Christianity 201

August 27, 2017

Sunday Worship

Romans 12: 1

So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. (CEB)

 Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational (logical, intelligent) act of worship. (AMP)

 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  (NLT)

James 1:27

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (NASB)

 Pure and unblemished religion [as it is expressed in outward acts] in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit and look after the fatherless and the widows in their distress, and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the [secular] world.  (AMP)

Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil.  (CEV)

In the church service we attended this morning, the message was based on the parable we call The Good Samaritan recorded in Luke 10: 25-37.  Like many of you I can probably say, quite literally, that I’ve heard this passage spoken on “a hundred times” but there are always new insights awaiting.

The first of these has to do with the priest who is the first person in the parable to come upon the man who has been robbed. We often hear that his reason for non-involvement had to do with the fact that a priest would be ceremonially unclean if he touched a dead body. But the man was not dead, though he could be considered half-dead. The Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes that half dead might be considered as good as dead in some interpretation of their laws. But again, the man was not dead.

The unique insight this morning though had to do with the direction the priest was traveling, which the text seems to imply was the same direction as the man robbed:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  (v.31)

If this is true, that he was moving away from and not towards Jerusalem; then he had completed his priestly duties for the day. It would not have mattered if he were unclean or not at this point in the day.

The speaker then said something I found very profound:

“Going by the letter of the law will never help heal a broken person.”

…The two lead verses I chose for today — each from 3 different translations — may seem a bit unrelated. The first is an overarching verse which I hope forms a theme for this series of articles, especially since we want to avoid a mentality where when we say the word worship, people hear “worship = music.” Worship involves the giving of our whole lives.

The second set of verses deal with “religion,” one of the few times we actually encounter this word in all of scripture. (The NIV has 5 such New Testament references.)  While the man in the story of The Good Samaritan is not in the “widows and orphans” category, he is certainly not, at least in that moment, in an equal amount of need. Our “reasonable service” is to help him.

But it also says to keep oneself unstained by the world. There’s the opt-out the priest would be looking for (had he had this text from James, which, if we ignore that this is a parable, he would not have at this point in time.) His desire to be ceremonially clean would have kept him from being stained by the man’s impurities.

At this point I’m tempted to digress into the idea that many of us today want to be ceremonially clean, but we do so to the neglect of what God wants us to do. Like the people Jesus mentioned who were keeping the Corban laws, we can easily be seen as being religious, but it’s to the detriment of those around us with real needs. (In that case, they were neglecting the care of their own parents.)

To this, I can only repeat what the speaker said this morning:

“Going by the letter of the law will never help heal a broken person.”

April 20, 2017

How Easter Cures Our Religion Addiction

by Clarke Dixon

We can become addicted to religion. Behind this there can be a sense of “if I do the right things, and say the wright words, God will have to love me and be good to me.” Religion has “me” as its focus. What I do. What I say. What I think I deserve. When we are addicted to religion we put ourselves, rather than God, at the centre.

The Christians in Colossae were being pressured into becoming more religious. Some scholars think that the pressure was coming from Jews who thought you needed to practice the Jewish religion to be a Christian. Other scholars think that it was an early form of the religious philosophy “gnosticism” that was the source of the pressure. Either way, in his letter to the Colossians the apostle Paul wants to set the record straight. In chapter two Paul lays out clearly our part in being Christian, but also what we cannot accomplish. Let’s take a look.

First out part:

Colossians 2:6-19 (NRSV) As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Notice, first off, that Paul’s encouragement is not “since you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, now get very religious, doing the right religious looking observances, saying the right religious sounding words.” That would actually be too easy, for you can do that kind of thing on your spare time. What is called for is something far more profound; “live your lives in him.” The requirement is not in doing religion, but living life. It is an every moment thing. The focus is not the religion, but the Person of Jesus. It is a relationship thing.

Sceptics like to say that religion is a man made thing. Paul would agree:

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.

Paul is not speaking against philosophy as an academic endeavour here. Philosophy, like all the arts and sciences are worthy pursuits. Paul is warning against, more literally “the philosophy”, that is, a particular way of thinking being foisted on the Christians at Colossae. He is arguing against becoming too religious “according to human tradition.” Rather than pursuing man-made religion, we are to pursue Christ himself.

We could sum up Paul’s line of thought here with “live your lives in him rather than practice religion.” That is our part. Next Paul points us to God’s part. Religion highlights the things we do. In the following passage I have highlighted [in darker type] the things God has done.

9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

The focus is on God’s activity. As Paul warns the Christians at Colossae against false religion, he puts the focus on what God has done in Christ. While religion points us to our activity, relationship with God as revealed in the Bible has always been first about what God has done. He created. He Made a covenant with Noah. He called Abraham with his promise of blessing that would touch the world. He rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. He gave His chosen people the law at Sinai. He gave them the promised land. He called the prophets and gave them the words to speak. He came to us incarnate in Jesus. He, God the Father, raised Jesus, God the Son, from the dead. While religion has what we can do as its focus, Christianity has as its focus, something we could never do, that is, raise the dead.

Because Jesus is risen, we do not practice Christianity as a religion, we relate to Jesus as a living Person. We serve Him, we worship Him, we adore Him, we learn from Him. This may give the appearance of being religious as prayer, the Bible, and church become expressions of that. These religious looking things are not the practice of religion, but rather part of how we live our lives in Christ. Living our lives in Christ goes way deeper than doing “religious duties,” it goes to walking with the Spirit and being transformed from the inside out: “. . .the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Compared to character transformation, being merely religious would be far too easy!

Paul continues his argument against being religious:

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Religion fills us with pride as we point to what we have done. The events of Easter fill us with humility as they point to what we have done. We committed a reprehensible crime when we crucified Jesus. We fell short of the glory of God. The events of Easter also point to what God has done. He has reconciled us to Himself. Our part is to live in Christ, “holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.” Are you addicted to religion? God has done for you through the events at Easter what religion never could. Why dedicate yourself to religion, when you can dedicate yourself to the One Who loves you?

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Read more at Clarke’s blog Sundays Shrunk Sermon

August 9, 2014

What People Might Say

ESV John 5:2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic[a] called Bethesda,[b] which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.[c] One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews[d] said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

Today’s blog post is a reminder that sometimes we might hesitate to do something truly good because we’re concerned about what people might say, or that they might think we’re doing it in the wrong way.  The writer, who goes simply by Dan, blogs at Apprentice 2 Jesus. To read this at source, click on the title below.

You bunch of Sabbath breakers!

John 5 gives us the story of the lame man healed at the Pool of Bethesda. The real problem the Jewish leadership had was… horrors! … Jesus healed on the SABBATH. 

They were so concerned about Sabbath breaking they missed the larger point of actually helping someone. 

Each of us, regardless of our theological leanings, have this temptation in us. We cut to the rules and find the rules we like to harp on and then we camp right there waiting for someone to trip over the rules, or our narrow theological definitions, or (place your issue here) and then we pounce.

For some theological circles, it’s upsetting if I hang out with homosexuals and call them my friends. For some theological/political circles, it is anathema that I mention Israel possibly doing something wrong in the current situation in Gaza.

For some, it’s upsetting to buy a sandwich at Chik-Fil-A, or buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or shop at Target…

In each case I could hear shouted out at me, “YOU SABBATH BREAKER!”

I have yelled it at times myself. It’s fun. It gets a lot of energy out. I feel a bit more superior… and RIGHT.

Which brings me to the point… and I do have one.

We are far more concerned (and I speak to “right,” “left,” or whatever stripe of theology you may bear) with being RIGHT than being RIGHTEOUS. We become consumed with winning the argument rather than being the apprentice to Jesus like we are called. We hesitate to help a Muslim or a homosexual or a Republican (I won’t let anyone off the hook. I’m an equal opportunity offender) because we fear someone wagging a religious finger at us and yelling, “SABBATH BREAKER!”

God help us to DO righteousness. To DO justice and to LOVE mercy! THEN we will know God!

May 18, 2013

The Root of Sanctification is Internal, Not External Change

Today, something from an awesome blog find that I think we’ll be visiting again!  Dave Dunham is a Baptist pastor in Michigan who writes at Pastor Dave Online. This article is the first of three parts (so far) which are equally beneficial; the links to part two and three are at the bottom.  This was originally titled: The Power of the Gospel for Real Change: Reflections on the Process of Sanctification from Colossians 2:20-3:5 (Part 1)

How do people change? There are a myriad of ideas about what change looks like, and lots of proposed solutions are offered to what ails us. But as a Christian any solution I offer to others, or any that I claim for myself, must be rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the real center of all true, lasting change for humanity. But what does this mean: gospel-centered change? Paul gives us a picture of this kind of change in Colossians 2:20-3:5. By studying this passage we can learn how the gospel applied to our struggles can affect real change.

In the letter to the Colossians Paul is writing to a church beleaguered by false teachers who are promoting a sort of mystical Jewish/Christian amalgamation over and against the gospel.  So Paul urges them to remember the preeminence of Christ, resist the empty philosophies of others, and pursue the example of Jesus. The specific passage we are looking at discusses how to “put on the new self.” It states:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” referring to things that all perish as they are used—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

To understand how this passage instructs us on true, gospel-centered, change let’s break it down.

Paul begins by warning us that self-discipline, in and of itself, is not enough. The Colossians had lists of things not to avoid, regulations and rules that were designed to keep the world at a distance. “Don’t handle,” “don’t taste,” “don’t touch.” They would say. The developed their own form of legalism to make themselves pure. But legalism can never achieve real growth in godliness. Following a list of rules, apart from the gospel of grace, leads naturally either to arrogance or depression.

If you succeed in keeping all the rules you become an arrogant jerk. You’re proud of your accomplishments and you pat yourself on the back. You compare others to your own standard of “godliness” and condemn those who don’t match your level. After all, you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, why wouldn’t you expect everyone else to do the same. But, of course, we can never attain true purity this way.

As the reality of our imperfection manifests itself to us we become depressed. Legalism tends to produce depressed and ashamed Christians who are constantly frustrated and downcast because, after all, no one is perfect and they can’t keep the rules. So we are constantly aware of the slightest failing and sure that God must hate us for it. Rule keeping, and self-restraint alone, are not the pathway to our transformation.

That is not to say that self-discipline is not important. It is very important. And Jesus gives us rules to follow. But self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), not merely something we conjure up of our own will. Self-discipline apart from the gospel and apart from the Spirit of God leads to legalism, not to change.  I like how J. Alasdair Groves summarizes Paul’s point:

Paul’s point is simple: you are not going to overcome your sin by beating yourself into shape and keeping the outside world at arm’s length. Trying harder and being your own drill sergeant has “no value in restraining sensual indulgences.” You’ll feel better for a while if you establish a list of rules, an exercise regimen, and a plan to do more school work so you won’t have much time to be tempted. But it will never be enough. Rules (in and of themselves) simply cannot stop the flesh, and the world (and the devil). Looking to rules or your own effort to change is insufficient and opposed to how God works to redeem us. (“Exposing the Lies of Pornography and Counseling the Men Who Believe Them” in The Journal of Biblical Counseling, 27.1. p. 20)

Paul says that such things have an “appearance of wisdom,” that’s why so many legalists still exist. But ultimately this approach to transformation is “of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” We want real change not merely an exchange of “indulgences.” Legalism tends to help us abandon one sin only to pick up another (like arrogance and pride, or judging others to name two examples). Real change must go deeper than our external behaviors. Real change must get at the heart, and that’s where the gospel takes us.

If you want real change you have to address more than our behaviors. That is why “solutions” that only ever address external behavior don’t affect lasting or real change.  The gospel doesn’t ignore our external behavior, but it treats us as whole people (spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, relational, etc.). Next week we’ll unpack some more of what Paul says about real change to the Colossians, but spend some time this week reflecting on the failure of rule keeping, and ask God to help you address more than just your actions. Pray and ask him to expose your heart, in order that you might find real transformation.

Continue reading other parts of this series:

January 2, 2013

Preaching on Sin

We’ve frequently borrowed from the blog Daily Encouragement, but today’s post from Stephen Weber is a classic article he wrote for a blog experiment, Clear Minded.  You can find it and one other article here.

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine”(2 Timothy 4:2). 

“For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Stephen C. Weber Preaching on sin; how the pendulum has swung even in my lifetime on this issue. Many my age and older will recall when sin was regularly addressed from the pulpit boldly and forthrightly. However now there’s (in my observation) far less preaching on sin and a great reluctance among many preachers to address sin specifically.  I have given some thought as to why this is so:

1. Preaching on sin is seen as “legalistic.” Let me address several understandings of legalism as I have heard the word used:

  • Legalism is a system where it is preached or assumed that following a certain set of rules is the source of salvation. That is; what we do or don’t do in following these rules determines our eternal destiny. The faithful preacher must forcefully renounce this form of legalism.  The Biblical teaching is that we are saved by grace through our faith in Christ and His finished work.
  • Legalism to many means a varying list of man-made rules regarding all manner of issues such as dress, entertainment, technology, etc. These issues vary by geography, denominational background and age.  Brooksyne speaks of growing up with “clothesline” preaching where the preacher specifically addressed specific dress standards (usually focusing on the women).  She really didn’t understand grace till Bible College. The faithful Biblical pastor will see that any addressing of and denunciation of sin has a solid Biblical foundation and is not merely a cultural or personal preference.

However the man of God must be committed to preaching the whole counsel of God including addressing sin and its terrible consequences. Proclaiming the moral standards of Scripture is not legalism!

2. Preaching on sin may turn off newcomers or “seekers.” That’s true, particularly in this age of relativism in which we live. However the proclamation of God’s truth should not be motivated by this as long as the message also contains the gospel of redemption.

3. We need to focus on the positive and God’s love and grace. Absolutely, but again proclaiming the whole counsel of God will certainly include addressing sin.

4. This behavior is so popular and it’s now legal or “constitutional”. This is a major detriment to sound Biblical preaching. Many behaviors that were once recognized as sinful have become popular and  legalized according to the laws of man.  The law of God is far greater and our mission is to proclaim His law as truth rather than man’s.

5. We are not to judge others and we are to be tolerant of all. These are two of the dominant attitudes of our day. The apostle Paul, in practicing church discipline, passed judgment on the immoral brother and certainly did not tolerate his behavior in 1 Corinthians 5.

6. Addressing these behaviors is hateful and mean-spirited. This is silencing many preachers of righteousness. We are flooded with new meanings for hateful and mean-spirited, particularly if its addressing sins that are politically correct and have growing acceptance in society at large.

7. It will make those who may be involved in the sinful behavior feel bad about themselves. Better to feel bad and hear and hopefully heed a warning than live in ignorance.

8. Pastors may feel they shouldn’t address a subject matter unless they have it 100% conquered. Certainly we should expect our pastors to live a righteous life and not be a hypocrite. As the Spirit deals with them they should repent of their sin, seek to please God, and be an example to their spiritual flock.  However they should proclaim God’s Word even though they may not have fully attained.

A corollary attitude from the pew may be a feeling that the pastor shouldn’t preach on any subject matter unless he himself has no problems with it or any other issue.  You would have to wait for a perfect pastor (none exist) or more likely one who is proud and self-deceived!

9. People just don’t want to hear this kind of preaching anymore. Indeed some don’t. But our call to preach the Word and proclaim the full counsel of God is not based on popularity polls.  But let me speak here as one earnest Christian in the pew (as I normally am now since I am not in pastoral ministry at this time and thus regularly preaching from the pulpit. I feel I speak for many but of course not all.)

  • A strong denunciation of sin may not be the most “enjoyable” message but I am challenged and edified when I hear God’s truth proclaimed and sin denounced.
  • The issue addressed may apply directly to me.  Ouch! That can bring conviction, a healthy work of the Holy Spirit.   May the Holy Spirit keep my heart soft so that I may feel His conviction and deal with the troubling matter in my life rather than blame the pastor for preaching the Word. My discerning response should not be “this sure annoys me” but rather “is this true according to the Scriptures and what action should I take.”  If it is I need to deal with it and thank God for a preacher who cares enough and is bold enough to bring it to my attention.

10. The pastor may not have it completely right when seeking to apply a Biblical principle to a modern issue. That may be so but if you value your pastor you should also value his counsel, input, and thoughtful study on current matters. Listen as a Berean checking the Scriptures yourself.

11. Even issues very specifically addressed in the Bible may tend to be skirted around or in some cases reinterpreted from what has been their normal understanding. I am also wary of what some new translations and paraphrases are doing with words and traditional understanding of sinful actions.

May God help me and my many pastor friends to truly preach the whole counsel of God!

 

Please note: Certainly I am aware that many pastors continue to boldly address sin and my pastor has tackled many of these topics.

~Stephen C. Weber

You’re invited to visit Stephen’s regular blog, Daily Encouragement.  Click the image below:

Daily Encouragement dot Net banner

 

 

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.

April 19, 2011

Christocentricity

By their blogs ye shall know them.

If you read someone’s blog over a period of time you should start to see an emerging pattern of the values they hold to be important.  But a quick check of this one today revealed that, after a year, I have never used a word here which actually ranks high in my list of spiritual priorities.

The word is: Christocentric.

It’s a preacher word, to be sure, and I’m not a preacher; but I believe strongly in Christ-centered preaching, Christ-centered worship songs, and Christ-centered fellowship.

Today I got to test my commitment to that ideal.

It was a simple discussions with a man who is a member of a Christian denomination that many of my friends would say doesn’t represent “the real thing.”  We talked about various things, and many spiritual practices and doctrines were mentioned that could have easily hijacked the discussion, or prove to be red herrings that would have simply consumed much time and yielded nothing productive.

So I kept coming back to the things Jesus said and the things Jesus taught.  That’s actually not easy for me because I’m a sucker for all those other debate subjects.  I love a good argument.  There.  I said it.

But it wasn’t the time or place.  It was a time to focus on Jesus, and draw the conversation back to Jesus every time it threatened to go off in a different direction.  I even explained my strategy out loud a few times; something to this effect:  No one will be won to Christ by clever argument or reasoned persuasion or skillful rhetoric; but rather, they will be compelled to follow only when they have looked directly into the face of Jesus and been won by His love.

It was the best conversation of this type I’ve had; and I think the feeling was mutual, especially inasmuch as we ran 90 minutes.  He was in 70’s and I probably should have offered him a chair, but he was as caught up in the discussion as I was.

Of course, as happens in such cases, the rest of the day was pure insanity!!

…So again, today’s word is “Christocentric” meaning Christ-focused.  Take this word and make it yours.