Christianity 201

April 5, 2022

Next Steps: Me? A Leader?

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me …Then the God of peace will be with you.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.

Jesus said: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

(Philippians 4:9 NLT, James 1:22 NLT, Matthew 7:24 NIV)

When I think each day of posting something to Christianity 201, I focus mostly on the “201” part.  The blog’s tag line is “digging a little deeper.”  However, I try not to post things that would only be of interest to pastors and church leaders, simply because there are sooooooo very many pastor blogs and Christian leadership blogs out there.

However, the time has come to reconcile the two.

As much as many of you want to go deep each day, God is looking for people who are willing to step up.

Put otherwise, much has been given to you, but now much is going to be required of you; or, if you prefer, it’s time to find some application for all the good stuff you’re learning.  It’s time to give back something.

Where to begin?

I think first of all, you have to see yourself as a Christian leader.  If it’s your desire to continue to walk in Christian maturity, you have to redefine yourself as someone who is striving toward being the “go to” person for others not so far along in their faith. The Biblical model of “Paul/Timothy” relationships necessitates forming mentoring relationships, but first, some of you may need to cultivate the desire to be a mentor to others. This may not place you in a visible position — what we called “the front of the room” a few days ago — but may just mean having friends over for coffee more frequently, or having that one person over for coffee; but doing it as intentional ministry.

Second, you need to make an assessment of what the needs are around you.  This is going to begin with developing critical faculties; though you need to remember that this is not the same as having a critical spirit.  You want the former, you don’t want the latter. If this seems like a big deal, don’t worry, some pastors have faced this before and decided to just ask around. They went door-to-door and asked people what the greatest needs were in their community. You can also approach existing leadership and ask what the greatest needs are within the church community. Or you can do a gift assessment and see where your particular gift-set intersects the needs in your church.

Thirdly, you need to vocalize your desire to make a difference to both your faith community and your surrounding (larger) community. As you see yourself differently and begin to look at what’s happening where you live and serve, God will give you a vision, an idea, an expression of a need; and you need to share what God is showing you or giving. “This is what I believe God is showing me,” can be the first nine words of a longer sentence where you make a declaration of your willingness to lead.

The fear is always that people will say, “Who do you think you are?” but I believe that more times than not, you will find God has already prepared people to hear what you are saying.

However, having said all of the above, the leadership role which God wants to see you taking may not be visible in your local congregation at all. Rather, it might involve not leading as we usually think of it, but being able to lead and share both the scriptures and God’s love with an authority in the life of someone else. In other words, it may not involve being a leader to the many, but being a leader to one person at a time.

This is in fact the theme of Kyle Ildeman’s new book One at a Time. While we think of Jesus teaching and then feeding the 5,000+ people, his ministry often involved on person at a time.

And the leadership that God is calling you to might equally not involve crowds, but happen in quiet places.

 

February 23, 2022

Removing Roadblocks for Earnest Seekers

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Years ago I heard a response to people who were being overly-critical of “seeker sensitive” churches, saying they lacked depth and discipleship. The reply was, “The problem isn’t that some churches are seeker-sensitive, the problem is that a lot of churches are seeker-hostile.”

Many times we unwittingly do things which drive those away who were earnestly seeking after God. Years ago a pastor I knew well decided to rent some space in a high school gym and basically re-plant his aging church with a new look and new vision. But the “old guard” of the church wasn’t as passionate about it as he was, and after checking out the church, after a few weeks they would move on, as they got to know the people and, sad to say, saw their true colors.

Eventually, it was just the original group meeting in the school, and one of their number walked up to the pastor’s wife and said, “Isn’t it great! All the new people are gone.”

That’s one of the saddest lines I’ve ever heard.

A verse that sticks with me in recalling that story is contained in this passage in Acts 15: 12-19:

The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

 “‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’–
 things known from long ago.

 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

It was Andy Stanley who drew my attention to verse 19. That last verse is one that Andy says he has posted on the wall of his office. He contrasted verse 19 with churches and organizations that try to put people in a box, or try to line people up with a specific church policy or regulation.

Or ask people to “clean up” first.

While we would never want to admit, in certain circumstances, most of us are Pharisees at heart.

The Message Bible renders verse 19 as:

We’re not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master.

Do I agree with Andy’s take in this particular sermon?

I think this is an issue where, like so many other things in scripture, there is a balance point to be found somewhere in the middle. The initial offer of grace is easy to process and accept. However, there is an equally compelling argument for calling people to weigh the price and realize they are about to launch out into something that is costly, or difficult. Consider John 6: 56-66:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

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

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

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

In Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9 we read these familiar words:

Luke 9: 23 (NLT) Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

And yet we are often so quickly reminded of Matthew 11:30

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Can both sets of verses be true at the same time? Or is each referring to something different?

I can’t help think that for those of us who are Christ-followers, we follow him even in these phases. Our Christian lives begin full of the experience of grace, of sins forgiven;  full of zeal to tell others; and full of God’s purpose and plan in our lives finally crystalizing. We meet new people, learn new songs, and divest ourselves of a way of life that was heading to destruction.

But then as we settle in, we discover that following Christ is both easy — “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” — and challenging — Jesus talks about leaving possessions and family — at the same time.

Stuart Briscoe summed this up a little differently once in a little booklet, This is Exciting. It’s since been re-written as The Impossible Christian Life. His stages were:

  1. This is Exciting
  2. This is Difficult
  3. This is Impossible

But then he experiences a rejuvenation and enters a 4th stage,

       4.  This is Exciting

While we certainly don’t want to “bait and switch” earnest seekers — we need to up-front about what it means to “take up your cross” — at the same time we don’t want to create roadblocks.

Let’s not make it difficult for those who are turning toward God.


Extra credit:

Here are some resources unrelated to today’s post I wanted you to be aware of:

Also, apologies to subscribers for the order and timing of some of our devotional articles in the last 72 hours. If you think you missed something, visit the website.

 

February 8, 2022

Making a Spiritual Checklist, and Checking it Twice

We’re breaking the six-month rule to share an extra devotion with you from our online friends Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who faithfully write devotions at DailyEncouragement.net from their beautiful home in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania where, alongside editing and preparing weekday devotions like this one, they are in full time workplace chaplaincy ministry.

Click the header below to read this where it originated and you might find yourself clicking “previous message” or “next message” to read more!

Taking Spiritual Inventory

Message summary: Taking spiritual inventory enables us to examine ourselves so that we can correct ourselves on a regular basis to make certain we bring glory to God in the manner in which we live our lives.

“But let a man examine himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28a). “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Randy is an inventory control specialist we see at a company that is a wholesale distributor of car wash supplies. The other day I was inquiring about his job and he told me, “I just love inventory”. Now in this day with so much laxness in regard to a solid work ethic his enthusiastic assessment of his job is heartening.

An inventory control specialist tracks inventory and stock changes. Responsibilities include overseeing inventory control, managing deliveries, inspecting inventory, maintaining inventory records, and ordering products. For a well run business it is an essential and very important job. But it’s a good thing that God made people with different gifts and interests because I can’t see myself saying, “I just love inventory”!

But Randy’s comment also prompted me to consider the vital importance of taking personal inventory of our own lives. That’s not something we necessarily enjoy, but it is beneficial since it shines the light on what really matters and that which we need to lay aside and the sin that might easily entangles that keeps us from running with endurance the race that is set before us. (See Hebrews 12)

In taking personal inventory we must reflect inwardly and take stock of our lives. Personal inventory can apply to our health, finances, family, goals and many other areas of life. But today let us consider a spiritual inventory, a self examination of the most important aspect of who we are.

“But let a man examine himself.” Today’s first Scripture verse is in the context of partaking of Communion at the Lord’s Table. Before one eats and drinks of the emblems representing the broken Body and shed blood of Christ he is instructed to “examine himself”. Of utmost importance in this personal spiritual exam is the answer to these foundational questions:

* “Do I have saving faith in Christ?” (Romans 10:8,9).
* “Do I have unconfessed sin in my heart?” (1 John 1:9).

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” In the second text Paul uses two words (“examine” and “test”) to emphasize his point. “Examine” is the Greek “peirazo” which conveys the sense “to scrutinize”. “Test” (“prove” KJV) is the Greek “dokimazo” which has the sense of discernment.  It implies the expectation of approval and is thus a very positive function. We need to regularly (I believe daily) examine and test our spiritual walk. Let’s confess sin, express faith, and practice obedience daily.

This vitally important exam asks this question, “to see whether you are in the faith”. Then there’s a sobering follow-up question, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”

In his article “The Place Of Self-examination” Bible teacher S. Lewis Johnson comments concerning this verse:

“There are literally millions of professing Christians who need to pay attention to this statement of the apostle. They have entered into a shallow commitment to Christianity, they’ve joined the church, they’ve been baptized or they’ve done other things that might make them think that they are genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. They’ve been encouraged to think that, by men who’ve not been careful to point out that, there is more to becoming a Christian than subscribing to a statement. They don’t hate sin. They don’t love holiness. They do not pray. They do not study the word of God. They do not walk humbly with God. These individuals, so many of them stand in the same danger in which the Corinthians stood. And the apostle’s words, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith, examine yourselves,” are valid words that each of us should ponder.”

Taking spiritual inventory enables us to examine ourselves so that we can correct ourselves on a regular basis to make certain we bring glory to God in the manner in which we live our lives.

Colossians 1:10-12 provides a list of examination items for our consideration. We will phrase them as personal questions:

* Am I living in a manner worthy of the Lord?
* Am I pleasing Him in all respects?
* Am I bearing fruit in every good work?
* Am I increasing in the knowledge of God?
* Am I being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might?
* Am I attaining steadfastness and patience?
* Am I joyously giving thanks to the Father?

Daily prayer: Father, I ask myself, “Am I living in a manner worthy of Your name? Do I seek to please You rather than myself? Does the fruit of my labor reflect the Spirit of Christ living within my heart? Do I have a zeal for the things of Christ and a desire to know Him better, to reflect His character every day in my life? Am I steady or do I sputter in my Christian influence?” Father, in all these things I want to be more like Christ, consistent in the ways that bring glory to Your name and growth in my spiritual nature. I want my spiritual walk to be the most important pursuit of my life as I journey here below so that I may influence as many as possible to live for Jesus, for it is in His name that I pray. Amen.

Be encouraged today, (Hebrews 3:13)

February 4, 2022

Out with the Old

Today we’re back at Whole Life Worship, a website we first visited four years ago. Dr. Douglas M. Lee is a pastor, teacher, conference speaker, worship consultant and seminary professor. He is currently Lead Pastor for the New Hope Missional Communities. He also serves as a Department Head for Artists in Christian Testimony International and is an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University/Seminary.

You’re encouraged to click the header which follows to read this where we located it and/or click the link at the end to subscribe to their devotions.

Transformation: Making Room for the New by Getting Rid of the Old

I had a good conversation with a friend the other day. She was really excited about some new and exciting stuff she was going to add to her life. She wanted to serve others in new ways. She wanted to do new things to improve her relationships. And she wanted to start some new spiritual practices in her life. I was excited for her, as there was a lot of good thought and reflection behind these new choices. Not wanting to squelch her enthusiasm, as a friend I needed to ask this question:

“So, what are you going to give up in order to make space for these new, exciting things?”

Silence.

Finally she said, “Hmmm. That’s a good question. I need to think about that.”

When we find something new that will change our life for the good, it will always involve getting rid of the old ways. Why? First, because we are limited: in time, in space, in energy and in focus. Second, because keeping the old ways will always short circuit our efforts in allowing the new to take root.

We’re in a series about Biblical Transformation. We’ve been looking at Romans 12:1-2 and seeing how different aspects of this WholeLifeWorship model is also God’s way of transforming us into the best versions of ourselves (if you missed the first three devotionals – no worries, just click here). This week we’re looking at how we can make room for God to transform us by getting rid of the old way of how we’re used to doing things.

The Apostle Paul put it like this:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” (Romans 12:2a)

In other places, he writes, “With regard to your former way of life, put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (Eph 4:22). “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Col 3:5). All this points out to Jesus’ very basic teaching of discipleship, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

So, what’s behind all of this? Why is it so important to get rid of the old patterns in our lives?

1. There are active forces that are working overtime to keep us from being transformed into the image of Christ. Paul identifies these forces as “the world, the flesh (false self) and the devil” (cf. Eph. 2:2-3a). They have established some bad “default” settings in us and want to keep us there at all costs; lest we become transformed to Christ-likeness

2. The pattern of the world wants us to conform to its values. These forces seduce us with the lure of money, power, success, significance and fame to lead us down a dead-end road. They whisper messages that cause fear, anxiety, insecurity, lust and greed to keep us confined to these values. This causes us to become increasingly more self-referenced, self-righteous, and self-preoccupied.

3. The endgame of these forces is to “deform” us. They want to make our lives smaller and smaller so that we settle for a life that is based on mere comfort and existence. They want to keep us from having any lasting impact on others and in the world. They want to so shrink our souls so that the image of God within us shrivels to oblivion. They want your life and mine to become “purposeless” and “wasted.”

The Good News is that, through the power of Christ and the Spirit, we can overcome these forces, we can take steps to not be conformed (or deformed) by the world’s patterns, and we can make room for God to transform us for the good! Paul writes in Romans 6 that if we are united in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin (or the forces of darkness) because if we have surrendered ourselves to Christ. We are set from the power of sin over us!

So, what are some practical steps we can take to rid ourselves of the old worldly ways so that we can make room for the new, transformed life in Christ?

1. Take time to be silent and ask God to point out where we are conforming to the world. I believe that we already know where we are falling short, but we’re too afraid or ashamed to confront it. Being still and quiet before God allows us to be enveloped in His loving and safe presence. From there, we can receive and embrace the Spirit’s pointing out this issue in our lives.

2. Believe in God’s grace and strength to overcome the world. These areas are so ingrained in our lives that it seems impossible for us to get rid of them. We need faith and trust in God’s grace and strength to remove these psychological and emotional barriers. Remember, that we can do “all things through Him who gives us strength” (Phil. 4:13)

3. Ask the Holy Spirit to empower us moment by moment so that we can be victorious over the powers of darkness in our lives. We cannot overcome the powers of the world, flesh and the devil in our own strength or will-power. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen us in our innermost being (Eph. 3:16). We can ask the Spirit for help every day in our personal times with Him, as well as in the moment where we are feeling the temptation to revert back to the old ways.

One of the most powerful moments of my life was when the Lord helped me overcome the power of sexual addiction. By giving into sexual temptation, I was becoming deformed by this sex-crazed world. But the Lord helped me not to conform to this any longer by following these steps I just mentioned. It was a major victory where I saw the power of God at work in my life. But more than that, this process became a spiritual rhythm that I continue to use to get rid of the “trash” in my life. By making choices each day to stop being conformed to the world’s pattern, I create the needed space in my life to be transformed by God.

So, I encourage you to step further into Biblical transformation by proactively seeking to dismantle the worldly mindsets, attitudes and activities in your life – using God’s Holy Spirit power at work within you to overcome the old pattern of life to make room for the new!

Remember, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world!” (1 John 4:4)


If you enjoyed this devotional blog, and would like to have  Whole Life Worship sent directly to your email inbox, click here.

November 14, 2021

How Much Fruit are You Producing?

Today’s search to highlight new (to us) devotional authors took us to Following Jesus Today, and the writing of David W. Palmer, who with his wife Rosanna are involved in itinerant ministry in Melbourne, Australia. As winter makes it way into the northern hemisphere, Australia sounds like the ideal place, but even more so when you consider that they were previously involved with something called Surfcity Christian Church, as in “Surf City, here we come.” (Coveting is still a sin, right?)

Clicking the header which follows will take you direct to their page, rather than reading here. If you live an area like we do where there’s a chance of snow in tonight’s forecast, perhaps some of the warmth will flow through your internet cable.

The Living Word Produces the Fruit Father Seeks

(John 15:4 NKJV) “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

In John 15, Jesus is addressing his apprentices on the night he was denied, betrayed, and arrested. While he had this final opportunity, he was imparting to them truths and values of ultimate importance.

In this chapter, the Master begins with a parable about a grapevine, a vinedresser, and branches. Our wonderful Lord is emphasizing the need to remain in him and to be fruitful. So far, he has mentioned removal of fruitless branches and pruning of the fruitful ones. Today, we are looking at him urging all of his devoted followers to remain in him:

(John 15:3–4 NLT) “You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. (4) Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

Yesterday, we saw that Jesus alerted all of us who are “in” him to focus on bearing copious fruit. The consequences of being in him—drawing on his life and nutrition—but not producing any fruit, is catastrophic:

(John 15:2 NLT) He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

Even the branches of Jesus that do produce fruit, he prunes and cleans so they can increase their yield. Clearly, Father wants us to produce copious supernatural fruit for his kingdom. To emphasize this, Jesus earlier gave some focused parables:

(Luke 13:6–9 NLT) Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’  “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer.  If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’” (See also: Mat. 25:14–30)

In John 15, Jesus is addressing those who are “in me.” And because he is fully aware of Father’s desire for fruitfulness from the branches of his ministry, he urges us to “remain” in him:

(John 15:4 NLT) “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

Only as we continue in close connectedness with Jesus, the living word, will we be able to be productive at the level Father wants. Being connected without fruit is serious enough, but if we pull away from him—severing ourselves from his life-giving living words altogether—we are bringing disaster on ourselves:

(John 15:5–6 NLT) “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.”

Without the water of life flowing into us from Jesus continually, we will soon wither. Jesus explained that sadly, the only possible outcome for isolated, withered branches is to be “gathered” and “burned.” That does not sound like a joy-filled eternity. So, let’s remain well and truly connected to Jesus, his words, and his life.

Jesus continued this impartation session to his apprentices by assuring them of a particular stream of approved fruitfulness if they continue to “abide” in him:

(John 15:7 NKJV) “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”

Here, Jesus specified the fruit that comes from successful prayer and faith. To double the emphasis of what we need to do to produce the type and quantity of fruit Father seeks, our Lord said both to abide in him and have his words abiding in us. He is the living word, so for us to abide in him, we need constantly to be in the word. To have his word abiding in us, we need to know it, understand it, believe it, and do it. Then, as his word comes to life in us, it is literally Jesus himself living in and through us. If he does, then he can continue his fruitful ministry here on earth.

Through the apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit put it like this:

(Galatians 2:20 NKJV) “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

The fruit of prayer and faith is supernatural. When we experience God’s supernatural work—which demonstrates his goodness, love, and majesty—we know we cannot take the credit for it; we give him the glory. When others see it, they too—given the right explanation—give him glory. Thus, the fruit of answered prayer and successful faith will glorify our heavenly Father:

(John 15:8 NKJV) “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

By saying, “You will be my disciples,” Jesus is saying that they would be doing things his way. In other words, he was showing them how he operated; this was exactly the way he had operated throughout his ministry on earth. He remained connected closely to his Father, drawing life from him through hearing, believing, receiving, obeying, and releasing Father’s words. As a result, God’s supernatural intervention was witnessed by all who encountered him: people received healing, saw miracles, heard the truth in love, understood mysteries, and felt God’s compassion and acceptance. Hence, God was glorified.

Today, let’s heed Jesus’s urgent plea to abide in him continually, and to have his word living in us. Then, along with this single-minded focus, we need humbly to accept his pruning while we live in abandoned obedience. This is the way to avoid withering, removal, and burning. This is the way to yield much fruit—fruit that remains, including the fruit of answered prayer and actualized decrees in Jesus’s name.


Second Helping: Abiding in Christ is a necessity to bearing fruit, but another part of the process, alluded to above, is the pruning process. (Sometimes as Christians, we don’t want to hear about that one!) The author of the above piece actually covered that two days before in a piece entitled Yield to the Father’s Pruning for a Fabulous Upgrade (click to link).

October 21, 2021

The Most Important Decision We Face

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Thinking Through Deuteronomy 30:15-20

by Clarke Dixon

We live in an era of seemingly unlimited choices. This means we are confronted with so many decisions, perhaps too many. There is such a thing as decision fatigue as we are bombarded with having to make a multitude of decisions daily. This might explain why I start each day with the exact same breakfast, porridge. That is one less decision on my plate!

The other, and greater, problem, is that with all the decisions we make in a day, a week, a year, a lifetime, the most important decision we face gets lost. What is that decision? Let us go to Deuteronomy 30:15-20 for a hint.

The Book of Deuteronomy captures what Moses said to God’s people as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. This was an important new beginning for the people who had spent the last forty years in the wilderness following their rescue from slavery in Egypt. As they stood at the edge of the Promised Land, Moses called the people to make a decision:

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster.

Deuteronomy 30:15 (NLT)

While it sounds like the people are to choose between life and good, or death and bad, that is not the real decision that is to be made. Those are the consequences of the decision that must be made:

For I command you this day to love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.
“But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, . . .

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.

Deuteronomy 30:16-17,19,20 (NLT emphasis added)

The decision is whether to be in a love relationship with God, or not.

God had already called this one people into a special relationship through the call of Abraham. God brought them out of slavery in Egypt and provided for them in the wilderness. God gave them the law and made promises about the future. In other words, the people were called to decide whether or not to be in a love relationship with the God Who had already decided to be in a love relationship with them. God had already made his choice. He chose this people, Israel, to be a special people through whom He would work out His purposes for the world. Now it was their turn to commit to the relationship.

There were consequences to their decision. It was as if God was saying “I choose you, we can do this life together, or you can be on your own. Of course, being on your own will not go well, for there are big bad nations out there who will want your land for resources and security, and your people as slaves. But if you want to do life with me, I will be with you, and protect you.”

Today, God offers to be in a love relationship with each one of us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

We each face a decision on whether or not be in that love relationship God offers. God has already made His choice, and that choice was made clear at the cross. God chooses a love relationship with us. Do we choose to be in that love relationship? There are consequences to what we choose. God will either be in our future, or not. That is our decision to make. Has a lifetime of decision-making pushed this, the biggest decision of our lives, onto the back-burner?

This one big decision, to be in a love relationship with God, will be reflected in every little decision.

The call to love God was accompanied with a call to follow God’s ways: “love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways” (verse 16). This would affect all of life’s decisions. God’s people could not be in a love relationship with God and live like the Egyptians, or the Assyrians, or the Canaanites, or anyone else. Choosing to be in a love relationship with God meant being different, marching to the beat of a different drummer.

Some may think of God’s law negatively, like it was a straight jacket and all about control. It was, however, really about becoming a better people and a more just society. We might read the Old Testament law and think, “what, they didn’t get to eat bacon?!” The Canaanites might think “what, they don’t need to set their children on fire?!”

Through the law, God’s people had the opportunity to be freed from foolish and evil practices, from the injustices that plague unjust societies. Reading the Old Testament prophets, the concept of justice comes up often. They often mention how the Israelites failed to follow God’s ways, failing to take care of the most vulnerable of their society. Through following God’s ways the people would be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. In choosing to be in a love relationship with God, and in allowing that one decision to shape all their decisions, God’s people would be taking steps toward the Kingdom of God.

Today, a love relationship with God will be reflected in every choice we make.

Spirituality is not something we fit into a time slot each day. Spirituality is at the centre of our being, affecting every decision.

Let’s not assume that the way we allow our decision to be in a love relationship with God shape all our decisions is by listing every rule we find in the Bible. We are not old covenant people, so to blindly apply every rule we find in Deuteronomy would be to miss the moment that we live in, the love relationship with God that we are offered. We are new covenant people, with a focus on Jesus, his teaching and example. Through following Jesus we take steps toward the Kingdom of God.

The Christian walk is more about heart work than keeping a set of rules. Developing character is hard work and takes a lifetime. It also takes God’s Spirit.

To choose a love relationship with God is to choose God every time over everything else that would want our allegiance.

But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.

Deuteronomy 30:17-18 (NLT emphasis added)

When we read the Old Testament prophets, we discover that God’s people were often likened to a faithless spouse. Sometimes they did worship other gods, which meant that sometimes they did live according to the lifestyles and standards of other nations. Sometimes they did end up sacrificing their children. Seemingly the Canaanite god Molech liked that kind of thing. The God Who led the people out of Egypt did not. GOD offered them a love relationship, but GOD must be their only God.

Today, there are many gods looking for our allegiance.

Money can accomplish great things. However the love of money can turn it into a god, the worship of which affects so many other decisions. Sex is a wonderful gift of God. However the love of sex can turn it into a god, the worship of which affects other decisions. Similar things can be said of power, image, fame, family, celebrity, alcohol, influence, politics and so much more. These things and more can become like gods to us, negatively impacting our capacity to make godly and wise decisions. For a society that has largely rejected God and the supernatural, we sure do have many gods.

In conclusion.

We live in an era of seemingly unlimited choices, we are therefore confronted with so many decisions. There is one decision we face that is greater than any other. It is making a choice that is more important than choosing vocation, location, or even marriage partner: What are we going to do with God’s offer of a love relationship?

If we choose to be in a love relationship with God, all our decisions will be shaped by that one decision. If we choose to be in a love relationship with God, we will make the effort to identity and cease the worship of any gods that may be affecting our decisions.

GOD has already made His choice. Have you?

October 19, 2021

Deep Roots

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , ,

NIV.Col.2.6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

NIV.Ps.1.3. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.

NIV.Jer.17.8. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

This is our fifth time visiting the website Preacher Pollard but only the first time it has dawned on me that the Pollards are a bit of a dynasty, with five sharing writing responsibilities. This is our first time with Carl Pollard.

Clicking the header below will take you direct to today’s devotional on their page. You can then navigate around (click the blog banner at the top) and read other articles by each of them. They are shorter devotionals so you can read a half dozen of them, as I just did, in quick time.

Tap Root

There’s a tree in the Sonoran Desert called the Mesquite. This is a very hardy, drought-tolerant tree. It survives the harsh climate by drawing water up from the water table through its taproot. This root has been measured to reach upwards of 190 feet long.

How does a desert tree with a tap root apply to us? In Colossians 2:6, 7 there is a command to walk in Christ. How do we walk in Christ? Paul through inspiration explains that the one who walks in Christ is:

  • Firmly rooted
  • Built up in Him
  • Established in faith
  • Overflowing with gratitude, and
  • Rejects false doctrine

Being firmly rooted (I’m talking a super-long taproot) in what you believe is an important part of how to walk in Christ. How would we know how to walk in Christ if we didn’t believe in what we…believe?

Being built up in Christ, is like finishing a building that already has a foundation. If we are firmly rooted, then we must continue to build. It’s like buying a night at a hotel, and trying to stay a week. You can’t do that. We either keep paying the fee, or we’re kicked out. Or, applying it to Colossians two, keep studying and growing closer to Christ.

Being established in faith, we have the faith that the sacrifice of Jesus will keep us holy and blameless before God.

Overflowing with gratitude is a very important part of this. There is a saying that goes, “Some Christians don’t want to pray in the cafe. Dogs wag their tails when they get food, and pigs grunt. But what does man do?” Are we showing gratitude for what God has done for us? Can people see it in us?

Making sure no one takes you captive with false doctrine can be very hard. 2 Peter 3:17 warns, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.” False doctrines can be tempting because they appeal to what we want, and not what God wants. Rejecting these teachings takes a knowledge of the word, and a desire to do what God wills.

Today and every day, let’s practice walking in Christ using these principles from God’s inspired word.

 

May 10, 2021

Identity: Being The One That Jesus Loves

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

Today we are highlighting an author who is new to us. Brian writes at On The Way. He is a pastor, which we learned from his various blog posts, but without an “about” page we can’t tell you more, except to say that we really enjoyed this article — it was one of three I considered — and hope you’ll click the header which follows to read this at On The Way.

I am the one Jesus loves

…I came across a bit from the book What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey:

“Not long ago I received in the mail a postcard from a friend that had on it only six words: ‘I am the one Jesus loves.’ I smiled when I saw the return address, for my strange friend excels at these pious slogans. When I called him, though, he told me the slogan came from the author and speaker Brennan Manning. At a seminar, Manning referred to Jesus’ closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, identified in the Gospels as ‘the one Jesus loved.’ Manning said, ‘If John were to be asked, “What is your primary identity in life?” he would not reply, “I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,” but rather, “I am the one Jesus loves.”‘

“What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as ‘the one Jesus loves?’ How differently would I view myself at the end of the day?

“Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?”1

The promises in our reading are amazing. Jesus is talking to his disciples after the Last Supper was over and before he was arrested. This reading comes right after last week’s discussion of the vine and the branches. Jesus says, “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you.” He says, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could produce fruit and so that your fruit could last.” Jesus loves you and he chose you. How does life change if we take this point of view seriously? Would your view of yourself change if you saw yourself as Mr. Yancey suggested: “I am the one Jesus loves.” This suggests that our primary identity doesn’t come from our jobs, our families, or our achievements, but from God. You are loved by God, and are a child of God who was chosen by God. When God sees you, it’s not through your acts, good or bad, or through your eyes or anyone else’s. God sees you as a child, and sees you through the lens of Christ.

You are loved and chosen. Many of you may think you have chosen Christ. It’s easy for us to think of that choice we made for Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. But before you could even make a choice for Jesus, Jesus made a choice for you. In prevenient grace, God seeks you even before you are aware of it. And as we accept the sacrifice of Jesus we are justified in God’s grace, with our sins being nailed to the cross. The grace of God continues throughout our lives, sanctifying us in God’s love. God chose us, offered us this amazing gift and as we have journeyed with Jesus he calls us his friends. Jesus told his disciples all the Father told him. He said they are no longer servants, but friends.

This distinction as Jesus’ friends is crucial because of the cross. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” This is what Jesus did for his friends, the ones he loved, the ones he chose, you and me. This is not some romantic love or a friendly love. This is amazing love, a deeper love than we have known. This is a sacrificial love. This is not some abstract idea. This love is a verb, implying actions. The action is so deep that death can’t even destroy it.

But he doesn’t just love you and he didn’t just choose you, he loves and chose all of us. It’s not for you to decide who gets the love of Jesus; that’s Jesus’ choice. So if Jesus chooses to love everyone in this room, praise be to God, but you’ll have to deal with the fact that Jesus loves some people you may not enjoy. So what are you supposed to do with that? Harbor resentment, extreme dislike or hate for another person? No. Jesus says in verse 12, “This is my commandment: Love each other just as I have loved you.” Jesus isn’t simply asking us to pretty please with a cherry on top maybe consider thinking about loving each other sort of. No. Jesus is plainly commanding us to love each other as he has loved us.

Jesus is repeating the commandment he gave in chapter 13, where he tells the disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus restates this in his prayer to God in chapter 17, just before his arrest, saying, “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

This love is what we are to be known for by those who aren’t Christians. But again, this isn’t some romantic love, some pleasant thoughts about one another. This is a love that is both feeling and action. Jesus calls for us to love one another as he loved us. How does he love us? He has walked among us, taught us, healed us, equipped us and ultimately died for us in order that we may be set free from sin and reconciled to God. Jesus’ love was one of self-sacrifice. Jesus’ love was one of servanthood. After the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and told the disciples to do the same to each other. They are told to love one another and to serve one another as he has loved and served them.

Jesus says that we are his friends if we do what he commands: to love one another as he has loved us. By doing this, we can live lives of complete joy knowing who we are and our purpose: We are beloved children of God who have been chosen by God to bear fruit and love one another. In loving each other, we show our love and devotion to God and bear the light of God’s love in the darkness of the world. Our light becomes the fruit of our love.

And while loving as strong and sacrificially as Jesus does sounds like a tall order, I believe we can do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t rely on your own power to love that much because none of us have that power. Only God has that power. In order to love like Jesus we need to let go of our anger and resentment toward others. We need to stop thinking we’re better than others, stop slandering and gossiping about others, stop making fun of others. And this is within the church walls. We need to open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit and see people as Jesus sees them, with great sacrificial love. Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us. Not only are you the one Jesus loves, but so are your brothers and sisters.

It’s not just us that we have to love. Jesus commanded love for God and neighbor, even when that neighbor is your enemy. How can we have love for our enemies if we can’t love each other? Our reading from 1 John 4 last week even questions our love for God if we can’t love each other. 1 John 4:19-21 says, “We love because God first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

The church and Christians are known for a lot of things, some good and some bad. Unbelievers look at the teachings of Jesus and then look to Christianity and too often find incompatibility. How can those who profess to follow Jesus neglect this important commandment to love one another. What is with the infighting within the church that has made it split into thousands of denominations? What is it within denominations that cause people to bicker and split? What is it within churches that causes people to split? Where is the love that Christians are to be known by?

We have to get this right. Our light and our witness affects our ability to make change in this world. Christianity isn’t just about scoring your pass to heaven but about bringing the kingdom of heaven to our current reality. The kingdom of heaven isn’t just about the place you’ll go when you die, but something that Jesus is calling us to right now. The key to bringing it here is by living in the power of Jesus’ love. Jesus chose you and Jesus loves you. Abide in his love. Be encouraged, inspired and empowered by this. Live like you are the one Jesus loves. But also live like others are also the ones Jesus loves. Jesus calls us friends. He has given us the command to love one another and the power to do so. Love one another, not just superficially, but truly and deeply, as Jesus loves you. Let us show the world that we are Christians by our love toward God, each other and the world.


1 Yancey, Philip. What’s so Amazing about Grace?, Zondervan, 2011.

May 6, 2021

Team Jesus

1st John 2:1-6

by Clarke Dixon

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (NRSV)

Good news! Our sins are forgiven!

But then, if we read ahead in John’s letter, we may feel like we encounter bad news, especially when we get to statements like these:

No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. . . . Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil;. . . Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God.

Selections from 1 John 3:6-9 (NRSV)

What if the good news is that our past sins are forgiven and only our past sins? What if we are given a fresh start, but we had better not ever sin after that? Maybe we will be relieved to know that God’s Spirit indwells us and will keep us from sin? Most of us, however, would still have great anxiety since we know from experience that we still sin. Or am I the only one? In fact our anxiety may grow if we think that perhaps we have chased God’s Holy Spirit away somehow.

As a way to think through this, let us think of ourselves as being hockey players, perhaps we can think of ourselves as playing for the Boston Bruins. Now let us think of God as having a hockey team, that our Lord is the owner, general manager, and coach. Of course we can think of the Toronto Maple Leafs as being that team!

Given this analogy, what would forgiveness from God look like? We may think that God comes to us and says that any goal we have ever scored, or helped our team to score against his team is forgiven. We might say “well thank you for letting bygones be bygones.” But then we keep playing for the Bruins, and keep trying to score on the Leafs. John is telling us in his letter that this is not how faith in Jesus works. It is not just about the forgiveness of sins.

The words of Jesus were really important to John, they should be to us too. So let us take a moment to look at the last words of Jesus recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke:

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Luke 24:45-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

Let us note here that it is not just forgiveness of sins that is to be proclaimed, but also repentance, meaning a change of mind, a change of path.

Now let us consider the last words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, 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 (NRSV emphasis added)

Forgiveness of sins is not even mentioned here in Matthew! Following Jesus is, paying attention to the commandments of Jesus is.

Jesus would have said a lot of things once risen form the dead, so Luke and John are not recording the very last words of Jesus so much as emphasizing the elements of Jesus’ teaching they thought they should pass on to us. Where we might emphasize forgiveness, they both emphasize a new life in Jesus.

Now let us go back to John’s letter:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:1-6 (NRSV)

John is pushing us to think of a much bigger change in our lives than just experiencing forgivenesses. We are not just forgiven, we are set on a new path. To go back to the hockey analogy, God is not just offering forgiveness for the goals we have scored against his team, God is offering us a place on the team!

We don’t deserve it, we don’t play like the star players on his team. We might not even know how to skate yet. But we are invited to join the team!

Now just because we join the team, this does not mean we instantly become great players. Hockey players sometimes make mistakes. A bad pass can be intercepted and lead to the other team scoring. This does not lead to an instant expulsion from the team. This is a problem we often have as Christians. We assume that we should instantly become the Wayne Gretzky of Christians. But we still miss the mark. When we do,

. . . if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 2:1 (NRSV)

We are not booted off the team. Everything that is necessary for us to be on the team has been accomplished.

What if, however, having moved from the Bruins to the Maple Leafs, during a playoff series against the Bruins, we continually pass the puck to the Bruins, and sometimes we even take a shot on our own net? The natural conclusion reached by the coach and fans alike, is that we have not really changed teams. We are still playing for the Bruins, we want the Bruins to win. This is what John is getting at in verses 3-6:

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:3-6 (NRSV)

If we really are in Jesus, then it will be evident that we are on team Jesus. When John says later in 3:6-9, that we will not sin, that we cannot sin, it is like a coach saying to a hockey player, “you will not pass to a player on the opposing team, indeed you cannot.” Well the hockey player might have a bad pass that goes to a member on the other team, which might lead them to score a goal. But the player will not pass it with the hope, “oh boy, I hope the other team wins.” He will not do that, and given his desire to win the Stanley Cup, he cannot do that.

If hockey players never wore a jersey, you would still be able to know who is playing for what team. When John says we don’t sin as Christ followers, what he means is that it should be obvious that we are on team Jesus, that we don’t play for the opposing team. We might still be learning to skate, and we might be awful at handling the puck, which might lead the other team to score from time to time, nevertheless, it is evident we are are on team Jesus.

As we read through 1st John, and especially here in 1:3-6 and later 3:6-9, we might ask, am I in deep trouble if I commit even one sin after coming to faith in Jesus? That is not a question that would have come to John’s mind. The question John is asking is: does your life show that you are on team Jesus? That you are in Christ?

Yes, we are going to mess up, there are forgivenesses when we do. But if we are on team Jesus, it will be obvious that we are on team Jesus, jerseys and Jesus fish not required. Those who are on team Jesus are easy to spot, even if they are not spotless. We may may not be superstar players, at least not yet, but let us commit to being on team Jesus! And let us enjoy that honor.


The full sermon can also be seen as part of this longer “online worship expressionClarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and doesn’t get the usual 1-2 paragraph intro! He’s a pastor in Ontario, Canada; and a good friend to have. Clarke and his wife have three boys, but I don’t know if any of them share his love of motorcycles.

April 5, 2021

The One Where You Tell God to Take the Easy Way Out

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29 NLT)

For years we’ve shared the writing of Jim Thornber, always pausing to remark at how our blogs have the same name. When it came time to revisit his page today, I was reminded that in 2020 he had suffered the loss of his wife due to complications from Coronavirus. He posted this item in November, and it’s timeliness to Easter cannot be overlooked. Click the header which follows to read at source.

Comfort Is Not The Agenda

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” (Luke 23:39)

One of the highlights of my week is meeting with pastors from other churches for coffee on Friday mornings. There is no plan or schedule to these meetings other than friendship, but we also gather knowing we have a unique position in our town and only other pastors will understand our victories and struggles.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the pastors referenced the thief on the cross who scoffed at Jesus, saying, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

After he quoted the thief I said, “And here we are today, still trying to tell God how to be God!”

As soon as I said this it struck me how often I have done the same thing as the thief. “If you were really THIS kind of God,” I would think, “then you would do THIS for me.” And, of course, this makes me a thief who is trying to steal the true character of God and replace it with a god of my making.

It’s a good thing our society no longer hangs thieves.

If anyone is wondering, I have plenty of suggestions on how God can make me comfortable and answer my prayers. But then, I think about Jesus. As He hung upon the cross, Jesus wasn’t concerned with His comfort. Instead, He was concerned with obeying God’s agenda for His life.

Furthermore, it’s easy for me to admit I’ve lived a comfortable life. I’ve never known the type of suffering that took place in Europe during World War II. I’ve never battled cancer or been kidnapped. I’ve never faced homelessness or starvation, never been in a car crash or lost a limb in an accident, and for those things I am grateful.

The worst pain I have ever experienced is the loss of my wife, Barbara, who died on September 12, 2020 from complications of COVID-19. I can find no words that adequately describe the pain of losing a soul mate, a best friend, the one God created to be my equal in life.

Still, I trust God will continue to work in my life as I go forward, the same way He worked in our life as I look back at the amazing twenty-six years I had with Barbara.

After years of wanting God to fulfill my will, I’ve finally come to accept that God’s agenda for my life is not to make me comfortable, but to help conform me into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Therefore, I cannot honestly say, “LORD, your will be done in me,” then complain when His will makes me uncomfortable.

Losing a spouse is devastating, but losing my perspective on God’s magnificent goodness and love would be worse. Therefore, I’ve decided keep these words of Habakkuk constantly on my mind:

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength!” (Hab. 3:18-19).

December 16, 2020

Five Greek Words You Should Know

I know. Some of you are thinking, ‘Let’s not get into Greek here; this is Christianity 201 not 301.” Okay. We won’t do this again. At least this month. And there are no actual Greek alphabet letters in what follows.

A year ago we shared a devotional by Dr. Ed Searcy, a retired minister in Vancouver  who writes at Holy Scribbler. Dropping by earlier today, we saw a reference to the website of University Hill Congregation. That took us to this article which I knew right away needed to be shared here.

Who We Are: The Five Marks of the Church

Liturgia (Worship): Every Sunday morning we gather to worship God, through singing and prayer, the reading of Scripture and preaching, as well as fellowship with one another, in God’s presence. Symbolically, gathering in the morning, on the first day of the week, reminds us that our proper first commitment is to God, made known to us in Jesus Christ, present by the Holy Spirit.

Our worship includes many voices, as members of our congregation lead in prayer, music, Scripture reading, and presiding, reminding us of the importance of the “priesthood of all believers.” Liturgia is a Greek word that means “a public work, undertaken by some, on behalf of all.” In worship, we turn to God, on behalf of this God-beloved world.

Koinonia (Community): From the earliest days of the Church, it is clear that the Christian life is not meant to be a solitary existence. In the book of Acts, we hear that this new community of Jesus followers–members of the Way–“spent much time together” worshiping, eating, baptizing and teaching, praying and learning the rhythms of a new way of life. The community that took shape in response to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead–confirmation that his will and way really is the Divine will and way in the world–sought to live lives appropriate to this new resurrection reality.

This reality we call, as Jesus did, the Kingdom of Heaven: the in-breaking of God’s world-renewing hope, peace, joy, and love, here and now–God’s will on earth as in heaven. When we gather together, learning to love and forgive, worship and work, pray and play in the wide space of God’s grace and love, we seek to align ourselves with the resurrection community through the centuries. Made one in Christ and one with each other, we are called to be a beacon of God’s work to reconcile all things in Jesus, crucified, risen, and reigning. In his name, all are welcome!

Diakonia (Service): Scripture tells us that Jesus, “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited [or grasped at], but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant.” (see Philippians 2:5-11) On the evening before he was crucified, John’s gospel (Ch. 13) tells us that Jesus stripped down, wrapped a towel around himself, and washed his disciples’ feet, like a first-century servant would.

Following his example, and his command to serve and love one another, Christians are expected to offer loving service to the world around us. We seek to do that through the ministries of our congregation, but we are also sent out, like seeds scattered by the Sower and blown by the winds of the Spirit, to love and serve beyond our church community, wherever we find ourselves in the world. The goal as we seek to “grow up in Christ” is to do everything, in word or deed, in the name of Jesus, to the glory of the One he calls Father (see I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3: 17).

Didache (Training): Pronounced “did-a-kay” this is the mark of a Christian community in which members are being trained in the way of Jesus. Followers of Jesus are often called “disciples,” which means something like “apprentice.” At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples, to go and make disciples themselves, teaching others to walk in the world as he did. The Christian way of life is not always intuitive; we need to learn the rhythms of mercy and grace, of radical love and extravagant generosity, of justice and righteous aligned with God’s dream and work for this broken and beloved world.

We know there are many voices and idols vying for our attention; the goal of Christian maturity is to center our attention, and our lives, on Jesus, and to walk in his Way. We are called to “be doers of the word, not merely hearers” (James 1:22); we are called to embody and live out the good news (gospel) of Jesus, the Word made flesh. As a congregation the “training” to do so happens in a number of ways, including: regular worship, through our Church School (for children, during worship), through weekly Bible study, bi-annual book/Bible studies, preparation for baptism or marriage, personal and pastoral care (with clergy and one another).

Kerygma (Proclamation): The Church has good news to share. Gospel means “good news.” It’s from the Greek word euangelion, a word that was first used to describe a royal announcement, often about the most recent military victory. When Christians adopted the term (see Mark 1:1) it was at least in part a reminder of a different kind of victory, by a different kind of king. The Christian witness is that in Jesus, God who made and loves all creation, has come into this world in a unique and revolutionary way–a way of self-giving love, mercy, and grace–a way that ultimately proved too much of a challenge to “the way things are,” and for which he was put to death by the authorities of his day. The Scriptures tell us that three days later, he was raised from the dead, vindicating his way in the world. Christians came to believe and know that through his death and resurrection, God was keeping his promise to Abraham, that the whole world would be blessed, restored and made whole.

After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to be witnesses of repentance (a new way of life, re-oriented to God and God’s way of lavish love) and forgiveness of sins (freedom from and healing for brokenness and guilt; and the restoration and renewal of our relationships with God, ourselves, each other, and all creation). The Church is called to continue in that witness, proclaiming in our words and actions, a different, Christ-centered way of living in the world, and of relating to one another, as we grow in the hope, peace, joy and love of God for us and all things.

 

November 19, 2020

Christian Maturity: Arrived, or Just Way Too Far Behind?

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever thought, “I’m just not where I am want to be, or feel I am supposed to be as a Christian”? The most dominant feelings in your life may be of guilt, a feeling of dissatisfaction with yourself, of feeling stuck.

Or perhaps quite the opposite you think “I have arrived.” You have a dominant feeling of satisfaction, of being satisfied with yourself as a person, and as a Christ follower.

Whether we are feeling satisfied or dissatisfied with ourselves, something Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi will help us:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3:12 (NRSV)

Paul is well aware that despite his extensive experience of walking with Jesus, he has not arrived. This speaks to us when we think we have arrived.

There are two different ways that we may think we have arrived.

First, we may think we have progressed so far in Christian maturity, that there is nowhere left to grow. There are no changes left to be made. There is nothing more to learn about God, or ourselves. When we think that, let Paul’s words come as a challenge. If the apostle Paul knew that he had not yet arrived, how much more should we realise the need, and opportunity, for further growth?

Second, we may think that the only goal of Christianity is to get people to heaven and since we know that we are saved by the love of God and not our own righteousness, well the goal has been reached. We have been saved. We will go to heaven when we die. All is good.

However, is that the only goal? It may sound like the only goal in certain variations of Christianity, but we won’t find that it is in Biblical Christianity. Consider what Paul goes on to say:

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14 (NRSV)

The Christian life is described here as a race. There is motion, there is direction, there is an effort expended in reaching toward a goal, there is a sense of progression, of movement. We could sum it up with “yes, by God’s grace you will reach the finish line, but you are now in the race, so get running!”

The goal of Christianity is not just getting people to heaven instead of hell, of ensuring life forevermore as opposed to separation from God at the end. The goal is experiencing God’s presence in our lives forevermore, beginning now, and affecting us now. The goal is not just resurrection to eternal life when Christ returns, but new life now made possible through the Holy Spirit’s presence within us now. There is a maturing process, touching our character, our motives, our ethics, our attitudes, affecting everything about us. This race is not a sprint, but a marathon, a long journey. Of course we have not arrived.

This brings us to those times we beat ourselves up because we have not yet arrived. If that describes us today, there are three things to take note of from Paul’s words.

First, be comforted by the fact that God’s got this, even if we don’t:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3:12 (NRSV emphasis added)

We belong, even though we have not arrived. We belong because of the faithfulness of Jesus, because of the love and grace of God. Our Christian maturity does not make God love us more. So be comforted by the fact that you belong.

Second, if you feel you have some distance to go, you are not alone. Paul makes no claim on being the perfect Christian either. None of the heroes of the faith that we find in the Bible were perfect. None of the heroes of the faith we find through the history of Christianity were perfect. Why do we beat ourselves up for not being perfect? So let us be comforted by the fact that we are not alone in our imperfection. God is not surprised.

Third, let us be challenged. There is a road to travel, there is a race to run:

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14 (NRSV)

Are we challenged by those verbs of action: “straining forward,” “I press on.” Do we hear the challenge to put some effort in?

To run a race, it is best we not spend all our time looking behind us. When we spend a lot of time looking back we might end up thinking things like “I experienced this, my family of origin was like that, I have never been able to . . . , I have always . . . ” If we look at how things have been, why would we expect anything to ever be different? But if we look forward . . .

In an effort to more healthy I have lost 50 lbs. If I only looked back I would see nothing but a steady rise in weight. An app forced me to look forward. At the close of each day it would say “if every day was like today, in five weeks you will weigh . . .” Looking back I would always feel defeated. Looking forward I felt inspired.

If we feel stuck, let us hear the challenge to look forward. In motorcycle safety courses they teach you that where you look, you go. So don’t spend all your time looking back, and don’t look down! In life, if we keep looking back we will continue to get hung up over the same old things. Let’s not keep looking back at events and decisions we think define us. Instead let’s look forward to what God has for us. Let the future God has in store for us define us.

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6 (NRSV)

Let us not look back at a history of failures, whether our own or how others have failed us, but let us look forward to where God is leading us, to what kind of character we will have, what kind of people we will be.

Growth is possible, especially given the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the upward calling in Christ. We can grow in our character. We can grow in our depth of relationship with God in Christ. We can grow in our awareness and knowledge of God. We can grow in our awareness and knowledge of ourselves, where we have come from, but more importantly, where we are going.

Whether we feel we have far to go, or nowhere left to go in the journey of Christian maturity, God will help get us moving on our way.

Are you growing?


The full reflection can be seen as part of this “online worship expression.Read more from Clarke at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

August 7, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Mission

Ask someone to name a section of Christ’s teachings in the Gospel of Matthew and they will invariably answer “The Sermon on the Mount” or “Matthew, chapters five, six and seven.” But that’s only one of five possible answers.

Since I chose to read Matthew last, I’m almost finished the collection of the Biblical Imagination Series commentaries on the Gospels, by Matthew Card. He was the one who really drew my attention to the “The Five Discourses” in a way I hadn’t seen before.

But what is a discourse? Dictionary.com says,

  • communication of thought by words; talk; conversation: earnest and intelligent discourse.
  • a formal discussion of a subject in speech or writing, as a dissertation, treatise, sermon, etc.
  • Linguistics. any unit of connected speech or writing longer than a sentence.

But the one thing they offer that’s most useful to us is a listing of related words, some of which include:

communication, discussion, conversation, monologue, huddle, homily, chat

Can you guess which one jumped out at me? Huddle. That’s what I see happening here. The coach calling in the key players who will be on the field to discuss the game plan. (I’m not a sports guy, so that last sentence is a bit of a minor miracle.)

I know some are loathe to get their theological points of reference from Wikipedia, but I’ve been finding it somewhat reliable lately, and on this point they begin,

In Christianity, the term Five Discourses of Matthew refers to five specific discourses by Jesus within the Gospel of Matthew.

The five discourses are listed as the following: the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

Each of the discourses has a shorter parallel in the Gospel of Mark or the Gospel of Luke.

A very small taste of what to expect when you visit Steve’s cartoon panels on The Five Discourses. Click image to link.

Better yet, in a world where visuals aids like The Gospel Project really sparks learning to life, I found a most interesting website where cartoonist Steve Thomason has illustrated all five discourses. (I don’t feel the liberty to copy/paste more than a very small section of one panel here, and can only encourage you to visit this one especially.) The expressions on the disciples faces as Jesus tells them a little about what they might face are priceless. And realistic.

Steve has the discourse/passage beginning at Matthew 9:35 and carrying through all of chapter 10. The first four verses of chapter 10 are the choosing or appointing of the twelve disciples. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that there were only twelve. The followers were many.

The real meat of his instruction to the twelve however starts in verse 5 and continues to the end.

At this point, you need to read that entire section.

For those who don’t click, a few highlights would include:

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

8b …Freely you have received; freely give.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.

28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”  (all NIV)

Back to Michael Card, he explains why this chapter is so very much worth reading:

Matthew 10 provides a good illustration of what is fundamentally different about this gospel as compared to the others. When Jesus sends the twelve apostles out on their first mission, Mark devotes only two verses to Jesus’ instructions to them (Mk 6:10-11). Luke provides only three verses (Lk 9:3-5). Matthew devotes an entire chapter of forty-two verses. While Matthew may be a selective minimalist in regard to the detail of the story, he is at the extreme opposite when it comes to the words of Jesus. Remember in Mark we have only twenty-two minutes of “face time” with Jesus. In Luke we have fifty-three minutes with Jesus speaking directly to us. In John we have only forty-four. But in Matthew, Jesus speaks to us for more than an hour…

Matthew: The Gospel of Identity, p98

If our devotion includes a desire to ‘spend time with Jesus’ then Matthew ought to rank highly in our list of New Testament books.

 

August 3, 2020

The Work He Began: Our Part

Readers at Thinking Out Loud have met Jeff Snow previously on a few occasions, including a book review, a story about his day-to-day ministry on a university campus, and his 3-part series on divorce, which we ran twice. But he’s only appeared once before here in 2012. Jeff is a half-time pastor in Canada, and spends the other half of his week as a campus worker with Mission Canada, for which he depends upon donations. He’s also a longtime friend who has been incredibly faithful to doing ministry mostly in one particular small town in Ontario.

I attended his church on Sunday. (Full disclosure: My wife is on staff.) His sermon was based on Philippians 1:6

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (NLT)

For the first part of the sermon, he talked about what God has done for us in beginning this work, through the process we call salvation. And then…

by Jeff Snow

…Which brings us to the question, what part do we have to play in accomplishing the work that God has for us. We are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We are told that faith without works is dead. We talk in church about the importance of committing ourselves to times of prayer, times of reading and studying God’s Word. We talk about the importance of coming to church, of worshipping and fellowshipping together. Is the completion of the work God wants to do in us dependent on our success in doing all these things?

Well, yes and no. We can’t earn our salvation. And any of these things listed done without a heart of surrender and obedience to God simply becomes an intellectual exercise or an act of earthly community rather than divine community. Our verse tells us that HE, God, will complete the good work done in us.

Neil Anderson, in his devotional Who I Am In Christ, writes using a boating analogy, “If we think getting to the other side is a question of how hard we row, we may never get there. We must never forget that it is He who began the work in us, and it is He who will carry it to completion.”

So does that mean we do nothing? Going to church and reading the Bible and praying don’t matter? Well, if they are seen as ends in themselves, probably not. But when we see them as a means to an end–placing ourselves within reach of God so that he can finish the work in us–then they do matter. These spiritual disciplines in our lives put us in a place where God can complete the work He has begun in our lives…

…Continuing with his boating analogy, Neil Anderson asks, “Are you running against the wind? Is a storm about to swamp your boat? Have you failed in the past? Do you believe God has given up on you? I don’t believe He has!” Later in the book of Philippians Paul, confident in God’s desire to complete His work in our lives, makes this statement of determination. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” God through Jesus Christ has taken hold of your life. He has called you for a purpose. The challenge this morning is to be confident in that fact. The challenge is to realize that God has a hold of your life. The challenge is to press on and reach out to grab hold of Him, grab hold of His purposes. As you do, know that you will be pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus.

For the promise is that God will bring the work to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. This day of Christ Jesus is the day when He returns, the day that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. This tells me two things. One is that the work God is doing in us is a lifelong process, only completed at the end of our days. And second, that the work that God has planned for us transcends even beyond our time here in this life.

The work of God in us through Jesus Christ begins at our salvation: Justification. It continues through our lifetime as God accomplishes His purposes in us and molds us into the image of Christ: Sanctification. And it comes to full completion when we see our Saviour face to face in eternity: Glorification. The work is complete when he brings us Home to be with Him.

So know that God has begun a good work in you by saving you. Know that he will never abandon you, that he has a good purpose for your life, plans to give you a hope and a future. He will mould you until you are brought to that day of completion in the arms of Jesus in heaven.

So stop struggling. Stop trying to be self-sufficient. Stop believing that you don’t matter to God. Stop crawling off the potter’s wheel. Be confident of this very thing. That He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

May 24, 2020

For the Twelve, Answering the Call Came with Risk

Two weeks ago we looked at The Twelve Disciples. I’ve been continuing to think about them in the days which followed…

I wonder what I might have done in their shoes. A decade ago, a popular Christian speaker said these guys, like other Hebrew boys, might have dreamed of being selected to follow a Rabbi. Only “the best of the best of the best” were chosen. These guys were (for the most part) plying trades and weren’t on any Rabbi’s short list. Their life trajectory was headed in another direction.

Then Jesus appears. He invites them to basically ‘stop what you’re doing and follow me.’ And out of the blue,

Matt.4.20.NIV At once they left their nets and followed him. (See three different gospel accounts.)

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

Today, most of us would not consider taking a job without investigating the potential employer. What is their reputation? How is their stock price doing? What are the working conditions?

Similarly, none of us would enroll in a program of education (which is closer to what they were doing) unless we knew that upon completion, the certificate or degree was actually recognized; that it truly meant something. (The accreditation process facilitates some of that investigation for us today.)

Would they accept not knowing all the facts? Apparently so.

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

Don’t let the big word scare you, it’s similar to itinerant and simply means “traveling from place to place.” Jesus the teacher was not attached to a synagogue. Being schooled with him didn’t mean an actual school, but rather wandering from place to place, sometimes eating on the road by biting the heads off the grain in nearby fields (and getting into arguments over so doing.) See Matthew 12 for that story, but don’t miss verse 8 where Matthew adds the phrase “Going on from that place…” to emphasize the traveling ministry. Even his long discourse in the last quarter of John’s gospel is delivered while walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane.)

(A big shoutout here to anyone who has ever slept in their car, or at the side of the road. I’ve done both, but not lately. That’s the idea conveyed here, although the twelve plus Jesus were sometimes billeted in the homes of supporters in various towns.)

When one of the scribes considers following him, Jesus utters his famous “foxes have holes” line which The Message renders as,

Matt.8.20.MSG Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Second, Jesus wasn’t trained by a rabbi they knew.

There was a strict process here. One rabbi trains a group of students (as Jesus is doing) and then they wash, rinse and repeat. (Couldn’t resist.) But you always know, at least in name, the person your rabbi sat under for his training.

So Jesus commences his ministry, and the crowd (specifically, elders, scribes and chief priests) ask him who has commissioned him in ministry; who has authorized him to preach. In our day, being ordained or being a commended minister carries with it the concept of accountability.

Mark.11.28.NLT They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

repeated in Luke,

Luke.20.1-2.NASB On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”

Most readers here would quickly say that Jesus’ ministry is confirmed by his Father. More than once in the gospel accounts we find the “voice from heaven” speaking. (A good topic for another study!) But the disciples would be risking their own reputation following a teacher whose own schooling doesn’t have earthly verification.

In balance however, we need to remind ourselves that the miracles Jesus performs validate his teaching. Things ‘no one could do unless…’ Nicodemus gets this when he says,

John.3.2b.NIV “…For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Third, there are lingering questions as to the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.

In a world without user names and passwords, people would have a longer memory for stories, and while Joseph and Mary weren’t celebrities, their story is the hard-to-forget type which would make great fodder for the tabloids and TMZ.

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

Mark.6.3a Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?”

they don’t simply mean, ‘Isn’t this the boy next door?’ but rather are dredging up a host of other memories which would recall the earlier scandalous story where Mary finds herself pregnant.

In another story where the authority or power of Jesus’ teaching is questioned, the Jews to which he is speaking come back with an indirect, but hard-hitting shot at Jesus

John.8.41b.NIV We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Commentators have suggested that this phrase can be translated, “We’re not bastards!” It’s a direct allusion to Jesus’ parentage.

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

  1. Following Jesus may take us to unexpected places, it might involve sacrifice, and may result in experiencing less than optimal conditions.
  2. The path of discipleship may mean unconventional employment, perhaps even contradicting the norms of standard vocational ministry.
  3. Following Jesus the Nazarene may impact our own personal reputation; we will need to simply not care what people think of us or Him.

 



Next Page »