Christianity 201

April 8, 2018

Worship Devotional Sampler

Three items today. Three very different items, but all involving worship.

The first is from the blog of Crossroads Church in Grain Valley, Missouri.

Impactful Worship

Acts 16       

In Ethiopia, where we lived, the people would use a tree or even a mountain to bring their sacrifices to appease the evil spirits.  They would take their sacrifices to the base of the mountain to appease the evil spirits. These sacrifices were ritual acts of worship; they were showing their adoration, devotion and respect to the evil spirits seeking the spirits blessings.  However, this kind of worship never brought them joy or peace. They always lived in fear of whether or not they had done enough to appease the spirits.

Worshiping the God of the universe is different.  It is not a ritual act in which we try to appease God and gain His favor.  It is an action which should involve our entire being (heart, mind, and soul).  We are to give total control or our lives to God which is our “living sacrifice.”  We do this by being “transformed by the renewal” our minds (Romans 12:1-2).  We must replace our human way of thinking with God’s way of thinking.  In order to change our way of thinking, we must learn the truth about who God is in His Word, talk to God in prayer, and be obedient to Him.

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were thrown in jail.  What did they do?  Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they prayed and sang hymns to God. And it visibly impacted the people around them.  No matter what situation we find ourselves in, when we truly worship God we can have “joy unspeakable,” and “peace that surpasses all understanding” – all the while impacting the world around us.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. (Acts 16:25-26 ESV) 

Today in Prayer
Private Worship: Romans 12:1-2

  • Pray that your private worship would be made a priority on a daily basis, so that you would know Him more intimately.
  • Pray that you find true joy in Him through your private worship.
  • Pray that you see yourself as a living sacrifice, DAILY, so you can stay focused on Him and be in the world, but not of the world.

“Public worship will not excuse us from secret worship.” ~Donald S. Whitney


The second is from Core Christianity. This is only the second half of the article, so click the title below if you wish to read it all.

Why You Need to Be in Church

In Scripture worship is the intrusion of God’s alien kingdom upon us.

by Adriel Sanchez

It may seem quite ordinary to the one without faith, but for the faithful, something magnificent is happening in the mundane. The author to the Hebrews put it best when he said that in coming together for worship, we are coming to: “the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:22-24)

Please, stop for one moment and consider that when you go to church, you are ascending the heavenly Jerusalem. Angels are present, though not to the naked eye. God has promised to meet you there, and your new-covenant mediator, Jesus, is in the midst of the assembly by the power of the Spirit (Rev. 2:1). Earlier in Hebrews, we’re reminded of the fact that in worship we “taste the heavenly gift,” probably a reference to the Lord’s Supper; and that the powers of God’s coming kingdom are breaking in on us like rain from heaven (Heb. 6:4 & 7).

All of this is in fact, quite alien to the normal person, even perhaps offensive. How can we speak of eating the body and blood of Jesus? Isn’t preaching from the Bible sort of outdated? No one uses words like covenant, and blood-sacrifice, today! We’ve forgotten that it’s this strange beauty that captivated the Greco-Roman world. The Christian church after the days of the apostles was accused of practicing cannibalism and incest because of how they spoke in their assemblies, but according to sociologist Rodney Stark, the church also experienced unprecedented exponential growth during that time (See Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity). It turns out, the heavenly service sets people’s hearts on eternity, and that results in their willingness to lay down their lives for their neighbors. The church grew not by trying to imitate this world, but by giving this world a glimpse of another world, even by offering them a taste of it in the Eucharist.

This Sunday, God invites you, together with your brothers and sisters, to ascend his holy mountain. To join the angels around us, and the martyrs, who preceded us. He promises to give you the rain of his holy Word, able to spark faith in your heart, and raise you from spiritual lethargy. He offers to feed you, not ordinary food, but heavenly food. A bread so sacred that the apostles warned that eating it could result in death if it was received with impudence (1 Cor. 11:30). In the Bible, worship was far from comfortable, but it was life-giving (Jn. 6:53).  It’s life-giving still.

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isa. 55:1)


This last one is from the early days here at C201. The phrase from The Lord’s Prayer appears now as a tag line for many churches, only with the name of their city or town substituted for “earth.”

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

We’ve prayed it many times:

Thy Kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven

But how is God’s will done in heaven?

I see two things, but perhaps you can think of others:

(1) There is constant worship. The KJV of Rev. 4:8 says “they rest not.” The NLT reads:

Day after day and night after night they keep on saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty — the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.

So if you want to see a bit of the will of God done here on earth, there’s going to be non-stop worship.

(2) There is instant compliance. God simply speaks the word and it happens. “And God said…” is the constant theme of the creation narrative, giving new meaning to the old phrase “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Except that in heaven, the middle part wouldn’t be “I believe it;” but something closer to “I’m obeying it.”

Simply: He speaks and it is.

Unlike creation, God cannot always simply make things happen unless we’re willing to be used as partners with him; he has chosen in this time and place to work through willing people.

July 26, 2017

He Will Not Forget Your Work

Today’s thoughts are an excerpt of a devotional that appeared last week at DailyEncouragement.net by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber. Click the title below to read at source.

Serving Out Of The Spotlight

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

…The aspiration to do something great is commendable. Yet a sense of unworthiness can sweep over a person, who, after an honest assessment of their giftings or lack thereof, realize they’re simply unable to accomplish anything reckoned as great by others. Many have dropped the baton of service when their aspiring dream never fully materialized. They could only imagine worthiness of ministry if serving in a big way or in the spotlight.

We propose another aspiration that may initially seem rather uninspiring: “do something ordinary for God!” All of us can do that and faithfulness in the ordinary really does matter. In our view the vast, vast majority of work being done for God is done by ordinary people doing ordinary things out of the spotlight.

Now, praise God, sometimes the ordinary does become great, such as the young boy with the fish and bread that Jesus multiplied to feed the crowd. He simply offered the ordinary he had and Jesus performed the miracle. We read nothing more in Scripture of that boy again. We can assume he went on to live an ordinary life, hopefully in faithful service to Christ. Our aspiration should be to glorify God in our obedience and service to Him, not to make anything great of ourselves, let alone seek the spotlight.

Let us consider the daily verse, written to a group of people “The Hebrews”, none of whom we know by name. But as part of the Holy Scriptures we can read this verse applying it to our own lives.

God is not unjust.” That’s a simple four word phrase we do well to memorize. Unjustness permeates our world and at times God’s ways don’t make sense, even tempting us to question His justness. But the infallible Word of God proclaims, “God is not unjust”.

He will not forget your work.” Others may forget or not even notice, but God always sees and remembers!

And the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people.”  How do we show our love for God? Surely through our praises, thankfulness, obedience and in many other ways.  But this verse specifies a way that goes to the very heart of ministry and it’s generally demonstrated in ordinary ways. In some wonderful way as we help and serve God’s people, we are actually helping and serving God. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

And continue to help them” The writer of Hebrews was confident that this help was active and ongoing, as he finished the sentence with this phrase.  Are you in active service for God and His people today?  If so, keep it up.  What a great blessing long-term, faithful, and dependable workers are in the kingdom of God. You may not be in the spotlight, in fact it’s likely you’re not. But He sees and will not forget your work. He generously rewards us in this life but His greater reward will be given in the life to come! Today do something ordinary for God so that He will use it for His extraordinary purposes.

Father, as You call us You also equip us to do that which You lay upon our hearts.  May we respond to those in need in whatever capacity we can help.  Certainly we can pray, we may need to write or call, and then there are the times we are to go and accomplish that which we are called to do. May our motive, in everything we say, do or think be to glorify You as we shine our light, not for our own glory, but always for Your glory and honor while also spotlighting the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

February 6, 2017

Avoiding Dishonest Gain

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Titus 1:7

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
 (NIV)

For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,
 (ESV)

dollar signI had bookmarked this verse in my computer to return to later, but a month later I can’t remember what particular feature of this had caught my attention. This time around I locked onto the phrase, “pursuing dishonest gain.”

In a world of capitalism, there is a sense in which person “A” is exploiting person “B” by way of their possession of a scarce resource or a unique talent. My plumber or electrician (both Christians who have been very fair with us over the years) have skills and abilities that I do not have and the KJV scripture reminds us that “the workman is worthy of his hire.” (NIV/NLT: deserves his/their wages/pay.)

How do I know if my “gain” is “unjust”? A page at Knowing Jesus provides some scriptures to help us make the call.  (They have 12 key verses, I added #3 and #7)

  1. It has come about through violence. “So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors.” Prov. 1.19
  2. It is achieved through misrepresentation and lies.   “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Prov 21.6
  3. It is accomplished through trickery and deception. “The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.”  Prov 11.1
  4. It exploits the poor. “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself Or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” Prov 22.16
  5. It exploits done by others. “As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.” Jeremiah 17.11
  6. It involves not properly paying staff or contractors. “Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages”  Jeremiah 22.13 also “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord” James 5.4
  7. There are underlying, unjust motives. “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Prov. 16.2

I think the word “pursues” is not to be overlooked in this phrase as well. See resources on this at OpenBible.info.

  1. It exhausts you. “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. Prov. 23.4
  2. There is never contentment. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
  3. It can cost you your soul. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8.36  also Luke 18.25 “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
  4. It may cause you to neglect the poor. “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” Prov. 28.27
  5. It will divide your loyalties. “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Prov 16.13
  6. Achieving it may be elusive or temporary. “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Luke 12 18-20
  7. It can leave you miserable. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev. 3:17

You’ve heard the phrase, “You can’t take it with you.” Growing up in the church founded by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, people were encouraged to invest their money, time and talents in world missions with this motto,

You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

In other words, you can invest it in the Kingdom of God (“where moth and rust do not corrupt”) and where it lasts.

Someone else also shared with me that

The main thing that Bible teaching has against money is that it perishes with use.

So while we may determined we have not pursued dishonest gain, we need to be careful we haven’t become caught up in pursuing gain itself.

June 9, 2015

The Lord’s Prayer with Full Verse Cross-References

Monday morning at Thinking Out Loud, we offered a list of twelve (plus 3 bonus items) Bible passages (as opposed to verses) that every seasoned Christian should know. You can read that list by clicking here. Topping the list was The Lord’s Prayer. A few months ago at the blog Journey to the Center of the Soul, the author presented an expanded version of the prayer, which consists of incorporating a number of cross references; and I wanted to share that with readers here.  To read this at source, click the title below. Because we always put the scriptures in green here (to remind us of the similarity to a branch that is green when it has life) the entire post today is in green!

The Lord’s Prayer – Expanded Edition

We all know it by heart. We can recite the words without even thinking about what we are saying. I don’t think that was Jesus’ intent when He gave us that template for prayer we now call The Lord’s Prayer. So I would like to offer you an expanded version that I hope will help you think about what He was teaching us.

Our Father in heaven, let your name be kept holy, By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples1. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven2. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ3. [And] that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him4.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people5.  [Saying], for this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life6.  But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you7.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven8.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come9.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ 10.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And he said to his disciples, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing… And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them11. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus12.

and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses13.  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses14.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift15. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, 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 forgive16.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it17.  Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted18. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you19. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil20.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen

There’s nothing else to say! Blessings.

References:   1John 15:8,  2Matthew 5:16,  3Romans 15:5-6,  4John 5:23, 5Matthew 4:23, 6John 6:40, 7Matthew 12:28, 8Matthew 16:19,  9Matthew 24:14, 10Matthew 25:34, 11Luke 12:22-23,30, 12Philippians 4:19, 13Matthew 6:14-15, 14Mark 11:25, 15Matthew 6:23-24, 16Colossians 3:12-13, 171Corinthians 10:13, 18Hebrews 2:18, 19James 4:7, 20Ephesians 6:11

September 12, 2013

A Time for Purging

And no, this isn’t an article about eating disorders.

Some of the items here follow an unusual route to get here. Today’s post came to our attention when WordPress automatically generated a link back to us. So we back-tracked the trackback, and discovered a brand new blog, consisting of only one post. Normally, we’d wait a while and look at the tenor and content of the blog over time, but this time we decided to encourage a new blogger at the start of his journey. (Even if he threw us for a loop by including a Bible quotation marked LAM, which we assume refers to the Lamsa Bible.) Doug Wildman’s inaugural post was titled Mind Purge. (Click through to read at source, and for illustrations.)

“The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so. Joshua 5:15 [NIVUK]

During the conquest of Canaan, God told Joshua to leave no survivors. While this offends our modern sensibilities, it was the way God chose to create a territory that was distinct in it’s commitment to Him. God is unwilling to share devotion with any other so-called god. But before Joshua could claim the Promised Land, he had to face one last obstacle; the Jordan River. Imagine if you were one of those children born in the desert raised with the expectation that your generation would experience the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy; the claiming of a homeland. At the climax of the journey sits an immovable river blocking the path to the land flowing with milk and honey. Can you imagine the excitement mingled with fear as you witness God stopping the flow of the mighty Jordan to let you and your people to pass through. Extraordinary.

If you are a disciple of Christ, you too are called to the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is not some distant ideal, it is within you (Luke 17:21) even now, but is not of this world (John 18:36). So, even though the days of fighting physical battles has ended, we are still engaged in a spiritual battle for holiness. Our minds are the holy territory that we must defend. Our “conflict is not only with flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12 LAM), but against malevolent spiritual forces which are not happy about the way that God miraculously allowed us to enter into the Kingdom of God. As it says in Joshua 5:1, When the rulers heard about it, “their hearts sank; the courage drained out of them”. (MSG) Make no mistake about it, you have crossed over into the Kingdom if you have given Christ the authority over your life. Notice though where the battle takes place, “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.” So our spiritual Jericho is whatever appears to be an impenetrable reasoning against the will of God. Just remember what God did to Jericho. That stronghold came down not by human effort, but by the power of God himself! “Casting down imaginations, and every false thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and to capture every thought to the obedience of Christ”  (2 Corinthians 10:5 LAM). This is a scorched earth policy. Your mind belongs to the One True God.

The spiritual battle is not to establish yourself in the Kingdom of Christ. God has already allowed you to enter in. The battle is in the mind for holiness, because God’s mark is upon you. Give your full attention to God throughout the day. I like the way the Message put this, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:2) Good advice. How do we fix our attention on God? One way is to have his Word in our hearts. This is only be possible if we read God’s Word. Another thing is to practice the presence of God through an ongoing dialogue with Him. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you about the things you are experiencing. So many of us mindlessly go from one activity to another without any thought of God at all, and then we wonder why God seems so far away. We need to find ways to ensure that we don’t allow any spiritual forts to remain standing in the territory that God has claimed as His own.

February 19, 2013

On Earth as it is in Heaven

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

“Pray, then, in this way:

‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]  (NASB)

Nearly three years ago I barely scratched the surface of this phrase from The Lord’s Prayer (or more correctly, The Disciples Prayer)  in Matthew 6.   Today, in keeping with our motto — Digging a Little Deeper — I thought I would see what some commentaries have to say about this phrase, which is found in Matthew’s version of the prayer, but not Luke’s. Unfortunately, a few of them skipped over this particular clause entirely.

The International Bible Commentary points out that the phrase modifies all three of the previous petitions, the bringing about of God’s Kingdom, His will, and the hallowed-ness of His name.

The NIV Study Bible concurs with this, suggesting that the phrase might be repeated after each line:

  • May your name be holy on earth as it is in heaven
  • May your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven
  • May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The Evangelical Bible Commentary notes two things. First the phrase makes the petitions personal:

  • May your Kingdom come and your will be done by me, right now.

Second, it links the phrase to the familiar text in verse 33,

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. 

In other words

  • May your holiness and righteousness and your kingdom be the thing we seek (or long for) (or strive for) before anything else.

This would then link the line in the prayer to verse 33’s promise that

and all these things will be given unto you

(or ‘added unto you’ in the KJV, the things being the concerns we often are preoccupied in the ‘worry’ section in the Sermon on the Mount which precedes it.)

Matthew Henry enhances the text with these words:

“…that the earth will be made more like heaven by the observance of God’s will.”

And some of you know that in The Message Bible, Eugene Peterson takes this line from a prayer already known for its extreme concision — contrasted with those who pray long prayers thinking their “many words” will make their prayers more effective — and renders it even more concisely:

as above, so below

Scanning the Christian blogosphere, we see people taking this phrase as a springboard for everything from a glimpse of heaven, to a call to social action, to beginning from where we are and then moving out beyond, to the impossibility of doing anything without the Holy Spirit’s power.

The blog, Ragamuffin Ramblings quotes N. T. Wright:

We are to pray that God’s kingdom will come, and God’s will be done, “on earth as it is in heaven.” The life of heaven — the life of the realm where God is already king — is to become the life of the world, transforming the present “earth” into the place of beauty and delight that God always intended. And those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now. That’s the point of the Sermon on the Mount, and the beatitudes in particular. They are a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because the future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth. It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it is in fact the right way up.


In some unrelated online research a few days ago, I came across this rendering — not necessarily recommended — of the prayer found in a used bookstore from The New Zealand Prayer Book:

“Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever.

Amen”

December 3, 2012

Describing Christ-Following in terms of The Narrow Road

Almost exactly a year ago we visited the Orthodox blog written by Fr. Stephen Freeman, Glory to God for All Things. That’s our source for today’s excellent post The Narrow Road. You can read it here, but you’re encouraged to click the title and read it at source.

There is a small collection of Christ’s sayings that center on the topic of the “narrow road.” The heart of the topic is that the way into the kingdom of God is difficult and very few will find it. The sayings are troubling.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14)

So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen (Matthew 2o:16).

Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to will, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23-24).

“And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”  When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:24-26).

The sayings are troubling because we think about the Kingdom of God in a passive manner. Heaven has become forensic – a legal reward for a life that meets the religious/moral requirements. These verses seem to indicate that the standard requirement might be quite strict and that very few will qualify.

Narrow RoadIn such a forensic model – the problem lies within the standard. God is looking for a “few, good men.” Deeper than the standard – the problem lies within God. In this model, we have been created by a very strict God, exacting in His demands, unwilling to yield to the weaknesses of human nature. Not just the universe, but the God behind the universe is stacked against us. Who then can be saved?

The difficulties presented by these sayings reveal difficulties with the Kingdom of God when it is misunderstood in a forensic or legal manner. If the Kingdom of God is just one more thing that we get into – in which simply being-there-as-a-reward is the point – the gospel becomes rather pathetic and the God behind it, alarming.

The way into the Kingdom is difficult, the path narrow, because the way itself is actually difficult and the path is actually narrow. These things are not true because God wants it to be hard for us to enter the Kingdom – they are hard on account of the nature of the spiritual disease that afflicts us.

No one is surprised to be told that the path to the remission of their cancer will be difficult (generally we are simply glad to hear that there is any path at all!). Nor do we blame the doctor for the difficulty of our treatment.

The spiritual disease (sin) that afflicts us stikes at the very fiber of our humanity, the very mode of our being. St. Paul describes sin as corruption (φθορὰ), a word that essentially means “rot.” It is what happens when the process of death works in us unchecked. Death corrupts us, body, soul and spirit.

The teaching of the New Testament is not about how to be admitted to paradise – it is about how to become the kind of human who can actually live in paradise. Paradise is not a moral achievement – it is an ontological change.

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit incorruption. (1Co 15:50)

The life of change and healing (being transformed from glory to glory into the image of Christ) is the narrow way. The borders of the road are marked with radical honesty and a willingness to endure and engage whatever is required for the transformation. We move from the fragmentation of our individual life towards the integration and wholeness of life in Christ, characterized by the fullness of self-emptying love. This is the life of grace – but grace can be painful and will take us down the difficult path. St. Paul was knocked off a horse and blinded by grace. Works would be easier!

Christ is quite clear about the narrow path – there are very few who find it. The conversion of Christianity from the narrow path to world-wide religion is the elevation of the wide-road of destruction to the place of a false salvation. The Christianity of ideas and arguments, entertainment as worship, morality as asceticism, is the path found by the many. It is an adaptation and misuse of certain ideas associated with Christ. It was not created by saints nor built on the blood of martyrs. It will run continue until its cultural usefulness has run its course. It will serve as an inoculation for many – making them immune to the grace of the narrow way. They will want nothing to do with Christianity.

If this is true, will only a few be saved?

In this lifetime, only a few will be saved. Only a few will live a life of self-emptying love. Only a few will endure the humiliation of honesty. Only a few will face the despair of hell and give thanks. Only a few will forgive everyone for everything.

Christ said that with men this is impossible. The very few who walk this path are living proof of the existence of God – for with God this path is possible. In Orthodoxy, we call these few, “saints.” They are signposts and an assurance that our own struggles are never wasted. The narrow path is not a delusion – it is an awakening.

If only a few are saved in this lifetime – will many be saved beyond? The gospel contains a paradox on this very matter. As clearly as Christ teaches that the way is narrow and that very few find it, He also clearly teaches a universal proclamation of the good will of God.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:16-17).

In the words of St. Peter:

“God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to eternal life” (2 Peter 3:9).

The paradox rests between the few and the all. The temptation for many has been to reinvent Christianity as a religious shortcut for the all. In the shortcut, the narrow way is lost, and with it, the saints. One of the desert fathers said, “Prayer is struggle ’til a man’s dying breath.” This is the truth about true prayer (and true salvation) – but now we are told not only how easy prayer is, but even how easy it is to hear God (cf. When God Talks Back). On the narrow path most of the time is marked by silence.

Nevertheless, the paradox remains. I am confident of the good will of God and that His desire for all will be fulfilled in the mystery of His love. But to create a false paradise – a Christianity of the all in which no one is saved – is the path of destruction.

Strive to enter at the narrow door.

~ Fr. Stephen Freeman

June 5, 2011

Forgetting Yourself Into Greatness

This appeared earlier last week on Mark Wilson’s blog, Revitalize Your Church

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Who is my neighbor?”
“Anybody in need.”
“How do I love my neighbor?”
“With actions that help.”

“What keeps me from loving my neighbor?”
“Selfishness.”
“How can I stop being so selfish?”
“Forget yourself into greatness.”

Consider these words from William Arthur Ward of Texas Wesleyan University:

If you are wise, you will forget yourself into greatness.
Forget your rights, but remember your responsibilities.
Forget your inconveniences, but remember your blessings.
Forget your own accomplishments, but remember your obligations.

Follow the examples of Florence Nightengale, of Albert Schweitzer, of Abraham Lincoln, of Tom Dooley, and forget yourself into greatness.

If you are wise, you will empty yourself into adventure.
Remember the words of General Douglass McArthur:
“There is no security on this earth. There is only opportunity.”

Empty your days of the search for security; fill them with a passion for service.
Empty your hours of the ambition for recognition; fill them with the aspiration for achievement.
Empty your moments of the need for entertainment; fill them with the quest for creativity.
If you are wise, you will forget yourself into greatness.

As we forget ourselves into greatness, our hearts are filled with love. Selfishness is defeated when we invest our lives in others. It is in giving that we receive.

November 10, 2010

Taking the Message to the Streets (and Malls)

I’d seen this video embedded on other peoples’ blogs and didn’t really think about it a whole lot until this picture of the giant Wanamaker pipe organ got me curious enough to listen.   Apparently, it’s the largest pipe organ in the world.

I followed the link to Creative Minority where I learned more:

Just this past weekend, shoppers at the the Macy’s in Philadelphia (the old Wanamaker building) were surprised when over 600 choristers who were there mingling with regular shoppers suddenly burst into Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. It’s pretty awesome.

The Opera Company of Philadelphia was instrumental in bringing it together to perform one of the Knight Foundation’s “1000 Random Acts of Culture” which they’ll be doing over the next three years… The singers burst into song at exactly noon.

But it was thinking about the words they were proclaiming in a public space — okay, technically a privately owned, yet ‘public’ space’ — that really got to me:

Hallelujah!

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever.

King of kings, and Lord of lords

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

That’s actually all there is to it in terms of unique lyrics.  But how powerful!

Musicians can and do try to analyze the piece musically.    But we know different.   The force of the song is in the lyrics, taken from Revelation 11:15

And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become [the kingdoms] of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (KJV)

Other translations — even the NLT and The Message (gasp!) stay with this overall form, but the New Century Version simplifies it for younger ears:

“The power to rule the world now belongs to our Lord and his Christ,and he will rule forever and ever.”

How do we end this consideration? How about with these words:

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.

October 27, 2010

We Breathe a Different Air

I ran into her when she left some comments at Thinking Out Loud.  She calls herself Cloudwatcher.  Her blog is called Meeting in the Clouds.   It’s a devotional blog that’s written in a style that would hook your kids or teens.   This one presents an interesting analogy dealing with one of the implications of being “strangers and aliens” in this world.   Analogies often break down at certain points, but I like the care went into writing this.

It turns out Cloudwatcher is in her 70s, was born in the UK but lives in Australia.   I’d say she’s a rather cool blogger, and I look forward to reading more…

One Essential

Q.  What is the ONE ESSENTIAL thing an astronaut needs to take with him when he ventures outside his spacecraft?

A.   An astronaut would be in deep trouble if he did not take with him the atmosphere of his natural environment.

Q.  What is the ONE ESSENTIAL thing that a born-again CHRISTIAN must take with him during his pilgrimage on earth?

A.  The atmosphere of his natural environment.

Q.  What IS the natural environment of a Christian?

A.

  • We belong to the kingdom of God.  Col 1:13
  • We are citizens of heaven  Phil 3:20, Eph 2:19
  • We belong in the heavenlies  Eph 1:3
  • We are pilgrims and strangers on earth  Heb 11:13
  • This world is NOT our home  John 17:16, 2 Cor 6:17

When we take the atmosphere of our heavenly home into the world, the devil and his forces will be defeated and the people of this world will see the living Christ in us.

When we do NOT take the atmosphere of our heavenly home and our spiritual life with us, we are doomed to defeat.

  • Nothing is more contrary to a heavenly hope than an earthly heart.
  • If we do not put the love of the world to death, the love of the world will put us to death.  ~ A W Tozer
  • The world is enemy-occupied territory  ~ C S Lewis
  • When we stand on the Word, we cannot stand with the world.  ~ Vance Havner
  • KNOW the Bible in your mind; KEEP it in your heart; LIVE it in your life; SHARE it with the world.

We are the only Bible the careless world will read;
We are the sinner’s Gospel, we are the mocker’s creed.
We are the Lord’s last message, given in deed and word:
What if the type is crooked?
What if the print is blurred?

October 6, 2010

The Essence of the Gospel

In certain circles it has become, if nothing else, fashionable to discuss the question, “What is the Gospel?” to the point where I am beginning to think that non-believers will simply know it when they hear it.   I just worry that sometimes we over-analyze something we should simply be living.

That dismissiveness aside,Tullian Tchividjian has been busy on Twitter compiling short statements expressing various aspects of the gospel.  Apparently, the gospel can’t be contained in a single statement.   Blogger Barry Simmons assembled a couple of lists at his blog The Journeyman’s Files both here and here.   I linked to it today at Thinking Out Loud, but thought we’d spell out a few of the statements here for C201 readers…

  • The gospel reminds us that we become more mature when we focus less on what we need to do for God and more on all God has already done for us.
  • The gospel tells me my identity and security is in Christ–this frees me to give everything I have because in Christ I have everything I need
  • The gospel tells us we don’t need to spend our lives earning the approval of others because Jesus has already earned God’s approval for us
  • When you understand that your significance and identity is anchored in Christ, you don’t have to win—you’re free to lose
  • Christian growth doesn’t happen by working hard to get something you don’t have. It happens by working hard to live in light of what you do have
  • The world says that the bigger we become, the freer we will be. But the gospel tells us that the smaller we become, the freer we will be.
  • The gospel explains success in terms of giving, not taking; self-sacrifice, not self-indulgence; going to the back, not getting to the front
  • The gospel empowers us to live for what’s timeless, not trendy–to follow Jesus even when it means going against what’s fashionable
  • Because of Christ’s finished work, sinners can have the approval, acceptance, security, freedom, love, righteousness, & rescue they long for
  • The only antidote there has ever been to sin is the gospel—and since we never leave off sinning, we can never leave the gospel.
  • Because of Christ’s propitiatory work on my behalf I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, praise or popularity.
  • The vertical indicative (what God’s done for me) always precedes horizontal imperative (how I’m to live in light of what God’s done for me)
  • When you are united to Christ, no amount of good work can earn God’s favor and no amount of bad work can forfeit God’s favor
  • Jesus came not to angrily strip away our freedom but to affectionately strip away our slavery to lesser things so we might become truly free
  • The irony of the gospel is that we truly perform better when we focus less on our performance for Jesus and more on Jesus’ performance for us
  • The gospel tells us that what God has done for us in Christ is infinitely more important than anything we do for him.
  • Isn’t it ironic that while God’s treatment of us depends on Christ’s performance, our treatment of others depends on their performance?
  • We need God’s gospel rescue every day and in every way because we are, in the words of John Calvin, “partly unbelievers until we die.”
  • Daily sin requires a daily distribution of God’s grace
  • The hard work of sanctification is the hard work of constantly reorienting ourselves back to our justification.
  • Grace can be defined as unconditional acceptance granted to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.
  • The law tells us what God demands from us; the gospel tells us what God in Christ has done for us because we could not meet his demands.
  • Paul never uses the law as a way to motivate obedience; He always uses the gospel.
  • When you understand God’s grace, pain leads to freedom because deep suffering leads to deep surrender!
  • When we depend on things smaller than Jesus to provide us with the security and meaning we long for, God will love us enough to take them away.
  • The gospel is the good news that God rescues sinners. And since both non-Christians & Christians are sinners, we both need the gospel.
  • The gospel grants Christians one strength over non-Christians: the strength to admit they’re weak.
  • The gospel isn’t just the power of God to save us, it’s the power of God to grow us once we’re saved.
  • When we transfer trust from ourselves to Christ, we experience the abundant freedoms that come from not having to measure up.
  • The gospel makes wise those who know they’re foolish and makes fools out of those who think they’re wise.
  • It never ceases to amaze me that God’s love to those who are in Christ isn’t conditioned on how we behave but on how Christ behaved for us.
  • In the gospel, God comes after us because we need him not because he needs us. Only the gospel can free us to revel in our insignificance.
  • Mt. Sinai says, “You must do.” Mt. Calvary says, “Because you couldn’t, Jesus did.” Don’t run to the wrong mountain for your hiding place.

Remember these is only about half the list; click on both of the above links to get the full list; and thank-you Barry for compiling this.