Christianity 201

December 21, 2012

It’s The End of the World as We Know It

blank calendarAccording to some people, nobody will be reading this.

This is the day the Mayan calendar runs out, or, to be more precise, completes its present cycle and resets. But some people prefer to believe it simply marks the end of the world.

Personally, I don’t believe this end of the world scenario simply because there are prophetic markers that have yet to transpire. However, I want to qualify that by saying that I do believe in the possibility of prophetic markers being stacked up like dominoes, with an apparent chain reaction of events happening in quick succession, much like the 60s board game Mousetrap, or to use a more contemporary example a Rube Goldberg machine.

In The Church, much has been made of this verse in Matthew:

24:36 (NLT) “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

and its parallel in Mark

13:32 (NASB) But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

but I am always quick to remind people that not knowing the day and the hour, does not mean we cannot know the times and the seasons.

Luke 21:8 (NCV) Jesus said, “Be careful so you are not fooled. Many people will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the One’ and, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t follow them. When you hear about wars and riots, don’t be afraid, because these things must happen first, but the end will come later.”

10 Then he said to them, “Nations will fight against other nations, and kingdoms against other kingdoms. 11 In various places there will be great earthquakes, sicknesses, and a lack of food. Fearful events and great signs will come from heaven…

…25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On earth, nations will be afraid and confused because of the roar and fury of the sea. 26 People will be so afraid they will faint, wondering what is happening to the world, because the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then people will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to happen, look up and hold your heads high, because the time when God will free you is near!”

Now I hear you saying, “Wait a minute! This passage is referencing the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and was fulfilled in AD 70.”

skipping stonesThat’s true, Jesus says,

32 “I tell you the truth, all these things will happen while the people of this time are still living.”

I asked an old friend of mine and former seminary student about this, because it happens in the prophetic writings and also in the Psalms. He shared with me how the prophets see across a line of time, with the vision of someone following stones skipping across the water. So we find prophecies having fulfillment at various junctures in history; and while the the Luke text here would seem to have its primary fulfillment in the destruction of the temple, it could also be argued that this is actually a secondary fulfillment because it is a mere foreshadowing of the main events to come.

…For most of you, by the time you read this, we will be safely on the other side of the Mayan controversy.  But we’re also on the other side of the shocking news event of one week ago today, a reminder that while the entire world may not end today, your world might. Life is short.

We need to live each day in the expectancy and immanence of Christ’s return.

 

December 13, 2012

The Yoke’s On You

Back in June we introduced the blog ministry of Scott Daniels at The Rest That Works. Today’s post appeared there a few weeks ago under the title, Yoking around with Jesus

 You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
~ Bob Dylan

   
       Not to say that we’re a bunch of cattle, but the yoke thing is growing on me (a typical Jesus paradox).

        I knew the yoke was often used in the Bible to talk about servitude and oppression, but before researching for the rest that works, I wasn’t very familiar with it as a positive image other than when Jesus used it in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me . . . Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me . . . For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Turns out, the image is common in rabbinic teaching, both from Jesus’ day and ever since. One popular teaching is: “Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of the Torah (The Judaic Law), they remove from him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns, and whoever breaks off the yoke of the Torah, they place on him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns” (Avot 3:5). According to this teaching, it’s one or the other—the ways of God or of the world, the yoke of fear or the yoke of Divine Love. As Bob Dylan says, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna serve somebody.

Jesus Teaching Yoke Is EasySo it’s very interesting that Jesus used the image to talk about rest — it’s such a contrast, even with much of Judaism. He was standing within Jewish tradition but saying that his work leads to relief from both the ways of the world and a burdensome experience of religious Law—and that’s exactly what I have experienced by aligning with him through the rest that works. Aligning with his “yoke” frees me to flow with Divine Love. It has the opposite effect of what one expects from the image (servitude and labor).

Jesus was saying many things in using the yoke image: First, he was saying, “Do what it takes to come into alignment with me and Divine Love. It will take some effort, but doing so will free you internally. You’ll learn to keep the conditional ways of the world where they belong—in the world. This will free you to work in a whole new way.” Second, he was saying that as we learn to settle into God’s love with him and work from there, we’ll finally experience a sense of relief inside that the ways of the world or dogmatic religion cannot give—peace that passes human understanding. There is a precious gift involved. There is a pearl of great price.

By definition, condition-based ways of doing things simply do not work to give what we really want—the inner peace and meaning found in being loved and loving unconditionally with God. When we align with and settle into unconditional love, we are freed to move freely and lightly in the world without being burdened inside with whether or not we “make the cut” or “are good enough.” We also become better able to free others from those conditions—- that’s love.

Almost everything in the world is conditional. That’s how things work in the world. It’s how society is organized. It’s how things are governed. Meet the conditions, and you’re in. Fail, and you’re out. Challenge them, and you’re threatened until you get back in line—back into the yoke of fear that governs most things in our world. It’s the cycle of how things work. We’re always moving in and out of the fears of that cycle, and until we come home to God’s unconditional love, those fears govern us inside. They govern our minds. They rule us. That’s just no fun. It’s a continual burden that wears our souls down.

It takes work to move into alignment with Divine Love, but it’s always worth it deep down inside. It feels so much better to feel an unconditionally loving spirit moving in us instead of fear, evaluations, accusations or threats. When those movements of spirit are dominant, we end up not liking or even respecting ourselves. We may be successful in the eyes of the world, but not our souls. We cannot be at peace inside when that is the case. We’re like the push-me-pull-you of Dr. Doolittle fame.

But there’s more at stake than just inner peace. We have so much more to offer others when we live in alignment with God’s love. The most loving thing we can do for others at any given time is to check our internal alignment and be moving with Divine Love. It’s for us, but not just for us. It’s for our world, starting with our families, friends, co-workers and neighbors—whoever we are with. For this is how the kingdom comes, heart to heart, one heart at a time.

Jesus’ invitation to enter the rest that works is a sweeping one. It’s a big deal. Coming into alignment with him and working with him in his “yoke” delivers us from fears and veiled threats, inside and out. But it does more than that. The discipline involved takes us beyond pie-in-the-sky hippie thinking. It’s not just about rest, but also what works. In this sense, it is hard work—checking our internal alignment as we go takes a lot of spiritual discipline. But the rewards of moving with Divine Love so exceed the rewards of any other way of living, there’s no question it’s worth it. Divine Love means so much to us that there’s no comparison with anything else. When we’re in the zone—feeling Divine, Creative Energy flowing in and out—we laugh at ourselves for ever valuing anything more.

Jesus’ way and truth really does set us free from the burdens that wear us down in the most spiritually serious ways. We need to work in the world, and want to, because there’s work well worth doing with our Creator who is creating out of Divine Love. We want to create good things, we want to keep our families safe, we want to do what’s right, but not because of threats, not because someone will get us if we don’t. We want to do what Love beckons us to do with God because it’s our innermost desire, for ourselves and for others. When we’re working in that zone, we know that we’re fulfilling out purpose on the planet. It feels right deep down inside, even if there is hard work involved. It’s work worth doing. In fact, it’s worth everything and our souls know it.

And that’s no yoke.

More power to you in escaping the yoke of fear and settling into the unforced rhythms of Divine Love with Jesus. He will work with you if you’ll let him. He’s saved me in ways I can’t even begin to explain—especially from myself. Just ask him for help and guidance and pay attention. Look to align with Divine Love and look for leads, inside and out. He’ll work with you from there.

November 28, 2012

Christ, Be Our Light

Today we begin with a video of a song that may be better known to our Catholic readers, Christ Be Our Light

There is another rendition of this song at this link. In both cases I don’t know, and it isn’t posted, who the artists and songwriter(s) are.


Matthew 5: 14-16

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Christ has given us the sacred responsibility to let our light – the Light of Christ within us – shine to others. We do that by striving to be like Him. When we serve others, we are serving our Father in heaven, and we glorify Him. It is our responsibility to help others, lift others when they are down, teach others, share goodness and the light we have within us with others.

We also have the responsibility to be humble enough to receive, because that is how we help others share their light.

~ Susan at The Reliant Self blog


The more holes we have in the tapestry of our life, the more Jesus can shine through.

~ Quoted at Awe Ministries


Philippians 2:14-18

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

So what does working out our own salvation mean in practice? Well, first of all it means doing all things without grumbling or complaining. That should bring about a major change in our lives! And one that marks us out as different from other people. Just take a moment to think about  how much of everyday life and conversation is based around complaining and grumbling. Now we do need to remember that Paul is not laying down a law, but a principle. It does not mean that we never object to anything, but it does mean we have a very different attitude. 

The goal of our life is to be blameless and innocent, children of God. We are to stand out as different in the world. Jesus stood out not just because of the miracles He did, but for the very different life and attitude He had. We are to shine out as lights in this world. Isaiah 60 talks about us shining as lights in the midst of the darkness. Jesus is the light of the world, but He also said that we are to be the light of the world. 

By living like this we hold out the word of life to the world. This is what Paul desires. Even if he himself was to die, if those he was an apostle to lived Christ like lives in the world he would be happy.


Inspired by John 9:1-41

Amid the crowds celebrates the Feast of Tabernacles a blind man sits in his usual corner of the marketplace his arm outstretched and his ears, hoping for the sound of pity, the clink of coins in his beggar’s bowl. He accepts his fate—born blind, he knows nothing different; he doesn’t even cry out but simply waits for the beggar’s pittance.

He senses a shadow invading his corner. The noisy crowd is oddly silent. The blind man hears someone spit on the ground and he recoils against the wall. A rough hand touches his face and smears mud on his closed eyes. Then he hears the gentle command: “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam!” The blind man drops his beggar’s bowl and allows himself to be led to the waters of the pool. He washes his face and opens his eyes.

Light pierces his blindness and he sees. Light pierces his spirit and the darkness, gloom and despair are shattered. He is filled with the LIGHT of day. And, as if one miracle isn’t enough, the one who lived in darkness is reborn into the LIGHT of God.

The sighted-man tells and retells the story of his gift of unasked for sight — his miracle. He speaks to those whose hearts are open to believe. He defends himself before those who desire only to remain in darkness of disbelief.

Once we see in the light of Christ, we can open our eyes and heart to God. During this week may I prayerfully consider a time when my eyes were opened to see differently? Where do I see the God’s light in the world today?

”To those who believe no explanation is necessary,
to those who refuse to believe no explanation suffices.”
Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel

~ Sr. Antoinette Marie Moon, SND


November 25, 2012

The Importance of Preaching

Being Sunday, many of you experienced preaching at some point in the last 24 hours. Here is a blog post — currently the only blog post — at the blog Inspired Preaching which is mostly a video collection of today’s popular Bible teachers from a variety of doctrinal perspectives. The title is What is Preaching; be sure to click through and then explore the rest of the website.

 

Without question, preaching is the most powerful form of communication on the earth. 

Why? Because it is a supernatural activity prescribed by God himself.

“God said,” and there was. Mankind, made in God’s image and likeness, possesses the same power to speak life into darkness and create tangibility from the unseen world.

And so it is with the power of preaching, a gift on select men and women by God’s divine choosing; to ignite the hearts and minds of people; to save, liberate and propel believers into their God-given destiny.

Since the days of Noah, faithful men have preached the uncompromising gospel with power and conviction to whoever will listen.

Jesus of Nazareth – God in the flesh – launched his ministry from a pulpit and the Book of Isaiah…

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised… Luke 4:18

From that point, Jesus ruled his world with his Word, turning society upside down in the process…

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John… Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. Matthew 11:12-13 & Luke 15:16

Some received the Word. Some didn’t. But only by the Word were they saved and set free.

After Christ’s ascension, the apostle Peter preached the first church into existence. And as Peter preached to the Jews, Paul unleashed on the Gentiles, establishing Christ-centered local churches through the gospel of peace. Said Paul…

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! Romans 10:14-16

Strong’s translates preaching as the Greek word, Eaggelizō, which is to…

  • Proclaim good news
  • Announce glad tiding of the coming kingdom of God and of the salvation to be obtained in it through Christ. And of what relates to this salvation, and to instruct concerning the things that pertain to Christian salvation.

And so it is today, that there has never been a more important time to spread the gospel (in its preached form) to the ends of the earth, and to whoever will hear it, for the saving of souls and to build the church Christ died for.

Through this website, Inspired Preaching is dedicated to that purpose.

Do you know Christ? Watch this 2-minute message right now.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

November 12, 2012

Jesus Could Have Kept On Multiplying Bread and Fish, But…

Today’s reading is from a blog titled The Cross Alone is Our Theology (love that) the daily devotional blog of Pastor Mark Anderson, Lutheran Church of the Master, Corona del Mar, California. This appeared on his blog a few days ago.

John 2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; 24 but Jesus did not trust himself to them, 25 because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.”

It was every politicians dream come true. The groundswell of support was rising. People were abuzz with admiration for Him. The benefits He provided suggested a bright future. If only he were king. He would distribute prosperity to all. They were ripe for the picking.

Sound familiar? Some things never change. Later, John’s gospel reports the incident of the feeding of several thousand people. They came back the next day for more of what they saw as a free lunch program. Jesus was not impressed. “You are only here”, he said, “because you ate your fill.” There is no deeper biblical insight into human nature.

At one point during His earthly ministry the people actually wanted to take Him by force and make Him king. They saw in Him the one who would really deliver the goods. Jesus, sensing the threat to His mission, eluded them.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus consistently refused the adulation of the crowd? After all, wasn’t that what He was after? All he had to do was keep giving away the goodies and they would follow Him anywhere.

 If Jesus had given in to the appetites of the herd everything would have been lost. But Jesus knew what is in us. That’s what John observed. Jesus knew that we will seek to make anyone king who promises to keep the free lunch programs going. For what is in us, Jesus knew, is the insatiable appetite of the self – sin. And the sinful self will happily, willingly enslave itself to the highest bidder.

So Jesus rejected the chronically restless masses and the invitation to fulfill their utopian dreams. Instead He went to the Cross.That is why He alone is worthy of our love and faith. For knowing the sin that is in us, knowing our deepest need, our sickness unto death – He did not pander to our grievances and grudges like some scheming power seeker. He did not give us want we want. He gave us what we need. He gave His life for us.

So to all those who think the latest version of the messiah will bring heaven on earth and the flowering of peace and justice, here is the hard truth; the dreams of the politician will not save you. They may, in fact, impose a nightmare of utopian tyranny. And when they die all we are left with is the burdensome residue of their plans and schemes. The ancient psalmist recognized this truth ages ago when he wrote,

 “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.”

The authentic work of peace and justice that Jesus and His Father accomplished happened on a bloody Cross two thousand years ago. That peace comes even now through a living faith in the Crucified One; and the justice of God is fulfilled when sinners are reconciled to God, declared righteous, forgiven and free, by grace through faith, in a life of trust that begins now but will only be perfected in the life to come. 

 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

~Mark Anderson

HT: Steve Martin’s blog

November 10, 2012

Not All Growth is Healthy Growth

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:43 pm
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Randy Morgan blogs at Your Best Life Later. I enjoy reading him — and have for years — but he has eluded appearing here as he’s one of a number of bloggers who types everything in lower case. Sigh! I decided today to either reformat every sentence or just run this as is, because there’s a paragraph — the one I’ve set in larger type — that I want you to really think about. (Time will tell which way this appears!) You’re also encouraged to read this at source where it appeared under the title, Pruning is Painful (but in lower case!)

i came home from work tonight to find that my trees had been butchered.

a little back story…

when we moved from our old home, i promised myself that i was done with trees. our last house was surrounded by big, beautiful oak trees. consequently, i fought all summer to get the grass to grow in the shade and i fought leaves the rest of the year.

when we found the house we currently own my wife fell in love with it instantly, and the house hunt ended suddenly. and this lot has more trees than the last one. so every few years i am forced to hire tree trimmers.

i’ve hired the guys with a truck and a chain saw who knocked on my door and offered me a deal i couldn’t resist (and i always regretted it), and i’ve hired arborists who are more interested in making trees healthy than making them look good.

several months ago i took bids from several companies and made arrangements to have my trees trimmed by a well-respected company. i invited them to come whenever they had room in their schedule. they came today.

it literally looks like my trees have been destroyed.

i’ve watched them work. the trimmers climb up into the middle of the tree and first cut out all the dead twigs and branches. then they begin drastically thinning the healthy branches. it looks terrible when they are finished, but the result is a tree that flourishes. what looks damaged today will grow symmetrically and evenly, and produce much more green foliage (that i get to rake in the fall, praise his holy name).

“that’s a delightful story, randy,” you may be thinking, “but is there a point?”

the longer i’m a christian the more i grow, but not all growth is healthy growth. my sinful nature compels me to grow in ways that are comfortable and convenient, but jesus calls me to grow in ways that are difficult and scary.

jesus illustrated this concept by pointing to a vine that bears little fruit.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (john 15:1-2).

like the trimmers who devastated my trees today, the gardener in jesus’ analogy undoubtedly shredded the vine. after pruning, i’m sure the vine looked like it would never again bear a meaningful harvest. but the gardener knows how to care for the vine.

jesus’ prescription for healthy spiritual growth is connection. he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (john 15:5).

but connection is costly. it is not comfortable and it is not convenient. if i am going to remain in jesus, it will require deprivation. other pursuits must be neglected and ignored. connection will most certainly be painful. like pruning.

but i have visited connection in the past and i have found it to be encouraging and refreshing.

and as the seasons change, our pain will result in greater fruitfulness.

~randy morgan

November 3, 2011

Those 3-D Computer Generated Picture Things at the Mall

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:00 pm
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You know the ones? They look like an explosion at the pixel factory, unless you stand just so far away and refocus your eyes just right and for just long enough that a 3-D panorama leaps out, thrilling and amazing all.


Except me. I can’t do it. I’ve tried starting with my nose almost touching the glass and slowly backing away. I’ve tried gently relaxing the muscles in my eyes. I’ve tried defocusing, unfocusing, disfocusing — everything. My husband and kids go from one to the next, saying, “Hey, cool! This one’s a cow! This one’s a space ship! This one’s the ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica, complete with Michelangelo, paintbrush in hand!”

I’m still standing there crossed-eyed and headachy looking at an explosion at the pixel factory.

I think it would have been better if I didn’t know. At face value, they’re visually interesting; a collage of images and colours, almost a pattern, but not quite. I could enjoy them that way.

But I do know and I’m missing something. Something my family sees, but I don’t. They tell me it’s there and, for them, it is. But not for me. I want it to be. I’d like to get it. They patiently try to help and advise. They really want me to get it, too. So I keep looking.

Nicodemus was like that.  John, who was one of Jesus’ closest friends while he was on earth, tells us that Nicodemus was a Pharisee; one of a group who were deeply passionate about their faith. They knew the good that God had for His people and how much He loved them. But they had some very real and legitimate concerns about how the Jews could be drawn away from God by philosophical and religious influences of other nations and cultures. Pharisees worked hard at guarding the hearts of God’s people. We like to dump on them for working too hard. Making too many rules, making the whole thing cumbersome. Getting uptight at little things. We call them “legalists” and thank God that we’re not like that.

But Nicodemus, and others, were not entirely stuck in the mud. They were wise enough, humble enough, to know that they didn’t have God all figured out and someday He’d have more to say than 10 commandments and a whole lot of rules, and they’d better not be asleep at the switch when it happened.

Nicodemus and friends found Jesus very interesting. There was definitely something going on there beyond cool stories and sleight of hand. He wasn’t just a nice guy who knew a lot. He was extremely 3D.  N & Co. realized that and they went to work trying to refocus in order to figure out the picture. They listened and followed and asked questions.

Everything they saw fit with everything they heard. Jesus wasn’t a fake. He wasn’t loopy. But he might be dangerous.

These guys cared genuinely about keeping people in line with God and Jesus was saying things just different enough to make them nervous.

All we know about Nicodemus is that 1. he went to the trouble of getting alone with Jesus and asking some questions, 2. he risked his reputation to give Jesus a fair hearing and 3. when it came down to it, he made the choice to step up and take ownership of his respect and love for, and relationship with Jesus. We don’t hear anything else about Nico.

Tradition says he became a Christ follower and given John 19, I think he probably did. If so, he would have sacrificed a lot: prestige, power, family maybe, reputation. Maybe, in those three turning point moments, he found himself wishing he didn’t know. Life was good before Jesus. Obeying the rules was easier. Simpler. Walking through this relationship is a whole other layer of paint.

But in exchange, he would have fulfilled his mission as a true Pharisee. To know God’s voice and obey.

To look into the depths of God and see what’s hidden there. Love. Truth. Life.

~Ruth Wilkinson

October 10, 2011

Our Lives are But a Breath

While the United States political system operates with two very dominant political parties, here in Canada, our provincial (state) and federal legislatures and parliament are usually comprised of representatives from three or more parties. Even as I type this on Thursday night, votes are being counted in my home province to determine who lead us and under a parliamentary system, the premier (governor) is the one whose party nets the most representatives.

At the federal level this spring, the unthinkable happened. While our national political scene has been dominated by the Conservative party and the Liberal party. But the third party, the New Democratic Party (NDP) was fronted by an affable — no, make that downright loveable — guy named Jack Layton, who, after all the votes were counted, became the first NDP leader to lead the official opposition.

But then, the unthinkable happened again. Cancer struck Jack Layton down rather swiftly at age 61, and instead of seeing what he might have done in the House of Commons, instead, we watched his state funeral.

I mention all that because I was struck by a number of similarities with the death of Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs. Both very likeable or even loveable guys, both struck down at the peak of their personal accomplishments; Jobs at only 56 years of age.

Life can be short.

Life can end suddenly.

And I can’t help think of a third person, a somewhat ‘once upon a time’ character that Jesus mentions in a parable, though when scripture says, ‘a certain man,’ though the general hermeneutic approach is to take this as hypothetical, I believe the omniscient Christ could have been drawing on a real character or a composite.

Luke 12 (NIV) 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

Another guy at the top of his game. Planning to expand in one sense, but planning to coast a bit — we might call it entering some years of profit-taking — in another. But he never gets to enjoy his riches or see what happens next.

And into the shock of that sudden crisis, Jesus interjects another issue: the man seems to have no succession plan. There’s been no preparation for the next chapter, and suddenly it comes upon him.

Maybe the guy in the story has the wrong priorities, after all the parable comes after this:

15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he follows it up with his own prescription for how to relate to material things:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

One pastor we listen to online ends each sermon with, “Now go out and build the kingdom.” That’s what we’re here to do. Political empires will come and go and business fortunes will be amassed and then lost. Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Jack Layton was admirable in Canadian politics as also was Steve Jobs in American business. It would seem we lost both men all too soon. But let’s use the shortness of their lives as a reminder to make each day count, and to measure what ‘count’ means with eternity in view.

Now go out and build the kingdom.

August 31, 2011

Christians and Capital Punishment

A couple of days ago I mentioned that if you’re really processing your faith at the “201” level, you’re going to have to have a “take” on certain issues that some might consider peripheral. I think the example was creation science. But what about something like capital punishment? Again, the tendency is to say, “Look, Paul, you started this blog to avoid getting into the kind of issues you deal with at Thinking Out Loud. This space is supposedly reserved for Christ-centered Bible exposition and discussion.”

Absolutely right. But Christ needs to inform all areas of our life and thoughts. Better yet, Christ will inform just about any subject that comes up for discussion. So with that in mind, let’s look at Christ in the case of a justice issue  taking place concurrent with His earthly ministry, and see how He responded. This is from Woodland Hills pastor Greg Boyd at Christus Victor Ministries where it appeared under the title, Sinful Accusers and Capital Punishment.

 

May 4th, 2011

The Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman they had caught in the act of adultery (Jn 8:3-4; where was the guilty man?). They wanted to see how this increasingly popular, would-be Messiah, might respond. Their motive, of course, was to entrap Jesus (vs. 6). The law explicitly commanded that adulterers had be stoned to death (Lev 20:20; Deut 22:22). If Jesus agreed with this and had the lady stoned, it would likely get him in trouble with Roman authorities, for they alone had the right to try and carry out capital punishment. If Jesus disagreed with this, however, it would set him in explicit opposition with the Torah and justify the Jewish court trying him as a false teacher.

Displaying his signature genius, Jesus found a way to affirm the Torah in principle while undermining it in practice. “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone,” he said (vs. 7). In agreement with the Torah, Jesus affirmed that sinners like this woman deserve to be executed. Yet, he added, only a sinless person would be justified in carrying out this sentence. Since none of the woman’s accusers were sinless, they ended up dropping their stones and walking away.

Since all people are sinners, it seems to me that Jesus’ teaching in this episode applies not just to this particular accused sinner and to this group of sinful accusers, but to all accused sinners and to all sinful accusers. And if you think it through consistently, this entails that none of the Old Testament’s commands to carry out capital punishment should ever be acted on! Indeed, for followers of Jesus, it entails that no command to carry out capital punishment should ever be obeyed, regardless of where it is found or who it comes from.

The command itself may be just, but unless you are without sin, you’re not  justified putting it into practice.

Think about it, and have a blessed day!

~Greg Boyd

August 16, 2011

Concurrent Events

I know I repost from DailyEncouragement.Net frequently, but I really enjoy their writing.  This one was rather short and on the surface really simple, but I kept being drawn back to it; as it really got me thinking about how God both orchestrates events and uses events in our lives.  I had to steal borrow a picture from this one for it to make sense, so I hope that in exchange, you’ll consider linking directly to their site to read this, where it appeared Friday under the title, Wrong-Way Concurrence.

Last week I shared a photo of an interstate directional sign I took along our journey and inquired as to what “spiritual” lesson there might be in the photo. It happens to be an example of what is known as a “wrong way concurrence”.

Now in highway verbiage a concurrence occurs when two numbered routes use the same section of road. For instance in our area US Routes 11 and 15 run together through central Pennsylvania so that for awhile you are on both 11 North and 15 North at the same time.

A wrong way concurrence occurs when two routes run together but in apparently opposite directions. In the case of the photo there is a section where you are on I-81 north and I-77 south at the same time near Wytheville Virginia. The routes run concurrently seemingly in opposite directions based on the signage! (See below for a Google map)  

In his book, “The Invisible Hand”, theologian R.C. Sproul points out that “the doctrine of concurrence refers to historical events in which the work of Providence has been acted out through human agencies. This means at the same time human agents are acting, God is acting in and through them.”

Today’s story is found in John 6:1-13 and recounts an occasion when a great crowd had followed Jesus to the east side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus then instructed His disciples to provide a meal for the thousands who had gathered rather than sending them home to eat. Trouble is, He gave no instructions on how they were to successfully carry out this impossible feat. Philip, who apparently had some accounting background quickly calculated, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (Rather impressive math, since this was before they had “smart” phones.)

Another disciple, Andrew, brought a boy to Jesus who had “five small barley loaves and two small fish”. Now I find the preciseness in the description interesting, especially the designation “small” in both cases.  I suppose the boy’s mother had packed him a lunch adequate for his needs. Perhaps he, in his simple logic, approached Andrew with the offering of his lunch. Andrew probably felt a bit foolish suggesting this meager offering to Jesus so he followed it up with this sensible question,  “but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus didn’t answer him or try to reason with him. He had the people sit down and performed a mighty miracle of multiplication.

Today we need to understand that God is active even in the most mundane parts of our lives in ways that may seem senseless, such as the boy’s tiny contribution. This little boy had no idea when he took his lunch that day that he would be memorialized in Scripture, but the Lord used his tiny portion to feed a vast crowd of 5,000, with leftovers to boot!

God is still working in the “mundane” today.  And he’s still working in ways that may be similar to a wrongway concurrence. This little boy should give us incentive to heed the words of Paul: “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15,16).

Small, seemingly insignificant, acts of faith and obedience have a major part in the mosaic of God’s master plan for our lives.  We may desire to do something great for God, but often His plan is the simple day by day acts of obedience to Him in following His leadings, both large and small.  We’ll just have to wait and see how it all fits together.  May the Lord help us, like the young boy and Andrew, to do what is within our power and trust God for the results!

Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

March 16, 2011

Francis Chan: Do Not Assume You Are Good Soil


…the American church is a difficult place to fit in if you want to live out New Testament Christianity…

The above quotation, and what follows below belong to Francis Chan.  I’m probably the last person in the world to finally get around to reading Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, but when a book finishes as the number one book for 2010 in most Christian bookstore markets, I think that we all need to sit up and take notice of what people are reading…

In the parable of the sower, Jesus explained that the seed is the truth (the word of God).  When the seed is flung onto the path it is heard but quickly stolen away. When the seed is tossed onto the rocks, no roots take hold; there is an appearance of depth and growth because of the good soil, but it is only surface level. When the seed is spread among the thorns, it is received but soon sufficated by life’s worries, riches and pleasures. But when the seed is sown in good soil, it grows, takes root and produces fruit.

My caution to you is this: Do not assume you are good soil.

I think most American churchgoers are the soil that chokes the seed because of all thorns.  Thorns are anything that distracts us from God. When we want God and a bunch of other stuff then that means we have thorns in our soil. A relationship with God simply cannot grow when money, sins, activities, favorite sports teams, addictions or commitments are piled on top of it.

Most of us, have too much in our lives.  As David Goetz writes, “Too much of the good life ends up being toxic deforming us spiritually.”  A lot of things are good by themselves but all of it together keeps us from living healthy, fruitful lives for God.

I will say it again: Do not assume you are good soil.

-Francis Chan

January 19, 2011

Uh, Jesus, Can We Have a Word?

I always get something fresh from Perry Noble’s blog.  If I thought, or statistics showed, that most readers actually click the links, I would simply do this that way; but history shows us that’s not the case.   And I don’t want you to miss this.
What If The Religious Leaders Had Made A “Stop Doing” List For Jesus

Here are five things they MAY have asked Him to stop doing…

“Dear Jesus, we need you to stop doing the following things…

# 1 – You are really going to need to STOP healing on the Sabbath.  You see, we’ve worked really hard creating a religious system that works for us…and even though people ARE being healed (we cannot deny that) we just do not approve of the day you are doing it.  Sure, it’s miraculous…but the only miracles we are going to give approval of are the ones that take place in our system.  And please understand…not adhering to our request in this matter could prove to be detrimental to your ministry. (Matthew 12:1-14)

# 2 – Your methods of healing at times are quite reprehensible.  The fact that you spit on the ground…and just kept spitting SO MUCH that you were able to make mud…and then placed that mud on the eyes of a blind person is flat out unacceptable.  (John 9:1-11)  The fact that he gained his sight is beside the point…the way you did it is unacceptable.  AND the people you heal are bragging about what you did in their lives…we simply cannot have that and if you don’t shut them up then we will (see John 12:9-11).  It’s NOT about results…it’s about our system!

# 3 – Your character associations have gone way too far.  It has been reported that you have spoken to a Samaritan woman (John 4) and that you have actually called a tax collector to be among your inner circle (Matthew 9:9-13).  In fact, as we observe your most dedicated followers we are deeply concerned that you don’t seem to have any religious professional among those closest to you.  We believe this is a grave mistake; after all, what in the world would You EVER believe you could accomplish through those unschooled, ordinary men?  (Acts 4:13)

# 4 – We do not approve of your teaching methods.  Seriously…anytime someone asks you a question you always break into a story!  Is that really necessary?  Because of this type of behavior we can only conclude that you simply want to entertain people.  AND…the little trick you did with the loaves and fish simply prove to us that all you are interested in doing is drawing a crowd. Please cease from this type of activity and just try to engage people with “deep” theological that will equip you listeners to feel morally and intellectually superior to those who do not know as much as them.  When you tell your stories you do nothing more than twist the Scriptures to make them say whatever you want…you should know better!

# 5 – Your language is quite offensive..and we’re going to ask you to tone it down.  Seriously Jesus, you calling us all “sons of hell” was a little over the top (see Matthew 23:15)…AND the fact that you called us a bunch of snakes, actually comparing us to the devil (Matthew 23:33) shows us that you seem to lack compassion.  Finally, I don’t think a godly man would EVER say of us that we were liars and that we are the result of our mother having sex with the devil (John 8:40-44).  Tone it down Jesus, you are highly offensive.  AND seriously…was the thing with the whip necessary…you seem to have anger management issues (John 2:13-17).  A godly man simply would not act like this.”

by Perry Noble.


Jesus teaching and ministry style was not what his contemporaries expected.  I love the quotation from Walter Wink, “If Jesus had not lived, we never would have been able to invent him.”

November 22, 2010

Names of the Holy Spirit: Andrew Murray

I’m slowly working my way through a classic; Andrew Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer. For the last two chapters, he has been looking at the passage that begins, “If his son asks for bread will he give him a stone?”   This is paralleled in Matthew and Luke; and says that if corrupted and sinful parents like ourselves still give good things to their children, how much more will God give…to those who ask.

The Matthew section ends, “How much more will your Father give good things…”   But in Luke the ending is different; “How much more will you Father give the Holy Spirit.”   Murray feels that the highest of the “good things” is “the Holy Spirit.”

He then has a paragraph where he lists the various gifts of the Holy Spirit.   He was writing in an era before bullet points — lapsing into point form or numbered lists wasn’t done in prose back then — but I want to spell these out for us today.   There aren’t cross-references, but you’ll recognize many of these:

  • The Spirit of grace — to reveal and impart all of grace there is in Jesus
  • The Spirit of faith — teaching us to begin and go on and increase in continiously believing
  • The Spirit of adoption and assurance — who witnesses that we are God’s children and inspires us to confidently say, ‘Abba, Father.’
  • The Spirit of truth — to lead into all truth, to make each word of God ours in both principle and action
  • The Spirit of prayer — through whom we speak with the Father; prayer that must be heard
  • The Spirit of judgment and refining — to search the heart and convict of sin
  • The Spirit of holiness — manifesting and communicating the Father’s holy presence within us
  • The Spirit of power — through whom we are strong enough to speak boldly and work effectively in the Father’s service
  • The Spirit of glory — the promise of our inheritance, the preparation and foretaste of the glory to come.

Murray states, “In the variety of gifts which the Spirit has to give out, He meets every need of the believer.  …The child of God needs only one thing to really live as a child:  To be filled with this Spirit.”

With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray (various publishers); taken from lessons 6 and 7; some sentences mildly paraphrased to reflect modern grammar and vocabulary.

August 12, 2010

The Manager Looking Out For Number One

I used a short piece from Canadian pastor Kevin Rogers from the blog Orphan Age here on April 27th, but I thought it might be good if you were to read a more typical post from his blog; this one looking at the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16


Jesus told the story of a manager who goofed up his job.  Whether the man was crooked and skimming profits for himself or had poor job performance, we do not know.  What was clear was the boss being unhappy about this particular employee.  The manager was getting fired because the boss was unhappy.

Luke 16: 1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

6” ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’

7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
” ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.  For, the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

Not strong enough to dig ditches and not wanting to end up as a beggar on the street…

How many people feel that same way?  You may be in a job that is redundant and where you have outlived your usefulness.  What are you going to do?  Perhaps someone is gunning for your position and you are faced with an unplanned career change.  It would be easy to get stuck at blaming the economy, an unethical employer or believing that you can do no wrong.

While the manager had some problems that lead to his dismissal, his final days of work showed a praiseworthy strategy that caught Jesus’ attention.

Though assessed as a poor manager of the master’s business, he decided to leave on a high note.  He gave a 50% discount on the olive oil and 20% discount on the wheat bill.  He realized that his business contacts were potential employers that would appreciate his kindness.

Where did the discount come from?  Was the manager giving up his commission or was he intentionally cutting into the employer’s profit margin?  If he was giving up his commission, he used his last pay cheque to buy a positive influence on the customers.  Not only would they remember the good deal he gave, they would think it came from the employer.  This would benefit all parties involved.

If the manager was cutting into the employer’s profits, he was doing something bad to protect his own interests.  Would Jesus praise him for this?

Blogger Anne Robertson suggests a way of looking at the ethics of this story.

Let’s say that a man is convicted of murdering his wife and is sentenced to prison.  Further, let’s say that on his way to begin serving his sentence he goes past a burning house with a child left inside.  Figuring that misery awaits him anyway and figuring that saving a baby can’t hurt his reputation, he dashes into the building and saves the child.  A pastor is watching and goes home to write a sermon.  “Why is it,” he says the next Sunday “that this murderer can figure out that saving a child is a good thing and the 16 churchgoers who were there watching the fire burn, did nothing?  This convict is smarter than all of them.  Use the opportunities life presents to you to enhance God’s reputation.  The one who risks his own life to save another is living out the Gospel.”

If we look at the shrewd manager of Jesus’ story in this way, we see a man who was clearly guilty of wrongdoing, but was able to change his focus to help others in a meaningful way.  Jesus was not disregarding the wrongs, but recognizing the futuristic thinking of a man with nowhere else to turn.  Just because you have been very bad, you are not prohibited from doing something very good.


A day later on the blog, Kevin posted more on this same passage, saying that the story and its definition of  “shrewdness” was largely intended for the Pharisees in the audience.   Continue reading that article here.

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