Christianity 201

July 10, 2018

Honoring God by Giving Him Our ‘Today’

Today we’re rejoining author, pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie. Click here for his devotional and blog page, or click the title below for this article.

Carpe Diem: The Value Of Today

Life is filled with opportunities, but the big question is what we do with them. Do we let them slip by, saying, “Maybe next time. There is always another day”? Or, do we seize them? We may not have as much time as we think.

Dr. Leslie Weatherhead calculated the average length of a life using the hours of one day to illustrate the importance of recognizing the value of time. He concluded that if your age is 15, the time is 10:25 a.m. If your age is 20, the time is 11:34. If your age is 25, the time is 12:42 p.m. If you’re 30, the time is 1:51. If you’re 35, the time is 3:00. If you’re 40 the time is 4:08. At age 45, the time is 5:15. If you’re 50, the time is 6:25. By age 55, the time is 7:24. If you’re 60, the time is 8:42. If you’re 65, the time is 9:51. And if you you’re 70 the time is 11 p.m.

Psalm 90:12 reminds us, “Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom” (NKJV). Or as the Living Bible puts it, “Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should.”

Ephesians 5:15 says, “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise” (NLT).

Jesus told the story of a man who went on a journey and left his money with his servants. This was not an uncommon thing in those days. A wealthy man or a ruler would have many servants in his household, from those who performed basic labor to those who managed the financial affairs of his household, even his business. In many cases some of the man’s servants would be better educated and skilled than he was. Highly trusted slaves had a virtual free hand within prescribed areas of responsibility while the owner was at home.

When the owner would go on a journey, he would leave full authority in the hands of these key servants, who would have the ancient equivalent of a power of attorney. So Jesus described a scenario in which a wealthy man went on a journey and left the key servants in charge of his possessions. It’s difficult for us to know exactly what sum he left them, but one possibility is that he gave the equivalent of $5,000 to the first servant, $2,000 to the second servant, and $1,000 to the third.

What is Jesus’ story saying to us? I think it’s quite obvious. Jesus is like that wealthy man who goes on a journey, which spans the day he left this earth to the day he returns in the Second Coming. We are the servants he has invested in, and we are to take what he has given us and use it for his glory while we await his return.

In the New Testament a word that is often used for “slave” or “servant” is the Greek word doulos. It’s a term that describes a unique class of servant, not someone who was made that way by constraint or by force. A doulos was someone who had been freed by their master yet still chose to serve out of love. The servant was so thankful for this pardon that he or she would willfully choose to serve.

The apostle Paul often referred to himself as a doulos, and that is what we are as followers of Jesus Christ. Christ has paid an incredible debt for us. He has pardoned us. He has forgiven us. And now we should become his voluntary servants, not because we have to but because we want to – because we love him. We recognize that he has instilled certain things in our lives that we are to use for his glory. Certain gifts. Certain talents. Certain resources. Everything.

Paul wrote, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20 NLT).

Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NLT). This doesn’t mean that we must take a vow of poverty. It simply means we recognize that it all belongs to God. Our lives belong to God. Our families belong to God. Our possessions belong to God. Everything is his.

In Jesus’ story, the first servant took what he had, invested it, and received a 100 percent return. He doubled his master’s investment. The second, though he had less, did the same thing.

This demonstrates that it isn’t a person’s talent that matters as much as how he or she uses that talent. God never demands from us the abilities we don’t have. But He does demand that we should use, to the full, the abilities that we do possess. We may not be equal in talent, but we should be equal in effort.

Take what God has given to you and do the most that you can with it for his glory. God can do a lot with a little. If you don’t believe me, just ask the boy with the five loaves and two fish who gave everything he had to Jesus. It didn’t seem like a lot, but Jesus used them to feed a hungry multitude. Jesus can take a little, bless it and multiply it. He can use it beyond our wildest dreams.

If we will humble ourselves, take what we have and offer it to God, if we will be willing to do what he has placed before us and be faithful in the little things, then he will give us more to do. I would rather try and fail than never try at all. Any time you take a chance, you can fail. But it’s better to try than to never take chances and never have anything happen in your life.

So seize the day. Seize the moment. Seize the opportunities before you. Don’t put it off too long, because you may not have as much time as you think. Be productive with your life. Be productive with your time. Seize the opportunities God has given you.

May 24, 2018

Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and LOVE

by Clarke Dixon

(This is the final sermon in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

When we are going for a concise statement about what we are about as a church, why does love make the cut? In fact love does not just make the cut:

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)

Love is the “greatest of these”! Love makes the cut and is the greatest because love is central to Jesus. We often connect 1st Corinthians 13 and its message of love with romance and weddings. However, we ought to connect it with Jesus.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NRSV)

Though Jesus could and did work many wonderful miracles, if he had not love, where would we be? We would be in trouble! We would be dead in our sin. While love might seem like a luxury to some, it is essential to the follower of Jesus, because it is essential to who Jesus is.

The Most Rev. Michael Curry in preaching at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle spoke about love, and in doing so, spoke about Jesus:

 . . . This way of love, it is the way of life. They got it; he died to save us all. He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He wasn’t getting anything out of it. He sacrificed his life for the good of others, for the well-being of the world, for us. That’s what love is.

Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial and, in so doing, become redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives. And it can change this world. (The Most Rev. Michael Curry)

When we are told to “pick up your cross and follow”, we should not have in mind the idea of being weak in the will to live, but strong in the will to love.

So how do we walk with Jesus in love and help others do the same?

First, we define love as a decision and then we decide to love at every opportunity. Faced with a crucial decision, Jesus decided to love:

He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:36 (NRSV)

Many sermons, I’m sure, have been preached on the obedience of Jesus to the Father in this prayer at Gethsemane. But it was not just obedience to the Father. It was love for you. Jesus made the crucial decision to love, and that has changed everything. Love as a series of decisions can change many a relationship, between marriage partners, within family or friends, and of course even between enemies.

Second, we love by growing into a loving character which reflects that of Jesus. When you read the Gospel accounts of Jesus, you don’t get the impression you are reading about an impatient, or unkind man who happened to make some loving decisions. Or an envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude man who insisted on his own way apart from a few decisions to love. Rather, you get the impression that Paul had Jesus in mind when he wrote about love:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NRSV)

In meeting Jesus in the Gospels you get the impression that love was central to his character. It still is! When people meet Jesus in the Gospels, then meet us, is it a huge contrast in character?

The best way to help others walk with Jesus in love, is to be walking with Jesus in love ourselves. But what if you feel far from being a person characterized by love? Then remember the Bible says

. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

It does not say “the result of my hard work is love”, but the “fruit of the Spirit is love.” Indeed, just as love is the “greatest of these”, love is the very first fruit. You can be and do whatever God calls you to be and do, including love and be loving. He calls you to love. He calls us as a church family to help people, to the glory of God, walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. Our very first step is to pray!)


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (30 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

April 3, 2018

The Value of What God Has Brought You Through

Today we’re paying another visit with Melissa Turner who writes at Tin Roof Sky. Click the title below to read at source.

No wasted stories

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.” 2 Cor. 1:3-5 (MSG)

There’s an old axiom that says “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” If that’s true, there are times I should be able to bench press a Buick.

One of the most important, and I think most effective, aspects to the Christian walk is sharing our experiences with others. It can be intimidating. It can be humbling. It can be downright humiliating.

It can also be life-changing – for you, and for the person you are sharing with.

Sometimes, we tell our stories from a pulpit, and sometimes we tell them from a park bench. Our pastor says God has things prepared for you, and you prepared for things. And you might not realize it yet, but everything you’ve gone through has been preparing you for the assignment that He has prepared, in advance for you!

Are you a “more experienced” parent, talking to a new mom or dad? Or have you battled the demons of addiction, made progress, and have the opportunity to give hope to someone still in the midst of the battle?

Have you had to forgive a spouse an infidelity, or are you the offending party who has had to ask forgiveness?

Have you walked through a season of spiritual dryness, or downright turning your back on God? Believe me, you aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last. Some parent needs to know that her wayward child isn’t hopeless. Some parched soul needs to know that there is a way back to the Father.

Some parts of our story are beautiful. Some, not so much. We can’t rewrite our history, but I’m here to tell you that none of it will be wasted. It might be sooner, or it might be later, but God will use what you’ve been through to help someone else. Every mile you’ve traveled matters. We have to be open to sharing with others what God has brought us through, even if it makes us look not-so-smart at the time. We’ve all made mistakes, and we can’t dwell on the past. But we can use it for God’s glory and for the benefit of others we travel alongside.

No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, you can focus on using your pain to bring healing to others. You have cause to rejoice, fellow traveler. You have reason to lift your head high.

Life hasn’t killed you, and someone needs to see you bench pressing that Buick.

January 9, 2018

Four Characteristics of a Faithful Christian

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Once again we’re back with Shane Idleman, founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. This is Shane’s mission statement when preaching:

“To bring Centrality and Relevance to Jesus’ words. To understand theology in a deep, yet impacting way. To compare and contrast biblical truth with error. To allow the power of the gospel to truly shape and challenge hearts so that deep, meaningful change takes place…to magnify The Message.”

To read this at source on the church blog, click the title below.

Characteristics of a Faithful Christian

Although many godly traits are attributed to faithfulness, these four are vitally important. How can we increase faith and serve God with all of our heart? Here are just four ways:

1. Holiness is a priority. Charles Spurgeon rightly noted, “There will be three effects of nearness to Jesus—humility, happiness, and holiness.” If these three are not present, hard questions need to be asked: “Do I have a rebellious spirit? Do I love the things of the world more than the things of God? Have I let bitterness and pride set in?” We have to fight for holiness…our relationship with God is dependent upon it. Holiness produces faith and spiritual power; carnality produces faithlessness and a life void of spiritual power

Carnality gives God “His due” – a few hours on Sunday – but forgets His call to “come out from among them [the world] and be separate.” Holiness is a fire burning deep within. Do we stoke the flames and increase the heat or continually put them out? We are so “stoked” when it comes to the things of the world, but why not the things of God?

Carnality quenches the fire of the Spirit and dries up the rivers of living water. We cannot love both Christ and this world. A carnal Christian does not pray, really pray and seek the heart of God. A deep prayer life exposes facades and crushes hypocrisy. A carnal Christian does not worship, really worship in total abandonment. Deep, penetrating worship cannot take place in a carnal heart until repentance takes place.

You won’t find those who are carnal at prayer nights or worship mornings, but you will find them spending much of their time at Cinemark and the Mall. Check your calendar and checkbook. Where are your priorities?

If this is you, allow God to awaken and restore: “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

Do you desire peace and joy again? Simply return to God: “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Full surrender is the fertile ground for seeds of joy and peace.

2. God’s Word is the source of authority. A faithful Christian is not continually looking for advice outside of God’s Word. Too often we look to Merrill Lynch for financial advice, a local nail salon for marriage counseling, and guys at work about how to prioritize our lives. Look to God for the final say – He is the “Wonderful Counselor.”

3. Reliance on God’s strength, not man’s. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9). God will often break us down in order to build us up. He’ll take away our strength – what we have been trusting in – so we look to Him, and Him alone. The refiner’s fire involves fire and heat. The waves of change involve being plummeted, tossed, and turned: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12).

God reminds, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior…” God is always the fourth man in the fire (cf. Daniel 3:25).

4. Keep His Word despite setbacks. Faithful Christians keep the course regardless of the storm…regardless of the criticism…regardless of the heat. We must teach perseverance. Many theologians are divided on the timing of the rapture, or if it will occur at all. Telling people, “Don’t worry. You’ll be out of here before it gets hard,” is inconsistent with those who are suffering in other countries. And it does not prepare people for tribulation, challenges, and difficult times. One thing we do know for certain is that Christ will return. In Rev. 3:11 He says, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” The message of hope is always urgent.

Christian Heritage Fellowship offers a riveting example of why we should not wait to share the good news:

On Sunday night, October 8, 1871, D. L. Moody, preached to the largest congregation that he had yet addressed in Chicago. His text that evening was, “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” At the conclusion of his sermon he said, “I wish you would take this text home with you and turn it over in your minds during the week, and next Sabbath we will come to Calvary and the Cross, and we will decide what to do with Jesus of Nazareth.” Then his song evangelist, Ira D. Sankey whose hymns are sprinkled throughout most evangelical hymnbooks, began to lead in singing the hymn, but Sankey never finished the hymn, for while he was singing the rush and roar of fire engines whistled by the church on the street outside, and before morning much of the city of Chicago lay in ashes. To his dying day, Mr. Moody deeply regretted that he had told that congregation to come next Sabbath and decide what to do with Jesus.

Turn, or return, to Him today. We are not even guaranteed tomorrow.

November 11, 2017

Humility – Part Two – As We Are to Live It

Yesterday and today we’re doing a rare “Best of C201” and looking at a topic which appeared several times in 2014 with each containing a key passage from Philippians 2…

Some of you know that in the last two or three years my go-to portion of scripture has been the place in Philippians 2 where Paul breaks out into a section that translators set out from the text as poetry, leading many to conclude it was either a creed or something that had been set to music as an early church hymn. This is the passage I mentally recite when I can’t get back to sleep, and if you invite me to speak at your church on less than 72 hours notice, this is the passage I will speak on.

I’ve created my own version of it, but for sake of familiarity, this is the NKJV, which is usually not my default translation:

5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who,being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So in practical terms, how do you adopt that mindset, that attitude; or to put it another way, how do you get to be humble?

He took on the role of a servant

Of the four things the text states this is really the only one that is open to us. We have already entered into the human condition, and we will almost certainly taste death, even if it is not the excruciating form that Jesus endured. Since we have no options vis-a-vis three of the four things stated, what we must press into is the idea of adopting the towel and the basin as our personal symbols; to give up the stallion in favor of a donkey; to take a seat at the back, not the front; and to seek not be served, but to serve.

We need to remember our sin

When spiritual pride comes knocking at the door, we need to remember our sinful condition. Like David, our sin is ever before us. If you’ve mastered holiness, good for you; but I still live in the middle of two conditions, in the warfare of two wills, two natures battling for control of my mind and actions. Without making this a confessional, suffice it to say that, like my apostle namesake, I haven’t attained it, but press on to it. Remaining in Christian community will help keeps us transparent and accountable.

It’s a really big planet

We are also humbled when we consider not only our place in the universe, but that we are members of a tribe seven billion strong. No matter how large your Facebook friends list, or whether you take significance in being either a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond; on a global scale sense of personal importance fades dramatically. You may be a superstar in your local church, or your denomination, or you may have won public service awards in your community, but on an international scale you’re probably not such a big deal.

Identifying humility’s opposite

I wrote about this a few days ago and suggested that while we often name pride as the culprit that undermines a humble spirit, ambition can be equally deadly. Being able to name the players in the spiritual battle that’s always ongoing really helps us see the root of the problem. Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing About Grace wrote about how the larger society operates by the rules of un-grace. Probably most people equally operate by the laws of un-humility. Timothy spoke of the last days being characterized by people who were “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…” We certainly do see a lot of that. When I remember how contagious these attitudes are I recognize the need to guard myself from trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’

I have a good example to follow

The whole point of this passage is comparison. Let the attitude or mindset that was in him also be in you. Three months ago, I wrote about the classic CCM song Understudy that uses Hollywood imagery to describe us apprenticing to the one with the starring role. No wonder the early followers of Jesus were called “little Christs.” Or, if you prefer, you can think of the students of who “walk in the dust of the rabbi;” doing everything their teacher does.

What other aspects of Christian living can serve to keep us humble?

March 11, 2017

Jesus in Luke on Money: Part 2 – The Rich and the Kingdom of God

As we explained yesterday, through a friend I was introduced to the writing of Don Merritt. We asked him for permission to use two of them for which he graciously agreed, but then I decided to split these over the course of two days, since they were on the same topic. Don is working his way through the gospel of Luke, but his blog also features topical items as well. Click the title below to read this one at The Life Project, and then take a few minutes to look around.

The Rich, The Way and The Kingdom

Luke 18:24-30

Jesus was fully aware that the disciples would be confused after His conversation with the rich man because, as we noted last time, He had blown up a major cultural expectation of the time that the rich were more favored by God than others were. As a result, He begins to teach them, even while the man is standing right there…

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (18:24-25)

The rich man hadn’t been overly enthused at the prospect of giving up all of his wealth, and Jesus underscored the difficulty that many have in entering the Kingdom and leaving the priorities of this world behind. Looking at His example here of putting a camel through the eye of a needle, I think we can safely say that He was engaging in a touch of hyperbole to make the point. The reaction of the disciples speaks volumes about the prevailing assumptions of that culture: “Who then can be saved?”

If you notice, Jesus in His answer blows up a second predominant assumption of that time:

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (18:27)

There are two cultural teachings that are being corrected here: First, that the rich are most favored by God, and the second is that a person can attain righteousness by reliance upon their own ability to keep the Law; both of these are false. This second teaching is still with us, sometimes it is obvious, and sometimes it is more subtle, we call it “works”. You cannot earn your way into the Kingdom by following the rules, “doing church right” or by doing good deeds, for you can only enter the kingdom by faith in God through Christ. Can the rich enter the Kingdom? Yes, they can, by placing their faith in God, and not in their earthly possessions and positions.

Peter is beginning to comprehend: “We have left everything to follow you!”  (18:28)

In reply to Peter, Jesus indicates that there may be more than just “stuff” that can get in the way…

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (18:29-30)

Notice the relationships that may also need to be left behind, notice also that they are in the same list as “home”, Matthew has “fields”, which is to say material possessions. The real point is that the follower of Christ must be willing to leave anything behind if it interferes with following Him, for with the Kingdom, you are either “all in” or all out. Aren’t these things that we all struggle with at one time or another?

This is one of those cases when the theology of the teaching is very simple, but living it can be difficult, yet with God, all things are possible. Consider this: The man who wrote Matthew’s Gospel was a tax collector. He was rich, he also had a family, friends and associates, but by the grace of God, he was one of the Twelve, and he wasn’t the only one. Remember Zacchaeus? Joseph of Arimathea? Saul of Tarsus?

With God, all things are indeed possible!

March 10, 2017

Jesus in Luke on Money: Part 1 – The Rich Young Man

Recently, through a fellow blogger who is also a personal friend, I was introduced to the writing of Don Merritt at The Life Project. Because some of his pieces are shorter than what we do here, I asked him for permission to use two of them for which he graciously agreed, but then I decided to run these two over the course of two days, since they were longer and also related. Don is working his way through the gospel of Luke, but his blog also features topical items as well. Click the title below to read this one at source, and then go exploring!

Jesus Meets a Rich Ruler

Luke 18:18-23

This account matches up quite nicely with Matthew’s (Matt. 19:18-22) although Matthew tells us that the rich man was young as well.

Social conventions and customs are a funny thing; they influence most of us in a way that enables us to make sweeping assumptions concerning great truths, even eternal ones, and yet those very conventions change often through history. We should take this reality as a warning to question the social conventions of our time, and this tale is a case in point. In Jesus’ day, as in many other historical periods, it was assumed that most wealthy people were the ones favored by God; why else would they be so blessed? Yes, some were not so ethical in their conduct, but many were good, hard working people, the bedrocks of the community; surely God’s favor was upon them!

What a contrast to those little children in the last scene, those little ones that represented vulnerability and humility. Right after Jesus commented about the little ones, a rich young man walks up to Him and asks a question:

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (18:18)

Here’s a guy who appears to have it all, but he apparently believes that he is lacking in the way he has led his life; there is an element of humility here that we often overlook. In the dialogue that follows, we learn more about this young man:

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. (18:19-21)

In Matthew’s account, the man asks Jesus what he was still lacking right here. This young man was righteous, and appears to have good intentions, and as you will see, Jesus doesn’t dispute his claim that he has kept all of those commandments. It would also appear that the man was beginning to realize, perhaps more quickly than the disciples, that merely keeping commandments as was the Jewish prevailing thought, wasn’t quite enough, after all, why else would he have asked Jesus in the first place? Yet, he still seems to have believed that eternal life was contingent upon his ability to do something. Maybe he was right:

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. (18:22-23)

Jesus told the man to sell everything he owned, give money to the poor and follow Him. I cannot over-emphasize how radical this was, for the prevailing thought of those times said that the rich were blessed, worthy and most favored of all, yet Jesus told the man to liquidate and give to the poor. Notice, He didn’t say to give everything to the poor (as some older translations say) but the implication is clear enough. The story ends with the man going away sad, because he had great wealth.

Traditional teaching assumes the man did not do as Jesus told him, but I want to point out that the text doesn’t say so; maybe he did, maybe he didn’t… but he was sad.

This is where we like to bash people who have more than we do; I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this in class discussions and sermons and how many times I have read it, but I would suggest that we should not go rushing into this too quickly. I have known quite a few people who are quite wealthy, rich people, and they usually discover that their wealth, while handy for sure, is also a millstone around their necks; a burden more than a pleasure. Yet once they have it, it is hard to let go of. Even so, let’s not concentrate on those who have more than we do, let’s look in the mirror instead, for there is where Jesus message, and the young man’s predicament resonate:

Suppose Jesus came to you and told you to liquidate everything you have, that’s right dear reader, sell all your possessions, give to the poor and follow Him.

Would that make you happy?

If you answer “yes” to that question, then let’s take a closer look: Your home, your car(s), your accounts, retirement plans, investments, kids’ college funds, the contents of your house… everything. You show up to follow Jesus with only the shirt on your back. Hold on, the shirt on your back is also a possession, so you show up without even a shirt on your back or anything else, to follow Jesus. Are you happy?

More importantly, would you do it?

Maybe we should think carefully before we make this all about pointing fingers at others!

The good news is that we are still in that section where the instruction is for the disciples, and in the next part, we will see what Jesus has to say to them; will it get easier? Well, you’ll have to come back next time to find out!

January 28, 2017

Loving Your Neighbor in a Global World

In nearly 2,500 posts here at C201, only two or three times have I suspended the usual format in order to respond to current events or topical concerns. This is one of those days.

Over at Thinking Out Loud today, you’ll find an article the purpose of which is to link to Stephen Mattson’s article at the Sojourners website, American Christianity Has Failed. There are also some Tweets there from respected Christian leaders. The article begins,

For the last few years Christians have been singing worship songs that include lyrics like “ keep my eyes above the waves, when oceans rise …” and yet have rejected refugees who’ve seen loved ones die beneath waves, who themselves have literally struggled to keep from drowning in oceans. Those American Christians — particularly white evangelicals — continue to sing the words: “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders …” but fail to realize the shameful irony that they’re largely responsible for refusing shelter and opportunity to some of the world’s most helpless and oppressed people.

What struck me as something appropriate here was the collection of scripture verses with which Stephen ends his article:

…The gospel of Jesus has been traded in for a narrative of fear. But the Bible keeps reminding us to right the course:

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17)

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt. 25:35)

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 19: 33-34)

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Prov. 14:31)

 Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov. 31: 8-9)

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jer. 22:3)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” (Zech. 7:9-10)

…How anyone can see the pictures below and determine not to respond; not to help; is totally beyond comprehension. In a global world we don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘This isn’t our problem.”

In a time before mass communication, before satellites, before the internet, we could be excused for our ignorance. But this is not that world. Images appear in our Facebook and Twitter feeds and beg us to ask the ask the question, “What would Jesus have us do;” or better, “What would Jesus have me do?”

The gospel has not reached us if we simply turn our heads, or click to something else.

face-of-refugee-crisis

 

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 5, 2016

The Sermon on the Mount’s Impossible Demands

When we go back to a source we’ve used previously, I often look at the most recent article, decide it’s suitable and then format it for use here. But on returning to Barenuckle Bible, the website of John Myer, I read most of a 4-part series of articles on the lordship of Christ, published October 12, 19, 26 and November 2nd of this year.

For today however, I chose this article which I hope you will appreciate as much as I did. Click the title below to read at source.

Glad I Didn’t Dumb Down the “Impossible” Commands of Jesus

After many months and gallons of coffee, my Tuesday morning men’s group finished a study of The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Those chapters have to be among the  most challenging in the entire Bible.  During our reading, I frequently had urges to tweak them just because it seems so patently impossible for mere mortals to turn the other cheek, love enemies, and not look at women with lust.

As the oldest man in that group, I felt obligated to be the voice of reason.  I didn’t want the younger guys spooked by a standard so far beyond them that being a Keebler Elf would appear more realistic than being a faithful Christian.

I’m glad I resisted the urge to dumb-down the Sermon verses.  After all, I’m not here to save people from Jesus.

These chapters weren’t meant to be immediately accessible, anyway.  We enter them in phases, like a kid growing into his dad’s shoes.  The standard described and commanded in Matthew 5-7 basically corresponds to the inner life of Christ.  You’re not supposed to read it and feel like, “I got this.”

In fact, Watchman Nee once wrote in his landmark book, The Normal Christian Life,

“A consideration of the written word of God—the Sermon on the Mount for example—should lead us to ask whether such a life has ever in fact been lived upon the earth save only by the Son of God Himself.”

Maybe then, the most reasonable instant reaction to this part of the Word is one of incredulity.  How on earth is someone like me ever going to live like that?

Ironically, after the Sermon was over, a leper approached Jesus, saying, “Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean.” (Matt. 8:2).  That’s about all anybody can feel after hearing those words—“I’m not clean.  I need serious help.”

Personally, any time I’ve ever started thinking I had the Christian life down cold—because I don’t use porn or drugs or run around on my wife—these dramatic verses reminded me all was still not well in Johnnyville.

At best I’m always a bit out of alignment, a good-hearted, inconsistent Christian, with plenty of blind spots. And frequently I’m a lot worse when compared to verses like this one: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

Again, how will this ever come to pass?

I don’t think the answer is in the Sermon at all.  You’ll hunt those chapters in vain for special techniques, or spiritual hacks.

The key probably lies a few verses outside the Sermon in the conversation between Jesus and that leper.  He had asked for cleansing, and Jesus told him, “I am willing.”

That’s music to any leper’s ears.  No need for pretending to be clean, much less redefining the concept of cleanness into something less challenging.

It would be ridiculous to hope God would lower His standard to mine, when He’s willing to cleanse and lift me up to His.

 

September 6, 2016

Kingdom Incarnate

I’m currently reading a book scheduled for October release by California pastor Brian Loritts, Saving the Saved. I decided to see if he had anything online and discovered his blog and this article. Click the title below to read at source.

The Kingdom of God on Your Street/In Your Apartment Building

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said that if a Christian moved out of their neighborhood and no one felt a sense of loss, he wondered if that person was ever legitimately saved? Strong words, I know, but sobering.

Our family is settling into our new Northern California neighborhood, and all that comes with it—meeting new neighbors, figuring out grocery stores and vetting potential barbers. Amidst all the newness plays an old familiar question in our souls as we walk the sidewalks, “How can we bring the kingdom to this rustic neighborhood populated by old Victorian homes?” Of course this question leads to another more essential one, “What exactly is the kingdom?”

Jesus shows us in Matthew 9:35, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” In this one verse, we see the kingdom is both preaching AND healing; it addresses the physical AND the spiritual; the body AND the soul.

We Christians have made this simple, comprehensive question of the kingdom so complex and messy. Someone once said the mark of brilliance is the ability to make the complex simple. Well, if that’s true, then the mark of idiocy is the ability to make the simple complex. Historically, the church hasn’t been too bright. During the fundamentalist/modernist split of the early 20th century, the fracture took place over this very question of the kingdom with one side saying it’s essentially preaching, and the other countering with the kingdom being more about the body and issues of justice and care. During the civil rights movement, it was the church who marched in the streets, standing up against injustice, and it was the church who sat in the pews, at the same time, listening to truth and giving altar calls for people to get saved. A few years ago, there were some aspects of the church who were content to sit in bars, smoking a cigar and dropping a few expletives in jest as they took a break from reading the latest Brian McLaren book to form community with “pre-Christians.” While at the same time, hoards of Christians chose the cognitive route, rediscovering Calvin, and trying (and mostly failing) to make their way through his Institutes.

What is the kingdom?

As is often the case, Jesus presents us a third way, a way not marked by an either/or scenario, but a both/and posture. The Jesus of the gospels would’ve called people to repentance in church on Sunday, then jetted out the back door to march for voter rights in Selma. Jesus would go to the backyard party over my neighbor’s house, miraculously cause cases of the best wine to appear, blessing everyone there, and then proceed to preach an extemporaneous sermon inviting people into the joy of the kingdom.

Body and soul. Physical and spiritual. Feeding and proclaiming. This is the kingdom.

So what does it mean for us to bring the kingdom to our neighborhood? A few thoughts come to mind:

1. Mindful. I need to be mindful that God has planted our family on that block for a much bigger reason than a good investment, or safety and security. What if God wants us to be the chaplains of our street? I need to be mindful of this.

2. Presence. The house we bought doesn’t have a garage, and I’m kind of glad about that. It makes it much easier to interact with our neighbors. Already our family has taken long walks, and on the way we’ve met some people and had some great conversations. There’s just something about being out among the people. Jesus modeled this well.

3. Seek. What if Korie and I started to seek for tangible ways to bless others in our neighborhood? Gifts. Invitations. Cookouts. Help. All of this is in the category of Jesus healing and feeding.

4. Pray. While we’re helping to get the mail of our neighbors who’ve left town for a week, why not pray for them and others that God would save their souls.

5. Proclaim. Picking up mail is part of bringing the kingdom, but to do so without proclaiming how their deepest needs are met in the person of Jesus Christ is only half the story. Yes we need to be careful here. We don’t want to do the old bait and switch and make people feel as if our kindness is setting them up for a punch line. But people need to hear the good news. I want my street to come to know Jesus. How can they come to believe without hearing?

Check out Pastor Bryan’s messages on ALCF’s iTunes podcast

 

August 7, 2016

The Signs of Eternal Salvation

•••by Russell Young

Each of us wants assurance of an eternal hope.  The apostle John has provided clarification concerning this matter, but did not let assurance rest on a confession of faith once made.  Near the end of his first epistle he has recorded: “I wrote these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 Jn 5:13, NIV) The things that he wrote were contained in his first letter. From his epistle fifteen characteristics have been identified that expose knowledge of the believer’s hope. A person may know that he or she has eternal life if they:

  1. img 080716enjoy fellowship with Christ and the Father. (1:3, 2:24)
  2. do not keep on sinning. (2:29, 3:6,9)
  3. obey God’s commands (2:3, 3:24, 5:3)
  4. do not love this world or the things in it (2:15, 16, 5:4)
  5. purify themselves. (3:3)
  6. see a decreasing pattern of sin in his or her life. (3:3, 6, 9, 5:18)
  7. love other Christians. (2:9, 10, 3:10, 14, 4: 7, 11, 12, 4:19-20)
  8. experience answered prayer. (3:22)
  9. experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (2:27, 3:20, 24, 4:13)
  10. know the truth; can discern between spiritual truth and error. (2:21, 3:6)
  11. suffer rejection (hated) because of their faith. (3:13)
  12. love others. (4:7)
  13. have concern about the material needs of others. (3:17)
  14. are like Christ in this world. (4:17)
  15. have a clear conscience. (3:21)

No one can “work” to achieve what is required for eternal life and a single confession of faith will not accomplish it.  Without the Spirit the believer does not have the capacity to accomplish that which is needed, but would be left with his or her own sinful nature and a demanding body.  The life that manifests these characteristics is being worked in the believer by the Spirit of Christ in order that the Lord might be the first-born among many brothers and sisters in his likeness.  A person’s work is to believe and to believe to the extent that he or she is willing to submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:4).  The transformed believer will display the identified characteristics.

A person’s eternal salvation is not accomplished by adhering to the practices of an institution, nor living by a list of rules.  It does not take place through a specific religious experience or by engaging in a certain type of service.  Neither is it superficial “belief” that lacks trust and obedience.  Eternal salvation comes through Christ and the believer’s personal relationship with him.  The hopeful person must practice obedience so that Christ might live in and through the person who claims his name. (Col 1:27) A relationship must develop that leads the believer in a righteous walk because that is the only walk engaged by the Lord.

The apostle Paul said, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I might be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:27, NLT) He did not rest in the belief that he had mastered the life of faith.

God does not want his people to walk in fear but in love for him and in obedience to his will. Perfect love (which is obedience) casts out all fear and like the Israelites of old, his people have been told of his expectations. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37, NIV)

The love that God expects is revealed in a close relationship with him.  It requires reading his Word so that the Spirit might use it for any cleansing that is necessary to accomplish the believer’s transformation and develop holiness. And, it is based on an active prayer life through which sin is confessed and forgiveness sought so that a clean conscience can be maintained.  The importance of being made holy, washed by the cleansing of God’s Word (Eph 5:26), was made clear by Paul.  Righteous thoughts and actions lead to holiness (Rom 6:19, 22) and without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)

All of God’s creation was fashioned for his good pleasure.  Humankind is part of that creation.  When all is said and done, God will be eternally satisfied with his work and the transformed believer.  Those who have listened to his voice, who possess the characteristics of his Son and those revealed by John, will be part of his eternal joy.

November 30, 2015

The 666 Verse

No, not that 666; we’re looking at John 6:66 which says,

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

A popular title four years ago was Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. Although we were quite familiar with his work before this, it was his breakout book, and I reviewed it here as well as reviewing the video curriculum.

The premise of the title is that Jesus had many fans, but few followers; and the verse in John describes a time when Jesus introducing what is sometimes called the “hard sayings” and after that, it seems as though he is culling the herd, deliberately emphasizing the cost of following over the benefits.

The Message • John 6:60 Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.”

61-65 Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, “Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.” (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, “This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.”

66-67 After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”

68-69 Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

I got thinking about this when I received another notification on the weekend that I had six new followers on Twitter. Because I have three fairly active blogs and had an association with a major Christian news magazine for nearly two years, I never thought my Twitter following would be so anemic. It’s been stuck at around 330 people for a long time. (I now joke that we’re very selective and you have to complete a lot of paperwork to be a follower. You can have pity on me by clicking here.)

So if I’m gaining about five new people a day, shouldn’t I be growing at the rate of 150 per month?

Not at all. Someone explained to me that these people are clicking in hoping I will reciprocate and follow them. When I don’t, they un-follow, and there are no notifications for that. They disappear quietly. The point is, I don’t have a lot of time; I don’t carry a smart phone with me all day, and I prefer to follow a rather select list of authors and organizations, plus a few anonymous accounts to lighten the day. (I did pick one from among that recent crop of six.)

In other words, they were following me hoping I would follow them.

It’s the same in John 6. The timeline in John is a little different; if this were in Matthew, the chronology would put it around chapter 15. So this is well into the ministry life of Jesus.

It’s the same today. People are looking to Jesus to see what they can get, not what they can give. They will follow his agenda if he will fit into theirs. Like my Twitter account, many of our churches have many people arriving by the front doors, but we fail to notice those who are leaving by the back doors.

In Twitter-speak, what Idleman calls fans, I would call short-term followers. Jesus is looking for long-term followers. His book is based on Luke 9:23

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

We’ll end today with how I condensed Kyle Idleman’s breakdown of what that means:

Luke 9-23

 

August 15, 2015

How Would You Define Holiness?

I wonder how I would fare with the question in the title above? I think my answer would involve some notion of separation or being set apart. Maybe that’s sanctification. Are the two not synonymous?

This is from the archives of Logos Walk Word Journal:

Deuteronomy 33:3 • Your Steps and Your Words

“Indeed, He loves the people; All Your holy ones are in Your hand, And they followed in Your steps; Everyone receives of Your words.”
—Deuteronomy 33:3 (NASB)

Who are “the people” referred to here that “He loves”? Who are “Your holy ones” identified as being “in Your hand”? Well, the answer lies in two clues about their behavior that sets them apart: “they followed in Your steps” and “receives of Your words”. They are the ones who listen and obey. I read a report produced by The Barna Group titled, “The Concept of Holiness Baffles Most Americans”. Normally I wouldn’t be too concerned about a poll of “Americans” because that implies a mixture of both Believers and non-Believers alike, meaning that I would expect the views of non-Believers to deviate from those of Believers in a combined poll. However, it’s this mixture that IS alarming since on this point there is virtually no mathematical difference between the views of either group! The responses of born again and non-born again adults are virtually identical. When asked to provide a definition of holiness, the most common answer was “I don’t know”, followed by a wide array of answers. Only 35% responded that “God expects you to become holy”, meaning that most don’t believe it’s even really an important issue.

The report offers some opinions as to what this might mean, but considering the fact that the Bible is becoming less and less important to those who call themselves Christian, I’m not at all surprised to learn of a measurable disconnect between the group and the biblical teaching of holiness. Combine this with the fact that in America there is no statistical difference in the behavior and moral underpinnings of those who attend church and those that don’t, it’s really not hard to understand that greatly de-emphasizing—if not outright dropping—God’s Word is a necessary step towards enabling one to act any way they choose. Without God’s Word, one is not presented with the standards of being wholly separated and exclusively devoted — i.e. “holy” — to God.

“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
—Deuteronomy 7:6 (NASB)

The demand for holiness carries over into the New Testament as well.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
—Romans 10:1-2 (NASB)

Lord, that we would be an example to everyone of your holiness, the product of receiving Your Word and following in Your steps, so that we will become Your exclusive and dedicated possession, rid of all ties to this world, exclusively bound to You.†††


Here’s a classic worship song that came to mind as I was preparing this:

February 24, 2015

A Cross-Carrying Kind of Life

cross at Grace ChurchThis is one of two posts in a series by Deb Wolf who blogs at Counting My Blessings. This is her third time appearing here at Christianity 201 and we do appreciate the work she does on her site; the tag line is “Encouraging you with stories of faith, hope and love.” Click the title below to read at source and/or read part two, “Jesus Answer to the Fear of Cross-Carrying.

When You Don’t Want a Cross-Carrying Kind of Faith

There is a verse in the Bible that did anything but give me peace and contentment. I tried to pretend I was obedient, but my heart knew it terrified me.

Then He [Jesus] called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:34–35

[Last Wednesday] was Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent. For the next six and a half weeks followers of Jesus will fast, pray, and ponder His journey to the cross.

Followers who are called to deny themselves, carry their cross, trust and obey . . . lose their life for Jesus.

I didn’t want to carry my cross. I liked my comfortable safe life. Sure there were some problems and pain, but life—my life, my kid’s lives, my husband’s life, complete trust and obedience . . . what could happen to a life lost to cross carrying.

My doctor and a counselor said I was “high-strung,” anxious.

Lack of Faith

I knew I was a fear-filled worrier. Seriously, I turned worry into an art form. Not surprising. Look around. Have you seen all the truly terrible things that can happen?

I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew it was lack of faith.

But that verse and others like it:

But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Acts 9:15–16

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps. 1 Peter 2:21

 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. Matthew 10:38

Giving Up Fear for Faith

“I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith . . . I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

It’s true. In this world there will be trials and sorrows. Worry doesn’t prevent it. Fear won’t keep it out of reach.

Trials and sorrows did happen, but.

What a small yet important word.

“You will have trials and sorrows. But take heart, because.

Take heart [don’t lose your faith], because…

I have overcome the world
I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.
Be sure of this: I am with you always.

Through trials and sorrows Jesus was faithful, and because of His faithfulness my faith grew. Faith that was greater than my fear. Faith that was impossible when I focused on my fears, but grew when I kept my eyes on Jesus.

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1–2

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