Christianity 201

January 23, 2023

Serving Like Jesus: The Drop-In Center

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Through a rather non-linear series of events, Ruth Wilkinson finds herself back doing urban ministry from the church where she works, which is uniquely situated in the heart of a small town. After Christmas, she formed a group to start a Drop-In Center (or, as it’s spelled in Canada, Centre) to meet some needs with people lacking a permanent address.

A few weeks ago she was asked to give a presentation at a different church, about what she was doing. Since the 15-minute talk would be on a Sunday morning, as she wrapped up, she showed how each of the four areas they are striving to provide assistance is entirely consistent with the ministry life of Jesus.

I asked her if we could have a peek at her notes, and I’ve integrated her concluding scripture references with each of the four areas here.

The vision based on four kinds of interaction:

Charity

This is the simplest concept to implement, involving redistribution of resources. money, food, clothing, wifi, information.

Jesus performed acts of charity by feeding the hungry, healing the sick.

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” – John 7: 20-23 NIV

I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was alone and away from home, and you invited me into your house. I was without clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ – Matthew 25: 35&36 NIV

Justice

This comes most naturally for some people – redistribution of power. looking a power structures and systems, seeing where selfishness and corruption are making life more difficult than necessary, speaking out, or working to change that dynamic. We all are born with a sense of when something is ‘not fair.’

Jesus performed acts of justice by flipping the tables to make room for all people to pray.

When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” – Mark 11:15-17 NLT

Advocacy

This one is complicated but hugely important: They have to trust us. This can include listening to people who need help and going with them into the situations where they struggle – attending a doctor’s appointment and taking notes, making a phone call and navigating the “press one, press seven, press star” to get an actual answer from an actual person, sitting down with a pen and an application form and working through it together, finding out how to file an appeal when the answer is no.

Jesus performed an act of advocacy when he stood alongside the woman brought for judgement to the temple. He spoke for her, saying things she was unable to say herself.

Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”

She said, “No one, sir.” – John 8: 3, 9b-11 CEB

Presence

This one is most difficult – sometimes it feels like you’re not really doing anything. Having a conversation. Going for coffee, letting the other person pay. Showing up. Keeping your promises. Laughing. Grieving. Doesn’t feel like you’re making a difference. No bottom line. No accomplishments to point to. Being visible. Being reachable. Being a friend.

Jesus performed an act of Presence his whole life.

In his very nature he was God.
Jesus was equal with God. But Jesus didn’t take advantage of that fact.
Instead, he made himself nothing.
He did this by taking on the nature of a servant.
He was made just like human beings. (Phil 2:6-7 NIrV)

Conclusion

How we can serve our neighbours?
Just like Jesus.

Each of the four points above can be summed up in four short phrases:

  • Giving To
  • Speaking For
  • Speaking With
  • Being With

January 7, 2023

More on Need-Meeting vs. Proclamation

It was a hot August day in 2015 and the blog post here was about Moses, and how despite his feelings of inadequacy, he was obedient to God’s calling on his life. The devotional wrapped up…

…God does the same with believers like you and I—He takes us as we are, in our inadequacies and weaknesses, and He takes the things in hands that are in and of themselves useless, and demonstrates His life-giving power.

God is with you, and He will work through you … not because of anything you do, but because of who He is. God working through us, will set people free, set nations free, and bring people to faith in Christ.

Don’t hesitate, don’t doubt. Look to Jesus, and GO and Tell!

So far, so good.

Or so I thought.

But then we got a comment — back when people actually left comments on the blog — from George, who had also contributed articles here.

Great post. I only hesitate at the very last word – ‘tell.’ That isn’t in the text. Go is meaning we are sent and authorized as his ambassadors. Make disciples is there. Are the two the same?

I grew up in a world of tell. “Part one of the gospel is ‘taste and see’ and part two of the gospel is ‘go and tell.'”

Or so I had often shared with people.

We discussed this at length in yesterday’s blog post, but I thought you’d like to read what happened the next day here on the blog.

Exodus 4:10:

Then Moses said to the LORD, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (NASB)

But Moses pleaded with the LORD, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” (NLT)

Exodus 6:12

But Moses said to the LORD, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?” (NIV)

But Moses said in the LORD’s presence: “If the Israelites will not listen to me, then how will Pharaoh listen to me, since I am such a poor speaker?” (HCSB)

Today’s thoughts flow out of the comments section to yesterday’s devotional.

fearfactor_240Public speaking is not everyone’s gift. Years ago an Ann Landers poll showed that the number one fear reported was fear of public speaking. Even pastors who speak before thousands each weekend often confess they are natural introverts who potentially can freeze up if asked to speak before fifty people.

So much of the Christian life is about words. Our revelation of God comes to us through a book. We’re told to share our faith.

Go deeper in the Christian life and you discover a vast library of Bible reference books to help you get the etymology or word origins right. There are pastors who study Biblical Greek and Hebrew. There are concordances which are concerned with the derivation of words in the English texts as they relate to the original languages.

What if my language is not precise? What if I say the wrong thing and cause confusion? What if my words drive people away from God’s Kingdom?

“But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.” Matthew 10:1 NASB

“When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-12 NIV

Clearly the Bible is telling us not to sweat these situations.

But let’s go back to yesterday’s devotional and the comment. George (who has been a contributing writer here, and who I know personally) noted that the essence of the command is to make disciples. He wanted to see a de-emphasis on telling and (by implication) a wider emphasis on other areas where the discipleship process can become organic.

The idea of a disciple “walking in the dust of his rabbi” is a teaching that probably best illustrates this. These talmudin learned by doing what the rabbi did. We had a good example of that in the second paragraph of this excerpt. We also looked at the Bible concept of being an imitator (of Christ, or of Paul as he imitates Christ.)

But it goes beyond this. We can help. We can love. We can serve. We can give…  In doing all these things we are being a living gospel. Surely at this point someone is expecting me to quote the phrase commonly attributed (though perhaps not accurately attributed) to St. Francis: “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”

However, this is as equally out of balance as the person who thinks the gospel can only be proclaimed verbally.

As Mark Galli pointed out in this 2009 article:

“Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets, Jesus, and Paul put on preaching. Of course, we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns.

Further pushback to what was starting to trend (and what St. Francis said) came from Ed Stetzer who wrote about this in 2012 (link no longer available):

The gospel is not habit, but history. The gospel is the declaration of something that actually happened. And since the gospel is the saving work of Jesus, it isn’t something we can do, but it is something we must announce. We do live out its implications, but if we are to make the gospel known, we will do so through words.

It appears that the emphasis on proclamation is waning even in many churches that identify themselves as evangelical. Yet proclamation is the central task of the church. No, it is not the only task God has given us, but it is central. While the process of making disciples involves more than verbal communication, and obviously the life of a disciple is proved counterfeit when it amounts to words alone, the most critical work God has given the church is to “proclaim the excellencies” of our Savior.

A godly life should serve as a witness for the message we proclaim. But without words, what can our actions point to but ourselves? A godly life cannot communicate the incarnation, Jesus’ substitution for sinners, or the hope of redemption by grace alone through faith alone. We can’t be good news, but we can herald it, sing it, speak it, and preach it to all who listen.

In fact, verbal communication of the gospel is the only means by which people are brought into a right relationship with God. The Apostle Paul made this point to the church in Rome when he said:

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10:13-14, HCSB)

If we are to make disciples of all nations, we must use words.

I agree with Ed, but I also agree with where George was coming from in his comment. We have to find the balance between the two. And our lives must match our speech. Here’s what I wrote:

In the last 50-60 years, Evangelicals have made proclamation 100% of their evangelism stock portfolio. After accusing “the liberals” of preaching a “social gospel” we’re slowly coming around to the position that there is so much more we can do besides quoting chapters and verses.

On the other hand, further on in the Matthew passage, it does say “teach” or “teaching” in most translations, and although she doesn’t quote it here, Mark 16:15 renders the same quotation as either “preach” or “proclaim” (The Voice has “share.”)

While not everyone has the same gifts, I believe that every Christ-follower has the ability to share a verbal witness, but many are afraid to do so. I think her point here is to encourage people along those lines.

Of course, it would also do good if those who feel they are better equipped to preach would also find ways to share a non-verbal witness. Each of needs to balance the two.

And better to be asked sometimes what it is that drives our faith instead of just shouting it to people with whom we haven’t earned the right to be heard. Zachariah 8:23 is useful here:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

Where is the balance in your life on this issue? Most of us would side with Moses, we really don’t want to be placed in those public speaking situations. But there are some who don’t fear that for a second, though often their walk doesn’t match their talk. We need to be working on both fronts.

January 6, 2023

A Church Which Couldn’t Care Less

Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.

John 12:26, NLT

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Matthew 25:34-40, NLT

We like to think of the book of James as a “General Epistle,” but I do wonder if, like chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, James had a particular church in mind when he wrote these words in chapter two:

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless
James 2:14-17 NLT

Perhaps it was specific to a trend he was seeing. It doesn’t actually cost anything to believe. There is no physical action; no examination to pass. That is the essential nature of grace. We don’t have to do anything because it’s all been done through Christ’s atoning work on the cross.

But it’s another thing to get your hands dirty, being the hands of feet of Christ in a hurting and needy world. Or it can cost us where it really hurts for some people: Their bank balance.

Basil of Caesarea wrote,

“When someone steals a person’s clothes, we call him a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to those who need it; the shoes rotting in your closet to the one who has no shoes. The money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”

Somewhere recently I read,

You say you care for the poor.
Tell me their names.

Two weeks ago someone shared with me a ministry venture that involved helping the homeless through handing out backpacks filled with supplies to help meet personal needs. But as we talked, I wasn’t seeing a direct connection to the people they were trying to help. They were simply handing off their donations to the people who went into the encampments and distributed the materials. That’s good and it’s helpful, but it’s not incarnational ministry. It’s not presencing yourself as the hands and feet of Christ in that situation.

(Let me pause here to say: Maybe you’re able to tick the right boxes on this one. Following the commands of Jesus to care for the poor is, in one sense, for many people, an easy thing to do. Following the full and complete compendium of what it means to follow Jesus — just think of the high standards of “You have heard it said…” in the Sermon on the Mount — is much more difficult.)

Here’s a quotation that we haven’t used recently, but it needs to be shared again because there are always new readers.

“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace, as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a high cross between two thieves: on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek…. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that’s where He died. And that is what He died about. And that is where church people ought to be and what church people should be about.”

Those words belong to Scottish theologian Dr. George MacLeod (1895 – 1991). According to Wikipedia, MacLeod is also the founder of the Iona Community, an ecumenical movement committed to social justice issues and “seeking new ways to live the gospel of Jesus in today’s world.” Most of its activities take place on the Isle of Iona and its interdenominational liturgies and publishing are developed by the Wild Goose Group, the name taken from an ancient Irish symbol of the Holy Spirit. (Apologies to “dove only” readers!) Its books and music resources deal with social justice and peace issues, spirituality and healing, and innovative approaches to worship.

Someone years ago taught me that so much of what the church considers “outreach” is actually “indrag.” We need to find ways to engage the concept of “marketplace ministry.” Evangelicals have long neglected issues of social justice or relegated the ’social gospel’ to mainline churches. We said that we are all about “proclamation” — sometimes termed as “sharing a verbal witness” — as though it were the superior path to right standing before God.

But that is changing. And perhaps the thing we need to do in the center of the marketplace is to live out the gospel with visible demonstrations of Christ’s love, not just taking the quotation above as a call to loud street preaching.

In November, 2021, Clarke Dixon wrote here:

It has often been said that there are two gospels, an evangelical gospel (you get to heaven when you die) and a social gospel (we can make this earth a little more heavenly before we die). In fact there is is just one gospel, the good news that Jesus is king, the Kingdom of God is here and near, and we are invited and enabled to be a Kingdom person forevermore, beginning here and now.

Is there someone in your sphere of influence to whom you can give “a cup of water” to today?

“And anyone who gives one of my most humble followers a cup of cool water, just because that person is my follower, will be rewarded.
Matthew 10:42 CEV

January 1, 2023

Building a New Year with Materials that Last

The illustration which follows is not meant to be a description of how heaven ‘works.’

A man died and went to heaven and on arrival asked if it was true that there are mansions with many rooms with for all. An angel assured him that this was true and offered to guide him to where one had been prepared just for him.

They walked down a street filled with the finest mansions that would be the envy of the highest priced neighborhoods in the western world back on earth.

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then entered a section of housing which would be compared to a North American upper middle class community.

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then moved on to a group of bungalows that were not initially impressive, but, this being heaven after all, were no doubt adequate.

“So here we are;” said the man.

“No, just a little further;” said the angel.

It continued like this until the two of them ended up in an area where the houses — more like cabins — were not only much smaller, but there were only a couple of rooms and some elements of the walls, floors and ceilings were missing.

Pointing to a nearby dwelling, the angel said, “That one is your house.”

“There is no way,” said the man, “That I can live in something like that.”

“I’m very sorry;” replied the angel; “But we did the best we could with the materials you sent up.”

…This apocryphal sermon illustration is usually told in reference to Matthew 6: 19-20 which reads:

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. NLT

But what constitutes treasure?

As we start a new year, I want us to produce something of substance. Sometimes I get feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the ‘Goodnights’ are said or the computer is turned off and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value or significance?

It’s not that I wasn’t busy doing Kingdom work, it’s just that I fear I wasn’t busy doing the right things. I feel that by not letting my talents be used to the maximum, I have missed the mark (the same idiom by which the word sin is defined in Greek) of God’s highest calling. You could say that I not only have ‘performance-based religion’ issues, but I’m additionally burdened with combining it with a Type A personality when it comes to what I would like to see happen.

So… I need to be reminded that God still loves me even I didn’t do all the the things or type of things that I thought God was expecting of me. I need to be reminded that it’s about what God’s wants me to be that matters.

However, I can’t just toss out the consideration (or self-evaluation) of what it means to give my best to God each day. I have to have certain goals or ideals or standards of attainment. The verses that I think match up best with the heaven story above are these from I Cor. 3 —

12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. NLT

Some of you know these verses from the KJ text as referring to: “Gold, silver and precious stones;” contrasted with “wood, hay and stubble.”

In the Christian internet world, a lot of what is written or spoken on podcasts is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance; something of a more lasting quality than what I was producing on my other blog at the time; something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

So while Christianity is not performance-based, if we’re going to launch out into any endeavor at all (in response to what Christ has done for us) we should aim for that thing to be of the highest quality, the finest purity, the greatest depth and the most lasting significance. We can discuss other things, and comment on the issues of the day in religion, politics, social justice, the environment, church life, parenting, education, marriage, missions, theology, or even the weather; but at the end of the day, we need to bring something best to the table; something that not only people in our sphere of influence, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level or what I would term Christianity 201. And just as that name propels me to go beyond the basic, the elementary, the minimum; I encourage you to set up whatever reminder you need this year to do the same.

In the quotation of the lyrics from a very familiar worship song, I’ve highlighted four of the lines:

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart…

When our works are “tested by fire” what is going to be left. Wood, hay and straw will be consumed, but gold, silver and precious stones can withstand the test by fire. Then we will have treasure in heaven.

November 1, 2022

Allies in Kingdom Advancement

Today we’re back with another article by Ben Sternke whose eponymous blog has the subtitle: “Field notes on life and mission with God after Christendom.” (There’s a lot to think about there!) Clicking the devotional title below will take you to where this first appeared.

Whoever Isn’t Against You is For You

John said, “Master, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he isn’t in our group of followers.”

But Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him, because whoever isn’t against you is for you.”

John 9:49-50

Just before this little exchange, the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest within the group, and when Jesus rebuffs them by placing a child in their midst and telling them that whoever is least among them is the greatest, they turn their attention to outside the group and, in effect, say, “Well we’re definitely greater than those guys, right?”

Just like us, Jesus’s disciples are relentlessly measuring their status and honor to see who they’re better than, and who is better than them. Just like them, we have all kinds of ways of measuring:

  • Whose theology is better?
  • Whose liturgy is better?
  • Whose aesthetics are better?
  • Whose church is bigger?
  • Whose preaching is better?
  • Whose discipleship practices are better?

Instead of these status games, Jesus brings us back to the point: is God’s kingdom going forward? Well then don’t get in the way (and maybe even rejoice a little!).

These people you’re upset about, are they opposing God’s work? If not, then stop worrying about them. Do you think they’re going about the work in the wrong way? Do you think they’re not part of the right team? Don’t have the correct affiliation or the right theology? Wrong question!

Better questions: Is God’s kingdom advancing? Are the marginalized brought into communion? Are the broken healed? Are the prisoners set free? Are those in bondage being delivered? Is good news being preached to the poor? Then don’t worry about them being part of the wrong group or having bad theology.

As long as they’re not against you, they’re for you! If they’re not opposing God’s kingdom advancing, they’re your partners, and there’s absolutely no need to figure out who’s better than who.


Because that was shorter than many of our devotionals here, I thought we’d add this (even shorter!) one; which is relevant to the advancing kingdom discussed above.

The Harvest Really is Plentiful

“The harvest is plentiful…” Jesus tells the seventy-two as he sends them out as forerunners to enact and announce God’s kingdom coming near (Luke 10:2).

This initial proclamation about the nature of the disciples’ mission field is a vital key for their ability to discern where and when God is at work. If they are to stay where they are welcomed, and move on when they are not, they need to have confidence that the harvest is plentiful.

They don’t need things to work out positively in any particular town or village, as if the harvest was scarce and needs to be squeezed out of reluctant soil. No, the harvest is plentiful, so just brush the dust off your feet and move on a place where you are welcomed.

Leave judgment in God’s hands; the way that people respond is not your responsibility. Simply go out in openness and vulnerability and look for openness and vulnerability in others. Stay wherever you find it, receiving and giving in mutuality, proclaiming the nearness of God.


Reading Ben’s articles got me thinking about the potential competition that can exist between ministry organizations, which reminded me of a book that I saw a few years ago, but didn’t pick up at the time: Rooting Among Rivals: How Collaboration and Generosity Increase The Impact of Leaders, Charities and Churches by Peter Greer and Chris Horst. The publisher blurb reads:

Do ministries and churches compete? Faith-based organizations are sometimes known for what we’re against—and all too often that includes being against each other. But amid growing distrust of religious institutions, Christ-centered leaders, churches and charities have a unique opportunity to link arms and collectively pursue a calling higher than any one organization’s agenda.  (Bethany House, 2018)

I think we could all say “Amen” to that spirit of cooperation.

July 7, 2022

The Ministry of Touch

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re back highlighting the writing of who writes faithfully at Feeding on Jesus. Clicking the link in the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared, as well as some reader comments.

Just One Touch

“Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’” (Mark 1:41, NIV).

The other day, my oldest daughter Ester was sitting in my room looking like she could use some love. Under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, I put my hand on her cheek and held it there. I didn’t say anything at first, so she looked at me curiously. “Jesus healed people with just one touch,” I explained affectionately. “I’m ministering to you.” Profound contentment instantly spread across her face. She closed her eyes and soaked in the contact with me.

Over and over throughout His recorded three years of ministry, Jesus reached out and physically touched people. The story above out of Mark is particularly moving because of the shunning this man had deeply internalized for the duration of his illness. Being a leper meant that he was forced to stay away from society and urgently cry out “Unclean!” to warn others of his unwanted presence. I can’t even begin to imagine the weight of loneliness and shame that had come to define his everyday existence.

Jesus saw him. He didn’t just see a diseased man, though. He saw right into the depths of the wretched man’s soul. He saw all his pain, and His entire being stirred with intense, visceral compassion. And He touched him. He touched the man that no one wanted to touch, that no one wanted to be close to. He cut right through all the barriers that had closed him out from human kindness and warmth. With just one touch. With that touch, He ministered not only supernatural healing to the man’s physical frame – but also indescribably profound restoration to his inner being.

The Lord has been speaking to me about ministering to others through touch. Just one touch, directed and anointed by the Holy Spirit, can transform someone’s life. I want to encourage you, too, to listen in carefully to the Spirit for His nudges to minister touch to people that He brings across your path. A simple hand briefly on someone’s shoulder, accompanied by a genuine, compassionate smile, could indelibly mark their heart with a deeper understanding of God’s love.

Don’t just limit it to a physical touch, though. Continue to focus in on Holy Spirit in that moment. Where your hand touches, use the eyes of your heart. Watch what He is doing. Focus on His power flowing through your spirit and into that person. Expect Him to move through you each time you are obedient to His prompting in this way. He loves it when you are expectant! He delights to minister His love and healing to His precious ones, through your hands.

A caveat here – of course, we don’t want to go around touching everyone and anyone. If you are uncertain, err on the side of caution. It’s important to be very sensitive to whether touch is welcomed or not by the individual. Particularly when people have suffered abuse, touch can be a very difficult area. Be attentive, gentle, and careful to listen to Holy Spirit, watching the person’s body language. Being led by Him is of utmost importance.

As long as you keep that in mind: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32, NKJV). Don’t be afraid. People, especially wounded ones, deeply need to be touched. Be confident – Holy Spirit has a specific plan for reaching out to them. He will faithfully guide you as you ask Him to and lean into His leading! Daddy is longing to pour His gentle, healing love through your heart and through your hands.

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Do you remember a particular occasion when someone’s hand on your shoulder – for just a brief moment – was life-giving in a striking way? [If you wish to share one, click the link in the title above and add your comment to Jennifer’s blog.]


This very morning, Jennifer began a multi-part study titled A Body He Has Prepared for You. The link is to part one.

 

May 16, 2022

The Business (and Ministry) of Making Connections

Some of you know that I’m involved with a Christian bookstore. (Yes, there’s still a couple left!) The thoughts below are something I shared with our customers on the weekend…


Part of our mission at Searchlight is to get people connected to local congregations. So it would be easy for me to sit here and type something like, “Okay, people; it’s been more than two years, it’s time to get plugged in once more to a local church.”

Instead, I want to come at this from the other direction. I want to celebrate the people who, against odds we’re all familiar with, have remained faithful to church attendance (in-person as much as possible) for the last 24+ months. Faithfulness is not just an admirable quality, it’s listed as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Your dedication and perseverance is seen and will, one hopes, inspire others.

We can be faithful because God is faithful toward us. Proverbs 3:3-4 (NLT) reads,

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.

I am so grateful for the example of people who have “stuck it out” during the ministry season of 2020 and 2021 (and now this year as well.) For these people “pulling back” from Christian service was simply not an option.

Another mission of our store is to connect people and resources, so it’s especially painful when those resources simply don’t exist in our community. Wednesday morning a young man came in the store who is without an address to call home. Yes, there are shelters but unless you’ve actually spent a night in a shelter, it’s only an academic exercise to talk about them.

Then on Thursday morning, the devotional reading that lands first-thing on my phone was from James 2:15-16.

“Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (NLT)

We do have people in our community who lack clothing — a national event called “The Big Give” is coming up in a few weeks, and clothing will be handed out — and people with food insecurity, but the Bible doesn’t speak as much to the equivalent challenge of our day, homelessness. Perhaps when the scriptures were written it was the warmer climate, or that family units cared more for their own. But for us today in North America, it’s the affordable housing crisis.

And yet, after talking to him about possibilities, I did the VERY SAME THING that the verse tells us not to do, and, as is my habit when people are walking out the door, I said, “Bless you; have a good day.” Talk about Brain Cramp Encounters of the Worst Kind.

I felt so empty, not being able to give him the one thing he needs more than anything right now. I just don’t have the contacts, and we have other acquaintances who are literally living in a tent on the north shore of Lake Ontario. That’s their home. And was all winter.

It just hurt to not be able to reach into my pocket and pull out a business card and say, “Call these people, they’ll set you up.” I could more easily pull a rabbit out of a hat these days.

I was reminded of a poem which was making the rounds at least two decades ago that is a riff on a Bible passage that is known well by readers here. I’m not sure if anyone knows who wrote this:

I was hungry …
And you formed humanities groups to discuss my hunger.

I was imprisoned …
And you crept off quietly to your church and prayed for my release.

I was naked …
And in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick …
And you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless …
And you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely …
And you left me alone to pray for me.

You seem so holy, so close to God …
But I am still hungry … and lonely … and cold …

The challenges for people without a fixed address can seem endless. But there are people doing what they can to help, day in and day out, because of the thing we started out mentioning: Faithfulness. One way to find out exactly where your help is most needed and appreciated might come through a local church connection.

Which brings us full circle. The capital “C” Church is making a difference in the world, but there’s so much work spread out ahead of us. You can be a part in making a difference.

February 23, 2022

Removing Roadblocks for Earnest Seekers

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Years ago I heard a response to people who were being overly-critical of “seeker sensitive” churches, saying they lacked depth and discipleship. The reply was, “The problem isn’t that some churches are seeker-sensitive, the problem is that a lot of churches are seeker-hostile.”

Many times we unwittingly do things which drive those away who were earnestly seeking after God. Years ago a pastor I knew well decided to rent some space in a high school gym and basically re-plant his aging church with a new look and new vision. But the “old guard” of the church wasn’t as passionate about it as he was, and after checking out the church, after a few weeks they would move on, as they got to know the people and, sad to say, saw their true colors.

Eventually, it was just the original group meeting in the school, and one of their number walked up to the pastor’s wife and said, “Isn’t it great! All the new people are gone.”

That’s one of the saddest lines I’ve ever heard.

A verse that sticks with me in recalling that story is contained in this passage in Acts 15: 12-19:

The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

 “‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’–
 things known from long ago.

 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

It was Andy Stanley who drew my attention to verse 19. That last verse is one that Andy says he has posted on the wall of his office. He contrasted verse 19 with churches and organizations that try to put people in a box, or try to line people up with a specific church policy or regulation.

Or ask people to “clean up” first.

While we would never want to admit, in certain circumstances, most of us are Pharisees at heart.

The Message Bible renders verse 19 as:

We’re not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master.

Do I agree with Andy’s take in this particular sermon?

I think this is an issue where, like so many other things in scripture, there is a balance point to be found somewhere in the middle. The initial offer of grace is easy to process and accept. However, there is an equally compelling argument for calling people to weigh the price and realize they are about to launch out into something that is costly, or difficult. Consider John 6: 56-66:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

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

In Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9 we read these familiar words:

Luke 9: 23 (NLT) Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

And yet we are often so quickly reminded of Matthew 11:30

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Can both sets of verses be true at the same time? Or is each referring to something different?

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

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

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

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

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

       4.  This is Exciting

While we certainly don’t want to “bait and switch” earnest seekers — we need to up-front about what it means to “take up your cross” — at the same time we don’t want to create roadblocks.

Let’s not make it difficult for those who are turning toward God.


Extra credit:

Here are some resources unrelated to today’s post I wanted you to be aware of:

Also, apologies to subscribers for the order and timing of some of our devotional articles in the last 72 hours. If you think you missed something, visit the website.

 

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
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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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