Christianity 201

October 2, 2018

Murder in the Early Church?

Honestly, in all the years I’ve studied the Book of James, I never really picked up on that word: Murder! (Yikes!)

Today we’re back with Peter Corak who we featured here in a Sunday Worship column a year ago and who has been very faithfully writing excellent devotionals at My Morning Meal since November, 2009. Click the title below to read this at source and then use his archives menu to find other material.

More Grace

His letter is written to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” So James’ epistle was penned for believers but with a particular Hebrew flavor. Maybe not surprising given that it’s thought this could be the first NT book written, and thus written to a church that was still largely Jewish.

So it’s for those who are born again. Those who are new creations in Christ. And maybe that’s what makes the opening verses of chapter 4 a bit disturbing.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

(James 4:1-4 ESV)

What? Quarrels? Fights? Murder? And all this among the believers?!? Say it ain’t so!

What happened to “and all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44)? Or, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own” (Acts 4:32)? Even if you understand that James isn’t referring to murder in the literal sense but in the Sermon on the Mount sense, that of intense anger towards someone (Mt. 5:21-22), you’re still asking yourself, what’s going on?

What could so corrupt the unity of the Spirit believers were born again into (1Cor. 12:13, Eph. 4:1-3)? What could so mar the testimony of love for one another that Jesus said would mark His disciples (Jn. 13:35)?

Two things, apparently. Passions at war within us, and love for the world around us. Evidently a lethal combo for the church being the church.

The nature of the flesh is to want. To desire what it thinks it must have to be satisfied. What it feels it needs in order to experience pleasure. And when someone else has that something, there can be a tendency to turn on that person. Either out of jealousy, or of trying to compete for it. Cue a catalyst for conflict.

And what feeds the flesh? The world. The system of values, priorities, and prizes that man has built up for themselves in order to satisfy “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” (1Jn. 2:16). The world feeds the flesh. And flesh wars against others driven by flesh. And then you have quarrels, and fightings, and murders . . . oh my!!!

What’s the answer? Stop it!!!

It’s that simple, says James. Stop coveting and start praying, asking for what you think you need. And if you don’t get it, then know that you ask amiss.

What’s more, stop befriending the world (by the way, that’s not BFF type of befriending, that’s getting into bed with type of “friends” . . . you adulterous people). For to befriend the world is to set yourself up as an enemy of God. Why would believers hang the enemies flag in front of their homes? Oh yeah, the flesh!

Ugly mirror to be looking into this morning. Bitter food to be chewing on. But thank God for the word but.

But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

(James 4:6 ESV)

More grace. Greater grace. Larger grace. Stronger grace. That’s the grace our God dispenses . . . and dispenses freely and abundantly.

And it’s available to the humble. To those who look in the mirror of Scripture and see their own reflection in the twelve tribes of the dispersion. Who refuse to say, “Not me! That’s someone else,” but know the battle between the flesh and the Spirit is their daily reality. Who, by the Spirit’s enabling power, say, “No!” to the flesh, and “Forgive me” to God. Who preach the gospel to themselves — the blood’s power to forgive and cleanse, the empty tomb’s power to allow those once in bondage to the flesh to live in newness of life. To believe in, and avail themselves of, “but He gives more grace.”

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.

(James 4:10 ESV)

Yes He will.

Because of more grace. And that for His glory.

Amen?

August 16, 2018

A Destructive Love

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

Love is a good thing, right? Love can fix problems, build bridges and have a positive impact. But there are certain kinds of love that are destructive. We can think of the “three biggies”, the love of money, sex, and power, for example. But there is another kind of love which can be quite destructive and insidious. We find an example of it in the letter we know as 3rd John. The apostle John sent this letter to Gaius to ensure hospitality toward missionaries he sent out. Given that travel could be dangerous in that day and place, hospitality was very important. While John shows some trust in Gaius to do the right thing for the travellers, he speaks of someone who lost his trust:

I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church. 3 John 1:9-10 (NRSV)

Diotrephes has four marks against him:

  1. He spreads rumors against John and his connections.
  2. He refuses to welcome anyone from John.
  3. He discourages everyone else from welcoming John’s missionaries.
  4. He throws out of his own church anyone who opposes him.

Diotrephes is a problem because he has a problem. We are told what the problem is in verse 9. Here there are two words, translated above as “who likes to put himself first”. They can be stated more literally as ‘the love of being first among them’. This is a love which is destructive.

The love of  being first was destructive in John’s day. Think of what it did to others, to the reputation of John and his connections. Think of what it did to hinder the growth of people as evangelism and discipleship were hindered. Think of what ‘the love of being first’ did to to the unity of the church when people were thrown out, and throughout the region as rejection left a bitter taste among Christians elsewhere.

The love of being first continues to be destructive in our day. It is destructive within marriage, within and between families, and among friends. If we love to always be first our only friends will be those who don’t mind always being second, or third. It is destructive within all organizations we might belong to, including the church. The love of being first is also destructive to our relationship with God.

The love of being first can be destructive even if you are considered righteous in every other way. There is no evidence that there was a disagreement over theology or church polity with Diotrephes. We would have expected John to have said something more specific if so. What John says is simply ‘Diotrephes loves to be first among them’. This is a kind of sin that is insidious. Church leaders and pastors can get away with it for a time. It can hide behind a clean life, solid theology, good preaching and everything else expected of a pastor. When there is a love of being first, it can unnoticed until the damage is done.

This leads to two questions. First, do you love being first? Second, is there a cure for the love of being first? The fist question is for each of us to answer for ourselves. Let us go on to answer the second.

John the baptizer is a great example to us of a better way:

Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John 3:25-26 (NRSV)

You can imagine the possibility of jealousy on the part of John since “all are going to” Jesus. What does John say?

John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven… He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:27,30 (NRSV)

John  has a humility which allows him to fade into the background when it is no longer appropriate for him to be in the foreground. Are you able to fade into the background when it is time for someone else to be in the foreground?

Jesus teaches humility. Speaking of the scribes and Pharisees, he says that they do

5 all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,… 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23:5,6,11,12 (NRSV)

Jesus points to himself as an example of the kind of humility expected from his followers:

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 (NRSV)

Paul points to Jesus as the great example of humility:

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. Philippians 2:3-8 (NRSV)

God set the ultimate example of putting others first through the incarnation. Humility here is thinking of what is best for others. Jesus did not deny his capacity to do great things, indeed he did great things for others and for us! But he did put our need for a rescue from sin above his own need for rescue from a cruel cross. Jesus did not love being first, though in fact he is first.

Love is always a good thing, right? Love for God and for people is always a good thing. But our love can become destructive when we love certain things. The love of being first is a destructive love. Let us follow Jesus in loving God and others first.


The full 31-minute sermon can be heard here. Unless need otherwise, Scriptures are taken from NRSV

August 6, 2018

Contentment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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This is our 4th visit to Start2Finish. This devotional begins with an illustration of people finding treasure (literally) and realizing it wasn’t theirs to keep which you might find helpful, so click the title below to read the entire piece at source.

It Wasn’t Ours

“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

…It was the greediness of desiring more that drove Ahab to crave a prime piece of real estate belonging to his next-door neighbor (1 Kings 21:1-14) for which a cruel conspiracy was hatched to wrest it away from Naboth.

The same covetousness corrupted David’s heart and led him to destroy another man’s life and family. Having at least six wives already (2 Samuel 3:2-5) David cast longing eyes out his own back yard on his neighbor’s wife (2 Samuel 11:2-4) and took her for himself. When confronting David’s sin God reminded him of how much he had already been given and reasoned with the king, “If all this had been too little, I also would have given you much more (2 Samuel 12:8)!”

The key principle being that God is the giver of all that we have (Acts 17:25, James 1:17) therefore if we believe we are truly lacking we are to approach Him and not to take what He has already given to our neighbors. In the ten commandments is this prohibition, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor ANYTHING that is your neighbor’s (Exodus 20:17).”

When considering these biblical examples, we may errantly believe that we aren’t vulnerable to such covetousness. The truth is that we all have appetites for more that must be controlled. Covetousness, desiring what belongs to others for ourselves, has been mankind’s peril from beginning.

Adam and Eve were given EVERYTHING (Genesis 1:29) but the devil succeeded in directing Eve’s attention to the ONLY thing that God had prohibited (Genesis 3:1). Notice how her appetite for more was stirred when she fixed her eyes on that which was not hers and reasoned that it was good for food (couldn’t any of the hundreds of other foods satisfy her appetite?), that it was pleasant to look on, and could position her in God’s place (Genesis 3:6). It is giving in to this determination to fulfill the lust of the flesh, eyes, and our own pride of life (1 John 2:19) that demonstrates we are not satisfied with God’s provision. John Piper has written, “sin is what we do when we are not satisfied with God.” (2)

Jesus presented many teachings to demonstrate that our lives are merely stewardships in which we care for the things of God. Everything is His (Psalm 24:1, 50:10) and what we seem to have is merely temporarily given into our charge. In the parable of the talents these servants were called upon to give an account of their stewardship (Matthew 25:14-30). It was demanded of the unjust steward to submit to an audit of how he had managed his master’s goods (Luke 16:1-2).

Likewise, the Lord wants each of us to know that whatever we have is ours only for a while (Acts 5:4) but in the end all that remains is whether or not we were fruitful with them towards God (Matthew 25:26-30). My car? My home? My job? My family? My very life? How differently would we live if we fully comprehended this truth – IT WASN’T OURS.

“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20)


Bonus item:
Today we learned that Start2Finish is not only a website, but they’re a book publisher. The quotation below, in Greek and English, appears on the back page of each of their books; something scribes would write having finished a manuscript.

March 17, 2016

The Bible on Envy, Jealousy, Coveting, Lack of Contentment

Today’s thoughts have two distinct origins.

First, this began with an article I wrote for Thinking Out Loud called A Different Response to Envy, which contained an article titled Turning Envy Upside Down. (Given the choice, choose the second link which has a graphic image and many comments.)

Second, a few years ago here, because it was St. Patrick’s Day, and because scripture verses here always appear in green (because the scriptures are the life of daily Bible study and devotion) we did an entire post in green. So when I found this list, I knew I had to run this on March 17th and tie in with the article on envy.

One last thing: The list is exhaustive, you need to click the title to see it all! (Each verse is also a link to BibleGateway.com)  All scriptures today are ESV, but the link will allow you to click through and see the verse in every English translation. You don’t have to read it all today, just focus on a few verses and let the text speak to you.

Envy And Jealousy

James 3:16 

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; …

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

Of David. Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. …

But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. …

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.

A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. …

Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. …

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. …

For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge.

 

May 26, 2011

God Decides Who Gets Promoted

Many years ago I attended a seminar for Christian musicians on the subject of promotion, taught by veteran CCM artist Scott Wesley Brown.  He began with, “Did you know promotion is mentioned in the Bible?”  Then he proceded to read Psalm 75:6,7 in the KJV:

 6For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.

 7But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

A few years later I sat in a camp staff training seminar where the speaker said,

“If you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself.”

That little phrase is used to cover a wide range of applications, but certainly we’ve all met people who have “achieved” but only through the guidance and support of many others, and certainly some by the grace of God Himself.  (Though the analogy breaks down quickly… What does the turtle do next?)

We often have the tendency to look at someone who has — for the time being — earned the attention and accolades of a large number of people, and say, “Why him?”  Perhaps we compare that person’s talents to our own and say, “Why her?”

Psalm 75 seems to basically be saying that no one advances but that God has allowed it. 

This is certainly reinforced by the appearance of Jesus before Pilate in John 19 (NIV). 

10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”  11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…

But the Psalm passage has an entirely different spin in the NLT:

 6 For no one on earth—from east or west,
      or even from the wilderness—
      should raise a defiant fist.
 7 It is God alone who judges;
      he decides who will rise and who will fall.

And also in The Message:

  He’s the One from east to west;
      from desert to mountains, he’s the One.

  God rules: he brings this one down to his knees,
      pulls that one up on her feet.

The NASB is closer to the King James:

 6 For not from the east, nor from the west,
Nor from the desert comes exaltation;
7 But God is the Judge;
He puts down one and exalts another.

So I’m not sure why the translations seem to differ in emphasis in verse six, though they both resolve the same way in verse seven.  Perhaps the key is found in the verse which precedes six and seven, verse five, best represented by the NIV:

Do not lift your horns against heaven;
   do not speak so defiantly.’”

It’s possible that when I question God’s decision to use someone who I might not have chosen, I am in fact speaking defiantly. Or in arrogance (NLT).  Perhaps questioning why him or her is a road I should not want to go down.  Have you ever questioned why God allows a certain author’s books to sell so well; a certain pastor to become so well used; a certain individual in your church to gain such a key position of leadership?  That might be speaking defiantly.

Why am I writing this? 

This weekend I watched an interview with an individual about whom I might have, at one time awhile back, asked the “Why him?” question.  But as I watched him taking live questions I realized four things were present: (a) natural intellectual gifts; (b) natural speaking gifts; (c) an obvious command of scripture or what we sometimes call Bible knowledge; and (d) an understanding of the ways of God, which is different from the third point.  While I never had major questions, some of my minor misgivings were alleviated.

God knows what He’s doing.  He is the judge.  He promotes some and holds back others.  

But he loves us all equally, and has a “promotion” in some other department just waiting for you.

~Paul Wilkinson

October 19, 2010

Prodigal Son: Seeing Yourself in the Story

It seems lately, every time I turn on the computer or pick up a book or magazine, I’m reading someone’s take on the story of the wayward son.   This simple narrative is multi-dimensional; a richness and depth bubbles under the surface awaiting discovery.

Here’s blogger Michael Krahn‘s take on it which he titled:

8 Traits Of An Older Brother

In our haste to name things, we often call the parable found in Luke 15 “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” but the parable is as much about the older brother as it is the younger. In fact some (like Tim Keller) would argue that it is actually MORE about the older brother.

If you grew up in the church – like I did – you are probably more like the older brother. Here is a list of traits that I can certainly identify with.

1. We think highly of ourselves

We think so highly of ourselves that we expect God to think like us instead of the other way around. Grace doesn’t work according to our logic. It doesn’t make sense to us that it does two things simultaneously:

1.     It overlooks wrong
2.    While it transforms repentant sinners

“It can’t do both – it’s not fair!  Prodigals can come back but we should never forget what they’ve done. If we do they’ll think they can do it again without consequence!”

2. We have a “good reputation”

We’re thought of (by others and ourselves) as “good”… not having major faults… not really struggling with sin. The reality is that we’re just better at hiding these things.

3. We take pride in our consistency

We’ve been here the whole time, going to church! We’ve had to sit through all the poorly performed worship songs, all the badly delivered sermons. Those prodigals need to do the same before we can see them as equals!

4. We save our freedom for future reward

Prodigals use their freedom to experience and consume. This is the path of self-discovery. Their thinking is that unused freedom is wasted freedom.

Older brothers resist using their freedom.  Instead we save it up, thinking of it as an investment that will compound like money saved inside a mutual fund, doubling in size every 10 years or so. Our thinking is that freedom used NOW is freedom wasted and that by saving and sacrificing now we’ll have more and will be able to get more later than we ever could now. Self-denial now in exchange for lavish self-indulgence later.

5. We need prodigals to make us look better

Older brothers need prodigals because they provide us with an easy comparison to rise above. “Your extravagant sin makes me look better – it takes the attention off my minor faults. Thank you!”

When the father says, “He was dead but now he’s alive!” we mutter, “I wish he was still dead. It was better for me that way.”

6. We harbor unacknowledged envy

When the prodigal returns, his life is turned upside-down because he discovers that his father loves by different rules than he does. He has been out doing all the things that the older brother, in truth, would also love to be doing but doesn’t because he believes he is storing up extra grace for himself.

Is this perhaps one reason why we too react badly when a prodigal returns? Do we harbor some envy at the life of wine, women, and song (or “wine coolers, firemen, and dance music” for the ladies) they’ve experienced?

It causes us to question: What has all my self-denial been good for?!?!

7. We think God owes us

Because of this we sometimes see grace as a bit of a rip-off. Partly because we don’t think we need very much of it, but also because grace dictates that obedience can never be a way to obtain rights.

If your perception of your relationship with God is that you think you’ve earned something or that you’ve done so much good that God owes you something, you are in danger. This is typical older brother thinking.

8. We are likely to be punitive

We take a punitive position on prodigals. We say that they need to pay for what they’ve done – in essence to pay their way up to our status level. But that’s not the way grace works. If it did it wouldn’t be grace.

On the rare occasion that a prodigal returns, do they see in you a father waiting with open arms or the scowling face of an older brother?

by Michael Krahn.