Christianity 201

April 27, 2021

When Your Faith is a Spiritual Mix Tape

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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While the use of cassettes is now quite rare, people still make personalized mix tapes consisting of their favorite songs on other formats. I think a phrase better understood now is personal playlist.

Spiritually, some people do this as well. The whole ends up being a bit of this and a bit of that, often fusing elements that have little in common. I’ve heard this called by different names, one of which is cafeteria Christianity.

I’m currently reading a 2002 book called And Beginning With Moses: Teaching Those Who Know Little or Nothing about the Bible by John R. Cross (Goodseed*). It begins with a horror story of a tribe which had gladly received the message of Christianity from missionaries, but had simply added it to their tribal beliefs.

In religious studies parlance, when this happens, it’s called syncretism. You don’t even have to go overseas to find it, in North America and Western Europe it’s possible to find people who are simply looking to add a dash of Christianity to their previously held beliefs the way a chef adds spices and mystery ingredients to an entree.

Here’s a short excerpt from the book. It begins with a horrific story of supposedly converted people reverting to pagan practices much to the shock of the missionaries present.

Syncretism in the Bible

Syncretism is not new. The ancient Israelites en route from Egypt to the Promised Land had problems in this area. God asked them a rhetorical question.

“Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel?”  Amos 5:25 NASB

The answer was, “Yes, they did.” They could make a legitimate claim to be following the true God. But there was something more. The next verse explains what they carried in their bags. God said…

“You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves.”  Amos 5:26 NASB

These were pagan Assyrian gods. Israel was trying to worship God and idols at the same time. They were mixing two belief systems.

This problem of “mixing” seems innate to the human heart. When centuries ago, Gentiles settled in the heartland of Israel, the Bible says,

They worshipped the LORD, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places.  2 Kings 17:32

Visiting the Middle East, I remember pondering those ancient high place altars, recalling God’s grief with the immorality and child sacrifice that was often part of idolatrous worship. The Lord said,

“They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal–something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.”  Jeremiah 19:5

Rightly so, such decadence had not entered God’s mind, but man’s mind seemed quite agile at mixing this evil and God’s good. The Bible says, ”

They worshipped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.  2 Kings 17:33

This is syncretism. Syncretism’s tenacity is illustrated in that, even after the Gentile “settlers” were instructed in true worship,

They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. Even while these people were worshipping the LORD, they were serving their idols. 2 Kings 17:40-41

Centuries later God had the Apostle Paul write…

“…I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”  1 Corinthians 10:20-21

Syncretism has plagued the church since its earliest days. Paul wrote the book of Galatians to sort out the confusion caused by those who were trying to mix religious legalism with the truth. The book of Colossians and the First Epistle of John were written for a similar purpose, this time having to do with a mixing of Gnosticism and the Bible.

In the following centuries, people syncretized true Christianity with ancient Roman, Egyptian and Babylonian paganism, creating various “mixes” dominated by error. Mohammed syncretized Arab tribal beliefs with Judaism and a Christian cult to form Islam. These religions in turn have syncretized to form others. The list is long. It seems very human to believe a mangled and mixed message.


*Goodseed is an organization I first encountered at a missions conference. Their signature book is actually four books, with the same material covered for four different audiences:

  • The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus – written for people who grew up with a Christian or Catholic perspective
  • All That the Prophets Have Spoken – written for those with an Islamic background
  • By the Name – written for readers with a Middle Eastern worldview
  • No Ordinary Story – written for non-religious people approaching with a secular worldview

You give someone the version that is right for them. I like the idea that they realized they couldn’t do a “one size fits all” book and did some radical re-writing of large sections of the material. You can learn more at goodseed.com

 

March 19, 2021

It’s Hard to Face Rejection and Still Love People

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In today’s search to highlight new writers to you I came across Julie Harris who is a worship pastor in the Nazarene denomination. Her blog title, I Sing Because I’m Free really resonated with me! (Okay, bad pun, perhaps.) Her devotionals all begin in personal experience and after reading many current ones, I settled on this older one from her archives. Click the title to read at source and from there, take a few minutes to read more recently written pieces.

Rejected

While I was out running errands today, I had a conversation with a stranger who told me she had just quit smoking.  I asked her how long it had been since she had her last smoke.  Just yesterday.  I told her every single moment was a small victory for her to celebrate.  I encouraged her and let her talk about her smoking addiction.  After talking with her for quite some time, I felt the Lord nudging me to invite her to a special service we’re having at our church next week.  It’s something I am really excited about- 9 churches coming together to worship and give thanks… 9 churches in our community uniting as one in Christ Jesus!  With all the division in the world right now, this is the perfect time for this!

I waited until I knew it was the right moment to ask her… Do you go to church? I asked her, nonchalantly.

No- I don’t do that kind of thing.

Well this would be the perfect service to come to then!  I explained how a bunch of churches in our community were coming together…

No, I’m not interested in that.  

And immediately I felt that door slam shut.  She changed the subject quickly, clearly ready to end the conversation at that point. It was awkward, to say the least!

As she continued to make small talk, I started feeling a little sorry for myself.  I’d been rejected.  She didn’t ask me the usual “what church do you go to?” or even say the polite “I’ll think about it”… just a flat out NO. I hate rejection. It’s hard to put yourself out there…to be obedient to invite strangers to church.  Who am I kidding?  It’s hard to just flat have conversations and LOVE people.

I said goodbye and told her that I’d be praying for her as she continued to break the nicotine habit.  “You can DO it!” I told her. Then I then went to my car, feeling like a complete DORK and a REJECT.

And He brought to my mind this verse-

As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.Isaiah 55

All He asks us to do is be obedient. We throw out the seeds… HE does the watering.

As I drove home, I started to replay the words of our conversation in my mind…and then I looked ahead of me and the license plate in front of me said it all.

On the license plate was this-

GD LOVS U

And in that instant, those feelings of being a complete nerd and a rejected vanished.  He loves you.  And He loves me.  And He loves that stranger I spoke to today.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Galatians 6:9

March 2, 2021

The Scary E-Word: Evangelism

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re back with First 15 by Craig Denison, a devotional site for the first 15 minutes of your day. There is a lot happening on this site and even within each devotional there is an audio version, related worship songs, and more. So I really hope you’ll click through today, which you can do by clicking the header which follows. You can also follow the audio version on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

  • lee esto en español: Read today’s devotional in Spanish

Evangelism

Today we’ll explore the concept of evangelism. There are so many fears and misconceptions wrapped up in this topic, and my hope today is that we’ll simplify it, and get straight to the heart of the issue. As we assess our hearts, may we remain soft and open to the commands and will of God for us.

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Mark 16:15

Devotional

The idea of evangelism has always been terrifying to me. Going up to someone and interrupting their day to tell them about Jesus, no matter how real and good I know him to be, has never been comfortable for me. But you can’t read Scripture and escape God’s command to share the gospel. You can’t read through the New Testament and discount the reality that the disciples gave themselves entirely—to the point of death—that the world might come to know Jesus.

Verses like Mark 16:15-16 couldn’t be more clear. Jesus commands us, Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Evangelism is meant to be a part of our normal lives. It’s not just for the few. It’s not just for pastors or the intensely extroverted. It’s for you and me.

When I assess my own heart I discover that my fears related to evangelism are entirely selfish. In fact, I don’t know if I could do something more selfish than hold back the one hope for the world just to protect my own image. Jesus is clear in Mark 16:16 that those who don’t believe in him will be condemned. It’s like I contain the cure for a deadly disease and rather than sacrificing my image to love them by sharing the one cure, I just let them continue to suffer.

In pondering my own heart I realize that the way to engage in evangelism isn’t fixing myself; it’s getting over myself. Is my image really so important that it’s worth condemnation for another? Are the opinions of others really so important to me that I would withhold from them eternal, abundant life with a God who loves them relentlessly and perfectly?

I am made to share God’s light. I have been commissioned by my King to go out and share his heart. It’s time that we obey God’s command in Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Sure, people might think I’m weird. Sure, it might be a little awkward. But God is after the hearts of his creation, and he’s called me to help. May we be those who set aside our pride, seek humility, and love others whatever the cost. May we be so bold as to set our eyes on heaven and sacrifice this life for the sake of eternity. And may the world change around us as we humbly and courageously proclaim the goodness of our heavenly Father.

Prayer

1. Meditate on God’s call for you to engage in evangelism.

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20

2. What are your fears in regard to evangelism? What holds you back from telling others about the good news of God’s unconditional love?

3. Take time to humble yourself before God and others. Ask him for grace to love others above yourself. Set your eyes on him and open your heart to receive his affection.

Go

In Jesus’ conclusion of the Great Commission he tells his disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Our power for evangelism is that God is with us. He doesn’t send us out alone. His love, power, and presence are fully available to us when we seek to share the gospel with others. When you tell others about Jesus, don’t speak of him as if he’s not with you. Don’t pray as if he doesn’t move and work miracles. Instead, share the reality of God’s nearness with a world that needs to be touched by a revelation of his love. May you be empowered to share the gospel with someone today that they might come to know the power and presence of God.

Extended Reading:

Matthew 28 or watch The Bible Project’s video on Matthew 14-28.

February 26, 2021

Running to Spread the Word

Today another new author whose writing we’ve chosen to highlight for you. Bernie Lyle writes at Musings from an Idle Mind. I encourage you to click through and read some of his devotionals at their source, or click the header which follows to read today’s.

Run

“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you.”
‭‭II Thessalonians‬ ‭3:1-4‬ ‭NKJV

Even in the time of the writing of this passage in II Thessalonians, Paul was dealing with people in the church who were not quite what they seemed. In that letter, Paul was cautioning the church, then and now, of things that were and things to come, as people were falling away. We are seeing this in our world today, as the evil one is attacking assemblies and driving wedges between people.

There are disrupters amongst us, people bent on drawing others after sin, and causing havoc to the faith. I have heard of pastors attacked over petty things, of people being accosted over matters of faith. There are families in turmoil, and marriages crumbling. People are enduring a multi-tiered assault.

It is tough being an intercessor in these perilous times, as I hear of the struggles of others, and am horrified by the attacks of the evil one on families. I pray fervently for many.

I have learned that prayer is the most needed thing today, as many of us are facing challenges to our ability to share the Gospel. We are often distracted by inner struggles, and the mission is put on the back burner.

Just as Paul called upon the Thessalonians to pray for him, I implore you to pray for me, and others who have taken on the ministry of prayer. We are dealing with supernatural pressures and there is no natural remedy.

Opposition is making it difficult to do the work, slowing the spread to a crawl. I pray over all those on my list, that they have opportunities to share the Good News, that they would do so with no inhibition, with boldness, that the message would indeed run swiftly to the ears of all who need to believe.

If ever there was a time to take up the full armor of God, it is now.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:12-13‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Often the opposition that we encounter comes from with in the church, and the family, as people whose god is the flesh have crept in and seek to disrupt the work of God. The attacks are personal and intimate.

Great care is needed in dealing with those in opposition, as we are on mission to lead people to Jesus, whether they be friend or foe. Most of those in opposition have no idea that they are pawns being used by the evil one. Great damage can be done with a single word.

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭2:24-26‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Brothers and sisters, pray that we keep our hearts open to those around us. The people who go against us have no idea of what the future holds, and no idea how much danger they are in. They are driven by raw emotions, and find themselves propelled to strike out against others they blame for damage brought on by their own sin.

I am willing to suffer all things if it means someone comes to know Jesus. God has built into me long suffering, as I have been chosen as one who prays. Pray for me. Pray for your pastors, for they are the essential, frontline workers in this rescue mission. Pray that we all remember that we are here to rescue people bound for hell.

My people, let us bear each others burdens, let us lift each other up, as the these times are draining. We all need endurance as time is short. We are nearing the end of a long, long race, and there is a great tendency to slow down, to ease up, to coast into the tape. We have so many saints who have gone before us, so many who gave of themselves with the fullest measure of devotion. Let us run, that the Gospel run swiftly and reach as many as possible.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12:1-2‬ ‭NKJV‬‬


How to become a Christian:

Bernie ended his devotional with a link to a page called The Roman Road. (No, it’s not about the Catholic Church!) If you’d like to read more about following Jesus, click this link.

January 31, 2021

The Roller Coaster Ride of Ministry and Missions

If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would always sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, I was hearing the KJV text from where I first learned it:

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

Today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. Today in church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (KJV) says,

But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.


Earlier today I launched a fundraising page at GoFundMe for an orphanage in Haiti that we’ve come to know over the past seven years. Our oldest son Chris has been on the ground there twice now and participates in their fundraising activities back home in Canada. If God has blessed you and you’d like to make a difference, I invite you to click through to the page and then consider any encouragement you can give through your donation.

January 12, 2021

Overflowing with Words, Truths, Blessings, Insights

Luke 6:45b

The inner self overflows with words that are spoken. (CEB)

The things people say come from inside them. (GNT)

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (GW)

Matthew 12:34b

For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. (NLT)

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (NRSV)

This is a theme that turns up frequently in my conversations with people about sharing their faith and passion for Christ, His church, the Bible, and so many other aspects of Christian living. That’s probably why I felt it was recorded here.

A few years ago some Christian leaders shared verses which have been central to their ministries. One mentioned Jeremiah 20:9

But if I say, “I will not mention his word
or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.

Eugene Peterson renders this in The Message:

But if I say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer!

The NIV Study Bible notes that this one verse indicates two seemingly contradictory inclinations: a prophetic reluctance that is overcome by a divine compulsion. (For more on prophetic reluctance check out this devotional.) They simply can’t not speak.

Amos 3:8b reiterates this:

The Eternal Lord has been heard; His prophets can’t help but prophesy. (The Voice)

We see this also in Acts 4:20

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

And Paul reiterates this in 1 Cor. 9:16

Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News!

I like the CEB on this:

…I’m in trouble if I don’t preach the gospel.

Many years ago I attended a church where it was common for people to stand up and give messages (prophecy, teaching, knowledge, wisdom, etc.) spontaneously. As a person who is always thinking, always pondering the scriptures, I once asked a friend, “How do you know that this is something you’re supposed to stand up and speak out loud to everyone?”

He — and notice it was a guy not a woman — said, “It’s like you’re pregnant with it. It has to come out. It has to be delivered. It has to be shared.”

Later, I began to hear people speak about ministry which comes out of the overflow of the heart. There is simply so much contained inside that it spills outside.

This reminded me of another analogy — this one I might have used before — of what it means to be filled with the Spirit. If you open the top of a can of soda pop, you can look inside and say that it’s filled. The contents fill the entire can. There is no room for any more.

But what it means to be filled changes if you put your thumb over the opening and then shake up the contents. What was filled spills out. It overflows.

So it is with our verbal proclamation. Whether evangelism, encouragement, or even rebuke, it has to come from somewhere. There needs to have been some point where content was poured into our lives. But then, when shaken, the contents overflow.

Matthew Henry says of the Amos passage:

They [the prophets] are so full of those things themselves, so well assured concerning them, and so much affected with them, that they cannot but speak of them; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak.

Their prophetic reluctance is overcome…

…Another one of the leaders key verses was 1 Cor. 15:58, which relates to our efforts in ministry; the times we are reluctant prophets, and the times we’re just overflowing or bursting with words to share:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (NIV)



And now for something completely different:

Sometimes while re-visiting past sources we find an article that we think might be of great interest to readers here, but it’s too long for our format, and it’s difficult to share an excerpt out of context. This one starts out:

A number of cases of mass killings of people, apparently at God’s behest, are recorded in the Old Testament:

1. The Flood (Genesis 6-8)
2. The cities of the plain, including Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19)
3. The Egyptian firstborn sons during the Passover (Exodus 11-12)
4. The Canaanites under Moses and Joshua (Numbers 21:2-3; Deuteronomy 20:17; Joshua 6:17, 21)
5. The Amalekites annihilated by Saul (1 Samuel 15)

If this subject is of interest to you for further exhaustive study, click this link.

 

January 11, 2021

Why Won’t They Listen?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today’s thoughts are more personal, perhaps more pastoral.

My day began with an email from a friend. I’ve changed some of the wording just slightly.

Whenever I thought about the book of Revelation and end times things, I always thought that when the predicted events started to happen, people would turn to God in droves. Yet here we are, I sit in a bullpen of construction workers and they are ready to believe the most far out conspiracies, but wouldn’t consider for a moment that God is real. The enemy is blinding them. It’s sad.

I sent him two replies. One was from my phone and I don’t have the text of it nearby, but I simply suggested that his contribution to the discussion — his gift to his co-workers if you like — might not be statements or declarations, but some well-placed, well-considered questions.

Using this strategy might re-direct the conversation, and even if it is not well-received by everyone in the group, there’s always the possibility that there’s one person who the question or questions might continue to haunt them until they decide they need to pursue the subject — or pursue God — further.

I consider my friend wise enough to know how to navigate my advice.

An hour later though, I thought of some scriptures I could send him. One he already alluded to in his remarks.

First I looked at I Corinthians 1 in The Voice Bible:

17 The mission given to me by the Anointed One is… about preaching good news. The point is not to impress others by spinning an eloquent, intellectual argument; that type of rhetorical showboating would only nullify the cross of the Anointed.

18 For people who are stumbling toward ruin, the message of the cross is nothing but a tall tale for fools by a fool. But for those of us who are already experiencing the reality of being rescued and made right, it is nothing short of God’s power.

Verse 17 is interesting because if anyone could frame an intellectual argument, it would be the Apostle Paul. But we need to avoid jumping to the conclusion that if the world is “going to hell in a handbasket” we should just stop sharing the good news message altogether. Paul certainly doesn’t do that.

The next passage I shared was from II Timothy 3; this time from The Message. (I know the person to whom I was sending these well-enough that I thought he would benefit more from these more contemporary translations.)

1-5 Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.

14-17 But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.

Peterson’s phrase “They’ll make a show of God;” is better know to many readers here as “Having a form of Godliness, but denying its power.” Is this a summation statement? Is Paul saying that all of the characteristics listed in the previous two verses apply to the outwardly religious, or is this just another category?

(You can do a translation comparison on the verse itself, but this question is more context-driven. Does the em-dash between verses 4 and 5 used by the NIV fit or does it imply something other translations don’t? A compromise solution might be that as the world goes so goes the church. We know that, for example, divorce rates among evangelicals are no longer significantly different than the general population.)

I didn’t send this to my friend, but I consider II Timothy 3 in parallel. (I’ll revert to NIV for this one.)

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Finally, I sent my friend I Corinthians 2 again using The Voice:

12 You must know that we have not received the spirit of this rebellious and broken world but the Spirit that comes from God, so that we may experience and comprehend the gifts that come from God. 13 We do not speak of these gifts of God in words shaped by human wisdom; we speak in words crafted by the Spirit because our collective judgment on spiritual matters is accessible to those who have the Spirit. 14 But a person who denies spiritual realities will not accept the things that come through the Spirit of God; they all sound like foolishness to him. He is incapable of grasping them because they are disseminated, discerned, and valued by the Spirit.

That doesn’t leave us room for much discussion here, but I think what my friend was expressing today was simply all these non-Revelation prophetic words playing out in front of him in real time.

I can only conclude as he did: “It’s sad.”

But again, we can work to make a difference even in those situations. I believe that a few well-placed questions could make the difference in someone’s life.

January 2, 2021

Moving People Toward Belief

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Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:30,31 NIV

I just finished reading (in one day!) the history of InterVarsity Press (IVP). I would hope that anyone reading a blog called Christianity 201 would have at some point in their life consumed several of their books and have them still on their shelves. They produce thoughtful books for Christians who think.

J. I. Packer said of the organization, “Some publishers tell you what to believe. Other publishers tell you what you already believe. But InterVarsity Press helps you to believe.”

It’s easy to tell people what to believe: ‘Here’s what you need to know.’ In the medium you’re reading (blogging) a popular type of article is a genre called listicles. These lists begin with phrases like “7 Things About…;” or “5 Reasons You Should…;” or “8 Most Important Lessons…” As someone who likes systematically organized information, I need to confess that I tend to gravitate to articles like this. It’s so easy to tell people the bullet points, or the talking points. And there is some value in informing people that the death and resurrection of Christ is key to beginning a faith journey.

But the Apostle Paul famously says in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that knowledge puffs up. It’s amazing how many modern translations retain that phrase with the runner-up being makes people arrogant. The context is about eating meat which has been offered to idols. I often wondered how someone could do this, but after learning more about the intricacies surrounding the interconnectedness of what I’ve called elsewhere “the sacrifice industry” with the manner of food distribution at the time, it’s easier to see why this is a moral, ethical and spiritual issue that would resonate with people and actually have more practical application than we realize.

Eugene Peterson goes well beyond translation into commentary rendering this passage:

The question keeps coming up regarding meat that has been offered up to an idol: Should you attend meals where such meat is served, or not? We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know to answer these kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognize that God alone knows it all.

We can also, as Packer noted, tell people what they already believe. Again, in this (blogging) medium, we’ve seen over the years that online Christian community can become a vast echo chamber with people imagining they receive more points by quoting or re-publishing the most recent columns by prominent Bible teachers. It is often called, preaching to the choir. In yesterday’s look at an extremely popular passage, I tried to state at the outset that we would be taking a fresh approach, mapping the positive character qualities Paul was listing to negative character traits which show up in our modern world.

Some truths are profound however and cannot be stated enough. For example, God is love; but that reality often doesn’t challenge the intellect of some readers who immediately tune out. But when you go beyond the surface, you find that:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.*

But what our aim should be is to help people believe; to inspire them to come to know Jesus in a personal way which makes their faith their own and isn’t just an adoption of our beliefs, our positions, our doctrine, our systematic theology.

A phrase you don’t hear often anymore — and one that only produced a mere eight results on Google — is “Making Jesus Mine.” I’ve often told my own salvation story in these terms, “Taking ownership of my faith.” It’s not hereditary. It’s not something you do as a community. It’s definitely not something you do with your spouse.** Rather, the Bible teaches a personal accountability for salvation (in an eternal sense) and stewardship of the life we’ve been given (in the present tense.)

In our opening verse John states that the purpose of his gospel all along has been, But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

In other words, John isn’t saying ‘Here’s what you need to know.’ Rather, he’s creating a spark and trusting that the fire will spread.

Similarly, we can play a role in pointing others to a belief that they own. We can disciple people, but we’re not the arbiters of their faith. Nor is any church body. Everyone needs their own direct line to God. We simply point them to Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to work on their hearts.

 


*Frederick M. Lehman (1868-1953) “The Love of God” vs. 3 quoted
**There are many passages that apply to community, to actions taken by a community, and even the concept of household salvation; but we do eventually stand before God alone. In the past year, I’ve observed several cases where married couples have acted as though spiritual decisions are taken collectively, but this is an area where marital disagreement (i.e. on the deity and lordship of Christ) is not only healthy, but it’s positionally necessary.

 

December 16, 2020

Five Greek Words You Should Know

I know. Some of you are thinking, ‘Let’s not get into Greek here; this is Christianity 201 not 301.” Okay. We won’t do this again. At least this month. And there are no actual Greek alphabet letters in what follows.

A year ago we shared a devotional by Dr. Ed Searcy, a retired minister in Vancouver  who writes at Holy Scribbler. Dropping by earlier today, we saw a reference to the website of University Hill Congregation. That took us to this article which I knew right away needed to be shared here.

Who We Are: The Five Marks of the Church

Liturgia (Worship): Every Sunday morning we gather to worship God, through singing and prayer, the reading of Scripture and preaching, as well as fellowship with one another, in God’s presence. Symbolically, gathering in the morning, on the first day of the week, reminds us that our proper first commitment is to God, made known to us in Jesus Christ, present by the Holy Spirit.

Our worship includes many voices, as members of our congregation lead in prayer, music, Scripture reading, and presiding, reminding us of the importance of the “priesthood of all believers.” Liturgia is a Greek word that means “a public work, undertaken by some, on behalf of all.” In worship, we turn to God, on behalf of this God-beloved world.

Koinonia (Community): From the earliest days of the Church, it is clear that the Christian life is not meant to be a solitary existence. In the book of Acts, we hear that this new community of Jesus followers–members of the Way–“spent much time together” worshiping, eating, baptizing and teaching, praying and learning the rhythms of a new way of life. The community that took shape in response to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead–confirmation that his will and way really is the Divine will and way in the world–sought to live lives appropriate to this new resurrection reality.

This reality we call, as Jesus did, the Kingdom of Heaven: the in-breaking of God’s world-renewing hope, peace, joy, and love, here and now–God’s will on earth as in heaven. When we gather together, learning to love and forgive, worship and work, pray and play in the wide space of God’s grace and love, we seek to align ourselves with the resurrection community through the centuries. Made one in Christ and one with each other, we are called to be a beacon of God’s work to reconcile all things in Jesus, crucified, risen, and reigning. In his name, all are welcome!

Diakonia (Service): Scripture tells us that Jesus, “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited [or grasped at], but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant.” (see Philippians 2:5-11) On the evening before he was crucified, John’s gospel (Ch. 13) tells us that Jesus stripped down, wrapped a towel around himself, and washed his disciples’ feet, like a first-century servant would.

Following his example, and his command to serve and love one another, Christians are expected to offer loving service to the world around us. We seek to do that through the ministries of our congregation, but we are also sent out, like seeds scattered by the Sower and blown by the winds of the Spirit, to love and serve beyond our church community, wherever we find ourselves in the world. The goal as we seek to “grow up in Christ” is to do everything, in word or deed, in the name of Jesus, to the glory of the One he calls Father (see I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3: 17).

Didache (Training): Pronounced “did-a-kay” this is the mark of a Christian community in which members are being trained in the way of Jesus. Followers of Jesus are often called “disciples,” which means something like “apprentice.” At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples, to go and make disciples themselves, teaching others to walk in the world as he did. The Christian way of life is not always intuitive; we need to learn the rhythms of mercy and grace, of radical love and extravagant generosity, of justice and righteous aligned with God’s dream and work for this broken and beloved world.

We know there are many voices and idols vying for our attention; the goal of Christian maturity is to center our attention, and our lives, on Jesus, and to walk in his Way. We are called to “be doers of the word, not merely hearers” (James 1:22); we are called to embody and live out the good news (gospel) of Jesus, the Word made flesh. As a congregation the “training” to do so happens in a number of ways, including: regular worship, through our Church School (for children, during worship), through weekly Bible study, bi-annual book/Bible studies, preparation for baptism or marriage, personal and pastoral care (with clergy and one another).

Kerygma (Proclamation): The Church has good news to share. Gospel means “good news.” It’s from the Greek word euangelion, a word that was first used to describe a royal announcement, often about the most recent military victory. When Christians adopted the term (see Mark 1:1) it was at least in part a reminder of a different kind of victory, by a different kind of king. The Christian witness is that in Jesus, God who made and loves all creation, has come into this world in a unique and revolutionary way–a way of self-giving love, mercy, and grace–a way that ultimately proved too much of a challenge to “the way things are,” and for which he was put to death by the authorities of his day. The Scriptures tell us that three days later, he was raised from the dead, vindicating his way in the world. Christians came to believe and know that through his death and resurrection, God was keeping his promise to Abraham, that the whole world would be blessed, restored and made whole.

After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to be witnesses of repentance (a new way of life, re-oriented to God and God’s way of lavish love) and forgiveness of sins (freedom from and healing for brokenness and guilt; and the restoration and renewal of our relationships with God, ourselves, each other, and all creation). The Church is called to continue in that witness, proclaiming in our words and actions, a different, Christ-centered way of living in the world, and of relating to one another, as we grow in the hope, peace, joy and love of God for us and all things.

 

November 4, 2020

What Christians Mean by the Term, “Person of Peace”

Whereas the term “seeker” has been associated with the church growth movement in North America in particular, “person of peace” has lodged itself into the lexicon of modern missions. – Alex Kocman (linked below)

This phrase, “person of peace” comes up three times here at C201, all of which are in 2013 and 2014; we haven’t touched on this lately. The phrase is often used when someone is going into a community where they don’t know the people — i.e. exercising the gift of apostle — and are looking to build partnerships necessary to commence ministry.

(This raises many other issues: Were they called by someone there to give aid? Does God already have people on the ground doing similar types of ministry? Do they need a partner relationship because they weren’t sent out in twos as Jesus did? These are important questions, but we’ll grant some grace here as to their motivation and methods.)

The phrase is taken from Jesus instructions to his disciples in Luke 10:4-6:

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.

and the parallel passage in Matthew 10:11-13

Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.

Even within your own city or town, when entering a micro-community that is not your own, you do well to consider the “person of peace” concept.

At the website called (deep breath) Pursuing Disciple-Making Movements in the Frontiers, C. Anderson begins with this important principle:

The Person Of Peace Isn’t Always Who You Think They Will Be

The article continues…

1. A Person of Peace welcomes both you and your message.

…They may enjoy your company and extend hospitality. They may even be an influencer in the community. Be careful of investing lots of time in someone who doesn’t show interest in and acceptance of the gospel. Keep looking for those who after hearing the message, receive it with joy. Watch for those who immediately begin to invite others to hear the story of Jesus…

2. Abundant seed sowing leads you to the Person of Peace.

…Teams are sometimes discouraged when they haven’t yet found the Person of Peace. They have been praying and making relationships in the community. Key leaders have befriended them and they’ve started community development projects. Children’s ministries and programs have begun.

“Why can’t we find a Person of Peace?” they say.

The answer is clear to me. They simply don’t do enough “seed sowing.” They are not “casting the net wide” when it comes to broad evangelism efforts…

3. Be open to the unexpected.

…In the story of the Woman at the Well, found in John 4, the Person of Peace was not who we would have expected.  Jesus shared the truth with an immoral woman. She received His message and called the whole town to come and listen.

We often think the Person of Peace will be a community leader or person who is well-respected. Sometimes they are. Sometimes not.

Invest time in relationships with those who are key influencers in the community. You certainly want to share the gospel with them! But don’t think they are the only possible people who God could use to unlock the doors of hearts and lives

At the website of AEWB International, Alex Kocman looks into this in greater detail. This is an article I highly recommend for those of you who want to go deeper on this subject.

…It is true that everyone we meet is on a “spiritual journey.” Everyone, eternally speaking, is going somewhere. We are either plodding onward toward eternal life or careening toward Hell (cf. Heb. 9:27).

But conversely, I fear that our marketing-based evangelistic lingo reveals a less-than-biblical theology. At times, our soft evangelistic language of our ads and tracts makes it unclear whether we are inviting unbelievers to attend Bible studies or a timeshare presentation. Statements like “everyone is on a spiritual journey” raise challenging missiological questions. In what sense can someone be a “seeker”? Do unbelievers engage in honest inquiry in search of spiritual truth—or, better yet, can they?

In North America, these questions are complicated for by the seeker-sensitive, church growth, and attractional movements. There are certainly truths contained inside of each of the ministry philosophies represented by these movements; churches should be hospitable to unbelievers who visit their gatherings (1 Cor. 14:24), healthy churches should pursue evangelistic growth (Acts 2:41), and a Christ-exalting church is the most attractive gathering in the cosmos (Eph. 3:10).

The implications extend beyond North America as well when we discuss the concept and strategy related to “persons of peace” (cf. Luke 10:6). According to David and Paul Watson, “Persons of Peace have three primary characteristics: They are open to a relationship with you. They hunger for spiritual answers for their deepest questions. And they will share whatever they learn with others.” We must critically ask: do we go out on the mission field to engage honest inquiry, hostile unbelief, or both?…

The reference to the Watsons that Alex mentioned is the same authors from whom a book excerpt formed the basis of our own article on this subject in 2014.

At a 2011 article, Ben Sternke writes,

…A Person of Peace is simply someone that God has prepared ahead of time to hear the message of the gospel through you. We recognize Persons of Peace as those who welcome us, like to be with us, and attempt to serve us in some way.

Which is all fine and good in theory, but as we’ve been working with people on this, we’ve noticed what we think is a key element to recognizing a person of peace, without which we will remain blind to what God is doing around us.

The key we’ve stumbled upon seems obvious in hindsight, but it has been important for us to articulate it. The specific key we’ve discovered to recognizing Persons of Peace is basically this: the willingness to risk meeting “Persons of Unpeace.”

When Jesus sent them out he told them that they would experience welcome and rejection…

(In the article mentioned in Ben’s first paragraph here, he sees Zacchaeus as an example of Jesus finding just such a person.)

Finally, at our other article on this subject in 2014, we quoted from a piece which turned up on several sites, but we were unable to trace its origins:

6 Marks of a Person of Peace

…A person of peace will be one who

  • welcomes you
  • receives you
  • is open to you
  • will be open to what you have to say about Jesus
  • is open to the life you live because of Jesus
  • serves you

A person of peace could be a passing relationship. Sometimes a person of peace is a permanent relationship. But the real question is, “Who are your people of peace?”

 

 

October 1, 2020

A Good News Life

by Clarke Dixon

What does the Christian life look like? Should we retreat from a non-Christian majority and keep to ourselves? Should we just fit in, behaving like everyone else, but holding some beliefs in a very private place? Should we go all-in on what we think is a Bible-based lifestyle and call upon the government to get everyone else to believe and live like we do? What does it look like to be a follower of Jesus in our day?

This was a central question for the young Christian communities in New Testament times. Having turned from Roman religions, now how are they to live? Just as they are and do as Romans do? Or should they begin a political revolution calling on society to adopt and enforce Judea-Christian laws?

When we look at the early Christians we find neither of these things happening. What we find are people continuing to live in the world, rubbing shoulders with those they normally would, but who were now living differently. Yes, they were still in the Roman world, but they were now living there as citizens of another world.

Paul speaks to this in his letter to the Christians in Philippi:

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.

Philippians 1:27a (NLT)

Followers of Jesus in the early Church did not separate themselves from society, nor did they try to change society, but they did live differently within society.

Living lives “Worthy of the Good News,” they would be living in such as way that the people they rubbed shoulders with would say “wow, this really is good news.”

We might imagine what a very Roman citizen might say to his neighbour who became a Christian: “You are different. Love seems to be a big thing for you now. You have more concern than ever for the poor. You are quick to forgive people. You Jesus followers refuse to expose your unwanted babies (a practice of leaving unwanted newborns out to die). Your sexuality is different, we don’t see you with the temple prostitutes anymore. Your marriages are different, faithfulness to your spouse is now so important to you. When you gather in community, you don’t make distinctions based on class or, it seems, even gender. You have a confidence that there is only one God and that God is for you and not against you. You say it is good news that Jesus rose from the dead. In many ways it looks like good news!”

When Jesus calmed a storm, the disciples were astounded, asking “who is this man?” The person in the Roman world living a life worthy of the good news, lived a life that caused people to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about? We want to know more.”

Is that happening in our day?

No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we live like hermits, separating ourselves off from everyone who is not a Christian. If no one hears us talking about Jesus, and sees the difference following him makes in our lives, nothing will change in theirs.

No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we just make Christianity a belief system, a set of doctrines we believe, with little to no impact on our lives. Christianity is not a privately held set of thoughts, but a way of life.

No one is going to ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we make adopting Christianity a nationalist political agenda, if it is all about getting the state to ensure that everyone is living like Christians. People will not ask “Who is this Jesus?”, but they will ask “Who do these Christians think they are?”.

People will ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we are growing in the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. People will ask “Who is this Jesus they keep talking about?”, if we are being changed from the inside out.

Now back to the Romans in Philippi:

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents.

Philippians 1:27-28 (NRSV emphasis added)

Though a life worthy of the good news is really a beautiful kind of life, there will always be those who are very much opposed.

We can imagine the opposition in Philippi. The Christians would be seen to be promoting atheism by saying that the gods commonly believed in are not gods at all. The Christians are also no longer taking part in all the regular civic duties. The Christians seem to have forgotten what being a good Roman looks like with regards to both belief, and practice!

There will be those who are opposed to the Christ-focused life today with regards to both belief and practice.

There are those who very strongly promote scientism, the belief that all that is worth knowing can be learned through science. Certainly there is much we can know from science and we are grateful for all the work scientists do. But science is limited in what it can discover. We can expect opposition from those who disagree.

There are those who are opposed to Christian ethics and lifestyle. As an obvious example, many think the emphasis on faithfulness within monogamous marriage is rather old-fashioned. It may be old-fashioned, but it is good! There is something beautiful about the Christian ethic. We can expect opposition from those who disagree.

Let us not be intimidated by those who are opposed to Christianity, those who claim that it is unbelievable and/or ugly. In fact Christianity is both believable and beautiful! I will refer you to a series of earlier blog posts which speak to this, the summary of which, and a kind of “table of contents,” can be found here.

Just as Paul encouraged the Christians in Philippi to find encouragement from Christian community, “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel” we also can find encouragement from Christian community. This includes being part of a church family, but it can also include the encouragement we receive from Christian writers and resources.

When we are a follower of Jesus, do we retreat from society? Do we just fit in with society, and hold our beliefs in a very private place? Do we go all in and try to get everyone else to believe and live like we do?

We center our lives on God, being encouraged by Christian community, learning love from Jesus, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Watch a video version of today’s devotional at their “online worship expression” from September 27th.

September 30, 2020

When Troubles Come and God Does Not Meet Our Expectations

Because we were unable to connect with Clarke Dixon last week, we have two posts this week; today and tomorrow.

by Clarke Dixon

When our circumstances don’t seem to match what we expect from God, do we need to lower our expectations?

Imagine you were in the apostle Paul’s shoes, having worked so diligently and passionately for so long and having demonstrated such a high commitment to God, wouldn’t you expect God to reward that?

Yet you find yourself in prison, waiting to hear if you will be released, or executed. Today may actually be your last day. What would go through your mind if that were you? Perhaps “what have I done to deserve this?” or “perhaps I should have had less confidence in God all along?”

To be honest, I hear Christians express things in the good times, that make me wonder what will happen when the bad times come. The belief, for example, that because they have a relationship with God, bad times won’t come.

How did Paul respond to his difficult circumstance? Does he respond with “poor me,” and “God is not that great”? Consider his words from prison:

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.

Philippians 1:12-13 (NLT)

Paul had a very positive attitude, firstly, because he was not just focused on himself. Paul’s focus was not on his own difficult circumstance, but on what God was doing in the lives of others through that circumstance. Because Paul was in prison, everyone was talking about Jesus. That was a great thing!

And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.

Philippians 1:14 (NLT)

The believers in the city were speaking about Jesus with greater confidence, perhaps knowing that with Paul in prison, they would need to take up the slack.

The next few verses are tricky to understand but Bible scholar N.T. Wright has an interesting proposal: even the Roman non-believers were speaking about Jesus. Perhaps some were saying that Paul was dangerous with his insistence that some man named Jesus had risen from the dead and was therefore now Lord, and therefore Caesar was not. Perhaps others were saying these followers of Christ are actually very good citizens. Either way, the fact that people were talking about Jesus and curiosity was piqued was a positive thing in Paul’s mind:

. . . the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.

Philippians 1:18 (NLT)

Paul did not dwell on the potential of losing his life, but on the possibility of others finding life in Christ. They had the opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus Christ. Do we recognize how exciting that is?

Paul’s focus was not on himself and his own troubles, but on others and what God might do for them through his troubles. We do well to remember this when our circumstances are difficult to bear. Without denying the pain that may be ours for a season, perhaps we might take our focus off ourselves for a moment and ask the Lord to help us see the big picture. Can we see what God is doing and can do in the lives of others through, our circumstances?

Did Paul lower his expectations of what God might do for him as he sat in prison waiting to hear if he would be released or executed?

And I will continue to rejoice. For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance. For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith.

Philippians 1:18-25 (NLT)

Paul’s expectations of God were very high! He would either be released, so that he could continue to pursue God’s call on his life in helping others as an apostle. Or he would be executed and find himself fully in the presence of Christ. Either way he will be released! Either way he will experience the goodness of God!

Are our expectations of God high enough?

We might have low expectations of God if we only consider what he can do for us in our immediate situation. Do we also consider what God can do for others, through us?

Do we have the bigger picture of what is ahead for us in Christ if worse comes to worst and death is staring us in the face. It is when worse comes to worst that we will experience God’s best.

Do we have high enough expectations of God? Do we expect that God will be good whether he uses the difficulties in the present chapter of our lives to bear fruit in the lives of others, or death ushers us into a new chapter of our everlasting lives?

Does the thought of dying, of going to be with the Lord, feel like going to a job interview for a job you don’t think you deserve, or travelling to an exam you expect to fail? Or does going to be with Lord feel like finally being with a loved one after only being able to meet over Zoom?

If we are in Jesus Christ, if we trust him, and if we are concerned that God will not accept us and welcome us, then our expectations of God and his love are not high enough.


Clarke is a Canadian pastor. Watch a video version of this message at the “online worship expression” from September 20th.

September 24, 2020

Evangelism in a Time of Crisis

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Over the years, we have occasionally borrowed from blog of one of my former employers, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Kelly Aalseth is a Regional Coordinator for Leadership Development for InterVarsity in Greater Los Angeles and the author of Keeper of Your Life: Actively Trusting Jesus Through Chronic Pain.  She wrote this in August as InterVarsity was preparing to launch an online student outreach, and said,

Why would I care about evangelism in a time like this? Isn’t just getting myself out of bed each day enough of a risk?

As always, click the header below to read this at the blog. Click the two links within the article for today’s scriptures.

Why Do Evangelism in a Time of Crisis?

Part of Our Healing

We need to remind ourselves that we do evangelism in a time of crisis not to fill some “good-Christian quota” but because it’s good for our souls. Evangelism is a part of our own healing and development, especially in a time of crisis.

In John 9, a blind man is miraculously healed by Jesus and then finds himself in a crisis. His friends and leaders don’t believe him, and his parents refuse to stand up for him. The thing that brings him through this crisis is the act of sharing his story . . . over and over again! The more he tells it, the more he knows Jesus, and the more his confidence grows.

As a freshman, I was invited to lead an InterVarsity Bible study. The week before my first leaders meeting, my dad passed away suddenly. My whole world fell apart. My campus minister told me that, of course, I could opt out of leadership. I was grateful for the grace. But I felt Jesus’ invitation to lead that Bible study because it would be the avenue for my own healing. As I look back on that season, I remember the grief, but I also remember the joy. The more I took risks with Jesus, the more I knew he was trustworthy with all my pain.

Seeing Others Transformed

Evangelism is good for our souls. Taking risks is a major part of our own healing journey with Jesus. But what happens when he meets those risks with his miraculous, transformational power?

In Mark 6:30–44, Jesus invites his disciples to feed thousands of hungry people. They are tired and want Jesus to send the crowds away. But he invites them to share the little they have. As they say yes to Jesus, albeit grudgingly, they witness a great miracle. Jesus satisfies the empty stomachs of the masses, and the disciples get a front row seat to witness the power of God.

My cousin, Erica, decided she was an atheist in college and studied world religions to prove that God wasn’t real. Both of us had experiences with chronic physical pain, which gave us a special bond. One day, Erica experienced a miraculous healing and asked, “Kelly, do you think this could be God?” I took the risk to invite her into an online Bible study (since she lived in another state).

I said, “Let’s study the Bible for four weeks with an assumption that Jesus could be real, and at the end of the four weeks, I am going to ask you to make your own conclusion about him.”

By the end of our studies, Erica said something I never imagined I’d hear from her: “I used to think I would regret having anything to do with Jesus. Now I know I would regret it if I didn’t give my life to him.”

I am now a godparent to Erica’s first child, and I watched her dedicate her son to God. Erica and I have continued to share in our sufferings, and she has become my biggest mentor in trusting Jesus with chronic pain.

When I think about the greatest moments of joy in my life, this one is in my top five. There’s nothing more joyous than seeing Jesus transform lives and the next generation.

How do you need more joy during this pandemic? Have you considered that Jesus’ invitation to do evangelism may be one of the ways he wants to bring you joy? Who is one person you can invite to study the Bible with you this week? Who knows, maybe that person will one day become your biggest mentor!


■ If you or someone you know deals with chronic pain, you might also want to check out Kelly’s personal blog.

August 15, 2020

The Basics

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Christianity in a single sentence

[Paul writing] For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. – I Cor. 15.3-5 NIV

[Peter speaking] “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Acts 2:22-24 NIV

[Paul writing] Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel… – 2 Timothy 2:7-8 NIV

[Jesus teaching] For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. – Luke 19:10 ESV

[Jesus teaching] “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 NASB

[John writing] This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. I John 4:10 The Message

[Jesus teaching]  “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 6:38-39 NIV


One of the very first posts at our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, included this definition of the gospel by Jeremiah Burroughs:

The gospel of Christ in general is this: It is the good tidings that God has revealed concerning Christ. More largely it is this: As all mankind was lost in Adam and became the children of wrath, put under the sentence of death, God, though He left His fallen angels and has reserved them in the chains of eternal darkness, yet He has thought upon the children of men and has provided a way of atonement to reconcile them to Himself again…Namely, the second person of the Trinity takes man’s nature upon Himself, and becomes the Head of a second covenant, standing charged with sin. He answers for it by suffering what the law and divine justice required, and by making satisfaction by keeping the law perfectly, which satisfaction and righteousness He tenders up to the Father as a sweet savor of rest for the souls that are given to Him…And now this mediation of Christ is, by the appointment of the Father, preached to the children of men, of whatever nation or rank, freely offering this atonement unto sinners for atonement, requiring them to believe in Him and, upon believing, promising not only a discharge of all their former sins, but that they shall not enter into condemnation, that none of their sins or unworthiness shall ever hinder the peace of God with them, but that they shall through Him be received into the number of those who shall have the image of God again to be renewed unto them, and they they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
Jeremiah Burroughs

That’s a long definition! The challenge when answering the question, “What is the Gospel?” is that you can end up over-analyzing a story that when distilled, is so simple that even a child can understand. That’s probably because the story is over-laid with so much wonderful, beautiful complexity that one can never stop mining its riches and admiring its intricacies.

5½ years ago, Reformed pastor Dane Ortlund posed the question to his readers and got many responses.

  • God is in the process of recreating the universe which has been corrupted by sin and has made it possible for all those and only those who follow Jesus to be a part of the magnificent, eternal community that will result. (Craig Bloomberg)
  • The movement in history from creation to new creation through the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit who saves and changes corrupted people and places for his glory and their good. (Paul House)
  • God reigns over all things for his glory, but we will only enjoy his saving reign in the new heavens and the new earth if we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord and who gave himself on the cross for our salvation. (Tom Schreiner)
  • God made it, we broke it, Jesus fixes it! (Jay Sklar attributed to Michael D. Williams)
  • God chose one man (Abraham) in order to make of him one great nation (Israel) so that through it He might bring forth the one great Savior (Jesus) and through Him demonstrate God’s glory and extend God’s grace to all creation. (John Kitchen)
  • The good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provides full and free deliverance from the penalty and power of sin, by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone, plus nothing – all to the praise of His glorious name. (Seth from Lynchburg)
  • Jesus, God’s promised Rescuer and Ruler, lived our life, died our death and rose again in triumphant vindication as the first fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together under his gracious reign. (attributed to Steve Timmis)
  • Why try and better John the Baptist? He succinctly summarizes the Bible: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”(John 1:29). It’s all there – epiphany, sin, sacrifice, salvation, redemption, justification, forgiveness, release, freedom and victory. (Michael Zarling)

How would you define the gospel? How would you share it with a friend?


Scot McKnight:

Ravi Zacharias:

Skye Jethani:

Bruxy Cavey:

David Platt:

July 27, 2020

Driven

Sometimes I like to go back and visit sources from C201’s more distant past, and see what the writers are up to. In 2013, we quoted from Steven Ruff who is a Southern Baptist pastor in Florida. This article appeared five years later and I felt it was worth sharing here. Click the header below to read this at his blog, The Road Less Traveled.

We’re All Driven By Something

Have you ever thought about the things that drive you? Have you ever considered what motivates you to do what you do? The need for shelter motivates and drives us to seek a place to live. The need for financial income motivates and drives us to find a job. The need for higher education motivates and drives us to spend extra years in school beyond the required. The need for a healthier body motivates and drives us to exercise and diet. The need for companionship motivates and drives us to the do hard work building and maintaining relationships.

 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. (2 Cor 5:14-15)

Paul deals with motivation in his letter to the church at Corinth. He was a driven and focused man. Paul tells us the reason for his drive and what motivation, “For the love of Christ compels us”The love of Christ kept him preaching when no one seemed to be listening. The love of Christ pushed him forward after being beaten and run out of town. The love of Christ kept the churches on his mind while facing his own death.

What motivated Paul motivates us today. The love of Christ compels the believer to tell others of a life-changing Savior. The love of Christ compels us to grant and extend forgiveness when the rest of the world simply says, “get even.” The love of Christ compels us to love our fellow man beyond what we can see on the outside. The love of Christ compels us to reach into the darkness of the nations and shine the light of the gospel. This love of Christ looked beyond us while we were lost, rebellious, and indifferent towards God.

Jesus demonstrated what true love looks like. Paul said, “and He died for all, that those who lives should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” Paul alludes to his previous motivation. At one time Paul was motivated by pride, hate, and religious tradition. He was living for himself. However, when the love of Christ spilled onto his life and it became personal to him, he quit living for himself.

We are no different. At one time we lived for ourselves and did everything that we thought was right and good. The day Jesus stepped into our lives and made us whole, everything changed. We are now under new management. The driving force that compels, urges, prompts, and pushes us to love, witness, preach, teach, and care is the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.


Unrelated: Last week I published an article at Thinking Out Loud which does not meet the criteria to be included here, but I thought some of you might be interested in it, especially if you enjoy hearing about new Bible translations. Well… this one isn’t new, and it’s not a translation that many of you would have on your shelves, but recently I learned that a very high-profile Christian sect updated their signature Bible edition back in 2013, so I decided to pay a close-up visit.

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