Christianity 201

September 24, 2017

Sunday Worship

Worship is not Something We Experience

NCV I Kings 18:36 At the time for the evening sacrifice, the prophet Elijah went near the altar. “Lord, you are the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,” he prayed. “Prove that you are the God of Israel and that I am your servant. Show these people that you commanded me to do all these things. 37 Lord, answer my prayer so these people will know that you, Lord, are God and that you will change their minds.”

[full passage in NCV]

Several years ago I took some time to really drink in and absorb the book, The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson (Eerdman’s) and spread the reading out over several weeks, which is really what I needed to take it all in.

Each section of the book deals with the different “ways” of living that some choose, including Old Testament characters such as Abraham, Moses and Elijah. The study of the text is most thorough, but in each section, Peterson breaks away from the text long enough to provide contemporary application. He minces no words in his concern over the state of the modern church in the west, particularly in North America with which he is most familiar.

The study on Elijah’s showdown on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal yielded these comments:


“Harlotry” is the stock prophetic criticism of the worship of the people who are assimilated to Baalistic forms. While the prophetic accusation of “harlotry” has a literal reference to the sacred prostitution of the Baal cult, it is also a metaphor that extends its meaning into the entire theology of worship, worship that seeks fulfillment through self-expression, worship that accepts the needs and desires and passions of the worshiper as its baseline. “Harlotry” is worship that says, “I will give you satisfaction. You want religious feelings? I will give them to you. You want your needs fulfilled? I’ll do it in the form most arousing to you.” A divine will that sets itself in opposition to the sin-tastes and self-preoccupations of humanity is incomprehensible in Baalism and is so impatiently discarded. Baalism reduces worship to the spiritual stature of the worshiper. Its canons are that it should be interesting, relevant and exciting – that I “get something out of it.”

Baal’s Mount Carmel altar lacks neither action nor ecstasy. The 450 priests put on quite a show. But the altar call comes up empty.

Yahweh’s altar is presided over by the solitary prophet Elijah. It is a quiet affair, a worship that is centered on the God of the covenant. Elijah prepares the altar and prays briefly and simply. In Yahwism something is said – words that call men and women to serve, love, obey, sing, adore, act responsibly, decide. Authentic worship means being present to the living God who penetrates the whole of human life. The proclamation of God’s word and our response to God’s Spirit touches everything that is involved in being human: mind and body, thinking and feeling, work and family, friends and government, buildings and flowers.

Sensory participation is not excluded – how could it be if the whole person is to be presented to God? When the people of God worship there are bodily postures of standing and kneeling and prostration in prayer. Sacred dances and antiphonal singing express community solidarity. Dress and liturgy develop dramatic energies. Solemn silence sensitizes ears to listen. But as rich and varied as the sensory life is, it is always defined and ordered by the word of God. Nothing is done simply for the sake of the sensory experience involved – which eliminates all propagandistic and emotional manipulation.

A frequently used phrase in North American culture that is symptomatic of Baalistic tendencies in worship is “let’s have a worship experience.” It is the Baalistic perversion of “let us worship God.” It is the difference between cultivating something that makes sense to an individual, and acting in response to what makes sense to God. In a “worship experience”, a person sees something that excites him or her and goes about putting spiritual wrappings around it. A person experiences something in the realm of dependency, anxiety, love, loss, or joy and a connection is made with the ultimate. Worship becomes a movement from what I see or experience or hear, to prayer or celebration or discussion in a religious setting. Individual feelings trump the word of God.

Biblically formed people of God do not use the term “worship” as a description of experience, such as “I can have a worship experience with God on the golf course.” What that means is, “I can have religious feelings reminding me of good things, awesome things, beautiful things nearly any place.” Which is true enough. The only thing wrong with the statement is its ignorance, thinking that such experience makes up what the Christian church calls worship.

The biblical usage is very different. It talks of worship as a response to God’s word in the context of the community of God’s people. Worship in the biblical sources and in liturgical history is not something a person experiences, it is something we do, regardless of how we feel about it, or whether we feel anything about it at all. The experience develops out of the worship, not the other way around. Isaiah saw, heard, and felt on the day he received his prophetic call while at worship in the temple – but he didn’t go there in order to have a “seraphim experience”.

At the Mount Carmel Yahweh altar things are very different. Elijah prays briefly. The fire falls. The altar call brings “all the people” to their knees. They make their decision: “Yahweh, he is God; Yahweh, he is God.” And then the rain comes.

~Eugene Peterson

August 2, 2017

Christianity is a Singing Faith

We’ve frequently mentioned, quoted and linked to Mark and Stephen Altrogge at Thinking Out Loud. This is his fifth time here at C201, but it’s been nearly 3 years.

Christianity is a singing faith. It sets us apart from many other belief systems. As an old hymn, noting God’s care and protection put it, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.” Another hymn writer wished for “a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise.” More recently, a popular worship writer wrote:

…We will sing, sing, sing
Grateful that You hear us
When we shout your praise
Lift high the name of Jesus.

Click the title below to read this at source. Though Mark and Stephen Altrogge and I are from different doctrinal streams, there usually isn’t an article on their blog, The Blazing Center that isn’t top-notch reading. This one is by Mark.

7 Reasons God Commands Us To Sing To Him

Have you ever wondered why God commands us to sing to him?

Does he need our songs somehow? Does he get some kind of sick pleasure out of commanding us to sing his praises?

First of all, God doesn’t need anything from us. He doesn’t need our worship or our songs or our money or our obedience. He is infinite and lacks nothing. Everything he commands us is for our joy and benefit. If God commands us to sing, then it is to bless us and add to our joy in him.

What are some reasons God commands us to sing?

First, we should sing to God because he saved us

We have so many incredible things to be thankful for and sing about – we’ve been forgiven, justified, and adopted as God’s own children and made joint-heirs with Christ. We’ve been rescued from eternal destruction. We’ve been given eternal life. Jesus SAVED us! That’s something to sing about. When God led Israel through the Red Sea with the Egyptians hot on their tail, then closed the sea over the Egyptians, and saved the Israelites from certain death, and the Israelites saw the chariots and horses washed up on the beach they began to sing and dance. Can you imagine them shrugging their shoulders and saying, “That’s nice”? No, they wrote a song for the occasion. And Jesus saved us from something far worse than death – God’s eternal wrath. How can we not sing and rejoice?

Secondly, we should sing because we are loved.

God’s love is too marvelous and amazing to simply talk about. Think of all the love songs people sing. If we sing love songs about our love for human beings, how much more should we sing songs to the One who so loved us he gave his Son for us? How much more should we sing to Jesus who bore the wrath of God to redeem us?

Third, we should sing because Jesus has filled us with joy.

Singing is an expression of joy. We sing for joy at birthdays, weddings, ballgames. God has given us unspeakable everlasting joy in Christ. We just have to sing about it. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of joy. Someday Jesus will wipe away every tear and sorrow and sadness will flee away. For all eternity we will celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb. If earthly weddings have music and songs, how much more will the marriage supper of the Lamb?

Fourth, we should sing because Jesus sings over us

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zeph 3.17

Jesus rejoices and exults over his people with loud singing. How can we not rejoice in our King and Savior?

Fifth, because singing is a wonderful way to meditate on the gospel

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. CO 3.16

Our songs should be filled with “the word of Christ” – the gospel. And as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God, the gospel dwells in us richly. Singing usually involves repetition, rhyming and easily remembered phrases– it is a wonderful way to soak in and remember God’s truth.

Sixth, singing allows us to express our emotions to God in a way we couldn’t by mere talking.

What an incredible gift from God music is. How much color, joy and depth it adds to our lives. The band Cream sang a song called “I’m So Glad” in which they sang, “I’m so glad, I’m so glad, I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad!” (I know, not the most creative lyrics in the world). But it just wouldn’t be the same to merely speak these words. When you’re really happy you want to sing.

Seven, when we sing and rejoice in our God it honors him.

Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
All the earth worships you
and sings praises to you;
they sing praises to your name.” Ps 66:1-4

Singing is a way for us to glorify God – to “sing the glory of his name.” God created and saved us and gave us gifts, talents, intelligence, minds and bodies that we might glorify him. Not only are we to seek to glorify him by our lives, but with our tongues. And singing is such an easy way to glorify Jesus! It’s not like when we glorify him by suffering for him. How hard is it to sing?

Our God is so great, and so good and so glorious, he’s worthy of all of our praise. And one of the easiest ways to praise him is by singing. Let’s “sing the glory of his name!”

June 10, 2017

Fanning the Flame

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2 Timothy 1:6 NLT This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you.

2 Timothy 1:6 CEB Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands.

Today we have two shorter devotionals both based on the same verse. The first is from Jim Cymbala posted at World Challenge.

Stir Us Up, Lord

To the believers in Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Amazingly, although the Holy Spirit is fully God, it is entirely possible for believers like you and me to hinder His work and quench His sacred fire.

Some people falsely believe that whatever God wants to do, He will do. Consider Jesus’ invitation to His own church in Laodicea: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). If He is Christ, and He wants in, why doesn’t He just come in? Why does He bother knocking and asking? That’s the mystery of God’s sovereignty and our free will. We must respond to Him or we will miss out on His planned blessing.

At one time Paul told Timothy to stir up the embers, to keep the fire going (see 2 Timothy 1:6). We need to do the same! For some of us, the embers are faintly glowing, and we need to tend to them, stir them up, breathe on them so they will burst into open flame.

We need the fire of the Holy Spirit changing our lives and our local assemblies. We need it spreading throughout our towns and cities, spreading so that Christ can be glorified. May this be our prayer today:

“Send the fire, God. Burn, penetrate, change, renovate, illuminate. Do as You promised, as we wait in Christ’s name.”

The second is from knowing-jesus.com

Fan Into Flame

As Paul neared the end of his life the wisdom he proffered to Timothy is as relevant today as the day on which he picked up his quill, to pen his final message as God’s chosen apostle to the gentiles. Having joyfully recalled his trust in Jesus as well as the sincere faith of his mother and grandmother, Paul called on Timothy to: fan into flame the gift of God, which was in him.

Christ was the final revelation to man and the God-breathed Scripture contain all that we need for life and godliness in our current generation. And though apostolic authority ceased with the last apostle, all God’s children are gifted by the Holy Spirit as He sees fit – and like Timothy we too are called to: kindle afresh the gift of God that is in us.

It is the Holy Spirit that sealed us and baptized us into the body of Christ at salvation and it is the Holy Spirit that enables and empowers us to serve the Lord as we grow in our spiritual life. It is the Holy Spirit that gives to each of God’s children the spiritual gift or gifts that each requires to fulfill the role to which we have been called and it is the Holy Spirit Who works in us all – to will and to do of HIS good pleasure. Let US kindle afresh the gift of God, which by His grace we have received – but let us do it in LOVE… for if we  function in the gifts of the Spirit without LOVE it profits us nothing… and dishonours our Lord.

Heavenly Father in the power of Your Holy Spirit I pray that I may fan into flame the spiritual gift that You have given me by Your grace, and I pray that in all I say and do – it may be done in LOVE, so that Christ may be formed in me, in Whose name I pray, AMEN


The image at the top of the screen is from an article by Shirley Swift Wilkinson (no relation that I am aware of!) from an article also worth reading: The Flames We Chose to Fan.

April 5, 2017

Giving Our Very Best

Jim Thornber writes at what we always call “the other Thinking Out Loud blog” and he’s been featured here many times previously. Click the title below to read at source. There’s also a link to another one of his pieces in today’s link list at what Jim probably calls “the other Thinking Out Loud blog.”

Presenting My Best

“So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, ‘Hurry . . . and bake some bread.’ Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready . . . he served it to the men. ” – Genesis 18:6-8

After reading this passage about Abraham’s hospitality to the Lord and the two angels, it occurred to me that sometimes I am either too lazy or too impatient to give to the Lord in the manner of this marvelous man.

As it happens, one day Abe is sitting in front of his tent during the hottest part of the afternoon, sipping sweet tea and listening to the tree frogs, when he looks up and notices three men standing nearby. He must have figured they weren’t normal beings since one moment no one is there and the next moment they’re standing nearby. Since he didn’t see them approaching from the distance, their appearance is Abe’s first clue to be nice.

Realizing he has heavenly guests in his front yard, Abraham goes into high gear and asks if he may treat them to a chair in the shade, a foot bath and a fresh meal. They say “Okay,” and Abraham rushes off to arrange a nice lunch for his guests.

As I was reading this, I wondered why Abraham would go to all this trouble. Undoubtedly, Abraham and Sarah had food in the tent. They weren’t poor and lacking. With all the people Abraham had in his company, it is inconceivable that there wasn’t some meat and bread in the pantry left over from last night’s dinner.

But that isn’t the way of Abraham. Instead, he makes sure to prepare the freshest food for the Lord.  He didn’t give his guests day-old bread and yesterday’s meat, but warm bread and a tender calf. It was a lot of effort and time, but the Lord is gracious to Abraham and allows him the time necessary to make the arrangements.

I wonder: How often does God get my leftovers because I’m too stingy, lazy, preoccupied or even self-conscious to arrange to give Him my best? Sure, I may be thinking I don’t want to try the Lord’s patience by making Him wait until I’ve prepared, but this scene with Abraham tells me that the Lord is already prepared to wait for me to give my best. I’m the only one who is in a hurry.

I also see that giving my best means I may impose upon others in order to give the best, the way Abe got Sarah and the servant involved in the meal. It means that in order for me to give God the best I have to give, I sometimes need the help of other people. Abraham never hesitated to ask for help in giving to the Lord. That is something I need to learn.

Abraham’s reaction to the Lord’s presence in his home is a reminder that: 1) God knows who I am, 2) God’s knows where I live, and 3) God is prepared to wait for my best. I may be impatient to “get on with it,” but the Lord is not in a hurry to receive my leftovers. If the Lord is willing to wait for me, I should be willing to give Him my best.


Behind the scenes at C201 is my wife, Ruth Wilkinson who is often involved in the preparation of this daily devotional study through discussions about a particular writer’s perspective or additional research into the context or meaning of verses. Also, on the days you see a longer excerpt from a print source, it’s probably Ruth who typed it out. So today I wanted to do something I’ve never done here, which is to say thanks and wish her a Happy Birthday.

March 19, 2017

The Wrath of God

by Russell Young

Even though it is not popular, consideration needs to be given to the issue of the wrath of God. The Word presents it as being a reality and the experience that some must face. The church needs to be more forthright in dealing with the consequences of disobedience and defiance, and of the rejection of God, both of which have consequences.

The redeemed belong to Christ; they are his servants and he is their sovereign. He has purchased them with his blood. Consequently, he cannot be accepted as savior without being accepted as their sovereign and lord. Believers are not permitted to live under their own rule. A condition of salvation is the declaration that Christ is Lord. (Rom 10: 9) Christ queried some of his followers, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46 NIV) Paul wrote: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:9─10 NIV) Being saved from God’s wrath is a process undertaken following a person’s “reconciliation” to God and it comes through “the life” of Christ. Christ in the believer is his or her hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

Contrary to some modern theological teaching, reconciliation to God does not prevent God’s wrath. Paul wrote that the manner of a person’s living was important. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8 NIV)

Contemporary Christian music along with much teaching has emphasized and exaggerated the “freedom” and “unconditional love” that exists for the confessor. (There is a distinction between a believer and a confessor. A believer recognizes God’s sovereignty in his or her life and obediently responds to his calls.) Reconciliation to God is for gaining forgiveness for past sins, those that had separated the sinner from God and from certain death, allowing him or her the promise of the Spirit. (Gal 3:14) It is living through the Spirit that prevents the visitation of God’s wrath.

Many proclaim that the Lord in his mercy and grace has released confessors from both judgment and negative consequences. After all, they would say, all sins have been forgiven so there is nothing to be judged. Careful reading of God’s Word makes it clear that it is all sins committed while under the jurisdiction of the first or old covenant from which they have been released, not the sins that follow, unless they are confessed. “[H]e has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15 NIV; 2 Peter 1:9) The Lord has given all confessors everything they need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3) and it will only be through neglect or rebellion that sinning will be continued, prompting his wrath.

As servants, all of those who have pledged his lordship will one day be rewarded for their obedience or suffer wrath for their disobedience. Not only will confessors be judged by Christ, so will all of humankind. (Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10; 1 Pet 4:17) Those who have honoured his calls upon their lives will be rewarded while all others will suffer destruction from his presence, either outside the walls of the New Jerusalem or in the lake of burning sulphur. Many will quote John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) Of course, this is true but the promise belongs to those who believe (are believing).

Belief is revealed by adherence to that which a person claims to believe. In the case of eternal salvation, the avoidance of God’s wrath is revealed as coming through obedience. The writer of Hebrews stated, “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed. So you see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Heb 3:18 NIV) It is through lack of obedience that judgment will come, failure to honor Christ as lord. “He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know (understand) God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thess 1:7─8 KJV)

The church has failed to ring the alarm concerning the visitation of the Lord’s wrath through the judgment to come, and its avoidance through the practice of personal righteousness. The admonition has been given for believers to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling so that they might become blameless and pure. Fear is a great motivator, just as is love. When John wrote that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:18 NIV), he was talking about perfect obedience since those who love God obey him. Paul cautioned the Ephesians not to be deceived by empty words for because of immorality, impurity, and greed God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Eph 5:6)

Despite modern theological presentations, God’s wrath will be visited upon those who have pledged Christ’s lordship and have not lived it. God’s grace is evidenced in his workmanship (Eph 2:10) as the Lord transforms the obedient into his likeness; his wrath will be based on a person’s ‘doing’ (Jn 5:28─29), on the rebellious and disobedient who resist his transforming work.


Russell Young is a Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

October 8, 2016

Thanksgiving, a Celebration of God

This is Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada. Russell Young adapted this from a presentation he is doing. His regular contribution will appear Sunday.

by Russell Young

Thanksgiving is often celebrated as a harvest festival, a time of bringing in the riches of all that the land has provided the labours of man from the season just past.  It is a time of rejoicing for God’s provision.  In norther climates where leaved trees grace the land, thanksgiving is also a time of exceptional beauty.  Autumn leaves reveal their varied colours and brilliance as green leaves are changed into many oranges, browns, reds, and yellows.

The idea and even command to thank God goes back to the beginning of the Bible.  The Lord told his people how they were to present thank offerings.  However, King David’s prayer of thanksgiving gives some idea of his heart. “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.  Sing to him, sing praise to him tell of his wonderful acts.  Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice…” (1 Chr 16:7-10…NIV)

David’s thanksgiving was for and all-sufficient and merciful God.  It was not for the bounty of a season but for the character of God and his faithfulness…for his “wonderful acts.” He recognized God’s everlasting covenant promise, for protection against enemy nations, for the splendor of his holiness and for his majesty. David’s praise of thanks was, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

The God of creation is preparing an eternal place in his presence for those who love and obey him. His people should think of this.  Is there not more to be celebrated than a bountiful harvest?  Is He not more to be celebrated than temporal riches or good times?

It is easy to let discouragement destroy our joy and our hope when the world seems to have turned against us. Many lose their faith when trials come.  They expect to live in the blessings that they imagine God should supply them.  All people go through difficult times.  God did not promise to relieve us of all our challenges and to satisfy our wants.  In fact, his Word says that his children will suffer persecution and trials and that he disciplines and punishes those he loves. The challenges of life are to prepare us for the real hope of a place in his coming kingdom and they are to be considered blessings.  Paul taught: “[G]ive thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you.” (1 Thes 5:18 NIV)

In spite of challenges, many people can celebrate that they live in the presence of peace and safety.  They don’t have to seek shelter from blazing guns or falling bombs as believers must in Iraq or Syria.  They are not wantonly tortured as they are in many African countries.  Not many have to fear suicide bombers. Many will have something to eat tonight. Their children are not starving and have access to adequate healthcare.

give-thanks-to-the-lord  King David remembered who God was. He proclaimed, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Ps 107:1 NIV) His love and mercy extends to all who are contrite in heart and who will humble themselves before him.  The prophet Isaiah revealed God’s words: “This is the one I will esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” (Isa 66:2 NIV)

King David had taken another man’s wife and even had him killed.  His penance brought redemption and forgiveness.  God was truly merciful to him.  All of the redeemed can appreciate the sins that cost the life of God’s one and only begotten Son? David did not just thank God for a bountiful harvest and a full stomach. He thanked God for his awesomeness and mercy.

God is not only near the righteous but he lives within them as Holy Spirit.  Without him victory over the world, the evil one or the sin loving flesh could not be gained.  Temptations would command the believer’s attention and as Paul has reported, the weakness of the flesh would result in defeat and death.  He called the flesh, “the body of death.” (Rom 7:24 NIV)

God placed Adam and Eve in an ideal setting, the Garden of Eden, and yet they sinned. He started the human race again with righteous Noah following the Great Flood, and they sinned.  He chose a special people, Israel, and offered them many promises of blessings for obedience, and they rebelled.  He redeemed them from Egypt and led them in the wilderness; even then they continued to sin. He gave them the law and the prophets and the tabernacle system of worship.  He made his requirements clear and recorded them on stone…and his people sinned. Finally, he gave the life of his Son as a payment for sin, and the Spirit of Christ, his Son, to live in the repentant.  Just as Christ had lived a sinless life in the body that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary, he has made provision for victory for all who live under his lordship through obedience.  This is the believer’s great hope and the ultimate expression of God’s love for a helpless sinner.  Christ in you.

What are you giving thanks for?  Is it a meal?  A comfortable bed, close friends? Or, is it for the faithfulness of a loving and all-sufficient God and creator.  What is your celebration about?  Be thankful for God and his mercy.  Celebrate his love and the hope he offers. Celebrate him, not just what he has done.

Like King David be prepared to say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

 

April 8, 2016

The ‘Giving’ of Worship

I normally tell you that you can click through to read these blog posts at the source where they first appeared, right? Well this time, you really should, because there are some graphics that go along with each of the 12 points. Today’s reading is also a scripture medley. We’re returning to Worship Sounds Music, the blog of Cynthia and Travis L. Boyd.

The “Giving Verses” of Worship

When the very living of our lives has become an act of worship, recognizing God’s supremacy and worth in every decision and thought, worship is no longer an action but rather a lifestyle.  It’s a 24 / 7 / 365 … every moment of every day … goal of intentionally expressing God’s glory in all that we do, think, and say.**   In seeking to live out this lifestyle and this heart commitment to the One who has given us His all, we give the only gift that we can give to our Creator and Savior:  the gift of a transformed life that brings Him glory and joy!

Here are The “Giving Verses” of Worship:

1.  Giving God THANKSGIVING and PRAISE!

* Psalm 100:4   “Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, and bless His name.”

* Psalm 9:1 & 2   “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart: I will tell of all Thy wonderful deeds.  I will be glad and exult in Thee, I will sing praise to Thy name, O Most High.”

2.  Giving God GLORY!

* Psalm 86:12   “With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. I will give glory to your name forever.”

* Psalm 96:6 – 9   “Honor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.  Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength.  Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts.  O worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness; fear before Him, all the earth.”

3.  Giving God AWE and REVERENCE, acknowledging Him as the Lord and Creator of all.

(In some verses and some translations, “the fear of the Lord”)

* Psalm 111:10   “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”

* Psalm 86:9 – 12   “All the nations You have made shall come and bow down before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.  For You are great, and You do wondrous things; You alone are God.  Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name.  I give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with my whole heart; and I will glorify Your name forever.”

4.  Giving God BLESSING.

* Psalm 103:22   “Bless the LORD, all you works of His, In all places of His dominion; Bless the LORD, O my soul!”

* Psalm 28:6 & 7   “Blessed be the Lord!  for He has heard the voice of my supplications.  The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts; so I am helped and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him.”

5.  Giving Him EXALTATION!*

From the www.thefreedictionary.com, here are the applicable definitions:

1. to raise or elevate in rank, position, dignity, etc.
2. to praise highly; glorify; extol
* Psalm 34:3   “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!”
 *NOTE:  The word ‘exaltation’ sometimes gets confused with ‘exultation’, for which the definition is “to rejoice greatly, be jubilant or triumphant (or, as in triumph.  We rejoice greatly or exult in His triumph.)  — same source

6.  Giving Him SERVICE
(giving of our hearts, our time, our gifts, and our lives in serving Him)

* Joshua 24:15   “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

7.  Giving Him WORSHIP!

True worship rises up from the people of God, who are choosing to intentionally express His infinite worth! **

**(see note at end of post)

You have probably noticed by now that there is some overlap in the various types of giving to the Lord.  For example, in singing praise to God, we can bless His name.  In the worship category of giving, there is overlap with all other types of giving.  All of these ways of giving to the Lord are worship (lifestyle worship) when we are giving with the purpose of bringing glory to God and expressing His infinite worth through giving our best to God in every area of our lives.

* Psalm 29:2   “Honor the LORD for the glory of His name. Worship the LORD in the splendor of His holiness.”

* John 4:24   “For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

8.  We are to SING UNTO HIM!

* Psalm 5:11   “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy.”

* Psalm 30:4   “Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His holy name.”

* Psalm 59:16 & 17   “I will sing of Thy power; yes, I will sing aloud of Thy mercy in the morning; for Thou hast been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble.  Unto Thee, O my Strength, will I sing; for God is my defense, and the God of my mercy.”  

9.  Giving Him TITHES and OFFERINGS!

* Malachi 3:10   “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

* Exodus 35:29   “The children of Israel brought a voluntary offering to Jehovah, every man and woman whose heart prompted them to bring for all manner of work, which Jehovah, by the hand of Moses, had commanded to be done.”

10.  Giving Him HONOR!

* Revelation 4:11   “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

* Psalm 96:6 – 9   “Honor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.  Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength.  Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts.  O worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness; fear before Him, all the earth.”

* Proverbs 3:9   “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the first and best part of all your income.”

11.  Giving Him LOVE!

The words of Jesus Himself in Mark 12:30   “AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.”

* Psalm 31:23   “Love the LORD, all you his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.”

* Joshua 22:5   “But be very careful to obey all the commands and the instructions that Moses gave to you. Love the LORD your God, walk in all his ways, obey his commands, hold firmly to him, and serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”

* Psalm 116:1   “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.”

12.  Giving Him OUR WHOLE HEART AND LIFE!

* Psalm 86:9 – 12    “All the nations You have made shall come and bow down before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.  For You are great, and You do wondrous things; You alone are God.  Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name.  I give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with my whole heart; and I will glorify Your name forever.”

* Colossians 1:10   “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”

* Psalm 56:13   “For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping. So now I can walk in your presence, O God, in your life-giving light.”

* Mark 8:35   “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”

* Romans 12:1 – 2  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

For us, giving these to God (worship, blessing, exaltation, thanksgiving, praise, glory, awe and reverence, love, honor, service, tithes and offerings, songs, and all that we are in life and in our hearts) is our gift of worship and devotion to Him.

Giving is about worship, and worship is all about giving.

“Honor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength.  Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts.  O worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness; fear before Him, all the earth.”   Psalm 96:6 – 9

GOD HAS GIVEN HIS ALL… and continues to give in every moment of time.

May we follow His example.

January 14, 2016

The Background Details Provided by Scripture

I continue to be amazed at the intricacies of the Bible. Regardless of specific words employed by different translations, there is a beauty to the arrangement of passages, and an attention to details that should wow the scientist or the engineer.

One of these has to do with the narratives that occur just before or just after a more familiar section. Willie E. Hucks looks at one such case in an article at MinistryMagazine.org. Click the title below to read at source.

The story before the story

From childhood I knew the story of the birth of Moses, found at the start of Exodus 2: A Hebrew baby born in a foreign land, hidden for three months, placed in a papyrus basket that was coated with tar and pitch, placed among the reeds along the banks of the Nile River, his sister staying nearby to watch and protect him.

But no one told me the story before the story, toward the end of Exodus 1: that of Shiphrah and Puah—two midwives who risked their lives to save newborn Hebrew males (Exod. 1:15-21).

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

That Moses the author connects the story of these women with his own birth points to their significance.

Shiphrah and Puah remind me of the countless behind-the-scenes individuals whose efforts are noted by a handful and publicly acknowledged by even fewer. But God’s work would be severely hampered if it weren’t for their labors. We find it easy to laud those whom we see up front: in the pulpit, behind the lectern, chairing the committee, on the television, and yes, in the editorial pages of a journal. But we are never in a position to succeed without those seemingly invisible others.

To put it another way: true revival and reformation reveals itself through recognizing that we all contribute to God’s call, and we, as spiritual leaders, humbly acknowledge that others make it possible for us to fulfill the ministries the Holy Spirit has given us.

“LORD, bless us as spiritual leaders to recognize and publicly acknowledge that it takes everyone and all talents in the body of Christ to fulfill the mission.”

The book, All The Women of the Bible (sourced at BibleGateway.com) delves further into the courage of these two women whose story sets the stage for all that follows in Exodus:

…Receiving the royal command to commit murder, these two loyal, vigorous, middle aged women were caught between two fires. Whom should they obey? The God of the Hebrews in whom they had come to believe, or the tyrannical king of Egypt? True to their conscience and honored calling they knew it would conflict with the divine command to kill, and so “saved the men children alive.” Thus, they obeyed God rather than man, and in so doing brought upon their heads the rage of Pharaoh. Confronting his anger, Puah and Shiprah took refuge in a partial truth. They said that because Jewish women had easy deliveries, their children were born before they could reach them and assist the mothers in labor.

Cognizant as He was of the partial truth the two midwives told, God knew all about the crisis behind it, and commended Puah and Shiprah for their courage of faith. They had risked their lives for many Jewish infants. Such an act was meritorious in the eyes of the Lord, and He honorably rewarded them by building them houses. Fausset suggests that the nature of such a reward consisted in the two midwives marrying Hebrews and becoming mothers in Israel (2 Samuel 7:11, 27). Puah and Shiprah are striking witnesses against the scandalous practice of abortion, which several nations have legalized.

October 29, 2015

What Would You Put on the Bonfire?

Acts 19:19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.

Full context: Verses 13-21

This article by Dr. David Murray appeared at the blog The Christward Collective.

11 Verbs of Repentance

The Heidelberg Catechism’s answer to question 94, “What does God enjoin in the first commandment?” contains eleven verbs, eleven “doing” words.

“A. That I, as sincerely as I desire the salvation of my own soul, avoid and flee from all idolatry, sorcery, soothsaying, superstition, invocation of saints, or any other creatures; and learn rightly to know the only true God; trust in him alone, with humility and patience submit to him; expect all good things from him only; love, fear, and glorify him with my whole heart; so that I renounce and forsake all creatures, rather than commit even the least thing contrary to his will.”

These verbs can be divided into two categories that apply to all kinds of sins:

Sin-ward actions: Avoid, flee, renounce, forsake.

God-ward actions: Learn, trust, submit, expect, love, fear, glorify.

The God-ward actions cannot happen without the sin-ward actions, and the sin-ward actions cannot happen without the God-ward actions. They are two sides of the one experience of repentance.

AN ILLUSTRATION OF REPENTANCE

We can see an illustration of most of these verbs in action in Acts 19 v13-21 where the idolatrous magicians and occultists of Ephesus were powerfully impacted by the Gospel of Christ:

·       They feared (v. 17)

·       They glorified the Lord Jesus (v. 17)

·       They believed (v. 18)

·       They came out into the open (v. 18)

·       They confessed (v. 18)

·       They showed their deeds (v. 18)

·       They burned their spell-books (v. 19)

·       They turned to God’s book (v. 20)

I would have loved to see that bonfire of repentance. Some estimates put the value of books burned at several million dollars of today’s money. In burning their spell-books, they were saying three things:

I detest my past: I hate what I was and did.

I want to make sure I do not return: I want to make it as difficult as possible for me to take up these practices again.

I want to make sure others will not be led astray: They could have sold their books to others for large sums of money they didn’t want their financial gain to result in spiritual loss for others.

AN APPLICATION OF REPENTANCE

But let’s not just go back a couple of thousand years to Ephesus, or a few hundred years to Heidelberg. Let’s bring this right up to date and apply it to our own lives with this one question: What should you put on the bonfire? Of course, it need not be a literal bonfire. But if not a literal bonfire, then use these repentance verbs to have a spiritual bonfire.

If the Holy Spirit fell in reviving power among us today, I don’t think Harry Potter conferences and books would be first to go up in flames. But I do believe there would be a huge conflagration of one of the greatest idols of our own time – digital technology. Don’t think you’ve turned your phone, your computer, or social media into an idol? Test yourself with these questions:

1. Does technology serve me or am I its slave? Do I use it to serve God or is the Devil using it to enslave me?

2. Am I seeking significance and self-worth in the number of Twitter followers, blog subscribers, and Facebook friends I have?

3. Am I addicted to information?

4. Are my digital communications serving as a substitute for face-to-face relationships, or even spiritual communication with God?

5. Am I open and honest in my accountability?

6. Am I afraid of anyone picking up my phone and looking through it?

7. Is my online persona real or partly an act?

8. Are my best and most valued relationships online or face-to-face?

9. Is my local church community more important to me than any online community I’m part of?

10. When I wake up, do I read my Bible and pray before any electronic communication? (54% reach for phone within minutes of waking. 74% check phone before spiritual disciplines.)

11. Am I taking regular digital sabbaths? (tech-free periods of time each day and one screen-free day each week)

12. How long a period of time can I go without connecting with the digital world? Am I seeking to extend and stretch such periods?

13. Am I promoting myself or my Lord?

14. Am I daily seeking and depending upon the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit to help me use digital technology for God’s glory?

15. Do you try to fill every spare moment and every quiet moment with media.

16. Would Jesus look at your phone use or social media profile and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?

17. Do you get anxious when separated from your phone?

18. Do you have any boundaries as to place or time?

19. How many times do you check your phone each day? (teens check at least 100 times a day, sometimes 200).

20. Do you rush to buy the latest technology?

Are you looking for the matches yet?

October 21, 2015

Commit Before You Step Out

Life and God. Before You Take Another Step . . .

by Clarke Dixon

There is a God, but religion is for those who are into that kind of thing. Or so would say many people who go through life believing in God without much of an understanding of who God is. They believe that God exists with a kind of “there is Someone out there watching over us,” but as for being able to describe God, they would rather leave that for the fanatics. It is a bit like those who own a car, but leave the tinkering to the mechanic, or own a home, but leave the renovations to the handyman. As for knowing much about God, leave it to the pastors and Jesus-freaks. Leave it to the people who are “into” that kind of thing. But is this enough? Is wise to go through life with such an ambiguous sense of who God is and what God is like?

Following forty years of wandering in the desert, the people of God stand ready to enter the promised land. This is to be their next step, yet they are not quite ready just yet. Before they take this big step they must prepare their hearts and minds spiritually, which is why Moses gives a series of addresses, or sermons, which are collected together as the book of Deuteronomy. Part of what they need to hear is the following:

1 Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy . . . You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:1,5 emphasis mine)

Before God’s people can take the next big step, they must commit to loving God with all they’ve got and with all that they are. The first thing to note is that it is very difficult to love someone in such a way if you don’t know them. And we should note that in this very verse, God has already made clear who it is they must love. It is “The LORD” that is to be loved. Whenever we encounter “The LORD” all in capitals in our English Bible translations we must understand that this is standing in place of the name God has given for Himself. This name is considered so holy that God’s people, especially among our friends in Jewish circles, do not dare pronounce it. So we say “the LORD” instead. The point is that this is not God in some generic sense that is to be loved. This is a very personal God who has revealed Himself, making Himself known, even by name. God’s people will not be taking another step without committing to loving this very God they are in relationship with. There is no ambiguity at all here about who God is.

Furthermore, this call to love is introduced with an emphasis on the identity of God:

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 emphasis mine)

In order to love the LORD, you must know the LORD. Notice that Moses does not say, “There is a God” which ends up being a rather vague statement, but rather and more specifically, “The LORD is our God.” And it is “the LORD alone” who is our God, not some other god. The identity of God is not in question for God’s people as they prepare for their next step. There is no ambiguity at all here about Who God is.

Furthermore, in knowing the Lord God’s people will fear the Lord:

1 Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the LORD your God all the days of your life. (Deuteronomy 6:1-2 emphasis mine)

You cannot fear, or give the highest reverence and honour to, God if you have an ambiguous idea of who God is. As they stood ready to enter the promised land, God’s people knew exactly whom they were to fear.

Furthermore, in fearing the LORD God’s people will obey the LORD:

1 Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. (Deuteronomy 6:1-3 emphasis mine)

You cannot obey God if you have a vary vague notion of who God is. As they stood ready to enter the promised land God’s people knew exactly whom they were to obey, and what laws He had given.

Furthermore, in loving, knowing, fearing, and obeying the LORD, God’s people will commit to always readying the next generation for the same:

6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

You will be of no help to the next generation in learning to love, know, fear, and obey God if your knowledge of Him is very vague. As they stood ready to enter the promised land, God’s people knew exactly whom they were to nurture their children’s faith in.

As they stood ready for the next step, God’s people had a very specific knowledge of God. He is the One who rescued them from Egypt, He is the One who led them these last forty years, He is the One who revealed His name to them, He is the One who revealed His law to them, He is the One who is keeping His covenant promises. He is the One who will go with them into the promised land. He is the Creator. No ambiguous knowledge of God here.

And we know even more about God today. He is the One who came to us in Jesus Christ to teach us how to live, to show us how to love, to redeem us through His death, to give us hope through His resurrection, and to call us through His Spirit. There is so much more we could say about the identity of God, but I will just refer you to the entire Bible to find out more. For now, let me encourage you to not take another step in life without first taking a leap into the arms of Jesus. There is no need to go forward with an ambiguous sense of who God is. You can forward in relationship. You might leave fixing cars to mechanics and renovations to a handyman, but don’t leave knowledge of God to those who are “into that kind of thing.” You are the car in need of repairs, you are the renovation project. God is the mechanic, God is the handyman. Don’t take another step without leaping into His arms. You can face each step ahead, even if that step is forward into death, with God’s presence, with a knowledge of God, knowing and experiencing His power and love.

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon 10 21 15

August 15, 2015

How Would You Define Holiness?

I wonder how I would fare with the question in the title above? I think my answer would involve some notion of separation or being set apart. Maybe that’s sanctification. Are the two not synonymous?

This is from the archives of Logos Walk Word Journal:

Deuteronomy 33:3 • Your Steps and Your Words

“Indeed, He loves the people; All Your holy ones are in Your hand, And they followed in Your steps; Everyone receives of Your words.”
—Deuteronomy 33:3 (NASB)

Who are “the people” referred to here that “He loves”? Who are “Your holy ones” identified as being “in Your hand”? Well, the answer lies in two clues about their behavior that sets them apart: “they followed in Your steps” and “receives of Your words”. They are the ones who listen and obey. I read a report produced by The Barna Group titled, “The Concept of Holiness Baffles Most Americans”. Normally I wouldn’t be too concerned about a poll of “Americans” because that implies a mixture of both Believers and non-Believers alike, meaning that I would expect the views of non-Believers to deviate from those of Believers in a combined poll. However, it’s this mixture that IS alarming since on this point there is virtually no mathematical difference between the views of either group! The responses of born again and non-born again adults are virtually identical. When asked to provide a definition of holiness, the most common answer was “I don’t know”, followed by a wide array of answers. Only 35% responded that “God expects you to become holy”, meaning that most don’t believe it’s even really an important issue.

The report offers some opinions as to what this might mean, but considering the fact that the Bible is becoming less and less important to those who call themselves Christian, I’m not at all surprised to learn of a measurable disconnect between the group and the biblical teaching of holiness. Combine this with the fact that in America there is no statistical difference in the behavior and moral underpinnings of those who attend church and those that don’t, it’s really not hard to understand that greatly de-emphasizing—if not outright dropping—God’s Word is a necessary step towards enabling one to act any way they choose. Without God’s Word, one is not presented with the standards of being wholly separated and exclusively devoted — i.e. “holy” — to God.

“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
—Deuteronomy 7:6 (NASB)

The demand for holiness carries over into the New Testament as well.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
—Romans 10:1-2 (NASB)

Lord, that we would be an example to everyone of your holiness, the product of receiving Your Word and following in Your steps, so that we will become Your exclusive and dedicated possession, rid of all ties to this world, exclusively bound to You.†††


Here’s a classic worship song that came to mind as I was preparing this:

June 27, 2015

When Values Shift

SCOTUS - NYT

While we normally leave the topical subjects for the Thinking Out Loud blog, there is no denying that today (Saturday, June 27) the United States woke up having entered a whole new era. Something that was once illegal (and still is in many places) and was considered an abberation (according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM) is now the law of the land, mandated by a constitutional ruling by the Supreme Court.

Now, I don’t wish to discuss the particular issue here, but rather, I simply want to note that we’ve seen over the last few years leading to this decision has been a huge shift in values, and I couldn’t help but think of Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

I know that among my readers are those who have different feelings on not only the issue of the day, but on many different areas where the sphere of spiritual concerns overlaps the sphere of civic or legal issues. Some are truly rejoicing in the events of yesterday, for many different reasons. My point is simply that through one Supreme Court decision we have witnessed a tectonic shift of huge proportions in the last 48-or-so hours, and many Christ-followers who don’t monitor news reports may be unaware of it.

Interestingly, BibleHub posted a link to Habakkuk 1:14 (NLT)

The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.

There are some who would argue that the only thing that changed yesterday is that another court, the court of popular opinion, grew vocal enough to tip the scales of justice.

Unfortunately, there are also a few who have a misunderstanding that if something is legal it is no longer sin. It is important to recognize that there is not a one-to-one correlation between the two. Many things that are legal are still sinful, and many things that the law says are illegal have little to do with the spiritual condition of the heart.*

It’s more to the point to refine our understanding of what sin is and isn’t. The word means ‘missing the mark.’ It connotes an archery image of firing our arrows but not quite hitting the bulls-eye, or worse, not even hitting the target sheet at all.

I believe that knowing God’s best exists means we can’t settle for anything less; we can’t be content with the good or the better knowing there is a best.

When we fail to be concerned with aiming for the best we grieve Father, Son and Spirit.

The ultimate question of the day therefore is the question that should guide the everyday actions of all believers: Can God be trusted?



*If we take a simple Ten Commandments approach, the 1:1 correspondence will hold more often, since many of our laws derive from Judeo-Christian teaching. But society accepts many other things which would go against Bible teaching. To the contrary, if where you live it is against the law to make a left turn at the corner of Central Blvd. and Main St. during the evening rush hour, that does not derive from scripture. Still we should note that in the second case, the left turn, it can also be argued that the principles of Romans 13 apply:

1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

The problem is trying to read this in the reverse, and saying that what the law permits, God also is okay with; the logic of that does not hold. The “governing authorities” of verse one are not the ones to whom we hold ultimate accountability.

March 16, 2015

Lovers will always Outwork Workers

Today we pay a return visit to Mary Agrusa from the blog The Thought Just Occurred to Me. As always, you’re encouraged to click the headline below to read this at source. (We had a tough time choosing which item to run, if you like C201, you’ll like the devotions there.)

Third Verse of a Hymn

Yet I have this against you: ‘You have forsaken your first love,’” (Revelation 2:4 NIV).

“One day on our way out of church, she turned to me and said, ‘Sometimes I feel like the third verse of a hymn.’” Immediately I knew what she meant. In our church, we sometimes skip the third verse of a hymn if the service is running late. ‘I feel like the third verse of a hymn’ was Mom’s way of saying she felt left out. My mother’s unique ability at description was intersecting with her common problem of feeling lonely.”1

It seems God felt the same way: overlooked, forgotten, left out – and this was by the church. How did this happen?

The Ephesians weren’t slackers. The preceding verses of Chapter Two contain praise from God for their activities. Hard workers who had no tolerance for wicked men, they stood firm in the face of pressures and hardships. This church did many things right and therein laid the problem. The Ephesians lost sight of the Lord of the work and focused on the work of the Lord.

Their failure isn’t unique. It’s easy to be so busy for God that time to spend with Him somehow evaporates. Ask a pastor (maybe not your own) how much quality time with God does his/her schedule permit. Don’t be surprised at the enormous demands they face daily – and that’s just church business – not life in general. Cell phones, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, texts and other social media increases their exposure to those in need of instant help. Down time for any reason, like time spent with God, is difficult to carve out.

How many Christians, if they were honest, would admit their time with God’s not what it should be (whatever that means)? Maybe more than you’d think. To prove their allegiance and commitment to the cause, schedules are packed with things to do for God – activity instead of intimacy. God found this unacceptable with the Ephesians and He hasn’t changed.

We need to make a shift. Focused time spent with God produces greater results than lives cluttered with good, necessary works. Mike Bickle from IHOP, Kansas City believes lovers will always outwork workers. A deeper relationship diminishes the pressure to perform for God, others and ourselves. Attention directed toward His priorities frees up time and resources to accomplish tasks sans burnout.

God needs the permanent top spot of our “to-do” list. Forsake good things to obtain the best. At first this may feel awkward and uncomfortable; the urgent is loathe to relinquish its tyrannical hold. Any who purpose to know God, not just know about Him, never suffer disappointment. They discover the object of their affection. God’s pleased too because He really enjoys their company.

How about you? What changes can you make to allow more quality time with God? How will this improve your relationship with Him? What kinds of questions will you ask Him during your extra time with Him? How do you think this will impact your life?

The opening quote is from David Fessenden’s book, From Concept to Contract. Plan to write a book? This is a must read. A writer and editor, David gives practical insights into things to do before you start to write your book and continues throughout the process to publication.

1David Fessenden, From Concept to Contract (Galax, VA: Sonfire Media, 2011) pg 14

February 19, 2015

A Vessel for Honorable Use

Today we want to introduce you to servantsofgrace.org and if you click the title below, you’ll not only get the article, but links to a large number of quality articles just like it. In today’s reading Zach Barnhart looks at four distinctive marks of holiness we can apply to our own spiritual diagnostics test.

Holiness: Becoming a Vessel For Honor

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

The discussion of holiness in Christian circles is inescapable. There are hundreds of books on the subject, and thousands of articles and blog posts on it. The word “holy” appears in the Bible over 600 times. This conversation is not only inevitable, but can often be burdensome to believers trying to live the Christian life.

HolinessIt’s easy to talk about holiness and feel utterly disheveled. Oftentimes it’s because we, as heirs of grace need to acquire an honest view of the difficult process of sanctification. In order to discover this, God’s people need to understand their sin nature. We do this by understanding that Satan hasn’t left God’s people alone. Not to mention, it’s growing seemingly more difficult to live a holy life in a pleasure-driven, tolerance-demanding, all-things-go culture. Holiness, in short, is hard. Take heart and find Paul’s encouraging spirit in these words in 2 Timothy 2:20-21. Only then will you not feel bogged down, but motivated by His grace. Christians should not feel stripped of their armor, but equipped with it. Paul writes Timothy from a heart of encouragement, calling him “my beloved child” (2 Tim. 1:2). He encourages Timothy to be “strengthened by the grace” of Christ (2:1), reminding him “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power” (1:7). Paul aims to encourage both Timothy and you.

In 2 Timothy 2:20, Paul begins an illustration: in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver…” Just as a house holds various kinds of vessels, so the Church has many different members and gifts. Some vessels are gold, others are silver. Both are precious metals, with some more refined (gold) than others (silver). These precious metals are all a sight worth displaying in the home; they are treasures we love. But there are also vessels of wood and clay.” Wood and clay are certainly inferior to any gold or silver. A necklace made of wood is of fractional value when compared to a necklace of pure gold. These are “vessels of dishonor,” referring to the hypocrites, or those who stand in moral or doctrinal error in the Church. The Church will be full of not only vessels of honor (running towards holiness), but vessels of dishonor (running from holiness).

As believers, we have to ask ourselves, “How am I doing?” Sometimes it’s difficult to interpret the data of our own spiritual diagnostics test. What are the signs and indicators? How can believers tell if they are moving in the right direction? How does the Christian become a vessel of gold and silver, and avoid becoming like wood and clay? Thankfully, here Paul has provided four distinctive marks of a Christian who is running the race of holiness.

He will be a vessel for honorable use”
The first mark of spiritual holiness is that we embrace our transformation. What is a vessel after all? A vessel is best used when first emptied, then filled. All are born incapable of achieving righteousness by their own strength (Isa. 64:6, Rom. 3:10-12). Any chance we have, then, of being counted righteous before God is to be completely emptied of ourselves, and, in the new birth of regeneration, being transformed into new life, a life “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Only the power and grace of Jesus can accomplish this feat, and when He does, He fills His people with His spirit “for honorable use.” Whether filled to the brim or down to the last drip, God is filling His people with His Spirit, for His use, for His glory. The end result of this is His people embracing true transformation.

Set apart as holy”
One of the main differences between a gold or silver vessel as opposed to a wood or clay vessel is the physical appearance of the vessels. A vessel of gold shines; it illuminates when a light is shined on it, and it is more eye-catching than other elements. Similarly, we must also reflect the King to an unseeing world. Scripture shows the importance of being set apart. Christians must evaluate themselves and ask, “Am I living a life that walks the walk and talks the talk?” We don’t ask out of unhealthy piety or competition, but rather to determine what our life is reflecting to a lost world. When the light shines on us, do we reflect it back, as gold and silver? Or do we, like wood and clay, look dull, dark, and unfazed by the light? To live in holiness is to live a life of non-conformity (Rom. 12:2), putting on the new self (Col. 3:10), walking in wisdom (Col. 4:5), “for we are His workmanship” (Eph. 2:10).

“useful to the master of the house”
A third distinctive mark of our holiness is when we serve a purpose for the Kingdom of God. I recently heard the illustration from a friend on how we must approach our duty as the Church like a battleship, not a cruise ship. Cruise ships are consumer-driven. People eat at will, soak up the sun, etc. No one is there to be working or sacrificing. But on a battleship, everyone works. Everyone has a purpose and desire to be useful, because there is a fight to be fought. People don’t go to a battleship to be served – they go to be useful. We cannot approach God and His Word and His Church as an opportunity to merely be filled, but as an opportunity to be useful (1 Cor. 4:1, Gal. 5:13). Christians must accept the call, and put their hands to work for Christ’s Kingdom.

“ready for every good work”
The fourth mark of holiness Paul outlines is when we prepare for battle. There is a level of desire and preparation that we should have in wanting to be a vessel of honor. I am not suggesting that preparedness affects God’s control in situations or opinion of us. I think what Paul is saying is, “Do not tarry. Be on guard.” When preparing to become vessels for honor, our battle sword doesn’t need to be sharpened, because it already is. There’s no need to go rummaging around for our armor, because we’re already wearing it.

You and I are not worthy to receive righteous on our own. But let this truth fill you with deep longing for the power of Christ. Don’t let the scorching sun of holiness wither you; let it root you. Be a radiant, cultivated picture-in-progress of the Spirit’s working power. Be encouraged. Your journey in holiness is designed to give you Kingdom purpose, and passion for it. It helps you shine reflections of Him to a dark world. It helps you be eager to fight in Jesus name.

In summation: Embrace your transformation. Reflect the King. Serve a purpose. Prepare for battle.

February 6, 2015

The Gospel Points in Three Directions

NIV Rom. 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

J.D. Greear wrote a book on the subject of assurance, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, which I enjoyed reading and I always make a point of tracking his blog.  This article appeared recently and I felt it would be a good fit here at C201.  To read at source click the title below.

The Gospel in Three Directions

If you were to ask the average Christian, “How can you become more self-controlled, more upright—essentially, more in line with God’s will?” what would the answer be? Greater will power, perhaps. Or maybe more theological knowledge. Having accountability partners. Maintaining a consistent quiet time. The list goes on.

What if you asked the Apostle Paul? His answer would be clear: you change when you experience the grace of God. “The grace of God,” Paul says, “train[s] us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11–12). How does God’s grace do this? By focusing our attention in three directions:

Upward Backward Forward - The GospelThe gospel points UPWARD, redirecting our worship.

Sin problems don’t start as sin problems. They start as worship problems. At the root of all sin, as the Apostle Paul explains, is the colossal mistake of “giving the glory of God to created things” (Romans 1:23). The Hebrew word for glory (kabod) carried the connotation of “weight.” The Greek word for glory (doxa) hints at ideas of majesty and beauty. Put the two together and you get a good idea of the problem: we gave a weightiness and a beauty to things more than we gave to God. As Matt Papa says in Look and Live, sin is simply worship misdirected.

To change sin at the heart level, which is where God wants to change it, he has to change what we worship. As Paul Tripp puts it, “If we worship our way into sin, we have to worship our way out.” The gospel, and the gospel alone, does that, redirecting our worship and reigniting our passions. It points us upward to a God who is better and more glorious and more satisfying than any of our pathetic idols.

The gospel points BACKWARD, restoring our gratefulness.

Every now and then, someone tries to identify one sin as the core sin, the one really bad guy that leads to everything else. I’ve seen people point the finger at pride, at lust, at envy. What I hardly ever hear is what Paul says in Romans 1:21: “They did not honor God as God or give thanks to him.” Thanklessness! Did I hear you right, Paul?

This may not seem obvious at first, but think about it. When you lack gratitude, not only do you rob someone of the glory that belongs to them; you also convince yourself that you could have gotten on fine without them. I’ve heard Tim Keller describe it like plagiarism. When you plagiarize, you steal credit that belongs to someone else. But that’s only half of the problem. The other half is that you also deceive others into thinking you’re someone you aren’t. If I were to find some lost C.S. Lewis book manuscript in a relative’s attic and publish it as my own, that may impress some folks. But when the publisher comes asking for more, I’m in a bind.

This is the situation thanklessness puts us in toward God. We rob his glory, which is bad enough. But then we also parade around as if we’re self-sufficient. We forget that every breath we have comes from God. And that thankless spirit leads to bitterness, pride, and a host of other sins.

The gospel gives us a reason to be thankful, eternally thankful. It transforms us by reminding us that as much as we’ve dishonored God, he still came for us. And as we reflect on what he did for us, it begins to change what we do today.

The gospel points FORWARD, raising our expectations.

In the gospel, we see what God is making us and the future he has for us. He puts in us a taste, a hunger, for the perfection he’s creating in us. My wife was at a conference recently with an older Christian leader. Reflecting on his life—and knowing he didn’t have many years left—he said, “What am I looking forward to? Sinlessness. I can almost taste it.” When this man looked forward to the future, he didn’t grow frustrated because his youth was gone. He trembled in anticipation of seeing his God face to face, of having all of the poison of sin once and for all taken away.

Is that what you’re excites you about heaven? If it is, you long for it and move toward that now. You work against injustice. You battle sin in your own life. You become eager to do good works (Titus 2:14), not because they save you, but because what God has shown you about the future is so beautiful that you can almost taste it.

In contrast, religion points INWARD, toward our failures.

The gospel points us upward to a God who gave himself for us, backward to the price he paid for our sin, and forward to what he’s making us into. Religion can point, too. But instead of point out toward what God has done, it points a finger at us, telling us to try harder.

As Tim Chester puts it, religion says you should not, while the gospel says you need not. Religion is constantly shouting, “You shouldn’t sleep with your boyfriend! You shouldn’t get drunk! You shouldn’t lose your temper!” That’s not good news to people struggling with those issues. That’s condemnation. But the gospel says, “You need not give yourself to your boyfriend, because God’s love will never fail you. You need not get drunk, because Jesus offers a more sure refuge. You need not lose your temper, because God is in control.”

Sin is always making promises it can’t keep. Religion doesn’t do anything to expose them; it just adds more false promises. But the gospel exposes every lie by showing us a God who is better. As Charles Spurgeon wrote, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.”

 


 

For more on this, be sure to listen to the entire message here.

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