Christianity 201

March 18, 2013

Remaining Faithful in His Absence

Luke 19:11-27 (NIV)

The Parable of the Ten Minas

11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’

17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’

18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’

19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’

20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’

22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’

24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’

26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”

For today’s study you will have to click through to the original source, because although it’s in point-form,  it is quite lengthy to include here.  I wanted to run this as an example of what a good expository (i.e. verse-by-verse) Bible study or preaching outline looks like.  The study is formatted so you just need to hover your mouse over the scripture references to see the verse in question.  Gene Brooks is the pastor of Union M. Baptist Church, Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Personal note before we begin: There is a whole other story going on — concerning a King and the people of a far country —  in verses 12, 14, 15a, and 27 that bookends the story we are more familiar with and is often overlooked. Gene addresses this briefly, but it’s something some of you might want to dig into for future.

Here is the link to continue reading.  Take the time to study both the form and the substance of this. I’ll be checking to see how many of you are clicking through, okay?

April 1, 2011

Joanna, A Disciple of Jesus

Luke 8:1 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.  

# # #

Luke 24:1 But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 3 So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

5 The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man[b] must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

8 Then they remembered that he had said this. 9 So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. 11 But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it.

Today’s reading is from Jeff Lucas; and first appeared in the UK bi-monthly devotional book Lucas on Life — an offshoot of CWR’s other subscription devotional, Selwyn Hughes’ Every Day With Jesus — in November of 2005.

What does a real Christian look like?  Is it enough to believe the right things, attend church regularly, read the Bible and pray — or should there be some more startling evidence that God is at work?  The letter of James insists that when God is really at work in us, then fruit can be seen.

We don’t want to be followers of “mere” religion that makes us feel good, but does nothing else.  S. H. Miller, dean of Harvard Divinity School, says, “Religion which is interested only in itself, in its prestige and success, in its institutions and ecclesiastical niceties is worse than vanity; it is essentially incestuous.”

For some answers we turn to a lady called Joanna.  She is only mentioned twice in the Bible — both times by Luke in his gospel.  But Joanna — a member of Jesus traveling band and one of the first to hear of the resurrection — is a heroine worthy of our reflection because her life was radically transformed by Jesus.  We’ll see that her priorities, her spending patterns, her domestic life — all were dynamically affected by the power of God that had either delivered her from sickness, dark powers, or both.

Let’s follow in her footsteps.

Jeff Lucas also adds as a reading for the day this passage in James:

James 2:14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.

25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.

Scriptures quoted from the New Living Translation (NLT)

January 15, 2011

Faith Without Works Isn’t Faith

Today’s post is from Ron who blogs at Window or Mirror?, a blog primarily for men, where this appeared under the title Would You?

I posed a hypothetical question to my son the other day, to his ever-growing amusement. I asked him, “RJ, what would happen if I told you to go upstairs and clean your room, and you disappeared and returned in 90 minutes and sat on the couch to read a book, without having cleaned it? What would I do if I asked you what was going on and you said that you memorized what I said, and then went back to reading”? My son, laughing now, said that I would likely think he was being a wise guy. I asked, “What if I told you to go clean it again, and you disappeared again, return in 30 minutes, and the room still wasn’t clean? This time when I ask about the room, you tell me that you’ve invited three friends over to have a Bible study – in the dirty room – to discuss what it might look like if you cleaned it”? RJ laughed and said, “I wouldn’t dare do that Dad”!

Wouldn’t dare indeed. Isn’t this what we often do with what God has told us? …We pray, begging the Lord to show us His face, to reveal His specific will for our lives – and that’s good – but don’t you think that He sometimes looks down and says, “Your knowledge already far outpaces your obedience. I have given you my Word, and you cannot follow it; what more should I tell you now”? We are to be “doers” of the Word, and not hearers only. The “one anothers” of Scripture demand relationships and “action”. Each “one another” is preceded by a verb. Now I was never good at English, but I think verbs imply action on the part of the subject of the sentence. Each of the “one anothers” has YOU implied as the subject. YOU, love one another. YOU, bear one another’s burdens”. I challenge us today to be active in our faith. Exercise the “one another’s” in Scripture, and do what the Lord has instructed.

I am not advocating “works theology”. Some imply that the mere mention of “doing something” – even if for the Lord – hints at working for salvation. Men; everything that you can possibly do – all of it – cannot move you one fraction of an inch closer to deserving the gift of grace. It is free not because it is cheap, but because it is priceless; and praise the Lord that this is so! But works are important. How important? Read Matthew 25:41-46 below:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Well, how important is that? At the end of it all, the One who gave us His life to redeem us will separate those who will live eternally from those who will not; and He will do this based on whether or not they did what He asked them to do. It is important. Praise the Lord that we have good works that have been prepared for us to do, and that we have the Spirit enabling us to do them. Let us therefore do what He commands.

December 31, 2010

We Don’t Need Another Hero

When Pete Wilson mentioned this piece, which he originally titled Plodding Visionaries, as one of his top posts of 2010, I decided to give it another read.    It’s true.   We don’t need another Christian superstar.

So this is me, re-blogging Pete re-blogging Keven…

So, I read a blog post last week that has challenged me all weekend as I’ve reflected back on it. I rarely quote this much of someone’s blog post but I couldn’t do it justice any other way. The following post was written by Keven DeYoung on the Ligonier Ministries blog. Do yourself a favor and read the post in its entirety.

I’m quite confident many of you won’t agree with the entire thing but man did he challenge me. There are times I get so frustrated with the church that I just want to scream and walk away. Generally it’s because I see something in her that reminds me of something glaringly obvious in my own life.  Trying to consistently lead a church to be everything God has called her to be is the biggest challenge of my life. So thankful for all the “plodders” God has put around me. Don’t know where I would be without you!!

It’s sexy among young people — my generation — to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church. Besides being un-Biblical, such notions of churchless Christianity are unrealistic. It’s immaturity actually, like the newly engaged couple who think romance preserves the marriage, when the couple celebrating their golden anniversary know it’s the institution of marriage that preserves the romance. Without the God-given habit of corporate worship and the God-given mandate of corporate accountability, we will not prove faithful over the long haul.

What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church — a multitude of faithful, risk-taking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency.

My generation in particular is prone to radicalism without follow-through. We have dreams of changing the world, and the world should take notice accordingly. But we’ve not proved faithful in much of anything yet. We haven’t held a steady job or raised godly kids or done our time in VBS or, in some cases, even moved off the parental dole. We want global change and expect a few more dollars to the ONE campaign or Habitat for Humanity chapter to just about wrap things up. What the church and the world needs, we imagine, is for us to be another Bono — Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church.

As great as it is that Bono is using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos (as at least one author suggests). With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the choir every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income?

Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary. Our jobs are often mundane. Our devotional times often seem like a waste. Church services are often forgettable. That’s life. We drive to the same places, go through the same routines with the kids, buy the same groceries at the store, and share a bed with the same person every night. Church is often the same too — same doctrines, same basic order of worship, same preacher, same people.

But in all the smallness and sameness, God works — like the smallest seed in the garden growing to unbelievable heights, like beloved Tychicus, that faithful minister, delivering the mail and apostolic greetings (Eph. 6:21). Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days.

Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.

October 30, 2010

We’ll Get Mikey To Try It, He Hates Everything

If the title of this post means anything to you, then it means that you remember a certain Life cereal commercial.   Besides, I didn’t think people would get my first choice:

We’ll Get Micaiah to Prophesy, He Hates Everything

King Ahab was convinced that Micaiah was a bad news prophet who never had anything good to say.  I was just listening to a sermon which referenced him when today, I discovered that Stephen & Brooksyne Weber devoted TWO devotional posts to him this week.

I decided to combine them as one long one here because this is all worth reading:

Only What God Says

But Micaiah said, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says” (2 Chronicles 18:13).

“What’s popular is not always right and what’s right is not always popular.”  This is a quote that hung on a banner in the youth room of our church in New England for many years.  More to the point, “What’s popular in the world is usually not right for those seeking to please God and what’s right for those who seek to please God is usually not popular in the world.”

This is an issue that others have faced in previous generations. In fact many of the Biblical giants were not popular in their time.

When we think of prophets in the Bible we likely first consider those who have books named after them. But there were other great prophets such as Elijah, Elisha and Nathan.

One of the lesser known is a prophet by the name of Micaiah (we pronounce his name like Isaiah since its spelling is very similar). His story is told in parallel accounts in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18. He was a prophet to the apostate Northern Kingdom and was known for telling it like it is. People like that may not be popular in their time but their boldness is sorely needed for their generation!  Their words and actions may not just be for their time but may affect many other generations as well.

Jehoshaphat, king of the southern Kingdom (Judah) and Ahab, king of the northern kingdom had entered into an ungodly alliance and were preparing for an attack. Jehoshaphat had agreed to proceed but then remembered that he should seek the will of the Lord. His “Charge Ahead” attitude got ahead of Moses’ command, “Listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him” (Deuteronomy 30:20b)!

King Ahab got together four hundred prophets that assured them of victory in battle. News of victory surely was a “sign” that God was in this but Jehoshaphat, on the face of such news, detected that these were false prophets.  Exercising discernment he asked, “Is there not a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” 2 Chronicles 18:6).  For Jehoshaphat the untampered truth was more important than false assurance.

Indeed there was a prophet of the Lord but Ahab did not want to consult him! It seems even Ahab had some discernment but tried to ignore it, hoping to get his way.

His response is like many who don’t want to hear what God says.  He had gathered around him those who said what he wanted to hear. The apostle Paul in the New Testament warned: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).  I think we live in such a time as well!

Ahab probably spoke just above a whisper through clenched teeth when he finally revealed, “There is still one man through whom we can inquire of the LORD”. Surely his eyes were full of deadly venom as he went on to confess, “I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”

So Micaiah was called and pressured by the messenger to give a prophetic word agreeable to the other 400.  He told Micaiah, “Look, all the prophets are promising victory for the king.  Be sure that you agree with them and promise success.”

But Micaiah didn’t succumb to the messenger’s ungodly counsel. He reasoned that kings on earth do not have the same authority as the King of heaven. His response, although obscure, is one of the greatest statements of faith and acts of obedience in the Bible, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says.”

Today we need to take some lessons from Micaiah. He didn’t go along with the crowd just to accommodate others’ ideology, even though they represented great authority on earth.  Our counsel and lifestyle must reflect the principles set forth in Holy Scripture, not the ever changing values and evolving definitions presented in our present society.

Mark My Words

Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, the LORD has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!” (2 Chronicles 18:27).

Our last message was about a little-known prophet who took a stand for the Lord.  Today we want to share another insight from the account. The kings had consulted the prophets regarding their battle plans.  “Go,” they answered, “for God will give it into the king’s hand.” In fact one of them by the name of Zedekiah added some flamboyant visual effects, similar to the style of some very showy evangelists of our time!

But Micaiah stated, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says” (2 Chronicles 18:13). What God had directed Micaiah to say was certainly not well received. His prophetical word is summed up in this simple pronouncement: “The LORD has decreed disaster for you.” That’s certainly not what Ahab wanted to hear,  yet his riches, his alliance with Jehoshaphat, and his kingly position did not change such a deadly pronouncement!

After receiving Micaiah’s news of disaster Ahab attempted to silence the prophet with these orders: “Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.”

The king’s order for imprisonment and food deprivation would surely force Micaiah to modify his original prophecy.  And yet in his parting prophetic statement he boldly added: “If you ever return safely, the LORD has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!” (2 Chronicles 18:27).

Notice the responsibility Micaiah took. He forthrightly stated that if Ahab did not return safely, “the LORD has not spoken through me.” Over my lifetime I have heard some who claim to speak for the Lord and miss the mark in situations that parallel our story today. Yet they make excuses or go on to try again and again. Guess enough on the issues and at some point they’re going to get it right!  This is true of astrologists as well.

Ahab ignored the counsel and died on the battlefield, validating Micaiah’s prophecy.  An amazing detail about Scripture that intrigues me is that the very last we read about Micaiah is that he’s in prison. There’s no record of what happened to him after Ahab’s body was recovered from the battlefield.  Micaiah is one of the lesser known prophets that I want to talk to when I get to heaven. I’m anxious to hear “the rest of the story”!

The main encouragement to end this message with is this:  Let us be faithful in declaring God’s Word regardless of the cost.

~Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

August 3, 2010

Holding Up Hands in Prayer

For the last few days I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the story of Israel’s battle with the Amalekites; the one in Exodus 17 where, as long as Moses hands are raised, Israel is winning.   But when he lowers his hands, the battle starts to go badly.   So they seated Moses on a rock and held his hands up in the air.

10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.  (Ex 17  NIV)

I’ve been thinking about this passage because, as paranoid as it may sound, I feel there is correlation between the times I have not been as focused in my devotion to God and certain circumstances that have taken place involving friends or relatives.   Perhaps it is only that God has used already transpiring circumstances to bring back my spiritual focus, but we have no idea as to what “cause and effect” sequences God may be permitting.

It’s easy to get distracted by video games, movies, television dramas, romance novels, the acquisition of new material possessions, shopping trips, new hair styles, celebrity gossip, e-mail forwards,  Facebook, Twitter, internet pornography, summer vacation spots, buying lottery tickets, preoccupation with food and dining, lusts and infatuations, drinking, worries about health or family, financial pressure, job stress, etc., etc.

In all those things which can consume us, I think we’re letting down our hands, and whoever the “Amalekites” are in our home, workplace, school, extended family, or neighborhood; they start “winning” the inevitable ongoing spiritual battle that’s taking place.

So what do you think?  Do our lack of prayers make a difference?  Are there situations that are hanging in the balance right now in which outcomes will be determined by our willingness to sacrifice personal comfort or personal concern to [figuratively] hold up our hands?