Christianity 201

January 27, 2017

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4:15 NLT

He was despised and rejected by others, and a man of sorrows, intimately familiar with suffering; and like one from whom people hide their faces; and we despised him and did not value him.  – Isaiah 53:3 ISV

…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!Philippians 2: 7,8 NIV

This essay predates email forwards or even the internet itself, but as I found it in a stack of papers yesterday, I couldn’t help think that while it wasn’t the usual type of thing we share here, it certainly provides food for thought. Immediate the above scripture passages came to mind.

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a
great plain before God’s throne. Some of the groups near the
front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame before God’s
throne, but with embittered belligerence.

“How can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?” snapped
a brunette, jerking back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number
from a Nazi concentration camp.” “We endured terror, beatings,
torture, and death!”

In another group, a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?”
he demanded, showing the rope burns. “Lynched for no crime but being
black! We’ve suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones,
and toiled ’til only death gave release.”

Hundreds of such groups were visible across the plain. Each had
a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in
His world. How lucky God was, they all seemed to agree, able to
live in heaven where all is sweetness and light, without weeping,
fear hunger or hatred. Indeed, what does God know about man? What
does He know about being forced to endure the trials of life?
After all, God leads pretty sheltered life.

So each group sent out a leader, chosen because he had suffered
the most. There was a Jew, a black, an untouchable from India,
a person who was illegitimate, a person from Hiroshima and others
who had tasted life’s bitterest dregs. At last they were ready to
present their case. It was rather simple: Before God would be qualified
to be their judge; He must endure what they had endured.

Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth
as a man. But because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be
sure He would not use His divine powers to help himself.

* Let Him be a Jew.
* Let the legitimacy of His birth be questioned.
* Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical, it brings
upon Him the hate, condemnation and destructive attacks of political
and religious authorities.
* Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced
jury and convicted by a cowardly judge.
* Let Him see what it is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned
by every living being.
* Let Him be tortured and … let Him die.
* And let His death be humiliating; let it take place beside
common criminals, while He is jeered at, mocked, and spit on.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs
of approval went up from the great throng of people. But suddenly,
after the last one had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a
long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly,
all recognized the stark reality; God had already served his sentence.

– Author unknown


From Handel’s Messiah: He was despised.

January 9, 2017

Where God Dwells There are No Clocks

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And He Shall Reign Forever

Today we pay a return visit to the Lutheran pastor Paul Willweber at the website, The Three Taverns. Click the title to read at source.

The Timelessness of Eternity

NLT John 16:15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’

16 “In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.”

17 Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? 18 And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.”

19 Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again. 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. 21 It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. 23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name.

What do you think heaven is going to be like? We know heaven is perfect, but what will it feel like? What will you do for all eternity? Will you get bored? Will you be aware that you are in heaven forever? Will it seem like it’s taking a long time? Can eternity take a long time?

Heaven is what God wants for you for eternity but it’s impossible to comprehend eternity. You can only think in terms of time. You know when events begin and when they end. Sometimes they fly by, sometimes they drag on. If someone tells you not to think in terms of time, you can’t do it. You are bound by time. You cannot remove yourself from time. The closest to it is being asleep or in a coma. But even so, when you wake up you are aware that time has elapsed. Time continues when you are not in a conscious state.

God, however, is not bound by time. He is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. Things don’t go slow for Him or take a long time. He is outside of time. He created it.

But He did something remarkable, perhaps even strange. He placed Himself into time. He bound Himself to it. He became a man, a human being. He was born in a specific moment in time. He lived in a particular era of history; He lived for a certain amount of years. He who is not bound by time was now having to wait 365 days to turn a year older.

We know God did this to save us. But did He have to save us in this way? Why would God submit Himself to what we endure in this life? He’s God, He can do anything. What moved Him to bind Himself to time?

Jesus shows us with His words to the disciples in the Gospel reading. He told them He would be leaving them. But then He would return to them. They had no idea what He was talking about. They were trying to figure it out.

He was referring to the fact that He would be going to the cross where He would die. He would be leaving them. But then He would come back to life and so He would be with them again. This is what He was talking about. They didn’t get it. And they continued to not get it until He rose from the dead.

He said they would fall into deep sorrow. They wouldn’t come out of it until they saw Him again and they would rejoice in seeing Him alive. They weren’t getting it when He was telling them, but afterward they would remember that He had told them beforehand. And that was a comfort to them.

But the apostle John was not writing this down out of historical interest. The apostle John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this down for you. What Jesus told His disciples has meaning for you. It applies to you because what He said to the disciples shows you why God saved us in the way He did, humbling Himself to become a human being, to be bound by time, to suffer and die.

He is showing you how He uses time to save you. Jesus wasn’t just telling His disciples what would happen. He was saying that He would be leaving them in a little while. And then it would be a little while when He would return to them.

When you are experiencing sorrow it doesn’t seem like a little while. It seems like it won’t end. Jesus uses the example of a woman giving birth. She’s not thinking that this is a brief moment of difficulty. She must endure it because her baby is not coming right away.

But Jesus’ words are what determines what is. When Jesus was gone the disciples despaired in sorrow. But in the light of eternity it truly was a little while.

And now you experience a similar thing to the disciples. Jesus went away from them when He died, but then He returned to them when He rose. But then He left again, ascending into heaven. The disciples were left without Him but then He returned. You are left without Him and it seems anything but a little while until He returns to you.

And you know why this is? No, it’s not because two thousand years since Jesus ascended is a really long time. You are bound by time. You are viewing what Jesus says through your limited understanding. You need to see time from His perspective, not yours. You need to view your life the way He views your life, not in a way that makes sense to you. You need to see your life not as your own but as what God has given you to live and to see yourself not as who you are but who you are in Christ.

As a Christian you are not bound by time. You are not waiting around for God to save you. You aren’t in a holding pattern until God brings you to heaven. As a Christian you have eternal life. That’s life outside of time. It’s without end. It is life with God whether you are awake or asleep. You are not in a state of grace one moment and then apart from Christ the next if you have an evil thought. You are either in Christ or you’re not. If you’re in Christ you have eternal life, not salvation that will be given at some future point.

Jesus speaks of a little while because there is no long while with Him. Time is at His disposal. You can’t make time do what you want. You have only so much of it and it’s the same as what everybody else has. But Jesus? He uses time, something He is not bound by, to bring eternity to you. Since you cannot bring yourself out of time, He comes to you, in your life, in time, to give you eternal life. You now have life that is timeless, it is not here and then not, not flying by or dragging on interminably. It is life with God in Christ, forever.

Now, if you’re thinking, Okay, I have eternal life but I’m still here, aren’t I? I still have to set an alarm clock and be at meetings and appointments on time, don’t I? If I tell my boss that I have eternal life and so am not bound by time, he’ll tell me that if I’m late again I’ll be fired. Right?

Yes. You live in time and you should. God has given this to you to do. Having eternal life doesn’t remove you from your life here; your time, your vocations, your duties and responsibilities. The beauty of God giving you eternal life now is that it frees you up. And what Peter says about that in the Epistle reading is, Live as people who are free. You are a Christian, live like one. Don’t use your being freedom to just live as everyone else does, where they are constricted by time and cannot see beyond it.

Live, as Peter says, as one who freely gives of your time, because you are not subjugated to it. It’s not your time. You have eternal life! What is using your time to help someone when you’re tempted to think that you’ll be inconvenienced. Jesus freed you up from such a shortsighted and constricting view. You are freed up to help others. To serve them. To give of yourself to them. Your time, your resources. What are these in eternity? They are nothing more than as Jesus describes, a little while.

In a moment of time Jesus took in Himself the sin if the world. In that moment there was no time, Jesus brought eternity to earth. In Him God was reconciling the world to Himself. When you are reconciled to God, there is no time, only eternity. Time is momentary. Eternity is forever.

That’s why you need to stop thinking of God and what He does for you in terms of time. In a moment of time you were Baptized and you were no longer bound by time as you were brought into eternal life with God, you were and are now in Christ, who is above time. When He gives you His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, it is in a moment of time but there is no time. You are feasting with the angels and the archangels and the whole company of heaven. This is the Eternal Feast, the Feast of the Lamb. It has no ending; you are brought into this eternal Feast as you commune at this altar.

Heaven is not a place. It does not start and go on for a period of time. Heaven is being with God, without time, forever. He gives you heaven, eternity, in Jesus. He gives you Jesus right here, in this place, in this moment, at this altar. No time, no ending, just eternity. Amen.

December 26, 2016

Compromise: Making it “Easier” to be a Christian

Today we’re returning to the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. I got caught up in reading several articles here, and I encourage you to take ten minutes to do the same.  For today’s piece, click the title to read at source.

Your Compromise isn’t a Virtue

Friends, we are called as disciples to “preach the Word” and be ready in season and out of season”when the circumstances are for us and when they are against us. We are told to “convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Why? Because “the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables”  (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Do you know how the church can “do better”? By adhering to God’s Word and loving our neighbor in truth.

How is it that we can “dig deep” and “do the hard work” that God really desires of us? By searching His word and hiding it in our hearts. It is the TRUTH that sets people free, not our well-meaning actions. The opinions of culture, authors, historians or professors don’t set people free, in fact they can do just the opposite.

Lets open our arms, but with the true gospel.

Our God is holy and righteous. He is also loving and full of mercy. These don’t cancel each other out, and we can’t adhere to one and not the other.

Sin has a diabolical agenda that will take us further down the road of good intentions than we ever imagined. Following Jesus requires hard things sometimes. It means we die to sin and self. We don’t rejoice in sin but flee from it. When others are stuck, we point them to a God who loves them and wants them free. The argument of “you’re too judgmental,  God just wants us to love each other” is worn out with me. A true disciple does everything in love. Speaking the truth does not equate me with Westboro Baptist lunatics. If we ignore what He says in His Word, if we rearrange it to suit our feelings, no matter how noble they may be, we are not living as Jesus followers. We are nothing more than people-pleasers.

“In the end its like two locals telling a visitor how to get into a building. One tells the visitor he must go through the main gate, while the other says to go through an easier side door. The latter fears the main gate is too far away and too hard to enter. Initially, this local appears to make it easier for the visitor to get in, while the other seems to impose a harsher standard – until you find out there’s no side door. 

While the easier instruction is well intended, it’s sadly just another way of keeping the visitor out.” – Derek Rishmawy, The Gospel Coalition

It is precisely because we don’t want any to perish that we are speaking up. We don’t want anyone left out,  Jesus didn’t come to be exclusive, He came for all of us. Ironically, those screaming to include what God has deemed not acceptable in His kingdom are shutting the door on the very people they hope to bring in.


Application: (1) Can you think of areas where the modern church has made it “easier” to be a Christian by being lax about things scripture teaches?

(2) Does this overlap on the issue of “belonging” versus “believing” as discussed in this article?

November 17, 2016

Who Needs Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

  • How dare you call me a sinner?!
  • How dare you think you are better than me?!
  • How dare you think that, if such a thing as heaven exists, you are worthy and I am not?!”

This might be the kind of thing we hear from people as we share the Good News that Jesus came to save sinners. Good news, but with the bad news that you are a sinner. This also might be the kind of thing someone might not say, but that we imagine they will, so we shy away from sharing the Good News for fear it will come across as bad news. Let us consider a time “sinners” are the focus of Jesus.

The Pharisees came to the disciples with a question about Jesus: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16 ) A good question considering the likelihood the people Jesus is friendly with would not be welcome in the local synagogue, never mind the Temple. Why is Jesus eating with these types? The answer is twofold.

One reason is so obvious we can easily miss it; Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners because he invites them to do so. This is made clear from the preceding verses.

As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” Mark 2:13

Levi, also known as Matthew, would have been collecting taxes on behalf of Herod Antipas, who would have been ruling by the power of, and on behalf, of Rome. This would make Levi one of those guys you do not want to be associated with if you have any desire to be truly Jewish and truly holy. At least according to the Pharisees. But this is the kind of guy Jesus invites to follow him.

The second reason is just as obvious; Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners because they accept the invitation. Notice Levi’s response to the invitation: “And he got up and followed him.” Mark 2:14. And then notice something about the tax collectors and sinners surrounding Jesus:

15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. Mark 2:15

Although Levi gets a specific invite to be a disciple, there are many tax collectors and sinners following Jesus around. They want to be with him. These are the kinds of people Jesus eats with because these are the kinds of people that want to be with him.

We see these two reasons reflected in the reason Jesus himself gives as to why he is eating with these sinners:

17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:17

Jesus comes to call the sick, and the sick respond to the call. Jesus comes to bring grace and healing to sinners, and sinners know they need grace and healing. Now notice how annoying these words of Jesus are for the Pharisees. They do not see their need of Jesus, but Jesus is clearly telling them that they do. But are they not the righteous, therefore not needing Jesus? Consider that the Pharisees would have known well the verses from the Old Testament that Paul brought together in his letter to the Romans:

What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin,
10 as it is written:
“There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness,
there is not even one.”
13 “Their throats are opened graves;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of vipers is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery are in their paths,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  Romans 3:9-18

The Pharisees would likely have agreed with Paul’s summary of the above: “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). They would have agreed about the need for God’s saving work in the lives of the sinful. But they also would have thought that if God was coming to save, they would be the insiders looking out, not the outsiders looking in. They would be eating at the table of God’s representative, congratulating themselves on how deserving they were of such an honour. But if God’s salvation activity is in Jesus, they are the outsiders looking in on tax collectors and sinners, the least deserving of society, sharing at the table with Jesus.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

So what are we to say to those offended by the bad news part of the Good News? To those who would object to being called “sinners”? To those who would object that we Christians in no way deserve the hope of heaven any more than anyone else?

We say

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

We spend time with Jesus, not because we deserve to, or because we are better, but because He invited and we know our need of him, just like the sick know their need of a doctor. And he invites you also:

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20


All scripture references are from the NRSV. Read more of Clarke’s Sunday’s Shrunk Sermons at this link.

November 6, 2016

The Judgment of the Redeemed

     Sin or disobedience has never been “winked at” by God. Those who treat his holiness and his righteous requirements with disdain will reap the results of their folly.  God is holy and without holiness no one will see him. (Heb 12:14) That is, they will be separated from him. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “He will punish those who do not know [understand] God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.” (2 Thess 1:8─10)

Much of modern teaching has dismissed the need for a righteous walk and holiness with the affirmation of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness.  No doubt these proclamations are intended to bring God glory, however, they diminish him and his government.  After all, what would any nation become if law enforcers were to take the position that they love the offenders and dismissed any consequence of law breaking?  What happens in the family home if no rules are enforced? Even our limited understanding would inform us that anarchy would result, and God is much more knowledgeable of the human condition than we are. It is the evil imaginations of men that pain is heart. (Gen 6:6)

It is true that sins committed under the Old Covenant have been forgiven. (Heb 9:15) Such provision was made through the sacrifice of Christ so that a people might be delivered from the death sentence that awaited them and be given a second chance to live under the lordship of Christ who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17, 18)  It is through obedience to him that the practice of sin can, and is to be, overcome.  Paul has referred to this aspect of God’s government as “the law of the Spirit of life” (Rom 8:2) and it is according to the law of the Spirit that the redeemed will be judged. James has called this the “law of the Lord” (NIV) or the “law of liberty” (KJV) (Jas 2:12).  Paul wrote, “And so [God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV)

Peter has written, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”(1 Pet 4:17 NIV) Those who dismiss sinful practices with the understanding that they have been disposed of will be very disappointed when they face the judgment of Christ.  Peter wrote that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3 NIV) A person’s defense cannot rest in the proclamation that they are merely human and lacking the ability to live a godly life.  The Spirit has enabled the believer’s needs to be met through his indwelling presence.

Christ was not only incarnated as a human being in order that he might be an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of people, he was incarnated so that he might understand the temptations of the flesh. (Heb 2:17─18) Having a body like our own, he was able to overcome the temptation to sin and he suffered in the pursuit of victory. (Heb 2:18) It is to the Lord with his understanding of temptation and the provision made that the redeemed sinner must address his defence.

Daniel wrote that when Christ returns, “[m]ultitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake; some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:2 NIV) Shame and contempt will not be rested on those committed to the lake of burning sulphur, but on those who had failed to practice obedience to their Lord. Jesus himself testified: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city [the New Jerusalem]. (Rev 22:14 KJV) and Matthew has record the Lord’s admonition: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 NIV)

The judgment seat of Christ is reserved for those who have pledged or have proclaimed that he is their lord and they will be judged according to the manner of their obedience.  It is those who walk in the light, those who obey him (the Spirit, 2 Cor 3 17, 18) who will find eternal rest for their souls. “…[H]e became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb 5:9 NIV)

The Lord spoke of a great deal of deception that would take place in the last days and it is certainly evident.  “Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8 NIV) Judgment and eternal life or destruction will be levelled according to a person’s “sowing” or the things he or she does while in the body, whether he or she prac5tices righteous living or not. “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Rom 2:5 NIV)

Careful thought must be given to Paul’s teaching that following justification by the blood of Christ we should be saved from God’s wrath through his life. (Rom 5:10) His life is that which he is prepared to live out as the Spirit that indwells each confessor.  However, to avoid judgment and God’s wrath those who have professed his lordship must be prepared to obediently allow him to live his sinless life through them.

Judgment is not only given concerning one’s state of holiness, it is also given according to his or her service or lack thereof in the building of the kingdom. (1 Cor 3:11─15)

Judgment awaits each, and the outcome will depend on the value and honour with which they allow Christ to minister for them in service to the kingdom, by his sacrificial offering, in and through them by his indwelling Spirit, and by engaging his ministry as high priest.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is in stores and available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


 

April 24, 2016

God’s Love is NOT Unconditional

•••by Russell Young

The Christian mythology of God’s “unconditional love” has entrenched itself solidly in church teaching and is often promoted without being given adequate thought.  Many people are resting their adoration of Christ and their eternal hope in the thought that God’s love is unconditional and that their sin practices will be over-looked.  It almost sounds heretical to refute such an idea.

God’s love is expansive and beyond understanding but it is not “unconditional.”  If His love is accepted as being expressed as one’s presence in His Eternal Kingdom, and if His love is without condition, salvation must be universal.  Further, if His love is without condition, there will be no place for judgment since judgment implies the assessment of one’s faithfulness in meeting conditions.

The nature of fullness of God’s love is seldom taught.  That is, the Lord not only gave His life on the cross so that past sins might be forgiven (Hebrews 9:15) and a new covenant provided, He dwells “in” the believer so that the righteousness demanded by the law might be achieved by those who are willing to obey Him. (Romans 8:4)

Since salvation is NOT universal, condition(s) for it must apply.  According to the Psalmist the first condition is contrition of spirit.  “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, KJV; 51:17; 57:15) A second condition is that they must “obey” the Spirit.  “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9, NIV; Romans 8:4) A third condition is that they must stand firm to the end. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22, NIV).  A fourth condition is that they must share in His suffering (to overcome temptations),” Now if we are children [of God], then we are heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17, NIV; Romans 6:5)

All will be judged at Christ’s return for the things done in the flesh. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive what is due him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV).  There will be a separation of those “who do not obey the gospel” from those who do.  “He will punish those who do not know [appreciate] God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10)

God’s love is expansive, but not unconditional, and those who teach otherwise are deceivers leading many into a false hope for their disobedient behaviors.  Paul told his readers to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) Christ told His followers to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. (Luke 13:24, NIV)

The mythical concept of God’s “unconditional love” is so pervasive that it has overwhelmed contemporary Christian music and has lulled believers to sleep concerning the need for their own righteousness.  God’s love is expansive, but He is also HOLY and “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) The Kingdom of God was not created for man; it is God’s kingdom created for Him and those in it must be suitable for His Presence.  “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Matthew 13:41)  “Only a few” will find life. (Matthew 7:14)

February 12, 2016

Jesus Preaches to a Megachurch Crowd

Today’s devotional is part teaching, part testimony from the prologue to what I believe has stood out as Southeast Christian Church pastor Kyle Idleman’s most popular work, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Devoted Follower of Jesus (Zondervan). (Note: Some emphasis added to this excerpt.)

Not a Fan

It’s a Thursday afternoon and I am sitting in the church sanctuary. It’s empty now, but Easter is only a few days away. More than thirty thousand people will likely come to the weekend services, and I have no idea what I’m going to say to them. I can feel the pressure mounting as I sit there hoping that a sermon will come to mind. I look around at the empty seats hoping some inspiration will come. Instead there’s just more perspiration. I wipe the sweat off my brow and look down. This sermon needs to be good. There are some people who only come to church on Christmas and Easter (we call them “Creasters”). I want to make sure they all come back. What could I say to get their attention? How can I make my message more appealing? Is there something creative I could do that would be a big hit and get people talking?

Still nothing. There is a Bible in the chair in front of me. I grab it. I can’t think of a Scripture to turn to. I’ve spent my life studying this book and I can’t think of one passage that will “wow” the Creasters. I consider using it the way I did as a kid. Kind of like a Magic 8 Ball, you ask a question, open up the Bible and point on the page, and whatever it says answers your question.

Not a Fan - Kyle IdlemanFinally a thought crosses my mind: I wonder what Jesus taught whenever he had the big crowds. What I discovered would change me forever. Not just as a preacher, but as a follower of Christ. I found that when Jesus had a large crowd, he would most often preach a message that was likely to cause them to leave.

In that empty sanctuary I read of one such occasion in John chapter 6. Jesus is addressing a crowd that has likely grown to more than five thousand. Jesus has never been more popular. Word has spread about his miraculous healings and his inspirational teaching. This crowd of thousands has come to cheer him on.

After a full day of teaching, Jesus knows the people are getting hungry, and so he turns to his disciples and asks what all these people will do for food. One of the disciples, Philip, tells Jesus that even with eight months’ wages, it wouldn’t be enough money to buy bread for everyone to have a bite. From Philip’s perspective, there really wasn’t anything that could be done. But another disciple, Andrew, has been scanning the crowd and he tells Jesus of a boy who has fives loaves of bread and two small fish. Jesus takes the boy’s sack lunch and with it he feeds the entire crowd. In fact, the Bible tells us that even after everyone had their fill, there was still plenty of food left over.

After dinner the crowd decides to camp out for the night so they can be with Jesus the next day. These are some big-time fans of Jesus. The next morning when the crowd wakes up and they’re hungry again, they look around for Jesus, aka their meal ticket, but he’s nowhere to be found. These fans are hoping for an encore performance. Eventually they realize that Jesus and his disciples have sailed to the other side of the lake. By the time they catch up to Jesus they’re starving. They’ve missed their chance to order breakfast and they are ready to find out what’s on the lunch menu. But Jesus has decided to shut down the “all you can eat” buffet. He’s not handing out any more free samples. In verse 26 Jesus says to the crowd:

I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.

Jesus knows that these people are not going to all the trouble and sacrifice because they are following him, but because they want some free food. Was it Jesus they wanted, or were they only interested in what he could do for them? In verse 35 Jesus offers himself, but the question is, Would that be enough?

Then Jesus declared,

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus says, I am the bread of life. Suddenly Jesus is the only thing on the menu. The crowd has to decide if he will satisfy or if they are hungry for something more. Here’s what we read at the end of the chapter:

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him (John 6:66).

Many of the fans turn to go home. I was struck by the fact that Jesus doesn’t chase after them. He doesn’t soften his message to make it more appealing. He doesn’t send the disciples chasing after them with a creative handout inviting them to come back for a “build your own sundae” ice cream social. He seems okay with the fact that his popularity has plummeted.

As I sat in the sanctuary surrounded by thousands of empty seats, here’s what became clear to me: It wasn’t the size of the crowd Jesus cared about; it was their level of commitment.

I put the Bible back in the chair in front of me.

I cried.

God, I am sorry.

Almost as soon as I said it to him, I knew it needed to go further. A few days later on Easter Sunday, a crowd of thousands gathered and I began my sermon with a choked up apology. I told the crowd that I was wrong for being too concerned with what they would think and how many of them would come back. I think over the years my intentions were good; I wanted to make Jesus look as attractive as possible so that people would come to find eternal life in him. I was offering the people Jesus, but I was handing out a lot of free bread. In the process I cheapened the gospel…

 

 

January 23, 2016

Your Money Leads; Your Heart Follows

Today we pay a return visit to the blog Feeding the Soul which is part of an English and Spanish organization, BBG Ministry. The title below — click to read at source — may seem a bit hardline, but the analogy below is one I hadn’t considered before.

God wants your heart. Therefore, he demands your money.

Jesus gives us these simple instructions concerning money and possessions:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

He commands us not to store up money here on Earth, but instead to invest that money into heaven—into the Kingdom of God. Why is it so important to put your money into the Kingdom? Jesus explains:

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

It is impossible to overlook the importance of that verse. Wherever your treasure is, that determines where your heart will be. Your money leads; your heart follows. Knowing this, Jesus commands us to put our money into eternal things. Why? So that our heart will be into eternal things.

Jesus on Money and WealthFor example, say you invest money into a company’s stock. Previously, you didn’t really care about that company, and you didn’t bother to read news articles about them. Now, however, you’re scouring the newspaper for any articles that even remotely relate to that company, you check their stock price daily, and you religiously read their earnings reports. What caused such a change? Your money went into the company and with it your heart.

This principle—where your money goes, your heart follows—is illustrated very well in Mark 10:17-22, which records the story of a rich young man who came to Jesus asking how to be saved. He had done everything right and followed all the laws and commandments, but, according to Jesus, there was “one thing” he lacked:

“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

The man had great wealth, but really his wealth had him—it owned and controlled him. Jesus wanted the man’s heart, and so Jesus demanded his money. Jesus knew that the man could never follow Him if his heart was more attached to his possessions than to God.

The man’s face fell, and he went away sad because his heart was too attached to his possessions. His money was invested in his own possessions, and therefore his heart was invested in his own possessions. However, Jesus wanted to break that bondage, so he commanded the man to give away all of his possessions to others. By giving his money to help the poor and the needy, Jesus knew that the man’s heart would be transformed into serving others, and in so doing he would come identify with and follow Christ.

Do you want your heart to be full of love for others? Give to them, and bless them with your money. Then your heart will follow.

If you want a heart for God, invest your money in building the Kingdom of God. Then your heart will follow. If you want a heart for the poor and the needy of the world, use your money to fight global poverty and hunger. Then your heart will follow. If you want a heart for global missions, support missionaries in Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world. Then your heart will follow. Wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be.

January 8, 2016

A Different Type of Fishing

ESV Matt. 4:18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

ESV Luke 5:1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”[a] 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Today we pay a return visit to Georgia pastor Clark Bunch (who we tend to interact with more at Thinking Out Loud) sourcing today from his church website at Unity Baptist Church. Click the title below to read at source.

Things Change After Jesus

Fishers of Men

Jesus began his public ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan. After spending 40 days fasting in the wilderness he began preaching in Galilee and almost immediately called the first disciples. Mark 1 and Matthew 4 share an almost identical account of Jesus calling Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew by saying “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Luke 5 records the miraculous catch of fish and a very similar statement (from now on you will catch men). Things changed for Peter when Jesus got on his boat and called him to follow.

They used to fish with nets. All of the fishermen in the New Testament fished with nets. They cast the nets off the side of the boat, drug them through the water and then hauled up whatever was caught up along the way. Many of us have never fished that way but you’ve probably seen it. Tuna are caught by the hundreds as nets drag them up from the sea. It was a big deal in the late 80’s, early 90’s because dolphins were being trapped in the tuna nets and drowned. In the Luke 5 account the nets were so filled with fish they were breaking and they had to call for backup. Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” and taught them how to cast the net of the Gospel. Some days you don’t catch anything; Peter and company had just had a bad night the first time they met Jesus. But our call as believers is to cast the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit do what he does to draw people to Jesus. Don’t worry about the days you don’t seem to be catching anything; our calling is to love God, love our neighbor as ourselves, and keep casting the net.

Peter did not fish with bait. I learned from my grandfather how to bait a hook. Most of us here today cast a hook with a rod and reel and catch one fish at a time; catfish, bluegill, trout, that’s how it’s done. When Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” he was talking to fishermen that cast net which they traded in for casting the Gospel. We are not to fish for men with bait. See where I’m going with this? The prosperity gospel, the health and wealth preachers, are baiting people they hope to hook and do not cast the Gospel net. When praise and worship hymns we sing together are replaced by a rock concert, and when preaching the Word is replaced by a guy promising you will have everything you ever wished for and be richly blessed beyond your wildest dreams, then we’ve quit casting the net. You can fill a stadium with people that have itching ears and are willing to take the bait. People show up for the show. We must not replace authentic worship with worshiptainment.

Peter never stopped fishing. After the resurrection, in John 21:3, Peter says to about half a dozen other disciples “I am going fishing” and they went with him. They weren’t taking a new bass boat out to the lake for the first time or going on a fishing trip to get away from everything a few days. They had spent the past several years with Jesus, listening to his teaching, witnessing miracles and learning to do those same things themselves.  They most likely had no clue what to do next. Things changed when Jesus came, how would they change again when he left them? Peter said “I am going fishing” because that’s what he knew how to do. If the Jesus movement was over there were still bills to pay and food would have to be put on the table. Many of the disciples had been fishermen by trade and when Peter announced he was going back to work Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee and two other unnamed disciples went with him. Jesus appeared to them, the miraculous catch of fish was repeated, and Peter found out that his work and ministry were not over yet. In fact that work was just beginning.

Things change after Jesus. Your life may not change as dramatically as Peter’s did but our goals in life are reshaped as we redefine what is important. One of the things believers do is share with others. Think about intentionally casting the Gospel net this week and we’ll continue next with considering things that change after Jesus comes.

November 13, 2015

To Whom Shall We Go

NIVJohn 6:48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them...

…60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”

…66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Today’s post is by Denver pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber and we offer 3 different ways for you to experience it today. You can read the excerpt below. You can click the link and read it in full. Or you can click the link and listen to it on audio.

Jesus Isn’t The Sears Wishbook

…If you remember – It started with Jesus feeding the 5,000 – the crowd’s desire for bread was granted and then inevitably seen for what it was – only a temporary fix. This is followed by a long weird discourse about Jesus being the bread of life which leads us to our reading for today when a bunch of his followers say “um, your teachings are hard.” and they take off and Jesus looks at the ones who are left and asks if they want to take off too and they respond, “Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life”.

It was like the disciples kept circling things in the Sears Wishbook and showing them to Jesus sure that getting what they wish for would be the key to a good life and the avoidance of suffering. They wanted miracles and signs and a list of rules to follow so that they may earn eternal life and they wanted to make Jesus a real king and not just that weird guy who says weird stuff while surrounded with weird people. And instead, over and over – Jesus gives them himself. He keeps saying I give myself to you and they keep pointing to what they circled in the Sears Wishbook.

So some of the disciples say “this teaching is hard” and they leave. I get that. His teachings are hard. Mainly because my own desires – the things I circle in my Wishbook are pretty much always rooted in ego and Jesus’ teachings do nothing for the ego except destroy it. You know which ones I’m talking about: teachings like, those who seek to save their life must lose it and those who lose their life will find it – teachings like the first shall be last and the last shall be first. And “don’t be afraid” and that classic, “don’t worry about tomorrow” It makes me want to tell Jesus to stop talking and just smite my enemies and hand over Malibu Barbie already.

Because Jesus’ words are seldom the words we want to hear. They just happen to be the words we need to hear. Just to be clear, though: Jesus’ teachings are hard not because they demand a certain moral or ethic from us – a lifestyle that isn’t as fun as one we’d rather choose – the teachings are hard because they offer a saving truth that our desires can never offer us. For instance, were there a picture in the Sears Wishbook of my enemies being destroyed…my ego would totally grab a black magic marker and circle that and say yes, Jesus slash Santa if you could please make sure horrible things happen to my internet trolls and the people who have hurt me and my 8th grade bully Debbie Quackenbush I would feel better – and to this Jesus says these words: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” He says “turn the other cheek” he says “forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”

These words of Jesus make me realize why the great poet W.H. Auden, when asked once why he was a Christian, instead of a Buddhist or a Confucian, since all these religions share similar ethical values said, “Because nothing in the figure of Buddha or Confucius fills me with the overwhelming desire to scream, “crucify him.” Which makes me realize that my own Christian faith is always a blend of “This teaching is hard” and “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.” I don’t know about you – but I feel like a combination of both these kinds of disciples. Because I know that the message and work of Jesus is what heals me and yet, it smarts the ego like hell so instead – I sometimes walk away like a kid who refuses antiseptic for her badly skinned knee because she knows its gonna sting.

But Lord, seriously, to whom shall we go instead? …

October 8, 2015

Cowardly Christianity

Regular Wednesday contributor — yes, a day late, that’s my fault — Clarke Dixon returns with advice for those lacking courage in their faith.

Being a Christian and Not Chickening Out

It can be easy to chicken out as a Christian. Or at least to chicken out from the difficult bits or the bits we do not like. Such as when God says “go therefore and make disciples” and we say “send someone else for that is not my gift.” Or the Lord says “you will be my witnesses” and we say “I love witnessing your goodness, but for goodness sake, don’t ask me to take the witness stand.” Or the Lord says “keep in step with the Spirit,” and we wince when we realize this will put us out of step with the people around us. It is easy to chicken out of the difficult bits of Christianity, which in our society means we tend to be chickens when it comes to evangelism and sticking to Biblical ethics. We would rather be chickens than those kinds of Christians.

We have good news, there is an entire book of the Bible written for people who would potentially chicken out. God’s people had been rescued from Egypt but had spent the last forty years wandering in the desert. They were not yet in the land promised to their forefathers by God, but they were close. All that needed to happen now was to go in an take the land, but therein lies the problem. What if they encountered resistance? What if there were giants in the land? They had faced this situation before, and had chickened out. So here they are again. Will they chicken out this time? Perhaps they might have been wondering “Wouldn’t it be easier if we go into the land but just blend in, adding our Lord to their gods?” History would reveal that despite a good start such blending in fact later happened. The temptation to blend-in is not peculiar to us today.

This time around Moses takes the time to preach a series of sermons for their encouragement. This series has come down to us as the Book of Deuteronomy which begins with a bit of a history lesson and a call to Covenant. But in chapter four verse thirty-two there is a shift in tone, and a question, actually a series of questions:

32 For ask now about former ages, long before your own, ever since the day that God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of heaven to the other:has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of? 33 Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? (Deuteronomy 4:32-34 NRSV)

There are three questions here which can be summed up under one question: “Do you really understand just how awesome this really is?” Standing beside the promised land they know how scary a thing it is. But they need a reminder how amazing a thing it is. Notice that they are to think back as far as possible, back to the creation of humanity, and to think as widely as possible, to all lands and peoples: “Has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of?” The answer was of course “no.” So don’t be scared, be thrilled!

35 To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. 36 From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, while you heard his words coming out of the fire. 37 And because he loved your ancestors, he chose their descendants after them. He brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, giving you their land for a possession, as it is still today. 39 So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. (Deuteronomy 4:35-39 NRSV)

Moses encourages the people to not chicken out but be thrilled by the opportunity to serve the living God, the only Creator God who has revealed Himself to them, and Who will work out His purposes through them.

Moses asks the people “Do you really get it, do you understand just how awesome this really is?” We can ask the same question when we are tempted to chicken out as Jesus followers. Sometimes we need to stop and remember just how awesome it really is to know Jesus. Sometimes our failure to be thrilled as Christians comes from a  failure to grasp the enormity of:

  • the greatness of God
  • the incredible joy of eternity spent with God
  • the dire horribleness of eternity spent without God
  • the gravity of our sin
  • the depth of God’s love in Jesus
  • the incredible fantastic opportunity before us in Jesus to repent from our sin and turn to God and experience grace.
  • the wonders and delights of God’s Kingdom marked by justice and love.

Sometimes we fail to have any passion over such things and instead demurely mention something like “I go to church because religion can be good for you.” Actually religion can be bad for you, particularly when it keeps you from the truth. And here is one area where we tend to chicken out. When the topic of different religions comes up we take the easy road of comparing them all to Christianity as if we are comparing apples to oranges, or worse, McIntosh apples to Granny Smith apples. We tend to want to make them all the same somehow. The problem with comparing religions as if we are comparing apples to apples or apples to oranges is that it comes down to personal taste or where you were brought up. It needs instead to be about the truth. If what the Bible teaches is true – if the central affirmation of Christianity, that Jesus is Lord  is fact – if God’s salvation of sinners through grace is real – then comparing other religions to such truth is not comparing apples to oranges, but rather comparing dust to the sun.

Do we really get that? Do we really understand just how awesome the truth of God’s love really is? When we get it we are more likely to step up to the plate in following Jesus than to chicken out. We will think more about Jesus. We will talk more about Jesus. We will think more of Jesus. We will walk more with Jesus. We will live more for Jesus. Martyrs throughout history and throughout the world today have and are showing us how to follow Jesus with courage. Those who give their lives for Jesus know just how awesome He really is. Do you?

October 5, 2015

An All or Nothing Commitment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Matthew 8:18-22 (NIV)

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Today’s devotional appeared a few days ago at Episcopal Café; click the title below to read at source — we join this in progress — and look around the site.

Speaking to the Soul: An All or Nothing World

by Linda Ryan

…Laurie Gudim, a friend and one of my co-mentors,  posted on our discussion board about learning new things about the culture and times of the New Testament, such as that there was no middle class in Palestine at the time of Jesus. The rich young man who wanted to follow Jesus but would have to give up everything was told to do a very traumatic thing. Laurie commented, “…I’ve always kind of thought poorly of him. But what if he was looking at was a poverty so severe it might have killed him?”* That got me thinking.

The story in Matthew is a bit more abbreviated and had a young man wanting to go bury his father. Both stories involved giving up something important. For a son not to bury a father was a sign of ultimate disrespect and rejection; to give up one’s wealth threatened his life, his well-being, his position, even potentially his family. Remember– there was no middle class. It was all or nothing.

Imagine an all or nothing world. People either had more than they needed but never as much is they wanted, or they struggled every day just to provide the absolute necessities for themselves and their family. The rich young man was told to give up everything he had ever known, including the security he had always had, in order to follow Jesus. The same with the man in today’s reading; not burying his father and coming to follow Jesus would have meant giving up absolutely everything he had ever known in the hope of finding something better. I have a feeling that most of us would probably fail that same test if it were given to us directly by Jesus standing in front of us. It’s easier to do it at a distance.

It makes us able to ignore poverty around us and to think that somebody else will take care of the problem. In the world of Jesus, that just doesn’t fly. We have a middle class, a place where people are comfortable but not rich, and where their basic needs and a bit more are met. There are many who have never really experienced what it means to truly be in want, or, in a better word, need. It’s one thing to want a BMW two-seater convertible and only receive a sedan than it is to want to provide needed extensive medical care for a loved one and not be able to do it. It isn’t unheard of in our world to have some catastrophe rob us of just about everything we had and knew; thirty seconds or so in the path of a tornado does that. If we’re lucky and have good insurance, we can come back from the disaster, but our lives are forever changed.

It occurs to me that Jesus made that a condition of following him, not just giving things up but using them to help others as a test of faith and of desire. It is like a person standing on the high diving platform and looking down at the water below, realizing there was an awful lot of space between the two and where there was no changing their mind about what was going to happen next. The person has the choice of either turning back and going down the ladder or taking the plunge and launching themselves into the air, hoping that they enter the water painlessly and not flat on either belly or back. Life puts us on that platform every day, and we have to choose which way to go.

Jesus’ message is not that it is necessary to live in abject poverty or live the itinerant life that he and his disciples did. It is to choose what and why it is truly important. That is not to say that some who are wealthy are not good Christians because they have more than perhaps they actually need. Many of these share generously and willingly to those who are less fortunate. There are some who have just what they need but still choose to share to help others. There are some impoverished who perhaps cannot give from the treasure they don’t really possess but who give generously of their time and talent to help others. It is a form of trickle down economics and service, and if more people contributed, more would benefit. But there is always the dead father to bury or the security to be maintained that gets in the way.

We are not all called to be a Mother Theresa or Francis of Assisi. We see the good that they have done and we admire those who follow them closely enough to try live the lives they did. Still, we are called to follow Jesus, and that means to take risks and to lose the fear of life without total comfort and total security. We are called to help others to find lives with more comfort and more security. Giving away some of our own does not mean we are in want, it means that we want others to have what we have. In a way, it’s the same as what the early Christians demonstrated to outsiders. The outsiders saw the love the Christians had for each other and wanted some of that love. It’s really that simple.

But the only problem was simplicity is that sometimes it is too simple. It asks us to take a small risk that can point to a large one, but we’re not even comfortable taking the small one. I know I am.

What would it take to get me past the fear? That’s something I’m going to have to think about for a while. Perhaps I can start with the love part — even if that may be among the hardest things to do.

September 3, 2015

Has Your Identity Been Stolen?

This is our fifth visit with Ben Nelson at the blog, Another Red Letter Day. Click the title below to read this at source.

who you are in ChristIdentity Theft

It’s a huge problem today. People have had their identity stolen and they don’t even know it until they go to check their assets and realize don’t have any access to their wealth.

I’m not talking about cyber-crime.

I’m talking about Christians who think they are lowly sinners, barely citizens of the kingdom of God. Christians who believe they are barely saved, and stand the risk of eternity in hell if Jesus happens to come back the day they skip church. After all, we should never do anything we would not want Jesus to find us doing when He returns.

It’s a crime, and Jesus is the victim.

What the thief made off with is that for which Jesus paid the ultimate price. God didn’t just pay a ransom of gold and silver to buy you back from the clutches of hell. He laid down the ultimate ransom. A life for a life. The life of the One and only Begotten Son of the Almighty, for you—for me.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. – Romans 5:10

We know from the Word that this transaction did not simply return us to His ownership—His slaves. He signed the papers with His own blood, and declared us—not His property—but His family.

Satan offered us up as slaves for sale, but Jesus paid for daughters and sons.

Sadly, though the price has been paid and the chains have been broken from our wrists and ankles, we approach our Father as though we are still enslaved by the hater of our souls.

It’s a crime, and the world is the victim.

Heaven’s plan, detailed by Jesus, included us walking through our generations as He walked through His, abiding in His Father, breaking the power of sin as we encounter it in the lives of others, preaching the gospel, healing the sick, raising the dead, setting the prisoners free.

the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. – 1 John 2:6

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. – John 14:12

“And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. – Matthew 10:7-8

Because Christians don’t know who they are, or what they have in their possession, they live low impact lives. They (we) keep our heads down, not wanting to impose our “beliefs” on anyone else.

It’s a crime, and Christians are the victims.

We have been given so much and yet live with so little. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Him.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, – Ephesians 1:3

The Host of this party has asked us to sit in the best seat—a heavenly seat with a perfect view of all that surrounds us. And yet, every time we approach our Abba, we’re groveling, begging forgiveness. Our lives are marked with compromise, not because we don’t love God, but because we don’t know we can live above the poverty level.

and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, – Ephesians 2:6

Let’s take back our identities, and live like the supernatural soldiers we are.

 

August 27, 2015

The Reward of Sacrificial Following

Today we’re at the website TillHeComes.org and before we jump into the text, here’s the setup from the previous verse:

28Then Peter said, “See, we have left all and followed You.”

Peter’s ears perked up when Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor, and then come follow Jesus. This is very close to what Peter and the other apostles had in fact done.  And so Peter is a little curious. He says, “Hey, we’ve done what you told that rich young ruler to do. We have left everything. We have followed you. What does that mean for us?”

And Jesus, knowing that all of his apostles except Judas truly has believed in him for eternal life tells them what their sacrifice and service will result in. He doesn’t rebuke Peter for asking a selfish question, for it is not a selfish question. There is nothing wrong with seeking the things of God.

Many times we refer to the cost of following Christ, but in Luke 18:29-30, Jesus, replying to Peter, suggests there is also great reward, even reward to be had in this life (“in the present time”) as well as the age to come, which the commentary below emphasizes.  The webpage here — and we’ve linked to Jeremy Myers before — deals with a much longer section, verses 18-30.  To read it all (encouraged!) click on the link below.

Paying the Entrance Fee

29So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

You see, good works and sacrificial service are very beneficial, but only AFTER one has believed in Jesus for eternal life. They earn reward and privilege and greater responsibility in this life and in the next. It most often will not be financial reward, but spiritual rewards of one sort or another.  And this verse should not and must not be used to justify neglecting your family for ministry. We know when we get married and have children, our first sphere of ministry is in the home. Men, your primary ministry is to your wife and children. If you fulfill that ministry and have time left over, you can serve some at the church. Women, same thing for you and your ministry with your husband and your children.

What Jesus means by talking about leaving parents, brothers, wife and children is to make sure that they are not holding you back from God’s will for your life. Ministering to them is God’s will for your life, but if there ever comes a point where they try to keep you back from doing the rest of God’s will for you life, this is when you must choose to serve God or serve others.  If you choose to serve God, and leave your family for the sake of the kingdom, Jesus says that your reward will be great, both in this age, and in the age to come.

Here Jesus teaches his disciples about reward. He doesn’t rebuke Peter for wondering what he is going to get in heaven. Instead he encourages Peter to keep on serving in the Kingdom of God, because the better you serve, the more reward in heaven you get. It is not selfish to seek the things of God.  We all want more of God in our lives. That is not selfish. We all want to know the Bible better. That is not selfish. We all want God to answer our prayers. That is not selfish. We all want God to be at work more in our lives and to see his hand at work in our presence. That is not selfish.  Neither is it selfish to want riches in heaven, and to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The rich young ruler, though he came asking about eternal life, revealed that he was only seeking to hold on to his worldly wealth. Peter and the other apostles, after having believed in Jesus for eternal life, gave up their wealth and worldly relationships. As a result, they earned for themselves great reward in heaven.

How great? The Bible tells us that in the Millennial kingdom, the twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones ruling over the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt. 19:28). Israel will be the greatest nation in the world and will rule over the entire world also, and so the apostles will be some of the twelve most powerful men on the earth during that time. And we are fairly certain that it was Paul who will take the place of Judas.

Now, Luke 19:11-27 tells us that the rest of the world will be divided up and given to faithful servants of God to rule over. That means that you and I, if we are faithful servants, may also be given cities or maybe even countries which Jesus Christ will want us to rule. Not all will rule, some will simply be subjects in the kingdom, and they will be ruled over, rather than be rulers.

Some Christians will be given positions of reward and responsibility for a life lived in faithful service to Jesus Christ. Other Christians will enter the kingdom because they have believed in Jesus for eternal life, but they won’t have much gold, jewels, precious stones or crowns that will be given to them.  We will be talking about eternal rewards a lot more in the weeks to come. Let me just close with this. The lesson from the rich young ruler is that all of us are sinners. If a person is self-righteous like the rich young ruler, the law can be used to shows them that they have indeed offended a holy God.

And once they have seen this, it is much easier to show them that they only way they can be reconciled to God is by the blood of Jesus, through our faith in Him.  But once we have done that, we must make sure we do not stop there, for there are great rewards and blessings in store for those who make service to Christ a top priority. And we’ve seen the two extremes today. One man, the rich young ruler, who didn’t want to give up his riches. And one man, Peter, who gave up all to follow Christ.

Which category do you fall in? Are you seeking the things of this world, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, or are you seeking after the riches of the world to come? The first may give you momentary pleasure while on this earth, but the second will give you everlasting joy in the kingdom which is to come.

August 14, 2015

Wishing You Were Someplace Else

It’s very easy to wish your circumstances were different. If only we’d bought that other house. If only I had taken the other job. If only I had married the other person. If only I had moved to that other city.

Earlier today I found myself stuck by the wording of 1 Cor. 7:17 in the NIV:

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.

The specific context is marriage; and the earlier verses can be applied what a new believer is to do if they find themselves married to a non-believer; as well as to widows, the unmarried, etc. But the verse also seems to speak to the broader life issues I outlined in the first paragraph.

We have friends who were missionaries in Kenya, East Africa. One young man who was confined to a wheelchair accepted Christ as Savior and Lord and felt called to be a missionary. The Christian workers there presented him with the impracticalities of this, but he felt assured of the Lord’s protection from weather and wild animals, so when last seen, he was headed off in his wheelchair along a dirt path to destinations unknown.

While I don’t know how that story ended, I do know of people in North America who have followed the call of Christ, and felt that immediately they were to quit their job and go into ministry. I am sure that this works out well for some of them, but no doubt others get caught up in the zeal of the moment, missing out on the possibility that Christ has now called them to be his representative in whatever office, factory, school, neighborhood, etc. they find themselves living.

Closer to the verse’s context, I am sure that other have used their new-found faith to justify leaving an unbelieving spouse. Eugene Peterson translates the same verse this way:

And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life. Don’t think I’m being harder on you than on the others. I give this same counsel in all the churches.

At the root of this is a general discontentment. Ray Pritchard notes:

  • If we’re young, we want to be older. If we’re old, we wish we were younger.
  • If it’s old, we want something new. If it’s new, we want something newer.
  • If it’s small, we want something bigger. If it’s big, we want something really big.
  • If we have a hundred dollars, we want two hundred. If we have two hundred, we want five hundred.
  • If we have an apartment, we want a condo. If we have a condo, we want a house. If we have a house, we want a bigger house. Or a new house. Or a nicer house. Or maybe we want to scale down and live in an apartment again.
  • If we have a job, we dream of a better job, a bigger job, a closer job, with a bigger office, a better boss, better benefits, more challenge, bigger opportunity, nicer people to work for, and more vacation time.
  • If we’re single, we dream of being married. If we’re married, … (you can finish that sentence yourself.).

We Were Born Discontented. None of this is unusual in any way. We were born discontented and some of us stay that way forever. And a certain amount of discontentment can be good for the soul. It’s not wrong to have dreams about what the future might hold. The hope of something better drives us forward and keeps us working, inventing, striving, creating and innovating. But there is a kind of discontentment that leads in a wrong direction. Here are five signs that discontentment is dragging us down spiritually:

1) Envy. The inability to rejoice at the success of others.
2) Uncontrolled Ambition. The desire to win at all costs, no matter what it takes or who gets trampled in the process.
3) Critical Spirit. The tendency to make negative, hurtful, cutting remarks about others.
4) Complaining Spirit. The disposition to make excuses and to blame others or bad circumstances for our problems. A refusal to take personal responsibility. Inability to be thankful for what we already have.
5) Outbursts of Anger. Angry words spoken because our expectations were not met.

The discontented person looks around and says, “I deserve something better than this.” Because he is never happy and never satisfied, he drags others into the swamp with him. No wonder Benjamin Franklin declared, “Contentment makes a poor man rich, discontent makes a rich man poor.”

He goes on to note:

The first principle is repeated three times in this paragraph:

“Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him” (v. 17).

“Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him” (v. 20).

“Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to” (v. 24).

This is a case where the meaning is very clear: Lead the life God assigns to you. God has given each of us a job to do. He has gifted each person in a certain way and has assigned us a particular place in life. This reflects a very high view of God’s sovereignty. We are both assigned and called to a certain place in life. The Greek words are very strong and definite. The old Puritans used to say, “God orders everything with perfect wisdom.” I wonder how many of us would say that. Almost unconsciously, we want to change “everything” to “some things” or “a few things” or even “most things.” But “everything?” Isn’t that going too far? What about all the pain and suffering and evil in the world? How can that be “ordered” by God? We can either talk about that for the next 70 years and still not settle it, or we can simply say that if God doesn’t “order” all things, then he’s not really God at all. He’s not the author of evil but even evil must serve his ultimate purpose. Sin cannot exist outside of God’s control or else God isn’t truly sovereign. I freely admit this is a mystery, but it is a mystery inherent in being creatures and not the Creator. The fact that we can’t fully understand these things simply proves once again that “he’s God and we’re not.”

This is just a small part of larger sermon manuscript; you can read the whole text at Sermon Central.

Of course, I couldn’t just stop there without reminding us of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:

11b I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12a I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…

Again, while the specific context is marriage and family-related, Paul is laying down a principle here that applies broadly; but oh, how often we wish were just someplace else. While some of this is a reasoned consideration of life options, I am sure that some of it is just an escapist mentality or a fantasy mindset.

God has you exactly where you are today to fulfill his purposes in your world. Remember Pritchard’s words above: Lead the life God assigns to you.

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