Christianity 201

November 3, 2017

Discipline in All Areas of Life

Today we’re returning to the blog No Condemnation. Click the title to read at source.

Discipline and Discipling

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Proverbs 3:11-12 (NIV)

Read: Proverbs 3

Consider: Proverbs 3 is one of those chapters in the Bible that contain several striking verses that challenge our thinking. In reading through the chapter, the verses that stand out to me are:

My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity (3:1-2).

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (3:5-6).

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act (3:27).

The verses quoted at the start of this post are repeated by the writer of Hebrews (12:5-6) as:

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’

Interestingly the Greek word translated as discipline carries with it meanings of tutorage, education and training (by disciplinary correction). Have you ever noticed that the words ‘discipline’ and ‘discipling’ differ only in their final letter. This got me thinking about Jesus and his disciples. While we tend to think of a disciple as a follower, it means someone who is a learner. Jesus was teaching his disciples throughout his ministry.

Let’s be honest, discipline can be painful. Spiritual discipline can be particularly painful because it gets to the heart of what God points out as needing attention in our lives. It is important to realise that God disciplines us out of love. He wants us to become disciples, learning from him. So remember that while God is discipling you, you will be subject to his discipline.

Pray: Father, we thank you that your love for us is expressed in wanting us to be Christlike. May we willingly submit to your discipline in all aspects of our lives. Amen

 

May 2, 2017

The Cup of Sorrows and The Worth of a Soul

It’s been a year since we last visited with Jack Wellman at the website Rhetorical Jesus. His devotional posts are shorter than what we normally do here, so we’re giving you a double feature. Titles for each are also links back to his site, and there you’ll also find a graphic for each day which you can use to introduce a link to one of his articles on your own social media. (I haven’t borrowed those here to give you another reason to click through.) The topics are most engaging, so choose one that you think might apply to the people in your online social circle.

Can you drink from the same cup that I am going to drink from?

Matthew 20:22

Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.

Who Is the Greatest?

The mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John, came up to Jesus, knelt before Him, and asked Him if her two sons could sit at Jesus’ right hand (Matt 22:20-21). Can you imagine that? The disciples’ mother came up to Jesus asking Him if her sons could be chief rulers in the kingdom, which is what is meant by sitting at Jesus’ right hand. Jesus then asked the men if they’re able to drink from the same cup that He was about to drink from, and with no hesitation, James and John said, “Yes.” (Matt 20:22). Jesus did agree about their eventually drinking from His cup, but as for whether or not they would sit at Jesus’ right hand is up to the Father (Matt 20:23).

What Is the Cup?

This cup that Jesus was about to partake in was Calvary, and this included His drinking the cup of all the sins of all humanity of all time: past, present, and future. This the disciples could not do, nor could they drink of the cup of His illegal trial, His scourging by the Roman guards, or His torture on the cross. However, they would eventually go through suffering for their faith, but, of course, not to the same extent and measure that Christ did. Indeed, no one has (Isaiah 53). All believers, if they are living out their faith in public, such as at home, school, or work, will suffer at least some degree of persecution for what they believe. It might be behind their back, but they, too, will have a cup of persecution that they’ll drink from, at least if they are living out their faith publically and are bearing fruit of the Holy Spirit (John 15).

Anger and Jealousy

When the other disciples heard what James’ and John’s mother had asked, they were angry (Matt 20:24). Maybe they were angry because they didn’t think of it first or that James’ and John’s mother was trying to cull some favor from Jesus, which made them mad. Jesus saw their anger and called them over to speak with them. He said that the Gentile kings love to sit in places of power and rule over others and to be served (Matt 20:25-28). Jesus said that this is not how believers are to operate. We are to be servants, and just as Jesus said, He came to be a servant and die, giving His life as a ransom for others (like you and me). He came to serve and not be served, and He gave more than all by His dying for us (Matt 20:28).

A Closing Prayer

Father God, You are so kind to me and patient with me for the many times that I try to place myself above others. Please forgive me when I do that, and help me to realize that the greatest of Your people are not striving to sit at Your right hand, but to serve people in humility. I ask for Your help in this area, and in the name above all names, Jesus Christ, I pray.

What is your own soul worth?

Matthew 16:26

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Denying the Self but Not Christ

For much of my Christian walk, I did just the opposite. Instead of denying myself but not Christ, I denied Christ and didn’t deny myself much of anything. This, of course, is not walking with Christ as a disciple. Instead of dying to self, I put Christ to death in my life. I have tried to do better and not deny Christ in public before others, but deny myself before others and not Christ. Jesus said one little powerful word, and it was “if.” If we want to follow Christ, we must deny ourselves (Matt 16:24). If we want to save our life, ironically, we’ll lose it. If we desire to lose our life, we will find it (Matt 16:25). Once more, I tend to do just the opposite.

What Does It Profit?

If we can gain all that we can for a temporary life that is like a vapor (James 4:14), we have gained nothing because life is short, but eternity is a very, very long time. Can you put a value on a soul that is lost for all eternity? A man and a woman’s soul is priceless, and nothing can compare to its worth, but how worthless will it be if that life is forever banished from the presence of God with no hope of ever being reconciled (Rev 20:12-15)? The soul’s value cannot be estimated. Jesus’ point is that we can gain all that there is, but lose or forfeit our very soul for this life. If we do that, then we’ve lost everything because you can’t take anything in this life into the next, unless it is done for Christ. Those rewards that are done in His name are going with us to heaven. You can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead and have it waiting there for you. In other words, the good we do for Jesus and for God’s glory will remain. Nothing else really matters.

Take Up Your Cross

If we are to take up our cross as Jesus said, what does that mean? Today’s equivalent would be to take up the electric chair or take up the lethal injection and die to ourselves. We must crucify the flesh in order to please God, Who is Spirit (Gal 5:24). That basically means nailing our desires and passions–that sinful nature of ours–to the cross, slaying our own desires for the desire to serve Christ and others, and doing it with the express purpose of glorifying God (Gal 2:20). If we are walking by the Holy Spirit’s leading, we’ll be putting to death earthly desires and passions (Gal 5:16). It is only those being led by God’s Spirit who are the children of God (Rom 8:14), and to live by the flesh will be dying in the flesh, but the Spirit will put the deeds of the flesh to death (Rom 8:12-13). In this way, your own soul will have infinite value, but if you’re living only in the flesh, you forfeit everything.

A Closing Prayer

Great God in heaven, I am so far short of Your glory (Rom 3:23), and there is nothing good in me (Rom 3:10) except your Spirit. Please help me yield to Your Spirit and to slay the flesh so that I might strive to not gain the whole world and lose my soul, but rather help me deny myself, take up my cross, die to self, and live for you. In Jesus’ name I pray.

 

April 21, 2017

Intentional Followership

Today we’re paying a fourth visit to Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. Usually at this point I encourage you to click the title below to read at source, but I also want to point you to a blog post Paul did in the form of an infographic. Before or after you’re done here, check out 6 Helpful Scriptures to Guide our Choices.

3 Components to Spiritual Formation

Intention in spiritual formation is essential. Our faith cannot, and will not, remain static. Every day our spirits are either being molded into the likeness of Jesus or into the likeness of the world.

Passivity is not an option.

Without intentional action our spirits will be conformed to the way of the world. If we are not moving towards Christ we are moving away from him.

The Apostle Peter was very aware of the importance of spiritual formation.

In 2 Peter 3:17-18 he wrote:

I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. (NLT)

There is a great danger in not being intentional about our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ.

Peter pointed out 3 dangers that we face when we are not serious about our spiritual formation:  (1) losing our faith, (2) being led astray, and (3) living in error.

No matter how strong we believe our faith is right now, it is not enough to sustain us through all of life’s ups and downs. The faith that is sufficient today will not be sufficient tomorrow.

The writer of Hebrews shared a similar sentiment when he wrote:

 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds* and placing our faith in God. (Hebrews 6:1, NLT)

God expects us to be engaged in spiritual formation. Maturity will only happen through intentional effort.

If we are not willing to do what it takes grow spiritually and to deepen our relationship with God, then we will continue to miss out on the life He created us to live. We cannot remain the same and remain with Jesus. Either we are moving with him or we are allowing ourselves to be left behind.

If spiritual formation is this important, how do we make it a part of our lives?

The entire Bible is filled with instruction and example of how we can partner with the Holy Spirit to bring maturity to our spirits.

Today I want to share with you a little bit of what the Apostle Paul told the Colossians about spiritual formation.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers* of this world, rather than from Christ.(Colossians 2:6-8; NLT)

Let’s take a moment and examine what Paul wrote about spiritual formation:

1. We need to be consistent – Vs. 6

Faith is the key.

We came to salvation because we trusted in Jesus to deal with our sins. We experience spiritual maturity because we trust Jesus to lead us to the life God created us to live. Without this faith in Jesus we are unable to grow. If we cannot be consistent in our trust (trusting Jesus to take away our sins but not to lead us to life) means that we will be stunted in our maturity and our relationship with God will begin to die.

The consistency we need becomes visible through our obedience.  We need to ask ourselves these questions: Am I willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads me? Will  I risk my life, career, and reputation for the sake of the Gospel?

By being obedient we demonstrate that we trust God.

2. We need to be concrete – Vs. 7

Remember the parable Jesus told about the wise man and the foolish man?

The point of the story is people need to build on a firm foundation. The wise man is able to survive the storms because his house is built on the rock, which was able to withstand the power of the waves. The foolish man is destroyed because his house is built on the sand, which washed away with the raging water.

Being concrete is about holding on to truth. Jesus’ teachings are a firm foundation because they are truth. We receive truth through instruction, reading, relationships, and experiences. By constantly seeking and applying  truth to our lives we are building on a firm foundation. This foundation will provide us with the security we need to survive any situation.

3. We need to be cautious – Vs. 8

It is easy to be led astray by something that seems credible.

Proverbs 14:12 reads; There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.  (NLT). What seems to be right and what sounds good are not the best indicators of what is truth. We can get very lost following what seems to be right to us.

This is about influence. Who will we allow to influence us? What type of media will we use? Is their message in agreement with the message of Jesus?

The best way we can safe guard ourselves from being led astray is to know and live the teachings of Jesus. Only when we are familiar with the truth are we able to identify the lie.

Spiritual formation is essential for our relationship with God. We need to remain consistent in our faith, we need to be concrete in our belief, and we need cautious about what influences us.

These 3 components will help us stay on the path of spiritual formation. Without them we will be prevented from living the life that Jesus has for us to live.

Don’t neglect your spiritual formation. Be intentional about the person you are becoming and make an effort to become like Jesus.

 What is an essential component to your spiritual formation?

April 6, 2017

Feel Like Staying Put or Turning Back? Romans 8:12-17

Catching up from last week, this week we’re featuring two back-to-back devotional studies…

…by Clarke Dixon

Do we look forward to meeting God in heaven, yet are not particularly enthused about walking with Him today? Last week we looked at perfectionism as an error we can fall into regarding our walking “according to the Spirit.” (Romans 1:4) This week we look at another problem; not expecting enough from the Holy Spirit. We may speak of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and yet keep Him far from our hearts and minds, preferring to keep Him in our back pocket so to speak. Are we treating the Holy Spirit like the Health card we carry around in case we need it? Are we treating God like an insurance policy to file away rather than a Person to be in relationship with? Do we nurture an excitement about God’s salvation when we look far ahead to the journey’s destination, but hold an apathy or ambivalence toward God’s presence with regards to our next step?

Romans 8:12-17 makes a case for getting excited about God’s presence, not just at the destination, but over the course of the whole journey.

12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:12-17

Biblical scholars point out that these verses echo another experience of a people on a journey with God:

  • verse 12 – When God led Israel out of Egypt, they were under no obligation to the Egyptians. There was no reason to think “perhaps we ought to stay here.”
  • verse 13 – In leaving Egypt, to go back would be to face hardship and death, to keep going forward would be to face blessings and life.
  • verse 14 – As a father leads his child, the people of Israel were led by God through a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day.
  • verse 15 – Israel had a choice: go back to Egypt and be slaves to the Egyptians, or keep going forward as God’s son.
  • verse 16 – God’s presence with Israel was powerful confirmation of what was said to Pharaoh: “Thus says the Lord: Israel is my firstborn son.” Exodus 4:22
  • verse 17 – Israel looked forward to the inheritance of the promised land. But Israel was not there yet, God would not simply transport them Star Trek style. They must follow His lead through the wilderness building their relationship with Him along the way.

The experience of rescue from slavery linked with “sonship” to God is reflected by the prophets

I thought
how I would set you among my children,
and give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful heritage of all the nations.
And I thought you would call me, My Father,
and would not turn from following me. Jeremiah 3:19

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.
3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them. Hosea 11:1-4

While in the wilderness Israel was prone to complaining and even expressing their desire to go back to Egypt. From our perspective, we see that and think “Are you crazy? You would rather go back to being slaves to Egypt than go forward as a son of the living God!? Do you not want to move forward into the amazing inheritance He has prepared for you!? Do you not understand the amazing privilege you have, the close relationship with God Himself, and your future hope despite the current discomfort!?” Of course hindsight is 20/20 and having an objective view of what is going on is easier for us now than for the Israelites at the time.

Are we being objective about our own situation? Living with the hope of heaven as the destination but little concern for God’s leadership in our lives now is like saying we want to reach the Promised land while staying in Egypt. It does not work that way. For the Christian to live an unaffected life is as silly as the Israelites wanting to go back to Egypt. We have been rescued from what is behind, we will want to keep moving forward. We have been given the opportunity to join God’s family as His loved and free children, leaving behind our identity as slaves to the human sinful nature. God’s presence is with us for the journey and He leads us as our Father. Why would we want to dig in or turn back? Let us keep walking according to the Spirit.

12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:12-17

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read today’s devotional at Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

 

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
Tags: , , ,

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

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