Christianity 201

April 29, 2012

Doers…and Not Hearers Only

Or then again,  maybe we should have titled this,

Hearers…and not Doers Only.

I was surprised to discover today that we had yet to include Talbot Davis in our collection of Bible study and devotional writers.  His blog, The Heart of the Matter is now entering its fifth year.  Talbot is pastor of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, a modern congregation in Charlotte, North Carolina. You’re encouraged to read posts here on C201 at source, where this one appears as What “Doers Of The Word” Teaches Us About The Bible

James 1:22 is one of the more familiar verses in Scripture.  I love how the King James version translates it:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

We get the “doers of the word” part — most of us Methodist are more than eager to put our faith into some kind of meaningful action.

But note the contrast — “and not hearers only.” 

If we gave it some real thought, most of us would contrast “doing” the word with “reading the word,” wouldn’t we?

In our mind, the sin James rebukes here concerns people who read, study, and underline their bibles but don’t then live their bibles.

Except James couldn’t write his letter and give this exhortation with that sin in mind.  Why?

Because the people in James’ church didn’t have their own personal copies of the bible.  In fact, the majority of them couldn’t read.

They encountered the sacred text in church, in community, and out loud.  So most people in James’ church heard the word without ever reading the word.  James writes with that dynamic in mind.

Which brings up the larger point:  the bible is a collection of books — a library as we call it at Good Shepherd — written for people who are by and large illiterate.

Books for people who can’t read?  You bet.  That’s why the books in the bible are written more for the ear than for the eye.

So try it.  Read it out loud today.

And the book of James wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

~Talbot Davis

In many parts of the world, oral transmission — orality — is the dominant medium by which the scriptures are heard.  If you wish to know about a ministry organization producing oral texts for both major and obscure language groups, check out this article about Megavoice.

June 18, 2011

From the Mind of Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias is one of the leading voices in the field of Christian apologetics, and an author of many significant books on the subject.  RZIM, his organization is based in Atlanta, Georgia; and he has a daily radio program heard throughout Canada and the United States.  These are in somewhat random order; so take a minute to pause between them; feel free to comment if one especially strikes you.


“We experience emptiness not when we are wearied by our trials, but when we are wearied by our happiness.”


“A man rejects God neither because of intellectual demands nor because of the scarcity of evidence. A man rejects God because of a moral resistance that refuses to admit his need for God.”


“One of the most staggering truths of the Scriptures is to understand that we do not earn our way to heaven. …works have a place–but as a demonstration of having received God’s forgiveness, not as a badge of merit of having earned it.”


“I do not believe that one can earnestly seek and find the priceless treasure of God’s call without a devout prayer life. That is where God speaks. The purpose of prayer and of God’s call in your life is not to make you number one in the world’s eyes, but to make him number one in your life. We must be willing to be outshone while shining for God. We hear very little about being smaller in our own self-estimate.”


“Philosophically, you can believe anything, so long as you do not claim it to be true.
Morally you can practice anything, so long as you do not claim that it is a ‘better’ way.
Religiously, you can hold to anything, so long as you do not bring Jesus Christ in to it.”


“There is no greater discovery than seeing God as the author of your destiny.”


“These days its not just that the line between right and wrong has been made unclear, today Christians are being asked by our culture today to erase the lines and move the fences, and if that were not bad enough, we are being asked to join in the celebration cry by those who have thrown off the restraints religion had imposed upon them. It is not just that they ask we accept, but they now demand of us to celebrate it too.”


“I think the reason we sometimes have the false sense that God is so far away is because that is where we have put him. We have kept him at a distance, and then when we are in need and call on him in prayer, we wonder where he is. He is exactly where we left him.”


“You cannot really have the world and hold on to it. It is all too temporary and the more you try to hold on to it, the more it actually holds you. By contrast, the more you hold on to the true and the good, the more you are free to really live.”


“Where the eye is focused, there the imagination finds its raw material. The right focus must be won at immense cost and discipline. Train the eye to see the good, and the imagination will follow suit.”


“It is theoretically and practically impossible to build any community apart from love and justice. If only one of these two is focused upon, an inevitable extremism and perversion follow.”


“It is a mindless philosophy that assumes that one’s private beliefs have nothing to do with public office. Does it make sense to entrust those who are immoral in private with the power to determine the nation’s moral issues and, indeed, its destiny? …. The duplicitous soul of a leader can only make a nation more sophisticated in evil.”


“Anyone who claims that all religions are the same betrays not only an ignorance of all religions but also a caricatured view of even the best-known ones. Every religion at its core is exclusive.”


“God is the shaper of your heart. God does not display his work in abstract terms. He prefers the concrete, and this means that at the end of your life one of three things will happen to your heart: it will grow hard, it will be broken, or it will be tender. Nobody escapes.”


“The tragedy is that just when we need to remember the most because we have climbed some pinnacle of blessing and success- that’s when the tendency is to turn our back upon God.


Sources:

Good QuotesQuotation Collection, Christian QuotesLiberty Tree, Christian Apologetics Forum, Just My Thoughts, Simply Quotastic

This is an awesome exercise to do.  If there are any authors or speakers you’d like me to research, let me know, but I encourage you to do this sort of thing yourselves as well.

June 2, 2011

Going Deep, Staying Real

Today, a reprint from June of last year…

The present Christian online culture craves spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

“Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.”

October 14, 2010

Fear and Trembling

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:23 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Philippians 2:12 advises us to “work out” our salvation “with fear and trembling.”     As other translations make clearer, this references what was translated elsewhere as “fear of God.”

Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.  (NLT)

…Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. (MSG)

But sometimes, you find yourself fearing and trembling your fellow believer, especially when the “working out” means that you walk away from certain scripture verses with a different take on them than that of a brother or sister.   I know fear of your fellow man wasn’t what the verse intended; but sometimes life seems to be play out like that.

I’ve spent over an hour today moderating and reading and responding to blog comments stemming from older blog posts at the other blog; plus a more recent one.   With a few of them, we’ve clearly agreed to disagree.   But hopefully we haven’t been disagreeable.

It’s hard not to be passionate about our pet doctrines.   I can easily fall into that trap.   But it becomes even more difficult when people have grown up without exposure to anyone who feels different about a particular element of theology than their own.

And then there are the people who shut everything down with, “Well, that’s not in the Bible;” expecting that the scripture would provide crystal-clear guidance on things that weren’t invented or didn’t exist back then.

Guess what?  You’re right.   It’s not in the Bible.  But other things are, and we can interpolate where the dots connect by reading what the Bible does say about very similar things.

Especially one thing:  The mind and heart of God.

We’re so quick to say that “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship;” but many people fail to express their faith in relational terms.   To which I would say maybe you are missing out on something.   To know what God feels about things in our modern context, you need to first know God as a friend.   I have friends who I haven’t seen physically in a long, long time; others who I haven’t so much as e-mailed; but I know how they would respond and react in certain situations because I know them.

At this point however, it can still be a standoff, because the other person may feel they have as deep a knowledge of God and His will as you do.   We know that while we may all stand in personal relationship to God; or if you prefer, to Jesus; the dynamic of that relationship may be quite different for different people.

So work out your doctrine with fear and trembling.

Work out your personal ethics with fear and trembling.

Work out your systematic theology with fear and trembling.

But remember, that all around you are other Christ followers — seeing as through frosted (or fogged up) glass — who are doing the exact same thing.    With the cross of Christ in view, we will eventually find ourselves drawing closer to each other.   But it may take time.

September 15, 2010

What’s in a Name?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:51 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

James 2:5-7 (New International Version)

5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?


Verse seven of this passage says it is the rich who drag you into court and slander… well, who do they slander?  Is it the name of (a) God, (b) Jesus, (c) your family name, i.e. surname (d) your name?

I got curious after reading the new CEB, Common English Bible:

Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?

I guess I read this in the context of certain cultures where the baptism of an infant is also a “naming ceremony.”   With John the Baptist, this took place when he was circumcised at eight days old. (Luke 1:57ff)

The NASB has James 2:7 as:

Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

The Message has:

Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—”Christian”—used in your baptisms?

The NLT reads:

Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

The ESV renders this:

Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

The NKJV has:

Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

The NCV puts it:

And they are the ones who speak against Jesus, who owns you.

The TNIV says:

Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

The Louis Segond reads:

Ne sont-ce pas eux qui outragent le beau nom que vous portez? [name you are called]

The Amplified Bible blends the two aspects of this:

Is it not they who slander and blaspheme that precious name by which you are distinguished and called [the name of Christ invoked in baptism]?

So what’s in a name?

The context of the passage is the rich exploiting the poor.  That this is an insult to the character of the poor man so exploited.

Our name embodies who we are; our character is embedded in that name.   And in addition to blending the two dymanics of this, The Amplified Bible (which I don’t use a whole lot) introduces the phrase, “name by which you are distinguished.”   Your name marks you as different from everybody else.  (Unless, I suppose, your name is John Smith…)

But we also bear another name, the name of Christ.

Any insult to us; any exploitation of you or me is an insult to Christ.    I think the answer to the question I asked here is truly (e) all of the above.

But James isn’t just saying that we poor people are exploited.   The earlier context (verses 1-4) say that in the larger equation we are the ‘rich’ person in the story when we show favoritism, or when we marginalize those poorer than ourselves.

It’s easy to miss verse 6, sandwiched between verses 5 and 7.  We’re actually the rich person in the story; it is us who are slandering the character of the poor; and thereby slandering the name of Christ by which they are called.

August 12, 2010

The Manager Looking Out For Number One

I used a short piece from Canadian pastor Kevin Rogers from the blog Orphan Age here on April 27th, but I thought it might be good if you were to read a more typical post from his blog; this one looking at the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16


Jesus told the story of a manager who goofed up his job.  Whether the man was crooked and skimming profits for himself or had poor job performance, we do not know.  What was clear was the boss being unhappy about this particular employee.  The manager was getting fired because the boss was unhappy.

Luke 16: 1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

6” ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’

7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
” ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.  For, the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

Not strong enough to dig ditches and not wanting to end up as a beggar on the street…

How many people feel that same way?  You may be in a job that is redundant and where you have outlived your usefulness.  What are you going to do?  Perhaps someone is gunning for your position and you are faced with an unplanned career change.  It would be easy to get stuck at blaming the economy, an unethical employer or believing that you can do no wrong.

While the manager had some problems that lead to his dismissal, his final days of work showed a praiseworthy strategy that caught Jesus’ attention.

Though assessed as a poor manager of the master’s business, he decided to leave on a high note.  He gave a 50% discount on the olive oil and 20% discount on the wheat bill.  He realized that his business contacts were potential employers that would appreciate his kindness.

Where did the discount come from?  Was the manager giving up his commission or was he intentionally cutting into the employer’s profit margin?  If he was giving up his commission, he used his last pay cheque to buy a positive influence on the customers.  Not only would they remember the good deal he gave, they would think it came from the employer.  This would benefit all parties involved.

If the manager was cutting into the employer’s profits, he was doing something bad to protect his own interests.  Would Jesus praise him for this?

Blogger Anne Robertson suggests a way of looking at the ethics of this story.

Let’s say that a man is convicted of murdering his wife and is sentenced to prison.  Further, let’s say that on his way to begin serving his sentence he goes past a burning house with a child left inside.  Figuring that misery awaits him anyway and figuring that saving a baby can’t hurt his reputation, he dashes into the building and saves the child.  A pastor is watching and goes home to write a sermon.  “Why is it,” he says the next Sunday “that this murderer can figure out that saving a child is a good thing and the 16 churchgoers who were there watching the fire burn, did nothing?  This convict is smarter than all of them.  Use the opportunities life presents to you to enhance God’s reputation.  The one who risks his own life to save another is living out the Gospel.”

If we look at the shrewd manager of Jesus’ story in this way, we see a man who was clearly guilty of wrongdoing, but was able to change his focus to help others in a meaningful way.  Jesus was not disregarding the wrongs, but recognizing the futuristic thinking of a man with nowhere else to turn.  Just because you have been very bad, you are not prohibited from doing something very good.


A day later on the blog, Kevin posted more on this same passage, saying that the story and its definition of  “shrewdness” was largely intended for the Pharisees in the audience.   Continue reading that article here.

July 30, 2010

It’s How You Live

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:57 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

I keep coming back to a phrase that I once heard more frequently than I do today:

Religion = Doctrine + Ethics

You can believe all sorts of things to be positionally true, positionally right or even positionally beautiful; but until the positional becomes practical in your comings and goings, it really doesn’t mean a thing.

No wonder James said that faith without works is meaningless.   That verse got sidetracked into a discussion about salvation, but it’s a verse about faith having meaning for your everyday life.

We aren’t saved by what we do, but we possible are not saved if that salvation has not resulted in action.

This wasn’t a problem for the early church, who understood salvation in terms of a “turning.”

For some it’s an “about face,” but for others, it just means increasing focus and devotion to Christ that results in a change in the way we live.

June 23, 2010

Redefining “Deep”

The present Christian online culture craves spiritual depth.   A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard.   A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment.   An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.”  An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths.   A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth?   What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?”   Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so.   Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals.   That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate.   People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.”   In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth.   I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace.    I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible.   Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered.  Or phone calls you never returned.   Or a bill you’ve never yet paid.   I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission.     “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.”   They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors.   They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned.   “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.”  (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are.   Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online.   But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such.  They are aware of the shortcomings.   Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé.  But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

“Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today.  Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission.   Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best.  Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving.   Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press.   When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.”

« Previous Page