Christianity 201

September 7, 2018

A Higher Life

No, the title isn’t a reference to recreational drug use, though if that’s what brought you here, let me offer you something better.

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.
 Hebrews 10:24 NLT

In a recent article at CT Women (part of Christianity Today) titled Why You Can’t Name the Virtues, Karen Swallow Prior looks at the underlying foundation that is often not discussed for moral behavior, which is more frequently seen.

For the past several decades, American evangelicalism has been concerned about morality—and for good reason. Sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortion, divorce, materialism, racism, and countless other ills so permeate our culture—even among the churched—that they seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

But moral choices flow from moral character. Perhaps if we wish to reform morality, we should turn more attention to the formation of character.

Indeed, you can’t legislate morality, neither can you force it to be part of religious observance; but morality flows from core character. You need to have a certain bent (or if you prefer, predilection) to want to behave morally. It’s the same way in which we don’t engage in certain behaviors or practices as Christians because we must, but rather, these come out of the overflow of the heart.

She continues,

The early church fathers found much biblical wisdom in the Greek philosopher’s teachings on virtue. After all, the Bible speaks extensively about virtue. Faith, hope, and love, which Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13, are referred to as the theological virtues. 2 Peter 1:5–7 instructs believers to diligently “add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (NKJV). The Book of Proverbs is full of wisdom about virtues. The Fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22–23—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—are virtues, as well. All of these qualities constitute the marks of good Christian character, or virtue.

One of the most intriguing and insightful aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy is that virtue is a mean between two extremes—an extreme of excess and an extreme of deficiency, both of which are vices. For example, the virtue of generosity is the mean between the vice of miserliness (a deficiency of giving) and the vice of wastefulness (an excess of giving). For example, healthy self-regard—or humility—is a mark of good character because it means being truthful about oneself, which is a moderation between the extremes of esteeming oneself too little (deprecation) or overmuch (boasting). This idea of virtue as the mean between two extremes is captured in the King James translation of Philippians 4:5, which tells us to let our “moderation” be known to all.

So what are those virtues? At the website Changing Minds,

When Pope Gregory defined the seven deadly sins that we should avoid, he also included a counter-balancing set of values that we should espouse and adopt. These are:

Faith is belief in the right things (including the virtues!).
Hope is taking a positive future view, that good will prevail.
Charity is concern for, and active helping of, others.
Fortitude is never giving up.
Justice is being fair and equitable with others.
Prudence is care of and moderation with money.
Temperance is moderation of needed things and abstinence from things which are not needed.

The first three of these are known as the Spiritual Virtues, whilst the last four are called the Chief or Natural Virtues. The Natural Virtues had already been defined by Greek philosophers, whilst the Spiritual Virtues are a slight variation on St. Paul’s trio of Love, Hope and Faith (due to variation in translation from the original: Charity and Love arguably have a high level of overlap)…

…The Seven Contrary Virtues are specific opposites to the Seven Deadly Sins: Humility against pride, Kindness against envy, Abstinence against gluttony, Chastity against lust, Patience against anger, Liberality against greed, and Diligence against sloth.

(We covered some of this a year ago Thinking Out Loud.)

Some would argue that this character cultivation begins with the thought life; that it begins with the mind. Just a few verses past the one alluded to above, in Philippians 4:8 we read,

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.
  (NIV)

As we’ve quoted before:

Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a lifestyle.

Karen Swallow Prior continues:

…How do we go about cultivating virtue? Through something we sorely need today: good habits. A person is not in possession of a virtue by exhibiting a trait now and then. It must be routinely practiced for it to be considered a virtue.

Many of the commands, obligations, and exhortations that the Bible places on believers require intentionality, practice, and habit. It is, as Aristotle says, “a working of the soul in the way of excellence.” Or, as Paul says, a working out of our salvation “with fear and trembling” in order to fulfill God’s “good purpose” (Phil. 2:12–13) the way that is most excellent…


Karen Swallow Prior’s newest book is, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life in Great Books.

 

April 11, 2016

“I Told You So”

I Told You So

Once again, we’re paying a return visit to Sunny Shell who blogs at Abandoned to Christ. To read this at source — with a longer introduction — click the title below.

I Told You So Isn’t Always Wrong

The condensed version of, “I told you this would happen, but you wouldn’t listen.” is, “I told you so.” It’s been ingrained in me and I think, most, if not all of you, that saying “I told you so” is wrong. It’s considered to be harsh, inconsiderate, unkind, jabbing; and therefore, the most unloving and graceless thing to say to anyone after they’ve neglected to heed wise counsel, and find themselves in an unsavory and often, painful situation…

…Saying “I told you so” after someone has suffered the consequences of their foolishness, is usually a brazen “in your face” kind of statement people say in order to lord over another person’s failings. And that’s just flat out cruel. However, that doesn’t mean we can, nor should assume that everyone who says “I told you so” is being cruel or arrogant. As a matter of fact, they may be saying it out of deep empathy, compassion, love and mercy for the person they’re saying it to. Yes, I said mercy.

It may seem strange for you to reconsider that saying “I told you so” may perhaps not be the wrong, but rather, the right, good, and most helpful thing to say when someone is sitting in the miry pit of their indiscretions. So allow me to share a few real-life, biblical examples of where the person saying “I told you so” is genuinely being kind, merciful and encouraging (that is, instilling courage) into the person they’re saying it to.

“And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.

“And the LORD said to me, ‘Say to them, Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies.’ So I spoke to you, and you would not listen; but you rebelled against the command of the LORD and presumptuously went up into the hill country. Then the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do and beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’

“saying, ‘Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.’ But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said…Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship…Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.’ Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.”
Genesis 42:22; Deuteronomy 1:42-44; John 11:40;
Acts 27:10-11, 21, 31-32 (ESV, emphasis mine)

In all these incidences, whether it was Reuben, Moses, the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Apostle Paul telling the hearers, “I told you so” was said not to lord it over them, but in order to mercifully and lovingly remind the hearers of the painful calamities that happened the first time they didn’t heed wise counsel. In such cases, “I told you so” was said not to injure the one being told, but in order to shield them from repeating the same foolishness; and thereby, be spared the same pain or worse, due to their rebellious heart.

“Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’ “

This is not to say that hardships only come upon us because we sin (we know this because of John 9:3), but in the above verse (John 5:14) we see clearly that Jesus confirms what God reveals throughout the Old and New Testaments: sin devastates, divides and decays our relationships, our jobs—our lives. And in the case of this man that Jesus healed at Bethesda, according to Christ, this man’s 38 years of being an invalid was the direct effect of his sin. Which is why we can readily conclude that Jesus’ strong admonition wasn’t “kicking someone when their down” but it was a merciful reminder of the destructive and painful consequences of sin.

Therefore, though it’s most widely understood that saying “I told you so” is unkind and unloving, we see here, that once again, the heart in which we do or say things (Ps 141:3-5; Mt 15:18-19) should alone be the determining factor of whether or not it was loving or unloving, kind or unkind.

June 23, 2015

The Desires of Your Heart

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If God promised to give us the desires of our heart, why don’t we have what we want?

Today we return to Blogos. This post is by Lesley Mitchell. Click the title below to read at source, and then be sure to look around the rest of the site.

Psalm 37:4 and the Desires of our Heart

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

King David wrote Psalm 37. It’s important to read verse 4 in context with verse 3: “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

King David truly trusted in the Lord and delighted in him.

“I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me. He send from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me. God sends his love and his faithfulness” (Psalm 57:2-3).

It is interesting to note that not everybody is given the promise that the Lord will give them the desires of their heart. The “you” refers to those at the start who “do not fret because of evil men” (verse 1) but who “trust in the Lord and do good” (verse 3). They “delight in the Lord” (verse 4) and “commit their way to the Lord” (verse 5). They are “still before the Lord” and they “wait upon the Lord” (verse 5). They “refrain from anger and turn from wrath and do not fret” (verse 8). They are meek.

The Psalmist was clearly referring to those in ancient times who were in covenant relationship with the living God. The desires of their hearts included living in the Promised Land (verse 3) and pasturing their flocks in safety. They longed to see justice, with wicked people being thwarted (verse 7). In fact, the whole Psalm keeps repeating the assurance that such righteous people “will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.” This idea of inheriting the Promised Land speaks of trust in God’s promises to Abraham and to Moses, that their descendants — who remained faithful to the covenant — would dwell securely in that Promised Land forever.

Today, the principle of verse 4 still holds good. Those who are in the new covenant can trust God’s promises that they will gain a heavenly inheritance — a new heavens wherein righteousness will dwell. They know they are included in the promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed because of his faith. They rest in God alone. The troubles and injustices of this world do not make them fret, for they know everything hidden will be brought into the light before the judgement throne of Christ. The wicked will be cast down and the righteous (those who have Christ’s righteousness imputed to them) will be welcomed into the blessing of God. Their heart’s desire is for God to be vindicated and for justice to flow like a river.

When our heart’s desire is in harmony with God’s desires, then we receive the promise of our heart’s desire.tweet Rather than seeking after wealth, fame, power and pleasure (in which there is nothing but emptiness), we desire to be in relationship with God and to seek his Kingdom first, and then everything else will be added. But our priority is for God’s will to be done, not our own.

 

 

March 17, 2014

True Religion is Practiced on Mondays, Not Sundays

I’ve written before that,

Blake CoffeeThere are only a handful of bloggers who fit the paradigm for what we do here at C201 as well as Blake Coffee at Church Whisperer. (This is his fourth fifth time here!)  While some of his pieces are aimed more at vocational pastors, all are very scripture-based and applicable to a broad readership. Blake allows his material to be freely used, but does insist that there be a link to his own blog. We do that anyway, but hope you’ll click through, then look around, and consider bookmarking his site if you find, like we do, that his writing resonates with you.

So true. Today’s post, so appropriate for a Monday, is titled, The Problem with Sundays.  (Don’t forget to click!)

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. Jeremiah 7:4-7

The people of Judah in Jeremiah’s time and so many of us in the church today have all suffered from the same delusion…that genuine change begins in gathered worship. But, just like a genuine dating relationship doesn’t really begin until the SECOND date, genuine change in a Christ-follower’s heart doesn’t begin on Sunday. The real change begins on Monday.  The people of Judah discovered that too late.

Young King Josiah had good intentions and a good heart. He had “rediscovered” God’s instructions about worship and about Holy holidays and festivals. He had even made great strides in destroying the idols and instruments of worshipping those idols. He had restored the people’s respect and reverence for the temple. All of that was good. But it was not enough.

blank calendarAnd gathered worship is definitely good for the church today as well. Please don’t hear anything in this post saying otherwise.  I believe we as Christ-followers should be participating in Spirit-filled worship as often as possible.  It is where we celebrate together God’s activity in our lives. It is also where we get our engines “recharged” for the week. And it is where we PREPARE our hearts for the changes and course corrections they need. But, like the people of Judah, as soon as we begin measuring the real “change” in our lives primarily by what happens on Sunday, we have set up an embarrassingly wrong metric.

It is easy, isn’t it, to attend church every week, to serve on committees, councils and leadership teams, to read our Bible every day and thereby tell ourselves that we are in a right relationship with God…that we are right on track in our Christian walk.  But do you see that none of those things necessarily demonstrate any change of the heart at all? Our actions and attitudes toward others on Monday through Saturday are the things which show real heart change. Without that proof, our gathered worship is, well, shallow…even empty. It will not please God. Not without an active faith to go with it.

Our liturgies, hymns, praises and prayers on Sunday are supposed to be reflections of hearts and lives turned toward God all week long. Otherwise, they become meaningless…even hypocritical.  And that is the problem with measuring our faith by our Sunday activities.  Moreover, as leaders, doesn’t this mean we must admit that Sunday-oriented goals, while certainly informative on some level, are not our most important goals?  In preparing our Sunday lessons, maybe the question is NOT “what do I want them to KNOW at the end of my lesson on Sunday?” Maybe the right question is, “What do I want them to DO on Monday?”

October 12, 2013

Walking in the New Way

Last night I was listening to John Fischer’s All Day Song, and it reminded me to check out his blog The Catch. Here’s a recent item that appeared there; you’re encouraged to read this at source and check out the many other articles. Click here to read Walking In The New Way.

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

There it is: the new way and the old way right up next to each other. The fact that this verse is in the Bible and was a characteristic Paul identified in one of the first churches to ever follow Christ shows how the old way of relating to God holds on tenaciously to our psyches turning us all into Pharisees in much less time than we can learn the ways of the Spirit.

Like a tweet I posted yesterday — “Religion changes your behavior. Jesus changes your heart” — our new relationship with God is all about the heart. The old way is based in God’s expectations for us written on stone tablets. It’s a distant relationship with God. It’s not even a relationship with God as much as it is a relationship with God’s laws or God’s expectations, which for all of us are so far beyond any of us as to render us all disobedient. So the old way either grovels in our failure, or it severely reduces the expectations to something we can do (which enable us to pridefully judge all those other people who don’t), while hiding behind a religious facade that has nothing to do with the real attitudes and changes in the heart that God wants to form in us.

In fact, that pretty much describes the church for thousands of years — fake, self-righteous leaders and groveling parishioners.

Our new relationship with God changes all that because through it, God writes His ways and means on our hearts. This is not a relationship with God’s laws; it’s a relationship with God. It is close and intimate. Because of the blood of Jesus that covers all our sin, God can come near to us and change us on the inside.

“‘This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’declares the Lord. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

No more groveling. No more faking. No more spiritual caste system. God’s forgiveness opens the door to an entirely new relationship where we all know God — priest and parishioner — on the same basis, not on the basis of what we do, but on the basis of what He has done.

If you harbor guilt in your heart, you are not walking in the new way. If you think there are those who are better than you, or not as good as you, you are not walking in the new way. Our new relationship with God is based on what He has done. Period.

Whatever we do comes out of that relationship, not to earn it, but to live and walk in it.

March 31, 2012

Getting Out of the Sin Management Business

I’m currently about halfway through the book Filled Up, Poured Out: How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose by Mark O. Wilson (Wesleyan Publishing House) which released this month.  This book is literally jam-packed with helpful thoughts on experiencing personal revival and refreshing. I thought this excerpt might be helpful to someone reading today…

We must empty out before we can fill up.  We will not enjoy Christ’s fullness until we first experience the emptiness…

…Willful sin is the first place to start emptying. We must declare war on any action, thought, attitude, word or habit that displeases the Lord.

Without conscious effort, we easily slide into the sin management business, harboring and justifying pet sins, rather than confessing and repenting of them. The result is a sinning religion — a state of spiritual disobedience — that looks a whole lot more like the world, the flesh and the devil than like Jesus. The consuming concern of sin management is: “How much sinning can I get away with? That’s the wrong question.

A wealthy lade interviewed three men for a chauffeur position. “How close can you get to the edge of a cliff without falling off? she asked. The first guy said, “Twelve inches.” The second guy said, “Six inches.” The third guy said, “I’ll stay as far from the cliff as I can.” He got the job.

When staying close to the cliff appeals more to us than staying close to Christ, we are trying to manage sin. Spiritual victory is never found along the fuzzy edges of compromise. God calls us to steer clear of the cliff altogether.

Holding on to cherished sins is like keeping pet rattlesnakes in your closet. Sooner or later, you’re going to get bitten. Careless, compromising Christianity is a false substitute for the real thing. “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not.” (Rom 6:1-2 NKJV)

Empty the obvious! Refuse to make excuses for sinning. You might say, “That’s just the way I am.” But is it Christ’s best for you? Weren’t you created to live above that? Some say, “Follow your heart.” The trick part is that hearts are deceitful (Jer 17:9 NKJV The heart is deceitful above all things,and desperately wicked;who can know it?)

I once confronted a confused young man who left his wife for another woman. I said he was sinning and needed to get right with God. “No, no!” he protested. “That’s not true. I prayed about it and God told me it’s alright.”

The poor dude must have been praying to another deity, perhaps the false idol of self-indulgence. He was following his heart, but he certainly wasn’t hearing from heaven on that one.

Satan, the deceiver, lures us into false assuming it must be true if it feels right. We delude ourselves into thinking that wrong is not so bad in this particular instance. Deep down we still know right from wrong. Justifying bad behavior never justifies us before almighty God. Scripture clearly calls us to renounce our sins rather than excuse them.

~Mark O. Wilson; Filled Up, Poured Out pp. 42-44