Christianity 201

March 18, 2020

Biblical Christianity and Social Distancing (2)

Yesterday I wrote,

The present period of lockdown, quarantine, or social distancing is contrary to our nature…

As people created in God’s image, we were made for community and some theologians teach that the God head (Father, Son, Spirit) itself models that community and functions as community.

Writer Christina Fox at Christianity.com continues our theme from yesterday; this is an excerpt, click the header which follows for the complete article…

Don’t Go It Alone, You Were Made for Community

God’s word tells us that we simply can’t function without each other. We need each other and we need community.

…We once were a society that centered around family. Multiple generations often lived together under one roof and when families did live separately, they never moved very far. These days, we are more of an individualistic culture. We rely on ourselves. We live far away from where we were raised. Our connections with other people take place most often in the workplace. But those connections are usually shallow, fickle, and short lived.

In the church, we see this sense of individualism and disconnectedness as well. Many people serially date churches, never staying in one place very long. Some may stake a claim on a church but remain distant and on the margins, attending only when something better isn’t going on. And then there are those who may indeed have a committed relationship with a church but they are not all in. They aren’t fully known by their community. They don’t rely on the Body when they are struggling or in need. Instead, they wear masks that cover the pain of their lives, pretending that everything’s okay, even though it’s not.

Yet individualism and doing life on our own is not part of God’s design. After all, God is a community in himself. Existing for all of eternity past, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have enjoyed the love and fellowship of their perfect triune community. In creating mankind, God desired for us to participate in that community and know the perfect and joyous love the Godhead share.

But God didn’t stop there. He didn’t create man to be in community with him alone. After he created the world and Adam, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). God created man and woman to be in community together, to create families and live together, bearing the image of and reflecting the three-in-one God.

Scripture is all about community. God chose the Israelites to be his people. “And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12). They lived and worshipped him together in community. Following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, God then instituted the church, the Body of Christ as a community of believers. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Here’s what Paul Tripp says in his book, Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy,

“We weren’t created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in a humble, worshipful, and loving dependency upon God and in a loving and humble interdependency with others. Our lives were designed to be community projects. Yet, the foolishness of sin tells us that we have all that we need within ourselves. So we settle for relationships that never go beneath the casual. We defend ourselves when the people around us point out a weakness or a wrong. We hold our struggles within, not taking advantage of the resources God has given us.” (p. 147)

…The truth is, we need each other. We need to trust, rely on, and depend upon other believers. God gave us each other to walk alongside, encourage, and spur one another one in the faith. The writer to the Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” We are to carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), care for each other’s practical needs (Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:16), warn each other of sin (1 Thessalonians 5:14) and rejoice and mourn with each other (Romans 12:15)…


So how do we do that today? In Psalm 137:4 the Psalmist reflects on Israel’s captivity and asks, “How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? Today we could equally ask, How do we practice Christian community while in isolation? We need to work to seek solutions in a less than ideal set of circumstances.

 

 

March 17, 2020

Biblical Christianity and Social Distancing (1)

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. – Genesis 2:18a

Although this verse is usually presented in the context of what Ellicott terms, “the divine appointment of marriage;” it also reflects the wider principle that we were made for community.

The present period of lockdown, quarantine, or social distancing is contrary to our nature, though I know a few Christian introverts who would say they don’t mind this at all. At least for now. We’ll see what they say in about ten days. God made us as social beings.

My research today took me to a website I was previously unaware of, TheNIVBIble.com which led to this article:

We Were Made for Community

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.John 13:34

In our individualistic society, many of us often feel alone. Sometimes we are actually alone; at other times we simply feel lonely. Some of us, conditioned by our culture, believe we are better off by ourselves and think we do not need the help of others. However, the gospel—and all of Scripture, for that matter—reinforces the truth that we were created for community. God created us not to be isolated beings, but rather people who live life with others. The primary way that we as Christians live in community is by belonging to the church.

When our culture thinks of community, it often thinks of a social club or an organization formed around a specific interest or cause. But the church is something much greater. It is Christ’s “body” (Colossians 1:24). And the nature of our relationships with other Christians is described in the New Testament as koinonia, a Greek word often translated as “fellowship.” It means that we as Christians have communion with one another and participate in life together. Not only that, but we also have communion with Christ and participate in his life and mission. We are members of his body.

Unity in Diversity

The fellowship of the church is concretely expressed in diversity. God wants to transform us from people who prefer to be with those who are like us into people who love those who are unlike us and unlike those with whom we would typically associate.

In his book The Living Church, John Stott discusses the practical consequences, “both negative and positive,” of this kind of loving fellowship:

“Negatively, if we love each other, we will not stand in judgment on each other, or speak evil against each other. We will not bite or devour each other (as if we were wild beasts). And we will not provoke or envy or lie to each other. Positively, if we love each other, we will be kind and compassionate to each other, forbear and forgive each other, submit to each other and build each other up, practice hospitality to each other ungrudgingly, encourage each other, admonish and comfort each other, pray for each other and bear each other’s burdens.”

Community is opportunity. Fellowship in the church becomes a tutor and an avenue for us to love and serve others, even those outside the church. Above all, the church is called to mirror the love of the Trinity. God exists in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is the true unity in diversity, and we are invited to not only share in the love of the Trinity, but also to extend that love to everyone we encounter.

Love In Our Workplace and Community

One reason why God has established the church is so that we can experience concretely the love of Christ. Yet this love was never meant to be restricted to the community of the church. Rather, it should generously overflow into all of our communities, including our workplaces. The love of Christ changes the way we see our work community.

Our coworkers are not merely people who help us get our work done or help us advance professionally. No, God has placed them in our lives so that we may love and serve them, even if they are radically different from us. We are called to love them, as Stott explained, both negatively and positively so that they might not only flourish but also experience God’s love and mercy.


The article then concludes with a question that is a bigger challenge today than it was a week ago:

What communities do you belong to? How might you show greater love to someone today?

I encourage you to find ways to reach out even when physical proximity is not an option.

December 13, 2019

Good Habits

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Luke.4.14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.

Today we are back again at the blog with the unusual name, More than Useless, written by Thom Fowler. Click the title below to read this at source.

He Went as Usual

Father, it is much later than I like but I just couldn’t stop what I was doing. You and I were working on this coming Sunday’s sermon and You were speaking and guiding me so clearly that I just couldn’t stop! May it be a blessing to those that hear. May our time be a blessing, as well. Amen.

Luke 4:14-16 (<<see above or click to read the passage)

Frequently, I see and hear excuses for why people don’t attend church. Let me share one from a slightly different angle.

12 Reasons Why I, as a Pastor, Have Decided to Quit Attending Sporting Events

1. The coach never came to visit me.
2. Every time I went, they asked for money.
3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.
4. The seats were very hard.
5. The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.
6. I was sitting with hypocrites – they only came to see what others were wearing!
7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.
8. The band played some songs I had never heard before.
9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.
10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.
11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches, anyway.
12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

Now this list is shared with a little tongue in cheek on my part but as I read through today’s passage something important was pointed out. At the beginning of verse 16, it says of Jesus,

When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath…

First of all, my Life Application Bible states, “During the exile when the Jews no longer had their Temple, synagogues were established as places of worship on the Sabbath and as schools for young boys during the week. [They] continued to exist even after the Temple was rebuilt.”

So, verse 16 states that Jesus “went as usual”.

Just for review, who is Jesus? He is fully God and fully man. Do you think that God needed to go to worship? And if you really give it some thought, wouldn’t His local synagogue had been a little sub-par, especially when compared to the majesty of heaven? But He went “as usual”.

Hebrews 10:25 encourages us by saying

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. NLT

Sunday is coming – and if Sunday doesn’t work others meet on Saturday night. Find yourself a place to set down the burdens you carry every day. Jesus will welcome you with open arms! Don’t miss out!

June 15, 2019

Light and Darkness

This is our third time highlighting the site Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales. Choosing a devotional (or two smaller ones) for today was a tough process; there’s so much good material. Click the header below to read this at source.

Learning to walk in the light

Psalm 89:15

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You,
who walk in the light of Your presence, LORD.”

What is it like to know God? The people who get to know Him develop an attitude to life that is full of confidence and gratitude. They are not merely drifting through life; they know what they are doing and where they are going. They are ‘walking in the light’.

This sounds deceptively easy, but it doesn’t come naturally even to Christians. In fact, it’s something that we have to learn to do.

The pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21)

Ex.13.21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.

When we start out on our Christian journey, God often seems especially close, because He makes things easy for us during our spiritual ‘babyhood’. It was like this on Israel’s first crucial journey out of Egypt: His unseen presence was made visible as a pillar of fiery cloud, and all they had to do was follow it.

In the desert, it’s easier to travel at night (when it’s cooler) – but in the darkness it’s all the more vital to know where you are going! And in a world that is spiritually dark, we need to know which road to take. Whenever we come to a moral decision-point, it’s to God that we must look for direction. We don’t have a convenient pillar of fire (or an audible voice from heaven) to lead us; we must learn to discover God’s will by reading the Bible and by discussion with other believers.

The light of the world (John 8:12)

In Jesus’ time, the four great candelabra in the Temple courtyard were lit during the Feast of Tabernacles to remind the people of the pillar of fire that had led their ancestors through the wilderness. John tells us that at the end of the festival, when the lights were being extinguished, Jesus declared Himself to be the Reality behind the symbol:

“I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Decision (Isaiah 2:5)

Walking in darkness is the ‘default option’. We have to make a positive decision to become followers of Jesus in the first place; and thereafter we must make a conscious effort to reject the ways of the world and keep following His light.

Is.2.5 “Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

But if we stop paying attention to where we are heading, we will gradually drift off course and back into the darkness again!

Walking together (I John 1:7)

1Jn.1.7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Walking in darkness includes such things as having bad relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters (I John 2:9). We cannot have full fellowship with God while refusing to join and work together with other believers!

Walking in the light is also by its very nature a communal activity; for everyone who is following close to Jesus must also be close to one another. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” And that fellowship also helps to keep us together on the right path.

Our destination (Proverbs 4:18)

Prov.4.18 The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
    shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

The path of light is one of safety and growing certainty. As we grow in our faith, and diligently put it into practice, we come further and further into God’s light – and it actually becomes easier to make the right decisions.


Bonus devotional: If you have time, here’s another from the same author…

The Gospel: Some Questions Answered

25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— Romans 3:25,26

Our sins could not be forgiven without atonement being made. So what about those, like David, whose sins were forgiven before Christ came?

2.Sam.12.13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.

Paul’s answer is that the cross is a ‘once-for-all’ method of dealing with sin, effective both retrospectively and prospectively

Heb.9.26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Before Christ came, God had refrained from executing full judgement on sin because of His mercy.

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10)

But this was not because of moral indifference; rather, judgement was withheld until it could fall upon Jesus.

The cross also answers the question of how a righteous God can remain righteous while forgiving our sins – which seems to overturn the whole concept of justice. Justification is not an amnesty; our sins are not being ignored or ‘swept under the carpet’. In fact, justice has been done – and seen to have been done – in the public execution of Jesus Christ. Because His sacrificial death fully satisfies the demands of justice, God can justify sinners without compromising His own righteousness.

April 30, 2018

9 Functions of the Local Church

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I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
 
-Psalm 122:11 CSB

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
 -Acts 2:42 NIV

Today’s devotional is from a small denomination which has not been represented here to date, The Free Presbyterian Church. This was taken from thinkGOSPEL blog, which is now inactive.  There are many scriptures represented in this article, but you’ll need to look them up individually.

Nine Important Functions of the Local Church

by Aaron Dunlop

1. The Christian’s worship center. The local church is the center of the Christian’s worship. This is where our sacrifice for sin—our altar—is presented and understood (Hebrews 13:10; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23). This is where our worship begins and flows out into the life. We damage the growth of Christian graces in the life if we neglect the assembling of the church (Ephesians 4:11–16; Hebrews 10:24–25).

2. The Christian’s schoolroom. Next to worship, teaching is the most prominent function of the church—they rise or fall together. The pastor and elders teach (2 Timothy 2:2), the people teach one another (Titus 2:4; 1 Timothy 5:1–2), and as a body we all teach the angels (Ephesians 3:10, 1 Corinthians 11:10) and the world (Colossians 4:5).

The learning experience of the church is not independent learning—sermons and lectures downloaded from the Internet do not serve this function of the church. The church as a schoolroom depends on the submissive integration and gracious interaction (Hebrews 13:17; Philippians 2:2–4) of Christians. They learn and teach at the same time as they interact with others in the church.

3. The Christian’s counselling room. The Spirit of God uses the preaching of the Word in a remarkable way to penetrate into the hearts and minds of the hearers (Acts 2:37). There is a mysterious element in the preaching of a single sermon. It can rebuke one and comfort another. One can be left in darkness and another illumined (Mark 4:11). “The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him” (Psalm 25:14). He knows your heart—the trials, fears, and anxieties you struggle with. The Word of God“is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). He is then the greatest psychiatrist, the Great Physician.

4. The Christian’s home. The gathering of the saints should also be that place we where can feel at home without the fear of criticism, strife, and rivalry (Philippians 2:2–4). We are equals in the family. This is what Paul told Philemon regarding his former servant Onesimus (Philemon 1:16; Colossians 4:9). This is our “household of faith” (Ephesians 2:19; Galatians 6:10).

5. The Christian’s workplace. The body cannot function without the members (1 Corinthians 12:14–27). The Lord has given “gifts” to the church but “every joint” and “part” of the body works together for the building up of the body (Ephesians 4:16). Many times throughout the epistle Paul thanked those otherwise unknown laborers who were the backbone of the church (e.g., Romans 16:12; Philippians 4:3; 1 Corinthians 3:9).

6. The Christian’s hospital ward. The gathering of the saints also functions as a place of refreshing and recovery and strengthening from spiritual maladies, falls, and injuries. The Lord tells Peter this function was one of the good things that He would bring out of Peter’s fall: strengthening of the brethren (Luke 22:32). Paul also viewed the gathered saints as a sort of infirmary for wounded Christians (Galatians 6:1–2).

7. The Christian’s woodshed. The Christian should also expect to be chastised under the preaching of the Word. In his epistles to young pastors, Paul reminds them that it is their duty to “rebuke … sharply” “with all authority” (1 Timothy 5:20; 2 Timothy 4:2;Titus 1:13; 2:15). We ought not to fight spiritual chastisement, but expect it and accept it as from the Lord. When we feel that chastisement, we should thank Him, remembering that it is an evidence that we are His children whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6).

8. The Christian’s missionary activity. Another important function of the church is its missionary work. Missionary work includes both the evangelization of the lost and the helping of other churches in less favorable circumstances. Every Christian is commanded to go out to the world with the gospel and it ought to be his desire to do so (Matthew 28:19–20; Acts 4:20; 8:4). The local church provides an opportunity to channel money to churches in other lands (1 Corinthians 16:1) and to help the church worldwide (Matthew 25:45; Galatians 6:10). But the local church should also send out young men and women to work in other places and to assist in the extension of the church of Christ across the world (Philippians 2:25).

9. The Christian’s soundtrack. If all of these functions are in their place in the local church—and we give them their place—is there not enough here to keep the mind active through the week as we ponder the Word preached and have the Psalms and hymns echoing in our hearts? Should we not be like Mary who “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart”? (Luke 2:19).

Should the “Songs of Ascent” not also be our soundtrack as we think of “going up” again to the house of the Lord? “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD” (Psalm 122:1; see also Psalm 42:4; 55:14; 63:1–3; 84:1–2; 84:10; 119:111).


Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. 

November 20, 2010

A Serious Moment with Jon Acuff

Even though he doesn’t print my comments anymore, I continue to be impressed by the serious, devotional side to the otherwise humorous blogger, Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like.    Today’s post was a good example…

Last week, I asked my dad, a pastor in North Carolina, about something I read in Proverbs 1. Here are what two verses I read said:

8 Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

9 They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.

After reading that, I thought I’d ask my dad what he would consider his “instruction.” I was curious what he and my mother would say. Here’s an excerpt of his response, which I think probably applies to a lot of us:

Jon, that’s a great question. My primary prayer is for you private, interior life to keep growing so that it can support your growing public life. The other half of my prayer is great thankfulness for you and the opportunities that God is giving you.

So, my immediate thoughts:

Read Scripture deeply (not for material but for life, like what you are doing with Proverbs, guarding and sustaining the good habits that you have had.)

Pray deeply – e.g. Prov 3:1-6. Turn what you are learning into prayers.

Read devotional authors deeply – find out from people you respect who they read (that would be a great list to develop down the road)

Share deeply with someone – a friend or counselor

Without missing the fun, sustain a healthy paranoia about your heart and your temptations. I think it is possible to have a healthy paranoia without living fearfully or cautiously. A healthy paranoia not only keeps us alert and honest, but hungry to keep learning. Success dulls our eagerness to learn.

Thanks Jon… and Jon’s dad! The last paragraph contains much “instruction,” including that reverence for God is the beginning of wisdom.

August 23, 2010

Pete Wilson on Small Group Ministry

“We’ve always said we would never judge success at Cross Point by how many people we lined up in rows, but by how many people we could circle up in homes…”

[read more]

July 21, 2010

Divine Appointments

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Although I think I had previously crossed paths with David Fisher in some other context, I became more aware of him during the time he was the chaplain to The Toronto Blue Jays, as in Major League Baseball.     We’ve had many great encounters since, and this is from Dave’s blog Pilgrim Scribblings.

Although I don’t frequent Facebook as often as I used to, I still check in from time to time and leave an update regarding my “status”.  The following “status” was posted yesterday:

“David Fisher found a “quiet” spot in a secluded (?) place to read a book this morning. Friends from Quebec came long. We chatted. Then a childhood friend and his wife just “happened” to be walking past. They joined in the conversation. Another couple I’ve known for 50 years approached. How many pages did I read? None! But I cherished the conversation!”

Often in our attempts to “get away” from people in our quest for solitude we find ourselves in the presence of those who God has “sent” to encourage us and lift our spirits during a difficult time.  That was the case yesterday.  I just wanted to be alone for an hour or two with a good book, never dreaming that I would be “found” by three Christian couples whom the Lord would use to bless me.  Each one spoke of times in the past when I had encouraged them or ministered to them in a significant way.

The scriptures remind us that “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” (Psalm 37:23) When we aren’t feeling very “good” ourselves He will direct the steps of other “good” people to intersect with ours.

Thank you Lord for Lloyd and Pamela, Gord and Lynda and Gord and Marg.  You all quietly refreshed my spirit in my search for “quietness”.

In the days ahead, be open to the possibility of God sending someone to refresh your spirit.  Better yet, ask Him to do so!

May 23, 2010

Gathered In My Name

After attending a service last week just outside of Toronto at The Meeting House, nine campus locations that are part of Canada’s largest church movement; this Sunday we attended a small alternative service at The Third Space, two hours east in Peterborough in which, including all participants, we were part of a group of twenty.

Qualitatively, both weeks hold equal weight.   While there were differences, I am not sure there was a difference.   I see both as equal expressions of the reality of the Body of Christ, that “holy catholic church” spoken of in The Apostles Creed meeting in different places around the world.

Hebrews 10 : 24-25 (Message)Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

Matthew 18 : 20 (Message) “And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”

May 15, 2010

As Iron Sharpens Iron

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I’m getting today’s post on with about an hour to spare.  Tonight,  I spent two hours on the phone with someone I knew well a few decades ago, but haven’t seen since.    It was great to be reconnected and talk about similar interests and days gone by, but the thing I appreciated most was to have a quality time of spiritual fellowship with another believer.   That we had known each other a lifetime ago was an added dimension.

A lot of guys aren’t “phoners” or talkers.   I like to talk, I love to converse, but it’s actually a rare thing for me to be on the phone with a friend in the evening.   Most of my calls are business related or task related.  They usually come to a screeching halt at suppertime.   And I never go two hours.

Here’s how The Message puts that “iron sharpens iron” verse:

Proverbs 27:17 You use steel to sharpen steel,
and one friend sharpens another.