Christianity 201

December 29, 2014

God Desires Top Spot

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Our thoughts today are from one of the foremost Christian devotional sites, Daily Encouragement by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber. To read this at source, click the title below. Underneath the title is a link to an audio version, which the Webers try to post most days. If you know someone with a computer who would benefit from that, tell them about Daily Encouragement. Click the icon which follows:

Daily Encouragement dot Net banner

“Christ Preeminent”

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). “He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18).

Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,
We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?

We trust each of you had a delightful Christmas celebration with your family and friends yesterday. Of course some of you may still have plans over the next several days as you gather with others in the glorious celebration of our Lord’s birth.

Yesterday we enjoyed brunch with friends and afterwards visited a nursing home where we sang Christmas carols with the residents. So many of the familiar Christmas hymns we know by heart, including all the verses. What a joy to sing them out as the residents joined in as the familiar words struck some chord in their memory. After all, many of them have sung the beloved Christmas carols for 80 to 90 plus Christmas seasons.

For many years Brooksyne has enjoyed studying the hymns and has numerous books of hymn backgrounds which we sometimes share on this site. Some of the golden spiritual gems overlooked in familiar hymns are included in the verses deleted from modern hymn books. Our introductory stanza (above) is a lesser known verse from one of the best known Christmas hymns written by John F. Wade about 1743. It was trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Eng­lish by Fred­er­ick Oak­e­ley in 1841.

Most likely you will recognize the refrain:

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Millions declare that Christ is Lord. So today we ask the following heart-probing question to our readers,  Who is Christ to you?

1) For some Christ is popular. An ungodly entertainer may throw a shout-out thanking God at an awards ceremony. A politician may quote a Scripture text to score political points though he or she gives little regard to God in lifestyle choices or life principles. Consider the crowds and disciples that followed Jesus in John 6 at the height of His popularity, but when it got tough they abandoned Him and the cause for which He died. (See John 6:66)

2) For genuine followers, Christ is present in your life. The Psalmist declared, “Thou art with me.”  Jesus reassured the disciples on the mountain before He ascended to heaven, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Psalm 23:4, Matthew 28:16-20, Hebrews 13:5)

3) For some Christ is prominent. By prominent, I mean that it is well demonstrated and evidenced by others that you are a follower of Christ. Your family, co-workers, and neighbors know that you are a Christian. It is commendable that Christ is prominent.

John the Baptist is one of the great Bible characters. His God-ordained role was to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus. He did his work faithfully and earnestly desired that Christ become more and more prominent.  One of the simplest, yet profound, statements indicating this is found in the daily text, “He (Jesus Christ) must become greater; I must become less.” Another version states, “He must increase, I must decrease.”  That’s not only an appropriate statement for John but is a godly mindset and heart attitude for each of us!  This is an ongoing commitment that needs refreshing and renewal on a regular basis, whether in the mundane of everyday life or the major challenges we face over the years.  Every day we should awaken with this theme on our hearts; “He must become greater; I must become less.”

4) For a relative few Christ is preeminent. Yet this alone is the proper outlook for one who claims that Jesus Christ is Lord. This is God’s gold standard concerning what His Son should be to us. Christ Preeminent, what a glorious truth!

From the Miriam Webster dictionary we find the following synonyms to describe one’s preeminence: cardinal, chief, dominant, first, greatest, main, master, number one, sovereign, supreme. These adjectives well describe the attitude we should have toward Christ if He is preeminent in our lives.

This phrase from Colossians is translated differently in various translations. The NIV states, “In everything He might have the supremacy.” In the NASB it reads, “He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” The Greek word (proteuon) means “to be first, to have the first place, to hold the chief place.” He is reigning as the preeminent Being in the universe. He always has been and always will be. The ESV states, “that in everything He might be preeminent.”

I examine my life today and I encourage you to do the same. Is Christ preeminent in your life? Is He the reigning King of your heart’s allegiance? May Christ’s reign and preeminence be evident in each of our lives, not just during the Christmas season but all through the next year until we draw our final breath on this side!

  Daily prayer: Father, anything good or praiseworthy in me is simply a reflection of the abiding presence of Your Holy Spirit. I want to grow in Your grace and knowledge, and will do so if You are preeminent in my life. That means You will reign supreme and be of first importance to me, having greater influence than any other person or cause. I want to walk in humility today as I pray, “Jesus, must become greater in my life,  I must become less.” I ask You to be at the center of my thoughts, my attitudes, and my actions so that Your preeminence is seen in all I do and say. In the name of Jesus I pray.  Amen.


Thanks, Stephen and Brooksyne. As I read this, I really had to examine whether I had ever considered the distinction between #3 and #4. Christ is certainly prominent in my life, but that prominence is not the same as preeminence.

October 30, 2014

You Are a Sheep-Feeder

So how many sheep could a sheep-keeper keep, if a sheep-keeper could keep sheep?

Of course the word is actually shepherd, and the line the way I originally wrote it a few years ago had to do with sheep-shearing. (Try saying it five times!) At any rate, it’s time for our weekly visit from pastor Clarke Dixon.  To read this at source, click on the title below.

Feed My Sheep! (John 21:15-19)

 

sheep in green pasture15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep (John 21:15-17 NRSV)

You may read the above passage and think: “I’m not Peter. I’m not a pastor. I’m not even a leader in our church, so why would this passage of scripture be important to me?” Here are three reasons.

1. All Christians need a dreadful reminder.

By the third time Peter is asked by Jesus “Do you love me?” he is frustrated and feeling hurt. The question is asked three times by a charcoal fire, not unlike the one by which Peter denied Jesus three times. It is a question designed to remind Peter that it was not that long ago that he was not acting like he loved Him. It is like Jesus is saying “are you really sure you love me? The way you acted back there would say otherwise.”

Here we do not have the “forgive and forget” that we might expect from Jesus. Instead we have “remind and forgive” which actually is much better. While “forgive and forget” might remove the penalty of our sin, “remind and forgive” removes the penalty of sin and spurs us on to remove the future potential of sin. Peter will go on to take care of the sheep, not just from a place of forgiveness, but also a place of repentance. The reminder of his offense is an invitation to do better. According to what we read in verses 18 and 19, Jesus knows that he will. Though you may not be Peter, or a pastor, or a leader, chances are good that you, like the rest of us, can truly benefit from our Lord’s “remind and forgive” approach.

2. All Christians want to express love for Jesus.

While we can and should express our love for Jesus through worship, prayer, and Bible study, we do well to remember what Jesus is asking of Peter: “If you truly love me Peter, you will take care of my sheep.” If we truly love Jesus, we will make His priorities, our priorities.

And His priority time and time again, and to the glory of God, is people. Jesus prayed in the Garden the night before his crucifixion “yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NRSV). And that will was to go through with the crucifixion, to bear sin of people. People are a priority for Jesus. We can commit ourselves to all manner of godly activities, but are we really about our Father’s will if people are not a huge part of our lives? You may not be Peter, or a pastor, or even a leader in your church, but if you really love Jesus, people will be a priority in your life.

3. All Christians have pastoral opportunities.

The word pastor comes from Latin where it means shepherd or feeder (Dictionary.com). Every Christian can think of people in their lives for whom they can be a shepherd.

There is a lot of emphasis these days within Christian circles on “leadership development.” That is good, yes, but sometimes I wonder if there are times we should use the word leader less often and use the word shepherd instead. Leaders get things done and that is good. But shepherds feed and tend the sheep and that is so important. Perhaps you do not feel like “leadership” material, but do you love and have concern for others? Then you are well on your way to being a shepherd. Whether you are a natural leader, or follower, watch for how the Lord calls and enables you through his Spirit to be shepherd to others. You may not be Peter, a pastor, or even a leader in your church, but are you developing a shepherd heart? Why not think and pray over who needs you to be, or better, for whom God is calling you to be, a shepherd.

“If you really love me, you will feed my sheep.” What a great insight for us all.

 

February 20, 2014

Reviving The First Love

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Rev 2:4b “…You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!  5a Look how far you have fallen!  (NLT)

Rev 2:4b “…you have left (abandoned) the love that you had at first [you have deserted Me, your first love].”  (AMP)

Matt. 24:12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. (NLT)

Jude 21 [K]eep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (NIV)

Matt 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (NASB)

In the area in which I work, Christian publishing, sales of books have hit a slow patch. It’s easy to blame eBooks, but Christian reading as a whole is down as people devote their time and their spending to supporting screen habits that are, at the end of the day, all about entertainment.

In church life, denominations report baptisms and conversions are down. Baptist (SBC) writer Thom Rainer says, “We are reaching fewer people for the gospel today than we did decades ago when we were a much smaller group.”

Yesterday, I was thinking of the song, Revival by Robin Mark. One of the lyrics says, “Like the preacher preaching when the well is dry.” It’s easy to identify people — both clergy and laity — whose well has run dry. Like hamsters running the wheel in the cage, we get caught up in religious life, but all the activity isn’t taking us anywhere.

I maintain that any point in time all of us in either of the two situations:

  • moving toward the cross
  • moving away from the cross

In your life it may be quantifiable on a yearly basis or a daily basis. The daily may be a microcosm of the annual; or your relationship to God, your hunger and thirst for the things of God may have its ups and downs.

I also need to pause here and talk about that phrase, “the things of God.” What are these things? Some of the things — the latest worship song, involvement in teaching Sunday School, a spirited discussion about creation science — may be spiritually superficial. Here’s a phrase you can Tweet:

To be excited about the things of the Lord, first you have to be excited about the Lord of the things.

God wants us to be in a constant posture of moving toward the cross. Back to the Robin Mark song, here are few of the lyrics:

Every dreamer dreaming in her dead-end job
Every driver driving through the rush hour mob
I feel it in my spirit, feel it in my bones
You’re going to send revival, bring them all back home

I can hear that thunder in the distance
Like a train on the edge of town
I can feel the brooding of Your Spirit
“Lay your burdens down, Lay your burdens down”.

The song is a clarion call to release yourself from the empty, the meaningless, the burdensome things of this world, and await the revival in your heart God wants to send you.

Here’s the video for the song. It’s long — ten minutes — but I pray it speaks to you. God wants to stir revival in your heart, and in mine. This is something we can ask for in prayer knowing that we are asking in God’s will.

February 13, 2014

The Bible’s Undercurrent of Tainted Love: A Valentine’s Devotional

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valentineheart

Back in June we introduced you to Scripture4You and while we normally wait a year before revisiting a blog, I decided we’d jump start this return visit with a post relating to Valentine’s Day. Scripture4You takes a poetic approach to three daily scripture passages combined with kaleidoscopic images. After you’re done with today’s reading, click the banner at the top of the blog and then look around. This reading is titled Tainted Love. (If you don’t have a Catholic Bible nearby, I’ve linked both the first, a reference from the book of Sirach, and the other two references.)

~~~ Sirach 47:2-11 ~~~ Psalm 18 ~~~ Mark 6:14-29 ~~~

This is February, the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day…
the month dedicated to love.
Oddly enough according to those who keep wedding statistics
June is the most popular month for weddings.

The first reading lists all of the wonderful things David did;
making him one of the most loved leaders.
He tackled beast and man.
He slew the giant with a slingshot.
He was favored by God…God loved him.
The women sang his praises; in other words they loved him.
David did love God too.
With his whole being he loved his Maker
and daily had his praises sung;
What is not to love about David…he sings to the Lord in prayer.

The LORD forgave him his sins
and exalted his strength forever…
Love was the driving force for all that David
did for his people and his God.
This deep love made his personal failings that much more painful for him.

The gospel has an undercurrent of tainted love…
love that has gone sour…
love that has broken hearts…
love that has turned to taking another’s life.

Herod is so confused by his sin
that he cannot identify the beautiful qualities of love.
His sinful love affair leads him to the brutal sin of murder.

Love never leads one into sin.
Herod does not even demonstrate healthy love with his daughter.
The mother daughter relationship is warped.
The daughter is willing to entertain her mother’s revengeful heart.
She went out and said to her mother,
“What shall I ask for?”
Her mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”

Herod expressed his love by ordering
the beheading of someone he respected, John the Baptist.
He gave the head of John to the girl.
The girl gave the head to her mother.
This evil domino effect takes precedence over love.

God always blesses us with love.
What do we offer in return to him?
How do you love others?
Peace.

January 20, 2014

If We Love the Father…

In addition to running different kinds of content here, sometimes we’ll run something with a different style. In today’s post, a writer simply blogs out of the overflow of her pastor’s weekend sermon. Have you ever been so filled with a message you heard that it just overflows from you?

The writer’s name is Dacia Wilkinson. As far as I know, we’re not related! She’s a mother and an author and either an Aspie or a parent of one. The blog has the curious title, It All Started With Heathcliff and the blog piece is titled The Only Thing That Matters.


“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision has any value. The only thing that counts if faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6

Love is what counts. And love that expresses itself through … vs. 22 … “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such thing there is no law.”

Today, Pastor Don Sharp said these are not attributes to strive for … that these are given to you by Christ when you choose to trust Him as your Savior.  I believe my head tilted to the side at his words – kind of a “Huh” in Tim Taylor tone. And I listened harder.  And yes, after a straightening of the head and the settling of the words into my soul, I understood.

Daily, we allow selfishness, pride, anger, judgment, these things to stand in the way of the perfect gift of love we’ve been given. Daily, yes … WE do.  We allow our joy to be stolen. We allow worry to enslave peace.  We allow immediacy and frustration to overtake patience.  We allow hurry and self to shove over kindness.  We allow picking and choosing to overshadow faithfulness.  We allow anger and division to distort gentleness.  We ignore self-control.  WE do these things and by our fruit we are known. We show, sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like (vs 19-21).  These are allowed.  These we celebrate and portray on television.  We say, “Go girl!” to disrespect. And then, we go to church, raise our hands, and pretend to love God.

I said Pretend.  Yes, I did.

Harsh. True. Sad. Man. So many in our churches live this way. So many. Me. Man.

The truth stands …

If we loved the Father, we would obey the Father. 

Vs 16 states, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Vs 24 says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

I John 2:6 …” Whoever claims to live in Him, must walk as Jesus did.”    And what is that?

Micah 6:8 … “He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Act justly.

Love mercy.

Walk humbly with God.

Jesus tells us how in Matthew … Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.  All the Law and Prophets hang on these.

Love.

Mercy.

Grace.

This love of God’s that he so freely offers to us all – unconditional and beautiful – it covers sin and brings those who follow Him to grace and mercy, which he bestows freely.

Free.  Freely.  Freedom.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”  Ah ….  Galatians 5:1.  “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

It is not of God that we walk in anger, range, jealousy. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of sound mind,” says I Timothy 1:7.  God has given to those who love him — power, love and a sound mind. Within our hands, our minds, our hearts is the capacity to love like He does. To show grace and mercy. To move self out of the way. To choose life. To choose to love in sacrifice. To choose sacrifice.

This love given freely produces joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.  Not you. You cannot produce those things – not on your own. Everyday, choose to sacrifice fleshly feelings and open the Word as a reminder of the gift of freedom to love. And remember ….

The ONLY thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.  Not church attendance. Not good deeds.  Not the man-made rules of the church – lots of churches with their doctrine and their by-laws, their catechisms and their classes.  None of these.

You cannot manufacture it. It’s given to you by God himself and never of your own accord.

Fall in love with God, meditate on his word. Pursue the words of Christ.  Love God. Love your neighbor. Boom.

Faith expressing itself through love.

August 24, 2013

Weekend Wondering

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“‘And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  (Mark 12: 30-31)

If you did the full reading yesterday, you know we ended the week with a major article. So today, we want to switch formats and give you a few questions to think about. This is also from Rick Apperson where it appeared on his blog Just a Thought under the title I wonder if Jesus…

…I am feeling a bit…restless. Not in a, dissatisfied with life, type of way. More like an, I need a new challenge, type of thing.

I have been wondering and praying about what might be next. Is this God stirring my pot in order to prepare me for something new or is God just stirring me to be ready for what He is doing right now? I don’t feel like it’s time to change jobs, towns, etc.

I feel like it is a time of new challenges. I do have some exciting stuff happening this summer and most of it is new opportunities. Maybe that is all it is.

All of this has me asking some other questions as well. Ones that have been stirring my thoughts. I don’t have a lot of answers, the ones I have I don’t want to share. Occasionally I just like to brainstorm, reflect and contemplate….

Things like….

  • I wonder if Jesus ever took a “mental health” day?
  • How disappointed is God by our church dis-unity?
  • Why do we want grace for ourselves and yet judge the sins of others so harshly?
  • What part of “loving our enemies” is so hard to get?
  • Why do we rank sin?
  • Should we not focus on the log in our own eyes first?
  • If Jesus loved the world enough to die for it, why are we afraid to love the “neighbor” that He died for?
  • What would happen if we as Christians focus as much on evangelism as we did on protests, legal actions and petitions?

These and other questions rattle through my mind.

Mark 12:30–31 says, “‘And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

I am coming to the realization that if I am passionate about obeying these two commandments my worldview will be blown wide open. If I love the Lord with all of my being and love my neighbor (the sinner I judge so harshly) as much as I love myself, I can look forward to Spring as time of new beginnings. A new depth in my relationship with God and a new heart for the lost.

Going back to the new challenges, maybe it’s not so new after all. Maybe the challenge is to obey what He has already said we should do!


Bonus item: Today we’re offering a link to a 30-minute video message given by Skye Jethani at a national conference of CRU (formerly Campus Crusade) earlier this summer.

June 21, 2013

The Woman in the Back Row

I’ve often told people that the real ministry in the church isn’t done by the people you see on the platform or the people who are members of the church board. It’s often a woman in the back row — whose name most people don’t know — who is faithfully praying and quietly meeting other women for coffee during the week that is making a huge kingdom difference. But we tend to see the people in the pool who like to make a splash every time they jump in! The woman in today’s article wasn’t literally on the back row, but in her quietness she revealed the depth of her love for God.

Just six days ago we posted an item from the blog We Are Soma. Yes we do have a six-month rule for re-blogging, but they have a variety of authors at this site, and I want to encourage you to visit. This article is by Steve Hart and appeared under the title Fierce Love: Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. Soma is a network of 18 U.S. churches, and Soma School is for existing or potential church planters. Learn more at WeAreSoma.com

As a church family, we’ve studied the Gospel of Luke this Spring. We’ve seen again and again the Fierce Love of Jesus as he goes toe to toe with the religious leaders of his day. It is easy for us to distance ourselves from those conversations by putting ourselves in the shoes of the disciples and cheering Jesus on as he goes after “those guys.” The reality, however, is that the scribes, teachers of the law, and the pharisees would fit well in our churches, small groups, and ministries. They love and study the bible. They are zealous in their devotion to God. They tithe regularly, serve faithfully, and pray beautifully. And Jesus says it is all a sham:

“And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Luke 20:45-47 ESV)

In contrast, Jesus points to a poor widow putting 2 copper coins into the treasury. She is destitute, the poorest of the poor, a societal drain, a religious outsider, but she becomes the model of self-forgetful, humble, genuine gospel faith:

 ”Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4 ESV)

Here is a woman who gets grace. She isn’t looking for the praise of men or the praise of God, for certainly no one would be impressed with her gift! She doesn’t even seem to notice herself – and that is the beauty of what she is doing. She’s self-forgetful, and she’s giving everything – the greek word is “bios”, her very life! Jesus holds up this poverty-stricken, seemingly God-forsaken woman as the example of gospel faith.

Taking these two stories together, we see that the fierce love of Jesus invites us to be utterly realistic about our twisted motivations and to be bluntly honest about how much of our obedience is little more than play-acting, trying to prove to God, others, and ourselves that we aren’t as bad as we know we really are. Jesus calls us to an honest confession that promotes a radical, self-despairing humility so that we might forget ourselves, and give all we have as a response to his gracious acceptance.

And as we receive, again and again, the gracious, one-way, unconditional, unmerited, un-earnable love of God in Jesus, we are increasingly freed from our sin and our self-righteousness. We give up on ourselves and efforts to “get better,” and we throw ourselves fully onto the finished work of Jesus in our place. Consider these words from Martin Lloyd Jones:

“We can put it this way: the man who has faith [in Jesus Christ] is the man who is no longer looking at himself and no longer looking to himself. He no longer looks at anything he once was. He does not look at what he is now. He does not even look at what he hopes to be as the result of his own efforts. He looks entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work, and rests on that alone. He has ceased to say, “Ah yes, I used to commit terrible sins but [now] I have done this and that.” He stops saying that. If he goes on saying that, he has not got faith. Faith speaks in an entirely different manner and makes a man say, “Yes I have sinned grievously, I have lived a life of sin, yet I know that I am a child of God because I am not resting on any righteousness of my own; my righteousness is in Jesus Christ and God has put that to my account.”

The gospel free us to give up on our abilities and merits, and to look to Jesus alone for our righteousness, worth, and significance. And as we do that, all sorts of surprising fruit begin to grow up in our lives – evidences of genuine love, service, and self-sacrifice.

Our cities don’t need more churches of people working hard to be good and save themselves, either through dialing in their doctrine, being more committed to missional living, or refining their programs. Our cities need people who’ve been humbled by the fierce love of Jesus, people who’ve given up on themselves completely, found a beautiful new righteousness credited to their account, and so, like the destitute widow, give their whole lives in joyful self-forgetfulness!

May 30, 2013

When we See the Hand of God at Work

The text for today is I John chapter 4.  Click this link to read the entire chapter.

I John 4:13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

Our direction to this passage came form Ray Ortlund’s blog where this appeared as How can we tell when God is really at work? (highlights added)

God At WorkIn The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Jonathan Edwards pulled out of 1 John 4 the biblical indicators that God is at work, even if the people involved are complicating it with their own sins and eccentricities.  And we do complicate it.  In this life, the work of the gospel is never pure, always mixed.  But we do not need to be neutralized by analysis-paralysis.  The true gold of grace is discernible, within all the mess, in four ways:

One, when our esteem of Jesus is being raised, so that we prize him more highly than all this world, God is at work.

Two, when we are moving away from Satan’s interests, away from sin and worldly desires, God is at work.

Three, when we are believing, revering and devouring the Bible more and more, God is at work.

Four, and most importantly, when we love Jesus and one another more, delighting in him and in one another, God is at work.

Satan not only wouldn’t produce such things, he couldn’t produce them, so opposite are these from his nature and purposes.  These simple and obvious evidences of grace are sure signs that God is at work, even with the imperfections we inevitably introduce.

If we wait for perfection, we will wait until we are with the Lord.  True discernment keeps our eyes peeled for fraudulence but also unleashes us, and even requires us, to rejoice wherever we see the Lord at work right now.

Don’t turn away because of the non-gold; prize the gold.  Defend it.  Rejoice over it.  God is giving it.

Christianity 201 serves as a type of index to some of the best scripture-focused devotional and Bible study writing online. You are encouraged to not only click the links to read articles at source, but also to browse these other blogs to locate additional resources and/or subscribe to the writers who most resonate with you. C201 contains a wide variety of doctrinal content from the across the spectrum of Evangelical Christianity.

 

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January 11, 2013

Watch Out for Idolatry

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:54 pm
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Updated: October, 2020

This is an updated version of an article we originally shared in 2013 from. Truthsource.org, titled Be On Guard Against Idolatry. Take a moment to visit the site and check out the other resources there.

“…every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” — John Calvin

By the grace of God my soul lately has been grieved and burdened in waging war against a vicious onslaught of idolatry. God has been faithful to maintain me through the midst of the struggle and gracious to cover the times of failure. As I was reasoning within my mind one day, seeking to justify a passion gone apostate, I came to a significant realization that I would do well to remember. My reasoning—devilish, indeed—was that I was not embracing “sin” as others were; I was not indulging in, say, immorality or drunkenness. But this led me to ask the following question, and praise be to God that I did: “And what, exactly, is sin?” I thought to myself. Immorality and drunkenness are definitely sins, no doubt, but they are not all what sin consists of. I was being led to believe that I was free to indulge in my heart’s desire because it was not on par with gross sins like theft, murder, or adultery. This, however, is the very thinking employed by Satan and championed by Pharisees.

Sin is disobedience against God; it is lawlessness. And the same God who forbids us from committing murder and adultery also commands us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—which, indeed, is the “great and foremost commandment” (Matthew 22:38). Yet I was not loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength; I was not loving Him more than that to which I was being drawn—and that right there is sin. God help us to never forget that seeking to justify such treasonous affections whilst condemning outward sins is an exceedingly dreadful beginning of a hellish path toward self-righteousness!

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

You don’t have to only murder, steal, or commit adultery to become guilty of committing sin. Idolatry is sin, as well, and a terrifying one, since it can be far more subtle than the rest. It is found in the same list Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, a list of sins for which the judgment of God is threatened. Elsewhere Paul declares with absolute certainty that no idolater will have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:5-6) and that God’s wrath is not only coming upon those who practice immorality and impurity, but also idolatry and covetousness, as well (Colossians 3:5-7). We can be so inclined to minimize subtle, idolatrous passions, but the apostle Paul and the rest of the inspired writers make no such categorization anywhere in Scripture.

With that said, let us be on guard against entertaining vain thoughts against God and Christ. When we desire something more than Christ, that is sin. That, in fact, is the root of all sin. All people sin because they desire something more than Christ. This is that corrupt spring that has plagued the sons of men and from which all manner of sin springs forth. We fool ourselves thinking we are not sinning just because we abstain from blatant, outward sins—all the while demonstrating more love toward things than Christ.

Moreover, when we violate our conscience, that too is sin. If we are convicted against something, but we go on to pursue it because, after all, “it is not a vice like immorality,” we are in grave sin. Paul tells us that what we do must proceed from faith because “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Though a particular activity may not be sinful in and of itself, since God has commanded us through His apostle not to violate our conscience, that activity becomes sinful in the specific case in which we are convicted against it. Often we try to reason our way around this when we are convicted against a certain activity by appealing to the fact that it is clearly not a sin or other genuine Christians are free to participate. But, as Paul warned, we are condemned if we partake, because we do not do it from faith.

We need to be ever on guard against such subtle sins as these, as God has brought me to realize recently. There is a reason why the last verse in the apostle John’s epistle contains a warning against idolatry. Let us take heed:

1 John 5:21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

August 29, 2012

God’s Priority Things-To-Do List

Six months ago, I introduced you to Gathering Rubies, the blog of Janice Garrison, who posts infrequently but has some great content. I always highlight the scripture verses here in green, because God’s Word is life; and today’s there’s a lot of green here!  This one appeared a couple of months back under the title What Does the Lord Require of You?

If you are like me, ever so often you need to take inventory before a trip to the grocery store or when your insurance comes up for renewal, asking, do I have enough or too much.

 I pause often to take my ‘spiritual’ inventory.

Am I saying “no” to self and “yes” to Christ… am I remembering —  Galatians 2:20-21 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

 I recently finished reading Micah again and am reminded how God hates idolatry, unfairness, rebellion, and empty rituals.

 I love this question from Micah 6:8 And what does the Lord require of you? (I find this a good question for beginning my spiritual inventory).

 Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

 This scripture has a strong message and should not be taken lightly. It gives instruction on how we are to live every day. Not when we are trying to impress others, not in ritualistic actions or service. It is to be so ingrained in us that it becomes our nature.

 Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

 Isaiah 1:16-17 Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

 Jeremiah 22:3 This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

 Zechariah 7:9-10  ”This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.  Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’

 James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

 For me, this next one covers all of the above, if I am loving God and my neighbor as stated below, I will be obeying the ones above. It’s all about loving God and loving others and expressing that love in the way I treat others. I know full well it’s not as easy as it sounds, because we all know how others can get on our last nerve at times. I also know that God doesn’t ask any thing of us that we can’t do.

 Matthew 22:37-40 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 It all comes down to our heart, God doesn’t want sacrifices, he wants our hearts to be in tune to others, loving Him, loving others and serving. Finding our talents and using them.

 I am also reminded that our God is truly an awesome God…Micah 7:18-19 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

 Psalm 51:10-12 Create in me a pure heart, O God,and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvationand grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

~Janice Garrison

May 25, 2012

Apostolic Passion

Some of you will recognize the name Floyd McClung in context with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) or more recently, All Nations.  Today we discovered Floyd and his wife (of 40 years) Sally are bloggers, and found this article.  This is lengthy, and you need to click here to read the article in full; what appears below are just a few sample paragraphs:

What is Apostolic Passion?

The term “passion” is used to describe everything from romance to hunger pangs. I don’t know what it means to you, but for me passion means whatever a person is willing to suffer for. In fact, that’s the root meaning of the word. It comes from the Latin paserre, to suffer.  It is what you hunger for so intensely that you will sacrifice anything to have it.

The word “apostle” means a sent one, a messenger. To be “apostolic” means we are sent people. The apostolic calling of the church includes forging new ways for how we do church and pioneering new places where we do church. To be apostolic is to be radical, to be adventurous, to think strategically and to listen prophetically.

“Apostolic Passion,” therefore, is a deliberate, intentional choice to live for the worship of Jesus in the nations. It has to do with being committed to the point of death to spreading His glory. It’s the quality of those who are on fire for Jesus, who dream of the whole earth being covered with the Glory of the Lord…

Floyd then lists some ways you can tell when you’ve lost such passion, and then begins describing the process of getting it back:

…Paul says in Romans 15 that it is his ambition, his passion, if you will to make Christ known. It began for him with a revelation of Jesus that he nurtured all his adult life. Paul not only encountered Christ on the road to Damascus, he kept on meeting Jesus every day. This revelation of Jesus, and his study of God’s purposes, gave birth to Paul’s apostolic passion. Knowing Jesus and making Him known consumed the rest of Paul’s life. He “gloried in Christ Jesus in his service to God” (Rom 15:17). By comparison, everything else was dung, garbage, stinking refuse. Paul’s ambition was born from his understanding that God longed for His Son to be glorified in the nations. Paul did not waste his passion, but focused it on spreading the glory of God to the Gentiles, that they “…might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:16).

Human enthusiasm cannot sustain apostolic passion. When God invests His own passion in you, you must build and develop what God has given you. Four things will help make that happen:

1. Apostolic Abandonment

Too many people want the fruit of Paul’s ministry without paying the price that Paul paid. He died. He died to everything. He died daily. He was crucified with Christ. This strong-willed, opinionated man knew that he must die to self. He knew that in his flesh, he couldn’t generate the revelation of Jesus; he couldn’t sustain the heart of Christ. So he died. He abandoned his life. He abandoned himself…

2. Apostolic Focus

The greatest enemy of the ambition to see Jesus worshiped in the nations is lack of focus. You can run around expending energy on all sorts of good ministries, and not get one step closer to the nations. I don’t have anything against all the projects and ministries out there done in God’s name. God’s people do them, and I don’t question their obedience to God. But the Church has an apostolic calling, an apostolic mission. God has called us to the nations. We must focus, or we won’t obey.

Focus on what? I believe God wants a people for Himself. Activity for God without a sharing God’s passion to have a people for Himself is good activity, but it’s not the mission of God. You can have evangelism without fulfilling God’s mission. You can care for the poor without connecting with God’s mission. You can do short-term outreach without obeying God’s mission…

3. Apostolic Praying

A young man in Bible school offered to help David Wilkerson years ago when he was ministering on the streets of New York City. Wilkerson asked him how much time he spent in prayer. The young student estimated about 20 minutes a day. Wilkerson told him, “Go back, young man. Go back for a month and pray two hours a ay, every day for 30 days. When you’ve done that, come back. Come back, and I might consider turning you loose on the streets where there is murder, rape, violence and danger. If I sent you out now on 20 minutes a day, I’d be sending a soldier into battle without any weapons, and you would get killed.”…

Paul said that he prayed “night and day with tears without ceasing with thankfulness in the Spirit constantly boldly for godly sorrow against the evil one.”

4. Apostolic Decision-Making

If you live without a vision of the glory of God filling the whole earth, you are in danger of serving your own dreams of greatness, as you wait to do “the next thing” God tells you. There are too many over-fed, under-motivated Christians hiding behind the excuse that God has not spoken to them. They are waiting to hear voices or see dreams all the while living to make money, to provide for their future, to dress well and have fun…

…Apostolic decision-making starts with a passion for God’s glory in the nations, then asks: “Where shall I serve you?” Most people do the opposite. They ask the where-and-when questions without a revelation of His glory in the nations. Is it any wonder they never hear God say “go!” They have not cultivated a passion for the passions of God. Lesser desires are holding them captive…

Read the entire article

Here’s a short article by Floyd  on this subject for church leaders.

March 24, 2012

Learning from Job

I’m not a regular follower of John Piper, but while searching the Desiring God website for something else, came on this article about Job. When we think of the losses that Job incurred, perhaps we really don’t know the half of what was involved in his unique testing…

I Was Warned by Job This Morning

I take this as a serious and sober warning to people with significant influence and respected standing in the church and community. Job was a good man. “Blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). His fall from health, wealth, and family wholeness was not owing to an evil lifestyle.

Whatever remnants of pride lying in the bottom of Job’s glass of holiness, which God meant to expose and purge, he was a faithful man, no worse than you or I.

But he was prominent. Very prominent. He was utterly successful. He was revered by the young, and respected by the old. He had authority and great influence.

For example here is a sampling from Job 29:

  • I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent.
  • My children were all around me.
  • My steps were washed with butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!
  • The young men saw me and withdrew.
  • The aged rose and stood.
  • The princes refrained from talking and laid their hand on their mouth.
  • The voice of the nobles was hushed.
  • I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him.
  • I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
  • My justice was like a robe and a turban.
  • I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know.
  • I broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made him drop his prey from his teeth.
  • Men listened to me and waited and kept silent for my counsel.
  • I smiled on them when they had no confidence, and the light of my face they did not cast down.

And God took it all away. He tested Job. Are Job’s successes — even his holy successes — his treasure? Or is God his treasure? That’s the question everyone of us must ask. And there is no reason to believe that God will not test any one of us just as he did Job.

When he takes it all away, will we love him more than things, more than health, more than family, and more than life? That’s the question. That’s the warning. That’s the wonderful invitation.

~John Piper

March 2, 2012

Is There a Crown Waiting for You?

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24,25). “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).

On Thursday, Daily Encouragement featured these verses, which I know are familiar to many of you. Stephen and Brooksyne reminded readers that,

…In this passage he is urging diligence in the Christian life in the spirit of an overcomer. He urges the Corinthian believers and us to “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” He reminds his readers of the strict training that is required for the serious contestant. 

“They do it to get a crown that will not last.” The ancient crown of victory was a laurel wreath that quickly withered and died. Even the gold medals received by the winners in the modern games will one day perish.

Today many, perhaps most, are in pursuit of the various types of temporal crowns that will not last. For the great majority the pursuit of God is placed on a back burner in life to be dealt with at some later date, if at all….

“But we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”  This crown is not for a select few; note the plural pronoun “we”.  Earlier in the passage he wrote regarding the competition in the ancient games that “only one gets the prize.”  Consider all the athletes who sacrifice many years of their time, money, and endure strict training to be in the Olympics but don’t receive a medal or may never even make it to the Olympics for that matter. 

This is not so in regard to our future crown…

I encourage you to read the entire article at Daily Encouragement.

However, tucked away as a postscript or appendix to this devotional was an excellent scripture outline on what might constitute the crown you receive. As I looked at this list, I asked myself, ‘For which of these endeavors might there be a crown with my name on it?’

You can ask yourself that same question…

Seven crowns are mentioned in the New Testament

1. The crown for those who love His appearance. “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).

2. The crown for those who compete according to the rules. “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5).

3. The crown for enduring trials. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

4. The crown for those willing to feed the flock. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;  not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).

5. The crown for those who are faithful unto death “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

6. The crown for those who win souls. “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you?”  (1 Thessalonians 2:19)
  
7. The crown for those who master the old nature. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24,25).

 

 

In selecting a visual crown to illustrate these thoughts, there were a number of crown icons or simple crowns that were less opulent than the royal crowns I found online from Sweden and Denmark, but I wanted to make the point that any crown given out by God will be the finest.

February 28, 2012

Success of Significance?

I’ve always said I would rather be effective than be successful. But I’ve never heard anyone else express this sentiment until I came across Counting My Blessings, the blog of Deb Wolf, where this appeared just a few days ago as Would You Rather Be Successful or Significant?

Successful is defined as – having attained wealth, position, honors, or the like.

Significant is defined as – important or of consequence.

So, would you rather be successful or significant? 

This question came to mind as I read Ecclesiastes 4:4 –

Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind.

I used to think the Book of Ecclesiastes was majorly depressing. Solomon stating again and again that, “it’s all meaningless – like chasing the wind.”

But then I read the end of the book, Ecclesiastes 12:13 –

 After all this, there is only one thing to say: Have reverence for God, and obey His commands, because this is all that we were created for.

Accomplishing that for which we were created is success. Certainly not the world’s definition of success, not even the dictionary’s definition but I believe the best definition.

What are God’s commands? When Jesus was asked to name the most important commandments He replied:

 “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:27-29

Loving God. Loving others. Success and Significance. 

Not what is normally thought of as success or significance, but for those of who follow Christ the best definition of both.

That’s what I’m thinking about. What do you think?

~Deb Wolf

November 5, 2011

A Third Kind of Love

In three different contexts this week, I was confronted by the writings of A. W. Tozer.  One of these, earlier this week, concerned a piece he wrote that was titled, “Three Kinds of Love.”  At first, I thought this would be an explanation of the difference between phileos, eros and agape love.  But it turned out to be something quite different; he writes about the love we have for God. 

Rather than just run the excerpt today, I’m going to try to paraphrase what Tozer wrote…

He begins by saying that traditionally, religious writers talk about two kinds of love for God:

  • The love that springs out of gratitude for God:  “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and my supplications,” and “We love him, because he first loved us.”  Ps. 116:1 and I John 4:19, italics added.  This is a very basic, elementary kind of love that actually has selfish overtones: It’s a love that is driven by benefits we receive
  • The love of the admiration of excellence: A higher level of love where the selfishness factor is reduced, and is replaced by a consideration of God’s glorious being; his power, knowledge and might become the driving factor; we love him because of all that he is.

But then, Tozer takes it to another level and introduces the analogy of a mother of what we would today call a special-needs child, in this case one who is considerably developmentally challenged.  (This was a rather progressive example in Tozer’s day; and I use it now with apology to those of you whose families are touched by the reality of a special needs child or children.)

He says that, “The child excites no gratitude in her breast, for all the benefits have flowed the other way; the helpless infant has been nothing but a burden from the time it was born.”  This is a child that won’t be helping set the table, won’t be taking out the garbage.

At the second level, “Neither can the mother find in such a child any excellence to admire, for there is none.”  This is a child whose artwork won’t be adorning the refrigerator door; whose report cards won’t be shown off to the aunts and uncles.

Yet she loves the child with a great intensity.  Her life and the life of her child are more intertwined than they were before she gave birth.  They are bonded emotionally.  It is what he calls “the union achieved by hearts; more beautiful than anything that can be experienced by flesh and blood.”

There is no element of because.

It’s not, “I love because;” because there is no because. It’s simply, “I love.”

This is the third kind of love, what he calls a supranatural love.

For the last 48 hours, I’ve been trying to process how the story of the mother relates to our love for God.  Tozer notes that we all have things to be thankful to God for; just as we all have moments where we are overcome by the excellence of magnificence, the great majesty of God. 

But I’m trying to find in my own heart the parallel to the third type of love, something that is not the product of logic, or enumeration of God’s attributes, or any other because.   

Tozer says,

If this all seems to mystical, too unreal, we offer no proof and make no effort to defend our position. This can be understood only by those who have experienced it.  In the rank and file of today’s Christians it will be rejected or shrugged off as preposterous.  So be it.  Some however, will read and will recognize an accurate description of the sunlit peaks where they have been for at least brief periods and to which they long often to return.

And such will need no proof.

today’s thoughts based on Three Degrees of Love as it appears on pp. 147-150 of the 1955 Christian Publications edition of The Root of Righteousness.

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