Christianity 201

March 21, 2021

Rome’s Only Weakness Was Israel’s Greatest Strength

The Pharisees were watching Jesus closely, but the Romans were watching the Pharisees (and all the Jewish people) closely as well. Here’s why.

During the time of Christ’s birth, childhood, teaching ministry and death, Israel’s history and Rome’s history are intersecting or overlapping. You can’t read the gospel accounts without somewhere seeing the presence of Rome, and in some respects it looked like Rome was everything that Israel wasn’t. For example:

  • The Roman Empire was big. When Luke records, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed;” we can easily dismiss that the phrase all the world is hyperbole. Were people in China taxed? No. But the Roman empire was, like the guy says in the used car commercial I see every night before the news, “H-U-U-U-G-E.”
  • The Roman Empire was rich. We just mentioned taxation. Maybe Rome didn’t invent it, but the perfected it to both an art and a science. Matthew 22 speaks to the coinage used and the taxation, “[Jesus said] “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s…” And of course we remember that, among others, Matthew and Zacchaeus worked in the multi-level, tax franchise system.
  • The Roman Empire was powerful. The entire narrative of Christ’s life takes place against the backdrop of Roman occupation. Many translations of Matthew 5:41 make it clear that when Jesus says, “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two;” the whoever or the someone is a Roman soldier. During the key events that we’ve just remembered at Easter, it a soldier who compels a passerby to help — “As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.” (Matthew 27:32) and a soldier who speaks to Christ’s identity after his death: “When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!‘”

But Rome had some weaknesses, one of which is that as a family run business the empire was unstable. The fear of insurrection from within no doubt created some insecurities.

So if we want to think of this in terms of a balance sheet we have something looks like this:

Roman Empire

It’s because of this insecurity that Rome’s leadership found the little territory at the east end of the Mediterranean so troublesome. Why did they need to worry? In terms of the above criteria:

  • Israel wasn’t big
  • Israel wasn’t rich
  • Israel wasn’t powerful

And yet, Israel’s army had a history of defeating its enemies against unbelievable odds. They were a feisty lot of people whose Levitical laws compelled them to not assimilate to their surrounding neighbors (or occupying forces) but to maintain a distinct identity. While other nations had crumbled and vanished, Israel had a long, proud history and its people could trace their ancestry back to Adam.

This is one aspect of Jewish tradition that is affirmed in Christian teachings today:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2 ESV)

Therefore, Rome’s only weakness was Israel’s greatest strength: Their longstanding stable history that had even survived occupation. (To look at some well known early history, think of the time of Moses, or the famine period at the time of Joseph.)

How does all this apply to us today?

We should identify with Israel. 1 Cor. 1:26 depicts the early church this way:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

I’ve deliberately held off on our key verse for the day (often at the top of these readings) until the very end and here it is:

Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. ~Daniel 11:32 NKJV
The king of the North will tell lies to God’s people. Those who have not obeyed God will be ruined. But there will be some who know God and obey him. They will be strong and fight back. (ICB)
Israel would never be absorbed, they would never be assimilated.
Today, neither should we. The surrounding culture is big, it’s powerful and it controls a lot of wealth. But it’s built on a crumbling foundation. We are the opposite: small, not powerful and not wealthy but we draw our source; our life from God Himself.

 

February 6, 2021

When There Were No “Mega” Churches, But Many “Super” Apostles

The construction of vast, cavernous auditoriums in which congregations could worship would be such a foreign concept to the people in the Apostle Paul’s day, where they met “from house to house” and everything was “small group” based. How ironic now that during the Covid-19 pandemic, so many of these same large buildings sit empty, which parishioners fellowship in their homes, or in Zoom groups.

The macro has become micro.

But while they didn’t have “megachurches” there is this interesting reference in 2nd Corinthians 11 to “super-apostles.” First, the context, and I’m using the CEB today:

If a person comes and preaches some other Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different Spirit than the one you had received, or a different gospel than the one you embraced, you put up with it so easily!

So like so much of the content in the New Testament epistles, this is going to be about false teachers. This is a theme that runs through these letters to the point that you cannot escape noting the problem this was for the early church. Remember, you didn’t have to look back far to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, so everything was in its infancy; there weren’t hundred of years of Christian tradition.

Then our key verse emerges:

I don’t consider myself as second-rate in any way compared to the “super-apostles.”

While knowing the Greek usually helps with literal translation, you could still miss the sarcasm. That the phrase is in quotation marks ought to give us a clue.  Some translations use “chiefest apostles,” or “most eminent…apostles,” or “superlative apostles;” but even there many add the quotation marks to help the reader get the intended snark. Paul is not impressed, not by the number of books they have published or the size of their television audience.

Okay, they didn’t have those metrics, but there’s no great imagination needed to picture there being teachers who were the most-talked-about “flavor of the month” with the people. They gravitated to these people in the same manner in which people today gravitate to the larger churches, the ones led by small-c charismatic personalities.

I must confess personally that in the days when we traveled to the United States, if we were seeking out a church for weekend worship, we always chose the well-known large congregations. Seeking out a medium-sized assembly where God is really doing great things through the congregation probably would have required some research.

Furthermore, such medium-sized congregations will attest to the truth that the megachurches, by their great influence, are setting the agenda for all churches in North America. The pressure to conform to the programs and ministry philosophy which is so obviously working is immense.

Additionally, these are often the churches and church leaders which fail spectacularly. A few weeks ago, on our other blog, I took the time to list all of the churches, pastors, authors and Christian leaders who had suffered damage to their brand in 2020. It’s a very long list.

Some of the translations for verse 5 are more obvious with Paul’s intended remarks: “big-shot ‘apostles,”'” or “grandiose apostles,” the latter which makes me wondering if they’ve spent too much time at the all-you-can-eat buffet; which is a suggestion that could be supported by empirical evidence.

Later in the chapter, Paul makes his use of satire completely obvious; not the phrase in parenthesis at the end:

20 You put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone places themselves over you, or if someone hits you in the face. 21 I’m ashamed to say that we have been weak in comparison! But in whatever they challenge me, I challenge them (I’m speaking foolishly).

What comes next? Paul defines his own “super apostleship” and it’s not a job description that would have prospective apostles lining up:

23 Are they ministers of Christ? I’m speaking like a crazy person. What I’ve done goes well beyond what they’ve done. I’ve worked much harder. I’ve been imprisoned much more often. I’ve been beaten more times than I can count. I’ve faced death many times. 24 I received the “forty lashes minus one” from the Jews five times. 25 I was beaten with rods three times. I was stoned once. I was shipwrecked three times. I spent a day and a night on the open sea. 26 I’ve been on many journeys. I faced dangers from rivers, robbers, my people, and Gentiles. I faced dangers in the city, in the desert, on the sea, and from false brothers and sisters. 27 I faced these dangers with hard work and heavy labor, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, and in the cold without enough clothes.

What led me to this passage, and the whole chapter today, is something that John Stackhouse wrote just a week ago in a piece titled Expectations for Christian Leadership:

Here, Paul says, is what genuine apostolic ministry entails. You can expect to be beaten—beaten hard, beaten often.

From Nigeria to China today, pastors are being beaten. Even rank-and-file believers live under the shadow of imminent physical danger of the worst sorts.

I wonder how many pretty-boy pastors would sign up for that job if instead of looking forward to affording excellent sneakers they could look forward to a beating. And then another. And another after that.

Likewise, I wonder how many students would aspire to become public teachers of Christianity—theologians and such—when such a position would require being punched, not just disagreed with or even maybe (horrors!) disrespected.

We live in crazy, mixed-up times, and while the people in Paul’s day didn’t have to deal with the dominance of enormous (and currently empty) megachurch buildings, they certainly faced the related cult of personality.


Dig Deeper: I encourage you today to take an extra few minutes to read the whole chapter.

February 3, 2021

Growth Through Conversion Means Welcoming New People

Yes, this article has a similar title to yesterday’s, because after reading about the church welcoming Cornelius yesterday, I found myself thinking similar things after reading a devotional based on a story that takes place earlier in Acts where the church welcomed one of its greatest foes, Saul of Tarsus. (Though this process took some people longer than others!)

But first I need to apologize. We do have a six month rule, and I see it’s only been eight weeks since we last borrowed some material from Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement (and that one followed another by only 3 months) but I felt this was well-written and worth our consideration today. So pleeeeze, click the title below and read this at Daily Encouragement.

The House Of Judas

Message summary: Are you willing to take risks when God leads? I find this a probing question that I’m very uncomfortable with!  I’m really not sure that I always am. (I would stumble over the thought, “Is this REALLY God leading?”)  If you were approached by a former ISIS member, newly converted to Christ, who needed a place to stay, would you open your home to him?

►►Listen to this message on your audio player.

“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias’. And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord’. And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying'” (Acts 9:10,11).

Have you ever considered or studied about the “bad” people in the Bible? Brooksyne used to have a book called “Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn from Them”.

Probably near the top of any list of “bad” people in the Bible would be Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Lord. That may tend to give the name Judas a bad ring. There are many Bible-based names commonly used such as David, Paul, John, Peter and my own, Stephen! But I don’t recall ever meeting anyone named Judas. However there were several men of good character in the Bible named Judas and today we want to consider the most obscure. In fact it wouldn’t be surprising if most of our readers have never even considered this particular Judas.

If we were to ask you to name the first named person Saul met after his dramatic conversion experience you would probably answer, Ananias, who had the special call to pray for Saul.

Well, as you can see from the text, the correct answer is a man by the name of Judas. “The Lord told him,Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying‘”.

Immediately following his conversion it appears that Saul stayed in Judas’ house. This must have been a strange call to Judas to provide hospitality to Saul. We have no idea how Saul got to his house or what depth of faith Judas had.

We are also not told how the message of Christ initially reached Damascus, but clearly God had a people in this city and Saul’s goal, when he journeyed there on the road to Damascus, had been to wipe them out.  Perhaps “the Way”, as Christ’s followers were then called, was a result of returning pilgrims who had been among those saved on the day of Pentecost. Or perhaps it was a result of the scattering of the believers following Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 7,8).

Damascus is to this day the capital of Syria and, since the time of the New Testament, there has been a remnant of Christians in Damascus and throughout Syria as well as neighboring countries in the Middle East. Based on my understanding of history; Christians, Jews, Muslims and various other groups such as the Yasidi have lived in relative harmony up to the present time.

But with the rise of militant Islam in the last 50 years this has all changed. In our own day ISIS is attempting to complete the same mission of persecuting and destroying followers of Christ that Saul had abandoned in exchange for preaching Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God (Acts 9:20) to the utter amazement of those who heard him. They responded, Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose that he might bring them bound to the chief priests? (9:21).

However, reports are coming out of situations similar to Saul’s conversion such as an ISIS member BEING converted to Christianity due to having dreams of a man who appeared to him in white who said, “You are killing my people”; remarkably similar to the message that Saul heard!!! (Acts 9:4).

Interestingly, God had a special job for this Judas and, although the Biblical record gives us very little information about him, we can be thankful for his willingness to invite Saul into his home; to partake of his food, to lodge in his sleeping quarters, and to be among his own family members.

Are you willing to take risks when God leads? I find this a probing question that I’m very uncomfortable with! I’m really not sure that I always am. (I would stumble over the thought, “Is this REALLY God leading?”)

The writer of Hebrews reminds us: Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). To have some sense of what Judas’ choice was like, what would it be like for you to welcome Saul into your home? If you were approached by a former ISIS member, newly converted to Christ, who needed a place to stay, would you open your home to him?

Daily prayer: Father, You have a work for all of us to do, we, who claim to be Your followers. Sometimes it’s going, sometimes it’s doing, and sometimes it’s just making ourselves available to Your leading. However You choose to use us, it requires our faith and trust to be firmly rooted in who You are, in Your commands, and in our hearing Your voice, most especially in uncharted territory when we are asked to step out of our comfort zone. Help us to be among those with whom You could say to Your Son, Jesus, “This is my child with whom I am very pleased.” Your commendation is our incentive to be listening, obeying and trusting in You as we journey here below. Amen.

The other men named Judas in the New Testament:
Actually there are several other men named Judas in the New Testament:

1) A half brother to Jesus:Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?”  (Matthew 13:55).

2) Another disciple with the same name:Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22) This apparently was Judas, son of James (see Acts 1:13)

3) An early church leader:Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. (Acts 15:2). This may have been the same Judas as referenced in Matthew 13:55.

 

 

 

January 17, 2021

Riot in Washington; Riot in Thessalonica; Riot in Ephesus

NIV.Acts.17.1. When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.

But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.

“These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.
 (v. 6  NKJV)

Today we have another new writer to introduced to you. Jonathan E. Mills writes at Living in the Present Tense. We’ve introduced today’s thoughts with words from Acts 17 (in Thessalonica), but note it is a subsequent chapter, Acts 19 (in Ephesus) to which he refers.

NIV.Acts.19.32 [two chapters later]The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.

You’re encouraged to send some link encouragement by clicking the header below and reading this at its source.

Jesus and the Mob

As the scores of images and video footage from the occupation of the US Capitol came in a fortnight ago, I started thinking about the power of mobs and the weakness of the individual. I’m not going to give a hot take on what happened, for far wiser people than I have already done that, but I want to explore for a moment the terror of The Crowd.

Mobs scare me, not the thought of facing them alone (though that is horrifying to contemplate) but the knowledge that I would most likely join them. The pictures of the mob scare us because they reveal that we as a species have a lot less autonomy than we’d like to think. The West has built her self-image upon the ideal of individualism, but too often that seems like a very shaky foundation.

I was in Year 11 when the Arab Spring began in 2010. I have such clear memories of following the various conflicts and the hoards of opinion writers who claimed democracy could now flourish in the Middle East. We’d just studied the French Revolution and I was fascinated by its contrasts and similarities with what was happening live. But one thing that puzzled me was how quickly protests could fall into violent riots. I couldn’t understand how a few leaders could utterly change the direction of a crowd and that everyone would go along with it. Perhaps I prided myself on my individuality, thinking I’d never succumb to the crowd.

I was walking around uni a few years later, just after a lecture on some obscure South American poet. I had no place to be, so I let myself wander. Soon I found myself headed in an unexpected direction, herded by a hoard of students exiting a building. I didn’t think where I was walking, I just followed.

It’s easy to follow the crowd. Or perhaps it’s easy to follow than to try to resist. At 27 I have a lot less confidence in my individuality than I did at 17, and a lot more awe in the power of The Crowd. Back then I imagined myself being a sole voice of reason in a riot, today I know I more likely would be just another sheep.

In his account of the early church, Luke, a follower of Jesus, records a riot that happened in the city of Ephesus. You can read the full story in Acts 19, but here’s the gist:

Ephesus was famous for its Temple of Artemis, and got a lot of its income from worshippers who’d flock from everywhere to purchase and to prostrate. You’d go there to worship the big shrine and then buy a little ‘silver shrine’ to take home (Acts 19:24). Paul’s ministry in Ephesus leads to many becoming Christians and then discarding their religious/witch-crafting scrolls and trinkets (see Acts 18). A successful silversmith named Demetrius realizes the threat Christianity might make to his business and so gives an impassioned speech to the traders, working them up into a religious frenzy. Soon the whole city is in an uproar.

Like most mobs, it’s a very confused one. Luke tells us ‘some were shouting one thing, some another. Most… did not even know why they were there’ (vs 32). The fearsome mob meets an abrupt anticlimax when a city clerk tells everyone to go home and appeal to the court system to meet their perceived injustices.

The crowd is confused, yet violent. The mob is powerful, yet easily dismissed. People are drawn into her without knowing what she’s arguing about. But does that excuse their behaviour? If individuals in a mob commit violent acts they’d never do if they were acting alone, does that excuse their behaviour?

Is there such thing as ‘good’ mob? Can Christians ever be part of one without compromising? And what does God think of it all?

I’m going to attempt to answer most of these questions over the next few posts.

[…at this point Jonathan invites readers to join the discussion; “but please keep it civil. Don’t give into the violence of the mob.” Because this was posted just a few hours ago, readers here are invited to go to his blog and comment, and I’ll close comments here…]

 

 

 

October 8, 2020

The Path to Unity (According to Paul)

by Clarke Dixon

This is a time of incredible division. Though we are Canadians, we cannot help but hear all the shouting to the South of us, especially with an election in the near future. America seems to be coming apart at the seams.

As a Christian I can’t talk. Church communities have faced divisive issues from the get-go. In New Testament times it was the eating of meat sacrificed to animals. In our day it is the response to the LGBTQ+ community.

Division is not limited to nations and churches. We are told that divorce rates are at an all time high. It is a time of division, and it looks like it is only going to get worse. How can we break through to unity?

The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi about unity in his day, which will help us in our day. In fact it will help avoid it in the first place.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV)

In other words, if you are a Christ follower, then be “of one mind.” But how do we do that? Unity is the goal, but what is the path?

We may think that the path to unity is uniformity. We just need to get everyone thinking the exact same things. Before we move forward on that assumption, let us keep reading what Paul has to say, let us follow the path he points us toward:

. . . be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

Philippians 2:2-5 (NRSV)

The path to unity is humility.

Why is humility the path to unity where we might expect uniformity? When uniformity is seen as the path to unity, it is not always the voice that is most correct that wins the day. Often it is the voice that speaks the loudest. Sometimes the voice that is heeded belongs to the one whose arm is the strongest.

That is how things worked in the Roman Empire. Step out of line and you could be crucified. Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi, a colony of Rome, to no longer have the mind of Roman, but instead:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)

Don’t think like Romans, for whom the cross, as a means of terrible execution, was a symbol of power. Instead think like Jesus, for whom the cross is a means of grace and forgiveness.

Don’t think like Romans, who exploit their position of power in the world, but think like God, who did not take advantage of his own position of power for his own sake, but came to us in Jesus for our sake.

If God was thinking like a Roman and had resorted to brute power to put things right, he would have wiped us all out and started over without us. Instead, God came to us as one of us and experienced the worst of us, for us. We were divided from God, a huge chasm existing between ourselves and God because of sin. We also became divided from each other. Through His humility, God brought has brought unity.

Power is the path to unity in empire thinking. Humility is the path to unity in Kingdom thinking.

Do we think like Romans or like Christ?


Rev. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. The full sermon on which this is based can be seen as part of an “online worship expression” from October 4th.

September 10, 2020

Introducing Philippians

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

As we begin a series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we remember that the apostle Paul introduced the Christians in Philippi to Jesus. As we read this letter he sent them, we begin with some introductions.

First, we are introduced to Paul and Timothy.

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, . . .

Philippians 1:1a NIV

At the time of writing, Paul is a prisoner, likely either in Ephesus or in Rome. This fact was well know to the Christians in Philippi who had in fact sent him a financial gift. In that time and place your friends and family needed to supply you with provisions if you were a prisoner. What we now know of as “The Book of Philippians” is actually a thank you note!

Interestingly, Paul describes himself first off, not as “stuck in prison,” but as a servant of Christ Jesus. His relationship with Jesus was of greater note than his relationship with the state. Never mind being captive of the state, more importantly, Paul is a servant, or better, slave, to Jesus.

The Christians in Philippi knew all about slavery, many of them either being slaves themselves, or owning slaves. They would all know that it is better to be a free person than a slave. However, Paul sees it as a mark of distinction.

This was all part and parcel of a new way of thinking because of Jesus who himself modelled servanthood:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28 NIV

Paul will go on in the letter to encourage the Christians in Philippi, and us also, to be a people who think different because of Jesus.

Paul includes Timothy in his opening greeting. Timothy was not really known to be an apostle, certainly not in the way the twelve disciples were, or Paul, all of who had met the risen Jesus. Paul brings no attention to that by saying something like “From Paul the apostle, and Timothy my assistant.” No attention is drawn to Timothy’s “rank,” the assistant is included on an equal footing, as a partner.

Whatever our role may be in service to Jesus, we are partners in the good work Jesus is doing in and for the world. Whether we are playing what people think to be a big role, like the apostle Paul, or we are are playing what people think to a smaller role, like the assistant Timothy, we are partners. Whatever the Lord calls us to do, we are necessary and valued. Again, because of Jesus, we are to think differently.

Second, we are introduced to ourselves:

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, . . .

Philippians 1:1b NRSV

We might wonder what subset of Christians qualify to be known as “saints.” Some translations use the words “God’s people” but the most literal translation is “holy ones.” We are introduced, therefore, to all Christians, we are introduced to ourselves as saints or “holy ones.”

We might struggle to call ourselves saints or holy ones, but Paul can simply state it with confidence.

We may think, to be a saint I need to know more. Remember, the saints in Philippi don’t even have a full Bible yet. No doubt, some, perhaps many, would be illiterate. Yet they are saints, holy ones!

Of course digging into the Bible and growing in knowledge is part of growing in Christ, but not being well versed is not a hindrance to being a saint, a holy one.

I have a lot to learn as a bass player, especially scales and musical theory, but my lack of knowledge does not stop my bandmates from introducing me as their bass player. We are holy ones in Christ Jesus, not because we know a lot, but because Jesus makes it a reality.

We may think, to be a saint, I need to be better than I am. In Jesus we are on a journey of becoming better than we are, but we don’t need to wait for our arrival at the destination to be called “holy ones in Jesus.”

Though many would call me a decent bass player, I don’t play nearly as well as so many others, but that does not stop my bandmates from calling me their bass player. Being part of the band is not conditional on my achieving perfection, but on my bandmates saying I belong to the band.

We are holy ones in Christ Jesus, not because we have passed some sort of test for perfection, but because of the blood of Jesus, because of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, because God has included us, because God says we belong.

Third, we are introduced to church structure:

. . . together with the overseers and deacons:

Philippians 1:1c NIV

We see here the beginnings of organization. What we do not see is a complicated and complex organization. As I often half-jokingly say “I don’t like organized religion. That is why I am a Baptist, for we are the most disorganized group of people in the history of the world.”

There is a lot written in the writings of the New Testament about Jesus and how to be a follower of Jesus. There is very little written about organizations called “churches” and how to “do church.” The writings of the New Testament are far more interested in helping people grow in Jesus, than in setting up rules for organizations.

Let us keep it about Jesus and helping people grow in Jesus in our day. Let God call people to leadership. Let God call all of us to serve. Let’s not make it complicated.

Fourth, we are introduced to God:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:2 NIV

We are introduced to God as father.

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can now be included in the family of the one Creator God. Anyone and everyone has the opportunity to call God “father.”

Remember how the Lord’s prayer begins, a prayer the Christians in Philippi would have been instructed in; “Our father.” These would be meaningful words within a mainly non-Jewish city like Philippi. God is “our father,” and not just the father to the Jews.

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God

John 1:11-13 NIV

The other side of the coin, of course, was that the Creator God of the Jewish Scriptures is God, and the idols and gods of the Romans therefore, were not.

We are introduced to Jesus as Lord and Christ.

The primary creed of the early Christians was “Jesus is Lord.” This would be fitting for the non-Jewish believers in Philippi, many of whom were Roman citizens thanks to the city being a colony of Rome. While they may not know much about a Jewish messiah, or the Jewish Scriptures that point to the Messiah, they knew all about lords. Indeed they would be familiar with the idea that “Caesar is Lord.” Except, that he is not. Jesus rose from the dead showing that he is Lord, Caesar is not. Though being Roman is in their blood, they are now marching to the beat of a very different drummer. Again, in Jesus, it is time to think different.

Less familiar to the Romans in Philippi would be the notion of “Christ,” which is the Greek term for “Messiah” or “anointed one.” The Christians in Philippi were primarily non-Jewish, and they were not required to become Jewish, as we read about in Acts 15. The Jewish scriptures, however, were very important. The Hebrew Scriptures point to God fixing everything though his anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah. The term “Christ” may not have resonated with the Philippians as strongly as “Lord” did, but it was instructive. Though they were not becoming Jews, they were now to look to the Scriptures of the Jews as a source of truth.

We are also introduced to what happens when God comes to earth.

The Roman gods were known to be very fickle. But when the true God, the Creator God, and as it turns out, the only God, came to earth in Jesus, grace and peace became possible. “Grace and peace” was a common greeting in letters of the ancient world, but it is a loaded term on the lips of Paul, and a reality in Jesus Christ.

Do you need to be re-introduced?

  • To who Paul is, to what the New Testament is?
  • To yourself, who you are in Christ?
  • To God?

If so, join us in the weeks to come as we unpack Pauls’ letter to the Philippians, learning more about the impact of Jesus as we go.


This starts a new series; Clarke continues to explore Philippians next week. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced regular church worship at Clarke’s church. The reflection alone can be seen here.

September 7, 2020

For Those Needing Encouragement

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A devotional website which has been a great inspiration to me, as well as the source of many articles here, is Daily Encouragement, written (and recorded on audio) weekdays by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber of Pennsylvania. Their devotional writing, combined with their workplace chaplaincy ministry is a full-time job.

Today’s post is in many respects a “signature” devotional, which covers the topic in their site’s name. I encourage you to click through and enjoy the flavor of what they post every day, including personal notes and video links. Click the title below to start.

Paying Encouragement Forward

Listen to this message on your audio player.

“But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you” (2 Corinthians 7:6,7).

What a surprise blessing to be the recipient of someone “paying it forward”. The simplest way to define “pay it forward” is that when someone does something for you, instead of paying that person back directly, you pass it on to another person instead. An example is buying a coffee for the person in line behind you at the coffee shop and then they buy a coffee for the person behind them and so on (which really seems to me “paying it backward”).

Today let us consider “paying encouragement forward”.

I have on my heart today those who may be in need of encouragement. It may be a painful loss resulting in difficult major adjustments ahead such as those who recently experienced a very damaging hurricane in the Gulf Coast. It may be the sense of despair many feel as we see the crumbling conditions around us. It may be the loneliness so many of our seniors and others feel as this covid season goes on and on. We all need a mighty dose of God’s encouragement. Many of you reading this know of similar situations and in fact some of you are now in that place of need.

Today’s verse reminds us again of the power of God to bring encouragement and encourage others. The verse before indicates Paul’s need, For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn–conflicts on the outside, fears within (7:5). Have you ever felt that way? I sure have. I believe we all have! And I thank God for people who refresh us like Titus.

He is one of the many ministry associates of Paul with whom we have little background information. He is referenced several times in 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Timothy and most famously in the book written to him that bears his name. It seems his ministry spanned quite a few years indicating that he remained faithful.

The daily verse begins: But God, who encourages those who are discouraged“. Foundationally, God is the Ultimate Encourager. During a time of deep despair David felt strengthened and encouraged in the Lord his God (1 Samuel 30:6). What a blessing that we can get encouragement directly from God.

Encouraged us by the arrival of Titus“. The operative agent used by God to bring encouragement (Greek “parakaleo”, often translated “comfort”) to Paul was Titus. He was returning with news concerning the Corinthian believers who had been severely rebuked in an earlier letter. Titus’ report brought Paul joy because, he told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever (7:7b).

His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you.” What does Paul mean by this?

1) It could be that he was heartened at the results of his teaching in the lives of the Corinthian believers, how that they had encouraged Titus. In ministry we are so blessed to see Christ-like fruit in the lives of those to whom we have ministered.

2) It could be in the sense that Titus would have been unable to bring encouragement to Paul if he himself had not been encouraged by the Corinthians believers.

We are all aware of people who may be downcast today, people who need their day brightened. Could our actions or words, or the combination of both be an encouragement to someone in need, just as Titus was used of God to bring encouragement to Paul. He had received encouragement from the Corinthian believers and in turn reciprocated by transmitting that encouragement to Paul. The encouragement we share might be in the form of a visit, a phone call, or a brief e-mail message or text assuring the recipient of our interest and prayer. Indeed, let us practice paying encouragement forward today!

Be encouraged today.

Daily prayer: Father, sometimes we are frustrated by what little we have to offer others when we compare ourselves with those who are greatly talented or have a special way with words, or even those who may have financial resources to bless others in ways that we cannot. But we are not limited in reaching out to one who may be looking for a reason to smile or to the one who simply needs a helping hand. Paul indicated that the comfort You dispensed to Titus, was then transmitted to him, and then he passed it onto the Corinthian church. We pray for the prompting of the Holy Spirit to show us ways that we can encourage those around us so that it will naturally be passed on to others as well. We pray for this through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

August 23, 2020

Churches: Leverage the Massive Disruption of the COVID-19 Crisis

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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NIV.Acts.11.19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews.

Read full chapter


Two years ago we introduced you to the New Wineskins blog at Patheos by Josh Draffern. Today we’re back with a timely article. Click the header below to read this at his page, or click the link in the first sentence to find other articles containing valuable help for pastors and churches.

This is the Moment for the Church at Antioch to Rise Up

In Acts 8, a massive disruption upset the Christian world. Led by Saul of Tarsus, massive persecution drove Christians from their home base of Jerusalem. Up to that time the new Christian movement was centered in Jerusalem and was confined to Jews. By the end of the book of Acts the church was more Gentile than Jewish and the church at Jerusalem was a side note. What made the difference? During the disruption, one church used it as an opportunity to innovate, and innovation changes the world.

In Acts 11:19 we see the Jewish Christians scattering from Jerusalem, telling only other Jews about Jesus. But in Antioch it was different. The Christians there spread the gospel and opened their doors to both Jews and Greeks (innovation #1, Acts 11:20-21). Not only was this church open to non-Jews, they sought out Jews with scandalous pasts, creating an opportunity for the same Saul of Tarsus to provide leadership now that he had become a follower of Jesus (innovation #2, Acts 11:25-26). When a famine struck Judea, the church at Antioch is the first church recorded in Scripture to voluntarily collect resources and intentionally send it off to assist another church (innovation #3, Acts 11:27-30).

So it should be no surprise that the church at Antioch, not the church at Jerusalem, was the one the Holy Spirit directed to change the world through intentional gospel-spreading, church-planting mission trips (innovation #4, Acts 13:1-3). What was the church at Jerusalem doing during that time? Forcing Peter to defend his actions of entering a Gentile’s home (Acts 10-11) and trying to get the Gentile Christians to become Jewish (Acts 15).

Admittedly painting with a broad brush here, the church at Jerusalem treated the dispersion of their people as an interruption. They kept waiting for things to go back to ‘normal’ and the way things were (centered in Jerusalem and around the Jews). The church at Antioch correctly saw the persecution as a massive disruption. Disruption leads to innovation. Innovation changes the world, and that’s exactly what the church at Antioch did almost 2000 years ago.

The COVID-19 crisis is another massive disruption (not interruption). This is the moment for the church at Antioch to rise up, to blaze boldly into the hybrid digital world we all now live in and spread the gospel in new and powerful ways. As church thought leader Carey Nieuwhof accurately questioned, “are churches behaving like malls in the age of Amazon?” I believe that churches that treat the COVID-19 crisis like a minor interruption are like malls, like the church at Jerusalem.

If your church is waiting for this crisis to pass so that things can go back to normal, you might be waiting awhile. There will be a new normal we will eventually settle into, but it won’t be the old normal. A worldwide pandemic disrupts the world in ways that will forever change us. I believe that churches that leverage the massive disruption of the COVID-19 crisis are innovating in the age of Amazon, like the church of Antioch.

Where are the churches at Antioch? Rise up, innovate, and change our world with the gospel!


Josh also blogs on Beliefnet as Next Steps: Inspiration From Scripture for Your Next Step of Faith and you can find links to all his content on joshdaffern.com.

May 28, 2020

What Do You Have to Have, to Have a Church?

Readers: This week you’re getting a double dose of Clarke Dixon’s writing. This was an extra item he posted on his blog, and then tomorrow, we’ll pick up where Clarke left us working our way through Matthew 7.

by Clarke Dixon

When I wrote this back in 2016 I did not realize that in 2020 we would not have what we normally have. Thank the Lord we still have what we have to have to have a church!

What do you have to have to have a church? Here are some possible answers I’ve heard along the way:

  • you have to have mission and vision statements.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture outside the church.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture within the church.
  • you have to have PowerPoint for the sermons, shorter sermons, or even no sermons.
  • you have to have a constitution, a budget, a proper system of governance, and a bunch of paperwork … or risk losing your charitable status, which of course everyone knows you have to have.
  • you have to have buildings and paid staff.
  • you have to have programming for every age group and for every felt need.
  • you have to have values that reflect the society around you, which means ever changing values of course.
  • you have to have a worship experience that makes each person feel affirmed and good.
  • you have to have a good consumer experience for a happy customer.

What does the Bible say you have to have to have a church? What better place to go than the Books of Acts where we read about the earliest Christians and the origins of the Church. In looking to the book of Acts there is one sentence that captures what you have to have to have a church:

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

Did you notice what was there in the first church without which you cannot have a church? No, not food. Just two things: “The Lord,” and “those who were being saved.”

“The Lord.” You cannot have a church without the presence of the Lord. And by Lord we do not mean just any god, or God in a generic sense. This is the LORD, Who created the heavens and the earth, Who created all life including humanity, Who called Abraham with a promise, Who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, Who gave His people the Law and the covenants, Who came to humanity in Jesus, and bearing a cross for our sin He rose from the dead, Who comes to us in the Holy Spirit, Who ensured we had a record of all this and more in the Bible. That LORD. The church is not in the business of promoting spirituality but rather has a ministry of reconciliation. We introduce people to that LORD. You can have all the things people generally think you have to have to have a church, yet if you are missing the presence of the Lord, then you don’t have a church.

“Those who were being saved.” We can read the entire book of Acts to be introduced to those people and find out what they are like. When we do we find out that they are an imperfect people, a growing and learning people, a praying people, a listening people, a preaching and reaching people, a generous people, a missionary people, a hope filled people, a changed people, and a willing-to-be-persecuted people. You have to have people like that to have a church.

There are some practical implications in needing only two things to have a church:

Church is a people rather than an organization. In the Book of Acts we are not given a manual on how to organize a church. Sometimes we might wish we were! We are given, rather, the story and stories of people responding and relating to the Lord. We do well to remember that we organize as churches, not for the sake of the organization created, but for the sake of the people God is re-creating. As you read through the book of Acts you never once hear a church named. There is no “Calvary Baptist,” or “Grace United,” or the like. But you hear time and time again about the Lord, about people, and about the Lord in relationship with people. When we celebrate a church anniversary, which is something we love to do for we like any excuse to have our cake and eat it too, we are not celebrating how long an organization has been organized. We are celebrating the lives that have been changed by God through the lives of the people who have been changed by God.

The church is something we always are rather than something we sometimes do. It is funny how when asked to describe our churches we quickly report on Sunday morning attendance. Instead we ought to report about what happens throughout the week. We should speak of the saints on their knees in prayer, those who visit, those who give, those who encourage, those who volunteer, those who forgive, those who are patient, those who are peaceful, those who are joyful, those who are self-controlled. . .  you get the picture. In the Book of Acts you never hear of a church described by numbers in attendance on a Sunday morning. But you you do read of people living their lives for the Lord every day. Church is what we always are, not something we sometimes do.

That you only have to have two things is good news for the small church. I must admit to being discouraged when I read a book written for small church pastors then realize they are written by superstar pastors, or that by “small church” they mean a church of 200. That is so not me, and so not us! Good news, to have a church you do not have to emulate the big churches and do everything they do. We are not to follow the lead of bigger churches, we are to follow the lead of the Lord. Small church leaders can learn to say as the church leadership said in Acts “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28)

That you only have to have two things is good news for a church under threat. We are told we face the threat of becoming irrelevant. From that perspective, the first Christians must have seemed supremely irrelevant. The apostle Paul discovered that the Gospel was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Yet the presence of the Lord together with the presence of God’s people was turning the world upside down.

Perhaps someday we will face the threat of losing our charitable status as we do not keep in step with a society that keeps changing step. Look to the first Christians. Never mind a privileged position in society, they were persecuted. Yet with the presence of the Lord and the presence of a people who set themselves to the task of keeping in step with God’s Holy Spirit, not even the gates of hell could stop the Church.

What do you have to have to have a church? Look to the Book of Acts where they did not have charitable status, buildings, mission and visions statements, organs, worship bands, a multitude of programs for every age, denominations, PowerPoint, constitutions, church growth consultants, or a very organized clergy. (Some days it seems the church I pastor still lacks organized clergy!) All they had was the presence of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit filled people of God. And it was brilliant. When we have those two things, it still is!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Scripture references today are taken from the NRSV.

 

 

May 22, 2020

Getting Close to The Church of Acts

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
-Acts 5:42

House Churches

Mary’s:When he [Peter] realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is called Mark, where there were many people gathered in prayer” (Acts 12:12).

Lydia’s:When they [Paul and Silas] had come out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers, and then they left” (Acts 16:40).

Prisca and Aquila’s:Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus…greet also the church at their house” (Romans 16:3,5).

Nympha’s:Give greetings to the brothers in Laodicea and to Nympha and to the church in her house” (Colossians 4:15).

Philemon and Apphia’s:Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon, our beloved and our co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church at your house” (Philemon verses 1-2).

-condensed references; click here for full article at Franciscan Media.


This is our tenth time with John Fischer at The Catch. Click the title below for the full article:

Church, 2020

Think about the amount of trust in the Holy Spirit there had to be in the formation of the early church. Especially after the persecution scattered believers all over the region. Groups of believers were springing up everywhere. All of them were preaching the Good News about Jesus and people were being added daily to the faith. It would have been impossible to monitor all those groups. These were not Bible Study Cell Groups with a form of centralized leadership and a notebook and video for the host to follow. There was no curriculum. There was no New Testament, at least in the very beginning. Later on Paul would write his letters to the young churches, and I’m sure those were copied and passed around, but in the beginning the church was made up of informal groups of people meeting in homes, many of them separated from sanctioned leadership. And if the book of Acts says they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, that means there was an apostle there teaching them! Kid you not.

I have a feeling it was something like this that the Lord had in mind for the church all along — an organic group of people coming together to pray, share whatever they knew of the apostles’ teaching, eat together, meet each other’s needs, and remember the Lord’s death and resurrection until He returns. Buildings and budgets, bishops and bureaucracies were nowhere in the original plan. I know that sounds pretty loosey-goosey, but that’s why the Holy Spirit was holding it all together. They could feel the reality of the Holy Spirit. Is church a praise band and a sermon, or four or five people around a table at Starbucks? It may not necessarily be either one, but the one around the table is closer to the earliest model.

Marti has had numerous discipleship groups over the years and lately, she’s been able to do it over Google hangout on the Internet. I’ve walked in on the tail end of this a number of nights and I can tell you it’s the closest thing to church I know of. They are learning and growing, crying and laughing, and depending on the Holy Spirit through each other’s gifts. You can go to a megachurch and never have this. You can go to an ornate cathedral and never have this. This is why we’re looking again at the formation of the early church. It’s renewal time. It’s honesty time. It’s raw. It’s real time. It’s strip-down-to-the-basics time. It’s what we want. It’s what the millennials want, and I believe it’s what the Lord wanted all along. Whatever else we have that has come to be identified as “church” are the trappings of church we’ve created over the years — little of it biblical, much of it cultural and traditional. Even what we have on Sunday nights on Facebook is closer to the Acts church than what you can experience each week in a typical church service today. If you don’t need the Holy Spirit to hold it together, then it’s going to be held together by something else. Wouldn’t you rather have the Holy Spirit?

Church, 2020 is not going to be much different than Church, 31, and that’s the way it should be.


Bonus item: Here’s a classic John Fischer song, Righteous Man.

May 16, 2020

The Peril of Pretending

Acts.5.1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died…

Once again we’re back with John Curtis at the Exchange Ministry Blog.  Click the header below to read this at source. Are we guilty of this on any level?

When pretense is deadly

Acts 13:11  Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, had conspired to sell some land, give part of the proceeds to the cause of Jesus and keep some of it for themselves.  But their story was that they were giving the entire sum, which was a lie.

First Ananias, then Sapphira, testified before Peter that they had given the entire amount.  He pronounced judgment on each of them, for they had “not lied just to human beings but to God.”  They each instantly fell down dead.

This is a seemingly radical departure from a ministry and movement that featured so much healing and blessing.  If you lie you die?  How could it be?

There was and is a practice of toy religion – human doings and sayings that supposedly win the approval and appeasement of God.  It’s commercial – you say a few prescribed words, perhaps 1000 times to really be impressive, and you get the blessing.  You pretend to be “all in” and are actually only partly “in”.

It’s very clear from the context that the pretense (or acting – hypocrisy) was the problem here – Ananias and Sapphira likely thought everyone pretended just like they had under the Law of Moses.  Not now.  Doing things just for show turned out to be fatal for them, and the fear of that being exposed “seized the whole church”.  Following Christ was not to be a sideshow to the real event – personal, secret life.

Let me know this – they could have kept part of the money and told the truth about it and not undergone the judgment. It was about being honest. Turning greed into generosity is discipleship that often takes time, but turning what is fake into what is real needs to be called out right away, and in this case at the expense of the lives of this couple.

So where am I pretending? How and where do I give only lip service to the things of God, giving part and saying it’s all (or even making that allusion), boasting (even in subtlety) or doing anything that lacks integrity? Do I sin? It’s with no pride that I say “yes”. Do I lie about my shortcomings? Well, I won’t say I advertise them, but let me be quick to confess them to any and all who ask.

Let grace define me – not just receiving it but being open that I need it. Every single day.


David Jeremiah:

Ananias and Sapphira committed a sin unto death (1 John 5:16). The undertakers might be busy in our churches today if we were judged for the motives of our hearts. When you serve the church — teaching, singing, serving in a leadership role — are you putting God to the test? It’s risky business to fake spirituality. Make your heart’s desire for God and God alone.

Augustine:

It is not the being seen of men that is wrong, but doing these things for the purpose of being seen of men. The problem with the hypocrite is his motivation.

Bert Farias:

Both Ananias and Sapphira, together with Simon the sorcerer, attempted to introduce into the glory of the early Church corrupt values that would have defiled and greatly diminished her glory. However, it was stopped at the door and the glory was protected and allowed to increase.

In like manner, the true judgments of the Lord that produce holy fear and genuine repentance, along with prevailing prayer, must return to the Church, so there can be a thorough cleansing and the glory of the Lord can be restored.  (from Cleansing the Temple.)


C201 New LinkMission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

May 2, 2020

Would You Rate a Shout-out from Paul?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our 4th or 5th time featuring the writing of Jay Mankus at Express Yourself 4 Him. As a rabid sports guy in his youth, it’s fitting that Jay’s faith journey began in 1984 at a Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s event in Philadelphia. Since then he’s attended seminary, worked in youth ministry, and written a film script of his own life story. Click the header below to read this at source, and check out several of the other devotionals there. This is a blog I would recommend to people who maybe don’t want to go as deep (or wordy, or tangential!) as we do here, so you might have a friend who could use some solid devotional material each day who would like to know about this one.

What Would the Bible Say about You?

At the end of his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul thanks those who worked quietly behind the scenes. Without these men and women, Paul’s ministry journeys would not have been possible or successful. Beginning with a deaconess and woman who opened her home as a congregational meeting place, Paul wanted to ensure that their contributions were not minimized or overlooked. Unlike the gospels where woman and children are excluded from the overall count of individuals present, Paul places women first on his list.

Now I introduce and commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, That you may receive her in the Lord [with a Christian welcome], as saints (God’s people) ought to receive one another. And help her in whatever matter she may require assistance from you, for she has been a helper of many including myself [shielding us from suffering]. Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, Who risked their lives [endangering their very necks] for my life. To them not only I but also all the churches among the Gentiles give thanks, Romans 16:1-4.

In another letter to the church at Galatia, Paul breaks down his entire life into three stages. Galatians 1:11-24 serves as an outline for sharing your faith by detailing your life before knowing Jesus, your conversion experience and transformation since making this decision. While every faith story contains peaks and valleys, portions of your testimony will connect with or touch other souls. One of Jesus’ disciples urges first century Christians to be prepared, always ready to provide the reason for the hope that you have in God, 1 Peter 3:15-16.

[Remember me] also to the church [that meets] in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was a firstfruit (first convert) to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked so hard among you. Remember me to Andronicus and Junias, my tribal kinsmen and once my fellow prisoners. They are men held in high esteem among the apostles, who also were in Christ before I was. Remember me to Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, that one tried and approved in Christ (the Messiah). Remember me to those who belong to the household of Aristobulus, Romans 16:5-10.

As I turn our attention toward today, I’m curious about what modern writers might say. Would you receive a shout out like Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila or be out-shined by other believers? As you go to work, reside in a neighborhood and let your guard down at home, what do people notice? According to my children, I drive too fast, I’m impatient and too opinionated. Are your daily actions full of light or do moments of darkness blur the love of Jesus inside of you? The book of Acts ends abruptly. Some scholars suggest that either the final chapter was never fully completed or simply missing. When judgement day arrives, what will God say about you? Only time will tell so make the most of the days that the Lord gives you.

April 16, 2020

When Everything Changed (Easter Reflection)

by Clarke Dixon

We have all experienced incredible change recently, to our routines, our plans, our lives. Our hearts go out to those who have experienced change in the worst ways.

I am reminded of a time I was the instigator of change. My first pastorate was a two-point charge, each of which had regular Bible studies. In the one church we met over lunch and tea was served in some very fancy teacups. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t do fancy. And while my fingers are not large, they are still larger than the pathetic little handles in your average fancy teacup. By the time we left that church five years later, I had them drinking tea out of mugs!

That was pretty much the only change I made in that church. People resist change, especially people who are devout, people who are committed. Very often in smaller churches, people are both devout and committed. Thankfully so!

In New Testament times we see many devout, committed people making very big changes in a very short space of time. They made changes in their expression of faith. For example, they moved away from a focus on the temple, away from the practice of animal sacrifice, and away from a focus on Saturday, the Sabbath, as the highlight of the week, focusing on Sunday instead. They also moved away from an insistence on keeping a distance from anyone who was not Jewish.

How did these big changes come about among people like Paul, who were very devout and very committed to an old and enduring way of expressing faith in God? What made them want to change in matters of great importance? Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NRSV)

Paul met the risen Jesus, and that changed everything.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people began to change their religious practices. For example, people began meeting on Sunday to worship in order to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus, which happened on a Sunday. Every Sunday is Easter Sunday! They stopped the sacrifice of animals, realizing that Jesus is the best, and truly only, sacrifice for sin. They stopped having a strong focus on the temple, realizing that God was not to be found there, but rather indwells all His people.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people realized that how they related to God had changed. We relate to God through a new covenant, not by our being good enough to “make the cut,” but in Jesus being good to us, taking the consequence of our sin on himself. Our relationship with God is based on his love and grace, his offer of reconciliation.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people changed how they related to one another. They related, not so much by law and custom, religious or national, but by a new way of love which touched all relationships. There was a new way of valuing one another, breaking down class divisions, another big change.

Jesus was raised from the dead and that changed everything. Jesus is alive, and that changes everything. It can change everything, for you and for me.

The resurrection of Jesus can change our future. Many are living in fear that COVID-19 will control our future, and rightfully so, it certainly has had, and will continue to have, an impact. However, some day it shall be a matter of history. It will be in the past. Jesus is the one who is, who was, and who is to come. The day will come when COVID-19 will be part of our history. Jesus is our future.

The day will come when COVID-19 will be part of our history. Jesus is our future.

Jesus was raised from the dead in the past. He lives with us now in our present. He will be there for us in our future. Resurrection to eternal life will be a life-changing, life-giving part of our future.

The resurrection of Jesus can change our lives now. We can walk with Jesus now, in faith, hope, and love. Walking with the risen Jesus changes everything. It changes our relationships, as we walk with others in the way of love. It changes our outlook on life and society. It changes us. The word “repentance” literally means “a change of mind.” We change our minds about ourselves, and about God. Among other things, in repentance we change from thinking that God does not matter, to realizing that God does matter, because we matter to God. Easter is the evidence that we matter to God, a lot!

Jesus is risen, and that changes everything. Are you ready for change?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here

March 10, 2020

Those Early Church Descriptions in Acts 2 and Acts 4

Acts 2.42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

You’re read them.

I’ve read them.

Those classic descriptions of the early church that we find first in a section at the end of Acts 2, and then repeated more concisely at the end of Acts 4.

The early Christians would have trouble relating to so much of what preoccupies us, particularly in North America: Multimedia, megachurches, massive programs for children and youth. They simply met from house to house.

It was what Catholics might term, “the parish system,” but not because you were expected to go to the church closest to you (or the church in your parish) but because you couldn’t realistically go anywhere else in a world without mass transit.

Your churches were in homes because you were a small upstart group of rebels who followed something called “The Way” and believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the long awaited Anointed One, the long awaited Messiah.

At our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, I recently wrote about how a thing so simple as the automobile sets us apart from the modus operandi of the church we visited in Cuba.

But here at C201, there’s something else in that description I discovered on the weekend in the shorter passage in Acts 4.

Acts.4.32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34a that there were no needy persons among them.

The verse numbering system is unfortunate here because it breaks up a phrase, in verses 33b and 34a, but on the other hand, that’s what drew me to the phrase,

And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.

Listen to how some of the other translations render this…

Phillips: a wonderful spirit of generosity pervaded the whole fellowship
The Living Bible: there was warm fellowship among all the believers
NASB: abundant grace was upon them all
The Passion Translation: great measures of grace rested upon them all
God’s Word Translation: God’s abundant good will was with all of them
NLT: God’s great blessing was upon them all.

Despite the variety shown here, the word grace is most often repeated among the English translations.

The overall picture is painted of a people who are recipients of grace, but are also issuers of grace. Grace flows through them.

Years ago I attended a fellowship in Toronto called “Reach Out.” The motto: “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.” Reach Out was based in I Cor. 14:26 which says, “When you gather together everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” (My paraphrase.) So people would jump up — sometimes suddenly — and say, “I have a Psalm;” and then read it; and other would jump up and say, “I have a teaching;” and would give a 60-second teaching; etc. They always said at the outset what it was they were going to say.

But their motto extended into being involved with their community as givers of grace. A place where you received grace and then extended it to the people in your own world; your personal sphere of influence.

At Thinking Out Loud last October, I also shared about the idea of being part of a chain of grace and offered three different models of what this phrase might describe.

Is the place where you worship a place people go to be the beneficiaries of grace and to be equipped to be distributors of grace? I hope so.

 


Postscript: Acts 4 also has another two of my favorite verses:

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

 

February 28, 2020

Signs of a Healthy Church

Last Sunday, I attended the annual meeting of the church where my wife is employed, and where I’ve also been attending for nearly two years. It was my first such business meeting in a church of this denomination. Though required by law, the AGM (Annual General Meeting) is also a good opportunity for churches to step back and see the ‘big picture’ of church life, consider what God is doing through their efforts, thank God for His provision and look forward to the future.

The danger of course is to reduce meetings like this to statistics; to pie-chart and bar-graph church life to extremes. Often we rejoice in the reports of individual departments, but then the meeting really kicks into high gear when attendees are told to turn to the financial reports. Generally AGMs are all about numbers.

I doubt the first century church did this kind of record-keeping, and the Apostle Paul — who had a great mind when it came to understanding justification and atonement — was somewhat fuzzy on if or when he had baptized people.

Years ago we published an excerpt from an annual report from a UK church which began by reminding people of the marks of a healthy church. (The source blog is no longer online.) Check it out:

1. People are coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
2. Our missions program is expanding locally, nationally and globally.
3. People are making public professions of faith through baptism.
4. Attendance in worship services is increasing.
5. The worship experience is vibrant, enthusiastic and intergenerational.
6. There is broad participation in serving throughout the ministries.
7. New ministries are beginning as God imparts vision.
8. Guests are being connected to church life.
9. Covenant membership is increasing.
10. Our budgetary needs are being met.
11. Leaders are being developed and placed in ministry roles.
12. Scripture is central to our message.
13. Staff relationships are healthy.

That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of; though I think the eleven hour round trip would take its toll after a few Sundays. Although it represented a larger church, I believe these goals are viable at some level for churches of all shapes and sizes.

What else does a healthy church look like? I want to leave us with a look at how The Message translates two familiar passages describing the early church. Take your time with this:

Acts 2:38-39Peter said, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites.”

40He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!”

41-42That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

43-45Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.

46-47They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.

Acts 4:31While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence.

32-33The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

34-35And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

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