Christianity 201

June 9, 2017

Big Ideas

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today a short excerpt from the blog of Youth Unlimited. (This is a different YU than the one associated with Youth for Christ.) Click the title to read at source.

Don’t be Afraid of the Big Ideas

Do you ever feel too small for your big ideas? God loves to use people who don’t seem important enough to do his most important work. Consider these examples from the Bible:

Elijah- He spent some serious time in prayer and it changed the weather for THREE YEARS! You know the weather, that thing everyone acknowledges is totally out of our control… Elijah affected it through the power of prayer and he was just a guy like us.

17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” James 5:17-18

Moses- This guy got asked to do big things by God and had some serious doubts about his own ability.

10 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.’”– Exodus 4:10.

But when he put his faith and trust in the Lord’s power working through him, he was able to lead the Israelites out of Egypt through the Red Sea which he separated to make a dry path. Wow, that is a big dream that God used “un-eloquent” Moses for.

Gideon- Gideon was from a small clan that was being ruled and terrorized by a bigger clan, the Midianites. He was scared and felt hopeless when an angel appeared to him and told him that if he went and stood up against the enemy the Lord would make sure he won! Crazy.

15 And he said to him, ‘Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.’ 16 And the Lord said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.’” Judges 6:11-16


Bonus item:
Sometimes we return to previous blog posts from other years. One we used a long time ago was the newsletter from author and missionary Elizabeth Elliot.

When she concluded writing in that forum, she ended her last piece with a hymn written by Anna L. Waring in 1850:

Father, I know that all my life
Is portioned out for me,
And the changes that are sure to come
I do not fear to see;
I ask Thee for a present mind,
Intent on pleasing Thee.

I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do
Or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child
And guided where I go.

Wherever in the world I am,
In whatsoever estate,
I have a fellowship with hearts
To keep and cultivate .

July 10, 2014

Church Life: The Spectacular and the Ordinary

Modern Church Interior

With a name like Christianity 201, we know some people reading this are in church leadership, and we try, once each month, to include an article which looks at the workings of church life. For this one, we’re introducing you to the writing of Maryland Church of Christ pastor K. Rex Butts who blogs at Kingdom Seeking (KingdomSeeking.com) where is blogroll includes many of our personal favorites! To read this article at source (with pictures!) click the original title below.

Discernment and Mission: Seeing Beyond Our Own Church

Many commentators treat this statement simply as a summary of what’s going on among this early movement of Jesus followers. While it’s entirely appropriate to this passage as a summation, we miss a lot if we limit this text to mere rhetorical strategy. Regarding v. 24, Luke Timothy Johnson says, “it is also a triumphant assertion of the movement’s growth despite the attempts of a tyrant to suppress it through the harassment of its leaders” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 216). Therein is a clue regarding what ought to challenge every church’s understanding of what participation in the mission of God may involve.

Baptisms and Bible-Studies

Let’s first take a few steps back and think about church and mission. I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to the church and the mission of God, there’s a lot of for the spectacular occasions. For example, in the book of Acts, churches love to talk about chapter two where the Spirit is poured out and 3,000 plus people are baptized upon hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ preached. The same is true for chapter eight where an Ethiopian eunuch is baptized after basically asking Philip to study the Bible with him.

Churches love stories like these and would love for them to be the stories of their churches. That’s why churches talk about their yearly number of baptism or about the evangelistic Bible studies taking place, as if the number of baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies are the sure marks of a good church (don’t get me wrong here, I’m all for baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies). However, turn to Acts chapter twelve and we won’t find any spectacular stories of baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies. What we find is a church struggling in turmoil and this is where churches today must pay attention because, as I’m suggesting, they can learn a lot about what participation in the mission of God may involve.

A Theological Conundrum and Persecution

At this point in the book of Acts, its somewhere between 41-44 CE during the reign of Herod Agrippa and the church is facing a lot of challenges. First, Peter has already baptized Conelius and his household (ch. 10). The baptism of Gentiles has now thrusted a theological conundrum upon the church that results initially in a counsel (ch. 11) but one in which the church, through the ministry of Paul, will wrestle with for the next several decades. Second, Herod has begun persecuting the church, having James executed and Peter arrested (presumably to suffer the same fate as James).

While Peter is rescued from his imprisonment by an angel of the Lord, the church doesn’t know this. So when Peter returns to his church gathered at the house of Mary where, according to v. 12, “many people had gathered and we praying” (churches brag about baptisms but how often do they brag about gathering for prayer?). Peter, who already realized it was the Lord that rescued him from prison, tells the church that it was the work of God. Then we are told about Herod’s death (which also is the work of God), which says something about the continued unstable political climate the church lived within. But… With all these challenges facing the church, “the word of God kept on increasing and multiplying” (NET).

Seeing Beyond Our Church

Why did the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, keep increasing and multiplying? This is, after all, what matters. The answer is none other than God. God was at work and this early Jesus movement believed so, which is why they continued faithfully following Jesus even when the difficulty of their circumstances escalated. If more churches would understand that the multiplication of the gospel is the work of God then they might also understand the futility and unnecessary need for the utilitarian thinking that undergirds many books on ministry. The increase of God’s word is the work of God that happens through the faithfulness of the church and not through turning this multiplication into an end that justifies whatever means gets the job done. This is not to say that churches should cease casting vision and planning for ministry. Rather, vision and planning for ministry must begin with the question of discerning: how must the church live faithfully as participants in the mission of God within the current circumstances?

As I suggested earlier, Churches love to talk about the mission of God when it involves preaching, a lot of evangelistic Bible studies, and especially a lot of baptisms. More importantly, Churches love the mission of God when it means church growth with lots of people joining their church. But… That is not how God always works. Sometimes God is taking that large church gathering in Jerusalem and scattering it though out the region (cf. Acts 8:1-3) so that the word of God may keep on “increasing and multiplying.” Sometimes God simply needs the church to gather for prayer and fasting so that Barnabas and Saul can be sent off as missionaries to serve somewhere else (cf. Acts 13:1-3) so that the word of God may keep on “increasing and multiplying.” Sometimes a church’s best vision and planning for future ministry is not how God is working. Sometimes the vision for growth and new ministry Churches have for their church is not how God is working. And let’s be clear… The mission of God is about the increase and of God’s word, not the increase of their church or our church per se.

The question is then, are churches willing to participate in the mission of God even if it means faithfully walking down a path different than it envisioned? The answer to this question takes discernment but the story here in Acts is inviting and challenging churches today to see beyond the realm of their own church so that they may fully live as participants in the mission of God.

June 28, 2010

What it Looks Like From Their Perspective

My wife and I met at a medium-sized Christian camp.

Camp life — especially in summer — is like a city in miniature.   We’re no longer part of the action, but when we drop our guys off (one serving on staff for ten weeks, the other taking a 4-week leadership program) we probably see the place a little differently than some.

There were little conversations going on between camp people doing camp things.   Conversations that a few years ago we would have been part of.   (Maybe we tune-in more than others.)  Details that must be firmed up.   Things coming together at the last minute.   All good, all necessary, but all of it very internal.

I wondered this time if that’s how outsiders see us when (and if) they visit our churches.   Conversations about upcoming programs.   Discussions about people best suited to fill particular needs.   In-joking about something that happened in the previous worship service.

In other words, church people doing church things and talking about church activities.   All good, all necessary, but all of it very internal.   And all of it about the maintenance and operation of the institution.

I’m a rebel.  I just want to walk up to those people (the church people, not the camp people, who are younger, and given more grace) and even though they don’t me, just cut right into the conversation and say, “Hey, so what’s God been showing you this week?”

I think this is the ultimate conversation starter (and stopper) in any church lobby.     But it’s the question we need to keep coming back to.

What’s God been showing me today?   That we need to be a little more external in our conversations… because we never know who is listening.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.   (Col 4:6 NIV)

Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation. (Col 4:5-6a The Message)

Digging Deeper:  The passage from the Message discusses “living and working with outsiders” which may seem diametrically opposed to what we do in church.   But a recent sermon by Bruxy Cavey reminded me that many times non-believers and even people from other faiths attend our churches to check out how we fare at “doing life together.”

If our preoccupation is the next bake sale or the youth car wash, (or worse, the price of dog food at Wal-Mart) then they will pick up on this, and question the authenticity of our faith.   I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you can guage the spiritual tone of a church by its lobby conversations.

So what’s God been showing you this week?