Christianity 201

January 19, 2018

The Struggle With Judging

So there I was at the devotional page at Daily Paradigm Shift, reading the devotional which follows and I was thinking that it was a bit shorter than what we usually use, but something about it struck me as worth bookmarking for later use.

Then yesterday, I came back to the site and reexamined the article, and discovered it was written by Rebekah B. who is only 15 years old, and I’m asking myself, ‘Why do I have so many problems getting adults I know to consider writing devotional pieces, when here is a 15-year old doing so well at this?’

Crickets.

Anyway, when not at Daily PS — or six other websites where her material has appeared — her own blog is The Narrow Road for Teens.

Should Christians Judge?

What does God say about judging others?

Christians sometimes get confused with the concept of judging. Biblically we are commanded to judge (John 7:24 says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make it right judgement). Then at the same time we are biblically told that we are not to judge. (Matthew 7:1 NIV, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.)

So, which is it?

Jesus knew that we would struggle with judging.  This is why He gave us a strict warning in His Word saying, Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure that you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 NIV)

This verse is not telling us that we should never judge. Obviously, we make judgments every day between right and wrong. What Jesus is telling us here is to not judge others hypocritically. He is telling us to remove the plank from our own eye so that we may help the other person.

We should not be judgmental of others when our own sins need to be corrected as well.

Just as we are commanded to not condemn others, we are also commanded to not ignore sin. This requires the act of judging others in a biblical way.

It is important to be able to discern the difference between the judging.  There is judging that is mentioned in Matthew 7:1-5 and the biblical kind of judgement mentioned in John 7:24 NIV.Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

If I am to see a fellow believer sinning, I am biblically instructed to confront the person. In a respectful and loving manner of course.  Matthew 18:15-17 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just go between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen to even to the church, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.  

The ultimate goal in confronting someone is to bring that person to repentance. We are called to judge sin with the goal of bringing repentance and reconciliation.

God commands us to point out the truth with hope, love, and Christ-like compassion.

Ephesians 4:15, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.

I hope this helped you understand the difference between biblical judgement and non-biblical judgement.

In closing I leave you with this verse. “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” – 2 Timothy 4:2 NIV

 

January 13, 2018

Bold, Protocol-Defying Prayers

NIV Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

This is a short excerpt from Draw the Circle: A 40 Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. It was today’s selection from a devotional service I subscribe to, Devotions Daily from Faith Gateway.

Crazy Prayers, Crazy Faith

This woman is driving me crazy. – Luke 18:5

I love the parable of the persistent widow. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think persistent is a nice word for crazy. This woman is crazy, but when the cause is a righteous one, it’s a holy crazy!

We aren’t told what injustice took place, but she was on a mission. Maybe her son was falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Maybe the man who molested her daughter was still on the streets. We don’t know for sure. But whatever it was, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. And the judge knew it. The judge knew she would circle his house until the day she got justice or the day she died. The judge knew there was no quit in the crazy woman.

Does the Judge know that about you? How desperate are you for the blessing, the breakthrough, the miracle? Desperate enough to pray through the night? How many times are you willing to circle the promise? Until the day you die? How long will you knock on the door of opportunity? Until your knuckles are raw? Until you knock the door down?

The persistent widow’s methodology was unorthodox. She could have, and technically should have, waited for her day in court. Going to the personal residence of the judge crossed a professional line. I’m almost surprised the judge didn’t file a restraining order against her. But this reveals something about the nature of God. God couldn’t care less about protocol. If He did, Jesus would have chosen the Pharisees as His disciples. But that isn’t who Jesus honored.

Jesus honored the prostitute who crashed a party at a Pharisee’s home to anoint His feet. Jesus honored the tax collector who climbed a tree in his three-piece suit just to get a glimpse of Him. Jesus honored the four friends who cut in line and cut a hole in someone’s ceiling to help their friend. And in this parable, Jesus honored the crazy woman who drove a judge crazy because she wouldn’t stop knocking.

The common denominator in each of these stories is crazy faith. People took desperate measures to get to God, and God honored them for it. Nothing has changed.

God is still honoring spiritual desperadoes who crash parties and climb trees.

God is still honoring those who defy protocol with their bold prayers. God is still honoring those who pray with audacity and tenacity. And the crazy woman is selected as the gold standard when it comes to praying hard. Her unrelenting persistence was the only difference between justice and injustice.

The viability of our prayers is not contingent on scrabbling the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet into the right combinations like abracadabra. God already knows the last punctuation mark before we pronounce the first syllable. The viability of our prayers has more to do with intensity than vocabulary. It has more to do with what we do than what we say.

Don’t just pray about it; act on it.

There are defining moments in life when we need to prove to God that we mean business – and I don’t mean “business as usual.” In fact, it’s only when “business as usual” goes out of business that we’re in business – the Father’s business. That’s when we’re on the verge of a spiritual breakthrough…

January 2, 2018

A Baby Was Born

by Russell Young

Christmas celebrates the birth of a baby and hope for humankind. He was born into the humble circumstances of a young mother and a new father. For them the stability of place and position had not yet been established.

That baby was as helpless as any new-born. He soiled himself, and required nursing and protection. He needed to be educated and allowed the right to develop and grow through play, discipline, and all forms of parental guidance. Although he was the Son of God, he was also the son of Mary. He was like you and me.  The writer of Hebrews states that “he [was] made like his brothers in every way.” (Heb 2:17 NIV) He had a body, soul, and spirit like all humankind.

The baby, Jesus, grew and became a man. He suffered the same bodily temptations as do all men. “[He] was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Heb 5:15 NIV) His temptations were not easy to bear. He suffered through them. (Temptations are not temptations unless they have a draw and their resistance causes some form of suffering.) “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb2:18 NIV) He had come to earth as a baby to learn of the human condition and to provide victory over weaknesses and over the evil one.

The resoluteness and commitment of Jesus to his Father should not be underestimated. His heart was fully committed to overcoming the frailties of the flesh that cause destruction. To live without sin, to deny the temptations of the flesh and to resist the deceptions and lies of the evil one and all that the world allows requires a heart determined to live righteously. We have been told, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7 NIV) No escape had been provided from the consequence of sin even for Jesus, the Christ. Sin would have brought about his own death. His Father did not interfere to make his earthly passage any different from our own concerning the issues of life. It was the heart of Christ devoted to pleasing his Father that allowed him to overcome the world.

There was a savior. The sinless man, through obedience to his Father’s will, became the source of eternal salvation for all people who would obediently follow him. (Jn 10:27)  “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) He was not sent to remove the consequences of the devil’s work, but to destroy it.

Confusion remains concerning the manner in which Jesus accomplished the provision of hope for a lost people. He bore the sin of the world and through his sinless life, “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption (for himself).” (Heb 9:12) His sinless life was the result of victory over Satan, over the flesh, and over the world. His propitiation for sin applies to those who “confess with [their] mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in [their] heart that God raised him from the dead.” (Rom 10:9 NIV) Those who would enjoy the hope offered by Christ must confess that “Jesus is Lord.” Confession is assenting to his lordship, promising it, covenanting it. “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) “He died as a ransom to set [people] free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Heb 9:15 NIV), and to provide eternal salvation through his resurrected life. He requires that those who he has freed and who have made the pledge of his lordship, follow him.

The sacrifice of the sinless Christ on the cross does not provide eternal salvation but release from the consequence of the confessor’s past sins and those repented and confessed following confession. (1 Jn 1:9) Just as the Lord lived without sin in the body that the Father had given him in the womb of Mary, he is prepared to live that sinless life in the body of the believer. “Christ in you is your hope of glory.” (Col 1:27; see also Gal 2:20 and 4:6) The saving ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ was not completed at the cross; he is the Spirit — “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18 NIV, italics added.) The Lord must be permitted to live his life through the believer. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV) “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (1 Jn 3:7─8 NIV) “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” (1 Jn 3:6 NIV)

 There is a judge. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10 NIV) The baby who became a sinless man, made provision for the Holy Spirit, and will be the judge of all. He dwells in us and knows the degree of our commitment to him. He holds the keys (Rev 1:18) and will decide each person’s eternal fate.

The baby born of Mary experienced the world and the flesh and overcame all the temptations that would have defeated him, and which would have provided victory for Satan. This baby grown into man victoriously fought the fight which has defeated all humankind. He knows the struggles and temptations of people and desires to be their helper and the source of their eternal salvation, but they must repent and allow him lordship of their lives so that they can become an offering acceptable to God. (Rom 15:16) Jesus the baby has become the light and hope of the world.


Author Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. His book Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.


 

December 29, 2017

When is it Right to Judge?

I mentioned on December 20th that I was so impressed by the material by Colin Sedgwick at Welcome to Sedgonline, that we now return for an extra visit this month (plus a link to a third article) before our “six month rule” kicks in!  Click the title to read the first one at source.

Is it ever right to judge?

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”. Matthew 7:1

The minister stood at the church door to greet people after the service. The sermon hadn’t been an easy one to preach. He had spoken about sexual morality, and had stressed particularly the biblical ideal of marriage – one man and one woman, for life – and he knew that not everyone would take it kindly.

(He knew too, of course, that the ideal is exactly that: an ideal. And that God is compassionate and forgiving towards those who may have failed to achieve it.)

One woman had just a very brief comment to make: “I prefer to live my life according to Matthew 7:1. Goodbye.” By which she meant, of course: “I believe in not making judgments on the way other people live their lives.”

Was her frosty comment right?

In one sense, of course, yes. We should not judge others in the sense of condemning them. We are all sinners, so the sins we should take most seriously are… our own. Jesus goes on to make this clear in his words about the speck of sawdust and the plank: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?… You hypocrite…” Point taken!  Ultimately, God alone is qualified to judge.

But in another sense she was wrong. Taking Matthew 7:1 as a stand-alone text – treating it as if it says everything that needs to be said – simply creates chaos.

Somebody has calculated that the Bible as a whole contains 31,102 verses (depending on which version you use), so if that minister had had the chance he could well have replied to the woman, “Er, yes, of course, Matthew 7:1 is great verse – but what about the Bible’s other 31,101 verses? What about verses that put a different angle on the matter – shouldn’t they be taken into account as well?”

For if you take Matthew 7:1 as the only word on the subject of judging, it implies that there are no rights and wrongs at all. Somebody commits murder? Oh dear, that’s bad – but, of course, Jesus says I mustn’t judge them. Somebody operates an internet scam and robs people of millions of pounds? Mmm, that sounds pretty dodgy as well. But of course Jesus says I mustn’t judge them…

Fact: some things are right and some things are wrong. And we shouldn’t shy away from saying so.

Jesus himself wasn’t afraid to point this out: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13) Not exactly non-judgmental, that, eh?

In the early days of the church Simon Peter had to deal with a case of gross dishonesty by a couple called Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). So what did he say: “Ananias and Sapphira, you have done a seriously bad thing – but of course I am forbidden by the Lord Jesus to judge you”? Er, no. No: he spoke some quite frightening words: “… how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…?” Non-judgmental?

A little later Saul (before he became known as Paul) was confronted on the island of Cyprus by “a sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus” (Acts 13:6-12). This man comes in for similar rough treatment: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!” Again, non-judgmental?

The fact is that when we see evil and wickedness, whether in others or mainly in ourselves, something is wrong if we don’t recognize it as such.

But, having said that, shouldn’t our main reaction be one of sorrow?

This, I think, is what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4). He wasn’t talking about bereaved people or people attending a funeral; he was talking about people who shake their heads in sadness as they look into the darkness in their own hearts, and as they survey the sorry state of our world – the lies, the corruption, the greed, the vice and immorality, the violence.

Such people aren’t self-righteous or “holier-than-thou”; no, they are people who have looked a little into the heart of God, who have been moved by the beauty and purity they have seen there, and who long for things to be different. They are people who pray, as Jesus taught us: “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) – and who add “including in my heart”.

Is that a prayer you can pray with sincerity? If it is, I think that means you can stand up for what is right, and denounce what is wrong, without being guilty of judging others where you shouldn’t.

Lord God, save me from fault-finding, criticizing and condemning others. Help me to see clearly my own sins and failings – but at the same time not to be afraid to uphold what is good, right and true. Amen.


This topic raises another important issue – how easy it is, like that woman at the church door, to misuse the Bible. It might be helpful to have a think about that next. See this article by the same author.

November 28, 2017

Spiritual Triage: Following God’s Example

In preparing yesterday’s devotional and looking at the “The God Who Runs,” I discovered this 2015 teaching at Patheos. The author is Reed Metcalf who works at Fuller Seminary. Click the link below to read at source.

The God Who Pursues Us Relentlessly

I will never forget discovering that a dear friend of mine had walked away from the faith. Granted, there was still an intellectual assent to the claims of Christianity as true, a willingness to defend the Bible, Christ, and Church as weighty, relevant, and authoritative, but it was all just lip service. No more church attendance, no prayer life, no Bible study, no commitment to any sort of Christian ethic or activism. All the vital signs of a healthy connection to the Triune God vanished.

My heart breaks even now.

Did not—does not—Jesus say, “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers?” [1]

I am so scared, so sad.

But what are we supposed to do? How do you approach that fine line of calling a brother or sister back when you know one poorly chosen word could break the last vestiges of faith? I am haunted even yet by mistakes made when I was a youth leader at my church in Orange, and I still struggle to love others back into their commitments to Christ and neighbor. We all know that pain when a friend, a sibling, a hero leaves the church: it’s like a sucker punch to the gut, like a wound that opens inside us. We have tasted and seen, and we know they leave behind the One who is the source of life itself.

And so we do what anyone does with a massive wound: triage. We try something to stop the bleeding in our hearts, and, when we are not careful, we turn to our own methods instead of God’s. We amputate and cauterize in a desperate attempt to keep it all together. We say, “The road is narrow… and thus few take it.” We sing, “Though none go with me, still I will follow.” We write off our brothers and sisters. We cry over them. We pray for them. But slowly, we accept the fact that they are gone.

We mourn them and try to find closure, because to do anything less hurts far too much.

Seasons pass and the cauterization stops aching, though we still feel a twinge of pain now and then; we still look through a mist of sadness when we see them outside of church, and we wonder, “Can anything bring them back?”

Jesus once held a small child in his arms and asked his disciples, “What do you think?”

“If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” [2]

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and death. As they go, Jesus teaches his apostles what this church of his—what the Kingdom of Heaven—is to be like. How to reprove someone gently, how to forgive, how to treat children. And now this story of a shepherd that goes after one out of many. Here is a glimpse at the ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven: a God who chases us down. We stand among the murmuring apostles, looking at Jesus and the child he holds, and it slowly comes upon us all as a hearth pushes the chill from a room.

“Here is the Son of God,” they say to each other. “Here, in our midst. Has he not already decried us as an ‘evil and adulterous generation?’ [3] Has he not displayed disappointment at our lack of faith? [4] Has God Himself not sent nation after nation to conquer us for our sins and failures? And yet he is here, telling us that he will not stop searching until the last one of us is found.”

“Is this not Good News?”

Failure after failure, betrayal after betrayal, Israel always finds God still mercifully searching for her everywhere. Even in Hosea—one of the most judgment-heavy books of the Bible—God raises his hand to rain destruction from the heavens and stops himself at the thought of his beloved children:

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
  How can I hand you over, O Israel?…
My heart recoils within me;
   my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
   I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
   the Holy One in your midst,
   and I will not come in wrath.  [5]

The God we see in Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is One who loves despite. Despite our sin, our waywardness, our piety, our efforts, our failures, despite everything. From the complaining under Moses to the rejection of God as King, from idolatry under the monarchs to the compromise under the Romans, God across thousands of years has pursued a stubborn people called Israel. When all else fails, He appears in the flesh to knock on their doors, to sleep in their gardens, to eat at their tables, to call them back to Him. God will not let them go.It is here that we find our hope. God’s reckless devotion to his own people makes up the scraps we Gentiles hope to eat as they fall from Israel’s table. [6] We hope to one day have the same devotion from the God of Israel: that even when it seems that we have crossed the final line, we see God, shepherd staff in hand, come rushing over the hill to bring us back. And how ecstatic are we when this becomes a reality, when God makes a way for us to become part of the chosen people through the death and resurrection of Christ? We are now part of the flock, part of the one hundred. Should even one of us—any one of us—go astray, the Shepherd will begin his searching again.

In this I take comfort. He is faithful even when we are not. When we walk away, the Shepherd follows us. But “follows” is really too weak a word to describe this. The Psalmist tells us that “Surely His goodness and steadfast love yirdĕpûnî all the days of my life.” [7] We tend to translate yirdĕpûnî as “will follow me,” but all other uses of the root rdp (רדף) have a connotation of hunting, pursuing, even persecuting.

“Surely His goodness and steadfast love will pursue me relentlessly all the days of my life.”

God refuses to give up. Ever. On us, on those who leave the church, on those who have never been part of the community. He is the God Who Pursues Us Relentlessly. Until our last day, He will dog our steps with love.

I think of my friend, now living apart from the flock. I fight the temptation to stop the pain, to stop the feeling by writing her off, by saying that she has made her choice and that is that. Such thoughts are not from God. His thoughts are the ones I must grab. His thoughts are yet turned to her, despite the pain, despite the rebellion, despite the waywardness. He picks up his staff and begins his pursuit, over hill and across desert, until the one is brought back. I cry with joy at the thought that the Shepherd has still not given up on her. I wipe my tears and follow in his steps.


[1] John 15:6
[2] Matthew 18:12.
[3] Matthew 12:39; 16:4.
[4] Matthew 14:31.
[5] Hosea 11:8-9.
[6] Matthew 14:21-28.
[7] Psalm 23:6.

 

November 26, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Jim Thornber writes at what we call “the other Thinking Out Loud blog.” Like him, I had never noticed the wording of this familiar story. Click the title to read this at source.

Would I Worship Or Would I Whine?

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

A few weeks ago a pastor in my town brought this passage to my attention. It is the story of Jesus leaving Galilee and going north into Tyre and Sidon, which was Gentile territory. A woman who lived there came to Him and pleaded for Jesus to heal her daughter, who was tormented by a demon. As a response to this request, Jesus remained silent.

Today, silence is a most hated concept. With smartphones, the internet, radio and television blaring everywhere we go, we’ve learned to distrust the sound of silence. Silence is wrong. Silence means something is broke. Silence makes us wonder if we’re still alive if all we hear is our own breathing.

Add to that silence the fact the people hanging out with Jesus urge Him to send her away and you have an emotional breakdown in the making. But she doesn’t go away. She just stands there and waits for the Son of David to answer her request. And when Jesus does speak, it is not as the meek and mild Jesus we sing about in church.

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

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

But what this woman does next just astounds me. Verse 25 says, “But she came and worshiped him.” Is that what I would do? Would I worship God after He has been silent, after the church folk have suggested He send me away and finally after God says He’s not here for me? I’d be more tempted to whine about how life is all against me than to worship a God who intends to ignore me.

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

Now, let’s look at this passage from another angle. Yes, Jesus was silent, but He was there. He was in her presence and He didn’t leave. In fact, He came to her town; she didn’t travel to him. There is always hope when God is present.

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

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

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

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

November 22, 2017

Changing Values in our World

Today I want to introduce you to Jay Mankus who writes at Express Yourself 4 Him. This is a goldmine of devotional resources and new content has been faithfully posted daily since February 2012. Deciding which article to showcase here was so tough that I’m presenting two. Click the individual titles to read at source.

Don’t Go There or Else

There is a new movement emerging from members of the media, seeking to destroy naysayers, opponents and those possessing opposing worldviews.  This rush to judgment ignores the concept of innocent until proven guilty.  Instead of waiting until the facts to come out during a trial, the severity of recent accusations are more than enough to presume guilt.  Where did this mentality come from and what does the Bible say to address this issue?

He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities, Psalm 103:10.

According to David, God does not treat human beings as they deserve.  According to Psalm 103:12, God’s love is infinite, “as far as the east is from the west.”  If God is willing to show forgiveness, grace and mercy to undeserving sinners, why is the mainstream media so quick to condemn.  Have the elite been offended by conservatives in the past?  Is this recent response some sort of pay back for previous hypocritical actions?  Whatever the reason, sometimes you have to use common sense by replying, “don’t go there.”

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times, Matthew 18:21-22.

There was an unspoken belief that forgiveness should be limited in the first century.  Sensing a good opportunity to address this topic, Jesus shares the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  Attempting to shatter any stereotypes on forgiveness, Jesus illustrates God’s mercy on those who are unable to pay back earthly debts accrued over time.  God the Father bestows grace on those who beg for mercy.  Yet, lip service is disregarded unless individuals reciprocate mercy by doing to others as you want others to do unto you.  In other words, don’t go there or else.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins, Matthew 6:14-15.

The or else part of this equation was addressed by Jesus earlier in the book of Matthew.  At the conclusion of the portion of Scripture known as the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father, Jesus emphasizes the conditional aspect of forgiveness.  Yes, I did say conditional, based upon how you treat other people.  In next chapter, Matthew 7 builds upon this concept proclaiming, ” the measure to which you judge others will be used against you.”  Therefore, despite whatever differences you may have against others, make sure your remember to live out the Golden Rule.  Don’t seek revenge or the grace of God will turn it’s back on you.

Character Education

As societies evolve, the meaning of words change to reflect this evolution.  In the early stages of American history, character referred to personality, nature and qualities.  One of the synonyms for character is ethos, where we derive the Greek term ethics.  Ethics is the system of philosophy where individuals develop their basis for defining right and wrong.  Today, character education focuses on an initiative to foster global citizenship.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out, Proverbs 10:9.

Based upon the United Nations global education initiative, character education is based upon three core philosophies: humanism, socialism and utilitarianism.  Utilitarianism teaches actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.  Socialism advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.  Finally, humanism denies the presence of a Creator, seeking solely rational ways of solving human problems.  Signed by former president Obama, this curriculum is now being implemented into public education within K-12 schools across the country.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect, Romans 12:2.

When I first heard of Character Education on the Rush Limbaugh Show, I thought this sounds good, a step in the right direction.  Yet, as I began to hear and read more about this as a former teacher, I was horrified.  This attempt to erase the biblical influences within the foundation of America is unsettling.  Nonetheless, unless parents begin to challenge what their children are being taught, the true history of America will be forgotten.  May this blog awaken believers to stand up to this indoctrination by studying and teaching God’s divine intervention upon the founding fathers of this country.

November 21, 2017

Bible Texts Offer Two Types of Wisdom

The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction,
and concern for instruction is love of her,
and love of her is the keeping of her laws,
and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality,
and immortality brings one near to God;
so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.

– Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 (Deuterocanonical book) NRSV

Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say, “He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness.” And again, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise; he knows they are worthless.”

-I Cor 3:18-20 NLT

Today’s author is a first-time appearance here at C201; Josh Blakesley came recommended. He is an ordained minister who has a heart for inter-faith interaction and dinner theatre! Click the title below to read at source, and then navigate around the rest of the website.

Alternative Wisdom

The most common type of wisdom in society is what we call conventional wisdom. This is the mainstream, what “everybody knows.” It is society’s understanding about what is real and how people should live. Conventional wisdom includes ideas that are so accepted they are not questioned. These ideas tell us now to live; we are socialized into conventional wisdom as we grow up.

Example: we are told that life is about reward and punishment, i.e. “your reap what you sow” or “get what you deserve.” Though this idea is prevalent in secular culture, it also exists in religion, i.e.: “God will reward or condemn you based on what you’ve done.” Obviously, conventional wisdom leads to social separations, because it claims that some people’s roles in society are more important than others.

A person’s self-worth or identity is based on how they measure up to society’s norms.

At the end of the day, conventional wisdom can lead to us thinking that the reality as we have labeled it is actually the end-all. This of course can close our minds to new realities and ideas.

There are many examples of conventional wisdom. Here are a few:

  • The Earth is flat. The Earth is the center of the Universe.
  • You have to make more money. It is always best to pursue promotions and jobs that pay more.
  • You should buy a house.
  • You should do tons of cardio exercise to lose weight.
  • Keep taking antibiotics so you won’t be sick.
  • In Hollywood: a movie can’t succeed unless it stars a famous actor.

What examples of conventional wisdom can you think of?

To bring this home, consider that many people’s image of God is based on their acceptance of conventional wisdom. God, for them, is the enforcer and the one who gives legitimacy to religious behaviors and viewpoints. It’s the idea that people must satisfy God…

Now let’s switch gears to alternative wisdom—a grouping of ideas and perspectives that are not afraid to ask questions, to challenge convention. Alternative wisdom confronts the so-called norms of society and asks why we consider these norms to be our reality. For example, conventional wisdom says that a person’s worth is determined by measuring up to social standards. Alternative wisdom says that all people have infinite worth that is intrinsic and not based on merit. Likewise, while conventional wisdom says that our identity comes from social tradition, alternative wisdom says that identity comes from centering in the sacred, and in our humanity. And finally, conventional wisdom tells us to strive to be first in line for everything, no matter what. Alternative wisdom says that the last will be first and the first will be last.

Can you think of your own examples of alternative wisdom?

More specifically, in Jewish and Christian Scriptures, there is most certainly a blend of conventional and alternative wisdom. If you look closely enough, I’m sure you can find various examples of both. To bring this conversation to its center I would like to hone in on alternative wisdom as it was for Jesus of Nazareth. For Jesus, parables were storytelling methods of imparting alternative wisdom. The parables were not black and white. They asked questions. Typically, wisdom teachers like Jesus, Socrates, Buddha—they focused on a “wise” way and a “foolish” way; a narrow way and a broad way. Instead of telling people how to live or which rules to follow, wisdom teachers made observations about life and spoke from experience. This is why Jesus periodically referred to nature.

Jesus of Nazareth, unlike other religious leaders and teachers of the time, and unlike many of the churches and religious leaders of today, did not spend so much time interpreting scriptures. Instead, Jesus taught and modeled experiential living—the daily experiences people have.

Rather than focusing on written words, Jesus focused on the experience of God.

Jesus and others invited people to see something they might not have otherwise seen, to look past conventional wisdom and conditioned culture to something beyond, something that could transform a person. For example, the idea that a person’s purpose in life is to follow certain rules so that God will be pleased and then, when they die, God will allow that person to go to heaven—this is not the alternative wisdom of Jesus. Instead, Jesus flipped this convention on its head, saying that those who were thought of as the lowest and the least religious would be the ones better off in the end. Jesus’ wisdom portrayed God as Giver of Compassion and not Judge. Further, when Jesus spoke of death, it was not a physical death, but a death of that conventional self—dying to the societal norms that trap us and living into a new reality of transformation, resurrection and enlightenment.

Friends, don’t buy into conventional wisdom. Be different, be weird, defy the conventions.

Ask questions about why we do this or that. Seek alternative wisdom—based on what you see in nature, what you actually feel within yourself, and your own experiences. Seek and develop alternative wisdom, as this will help you see the bigger picture and enable you to get to know yourself better, apart from all the social conditioning and convention.

Give heed to alternative wisdom, which gives assurance that we are truly alive.


Here’s another short article by Josh on the notion of being “blessed.”

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!

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