Christianity 201

December 24, 2015

The Life That Changed the World

Several years ago I was reading a new book by an author completely unknown to me, so I went hunting around the back pages for some kind of “about the author” section, whereupon I learned that he was best known for founding an organization and an annual conference. That type of endorsement is meant to impress, and it does. Certainly I’ve never done those things.

Maybe it was because it was quite late, but my mind went to a piece of prose (sometimes rendered as poetry) known as One Solitary Life. It turns up on tracts, on Christmas cards, and even email forwards.

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He never set foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends deserted him. He was turned over to his enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had – his coat.

When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of people on this earth as powerfully as this “One Solitary Life.”

Most sources online credit this to Dr. James Allan Francis.

In light of what I mentioned above, I just wanted to add “he never founded a charitable organization, never established an annual conference.” To which you could add, “He wasn’t on Twitter, He didn’t have a website or a blog, or a Christian television show.”

That reminded me of a section of a quotation from Philip Yancey (see below) which says, “When He did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up;” so I did a search of the phrase “not to tell anyone.”

The healing of a blind man:

Mark 7:35-37

35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The revelation of His identity:

Mark 8:29-31

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Immediately following the transfiguration:

Luke 9:35-37

8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

The raising of Jarius’ daughter:

Luke 8:55-56

55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

All of which points us to Phil. 2:6

6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. (CEB)

6 who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage. (HCSB)

I would add, ‘Did not consider equality with God something to be leveraged.’

Despite this, no one who has ever lived as ever affected the history of mankind so richly, so deeply, so powerfully as this One Solitary Life.

“The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen; and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation of a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with the flinty rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” He had compromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company. “One day miracles seem to flow out of Jesus the next day his power was blocked by people’s lack of faith. One day he talked in detail of the Second Coming; another, he knew neither the day nor hour. He fled from arrest at one point and marched inexorably toward it at another. He spoke eloquently about peacemaking, then told his disciples to procure swords. His extravagant claims about himself kept him at the center of controversy, but when he he did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up. As Walter Wink has said, if Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.” ~~ Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan 1995) p.23

Quotations today are from the New International Version (NIV) except where noted

March 17, 2015

100 Memory Verses from Matthew

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , ,

Because the scriptures have life, we print scripture verses here in green. So for St. Patrick’s Day it seemed fitting to run a post consisting entirely of scripture verses in green. The author of this piece is credited as Joe Putnam and it appeared on the blog of someone named Clark, but not the same Clarke as writes here weekly. To read this at source — where there is some additional highlighting we weren’t able to capture here — click the link below.

100 Memory Worthy Verses from the Gospel of Matthew

Every verse in the book of Matthew is worthy to be memorized.

But since that’s probably not possible for most people, what are some of the most memory worthy verses? What are some verses that every Christian should know and treasure?

To help with this, I recently read through the Gospel of Matthew over the past month and underlined the verses that really stood out to me–verses that I thought deserved to be memorized, prayed over, and treasured.

If you’d like to read this list, it’s included below. I hope these verses help you to know the Lord Jesus in a deeper and more intimate way…

Jesus’ birth and anointing

1:18 Now the origin of Jesus Christ was in this way: His mother, Mary, after she had been engaged to Joseph, before they came together, was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit

1:20-21 20 But while he pondered these things, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife, for that which has been begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.

1:23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel” (which is translated, God with us).

3:17 And behold, a voice of of the heavens, saying, This is My Son, the Beloved, in whom I have found My delight.

Christ’s being tested in the wilderness

4:4 But He answered and said, It is written, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out through the mouth of God.”

4:7 Jesus said to him, Again, it is written, “You shall not test the Lord your God.”

4:10 Then Jesus said to him, Go away, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”

The kingdom decree

5:3-11 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. 11 Blessed are you when they reproach and persecute you, and while speaking lies, say every evil thing against you because of Me.

5:13-14 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt has become tasteless, with what shall it be salted? It is no longer good for anything except to be cast out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 You are the light of the world. It is impossible for a city situation upon a mountain to be hidden.

5:16-17 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in the heavens. 17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill.

5:32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries her who has been divorced commits adultery.

5:42 To him who asks of you, give; and from him who wants to borrow from you, do not turn away.

5:44 But I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

6:6 But you, when you pray, enter into your private room and shut your door and pray to your Father who is in secret and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

6:8-13 8 Therefore do not be like them, for your Father knows the things that you have need of before you ask Him. 9 You then pray in this way: Our Father who is in the heavens, Your name be sanctified; 10 Your kingdom come; Your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth, 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

6:19-21 19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on the earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves dig through and steal 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not dig through nor steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

6:24-25 24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 Because of this, I say to you, Do not be anxious for your life, what you should eat or what you should drink; nor for your body, what you should put on. Is not the life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

6:31-34 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, With what shall we be clothed? 32 For all these things the Gentiles are anxiously seeking. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself; sufficient for the day is its own evil.

7:7-8 7 Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.

7:14 Because narrow is the gate and constricted is the way that leads to life, and few are those who find it.

7:22-23 22 Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, was it not in Your name that we prophesied, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name did many works of power? 23 And then I will declare to them; I never knew you. Depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.

The continuation of the Lord’s ministry

8:20 And Jesus said to him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of heaven have roosts, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.

9:12-13 12 Now when He heard this, He said, Those who are strong have no need of a physician, but those who are ill. 13 But go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

9:37-38 37 Then he said to His disciples, The harvest is great, but the workers few; 38 Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest that He would thrust out workers into His harvest.

10:16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be therefore prudent as serpents and guileless as doves.

10:19 But when they deliver you up, do not be anxious about how or what you should speak, for it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak.

10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna

10:39 He who finds his soul-life shall lose it, and he who loses his soul-life for My sake shall find it.

11:11 Truly I say to you, Among those born of women there has not arisen one greater than John the Baptist, yet he who is least in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he.

11:12 But from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of the heavens is taken by violence, and violent men seize it.

11:28-30 28 Come to Me all who toil and are burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

12:8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath

12:29 Or how can anyone enter into the house of the strong man and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will thoroughly plunder his house.

12:36-37 36 And I say to you that every idle word which men shall speak, they will render an account concerning it in the day of judgement 37 For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.

12:50 For whoever does the will of My Father who is in the heavens, he is My brother and sister and mother.

13:23 But the one sown on the good earth, this is he who hears the word and understands, who by all means bears fruit and produces, one a hundredfold, and one sixtyfold, and one thirtyfold.

15:3 And he answered and said to them, Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?

16:16-19 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in the heavens. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens, and whatever you bind on the earth shall have been bound in the heavens, and whatever you loose on the earth shall have been loosed in the heavens.

16:24-26 Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me 25 For whoever wants to save his soul-life shall lose it; and whoever loses his soul-life for My sake shall find it. 26 For what shall a man be profited if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul-life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul-life?

17:5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud saying, This is My Son, the Beloved, in whom I have found My delight. Hear Him!

17:20 And He said to them, Because of your little faith; for truly I say to you, If you have faith like a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, Move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

18:3-4 3 And said, Truly I say to you, Unless you turn and become like little children, you shall by no means enter into the kingdom of the heavens. 4 He therefore who will humble himself like this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of the heavens.

18:18-20 18 Truly I say to you, Whatever you bind on the earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on the earth shall have been loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I say to you that if two of you are in harmony on earth concerning any matter for which they ask, it will be done for them from My Father who is in the heavens. 20 For where there are two or three gathered into My name, there am I in their midst.

20:26-28 It shall not be so among you; but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 And whoever wants to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

22:37-39 37 And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Preparation for Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming

24:4-8 4 And Jesus answered and said to them, See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for it must happen; but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom will rise up against kingdom; and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places

24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole inhabited earth for a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come.

24:27 For just as lightning comes from the east and shines to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

24:37-42 37 For just as the days of Noah were, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 For as they were in those days before the flood, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day in which Noah entered into the ark, 39 And they did not know that judgement was coming until the flood came and took all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 At that time two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day our Lord comes.

25:21 His master said to Him, Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful over a few things; I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your master.

28:18-19 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and disciple all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you all the days until the consummation of the age.

Note: All of the verses in this post were taken from the Recovery Version translation of the Bible.

July 22, 2014

When God Tells Stories

Many times at Thinking Out Loud there have been references to the sometimes-controversial Rachel Held Evans, but it might surprise you to see her here at Christianity 201. However, she’s been blogging the Lectionary this year, and while the concept of what follows is, at one level, quite simple, I hope you’ll read what she writes and get lost in the wonder of how the Creator of the universe chooses to communicate with us.

To read at source, click here.

I’m blogging with the lectionary this year, and this week’s reading comes from Matthew 13:24-43:

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’ 

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!’

In the Gospel reading for this week, we learn that in the time between Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the events leading to his death and resurrection, the travelling teacher communicated through stories.  Matthew goes so far as to say “without a parable he told them nothing.”

It is an astounding detail when you think about it: The God of all creation, the One who knows every corner of the cosmos and fathoms every mystery, the One who could answer every theological riddle and who, I suspect, chuckles at our volumes of guesses, our centuries of pompous philosophical tomes debating His nature, when present in the person of Jesus Christ, told stories.

  • Stories about farming.
  • Stories about kneading bread.
  • Stories about seeds and trees and birds.
  • Stories that somehow, in their ordinary profundity, “proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

Jesus, who certainly could have filled volumes, favored riddles to lectures, metaphors to propositions, everyday language, images, and humor to stiff religious pontification. In a strange burst of joy, Jesus even exclaimed,  “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

Religious education is good and important, certainly. But it’s not as important as paying attention. It’s not as important as seeking the Kingdom in the quotidian rhythms of the everyday. It’s not as important as obedience. 

After all, Jesus didn’t come for the rich, the educated, or the right. Jesus came for those with listening ears and open eyes, those who are hungry for righteousness and thirsty for God, those comfortable with metaphors and similes and “almosts” and “not yets,” those content to understand without knowing fully, those with dirt in their fingernails and flour in their hair.

In Matthew 13, we encounter several parables all packed in together, each one worthy of a thousand different reflections. (The one about the seed that grows into a tree is one of my personal favorites.) Each of these parables features Jesus’ very favorite subject, the thing he spoke about more than any other: The Kingdom. 

The Kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed, Jesus said, that grows into an enormous tree with branches wide and strong enough to make a home for all the birds. It is like a buried treasure, a delicious feast, or a net that catches an abundance of fish. The Kingdom is right here, Jesus said. It is present and yet hidden, immanent yet transcendent. The Kingdom isn’t some far off place you go where you die, the Kingdom is at hand—among us and beyond us, now and not-yet. It is the wheat growing in the midst of weeds, the yeast working its magic in the dough, the pearl germinating in a sepulchral shell. It can come and go in the twinkling of an eye, Jesus said. So pay attention; don’t miss it.

This Kingdom knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture. It advances not through power and might, but through acts of love and joy and peace, missions of mercy and kindness and humility. This Kingdom has arrived, not with a trumpet’s sound but with a baby’s cries, not with the vanquishing of enemies but with the forgiving of them, not on the back of a war horse but on the back of a donkey, not with triumph and a conquest but with a death and a resurrection.

And yet there is more to this Kingdom that is still to come, Jesus said, and so we await a day when every tear will be wiped from every eye, when swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears shaped into a pruning hooks, when justice will cascade like a river down a mountain and righteousness like a never-ending stream, when people from every tribe and tongue and nation will live together in peace, when there will be no more death.

On this week when our newspapers reveal the ugly reality that evil and good grow alongside one another—in the world and even in our own hearts—the parable of the wheat and the weeds seems especially weighty. As reports of civilian casualties mount, we see that, just as Jesus warned, human attempts to “root out evil” on our own, by force, result in the destruction of innocent lives. 

Every. Single. Time. 

Like it or not, this parable challenges, (perhaps even mocks), our notion of “precision airstrikes,” of getting rid of the “bad guys” without hurting the “good guys.” The fact is, we don’t see the world as God sees it. We are not equipped to call the shots on who deserves to live and who deserves to die, who is evil and who is good—especially when, if we’re honest, we can feel both impulses coursing through our own bloodstreams.

While we could certainly digress into an eschatological conversation about exactly what Jesus means when he talks about throwing evildoers into the fire, the instructive call of this parable remains the same: to let God do the farming. God is the judge—not you, not me, not kings, not presidents.

“Without a parable, he told them nothing.” 

Yet still we struggle to understand. Still we struggle to obey.

Two-thousand years after Matthew recorded these parables about seeds and wheat and yeast, we’re still combing our theology books for answers. We’re still talking about airstrikes and minimizing civilian casualties. We’re still seeking power and vengeance, knowledge and stuff.

In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle tells of a young woman who told the author, “I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was eight or nine. I didn’t understand it, but I knew what it was about.”

That’s often how I feel about the parables of Jesus. I don’t understand them exactly, but I know what they’re about.

L’Engle concludes: “…One does not have to understand to be obedient. Instead of understanding—that intellectual understanding which we are so fond of—there is a feeling of rightness, of knowing, knowing things which you are not yet able to understand…As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain.” 

The God of the universe has beckoned us into His lap to tell us a story, to teach us to pay attention.

Let those with ears hear.

March 11, 2014

Sermon on the Plain: The Woes

Sermon on the Plain NIV Luke 6

Luke 6:24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

While reading the parallel passage to The Sermon on the Mount over the weekend, I noticed that the four woes correspond directly to the four blessings and decided to investigate them more closely.

Matthew Henry characterizes the verses immediately preceding this passage as “Blessings pronounced upon suffering saints, as happy people, though the world pities them;” whereas he describes the woes as “Woes denounced against prospering sinners as miserable people, though the world envies them.”  He then continues,

These we had not in Matthew. It should seem, the best exposition of these woes, compared with the foregoing blessings, is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.* Lazarus had the blessedness of those that are poor, and hunger, and weep, now, for in Abraham’s bosom all the promises made to them who did so were made good to him; but the rich man had the woes that follow here, as he had the character of those on whom these woes are entailed

*[Luke 16: 19-31]

The website WordOfLife.UK.com states

These woes speak of the opposite way of life, and its consequences. The people described here are those who seek all their happiness in this life and in this world. They have chosen all this and disregarded Christ, and never think of death and what follows. These people live for this world, and never consider what will happen to them when they die. Usually, if they are challenged to consider life after death, they seem to have a sense that this life is not all that there is, and that there is an existence beyond this life, and with this in mind they have a complacent belief that the existence to come after death will be one of blessing. If they think of God they think of one who is always loving and will accept everyone, and they imagine life beyond the grave as being much similar to this life, but somewhat better. They consider the character of God to be love, and never have any thought of his holiness, and any idea of condemnation and eternal rejection by God is totally denied.

The Greek word translated as ‘woe’ has a twofold meaning. On the one hand it has the idea of grief, and so could be translated as ‘alas’. On the other hand it has the meaning of denunciation, which has the idea of total loss and suffering. Both these meanings are present here. Jesus is expressing grief over these people, because he sees their eternal doom, and their total indifference to it, and unbelief in it. Jesus does not want them to suffer eternally, and has grief such as is expressed when he wept over Jerusalem because they rejected him and the salvation he provides. But there is also the pronouncement of an inevitable end in judgement which means that when Jesus comes again at the end of the world, they will be condemned to everlasting punishment in hell. It is such a pity and a sadness that the church today has lost the sense of grief over those who are lost and on the broad way which leads to destruction, because they have the spirit of the world, and do not truly from the heart come to Jesus for the gift of his heavenly and eternal rest.

The point Jesus is making in these woes is not that riches of themselves are wrong or bring eternal death, or that having enough to eat and enjoying some of the luxuries of life and being happy is wrong, but Jesus is expressing a condition of heart which looks to the pleasures and praises on this world as the goal in living, and lives for this world, and puts all the exertion of living into gaining this goal.

Read the entire article by clicking here.

I found it interesting how the passage not only contrasts those with and those without, but how commentators agreed that the audience hearing Jesus speak these words would clearly see themselves as being in one or other faith groups. The Pulpit Commentary affirms this: “These “rich” referred to here signify men of good social position. These, as a class, opposed Jesus with a bitter and unreasoning opposition.” Frank Retief writes,

The Bible often divides people up into two groups – those who believe in and trust God and those who do not. This is what Jesus does here once again. On the one hand there are the poor, hungry and oppressed, and on the other those who are rich, full, and laugh. These are meant to be understood in spiritual terms. The rich, full and satisfied are those who are IN THEIR OWN EYES rich and full toward God, while the poor and the hungry see themselves as unworthy and look to God for His mercy.

Perhaps, in God’s economy, we are seeing another example of the last being first and how riches can be a barrier to entry when it comes to The Kingdom. This is affirmed in Matthew 19:24:

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

And this is why, in the Matthew passage certainly, the blessed are blessed; they are the ones who more vividly see their utter dependence on God.

  • For an excellent comparison of the Luke passage to the more familiar Matthew passage, visit SermonOnTheMount.org.uk

March 8, 2014

Your Writing Talent is On Loan From God

Before we begin today, I also want you to be sure to read an article about the devotional process itself. In it, Erik Raymond suggests we often do what he calls Dental Chair Devotions; a kind of rinse-and-spit process where the goal is to get finished and head out toward doing something else.


Today, I want to continue a thought that was raised in the introduction to yesterday’s piece. A longer version appeared this morning at Thinking Out Loud.

The Bible has a lot to say about the accumulation of wealth and the hoarding of possessions. Probably the classic statement of scripture on the matter is,

NASB Matt. 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal…

or

MSG Matt. 6:19-21 “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Don’t have any treasure whatsoever.’ True, when Jesus sent his disciples out he told them to travel light, advice that extends through all of life:

NLT Matt. 10:9 “Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. 10 Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick.

But in everyday life, the Bibles teaching presuppose you will have a home or a donkey or bread that you may or may not choose to give your neighbor when he comes knocking late at night.

CopyrightThis week it occurred to me that at the time the Bible was written, one thing that we can possess that they didn’t was intellectual property. There was no Copyright Act; no Letters Patent. Did Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph the Carpenter have a special way of doing a table that would cause him great consternation if Murray the Carpenter down the road started copying the same concept? You get the feeling that everything was open source.

The whole premise of Christianity 201, is that we search the internet for sources of daily Bible exposition and discussion. Unlike the Wednesday Link List at Thinking Out Loud, where some people click and some people just read the list, I think it’s important that these devotional meditations get seen in full, and statistics bear out the reality that most people don’t click through.

Most of the bloggers are thrilled that their work is being recognized. C201 doesn’t have quite the readership of Thinking Out Loud, but it possibly represents ten times as much as some of the writers see on their own pages. We get notes of appreciation, and a handful of readers also thank us regularly for putting them onto reading a particular writer.

So this week when, for the second time in about 1,450 posts someone strenuously objected to their material being reproduced in full — don’t look for it, it’s been removed — I started thinking about the whole intellectual property issue in the light of Jesus’ teachings.

I think it’s interesting that in the prior verse of Matthew 10, Jesus makes the often-quoted statement, “Freely you have received, now freely give.”

Personally, there’s nothing on this blog that isn’t up for grabs, provided it’s cited properly and quoted properly and being used non-commercially. Like this article? Help yourself. Yes, I have been paid to write and could thereby consider myself a professional writer; but this is only a blog and it’s vital not to get too caught up in your own sense of self-importance; and I say that in the fragile financial state of someone who currently has no other sources of income, as our business does not pay us a regular salary.

I also thought it was interesting that the person who was so upset about the use of his material on other than his own website was complaining about a particular article that was about 50% scripture quotations. More than 50%, I believe. Oh, the irony. I can just hear Jesus saying, ‘Uh, could you just link to my words in the Bible rather than print them out on your own website?’

… I really think when that writer is a little older, they will look back and see the foolishness of trying to hang on to what really wasn’t theirs to begin with.

Freely received…freely given…help yourselves.

Go Deeper: Some things simply didn’t exist when the Bible was written, such as smoking cigarettes or driving over the speed limit. It’s the same with intellectual property. We have to appeal to the timeless, grand themes of scripture to make behavioral determinations.


Irony: The copyright symbol used today was already in my computer before I worried about such things…

November 21, 2013

Jesus in the Margins

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
Tags: , , ,

Although today’s devotional has no specific key verse, it ends with a powerful poem which alludes to several well-known Bible narratives. The author is Julie Cochrane of Australia, her blog is called Life-Times-Two and I encourage you to click through to read this piece, Margins: Limitations or Possibilities?

I’ve discovered there are two ways to look at a margin.

A margin can be a boundary – fringe, sideline, edge, or it can be a surplus – room, scope, profit. One definition speaks of limitation, the other of possibility.

After mulling over these definitions for a couple of days I saw something beautiful emerge.

I saw how Jesus transitioned people from one margin to the other, from the fringe of Insignificance to the place of discovering the surplus of Potential within themselves.

Jesus always gravitated to the marginalized. One moment He is preaching to thousands on a hillside, the next, He’s crossing treacherous waters in a small fishing boat in search of a madman in a cemetery.

A read through the Gospels exposes Jesus constantly searching for the Overlooked, the Unnoticed on the fringes of communities he travelled through – the lepers, the sex-workers, the widows, the misplaced, the people struggling with their demons. Jesus understood their plight – after all, who could identify more with being marginalized than Jesus himself? His compassion drove him to open blind eyes, release the oppressed and preach good news to the poor.

Yet for each one, every single person, the healing encounter with Jesus went beyond merely the physical aspect of their lives.

Jesus looked into their eyes. He scanned their souls. He found that place of deepest need – the Need-to-Belong, the Need-to-be-Valued, and he touched them there. And his touch repositioned them – both in their own thinking, and in the perceptions of those around them.

Encounters with Jesus gave the Insignificant value, and the Sidelined purpose.
Those encounters allowed each one to sense their own value and uncover the empowerment that comes from that. These Anonymous Ones uncovered the surplus of the unlived life within themselves and tapped into it’s potential. For these Fringe-dwellers their purpose had now been defined, and they were empowered to move on in life with dignity and influence. Their place of residence shifted from Obscurity to Significance.

Zaccheus grew in spiritual stature the day he met Jesus; the Samaritan Woman became an ambassador for genuine love; Bartemaus became a man of vision; a Roman Centurion began winning spiritual battles; the Tax Collector became a benefactor; the Psychopath became an evangelist.

Our mission is to complete what Jesus started in our world.

We should find ourselves constantly scanning the horizon in search of the Lost, the Forgotten, and the Exiled, and introduce them to a Jesus encounter.

They live in the bewildering place of fatherlessness, in the insidious place of bullying, in the distressing place of poverty, in the horrific place of human trafficking, and in the empty place of fame of fortune. We will find them at checkouts, mothers’ groups, in jails, in church, over the neighbouring fence, in our own families. They are all around us, searching for inclusion, and a purpose for living. Sometimes all it takes is a cheery word to the woman cleaning the Rest Room, a coffee date with the new single mum at school, some time for the old man who lost track of his family years ago, a welcoming smile to the overweight woman hiding at the back of the room … it’s not that hard!

That search for belonging, that incessant hunger for value is the prompt that has led us all to Jesus. We were, at one time or another, all lost until we found Jesus walking towards us with arms outstretched.

He stopped amidst the swirling, stifling, suffocating crowd.
“Who touched me?”
The woman trembled, bloodied, afraid.
She knelt before the Lord of Ones and whispered her confession.
And He, who would one day Himself be bloodied
for Ones such as this said,
“Be healed.”

He slept through the storm as they crossed the Lake,
While the Madman waited in turmoil amongst the tombs.
Naked, too strong for chains and irons, yet hopelessly bound,
He ran and fell at the feet of the Lord of Ones.
And He who would one day be bound in the place
of Ones such as this said,
“Be free.”

He sat and watched the Rich and Powerful throw in their coins.
The Widow came, unnoticed, yet seen.
She gave out of her poverty two small coins of infinite value.
“She gave her all,” mused the Lord of Ones.
And He who left the wealth of Heaven in order to give His all for Ones such as this said,
“Be blessed.”

He stood alone as the crowd hurriedly dispersed.
“Unclean!” they reviled, and hissed and cowered.
The Leper knelt before the Lord of Ones and pleaded, “If you are willing..”
And He who would soon be defiled by the sins
of Ones such as this,
Reached out and touched, and said,
“Be clean.”

I wait, speck in an ocean, grain of sand on a beach,
Bloodied, bound, impoverished, unclean.
Overcome by His Presence, overwhelmed by His Grace, “I come to worship,” I whisper.
And the Lord of Ones who died in my place embraces me,
And draws me in.
With words that echo across time and eternity
He whispers back,
“We are one.”

© Julie Cochrane 2013

Today Jesus will transition one more soul from the margin of limitation to the margin of possibility. Let’s remain alert, on call, so we don’t miss the opportunity to partner with him on the journey.

November 16, 2013

Prodigal Son Parable Changes the Paradigm

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:11 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Lost Son Returns:

(NIV)Luke 15:20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

In the new book, Let Hope In, Pete Wilson writes:

Pete Wilson - Let Hope InJesus’ audience continued to listen to him tell the story of the prodigal son, and they had been surprised so far, but now they were thinking, Well, the dad let his son make his own choice.  He was so overwhelmed when his son came home that he actually ran to him, but we know how this story is going to end.

From the Jerusalem Talmud, it is known that the Jews during the time of Jesus had a method of punishing any Jewish boy who lost the family inheritance to Gentiles.  It was called the “qetsatsah ceremony”.  Such a violator of community expectations would face the qetsatsah ceremony if he dared return to his home village.

The ceremony was simple: The villagers would bring a large jar, fill it with burned corn, and break it in front of the guilty individual.  While doing this, the community would shout, “So-and-so is cut off from his people.”  From that point on, the village would have nothing to do with them.

This was a religious ceremony designed to publicly embarrass and humiliate the person guilty of wrongdoing.  And the people listening to this story are waiting for this ending.  Sure the dad forgave the son, but the village is going to give the boy what he deserves.  They’re not going to overlook his dark past.  They’re not going to allow him to just forget where he was or who he had been.  But an amazing thing happens: the father trumps the humiliating and convicting ceremony by establishing his own.  “The father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it.   Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’  So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:22-24  NIV).

He does something his audience is not familiar with doing: wiping his son’s slate clean.  He says, “I know my son blew it.  I know he made some horrible decisions.  But this is between me and him.  He’s not an embarrassment to me.  You can come over to the house tomorrow, but instead of a ceremony of rejection, we’re participating in the joy of a restoration.”

~ Pete Wilson, Let Hope In: 4 Choices That Will Change Your Life Forever pp. 117-118 emphasis added

September 7, 2013

Everyone Is Welcome

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Occasionally I run into blogs that consist of pastors’ sermon notes involving churches that use the Lectionary as a guide to preaching. In these churches, the Evangelical concept of a sermon series in completely foreign; instead there are three or four prescribed readings for each Sunday, usually consisting an Old Testament reading, a Psalm , a selection from the gospels, and an excerpt from an Epistle.  (These vary somewhat by tradition and some denominations send out an amended version to their ministers.)  One of the texts is required to form the basis of the weekend sermon. I believe that’s the case with the blog ForeWords written by Rich Brown.  This one appeared recently there under the title All Are Welcome.  Click through to read at source (with pictures!) and discover more Lectionary based sermons.


Jeremiah 2:4–13; Psalm 81:1, 10–16; Hebrews 13:1–8, 15–16; Luke 14:1, 7–14

Any reading of the Gospels reveals this defining characteristic of Jesus: He loved a party. Of course, that raised more than a few eyebrows back then, as it does for many “good, church folks” today. Jesus was often confronted with the way he and his disciples comported themselves, in comparison especially to John the Baptist and his disciples. But Jesus was not John. His agenda and “gospel” was a different, yet related one. We pick up the action in chapter 14 of Luke’s Gospel:

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely…. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” –Luke 14:1, 7-14 NRSV

The rules for hospitality were pretty strict among the Jews of ancient Judea. An invitation to dinner required reciprocal treatment. Furthermore, there was a definite hierarchy as to who would get the place of honor. Characteristically, Jesus turned all that upside down. It’s not that he didn’t believe in being hospitable or valuing the practices of the day, although he was certainly known for bending rules (if not breaking them at times) when he felt the need. Most likely, though, Luke doesn’t share this little story to enlighten his readers/listeners on eating habits. No, I don’t think this is a story about eating and drinking and partying as much as it’s about who gets invited to Jesus’–and therefore God’s–table.

Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, Jesus tells his audience. And by doing so those issuing the invitation will be blessed. Here in the 21st century we would probably phrase it differently, with the familiar words “pay it forward” to be found somewhere in the mix. Jesus held a special place for those on the margins of his society, the people who were pretty much invisible to respectable folks. Those marginalized people weren’t important to Judea’s Roman occupiers, nor were they valued by Pharisees or Sadducees–or anybody intent on somehow ingratiating themselves with those groups.

What’s remarkable is to consider that the same sort of situation takes place today. We, too, have the rich and the powerful in charge of business, politics, and the social order. And although we have a far larger middle-class than in the first century of the Common Era, it’s also true that our North American middle-class is shrinking as the disparity between really rich and really poor increases.

The marginalized folks in Jesus’ day were identified as the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. To a certain extent we can start our 21st-century list of marginalized with those groups, too. But we can add many more: think of the massive numbers of people (especially in minority groups) who are in prison, those women and men and children who are denied access to adequate health care, the homeless, the hungry (which includes all those who are in various stages of being “food challenged”), immigrants (especially those who are “undocumented”) who live in an underground economy, many in the LGBT community, people who are denied their right to vote, and those stuck in generations-old cycles of poverty and ignorance and illiteracy.

If Jesus were to tell his parable today, he’d most likely include those groups in his list of marginalized. He’d probably have an even more extensive list. Coincidentally, [last] week marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. And, amazingly, on that anniversary date the first African-American President of the United States, Barack Obama, drew on King’s imagery in his own speech, which included these words:

“We must remind ourselves that the measure of progress for those who marched 50 years ago was not merely how many blacks had joined the ranks of millionaires; it was whether this country would admit all people who were willing to work hard, regardless of race, into the ranks of a middle-class life. The test was not and never has been whether the doors of opportunity are cracked a bit wider for a few. It was whether our economic system provides a fair shot for the many, for the black custodian and the white steelworker, the immigrant dishwasher and the Native American veteran. To win that battle, to answer that call—this remains our great unfinished business.”

The question for followers of Jesus in the 21st century remains: Who is invited to God’s banquet in the peaceable kingdom, the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven? Yes, this broad question includes some smaller ones: Who is welcome in our congregations? in our neighborhoods? in our towns and cities and suburbs? in our schools and businesses? ultimately, in our hearts and minds?

Jesus’ first and constant concern was for the marginalized. That would appear to be where we, who call ourselves followers and disciples of Christ, should begin as well.

August 3, 2013

Two Things Jesus Never Says to the Suffering

This appeared last month at Reason for Change, the blog of Jayson Bradley; click through to read at source and check out other material there:

When I look at Jesus, I am seeing the exact representation of God’s character. Jesus, as Paul says, is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). And Christ himself makes a connection between knowing him and knowing the Father (Jn 14:7).

It’s important for me to understand that not only is Jesus the perfect revelation of what it means to be fully human, his behavior also reveals so much to me about the character and concerns of God. That’s why it’s always interesting to me to think about, not only what Jesus says, but what he doesn’t say.

Scripture records Jesus healing a lot of people. On top of that, Jesus sets many demonically oppressed individuals free. When you stop and contrast the way we interact with afflicted individuals with the way Jesus did, you see some amazing discrepancies.

Here’s two huge things Jesus never says to the suffering:

1. You’re to blame

When I think through the innumerable examples of the sick and demonized Jesus healed, I can not come up with one example where he lays blame at the feet of the afflicted. More often than not, he treats those suffering various maladies as victims.

When Jesus stands up in the synagogue and kicks off his ministry, he does so with the following words from Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Lk 4:18–19)

Jesus came to lead a revolt against enemy forces who hold the world hostage. These forces have have subjected all of creation to the slavery of corruption. This corruption runs deep. Some of Jesus’ healings were about bringing order to that corruption, and some (exorcisms) were in direct confrontation with the enemy forces responsible for that corruption.

It does me good to see that Jesus never makes the demonized or afflicted carry the weight of guilt for their condition. He doesn’t accuse them of being punished or disciplined. Rather, he simply confronts their oppressor and sets them free.

2. It’s part of God’s plan

Maybe even more surprising is that Jesus never attributes the suffering of others to the mysterious will of God. As I said in the previous section, Jesus challenges each illness and act of demonic oppression as if their presence is a direct affront to God’s will. There is no moment where Jesus looks to the distressed and indicates that they suffer as part of God’s greater plan.

When Peter sums up Jesus ministry, he says this, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. . .” (Acts 10:38) And John sums up the works of Jesus as being “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” Oppression and sickness were always treated as malevolent manifestations of a demonic kingdom.

The significance of what Christ didn’t say about the healings he performed is staggering. And although he ultimately destroyed the works of Satan on the cross, we still live in occupied territory. We are still routing the enemy, and dealing with a creation that is under slavery to corruption.

As we partner with Christ in redeeming all of creation to himself, our prayer matters. We are at work confronting the enemy in his strongholds, where he is at work killing, stealing, and destroying (Jn 10:10). We cannot afford to be attributing the oppression of the enemy to the mysterious work of the Lord.

In Luke Jesus says sums up his confrontation with evil this way, “When a strong manfully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are undisturbed. But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder (Lk 11:21–22).”

The strong man is Satan, and creation is the house he’s guarding. Jesus came, confronted him throughout his ministry, and overpowered him at the cross. But we are still at work because the enemy is at work with great wrath because he knows his time is short (Rev. 12:12).

Let’s attribute his nefarious work to the right source, and continue to confront him. Soon . . . soon we will be dividing up the spoils of victory.

June 25, 2013

Destination: Heaven Verses in Light of New Earth

Heaven

As we’ve mentioned before here, in the book Heaven, author Randy Alcorn makes it very clear that we need to unlearn the idea of “going to heaven” in terms of a “place up there” kind of location or destination, and think more in terms of new earth.  So what do we do with the verses that seem to support the idea of a destination, like John 14: 1-6?

John 14:1-6 (NIV)

Jesus Comforts His Disciples

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus the Way to the Father

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

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

Jim McGuiggan has a website called Think Noble Things of God, wherein he deals with possible issues in interpretation of this passage at an article titled What of John 14: 2-3.  C201 readers are encouraged to read these articles at their original source and then look around the rest of the authors’ websites or blogs.

Does John 14:2-3 teach us all the saved are going to heaven when the present phase of human history closes with the return of Jesus?

That’s certainly the prevailing view and it has a long history but I’m not sure that that’s what the passage is meant to tell us.

I don’t doubt that those who die in the Lord “go to heaven”. I think that’s the clear implication of passages like Philippians 1.23 but that text isn’t talking about the post-resurrection experience—it’s speaking of “life after death” rather than “life after the resurrection”. In any case, it’s obvious that Phil 1 and John 14 may not be making the same point.

Here are a few observations that presently come to my mind when I reflect on John 14:2-3 and the entire section.

1. My Father’s “house”. I haven’t looked into this for so long that I’ve forgotten what conclusion I drew when I did. I can’t off-hand think of any text that speaks of the Father’s [or God’s] “house” as heaven though there may be one or two somewhere. Certainly the NT seems to speak of God’s “house” as the temple or the church. At this point I’m simply saying that this needs to be cleared up or at least seriously checked before we construe the phrase as “heaven”.

2. It is easily conceivable that “the place” he goes to prepare is a place in the kingdom. Daniel 7:13-14 speaks of the Son of Man as going to God on the clouds of heaven to receive a kingdom which he receives as the representative of his people to whom the dominion is given [note 7:22, 27].

3. This would work well in a context of disappointment [14.1] if they construed his departure as failure of their hopes of the kingdom being restored to Israel in the Messiah [compare Acts 1:6 and Luke 1:32-33].

4. Wherever he’s going doesn’t seem to be a “location” so much as a “meeting” since he says of his going “and you know the way I’m going” [John 14.4-6]. Jesus himself is the essence of the “way” to “where” he is going. “Where” he is going is to his Father [14.28] and this doesn’t suggest to me a “location” so much as a relational type situation that carries out a purpose. When God brings Israel out of Egypt he brings them to himself [Exodus 19:4]. It is true that he brings them to a place [Sinai] but the issue is more a relational event than a location. I suspect this is the case in John 14. In going to the Father, Jesus is obviously not going to Rome but “to heaven” where his Father “is”. But if what I’m thinking is correct the “location” is not at all the issue [again, see 14.28].

5. Later in the section he mentions again his “going away” and his “coming” again but he isn’t talking about his final coming; he refers to his coming in and as the Holy Spirit which would be with them without a parting [John 14:16-29—this entire section needs to be read].

6. He speaks again of their being troubled at his going away but assures them that they should be rejoicing because he goes to the Father. Again, not to a “location” [though we can’t speak of his departure without using spatial and other terms]. Though they don’t fully understand it yet they do know that the Messiah’s dominion is to come from God and we know that Jesus was going to gain dominion.

7. Then in 14.29 he tells them that he has told them of his departure and coming before it would happen so that they will know this was no ad hoc arrangement, it was an integral part of the development of the divine drama and purpose. He tells them that when they see it happen they will know and believe. This suggests to me something they would experience. I think that putting this together with his return in/as the Holy Spirit [mentioned earlier] and their experience of Acts 2:1-36 offers a more coherent understanding of John 14.

In summary I think Jesus has in mind his going to the Father to receive the Messianic dominion and that he [in and as the Holy Spirit] returns to give them their place in God’s kingdom and to dwell in and with them without a parting [do note John 16.7 and that entire section in view of what I’ve suggested here].

Jesus speaks the content of chapters 14—16 in a time of great sorrow [16:4-6] for them, a time of shaking faith and a time of confusion but he is calling them to trust and assures them that their pain will end in joy [16:16, 20-22].

June 9, 2013

Poverty Will Always Be With Us

Today’s thoughts are from the blog, The Crunchy Christian,  written by Thailer and Amber. This one is by Thailer and appeared under the title The Poor Will Never Cease from the Land.

While driving home from a Bible study for young Christians last night, Amber and I both felt encouraged (as we always do at studies). These studies are a recurring thing and any chance we’re able to attend, we reap the benefits. Granted, it’s hard with our toddler (and another one on the way) but it’s so worth it.  Young Christians need to be active in small groups and frequent Bible studies with many people of differing opinions – it’s healthy and it’s one of the many ways to grow. And yet, as we were driving home, we felt just as concerned as we did encouraged.  The study was aimed at answering the questions of those who are non-believers. As we went through each question, helping each other learn how to ease the qualms of opponents to the Christian faith (not to mention settling the questions and answers in our own hearts), we arrived at question number three: “How does a church justify spending millions on buildings, while people starve?”

As I sat and listened to how the majority of those around me would answer the non-believer’s question, I increasingly began to feel, how do you say…’grieved’? I was taken aback. So was Amber. Now don’t get me wrong – I love these people. They’re my brethren. But I had major concerns with the answers I was hearing. Here are some.

“If you throw money at a problem, it won’t fix it.”
This is true in a sense. But it’s much easier to throw this out as an answer when you’re on the side of the church that ‘throws money’ at their gigantic, ornate sanctuaries. It’s harder for these words to pass your lips when your child is dying of starvation or disease. If only someone would ‘throw money,’ just a couple dollars, to you. One brother made a good observation when he pointed out that, in the New Testament, we see many examples of the church selling their possessions to aid the poor (Acts 4:32-37) but we never read of the church building any kind of ‘worship center’ for themselves. And I don’t think that individuals, who do want to help by ‘throwing money’ to the poor out of the kindness of their hearts, would think to do only that – certainly, a lot of prayer and intercession will be made for the needy as well. And it’s just as important. But prayer without the accompaniment of faith-driven acts of love, by the empowerment and grace of God, will not go very far. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body – what good is that?” (James 2:15-16).

“Well Jesus said ‘the poor you have with you always.’”
Yes, he did. But let’s allow Jesus to finish his sentence: “…and whenever you want, you can do good for them” (Mark 14:7). I understand this objection because I often made it myself – but what do we mean by quoting this in the face of the hungry and the needy? That Jesus is saying it’s a ‘lost cause’? Does this logic come from a man who preached, loved, touched, healed, fed, and cared for the poor – who was poor himself? What’s interesting is that Jesus’ words are oddly parallel to a passage found in Deuteronomy 15:11 where the Lord says, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land.” However, did that mean God thought it was a lost cause and the rich can just keep to themselves? The very next sentence says: “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” In fact, Deuteronomy 15 continues to speak about the provisions that God would make for the poor; everything from freeing slaves every seventh year to even redistribution of wealth (fairly acquired) every 49th year, the year of Jubilee (Deuteronomy 15:1-8; Leviticus 25:8-55).

“If you follow this reasoning to its logical end, where does the giving stop? If you have two shirts, will you give the other away?” The argument that we will always have something extra to give should not be used to defeat the purpose of giving to begin with. These answers are defensive and the heart is all wrong. And honestly, how often has giving to the needy resulted in them taking us for all we have? It’s not realistic. And the logic of “If you give an inch, they can take a mile” doesn’t hold here, nor should it be allowed to keep us from the godly duty of sacrificial charity. Also, when that moment comes, how will we answer to that question? Will we be prepared to live according to the words of our Lord who said, “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:40)? And will we judge Jesus and his teaching by our own faulty logic? Can Jesus not ask that we give it all away like he did the rich young ruler? “You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). Is this so hard to believe, coming from the God-man who left it all (and much more) for us? (2 Corinthians 8:9).

“There will always be poor people. You can’t solve world hunger.”
Does that mean we can’t try? Does that mean we’re content to go on our way as faulty stewards of God’s blessings? You know, there’s a story Jesus told in Mark 12:41-44 of a poor widow who throws two small copper coins into the offering. Though there were many who threw a lot of money out of their abundance, Jesus praised her instead, because she gave out of her poverty everything she possessed, ‘all that she had to live on.’ Now this widow gave so little that she might as well have kept it. She didn’t solve world hunger; she didn’t alleviate any problems by her gift. But that’s not what mattered. She gave from the heart a sacrificial offering to God and that’s what mattered. It made all the difference. And when our hearts prod us to give sacrificially to those in need, Jesus assures us with these words: “Truly, I say to you , as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

When I came to question number three on the worksheet (“How do Christians justify spending millions on a worship building while people starve?”), my answer was: “You don’t.” That’s the problem. We’re trying to justify it. Quite honestly, most of the problems non-believers have with Christianity is not the faith itself but our poor rendering of it in our individual lives. But I would make this point (that I learned from Tim Keller) to the non-believer: We don’t justify the church spending millions on buildings while there are starving people around the world. It’s unjust. And when Martin Luther King, Jr. dealt with the gross injustices of segregation and racism, even (and perhaps mainly) among the white, middle-class, conservative believers, he never said the problem was with Christianity itself; that we needed to depart from the teachings of the Bible in order to have justice. Instead, he said:

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

He didn’t call people away from Christianity but to a truer form of it. And maybe, just maybe, we’d have less antagonistic questions proposed if we just learn to follow the actual teachings of our Lord, not only in word but also in deed. Let’s get our priorities straight and mirror our Lord. Emulate altruism. Give generously. And teach our people it’s importance.

May 16, 2013

Facing End Times Without Freaking Out

Awesome article by K. W. Leslie at the blog More Christ; clicking through is encouraged,– there are a lot of great writing there. This one was originally titled Prematurely freaking out over the End.

If we’re gonna talk about the End, we need to begin with what Jesus said about it—not in Revelation, but in the gospels. So let’s start with the first gospel written, which would be Mark.

Jesus introduces the subject by discouraging his followers from prematurely assuming the End has come.

Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, facing the temple. On their own, Peter, James, John, and Andrew were questioning him: “When will this happen? What’s the sign when everything is about to end?” Jesus began to tell them.

“Look, don’t let anyone lead you astray. Many will come in my name, saying this: ‘It’s me!’—and many will be led astray. When you hear war, or what others say about war, don’t freak out; these things happen. But it’s not the End yet! One ethnic group will come against another ethnic group; kingdom against kingdom. Places will shake. Recessions will take place. They’re early birth-contractions.”

Mark 13.3-8 NLT

Despite these instructions, Christians still freak out over every major world event. Our nation goes to war; Christians proclaim the End. Israel goes to war with its neighbors; Christians proclaim the End. The economy shakes and shudders; Christians proclaim the End. The economy prospers and Christians proclaim the End. We look for signs everywhere, and anything can be a sign of the End. We’re worse than the superstitious.

And in fact that’s precisely what many of us have become when it comes to the End: Superstitious. We worry that any little thing might show up and take away all our worldly possessions, all our personal freedoms, all our temporary stuff. We stockpile food in case we have to hide, stockpile gold in case we need to buy things, stockpile weapons in case we have to fight—and put our trust in them, and not in Jesus. We live in fear. Not in confidence. Not in patience. Not in trust. Not in faith.

When Jesus talks about the End, he deals in very specific images. They’re apocalypses, so they’re not literally what’s going to happen, but they’re meant to be easy enough to figure out if we have half a brain—and if we’re using that brain to recognize the times we live in, instead of allowing our fears and paranoia to run wild.

So let’s deal with each of the things Jesus tells us to expect as part of the natural order of things, and not as part of the End Times.

The wrong leaders.

I’m not sure many people are interpreting Jesus correctly when he warns about the people who will lead his people astray. The most common interpretation is Jesus is talking about fake Christs—people who claim they’re Messiah, and aren’t. They take this from when Matthew repeated this story.

Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.”

Matthew 24.4-5 NLT

Here’s the problem with this interpretation. These so-called “fake Christs” come, as Jesus pointed out, in his name. Not their own names. They’re claiming to have Jesus’ endorsement to make these claims about themselves. And here’s the problem: How many fake Christs come in Jesus’ name? Darned few. Jesus is their competitor, not their ally; they pay him a little bit of lip service, but pretty much everything else they do is in their own name, which they seek to glorify. Not his.

So this is why I translate the Matthew passage thus.

In reply, Jesus told them, “Look, don’t let anyone lead you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m anointed!’—and many will be led astray.”

Matthew 24.4-5 KWL

We too often forget kristós means “anointed one.” It can be translated either “Christ” and “Messiah”… or “anointed one.” It doesn’t mean these preachers are claiming to be fake Christs. It means—as we all too often see—these preachers are claiming Jesus anointed them to be the leaders of his people. But he didn’t, and they’re leading Christians astray.

All too often, self-anointed leaders are demanding very inappropriate degrees of honor and privilege and loyalty because of it. They want us to obey without question, and misquote, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” lest we dare stand up to them. They want to be treated just like we should treat Jesus. Yet they know better than to use the sacred title Messiah… so they stick to “anointed,” and hope we never notice. And we often never do. And we are led astray.

Any preacher who makes too much of their own anointing needs to be watched carefully. Any preacher who’s surrounded by followers who make too much of their preacher’s anointing, likewise needs to be watched carefully: Some of these folks are clever enough to stay humble in public, but they deliberately surround themselves with suck-ups. A truly humble preacher will discourage people from puffing them up, lest they start to seek praise, and not Jesus, as their reward.

So watch out for fakes. Look for fruit. Stay away from fruitless Christian leaders. Yeah, it might be okay to listen to their podcasts or radio shows—after all, Jesus told his students it was okay to listen to the Pharisees, but don’t follow their personal examples. (Mt 23.2-7) After all, hypocrites can preach the truth. They just won’t live the truths they preach. (Of course, defending their bad behavior might worm its way into what they preach, so remember to listen to them skeptically.)

The wrong harbingers.

As a superpower, the United States doesn’t really know how to worry about war. Our worries are that war is too expensive and kills our soldiers. We don’t worry at all about foreign armed forces invading and destroying our nation. We haven’t had to fight on our own soil since World War II, and haven’t encountered a serious conquering foe since the Civil War. Americans have more fear of our own government—which, considering how much it lets us get away with, just goes to show you how overly secure we are.

That’s not the case with most other countries. An invading army can destroy their nation: Overthrow their government, kill their soldiers, murder and rape and enslave their citizens, and wipe out their way of life. Israel has been on the receiving end of such wars far too often. God bailed them out a whole bunch of times—though not against the Assyrians, neo-Babylonians, or Romans. Still, when Israel’s enemies look enviously at it, and try to actually start something, many Christians will flinch at those events and claim, “There we go. This is it. This is gonna bring about the End Times.” And then we go lining up which anti-Israel opponent corresponds with which apocalyptic vision, and start publishing books.

No, said Jesus; they’re only early birth-contractions.

Wars happen. People get angry, and pick fights. Diplomats try to diffuse the disagreement, but too many people on either side are far more interested in vengeance against their enemies than in reconciliation, and too often they silence their diplomats and start shooting. It doesn’t mean the End is near; it only means people, as usual, are sinning.

And contrary to popular belief, sin doesn’t bring about the End. Jesus does.

This is going ahead in the narrative a bit, but the End comes because Jesus has finished sending out invitations to the Kingdom. It’s not because the world gets as evil as it’s ever gonna get. Ever since humans started sinning, it’s always been evil; it’s been in periods of great darkness, and with God’s help it’s been in periods of great light. But evil never forces God’s hand. He’s Almighty. He does as he wants. He’s going to make sure the good news reaches every single person he wants, and then the End will come. Not before. And not because of war, or antichrists, or persecution, or economic depression, or anything other than God’s will.

Till the End, Israel is always gonna have enemies. As will Christians. Big deal. Concentrate on loving them and making friends of them. Stop looking to the newspaper so you can fearfully catch signs of the End, and concentrate on lovingly bringing it about by sharing Jesus.

March 7, 2013

One Solitary Life

Last night I was reading a new book by an author completely unknown to me, so I went hunting around the back pages for some kind of “about the author” section, whereupon I learned that he was best known for founding an organization and an annual conference.

Maybe it was because it was quite late, but my mind went to a piece of prose (sometimes rendered as poetry) known as One Solitary Life. It turns up on tracts, on Christmas cards, and even email forwards.

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He never set foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends deserted him. He was turned over to his enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had – his coat.

When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of people on this earth as powerfully as this “One Solitary Life.”

Most sources online credit this to Dr. James Allan Francis.

In light of what I was reading, I just wanted to add “he never founded a charitable organization, never established an annual conference.” To which you could add, “He wasn’t on Twitter, He didn’t have a website or a blog.” That reminded me of a section of a quotation from Philip Yancey (see below) which says, “When He did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up;” so I did a search of the phrase “not to tell anyone.”

The healing of a blind man:

Mark 7:35-37

35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The revelation of His identity:

Mark 8:29-31

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Immediately following the transfiguration:

Luke 9:35-37

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

The raising of Jarius’ daughter:

Luke 8:55-56

55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

All of which points us to Phil. 2:6

Though he was in the form of God,
        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.  (CEB)

who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.  (HCSB)

I would add, ‘Did not consider equality with God something to be leveraged.’

Despite this, no one who has ever lived as ever affected the history of mankind so richly, so deeply, so powerfully as this One Solitary Life.

“The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen; and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation of a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with the flinty rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” He had compromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company. “One day miracles seem to flow out of Jesus the next day his power was blocked by people’s lack of faith. One day he talked in detail of the Second Coming; another, he knew neither the day nor hour. He fled from arrest at one point and marched inexorably toward it at another. He spoke eloquently about peacemaking, then told his disciples to procure swords. His extravagant claims about himself kept him at the center of controversy, but when he he did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up. As Walter Wink has said, if Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.” ~~ Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan 1995) p.23

Quotations today are from the New International Version (NIV) except where noted

March 1, 2013

I Was a Stranger

Our scripture reading today is on video, or you can turn to Matthew 25:31-46.

At Bible Gateway (above link) the IVP New Testament Commentary begins:

This final parable in Jesus’ final sermon in Matthew brings home the reality of judgment. As the missionaries from Matthew’s churches spread the good news of the kingdom both among fellow Jews and among Gentiles, they faced hostility as well as welcome. This parable brings together some themes from the rest of the Gospel: Christ, like the kingdom, had been present in a hidden way (compare chap. 13), and one’s response to his agents represented one’s response to him (chap. 10).

…Which leads me to this excellent commentary at the blog, Reading Acts:

But is this a parable? Not in the normal sense of a parable, it is more of an apocalyptic prophecy with parabolic elements. The story is usually treated as a parable, despite the fact it is not a story drawn from everyday life. As an apocalyptic prophecy, the Sheep and Goats is an interpretation and re-application of themes from the Hebrew Bible to a new situation.

Clearly the “Son of Man” is not a symbol, Jesus is identifying himself as the one who will be doing the final judgement. There is, however, a shift from Son of Man to “the King” in verse 34. The King in this parable is not necessarily a metaphor for Jesus but an actual title of Jesus that he will have at that time. That Jesus sees himself as the central character in this parable helps us to read the previous parables – Jesus is the bridegroom in 25:1-12 and he is the king who went away in 25: 14-30.

The Sheep and the Goats are metaphorical elements that parallel the Wise and foolish virgins and the productive and unproductive servants in the parable of the talents. The elements of the judgement are not to be taken as metaphors, what the sheep do and what the goats do not do should be understood as a part of the judgement that they are facing at the end of the age. The wise virgin and prepared servant are more or less like the Sheep, the foolish virgin and the unprepared servant are more or less like the goats.

It is probably best to see this as a prophetic or apocalyptic parable using the metaphor of the separation of sheep and goats to indicate that at the end of the age the nations will be separated and judged. The basis of that judgement will be the treatment of the “least of these brothers of mine.” This prophecy may be based on several passages from the Hebrew Bible. For example, Ezekiel 34:11-17 describes Israel as a flock in need of a true shepherd. It is quite possible that the Sheep and Goats of Matthew 25 is an allusion to  Ezekiel 34:16: “As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.” (Joel 3:12 has a similar metaphor).

Like any of the parables, this story must be read in the context of the first listeners. The shocking end of the parables of the kingdom is that those that thought they were getting into the kingdom are not going to be there, and those that were on the outside do get in. The ruling Jews thought that they were going to be in the kingdom, in fact, they were the “keepers of the kingdom of God.” Yet when Messiah came, they did not recognize him. They never really had much of a chance to since they were not caring for the poor and the needy as they ought. Jesus is very critical of the Pharisees who liked their fine things, or the people giving in the temple and mocking the widow and her mites.

On the other hand, the underclass probably did not think of themselves are serious candidates for the first to get into the kingdom. They were told repeatedly that they were the unclean, “sinners and tax-collectors.” Yet they will enter the kingdom, and those that were accepting and caring for this underclass, as Jesus was, will enter as well.  Jesus demonstrated throughout his ministry this kind of grace by eating with sinners, now he is welcoming people into his kingdom who showed the same grace to other “least of these brothers.”

~Phillip J. Long

Reading Acts is one of those incredible online “finds” that often greet me when I’m preparing things here.  Since we borrowed a hefty chunk of material from it today, I want to doubly encourage you to drop by and read more great Bible commentary at source.

 

 

December 22, 2012

What Can I Do Next? versus What Must I Do Next?

Ephesians 2: 8-9

(KJV) For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.

(AMP) 8 For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God; Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast. [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.]

(MSG) 8-9   Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing!

Earlier this week I had a conversation with someone who is moving from passive to active faith. I use that terminology because I don’t believe that his faith was non-existent prior to the past year, but rather, it was probably dormant.

So he asked about things like what is required in terms of tithing, and does he need to be baptized. I tried to give him good answers while at the same time being very aware of the fact he was wanting to do things instead of resting on what Christ has already done.

(Sometimes people coming from a Roman Catholic background wrestle with these things more acutely. I don’t know if that’s the case here. It’s interesting that the Catholic Church refers to certain days in the church calendar as “Days of Obligation.” In a sense this defines “religion;” the idea of obligation overshadowing all else. No wonder many Christians say that Christianity isn’t a religion it’s a relationship.)

Andy Stanley talks about surveys done among people who have been attending North Point Community Church for less than five weeks. Let’s just stop there. Imagine having enough new people constantly streaming through the doors that you can engage a survey company to ask them questions. But that’s a topic for another day.

Of those in that category, a large percentage of them were interested in what they call “discerning next steps.” They wanted to grow. They wanted to serve. They wanted to understand what it means to be a disciple.

But there are sometimes dangers inherent in wanting to do. The story of Mary and Martha is a juxtaposition of two attitudes: spending time with Jesus and doing things for Jesus.

Coincidentally, it is Andy Stanley who has this verse posted in his office from Acts 15:

(NIV) 19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

(AMP) 19 Therefore it is my opinion that we should not put obstacles in the way of and annoy and disturb those of the Gentiles who turn to God…

We discussed this verse in detail previously here in February, 2011.

I think there are two different ways we approach the challenge of what it means to follow Christ:

  • We can ask, “What can I do;” and thereby focus on offering our lives as a response to the grace we have received and the love that has been poured out to us. “How can I express my gratitude?” “I want to give something back.”
  • We can ask, “What must I do;” and thereby miss the point. “What is this going to cost me?” “What am I going to have to give up?”  Or even, “I have a few hours free; how long is this going to take?”

As we said in the Feb ’11 post, this journey of following Christ should certainly involve counting the cost. In Luke 9 we read:

(NIV) 23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

But I do not believe it should be about the cost.

The person I spoke with definitely should start a program of percentage giving and definitely should consider being baptized. But it should be done joyfully and willingly.

 

 

 

 

Next Page »