Christianity 201

August 31, 2017

The Story of Us

by Clarke Dixon

Now suppose you were to ask me to tell you about my marriage. I might say something like “well, it is my task to put out the garbage on a Sunday night ready for Monday morning, and Sandra’s tasks are to keep the pantry and fridge stocked, buy the clothes for the boys (yes, that includes me), take the lead on the medical concerns of our children, . . . well, pretty much everything but get the garbage out. Now of course I am exaggerating but I hope that you find it odd that a question about my marriage would end up with a list of duties and expectations. Yet we do this all the time with matters of faith. A question about our faith may well lead us to speak about our duties and expectations as a Christian. Or as I fear, many in trying to pass on the faith to the next generation will focus almost solely on passing on that list of duties and expectations. This can be described as the “it is good for you” kind of faith.

Problem is, the next generation normally has no problem coming up with a set of values and ethics on their own, especially with culture and society so eager to help. If that is all the Christian faith is about, then why bother, especially as Christian duties and expectations will seem quite a bit more bothersome than what might come up with ourselves. I needn’t tell you that many in the next generations (including my own) haven’t bothered.

The Psalmist in Psalm 78 has a heart for the coming generations and is eager to pass on the faith:

My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done. (Psalm 78:1-4 NIV)

We will want to notice right from the start that the Psalmist has a much bigger sense of faith than the duties and expectations. Yes, the Psalmist will go on to speak of God’s law as part of the “praiseworthy deeds” of the Lord, but there is something greater here than being grateful for a mere list of ethics. The Psalmist wants to pass on the knowledge of the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He wants to pass on, not just the rules of a religion, but better the knowledge of the living, interacting, and intervening God.

This of course assumes that the Psalmist knows the praiseworthy deeds, the might, and wonders of the Lord. If we are to be effective in passing the faith on to a new generation (and this is a key desire of mine within my own family!), step one is to be sure we know it and enjoy it well ourselves first!! Do you know the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord? Have you seen his power at work? Are you able to articulate the wonders he has done? Can you point to where these can be found in the Bible? Can you point to where these can be found in your own life story?

Furthermore, in the rest of the Psalm (and it is a long one, rather like some of my sermons!), the Psalmist tells us a story, or better, stories. These focus on God’s people, their rebellion, God’s covering them with grace and forgiveness, God’s drawing them forward with discipline and instruction, and finally God’s preparation for the future. The story ends with Israel’s final rebellion against God, his purposes being carried forward with Judah and King David. In fact the ending has kind of an ‘unfinished’ feel to it as one suspects the story will go on. And we know it does. But the thing for us to notice is this: the Psalmist in having a heart for the next generation, spends much of his time telling the stories of God’s relationship with God’s people, or the story of us. This is more like what you might expect to hear if you asked about my marriage. How we met. How we fell in love with each other. How we fell in love with our children. You don’t expect a list of duties and expectations, but the story of us. Can you articulate the story of God’s love for his creation and humanity?

Can you tell the story of how you fell in love with God? Will you? The story goes on . . .

Read more from Clarke Dixon at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

August 29, 2017

Precept Upon Precept

When I wrote this article for Thinking Out Loud, I was expecting to write about three paragraphs. When I was finished it was much longer, and something that I felt would have been a good of not better fit here…

It began with a  conversation I had last week at the local Christian bookstore concerning Bible features. As the guy was looking at one in particular, he said, “Oh good, it’s got the precepts.”

The first time, it didn’t really register. Then he looked at another and said something like, “Does it have the precepts?”

Huh?

It turned out he was talking about what most of us would call cross references; the notations of other passages either in a center column or at the end of the verse where something related may be found.

The idea of ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ is taken from Isaiah 28:, 9-10 in the KJV. The NASB has:

To whom would He teach knowledge, And to whom would He interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast?  “For He says, ‘Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there.’”

The NLT is really contradictory to this idea on its rendering of this:

He tells us everything over and over–one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there!”

implying that the learning or teaching or knowledge is linear, but not necessarily cumulative. In other words, one line at a time, doesn’t mean that line B is necessarily building on line A, but to say upon is to imply that it is or does.

(In case you’re wondering if there’s any irony to be found, you’re wrong; the verse itself is reiterated in scripture, albeit 3 verses later in verse 13.)

As we discussed this the idea of “Out of the mouth of two [or three] witnesses was brought into the conversation. This is found in the Old Testament twice.

The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6, Holman)

A solitary witness against someone in any crime, wrongdoing, or in any sort of misdeed that might be done is not sufficient. The decision must stand by two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15, CEB)

Those OT passages are cited in the NT by Jesus and by Paul.

But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:16, NIV)

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  (2 Corinthians 13:1, ESV)

In the Corinthian example, you have to go back to the previous chapter to get the context. Paul is speaking about sorting out matters concerning people who have been found in sinful practices.

Capital crime. Wrongdoing. Sin. Denial of Sin. Nowhere do these passages suggest something related to “the establishing of doctrine.” But don’t get me wrong:

I believe the Bible always corroborates itself on matters of important doctrine.

In other words, it’s internally consistent. I’m just not sure that we need to force it [scripture] into a situation where everything has to be said twice or three times in order to establish a doctrinal pattern, or make it conform to an overarching systematic theology. Or, to come at it differently, it may reinforce something but in an entirely different way than our Western way of thinking can process too simply.

I think to do so is to doubt the value of what we read the first time. It’s saying to God, ‘Now, if you’ll just show me one more time where you say this, then I’ll obey.’ I think that undermines the text somehow. That doesn’t mean to imply that at a crossroads of life we don’t ask God for confirmation of what we are to do. There is the example of Gideon, who put out a second fleece.

So what are precepts? Yourdictionary.com says

precept pre·cept. … The definition of a precept is a guiding principle or rule that is used to control, influence or regulate conduct. An example of a precept is a commandment found in the Ten Commandments.

At that we would need to get into the differences between a rule and a principle. Principles are timeless, never location-specific, widely applicable. Rules apply to one group of people in one particular situation at one unique point in time. The rest of that we need to save for another day.

A cross-reference is simply:

•noun: cross reference; plural noun: cross references
–a reference to another text or part of a text, typically given in order to elaborate on a point.

Anyone who has been reading the Bible for any length of time knows that sometimes the Bible editors have chosen to take us to a reference to a rather obscure part of the verse, not something which indicates its overall meaning. There are times when I have been completely mystified as to the inclusion of a particular reference. Many of you know the danger of over-spiritualizing things, and I don’t want to be guilty of under-spiritualizing something, but… They’re. Just. Cross-references.

Here’s my concluding statements on this:

We read scripture not so much because we’re trying to learn precepts as we are recognizing the importance of understanding the ways of God.

and

If God is saying something to us with unmistakable clarity through a scripture passage, we don’t need to start hunting around looking for a second verse.

August 11, 2013

Arriving at the Truth

As curator of this devotional blog, my personal Bible study time is often spent interacting with the various sources that end up here each day. But my morning kicks off with a visit to Daily Encouragement, the website of workplace chaplains Stephen & Brooksyne Weber. Here’s one they posted on Friday; you’re encouraged to read it at its original home: Always Learning.

ListenListen to this message on your audio player

“Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).

We surely live in the most “educated” period in human history. The other night I heard a young man being interviewed who, like so many, was having a hard time getting a job following his graduation from college. He referred to his generation as being the most “academically qualified” in comparison to all previous generations. Now it is my observation that a greater percentage have additional education and even many advanced degrees but certainly this does not necessarily lead to a knowledge of the truth. In fact for many it has shattered their faith in the truth of the Bible.

Always learning can be a commendable trait whether young or old but of infinitely greater importance is coming to the knowledge of the truth!

Today’s Bible text is from Paul’s second letter to Timothy. He is writing of conditions in the last days in which he describes as perilous.

Among the conditions of people’s hearts is deception. Among the characteristics of both deceivers and the deceived is that they are “always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Another version states, “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.”  Could it be that the philosophy of their day was much like ours now – make truth relative so that it conforms to our preferred outlook and resulting lifestyle, rather than accepting truth as originated from Holy Scriptures and conforming to its absolutes.

Information abounds as well as the means to acquire it. Just consider what the internet has done regarding the accessibility of information. The Amplified Bible translates this verse, “They are forever inquiring and getting information, but are never able to arrive at a recognition and knowledge of the Truth.”  I believe the emphasis and capitalization of “Truth” is significant. Paul is not merely speaking in a general sense as to what is true and what is not, but rather the supreme truth of God’s revelation in Christ.  So many, many are indeed always learning and attaining knowledge without coming to the knowledge of this truth.

In the first two chapters of Romans we have three responses to the truth: suppression, exchange, and disobedience (1:18,25;2:8).  My, these are surely responses that abound in our day.

May it be said of us in regard to our response to the truth that we are learning and fully acknowledging the Truth.  If we are doing so we will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! (see 2 Peter 3:18)

Daily prayer: Father, You grant us access to Your presence through Your Son, Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. As we come into personal relationship with Him we begin to know the Truth that sets us free from the deceit and lies of Satan. Help us to faithfully engraft Your Word into our hearts so that we will filter all that we see, hear and read to find what You, the Source and very Essence of truth have to say to our hearts. Help us to conform to Your will in all matters.  Amen.


Technical matters: Online readers and subscribers are invited to comment on the change we’ve made in the last couple of days from setting these readings in bold type to posting them in regular type. Is the copy more readable? Less so?

Leave a comment or contact at searchlight [at] nexicom [dot] net.


I’ve really enjoyed being on Twitter since late March. It’s not about anything I have to say but about some great people I get to follow. Here are few recent things and who said them:

Chris Seay@PastorChrisSeay

I believe that God can redeem all things, and that what is broken, God fixes. He uses his people and church, to restore all things broken.

John S. Dickerson@JohnSDickerson

“Jesus takes broken folks..to show the world that he is amazing. He doesn’t need celebrities to do that.”

Louie Giglio@louiegiglio 

He who walks with God has arrived.

Jonathan Thompson@pastorJon_T

“People often get upset when you teach them what is in the Bible rather than what they presume is in the Bible.” ~ NT Wright”

Ravi Zacharias@RaviZacharias

“The God of faith is mercifully shown as one who draws near…” – Jill Carattini

Kyle Idleman@KyleIdleman 

Psalm 119:11 – … I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Randy Alcorn@randyalcorn

“For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Isaiah 33:22).

Pastor Jim Cymbala@jimcymbala

Breakthrough prayer isn’t born out of an “I should pray today” attitude but, instead, out of an “I must have God’s help” frame of mind.

Lee Grady@LeeGrady

“You are to love one another not because of the gain you get from one another but because of the good you can do to one another.” –Spurgeon

 

March 22, 2012

Focusing Our God Picture

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. … Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. …

Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ”What comes into your mind when you think about God?” we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the Church will stand tomorrow. …

A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God….

It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.

All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him….

The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is – in itself a monstrous sin – and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness. Always this God will conform to the image of the one who created it and will be base or pure, cruel or kind, according to the moral state of the mind from which it emerges….

The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place. ‘When they knew God,’wrote Paul, ‘they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.’

Then followed the worship of idols fashioned after the likeness of men and birds and beasts and creeping things. But this series of degrading acts began in the mind. Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.

Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.

Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, ‘What is God like?’ and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.

The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him – and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.

The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer, Chapter 1

Source: Crossroad

January 6, 2012

Christianity 201: A Review

This is the first of two posts today; it’s always helpful to review the basics.

Christianity 101:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. II Peter 3:18 NIV.

Two growth areas:

  • Grow in grace
  • Grow in knowledge

Christianity 201

9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Col 1 9-12 NIV

Nine growth areas:

  • Grow in knowledge of God’s will
  • Grow in spiritual wisdom and understanding
  • Live a worthy life
  • Please God in every way
  • Bear fruit
  • Grow in knowledge of God
  • Be strengthened with power
  • Reflect great endurance and patience and joy
  • Be thankful

August 7, 2011

With Knowledge Comes Responsibility

Anne Graham Lotz posts a devotional daily at her Angel Ministries website.  This one appeared under the original title Instinctive Recognition.

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.

Psalm 19:1, NKJV

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul held the entire human race accountable for basic knowledge of God, which he declared “is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20, NIV). Even tribal people isolated in jungle huts or desert tents have the fundamental testimony of creation. Through the faithfulness of the sun to rise and set, through the orderly pattern of the stars in the sky, through the miracle of reproduction and birth, and through a myriad of other silent witnesses, the human race has been confronted with the truth. And unless we deliberately repress what we instinctively recognize in the silent witness, we would acknowledge and come to the truth.

The real reason many people reject Jesus, at least in the Western Hemisphere, is repression and rejection of what they instinctively know to be the truth – that there is one, true, living God who created us all and has revealed Himself through the Person of Jesus Christ.

~Anne Graham Lotz

July 19, 2010

Christianity 201

Christianity 101:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. II Peter 3:18 NIV.

Two growth areas:

  • Grow in grace
  • Grow in knowledge

Christianity 201

9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Col 1 9-12 NIV

Nine growth areas:

  • Grow in knowledge of God’s will
  • Grow in spiritual wisdom and understanding
  • Live a worthy life
  • Please God in every way
  • Bear fruit
  • Grow in knowledge of God
  • Be strengthened with power
  • Reflect great endurance and patience and joy
  • Be thankful