Christianity 201

January 11, 2022

Humble Circumstances | An Everlasting Agreement

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we have another double header for you!

Once again we’re back highlighting the writing of Jay Mankus at Express Yourself 4 Him. Among his accomplishments, Jay has written a film script of his own life story, which includes overcoming a speech impediment, and accomplishments in various sports. Click the headers which follow to read these devotionals at his site.

Humble Beginnings

King Solomon was the first to state what many people tend to think following an epic collapse or fall from grace in Proverbs 16:18. Pride does call before the fall and results in a reboot or as the Bible suggests a humble beginning. No one likes to start over. Whether this refers to a job, life or video game, being forced to turn the clocks back and start from scratch can be deflating. Yet, humility puts life into its proper perspective.

Let the brother in humble circumstances glory in his elevation [as a Christian, called to the true riches and to be an heir of God], 10 And the rich [person ought to glory] in being humbled [by being shown his human frailty], because like the flower of the grass he will pass away James 1:9-10.

One Old Testament prophet writes about the nature of death in Isaiah 40:8. Each spring flowers bloom, grass grows and trees become covered by leaves. Unfortunately, by the end of fall, lawns become dormant, leaves fall to the earth and flowers disappear for the year until this cycle repeats itself annually. If you own a house or maintain a property, keeping up weekly maintenance can lead to humble beginnings.

For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled, bewildered]. I do not practice or accomplish what I wish, but I do the very thing that I loathe [which my moral instinct condemns]. 16 Now if I do [habitually] what is contrary to my desire, [that means that] I acknowledge and agree that the Law is good (morally excellent) and that I take sides with it. 17 However, it is no longer I who do the deed, but the sin [principle] which is at home in me and has possession of me  Romans 7:15-17.

Yet, beneath the surface of every human being, there lies an internal battle that never ends. The apostle Paul writes about this wrestling match in the passage above. Whenever you discover that you’ve become a hypocrite, doing the exact opposite that you want, conviction, guilt and humility will follow. In this age of mental health awareness, your own sinful nature is often the source of your problems. Therefore, the next time you mess up, use this humble beginning as a teachable moment to rise from the ashes of despair.

The Everlasting Agreement

There are various forms of agreements that you will make over the course of your life. This may be a handshake between friends, a business deal, a pledge you make to a local church or charity or a mutual consensus. Unfortunately, some of these agreements are temporary, contain escape clauses or are broken by someone who feels like they got the short end of the stick.

Now may the God of peace [Who is the Author and the Giver of peace], Who brought again from among the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood [that sealed, ratified] the everlasting agreement (covenant, testament). Hebrews 13:20.

The phrase “all good things must come to an end” comes from a medieval poet. The origin of this expression was first written by Geoffry Chaucer in Canterbury Tales. While this is true in the context of life and death, the Bible speaks of an everlasting agreement. The apostle Paul uses the analogy of receiving a gift in Romans 6:23. However, the key is accepting this free gift as your own by taking ownership of it.

And this is that testimony (that evidence): God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who possesses the Son has that life; he who does not possess the Son of God does not have that life. 13 I write this to you who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) the name of the Son of God [in the peculiar services and blessings conferred by Him on men], so that you may know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that you [already] have life, [d]yes, eternal life, 1 John 5:11-13.

First century Christians referred to this everlasting agreement as the gift of eternal life, John 3:16-17. In the passage above, one of Jesus’ disciples believed that you could know for sure about your eternal destiny. There was no hopefully or maybe, but an absolute guarantee based upon your belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 10:9-11. As 2022 begins this week, make sure you secure this everlasting agreement.


For those wondering, the texts here appear similar to The Expanded Bible or The Amplified Bible but are either something similar, or the author’s own notes nested in-text.

January 2, 2022

Doctrinal Humility

I have to confess I’ve not read John Stackhouse’s book Humble Apologetics, but I do resonate with the title. The publisher blurb in 2006 seemed to indicate that he was writing more about evangelistic, or conversion-focused discussions.

Stackhouse argues that the crucial experience of conversion cannot be compelled; all the apologist can do is lead another to the point where an actual encounter with Jesus can take place. Finally, he shows how displaying an attitude of humility, instead of merely trying to win religious arguments, will help believers offer their neighbors the gift of Christ’s love.

Sometimes the discussions we have are with fellow-Christians, a first-time confession of faith is not the focus, and the topics can become rather thorny.

Last week I stood in a light rain in a grocery store parking lot speaking with two people who had left their church when both the number and degree of differences became too much for them to bear. Much of it focused on a single issue, a second one contributed to it, and a third was mentioned in passing, though I know it’s high on their list of concerns.

The thing is, when it was all said and done, all I really took away from it was their cockiness; their arrogance. They were not at all impressed that the weight of church history is not on their side. Neither is the support of present-day churches in our community. You can only get to their position through misunderstanding the context of certain scriptural passages; through proof-texting; and through a belief that some poor translation work done in the past on key words outranks Biblical scholarship.

The Apostle Paul would be the first to admit that the waters are sometimes muddy. In the oft-quoted “Love Chapter” of his first letter to the church at Corinth he writes,

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.  (13:12 NLT)

Two chapters later, as he speaks of the resurrection of the church, he says something with great clarity, but it’s still, to him at least, part of the realm of what he calls mystery:

Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, (15:51 CSB)

At other times there is no doubt at all in his mind or the readers’ minds:

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. (Phil. 3:13 NLT)

In other words, he hadn’t mastered this in his own life, but there was absolute conviction about the spiritual destination in front of him.

If the phrase “one thing I do” sounds familiar, it’s a lot like, “one thing I know,” the phrase uttered by the man born blind after receiving sight. Referring first to their charges against Jesus,

He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  (John 9:25 NASB)

It was, quite literally, black and white; and today we use the blind man’s confession as a model for the conversion experience

I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

This type of certainty stands in contrast to “seeing through a glass darkly” (KJV) or “seeing things imperfectly” (NLT, as above). But here’s a truth

We don’t have to know and understand everything to know and understand the things that count.

Paul writing to the Philippians said,

I am convinced and confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will [continue to] perfect and complete it until the day of Christ Jesus [the time of His return]. (1:6 Amplified Bible)

Other translations use the word confident. Obviously, some things were not seen imperfectly to Paul. He could say some things with confidence.

There is a book by Peter Enns called The Sin of Certainty. Having followed Enns online for years and read several of his books, I have no doubt (ironic use of phrase here, don’t you think?) that he is certain when it comes to the deity of Christ and the fact of the resurrection.

Rather, the book was a response to what was a growing body of people who expressed their intransigence online; the type of people who will defend to the death some sacred pet doctrine on social media. Unintentionally — and I am being gracious here, perhaps it was intentional — they are modeling for new believers a stance where one must be absolutely certain of everything. That’s just not possible when you haven’t had time to work out your salvation and it forces people to simply parrot rote responses or take ownership of parts of a catechism not through life experiences, or Holy Spirit leading, but because of their ability to call up key words and phrases.

Eventually, this can lead to a spiritual arrogance. When reviewing Enns’ 2016 book, I wrote;

Peter Enns basically catalogs some of the various less-certain elements one might find in the sphere of Christianity, and rather than resolve all of these necessarily, creates a climate where the reader can say, ‘Oh yeah! That’s me! At last someone who gets it.’ Some of the book draws from his personal experiences of dealing with the doubt/certainty continuum, either internally or in his family or academic life.

There is however value in creeds. When we remind ourselves that Christ was

…conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried.

and that

He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of God the Father almighty…

Those times, we are discussing the things that are non-negotiable and these are things which the body of Christ around the world should agree.

But what if your faith is in that creed and not in the one to whom the creed points?

A book similar to The Sin of Certainty released three years earlier. About that one I wrote,

With… Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (Baker Books), Gregory Boyd presents the thesis that far too many Christians — at least in North America and western Europe — are committed to a set of spiritual propositions more than they are committed to Christ; and that in fact the thing they worship and place their faith in are these ‘certainties,’ far more than they worship and have their faith secured in “Christ, and Him crucified.”

…While the book clearly intends to shatter the idol of theological over-confidence, its equal purpose is to give some peace and comfort to people who, although they are long on the journey with Jesus, still don’t feel they have all the details of the contract worked out. He is writing to those of us who perhaps know people for whom all doctrinal and theological matters are settled once and for all…

What is the ultimate expression of God’s position and power? What words does he say? What doctrine does he clear up for all time?

Nothing. Just as the orchestra builds to a crescendo we get this:

John 13:3-5Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… … 12-14 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

Utter, absolute humility.

Six months before reading the Boyd book I wrote,

…each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change…

This devotional is messy because our attempts to do theology are often messy. There is a balance between the things on which we can place our trust — think of the hymn “Standing on the Promises” if that helps — and the things which we will never see with perfect clarity.

To the person in the parking lot last week, I would say, “You lack a humble apologetic, and that may be your spiritual downfall.”


“…it is a mark of imbecility of mind, rather than of strength; of folly, rather than of wisdom; for any one to dogmatize with an air of infallibility, or to assume the attitude of perfect intelligence on any one subject of human thought, without an intimate knowledge of the whole universe...”

– Alexander Campbell in The Christian System

 

 

 

November 30, 2021

Humility as Demonstrated by Jesus

As I’ve stated previously, several years ago I set out to memorize the “kenosis” passage of Philippians 2, also sometimes referred to as “The Philippian Hymn.” I’ve also written several of my own paraphrases of it. It’s a passage that I highly value, just as I highly value humility and people who demonstrate humility. But first, some words from John’s gospel.

 

John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

In most of our Bibles the passage above has a subheading such as “Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.” This is true as far as it goes, but I think “Jesus demonstrates humility” would make a better focus. We often use this passage to talk about “servant leadership” and many have suggested that in addition to the cross, the towel and the basin should be the symbol that represents Christianity.

However, I feel that it’s so easy to miss the full impact of verse 3:

  • Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God (NIV)
  • Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (NET)
  • The Father had put everything in Jesus’ control. Jesus knew that. He also knew that he had come from God and was going back to God. (God’s Word)

What a contrast between that set-up and the action that follows. It’s like a symphony that is building in a giant crescendo, and just as it reaches the penultimate note of the scale and you wait for that grand chord that resolves everything, the orchestra suddenly is silent, and you’re left with just the sound of a single violin or piccolo:

  • he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet

I say all that as a setup for some verses I’ve covered here many times:

Phil 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

The progression is rather simple in verses 7 and 8

  • took the nature of a servant
  • entered into the human condition
  • was obedient even to experiencing human death
  • and a death of the worst kind at that

If you look at the study we did on this in May, 2017, you’ll notice I switched the order of the first two clauses in these verses. Surely, God enters humanity first — that’s the point of incarnation, the season we are about to celebrate — and then does so as someone whose birth lineage is controversial, whose occupation is that of a carpenter’s son, and whose short career as a rabbi is marked by things like foot washing. Right?

But then I started thinking about it, and recognized that the humility of Christ begins prior to the incarnation. Before the moment when “he left the splendor of Glory,” he has already taken on the role of a servant inasmuch as the incarnate Christ is submitted to the Father.

Although doctrinally the Father and Son are co-equal, and equally divine, in the incarnation we see passages such as:

John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’

and

Matthew 24:36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

not to mention the passage where Jesus prays at Gethsemane Garden for the Father to introduce a Plan B that won’t involve the torment of crucifixion.

In other words, the humility of Jesus extends even so far as humbling himself before the Father, the One with whom he co-created the universe.

That’s submission. That’s humility.

In a devotional from June, 2019, writer Keith Giles notes that it won’t be long (in the book of Acts) until the disciples decide to off-load some of their more menial responsibilities to a second tier of leaders. He writes,

Instead of remembering this essential lesson from Jesus, the Apostles in Acts are seen coming to the conclusion that they are too important to wait tables and feed widows and orphans. Instead, they decide to elect some lowly people to do this menial task so that they can devote themselves to the Gospel – forgetting that, to Jesus, this serving of the widows and orphans; waiting tables; WAS the Gospel in vivid, vibrant 3-D…

But then Keith goes on to point out that the martyrdom of Stephen would have had a humbling effect on the disciples.

…I can’t help but feel that it’s the Holy Spirit’s attempt to remind those Apostles what their mission is really all about. See, up to that point, we read that Peter had become a local celebrity and that his fame had spread through the land; that even those who were pagans would lay their sick out on the street whenever the Apostles walked by in hopes that their shadows might heal them.

But then came Stephen. Not an Apostle. Not one who walked with Jesus for three years. Not one whose feet had been washed in that room by Jesus. Not one who was too proud and important to wash feet. But one who was humble, willing to serve, and even willing to die – with joy – for the Lord Jesus he loved so much.

…As I was preparing this, I was also listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley on pride, which is of course humility’s opposite. Nebuchadnezzar learns this the hard way and basically says that you either are humble or you get humbled.

Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

In my personal life and ministry I do encounter people who are arrogant, and I also find myself having to guard against arrogance and pride. God help me and all of us to develop a spirit of humility without having to be humbled. God help us to learn from Christ’s humility that is not only symbolized by a towel and basin, but by submission to God the Father’s will.

November 23, 2021

Our Desire for Servanthood Status

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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(if the last two words in the above title strike you as an oxymoron, you’re on the right path for today’s devotional)

Last year at this time we shared a quote from a decade-old article by Ben Sternke and in preparation for today’s devotional I’ve been reading some of his articles and really like his take on things. He spent years in Charismatic churches and now finds himself leading worship and church-planting in a liturgical setting.

Clicking the link in the header which follows will take you there, and I hope you will, and then click his blog title to discover more helpful thoughts.

The Gospel Disrupts Our Status Games

“Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matt 19:30).

Jesus speaks these words to his disciples after promising that the sacrifices they’ve made to follow him will indeed be worth it in the Age to come, which comes after shocking them by saying it will be hard for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of the heavens, which follows directly on the heels of a wealthy young man walking away in sorrow because he was unwilling to part with his wealth in order to follow Jesus.

Jesus then tells the parable of the workers in the vineyard, where the master of a household hires workers at various times throughout the day to work in his vineyard. Some work the whole day, others work for only an hour or so, but at the end of the day, they all receive the same amount for their work. The workers hired at the beginning of the day don’t like this, but that’s the way it is. The master wanted to give everyone the same pay, and that’s that. “Thus,” Jesus concludes, “the last will be first, and the first last.”

Measuring ourselves against each other

It’s a parable about the Kingdom of the heavens, and Jesus speaks the aphorism about the first and the last at the beginning and the end of the parable. He’s clearly trying to help his disciples understand something important about the nature of the Kingdom. Jesus is emphasizing a crucial aspect of the “life of the Age” that the wealthy young man wanted so badly to have.

In the Kingdom, in the “life of the Age,” the radical generosity and self-giving love of God moves toward everyone indiscriminately, and this disrupts our status games. Everyone receiving equally from the master upends all the ways we seek to measure ourselves against each other, all the ways we calculate who is better and who is worse, who’s on top and who’s on the bottom, who is worthy of honor and who can be disregarded.

Too offended to enter the Kingdom

By declaring that all are loved, the gospel demands that we leave these status games behind, lest we become too offended to enter the Kingdom. In God’s economy, we all receive out of the overflow of God’s generous love, and thus we must cast aside all the ways we attempt to distinguish ourselves as better than others. We must lay down all the ways we try to prop up our own egos in order to receive the gift, or we simply won’t enter the Kingdom at all.

Thus it would appear that the first are last and the last first, because the old order of things has been completely upended. The workers who started at the beginning of the day would have been fine with their pay until it became apparent that others “worse” than them were receiving the same pay. For them, it was all about status. They didn’t actually need more money, they just wanted recognition that they had worked harder than all the other workers. They wanted assurance that they were better than others. But the Kingdom of the heavens is like a master who upends the whole game by giving to everyone equally.

This is the work the gospel does relentlessly, which is why it’s so hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of the heavens. It’s the reason it’s hard for anyone who feels they’re on top of some kind of status game to enter the Kingdom: it’s hard to let go of the story that you really are better than other people, and you have the receipts to prove it (wealth, or intelligence, or humor, or good looks, or right belief, or moral purity, or popularity, or influence).

What game do you play?

What status games do you play? What kinds of comparisons do you make to figure out who’s better and who’s worse? What would it look like to lay aside those games today and enter the Kingdom of the heavens?


Second Helping: In Charismatic worship, prophetic visions can take many forms, including this allegory of Jesus as a pirate!

Worship Leaders: For something a little less “out there,” here’s an article contrasting taking time to explain liturgical forms in a worship service, versus simply “going for it” and inviting people to participate. (Ben’s experiences are very diverse!)


Ministry Models: What if a Christian ministry organization with a 100+ year history were to totally re-shape what it does? The Gideons International in Canada did just that over the past ten years. From my other blog, Thinking Out Loud, read about their journey to becoming ShareWord Global.

October 22, 2021

Jesus: Inside or Outside the City?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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It’s been nearly a year since we last connected with veteran Christian musician and author John Fischer who is still writing faithfully at The Catch. This time around, there were two consecutive devotionals which were somewhat related, so I’ve taken the liberty of including both. Click on the headers which follow to read these where they originated.

Note: We usually offer bonus devotionals from some authors after you’ve finished reading, but if you want some earlier posts based on these same verses in Hebrews before you get started, click here and here.

Where grace meets disgrace

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. Hebrews 13:12-13

What happened?

According to this verse there is something disgraceful about meeting Jesus outside the camp. Did we miss something? Do you feel like you are walking around in a state of disgrace? I think we are trying everything we can to avoid disgrace.

Have we so bought into the American myth of success that we are attempting to “market” Christianity as helping make you wealthy, healthy, and successful, when none of that is guaranteed in the Bible? In fact, the truth is more likely to call us into failure in order to learn how to depend on Him. Failure is a far better teacher than success.

I think some of this grows out of our culture. We’ve tried to make Christianity cool thinking we could attract people to Christ. I remember in the early years of my ministry I used to like making Christianity cool because then I could be cool, too. But Jesus was never cool, and following Him guaranteed nothing except a wild ride and eternity.

But ultimately, following Him was all about disgrace. Why is that? Because of the way it ended. He took on my sin, and when I meet Him there outside the camp, I realize it was my sin that did it. So a large part of my disgrace is my sin that crucified Christ, but if I continue through the cross to the other side, I am met with His grace. Jesus meets my disgrace with His grace, and nothing can take that away.

So this is where we live, where grace meets disgrace. A guarantee that grace remains fresh. It’s not that my story is: 20 years ago, Jesus saved me. It’s more like 20 minutes ago, or 20 seconds ago. I live and walk in my deliverance. And my disgrace — His disgrace — plays an important part in that. And believe me, when you’ve been met on the other side of the cross by His grace, you have to tell the whole world about it!

No enduring city

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14

Outside. Everything happens outside. Jesus died outside the camp. We go to meet Him outside the camp where He meets our disgrace with His grace. Once that’s happened and that grace has turned us outward toward others, why would we want to go back inside? Everybody’s out here. People inside already know, and they’re pretty much just sitting there. Outside is where the action is.

Jesus is outside the camp, but most people who don’t know Him don’t know that. They think He’s inside some building because that’s what we’ve told them (“This is God’s house”); we’ve even invited them into the building to meet Him. Now of course that isn’t necessary because He is already outside the camp. We only need to introduce Him to people. But it’s important that we know how to do this. Positioning is everything. Are we looking down on people when we introduce them to Jesus? No. Are we looking across at them? No. We are looking up to them. We are looking up to them because that’s what grace does to us. It puts us with the lowest of the low. Like the publican on his knees crying out for God’s mercy, while the Pharisee is thanking God he is not like that poor miserable man. Until I realize that I am that poor miserable man, I do not know what grace is.

But once you know, how beautiful is this? You look up to everybody! Everybody looks good to you. No matter who they are, you’re looking up to them and telling them about God’s grace that’s bound to reach them because, lo and behold, it reached all the way down to you. So, as Marti says, you love them like no other.

And so the reason for our existence is not to stay inside and win some spiritual look-alike contest, but to turn grace outward to all those within our sphere of influence who have yet to know who Jesus is and what He has done for them. Otherwise, why are we here? We’re not here to set up camp, but to go outside the camp. That is why the writer of Hebrews says, “For here we do not have an enduring city.”

Your city — the city you are living in right now — will not endure. Everything here is temporary. That isn’t to say we abandon all responsibilities here on earth and wait for eternity. It’s really all about perspective. We have responsibilities to our address here in our city, but we need to remember this is not an enduring city. Our life does not end here. Turn up the fire under us! We are preparing for and helping prepare others for the enduring city that is to come.

March 31, 2021

Maundy Thursday and the Act of Foot-Washing

Over the past decade we’ve seen a major shift in Evangelical observance of what the Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches call Holy Week. There is much more consciousness of Lent and even debates — because of the rapid shift in some denominations — as to its incorporation in Evangelicalism. While we’ve always been observant of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, there is also an increasing awareness of Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday.

The particular centerpiece of this observance is Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. In a sense, it’s the last action of great significance he will do besides leading (and updating) the Passover meal. He will give the disciples further teaching, he will pray, he will heal a Roman guard’s ear that Peter has impulsively severed, and then beyond this things seem to shift, humanly speaking out of his control as he faces Pilate, then Herod and then speaks a few sentences from the cross.

I think it’s interesting that John includes this narration — none of the synoptic gospels have it — and yet does not include the familiar Last Supper narrative. Those who produce what is called a harmony of the gospels, place the washing of the disciples feet first, as some activity from the meal — some teaching about his eventual betrayal, and the particular instruction to Judas who then exits — is covered later in John 13. And yet, the evidence from verse 2 is that “the evening meal was in progress,” (italics added) so perhaps the foot-washing happened more in the middle.

The meal is highly structured and drawn out. For example we think of Jesus taking “the cup,” but there are two cups mentioned, scholars say they shared a third special cup, and that there ought to have been a fourth one, but the meal is not completed in that sense because Jesus is saying that the meal will be completed at what we call the marriage supper of the Lamb. So I’m going to place the foot-washing in the middle of the overall ceremonial part of the dinner.

Here is the text,

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. ~John 13: 2-5 (NIV)

I’ve heard people loosely use the term, “the sacrament of foot-washing,” but the Roman Catholic Church, who one might think of as the arbiters of all things sacrament doesn’t include it. Why is that? Father Joe, who writes at Blogger Priest replied in 2014, pointing out that the sacraments have to have particular meaning and this raises “the difficulty was as to what it signified.” He continues,

St. Augustine made a connection with baptism (and yet there was already a formula for that sacrament). Most authorities and the Church associated it with ordination to the priesthood. Indeed, it plays something of this role in the (spiritualized) Gospel of John. There too the apostles adopted the laying on of hands upon the head of a man as the manner in which he was called to holy orders. Today, the foot washing increasingly refers to our commission as servants or disciples. That is already sufficiently signified in our baptism and confirmation. So I guess the short answer is that the sacraments are not capricious. There was no need for an eighth sacrament. However, once a year it does function as a “sacramental” that emphasizes both the importance of the priesthood and our call to live out our Christianity with humility and charity.

So what’s maundy about Maundy Thursday?

It’s actually a Latin word taken from the first words of Jesus later in the chapter,

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you” (13:34)

Jesus continues,

14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. ~John 13: 14-17 (NIV)

In my reading, verse 15 is just as clear as the instruction to observe the Lord’s Supper as we do in the Eucharist, or Communion or Lord’s Table in our modern services. So why the one and not the other?

A few years back this was part of a discussion in the Reformed community page on Reddit.  One answer reads,

A sacrament is an external sign and seal of a deeper spiritual mystery instituted by God, which is a special category occupied by baptism and the Lord’s Supper. There are many other things that Christ exhorts us to do, but not everything he tells us to do is a sacrament.

So we don’t accept foot washing as a sacrament because it was never instituted as a sacrament. There are clear commands in the New Testament to baptize in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) and observe the Lord’s Supper–“Drink of it, all of you” (Matthew 26:27). And then both are repeated elsewhere in the epistles, with information on the spiritual mysteries behind them.

Foot washing, on the other hand, was something Christ did to show the disciples and his Church how they should treat one another. It wasn’t instituted as an external sign that should be repeated by the church in all ages.

Another commented,

There is a difference between the Last Supper and the Lord’s Supper. The Last Supper is what Jesus ate with this disciples before his crucifixion, and that included foot washing. The Lord’s Supper is what he commanded his church to do, in commemoration of the Last Supper and in looking forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We were commanded to continue eating the bread and drinking the cup. We were not commanded wash feet – that was something that Jesus in particular did, and indeed only Jesus could do, as you can see when Jesus rebukes Peter. It would be inappropriate for us to do foot washing for the same reason that it was inappropriate for Peter to try and wash Christ’s feet. Like Peter we cannot make Christ clean – in fact it is unwittingly blasphemous to even think that – rather, only Christ can make us clean. Partaking of the bread and wine, however, demonstrate and are a reminder that Christ’s body was broken and his blood was shed for us, and that we need it.

There are more responses like this, but I can’t say I find them all totally satisfying.

One person wrote,

I’d find it easier to make an argument that foot-washing should be a sacrament than to make one that it shouldn’t.

What do you think?


Postscript:

People I know who have participating in foot-washing have described it as a sacred experience, a holy moment if you will that they will always treasure. But we seem to dismiss it as a First Century practice no longer applicable. The website Beliefnet offers alternatives.

…Many Christians like to show their humility and love in other ways that do not require the literal washing of feet. Some churches will promote this to help strengthen the bond within their congregation. Other ways you can symbolically wash the feet of those you want to be of service to include:

  • Engage in a random act of kindness
  • Leave flowers on a friend’s doorstep
  • Call someone just to check in on how they are doing
  • Share words of love and appreciation
  • Make amends for something you have done that may have been hurtful
  • Stand up for those who are unable to do so for themselves
  • Support someone, despite if you agree with their choices
  • Lend a listening ear to someone going through tough times
  • Bring a new person to your church
  • Use your God-given gifts in new ways

The main purpose of foot-washing is caring for others, cleansing us in a sin-cursed world, and to emulate Jesus in everything we do. As long as there are genuine emotions behind the act, the service to others will bring feelings of humility and empathy. It is a beneficial act for both parties.

So whether figurative or literal, is there someone whose feet you might wash this week?


Related worship song – a must listen!

If you don’t know this song, which we’ve featured here before, I urge you to take the time to experience this Graham Kendrick composition.

 

December 19, 2020

Not the Usual Way to Begin a Chapter of Wisdom Literature

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I don’t think I’ve ever paid attention to this verse before. You’ve got only one chapter in the entire Bible and this is how you begin? There’s no way to put a good spin on Proverbs 30:2

Certainly I am a stupid man, as dumb as an ox. I don’t understand the way that most people do. (The Voice)

Surely I am too stupid to be human; I do not have human understanding. (NRSV)

I’m more animal than human; so-called human intelligence escapes me. (The Message)

Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man. (ESV)

This our third time with Michael James Schwab who has lived in Oaxaca, Mexico since March, 2005, serving at a home for needy children called Cristo Por Su Mundo (Christ for the World) operated by Foundation For His Ministry.  He blogs at ToEnjoyGod.com. Click the header below to read this one at his blog.

I Am Too Stupid …

Suppose, for a moment, that God tapped you on the shoulder and asked you to write a chapter for the Bible. Wow. What an incredible honor! What would you write? How would you even begin?

Perhaps with an exclamation of God’s incredible majesty and glory, or a proclamation of His great love, mercy and grace. Maybe you would begin with a meditation on creation, the stars and seas; the mountains, flowers and forests. All of those ideas seem a good way to start a chapter of the Bible.

But that is not what Agur did. Who is Agur, you may ask. Well, Agur is the son of Jakeh and his claim to fame is writing one chapter in the Bible – Proverbs 30. And that is all we know about him. And you won’t believe how he started his chapter.

He writes “I am weary and worn out. I am too stupid to be human and I lack common sense.” (NLT) What a way to begin! Your one shot at immortality, and you tell the world that you are tired and stupid. In Holy Scripture no less. I love it!

I love it because it is so surprising. It catches one off guard. Especially in the book of Proverbs, which is wisdom literature. The first chapter starts off with these words, “The purpose of proverbs is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.” And the second to last chapter has some guy talking about how weary and stupid he is. Isn’t that great?

I think it’s great because that is the way I feel a lot of the time. Especially as I get older. The more I learn, the stupider I feel. Especially when I consider God.

I think Agur describes himself that way because he is thinking about God. In verses 4-5 he starts writing about God. God goes up to heaven and comes back down. God wraps up the oceans in his cloak. God created the whole wide world. Every word of God is true. God is a shield to all who come to him for protection. In short, God never gets tired and knows everything.

When we compare ourselves to God we all come away weary and stupid. We are like dumb cows compared to God. The Hebrew word that is used in verse two for “stupid” (NLT) is ba’ar, which literally can be translated “brutish cattle”.

We spend a lot of time trying to be smart, look smart and feel smart. We are all trying to gain knowledge in this “information age,” from the nightly news, to our favorite bloggers and YouTube videos, to masters degrees and PhD’s from acclaimed universities. But in the end, when we compare ourselves to an infinite, omniscient, omnipotent God, we are all just a bunch of dumb, tired cows.

So perhaps, the next time we are feeling full of ourselves and consider ourselves superior to those around us, we should just turn our attention to God, humble ourselves, and say “moo.”


I was so foolish and ignorant— I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
 Psalm 73:22 NLT

October 8, 2020

The Path to Unity (According to Paul)

by Clarke Dixon

This is a time of incredible division. Though we are Canadians, we cannot help but hear all the shouting to the South of us, especially with an election in the near future. America seems to be coming apart at the seams.

As a Christian I can’t talk. Church communities have faced divisive issues from the get-go. In New Testament times it was the eating of meat sacrificed to animals. In our day it is the response to the LGBTQ+ community.

Division is not limited to nations and churches. We are told that divorce rates are at an all time high. It is a time of division, and it looks like it is only going to get worse. How can we break through to unity?

The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi about unity in his day, which will help us in our day. In fact it will help avoid it in the first place.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV)

In other words, if you are a Christ follower, then be “of one mind.” But how do we do that? Unity is the goal, but what is the path?

We may think that the path to unity is uniformity. We just need to get everyone thinking the exact same things. Before we move forward on that assumption, let us keep reading what Paul has to say, let us follow the path he points us toward:

. . . be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

Philippians 2:2-5 (NRSV)

The path to unity is humility.

Why is humility the path to unity where we might expect uniformity? When uniformity is seen as the path to unity, it is not always the voice that is most correct that wins the day. Often it is the voice that speaks the loudest. Sometimes the voice that is heeded belongs to the one whose arm is the strongest.

That is how things worked in the Roman Empire. Step out of line and you could be crucified. Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi, a colony of Rome, to no longer have the mind of Roman, but instead:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)

Don’t think like Romans, for whom the cross, as a means of terrible execution, was a symbol of power. Instead think like Jesus, for whom the cross is a means of grace and forgiveness.

Don’t think like Romans, who exploit their position of power in the world, but think like God, who did not take advantage of his own position of power for his own sake, but came to us in Jesus for our sake.

If God was thinking like a Roman and had resorted to brute power to put things right, he would have wiped us all out and started over without us. Instead, God came to us as one of us and experienced the worst of us, for us. We were divided from God, a huge chasm existing between ourselves and God because of sin. We also became divided from each other. Through His humility, God brought has brought unity.

Power is the path to unity in empire thinking. Humility is the path to unity in Kingdom thinking.

Do we think like Romans or like Christ?


Rev. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. The full sermon on which this is based can be seen as part of an “online worship expression” from October 4th.

October 4, 2020

‘Leave’ a Legacy; ‘Live’ A Legacy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today again we’re back with Sam Williamson, author of two books I’ve reviewed at my other blog, Is Sunday School Destroying our Kids? and Hearing God in Conversation. His website is Beliefs of the Heart. You’re encouraged to read today’s post at his site by clicking the title which follows.

Living A Legacy Life

A few years ago I published, Mission Idolatry. My point was that our deepest worship is not expressed by the twenty minutes of Sunday morning singing, and that the object of worship is whatever brings us most life (whatever we dream about as we wait on hold with Comcast). Our source of life can be career, romance, or money. The most devious is our devotion to mission.

I was surprised by a reader who emailed me saying, “Our biggest purpose on earth is impact; we are created for one thing, and one thing only: to live a legacy life and to leave a heritage of impact. My worship is the impact I leave.” Never mind that his “one thing only” included two things; in his rush to impact, he missed the Jonathan Edwards’ quote:

It is true that by doing great things, something is worshipped, but it is not God.

I’ve read dozens of articles on impact. The modern twist shifts the focus from “leaving” a legacy to “living” a legacy. It emphasizes impact before death.

But doesn’t that “living-a-legacy-life” idea reek of self-praise? You never see Jesus crying, “Go ye forth and make a name for yourself! Bust your butt so that everyone will forever remember the legend of your great legacy” (3 Samuel 13.13). Scripture is counter-cultural when it says,

Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it! (Jer. 45:5a NLT)

The Only Influence that Counts

“Living a legacy life” has a long pedigree with many prominent ancestors:

  • The people in the Plain of Shinar loved the idea. They cried, “We must make an impression; let’s make a name for ourselves,” and they began the tower of Babel. (While they didn’t leave the legacy they wanted, they did leave a legacy, of sorts.)
  • King Saul begins very humbly, and God commends him for it. But after a military victory, Saul decides his military prowess must be memorialized, so he builds a monument in his own honor. And God takes his kingdom away.

On the other hand, John the Baptist left an impact so great that Jesus says, “Of those born of women, none is greater than John.” Greater even than Abraham, Job, Moses, and David.

What was John’s legacy? That he never built a monument to his legacy. When his followers left him to follow Jesus, John approved, saying, “I’m just the friend of the groom; he is the real deal.” John’s greatest effect is his worship: “I must decrease and he must increase.”

Of all the forms of worship, none is more addictive than our quest for significance.

Legacy is Worship

God’s sees through the self-glorifying, self-deceptions concerning our legacy-lives:

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me.” (Jer. 9:23-24 KJV)

The Hebrew word for “boast” is the same Hebrew word used in “hallelujah.” Hallelujah literally means, “Glory to Yahweh” while “boast” in these verses literally means, “Glory to me.”

Christianity has always taught that our purpose on earth is worship. It is in our DNA. Unfortunately,  we always worship the wrong thing. If it isn’t a golden calf, it’s our golden name. We want to do great things for the Lord. Why? We sing the 21st Century Handel’s Hallelu Chorus: All glory to me!

God can do everything without us, but he loves connection, the partnership. Jesus uses a boy’s fish and loaves to feed 5,000. He could have rained down meat and manna (a Biblical version of “it’s cloudy with a chance of meatballs”), but he chose to partner.

God invites us into companionship with him, and that partnership is an incredible honor, but only when we forget ourselves and point the glory to him.

If his legacy-life is friendship with us, maybe we can leave our best impact by letting our legacy go.

 

June 5, 2020

When Following Christ, Intellectual Depth is not Spiritual Depth

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 often crave spiritual depth. They should have recent to expect to receive just that.

  • A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard.
  • A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment.
  • An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.”
  • An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths.
  • A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. And often, I must confess, I default to writers and articles which stimulate the spiritual intellect.

But talk to someone who has walked for decades with God, and you’ll see something else at work. Yes, there is a love for his word, the scriptures. But there is also, simply put, a love for Him.

Again, Spiritual depth isn’t depth of understanding, or depth of communicating truths, rather, it’s about depth of relationship with God; or depth of intimacy with Jesus. You see a person and say, “That person really knows God.” Or conversely, “That person is truly known of God.” Or better, “That person really loves God.”

And what happens in the mind, manifests itself in the life, and can be observed in one’s character. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. Or a situation where you’ve never sought forgiveness, or forgiven the other. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. Then this becomes a natural lifestyle. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen people spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post about them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never properly tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of their personal shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

Conclusion:

We need to live our Christian lives not out of deep reasoning, or deep understanding of the things of God; rather, we need to live out of a deep conviction that comes from walking closely with God.

May 26, 2020

The Things We Boast About

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:38 pm
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Genesis 11:1 NIV Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”


2 Corinthians 12: 7b NLT … So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.


Micah 6:8 CEB He has told you, human one, what is good and
what the Lord requires from you:
to … walk humbly with your God.


Proverbs 3:34 GNT He has no use for conceited people, but shows favor to those who are humble.


1 Corinthians 1:31 The Voice As the Scripture says: “If someone wants to boast, he should boast in the Lord.”

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think... Romans 12: 3a NASB

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

In the first two passages above we see God altering the circumstances in order to keep people — collectively in the first passage, an individual in the second passage — from become prideful or boastful.

Introverts might not get this, but as an extrovert, I can say that in my life there is very much a tendency towards arrogance.

In the movie Network the female lead is asked, “What’s it like to be the person in the room who always has the right answers?”

Smugly, she replies, “It’s awful, absolutely awful.”

Psalm 20:7 is a verse that some of you learned in the KJV and other translations as “Some trust in chariots and some in horses…” Having a gut feeling about this verse I checked and sure enough, these alternatives to trust exist:

  • Some nations boast of armies and of weaponry, but our boast is in the Lord our God. (TLB)
  • Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God. (NASB)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. (NRSV)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God. (HCSB)

What are our modern equivalents? We don’t have chariots and horses, but many of us have nice cars which we spend our Saturday mornings polishing and caring for. What else?

  • education; including academic certificates, degrees, etc.
  • knowledge; both specialized and general
  • intuitive abilities; logic, reason, quick wit, tech savvy
  • friends; the size of our friends list on social media as a possible example
  • status; standing in the community, perhaps our name is in the local newspaper or mentioned on TV
  • spouse; we take credit for what is really a gift from God to us
  • possessions; our house, car, cabin the woods, consumer electronics, etc.
  • passions; the hobbies and interests we are always talking about

Thinking about these things and speaking of them sometimes boosts are adrenaline, brings a smile to our faces, or causes us to speak with greater volume and passion. We’re energized thinking about these things, and we can become arrogant.

The last category above is a good lead to these two questions:

  1. What’s the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning?
  2. What do you talk about when it’s your opportunity to control the conversation?

God had to wipe out the Tower of Babel. He didn’t wipe out Saul/Paul however, but introduced a condition — and Bible scholars vary as to what exactly it was — to keep him humble. Laura Story, in the popular Christian song Blessings asks:

What if your blessings come through rain drops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?

We very rarely thank God for Babel-type changes in plans, or Paul-type ongoing conditions, but they do prevent us from being less of a person than we might be; from being a person that others may not find particularly attractive; and from presenting ourselves in a way that people see us, but don’t see Christ living in and through us.

April 25, 2020

The Profit from Persistence

Over the years a consistent source of material for us here has been Jim Thornber, who we originally discovered because his website is called Thinking Out Loud. This story of the woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer is included in scripture to increase our faith. Jesus gives her a rather odd answer at first, and she is quick with a response. If you don’t know this story, click here to read Matthew 15: 21-28. Otherwise, I again encourage you to send some direct traffic to our contributing writers by clicking the headers like the one which appears next.

The Crumbs of Faith and Hope

“Jesus said to the woman, ‘I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.’ But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, ‘Lord, help me!’”­ Matthew 15:24-25

As I write this, the world is in turmoil because of coronavirus, or COVID-19. In response to this pandemic, prayers all over the world are ascending to God’s throne, and many pastors, like myself, are searching for ways to comfort and guide our people. Is God judging the world? Is He trying to remind us there is only one race on earth, the human race, and we need to work together as companions instead of apart as competitors?

I’ll let better minds than my own try to figure out what God is doing on a global scale, for I’ve got my hands full praying for and touching (not literally!) the lives I come in contact with (not literally!) every day. What I do know is God is not the silent type, and even when He is, He is leading us into a life of faith and hope.

All of this has me thinking about the very persistent mother in Matthew 15:21-28. The story finds Jesus leaving Galilee and going north into Tyre and Sidon, which was Gentile territory. A Canaanite (enemies of the Jews) woman who lived there came to Him and pleaded for Jesus to heal her daughter, who was being tormented by a demon. As a response to this request, Jesus remained silent.

Today, silence is a most hated concept. With smartphones, the internet, radio and television blaring everywhere we go, we’ve learned to distrust the sound of silence. Silence is wrong. Silence means something is broke. Silence from our political leaders means they are not working on our behalf. Silence from our religious leaders means they don’t have the comforting answers we seek. Silence makes us nervous. Silence makes us wonder if we’re still alive if all we hear is the sound of our own breathing.

Add to that silence of Jesus the complete lack of compassion from the Disciples. Sure, they want Jesus to heal her, but only because “she is bothering us with all her begging” (15:23). In other words, if healing her daughter will get her to shut up, then DO IT! So, couple the silence of Jesus with the fact the people hanging out with Jesus urge Him to send her away, in most instances you’d have an emotional breakdown in the making. This woman is facing rejection on all sides and she knows it, but she still doesn’t go away. She just stands there and waits for the Son of David to answer her request, and when Jesus does speak, it is not as the meek and mild Jesus we sing about in church.

“I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel,” He replies. Great. Not only is Jesus treating her with silence, now He says he wasn’t sent for her. Apparently, there are people whose needs are greater or better or more deserving than a mother whose child is possessed by a demon.

At this point in the story, I’d be ready to tell the Son of David what He can do with His Messiah complex. I mean, if God is going to be so callused as to tell me that others are more deserving of His mercy and grace, then it’s time to find another god.

But, what this woman does next just astounds me. Verse 25 says, “she came and worshiped him.” Is that what I would do? Would I worship God after He has been silent? Would I worship God after His church board has suggested He heal me just so I wouldn’t upset their precious fellowship? Would I worship this God after He tells me He’s not here for me?  Honestly, I’d be more tempted to whine about how life is all against me than to worship a God who intends to ignore me.

However, this persistent mom challenges me again, for in her humility she acknowledges that everything Jesus said was true. She was not an Israelite, Jesus was not here for her first, and she shouldn’t get the meat from the table. All true. It’s only the proud people like me who think Jesus’ arrival on earth was all about meeting my personal needs according to my personal comfort and timing. When will I learn that even the scraps from God’s table are richer fare than any five-star meal the world has to offer? Isn’t it better to be a dog in God’s kingdom than a king in the realm of Satan? This woman has seen how demons treat people like her daughter, and she knows there is more compassion in the crumbs of God than in the lies of the loftiest fallen angel.

Now, let’s look at this passage from another angle. Yes, Jesus was silent, but He was there. He was in her presence and He didn’t leave. In fact, He came to her Gentile town; she didn’t travel to find Him in Israel. There is always hope when God is present, and God is always present. While most of the world lacks the awareness of His presence, this racially, geographically and theologically distanced enemy of Jesus was more aware of His mercy and compassion than were His Disciples.

Next, we see that silence isn’t a refusal. He was silent but He didn’t say no. He was silent but He didn’t leave. In silence there also is hope. Don’t let the silence of God or the quick answers of the critics send you away from what you need most.

When Jesus replied He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel (and I can’t help but think He said that with a twinkle in His eye, just to test her faith), He was indicating there is still hope. If there wasn’t hope, what was Jesus doing in Gentile territory? Sometimes we think God is only going to help the good people who are worthy. But this scene reminds us that God came to save the world, because the entire world is as unworthy as this Gentile woman. God is increasing her faith, and we could all use a bit more faith.

Therefore, the next time God is silent regarding our requests, we need to remember His silence doesn’t mean “No.” We need to remember that Jesus came to us before we came to Jesus, for that reminds us how important we are to Him. We, I, need to remember that the critics who want me to disappear have forgotten that Jesus chose to be with me, and I’ll stand in His presence as long as He’ll have me.

Finally, when God tells me the truth about who I am, I need to remember that even a mutt like me has a place at the banquet table of God. Sure, life may not always go as I’d like it, but Jesus has entered the room and where He is, there is hope.

So, during this time of quarantine, shut-ins, social distancing, job loss and financial uncertainty, we all have a choice—we can worship or we can whine. Granted, my first response has not always been as persistent as the mommy in the story. However, I’m learning wherever I am and in whatever circumstances I find myself, there is always room for more worship, for more conversation with God and for more faith, for “through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).

 

 

 

 

 

April 2, 2020

Help! I’m Sinking! (Like Peter)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

When I was a young lad of thirteen years of age or so, my parents bought me a sailboat. It was an old wooden boat that leaked like a sieve, but it did float, mostly, and was a lot of fun to sail. Initially my Dad helped me sail it, however he did not know how to sail a boat any more than I did! One thing I remember from my early days as a sailor was my growing disdain for “stink-pots.” That is how some sailors refer to motorboats. They are noisy, they pollute, they do not have the same sense of challenge as the sailboats. I did not like them. I was a sailor, and proud of it!

For the most part I did quite well in sailing, but one day strong winds caught my Dad and I off guard. Thinking we were being smart, we took one of the sails down. Except that in this particular boat, that was not very smart. We had trouble heading in the desired direction after that. We were headed toward the shore, the wrong shore, where rocks awaited. The boat leaked enough as it was without adding some new damage. Also, overhanging trees would not be good for the mast and rigging.

We made our next smart move. We threw out the anchor. This particular anchor came with the boat and was a homemade affair being made from what was likely a tin of beans with the beans replaced by cement and a hook for a rope. It may as well have just been a tin of beans on the end of a rope, for it was useless. Actually, we may as well have just thrown a tin of beans out of the boat with no rope. It was worse than useless. We were in trouble.

Except there was this awful noise. A friend in a stink-pot saw that we were in trouble and came to the rescue. A stink-pot never sounded so good. I quickly got over my disdain for powerboats and accepted the help. We were towed in.

Sometimes we need to get over our disdain of others, or institutions, and accept help. Sometimes we need to get over our pride, and accept help. Sometimes we need to get over our need to be independent, and accept help. Sometimes we need to get over ourselves. Sometimes we need help.

Peter was doing well, walking on water toward Jesus who was also walking on the water. But then he was in trouble:

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:28-31 (NRSV)

Peter had the humility to ask for help. He knew he was in over his head, or at least soon would be. He knew that there was nothing he could do. Whatever pride he may have felt for being the one disciple to walk on the water, he now needed the humility to admit that he was the one disciple who needed help!

Do we have the humility to ask for help? We may need help in these strange days brought about by a pandemic. Some may need help with something as simple as getting groceries. Of course you are capable of getting your own groceries. But maybe right now, you shouldn’t. Some may need help with facing loneliness. Some may need prayer. Some may need to talk through their thoughts and feelings. Do we have the humility to request and/or receive help?

In these strange and scary days, some will realize the need of help that only God can give. They may think to themselves, how hypocritical, to only go to God now when troubles come. Remember that Peter only cried out to Jesus for help when he started sinking. Jesus was willing to help.

If we were acting this story out for a movie, how would we say the words of Jesus; “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”? Would we say those words with scorn? “How could you be so foolish as to take your eyes off me, and start doubting?! Look at how that led you to sinking, you fool!” Or would we read them with compassion; “Peter, don’t you know how much I love you, and would not let you drown?”

It should be the latter. Why? Based on the story Jesus told of the prodigal son. A son asked his father for his inheritance and went off to a foreign place and blew it all on partying and the like. Coming upon hard times, he decided to go back:

But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:17-24 (NRSV)

If you sense that you should call to God for help, but are reticent because you have not been in a relationship before now, take courage from the prodigal son story. You may even have had disdain in your heart for God in the past. Do you have the humility to accept the help He offers now? He has the love and grace to help:

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10 (NRSV)

Here is how that story of Peter walking on the water ends;

When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:32-33 (NRSV)

May we have the humility to accept the help the Son of God offers us. We also will be able to say “truly you are the son of God.”


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced his regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. This worship expression can be seen hereFor a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here). Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

December 31, 2019

A Quiet Servant

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. — Isaiah 58:10-11 NASB

As the year ends, one thing I’m looking forward to in 2020 is the release of the new Max Lucado book, Jesus: The God Who Knows Your Name. Reading an advance copy of it has reminded me why he is such a popular, gifted writer. What follows is a short excerpt from what is his is currently newest book, How Happiness Happens. Clicking the header below will take you to a site where you may learn more and purchase the book.

Service With A Smile

…I’ve seen thousands like him. Quiet servants. The supporting cast of the kingdom of God. They seek to do what is right. They show up. Open doors. Cook dinners. Visit the sick. You seldom see them in front of an audience. That’s the last place most of them want to be. They don’t stand behind a pulpit; they make sure the pulpit is there. They don’t wear a microphone but make certain it’s turned on.

They embody this verse:

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. — Galatians 5:13

These words appear toward the end of a document on liberation. For five chapters the apostle Paul proclaimed, “You are free! Free from sin. Free from guilt. Free from rules. Free from regulations. The yoke of slavery is off, and the liberation has begun.”

Our freedom, however, is not an excuse for us to do whatever we want. Just the opposite.

    Because we are free, we can serve.

We voluntarily indenture ourselves to others. In a society that seeks to be served, we seek opportunities to serve others.

Andrew was such a servant. He was the brother of Peter. He came from the same town as James and John. Yet when we discuss the inner circle of Peter, James, and John, we don’t mention Andrew. His name never appears at the top of the list of leaders. He lived in the shadow of the others. In the group photo he stood at the side, hands in pockets. Then again, he probably held the camera.

Quiet, however, does not mean complacent. Just because Andrew avoided the limelight, that doesn’t mean he lacked fire. He led his brother Peter to Jesus. Peter went on to preach the first sermon. Peter led the Jerusalem church. Peter took the Gospel to Gentiles. He wrote epistles that we still read. He defended the apostle Paul. Anyone who appreciates Paul’s epistles owes a debt of gratitude to Peter. And anyone who has benefited from the rocklike faith of Peter owes a debt to the servant spirit of Andrew.

And it was the servant spirit of Mary that led God to select her to be the mother of Jesus. She wasn’t a scholar or a sophisticated socialite. She was simple. Plain. A peasant. She blended into the crowd. She hailed from Nazareth, a dusty village in an oppressed district in Galilee.

In the social strata of her day, Mary occupied the lowest step. As a Jew she answered to the Romans. As a female she was subservient to males. As a young girl she was second to older women. She was poor, so she was beneath the upper class.

Mary was extraordinarily ordinary. Yet this virtue set her apart:

I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!
— Luke 1:38 NCV

When God wants to bring Christ into the world, He looks for servants. No diploma required. No bloodline specified. Bank accounts are not a factor. Place of birth doesn’t matter. Let all unassuming people of the world be reminded: God can use you.

____

Jesus came to serve.

In one of His appearances to His followers, they were on the Sea of Galilee when they heard Him call out from the shore. When He told them where to find fish, they realized it was Jesus. Peter plunged into the water and swam to shore. The other disciples grabbed their oars and paddled. When they reached the beach, they saw the most extraordinary sight. Jesus was cooking! He told them,

Come and eat breakfast.John 21:12

Shouldn’t the roles be reversed? Jesus had just ripped the gates of hell off their hinges. He’d disemboweled the devil. He’d made a deposit of grace that forever offsets our debt of sin. He’d sentenced the demons to death row and set free every sinner since Adam. He, the unrivaled Commander of the Universe, wore the apron?

Even more, He has yet to remove it. He promises a feast in Heaven at which

He will gird Himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. — Luke 12:37

Can you imagine the sight? Row after row of food-laden tables. The redeemed of the ages celebrating and singing, and someone asks, “Has anyone seen Jesus?”

“Yes,” another replies. “He’s on the other side of the banquet room serving ice tea.”

Christ Himself was like God in everything. But He did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit. But He gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing. He was born as a man and became like a servant. — Philippians 2:6-7 NCV

He was content with the humblest of titles. He was content to be called a servant.

December 12, 2019

Did Elizabeth and Mary Earn their Special Place in the Christmas Story? Do We Earn Our Place in God’s Story?

by Clarke Dixon

God was up to something big at Christmas. Elizabeth and Mary were chosen to participate in very important ways. Why were they chosen?

We might write a sermon on how they earned their special place in the Christmas story. Elizabeth has a fine resumé:

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. Luke 1:5-6 (NRSV)

Elizabeth is a descendant of Aaron, so has a good family lineage. She is righteous and blameless according to the Old Covenant law. She is also married to a priest, which as anyone married to a pastor will know, means she must be a saint. Elizabeth is a very good woman. She ticks all the boxes for being top of the list for earning God’s favour.

What about Mary? Mary does not get the same build-up from Luke in his Gospel account as Elizabeth, but we can point to her humble character and her willingness to follow God’s lead:

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38 (NRSV)

We might therefore write a sermon about both Elizabeth and Mary earning their special place in the Christmas story and encourage everyone to earn divine favour. But I won’t. Why? The message “we are good, therefore God was good,” was not a sermon Elizabeth or Mary would preach.

Consider Elizabeth’s response when she conceived:

“This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Luke 1:25 (NRSV)

Notice what she did not say; “being good has paid off. I was good, so God was good.” Elizabeth does not put the spotlight of her own goodness, she highlights God’s goodness. Notice further her response when Mary comes to visit:

She exclaimed with a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb! 43 And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me? Luke 1:42-43 (NET)

Elizabeth’s attitude is not, “I have earned this privilege,” but “who am I that I should have such a privilege?”

Let us also consider what Mary has to say:

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Mary praises God, not herself. She does not say “he looked on the goodness of his servant,” but “he looked on the lowliness of his servant.” Throughout the song, God is spoken of as doing great things for others, especially the “lowly” and the “hungry.” He acts according to His promise, and not according to Mary’s perfection. In this song, Mary sees herself as being an example, not of perfect obedience and righteousness, but of weakness. In this song God does something special, not because people are perfect and deserve better, but because people have needs and God is good.

Neither Elizabeth nor Mary get overly religious. We are being very religious when we think that our own goodness leads directly to the experience of God’s goodness. When we experience blessing, we think it is because we earned it. When we don’t experience blessing, we think we have failed to earn it. Mere religion puts the focus on us, and what we do or don’t do. Truth is more important than religion. Truth is, God is good. His goodness to us does not flow from the building up of our merit, but the outpouring of His love. Our goodness follows from the goodness of God, it does not lead to it.

Religion has a nasty habit of putting the spotlight on us. We humans have a nasty habit of enjoying that spotlight. Christmas puts the spotlight on God. God has done something amazing, regardless of the goodness of the people involved. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary focus on their own goodness, or their lack thereof. Both point instead, to the goodness of God. Christmas causes us to stop thinking of ourselves for a moment, of how good we are, and instead to focus on God, how good He is.

A spirit of entitlement comes from one’s religiosity. “I am so good, therefore God must be good to me.” Elizabeth and Mary don’t say that.  A spirit of humility comes from one’s grasp of reality.  “God is so good! Who am I to receive a blessing?” Elizabeth and Mary do say that. Do we, through our goodness, earn a place in the story of God? A spirit of truth will bring our focus where Elizabeth and Mary’s was; on the goodness of God. God makes us a place for us in His story because God is good.


Listen to the sermon on which this article is based. Look for the December 8th message.


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in a town located about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. Click here for his WordPress blog.

 

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