Christianity 201

December 31, 2021

God’s Blessings Package Kicks in Immediately

Mid-October, we looked at the actual promises embedded in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. At the time we began with the notion that so much attention is paid to who the “winners” are in the scheme of God’s upside-down Kingdom, but when we look at God’s version of “cash and fabulous prizes,” we discover they are so much more valuable than anything the world has to offer.

I can’t imagine any true Christ-follower who wouldn’t want to have their hunger filled; to be called God’s children; to receive God’s mercy; to know God’s comfort; to inherit the earth; to partake of the Kingdom of heaven; to see God face-to-face.

If you missed that devotional, you can read it at this link.

So when do we collect?

The passage isn’t saying that we will be blessed, it’s saying that we are.

Without looking at the text, what would you say is the primary outcome of living out The Beatitudes as presented in the opening of The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5?

A simple answer would be, “If you do these things you will be blessed.”

Now when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountain (as Moses had done before Him) and He sat down (as Jewish teachers of His day usually did). His disciples gathered around Him.

There on the mountain Jesus teaches them all. And as He is teaching, crowds gather around and overhear His teachings, listen in, and are captivated. This, the Sermon on the Mount, is the first of the five Mosaic-like sermons in Matthew.*

And He began to teach them.

Jesus: Blessed are the spiritually poor—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
    Blessed are those who mourn—they will be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek and gentle—they will inherit the earth.
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—they will be filled.
    Blessed are the merciful—they will be shown mercy.
    Blessed are those who are pure in heart—they will see God.
    Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God.
10     Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

11 And blessed are you, blessed are all of you, when people persecute you or denigrate you or despise you or tell lies about you on My account. 12 But when this happens, rejoice. Be glad. Remember that God’s prophets have been persecuted in the past. And know that in heaven, you have a great reward.  (The Voice translation*)

Now first of all, I want to address that doing things because you will be (at some point in the near or distant future) is misreading the text, because Jesus is saying that the people who do or are these things (show mercy, work for peace) are already blessed. (In a parallel passage in Luke, there are also a number of woes offered, in that case, they could be seen as portends of the future, not a present state.)

But the matter of blessing is not the whole of today’s focus.

A few verses down we read,

14 And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. 15 Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. 16 You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it.   (The Voice translation*)

If God’s people live out The Beatitudes, we shine like lights, like a city on a hill. Yes, God is light but we are also lights. We’re lights in the sense that that our only major satellite — the moon — is our planet’s nightlight. God is the source, but we reflect that light to a world that needs illumination. (In the early days of the Jesus People movement, a band recorded a song called, “I’m Happy to be the Moon.” Sadly, it doesn’t show up on YouTube!)

Matthew Henry writes:

As the lights of the world, they are illustrious and conspicuous, and have many eyes upon them. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. The disciples of Christ, especially those who are forward and zealous in his service, become remarkable, and are taken notice of as beacons. They are for signs (Isa. 7:18), men wondered at (Zech. 3:8); all their neighbours have any eye upon them. Some admire them, commend them, rejoice in them, and study to imitate them; others envy them, hate them, censure them, and study to blast them…

…As the lights of the world, they are intended to illuminate and give light to others…

It’s interesting that elsewhere Jesus instructs us not to do our good works in order to be seen by other people, yet in this teaching it is central:

Henry continues,

See here, First, How our light must shine—by doing such good works as men may see, and may approve of; such works as are of good report among them that are without, and as will therefore give them cause to think well of Christianity. We must do good works that may be seen to the edification of others, but not that they may be seen to our own ostentation; we are bid to pray in secret, and what lies between God and our souls, must be kept to ourselves; but that which is of itself open and obvious to the sight of men, we must study to make congruous to our profession, and praiseworthy, Phil. 4:8. Those about us must not only hear our good words, but see our good works; that they may be convinced that religion is more than a bare name, and that we do not only make a profession of it, but abide under the power of it.

Secondly, For what end our light must shine—“That those who see your good works may be brought, not to glorify you (which was the things the Pharisees aimed at, and it spoiled all their performances), but to glorify your Father which is in heaven.” …

Of course, we can blend the two foci of this passage and say that the light that shines is really the light of Christ, that “Blessed are…” is to be recipients of that heavenly light shining in and through us and reflected for the world to see. We get that from Isaiah 60:

See truly; look carefully—darkness blankets the earth;
    people all over are cloaked in darkness.
But God will rise and shine on you;
    the Eternal’s bright glory will shine on you, a light for all to see.
Nations north and south, peoples east and west, will be drawn to your light,
    will find purpose and direction by your light.
In the radiance of your rising, you will enlighten the leaders of nations. (The Voice translation*)

So here’s a song which links the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 to the idea of being lights; of being a City on Hill. The group is The City Harmonic.


*In The Voice translation, narrative sections are embedded in the text, and words or phrases are often amplified with additional text shown in italics.


For our daily readers, we wish God’s best to you in the new year.


Articles showcased here belong to their respective authors/blogs/websites, not Christianity 201. However, where you see an article that doesn’t begin with a link or the name of a writer or his or her source blog; or that is more of research article citing multiple sources, those are written by Paul Wilkinson and for those, you are free to use them on your own blog in their entirety provided no changes are made and there is a link back to C201. I believe that as freely as we have received, so we should freely give. Everything we have is on loan from God, and that includes what some hold so tightly to as intellectual property. Yes, I do work sometimes as a paid writer, but that’s not the motivation or purpose of C201. Bear in mind however that despite our best efforts, the photographs or graphic images that accompany articles here may have ownership we’re unaware of. If you see an image here that’s yours, let us know and we’ll remove it.

December 19, 2021

Christ’s Birth Circumstances Prefigure the Upside-Down Kingdom

A year ago at this time we introduced you to Rev. John Partridge, the pastor at Christ United Methodist Church (UMC) in Alliance, Ohio. His website for sermon content and blog articles is PastorPartridge.com. We always suggest reading devotionals here at source, but especially today as we’re joining a larger article in progress. Click the header which follows.

The Miracle of Contradictions

…We see…contradictions at work in the story of Christmas as God upsets the status quo and sends the king of the universe to be born in stable and sleep in a feeding trough.  And the entire story of Christmas and the coming of the messiah is steeped in, and filled with, those contradictions from the earliest prophecies of his coming.  And, as we look for, and investigate, these contradictions, we find that these contradictions are some of the greatest miracles of all.  We begin this morning with God’s prophecy of the coming messiah found in Micah 5:2-5a where it says:

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;and he shall be the one of peace.

Micah declares that the smallest of Israel’s clans will produce the greatest king that Israel would ever have and continues by saying that God was bringing something new into the world that was already ancient.  Micah says that someone new is coming to rule in Israel who already existed in the dark recesses of their ancient past.  And so, Judah would be both small and great, the messiah would be both new and ancient, and would have great strength but would bring peace instead of bloodshed.  And then with the coming of Jesus, the contradictions continue as we read Luke 1:39-45 where he says:

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Elizabeth declares that Mary, despite being poor, is the most blessed woman on the planet.  Also, Elizabeth recognized Mary’s child, who was unborn, as her Lord and king.  And if those contradictions weren’t enough, Elizabeth’s child, John, despite being blind and still inside of his mother’s womb, sees clearly, and has the perception to recognize the arrival of Jesus and Mary.

And the contradictions continue in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews as he summarizes the coming of Jesus this way in Hebrews 10:5-10:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Jesus said that sacrifices and offerings were not desired by God even though history, tradition, scripture, and the law of Moses required them.  And then Paul says that the coming of Jesus not only abolishes God’s system of worship for his people, but also establishes a new system of worship for his people.

That’s a lot of contradiction in just a small sampling of scripture from the Christmas story.  But why would I say that this is a miracle?  What is this miracle of contradictions?

Simply put, the miracle of contradictions is that the story of Christmas isn’t just one big miracle about the birth of the messiah.  It isn’t just a story about the birth of a king, or even the birth of God’s son.  It’s a bigger and deeper story that involves ordinary people, with ordinary lives, and a story in which God, repeatedly, does the unexpected, in new, different, and surprising ways.

Judah is small, but great.

The Messiah is new, but ancient.

Would be strong enough to rule the ends of the earth but would bring peace instead of bloodshed.

Mary is poor but blessed beyond measure.

Jesus is unborn, but king.

John is blind but sees.

The sacrifices of God are required but undesired.

The messiah’s arrival abolishes but establishes.

The story of Christmas is filled with the miracle of contradictions, and it is that miracle that makes the story unexpected, fills the story with mystery and wonder, draws us in, and welcomes us, not only as spectators, but participants in the story.  The story of the coming of the messiah is filled, not with kings and princes, and rich and powerful people of influence, but ordinary people like us.  The story of Christmas is a story of poor people, farmers, laborers, sheep herders, scholars, infants, old people, the forgotten, the outcasts, and the unwanted.  In God’s most powerful and meaningful story, the pivotal actors are all people like us.  Ordinary.

God did not choose to use kings and princes.  Instead, he used ordinary people of faith.  God chose to trust the people who trusted him to begin his most miraculous work of all and to share the story of that miracle with the world.

And that’s still the way that God works.

That’s a part of the mystery and wonder of the story.

God still calls ordinary people; people like you and me.  God still calls farmers, laborers, sheep herders, children, the elderly, the forgotten, the outcasts, the unwanted, and the unexpected.  The greatest movements in history, the greatest agents of change in the world, are usually not presidents and prime ministers, bad boys, and billionaires, or even millionaires, movie stars and the monied elites.  The people who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the orphans and the widows, bandage the wounded, and do the work of Jesus in the world are, most often, unsung, unheralded, unnoticed, ordinary people of faith because God trusts the people who trust him.

It’s mysterious and it’s wonderful.

The miracle of contradictions is that the God who spoke the universe into existence, wants me, and wants you, to do his work, to represent him, to be his ambassadors, to share his story with the world, and to be Jesus to the people around us.

We see it in the Christmas story, but God has been working like that all along.

It is one of life’s greatest contradictions.

But these are the contradictions that welcome us into the story.

Not just as spectators… but as participants.

And may just be the most meaningful Christmas gift of all.

November 30, 2021

Humility as Demonstrated by Jesus

As I’ve stated previously, several years ago I set out to memorize the “kenosis” passage of Philippians 2, also sometimes referred to as “The Philippian Hymn.” I’ve also written several of my own paraphrases of it. It’s a passage that I highly value, just as I highly value humility and people who demonstrate humility. But first, some words from John’s gospel.

 

John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

In most of our Bibles the passage above has a subheading such as “Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.” This is true as far as it goes, but I think “Jesus demonstrates humility” would make a better focus. We often use this passage to talk about “servant leadership” and many have suggested that in addition to the cross, the towel and the basin should be the symbol that represents Christianity.

However, I feel that it’s so easy to miss the full impact of verse 3:

  • Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God (NIV)
  • Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (NET)
  • The Father had put everything in Jesus’ control. Jesus knew that. He also knew that he had come from God and was going back to God. (God’s Word)

What a contrast between that set-up and the action that follows. It’s like a symphony that is building in a giant crescendo, and just as it reaches the penultimate note of the scale and you wait for that grand chord that resolves everything, the orchestra suddenly is silent, and you’re left with just the sound of a single violin or piccolo:

  • he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet

I say all that as a setup for some verses I’ve covered here many times:

Phil 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

The progression is rather simple in verses 7 and 8

  • took the nature of a servant
  • entered into the human condition
  • was obedient even to experiencing human death
  • and a death of the worst kind at that

If you look at the study we did on this in May, 2017, you’ll notice I switched the order of the first two clauses in these verses. Surely, God enters humanity first — that’s the point of incarnation, the season we are about to celebrate — and then does so as someone whose birth lineage is controversial, whose occupation is that of a carpenter’s son, and whose short career as a rabbi is marked by things like foot washing. Right?

But then I started thinking about it, and recognized that the humility of Christ begins prior to the incarnation. Before the moment when “he left the splendor of Glory,” he has already taken on the role of a servant inasmuch as the incarnate Christ is submitted to the Father.

Although doctrinally the Father and Son are co-equal, and equally divine, in the incarnation we see passages such as:

John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’

and

Matthew 24:36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

not to mention the passage where Jesus prays at Gethsemane Garden for the Father to introduce a Plan B that won’t involve the torment of crucifixion.

In other words, the humility of Jesus extends even so far as humbling himself before the Father, the One with whom he co-created the universe.

That’s submission. That’s humility.

In a devotional from June, 2019, writer Keith Giles notes that it won’t be long (in the book of Acts) until the disciples decide to off-load some of their more menial responsibilities to a second tier of leaders. He writes,

Instead of remembering this essential lesson from Jesus, the Apostles in Acts are seen coming to the conclusion that they are too important to wait tables and feed widows and orphans. Instead, they decide to elect some lowly people to do this menial task so that they can devote themselves to the Gospel – forgetting that, to Jesus, this serving of the widows and orphans; waiting tables; WAS the Gospel in vivid, vibrant 3-D…

But then Keith goes on to point out that the martyrdom of Stephen would have had a humbling effect on the disciples.

…I can’t help but feel that it’s the Holy Spirit’s attempt to remind those Apostles what their mission is really all about. See, up to that point, we read that Peter had become a local celebrity and that his fame had spread through the land; that even those who were pagans would lay their sick out on the street whenever the Apostles walked by in hopes that their shadows might heal them.

But then came Stephen. Not an Apostle. Not one who walked with Jesus for three years. Not one whose feet had been washed in that room by Jesus. Not one who was too proud and important to wash feet. But one who was humble, willing to serve, and even willing to die – with joy – for the Lord Jesus he loved so much.

…As I was preparing this, I was also listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley on pride, which is of course humility’s opposite. Nebuchadnezzar learns this the hard way and basically says that you either are humble or you get humbled.

Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

In my personal life and ministry I do encounter people who are arrogant, and I also find myself having to guard against arrogance and pride. God help me and all of us to develop a spirit of humility without having to be humbled. God help us to learn from Christ’s humility that is not only symbolized by a towel and basin, but by submission to God the Father’s will.

September 15, 2021

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

A popular scripture verse right now is “Be still and know that I am God;” and sometimes, walking through the giftware section of a store you’ll see it rendered simply as “Be still.” A currently popular Christian book is titled, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.

Our world is in a frantic rush all the time. The classic pop song admonition to “Slow down, you move to fast / You’ve got to make a moment last;” was apparently decades ahead of its time.

Today we’re returning to the blog we introduced you to last year, Wattsup with Kids written by Tracy Watts. She’s put together a beautiful scripture medley here, and I invite you to read this on her site by clicking the header which follows, and then slow down to meditate on each verse.

The Unharried (and Unhurried) Jesus

Reading through the gospels we see a purposeful and unharried Jesus. He was not involved in the rat race of competition and human busyness, though he was very effective with how he used his time. He was intentional, for he was not working for his own purposes but the Lord’s. And when I see His example, I have much to learn. What then are some ways He slowed down instead of rushing about? Here are some thoughts:

Jesus noticed his disciples’ weariness and urged them to rest

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. ~ Mark 6:31

Jesus slept himself when he needed to

 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him ~ Matthew 8:24-25

Jesus was not too busy to be with children.

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. ~ Mark 10:13-16

Jesus stopped to listen to those who called out to him

And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” ~ Mark 10:46-49

Jesus took time to eat with those he taught

So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table ~ John 12:2

And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  ~ Mark 2:15

Jesus also took time to feed others

 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way….” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. ~ Matthew 15:32, 35-37

Jesus took time purposefully to go off and pray

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.  ~Mark 1:35

We often are pulled by the pressures of the world – where efficiency, busyness and money are valued over compassion, patience, and love. But when we take time to slow down, as Christ did, we find that our lives begin to be changed for the better. Instead of my life being characterized by the whims of fickle humans or society or my own false expectations, I can begin to steward what the Lord Himself has placed in my hands.

Lord, grant us wisdom to slow down and walk with Your purposes!


More from Tracy Watts on a somewhat similar theme:

“Keep silence” is a hard phrase because it means that I must stop. I must pull to a halt all that I am juggling and pushing and speaking. And I am often uninclined to do so…

[continue reading this short devotional at this link]

January 26, 2020

The Angry Moments of Jesus

I’ve mentioned before that I subscribe to Devotions Daily. I really enjoy getting to read excerpts (and sometimes whole chapters) from current books, though I sometimes wonder if the site only exists to sell the books featured. There’s always an offer at the close of each entry.

This one is from a book I was already already aware of, What Made Jesus Mad:  Rediscover the Blunt, Sarcastic, Passionate Savior of the Bible. The author is Tim Harlow. (Link here to learn more.)

Say Hello to My Little Friend

If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in Me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.Matthew 18:6

…One of the angry incidents of Jesus in the Bible came about when the disciples didn’t value children enough. Mark 10:14 even tells us that Jesus “was indignant” in response to the situation. Indignant means “to have a strong feeling of displeasure and antagonism as the result of some real or sup- posed wrong—‘to be very angry, to be full of anger.’”

Why was Jesus indignant? This situation started days earlier, in another funny story.

The Story Started Days Earlier…  

According to Mark 9:34, it all began with a “discussion” the disciples were having about who was going to be the greatest in the Kingdom. I don’t care how long you follow Jesus, selfishness is going to continue to creep into your soul.

What’s great about this story is that for some reason, James and John’s mother got involved. Their mom asked Jesus if her sons could sit next to Him on the throne (Matthew 20:20-21). Can you picture it? Hey, James and John, what is your mom doing here? I guess I need to have an endorsement for this book from my mom, now that I think about it.

Matthew 20:24 records that after this happened, the other ten became “indignant” toward the two of them. We must remember that most of the disciples were young at the time, but this is still a bizarre story. This was more than simply calling shotgun. They were positioning for power. What I’d like to know is whether the other ten were indignant because of what James, John, and their mom were trying to pull, or because they hadn’t thought of it first. Regardless, we know there was tension. Jesus knew there was tension.

They came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
— Mark 9:33-34

If I may paraphrase, Jesus asked, “So what were you two arguing about back there?”

“Oh, nothing.”

Jesus was just messing with them. He obviously knew what their argument was about, so He decided to set the record straight. “You guys keep forgetting that I’m Jesus, and I can hear you. I heard your little quarrel. Here is your answer about who gets to ride up front in the Kingdom of God.”

Remember that Jesus’ goal was for these disciples not just to ride in the Kingdom, but to drive it. Jesus was going to leave the keys to the Kingdom bus to them (Matthew 16:19), so they had to get this right! It always amazes me that Jesus has entrusted a small part of His Kingdom to the likes of leaders like me. I guess I don’t know for sure that He actually has, but I’ve been leading one of His churches for almost thirty years now and haven’t been struck by lightning yet, so allow me my delusion.

In this twenty-first century, I’m just one of the tiny, insignificant specks of leadership in His gigantic and eternal Kingdom, so there is a limit to what I can screw up. But these disciples were different. They were the Twelve! These guys were the make-or-break leadership team that was going to start the church. If they failed, Jesus would have died in vain. Yet here they were, shoving to get in front of each other in line! No wonder Jesus seemed a bit testy.

Jesus called a child over and had Him stand in their midst. They were in Peter’s town, and some scholars speculate that the child might have been someone from Peter’s family. The majority of my parishioners grew up with priests who couldn’t marry, and it usually surprises them to learn that Peter — Pope Numero Uno in their world — was married. We know this because Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law in Matthew 8:14. No one has a mother-in-law just for the heck of it.

But I digress. There was a kid there, and Jesus used this child as an illustration. He said,

I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.
— Matthew 18:3 NLT

He could have added, “much less lead the Kingdom of Heaven!”

Jesus continued,

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. — Matthew 18:4 ESV

All eyes turned to this child Jesus called over. Kids can become the center of attention very quickly if called upon. This reminds me of a story of a woman and a child in a church service. One day, as the pastor started his prayer, “Dear Lord, without you, we are but dust…,” her daughter leaned over to ask quite audibly in her shrill little-girl voice, “Mom, what is ‘but dust’?”

I’d still rather be with kids than grown-ups. Adults are boring. They have adult things to get done, important items to conquer, seats of honor to fight for in the kingdom. I agree with Jesus: kids are better.

Jesus said also,

And whoever welcomes one such child in My name welcomes Me.
— Matthew 18:5

If this sounds familiar, it should. In chapter 11, Jesus taught us that when we do for the “least of these,” we’ve done it for Him. Greatness is about loving the least, not excluding them…


Seven months ago here, we carried an interview with Tim Harlow about the book. If you missed it, you can read it at this link.

January 24, 2020

A Countryside Walk with Jesus

Today we return to The Life Project written by Don Merritt who is concurrently finishing a series on the Book of Ruth and starting into the Gospel of Mark. This one is from the latter and starts with a walk through a farmer’s field, and then transitions to another scene which took place on possibly a different Sabbath day.

Lord of the Sabbath

Mark 2:23-28

Parallel Texts: Matthew 8:1-8; Luke 6:1-5

Mark has shifted the scene to the countryside. Jesus and the disciples, and apparently some Pharisees, are walking through grain fields on the Sabbath. They are hungry and the disciples pluck a few heads of grain to eat as they go along, and the Pharisees object, for it is unlawful to harvest a field on the Sabbath. The law on this point is contained in Exodus 20:10 if you’d like to read it just to bring in a little context. By the way, if you do look it up, you will notice that the law doesn’t say this. It says you shall do no work. Were the disciples actually working? Well, that is the real question.

As the years went by, it became apparent that Exodus 20:10 was subject to interpretation, and many well-intentioned leaders believed that there was a great potential for misunderstanding Exodus 20:10, so they adopted a very long list of additional rules to help people avoid an unintentional violation of the Sabbath. This list of rules is not actually part of the law, but as more time went by, it was treated as if it were the law itself; this is what the Pharisees were actually referring to.

In verses 25-26, Jesus cites a well-known example of David feeding his men food reserved by the law for the exclusive use of the priests when necessity required it, with the implication that necessity required the disciples’ actions that the Pharisees were objecting to. He concludes His answer in the following verses:

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27-28

I wish I could have been there to see the look on the faces of those poor Pharisees when they heard that!

As you know, there are those critics out there who claim that Jesus never said He was divine. Even if that were true, He sure implied it strongly on many occasions, and this is another of those.  If the Sabbath was made for man, and that makes the Son of Man the lord over the Sabbath, then it is because He’s also the Lord over Man.

Mark 3:1-6

Parallel Texts: Matthew 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11

After the scene in the last section where Jesus announces that He is the Lord of the Sabbath, Mark recounts another Sabbath scene, this time in a synagogue, where Jesus heals a man with an injured hand. It seems that there were some present who were interested in causing problems, and Jesus, no doubt being aware of this, asked the injured man to step forward:

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Mark 3:4

I’m guessing they also remained hopeful…

Jesus healed the man.  Mark tells us in verse 5 that Jesus was angry and distressed at the hard hearts of those who sought an excuse to act against Him… and afterwards, they began to plot to kill Him. Mark tells us that the group consisted of Pharisees and Herodians, who were of the party of Herod, the Vassal king of Judea, son of the guy who slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem. Normally, those two groups were sworn enemies, but it would seem that Jesus has brought them together; man-made religion gone bad can do some incredible things in the hearts of men.

 

December 17, 2019

Quotations: Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
Tags: , , ,

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
 – John 21:25 NIV

Six months ago I tried a variation on our quotations series, and decided I’d try our various sources and see what they came up with if I typed “Paul the Apostle,” “Apostle Paul,” or “Paul of Tarsus.” You can read that collection at this link.

Today, I decided to take it one step further and I typed “Quotations Jesus Christ.” Of course, the answers would all be from the Bible which means today’s devotional is going to be a scripture medley.

It wasn’t always clear which translation was being used, and some sites omitted the verse references, so I decided to leave out all the references. The verses are easily located.

Again, don’t rush through these. Go  s-l-o-w-l-y  through these and bask in the words of Jesus.


For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?


I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.


I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.


My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.


Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.


Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.


But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.


The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.


Man will not live by bread alone, but on every word which flows from the mouth of God.


To hang on to your life is to lose it. To let go of your life is to save it.


It is not what goes into a man from outside that can make him unclean. It’s what comes out of him that makes him unclean.


Don’t use oaths, whether ‘by heaven’ or ‘by earth’ or by anything else. When you say yes or no let it be plain ‘Yes’ or ‘No’


Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.


When someone hits you on the cheek offer the other as well. When someone takes your coat let him have your shirt too.


Love your enemies. And pray for those who persecute.


If one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the missing one till he has found it? How delighted he is then! He lifts it onto his shoulders, and home he goes to call his friends and neighbors together. “Celebrate with me!” he cries. “I have found my lost sheep.”

Forgive and you will be forgiven.


With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.


Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.


Let anyone who has ears to hear, listen.


Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.


Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.


But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.


If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.


Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

 



Primary Sources:

BrainyQuote | Bible Study Tools | Wikiquote | BeliefNet | DailyVerses.net | Quotes and Thoughts

November 12, 2019

Anyone. Come After. Deny Themselves. Follow.

Do you know the 666 verse?

No, not that 666; today we’re looking at John 6:66 which says,

NIV • John 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

A popular title eight years ago was Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. Although we were quite familiar with his work before this, it was his breakout book, and I reviewed it here as well as reviewing the video curriculum.

The premise of the title is that Jesus had many fans, but few followers; and the verse in John describes a time when Jesus introducing what is sometimes called the “hard sayings” and after that, it seems as though he is culling the herd, deliberately emphasizing the cost of following over the benefits.

The Message • John 6:60 Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.”

61-65 Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, “Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.” (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, “This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.”

66-67 After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”

68-69 Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

I got thinking about this when I received a notification that I had six new followers on Twitter. Because I have three fairly active blogs and had an association with a major Christian news magazine for nearly two years, I never thought my Twitter following would be so anemic.

So let’s say I’m gaining about five new people a day, shouldn’t I be growing at the rate of 150 per month?

Not at all. Someone explained to me that these people are clicking in hoping I will reciprocate and follow them. When I don’t, they un-follow, and there are no notifications for that. They disappear quietly. The point is, I don’t have a lot of time; I don’t carry a smart phone with me all day, and I prefer to follow a rather select list of authors and organizations, plus a few anonymous accounts to lighten the day. (I did pick one from among that recent crop of six.)

In other words, they were following me hoping I would follow them.

It’s the same in John 6. The timeline in John is a little different; if this were in Matthew, the chronology would put it around chapter 15. So this is well into the ministry life of Jesus.

It’s the same today. People are looking to Jesus to see what they can get, not what they can give. They will follow his agenda if he will fit into theirs. Like my Twitter account, many of our churches have many people arriving by the front doors, but we fail to notice those who are leaving by the back doors.

In Twitter-speak, what Idleman calls fans, I would call short-term followers. Jesus is looking for long-term followers. His book — the entire book — is based on Luke 9:23

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

We’ll end today with how I condensed Kyle Idleman’s breakdown of what that means:

Luke 9-23

September 23, 2019

The Disciples Request Some Insider Information

Today we’re looking at a few verses in Mark 13.

Matthew 13:1 NIV As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Three years ago, I watched a most informative sermon on John 3 from Dr. Gary Burge, professor at Wheaton College who teaches at Wheaton College, given on a Wedneday night at Willow Creek. You can watch the sermon at this link.

One of the things he spoke about was how the coming of Jesus replaces the things that have existed as central to Judaism with new things. Burge says that “Jesus is abundantly replacing the things he encounters in his world.”

  • In his first miracle, Jesus takes the ceremonial water for washing and replaces it with wine.
  • In his encounter with Nicodemus (the subject of Burge’s message) Jesus reminds him that “you are Israel’s teacher and yet you don’t know these things;” (Jn. 3:10) and Jesus himself replaces him as Israel’s teacher.
  • In the text above we’re told that the temple itself will be replaced with something new, the temple of his body which will die and be raised within three days.

Continuing in the chapter,

Mark 13:3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

jesus-core-group-peter-james-and-johnThis question sets the stage for the rest of the chapter, but the thing that struck me as I was reading it in The Voice Bible was a bit peripheral, but still worth noting. There’s a sense in which they are saying, ‘Just tell us — just the four of us — what the signs will be.’ As a group of people taken aside, they felt entitled to some insider information. Who would not be eager to be the chosen of the chosen?

But it’s also worth noting the inclusion of Andrew. We tend to think of the inner circle as consisting of a type of triumvirate consisting of Peter, James and John. In a natural sense, we can see Andrew’s inclusion here, after all, James and John were brothers and so were Peter and Andrew. Two sets of brothers. But usually (see Mark 5:37 and The Transfiguration in Matthew 17) Andrew isn’t part of this select group. So what we see here with Jesus is flexibility in choosing who is part of the core group at any given time. There’s a leadership lesson here, that some other people can be brought to the table as occasion arises; the group is not tightly closed.

Mark 5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

I find verse 11 somewhat paradoxical in light of other New Testament instructions such as,

I Peter 3:15b …Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope.

There is a balance to be struck between Holy Spirit leading and proper preparation. Having been in this situation many times in my contacts with seekers and non-believers, I can honestly say there are times when, even though I feel I can offer textbook-precise answers, I have to pause and ask God to speak through me.

As to the dominant theme of these verses, I think it’s interesting that all three synoptic gospel writes include something to the effect “these things must happen.”

Luke 21:9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Mark 13:7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Personally, I subscribe to what I call ‘The Domino Theory.’ When people say, “Jesus could come today;” I believe that’s true in the sense that Jesus might call me home today. (In other words, he might come for me.) The imperative of the gospel is ‘Choose today whom you will serve;’ (Joshua 24:15) and ‘Look: Now is the right time, today is the day for salvation.’ (2 Corinthians 6:2; in The Message: “Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped.”)

As important as this is, it remains true that there are certain prophetic markers which must occur first. This is where the dominoes kick in. I believe that those markers could be staked like dominoes and fall together in rapid succession. So yes, “the end is till to come;” but don’t kick back and relax because of that. A wise person will not wait for the dominoes to start falling, but will be observant of the stacking of the dominoes.

So we jump to the end of the chapter and see Jesus saying,

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

Our desire should be the deepest intimacy with Jesus that was enjoyed by Peter, James and John (and Andrew), but if our goal in that is simply knowledge, we need to know that Jesus might not grant us insider information, because some things are not for us to know.


Read the full chapter of Mark 13 at Bible Gateway

 

August 26, 2019

Jesus Chose Not to Identify with the Rich and Powerful

Last night we listened to an interview that Michael Card did in the spring with Skye Jethani at The Holy Post Podcast. It reminded me what a tremendous gift his writing and music is to The Church. Today’s reading is taken from his blog; click the header which follows to read at source.

Good News To The Poor

“I have come to preach good news to the poor.”
Luke 4:18

Those were the very first words Jesus spoke at the start of His ministry, and so they are the perfect words, simply because He spoke them. But they were not easily spoken. They were costly words. In the end, they would cost Him everything. His followers would fret, “If only He would have had the good sense to identify with the rich and the powerful instead of the poor. If only He had acted in accordance with their values. If only He had danced to their tune…” But Jesus did not, would not, dance (Luke 7:32).

There are no words to describe the extent to which He radically identified with the poor. In one of two disturbing and surprising moments that are yet to come, Jesus said, in effect: When you fed the poor, you were feeding Me. When you neglected them, you were neglecting Me. This is one-on-one identification. “If they reject you, they are rejecting Me.” The absolute Highness standing with the lowest.

In a religious world that had concluded that the poor were poor because they were sinners and cursed by God as a result, Jesus came and paradoxically pronounced on them God’s blessing. “Blessed are you who are poor,” He said, because this world is not the only world that exists, and an upside-down kingdom is coming where rich and poor will change places, where those who weep will laugh and the laughing ones will burst into tears. That world is here and at the same time, it is coming.

This is not to say that Jesus didn’t have a few wealthy friends, Joseph of Arimathea being the most noteworthy. But by and large He gravitated toward the poor, and they were drawn almost gravitationally to Him. They followed Him in droves, not necessarily because they grasped fully what His life meant, or what the gospel was, but because they recognized in Him a compassionate heart that would feed them if He could, even when He was forced to borrow bread and fish from a hungry little boy to do so.

Even those who, because of their lack of education, were unaware of Isaiah’s prophecy that He would be a Man of Sorrows acquainted with our deepest grief recognized in Him someone whose rears were somehow their tears as well. He was not only weeping for them, He was weeping with them, becoming acquainted to the darkest depths with their poverty and pain.

Jesus had made it clear that He was going to raise his friend Lazarus, and yet when He saw Lazarus’s sister Mary in tears, initially He could do nothing but weep with her. He did not explain away the pain, did not say He had come with the answer, that He would fix everything; no, He bowed His head and allowed the tears to flow. It was not about providing answers or fixing a problem, it was about entering fully and redemptively into her suffering. Jesus did not weep because it was the right or sympathetic thing to do. He did it because the shape of His heart would not allow him to do otherwise. Jesus knew that God uses suffering to save the world. He had not come to fix death and sorrow but to ultimately bring about their demise. He had not come to give answers; He had come to give Himself. His presence, His tears were the solution, the answer, the Truth for that painful moment, perhaps more than the resuscitating of Lazarus; for, after all, that would only be a temporary reprieve. And in the midst of that moment, Mary didn’t get what she wanted, not just yet, but she got exactly what she needed.

Before the Man of Sorrows wept, Job became acquainted with all-out grief. Job’s experience was just the same. He had lost everything a person can lose – his possessions (that was the easy part), his children, his health. He was exposed to every fear, from the terrorism of the Sabeans to the hopeless anguish of cancer, or perhaps some other wasting disease like Ebola. He tasted the despair of losing his children. Most painful of all, he thought he had lost his God, or perhaps even worse, that his God had abandoned him.

So how does this apply? What does Jesus’ redemptive weeping have to do with us? The answer is, it has everything to do with us. Our call is not to fix those who weep, but to weep with them. We don’t need funds or expertise. We are not expected to provide every individual answer, each solution. Those who seek in obedience to follow Jesus don’t pretend to have all the answers. We don’t pretend to be able to fix every problem and dry every tear – but we can weep. And our tears uniquely qualify us for mission.

After all, fixing people is God’s work. The Father is more deeply committed to it – to fixing all of us, rich and poor – than we could imagine. But fixing isn’t the right word for it; the Bible’s word is salvation, re-creation. We don’t need to be fixed; we need to be re-created. The only way we, all of us, will ever experience that re-creation is to open the door of our lives to the poor, to enter redemptively into their suffering, and to discover through it our suffering as well. They are weeping our tears; Jesus in them is weeping our tears.

So celebrate the tears, the frustration, the confusion. Celebrate every day that you are tempted to give up but don’t. Celebrate changed lives, re-created lives, saved souls, men and women who have discovered that they are not alone after all, children who have discovered that there is a place in a family just for them after all. Be glad with us that good news has come to the poor, as a special blessing to all of us who labor and are heavy-laden. He is worthy of such gladness. In the meantime, continue to weep with those who weep; enter redemptively into the suffering that comes to your door.


Although this wasn’t a book excerpt as far as I know, I want to recommend this series of Michael Card books to you (pictured below) and also his newest book, Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness (IVP, 2018).

August 24, 2019

The Honor Due Christ

Tomorrow, Lord willing, I’m speaking about the Philippian Hymn, the passage in Philippians 2: 5-11.

NIV.Phil.2.5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

I thought it was interesting to notice a synergy between the concluding phrases of this passage and the Ten Commandments. Here are some notes from my teaching points outline.

That at the mention of his name

  • A whole study can be done on the scriptural significance of names, their meaning and what it means to do something under the authority of someone’s name, i.e. praying ‘In Jesus’ name.’

Every knee will bow (in physical submission)

And every voice announce (in verbal proclamation/declaration)

  • This passage is also in Romans 14:11, “It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” where you also see a reference to words spoken prophetically in Isaiah 45:23:
    By myself I have sworn,
    my mouth has uttered in all integrity
    a word that will not be revoked:
    Before me every knee will bow;
    by me every tongue will swear.
  • So what would be the opposite of “Every knee shall bow?” Not bowing? Yes, but also bowing to some other God. This is expressed in the second commandment: Exodus.20:4-5“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.”
  • So what would be the opposite of “Every tongue confess?” Not proclaiming? yes but also misusing, trivializing, or profaning his name. That is expressed in the 3rd commandment: 7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
  • So where is the 1st commandment? Wouldn’t it be nice to tie it all up with a bow and have all three covered? I believe that “You shall have no other gods before me” is implicit in Christ being Lord, of having supreme rule over our lives. That’s the phrase that follows next.

That Jesus Christ is Lord.

  • The early church adopts “Jesus is Lord” after the style of “Caeser is Lord” (Earlier, Jesus asks, ‘Whose image is on this coin?’)
  • In The Lord’s Prayer: Kingdom is repeated twice; Jesus came to set up God’s kingdom over which God is sovereign ruler
  • “that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. – John 5:23
  • If you want a verse that goes full circle on this, look at Jesus prayer in John 17:5 “And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world existed. Jesus returns to the father to the glory that he had, but based on what we see, with greater honor, because,
    “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

►►So what do we do with all this in our world?

While we often name pride as the culprit that undermines a humble spirit, ambition can be equally deadly. Being able to name the players in the spiritual battle that’s always ongoing really helps us see the root of the problem.

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing About Grace wrote about how the larger society operates by the rules of un-grace. Probably most people equally operate by the laws of un-humility; the laws of selfishness.

Timothy spoke of the last days being characterized by people who were “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…”

We certainly do see a lot of that. When I remember how contagious these attitudes are I recognize the need to guard myself from such things and keep a humble spirit.

I’ll post the full teaching notes tomorrow at Thinking Out Loud.

 

May 28, 2019

Three Years With Jesus… and He Still Didn’t Get It

Six months ago we featured an article which had appeared on the website The Ministry Wire. We went back this week to see what else is there. This article is by Will Berry who the site describes as passionate about ministry to children and teens. He’s one of three regular contributors to the site. Click the title to read at source.

Growing Pains

Have you ever been embarrassed by how little you know about someone that you should know a lot about? Maybe you forgot a church members name, and have been calling them “sir” or “brother” for years now, and you’re too caught up in the charade to come clean and just ask for their name? Maybe you’ve forgotten an important date like an anniversary or birthday and felt the wrath thereby incurred by your forgetfulness? It probably wasn’t as bad as Phillip’s blunder in John 14:8.

Jesus had more patience and temperance than I can fathom. He spent years with the disciples and, though He was the greatest teacher to ever walk the earth, they did not seem to “get it.” He taught them over and over again what His purpose on earth was, and they still assumed He was there to overthrow the Romans in a blaze of glory. He taught and taught about humility and service to others and yet, up until the last supper, they still viciously bickered about who would sit at Jesus’ right hand. He told them bluntly and often that He would die and rise again, but when the day came, His disciples were hiding, confused, scared, and doubting. They just did not seem to be the best listeners.

One prime example of this being played out is in John 14:1-9. Jesus is trying to comfort the disciples and explain to them that He is not only the Messiah but God incarnate. In verse seven, Jesus practically spells it out for them and basically said “I am God, the Father and I are one and the same”. I can just imagine Him pointing to Himself when He said, “and have seen Him”.

But Phillip proved for all time that there are indeed stupid questions when, in verse eight, he said, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” He wanted Jesus to show them the Father because he did not understand what Jesus had been teaching them for ages. It hadn’t clicked. He had not been able to see who Jesus actually was, because he was too busy seeing Jesus as who he wanted Jesus to be.

Verse nine has got to be one of the most stinging rebukes of the entire Bible.

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Basically Jesus is asking, “After all this time you have still don’t understood this?” Despite years of walking with Jesus, Phillip had not grown to the level he should have. He still had the same view of Christ as before. He had not matured in his faith like you would imagine a disciple sitting at the feet of Christ would have.

Now it can be easy to make fun of Phillip and point out his flaws because they are spelled out for us. But the thought that really took hold of my heart was, “Would Jesus ask me the same question?” I have been saved for eleven years, but have I grown as much as I should have in that time? Are there lessons that I still have not gotten down despite numerous sermons, devotions, trials, and tests? Do I have greater faith in Jesus and His grace than I did last year? Am I closer to Him now than before? Or have I grown complacent in my walk with Christ? Am I content with where I am?

This thought really gripped me, because I think we often lose sight of who Jesus really is and only see Him as what we desire Him to be. Like Phillip, we try to fit Him into a box so that He matches our narrative. But He should be our friend and God who we walk with daily and learn from constantly.

My simple question for you, reader, is this: are you growing in your walk with God? Or are you stuck in a rut of failing tests over and over again where you are not experiencing the joys and benefits of yielding to God and growing? I have known plenty of Christians over the years who have not experienced the joy of having faith in God in every area, because they refuse to trust Him in areas like finances or with the lives of those around them. I have known Christians who have not experienced the peace of God because they still let little things offend them greatly. God wants to use the time we have and experiences we go through to teach and sanctify us. Is there an area of your life that you are not letting Him use?

Would Jesus have to ask you the same question He asked Phillip? Maybe you’ve been saved a year or maybe 50 years. Have you grown to the level God wants you to be at? Are you still growing? Strive for “Well done” not “Yet hast thou not known me?”

September 24, 2018

Living Out the Law Where it is Really Important

It’s six months later and we’re paying a return visit to the website called More Than Useless, written by Thom Fowler who pastors two churches and also works full-time in retail. Each of his recent articles is written in a vertical orientation as prayer. (It’s especially helpful to note the time of day when he wrote/prayed each.) Click the title below to read at source, and check out some of the more recent articles as well.

Love and Law

Thank You, Father, for a wonderfully productive day! You have been with me all the way and all the physical things are ready for worship. May I continue to prepare spiritually so that I may say, be and do exactly what You need. Praise Your holy name!

NLT.Matt.5.20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”

When we first read this verse Lord I think we are a little shocked – even if we know who the “teachers of the religious law and Pharisees” were. Maybe I’m just not enough of a rebel but I was brought up to respect leaders in all walks of life. But regardless of how high someone is in any organization – even the church – lines can be crossed. And evil cannot be tolerated…and it must be dealt with. I’m sure there were good men among this nefarious crew of religiosity but they may have been few and far between, as well.

You have just proclaimed Your intent to fulfill the law as given to Moses and we are also called to be obedient to it. My study Bible* helps a great deal in understanding this law.

First of all, “there were three categories of law: ceremonial, civil and moral.” Ceremonial law dealt with Israel’s worship and it all pointed to You. Your death and resurrection fulfilled it all! So we “are no longer bound by” them but the “principles behind them – to worship and love a holy God – still apply.”

Our world is a “radically different” place from when the civil law was given to Israel for daily living. We don’t follow them specifically but Your example showed us that the “principles behind the commands are timeless and should guide our conduct.”

Lastly, the moral law (i.e. the Ten Commandments) “is the direct command of God” and we are accountable to abide by it. Lord, You abided by it in its entirety.

And that is the rub with the religious leaders of the time You walked this earth. They were so busy splitting hairs that they didn’t really take time to live out the law where it was really important. Lord, Your desire was and still most assuredly is for us to live in a loving, intimate relationship with You. We can strive to abide by every rule and regulation but unless there is relationship…it is worthless.

Lord, help me (and I know You do) to love You more every day. May there be a burning in my heart to spend time with You regularly. The more time I conscientiously spend with You the closer our relationship will be. Amen – so be it!

*Life Application Bible New Living Translation

May 28, 2018

Jesus Raised the Bar, Making Law-Keeping Impossible

This is our 9th time featuring Christian musician and author John Fischer. Click the title below to read this at The Catch.

How good are you?

“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! Matthew 5:20

In other words: Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the most holy people you know, don’t even try.

This was one of the main things Jesus accomplished in the Sermon on the Mount. He established a new order. He put the law on a new basis. He made the law harder (indeed, impossible) to obey, but easier to fulfill. If that sounds like the same thing, it’s not. Think of it this way: If you are setting out to make yourself righteous on the basis of following all the laws of God … forget it. But if you want to know the point of the law — the reason behind it — so you can know why God gave it in the first place, and what to focus on, because you want to please Him and align your life in close proximity to His will … then you can do that by following only one law: the law of love.

Jesus made the law impossible to follow by reinterpreting some of the basic laws of Moses from an internal basis. He’s concerned with what is going on in our hearts and minds not just our behavior. So six times in this sermon He says something like, “You have heard it said,” or “You have read,” and six times He says, “But I say to you …” and that’s when He restates the depth of the law in our hearts, which we all have broken and continue to break because of our sinful nature.

Instead of murder, hatred in your heart will do the same thing. Instead of committing adultery, wishing you could, will put you in the camp with adulterers. Instead of allowing divorce, as Moses did, think of divorce as another trip to Camp Adultery. Instead of keeping your vows, don’t even make them, because you’ll break them before you even walk out the door. Instead of meeting evil with evil, meet evil with good. (This is what we talked about yesterday.) And instead of hating your enemy, which was acceptable by law, love your enemy. Six times He stated the law; six times He reinterpreted it in a way that made us all guilty.

This restatement of the law did two things:

1) It showed how the law is impossible to follow from the inside out. (The Pharisees followed the law on the outside but inside they were full of dead men’s bones.) We are all guilty. No one can justify themselves by the law specially as Jesus reinterpreted it.

2) There’s a New Deal as far as the law goes. Jesus said, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.(Matthew 22:37-40)

So we follow not the laws, but the purpose of the law which is love. And we follow as those who have been humbled to realize our spiritual poverty. We start where the sermon starts: Blessed are the poor in spirit. And from that place, we realize His power to make us into those who love as Christ has loved us.

February 1, 2018

Parables of Jesus: The Tricky Bits

by Clarke Dixon

In reading through the parables of Jesus from Mark chapter 4, there are certain parts that have always stood out to me as being difficult to understand. While we might normally gravitate to the familiar parables, I figured that if I found some parts tricky, you might also. So let’s take the difficult path and look at two tricky bits.

First Tricky Bit: Is God keeping secrets, and keeping people outside?

10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables;
12 in order that
‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ ” Mark 4:10-12

From verse 11 we might wonder if God is keeping secrets and from verse 12 we might wonder if He does so because He does not want people to be forgiven. This seems a direct contradiction of 2 Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

So how are we to understand this? First off, the word translated “secret” by the NRSV may be better translated as “mystery”. However, even that word comes with baggage as we tend to think of mystery as something we could never know. Here the idea is that though we couldn’t know it before, it has been revealed to us and can now be known. While a secret is something meant to be kept hidden, this “mystery” is something shared.

However, those “outside” (verse 11) won’t be able to understand this mystery while those on the inside will. The point is not that we should pity the people outside, but that we should invite them in. The point is not that those outside should stay there, but that they should push in. We have seen people pushing in to see Jesus before in Mark’s Gospel. We can think of the paralytic in chapter 2 whose friends were so desperate to get him before Jesus they dug a hole in the roof and lowered him in. Note that the first thing Jesus tells him is that his sins are forgiven. That kind of thing happens when you press in to Jesus.

The parables are meant to get people thinking and questioning. Are you outside, thinking that you know everything you need to know and there is noting about Jesus or yourself that you need to learn? Or are you pressing in to find out? The question is not, “are you stuck outside?”, the questions is “are you coming in?”

Second Tricky Bit: Is God being harsh when those who have nothing lose everything?

24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Mark 4:24-25

It seems both harsh and without logic to say that those who have nothing will lose everything. What are we to make of this? Imagine you have nothing, but are given a house. You don’t even send a thank you note to the generous person who gave you the house.  You go on with your life, living in the home, but you put no work into it. You never clean it and do no maintenance of any sort even though water has started pouring in from the roof, windows and foundation. You live in it, but you turn your back on it. Your benefactor, being very generous indeed, offers to give you a much better home, but you turn your nose up at the offer. Though you earned nothing, even what you do have will eventually be lost when the house falls apart. This is like our relationship with God. God has been good to every one of us in that He has given us life. Life is a gift from his hands, a sign of grace. Now suppose, though you live now by the grace of God, you turn your back on Him and refuse to have anything to do with Him. You refuse the offer of a further gift of eternal life. What will happen? Even what you have though have not earned, namely life, will be taken away from you. Separation from God, what we often call hell, is not harsh on God’s part. It is a natural consequence of the sin that separates us from God. It is what happens when we refuse the generous gift of Jesus who deals with that sin.

While the parables reveal truths about God’s Kingdom, they also reveal truths about us. God is bringing His kingdom. Are you pressing into it, or turning your back on it?

God is offering you a love relationship. Are you pressing into that relationship or turning your back? Jesus didn’t turn His back on you when he could have, when perhaps he should have. His back was to the cross.

All Scripture references are taken from NRSV

Read more at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

Based on a 32-minute sermon. Click here to listen in full.

 

 

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