Christianity 201

September 29, 2021

Letters to the Seven (or more) Churches in Revelation

This is a revisit to an article that was posted here eleven years ago. It’s been rewritten for clarity. It also features a graphic image at the bottom. When I tested the link, I discovered that the original site is no longer available, so I can’t give proper credit. Make sure you spend as much time looking over the chart as you do reading what follows…

(NIV) Rev. 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Seven letters to seven different churches that existed when John received the vision, right?

Zoom out a little. There were a dozen or so well-established churches at the time. Could it be that the choice of “seven” means that these letters have application to the whole church? That the letters, like the rest of scripture, are not written to us but are definitely written for us?

Zoom back in. Some people teach that the seven churches represent different ages of the larger church over different eras. That this is a historical overview of church history. Perhaps. But there may be something more immediate for us to consider.

Zoom in again. Churches like the seven so-described exist today. If you’ve been around different denominations, or have attended a variety of churches, you might be able to put different names next to each letter.

Zoom in more. Even within an individual church, there are often different sub-groups to whom these different letters might apply. Or maybe they represent different stages in the history of that local church over time.

Zoom in tighter. We shouldn’t get caught up in the idea that the letters are a message that someone else needs to hear. That it’s for the church in the Middle Ages. That the message applies to the church down the block. Rather these letters contain a message that’s for me. These letters have application to each one of us. Maybe the message to the church at Laodicia is pertinent to you right now. Or maybe you’re at a Sardis or Ephesus point in your Christian life.

Zoom in!

…Here’s a bonus for you today…

If you didn’t grow up in church before the 1960s, here’s an example of the kind of visual presentation you missed out on when the letters were taught!

We considered the seven letters elsewhere at C201. Here’s a link to Seven Letters: Seven Problem Churches (It’s a short article and uses the same scripture reference, so you’re already halfway through!)


If you’re reading this at the site and not as an email, there’s a formatting problem (depending on what browser you’re using and the size of your monitor) with the last ten or so articles that normally I can fix, but this time it’s not fixing. Thanks for your patience. If you wish the text of a particular article emailed to you, use the submissions and contact tab to request.

September 28, 2021

A Friend Will Challenge You

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. – Galatians 6:1 NIV

While rummaging through the book listings at a large online Christian bookstore a few hours ago, I came across a title which intrigued me: The 7 Friendships That Everyone Needs by Justin Erickson. The advertising blurb listed these:

7 Types of Friendships Every Man Needs:

  1. Godly mentor to Disciple you
  2. Faithful Disciple to follow you
  3. Solid Peer to Encourage you
  4. Best Friend to uphold you
  5. Courageous Brother to confront you
  6. Lost Seeker to hear you
  7. Gracious Savior to redeem you

My mind immediately jumped to Proverbs 27:17

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.  (NLT)

Of course the opposite is also true, as seen in Proverbs 13:20

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. (NIV)

The other thing my mind immediately jumped to is the title of a popular Christian book from years back, Caring Enough to Confront. It’s one of those “Snakes on a plane” type of book titles that, once you’ve read the title, you’ve got the premise. If we care enough about people we will not be afraid to stand in their way when they’re going off the rails.

The principle is also in Proverbs 15:31

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. (NLT) The NIV has heeds life-giving correction and the NASB renders it as listens to the life-giving reproof.

I was somewhat horrified to discover that in 11 years, the phrase “caring enough to confront” has never surfaced here. So today we correct that with a short devotional from 2006 published in Today the daily reading booklet given out by the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). The author is retired CRC pastor Arthur Schoonveld

Caring Enough to Confront

2 Samuel 12:1-7 ERV

The LORD sent Nathan to David. Nathan went to him and said, “There were two men in a city. One man was rich, but the other man was poor. The rich man had lots of sheep and cattle. But the poor man had nothing except one little female lamb that he bought. The poor man fed the lamb, and the lamb grew up with this poor man and his children. She ate from the poor man’s food and drank from his cup. The lamb slept on the poor man’s chest. The lamb was like a daughter to the poor man. “Then a traveler stopped to visit the rich man. The rich man wanted to give food to the traveler, but he did not want to take any of his own sheep or cattle to feed the traveler. No, the rich man took the lamb from the poor man and cooked it for his visitor.”

David became very angry with the rich man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who did this should die! He must pay four times the price of the lamb because he did this terrible thing and because he had no mercy.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are that rich man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I chose you to be the king of Israel. I saved you from Saul.

Key verse: Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” 2 Samuel 12:7

Sometimes we are almost completely blind to our own sins and shortcomings. It’s so much easier to see the faults and failures of others. And sometimes it takes someone else to make us see our sin. That’s how it was with David. When the prophet Nathan told him a story about a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb, David was outraged. He could clearly see what the rich man had done, but he failed to see his own sin. The prophet needed to confront David before he realized that Nathan was talking about him.

In the book Caring Enough to Confront, David Augsburger talks about the importance of confronting people who live in sin. Sometimes we need to confront, and sometimes we need to be confronted. It’s not easy to confront a family member, a friend, or a coworker. Sometimes it’s easier to look the other way. Besides, we ourselves don’t like to be confronted. When someone cares enough to confront us, often our first response is “Who do you think you are? You’re not perfect either!”

God calls us to confront others who are in sin, and we need to learn to do so with gentleness (Galatians 6:1). We must also be willing to be confronted when we are blind to our own sins. God wants us all to help remove the barrier of sin that keeps us far from God.

Prayer

Father in heaven, make us caring enough to confront someone who is living in sin, and give us the grace to accept those who confront us. We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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August 26, 2021

Making a Fall Commitment Reset

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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With regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon still on holidays, we mined his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon for something we had not presented before. This one appeared on the Labor Day weekend of 2021. Clicking the link in the header below takes you there directly.

When We Feel Not So Into It

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1st Corinthians 15:58 NIV)

Here is a verse we may read and think “I could not be described as a person who gives myself fully to the work of the Lord.” And of course this does not mean we should all quit our jobs and become pastors or full time missionaries or ministers of some sort. If we all did that I’d have to wonder where my salary was coming from. I depend on people committing, or in the case of the retired, having committed, themselves to regular jobs. We all do! And we should not make the mistake of thinking that Paul here is only speaking to the full-time professional minister. All Christians are called and invited ‘excel’ in the Lord’s work as another translation puts it. This means serving the Lord with passion in everything we do, including our ‘secular’ jobs, or put another way, serving the Lord as sacred people in the midst of a secular world. So what happens we find ourselves lacking in Christian spunk and fervor? What might we do as we read this verse and find ourselves faithfully serving ourselves and our own ambitions, or those of another person rather than our Lord?

First thing is to check your faith in the resurrection of Jesus. We do well to read the rest of 1st Corinthians where we find it all begins with teaching on the resurrection of Jesus. The ‘therefore’ that introduces verse 58 is key, as is the concluding reminder that the resurrection hope means our service to the Lord is not in vain. We serve a risen Saviour, to quote a familiar hymn, precisely because He is risen.

The 20th century was a time when many church goers got quite vague on what the resurrection was all about. Many turned their backs on anything sounding supernatural in the Gospel accounts right up to and including the resurrection of Jesus.

This leads naturally to a very vague kind of faith where one might say “I believe there is perhaps some sort of God, who I guess loves us”. Theology becomes very vague as the Bible fades into the background (taking Jesus with it) and faith is built only on reason, tradition, and experience, becoming a “build your own” kind of thing. And how easy it is for the Christian today to forget that our faith, our theology, and therefore our ethics are all founded upon and center around the resurrection of Jesus.

If Jesus was not raised from the dead, Christianity is dead. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, I wouldn’t bother being a pastor, indeed I wouldn’t even bother with being a Christian. Many in my own generation think likewise, and some, not having a solid sense of the resurrection of Jesus, are leaving the pews empty today. All the contemporary music in the world won’t help a church that has forgotten that Jesus lives.

So if you find your dedication waning, or your commitment lacking, check the place the resurrection of Jesus takes in your faith. Paul could always be described as giving himself “fully to the work of the Lord”, and little wonder when you consider his experience of meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. The fact that Jesus is risen changes everything, and for Paul, and millions since, everything changed.

If you find you are not “fully giving yourself to the work of the Lord”, perhaps it is time for a fresh encounter with our risen Saviour.


Bonus scriptures for today’s theme:

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
 – Galatians 6:9 NLT

But those who trust the LORD will find new strength. They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings; they will walk and run without getting tired.
 – Isaiah 40:31 CEV

Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged… Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day.
– 2 Corinthians 4:1,16 NET

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
 – Romans 12:11 NIV

 

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June 4, 2021

Vowing not to be Distracted

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Earlier today a popular internet web-browser introduced an update which left users confounded and frustrated. Using my phone, I typed some keywords and started thinking about the number of businesses and individuals who couldn’t get work done that they needed to prioritize because of this distraction, and my mind immediately went to our key verse in Nehemiah.

The first time I looked at this passage here, in 2013, I called it “Try Our Signature Dish!” The reason? Restaurants have signature meals, a particular menu item that the place is well known for and with each menu revision, it’s always left intact. Preachers have signature sermon series as well, a particular book of the Bible for which they have great affinity and/or expertise, or if they are academics, a particular commentary that they have authored that stands apart from all their other writing. For Andy Stanley, who introduced me to this passage, the signature dish is the Book of Nehemiah — you can read more in his book Visioneering — and when he preaches it, the key verses are:

Neh 6:2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”

But they were scheming to harm me; 3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. (NIV)

Nehemiah had obtained special permission take what we would call today “a leave of absence” from his duties to the king to return home and rebuild the walls of his city, which had crumbled.

This is a passage about distractions in all areas of life, but especially distractions that can take us away from spending time with God and doing God’s work. In Nehemiah’s case the distraction was relentless. “Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave the same reply.” (v4)

Matthew Henry notes the specifics of those appeals:

Author Steven J. Cole portrays Nehemiah’s refusals as a story you might get in your news feed:

Nehemiah Says No to Ono

Samaritan officials have disclosed that Nehemiah, governor of Judah, has again turned down the offer of Governor Sanballat of Samaria to meet at one of the villages in Ono, on the Judah-Samaria border. The proposed conference would include the Big Four of the area: Geshem, leader of the Arabs; Tobiah, leader of the Ammonites; Sanballat, and Nehemiah.

Sanballat issued a statement today in which he sharply criticized Nehemiah for his repeated refusals to cooperate. He reports that the purpose of such a meeting would be to work on a formula for lasting peace in the region. The Samaritan leader said with evident frustration, “This is the fourth time Nehemiah has turned down my invitation to meet and discuss our mutual concerns. These repeated refusals mean that the responsibility for increasing tensions and any violence that may result, rests solely upon Jerusalem.” (Adapted from Donald Campbell, Nehemiah: Man in Charge [Victor Books], p. 55.)

(If you want an excellent detailed commentary on this passage, the above link for that one is the one to choose!)

There have been several times in my life I’ve wanted to quote verse 3 to people, “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down;” but I’m not sure they would get the reference.

Blogger Alyson Browning calls this one of three marks of leadership:

…Third mark of leadership – ignore the annoying distractions (chapter 6). In this chapter, we see the enemies of God – Sanballet, Tobiah, and Geshem – attempting to discourage and distract Nehemiah from everything he was doing to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah ignores their plot to distract and harm him. He gives this now famous response, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (6:3, HCSB). Nehemiah kept his focus on the task God had for his life and ignored those who were trying to distract him.

Christopher Scott notes that we’re getting an inside look in this story:

One of the reasons I love the book of Nehemiah is that it allows the reader to peek inside the heart of Nehemiah because it was written as a memoir from Nehemiah. Most of the books of the Bible tell about events that happened, but rarely do they tell about the thoughts and feelings of the biblical characters. However, because the book of Nehemiah was written as a memoir, we get to take a peek past what has happened and actually read about what Nehemiah was thinking and feeling.

Michael “Sinbad” Creighton writes:

Nehemiah was doing something that could only be blamed on God. He led a group of people in the rebuilding of the wall around the city of Jerusalem and completed it in only 52 DAYS! And all through the process, he had distractors and distractions. Check it out here. And every time he stood firm in what God was leading and equipping him to do.

Notice the first line of the 2nd paragraph (italics added) here from Steven Ruff:

Proponents and opponents: those for and against something. Every leader has both in the circle of influence. Nehemiah was no different. He had received word of the condition of Jerusalem’s walls and his heart was broken. He had prayed, sensing a God-given mission, and approached the king for assistance. He made the long trip to Jerusalem, surveyed the situation first-hand, and gave a reasonable and attainable goal to the people. When Sanballat and Tobiah approached Nehemiah, sounding like children on the playground, a choice had to be made. Does he move forward with his plans or does he come down off the wall and argue with them about the legitimacy of his work? Does he make wise use of his time and strength by carrying out the work or does he waste time, energy, and strength arguing whether it could or could not be accomplished? Nehemiah chose in that pivotal and critical moment to not argue. As the work continued and his opponent’s displeasure became louder, he later made his decision known, loud and clear. He said, “So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” [Nehemiah 6:3]

There is a difference between casting and defending a vision before those you lead and arguing with them about the legitimacy of that vision. There is a difference between answering legitimate questions from the organization and arguing with them about it. The difference : the opponent’s spirit. Nehemiah opponents were not genuinely concerned with his vision. They were not there to understand better the work at hand. They were not there to investigate how they might be involved. Instead, their spirit was one that simply wanted to see the work stopped and the Israelites embarrassed. Period. Leaders must decide where they will spend their precious time, strength, and energy. Will they spend it helping their opponents who genuinely want to better understand their vision and decision? Or, will they spend it arguing with an opponent who only wishes to see the work stop or fail? Nehemiah answers this question for us. Leaders lead confidently and choose not to argue, instead, inform and encourage. Ed Stetzer sums this matter up perfectly. He said, “You do not have to show up to every argument you are invited to.”

Conclusion: This is from Kendra Graham writing at the Billy Graham Training Center website:

When the opposition hears of the work that God is doing, it will raise eyebrows and tempers. Be prepared for opposition when you start doing what God has called you to do…When you do work for God, ill meaning people, but also many well meaning people and noble causes may try to steal your attention. These are not bad things, but are not the things God has called you to. Be on guard. Know what God has called you to and have confidence in that.

Like Andy Stanley, I’ve tried to take ownership of this passage, helped by the fact I’ve heard him refer to it several times. I hope you’ll find the spirit of this principle useful in the days ahead.

From Eugene Peterson, Ephesians 6:

The Message.Eph.6.10-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

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May 1, 2021

The Day the Grade Five Sunday School Teacher Taught Reincarnation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We begin with two scriptures:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly. ~James 3:1 NET

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! ~Matthew 18:6-7 NIV

I am reminded of a something that happened many years ago. The church secretary’s ten-year-old son announced at lunch that his Sunday School teacher believed in reincarnation. True story. There’s a family mealtime conversation for which I would love to have been a fly on the wall.

Needless to say, an investigation ensued, the child’s report was accurate, and the teacher was relieved of responsibilities.

I’ve probably shared this story about a dozen times in the twenty years since it happened, but only today did I ask myself, “I wonder if anybody ever set the woman straight?” Obviously, removing the teacher from the classroom was the first thing that needed to happen, but someone also needed to set her straight on why Christians don’t see themselves as having existed before in another form and then, at the end of this life, returning to earth in another life-form.

I would suspect that at the most elementary level, correction would entail some notion of the teaching that “It is appointed onto man once to die, and after that the judgement” Hebrews 9:27 KJV, italics added. A Christian theological understanding of man would assert that we don’t come back in some other form as taught in Spiritism or Hinduism.

About a year ago, I discovered something I had previously overlooked; namely, that in the various doctrines which join together to form a systematic theology (or as I prefer, a cohesive theology) there is a doctrine of man and for that the term used is anthropology, the same term we normally use to describe a particular discipline in the social sciences alongside things like psychology or sociology or philosophy. Perhaps you took ‘anthro’ in school but never thought of it in a doctrinal sense.In the list of branches of theology at Wikipedia, it’s listed as “Theological Anthropology”

The Bible’s truth and Christianity’s orthodoxy is not comprised solely of doctrines about God, but also teachings about the nature of man and the world.

But we’re digressing from our Sunday School teacher.

For the record, I have however in my limited contact with this person over the years encouraged them along the lines of deeper Bible study. It grieves me to think that someone could be in church for so many years and hold to views that are so far from orthodox. However, there are times when spiritual confrontation is appropriate.

I’m not sure at this point that it would be helpful to revisit a 25-year old discussion, nor to reveal I was party to something that might have been considered confidential at the time. But I am reminded of this verse:

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness… (Galatians 6:1 NRSV)

Brothers and sisters, if someone in your group does something wrong, you who are spiritual should go to that person and gently help make him right again. (same vs. NCV)

The context is more overt sin and wrongdoing, but the principle is the same: To gently guide that person to the right path, using scripture. In a very, very early post here on Christianity 201, I looked at 2 Timothy 3:16 (the one that begins, “All scripture is inspired…”) and suggested the following paraphrase:

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

■ shows us the path God would have us walk
■ highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
■ points the way back to the path
■ gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

The second point is most applicable here, but some remediation along the lines of the last point is important as well. Over the years I’ve seen that some people are simply “prone to wander.”

The chorus of the old hymn, “Brighten the Corner” describes this. While you might not fully understand all the nautical imagery, it’s easy to see the gist of the sentiment:

Brighten the corner where you are!
Brighten the corner where you are!
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
Brighten the corner where you are!

Our responsibility is threefold:

  1. To identify (discern) false teaching
  2. To remove the person caught in error from public ministry
  3. To try to restore that person to sound doctrine

As to point #2: This is for their benefit (to avoid being under judgement, as in today’s opening verses) and to prevent them from causing “little ones”(which can be literal in terms of children, or figurative in terms of people new to the faith) to stumble

We brighten the corner by shining light where light is needed.


The person in the story still attends the same church and still serves in a somewhat lesser capacity. They are in regular contact with people who are well-versed on the truths of Christianity and I believe are able to hold unorthodox beliefs in check.\


Previously on Christianity 201:

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January 31, 2021

The Roller Coaster Ride of Ministry and Missions

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would always sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, I was hearing the KJV text from where I first learned it:

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

Today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. Today in church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (KJV) says,

But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.


Earlier today I launched a fundraising page at GoFundMe for an orphanage in Haiti that we’ve come to know over the past seven years. Our oldest son Chris has been on the ground there twice now and participates in their fundraising activities back home in Canada. If God has blessed you and you’d like to make a difference, I invite you to click through to the page and then consider any encouragement you can give through your donation.

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November 20, 2020

Know Any Sorcerers?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Have you ever met someone whose God-following seems motivated by self-interest? Or recognized mix motives in your own life?

This article is by Penny Gadd who is featured here for the first time. Her blog is Seeking the Light. Click the the title which follows to read this at her site.

Acts 8: 9 – 25 Simon the sorcerer

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘The man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’ They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; They had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’

Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’

Then Simon answered, ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’

After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

Sorcery was strictly forbidden under Mosaic Law. Perhaps the most emphatic statement against it is this:

“A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads” (Leviticus 20: 27)

It would seem that Simon concealed the occult nature of his practices, for Luke reports that “all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘The man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’ ”

Then Philip arrived in Samaria, chased out of Jerusalem when the church there was persecuted. He was one of the seven who had been appointed to oversee food distribution, and had been a co-worker with Stephen. He preached to the Samaritans about the kingdom of God and about Jesus, and his ministry was validated by many healings. People flocked to be baptized.

This must have had a bad effect on Simon’s prestige – and his income.

Nevertheless, Simon joined the congregation, and was himself baptized. Luke says “And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”

I wonder if it was only the signs and miracles that attracted him? Maybe he was also drawn to Jesus by Philip’s witness to him?

Simon’s self-interest was threatened by the miracles worked by God through Philip. A threat to self-interest often prompted the violent rejection of Jesus, as we’ve just seen in the stoning of Stephen. Yet Simon became baptized and followed Philip everywhere.

News of Philip’s success in preaching the word to the Samaritans was reported to the apostles in Jerusalem, who sent Peter and John to Samaria. They found that Philip had simply baptized the new believers in the name of Jesus; the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them.

Peter and John prayed for the Holy Spirit to be given to the new believers, placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Luke doesn’t describe the scene, but it must have been quite dramatic. In fact, it was so powerful that Simon immediately identified it as the source of the signs done by Philip and the apostles.

“When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ ”

Peter’s reply bears close study.

“ ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!’ ”

The gift of God is the forgiveness of sins. It is free; it can’t be bought, or earned, or in any way deserved. Belief in Jesus is all that you need.

“You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.”

Simon had seen that the presence of the Holy Spirit had brought power, and he desired that power. But he hadn’t realized that the real gift of God wasn’t the power, but the forgiveness of his sins. He didn’t believe in Jesus, he believed in the power he saw. Simon had not sought and received forgiveness; how, then, could he have any share in the ministry?

“Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.”

What was the sin that needed repentance? Well, it was actually a very common sin, the one that underlies most sin. Simon wanted to retain control of his life. He wanted God’s power, but not God’s direction. He had been through the ritual of baptism but had not surrendered his life to Jesus.

“For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’ ”

Peter could see clearly that Simon wanted to retain control of his life and was therefore captive to sin.

Simon’s reply to Peter is intriguing

“ ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’ ”

He clearly trusts what Peter has told him. He fears the consequences of his sin. He’s some way short of repentance and belief, but he’s moving in the right direction, I think.

Meanwhile, Peter and John return to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages. The good news of Jesus has started to spread!

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Thank you that I can turn to you for guidance when I need to know your will. Please help me to allow you to direct my life.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

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May 18, 2020

Drawing a Crowd Isn’t a Problem: It’s More Complicated

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Previous generations didn’t have the word, “megachurch.” Of course they didn’t have “televangelist” either. There were indeed large churches, however and there were preachers (George Whitefield is a good example) who preached to thousands — in the outdoors, no less — without the benefit of sound equipment. But we tend to look back favorably on those days, believing it was a matter of substance over style.

Today, we have popular preachers whose television ministries have huge followings and whose close-up pictures are plastered on the front cover of their books. (No, not just that one; I’m thinking of about six.)

The general conclusion at which people arrive is that they are getting those followers because they are saying what people want to hear. On close examination, it’s true that many of the hooks of their sermons and books are positive motivational sayings that also work on posters and coffee mugs.

For those of us who are insiders, we immediately default to the phrase itching ears. This is drawn from 2 Timothy 4:3

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. (NLT)

This true, probably more true now than ever, but the challenge for Christians today is that everyone who drives by a church with an overflowing parking lot is likely to jump to conclusions and declare that church liberal in their theology or empty of doctrines; or infer that people only go there for the music.

It’s true that Jesus warned his disciples they were not going to win a popularity contest. In Matthew 7: 13-14 he tells his disciples,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (NIV)

and then immediately makes a statement about false teachers.

Jesus had his own fall from popularity when he began what I call the tough teachings and others call the “hard sayings.” A month ago I referred to “the ominously verse-referenced” John 6:66

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

Many of you grew up in churches where you were told you were part of “the chosen few” a reference to Matthew 22:14

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)

Jesus told his disciples that they would experience rejection in some places. In Matthew 10:14 he is saying,

If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.  (NLT)

In other words, there is, at least in Evangelicalism, a mindset that says that we are a tiny remnant, and by extrapolation is suspicious of large crowds.

But there are exceptions.

I think of an American pastor who since Christmas has been walking his church through some very challenging sermons; raising the bar when it comes to expectations for both compassionate service and lifestyle evangelism. But he’s not off in a corner doing this, it’s one of the top ten churches in the U.S.

I think of two Canadian pastors, from two very different eras, who have a giftedness when it comes to taking Bible passage “A” and showing people how it relates to Bible passage “B.” I’ve seen both of them preach before thousands of people. It was far from “itching ears;” you had to work hard just to keep up with the note-taking, which is challenging when you’re sitting there with your mouth open going, “Wow!”

I think of Nicodemus who we characterize as coming to Jesus in secret. I was always taught that was the reason for his nighttime visit in John 3. But lately I read that the rabbis set aside the early evening for further discussion. He was coming back for the Q. and A. part of the teaching. He wanted more. I find him to be representative of people in the crowd who were there for all the right reasons. (Compare his motivation to that of Felix in Acts 24:25-26.) The itching ears crowd don’t come back for the evening service, the Tuesday morning Bible study, or the midweek prayer meeting.

The website Knowing Jesus has come up with more than 30 good examples of Jesus being surrounded by crowds. True, the Bible tells us that some of them were simply there for the miracle spectacle or the free lunches, but I’m sure that many of them were drawn to Jesus for greater, higher reasons. (There’s a limit to how many hours people will listen to teaching in order to get a fish sandwich lunch.)

So where did all this come from today? A friend posted this on Facebook. I’ve decided to delete the original author’s name.

His words appear deep, meaningful and mature, but indirectly he is lashing out against individuals or movements which are left unnamed. He’s implying that everyone who is drawing a big crowd is doing so at the expense of preaching the Word. I suspect his words land with people who are already on-side, so I don’t really get the point of posting things like this at all.

Furthermore, the inference is that the sign of a successful ministry is suffering, hardship and opposition.

Like so many things in scripture, there is a balance to be found.

In Matthew 5:14 +16, we find Jesus saying

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
(NASB)

If all you experience is suffering, hardship and opposition, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing everything right, but rather, it could be you’re doing something seriously wrong.

Oswald Smith wrote the hymn which begins:

There is joy in serving Jesus
As I journey on my way
Joy that fills my heart with praises
Every hour and every day

I really hope that’s your experience as well.

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February 28, 2020

Signs of a Healthy Church

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Last Sunday, I attended the annual meeting of the church where my wife is employed, and where I’ve also been attending for nearly two years. It was my first such business meeting in a church of this denomination. Though required by law, the AGM (Annual General Meeting) is also a good opportunity for churches to step back and see the ‘big picture’ of church life, consider what God is doing through their efforts, thank God for His provision and look forward to the future.

The danger of course is to reduce meetings like this to statistics; to pie-chart and bar-graph church life to extremes. Often we rejoice in the reports of individual departments, but then the meeting really kicks into high gear when attendees are told to turn to the financial reports. Generally AGMs are all about numbers.

I doubt the first century church did this kind of record-keeping, and the Apostle Paul — who had a great mind when it came to understanding justification and atonement — was somewhat fuzzy on if or when he had baptized people.

Years ago we published an excerpt from an annual report from a UK church which began by reminding people of the marks of a healthy church. (The source blog is no longer online.) Check it out:

1. People are coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
2. Our missions program is expanding locally, nationally and globally.
3. People are making public professions of faith through baptism.
4. Attendance in worship services is increasing.
5. The worship experience is vibrant, enthusiastic and intergenerational.
6. There is broad participation in serving throughout the ministries.
7. New ministries are beginning as God imparts vision.
8. Guests are being connected to church life.
9. Covenant membership is increasing.
10. Our budgetary needs are being met.
11. Leaders are being developed and placed in ministry roles.
12. Scripture is central to our message.
13. Staff relationships are healthy.

That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of; though I think the eleven hour round trip would take its toll after a few Sundays. Although it represented a larger church, I believe these goals are viable at some level for churches of all shapes and sizes.

What else does a healthy church look like? I want to leave us with a look at how The Message translates two familiar passages describing the early church. Take your time with this:

Acts 2:38-39Peter said, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites.”

40He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!”

41-42That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

43-45Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.

46-47They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.

Acts 4:31While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence.

32-33The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

34-35And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

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November 26, 2019

Being Christ-Like May Involve More Than You Imagine

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7, ESV)

I urge you, then, be imitators of me. (1 Cor 4:16, ESV)

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ… (1 Cor 11:16, ESV)

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. (Ephesians 5:1, ESV)

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. (John 5:19, NIV)

This is our eighth time at the blog with the inauspicious title, Done With Religion. This time the author is Jim Gordon. Click the header below to read at source.

Being Christ-like

We often talk about being like Jesus, or living a Christ-like life. What does that really entail?

My first thought is being like Jesus does not necessarily mean imitating Jesus. I think that is something that is close but a little different. Imitating, according to the dictionary means to mimic; impersonate; to make a copy of; to have or assume the appearance of. Some of this can be understood to be good, but I feel it takes away from our own identity and the way we were made as individuals.

I do not think being Christ-like means we are going to do everything we read in the gospels just like Jesus. It may mean we do things that are not popular or accepted by everyone, but we do them as the Spirit leads us, not because we are imitating exactly what Jesus did.

Most of us probably will not go to a Jewish synagogue and overturn tables. We may not walk all over the country healing people and raising the dead. We may never face being stoned and we may not have to deal directly with the spiritual or political leaders of our day.

What it might mean is, some of us may leave the church system because it is man-controlled with its doctrines and various interpretations of the bible. This will cause us to walk in the wilderness outside the walls of religion. It may mean being shunned by those still within the system. Yet we still have the Spirit living within us and who will never leave us.

Some of us may disassociate ourselves from politics. In the U.S.A. many people think being Christian means being republican. Jesus did not seem to associate himself with any political party of his time. He respected them by saying give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. Yet, Jesus goals and purposes were far beyond anything political.

Some may join an LGBTQ organization to show support, or work with race, gender or nationality relations. It may mean participating with and helping people that others would rather ignore. We want to help provide understanding and acceptance among people no matter what label they wear. Doing so may be misunderstood by others and may cause us to be cut off from friends or family who see things differently.

No matter how the Spirit leads us, I believe being like Jesus will be going about the Father’s business. That is to show love and not judgment and condemnation. It is encouraging, loving, building up and accepting people just as they are. Jesus came to our world to show us that God is not a God of hate, condemnation, murder and exclusiveness. God is love and a god of acceptance, inclusiveness and a god that walks side by side with us through everything we go through in this world.

We are all different. We each have our own personality, interests and special ways of living life. I think being like Jesus will be different as God works in the uniqueness of us. Being like Jesus will be different things to different people, but it will all be done by following the Spirit of Christ from within us. It will be a life of love for God and love for people each and every day.

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November 22, 2019

The Woman Jesus Wanted Us to Remember

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:39 pm
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Today we dropped in again on to Dylan Tarpley at the blog One Thing. The blog’s title is based on this verse:

One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. -Psalm 27:4

Although the site isn’t currently active, there is a wealth of material here for you to consider. Like this one!

Mary of Bethany

Every human being has some desire ingrained in their being to do something significant. We all want to be able to look back at the end of our life and know that we have done something that matters. For believers, there is a desire to make a significant impact for God. However, we are often misguided in the way that we go about doing this. The Bible is filled with many people who did extraordinary things for God, but there is one that Jesus called out among the rest, and that is the life of Mary of Bethany.

On the exterior, this woman lived a pretty insignificant life. We only hear of her a couple of times. We never hear her preach a sermon. We never see her perform any miracles. She never raises the dead, or heals the sick. In most circumstances, her life would be ignored or forgotten by most. Yet Jesus declared to those who criticized her extravagant devotion that anywhere the Gospel is preached, her story will be told.

Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. – Matthew 26:13

Think about this for a second. Jesus so valued her life that He literally wants everyone to know about her. I don’t know of any one else who received such an honor. There were many who walked in more power, and seemed to impact more people than Mary, yet she will be remembered in His eyes forever. 

This must cause a radical shift in the way we see our lives. We must learn to value what Jesus values in us. The Bible says that His eyes are searching throughout the earth looking for hearts after Him. This is so important for us to understand. He is not looking for good sermons, good songs, or more gifts – He is looking for hearts.

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him – 2 Chronicles 16:9

I want God to use me in ministry, but I want Him to be moved by my ministry to Him first. You may never preach to the masses, or find yourself on a foreign mission field, but your life can be remembered by Him. Could it be that He measures our life’s significance not by our ministry, but by our devotion?

So as I write this, I find myself signing up all over again. Jesus, I’ll break my boxes for you – over and over and over again.

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October 30, 2019

Start Something

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This was a the 4th part of a four-part tag-team teaching Ruth and I did this past weekend encouraging people to “start something” unique to their vantage point on the world. There is much scripture here which I haven’t highlighted today, but I am sure many of you will know what is quoted and what is original.

by Ruth Wilkinson

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created.

Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.

That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering like a mother hen over the surface of the waters.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Then God said, “Let Us make humanity in Our image, according to Our likeness. To watch over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl.”

So God created humanity in His own image;
He created them in the image of God; He created them male and female.


And that’s how God started something.

He sat in His own infinity of light and love and He imagined time.
He imagined energy and matter.
He imagined life and diversity
and he imagined us.

Having imagined us, he made us
to be just like him.

He made us to watch over creation and to watch over each other.
He made us to look into emptiness and see possibility.
To see something new.
He made us to see what could be.
He made us to imagine.

To ask, “What if?”

What if I said something? What if I did something?
What if I sat down next to her, opened that door,
asked for permission?

What if I challenged the status quo?

What would happen?

Well, what happened when God started something?

It began well. It began with life and love, understanding, friendship and community.

And then?

Then, somebody stuck their oar in.
Somebody with big ideas and ambition. Somebody who thought they knew better.

Then there was division and disagreement, grief and separation.

But God didn’t walk away. Didn’t give up. He kept on looking into the darkness and seeing what could be.

He kept working. Kept reaching out.

Because he has a goal. There is something that only He can accomplish. He knows that only He can bring us back to where we belong – next to Him.

When we start something, when we turn our “What ifs” into action,
—we take a chance – on the people we work with, on the circumstances that will arise, on ourselves.

People drive us crazy. Circumstances conspire against us.
We disappoint ourselves.

All we can do, the best we can do is remember…

There is a reason we tried in the first place. There is something that we can do. Maybe not only you.
But definitely you.

God is still walking us through His plan, his story from eternity to eternity.

Jesus kept walking through the plan, from birth to resurrection.

And he walks alongside us and within us and for us.

It’s been said that the difference between a good idea and a vision is that a vision is something you can’t not do. Something that fills you with fire and won’t let go.

If that is where you find yourself, struggling to find the courage to step out,
keep this in mind…

God doesn’t call you to go anywhere he hasn’t already been himself.
He knows our weakness,
our strength.

Everything we can experience,
He has experienced in the flesh.

He has been there and He will help.


There is a time for every activity under Heaven-
a time to plant and a time to uproot;
a time to tear down and a time to build;
a time to be silent and a time to speak;

This I know… that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

When we will see a new heaven and a new earth,
for the first heaven and the first earth will have passed away,
and the sea will no longer exist.

When He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer.

When the One seated on the throne will say,

“Look! I am making everything new.”

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October 14, 2019

Refreshment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we return for our every-six-months visit to a longstanding source of material here at C201, Jon Swanson’s blog 300 Words a Day. As always, click the header below to read at source.

Joining in the struggle

At the end of a letter, Paul wrote this:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.

It’s a simple and understandable request for prayer. We might find it in any prayer letter from any missionary, any youth group fundraising letter, any letter from followers of Jesus in many parts of the world this morning: Pray that I will be kept safe, pray that I will get to come and see you.

It didn’t work. Not exactly. He went to Jerusalem. He was arrested. He was taken as a prisoner to Rome.

It did work. He wasn’t killed at several points. He was taken to Rome where he was, with joy, in their company, refreshed.

I think the most important part of his request to the church in Rome wasn’t the specific request of God. It was Paul’s request that they join him in his struggle by talking to God about him. He wanted them to be part of his team, to be interested in his progress, his safety, his effectiveness, his faith. It would mean that though they hadn’t ever seen him, they had a part in his work.

And as part of his team, they could ask God about keeping him safe and having influence.

There are people this morning you don’t know who would love you to join in their struggle. To own an interest in their obedience to God’s call for them. If you don’t have a name, simply do this: “God, there’s someone with the same kind of family situation I have, the same life calling I have, and they are in danger at this moment because of You. I want to be part of their struggle. Could you help them today?”

Some of the people who talked with God about Paul never met Paul. But apparently, he counted them as part of his team. And apparently, so did God.


When I’m weary from the fight
And trying to do what’s right
You bring times of refreshing to my soul

 

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August 29, 2019

Don’t Focus on What You’ve Been Told You Can’t Do

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back for a third time with Craig Greenfield, founder and director of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Jesus: An Adventure in Justice and Mercy in a Broken World. Clicking the header below will take you to the original article with a longer introduction.

She did what she could

In Mark 14, Jesus is in a place called Bethany, which some scholars suggest actually means, “House of Misery” or “House of Affliction and Poverty”. So, it may have been a place where the poor congregated and received handouts.

This might explain why Jesus was chilling out at the home of the unfortunately-named “Simon the Leper”.

Maybe Bethany, this place of struggle and affliction, was a place where men like Simon and other outcasts made their home.

Maybe you’re in your own kind of Bethany.

Perhaps you feel like you’re in a place of misery, sickness, or poverty right now. Maybe you are living in the midst of a broken neighbourhood, or going through a season of affliction. Whatever that looks like.

If so, pay attention. Because what happens next is quite mind-blowing and cool.

Jesus is having dinner around the table with Simon and a bunch of his crew. And a woman (John suggests it is Mary, the sister of Martha) slips in with a bottle of expensive perfume.

She makes her way quietly through the small gathering. No-one knows what she is about to do. As Mary draws nearer to Jesus, she adjusts the pint jar in her hands. She’s shaking a little. But she’s determined to do what she came here to do.

Jesus is mid-sentence, reclining. Mary steps forward and breaks the seal. She tilts the jar. The perfume flows out, thick and fragrant, enough to drench Jesus’ head, drip down his beard, and even reach his feet. A pungent aroma fills the room. It’s overwhelming. Faaaaaaaaaar too much perfume.

The crowd turns. “What the heck have you done, Mary!?!”

John says that Mary kneels now, as mouths drop open in surprise and shock, and she wipes Jesus’ feet with her long hair. An act of devotion.

And then Jesus praises her with these poignant words:

“She did what she could.” (Mk 14:8)

It’s a dramatic scene. Here’s this woman, lacking in almost every way that the world deems important. Small. Vulnerable. Fragile. But she carries out an act so brazen, so incongruous, that the whole party is buzzing with surprise and indignation.

Notice who she is, who God uses, and see if it resonates with your situation today:


1. She lacks power.

Like any woman in that time, Mary was considered a second-class citizen, of no status or authority. Respectable women were expected to stay mostly within the confines of the home. If a woman was ever in the streets, she was heavily veiled and was prohibited from conversing with men.

The women Jesus knew were very likely illiterate, since the rabbis did not consider it important for women to learn to read. (On a side note, most of us don’t experience illiteracy – except when we move to a new country. Perhaps you’re struggling with the language in the place where you live? Or in some other way you feel you don’t measure up educationally. That’s Mary.)

And yet she steps forward. She dares to push through the crowd. Mary holds her head high. She does what she can.


2. She lacks permission.

No-one saw Mary coming, or realized what she was going to do. And it’s probably wise that she didn’t ask for advice from the established religious leaders first, because as soon as she acts, everyone is up in arms. The crowd of critics erupts in grumbling and furor. What a dumb thing to do! So unstrategic! Those resources could have been used better elsewhere.

And yet she acts anyway. A small, seemingly insignificant and unimportant act. She does what she can.


3. She lacks support.

No-one is on board with Mary’s strange action. It seems out of place, incongruous, lacking in purpose or objective. You wouldn’t write this in your newsletter home. You wouldn’t submit it in a monthly report to your manager. You probably wouldn’t even post it on Instagram.

And frankly, in the context of a place of poverty, like Bethel, it’s not surprising to me that there is some critique of her extravagance. The grumbling actually makes sense on a human level.

But Mary is compelled by something beyond human reason. She has left space for the Spirit to lead. And she does what she can.


We do need worldly knowledge and wisdom. There are times when it is appropriate to strategize about how to best reach the poor. We need big thinkers. We need to reflect on best practice and critique models of mission that are broken. We need to think beyond emotional acts of mercy and consider the larger structural justice issues.

I do that a lot, in my blog and in my books.

But we also need to leave room for the mystical, the beautiful, and the small.

We need to leave room for the Spirit.

There are plenty of critics out there. The room is filled with finger-pointers.

On the left, the progressive movement is overflowing with critique. Everything is “problematic”. Everyone with privilege is complicit. Anyone who dares to go overseas must be a ‘White Savior’. No-one is radical enough.

There is little room for grace.

On the right, conservative evangelicals are often just as bad. They want reports back with numbers of salvations, and to know whether the “gospel was preached” verbally in every situation. They want to know our theological position on this and that.

There is little room for grace.

Many of these critiques are valid and useful. Like I said, there is a time and place for critical thinking and strategic initiatives.

But not all the time.

Sometimes, we just do what we can. Especially when we are in Bethany.

Sometimes we walk in the footsteps of Mary, who didn’t have power, permission or support.

She took what little she had. And she did what she was able to do. Without paying attention to the armchair critics.

Nothing less. Nothing more.

And that was enough. More than enough. Because she was open to the weird and wonderful leading of the Spirit.

And Jesus said, “She did what she could.”

With a smile on his face.

Perhaps you need to hear that encouragement today.

Go ahead. Do what you can. It might not be much. It might be weird or insignificant or unstrategic. But listen to the still small voice of the Spirit. Step out. And do what you can with what you have.

I promise you. It is enough.

 

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August 28, 2019

Letter to the Next Generation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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At our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, we’ve linked to or excerpted material from Charisma Magazine’s J. Lee Grady almost since our beginning, and you’ve also seen his writing here several times.

Because today’s article is just the outline of a recent article, I want to encourage you especially today to click the header below. It provides additional commentary and also explains his context in writing this.

An Open Letter to Today’s Young Leaders

Ref. The book of 2 Timothy

Some scholars call this letter “Paul’s last will and testament” because he knew he would be stepping into eternity soon. He also knew Timothy would soon be hurled into the deep waters of spiritual responsibility even though he didn’t feel ready for the challenge.

Paul was passing the baton to his beloved spiritual son. The apostle had done everything he could to prepare him, but now it was Timothy’s time to shine. Paul gave Timothy five directives. I’m passing along these instructions to today’s emerging leaders—because if you don’t heed Paul’s advice you will drop the ball.

If you are called to be a leader, take time to read 2 Timothy this week and ask the Lord to prepare you for this adventure.

  1. Be bold. Paul advised Timothy: “God has not given us a spirit of timidity” (1:7a, NASB). Leaders can’t be fearful. That doesn’t mean you won’t have weak knees or anxious thoughts when you step out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t mean you won’t feel butterflies before you speak publicly. But you must swallow hard and go forward anyway. Someone must go first. If you have surrendered to the call to leadership, you must bravely push your fears aside. God can change a wimp into a warrior.
  1. Be strong. Paul told his spiritual son: “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2:1b). Paul wrote those words from a filthy Roman prison. He probably had iron cuffs on his wrists, and maybe lice crawling on his body. Paul was toughened by hardship and suffering. Every leader must be tested by adversity. If you can’t take the stress and the anguish that spiritual leadership requires, don’t try it.
  1. Stay true to God’s Word. Paul instructed Timothy: “Preach the word … for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (4:2-3a). Many leaders in the previous generation failed to preserve biblical morality. Many churches today are crumbling because we modified our theology to match popular culture instead of just preaching God’s timeless truths. (Please forgive my generation for thinking that we could vote to change God’s Word.)
  1. Make disciples. Paul told Timothy: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2:2). Notice Paul did not push Timothy to build big buildings or reach huge crowds. Paul stressed quality over quality. He knew the best way to build a faithful church is to start with a few authentic disciples and then multiply them.
  1. Stay on fire. Paul also told his spiritual son: “Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you by the laying on of my hands” (1:6b). What’s the secret to spiritual passion? I have never met a devoted Christian who didn’t spend lots of time alone with God. It was Moses’ secret. It was David’s secret. You must find the cleft of the rock. You must pray, read the Scriptures and pursue intimacy with the Holy Spirit if you want your spiritual fire to stay ablaze.

Paul was saying, “Stay lit!” You cannot lead God’s people if your embers are cold. This is the problem with so much of today’s church—we have “professional” leaders who aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit. They rely on intellect, gimmicks, church growth strategies and human ability rather than trusting God’s power. That might last a few years, but nothing will last if the branches are not continually connected to the vine.

As a father in the Lord, I am urging you: Be bold, be strong, stay true to God’s Word, make disciples and stay on fire. Soon you will be handing the baton to another generation. Please be faithful with what Jesus has charged you to do!

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