch that needs to be fixed? Surely the greatest of our devotion belongs to God, right? Surely the place we manifest the greatest personal self devotion should be in His House? Imagine what we could achieve if just this one thing was to change – suddenly no challenge would be too great. Hey we might even see 3000 people get saved on our Sunday morning: 3000 people moved by His message but also moved by a group of people so sold out and devoted to what and who they believed in.

Let’s be a devoted people.

 

 

February 12, 2016

Jesus Preaches to a Megachurch Crowd

Today’s devotional is part teaching, part testimony from the prologue to what I believe has stood out as Southeast Christian Church pastor Kyle Idleman’s most popular work, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Devoted Follower of Jesus (Zondervan). (Note: Some emphasis added to this excerpt.)

Not a Fan

It’s a Thursday afternoon and I am sitting in the church sanctuary. It’s empty now, but Easter is only a few days away. More than thirty thousand people will likely come to the weekend services, and I have no idea what I’m going to say to them. I can feel the pressure mounting as I sit there hoping that a sermon will come to mind. I look around at the empty seats hoping some inspiration will come. Instead there’s just more perspiration. I wipe the sweat off my brow and look down. This sermon needs to be good. There are some people who only come to church on Christmas and Easter (we call them “Creasters”). I want to make sure they all come back. What could I say to get their attention? How can I make my message more appealing? Is there something creative I could do that would be a big hit and get people talking?

Still nothing. There is a Bible in the chair in front of me. I grab it. I can’t think of a Scripture to turn to. I’ve spent my life studying this book and I can’t think of one passage that will “wow” the Creasters. I consider using it the way I did as a kid. Kind of like a Magic 8 Ball, you ask a question, open up the Bible and point on the page, and whatever it says answers your question.

Not a Fan - Kyle IdlemanFinally a thought crosses my mind: I wonder what Jesus taught whenever he had the big crowds. What I discovered would change me forever. Not just as a preacher, but as a follower of Christ. I found that when Jesus had a large crowd, he would most often preach a message that was likely to cause them to leave.

In that empty sanctuary I read of one such occasion in John chapter 6. Jesus is addressing a crowd that has likely grown to more than five thousand. Jesus has never been more popular. Word has spread about his miraculous healings and his inspirational teaching. This crowd of thousands has come to cheer him on.

After a full day of teaching, Jesus knows the people are getting hungry, and so he turns to his disciples and asks what all these people will do for food. One of the disciples, Philip, tells Jesus that even with eight months’ wages, it wouldn’t be enough money to buy bread for everyone to have a bite. From Philip’s perspective, there really wasn’t anything that could be done. But another disciple, Andrew, has been scanning the crowd and he tells Jesus of a boy who has fives loaves of bread and two small fish. Jesus takes the boy’s sack lunch and with it he feeds the entire crowd. In fact, the Bible tells us that even after everyone had their fill, there was still plenty of food left over.

After dinner the crowd decides to camp out for the night so they can be with Jesus the next day. These are some big-time fans of Jesus. The next morning when the crowd wakes up and they’re hungry again, they look around for Jesus, aka their meal ticket, but he’s nowhere to be found. These fans are hoping for an encore performance. Eventually they realize that Jesus and his disciples have sailed to the other side of the lake. By the time they catch up to Jesus they’re starving. They’ve missed their chance to order breakfast and they are ready to find out what’s on the lunch menu. But Jesus has decided to shut down the “all you can eat” buffet. He’s not handing out any more free samples. In verse 26 Jesus says to the crowd:

I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.

Jesus knows that these people are not going to all the trouble and sacrifice because they are following him, but because they want some free food. Was it Jesus they wanted, or were they only interested in what he could do for them? In verse 35 Jesus offers himself, but the question is, Would that be enough?

Then Jesus declared,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus says, I am the bread of life. Suddenly Jesus is the only thing on the menu. The crowd has to decide if he will satisfy or if they are hungry for something more. Here’s what we read at the end of the chapter:

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him (John 6:66).

Many of the fans turn to go home. I was struck by the fact that Jesus doesn’t chase after them. He doesn’t soften his message to make it more appealing. He doesn’t send the disciples chasing after them with a creative handout inviting them to come back for a “build your own sundae” ice cream social. He seems okay with the fact that his popularity has plummeted.

As I sat in the sanctuary surrounded by thousands of empty seats, here’s what became clear to me: It wasn’t the size of the crowd Jesus cared about; it was their level of commitment.

I put the Bible back in the chair in front of me.

I cried.

God, I am sorry.

Almost as soon as I said it to him, I knew it needed to go further. A few days later on Easter Sunday, a crowd of thousands gathered and I began my sermon with a choked up apology. I told the crowd that I was wrong for being too concerned with what they would think and how many of them would come back. I think over the years my intentions were good; I wanted to make Jesus look as attractive as possible so that people would come to find eternal life in him. I was offering the people Jesus, but I was handing out a lot of free bread. In the process I cheapened the gospel…

 

 

December 11, 2015

Barriers to Encountering Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Today we offer something different; and it’s going mean a little less work on my part, but a lot more work on yours! In a graphic search on Thursday, I came across the chart below from the website With the Word. When I clicked through, there were no accompanying notes, just what you see below.

I thought it would make an interesting study to consider some ideas today in visual form. Let me know what you think. Clicking the graphic itself will take you to the page, it’s one of ten inter-related websites.

The writer, Richard Krejcir, did begin by asking one question:

Why do some people grow in their faith and maturity while others not at all?

 

Barriers to encountering Christ

Look over the “chart.” Where are you in this chart? Where do you need to be?

Carefully consider any barriers in your thinking that blocks you from the core truth and reality of life as Jesus Christ as your LORD

November 30, 2015

The 666 Verse

No, not that 666; we’re looking at John 6:66 which says,

NIV • John 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

A popular title four years ago was Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. Although we were quite familiar with his work before this, it was his breakout book, and I reviewed it here as well as reviewing the video curriculum.

The premise of the title is that Jesus had many fans, but few followers; and the verse in John describes a time when Jesus introducing what is sometimes called the “hard sayings” and after that, it seems as though he is culling the herd, deliberately emphasizing the cost of following over the benefits.

The Message • John 6:60 Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.”

61-65 Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, “Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.” (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, “This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.”

66-67 After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”

68-69 Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

I got thinking about this when I received another notification on the weekend that I had six new followers on Twitter. Because I have three fairly active blogs and had an association with a major Christian news magazine for nearly two years, I never thought my Twitter following would be so anemic. It’s been stuck at around 330 people for a long time. (I now joke that we’re very selective and you have to complete a lot of paperwork to be a follower. You can have pity on me by clicking here.)

So if I’m gaining about five new people a day, shouldn’t I be growing at the rate of 150 per month?

Not at all. Someone explained to me that these people are clicking in hoping I will reciprocate and follow them. When I don’t, they un-follow, and there are no notifications for that. They disappear quietly. The point is, I don’t have a lot of time; I don’t carry a smart phone with me all day, and I prefer to follow a rather select list of authors and organizations, plus a few anonymous accounts to lighten the day. (I did pick one from among that recent crop of six.)

In other words, they were following me hoping I would follow them.

It’s the same in John 6. The timeline in John is a little different; if this were in Matthew, the chronology would put it around chapter 15. So this is well into the ministry life of Jesus.

It’s the same today. People are looking to Jesus to see what they can get, not what they can give. They will follow his agenda if he will fit into theirs. Like my Twitter account, many of our churches have many people arriving by the front doors, but we fail to notice those who are leaving by the back doors.

In Twitter-speak, what Idleman calls fans, I would call short-term followers. Jesus is looking for long-term followers. His book is based on Luke 9:23

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

We’ll end today with how I condensed Kyle Idleman’s breakdown of what that means:

Luke 9-23

 

November 13, 2015

To Whom Shall We Go

NIVJohn 6:48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them...

…60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”

…66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Today’s post is by Denver pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber and we offer 3 different ways for you to experience it today. You can read the excerpt below. You can click the link and read it in full. Or you can click the link and listen to it on audio.

Jesus Isn’t The Sears Wishbook

…If you remember – It started with Jesus feeding the 5,000 – the crowd’s desire for bread was granted and then inevitably seen for what it was – only a temporary fix. This is followed by a long weird discourse about Jesus being the bread of life which leads us to our reading for today when a bunch of his followers say “um, your teachings are hard.” and they take off and Jesus looks at the ones who are left and asks if they want to take off too and they respond, “Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life”.

It was like the disciples kept circling things in the Sears Wishbook and showing them to Jesus sure that getting what they wish for would be the key to a good life and the avoidance of suffering. They wanted miracles and signs and a list of rules to follow so that they may earn eternal life and they wanted to make Jesus a real king and not just that weird guy who says weird stuff while surrounded with weird people. And instead, over and over – Jesus gives them himself. He keeps saying I give myself to you and they keep pointing to what they circled in the Sears Wishbook.

So some of the disciples say “this teaching is hard” and they leave. I get that. His teachings are hard. Mainly because my own desires – the things I circle in my Wishbook are pretty much always rooted in ego and Jesus’ teachings do nothing for the ego except destroy it. You know which ones I’m talking about: teachings like, those who seek to save their life must lose it and those who lose their life will find it – teachings like the first shall be last and the last shall be first. And “don’t be afraid” and that classic, “don’t worry about tomorrow” It makes me want to tell Jesus to stop talking and just smite my enemies and hand over Malibu Barbie already.

Because Jesus’ words are seldom the words we want to hear. They just happen to be the words we need to hear. Just to be clear, though: Jesus’ teachings are hard not because they demand a certain moral or ethic from us – a lifestyle that isn’t as fun as one we’d rather choose – the teachings are hard because they offer a saving truth that our desires can never offer us. For instance, were there a picture in the Sears Wishbook of my enemies being destroyed…my ego would totally grab a black magic marker and circle that and say yes, Jesus slash Santa if you could please make sure horrible things happen to my internet trolls and the people who have hurt me and my 8th grade bully Debbie Quackenbush I would feel better – and to this Jesus says these words: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” He says “turn the other cheek” he says “forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”

These words of Jesus make me realize why the great poet W.H. Auden, when asked once why he was a Christian, instead of a Buddhist or a Confucian, since all these religions share similar ethical values said, “Because nothing in the figure of Buddha or Confucius fills me with the overwhelming desire to scream, “crucify him.” Which makes me realize that my own Christian faith is always a blend of “This teaching is hard” and “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.” I don’t know about you – but I feel like a combination of both these kinds of disciples. Because I know that the message and work of Jesus is what heals me and yet, it smarts the ego like hell so instead – I sometimes walk away like a kid who refuses antiseptic for her badly skinned knee because she knows its gonna sting.

But Lord, seriously, to whom shall we go instead? …

October 5, 2015

An All or Nothing Commitment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Matthew 8:18-22 (NIV)

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Today’s devotional appeared a few days ago at Episcopal Café; click the title below to read at source — we join this in progress — and look around the site.

Speaking to the Soul: An All or Nothing World

by Linda Ryan

…Laurie Gudim, a friend and one of my co-mentors,  posted on our discussion board about learning new things about the culture and times of the New Testament, such as that there was no middle class in Palestine at the time of Jesus. The rich young man who wanted to follow Jesus but would have to give up everything was told to do a very traumatic thing. Laurie commented, “…I’ve always kind of thought poorly of him. But what if he was looking at was a poverty so severe it might have killed him?”* That got me thinking.

The story in Matthew is a bit more abbreviated and had a young man wanting to go bury his father. Both stories involved giving up something important. For a son not to bury a father was a sign of ultimate disrespect and rejection; to give up one’s wealth threatened his life, his well-being, his position, even potentially his family. Remember– there was no middle class. It was all or nothing.

Imagine an all or nothing world. People either had more than they needed but never as much is they wanted, or they struggled every day just to provide the absolute necessities for themselves and their family. The rich young man was told to give up everything he had ever known, including the security he had always had, in order to follow Jesus. The same with the man in today’s reading; not burying his father and coming to follow Jesus would have meant giving up absolutely everything he had ever known in the hope of finding something better. I have a feeling that most of us would probably fail that same test if it were given to us directly by Jesus standing in front of us. It’s easier to do it at a distance.

It makes us able to ignore poverty around us and to think that somebody else will take care of the problem. In the world of Jesus, that just doesn’t fly. We have a middle class, a place where people are comfortable but not rich, and where their basic needs and a bit more are met. There are many who have never really experienced what it means to truly be in want, or, in a better word, need. It’s one thing to want a BMW two-seater convertible and only receive a sedan than it is to want to provide needed extensive medical care for a loved one and not be able to do it. It isn’t unheard of in our world to have some catastrophe rob us of just about everything we had and knew; thirty seconds or so in the path of a tornado does that. If we’re lucky and have good insurance, we can come back from the disaster, but our lives are forever changed.

It occurs to me that Jesus made that a condition of following him, not just giving things up but using them to help others as a test of faith and of desire. It is like a person standing on the high diving platform and looking down at the water below, realizing there was an awful lot of space between the two and where there was no changing their mind about what was going to happen next. The person has the choice of either turning back and going down the ladder or taking the plunge and launching themselves into the air, hoping that they enter the water painlessly and not flat on either belly or back. Life puts us on that platform every day, and we have to choose which way to go.

Jesus’ message is not that it is necessary to live in abject poverty or live the itinerant life that he and his disciples did. It is to choose what and why it is truly important. That is not to say that some who are wealthy are not good Christians because they have more than perhaps they actually need. Many of these share generously and willingly to those who are less fortunate. There are some who have just what they need but still choose to share to help others. There are some impoverished who perhaps cannot give from the treasure they don’t really possess but who give generously of their time and talent to help others. It is a form of trickle down economics and service, and if more people contributed, more would benefit. But there is always the dead father to bury or the security to be maintained that gets in the way.

We are not all called to be a Mother Theresa or Francis of Assisi. We see the good that they have done and we admire those who follow them closely enough to try live the lives they did. Still, we are called to follow Jesus, and that means to take risks and to lose the fear of life without total comfort and total security. We are called to help others to find lives with more comfort and more security. Giving away some of our own does not mean we are in want, it means that we want others to have what we have. In a way, it’s the same as what the early Christians demonstrated to outsiders. The outsiders saw the love the Christians had for each other and wanted some of that love. It’s really that simple.

But the only problem was simplicity is that sometimes it is too simple. It asks us to take a small risk that can point to a large one, but we’re not even comfortable taking the small one. I know I am.

What would it take to get me past the fear? That’s something I’m going to have to think about for a while. Perhaps I can start with the love part — even if that may be among the hardest things to do.

August 19, 2015

The Source of Wisdom

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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wisdomDesiring Wisdom? Desire God

by Clarke Dixon

There has never been a time of greater access to information. We have so much information, knowledge, and opportunities for education in our society today and yet sometimes people seem to make the craziest choices!  Just having access to information does not ensure that we will use the information to make good decisions. Recently I discovered that a major Christian website has deleted the comments sections from its blogs. Why? I suspect it is because some people say the dumbest things in the dumbest ways and the editors could not keep up. People comment without wisdom, just as people often speak and act without wisdom. We need more than information to make good choices. We need wisdom.

Solomon was known for his wisdom. In 1 Kings 3:1-15 we learn about how Solomon came to be wise. Solomon had recently become the king in place of his father David, and God told him to ask for one thing. Solomon asks for wisdom.  There are six things there we can learn from his request in our quest to speak and act with wisdom:

First, in seeking to be wise Solomon acknowledges God.

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 1 Kings 3:5-6

Notice that Solomon does not immediately shout out his request. I think many of us would have done just that. Instead Solomon takes the time to recognize who God is and what God has done. Notice also that Solomon does not focus on his father David. Yes, David is mentioned, but it is God who is reason David did so well as king. God is the focus. If we want to make wise decisions we would do well by starting off with an acknowledgement of, and focus upon, God. This is one reason why weekly worship with other believers is so important.

Second, in seeking to be wise Solomon becomes humble.

And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 1 Kings 3:7

Notice again Solomon still has not rushed into his request. Before he does he acknowledges who he himself is, and what he is like. There is something about acknowledging God that inspires confession and humility in us. Many people do and say the dumbest things because they think they know everything already, therefore everything they speak and do must be good. They do not have teachable spirit. We will not speak and act with wisdom if we do not learn to say “I have much to learn.”

Third, in seeking to be wise Solomon recognizes the importance of his calling.

And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 1 Kings 3:8

Notice that Solomon still has not made his request yet. Before he does Solomon realizes the gravity of the situation. He is now responsible for many, many people. Not only that, but they are the people God has chosen, they are “your great people” v.9. Solomon understands that his role is very, very important. I wonder if people say and do the dumbest things because they do not realize that what they say or do is important. We can carry around the attitude that “it doesn’t really matter”, or “I am of no significance, I don’t really matter, so what I say or do is of little significance and does not really matter.” Every Christian person has a calling from God. Wisdom becomes a greater priority for us when we understand the importance of God’s call upon us.

Fourth, in seeking to be wise Solomon knows the importance of listening.

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people . . . 1 Kings 3:9a

Now Solomon finally gets to his request. I often go over the passage I preach on in the original languages, but please don’t think of me more highly than you ought for I am not a master of the Hebrew and Greek languages, I am a student. Being such I was amazed when in verse 9 I did not come across the Hebrew words I was expecting, words for “wisdom.” There instead was the word for listening. It reads something like “give your servant a listening heart.” This also rings through the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. But it does not ring through the English translations. We can have great trust in the English translations, but I wonder if something has been lost here. When we have the idea of listening, the obvious question becomes, “to whom are we listening?” Given that we have already seen Solomon acknowledge God, express humility, and recognize the importance of leading, not his own people, but God’s, it is clear that Solomon is asking for a heart that listens to and is obedient toward God. We can do and say the dumbest things because we are not listening to God.

Fifth, in seeking to be wise Solomon understands the importance of knowing the difference between right and wrong.

. . . able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people? 1 Kings 3:9b

Have you noticed that in educational situations in today’s society right and wrong, good and evil are barely talked about? The reason is obvious. If good and evil are real, then so is God. So instead we are given information and then asked to discern the best choice. Do you see the danger in this? The astute student (and they all are), figures out, even if only in the back of his or her mind, that while some choices may not be the best, they are still permissible. And so why not if it looks like fun? Christianity moves beyond a discussion of best choices, to right and wrong choices, good and evil choices. Many dumb decisions could be avoided if we knew the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. Solomon knew that.

Sixth, in seeking to be wise Solomon will need to remain committed to God.

Next follow three verses where God expresses his delight in Solomon’s request, and His desire to grant that request and more. But it will not always be automatic, there is a big “if”:

If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life. 1 Kings 3:14

Notice the emphasis on God’s ways, God’s statutes, and God’s commandments. These are not the ways, statutes, and commandments of the king, but of the King of kings. Solomon gets off to a great start, but there are already hints in the opening verses of 1 Kings 3 that Solomon will not always be wise. Indeed he does not listen to the wisdom of God concerning marriage as defined in Genesis 2:24. His many wives and concubines end up being his undoing. Somewhere along the line Solomon’s commitment to following God waned and he started doing dumb things. How is your commitment?

To conclude let us summarize: If you desire wisdom, desire God. 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.
Psalms 111:10 

One final, but important thought: The most wise decision a person could make is to become a follower of Jesus. Some think that following Jesus and becoming a Christian is a stupid thing to do. But again we go back to acknowledging God, being humble, realizing the importance of His call, realizing the reality and implications of good and evil, and making a lifetime commitment. Some just don’t want to do that. But many of us find that following Jesus is the best and most worthwhile decision we have ever, and could ever make.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:1

All Bible references are taken from the NRSV


Regular Wednesday contributor Clarke Dixon @clarkedixon is a pastor in Canada and blogs at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

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