Christianity 201

January 7, 2023

More on Need-Meeting vs. Proclamation

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

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

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

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

So far, so good.

Or so I thought.

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

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

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

Or so I had often shared with people.

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

Exodus 4:10:

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

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

Exodus 6:12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Mark Galli pointed out in this 2009 article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 6, 2023

A Church Which Couldn’t Care Less

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

John 12:26, NLT

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

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

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

Matthew 25:34-40, NLT

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

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless
James 2:14-17 NLT

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

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

Basil of Caesarea wrote,

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

Somewhere recently I read,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In November, 2021, Clarke Dixon wrote here:

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

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

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

December 21, 2022

We’re God’s Unique Creation

Although it’s no longer as active, this week I worked on updating the blogroll at Thinking Out Loud. Blogrolls — links to other online writers — were once quite common, whereas today everyone seems to wish to keep their readers to themselves! In doing so, I came across Practical Theology Today writer Curt Hinkle, and although we linked to him back in March, I thought these thoughts bore repeating here at C201.

Clicking the link in the title below will also take you to his site, where more articles await you.

Woodworking and God’s Poiema

A surprising advantage of woodworking using hand tools – one can quietly prep boards and layout dovetails during a church service. A dozen or so years ago I got to do just that. My friend Sonja preached a sermon focused on Ephesians 2, specifically, For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do (Eph. 2:10, CSB). She asked me if I would relocate my workbench and some tools to the church sanctuary stage and then do some woodworking stuff as she gave her message.

As I prepared boards to cut dovetails that Sunday morning, I contemplated the significance that I, Curt Hinkle, am God’s workmanship. What does it mean to be God’s workmanship? And what does it mean that I am his workmanship with purpose? And what are those good works for which God has prepared for me? Some thoughts…

I notice that the Apostle Paul said we are God’s workmanship, not you (or Curt Hinkle, for that matter). In our western, American individualistic approach to faith, it’s an easy miss. I don’t doubt that this is a truism applicable to the individual, but we need to remember that Paul is addressing the Church in Ephesus. It seems that he is saying that Christ-followers as a whole unit are his workmanship, created for good works – individually and corporately.

So, let’s look at what Paul might be saying both individually and corporately. The root Greek word for workmanship is poiema (ποίημα). It describes God’s creative activity. It’s the word from which poem and poetry are derived. It has also been translated as accomplishment, masterpiece, handiwork, or a product of his hand. The Jerusalem Bible’s translation of Ephesians 2:10:

We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.

God’s work of art! In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis describes us as “Divine work(s) of art, something that God is making…” Or, as Timothy Keller has been oft quoted…

Do you know what it means that you are God’s workmanship? What is art? Art is beautiful, art is valuable, and art is an expression of the inner being of the maker, of the artist. Imagine what that means. You’re beautiful … you’re valuable … and you’re an expression of the very inner being of the Artist, the divine Artist, God Himself.

As a woodworker, I know the reality that every project I work on is a unique creation. Every year I try to make gifts for each of our four kids (i.e. charcuterie boards). On the surface, they all appear to be the same but they are not. They each have nuances related to things like wood types, grain orientation, blemishes, and, of course, operator error. What they do have in common that cannot be taken away from them: They are each a unique creation of mine, an expression of my creative activity.

The Apostle Paul used poiema only one other time in his writings that are included in the New Testament canon. In Romans 1:20 he states…

For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and all the things that make him God [his divine nature] – have been clearly seen [perceived], understood through what God has made (poiema). (EXB)

To be God’s poiema is a big deal! It’s right up there with all of creation (which we discussed in The Theology of Woodworking). We are visible expressions of the invisible God. As a higher schooler once said to me, “We get to be walking billboards.” It’s the “good works” we were created for. What a privilege!

With woodworking, there is a point where I, the artist, say “good enough.” It’s not a statement of shoddiness. It’s more of a comment about return on investment. At some point, I deem a project complete enough for its intended purpose. Satisfied with my poiema, I move on to the next project.

I am aware that not all of us consider it a privilege to be “walking billboards” due to real or perceived warts. But Paul didn’t say “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works someday.” There is a present tense implication. God’s creative activity is ongoing in the form of transformation into the likeness of his Son (For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his SonRomans 8:29). He doesn’t say “good enough.” As we continue to follow him, the warts (real and perceived) begin to fade.

Transformation. We’ve talked about that in previous blog posts (cf. Metamorfoo). We must remember that it’s not our job to transform ourselves. Our job is to follow Jesus, positioning ourselves so God can accomplish the transformation – For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants (Philippians 2:13, TLB). This is the entirety of C.S. Lewis’ quote from The Problem of Pain

“We are a Divine work of art, something that God is making and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.”

November 11, 2022

Possessing Automatic Grace

Today we’re back for a third time featuring the writing of Glenn Kaiser, a leader in the Jesus People USA community in Chicago which gave birth to Resurrection Band, Cornerstone Magazine and the Cornerstone Festival. Click the header below (there’s two today) to read this where it first appeared.

Roots

No plant, flower or life grows healthy and well if laced with bitterness.

“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.” -Hebrews 12.15

Two weekends ago I brought a message to a fellowship about holiness, both imputed by God and lived out/walked by followers of Jesus. That largely focused on verse 14. Here we see the verse immediately following it.

Injustices have happened since Adam and Eve blew off God’s command, God’s “No, all but that over there…” so to speak. The bitterness in human life is partly what came of that non-trust and disobedience toward God. How many bitter people have we known… perhaps ourselves during our lifetime?

Bitter people are not at peace, not happy, anything but fulfilled, often as self-righteous as the smug, uncaring powerful who seem to (as even God’s Word tells it) have plenty of everything and get along just fine while the godly so often suffer. One of the reasons I love and trust scripture is that this scenario is written, preached and sung about a great deal in The Bible.

So what of a sense of what I’ll call “automatic grace”? Doesn’t a follower of the Lord experience this? Of course we do on many levels. And then injustice comes our way, illness or heartbreak or shocking, perhaps very deep loss occurs. Where was God in all this?

I met a man in a cancer ward years ago, being asked to visit and pray for him which I did. He only wanted to know one thing which I admitted I could not answer- “Why?” He said he’d lived a good life, had given to others, was a veteran, had laid his life down right through and now incurable cancer, pain and the end of life came in terrible misery. I do not know whether he was in fact a bitter person but many have taken that option. Many do in such circumstances or similiar situations.

Is is possible to “fail to obtain the grace of God”? I believe it is. Every sinful choice, foolish decision opens such a door. It does not fully eradicate grace (“eradicate” by the way means to “tear up by the roots…”) in one’s life, but surely can cause one to not actually obtain it. To miss God’s grace in the Greek = “be late, come behind, come short” — instead of, rather than “looking upon, caring about and exercising oversight” re. His grace.

Jesus taught that it is in our heart, our deepest place within where real defilement comes from. How we NEED God’s grace, eyes to see and repentance from a bitter heart! Forgiving, sowing grace and love toward people, prayer that God will be merciful to them, even bless them is a tall order and maturing followers of Jesus will take that route — or perhaps “fail to obtain.”

I’ve known far too many who have ditched any faith relationship with God at this very intersection.

Thankfully, I’ve known and know a great many who walk in grace rather than bitterness, who seek and love and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ their Lord.

We need to be mindful of our own root.

I wrote a lyric many years ago that concluded “Draw us from the bitter water, to the garden once again.” We need to tend our garden or things just… decay.

Mixed metaphor alert, but As the old preacher said: “The dog you feed is the one that grows.”

This article (below) on a similar theme appeared the next day on Glenn’s blog, and we couldn’t post the one without the other! —

Rooted -and- Grounded

“that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” -Ephesians 3.17

I am convinced the more our roots are IN GOD’S LOVE our own sense of deception, pretense, desire for vengeance, control, harsh attitudes that DEMAND x, y or z from others begin to fade.

The thought struck me that Paul’s prayer for those in the church at Ephesus is totally relevant for us today. Well, for all in any time or place on earth.

Is love actually the soil we are planted in, in our relationship to Jesus? Is that the ground we live in, stand on, offer care and concern for others -from the stability of His love? Are we doing all (as scripture teaches) we do in love?

Believe me, if you fail in this, know [that] I do plenty! Yet the target, the mark, the place we seek, as the NRSV renders it, “you are BEING”, so it’s a process.

If it isn’t all about love what is our aim in life, work and relationships?

Lastly we best consider what the Spirit does to nurture good health and growth in the roots of such ground.

Prayer, His Word, repentance and confession of sin, actually living out the Word and example of Jesus, growing in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5) are all part of the weed-pulling and nutrient-imparting for the life of a growing Christ follower. Yes!

November 7, 2022

Life is Fleeting

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

fleet·ing
/ˈflēdiNG/

adjective

  • lasting for a very short time (Oxford dictionary)
  • passing swiftly : transitory (Merriam-Webster dictionary)
  • rapid and transient (Collins dictionary)

This is our fourth time with Sam at the blog Word-Centered Living. He explains the meaning of that name:

…Word-centered living is, then, nothing more than living in personal relationship with the living Word, based on the written Word, and lived out in the spoken Word. There are many “words” out there in the world. Every one of them promises some kind of benefit—better health, better income, better self, better things, better afterlife, better relationships, and better entertainment. These voices all cry out for our attention, but I believe that only one voice has proven itself to be timeless and effective. You don’t need people to tell you these things. Read and experience it for yourself and see if it’s not true. I have made the Word the center of my life and I have not been disappointed. I invite you to transform your life’s journey by living a Word-centered living.

To read today’s thoughts where they first appeared, click the title which follows.

Life Is Short: Your Glory in Life Even Shorter

“In the twenty-sixth year of Asa king of Judah, Elah son of Baasha became king over at Tirzah, and reigned two years…” (1 Kings 16:8-14, NASB)

Life is short. Even if you had the strength to live up to 100 years old, it is still short when you compare it to eternity in heaven or hell. Further, before we enter eternity, we will be judged for what we did with our lives here on earth, and God will determine where we will go for the rest of our lives. Therefore, we must live our short life on earth fearing the Lord and humbly obeying His will beginning with His gospel of salvation. In today’s reading, we see a man who became a king, but his kingdom didn’t last long as he was murdered by one of his officials. It says,

“In the twenty-sixth year of Asa king of Judah, Elah the son of Baasha became king over Israel in Tirzah, and reigned two years. And his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him. Now he was at Tirzah drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, who was over the household at Tirzah. Then Zimri went in and struck him and put him to death, in the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, and became king in his place. And it came about, when he became king, as soon as he sat on this throne, that he killed all the household of Baasha; he did not leave a single male, neither of his relatives nor his friends.”

Life is short. Your glory in life even shorter. Elah became a king in Israel only to be removed in two short years. Verse 8 says that he became king “in the twenty-sixth year of Asa king of Judah,” and in verse 10, he died “in the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah.” Do the math. We don’t know how long Elah lived but his glory as the king of Israel lasted only two years.

Now I’m pretty sure that Elah did not plan on reigning for only 1-2 years. He probably planned on doing it for a long time. He may even have plans for projects, ventures, people to see, places to go, and things to do. Yet, while he was enjoying himself with friends and family getting drunk in Tirzah, one of his trusted subjects ended his life. It amazes me how people still plan their lives as if they are going to live for a long, long time.

The Bible says, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Ja.4:13-14).

Also, remember the parable of Jesus about a man who made plans to build bigger and better barns to store his wealth, but did not know he was going to die that night (Lk.12:13-21).

The psalmist reminds us, “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Ps.103:15-16).

All these words are simply a reminder that our life on earth is short and our 15 minutes of fame even shorter. Don’t make the same mistake as Elah who made plans for this life but did not make plans for his eternal life. How do I know that he didn’t make plans for eternal life? Well, it says in verse 13 that both Elah and his father Baasha provoked God to anger with their sins of idolatry.

Yes, life on earth is short, but life after death is forever. Make sure all your treasures, pleasures, and measures are invested in the right place.


Second Helping: From the same writer, Would You Preach the Word at the Risk of Your life.

November 6, 2022

The Injury of Precious Souls

Whatever direction our devotional study might have taken today, please forgive me, but I felt it was more important to do this instead…

A few weeks ago I was exposed to a story involving one of those incidents which is (unfortunately) all too common in church life. An individual acting under her perceived authority in a particular area of church management had been extremely abrupt with another member of the church, the latter who (also unfortunately) is a relatively new Christian.

The story is one of those ‘tempest in a teapot’ things that doesn’t affect the day-to-day operation of the church, but it was significant enough that it somewhat sickened me to think that the latter person had been deeply affected (i.e. hurt) the by the actions of the former person, to the point they decided to relinquish their own volunteer service in that area.

This second person is a woman. While she is in no way unattractive, whenever I look at her, I see something else. I see a precious soul. The C.S. Lewis quotation again comes to mind:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors…”

Furthermore, as a new Christian, she is also a fragile soul, as in the end, are all of us. And so this verse came to mind:

[Jesus: ] “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. – Mark 9:42

While the NIV use of “stumble” gets stuck in our minds, other translations (including a range as wide as NLT to NASB) render this as “sin.” We tend to think of the verse in that way; someone overtly leading someone into sin by introducing them to some horrific behavior or setting an incredibly poor (or hypocritical) example of what it means to live the Christian life.

But the enemy can work in more subtle ways. The HCSB reads, “…whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones…” and over the years I have seen some otherwise exemplary people drive others out of local churches through words that should not have been spoken.

Confession time: I did it myself once, though it was years later that I was informed of the details. He was a young person — I wince at that as I type it — who was volunteering in our sound (tech) department, and there were a lot of hiccups at the 9:30 AM service. I remember being firm and saying, “These problems will be fixed at the 11:00 AM service.”

While I don’t think it was anymore harsh than that, again, we need to remember that some people are fragile souls. He wasn’t a regular volunteer; I think he was just starting to come on board, but then someone else was away, so he got tagged as the principle sound mixer that day, and he wasn’t really on my radar.

Years later someone told me — and as I type this I hope it wasn’t true — that he left the church that day. So many years had gone by that I’d even forgotten his name, and his father, who had attended the church, had married and left the area. To this day I’d like to pick up some of those pieces, but his service was so short-lived that others couldn’t recall him when I described him to them. Ouch!

In the second part of a verse that’s contextually in a passage about judging others, Paul writes this:

…[M]ake up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. – Romans 14:13b NIV

Returning to my original story, I don’t think people realize the damage they can do others, especially those who are new in their Christian walk. I don’t believe that they would ever consider for a moment that their words would cause someone to leave the church. I know I didn’t.

The words of Jesus on this from Mark’s gospel (above) are echoed by all the synoptic gospel writers. Luke writes:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.  (17:6,7 NRSV)

as does Matthew:

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!  (18:6,7 NIV)

Guard yourself against the possibility of inadvertently injuring a precious soul.

October 6, 2022

Growing in Jesus, Evolving in Faith

by Clarke Dixon

What does growing as a Christian look like?

We may think that we growth happens just by adding, so, for example, just add enough Bible knowledge and you will have a mature Christian. But is it as simple as that?

We can think of a child growing between grades one, two, three and so on. Just keep adding knowledge each year to what was learned last year and you have a growing child. Maybe so, but there is another kind of growth happening at the same time. That same child is growing taller, and heavier, and “brainier.” Growth is much more organic than simply adding knowledge as the child has an evolving body and mind. Likewise, when we speak of maturing in Christ, it is something more organic.

Maturing is not just about addition, it is also about loss. Our boys will never be knee high to a daisy again. I mourn that. But I also celebrate the men they have become. Actual growth requires alteration, even loss and the destruction of what once was. When a seed grows into a plant, the seed is destroyed.

We can think of heart growth. We can think of growing in the fruit of the Spirit, for example. Growing in love may require the destruction of hatred, apathy, or inactivity. Growing in generosity may require the destruction of selfishness. Growing in gentleness may require the destruction of tendencies toward violence. True growth requires vulnerability, a capacity to be altered, a willingness to change, to evolve. Change, evolution, not by chance, but intention, is part and parcel of growing in Christ.

Evolution is not just a process that happens in our hearts. Sometimes we need to change our minds. Growth in our Christian thinking is not always accomplished in adding new knowledge to old, but replacing old knowledge with new. Just as with heart growth, we can talk of an evolving faith which, in our current series, brings us to our next “cultural statement” from Open Table Communities:

A Culture that Celebrates an Evolving Faith
We nurture questions, doubts and uncertainty because of where they lead us. We celebrate the movement of learning, un-learning and re-learning that takes place in all of life and specifically a life of faith.

Open Table Communities

Questions, doubts, and uncertainties can be a great catalyst for change, for growth. A change of heart, of growing in love, for example, is made possible when we question if we are really all that loving. A change of mind can happen when we are uncertain about what we think. Indeed certainty can stunt our growth terribly.

A church which “gets Jesus” will nurture questions, doubts and uncertainties because they lead us to maturity in our faith. Learning, un-learning and re-learning is part and parcel of what we call discipleship. If we are not questioning, doubting, and allowing uncertainty, then we are not growing in our faith, we are merely taking on someone else’s.

When we have an evolving faith we are in good company. We see evidence of evolving faith in the Bible.

The disciples had an evolving faith. They did not know anything about Jesus when called by Jesus. Three years later and they were still quite in the dark. It took the resurrection of Jesus for them to really clue in. Their faith evolved.

Peter had an evolving faith. He likely believed what every other Jew believed before meeting Jesus. Then he came to believe Jesus was the Messiah. Then he came to believe that Jesus was risen, and more than the Messiah, the Lord. Then because of a vision from the Lord and a visit from some people he questioned his whole Jewish understanding of how things are. Peter’s faith evolved.

Paul had an evolving faith. He went from being certain that he was serving God by persecuting Christians, to serving Jesus. At some point he had to have a massive amount of doubt to overcome his huge amount of certainty. It is no accident that blindness was part of his story, as if he had to come to a point of admitting, “I’m not seeing clearly.” Once Paul made that huge shift in thinking he had it all figured out, right? Well no, he spent some time in the desert, likely thinking it all through, rethinking everything in light of the fact that Jesus is risen. But after that he had it all figured out, right? Well no, years later Paul said,

…we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

Paul had an evolving faith, and he knew there was yet room for growth, for further change in his thinking.

Looking at the entire scope of the Bible, God’s people as a whole have had an evolving faith. What was said about God and humanity in the earliest events recorded in the Bible are not nearly as filled out as what is said in the later events recorded in the Bible. Note the words of Jesus,

But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.

Matthew 13:16-17 (NLT)

Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many other heroes of the faith did not know what we now know. God has had great patience with humanity, revealing himself over time, and supremely through Jesus. Do we have patience with the humans around us, and with ourselves, when there is yet room for growth?

Do we celebrate an evolving faith? Do we allow people, and ourselves, the space to grow, to have an evolving faith?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario and appears here most Thursdays. The sermon on which this is based here, and is also available for a limited time at this podcast.

September 26, 2022

Introducing People to Jesus for the Right Reason

Israel, what does the LORD your God want you to do? He wants you to fear him, follow all his directions, love him, and worship him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 10:12 GWT

Long before I ever started writing online, I had been following the writing of Keith Brenton who, continually since 2004, has been writing at Blog in My Own Eye. Although he has been featured here a few times before, it’s been eight years!

The scripture he references today is Micah 6:8. In the NLT it reads,

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (underlining added)

To read this where it first appeared click the title which follows.

The Purpose

I don’t believe that the purpose of encouraging people to follow Jesus is to get them to be baptized, or to go to church, or to give to church, or to agree to a certain set of postulates and catechisms, or to observe holy rites, or to memorize sacred scripture, or to vote a certain way, or to engage in a lot of churchly activities, or even to be fanatically worshipful and sold-out about going to heaven.

I believe we should encourage people to follow Jesus for the purpose of following Jesus. Finding out more about who He is; wanting more and more to be like Him; becoming a good person, a better person, a godly person, a person who is more and more like Him.

It’s about becoming less selfish and more selfless. Becoming less hateful and more loving. Less bigoted and more accepting. Less adamant and more inquisitive. Less mouthy and more listening. Less graceless and more gracious. Less judgmental and more equitable. Less helpless and more helpful. Less hopeless and more hopeful.

Jesus mentions church a couple of times in all of scripture. He talks about establishing it. He talks about what to do when something goes wrong in it.

The apostle Paul seems to have to address what goes wrong in it when people try to make it about self and their ideas about practice or theology or eschatology or politics or whatever. We get some lessons about those things in the process, but his undertone is the same as Jesus: love each other, and these things will matter less than your love for each other. And I think the other New Testament writers agree.

Synagogue is never prescribed in the Mosaic law. Church is never prescribed in Christianity. It was assumed, because people who have something wonderful in common like to gather and share it. There was a time when building a great edifice of a temple was part of the plan, but Jesus made it clear that time would pass, and it did. He would build a church, an assembly, independent of place and time and wealth and materiality — and it would be in the hearts of people who wanted to follow Him so He could show them who God really is.

Just, but merciful. Righteous, but gracious. Eager to walk with us. Exactly like Micah 6:8 describes Him.

And people who want to be like Him will want to be like Jesus of Nazareth.

So we’ll walk with Him. Learn from Him. Observe Him. Consider Him. Imitate Him. Reflect Him.

We’ll be people on a journey. Not sitting or standing to praise, pray, recite, assent, ritualize, preen, judge, condemn, divide, demand, legislate or pledge nationalistic loyalty.

People walking. On a journey with the One they adore, the Truth they adore about the Way they adore toward the Life they adore. Every single day and night. Getting a little closer to it. Drawing others with them to that candor and grace and hope.

That’s the Purpose.

And all the sitting in the magnificent buildings, and paying the devout and devoted staff, and listening to the inspiring messages, and giving so that staff members can do the hard work of gathering others, and saying all the right words together won’t bring us an inch closer to that Purpose if we’re not walking. Following.

I’m writing this on my blog-that-nobody-reads-anymore so I don’t have to take as much heat for what I believe. But this is what I believe, and I know these are harsh words for dear people I love; people who are sold on a way of doing church that I just can’t see working anymore; people who are so invested in it that their whole lives are about it and perhaps their income and their student debt and their thinking and their speaking and their actions. All church-centered.

But when church becomes your savior, you will always be in the business of trying to save it. Because we’re all human, fallible thinkers, inconsistent doers — constant screw-ups. And we’ll fail. It’s a given.

However, there is a Savior who is a perfect example of how and whom to be.

And He wants to walk with us.

Really, all we have to do is follow.


From the website Gospel Choruses:

My Lord knows the way through the wilderness,
All I have to do is follow.
My Lord knows the way through the wilderness,
All I have to do is follow.

Strength for today is mine all the way,
And all that I need for tomorrow.
My Lord knows the way through the wilderness,
All I have to do is follow.

He guides me in the paths of righteousness For the sake of His name. -Psalm 23:3b NASB

September 6, 2022

The Day Approaching

The worldwide pandemic has certainly taken a toll on church attendance. And regular weekly attendance was already suffering, as some people took a more casual approach to the discipline of weekend gathering, while others found themselves compromised because of commitments to their job or their childrens’ sports programs.

A popular verse lately has been

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24,25 (NIV)

I tend to remember this verse in terms of three parts:

  1. urging each other toward love and good deeds
  2. not forgetting to meet together
  3. encouraging each other

But there is a fourth element I realized I was overlooking

4. even more so now as we see “the day approaching.”

The Amplified Bible renders this as “the day [of Christ’s return] approaching;” while Phillips has “the final day drawing ever nearer.” Most others simply have “the day” or “the Day” (capitalized) leaving both new and veteran Bible students wondering what is in the writer’s mind.

Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer. – Hebrews 10:25 (CEV)

Personally, I think of this as, ‘Don’t stop meeting together… especially right now, of all times.’ Or, “‘… especially these days.’ I hear it as, ‘If ever there was a time we need each other and need to gather corporately, it’s now.’

Don’t you agree?

The idea here isn’t just that we (ourselves, personally) remember to keep meeting together, but that we spur (NIV) each other toward this, as the phrase is bookended by phrases about encouraging each other.

In November, 2013 we heard this from Jim Thornber who appears here frequently:

…Look at that word “spur.” It means to provoke, incite, irritate. When you gather with other Christians then you should be spurring them, provoking and inciting and even irritating them on towards good works. It also means when you gather you are willing to be spurred. But we cannot be spurred if we are not gathering, and we cannot be spurred or provoked towards good works if we only show up every once in a while to a church and leave as soon as possible. Still, this happens week after week in churches all over the world. But according to the Great Commission, to be a disciple and to make disciples means you are personally investing in the lives of others.

And this is terribly inconvenient. It means you will have to invest the one thing that means more to many of us than money – our time. We would rather pay someone to take our neighbor to the grocery store than actually drive them ourselves. We’d rather pay someone to work on the church than show up ourselves. We’d rather buy someone a book on finances than commit to going to their house for 12 weeks and taking them through the book and teaching them through our own example. I’m very glad that Jesus didn’t send someone else to earth to do His work. He came personally. He took time away from His throne in Heaven to invest His life, and then His death, so He could make disciples. That is what it cost Jesus. What are we willing to invest to make disciples? It will cost us our time, our talents, our personal touch and yes, even some of our treasure. But that is what it means to be a disciple. So ask yourself: “Am I a disciple, or am I just content with being saved?” I don’t know how anyone can think of the price Jesus paid to bring us to Heaven and be content with merely being saved…

In November, 2014, Ben Savage quoted this verse in an outline of six evidences of discipleship.  He simply called it “being present.”

  1. Connection through prayer
  2. Engagement with scripture
  3. Being present
  4. Acts of service
  5. Investment in others
  6. Worship through generosity

In July, 2015 we noted seven benefits of meeting together.

  1. Fellowship
  2. Corporate Prayer
  3. Receiving prayer ministry
  4. Corporate worship
  5. Corporate giving
  6. Confession
  7. Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion

By April 2016, we noted that data collection organizations were classifying being in church only once or twice a month as “regular” church attendance. But writer Phillip Pratt refocused our attention that “the context here is not about clinging to a particular local church or congregation but about clinging to Christ.” Using the KJV wording of the verse, “Forsaking the assembling ourselves…” he wrote:

The book of Hebrews has a theme and it is not about religious attendance but about clinging to Christ, specifically the hope of Jesus Christ (verse 23)…

…“Forsake” in Greek is egkataleipō = quit, leave entirely, abandon completely, desert, to give up or renounce

The same word is found in Matt 27:46 My God, My God, why have You forsaken (egkataleipō) me? & also in 2 Tim 4:10 for Demas has forsaken (egkataleipō) me

Now, is someone who attends a church service once a month or once every 3-4 months completely abandoning or renouncing anything?

Hebrews was addressed to persecuted Jewish Christians who were completely (or considering) abandoning “faith in Christ”.

“Assembling together” is a one word phrase from the Greek word episunsgoge or episynagoge = to be gathered together but to who or to whom?

It can be found in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together (episynagoge) unto Him…

This verse is telling us to cling to & “gather ourselves unto Christ” & don’t be shaken. It has nothing to do w/ church attendance & everything to do w/ persistence to stay focused on Christ & His return…

We have to say here that yes; of course our motivation for gathering must be that we are gathering unto Christ. It also begs a question similar to the one I asked earlier, ‘How can we then simply be skipping church from week to week?’ We’re not reflecting a casual relationship to our local congregation, but a casual attitude toward God Himself.

So now… especially now… with all that’s going on in our world, and “as we see the day approaching,” let’s not be lax or casual in our commitment to the Body of Christ, His Church, and Jesus Himself. (capital letters intentional!)

As Danniebell Hall sang in 1974, “This is not the time for giving up, it’s time for holding on.”


Related: What did a commitment to church look like for First Century Christians? Check out a book called The Didache, introduced in this article here from October, 2021.
 

June 27, 2022

Being Perfect? You Can Do It!

One year ago we introduced you to the writing of Dr. Ron Braley, who is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at Equipping Believers and is Pastor and Director of the organization Finding Discipleship. To read today’s devotional where it first appeared, click the headline which follows.

There’s also a bonus item today about cross references in Bibles.

Perfectly Complete!

We are to be perfect as God is perfect! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard things like, “Ron! There’s no way I can be perfect—right?” almost as a badge of honor . . . or excuse. But what does the word mean? What should it mean, especially in our context as broken humans trying to figure out what God desires so we can follow suit?

Like many other words or concepts in the Bible, such as predestination, foreknowledge, love, or sin, perfection is often misunderstood or misapplied. Our minimal English modern dictionary tends to represent perfection as flawlessness (thank you, Merriam-Webster!). However, the original language and context teach us that biblical perfection is completeness. Remember the Jerry McGuire movie? In it, Tom Cruise utters the infamous phrase, “You complete me!” The concept is the perfection God desires and is what the ancient language teaches us.

We see this use in the Old Testament texts such as 1Chronicals 29:19: “and give to my son Solomon a “perfect” heart to keep Your commandments . . .” Alright: let’s start you on your journey to be Koine (biblical) Greek scholars. The original New Testament word is teleios, which means to be complete, full, whole. In 1Corinthians 13:10, we see that perfection completes the incomplete: “but when the perfect comes, the incomplete will be done away.” The unfinished things of today, even in our worship or knowledge, will be completed when God moves creation to the perfection (completion in Him) it once enjoyed.

An example of the unifying property of perfection can be seen in Colossians 3:14: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Anyway, my point is that perfection is meant to be completion in a relationship with God through Christ, not flawlessness. Trying to be flawless is futile, especially today with so much immorality ruling the day (and night). Here are a few biblical references by Jesus, Paul, and Jesus’ half-brother James that support the point that God seeks partners who ‘complete Him’ and whom He completes in a relationship:

Jesus (Matthew 5:48): “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Paul (Colossians 4:12): “Epaphras . . . sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”

James (1:4): “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

So, be perfect because God desires it! “But, Ron! How on earth can we be perfect—I mean, complete—with God??” Excellent question! The following article will explore character traits that can keep our fellowship with God perfect in “Perfect Characteristics.”


Bonus Item from Paul:

I wrote this in connection with some other work I do, but I thought we’d run this for people who want to know more about cross references in Bibles.

A word about Reference Bibles

You’ve looked at an older double-column Bible and seen that third column running down the centre and asked yourself, ‘Why are all these verses listed here?’

They may have been chosen because the lead you to a parallel account of the narrative you are reading. They might provide background information on a key individual or place mentioned in the verse. They might relate to a practice or the doctrinal foundation for a statement or Biblical principle in the verse. Of there may be a key word in the verse and the reference is taking you to another place where that word is used (which may take you to yet another.)

Traditionally, these notations were included in a third (centre) column. But as demand increased for large print and giant print Bibles, it was found to save more space if an end-of-verse system was used, with the cross references usually set in smaller type. Some Bibles incorporate a bottom-of-page system but this can sometimes get confusing because of footnotes.

Footnotes are usually included to show that there was another English language direction the translators could have taken (or that different manuscripts for that verse offer what is called a textual variant.) These footnotes are part of that translation’s core text, and must appear in all editions of that translations, regardless of publisher, and regardless if it’s a plain-text, reference Bible, devotional Bible or study Bible.Some translations use them more than others. But they can easily be confused if cross references are also placed at the bottom of the page.

Not every cross reference look-up is productive. We’ve had times where we turned to the second verse, double-checked the reference, and asked ourselves, ‘What are we doing here?’ That’s okay. The reference was included for a reason, and sometimes it only dawns on us later what it was!

 

 

 

June 26, 2022

Following Jesus: A Lifetime Deal, Not a Casual Arrangement

NLT.Matthew.4.18 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 19 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 20 And they left their nets at once and followed him.

CSB.Matthew16.24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it. 26 For what will it benefit someone if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will anyone give in exchange for his life?

Today, once again, we have a new writer to introduce. Charlotte (Shelly) Creamer writes at A Born Again Believer and currently lives in rural Nova Scotia, Canada, The title which follows links you to read this where we first discovered it earlier today, and from there you can look at other devotionals.

The Best Job You’ll Ever Have

When Jesus was looking for disciples, he didn’t go to their homes or track them down at the local pub or synagogue – he went to their place of work. Why did he do that? And not only did he go to their place of work, he told the disciples point-blank to quit their jobs then and there, and follow him. He made a very public demand, which they then very publicly agreed to and therefore could not backtrack on without seriously losing face.

I think one of the reasons Jesus nabbed his disciples at their place of work was because he was acting in the role of a competing employer. Discipleship in the Kingdom is not a hobby or a leisure activity – it’s a job, and it’s a full-time one. In fact, it’s full-time with perpetual overtime and no down-time. You cannot be a disciple of Jesus and at the same time work another job, even part-time. It’s not possible. Jesus himself had to give up his carpentry work when it was time to start his ministry.

That’s not to say that you can’t do a little something to keep body and soul together, but it can’t be a job with a boss and where you have to show up at a certain time or on certain days and remain at your duties for a certain period of time. Nothing should conflict with your Kingdom duties. NOTHING. Paul, as we know, did tent-making during most of his ministry years, but he did it on the fly. His tent-making didn’t tie him to any one location or any particular time-frame, as he couldn’t have traveled if it had. And he didn’t have any boss over him other than for Jesus and God.

I think another reason why Jesus went to the disciples’ place of work was so they’d understand they were entering into a business deal in agreeing to work for and with Jesus. It was a contract they were signing off on, not just a casual arrangement that could easily be walked away from. Not only that, it was a life-time contract that had implications for all eternity. And Jesus needed to get to the disciples where they wouldn’t be influenced or overruled by their sense of duty to their families. If he’d gone to their home environment, I’m guessing their responses might have been different.

We need to pay attention to the fact that Jesus went on a hiring spree when he chose his disciples, and that he’s still on that hiring spree. It didn’t stop when he went Home to Heaven. His offer to work for the Kingdom is never for a part-time position; it’s always full-time, and he’s a jealous boss: He wants you all to himself.

Needless to say, when Jesus comes to you with the offer (if he hasn’t yet), take it. Don’t tell him you need a few days or a few weeks to think about it – take it right there and right then, even if it means you have to walk away from everything and everyone and never look back. Because first of all, no-one will ever come to you with a better offer than to work for God and Jesus in the Kingdom, and second of all, if you reject Jesus’ offer or put off making a decision about it, there won’t be another opportunity. He won’t ask you again.

And if that happens, you will lose the only thing that matters in this life and the one to come – a Forever Home for your soul.

 

June 9, 2022

Social Situations, Self-Importance, and Christian Humility

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.   ~Romans 12:3b NIV

At 6’0″ (that’s 183cm for much of the world) I usually find myself in conversation with people not as tall as myself, but in the last few months I’ve noticed that I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable carrying on conversations with people taller than myself, probably because it happens so seldom.  Yesterday we ran into Tim, the son of one of my mother’s best friends, and I again found myself registering the fact I had to keep looking up to make eye contact.

I can see how people like myself who are tall of stature might get confused and think that they are somehow ‘taller’ intellectually or emotionally; and there is always the danger of thinking oneself to be ‘taller’ spiritually. Of course, we all know our inward shortcomings and weaknesses, but when we’re out and about with members of the wider faith family, it’s easy to posture. In the key verse today, Paul says we should use ‘sober judgment’ of ourselves.

Another application of this principle is that we look up to God, who scripture tells us looks down on us. This is repeated in various passages; it’s important to remember who is where! One prayer pattern that I learned years ago contains the phrase, “You’re God and I’m not;” or “You’re God and we’re not.” When we come to Him in prayer, we need to remember who is ‘taller.’

Here’s a similar application of how we deal with our own estimation of ourselves from Luke 14.  Jesus is teaching…

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  ~NLT

Ten years ago we attended a family funeral. My wife’s uncle passed away and we didn’t realize that some seats were being held for nieces and nephews, so we took a seat toward the back. Her cousin saw us and immediately told us that special seats were reserved for us, and invited us to “come up higher” in the seating plan. We appreciated this, but I couldn’t help but think of this passage as we were walking to the front, and also of the potential embarrassment that could occur if the situation were reversed.

The brand of Christ-following that is portrayed on television is centered on people with very strong personalities and — dare I say it? — very large egos. I think some of this is given away by the very fact these people want to be on television, though I don’t preclude the use of media to share the gospel.  But you and I, the average disciple, should be marked by humility; the type of humility that takes a back seat in a culture that wants to proclaim, “We’re number one.”

We serve the King of Kings. We have the hottest news on the rack. We are seated with Christ in heavenly places. But we approach this in a humble spirit, with gratitude that God chose to reach down and rescue us from our fallen state.

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. ~ James 4:10 NKJV

How tall do you feel?


Classic Worship Song: Humble Thyself in the Sight of the Lord

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
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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)

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