Christianity 201

March 11, 2022

The First Thing People See is Our Fruits

 

“Either make the tree good and its fruit will be good, or make the tree bad and its fruit will be bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. – Matthew 12:33 CSB

A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. – Luke 6:44 NLT

“As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness’ but my hand shall not be against you.‘” 1 Samuel 24:13 NASB

Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right. –  Proverbs 20:11 NLT

Today we have another first time writer to feature here, whose name is not immediately identified on their page, but who has a number of good articles on a number of topics. I’m fairly confident his name is David Patton. The blog is called Becoming Christian and I encourage you to click the header which follows and take the time to read this at its original source.

The Missing Fruit of the Christian Church

“And you will know them by their fruits”

If we as Christians meditated on this quote by Jesus found in Matthew, would we have a different world view, would we see pastors and church elders differently, would we judge our local political leaders differently, would we see ourselves differently?  But here is the thing, knowing and being able to judge a person based on their fruits is one of those teachings of Jesus that has been ignored, and has not been given room to breathe and be developed. It is on the surface a simple truism, and in context Jesus is talking about false teachers. But the more someone is willing to meditate on this saying this the more power it has.

Growing up in an evangelical fundamentalist cultural there is a feeling that that “he who is without sin cast the first stone” so there is the idea that we can’t, or maybe just shouldn’t, talk about the fact that someone is not bringing forth good fruit. Yet when the average person looks out across the visible manifestation of the church, I’m not convinced that they see a difference in the behavior and mannerisms then of people outside of the church, because they do make judgment calls based upon the fruit they see. And I know that there are going to be many people who are going to church who say, “that is not our church” or “that is not a real church”. but that is the thing that so many Christians don’t realize and fail to understand, and that is most people outside of the church judge the church by its fruits, and they don’t like what they see.

My feeling is that the church in America in no ways wants to be judge or criticized on its lack of fruit. In fact, if criticism is leveled against it, Christians have a complex ecosystem which they use to minimize and deflect the fact that they are in no way baring the good fruits of Jesus. Time and time again the Mark Driscolls and Hillsongs are put forth as examples that we as followers of Jesus should look to, but time and time again when they are tested it is revealed they in no way embody the actions of Jesus, they do not produce good fruit, even though some will make the excuse that they do.

But to be true to the teachings of Jesus, and to rightly call ourselves Christian, it is imperative that we give and receive criticism when our actions do not bring forth or reflect the good fruits that Jesus Christ desires of those who follow him. This should not, in any way shape or form, be considered a controversial opinion.

The reality is that criticism is downplayed or deflected because it’s clear that the Christian church in America is not producing good fruit, and the world can see this. The deeper, and in fact sadder, truth is that it does not have a framework by which it can say a person is demonstrating actions that is in keeping with producing the good fruits of salvation. Unfortunately, the church has been corrupted by the thinking of the world and uses the frameworks of the world to measures itself.

How big is your church? How many regular attenders do you have? How much money do you bring in each week? How many missionaries does your church support? How famous is your pastor? Has your pastor written and published books? How many people in your church have written and published books? These standards of the world can go on and on, and to most people they are seen as, not necessarily bad, or evil, more neutral.  Yet it is a simple fact none of these standards are in keeping with baring the good fruit found in the Holy Scripture.

The questions then must be asked, and answered, what does good fruit look like in a person who is a follower of Jesus, and how do they get to producing good fruit? This of course this is not an easy answer, but it will start us down the path of looking at the teaching of Jesus and how they apply to the context and world that we live in today.

It is a given that for the vast majority of us we can simply go to our local supermarket and buy whatever fruit we want. But in truth fruit just doesn’t appear in our supermarket it needs time to grow and become fruit. Plant the seed, water the seed, maybe fertilize the growing sprout, and then only when it reaches maturity will the tree, it is hoped, produce fruit. Though for American Christianity this idea of taking time to either develop a person or to just take the time to judge if the person produces good fruit is not something that done.

Most churches in America have more of a country club mentality in which a person who joins is given the bylaws and constitution and simply expected to read and abide by them, if cannot, or don’t want to, they can leave.  Churches need to start taking the time to develop people taking the teachings of Jesus as the foundation for what right Christianity looks like. Is a person showing compassion, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, to the stranger, the poor, and the outcast? If not, do we have a something in place so a person can start developing these fruits?

If someone wants to become a leader have they consistently, over time, shown the fruits of Christ consistent with salvation? We live in a world that is rushed and sees time as nothing more than a commodity it is therefore important to be slowly taking time to not only develop fruit in a person but also to see if a person has fruit that is consistent with the teaching of Jesus.

 It is also true that in order to develop these fruits a person needs a community of people, yet what is seen as community in the modern world is nothing more than a gathering of like-minded people around a dogmatic political or religious identity. Unfortunately, this kind of “community” is not a community that brings forth good fruits in a person, it is only an echo chamber that brings forth the absolute worst in humanity.

The development of a community that brings forth the good fruit of Jesus Christ is a very messy community that does not conform to a certain theological or dogmatic construct that are in vogue or happen to be “just what we do”. What it is, is a group of people on a journey of faith trying to emulate the life and teachings of Jesus.

We see a lot of this messiness reflected in the pages of the New Testament the conflicts with who can be considered as a Christian do, they must conform to the traditions of the past or are we making a new path, who gets feed and in what order, Paul verses Peter, Paul and Silas, or basically Paul in general. But for the American church this messiness gets papered over with statement of faith, and doctrinal statement that prevents us from entering in too true community. We assume that because a congregation has a faith statement that everyone in that congregation believes everything within that statement. Now while we know this is not true of everybody who shows up on a Sunday it is shared assumption that most people have that has led to a homogeneity that does not allow for the truly messy nature of Christian community.

The sad reality is that the fruit that Jesus Christ wants to be present in those who follow him are not fruit that a modern Christian particular enjoys. It is fruit of a bygone era. Fruit for those who want to live out of step with the world, live in the past and not the present.

If Christians today truly wanted to emulate Jesus, they would not only pursue the fruits of Christ but also provide a way for others to walk that path as well. Yet it is all too clear that the fruits of Christ, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control are not present in the church today, and a simple blog post pointing out these problems, and providing a couple of ways forward is not enough. It’s going to take a collective effort by those who truly want to follow Jesus to build the Church based on Christ’s teachings.

 

January 31, 2022

Our Prime Motivation

Sometimes we know we just must do something, but do we ever dig deeper to see where that seed was planted in us?

This is our fourth time at Before the Cross, written by . You need to click the header which follows to read this where we first located it.

Sometimes Conviction Is Not Enough

How many times have we been there? We’ve heard a message, watched a video, or even had a conversation with someone and walked away feeling really convicted about something. We’ll even tell people “man I was so convicted about that” and others are like “yea, me too” but then after awhile, nothing changes. Or we’re in a small group and we can go around the room and basically everyone can chime in talking about how they are convicted, but then you come back the following week to just discuss the same convictions over and over again.

We seem to feel convicted or guilty in certain moments and tell ourselves we’ve got to change something, but then nothing happens. We just go back and repeat either the same mistakes or find ourselves convicted again the next time, possibly even about the exact same thing as before!

So why is this? Surely conviction itself from the Holy Spirit isn’t a bad thing and there’s good that can come out of that, but why is it often the case that change doesn’t take place within us? Perhaps being convicted is not enough?

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Corinthians 4:14-15

That word compel basically can be defined as bringing about change. It’s not our conviction that actually changes us (conviction can bring awareness and help warn us and guard us), but what actually brings about change in our lives…what compels us and motivates us to change…the love of Christ.

We no longer live for ourselves but for Him, who died and was raised again. We are reminded of our motivation as followers of Jesus that while we are convicted and still make mistakes, we now live for Jesus. Not ourselves.

Why?

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

The incredible fact here is that Jesus had no sin. Zero. And He became sin for us, meaning He paid the price of all of our past, present, and future sins…not only so that we would be rescued, but that we would become the righteousness of God. That God would view us as His children through Christ. That the Holy Spirit would reside in us and give us power and self control over our actions and our lives for His Glory and for our own good.

It’s the love of Christ that truly compels us to change.

What motivates you more?

  • Don’t do that, this is bad, this is wrong, you need to make changes.
  • You are fully free and forgiven and will never be condemned by God ever again.

I’m not saying conviction is wrong, I’m asking which one motivates you more? Which one truly brings about change? When you think about how forgiven you really are in Christ and that you are a new creation, it frees you up and gives you confidence to move forward making changes in your life.

What needs to change in your life? What is something God is asking you to stop doing and something He is asking you to start doing? When is the last time you paused for 60 seconds to reflect on the fact that if you believe in Jesus and follow Him, there is NO record of debt against you? It’s been nailed to the cross.

Christian, you’re forgiven. You’re free. Because Jesus is enough.


Second Helping:

Here’s another article at Before the Cross, this one from Heather Bost, about allowing external things to define us. What defines you?


If you’re interested in an index of topical articles at Before the Christ dealing with practical ways you can live out your faith or face challenges in your personal and family life, click here.

December 10, 2021

Giving Irrationally

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:44 pm
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ESV Acts 20:34 “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

The title of this devotional may imply a type of giving that is detached from all common sense, but as strange as that may seem, it’s on entirely far off from what we’re talking about.

In our part of the world, The Salvation Army has introduced tap payment (what in your part of the world may be called touch payment) on its collection ‘kettles.’ Although my wife and I plan to make a more focused online donation in a few days, I decided to use the device, especially since I am often encouraging others not to simply walk by the volunteers doing the collecting; especially now that we don’t transact with cash as frequently.

The machine offered three different donation amounts; I picked the middle one and waved my payment card. The machine beeped and then, five second later, there was another beep and I was on my way.

I’ll never know who that donation will affect, but I certainly appreciate that the local chapter of The Salvation Army isn’t paying a large staff to run the annual Christmas appeal, and that the actual collection point is staffed with volunteers.

In describing my beep-beep experience, I quoted Jesus in Matthew 6:3 (NLT)

But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

It was an effortless, and I should add spontaneous act of giving, one that is in great contrast to where we were a decade or so previous, when we were on the receiving end of The Salvation Army’s generosity.

In 2 Corinthians 9:7, we get an idea of the spontaneity in giving that God desires. The verse is translated different ways:

  • God loves it when the giver delights in the giving. (MSG)
  • God loves the person who gives happily. (NCV)
  • God loves a cheerful giver. (Many other translations)

From this we often hear the phrase, “Give hilariously.” I figured that ‘Give irrationally’ was just a small stretch at that point.

Again, in my part of the world, giving is often anything but that. It’s strategic giving, focused toward the end of the year, for the purpose of receiving a tax benefit. Or perhaps the realization that the church treasurer is going to issue a year-end receipt soon, and our year-to-date gifts to our local congregation have been somewhat anemic.

It’s certainly not the spontaneity or hilarity that these verses imply, but you speak with the actual givers, the ones who practice generosity, you find them telling you repeatedly that there is joy in giving.

This type of giving is also quite distanced from the type of giving that is done in anticipating of getting something in return. While this may be a kingdom principle — in other words this is how things operate in God’s realm — it shouldn’t be the primary motivation. The principle is stated in Luke 6:38

Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over—will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (CSB)

While there is the promise of blessings returned, the person giving on that basis alone isn’t giving out of the best of motives; and the preacher or church leaders who encourages people to give because they’re going to get something back is encouraging a type of exchange transaction, not a spirit of generosity at all.

Further, a generous spirit is indicative of our faith as a whole. James writes,

James 2 (The Message)14-17Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

Scripture tells the world will know we’re Christians by love, and love is expressed in kindness, compassion and generosity.

What individuals or organizations did you think about giving to as you read this?

Take the next step.

September 30, 2021

The Predictably Unpredictable Life

Thinking Though the Unpredictable Life of Joseph from the Book of Genesis

by Clarke Dixon

Life can be anything but predictable.

We face many new beginnings that we could not predict. Who would have predicted in January 2020 that we would all be facing a pandemic for the last year and a half? Who could have predicted at the beginning of this year that Afghanistan would be completely under the control of the Taliban before the year was done?

In our own lives, we all experience things that we did not and cannot predict.

How do we handle such unpredictable times, and the predictable unpredictability of life?

There is a character from the Bible we may be able to relate to.

When Joseph was living happily on his father’s farm, could he have predicted that he would be sold by his brothers into slavery? When Joseph was serving in Potipahar’s home as a trusted servant, could he have predicted that he would end up in jail? When Joseph was in jail, could he have predicted that he would end up being the main administrator over all of Egypt?

In each of these new unpredictable situations, there is something in common, something very predictable. Despite the unpredictable nature of his life, Joseph himself was a predictable kind of guy.

Joseph was always the same Joseph, with the same God given gifts around dreams, with the same God given gift, or as some would put it, natural talent, for administration, exercising the same integrity.

In the Bible we read of something else which made Joseph predictable:

The LORD was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. Genesis 39:21 . . . But the LORD was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the LORD made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. . . . So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?

Genesis 39:2,21;41:38 (NLT emphasis added)

The presence of God in Joseph’s life was predictable. Joseph’s reference to God throughout his life was also predictable. Joseph was predictable, in a good way.

In being predictable Joseph actually reflected something true about God. God is predictable in a good way!

With God there is a consistency, a constancy. We see this played out in God’s commitment to all His covenant promises. We can think of God’s relationship with His people as recorded in the Old Testament. God stuck by His people, even though they were predictable in their rebellion against God and constant idolatry. Yet God is predictable in a good way, always making a way for His plans and purposes to be carried out.

The writers of the New Testament came to know that God is predictable. For example, the apostle John wrote “God is love” in 1st John chapter 4. You cannot earn a description like that without being predictable in your love!

If God can be described as love, what word might people choose to describe us?

Clarke is ______.

Please don’t yield to the temptation to answer that in the comments, but please do ask that about yourself. People will fill in that blank based on what is predictable about us. Is it a good word? Do any of these words show up; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? These are the fruit of the Spirit, the consequence of living a life filled with God. Are we predictable in a good way because of our growing relationship with God?

Being predictable does not mean never surprising others.

In fact Joseph, despite being predictable, was likely very surprising, especially for Potiphar’s wife who probably assumed Joseph would be easily seduced. His integrity would have been surprising. Is ours? Joseph likely surprised the jailer who probably assumed that Joseph would be like every other inmate. Instead Joseph was like a breath of fresh air in a very stale jail. Are we experienced as a surprising breath of fresh air? Could Pharaoh have predicted that a seemingly insignificant foreigner sitting in jail would be the person who would save Egypt from starvation? Do we turn out to be of greater significance in people’s lives than they ever could have imagined?

God, though predictable, is full of surprises too.

In fact Joseph’s story reflects that of God’s people in the Old Testament. Joseph had this dream of his older, and therefore more “significant”, brothers bowing down to him. Yet in the end, surprise, they bow down to him and look to him for salvation from starvation. There were bigger stronger, and seemingly more significant nations around God’s people, like Babylon, and Egypt. In comparison God’s people were weak and insignificant. But God did something profound through this little “insignificant” nation. In fact people from every nation look for salvation in what God has done through this little “insignificant” nation, and its “insignificant” king who was crucified on a cross by the “significant” people. Surprise!

Speaking of Jesus, here is another surprise; God came to humanity in Jesus. We killed him. God still loves us and offers reconciliation and a new relationship. Surprising, yet predictable, because God is love. God worked in a very surprising way to help us see what we knew about God all along, that God is love.

Do people find us to be surprising in good ways? Are those surprises consistent with the good things people find predictable about us?

In Conclusion . . .

Our lives may be unpredictable, but we can be predictable, in a good way, living with a constancy, a consistency, and integrity, like Joseph, like God, like Jesus.

As God grows our character, developing within us the fruit of the Spirit, God’s work within us will show up through us no matter what is happening around us.

Life is totally unpredictable and full of nasty surprises. We can learn to be predictable in a good way. And full of good surprises.


Regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. You can watch the preaching of this sermon here.

June 8, 2021

The Weight of Joy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Romans.6  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,that we should no longer be slaves to sin… 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

So what does today’s title mean? Stay tuned!

Today we are highlighting a writer who is new to us, Victoria Moll. Her blog is titled, Notes About Glory. Before we get into today’s devotional, here’s a little introduction to her writing. In both cases, you’re encouraged to click the headers to read each piece at her site.

In Jesus Christ, For His Glory

In Jesus Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

The phrase “in Jesus Christ” simply means to be a believer in Christ, having accepted him as your Lord and Savior.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the price for human sin by his blood, granting us forgiveness. Jesus is the reason that we are declared righteous when we stand before God, and are justified in His sight. Eternal life is not earned, but freely given to everybody who declares the name of Jesus because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Anyone who is a believer is “in Christ”.

For His Glory.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11

We serve a God who is truly worthy of our praise! Giving praise to the Lord is more than singing songs during a praise and worship service. Worship is a lifestyle of obedience and working for the glory of God through our spiritual disciplines and missional mindset. Giving glory to God looks like thanking Him and recognizing Him as the source of everything good. The practice of giving glory to God is rewarding in that the more you practice a life of worship, the more you will see how worthy He is! This joy in realizing the fullness of God brings about celebration and adoration.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Joy is Weighty

I have been thinking a lot about joy lately, and I’ve noticed that in order for there to be joy, there must always be a sacrifice.

As believers, we experience joy as a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) as a product of the continual transformation brought on by the Holy Spirit. This joy is free and accessible to us, but it came at the price of Christ’s death on the cross for our sake.

Because of the weight of sin in our fallen world and the perpetual death that comes with it, in order for us to feel the joy of the Lord, it comes at a cost. Yet God was so merciful that He paid it for is, giving us access to that joy.

What does all this mean?

That there is baggage in joy. Not necessarily the kind that we wallow in or the kind that keeps us from rejoicing, but the kind that convicts our hearts and draws us near to the Father in thankfulness and praise.

I believe that the glory of the Father can be found in our joy, as a product of what the spirit produces in us, because of the Son.

Joy is a lovely state of being, yet a necessary reminder that without Christ, there once was not.

I think about the year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee, which came every 50th year, was a time commanded by God for the releasing  of people from their debts, releasing all slaves, and returning property to those who originally owned it (Leviticus 25:1-13). The year of Jubilee was precisely its namesake: a season of celebration. There was so much joy that came from the lifting of the yoke of slavery and the shame that came with debt. Jubilee was joyous for those who could not find freedom by their own means- but the catch is that this joy is not so easily recognized until there is first the taint of slavery. For those who did not experience loss or debt, they had a much harder time rejoicing, because they had nothing to be returned to them.

In the same way, Paul says in Romans that although we should not continue sinning, the memory of sin should bring us joy in our salvation, and compel us to offer ourselves to the Father as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6).

This is the Christian joy: to not live as though we were still dead in our sins, but to rejoice in the freedom we have found in Christ, using our knowledge of salvation and thankfulness to compel us to glorify the Father.

Yes friends, this is a weighty joy.


Keep going: Get to know Victoria better in this recent, heartfelt article about what Jesus means to her. Check out Why Jesus.

August 2, 2020

Facing our Critics in a ‘Cancel’ World

NIV.Gal.3.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

NIV.John.17.20b-21 “…I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

NIV.Proverbs.15.1 A gentle answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Today I felt strongly that we were to carry something from author and pastor Scott Sauls, someone whose name I didn’t know a month ago. Scott is Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and was a lead and preaching pastor for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, where he worked alongside Dr. Timothy Keller.

We’ve been blessed by being able to carry more book excerpts lately thanks to our friends at HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Zondervan and Thomas Nelson). For this one however, we’re sharing a sub-excerpt from his latest book, A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in an Age of Us Against Them which appeared at Ann Voskamp’s site, and another sub-excerpt which appeared on Scott’s blog in what he describes as an amended version. Clicking the headers below will take you to each, which are on the same theme.

We Disagree, Therefore I Need You

by Scott Sauls

…I am told that the Theologian A (I’ll leave names out to avoid distraction) once gave a guest sermon about how God brings people into a saving relationship with Himself.

On this particular issue, Theologian A is well known for emphasizing the sovereign, initiating grace in the salvation of humans.

Others, like Theologian B, are known for emphasizing human free will. While Theologian A would say we chose God only because God first chose us, Theologian B might say that God chose us based on His prior knowledge that we would one day choose Him.

“Sincere believers can disagree on certain matters, sometimes quite strongly, and still maintain deep respect, honor, and affection toward each other.”

This is an intramural and friendly debate between sincere believers, and ought to be treated as such. It’s an important debate, but on whichever side a person lands, it will not determine his or her standing with a God who saves not by our perfect doctrine, but by His generous grace.

During the question and answer time after Theologian A’s talk, someone asked him if he thought he would see Theologian B in heaven, to which he replied, “No, I don’t believe I will see Theologian B in heaven.”

Of course, there was a collective gasp! But then he continued, “Theologian B will be so close to the throne of God, and I will be so far away from the throne of God, that I will be lucky even to get a glimpse of him!”  (italics added)

What Theologian A demonstrated is that sincere believers can disagree on certain matters, sometimes quite strongly, and still maintain deep respect, honor, and affection toward each other.

It is no coincidence that the longest recorded prayer we have from Jesus is His famous high priestly prayer, in which He asks that His wildly diverse band of followers be united as one. Those followers included Simon, an anti-government Zealot, and Matthew, a government tax collector.

Can you imagine loving and doing life together every day with your political opposite?

Likewise, it is no coincidence that the Apostle Paul would begin his letters with the two-part salutation, “grace to you” (the standard Greek greeting) and “peace to you” (the standard Jewish greeting).

It is significant that he would insist that Jews and Greeks, slaves and free people, men and women, are as one through Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28). All three pairings represented the deepest forms of relational hostility to the first century reader.

In that world, Jews looked down their noses at Greeks, and Greeks disdained Jews. Men were dismissive and demeaning toward women, and women were injured by men. Free people saw slaves as sub-human, and slaves were injured by free people.

Paul confronted to such divisions because Christians are in many ways a band of opposites, who over time grow to love one another through the centering, unifying love of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit concurred with Paul.

In a world where pious Rabbi’s prayed, “Thank you, my God, that I am not a slave, a gentile, or a woman,” the Holy Spirit made sure that the very first three converts to Christianity were a slave, a gentile, and a woman. You can read all about it in the book of Acts.

Dealing with Criticism in a ‘Cancel Culture’ Era

by Scott Sauls

hate being criticized. Don’t you?

Because everyone is flawed, everyone can also expect some criticism from time to time. But these days, a carefully timed, carefully placed call-out can have the effect of “canceling” the person being criticized socially, culturally, professionally, and in many other ways.

Even when a person’s overall history, accomplishments, and personal character are laudable, a negative word spoken these days can swiftly reduce him or her to a single, defining worst moment. To make matters worse, a damning narrative doesn’t even have to be true anymore to ruin a person’s good name; in many cases, it only needs to be told. In a quick flash, a voice is discredited and silenced, influence is lost, and career and reputation are destroyed.

In today’s court of public opinion where it’s expected that people will get “canceled” for having their own, unique point of view on certain issues, we can no longer assume we’ll be judged innocent until proven guilty…

…remember that Christ himself was “canceled” for our sake…

Due to excerpt length-restrictions, for this section, click the header above


Taken from A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in an Age of Us Against Them by Scott Sauls Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

June 10, 2020

A Study in Patience

Today’s devotional is unlike anything I’ve ever featured here. Usually we run between 650 and 1200 words. Occasionally shorter, and sometimes longer. But often I run into a writer I want to highlight who uses a shorter format, so I’ll combine two (or three) pieces into one.

Today we’re combining nine pieces where the author(s) have created a scripture medley on the subject of patience. The thoughts come from Glorious Ministries, a “non-profit organization located in Genesee county* and established in 2014” which states is mission as “seeking to encourage, empower, and support individuals who are striving for excellence in their walk with Christ by offering retreats, motivational classes, support groups, group therapy, a 12 step Christ-centered program, and individual counseling.” [*so either Michigan or New York State.]

The Bible is clear that it’s not about the number of words. A short, concise word “fitly spoken” can be a treasure to the right person.

The link below takes you to the site in general. To see these at source, you want to track down articles from May 31st to June 8th. Each of the nine short articles comes with graphics you can use on social media which were not included here.

Patience

But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
 – Rom.8v25 NASB

When we hope for something we are not able to see we have to be patient. Have you waited on the Lord and said “I could have had this done already, my way!” You take it back and then your way doesn’t work! Patience… wait with patience!

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
 – Rom.12v12 ESV

God is our hope and we should rejoice in Him. When we are experiencing a little turbulence in our life we should be patient and wait upon the Lord. Praying and thanking God always.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
 – I Cor.13v4 NIV

In our daily walk, no matter where the walk takes us, we are to be patient! We are to show love and kindness to everyone! We are made in God’s image and our actions should reflect such!

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.
– James 5v7 NIV

Have you been patient in waiting on the Lord for answers? For the land to be fruitful? For the purpose of what is happening on going on in your life? God tells us over and over in His Word, Be patient, Be still, rest in Him! Remember to be patient and wait on the Lord!

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
– Galatians 6v9 NLT

We are to wait upon the Lord. Be patient! Do not grow weary! We will reap when the time is right as long as we are patient!

Hot tempers cause arguments, but patience brings peace.
– Proverbs 15v18 GNT/TEV

We are suppose to be slow to anger! When we are patient we provide peace not only to ourselves but also to those we come in contact! Remember, when you do not know people are watching you and how you react to things.

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.
 – Ephesians 4v2 NLT

When we are kind always, patient, and accept each other where each person is at we are able to show the light of Christ through us.

The end of something is better than its beginning. Patience is better than pride.
  – Ecclesiastes 7v8 GNT/TEV

When it is finished we are wiser than when we started! We have grown and are able to pass on what we have learned to those around us! Patience to press on and keep pressing on is important. Pride gets in our way! May your journey today be full of patience to press on and wisdom to go to the steps ahead!

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
  – Colossians 3v12-13

It is no surprise to me patience with one another and forgiveness of each other go hand in hand. We are not suppose to complain about each other. We are required to forgive each other as we have been forgiven. We are to share the light of Christ in everything we do! Let us practice patience with one another and providing forgiveness in place of complaining!


By our measurement this is still a shorter devotional, but by their standards we ‘borrowed’ a lot of their content. (It took a lot of patience just to format this!) So I want to one more time direct you to Glorious Ministries, and this link to their page. This is part of a longer series on the Fruit of the Spirit you might want to check out.

 

December 18, 2019

Without the Spirit’s Help, There Will Be No Self-Control

Six months ago we introduced you to the website Generosity Monk. Author and teacher Gary Hoag has curated an amazing collection of excerpts from scholarly books and commentaries — including some obscure sources — and runs the excerpt followed by some observations on what makes this personal to him. What follows was posted last week as one of three fresh readings from the three Cappadocian Fathers. Click the header below to read this particular post at source.

Basil of Caesarea: Self-Control, Obsessions and Despondency

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Galatians 5:22-23

“Anyone who is truly self-controlled does not desire human glory, but restrains himself from vices such as wrath and despondency and all those obsessions which untaught and incautious souls are wont to cling to. One might go so far as to say that among all the commandments of God we find that the one is so linked with the other that it is impossible to accomplish one in isolation from another. This is found especially the case with self-control itself, in that the humble person is judged to be one who has restrained himself from pride and one who has renounced all his property and, according to the Gospel, sold all his possessions and distributed them to all (cf. Matthew 19:21) is without doubt one who has restrained himself from the desire of money. And the meek too will be one who has mastered his wrath and checked his rage. And the wandering looks of the eye, the listening of the ear, and the looseness of the tongue – what else but self-control can subdue and check them?”

Basil the Great (330-379) Bishop of Caesarea, one of the three Cappadocian Fathers, and doctor of the Eastern Church, Question 8, Response 20-25, in Rule of St. Basil in Latin and English: A Revised Critical Edition, ed. Anna M. Silvas (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013) 95… He was an influential theologian whose writings always shape me when I read them.

In this section of his rule Basil expounds on self-control so that “untaught and incautious souls” may avoid being overcome by obsessions and despondency in trying to sort life on their own. It’s the last in the list of the fruit of the Spirit for a reason. It’s really important! If we have self-control, it saves us from a host of vices, including pride and the desire of money.

We live in a day when even Christians tell us to hold on to money. Many (wrongly!) call it wise stewardship. Don’t be fooled. Holding back money for ourselves positions us to indulge in a host of other sins and shifts where we place our trust. In telling us to let go of property in the Gospels, Jesus was not trying to rob us but to help us.

So what’s the key to self-control and how does it relate to generosity?

Without the Spirit’s help, there will be no self-control and no generosity in our lives. None! Either the self guides our lives or the Spirit does. When we submit to the Spirit, it frees us from obsessions and despondency, from the desire for anything other than God to sustain us and all the fear, worry, and vices that go with it.

Father, show us any areas of our lives dominated by self rather than the Spirit. As you do, teach us to submit those areas of our lives to You, so that our obedience delivers us from obsessions and despondency that seek to overcome us. Make us people that exhibit the fruit of generosity and self-control. Hear our prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

November 24, 2019

The Bible on Punctuality and Lateness

As I sat down to dinner just now, I realized that I had missed my usual 5:32 PM (EST) posting time for Christianity 201. (Sometime, I’ll have to explain why it’s usually 5:33, or 5:32.) I had sat down at my computer to do this several hours earlier, but got distracted by another online project, which actually isn’t due until tomorrow. So it seems fitting to look at this subject!

GotQuestions.org has covered this in two different articles. We’ll look at excerpts from each, but you must click the headers below to read them in full!

What does the Bible say about punctuality?

…Punctual people build trust with others because they are dependable. Punctuality is a way of showing respect for other people and their time. It also indicates to those meeting with us that they were worth planning ahead. We communicate value to others when we are where we said we would be when we said we would be there. Punctuality is a form of trustworthiness that can help build a good reputation.

Punctuality, or the lack of it, is a character trait that tells other people how dependable we are. The unpunctual may consider their chronic tardiness unavoidable (“That’s just how I am!”). But, while the unpunctual may not realize it, their continued lateness stems from a combination of pride and lack of time management skills. Chronically late people have subconsciously adopted a perspective that says, “I’m important enough that others will wait for me.” It communicates to those who must wait that their schedules are not a priority. So making it a point to be punctual is a way of obeying the Scriptures that tell us to consider others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3–4).

…Punctuality is also a byproduct of the spiritual fruit of self-control (Galatians 5:22). Self-control requires that we be proactive about our choices and our schedules. Rather than reacting to unexpected events, punctual people have already allowed for the unexpected by allotting extra time for such an occurrence. The unpunctual are usually procrastinators, leaving too many last-minute tasks that must be completed before moving to the next one. By contrast, punctual people are planners who give attention to future events and the time required to honor their commitments. Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” Diligent people are usually punctual because wise time management is required to accomplish their goals.

While all of us will be late from time to time, punctual people are bothered by their own tardiness and do not let it become a habit. Chronically late people, however, have developed an indifference to the problems caused by their continued lateness. Although they apologize and feign regret, they don’t take the necessary steps to change it. The chronically tardy may never know the opportunities, relationships, and responsibilities they forfeited because they could not be counted on to be there. Those who’ve known them for long enough to notice their lack of punctuality simply stop asking for their help…

What does the Bible say about being late or lateness?

…[I]f someone is habitually late and unconcerned about being on time, especially if that person professes to be a Christian, then scriptural principles do apply. As with all things, God looks at the heart, “for the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

For one thing, continual lateness does not express love for others. Forcing others to wait for us time after time is simply rude. Christians are to love one another and love our enemies as well, and “love is not rude” (1 Corinthians 13:5). When others perceive that we are unloving and unconcerned about them, our reputations as Christians suffer. “A good name is better than precious ointment” (Ecclesiastes 7:1). A good name, a good reputation is important for a Christian. This means that we should be known as people of our word, trustworthy and dependable, and not be known as always late, slothful, or unconcerned about others. Our actions as Christians point back at Christ. Do they glorify Him? Do they bring Him honor? “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23).

Furthermore, as Christians we never want to cause someone else to sin. Constantly being forced to wait for someone can be very aggravating, especially to those who make an effort to be on time. Minor irritation can easily become anger, which can easily become sin, and we are never to be the cause of someone else’s sin. “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come’” (Luke 17:1).

Waiting can not only be frustrating, but it causes unnecessary stress and wasted time for the person that has to wait. Christians are exhorted by Paul to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). The perpetually late person does not consider others’ time as more important than his own. Most habitual late-comers are concerned only with themselves. Continually being late does not communicate a zeal or diligence in serving Christ by loving others as He loves us. It also does not communicate faithfulness or trustworthiness…

 

September 29, 2019

Paul’s Charges to Timothy

I love lists.

I’m just as distracted as everyone else and my attention span is often very… …where was I?

We live in a bullet-point world, where information dissemination and absorption often happens with phrases or even single words, not complete sentences.

Most of us are familiar with the Apostle Paul’s 9 Fruit of the Spirit (capitalized because those short verses represent a distinct body of Biblical literature) but maybe not a similar list in I Timothy 6:11 (bullet point formatting added):

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue

  • righteousness,
  • godliness,
  • faith,
  • love,
  • endurance and
  • gentleness.

This is a long-term pursuit. At the Bible commentary blog, Precept Austin, we read these words:

I love Pastor Steven Cole’s introductory remarks in his sermon on Going the Distance (1Timothy 6:11-12) – As an aside, I strongly encourage you to become familiar with Steven Cole’s material which almost reads like a verse by verse commentary! see Sermons by Book)…

Question: What do diets, exercise programs, marriage, and the Christian life have in common?

Answer: It’s fairly easy and even fun to begin, but it’s not so easy to hang in over the long haul.

Eugene Peterson, in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, writes,

One aspect of world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once. We assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently. Our attention spans have been conditioned by thirty-second commercials. Our sense of reality has been flattened by thirty-page abridgments.

It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the Gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to be born again, but the evidence for mature Christian disciple-ship is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.

(Peterson adds [not quoted by Cole] “Religion in our time has been captured by the tourist mindset. Religion is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure. For some it is a weekly jaunt to church; for others, occasional visits to special services. Some, with a bent for religious entertainment and sacred diversion, plan their lives around special events like retreats, rallies and conferences. We go to see a new personality, to hear a new truth, to get a new experience and so somehow expand our otherwise humdrum lives. The religious life is defined as the latest and the newest: Zen, faith healing, human potential, parapsychology, successful living, choreography in the chancel, Armageddon. We’ll try anything—until something else comes along.”)

The Christian life is not a hundred-yard dash; it’s a marathon, a “long obedience in the same direction.

Starting well is easy;
finishing well is another matter.

Some great thoughts.

Before we’re done, though, Paul also gives another list like this to Timothy in II Timothy 3 (bullet point formatting added)

10 You, however, know all about

  • my teaching,
  • my way of life
  • my purpose,
  • faith,
  • patience,
  • love,
  • endurance,
  • 11a persecutions,
  • sufferings

I found it interesting how as this list (which begins with an encouragement to follow Paul’s example as he follows Christ) continues, it rolls into persecution and sufferings. In the following verse he will go on to say that, “12everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

The Christian life will be marked by these very Fruit-of-the-Spirit-like attributes, but when we cast our mind to that list from Galatians, it’s important to remember that the fruit of the Christian life may also include hardship and persecution.


If you like lists, here’s one we covered back in 2012 from chapter one of Paul’s epistle to the Colossians as we considered what it means to live a Christianity 201 type of life:

9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Col 1 9-12 NIV

Nine growth areas:

  • Grow in knowledge of God’s will
  • Grow in spiritual wisdom and understanding
  • Live a worthy life
  • Please God in every way
  • Bear fruit
  • Grow in knowledge of God
  • Be strengthened with power
  • Reflect great endurance and patience and joy
  • Be thankful

August 18, 2019

The Tenth Fruit of the Spirit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I usually put a different spin in the title here, and then run the article with the title the author originally chose. Today however, the original title arrested me in my tracks! What is he talking about?

We’re back with Peter Corak, writer of the blog My Morning Meal, Click the header below to read at source.

The Tenth Fruit of the Spirit?

It’s been a good week working through Titus as part of my morning readings. And in a letter that is so concerned with teaching, and defending, sound doctrine, what has been clear is that, in a sense, sound doctrine is not the ends but the means. The goal is not just to cross our theological i’s and dot our systematic t’s, but that high and holy teaching would manifest itself in boots-on-the-ground, godly–and goodly–living.

And so, Paul wraps up this letter, which began by emphasizing the need to present and protect the faith, with an equal, or perhaps greater, emphasis on the need for all believers to practically live out the faith.

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

(Titus 3:14 ESV)

Devoted to good works–it’s something that is learned. Focused on helping others–it’s a practice to be practiced, a habit to be formed.

But what grabs my attention, in particular, is that learning to help others in need is a remedy for unfruitfulness. Thus, Paul says it’s fruit.

So, could you go so far as to say that being devoted to good works might also be considered the tenth fruit of the Spirit? That when the Spirit illuminates truth to us (Jn. 16:13); when He reveals the deep things of God (1Cor. 2:9-10); when He conveys the mind of Christ to our minds (1Cor. 2:16b)–transforming us through our mind’s renewal (Rom. 12:2)–that in addition to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22), that He also works in us a devotion, a desire, a heightened attention towards good works?

I’m thinkin’ . . .

I can’t help but hear James say, “Amen!” to Paul’s exhortation to Titus and to our people.

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

(James 2:15-18 (ESV)

Eager to maintain good works. It’s evidence of faith, James says. It’s a remedy for a barren Christian life, Paul says. It might be thought of as the tenth fruit of the Spirit, I says.

To be sure, we have learned that we cannot rely on our good works FOR our salvation. But we also need to learn to devote ourselves to good works that come FROM our salvation.

We are saved by faith. But we are also saved for fruit. And being devoted to good works is fruit.

And, with such Spirit led, Spirit enabled, Spirit produced fruit, we will adorn, and trim with honor, the sound doctrine of God our Savior (Tit. 3:10b).

By His grace. For His glory.

Yeah, it’s been a good week.


If you want to read another recent article from the same writer, check out Training Grace. (No, I’d never considered this term before either!) This is another one of those cases where if someone who is a regular reader here decided to drop C201 to follow one of the writers we featured, I wouldn’t be upset. Peter has some great insights. But I hope you’ll stick with us as well!

July 3, 2019

Paul’s Noble List of Qualities and Characteristics

The Voice.I Cor.6.9-10 Do you need reminding that the unjust have no share in the blessings of the kingdom of God? Do not be misled. A lot of people stand to inherit nothing of God’s coming kingdom, including those whose lives are defined by sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, sexual deviancy, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling. 11 Some of you used to live in these ways, but you are different now; you have been washed clean, set apart, restored, and set on the right path in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Anointed, by the Spirit of our living God.

The Voice.Gal.5.19 It’s clear that our flesh entices us into practicing some of its most heinous acts: participating in corrupt sexual relationships, impurity, unbridled lust, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, arguing, jealousy, anger, selfishness, contentiousness, division, 21 envy of others’ good fortune, drunkenness, drunken revelry, and other shameful vices that plague humankind. I told you this clearly before, and I only tell you again so there is no room for confusion: those who give in to these ways will not inherit the kingdom of God.

This article has been shortened from its original form at the blog Jesus Unboxed, which we’re featuring here for the second time. Rev. David Eck is the pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, Fairview, North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital, Asheville, North Carolina. You are strongly encouraged to click the header below and read the article in its entirety.

Fruits of the Spirit

…Paul says that those of us who exhibit these behaviors [in the above verses] “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This is a sobering statement, indeed… So, what’s a poor sinner to do? What’s a hostile, argumentative, jealous, angry, fractured world to do?

Thankfully, St.Paul does not leave us hanging. He gives us a list of fruits, of qualities those who wish to be citizens of the kingdom of God, ought to possess. This is one of the most beautiful lists in all of scripture. It’s right up there with Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthains 13. It’s right up there with Jesus’ dual commands to love God, and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves…

First of all, if we’re going to contribute to the healing of the world instead of it’s destruction, LOVE is at the top of the list. But this kind of LOVE is not mushy or sentimental. It is not camouflage for lustful intentions. This kind of LOVE is described in 1 Corinthians 13 as “patient and kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude…

Next on the list is JOY which begs us to answer the question: “When was the last time you truly felt JOY in your life?” Some of us might find it hard to recall a time when we felt pure joy. And this is a sad state of affairs. JOY is an essential part of life. If we have no joy, it’s easy to slip into all the awful behaviors I read to you at the beginning of the sermon.

     Psalm 30 reminds us that “Weeping may linger for the night, but JOY comes with the morning.” In other words, sorrow should not last forever, Just in case we think this notion is an isolated incident in Scripture, Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.  [Ecc 3:4] …

Third on the list is PEACE. People pay good money to have PEACE in their lives. They take classes on meditation, yoga, and how to live a healthier lifestyle. They go on retreats in nature, to escape the stresses of day to day living.

PEACE is a precious commodity that, to be honest, is hard to obtain if you’re poor, if you’re trangendered, if you’re hungry and homeless. Peace is hard to obtain if you live in a place where war and violence are an every day occurrence.

If we have the first three present in our lives it’s easier to exhibit the rest.

Starting with PATIENT ENDURANCE, which the NRSV translates as simply “patience.” However, I think PATIENT ENDURANCE is closer to the truth. Patience is a lot tougher than some of us think. I scream inside when the person in front of me is driving too slow, or is ringing up 20 items in a “10 items or less line” at the grocery store. I would not consider myself to be a patient person. It is an endurance test for me because my natural instinct is to be less than patient. That being said, if I have enough love, joy and peace in my life, it makes it a lot easier to keep the screaming inside of my head instead of letting it spill out all over the place. This is the fruit I think I need to work on the most! I suspect some of you feel the same way as I do!

Then there’s KINDNESS which is something that takes little effort on our part. Yet, it’s something that in danger of becoming instinct in a world where mortal outrage is the default button when it comes to speaking with other people. Perhaps, we can set a goal of doing one kind thing for someone every day. Surely, we can pull this off.

GENEROSITY is next on the list. I believe we are generous when we are thankful for the blessings we already have in life. We are generous when we see that there are those around us who have far, far less than we do. We are generous when we are content with who we are and where we are in life.

FAITHFULNESS is a beautiful fruit of the Spirit. I don’t know if its the Ares in me or not, but I’m faithful to those who are faithful to me. It is a sacred, protective instinct. Perhaps you possess this fruit of the Spirit as well.

That being said, the good news is that God is more faithful to us, than we are to God. The aspect of FAITHFULNESS we all need to work on is when people disappoint or betray us. When they ask us for forgiveness, can we be faithful enough to them to accept it?

GENTLENESS goes hand in hand with kindness. I don’t believe we can have one without the other. If we are kind to others, we do so with gentleness. If we are gentle with others, we are being kind to them.

Then, the list comes to a screeching halt when we arrive at SELF-CONTROL. It’s not as glamorous as love, peace and joy, but we cannot grow any of these fruits in our lives if we do not possess a certain amount of self-control. Self-control keeps us from doing all the things I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon. Self-control is that little voice inside our head that quietly tell us, “You know, I don’t think you should be doing that. I don’t think you should be saying that.”

Perhaps Paul got the order wrong because if we exercise self-control we are more likely to grow love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and gentleness in our lives. We are more likely to avoid some of the negative behaviors I mentioned such as hostility, arguments, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, and envy.

My dear friends, the challenge is set before us. Paul has given us a noble list of qualities and characteristics we should try to grow in our lives. If we want our world to be a better place. If we want our nation to heal its divides, these nine fruits of the Spirit seem like a fine place to start. AMEN.

October 14, 2018

The Pastor Who Wouldn’t Worship

“My ego always struggles with acknowledgment. I not only want my left hand to know what my right hand is doing (Matt. 6:3) I want them to get together and start an avalanche of applause because I’ve done it.”
~Jim Thornber at (the other) Thinking Out Loud.

The above quote isn’t directly connected to today’s thoughts, but it was contained in one of four posts I read yesterday at Jim Thornber’s website, Thinking Out Loud. This is his eleventh time here at C201. Click the title below to read at source, to read a small piece of Jim’s story, click here.

Got Character?

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3)

A few years ago, a church I attended in Arkansas hosted a Thanksgiving service to raise money for the ministerial alliance. The alliance asked our church to lead in the praise and worship, and I played the piano on the worship team. Looking over the congregation, I noted a pastor from another church who, no matter what we sang, refused to either clap his hands or raise them in worship. He simply sat in his pew with his arms folded.  That struck me as strange, because outside of church he was a happy, vivacious, demonstrative man.

I have never been known for my extreme subtly or bashfulness, so as we gathered for refreshments after the service, I questioned him his about posture. “Why, when Scripture instructs you to lift up holy hands to the Lord, and you have a chance to do so in a public service, did you sit with your arms folded across your chest?”

“Well, you see,” he began to stammer and laugh, “I’m a . . . .” and he named his denomination. I cut him off and said, “Are you a denomination first or a Christian first?”

At this point, he began to look around for help from the people who had gathered, including my pastor. He asked, “Is he always like this?” to which my pastor replied, “Hey, he’s going easy on you.” And everybody who had gathered around laughed.

I find it sad that many church members (or goers) around the world are more concerned with offending their denomination and the people in the next pew than they are in obeying the Word of God. The congregation led by the pastor in my story will have trouble obeying Scripture because he was not setting an obedient example. In a simple sense of the word, this pastor lacked character.

Regarding His eternal relationship to God, Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of his being (1:3). James Moffat says He was “stamped with God’s own character.” The phrase “exact representation” translates the Greek word charaktēr, which gives us our English word “character.”

Originally, this word meant to cut, to scratch, to mark. It indicated the tool or agent that did the marking, and eventually came to mean the mark or the impression that was made. It also indicated an impression made in a wax seal. Or, think of a coin: its image, numbers and letters bear the exact image of the raised numbers and letters of the original die from which the coin was cast. To see a dime or a quarter is to know exactly what the original die or stamp looked like.

Jesus said, Anyone who has seen me has seen the father (John 14:9). This is true, because He was the “exact representation” of God, “stamped with God’s own character.” To see Jesus is to see God, for He is the exact image of God, the perfectly engraved representation of the very nature of God.

This brings up a very difficult question, especially for me: “If to see Jesus is to see the Father, then, when people see me, do they see Jesus?” As I was looking for the Christ-like qualities in that pastor, I began to wonder:

  • When I am at my church, what do people first see in me —   ­­­­­­­­­the Kingdom of God or a denominational version of God?
  • Am I stamped with the very character of God?
  • Do people see Jim or Jesus?
  • As a disciple of Jesus, am I exhibiting the character of Christ the way that Jesus the Son bore the character of God the Father?
  • When people see the church out working in the world, whose character do they perceive? Are they seeing the compassion, mercy, patience, and love of God, or do they see the values of MTV, ABC, Wall Street, Hollywood, Cosmopolitan, and Men’s Health?

We must all ask those tough questions if we are going to live the character of Christ and represent God in all we say and do. Jesus said,  Now I want to be able to say, “Anyone who has seen me has seen Jesus.” Maybe one day, at my funeral, some kind soul will say, “Jim was the most Christ-like person I’ve ever met.”  Then I’ll know I got character.


 

September 7, 2018

A Higher Life

No, the title isn’t a reference to recreational drug use, though if that’s what brought you here, let me offer you something better.

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.
 Hebrews 10:24 NLT

In a recent article at CT Women (part of Christianity Today) titled Why You Can’t Name the Virtues, Karen Swallow Prior looks at the underlying foundation that is often not discussed for moral behavior, which is more frequently seen.

For the past several decades, American evangelicalism has been concerned about morality—and for good reason. Sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortion, divorce, materialism, racism, and countless other ills so permeate our culture—even among the churched—that they seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

But moral choices flow from moral character. Perhaps if we wish to reform morality, we should turn more attention to the formation of character.

Indeed, you can’t legislate morality, neither can you force it to be part of religious observance; but morality flows from core character. You need to have a certain bent (or if you prefer, predilection) to want to behave morally. It’s the same way in which we don’t engage in certain behaviors or practices as Christians because we must, but rather, these come out of the overflow of the heart.

She continues,

The early church fathers found much biblical wisdom in the Greek philosopher’s teachings on virtue. After all, the Bible speaks extensively about virtue. Faith, hope, and love, which Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13, are referred to as the theological virtues. 2 Peter 1:5–7 instructs believers to diligently “add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (NKJV). The Book of Proverbs is full of wisdom about virtues. The Fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22–23—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—are virtues, as well. All of these qualities constitute the marks of good Christian character, or virtue.

One of the most intriguing and insightful aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy is that virtue is a mean between two extremes—an extreme of excess and an extreme of deficiency, both of which are vices. For example, the virtue of generosity is the mean between the vice of miserliness (a deficiency of giving) and the vice of wastefulness (an excess of giving). For example, healthy self-regard—or humility—is a mark of good character because it means being truthful about oneself, which is a moderation between the extremes of esteeming oneself too little (deprecation) or overmuch (boasting). This idea of virtue as the mean between two extremes is captured in the King James translation of Philippians 4:5, which tells us to let our “moderation” be known to all.

So what are those virtues? At the website Changing Minds,

When Pope Gregory defined the seven deadly sins that we should avoid, he also included a counter-balancing set of values that we should espouse and adopt. These are:

Faith is belief in the right things (including the virtues!).
Hope is taking a positive future view, that good will prevail.
Charity is concern for, and active helping of, others.
Fortitude is never giving up.
Justice is being fair and equitable with others.
Prudence is care of and moderation with money.
Temperance is moderation of needed things and abstinence from things which are not needed.

The first three of these are known as the Spiritual Virtues, whilst the last four are called the Chief or Natural Virtues. The Natural Virtues had already been defined by Greek philosophers, whilst the Spiritual Virtues are a slight variation on St. Paul’s trio of Love, Hope and Faith (due to variation in translation from the original: Charity and Love arguably have a high level of overlap)…

…The Seven Contrary Virtues are specific opposites to the Seven Deadly Sins: Humility against pride, Kindness against envy, Abstinence against gluttony, Chastity against lust, Patience against anger, Liberality against greed, and Diligence against sloth.

(We covered some of this a year ago Thinking Out Loud.)

Some would argue that this character cultivation begins with the thought life; that it begins with the mind. Just a few verses past the one alluded to above, in Philippians 4:8 we read,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
  (NIV)

As we’ve quoted before:

Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a lifestyle.

Karen Swallow Prior continues:

…How do we go about cultivating virtue? Through something we sorely need today: good habits. A person is not in possession of a virtue by exhibiting a trait now and then. It must be routinely practiced for it to be considered a virtue.

Many of the commands, obligations, and exhortations that the Bible places on believers require intentionality, practice, and habit. It is, as Aristotle says, “a working of the soul in the way of excellence.” Or, as Paul says, a working out of our salvation “with fear and trembling” in order to fulfill God’s “good purpose” (Phil. 2:12–13) the way that is most excellent…


Karen Swallow Prior’s newest book is, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life in Great Books.

 

December 29, 2016

Acts 28: 28 Acts of Generosity in the Book of Acts

Today we’re paying a return visit to the blog Preacher Smith, written by David Smith who is a pastor in Baytown, Texas. This appeared in November, and I’ve left the date reference intact. Click on the title below to read at source. (Check out other posts in the Fruit of the Spirit series.)

Sermon Follow-up: 28 Acts of Generously Giving Good in Acts

My sermon this past Sunday morning (Nov. 6) was in regard to the sixth aspect of the fruit of the Spirit: generosity/goodness.

Each of my sermons in the series of which this sermon was a part (Acts: The Way, It Works) makes some connection with the fruit of the Spirit and the lives of Christ-followers in the book of Acts. However, I deliberately left the connection with Acts missing from this past Sunday’s sermon … until now.

Even just a quick skim of Acts reveals a multitude of instances of generosity/goodness recorded by the book’s author (Luke). Following are twenty-eight examples, one from each of the Acts’ twenty-eight chapters.

1. Giving the community of faith your presence for the sake of united prayer.

“They all joined together constantly in prayer …” (Acts 1.14)

2. Giving your heart and your possessions to those in need.

“They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2.45)

3. Giving your attention to those who have become virtually invisible to others.

“Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him …” (Acts 3.2-4a)

4. Giving the word of God to others, freely and without fear.

“… they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4.31)

5. Giving encouragement to others by having a healthy attitude about the things you suffer.

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5.41)

6. Giving welcome and acceptance to those new to faith in Christ.

“The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6.7)

7. Giving grace to those who misunderstand you, hate you, and work your harm.

“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed … ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7.59-60)

8. Giving obvious evidence of your faith by sticking with God and taking your faith with you through all of life’s changes.

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. … Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8.1,4)

9. Giving your talents and skills over to the Lord’s disposal for the blessing of others.

“… showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made …” (Acts 9.39)

10. Giving your mind over to God for him to teach you new things as to your perspective of, and way toward, others who are very much unlike you.

“… God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (Acts 10.28)

11. Giving others the gift of an open mind as to their understanding of things.

“… when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him … Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story … When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God …” (Acts 11.1,4,18)

12. Giving room for others to join you in your service to Christ.

“When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.” (Acts 12.25)

13. Giving energy and motivation to others to keep on keeping on with God.

“… Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” (Acts 13.43)

14. Giving inspiration to fellow Christ-followers by sharing the generous good you have experienced thru God in your life.

“… they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them …” (Acts 14.27)

15. Giving well-timed use of conciliatory statements in moments of tension.

“We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15.11)

16. Giving of your home to bless other believers.

“When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” (Acts 16.15)

17. Giving credit where credit is due, particularly when you see those yet to believe catch a glimpse of what is true and right about God and people.

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts 17.26-28)

18. Giving the grace of real connection and helpful guidance rather than the world’s way of criticism and complaining, which only breeds problems and distance.

“Apollos … was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. … When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18.24-27)

19. Giving your sinful habits up in public confession and repentance so as to solidify your commitment and to give testimony of the Lord’s work in your life.

“Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. [nearly 150 years’ wages for the average worker] In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” (Acts 19.18-20)

20. Giving your daily existence completely over to the Lord so as to not only free yourself from fear and dread, but to lead others to do likewise.

“… I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20.24)

21. Giving yourself over to full establishment of faith in the lives of your children.

“… Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven … had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.” (Acts 21.8-9)

22. Giving clear thought as to how you can best share with those who could benefit from knowing why you are a Christian and how you became one.

“You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” (Acts 22.15-16)

23. Giving yourself over to intervening for the lives of others.

“The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. … But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.” (Acts 23.12,16)

24. Giving respect to whom respect his due.

“When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: ‘I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense.’” (Acts 24.10)

25. Giving others the courage of your convictions and standing up for your true rights.

“Paul answered: ‘I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!’” (Acts 25.10-11)

26. Giving prayer to God for others come to faith in God, to become disciples of Christ.

“Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ Paul replied, ‘Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’” (Acts 26.28-29)

27. Giving thanks to God, openly and sincerely, whether in the presence of believers or not.

“… he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat.” (Acts 27.35)

28. Giving kindness to others in the ways they need most in the moment.

“Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” (Acts 28.1-2)

And so, let us make our faith practical. Let us practice what we preach, namely that “God is good, all of the time.” Let us do and give good, generously so, to others, every day, in the name of, and by, the Spirit of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. For his glory, not our own.

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