Christianity 201

October 27, 2018

Many of our Problems are due to Selfishness

We’re back for a sixth time with Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. Click the title below to read at source.

Be Disturbed

We live in a world full of good. It has exceptional beauty, delicious food, amazing fun, and wonderful relationships.

In spite of the good we experience in the world, we know it is not entirely good. Our experience of life tells us that the world is a combination of good and evil.

According to the Bible, the world was created good by God, but has been corrupted by the sin of angels and humans. We live in a fallen world.

One of the ways we see this corruption at work is the selfishness that exists in people. The worst selfishness that we are exposed to is the selfishness that exists in our own hearts.

Many of the problems that we face throughout life, both big and small, can be traced back to selfishness.

This reality is understandable when we remember that we spend our entire lives with ourselves. Our entire perspective on life centers around our experience of the world. It is logical to expect that our comfort, cares, and desires would be at the forefront of what we are most concerned about.

Christian spiritual formation is important because it calls us to lay aside our cares and concerns and adopt the cause of Jesus. For this to happen we have to intentionally lay aside our rights and desires. It is through those process we are able to understand the injustices and indignities inflicted and the rest of humanity.

Dallas Willard wrote:

“Apprentices of Jesus will be deeply disturbed about many things, but they will be largely indifferent to the fulfillment of their own desires as such. Merely getting their own way has no significance for them, does not disturb them.”

Renovation of the Heart, p. 72

Pause for a moment and ponder: What disturbs you?

When I think about what disturbs me on a regular basis I am saddened. I am saddened because I get the most disturbed by the inconveniences and interruptions to my agenda.

God has shown me this reality through my children. I dearly love my three kids, but they have the ability of frustrating me like no one else does. Why is that?

I get frustrated, I get disturbed, because they have minds of their own and they don’t always do what I ask them to do. They disrupt my plan and that bothers me.

What is the cure for that? The cure is to become like Jesus.

The apostle Paul wrote:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2:3-5; NLT)

Here we discover the goal of Christian spiritual formation: to develop the attitude of Jesus.

Key to this attitude is humility. It is having that ability to look past our own agenda and see the needs of other people. We are to take an interest in the lives of those around us.

One of my favorite passages for the Gospels is Matthew 9:36:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (NLT)

Jesus was disturbed by the needs of the people around him. He didn’t blame them for their condition or lecture them about the inconvenience they were causing him, but he had compassion on them. They needed help and he took time to help them.

One of the prayers we need to pray in our pursuit of Christian formation is to see the world through the eyes of Jesus. We need to see the things that disturb Jesus so we can learn what should be disturbing us as well.


As I was reading Paul’s Ponderings, I really appreciated all of the articles written for October, 2018 and encourage you to visit to read more.

December 24, 2015

The Life That Changed the World

Several years ago I was reading a new book by an author completely unknown to me, so I went hunting around the back pages for some kind of “about the author” section, whereupon I learned that he was best known for founding an organization and an annual conference. That type of endorsement is meant to impress, and it does. Certainly I’ve never done those things.

Maybe it was because it was quite late, but my mind went to a piece of prose (sometimes rendered as poetry) known as One Solitary Life. It turns up on tracts, on Christmas cards, and even email forwards.

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He never set foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends deserted him. He was turned over to his enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had – his coat.

When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of people on this earth as powerfully as this “One Solitary Life.”

Most sources online credit this to Dr. James Allan Francis.

In light of what I mentioned above, I just wanted to add “he never founded a charitable organization, never established an annual conference.” To which you could add, “He wasn’t on Twitter, He didn’t have a website or a blog, or a Christian television show.”

That reminded me of a section of a quotation from Philip Yancey (see below) which says, “When He did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up;” so I did a search of the phrase “not to tell anyone.”

The healing of a blind man:

Mark 7:35-37

35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The revelation of His identity:

Mark 8:29-31

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Immediately following the transfiguration:

Luke 9:35-37

8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

The raising of Jarius’ daughter:

Luke 8:55-56

55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

All of which points us to Phil. 2:6

6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. (CEB)

6 who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage. (HCSB)

I would add, ‘Did not consider equality with God something to be leveraged.’

Despite this, no one who has ever lived as ever affected the history of mankind so richly, so deeply, so powerfully as this One Solitary Life.

“The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen; and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation of a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with the flinty rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” He had compromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company. “One day miracles seem to flow out of Jesus the next day his power was blocked by people’s lack of faith. One day he talked in detail of the Second Coming; another, he knew neither the day nor hour. He fled from arrest at one point and marched inexorably toward it at another. He spoke eloquently about peacemaking, then told his disciples to procure swords. His extravagant claims about himself kept him at the center of controversy, but when he he did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up. As Walter Wink has said, if Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.” ~~ Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan 1995) p.23

Quotations today are from the New International Version (NIV) except where noted

May 29, 2014

The Humility of Christ

Somewhere yesterday I read about someone who has memorized Phil. 2: 5-11 and tries to remember to recite it every day. I found that interesting because this is something I do when I wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep.

Recently I’ve been thinking in particular about these verses:

rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!  (NIV)

This is the core of the text and lists four things:

He entered into the human condition.

John 1:14 states:

14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. (NLT)

The word that’s translated, “the word became flesh” is sarx.  A ‘nicer’ word would have been soma which would imply that God ‘took on a body.’ But sarx implies the nitty-gritty of humankind: The muscles, sinews, bodily processes and all. This is the sum and substance of incarnation. Jesus was 100% human while all the while being 100% divine.

He came as a servant.

Matthew 28 quotes Jesus as saying

28 “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29  Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. (CEB, emphasis added)

The poem “One Solitary Life” says

He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman… He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn’t go to college. He never traveled more than 200 miles from the place He was born. He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness…

He could have been born into nobility. He could have established a major organization. He could have  built a religious empire. But rather, he chooses relative obscurity.

Note carefully the contrast between the verse 3 (I’ve added emphasis) and verses 4 and 5 that describe Jesus sharing a Passover meal with his closest disciples in John 13:

Jesus knew that the Father had given him power over everything and that he had come from God and was going back to God. So during the meal Jesus stood up and took off his outer clothing. Taking a towel, he wrapped it around his waist. Then he poured water into a bowl and began to wash the followers’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

I love that he picked up the towel and the basin knowing the extent of the divine power he possessed.

We see this again in Matthew 21, where in his “triumphal entry” — oh, the irony — he chooses to enter the city riding on the back of a donkey.

His human experience included submission to death.

Jesus experienced the full arc of human living, including death. It’s critical that he identifies with us in his death, especially when so many fear end-of-life experiences. But he didn’t simply die in his sleep, we’re told:

He experienced the most tortuous death known to people of his day.

Sometime soon, we’ll look specifically at the doctrine of the suffering of Christ before and during Calvary.  I wanted to focus more on the first two points of the text, and leave room to include a song that we haven’t featured here before. The lyrics are included the video. Meekness and Majesty reminds us of this contrast between his divine attributes even as he submitted himself to earthly life with us.

 

January 26, 2014

“This is What I Want My Church to Be”

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In the early days of C201, we often featured a worship song by itself. I am a great believer in the power of music, and I owe a great deal of my own spiritual formation to both contemporary Christian music and modern worship.

I had purposed to put this song by Graham Kendrick here a few days ago, but then felt led to share it with the broader readership at my other blog, many of whom are American and don’t know the extent that Kendrick’s music has blessed Christians in the UK and to a lesser extent in Canada.

This song is so powerful; I hope you’ll take the time to listen to it at least twice.

All the room was hushed and still
And when the bowl was filled
He stooped to wash their feet
And when it was complete, he said

This is what I’m asking you to do
This is why I’m kneeling here beside you
This is what I want my church to be
This is what I want the world to see
Who it is you follow

Love each other
One another
Love each other
In the way that I have loved you
Walk together
And whatever comes
Love each other
In the way that I have loved you

Let the room be hushed and still
Let us go to where he kneels
And join him as he serves
And learn his ways of love

Graham Kendrick
Copyright © 2009 Make Way Music
http://www.grahamkendrick.co.uk

Most of us take communion on a regular basis and most of us are baptized in one form or another. But how many of us have ever experienced foot-washing? Was Jesus not establishing a pattern [insert words like ordinance or sacrament as it fits your tradition] with this as well?

This is also a great song for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.

For more reading:

April 4, 2013

He Endured The Cross

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Hebrews 12:1a-3 New Living Translation (NLT)

…And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

Brooksyne Weber noted at Daily Encouragement, “…the many things Jesus gave up or endured on His earthly journey that would conclude at the cross…” (This is paraphrased, click the link to read the original at the bottom of their page.)

  • He gave up His glory in heaven.
  • He gave up His royal privileges.
  • He was subjected to Satan’s temptuous ways.
  • His incorruptible body was subjected to physical death.
  • He was numbered with transgressors while the guilty was freed.
  • He was abandoned by those closest to Him.
  • He chose silence when false accusations were hurled at Him.
  • He was subjected to betrayal and physical cruelty by those He came to save.
  • He sought us out even when we were indifferent to all He has done for us.
  • He bore all our sin to satisfy what the law demanded.

This reminded me of the words of a popular Christmas (!) song Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne:

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.

The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.

Thou camest, O Lord, with the living Word
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary

Many Gospel Music artists — and Elvis Presley — recorded the song, If That Isn’t Love which echoes this idea:

He left the splendor of heaven
Knowing His destiny
Was the lonely hill of Golgotha
There to lay down His life for me

And if that isn’t love
Then the ocean is dry
There’s no stars in the sky
And the little sparrows can’t fly
Yeah if that isn’t love
Then heaven’s a myth
There’s no feeling like this
If that isn’t love

Even in death He remembered
The thief hanging by His side
Then he spoke of love and compassion
And He took him to paradise

And if that isn’t love…

More recently, we have the song The Servant King which is also sung at both Christmas and Easter.  We’ve covered that song and included a video here at C201.

Hopefully today’s devotional thoughts from Christian song lyrics has guided you to consider the breadth and width of the sacrifice we remembered at Easter.

March 26, 2013

Serving in the Face of Death

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I find nothing out of character or particularly arresting about Jesus’ decision to wash his disciples feet. That’s totally consistent.

I find the timing absolutely amazing.

John 13 New International Version (NIV)

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus 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.

Verse 3 is awesome in every sense of the word.  The IVP New Testament Commentary states:

Jesus’ own awareness is also an important part of the context of the footwashing. He knew that the Father had put all things under his power (literally, “into his hands”) and that he had come from God and was returning to God (v. 3). Here in Johannine language is the description of Jesus’ identity in his relation to the Father. This knowledge does not simply give Jesus the security to wash the disciples feet — his sharing in the divine essence is what leads him to wash their feet. Jesus said that he only does what he sees the Father doing (5:19), and this footwashing is not said to be an exception to that rule. John’s introduction to the event ensures that we understand God’s glory is revealed in Jesus in this sign. This is what God himself is like—he washes feet, even the feet of the one who will betray him! Thus, the footwashing is a true sign in the Johannine sense, for it is a revelation of God.

This is a defining moment. This is an image that will burned into the memory of the twelve.

I was reminded of this again this week in a song from Michael Card from his companion CD to his book about Luke. The song is: How Much More a Servant Could He Be? (You can learn more about the project at this blog review, where I discovered the video.)

March 7, 2013

One Solitary Life

Last night I was reading a new book by an author completely unknown to me, so I went hunting around the back pages for some kind of “about the author” section, whereupon I learned that he was best known for founding an organization and an annual conference.

Maybe it was because it was quite late, but my mind went to a piece of prose (sometimes rendered as poetry) known as One Solitary Life. It turns up on tracts, on Christmas cards, and even email forwards.

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He never set foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends deserted him. He was turned over to his enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had – his coat.

When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of people on this earth as powerfully as this “One Solitary Life.”

Most sources online credit this to Dr. James Allan Francis.

In light of what I was reading, I just wanted to add “he never founded a charitable organization, never established an annual conference.” To which you could add, “He wasn’t on Twitter, He didn’t have a website or a blog.” That reminded me of a section of a quotation from Philip Yancey (see below) which says, “When He did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up;” so I did a search of the phrase “not to tell anyone.”

The healing of a blind man:

Mark 7:35-37

35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The revelation of His identity:

Mark 8:29-31

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Immediately following the transfiguration:

Luke 9:35-37

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

The raising of Jarius’ daughter:

Luke 8:55-56

55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

All of which points us to Phil. 2:6

Though he was in the form of God,
        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.  (CEB)

who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.  (HCSB)

I would add, ‘Did not consider equality with God something to be leveraged.’

Despite this, no one who has ever lived as ever affected the history of mankind so richly, so deeply, so powerfully as this One Solitary Life.

“The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen; and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation of a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with the flinty rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” He had compromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company. “One day miracles seem to flow out of Jesus the next day his power was blocked by people’s lack of faith. One day he talked in detail of the Second Coming; another, he knew neither the day nor hour. He fled from arrest at one point and marched inexorably toward it at another. He spoke eloquently about peacemaking, then told his disciples to procure swords. His extravagant claims about himself kept him at the center of controversy, but when he he did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up. As Walter Wink has said, if Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.” ~~ Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan 1995) p.23

Quotations today are from the New International Version (NIV) except where noted

March 4, 2013

Embracing Weakness

We try to go six months before revisiting an author, but after formatting this, I realized it’s only been two months since we featured Elsie Montgomery and her blog, Practical Faith. (I guess she writes good stuff.) Here is another one of her great devotional posts, titled Weakness is a Good Thing. You’re encouraged to read ‘borrowed’ C201 posts at their original source. This one also continued to look at the key verse the next day, that link is below.

Jesus loves me, this I know,
for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
we are weak but He is strong.

For someone who often sings “Jesus loves me…” God surprises me again by pointing to thinking about my weakness in terms of His love and compassion toward me.
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13–14)
Today’s devotional uses these verses again. Obviously, I’ve still more to learn from them. Spurgeon again focuses on the compassion of God, this time on the weakness of His children.
 
As he says, children cannot do much. They have little strength and little children are quite helpless. Yet their father does not chide them for this. In fact, he will enjoy carrying his baby who cannot walk and not at all be angry with the little one who is unable to help himself.
 
As verse 14 says, my heavenly Father knows my weakness. Whether it is a physical lack of strength due to some infirmity or some other shortcoming that keeps me from full capacity, He remembers that I am only dust. He even sympathizes with my weakness.
 
This is the God who became a man, actually, a tiny baby. He became helpless and knows helplessness. This is the Creator of the universe who allowed Himself to be beaten, mocked, and strung up on a cross. The Bible says, “He was crucified in weakness… we also are weak in him… (2 Corinthians 13:4)
 
Yet there is power in weakness, partly because it means I will be carried by my Father, but also because when I am weak, I will call on Him and experience His power. Without weakness, I would not do that. This makes weakness, especially a childlike weakness, my friend, not my enemy. Paul said,
… I will not boast, except of my weaknesses…. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:5–10)
Weakness is more than feeling weak. It is also being weak and unable. I’ve struggled as a teacher on those days I could not put together a lesson plan. Many times God has put people with questions in my path and I knew the answers, but my mouth seems sewn shut and I could not speak. I get weary, disorganized, depressed, and bowed down, and feel like a total failure, yet God has compassion on those who fear Him. He knows that I am dust.
 
I have to ask, why should I think I should be able to do everything I want to do? When I see problems, why can’t I solve them? When I see spiritual blindness and hardened hearts, why can’t I open eyes and soften hearts? Maybe my attitude of wanting to fix everything stems from pride. Maybe it stems from wanting to be like God in the wrong way, the way that tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. But I cannot do it all nor does God put me up against a wall and hammer me with “do it.” Instead, He says things like…
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:12–13)
If I were able, I would not need God or even seek Him. It is weakness that breeds faith and weakness that keeps me in the right place before God, on my knees in humility and utter dependence. I see this clearly and can only say no wonder Paul was content to be weak and even boasted of his weaknesses.
 
Spurgeon says that “a person in perfect health and strength may joyfully accomplish what another cannot even think of undertaking,” but is this what God wants? I don’t think so. Jesus was such a person, but He chose weakness…
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8)
For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but… we will live with him by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:4)
Click this link: Another Practical Faith post continues to look at Psalm 103