Christianity 201

February 26, 2020

You Can’t Have a Song Written Without a Life Lived

Yesterday at this time, I was reading the “musings” of songwriter and recording artist Lynn DeShazo who wrote the worship song, “More Precious Than Silver.” What follows are partial excerpts from four different articles she wrote last year about the 40th anniversary of that song, which you can locate at the link in the title below.

Note: Because the full original articles are also interwoven with insights into Lynn’s life which are key to the story, you are strongly encouraged to click the link and read all four parts of this reflection at source.

More Precious Than Silver

…Forty years! Sounds biblical, doesn’t it? Periods of forty years and forty days are found throughout the Scriptures. So when I realized that a significant milestone was approaching in my life, the fortieth anniversary of the creation of “More Precious Than Silver,” it got me thinking.

The Bible is full of instances where our fathers in the faith built altars of stone to mark life-changing encounters with God. In years to come, they would revisit these altars and recall to mind the faithfulness of the Almighty in their lives. They used these memorials to pass on their legacy of faith to their children. An anniversary is a bit like a memorial stone. It marks something significant and perhaps unique to you. It says, “Hey! This event happened here in this place, at that time, and it made a lasting impact on my life.” Here then is my memorial stone, my “Ebenezer raised,” as I reflect on what writing “More Precious Than Silver” has meant to me.

Every creative effort has a beginning. You sit down with your instrument and a pad of paper, or a laptop computer. You hum a melody, strum a chord, or pick out a tune on the piano. Sometimes a song takes shape effortlessly, but usually there’s a struggle involved in the creative process. Every baby born comes into the world with a degree of pain and struggle, some more than others. I think it’s the same with a song. I also think that long before there’s such a creative expression as a song written, there’s a life lived…

…God spoke very clearly to me one night following a powerful message preached at our campus church. He asked me to give up my guitar and, by implication, everything that went along with it – writing and performing my own songs. This was a difficult thing for me to hear and very painful to actually do, but thank God, I found the grace to obey Him. At the close of the meeting, I tearfully handed my guitar over to my pastor for safekeeping (something I freely chose to do), and I did not touch it again for months. As I cooperated with God’s work in me, my spiritual foundation repair began. I learned to trust in Jesus alone for my right standing with God. My striving to please began to give way to restful trust in His love for me. God had big plans for me, but the right foundation had to be in place for Him to build them upon.

Once a field is plowed sufficiently, the farmer stops plowing and starts sowing seed. In like manner, the difficult seasons of God’s dealings with us only go on until He accomplishes His intention. My season of not playing guitar and writing songs did not go on forever. It only lasted until God was satisfied that my spiritual foundation was solidly upon Christ alone. Now He was ready to build upon that foundation, and I began to walk into His purpose for my life…

…When God spoke to me about laying down my guitar, I had a decision to make. My music was very important to me – almost all the self-esteem I could muster up came from being able to play my music “for the Lord.” How could God possibly take that away from me? I chose to trust Him, but it was still difficult.

Putting selfish flesh to death is a hard business and, let’s face it, dying flesh stinks. In ancient times, fragrant spices were used to prepare bodies for burial in order to mask the stench of death as a body decomposed. When Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross, myrrh was one of the spices used to prepare His body for burial (see John 19:39-40). Myrrh is also one of the spices used in the anointing oil of the tabernacle worship. One of the blessings of the Holy Spirit coming into our lives is that He works to mask the stench of our dying flesh as we learn take up our cross and follow Jesus. We begin to produce the fragrance of the Christ within us, even in the midst of our “dying.” (See II Corinthians 2:14-16)

Jesus, speaking of His own imminent death, said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Before a single grain of wheat can produce a stalk bearing multiple grains, it must first go into the ground where it dies. Its hard exterior is softened through a process hidden from view until the germ of life within is finally able to sprout up through the soil. The tender green shoot is the first sign of the harvest to come…

…Music has a natural power to lift your mood, but it’s the anointing* that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27). So how is it that some ministers have such an evident and consistent anointing flowing to people through what they do, whether it’s preaching, leading worship, counseling, or you name it? I believe it is because of a significant spiritual sacrifice made by that person before the Lord, and a firm commitment to obey Him in every season and circumstance of life.

God called Abraham to Mt. Moriah and required him to sacrifice that which was most precious to him, his son Isaac (See Genesis 22). Thankfully, it was only a test of Abraham’s faith. Isaac’s too, for that matter. But you must understand that Abraham’s test was a foreshadowing of what our Father in heaven would do in giving His only Son as a sacrifice for sin. Now, anywhere in the world that the Gospel is preached, there is an anointing upon the message for people to believe and be saved. Why? Because there’s an anointing at the place of sacrifice, and that place is the Cross of Jesus.

Every believer in Jesus Christ who desires to be a fruitful disciple must come to the Cross, to the place of total surrender to Him and be willing to be made a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). We are called to obedience, and God will test that in every one of us. Will we live by the strength of our own will, or out of obedience to His will for us?


*Read the entire (4th) section of the article where Lynn defines ‘anointing’ quite clearly at this link.

August 1, 2015

Poured Out for You

For a third time, we return to blogger Bryan Lowe and if you didn’t the first two times, I want you to take a few minutes to read his story…  Bryan’s journey is tough to read. However, by God’s grace he writes daily devotional material that is both real and informative. On some days, his writing reflects struggle and discouragement…just like David did in many Psalms! (And just like you and I deal with, except that we never share it with anyone or let it show.)

Click the title below to read this at source and look around his blog, Broken Believers

A Poured-Out Life

“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” Philippians 2:17

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:6-7

Paul is the ultimate and conclusive example of self sacrifice for the Church. He is an example to us of loving until it hurts. The children of men are a needy lot and the burden of the apostle. He cares intensely (and it shows) as Paul describes his mission to the churches. He wants to help those who cannot help themselves. Paul understood that he was being poured like a “drink offering” to the Lord for the saints.

The Lord Jesus was the pattern Paul focused on. In Jesus we see a man dying on a terrible cross to bring a very real salvation to those without any hope at all. You and I stand “accepted in the beloved” because of that sacrifice.

“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”Elisabeth Elliot

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

I honestly believe that fruitfulness hinges on the decision to “die”, and perhaps that is precisely why we are barren. Jesus must give himself up in order to save us. Are things so different now? Over the many centuries, the chosen Church practiced a “dying to self” as the primary way of growth.

Being poured out for others usually isn’t too dramatic; it offers very little in the way of earthly reward or recognition. A few days ago I sat in the “Annex” of our local mental health clinic. I spent a whole aternoon with clients who were struggling hard to make it, I sat and listened, and had no agenda but theirs. I was being “poured out” and it was wonderful!

My heart swelled with the presence of Jesus for these dear ones. It had nothing to do with ambition, or a hunger for applause. I wasn’t out to prove that I was a Christian. Rather I was wholly there for others, I sort of think that is what Jesus meant when he taught his disciples about ministry, and servanthood. I believe that is what Paul was doing in the churches he served.

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

This is how it all works. About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. There are over 163 million orphans in the world, and more than 27 million human slaves. Furthermore, 1.2 million lives are snuffed out by abortion each year in the U.S. alone. And over 150,000 people die each day without knowing Christ. I suspect there is enough “work” to go around.

May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.  

Anonymous

“When you look at the inner workings of electrical things, you see wires. Until the current passes through them, there will be no light. That wire is you and me. The current is God. We have the power to let the current pass through us, use us, to produce the light of the world, Jesus, in us. Or we can refuse to be used and allow darkness to spread.” — Mother Teresa

January 31, 2015

Babel Vs. Pentecost: Which Do We Reflect?

In preparing yesterday’s devotional/study, which looked at The Great Commission, I ran across a post we did several years ago that was taken from the blog Commissionary. Great Commission + Missionary = Commissionary. I like the name.

The article sets out the contrast between Babel and Pentecost in light of the characteristics of both, and asks us which one we reflect. To link to the original, click on: A commissionary’s conundrum: Babel or Pentecost? (Acts 2:5-13)

A commissionary aims to glorify Christ by making disciples of all nations. What is more worshipful to God than gathering more worshippers for God? This act of “gathering in,” however, first requires a “going out.” What then could be more glorifying to God than to devote one’s life to the spreading of His renown to all peoples of the world?

The early church began to understand this at Pentecost. It was not an innate part of their personality. On the contrary, they only started to participate in mission because they received the power for mission – the Holy Spirit. Pentecost happens, and right from the start God exposes his global purposes. What God did at Pentecost is a sharp contrast to what man tried at Babel. Let me explain.

First, here’s the text Acts 2:5-13

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians – we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

At Pentecost, God gathered the nations together for the purpose of announcing his gospel (the good news of Jesus Christ) to all nations. At Pentecost, many people from many languages understood the gospel through those possessed by the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost, it was God displaying His mighty work.

Babel is a completely different story (Genesis 11). At Babel, God scatters the people because man was told to fill the earth (Gen 1:28, 9:1,7) and they chose to gather and build a tower instead. At Babel, God intervenes and confuses their language. At Babel, it was not God displaying a mighty work, but man attempting a mighty work. Ultimately, Babel represents the opposite of a commissionary’s purpose in two ways. One, Babel represents self-reliance. The attitude that one doesn’t need God but can do it alone. Two, Babel represents self-exaltation. The motive to make oneself famous, instead of being motivated to make much of God.

So in light of this comparison, a commissionary has a choice between reflecting Pentecost or reflecting Babel. God has purposed for His children to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Three closing questions.

1. Are you reliant on self (Babel) or reliant on God (Pentecost)?

2. Are you exalting self (Babel) or exalting God (Pentecost)?

3. Are you more concerned with your story of achievement (Babel) or with God’s story of achievement (Pentecost), what God has done in Christ?

Don’t be Babel. Be Pentecost. Be a commissionary.

Here is that blog’s purpose statement:

  • A Great Commissionary

    Before pulpits and pews, pastors and preachers, before deacons and elders and Sunday School teachers, before flowery Lord’s tables and cross adorned steeples, there existed a mission for all of God’s people. Before programs and services, proper methods, proper times, before music and preaching, our sometimes silly pantomimes, before “Sunday morning church” and “Wednesday night prayer,” there existed a mentality, “Anytime, Anywhere.” Before statements of faith and superfluous vision, before gallivanting doctrine and convenient religion, before I follow Calvin or Luther, Peter or Paul, there existed one Lord with a mandate for all. Before baptist or catholic, various sects and denominations, before division and distinction, seemingly appropriate separations, before the ninety-five theses or even the edict of Milan, there existed one standard which the church was built upon. Go and make disciples we still hear our Jesus say, baptizing them in haste, for tomorrow is today, in name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Ghost, teaching them to obey for He is with us to the uttermost. So before saying church member, church deacon, church teacher, church pastor, church apostle, church planter, church preacher, we advance the words of Christ, the only true visionary, declaring now and forever more, I AM A GREAT COMMISSIONARY!

February 10, 2014

Must We Love Ourselves to Love Others?

Author and speaker Jennifer Slattery started blogging the same month we started Christianity 201, and this is actually her 4th appearance here.  Click through to read this at source.

Love. Such a confusing, abstract emotion. It’s something we “fall into” and “out of”,  something we chase after…

There’s a notion that says “You must love yourself in order to love others.”

Is this true? Biblical?

I’m no theologian, but I can’t locate a verse that says this. In fact, again and again, God tells us to take the position of a servant, and to honor others above ourselves.

To die to ourselves so we can live for God.

It’s hard to die to something you love.

Perhaps biblical love isn’t so much an emotion as it is an action.

Consider 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

For you see, emotions wane. Therefore, true love must be a choice and an action, the moment-by-moment discipline of laying ourselves aside so that God can love others through us.

The Bible says we love because God first loved us. Therefore, our love comes not from us but from Him. It is when we completely surrender ourselves to God that we are fulfilled. That is when we begin to live lives of passion and purpose, of courage and impact.

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Learning to love is receiving and giving the love only God can give.

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Consider insecurity and fear of rejection and all those negative emotions that supposedly stem from a lack of self-love. What if the opposite is true? What if those emotions stem from love of self and a desire to protect self.
 
We protect that which we love.

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But when we die to ourselves, there is but one focus, what God would do through us. 

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And that is the most freeing occurrence we can experience.

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Let me provide an example. I have a less than glamorous past, and for years, I vehemently longed to hide that past. This fear kept me from embracing God’s call to write for many years. I told Him again and again, “I’ll only write if you protect me from exposure.”

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I’m sure you can imagine God’s response. He knew His grace is best seen when revealed through an imperfect sinner.

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But still I fought Him. I was afraid to tell my story for fear of what others would think and for fear of losing friends. Until I started hanging out with at risk teens and the homeless. Suddenly, I wanted for them to see Jesus and what He could do so badly, I no longer cared about embarrassing or shaming myself. My fear and insecurity went away because I found something more important–the saving of another life.

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The results were glorious, inspiring, fulfilling, because the more I died to myself and lived for God, the more I experienced His all-consuming love pour through me.

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You cannot be fearful, prideful, envious, and insecure when God’s Spirit invades your core. It’s impossible.

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So what does this all mean?

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1. If you want to experience an abundant, joy-filled, peace-saturated life, ask God to help you die to yourself–your fears, desires, pride, insecurities. All of it. Then ask Him to replace those things with His all-consuming love as you follow after Him with surrendered obedience.

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2. Parents, if you want your children to rise above the toxicity of their clique-infested schools, if you want for them to grab hold of a purpose that will propel them forward with a God-given passion, teach them to see others through God-sized lenses and to get involved in His mission. Then sit back and watch them thrive.

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Let’s talk about this! Looking back on your journey, when have you felt most fulfilled? What do you think of my take on love? Consider a time when you’ve felt God’s love coursing through you. What were you doing? What did His love motivate you to do?
 
Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Livng by Grace on Facebook.

August 31, 2013

The Proud vs. The Broken

Have I truly been broken by God? There are times in the day when I see pride and confidence in the flesh creeping in, especially in interactions with others. I found this had been posted back in May at the blog Strengthened By Grace

Excellent tool:  Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ produced a list (PDF) years ago which ” contrasts characteristics of proud, unbroken people whom are resistant to the call of God on their lives with the qualities of broken, humble people who have experienced God’s revival. Read each item on the list as you ask God to reveal which characteristics of a proud spirit He finds in your life. Confess these to Him, and then ask Him to restore the corresponding quality of a broken, humble spirit in you. ”   Here is the list in chart form courtesy of Feeding on Christ.

Proud, Unbroken People Broken People
1. Focus on the failure of others 1. Are overwhelmed with their own spiritual need (Matthew 5:3, 7:3-5, Luke 18:9-14)
2. Are self righteous; have a critical, fault finding spirit; look at own life/faults with a telescope but others with a microscope 2. Are compassionate; have a forgiving spirit; look for the best in others (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:12)
3. Look down, in a condescending spirit, at others 3. Esteem all others as better than self (Phil. 2:3, Rom. 12:10)
4. Are independent; have desires for everyone else to meet own personal needs 4. Are dependent on God and His grace; recognize others’ needs and seek to meet them (2 Cor. 3:4-6, Phil. 2:4)
5. Always manipulating circumstances to maintain control; must have everyone do it their way 5. Surrenders control by giving freedom for others to do or see things differently (Rom. 12:1-2)
6. Have to prove they are always right 6. Are willing to yield to the possibility that they could be wrong, and thus, yield the need to always prove they are right(Rom. 15:2)
7. Claiming personal rights 7. Yielding personal rights (Eph. 5:21)
8. Display a demanding spirit 8. Have a giving spirit (Rom. 12:13)
9. Self-protective of time, rights, reputation 9. Are self-denying (Luke 9:23)
10. Desire to be served 10. Are motivated to serve others (Matt. 20:26-28, Phil. 2:20-21)
11. Desire to be a success 11. Desire to be faithful to make others a success (John 3:30)
12. Desire for self-advancement 12 Desire to promote others (John 3:3)).
13. Are driven to be recognized and appreciated Have a sense of unworthiness; are thrilled to be used at all; eager for others to get credit, honors and awards (I Tim. 1:12-16)
14. Cringe when others in the same field are praised, wishing it was them 14. Rejoice when others are lifted up (Rom. 12:15)
15. Think ‘the ministry is privileged to have me!’ 15. Think ‘I don’t deserve to serve in this ministry (2 Cor. 4:7)
16. Think of what they can do for God 16. Know they can offer nothing to God, and seek for God to work through them in His power (Phil. 3:8-9, Titus 3:5)
17. Feel confident in how much they know 17. Are humbled by how much they have not learned and wish to learn (Phil. 3:12, Prov. 1:7)
18. Are self conscious 18. Have little concern with how others view them (Gal. 1:10)
19. Keep people at arm’s length 19. Risk getting close to others; are willing to take those risks for the sake of love for others (2 Cor. 6:11-12)
20. Are quick to blame others 20. Accept personal responsibility; can see and acknowledge personal failure (Matthew 7)
21. Are concerned with being ‘respectable’ 21. Are concerned with being real (2 Cor. 4:3-5).
22. Are concerned about what others think 22. Know all that matters is God and what He knows (I Cor. 4:3-5)
23. Work hard to maintain image and protect reputation 23. Die to own reputation (Phil. 3:7, Rom. 14:7)
24. Find it difficult to share their spiritual needs with others 24. Are willing to be transparent with others (2 Cor. 1:12)
25. Want to be sure no one finds aout about their sin Are willing to acknowledge and confess one’s sin; brokenness is the ultimate sign of personal success (Ps. 51:17)
26. Have a hard time saying, ‘I was wrong. Will you forgive me’ Are quick to admit fault and seek forgiveness (I John 1:9, James 5:1)
27. Deal in generalities when confession sin 27. Deal in specifics (Ps. 51:17)
28. Are concerned about the consequences of their sin 28. Are grived over the root of their sin (Ps. 51:5)
29. Wait for other party to come and ask forgiveness in a conflict 29. Take the initiative to be reconciled; gets their first (Matthew 5:23-24)
30. Compare themselves with others and feel deserving of honore 30. Compare themselves with God and feel desparate for mercy (Luke 18:9-14)
31. Are blind to their true heart condition 31. Walk in the light of true knowledge concerning their own hearts (I John 1:6-7).
32. Do not display any spirit of repentance, because they don’t need it 32. Continually display a spirit of repentance, sensing their need for fresh encounters with God and the filling of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5;18), Gal 5:16)
33. Spent time reading these words and wondering if _____________ was reading it 33. Thanked the Lord for using words on the internet to bring brokenness to their lives.

August 2, 2012

Seeing a Different Set of Possibilities

You’ll notice there isn’t the usual green scripture text here today, but there is most definitely a scripture reference. This is from the blog Fibonacci Faith, written by Richard Dahlstrom, where it appeared under the title, Imagine: The Importance of Envisioning a Different World.

The authors of “Colossians Remixed” write:  If with Christ you died in your baptism to the principles of autonomous consumerism that still hold the world captive, then why do you live in a way that suggests that you are still in the iron grip of its ideological vision?  Why do you submit yourself to its regulations to consume as if there were no tomorrow, to live as if community were an impediment to personal fulfillment, to live as if everything were disposable, including relationships, the unborn, and the environment? Why do you allow this deceitful vision to still have a hold on you?  Don’t you know that copulating with the idols of this culture is like climbing into bed with a corpse that is already decomposing?”

This paraphrase of Colossians 2:20-23 is intended to shake us a awake because God knows that we fall into the slumber of the curse far too easily, which is the sleep of accepting the world in which we live as ‘normal’.  When this happens we lose our capacity to imagine a better world, which leaves us stuck in status-quo lives.  The greatest tragedy though, is that we don’t know we’re stuck, having accepted the captivity to cultural mores as “normal”.  In such a paradigm, faith is stripped of its transformative power, having been reduced to simply a matter of adding a dash of Bible reading, chastity, piety, and a few key doctrines about Christ’s deity to our “normal” lives, the way we add seasoning to an omelet; nothing changes other than the hope that things taste a little better with Jesus.

John Lennon did a better job of imagining a different world than the church has done.  What steps can we take to recapture our imagination?

1. Get out – By “out” I mean, out of the prevailing winds and waters of the culture.  Jesus withdrew to a quiet place to pray, often to the mountains.  This is perhaps more significant than we realize, not only the praying, but the withdrawing.  This is because our spirits and psyches quickly adapt to our image saturated culture, resulting in our passive acceptance of things that should horrify us.  A simple walk in the park, listening to the birds, watching the ocean, and paying attention to the rhythms of life sustained by the Creator, becomes a sort of ‘reboot’ for the soul if we practice actually paying attention and giving thanks.  These regular forays into the realm of silence and solitude create a soul attuned to how the world ought to be, so that we come to see ourselves as sojourners, foreigners, in our daily living.  We’ll recoil at the disposability of everything: relationships, plastic water bottles, the elderly and ill, employees who are reduced to ‘units of production’.  We’ll grieve over the obsession with body image that’s literally killing young girls, even as we grieve over the damage to health that comes from people sitting, eating fake food, watching TV, and calling it a life – withdrawn from sustaining sunshine, health giving food, and the vibrancy that comes from movement of body, mind, and spirit.

Perhaps the greatest impediment to imagining a world of hope and beauty is our passive acceptance of things just as they are.  They way out of that prison will always include changing the air we breathe – breaking out of the prisons of consumerism, nationalism, violence, and individualism, so that we’ll be free to inhale the life giving air of Christ’s peace, beauty, simplicity, and hope.  But this won’t happen by using our precious discretionary moments only to sit  in front of the TV, or the computer screen.  We need an alternative reality, because as it turns out, we are in fact transformed by the renewing of our minds, not by the inspiration of reality TV.

2. Become obsessed with Christ’s reign.  Jesus says something about the impossibility of serving two masters in the context of his exhortation to live more carefree, like the birds, and less like the anxious striving that usually seems to be the lot of those seeking to make their mark in this world, or at least get their fair share of economic pie.  What’s most interesting to me about this section of Jesus’ famous sermon is that Jesus says we can’t serve two masters.  It’s noteworthy that he doesn’t warn us about the danger of trying to serve the kingdom of God and the kingdom of upward mobility.  He says that you CANNOT serve both; it’s an impossibility.  Whichever one you serve, you’ll hate the other.

Wow.  That’s challenging!  If I try to have my “kingdom of this world” cake, and seek to make Christ’s reign visible, I’ll fail – every single time.  I need, then, to become obsessed with only one of these two options, and Jesus makes it clear that the best option is to choose His reign as our obsession.  This will mean that everything – my time, money, property, body, vocation, travel plans, vacation, sexuality, recreational pursuits, exercise program – can all fall under this single consideration:  “what will best make Christ’s reign visible?”  Far from being constrictive, I find this single focused approach to life to be liberating as everything is brought under the single consideration of making Christ’s reign visible.

Of course, if we’re going to go this route, we need to become obsessed with understanding the kingdom.  Otherwise we’ll create, in Jesus name, some sort of controlling legalism, or prosperity/healing thing, or obsession with creating conversions while we ignore the entire glorious physical dimension of Christ’s reign.  All of these have been tried, and they all end up being ugly.  We’d better be working hard to get it right.  This is where good reading can help, like this book, or this book, or even this book. Understanding  the kingdom, coupled with our pursuit of intimacy with Christ will conspire to create something beautiful:

An imagination saturated with a Christ formed view of our world, and some clear steps regarding our part in making it visible.

You may say that I’m a dreamer – but I’m not the only one.

Imagine that.

~Richard Dahlstrom


Book links were part of the original article; at C201, readers are encouraged to support their local Christian bookstore, if you are still fortunate enough to have one. Titles recommended were:

  • Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright
  • The Unshakable Kingdom by E. Stanley Jones and
  • an e-book by the blog’s author, titled The Colors of Hope

Not linked, but referred to was the book, Colossians Remixed: Subverting The Empire by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmatt (InterVarsity Press, 2004)

July 25, 2012

Do We Reflect Babel or Do We Reflect Pentecost?

This post is taken from the blog Commissionary. Great Commission. Missionary. I like the name. It sets out the contrast between Babel and Pentecost in light of the characteristics of both, and asks us which one we reflect.  To link to the original, click on: A commissionary’s conundrum: Babel or Pentecost? (Acts 2:5-13)

A commissionary aims to glorify Christ by making disciples of all nations. What is more worshipful to God than gathering more worshippers for God? This act of “gathering in,” however, first requires a “going out.” What then could be more glorifying to God than to devote one’s life to the spreading of His renown to all peoples of the world?

The early church began to understand this at Pentecost. It was not an innate part of their personality. On the contrary, they only started to participate in mission because they received the power for mission – the Holy Spirit. Pentecost happens, and right from the start God exposes his global purposes. What God did at Pentecost is a sharp contrast to what man tried at Babel. Let me explain.

First, here’s the text Acts 2:5-13

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians – we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

At Pentecost, God gathered the nations together for the purpose of announcing his gospel (the good news of Jesus Christ) to all nations. At Pentecost, many people from many languages understood the gospel through those possessed by the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost, it was God displaying His mighty work.

Babel is a completely different story (Genesis 11). At Babel, God scatters the people because man was told to fill the earth (Gen 1:28, 9:1,7) and they chose to gather and build a tower instead. At Babel, God intervenes and confuses their language. At Babel, it was not God displaying a mighty work, but man attempting a mighty work. Ultimately, Babel represents the opposite of a commissionary’s purpose in two ways. One, Babel represents self-reliance. The attitude that one doesn’t need God but can do it alone. Two, Babel represents self-exaltation. The motive to make oneself famous, instead of being motivated to make much of God.

So in light of this comparison, a commissionary has a choice between reflecting Pentecost or reflecting Babel. God has purposed for His children to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Three closing questions.

1. Are you reliant on self (Babel) or reliant on God (Pentecost)?

2. Are you exalting self (Babel) or exalting God (Pentecost)?

3. Are you more concerned with your story of achievement (Babel) or with God’s story of achievement (Pentecost), what God has done in Christ?

Don’t be Babel. Be Pentecost. Be a commissionary.

Here is that blog’s purpose statement:

  • A Great Commissionary

    Before pulpits and pews, pastors and preachers, before deacons and elders and Sunday School teachers, before flowery Lord’s tables and cross adorned steeples, there existed a mission for all of God’s people. Before programs and services, proper methods, proper times, before music and preaching, our sometimes silly pantomimes, before “Sunday morning church” and “Wednesday night prayer,” there existed a mentality, “Anytime, Anywhere.” Before statements of faith and superfluous vision, before gallivanting doctrine and convenient religion, before I follow Calvin or Luther, Peter or Paul, there existed one Lord with a mandate for all. Before baptist or catholic, various sects and denominations, before division and distinction, seemingly appropriate separations, before the ninety-five theses or even the edict of Milan, there existed one standard which the church was built upon. Go and make disciples we still hear our Jesus say, baptizing them in haste, for tomorrow is today, in name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Ghost, teaching them to obey for He is with us to the uttermost. So before saying church member, church deacon, church teacher, church pastor, church apostle, church planter, church preacher, we advance the words of Christ, the only true visionary, declaring now and forever more, I AM A GREAT COMMISSIONARY!

June 9, 2011

Extreme Makeover Home Edition Begins with Demolition

Cynthia lives in the northeast United States and has been reading my other blog for as long as I can remember.  Although she’s not presently writing herself, yesterday I paged through some of her 2009 posts, and decided to share this one here.   It originally appeared under the title I Want to Die.

“I die every day. I really mean that, brothers and sisters”
The Apostle Paul
1 Corinthians 15:31 (NIV)

It has occured to me over the past few days that I may have been praying the wrong prayer. For years I have been asking God to “Make me more like Jesus”. But in doing this have I been requesting a renovation rather than a demolition, a makeover rather than a crucifixion?

In my quest for Christ likeness, have I flattered myself into thinking that there are parts of me that are alight? Perhaps I could be spruced up with a coat of fresh paint or maybe a double glazed window would stop the draft in the front room. My wiring might need tweeking to bring it up to code but all in all, I have the makings of a good person, don’t I?

As I have thought about Paul’s words, that he died daily, I have also thought of the implications of our modern gospel message.  We have grown fond of presenting Christ as a wonderful addition to our lives, as a friend and a companion, a guide and a source of strength when we are weak. Because we have not been taught the  need for the crucifixion of self, we cannot fathom what Paul is talking about in Corinthians when he says that he dies every day? I like this analogy presented by Dr. Bill Gillham (lifetime.org)

“The King is Dead! Long Live the King!” When I was a kid, I heard a Shakespearean actor in a film make such a statement and was thoroughly confused. How could the king be dead but alive at the same time? Little did I know that he was talking about two different people! Indeed, the former king had died and was no longer king…he had ceased to exist! But the new king, who could never have emerged as king had the old king not died, lives indeed! So long as the old king remained alive, the new king could not be “born.” But after the one’s “birth” as the new king, the old king could never again resurrect himself because he had no capability for self-resurrection! The very existence of the one precludes the existence of the other and vice versa!

So if one nature is killed in order to make a place for the new nature that has been promised by Christ, why then must we “die daily”?

In Ephesians 4, Paul puts it another way. Rather than a makeover (which appeals to our natural pride), he required the new believers to “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires…and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”. We are not told to wash our old self or tidy it up or to renovate our exisiting structure, but to remove it, demolish it, crucify it.

By faith we know that we have been redeemed and reclaimed by the shedding of Christ’s blood. Within each believer, Christs Spirit takes up residence as King and we are new creatures from the moment we confess our belief in Jesus and repent of our sins. Yet this declaration is a war cry and from the first moment on, Satan will use every angle he knows to get a foothold and reclaim the throne. But we are Christ’s and the Word tells us that nothing can snatch us from His hands.  Even so, by God’s design, we are the ones who decide how much of ourselves will be crucified , how many of our desires will be set aside and how much of our energy will be committed to living out what the Spirit requires of us.

If we cling to our egocentric belief that our own efforts and talents are good enough, than we hamper our ability to be fully used by God. But when we commit ourselves to the daily crucifixion of self , it is then that we can rise to the incredible heights He has planned for us.

For this reason I lift my voice this day and cry out to God …”I want to die”

He must increase, but I must decrease.
John the Baptist
 John 3:3o