Christianity 201

May 31, 2017

When Christians Make a Habit of Wielding Power

Luke 9:51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.

About a month ago, someone recommended a devotional blog to us called Comfort and Challenge. We had originally bookmarked a particular column titled Ax to the Roots which is also good reading. Today we caught up with the same website and decided to share a more recent piece with you. Click the title below to read this at source.

Fire From Heaven

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Ezekiel 4:1-17, Hebrews 6:1-12, Luke 9:51-62


When a Samaritan town refused to receive Jesus, the disciples James and John asked, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”  Luke says Jesus rebuked them. They simply moved on to the next town.

Could “rebuked” have been an understatement? After Jesus had taught them about peace, love, and reserving judgment for God, what made a consuming fire seem like a reasonable option?

James and John were just being human: even a little authority and power seems like it’s there to be used. Since Jesus isn’t physically present today to stay our hands, it’s good we can’t summon heavenly fire at will. Yet here in the west, particularly in the United States, many Christians seem to make a habit of wielding power. We take the commandment to make disciples of all nations and twist it into coercion. Never did Jesus force anyone to follow him – or even to respect him. Rather, he let some potential followers know they might not be ready. Have someone to bury someone? Want to finish up a few things? Maybe this isn’t for you yet. This was neither coercion nor rejection, but a free choice. Jesus moved on his way, and they move on theirs.

So why do many Christians today find it difficult, when someone rejects Christ, to move on? We boycott (which may seem like moving on, but is decidedly aggressive), legislate against, picket, and ban people who don’t share our values, then wonder why our ranks dwindle. Such behavior doesn’t just fail to win people to Christ; it distorts the message of the Gospel into something repellent. Jesus warned us we’d be rejected, but now we have the numbers and influence to reject, condemn, and oppress … and too many times we choose to.

As we enter the week before Pentecost, let’s remember the last fire God sent from heaven was the Holy Spirit. Its flame rested visibly on each disciple’s head, and made it possible for all to understand them. Let’s choose our flame more wisely than James and John. Or move on.

Comfort: You aren’t bound by the law of rejection, but freed by the law of love.

Challenge: When fellow Christians speak in terms of rejection, speak up for love.

Prayer: Lord, light a fire in my heart to spread your good news to all. Amen.

Discussion: What’s a memorable example you know of Christians responding in love when they could have chosen rejection?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group.

April 4, 2017

External Acts Represent an Inner Reality

When I was younger, one writer and pastor who had a major influence on me was Stuart Briscoe. Our family traveled to his church in Milwaukee, and years later I got to hear him in Toronto. Stuart has a devotional page at LightSource.com where this was posted recently. His target audience for this page is men, but there are good thoughts for everyone in his writing. This is our second visit to his writing at LightSource. To read more by him, click to this link. The readings there are excerpts from the One Year Book of Devotions for Men, published by Tyndale.

Ceremonies And Traditions – One Year Devotions for Men

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce, for they replace God’s commands with their own man-made teachings. – Mark 7:7

Most parents require their children to wash their hands before mealtime. In many instances, this appears to create great hardship for the children, if their reluctance to obey is anything to go by. But basic hygiene demands that the ritual be fulfilled before food is handled. It’s a matter of hygiene—and nothing more. In Jesus’ day, what had started out as basic hygiene had developed into something quite different. Simple hand washing before eating or after returning home from the market had developed into an elaborate ceremony with purported spiritual significance. Instead of simply eradicating unpleasant dirt when they followed “the usual Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating” (Mark 7:2), the religious Jews believed that they were ensuring a religious purity before God by their action. By their ablutions on returning home from market, they believed they were underlining their divinely-approved separation from the contaminating world.

As time went by, these “ancient traditions” (7:3) took on such importance that a person’s spiritual standing was evaluated by his adherence to the ritual—or lack thereof. In some instances, a person who failed to go through the ritual, for any reason whatever, would be regarded as ceremonially unclean and therefore be banned from worship.

This was what lay behind the question asked by the Jerusalem leaders when they traveled to confront Jesus: “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old customs? For they eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony” (7:5). Jesus replied with surprising vehemence. “You hypocrites! Isaiah was prophesying about you when he said, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce, for they replace God’s commands with their own man-made teachings” (7:6-7).

Jesus was exposing the age-old problem of religious ritual devoid of spiritual reality. The charge of hypocrisy was well-founded. In those days, a hypocrite was literally an actor who would convey an emotion by holding a mask over his face. Religious externalism does just that: it portrays on the outside that which may not be present on the inside. That was the problem—the Jerusalem religious leaders lacked a real spirituality. They were faking it!

Adherence to religious rituals such as baptism or communion is to be encouraged, provided that the external act represents an inner reality. But if the familiar act has degenerated into an empty symbol, that which claims to be a spiritual experience may be nothing more than a gross distortion. What outwardly purports to demonstrate a deep spirituality may be nothing more than a blatant lie. Religious ritual is intended to portray spiritual reality, not to become a substitute for it.

So here’s a healthy exercise. Check on the religious rituals in which you have participated in the past or in which you still participate, explore their hidden significance, and see if the significance is as real in your heart as the participation is part of your life.

For Further Study: Mark 7:1-13

March 29, 2017

The Three ‘R’s of Baptism

NLT Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.[1] So John agreed to baptize him.

16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened[2] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

[1.] 3:15 Or for we must fulfill all righteousness.
[2.] 3:16 Some manuscripts read opened to him.

One of the ideals we’re committed to here is allowing what I call next generation voices to be heard. Katie calls her blog The Hipster Ginger, and I loved her take on what her denomination teaches about baptism. Click the title below to read the full article at source.

Renounce, Reject, Repent

I love baptisms. I love the stories, the memories that are made, and the amazing promises that happen at a baptism.

I am a United Methodist through and through. My experiences are pretty freaking Methodist, so this post will be mostly Methodist.

When we make our initial vow in front of the body of Christ when we are presented for Holy Baptism, to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin,” (Standard Book of Worship) we are not just renouncing the spiritual forces that we struggle with as individuals. We are also rejecting the evil powers that are loose in the world. Likewise, we are not just repenting of our sins as individuals.

We are also repenting of the sins of humankind as a whole.

Today we are going to have a VERY brief review of the three promises we make in baptism; renouncing, rejecting, and repenting.

To RENOUNCE is a fundamental act of treason. It is to break allegiance to a power or authority to which one had previously given allegiance and service. From the earliest examples of baptismal questions we have, renunciation of Satan or the devil (spiritual forces of wickedness, we say) always comes first. Because you cannot make new alliances until your old ones are broken.

This step follows biblical precedent. The very first story we hear of Jesus after his baptism in the wilderness is his renunciation of Satan. Jesus makes it clear where his allegiances lie, and he shows the way for all who would follow him. (Luke 4:1-13)

It also follows the pattern of centuries of practice when you seek citizenship in a new realm or country. You first breaks allegiance to the realm or sovereign of the people from which you have come from and only then you pledge allegiance to the new realm or sovereign.

To REJECT the evil powers of this world is a phrase that kinda makes me think I’m watching the exorcist. The English word “reject” comes from the Latin “reicere,” which means “to throw out”– and so translates the Greek verb “ekballein,” which is often used to describe what Jesus does to demons (to cast out, to throw out). When we pledge to reject evil, we are promising to do more than just not do evil things. We are promising to throw out, to cast out, to shut the door behind any evil powers that seek to control with us or use us in anyway. So we not only break allegiances, we also commit not to allow evil any sway in our lives. (Psalm 51:10) John Wesley’s first two simple rules cover this when he says “do good” and “do no harm.”

To REPENT of our sin (yeah, SIN. I did it on purpose) means more than feeling sorry or guilty for bad things we have done in the past. The Hebrew verb behind repent (shuv) means “to turn from.” The promise we make is not just to turn from “sins” (actions that bring harm) but “sin” itself.

The singular points less to individual actions and more toward whole patterns of life. So we here commit to turn and walk away from those patterns of life, habits, and behaviors that damage others and/or our relationships with God, with the earth, and with our neighbors. (Luke 5:31-32)


A few days later, Katie’s friend Melissa weighed in on a topic that often trips up Christians: Why should Jesus need to be baptized? We join that article in progress; click the title below to read it in full.

Jesus Got Dunked

…It is important to note that baptism is not exclusively a Christian ritual. Jesus and John were Jews, after all. Christianity gets the ritual from the Jewish cleansing rite, which symbolized a person’s changed nature – a new identification, new status, new creation.

People got baptized as a way to symbolize their repentance, or turning away from sin, and to be symbolically cleansed. So why did Jesus get baptized if John was only preparing the way for him?  Did Jesus need to repent and be cleansed from his sin?

Nah.

My suspicion is that Jesus was not baptized because he needed to repent, but because he was eager to show his devotion to God through baptism. He also was affirming the truth that John was preaching: The Kingdom of God is near, and Jesus would be the one to establish that Kingdom on earth.

After Jesus was baptized, the sky ripped open, God the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove, and God the Father spoke, affirming Jesus as God the Son. This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth.

Because Jesus was baptized, we get baptized today as a way of following him and to remind us that when we live in the kingdom of God. We have a new identity, and that identity is in Jesus Christ. It is through the water that we experience God’s grace and enter into the Body of Christ.

The beautiful thing about the Kingdom of God is that all are welcome to this new identity. Our identity in Christ defines us more than what we look like, smell like, dress like, or talk like. God uses people as wild-looking as John the Baptist–the dirty, matted, smelly man with a weird diet.

How will you remember your identity in Christ today? How will you celebrate God’s grace in your life, and how will you offer that grace to others, regardless of what they look like?

March 26, 2017

The Prodigal Son and God’s Love for the Repentant Sinner

by Russell Young

Luke relates the parable of the lost or prodigal son. (Lk 15:11─31) The story is quite well known. According to its presentation, a wealthy father had two sons and the younger wanted his inheritance even while the father lived. Having been given it, he squandered it in “riotous living” until he had nothing left. Starvation caused him to humbly return home where he was compassionately and enthusiastically greeted by his anxious father. The older son had remained home and had worked the remaining part of the estate for his father. Seeing his father’s delight in the return of the reckless son and the celebration that was taking place, the older son became upset since his faithfulness to his father had never been recognized.

This parable is often presented to show the “forgiveness” and love of the father and/or the hard-heartedness of the brother who had faithfully toiled for so long. Regardless, the revelation of God’s heart concerning the repentance of a sinner is highlighted within the parable. The verse leading to the parable (Luke 15:10) reads that “there is much rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Repentance shows humility rather than pride. It indicates that the sinner has recognized the sovereignty of God and his laws and that he or she is subject to them. God loves the repentant person who is prepared to honour him and his creation.

Perhaps writings that have attempted to apply meaning to all aspects of this parable are confusing the issue. The father’s joy at the return of his son has been made clear. He loved his son and wanted fellowship with him. Without doubt, he had misused his inheritance and had done many foolish things, but he had learned some valuable lessons. His misadventure had taught him a great deal. From the parable, it seems that he had returned ready to be a committed and faithful son. Does our heavenly Father want anything less? Could he expect anything more?

Jesus had engaged his earthly ministry to redeem a lost people and was amid a people who had rejected God’s righteous requirements for thousands of years. His sorrow for Jerusalem was expressed as follows: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate.” (Lk 13:34─35) His heart was breaking because of the bleakness that sin had brought upon God’s chosen people. In this parable he is bringing the need for repentance to the lost sons of Israel and expressing to them the joy that the Father feels when truth is finally recognized and appreciated.

The issue of repentance applies to humankind today. God’s lamentation over the state of wickedness that exists in the hearts of his created people was expressed early following the tenure of people upon the earth. “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:5─6 NIV) God loves his creation and it was for his pleasure that he had created in the first place. Hearts have become thoroughly evil in his estimation and there is no good thing in them. God wants repentance! He wants hearts committed to him and to doing good. Perhaps, like the father in the parable, the church of Christ should rejoice more exuberantly with God when a repentant sinner acknowledges hurt to humankind and to God and returns humbly to meet the heart of God.

For those who want to direct the parable to address the father’s rejoicing over the wayward “believer’s” return it needs to be appreciated that the prodigal had no inheritance and no recourse to attaining any. He had returned home having wasted it. The inheritance that belongs to the believer is the same inheritance that Christ will receive since the believer is a co-heir with Christ. (Rom 8:17) God will not be mocked, the “believer” cannot truthfully be repentant and act otherwise. Concerning the nature of his preaching, Paul told King Agrippa that his preaching to the Gentiles was that “they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV) The writer of Hebrews has recorded: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:26─27 NIV) God will not be mocked and “believers” who repent after deliberately continuing to sin will not enjoy the celebration that the prodigal received.

Those who want to find meaning in the parable through reflecting on the attitude of the elder son through his hesitancy to rejoice at the return of the lost son need to understand that the elder has been presented as having been fully obedient to his father and the father did not chastise him but conveyed his heart over the return of his lost son. He desired the son to rejoice, as well. The elder son was to get all his father’s inheritance and was to be with him always. (Lk 15:31)

This parable was an attempt to reach out to the children of Israel to encourage repentance and a return to the family and perhaps it should not be considered beyond this point. There is great rejoicing in heaven when a sinner has been convinced of the pain he has brought to the heart of God and returns contritely and committed to live a life of humility and obedience. As depicted in this presentation by Christ, believers can cause rejoicing in heaven and can “shine like the brightness of the heavens” (Dan 12:3 NIV) through encouraging repentance and a walk of righteousness by believers. The father shared his heart that you might bless him.


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

9781512757514

March 14, 2017

After Suffering for 12 Years, A Woman Encounters Jesus

Kelsey Lewis is currently a full time seminary student working on her MDiv at Emory University in Atlanta. She wrote what follows to be part of an oral presentation, but after reading it on her blog Faith(,) in Words I asked her for permission to share it here. Many of us are familiar with the first scripture portion, but it takes the second one to put it in context. Click the title below to read at source.

Within Reach

The following is a manuscript from a short sermon I preached in my Preaching class on February 23, 2017.

 24 So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Mark 5: 24-34

I would like to read one more passage for you. From the book of Leviticus:

19 “ ‘When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. 20 “ ‘Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. 21 Anyone who touches her bed will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. … 25 “ ‘When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. … 29 On the eighth day she must take two doves or two young pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 30 The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the LORD for the uncleanness of her discharge. 31 “ ‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.’ ”

Leviticus 15:19-31

This is not a passage that you or I have likely heard read aloud in church. However, I wanted to lead with it as I introduced you all to our subject today because these laws followed her everywhere she went. In fact, the words in Mark used to describe her condition, “spring of her blood” were a direct reference to this Levitical passage. She—along with every woman of sexual maturity—but especially she, would have been very familiar with such laws. It was this passage that added insult to the injury of her suffering, keeping her in a perpetual state of uncleanness, unable to touch without contaminating.

All three synoptic gospels give an account of this woman’s story but Mark, usually the most succinct, gives us the most details into her background. The passage characterizes her as one who has suffered. And her suffering is threefold:

  1. She suffers bodily from what is a likely a painful condition, which persists for twelve years of her life. Despite having seen countless doctors, her condition continues to worsen.
  2. She suffers financially, having spent everything she has on failed medical treatment.
  3. She suffers socially.

As alluded to in the passage and as was customary, such a condition would have required her to live outside of the city wall, on the literal margins of society and everyone who came into contact with her would have had to go there too to offer a sacrifice in a purifying ritual, and wait until evening to be ritually clean again. The gospel writer would have us know this about her so that we understand the scandal and the audacity of what happens next.

In an act of desperation, she reaches out for Jesus, touching his robe. . . and it works! She feels herself healed inside. As Christ says, it is her faith that has healed her.

More amazing still is Jesus’ reaction to her touch. I can imagine her fear as Jesus looks around for her and she realizes she has been caught and cannot go unnoticed. But he shows no concern for her impurity. In fact, just after this passage—presumably within the same day in the narrative—he goes to Jairus’ home and grasps the hand of a dead Gentile girl, an act which may have set a record for most purity laws broken at once.

In a stunning reinterpretation of the law, Christ not only liberates her from her bodily physical suffering, he liberates the community around her from fear of her impurity. He shows us this: It is not her impurity which goes forth onto Jesus, but his power that goes out upon her touch. It is not her impurity that is the contagion, but Christ’s power which cannot be contained. Impurity which kept her ostracized for 12 years has no power in the presence of God’s holiness.

No matter how far on the margins you are, no matter how unclean or unfit you or others perceive you to be, Jesus is not beyond your reach. In fact he may be closer than you can imagine. You see, a study of this word “suffering” which in this passage is associated with the pain this woman has endured for twelve years reveals that every other use in the book of Mark and 11 times out of 12 in the entirety of the gospels reveals that suffering is connected with Jesus Christ as the sufferer. The Biblical author would have us associate suffering with the suffering Servant himself.

As the author of Hebrews writes in chapter 13, verse 12:  “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.”

You see, not only does Christ situate himself so that we may reach him in the city among the “pure” folk, but he comes to us, and inhabits that outside, marginal space with the suffering. That is the power of God’s contagious love over our suffering. God has come down, not to contain Godself to the holy of holies, but as an uncontained, unbridled force, extending far beyond the limits of our social constructs, lighting up the darkest corners of unmentionable pain, even out beyond the city gates where the “impure” and “unholy” reside. In Jesus, God climbs down into our suffering with us and redeems it with God’s holy presence, so that as we reach out, we can be assured that God’s power goes out to meet us.

 

March 11, 2017

Jesus in Luke on Money: Part 2 – The Rich and the Kingdom of God

As we explained yesterday, through a friend I was introduced to the writing of Don Merritt. We asked him for permission to use two of them for which he graciously agreed, but then I decided to split these over the course of two days, since they were on the same topic. Don is working his way through the gospel of Luke, but his blog also features topical items as well. Click the title below to read this one at The Life Project, and then take a few minutes to look around.

The Rich, The Way and The Kingdom

Luke 18:24-30

Jesus was fully aware that the disciples would be confused after His conversation with the rich man because, as we noted last time, He had blown up a major cultural expectation of the time that the rich were more favored by God than others were. As a result, He begins to teach them, even while the man is standing right there…

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (18:24-25)

The rich man hadn’t been overly enthused at the prospect of giving up all of his wealth, and Jesus underscored the difficulty that many have in entering the Kingdom and leaving the priorities of this world behind. Looking at His example here of putting a camel through the eye of a needle, I think we can safely say that He was engaging in a touch of hyperbole to make the point. The reaction of the disciples speaks volumes about the prevailing assumptions of that culture: “Who then can be saved?”

If you notice, Jesus in His answer blows up a second predominant assumption of that time:

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (18:27)

There are two cultural teachings that are being corrected here: First, that the rich are most favored by God, and the second is that a person can attain righteousness by reliance upon their own ability to keep the Law; both of these are false. This second teaching is still with us, sometimes it is obvious, and sometimes it is more subtle, we call it “works”. You cannot earn your way into the Kingdom by following the rules, “doing church right” or by doing good deeds, for you can only enter the kingdom by faith in God through Christ. Can the rich enter the Kingdom? Yes, they can, by placing their faith in God, and not in their earthly possessions and positions.

Peter is beginning to comprehend: “We have left everything to follow you!”  (18:28)

In reply to Peter, Jesus indicates that there may be more than just “stuff” that can get in the way…

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (18:29-30)

Notice the relationships that may also need to be left behind, notice also that they are in the same list as “home”, Matthew has “fields”, which is to say material possessions. The real point is that the follower of Christ must be willing to leave anything behind if it interferes with following Him, for with the Kingdom, you are either “all in” or all out. Aren’t these things that we all struggle with at one time or another?

This is one of those cases when the theology of the teaching is very simple, but living it can be difficult, yet with God, all things are possible. Consider this: The man who wrote Matthew’s Gospel was a tax collector. He was rich, he also had a family, friends and associates, but by the grace of God, he was one of the Twelve, and he wasn’t the only one. Remember Zacchaeus? Joseph of Arimathea? Saul of Tarsus?

With God, all things are indeed possible!

March 10, 2017

Jesus in Luke on Money: Part 1 – The Rich Young Man

Recently, through a fellow blogger who is also a personal friend, I was introduced to the writing of Don Merritt at The Life Project. Because some of his pieces are shorter than what we do here, I asked him for permission to use two of them for which he graciously agreed, but then I decided to run these two over the course of two days, since they were longer and also related. Don is working his way through the gospel of Luke, but his blog also features topical items as well. Click the title below to read this one at source, and then go exploring!

Jesus Meets a Rich Ruler

Luke 18:18-23

This account matches up quite nicely with Matthew’s (Matt. 19:18-22) although Matthew tells us that the rich man was young as well.

Social conventions and customs are a funny thing; they influence most of us in a way that enables us to make sweeping assumptions concerning great truths, even eternal ones, and yet those very conventions change often through history. We should take this reality as a warning to question the social conventions of our time, and this tale is a case in point. In Jesus’ day, as in many other historical periods, it was assumed that most wealthy people were the ones favored by God; why else would they be so blessed? Yes, some were not so ethical in their conduct, but many were good, hard working people, the bedrocks of the community; surely God’s favor was upon them!

What a contrast to those little children in the last scene, those little ones that represented vulnerability and humility. Right after Jesus commented about the little ones, a rich young man walks up to Him and asks a question:

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (18:18)

Here’s a guy who appears to have it all, but he apparently believes that he is lacking in the way he has led his life; there is an element of humility here that we often overlook. In the dialogue that follows, we learn more about this young man:

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. (18:19-21)

In Matthew’s account, the man asks Jesus what he was still lacking right here. This young man was righteous, and appears to have good intentions, and as you will see, Jesus doesn’t dispute his claim that he has kept all of those commandments. It would also appear that the man was beginning to realize, perhaps more quickly than the disciples, that merely keeping commandments as was the Jewish prevailing thought, wasn’t quite enough, after all, why else would he have asked Jesus in the first place? Yet, he still seems to have believed that eternal life was contingent upon his ability to do something. Maybe he was right:

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. (18:22-23)

Jesus told the man to sell everything he owned, give money to the poor and follow Him. I cannot over-emphasize how radical this was, for the prevailing thought of those times said that the rich were blessed, worthy and most favored of all, yet Jesus told the man to liquidate and give to the poor. Notice, He didn’t say to give everything to the poor (as some older translations say) but the implication is clear enough. The story ends with the man going away sad, because he had great wealth.

Traditional teaching assumes the man did not do as Jesus told him, but I want to point out that the text doesn’t say so; maybe he did, maybe he didn’t… but he was sad.

This is where we like to bash people who have more than we do; I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this in class discussions and sermons and how many times I have read it, but I would suggest that we should not go rushing into this too quickly. I have known quite a few people who are quite wealthy, rich people, and they usually discover that their wealth, while handy for sure, is also a millstone around their necks; a burden more than a pleasure. Yet once they have it, it is hard to let go of. Even so, let’s not concentrate on those who have more than we do, let’s look in the mirror instead, for there is where Jesus message, and the young man’s predicament resonate:

Suppose Jesus came to you and told you to liquidate everything you have, that’s right dear reader, sell all your possessions, give to the poor and follow Him.

Would that make you happy?

If you answer “yes” to that question, then let’s take a closer look: Your home, your car(s), your accounts, retirement plans, investments, kids’ college funds, the contents of your house… everything. You show up to follow Jesus with only the shirt on your back. Hold on, the shirt on your back is also a possession, so you show up without even a shirt on your back or anything else, to follow Jesus. Are you happy?

More importantly, would you do it?

Maybe we should think carefully before we make this all about pointing fingers at others!

The good news is that we are still in that section where the instruction is for the disciples, and in the next part, we will see what Jesus has to say to them; will it get easier? Well, you’ll have to come back next time to find out!

November 10, 2016

When Jesus Meets Skeptical Minds . . .

pharisees-and-sadducees

by Clarke Dixon

“Get over your skepticism and just have faith.” This might be what we would have expected Jesus to say to the Sadducees regarding their disbelief. They had come to him with an intellectual challenge to the prevalent Jewish belief that the dead would someday be raised to life. They were very conservative in their thinking, preferring the scriptures handed down from Moses, and not paying attention to the revolutionary “wishful thinking” of the later prophets and writers. Moses, they figured, did not have much to say about a resurrection of the dead. So an intellectual challenge is issued to Jesus. What does Jesus say? “Get over your skepticism and just have faith”? Actually, no. Since this might be something we are tempted to say today to someone who demonstrates a skepticism toward Jesus, we should really pay attention to what he does say.

Before we do, let us recognize that skepticism is a necessary and important gift. We all ought to be skeptics. In fact we all tend to be. For example, if I were to tell you that you can fly and that all you need to do is run down the middle of the street shouting “I can fly! I can fly!” would you? Of course not. Why not? Because you are a skeptical person and your skepticism has kept you from doing something foolish. Skepticism often keeps us safe from physical harm, not to mention from delusion and the potential for intellectual harm. A skeptical mind is a gift.

So what does Jesus say instead?

24 Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” Mark 12:24 (NRSV)

According to Jesus, the Sadducees do not have a skepticism problem, they have a knowledge problem. Specifically, they do not know the scriptures or the power of God. This gives us some important insight as to why people reject Jesus today. A skeptical mind may not be the problem. Let’s take a closer look.

The Sadducees do not know the scriptures. As the Sadducees revere the writings from Moses more than any other, Jesus asks them to consider what God said to Moses at the burning bush where God first revealed Himself to Moses:

26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.” Mark 12:26-27 (NRSV)

God did not say “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before they turned back to dust,” but rather “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” that is, “I still am. . . “ So they have not disappeared never to be seen again as the Sadducees assume. Jesus is telling the Sadducees that with their assumptions in place they are not doing a very good job of reading the scriptures. This kind of thing can be said today. There are people who have rejected Jesus because they have not handled the scriptures very well.

Consider, as one example, a common objection I hear to Christianity: “Where did Cain’s wife come from?” A good question, but when you know the scriptures, the wrong question. Consider what we learn from Genesis:

  • Chapters 1 and 2 – God created everything including humanity which he marked out for a special relationship.
  • Chapter 3 – Humanity sinned, breaking that relationship.
  • Chapters 4 through 11 – Though God would have been right to, He has not shut the door on humanity.
  • Chapter 12 – God has a plan to bless humanity and it will be worked through a special people.
  • Chapters 13 through 50 – Hang on, this plan may take a while, but God is involved along the way!

Through Genesis God has communicated exactly the things we need to know. As the Bible says about itself elsewhere, the scriptures “are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2nd Timothy 3:15 NRSV). To expect God to tell us everything and to expect Genesis to read like some super-sized cosmic Twitter feed is to not know the scriptures.

Additionally, many have rejected Jesus without knowing much at all about Him. Many think they have rejected Jesus when they have rejected a caricature of Jesus. This is not skepticism, but a lack of knowledge, specifically, knowledge of the scriptures. When we encounter deep skepticism toward Christianity, a skeptical mind may not be the root problem, but rather a lack of knowing the scriptures.

The Sadducees do not know the power of God. They are stuck in the rut of “we have seen people die and turn to dust.” They do not know the amazing things God can do with dust. Their minds are not open to the activity and potential activity of God the Creator. Again, the problem is not with skepticism, but with knowledge. There are people today who reject Jesus, not because they have skeptical minds, but because they don’t know the power of God; Virgin birth? Impossible! The resurrection of the dead? Can’t happen! A genuine record of revelation? How could we ever trust it hasn’t changed? But if God, Who created everything from nothing, exists, then then these things are possible. Consider the love of God and these things become more than mere possibilities. Keep in mind that no one has ever given good evidence that God does not exist. And of course miracles are a matter of history, not science. When we encounter deep skepticism toward Christianity, a skeptical mind may not be the root problem, but rather a lack of knowing, or being open to, the power of God.

There is something else here which Jesus does not say, but which is implied.

The Sadducees do not know the thrill of a Jesus revolution. The Sadducees do not know the power of God to make the dead live, but they do know the power of Rome to make the living dead. They like the Status quo of Roman power, in fact a revolution could threaten their own power. And here is another reason people reject Jesus; they are not ready for a revolution. A God honouring, Jesus following, Spirit filled life is revolutionary. Anyone can sin. It takes courage to be righteous. Anyone can follow the crowd along a broad path. It takes courage to think different and stay on a narrow path. Anyone can live the status quo. It takes decisiveness to make a change. While most parents hope and pray their teenagers are not rebellious, I hope and pray that mine are. Jesus loving teenagers are the most rebellious and courageous teenagers out there today. When we encounter a deep skepticism toward Christianity, a skeptical mind may not be the root of the problem, but fear of a revolution.

In not knowing the scriptures, the power of God, and the thrill of a revolution,

The Sadducees also miss out on knowing the love of God. The resurrection of the dead will not just be a display of the power of God in fulfillment of the promises of scripture. It will also be a display of the amazing love of God. We do not want anyone to miss out on that love so we will want to always be ready to point people to Jesus. When we encounter skepticism our role is not to tell people to stop thinking and just have faith. Our role is to help people know the scriptures, the power of God, and the necessity and thrill of the revolution, and so to point them to the love of God.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor with Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec. Read today’s entry at source at this link.

October 6, 2016

Do You Love Money?

Today’s devotional is a return visit to the website The Domain for Truth by Jim Lee. This is a two-part article, of which we’ve printed the first half here. Click the title below to read this at source or visit the site through the link to part two at the end of today’s reading.

dollar signHow do you tell if you are a lover of money?

Christian ought not to be lovers of money (1 Timothy 6:10).  But this challenge is harder than most think.

Then there is this prediction by Paul: “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,” (2 Timothy 3:1-2).  Given the times that we are living in how much do we need to be discerning to see if we are lovers of money!

Of course people can often deceive themselves.  So how do you know if you are a lover of money?  The following are four diagnostic questions.  I tried to make it flow with the acronym “SNAP:”

  1. You scoff at those who point out you shouldn’t love money more than God: “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him.” (Luke 16:14)
    1. This verse follows right after Jesus saying: “You cannot serve God and wealth.
    2. Thus the Pharisees’ reaction is one of being a cynic and a scoffer of the truth.
    3. Like the case with other sins, when someone point out a pet sin we like, we get defensive…or even go on the offense!  So when you start attacking, ask yourself before God if the issue at hand is your love of money.
  2. You need to commit more sins as a means to satisfy your love for money: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil….” (1 Timothy 6:10a)
    1. Notice the verse did not say money is the root of evil; rather it says it is “the love of money” that “is a root of all sorts of evil
    2. How do you tell you are a lover of money? The love of money is a sin that doesn’t come alone; ask yourself if there are other sins that are a symptom of the love of money.
    3. Put another way: When you sin, what is the motivation for you to sin? Does money play a part in your motivation to commit those sins?
  3. You apostate as a consequence of your love for money: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10b)
    1. Notice that some go so far in their sins of loving money that they “have wandered away from the faith!
    2. They worship money so much that money and material possessions has become their functional gods that gives them satisfaction and their identity rather than God or Christ!
    3. See this as a serious sign you are in dangerous waters: The things of God suddenly becomes not interesting to you.
  4. You pierce yourself with grief as a consequence of your love for money: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil…and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10c)
    1. It is not a happy apostasy; rather we see it comes with the consequences of “many griefs
    2. Yet it was self-inflicted since they “pierced themselves
    3. It’s true when Proverbs 13:15b tells us “But the way of the treacherous is hard.

…So how do you combat the love of money? Think of the word “MARK,” and click to read: How Do You Combat the Love of Money – Part 1.

September 9, 2016

Jesus Rebukes Peter: An Insight

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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I wasn’t planning to return to Andy Elmes at Great Big Life so soon, but this one really stood out. If you can remember the title (below) you can remember the principle.

Deal with the hand, not the puppet

Matthew 16:22-23, NKJV
Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

This can seem a very strange thing for Jesus to do, if you don’t fully understand what was happening; especially as this very fierce rebuke came just seconds after Jesus had commended the same guy for having a revelation that He was the Christ. To fully understand what was happening, you need to see who Jesus was actually rebuking or dealing with. Many have interpreted this portion in different ways – I look at it this way: Peter was just the puppet, he was unknowingly being used to say something that was contrary to the heaven-sent plans that were directing the life of Jesus. He was not possessed by satan but was unknowingly allowing some suggestions or very subtle thoughts of satan to be voiced through his mouth, making him the puppet not the actual originator of the problem-induced words.

Notice Jesus does not say, “Get lost, Peter”. He says, “Get behind me, satan” – He was speaking to the voice of His enemy that was subtlety using one of His team to direct Him off course. Read on – directly after this encounter it is as if nothing had happened and He continues to teach His team more stuff, including Peter who must have still been in shock.

jesus-rebukes-peterThe lesson here is to always know and be spiritually discerning when it comes to the guiding voice of God in your life, and also to know when it is not the voice of God speaking words of direction to you. In the same way that Jesus experienced, it is amazing how people who are close to us can sometimes be the ones who, through lack of understanding or revelation, can say something that could potential take you off course or cause you to doubt something you should not.

What do we do when this happens? The same as Jesus: look beyond the (puppet) person and consider what spirit is actually in operation with an alternative agenda to that of God’s. Remember, the Bible says we wrestle not with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12), which means if we punch the person who is speaking we have so missed the point. We need to deal with what is going on beyond the person involved.

The devil is like a snake, he will always try and slip into the ear of people whose hearts are set on doing something for God. When it comes to who he will try and use he is no respecter of persons and will use those close to you to say the most destiny-disturbing things. The shock comes when they are really close, like Peter was to Jesus. When that happens you must remember not to fall out of love with the person but realize they do not know the weight of the statements and thoughts they are sharing. Equally, I would hold back from staring at them and telling them to “Get behind me, satan” – that’s never good for keeping friends! It worked for Jesus but it may not work so well for you.  I would deal with it spiritually, away from the person, around the corner. I would say, “satan, you filthy liar, get out of here, you are not knocking me off track.” I can’t say that I would never say it to the person, but would be very careful who it was if I did. I heard once of a man who used to say that to his wife – listen, that will never produce a happy home, be wise!

So the lesson today, be a sheep that knows the shepherd’s voice. When you hear another voice don’t always accept it because you recognize the puppet speaking. Take all things back to God’s word and wise council, and you will always walk in the right and God-designed direction.

August 10, 2016

Men and Women Given Equal Time in Luke’s Gospel

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 NLT

Creating them male and female, he blessed them and called them humans when he created them. – Genesis 5:2 ISV

Popular Christian author Rachel Held Evans highlighted this 2014 article for us yesterday. I guess, given the topic, it was something which resonated with her. But there’s no denying that the pairings found in Luke’s writing are there, and remember also, Luke isn’t making these stories up; the men/women balance is found throughout Christ’s teachings.  Click the title below to read this at source, the blog New Life, based in New South Wales, Australia.

Male-Female Pairs and Parallelism in Luke’s Gospel

by Marg Mowczko

I’ve been reading through the gospels lately. In Matthew’s gospel I was reminded of Jesus’ extraordinary counter-cultural teachings, I saw that we are all welcome to work in his vineyard, and I learned that Jesus had many female followers.

Male-Female Pairs of People in Luke

While reading Luke’s gospel I was struck by how the author often presents his material using gender-symmetrical pairs of people.[1] For instance, in Luke’s infancy narrative we have the male and female protagonists of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, and Simeon and Anna.[2] Later, Luke pairs the Twelve with the women disciples who travelled with them (Luke 8:1-3).[3]

Male-Female Pairs of Parables in Luke

Luke also presents a few of Jesus’ parables in gender-symmetrical pairs. In these parables, Jesus intentionally addresses the women in his audience, as well as the men, and he incorporates activities from everyday life into his stories that both sexes could identify with. Yet, in each of the paired parables, Jesus gives essentially the same message.

These gender-paired parables include:

  • The parable of the mustard seed (the seed was planted by a man) and the parable of the yeast (the yeast was used by a woman) in Luke 13:18-19, 20-21.
  • The parable of the lost sheep (the sheep was searched for by a male shepherd) and the parable of the lost coin (the coin was searched for by a woman) in Luke 15: 3-7, 8-10.
  • The parable of the persistent (male) friend and the parable of the persistent (female) widow (Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-8)[4]

Male-Female Pairs to make Points in Luke

Gendered pairs are found in other sayings of Jesus recorded in Luke. For instance, Jesus mentions the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the leper in order to make a point (Luke 4:25-27). In Luke 17:34-35 Jesus mentions two men on a couch (or bed) and two women grinding at a mill to make another point (cf Matt. 24:40-41). In Luke 11:29-32 Jesus uses the examples of Jonah and the Queen of Sheba as signs.

Jesus’ Male-Female Audience in Luke

Gender pairing in Luke's gospelJesus’ intentional inclusiveness in his teaching is further highlighted by the use of “complementary discourse”.

Jesus addressed mixed groups using “complementary discourse”: a term used to refer to the repeating of statements twice (changing the gender each time) in order to make application to each sex. Although such was completely out of step with the grammatical norms of His culture, Jesus frequently spoke using the following pairs: “men and women,” “husbands and wives,” “fathers and mothers,” “fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law,” “sons and daughters,” and “sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.” In Luke 12:53 Jesus refers to “father against son … and mother against daughter.” To the crowds He said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters— yes, even life itself— such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).[5]

Male-Female Pairs in the other Gospels

The other gospel writers also use gendered pairs, but to a lesser degree. For example, the work of men and women are mentioned side by side in Matthew 6:26 & 28, 24:40-41, and Mark 2:21. In John’s gospel, Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, recorded in John chapter 3, is followed by Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman, recorded in John chapter 4.

Luke’s Reason for Male-Female Pairs

Luke “gender-paired” people, parables, and points in order to highlight an important principle concerning gender. Ben Witherington observes that in Luke’s gospel, men and women are shown as being equal recipients of God’s grace and equal participants in the community of Jesus’ followers.[6] Luke’s agenda was to show that Jesus not only valued, respected, and elevated women, but that women are equal with men.

Witherington suggests, “When Luke wrote his gospel, it is likely that the very reason he felt a need to stress male-female parallelism and Jesus’ positive statements about women was that his own audience had strong reservations about some of Jesus’ views on the subject.”[6] Sadly, it seems that some Christians – despite  Jesus’ teaching and Luke’s writing – still have strong reservations concerning the equality of women with men in the community of Jesus’ followers.


Endnotes

[1] Luke continued to pair men and women in his account of the Acts of the Apostles.

[2] Mary must have been the original source for much of the Luke’s material in his infancy narrative. The prominence of Mary and Elizabeth and their speeches in Luke’s opening chapter has led Richard Bauckham to label Luke 1:5-80 “a gynocentric text”. Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2002) 47.

[3] Kathleen Corley notes, “As in Mark, women as well as men make up the number of those Galileans who witness Jesus’ entire ministry (Luke 23:59: Acts 10:37-39) and travel with him as he preaches and teaches from town to town.” Private Women, Public Meals: Social Conflict in the Synoptic Tradition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993) 110. Jesus had many female followers.

[4] The parable of the persistent widow is not located alongside the parable of the persistent friend, so some pair the persistent widow with the penitent tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. The parables of the new fabric patches and the new wineskins (Luke 5:36, 37-38) which I haven’t listed above, were spoken to the (male) Pharisees and the teachers of the law; but the parables could be a considered a gendered pair as sewing was traditionally regarded as women’s work, and the making and handling of wine was regarded as men’s work. Derek and Diane Tidball, The Message of Women: Creation, Grace and Gender (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, (2012) 175.

[5] Deborah M. Gill and Barbara Cavaness, God’s Women—Then and Now (Springfield, MO: Grace & Truth, 2004, 2009) (Kindle Locations 1257-1263). In a footnote of this book there is this statement: In “Appendix IX. Jesus’ Rhetoric in the Cultural Milieu,” of Gynecomorphisms in the New Testament [Gill’s Honors Thesis, Assemblies of God Graduate School, 1979] Gill lists 45 examples of Jesus’ use of complementary or coupled discourse instead of collective masculine address in the Gospels.

[6] Ben Witherington, Women in the Ministry of Jesus: A Study of Jesus’ Attitudes to Women and their Roles as Reflected in his Earthly Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) 52.

July 13, 2016

What Jesus Really Meant about the Perpetuation of the Poverty Class

Jesus on Poverty

Okay, maybe the article in its original form had a clearer title! This one came recommended to us, the author is Craig Greenfield, founder and director of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Jesus (Zondervan). To read at source, click the title:

What did Jesus really mean when he said, “The poor you will always have with you”?

Poverty can never be overcome right? It’s a problem that simply can’t be solved.

After all, Jesus said, “The poor you will ALWAYS have with you.”

It’s right there in Scripture. John chapter 12. Verse 8.

So don’t get too worried about tackling poverty and injustice sonny-boy. It’s a losing battle. Tone down your revolutionary rhetoric and give up the fight.

Right?

Perhaps like me, you have experienced that metaphorical pat on the head. This verse is often used as an attempt to take the wind out of all the rest of Jesus’ commands to work for justice and to love mercy.

Well, bollocks.

I reckon Jesus actually meant the OPPOSITE of what we usually take him to mean here. It seems to me that Jesus was actually advocating generosity and action to eradicate poverty, rather than hands-up-in-the-air, shoulder-shrugging apathy.

Here’s my reasoning.

You know how some catch-phrases are just so well known, that everyone knows the ending – you don’t even really need to say it?

“Sticks and stones.”

Everyone already knows the ending, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Just saying Sticks and Stones is enough for you to catch my drift.

It just so happens that in saying “The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus was quoting another well-known Biblical phrase – from a well-known passage of the Jewish Torah. Everyone hearing him back then would have caught his drift. Here’s the full original quote:

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be…For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deut 15:7-11)

So, reading Jesus’ words in their original context you can see that His words were meant to spur generosity towards the poor. “Open wide your hand!” The command to be open-handed towards the poor comes directly from Yahweh himself.

Not apathy and tight-fistedness as we use these words to mean today.

The next time someone says, “The poor you will always have with you…” Be sure to complete the sentence: “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”

The second thing to note about this story is that Jesus says these words to rebuke Judas who was scornful towards a woman for pouring out her perfume on Jesus:

He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6)

So, when we use Jesus’ words to justify not caring about the poor, we are actually repeating the very sin of Judas himself, who was robbing the poor.

Of course, this posture of generosity and open-handedness lines up much more consistently with the rest of Jesus’ life and teachings, starting with the revolutionary song sung by Mary while Jesus was still in the womb:

“He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:53)

You can see Jesus fulfilling this prophecy in the feeding of the 5000. The same word from Mary’s Sing, “filled”, is found in John 6:12, where we hear that that motley crowd all ate and were “filled”…

The need of 5000 hungry people was met in that place and time because one little boy was willing to be “open-handed” towards the poor and needy.

Later, after Jesus’ death, the early believers also took these teachings on open-handedness seriously:

And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were NO needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:34-35)

There were no needy persons among them! Poverty was eradicated in their midst. That was the natural outcome of taking Jesus’ teachings seriously.

Jesus’ upside-down Kingdom is coming. He calls us to be part of it. The poor are going to be lifted up. The hungry are going to be fed. Your call and my call is to be open-handed.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s get on with it!


December 19, 2015

Does Your Hearing Need Healing?

A shorter reading today, but one rich in application This is from Adrian Plass, from the book You, Me and Mark (previously published as Never Mind the Reversing Ducks).

Mark 7:31-37New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Cures a Deaf Man

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

adrian plassSensitive as ever, Jesus takes this deaf man well away from crowds and noise so that he will not be overwhelmed by a cacophony of sounds when his hearing is restored.  Are the fingers in the ears and the spitting on the tongue part of the healing process, or, as seems more likely, was Jesus simply miming what he was about to? Another interesting but unanswerable question.  But here is one indisputable fact.  For this man, the first sound to emerge from a lifelong well of silence was the voice of the Son of God.  Not a bad way to start, was it?  For as long as he lived he would never forget the voice that called him out of silence and bewilderment into a new way of life.

It may seem blunderingly symbolic to say so but many of the Christians that I meet have forgotten the tone and content of the voice that first called them to follow their master without question.  There are so many other voices that come crashing in with opinions and doctrines and advice and temptations and distractions.

Move away from those other sounds to a private place away from the crowd.  Close your eyes.  Listen hard.  Do you hear that voice coming out of the silence, the voice that first commanded your eyes to be opened and your ears to be unblocked?  Do your vision and your hearing need to healed again?  His gentle touch is upon you.  Open your eyes and listen with your ears.  There are old and new things to see and hear.


I want to know you; I want to hear your voice…


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November 21, 2015

Forgiveness for All

When the host of the party is outraged that a woman of sketchy reputation is devoting so much attention to the rabbi Jesus, the teacher launches into a parable

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Most people reading this know this story, and understand the parable, which sort of quantifies degrees of forgiveness. Debts do, after all, come in various sizes.

The parable itself comprises only two verses, 41 and 42, but it contains a foregone conclusion of a forgiveness that doesn’t take place until verse 48. The woman knows who she is, the life she’s lived, and her need of repentance. Jesus responds to the contriteness of her heart and tells her that her sins are forgiven.

But who else needs forgiving in this story?

Simon has not been very accommodating to Jesus, he has not acted as a host should, especially if we see this in light of 36 which seems to paint Jesus as the guest of honor. I’ve often wondered then, how this woman of ill repute gets in, but some suggest that certain occasions might have been open to a wider swath of people, not unlike a situation where a British lord might invite the villagers to a type of open house at the manor. By whatever means she gets in.

But Simon seems to have snubbed Jesus somewhat, and his outrage at the interaction between the woman and Jesus provides Jesus with a context to note Simon’s lack of social graces.

Clearly, Simon is also in need of forgiveness.

But here’s the good news: In the parable Jesus tells, two people are forgiven!

At this point, I need to acknowledge a footnote in Ann Spangler’s telling of the story in the recently released Wicked Women of the Bible:

I am indebted to Kenneth E. Baily for his fascinating interpretation of this story in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (IVP, 2008, pp 239-60). Though Baily does not speculate on whether Simon showed signs of repentance as I have done… he does make it clear that the story Jesus tells Simon speaks of forgiveness that is extended to both people, the one with the large debt and the one with the small one, implying that Simon is the person with the smaller debt.

It must be said however that there’s nothing in the text to suggest Simon enters a posture of penitence. But the parable leaves the potential there for both the one with the great debt and the smaller debt to have the same opportunity to begin with a fresh slate.

How many people do you think were forgiven that day?

 

November 18, 2015

A Funny Thing Did Not Happen on the Way to Worship an Idol

by Clarke Dixon
•••click here to read at source

All religions are equal, right? Some say that they are equally bad, but many claim that they are all equally good. They all lead to the same morals. They all deserve respect. To say otherwise you will risk being labelled as intolerant. The prevailing mood of accommodation of all religions indiscriminately is a far cry from what God called his people to in Deuteronomy 12:

When the Lord your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land, take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, “How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.” Deuteronomy 12:29-30

For those who think all religions promote the same moral values, the next verse is very important:

You must not do the same for the Lord your God, because every abhorrent thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Deuteronomy 12:31

As God’s people prepare to enter the Promised Land they are warned that messing around with Canaan’s god’s would make a real mess of things. God had given the law to His people as a gift of grace, as a set of ethics that would lead the obedient to be a light in a dark world. Idolatry would cause God’s people to plunge into darkness themselves. Our twenty-first century living blinds us to some of the atrocious things that happened in the name of religion in the ancient world including child sacrifice. The Law given to God’s people pointed to a better way. In leading God’s people away from God, idolatry would lead people away from God’s best for them; the godly, good, and wise way of life. Clearly, not all religions are equal and we should be grateful that many immoral religions have faded into obscurity.

Idolatry still leads people away from God’s best. Remembering that idolatry is loving anyone or anything more than God, consider the idolatry of Adolf Hitler who loved Social Darwinism more than God. Social Darwinism is what happens when you apply the principles of Darwinism, namely the survival of, or “natural selection” of, the strong to a society. Evolution demands that the “weak”, like the Jews according to some, really ought to be eliminated. Hitler was not a crazy man, but a quite intelligent man who was unfortunately informed more by his idolatry than by God’s way. Had Hitler been influenced by the very people he sought to destroy he would have realized the implications of all humanity created in the image of God and history books would now tell a very different story.

Another example of idolatry leading people away from God’s best for them can be readily seen in ISIS. ISIS has a morality problem. ISIS seeks to build a religious state, a caliphate, through violence. Islam has a fundamentalist problem. When people who call themselves Christian turn to violence in the name of Christianity, we point them back to Jesus and the call to emulate him in the way of the cross. When people turn to a violent expression of Islam, the moderate Muslim has trouble calling them to emulate Mohammed. They are convinced they already are. When a Christian wants to create a Christian state, we point them to the teaching of Jesus who said “Go therefore and make disciples,” and not “Go therefore and make a Christian nation.” When a militant Muslim wants to support the creation of a religious state, a caliphate, the moderate Muslim has trouble sending them back to the teaching and example of Mohammed. They are convinced they have already gone there. Islam is idolatry that is keeping people away from God’s best for them. As a Christian I am called to love the Muslim. I am not called to like Islam.

But someone may object that the very passage from Deuteronomy we began with has God’s people creating a religious state though violence. That is a very good objection and one which demands a response. First, consider that God was establishing a nation for the purpose of keeping his promise of blessings for all nations (Genesis 12:1-13). Second, consider that those times and places were very different from our own, being more like the tribalism that we have seen in places like Rwanda, than like the nation states we are comfortably used to. Third, consider that the inhabitants of Canaan were ripe for God’s judgement. They were no better than the people who experienced the flood in Noah’s day. Fourth, consider that this was a one time event. The command to take Canaan was not a command to be dusted off whenever God’s people feel like taking territory. Yes, we do have in Deuteronomy a people called to create a religious state and yes, violence was to be involved. But this was one step, a necessary step, on the journey to the cross where God Himself would suffer violence to bring salvation to sinful people. This was one step on a long road to blessing.

So which should we be following today? The prevailing mood validating all religions as equal, or the Biblical call to religious purity and evangelism of people we see as lost? In leading people away from God, idolatry leads people away from God’s best for them. That includes the godly ethics he longs for people to enjoy. But there is more; idolatry leads people away from God’s very best for them in leading them away from his salvation. Idols can never rescue us from the effects of sin. Jesus does. Atheism does not rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Islam can not rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Hinduism, Buddhism, and everyotherism cannot rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Even the Christian religion, when it is just religion for the sake of religiosity does not rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Jesus said  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

We can and should affirm religious pluralism in our nation, to a point. A religion that demands something like child sacrifice would be clearly very far from Canadian values. So religious freedom does have its limits. But as Jesus followers we are called to religious purity. Are we not to respect the religions and world-views of other people then? As followers of Jesus we recognize these views for what they are: idolatry which leads people away from God’s best. How can we respect that? But as for the people who hold these views, who follow these idols, we are to go far beyond respect, to love. And if we love them, we will want them to know Jesus, His way of life, His way of salvation. We will want want them to experience the very best He has for them.

All scripture references are from the NRSV


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada; and as we learned this week, a very competent musician.

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