Christianity 201

December 19, 2019

A Christmas Reflection on a New Father’s First Words

Uppermost in Heart and Mind

by Clarke Dixon

What is the first thing a new father wants to talk about? Zechariah was unable to speak for nine months or so during his wife, Elizabeth’s, pregnancy. This is no ordinary pregnancy for he and his wife Elizabeth are quite elderly, well past the child-bearing years, and they have not been able to have children. This was no ordinary child for God spoke of the special calling upon him. He would become known as John the Baptist. Zechariah knew how special this all was. So what does he say?

We might expect Zechariah to gush over this new baby boy, and he does gush, but not over his own child. He gushes over someone else’s, a child yet to be born:

67 Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy:
68 “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has visited and redeemed his people.
69 He has sent us a mighty Savior
from the royal line of his servant David,
70 just as he promised
through his holy prophets long ago.
71 Now we will be saved from our enemies
and from all who hate us.
72 He has been merciful to our ancestors
by remembering his sacred covenant—
73 the covenant he swore with an oath
to our ancestor Abraham.
74 We have been rescued from our enemies
so we can serve God without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness
for as long as we live. Luke 1:67-75 (NLT)

With all Zechariah could talk about; the excitement of being a new father, Elizabeth bearing a child safely in her elderly years, his son John and the amazing things promised about him, Zechariah talks about Jesus first. Even when he gets around to talking about his son John, he does so only briefly:

76 “And you, my little son,
will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
77 You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.” Luke 1:76-79 (NLT)

Zechariah starts talking forgiveness and immediately gets back to talking about the expected arrival of Jesus! Zechariah talks about Jesus first, and most.

It is fitting that Zechariah should focus on Jesus. Being filled with the Holy Spirit (see verse 67), Zechariah puts the focus on whom God wants the focus. Zechariah’s prophecy centres on the theme of rescue by God. This will be done through Jesus, not John. Jesus was uppermost in Zechariah’s heart and mind. Even upon the birth of his own child, Zechariah could not stop talking about Jesus.

What is uppermost in our hearts and minds? What, or whom, can we not stop talking about?

We sometimes have favourite themes within Christianity. Some love to talk about obedience, some love to talk about justice, some love to talk about the end of the world, some love to talk about systematic theology. All these things are important to talk about, but do we talk about Jesus first, and most?

In my early 20’s I focused mainly on the writings of the Apostle Paul. Paul appealed to my analytical mind. In my mid-20’s I began reading the Gospels more because they are easier than Paul’s letters to read in Greek. In doing so I rediscovered Jesus! Paul would have us go back to Jesus too! I forget who said it, and the exact wording, but to give a rough quote: “the Bible is not the treasure, it is the treasure map. Jesus is the treasure.” Paul would agree. Jesus was Paul’s main focus. Paul knew that Jesus was the treasure. Likewise, Zechariah might say “my son John is not the treasure. John is the treasure map. Jesus is the treasure.” Jesus was uppermost in Zechariah’s heart and mind. Is Jesus uppermost in ours?

What is uppermost in the hearts and minds of people around us? What do they like to talk about?

When it comes to Christianity, they may want to talk about abuse in churches. Unfortunately it has happened, and still happens. Confess that, but talk about Jesus. Jesus-centred people don’t abuse, but want to help. They may want to talk about how Christianity was responsible for dark moments in history. Yes, sometimes Christians have created dark spaces, but talk about Jesus. Jesus brings light and healing to people living in dark spaces. They may want to talk about ethics and how Christians often can not agree on what’s right and what’s wrong. Yes, that is sometimes true, but also talk about Jesus and the ethic of love. We disagree over ethics because love is creative and not a blind following of rules. They may want to talk about theology and how Christians disagree on doctrine. Yes, that is often true, but talk about Jesus. We are united in and through Jesus, not our uniformity of thought. Whatever there is to talk about, learn from Zechariah, and keep talking about Jesus.

People, ourselves included, may want to talk about a messy Christmas, whether a result of a terrible situation, or sour relationships. Yes, Christmas can be difficult, but talk about Jesus. Let a messy Christmas be a commemoration of that first Christmas which itself was horribly messy. There was no room at the inn, Herod was violent. Things got messy for Jesus as he faced constant opposition during his life. He was arrested. That was messy. He was given a mock trial. That was messy. A crown of thorns was thrust upon his head. That was messy. He was crucified. It doesn’t get any messier than that. Talk about Jesus and how through him, God stepped into a mess, to deal with the mess we’re in.

We often hear the slogan, “put Christ back into Christmas.” We need to put Christ back into Christianity. I’m sure you are finished your Christmas shopping by now and ready to focus on New Year’s resolutions. Here’s a good one; commit to seeing Jesus in 20/20 in 2020. All the Bible is important, but let all the Bible point you to Jesus. Perhaps we might commit to reading from the Gospels every day.* If we, like Zechariah, have Jesus uppermost in our hearts and minds, we will be more likely to talk about him. Good news is worth sharing. Zechariah knew that. Do we?


* If you are interested in reading through the Gospels with a daily email reminder, you may be interested in the reading plan found here.

Commit to seeing Jesus in 20/20 in 2020

January 19, 2019

Some Analogies from Photography

Today we’re paying a return visit to the website Truth or Tradition, sponsored by Spirit and Truth Fellowship International. The first article is more elementary, but is a good setup for the second. Both are so very well written.

Where is Your Focus?

If you have time and have never thought about the analogies in scripture to light and lenses click the title above and read this devotional first. Click the title below to read the second article at source.

Why focus is Important

…In a good photograph, the subject is in focus and the viewer’s eyes are drawn to that spot in the picture, seeing the statement the photographer is trying to make. In our Christian walk, we have to make sure we are focused on the right subject so that our life reflects the image of Christ that dwells in us. A camera records an image by the light reflected off the subject, back through the lens where it is captured on film or a digital sensor; it records the subject we focus on. Jesus stayed focused on his Heavenly Father so well that Colossians 1:15 says that He is the image of the invisible God.”  

The Importance of Lighting 

For good focus to be achieved, you need good light. Modern cameras have auto-focus, but if there is insufficient light, the camera will not focus correctly. One of the ways the word “light” is used in scripture is as an idiom to represent the knowledge and wisdom from God. Psalm 119:105 says Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Jesus was a man who was well-versed in the Old Testament scriptures. When he was being tempted in the desert by the Devil, he countered each temptation with it is written (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus hadn’t eaten for forty days during this account, and was tired and hungry. If anyone had an excuse to become unfocused, Jesus did. This is a great example of how using the light of God’s word allowed Jesus to stay focused and achieve victory over the temptations the Devil had set before him.  

Hebrews 12:2 

…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the leader and finisher of our trust, who, because of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, thinking nothing of the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

What Do We Focus On? 

With all the distractions in life, it’s easy to get focused on the wrong thing. Jesus Christ is the subject of God’s word from Genesis to Revelation, and that should be a clear message of “what” we need to focus on. Subsequently Christ, in his life and ministry, stayed focused on God’s will, which was to conquer sin and death and make life right again just as He intended it when He first created mankind in Eden. Jesus is our example of how to stay focused on the right thing, we can focus on him by studying his life as it is recorded in Scripture. 

The “joy” that was set before Christ was a picture of a Kingdom here on earth that he would rule in peace and justice—a kingdom where there is plenty of food, safety, health, and ultimately, no more death. Because Christ was so focused on this picture, he was able to endure the torturous death of the cross along with the shame and pain that he suffered. God asks us to stay focused by “fixing our eyes on Jesus. Christ is the epitome, or that perfect example, of a particular quality or type; he is the subject of our focus in our walk of trust.  

Quality of Light 

The quality of light is also important. Photographers know about the “golden hours,” that time of day just after sunrise and just before sunset when the sun is low in the sky and the quality of light is at its best. They also use flashes and studio lights with their camera to eliminate harsh shadows and to illuminate the subject so that the image is the best representation of who or what that subject is. Sadly, much of Christianity today presents God in poor light—such as with the common saying that “all things happen for a reason.” When many Christians make that statement, what they mean is that “God is in control of everything that happens.” That presents God as a shadowy figure who is very arbitrary, who can bless us one minute and destroy us the next. That is not the God of Scripture.  

1 John 1:5 says that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. And 1 John 4:16 says that God is love. One of Satan’s strategies is to “shoot” God in poor light, as a shadowy figure who is untrustworthy. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says that the Adversary disguises himself as an angel of light. His purpose is to keep us from “shining forth the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, which represents the true image of God to the unsaved world. 

2 Corinthians 4:4 

…in whom the god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, to keep them from seeing and shining forth the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

1 John 3:8 says that The Son of God appeared for this purpose: to destroy the works of the Slanderer.1 Timothy 2:4 teaches that God, wants everyone to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of the truth. That “full knowledge of the truth” is the quality light that reveals the true nature of God.   

The Depth of Field 

Another element in photography is the f-stop. The “f” stands for focal ratio. This setting controls the pupil in the lens of a camera and determines how much is in focus in a picture. Portrait photographers are very aware of this setting because it controls what is called “depth of field.” If all the objects in a picture are in focus, this can make for a confusing picture. The subject can get lost in all the background details. Using a shallow depth of field blurs out the distracting details in the background and brings the true subject forward in a picture.  

There is a great example in the Gospel of Luke 8:40-48 of Jesus doing this very thing. The fame of Jesus Christ had spread throughout Israel by this time. Many believed he was the promised Messiah and in this account, a crowd surrounded him and his disciples and were pressing in to see and touch him. At one point, Jesus said, Someone touched me.” Peter turned to him and replied, “Thank you, Captain Obvious. We’re in the middle of a crowd. Of course someone touched you!” But Jesus was not distracted by the crowd. He focused in on the real subject: a woman who was suffering from menstrual issues and had been bleeding for twelve years. She had also spent all of her income on doctors, but they were unable to help her. This woman knew the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. She believed that if she touched the folds of his robe, she would be healed. In the middle of all this confusion, Jesus stopped and said, Daughter, your trust has made you whole. Go in peace. It’s easy to become unfocused by all the background distractions that life presents, but staying focused by zooming in on the real issues, just as Jesus did in this instance, will keep us centered in our walk of trust in God and His Son.   

Producing a Good Image 

We all project an image. We do it with words and deeds in our interactions with others. For the most part that image depends on what we focus on. Mankind was created in the image of God, but we have the freedom of will to project that image or not. As His children, God asks us to put off the old sin nature and put on the new one that is created in us through the gift of holy spirit. That new nature bears the image of the One who created it in us. 

Colossians 3:9-10 

Never lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self that is being renewed to a true knowledge that is in accord with the image of the one who created it.  

Photography is a learned craft. It takes consideration of all the elements involved to produce a good image. With digital photography, an image is further developed with software in what is called “post processing.” With film, it takes time and skill to develop a quality image. It’s taken me years to hone my photography skills, but over time my ratio of good photos to bad ones has improved. This is also true when developing the image of God that we project. It’s something we have to practice every day, but by staying focused on our Lord Jesus Christ, that image should develop and become clearer as we progress in our walk of trust. 

2 Corinthians 3:18 

And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same appearance, from glory into glory, even as from the Lord who is the Spirit. 

 The final glory we will be transformed into will occur when our Lord appears at the Rapture, and as 1 John 3:1 says, Beloved, we are children of God now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when it is revealed, we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is.” Our focus should not be limited to the Jesus of the Four Gospels; it should also include the risen Lord who is seated at the right hand of God, far above all might and dominion, and who some day in the future will transform us into that “same appearance.” 

We will never perfect the image of Christ in us in this lifetime because of the sin nature we struggle against. But as we stay focused on the subject, who is Jesus Christ, and as we illuminate the “subject” with the true light of God’s word, and as we use the proper depth of field to eliminate distractions, we will reflect the glory of Christ who is the image of the true God.

 

 

October 1, 2012

Living in a Christian World

KJV Ephesians 5:18 …be filled with the Spirit;  19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

Phillips  Ephesians 5:18 l…let the Spirit stimulate your souls. Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God!

NASB Phil. 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Message – Phil 4:8Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

The verses above usually receive a fairly specific application. The first, from Ephesians, has to do with allowing the Word of God (in a parallel Colossians passage) and the Spirit of God to overflow from your heart resulting in worship to God, in this case worship that is specifically musical; with the result that Christianity is essentially “a singing faith.”

The second verse from Philippians is usually used in reference to controlling our thought life; controlling what we allow to control us. Both verses have been referenced here at C201 in their primary contexts.

But today I want to think in terms of the everyday lives we live on Monday morning, after weekend services are over and we’re back to work, or school, or raising children. We spend at the very least an hour on Sunday in the “world of church” or “world of faith.” But many people walk out the door when the service ends and find themselves back in a culture situation that afford no opportunity for “psalms and hymns” and makes it hard to think about things which are “pure, lovely and of good repute.”

Their connection with Christian culture vanishes.

Those of us that blog, or work in vocational ministry at a local church or parachurch organization can be thought to represent one end of a continuum which has, at the other end, people who attend a church, but don’t allow the a Christian “seasoning” to permeate their lives throughout the week.

They possibly don’t read a daily devotional either; in print or online, so we’re not speaking to readers here necessarily.

Now having said that I can anticipate two objections.

The first is that we’re supposed to be “in the world” (though “not of it.”) This means that we’re not to spend our week living in the religious bubble or the Evangelical bubble. We’re expected to be out there getting our hands and feet dirty. Our time at worship before God is a type of retreat from the cares of the world, but then we return to the mission field where God has placed each of us.

The second objection would be that Christian culture, such as it exists, is somewhat flawed. ‘Christian’ is not an adjective that can be layered over music, books, radio, movies, web channels, restaurants, video games, etc. Reading Christian blogs — which I do a lot of — doesn’t make me more spiritual.

And yet, it bothers me that despite these valid objections, there are people who choose to almost abdicate from the world of faith for the other 167 hours of the week. They don’t have a preset for the local Christian radio station, they don’t take advantage of the resources available from online ministries, they don’t read any Christian books in the course of a year. Some don’t read their Bibles all week either; whatever reading is done in the worship service constitutes their only direct contact with the God’s Word throughout the week. (No pressure, pastors; right?)

Personally, I could survive a month on a deserted island with just my Bible, but in general, I need help. I am a better person in terms of my interactions with the world at large if I can approach those interactions with the flavor of faith. I need books to keep me thinking on things that are “true… honorable… right…” and I need music to keep me “singing and making melody to the Lord.”

I’m not trying to justify an industry, or several industries, or those industries’ excesses, but I’m saying that I do believe that at their genesis, there was a noble purpose of fanning the flames of faith; fanning the flames of what the Holy Spirit is already doing in our lives and wants to do.

And I’m concerned for people who are missing out on programs, resources, and opportunities that could greatly enhance their relationship with Jesus and their knowledge of God’s ways.