Christianity 201

December 11, 2020

“Not by Works…” but Works Count!

Earlier today, Lee Grady, who we’ve often featured here, posted this on his Twitter account:

Hebrews 6:10 says: “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name.”

He added,

God sees the little things you do: The kindnesses you offer, the encouraging words you give, the sacrifices you make and the prayers you pray.

The website BibleHub is one I frequently use because it can, as in today’s case, offer an endless trail of related verses such as,

Kindness to the poor is a loan to the LORD, and he will give a reward to the lender.
 – Proverbs 19:7 (CSB)

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
 – Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor.
 – Proverbs 22:9 (NASB)

This is what the LORD says: “Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for the reward for your work will come, declares the LORD
  – Jeremiah 31:16a (BSB)

Just as it takes several points to define a line, some find it helpful to see two or more scriptures as verifying a scriptural principle. However, this type of “verse-mining” is no substitute for reading a little extra context such as we find in Acts:

NIV.Acts.10.1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God…”

So what does Cornelius receive? Nothing material or tangible. Instead he becomes the instrument by which the Apostle Peter is going to orchestrate the inclusion of the Gentile believers into one single family. He becomes the gateway of the followers of “The Way” (followers of Jesus) entering into a whole new chapter which is the beginning of the first century Christian church.

The website BibleRef.com notes that in some respects, our opening verse from Hebrews is a study in contrasts: (I’ve highlighted sections of this.)

…Their good deeds, on behalf of God, are obvious… The idea that God is absolutely fair—or “just”—in His attitude towards their good deeds is a preview of the next passage. The people who were criticized for being spiritually immature, and in danger of “falling away,” are at the same time living out a very Christ-like love for others.

This is a useful point to remember when discussing spiritual maturity. According to this passage, a person can serve God, loving others with good works, and yet still suffer from an immature approach to Christian truth. The intent of Scripture here is not to dismiss love and service, of course, but it is also not meant to relax the threat of “falling away.” Service to God is a good thing, and a sign of sincerity. But it’s important to love truth, and grow in wisdom, just as much as it’s important to live out our love for other people.

In other words, acts of kindness and service are not an end in themselves. They are simply good, but they are also just the beginning.

In some respects the verse is a pause from what the writer has been saying. It’s a deep breath before he continues with what he has been saying before. It’s not unlike the messages to the churches in Revelation in that respect, some of which begin with something quite positive but then comes the “However…” It’s not a good practice to berate people in teaching without finding places to offer encouragement to those who are sincerely seeking after God.

The website KnowingJesus.com notes this as well:

The verse in question, which immediately follows an important warning against spiritual immaturity and some elementary instructions on reaching full maturity, gives some great encouragement to believers.. who are seeking to stand firm in the faith, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.

God sees our good works and remembers them. EnduringWord.com notes:

When we are discouraged we sometimes think God forgets us and all we have done for Him and for His people. But God would deny His own nature if He forgot such things (He would be unjust). God sees and remembers.

We must however take this principle alongside the overarching concept that we are not saved by works. We have to find the balance between these two truths: God sees our deeds, but our deeds aren’t key to our salvation.

…There is also a warning as to how the opposite of this principle applies:

Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed.
 – Proverbs 28:27 (NLT)

And of course there is also a practical, pragmatic side to all of this:

Share what you have with seven or eight others, because you never know when disaster may strike.
 – Ecclesiastes 11:2 (CEV)

…So there we have it. About 900 words, all inspired today from a single post on Twitter! Thanks, Lee!


Wondering what you can do? An hour later Lee wrote,

Do you know what your primary areas of ministry are? Ask your closest friends and mentors to list what gifts they see in you. You may be surprised. Sometimes our fears and insecurities prevent us from seeing what others see clearly.

Not all my spiritual gifts began operating at the same time. I began writing for Jesus at age 22, but I didn’t start preaching until I was 42. Just because a gift hasn’t surfaced yet doesn’t mean it won’t. Keep growing spiritually and you’ll be surprised by the way He uses you!

September 28, 2019

Motivation Matters

Can you do the right things for the wrong reasons?

I may have written about this verse before, but I wanted to circle back to it again today.

Proverbs 16:2

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
    but motives are weighed by the Lord. (NIV)

People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives. (NLT)

I like how Eugene Peterson takes this even one step further:

Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good; God probes for what is good. (MSG)

Each of us may easily rationalize or justify our thoughts and actions, but God is looking at underlying attitudes. I Samuel 6:17b reminds us that, “For man sees the outward appearance, but the LORD sees the heart.” Proverbs reiterates the truth of 16:2 in a lesser known, but I believe more powerful verse in 30:12, “There is a generation who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not washed from their filthiness.

We can fool some of the people some of the time, but we can’t fool God any of the time!

Weighed

Older translations incorporate the idea of our actions being “weighed” or “measured.” Think back for a moment to the the story in Daniel 5 from which we get the phrase, “the handwriting is on the wall.” What’s written on the wall is interpreted as “You are weighed in the balances and found wanting.” Verse 27 says, “TEKEL means that you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.”  I Samuel 2:3 states, “Do not boast so proudly, or let arrogance come from your mouth, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by Him actions are weighed.

Consequences

Wrong motives can have a bearing not only on how God views what we do, but how he views our asks for the things we wish we could experience or the things we wish we could have. James 4:3 states,

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – NLT

Our various asks need to line up with his will. Those are the petitions he’s interested in granting. “And this is the confidence that we have before Him: If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” – James 4:3.

In 1 King 3, Solomon asks God for wisdom, and gets everything else thrown in. “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both wealth and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.”

If ever a passage in the Hebrew scriptures was crying out for a cross-reference from the New Testament, it’s this obvious choice: Matthew 6:33, But put God’s kingdom first. Do what he wants you to do. Then all those things will also be given to you. (NIrV)

So above all, constantly chase after the realm of God’s kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from him. Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly. (Passion Translation)

Self-Monitoring

All of this brings me to a verse that David Jeremiah mentioned in a broadcast this week, I Cor. 11:31:

But if we had judged ourselves, we wouldn’t be judged. (CEB)

If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. (GNT/TEV)

Let me modify the verb tense on that slightly to the reflect the position we often find ourselves in: If we had examined ourselves first, we would not have come under God’s judgment.

The verse is quite sobering when read in full context:

The Voice.30 Because of this violation, many in your community are now sick and weak; some have even died. 31 But if we took care to judge ourselves, then we wouldn’t have to worry about being judged by another. 32 In fact, the Lord’s hand of judgment is correcting us so that we don’t suffer the same fate as the rest of the rebellious world: condemnation.

Conclusion

II Chronicles 16:9 is translated in the KJV as The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. and in The Message as God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.

God is watching.

Motives matter.

Hidden heart attitudes matter.

You can do the right things for the wrong reasons.

 

 

 

 

November 23, 2018

Decision Making in the Here and Now

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Some readers here know of Glenn Kaiser, a leader in the Jesus People USA community in Chicago which gave birth to Resurrection Band, Cornerstone Magazine and the Cornerstone Festival. I got to meet Glenn on many occasions when the band traveled to Canada, and was a distributor for the magazine and a regular attendee at the festivals.

Click the title below to read this at his website.

“Blessing”?

I woke up this morning with one thought: There is a massive world (perhaps lifetime) of difference between us asking God to “Bless what I do!” and God saying “Do what I bless!”

In terms of theology an extreme Calvinist may blow it in thinking most every desire was predestined and the plan of God for their life while an extreme Arminian may wrongly decide most any desire was automatically a matter of their sin nature and therefore God couldn’t be stirring them to do X, Y or Z. Extremes -false balances which are not balanced in the first place.

Plenty of Christians are troubled by Paul’s comments in his first letter to the church in Corinth. But before we look at that, have a look at this:

Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. -Psalm 127.1

I suspect this was in apostle Paul’s mind as he wrote about the people exalting and putting down leaders in their church. In fact the entire chapter is written to help them think that through, the folly of glorifying one Christian leader over another when all were dependent on the grace and work of God for anything to be of significance much less part of God’s plan. Some of Paul’s conclusions are what may upset us when he writes in 1 Cor. 3:

11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.
14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

“No big deal, I’m saved by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, HE justifies me, not any sort of “works” I do. I cannot be saved by my works!” All true- except the “No big deal” part. In this part of his letter Paul isn’t talking about how he, Apollos or those in the church at Corinth were being (or not being) saved.

Any concept of “God doesn’t care about what I decide, what I build, what I do with my life while in this world” is in many, many biblical texts just not true. On the other hand the idea we can simply make whatever choice we like best because we like it or like the idea of it therefore God is cool with it so “just go for it”… nada.

At this very intersection many who once professed being Christians no longer will. Their will versus His will is the issue.

Some will argue “Glenn, this text is all about eternal rewards, nothing more, not about our relationship to God in Christ” and I’ll say I disagree. Read Psalm 127.1 again. Vanity is selfishness at core. It is worse than ignorance because it is arrogant. Such is never God-serving but self-serving. Vanity, the fact something is foundationally vain means it’s about US, not Him. The motivating factor -or in this case person… is not the Lord of me… or in another sense, it IS the “lord of me”… it’s me, myself taking the place of my true and eternal Lord Jesus Christ.

Granted, not every choice, not every road we take, not every mission, ministry or area of service we work at in or outside the church or mission field is a matter of drawing closer to or farther from the One we call our God… or is it?

At what point might are we possibly separating our relationship with Him from our choices, daily labor? This is a massively important matter because that relationship is core and more essential to what we pursue in life. Just as many have stated, our character is more important than what we do -equally true is that our relationship to Him trumps our works. To therefore conclude what we do with our time and life isn’t important to Him is patently false.

Back to theology very briefly.

Both extremes (Relax cuz it’s all the will of God vs. Freak out cuz nearly nothing is His will) or even fretting over our eternal rewards is in my view, folly, useless, even besides the point. In reality such focus on rewards rather than relationship with God is likely more of a rampant individualistic, capitalistic worldview than based in a living relationship with Jesus.

My choices based on:

  • sincere prayer, seeking the Father’s will and mind on ANY major decisions I make
  • studying and applying HIS Word rather than my desires to careers, hobbies and you-name-it
  • getting sage advice from godly folks who know Him and know me and willingly speak the truth in love to me as I make decisions about my life and paying attention to His voice in these 3 areas as well as via:
  • practical doors opening and closing
  • even the supernatural (dreams, visions, prophetic utterance)

-though I’ll tell you that last area is one I’m extremely careful with.

This is how I’ve lived out my days. This is how God’s grace in planning and decision-making has come my way and I’m convinced it has kept me from adding to the (already long list) wood, hay and stubble I’m certain I have also produced next to the gold, silver and precious stone service He has performed in my life.

Again, verse 15 is clear- this is NOT about salvation but it IS about our works while on this earth. There is no escaping the fact God cares deeply about our choices. Are they HIS or ours? Do we seek Him and to the best of His confirming information (see those bullet points above) sense His voice and direction or are we simply spreading finger-paint on someone’s wall because we have access to the paints and the wall, in truth because we “just feel like it”? Gold, silver, precious stones or wood, hay, stubble?

I’ve not only made mistakes but sinned and every day must trust Jesus alone for my sense of peace with God, salvation, eternal destiny with the Father and all the saints. At the same time it’s not simply a shrug and “who cares?” attitude I take as I pray and make choices about what to do with my time and life.

May God grant you and I grace to pay attention and not overlook or worse, ignore what HE deems important in our life decisions.

Jesus Christ is my Savior -and it is His will and mine that He is also actively my Lord!

March 8, 2012

Considering Christ’s Omniscience

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

Jim is employed by a very large company that combines manufacturing, packaging and warehousing in a facility that spreads out over thousands of square feet in three different buildings.  His job is to oversee the “shop” where three technicians deal with the maintenance of the robotic and human-operated assembly of machinery that is used in other plants to build a variety of things we use every day.

Jim’s work station is monitored by four different security cameras. There’s no escaping them; no blind spot from which the the area is not visible. Still, Jim says he often goofs off.

“I figure that with over 140 cameras, they can only follow the action on three or four of them at a time;” Jim says, adding, “Besides, I’ve walked past that section and often nobody is on duty. The images are grainy and out of focus. Furthermore, I do my best work when I’m more relaxed.I have to live as if the cameras are not there and I’m not being watched.”

What Jim is saying is that he knows there is the potential that management or security is watching, but he feels the likelihood they’re watching is rather remote.

That’s often the way we respond to God’s omniscience. We know that he can see everything; that his cameras are in place and functional, but we must assume that he isn’t bothering to track us every minute of the day, or else we wouldn’t do (or not do) the things we sometimes do (or not do).

We deplore the theology in the song that says God is watching us “from a distance,” but then we live as if he isn’t watching us at all.

I’ve heard it said that people who have a hard time cracking an online addiction to internet pornography often find success only after coming into a greater awareness that God is with them, in the room, sitting next to them, watching their keyboard keystrokes, seeing what’s on the monitor. Their ability to break the habit increases when they imagine Him sitting next to them; perhaps even adding a second chair as a reminder.

II Chronicles 16:9 is translated in the KJV as “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” and in The Message as “God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.”

Both versions indicate that God is not looking for people who are asleep at their work station, but instead He longs for a people who whose hearts are fully committed to Him. He doesn’t want to catch you goofing off; rather, he’s hoping you’re being diligent enough to be named employee of the week. In other words, just as I Cor 13 tells us that “Love believes the best…” so also God wants to believe the best about you.

But He is omniscient, and we can’t assume that we can escape His gaze somehow. I Cor 4:4-5; the Apostle Paul states:

4 My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. 5 So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due. NLT

This is an echo of Proverbs 16:2

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight,
But the LORD weighs the motives .  NASB

Someone once said that each one of us is three people

  1. The “me” that I think I am
  2. The “me” that I appear to be to others
  3. The “me” that I truly am

I’d like to end this with a strong summary statement, but instead, I’ll end today with a confession: While I am 100% convinced of God’s omniscience, I often live like he’s tied up monitoring someone else. He is watching however, and His greatest longing is to see me productive and fully engaged at whatever work station in life I find myself.