Christianity 201

March 6, 2017

The Phrase “With God” Implies a 2nd Participant

Today I’m excited to be able to return to Mary Agrusa at the blog The Thought Just Occured to Me. In the process of choosing today’s selection, I also read three more of her articles, but settled on the one below. Click the title below to read at source, and then navigate to read other items by her.

The Key Ingredient

“Jesus looked at them and said…”with God all things are possible” Matt. 19:26.

Now for a boring grammar lesson. We all should know (unless we slept through English class) what with means. With is: to be accompanied by, to be in association with, to have or to possess. Simply stated it is someone/something PLUS someone/something.

Most expositions I’ve heard on Matt. 19:26 follow this general track. Men are hopeless basket cases, unable to accomplish anything redeemable on their own. However, with God, and by that what is meant is God all by His lonesome, all things are possible. The problem with that understanding is the pesky four letter word with.

According to Jesus, God doesn’t do the possible all by Himself. He’s not the ultimate spiritual Lone Ranger arriving on scene atop his faithful charger Silver. Who then does He work in tandem with? God has His Tonto. In case you didn’t realize it Paleface, Tonto is us!

Not off floating on a cloud somewhere in heaven listening to harp music God, Who is the Key Ingredient, resides in every believer. There’s only one way for Him to get from Point A to Point B. We take Him there. All He performs is done through His people who make up the Body of Christ.

God does everything through you and me. What we deem impossible may sound intimidating, even daunting.  That’s true if we take into account only our abilities and strengths, and not God’s. He is already aware of our capabilities, and just calmly waits for us to finally “be still and know that I am God.”

with-god-quotationPossibilities are co-operative ventures; 100% God and 100% man. Perhaps the reason we don’t see these happen as much as we’d like to is that we’ve removed ourselves from the equation. Doing so never produces the correct answer because we’ve left God with no one to work through. Sans a willing partner, God takes to the sidelines and waits patiently.

It’s time to remove the false mindset that we can ever be separated from God and His love. Christ is in us right now, and vice versa. We’re inseparable. Scripture attempts to repeatedly hammer this truth into our thick little skulls. However, when wrapped in feelings of inadequacy and failure our minds are renewed, but with the wrong information. We wind up living in an altered reality that God never designed for us.

How about you? Based on your strengths, abilities and resources what possibilities (not to mention impossibilities) seem unattainable? Which would you prefer:

1) God shows up and single-handedly makes things happen,
2) You and God work together to perform things you never imagined you could do?

Which do you think He’ll opt for? Next time you quote Matt. 19:26 are you willing to keep yourself in the equation? With Christ in and working through you, can you ever really fail?

December 25, 2014

To Happen, The Incarnation Needed a Mary

Luke 1:26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

From five years ago at Internet Monk, these questions:

Mary was more than likely no more than 13 or 14 years old when the angel appeared to her. She had her whole life in front of her—a marriage to a man who would be able to provide for her, and that was not something to take for granted in those days. And then … and then God came and turned her whole world upside down.

Was this fair? Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life? How would you have responded if the angel had come to you with this news? And does God still move in impossible ways today? Is God still coming and turning people’s lives upside-down?

And these responses:

  • Karin: Being told that you are favored by God would make saying ‘yes’ a whole lot easier and saying ‘no’ a whole lot harder. Mary seemed wise beyond her years and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” At age 13 or 14 one usually does not have preconceived ideas about the consequences of such a life changing decision. Perhaps this kind of visitation by an angel and being chosen to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah was every young spiritually minded Israelite girl’s dream!If my daughter had come and told me that she experienced the same as what Mary experienced, I would probably have needed a visitation from an angel to confirm it, just as Joseph did!
  • Joanie: I have noticed that when Zechariah questioned the angel about how his wife could possibly become pregnant, he was made unable to speak until John was born. But Mary questioned the angel about how she could possibly get pregnant and the angel explained. I have read that Zechariah was a priest, was old and should have known that God could do whatever God wanted to do. Mary was a young girl and as such, was treated more…patiently. Do you often wonder what it would be like to encounter an angel? Do you think angels take on human-like properties so that they can communicate with us? I wonder how long it took for Jesus as he was growing up to fully realize who he was, why he was and what he had to do? And how much of that would Mary have understood? When they were at the wedding in Cana together, she obviously knew that he could turn water into wine. How did she know he could do that and would do that?
  • Hannah: Mary’s response of submission to God is so beautiful. I wonder if this was, completely and utterly out of the blue for her, or if, in some way, God had been preparing her for what He needed her to do? He doesn’t test us beyond what we can bear, so says the word, and she must have trusted God so much to just submit to him like that, not knowing at that time if Joseph would stick by her or not. And if God was preparing Mary in some small way, would He have been preparing Joseph too then, to do the right thing and stay with her. Did they risk small town humiliation and unbelief, or was the culture of the time open to what they said to curious neighbors and family friends about Mary’s pregnancy? They had to be so strong, it seems to me, in their commitment to God and each other and their trust in what God had told them. I wonder what Mary and Joseph’s individual relationships to God had been like up to that time?
  • John: I think when God speaks to people in these more direct and miraculous ways, we encounter more closely just what the nature of his kingdom is and how it operates. And because of that, things like having our lives turned upside down tend to pale in comparison. It’s not that there aren’t real effects on our lives, but that we have encountered in some very real way an intersection between our earthly plodding and the fuller reality of God’s eternal kingdom and purpose. When that happens, priorities get shifted a bit. In other words, the reality of God with us begins to take hold and change things, starting with us. “Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life?”  I think God does, but in our dullness and distraction we aren’t always listening. And even if we are, he still tends to look and act a little different than we imagined before the actual encounter.God still turns lives upside down and moves in impossible ways today, but it’s easy to miss if I’m not looking and listening. Lord, give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Read the other comments at Internet Monk.

 

February 10, 2014

Must We Love Ourselves to Love Others?

Author and speaker Jennifer Slattery started blogging the same month we started Christianity 201, and this is actually her 4th appearance here.  Click through to read this at source.

Love. Such a confusing, abstract emotion. It’s something we “fall into” and “out of”,  something we chase after…

There’s a notion that says “You must love yourself in order to love others.”

Is this true? Biblical?

I’m no theologian, but I can’t locate a verse that says this. In fact, again and again, God tells us to take the position of a servant, and to honor others above ourselves.

To die to ourselves so we can live for God.

It’s hard to die to something you love.

Perhaps biblical love isn’t so much an emotion as it is an action.

Consider 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

For you see, emotions wane. Therefore, true love must be a choice and an action, the moment-by-moment discipline of laying ourselves aside so that God can love others through us.

The Bible says we love because God first loved us. Therefore, our love comes not from us but from Him. It is when we completely surrender ourselves to God that we are fulfilled. That is when we begin to live lives of passion and purpose, of courage and impact.

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Learning to love is receiving and giving the love only God can give.

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Consider insecurity and fear of rejection and all those negative emotions that supposedly stem from a lack of self-love. What if the opposite is true? What if those emotions stem from love of self and a desire to protect self.
 
We protect that which we love.

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But when we die to ourselves, there is but one focus, what God would do through us. 

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And that is the most freeing occurrence we can experience.

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Let me provide an example. I have a less than glamorous past, and for years, I vehemently longed to hide that past. This fear kept me from embracing God’s call to write for many years. I told Him again and again, “I’ll only write if you protect me from exposure.”

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I’m sure you can imagine God’s response. He knew His grace is best seen when revealed through an imperfect sinner.

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But still I fought Him. I was afraid to tell my story for fear of what others would think and for fear of losing friends. Until I started hanging out with at risk teens and the homeless. Suddenly, I wanted for them to see Jesus and what He could do so badly, I no longer cared about embarrassing or shaming myself. My fear and insecurity went away because I found something more important–the saving of another life.

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The results were glorious, inspiring, fulfilling, because the more I died to myself and lived for God, the more I experienced His all-consuming love pour through me.

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You cannot be fearful, prideful, envious, and insecure when God’s Spirit invades your core. It’s impossible.

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So what does this all mean?

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1. If you want to experience an abundant, joy-filled, peace-saturated life, ask God to help you die to yourself–your fears, desires, pride, insecurities. All of it. Then ask Him to replace those things with His all-consuming love as you follow after Him with surrendered obedience.

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2. Parents, if you want your children to rise above the toxicity of their clique-infested schools, if you want for them to grab hold of a purpose that will propel them forward with a God-given passion, teach them to see others through God-sized lenses and to get involved in His mission. Then sit back and watch them thrive.

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Let’s talk about this! Looking back on your journey, when have you felt most fulfilled? What do you think of my take on love? Consider a time when you’ve felt God’s love coursing through you. What were you doing? What did His love motivate you to do?
 
Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Livng by Grace on Facebook.

August 16, 2011

Concurrent Events

I know I repost from DailyEncouragement.Net frequently, but I really enjoy their writing.  This one was rather short and on the surface really simple, but I kept being drawn back to it; as it really got me thinking about how God both orchestrates events and uses events in our lives.  I had to steal borrow a picture from this one for it to make sense, so I hope that in exchange, you’ll consider linking directly to their site to read this, where it appeared Friday under the title, Wrong-Way Concurrence.

Last week I shared a photo of an interstate directional sign I took along our journey and inquired as to what “spiritual” lesson there might be in the photo. It happens to be an example of what is known as a “wrong way concurrence”.

Now in highway verbiage a concurrence occurs when two numbered routes use the same section of road. For instance in our area US Routes 11 and 15 run together through central Pennsylvania so that for awhile you are on both 11 North and 15 North at the same time.

A wrong way concurrence occurs when two routes run together but in apparently opposite directions. In the case of the photo there is a section where you are on I-81 north and I-77 south at the same time near Wytheville Virginia. The routes run concurrently seemingly in opposite directions based on the signage! (See below for a Google map)  

In his book, “The Invisible Hand”, theologian R.C. Sproul points out that “the doctrine of concurrence refers to historical events in which the work of Providence has been acted out through human agencies. This means at the same time human agents are acting, God is acting in and through them.”

Today’s story is found in John 6:1-13 and recounts an occasion when a great crowd had followed Jesus to the east side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus then instructed His disciples to provide a meal for the thousands who had gathered rather than sending them home to eat. Trouble is, He gave no instructions on how they were to successfully carry out this impossible feat. Philip, who apparently had some accounting background quickly calculated, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (Rather impressive math, since this was before they had “smart” phones.)

Another disciple, Andrew, brought a boy to Jesus who had “five small barley loaves and two small fish”. Now I find the preciseness in the description interesting, especially the designation “small” in both cases.  I suppose the boy’s mother had packed him a lunch adequate for his needs. Perhaps he, in his simple logic, approached Andrew with the offering of his lunch. Andrew probably felt a bit foolish suggesting this meager offering to Jesus so he followed it up with this sensible question,  “but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus didn’t answer him or try to reason with him. He had the people sit down and performed a mighty miracle of multiplication.

Today we need to understand that God is active even in the most mundane parts of our lives in ways that may seem senseless, such as the boy’s tiny contribution. This little boy had no idea when he took his lunch that day that he would be memorialized in Scripture, but the Lord used his tiny portion to feed a vast crowd of 5,000, with leftovers to boot!

God is still working in the “mundane” today.  And he’s still working in ways that may be similar to a wrongway concurrence. This little boy should give us incentive to heed the words of Paul: “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15,16).

Small, seemingly insignificant, acts of faith and obedience have a major part in the mosaic of God’s master plan for our lives.  We may desire to do something great for God, but often His plan is the simple day by day acts of obedience to Him in following His leadings, both large and small.  We’ll just have to wait and see how it all fits together.  May the Lord help us, like the young boy and Andrew, to do what is within our power and trust God for the results!

Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

May 26, 2011

God Decides Who Gets Promoted

Many years ago I attended a seminar for Christian musicians on the subject of promotion, taught by veteran CCM artist Scott Wesley Brown.  He began with, “Did you know promotion is mentioned in the Bible?”  Then he proceded to read Psalm 75:6,7 in the KJV:

 6For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.

 7But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

A few years later I sat in a camp staff training seminar where the speaker said,

“If you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself.”

That little phrase is used to cover a wide range of applications, but certainly we’ve all met people who have “achieved” but only through the guidance and support of many others, and certainly some by the grace of God Himself.  (Though the analogy breaks down quickly… What does the turtle do next?)

We often have the tendency to look at someone who has — for the time being — earned the attention and accolades of a large number of people, and say, “Why him?”  Perhaps we compare that person’s talents to our own and say, “Why her?”

Psalm 75 seems to basically be saying that no one advances but that God has allowed it. 

This is certainly reinforced by the appearance of Jesus before Pilate in John 19 (NIV). 

10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”  11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…

But the Psalm passage has an entirely different spin in the NLT:

 6 For no one on earth—from east or west,
      or even from the wilderness—
      should raise a defiant fist.
 7 It is God alone who judges;
      he decides who will rise and who will fall.

And also in The Message:

  He’s the One from east to west;
      from desert to mountains, he’s the One.

  God rules: he brings this one down to his knees,
      pulls that one up on her feet.

The NASB is closer to the King James:

 6 For not from the east, nor from the west,
Nor from the desert comes exaltation;
7 But God is the Judge;
He puts down one and exalts another.

So I’m not sure why the translations seem to differ in emphasis in verse six, though they both resolve the same way in verse seven.  Perhaps the key is found in the verse which precedes six and seven, verse five, best represented by the NIV:

Do not lift your horns against heaven;
   do not speak so defiantly.’”

It’s possible that when I question God’s decision to use someone who I might not have chosen, I am in fact speaking defiantly. Or in arrogance (NLT).  Perhaps questioning why him or her is a road I should not want to go down.  Have you ever questioned why God allows a certain author’s books to sell so well; a certain pastor to become so well used; a certain individual in your church to gain such a key position of leadership?  That might be speaking defiantly.

Why am I writing this? 

This weekend I watched an interview with an individual about whom I might have, at one time awhile back, asked the “Why him?” question.  But as I watched him taking live questions I realized four things were present: (a) natural intellectual gifts; (b) natural speaking gifts; (c) an obvious command of scripture or what we sometimes call Bible knowledge; and (d) an understanding of the ways of God, which is different from the third point.  While I never had major questions, some of my minor misgivings were alleviated.

God knows what He’s doing.  He is the judge.  He promotes some and holds back others.  

But he loves us all equally, and has a “promotion” in some other department just waiting for you.

~Paul Wilkinson

May 25, 2011

You Are Part of God’s Plan, But You’re Not The Plan

If you want to be challenged daily by a pastor who consistently blogs thought-provoking writing, may I again recommend Elevation Church pastor Steven Furtick.  This one is simple enough on the surface, but try to read it with someone else and then discuss it after and you’ll see the underlying complexities.  We’ve been taught that we are instruments God uses to bring about his will here on earth, but that “we” refers to the Body in general, and if “I” don’t do what I’m supposed to, God will easily find someone else.  This appeared under the title, Purpose Over Personality.

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
Numbers 20:12

Everyone is replaceable.

A lot of times we try to motivate people to embrace their calling by saying that if you don’t  ______, no one else can. You’re the person God has appointed to do this, and no one else can do it.

It sounds good. Very motivating.
But it simply isn’t true.

To the Israelites, it probably seemed like Moses was the only one who could lead them into the Promised Land. But he wasn’t. And so when he wasn’t willing to trust God enough to do what he had been commanded to do, the responsibility and privilege was handed over to someone else.

There’s a scary truth that we all must accept:
Like Moses, you and I are replaceable.

Do we really think that if we don’t use our profession as our pulpit, God won’t raise someone else up to do it?
Do we really think God can’t raise up another church to have the impact He wants ours to have if we don’t do what He’s calling us to do?
Do we really think God’s purpose depends solely on us?

God is not hamstrung by our disobedience. Or by our unwillingness to join in on what He wants to do in this world. In God’s economy, He values His purpose over the personality He uses to accomplish it. If you won’t do what God is calling you to do, He will simply find somebody else to do it.

Don’t get me wrong, God doesn’t just replace us on a whim or at the first sign of resistance on our part. He chases and pursues us. He is more patient than we can possibly imagine.

But the Creator of the Universe’s purpose is greater than any one person.
You are a part of the plan. But you are not the plan.
You’re special. Valuable. You’re one of a kind.
But you’re not irreplaceable.

This isn’t easy to accept, but it’s absolutely essential that we do it. It communicates urgency to us. Not in the sense that God is urgent for us to do something for Him. But urgency in the sense that the window of our opportunity to do something with God isn’t open indefinitely. It has to be seized now.

Believe it or not, there are countless people in this world who would do anything to take your spot in how God wants to use you. Don’t give them the opportunity. Whatever God is calling you to do, do it. And do it now.

~Pastor Steven Furtick