Christianity 201

May 25, 2021

Choosing the Better Part

NIV.Luke.10.38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I spent a long time today trying to locate just the right devotional reading for us. This one is from Nehemiah Zion and the blog Raising Zion. This looks like a good resource, and you can start discovering more by clicking the header which follows.

How To Get Far Better In Life?

What does it mean to get far better? There are two kinds of Christians, one that seeks God more, another that seeks everything else more than God. Mary chose a far better thing by sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha was loving too, but her concern was carnal rather than spiritual. (Luke 10:42)

We get far better in life at the feet of Jesus

What do we get at the feet of Jesus that makes us far better in life? I’d like to share five things we receive which makes us live a far better life in Christ.

Word of God (Deuteronomy 33:3) (Hebrews 4:12) (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

“Yea, he loved the people; All his saints are in thy hand: And they sat down at thy feet; Every one shall receive of thy words.” (‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭33:3‬)

Forgiveness of sins (Luke 7:47)

“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭7:47‬)

Deliverance from bondage (Luke 17:12-14) (Luke 8:35,36)

“And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭17:12-14‬)

Exposed self (Revelation 1:17)

“And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:” Revelation‬ ‭1:17‬

John beheld the glory of Jesus and fell flat as dead. It reveals how frail and undeserving we are of even being in His presence. Isaiah reveals how he was exposed of his unholy natures in the presence of God.

Rejoicing = worshipping (Matthew 28:9)

“And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.”(Matthew‬ ‭28:9‬)

There is adoration, and freedom at the feet of Jesus. Mary and the other Mary’s immediate response was worship as they saw their loving Saviour. As I write this my heart leaps in joy trying to visualize the scene. The very presence of Jesus is one of great peace, rest, joy and love.

As believers we live in the utmost joy that can come only from heaven. Believers who are unable to enjoy God’s presence are often found focused on carnal thinking and outward displays. So many are busy bodies (spiritually) but have zero fruit. Constantly quarrelsome and bitter in their hearts. Such can never begin to understand the joy of God’s presence.

Get down, let your tears wash the feet of Jesus. Spirit baptized believers are betrothed to Christ, eagerly awaiting His coming. Maranatha, Praise God and Amen!



Bonus item: This from Wisconsin writer Glenn Hager at his self-titled blog. He is the author of two books about his own journey An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.

Christianity in 100 Words

Saw this somewhere and decided to take the challenge.

Jesus. Christianity is based on Jesus, not a church or a prescribed set of beliefs.

Love. Christianity is based on love, loving God, loving others (especially those we do not understand), and loving ourselves (in a healthy, non-arrogant sort of way, since he loves us).

Life. Christianity is woven into our lifestyle, not something tacked on, not something to sign off on, not something that happens on a special day or in a special place.

Grace. Christianity is based on grace, grace that always gives us hope, even in our darkest hours and deepest failures, and is extended to others.

December 19, 2018

The Mary/Martha Dichotomy Isn’t About Busyness

Psalm 27:4
One thing I have asked of the LORD, this is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and seek Him in His temple.

Despite the hundreds of authors featured here, I have only two devotionals which I personally subscribe to, and one which I read online. One of the daily emails is titled “Breakfast of Champions” by Andy and Gina Elmes. To get these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

Don’t miss what she says here about posture. It’s a part of the Mary/Martha story that’s so obvious we can totally miss it. Especially at Christmas, when we’re all so very… busy!

The posture of a listening heart

Luke 10:42, The Truth version
Only one thing is really important and this is what Mary is doing. So I won’t deprive her of what is most important: to listen to what I say!

by Gina Elmes
My 10-year-old daughter was given a really unique devotional which she asked if I would read with her at night before bed. The book teaches how to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and to listen out for the often still, small voice of God. It is a highly interactive devotional, filled with exercises in listening for God’s voice. We began reading this book and then we would come to the interactive part where we speak to God and ask Him a question such as, “Who do I need to encourage tomorrow, Lord, and what would you like me to say to them?” Then we wait for a few minutes listening to what the Lord says to our heart.

My daughter and I would close our eyes and we would wait, and my head was so full of the stuff of the day that I found this exercise really difficult! I had plans and lists and ‘to do’ stuff and recipes and ‘don’t forget’s’ all flying around inside my chaotic mind that I found it hard to listen for the voice of God. My daughter, on the other hand, would hardly close her eyes when she would say, “I’m done! He talked to me and I know just who needs encouragement and I know what I need to tell them.”

Night after night this happened and the things she was hearing from God were amazing, and I was struggling to hear anything. I was reflecting on this one morning when I recalled Luke 10:38-42, which gives the account of Mary and Martha. Martha was the busy one preparing the meal and getting everything perfect for her guests, and Mary was found sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to all He had to say. The more I read this account the more I realize it is not so much about lessening our busy schedules as much as it is about the posture of our listening heart.

I have so many responsibilities and I can’t see that changing any time soon, but I can learn better to incline my ear to His voice wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. Somebody in the Mary/Martha scenario had to cook lunch after all! Jesus isn’t advocating laziness, but He is commending Mary’s desire to be always listening to Him and this will always be the better part of anything we do. Somehow, in the busy-ness of life, I had lost the posture of a listening heart; forgetting that God desires to have a relationship with me all day, not just in the moments I call ‘quiet time’. Now, when I’m busy with the everyday stuff of life, I use these opportunities to talk to God and for Him to talk to me.

I still set regular times for myself to solely focus on God but now even when driving, cooking, walking the dog, cleaning out a closet, these have all become opportunities for me to lift my ear to heaven and hear the One who desires an audience with me, and I have found that I can learn to hear Him over the loudness of everyday life when I make a practice of purposely posturing my heart to hear Him.


Learn more about the UK ministry Great Big Life.

May 3, 2016

Dancing with the Wrong Partner

John 20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” …

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

In the process of digging deeper here at Christianity 201, we usually eschew certain types of illustrations, but every once in awhile there is one that really makes you think. That was the case when I read this article by Canadian pastor and fiction author Matthew David Brough. Click the title below to read this at source.

May I Cut In?

Today  I came across an idea I had written about three years ago for a sermon on the same bit of Scripture as this coming Sunday’s. Here’s the thought – stick with it to the end.

John 20:19-31 describes a group of frightened men locked away in an upper room on the first Easter evening. They’re afraid that they will meet with the same fate as Jesus did three days earlier. Will the authorities start rounding up his followers? Will the authorities find out that they were indeed his disciples?

Suddenly, though the doors are locked, Jesus appears among them. He shows them his hands and feet and says “peace be with you” – their faith in him is renewed.

How did Jesus suddenly appear among them? I guess Jesus’ resurrected body must be able to just disappear and reappear and pass through walls. That’s pretty awesome, but it’s not the point (at least not the point today). The point is that Jesus wanted to be in that room with his fearful followers. He chose to come to them. I imagine that if Jesus wasn’t able pass through walls, he would have found some way into that room – he would have broke in if he’d had to.

I think Jesus is like that with us. Ever been afraid? Ever been discouraged? Ever been full of doubt? Beaten by life? Jesus wants to break in and say “peace” to you.

Another way of thinking about this…

You may have seen this scene in an old movie or something. A man and woman are dancing and there is this other man on the sideline, watching. The man on the side knows in his heart that he is supposed to be the one dancing with the woman. She is so beautiful to him – he just knows they are meant for each other. She is dancing with the wrong partner. He walks up to the couple and says “may I cut in?”

That’s what Jesus does. He sees you for who you truly are – you are beautiful to him. He doesn’t judge you – he just despairs that you are dancing with the wrong partner. You’re dancing with fear, with greed, with ambition, with doubt. But Jesus knows you are meant to dance with him. Fortunately, Jesus is even more persistent than the romantic lead in the old movie.

He interrupts your dance and says “may I cut in?”

Then, it’s your move.

Incidentally, the disciples were still hiding in the same room a week later. You know what Jesus did? He showed up again. “May I cut in?” “Peace be with you” were the first words out of his mouth.

November 11, 2014

Not the Benefits, But Christ Himself

Several years ago I remember hearing someone say, “The gift of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit himself.” Yes, it would be nice to be able to share some of the flashy, supernatural spiritual gifts with people and be able to speak words into their lives with insight you could never come by naturally, or be able to lay hands on people and see dramatic physical healing; but in the end, the gift of the Holy Spirit available to everyone is the Spirit’s presence and direction in our lives.

The Message translation of I Corinthians 13:1-4 reads like this:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

In other words,

  • I can be the best speaker
  • I can be the deepest theologian
  • I can be the most powerful intercessor
  • I can be the most generous philanthropist
  • I can be the most noble martyr

but my attitude is terrible it doesn’t matter; and if gifts as powerful as the ones above can be trumped simply by being love-less, then by comparison those gifts aren’t worth a whole lot.

Sunday night I read the very short booklet containing the text of a message given by A. B. Simpson, founder of the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination, simply titled Himself. This was also the title of a hymn that Simpson wrote that is somewhat unknown outside C&MA circles:

HIMSELF
  by A. B. Simpson
Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word.
Once His gifts I wanted, Now the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing, Now Himself alone.

Once ’twas painful trying, Now ’tis perfect trust;
Once a half salvation, Now the uttermost.
Once ’twas ceaseless holding, Now He holds me fast;
Once ’twas constant drifting, Now my anchor’s cast.

Once ’twas busy planning, Now ’tis trustful prayer;
Once ’twas anxious caring, Now He has the care.
Once ’twas what I wanted, Now what Jesus says;
Once ’twas constant asking, Now ’tis ceaseless praise.

Once it was my working, His it hence shall be;
Once I tried to use Him, Now He uses me.
Once the power I wanted, Now the Mighty One;
Once for self I labored, Now for Him alone.

Once I hoped in Jesus, Now I know He’s mine;
Once my lamps were dying, Now they brightly shine.
Once for death I waited, Now His coming hail;
And my hopes are anchored, Safe within the veil.

 

The language is now outdated, but you can read the whole text of the message here. (It’s not very long.)

In the hymn above, Simpson summarizes all the things he was seeking after:

  • blessing
  • feeling
  • gifts
  • healing
  • power

and the means he sought to get those things:

  • striving
  • planning
  • working
  • pleading

and what all this left him with:

  • a half salvation
  • anxiety
  • self-centeredness
  • a dying faith

until he saw that the greatest benefit was having Christ Himself:

  • the Lord
  • His word
  • His care
  • perfect trust
  • security
  • peace

Categorically, there is nothing to add to that!

Amplifed Bible – Philippians 3:10 [For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope]

 

 

October 29, 2014

Bible Metaphors

Bible Imagery

Today’s reading is adapted from the book The Ransomed Heart: A Collection of Devotional Readings by John Eldridge, author of Wild at Heart.


The Bible uses a number of metaphors to describe our relationship to God at various stages.  If you’ll notice, they ascend in a stunning way:

Potter and clay.  At this level we are merely aware that our lives are shaped – even broken – by a powerful hand.  There isn’t much communication, just the sovereignty of God at work.

Is. 64:8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

Shepherd and sheep.  At this stage we feel provided for, watched over, cared about.  But beyond that, a sheep has little by way of true intimacy with the Shepherd.  They are altogether different creatures.

John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Master and servant.  Many, many believers are stuck in this stage, where they are committed to obey, but the relationship is mostly about receiving orders and instructions and carrying them out.

Matthew 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.

Father and child.  This is certainly more intimate than being a servant; children get the run of the house, they get to climb on Daddy’s lap.  These fortunate souls understand God’s fatherly love and care for them.  They feel “at home” with God.

Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Luke 11:2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father,…

Friends.  This stage actually opens up a deeper level of intimacy as we walk together with God, companions in a shared mission.  We know what’s on his heart;  he knows what’s on ours.  There is a maturity and intimacy to the relationship.

John 15:15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you

Bridegroom and bride (lovers).  Here, the words of the Song of Songs could also describe our spiritual intimacy, our union and oneness with God.  Madam Guyon wrote, “I love God far more than the most affectionate lover among men loves his earthly attachment.”

John 3:29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.

Rev. 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad
    and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.

Where would you put your relationship with God?  Why did you choose that “level”?  Has it always been that way?


 

This particular section of The Ransomed Heart is taken from The Journey of Desire Journal and Guidebook page 150. The scriptures are taken from the NIV and were not part of the original.

October 24, 2013

Teaching Emphasis versus Liturgy and Sacrament

NIV Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

With the exception of some early Christian writings, we don’t have a lot of concise snapshots of the early church better than the closing six verses of Acts 2. But ask anyone with even a superficial knowledge of church history, and they’ll tell you that the way we do church in 2013 doesn’t follow the pattern known to those who came before us.

This article didn’t have a specific scripture reference, but for people processing their faith at the “201” level, it raises issues worth thinking about today. It’s from Matthew Marino who has a blog called The Gospel Side, where this article appeared recently under the title, Spiritual Baseball: The Unlikely Path to Intimacy with Jesus.  Send Matthew some stats love by clicking the title to read at source.

Liturgy

Every once in a while you meet someone and immediately sense they are wise and grounded. One of those for me was a Roman Catholic youth pastor. We met some fifteen years ago at an outdoor cafe. While the coffee cooled he made small talk by mentioning the Protestant activities his children were involved in: Awana, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Young Life, and attending a Christian high school. I laughed and probed just a bit: Was he a wanna be Protestant? He laughed back and said, “Absolutely not. It’s just that it is pretty hard to come to faith in my Church.” His answer baffled me. Why, I asked, would he choose to be involved in a church in which it was hard for his children to come to faith? How, I wondered, did he not see himself as making my point for me? The jovial youth minister grinned again, handed me a pen, pushed a napkin toward me and said, with the hint of a smirk, “Make a list of your ten favorite authors.”

I scratched names on the napkin until he reached over and grabbed the pen, and said, “Ok, I’m stopping you at fifteen. I notice that of your fifteen favorite authors, thirteen of them are liturgical Christians.” I had never heard the word ‘liturgical’ and didn’t want to admit it, so I glossed over that detail and asked him what his point was.

He asked, “Why do you like those authors: Nouwen, Lewis, Temple, Wesley, Chesterton, Wright, Manning, Stott?”

“I guess because they write as if they have intimacy with Jesus,” I said.

He answered without hesitating, “Exactly,” he said, “I’m in my Church because it is how you become intimate with Jesus.”

“O, come on!” I objected.

He pointed at the napkin and reminded me it was my list. He then said something that took me a decade to understand, “If you want true intimacy with Jesus, it will probably happen in a liturgical church: Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian, old-school Lutheran.”

We sat there another half hour and I decided that what he was saying is that if the spiritual life were a game of baseball, then first base is a relationship with Jesus. If one does not get on base, nothing else matters. That was why his kids were in evangelical activities. Second base might be knowing the Bible. Third, giving your life away in service for God and the Kingdom. But a “home run,” in the Christian life, is intimacy with Christ…what the Orthodox masters call “theosis” – a fulfillment of the image of God. I left that meeting wanting to “make it home,” but without the least awareness that, for millions over the last 2,000 years, the “home run” I longed to experience has been a common one in liturgical traditions.

And yes, I do realize that statement sounds arrogant and just plain incorrect to evangelical ears. After all, every evangelical church in America has a healthy collection of members who left the liturgical world precisely because they hadn’t gotten “on base” in a liturgical church.

What you may not realize is how non-normative the American 4 song/sermon worship format is in the scope of things. For 3/4 of Christian history, the liturgy was the only form of Christian worship. Even today, nearly 3/4 of the Christians on the planet worship God in the ancient pattern of Word and Sacrament. That doesn’t make the liturgy better, worse or more or less biblical, it does say that what most Christians know as “worship” is a bit of an outlier.

I am not saying that liturgical churches are perfect or have more holy people or that there are not dead liturgical churches…I’m fairly sure that dead liturgy might be the worst sort of dead. Just that for the lion’s share of Christians who have ever lived, worship was not song and sermon but Scripture and Supper.

…for the lion’s share of Christians who have ever lived, worship was not song and sermon but Scripture and Supper.

I didn’t understand what my Catholic friend was talking about precisely because I had been to a liturgical church a few times and found it repetitive and, frankly, numbing. What I discovered was that the power is precisely in the repetition…that, as a rough rock in a stream becomes a smooth stone from years of water flowing over it, the Christian is formed into the image of God when we surrender ourselves to the three-fold pattern of daily immersion in the Scriptures, weekly feeding in the Eucharist, and the annual cycle of the Christian year, combined with contemplative practices like those of the desert fathers. I have found that these are re-orienting my perception of reality, the way I view time, life, and the world around me, in ways that words on a page cannot fully capture. It is freeing me to love those who oppose me and work for the good of those who seek my harm.

You may not be interested in walking the path to the ancient Church, known in Anglicanism as “the Canterbury trail.” I was not either. Ironically it is a journey that has given a depth to my walk with Christ that I never imagined. Like someone who has never tasted ice-cream, I didn’t know what I was missing.

What about you? If you have walked with Jesus for several decades, is intimacy/spiritual union something the church you worship in is nurturing in you? In what ways, corporately and individually are you finding intimacy with Jesus? Or have you, like many, given up on intimacy with God as having a corporate expression? If so, I invite you to the sandlot to play ball.