Christianity 201

November 9, 2017

When We Disagree (When Disagreements Arise, Part 3)

by Clarke Dixon

It is ridiculously easy to create disagreement in churches. Simply suggest painting the sanctuary, and presto, a disagreement arises over the colour. But you don’t even need to do that. Most churches harbour theological disagreements Sunday by Sunday, ours included. You won’t get very far into the Bible before disagreements arise. Some people from our church think that the earth and the universe is young, only several thousand years old. Others in our church family think our earth and universe is old, very, very old. Each can point to experts in the fields of science and theology to back up their claims. Both have different takes on how one should approach Genesis chapter one.

Certain passages of Scripture are tricky when it comes to knowing how to read them,  Genesis chapter 1 included. Is it a purely historical writing, or a poetic way of teaching theology without getting into the scientific details? On matters like these, and there are plenty of matters like these, most churches, even where there are strong opinions in the pulpits, have disagreement in the pews. What are we to do with such disagreements?

As “Convention Baptists” we could turn to the publication “This We Believe“, which we have agreed upon as our standard summary of belief. However, we will not find much within it regarding the age of the earth, or clarity on some other disputable matters we might want cleared up. Perhaps we could come up with our own supplementary summary calling it “This We Also Believe”? We could argue out all the details, declaring the winners on each point of theology until we had unity on each and every point of doctrine. We could then declare ourselves to be absolutely pure on doctrine. All five of us left once the smoke has settled.

Is there a better way? Scripture itself points us to a better way in Romans 15:1-7. Let us take a look at how Paul handled disagreement among the Christians at Rome. With some declaring freedom when it comes to Jewish sensibilities, and some finding such indulgence to be ungodly, let us see how Paul handled the disagreement:

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. . . . Welcome one another . . . Romans 15:1,7

First, let us notice what Paul does not do here. He neither declares a winner nor suggests holding a congregational meeting to determine a winner. A church council has already occurred to determine that Gentiles need not become Jews to become Christians. But here in Rome, the Gentile Christians are not to declare victory. Instead they are to put up with the fact and the results of the fact that some continue to see things differently. In fact, people on both sides of the issue are to “Welcome one another” (Romans 15:7).

Part of laying aside the desire to be declared the winner is putting aside the need to be pleased, which brings us to our next point:

2 Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 3 For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” Romans 15:2-7

When we are in a disagreement, we are so quick to build a winner’s podium for ourselves. We will be pleased when we can stand on it having being declared correct. The way forward, however, is the building up of the people we are in disagreement with. This is the Christian way, for it is Christ’s way. Jesus was beat up. We are built up. Death on the cross hardly seemed like the self-pleasing option in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet Jesus bore the cross for us anyway. To live in harmony with one another we may need to pick up a cross along the way.

Next, there is the encouragement to look back.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

Paul is referring to what we now call the Old Testament when he speaks of “whatever was written in former days”. What are we to find as we look back? What, from the past, brings hope? What brings hope is how God handles those who should be declared the losers. Promises are made in the Old Testament, for both Jews and Gentiles, that are fulfilled in the New. In Romans chapters 1 through 3, Paul teaches how both the Gentiles and Jews alike “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). They are in a place of being declared lost. Yet in Christ there is a wonderful opportunity;

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:56-57

Because of sin and rebellion, those without the law (Gentiles) do not deserve God’s welcome into His presence. Likewise, those with the law (Jews) do not deserve God’s welcome into His presence. Yet now, “Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7).

Instead of treating ourselves like winners, let us focus on treating those we think are the losers in the same way God treats those who are lost; with a sincere welcome.

Finally, instead of declaring victory, glorify God;

5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:5-7

We are to glorify God with one voice. As believers in Jesus Christ we are singing the same song. However, we may find ourselves sometimes singing a different note than the person next to us. God is not glorified if we stop in the middle of a hymn so that we can bicker about the notes. God is not glorified when our greatest priority is getting everyone to sing our particular note. God is glorified when we sing in harmony. If we can’t sing the same notes, let us at least sing in harmony!

Did you notice that verses 5 and 6 are a prayer? It is as if Paul knows that the Christians in Rome will find this all very difficult. So rather than simply tell them what to do, he asks the Lord’s help. Handling disagreements can be difficult. The Lord will help us sing in harmony to His glory!

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Catch up on any of this series you’ve missed here or at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

October 26, 2017

Love’s No Tripping Policy (When Disagreements Arise, Part 2)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

You may have been surprised to find out last week that I, a Baptist Pastor, do not have a guilty conscience if I mow the lawn on a Sunday. “But it is the Sabbath, the day of rest” you might say. However, a) the Sabbath is a Saturday, and b) the Sabbath is part of the ceremonial law given to the Jews, and I’m not Jewish. Being a pastor, I already work most Sundays. Being a Personal Support Worker, my wife is required to work every other Sunday. Sunday being the Lord’s Day, we do make every effort to gather with other believers for worship, however Sunday is hardly ever a day of rest. I do keep the spirit of the law by taking a day completely off for rest every week, but Sunday isn’t it.

Now suppose you are not convinced and still feel quite strongly that Sunday is to be for every Christian, including me, a Sabbath Day, a day of rest. And suppose, for argument’s sake, that even worse than mowing the lawn on Sunday, I have now invited you to join me for a Toronto Maple Leafs game on a Sunday evening. Driving into Toronto on the 401 is anything but restful, so you think and feel that it would be wrong for either of us to go. I can see no sin in going, it will be a wonderful time especially if the Leafs win. So I insist. A disagreement has arisen. What are we to do?

Romans 14:13-23 will be of great help to us. It begins with a summary of what we learned from verses 1-12 last week: “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another . . .” (v.13). That statement is for both of us. What follows, however, is for me. From it, there are three questions I should ask myself.

First, am I putting a stumbling block in front of a brother or sister in Christ?

. . . but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. Romans 14:13

Could it be, that in trying to entice you to attend the game with me, I might be a cause of your falling? The word behind “hindrance” originally has the idea of a trap. By my invitation, you may feel trapped, not wanting to go against your conscience, but not wanting to offend me either.

The Jewish Christians in Rome were feeling pressured. Bible scholars point out that with the Jews only recently being allowed to return to Rome, having been expelled a few years prior, the Jewish Christians would have felt like a minority in a predominantly Gentile-Christian church. Where in some towns the Gentile Christians felt pressure from the Jewish Christians to keep the law, here in Rome the Jewish Christians felt pressure to give up their Jewish identity. After all, “nothing is unclean” and so there is no need to worry about food being kosher or other similar matters pertaining to the Old Covenant between God and the Jews. You can imagine the pressure at Christian gatherings for the Jewish Christians to cave and eat anything and everything.

Paul shows his agreement with the “nothing is unclean” statement in verse 14, but there is a ‘but’:

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. Romans 14:14 (emphasis mine)

This verse may sound confusing, even contradictory, but it is actually common sense. Consider again my insistence that you join me for a game on Sunday. If you are convinced that my viewpoint is correct, that is fine and off we go. However, suppose you do not find my argument convincing. To you Sunday is the Sabbath and after all, Sabbath keeping is one of the ten commandments. So you are not convinced. If, however, you still end up going to the game, then what you end up in effect saying is: “it would be better for me to keep Clarke happy than God. I would rather sin against the Lord than offend Clarke.” So even if attending a hockey game on a Sunday is not a sin in itself, if you think it is, and yet you do it, you are demonstrating that you really don’t care if you do sin against God.

The emphasis here is on my actions. I ought not put you into that sticky situation in the first place! Instead I should show some understanding and be respectful of your disagreement with me. Are there situations where you may need to show some understanding?

Second, is love showing up, or am I showing off?

If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. Romans 14:15 (emphasis mine)

Walking in love is to be the priority of the Christian. However, sometimes our priority may actually be the winning of an argument. If I am walking in love, I will be sensitive to what is best for you. Having a conversation about viewpoints is always a good thing, but leading you to go against your conscience is not what is best for you! Remembering the extent of God’s love for you, that Christ in fact died for you, I should at least be willing to let an argument go and leave off my insistence. I wonder how many conflicts within churches have smouldered on, if not escalated, not because there has been a disagreement, but because someone just had to be proven right. Are you walking in love, or are you determined to be proven right?

Third, is this a Kingdom Priority?

16 So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. 19 Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Romans 14:16-19 (emphases mine)

Will God’s Kingdom purposes be advanced in any way if you go to the game? Or if you don’t? When all is said and done, it really won’t have mattered. However, Kingdom principles are not held up if I carry on about your not going. Even if I am correct, the onus is on me to pursue peace and seek to build you up. Peace is a kingdom priority, winning an argument isn’t.

Disagreements between Christians about the Sabbath are nothing new. They mirror similar perspectives from New Testament times.

5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Romans 14:5 (NRSV)

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. Colossians 2:16-17

Let us remember that we are not thinking here of disagreement over fundamental doctrines or blatant immorality. The way forward on lesser matters of disagreement is the same now as it was when Romans was written; leave off judging one another, and remember that love has a no tripping policy.

 All Scripture passages are taken from the NRSV

Read more at ClarkeDixon.WordPress.com

October 19, 2017

Thou Shalt Not Always Keep Saying “Thou Shalt Not” (When Disagreements Arise)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

The recently retired pastor was on his way to see me, the new pastor. Getting closer and hearing a lawn mower he began to wonder what the new pastor thought of the neighbour mowing the lawn on a Sunday. He came around the back of the house, and there I was, mowing the lawn. In my defence, if Sunday is to be set apart for rest, well then as a father of a 4 year-old, a 3 year-old, and a 1-year old, there was nothing more relaxing than mowing the lawn! But did I need to make a defence? Should what the Christian does on a Sunday following church be the subject of a church tribunal on Monday? As we continue our study of Romans we will gain some perspective on this on other potential disagreements:

1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Romans 14:1-5 (NRSV emphasis mine)

Even back in New Testament times Christians were squabbling over what was appropriate on the Sabbath. Except, of course, Sundays are not the Sabbath. As a commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus on a Sunday, the early Christians chose to worship on Sundays instead of on the Sabbath, which falls on a Saturday. As I am fond of saying, every Sunday is Easter Sunday. Sunday has never actually been the Sabbath, but has become known as “the Lord’s Day” which many of us set apart as a holy day. However, even then, as I have heard author Frank Turek say during a recent podcast, “Every day is the Lord’s day”.

Back to Rome; Paul is responding in verse 5 to the fact that some Christians in Rome were thinking all Christians should observe the Sabbath, just like the Jews did, and that others thought that all Christians should exercise their freedom from the Jewish law instead. It was already well established that Jewish law was not binding on Gentile Christians, a fact we can read about in Acts 15.

There were other matters being squabbled over, such as whether one should eat meat. It was far easier for an observant Jew to keep the kosher food laws by keeping away from meat altogether, as Daniel did in Babylon. Some thought the observant Christian should do likewise. Others figured that that the kosher laws did not apply to the Christian anyway, so enjoy your protein! Paul picks up on these squabbles in verses one and two where he gives the solution: make space for each other even where there are disagreements. Rather than condemn each other, welcome each other.

We must be clear here what Paul is not saying. He is not saying that there is room for disagreement on fundamental truths. Since we are in the book of Romans, we should notice that Paul has spent the first eleven chapters contending for the truth. Truth matters! But not everything matters. Paul is not saying “welcome the heretic”. But not every disagreement is evidence of heresy. So welcome those you have disagreements with over those lesser matters.

Paul is also not saying there is room for blatant immorality. Elsewhere he condemns a church for not taking a matter of morality seriously:

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you? 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 (NRSV)

Paul does not say “welcome the unrepentant person practicing gross immorality”. Though it was clear that Gentiles did not need to start behaving like Jews to be Christians, it was also clear that they could not keep behaving like typical Romans either. Morality matters. But not everything is a matter of immorality. So welcome those who disagree with you on matters such as meat-eating and Sabbath keeping.

What is being said between the lines is, to quote an old but oft forgotten cliché, that unity is more important than uniformity. Departing from fundamental truths destroys the unity of the Church. Indulging in immorality destroys unity between people. Differences in the lesser matters of religious expression destroys only uniformity.

As we think about Paul’s solution for disagreements, let us not too quickly pass over the instruction to be “fully convinced in your own minds” (verse 5). To become fully convinced about something, we must be seekers of truth. We must be open to changing our minds if the truth turns out to be something other than what we expected. The more we do this, the more we will find ourselves in agreement with each other anyway. Some may think I am Canadian based on my accent. Others may think I am from Northern Ireland based on certain expressions and the incomprehensibility of my Mum’s. All seekers of truth will end up agreeing that I am British-Canadian based on the evidence of my birth certificate and citizenship card. (Or am I Irish-Canadian?!) An honest seeking of truth and having a teachable spirit leads to disagreements being minimized, even disappearing.

Finally, where disagreements continue to exist, don’t try to get the last word, because God always has the last word. I encourage you to open a Bible to Romans 14:1-12 to see for yourself the following: If you have a disagreement with a brother or sister in Christ over a non-essential matter, please note that:

  • God has welcomed them (v.3), therefore so should you.
  • God is their master (v4), and not you.
  • God will make them stand (v.4), so why try to knock them down?
  • They are actually making their best attempt at honouring God (v.6), and not just trying to pick a fight wth you.
  • We are all in God’s hands (vv.7-9),
  • God is the judge (v.10), and
  • “each of us will be accountable to God” (v.12).

We will today, as in Paul’s day, come across Christians we disagree with. When those disagreements are not over fundamental truths, or matters of gross immorality, we can make room for them. Disagreement with other believers is not a big deal. Being ridiculous about it is.

As for mowing the lawn on Sunday, you may be relieved to know that I no longer do that. Now I send my boys out to mow the lawn instead.


Read more at clarkdixon.wordpress.com

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.