Christianity 201

October 14, 2018

The Pastor Who Wouldn’t Worship

“My ego always struggles with acknowledgment. I not only want my left hand to know what my right hand is doing (Matt. 6:3) I want them to get together and start an avalanche of applause because I’ve done it.”
~Jim Thornber at (the other) Thinking Out Loud.

The above quote isn’t directly connected to today’s thoughts, but it was contained in one of four posts I read yesterday at Jim Thornber’s website, Thinking Out Loud. This is his eleventh time here at C201. Click the title below to read at source, to read a small piece of Jim’s story, click here.

Got Character?

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3)

A few years ago, a church I attended in Arkansas hosted a Thanksgiving service to raise money for the ministerial alliance. The alliance asked our church to lead in the praise and worship, and I played the piano on the worship team. Looking over the congregation, I noted a pastor from another church who, no matter what we sang, refused to either clap his hands or raise them in worship. He simply sat in his pew with his arms folded.  That struck me as strange, because outside of church he was a happy, vivacious, demonstrative man.

I have never been known for my extreme subtly or bashfulness, so as we gathered for refreshments after the service, I questioned him his about posture. “Why, when Scripture instructs you to lift up holy hands to the Lord, and you have a chance to do so in a public service, did you sit with your arms folded across your chest?”

“Well, you see,” he began to stammer and laugh, “I’m a . . . .” and he named his denomination. I cut him off and said, “Are you a denomination first or a Christian first?”

At this point, he began to look around for help from the people who had gathered, including my pastor. He asked, “Is he always like this?” to which my pastor replied, “Hey, he’s going easy on you.” And everybody who had gathered around laughed.

I find it sad that many church members (or goers) around the world are more concerned with offending their denomination and the people in the next pew than they are in obeying the Word of God. The congregation led by the pastor in my story will have trouble obeying Scripture because he was not setting an obedient example. In a simple sense of the word, this pastor lacked character.

Regarding His eternal relationship to God, Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of his being (1:3). James Moffat says He was “stamped with God’s own character.” The phrase “exact representation” translates the Greek word charaktēr, which gives us our English word “character.”

Originally, this word meant to cut, to scratch, to mark. It indicated the tool or agent that did the marking, and eventually came to mean the mark or the impression that was made. It also indicated an impression made in a wax seal. Or, think of a coin: its image, numbers and letters bear the exact image of the raised numbers and letters of the original die from which the coin was cast. To see a dime or a quarter is to know exactly what the original die or stamp looked like.

Jesus said, Anyone who has seen me has seen the father (John 14:9). This is true, because He was the “exact representation” of God, “stamped with God’s own character.” To see Jesus is to see God, for He is the exact image of God, the perfectly engraved representation of the very nature of God.

This brings up a very difficult question, especially for me: “If to see Jesus is to see the Father, then, when people see me, do they see Jesus?” As I was looking for the Christ-like qualities in that pastor, I began to wonder:

  • When I am at my church, what do people first see in me —   ­­­­­­­­­the Kingdom of God or a denominational version of God?
  • Am I stamped with the very character of God?
  • Do people see Jim or Jesus?
  • As a disciple of Jesus, am I exhibiting the character of Christ the way that Jesus the Son bore the character of God the Father?
  • When people see the church out working in the world, whose character do they perceive? Are they seeing the compassion, mercy, patience, and love of God, or do they see the values of MTV, ABC, Wall Street, Hollywood, Cosmopolitan, and Men’s Health?

We must all ask those tough questions if we are going to live the character of Christ and represent God in all we say and do. Jesus said,  Now I want to be able to say, “Anyone who has seen me has seen Jesus.” Maybe one day, at my funeral, some kind soul will say, “Jim was the most Christ-like person I’ve ever met.”  Then I’ll know I got character.


January 27, 2017

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4:15 NLT

He was despised and rejected by others, and a man of sorrows, intimately familiar with suffering; and like one from whom people hide their faces; and we despised him and did not value him.  – Isaiah 53:3 ISV

…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!Philippians 2: 7,8 NIV

This essay predates email forwards or even the internet itself, but as I found it in a stack of papers yesterday, I couldn’t help think that while it wasn’t the usual type of thing we share here, it certainly provides food for thought. Immediate the above scripture passages came to mind.

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a
great plain before God’s throne. Some of the groups near the
front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame before God’s
throne, but with embittered belligerence.

“How can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?” snapped
a brunette, jerking back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number
from a Nazi concentration camp.” “We endured terror, beatings,
torture, and death!”

In another group, a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?”
he demanded, showing the rope burns. “Lynched for no crime but being
black! We’ve suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones,
and toiled ’til only death gave release.”

Hundreds of such groups were visible across the plain. Each had
a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in
His world. How lucky God was, they all seemed to agree, able to
live in heaven where all is sweetness and light, without weeping,
fear hunger or hatred. Indeed, what does God know about man? What
does He know about being forced to endure the trials of life?
After all, God leads pretty sheltered life.

So each group sent out a leader, chosen because he had suffered
the most. There was a Jew, a black, an untouchable from India,
a person who was illegitimate, a person from Hiroshima and others
who had tasted life’s bitterest dregs. At last they were ready to
present their case. It was rather simple: Before God would be qualified
to be their judge; He must endure what they had endured.

Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth
as a man. But because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be
sure He would not use His divine powers to help himself.

* Let Him be a Jew.
* Let the legitimacy of His birth be questioned.
* Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical, it brings
upon Him the hate, condemnation and destructive attacks of political
and religious authorities.
* Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced
jury and convicted by a cowardly judge.
* Let Him see what it is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned
by every living being.
* Let Him be tortured and … let Him die.
* And let His death be humiliating; let it take place beside
common criminals, while He is jeered at, mocked, and spit on.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs
of approval went up from the great throng of people. But suddenly,
after the last one had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a
long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly,
all recognized the stark reality; God had already served his sentence.

– Author unknown

From Handel’s Messiah: He was despised.

November 7, 2014

The Great Mystery of Christ

Today we introduce you to Ros who has been blogging at Seven Notes of Grace since December, 2011. You’ll find a number of tabs at the top with different categories and links, many of which are devoted to music. Simply click the title below to read at source and then take a few minutes to look around the site.  This post is in a series on the “three-sixteens” in scripture…

The mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16)

mystery_of_godlinessAs we arrive at 1 Timothy 3:16 (in the Three Sixteen series) Paul tells Timothy about the importance of godliness in the church, the church being the pillar and foundation of the faith. The church has been entrusted with the Gospel, with proclaiming Christ to the world. Paul lays down guidelines for selecting overseers and deacons in the church, for teaching, for prayer. Then he includes this apparently random summary statement about the great mystery of Christ:

“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs* is great:
He appeared in the flesh,

    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.”

This is a great summary about Jesus, his life and purpose, and makes a great 3:16 verse! But Paul is actually quoting lines from a well known hymn of the early church. The IVP New Testament Commentary has some good insights about the relevance of Paul’s words:

Now Paul’s citing of part of what was surely a well-known hymn in the course of writing instructions for behavior in the church is to bring his readers to the point of corporate response. The hymn itself, like many in the New Testament, celebrates Christ’s appearance and ministry on earth. The introductory phrase is a call to consider the implications of this grand event, to evaluate our conduct on the basis of what we confess. . . . Consequently, this phrase ‘the mystery of godliness’ forms a connection between the appearance of Christ, which the hymn celebrates, and Christian living: the mystery is the essence of godliness. It was critical for Paul to remind the readers of this principle, for the false teachers were successfully driving a wedge between belief and behavior with damaging results. In our day of institutionalized atheism and the popular heresy of humanism, the church faces the same danger. Even if dangers of this sort seem remote, we easily forget the practical implications of what we believe and profess to be true.” 

So this is a great verse not just because it celebrates Christ’s work, but because it connects his glorious saving work with our behaviour. We are to walk worthy of Christ’s saving work for us.  His work is finished, we don’t have to earn it! But we are called to live godly lives that point to Him as we, the Church, safeguard and pass on the Truth of His Saving work.

(*Note: if you look at other versions of this verse you may find that it simply says “the mystery of godliness” or the “mystery of our faith” – but the newest NIV translation seems to have hit the proverbial nail by phrasing it “the mystery from which true godliness springs”. True godliness will grow in us when we have build our life on Christ!)


Click here to read more blog posts in the Three Sixteens series.

July 10, 2013

Seek the Welfare of the City

Daniel Yang is a church planter who has resettled his family in Toronto, Canada in anticipation of a church launch there this fall. This appeared on his blog under the title Jeremiah 29:7

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

In the Old Testament, Israel was the nation chosen by God to reveal his love to the rest of the world. God was so committed to his purpose that even when his people were living in a land that wasn’t their own, he commanded them to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you.” God placed an entire generation in a position of humility and vulnerability and then commissioned them to engage an unfamiliar city by investing into it the lives of the next generation.

Over the last few years this Jeremiah passage has helped me process my family story. My father was a little older than I am now when he left his homeland to live in a refugee camp for several years. The conditions in the camp were difficult, but he knew it was only for a season. At the age of thirty-nine he and my family immigrated to the United States where they learned a completely new way of living and thinking. They lived as a diaspora community seeking the welfare of the city to which they were brought and in doing so found their own welfare.

There’s something about the diaspora mentality that God wants his people to learn when they are called to engagement. From my experience this mentality forces us to do two things 1) adapt to the situation around us with humility and openness and 2) commit to the cause of others despite our own needs.

Jesus embodied the essence of this passage when he left the glory of the Father’s right hand and took on the form of a servant to die a criminal’s death in order to reconcile man back to God. Very rarely, if ever, will gospel engagement in any part of the world look different from this model.

Learn more about the church plant, Trinity Life by clicking here. As I watched a preview video for the church, there was a line, ‘God of this City,” which is also the name of a modern worship song I realized we’d never posted here. I hope you enjoy it.

August 22, 2012

Looking Unto Our Founder and Perfector

Every once in awhile I stumble on someone who is doing devotional blogging and wonder how I never saw their work before. After including a piece from Camille’s other blog today on the link list at Thinking Out Loud, I decided to check out her devotional blog, where she was deep in Hebrews chapter 12.  This is a mash-up of two of her posts — we tend to run long whereas she keeps things concise! — at her blog Think Upon These Things.  Again, you’re always encouraged to click through instead of reading here, and the browse the rest of the blog and consider bookmarking it in your computer.  (The links today are in the title of each of the two parts.)

 Hebrews 12:2 “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith….”

“looking to Jesus”

Note the commands that we see in Hebrews 12:1 & 2.

Command #1: “Let us also lay aside very weight, and sin which clings so closely.”
Command #2: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Now, note what is not a command.

“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

This is not a command. In English, it is participle. It takes a word which normally functions (look) turned into an adjective (looking) in order to describe the manner in which we are to complete the action of the true verb (run).

“Looking to Jesus” is not a command. But that does not mean it is not an imperative. Meaning, if you or I try to run while looking at something other than Jesus (even the cloud of witnesses, great though they might be), we will fail. We will not endure. Why? Well, consider this. Hebrews 12:1 clearly proclaims that we must look to the cloud of witnesses in order to inspire us to lay aside the weights of sin. Why? Because that’s what they did. They were imperfect men like we are who struggled with the same hindrances that plague us. They ran well, with endurance, although imperfectly. However, Hebrews 12:2 clearly proclaims that we must look to Jesus as our example of endurance as we run because He ran in such a way that was perfect, satisfying God’s righteous demands, and it is Him and Him alone that we seek to imitate.

Think of it this way. Suppose you want to draw a picture of a horse. However, you can’t find a horse, so instead of using a live model or a picture from the Internet or a child’s toy horse, you settle for the cow that you can clearly see from your window. What will the flaws be in your picture? The basic body structure of the two animals is almost identical. They both have hooves, four legs, a tail, a powerful torso, a neck, head, ears, nose, eyes, and a mouth. However, the fine points of your model will be fundamentally erroneous. Also, a cow has features that a horse does not have. If you are considering a female cow, it will probably have udders. If you are considering a male cow, it is possible that it will have horns. Horses never have udders or horns. You are looking at a model that appears genuine, but is actually quite distorted.

This is what happens when we try to too closely imitate godly men and women who have gone before us instead of using Christ as our model of endurance. Christian biographies, accountability partners, and role models all have their place, but when it comes right down to it, all of those models are missing something or have too much of something that Jesus Himself had or didn’t have. This is why we pray in Jesus’ name, and not in the name of any saint. This is why we study His life first and foremost and measure everyone else by Him. This is why we call ourselves Christians and go by no other man’s name first and foremost.

Aside from the perfection of Jesus’ pattern, I believe there is another reason we are told to look to Him first and foremost as we run with the intention of endurance. We all know that we sin daily. This is what we have that Christ hasn’t got – our sin nature. This is also what we lack – the holiness of God. But when we look to Jesus, we look at what we will one day become – not the Son of God Himself (we will never be divine), but we see that He has satisfied the righteous requirement of the law (our failures!!) and made it possible that we would be considered justified (legally guiltless) before God the Judge of all. We see in Him what will take place when we are fully and completely sanctified. Seeing Jesus as we run gives us hope, because we are not perfect, but He was; we are not yet perfect, but because of Him, we one day will be.

“founder and perfecter”

Founder: synonymous with author, champion, pioneer, prince, or predecessor.
Perfecter: synonymous with finisher, goal, or completer. 
(See this for the variety of translations of these two words!)

Similar to Revelation 22:13’s statement that Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, this statement notes two distinct yet complimentary truths about Jesus’s relationship to the believer. He the origin and leader of His disciple-followers faith in Him. Without Him, we would have no basis of faith. The story of redemption at its very beginning starts with Jesus Himself (Genesis 3:15). You cannot get any more fundamental than Jesus Christ. We need Jesus in a way that we need nothing else!

However, Jesus’ role does not stop at the beginning; His presence in the story remains until the very end (Revelation 22:17), and He is there through all the rising action, present at the climax, and even controls the dénouement. He remains even now, the perfect example for us, the Sovereign Lord over us, and the sanctifying force in us.

Short entry, but this is not a complicated truth. :)