Christianity 201

January 17, 2020

The Best Proof for Christianity

Today is a revisit to the website Truth or Tradition, sponsored by Spirit and Truth Fellowship International.This is about half of a much larger article. If you read this, and fear rejection, click the header below to include the two sections on ‘having a thick skin’ and ‘having a thicker skin!’

Heart Matters

Proof of Jesus in our Actions 

Apologetics is the religious discipline of defending or proving the truth about one’s religion. Although some would argue that Christianity is not really a religion, there is information that every Christian needs to know to be able to defend and prove that Jesus Christ and his saving works are true. With all the different belief systems and ideas moving through our society, we need to be able to show others genuine and honest evidence that Jesus is who they need, that God is the creator of this universe, and that he is very real and alive and active in his endeavors to help them.

Your love Matters

I recently heard someone say that the best proof (apologetics) we have of Christianity being true and real is Christians themselves.  He said the way Christians act and relate to others is the best evidence to the world that Jesus is the answer, that Jesus is truth and life. Of course, this would mean that Christians are being good imitators of the love and kindness as shown by Jesus. One of the commands of our lord Jesus, and also one of the prayers by the apostle Paul for us, is that we have love for one another and love for all.

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:12-13

and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,

 1Thes 3:12 

We are truly living in some very good times to be able to display this love for one another and to those around us that have not named Jesus as lord, yet. No matter where we turn there is so much strife and conflict and uncertainty and division and…and …and. Your love for a hurt and confused and possibly hateful person will certainly stand out in blatant contrast to the minimizing and indifference that they might be all too aware of in their interaction with others. During these difficult days we need to not withdraw our attempts to love and reach out to others and help with their difficulties, but we need to be bold and confident because we truly have answers and help for a dying world…

Plant and Water

There is no way of knowing for sure what effect we are having on many of the people we interact with over the course of our lives. So many times I have wanted to be efficient with my time in finding people who are interested in repenting and getting saved, and I have hastily necessitated a decision or a commitment from them without allowing ample time for them to consider deeply what the decision will mean for them, without allowing them to being able to see my life and the fruit produced by following Jesus.

But in my attempts to be efficient, I have often damaged my ability to be effective. It is almost always impossible to be efficient with people because there are so many emotional loose ends that end up taking longer than we have scheduled. Often people need to not feel pressured into making a decision, to have room to consider what they are getting into. Better to be effective than efficient.

Many times we hear about spectacular conversions of people coming to Christ. And of course this does happen at revivals or other life altering events. We need to be ready to supply people with the truth at these times. However, there are by far more people who come to know Jesus over a course of time, and sometimes through many exchanges from many different people.  Jesus said that he would personally build his church, and something for us to remember is that Jesus brings people and situations together into the lives of the people we meet to help in his building.

On a construction site, usually there are many different contractors who bring different skills at the right time during the building project. The foundation people show up first, then the framers, followed by the mechanical people including plumbers and electricians. It is a process that requires time and planning. Our lord Jesus is very good at putting us into others’ lives at the right time so that we can be a part of the building process that results in God giving growth. Even the Apostle Paul knew that there are others involved in the growth process.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

1Cor 3:6-7

My wife and I were at a restaurant eating with a neighbor of ours that we have befriended. We of course have the hope of sharing the good news with her, and do so in little tiny bits. She has, through the course of our friendship, been very outspoken of her non-biblical views. She has listened briefly to some of the points we have made about God, but mostly changes the topic quickly. She also has a few tattoos that she has collected over the course of her life.

As we were at this restaurant, she mentioned the hostess who had these beautiful tattoos all over her arms.  She told us tattoos like those are called sleeves. As the hostess came by our table, our friend mentioned to the hostess how nice her tattoos were. This hostess asked if she could share the story of her tattoos with us. She sat down and started talking about her life and how she was into drugs and other very dark situations, and as she pointed to her arms, from one tattoo to another as they all tied together, she explained her journey out of darkness and into the grace and salvation of Jesus. Part of her tattoos where a stairway leading out of pain into light. Our friend was quiet and did not have much to say after the hostess left, until she changed the subject again.

This was such a great example to me of how our Lord is in the process of building his church and bringing different people together to plant and water.  We may not always be the one who gets the joy of seeing the actual conversion in another’s life, but we should be filled with joy that we get to be a part of the process of planting and watering, realizing that  we are not the whole process. In fact we need to pray that others will be sent to the people we love, so that there will be a concentrated effort leading them in the right way…

…continue reading here

75 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday, but not necessarily daily. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

January 11, 2020

Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions

John 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

A few years ago I had an interesting conversation after church.

The pastor had quoted the verse we commonly refer to as “The Great Commission;” the verse which reads,

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The person who spoke to me has a huge compassion for Israel and is willing to share this passion with any who want to know more about the various facets of how modern Israel fits into Old Testament history, New Testament studies, evangelism and missions, eschatology, etc. We’ve had some great interactions, and I’ve learned much about The Holy Land from our conversations and various items she’s given me to read.

She suggested to me that perhaps the passage in Acts 1:8 might actually be taken most literally. That we should be evangelists in Jerusalem.

Perhaps that has some appeal. As I write this, the forecast for tomorrow (Sunday) in Jerusalem is cloudy with sunny breaks and a high of 10°C (about 50°F for our U.S. readers.) Certainly milder than what’s predicted where I live.

I told her that neither those we call the “church fathers” nor modern commentators have interpreted this passage that way. I mean, it’s an interesting take on the passage, and certainly in first century context it is correct; but we tend to read their commission into our commission and when we do so, we tend to think of Jerusalem as the place where we’re standing or sitting right now. The place we call home. My Jerusalem is the close family, co-workers, immediate neighbors, etc. who in a sense, only I can reach.

Perhaps you grew up in a church where it was diagrammed something like this: City, then state (province), country, entire world.

Jerusalem Judea Samaria traditional interpretation

But people do read scripture differently, and many passages that seem straight-forward are subject to different understandings. So in Acts and Paul’s epistles, my friend at church sees Paul’s consuming drive to bring the Gospel to the Jews; whereas I read Acts and am struck by how Paul was compelled to go to Rome against all odds. (To be fair, both elements are present; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”)

Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends. (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.” Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however. He chose Toronto, a city about an hour from where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world. Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission. In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to. Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea. Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to. Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do. Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you buy milk who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically. Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

And perhaps, just to make things interesting, with its heat, humidity and propensity toward violence, perhaps your Samaria actually is modern-day Jerusalem.

So perhaps you’re thinking, okay, I am going to be a missionary to Jerusalem (so to speak) and I’ll let you be a missionary to Judea. I don’t think it’s that simple. True, in a church setting people may find themselves specializing in different mission fields, but I believe each of us, over the course of our lives, is to be open to be finding ourselves in ‘Samaria situations.’

All David was doing was delivering a ‘care package’ of food to his older brothers, but he found himself on the front line of the battle against the Philistines, and in particular, their MVP, Goliath.

I believe a Christian life, lived to the full, will involve all four types of battle: On the home front, further afield, to the place we don’t necessarily want to go, and to those in places involving 30-hour flights or multiple airport connections.

At the very least, let’s be open to all of these.


  • Some of today’s article appeared previously in October, 2014 incorporated in a look at how this view of Samaria would have influenced the original hearers of The Parable of the Good Samaritan story. The full article was originally published in January 2011 at Thinking Out Loud.

January 6, 2020

The Word of Knowledge in Action

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The situation described in the story below is probably beyond the experience of many readers here. But because Christianity 201 describes itself as a “melting pot” or a “potpourri” of the various expressions of Christian faith, I wanted you to have exposure to this one. For those who are new, cessationism is a belief in Protestant theology that the supernatural gifts (such as described in I Cor. with speaking in tongues receiving most frequent mention) ceased when the original apostles died off. It’s opposite is continuationism which believes that those gifts are still operative today. Today’s article would be written from the latter perspective.

Tim Halverson blogs at The Lion’s Head Café. Click the header below to read this there.

No Risk, No Reward

“For to one is given . . . the word of knowledge by the same Spirit” (I Cor. 12:8).

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are found in the Bible in I Corinthians 12: 4-11. They are the super-natural work of the Holy Spirit through the Body of Christ. These nine gifts could be classified in three groupings of three gifts each: 1) The Word Gifts: prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues. 2) The Revelation Gifts: the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom, the discernment of spirits. 3) The Power Gifts: faith, healings, the working of miracles. Remember this factor: faith is spelled r-i-s-k.

It is my observation that to flow or operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit will involve risk-taking. I’ve been sputtering and misfiring (to use an auto mechanic’s terms, which I are one) with these for decades now but am seeing a big increase in my function in them lately. This seems to be chiefly due to watching on-line since February Catch the Fire – Toronto, where the revival went through my screen and into me somehow. I want to relate a short story to tell you what I’m learning, and that is about risk.

Last night I attended a Bible study with about ten people. Before it even began I had a feeling that God was up to something more than just the study of Acts 14, which is sufficient for me in itself. At the end we prayed about some things. I was sitting in the back and couldn’t really see many faces. As we prayed I really tuned in to God and he showed me in a word of knowledge something only he could know. This impression took several minutes, a basic thought that grew as I considered it. It was this:

“There is someone here who is still suffering because of persecution that happened to them when they were testifying of Christ (I know this is vague but it’s none of my business to know the details of what happened in this case). The devil took advantage of you in this vulnerable moment to say, If you ever speak of Jesus again something worse is going to happen. Plus, we all know you don’t have the courage to do it anyway. The person feels whipped, condemned, and stuck.”

It was a risk to say it but somehow I did. And after I said that with trembling, there came some more to the message:

“But Jesus is healing you right now of that awful experience, the Holy Spirit is upon you here and now, and from this moment on I am making you Lion-hearted. Take courage!”

There was a sort of hubbub for a moment that happened but I couldn’t see anything, and then the prayers went on. A minute later I was wondering if I had missed the Lord in this, so I determined to get to the bottom of the matter, and said, Excuse me, but could we re-visit that word I just had? Is that person even here? A short pause happened, and then a lady in front of me turned around and said, “You were describing me exactly, and God is working on me right now.” She was all red in the face, tears still streaming down, Kleenex in hand and radiant with joy as could be! I was ecstatic to put it mildly, though I covered it up pretty well by trying to blend into the curtains behind me, not wanting to be a spectacle. Too late. What a privilege to work with God. And yet I could have said no to the whole thing. But I took the risk instead which freed a woman of something she felt too embarrassed to talk about. Praise God.

November 3, 2019

Rebirth for the Reborn

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We’re back again with Melody who writes devotional material at In Pleasant Places.  To read today’s article at her blog, click the title below.

Making the Dead Alive – Galatians

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.
But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise…
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.”

Galatians 4:22-23,28

If those of us who are in Christ are children of promise, born again into eternal life out of the promise of God and through His decided, gracious, miraculous work, is there anything He will not do for us, for our good, for our building up and strengthening, for our being made in Christ’s likeness? If we are children of promise, born of His will and purpose and delight, is there any faithfulness or provision He would withhold or miss?

This is significant. Because it highlights that God is not passive in making us His own. He is not passive in making us alive in Him. We have been born again. Born into a new existence, a new creation, life breathed into our spiritual nature that was dead. Not sick or struggling or confused. Dead.

We don’t just see things differently. We don’t just try to live a different way because it’s healthier or nicer to others or makes sense. This isn’t some realization we finally came to or were convinced of.

This is an act of God.

Only an act of God can do this.

How often do I miss that truth?

If we see beauty in the glory of God and desire it over ourselves, it is because God acted to cause that in us. If we see wisdom and power and grace and mercy and wonder and true reality in the cross of Jesus Christ and His amazing resurrection from the dead, if we see our own sin and depravity and know He is our only hope and how astounding it is that God would send His Son to save us, if we see this and surrender in humble praise because Jesus willingly gave Himself up for our sake, choosing to save us and not Himself because there was no other way for us – if we see this, it is because God Himself spoke powerful light into our hearts and made our dead soul alive to see Him.

This is why things that seem so clear to those who have been made alive are so baffling and ridiculous to those who are still dead (1 Corinthians 1:18). The dead cannot see it. It is true that God can work through conversations and reasoned arguments, and we are commanded to be ready at all times to give reason for the hope that we have with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). But let us never forget that the Lord must act for anyone to see Him as He is, to see salvation and the cross and even their own captivity in darkness.

This is why prayer is essential, always. That God will provide opportunities to share our hope, that He will act in power and great mercy to open their eyes, that they will not harden their hearts and neglect such a great salvation at a devastating cost.

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” 1 Timothy 2:1-6

“And you were once dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:1-10

“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’…So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:13-17

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart…And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

We are ambassadors of Christ, given the ministry to implore those around us to be reconciled to God and to know the hope that we have in this mighty God who is faithful and true and who saves us and seals us forever (2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 1:13-14). Living this out in weakness as jars of clay to show the surpassing power and glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:7), let us always point to our Savior and Lord, rejoicing humbly at what He has done in us and believing firmly in what He is able to do in others.

Our God is mighty to save. He makes the dead come alive, exchanging a heart of stone and giving one of flesh and life in its place – He has already done this in us, and His power reaches to those who do not know Him yet. Our God does this, and may all blessing and honor and glory and power and praise be His for His mighty works done to ransom us and show us the wonder of His glory.

October 3, 2019

Conviction or Humility? Which Do We Need When We Share the Good News?

(This post is part of a series on Daniel which begins here.)

by Clarke Dixon

We Christians we have incredibly good, and incredibly important, news to share. When we share the good news of God’s love, should we be full of conviction, or humility? Which do we need in order to help people discover the good news in our day?

We can learn from Daniel who had a very important message to share with the Babylonian king. While God’s people were in exile, King Nebuchadnezzar had a bad dream and expected his wise men not only to interpret the dream, but to tell him what the dream was as well! If not, all the wise men, including Daniel, would be put to death. His usual wise men could come up with nothing. What did Daniel do?

14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, came to kill them, Daniel handled the situation with wisdom and discretion. 15 He asked Arioch, “Why has the king issued such a harsh decree?” So Arioch told him all that had happened. 16 Daniel went at once to see the king and requested more time to tell the king what the dream meant. Daniel 2:14-16 (NLT)

Daniel’s response demonstrated great conviction. Daniel was convinced that God would rescue. Daniel had so much conviction, in fact, that he arranged a future interview with the king before hearing from God! Do we, who are Christians, have the conviction that God rescues? Is our faith held as a matter of deep personal conviction, or are we simply Christians because our parents or grandparents were? Are we convinced that Jesus is who he said he is, or are we Christians because we think Christianity might be good for us? Have we looked at the evidence for Christianity, or are we Christians ‘just in case’ it might be true? We have good reasons to have conviction about Jesus and the Bible. If you have not considered the evidence, you can begin with my “Shrunk Sermon” series called “Compelling” which begins here. We can have deep conviction that God is, and that God will rescue. It is an old cliché, but can we dare to be a Daniel and share the message with conviction?

So it is conviction we need and not humility? Let us look again to Daniel as he delivers the message to the king:

. . . it is not because I am wiser than anyone else that I know the secret of your dream, but because God wants you to understand what was in your heart. Daniel 2:30 (NLT)

Imagine the temptation for Daniel, in learning the contents of the the king’s dream from God, to stand before the king with great pride. Imagine the temptation to gloat, to point out that he is the only one that could pull this miracle off. However, Daniel has great humility: “it is not because I am wiser than anyone else.”

In a previous sermon, we looked at missing ingredients that make Christianity taste awful in our society. Humility is sometimes one of those ingredients. We, who are Christians, can come across as “know-it-alls.” Perhaps it is because of what we think the Bible is. I have heard it said that the Bible answers any and every question you could possibly ever have about anything. Having read through the Bible myself many times, I have not found that to be the case. In fact, sometimes it raises more questions that it answers! The Bible itself does not claim to have all the answers:

 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV)

The Bible tells us what we need to know to have a relationship with God, and what life looks like when we lean into that relationship. But it does not tell us everything about everything. And that is okay. We don’t need to know everything about everything. That is also okay.

Let me give one example where we Christians can sound like we have all the answers and know everything. When I first began pastoring in the 1990’s I came across something aimed at gay people called “conversion therapy.” One organization in particular, called Exodus, was well known for this. At the time it sounded like a good thing to me. It seemed to fit nicely with Christian theology. Conversion therapy has been something that many  Christians have promoted with great certainty.

Fast forward to today, and there is a movement to ban conversion therapy. To many this might feel like persecution against Christians. But is it? The basic premise of conversion therapy is that you are gay because you have a terrible relationship with your father. Fix that, and you can be fixed. However, the evidence is in; many straight people have terrible relationships with their fathers and many gay people have great relationships with their fathers. Are we able to say with Daniel “we are not wiser than anyone else” and be willing to follow the evidence?

We may not want to follow the evidence because conversion therapy seems to fit so nicely with traditional Christian theology. But does it? The evidence is in, and conversion therapy has not worked. Now imagine it’s you, and you have been shipped off to a center with great expectation and prayerfulness. You come home, unchanged. You already feel like you have disappointed your Christian community by being gay in the first place. Now you are adding further disappointment by not being straightened out. You may give up on prayer, God, yourself. Many have.

Jesus told the story of a man beaten and left for dead. The religious elites passed by on the other side, but the Good Samaritan stopped to help. If conversion therapy is more harmful than helpful, then perhaps we should be the good Samaritans and be the first to call for a ban, not the last. The Exodus organization did indeed shut down and apologized for harm done in 2013. In shutting down and apologizing, the leaders of Exodus humbly followed the evidence rather than claiming to be wiser than everyone else.

Let us not act like we know all the answers, but let us with humility follow the evidence where it leads, on conversion therapy, and much else. Let us echo the humble posture of Daniel, let us communicate “I am not better than you, I don’t have more wisdom than any other human being.” Let us be willing to learn. Can we dare to be a Daniel and have a posture of humility?

Daniel had a good mix of conviction and humility. So did the apostle Paul:

12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

Daniel knew that he was not smarter than everyone, but connected to Someone. This gave Daniel great conviction expressed in a posture of great humility. So which do we need in order to communicate the good news of Jesus in our day? If we are strong on conviction, we may want to reach for greater humility. If we are strong on humility, we may want to reach for greater conviction. We can, and should, declare the good news of Jesus with great conviction. We should do so with deep humility.

September 14, 2019

One Person at a Time

When I post something here or at Thinking Out Loud, it’s like I’m broadcasting to everyone in general but no one in particular. It’s the same on Facebook, though I am aware of the list of people who can interact with what I’m posting, but anything spiritual I post there is like preaching to the choir, because most of my friends are Christians.

Then I discovered the Christianity page at Reddit. It was a whole new world. I resisted creating an account since I’m already busy enough online, but after a year of wanting to add my opinion to various discussions, I jumped in. Now instead of scattering messages to the wind — some days it feels like that — I’m answering or responding to one person who is essentially asking for information or opinions. And I’m finding it more personally satisfying on the days I feel I have a unique response to offer…

…Today we’re back with Jack Wellman at the site Rhetorical Jesus. He reminds us that being the hands and feet of Jesus may not involve creating a website or launching a media ministry, but it might involve connecting with one person.

Click the header below to read this at source. Each day Jack offers a Facebook-ready, Pinterest-ready graphic that you can use to link to the devotional.

How can you change someone else’s life for the better today?

Matthew 25:35-36

For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.

Changing the World One Person at a Time

Many believe they can’t change the world because there is so much wrong with it. We see so much to do that we won’t do anything, but we can at least change one person’s life today. Perhaps like a ripple in a pond, the effects can keep extending outward when this person who is changed for the better helps to change someone else’s life–it goes on and on. It’s like paying it forward. It is a change that keeps on giving change to others. Jesus said that we can make a difference. When you see someone hungry, provide them with something to eat; when you see someone is thirsty, give them a drink; and when you see someone who is a stranger, make them feel welcome (Matt. 25:35). When someone’s underdressed, give them some of your own clothing; when someone’s sick in the hospital, go and visit them; and when someone’s in prison, go see them, or at least write them a letter (Matt. 25:36). You can’t change everything, but don’t settle for nothing.

Starting a One-Person Ministry

Have you ever thought of helping one person at a time? We have a nursing home ministry, which has touched so many but one precious lady in particular. This woman has family that lives far away. She doesn’t have any friends in the city, and she receives no visitors, so our visits mean a lot to her. I believe it helped me more than it has helped her. Our church elder sees those who are in nursing homes the same as those who are in prison. They’re not there for a crime, but they are imprisoned by their own physical limitations.  They cannot come and go as they like, so they are, in effect, prisoners of their age or disability. I think Jesus would see what our church is doing for the beautiful souls in the nursing home as doing it for Him (Matt. 25:40). What do you think?

Being Part of the Body of Christ

All believers have a ministry. Even though we might not be a pastor, we are all ministers of God, sent by Him to be part of the Body of Christ. In this way, even one person can make a huge difference in the world. The church is called the Body of Christ for a very good reason: We can be His hands that touch lives (Matt. 19:13-14; John 13:13-17), we can be His ears that hear the cries for help (Matt. 20:29-34), we can be His eyes to look for the crushed in spirit (Matt. 9:35-38), we can be His voice to tell people they must repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15), and we can be His feet, bringing the good news to our own area of the world (Luke 10:1-6; Rom. 10:13-15). If we truly have the mind of Christ, we will esteem others better than ourselves and we will treat them as such (Phil. 2:2-8). Why not change someone’s life for the better today? Start one person at a time.

A Closing Prayer

God, my Father, I know You want me to be Jesus’ hands, ears, eyes, voice, and feet and that I need to have the mind of Christ. Please point me to where You would have me go to change lives starting today with one person, and in Christ’s holy name I pray. Amen

 

September 3, 2019

Gossiping the Gospel

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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On the weekend our pastor used the phrase “Gossip the Gospel.” He attributed it to a UK evangelist, but I suspect this expression has been more widely used than I realized, though I couldn’t remember having personally heard it before.

Generally speaking, the word gossip has a negative connotation. 2 Cor. 12:20 reads,

For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.

But we are using it in a positive sense here. The article I liked best was this 2005 item from the World Mission Prayer League. Click the header below to read at source.


To “Gossip” the Gospel

“The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins…that he was buried…that he was raised from death…” (1 Corinthians 15:3,4, Peterson)

I have recently come upon an interesting study concerning, of all things, gossip. “Have you heard the latest? Do you know the newest? Wait until you hear!” It is a strange topic for a missionary newsletter.

I have been interested in gossip for several years – not, mind you, as a practitioner – but as a student of the phenomenon. Long-term studies from cultures around the world confirm what most of us have experienced already: gossip is a universal human activity. On average, it turns out, we dedicate a fifth to two-thirds of our daily conversation to the behavior. And it doesn’t matter much if you’re a man or a woman, young or old, from Fiji or from Phoenix. Most everyone participates equally. As one researcher put it, “Scuttlebutt is the most highly valued currency there is.” Most of us simply cannot resist participation.

A dear friend of mine – mentor, professor of missions, and Bible translator – proposes that “gossip” is a fine way of translating the New Testament word, evangelizomai. Or better put, “gossip” translates the action or behavior behind this New Testament word. You might recognize this word. It is the word from which we get the English equivalents evangelize, evangelist, evangelism, and the like. So here is the idea: “to evangelize” might properly mean, “to gossip the Good News.

It is a provocative idea.

We have supposed that the task of evangelism belongs principally to evangelists – meaning professionals designated specifically for the effort. But the New Testament envisions something far more participatory – a task that belongs to the whole people of God. They should chatter about the Wonderful News at every opportunity. They should devote a significant portion of their daily conversation to sharing it. They should “gossip” it.

Gossipers do not need a pulpit to share their news. They do not need a written invitation, either. Practiced gossipers share their news quite irrepressibly, as a natural part of the ebb and flow of their daily conversation. And if they discover a particularly noteworthy morsel, they can hardly wait to tell their friends – like Paul felt, maybe, when sharing the Good News in Corinth.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I do not emulate gossipers in much. But maybe there is something to learn from their enthusiastic sharing. What if we invested as much of our day in “gossiping the Good News” as gossipers do in sharing their morsels? The news we have to share, after all, is much more than scuttlebutt. It is the Juiciest Morsel of all time and in all of God’s universe.

If you have never gossiped before (I doubt it), perhaps you will want to take it up. But watch what news you share. Have you heard the latest? Do you know the newest? Heaven is open. The Son has come. The grace of God is here.

Chatter it.


So how do we begin?

Bill Hogg at Arrow Leadership says this:

[E]quip your people to share their faith and engage in ‘go and tell’ evangelism. There is still a place for ‘come and see’ and ‘come and hear’, however people need to be equipped to share their story and God’s story at home, in the neighborhood, at work and at play. If people are confused about the gospel and reluctant and reticent to share the gospel, we must address this in our training and equipping game plan. This is a big chunk of what I do these days…so let me know if I can serve and resource you in deploying people who are winsome and confident in gossiping the gospel.


One final quotation, from Grace Communion International:

As Wayne Meeks, church historian, puts it, the early Christians, who were a vibrant part of their communities, “gossiped” the gospel. The joy of the journey with Christ simply overflowed, impacting those in their intimate community. They didn’t have to “evangelize.”

August 7, 2019

Praying for God to Open Doors

The Voice.Col.4.2 Pray, and keep praying. Be alert and thankful when you pray. And while you are at it, add us to your prayers. Pray that God would open doors and windows and minds and eyes and hearts for the word so we can go on telling the mystery of the Anointed, for this is exactly why I am currently imprisoned. Pray that I will proclaim this message clearly and fearlessly as I should.

Dilgence and Inclusivity

Ray Stedman writes:

…The apostle has two things to say about prayer. The first is: “Keep at it” — “continue steadfastly in prayer.” The reason, obviously, is that prayer is essential to your Christian life. Prayer is dependence on God, and that is the name of the game! If you don’t pray, then you are not expressing any dependence on him at all.But, though it may seem so at first glance, he doesn’t mean, “Now, set aside a certain part of your day for prayer; set a schedule, and be sure to keep it.” I am not demeaning that; some people are able to do it, and it is an excellent practice, but that is not what he is really saying.

The Greek word the apostle chooses for steadfastly means “to be ready at all times.” In Mark’s Gospel, there is an incident which illustrates this. In the third chapter, Verse 9, we read that Jesus told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him. The word for ready is the same word translated steadfastly in Colossians. That is, “Always be ready to pray, because prayer is such a vital link with the Heavenly Father, whose life is available to us continually, that in every circumstance you need to pray.” That is what Paul is saying. “Be ready to break into prayer — in your thought life — instantaneously, at all times, because that is the way we ought to live.”…

…The second thing Paul says about prayer is, “Include others in it.” “Keep at it, and include others in it — especially me,” he says. “Pray for us also that God may open to us a door for the word.” Here he recognizes the body of Christ and the fact that we are members one of another. We need each other. This great apostle says that the opportunity for him to declare the message of Christ will be given to him by others: “You pray for me,” he says, “and that will open a door. God will open a door when you pray for me.” The opportunity of opening doors for each others’ ministry is given to every one of us. You can open a door for me; I can open a door for you — if we pray for one another…

Setting Aside the Time

Charles Stanley writes,

No matter where we are in our Christian walk, most of us will admit that our prayer life isn’t what we’d like it to be. Our attempts to make room for prayer in our busy schedules are often short-lived. And when we do manage to spend time with the Lord, we find ourselves easily distracted by random thoughts, our own desires, and the demands of the day.

Instead of giving up in frustration and settling for a sporadic devotional experience, we need to realize that prayer was essential to Christ and should be to us also. The road to a deepening prayer life begins with a commitment to make it a top priority in our day.

We follow through by setting aside a daily time to pray and read from God’s Word. Then we need to find a location that minimizes interruptions. Since we’re already busy, sacrifice may be necessary to make this happen. We might have to wake up earlier, give up a favorite activity, or use our lunch hour.

Scripture is a key factor because it teaches us about our Father’s character, promises, and priorities. The Word of God shifts our thoughts from worldly cares and pleasures to a focus on Him. Through it, we are reminded of His importance to us and our desire to please Him. Then we become ready to ask in accordance with His will and hear what He has to say.

Developing a habit of prayer may require sacrifice, but it’s worth the cost and effort. Spending time in the Lord’s presence is the best way for us to know Him better and love Him more.

Paul Prays for Quality of His Delivery

Warren Berkley notes a specific aspect of Paul’s request,

…But observe further this meaningful phrase: “as I ought to speak.” Paul wanted them to pray to God that he would speak effectively. In addition to content, Paul wanted God’s help in delivery. It is one thing to give the facts as they are. It is another to give them in good order, with appropriate passion and with challenge to the hearer to act. Paul had an interests in everything about the process of preaching. He wanted God’s help to open the door, and he wanted God’s help in effectively delivering the gospel.

Everything in this passage highlights the value of prayer in association with preaching the gospel. If we ask God to help us in various earth-limited endeavors, how much more should we ask Him to guide and direct our efforts to get the gospel into the doors around the world…

 

June 12, 2019

It’s Up To Us To Issue The Invitation

Today, we return to the writing of Andy Elmes. To get devotions like these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

Yeah, But What If?

Matthew 24:42-44, NKJV

Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

A few years back the world was subjected to another end of the world prophecy, where a man apparently representing Christians all over the world told how Jesus would return on a particular date. He said that at 6 pm Pacific time the earth would split, Jesus would return and the rapture would begin. The date came and went without anything that had been forecasted happening. All that sadly did occur was, once again, the media and sceptics of Christianity had more fuel to use and reasons to laugh.

But this false prophecy got me thinking, and the next day in Family Church I preached a topical message on it. After sharing on the news reports of what this man had claimed was going to happen, and of course clarifying the truth of no man knowing the exact day and the time, I posed a question: “Yeah, but what if?” What if, for some bizarre reason, he had got it right? I then played a very loud soundbite of thunder and lightning in the room and, as it echoed violently through our bass speakers, people stopped to think, “Yeah, what if, if it was all over what would I have changed?”

For me some things were very clear, because my life is built on His word. Would I be in heaven standing in heaven’s Sonlight? Yes, I do not doubt that, or have to hope for it – rather, I have an assurance because my salvation is the result of my faith in His grace and performance, not my ability or works. But the troubling question was, if He had returned who would not be in heaven with me? Who would not be there with me because I didn’t make time to tell them, or was not able to get over the pride or embarrassment that caused me not to give them their invitation? A very sobering thought and one that should cause us all to think about those we say we care for. Do we care for them enough to make sure they would be there with us?

Other questions caused me to review my life and priorities (things I thought were important). If I was now standing in heaven, how much would the things I thought I needed and had lived for now really matter? What worth would they have to me now? Was what I spent my life on worth it? Did it carry any profit in the place I now called home?

We know that Bible teaches that no man knows the hour or the day, but we also need to remember that a lot of what this fanatical man said was actually true: one day Jesus will return without warning, like a thief in the night, at a moment when people least expect, and in the twinkling of an eye it will all be over.

Let me leave you with this motivating thought: What if? Who do you need to reach for Christ? Do you need to take a fresh look at your priorities and what really matters? What do you need to spend the currency of your remaining days on?

I’m so glad He didn’t come on that highly-advertised date, as it means we still have time to invite those we need to, and live the life we always intended to. What are you waiting for, Champion – live your best life now?

May 9, 2019

Compelling Mission

by Clarke Dixon

Does the way in which we engage people outside the church point to the reality of God?

In previous posts we have looked at Christianity as compelling because it is true. This week we begin looking at how Christianity is compelling because it is beautiful.

My boys are now reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which I also read in school. In this book and corresponding TV series American society has been ordered, supposedly, according to the teachings of the Bible. However, it is not long before the reader realizes that this is a very ugly society. If that is what Christianity leads to, it is not compelling at all! If Christianity is true, reflecting a good and loving God, we will expect it to bring beauty, not ugliness. Does Christianity lead to beauty or ugliness? Specifically, is the way Christians engage non-Christians beautiful?

First, freedom is beautiful. Imprisonment is always an ugly thing. With Christianity there is to be freedom. When we read the New Testament we find people freely choosing to be followers of Jesus. In the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28, Jesus did not say “go and force everyone to be a Christian,” but “go and make disciples.”

This means that everyone should have freedom to not be a Christian. Some religions and worldviews use power to keep people in. We can think of fundamentalist versions of Islam. In some nations it is illegal to convert from Islam to another faith! My own children have been raised with a strong connection with the church family. But they are free to not be Christians. While my heart’s desire is that all three will follow Jesus, it is not my decision to make. They are free to choose their relationship with Jesus. As they grow into adulthood they will be free to choose their connection with the church family also. Sometimes we as Christians have made it difficult for people to leave the faith. That gets ugly. Freedom is beautiful.

There is also to be freedom for the non-Christian to not have to act like a Christian. Jesus did not say in Matthew 28 “go and make Christian nations, forcing everyone to have Christian morals,” but,

. . . go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT emphasis added)

The New Living Translation goes beyond what is in the original Greek, but captures for us well who is to learn Christ’s ways, namely, His disciples. As a Canadian I am watching the culture war in the States with interest. I see a desire to ‘make America Christian again.’ However, forcing an entire nation to follow Jesus gets ugly. We understand that Christianity is spreading very well in China. I imagine that the Chinese Christians are focused on making disciples, one person at a time, not fighting a culture war, one law at time. That is not to say that Christians should not be involved in politics. But when we are, let us not confuse lawmaking with evangelism.

We Christians have sometimes denied freedom, and sometimes still do. It has been and can get ugly. But we will not deny freedom if we are looking to Jesus, if the New Testament is our guide. Freedom is beautiful, and a Biblical Christianity promotes freedom.

Second, words are a beautiful way to share truth. Forced conversion through violence is ugly. Conversion through force or manipulation is something you will not find happening in the New Testament, nor is it something Jesus told us to do. Instead, we find people sharing what they know to be true about Jesus using words. You will not find a Christian going to war in the New Testament to ‘take the land for Jesus.’ You will find honest sharing. You will find conversations. You will not find warriors. You will find preachers.

We Christians have sometimes resorted to power, and sometimes we still do. It has been and can get ugly. However, we will not use force if we are looking to Jesus, if the New Testament is our guide. Words are beautiful. A Biblical Christianity promotes conversation and sharing through words.

Third, it is a beautiful thing to share good news. Keeping life changing good news to oneself would be ugly. Keeping Jesus for ourselves would be ugly. Keeping quiet about the amazing news of God’s amazing grace would be ugly. Some religions may promote a ‘keep to yourself’ attitude. That might be okay if you are keeping your love for liver and onions to yourself. But imagine finding the cure for cancer. We have learned of the cure for death itself! We have learned that God has a love solution for our separation-from-God problem. Keeping that to ourselves would demonstrate an ugly, ugly lack of love for others. From the very earliest days, Christians have been involved in missions. Because we must in order to get to heaven? Nope! Because sharing good news is a beautiful thing, a natural thing. The good news is too good to keep to ourselves!

The way Christians are to relate with non-Christians is not ugly, but beautiful. Freedom is beautiful, words are a beautiful way to share truth, and it is a beautiful thing to share good news. God’s call for how the Christian should engage with the non-Christian is, just as you would expect from a good God, beautiful. This is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

May 3, 2019

Things You Must Believe to be a Christian

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

We tend to couch our Christianity in terms of propositional statements. But we don’t necessarily see that in the ministry of Jesus. We don’t see him teaching an apologetics seminar.

Andy Stanley often says that “you don’t have to believe everything to believe something.” In other words, there isn’t a package of doctrinal beliefs that requires you to check each line before you are welcomed by God into His family. On initial approach to faith, there’s some truth in that, but I am quite sure that even Andy would say it only applies to the early days of faith investigation.

On the other hand, for some belief in the deity of Christ is a deal-breaker. Take that away, and there’s nothing left; you’ve sacrificed the gospel itself. Does a Jesus who isn’t divine have anything substantial to offer?

I thought today’s article would get us thinking along these lines. Statistically, many readers here don’t have evangelistic discussions ongoing. They don’t have friends, family, neighbors or co-workers who are asking them, ‘What do I need to do to become a Christian?’ It’s easy to pontificate about these matters when there no real person involved in the discussion. For some of us however, we interact with people who are drawn to the person of Jesus without knowing (or knowing about) any of the theological underpinnings. Again, I thought the topic was worth considering…

…Today we’re again at Done With Religion only this time with a different writer, Mike Edwards. Click the header below to read this at their site. Do you agree with the spirit of this approach? Are there some items listed below with to which you would take exception? Feel free to leave a comment here or on their blog.

I don’t have to convince anyone that God does or doesn’t exist. God can speak to the hearts of individuals on their own. That billions are convinced there is a loving God cannot be declared definitely irrational or delusional. It is not irrational either to ask if God is real, why doesn’t God clinch the argument by making their Presence obvious? I would encourage those who believe in a relational God to not stand in the way of others and speak for God declaring any beliefs are required by God to consider a relationship.

God doesn’t require any belief!  

I am convinced God only wishes for all to consider the possibility of a loving God who desires to help you in your journey of becoming the person deep down you want to become. Loving, human parents don’t require certain beliefs from their children before hoping they will consider if they love them. Are we better lovers than God? 

You certainly don’t have to believe in magical trees and talking snakes.

No one was there with Adam or Eve to know literally what took place. Genesis isn’t necessarily a scientific explanation about Creation but about a relationship with the Creator. Flood stories appeared in ancient literature before Genesis. The global flood story could describe a regional flood in hyperbolic terms to convey moral, spiritual food for thought. God doesn’t require literal belief in any event in the Bible or else! Now if God physically appears raising your friend from the dead, you may want to consider!

You don’t have to believe Jesus resurrected from the dead.

I know the above statement is extremely offensive to many, but I care more about those who want to believe in a God but struggle with certain requirements as opposed to those who are already convinced a loving God is real. Jesus told followers He was coming back from the dead and they didn’t believe Him. And they supposedly witnessed miracles beforehand to have less doubts such a claim was possible.

I would like to think more of us if we witness a man or woman coming back from the grave after being killed that we would think their message such as claiming to be the son of God would be believed. But, none of us lived during biblical times so we will not have such an opportunity. I happen to believe the historical evidence is credible that Jesus rose from the grave, but God can handle doubts or skepticism.

You don’t have to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

Many insist that Jesus was both God and man. Some can’t logically wrap their heads around Jesus being both man and God. Exactly how does one do that chromosomally? Isn’t it logically impossible to be God and not God? Some may be willing to accept that Jesus was an extraordinary man who epitomized who God was. Why can’t we begin there as a discussion as to what teachings and actions of Jesus seem to represent what a loving God is like?

Doesn’t God at least require the Law of Love?

I have written before that the only belief God requires is love. I would say that differently now. God doesn’t demand love but only seeks to encourage unselfish love which leads to personal freedom. God know what we know – the road traveled of learning, reflecting, and freely choosing convictions over time is what leads to genuine, lasting love.

Didn’t Jesus require belief for eternal life?

When Jesus was asked directly by a religious expert how to have eternal life, Jesus didn’t talk about escaping torture after death. Please see here that the Bible says nothing about the traditional understanding of Hell. Jesus replied to simply love God and your neighbor (Lk.10:25-37). Jesus’ focus wasn’t on quantity of life after death but about a life worth living here on earth. Jesus’ message wasn’t about requiring certain beliefs but avoiding consequences in life here on earth through destructive choices. This is the message of any loving parent!

What beliefs about God are worth insisting upon to others?  

There is no belief about God you should impose upon others. You could be wrong. God is big enough to prove themselves to those interested. You don’t even have to insist God is loving. A tyrannical God isn’t worth believe in. I surely am not as perfect or loving of a parent as God is, but even I don’t require my children accept any of my beliefs or else. Even I understand controlling through fear than proving my love doesn’t lead to true change and intimacy.


What do you think?

January 25, 2019

Looking for Disciples Who Look Like Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Several times at our sister blog we’ve linked to the writing of various authors at The Jagged Word, but we’ve never included his writing here. Today we’re offering you a sample. As usual, send some link love to our featured writers by clicking the title and reading each article at its point of origin.

Collecting vs. Making Disciples

by Joel A. Hess

I often forget a little detail in our Lord’s command to His church in Matthew 28. He says, “Go and make disciples…” Every time I read and reread this almost cliché passage, I am reminded that Jesus tells us He is going to “make” disciples. It will be something done to people. No one will be waiting at the church door knocking to come in. 

“Making disciples” implies that no one is going to “come to the cross,” “come to their senses,” or “sign up on the sign-up sheet” hoping to be selected. No one came to the birth of our Lord except those called by God. No one came to the empty tomb except those expecting to find a dead body. Jesus made every disciple we read about in the New Testament, from Mary and Joseph to Matthew the tax collector and Mary Magdalene.

He did this by the power of His Word and words. Every single person who has come to faith in Christ was once stone-cold dead—worse, an enemy of God. As Jesus says in John 8, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus finds us. We don’t find Him. So He calls Himself the Good Shepherd. He is the “Good” Shepherd because He is the Shepherd David talks about in Psalm 23. But He is also really good at being a Shepherd! Just as God found Adam and Eve and made them into believers of His grace, so He finds lost, scared, dying people and does the same. He does this through His church, that is, through other believers in Christ.

While I give lip service to this directive of Jesus, I often times find myself collecting disciples instead. I think many of us pastors and fellow disciples do the same. It’s our default disposition. We look for people who look like us, believe like us, have the same political views as us, talk like us, and live lives like us. Ironically, it has been my experience that those people are the hardest to convert.

Social media probably hasn’t helped us, and neither has the increasing habit of putting our whole lives into political party categories. By doing so, we put a barrier up before we can even start to share the good news of Christ!

I get it. If we only live by sight and not by faith, it certainly seems impossible that a person bragging about their atheism, their alternative lifestyle, and even their hatred of Christianity would ever be a disciple of Christ. But that is what we all were! We were all made disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit through His Word. No one began with a disposition that was neutral, let alone favorable toward believing in God.

How quickly we are tempted to write people off! How quickly we are tempted to not believe the power of the God’s Word, that is, the Good News, that God does not hold our sins against us but has placed them upon His Son!

The church is not a collection of like-minded people, but a creation of God’s, united in their being found, rescued, and gently made (and being made) into hope-filled, peace-filled believers of Jesus.

May God open my eyes to see my neighbor and my enemy as Jesus sees them: as future disciples.

 

November 20, 2018

Zeal Not Based on Knowledge

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Russell Young

It is easy to level accusations at the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They certainly defied him, sought his death, and were instrumental in bringing it about. They had political and economic reasons for condemning the Lord. Had the gospel message been widely accepted their positions and their livelihoods would have been jeopardized. However, in their own minds they were defenders of the Law and of Jewish traditions as they understood them. According to Wikipedia, “The Pharisees were at various times a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought in the Holy Land during the time of Second Temple Judaism. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Pharisaic beliefs became the foundational, liturgical and ritualistic basis for Rabbinic Judaism.” They had become the scholarly class. In their own minds they had legitimate reasons for opposing the proclamations of Christ that God was his Father and that he could forgive sins; after all, he was a man who walked among them.

In hindsight it is easy to condemn the Pharisees, but do their attitudes prevail even today? Paul spoke of their zeal for God. “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (Rom 10:2) The Lord said that the Pharisees would travel over land and sea to win a single convert. (Mt 23:15) Their zeal was commendable, but they did not know the truth about God. Despite their training they did not appreciate him or his purposes. The Pharisees were the “wise” concerning adherence to God’s requirements; however, they were in error.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were undoubtedly trying to protect the system of worship and the legitimacy of the Jews, God’s chosen people. The traditions and spiritual practices of Israel had existed for thousands of years and the ordained task of the priests was to maintain all that had been revealed to Moses and to the Prophets. Their system of honouring God was placed on laws, sacrifice, and ceremonies. The problem was that over the course of time and through improper guidance the purpose of the law and the Prophets had become lost and the law itself had become their focus. The teaching of the “wise” had missed the greater truth. Their zeal was not based on knowledge; the Lord called them “blind guides” (Mt 23:16) and “blind fools.” (Mt 25:17) He also revealed that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor 1:27 NIV) To them Jesus was just a man intent on destroying the nation of Israel but despite their knowledge they were blind.

The gathering of truth does not need to be relegated to those who are deemed “wise” by worldly standards. The Spirit gifts as he sees fit and God will not give his glory to another. The truth is not necessarily held by the scholarly class, as was found with the Pharisees; the Spirit is to be our teacher. In their zeal to interpret and to define the law, the Pharisees had missed relationship, love, justice, and righteousness. Institutions had replaced God. Although their intent may have been noble, they had simply become lost.

Has reliance on institutions, philosophical thought, and abandonment of the Spirit as teacher led to the distortion of truth as embodied in the Word? Would God be pleased with the multitude of “truths” as revealed in modern “knowledge” and practices? Has the key to understanding become so corroded that it can no longer function according to the Lord’s intentions? After all there is only one God and one truth, not many. Care needs to be exercised before responding since truth will have been lost before the Lord’s return. Isaiah has recorded that destruction will come to the earth because, “its people [will] have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant.” (Isa 24:5 NLT) To what extent are false teachings being promoted today for the sake of preserving misguided “truth”?

Teachers do not intend to “twist” his instructions; that is not the motivations of their hearts, but it will happen. Jude has challenged believers to “contend for the faith.” (Jude 1:3) According to him contending for the faith is necessary because “godless men, who change the grace of our God into license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign and Lord,” will have slipped in among his people. (Jude 1:4 Italics added) They are teachers who deny the need to practice the sovereignty of Christ, who do not accept his lordship, and by their proclamations are giving license for immorality. They do not recognize the truth of God’s instructions, they dismiss the righteous requirements of his laws, and break his everlasting covenant. A philosophical emphasis on love—that which people’s itching ears want to hear (2 Tim 4:3 NIV)—often displaces recognition of the holiness of God and his requirement of a holy nation. The teaching of those who have denied the sovereignty of Christ for practical purposes will also have taken away the key to knowledge since only he, through the Spirit, can conform people to his own likeness. Stubborn adherence should not be given to denominational perspectives; prayer, the Word, and the Spirit’s leading must become the believer’s teacher. Christ is the Word (Jn 1:1; Rev 19:13). and he is also the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17, 18)

Christ reported, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the law.” (Lk 16:1617) The only way to find the kingdom of God is by entrance through satisfying the righteous requirements of the law which is accomplished through obedience to the Spirit. (Rom 8:4)

Zeal must be based on knowledge. Caution has been given to contend for the faith because its truths will be lost. They will not be intentionally distorted, but they will be. In many cases focus has been taken from God, the Holy Spirit, as teacher, and has been allowed to rest on the philosophies of men, the same practices that brought about the weakening of truth and purpose, and enabled the abandonment of God’s glory for Israel. The zeal of the church must be based on knowledge and truth.


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

November 13, 2018

Convincing Witnesses

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Six months ago we introduced you to Martha Anderson who has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com. Click the title below to read this one at source.

Full of the Spirit

But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said ‘Go stand in the Temple courts and proclaim to all the people the words of this life.’  Acts 5:20

This is what has stuck with me throughout this week, along with a few other thoughts.  It was the apostles that got tossed into jail for telling about Jesus and new life in Him.  The religious leaders were filled with jealousy, which is what 5:17 tells us.  It wasn’t any complicated scheme–just jealousy.  Anyway, an angel let them out and told them to go back to the Temple court and keep teaching.

What catches me is that the angel told them to teach about ‘the words of this life.’  The whole first few chapters of Acts are flooded with the accounts of the Early Church–about how the Holy Spirit has come and landed on them like tongues of fire.  And how when they prayed the place where prayed shook with power and everyone was filled with boldness.  And then there was so much Holy Spirit power that people brought the sick and they passed by Peter’s shadow and they were healed.

So when they went back to the Temple Courts, they talked about Jesus being risen from the dead, exalted to God’s right hand as a Founder and Savior to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  And we are witnesses of these events and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.  

I’m sure the apostles didn’t just mumble a sorry testimony and invite them to Temple too.  No, they were convincing witnesses about the resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives.  That’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Go on to Acts 6 and read about Stephen.  He was described as being “full of the Spirit,” “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” and “full of grace and power, who was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”  Now that’s an eye-catcher.

People are looking for something to fill the holes in their empty lives, something big enough to occupy the space that they’re filling with things like their fascination with technology, the NFL, materialism, sex, drinking and other addictions.  If we offer a wimpy version of the Christian life, it is no more appealing than picking up an old textbook, or visiting their grandmother’s church.

But if you show them the real Jesus, and the “life that is truly life,” as 1 Timothy 6:19 says, or the abundant life that John 10:10 talks about.  And 1 Corinthians 4:20 it says that the kingdom of God is demonstrated not in idle talk but in power.  

Last Sunday night I was at our County Jail for Bible study.  There were six Native American women and another jail chaplain and myself.  We talked for a bit to catch up on how they were doing, and as I began the study, there was a male inmate calling out loudly the whole time.  I stopped and asked what that was.  The women said it was a man in the holding cell. They felt bad for him and said he had been yelling out all day in about ten different voices.

I asked if any of them had been at church with me the last summer when one of the women did the same thing and we stopped and prayed–and she stopped yelling out.  The women immediately begged me, “Please stop and pray.  Please pray.”  So we stopped.  The other gal with me prayed out loud first and me second.  We prayed that the spirits that were oppressing him would be bound and that the peace of the Holy Spirit would rest upon him.  Within one or two minutes the man was totally quiet.

I said, “Hey, do you hear that?”  And they said, “Hear what?”  I said, “My point exactly. It’s dead quiet out there.  Jesus did that.  He hears our prayers and has the power to work.  He will do that in your life.”  We got back into the Bible study and the jailers were stirring up a mighty commotion out in the hallway.  I mean it was like a circus out there.  It went on and on.

Finally I stopped and said, “I’m praying again.  This circus has to stop.”  I prayed that God would silence the commotion in the hall and that it would be so quiet that they could hear a pin drop.  Again, within a minute the noise stopped.  And again, I said: “Do you hear that?  Jesus did it again.  That’s what He wants to do for you.”

Today I met with a Native American gal that just got out of jail and treatment.  She came to church and is resolute about “doing the next right thing.”  She is making a break from the bonds of meth and alcohol.  I told her the story of what happened in jail last week.  Her brother is in prison, but God has gotten a mighty hold on him and he is a living, walking evangelist everywhere he was been incarcerated.

She told me about when he was back at the County jail and was with a guy I’ve known since he was a kid.  He was telling this other guy about Jesus and the other guy kept saying that he was a Native and believing that.  Her brother was telling him that it wasn’t helping his life and that  Jesus is the only way, and that He’s real and wants to save him too.

The guy said, “Well, if Jesus is real, I’ll pray for something sweet.”  Maybe he was being sarcastic, because it was 10 at night and he knew it wasn’t going to happen.  But they prayed that S— would get something sweet and that S— would see that God is real.  Not even 5 minutes later a jailer came to their pod where 5 other guys were, at 10:00 at night and said, “S— I have a cupcake for you.  I just thought you’d like it.”

This guy S— got down on his knees and started sobbing and said, “I believe, I believe.”

Now that’s proclaiming the words of this life!  Words of power, words that aren’t just words, but are about life changing abundance that people can grab onto and say, “Yes, He is real and can do things in my life.”

Now, I have to go stand in the town courts and speak words of this life…


Want more? Check out this article by Martha: A Stripped-Down, Boring Jesus.

September 3, 2018

How Many (Spiritual) Children Do You Have?

Becoming a Contagious Christian

The church I attend has as its purpose statement, “Love God, Serve Others, Show the Way;” and several years ago, in the third of three messages, the focus was on the discipleship process.

Each of us is called to be discipled, but then to make disciples. We should have a deep desire to reproduce ourselves.

Question: How many of you have ever been present to witness the birth of a baby?

Next Question: How many of you have been present to witness someone’s spiritual birth?

Some people know what it’s like to lead someone else in a commitment to making Christ Lord of their lives, but sadly, others wouldn’t know where to begin. Yet nowhere in what we call “The Great Commission” is there indication that this is for some to do, but not others.

Eugene Peterson has given us a great gift with The Message Bible. I know I quote it often here, but I have great respect for it, and as he worked from original languages, I regard it as a translation, not, as some say derisively, a paraphrase. This is how he translates the passage:

Matthew 18-19 Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.

Why does it say “undeterred”? The previous verses give the answer:

Matthew 16-17 Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.

The process of leading someone to Christ does take some personal risk. A few weeks ago I was challenged to say to someone, “Are you ready to make that move? Do you think you want to cross that line of faith?”

This person replied that they were “heading in that direction;” but that this wasn’t the time. That’s fine. I considered that a good and honest response. However, what you need to know is that I actually broke off the conversation twice before returning a third time, to ask this question. I felt God prompting me to do so, but in my mind, I had a million reasons why I shouldn’t do this at that point in the discussion.

Someone once asked me how many children my wife and I have. I told him, “Two;” and he said “Oh, so you’ve only reproduced yourselves.” It turned out that his take on Christianity included the “Quiver-full” teaching that Christians should have as many kids as possible.

But how many of you have begotten spiritual children? Some of you perhaps have never reproduced yourselves at all. You could say, “I can’t do that;” but if you explain childbirth to a young woman it sounds equally daunting and impossible, yet many women bear children. There are so many books, podcasts, seminars, etc. on how to lead someone to Christ, that it’s hard for me to fathom someone dismissing the task that Jesus commanded us to do.

Before the early disciples of Jesus were called Christians at Antioch, the movement was referred to as “the way,” or we could even say, ‘the path.’ Our goal should be to lead people to “the way,” which not only describes the fledgling breakaway sect Judiasm, but is a term that Jesus used to describe himself:

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NLT)

[Watch an actual encounter between an apologist and a student in the comments section of this blog post. Note: This uses a formulaic approach that may not be effective in all cases. 13 minutes.]

…I thought I’d leave us today with a song by the band Newworldson; I hope you enjoy it. You might even send the link* for the song to someone you know to start the faith conversation.

*double click through to view the video at source, then copy and paste the URL from your browser

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