Christianity 201

June 14, 2017

A Gospel Riot

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re again returning to the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. As happened in December, I got caught up in reading several articles here, and I encourage you to take several minutes to do the same.  For today’s piece, click the title to read at source. It’s longer than usual, but is great reading.

Sidewalk Peddlers

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…” Acts 19:23

This chapter, if you’ve never read it is fascinating. There’s a riot going down in Ephesus. Some translations call it a great disturbance, some a ruckus; regardless, the gospel was being preached in Ephesus and it was ruffling some feathers.

A few verses earlier, in Acts 19, we are told that many people in Ephesus were turning away from their worship of false gods and confessing the name of Jesus (v 17). We have accounts of people “confessing and telling their deeds” and publicly burning their valuable sorcery books (v19). This was no small thing in a city that prided itself in the worship of the goddess Diana and to whom a great temple had been built. Enter a man called Demetrius, a silversmith who made his living crafting and selling little handmade shrines of Diana in her temple. It’s a timeless practice, if you’ve ever been to a large church or  cathedral you know how this works; people set up shop on the sidewalks or entrance and offer to sell you souvenirs. When we visited Notre Dame Cathedral with our kids one summer we walked away with a metal replica of the church and two wooden crosses simply because we couldn’t escape the onslaught of pushy peddlers who set up shop right where you are trying to get that all important family photo. It’s amusing to see this practice goes back 2,000 years. Verse 24 tells us that “Diana brought no small profit to the craftsmen.” Just like the hawking of plastic Eiffel Towers and cathedral keychains today, this was a lucrative business.

So naturally, following the very public turning away from Diana towards Christianity, these hucksters were getting ticked off. Demetrius called his fellow craftsmen together and riled them up so much that “the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Paul’s travel companions (v29). They didn’t even know what they were doing or saying, most of them had no idea why they had even come together (v 32). It finally took a city clerk to calm everyone down and explain to them how irrational they were being. This man wasn’t even a follower of Christ, he simply uses logic to point out that Paul and his men weren’t robbing the temple or even blaspheming Diana. What they were doing was operating in the power of the Holy Spirit and letting the proverbial chips fall where they may.

Paul and his team went about their business preaching and performing “unusual” miracles for two solid years in Ephesus. Diseases were healed, demons cast out, people were changed. It’s very interesting to note what Paul did when people didn’t agree with his teachings: “But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (v9). 

When someone’s heart was hardened to the message, Paul departed and withdrew. He didn’t hang around to argue, fight, persuade or worry. He left. He went to where the message would be accepted. This isn’t to say he didn’t have fight in him, I’m guessing he had his arguments down pretty solidly. What he did was simply rely on the Holy Spirit to do the work. Paul knew it wasn’t up to him to pull this off. The Great Commission was to GO and leave the rest to God. If people see the miraculous and still choose to turn away, so be it.

There is a battle to fight, but we’ve got to know our strategy. Sin doesn’t like being confronted. Idols don’t topple easily. When we go out into our culture and live according to God’s Word, we will be strongly and sometimes irrationally attacked. It doesn’t mean we cower or stop speaking, but it doesn’t mean we always need to attack the idol-makers either. Paul was effective because he spoke truth and left the results up to God. He made himself a vessel and allowed himself to be used. He didn’t stress about everyone who disagreed with him because he knew the purpose of his ministry was to preach the gospel, not to placate the culture.

When the whole city is full of confusion and rushing to and fro like headless chickens, it’s our duty and our privilege to stay the course. We need to remember its not OUR truth we are promoting, contrary to what culture wants us to believe. It’s HIS truth, THE truth. We aren’t peddlers on a sidewalk selling trinkets of an idol – what we have to offer was paid for at a very great price and is free for the taking. It will cost something though, being a part of this “Way”… our own little kingdoms, our comfort zones, our people on pedestals.

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…”

There will always be a great commotion where Jesus is concerned, especially if we are sticking to HIS Gospel and not our own. Popularity and trinket-selling isn’t His goal for us.

It’s not always easy to go on record for our beliefs. The idols demand allegiance, just like the wild rioting crowd in Ephesus. The world is burning, literally and figuratively. Jesus calls us to choose life, repeatedly, daily, hourly, minute by minute. If you’re following a method or a person that doesn’t swing wide an open door to Jesus or push you to fiercely want to promote and protect His Word, I suggest halting and reevaluating. We aren’t that different from Ephesus in our idolatry and group-think ways. Self promotion, self preservation is the rule of the day, and if we are honest, we see that it gets us nowhere.

I’ll end with a fantastic quote from Lisa Whittle that snapped me right back to reality this morning after waking up at 5am with a zillion fears and annoyances running through my head:

“It’s time to make some heart determinations and declarations, my friends – to rise up, call out, stand firm, and walk strong. This is the time to rise up in holy anger, as Jesus did when He overturned the tables – to fight for holiness and purity and love. It’s time to fight for the freedom from the devil’s lies, which is ruining lives. It’s time to fight for the truth to be revealed about who Jesus is and how only He has the power to save so that other powerless gods will no longer be put beside or before Him. It’s time to fight for eyes to be opened about seemingly harmless distractions like social media and busy calendars and God-ish Christianity and how all of it at the end of the day keeps us from holiness. It’s time to fight for us to truly revere and honor God again. We’ve lost that, I think, that healthy fear of God. We don’t tremble before God anymore. We flaunt our independence.” 

It’s time. Cause a commotion if you need, God doesn’t mind. He has our backs. I think He probably wishes we were more stirred up. Choose your battles carefully, some are meant to win and some aren’t even meant to be addressed at all. Beware the peddlers on the sidewalk and beware the little idols, Jesus has so very much more to offer us. When the whole city is filled with confusion, be the one who rises up in love and power to fight for the truth.

February 17, 2017

Dead Churches, Like Sardis

by Clarke Dixon

Dead and dying churches. They are everywhere in our nation along with opinions as to why and what to do. A lack of vision. Failure to keep up with the times in music. Too much politicking. Boring services and coma-inducing sermons. A changing culture that could care less. These are some of the reasons people give for the death of churches, with no shortage of advice on staying alive. Perhaps now is a good time to read this letter from Jesus to a dead church:

 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:
“I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. 3 Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. 4 Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. 6 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.  Revelation 3:1-6 (NRSV emphasis mine)

Is there anything here that can help our dying churches in Canada? Jesus gives them six imperatives:

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. Revelation 3:2-3a (emphasis mine)

Let us take a look at each.

Wake up!

To wake up is to leave dreamland and dwell again in the real world. It is to give up appearances and get back to reality. The church at Sardis appeared to be alive, but needed to grasp the reality that in God’s eyes they were quite dead. Every church needs to pinch itself from time to time to ensure it is awake and has a good grasp on reality.

The original language behind “wake up” is more literally “become watching” (Young’s Literal Translation). We are reminded of Jesus’ teaching:

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. (Lk. 12:35-36 NRS)

Churches, more than any other group of people on earth, should live in such a manner that the return of Jesus tonight would cause rejoicing and not embarrassment or regret. Sadly, many churches in our nation do not even think Jesus is returning.

Strengthen what remains and is on the point of death!

What remains, yet could disappear? A community of people gathered around a cause. Let us consider another time Jesus spoke of the potential for death:

John 15:5-6 (NRSV) I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

To strengthen what remains, the Christian community needs to gather, not just around a cause, but around a person, the Person, Jesus Christ.

Remember then what you received and heard!

What was received and heard, that is now forgotten? Consider the following example:

13 We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers. (1 Thess. 2:13 emphasis mine)

The Christians in Sardis are to remember the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is the message of reconciliation with God. It is the truth that such reconciliation is made possible by the grace of God through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Is it possible for a Christian community to forget the Gospel? Here are three ways the Gospel is forgotten among the churches of our nation.

  1. The Good News is forgotten where the reality of the supernatural is denied.
  2. The Good News is forgotten where confidence wanes in what the Bible teaches about Jesus.
  3. The Good News is forgotten where sentimentality becomes an idol.

This last one perhaps needs more explanation. Suppose you had to make a choice between a) having your church just as it is, with the building and the weekly services, but no possibility of anyone coming to Jesus through its ministry, and, b) a person coming to Jesus through the ministry of your church, but you must lose your building and the way you do things. What would you choose? If you chose option a, sentimentality may have become an idol. It can and does happen that the message of the church is seen of less importance than the institution of the church. Such churches need to “remember then what you received and heard.”

Obey it!

The word “obey” has the connotation of the mere keeping of rules. However the word in Greek is much more nuanced than that. Some of the definitions include: “keep in view, watch over, guard, keep, preserve, maintain, protect, observe.” Here is encouragement to keep, guard, and maintain the Gospel teaching. This is more than just keeping the right doctrinal teaching, for the Good News of Jesus Christ is not just good news. It is life changing good News. When we grasp the Good News fully, we will find ourselves grasped fully. Yes, churches are for sinners like you and me, and should be places where we can be transparent about our struggles. Yet, the Church is the people who live by the Holy Spirit. The statistics should reflect that people are bearing the fruit of the Spirit. If things look no different between the church and society, then chances are good that the church is dead. There is a need to guard the Gospel, not just in the sense of being able to recite a catechism, but in being changed people, a people who reflect the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Repent!

To “repent” means to have a “change of mind.” The church in Sardis is told to repent, to have a change of mind about what is important. In our day, there are many voices calling for churches to change. Change the music, change the morality, change the doctrines, change the traditions, change the preaching, change the preacher. Some churches try to change nothing. Many churches try to change everything. The change that really matters is the kind of change Jesus calls a dead church to make; a call to change the mind, to repent and focus on the life changing Good News of Jesus Christ. 

There may be many reasons that churches die. But there is one reason that is inexcusable, one that Jesus speaks to; forgetting the life-changing Good News of Jesus Christ. Neglecting the Gospel is a sure-fire way to kill a church. Does your church need to pinch itself?

(All Scripture references are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted)


Clarke’s articles appear first on his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

January 12, 2017

The Final Page of the Final Chapter of the Christmas Story

by Clarke Dixon

Now that Christmas is over we might ask, where does the Christmas story actually end? Nativity plays often finish off with the visit of the magi. Some may think the story of Christmas concludes  with Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt, or coming home to Nazareth. Actually, the Christmas story points far beyond itself as it is part of a much larger story. The magi point beyond themselves to that larger story. Consider how the presence of the magi alludes to this prophecy spoken many years prior:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Isaiah 60:1-3

Though not kings, the magi are not Jewish and travel from afar, indicating that it is beginning; The nations are drawn to the light. It continues:

Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you,
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall be acceptable on my altar,
and I will glorify my glorious house.Isaiah 60:5-7

We cannot help but notice the gold and frankincense along with the possibility of camels. The visit of the magi is not the full fulfillment of Isaiah 60, but it is the beginning of the fulfillment. This is also pointing more generally to a greater fulfillment of a greater promise: all peoples of the earth worshipping the God of Israel.

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations. Psalms 22:27-28

Herod figures prominently in the account of the magi and he also points to the future when he says “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:8 NIV) Of course Herod has no intention of worshipping Jesus. Herod would rather have Jesus destroyed. Herod would rather be in charge. Herod would rather attempt to grasp at a throne that truly belonged to another. Herod did not worship Jesus. But he will:

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him. Psalms 22:29

The Old Testament points to even the dead bowing down to the true king, the Creator God. The New Testament makes this even more explicit:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

Every knee and every tongue includes even the knees and tongues of the dead. Even Herod. So ironically, Herod was speaking truthfully about the future when he said he would worship Jesus. He will. So will you and I. The question is not if you will bend the knee to Jesus, or if you will confess that He is Lord, but when

Does the fact that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord mean that every person will experience eternal life with God? No.

Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15

You and I have the wonderful opportunity to be among those who bend the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord sooner rather than later. The sooner we do, the greater the opportunity to live with the hope, peace, joy, and love, that we celebrate during Advent.

So where does the Christmas story end? With Mary and Joseph going home with Jesus? Or is the end of the story yet to come, with you and I going home?

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13

If you are a child of God, you will feel right at home in the presence of God. If you are like Herod and would rather stay in charge, rejecting God and the possibility of a relationship with Him, then you will feel right at home being separated from God. The final words on the final page of the final chapter of the Christmas story will not be you or I saying “You are unfair, Lord” but “I’m home.”


Read today’s column online at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermons.

Be aware of new blog posts by Clarke by following him on Twitter.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless noted otherwise

February 4, 2015

Repent!

by C201 regular columnist Clarke Dixon.  Click title to read at source.

Enjoying a Repentance Sandwich

repentanceWhat do many people think of when they hear the word “repent”? Perhaps they will immediately think of an angry hell-fire and damnation preacher. Or perhaps someone with a sandwich board that says “REPENT THE END IS NEAR!” Or perhaps they will associate repentance with the requirement of giving up “fun.” It seems that even in Christian circles the word has fallen on hard times with people equating the need for repentance with “not being good enough,” and therefore with poor self-esteem. So repentance is out, self-help and acceptance is in.

But hold on, are we missing something? Despite the negative reactions to it, let us consider repentance more deeply:

Repentance is central to Christianity. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the Gospels and he is very efficient with his words. The first thing we hear about Jesus’ preaching is:

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15 NRSV)

Mark here is not telling us about Jesus’ first sermon, but the content of all his preaching. His entire teaching ministry is devoted to declaring the nearness of the Kingdom of God and the call to repent and be a part of it. We should also note here also that immediately following this Jesus calls Peter and Andrew with those famous words ““Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17 NRSV). We are meant to see that a kingdom declaration and a call to repentance will be central to the task of fishing for people, and therefore a central task of the Church.

Repentance is intimately connected with Good News. Look what is said immediately before and after the call to repentance and you will see a repentance sandwich. Before it is the “good news of God,” which can mean both good news from God, and good news about God. Following it is the good news mentioned again. Despite the negative reactions to repentance in our time and day, with Jesus it is intimately connected with very positive good news.

Repentance is a blessing because life in God’s Kingdom is better than life in any other kingdom. Our passage begins with a statement that almost seems out of place: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” Remembering that Mark is super efficient in his use of words, is there any reason for him to give us the detail about John’s arrest here? Yes, the arrest of a righteous God-focused man such as John does not happen in the coming Kingdom of God. It happens in Herod’s kingdom, it happens in Caesar’s kingdom, it happens all the time across our world. But such injustice does not happen in the Kingdom of God. It is a contrast. Life is better in the Kingdom of God where people like Herod repent of all injustice.

Well meaning souls sometimes carry sandwich boards that read “repent the end is near.” Jesus was going around saying something more like “repent the Kingdom is near.” Repentance is a turning away from the sin that churns out bad news reports one after another in our lives and in our world, to Christ and His Kingdom and the good news of salvation from sin.

The blessings of repentance reaches further than the repentant sinner. If Herod had repented, John’s life would have been spared, he would have been let go, restored to his loved ones and work. What a blessing repentance would have been. What a blessing when Kingdom things happen, when injustice is righted. Herod’s salvation, Herod’s repentance would have had a great impact on all who were impacted by Herod, not to mention all who were impacted by John. The blessings would move out like a wave from a drop.

Your salvation, your repentance affects more than just you. Yes, our salvation is about “getting to heaven”, but it is also about heaven coming to us. And this happens in little bits and pieces, it happens as yeast infecting the dough as Jesus teaches in a parable about the Kingdom. It happens though little changes and big changes in your life. It is not dependent on someone setting up a Christian nation somewhere. It is dependent on you being a Christ following Kingdom living person everywhere you are. It is dependent on your blessing others through your repentance, your reorientation to God. Imagine the difference repentance can make in the trouble spots of your life and family. Imagine the difference repentance would make to the trouble spots of the world.

Repentance can be enjoyed anytime. Some people see repentance as akin to taking out an insurance policy. “I have done what I need to do, I am good with God, and I might pull it out of the file to look at it once a year. Typically Christmas.” I only look at my insurance policies once a year. But I look at food all the time; at least three times a day, sometimes three times an hour. Repentance is more like that; it is a blessing we can enjoy every day, a continual reorientation of our lives to God and His Kingdom. A life without repentance is like a life without food: blessings are missed, wellness flees.

Repentance is a blessing because eternal life with God is a blessing. The book of Acts tells us that on the Day of Pentecost Peter preached a sermon to thousands of people who were enthralled with what was happening. At the conclusion of the sermon the people ask “Brothers, what should we do?” (Acts 2:37 NRSV) Peter responds with:

38 Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him (Acts 2:38-39 NRSV)

Repentance here is a turning away from sin and turning toward God who has already turned to us in love and grace with the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. Repentance is that door to relationship, that act of acceptance of God’s offer. Putting one’s faith in Jesus without repentance would be like getting engaged to a person one has no intention of dating while still romantically involved with another. Such an engagement would seem hollow and hypocritical to say the least. Despite the negativity around repentance, it is a door to a relationship with God, one that lasts into eternity. What a blessing.


The people of Calvary Baptist in Cobourg, Ontario called Clarke to be their pastor in 2012 and in so doing rescued him from city life. Sermons from Calvary Baptist are available through “ChurchCloud” or as a podcast on iTunes.

August 26, 2014

The Gospel According to Romans 8

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Because this is Christianity 201 and not 101, sometimes we find material online that we think is going to be too simplistic for readers here. But let me ask you a question, if someone asked you to explain the scriptural concepts of why sin leads to death, or how the law is inadequate to redeem us, or what someone must do to become part of the family spiritually; if someone asked you these types of questions would you be able to articulate an answer clearly?

I know that sometimes the simple aspects of the faith trip me up in situations like that because to me, these are taken as a given or they have become so familiar as to be self-evident. This is why, every so often, I return to the idea of the invisible transaction of salvation; that to explain it fully is to point out the foreshadowing in the book of Numbers, where Moses lifts up the serpent on a pole.

All this to say that today’s post is from The Gideons in Canada. To prepare to read this, you might want to take a minute to read all of Romans 8. To read this at source, click the title below and then look around the rest of the site.

ROMANS EIGHT

Romans 8 was read four times per second on a popular Bible app in 2013, and I’m not surprised.

Romans 8 is the gospel in a nut-shell. It’s the best news anyone on this planet could ever receive.

gidideonlogoIts message crosses every divide the world tries to create–social status, gender, age, culture, job, moral-code… And the message is for everyone.

 The Solution is Life on God’s terms.

This life is not about our performance or ability to go it on our own. It’s about receiving life on God’s terms—and His terms are pretty good. You see, we humans were born with a sinful nature that we cannot cure ourselves. We can’t work ourselves up to perfection; we ourselves cannot reach a point where we will not encounter temptation or sin. We are not the answer. Our efforts are not the solution.

God, seeing that we are incapable of saving ourselves, provided a savior—Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ took on the sins of this world, and paid the price for them on the cross so that we could be forgiven. In that moment in time, we received His clean slate, and He took our messed up one. We were set free.

1) No Condemnation. Escape Death.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you[b] from the power of sin that leads to death. Romans 8:1-2 NLT

Yes. Someone was willing to sacrifice it all on a cross so that we wouldn’t be condemned or punished for our failures, so that we would escape the death sentence we deserve and get to live for an eternity in Heaven.

And it’s not dependent on anything that we do.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Ephesians 2:8 NLT

Believing & belonging to Jesus = no condemnation, no death.

Our continual inability to measure up and be good enough is overcome by Christ’s ability. In our weakness He is strong.

2) You can’t fulfill the law. Christ did.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4

Don’t worry. There isn’t something you are missing, the same struggle you have to keep up with all the do’s and don’ts is the same struggle everyone else on this planet also battles with. It’s not about us trying harder, rather it’s about us embracing what Christ did for us on the cross. He took our terrible record, the punishment for that record, and in return, gave us his perfect record.

God’s terms are… although you are completely undeserving; I am going to give you a clean slate.

God’s terms are… although you sin, I see you as clean, whole, perfect, as my child—because of what Jesus Christ did for you on the cross.

God’s terms are… I love you. God’s terms are… I forgive you. God’s terms are… I am with you.

When you need a fresh reminder of the Good News of the gospel, if you need that weight of law, duty and failure lifted—turn to Romans 8—it’s pretty Good News if you ask me.

In fact, it’s news that is too good not to share.

Order free copies of Scripture at http://www.sendme.ca and trust God for opportunities to share.

April 12, 2014

Cheapening Spiritual Progress with Gifts

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
  Matthew 7:6

Earlier today at Thinking Out Loud, I wrote about the trend toward feeling obligated to purchase a gift for someone who is being baptized as a teen or adult, an obligation perhaps borrowed from our Catholic (Confirmation) or Jewish (Bar Mitzvah) friends.  In that context, today’s opening scripture verse may seem a little extreme, but I believe the verse applies to anything which might trivialize or reduce someone’s sincere (hopefully) spiritual steps with gift-ware.

I suspect the logic works like this: Family and friends have been invited to the church. They will have everyone over to their house afterwards. Food and beverages will be served. There will be laughter and celebration. That constitutes a party. Therefore, I must take a gift.

I am all for celebrating spiritual occasions. When the prodigal son’s father saw his son returning in the distance his heart was filled with joy:

Luke 15:20“…But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

The son begins his well-rehearsed admission of contrition and humility, but the father interrupts:

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Sorrow and sadness
Turn into gladness.

But for many young people, a spiritual step that is marked with gifts — or even worse, cash — sends a mixed message. I know I have a very biased preference for books, but it seems like, if anything, a good time for a Bible handbook, a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia, or a copy of the scriptures in a novice-friendly translation.

Of the various youth-friendly, scripture-based things the gift-ware industry has created over the past decade, I’ve always liked the “Whatever” plaque from Abbey Press because it is a Bible quotation that is a good prescription for life for a young person.,

Whatever plaque

The text is based on Philippians 4:8

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

If a gift is absolutely necessary, that’s a sentiment I would endorse.

How else might we trivialize the things of God?  In looking back, I’ve referred to the “dogs” verse in Matthew twice before here.

One post dealt with several things at once:

  • We can pray repetitiously, reciting memorized prayers without thinking of their meaning
  • We can omit to pay proper reverence to the name of God
  • We can fail to regard as sacred the writings of scripture and the books that contain them
  • We can substitute subjective testimonies for actual Bible teaching
  • We can discount the importance of committing some of the scriptures to memory
  • We can have a rather casual approach to church services, small group meetings, etc.

In another post, I wrote about how as leaders, we can trivialize the importance of special times for The Church, using Good Friday as an example. We can neglect to immerse our congregations in His humility (washing the feet of The Twelve), his pain and sadness (showing how he would be betrayed and using the cup of sorrow in the Passover meal as example), and his anguish and suffering (at his trial, scourging, crucifixion and death.) For more of my thoughts on how might we ‘miss the moment’ on this particular day of all days, read this recent essay on the other blog.  In the two paragraphs that follow, I explain how we get to this conclusion from the opening verse:

Go Deeper: I should also say that there is much more going on in the ‘giving holy things to God’ and ‘giving pearls to pigs’ verse than what I’ve touched on in the three times it has come up here. While the verse seems to speak to all the things we’ve discussed, the context has to do with judging, but even there, this proverbial saying seems somewhat of an interjection and several Bible commentators skip over it altogether. In its most literal reading, the dogs and swine represent Gentiles, or by extension, unbelievers. It could be argued here that this is stating we are to judge within the family of God and not attempt to judge the world at large.

The broader application of this verse to mean “Don’t offer spiritual ‘pearls’ or things of great value to those who lack the understanding to absorb or process the meaning of them” is really being reversed to say, “Don’t take things which possess great meaning and value and expunge or excise (or we could say, diminish, depreciate or pejorate) all or some of that richness.

In the same Prodigal Son story we read in verse 10,

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

By all means celebrate. But don’t reduce someone’s pursuit of God and desire to live a set-apart life by offering something purchased only because you feel you had to.

We’ll close today with our opening verse as taken from The Message Bible, which seems to lean more to the way we’ve applied it here:

“Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

 

March 29, 2013

Trivializing Good Friday

Matthew 7:6a “Do not give dogs what is sacred…”

Although the passage above normally refers to offering your spiritual gifts, your ministry, your teachings to people who are unreceptive, there is an equally opposite danger that can occur when people are receptive by virtue of being hungry and thirsty for the deeper things of God and those  in leadership fail to provide the spiritual necessities.

In other words, if you can profane your teaching by offering it to people who treat it with contempt and scorn, I believe you can also profane it — and treat it with contempt — by offering less than the best that is appropriate to a particular situation.

One of the ways I think we do this is by failing to really get inside the moment that is Good Friday. If we fail to allow our hearts to capture Christ’s suffering and death on our behalf, then we have nothing to share with others who want that to be the focus of their holy day. We show ourselves to be extremely shallow spiritually.

If you have the responsibility of planning a service for Good Friday — or any part of it — it’s so important to bury yourself in the story and then let the text speak to you as you decide which elements of that story to impart to others. Otherwise, you’re guilty of trivializing the text, trivializing the day, trivializing Christ’s atoning work in suffering and dying for us.

One of the shortest verses in scripture is “Jesus wept.”  We tend to want to reduce the events between His arrest and His resurrection — which we will celebrate on Resurrection Sunday, but in Good Friday, not yet — to a simple text of “Jesus died.” But in reality, it goes on for chapters, in all four gospels, and is the very centerpiece of our faith, and the centerpiece of all of scripture, first and second testaments included.

We dare not trivialize that.

In fact, three years ago I wrote about a familiar passage in I Cor. 11, and noted that really, the betrayal of Jesus what ‘hatching’ in the mind of Judas long before the Passion Week narrative begins. With the religious leaders of the day, Jesus’ death was a work in progress.

“On the night Jesus was betrayed, He took bread and… broke it saying, ‘This is my Body, broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.'”

I didn’t even need to look it up. Here’s what I wrote back then:

As English shifts, modern ears might be getting this as “After Jesus was betrayed he took bread…”

I think a better reading would be, “On the night that Jesus was about to be betrayed…”

Or better yet, “Knowing full well that he was just a couple of hours from being betrayed, he took bread…”

Judas was about to exit the building. His scheming mind hatched the plan needed to locate and identify Jesus with the least interference from the crowd, and bring him before the Romans to mete out the death penalty on charges of blasphemy. There would be profit in this, not to mention a place of honor among both Pharisees and Romans alike.

But before he even left, Jesus says, “This is my Body, broken for you.” He is in control. He is giving Himself.

The Wycliffe Version isn’t the translation on Bible Gateway that most bloggers turn to, but its rendering is unique: “Take ye, and eat ye; this is my body, which shall be betrayed for you; do ye this thing into my mind.” (italics added)

It clears up the verb tense thing as it relates to the order of events, which shall (or will) be broken for you, only it has the surprise element of bringing betrayal in that clause as well: shall be betrayed for you.

Christ’s body was physically broken for us, but his esprit was no doubt broken by the betrayal of someone who He had walked and talked with; someone whom He had taught in the give and take sense of eastern teaching — for three years.

The Amplified Bible is one of the few other translations that addresses the order of events. Note the section I’ve italicized: “For I received from the Lord Himself that which I passed on to you [it was given to me personally], that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was treacherously delivered up and while His betrayal was in progress took bread…”

In a culture that grows less Biblically literate by the day, I think it necessary to sometimes look twice at details of the story that we just assume that people know. Necessary to clarify, to remove confusion.

But sometimes, in the examination, there is discovery, and the familiar narrative continues to take on shades of depth and meaning beyond anything we’d already considered.

Thinking Out Loud, Jan 4, 2010

… To which I add today, that it is in the closer readings, in the rediscoveries, we are drawn deep into those long ago days and less likely to rush through or trivialize the proceedings of a sacred time in our church calendar.

September 5, 2012

Jesus Said More Than The Lord’s Prayer

NIV Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Today we have a guest post from Clark Bunch who blogs at The Master’s Table and was gracious enough to write this just for us!

 
Jesus Said More Than the Lord’s Prayer
 
Sometimes as Christians we get this odd idea that the more involved we are in ministry, or the closer to God we feel, the less we need to pray.  Rather than argue against this premise, let’s take a look at the Gospels and once again consider what Jesus would do.  In this case we don’t have to guess, there is plenty of material on the prayer life of Jesus.
 
1. Jesus prayed early in the morning.  In Mark 1:35 Jesus went out to pray “while it was still dark,” in other words before first light.  He made prayer his first priority, before doing anything else.  There’s an old saying about praying when all else fails.  Jesus prayed before trying anything else.  He began each day by connecting with God his father.  
 
2. Jesus prayed before important events.  In this same passage (Mark 1:35-39) Jesus spends time in prayer before beginning his ministry in Galilee.  He spent time in prayer and fasting before beginning his public ministry, and we will say more about his prayer in Gethsemane in a moment; that was the night before his trial and crucifixion.  Before major events that marked a change in his ministry, Jesus spent extra time and energy in prayer.  Before calling the Twelve (Luke 6:12) he prayed all night.  
 
3. Jesus taught his disciples to pray.  The Gospels record the public ministry of Jesus, in which he preached to the multitudes, and also private teachings with a much smaller audience.  Sometimes it’s just the 12 apostles and sometimes he is with a much smaller group than the throng of followers.  His disciples asked him to teach them to pray, and he gave them what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer.  I prefer Model Prayer or Disciples’ Prayer to calling it the Lord’s Prayer.  
The model he gave them was a teaching tool.  He kept it simple to illustrate the important parts one should include in prayer, but that is not the prayer Jesus said each time he prayed. The High Priestly prayer of Jesus (John 17) is how Jesus himself prays, especially in his “new role” as our High Priest and advocate with the Father.  
 
4. Jesus prayed ’till it hurt.  We’ve already mentioned Jesus praying at Gethsemane before his arrest and false trial.  This story is recorded in all of the Gospels, but Luke makes an interesting note in 22:44.  Luke, described by the Apostle Paul as his beloved physician, says that Jesus prayed until “his sweat became as great drops of blood.”  It is possible during times of great physical duress for one’s capillaries to break under the skin and for blood to escape, probably mixed with sweat, through the skin.  Rather than debate if he was bleeding, don’t miss this point: Jesus was not only praying he broke a sweat.  “Now I lay be down to sleep” is not going to do that to a person.  Jesus never taught lessons until he sweat drops of blood; he never healed the sick, raised the dead, preached sermons, walked on water, feed the crowds nor anything else until he sweat blood.  The only time we see this in the Gospels is while he was praying.  
 
The notion that the closer we get to God the less time we need to spend in prayer is misguided.  Jesus was the Son of God, the very incarnation of God robed in flesh, and he made prayer a priority each day.  No one has ever been closer to God the Father than Jesus himself.  There are many more accounts of Jesus praying than those listed above, but let me leave you with this one: Jesus prayed on the cross.  Even while Roman soldiers drove nails into his hands, and the Jewish leaders watched and mocked, he prayed for those crucifying him.  “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus was literally dying; what’s our excuse not to pray? 
~Clark Bunch
The purpose of The Master’s Table is to promote the centrality of Christ in the scriptures. In the Last Supper, Jesus is in the center. In our lives, churches, Bible study, witnessing, blogging, etc. Jesus Christ should be at the center.

Image:  Purchase today’s image as an unframed print at Cross Into Your Life.

May 16, 2012

Oswald J. Smith Quotations

I was blessed to spend some very spiritually formative years, from age eleven to age 21 in The Peoples Church, Toronto; the church founded by Rev. Dr. Oswald J. Smith, although when I attended the torch had already been passed to his son, Dr. Paul B. Smith.  Peoples was and still is a very missions-focused church, so it’s not surprising that many of the quotations here have to do with missions and evangelism.  Oswald Smith was turned down for missionary service because his health was considered too fragile, but in the end, he lived into his late ’90s and traveled the world as a missionary speaker.

One of the things that is most striking here is that although the quotations are short — some critics would say ‘pithy’ — they are totally focused; Oswald Smith was totally driven by his desire to see the gospel taken to the four corners of the earth. It would not be a stretch to say that Oswald’s regard for evangelization was as intentional as that of the Apostle Paul.  .

While the church you grew up in may have had its yearly highlights at Christmas or Easter, at Peoples Church, the World Missions Conference was the high point on the church calendar, and funds were raised not through cash offerings, but through a “Faith Promise Offering” system of giving whereby parishioners pledged to support missions sacrificially through regular giving over a twelve-month period.

Sadly, almost all of the dozens of books Oswald J. Smith wrote are out of print, but with today’s print-on-demand technology, it might be possible to make some of them available in the future.


God wills the evangelization of the world, and you refuse to support missions, then you are opposed to the will of God.   


Give according to your income lest God make your income according to your giving. 


So long as there is a human being who does not know Jesus Christ, I am his debtor to serve him until he does.


The church that does not evangelize will fossilize.


This last month I have felt the burden of a city. Its great sorrow has pressed in on my soul. Its vice and sin have bowed me upon my knees in tears. I cried and cried to God to have mercy on the poor fallen girls; and the burden is crushing.


We talk of the Second Coming; half the world has never heard of the first.


No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once.


Oh, to realize that souls, precious, never dying souls, are perishing all around us, going out into the blackness of darkness and despair, eternally lost, and yet to feel no anguish, shed no tears, know no travail! How little we know of the compassion of Jesus!


Sources: Biserica, FrontierNet, SermonIndex.net, TentMaker.org, DailyChristianQuote

November 19, 2011

N. T. Wright on Enjoying the Bible

Thanks to blogger and friend Jon Rising for getting me on to a N. T. Wright video binge today.   Check out Jon’s posting of a recent piece, A Parable About a Parable, especially if you don’t have time for what follows.  Today’s piece is a 30-minute television program produced at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.

May 29, 2011

Church: On the Other Hand…

Sometimes when we’re reading Christian blogs, we try to read between the lines to figure out where the writer stands on various issues.  If you read this blog and its companion, Thinking out Loud, over the past few weeks, there have been a couple of references to the house church or organic church or simple church movement, as well as an article about how we can get so addicted to all things church that we can miss Jesus; so it would be easy to assume that I’m a bit soft on the whole brick and mortar church thing.

But that would be a mistake.  This week I attended two different morning services and later today I’ll watch two different online church services which are rebroadcasts of brick and mortar church gatherings.  I’m the biggest cheerleader I know of in my local area for what local churches are doing. 

This morning I was reminded of this verse in John 2, which falls at the end of the passage where Jesus clears the temple (the first time) and possible where we get the expression, “Now the tables are turned.”

NIV John2:17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The NLT has it as “passion” while the New Century Version uses “strong love.”  The quote is from Psalm 69:9 —

NIV Ps.69:9 for zeal for your house consumes me,
   and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.

— which is interesting because it equates zeal for God’s “house” with the seriousness of those who insult God Himself.

Living in Canada, which is nearly 50% nominally Roman Catholic, we’re familiar with the French language which uses “tabernacle” as a swear word.  It’s a rather grievous term, as is any unnecessary mention of God (the French say Mon Dieu) or Jesus, but it betrays its origins in a great respect for the building in which worship is conducted.

Today, many of our church buildings are multi-purpose structures used for a variety of weekly events; having community-friendly or seeker-friendly auditoriums — the word ‘sanctuary’ is no longer in vogue — which are free of crosses or other religious icons or symbols.  People show up in jeans or shorts and t-shirts and are often seen drinking coffee during the songs and sermon, while the kids go running wild before and after the service starts.  It’s hard to imagine that being seen as worthy of generating a swear word!

Maybe those things are externals, and are less important now than they were a couple of generations back because we see those things as superficial when it comes to defining deep faith.  I’m not sure.  But I do think we need to rediscover the Psalm 69/John 2 verse, which the NASB takes a step further, quoting the Psalms passage in John in capital letters:

17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.”

~Paul Wilkinson

December 9, 2010

Christmas Card Theology

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:06 pm
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If it is true that the DNA of the gospel is found even in the books of the Old Testament, there ought to be no end to the number of verses that can be used on Christmas cards to announce the incarnation; to proclaim that God has come to dwell with man.

I was truly struck by this many years ago when Tom, a graphic artist I got to know briefly, decided to screen print his own Christmas cards.   The passage he chose was the beginning of Hebrews 1, though some (like me) maintain that the reason we can’t 100% verify the authorship of Hebrews is because we’ve got a letter where the first page is missing.   So chapter 1 may not be its first words.   Nonetheless…

1God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

2Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds…

Okay, I know I just lost a few people, but I like the unique KJV wording.   Where else do you find “sundry times” and “divers manners” which is exactly the text Tom chose for his Christmas cards.

Here’s the (new) NIV with an extra verse:

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

And of course, The Message:

1-3Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son. By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what he says—powerful words! After he finished the sacrifice for sins, the Son took his honored place high in the heavens right alongside God…

I like The Message’s in-context use of the word “recently.”   “This just in!”  It’s a new day.  A new opportunity.   A new beginning.

Are there verse that lie outside the typical (i.e. Luke 2) Christmas narrative that hit home for you as they contain the message of Christmas?

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.

August 8, 2010

The Power of a Testimony

I want to continue where I left off yesterday, but in entirely different terms.

Contemporary church services don’t allow for what was once called “testimony time.”  We did a thing in our church years ago called “The Witness Stand,” which brought individual stories from the Sunday night service up into the morning service, when a greater number of people attended.

These days, you tend to hear stories in church only from people who are (a) being baptized or (b) going to or returning from a missions trip.

Even our songs — much as I love the ‘vertical’ quality of modern worship — no longer tell a story, either literally or poetically.   Maybe you’re old enough to remember:  “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore; very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more.  But the Master of the sea heard my dispairing cry; from the water lifted me now saved am I.”  Or maybe those words just sound quaint and foreign, but they reflected a storyline no longer present in our worship services.

Maybe the words in “Victory in Jesus” that talk about the time “he plunged me to victory” don’t work in the 21st century, but there’s got to be a “before and after” song out there besides “Amazing Grace.”

So when I wrote yesterday about not letting anyone take away your story — or your very name — I wasn’t talking about identity theft.   I meant instead the importance of hanging on to all that God has done in your life.   That may mean keeping a journal or even starting a blog.  (Or writing a song.)

In the NLT, John 21 ends with John affirming his own story:

24 This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.

…but I much prefer what I believe was the older version in The Living Bible which has John boldly affirm — after chapters and chapters of loose references to “the disciple that Jesus loved” — his place in the story with, “I am that disciple!”

What a climax to the story!   In other words he’s saying, “It was me!  I was the one who shared those moments; I was part of that inner circle!   It was James and Peter and I to whom he told those stories and hinted at some of the secrets of the Kingdom.   I was there!”

The biggest lie the Devil would have you believe is that some of the greatest moments of spiritual victory you experienced never really happened.   As I wrote a few days ago, when you “take this bread” don’t just remember all that Christ did on the cross all those years ago, but remember what He did in you and through you because of the cross.

July 16, 2010

Religion = Bad News

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I‘ve used material from Clark Bunch’s blog, The Master’s Table a few times at Thinking Out Loud, but this is his first time here at Christianity201…
Religion is Bad News

If you type “religion, gospel” into the Google search bar, you get 3.6 million results in about 0.22 seconds.  Search on WordPress and the results are even more along the lines of “Religion vs. the Gospel” and such like.  Lots of people are aware of the shortcomings of religion compared to the Good News of Jesus Christ.  But even for the believer, and certainly for everyone else, the temptation is still there to not fully trust in the concept of grace.

In Mark’s Gospel (Mk. 5:1-20) Jesus and the disciples land on the coast of the Gerasenes.   They encounter Legion, a mad man filled with demons.  After Jesus casts the demons into a herd of pigs, the locals are amazed to see the man formerly known as Legion clothed and in his right mind.  Rather than allow him to follow, Jesus commands him to go back to his home town and tell them what God has done.  In this case, the man does so. Ergo: You don’t have to fix all your problems before coming to Jesus. How many people plan to come to church as soon as they quit drinking, stop smoking, get back with their ex-wife, find a job, etc. etc.  We cannot fix our own problems, and if we could then we wouldn’t need Jesus in the first place.  Remember what Jesus told the Pharisees; it is the sick who need a physician, not the well.

The rich young man (Mk. 10:17-22) come to Jesus with one simple question; What must I do to be saved. Religion is about what we do.  We could substitute Law if we were comparing the Law to the Gospel.  Keeping the Law, very religious.  This man claims to have keep each of the commandments since his youth. Unlikely.  David was a man after God’s own heart, and he failed all kinds of ways to keep the Law.  We simply cannot do what is right, just like we cannot in and of ourselves fix what is wrong. Religion is what we do; grace is what God has already done.

We can’t.  That’s the story of fallen man.  We can’t keep the Law.  We can’t be right.  We can’t fix what’s wrong.  Religion is our attempt to either be right or fix the wrong, and we the human people are epic failures at both. Religion is bad news; the Gospel is Good News. Tell the world.

Read more of Clark’s blog here.

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