Christianity 201

December 29, 2022

The Fruit of the Spirit Goes Beyond Doctrines, Ethics

CEB.Gal.6.22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.

In an information age, much emphasis is placed on holding to correct doctrine. Heresy hunters, fact checkers, and watchdog ministries are in abundance, making sure that people are held to a standard of orthodoxy. Research organizations (like Barna and Pew) have checklists of beliefs if one is to considered a Christian or an Evangelical.

Additionally, many passages of Christians (i.e. most of Galatians) are written to combat the era of “false teachers” which was already a problem for the early church. So it’s safe for us to conclude that holding to accurate beliefs is of utmost importance, especially in a world where sects, isms, cults, etc. proliferate online and in our communities.

Beyond orthodoxy however, there is also orthopraxy. If the former is defined as “right beliefs,” then the second might be defined as “right practices;” though it goes beyond spiritual practices and involves all that we do as followers of Christ.

One writer, Liv Walton, defined the two here in a June, 2021 blog post:

Orthodoxy is most simply defined as “right belief,” which consists of authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine or practice. Orthodoxy is held with great importance in the Protestant-Christian church and other branches of Christianity such as Catholicism. While Protestant-Christians do not contend that salvation is found through doctrine nor practice, having faith is not enough to qualify “right belief.” …

Orthopraxy is defined as “right practice” yet this idea of practice is not about practicing right doctrine. Rather, when orthopraxy talks about practice, it is talking about gospel living. Instead of focusing solely on saying and doing the right things, one should focus on the holistic message of the gospel, which is to love God and love others. Additionally, orthopraxy puts emphasis on liturgy (worship) that extends beyond Sunday services.

When incorporating orthopraxy, one’s faith becomes a testament to God’s love and puts every individual on the same level. Christianity is not about who can serve the most at church or witness to the most people, but rather how one can love those around them in a way that edifies and uplifts others as fellow image-bearers…

The Bible’s “Love Chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13 has this short prologue:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

But some have argued that understanding “religion” is to incorporate a third dimension that might be termed orthopathy. (Immediately, my spell-check is concerned that this word is not in its dictionary! I find it interesting that although I’ve heard this discussed, I can’t find a single instance in an online search.)

The idea is that faith is found not only in

doctrine + ethics

but rather

doctrine + ethics + experience

In other words, by “believing right things” and “doing right things” what is the result of that in your life? How is your life different because of the beliefs you have put into practice?

So when Paul says that love is the means by which everyone will know we are Christ’s disciples, he is referring to ethics. But how do the other fruit of the spirit match up:

  1. Love = expressed in action, ethics
  2. Joy = an inner quality of life, therefore it is experienced
  3. Peace = an inner experience as well
  4. Patience = a trait which will express itself both internally, and in our dealings with others, therefore it lands in both categories
  5. Kindness = expressed in action, ethics
  6. Goodness = expressed in action, ethics; though sometimes we will do “the good” and it will never be seen; Jesus cautions us in all these not to practice such things in order to gain recognition
  7. Faithfulness = seen in our doctrine and ethics, including our faithfulness to the pursuit of right doctrine. This one hints more directly of the spiritual disciplines.
  8. Meekness = an internal culture of humility that will be expressed in our dealing with others
  9. Self Control = again, an inner quality with an outward, visible expression

Some alternative scriptures for each of these, beyond the passage in Galatians where they are listed, can be found here in a May, 2014 article.

So we see in the above list that some things like joy and peace — while they have an outward visible component like self-control — are part of our inner experience.

Liv Walton concluded,

Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are not meant to stand alone. When one places all emphasis on orthodoxy, servitude becomes a false idol; and, when all the emphasis is on orthopraxy, the body of Christ and important practices such as communion can more easily be lost. However, when a balance of both is reached, believers are able to look at the world with more love.

So back to orthopathy. If you’ve been reading Christian authors, you know the important principle that our faith in Christ is anchored on the trust we have in his promises, not feelings. But we can expect an inner confirmation of his indwelling presence in our lives that is significant enough that it doesn’t fit the doctrine/ethics categories.

There is an inner confession we have, which although subject, leaves us knowing that our spirit has found what it’s looking for, we have the peace of God that exceeds human understanding.

 

 

 

 

 

December 17, 2022

The Trinity Both Is and Isn’t in the Bible

Just hours ago I had a conversation with someone who is trying to avoid Bible commentary written from a trinitarian perspective. It’s not the first time I’ve had that discussion, but the trinity is something that is so central to historical Christianity that it forms the centerpiece of the major creeds.

In some ways, I get it. The word isn’t in the Bible. Which means it’s not in your concordance, either.

But personally, I would argue the doctrine is there, somewhat unambiguously, even if the concept is difficult for us to wrap our heads around.

That got me thinking that perhaps we could look back at this topic as it has been discussed here.

In November of 2014 we began with a quote from Tozer:

Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.
~A.W. Tozer, The Idea of the Holy, chapter 4

and then continued to look at “who does what.”

In the Holy Scriptures the work of creation is attributed to the Father

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below

to the Son

Col 1:16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.

and to the Holy Spirit

Job 26:13     By His breath, the heavens are made beautifully clear;
        by His hand that ancient serpent—even as it attempted escape—is pierced through.

Psalm 104:30 When You send out Your breath, life is created,
    and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.

The article continues as a scripture medley worth checking out… continue reading here.

In July, 2013 we looked at the idea of “One What and Three Whos” with this item by C. Michael Patton:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Spirit of GodSince there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos…

For more on the idea of a hierarchy within the Trinity… continue reading here.

In February of 2011, we offered “The Trinity Collection,” to go-to verses in which all three members of the Godhead are referenced:

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIrV

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18 TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2 NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Also included in this list is the longer passage at I Cor. 12: 4-13.

That’s pretty much the entire piece… read at source here.

Also in February, 2011, we had a discussion at Thinking Out Loud and noted that

…four of the seven statements in the National Association of Evangelicals Statement of Faith which specifically refer to God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, of which the first is primary for this discussion:

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

(For Canadian readers, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Statement of Faith is identical.)

For that article… continue reading here.

In January of 2017, here at C201 we quoted Fred Sanders on Trinitarian Praise:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be, world without end.

The glory of God is from everlasting to everlasting, but while the praise of the Trinity will have no end, it had a beginning. There was never a time when God was not glorious as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. But there was a time when that singular glory (singular because, to gloss the Athanasian Creed, there are not three glorious, but one) had not yet disclosed itself so as to invite creatures to its praise. To join in the ancient Christian prayer called the Gloria Patri, directing praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to come into alignment here in the world “as it is now” with triune glory “as it was in the beginning.” All theology ought to be doxology, but Trinitarian theology in particular is essentially a matter of praising God. This doxological response is the praise of a glory (ἔπαινον δόξης, Eph 1:6, 12, 14) that always was, and whose epiphany in time entails its antecedent depth in eternity. Those whom God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ are summoned to join that praise: “Blessed be God the Father, who has blessed us in the Beloved and sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:3–14, condensed).

For more of that article… continue reading here.

Finally, here’s a link to a video teaching from Ruth Wilkinson. Shes looking at one of the most overtly trinitarian hymns we have, Holy, Holy, Holy, and an analogy you may not hear as often. Click the link for Part Two – Trinity

December 4, 2022

Ditching Grumbling and Arguing

This is visit #5 with Michael James Schwab who lives in Oaxaca, Mexico serving at a home for needy children called Cristo Por Su Mundo (Christ for the World) operated by Foundation For His Ministry.  His blog is ToEnjoyGod.com. Clicking the header which follows will let you read today’s devotional where it first appeared.

Become Blameless

The Bible talks a lot about the importance of being blameless. Especially Psalms and Proverbs:

LORD, who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless. (Psalm 15:1-2)

The blameless spend their days under the LORD’s, care, and their inheritance will endure forever. (Psalm 37:18)

Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me, and to the blameless I will show my salvation. (Psalm 50:23)

No good thing does the LORD withhold from those whose walk is blameless. (Psalm 84:11)

The LORD holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless. (Proverbs 2:7)

The way of the LORD is a refuge for the blameless, but is the ruin of those who do evil. (Proverbs 10:29)

The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness. (Proverbs 11:5)

Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse. (Proverbs 28:6)

The one whose walk is blameless is kept safe, but the one whose ways are perverse will fall into the pit. (Proverbs 28:18)

It seems there are a lot of benefits to living a blameless life. Good things like living on God’s holy mountain, being under the LORD’s care, salvation, protection and straight paths.

Two questions. What does it mean to be blameless and How can we be blameless?

One dictionary defines blameless as innocent of wrongdoing. Evidently, to be blameless we must never do anything wrong. It seems like an impossible dream. Never offend anyone. Never hurt anyone. Never take revenge. The list could be a long one.

How can we ever hope to accomplish blamelessness?

According to Paul in Philippians 2:14-15, the answer is to stop grumbling or arguing. He writes, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”

That doesn’t sound so hard. I thought there would be a list of do’s and don’ts a mile long that I would have to obey to be blameless. But it is just two things that seem to be everything – Do Everything Without Grumbling or Arguing. And not only will we be blameless, but we get purity thrown in as well.

It is probably a little more difficult than it sounds. As fallen, broken humans, bent toward sin, I think that our default mode in life is to start off being negative about most things, especially when things do not go our way, or we are not treated the way we think we deserve to be treated. That negativity leads to grumbling, which is generally a kind of low key, inner discomfort that, if not nipped in the bud, grows into complaining, and then bitterness and anger.

So how do we nip the negativity and grumbling in the bud and stop it before it gets out of control?

I read some positive thinking books about 35 years ago, and two phrases come to mind – Stop your stinking thinking and turn that frown upside down. At first blush those two ideas seem really simplistic when we are dealing with major downers in our life. But I think that is what Paul would have us do, in a manner of speaking. In chapter four of Philippians, Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (vs. 4) We must make the choice to rejoice.

What a contrast. In chapter two he is basically saying NEVER grumble or argue. In chapter four he says ALWAYS rejoice. So when we feel the negativity bug begin to bite into our thought process, we should get out the pesticide of Rejoicing in the Lord and find something to be thankful for. And if we can somehow manage to do that, we end up blameless and pure. And we get all the benefits from God that go with it.

I think, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do it. God loves us and wants us to be happy; full of joy. By replacing grumbling and arguing with praising and adoring, we can become blameless and pure. And happy.

 

October 15, 2022

Your Week Outside the Church Bubble

KJV Ephesians 5:18 …be filled with the Spirit;  19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

Phillips  Ephesians 5:18 l…let the Spirit stimulate your souls. Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God!

NASB Phil. 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Message – Phil 4:8Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

The verses above — each one has been presented twice — usually receive a fairly specific application. The first, from Ephesians, has to do with allowing the Word of God (in a parallel Colossians passage) and the Spirit of God to overflow from your heart resulting in worship to God, in this case worship that is specifically musical; with the result that Christianity is essentially “a singing faith.”

The second verse from Philippians is usually used in reference to controlling our thought life; controlling what we allow to control us. Both verses have been referenced here at C201 in their primary contexts.

But today I want to think in terms of the everyday lives we live on Monday morning, after weekend services are over and we’re back to work, or school, or raising children. We spend at the very least an hour on the weekend in the “world of church” or “world of faith.” But many people walk out the door when the service ends and find themselves back in a culture situation that afford no opportunity for “psalms and hymns” and makes it hard to think about things which are “pure, lovely and of good repute.”

Their connection with Christian culture vanishes.

Those of us who work in vocational ministry at a local church or parachurch organization can be thought to represent one end of a continuum which has, at the other end, people who attend a church, but don’t allow the a Christian “seasoning” to permeate their lives throughout the week.

They possibly don’t read a daily devotional either; in print or online, so we’re not speaking to readers here necessarily.

Now having said that, and before I move on, I can anticipate two objections.

The first objection would be that we’re supposed to be “in the world” (though “not of it.”) This means that we’re not to spend our week living in the religious bubble or the Evangelical bubble. We’re expected to be out there getting our hands and feet dirty. Our time at worship before God is a type of retreat from the cares of the world, but then we return to the mission field where God has placed each of us.

The second objection might be that Christian culture, such as it exists, is somewhat flawed. ‘Christian’ is not an adjective that can be layered over music, books, radio, movies, web channels, restaurants, video games, etc. Consuming Christian media — which I do a lot of — doesn’t make me more spiritual.

And yet, it bothers me that despite these valid objections, there are people who choose to almost abdicate from the world of faith for the other 167 hours of the week. They don’t have a preset for a Christian radio station, they don’t take advantage of the resources available from online ministries, they don’t subscribe to Christian YouTube channels, they don’t listen to Christian podcasts, and they don’t read any Christian books in the course of a year. Many are not part of a small group or leading a mid-week Children’s program. Some don’t read their Bibles all week either; whatever reading is done in the worship service constitutes their only direct contact with the God’s Word throughout the week. (No pressure, pastors; right?)

Personally, I could survive a month on a deserted island with just my Bible, but in general, I need help. I am a better person in terms of my interactions with the world at large if I can approach those interactions with the flavor of faith. I need books to keep me thinking on things that are “true… honorable… right…” and I need music to keep me “singing and making melody to the Lord.” I need other people in the “iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17) sense with whom I am interacting on Tuesday, or Wednesday or Thursday.

I’m not trying to justify the Christian publishing, radio, or music industries; or those industries’ excesses, but I’m saying that I do believe that at their genesis, they originally started with a noble purpose of fanning the flames of faith; fanning the flames of what the Holy Spirit is already doing in our lives and wants to do.

And I’m concerned for people who are missing out on programs, resources, and opportunities that could greatly enhance their relationship with Jesus and their knowledge of God’s ways.

Challenge: While being very much ‘in the world but not of it’ (see John 15:17; 17:14-16), how do we at the same time maintain our connection to Christ throughout the week? How do we keep a clear channel of communication open despite the interference and the noise? What elements can we include in our agenda that makes room for mid-week contact with brothers and sisters and faith-focused input in our lives?

 

 

July 9, 2022

Knowing Christ Intimately

Once gain we’re featuring the writing of Art Toombs at Art Toombs Ministries. Art is ” apermanent member of Theta Kappa Alpha, the National Honor Society for Religious Studies/Theology.”Clicking the title which follows lets you read this where it first appeared and can be encouraging to their ministry.

Truly Knowing Christ

Colossians 2:1-5 For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. (NKJV)

The Apostle Paul continues his letter to the Christians at the church in Colosse. Here he also includes those at the nearby church in Laodicia. He is under house arrest in Rome and has not met any of these believers, since the churches in the area were started by Epaphras.

Paul begins this passage by telling them of his struggle for them. He writes “For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh” (v.1).

The nature of his struggle refers back to the previous two verses in chapter one which is so that they will be presented “perfect in Christ.” He can not be with them and so he worries that they will be misled into false teaching, specifically Gnosticism, which was present in the area.

He continues “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ,” (v. 2). The literal interpretation of the Greek in verse two is: “that may be comforted the hearts of them, being joined together in love, and to all riches of the full assurance of the understanding, to the full knowledge of the mystery of God and of Father and of Christ.”

Paul wants their hearts to be comforted, joined together in love, and rich in the understanding and knowledge of “the mystery of God.” This mystery was revealed previously (Col. 1:27) as “Christ in you” applies to all who believe, Jews and Gentiles alike.

In other words, he wants them to have the strength and joy that comes from truly knowing Christ. He wants them to know that they have the power of Christ living within them, so that they can draw on His power for discernment.

This power is the Holy Spirit. Paul continues “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (v. 3). The Holy Spirit reveals all wisdom and knowledge to Christians.

Paul writes “Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words.” (v. 4). Christians have the wisdom and knowledge of Christ to keep them from being deceived by “persuasive words”.

Paul completes this passage with a word of encouragement, He writes “For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” (v. 5).

Paul is “rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness” they are in the faith. Order and steadfastness are military terms. He is commending them in their fight against false teaching.

False teaching has always existed in the church and always will. It is a matter of degree.

As Christians, though, we are given the Holy Spirit who gives us discernment. The Holy Spirit interprets the Bible for us as we read it. He helps us to truly know God, so that we are not misled by false teaching. As we read and study the Bible our ability to discern becomes greater as we understand more of who God is.

For example, if we know the Bible we know that certain behaviors are sin and that God punishes sin. So, we know that if we partake of certain sins we can expect punishment, most often the consequences that we bring upon ourselves.

We also know that sins are chosen behaviors, otherwise a Holy God could not punish us for them. God is not a killjoy. He just knows that certain behaviors will result in unwanted results and so He tries to save us from ourselves.

The Bible also tells us what sin is not. False teachers will come along and try to convince us that certain behaviors are sins that are not.

If we know the Bible and we are tuned into the Holy Spirit we will, again, be able to discern the truth. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin in our lives. If a certain behavior is not listed in the Bible as a sin and if we are not under the conviction of the Holy Spirit., it is not a sin.

Christians should always be discerning of any teaching. Some teaching is too liberal and some teaching is legalistic. We see both in the world today.

We have everything we need if we have a Bible and the Holy Spirit. All we need to do is to spend time in reading that Bible. Then we will truly know Christ.

July 6, 2022

The Temple: A Place Where Heaven and Earth Could Meet

A year ago we first introduced you to the site of Jonathan Richard Wright. When we checked back this year, there wasn’t a lot of newer material, but I found myself drawn to this article again. (We had linked to it as a bonus item at the time, so apologies if you read it previously, but based on clicks, this will be new to you.) Jonathan is on pastoral staff of a Florida church and his working on his PhD in Theology. Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared.

Jesus, the Temple, and You

I’m sure you woke up this morning thinking, “I’m a temple!”

Probably not. But, I’d like to show you why you should think that—and I’d like to show you from the Gospel of John. So, let’s do a quick tour of John to see why he uses the theme of the Jewish Temple.

Before we begin, you should know that the Hebrew Bible (what we sometimes call “the Old Testament”) includes a story that is driven by a temple theme. On page one, we read that God’s presence lives in a paradise (“Eden” = “delight”). In this paradise-garden, he places his image (like the kind you’d put in temples)—that’s us! Humans. These humans are told to “guard” and “keep” the paradise which are the same commands given later to priests who’ll care for Israel’s temple.

After humans rebel, God still mercifully lives with his people. First, his presence can be found in a tent, called a “tabernacle” (Exodus 25). Then, eventually, he moves into a physical brick-and-mortar temple built by King Solomon (2 Samuel 7). Fast-forward, and Solomon’s temple is destroyed by surrounding kings, and God’s people soon decide to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1–6). But even with that temple built, the prophet Ezekiel dreamed of a day when a better temple would arrive, one like God’s people had never seen before (Ezekiel 40–48).

But, what exactly happened at these temples? Just like the first temple in paradise, the temple was a place where heaven and earth could meet, where people would be able to go and experience God’s presence. Wherever there’s a temple, God could be known—what a grace!

Enter John’s Gospel.

On its first page we read that Jesus, the Word “became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). Interesting. So, Jesus links himself to God’s tent used by Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness—the mobile presence of Yahweh.

Fast-forward, and in a conversation with Nathaniel, Jesus says, “you will see greater things than these…truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:50–51). We should ask: “where else have I read about God’s angels ascending and descending?”

The answer is: when Jacob dreamed and saw a ladder connecting heaven and earth, and angels are climbing up and down on it (Genesis 28). Jacob awakes, and names that place “Bethel,” or “God’s House”—the exact phrase used to talk about the temple in other Bible passages (1 Chronicles 6:48, Hebrews 10:21). Jesus claims that he is the ladder—the ultimate connection between God’s space and human’s space—Yahweh’s new house.

Seeing the injustice and selfishness happening in Jerusalem’s temple, John writes that Jesus chases money-changers out and declares, “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (John 2:16). Then, when asked why he has the right to oversee the worship of the temple, he promises that the temple will be destroyed, but then rebuilt. All Jesus’ hearers miss his point. But then we read that the disciples later remembered, “he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). It’s Jesus’ body that is the true dwelling place of God—the real temple.

Let’s keep going. While sitting with a woman with a complicated history by a well, Jesus gets into a debate about the temple. Instead of telling her that she must go to the temple to worship God, Jesus says, “woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). Jesus indicates that a new phase has started in how to worship and know God—the temple is no longer needed because the true Messiah has come onto the scene.

In his Gospel, John also imports images from the Jewish festivals of Passover, the Feast of Booths, and Hanukah, and ties them to Jesus. In the Passover, a lamb is killed to remember God passing over the Israelites in Egypt before the Exodus. Then Jesus is called a lamb, showing that he’s taking away his people’s sin (John 1:29, 36). At the Feast of Booths, water is consumed and lamps are lit to remember how Yahweh kept his people alive in the wilderness. Then Jesus offers for anyone to come to him and drink (John 7:37), and proclaims that he’s “the light of the world” (John 8:12). During Hanukah, a Jewish figure who is commissioned by God is remembered. Then Jesus calls himself the one “whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world” (John 10:36). All three of these feasts took place in or around the temple, and here, through using identical words and images, Jesus is described as fulfilling each feast.

Surprisingly, from John 13 on, the temple is never mentioned again. But even as Jesus moves towards his cross-death, he assures his followers that his presence will dwell in them (John 14:10, 15:4). They won’t be alone. In fact, Jesus dies and rises again in order to create a new people—a new family. That’s what he means when he says, “In my Father’s house (“household” or “family”) are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). Besides comforting his disciples with the news that they’ll forever belong to God, Jesus also means that his redeeming work is forming a people who will be filled with his Spirit—becoming his new house.

All believers, because Jesus is in them and they’re in Jesus, now make up his temple. We’re God’s new house to be bearers of Jesus’ ongoing presence in and to the world until he returns. Jesus is the place where heaven and earth meet, where people can go and experience God’s presence. Wherever Jesus is, God can be known.

And if you’re in Jesus, that’s also you.

July 3, 2022

Letting Christ Be Seen

Throughout all the times we’ve borrowed material from writer Kevin Rogers, I really hope some of you have taken the time to become subscribers to his blog, The Orphan Age. It’s one of the best sources that we use here, and through social media — including re-posts by online friends — I’m always reminded of his newest articles and often click through. Kevin is a pastor in southwest Ontario, Canada.

Clicking the header which follows will take you to today’s devotional. While it’s written for fellow-pastors, there is application here for everyone.

When Preachers Get Out Of The Way

I apologize for any time that I have preached in ways to make myself look good or have tried to convince you through logic alone that I had the truth. If I have lulled you to sleep with my soothing voice and my words had no effect on you, please forgive me for thinking that it was important that you somehow owed me an audience.

The idea that preachers should be elevated to celebrity status is a temptation for both the pastor and his greatest fans. Paul started a church in the city of Corinth, a place where professional communicators were in demand.

Here’s an example of the showbiz side of philosophy and rhetoric.

A speech by the orator Favorinus (c. a.d. 80–150), who came from Arles in the south of France, is preserved in the corpus of speeches by his teacher Dio Chrysostom. Although the speech was delivered sometime after Paul’s day and in a period when the colony was becoming more Greek, it provides detail about the way in which orators addressed their audiences. After talking about the colorful and eminent visitors who had visited the city—including Arion, who was saved by a dolphin, Solon, the great lawgiver of the city of Athens, and the historian Herodotus—Favorinus recalled this about his second visit to the city:

You were so glad to see me that you did your best to get me to stay with you, but seeing that to be impossible, you did have a likeness made of me, and you took this and set it up in your Library, a front row seat as it were, where you felt it would most effectively stimulate the youth to persevere in the same pursuits as myself.[1]

Still today, there’s no mania like ego mania. When rappers brag about their status, wealth, sexual prowess, or clever way with words, it is entertainment. When preachers brag about their ministry and authority, it falls short of what God is looking for.

1 Corinthians 2:

1 And this was the way it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I didn’t come with fancy words or human wisdom. I preached to you the truth about God’s love. My goal while I was with you was to talk about only one thing. And that was Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. When I came to you, I was weak and very afraid and trembling all over. I didn’t preach my message with clever and compelling words. Instead, my preaching showed the Holy Spirit’s power. This was so that your faith would be based on God’s power. Your faith would not be based on human wisdom. (NIrV)

When I have preached effectively in my estimation, it is because Holy Spirit was hovering over listeners and whispering truths that they needed to hear more than my words. I have often had people tell me a message was meaningful and when asked to elaborate, they will tell me things that weren’t fully developed or just given a passing mention in the sermon. They are most affected by the things that I did not say. This is God’s power at work, not mine.

Paul was undoubtedly referring to his first journey to Corinth when the local church was established. The letter he now writes will address his pastoral perspective on all of the ways that these Jesus followers were struggling. It would appear that these Christians were wanting their preachers to be brilliant orators. Paul will now address that.

His first mission to Corinth was very focused. He communicated with one aim. The truth about God’s love in Jesus was all he cared about. For them to understand who Jesus is and the importance of his scandalous death meant everything.

Why was Paul coming in fear and trembling? Was it some medical condition or mental stress? Was preaching a trigger event that reminded him of the time he had the crowd throwing rocks to kill him or being flogged for preaching the gospel? Paul had been on the side of the oppressor and injured many of the early Christians. Now he was one and perhaps the irony was not lost on him.

Paul reminded the Corinthians of his aim. He wanted them to trust in God and not in the messenger God had sent. If Paul had depended on human wisdom and presented the plan of salvation as a philosophical system, then the Corinthians would have put their trust in an explanation. Because Paul declared the Word of God in the power of God, his converts put their faith in an experience: They knew God’s power at work in their own lives.[2]


[1] Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the New Testament ©2002

[2] NKJV Wiersbe Study Bible ©2021 by Thomas Nelson. All Rights Reserved


Note to C201 readers: Today Kevin is using the NIrV, a simplified version of the NIV which uses shorter sentences and a more limited vocabulary; ideal for children, and those for whom English is not their first language.

June 4, 2022

Pentecost Sunday: The Church Branches Out

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Acts.2.1.NIV When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[or languages] as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Growing up, I often heard Pentecost Sunday referred to as “the birthday of the church.” It is generally considered the ground zero moment for the Church-with-a-capital-C that Jesus said he would build.

We have a first-time writer to highlight again today. Pastor John B blogs at his self-named site and is a United Methodist pastor in the U.S. His tag line is,”Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!” Clicking the header which follows will take you to where today’s devotional first appeared.

As Faithful

Verse 6: “A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his [or her] own language.”

Acts 2 tells the story of God’s word branching out. A small group of Jesus followers are gathered for worship in Jerusalem, a city teeming with people there to celebrate Pentecost or Shavuot, in Judaism. It is a yearly festival to celebrate the first fruits of the wheat harvest. On this day a loud wind draws people from all over the world to the house where the followers were gathered. Upon each follower was the flame of the Holy Spirit – just as Jesus has promised.

As the worldly crowd gathers, the Spirit enables the followers to speak the good news of Jesus Christ in a diverse array of languages. People from all over the known world hear these Galileans speaking in their own native tongues. Many are amazed by this act of God. They know that something extraordinary is happening here. Many listen and are drawn into Jesus.

When have you had a similar experience? Maybe for you it was when the Spirit prompted you to go and offer reconciliation. Maybe for you it was a nudge to go visit a shut-in or someone who was ill. Maybe it was a whisper to engage that stranger. Maybe it was a random thought to pray for someone you know. This same Holy Spirit continues to speak and to empower followers of Jesus Christ to witness to the good news. May we be as faithful as this first Pentecost crowd, drawing others to know our Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, this day is full of opportunities. Use me as you see fit to be a sharer of the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Bonus item:

Some of you enjoy watching sermon content online. Earlier this week, it was announced that in the Fall, Andy Wood will replace Rick Warren as the senior pastor at Saddleback Church. I was curious to hear Andy preach, and this morning watched and listened to this sermon from a few months ago, about what it means to be an ambassador of Christ. (It’s part 3 in a series, but this was the message I selected earlier today.)

May 7, 2022

Eliminating Hinderances

I’m breaking our six month rule here, because I was already committed to introducing a new author here, only to be reminded we did this in January. However, that post was one that Pastor Will wrote in October of last year, and this one is from May, so in my convoluted logic, it does represent a gap of more than six months.

Besides, I think someone needs this today. He’s in a series in Hebrews and if you want more just click: Today’s Scripture. If you check the sidebar, you’ll discover that he’s been writing online longer than we’ve been here. Clicking the header below takes you today’s reading.

When We Listen

Hebrews 12:1-3 (HCSB)
Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart.

The greatest danger that the Jewish Christians faced was giving up in the midst of the struggles they were going through and in the face of the disapproval of their family, and turning away from Jesus and back to the rituals of Judaism. The writer of Hebrews had already pointed out the mortal dangers of such turning back (3:12-19; 6:4-8; 10:26-39). And in the Hall of Faith, he gave us a long list of those who did not turn back, but who persevered even when their goal was far off and seeming unattainable.

Now the writer encourages his readers to use those examples as models for their own lives, to persevere and stay faithful and thus stay on the path that leads to the promised reward. This perseverance includes two negative actions, things to be eliminated, and two positive actions, things to be done and embraced.

The negative actions are first to throw off everything that could hinder us in our spiritual journey. This is not talking about sin, which is next on the list. Instead, the focus of this negative action is on things that could pull us away from single-hearted devotion to God and single-minded pursuit of His calling and mission. This includes associations and partnerships that weaken our resolve or our faith, distractions that draw our minds and hearts away from God and His priorities, and any other focuses that take time and energy away from us becoming the person God has called each of us to become and from the job that He has called each of us to do.

The second negative action is to eliminate from our life sin. To many this has been deemed impossible, unattainable by human effort, and it is. However, through the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, reshaping and transforming our hearts, it is possible and essential for the man or woman of God to live without being entangled in sin which saps our spiritual vitality, and which cuts us off from God’s power to do through us all that He has called us to do. But to get to that place of victory requires acceptance of both the need to eliminate sin from our lives and faith in God’s ability to do it. It then requires focused effort on our part to ruthlessly eliminate from our lives everything that drags us down into sin, and to conscientiously avoid those situations in which we tend to compromise.

The two positive actions we are encouraged to take are both closely related. The first is to persevere in running the race, to not give up, to not allow ourselves to be sidelined by troubles, trials and persecutions, but to keep pressing forward toward the goal. In doing this, we must do the second positive action and keep our focus, not on the trials, but on Jesus, who is both our model, and our goal. Jesus Himself endured great suffering for us, and He stayed on track by keeping His focus on the goal at all times, on the prize of salvation for all humanity, and on His ultimate goal of returning to God’s side and the glory He had had with the Father when everything was accomplished.

Father, it does seem a bit strange how so many of us think about our walk with You. We believe that since You love us, we can simply breeze through our days compromising, sinning, and not giving Your agenda any but the most casual attention, and that it will all work out in the end. But the writer of Hebrews shows that for the lie that it is. You are passionate about Your agenda to save not just us, but all humanity. And our calling is not simply to get to heaven, but to live out the mission of Jesus and to pursue You agenda every waking moment with the help of the Holy Spirit and in His power. It is only as we actively pursue Your agenda that we can be empowered to run the course successfully. And it is only as we keep our focus on the goal, and on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, that we will be able to shed the distractions that cluster around us and the sins that try to weigh us down and entangle us, and to live victoriously all the way to the finish line. Thank you, Lord, for helping me to see this all so clearly. Amen.

April 25, 2022

The Father Authorizes the Son to Send the Spirit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Christ was not deserted in death and his body was never destroyed. ‘Christ is the man Jesus, whom God raised up—a fact of which all of us are eye-witnesses!’ He has been raised to the right hand of God; he has received from the Father and poured out upon us the promised Holy Spirit—that is what you now see and hear!

~Acts. 2:31-33, J. B. Phillips translation

This verse was one that I learned in a slightly different form adapted from The Living Bible, in fact, it hung as part of poster on a wall in my bedroom:

The Father gave the authority to the Son to send the Holy Spirit, with the results you are seeing and hearing today.

Quoted verbatim from The Living Bible verse 33 reads,

“And now he sits on the throne of highest honor in heaven, next to God. And just as promised, the Father gave him the authority to send the Holy Spirit—with the results you are seeing and hearing today.

Christ’s death and resurrection brought about a change in the relationship between The Holy Spirit and man.

  • In the first covenant, God’s Spirit occasionally rested on certain individuals, such as the prophets
  • In the time of Christ, the disciples experienced Emmanuel, God with us. The Spirit indwelt Jesus who in turn was physically present among mankind in ways unknown since the Garden of Eden, but limited by whatever physical location Jesus was present at any single time.
  • After the resurrection, God’s Spirit lived inside those who granted Him full authority, or Lordship over their lives.

Christ came to fulfill a sacrificial mandate, but also to usher us into a time when His Spirit would live through us; where instead of being centered on a single person (and therefore a single place) the Spirit of God would be present in people throughout the entire earth. Though omnipresent in both old covenant and new covenant times, the embodiment of His presence after Acts 2 was much more widespread.

Raised to new life, God pours out His Spirit on all those who believe and follow.

There is a continual progression that leads up to the verse in Acts 2 above. In John 7:37-39 we read,

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (NIV)

Then, in John 14:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I said to you. (NASB)

And a chapter later Jesus is quoted saying,

“But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.” (15:26 NLT)

And then just before his ascension, in Acts 1:3-4, we read,

To the same apostles also, after his suffering, he presented himself alive with many convincing proofs. He was seen by them over a forty-day period and spoke about matters concerning the kingdom of God. While he was with them, he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. (NET)

Many times I’ve seen Bible study outlines with titles and headers like, “Jesus predicts his death;” but we have an equally compelling case to examine the instances of “Jesus predicts the giving of the Holy Spirit.”

Many times I’ve also heard people talk about “the gifts of the Spirit;” but one time I heard a pastor say

The gift of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit Himself.

With that in mind, let’s end with Luke 11:13

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (NIV)

 

 

April 8, 2022

The Future Role of the Holy Spirit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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NIV.Rev.22.3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.

Today we have a most interesting topic for your consideration, and a new writer to introduce. Nick Cady is part of the Calvary Chapel movement, is the lead pastor of a Colorado church, is the host of the Theology for the People Podcast, is the author of The God I Won’t Believe In, and had things gone differently, would have been involved in ministry in Ukraine this past month. He blogs at Theology for the People. We selected this article from his backlist blog posts, and encourage you to read it where we found it by clicking the header below, and then take some time to look around at other resources.

What is the Role of the Holy Spirit in Eternity?

Recently someone submitted this question:

Both God the Father and the Son have distinct and obvious eternal roles that we see played out in the Bible, with Jesus being more obvious, but as I was thinking through the role of the Holy Spirit in eternity, I couldn’t come up with anything concrete.
Could you give a brief overview of the roles of the triune persons of God as it pertains to eternity? I’m mostly interested in the Holy Spirit, but would love a pastor’s perspective on the other two also.

The “Ontological Trinity” and the “Economic Trinity”

There are two fields of discussion when it comes to the Trinity. The “ontological” and the “economic.” “Ontological” refers to who God is, i.e. that which pertains to being, whereas “economic” refers to what God does.

Specifically applied to the Trinity, study of the “ontological Trinity” is focused on those parts of the Bible which communicate that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet these three, while distinct persons, are one God. Study of the “economic Trinity” is focused on the passages in the Bible which tell us what each of these three persons does as their role in “the Godhead.”

So, ontologically, it is important to point out that eternality is part of God’s nature. God is eternal, and each person of the godhead is eternal. So, the role of God in eternity is merely a continuation of who God has been until now, and who God will forever be.

However, the question above is about the economics of the Triune God after this present age is over, and we have transitioned into what the Bible calls “the new heavens and new Earth.” What will the functions of the three persons of the Triune God be in “the age to come”?

The Role of the Son in the Age to Come

The Son, we are told, is currently seated at the right hand of the Father, and for eternity he will reign and rule as king over all of redeemed creation. (See Revelation 22:3)

Currently, Jesus is making intercession for believers, advocating for us, and is seated on a throne, but for eternity, all we really know is that he will be an eternal sovereign, ruling over a kingdom of righteousness and peace which will never end.

The Role of the Father in the Age to Come

Along with ruling over the redeemed creation from a heavenly throne, revelation tells us that God (not necessarily just the Father) will be a source of light, which will preclude the need for the sun to illuminate, since God himself will be our light.

The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Age to Come

The one thing that sticks out about the Holy Spirit’s role in eternity, is that, whereas the Father and the Son have a throne in the New Heavens and New Earth, the Holy Spirit does not (Revelation 22:3).

Beyond this, I can’t think of any verses which speak specifically about a role of the Holy Spirit in the age to come – but that is not surprising, and here’s why:

What we read regarding the economic Trinity mostly has to do with the work of God to redeem human beings. Remember, the Bible is a book about Jesus: who he is, and how he saves us.

Since the Bible is focused on the story of the salvation and redemption of humankind, it does not tell us very much about what God did before creating the world, nor does it tell us much about what God will do after the redemption of the world is complete.

“The Great Story Which No One on Earth has Read”

This reminds me of the final paragraph of C.S. Lewis’ The Final Battle, which is the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, which is full of allegories about biblical passages and teachings.

C.S. Lewis poetically describes “the age to come” in this way:

“…but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about what the three persons of the Trinity will do in eternity, because that is not the story which the Bible exists to tell.

God Will Do What God Did Before

Prior to the creation of the world, it is important to remember that God existed from eternity past. Without human beings to rescue, sanctify, and redeem, what did God do?

What we can be sure of, is that God was neither bored nor lonely.

From eternity past, the one God, who exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existed as a mutually edifying and glorifying community unto himself. Creation, was God inviting us to join in the “perichoresis,” the eternal relationship which exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, sometimes referred to as “the dance of God.”

In other words, in eternity, we can expect that God will do what God did before: delighting in himself, with each person fueling this mutually edifying and glorifying relationship.


Second Helping: By the same author, check out, Will We Really See Our Loved Ones In Heaven?


NIV.Rev.21.3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

 

March 20, 2022

Putting God Back Into Everything Church-Related

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
– Colossians 4:5-6 NIV

“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.”
– Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NLT

 

I’ve heard people talk about being at a fairly typical church meeting thing, and “then God showed up.” This may assume that he wasn’t “showing up” at previous meetings, or it may mean that he was there all along but an awareness of his presence finally broke in on the assembly.

When leading worship, I have often — though not every time — begun by following the traditional concept of invocation; inviting God’s presence into our time together. Or at least, sort of. I take it as a given that God is already among us, especially on Sunday morning. He never misses our church service, right?

So I’ll begin with something like,

“Lord, we don’t presume to invite your presence because after all, you said you would never leave us nor forsake us. Furthermore, we sometimes say that this building is your house, a place set apart for your worship, so we know if you’re omnipresent, you’re everywhere, then certainly of all places you are here.  No, instead, we ask you to help us have an awareness of your presence, an awareness of a presence that already exists, but we’re too distracted to realize. Open our hearts. Meet with us today in a special way.  Amen.”

The fact of the matter is however, that some things the church — as opposed to The Church — does are purely perfunctory. And I think a church business meeting is a good example of that. Unless of course, you are committed from the beginning that this business meeting is open to the possibility of God breaking in and doing something greater.

Basically, the question I want to ask is, “What if we spiritualized church?” Yeah, seriously. What if we decided there were no task-only, business-only events, but lived out each time we gathered together as moments full of eternal possibilities?  What if…

  • What if every item run through the church photocopier had to have a ministry value, even if it was just a verse tacked on at the end?
  • What if every church spring cleaning day was seen as a teachable moment, the way Jesus taught as he walked along the road with his disciples?
  • What if every mailout and every church newspaper advertisement kept its seeker appeal, but still contained the DNA of the gospel?
  • What if every church business meeting was more like a town hall forum where old men (and women) could prophesy and young men (and women) dream dreams?
  • What if every time there were announcements, they were viewed not as commercials, but as opportunities for greater fellowship, greater teaching, greater service?
  • What if every time there was a collection or offering, it was truly viewed as an act of worship?
  • What if the church bulletin had teaching or devotional value, not just announcements, to the point where people wanted to hang on to them beyond a single week?
  • What if your tax receipt for those donations was accompanied by a note of thanksgiving, or a teaching on how God delights and will reward our cheerful giving?
  • What if every salesman, tradesman, public sector worker, etc., who came in the front door of your church was told, “It’s no accident that you came in just now…” and then heard a piece of the particular good news that he/she needed that day?
  • What are the “What ifs” that your heart longs for?

That’s what I mean by “spiritualizing Church.” Yes, God is there with us all along, but we need to leave him a place to break into our program.

Quick example. Before we got married, I was a performing Christian solo artist in southern Ontario. I worked alone. One time, a friend of mine who was a professional, recording-studio quality jazz bass player offered to do a concert engagement with me at a local church. To maximize his talents and contribution, we rehearsed the songs with some instrumental ‘bridges’ in them so he could do a few improvised bass solos.

But when we actually got out before the audience, I got distracted and started playing the songs the way I normally do, moving quickly from verse to chorus to verse.    At the end of the first set, I realized this and told him, and his reply was, “I was trying to break in, but I couldn’t find an opening.”

I think that’s how the Holy Spirit would say it to us today.  ‘I was there, but you didn’t leave me any room in the program.’

Nobody is saying that God isn’t with us.  But we need to see the spiritual possibilities each time we get together, even if it’s just to rake the leaves on the church lawn or clean the church kitchen.  And just think, if we were really focused on doing this, we could actually invite our neighbors to “help out” in our church clean-up day, and they might actually see Christ in the most seeker friendly of all possible environments.

It would also revolutionize the way we do things  outside of church.   We would be spiritualizing or God-focusing our entire lives.  Nah. That’s way too radical.

Years ago (13 to be exact) our friend Kathy put this on her blog:

I’m reminded of a little church my sister and I visited in the UK, in 2007. St. Leonard’s in Speeton, Yorkshire dates back at least the the 12th century, maybe even further.  It’s the tiniest church I’ve ever seen — surely couldn’t hold more than 50 people — set on the outskirts of the village. It was lovely to sit in its pews and meditate for a while; so quiet and peaceful.

But what struck me the most was the sign on the door:

Don’t you think this sign should be on every church door?

Those routine church events — from cleanup days to business meeting — have a holy, supernatural potential; and we should participate with the expectation of seeing amazing things take place.

 

February 12, 2022

Should You “Follow Your Heart?”

Today I discovered a short devotional which has a truth worth sharing, however the article didn’t specifically reference a scripture passage which is usually de reigeur for us, so let’s begin our thoughts with these verses.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. – John 16:13 NLT

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:15 NLT

Today’s thoughts are from James Young, who is being highlighted here for the first time. He writes at Keeper of the King’s Light. Click the link which follows to read this there.

Emotional Reaction ≠ God’s Will

 
Easily, one of the most over used and Hallmarked concepts is: “Follow your heart and it will never steer you wrong.” Disney has made an entire empire out of the idea of following your heart and dreams as your guiding stars. Such a mindset could not be further from the truth.
 
Our hearts are naturally deceptive and wicked. If we have a strong desire to sin and listen to our flesh, then our heart and dreams will always be to follow the path of things that are wicked I’m the sight of the Lord. A thief and a con-artist has no desire for charity or selfless giving. A liar has will never tell the truth in a court system. An individual who loves in fleshly desires will never stay pure and wait until marriage.
 
Well, what about the idea of “letting Jesus into your heart”? How can a heart be wicked if Jesus resides there?
 
Simple: the expression, like many others we pull from sources such as Benjamin Franklin, is not Biblical in origin. While may be used as a way to explain accepting Christ as your Saviour; the expression itself does not give the true meaning of coming to Christ justice. Believe me when I say I’m shocked to be typing this as much as you are reading this. This was a Sunday school question for years and until just a few minutes ago: I never questioned it. If you are interested in looking into it further; here is an article I found that is actually very compelling in explaining it further: https://www.christianity.com/wiki/salvation/is-asking-jesus-into-your-heart-in-the-bible.html
 
So, how do we discern what is the Holy Spirit and what is our own will and wanting? It sounds like a church answer, but it is so true: stick close to the scripture and be in complete openness to God when you pray. He already knows what you want and He wants you to talk to Him about it. When He answers; it will come in 3 ways: yes, no, not yet. Like a loving Father; God has our best interest in mind. He may not be after making millionaires out of us, but He wants us to live in such a way that honors Him.
 
The last website you were on? The last video you watched? The last song you sang? The last thought you had? Do any of them point to God or to yourself? When Christ left us to return to Heaven; He left in His place the Holy Spirit to guide us and to lead us. But how can The Spirit lead if our hearts are wicked and unyielding to God?
 
So, how do we know what’s right and in God’s will? Stay close to His word, stay in constant and open communication with Him, and learn to wait on Him. His timing is perfect in all His ways. As Jesus tells us, if the birds of the air don’t worry: why should we?
 


 
One of the earliest posts here at C201 very briefly looked at the 2 Timothy passage (above) with some imagery at the end of the verse describing walking along a path. Check out All Scripture Had Its Point of Origin in God’s Mind.

 

 

February 4, 2022

Out with the Old

Today we’re back at Whole Life Worship, a website we first visited four years ago. Dr. Douglas M. Lee is a pastor, teacher, conference speaker, worship consultant and seminary professor. He is currently Lead Pastor for the New Hope Missional Communities. He also serves as a Department Head for Artists in Christian Testimony International and is an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University/Seminary.

You’re encouraged to click the header which follows to read this where we located it and/or click the link at the end to subscribe to their devotions.

Transformation: Making Room for the New by Getting Rid of the Old

I had a good conversation with a friend the other day. She was really excited about some new and exciting stuff she was going to add to her life. She wanted to serve others in new ways. She wanted to do new things to improve her relationships. And she wanted to start some new spiritual practices in her life. I was excited for her, as there was a lot of good thought and reflection behind these new choices. Not wanting to squelch her enthusiasm, as a friend I needed to ask this question:

“So, what are you going to give up in order to make space for these new, exciting things?”

Silence.

Finally she said, “Hmmm. That’s a good question. I need to think about that.”

When we find something new that will change our life for the good, it will always involve getting rid of the old ways. Why? First, because we are limited: in time, in space, in energy and in focus. Second, because keeping the old ways will always short circuit our efforts in allowing the new to take root.

We’re in a series about Biblical Transformation. We’ve been looking at Romans 12:1-2 and seeing how different aspects of this WholeLifeWorship model is also God’s way of transforming us into the best versions of ourselves (if you missed the first three devotionals – no worries, just click here). This week we’re looking at how we can make room for God to transform us by getting rid of the old way of how we’re used to doing things.

The Apostle Paul put it like this:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” (Romans 12:2a)

In other places, he writes, “With regard to your former way of life, put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (Eph 4:22). “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Col 3:5). All this points out to Jesus’ very basic teaching of discipleship, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

So, what’s behind all of this? Why is it so important to get rid of the old patterns in our lives?

1. There are active forces that are working overtime to keep us from being transformed into the image of Christ. Paul identifies these forces as “the world, the flesh (false self) and the devil” (cf. Eph. 2:2-3a). They have established some bad “default” settings in us and want to keep us there at all costs; lest we become transformed to Christ-likeness

2. The pattern of the world wants us to conform to its values. These forces seduce us with the lure of money, power, success, significance and fame to lead us down a dead-end road. They whisper messages that cause fear, anxiety, insecurity, lust and greed to keep us confined to these values. This causes us to become increasingly more self-referenced, self-righteous, and self-preoccupied.

3. The endgame of these forces is to “deform” us. They want to make our lives smaller and smaller so that we settle for a life that is based on mere comfort and existence. They want to keep us from having any lasting impact on others and in the world. They want to so shrink our souls so that the image of God within us shrivels to oblivion. They want your life and mine to become “purposeless” and “wasted.”

The Good News is that, through the power of Christ and the Spirit, we can overcome these forces, we can take steps to not be conformed (or deformed) by the world’s patterns, and we can make room for God to transform us for the good! Paul writes in Romans 6 that if we are united in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin (or the forces of darkness) because if we have surrendered ourselves to Christ. We are set from the power of sin over us!

So, what are some practical steps we can take to rid ourselves of the old worldly ways so that we can make room for the new, transformed life in Christ?

1. Take time to be silent and ask God to point out where we are conforming to the world. I believe that we already know where we are falling short, but we’re too afraid or ashamed to confront it. Being still and quiet before God allows us to be enveloped in His loving and safe presence. From there, we can receive and embrace the Spirit’s pointing out this issue in our lives.

2. Believe in God’s grace and strength to overcome the world. These areas are so ingrained in our lives that it seems impossible for us to get rid of them. We need faith and trust in God’s grace and strength to remove these psychological and emotional barriers. Remember, that we can do “all things through Him who gives us strength” (Phil. 4:13)

3. Ask the Holy Spirit to empower us moment by moment so that we can be victorious over the powers of darkness in our lives. We cannot overcome the powers of the world, flesh and the devil in our own strength or will-power. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen us in our innermost being (Eph. 3:16). We can ask the Spirit for help every day in our personal times with Him, as well as in the moment where we are feeling the temptation to revert back to the old ways.

One of the most powerful moments of my life was when the Lord helped me overcome the power of sexual addiction. By giving into sexual temptation, I was becoming deformed by this sex-crazed world. But the Lord helped me not to conform to this any longer by following these steps I just mentioned. It was a major victory where I saw the power of God at work in my life. But more than that, this process became a spiritual rhythm that I continue to use to get rid of the “trash” in my life. By making choices each day to stop being conformed to the world’s pattern, I create the needed space in my life to be transformed by God.

So, I encourage you to step further into Biblical transformation by proactively seeking to dismantle the worldly mindsets, attitudes and activities in your life – using God’s Holy Spirit power at work within you to overcome the old pattern of life to make room for the new!

Remember, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world!” (1 John 4:4)


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January 31, 2022

Our Prime Motivation

Sometimes we know we just must do something, but do we ever dig deeper to see where that seed was planted in us?

This is our fourth time at Before the Cross, written by . You need to click the header which follows to read this where we first located it.

Sometimes Conviction Is Not Enough

How many times have we been there? We’ve heard a message, watched a video, or even had a conversation with someone and walked away feeling really convicted about something. We’ll even tell people “man I was so convicted about that” and others are like “yea, me too” but then after awhile, nothing changes. Or we’re in a small group and we can go around the room and basically everyone can chime in talking about how they are convicted, but then you come back the following week to just discuss the same convictions over and over again.

We seem to feel convicted or guilty in certain moments and tell ourselves we’ve got to change something, but then nothing happens. We just go back and repeat either the same mistakes or find ourselves convicted again the next time, possibly even about the exact same thing as before!

So why is this? Surely conviction itself from the Holy Spirit isn’t a bad thing and there’s good that can come out of that, but why is it often the case that change doesn’t take place within us? Perhaps being convicted is not enough?

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Corinthians 4:14-15

That word compel basically can be defined as bringing about change. It’s not our conviction that actually changes us (conviction can bring awareness and help warn us and guard us), but what actually brings about change in our lives…what compels us and motivates us to change…the love of Christ.

We no longer live for ourselves but for Him, who died and was raised again. We are reminded of our motivation as followers of Jesus that while we are convicted and still make mistakes, we now live for Jesus. Not ourselves.

Why?

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

The incredible fact here is that Jesus had no sin. Zero. And He became sin for us, meaning He paid the price of all of our past, present, and future sins…not only so that we would be rescued, but that we would become the righteousness of God. That God would view us as His children through Christ. That the Holy Spirit would reside in us and give us power and self control over our actions and our lives for His Glory and for our own good.

It’s the love of Christ that truly compels us to change.

What motivates you more?

  • Don’t do that, this is bad, this is wrong, you need to make changes.
  • You are fully free and forgiven and will never be condemned by God ever again.

I’m not saying conviction is wrong, I’m asking which one motivates you more? Which one truly brings about change? When you think about how forgiven you really are in Christ and that you are a new creation, it frees you up and gives you confidence to move forward making changes in your life.

What needs to change in your life? What is something God is asking you to stop doing and something He is asking you to start doing? When is the last time you paused for 60 seconds to reflect on the fact that if you believe in Jesus and follow Him, there is NO record of debt against you? It’s been nailed to the cross.

Christian, you’re forgiven. You’re free. Because Jesus is enough.


Second Helping:

Here’s another article at Before the Cross, this one from Heather Bost, about allowing external things to define us. What defines you?


If you’re interested in an index of topical articles at Before the Christ dealing with practical ways you can live out your faith or face challenges in your personal and family life, click here.

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