Christianity 201

May 24, 2018

Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and LOVE

by Clarke Dixon

(This is the final sermon in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

When we are going for a concise statement about what we are about as a church, why does love make the cut? In fact love does not just make the cut:

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)

Love is the “greatest of these”! Love makes the cut and is the greatest because love is central to Jesus. We often connect 1st Corinthians 13 and its message of love with romance and weddings. However, we ought to connect it with Jesus.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NRSV)

Though Jesus could and did work many wonderful miracles, if he had not love, where would we be? We would be in trouble! We would be dead in our sin. While love might seem like a luxury to some, it is essential to the follower of Jesus, because it is essential to who Jesus is.

The Most Rev. Michael Curry in preaching at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle spoke about love, and in doing so, spoke about Jesus:

 . . . This way of love, it is the way of life. They got it; he died to save us all. He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He wasn’t getting anything out of it. He sacrificed his life for the good of others, for the well-being of the world, for us. That’s what love is.

Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial and, in so doing, become redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives. And it can change this world. (The Most Rev. Michael Curry)

When we are told to “pick up your cross and follow”, we should not have in mind the idea of being weak in the will to live, but strong in the will to love.

So how do we walk with Jesus in love and help others do the same?

First, we define love as a decision and then we decide to love at every opportunity. Faced with a crucial decision, Jesus decided to love:

He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:36 (NRSV)

Many sermons, I’m sure, have been preached on the obedience of Jesus to the Father in this prayer at Gethsemane. But it was not just obedience to the Father. It was love for you. Jesus made the crucial decision to love, and that has changed everything. Love as a series of decisions can change many a relationship, between marriage partners, within family or friends, and of course even between enemies.

Second, we love by growing into a loving character which reflects that of Jesus. When you read the Gospel accounts of Jesus, you don’t get the impression you are reading about an impatient, or unkind man who happened to make some loving decisions. Or an envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude man who insisted on his own way apart from a few decisions to love. Rather, you get the impression that Paul had Jesus in mind when he wrote about love:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NRSV)

In meeting Jesus in the Gospels you get the impression that love was central to his character. It still is! When people meet Jesus in the Gospels, then meet us, is it a huge contrast in character?

The best way to help others walk with Jesus in love, is to be walking with Jesus in love ourselves. But what if you feel far from being a person characterized by love? Then remember the Bible says

. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

It does not say “the result of my hard work is love”, but the “fruit of the Spirit is love.” Indeed, just as love is the “greatest of these”, love is the very first fruit. You can be and do whatever God calls you to be and do, including love and be loving. He calls you to love. He calls us as a church family to help people, to the glory of God, walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. Our very first step is to pray!)


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (30 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

January 18, 2018

Powerful Men React to Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Falling prey to a “research project”, my wife and I sat and listened to a lengthy sales pitch  for an air purifier. The punchline of the presentation was “if you want to live longer you will buy our product”. To that I asked the salesman if he would like to live even longer than what he suggested and began to talk about Jesus. We listened to his sales pitch for about three quarters of an hour. Within minutes of my mention of Jesus, he was out the door.

It is interesting to note how people respond, or more accurate sometimes, react, to Jesus. In our passage for this week, Mark 2:1-3;6-7, we have several different reactions to Jesus.

1 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. .. Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ (NRSV)

In verses 2-4 we see people crowding into a house to see Jesus. Some even dig through a roof in an effort to get their friend into his presence. In verses 6-7 the scribes respond by assuming that Jesus has committed blasphemy when he pronounces  forgiveness upon a paralyzed man. The crowd then responds with amazement and glorify God when the man is healed. There is more excitement in verses 13-15 with a crowd gathering again, Matthew Levi responding favorably to the call to follow, and the tax collectors and sinners wanting to be with Jesus. Then the scribes react again by questioning how Jesus could possibly hang out with sinners in verse 16. They are then upset with Jesus in verses 18 and 24 over his disciples’ lack of religious observances. When Jesus heals on a sabbath day, they conspire with the Herodians in 3:6 to destroy him. To put this reaction to Jesus in perspective, Pharisees wanting an alliance with Herodians would be like Hillary Clinton seeking an alliance with Donald Trump. That is how much the religious leaders want Jesus dead.

There are a few things to notice about all this. First we see two very different reactions to Jesus. One is full of excitement and the embracing of Jesus. The other is full of fear and rejection. We see different results based on the reactions. Those who respond positively to Jesus experience healing and growth. Good things are happening! On the other hand, those who respond negatively end up thinking about murder. We also see two different kinds of people; those who know they have needs, and those who think they are needed.

Do you notice something further about those who reject Jesus and seek his destruction? They are powerful men, men of influence. The very first person to have tried to destroy Jesus was King Herod, another powerful man. Herod, representing political power wants Jesus dead and in trying to destroy Jesus, kills many infants. The Pharisees of Mark 2, representing religious power, are also bent on destruction. Unfortunately, bad things still happen around powerful men.

What lessons are here for powerful men today?

First, when powerful men meet Jesus, they should be prepared to trade in their pride for humility. They should learn a lesson from King David who had learned to say “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). While our minds tend to run to the thought of a shepherd’s protection and care, the thought is also of the shepherd’s authority. King David knew that he was answerable to a higher authority. He was not the true king. God was, and is. Powerful men do well to remember that.

Second, when powerful men meet Jesus, they should be prepared to trade in their fear for trust. Herod feared losing his Kingdom to a baby born in Bethlehem. The Pharisees feared losing their grip on the people through religion. Both would have done well to trust what God was doing in their midst, and in fact to join in.

Third, when powerful men meet Jesus, they should be prepared to trade in their religion for relationship. Not only are the scribes powerful, they are also religious which can be a deadly combination. We have many examples of this with a fundamentalist form of Islam leading the way. When you see darker moments within Christianity look deeper and you will see people exercising religion without a solid and growing relationship with Christ.

Fourth, when powerful men meet Jesus, they should be prepared to trade in their own evil and embrace the goodness of Jesus. Jesus raised the question of good and evil:

1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. Mark 3:1-6 (NRSV emphasis mine)

It is ironic that the religious leaders do not respond by stating the obvious correct answer but instead react by living out the wrong one. They succumb to the evil in their hearts. They storm out on the very person who can help them with that!

In our day powerful men are being called out for bad deeds. We can think of #metoo and the “Time’s Up” movement. People in our day are realizing that even in a secular society, morality matters and sexual freedom is a myth. There must be limits and boundaries, but who, or better, Who gets to set them? Just think of how these powerful men would have treated women differently had they been embracing the goodness of Jesus.

You may not be powerful, or a man, but do you need to make similar trades in your life? Trading pride for humility, fear for trust, religion for relationship, and our evil for His goodness? Not to rush you, but the trade deadline is coming up!


read more from Clarke at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

July 9, 2016

“If You Knew the Gift of God”

John 4 10

Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” – John 4:10 NLT

At BibleGateway.com, the IVP Commentary writes:

…The [Samaritan] woman has asked Jesus a question, and he replies with another of his cryptic sayings: If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water (4:10). She could not have understood in depth what Jesus was saying, as is the case with his other cryptic sayings, but she could have picked up on something in it that would point her in the right direction. The phrase gift of God was a very common expression, “a comprehensive term for everything that God bestows on man for his salvation” (Schnackenburg 1980a:426). So this term should have at least indicated to the woman that Jesus was talking about God’s revelation. The image of water is also used in both Jewish and Samaritan sources as an image of God’s revelation, the Torah, as well as of the Spirit.

On the basis of such general associations she could have understood Jesus to be saying, in effect, “If you knew the Scriptures and the salvation they reveal and if you were aware of my identity as Messiah, then you would ask me as the bearer of revelation and salvation and I would give you revelation and salvation.” The woman does in fact have some knowledge of the gift of God in that she expects the Messiah (4:25). She obviously would not understand the role of the Holy Spirit and the death and resurrection of the Son of God, but she could have understood that Jesus was speaking of the revelation of God. She could also see he was implying not just that his request for water that was strange, but that his own identity was unusual. The purpose of the conversation is to reveal something of this identity.

The woman’s reply shows that she misunderstands Jesus entirely (4:12). She does not make any of the connections that Jesus’ cryptic saying might have triggered. Rather, she thinks he is talking about physical water…

Gary Henry at Wordpoints.com looks at this verse:

“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God’” (Revelation 21:3).

WHATEVER SECONDARY BLESSINGS FLOW FROM GOD, WE OUGHT TO SEEK NONE OF THESE AS DILIGENTLY AS WE SEEK GOD HIMSELF. We must be those who seek God primarily for His sake, because He is our God and we long to give ourselves to Him.

Selfishness and manipulation are nowhere more out of place than in our relationship with God. And selfishness here would be quite self-defeating, as it always is. If we’re concerned only with the other things God can give us, we’ll miss the greatest Gift of all. “God’s chief gift to those who seek him is himself” (E. B. Pusey).

When we speak of “the gift of God,” we should think of God as both the Giver and the Gift. Jesus, for example, said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10). What is the living water which only God can give? Paul would later write that “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). But concerning eternal life, Jesus had gone to the heart of the matter on the night of His betrayal when He prayed: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). God gives us life by giving us Himself. Other blessings may flow from a right relationship with God, but that relationship itself is God’s greatest gift to us. If we have God and His Son, we have the highest thing to which we can aspire. “He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).

Even when we try to appreciate what God should mean to us, we can hardly grasp the glory and grace of a God who would give Himself to such people as we are. But it would take a hard heart indeed not to be moved by Jesus’ simple words: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). This seems much too good to be true. Only God could make it true.

“God, of your goodness, give me yourself for you are sufficient for me. I cannot properly ask anything less, to be worthy of you. If I were to ask less, I should always be in want. In you alone do I have all” (Julian of Norwich).

Finally, this from Jeff Davidson at Rising Above Ministries:

…“He told me all that I ever did,” she exclaimed to her friends.

But there was one thing Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well that changed her life. He had looked right into her eyes and said, “if you knew the gift of God…” (John 4:10)

If you knew the gift of God.

That’s really the question for all of us you know.

If we knew the gift of God we could be set free from guilt and shame. If we knew the gift of God we could be liberated form bitterness, anger and frustration. If we knew the gift of God we would find freedom from anger, envy, disappointment and despair.

If we knew the gift of God, life would never ever be the same. If we knew the gift of God it would truly set us free.

Take a moment and remind yourself of the gift of God. And then let go of what you’re holding that keeps weighing you down.

 

 

August 6, 2015

Is Jesus a Person or Just an Idea?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death – Phil 3:10

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” – John 14:9

Today we’re going to do something we don’t normally do — we have “six month” rule — and spend a second day at the website GCD (Gospel-Centered Discipleship) and this time around the featured writer is Portland, OR pastor and author Brad Watson. To read this at source, click the title below.

The Scandal of Jesus

Despite the talk about the biblical gospel of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, we rarely stop to take in, reflect, or meditate on the life, character, words, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Christianity is nothing without Christ, yet we often rely on second or third hand descriptions of Jesus from books, blogs, preachers, movies, and music. All of these things are helpful and involved people using their gifts to make Jesus clear. However, at some point, to get to know Jesus and understand his message, you have to go to the source and read a Gospel account. Why? Because Jesus is God manifest in human form (Col 1). The fullness of God dwelt in him. He is the Conqueror of Sin, Author of Salvation, Giver of Life, Rescuer from Darkness, and Initiator and Sustainer of All Creation.

Jesus is not an idea but a person. A person who lived, spoke, acted, befriended, rebuked, and made the intentions of God’s love clear. What did he do, what did he say, how did he teach us to be restored humans, and how do you worship and follow him? The answers to those questions are scandalous because he is not a contestant in the competition to be your best friend, but he is claiming and proving himself to be fully God. He is not simply the center of a worldview but God. He is not the example for effective discipleship only, but he is the Savior of the World who descended from heaven into the world.

Making Jesus in Our Own Image

For many years I was content with my favorite stories of Jesus: walking on water and the feeding the thousands. I also had a choice selection of teachings: the beatitudes, the great commission, loving your enemies, and the cost of discipleship. Lastly, I had my favorite parables he told: the prodigal son, the soils, the good Samaritan, and the wedding feast. These weren’t just my favorites; they were my entire playlist.

In the end, I chose to make Jesus into who I wanted him to be. I didn’t take in the whole of his life or his teaching, but the bits and parts that appealed to me most. To me Jesus was the collision of my preferences. He oddly, approved of my political, economic, ministerial, and personal preferences. Jesus had my personality even. Journeying through life proved my Jesus wasn’t enough for me or the world I inhabit. The Jesus I had fashioned was too small.

Making Jesus Our Method

Then, I began to read the Gospels to discover the best way to be a Christian and make other Christians—which is a noble task but not the primary task of reading a Gospel. I wanted the best practices, techniques, and tools for making disciples. I didn’t read them to follow Jesus myself. Stop reading the Gospels to figure out how to “make disciples for Jesus” read it to “be a disciple of Jesus.” That’s when you will make disciple of Jesus.

I realized I was quoting Jesus as a proof for my model of ministry and not worshiping and wondering at God incarnate. The Gospels are theology and story—not pragmatics. It is the most captivating true story about what God is like, what he does, and what he wants for us. The story of Jesus unfolds in our mind as our story. We long to be reminded of our God’s most visible moment. This story changes what we believe, who we are, and the world we live in. The Gospels are not “how-to manuals.” They are theology and story.

You can’t use Jesus to perfect a method. The only effective discipleship models come first from beholding Christ and only then walking humbly in stride with him and the way he loved the Father, submitted to the Spirit, and loved neighbor. The point of the Gospels is not that Jesus chose twelve guys and spent a lot time with them. The point is the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdoms of this world through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus is the point of the Gospels.

I didn’t know Jesus because I hadn’t tried. I tried to find myself in Jesus (as the hero playing his role), instead of finding God in Jesus. I tried to use Jesus for my purposes, not to glorify him in wonder and worship. I had avoided confrontation with Jesus and it had left me the same. I yearned for transformation in the midst of the holy God who was pleased to dwell as a man on earth.

This month GCD is committing the majority of our articles to the endeavor of knowing Jesus through the Gospel of Mathew. We hope you will join us in the wonder, bewilderment, conflict, and challenge of knowing Jesus.

How to Join Us in This Journey

Read the Gospel of Matthew. One of the reasons Jesus’ life ends up feeling like a random collection of anecdotes and one liners is we rarely read through it all together. We may have done so in our early days of faith but have since neglected it. We invite you to spend August reading the Gospel of Matthew. Read a chapter a day. As you read, contemplate the passage. Here are some helpful questions:

  • What is Jesus saying or doing?
  • What does that say about his character?
  • How are people reacting to him? How does that expose your reaction to Jesus? How would your friend who doesn’t believe in Jesus respond to this?
  • How is Jesus proving to be the true humanity? The true Prophet? The true Priest? The true King?
  • What is most challenging about Jesus?

Pray the Gospel of Mathew. Practice Lectio Divina, Read, Reflect, Respond, and Rest.

What We Pray and Anticipate Will Happen

You will encounter the scandal of Jesus not being who you want him to be. You will find that Jesus is not a warm cuddly lovable loser. Instead you will discover he is the Prophet who says: This is the truth. You will find that Jesus is not an all accepting cuddly bear. Instead you will discover that he’s the King who says: This is true humanity. You will find that Jesus is not just a philosopher of good ideas on the ideals of life but someone who says: Love looks like and does this. You will find Jesus as the Priest who says: Access to God is closed, but I will make a way to usher you into unity with God. Lastly, there’s the scandal that Jesus is God. You will find a holy, completely other, Jesus.

May 14, 2012

Seeking Earnestly

Today’s devotional find is Carl Gobelman’s blog, A New Creation, where these thoughts appeared today under the title, Truly Seeking Jesus.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:26-27)

Some of the more potent sayings from Jesus of Nazareth come from the closing words of the famous Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14). This passage depicts all of humanity on either one of two roads: The wide road that leads to destruction or the narrow road that leads to life. In fact, most of the sayings at the end of this sermon serve to differentiate true followers of Christ from false followers of Christ. What makes this difficult is that it’s often the case that one cannot readily discern the true from the false followers easily. False followers refer to Jesus as “Lord” (their doctrine is right) and they do many things in his name (their actions are right), yet Jesus will turn them away by saying “I never knew you” (they didn’t have a saving relationship with Christ).

The truth of the matter is that there are no shortage of people who admire and seek to follow Jesus, but they aren’t truly seeking Jesus. Today’s passage from John’s gospel illustrates this phenomenon. The context of the passage is Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000. After the miraculous feeding, Jesus and his disciples travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. When the crowd that was fed the day before realized that Jesus went to the other side of the sea, they proceeded to follow him. When they find him, the crowd said to Jesus, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus responds with the passage cited above. Note three things about Jesus’ initial response to the crowd:

  1. Jesus correctly diagnoses their true intent
  2. Jesus negatively exhorts them
  3. Jesus positively exhorts them

Jesus begins by correctly diagnosing their true intentions. The crowd wasn’t following Jesus because of the signs and wonders he was performing, but because they were fed to the full by Jesus. In other words, they didn’t want Jesus, but they wanted what Jesus could do. If you’re a follower of Jesus, why are you following him? Are you seeking Jesus or what Jesus can do for you? How many Christians come to Jesus for life improvement? Having problems in your marriage? Come to Jesus and he’ll help you have a successful marriage. Having problems making ends meet financially? Come to Jesus and he’ll help you manage your finances. The problem with all of this is that Jesus becomes a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

Of course, people who are seeking Jesus for all the wrong reasons aren’t completely to blame. For many years now, Christianity has been marketed as relevant for meeting the needs of 21st century people. People don’t want to hear boring doctrine, but want a Christianity that meets their felt needs and helps them navigate the travails of life (at least that’s what we’re told from the slick marketers of contemporary evangelicalism). If Christ is preached as a means to an end rather than the end itself, then all you’re doing is creating shallow (and false) followers of Christ.

Secondly, Jesus negatively exhorts them by telling them not to labor for food that perishes. One of the great roadblocks to truly seeking and following Jesus is our propensity for being bound up in earthly desires (represented by Jesus as “food that perishes”). In the well known Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13), Jesus illustrates one of the false converts as the seed that landed in the week-choked soil. When it sprouted, it was choked by the weeds and died before bearing fruit. Jesus explains to his disciples that this represents the man who receives Jesus joyfully, but the cares of the world choke the life out of the person and he ends up falling away. Following Jesus is not easy. For many it means losing friends and family, for others it means losing wealth and status, and for some it may even mean imprisonment or death. If we’re more concerned with the cares of this world, then we’re not following Jesus.

Of course, it’s not enough to negatively exhort someone without also positively exhorting them. If we’re not to labor for the food that perishes, then what are we to do? Jesus continues, “[Labor] for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Jesus will, of course, go on to say that HE is the bread of life (John 6:35). The food that endures to eternal life is Jesus himself! The Bible continually exhorts us to seek after the eternal, not the temporal; the imperishable, not the perishable; the spiritual, not the physical. As it pertains to our discussion, we need to seek Jesus, not the blessings he bestows. This is not an either/or exhortation, but a both/and. If we seek Jesus, we get the blessings he bestows as well. What does Jesus say in the Sermon on the Mount? “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). However, if all we seek are the blessings Jesus bestows, we get neither Jesus nor the blessings.

Jesus concludes this passage by saying, “For on him God the Father has set his seal.” The seal being referred to here is God’s seal of approval. That Jesus is the Son of God is authenticated by his miraculous signs. The feeding of the 5,000 corroborated that Jesus was indeed the Jewish Messiah. Jesus never performed a miracle that was superfluous. They all pointed to his redeeming work as Messiah — bringing sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and making the lame walk all point to Christ restoring creation to its original design; a reversing of the effects of the fall. Yet the people that followed Christ to the other side of the sea were more interested in the sign that what the sign pointed to. This is a danger that some Christian traditions that over emphasize spiritual gifts run into; they’re more interested in the gifts than the giver of the gifts.

Bottom Line: It’s not enough to seek Jesus. It’s not enough to admire Jesus. It’s not enough to even follow Jesus if we’re not seeking, admiring or following for the right reasons. Jesus is not a life coach who will help you be a better you. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords! His signs and miracles point to that reality, yet we labor so hard in this life to make this life more bearable. Rather we should seek Jesus because he’s gateway to eternal life! He’s the REAL FOOD that leads to eternal life, not the perishable food of this world. Seek Jesus as he really is, not as some life improvement solution, but Son of God upon whom the Father has set his seal of approval.

~Carl Gobelman

January 18, 2012

Confessions of a Recovering Legalist: Ten Things Jesus Never Said

Ever heard of “Christian karma?”  Some people think God works that way; that some things that come into our life journey are ‘payback’ for choices we made, and things we did in the past.

Yesterday we dug up a classic interview clip from 100 Huntley Street, Canada’s daily Christian talk show, produced by Crossroads Christian Communications.  Can you handle a video clip two days in a row?  We decided to see who Moira Brown has been interviewing lately, and we found this one, with author with Will Davis, Jr., author of Pray Big and the new Ten Things Jesus Never Said.

Note: The link takes you (sometimes)  to the 2:30 mark in the video where the discussion of this book begins; you can go back to watch the intro if you wish.  If it doesn’t you can jump to 2:30.  You can also look at ALL the interviews from the television program at this link.

June 8, 2011

He Died for Our Life: John Calvin

One of the joys of putting this together everyday is being able to mix on one site some of the best writing from both Reformed and Arminian perspectives.  This particular item by Calvin appeared on Tullian Tchividjian’s blog, the pastor of Coral Ridge Church in Florida and grandson of Billy Graham.  He called it Gospel Gold from John Calvin.  Pay particular attention to the detail in the paragraph beginning “He died for our life…” which details things outside the usual list accomplished through Christ’s suffering and resurrection.

A while back, a friend of mine sent me this nugget of gospel gold from John Calvin. It comes from a stunning preface to Pierre Robert Olivétan’s French translation of the New Testament (1534). Another friend, Justin Taylor, added line breaks to make it easier to read.

Calvin wrote:

Without the gospel

everything is useless and vain;

without the gospel

we are not Christians;

without the gospel

all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness,
and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made

children of God,
brothers of Jesus Christ,
fellow townsmen with the saints,
citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom

the poor are made rich,
the weak strong,
the fools wise,
the sinner justified,
the desolate comforted,
the doubting sure,
and slaves free.

It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.

It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.

For, he was

sold, to buy us back;
captive, to deliver us;
condemned, to absolve us;

he was

made a curse for our blessing,
[a] sin offering for our righteousness;
marred that we may be made fair;

he died for our life; so that by him

fury is made gentle,
wrath appeased,
darkness turned into light,
fear reassured,
despisal despised,
debt canceled,
labor lightened,
sadness made merry,
misfortune made fortunate,
difficulty easy,
disorder ordered,
division united,
ignominy ennobled,
rebellion subjected,
intimidation intimidated,
ambush uncovered,
assaults assailed,
force forced back,
combat combated,
war warred against,
vengeance avenged,
torment tormented,
damnation damned,
the abyss sunk into the abyss,
hell transfixed,
death dead,
mortality made immortal.

In short,

mercy has swallowed up all misery,
and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.

If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things.

And we are

comforted in tribulation,
joyful in sorrow,
glorying under vituperation,
abounding in poverty,
warmed in our nakedness,
patient amongst evils,
living in death.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.

Do yourself a favor and read this over and over and over. It’s nutritious!

March 2, 2011

Searching for the Deeper Christian Life

Found this at the blog The Narrow Path where it appeared today under the title, Our Life in Christ.

Certainly not all of the mystery of the Godhead can be known by man–but just as certainly, all that men can know of God in this life is revealed in Jesus Christ! When the Apostle Paul said with yearning, “That I may know Him,” he was not speaking of intellectual knowledge. Paul was speaking of the reality of an experience of knowing God personally and consciously, spirit touching spirit and heart touching heart. We know that people spend a lot of time talking about a deeper Christian life–but few seem to want to know and love God for Himself. The precious fact is that God is the deeper life! Jesus Christ Himself is the deeper life. And as I plunge on into the knowledge of the triune God, my heart moves on into the blessedness of His fellowship. This means that there is less of me and more of God–thus my spiritual life deepens and I am strengthened in the knowledge of His will.

–A.W. Tozer

January 22, 2011

Captivated By A Person

Peter Mead is full-time with Operation Mobilization in the UK.  He blogs at Biblical Preaching where this article appeared this week under the title, Shine the Light on the Core Issue

It struck me afresh recently that many in our churches may be missing a very crucial element of Christianity.

They know the answers, they’ve prayed the prayer, they go to church, they live good lives, they may even witness (or they know that they should), they have grown to enjoy Christian gatherings, they see the emptiness of the world’s alternatives, they can explain the gospel, they look the part, they serve the church, they teach the children, they give to the collection, they make sacrificial decisions, they pray and they mean it and on it goes.  So much Christianity wrapped up in one life, but yet, what is missing?

Christ.

Christianity is not religion, nor is it ecclesiology, nor is it church participation, nor moral and ethical living, nor family tradition, nor schedule commitments, nor participation in a social gathering, nor any number of other things people seem to make it.  Christianity is about being in relationship with Christ.

When I first met my future wife and then returned home to England I spoke about her to folks here.  I remember one particular conversation.  I was enthusing about the person who I thought I might actually get to marry.  He was melancholic about the whole concept of relationships.  I shared information about her.  He shared complaints about the whole structure of dating and courting and marriage in his experience.  I talked about her.  He had yet more to say about the “institution” of romance.

I suppose you could observe that we were talking about the same thing.  The difference was that I was captivated by a person, he was not.

I wonder how many in the church today are ticking the boxes and we all assume they are safely in the family of God, but actually they are not.  One of the most overlooked verses in all of Scripture is in I Cor.16 where Paul states that “if any man does not love Christ, he is accursed.”  Perhaps we should be far slower to assume people are already born again based on the indicators of their confession, conduct and church participation.  Perhaps we should be looking for that delight that comes only from someone who knows someone special.  And perhaps in our preaching we should look for ways to shine the light of the Word beyond the peripheral issues, through the created “christian” structures that people hold to be their faith, and show the empty place where Christ should be captivating the heart and changing everything from the inside out.

– Peter Mead

Peter’s current product involves giving leadership to Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training programme lasting five months involving  studying together during the week, then participating in ministry together during the weekends.  For further information about Cor Deo, either to pray for the ministry, or to find out more about participating, the Cor Deo website is www.cordeo.org.uk.

January 16, 2011

Psalm 23 Continues to Comfort

Doug Koop is the editorial director of Christian Week, Canada’s national Christian newspaper.  This appeared at his blog under the title, Why Psalm 23 Comforts Christian Souls

Psalm 23 is often on my mind. This is partly because the well-known shepherd’s psalm is source of great comfort to many. Partly it’s because as a boy I memorized it in old-fashioned King James English. And it stuck. I can still recite the words by heart. They come quickly to mind especially during hard times, especially in the dark watches of the night when sleep is elusive and the cares of life weigh heavily.

To repeat a psalm like this verbatim is not the same as saying that I know it by heart. I like that phrase, “by heart.” It somehow imbues a mere collection of words with great meaning and significance. It implies deeper understanding and more profound belief.

Psalm 23 has a powerful reassuring effect on many people, myself included. And although it is the Scripture of choice for funerals, it’s really about life in this world. It describes a perfect, pastoral setting and speaks to the yearning of every human heart. We all want our every need provided. Everyone wants to be protected. Everyone wants a soul at perfect peace. Everyone wants to live well.

But everyone also knows that the world we inhabit is rarely this hospitable. Many people lack even their daily bread. Hostility harries both innocents and aggressors. Those who live in great comfort and safety are still at risk for distressed spirits. There are very few truly righteous people in this world, which can be a very hard and lonely place.

Perhaps the reason why this psalm is so comforting is precisely because it speaks a strong message of hope in full awareness of the harsh realities of our deeply troubled world. It acknowledges want. It embraces the vexatious presence of enemies. It admits death.

The key to its comfort is that Psalm 23 confronts these situations with the mighty hope of a loving God. Its core message bombards the power of evil with images of bounteous provision, total protection, glorious honor and a soul at peace amidst even the most severe of circumstances.

Sustenance, deliverance and restoration speak to our most basic human needs, addressing the deepest desires of our heart and the yearnings of our very beings. It satisfies them with good things.

The psalm ends on a note of casual confidence—calm assurance—in the benefits of knowing God and living according to His will and ways. I like that word “surely.” The psalmist concludes with shameless certainty that the pathway of those who put their trust in the Good Shepherd leads to eternity in His loving presence, and that their legacy will be heartening to others.

“Surely,” writes the psalmist, those who follow the Lord leave a trail of goodness and mercy in their wake. They are harbingers of comfort and joy. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

~Doug Koop, Winnipeg, Canada