Christianity 201

July 12, 2018

Big Renovations (Part 2: The Church)

In today’s devotional study, Pastor Clarke Dixon wrote from a specifically Canadian context. I’ve taken the liberty of generalizing his message for our readership here, because the principles certainly apply broadly. However, if you prefer to read the original, click this link.

by Clarke Dixon

We might think that the best days are in the past for the Church… Christianity seems to exert less influence. In many churches Sunday Schools which were once full are now mostly empty. Many churches feel like run down houses which have seen better days.

In the previous post we considered Haggai’s message for those who looked back at the glory days of the temple which could be summed up as “take courage . . . work”. God’s house had been destroyed, but in Haggai’s day rebuilding had begun then halted. However, the run down house can be renovated! Take courage and work!

We also considered that God no longer takes up residence in a temple building, but somewhere far more exciting for us:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV)

If we are God’s temple individually, then how much more are we the place of God’s residence collectively? What does “take courage . . . work” look like for us today as the Church? What does the renovation of the Church look like?

The building and rebuilding of the Church can be summed up in two words; disciple making.

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)

But what about opposition to Christianity today? Renovations may seem daunting in the face of societal changes. Temple building was a daunting task in Haggai’s day as there had been opposition to the rebuilding in the years previous. However, with a new Persian king amenable to the task, there was really now nothing stopping them from moving forward. While we may feel an opposition to Christianity here in our day, there really is nothing stopping us from moving ahead! Yes, there is a movement to take Christianity out of the public sphere. But we do not need the Lord’s prayer to be prayed in schools for God to be answering our prayers. Yes, there is a movement away from Christian values. But we don’t need laws against sharing recreational marijuana to share God’s love in Christ. We don’t need society to make discipleship or evangelism easy. What we need is courage. “Take courage . . .work”.

We have the same reasons for courage as the people of Haggai’s day; God is present, God’s promises stand:

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. Haggai 2:45 (NRSV emphasis added)

Plus, the day of God’s glory is coming:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.  I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.  ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty.  ‘And in this place I will grant peace, ’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:6-9 (NIV emphasis added)

Do you see the best days of the Church as being ahead? If not, perhaps you are too busy looking behind. Don’t look back at the glory days of the Church, move forward into God’s glory.



Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. (I also got to hear this sermon preached live at Clarke’s church!)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (30 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

July 5, 2018

Big Renovations

by Clarke Dixon

Are your best days are behind you? You may feel they are. You are not the young energetic person of the past. When we first entered the world we were carried up the stairs. Then we learned to climb them. Then we began running up the stairs, soon proudly doing two at a time. Then we reach the point of just walking up the stairs. Later we do what can best be described as climbing them again. Then we avoid them altogether. If you are in these latter stages you may think your best days are behind you.

Haggai has a message for those who look back at the glory days.

. . . the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Haggai 2:1-3 (NRSV)

God’s people had endured the consequence of their rebellion spending seventy years in Babylon following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. They had now been allowed to return and even begin work on rebuilding the temple. However with opposition the work ground to a halt. Haggai points out the rundown nature of the house of God and brings a message from the Lord:

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work . . . Haggai 2:4 (NRSV emphasis added)

The run down house can be renovated! Take courage and work! In the prophet Haggai’s day that meant getting back to work on rebuilding the place of God’s residence, the temple. In our day God’s place of residence may well need some major renovations. But where is it today?

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV)

Since it turns out that the Christ follower is God’s temple, what does “take courage and work” look like for us today? It is the renovation of our hearts. This is God’s work in us. We are only scratching the surface here, but the affect of God upon us has been summarized for us:

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

Do you feel like your best days are behind you? If you do, you may be thinking of things like physical health and youthful vitality. What if we think instead about the impact God has on us, such as the fruit of the Spirit? The best days of your life may yet be ahead. You can be so deflated of physical heath that you are confined to a hospital bed and yet still be growing in things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we redefine our “best days” as those where we most powerfully demonstrate God’s impact on our hearts and minds, our best days are ahead! God’s renovating work in us continues!

So “take courage . . . work”. That is, make efforts to keep in step with God. Be open to His work in your life. I am not really a handyman, but I know God has the tools and know-how to fix up whatever needs renovating in my heart.

Do you see your best days as being ahead? If not, perhaps you are too busy looking behind. Don’t look back at your glory days, move forward into God’s glory.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. (I also got to hear this sermon preached live at Clarke’s church!)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (30 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

 


June 28, 2018

Empire, or Kingdom?

Will we ever wake up in a world with no violence or conflict? We see it on the news, we hear about it in the lives of people around us, maybe we experience it personally. Yes, there will be a day there will be no more conflict. Christ will return and there will be

a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:1,5 NRSV)

But are we to just wait for that day, putting up with all this conflict until then? The prophet Nahum will help us find our way.

Nahum points us in the right direction by pointing out what happens when we get on the wrong track. Nahum is a prophecy to a people who had been on the wrong track. The Assyrians were on the track to empire. Nahum had the task of telling them that they had reached the end of the line. There are three problems with the track to empire.

First problem with the empire track; empire is temporary. Much of the history of the world is a history of the empire after empire seeking to become the biggest and best. The history of the world teaches us that they all fall in the end. Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, it doesn’t matter, empire is always temporary.

There is a better track; the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is eternal. We may struggle to understand the book of Revelation, but the main message is really quite simple; empires rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God is eternal.

So are we building towards empire, or Kingdom? Are we building for things that are temporary? Are our time, talents, and treasures going toward things that last?

Second problem with the empire track: empire destroys relationships. In empire living, there are only allies or enemies. The peoples within and around an empire are either going to help the empire get bigger, or they are going to get in the way and be a threat.

There is a better track, one that leads to the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, there are only neighbours. Jesus taught us to “love thy neighbour as thyself and then went on to define our neighbour as anyone and everyone.

When we meet people, do we see them as either allies of enemies? Do we see them as either being useful to us, or in our way, and even a threat? Or do we simply see them as neighbours to be loved?

Third problem with the empire track; empires are built through brute force and brutality. Nahum tells of this, for example:

Ah! City of bloodshed,
utterly deceitful, full of booty—
no end to the plunder!
 The crack of whip and rumble of wheel,
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
 Horsemen charging,
flashing sword and glittering spear,
piles of dead,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
they stumble over the bodies! Nahum 3:1-3 (NRSV)

Yet she became an exile,
she went into captivity;
even her infants were dashed in pieces
at the head of every street;
lots were cast for her nobles,
all her dignitaries were bound in fetters. Nahum 3:10 (NRSV)

In building empires, countless of people were killed. For those who lived, eyes were often gouged out, tongues cut off, people sold off and removed far from home. So brutal were some empires that even unborn babies were ripped from their mother’s wombs, and orphaned infants dashed to the ground. This is how empires struck fear in their enemies. Better to surrender to the power of a “better” empire, than experience it firsthand. Nahum’s prophecy is about the Assyrian empire experiencing what it dished out to others.

All who hear the news about you
clap their hands over you.
For who has ever escaped
your endless cruelty? Nahum 3:19 (NRSV)

There is, thankfully, a better track, the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is built with a different kind of force: “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” Zechariah. 4:9 (NKJV).

Jesus said “those who draw the sword, will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:62-54 NRSV). Jesus was doing two things when he refused to use violence at his arrest in Gethsemane. He was taking the Kingdom track for our sake, so that we might be forgiven rather than destroyed. But he was also giving us an example to follow, an example of Kingdom thinking, Kingdom living, Kingdom dying. Jesus call us to pick up the cross and follow, which means to trade empire for Kingdom. We are to become Kingdom people, good news people.

We are empire people when we show up with swords and guns and bombs. We are Kingdom people when we show up with the Spirit of God: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22,23 (NRSV). Do we show up to our relationships with swords or the Spirit? Do we show up on Facebook, Twitter and other social media with swords or Spirit? Do we show up ready ready to fight people? Or to fight with people against the evil in their lives? Do we show up as empire people or Kingdom people?

You might perceive a problem with the Kingdom track. It does not seem to take into account your suffering at the hands of another. It is unfair. You deserve vengeance. And perhaps you are right. It is unfair. However, the prophecy of Nahum, though addressed to the Assyrians, was for the encouragement of Israel when they experienced what seemed to be very unfair treatment. Having been on the wrong track for a long time, Assyria has reached the end of the line. However, nowhere in the prophecy of Nahum is there a call for Israel to take up arms. There is no need. We can think of Paul’s word to the Christians in Rome who also knew a thing or two about being treated unfairly:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 (NRSV)

Every day we wake up to violence and conflict. Every day is an opportunity to live as God’s good news people. Every day is an opportunity for Kingdom rather than empire. While we may not feel we have much influence in conflicts around the globe, the ones close to home are opportunities for Kingdom building.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (33 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 


This weekend we continue the theme of empire vs. kingdom with two posts from a well-known and often controversial writer! Stay tuned on Friday and Saturday.

May 10, 2018

Helping People Walk with Jesus In Faith

(This is part four in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

Who will take the first step? Who will trust God? I like to imagine the conversation among the Hebrew men as they stood before a divided Red Sea, with walls of water to the left and to the right. Sure, God did made that happen. But can God be trusted? Who will take that first step of trust? I can also imagine one of them saying, “since this is a rescue operation, perhaps it should be women and children first?”

There were already trust issues when God’s people stood between the Egyptian army and the sea;

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Exodus 14:10-11

Moses encourages the people to trust in God;

But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Exodus 14:13-14

But even Moses himself seems to have some trouble trusting;

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. Exodus 14:15

The sea divides. They are to walk through! But who will take that first step? Will they trust God? This is not exactly a trip through Ripley’s Aquarium! They all took the step and walked through in faith.

When we invite people to walk with Jesus, we encourage them to trust God every step of the way. It may sometimes feel like there are walls of water to the left and right and an army behind. The Christian may endure suffering, trials and tribulations. Is God really with me as I keep plodding along the bottom of the sea? For someone who is not a Christian, the first step of faith may feel like the hardest. ‘I will be misunderstood and mocked. People will think I have lost my mind.’ A person on the verge of faith may feel like they are standing at the sea with a very scary fist step ahead. As a church family, we are to help people walk with Jesus in faith whether they have been walking with Him for a long time, or considering a first step. Each step with Jesus is the very best next step you could take no matter where you are right now.

Walking in faith means we trust in the promises of God the Father. Like God’s people feeling trapped at the sea with the promise of a rescue, we have promises to hang onto. Walking in faith means we trust in the work of God the Son. Like Moses, we don’t need to cry out for what has already been promised. Our reconciliation has been accomplished in Jesus. Our part is not to ask over and over again for God to save us, like a child begging and pleading with an unwilling parent. Our part is to keep walking with Jesus. Walking in faith means we trust God to be present though the Holy Spirit. Just as God’s people walked through the Sea while God’s presence kept the Egyptians back, we can trust that God is not going to suddenly change his mind and leave us to the enemy. As a church family, we are to help people trust God, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, with every step.

When some hear “faith” they think “blind faith, belief without any evidence, or belief despite the evidence”. Those outside the church may think of church as helping you maintain a blind faith and will say no, thank you. Those within the church may respond with “you just gotta believe” and quote Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

But are we really to help people with a “blind faith”? We should ask what is “unseen” in Hebrews 11? What can’t be seen is the future. When the people walked through the Red Sea, they could not see the future, but they took the step of faith, trusting that God would rescue them.

Faith in Hebrews 11 It is referring to what we have not seen fulfilled yet, what God has yet to do. Before God’s people stood before a divided sea with a decision to make, they had known the works of God. They saw what God did to the Egyptians. They had evidence upon which to take a reasonable step of faith. They had not yet seen what God was going to do, but they had seen what God had already done.

We are not called to help people believe something despite a lack of evidence. We are called to help people trust Someone because of the evidence. We do well to step into the world of apologetics and become familiar with that evidence. In addition to the lines of evidence which we can present to others, there is evidence that is personal to us. We know the presence of God through the Holy Spirit. Moses had his own burning bush experience which he could tell others about, but which some might have trouble believing. However, he could also point to the evidence of God’s hand at work which the others had seen with their own eyes. In the same way we can each have and speak about our own personal experiences of God which others have not seen or experienced. But we can also point to those lines of evidence which can be seen.

The people did trust God:

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. Hebrews 11:29

To the glory of God, may we help people walk with Jesus, may we help them trust Him every step of the way, knowing that every step with Jesus is always the next best step.


All scriptures NRSV.  Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (26 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 28, 2018

Justly, Kindly, Humbly

Today we’re introducing you to a writer appearing for the first time here at C201. Martha Anderson has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since January, 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com as she explains at her site:

One is “Food for the Soul,” and it takes you through forty-five Old Testament daily devotionals, complete with some explanation and application questions. The second was just finished, “More Food for the Soul,” with seventy-eight New Testament daily devotionals…There are also three books that take you chronologically through Jesus’ life, “Jesus Changes Everything and He is Changing Me.” The 4th one takes you through the book of Acts.

To learn more click this link. Click the title below to read today’s devotional at source. I’ve added a song at the end which is based on today’s key scripture.

How to please God

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

The prophet Micah was asking about how to please God in Micah 6.  He asked if he should come before God with thousands of animals for burnt offerings or ten thousands of rivers of oil to burn incense as a fragrant offering.   In today’s terms we might ask if we should go to church three times a week, become a missionary, or give all of your money to a good cause.

No, the answer is still the same.   God gives a picture of His true heart for how we should live in a way that pleases Him.  We should pursue justice, to love kindness and to be humble.  God’s answer to Israel and to us is today’s verse:  pursue justice, love kindness and be humble before God and others.

We find a similar response in Isaiah 58.  In that chapter, God told the people of Israel that even though they sought Him daily and even fasted to be religious, it didn’t amount to much.  God told them if they really wanted to please Him they should end wickedness, oppression, and injustice, to feed the hungry and take in the homeless.

The justice that we are to pursue isn’t just for ourselves; it is for those who have no voice.  It might be for those who don’t have the financial resources to get a good lawyer, or for children and the unborn.   God wants us to see others that are not as well off as we are and find ways to help them.

We are not to get confused and to think that ‘social justice’ is the Gospel, as some movements do.   But if I live a grace and truth filled, joyful and Jesus centered life–that should make me different. It should make me incredibly generous, and quick to embrace the messy people who have more needs than I can meet. I should be looking for ways to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

My eyes should always be looking outward, not in at my own safe little heterogeneous group or navel gazing at myself. One of my capstone verses is John 10:16 where Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold, I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice.”

Micah 6:8 mentions both justice and kindness. Synonyms for kindness are: gentleness, affection, warmth, concern and care.   This is a fruit of the Spirit, so as I am walking in the Spirit, kindness should be front and center. That slogan about practicing ‘random acts of kindness’ is kind of funny. Really, we should be practicing ‘intentional and well thought out acts of kindness on a regular basis.’ But that doesn’t make for a good t-shirt slogan.

Finally, God wants us to be humble.  It is easier to think about the opposite trait, which is pride.  James 4:6 tells us, “God oppose the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  And in Philippians 2:3 Paul writes, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  As Tim Keller said in The Art of Self Forgetfulness, “It’s not that you think less of yourself, it’s that you think of yourself less.” That’s what God is looking for. The thing about humility is that when you achieve it, no one will notice!

If you want to know how to please God, here it is: stand up for someone who can’t speak for him or herself, do an intentional and well thought out act of kindness daily, and make sure you don’t get the credit for it.

December 18, 2017

Let us Follow On to Know the Lord

There are, in our churches, many people who are part of the activities and busyness of the church, but are making no effort to dig in any deeper into knowing the mind of God and the ways of God. Surveyed, they would say that they are followers of Christ, but they have little pursuit after God during the week through resources such as the Bible books and podcasts; prayer; conversations and contacts with other believers centered on Christ.

We often say,

  • Just because you know all about Christ, doesn’t mean you truly know him or are known by him;

But there is an equally true opposite to this,

  • Just because you’re now part of the church, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically making any effort to know more about Him.

The phrase, “follow on to know the Lord” is from the KJV version of Hosea 6:3. Better known would be a rendering such as the NIV

Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.

Other translations have,

  • Let us try to know the LORD (Good News)
  • Oh, that we might know the LORD! Let us press on to know him! (NLT)
  • And let us have knowledge, let us go after the knowledge of the Lord; (Bible in Basic English)
  • Let’s do our best to know the LORD. (CEV)
  • Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord  (ESV)
  • Let us strive to know the Lord (HCSB)

so I found it interesting that on closer observation, the KJV actually includes the word “if.” The first of the two commentaries below make note of this.

Gill’s Notes on the Bible:

Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord,…. The word “if” is not in the original text, and the passage is not conditional, but absolute; for as persons, when converted, know Christ, and not before, when he is revealed to them, and in them, as the only Saviour and Redeemer, so they continue and increase in the knowledge of him; they earnestly desire to know more of him, and eagerly pursue those means and methods by which they attain to a greater degree of it; for so the words are, “and we shall know, we shall follow on to know the Lord”; that grace, which has given the first measure of spiritual and experimental knowledge of him, will influence and engage them to seek after more. The Jews, when they are quickened, and turn to the Lord, will know him, own and acknowledge him, as the Messiah, the only Redeemer and Saviour; and will be so delighted with the knowledge of him, that they will be desirous of, and seek after, a larger measure of it; and indeed they shall all know him, from the least to the greatest, when the covenant of grace shall be renewed with them, manifested and applied to them.

The words may be considered as a continuation of their exhortation to one another from Hosea 6:1; thus, “and let us acknowledge, let us follow on to know him”; let us own him as the true Messiah, whom we and our fathers have rejected; and let us make use of all means to gain more knowledge of him: or let us follow after him, to serve and obey him, which is the practical knowledge of him; let us imitate him, and follow him the Lamb of God, embrace his Gospel, and submit to his ordinances. So Kimchi interprets it, “to know him”; that is, to serve him; first know him, then serve him;

Barnes Notes on the Bible:

Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord – Rather, “Then shall we know, shall follow on to know the Lord,” i. e., we shall not only know Him, but we shall grow continually in that knowledge. Then, in Israel, God says, “there was no knowledge of Him;” His “people was destroyed for lack of it” Hosea 4:1, Hosea 4:6. In Christ He promises, that they should have that inward knowledge of Him, ever growing, because the grace, through which it is given, ever grows, and “the depth of the riches of His wisdom and knowledge is unsearchable, passing knowledge.” We “follow on,” confessing that it is He who makes us to follow Him, and draws us to Him. We know, in order to follow; we follow, in order to know. Light prepares the way for love. Love opens the mind for new love. The gifts of God are interwoven. They multiply and reproduce each other, until we come to the perfect state of eternity. For here “we know in part” only; then “shall we know, even as we are known. We shall follow on.”

Where shall we “follow on?” To the fountains of the water of life, as another prophet says; “For He that hath mercy upon them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall He guide themIsaiah 49:10. And in the Revelation we read, that “the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of watersRevelation 7:17. The bliss of eternity is fixed; the nearness of each to the throne of God, the “mansion” in which he shall dwell, admits of no change; but, through eternity, it may be, that we shall “follow on to know” more of God, as more shall be revealed to us of that which is infinite, the Infinity of His Wisdom and His Love.

Are you following on to know the Lord?

I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
 –
Jeremiah 24:7

Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
 –
identical verse found in Isaiah 2:3 and Micah 4:2


Last two scriptures are NIV, balance of material today includes material at StudyLight.org


 

November 3, 2017

Discipline in All Areas of Life

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

Discipline and Discipling

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

Read: Proverbs 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

May 2, 2017

The Cup of Sorrows and The Worth of a Soul

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

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

Matthew 20:22

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

Who Is the Greatest?

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

What Is the Cup?

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

Anger and Jealousy

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

A Closing Prayer

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

What is your own soul worth?

Matthew 16:26

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

Denying the Self but Not Christ

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

What Does It Profit?

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

Take Up Your Cross

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

A Closing Prayer

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

 

April 21, 2017

Intentional Followership

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

3 Components to Spiritual Formation

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

Passivity is not an option.

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

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

In 2 Peter 3:17-18 he wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. We need to be consistent – Vs. 6

Faith is the key.

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

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

By being obedient we demonstrate that we trust God.

2. We need to be concrete – Vs. 7

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

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

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

3. We need to be cautious – Vs. 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 What is an essential component to your spiritual formation?

April 6, 2017

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

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

…by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

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

 

March 27, 2017

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

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

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

A New Creation

I’m dead.

Yep, dead as a door nail.

Nail down the coffin, people.

I am entirely unresponsive to the world around me.

Dead.

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

Allow me to explain…

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

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

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

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

How is this kind of mess a new creation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is freedom.

March 11, 2017

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

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

The Rich, The Way and The Kingdom

Luke 18:24-30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With God, all things are indeed possible!

March 10, 2017

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

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

Jesus Meets a Rich Ruler

Luke 18:18-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would that make you happy?

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

More importantly, would you do it?

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

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

December 26, 2016

Compromise: Making it “Easier” to be a Christian

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

Your Compromise isn’t a Virtue

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

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

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

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

Lets open our arms, but with the true gospel.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

November 3, 2016

The Bible’s Proper Place

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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