Christianity 201

September 14, 2017

When Your Greatness Messes Others Up

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

The person next to me had figured out very quickly that I was not a good volleyball player. So whenever the ball came my way he would yell, “I’ve got it” and then he would get it. Everyone else on the team was playing volleyball. I, however, was playing dodge-ball. My role was to get out of the way and let the better player save the day. I do not know who won the game. But I do know that I did not grow as a volleyball player that day. I did not develop any volleyball skills that day. I didn’t even like playing volleyball that day. If I had any potential as a volleyball player, it was missed that day. This kind of thing happens in all areas of life. This kind of thing would not happen if people followed the Biblical principles laid down in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3 (NRSV)

When we think we are the best person to hit the ball back, we may think we should be the only person to hit the ball back. Our high opinions of ourselves easily translates into low opinions of others. We can do it, they probably can’t. We are capable, they probably are not. We are the solution, they are probably the problem. So we should do it, they shouldn’t. When we think of ourselves more highly that we ought, we can end up stifling others without even realizing it.

Paul goes on to speak about knowing our calling, finding our role and place, and so not squash out others as they are finding theirs:

4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Romans 12:4-8 (NRSV)

These verses are as much “back off, and let others shine in their calling” as they are “discover your own”. They are an encouragement to shine, but they are also and encouragement to give space for others to shine also.

Messing others up by our own perceived greatness can happen in any relationship. Let us consider marriage, about which there is an interesting, and often misunderstood passage in the Bible. On first reading, Proverbs 31:10-31 seems to be quite sexist with the man doing nothing while the woman does everything. But keeping in mind the patriarchal society into which this Scripture is given, look at how much the wife accomplishes. While the titles given to this passage by translators are usually things like “Ode to a Capable Wife” (NRSV), or “The Wife of Noble Character” (NIV), another title might be “The Good Husband”. The good husband does not think he is better at everything and so does it all. The good husband does not think he is a better decision-maker and micro-manage his wife. The good husband gives space for his wife to shine. The final verse of Proverbs captures it well: “let her works praise her in the city gates.” Proverbs 31:31 (NRSV emphasis mine).

Not thinking of yourself too highly is part of “thinking towards yourself with smart thinking” to translate Romans 12:3 very literally. We are to have a good, reasonable self-understanding. Although Paul does not say it, included in this would be not thinking of ourselves too lowly either. At the very least, each person can say they are created in the image of God and so are therefore deserving of being treated with dignity. We have important functions within our families, networks of friends, and in God’s Kingdom. Romans 12:4-8, quoted above, is an encouragement to stand up and grow up into what God calls us to do, even if others seem to be better than us at the time of our standing. While we ought not think of ourselves too highly, recognizing that we are not indispensable in everything, neither are we to think of ourselves as disposable either.

Everyone around us benefits when we have a good self-understanding and a proper self assessment of ourselves. But no one benefits more than we, ourselves. When we have too high an opinion of ourselves we don’t see our need of anyone, even God. And when we have too low an opinion of ourselves we cannot imagine allowing ourselves to be loved by anyone, especially God. Having a proper assessment of ourselves is not just a matter of thinking clearly, it is a matter of loving dearly.


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

February 27, 2016

Scripture Provides a Model of Being an Encourager

NLT Phil 1:4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now...

So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News.

Today we pay a return visit to the blog, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. Click the title to read at source, and if you have time, at least do a quick overview of another resource by him which is linked at the bottom of today’s reading.

Write a Letter of Affirmation & Encouragement

It is difficult to exaggerate the value of an encouraging letter, a letter which affirms the value of a person made in the image of God, and which affirms the work of God in others. In his excellent book, Practicing Affirmation, Sam Crabtree writes:

Even with the Bible’s emphasis on humble self-denial and its warnings against pride, the Bible praises people—to the glory of God, ultimately. The chief end of God is not to glorify man, as humanistic thought would have it; the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Meanwhile, the praising of people does not necessarily preclude the praising of God, if the people are commended ultimately for his glory. God is glorified in us when we affirm the work he has done and is doing in others.

As Christians, we are too often light on commendation, and heavy on criticism. We sometimes have the strange idea that if we praise a person for their work, character, and love then they will become proud. And we somehow think that it’s not God’s job to keep a person humble—it’s ours. So we tend to be light on praise and heavy on criticism, light on commendation and heavy on complaining.

But the apostle Paul did not think that way. Instead, his mind’s eye looked for that which was praiseworthy in people. Now, mind you, he was also not afraid to give rebuke when it was necessary. But his habit was to look for evidence of grace in the lives of others, and praise them for it.

For example, just in this little letter called Philippians, we find the apostle commending the recipients no less than seven times. Paul praised them for:

  • Their partnership in the gospel (1:5)
  • God’s saving and sanctifying work in them (1:6)
  • That they were partakers of grace in his imprisonment, in contrast to those who forsook him, or those who were enemies of Christ (1:7)
  • Their love and prayers (1:19)
  • Their progress and joy in the faith (1:25)
  • Their kindness in meeting his $ needs, and supporting the work of the gospel. Their gift, he said, was a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice to God (4:15-20)
  • The spiritual fruit that was increasing to their account because of their love and generosity (4:17)

This is a cheerful letter of encouragement.

How about you? Are you heavy on criticism and light on praise? Instead of looking for evidences of God’s grace in the lives of your fellow believers, do you more quickly look for their flaws? Do you write letters of encouragement that build others up, or are you more prone to write angry, caustic emails?

As Paul began his letter to the Philippians, he began with words of affirmation and encouragement, and he greeted them with grace and peace. The order is significant: grace precedes peace, true peace only comes to those who experience grace. We need to remember, too, that Paul’s continued prayer means the supply of God’s grace and peace has not run out. There is still plenty there for you, and for me. And there is plenty to pass on to others.

So, here’s your homework (Yes, this blog post contains homework!). This weekend, write at least one letter of encouragement to a brother or sister who has been a blessing to your life. Note the evidence of God’s grace that you see in their lives. Tell them you are thankful to God for them and how God has used them to enrich your life, model Jesus, and help you to grow spiritually. Extend to them the grace that God has so richly extended to you. And then pray…ask God to make you the kind of believer who is heavy on praise and light on criticism or complaining.

[These thoughts are from last Sunday’s sermon, A Letter of Encouragment.]


There was another article by Paul on the same website that I wanted to include, but the format was quite different. Still, if you’re willing to copy and paste the references into a Bible program online, this would make an excellent study. Check out 14 Trinitarian Works… Revisited. (We might use this in the future as a scripture medley!)

August 21, 2014

Your Part in the Chain of Grace

1David summoned all the officials of Israel to assemble at Jerusalem: the officers over the tribes, the commanders of the divisions in the service of the king, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of all the property and livestock belonging to the king and his sons, together with the palace officials, the warriors and all the brave fighting men.

2King David rose to his feet and said: “Listen to me, my fellow Israelites, my people. I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it. 3But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.’

4“Yet the Lord, the God of Israel, chose me from my whole family to be king over Israel forever. He chose Judah as leader, and from the tribe of Judah he chose my family, and from my father’s sons he was pleased to make me king over all Israel. 5Of all my sons—and the Lord has given me many—he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel. 6He said to me: ‘Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. 7I will establish his kingdom forever if he is unswerving in carrying out my commands and laws, as is being done at this time.’

I Chronicles 28; NIV; to read any verses in other translations, click the verse numbers

I wrote a few months ago about the idea of the “chain of grace” and compared it to the children’s plastic toy/game known as Barrel of Monkeys!  It’s a very popular theme when I am speaking with people but I was surprised to see how little it’s reflected in my blogs. We are part of a very huge, overarching story in which we are recipients of grace and agents of grace. We pass that on to others.

Moses led his people but only to the edge of the promised land. David served God, but did not see his dream, the building of the temple, through to completion. Acts 13:36 tells us,

We all know David died and was reduced to dust after he served God’s purpose in his generation  (The Voice Bible)

Our responsibility is to serve the purpose of God in our generation.

What got me thinking about this was the following excerpt from Love Well: Living Life Unrehearsed and Unstuck by Jamie George. How willing are we to build up the ministry of others instead of feeling we need to do it all? He tells the story of feeling directed to take a drive out in the country where God would speak with him.

My conversation with God went like this:

“I know You wanted to meet with me today.  Sounds like You have something in mind.  But before You get rolling, do you mind if I say something?”

Sure.

“Thank you.  One basic, overarching question.  Why did You send me to plant a church in Franklin, Tennessee?  It seems like there is a church on every corner.  I mean, people introduce themselves here and ask, ‘What church do you go to?’  This is crazy.  Why didn’t You send me to Brasil?  Seriously, why am I here?”

Are you finished?

Love Well - Jamie George“Uh.  Yeah.”

Wrong question.

“Huh?”

You need to get over yourself.

This is My story, not yours.

I will send you where I wish.

Jamie, all of your life you have told people you want to ‘change the world for God.’  And at times, your motives were pure.  But all too often, you wanted to change the world for Jamie.

I know your story.

No friends in middle school, a misfit in college, an underdog mentality from an underdog town.

Let’s be honest, much of your life has been about proving your worth.

“Oww. Okay. Yeah.

Can’t deny it.

I am sorry.

I repent.”

Rather than change the world, I want you to touch the life of someone else who will change the world.

This statement would alter my life forever.  I stared for a while at this point – at the trees, the sky, the leaves.  There was something solemn about the moment.

Touch the life of someone else who will change the world.

Do you understand what I am saying?

“Yes, I think so.  I’m supposed to empower other people and let them get the credit.  As much as I love ‘the stage,’ I am supposed to lean into subtlety and move away from the ‘big show’.  Rather than a bold and brash, clean and shiny church, we are supposed to become a quiet but confident family of faith.  Rather than wave the banner and give the cheer, we will invite the broken and steadily serve whomever we find in need.  And along the way, You will use someone other than me to influence the world.”

You have the idea.

“God, I have spent most of my life trying to become a great leader, and very little of it learning to become a great listener.  Starting today, I’ll begin seeing people not as chess pieces to move around in a grand strategy, but rather as stories that are unique and magnificent, individuals to be released to their God-designed life.”

February 9, 2014

Church Should Proclaim, But Also Interact

This article by Erik Raymond appeared at the blog Ordinary Pastor under the title The Church About Nothing.

What do we want to do when we want to learn about a church? Well, typically, we read their websites and maybe listen to a sermon or two. This is definitely helpful. However, I’d like to suggest another option: listen to members talk. Go ahead, engage in conversation with members, listen to discussions in the hallway, read some of the folks’ social media posts, etc. What do they say?

It is one thing to confess truth and quite another to believe it. When the truth of the gospel gets in us we have to talk about it. It overflows. Paul highlighted this in Colossians 3:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16)

When the word of Christ dwells in a believer richly it comes out. We breath in the word and we exhale it. It comes out in what we say. Borrowing the same idea from Jesus, out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Mt. 12.34).

Twenty years ago Seinfeld dominated televisions on Thursday nights. “Must See TV” was a show “about nothing.” The characters regularly reset their counterintuitive vision to captivate audiences with trivial and sarcastic banter. With the help of some extremely gifted writers, we laughed at Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine as they majored on the mundane.

We should never be “The Church about nothing.” The Seinfeld church is a judgment upon the church. The word of Christ is to dwell within us and then come out of us in our conversations with one another. Therefore, we can’t be about nothing.

It is vitally important for the church to confess, sing, and preach the truth. However, this truth has got to captivate the minds and hearts of the church family. When we listen to the conversations or take stock of our own words, we can see the gap.

May God grant that we not be “The Church About Nothing” but rather the church that is daily laboring to speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:15).

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb. 3:13)

(This is taken from a sermon preached at Emmaus Bible Church entitled The Heart of Faithfulness from Hebrews 3:7-19. Audio & manuscript here.)