Christianity 201

February 9, 2013

The One Who Will Judge is Non-Judgmental

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen

~Apostles Creed  (see also a musical adaptation)

This week we went to an event that featured Steve Geyer, who was billed as a comedian, but really shared his heart for over two hours in a much more pastoral sense.

In one section he spoke about the surprising and unexpected things that take place in the earthly ministry of Jesus; things where the events and people and situations get turned on their heads, including the time Jesus is anointed with perfume by an uninvited guest to a party.

Three gospels carry this story. Mark  (chapter 14) who is usually much more concise gives us more than Matthew

Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.

Luke 7 is considered to be a different story that took place at a different time, but is a similar story that includes a parable that Jesus teaches:

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

As Steve Geyer referred briefly to this story he said,

“The One who will judge the earth is non-judgmental.”

That phrase really hit me. Here we see another example of the contrast between “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild;” (itself not a fully accurate rendering of the earthly ministry of Jesus) and the one who sits at God’s right hand from where “he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Mercy contrasted with justice. God’s love versus God’s judgment.

John 5:24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

Acts 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

Jesus pours out love and compassion to so many in the gospel narratives, but just as a parent gently loves a child, so also does a parent not hesitate to bring rebuke, correction and discipline. (See this link for an interesting parallel between that and the work of the scriptures in our lives.) God’s justice must be satisfied, and yet, as I ponder Steve’s statement, I see even there a justice that is tempered by mercy and grace.


Even though today’s story may not be exactly in all four gospels, I did a check to see what teachings/stories are found in all four gospels:

  • Feeding the 5,000
  • Identification of the betrayer at the Last Supper
  • Jesus prays in Gethsemane
  • Peter’s denials
  • various elements of the death and resurrection

Scriptures quoted today are NIV; all underlinings in the creed and Bible verses added.

January 22, 2013

God Journeys With Us

This is from a chapter that falls late (chapter 22) into a recent book by Matt Litton, Holy Nomad: The Rugged Road To Joy (Abingdon Press). The chapter is titled Notes to Self: Building Altars Along The Trail.

Israel’s exodus from Egypt was a serious version of Mr. Short Term Memory. Despite God’s hand in the journey, it took His people less than a month to become restless and dissatisfied. They quickly regress into forgetfulness and worry. The story tells us,

“…the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the sons of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full, for you have brought us into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

They forget so quickly!

…What would you say if you were god? I would be a little incensed. What about the plagues on Egypt and pillars of fire at night? Destroying the greatest army in the world? And this is what I get? But God remains faithful providing them with water from rocks, food delivered from the sky, and victory over those who would threaten them.

Holy Nomad - Matt LittonThree of the gospels tell of the disciples crossing the Red Sea in a boat. A storm comes upon them suddenly when Jesus is sleeping and they all begin to panic and think that the boat will sink. Jesus awakes irritated with their lack of faith and simply commands the sea to calm down. The Story recounts the chaos of weather and sea was immediately put to rest. Isn’t it curious that these men who walk side by side with the Nomad witnessing his miracles and power would panic knowing that he was with them in the boat?

They forget so quickly.

…Part of being nomadic means we must be intentional about remembering God’s faithfulness. This has been part of the Nomadic practice since the beginning of time. It is first mentioned with Abraham in Genesis as he builds an altar to God after securing a great victory. In fact, Abraham constructs altars so often that you might trace his nomadic adventures by the landmarks he left in his wake. Noah builds an altar after the flood. God commands Joseph to build an altar at Bethel in Genesis 35 to remmbe3r all that God has done for him. From the passover to the Last Supper and down the line through the history of the Bible the Nomadic journey was sustained at times by the “altars” signifying God’s faithful attendance to the Nomad.

Think of this way — we are continuing to write our part in a much greater Story that began in Genesis. It is helpful for us to take a moment in our travels to remember the presence of God not only in our lives but in those who came before us. We remember together with our nomadic ancestors. If we truly believe in Resurrection, then we must realize that we are celebrating together as a family.

When we celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas, we remember God’s great gift to us. We are reminded that this gift should move us forward to give to others.

At lent we remember Christ’s journey toward the Cross with reflection that allows us to assess the baggage we are carrying on our travels.

At Easter we are reminded of the great sacrifice of forgiveness. We must be open to accepting the grace we are afforded and pass it on generously to others.

We observe Pentecost to celebrate the Holy Spirit’s movement on the Early Church and the way the Spirit leads us in our journey today.

These traditions are more than the invention of gift card companies, retailers, or national holidays, although they seem to have been hijacked by all three. They are our days.

December 24, 2012

Thoughts on Incarnation for Christmas

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My expanded paraphrase/commentary on Philippians 2.

The mark of being a Christ-follower isn’t going to be measured in external, visible things as much it’s evident in an attitude.  That mindset should be the same as Christ’s.

Even though he was 100% God, he didn’t consider his fellowship in what we call the trinity something to be leveraged, a status update to be posted every five minutes, a trump card to play. Instead he came in a spirit of humility.

Any one of the following four would have been significant but he came in humility insofar as he (a) entered the world exactly as one of us, with all the physical ramifications of being human, (b) generally tended to play his role as that of a servant, doing the things which we would not expect of either an earthly or heavenly king, (c) experienced exactly what we would in leaving the world, through death, (d) not dying of natural causes or illness but in a cruel, violent, painful execution of one counted as a criminal, even though he had not sinned.

Upon completing all of this, God the Father lifted him up to the highest place in heaven, and gave him a title and a position which exceeds any other,  so that ultimately every knee will bow and every mouth confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all people, all places, all things; with God the Father also glorified in this.


Thanks to all of you who make Christianity 201 part of your routine. As it happens, this is also post #1000. It has been a real blessing to see the growth of this particular blog. Thanks for reading, your comments and sharing info about the site with others. I wish our worldwide readership a Merry Christmas and pray for God’s best in the year to come.
~Paul.

September 5, 2012

Jesus Said More Than The Lord’s Prayer

NIV Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Today we have a guest post from Clark Bunch who blogs at The Master’s Table and was gracious enough to write this just for us!

 
Jesus Said More Than the Lord’s Prayer
 
Sometimes as Christians we get this odd idea that the more involved we are in ministry, or the closer to God we feel, the less we need to pray.  Rather than argue against this premise, let’s take a look at the Gospels and once again consider what Jesus would do.  In this case we don’t have to guess, there is plenty of material on the prayer life of Jesus.
 
1. Jesus prayed early in the morning.  In Mark 1:35 Jesus went out to pray “while it was still dark,” in other words before first light.  He made prayer his first priority, before doing anything else.  There’s an old saying about praying when all else fails.  Jesus prayed before trying anything else.  He began each day by connecting with God his father.  
 
2. Jesus prayed before important events.  In this same passage (Mark 1:35-39) Jesus spends time in prayer before beginning his ministry in Galilee.  He spent time in prayer and fasting before beginning his public ministry, and we will say more about his prayer in Gethsemane in a moment; that was the night before his trial and crucifixion.  Before major events that marked a change in his ministry, Jesus spent extra time and energy in prayer.  Before calling the Twelve (Luke 6:12) he prayed all night.  
 
3. Jesus taught his disciples to pray.  The Gospels record the public ministry of Jesus, in which he preached to the multitudes, and also private teachings with a much smaller audience.  Sometimes it’s just the 12 apostles and sometimes he is with a much smaller group than the throng of followers.  His disciples asked him to teach them to pray, and he gave them what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer.  I prefer Model Prayer or Disciples’ Prayer to calling it the Lord’s Prayer.  
The model he gave them was a teaching tool.  He kept it simple to illustrate the important parts one should include in prayer, but that is not the prayer Jesus said each time he prayed. The High Priestly prayer of Jesus (John 17) is how Jesus himself prays, especially in his “new role” as our High Priest and advocate with the Father.  
 
4. Jesus prayed ’till it hurt.  We’ve already mentioned Jesus praying at Gethsemane before his arrest and false trial.  This story is recorded in all of the Gospels, but Luke makes an interesting note in 22:44.  Luke, described by the Apostle Paul as his beloved physician, says that Jesus prayed until “his sweat became as great drops of blood.”  It is possible during times of great physical duress for one’s capillaries to break under the skin and for blood to escape, probably mixed with sweat, through the skin.  Rather than debate if he was bleeding, don’t miss this point: Jesus was not only praying he broke a sweat.  “Now I lay be down to sleep” is not going to do that to a person.  Jesus never taught lessons until he sweat drops of blood; he never healed the sick, raised the dead, preached sermons, walked on water, feed the crowds nor anything else until he sweat blood.  The only time we see this in the Gospels is while he was praying.  
 
The notion that the closer we get to God the less time we need to spend in prayer is misguided.  Jesus was the Son of God, the very incarnation of God robed in flesh, and he made prayer a priority each day.  No one has ever been closer to God the Father than Jesus himself.  There are many more accounts of Jesus praying than those listed above, but let me leave you with this one: Jesus prayed on the cross.  Even while Roman soldiers drove nails into his hands, and the Jewish leaders watched and mocked, he prayed for those crucifying him.  “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus was literally dying; what’s our excuse not to pray? 
~Clark Bunch
The purpose of The Master’s Table is to promote the centrality of Christ in the scriptures. In the Last Supper, Jesus is in the center. In our lives, churches, Bible study, witnessing, blogging, etc. Jesus Christ should be at the center.

Image:  Purchase today’s image as an unframed print at Cross Into Your Life.

August 1, 2012

Seeing the Father Working

NIV-John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

Yesterday morning I was reading this verse in several different translations and I started thinking of the things that Jesus did do in his earthly ministry here, and what that means in the context of “what he sees his Father doing.” I’ve always thought of Jesus acting on his own while here on earth in terms of the times he seems to act swiftly and quickly and decisively. But it would mean that:

  • When Jesus says to the paralytic, “Rise, take up your bed and walk;” he sees his Father touching and healing the man and helping him to his feet;
  • When Jesus says to the storm, “Peace! Be still!” he sees God the Father already working to calm the wind, stop the rain, and push the clouds away;
  • When Jesus blesses the loaves and the fish, he sees God in heaven making a creative miracle happen so that the the fraction and division of the food causes it to multiply.

The cooperative nature of Christ’s earthly ministry with what God the Father is doing is easy to miss; especially when the gospel narratives don’t mention that aspect of each story.

Gary W. Burge in the NIV Application Commentary for the Gospel of John writes this on page 177 concerning this verse:

The central motif is the relation of a father and son as it would be viewed in this culture through the trade or skill the son was learning.  We can think of Jesus growing up with Joseph in the carpentry shop, obediently learning skills and later imitating them… His activity is never independent or self-initiated but always dependent, deriving its purpose from the father’s will.

In this model we have to remember there is no reciprocal relationship. The father initiates, sends, commands, commissions, grants; the Son responds, obeys, performs his father’s will, receives authority. Moreover, the Son does not simply draw inspiration from the Father, but imitates Him tirelessly.

Matthew Henry writes:

It was the copy of that great original; it was Christ’s faithfulness, as it was Moses’s, that he did all according to the pattern shown him in the mount. This is expressed in the present tense, what he sees the Father do, for the same reason that, when he was here upon earth, it was said, He is in heaven (John 3:13), and is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18); as he was even then by his divine nature present in heaven, so the things done in heaven were present to his knowledge. What the Father did in his counsels, the Son had ever in his view, and still he had his eye upon it, as David in spirit spoke of him, I have set the Lord always before me

J. B. Phillips translates this verse and the one which follows:

Jesus said to them, “I assure you that the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. What the Son does is always modelled on what the Father does, for the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does himself, Yes, and he will show him even greater things than these to fill you with wonder.

What is the application of this passage?

Certainly when we come to God, it’s possible for us to visualize two things:

  • What God is already doing
  • What God is about to do

Not every prayer request is answered, and certainly many are not answered right away, but it can stretch our faith to consider that Jesus did not initiate so much as he harmonized with God the Father already at work. Through the imagination we can see the Father working.

~PW

July 24, 2012

The Peripatetic Ministry of Jesus

NLT Luke 9:3 “Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them. “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes.

Okay, I’ve been waiting all year to use the word peripatetic  in a sentence. It means itinerant. But it looks impressive.

Today’s thoughts are from Rev. Kevin Rogers who blogs at Orphan Age: Loners Learning About Community, and does the pastor thing at New Song Church in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. This appeared there just a few days ago under the title, JOINING GOD’S NOMADIC FAMILY

As we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we find a man who lived at home and entered his father Joseph’s carpentry business. Then at age thirty, he left the woodworking and began a nomadic quest to meet people and promote the Kingdom of God.

Even as a young man of twelve years, Jesus wandered from the security of mom and dad to visit the Temple where he made conversation with the priests.

From an early age He was driven to think about the Heavenly Father’s business.

There is no evidence that Jesus ever married, but evidently some of the disciples did so. As Jesus understood His mission, there would not be a wife in his thirties or any little boys and girls growing up in his house.

Instead, He found other men and called them away from their pre-occupation with work. Away from the fishing trade, the tax collector’s table and political activism—they were called to follow God’s nomad through the wilderness. They were called from pre-occupation to a higher occupation.

Once a woman was impressed by His teaching and spoke like a proud mother to him.

Luke 11: 27-28
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

In the woman’s comment we hear a great affirmation of Jesus’ character. He was a fine young man who would make a mother proud. But, instead of thanking her and moving on, Jesus points to a greater truth. It is true that a parent is blessed when their children turn out well, but more important is the person’s receptivity to God and their obedience.

On one hand I see Jesus showing great respect and obedience toward parents. At the same time he demonstrates a larger social contextualization than was provided by his family and tribe of origin.

Another example demonstrates an allegiance that includes, but supersedes his family of origin.

Mark 3: 31-35
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus points to a context that is greater than the tribalism He was raised in. Ancient Hebrew culture was intimately tied to one’s family of origin. What tribe were you a part of? The ancestors and many of the people in the countryside were nomadic.

In ‘The Nomadic Lifestyle of the Ancient Hebrews’ author Jeff Benner says,

A nomadic camp consisted of about 25 to 50 members. Any less and it would be difficult to protect the family and any more would be difficult to feed. Usually the oldest member of the family was the head, or chief, of the clan. The remainder of the clan would consist of his brothers, sons, nephews and grandsons as well as their wives. Each clan was an independent entity with the chief as judge and ruler. He had the ultimate authority in all manners including where they go, discipline, management of the flocks and herds and the daily tasks of the camp.

When a clan became too large to support it was divided and separated with all of the clans belonging to one tribe. The name of the tribe was generally that of the original family patriarch and each clan carried the name of its original patriarch.*

An entire nation of people traced their ancestry back to the twelve sons of Jacob. Jesus came preaching a Kingdom that encompassed all nations and tribes, most of which were considered ‘the others’ to Israel.

~Rev. Kevin Rogers


*Jeff A. Benner, The Nomadic Lifestyle of the Ancient Hebrews. http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/33_nomadic.html

This is Kevin’s eighth contribution here at C201, making him my second most popular go-to blog for Bible study and devotional material. Check out the rest here. Or go direct to Orphan Age.

June 19, 2012

Now Versus Then

This appeared earlier this week at the blog at Blue Letter Bible, an online Bible search engine, where it was titled, As-He-Is vs. As-He-Was.

  1. As He is. He is walking in majesty in the midst of the Churches. “…who walks among the seven golden lampstands” (Revelation 2:1).
    As He was. He was seen in humiliation, and in the midst of two thieves, crucified. “There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:18).
  2. As He is. He is seen in garments of glory, representing the glory of His person. …clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest” (Revelation 1:13).
    As He was. He was stripped of His garments, and made a spectacle to men, demons, and angels. “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts” (John 19:23).
  3. As He is. His eyes are as flames of fire―reminding us of His all-seeingness. “His eyes were like a flame of fire” (Revelation 1:14).
    As He was. Those eyes lost their brightness in death, and closed under the load of sin. “…and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).
  4. As He is. His feet are as burning and polished brass―telling us of His durability and deity. “his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace” (Revelation 1:15).
    As He was. Those feet were nailed to the Cross. “See my hands and my feet…” (Luke 24:39).
  5. As He is. His voice is as the sound of many waters, reminding us of the power of His word. “his voice was like the roar of many waters” (Revelation 1:15).
    As He was. His voice was hushed in death. “…they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead…” (John 19:33).
  6. As He is. His hand is mighty to hold, and to help us. “In his right hand he held seven stars” (Revelation 1:16).
    As He was. Those hands were pierced, and nailed to the accursed tree. “…they have pierced my hands and fee…” (Psalm 22:16).
  7. As He is. Out of His mouth, goes a sharp two-edged sword―telling us of His power to destroy His enemies. “…from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword…” (Revelation 1:16).
    As He was. He opened not His mouth, but was smitten by the officer over the mouth. “…so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
  8. As He is. His face is as the sun shining in his strength. “his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:16).
    As He was. That face was marred, spit on, the hair plucked from, and the rude hand of man insulted. “As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance…” (Isaiah52:14).

June 7, 2012

Redemptive Non-Conformity

The nonconformity we have been called to embody is a sort that is about healing not wounding, including not excluding, loving not despising, peacemaking not war mongering. It is a redemptive nonconformity to which we have been called…

Today’s post is from the blog Red Letter Christians (Tony Campolo and Friends), and was written by Disciples of Christ pastor Craig M. Watts.  You are encouraged to read this at source — you might find other articles there you like! — where it appeared under the title Gracious Conformity.

As followers of Jesus we are to be different from others. We are to be, as a biblically derived phrase puts it, “in the world but not of the world” (John 15:19; 17:14). Our perspective and actions are supposed to reflect something heavenly. It is not that we are to be so “heavenly minded” that we’re “no earthly good.” But we are committed, as we say in the Lord’s Prayer, to God’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven.” So if we are not a bit odd in some ways, we are probably not doing discipleship right.

To put it in another way, following Jesus requires that we be nonconformists. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your minds that you know what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). But not all nonconformity is equal. As Christians we are not to be different as an end in itself. Unfortunately, too often Christians have been different in ugly, unredemptive ways.

Sometimes Christians and churches get known above all for what they are against. The most publicized small church in the country is the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. It made its reputation through the crass, over-the-top anti-homosexual protests the church members have staged around the country. They have even picketed military funerals and trampled on American flags, while waving crude signs claiming God “hates” one group of people or another. They even created a song called “God Hates the World,” an adaptation of “We Are the World.” While the Westboro bunch is the most visibly extreme, they certainly aren’t alone, far from it.

We who follow Jesus are called to be nonconformists but not because we judge, condemn and hate more than others. The nonconformity we have been called to embody is a sort that is about healing not wounding, including not excluding, loving not despising, peacemaking not war mongering. It is a redemptive nonconformity to which we have been called. Ours is a life-affirming, hope-filled, gracious nonconformity. This is not to suggest there is nothing we should oppose. We oppose those things that promote hate, callousness and self-centeredness. We oppose attitudes that excuse violence and ignore suffering. We must do so because such things undermine the broad and generous love shown to us in Jesus.

Jesus never threw his support to the best positioned, best armed or most wealthy people of his time. When he spoke words of judgment, these were the ones on the receiving end. The poor, persecuted or marginalized were not; instead, these were bestowed with the word “blessed” and Jesus called his followers to welcome them (Luke 6:20-22; 14:12-14). But those who cast their lot with outcasts often share their fate. It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “I choose to identify with the underprivileged, I choose to identify with the poor, I choose to give my life for the hungry, I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity.” And we know his fate.

It is not easy to be gracious nonconformists. Tremendous pressure- something subtle, sometimes overt- is placed on us so that we will align ourselves with the powers-that-be. Fear of rejection and reprisal, on the one hand, and hopes of reward, on the other, keep us in line. Self-deception allows us to plead ignorance even when we should know better than to go along with those whose interests are too narrow and whose methods are too harsh.

Conforming to the standards of those who are at the center of power and privilege surely has its rewards. But the One we claim to follow was not an advocate of self-interest but a model of self-sacrifice. He reached out to the rejected and reached down to the fallen to the displeasure of the powerful. This One we believe to be God incarnate calls us to follow him. “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Craig M. Watts

April 12, 2012

The Fig Tree and The Temple

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This appeared originally on April 2nd at the blog of Allan R. Bevere, a United Methodist minister in Akron, Ohio. 

 
Jesus enters Jerusalem one last time. He will spend the next few days needling the religious authorities to within an inch of their patience. The people come out to greet Jesus as he enters the city. No doubt the people are reminded of another triumphal entry many decades before– the entry of Judas Maccabeus, who had liberated Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple. But Jesus has something else in mind for the Temple. His first stop upon his arrival is the Temple itself, but it is too late in the day, so Jesus leaves for Bethany with his disciples to stay with friends.
 
The next day, Jesus performs a strange act that will explain his soon-to-be-actions in the Temple. Jesus is hungry, so he approaches a fig tree to pick some of its fruit, even though Jesus knows that its season for the production of fruit has already passed. Nevertheless, he curses the fig tree saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”
 
He then enters the Temple to do what he had planned to do the night before, but did not because the hustle and bustle of the day had finished. In an act sure to get everybody’s attention, Jesus begins turning over the tables of the money changers and those selling animals for sacrifice, refusing to allow anyone to carry anything through.
 
Jesus’ anger is two-fold with both concerns related:

The religious leaders have taken the Temple, which God had intended to be a place for all the nations to come and worship, and they had crowded out the Gentiles with their buying and selling. They had turned the Temple into a place of ethnic pride and exclusivity.

 Moreover, in so doing the religious leaders had also turned the Temple, says Jesus quoting Jeremiah, into their own little safety zone, their refuge, feeling that they are safe from God’s judgment. In essence, Jesus accuses them of turning the Temple into the hideout where they, “the James Gang,” divide the loot they have robbed from others.
 
In this symbolic act, Jesus does not cleanse the Temple; he judges it. The Sadduccees and the Pharisees have so corrupted the Temple, that there is no reforming it. God will judge it, just as Jesus cursed the fig tree. If the tree will not bear fruit in its season, then there will be no season for it at all. God has expected his people, his fig tree, to bear fruit, and they have not; so now the season for producing fruit has passed and there will be no further opportunities.
 
Such acts continue to raise the authority question in the minds of the religious leaders. The chief priests and the scribes and the elders ask Jesus, “By what authory are you doing these things.” Who gave you authority to do them.”
 
Of course, there is nothing that Jesus can say that will satisfy them, so he turns the tables on them by asking them a question: “Did John’s baptism come from heaven or from human origin?” They know that no matter how they answer, they have a problem. They did not believe John, but they knew that the people believed him to be a prophet.
 
Instead of taking a stand they simply respond that they do not know; an amazing admission from people who are supposed to know these things. Jesus responds to them in like fashion. If they will not answer his question, neither will he answer theirs. At this point the religious leaders are probably so embarrassed that they do not press Jesus further. At least in this they are wise.

April 6, 2012

Filled With The Spirit

Christ was not deserted in death and his body was never destroyed. ‘Christ is the man Jesus, whom God raised up—a fact of which all of us are eye-witnesses!’ He has been raised to the right hand of God; he has received from the Father and poured out upon us the promised Holy Spirit—that is what you now see and hear!

~Acts. 2:31-33, J. B. Phillips translation

This verse was one that I learned in a slightly different form from The Living Bible, in fact, it hung as part of poster on the walls of my bedroom:

The Father gave the authority to the Son to send the Holy Spirit, with the results you are seeing and hearing today.

I believe that’s more or less verbatim, as I don’t think anyone has The Living Bible text online.

Christ’s death and resurrection brought about a change in the relationship between The Holy Spirit and man.

  • In the first covenant, God’s Spirit occasionally rested on certain individuals, such as the prophets
  • In the time of Christ, the disciples experienced Emmanuel, God with us. The Spirit indwelt Jesus who in turn was physically present among mankind in ways unknown since the Garden of Eden, but limited by whatever physical location Jesus was present at any single time.
  • After the resurrection, God’s Spirit lived inside those who granted Him full authority, or Lordship over their lives.

Christ came to fulfill a sacrificial mandate, but also to usher us into a time when His Spirit would live through us; where instead of being centered on a single person (and therefore a single place) the Spirit of God would be present in people throughout the entire earth. Though omnipresent in both old covenant and new covenant times, the embodiment of His presence after Acts 2 was much more widespread.

Raised to new life, God pours out His Spirit on all those who believe and follow. 

That’s the progression…

…But we’re not there yet.

This is still Good Friday.  In between incarnation and ascension, we have the suffering and death of Jesus, we hear him cry out, “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” 

But even in that anguish, is there hope?  Is there a hint of what is to come?  Just as Christ, in his life, foreshadows his death, does he in his death foreshadow his resurrection?

Today, I want to refer you to a somewhat longer  piece by Al Hsu from InterVaristy Press, posted at Christianity Today.  It’s one of the best I’ve read in a long time, in fact I read it out loud to my family.  It takes about 20 minutes to do it that way, so your reading time should be shorter.

But I promise you will never look at one particular cry from the cross the same way. I strongly encourage you to invest the time this reading takes.

Read all six screens of He’s Calling for Elijah: Why We Still Mishear Jesus (click here).

March 19, 2012

Seasons of Ministry Life

While reading some of the notes in the new NIV Study Bible, I came across a section — nested in the middle of Matthew 25 — which classifies the ministry years of Jesus into three one year phases or periods.

  1. Year of Inauguration
  2. Year of Popularity
  3. Year of Opposition

In our culture, we might describe it differently

  1. Breakout Year — Jesus is a new star on the horizon, up and coming; he’s trending on all media fronts; Pharisees start tracking him immediately though, with some concern.
  2. Jesus Goes Viral — Everywhere you go, someone is talking about him; popularity is at an all time high; if you have Bible software, just do a keyword search for “crowds.”
  3. Approval Rating Decline — Even close followers leave; the lighthearted teachings become ‘hard sayings’ and his sermon content talks about his death as though it’s something impending, and how we all need to ‘take up our cross.’

The section in the study Bible includes many key events, though it’s not a full harmony of events in Christ’s life; that follows later after John. 

But as I read it, I couldn’t help think that for those of us who are Christ-followers, we follow him even in these phases. Our Christian lives begin full of the experience of grace, of sins forgiven;  full of zeal to tell others; and full of God’s purpose and plan in our lives finally crystalizing. We meet new people, learn new songs, and divest ourselves of a way of life that was heading to destruction.

But then as we settle in, we discover that following Christ is both easy — “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” — and challenging — Jesus talks about leaving possessions and family — at the same time. 

Stuart Briscoe summed this up a little differently once in a little booklet, This is Exciting. It’s since been re-written as The Impossible Christian Life. His stages were:

  1. This is Exciting
  2. This is Difficult
  3. This is Impossible

But then he experiences a rejuvenation and enters a 4th stage,

       4.  This is Exciting

If you’ve never read this, it’s available free online as a .pdf file and takes only 3-4 minutes to complete:

Link to The Impossible Christian Life: A Personal Testimony by Stuart Briscoe (click here)

I would take this one step further and suggest that we experience ministry stages like this even on the micro level. For example, my sons both work in the summer at the Christian camp where my wife and I met. It’s a nine week commitment, that I would suggest divides into three week sections:

  1. Early weeks: Everyone is full of energy and spiritually charged up from staff training week.  Huge learning curve for first time staffers.
  2. Middle weeks: Work assignments become routine and nights of missed sleep start to add up. This is optimal ministry time, but the drive of the early weeks is sometimes missing, and it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics and miss the Holy Spirit’s direction. (Smart directors will insert a staff training ‘booster shot’ in here at some point.)
  3. Final weeks: A few don’t make it this far; those that do continue to serve but are starting to think about returning to school in the fall; some interpersonal relationships start to break down; people show their true colors during these final three weeks. If the summer at camp is a marathon, these are the final miles.

It’s also easy for God to seem distant in those final weeks, or in the final season of whatever ministry task or vocational position you’re currently serving. This is where what Paul talked about as “running with endurance” kicks in.

It’s also important not to miss that before Jesus experienced years of what we called “breakout success” and “going viral,” he had another season of ministry, the time in the desert. This connects with yesterday’s discussion of Jeremiah 29:11; a verse where we so often miss the 70 years of testing that precede the times of prosperity.

What ministry are you involved in right now, and at what phase or season are you in ministry life?

What about your personal spiritual life? Are you new in faith or a seasoned veteran of following Christ? How does where you are affect the energy you have or the challenges you seem to face?

February 9, 2012

God I Need Patience, and I Need It in a Hurry

Late last year the blog Reign of Faith began a series of articles under the series title Breakthrough.  We’re going to use one here today and another tomorrow.  This one appeared mid-January under the title Breakthrough: Patience.

The element of patience, spoken of in a prior post, is vital to, and on, your journey towards breakthrough. You may feel as though your journey is taking a long time. Maybe you are questioning if you will ever see the promise fulfilled. These feelings and thoughts are from the enemy. He hopes to cause a spiritual abortion within you through your feelings, thoughts, words and actions. Remember, the enemy cannot harm, curse or disable you, but he can get you to harm, curse, or disable yourself.

Maybe you have been waiting months, or even years, for manifestation. I understand how frustration can begin to surface; however, you must rebuke your flesh and subject it to the power of your spirit.

For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. (Hebrews 6:13-15 NKJV)

Your breakthrough is going to come after your patience has been tested {probably multiple times}. Things are going to seem like they are “going your way” and then take a so-called “turn for the worst”. People around you may begin to place pressure on you, treat you unfairly. Many things can and will happen and they are designed to test and perfect your patience.

Even Jesus, the Son of God, endured a test of His patience, steadfastness, endurance, and conviction.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. (Matthew 4:1, 2 NKJV)

Take note. When did the enemy show up? He began His attacks right after Jesus spent 40 days fasting. The enemy is not going to attack you when you are already headed down the path of destruction or when you are already off course. His attacks will come when you are seeking after God, pressing towards the mark, praying, fasting and getting new revelation. Also notice that verse 2 emphasizes the fact that He was hungry. Satan knows the points of weakness in your flesh {not to be confused with your spirit}. On your journey, before your breakthrough, when you are about to receive, he will send something your way that he knows would have typically bothered you. If worry concerning your finances is something you have done in the past, then he may throw something your way which requires you to pay money you did not feel comfortable giving up. If you are not subjecting your flesh to your spirit, then this may get you in a frenzy.

Learn to recognize areas where you previously struggled. When the enemy attacks those areas, you will be able to recognize those attacks and cast them down. Remain patient throughout every test and trial. Your patience will help propel you forward just like your faith and obedience.

Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. (Matthew 4:11 NKJV)

Jesus withstood all attacks from the enemy. He was not drawn away by the lust of the flesh (1 John 2:6) nor did He grow weary in well doing (Galatians 6:9). He continued resisting the devil, whom had no choice but to flee (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8,9).

You will reach the point that God has promised you. Remain faithful, obedient, and patient!

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere.  An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives.  The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

December 29, 2011

What Happened During That Long Walk?

In John 21:25 we’re told that if everything Jesus did was written down, there isn’t a library big enough to contain it.  Okay, I paraphrased that verse a little.  But the point is we’re often given snapshots of the beginning and ending to a story, but left to fill in the middle.  Such is the case in the story today, though I had never considered a “missing middle” until I checked in, as we do on a regular basis, with Jon Swanson at the blog 300 Words a Day.  He called this, Living Between ‘I Will’ and ‘I Have.’

We struggle with goals. We read that telling people your goals is dangerous. It can give you the buzz of affirmation without having to do the hard work. Having goals is fine. But keep them to yourself.

But this isn’t a story about goals. This is about a walk captured in the Bible, but never described.

Jairus had a dying daughter. He went to Jesus. Jesus started coming to his house. Jesus was distracted by a different miracle. And then someone says, “never mind, she’s dead. Leave him alone.”

Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe and she will be healed.” The next thing we read is that Jesus arrives at the house.

Between those sentences, between “she will be healed” and Jesus arriving was a very long walk for Jairus. We aren’t told the distance of the walk. It probably wasn’t more than a few hundred steps. But any of us in the middle of emotional devastation know that the distance in our hearts has little connection to the distance for our feet. Throughout that walk, his daughter was dead.

“Just believe” was all that Jesus told Jarius to do. We often turn that into some kind of measure, and we think that if we believe enough amazing things will happen. If they don’t happen, it’s our fault, because we didn’t believe enough. In this case, believing was simple. It just meant walking with Jesus all the way home.

We don’t know what they talked about, or if they talked. Was Jesus silent? Did he ask Jairus about his daughter’s favorite foods? Did he talk about the 1969 Mets?

No idea. Apparently, it doesn’t matter for us. But Jairus walked home with Jesus, ignoring the apparent certainty of her death.

Not every child is raised. But every promise is kept.

~Jon Swanson

December 17, 2010

Key to Understanding Incarnation: Christ’s Humility

Our Friday feature comes to us from Joshua Hawkins who serves in intercession ministry with International House of Prayer in Kansas City, where it appeared under the title, The Humility of God in the Incarnation.

Perhaps the humility of God in the incarnation is one of the most considered aspects of Advent and Christmas. How could One surrounded by perfection and beauty descend to the lowest place and be born in a filthy animal feeding trough? How could one so highly exalted stoop so low to be the Servant of all?

To rightly understand His humility in becoming a human, we must be informed biblically on where He dwelt and how He was worshiped before He took on flesh. Only with this backdrop are we rightly prepared to experience the potency of His emotions and desires that flooded His heart and caused Him to constrain Himself to the poverty of a human frame forever.

Before creation, the Son was dwelling together with the Father, daily His delight (Proverbs 8:30). He was perpetually adored by all the host of Heaven from the moment of their creation, never ceasing to be recognized for who He was and never ceasing to receive worship. He was the preeminent One, beautiful beyond comparison, so excellent in all His ways. He was one with Yahweh, the LORD. There was no one like Him in all of creation.

In the Incarnation, Jesus descended to the earth from His throne at the height of the heavens, and chose to be born through a young frightened maiden in an obscure town in Israel. Of course the act of the eternal Son of God being born demonstrates spectacular humility. The apostle Paul says that He “made Himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7). That Jesus would actually choose to be born instead of simply appearing on the scene in glory is astounding, and speaks of His burning heart of love for fallen humanity. Later on in His life, Jesus spoke of His humility in emptying Himself of reputation and giving everything for love:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field…Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
(Matthew 13:44-46 NKJV)

Though His humility can be considered in every moment of His life, few things exemplify the humility of Jesus in the Incarnation more than the circumstances surrounding His birth. We know the story well (and perhaps too well that the weight of what happened does not bear down upon us as it should). Mary and Joseph had not yet been married, but were betrothed to each other. Mary went to visit her older relative Elizabeth who was miraculously with child in her old age. After returning to Nazareth months later, she was showing signs of her pregnancy. Can you imagine what Joseph must have been feeling when she saw Mary’s belly? Soon, the news would fill the entire town – Mary had returned and was pregnant. Who was the father of Mary’s child? Was she unfaithful to Joseph during her stay outside of Nazareth? The rumors about her would most certainly be the talk of the town.

Jewish law typically required one to divorce an unfaithful wife, and that any woman found in indecency could be given a certificate of divorce (Deut. 24:1). The penalty was worse for a betrothed virgin – if she was found unfaithful, she would be stoned by the men of her city (Deut. 20:20-21). Joseph had considered the implications of “going public” and not accepting the child in Mary’s womb as his own, but because he was “righteous” (Matthew 1:19) he decided to “put her away quietly”.

The scriptures are silent on the social context in Nazareth before Jesus’ birth, but we can only imagine what it must have been like for the young betrothed couple, bearing the stigma from their friends and loved. Undoubtedly Mary’s reputation in Nazareth was tarnished as she lived under reproach and carried the Creator and Ruler of all in her young womb. It wasn’t until six months later that the couple departed for Bethlehem and Mary delivered her firstborn Son in the abode of sheep, horses, donkeys, and goats. By man’s standards, her first pregnancy was memorable but for all the wrong reasons. Remembering that angel told her she was “highly favored”, what must Mary have been thinking? Through the birth of Jesus, it’s clear that our modern Christian definition of “favor” and “blessing” is completely different from the Lord’s.

The circumstances leading up to our Lord’s birth are scandalous, and the trials did not stop after He was born. Herod had been informed of the sign of a King born in Bethlehem. Fearing political conquest by another King, Herod put to death all of the children in Bethlehem who were two years old and under. Not only did Jesus escape death by the power-hungry sword of Herod and have men seeking after His life from a young age, but He grew up bearing the stigma of a child conceived out of wedlock.

The remarkable aspect of His humility is revealed through these early moments of His life when we realize that Jesus, the Holy One, actually chose these circumstances to be born and raised in. It was not fate, mere chance, or bad luck that hindered the Creator of all from a more “normal” birth. Jesus could have come into the world in a king’s palace under perfect conditions, and He still would have been unspeakably humble to do so when considering who He was and where He came from. But He went lower still.

If every moment of the life of Jesus is revelatory concerning the heart of God, what does this say to us about His humility?

Pondering the life of Jesus as a minutes-old baby to a two-year old toddler has got to be one of the most enthralling things for one to do! Not only does it thrill our hearts with God’s personality, but it beckons us into His likeness. May the Lord grant you grace to behold Him in His humility today and the rest of this Advent and Christmas season.

Joshua Hawkins

December 10, 2010

Keeping Christmas Priorities

There have been a lot of music videos embedded here, and this one isn’t the latest, or the best-recorded, but it’s one we did ourselves, done out of a desire to share with a wider audience a song I’ve been singing somewhere every Christmas for a rather long number of years.

There’s something about being “home for Christmas;” something about the fact the pace of life slows down for a day or two. No wonder that it’s so difficult for people who are alone on December 25th; being with friends or family seems to define the day.  But it’s also a day for which it is so easy to miss the point.   This video is an attempt on our part keep the historical meaning of Christmas at the forefront.

Most important, I hope you’ll reconnect with the thought that the familiar “birth of Christ” narrative in Luke is the start of much, much longer story. One that continues into eternity.

Canadian readers: Don’t forget you can still contribute to our Salvation Army iKettle. Donations stay with your community. More details here; or go direct to our iKettle.

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